January 8, 2011

A Birthday in London

Picture London in your mind. It's an old city, steeped in history. More often than not imagines this city have a background of mist and cloudy skies.

The day of my birthday was a quintessential London day - cloudy with light drizzle and mild temperatures. After breakfast we started walking toward Covent Garden. It was a perfect day for walking. The mist gave the city a quiet and mystical air.

The area near Covent Garden, Neal's Yard, and Seven Dials is my favorite part of London. The market, the narrow streets of shops, and the small colorful yard are perfect places to wander around and experience London.

We went to the Neal's Yard Apothecary shop and then walked around the artists stalls in Covent Garden. As we left the market hall we came upon a silver Airstream trailer selling hot mulled Somerset cider. For those that are not familiar, cider in Europe is different than the fresh apple cider Americans are accustomed to. Instead, it is a fermented beverage with low alcohol content. Some ciders have slight carbonation while others are flat.

We purchased two half pints of the mulled cider to drink while walking back towards Neal' Yard for lunch. The cider was very good - warm, not too sweet, and with only a small bit of alcohol still remaining.

At Neal's Yard, we went directly to the World Food Cafe. This is a vegetarian lunch restaurant located above Neal's Yard Apothecary. When I used to travel to London more frequently I often had lunch here and I was looking forward to returning with Jonathan.

At the World Food Cafe the menu is on a chalkboard by the door. When you arrive you order and then sit at the counter or one of the communal tables. All the food is vegetarian and represents a different area of the globe. I ordered a Turkish mezze platter and Jonathan got vegetable masala. The food was excellent - just as I remembered - and this cozy cafe is perfect for a relaxing lunch or snack.

After lunch we got on the Tube and headed to Westminster to visit the famous abbey and switch gears from shopping to history.

Westminster Abbey is an amazing building. After being founded over 1000 years ago the structure was built over several centuries as the original building was added onto and made more ornate. In addition to being place of worship, the Abbey is where the kings and queens of England have been crowned for the last millennium.

Entering Westminster Abbey you are struck by the sheer size of the interior with the high vaulted ceilings and great open spaces. Elaborate, detailed decorations and memorials are everywhere inside the abbey. In areas of the building every inch of space - walls, floor, and ceiling - is covered with monuments, inscriptions, paintings, and other adornment. There is so much to see and learn about the history of England here. From noblemen and statesmen buried in tomes or below the paving stones to memorials for artists and scientists on walls - history of this country is recorded here via births, deaths, and coronations.

This was my second visit to the Abbey and there are many things I noticed this time that had escaped my eye previously. However one thing that I had remember was the floors. In addition to the many inscriptions marking burial places in the floor, many of the stones on the floor have been worn years and years of people walking through the chapels and corridors.

By the time we left Westminster Abbey the sun had set and dinnertime was approaching. After dropping our packages off at our hotel we walked back to Covent Garden in search of dinner.

After meandering around the streets a bit we ended up at Pix, a cozy tapas bar. It was a relaxed and friendly cafe and bar. The tapas were set out on platters on the bar. (This is a more traditional way to serve tapas than we are accustomed to in the United States where you order the small plates you want from a menu.) Each dish or piece had a stick (or pick) in it. As you eat each item you save the sticks and at the end of the night you give them to the bartender to determine your bill.

We got a bottle of wine and started selecting tapas to eat. I choose the tortilla, cheese-filled peppers, and olives. Jonathan got calamari and fried olives. After our first round of snacks we chatted and then got some more food. (My favorite was the cheese-filled peppers and I got a couple more if those.) The tapas were good, the environment relaxing, and experience fun.

Back at the hotel we ate a small fruitcake that Jonathan purchased for me during our visit to Harrod's. A perfect little cake at the end of a perfect day!

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