Thursday, July 31, 2014

A wonderful week in London with Suzy including a day in Brighton with Keith and Lorraine and an evening with Sandra and all together at home again

Thursday 31st July 2014

With Suzy at Richmond near London
Hi everyone,

Well here I am a bit late with my blog but that’s because I’ve just been away for a week to London to stay with Suzy and Gábor.  Suzy and I came back yesterday which means we are all together again.  Tomorrow Eladio, Suzy, Oli, Miguel and I will be off to Montrondo for the annual family gathering so today is the perfect day to catch up with my blog and to tell you all about my fabulous week in London with Suzy.

I left off last Tuesday when we had just come back from a wonderful few days with Sandra, Jeffer and Isaline in Santa Pola.  I had just one afternoon to settle in and get ready to go again.  When we got back the greengage tree was heaving with fruit and Eladio picked as much as he could with his super homemade method and I packed some to take to Suzy and Gábor.  We just managed to see Olivia before I was off and had a nice dinner together.

And the next day was Wednesday, the day of my much awaited trip to London.  Eladio took me to the airport to catch the 11.35 Easy Jet flight to Gatwick. All went smoothly until I switched my phone back on again upon arrival.  It asked for my pin code which I had simply forgotten.  Thus I was not able to contact Suzy to say I had landed and was worried she wouldn’t be at Victoria waiting for me to arrive on the Gatwick Express.  Luckily she was and we had a huge hug; a great start to our week together. We made our way to Canada Water (south east London, one stop from Canary Warf and a couple of stops to Westminster) by tube and dear Suzy helped me with my luggage.  I particularly liked the walk from the tube station to their house through lovely Russia Dock Woodlands. Soon we were at her house having a cup of tea and then I got Eladio to ring Yoigo to find out my pin number.  I was so relieved to have my phone up and running again.  I mean, can you imagine me without my mobile? When Gábor got back he commented that I had quickly set up my little Yoigo office with my pc and he was right.  Their wifi came in handy in order to avoid using data whilst roaming which can be expensive.

I was delighted with their new house.  They practically have the whole ground floor to themselves and their nice big room has its own garden giving them a feeling of space.  Upstairs is more cramped. Thanks to their friend and flat mate, Stefania who was away on holiday in Italy, I had a room to myself upstairs which was comfortable enough but very warm due to the heat wave in London.  Thankfully it had air conditioning. What a luxury.  Their other flat mates are an Italian girl, Luana, who occupies a miniscule room and a guy from Singapore who occupies the other double room and whom we hardly saw as he gets up at the crack of dawn and returns late, never eating at home. The only drawback is that there is only one bathroom to be shared by all.  Otherwise the house is very pleasant, light, new and with wooden floors.  The big well equipped kitchen was probably my favourite room.

