Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Visiting Another Island: Notes and Bites from the UK

After much searching/cleaning of the house, I FINALLY found the cable to our camera! Which means I can now share some Kodak moments from my recent work trip to the UK.

First, the SITES:

I initially spent a few days in Newcastle upon Tyne attending a conference and fighting a head cold that Tony so generously shared just as I was leaving. So I didn't see a whole lot of the city aside from what could be reached on foot.

The Sage Gateshead. Normally a music venue, but it has several auditoriums that suited the conference. Despite the larval-like shape, it's a gorgeous building inside. Plus, the conference provided a really decent lunch, which made up for the lackluster poster session that served as the purpose for my trip in the first place.

Street art. I think. (I just like random pop culture and Pac-man references.)

Newcastle University. It sort of popped out of nowhere and I just stumbled on the campus.

The current production at the local theater. It's a musical.

2 1/2 days later and I was back in London, taking in the sites and getting my nerd on. I met a good from of mine (a Kiwi who's now living in the UK) at the Borough Market for lunch and a serious walking tour of the city center.

The Market is just the mother of all outdoor markets. It had EVERYTHING - meats, crafts, cheeses, produce. You name it and there's probably a stall for it. And it smelled AMAZING. I could have spent hours there alone, but I was starving. So, instead, said friend and I grabbed some ostrich burgers and one of the more decant brownies I've had in my lifetime for dessert, and caught up over lunch while sitting by the Thames. Very relaxing.

My trip happened to coincide with the Mayor's Thames Festival, an annual event and London's largest free outdoor arts festival. Neat! We had a look-see as said friend took me across town.

On this particular day, the Southward Bridge was home to the Feast on the Bridge event. Food vendors and family activities galore.

Stinky Cheese.

I, of course, was completely distracted by one of the community projects festival goers could enjoy: the Gingerbread Southward Bridge. You could decorate little gingerbread people to walk across it.

Said friend then took me out to enjoy some other sites the city has to offer...

The Tower Bridge.

The Tower of London.

Trafalgar Square. This is the Fourth Plinth, which changes every so often to display different commissioned works of art. This piece, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, is the first piece commissioned by a Black British artist.

By the time I made it back to my hotel from my walking tour, my cold was on it's last legs. That did not, however, prevent me from losing my voice entirely. I opted to stay in for the night and hit the British Museum the next morning.

The great thing about the Museum is that it's free. The bad thing about the Museum is that everyone knows it. The place is absolutely rammed - tourists are practically spilling off the stairwells. And honestly I got lost a few times just trying to navigate the place, which is indescribably immense. (That said, they're antiquities exhibit is off the friggin chain.)

Still, I managed to find the thing I really wanted to take a peak at. Not Cleopatra's mummy (which is on display. Weird.). Not the marble reliefs from the Parthenon. Nope, my inner geek craved something older:

It's the Rosetta Stone! Be still my nerdish heart!!

After a few hours, I had to leave. I was mentally drained and crowds of camera-wielding tourists are not my thing. Still, I cannot recommend the Museum enough. The only bummer from my visit was discovering that I wouldn't be in London long enough to check out their
upcoming exhibit.

Now, I was ALL kinds of giddy about finding this, because as a kid I watch a lot of Sesame Street and Sesame Street specials, including the 1983 classic, "Don't Eat the Pictures." The special follows the adventures of the SS gang after they're accidentally locked in the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a night. One of the story lines involves Big Bird, who with the assistance of pal Snuffle-upagus, is trying to help the ghost of a young Egyptian boy reach the afterlife.

Admittedly themes of the soul and afterlife are pretty heavy topics for the Children's Television Workshop, but I watched the crap out of that video nonetheless.

There were visits to Camden Town and a few parks here and there as well, but let's forget about that and move on to the important part of the trip.

Namely, the FOOD...

I visited more than a few cafes while in Newcastle. I had a few Newcastle Brown Ales and the odd sandwich. Since I wasn't feeling 100%, all I really wanted was some broth, which as it turns out is really difficult to find this time of year. So, I ate a lot of salads just to try to ingest some vitamins.

A Greek Quinoa Salad from Blake's Cafe, with a latte on the side. I would have thrown in some feta and maybe some pine nuts instead, but still pretty decent.

A phenomenal Tomato and Celery Soup from Cafe Bistro Buee. Wine on the side, of course.

A surprisingly tasty Veggie Club with Halumi Cheese from the cafe located in the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Simple Gnocchi courtesy of my hotel's room service. I had to order in person because - having lost my voice entirely - they couldn't understand me over the phone.

Museum cafe treats once again. But seriously, when was the last time you had a Prosciutto and Roasted Tomato tart option at the Smithsonian?

By Sunday evening I was ready to resume full entrees again. Cue my good friend Jennie, who insisted we head to local gastro-pub for a proper English Roast and Yorkshire Pudding. We ended up at the Alma in Newington Green, which in addition to some fine menu items, also serves a healthy range of beers, wines, and NZ-based products. (Pineapple lumps, anyone?)

The Alma seemed to be quite the place to be on a Sunday evening (i.e., the place was packed). Rather than wading through the crowd for more beverages, we decided to make a pit stop at a second pub so I could have pint of bitters (at least I think that's what that was) and then it was time for me to head home.

Now I'm back State-side and still a tad exhausted, but thrilled I got to visit with some good friends over some exceptional eats. Here's hoping I won't be so long between visits next time.


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