England Experience Kicks Off Memorable Vacation

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A few months ago my wife Gina had expressed interest in traveling overseas.  I looked at her with a little hesitation.  Why?  It was a trip I had thought about, but not recently.  It took me a few seconds to blurt out “OK”.  Not knowing what we were in for it was one o f the best decisions and vacations either of us had ever had.

After all the planning and decisions, we decided to visit three countries.  We would start off in London, England then make our way to Dublin, Ireland with our final stop being Edinburgh, Scotland.  The entire trip, from airfare to hotel accommodations was done through Booking.com.  A very seemless trip.  What a crazy 11-12 days it was.  But the fun and education never stopped.  It was very surreal.  One always wants to travel abroad and when that opportunity presents itself, it can still feel surreal.

IMG_5390We knew there would be so much to see.  Considering we spent about 3-4 days in each country, we limited ourselves to the main city we were in as there was so much to do without traveling outside city limits.  there could be a full immersion into being local without trying to look like a tourist, which one can pick out most easily.  Even though we had a map out and taking pictures, we carried ourselves in a manner than was unassuming.

We were not loud, being inconsiderate of others, or acting like we were the only ones in the area.  When you travel to another country, you are a representative of your country.  You want to be respectable of others and show that not all Americans are as bad as other countries think.  Why give people a reason to speak negatively about Americans unless you give them a reason to?  We were casual and civilized, blending into the local culture and enjoying each day as it comes.

To me, one of the best aspects of international travel is the food.  Being able to try certain foods in that cuisines origin, prepared by the locals who know how to prepare it right.  One has to leave their comfort zone to truly immerse the taste buds during  an international vacation to really enjoy it. It’s a great chance to take culinary chances with cuisine you would not normally try. If you find chain restaurants, you will never have a true experience. You can have great choices in a country where they prepare it the best with the proper ingredients

Once you indulge all your senses in a foreign country can one truly understand what an experience it is to be there.  Not sure from what you can see, hear, and touch.  But the smells and tastes of such great food that begs to be tried by foreigners.  It is OK to test the waters with a foot, but always best to dive right in and immerse yourself fully.  No regrets.

Keeping in mind that England and the rest of the UK is five hours ahead, we decided to leave at night and arrive early the next morning.  It gave us more time that first day rather than flying in later.  After being picked up at the airport and settling into our hotel, there was only one thing on our mind.

Food.

Technically, we had not eaten since the day before so a meal was something we needed.  After receiving directions from the  concierge we walked to The Strand across the Waterloo Bridge, several blocks of local businesses, pubs, and restaurants.  After walking up and down the street we settled on Garfunkel’s (http://www.garfunkels.co.uk), a chain that offers great breakfast, sandwiches, and other fare.

They have a great menu, lot of great choices.  I did not want anything too big so I ordered their chicken club sandwich.  I wanted more protein that carbs.  This sandwich was huge.  Packed with grilled chicken breast, bacon, egg, tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise on white toast.  Served with cole slaw and chips as well.  The chips are done right in the UK.  Thick cut and friend to a nice crisp without overkill.  The way chips should be done.

The sandwich was filling, but not quite enough as Gina ordered sticky toffee Pudding.  Delicious toffee sponge, drenched in sweet sticky toffee sauce topped with vanilla ice cream.  What decadence.  We had to share this delight.  As much as we shared, we did not finish it off.  We could have finished a few of them.

UKEdit1From there we walked along South Bank, a walking section along the River Thames showcasing a younger, artsy side of London.  A lot of restaurants, art exhibits, skateboarders, and tourists out to see the views from the river.  London Eye and the Aquarium is right at the beginning and just across the bridge from these locations is Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and other local attractions.  We managed to set ourselves up in a great central location.

We scouted out some of the restaurants along South Bank.  Aside from some club style outdoor bars and a few cafe style eateries/bars there were some trendy restaurants.  Strada offered Tuscan style Italian cooking while Giraffe was a fusion of different world cuisines.  In between these was Yo! Sushi which I will get into later, and a few other trendy spots.  It really set itself apart from the traditional pub scene.

