Londres par train, la troisième fois

When we decided to move back to Austria we also booked another train ticket to London, just because it’s still really awesome to be able to take a train to London and go to London city center in two and a half hours.

We were on the train with the loudest British person I’ve ever heard. She spent the entire time talking to her seat mate about the most asinine topics ever. I realise that most of my conversations aren’t that interesting either, but at least I don’t have a voice that carries like hers did. I heard everything about how Australians call contactless payment paywave and not contactless, which is way more logical (except it’s not actually contactless, it’s without PIN but you touch the terminal with your card).

My brother in law had invited us to an English garden party. I started joking about bringing typically French things, like cheese and wine from France. That turned serious soon and we ended up taking a kilo of brie and a 5 litre box of rosé on the train to London. Mostly because I really wanted to buy the big one kilo wheel of brie once in my life while avoiding having a one kilo wheel of brie in my fridge for an extended period of time.

We stayed in a hotel on brick lane again, because we are bobos. A friend told me, that I’m not a bobo, but I enjoy the bobo lifestyle. Well, we had breakfast at a vegan café that offers a free community space for things like yoga and meditation. It also has a big blackboard that records the coffees that have been paid forward. So yeah, bobos, I think.

We visited all the same markets and food stalls again. I even recognised some of the street art I had photographed before in the area. In view of the upcoming move I managed to avoid buying too many things. Well, I bought small Frida Kahlo bags and paracetamol. The paracetamol I only bought because it’s so incredibly cheap in the UK and you can get it at any decent supermarket. That probably explains why France has twice the number of pharmacies per capita – they have a pharmacy monopoly even for over the counter medicine.

On Saturday, we took our cheese and wine to A’s small back garden and enjoyed a lovely English summer day. We even fired up the barbecue and I learned that there is diet tonic for a calorie reduced version of gin and tonic. We had skewers and vegan burgers and tabouleh and homemade raspberry tarte. It was a great way to spend an afternoon and evening in London. I include the little dairy product rant by A’s French friend in this review. 

On Sunday we had another bobo breakfast (eggs benedict!) and then we went to Selfridges. I wanted to buy period panties, because I’d heard of them and didn’t want to order them online – there’s simply too much choice. I had heard of them on the Guilty Feminist, a podcast I have been listening to for the last 6 months while walking to work. It’s a podcast about feminism by a comedian who invites other female comedians on to talk about all kinds of topics. I’ve laughed out loud on my way to work more than once. Deborah Frances White, who created the podcast and hosts it, likes to say “unexplained laughter disrupts the patriarchy” when people write in to say how they laughed out loud on the bus.

We checked out the food and drink selection of Selfridges as well and I went full bobo and bought avocado crisps (they were very hard and didn’t taste of avocado. I’d have been surprised if they had, to be honest.). I resisted a whole lot of other things, though. Gergö went from “no, we’ll buy beer to bring back to France later, at a supermarket”, to “wait here while I get a basket for my selection of fancy ales.” in under two minutes. I think it’s the puns that convinced us. One of the brands was called Yeasty Boys, how could you resist?

For Sunday night Gergö had tickets to see Paul Simon on his goodbye tour. The concert was in Hyde Park. I had a ticket for the recording of the Guilty Feminist at the open air theatre in Regent’s park.

It was awesome. There was an all-female a-capella group from Oxford, the Oxford Belles singing a medley of feminist songs. Because it was shortly after pride Deborah had invited LGBTQ+ people as guests. There were two people from Uganda and Tanzania who introduced their organisation to support LGBTQ+ refugees from countries where homosexuality is illegal. And there were two Brits talking about how their queer spaces had been sold to property developers to be turned into luxury flats.

The Reverend Kate Harford who is an ordained chaplain of the Metropolitan Community Churches – an explicitly LGBT+ affirming church, led a litany for queer spaces. So I actually prayed with a large group of people. Grace Petrie, a folk singer/songwriter, sang her song “black tie” after taking a stand against transphobia. There had been a take over staged by trans-exclusive radical feminists of the pride parade. They claim trans women are not women. Grace used the opportunity to say that these few activists who claim to act on behalf of lesbian women don’t speak for her. There were standing ovations for her, because that’s the kind of community it is. I already don’t get why anybody gets worked up about somebody else’s gender expression, but TERFs make me really angry because they must have experienced misogyny and homophobia themselves and yet turn those same dumb arguments against people. 

