Tag Archives: London

The British Boot Company

Recently, I found myself visiting my 101-year-old uncle who lives in a beautiful part of London near Regent’s Park. He has lived in a very groovy, government assisted place for many years. The last time that I was there, I got to follow him on his daily routine. Every day he takes his scooter and goes shopping down by Camden Town. Camden Town is in north London and is not far from the fabulous Camden Market and Camden Locks and close to the London Zoo.

We ended up in a local shoe shop by Camden Town called the British Boot Company. It was then that my uncle revealed that above this fairly unique shoe shop is where he, my dad, their siblings, and their parents, were born and grew up. This shoe shop is even well-known for being one of the first shops to ever sell Doc Martens. Today they focus on selling English-made quality footwear. In the same shop, the band Madness became regular customers and even performed their iconic song ‘Our House’. In addition, the store was featured in several of their music videos!

We went inside the store where I chatted with one of the shop employees. I told him that my dad was a cobbler at that store (when it was known as Holts) before the second World War and he showed me the original cobblers bench. He lamented the good old days when people wanted the proper Doc Martens and not the cheaper ones made now. I bought myself a pair of very English George Cox loafers, not cheap, but felt that I grabbed a piece of my history. They are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned and every time I put them on, I think of my dad.

London in Darkness: The Holiday Season

Let me just say that I love London in the winter time. It is dark for most of the day and it rains on and off every single day. If you are traveling during the winter (or even summer), make sure that you arm yourself with a decent mini-umbrella that you can tuck in your bag. Essential. The weather changes all of the time. I guarantee you will always need to reach for that umbrella.

London is unlike most cities in the world during the holiday period. It just simply goes for it. Lights are everywhere and not just in the shops…they are on miles of streets that populate the center of the city. It’s not even that the Christmas tree is the main focus, although traditionally there has always been a beautiful tree in Trafalgar Square opposite the National Gallery. It’s really the lights on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly, and Covent Garden that takes your breath away. There are thousands and thousands of people rushing around from shop to shop and pub to pub, hopping on double deckers, jumping into cabs, and pouring into the Tube. It’s cozy and it feels so intimate.

The neighborhoods all have their own decorations and their own ambiance.  In the West End, the bustle of the restaurants, theater, music, ballet, and museums, seem to move into high gear over this period. My favorite neighborhood is always Soho. It even has my favorite hotel, the Dean Street Townhouse, and my favorite restaurant, the Dean Street Brasserie. I like to keep things geographically simple!

“Maybe its because I’m a Londoner, that I love London town!”

Glyndebourne

Arriving off a transatlantic flight, then grabbing two hours of sleep at the hotel before racing across a very overheated Tube to get to Victoria Station was not my usual arrival pattern. London was hot – Morocco hot – and nothing was really equipped to deal with this heat. Add a slightly deranged jet lagged traveler on a mission to visit a place he had never been to, and you sort of get the picture. In addition, it was the day of the England vs. Sweden quarter final World Cup game. I could not discuss with anyone that my first intention of being in England was a Debussy opera set amidst the rolling downs of Sussex.

There is a train that connects London all the way to Lewes Station in East Sussex. From there, they provide the opera aficionados a series of buses that transport us along a short 15-minute beautiful drive to the glorious country estate of Glyndebourne. The train is packed with everyone dressed to the nines. Fortnum and Mason picnic baskets and champagne coolers are the norm here, so I am beginning to feel a little out of place. I had a Pret A Manger sandwich and no formal white shirt or bow tie! Oh well.

Upon arrival in Glyndebourne, I was met with some good news. Firstly, formal dress was optional. Second, the England game would be televised in the very posh bar. Thank goodness the Opera was due to start at 5:00 pm and the England game due to finish around 4:45 pm. I was hoping for no extra time, or worse, penalties!

Glyndebourne is an amazing place. Tickets are pricey, but the auditorium is spectacular and even air conditioned. There are great bars, beautiful gardens, and a lovely lake set amidst the Sussex Downs there. The Debussy opera was truly wonderful. During intermission, we grabbed a glass of wine, strolled the lawns and gardens, and I got to eat my Pret A Manger sandwich! England won that game by the way. Glyndebourne. Done it!

London!

