Our London Briefing

Good morning, Seattle.  Good afternoon, Luxembourg.

Here’s what you don’t need to know about our trip to London but may find useful. 

  • Airbnb and big cities.

Always a bit of a gamble, right?   Everyone’s trying to make a buck in the big cities by renting their flat which makes for a lot of choice to wade through and the potential to get either suckered or stuck with questionably clean sheets.  

With limited apartment hotel options in London and the need to lodge more than two people, here’s an Airbnb I can highly recommend.  This apartment is on the South Bank and a bit of a walk (12 minutes by my watch, more than that by my children’s watch) to nearest Tube station, but for what it lacks in obvious convenience it makes up for in being on a very cool, gentrified-within-the-last-5-years-street called Bermondsey.   Kids cool = Franco Manca (pizza) and The Watch House (mind-blowing pastries).  Grown up cool = Village East (bfast, cocktails),  Fuckoffee (coffee, wifi, questions from the 9 year old), Jose (tapas we wanted to have) and The Watch House (coffee, seriously… mind-blowing pastries.)

Not all of us can swing a hotel in South Kensington, so other neighborhoods to check out for lodging are Shoreditch, Clerkenwell and Southwark.   If traveling as a pair, our vote for best hotel /value is the citizenM Hotel in Southwark.   With several trips a month to London, my husband has sampled many hotels and has chosen his second home at The Zetter Hotel in Clerkenwell.

Bonus tip:   Since we are on the topic of Airbnbs and big cities, here’s an apartment (this one centrally located) to recommend in Madrid. 

  • Showtime.

With more than 40 theatres in the West End, you can’t go to London and not see a show.  We saw “Bend if Like Beckham: The Musical” at the Phoenix Theatre.  It cost only 29 euros a person to be in the 6th row for a 2 ½ hour feel good celebration of sport and culture and girl power.   Show ends March 5.   For the best deals (like the one we got), go to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square at 10am (be prompt!) for day of tickets.  This method does require show flexibility.   Yes we wanted to see Lion King.  No we didn’t want to stand.

Bonus tip:  Not only is the art & design Victoria and Albert Museum free but it also has an excellent Theatre and Performance Collection.  It’s also the best of the trifecta of free museums in South Kensington (V&A, The Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum) to attempt on a busy Saturday morning.

  • Where to eat.

In London that’s not a fair question.  There are so many good places to eat.   Skip Trip Advisor for recommendations and see what Time Out London has to say.  Here’s a previous blog on places we like to eat in London, many of which we visited again.

Bonus tip:  Booking for dinner is always a good idea and turns out to be a necessary one when it’s Saturday and Valentine’s Day. We finally lucked out and got a late table at Rabot 1745, a restaurant in Borough Market where every dish includes cacao. The well established aphrodisiac.  On Valetine’s Day.  Makes sense why the 12 top table was available.

  • Chipotle clear.

We did eat at Chipotle and did not get sick.

Bonus tip:  If you are in London, be better than Chipotle. 

  • Little Pakistan (or not).

The first time we went to Tayyabs in Whitechapel we waited an hour for our reserved table.  On a weeknight.  The scene in the waiting area could only be described as complete chaos to us as Westerners but typical in other parts of the world.   The food:  worth every minute of waiting.  My husband wanted to bring the boys to give them a little window of what his trips to neighboring India have been (and tasted) like.  After all the buildup about the wait time and commotion this time we got seated in 2 minutes.  As for it feeling like Little Pakistan, it did not.  As for the taste … oh yes.

Bonus tip:  Spicy is the default so it you don’t want spicy, speak up or suffer.

  • All about cravings.

You don’t have to be a science nerd or interested in space to enjoy the Science Museum London.  Like right now there’s a special exhibit on Cravings and how food controls us as well as exhibits on Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci.  I’m just now realizing that we had cupcakes at The Hummingbird Bakery right after.

Bonus tip: Skip the 15 minute simulator on the The Mallard:  the world’s fastest steam locomotive (boring!) but do catch the IMAX Under the Sea showing. Trigger warning:  sea snakes. 

  • If you miss book stores.

You have to visit Foyles on Charing Cross Road.  If you bring your children, plan to park it for at least a couple of hours.   Not only does it have the biggest selection of children’s books I’ve ever seen but they are also conveniently located next to the biggest selection of cookbooks.

