London Calling!

As promised, my (for me) epic travelogue! I assume this post will mostly be for me, but in addition to the hope that it might be a fun read for those loved ones that stumble upon it, it should also be a useful reference if I’m ever called upon to make recommendations! And also, because no one wants to see slideshows anymore, PHOTO DUMP!

Day 1 (Friday, July 28th)

The trip got off to a rough start. Our departure – which was supposed to be at an already late 10:45 p.m. – didn’t end up being until 1 in the morning. Because someone was smoking (or possibly vaping) in the airplane bathroom BEFORE WE EVEN TOOK OFF! So they were removed after much rigamarole – and the only good thing I have to say about it was I got to hear good working-class British griping as the offender and her fella were booted off the plane.

A funny moment shortly after arrival: I end up having a laugh with a security agent, because I’m shocked enough that I can just walk out without declaring anything or having anyone look at my passport that I actually ask if I’ve made a wrong turn! Oh, innocent Canadian me!

I’m not too much of a gawking tourist… but I do enjoy the view on the train ride in! The Strand! London Bridge!, etc.

I get to the flat (look at me with the lingo!) and am very delighted. What a deal/friend! And the cats are, well, cats. This day was mostly about getting settled (and maybe dealing with a wee bit of fear), but I did step out a little.

I headed down Market Road to check out the Islington Tennis Centre and Gym, thinking this might be a thing. It didn’t up being a thing. But while I was there, I also checked out Caledonian Park and its clock tower, and as I was walking by, this guy and gal were kicking a football (or, if you prefer, “soccer ball”) back and forth, and I heard her say “I’m from Toronto.” So I chipped in a “Me too!” (the good kind), and I ended up kicking the ball around with them for twenty minutes. She was a U of T student from Saskatoon doing research in London for the summer; he was from Nigeria, actually playing football for his uni and a Tier 7 team. Making friends! (Single serving, but still.)

Then I grabbed a burger on the way home… noteworthy mostly because it’s how I learned that the numbers of buildings across the street might be off by hundreds!

Day 2 (Saturday, July 29th)

I head to the Camden Market… and got a little lost on the way. It wasn’t until the next time I went that I realized I could just stick to the canal, which takes a little longer but is well worth it. I did a good proper wander and did find the Amy Winehouse statue.

I was also guided by this – from the Frommer’s Easy Guide to London 2020 – “food halls of fame: “The downmarket choice – mostly cheap and simple – but bountiful. Star attraction: The Cheese Wheel, where hand-rolled tagliatelle is tossed in a bowl made of a huge truckle of melting Parmesan.”

So how could I not?! (

From there, I went to Hampstead Heath. In retrospect, it’s kind of funny that I went to the park so early in my trip. I didn’t really need a temporary escape from the urban jungle at that point! But it was still neat to see, with some people-watching and -listening. (I also went on a Golders Green grass courts goose chase, based on some out-of-date online info. But what are you going to do?)

And since I was (vaguely) in the neighborhood (or should I say, neighbourhood), I checked out the Spaniards Inn.

From their website,  :

“Built in 1585 as a tollgate on the Finchley boundary, The Spaniards has more than a few tales to tell.  This characterful inn was named after the Spanish Ambassador to James I of England and rumour has it highwayman Dick Turpin was born there, whilst his father was landlord in the early 1700s.  

Immortalised by Dickens in The Pickwick Papers, and allegedly the place in which Keats penned ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, The Spaniards has a romantic, nostalgic air and a feeling of time stood still. Boasting an open fire and many a cosy corner, its charming walled beer garden offers ample comfy seating, sheltered tables and barbecue facilities for the summer months, as well as patio heating for those cooler days. Perfect for laid-back afternoons, al-fresco dining or just a glass of something special on a sunny day.”


And from there, a pretty lengthy walk home, and that was my day.

Day 3 (Sunday, July 30th)

My wandering to explore came to a pretty early pause when I saw the Canopy Market and all its splendiferous booths. I went with the chicken tacos.

(I’m just going to put as an aside here that there were some sites close enough – and between me and King’s Cross Station – that it doesn’t make sense for me to note every time I go through them. But shoutouts to Granary Square, Coal Drops Yard, Regent’s Canal, etc.)

