Wednesday, June 28, 2017:
Hello Again, London! Lunch at Indian YMCA, Walking Tour of Camden, Tea and Dinner with Friends.
We woke up in London’s South Bank neighborhood of Battersea and made ourselves familiar with our new surroundings—booked through Air B&B. The basement room we occupied was tiny and with the bed pulled out, there was barely place for the two of us to squeeze around. And if the room was small, the en suite bathroom was minuscule. I swear we were expected to wash in a basin no larger than a soup bowl. We did not have use of any other room in the house and within one hour, we wondered how we could possibly spend the next five nights there! The solution lay in using the place only to crash at night. During the day, we would stay out, as much as possible, as our room made both of us feel claustrophobic. That said, we soon realized that the place was brilliantly located. Although it was not served by a Tube station, there were three bus lines literally right outside our doorstep. One took us to Victoria from where we could change to the Tube lines, another took us to Oxford Street via Knightbridge and the third? Well, we barely used it at all. We decided to put up with the claustrophobia since you could not beat the place from the point of view of its location (or its price).
Right after showering and eating granola bars for breakfast (we had replenished our supply in Westward Ho!), we set out for NYU so that we could pick up our cases which had been stashed there and bring them back with us to Battersea. This chore took up most of the morning as I also had the chance to say hello to a few of my former London colleagues like Phillipa who was not around last week and to say goodbye to those I would not be seeing again. Reversing our bus journey, we arrived at Battersea with our cases, dumped them in our room and since we were starving, decided to get out again immediately in search of lunch.
Lunch at the Indian YMCA:
Eating at the Indian YMCA was also something I had long meant to do. Many Indians based in London had told me about the excellent Indian food available at very reasonable prices in this little-known enclave and I had long wanted to try the food out for myself. Now, regular readers of this blog know that Indian cuisine is not my favorite (is it sacrilegious for me, an Indian, to admit this?) and when I am traveling, I try out every cuisine except Indian as I get enough of that at home! However, this place had received such good reviews from Indians that I felt I could not go wrong. Although Shahnaz was rather skeptical and not really keen to try it out, she obliged me and we went out in search of the spot in Fitzrovia.
It is my understanding that the Indian YMCA is so-called because it is a branch of the ones that are run in India. Also, I believe that Gandhi’s stay in London in the late-19th century had something to do with the setting up of this place. Apparently, being vegetarian, he had a very hard time trying to find food he could consume in London as a young impoverished law student (this is well documented in his autobiography, The Story of My Experiments With Truth). It appears that he and a few other elite Indian vegetarian students got together to try to establish reasonably-priced accommodation for Indian students in London that would also provide vegetarian meals. Apparently this place was the result. I am not sure how much of this story is correct, but it adds a bit of valuable history to the place.
When we did find it, we were directed at the Reception to the adjoining vast dining room where large numbers of people were already elbow-deep in their lunches. I say ‘elbow-deep’ as a few of them were eating with their fingers in genuine Indian style. More power to them. We soon found out that the food was laid out at a counter in small white ceramic bowls—there was chicken curry, fish (cod) curry and lamb curry. Patrons could choose whatever they wanted. There were also bowls of mixed vegetable, raita, pickle and mango chutney. Rice was dished out by a chef standing behind the counter. Chapattis were laid out on separate plates. I declined the rice and opted for the chapattis instead—two was one too many for me but once I had picked up the plate, I was loath to ask for one of them to be removed. It was a decision I would soon regret as I was told to pay one pound for each chapatti which I thought was absolute highway robbery. Shahnaz chose the fish curry, I took lamb. When we went to the cashier, we found that we had ended up paying almost 10 pounds for a meal that consisted of two chapattis, a small bowl of lamb curry (or fish), a small bowl of mixed vegetables and a bowl of raita. For the same money, I would have eaten far more and in a much more sophisticated place in London. The meal was tasty—I will not deny that. But it was hugely overpriced and so thought both of us! Well, at least I ticked one more item off my To-Do List. You can be assured I will not be recommending this place to anyone anytime soon.
We finished our meal, used the facilities and rushed off to the next item on our agenda for the day—a Walking Tour of Camden given by Free Tours on Foot, a company that I found when scouring the internet for Free Things to do in London.
