Tuesday, 30 May 2017

London Calling

Another late post - last Friday we flew down to London, so David could go and see his beloved (and recently relegated) York City play in the FA Trophy final at Wembley. We didn't get back till late last Monday, which only partially excuses the delay in posting this!
Flying always feels slightly extravagent (I say slightly, we did fly Easyjet 😀) but it worked out cheaper than the train, and to be honest if  we'd been able to get cheap train tickets that would have been a better option. By the time we got to Edinburgh airport, left the car in the long stay car park, hung around for the hour or so for the flight, then got a coach from Stanstead to St Pancras I reckon a train would be considerably less hassle!
Next step was getting from St Pancras to the Travelodge in Docklands, which involved the first of what felt like many journeys by Tube and DLR. Technology has advanced since my last trip to the big smoke - the recommended way to pay for your journeys is tapping in and out with your contactless bank card. This took a bit of getting used to, as you don't really know how much it's costing, but the daily price cap meant it actually cost considerably less than I expected in the end.  The payments all came out of the bank on Tuesday so not sure how I'd work out which day was which, but the most expensive day was £12ish which was probably Saturday when we used the Emirates Air Line, the cable car that takes you across the Thames from the O2 at North Greenwich to the Royal Docks on the North of the river. It's an unusal way to see London, and worth doing as long as you're relatively okay with heights!
On Friday night we wandered along East India Dock Road to All Saints to get the DLR up to Stratford. A quick stroll around the massive Westfield centre served as a reminder that shopping is never going to cut it as a hobby for me! I'm not exaggerating when I say I think I understood the term 'Temple of Mammon' by the time we left!
From there, we headed out to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.  It's hard to imagine now how busy this area was back in 2012 for the London Olympics - at 8pm on a summer evening it's a peaceful place for a walk, with several waterways running through it, including the river Lea, and plenty of space for both cyclists and pedestrians.  We could actually see arcelormittal-orbit from our hotel, but you really need to see it close up, and preferably at night, to appreciate it fully.

I'd done some googling, by which I mean I'd typed in 'craft beer, East London', and found a couple of interesting looking places to check out in Hackney Wick, just the other side of the park. Hackney Wick is definitely one of the places that saw some major redevelopment on the back of the Olympics - I hesitate to say 'benefitted' from as I expect that's a controversial point that conjures up words like gentrification, ****ing hipsters, and so forth, but from what we saw it all seemed pretty positive.
Our first stop was crate brewery, a craft brewery and pizzeria housed in the White Building, described on the website as a centre for art, technology, and sustainability.  The place was pretty busy, unsuprisingly on a Friday night, and the dj added to the general buzz about the place. We found a seat out by the canal and ordered pizzas, and beers to drink whilst we waited.

The pizza I had was very tasty - a proper woodfired pizza oven makes all the difference. My first beer of the night was the Crate stout, a light, creamy stout with unusual fruity notes.

Since I'm in a bit of stouts and sours rut I thought I'd try the Crate Pale just for a change. This was a light summery beer - just the thing for a summer evening by the canal!

From there, we headed round the corner in to Queens Yard for a visit to Howling Hops.  I was intrigued by the fact that they're the UK's first bar to serve beer straight from the tank.  This could have been a bit of a gimmick, but actually what's not to love about beer served as fresh as possible?

 As with Crate, the place was packed, but the dj had a much better set list, and the bar staff added to the party atmosphere. No need to decide whether you're going for a pint or a half here - it's a 2/3 pint or a jug to share! Maybe I'm being awkward, but actually 2/3 pint (a schooner if we're going to get technical) is the perfect serving size for a lot of the beers I drink. I couldn't resist this cherry gose - the barman wasn't to know about my love of sour beers, so I was more than happy to try a bit first! I can see why this style of beer isn't to everyone's taste, though conversely I'd not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who claims not to like beer! Tank 10 was a beer style I've never seen before, so obviously I had to try it 😉, though not without quickly googling it just to be on the safe side. So the internet tells me a grisette is a French working-class woman from the late 17th century - not really helping! Further investigation reveals it's an old Belgian style, not unlike a lower alcohol saison. It's a bit niche, so I can't really see it making a massive comeback, but it was nice enough - quite herbal, with a pretty obvious Belgian influence.
From there we wandered back through the park to Stratford and caught a DLR back to the hotel.
Quick hotel review - this is the first Travelodge I've stayed in for a long time, after we had a couple of bad experiences that put us right off.  This was a newer one and went some way to improving my opinion of the chain. The room was clean, the bed comfortable, and the staff helpful, and that's pretty glowing praise compared to previous Travelodge experiences!

So, on to day 2! I'd already picked out Borough Market for a visit, and as it's not open on a Sunday it had to be Saturday really.  We got there reasonably early and quickly found the market 'caff' for breakfast.

Proper builders tea, and actually pretty cheap, but I guess they mostly serve market traders and shoppers, not just the out of towner tourists like us! The market's huge and sells pretty much any food you could possibly want to buy, as well as some you might not....

David spotted Jeremy Clarkson buying leeks, so that was our celeb spot for the trip! From the market it's a short walk to the Shard, which really is massive. It completely dominates the skyline from most angles, and completely dwarfs the nearby Southwark Cathedral, which we hadn't planned to visit, but I'm glad we did - if nothing else, for this incredibly camp Shakespeare Memorial!