Today’s first (and basically only, not to get ahead of ourselves) stop was the British Library. I’ll let some pictures tell some of the tale, but highlights that stand out include two copies of the Magna Carta, the Diamond Sutra (the oldest known printed book), a Gutenberg Bible, a Shakespeare First Folio, and yes, original Beatles lyrics.

Also, if only because I’m an excellent son, stamps.

Admittedly, some of this stuff I remembered from having been there about eighteen years earlier, but still pretty nifty. (Leaving aside the stuff that probably shouldn’t be there.)

Upon leaving, I got caught in a HARD rain that I had only partially prepared for – I was wearing a windbreaker – and that made me cut my day short. Lesson learned, London! Though I did wander through St. Pancras Station and saw Platform 9 ¾. (Thought it would be a short-cut. Not so much. But still.)

Things calmed down by the evening, and I still hadn’t really done any shopping, so I took Other Kate’s advice, and checked out the Lord Stanley. A very solid local, and I enjoyed me some lamb pizza and beer. ( )

Day 4 (Monday, July 31st)

Far from my only one of the trip, but this was a long walk day!

As in, I was doing the Frommer’s Walking Tour #1, but I also had a long walk to get to the starting point of that walk!

Thankfully, I found some incredible fuel fairly early. The falafel I had at Just Falafels, a stand in the St. Pancras Church yard, might’ve been the best I’ve ever had. And even if it wasn’t, it damn sure felt like it at the time.

Then my long pre-walk continued, taking me by Somerset House, then along Fleet Street, then along the Thames.

As for the walking tour proper, stops included: Victoria Embankment at Westminster Bridge; The Palace of Westminster; Parliament Square; St. Margaret’s Church; Westminster Abbey; Birdcage Walk; St. James Park; The Cenotaph; 10 Downing Street; Horse Guards; Nelson’s Column & Trafalgar Square.

(For a running gag I’ll carry through this post, this is when I first clocked where the Churchill War Rooms were.)

It was basically 5 o’clock when I finished, so I decided of the close options, the National Portrait Gallery was the one I could best run through. I’ll let pictures tell most of the tale… but I love those Tudors!  (Thank you, Reign!)

Then, I tried to go to Café in the Crypt, but it was closed, so I took the Tube home. And honestly, it was remarkable it took me this long to ride the Tube. But the seal was now broken…

Day 5 (Tuesday, August 1st)

This seems like a good time to mention that though I took a fair number of days off, I was working throughout this period. With the time shift, my 8 to 4 become a 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., so I was often able to squeeze in a morning activity before starting. But this was my first proper workday abroad. So mostly, I just did that.

BUT I did make a shopping excursion. I mean, I ate out a lot during this trip, because why wouldn’t I?! But some meals had to be eaten at home, obviously, so we’ll call this a practical day.

That said, in terms of “fun” purchases, I had two. I got “Frosties”, which is what they call “Frosted Flakes” in the UK. That’s fun, right? I also picked up some Jaffa Cakes, a snack I’d been curious about since seeing them in The Commitments.

Well, moderately curious, I suppose, since I’d been to Europe after that movie came out in 1991, and hadn’t bothered before. But this time, I did, and they were quite tasty! In fact, I wish I’d brought some home… and as I’m typing this, I’m wondering if they’re available somewhere here… Hmm…

Day 6 (Wednesday, August 2nd)

Still in classic tourist mode at this point, I go to the British Museum! Luckily and inadvertently, I found the back door, so I didn’t have to deal with a line (or “queue”) to get in… but it was quite packed. As it should be!

I’ll let the pictures once again tell most of the story, but here are the notes I jotted down when I returned home: “totem pole (taste of home!); Rosetta Stone; Egyptian mummies and sarcophagi, etc.; Assyrian Lion Hunt reliefs; Parthenon sculptures; Lewis chessmen; clocks; Book of the Dead” Sums it up pretty well!

A funny moment in terms of how I was acclimatizing: I realized on my walk home that I had gotten (more or less) used to what side of the street people were driving on… but I did walk by a car and think “Where’s the driver, and why’s that guy just sitting in the passenger seat?”

Back home, a day of work, and then… reunion with Merv and Caz!

