Since last year was our silver anniversary, we took this year’s camp session as an opportunity to re-create our honeymoon trip and re-visit some of the cities—well, one of them anyway—that we went to 25 years ago.
There aren’t many photos in this post; check out our Storehouse layout Return visit to England.
Much of our trip was spent wandering around London, visiting museums, eating, checking out espresso joints, and seeing some theatre.
In the 25 intervening years British food has definitely improved! Even though admittedly we aimed a bit higher than our previous trip’s student-budget level, we were impressed with the culinary talent in London. Our meals were moderately-priced, and we were largely delighted by all. Standouts included the superb Punjabi restaurant Needoo Grill, with their truly amazing chicken palak, and Honey & Co., a tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Middle-Eastern resto that turned out to be a highly-rated foodie spot. Covent Garden’s Kopapa is an excellent fusion restaurant, with very imaginative dishes that put us in mind of Quebec City’s Pain Béni. We even went to Jamie’s Italian, assuming that Jamie Oliver’s ubiquity would mean that this chain restaurant would be mediocre. But we were happy to discover that though the menu was fairly basic—nothing particularly challenging in flavour or originality (it’s supposed to be Italian home-cooking)—the ingredients were nicely-cooked, and more importantly, everything was freshly-made (including the excellent pasta). Even at the English Trust’s Fountain Abbey restaurant in Yorkshire, they served locally-sourced meats and veggies, and the food was delicious!
Now that Laura has decent knowledge of espresso and some years of experience with her home setup—and having already checked out some of the best coffee shops in Toronto and New York City—we tried out some of the higher-rated shops in central London. In order we tried Kaffeine (66 Great Titchfield St.), Caravan (Exmouth Market), Dose (near Smithfield Market) and Monmouth (Borough Market); and that turned out to be our order of preference as well. Kaffeine quickly became our absolute favourite (sorry, Toronto cafes), and over our trip we managed to re-visit it three more times and get quite chummy with Ben, one of the baristas.
Kaffeine, we miss you!!
Walking (and Tubing) around
We spent a lot of time exploring the streets of London on foot, occasionally getting lost and/or found via GPS (fun fact: there are actually TWO (count ’em, 2) Granary Squares a mile apart—welcome to London)—so much so that we didn’t actually spend much time inside many museums. We did manage to poke our heads into the British Library to see an exhibit of the history of comics in the UK,
Photos weren’t allowed, but Peter didn’t realize that until halfway through. So you didn’t see this cool collection of mannequins wearing V masks.
…as well as the Treasures of the British Library John Ritblat Gallery of rare books, first editions and autograph letters and manuscripts (comparing the beautiful copperplate handwriting of Captain Cook and Jane Austen versus the untidy scrawls of Charleses Darwin and Dickens was fun.) One morning we did the London Eye, paying the £8 extra for the express line, which turned out to be a smart move: we were on the wheel within minutes, while the massive non-express queue must have been the better part of two hours long.
Moment (Victoria & Albert Museum): Peter having fun sketching a wonderfully jolly statue. Laura, studying it closer, comes back to tell him it’s of a notorious quack who did well in his quackery and could commission a memorable piece of sculpture.
Moment (Victoria & Albert Museum): The day was sunny, warm and slightly humid, and the V&A wasn’t air-conditioned and getting a bit stiffly, so we, like many, took a break for refreshments in the central courtyard, as folks leisurely sat around and children played in the wading pool.
Right near our hotel (literally steps from St. Pancras/Kings Cross Stations) was a new museum, House of Illustration, featuring a show by Chez PLJ favourite Quentin Blake.
We also visited a smaller Cartoon Museum in London, just north of Covent Garden and just south of the Britsh Museum, but it was late in the day and we only had time to peruse the gift shop.
When we weren’t walking, we were riding the Tube. Always a marvel of efficiency, it was even nicer now with the Oyster Card, an electronic ticketing system introduced in 2003 and reason #274 how our Toronto’s TTC looks absolutely antediluvian in comparison. (Though the Tube’s announcement system is reeaaally chatty compared to other transit systems.) Tap the card on the sensors at the beginning and end of your journey, funds debited. Need to top up your card? At the station or online, easy-peasy.