The dreaded overnight flight dropped me into the gray skies of London too early. It was freezing. I grabbed the Heathrow Express and rushed across town from Paddington to Soho for a lunch with a business associate. We arranged to meet at the Duck and Rice on Berwick Street. Great Chinese in Soho. The dim sum are out of this world. I followed that with a quick pub visit to see a dear friend around the corner at the Lamb and Flag pub on Perry Street. I had to keep moving despite the jet lag kicking in.  Then I had a fab evening with a whole bunch of university friends over in Fitzrovia.

Got to say, London is the greatest. Stick to the areas of Fitzrovia, Soho, or Covent Garden and you can’t go wrong. They are stocked with restaurants and pubs and people.  It is just such an easy place to sort out a venue for getting together.

I left Soho House, the brand new one on Greek Street, super cool and beautifully redesigned, far too late for an early morning flight to Venice. Sleep could wait.

WTM and the Emirates Cable Car

The World Travel Market (WTM) takes place every November out at the ExCeL London convention center next to the O2 – the huge entertainment complex that was developed around the Millennium. The World Travel Market is a fun event. It’s a chance to run around the world in a huge auditorium, to network, to research new destinations, and to catch a view of the city that stretches out along the Thames River beyond Canary Wharf to the outer edges of what is called the Thames Barrier. This is the new London – encompassing the financial center, the Olympic Park, and the ExCeL London. It is also the home of London’s City Airport and will be the home of around 20 new businesses over the next five years.

One of the highlights of heading out to that part of London is grabbing the Emirates Air Line.  This cable car links across the River Thames and East London. You board the cable car not from North Greenwich Underground and it delivers you to the ExCeL. It’s about a 10-minute journey and during the World Travel Market, as long as you have your badge on, it’s free! This is one of the great rides across the outer banks of East London that you can take. A prelude to your ski adventures in the new year.

Paris, Rome and London!

I’m a lucky guy – I’m spending two weeks working in three of my favorite cities.
In Paris – my all time fave place to eat is Mediterrano at the Odeon, (http://www.la-mediterranee.com/)
in Rome, it’d be Carbonara in Campo di fiori,
and in London – yes you CAN get great food especially if you go to Sheekeys!
@JSheekeyrest @RistoranteLaCarbonaraRoma

What are your fave places in these cities? I love to try new places!

Flying over London Pietro Place Peter Jones

Flying High Over London

I’m originally from London so I know the city pretty much back to front.

Nowadays though I tend to see it more as a tourist and probably enjoy a lot more of the sights than I ever would if I lived there.  Usually when I fly transatlantic to London, the flight pattern follows the western parts of the city and picks up the Thames just around the airport area close to Windsor, Eton, and Runnymede where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215.  Sometimes, if you sit in a holding pattern low enough, you get a wonderful tour of the city center before making final landing.

But the other day the flight pattern coming from another European city was decidedly different.

This time, flying over London took us full along the Thames from the eastern stretches of outer London all the way through the center.

It was a sight to behold.  We passed over the mouth of the Thames where Dover sole fish farms ply their trade and eels are caught for the English delicacy of…horror upon horrors, jellied eels.

Literally we seemed to trace the old docklands which had been replaced by brand new developments around Canary Wharf, past The O2, and over the Emirates gondola before we started to get into the new city development – the skyscrapers with funky names like the Gherkin, the Shard, and the Walkie Talkie.  This was the new London and we were flying above it at around 20,000 feet.  The pilot seemed to be enjoying the view as much as we did and he made a couple of announcements pointing to the developments on the river below.

It was strange to see old London squeezed in between the skyscrapers and the ancient river below.  There was the tiny-looking Tower of London and the omnipresent Tower Bridge, London’s iconic and still used drawbridge.  Everybody in the plane, whatever side you were looking at, had a treat to behold.  St. Paul’s Cathedral was on the right, the Tate Modern on the left, and the London Eye straight ahead…did I miss 12th century Southwark Cathedral in the middle of it all?  We passed Westminster, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Lambeth Palace, just a stone’s throw from where I grew up, and still we kept on following the Thames.

As we started to run out of sights, the plane banked slightly and we caught a glimpse of Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better or more impressive city to fly into than London.  I don’t think so.