Bonus tip:   You also really need to visit Stanfords, the world’s biggest map and travel bookstore.  If you bring your husband, plan to leave with lots of detailed maps you’ll wonder why you’ll need in the age of Google.  The answer: country roads for cycling.

  • University scouting.

Back to back day trips for your 18 year old to visit two of the universities he’s been accepted into  seemed like such a good idea until you realize end to end travel time would be like going from Seattle to Portland on Thursday and then again on Friday.   Nobody wants to do that.   So because it’s about the university and not the city, he skipped beautiful Bath in favor of having a look see at Warwick.

Bonus tip:  beauty isn’t everything.  He loved Warwick.

  • Bow down to Nike.

No trip to London with boys is complete without a visit to the Niketown on Oxford Street.   Visits are that much better when a sales person tosses your 12 year old a basketball and asks if he can do the spider dribble … and it leads to a mini ball handling “performance.”

Bonus tip:  Only promise to buy a pair of socks.

  • Budget busters.

It’s no secret London is an expensive city but what will catch you by surprise is how much you spend on subways and buses.  Because I worked up a little budget to actual spreadsheet (this too shall pass), I know I spent 130 euros for 3 people over 3 ½ days.  (Under 12s ride free and working husbands are working and not transporting with you.)

Bonus tip:  Tap in AND out otherwise you’ll be charged for most expensive fare. 

  • Following in Cameron Diaz’s footsteps.

So no, we didn’t see her.  But our son Colin went to visit an old friend from Luxembourg who is now living in the village of Godalming, 45 minutes outside of central London, where the movie “The Holiday” was filmed.   Seems like a good place for a house exchange and apparently they have Laser Quest there too.

Bonus tip: If you can find them, play dates/hang outs while traveling are strongly encouraged. 

Our Travel Briefing is published when travel happens at various Luxembourg times and rarely updated.

What would you like to see here? Contact me at

London: A Taste of Two Markets

You can go to a food market and take pictures or you can go to a food market and eat.  It is hard to commit to both things at the same time.   If you happen to be in London and are thinking about visiting the Borough Market (maybe on your list) or Brixton Village Market (probably not on your list) for a bite(s) to eat, do yourself a favor and leave the camera behind.   Based on the few photos I did take, I obviously had my priorities right.

Borough Market is London’s oldest and most well-known market near the London Bridge.  Everyone knows it like they know Pike’s Place Market in my hometown of Seattle.  Set under a rail viaduct, the market snakes around into several sections that you are best to scope out before calorie committing.  Much of the market, which includes traditional food stalls and lots of street food takeaway options, is under cover.  The full market is open Thursday-Sunday with only a portion of it open on Monday-Wednesday.   It seems like the week days are geared toward the food wanderer in search of a £5 lunch and the weekends to the home cook collecting for a gourmet meal.  It certainly was busy with business suits and students at Tuesday lunch time but definitely not unbearable.   There is limited seating in the greenhouse or the garden of the Southwark Cathedral (which you must enter through the Cathedral to access) or you could take your food along to the South Bank.   Or you can inhale it while standing.    

I choose the longest queues, which in one case I had no idea what for until I saw the hog on the split.   After the salty, fennel seed spiked pork goodness on a ciabatta roll with rocket salad and a simple dressing at Roast Hog, I lined up for vegetable pad thai at Khanom Krok (which though tasty really isn’t a pleasure to watch being cooked as street food), and finished with seared scallops topped with a fistful of crunchy bacon bits over a stir fry of veg at Shellseekers.   That all happened in two hours.  I did toss the ciabatta roll to “make room.”  There was a killer toasted cheese sandwich I’d read about, Ethiopian food that looked delicious and so.much.more but without a partner in dining crime, I had to surrender until dinner.

On Wednesday morning I was back in Borough Market for a slow filter coffee at the seriously good Monmouth Coffee and a to-go piece of ginger cake at Bread Ahead.   Because Borough market is right near the London Bridge Station, it was conveniently on my way to Wednesday’s market exploration further south and outside central London in the up and coming neighborhood of Brixton.

