Italy/London – Part 5 – London | February 2012

After 12 days in Lerici (with trips to Pisa, Cinque Terre, and Portovenere), we flew from Pisa to London. We planned to extend our stay for a little vacation + neighborhood hunting. Aman loves museums, I love good food, and Gen loves taking a break from the cold and snowy Rocky Mountain winters, so London is always a great vacation spot for us. And since we’ve been considering a move to London, we wanted to check out neighborhoods that we might want to live in.

We had a few things we wanted to do:

London sightseeing

Because this trip was a combination of pure sightseeing + visiting various parts of London, we wanted to stay somewhere central but with easy transportation access.  We decided to splurge and stayed at the Marriott County Hall, right next to the London Eye. Close to the major sights, but with easy access to the Tube and trains by way of Westminster and Waterloo.

Our hotel
View of the London Eye from our room

After checking in and getting settled, we went out for dinner. With Aman in tow, our vacation meals are usually at non-fancy, quick places, sometimes hole-in-the-walls, sometimes chain restaurants. Spurred by watching too much Anthony Bourdain, this time we made reservations ahead of time at fancier places. Dinner the first night was at Nahm, a Thai restaurant in Belgravia (and, as I found out later, the first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Europe). The food was a departure from the regular Thai restaurants (no plain Pad Thai, but red quail curry), but very good with very interesting flavors. By the time dinner was done, it was late, so we returned to the hotel and turned in for the night.

The next day was set aside for the Science Museum per Aman’s request. One of the best things about London is the fact that all/most of the museums are free. Great world-class museums, all free (excluding special exhibits and movies). The Science Museum was no exception. Aman had a lot of fun in the flight simulator. He loved the hands-on magnet displays. We watched the fascinating IMAX 3D movie about the oceans. Aman went crazy in the hall full of model ships, running from one to the next.

Science Museum, London
Hands-on at the Science Museum
Glass man
Fascinated by magnets
IMAX 3D
Liquids
A brief history of time

After we’d seen most of the museum, we left and headed to Kensington Gardens for some snacks.

Kensington Gardens
Flower-filled meadow in February
Snacks in the park
Kensington Gardens playground

We made our way north to Bayswater since we had dinner reservations at Satay House, my favorite restaurant in the world. Their rendang daging with beriani was just as good as I remembered it. A quick Tube ride brought us back to Westminster, where Aman had to take some pictures with Big Ben.

With Big Ben
In front of the London Eye and our hotel

I admit, one of the reasons I picked Westminster as our base is because it would give me quick access to the area for shooting at any time of day (especially early mornings). So I took advantage of that the next morning and woke up around 6am for some sunrise shots. As expected, Westminster was deserted as I crossed the street and positioned myself for some shots of the Parliament. Unfortunately, the morning was completely overcast so the anticipated golden glow never materialized. Nonetheless, it was nice to shoot Westminster without the usual crowds.

Crossing Westminster Bridge, typically crowded, but deserted at 6:30am
Parliament and Big Ben in the early morning light
Dawn over London
Early morning commuters
Urban explorer

After breakfast, we headed out for museum day 2. This time Aman wanted to go to the “dinosaur museum”, so off we went to the Natural History Museum.

Warm enough for an ice-cream in February
Of course, the clear skies that I'd wished for at sunrise, came out later in the morning
Circle Line at Westminster

If there is one thing I can say about the NHM, it’s that this is what a museum should look like. The building is gorgeous, both outside and in. Ornate and intricate terracotta facade and moldings on the outside and inside. Awesome lighting inside reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie.

Natural History Museum, what a museum should look like
Natural History Museum
Main Hall
Charles Darwin presiding over the Main Hall
Tell me this doesn't look like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie
Intricate terracotta moldings

The exhibits were fascinating. Tons of great dinosaur exhibits. The exhibit on evolution was very informative. Aman got really interested in spotting the differences between a Homo habilis and a Homo sapien skull.