Taking a Guided Walking Tour of Camden—A Musical Journey:
Camden is not a part of London that I know too well—I thought a guided tour with a well-informed guide would be the way to discover it. I had hoped it would tell us the history of the Camden Lock and the surrounding areas of Regent’s Canal and Primrose Hill. I had signed up for it and had received instructions to meet our guide outside Chalk Farm Tube station at 2.00 pm—and that was where we headed.
It was not long before we met our guide—a pleasant, personable young man with loads of energy and enthusiasm. There were about six other people on our tour—a very manageable crowd. It was not long before we discovered that our guide was a musician and knew a great deal about the alternative music scene. This was not my cup of tea but I am always game to learn something new. The tour wound its way through the maze of streets that comprise what was once a basic working-class neighborhood filled with factories and warehouses. Today, the area has been well gentrified and is filled with avant garde clubs, wine bars, music halls, etc. It is the in place to be for young musicians looking for their break. The biggest musical luminary associated with the area is the late Amy Winehouse who made the place her stomping ground and broke into the music scene from the clubs she frequented. The tour took in many details of her life, showed us tributes to her by street artists as well as a large sculpture in Camden Market. In fact, there was a lot of street art included on this tour—a somewhat unexpected twist. Since neither Shahnaz nor I were familiar with any of the artists the guide mentioned, it was not very interesting for us. There was also very little on the history of the area which was a disappointment for me. Overall, we learned a lot about the music scene; but ask me one question about anything we learned and I will have to tell you that I can recall nothing--none of it was my cup of tea, really. We finished off the tour at the Camden Lock itself when the guide passed around a hat. You could put in whatever you thought the tour was worth. We made our contribution and then hurried off to our next appointment.
Tea with Barbara in Holborn:
My former Holborn neighbors Tim and Barbara have moved to York (a matter that still breaks my heart) but, to my good luck, Barbara informed me that they happened to be around in London while I was there. Although Tim was busy with business clients, Barbara welcomed me to their flat which is on the market and has yet to sell. It was terrific to return to my former digs which was the flat next door to theirs—it always feels like a homecoming to me. And to our enormous surprise and delight, Barbara had tea ready and waiting for us—in her best china too. There were also assorted cupcakes! Yess!!!
What a lovely evening we ended up having as we chatted nineteen to the dozen and caught up on everything in their lives and mine. This was not something I had hoped to do—see Barbara again—or to return to my former building. But having had a chance to spend some time with her, I jumped at it. And how lovely it was! Naturally, I hope they will find a buyer for their flat soon…but for the moment, it was simply grand to see her in her flat with all the living room furniture still intact—as if they had never moved at all!
Dinner at L’Antipasto with Roz and Christie:
And finally, our evening came to an end with dinner in Battersea with some more of my closest friends in London. Shahnaz and I had enough time to get home to our digs also in Battersea and change into something a bit more dressy before we took the bus in the direction of Tooting and got off at Letchmere for our dinner date with my friend Roz. I did not expect to find her partner Christie there too—I had assumed he would be in India where he works for most of the year. L’Antipasto is a favorite Italian restaurant of ours and Roz and I have often eaten there. Nothing I have chosen from the small menu has ever been anything other than fabulous.
So there we were—at 7.30 pm hoping to be greeted by our friend Antonio, who, unfortunately, was off today. However, this did not stop us from having an uproarious reunion and exchanging gifts. Next, we were sipping red wine that Christie had ordered and surveying the menu. Shahnaz and I decided to share a starter—avocado and prawns in a marie rose sauce (not sure this is entirely Italian, but it was delicious) and to share two mains: veal scallopini in a lemony wine sauce with mushrooms and grilled king prawns with garlic and herbs served with a risotto on the side. Needless to say, our dishes were simply splendid and made for an absolutely delicious meal that was kept interesting by our non-stop scintillating conversation. Although I love London with a passion, I am realizing more than ever that it is the people I know and love there who make any trips to the capital more worthwhile for me.
It was not long before we jumped on a bus that got us back home to our digs in Battersea, just a few stops away, in under ten minutes. Needless to say, we did nothing more than change into our PJs, brush and floss our teeth and tumble straight on to our pull-out bed once we arrived home.
Until tomorrow, cheerio.