Brixton Village (aka Granville Arcade) is everything Borough Market is not.   While Borough Market is filled with students, young professionals and tourists, Brixton is a multi-ethnic community largely of African and Caribbean descent, musicians and young people.  Brixton is the last Tube stop on the Victoria Line.  You’ll notice you aren’t in central London as soon as you exit the Tube.  There’s a lively street market that runs down the spine of the mixed residential and chain store neighborhood.  You’ll see every kind of fruit, vegetable, meat, fish, and flea market junk along the street market which leads to a covered arcade called Brixton Village.  Quieter and clearly gentrifying, Brixton Village is filled with nice vintage shops and a vibrant range of eateries that would take days to sample.  It’s more casual sit down than take away.  Brixton Village is where you go to eat your heart out and then pick up a few gifts. 

With an article in TimeOut London as my guide, I had a hard time choosing between Caribbean fried fritters at Fish, Wings and Tings, South American empanadas at El Rancho Del Lalo, Pakistani street food at Elephant, dumplings at Mama Lana and thai food at KaoSarn.  I decided on Thai and was blown away by the classic Larb salad of minced chicken with ground roasted rice, chili, mint and lime juice.  Reviews on Trip Advisor (why do I even check anymore?) say prices have gone up and they run you out over the dinner hour, but I still consider a £8.90 a cheap eat and the lunch hour was definitely leisurely and they were happy to chat with me.  It was only a salad but it was the best Thai I’ve had since the US.  If you are hungry and not sure what you want to eat, you will no doubt find something that strikes your fancy and doesn’t hit your wallet at Brixton Village.  And there were several good looking coffee shops too.

Later that night when I was back near the Borough Market, I bellied up to the tapas bar for a glass of wine and waited my turn for a table at very popular Brindisa Tapas Kitchen.  There are 5 locations throughout London.  A cute guy, who also happens to be my husband, met up with me there after his work and my 36 hours of eating.   Finally I had a partner in dining crime and while not as as heavenly as what you'd get in Spain, the fried sea bass with mash and charcuterie and queso plates were terrific.

If you are on a time budget when in London, Borough Market is a sure bet for a quick lunch and an eye-popping food experience.   If you time to commit to a longer lunch, the range of food options available at Brixton Village is well worth the adventure.

Trading £s for Lbs: A London Restaurant Guide

There are lots of wonderful food cities in Europe but no other place has the variety of London.  You can eat anything your heart desires and it doesn’t take much frantic searching on Trip Advisor to find something decent. 

In one full week in London, we ate 12 different types of cuisine: Pakistani, Malaysian, Japanese, Lebanese, Thai, British, American, Italian, Indian, Spanish, Turkish, and Mexican. (I know my children have more adventure willing palettes than most kids.)

Given the abundance of good options and the size of the city, recommendations are best sorted by geography.  So if you find yourself in South Kensington (where we stayed) or Soho (where you will find yourself at some point in your trip) here are a few recommendations:


Noor Jahan – upscale North Indian food (so more meat, less curries),  small with neighborhood vibe, apparently where Brad and Angelina eat when in London.   Lick your plate delicious.  An absolute favorite.  Booking required.

Patara – upscale Thai with non-traditional dishes, smaller portions but great flavors.  Another absolute favorite.  Three locations.  Booking required.

Carluccios – Italian diner, good spot for breakfast which they serve all day especially if you like fried eggs, pancetta and mushrooms.  Nice coloring packet for kids.  Several locations.

Comptoir Libanais – sit down communal table Lebanese,  great for lunch, mezze plates and excellent grill.  Several locations.

Fernandez & Wells –casual, order at the counter Spanish inspired breakfast with fried eggs, chorizo and cheese plate options plus excellent cakes, pastries, and coffee.   New next door is Roots & Bulbs for healthy smoothies.

Bosphorus Kebabs – excellent quality take out Turkish grill (no chips here!), very popular.  We did take out on Valentine’s Day since restaurants were packed.  One of the guys working pulled my husband aside and told him to buy me some flowers

Hereford Arms – great neighborhood gastro pub with comfy seating and screens for sport.

Also with several locations for a sweet fix is Gail’s Bakery and Hummingbird Cupcake (which I personally feel are overrated in taste but beautifully packaged.)


Satori – authentic pizza from Napoli, recommended to us by a Londoner originally from Italy.   Large seating area, good for before a show,  very welcoming with kids.

