Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Paperblog Brief Guide to Food and Book Lovin' London

 The Paperblog Brief Guide to Food and Book Lovin' London
(TPBGTFABLL, for shortsies)

The sky is the limit in London; anyone can find anything to do they are interested in doing.  If you are bored, that is your own problem.  Those are just a few tips for things I enjoyed!  And here is a threat: if you do not have a cream tea while in London (so many options that you can figure this out, but the Library Bar does one if you're feeling like doing some damage to your bank account), I will disown you. Other tips: get an Oyster card.  The Tube is a little confusing if you're not used to public transit, but fabulous.  And final pro tip: turn your card in when you are done!  You'll get the money stored on it back!

The British Library
1.  The British Library (Tube stop: King's Cross/St. Pancreas)

The British Library is just great, you guys.  Not only is it right next to King's Cross station, if you want to go and creep on the Hogwarts stop (good luck, Muggles), not only is it totally free to the public (except for special exhibits) but it is home to more antique books worth a billion dollars than individual pixels in this post worth nothing.  I saw Queen Elizabeth and Queen Elizabeth's handwriting!  I saw the Magna Carta (spoiler alert: there are tens of Magna Cartas; apparently they are as inexpensive as a ladie in ye olde Cheapside - heyoooo), some important codices from like...toga times, AND original Beatles song lyrics.  I also enjoyed a delicious ginger cookie and tea - IN the library.  

I love this bookcase.
There is a very nice cafe (actually, at least two), and bathrooms made weird by the rolls of cloth towels where paper towels would go.   When I visited, there was a special display of the history of the mystery genre (it rhymes) from A-Z.  There are pull out display cases filled with some very rare stamp collections.  They are alarmed, so don't get any ideas! The best part?   There is a giant, gorgeous, back lit central tank of books.  Technically, it is actually a giant multistory bookshelf that houses King George (some Roman numeral goes there)'s book collection.  It is amazing.  I want to stare at it for days.

The only downside?  

There are many treasures housed here - it's very much a researchers library.  Check the website if there is something you want to see.  While the mini-museum has some great stuff, you should not go expecting to see everything.  There's a process to see many of the rare items.  The other problem?  Why does your gift shop have next to nothing with images from the gorgeous book tank?  What a huge revenue loss!  I totally was hoping to get some notecards or postcards or something!

The Library Bar at the Lanesborough Hotel
2.  The Library Bar at the Lanesborough London (Tube stop: Hyde Park Corner)

You know what is delightful?  Many leather-bound books in a library themed bar that smells of rich mahogany.  I'm pretty sure it's where good librarians go when we die.  Guys, this place is POSH.  The waiters are super French, there are doormen, a live jazz pianist, the drinks start at an economical 15 pounds (HA - there's even a James Bond which prices in at like 34 pounds to get you some of that moonshine), and I'm pretty sure there was a Russian oligarch across the room.  Awesomely, the drink menu comes in a faux book binder, and the first page is all library themed cocktails.  I had the library sour, and it was delicious.  Your drink will come with a complimentary tower of snacks, so enjoy both the ambiance, and your sesame sticks - you've attained book nerd nirvana. 
Library bar menu!
If you like books and libraries, splurge on this.  Bring your best manners,  Ms. Post.  Don't embarrass your library travel guru now, y'all (I did enough lowbrow embarrassing for us all by whipping out my camera to take pictures)!  Enjoy the scenery, the scurrying of the French waiters, and most importantly, your very expensive cocktail.  

The only downside?  

Just ask your travel budget. 

3.  Harrods (Tube Stop: Knightsbridge)

Guess what?  I'm about to share a big secret and lay some knowledge on all two of my avid readers.  I'm going to assume you've heard of Harrods, the giant department store of very pricey things, formerly owned by the shady guy whose son died with Princess Diana?  Long story short, I think it is now owned by Qatar.  As in the country.  But I could have been drunk on perfume fumes and the leather smells rolling off the expensive purses clogging up my Pinterest boards , so you can disregard that.  But I digress!  Let's return to the moment where I drop my super secret on you.  You ready?  Brace yourself.  This is big.  
800 pounds cheap
Harrods is a secret museum.  That is, a secret museum of the things that rich people with more money than brains like to send their personal shoppers.  It is so secret, there are no public maps - you have to muddle your way through like Hansel and Gretel, trying to remember your path.  Don't, however, leave a trail of crumbs.  How gauche!  Friends, it is awesome.  I went, expecting to spend like a half hour.  We stumbled out about two hours later.  Here are the things to do and see.  
While there are racks on racks on racks, floors on floors on floors, and it is easy easy easy to get sucked into oogling things you most likely can't afford (especially with that exchange rate, you Yanks), there are a couple of stops you should strive to find.  You should most definitely visit the Pet Kingdom.  As in, the ridiculous pet store that has a whole bakery and pet clothing section.  The in-department pet salon is nicer than my person salon.  I'm not exaggerating. 
A clothing department. For your pet.
You should also check out the toy shop, where there was a 8,000 pound electric miniature car for children; converted, this is roughly the same as a cheap real car for the adults who can actually drive cars in the US of A.  The best part: the food court is in a word, overwhelming.  The bakery and sandwich/takeaway items are actually fairly reasonable at around 4-6 pounds, so I'd recommend planning to get your lunch to go (unless you eat at one of the like, fifteen restaurants there, that all sound really good, you have to take it to eat elsewhere).  I'd also recommend the chicken pepper nanwich.  It will live in my stomachs memory as the best and only nanwich I've ever enjoyed devouring.  

