Thursday, 25 February 2010

Where have I been?

I have been away in London UK for a week or so, went there on business. I was in London last around 1997 at Christmas time. The City has changed, very multicultural but at the same time still very English, in the way things are done. On the way up from Rome I was not sure my flight would take off as Alitalia staff said they would be on strike that day, well I arrived early for my flight to find that no the strike at been called off at the last minute. Why did they want to strike, I have no idea, in most cases its because they can. Anyway got to London and took a taxi into town, love London Cabs, they are comfortable and spacious, the driver knows his stuff, no nonsense. I was staying on Grosvenor Square, very central, the large park has a statue of FDR and Eisenhower, the USA Embassy is at one end of the square and Canada and Italy at the other end. Canada also has Canada House on Trafalgar Square which use to be the residence of our Ambassador around 1900.

We went to see a play at the Theatre Royal Haymarket near Leicester Square which is now Chinatown. The play with Sir Ian McKellen and Roger Rees was Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, I had seen it maybe 35 yrs ago at least in French and I did not like the play at all it was done very differently with pathos, doom and gloom and existentialist angst. This time it was done completely differently more in the Laurel and Hardy or Charlie Chaplin approach, more a reflection on the absurdity of life and how we do not always control what happens to us, Fate pushing us around. Will went to see a play at the Apollo Theatre, Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, it is being very well received. We also went to the Barbican Centre for a concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra sponsored by BBC Radio3, our friends David N. and J.S. invited us, it was a concert with pieces by Janacek, Korngold and Martinu, the conductor Jiri Belohlavek is an expert on these composers and he had a feel for their music. Afterwards we went to Smithfield which is the meat market of London, a huge place, with some restaurants and cafes open 24 hrs a day, if you want bacon or sausages at 3 am, no problem. We went to St-John restaurant whose speciality is English Tapas, who knew there was such a thing as English Tapas, lots of fun and very nice atmosphere. The restaurant has a website see www.stjohnrestaurant. com, I recommend it, the dessert was Eccles Cake and a slice of Lancashire cheese.

We did a bit of shopping, me for toy soldiers 54mm and bought all manners of soldiers for my collection in Shepherd Market. I can get carried away, too easily. London is a great place for this sort of thing. We also bought English cheeses, a Saint Crozier blue, Leicester red and a third one made from a rare breed of Sussex cows who are almost extinct as a breed but making a comeback because their milk is of very good quality, the shop Paxton & Whitfield is on Jermyn street near Fortnum and Mason. We had lunch at F&M, very good food and nice atmosphere, I told Will it reminded me of Murray's in Montreal.
We also visited the new Medieval and Renaissance galleries of the Victoria and Albert Museum, wow! We also pop in the Brompton Oratory next door, Cardinal Newman, the Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism use to be a member of the Oratorian order. The Pope wants to make him a Saint, but when they opened his tomb last year, his body was said to be very well preserved, however the rush of air reduced everything to dust in seconds, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

Remember I was there for work, I did work and did all this other stuff. Will also discovered a very nice restaurant called Cafe Boheme, we had a wonderful supper there after the theatre. A lot of restaurants in the theatre district are open until 3 and 4 am, so if the play ends at or near midnight and you are hungry, you have options. Will said that he found there were lots of crowds and this is true on all main streets, a bit much at times, but very lively. In Chinatown, I noticed how many of the restaurants offer all you can eat for 3 pounds sterling chinese buffet, I remember what my father use to say about this, he who worked in the restaurant business all his life, called it Hepatitis buffet, very unsanitary. I do not remember ever seeing such a thing in China, even in the huge restaurants on 4 floors, you ordered from a menu, a la carte, no buffet.

The flight back took forever, it is only 2 hours and 10 minutes from London to Rome, but I noticed that Alitalia had an old MD-80 and once I saw that I thought there will be problems, of course it broke down, mechanical problems before it even left Rome, so Alitalia had to get another plane and this created a 2 hour delay with no compensation. The staff in London pretended they had no idea that there was a delay. When it was pointed out to them on the big electronic board, the reaction was, oh look!? So instead of arriving in Rome at 7:30pm we arrived at 10:30pm. They also serve only a juice and one cookie on the whole flight. Next time I will fly British Airways, they serve a full meal.

I found that London has an energy Rome simply lacks, so much more engaging.


  1. Thanks for the report on what sounds like a wonderful trip. London at this time of the year is a bit depressing weatherwise but things are going full swing in the arts.


  2. L:
    A faculty member (Cantonese Chinese-American) said recently at the lunch table that he and his wife found London a great place at mid-winter. They have no problem at affording flights at any time of the year, but they found that the costs at midwinter from the Pacific Coast are the best of the year, all the museums that they like are open and no cost to enter, it's just the weather that is an adjustment.

    Someday I'll visit London, perhaps at midwinter.


  3. Aha, found you at last - that took a bit of guesswork. Glad you had such a great time, and that we helped with just a bit of it (I love St John).

  4. David we enjoyed meeting you and J. and thank you for introducing us to such a nice area of London and St-John. When in Italy, if you both have the time, you are welcome to stay with us in Rome. We are quite central and have guest room etc...