Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Amy in London! Climbing the Monument and a Superb Steak Dinner

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I awoke at 7.00 am, typed my blog and sent out my June newsletter and Oxford Travelog when I heard a sound in the loft and realized that Paul's secretary, Isobel, had arrived. When I wanted to take a shower, I realized that I had not turned the boiler on when I got in last night, so I did that and started to order material from the British Library from the online catalog as well as material from the National Archives at Kew in Richmond as I have earmarked the last couple of weeks to review a few official documents. Having done all that, I awaited Amy's arrival while reviewing my proposed Oxford lecture.

At 12. 45, my dear friend Amy arrived from New York, having taken the Tube to Farringdon from Heathrow. We had a joyous reunion. I had last seen her in Fairfield, Connecticut, in December when I had visited my family back in the States. She had organized an evening out--dinner in an Indian restaurant called Bangalore--with a few of our friends...and we'd had a superb evening. It was so great to see her again. She is an intrepid traveler too and has been my travel companion on the road in India, in London and in Italy and it was she who introduced me to Stephanie with whom she has traveled to South America. In fact, she is here, passing through London to push off with Stephanie and a bunch of friends for a sailing holiday in Croatia.

After she had rested and I served her an Indian lunch (pullao and curry with a salad), she and I left my flat and I gave her a little walking tour of my neighborhood: St. John's Gate and Museum, the Smithfield Meat Market, the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great, St. Bart's Hospital and Museum (and the Hogarth Staircase) and the Church of St. Bartholomew the Less. Then, we walked along Hatton Garden's Diamond District and the Leather Lane Street market to my former building on High Holborn where I had the chance to chat for a few minutes with my former concierge, Arben. It was great to be back there and I received a warm and very sincere welcome from him.

Climbing the Monument:
Then, having equipped ourselves with bus passes, we took the Number 8 bus to London Bridge with the idea of climbing the 311 steps of the Monument which has recently been refurbished and looks sparkling clean and spanking new. Amy and I had together climbed the 5o0 odd steps to Brunneleschi's Dome in Florence during our travels in Italy last March (2008) and I figured that she would make the best companion for climbing the steps of the Monument as this is also on my list of things to do before I leave for the States.

Well, as luck would have it, we could not have picked a nicer day for this project: the sky was a clear, cloudless blue and visibility was astounding. The monument, itself, completely re gilded glows in all its glory. At its summit, is a large gilded vase with a bunch of flames symbolizing the Great Fire of London of 1666 which destroyed 13,000 acres of the city. Christopher Wren was assigned the task of designing a Monument to mark this catastrophe and he came up with the idea of erecting a tower that was exactly 202 feet tall because exactly 2o2 feet away on Pudding Lane was the Bakehouse where the fire is said to have originated.

From the summit, we could see past Canary Wharf and on to Greenwich. Tower Bridge was gorgeous in the bright sunshine as was the dome of St. Paul's on one side and on the other, the tip of the Gherkin. It was slightly scary at the top as the area is rather cramped. You walk along a balcony but the entire space is enclosed with a very wide grill through which you can fit a camera lens to take pictures.

On our return to the base and as we were leaving, we were each handed a certificate that stated that we had climbed the 311 steps of the Monument--a lovely souvenir to take home with us! If, like me, you haven't been on the London Eye, this very economical alternative at just 3 pounds per head makes a lot of sense. I was very glad I did it and that I had Amy's wonderful company to accomplish this goal. We had spent a few days together, last year in London, and this day out only served to remind us of the good times we'd had then.

On to the Serpentine:
Then we got on to a bus to get to Hyde Park as I thought that the blisteringly hot summer's day simply cried for a day out on the water. Amy seconded the idea enthusiastically and I thought it would be great to rent a pedal boat for a half hour. However, the bus ride took ages--it just creeped and crawled along in peak hour rush--and we only arrived at Hyde Park at 6. 45 and they had stopped renting out the boats at 6. 30 pm. Well, perhaps this is something I shall do when Llew gets here.

A Super Juicy Steak Dinner:
So this time we took the Tube back to Farringdon from Marble Arch--which was way faster! Our idea was to go out for a nice dinner together before Amy picked up her baggage from my place and took the Tube to Richmond as she was spending the night with our mutual friend Stephanie. I chose 26 Smithfield's, a steak restaurant opposite the Smithfield Market, which is renowned for its steaks. We ordered bread with oil and vinegar as a starter and split a bottle of pear cider which was cold and very refreshing and very delicious. Our main course was steak fillets--Amy chose a red wine sauce, I chose a peppercorn sauce and our steaks were to die for! I mean they were seriously good--unbelievably tender and succulent and the mash that accompanied the meat was equally creamy and tasty. As always, we did justice to our meal and found no room for dessert.

Amy did not stay long after our meal as she had a long way to go on the Tube. I said goodbye to her and we have made plans to meet tomorrow in Richmond as we intend to take the walk in Chiswick.

It was just wonderful to see my dear friend Amy again and I look forward to another day tomorrow of hanging with my friends before I get down to serious work in the library again.

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