London – Day 3: “Slumlord Fabulous”

I woke up terribly sore this morning. It must have been from all the standing yesterday at the Royal Wedding. My shoulders ached something fierce, but I popped some pills and was fine to carry on with the day. There were so many things to do! We gobbled down breakfast and then hurried to the train.

Today, for some reason, the London Underground decided to repair and upgrade their main lines. I am not entirely sure if they thought this one out–seeing as this is a huge tourist weekend with over 600,000 additional people in the city trying to get around and get home. It won’t be this busy again until the Olympics, and even then, I don’t know if it will be quite so congested all at one time the way it was for the Wedding.

When a train finally arrived at Earl’s Court, we hopped aboard and quickly discovered that we were on the wrong train. I am so happy that we were! We made our way to the Kensington district, very close to where we were staying and I immediately took to the area. Having a Whole Foods right outside of the Tube station didn’t hurt!

I have been astonished at the number of people in London who use iPhones. It seems that it is almost the only phone they use and I wondered why. Back home, it is really quite expensive to carry an iPhone, most of the cheapest plans are about $90, which can’t be justified really with much cheaper carriers who offer the same service. If I had the extra money every month, though, I wouldn’t care if it were $200. I love me the iPhone! But the signs advertised monthly plans with data, chat, texting, and so on for only £35. I was jealous. I want to move to London just for a cheap iPhone.

We made our way to Kensington Park and walked around in admiration for awhile. It was a lovely place and my newly discovered allergies immediately kicked in. I am sad to do it, but I think I have to blame this tree and its gorgeous flowers. I have no idea what kind of tree it is–I want one for my yard, I don’t care how miserable it makes me.

I wanted to roll around in all of the petals. It was gorgeous, smelled heavenly, and made me sneeze.

We walked on and Kensington Palace came into view. It is not terribly imposing and looks almost comfortable. Windsor Palace and Buckingham Palace do not look like particularly comfortable places to live, this Palace, on the other hand, looked as if the Queen could come out at any moment and take a stroll through the park.

Parts of the Palace were being transformed into something called the Enchanted Palace. I immediately disapproved of this action. There were advertisements on the outside and it seems as if they were trying to turn the historic site into a fairytale land. It does not seem right to me to blur reality in such ways in a building belonging to the Crown.

I was afraid that the Palace would be closed and we would not be able to go in and see the gardens which I saw on Good Morning America and fell in love with. Amazingly, the gardens were free and we were allowed to walk around the sunken garden. I have rarely been so inspired. I must create something like this in my own yard soon. It looks complex, but after studying it, it is really rather simple and I think that even an unskilled laborer like myself should be able to manage it. I have to figure out how fountains work first, though.

Wouldn’t it just be amazing to have a place like this to come out to and have breakfast or lunch or dinner in? And then later on head back outside and sit on a chaise lounge and read a good book? And then a little while later, head back and do a watercolor sketch of the vibrant greenery?

The palm tree. Dying!

I would live out there.

I fit the gardens like a glove. I have already been daydreaming of the plants I will install and the things I will change. Do I want a trellised tunnel on the outside or do I want boxwoods? So many decisions, but either would be stunning. Probably the trellised tunnel spilling over with wisteria and clematis and swaying gently in the breeze.

There were enormous iris plants in the garden, too. This is my favorite variety of flower and I was awed by the dimensions of this flower. Easily three feet tall and absolutely gorgeous. Must plant immediately!

We wandered out of the sunken gardens and looked at the Orangery which was framed by huge flowering boxwoods. The scent of orange blossoms perfumed the air and it was all just so perfect. I couldn’t dream of prettier grounds and I wish that I were going home to a yard that remotely resembled it. It will in time, though, I’m sure!

To my delight and glee, Kensington Palace and Park are very close to Portobello Road. This may mean nothing to you, but when I was younger I used to watch the movie Bedknobs & Broomsticks on repeat. I loved and still do love everything about that movie and a few years back when it was rereleased on DVD I was so happy to replace the worn VHS copy. They also released the soundtrack on CD and I bought that. (I also found it on Laserdisc, so I bought that, too!) I was so excited to see the long winding streets and exotic antiquities and of course the singing and the dancing. Watch this video for an explanation.