South Bank seemed to be a hot spot for an evening crowd.  It doesn’t matter the crowd you travel with, all are welcome the same.  Even tourists.  It is easy to relax and just be casual with so many strangers.  Maybe small chit-chat once in a while for a good laugh can happen.  No stress to be had.

The second day we knew we needed a good breakfast to start the day off right.  We headed back to South Bank and remembered a small cafe style restaurant under the Waterloo Bridge.  They had a short menu for breakfast.  Some sandwiches, pastries, and breads.  We headed to the left side where a kitchen and menus were.  We were then told that breakfast was ordered at the bar.  Yes, the bar.  It seemed the bar handled breakfast.  They did have the coffee over there so I guess it makes sense.

Gina headed over to the bar and ordered our breakfast.  She had scrambled eggs on toast and I have English sausage on toast.  It had a nice deep, spicy flavor.  Not the kind of sausage we have for breakfast over here.  The second half Gina and I traded a little to have an egg and sausage sandwich.  Plus, one needs to order Coffee Americano if they want an American style coffee/  Otherwise it is all lattes, cappuccino, espresso, etc. Americao White to order with milk.

From there we walked back around South Bank to cross the Westminster Bridge to get to our first stop, Westminster Abbey.  One has to pass Big Ben and Parliament in order to get there.  “Kids, look!  Big Ben, Parliament!”.  We were walking so there was no need for us to keep left.  Even walking by it I was still in awe of being there.  But once we entered Westminster Abbey, my facial expressions spoke the majority of my awe.

IMG_5478Only one day prior to us stepping foot in Westminster Abbey they were celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60 years on the throne.  To see all the royalty from Kings, Queens, Lords, Dukes, and so much more that were a part of the British Crown was amazing.  Not just their final resting place or memorial, but the Latin inscriptions and craftsmanship of it all.  Even American’s like Ben Franklin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt  had memorials there.  Yes, as time passed they paid tribute and have memorials set up for certain Americans.

I was soaking in all the history, reading the ages & stories of those immortalized there, grasping the scale of how much England covered throughout history.  Even if it was a church, it was still a spectacle for this American Jew.  When I got back and talked about seeing history that was older than our country, I mainly got “You should visit Israel”.  Sorry, but there are other countries and history I would prefer to see first.  I have others I’d prefer to get to first.  A visit to Israel will come eventually.

The highlight for me at Westminster Abbey was seeing memorials and resting places for some of history’s greatest writers and poets.  Names like Charles Dickens, T.S. Elliott, Lewis Carroll, Lord Byron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Edward Lear, Jane Austin, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Browning, and one of the greatest, Geoffrey Chaucer.  You could even see and touch Chaucer’s final resting place.  For an aspiring writer, it was a moment to remember for eternity.  I love Chaucer’s work.

England Vacation - Day 2Many critics, friends, and others gave a thumbs down to the movie “A Knight’s Tale” due to its use of current rock music, modern trendy sense, and countless other no-no’s.  I loved the film for Paul Bettany’s portrayal of Geoffrey Chaucer.  His part was written superbly.  His comedic timing and demeanour added to the great lines scripted for him.  Showing the pitfalls of a writer’s vices to his greatest moments giving introductions to the masses, Bettany gave the viewer a true perspective on how this writer may have lived.  Scenes of the movie were going through my head standing next to Chaucer’s tomb.

After taking in all the history Westminster Abbey had for us we ventured right over to Buckingham Castle.  There are maps on certain corners mapping out the nearest sights & tourists destinations.  We followed them for a bit and there stood before us the residence of the Queen.  One watches events on TV or sees it in film, but that is nothing compared to seeing it up close.  Well, at least from the gate like everyone.  Staring in, we gawkers are at least hoping to catch some glimpse of what goes on there.  Speculation says she Queens… and vacuums.

