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Cats, Cathedrals and Ciders: The South of England: Day 15

05 Jul

Thurs. May 26, 2016:
London

I woke up at 8:30am, right before Brent was going to wake me up. Breakfast consisted of the Double-decker bar from the previous day and Biscoff cookies dunked in coffee. We took the subway to the Royal College of Physicians. There had been a delay earlier and the first train that arrived was crammed and we had to wait for the next one. Once again we were in our dressy clothes, as we had a fancy lunch scheduled. In my running shoes I fit right in, it seemed to be the norm: wear running shoes and pack the heels in the purse.

At the Royal College of Physicians we had to sign in as guests and the only other people there seemed to be admins and business [people. It was a bit weird, but in our fancy clothes we fit in. I was excited to see the exhibition of John Dees books. I had heard about it in a podcast in the winter. He had been a scientist and alchemist with a vast collection of books. He had made notes and observations in many of the books, books that were then stolen while he was on vacation. One book had his name bleached from the front page but it was hard to see in the case. It was hilarious to learn about him and his nuttiness. He was under house arrest for predicting the Queen’s horoscope. We also saw an old copy of Gray’s Anatomy. They had some anatomy tables from 16th century Padua on display. It featured the nerves of a human body all laid out flat on a board. It was tough to imagine it being 100% correct. It looked funny.

Lunch was not until 1pm and it was barely 11am, the Royal College of Physicians took no time. We walked through Regent’s Park and saw some nice gardens and more baby ducks with their territorial parents. A clueless mallard had been chased away and later tried to eat grass from the river bank right behind the nest. I had not planned this day very well. I had forgotten to put on sunscreen and now I felt like the sun was frying me.

We walked over to Selfridge’s department store on Oxford Street. At first I barely recognized it from the show. Until we got to the main entrance, I recognized the vestibule and the front doors. Inside however was unrecognizable and modern, it was like any other high-end department store. I overheard at the perfume counter that one perfume was £850. My jaw dropped. We went to the Foodhall in search of a quick bite as we had not had a real breakfast. First we walked around looking at everything. It was incredible how big just the food section of the store was. They had fish, cheese and meat counters even. There were two bakeries and a restaurant called the Brass Rail. The second half of the food section had fancy chocolates and macarons and a health food section. We ventured too far and ended up in stationery. I was on the lookout for anything branded to bring home as souvenirs. There were Foodhall tote bags but they were so expensive, £5 each! For a reusable tote bag!

At the bakery we ordered a sticky toffee dessert and a peanut butter chocolate-covered Oreo. Looking around, we had nowhere to sit and eat it. We walked over to the restaurant. The plan was I would order a coffee and then we’d sit and eat. Somehow it turned into Brent ordering a Reuben sandwich (called hot salt beef, so gross) and I ordered a Lunetta Prosecco. This was partly because I had seen a lot of places advertising Prosecco cocktails, it seemed to be the thing to drink before noon. This sandwich was the best Reuben I had ever tasted, it was warmed up! And it was not too salty either.

After that we wandered through the other levels of the store, gawking at ugly and expensive things and playing “guess how much it costs.” I found some awesome pineapple print pyjamas, alas they were £110. Way too much for pair of jammies. I found a hilarious series of books called the Ladybird Guide To. Some of the topics included Hipsters, Dating and Sheds. I was really tempted to buy them but £7 seemed a bit steep for a joke book. Even after all of this we still had some time to kill.

We walked down the street to where Google Maps said there was an H&M. I still had not given up hope on my palm tree printed shirt.  Alas, there was no sign of it. We walked over to the Connaught Hotel for lunch at the Hélène Darroz restaurant, which had two Michelin stars. Outside I changed into my heels. As soon as we were seated we were offered a glass of champagne, before we had even ordered water or seen the menus. I was ok, I had just had a glass of Prosecco. For the menu we had two options: prix fixe 3 course which came with wine pairings and a bottle of water or the option to choose 3/5/7 courses via marbles on a board (you left the marbles with the menu items you wanted on the board, the rejected ones went in a moat around the edge- it was all very weird). The a la carte items were not individually priced and we had already ordered a bottle of water, so it made sense to do the prix fixe menu, it seemed relatively cheap given it included wine. For each course there was a choice between two items, so we each chose a different one, maximizing the amount of food we would get to try.

The hotel was located downtown and was busy, and the service was fast and efficient. The first amouse bouche consisted of a weird bread and freshly sliced (table-side) ham, smoked mackerel in a cracker cone (it was amazing) and a weird gazpacho that we first had to let steep while we ate everything else. It tasted like salad dressing, not helping matters was the fact that once steeped we had to pour it over chopped garlic and down it like a shot. For my appetizer I went with the “summer minestrone,” as it sounded delightful and better than salad. I should have been wary of something in quotes. There were vegetables, a green sauce and shavings of parmiggiano cheese. I barely got through it.

