Things to do in London when you’re dead. Or when you’re alive. That’d be better.

Street Art, London

Did you know I used to live in London?
(Of course you do. I talk of very little else. I miss that silly wee city)

As London is one of my very favourite places to be and very favourite things to talk about, I subsequently have a lot of Opinions about London and Things to Do in London.
I’ve shared these every chance I get – generally in a rambling interminable email. I’ve decided that, to save myself a wee bit of work, I’ll put these Opinions in a rambling, interminable blog post!

This is that post.

St Pauls AND the Millennium Bridge

Basic Tips

Get thee an Oyster card.
Yes, even when visiting. These cards are just SO handy. They work on both the tube and the bus, and provides a discount for both. And! Should you keep hold of your Oyster card from 2008, when you go to use it again in 2012 you may just find you still have money on it.
(that’s what happened to me)

Wear good walking boots/shoes/insoles. London is AMAZING for walking. Also, wear light layers. The tube is warm (no air conditioning and all of the bodies under the sun) and despite how frigid the air outside may be, shops and museums are well heated.

Markets

Camden Markets are very busy, but pretty damn cool. Make sure to explore the underground vintage stalls.
Greenwich Markets are underwhelming. I wouldn’t recommend them on a whirlwind tour but if you’re going out that way then they’re worth a look. Get off at the DLR (docklands light rail, connects from the tube, still works on Oyster cards) stop before the one that is actually in (Island Gardens!) Greenwich and walk through the wee foot tunnel which goes under the Thames. It’s just a tunnel. But if you enjoy the sense of possible doom that comes from walking under a river, then do it!
If you do go to Greenwich then look for the little Milkshake place. It’s green and there’s only one, it will make any sweet into a milkshake. My favourite is Turkish Delight.

Toblerone & Turkish Delight thickshakes

Also, if in Greenwich, go into the Painted Hall as it’s pretty damn cool and is used in a lot of movies and such. AND it’s FREE! Free things are excellent value for money.

Mirror table so you don't strain your neck at the Painted Hall

Avoid Spitalfields markets anytime other than the weekends. The guidebook I had said they’re always open but I went on a Thursday and deemed them terrible but my baby sister went on a Saturday and said they were great.

Borough Market is The Best for food, it’s very popular, go during Friday at any time during the day, or Saturday I find it’s best at 10am, after all the stalls open but before the main tourist hordes descend. Go there to eat breakfast or lunch. Buy something hot and eat it while walking around. Great venison burgers, egg butties, roast-in-baguette-s, brownies, Monmouth coffee.

Portobello Road is a classic but very busy. Antiques are the closest to the station, then food, then there’s sort of a t-shaped split and the sides have quirky clothing, army surplus, vintage and ephemera. Further on than that? It’s not that great.

Shop shop shopping

The main High Street shopping destination is Oxford Street.

If you DO go to Oxford Street, it runs from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch on the central line but is only really good from the Oxford Circus stop to the Marble Arch stop. It’s fine to walk but eh, if it’s busy or bad weather, just use the tube.

Regent Street – runs from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and has some of the most beautiful buildings and much fancier stores. The Apple store is on Regent Street, as is Hamley’s. It’s a nice way to get in Piccadilly Circus and Oxford St in one trip.

Covent Garden! the shopping area is all little cobbled alleys and is amazing. MAC store, Coco de Mer, Urban Outfitters, Neals Yard! the ambience is possibly even better than the shopping. I took Craig here and even he liked it. He absolutely hated every time I dragged him to Oxford Street.

Graffiti in Neals Yard

Overrated? I thought so.

Covent Garden Markets.

I’ve never been on the London Eye as it seems ridiculously overpriced. Would go on it if say, our parents came to visit us or something, but that all depends on if/when we get back there.

Buckingham Palace. Westminster and St Pauls are more impressive.

Mme Tussauds. It’s CRAZY expensive and, admittedly I only went around on the one day I worked there, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near worth it.

Harrods. I have been, would go again, but it’s not all that. I prefer Selfridges.

Teeny Museums I have known and loved.

The Garret – a very old operating theatre/medical museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum – formerly the home of the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane, now a museum stuffed with his collection of paintings, sculptures, classical objets, just … so much stuff. It has to be seen to be believed.

view from the top of St Paul's

Big Museums/Galleries I have known and loved.

The British Museum is awesome and also free, the Great Hall is astounding, you can see the Rosetta Stone & mummies. Also: the nose of the Sphinx.

The National Gallery is oh just so great. Da Vinci et al, and pieces even, ridiculously, brought me to tears. It’s off Trafalgar Square. Too big to do fully in one go (thankfully I had the freedon to go … four times? Five?) but they have a map which has highlights.

Next to the National Gallery is the National Portrait Gallery, again free free free. Much smaller than the National Gallery and has more famous historical portraits than you can shake a stick at. But you shouldn’t. I don’t recommend shaking sticks.

The Tate Modern – a must. Definitely. It’s my favourite place in the world.

St Paul's from the Tate Modern

Promenade.

Whenever we had people come visit us from New Zealand we took them on this walk round the Thames, it seems to me to be an excellent way to see the sights.