So I watched National Lampoons European Vacation a few hundred times.  Yes, I did think of the movie at certain spots in London.  Yes, I did bring a Walley World T-shirt with me over to London.  No, I could not find nor did we stay in the Royal Imperial Windsor Arms.  There is a little Clark Griswold in all of us.  Just have yet to see Christie Brinkley pull up next to me.  But I digress.

IMG_5545We hung out at the gates and statue across from the Castle for a bit, planning our next move.  We had great weather the entire time in London as New Jersey was being soaked on, imagine that.  Staying hydrated was a priority as in addition to heat, was all our walking.  So as we headed down The Mall with St. James Park to the right of us.  Was a nice brisk walk with some lush gardens and trees surrounding us.

By the end of the road we had gotten to Trafalgar Square and rested up at Pret A Manager.  A great little cafe serving fresh sandwiches, coffee, tea, and other pastries and cold beverages.  Plus, they have free wi-fi.  They are a chain with locations in the United States, definitely worth a visit.  Trust me, go in.  Hooking into these little chain’s wi-fi hotspots makes it a little easier to get around and still be “social media engaged”.

Right up a few roads was Piccadilly Circus.  A mecca for shopping in London.  Regent Street seemed to have everyone.  From Michael Koors and Burberry to Calvin Klein and Coach.  Tons of great shops lined the street and adjacent ones.  Even a Whole Foods is right off Regent Street.  Yes, one will find the typical tourist merchandise stores, but for those wanting a true piece of fashion in London might spend a little more.

IMG_5611All we did was window shop and walk into a few stores.  My wife’s sister asked her to go to Burberry for a small wallet, saying it should not be expensive.  Uh, we were not quite sure what she considered “inexpensive” as one of their most inexpensive ones was about $280 in American dollars.  Well, we just looked at each other, laughed, then walked out.  Very nice shop and some great merchandise, just not what we were looking to pay for anything at that point.

We even found London’s Chinatown.  A lot of great menus posted by many different Asian cushiness.  They were all represented in some fashion from one restaurant to the other.  It did not matter what you were in the mood for, someone was bound to have it.  Even the green tea cakes looks inviting.  As if to say “finish me now”.  We then looked at the time and thought we should head back and see where we wanted to have dinner.

We decided to head back to South Bank.  Some great places were less than half a mile from our hotel so they were in an optimal location.  We decided on Giraffe (www.giraffe.net).  Having linking issues.  Giraffe is about exploring the wonderful foods from around the globe and opening our ears to music from around the world.  The atmosphere is casual & relaxed.  Some great fusion concepts amongst steaks, great pastas, sandwiches, and burgers.  A lot of great choices.

IMG_5595Giraffe is operated by the original founders Juliette and Russel Joffe and Andrew Jacobs who all have an active role in the day to day management of the business.  Giraffe was acquired in March 2013 by Tesco as part of its strategy to utilize some of the space in their larger stores, creating retail destinations that offer customers, in particular families, a compelling experience outside of their weekly shopping trip.
So to start, I had the Orange BBQ Duck Tostada.  A crisp corn tortilla topped with sticky orange pepper bbq duck, shredded salad & fresh red chili.  The duck was so tender and just kind of melted as you ate it.  A great starter that is light and gives you a taste of duck if you never had it before.  I love duck and so many other types of game.  While over the length of the trip, I only had red meat 2-3 times.

As my main meal I ordered the Chili Beef Enchiladas.  Two small oven baked corn tortillas stuffed with chilli beef & herby rice, topped with adobe sauce, melting cheese, tomato salsa & toasted seeds. served with a chopped seasonal salad.  More like a forest.  Ingredients so fresh and not an overpowering spice.  Just enough to make sure one tastes the cilantro, one of my top favorite ingredients in any cuisine.  I could have eaten more, but then there would be no room for desert.

