Friday, 3 April 2015

The Overture (followed by a birthday)

Yesterday marked the day of my birth and I had a wonderful time celebrating! Of course it went far too quickly but lucky for me I had a visit from Ma & Pa for a bit of a warm up (or, Overture as I decided in the end; it was a pretty epic two days)! One of my favourite things about birthdays is that they provide an opportunity to share my favourite places and pastimes with the people I love! 

Forming an itinerary was a slow process. The only problem with a birthday at the end of March is that one has no idea what the weather will be doing. Some years I've seen heat-waves, others snow, so I never know what to plan for. I began with an extensive list 'To Do' because I just couldn't decide. Fortunately (although probably more unfortunately), the rain clouds that would not go away on BBC Weather narrowed down my choices, although at the same time revealed to me how few sheltered places there are to run to in London that won't cost money or be incredibly well-populated on a wet day!

After a slightly disorientating start on Sunday morning caused by my communication confusion (as is my way), we sat down to tea and hot cross buns before braving the day (the weather was already horribly drizzly at this point). Our first port of call was God's Own Junkyard! We arrived 2 minutes before opening (I had to Google it as sudden fear suddenly struck when we were greeted by a shut-up-shop that perhaps it didn't open on Sundays after all... it does) so stood in the rain looking far too keen until an ominous, I think religious (?), figurine and a brightly coloured cow signalled it was time for us to go in. We were all suitably mesmerised as we drifted around with other keen customers (I say customers, I think most of us were there to admire rather than buy the art)! Lots of oohs, aahs and photos later, we sat down to tea.

Papa & I are the masters of 'looking natural'...

As much as none of us fancied facing the elements when we were quite so content, there was lots on the list so we continued on our journey. Next stop, London Bridge in the hope of finding some lunch at Borough Market... which is apparently closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, we appreciated the architecture and I (well, actually Mum) finally found the umbrella canopy for a photo opportunity. Our tummies rumbling, we wandered on towards the river and Hay's Galleria. However when a Pret a Manger is in your path, you have to seize the moment and grab a sandwich and a tea. Never lets you down! 

Again, sheltered from the rain we weren't ever so keen to venture back out, but we finally mustered the courage and continued on to Waterloo. In the wind the fumes hit us before we even saw any graffiti, causing Dad to wonder whether we might require a mask like the artists. Our turn along Leake Street was relatively short and unfortunately The Vaults were closed while the venue was being prepared for the next festival (which I believe will have actually started by now). With Sunday apparently proving more traditional in London than we expected, we ventured forth to the Southbank for tea at the BFI.

There was obviously a film screening as the bar was overflowing. Fortunately, despite the rain, the temperature was relatively mild out so we took a seat outside and tightly clasped our teas whenever the wind blew! As I'm sure I've mentioned before, the tea selection at the BFI is very lovely. However I'm not sure what was going on this time but despite being quite certain that we had the right teas as they were given to us, when we came to sniff and taste them, we were less than sure what flavour we each had. So we muddled through and just kept whichever we liked the taste of, swapping occasionally for a wider taste experience (we were all just so perplexed)!

A hint of blue sky gave us confidence that we should continue on to our next destination. So we set off for Camden, hopping on a Boris Bus (otherwise known as the new Routemasters) for a couple of stops just for the experience! Oh, but the blue sky had been slightly misleading and as we crossed Waterloo Bridge in pursuit of Charing Cross station we were well and truly buffeted by horizontal rain and ruthless winds. It's an awfully long bridge when you're in fear of being blown sideways and right off it!

I love Camden. The hustle and bustle and the maze of stalls. This time we ventured into the new part of the market and were pleasantly surprised by a cute tea shop and lots of good quality antiques and vintage hidden in a corner that I probably couldn't find again even if I wanted to! We likened the experience to Casablanca and the Soukke, only perhaps with less hassling and dodgy-looking curtains hiding goodness knows what to sell. After losing ourselves in memorabilia galore, we were led again by our tummies to Poppie's fish & chips for tea! I had a fish platter which was just... yum! I have yet to discover another fish & chip shop which serves food on a par with that I eat in Norfolk, so it's a favourite haunt of mine!

A day well spent, we parted company for a well-deserved rest before another early start the following day. In bed with Trevor McDonald and the Mafia; bliss.