Jackson + Rye – traditional American brunch,  higher end diner feel with good lookin’ brunch cocktails.   Solid food but not anything unexpected except for the outrageously delicious maple bacon slabs.   Booking required.

Honest Burgers – small place always with a queue, simple chalkboard menu of only a handful of burger options, rosemary chips, onion rings and bottled beers.  Worth the wait if a burger is on your mind.  Also tried the chain Gourmet Burger Kitchen which got the thumbs up as a less “healthy tasting” version to Honest Burgers but with the addition of shakes.  (Disclosure: after two years living outside of the US, our burger hurdle has come down.  We're just happy having ground beef that tastes normal.)

Frith Street and streets around it are full of restaurants.  Two recommendations from previous trips:  Ceviche – Peruvian seafood and Koya – Japanese Udon noodles.  Also nearby which were recommended to us but we ran out of time:  Barrafina – Spanish tapas and Yalla Yalla – Lebanese and middle-eastern street food.  (I'd probably do Ceviche and Barrafina without kids given limited seating.)


Satay House (Paddington) – Malaysian, more than satays,  came recommended as best Malaysian from a London transplant, enjoyed with our Seattle friends based in Luxembourg and holidaying in London at the same time.  I don’t know Malaysian food, but this restaurant made fans out of all of us.  Booking required.

Zayna (Marble Arch) – upscale Pakistani, very good but I thought overpriced.  Also hit my pet peeve when waiter asked me to write a review on Trip Advisor.    Booking required.

Crosstown Donuts (Piccadilly) – daily made American style sourdough donuts, opened 9 months ago, first tried at Fernandez & Wells who carries them as does Whole Foods, first location at Piccadilly Circus Tube Station.  Less sweet than most American donuts and delicious.  Way better than the Hummingbird cupcakes.

Craig’s House in Crouch End – We got a special dinner in the home of one of my childhood friends (and as an Army brat, I don’t have many of those!) Julie and Craig were so sweet to host my four man-sized appetites after having just been on holiday themselves and after a full day’s work.  I can’t guarantee a reservation, but Craig’s couple day Pasta Bolognese sauce is worth crossing town for.  :)

If you find yourself in the East End around Shoreditch/Brick Lane/Spittalfields, I previously blogged about some things I sampled on an East End Food Tour .

Happy eating!





Latergrams and Photos of London

I started taking pictures because I was outnumbered. 

Life with boys is wonderful but when four minds start congregating around a football team’s line-up for the eighth time in 24 hours, it’s time for a lady’s getaway.  Behind the camera is a great place for estrogen to escape.  Plus, someone needs to document all these places we have been.

One of the things I love about photography is that in the right light even an amateur gets a couple of good ones.   Good equipment combined with sheer volume and great subject material has led me to more than a few keepers. The wild card now is getting those keepers moved into clouds and drives and scrapbooks and places of safety.  (Or so my administrator gently advises.)

A new thing I’m discovering about photography is that I sometimes catch a moment I don’t realize is a moment until later.  Like last night, I was reading Psalm 91:9-15:

“Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your dwelling-place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.  For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.  On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.  You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.  Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name.  When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honour them.”

As I read this, my mind jumped to this photo I snapped last week.  I didn’t think much of it when I took the photo or even viewed it later but I saw something else in it when I read this passage.  It visually connected me to God’s promise to cocoon us with angels when danger is below our feet.  That even though we see it’s a long way down and it causes us to tip-toe gingerly, we need not fear.  He's got us.

I still don’t know how much I really understand this Scripture, but I do think the latergram moved me an inch closer.  The opportunity to catch an unfolding moment for future absorption is as good a reason as any to be behind a camera. 

Here's some more photos from our trip to London.  Not all of them have a story (yet.)

Busy hands.

The Natural History Museum.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

London football.  (Colin, the Liverpool fan, checking out the Chelsea and Arsenal competition.)

Norwegian friends in London!

London sites.

London streets.


A week's wrap up of dining out in London coming up in later post ...