IMG_5445Chocolate Mousse Crunch made the perfect ending to a great meal.  Rich milk chocolate mousse topped with crushed cookies & cream.  Just enough in a martini glass.  Velvety smooth and rich.  I would have loved to have had a few dozen more, but then I would be walking out the door like John Candy in The Great Outdoors.  We had enough.  Another great day with tomorrow to look forward to.

On our third day we decided on Tower Bridge and the Tower of London as our focal point for the day.  So one of the best decisions we have to make comes up.  What should we have for breakfast.  A great choice was made, back to Garfunkel’s.  They had some great breakfast options on a fixed price menu.

English breakfast can be very heavy in meats and puddings, but not the traditional American style pudding.  The day before at Garfunkel’s we noticed they had great options for breakfast.  If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.  Plus Garfunkel’s has free wi-fi, which comes in handy so one does not incur a ton of roaming charges just to be able to post to Twitter, Foursquare, and Facebook.  In less than two days of roaming I incurred an extra $100 in data roaming alone.  I turned it off and acted on wi-fi hotspots.

I went with two friend eggs, thick cut bacon, and baked beans.  A couple nice thick slices of brown bread accompanied the meal.  I liked this option for the protein content in relation to carbs in the meal.  With the walking we knew we were going to do, energy was needed to fuel us for a good part of the day.  No need for a half plate of home fries, not running a marathon.  Give me the beans before home fries for any breakfast.

Their coffee was some of the best we had over there.  One has to order “coffee Americano” in order to get a traditional American style coffee.  Garfunkel’s delivered.  They present a traditional British style cuisine in a New York street side restaurant setting.  Great traditional fare served fresh and delicious, with some American twists.  From what I hear, their Tower Burger is the item of choice amongst many.  Maybe next time.

UKEdit2Back over the Waterloo Bridge and onto Tower Path.  A walkway along the River Thames marked to make ones journey easier.  It was a great morning for a long walk.  We came across some artists with easels capturing a building dome and surroundings as their item for art.  I snapped off a couple of shots and we went along our way.  Everything from apartments and Starbucks to businesses & restaurants.  We walked along so much on this path, even a prison.

Clink Prison.  A name given to all the prisons that have stood on a number of sites in that vicinity.  The first prison in 1127 was a cellar in the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester, and the last was in Deadman’s Place (Park Street).  The prison held Protestant and Catholic religious martyrs at various times.  It was closed in 1780, when it was burned by the anti-Catholic Gordon rioters.

After another small distance was the dock and port for the final vessel of Sir Francis Duke.  A 16th century explorer, privateer, and English national hero has inspired countless generations across the world.  He was the first English Captain to circumnavigate the globe and played a vital role in the defense of England against the Spanish Armada in 1588.  He helped to lead England in becoming a Naval superpower of the time.

We could not go far without finding something historic.  Then came The Anchor Bankside.  I great old Pub first established in 1822.  We kept this place in the back of our minds for later.  The closer we walked to Tower Bridge the more mesmerized we were.  It is one thing to see places in books and on film, but in person in finally clicks.  That moment when you say “Holy Shit, I’m here”.  Every traveler has this moment when they are in the presence of something grand they never thought would be as close as their breath.

IMG_5660Tower Bridge is a sight.  One can not walk a few feet without someone taking a picture.  I snapped off my share and blended right in.  The craftsman ship and detail makes it appealing to the eye.  To see the history carved into different parts of the structure.  Very long walk to get to this point, but it was worth the distance.  There was a boat from the London Eye that could have taken us down there.  But we prefer to walk and see the eights along the way rather than just passing them on a boat.  Great day for cardio anyway.

As soon as you get over the bridge is the Tower of London.  Also there are the White Tower and other museums to spotlight the surrounding uses and military.  The uses of the Tower and structure were used to house royalty in periods of war.  Like a typical castle, there is a moat, dungeon, and jewels.  The museums are designed to showcase different periods and its history.  Showcasing different armors, weapons, clothing, and their background stories told great detail of what it would have been like in those times.