These are two people I went to Israel with (as part of a bigger group), and though at one point I’d had ambitions to make a huge reunion of nearly everyone, these were the two I had the most vivid memories of as being “cool.” And my memory proved right! (I mean, I guess I can’t definitively say they were “the coolest”… but they were certainly cool. And if I were to live there, I’d want them in my friend group, and I might be obnoxious about making it happen.)

And, in what was pure but delightful coincidence, this reunion happened to be EXACTLY thirty years from when we’d last been together. (Well, the last day didn’t line up, but we had been together on that day thirty years ago.) Hopefully, it won’t be so long until the next one. What with them internets and all.

The highlight was of course seeing them… but after the tasty dinner we had at Arcade, we also hit up the Princess Louise, which is an old-school (as in Victorian) pub I highly recommend, especially for those who like a little history with their hooch. (See links below)

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Day 7 (Thursday, August 3rd)

Another pretty pure workday. But after, I did manage a quick walk along the Canal, then sat to catch an outdoor flick at the Everyman Screen on the Canal. It was an audience pick, which ended up being The Devil Wears Prada. So, not the MOST me… but one I hadn’t seen before, so that somewhat balances out. And it still felt like “a thing done.”

Day 8 (Friday, August 4th)

I brought my tennis stuff with me specifically because I wanted to play on a grass court and cross that off my bucket list. But I also didn’t want to go a summer month without playing, AND I thought it would be nice to have a little human interaction and exercise to boot. So I got on an app… and that’s how I found Joao!

He was from Brazil, had lived in Philly for a few years, and now lived here. Though he had a decent serve and I don’t usually bother with one, we were pretty well-matched, and a good time was had by all! (And also a helpful reminder that if I WERE to move here – or for that matter, anywhere – this IS an option!)

And on the way back, an accidental excursion. As it’s smack dab in the middle of a neighbourhood, I stumble upon Emirates Stadium of Arsenal fame. I don’t do much with that fact, as everything seems to be fully closed, but I do walk around it.

Day. Of. Work!

Then nighttime of play! Seeing that there were three things on my potential to-do list that were all fairly clustered together geographically, I decide to do all three. Which made the first two kind of rushed, but I stand by the decision.

First stop is Chinatown, Dumplings Legend. “Why?”, you ask. For a very stupid (or at least silly) reason: it’s where the old Lee Ho Fuk was. You know, from the Warren Zevon song, Werewolves of London? Oh, me! Anyway, I wolf down some dumplings, and I stand by the decision.

Then, to the John Snow. And yes, that H belongs there, for this is not a bar dedicated to the Game of Thrones character. No, it’s dedicated to the man who figured out the source of a cholera outbreak, and in so doing, basically invented epidemiology. (I used to know the history better, specifically when I was reading a book about it… but that’s the gist of it, and it’s neat!) Anyhoo, I had a pint of lager and saw a replica of the infamous cholera-spreading pump!

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Then – last stop – the Top Secret Comedy Club. It ended up being quite memorable… and a little bit scary. Performer scary, not scary scary. But let’s take things in order.

After getting slightly lost, I find the place and there’s a considerable line. By the time I get properly inside, it’s fairly packed. But luckily, there’s a seat on the aisle, so I ask a nice couple “Is this seat taken?” and it’s not. Which led to the following exchange:

Me: Good to be a single.

The guy: I miss it.

Me again: We can always switch seats!

And with that, I’d made single-serving friends. And their inside scoop did make me feel like I was doing something underground. Which wasn’t particularly the case, but it was a young crowd, which made me feel like I’d made a hip choice.

And I stand by that… but things got out of control fast. I don’t know if there was much that could’ve been done, but the host did a lot of crowd work, and when showtime came around, the crowd didn’t seem to realize that they weren’t the show anymore. So there were a lot of people having loud conversations throughout, dozens of hecklers just shouting out random things (including “Pedo!” – turns out that’s a real thing!), and just general mayhem!

Now, my new friends claimed this was just sort of the vibe of the place, but even they admitted this was extreme. And when the headliner essentially walked off after the crowd turned on him after HE went after an individual audience member… well, I felt my belief that this had to be worse than usual was confirmed. But hey, it was an experience – and one of the three comics managed to get enough of the audience’s attention to succeed, so maybe that’s the exercise?