The only downside?  

The tourists.  (Touche?)  Plan to go early, around when it opens, and before it gets crowded in the afternoons, or downright zoo-y on the weekend.  

The Borough and the newest
member of the London skyline,
the Spire

4.  The Borough Market (Tube stop: London Bridge)

I love the Borough Market.  I'm both devastated there isn't one in my town, and thrilled, because there's no way I would be able to exercise any sort of self control.  The Borough Market is a souped up farmers/artisan food market.  When I went, in winter, there were two sides, the kind of prepared foods side and the meat, produce, etc. side; I imagine it may become a little bit more expansive in the summer and fall growing seasons.  There is food of all ilks, all varieties, and for all palates.  I sampled Turkish Delight, whiskey soaked cheeses, blood sausage chorizo (meh, stick to the real deal), olive oils, get the idea.
Those meringues were huge. 
And delicious!
Go hungry.  Most vendors will give you samples, and you will panic when it comes time to choose whatever snacks you want to take away with you.  I wish I had been more hungry, so I could have justified trying more things!  There are also a ton of shops and restaurants that ring the perimeter, but you'll probably be more than fine with the options that dance before your eyes.  The best part?  It was really cold.  There was a MULLED WINE STAND.  It also served prosecco!  Things you don't get to do in ye olde Newe Englande, home of the Puritans: enjoy drink outside, in public, walking around.

The only downside?  

The crowd.  It's not a secret that this is like the greatest thing since we learned how to slice and toast bread.  Lots of people go to here, lots of people work around here, and all people like lunch, or bringing home nice things for dinner. Generalization?  Whatever.  Truth? Definitely.  Go earlier on week days if you can.  Have lots of small change and bills to ease the process, and most importantly, GO HUNGRY!

Perhaps you will be hungry enough for a real horse meat burger?
Touche, butcher. 

British Museum
5.  Free Museums!  (Tube stop: Look it up)

Many of the national museums in London are FREE.  Sure, they have great special exhibits that you have to pay to see.  But why bother when you can spend hours looking at other really great, totally free things (donations encouraged).  They are also all over the city, so there's no excuse for not finding at least one!   Even better (Paperblog Pro Tip here:), you can use the bathrooms for free.  I salute you, Tate Modern.  I might not have really cared to see your modern art, but I did care for your bathroom!  The other Tate, the Tate Britain, is near Westminster, and generally has some cool exhibits.  

Stone tablet, meet digital tablet.
Rose-meta stone?
For the book nerds out there, the British Museum has both the Rosetta stone, and a gigantic ornate library, among rooms and rooms of other things from around the world.  It is huge!  I was mostly disappointed that I was a week too early for the Pompeii exhibit.  The National Portrait Gallery sounds great, but I didn't get to it because I got sucked into the National Gallery, which was like walking through the pages of my Renaissance Art History textbook from university.  I wanted to steal all the things!  The Victoria and Albert is pretty cool; there are tons of design items of all ilks on display. They even have a David Bowie exhibit that had just started up.  I loved the variety of fashion displays and the excessive jewelery room, but strangely my favorite was the cast court room, which was under renovation, and the repair work happening on some of the masonry in the Michaelangelo cartoons, but could be observed via the walkway.  It was like a Mr. Rogers episode, with no TV between me and the workers!  Pretty sure the V&A didn't intend it to be that gripping, but then again, they didn't know I was in town. 
The only downside: 

NONE.  They are free.  Get on it, tourists.

Bonus: Literature, literature, everywhere.

Initially, I had big plans to do something literary every day.  This more or less happened, but backhandedly.  London, you see, is filled to the brim with literature.  You just need to pay attention.  You might, for example, in the course of a walk between the British Museum and Library, stumble across a sign posted on a house telling you that some guy named Charles Dickens lived there.  Or you might stumble across one of the many public libraries scattered throughout the city!  I bet they have free bathrooms too...

Half of the city of London appears as a setting in books, so try to contain you cool facade when you get to Kings Cross Station, home of the Hogwarts Express.  You might even stumble across a lane filled almost exclusively with antique book shops in the Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square neighborhood, on a pedestrian side street called Cecil Court, between  Charing Cross Road and Upper St. Martins Road.  

Cecil Court, London
Perhaps you will even stumble across a Where's Wally/Where's Waldo pep rally of a charity race for the National Literacy Foundation happening in Victoria Park, on a lazy, snowy, frigid Sunday morning.  You probably weren't expecting to stumble upon Gav, Mrs. GBR, and me, doing out best impression of a children's literature hero.  Or 500 of our comrades in stripes!   Together we surpassed our fundraising goal, so a huge, HUGE thank you to all of the generous donors on both sides of the Atlantic!

That is one good looking team!

Ready? Set?  Where's Wally/Waldo!
Literarily, pay attention - you never know what - or who - you'll come across!

Waldo? Harry Potter? A USA football fan (worst jersies ever, btw)?

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