Every museum over there has their relics, World War I and II pieces along with their respective country’s history.  They are educational to go through.  Even detailing prison life on POW’s and even royals.  So to never be heard from again.  If it was not for England, the United States of America would not have happened.  In a way, if not for them, we would not be here.  Debate all you want, this is my opinion and I am sticking to it.  Pilgrims and others came here, but if not for the Colonies, no USA.  It does not take away from walking inside those castles and along the castle walls.

UKEdit3The Crown Jewels and other royal pieces were a highlight.  How often does one get to see ornate jewels, crowns, scepter’s, diamond encrusted swords, and more bling that would make P Diddy look like a chump.  Their bling has bling.  Even the dinner plates, silverware, goblets, and serving dishes were made out of gold.  No way to top that Jay-Z.

There was the rightly named Bloody Tower, one could walk along the East Wall facing the Thames River and Tower Bridge.  Great view and breeze on a perfect day there.  The history of reigns and regimes as well as their military strategies, weapons, and defenses was fascinating to learn.

I am just here to give you the highlights, folks!  I am not going to go into full on details as to what was at every castle location.  I am not a history professor.  I did learn a lesson or two every day though.  The best education can come right from a source.  Museums are great places for history and education.

After several hours we decide to head on back, but we had to make a stop first.  We stopped off at The Anchor for some fish & chips.  Every bar in The Anchor was made of old, dark wood.  Great in stature and attention to detail, every room appears frozen in time.  Many famous Englishmen have walked through their doors for close to 200 years.  We had to make this a stop for now just the fish & chips, but some beer.

Gina ordered a Guinness and after looking at their menu I ordered a Kronenbourg 1664.  Smooth, full-bodied Kronenbourg went down nice.  I was drinking, taking pride in knowing the alcohol content is higher over seas.  So this brew was a delight.  American beer is like having sex in a canoe, it’s f#%#*ing close to water.  After two beers I was feeling quite happy.  A great feeling came over me and just relaxed.  Why go anywhere?  Sit back and enjoy.

Camera Roll-164We ordered The Codfather off their menu.  The Codfather was their largest fish & chips dish.  A huge deep friend piece of cod and perfectly prepared chip.  The fish was crisp & crunchy outside, and tender & succulent inside.  The fish melted in your mouth.  The chips were perfect.  Thick cut, crisp outside, and fluffy interior.  I love their chips.  I have an Achilles heel for french fries/chips.  A great lunch with a great view from their outside portion.  Worth a stop on the way to the sights.

Enjoying a nice stroll back to the hotel for some rest, we talked about where we should have dinner.  Gina’s first choice was Strada.  Strada is a group of contemporary styled restaurants dedicated to providing authentic Italian dishes that offer a true taste of Italy.Strada is all about great quality, freshly prepared pizzas, pastas and risotto served in stylish, contemporary surroundings.  Another great menu we viewed earlier.

After some much-needed rest at the hotel we ventured right over to Strada.  We walk by a small section that seems to cater to street performers.  A fire-breathing tube player, acrobats, mimes, and more in our way everyday.  They can be very entertaining.  It’s not like New York City where they are really in your face.  These performers just sit back, do their thing, and engage the crowd intelligently.  Some can be fun to watch.

We had to wait on a small line at Strada as it appears it is a well liked place.  Ever restaurant along South Bank has tables outside as well as inside, and outside was jam-packed.  So we headed inside, no big deal.  Very young, trendy crowd.  Majority of the younger workforce carry backpacks, they are everywhere.  That made it easier for me to take mine everywhere and fit in at every restaurant we went to.  I did not feel like a tourist in that fashion.  When everyone has one, the more you can just fit right in.

Had to get a long look at the menu to find something different to try.  From what I saw on the menu, there would be a lot I would enjoy.  I am not a fan of big pasta dishes or a smothering or red sauce over a good protein dish.  Considering this is authentic Italian and not American inspired Italian, I figured I was safe from all that.  Judging by the dishes that passed us, I was.