For the grand finale all guests got up on stage to sing “I will survive” together with a drag queen that had been a regular performer at one of the queer pubs. 

I love the podcast and how it introduces me to so many interesting topics and so many great comedians and artists. I love that it’s so inclusive and how it talks about a whole lot of uncomfortable topics with a lot of humour and self-deprecation. And there are not a lot of people in my life who share my interest in this topic. It was very refreshing being in a space with so many feminists in one place.

And I really, really didn’t mind missing out on the football championship finale. After France won the semi-finals there was honking and cheering until long after midnight. I don’t even want to know what it was like on the champs elysees on that day. People flock there to celebrate AND it was the day after bastille day. Still, French football patriotism seemed very different from the German counterpart. When Germany won the last championship we were on a houseboat in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and there were German flags everywhere – on houses and cars. In Paris I saw one single car with a French flag. There are flags hanging from windows, but fewer than I saw in Berlin when Germany were in the finals.

Our train back from London was on Monday afternoon, so we decided to go visit the Victoria and Albert museum Monday morning. There was a Frida Kahlo exhibition on. But when we tried to buy tickets at the museum all slots for the day had already been booked. I hadn’t even realised that museums can sell out. 

So instead we took a walk along the Thames, all the way to the Borough market. We had pies, because English, but also because the queue for the Thai food was really long. I also had goat milk ice cream, because it exists and must be tried. It tasted just like ice cream which is great, because I like ice cream and it was hot.

All during our stay the London underground had warnings posted to drink enough water and to talk to an attendant if you feel unwell and I thought that pretty ridiculous – It was 28 or 29 degrees and I believe nobody has ever felt well on the London underground.

Back in Paris the temperatures started climb as well. On Thursday it got up to 32 degrees in Paris. When we boarded the metro to go to gare de Lyon there were announcements in three languages to stay hydrated and in the German version I also heard something like “befeuchten Sie Ihren Körper” which I found really weird because we humans have a mechanism for that: it’s called sweat. For Lyon the preview was up to 35 degrees and I was fully prepared to spend the day at the shopping mall if it gets too much. I’m not built for this kind of heat and I’d rather miss out on Lyon than torture Gergö with my foul mood. (Spoiler alert: We went to a lake instead, it was awesome.)


Londres

Because clearly having two sets of visitors and a move isn’t enough for one month, we had also booked a trip to London in November.

I was even more badly prepared than usual, because of the move and everything still in boxes and bags and the rest being pretty chaotic. I spend hectic 20 minutes going through all kinds of things to find my oyster card and the adapters, for example. The night before we left I had a look around what markets Time out London recommended and that was about it.

We left at 10 am. From the new apartment it’s really just 5 metro stops to gare du nord, so no stress. There were lots of people because an earlier Eurostar had been canceled and there were nervous pensioners in the queue. I can’t stand people who cut the queue at all and in France it’s not as uncommon as I’d like it to be. When there was a couple who cut in line in front of us I started complaining to Gergö about it, but didn’t say anything to them because they weren’t English, so I couldn’t say “You bring shame upon your country!”

Other than me getting unnecessarily upset by retired French people, the trip was okay and we arrived in St Pancras sans problèmes. We couldn’t take the underground though, because my oyster card was depleted, so we needed to recharge it. The machine wouldn’t accept any of our cards, though, so we had to find an ATM. The ATM seemed to work just fine, right up until the moment when it said, sorry, I can’t give you money right now. Only the third of three finally gave us pounds in cash and for a hefty fee. Then we only had to queue for an oyster card machine that accepted bills. Easy!

Because we liked the area so much the last time, we booked a hotel on brick lane again.  (I just re-read my blog post from then – I did the exact same thing like last year and went to the fancy chocolate shop for hot chocolate and took photos). We went there directly to deposit our luggage and went in search of the near by cat café to pass time until check-in. It was already full, though, so we ended up in a hipster pub drinking our first lunch beer within an hour or so of our arrival.