(There are nice pubs along the way so you could always pub-crawl it too. But I could never recommend that. Not with my mum reading anyway)

Start at St Pauls tube stop and make your way to the Cathedral and walk round the front of it. Marvel. It’s my favourite building by in London. My favourite building in the World.

Walk round the side to the road, across the street is the London Tourist centre, and just near there is an alley way down to the Millennium Bridge. Walk across that and you’re outside the Tate Modern.

At this point, turn left, you’re heading towards The Globe. You can pay and take a tour round it which is very interesting, you can pay to see one of their productions, or you can just look at it from the outside.

Keep walking down that side of the Thames, (it’s best to have a map at this point because I don’t want to be responsible if you get lost) the walk takes you round by Borough Market (stop in for a Coffee and a sandwich if it’s a day when the market is open. The Shard is on the far side of the Market. It shouldn’t be difficult to spot

Friday: view from the top of St Paul's

As you walk down, you pass the Scoop and City Hall (designed by the same gents who designed the Gherkin) and you come to the Tower Bridge!

Walk across and find your way to the waterfront where you can walk past the Tower of London and see Traitor’s Gate, follow the Thames back up towards St Pauls but keep walking. Keep keep walking.

You can walk all the way down to Westminster this way. Halfway there you walk along the Embankment, beautiful old buildings and the only Walkabout Pub I will ever set foot in (the Walkie is a NZ/AUS/SAFA institution in London. It’s relatively terrible. I would go in and ask for a snakebite (1/2 beer, 1/2 cider, blackcurrant cordial) which is the signature drink, it is … an experience.).

You will be able to tell when you hit Westminster. Those buildings are so iconic as to seem fake. You can walk across the Bridge at Westminster but really, this is where my trail ends and you can go wherever you would like.

There is so much of London there to see!

It was Samuel Johnson who said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ I am not tired yet.

Coloured in! St Paul's tattoo

It’s funny how things work out. Or it’s funny how they don’t.

Street Art, London

June 15 2008.
It was just a week before I was due to fly home from London. Knowing that there was only the slightest chance that Craig would get sponsored and we could move back to London.
I left knowing that the next time I would be there would be to pack up and move back to New Zealand.

LOST

June 15 2009
I posted this photo with tears in my eyes. I meant it.
Dear Universe, I know I have lost.

I was giving up, letting go, sick of yearning for a city thousands of miles away. All it was doing was making my life like marking time. I was resolving to stop living that way*.

I knew that if it was meant to be, it would be. I was giving up to the Universe but not giving up on the Universe.

Monday: naturalisation begins

June 15 2011
I received confirmation I was to become an Irish Citizen.

No, not really. The letter arrived on the 3rd of June. But wouldn’t it have been great if it had been the 15th?

The Universe works in perfect synchrony sometimes.

* And we did! We travelled to Japan, to Hawaii, we moved into the city.

Memories: Mushroom and Walnut Pâté

Mushrooms
Borough Market 2008

Some of my favourite memories of London are set in winter. When the air is so cold that at first, it almost hurts to breathe. Where you go from coffee shop to coffee shop so you have something warm to hold. Where the air is blue and cloudless, you wear a hat and scarf, coat and gloves, and it’s just warm enough. When you almost forget the feeling of your husbands un-gloved hand in yours. But you can’t help smiling.

My memories of Borough Market are like that. Coffee in one hand, Craig’s hand in the other. Cobblestones underfoot.

Past the Tate Modern, past the Globe, past Pizza Express, past The Anchor, past the remains of Winchester Palace, past the Golden Hinde, right next to Southwark Cathedral, and we were there.

Game

We went there on a Saturday morning. The market was always madness after 11 so we would try and get there early. Rarely did we make it before 10:30.
Sometimes we would each get a bacon and egg butty or Craig would get a roast sandwich, and I’d get the venison burger and a coffee from Monmouth (the best, consistently the best, coffee I have ever had). Sometimes we would walk and eat, sometimes we would sit in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral – depending on how strong the sun was that morning.

Always we would buy food for home as well, pies from ‘Pie Minister’, handmade fudge, the best brownies I’ve ever purchased, artisan bread, and mushroom pâté.

Crates & Crowd

I miss our market routine. Even when the weather outside and the warmth of our bed got the better of my robot-husband and he stayed home. I miss that little routine more than anything. So much sometimes that it hurts. So much that I can barely bring myself to try the Wellington version – I know it won’t live up to the original. But I have tried to recreate some things.

I found a recipe for a pie with olives in it, I found a recipe for even better brownies, and finally, finally, I tried making mushroom pâté.

And it was good. Not Borough Market good, but pretty damn good*.

Mushroom and Walnut Pâté

Ingredients
250g Mushrooms
1 medium white onion
1 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp dried basil or marjoram
1 clove or tsp garlic
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
40g walnuts

1. Chop the onion and fry in butter until translucent.

Mushroom and Walnut Pâté 1

2. Add the chopped mushrooms and cook for a few minutes.
3. Add the herbs, garlic, and seasoning.

Mushroom and Walnut Pâté 2

4. Blitz the walnuts in a food processor and add to the mushroom mixture.
5. Return all the ingredients to the food processor and purée.