Having grabbed a doughnut from the now mobbed market, we headed back east to North Greenwich and got the Air Line over to Royal Docks, and from there made our way to Greenwich to visit the Cutty Sark. This journey was slightly complicated by the fact that one of the DLR Lines was closed for the weekend, meaning we ended up changing trains at Canary Wharf a few times over the weekend! They're so frequent that it wasn't really a problem though.
We only have 45 minutes to get round the Cutty Sark by the time we'd got there and had a coffee break, but that was just the right amount of time to be honest

After a wander around the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College it was time for a drink, so we headed to the Trafalger Tavern, an imposing old pub on the bank of the Thames. It's a huge place, with a few separate areas, including one where they were serving afternoon tea. I went local and had a Youngs London Stout. As you can see, it took a while to settle!
With hindsight we should probably have just stayed out for tea but I really wanted to go back to the hotel and change, having been on our feet all day, and getting caught in the rain a couple of times. 

After a quick shower and change of clothes we headed back to Greenwich for the evening, and had a wander up through Greenwich Park to the Observatory - whenever we've been to London we've given ourselves a reason to return, and visiting the Observatory when it's open is now on that list!

Time was getting on by this stage, and we made it to the Pho Street Vietnamese Kitchen about 30 minutes before closing time. I've never had Vietnamese food before, and went for the classic Bahn Mi Bao Bun, as well as some spring rolls to share.
I'm not sure I'd have the steamed buns again, but the spring rolls were delicous, with a really crispy coating. We also had a bubble tea each - I had  coconut which was refreshing. I'm not entirely sure I get what all the fuss is with bubble tea though!
From there we headed to the Gipsy Moth pub, right next to the Cutty Sark and had one for the road before heading through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the Island Gardens DLR station, right at the bottom tip of the Isle of Dogs and caught the DLR back to the hotel. Walking under the Thames is a slightly odd experience, but it's not actually that long a walk. Amazing to think it's been open since 1902 - it's an impressive bit of engineering! This is the entrance next to the Cutty Sark.

So on to Sunday, and of course the priority was heading over to Wembley, but as it was a late ish kick off we decided to explore the area near the hotel in the morning. Docklands and the Isle of Dogs doesn't immediately sound like a tourist destination but with a little bit of research we uncovered some pretty well hidden gems. The first was Trinity Buoy Wharf, a 20 minute walk from our hotel. We'd only really intended to stay for breakfast at the Bow Creek Cafe, which I would definitely recommend.
However, whilst we were waiting for breakfast to arrive I found you could download an audio tour to your phone, so we actually spent a good hour wandering around. It's a fascinating place, from the Experimental Lighthouse where Faraday had a workshop, and which is home to a thousand year musical composition (Longplayer) to the artists workshops made from old shipping containers, and a parkour gym. From there it was a short walk to the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, a 'biodiverse urban wetland' which is remarkably peaceful despite the DLR line running directly overhead. From there, the nearest tube stop is Canning Town - handy, as this meant we could get the jubilee line all the way to Wembley, which was bathed in glorious sunshine! As with Stratford, and Docklands, the thing that really strikes you walking around the area is the sheer number of cranes about the place - London is definitely expanding skywards at the moment, for better or worse.

I'm no football pundit so I won't comment on th match other than to say, our seats were so close to the pitch you could smell the turf, and being behind the goal meant we popped up on the tv coverage once or twice. The atmosphere was great, and (spoiler alert!) a 3-2 win definitely helped 😊

We ended up hanging around a bit after the match, so the tube back wasn't too busy for the journey back. We had intended to get food back at Howling Hops, but unfortunately we got there just as the kitchen was closing, so we had a drink in there, and wandered around to the canal where we found a bar/restaurant called number 90 that was still serving food. I think David was too late clocking the fact there was a (not very good) comedy night on, but thankfully it was just about over by the time we arrived! I'm all for a bit of stand up. but not when you're trying to eat your tea!
In weird ingredient news, the burger came in an activated charcoal bun. Nope, I don't get it either, but the burger was pretty good, and the tzatziki and pomegranate seeds on the sweet potato fries were a nice choice.  The beer selection wasn't great, but I suspect the focus was more on cocktails and food. It's a big old barn of a place- as much an arts venue as a restaurant I think.

On Monday we had a teatime flight booked meaning we had a bit of time to play around with in the morning, though carting our luggage around with us wasn't something we'd planned particularily well for - if we'd booked a more central hotel we probably could have left our bags there, but that wasn't hugely practical being out at Docklands. We did manage to fit in a wander back around to Trinity Buoy Wharf for breakfast before checking out though. This time we went to the other cafe on site, the Fat Boy Diner. An authentic 1940's Dining Car, with a menu and soundtrack to match, I went for a pancake stack with bacon and David had the pancakes with sausage - both a good choice!

 Slightly odd having the maple syrup served in a little pot on the side, but the pancakes were pretty good. I'd guess they serve the coffees in takeaway cups because a lot of customers would like to finish their coffee on the way to work (or if they get called out on a shout - two policemen came in for coffee whilst we were there, and apparently they serve a lot of ambulance crews too) but we finished ours with breakfast and ordered milkshakes for the walk back to the hotel.  I went for a maltesers one and it has to be the thickest milkshake I've ever had!

From there we headed in to the City of London, trying to avoid hitting too many bankers with our bags (!) as we wandered about.

The final item on our to do list was a visit to St Pauls Cathedral. Unfortunately they don't have anywhere to put your bags - it is a church, not a visitor centre after all, so we paid our £18 each and had a good old look around with luggage in tow.  It truly is an awe inspiring building - the sheer scale takes your breath away! They don't allow photography, but I doubt I was the only one to sneak a stealth photo from the Whispering Gallery...

We left in enough time to get an earlier than planned coach back to the airport - it was nice to put my bag down, but it was a slow going journey through London traffic, and the temperature was really rising by this stage so I was pretty glad to get off the coach at Stanstead!

All in all a great weekend, but next time we plan a city break I'm going to have to make a conscious effort not to try and fit so much stuff in!

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