Tag Archives: London

Fish and Chips

I travel a lot. Always Friday night. It’s strange because when I was a kid, every Friday we had dinner from the fish and chip shop down the road. The sign outside read Frying Tonight! It was a weekly thing. Wrapped in newspaper, greasy and delicious with lots of salt and malt vinegar. The tradition of fish and chips stretches back to the 19th century. Origins are cloudy but it looks secure that it was both a Lancashire dish and an East London staple. Sephardic Jews brought the dish to London, and poverty and the sea brought the dish to the north. Oldham they say! Chips were cheap. Hence the saying. Cheap as chips! And deep fried was tasty and transformed boring potatoes into golden delicious hot salty delicacies. Cheap fish was used. Haddock or Rock Salmon. Nothing to do with Salmon. 

During the second world war, food shortage was challenging, and everything was rationed. Except fish and chips. And so, it became a staple of the diet in Britain. Nobody really loved fish, but coat with batter and deep fry it with chips thrown in and cut the grease with vinegar and then pour salt over the lot.  Now you’re talking! Is it any wonder that the Brits got a bad rap on food. Nowadays, its trendy. In cool and chic restaurants fish and chips with mushy peas is a staple! Considered still to be the consummate dish of the British Isles. Voted each year the most famous institution in England after the monarchy! Long may it reign! 

God Bless the Queen

How struck we all were by the display of pageantry and pomp at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.  Everyone said the same thing.  The British do this stuff the best. Precision and color on a sad day. Castles and Palaces and people who look similar, slowly trotting behind the funeral car.  People queuing for up to 22 hours to walk past the coffin in Westminster Abbey. Constant coverage on the BBC. Commentators provided background in whispered tones. And then we all were glued. Whether you were a monarchist or a republican. It didn’t matter on that extraordinary day. A peek into royalty, even though the family were a little smudged by drama and scandal, it made it even more fascinating. And then to see a transfer of succession, live on TV. Something we have never witnessed before. The drama of the walk along the Mall from Westminster to Buck House, the procession along the Long walk in Windsor and the absolute precision of every moment. Since 1066, more or less, an uninterrupted monarchy living in a castle and a few stately homes and functioning in what is now a symbolic way, but vital for the people of the UK. Theatre and Royalty. And the most popular icon in the world. The Queen. Now gone. Long live the King.

Brighton

“Ever since I was a young boy, I played the silver ball…” The Who

I love Brighton. I went to university there. I used to go on day trips when I was young, and even walked to Brighton with a few of my mates when I guess we had nothing better to do. 50 miles. Through the night. Stopped at every pub until they closed on us. Ah. The folies of youth. So, here I was on the London Brighton train for a college reunion of sorts. The train journey from Victoria takes 1 hour. Memories of youth as we sped across the English countryside enroute to the sea. I took a cab to the Hotel du Vin. Recommended as it’s in the “Lanes” and central to everything you need. We took the train out to Falmer, wandered around the university campus, rekindled memories of what I could barely remember and then headed back to the fun of Brighton proper.

Brighton became famous in the late 18 century as a vacation spot for the Prince regent, later George IV. Architect John Nash built the famous Brighton Pavilion in in the early 19th century just for him…decadent to say the least. Towards the end of the 19th century, the two famous Victorian piers were erected. Although the west Pier was “wiped out” in a storm. It has a metal skeletal frame and is preserved out in the sea for a potential future project. The Palace Pier, with its iconic fun, fair, roller coaster and slide still remains. I think the Santa Monica pier is modeled on it.

Brighton is famous for its labyrinthian lanes with shops and restaurants inside the tiny world of narrow alleyways that spill onto the seafront. Brighton is often called London by the sea. It has the buzz of a cool neighborhood in London, but with the super advantage of a sea front and a mix of traditional and modern scattered by the boat houses along the lower front. Sushi and jellied eels! Beyond Brighton, much to see. Lewes and Rottingdean stand out. I love the buzz of the place. If I lived in England, I think I would consider living in Brighton. But that’s another story. Another day!

Hotel du Vin Brighton

London’s Open Air Theatres

 

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When I think of London, I think Pubs, the Royal family, and theatre. And I think of rain and summers that fly by without a summer day in sight. But, ironically I think of open-air theatre. London houses two of the most famous open-air theatres in the world.

Let’s start with my favorite. The Regents Park open-air theatre. Founded in 1932, its located on the inner circle by Queen Mary’s Garden. By the rose garden. Its season is the summer.

See the source imageI have seen Midsummer Night’s Dream there so many times and it never tires. The clouds come in, the rain starts, the planes boom overhead, and the birds fly from tree to tree. It’s part of the set. Puck delivers his closing line and then the mad dash across the park, in total darkness and often pouring rain as the audience run for the last tube, a late restaurant in Soho or a taxi home. When I lived in London, I was always at the park. Sometimes at the Zoo, sometimes at the open-air pool but never got to the theater.

Shakespeare is a tale of two cities. Stratford and London. In London, if you ever have the chance, go book a seat (better a seat) at the Globe Theatre. A rebuild of an original theatre built in 1599, burned and rebuilt in the 1600’s only to be shut down by Puritans in the mid 1600’s. Damn Puritans! Spoiling all the fun! Eventually torn down to make way for housing and then rebuilt again in 1997! It is a beautiful reconstruction of Tudor architecture. Situated close to its original site in Southwark by London Bridge and famous Borough Market along the ancient Thames. This is where Shakespeare wrote and performed his works. Julius Caesar was probably the first play performed at the original Globe. The new theatre serves winter as well with the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. Using only candles as lighting it recreates a theatre experience like no other. Art isn’t easy but you get to travel to a time when it was more difficult than you could ever imagine!! Go travel and visit the Globe Theatre on a high school trip. You won’t be disappointed!