At any rate, part of the “shtick” of the place (thus the name) is that you don’t know who you’re going to see in advance. As it turns out, these were the three I saw, in this order:

Good additions to my list. And hey, if I’m ever back that way, I think I might roll the dice again!

Day 9 (Saturday, August 5th)

I see the floating bookstore that Caz had been asking me about, and that was kind of neat… ( ) but the real highlight of this day was seeing some football (and South London)!

Specifically, I went to see Crystal Palace vs. Lyon. Yes, a friendly, so maybe I wussed out. (Very little chance of a riot breaking out!) But there were basically only two games available while I was there that had a Premier League team in ‘em… and Selhurst Park is a must-see for Ted Lasso fans like me, so I stand by it!

It was not only fun, but I’m of the age where it brought back memories of Exhibition Stadium! Especially with its, let’s call them, idiosyncrasies! Like how the seat next to me had a pillar DIRECTLY in front of it – as in you’d have to straddle it to sit there, and you certainly wouldn’t see anything. And the dripping that was quite literally onto just my seat! (Not too bad, so long as I kept my raincoat on.) And they ran out of hot dogs, so I hadn’t up having the more common snack among attendees: a meat pie! Okay, clearly, I lucked out there!

This is also where I did my first real shopping for gifts for the fam: team fridge magnet bottle openers! And a toque for me… which they call a “beanie”! Probably a situation where we both think the other is silly. And since this is a team somewhere in the middle, with no strong chance for Champions League or relegation, I feel it’s a good choice for my agita!

As it turns out, it was a 2-0 win, so I can say Crystal Palace is perfect when I’m there. Game details here:

(Note for the gallery below: this last guy came into the stands and the people around me went fairly crazy. Feels like at some point I should find out who he is…)

Day 10 (Sunday, August 6th)

My sporting weekend continues with a trip to the All-England Club, where Wimbledon is played. So, basically my Mecca. (With all due respect to people whose Mecca is actually Mecca.) Though not surprisingly, it’s a slightly more hollow experience when there are no games happening. In fact, the nets weren’t up… and we were told so many times that we weren’t allowed to touch the grass that I presumed it was a bit, and at the end, we’d be taken somewhere where we could roll around in it, but no, not a bit.

Still, it was pretty neat to see the grounds, the museum was solid, I got some souvenir wristbands (one for me, one for Lar)… and at the little café, I managed to get “eat clotted cream” checked off my list. Very tasty with scones and jam, it turns out!

That was basically the highlight of my day, best as I can recall. I did try a brief Canal walk heading east, though it occurred to me that I should try to make the Canopy Market in time for dinner. I JUST missed it, so instead, I grabbed a poutine. Perhaps I was homesick? If so, the poutine probably made me more homesick, but good on ‘em for trying!

Day 11 (Monday, August 7th)

After realizing the night before that the Archives aren’t actually open on Mondays, I switched up my plans. I decided my next day would start with the Churchill War Rooms.

But then I got there, and there was a long line, so I pivoted. And thankfully, it was a neat food pivot!

I went to the Café in the Crypt. Which Frommers describes thusly: “Super-central and unquestionably memorable, it’s the tastiest graveyard in town! Under the sanctuary of the historic St. Martin-in-the-Field church at Trafalgar Square, atop the gravestones of 18th century Londoners, one of the West End’s sharpest bargains is served.” That sums it up pretty well! And I had the fish cakes, which were delicious.

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So since I was right there, and it had to be done, and it was a weekday, I headed to the National Gallery. Now, the thought that it might have been less crowded on a weekday MAY have been true, but it was still quite the mob scene. So I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it in the contemplative gallery way, but in a strictly tourist way. Which is to say, I had a checklist and I got through it. But no big regrets.

I’ll let my pictures ONCE AGAIN do some of the talking here (though there are of course better ways to see these works online), but the works I saw included: The Entombment, Michelangelo; Samson and Delilah, Peter Paul Rubens; Venus and Mars, Sandro Botticelli; Bathers at Asnieres, Georges Seurat; Self Portraits, Rembrandt; Sunflowers, Vincent Van Gogh; An Old Woman, Quinten Massys; plenty more from Manet, Monet, Van Eyck, Hans Holbein the Younger…

Day 12 (Tuesday, August 8th)

I guess this was inevitable at some point: I get a 3 a.m. phone call from home. A mistaken redial, but still a moment of panic. All’s well that ends well.

