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The sign says “possibly DEFINITELY the best dougnuts in the world.”
Misspelling aside, that’s a bold statement to make. Especially to these American eyes. We did, after all, invent obesity thanks in large part to an endless supply of delicious donuts.
But, this is indeed a special donut. A big ball of fried dough oozing forth a vanilla cream that’s like eating a storm cloud, rich and thick…but also light and airy. I’m eating a storm cloud. (foreshadowing). Eating this thing is a gymnastic exercise in contorting your arm in all various positions to get every last bit of the cream before it’s claimed by Newtonian physics. I suppose you could use a knife and fork; but, that’s just un-American…even in England.
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With nary cloud in the sky the stream of the day is keeping us outdoors. The walk along Southbank is burnished into our subconscious, which is nice because that’s when you can relax a bit and pay attention to all the little things happening around you.
Lauren hasn’t been to the UK since high school, so the mission is to walk it out under beautiful blue skies and be tourists. Walking alongside Whitehall there is a small park with a series of war memorials. One of them is a simple oblisk with a soldier dedicated to the Korean War. It’s a sharp contrast to memorialize the same war on the National Mall. Again it’s fascinating to see how the collective memory works differently across international borders, perhaps it’s also a showcase of just how BIG we like to remember things in the States.
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Passing by Big Ben the crowds thicken. It is Friday, and a gorgeous one at that. We opt out of a walk through Westminster Abbey, I’ve been in there before and Lauren isn’t £20 interested. A long walk later puts us in front of Buckingham Palace where the crowds actually aren’t that bad. Sometimes it’s fun to return to a landmark, it’s another case where your attention works differently. The little details matter more, you’re less awestruck. For me, this is a good spot to play around with the camera and then watch people as they watch a palace presumably full of royal people. At least according to the flag.

The goal for the afternoon is to spend some time in the National Gallery, but that’s the only official item on the itinerary. And official is a loose term here. I was also debating with going into the Churchill War Rooms, which was the underground military brain during the Battle of Britain. The Gallery wins, in large part because I dragged Lauren through the British Museum for hours longer than she wanted to the day before. And I’m genuinely interested in the collection at the Gallery. Not to mention it, also, is free. Trafalgar Square is a fun place to photograph, the neoclassical design of the museum combined with the fountains in the plaza and the lions at the base of the Nelson monument create interesting scenes. The sun hangs low in the southern sky offering up some great light for a good part of the afternoon. Inside the works are nothing short of inspirational. I’ve written many times about the ability of art to transport you to another place, another frame of thought, if you let it. A few hours and a few IMG_2026Renoirs, Monets, Dagats and da Vincis later we were on our way back to Southbank. Another one of our friends is flying in, and a we have plans to meet a whole other set later in the evening.
Walking back along the river the Christmas markets are really picking up along with the post-work rush. As we walk along Southbank the milk tree is gone, replaced with…wait for it…a BEER tree. It’s a promotional stunt by Carlsberg, but all we have to do is wait in a short line and pour some beer from a tap IN THE TREE! Of course. So we pour a beer and sit and watch the river traffic along the Thames. It’s an English Christmas miracle.
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There are moments, if you’re paying attention, when you realize the depth and breadth of the scope of your life. It is through pure circumstance that I’m now at a place called Wheatsheaf adjacent to Borough Market sharing pints with seven Penn Staters. Five of them are good friends I’ve known for almost 15 years. A quirk of timing and opportunity brings us back together, and this is how life is great. Recreating the past, living in the present, pushing forward towards the future.
The pub scene of London is on full display here. We were lucky enough to score some inside territory, and a table, but the crowd is spilling into the street. That’s how the post-work pub party happens. It’s communal and maybe a tad bit excessive, but clearly traditional and, dare I say it, a bit more neighborly than the D.C. version of happy hour.
After a few pints we make some moves towards another part of town. The mission is salted beef bagels and, purportedly, the best pizza in London. In the process we lose one of our party to familial obligations, putting the kids to bed.
We choose the bus over the tube for this trip, and I’m more than happy with that. The double-decker buses are just as much tourist delight as they are public transit. The journey becomes the experience.
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Shoreditch is a model of gentrification. There are traces of a more traditional, and even turbulent past, but for the most part people here now have money and free time and a hunger to consume both.
We work up and put our name in at Homeslice. It’s actually a product of Covent Garden, but they’ve just opened this second location this week. The hope is that not too many people know about it yet.
Two hour wait.
So much for hopes and dreams. We put our names in, but with stomachs growling the new mission is IMG_2067salted beef beigels. We slice deeper into the neighborhood towards Brick Lane where the graffiti artist is a little more bold.
There are two competing places serving these sandwiches. Think Pats and Genos in Philly with smaller crowds. I’ve been forewarned that ordering is akin to an experience with the soup nazi. So yeah…just like Philly.
Within minutes we’re all on the sidewalk devouring these sandwiches from Brick Lane Beigel Bake. Some are pleased….others not so much. Me, well I’m in heaven. It’s a perfect balance of crunchy/chewy savory. Without even a word this thing is gone.
But, I can’t very well leave without trying the competitor. I walk two storefronts down to the Britain’s Best Beigel Shop. The sign says it’s the first and it has “best” in the name, so it has to be true.
“Kris, seriously…you don’t want to fill up on this before the pizza,” Em warns me.
IMG_2072Who’s filling up? This is the appetizer. And this is a mission, an experiment to determine the salted beef bagel champion.
The second is gone as quickly as the first. But, they lie: it is not “best”…it’s good…but not best.
With that eternally burning question satisfied we double back towards Homeslice, stopping at a pub called the Owl and the Pussycat to kill a little more time. This place is also packed to the brim, a situation made worse as we walk in the front door to the sound of shattering glass. It’s enough to prompt the bouncers to shuffle everyone inside. For about five minutes we’re playing the Jurassic Park drinking game. Oh, you don’t know the game??? It goes like this:
You’re in a crowded bar packed shoulder to shoulder such that extending your arm for a proper sip is an impossibility, thus the only way to bring rim of glass to lip is by pretending that your arms are little-T-Rex arms that you have to meet halfway. Jurassic Park. It’s a thing.
A beer or two later and it’s time for some pizza.
Here’s the deal, you know how I said there were seven Penn Staters…we now it’s actually eight on the evening. Another one of our friends from another era is in London with his wife house shopping ahead of a move to the city. Just another round of pure luck and he’s here with us for some pizza.
IMG_2081The pizza is delicious, not gonna lie. The chorizo and sweet corn is monstrously good. We plow through three of these pies with American efficiency. The stories along the way are as rich as the toppings (unfortunately those won’t be shared here).
The invisible string binding us all together is sometimes revealed when plucked just the right way. Tonight we’re playing that string like a harp.
Hugs, handshakes and waves later we’re back on a bus heading towards Southbank set for an early morning and a grand adventure (foreshadowing).
Tags : BeigelsdonutsHomesliceLondonNational GalleryShoreditchtravelUnited Kingdom
Kris Ankarlo

The author Kris Ankarlo

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