Let them eat cake
Let them eat cake
There are very few things I love in life more than wine and cheese - and I mean very few. So when I heard about the semi-annual Cheese and Wine festival on Southwalk - which is right on the river next to the London Eye - I cleared my afternoon and prepared for a dream date with myself. And it was exactly that. Going solo to an event like this was actually very liberating. It was a nice day where I didn’t have to do anything anyone else wanted to do, I could go at my pace, and if I wanted to loop around the booths for another visit to the wine tasting sections - I could.
The festival is held twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall. This particular Spring Sunday, they lucked out with beautiful sunny and 60s weather. I definitely dusted off my sunglasses and left my jacket at home - the weather made the day that much more enjoyable.
Among about 50 booths, being equal numbers of wine and cheese, there were also micro-brew, halal, and pastry attractions. The wines represented much of the world from Austria to Australia and even a line of organic wines. The cheeses were mainly from the UK, but all fresh and unpasteurized. I have never had such delicious cheese in in my life - and that says a lot coming from Wisconsin. Apparently unpasteurized curd cheese is the traditional way of cheese-making. Farmers literally press it between cloths, place it in dark & damp areas of their farm, and wipe off the mold to rotate them daily during the aging process. What a craft.
Pastries and olive bar
London Pale Ale and fried risotto balls with chili and garlic sauce
The Cheese & Wine festival was by far one of my most enjoyable afternoons while being abroad. Beautiful weather and an excessive about of booze and cheese. Heaven.
Changing environments is a unique process for every individual. For me, adaptation has always been an easy, and usually fun, process. Downgrade from my Minneapolis apartment to London living? Sure. Change from sunny weather to rain and overcast? Okay. New university structure? Dealing. Taco Bell being non-existent? Fine, I can manage for a few months (no longer). But getting into a regular exercise routine? Forget about it.
As the model-Catholic that I am (I tried to type that with a straight face), lent is giving me a reason for some self-discipline. For about 3 weeks I have been making myself run 4+ times a week. In order to keep interest, I try to switch up my routes every few runs based on distance, etc… This run was based on power sightseeing. About 6 miles, 1 hour, and 6+ attractions total.
First up, the Gherkin. This is about 1/2 mile from my flat, headed south to the Thames River through the Financial district/City of London.
Up next, a little over a mile later, the anti-climactic London Bridge. Beautiful views of the city - but essentially just cement - and often confused with Tower Bridge.
Then the view of the Tower of London, a retired Battleship, and Tower bridge (from the other side of London bridge).
About 3/4 of a mile further - the iconic Tower Bridge.
Before completely crossing Tower Bridge, there is a wonderful view of The Tower of London and the City of London. Note: The positioning of The Gherkin compared to the first photo.
Once crossing back to the north side of the river, I ran around the tower of London and then headed in the direction I came. A few blocks inland, there is Sir Christopher Wren’s flame topped monument.
After this, on the 1.5 mile home-stretch, I pass Llyod’s of London and the Ten Bells Pub/Mitre Square - where Jack the Ripper’s first victim was last seen and where her brutalized body was found a few hours later.
This route is by far my favorite. It makes 6 miles seem like nothing - and with how much I hate overcrowded tourist attractions, running through them in less than an hour is ideal. Power sightseeing is the new double-decker bus.
Paris, as you know, is known as “The City of Love.” It is the origin of many love stories between French Kings and Queens, Johnny Depp and Paradis, and of course Kanye West and himself (but really, any city would do for him). My experience there mainly consisted of a love story between me, bottom-shelf wine, and carbs.
We stayed in an incredibly cheap (27 Euro/night) “hotel” across from the Bastille Monument - which were about the only two things that proved congruent with the advertisements. The advertised wifi was actually in a Starbucks down the road, the friendly English speaking staff must have been off for the weekend, and apparently “cafe” in French means “a table next to the reception desk for you to eat at if you bring your own food.” The contents of the rooms were two cot-like beds, their linens, a dinky bathroom with no shower curtain, and a roll of toilet paper. For lack of better words - it was a shit hole. But we definitely made the most of it via excessive amounts of wine and making some interesting friends with the neighboring travelers.
1. Eiffel Tower - The last time I had been in Paris, we did not actually visit the Eiffel Tower. We walked underneath it, stayed close to it, even spent time walking around the park - but never actually went up. This time around I was determined to suck it up, wait in an hour long line, freeze my ass off, and pay the 13 Euro to participate in the cliche. We lucked out and ended up at the top at the time of a beautiful sunset. Ultimately, I’m glad I did it - but I enjoyed the afternoon we spent picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower more than the tower itself.
2. The Louvre - The Louvre is the most extensive, and argueably the most prestigious, collection of art in the world. This museum is the holy grail of all art museums, and rightfully so. It is home to The Mona Lisa, Venus de Milio, and hundreds of other iconic pieces - but the environment is so distracting and frustrating that it completely ruins the experience. Three things come to mind: bad layout, overcrowded, overrated. There are way too many people and it is difficult to navigate, causing the use of space to actually do a disservice to the museum. It is obviously a “must-see” when visiting Paris, but I am not interested in going back any time soon.