Another day of work, but I also had a reunion scheduled for that evening, with a step that started in the morning. I virtually queued with Julia for that night’s BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. (Now I know how many people, etc.) It’s actually quite a good system where if you’re on the site when the queue opens, they randomly assign you a spot. So, by random chance, I was about 380th in line to start… but Julia was in almost immediately, and we got choir seats!

I’ve included a picture of the program, and here’s a link:

But also, if you don’t want to skip around, we saw: the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and conductor Jaime Martin: Dora Pejacevic, Overture; Grace Williams, Violin Concerto; interval; Holst, The Planets

Catchy tunes, and it was neat sitting somewhere behind the musicians, so we were facing the conductor and seeing the sheet music. Like orchestra fantasy camp!

But more than anything, it was nice to see Julia again after so many years. The hang continued post-concert, though the pub we were going to go to – Churchill’s – the kitchen was closed, and we just wandered until we found another. We talked mostly writing, and I ate fish and chips.

The night ended a little poorly when I realized that a cat had pissed on my bed – which I unfortunately realized by sitting in it. But hey, still a good night in London. Did I mention Royal Albert Hall?

Day 13 (Wednesday, August 9th)

After work, another walk along the canal, but this one with a destination! Specifically, the Roundhouse, for their comedy festival. I would’ve gone twice if I’d been able to snag James Acaster tickets, if only for the paroxysms of jealousy it would’ve provoked in someone I know… but I was quite excited for this lineup, particularly the headliner.

Oh, and lest I skip over a fun memory, a nice couple who also presumably timed things badly were eating a box of doughnuts in line… and when they got full, they gave the remainders to me! Dinner of champions!

Anyway, this was my lineup for the Roundhouse Comedy Festival: MC: Suzi Ruffel; Nish Kumar; Zoe Coombs Marr; Sindhu Vee; Reggie Watts; and Dylan Moran. Not bad, right?!

Day 14 (Thursday, August 10th)

A workday without too much adventure, but a fun little reminder that London is a truly international city. Specifically, I got visitors from Toronto, who of course (well, not OF COURSE) weren’t there to see me. Neil and Melanie (and kids, but they didn’t emerge) stopped in on their European adventure, and I met them at their hotel and enjoyed some rooftop drinks! Ah, the view!

Day 15 (Friday, August 11th)

I finally made it to the famed Borough Market! Armed with recommendations from the younger Mr. Barnes and some guidebooks, I have a spectacular chorizo sandwich from Brindisa and a smoothie. I also grab a spicy lamb sausage roll and scotch egg from Ginger Pig for later. (At the time, I was too full to even buy doughnuts from Bread Ahead or a cheese toastie from Kappacasein… but to be continued!)

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While I was in the neighborhood, I checked out London Bridge (which was decidedly NOT falling down!) and Southwark Cathedral. I’ll spare you its illustrious literary history, but here, enjoy:

I also moseyed over to the George Inn, about which Frommers had this to say: “Unquestionably one of the most important ancient pubs still standing, the George traces its lineage to at least 1542, when a map of Southwark first depicted it; the Tabard Inn, where Chaucer’s pilgrims gathered in Canterbury Tales, was then a few doors south (it’s gone now). Shakespeare knew it (check out Pete Brown’s 2012 book Shakespeare’s Local), and Dickens memorialized it in Little Dorrit.”

And sure, it was rebuilt in 1676, but c’mon! So, in recognition of the moment, took out my notepad and wrote a sentence just so I could say that I too wrote there. It wasn’t a great sentence, but hey, first drafts, right?

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Then, some work! Once again, the time shift works in my favour, as my start time is 2 p.m. Vive la difference!

Then in the evening, some more hangouts with Neil; Mel, alas, was under the weather. We wander around Covent Garden, with stops for dim sum and a pint. The more things change…

And on the Tube home, I pointed out a dropped lighter to a guy and got a fist bump for my efforts. Just a nice moment that I bother to mention because they stand out in a big city.