The first thing we did was to walk to Tesco very near the tube station to do some shopping mainly for breakfast.  We were joined there by Gábor who brought Suzy’s bike to carry the shopping back.  It is a huge Tesco and serves probably ever nationality in the area.  There was a incredible display of food for the end of Ramadan festival and a huge halal meat counter, not to mention all the rest, wonderful cooked food, superb bread and anything or everything you could ever imagine.
Shopping at Tesco with Gábor and Suzy.  They carry the shopping home on their bikes.
That night I treated Gábor and Suzy to dinner out and we went to one of my favourite restaurants in London, a Turkish place called The Grand Bazaar at the end of Marylebone High Street.  We caught the train to Baker Street and walked there as we would on the way back.  My idea in London was to walk as much as possible to make my wearable device, my fitbit, as happy as possible. Suzy you might be interested to know, turned vegetarian a few weeks ago after watching a documentary about how the human race treats animals and fish for consumption.  She was so put off she just doesn’t want to be a part of it.  She has asked Olivia and me to watch it but I’m afraid I’m far too much a lover of meat and fish, to a lesser extent, I would prefer not to watch it.  At the Grand Bazaar there were plenty of veggy options as there are all over London; not so much in Spain, so we all enjoyed a “mezze” together along with the spectacular balloon shaped bread.
I just love the bread at the Grand Bazaar
The next day I woke up at 7, thinking it was 8 as I was still on Spanish time.  Thus I went down to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee and catch up with my work before Suzy and Gábor got up to join me for breakfast.  We made lovely breakfasts each morning and here is a photo of mine on the first day.
Breakfast at Suzy's
As soon as I got to Suzy’s house I agreed on a programme with Suzy.  The idea was to do different things, i.e. not going to the usual monuments which I have seen countless times.  I think in the end, even though I have so much energy I even tired myself, not to mention tiring Suzy. Anyway, the first day we had agreed to go shopping: you see where my priorities lie, and Suzy took me to Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford, just 2 stops from Canada Water.  I loved the walk from her house to the tube station through Russia Dock Woodlands.  I wasn’t really sure where I was in London so googled the famous London docks.  All I remembered as a child was the famous dockers’ strike there and didn’t really know what had happened since.  The docklands, I found out from a passerby on Stave Hill who works in Parliament for an MP, were closed down in the late 60’s as they couldn’t take the new freight ships which now ship from other big ports but at the time the London Docks were the biggest in the world.  Russia Docks takes its name from being the dock where timber was shipped from Russia and Scandinavia.  In actual fact they are part of the Surrey Commercial Docs, a large group of docks in Rotherhite on the south bank of the Thames in South East London.  The docks operated from 1696 to 1969.  Most were later filled in a redevelopment for residential housing and the area is now known as Surrey Quays. They have done a wonderful job as the residential housing is surrounded by beautiful woodland.  In fact one night we saw a stray fox walk right across our path. Today the area is quite trendy and a far cry from Whitechapel, otherwise known as “Bangladesh City” where Suzy and Gábor used to live.
Suzy at Russia Docks Woodland just a few minutes from where she lives

You won’t be surprised to hear that the first shop we went to was Marks and Spencer.  Here I bought some new denim jeggings to replace the pair I had torn when I fell recently.  I also got a pair each for my sisters-in-law Pili and Adela.  Next were polo shirts for Eladio and a summer shirt for my Father.  Later we went to H+M to buy clothes for Suzy after which it was time for lunch. We chose a nice English place called Bumpkin where I had, guess what?  Yes, you are right, fish and chips.
Fish and chips at Bumpkin at Westfield.
Pleased with our purchases we took the tube back to Canada Water and again went to Tesco, this time to buy food for dinner as Suzy was having guests.  She was keen to introduce me to her Czech friend Jane and her black Labrador, Connie, as well as Nacho who had worked for her at Oxo.

We had dinner in Gábor and Suzy’s garden, an itsy bitsy affair washed down with Pimms which is so popular in England.  I really enjoyed the balmy evening with Suzy and her group of friends and fell in love with Connie.
A selfie with Suzy's friends and flatmate 
Wednesday’s programme was a visit with Suzy to Windsor to see Windsor Castle which I hadn’t seen since I was a child when Aunty Gloria took us there.  The visit would bring back many happy memories which I wanted to share with Suzy. Gábor would be working everyday so he was only able to join us for breakfast and dinner but would be accompanying us the following Monday and Tuesday which is when he would get time off from working at Decathlon.  We caught the train from Waterloo which took just 45 minutes.  It was a glorious day so we decided to have coffee first at the Riverside Café.  We then walked up the high street to pick up our prepaid tickets at the visitors’ centre and soon we were in the grounds of this wonderful 900 year old enormous castle which is a residence of the Queen. 
Just a part of Windsor Castle, it is so big.
The Union Jack was flying so I thought she would be in residence but later found out that the Union Jack actually means she is not.  It is the Royal Standard flag which shows she is in residence, so obviously when we were there she wasn’t, not that we would have seen her. 
The Royal Standard Flag which denotes the Queen is in residence.
The castle is huge but visitors only ever get to see some of the grounds, St. George’s chapel, the state rooms and Queen Mary’s dolls' house – Queen Mary being the late Queen Mother, Mother of the current Queen and consort to George VI. We particularly liked the chapel which is home to the Order of the Garter and where many English Kings and Queens are buried, bar Queen Victoria.  King Henry VIII actually built a burial place for himself by the chapel but it was not finished when he died and he ended up being buried in a vault underneath. There he lies next to the beheaded Charles I and Jane Seymour, his third wife, one of the wives he didn’t behead and the only one of them to receive a queen’s funeral and be buried with him.
St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle
As we left the castle, the skies suddenly opened and there was a huge downpour.  We had nothing to protect ourselves and just had to stand under a shop.  Inside we bought two rain ponchos which we wore to cross the road and find a restaurant for lunch.  We went to the Duchess of Cambridge where once again I had fish and chips.