Learning about evolution
Enjoying the Natural History Museum
At the Natural History Museum
Entering the Earth Gallery through the rotating globe

Since we had a late dinner that evening, we went back to the hotel in the afternoon for a quick nap.

Aman already has the sleeping-on-a-Tube thing figured out
Tube station

That evening gave us a nice view of the moon and Venus over a Saturday night crowd.

Saturday night lights

That evening we visited with friends.
Skip to more sightseeing

Visit with friends

My old high school friends Asif, Ashraf, Fazle, and Navid lived in London, but we had never been able to meet up on any of my previous visits. This time we planned for dinner at Asif’s place in Harrow in northwest London, enjoying AC Milan vs Juve, great home-made Thai dinner, and just learning about living and working in London in general.

Asif and Ashraf
The kids having dinner
The game is over, but the game is never over
Asif w/ Liyaana
Fazle
Karaoke time
Navid

It was a very fun evening of catching up with old friends, and we got home late, around 12:30am.

Visit with cousins

We woke up late on Sunday morning. We had plans to visit my cousins Tina and Gina at the British Museum so Aman could see some of his “cousins”. Since we had been to the museum on our last visit in September, we spent more time talking and catching up instead of viewing the exhibits.

Great Court, British Museum
In the midst of knowledge

We had lunch downstairs where Aman got some presents for his upcoming birthday.

Lunch at the British Museum
Gemima
Josie
Gabriel
The anticipation is killing him
The eyes have it
Jon
Playing at the museum
Tina
Pencil recovery mission
Contemplation
Gina

We left the museum and headed over to a nearby park to enjoy the warm and sunny weather.

Father and son
Lilly was sick, but joined us at the park
Gen and Gina
Errol
Getting ready for some football
The pre-game huddle
The game is on!
An intense game
Almost a score!

After a thoroughly enjoyable visit and exhausting football game, we had to part, with hopes of seeing each other more if our London move worked out. Aman loved playing with his cousins — he kept talking about how much fun it was playing with them and how he wanted to do it again. Hopefully we will be able to do more of it.

London sightseeing (contd.)

After the football (soccer) game, we went back to the hotel. While Gen and Aman took a nap, I went out walking. Went down Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, then on to Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, followed by Regent Street.

Shooting Big Ben
Two empires struggling for domination
The obligatory London rental bicycle shot
Forbidden Planet - the basement stuffed to the rafters with comic books was a sight to behold
Scotland Yard

I returned to Westminster in time for some sunset shots.

Big Ben at twilight
Sunset of London

That evening we had dinner reservations at Kai Mayfair. Very good modern Chinese food (The Great Tiger of the Spice Route was particularly delicious) and service. I have to mention that we were very impressed with Aman’s eating; no chicken nuggets or hot dogs for him. He ate the regular food at all the restaurants, from chicken satay and beriani, to glass noodles with coriander and soy sauce, chicken kebabs and olives, and more.

On our way back, this being Mayfair, we saw several Lamborghinis, Aston Martins, and other fantastic cars parked out on the street for the night. It was quite unexpected, since in America, such cars would typically be parked in garages of gated mansions, not out on the street sandwiched between a Jetta and a Renault.

Lamborghini
Aston Martin, the best looking cars out on the road

We spent the next two days looking at neighborhoods.

Skip to more sightseeing

Neighborhood hunting

One reason for our London visit was to check out neighborhoods that we might want to live in, in anticipation of my proposed work transfer going through. Since we still didn’t know when it would happen, there was not point looking at actual houses, but we still wanted to get the feel of different areas.

Since the two offices I’d most likely have to go to are in Vauxhall on the South Bank and Woking (a 45-min train ride from Waterloo), we concentrated on south/southwest London. The first day we took the District line Tube down to Wimbledon. The modern High Street around the Tube station seemed quite considerable and relatively nice (although not in the quaint sense). From there we walked about a mile and a half to Raynes Park, a smaller (and cheaper) village to the south/west. An OK area, but didn’t really catch my fancy that much.  The Apostles area in Raynes Park was particularly devoid of any greenery. The added drawback of Raynes Park is that is doesn’t have a Tube stop (we took the train back to London). Wimbledon definitely was the better place.