Day 16 (Saturday, August 12th)

As promised to myself, and I suppose you the reader, I get back to the Borough Market. Okay, maybe a little obsessive, but I was going to that neighborhood anyway. That said, when I had the Kappacasein cheese toastie, it truly was mind-altering in how incredible it was, and it had me licking the wax paper for melted cheese like a wild animal!

Then, as I’m moseying on, I pass Neal’s Yard Dairy, where they give me an excellent cheese sample … and it’s at that point I decide I’m going to learn how to make cheese! That is since been downgraded to “I want to learn more about cheese”, but that’s not nothing, and making/mongering is still on the table!

Then off to the Tate Modern. Perhaps because of the “modern” part, and because of my National Gallery experience, I’m determined to focus less on the famous stuff. My plan is just to go through and see what made an impression. Though, yes, I did occasionally find myself saying “Oooh, Lichtenstein!” Or “Hey, Man Ray!” But I did art okay, and even saw the Tower of Babel!

Which brings us to the evening’s big activity: closing night of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe. With a Groundling ticket, partially for cheapness, but mostly for the experience! (Okay, I skipped ahead a little for the sake of the reveal… but since I had a little time, I did also check out the original site of the Globe and the Rose beforehand. History!)

So, the show. Quite good. The Groundling experience could’ve gone south (so to speak) as I found myself up against a group of American youths (by which I mean teens or twenties) and they seemed like they were going to be “talky.” But I mentally reminded myself that the “hoi polloi” experience was part of it, and hey, they really laughed when they were supposed to! As for the play, they lost me a little at the Mechanicals, but that’s been a problem with most productions I’ve seen. (Also, I’d forgotten about the Hermia “dwarf” comments, so something I’d thought was “blind casting” turned out very much not to be, and the system was shocked a little. But the actress was truly excellent, so no complaints.) And as mentioned earlier, it was closing night, so the crew and creative team also came out for the curtain call, which I always enjoy.

Day 17 (Sunday, August 13th)

Today’s adventure: Spitalfields! Now, I don’t necessarily think of myself as a “market guy”, but there’s something to be said for the walking and the people watching. And, as it turns, out the food!

Yes, probably inspired by that episode of Atlanta, I get very excited when I see a food truck offering joffal rice. (Which, as a white guy, maybe means I missed the whole point of the episode, but overall, I have to think supporting Black business is a good thing. I mean, EATING shouldn’t really count as cultural appropriation, right?)

Anyhoo, the truck/restaurant was called 2 Nigerian Boys, and my joffal rice was delicious!

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Then I go through the stalls, mostly browsing, but also on what turned out to be a quixotic search for a thermometer. (This was a tradition started when I was a kid. Wherever I would go, I would bring my parents back a decorative thermometer, generally to be wall-mounted. Apparently, possibly because of the mercury, this is not a thing anymore. But it was fun to have something to seek out!)

Anyway, that’s when I decided to hit a pub that had been recommended through an Instagram video Tom had shared: The Golden Heart.  And though it would’ve been a nice experience anyway, it also led to my big SOCIAL adventure, what I think I’ll call a Platonic Meet Cute!

Which I suppose is really just meeting someone… but she was cute, so let me have this.

Anyway, she was sitting alone at a big table, and I asked if I could sit at the other end, as there were no other tables free. This was something I did a lot in London, but eventually, a conversation was struck, and that’s how I met Larry from Denmark!

Yep, a strange coincidence that I would meet a woman named Larry and could say “That’s my father’s name!” Though, admittedly, Larry was the anglicized version of a much more Danish name that I’d like to someday say properly. ANYHOO, she was a documentarian who was fascinated by my job, so somewhere out there is a video where I drunkenly probably said too much. And I also learned fun facts about her, like the concussion she got from her ex-boyfriend. (I forget the details, but it was a much cuter and more benign story than that sentence would imply.)

At some point, she said she needed to go get something to eat, and took her leave of me. I thought “Well, that was nice, but I guess she’d had enough.” Then minutes later, she texted and asked if I wanted to join her. And I did. (“Want to” and “join her.”) We went for noodles, more fun conversation was had… and eventually, we walked for a bit, and when we needed to go in different directions, we hugged and said ‘goodbye.’

