Monday, April 14, 2008

London Calling

It’s been a good, smooth couple of days in London town, working with Nikon on focus group studies. The weather has cooperated, alternating between cloudy sun, rain, and wind to keep us all on our toes. I love to ride the trains and walk cities and London is a good walking city and "training" city too. Off the main drag there are small alleys leading nowhere, but sometimes leading somewhere surprising. Totally reminds me of Harry Potter movies when they are moving from Muggles reality to Hogwarts.

Following my friend Tony Corbell’s suggestion, I bought a ticket on one of the double-decker buses and hit the highlights of the city. It was fun riding high and in the open wind, but I found the descriptions and narrative a bit lackluster. Still, we did cover a LOT of ground so I feel grateful for Tony’s recommendation: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square and many more sites were passed.

I grabbed a pint of Samuel Smith’s “Old Brewery Bitter” in the mid-day at The Cock near Oxford Circus in honor of my friend Jon Wright. He no doubt would have enjoyed one with me. It was a quiet neighborhood bar lightly dusted with old men stopping in to the watering hole, well-dressed clerks from nearby stores debating politics, and travelers such as me. The beer was good, and fueled me up for the rain that awaited me on the next step of the adventure.

Did I mention that fully 70% of the people in London are predominantly dressed in black? Not me – ha! However, one of my “missions” on the trek into the City today was to find a scarf. Not a pretty one, but a plainly-spoken one such as the locals might wear. I set out along Oxford Circus and was met with only frustration due to department store selection or high prices – I even found some scarves down an alley at an old-fashioned clothiers shop, but I was not about to pay $50 for a scarf, even if it was supposedly made by a lone weaver in Scotland. (I appreciated the background from the proprietor nonetheless!).

As I wandered, I began to recognize an area that I saw on the tour bus earlier in the day, near the “Marble Arch.” It was an area of extreme wealth, punctuated by several automobile dealerships favoring high-end Aston-Martins, Lotuses and the like. I delighted in seeing an honest “armored” BMW 7-series. But the thing that spurred me on was the BMW Motorrad shop – home to the F800GS I saw briefly as we sped by on the aforementioned bus. Naturally being that close, I simply had to walk over and check it out. It was fun to see it actually in the shops, and the salesman I spoke to said that even if I placed an order today they are scheduling deliveries in September. So… that’s some small measure of comfort for my [supposed] delivery in September in the U.S.

After failing the Scarf mission and seeing the motorcycle, I decided to make an early dinner of it by hopping on a bus and heading to the “Brick Lane” area near the Liverpool section of London. My co-worker Josh had suggested this area due to its high concentration of Indian restaurants and their fine application of curry. I thought he seemed particularly keen on a specific restaurant, but couldn’t recall the name. Bad news: there were scores of Indian restaurants! At which did he eat? Who knows! So, I did the only reasonable thing I could think of which was to ask some Indians stepping out of an honest Indian market (the “Raj”) where they would eat in the neighborhood. Without hesitation, both answered “Clifton.” Now, I can't assume this was exactly what Josh had in mind, but it would be the first food of the day (at 5pm) so I didn’t hesitate.

Simply put, the food was spectacular and tasty, in the Banglodore tradition. I ordered a lamb kebob to start, with some Okra, and a 5% beer called “Cobra.” Yeehaw! For the meal, I ordered a nice sampler tray that gave me chicken, fish and a variety of other spicy foods to enjoy. I took a few pictures to document the meal (for Josh’ sake) and noticed that suddenly the waiters paid a little more attention to me. I was ordering a number of dishes, making hand-written notes for the blog and taking pictures. I decided to press on by asking whether I could take additional pictures of the restaurant. I believe they thought I was a food critic, and in a sense I am since I’m writing these words! The service was punctual; the food was hot, fresh, and spicy. A chocolate-inspired dessert capped off the meal. Another cool thing: the head waiter gave me two shirts, one a polo and the other a nice stylish T that I passed along to Kim. Totally unexpected. If you’re ever on Brick Lane in London you can do no wrong by visiting the Clifton. Two enthusiastic thumbs up!

My thoughts turn frequently to my family. Every time I see a child near Emily or Ethan’s age, I think about how much fun they would have exploring the city with me. And to see Kim’s eyes twinkling the way they do when she is happy would be fantastic. Can you imagine their excitement riding an honest-to-gosh double-decker bus? The fashion sense of the London women is good, and I can imagine Emily wanting to wear calf-high boots and a pretty scarf everywhere. Ha!

I leave for Germany tomorrow mid-day, and hope that the atmosphere is as interesting and inviting as London.

For more London pics, including some odd mannequins, Jack the Ripper and more famous London sites, check out my Flickr gallery for London.

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