We saw two shows in London: First, the wonderfully sly and witty musical Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl book, with a musical score by the wonderfully sly and witty Tim Minchin.
The opening stage
The next night we saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a marvellous and equally inventive dramatic play based on the book by Mark Haddon (and if you know the book, you know that adapting it would be quite a challenge. What can we say about both shows that doesn’t immediately devolve into mindless fan babbling? Both shows were tight and exceptionally good! If you are heading to London, try to see both; you won’t regret it!
Because the Chunnel didn’t even exist when we last visited Europe, when we realized how close we were to the train station we figured we must try the Eurostar! However, we only had one full day to spare in our vacation. What city could we visit for just one day? Not Paris—that would need at least three days. How about Brussels?
When we went there, we made good use of the Brussels card (which provides free entry into almost every museum in the city, plus free transit. Well worth the cost.) Of the museums we saw, the one that made the biggest impression was the Belgium Comic Book Centre (aka Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée/Belgisch Stripcentrum) housed in a lovely Art Noveuau building designed by Horta. It has a large selection of European—mainly Belgian and French—comics, as well as an attached comic-centric library. Comics and cartoons become a kind of theme of our visit, since we also visited the MOOF: Museum of Original Figurines, a slightly bizarre collection of 3D figurines of European comic characters (think Smurfs, Astérix). We also got to two of the three BOZAR museum galleries, limited simply by time before our train departed.
Missed Moments: Although we knew about and were looking forward to seeing many of the giant wall murals of cartoon characters scattered all across central Brussels, somehow in our late afternoon exhaustion, in the surprisingly hilly Brussels(well, compared to London)…we blanked. Worse, given our path in the city, more than once we were but steps from a mural—all we had to do is round a corner, or go a little farther. Retracing our steps, it was like we were actively avoiding them. Oh, the shame.
And, yes, we did the seriously touristy thing and ate moule et frites, waffles, and bought lots of (but, alas, never enough of) Belgian chocolates. Strike that—we didn’t buy enough truffles. More regrets.
Back to London for 4½ hours, then up by rail for a 3-day stay in Leeds, where friends Bev and Alastair (and their son Rowan), awaited. There they took us on magnificent journeys through the wonders of Yorkshire: the first day included The Salts Mill, a historic mill revitalized as a modern art gallery for local boy made good David Hockney, shopping and restaurant complex at Saltaire; as well as a ride on the Shipley Glen Tramway, a historical funicular train, and a long ramble alongside canals and aqueducts, then through forest trails and farmers’ fields—involving everything from geocaching to cow patties.
The canal aqueduct passing over a river
Moment: As we passed a lock, a couple vacationing in a canal boat asked for help in opening the rather old, stiff doors of the lock. We got a first-hand view of the workings of the lock as we closed and opened the various lock doors as we were told after the appropriate redistribution of the water.
The next day we went to Fountains Abbey, a magnificent ruined abbey and mansion grounds, featuring lovely landscaped water gardens and follies. Two more UNESCO World Heritage Site notches on our belts! (Three in total with La Grand-Place, downtown Brussels!)
In London we successfully managed to meet up with a couple of our UK Twitter pals, leaving small bottles of maple syrup as calling cards. Unfortunately, our tweep in Leeds (a cartoonist) couldn’t make our rendezvous, so we did as instructed and left his wee gift with the manager at the brilliant OK Comics in downtown Leeds. He seemed somewhat bemused at the offering, asking “do you ALWAYS travel with maple syrup in your bag?” This is where one tries to put on a casual face and say “Why, yes. Don’t you?”
Then to the train back to London for one more day of walking thru The City, past St. Paul’s, gazing thoughtfully at the Tower of London’s poppies…
…across Tower Bridge—whereupon alarms sounded and we hustled off for it to open to let a passing boat through…
…then meeting up with cartoonist Sydney Padua for coffee. A quick, rather unremarkable dinner, sleep, one last visit to Kaffeine, then to Heathrow.
A huge thanks to Grandpa Suzuki for the plane tickets; Grandma for the pounds to help make it a memorable trip; Neal for the dessert; and Bev, Alastair and Rowan for their incredible hospitality!