Most of the brick lane markets open only on Saturday and Sunday, so in the afternoon we decided to go to Battersea power station. I had read that there’s a “craft” market there, whatever that means and an old power station seemed like a good venue.

We took a bus and walked 3/4 of a circle around the power station in the cold, because the market was actually in an area that can only be accessed from Chelsea bridge and we didn’t know that. The market itself was disappointing and small and we were cold. I’m sure in nicer temperatures the area is quite lovely, (think museum quarter but smaller and less central) but as a lot of it is still under construction or very new it has a bit of a soulless vibe.

We returned back into town by river taxi. You can use your Oyster card for the boat and it’s scarily efficient going from Battersea back to London bridge, stopping for 30 seconds at every stop despite the access bridge being lowered and raised manually. I had promised a friend to take a photo of Big Ben, but I had forgotten that it’s under scaffolding right now (I can hear Gergö going “Big Ben is not the tower, it’s the bell!” but even Wikipedia thinks it can refer to both.)

We went to Old Street to meet with Gergö’s brother and ended up in yet another hipster pub. It was even called Craft Beer. When we entered Gergö thought for a second it’s a gay bar, because there were hardly any women inside.

A. showed us another pub, that was another 8 on the hipster scale with a vegan jackfruit burger on their menu. The burger was no longer available but the halloumi kimchi burger was good as well.

Saturday we looked at the various markets on and around brick lane (food! t-shirts! jewellery! more food! yet more food! streetart! So much awesome streetart! vintage clothing). We started the day off with the best pork roll I ever had. It had a fried goose egg! It was from a stall called swine dining. You know the kind – with a beardy dude really passionate about his product who tells you all about the breed of pig they are using that only exists in one place in Britain. I immediately grabbed what I thought was a plastic egg, put there for decoration. Well, it was a real goose egg, which I carefully put back on the pile. Re-reading my other blog post about our last London trip, a lot of the street art has changed. At least I didn’t notice many identical photos.

Later that day we ended up in Spitalfields market. There happened to be a craft beer and independent label thing at Spitalfields market. To Gergö’s amusement I insisted on bringing my little wheelie suitcase to London and not a backpack like Gergö. He stopped making fun of this fact when we started purchasing cans and bottles of beer from the many many stalls. Fruit infused pale ales are all the rage, chocolate/coffee stouts and porters are still popular. We also bought a spiced Christmas ale.

I thought we’d buy a drink or two and maybe a bottle if we liked it a lot. But the stalls handed out little cups to try, so it was our duty, really to try to support as many craft breweries as possible.

On Sunday we walked to Broadway market by recommendation of Gergö’s brother. The walk there led us past another flea market and Columbia road flower market, which is also very nice.

A man sitting at a table with four chess boards and a sign CHESS 4 FUN

Chess 4 Fun!

And Hackney city farm, so we visited the animals.

Broadway market is closed on Sunday, except for a very small Christmas market in a courtyard. There were people doing yoga outside in 5 degree weather. It was so disturbing to me, I couldn’t even appreciate the stall selling eggs that called itself “laid” and the obvious joke that went with it.  I was freezing by then and really needed to warm up somewhere inside. So we had a lovely meal at a place that ticked all the Verena breakfast boxes and consoled me a little bit about the fact that I couldn’t have a breakfast burrito at hola guacamole because the stall wasn’t open yet, when we walked past in the morning.

poached egg: check
Avocado: check
cuppa: check
fried mushrooms: check and win.

On our way back I felt human enough to take pictures again and fantasize with Gergö about him opening a hipster sourdough bakery in a former brewery.

We went through the food hall one last time to pick up dinner for our journey home. I was pretty convinced that I’d want to try Ethiopian food, but Gergö was sceptical about transportability of the food. It was a little messy, but it was so worth it. The Lithuanian stall is still here.

 

 


À l’autre côté de la Manche

We had a comparatively uneventful Saturday in London. Gergö needed a new pair of shoes and since I occasionally like to shop, he suggested we do that. I fall for it every single time: I think “oh shopping, we’ll find some stores and check out shoes”. When I want to go to a market I look at everything, touch a whole lot of things, maybe even try on something.