So we walked along and found a sign that said Portobello Road, and then for some reason, the street forked into three different roads. We followed a group headed down one of the roads as we assumed they knew what they were doing and were going to the same place. It turns out they were not going to the Market at all, but to a jail where one of the Beatles and Yoko were locked up. I am really not a fan of the Beatles–just don’t get the appeal. Bad haircuts and boring music. It’s really just not my style. I do love saying this while pulling my eyes back in a probably racist imitation of an Asian person, “Yoko? Oh no!”

Even though we were not on the right way, it was a gorgeous road. It sounds odd and even now as I think back on it, it doesn’t make sense, but the whole area felt like the Floridian Gulf. I know! There were palm trees, the houses were painted in cool pastel colors, there was a warm breeze, and, I kid you not, I heard kettle drums.

I loved the architectural and design elements of this area. I adored this little townhouse:

Look at that beautiful moulding around the windows, the perfect condition of it all, the golden bricks, the jet black door, the perfectly shaped topiaries in the window, the paving stones. I die. It’s just too lovely.

I about had a heart attack when I saw this walkway:

I have never seen something so charming! I’m in love with it.

And look at this one!

Are you gagging on it, yet? Stunning.

We turned around because we still wanted to head to the Market, but were famished from our efforts, so we stopped in a very nice looking bakery called Paul Rhodes. Ma finally had a raspberry tart. She said it was very good, but I was unimpressed with the custard–I thought it needed a sprinkling of sea salt. Ma looked at me as if I was insane, but, last time I checked, I’m the only professionally trained pastry chef on our trip and my judgements should not be scoffed at. I had a savory tart that had spinach, goat cheese, and roasted tomatoes on a square of puff pastry. It was very nice. There was a roasted red pepper on top, but I removed it as I am not a fan.

We finally found the Portobello Road Market–very exciting!

I was disappointed at first. It seemed that there were only going to be shops selling Sid Vicious t-shirts and lunch boxes from the 60s. I am just not a fan of the whole punk rock/hippy era, so I was not enjoying myself much. We stopped in one shop that had the Royal Family masks that are impossible to find anywhere in their window display. Amazingly they still had a few. I grabbed a Queen Elizabeth and the very last Camilla. William and Kate were sold out, but there was still a Prince Harry, and I regret not paying the £5 for him. He would have looked great hung in the gallery along my steps with the rest of my London souvenirs and photographs.

As we got deeper and deeper into the market, the more crowded it became and the worse my allergies became as well. Those beautiful flowering trees were everywhere and pollen visibly polluted the air. It was unfortunate, but I didn’t mind too much.

The street finally expanded a bit and became what I was expecting. Street vendors were everywhere, there was an excited frenzy in the air, the only thing missing was the singing and the dancing. I’m not sure that everybody knew the words, so I didn’t start up a rousing rendition. I would have liked to, though.

I don’t know how far down we made it. I was shedding money. I could have spent thousands upon thousands of pounds. In the end, I restrained myself and only purchased an antique bowl and beautiful green antique espresso set. As I was paying I noticed a set of octagonal art deco dinner plates and wanted them very much, but I decided against it. I am regretting that decision still.

I bought Pa some souvenirs for his coworkers at this shop:

I really enjoyed this shop. If I ever need to get a new coat or a new pair of shoes, I think I will have to head over to London to pick them up from here. I would order them online, but you never know if they will fit correctly.

There were so many Tube delays that we had to take some odd way back to the hotel, but it wasn’t too difficult and soon we were back at the hotel. Ma said that I should not post anything on Facebook before we headed back out. When I asked why not, she said, “Because then we’ll have to call Jessica.” That was a good one, I still laugh about it.

We went as close as we could get to Harrod’s for dinner. It was about a half hour walk as all the Tube stops were closed around the department store. It was an absolutely lovely walk along one of the parks and fancy hotels and an art gallery that was on the street. My newly discovered allergies were acting up considerably and I went through a quantity of Kleenex on the way to Harrod’s.

