Friday, March 21, 2008

Ah, London... how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Today was an awesomely great day. True, it was insanely cold but it was an incredibly enjoyable day nonetheless. After a rather short Good Friday Mass, we walked to Tower Hill. In spite of the wind, the sun was out and it was just so nice to be out there under the bright blue skies. As it was a day of fasting and abstinence, we decided to grab a drink to help us get through the day. After about 15 minutes of sitting in the cafe, we noticed it had started running rather heavily, which, given the fickleness of London's weather, didn't really surprise us.

What did surprise us was that after about five minutes, I noticed that what was hitting the pavement wasn't water, it was hail... and large chunks of hail too. Excited, we dashed out just to feel what it was like. It wasn't painful and amidst all the tourists taking photos of the hail, I just stood there, arms outstretched, laughing with sheer delight.

After that, it was off to one of my favourite parts of the city: Brick Lane, a part of London which is replete with the independent shops that I love. But before going into any shops, we passed by the StolenSpace Gallery which was showcasing Lightness of Being, an exhibition of Chris Levine's works, most notably his portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, rendered in 3D and in light. Truly beautiful and well worth a look.

Following that, we popped into Rough Trade (where I bought Indiepop 01, a compilation by the label some years back, and which I feel is a great collection of indie tracks, and got my free ticket to catch Does It Offend You, Yeah?'s performance on Monday), Coffee@Brick Lane (one of my favourite independent coffee shops because of the great music and cozy atmosphere), and Close Up (a great DVD library which stocks oldies and loads of foreign films (including The Decline of the American Empire which I have been looking for for quite some time!) in addition to current offerings, and also a place where I purchased Life and Lyrics, a movie about the South London rap scene which averaged review scores of about 5.5 out of 10, but for £3, I figured it couldn't be too bad) before finally arriving at the bagel shop.

Now, Beigel Bake is a London institution. Not only is it one of the oldest bagel shops in the city, it also opens 24 hours every single day. It's also a haven for hungry clubbers, and, for that reason, there are always freshly-baked goodies being hauled out of the oven no matter the time of day. Given that it's London, you might expect the prices here to be painfully exorbitant. Not at all. You can buy a plain bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese for £1.50, half the price of the other bagel shops in the city. You can also purchase an incredibly delicious onion platzel for 25 p, an apple strudel (or a turnover) for 50 p, as well as chocolate fudge slices for 60 p. Should you be so inclined towards bulk purchases, a bagel costs a mere 20 p. I'm sure cafes and restaurants purchase from this shop and sell it on to their customers and still make a profit.

Two doors down from Beigel Bake is Britain's First & Best Beigel Shop. It's not as famous as Beigel Bake, but if you are in a hurry, or want more in your bagel other than salt beef and smoked salmon, then this is the shop to head to. The foodie in me demands it.

So after our cheap and satisfying dinner, we decided to head back. It was still early, but far too cold to continue walking in the streets. On our way to the tube, we noticed Nudge, a hip hop and soul record shop, still open, and decided to pop in. The owner was exceptionally chatty, later apologising for his strange comments as he'd been drinking. He even offered us a beer! Somewhat disturbed by the rather demonic sounding titles of the free promotional CDs by the door, we decided to make a hasty getaway and brave the chilly London weather once more.

It may sound like a rather pedestrian day (and I guess it could be for someone like me given that I love to explore the city every weekend) but it illustrates just why I love this place so much. There is so much to do in London and so little time. Truly, Samuel Johnson was spot-on: "He who tires of London, tires of life."

Somewhat related links
Londonist - London Bagel Round-Up
Save the Deli - Salt Beef in the capital
Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing lives near Brick Lane

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