Luckily after lunch the rain halted and we were able to walk around the pretty streets of Windsor.  I wanted to visit Eton College so off we went.  Unfortunately it is not open to visitors due to building works but we were at least able to catch a glimpse of the courtyard of England’s most prestigious school.
The courtyard at Eton College
At about 16.30 we caught the train back.
Suzy on the platform at Windsor and Eton riverside train station
It was our intention upon arrival at Waterloo to walk all the way back to Canada Water via Tooley Street and Jamaica Road.  However once again the skies opened, this time catching us in the middle of Tooley Street and it felt like walking under a shower.  Despite our ponchos we got completely drenched, shoes included.  We just had to take the bus back, the 381 but it was so slow because of the traffic we got off when the rain stopped and walked back home.  We walked back via the beautiful woodlands and Suzy took me up Stave Hill, a prominence built under rubble from the redevelopment of the Docklands and which commands a view of the whole of London, or at least of nearly all its main monuments.
Stave Hill at Surrey Commercial Docks
That night we had leftovers for dinner together with Gábor and I went to bed early to read my bestseller, exhausted from the day’s activities.  I must say tourism is a very tiring activity.

Again on Saturday I woke up at 7 instead of 8.  The programme for that day was afternoon tea at The Wolseley at 15.30 in 160 Piccadilly next to the Ritz, but first we went shopping to Tesco again.  We went to get food for dinner but also I wanted to buy all sorts of chocolates and cakes to take home.  I knew my Father would love to eat things like Mr. Kipling’s Bakewell Tart or Battenberg cake.  This time we walked and took Suzy’s bike.  I decided to try it out and it did feel very wobbly as I don’t think I’ve been on a bike for about 20 years.  Suzy was terrified I would fall and so was I so I soon got off. 

We decided to tube it to Waterloo and walk to The Wolseley which was quite a way.  On our journey we stopped to go inside St. Martin’s in the Fields built by Sr. Christopher Wren after the great fire of London.  It was my Mother’s favourite church in London when she lived after the war and I was keen to show it to Suzy.
Suzy in St. Martin's in the Fields.
There were hoards of people in London that day.  Being July and very warm I suppose that was to be expected.  In Piccadilly we went past Fortnum and Masons and we decided to go in just to admire the food. I was amazed to see people with trolleys doing their shopping there and could hardly imagine what their bills would come to.  But what a wonderful shop.
Suzy in Fortnum and Mason's
After a quick sit down in Green Park and a look at the shops in Burlington Arcade, it was time to go to The Wolseley.  Whilst we were resting on the grass at the Park we heard that Olivia was at the wedding of her University friend Silvia together with their friend Ana.  She sent us a photo and just looked spectacular. I am sure you agree.
Olivia all dressed up to go to Silvia's wedding last Saturday
Suzy had never had a British afternoon tea and I hadn’t had one for ages so we were both looking forward to the experience.  My friend Marta had recommended the place to us and we were not disappointed.  It turned out to be lovely, quintessentially British restaurant and tea house and actually was not very expensive.  A full tea with finger sandwiches, scones with homemade jam and clotted cream and cakes came to just over 20 pounds each when it costs about 50 pounds per head next door at The Ritz.
Afternoon Tea at The Wolseley in Piccadilly
We polished everything off and then decided to walk all the way back home.  By the end of the day we had walked 19 kilometres.  My feet were killing me and I had blisters which I had to protect with those great new elastoplasts called “compeed”. On our way we passed a huge demonstration that was just beginning to fizzle out by the Houses of Parliament against the Gaza Attacks. We also walked all the way along the river past the Tower of London where we stopped to drink water.  All I could think of was the moment when I could take my shoes off, take a shower and lie on my bed for a rest.  And I can tell you that when it happened it felt glorious.
That night we were expecting Suzy and Gábor’s friend, David (from Olivia’s class at S. Michael’s school) where we had the same sort of dinner in their garden as we did when Jane and Nacho came.  I was bushed by the end of the day and made my excuses at around 9.30 pm.