 

Day Flight

The BA Day Flight

How I love that day flight.

You can work through the day on the plane, arrive looking roughly the same as when you left, and get to enjoy a great meal in London before you begin your journey.  Or better still, grab a hotel night at the incredibly convenient Sofitel that is situated at Terminal 5 at Heathrow.  This hotel is a dream especially if your onward connection the following day is on British Airways and therefore in Terminal 5.

British Airways operates day flights from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston.

The flight time from Boston is 5 hours and 50 minutes and while it is not recommendable for people who are trying to save a hotel night by sleeping on an airplane seat, the difference in a healthy travel experience and a somewhat acceptable looking human being emerging from the plane is well worth it.  The great news is that during the summer months you can connect all the way through to Paris (if you are a BA fan) or to more exotic places like Palma in Mallorca (I’m a big fan).

Imagine – you depart Boston at 8:10 am, do some work, watch a movie, connect through to Paris, and by midnight you can be sitting down in a restaurant on the Boulevard Saint Germain, as I did in the Café Louise.

At that point it is still only 7pm in the evening on Boston time.  True confession: I am a secret addict of the day flight.

River Tour of London’s History

A River Tour of London’s History

A remarkable aspect of London is the way they have adapted their new skyline to an old river.

When I was growing up, the Thames and the embankment areas were barely used.  There was one boat that would take you from Westminster to Kew Gardens and Henry VIII’s palace of Hampton Court and another boat that would travel as far as the tower and Tower Bridge.  It was as if the river ought to be ignored and certainly to all intents and purposes stopped at the Tower.  The French have long made fabulous use of the Seine.  It was inevitable that the Brits would someday catch up and would start to develop a world-class waterfront to showcase London.

And so it goes that pretty much everything starts around Westminster and heads east towards the new developments down at Canary Wharf.  The east of London, once a wasteland full of warehouses and disused wharfs, is now a principal point of traffic with its own airport, super high-speed trains, and new buildings that pop up it seems every six months or so.

For me, one of the greatest joys in London is to take a river tour of London’s history.

These are essentially boat rides that encompasse the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the London Eye, Shakespeare’s recreated Globe Theatre, the Tate Modern at the old Bankside Power Station, and the fabulous new London City Hall, the Shard, the Walkie Talkie, the Gherkin, and the Millennium Bridge, otherwise known as the wonky bridge.  Not to mention the fabulous Tower Bridge and its neighbor, the ancient Tower of London.

So a bunch of us decided to do this journey using the Thames RIB Experience boats.  Essentially, it’s a high-speed boat ride eastward down the river with different possibilities for location – Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf, or the Thames Barrier.  It is a great ride.  You embark at Embankment Pier and the journey can take anywhere from 30 to 75 minutes depending upon how far you want to go.

The boat twists and turns in spectacular fashion as you get into open water after Tower Bridge. It’s powered by 740 horse power, in other words it moves very fast.  It rained a bit but nobody got wet because the boat was moving at jet speed!  It was one of the fun ways to see the river and count the changes that have graced this skyline.

One shout out to London in the midst of the Brexit catastrophe – Congratulations!  You have a Muslim mayor, the son of a Pakistani postal worker, in this most cosmopolitan city.  So proud to be a Londoner!
River Tour of London’s History

River Tour of London's History

Brexit: The Days After

Brexit: The Days After

As a Brit living in the USA and holding a UK passport and a USA passport, I felt that I had this unique opportunity to work and travel in 29 countries.

That changed. The United Kingdom has just experienced a political nightmare.  What most thought would be a very passable referendum to remain inside of the European Union sparked such fierce political divisions that the vote went into the night and became a cataclysmic defeat for those that wished to remain in the EU.

The political fallout from this is still happening.  The Labor Party, Britain’s main opposition party, has been splintered and almost certainly sidelined for many years to come.  The Conservative Party has lost its leader and the Prime Minister.  As two populist conservatives, Boris Johnson, the disheveled and outspoken ex-Mayor of London, and Nigel Farange, a leader of the generously named but highly racist Independent Party, became the outspoken leaders for the “leave” camp.  Neither of these two villains will see power but they did enough damage to offset the gains made by being a member of the European Union for the last 45 years.