My starter of choice was the Zuppa Vongole.  Their signature Sardinian soup with fresh clams, fregola pasta, white wine, red chili and parsley.  A great spice that you felt in the mouth, not the tongue.  The clams, still in their shell, gave the soup a sweet taste of the sea.  A fitting way to showcase the seafood without taking away from the soup’s flavor.

Time for the main course, Risotto Frutti Di Mare.  A terrific seafood risotto.  A rich seafood risotto of mussels, clams, king prawns and squid with tomatoes, chili, white wine, parsley and garlic.  The mark of any great restaurant is their risotto.  Once again, Strada delivered on a fantastic seafood dish.  Succulent king prawns, mussels and clams with their shells on so one can really taste the white wine and garlic in the dish.  One of those dishes where the less you say, the better the dish is.

So far we had not been disappointed in any place we have chosen to eat.  Everything we had decided to do in London, weather it be sightseeing or food, had been excellent to that point.  Even the weather was perfect since we arrived.  Can not plan that right, even if you try.  The hotel room though, not so much.  The pillows made it hard to sleep as they were too soft.  The bathroom was in the middle of the room and took up much of the room.  The wi-fi could not be access anywhere in the room but the small living  area with sofa by the front door.  Other than that, great hotel that is centrally located to a lot of attractions and restaurants.

Before we left on our trip, I purchased the Lowepro Photo Hatchback 16L AW.  A great everyday pack for photography.  Enough room for a camera, two lenses, and accessories.  The camera and lenses compartment is against ones back so no one can enter that compartment while walking.  A top section is big enough for an extras one needs to carry.  Two side pockets for water, a Joby, or any tall item.  I highly recommend this backpack for any photographer traveling.

Our fourth and final day we decided to have breakfast at the hotel.  They offer a breakfast buffet with includes eggs, breakfast meats, pastries, breads, and what any basic buffet would have.  It was OK at best.  The bacon was dry, the coffee tasted like it was filtered through a sock, and the whole breakfast was disappointing.  Neither of us really wanted more.  I can not really go into detail about a buffet I am not crazy about.  There are better ones I can discuss later.  Next stop, Harrod’s Department Store.

Harrod’s was a bit father than we thought, so walking would take too long.  So we opted for the taxi.  Driving in the UK takes learning.  The streets are narrow, they drive on the other side of the street, one can make U-turns anywhere, you can park on either side of the street regardless which way you are facing, and other items one would need sharp reflexes for.  It was fun getting there in the taxi.  The only thing our driver did not do was run red lights.

Camera Roll-175Harrod’s is a store unlike many shoppers have stepped foot into.  One could easily spend an entire day there and possibly not see everything.  They have everything and i mean EVERYTHING.  Jewelry, Men’s fashions, women’s fashions, kids fashion’s, exercise equipment, a toy store, electronics, an art gallery, a pen section, a fresh market, cafe’s, watches, a book store, kitchen appliances, bedding, full coffee and tea section, computers, cameras, and so many other areas Fifth Avenue is jealous.  If you think going to Garden State Plaza or Mall of America might be a shoppers paradise, head to Harrod’s.

Where does one begin.  We started in the market and went anywhere we saw food.  Gina and I looked at each other wondering how much room we had in our carry on luggage.  But alas, we knew we needed to be selective on what to bring back.  The rest can be ordered on line.  We purchased their tea and coffee.  Their house blend is excellent.  So much to try and smell, but not enough time to try it all.  Even a couple small restaurants right off their market.  From there we started at the top and worked our way down.

They had a nice book area.  A Bond on Bond 007 book piqued my interest enough to purchase.  Off the book area was their art gallery.  Some very intriguing sculptures and still art.  My focus was on some of the Andy Warhol pieces that hung in the gallery.  The use of James Dean and Theodore Roosevelt with such vibrant color were captivating.  A piece not by Warhol of Courtney Love holding Kurt Cobain in her arms was a little disturbing.  A few of the sculptures did stand out to me and gave me questions to ponder over.  They left you questioning their intent or message.