When Gergö needs a new pair of shoes he walks into the first shoe store, locates the chucks, asks for his size, tries them on, decides it’s too much hassle to ask for a different color, because it’s full and loud. Blue will do. Pays and leaves. “Shopping” lasted only about 15 minutes because it took the salesperson 10 minutes to find the right size.

We also wanted to try out an ice bar, where you can have a drink at minus 5 degrees. We found the ice bar pretty quickly, but we would have had to wait for an hour to get a seat. So we decided to go to the Porterhouse instead. It’s an Irish Brewery that has a few pubs in Dublin and one in London. Gergö actually really said “Who drinks beer in the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday?” The answer to that turned out to be: pretty much everyone in London who isn’t shopping on Oxford street at that moment. Northern Ireland was playing Belgium (I think) and we were very lucky to find a table. The only reason it was ailable was, because it didn’t have a view of the screen.

Gergö likes the Porterhouse beer but mostly I think he likes that he can get a set of three small beers to try.

Porterhouse beer

From there we wandered on to the Brewdog Pub. It’s a lot hipper than Porterhouse, with a much higher bushy beard quota. The best part of all that hipness are the names, of course. My favourite has to be Faceless Spreadsheet Ninja. The beer is so-so, but the name is great. I didn’t try weird beard, but I guess I have enough of this at home.

brew dog beer signs

You can get several very small beers there as well, Gergö was very happy.

brewdog beer

Don’t get me wrong, I like beer, but unlike him I didn’t feel the need to send a picture of every single beer we drank while in London to my BFF.

Towards the evening we wandered back to Brick Lane, so I could check out the chocolate store of choclatey goodness. The smell alone!

At this point my camera lense was pretty smeared and the photos came out worse than usual. It might have had something to do with the availability of greasy street food. Despite the “priced out of London”-penguin, we had dinner in the courtyard of a former brewery with food trucks named things like “meat porn” under a giant bow and arrow.

caboose with bow and arrow

While leaving we noticed that there was another market advertised for Sunday. I’m always a bit nervous about missing trains and planes on travel days, so I never want to do much. Another market close to the hotel seemed great.

There was so much food. We had about £ 5 left, so we had to make a very careful choice. We ended up trying a Lithuanian meatball fillled with cheese, with potatoes and some filled pasta. It was delicious. We also bought coffee from a guy who had converted his black cab, so that the roof could be raised. I was too intimidated by the big beard to take a photo (only hald kidding).

It was great, I could have stayed much longer, but our return train left at 2 pm. The check in process was even longer and worse organised on the return trip. And unlike France the UK didn’t even have the friendly passport guy who said “Auf Wiedersehen!” to me. And just as I smugly wanted to tell Gergö about it, assuming he wouldn’t get a similar treatment, he said he was greeted with “Jó napot kívánok!”.

I tried the automated passport controls this time and they are so much slower than the human ones. Sadly the person who oversaw the process couldn’t answer any of my questions. He only knew that the machines had been there for only two weeks, but not how often they failed, how long it takes on average, and all these interesting facts.

The return train was much nicer and had two different outlets per two seat

european and british outlet

 


Au Royaume-Uni

A while ago we decided to spend a long weekend in London, simply because it’s only about 2 1/2 hours away by train and the tickets were on sale. Our journey started under ideal conditions.

oyster card and adapters

We found our oyster cards and adapters, packed our bags and were about to walk out the door on Thursday when Gergö said to me “Yes, I’ll lock the door.”, followed shortly by “Verena!”. I was reading something on my phone and didn’t notice the ominous use of my first name at all. I closed the door behind me, looked up and saw that Gergö was fishing his keys out of his pockets again. He shook his head, disappointedly. Naturally, I assumed he forgot something. “Your suitcase?”, he said after unlocking the door.