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Brexit…Its Complicated!

And if the world hadn’t changed and turned upside down enough, Tourism must deal with Brexit. Its complicated. Brexit for the Brits brings forth its own problems with tourism.

Imagine a British tour guide who would meet you in Italy because he or she happens to speak fluent Italian and is an expert on Italy but has a British passport.  Well, they can’t work in Italy any longer! Even worse, let’s say I’m a tour guide who picks a group up in London and wants to take them on the Eurostar (which is practically bankrupt now by the way) to Paris.  I’m an English passport holder and with the current law, cannot move with the group to Paris.  In other words, now until there is an urgent review, you simply cannot work outside of the UK if you have a British passport.  Period.

Travel organizations often use a lot of tour guides who currently work outside of the UK who are British passport holders.  Their English is….not bad… and quite often what they lack in historical and local knowledge, they more than make up with their unique British humor and acting abilities.  All this is now gone! For symphony orchestras, traveling theatre groups, people who are in the entertainment business and need to work inside the European zone, they no longer will be able to.  Gone!  Yes, a business traveler can still pop across to France for two or three days but the rest will not be legal.

Tourism depends upon tour guides who can handle different countries and speak multiple languages.  Incredibly, the British Government has overlooked this, and probably we’re all rather ironically fortunate that Brexit took place during the pandemic.  With zero business and zero travelers on organized tours, the urgency to fix this anomaly hasn’t screamed out just yet.
The Brexit decision ultimately will probably cost the Brits a valuable place at the International table.  As the financial business inevitably devolves to Germany or the Netherlands and the center of power that London once was gradually shifts, things are going to shake up.  London truly was an international city but in the past year 700,000 Europeans have moved out of the UK.  We’re keeping close tabs on this because our business depends upon a fluid border and Brexit cannot provide that.

Right now, the UK government has yet to consider any of this.  The European Union has already moved on.  Yeah, people love to travel to the UK because of the royal family, the fabulous theater, the double decker busses and the sheer weight of tradition that envelops it.  But London will miss that injection of European talent and youth that once was there.  People came to London to learn English, to take in the sights and to take part in the UK economy and some of them stayed and became resident Brits.  They started businesses and integrated into British society.  They brought fresh ideas and loved Britain maybe more than many Brits.  They became Brits.  Gone!

With Brexit or should we say more the European exit, Britain and specifically London will not be the powerhouse it was.  I hate to say it, but I think a lot of the people that voted for Brexit would probably reevaluate their decision if they had a chance to right now.  According to current polls Brexit would never go through.  But Brexit is done.

In the USA, we had a chance to dump Trump.  We get that opportunity, every 4 years.  With Brexit, it’s done and dusted.  It would be extraordinarily challenging to reverse the curse of separation from the European Union.  We must imagine that Britain will become less of an International powerhouse.  Less of a cultural heartthrob for Europeans. T he strong possibility that Scotland will call for another referendum to join the European Union as an independent nation.  We must imagine that Ireland essentially has already left. And where does that leave us?  That leaves us with Little Britain.  A short sighted and awful decision that leaves Brits minnows amongst the Giants of Europe.  Pity.

 

And I Found Myself in London and Rome

In my Facebook and Instagram world, I find myself traveling to all of my familiar haunts and daring to step into places that I am not so familiar with.  A friend of mine, who lives in the center of London, keeps me updated with his afternoon walks through the deserted city.  It makes me nostalgic as a Londoner.  I remember my mother telling me stories about the Blitz in World War II.  She lived in London and they would have to take shelter in their houses until they got the “all clear.”  The streets were empty.  I wondered if that emptiness was a little like the emptiness that we see now.
As a traveler, it’s fascinating to see a city like London with all of its craggy alleyways, pubs, and bookstores, its parks and squares, laid out perfectly with not a hint of a car, taxi, bus, or person.  I know that this is a temporary state of affairs, but the magic of my friend Jim’s afternoon walks replenish the soul and makes me smile and reminisce.
Then there are those memories in my photo library that I can plug straight into – like a Roman walk that I do every time I go to Rome.  Pictures from the past that I find myself scanning and then I recount in my mind the history of these walks that accompany me every time I return. And I wonder, how many years it will be again before we see this quietness.  Not a plane in the sky, not a horn on the roads.  It is as if the world has decided to give us a break and show us a “what if” in an attempt to slow down the madness of global warming and self-inflicted climate change.
When I look at the pictures that our beloved Carlotta posts from our Rome office, I walk with her through the empty streets around the Circus Maximus and look at the ancient temples and stroll through the Capitoline Hill, and look down to the Piazza Venezia, and it seems peaceful.  My niece, Jessica, who lives near the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, looks down on empty streets that lead to the Spanish Steps.  The beautiful, the Baroque, the Roman, all empty.
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Every city almost feeling like a busy museum that was on a lunch break.  Statues and churches that we had barely noticed come out of the woodwork.  Crossing the streets, you now have time to look up rather than trying to avoid the chaos and cacophony of cars and buses and scooters.  There they are and they have always been there.  We just never noticed.
And I wonder, when it all ends, when we return and jump on the planes and populate the places again, whether we have learned anything at all.  We do not have much time to think about it but it’s worth the thought.  These places need to be beautiful for the next 2,000 years.  It’s down to us.  We can have an impact on how we maintain the gardens we live in and how to proceed for the future.

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.