England Vacation - Day 4From there the order of departments is kind of a blur.  You go from one concentrated section to the other and back again, you can wind up in the same section a few times.  One needs a Wonkavator to truly handle all the department’s at Harrod’s.  A great selection of cardio equipment, weights, and other various fitness machines were available to anyone looking to install a home gym.  Some pieces I wish NYSC had.  The toy store area had their Disney department, super heroes, Lego, Playmobil, Star wars, Spider Man, and everything else to occupy your child while you shop away everywhere else.  They had quite a selection.

The men’s and women’s fashion departments had all the top designers.  I am not about to ramble them off, visit Harrod’s website for that info.  The prices are what you expect, so we keep walking.  Not too much of a difference in some areas and higher in others.  The women’s accessories, handbags, and other female targeted sections had every single designer a fashion conscious woman could want.  Department areas that sold handbags had guards in them.  Not just the jewelry areas, handbags too.

Like a good husband I waited at the right times in those areas.  This way nothing could be said when I wanted to take a little more time in the electronics and camera set ions.  Needed to look at the items I want and can’t afford.  Window shopping, man style.  We walk about the electronics and entertainment section the same way an eight year old looks at ice cream.  My wife found a brand of stockings she loved so much, she went on-line to order more.  We were selective with purchases albeit could have been much worse.

So many items, so little baggage space.  We were very conservative in our shopping.  It was getting late enough to where we wanted lunch.  In one of the food halls was Galvin Demoiselle.  Galvin Demoiselle opened in March 2012, and is situated in Harrods striking fruit, vegetable and pantry food hall on the ground floor. This bijou bistro offers quality French cuisine combined with Galvin’s warm, friendly hospitality in a unique, elevated location, overlooking the bustle of the food hall.

Ideal for shoppers looking for light dishes and refreshments, Chris and Jeff Galvin have created a menu including Soupe du Jour, charcuterie, Cocottes, salads and light fish dishes, plus their popular signature dishes of apple tarte tatin and confit of duck, and vegetarian options. The menu also offers a selection of cakes and the Demoiselle afternoon tea.  They have two star Michelin rating chefs taking care of the food.

England Vacation - Day 4After a small wait we were seated in a tight seating area.  Matter of fact, the entire restaurant seating was just as packed.  The bistro was not designed for all day tea sipping.  Considering where our lunch was located we decided to see how far out of the box we can find something fantastic on this menu.  Gina decided on the Baked Lobster Fishake while I chose the Crisp Duck Leg Confit.  Neither of us made a bad decision.

My duck leg was cooked perfectly, trimmed delicately, and tasted heavenly.  Just the way duck should be.  The dish was a perfect example of how duck should be prepared.   Gina was loving the lobster.  I tried a piece and it was divine.

We had a little laugh enjoying it all.  Taking in the moment of realizing where we were.  Enjoying a meal in a restaurant, in a store, in a city I still find myself amazed to be in.  I was playing “Once in A Lifetime” by the Talking Heads over and over.  David Byrne singing “How did I get here”?  One of the best meals I had indulged in, in a very long time.  It capped off a perfect time at Harrod’s.  Well, not exactly perfect.  I would have preferred walking out like a Lotto winner.  Extra cars in tow.

Outside were a line of taxi’s, just waiting.  Very easy to get a cab.  The driver needed to do a U-turn, so right then and there, he did.  We were laughing to ourselves at a legal, brazen U-turn in the middle of a main street.  No accidents, no crashes, no fights, and no yelling.  He turned and off we went as did everyone else.  The roads are tight enough, last thing anyone wants is an accident.  Fast decisions and patience is needed to drive in England.  The driving attitude one has here can not be used in another country.  You have to see how it works first and decide if it is worth the hassle.