A Concert, London, and Travel

I came to London to see a concert. If it sounds a touch extravagant or like a middle-aged reach for a missed groupie youth, you wouldn't be entirely wrong. My husband however was already going to be in London for work - lodging solved! – and among other things, age has a way of drawing out one’s desire to make more effort to rally around passionate people, especially those who have done the work of their craft. I know nothing about music really but I'm getting better at recognizing the scent of authenticity in whatever form it comes by.  Having seen the Brooklyn-born, now Seattle-based Augustines leave a part of themselves in Heidelberg this spring, something told me the trek to London for their last show of their current European tour would be worth the investment.  It was.

My favorite part of the concert was the encore when the band came out to the middle of the crowd to perform a couple songs unplugged.  Made possible by the iconic and intimate venue of London's Roundhouse, it wasn't just a "let's change up the set" decision but a reflection of the band's relationship with their fans - even though the choice further exposed what little voice singer Billy had left after weeks of pummeling.  A woman pastor I heard on a podcast recently talked about how their church is set up in the round as an intention of sharing in the accountability of presence. These guys were the doing the same thing - giving of their grief and longing and joy and then receiving it back as a sort of collective offering.  In that way, we were treated not just to a memorable show but also gifted a two hour hall pass from whatever ailed us when we walked in.

Grade A experiences have this way of giving you temporary water wings that carry you into the next day. My next day was still in London, on my own, until the meet up with my husband for dinner.  Though aching for the American pancakes staring back at me from the hotel breakfast menu, I made a last minute commitment to the veggie works filling me with enough omega3 to power past any temptation to cede my walking agenda to the Underground.  Credit:  water wings.  Normally in the morning company of global news where missives of despair come flying off the page, I am easy target.  However in my buoyed and now nourished state, nothing landed dangerously.


With ear buds in for a second encore, I set out for a long unhurried walk to a photography exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery.  I could have chosen a hundred different destinations in London, but somehow returning to place I’d once been and enjoyed seemed like as good as any way to spend the day.  Engrossed in my playlist and not trusting myself to look the wrong way, I fastidiously obeyed pedestrian signals or stuck close to the shoulder of trailblazers in the know.   

Indeed there are lots of suits and the best looking prams money can buy, but London is a place where everything goes and everyone is welcome, if not for reals at least at first blush.  English language schools round many neighborhood corners and coupling norms are as unexpected as a young Arab hipster offering to share his table with you.  (I said “yes, thanks!”) While the common urban denominator may be scarves, the rest is an opportunity to see the world in six city blocks. 

The day was cold in a way the weather report misrepresented, wind causing chill beneath layers of thoughtful preparation.  After a while, I joined the chorus of people taking cover in coffee shops and tea salons for a mid-morning shot of warmth.  Behind the glass case of my chosen pit stop, gingerbread men squatted on pillows of whipped frosting and cinnamon buns swirled freely in pronouncement of their hand crafted care.  Not obliged to order my joe to go, I marked the moment by cracking open (what’s the Kindle word for that?) a new book and eavesdropping on conversations I could finally understand.  It was lovely and totally unrevealing.

Back on the street, I slackened whatever pace I had to follow herds of people on side streets (most, I learned, on their way to an office building not a secret sample sale) or catch slices of sunlight breaking through (causing an erratic number of street crossings.)   Like a cyclist obliged “Do Not Overtake Buses,” I had not overtaken a single soul who set out for the National Portrait Gallery at roughly the same time I did.  This was meandering at its finest.   Although even with my head partway in the clouds and partway in people watching mode, marketing muscle made it impossible for me to ignore:  “Night of the Museum 3” will be in theatres soon.

Finally ducking in to the exhibit, I was treated to sixty portraits selected from over 4,000 submissions by a wide range of contemporary photographers.   As remarkable photos can, these portraits revealed not just an interesting face but a flash of a life story.   In the permanent collection, one particular amplified oil on canvas caught my attention as I noticed the subject and I shared birth years.  Like me, her face was at the beginning of new groves but her gaze was confident and her teeth excellent.  She also happened to be an Olympic sprinter, a stitch of reassurance that no amount of training can stem the tide of growing older.

Building on the healthy start to the day, I stopped in Soho for a Peruvian lunch of ceviche and causa (cold potato cakes.)  I made conversation with the affable waiter from my counter stool resulting in the purchase of signed copy of their best-selling Peruvian cookbook and shamelessly listened in on an interesting conversation among three young Americans who’d come to London for acting school. 