The programme for Sunday was Brick Lane which is even more Bangladesh City than Whitechapel.  Once again we decided to walk there and all the way back.  I must say Suzy seems to know London like the back of her hand.  I was most impressed.  Brick Lane is famous for its curry houses and I was looking forward to lunch there.  We were joined by David who came on his bike.  Brick Lane also has lots of street markets and we wandered around quite a few of them.  It’s a very trendy place with lots of street art.
Brick Lane
There were so many curry houses to choose from it was difficult to pick one.  They all seemed to have some type of best curry house award either from a newspaper or trip advisor, so we took pot luck and chose The Famous Curry Bazaar.  The food was great, but not much better than other curries I have had in England.  The menus all cost the same, about 7 pounds.  It was David’s first Indian meal and he loved his chicken korma.  I preferred the lamb version and of course Suzy had a vegetarian meal, of which there were plenty to choose from.
We had a great curry here in Brick Lane last Sunday
Later we made our way to Spitalfields’ market nearby. Very soon we came across a stall selling delightful Swedish type flowery hair bands and here Suzy and I stopped to try them on. The stall was very popular and we bought one each and one for Olivia.
The Swedish flower hair band stall at Spitalfields Market
Spitalfields’ market was full of stalls of lovely dresses, many of them vintage.  It seems there is a revival for 50’s and 60’s type dresses which are no good to me as I do not look good in dresses that are gathered at the waist.  Here we bought Olivia two delightful dresses. As we left, Suzy wanted to go into Urban Outfitters, a shop I always thought was not for me as it is very trendy.  So I was surprised to find a lovely flowery summery dress and another striped dress for lounging at home.  I am very happy with them now. 

The next day was Monday and the programme was a visit to Brighton, that very famous English seaside town near London.  Gábor was to join us and we would be hosted by our friends Keith and Lorraine who live nearby in a pretty village called Cuckfield in West Sussex. Unfortunately the forecast was for rain.  Whilst we were boarding the train at London Bridge an almighty thunderstorm or freak storm hit the town. However when we arrived the rain had just about stopped.  Later the sun came out and the rain only made a very short reappearance in the afternoon when we were having a wonderful cup of coffee.

I have never been to Brighton and didn’t really know what to expect. I imagined it was a semi up market English seaside town but it is much more than that.  Of course it has some of the tackiness of English seaside towns but I didn’t mind that as it brought back memories of seaside holidays in England when I was a child to Scarborough, Whitby and other places.  I learned that Brighton is now the 22nd biggest town in England with a population of approximately 160.000.  It was made popular in the eighteenth century by the patronage of the Prince Regent (later George IV) after his first visit there in 1783. He of course built the wonderful Royal Pavilion which we were to see later. 

