We touched down at Heathrow Airport at 11:30am. It had been a long flight, and we were happy to finally be out of a cramped plane seat. Ren’s sister Romany and niece Kirsten met us in the arrivals area, where we jumped into an Uber and travelled to their home in Harrow. We arrived at midday, 33 hours after we left our home in Tasmania. It was such a good feeling to arrive. 😊
We settled around the kitchen table and snacked on Sri Lankan beef pan rolls
and fish cutlets
as we talked through the afternoon. It was an incredibly relaxing and warm atmosphere, and a great way to ward off jet lag. Romany cooked goat curry (my absolute favourite) for dinner, and it was incredible. We didn’t move from the table – we talked and laughed into the night, only to succumb to jet lag around 10:30pm.
We were wide awake at 4:30am, so we decided to catch up on our travel writing and plan our first day in London. After a relaxed breakfast, we walked to the nearest tube station, topped up our Oyster cards and jumped on a tube. Our first stop was
St Paul’s Cathedral, just across the road from where Ren used to work when she lived in London. We then made our way across Millennium Bridge to the architecturally stunning TATE Modern, where we spent about three hours wandering the galleries.
Two works in particular stood out for me as we navigated the rooms and floors of this spacious and meandering old power station. The first was Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain
(1917), a replica of the original porcelain urinal that became an icon of twentieth century art. I remember seeing it in art books at school and being puzzled as to how this could constitute art. The second was Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman
(1937), one of a series of works that Picasso created in response to the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. I was never really a big fan of Picasso, but I was a huge fan of Goya, another Spanish artist who depicted the atrocities of war (namely the Napoleonic invasion of Spain). There is something inherently distressing in Picasso’s Weeping Woman
, and it’s hard to believe the painting has no real security at the TATE Modern – not even the most basic of rope fencing
to protect it from the prying hands of over-enthusiastic viewers.
After emerging from the gallery we walked along the Thames, passing Shakespeare’s Globe and Southwark Cathedral on our way to the Borough Market for lunch. The place was heaving, and it took us a while to navigate the various stalls. Ren eventually opted for a seafood paella, while I decided on a pulled pork burger with apple sauce, sage and onion stuffing. We stood on the roadside and devoured our late lunch, then warmed up with a coffee and hot chocolate. The sun was warm when it came out, but the temperature dropped dramatically when the sun disappeared behind clouds or buildings.
We walked across London Bridge, descended underground and jumped on a tube to Baker Street Station, where we transferred to an eastbound tube that took us back to our morning starting point – West Harrow Station. We walked to Romany’s house in the late afternoon and relaxed into the evening. We were still adjusting to London’s time zone, and my left shoulder had been slightly uncomfortable during the day. I’m not sure what caused it, but it had become more and more uncomfortable as the day
progressed. Luckily we had a few more days in London, so there was still time for it to come right before heading to Morocco.
Romany cooked another amazing meal for us – pan fried salmon with stir fried yellow peppers and roast potatoes, which we enjoyed with a very welcome merlot. However, after a few small glasses of wine we began to fade quickly, so it was well and truly time to retire.
We woke early again, but we were slowly adjusting to London’s time zone, and we were feeling much fresher. The pain in my shoulder had all but disappeared, but I decided to wait and see how it was at the end of the day before getting too confident. I needed to carry my pack around Morocco for the next four weeks, so I was hoping it was nothing more than a strain.
We had a quick breakfast before heading out into the brisk morning air. It was another early start, as there was so much we wanted to do. We caught a tube at West Harrow Station and made our way to Baker Street Station. We switched tubes and headed to Charing Cross Station,
emerged from the underground into the early morning sunlight and found ourselves in the bustling Trafalgar Square. The place had fond memories for Ren, who had visited London many times with her parents when she was young.