There was a group of children doing a rally for Libya. It was not at all funny, but I found it amusing when the leader started to shout, “What do we want?” and one of  the other protestors shouted proudly, “Freedom!” The leader made an angry sound and said, “No, no, no! Justice, dummy!” The other protestor nodded and repeated. “Justice!”

There was another protest, this time at the entrance of Harrod’s about the sale of fur. They told us not to support Harrod’s and their evil ways. I am totally against the use of fur, but I think it would be wise not to wear a pair of leather shoes to an animal cruelty rally. I would have pointed this out, but I decided not to bother.

The line for the rotisserie was very long and I was only going to have a side dish of potatoes, as I don’t eat meat anyway, so I decided to go back to the hotel for a pasty and Ma would stay and eat as it is one of her favorite things to do. On my way out, I went through the basement to the stationary supplies store and found notebooks and pencils by Ladureé covered with macarons. They also had macaron stickers and macaron keychains. It all seemed a bit silly. I didn’t support their lackluster macarons.

I went back to the hotel and took a little rest with my pasty. They were sold out of cheese and onion, so I had a cheese and mushroom which tasted exactly the same. I really enjoy those things. They are surely terrible calorie ridden, but I didn’t care, I was on vacation. As I munched away I watched some television show for children that was about foster parents being aliens? It was bizarre. I remember a show I watched a few years ago in London about a pair of socks that ate shoes. It was one of those shows that seem like they would make more sense if you were drunk.

Ma came back and we made plans. We were going to go down to the river and then on to ASDA. I was ecstatic at this. ASDA is Walmart. Walmart…in England! [Inside joke.] I love big box stores and I totally support them, even if they do destroy local economies. We made our way to the river and followed a group of Germans dressed up like superheroes all the way to Cleopatra’s Needle. I loved that nobody gave them a second look, looking odd is normal in London.

We stopped to watch a free runner try to impress us and get change by invading the space, but he sucked. He got scared every time he was about to do a flip and stopped. The crowd quickly dispersed and made jokes about him. Ma kept watching and mumbling something like, “Go! Go! Go! This is stupid. Gahhh– GO!” I asked her why we were waiting around when his performance was so lackluster. She said that she was just watching for him to get hurt. I understood.

We decided to head on down to ASDA now instead of walk along the river as it was very cool and there was a strong breeze coming up off the water. As we neared Waterloo station the area became very run down and industrial. I was excited–it was ghetto chic. From Waterloo we took the Tube to the end of the line to the best named station ever: Elephant & Castle. What could have possibly happened there for that name to be thought up?

We got out of the station and said, wow. This was really the ghetto. It was slumlord fabulous! When I am in Europe, I tend to only see the well-developed areas where people are pretty well off, I never go to see the real people who live in the suburbs or projects. And, I do that for a reason. Poor people are scary. I don’t believe in being poor. I also don’t believe in being scared, though, so I was alright. Ma was petrified. At every turn she thought we would get mugged, or beat up, or chopped up with a shovel. Nobody looked at us nor threatened us even though we didn’t fit it. I was wearing very nice clothes, as I do, and Ma was walking along with her Buckingham Palace bag. Neither of us could have blended into this very ethnic area.

The walk took 29 minutes. The entire time Ma was in a state of panic. I wasn’t too eager to get robbed, but it would have made a great story, so I wasn’t entirely opposed to such an occurrence. I didn’t hear English for miles! I felt like I was about to see an Academy Award winning film about racial struggles starring a lonely white teacher making her students do better for themselves academically. They can fight the system! Tears, angry stereotypes, and in the end everybody is friendly, though one of the students will obviously have to die. That is the formula, it cannot be deviated from.

The walk was really quite interesting, all the oriental shops, the gangs of people, literally, the parks littered with trash, the crumbling apartments and the ramshackle lawn ornaments. It really was no different than America! That is one of the things that I have noticed the most on this trip–these two countries are basically the same with an accent and few eccentricities on both sides. Some spaces we passed by looked quite nice actually, but for the most part it was very white trash. I don’t know if there is a particular term for that in British slang. Pikey comes to mind, but I don’t remember what that means.