Other than The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, we visited Notre Dame, The Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs Elysees. Notre Dame is gorgeous around sunset when the light is shining through the windows and incredible architecture - also, there is a small eatery and cafe called “Esmerelda” across from it. Connection to the Disney classic? I sure hope so. The Champs Elysees was also a wonderful afternoon walk setting us right at the foot of The Arc.
Because this is “Le Student Edition,” we actually only ate out once. We went to Refuge Des Fondus in Montmarte (http://www.paristriptips.com/where-to-eat/18e-arr-restaurants/le-refuge-des-fondues/) and had a blast. It is a favorite among my study abroad friends with a hole-in-the-wall feel, but a fun and authentic atmosphere. For 18 Euro you get a plate of munchies (olives, sausage, cheese, potatoes, etc…), cheese or meat fondue with endless bread, a before dinner fruity cocktail, and a generous amount of wine in a baby bottle! According to the travel site above, there is a wine-glass tax in Parisian restaurants, so the owners of Refuges des Fondus get around it by serving them via baby bottles.
Refuge des Fondus
Pre-drinks, munchies, and baby bottles
Aside from our one sit-down meal, we mainly packed picnics of bread, cheese, fruit, juice, and champagne. The total for a days worth of food and drinks for two people only ended up costing about 10-15 Euro a day.
Ultimately what makes Paris truly amazing is the every day experience of it. Not the tourist attractions, overpriced drinks, and food most of the world can’t pronounce. It is the sunny walks along the river, the beautiful buildings and apartments, and peaceful park picnics that make Paris worth falling in love with.
Up next: The Sensation of Paris - Le Mom Edition. I am heading to Paris again this weekend to meet my mother. I can bet my life that it will be a totally different experince, hence the “le-editions.”
What: The National Gallery
Setting: Iconic Trafalgar Square in the heart of London
The National Gallery was founded in 1824 with only 38 works of art purchased from a wealthy family by the British government, and is now home to 2,300+ pieces dating back to the early 1300’s. This massive museum boasts 66 rooms (not including their full sized theater, two cafes, and gift shops) with an affluent decor of antique seating and vintage wall treatments that have been designed to resemble the feel of the original gallery.
When I think National Gallery of Britain… I think British art, British artists, British themed art… Shockingly, there was barely any that I ran into in the 2 hours that I had spend there. Of course, there were stock portraits of King Henry the VIII and Queen Victoria - but I would go so far as to say that 2,290 of the 2,300 pieces have absolutely nothing to with Britain, aside from the fact that they purchased them with the ridiculous amount of money they historically had as a world-dominant super power.
The Manchester Madonna (Michelangelo, 1497)
One of my favorite pieces because it is an unfinished work in progress. The sketch lines and layout are visible, but there is no finished product.
Although the lack of British art was unexpected, the foreign art that filled the “National” Gallery was amazing. It is one of the largest collections in the world comprised of works with roots in almost all countries in the Western world. What was most pleasing about the gallery was how many relate-able paintings there were to my previous studies, knowledge, and experience. Seeing art and artists that you have only read about in original form is very personally connecting.
Speaking of connections… The layout of the museum was so poor, that it had a negative effect on my opinion of the museum. As mentioned, 66 rooms (52 being on one floor) is a lot to cover, much less connect. It was confusing and, frankly, annoying - I was more focused on how to get out than what I was looking at. I almost had to Tweet an SOS from the neoclassical French room…
Gorgeous ceilings and endless rooms.
Overall, The “National” Gallery is an amazing collection of art that holds an incredible amount of history and representation of art throughout the ages. But what is does lack is layout organization and actual National Art.
Big Apple Hot Dogs is a wonderful, authentic New York Style hot dog stand right around the corner from where I live. The dogs and buns are amazing (cooked to order) and the selection of toppings is truly immense - I’d like to find someone that could even name another hot dog topping that isn’t included in the spread. But what really makes this Hot Dog Stand is the friendliness of Abiye Cole - the man that sits behind the stand. In London - the land of no tipping, rude waitresses, and sub-par service - Cole stands out. He was nice enough to answer a few questions about his business.
Sensation: How long have you been around?
You ain’t living unless you crossing somebody’s line.
In the Soho neighborhood of London there is a plethora of places to go for a delicious sit-down lunch. Today I visited Imli (http://www.imli.co.uk/), which is a casual Indian restaurant with a modern ambiance. It specializes in Indian street food, served tapas-style or in platters.
I ordered a Chicken Curry Platter, which is on the lunch special menu - buy two, get one half off. It comprised of (clockwise from left) greens, papdi chaat, vegetable curry, daal, chicken curry, a savory patty of sorts, and basmati rice. The greens were, as they look, standard.The papdi chaat - which is essentially Indian nacho toppings over rice chips - was interesting. The sauces on it were an overpowering ratio compared to the chips (I am not partial to lots of sauces in general, so this may be biased), but overall pretty good. The daal - red lentils - was well cooked, not soggy and had great seasoning. Both the chicken and vegetable curries were delicious, especially on top of the basmati rice. The chicken was juicy and well marinated. All in all, a delicious Indian meal for an awesome price.
I would definitely dine here again, and am looking forward to trying some of the other tapas and drinks on their dinner menu!
Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.