After capturing a few photos of Nelson’s Column, we navigated the fast gathering tour groups and buskers and made our way into the National Gallery – home to a fascinating collection of European art, from Renaissance Italy to the French Impressionists. The gallery was quite different to the TATE Modern. For a start it was well-curated, which meant the content was ordered and easy to navigate. I’m not going to be drawn on comparisons of old and new art, as it is a subjective and very personal matter of taste. I also have a particularly narrow taste in art, so it would be pointless to compare the works I experienced in the TATE Modern (e.g. the puerile banality of Ceal Floyer’s Monochrome Till Receipt – White
) with those I experienced in the National Gallery (e.g. the emotive power of Jozef Israëls’ Fishermen Carrying a Drowned Man
That being said, there were great collections in both buildings. I enjoyed the Surrealist and
Cubist works in the TATE Modern as much as I enjoyed the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works in the National Gallery.
After three hours wandering the National Gallery’s many rooms, we headed out into the warmth of the early afternoon sun and made our way to Poppies Fish and Chips in Soho for lunch. The narrow streets of Soho were bustling and alive, and it was great to have time enough on our side to wander them. We settled at a table and ordered fish and chips with mushy peas. Ren went for the cod and I opted for haddock, and both were great. A Long Island Iced Tea and pale ale were also ordered, which made for a fantastic lunch.
We stumbled out into the street and walked a short distance to Cafe de Nata, where we picked up some sensational Portuguese custard tarts to share later in the day. We then navigated the narrow streets to Neale’s Yard in Covent Garden, where we relaxed with a hot chocolate and cafe latte at a small English coffee house called Jacob the Angel. It was a great place to take in our surrounds and reflect. Ren used to come
to this tiny nook when she lived in London 20 years earlier, and while it was still a haven tucked away from the madding crowds of Shaftesbury Avenue, it was now attracting tourists (i.e. us), and we were lucky to get a seat outside.
The afternoon was getting late and we were meeting one of Ren’s childhood friends for dinner, so we walked to Piccadilly Circus, withdrew some cash from a Barclays Bank and headed underground. We crammed into a packed tube to Baker Street Station, then transferred to a much less crowded tube back to West Harrow Station.
After a quick cup of tea and a few of the Portuguese custard tarts we’d picked up earlier in Soho, we jumped into an Uber and headed to 805, a West African restaurant in nearby Hendon. We were meeting William, a childhood neighbour of Ren’s during her nine years in Nigeria, along with his wife Kwapchi and two children (Peter and Lydia).
We shared a number of African dishes during the night, and they were all amazing. We started with beef and chicken suya
(an incredibly spicy grilled meat dish), and then two large plates of monika
grilled fish in chilli sauce) appeared on the table. The fish was so tender and tasty, and the chilli sauce was sensational. It wasn’t long before two large plates of jollof rice
(a rice dish made with spices and tomato stew) appeared in front of us. The jollof rice
was served with fried plantain and chicken, and the flavour was incredible. The only African food I’d tried previously was in Australia, and it was bland and flavourless. As a result, it has never been a cuisine that has interested me. After our meal with William and his family, African food is now well and truly on my radar!
William and I shared an African beer (Star) and a couple of bottles of palm wine during the meal. The palm wine had a thick creamy texture, and it was a perfect accompaniment to the spicy food. As we slowly grazed on the various dishes, Ren and William shared stories of their childhood. It was great to meet William and his family, and it was great to feel so welcomed by their incredible hospitality. The restaurant was very popular, and by the time we left it was packed to capacity. We
stumbled into the cool night air and farewelled our friendly hosts, promising to catch up the next time we were in London. It was a great night, and I know it will be a fond memory we’ll harbour for a long time.
We arrived home around 10pm, and we were exhausted. We’d been on the go since 9am, and the day was starting to catch up with us. It wasn’t long before we were fast asleep.
Even though we’d been in London for three days, my body had still not adjusted to the time zone, so I was wide awake at 4:30am. It was a good time to catch up on my travel writing, so I made a cup of tea and settled at the kitchen table with my laptop. Dense fog surrounded the house as the sun rose, but by 8am the fog had lifted and the day was clear. It was a Saturday morning, so the normal bustle of people making their way to work had given way to empty parks and streets.
