Anniversary adventures in London

So I have spent seven years of my life with the massive doofus that is Sean, and I love him to pieces. We wanted to commemorate this somehow so we got some cheap train tickets and went to London for the weekend!

We arrived late, checked into our cheap, slightly dodgy hotel, and headed out for dinner. The Dolphin Pub was delightful – cheap and amazing Thai food (yes, in a British pub), good drinks, nice staff, and unsurprisingly, we ate a little too much.

A walk to digest brought us around Kings Cross, stopping to take the obligatory Platform 9 and 3/4 photo at the station before continuing to Granary Square to watch the fountains. Another drink to cap off the night, and back to our room to sleep.

Dishoom, an amazing Bombay restaurant soon to open in Edinburgh, had been recommended to us by a foodie friend and it did NOT disappoint. The bacon and egg naan was amazing and the chai was perfect. The decor reminded me of the set of Rent, making for an interesting view while dining, and we were besties with the staff by the end of our meal.

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For the rest of the day, we simply wandered. We made our way down to the Tottenham Court/Charing Cross Road area, making pit stops at interesting shops along the way. We bought some cheap tickets for The Woman in Black at the box office and stumbled on a cute little church Christmas Market. The wildly enthusiastic lady out the front was too sweet to refuse – ‘we’ve got the best coffee in London and it’s only 50p!’ – and so we headed in for a lovely cup of tea, some chocolate cake, and a wee poke around the market stalls. I bought some Christmas cards and we got chatting to a lovely couple who’s daughter lives in Aus. We also met Santa and he gave us sweets!! Lucky us!

Already on track for the best day ever, we kept wandering, heading up Regent St before deciding that crowds are rubbish, so we went down to Green Park. We then promptly forgot crowds are rubbish and headed to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. This. Was. Insane. It’s a massive theme pop-up theme park made to look like a Bavarian village on steroids. We actually didn’t spend any money – we just wandered around looking at the rides, window shopping at all the market stalls, dodging small children, and smelling the delicious aromas of a million bratwursts, pretzels, churros, chestnuts, burgers, and other food truck fodder. We decided, eventually, to exit, and realised we didn’t know where it was (this thing was enormous). We asked a security guard who looked fearful, replied he didn’t know, and wafted back into the crowd.

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But get out we did, and then we hurried our frozen bodies into a pub for a quick drink to defrost, before braving the cold once again and hurrying back to Soho. We had read about a ramen place on Dean St called Tonkotsu, and it was another gastronomical win for this weekend. Delicious, tender gyoza and an enormous bowl of ramen with a glass of yuzu lemonade – I have missed this!!! So full we could barely walk, we made our way to the theatre for the show.

It was a great show – very scary and suspenseful, though actually not as terrifying as I expected because I had a guy with a head the size of the sun in front of me and he insisted on moving it about at regular intervals so I found myself somewhat distracted when I should have been rigid with terror. They were selling copies of the novel that were signed by the author! Naturally, my library has a new volume.

It was a long walk back to the hotel, but necessary for the ongoing digestion of our massive ramen intake. It rained a little, and London looked pretty in the watery night. I very much enjoy this city.

The next morning we went back to Dishoom for another bacon and egg naan because life is for treating yo’self, and then we hopped on the Tube for a few stops down to Liverpool Street to check out the Old Spitalfields and Brick Lane markets. We walked up and down and all around for the next few hours. I did not have money to spend, but that didn’t stop me buying things anyway (I should have known, I should have known) including some delicious raclette potatoes for lunch, some green tea, and a couple of Christmas present bits and bobs. We found a very ‘Melbourne’ cafe for a quick hot drink, then headed back to Kings Cross, visited the Wellcome Collection for a flying visit to their Bedlam: the asylum and beyond exhibition, then collected our bags and headed to the station.

We had booked a first class ticket home to Edinburgh because they had been so cheap at the time of booking. We found the first class lounge and headed up, feeling like imposters, but when we had found some seats, a lovely lady asked me if I would like a complimentary massage. So I said YES PLEASE and then nearly fell asleep under her magic hands.

We fed and watered ourselves (no charge of course), then found our seats on the train. First class seats are just that extra bit roomier than standard, and it makes all the difference on five-hour train. They came up and down with the trolleys offering all manner of beverages, along with sandwiches, cakes, and crisps that we DIDN’T HAVE TO PAY FOR. My enthusiasm felt somewhat uncultured. We got chatting to the lady across from us, who was on a year-long holiday between jobs as an expat in Dubai, who reminisced about the first-class service twenty years ago. I need to save my pennies in order to travel first-class more. Amazing.