Okay, my adventures remain moderate. But dinner and drinks with someone I just randomly bumped into? For me, that’s the Poseidon Adventure! (I don’t actually know what that is. But it’s got “Adventure” right in the title.) And, though I skipped over the detail, yes, she texted – as in we exchanged numbers. So, someday, if I’m ever in Denmark…

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Day 18 (Monday, August 14th)

My Oxford day. Which got off to an atrocious start! Following what I thought was the route Google was telling me to follow, I ended up going through a gate that closed behind me… and I was trapped on a service road near the train station that seemingly had no escape! Well, the escape was jumping over a ten-foot-high fence, which I managed to look over… but then got really nervous about snapping my ankle like a twig!

Thankfully, as I was about to make the jump (encouraged by someone I’d called over for help), another truck came through, opening the gate and allowing me to escape. And then, the person I’d called over for help offered me a ride part of the way I was going. Which was nice.

But then, I got to the grass tennis courts – basically the reason I’d brought my racket and a whole pair of shoes – and you needed a code to get in. Which I either never got or long ago forgot. And I couldn’t find it.

But again, things slightly miraculously worked out. Though there were six courts, almost all of which were empty, there were two people on one court, and they were willing to open the gate for me. And then, when I explained my situation, to play with me a little!

Okay, this is where it could potentially get embarrassing, but I’m not embarrassed: I got my ass handed to me by a (I’m guessing) 12-year-old. Well, actually, once we got to rallies, it was fairly even. But he could serve and I can’t. (Even the degree I can was failing me under the pressure! Though I also had a number of lets, which I think a cooler kid would have just played! 😛 ) And the surface threw me some, since it turns out balls don’t exactly bounce as much as they skid. But I could now say I played on all three surfaces! And I let the next Rafa – yep, he was from Spain – feel good about his game!

Plus his aunt indulged me by taking some action shots, which I think we can agree were worth it!

With that major checkmark checked, I raced off to do my tour of Oxford. The university, that is. Pretty damn nifty, and I was the nerd on the tour who knew that the first thing the kids see in Narnia is a lamppost. (And then we saw the lamppost!)

Then a hangout with Darcy (and a bit Courtney, and a smaller bit their kids) at a pretty crazy time. They were scheduled to leave the next day… and if you check the news for that day, you’ll see it was an extra-crazy time to be returning to Yellowknife. (As it turns out, they did have to hold up elsewhere for a stretch.) But it was for sure nice to see them all, and Darcy and I had some laughs, and he showed me some picturesque spots. (Thus the pictures.) And a neat little almost hidden bar along the canal.

And despite some panic from that morning, and some from the setting sun, my walk back to the train station along the canal was successful, and my big sojourn out of London ended without incident.

Day 19 (Tuesday, August 15th)

Clearly, the day before (and maybe weeks before) took it out of me, because this day, I just worked and stayed in. Like, not even a picture was taken! But hey, I was going for the “living abroad” experience, and days like that happen when you live somewhere!

Day 20 (Wednesday, August 16th)

In the morning, I tour Highgate Cemetery, with a very good tour guide.  Informative and entertaining, at the risk of being macabre. I do recommend it. And if you only tour one side (as I did), be sure to check out the other. They’ve also got good maps that show you the biggest people of note.

As for the graves I left stones on, that would be Douglas Adams (many left pens, but I feel like he would want me to keep mine), Karl Marx (because F the haters!), and Anthony Shaffer (playwright solidarity!). Others that made a bit of an impression: on the west side, Alexander Litvinenko and George Michael (I dared to take a picture because other people were… including one who looked so much LIKE George Michael, I took it as a sign), and on the east side, George Eliot, Malcolm McLaren… and someone who owned a Chinese restaurant! I loved that!

Then, a full day of work. Thank you, time zones!

That eve, not having too much energy but not wanting to stay in, I went to nearby Happy Face for a pizza dinner. Not bad.

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Day 21 (Thursday, August 17th)

Mostly a work day, with touches of ‘getting ready to leave’, but for late lunch, I did get back to Camden Market for more Cheese Wheel, this time with pesto and sundried tomatoes. Which of course entailed a canal walk, and I did also explore the market a little more than I had previously. So, that was that.