We headed out for an early 18th birthday celebration for Jared (our nephew) around midday. We caught a tube to Wembley Park
and made our way to Boxpark, a small food hall conveniently located on the walking avenue to Wembley Stadium. We wandered around the various food stalls before deciding on Mama Jacqs. I ordered the boneless curry goat with coconut rice and peas, while Ren went for the jerk chicken with fried plantain. Both meals were very tasty, although the curry goat was a little salty – but nothing that a pint of cold lager couldn’t fix.
After lunch we caught a bus to Creams Cafe in Wembley Central, where we settled in for dessert. Ren had the apple crumble waffle, while I opted for a cafe latte. I completely embarrassed myself by using the disabled toilet (I couldn’t find any other toilets in the venue). To make matters worse, I pulled the long red cord beside the toilet thinking it was the flush controller, only to find it was the emergency alarm. Luckily for me the alarm only sounded in the toilet, and not out in the cafe where staff should have been alerted to my predicament. I quickly tried to escape, but a grumpy old man was waiting outside the door, and he muttered something under his breath
as I surreptitiously slipped back into the cafe without incident. I think he said 'Finally'. I didn’t think I’d been that long!
With lunch and dessert sorted, we made our way to the local cinema to watch Us, a film by Jordon Peele (the same filmmaker who made the brilliant Get Out). The film itself was fairly ordinary, and the acting was dire – which was surprising, as we had both absolutely loved Get Out. However, we loved the audience’s interaction with the film – there was a lot of talking, a lot of advice for the actors and a lot of screaming. The film had its scary moments, and the audience loved each and every one of them. It was an immersive cinema experience, and we loved it!
We caught a bus back to Romany’s and relaxed into the evening. Jared headed out into the night and picked up a few Domino’s pizzas for us all to share, which we enjoyed with a very welcome cabernet sauvignon. It was a great way to end a great day.
We woke to our last day in London, knowing that we would be flying to Casablanca in the evening.
We organised our packs and checked our bookings before jumping on a bus to Harrow to celebrate a Mother’s Day brunch with Romany, Kirsten and Jared. We walked to Frankie and Benny’s, settled at a table and ordered a glass of prosecco. It was 11am – what a great way to start the day. In terms of food, I opted for the breakfast egg bap, while Ren went for a smashed avocado and bacon muffin.
We walked back to Romany’s via a shortcut Jared and Kirsten had been using for quite a while. Despite living in Harrow for over ten years, Romany had never walked this way, and I doubt she’ll ever do so again. On arriving at the house, we realised our short London layover had come to an end. We gathered our packs, jumped into an Uber and headed to Heathrow Airport (Terminal 4). We settled at Caffe Nero and used our remaining currency to buy coffees, smoothies and a lemon sparkling tea. We sat and chatted with Romany, Kirsten and Jared until 4:45pm, then made our way through security. Our flight to Casablanca was leaving at 6pm… SHE SAID...
After nearly 31 hours
since leaving home in Hobart, we landed in London’s Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. Contrary to all expectations, we breezed through immigration, baggage claim and customs in under an hour. We were met at the airport by my sister Rom and our niece Kirsten. Rom had told us she wouldn't be able to make it to the airport because of work, but then surprised us with her presence!
We caught an Uber back to Rom’s home and had a brilliant catch-up over cups of tea with Sri Lankan and Jamaican snacks. It had been a total of 33 hours from our door in Hobart to Rom’s door in Harrow, and we should have been dog tired… but we weren’t. We talked and laughed for hours while waiting for our nephew Jared to get home from college.
We finally dragged ourselves away to shower while Rom cooked us dinner. It was the most delicious curry goat with rice and beans. I should mention the curry goat vs. goat curry thing – yes, they are essentially the same-ish dish, but the Jamaicans insist on calling it curry goat. After eating too much, drinking too much and laughing too much, we crawled
upstairs to bed. It was so good hanging out with Rom, Kirsten and Jared again!