We were home by 11pm, and it’s back to the real world this morning. It’s a cold winter day, but it’s nice to be heading out to work to make some moolah for the next mini-break. Sean is off to Lisbon in a couple of weeks and my parents arrive exactly one month from today! Lots of exciting things to look forward to. I hope everyone had a lovely weekend.

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To the Lake District!

It’s been a lovely few weeks since my last update filled with: Halloween excitement, Nanowrimo (25,000 words and counting), more time with friends (including a farewell for an Australian friend headed home), church, a radical book fair (including a performance from the Loud Poets), and bonfire night. I chose not to climb Calton Hill with the rest of the city to watch the fireworks, but went to a friends house and watched Pride and Prejudice and Death at a Funeral, so, you know, just as good. I am also immensely proud to finally be able to announce the launch of Pride & Possibilities, a new online journal I am editing from the Jane Austen Literacy Foundation. Our first month includes a piece from Simon Langton, the director of the BBC Pride & Prejudice, written especially for the foundation. It’s been so exciting to work on! Also, the clocks have gone back and we are well and truly into the change of season. It gets dark at 4pm!! It’s been an interesting transition, so I’m trying to embrace the cosyness and relish the warm pubs and long pajamas.

But last Friday night after work we trekked (ie drove a rental car) down to the Lake District for a friend’s birthday. After several delays, we were on our way, via the little town of Biggar for dinner before we picked up Claire’s friend from London at Carlisle Station. Our party was now comprised of six people, and Sean and Bec shared the driving down to our home for the weekend – Whitehall. This was a beautiful old manor house in Wigton/Mealsgate area – and it was simply enormous. The six of us were racing all over the three-storey building, comprising four bedrooms each as big as our Leith apartment, four bathrooms, a huge kitchen and dining room, a games room complete with ping-pong table, and a massive sitting room, cosy as all get out with squashy armchairs, an open fire and a bookcase. There was artwork and photography all over the walls, a million little nooks and crannies to store things in (and several locked doors we never saw beyond).

Saturday morning began leisurely and involved sleeping-in, massive amounts of toast with bacon and scrambled eggs, and a quick jaunt about the garden to explore the ruins that were part of the property. It was like something out of The Secret Garden – overgrown ruined walls and plants creeping through the windows, a babbling brook and the most photogenic frosty Cumbrian morning light you could imagine.

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Then we hopped in the car and headed south. We stopped briefly in Keswick to sort out the car – refilling the fuel and attempting to solve the mystery of the unexplainable beeping noise. It turned out to be an engine overheating warning – some water in the tank sorted it out, so we were lucky nothing worse was wrong…

The drive down to Bowness-on-Windermere took about 90 minutes all up, but it was the most scenic 90 minutes I have experienced in a long time. I don’t know if it was the autumn colours, but the mountains looming over either side of the road were red! Amazing to see, and even better when we began driving alongside the lakes themselves. It’s hard to imagine people living, working, and carrying out their daily lives in areas like this, full of such overwhelming natural beauty.

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Once we had found a car park, wayyyyy out down by the marina, we walked ever so leisurely back into the town. There was the tiniest little 12-week-old bichon frise shih tzu to coo over, as well as lots of weekend crowds to navigate. We wandered into a couple of Beatrix Potter themed gift shops and had the most delicious deli sandwiches for lunch (mine was ham, chutney, and crumbly Lancashire cheese with salad). Afterwards we bought some groceries to take home for dinner, and some delicious Keswick gingerbread. We stopped for a walk and some further photo ops on the way home and were home by 5pm.

The night was filled with the birthday girl’s DELICIOUS cooking – roast chicken, roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, scalloped potatoes and vegies with gravy, and a long, long, LONG game of Cards Against Humanity.

Then it was time to retire to the drawing room (upstairs sitting room), with a fire, some drinks, a game of cards, and a Dirty Dancing VHS. Then, midnight birthday cake and The Life of Brian. Honestly, I could get used to weekends like this very quickly indeed.

This morning we woke up late, ate lots more delicious breakfast and a cheeky pavlova cake, before we tidied up the place and hit the road. We stopped for a quick hot drink and a toastie (excellent to eat inside a warm car while it’s being hammered by rain on the outside) and were back home in Edinburgh by 6.30pm.

We are lucky sausages to have travel opportunities like this. Although we try to budget, it’s not the cheapest hobby to explore. But it’s worth the money, and I hope to do more weekends away next year.