Revived by the late lunch, I turned my attention toward a little must do Christmas shopping along the circus that is Oxford Street.  Nothing pops you out of your good cheer like a futile search of a soccer kit (Liverpool) not endorsed (hated) in these boroughs.  Draining faster than a phone battery working overtime on maps and music, I did manage a minor success at the Nike Store and a few others.  With the morning marvelousness of humans dimming in a late afternoon queue for the loo and the consumption chatter that all of a sudden surrounds you like an unwanted red bow, I soon veered off in search of a pump for my deflating wings. 

Meeting up for a before dinner drink near my husband’s office, my spirit inflated with a taste of home in a bottled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and in the company of my most cherished.   From a Peruvian lunch to a Pakistani dinner we hustled across town to Whitechapel to make our 9pm booking. 

Arriving at the largest, most chaotic queue I’ve ever seen at a restaurant – on a Tuesday night no less – I was glad for the reinforcement.  Not yet with the benefit of having tasted the ridiculously good food or seen the ridiculously low 24 pound tab, it was good humor – not necessarily a booking – you needed to secure a seat.  Whatever the case, it quickly became clear we were once again rallying around passionate people working incredibly hard and turning out naan faster than a prolific tweeter .  Once seated we couldn’t help but notice that even in the sea of hungry diners, several of the wait staff had this practice of gently tapping my husband on the shoulder to make sure everything was ok.  It most definitely was.

Travel is wonderful, and should you need any specific details on the above – ping me – but there is another kind of travel that comes in the wake of another soul’s exuberance for life.  Go there.


London's East End Food Tour

Bacon Sandwich at St. John Bread & Wine

Bacon Sandwich at St. John Bread & Wine

Having done a food tour recently in Paris, I’ve realized that a guided walking food tour is one of the best ways to experience a new city.  You’ll never be able to eat through all the places you want to try when visiting a new city, but a food tour can “microwave” some of the best food a city has to offer in less than four hours.  With my second food tour – this time in London -- now under my belt (literally), I’m officially a food tour fan.

In addition to getting small bites of lots of different foods, you don't have to commit to something like a full order of mushy peas if that's not your thing or since you're likely to only want to have English pudding once -- you want that one time to be worth it.  You also don't have to worry about making multiple reservations, paying at the end of the meal -- all things which slow you down when you are trying to see a lot in a new city.  Also if you consider the price of the food tour to be a full lunch + a guided tour, it's really not that expensive.

The food scene in London is off the hook and so there are a number of food tours to choose from.  I decided on the Eating London food tour in the East End as it was a neighborhood I was interested in getting to know better.  Home to Brick Lane and its more than 50 curry shops, previously the Jewish community and now the hipsters and artists, it’s a neighborhood in transition and one that reminded me a lot of Capitol Hill in Seattle.  Different than the Paris by Mouth food tour where we hunted and gathered food (bread, cheese, chocolate, macaroons) and then stopped once in a wine shop to have all our goodies paired with wines, this tour involved eight separate eating stops.  (Both approaches are fun, just different.)  The diversity of the stops illustrates the excitement that’s happening in food in London. 

  • St. John Bread & Wine – bacon sandwich (award winning restaurant)
  • The English restaurant – bread and butter pudding (historic restaurant)
  • Androuet – three English cheeses (run by some French expats)
  • Poppies – fish, chips, and mushy peas (Poppy recently won best fish& chips in London)
  • Pride of Spitalfields – ale and cider (an old school pub home to the famous cat Lenny)
  • Brick Lane’s Aladin – three curries (vegetable, chicken, and lamb curry in increasing degrees of heat)
  • Beigel Bake – salted beef bagel (most famous bagel shop this side of Atlantic opened 24/7)
  • Pizza East – salted caramel tart and English tea (a hipster hangout where you can’t take photos of the decor)

Upsides:  the food (all of it is good), the quantity of the food (you won’t be hungry for a big dinner), the organization (the company started food tours in Rome, added London’s East End seven months ago, and is soon adding tours in Prague and Amsterdam), the logistics (the restaurants were ready for us at every stop), and exuberance of the guides (there are only two of them doing the East End Food Tour every day but Sunday and they are knowledgeable about the area and food scene), the East End street art (which we got a good tour of as well.)