I grabbed my suitcase and didn’t even have time to be embarassed about forgetting it, because at that moment an upstairs neighbour joined us in the stairway and started talking to us. I understood most of what he said (“You live here? Since when?! Really? Since August?!”) But it didn’t make any sense, so I asked him to slow down. Instead he switched to English saying pretty much the same thing. He thought someone much older was living here, not us. Did we live here all the time since August? Really, August?! But then we must have heard them upstairs! I said yes, sure, we did, and told him not to worry. I hear what I assume to be renovations going on upstairs from time to time, but I don’t really mind and we never complained either.

Mystified why our neighbour appeared so upset about our presence we left for Paris in a hurry. The Eurostar ticket recommends to be at the station 45 minutes early to check in. I knew there was a check in process at Gare du Nord but I had not realised at all that there would be serious passport controls. One queue for leaving France followed by another one for entering the UK, and both actually looked at my passport and my face. They also scanned the luggage and had us walk through metal detectors. You can still bring liquids and don’t have to remove your computer from your bag, though. Bizarrely there was a notice posted about not bringing WWI artiller on the train with you. Apparently it’s a recurring problem.

je ne regrette rien

I was really excited about going through the tunnel underneath la Manche, but it’s no different from any other tunnel. It turns out that it’s more the concept of taking a tunnel through the sea than the actual experience that I like :-)

Our hotel was a budget place in Whitechapel right next to the biggest mosque of London. It’s an area that used to be famous for Jack the Ripper and now is famous for its excellent Bangladeshi curry. The street signs are bilingual in English / Bengali. Because it’s Ramadan right now, there were a lot of ads asking for donations. I remeber those by muslim aid. I also saw that some restaurants advertise the possibility to rent the place to celebrate iftar for big groups and many stalls selling dates and sweets.

We loved the area right away. It’s really close to Brick lane, with lots and lots of curry houses, shops, street art, and a former brewery with hipster street food. We had great curry that first night. Before returning to the hotel we found a nice pub selling craft beer. We had a pint of ale, sitting down at a large table. Soon, we were joined by three women drinking wine. One brought the bottle and a jug of ice cubes which she proceeded to distribute in her friends’ wine glasses before pouring the wine. I still wonder if they’d get kicked out of a French bar for doing that or if the barman would simply refuse to give them ice cubes in the first place.

We met Gergö’s friend J for breakfast the next morning in Spitalsfield. We decided to walk there and it was one of those walks where I stopped to take photos every 5 minues.

It was only possible to get a table at the breakfast club because it was a Friday and not the weekend. It’s so hip, not even Barbra Streisand can cramp its style.

Barbra Streisand was watching us eat

Barbra Streisand was watching us eat

And sadly, breakfast club was also home of the most terrible pun I’ve ever read. That says a lot, as I live with Gergö.

I ham so eggsited

<insert sad trombone sound here>

After breakfast, we wandered around the area some more. There was a magic store that was sadly closed. I’ll never find out what the ingredients are of the can of vague sense of unease.

20160617_112305

And a shop selling craft beer. It’s a little comforting to know that it’s not only hipster coffee shops that have those terrible slogans on chalk board thing going on.

beer...now, there is a temporary solution 20160617_125436

And I found out that I’m not the only one resenting the signs and/or finding it all a bit much.

cupcake free zone - here to stay...not a pop-up

Gergö had really been looking forward to British ales. We like Belgian beer, but they are all comparatively sweet and strong. So we bought a few rare local craft beers to take home. We rested our feet down at the canal for a scenic cup of coffee.

canal  coffee with a view

On our way back to the hotel we stopped by Spitalsfield market. I snuck an illegal photo of the one tshirt that wasn’t on offer at every second stall. I got caught and very politely told off for it, too. I don’t feel too bad about it though, as the motive is already available on amazon.

crows before hoes 20160617_143159

Despite the bad treatment of red wine, I still want to see the UK remain in the EU. And as it turns out, Churchill agrees. Or possibly he has really bad indigestion, it’s very hard to tell from his expression.

We spent that evening at the London zoo. A couple of nights each summer it’s open late and there are street food vendors (notice a theme?) and special events.

I also saw Asian lions, an aardvark, a little monkey wee on a woman who got too close, a sloth, and spooning monitor lizards.