Our friends took us down to the seafront and I was surprised to see the beach was made of pebbles. Despite the rain and not so high temperatures there were plenty of people on the beach. 
Suzy, me and Lorraine on the Brighton Sea front with the Pier in the background
We were all hungry so made our way to a nearby restaurant called The Regency which Lorraine had heard of and which I had seen recommended on Trip Advisor.  Of course we all had fish and chips except for Suzy who went for yet another veggy option!
Lunch at The Regency in Brighton on Monday
After lunch we walked towards the famous Brighton Pier past the other one which is now an eyesore after it was burnt down years ago.  The pier is incredibly tacky with all sorts of fun fair rides and attractions but great fun to walk on.  Gábor had brought along his excellent Canon semi-professional camera and his photos are much better than mine. I particularly like this one of Suzy on the pier.
Suzy on the Pier at Brighton
From the pier our friends walked us to the Royal Pavilion which I thought was marvelous. There was no time to go inside but one day I really will. It is actually a former royal residence, built as a seaside retreat by the Prince Regent.  For the record it is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India at the time.
By the Royal Pavilion in Brighton
After a wonderful cup of really decent coffee, our friends took us down North Lane and then The Laines, famous quirky but trendy streets in Brighton. We loved them.  We stopped in one of them for a great Italian ice cream as you can see here in the picture.
Ice cream in Brighton
Perhaps the most remarkable shop we saw was a chocolate and candy store called Choccywoccydoodah where works of art or sculptures in sugar and chocolate cost about 3000 pounds each. Needless to say we didn’t buy anything.
An incredible sweet shop in Brighton
After a wonderful day in Brighton, Keith and Lorraine took us back to their lovely mock Georgian house in the town of Cuckfield where we relaxed whilst Lorraine rustled up a lovely risotto for dinner.  I loved their home and garden and I think what Gábor loved best was playing their piano. I was very impressed how well he plays, especially after not having touched a piano since he left his native Canary Islands some two years ago. We were joined for dinner by our hosts’ daughter Becky who was very tired after a long day at work. I think it was great for both Suzy and Gábor to be in an English home, probably the only one they have been to since they started living in London.
Gábor playing the piano at Keith and Lorraine's house.
After dinner Keith drove us to the nearby station of Haywards Heath where we lucky to get right onto a train going to London Bridge.  I suppose it’s obvious it was too late and we were too tired to walk back from London Bridge to Canada Water so took the tube instead.