Mushroom and Walnut Pâté 3

6. Turn into a bowl and chill. Serve with bread, toast, or crackers.

Mushroom and Walnut Pâté

It may not be a secret family recipe like the original from Borough, but it’s good enough for me.

* It was good enough that when I made it on Christmas day my mama sent me away with a bag of mushrooms and instructions to make more for Boxing Day.

I pledge allegiance to the Taoiseach

I love this letter! #síorgrhá
 
 I have been trying to write this entry for a week.
Every time it becomes all too much. I have too much to explain. I have kept so much from you. This is the resolution to TWO YEARS of waiting and hoping but mainly two years of trying not to hope.

I will start at the beginning.
 
My Mother grew up with an Irish grandmother. She was the Rose for whom I am named.
My Mother, wise in so many ways, did not get the Irish passport to which she was entitled until years later, 2009, years after her children were (mostly) grown. This small little slip precluded my darling sisters and I from getting Irish passports.
 
Since the mid 1990s my family have been involved in the local Irish Society. I consider the members to be my extended family. I feel connected to my heritage through the club.
In 2007 before we left the country they presented me with two charms – a shamrock and a St Christopher medallion – for luck and safe travels. Thinking about that still makes me a little soft-eyed. They are lovely people. They are a second family.
 
Ireland is a wonderful place.
In a spectactularly Irish move, they allow people to petition to become naturalised Irish citizens through “Irish by Association”. You make your case that you are Irish enough to be a citizen and, if they like you enough (I’m guessing – I don’t know the criteria) then you can become a naturalised citizen.
 
My darling Mother started this process for all three daughters early in 2009.
Copies of birth certificates and marriage certificates, letters explaining why we wanted to become Irish citizens, explaining the bonds we felt to our Irish heritage, three Irish citizens approved each of our applications. So many papers, each in triplicate – one for each daughter – sent away to Tipperary.
In June 2009 we heard that our applications had been received and placed in the queue. The average processing time was 24 months.
 
24 torturous months.
I knew it was only the slightest chance that we would be approved. It was our last ditch effort. We lived in the mindset that we would be New Zealand citizens and New Zealand citizens only for the rest of our lives.
 
24 months is a long time to come to terms with something.
Craig and I made other plans. To stay in New Zealand, perhaps, to move to Australia, perhaps, to move to Canada, perhaps.  Always including the little phrase “but maybe, just maybe, if the Irish thing comes through we can …”
 
Last Friday my Mother was acting squirrelly. Insisting more than usual that she should pick me up from the station.
Of course, I was oblivious, and spoiled all her plans. Instead she broke the news thus:
 
iReland
 
I was floored. I had spent so long preparing myself for the letter saying that I had been declined that the approval caught me off guard. It took the better part of a week for my to wrap my head around the idea. The implications. Changing the plans I had worked SO hard to be okay with.
 
Ireland is part of the EEA. Citizens of countries in the EEA have the right to live and work in the UK as they please*.
 
Becoming an Irish citizen means a formalisation of the ties to my heritage but it also means that Craig and I can move back to London if we so choose.
 
Did you catch that? I know this is long and detailed and, admittedly, rather boring, so let me say it again:
 
Craig and I can move back to London
 
Now we just have to decide if we want to (and I’m pretty sure we do). But there are so many things to take into consideration.
Our jobs, family, money, the olympics (yes, seriously). The fear I have that I will no longer be in love with the city.
 
At the moment we are testing out the idea that we will move to London sometime early next year. We will begin living like paupers and saving every spare cent. Turning this pebble idea around and around in our minds to see if we like it**.
 
But mainly, lastly, most importantly, I am proud to be an (almost) Irish citizen.
 
Everyone Loves an Irish Girl
síorgrhá
 
 
* I’m pretty certain. Only so long as you’re not a drain on the state.
** I think we do.
 

The dome glows ethereal in the night, London’s own rising moon …

St Pauls AND the Millennium Bridge

Dearest darling London,

Today I ache for you.
I read and reread the article A.A. Gill wrote for The Times about St Paul’s Cathedral and I sigh.

St Paul’s Cathedral is the solemn, eternal boss and hub of our city. We look up for it, mark our bearing by it, judge our distance from the lantern on top. It is the axis of a compass. The great dome is the calm centre of the spinning city.

A couple of nights ago, thinking in the liminal dark, I was struck by the idea for a tattoo*, a bolt of lightening from my subconscious. The idea for a tattoo which honours my love for the city more than the obtuse and multi-symbolic crown on my right arm.
The idea arrived fully formed. So clear in my mind that I wanted to run out and get it straight away. But I am too sensible for that. I must wait to see if the seed idea grows roots.

Anyway, that’s all I wanted to say. I ache for you today, London.

Much love,
Sarah-Rose

* I’m done apologising to my parents for my tattoos.
They may have created my physical being but they also created who I am. And I am a person who loveloveloves my tattoos.
No Philip Larkin here. THIS be the verse: I love who they helped me become.