Subject: Two weeks in London: the beginning
Hello fellow Travelziners.

Back in October, 2002 my wife and I spent two weeks in London. I edited my journal a bit and thought some of you might enjoy it. Some of the info may be of help to some of you in your future planning.

Day 1

We caught a United flight non-stop to LHR at 5:20pm that arrived around 6:30am the following morning. The flight took off on time and was uneventful with less than a few seconds of turbulence once or twice. The food was passable. We each brought a bottle of water and walked around the plane once or twice.

As we were checking in, two elderly, spry, but perplexed ladies were trying to find their way. One said to the other, "We can do this!" Susan and I had a good laugh.

Sitting behind us on the plane, I met a stone mason from Devon who works only on first class restorations in and about Devon, south of London. Many people are selling their London homes for outrageous sums, many in the £1,000,000.00 or more range and moving to places like Devon, purchasing a charming cottage or mansion at a reasonable sum and pouring in large sums in restoring run down, deteriorated buildings. The fellow I met apprenticed with an elderly master artisan who knew the old formulas for "cement" made from cow dung, etc.

The couple had been to a wedding in Aspen and had gone to Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and the Canyon Lands.

When we arrived at LHR, (London Heathrow) we waited in a long queue that included a group of six to eight young Hassidic men wearing their black brimmed hats. Some just purchased them in Brooklyn according to their "hat boxes."

As we arrived, it was still dark and we could see the string of pearls street lights creating pools strung together like beads of dew on a spider's web. As we descended we could see early traffic. Later, taking the bus into town, traffic was very heavy in the morning rush hour. For a bit, the highway had a lane for buses and taxis only. As we funneled into the city proper traffic seemed to become impossibility chaotic and frenzied. Brits appear to drive much quicker than Chicago and begin moving when the red light turns flashing yellow. We almost stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street when the walk symbol began flashing (We suppose is linked to the flashing yellow) and noticed cars start to bolt forward as though it was the start of the le Mans auto race! We confirmed this with a taxi driver. When the pedestrian green light starts flashing, the pedestrian does not ever start across the street because the traffic can start, even though they really don't have a green light.

We left our luggage at the Abby House Hotel, 11 Vicarage Gate, Kensington, W8 4AG, +44 (0) 207 727 2594. The price was right, but we will not stay there in the future. It is very basic on a quiet street a block west of the exclusive gated street with many mansions and embassies protected with security camera, intercoms, etc. It is close to the popular retailing area of Kensington High Street and the antique shops of Kensington Church Street. One more block west is Kensington Gardens and the Palace.

After checking in at the B&B we walked over to Kensington Church Road and had breakfast at Patisserie Valerie where we enjoyed a croissant, a sweet roll and tea. We walked around the area that is loaded with chic restaurants, art and antique galleries and a charming flower shop on a corner (Le Point.)

One shop was Michael German Antiques at 38b Kensington Church Street that featured a large selection of antique canes including ivory, silver, wood, hard stone, gold, jeweled, tortoiseshell, whalebones, narwhal, folk art, Anglo-Indian, Chinese & Japanese export handles. There also were canes that can change to or feature such items as watches, telescopes, fishing rods, musical instruments, smoking pipes etc. The entire window was jammed from one side to another. I took a photo, but it is so busy and taken with flash that it is somewhat difficult to appreciate each item unless enlarged considerably. He also dealt in umbrella stands, guns, swords, helmets and shield armor. He was not open any time we happened by, so we missed, what we are sure would have been an engaging visit.

That evening, as we were walking down Kensington Church Road towards Kensington High Street we window shopped and discovered a petite taIul silver shop at Vicage Gate. It featured a myriad of items: napkin rings, perfume bottles and lockets, money clips (one with a golf club motif bent like a paperclip,) pill boxes, simple round inkwells, Victorian baby rattles and hoards of picture frames. The only antiques were in a case at the rear of the small compact shop. After ringing the door bell to gain access, the proprietor ascended from the basement to show us a varied selection of beautiful antiques.

In front of this shop we bumped into a Scotsman from Aberdeen who was returning some videos to "Prime Time Video." He asked how close it was. Since we hadn't walked this section of the street, we were of no help. However, that didn't stop him from engaging us in a conversation. He claimed he had an apartment in London, nearby, an apartment on 37th and Lexington Avenue in New York City, one in Sag Harbor in the Hamptons, as well as one in Paris. He was visiting his "mistress" in London. His line was that "the nanny had sent him out to return the kiddy video and pick up some Japanese food." He claimed he had a minor title reaching back 400 years. [Susan: "A very naughty boy, somewhat intoxicated."] I thought we were participating in a theatre piece!

We walked about on High Street. I shot an anti-war stencil on the side of St Mary Abbot's church that is at the corner of Kensington Church Road. Glad I shot it then because it was gone two days later. (This was in October of 2002 before the Iraq war.)

We checked out a Marks & Spencer and then had dinner at Dino's Café-Ristoranti (one of a chain of 8) at 16 Kensington Church Rd, W8,E P [020-7937-3896] It was established in 1949, and was opposite the St. Mary Abbots Church at High St. We both had delicious thick minestrone soup. Susan had very good beef casserole with red wine and pimento with green beans and spinach along with "mash" (red potatoes.) I had a favorite: cheese filled gnocchi pasta with cheese sauce. ($30 including tip.)

The manager was constantly breaking into Italian love songs. The manager and staff all were Italian. Later the owner sang classic pop love songs from the "great American song book" in English. (Cole, Gershwin, Arlen, Mercer, etc.)

Until my next installment,

Cherrio! Steve in Chicago