By this stage of the programme I had completely tired Suzy out.  Even I was feeling slightly tired so on Tuesday morning, my last day in London, we got up just a little bit later, or at least I did as “the kids” didn’t join me for breakfast until 10 am.  That day we were to pick up my great friend Sandra who was arriving from Brussels on the Eurostar at 16.45 at St. Pancras International.  Thus we debated how to spend the time on my last day.  In the end we went to Chiswick hoping to have lunch at one of the pubs by the river.  However when we got there and asked how to get to the river, we were advised to go to Richmond instead which apparently is far prettier. So that’s what we did but first we had to walk to Gunnersby Station, get off at Richmond and walk all the way to the river.  It was very pretty but time was running out and we were not served our lunch at The White Cross until after 3pm.
The White Cross pub by the river at Richmond where we had lunch on the last day
The photo illustrating this week’s post is of Suzy and me by the river at Richmond.  I do wish we had had more time to walk down the charming path by the river or to go into some of the lovely shops on the high street but I will have to leave that until another time.  It was quite a trek to St. Pancras and we were a little late but soon found smiling Sandra happy to be met off the Eurostar.  Gábor and Suzy carried her luggage on the tube back to Canada Water and she was just as impressed as I with the woodlands surrounding their house. It was great to see my friend after having been with her in Santa Pola but our meeting was to be short and sweet as we would be leaving the next morning at 9.30 to catch our plane.  Sandra would then be going to stay with her Mother whose birthday it is next week.  She will be 89. Many congratulations Magda.
Carrying Sandra's luggage through the Russia Dock Woodlands
It was lovely to have Sandra with us at “the kids’” pad and she settled in nicely into our routine.  She was to be sharing my room which brought us right back to where we started as friends at Nottingham University where we first met in the late 70’s and brought back many memories of the year we lived together in Church Avenue and paid 5 pounds rent a week or a month, I can’t remember, but it was very little even for those days.  I also remember there was no central heating, just one bathroom and the hot water only worked intermittently.
Suzy and Sandra in Suzy's kitchen
After the proverbial cup of tea we took Sandra around the woodland and up to Stave Hill.  Here we saw a boot camp exercise training group doing their drills and we laughed as Sandra and Jeffer had called me a boot camp leader when we were in Santa Pola.
With Sandra on Stave Hill.  Notice the flowery dress I bought at Urban Outfitters in Brick Lane
From there we made our way once again to Tesco to pick up food for dinner which the four of us would have in Suzy and Gábor’s garden.  Here is a great pic Sandra took of us with our shopping baskets at Tesco.
Shopping with Suzy and Gábor on the last day
It was lovely to share my last dinner with Sandra, my friend and soul mate who felt like an Aunty to Suzy even though they hadn’t seen each other for quite a few years.
Dinner on the last night in Suzy and Gabor's garden.  
Sleeping together in Suzy’s flatmate’s room was something of an adventure which had us in stitches as if we were students again.  We managed to get some sleep until about 5 in the morning when the other residents got up for their showers.  Then suddenly water was falling on my pillow after I had switched the air conditioning off.  Thus with many interruptions during the night, we got up at 8 with just enough time to shower, pack, have breakfast and leave. Gábor helped us to the bus stop and from there we took the tube to Victoria.  We said our goodbye to Sandra on the tube as she was making her way to her Mother’s house in North London.  Once in Victoria, a station which will forever signify international travel to me from when I was a teenager going on inter rail across Europe, we caught the Gatwick Express.  We were in a bit of a rush to catch the 12.15 Easy Jet flight to Madrid but made it quite comfortably, with time even to buy food for the plane at Pret a Manger which sells lovely food.  The plane was very full.  I slept part of the way whilst Suzy was worried about taking off and landing. Unfortunately we could not sit together as we had not booked the tickets at the same time.  Once in Madrid the heat hit us, if it was warm in London in Madrid it was literally boiling.  But there was dear Eladio, my husband and Suzy’s Father waiting for us at Terminal 1.  It was great to see him and to get into the air conditioned car and drive to our lovely home.  It is always great to go away but often even greater to come home.  There is no place like home.

We greeted everyone, unpacked and soon settled in. Both Suzy and I swam in the pool to cool off.  Oli and Miguel were home at about 7pm and it was great to see them.  Both girls fell into each other’s arms which I loved witnessing. Later some of their friends (Copi, Rocío, Pilar and Carolina) were coming round and Suzy served Pimms which we had bought at Gatwick Airport (made with one third Pimms, one third soda, one third lemonade, strawberries, cucumber and orange pieces with lots of ice cubes. The only ingredient missing was fresh mint leaves which were not available at Mercadona as there is no Pimms tradition in Spain.  Later Suzy posted this selfie with her friends. She was so happy, in her element surrounded by her friends and at home in Madrid.
Suzy in a selfie with Oli and their friends at home last night.
Needless to say I went to bed early and was up again early this morning at 7, which of course is now British time (8 am).  Eladio and I went for an early morning walk with the dogs before it got too hot. 

And tomorrow we will all be going to Montrondo for the annual family reunion which is going to be so much fun.  So I will stop here and you will hear again from me next week after our return from Montrondo and Suzy’s departure back to London the Saturday after next.

Meanwhile I wish you all a great week and hope many of you are enjoying your summer holidays like I am.

Cheers friends,


P.S. You can see more photos of my trip to London here.

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