I slept soundly until 3:45am… and then couldn't get back to sleep. Andrew was also up by 4:30am, so we spent the time planning our London sightseeing days and writing our travel notes. We made cups of tea and sat around while Rom and Jared got ready for their day... Rom to go to work and Jared for a mock A-Level exam. I loved the curry goat and rice from dinner so much that I had left overs for breakfast! Andrew stuck to muesli – his favourite breakfast.
Andrew and I eventually left for Central London at 9am. We topped up our Oyster cards at the West Harrow tube station and caught the Metropolitan line to Finchley Road, the Jubilee line to Bond Street and the Central line to St Paul’s. I cannot tell you how much I love the London Underground system. I know the locals complain about it a lot, and yes it could probably be maintained and run a bit better… but when you’ve lived in places with little or no public transport, you really appreciate what a fabulous thing
a wide network of public transport is.
I have to admit there was a point in my childhood where I was rather scared of the underground tunnels – and it was totally my fault. On one of our first visits to London, I opted to stay alone in the hotel room instead of going out to dinner with Mum and Dad… and I scared myself witless by watching John Landis’ American Werewolves in London
! I think my parents were a bit baffled as to why I was suddenly making a case for walking or catching buses when I’d loved the tube just the day before. For about a decade afterwards I couldn’t stand on the parts of the platform near the tunnels. 😊
When we exited at St Paul’s, so many old memories came flooding back, and I reminisced how this area had been where I worked and socialised for a year of my life. We walked around St Paul’s Cathedral, and I showed Andrew my old Goldman Sachs office in Carter Lane across from the cathedral. We walked down to the Millennium Bridge and crossed to the Tate Modern. We spent many hours making our way through
the two buildings that comprise the Tate Modern in the former Bankside Power Station building. I loved the industrial beauty of the converted Power Station building very much, although the layout of the gallery on two different sides of the buildings (divided by the lift well) was often confusing.
As with most modern art galleries, about 50% of it wasn't to my taste, but I enjoyed the Picasso, Dali and Magritte pieces very much. I was slightly disappointed with the curation of some of the exhibits, as there seemed to be a lack of love in many rooms and some works were even mislabelled! When we had finished looking at the art, we caught the lift to the cafe. I’m so glad we persisted with the lifts to get there (it took absolutely ages as some lifts were out of order and the others were constantly full). It was a near 360 degree view of London from the balcony, and we were able to take in all the iconic buildings on the London skyline.
It was an overcast spring day with moments of brilliant sun, and we enjoyed ambling along the Thames, past the Globe Theatre and Southwark
Cathedral to the Borough Market. We were overwhelmed with choices for lunch, but after about three circuits we eventually settled on a Hobbs traditional pulled pork burger with apple sauce for Andrew and a seafood paella for me. We followed this with a coffee and hot chocolate from the Change Please organisation’s coffee cart (they train homeless people as baristas). We then lined up for doughnuts from Bread Ahead, and oh my god, I could totally see why there was a constant line at this stall. We got hazelnut and almond praline, velvet chocolate, vanilla custard, and salted caramel honeycomb flavours. They were divine with a cup of tea when we got home.
Rom cooked another great dinner – pan fried salmon with roast potatoes, as well as chicken for the non-fish eaters. It was such a fabulous night sitting down and chatting with Jared and Kirsten over dinner. They had grown up so much, and it was such a pleasure having adult conversations about uni and life in general with them. But unfortunately we could barely stay up after 10pm. We were still adjusting to the time difference and we’d also walked for about seven hours that day!
We woke at 5am on our third day (Friday) in London. Breakfast consisted of left over snacks (Rom had stocked the house full of so many delicious things for us!) and we chatted with Rom over a morning cup of tea before she had to leave for work. We left for our explorations of London at 9am. We caught the Metropolitan line tube to Baker Street and then the Bakerloo line to Charing Cross for the National Gallery. Even though I had walked past the imposing National Gallery building hundreds of times when I lived here and on every visit to London since I was a child – I had never gone in!