Day 22 (Friday, August 18th)

At long last, as promised, I make it to the National Archives. As it turns out, I think what I found could’ve been found remotely if we’d been willing to pay for it, but it was neat to find British passage records in Britain. Plus, good father-son bonding, and my interest in genealogy was piqued for a spell. I don’t know that I need the whole tree, but I do find it neat learning about my direct antecedents, plus problem-solving!

To that end, even talking to the experts there and having them agree that, on one front, we’d likely hit a dead-end was satisfying.

And then, the other reason I was in that ‘hood: Kew Gardens!

It was quite lovely in that manicured British way. I saw quite a bit, as I walked through The Wander Project (the exhibit at the time), which also took me by Palm House, Temperate House, Treetop Walkway, and Lake Crossing. Then I also got to Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, Woodland Walk, and Syon Outlook.

I arrived at the Royal Kitchens just in time for the last tour of the day… and I felt very guilty, because I was the only one there, so the tour guide stayed just for me. But we had quite a nice chat, and I enjoyed that and the tour proper, so if you’re seeing this, much thanks, Nina!

And from there, I more or less wrapped things up, with a few quick stops at The Hive, ‘cause it sounded neat, and the Temple of Aeolus, which sounded mythical!

And because I wanted another historically nifty meal, I headed to the Mayflower Pub, which I believe was recommended by both Julia and at least one of my tour books. It was certainly loaded with history, which you can find here:

I had the steak pie and cask ale, so check and check, plus one more ‘sitting with strangers’ situation for the road!

Day 23 (Saturday, August 19th)

Much of this day was consumed with packing, but once I got out, I managed to get through a lot of my remaining to-do list.

First, Portobello Road. Where I had a fairly disappointing paella, but I’d had such a good run with street food, I couldn’t feel too bad. Plus, I didn’t have the confidence to do street seafood, and maybe that would’ve been better.

At any rate, my mission was once again and one last time to find a decorative thermometer. Which I didn’t. And so, before getting back on the Tube, I stopped in at a Notting Hill pharmacy and got a regular medical thermometer. Which I thought would be cute, and it was received as such.

Then to Gordon’s Wine Bar. Much recommended to me, and now by me. I also had a funny time entering. When I got there, there was a line, and as I was alone, I thought it would be worth inquiring if I could be squeezed in. So I went to the front and asked how long the wait for one would be. The host told me “About half an hour… unless you want to eat inside.” And of course, I did… as did the people who were at the front of the line, who’d waited who knows how long without thinking to ask! Seriously, though, not sure who wanted to be on the patio, but me and those others got into the vaulted cellar right away!

I had the Mozafresca wine with Manchego and Mayfield as my cheeses. The alphabetical theme was not intended. They all paired wonderfully together, and remember how I told you earlier this trip set be down a path of cheese appreciation! This was a big part of it!

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So, after that, I found myself with some time to kill, so I wandered around Buckingham Palace and Piccadilly Circus. Yup, those were my “nothing better to do” walks… though in fairness, I knew I’d been to them years before.

And then, my last big excursion/expense: some West End theatre! Again, a closing night, this time for Patriots, starring Tom Hollander as Boris Berezovsky and Will Keen as Vladimir Putin, with a script by Peter Morgan. (At the Noel Coward Theatre, certainly a pertinent detail.) Not a transformative night at the theatre (perhaps I’m too old for those), but a good play with some exceptional performances, and its interpretation of Putin is now basically my interpretation of Putin.

For other opinions, several reviews:

And just like that, I was (basically) done.

Day 24 (Sunday, August 20th)

An earlyish flight, so basically a wake-and-run situation. But it was a fairly easy trip to the airport, as everything was easier by that point. Almost a shame to leave, really. But all good things, etc.

Airport shopping included Cadbury chocolate for Ian, Whittard ‘mulled wine’ tea for Myles (and me, since I was there), and a Tortilla Burrito for me. (Neil had recommended it. And it was fine. Nothing to write home about, but that worked out, since I was already on my way home anyway.)

One last link for anyone who’s read this far:

And that, my friends – though let’s be honest, you’d have to be more than a friend to have read this far -was my London adventure! (And I’m not sure I ever really paid off that Churchill War Archives story… but yeah, kept thinking I was going to go, then didn’t. You always have to have at least ONE regret, right?)

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