East London Calling

Here’s Abi pretending to enjoy the company of her belle-mère and probably actually enjoying her dad.

London sort of snuck up on us. We didn’t do much planning because the plan was really just to spend time with Steven’s daughter and (harshly) judge her partner. Since we didn’t really consider London as a place, we were a bit at loose ends.

We’ve noticed a pattern in which it takes us about a week to settle in. We’re only here for 10 days, so it’s a bit awkward. It’s not a vacation, but there’s a lot of eating out involved. Luckily, the heat wave broke and it’s only rained once.

We’re staying near her in East London, where I’ve never really been before. If you love hipsters, this is the place for you. Expensive coffee, fancy baked goods, “elevated” cuisine, a street food market — this area has it all. I’m not going to deny that we have had some delicious food or that I didn’t enjoy Broadway Market. During the week it’s a fruit and veg market, mostly, but on Saturdays it’s full of food stalls with almost any kind of food you might fancy. Of course, merchants are also selling stuff, but since we live by the 23 kilo rule, we don’t much look at stuff (except for Frida Kahlo socks and a book of cocktails inspired by feminist women (no, it’s not redundant — there are feminist men out there).

Broadway Market was our introduction to Abi’s neighborhood and it was jammed. After all, it was one of the few days in London when you needed neither a jacket nor an umbrella. Adding to the enjoyment, we walked along Regents Canal (below) to get there. Steven and I have taken several walks along the canal, which is just a few blocks from our AirBnB. The canal runs 8.6 miles, but we haven’t walked the entire length, yet. It is lovely, if overrun by bicyclists who are about as polite as American cyclists, which is to say about 20 percent announce their presence before they overtake you.

The most traditional activity we have participated in (besides beer and cider) has been eating a Sunday roast at the Hunter S. pub. Luckily, they have caved to vegetarian pressure and have a delicious nut roast. I can’t attest to the quality of the huge slabs of meat, but apparently they were yummy (I can. They were delicious). The place is funny because the bathrooms are decorated with pictures I can’t show in a family blog (at least not in the prudish US), but if you ask me nicely, I will send you a couple.

The food tour continued at Dishoom, a small chain of “elevated” (I warned you) Indian cuisine. I had stumbled upon the Covent Garden branch when I was here with Jake four years ago. It was delicious then and the Shoreditch edition was delicious again.

One caveat about hipsterville: Be prepared to wait. No one moves quickly and no one eats at home (and she hasn’t mentioned the twenty minute wait for coffee on Sunday at the Dusty Knuckle).

Off the food tour, onto the walking tour

Steven is busy keeping me in the lifestyle to which I would like to become accustomed and I had some time, so I signed up for a tour of Brick Lane through Unseen Tours. All their tour guide have been affected by homelessness and they offer a unique view of different parts of London. I chose the Brick Lane tour because it was close and I didn’t really know anything about East London.

Pete has been leading tours for eight years, but had been homeless in East London. A sheltered housing program helped get him back on his feet and he now has his own flat. He showed us around Brick Lane, telling stories about the street art and immigration history of the area along with discussing homelessness, government programs, and the obstacles to getting and keeping people off the streets.

BTW: Although Jack the Ripper struck here, Pete explained that he finds it disrespectful to sensationalize violence against women, especially because it’s on the uptick again. You go Pete!

The images below are all from the tour.

Brick Lane is now predominantly Bengali, but the French, Irish, and Ashkenazi Jews have all populated the area, hence the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid (mosque) dating from 1743 that was once a temple that was once a Protestant church and the Christ Church Primary School, which sports a star of David.

The Banksy

The tour ended with a somewhat underwhelming Banksy. A pink Triumph GT6 sits atop a wall that was once part of an Overground bridge. It’s encased in yellowed Plexiglas and where once there sat a ghost driver, nothing remains. If you still want to see it, you can find it at the Truman Brewery. Pete said that the bridge construction company took possession of the car and wall when they demolished the old bridge and when they realized what they had, they sold it for £1 million. I don’t recall how he said that it ended up back on the street, but I can ask him.

The street art below is from a retaining wall and building just off Brick Lane.