Dad used to love taking us to Trafalgar Square which sits in front of the Gallery, and for old times’ sake I went over to look at the imposing bronze lions guarding Nelson’s Column. I used to have a favourite lion and I think I found him, but I couldn’t be sure. I’ll have to look through the old photo albums from the ‘80s to jog my memory. It was still early, so the circus of street artists and performances hadn’t quite set up yet.
We joined the short queue to the National Gallery and then had to come up with a plan of attack to get through all the rooms in the best way. Andrew is much better with direction and spatial contextual awareness than I am, so I was happy that he took on that role. I really really loved and enjoyed the rooms with the Post-Impressionist paintings, but I even enjoyed the rooms that didn't contain any art to my taste. I loved the striking architecture, the beautiful use of natural light in some wings, the immaculate interior design and the excellent curation. It was a fabulous experience.
Like at the Tate Modern the day before, there were a few school groups in the Gallery. I’m always curious to see how children and teenagers absorb and react to art in galleries, so I tend to linger and listen to their conversations or look at any drawing projects taking place. I was most amused when a seven or eight year old girl looked at a scantily clad Rubenesque figure painted in midstride with her clothing hitched up, and said ‘I don’t like it, she looks like she’s just come out of
the bathroom’. 😊
We left the Gallery at 1pm and walked to Soho for lunch. With only a limited number of days in London, I'd really wanted to have a good fish and chips meal while we there, so we had lunch at Poppies. Both portions of cod (me) and haddock (Andrew) were massive and came with chips, tartare and tomato sauces. I also ordered a side of mushy peas which was excellent. Our drinks – Long Island Iced Tea (me) and beer (Andrew) – rounded off a very delicious and enjoyable meal.
We decided to take home some pastel de nata
(Portuguese custard tarts) from Cafe de Nata for afternoon tea. However, they smelled and looked so good that I couldn’t help myself and had to scoff some while standing on the footpath outside the shop! And I could totally justify being such a bogan because they were the best custard tarts I've ever had!
I used to have a few favourite little corners in London, and one of them was Neale’s Yard in Covent Garden. Back in the late ‘90s it was a hardly known little courtyard with two non-descript (read: dodgy looking) narrow alleyway
entrances that creates a link between Shorts Gardens and Monmouth Street. I only got to know about it because I was hanging out with a work colleague’s boyfriend who was checking out a studio space in one of the buildings.
My interest was reignited recently when I saw it constantly popping up on Instagram, so I took Andrew to have a look. Well, it bears little resemblance to the local hideaway it once was. It’s now well signposted, and there are hordes of people walking around with selfie sticks and go-pros, posing in front of the colourful buildings. But the businesses have also evolved from an old-school cafe and a wholefood hippie store to a range of very interesting organic and ethical businesses. We were spoiled for choice, but picked Jacob the Angel for a coffee and a hot chocolate. And it was divine!
We navigated ourselves back home after finding a Barclays Bank in Piccadilly Circus to withdraw some money and to exchange the old pound sterling notes (that were no longer in circulation) that Andrew still had from our last trip to London. We went home through the Baker Street tube stop again, which amused Andrew
because we’d heard Gerry Rafferty’s song Baker Street
a few days before we left home and it had annoyingly stuck in my head since… and the tube stop really wasn’t helping me to forget the song.
Over cups of tea at home, we met Kirsten's friend Jenani who was going to a concert with Kirsten that evening. When you live away from your nieces and nephews, you miss out on seeing them interact with their friends, so it was nice to meet and get to know such a good friend of Kirsten’s.
Soon afterwards Rom, Andrew and I caught an Uber to Hendon, as we were catching up with one of my childhood Nigerian friends. We met William, his wife Kwapchi and their children Peter and Lydia for dinner at 805 Restaurant, a West African restaurant. It was so fabulous to see Will after 32 years! I've known him since I was about 10 when his family moved into the house next door to ours in the school compound where all teaching staff lived.