The next day we visited Southfields. One of my former colleagues Josh moved from Colorado to London about 6 years ago. He lives in Southfields and had offered to show us around. We took the District line to Southfields. We were quite taken with the small High Street around the Tube Station. We stopped off at a cute little children’s bookstore, The Golden Treasury. While Gen and Aman stayed there, I went over across the street to a letting agency to see if they had any houses that we could view. Not that we would get a place at the moment, but we wanted to get an idea of what types of houses are available in our budget. As it turned out, they did have one house available a few blocks away. I got Gen and Aman (and Josh had joined us by this time) and we all headed over to the house on Longfield Street. It was a nice little house…with the emphasis on “little”. A 2-bedroom house, 782 sq.ft.  For comparison, our 3-bedroom place right now is about 1,600 sq.ft. So a definite downsize, but still something we could work with.

After the viewing, Josh took us around Southfields and gave us a TON of information about living, working, and playing in London. It was especially informative to hear how the public school system works in the UK. All the discussions made us more sure that we would love to make the move. We visited his house and then he drove us over to Wimbledon Village, with a quaint High Street, and then over to the beautiful open space of Wimbledon Common. We had lunch in the village before heading back to Southfields. All in all, it seemed like a great neighborhood, one that will definitely be on our shortlist. Now just have to make the move happen!

London sightseeing (contd.)

After touring Wimbledon and Raynes Park, we decided to celebrate Aman’s fifth birthday by going to Hamleys on Regent Street. Aman went crazy going through the multiple floors, running from one toy to another.

And of course, given that we were staying right next to the London Eye, there was no way we were going to leave without a ride. So we decided to continue the birthday celebrations with an evening visit.

Westminster
Eye over London
The Shard (background) and Waterloo Station (foreground)
Big Ben & Parliament

After the Eye, we went to dinner at Noura in Belgravia, one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants I’ve been to. I have to mention their chicken kebab — typically grilled chicken cubes can be somewhat tough, but this one was as soft as butter; I could cut it with a fork with just a light touch and it just melted in the mouth.

On our last full day in London, after visiting Southfields, Gen and Aman took a nap and I went exploring again; walked along the Thames to Millenium Bridge. Stopped in at the Tate Modern for some mind-bending artwork.

Climbing to Millennium Bridge with St. Paul's Cathedral in the background
Millennium Bridge
Turbine Hall at Tate Modern
Tate Modern
Looking down Millennium Bridge to St. Paul's
Double vision
Evening run

Upon returning to the hotel, I found that the London Eye was lit up not in its customary blue, but green.

The Thames and Westminster from Golden Jubilee Bridge
London Eye

On our last evening in London, we decided to stay in and order room service. That turned out to be a fateful decision, as I woke up in the morning with a bad case of food poisoning. Terrible upset stomach (constantly running to the bathroom), nausea (feeling like throwing up), shivering, and general weakness all add up to a bad time on a trans-Atlantic flight. Unfortunately, there was nothing else to do, so loaded up with medicines, we left for the airport. Fortunately, the flight was uneventful, and the British Airways staff were helpful enough to give me a hot water bag to stay warm (I feel chilly in airplanes even when I’m healthy). By the end of the almost 9-hour flight I was feeling slightly better (i.e. not having to run to the bathroom every 20 minutes).

Unfortunately, we still had a 1.5-hour drive to get home from the Denver airport. Thankfully, we had booked a ride on the Colorado Mountain Express shuttle and did not have to drive (especially through the Denver rush hour traffic). We got home safe and sound later in the evening, and I got over my illness in a few more days.

Overall, it was a great trip. I got some work in, we got to visit some great places that we’d never been, and returned to some places we love, and visited friends and family. Great restaurants and great food. What more could we ask for? Except for no food poisoning I guess.

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