Downside:  with tour groups of up to 12 people, you will not “blend in” with the hipsters. Doing it solo (my tour was four couples, me and the guide. Bring a friend.)  The exuberance of the guides (occasionally an unnecessary, goofy scripted joke sneaks in.)  You’ll be craving a bacon sandwich the next morning.

Actually I did eat dinner that night… because it’s London and you can’t pass up a dinner.   Brett was working long days the four days I was there, but we were able to meet up for late dinners.  Recommending a restaurant in London is like being asked to pick your top three U2 songs.   There are too many good ones to choose from, but here are three that we really liked for the food and the experience:

1.  NOPI (Soho).  NOPI is Yotam Ottolenghi’s, the author of Jerusalem and Plenty cookbooks, restaurant in Soho.  If you know those cookbooks, you know how unique Ottolenghi’s Middle eastern/Asian cooking is and how beautifully he puts vegetables on center stage.  The food was outstanding; though service was a bit slow.  Pick a day when you have time to linger or aren’t trying to make it to the theater.

 2.  Chor Bizarre (Mayfair). Our favorite Indian in Mayfair.  Come hungry and get the Thali (the sampling of 6 different dishes along with cucumber riata and naan.)  There is a meat and vegetarian Thali.

3.  The Modern Pantry (Clerkenwell).  This modern European restaurant was right across the street from our hotel, but it’s also a destination restaurant.   Seasonal food done really well.


Artists and kettles

Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Pompidou Center PARIS

Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Pompidou Center PARIS

Often going to a museum is akin to eating my lima beans.  Some people visit museums because they are riveted by art or they experience the world through the lens of history.  I mostly go because I should.  There is of course value in this exposure, but I admit to having to work at it.  I’m the visitor who always opts for the audio guide and rarely knows in advance the famous work I will be seeing. 

More recently however, I’ve chucked the guidebooks and allowed my interests – photography and art from the last 100 years since the First World War - to direct my museum outings.   This is where I stand a better chance of appreciating the creativity of the artist and understanding their cultural context. 

David Bailey, National Portrait Gallery LONDON

David Bailey, National Portrait Gallery LONDON

This reset has led me to three outstanding exhibits in the past month, two in London and one in Paris.   All three exhibits – pop artist Richard Hamilton, photographer David Bailey, and photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson - encompassed an exceptional range of contemporary subjects over a period of many decades.  (All three exhibits run through June 2014.)   I’m not knowledgeable enough to write a proper review of any of them, but thankfully there are people that can and have already done that.  I can tell you however that each one of these left me inspired.   It was like walking through someone’s beautifully illustrated storybook of the modern age.

Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern LONDON

Richard Hamilton, Tate Modern LONDON

I think of creatives like kettles filled to the brim with water, where the temperature of life causes steam to need to be released.   When that boiling water is then poured out over ground up bits of life, something new blooms.  The finer the grind and the slower the pour, the richer the output.   The creative must filter – leaving words and frames on the cutting room floor – so only the best stuff remains. 

I for one am glad that these three men did not leave their kettle on the burner.  Un-poured-out kettles risk reaching a boiling point where vibrations become louder and eventually sound a whistle.   No one likes the piercing sound of a whistle.  But neither do we all want a sanitized world filled with only automated coffee machines.  We need to record facts, but we also need people who are painstakingly filtering those facts to highlight the unique character of the world we live in.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s work brilliantly captures this idea of a “decisive moment.”   He once said:  “Composition relies on chance.  I never make calculations.  I perceive a structure and wait for something to happen.  There are no rules.  One should not try too hard to explain the mystery.  It is better just to be receptive, a Leica within each reach.”

If you find yourself in London or Paris before June, you may want to make this one of your decisive stops and be inspired.


Long weekend in London, Sept 2013.  Piggybacking on Brett's work week in London, we joined him on a Thursday night and spent the weekend exploring London with unseasonably lovely weather.

Some trips are better told with pictures.   We did a lot.  Breakfast spots in South Kensington; two shows - "Stomp" and "Matilda";  Transport Museum; Imperial War Museum; St Paul's; Sunday Roast; Indian dinners twice; Hummingbird Bakery cupcakes too numerous to count; walk across Tower Bridge and South Bank; walk around Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, St James Park, Big Ben, etc; double decker bus rides, underground rides, and lots more walking.