William and Kwapchi ordered the food for us, because even though I remembered a couple of the dishes on the menu, I really
didn’t have a clue. We started with chicken and beef suya
(spicy grilled meat skewers) and then shared two fish dishes of monika
(whole grilled croaker and tilapia in chilli sauce), fried plantain, fried yam and jollof rice
(a rice dish cooked in tomato stew and spices) with chicken stew. It’s been a long time since I’ve had authentic Nigerian flavours and I loved it! And even though they were new flavours for Rom and Andrew, they enjoyed the meal very much too.
Will ordered some Nigerian palm wine for us to taste. Palm wine has cultural significance in traditional Nigerian society, where you would be welcomed to someone’s house or village with offerings of palm wine and kola nuts. Surprisingly Andrew really liked it, even though he wasn’t a fan of the very similar Sri Lankan toddy
. However, I wasn’t a fan – I preferred my pina colada. 😊
The restaurant was very busy and loud, but it was a Friday night so we couldn’t expect any less. The evening went quickly and by the time the sticky toffee pudding and ice cream came out, we were flagging a bit and had to end the night soon
after that. I was so happy and grateful that Will and his family had made the time to catch up with us, and also glad that Rom and Andrew got to meet a childhood friend of mine.
We were home just before 10pm and managed to stay up and write notes until nearly 11pm, but that was my absolute limit and I crashed heavily. Our first two and half days in London had been fabulous, and we had been very lucky that our bodies (and jet lag) had allowed us to see and do everything we’d wanted to see and do, with that we’d had mostly sunny weather. But most of all I was so happy to be hanging out with four of my favourite humans, and we still had a whole weekend left in London!
Andrew woke at 4:30am again on Saturday. However, I managed to sleep until 8am (thankfully). We joined Rom for a cup of tea and had a lazy morning while we waited for the young ones to wake up.
Jared's 18th birthday was in two weeks, but we were celebrating early. Jared’s wish was to have lunch, go to a dessert cafe
and then see a film – all things I love too! We caught the tube to Wembley Park to eat at Boxpark – a collection of street food stalls in a permanent market type setting. We opted for Mama Jacqs Caribbean food as we wanted to have foods and flavours we don’t get in Australia. I had the jerk chicken with fried plantain and Andrew had curry goat with rice and beans. The jerk chicken was delicious, but we both agreed that Rom’s curry goat with rice and beans was much nicer!
We caught the bus to Creams Cafe in Wembley Central for dessert. Andrew isn’t a dessert person, so he just had a coffee. The rest of us a massive menu of pancakes, crepes, waffles, sundaes and ice creams to choose from. My waffle with apple crumble and hot custard was good but slightly undercooked. However, Jared enjoyed his dessert, and that’s all that mattered.
We then caught another bus back to Harrow to the Vue Cinema. We were watching Us, a horror film about a family holiday gone very wrong. Rom isn’t a fan of horror films and had to be talked into seeing this with
us. However, it wasn’t as scary as the trailer had made it out to be. The idea was great but the plot was thin, and it was almost spoof horror rather than the psychological horror film the trailer had suggested. We returned home to a lazy night of pizza to end Jared's day of celebration.
We started Sunday with a cup of tea in bed for Rom, to celebrate Mother's Day. We then caught the bus to St George’s Shopping Centre and had brunch at Frankie and Benny's. We toasted Rom with prosecco and mimosas – a most civilised way to start brunch. My eggs on muffins with avocado and bacon was much better than I had expected… the mimosa probably helped!
Sadly, our stay in London had come to an end. We walked back home through the back lanes and small streets of Harrow, enjoying a sunny but windy afternoon. We had a last cup of tea with chocolates, finished packing, took our final group family photos together and then caught a family sized Uber to Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4.
With only two real cafe options at the terminal (!), after checking in, we settled into couches with smoothies and coffees at Caffe Nero. We eventually said our final goodbyes to Rom, Kirsten and Jared and walked into immigration. I loved our stay in London very much – partly because we did some lovely London things, but mostly because the time spent with my favourite sister, and our niece and nephew was seriously awesome!
We were on our way to Casablanca, the white city of Morocco.
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