It was a campaign fueled by fears of immigration laced with racist terms.  Bringing “England back to England” banded around with frightening repetition.  At the end of the day, England is out.  The ramifications of this will be most obvious in the years to come.  In a global society, in a global economy, England has chosen to be isolationists fueling the immigrant polemic and walking confidently backwards into a “we once were great” illusion.  If that is not enough, English hooligans were on display everywhere during the European Championships of soccer.  To let you know what you really will be getting if you cut off the supply of bright, young Europeans who come to England to study our language, our culture, and more importantly, to work.

What does all of this mean for the traveler?

On a positive note, it means that your dollar will go further because the pound is tumbling and the euro has taken a hit as well.  It will probably mean more border checks and as England is not in the EU, the lines will be a little longer on the Eurostar and at the airports.  The fact that the United Kingdom is not in the Schengen Agreement which entitles free mobility between 19 countries will make it less of a problem.  For the United Kingdom passport holder traveling to Europe, it will mean longer lines and no freedom of movement.  It will mean that people will not be able to work freely with a British passport in any of the 27 member states and of course vice versa.  It means that in five to six years’ time, London will probably seem a little bit more English and that is not a good thing!  I love hearing the sound of foreign languages on the streets of London.  It makes me feel that I am in a cosmopolitan city, it encourages languages to be studied, and cultures to be learned.

Europe just lost one of its stars.  The United Kingdom is also the second largest economic country in the 28 countries with Germany still as number one.  But critically, Europe will still be a trading block of over 450 million people and therefore the second largest trading block in the world behind China and ahead of the USA.  The United Kingdom, in addition, may also become somewhat disunited within itself.  Scotland, who fiercely voted to remain in Europe, will probably elect to have a referendum and leave the UK.  Northern Ireland may do the same.  That would leave a very strange United Kingdom.  But for us tourists it would mean that we would have to go through border control to get to Edinburgh and the drive from Dublin to Belfast would also have a new border constructed.  Maybe we will have a united Ireland!

Of course none of this will take place right away.  Article 50 of the EU is the thing that has to be invoked.  That will set a two-year timetable for the unprecedented departure of one of the member states.  Thank goodness my grandmother is Irish!  I am applying for my Irish passport now!

 

Brexit Pietro Place Peter Jones

The Brexit Debate

On June 23, the UK will hold a historic referendum that will determine whether they stay inside of the European Union or exit.

“The Brexit,” as it’s called, has divided the country.

Britain was a relative second choice to the initial family of six countries that formed the early version of the European Union in 1957.  The French, under President Charles de Gaulle at the time, had little time for the English, and the English had little time for the French.  But England joined in 1973 and became a big player in the EU which now has 28 member states.  They also enjoy a semi-unique status inside of this massive economic trading block.  The Brits retain their currency and want nothing to do with the open border policy that is known as Schengen.  With the exception of the UK and Ireland, the rest of the EU is obliged to adopt.

For most European member states point of view, the Brits are already getting a sweet deal – Trade collaboration, protection, and stimulus of a huge economic block but they still retain sovereignty over their borders and currency.  Especially in light of the recent immigration crisis that has resulted from the Middle East conflict.

So which way is this going to go?

Right now current polling suggests that the “stay-in” vote has a slight edge over the Brexit vote.

It’s too close to call but David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, has staked his reputation on the “stay-in” stance. However, the flamboyant Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is considered to be a potential heir apparent for the Prime Ministership, is on team Brexit.  The right-wing UK Independence Party and some would say openly racist party, UKIP, is solidly for Brexit.

For me, I like the European Union.  I enjoy the international flavor of London with the open flow of European workers in hotels, bars, and restaurants.  I love hearing the languages.  On any given day in any given restaurant or hotel, you can speak with a Pole, Slovenian, Italian, or Spanish citizen.  It creates a better community and in many ways it teaches us through trickle down to love thy neighbor.  Yep, even the French!  I like moving through the open borders of Schengen on my Euro passport.  I can remember when I was growing up in London traveling “abroad” on our holidays to strange foreign places with sunshine and warm seas called Spain and Portugal.  They were third world countries recovering from decades of Fascist dictatorships.  Now they are integrated into a powerful block of healthy economies that make them better.

