Tuesday, March 25, 2008

London Pt. 2

The night before we had spied a place not too far from the hotel that offered a cheap breakfast: free croissant with a coffee, or something along those lines. So we went there and got the special along with a fruit salad to counteract the previous days' emphasis on fried foods, and breakfasted while perusing our free copy of the Times with other early risers. We needed to be up and on our way at a reasonable hour to get to the half-price theater ticket window before it opened to be assured decent seats. Once we got there we realized they didn't have anything we were really excited about seeing--all the half price tickets for shows we wanted to catch were sold elsewhere. So after dithering for a bit we gave up and left.

We then went to the place where Billy Elliot was showing and didn't get tickets there, as the only ones left were obscured view seats. The woman at the counter leaned waaaay over to show us exactly how we'd have to sit in order to see the stage well. Not interested. We crossed over to the south side again to check out one more place that might be viable, taking a nice stroll along the waterfront to get there (affording the opportunity for Jack's shot of Parliament), but they had standing room only. Oh well--another of Jack's dreams dashed.

Fortunately, by this time and with this amount of wandering, we were well-placed and hungry enough to go to one of the restaurants we had picked out, a modern Polish joint called Baltic in the middle of nowhere. The streets were quiet with very little foot or car traffic, perhaps because the area was presided over by the teetotalers, who don't stand for a lot of guff.

There was hardly anyone in the place when we got there, and the white walls and skylights of the former coach house made it seem even emptier. We were seated at a cozy table and ordered some beverages and appetizers. I got a mushroom soup and Jack got some kind of eggplant-goat cheese deliciousness. The soup was very tasty--lots of chewy, flavorful mushrooms in a base that I couldn't stop sopping up with the fresh rye bread I had selected from the giant basket we could pick from. (This is after I had cleaned out the little pot of beet/horseradish spread they provided with the bread.) Jack's thing was good, but I was too busy with my soup to notice it much. For our mains I got pirogies filled with cheese and mashed potatoes and Jack got the blini sampler plate, which came with caviar and smoked fish and other delicacies. The service was respectful, the setting pleasant, the food well-executed, and all in all it was a great experience.

Happily floating towards our next destination, we made our way to the Tower Bridge, crossed and entered the Tower itself. The Tower, it turns out, is not a literal tower, but a complex of buildings that acted as a prison, detaining people who were out of favor with whichever royal family was in power at various points in time. We opted to get the audio tour, which allowed us to learn some interesting facts that we otherwise wouldn't have. Did you know that Sir Walter Raleigh, one of those guys you vaguely remember from history books as having something to do with the English colonization of America, was incarcerated in the Tower THREE TIMES, and was eventually beheaded there? This in addition to all his trips to the Americas. The man got around. (Note: this is not on the audio tour. But the desk where he did much of his writing is in one of the rooms, and one makes a mental note to find out why he was there. They do talk about two young princes who were murdered nearby for some reason having to do with the shifting tides of power.)

We arrived at the Tower towards the end of the afternoon and thus didn't get to examine everything as closely as we would have liked. We did get to see ravens and fake diamonds and real diamonds and this room where people appeared to have been confined for quite some time, if the depth and intricacy of their etching on the walls was any indication.

Having successfully made it through two meals without any fried foods, we rewarded ourselves with fish and chips for dinner at a place called Rock and Sole Plaice. This was supposed to be the oldest fish and chips place in London, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense given their name. Did a simple description of what they sold accidentally turn into a bad pun over the years as new forms of music were invented? We may never know. After we figured out there was table service in the basement, as opposed to the unruly scrum ordering takeout upstairs, we managed to squeeze through the kitchen and descend the stairs to grab the last spot. The walls depicted an elaborate aquatic mural, giving the room an air of a deep-sea dive. We ordered the...um, fish and chips (there was also chicken on the menu, but why?) and Greek beer. The food was very good--light and crispy batter and fresh fish within. We each got a different fish, but I couldn't tell the difference between the two. The chips were also tasty, and the tartar sauce was homemade and pleasantly dilly.

We had scoured the listings in Time Out to discover if there were any evening options for us, and after striking out at the free jazz place we went to the £5 jazz place, which was actually a restaurant with a stage and a large bar area. It was crowded as sin, but after procuring some (very large) glasses of wine some people left and we got one of the bar tables. The band started and played some nice but not all that compelling standards. We slowly sipped our wine and enjoyed watching the stories play out in the dining area in front of us, which was almost like a second stage.

We must've looked like we were not that committed to staying, because I noticed people eying our seats, keeping track of our every shift that might indicate we were leaving. We did end up going after an hour or so, and I offered the chairs to some people next to us who had been enjoying themselves and ignoring us. As soon as we got up, though, a guy accosted Jack and asked whether we would give him and his lady friend our seats, and we had to turn them down. Tough luck, dude.

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