Monday morning began with tea at Beyond Retro on Stoke Newington Road. This time we were confident that we had the right tea (or coffee) as we sat watching the world go by from bar stools by the window, Stevie Ray Vaughan playing in the background. Initially very impressed with the choice in music, I'm not entirely convinced that live albums are the most appropriate choice for subtle background music. Suddenly our ears were filled with the screeches of a guitar being manipulated in a less-than traditional way. While such musical... experiments, have great power when seen on stage, they're not so pleasant to listen to. It was our cue to leave. So after a vintage browse, we made our way to Brick Lane to pay a visit to the Vintage Emporium.

A Sunday-Monday visit made me realise how infrequently I leave the flat for adventures on any other day of the week besides Saturday as yet again we were met with a very definitely closed café. Brick Lane plays host to a wealth of places to eat and drink so we weren't too deterred. My only concern was that I'm not entirely sure whether it was just closed or has gone completely. I must return soon to find out! So we just had to partake in a little more vintage browsing before our tummies rumbled again and it was time for pie!

Square Pie in Spitalfields was a New Year discovery. The BBQ Bourbon Beef pies blew my mind, so I've been back once or twice. We were hoping to introduce Mum and Dad to said taste sensation, but there appears to have been a change to the menu so they were nowhere to be seen (apart from in a take-home-to-cook form, so obviously we snapped those up just in case)! Nevertheless, we had tasty alternatives which filled a hole and would keep us going through to tea time.

Having only spent a minute on a Boris bus the day before, we decided to take another to our next destination for a longer ride from Liverpool Street to Tottenham Court Road. At Tottenham Court Road we got side-tracked by Primark (I just automatically typed 'Primary' then. Can you tell I'm a teacher?) but when the maddening crowds finally put us off, we escaped to the new Foyles aka Heaven.

Unfortunately there was no room in the disappointingly tiny, slightly too M&S/John Lewis-style café. Nevertheless, we found plenty of amusement in the form of sheet music in drawers reached by ladders (pretty sure I've written about these before because they're just that exciting!), the jazz section, comics galore and the new Little Black Classics by Penguin Books lining every staircase (dangerous)! Crucial purchases made, we were in desperate need of tea, so we carried on our way.

A little along from the new Foyles lies the old Foyles, now full of tacky shops that we hope are not to stay. Well-hidden amongst the tat however, is the old Foyles café about which I have only heard tremendous things. Having now had a tea and Portugese Tart, I can totally vouch for those tremendous things. The atmosphere was lovely; a slice of peace above the madness of the streets below. A good selection of teas, board games (been searching FOREVER for a place to play games that doesn't call itself a 'game café/bar'!), tasty snacks, art, great music, comfy tables and chairs, we were happily settled! 

You wouldn't believe how many attempts it took to settle for this very 'natural' photograph...
When we eventually tore ourselves away it was on the hunt for a new tea tray. When I visited Paris many years ago, I brought back a tea tray with a map of the Metro on it. Unfortunately, it has officially bitten the dust, so Ma and Pa are in search of a new one of similar design. I wondered whether the London Transport Museum shop might be the place to go, so that was our next port of call. Possibly as busy as the museum itself, we took great pleasure in a browse; particularly appreciative of the use of old upholstery from trains and buses as cushion covers, purses and even dog coats! Unfortunately, the tray they had to offer was not up to Dad's standards (something to do with the handles), so I guess I'll just have to head back to Paris to find another Metro one. What a great shame!

Finished with Covent Garden sooner than we expected (having been without rain all day, it was beginning to spit so we didn't fancy wandering around in the open air) once we'd stopped off at the Moomin Shop for a cuddly Moomin Papa (for my own Papa, naturally), Mum fancied a trip to Westfield, so off we went...

Not too horrendously busy, we did a bit more browsing then had our final supper (that's perhaps slightly over-dramatic) at Wahaca which went down very well indeed! I'm always amazed by the amass of flavours and here was me always of the opinion that I wasn't a fan of spicy food, yet this was my third Wahaca visit!? Washing the spices down with chocolate and caramel sauce (with Churros, too) it was time to say goodbye again.

Birthday/Easter Daffodils.

After two days of zig-zagging around London, my birthday day itself was a little slower paced. I had made brunch plans and evening plans, so the time in between was spent meandering from one to the other, via pubs for tea and beers. 

40 floors up; brunch with a view at Duck & Waffle

'I live over there...'

Sunshine at St Katharine Docks

Stumbled upon the 'Royal Boat' (pretty nice view of Tower Bridge too).

A view of St Paul's Cathedral to end the day.

Finished off the night with bowling fun at All Star Lanes!

I may be 24 now, but birthdays certainly haven't got any less exciting yet! Maybe 25 will be a bit of a shock to the system, but in the meantime I'm going to enjoy this year as much as I can. I'm so grateful to have seen it in with the people I love doing what I love.