The main dish won it back. The veal shortbreads were delicious but the real knock-out was the cod that Brent had ordered. It just melted in the mouth and was so delicious. The dessert was a chocolate mousse atop some vanilla cream and kumquat jam all nestled on top of a cookie. It was nice to have a selection of wines to go with each dish. At first I felt ripped off, they had poured so little! Until I realized how wide the glass was. With the bill came two more little amouse bouche desserts, a lemon cream cookie and a heavy chocolate truffle. I was already so full. Before leaving we were still handed a wrapped mini-cake covered in chocolate. I was way too full to even think about eating it. It would have to wait until later.

We walked back to the hotel through Hyde Park. The weather was amazing, the sun was shining and it was quite warm out. We saw a hilarious dog having them time of his life in the park. His owner had just let him off the leash when he took off running and started sniffing people. She called him over and threatened to put him on the leash. He made sad-puppy eyes, she let him go off running again. And he made a beeline for some horse droppings and was about to roll in them, she was running after him across the grass in her heels. She was about ready to clip his leash when again, she thought better of it and let him run again. This time he ran over to a group of kids, grabbed their soccer ball and started playing keep away. She ran over, full of apologies, and chased down the dog, who thought this was a fun game and refused to give up the ball. It was hilarious and I wish I could have seen what had happened next. But it was getting really hot outside and I needed to go back to the hotel, change and rest my feet a little bit.

Back in the hotel I swapped out my purse for a lighter smaller one and left my sweater. Back to Hyde Park we went, our third time through, and taking another completely different route (that is how big this park is). Being less tired, I was now able to appreciate the beauty of the park a little bit more. The Victoria & Albert Museum was just south of the park. As we walked around the building to the main entrance it dawned on me just how big this building was. It was good that the admission was free, because there was no way we were going to finish it in one half day. We got the bottom floor and half of the first floor done before we had to leave because the museum was closing. The religious section of the museum was actually pretty interesting because they had old manuscripts. There was one that had been so well preserved that the pages had barely yellowed and the red inks were still vibrant. I was almost suspicious of it. There was another manuscript printed on vellum. We saw a book of hours that had ivory covers. We also saw some Rodin statues. We had to leave the museum at 5:30 instead of the usual 5:45 because there was set-up being done for an event. We decided we would come back the following day when the museum is open until 10pm.

Walking back towards Hyde Park we took a different route and I saw another H&M. This was my final chance at finding the shirt, alas I came up empty-handed and officially gave up. We split off at the top corner of the park near Marble Arch. Brent went back to the hotel while I headed off on my own for some shopping. I went to Primark which was a zoo. The line for the fitting room was so long that when I realized I had grabbed the wrong size I was not going to back in and wait again. I gave up. I slowly realized that Primark was not that great, finding good stuff there is a rarity (but when you do, it is very good). There were no London sweatshirts and I found no sandals or purses to my liking. I ended up only buying tealight candles and socks. While I was in there I heard someone say “7pm” and I looked at my clock and realized I had been in there for way too long. I was about to head back when I saw another store on the corner, Next. But I was too tired to really look around and I did not find anything.

It was a slow cautious walk back to the hotel, even though it was just a straightline- the road changed names three times though. I jaywalked and a little girl pointed at me, looked at her mom and raised her arms in protest, saying why can’t we go? I stopped at the corner store for some Cherry Coke because I was really dehydrated and the McDonald’s near the Primark was most likely a zoo.

Back in the hotel Brent was just getting ready to head out to Brew Dog to buy some beers. I snacked on a few Haribo alligator gummies and we went out. We took the subway there and I realized I was backtracking to where I had come from. Brew Dog was beer heaven, if you like beer. I found two ciders that seemed good, the third one was chai-flavoured, so gross sounding. I also found a Belgian lambic: Oud Beersel framboise. We stopped at McDonald’s to get a light dinner, we had walked by Cittie of York (another of my pubs) but there was no point going in there with our bags of bottles. To go with my chicken wrap I finally caved and ordered the Taste of America cheese bites. I figured I would be eating them in the hotel, therefore if they made me sick it wouldn’t be as bad. As we waited for our food we stared at this one kid. He was so high and acting so dumb. It was starting to annoy me, we had been waiting quite a while now for our food.

Back in the hotel there was no time for TV, as I had to catch up writing about the whole day in my notebook. I checked the H&M website for the palm tree shirt, even there it was sold out. There was no winning. My plan for the ciders and lambic was to start with the strongest and work my way to the weakest. Therefore I started with the lambic, clocking in at 5%. It was delicious and slightly sour. The cheese bites were ok. I sat there cursing the hot room, why was the air conditioning not working? Turns out I had forgotten to turn it on. As I was half-asleep and half-waking-up I imagined seeing a black cat on the wall that all but briefly scared the bejeesus out of me. I was so tired from the long day of walking.

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