London offers a ongoing and ever-updating curriculum of on how to live well in a city that is too expensive to live in. No other city I spend time in offers as many free or nearly free diversions for families as London does. Granary Square, the South Bank, the Tate Modern, Regent’s Park, the list of public spaces that make you feel like a circus is always in town goes on and on.
This trip, I learned that…
1. …bubble gum on the sidewalk can have redeeming value. Ben Wilson (whose Wikipedia page will explain his mission) looks for gum squashed on all kinds of pavements and transforms them into miniature works of art. On the corrugated metal path of the Millennium Bridge, which spans the Thames between Tate Modern and the area around St. Paul’s, Londoners have commissioned him to create memorials to dead family members; schools have sponsored little emblems; newly-engaged couples pay him to commemorate their troth. Children and adults walk across the bridge bent at the waist in search of his little gems.
2. …the World War I memorial art installation at the Tower of London is best seen from an aerial perspective. 350,000 ceramic red poppies on stem-like stakes flood the moat around the Tower’s outer precincts to symbolize the number of lives lost in the Great War. From the parapet surrounding the walls, the poppies stand in striking contrast with the green grass growing underneath. But why does it flow from the Tower? What is the intended symbolism? And why skimp on the number of poppies flowing out the window, leaving the rickety scaffolding supporting them in plain sight? I was more impressed by images taken from above.
3. …London’s closest beach town, Broadstairs, would be recognizable perhaps to Charles Dickens but definitely to Graham Greene. With the original Bleak House in the background, a brass band played Elgar’s “Nimrod” under cloudy skies. I hoped in vain the crowd of mostly seniors would break into “Underneath the Arches.” A round of mini golf finished off a wonderful day spent on the sandy beach in our cardi’s.
4. … and finally, the Anchor & Hope restaurant is as good as it was the last time I ate there seven eight years ago. This place puts the lie to the worn-out notion that British food is bad. Worth every penny. Check out their menu.
And now, off to the airport. Next stop, New Jersey!
As of today, Sunday, I’ve been in Bordeaux for twelve weeks. Tomorrow I fly to London, where I’ll spend nine days. This morning, I stayed in until I could check-in online and then ventured out for my last major tramp around the city. The entire bordelais population seems to have had the same idea. At the market along the Chartrons quai, I bought my last dinner in Bordeaux: sliced magret de canard and roasted vegetables. I sat down for one last plate of oysters with a little glass of white whine. Then I took the tram back to Place Victoire. Along the way, the pretty 19th-century look of the city charmed me again as it has every day since I’ve come here. I will miss the wine seller in Be the Wine (who has sold me some really excellent whites lately), the two guys who own Books & Coffee, and the very friendly people who work in Bon, C’est Bio on cours Victor Hugo. But I have finished what I came her to do and it’s time to go. I’ve been too immured in my comfortable studio flat. Time to go play with my fairy godchildren in London. A short stop in New Jersey and then off to northern California.
But what was I thinking? Getting out of France on September 1, the Grande Rentrée? Clearly, you should not take travel tips from someone who books her own travel on what is reputedly the busiest travel day in the French calendar.
P.S. I took the photo above a couple of weeks ago. But it captures how the city looks today.
Books & Coffee, 26 rue St James.
Four times last week, I packed up my laptop and took it to this café on rue St James. Three very gracious and attentive youngsters in the twenties work their butts off to offer coffee, tea, modest pastries, and a limited lunch menu for reasonable prices. I ordered tea most days, but I saw other customers order coffee in all forms, from an espresso to the bulbous glass beakers that look like they’re do equally well for cooking crack.
The wood floors and metal shelving, the leather sofa and seats, and the tables of the interior gives the place a soothing library feel. A counter runs along a big side window and has books, children’s books, and toys to keep children occupied while their foot-weary parents recharge their batteries. I’ve had lunch there twice: a very good, custardy quiche and small salad the first time and a chicken-burger with bacon the second time. Unpretentious, tasty, and satisfying.
I’ve noticed that tea shops and cafés all over Bordeaux and in Biarritz carry two brands of ironware teapots made in Japan. The better quality brand, Oigen, does not seem to be widely available in the States. The design of these pots is beautifully simple. A cast iron Oigen teapot weighs around three pounds and is glazed on the interior. The ones I’ve seen here (and the one I bought at left) are priced around 98.50euros. On US sites, if you can find them, the pots run about $150. They eliminate the need for a tea cozy, because they retain the heat.
Iwachu teapots are less expensive, noticeably lighter, and the varieties of designs less appealing — to my eye, anyway. Far more examples of this brand show up on Amazon.