Consolidation is the way of the future; just like airlines and hotels.  It is economically impossible to survive and prosper as a tiny island state.

Frankly, to sit on the lawn, looking out across the English channel, lamenting the days when once we ruled the waves, smoking the pipe and sipping the Pimms, talking about India and places in Africa whose names have since changed, is a daydream of colonial bygone days.

Yep, I know the Brits struggle with the French and the French struggle with the Brits but this is the future and that is the past.  They gave us garlic, baguettes, fabulous cheeses, champagne, and wine.  The Brits have the beer, the aristocracy, theatre, and tradition that still lives.  Not to mention the culinary delights and natural wonders of the other 26 European countries.  This is not just a powerful economic trading block, it’s a new way of life and I am grateful to be a European.  I don’t want to lose the touch of Europe that we would lose if we took the narrow view and leave.  We would have to rename the song “Rule Britannia” into “Fool Britannia.”  The UK would be marginalized.  It would become a niche business!  That would be a drag for all of us.

Paul Smith Pietro Place Peter Jones

What I Like About Paul Smith

I like shopping and I actually prefer going to shops rather than surfing online.

As I get to travel, I am probably spoiled for choice.

One of my favorite shops is Paul Smith in London.  I started going to Paul Smith in the late 1970’s.  I loved the shirts and shoes from the very beginning.  It was a sort of cool, edgy, and a very “Londony” look.  As I was living in the States, it was a way  to keep myself in tune with England!

So, all those years ago and still, I go to Paul Smith when I am in London.  I love the tiny street in Covent Garden called Floral Street where the store is located. Everyone is helpful, trendy, and more or less my sons age!  Actually my son who lives in Washington DC, always asks me to buy him a shirt whenever I am passing through.  He even pays me back!

This past Christmas, I bought him a couple of shirts as a gift.  However, one of them, as he later discovered, still had the magnet attached and had escaped the alarms in the shop.  So the present wasn’t a present but rather a pain!  With no Paul Smith shops in DC or Boston, I knew I would be in London soon so I popped in armed with photos of the unusable shirt.  I chatted with a nice sales guy who had the deputy manager, Alex Sivyer, come down.  He assessed the situation, said, “Here’s what we will do.  Buy a shirt today.  It’s on us.  Bring the other one in whenever and well take the magnet off.  2 for 1!”

And that’s why I shop in Paul Smith.  I wish every store could be like that.  Great ethos, great people, and everyone obviously likes the guy who owns the place. Hats off to Paul Smith.  It’s not just about the clothes.  It is about the attitude and the culture towards the customer!

Oyster Card London Pietro Place

Oyster Card

Oysters are amazing and I love them.

I even know how to shuck them pretty fast – something that I picked up from a mate of mine that works at Legal Seafood in Boston.  When I travel to London, I love the rock oysters.  They are not farmed, they are briny, super delicious, and quite deep.

Oysters are most famous in towns like Colchester and Whitstable so it is no surprise given the English obsession with oysters that they chose to name their metro card the “Oyster Card.”  Believe me, when you are travelling in London, your life depends upon this card.  It is your ticket to ride on the underground and the double decker buses.  Think of it like this – London is a huge city with over 8 million people and geographically it covers an area of 1,580 square kilometers.  The subway system in England is the oldest one in the world and reaches out way beyond the center of London and into the rural hinterland.  Nowadays, every bus accepts the Oyster Card which means that you can jump between the superfast subway network and a super cool Routemaster bus.  If the traffic is getting crazy, abandon ship and head down to the subway.  If the subway stop is too far or inconvenient, grab one of the many buses that fly by you on the street.  The stops are well marked and very civilized.  As for getting in from the airport, the subway system delivers you right into the center of town from Heathrow.

With the Oyster Card, the discounted fare will cost less than £6.

Essentially, the city becomes yours!

But here is the deal with the Oyster Card – you must put a deposit down of £5, but when you leave, you return the card and receive that money back.  Whatever you have left on your card is shown clearly whenever you put your card down on the yellow entry/exit pad.  They are easy to top off using cash or credit.  Given the high cost of the subway in London, if you are there for one day I would probably invest £25 in an Oyster Card and use it up the kazoo.  It is not cheap but it beats the alternative.  Happy travelling!