After drooping our plunder off at the hotel we decided to take a shorter route to Trafalgar Square.  A great open center for everyone to enjoy.  At the base of the main statue were four lions.  We decided to do as best as we can to get a picture with them.  I succeeded in the climb.  It was a good feeling being up there.  Besides to sit and look around, not much else was going on.  So we headed right back to Piccadilly Circus.  After a couple turns, we ended up at the M&M’s store, and more free wi-fi.

My PhotoWe have been to the M&M’s stores in Las Vegas and New York City.  They all have the same set up geared to the city they are in.  They had the M&M’s in a “Walk on Abbey Road” piece in the store.  plus each M&M character was depicted in a British style.  It was fun to see how they were positioned.  We still believe the Las Vegas location is the best as it also has a Coke store side.  Always the best part is the create your own blend of M&M’s.  Just put your mouth under and pull.

We just walked about to see more stores from there.  One was a huge tourist store in the heart of Piccadilly Circus, Cool Britannia .  To quote Queen “they have it all”.  From T-shirts, pens, and posters to luggage, beer glasses and iPhone cases.  A whirlwind of merchandise and chachkies surrounded us.  If you really needed Union Jack underwear, they had it.  Any “Keep Calm” item you could ever want.  Did someone say “Do they have any Beatles items”?  Why yes they do!  Not into a lot of it, but an item or two did find its way out of the store with us.

It was getting to be that time for dinner.  The first place I blurted out was Yo! Sushi.  What is Yo! Sushi you say?  Well then, let me explain.  Yo! Sushi brings the use of a conveyor belt into the equation to ge sushi to customers.  You have a seat either bar style or booth style by a part of the conveyor belt.  Your wasabi, chopsticks, soy sauce, and even water is right there.  Very convenient placement for these high use items.  The different dishes of sushi pass by on the conveyor belt.  Each item is color coded for price.  Just pick out the items you want and enjoy.  They total your plates up at the end.

My PhotoIt was a fun sushi experience.  Kick back and just watch the unending conveyor of sushi.  I loved it.  My plates were piling up too.  Some great tuna, shrimp, eel sushi amongst the usual sushi rolls, even lightly fried ones.  Even some fried beef was in the action.  Not a lot of meat at a sushi bar.  There were timestamps on each dish so you know when it was made.  They do remove ones past their time stamp.  It kept a fresh flow going.  In the end I had a pretty nice stack of plates.  Very easy to keep eating and pay more than you wanted.  Keep an eye on it.  There are a few locations here in the United States.  New Jersey and Washington D.C. to name a few.

The next day we were off to Dublin, Ireland for the second leg of our vacation.  We needed to relax and call it an early night.  Not sure what early is over there as it is still light out after 9 PM.  The pillows on the bed provided no support.  Hard to get a good nights sleep.  Driving your mate out of bed is also not a good feeling.  So you can imagine how the following day traveling night be.  That night felt long.  As if morning wanted a day off itself.  Even though little sleep be had, there was an excitement to head to Ireland.

I could not post every picture I took here.  To see more pictures, visit my Flickr album (www.flickr.com/;bprod) or my Facebook page.  Both links are on the home page of my website.  Having linking issues to put them here.

We did not want to leave London.  The time spent there was spent to the fullest.  A definite thought to go back and experience more in the future.  We packed so much into a short period of time, but still more awaits.  Abbey Road, Hyde Park, and so much more.  Ireland was an adventure waiting.  We looked back as we headed to the airport with a sense of “wow”.  Knowing there will be many more of those experiences in the coming week.

England Vacation - Day 2Out of Heathrow we flew Aer Lingus over to Dublin.  About an hour flight, easy ride.  Or at least we thought.  Nothing wrong with the plane right at all, that was great and smooth.  Just another passenger.  A loud American going on about previous vacations.  I think that is a story best left for when I go into Ireland.  More to come in detail later from different parts of our trip.  Until then, see you next time with Dublin, Ireland.

Better wait than never.

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