We passed Tesco, and I wanted to stop, but I really wanted to see ASDA, so we kept on. Finally, we saw this:

I had such a great time at ASDA, we spent an hour and a half prowling the aisles comparing British produce to American and what things were common here and not there. It was a dirty, crowded store, it was buzzing with realness. Here is a photographic tour of some of the things I saw.

If our hotel had a microwave I would have purchased and devoured this soup. It’s one of my favorites and the soup was made with only five ingredients! Five! Vegetable stock, potato, leek, butter, and salt. I was impressed.

Hooker cheese! It strips. This was interesting because it was a mild cheddar, not mozzarella like I am accustomed to. Cheddar is much more prevalent in England. And the sticks of cheese were precut and they fell apart in strips just like the picture. I had a lot of fun with those.

Store-brand margarine!

I had never heard of sandwich spreads before and I wish I never had. It is a meat paste that you generously put on sliced bread and then broil. Gagging again, but not in a good way. Each of these jars is two servings. I cannot imagine eating that even if I only ate meat!

I never knew hob was what they called a stovetop! It seems like such an archaic word. Then again, I have never understood the finer parts of British kitchen appliances and vocabulary with their gas marks and all. It doesn’t seem precise enough for me.

When I lived in Paris, I was stunned, no, shocked that there were no bags of microwave popcorn for sale. So I had it shipped to me by the box. This is one of my favorite foods. I was delighted to see it on the shelves of ASDA, but the selection was exceptionally limited. Only butter or sugar and only that brand. I think I may make my fortune in converting Europeans to popcorn. They need it.

Look at their tiny little bags of expensive sugar. These were the biggest bags you could buy!

There were many things that I didn’t take pictures of, like the bundles of tightly sealed  carnations that didn’t even look like they were about to bloom that claimed they would stay fresh for over ten days, the amazingly cheap herbs, the lemon tea cakes (These were extraordinarily delicious. I would eat a box every day if I lived in London. I think I would really enjoy teatime.), the toaster bags, and the urinals that didn’t flush, but had a small drip of water constantly going. Eco chic!

Once we checked out, Ma was a bit nervous to try to walk back in the dark and I concurred, so we found instructions on how to take the bus. It was so easy! I cannot believe we hadn’t tried it out before. The walk that had taken 29 minutes before took only 7 by bus, plus we got to see all the locals. They were loud, brash, and dangerous. It was kind of like being with Vicky Pollard from Little Britain, only not quite so much fun.

Since it was our last full day in London, we headed to Regent Street even though many of the stores would be closed. I didn’t want to spend too much money anyway seeing as how I am leaving for Paris this weekend for a month. (Ah, the life of a jet-setter.) It was a shopping paradise, there were dozens of Starbucks, some within view of each other, at least three Burberry shops and so many other stores. It really was too bad that most things were closed, but most of the shops were in America, so it wasn’t a huge loss.

There were people heading to the theatre and to nightclubs every which way and little girls dressed up like hookers. It was great fun. We got a bit turned around on the way back to the Tube and ended up seeing more of this area than we had planned on, but it was very touristy tacky and fun.

For example, if Levi’s had styled the Royal Wedding, here is what William and Kate would have been wearing:

It was very late now, so we went back to Zizzi’s near our hotel as that was one of the few things aside from McDonalds (vomitrocious) that would still be open. I had a Margherita pizza that was pretty bland. It didn’t merit a photograph. Like macarons, I make the greatest and most delicious Margherita pizza. I think it would be fun to someday open up a pizza shop/fancy French bakery. The combination would be unexpected and unstoppable.

While we were eating, Ma told me that I looked too preppy to be out slumming it out in the ghetto and I had to school her in British lingo and told her that I looked posh, like Vicky B., not preppy.

Ma splurged tonight and we got a dessert called the Chocolate Melt. I think it was supposed to be like a molten chocolate cake, but it was more like a torte, and I believe it was a bit overdone. The ice cream that came with it was fantastic though. I really enjoy this restaurant chain.

This was our last full day and I hoped that tomorrow before heading out to the airport we might have the chance to stop and see the BBC Studios, but we will have to see how tomorrow looks.

3 responses to “London – Day 3: “Slumlord Fabulous”

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