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Visiting London, eating Italian

LONDON– But are we really in England? When did London go back to being a Roman outpost again? True, I do gravitate to all things Italian, but that’s lucky for me because it would be tricky trying to avoid Life Italian Style in London today. We have many totally Italian tales from Italy but are going to do a couple Italian in England tales on the way. Bear with me? It all makes sense at some point.

It started the minute the car dropped us at our apartment near Marble Arch. (more about Globe Apts in another blog at a later date. Great cheap excellent way to stay in London). We took the aces day flight Boston – London which was almost empty. But yet as soon as the plane lifted off I saw a concerned dad standing in the row ahead of me holding a pristine, unused airsick bag. Holding it with that aw shoooot. . . tooo late look on his face. That blurr going by? Me. Headed as far away from baby Vesuvius as I could get. Stretched out over yet another five seats across, I drifted off to nap time thinking of the joys of travel with children. Luckily for us, we are traveling to visit adult children rather than traveling with and cleaning up after cute baby children. Yes, the Wiley Traveler is all grown up and living in London for the next year or two. Getting her masters in film direction. She needs us once in a great while so she says she’s actually only two thirds grown up. Regardless, she’s a great excuse to come and visit London and once we’re that far we really might as well drop in on Umbria, right? Hung for a sheep, hung for a lamb.

So there we are. Getting off that lazy flight and thinking happy dinner time thoughts. But by the time we got to our apt we were closing in on full on hunger alert and it was starting to get on the late side of dinner time even for a big city like London. We threw our bags in the apt and shot out to the nearest pub. Too late for pub grub. People throwing back pints at the rail were British from the accent, but all the tables we walked by inside and out were full of people speaking Italian. Stepping out of the pub and glancing around like hungry wolves we see a sign of life across the intersection LOOK LEFT oh good an Italian restaurant. And it is open. They kind of look at their watch and say sure, sit. They clearly are going to feed us as their last customers of the day. And we ate like ravenous kings while listening to Italian musak between snatches of Italian conversation happening all around us. Then off to lovely sleep perchance to dream.


Leonardo and Tuscan Interiors
Hey, its morning already. Lets do something totally British. Lets take the tube to South Kensington and go to the Victoria&Albert, OK? Two shows, no waiting. Choices, choices. Shall we see their show about that famous Italian Leonardo or should we see their At Home in Renaissance Italy show? We’d spent all morning at de Gournays looking at wallpapers for a renovation we’re way into so I guess we will pick “Interiors For 400”, Alex. We may do more on de Gournays at some point. For someone with an artistic bent and a new house to redo, this was a very Kid in Candy Store moment.

Finally, that night we did something non-Italian. The Wiley Traveler has scored us tickets to Wicked the musical pre-quel to the Wizard of Oz. If you get a chance – GO. We got last minute tickets and were almost in the last row and it still swept us away like a Kansas twister.

Apuglian PastryThe next thing we knew it was morning yet again. Isn’t that funny/tragic how fast that rolls around when you have your clock set on Goof Off? Well, it was certainly morning. And you know what that means. Find cappuccino. Find now. We stood on our corner and looked left and looked right and Wait a minute what is that? Another bit of Italy dropped right on our doorstep. A ‘Puglian Pastry Place. Full of Puglians no less. And Pastries. Oh, and what pastries they were. Frutti di Bosco tortes sitting behind glass screaming “Pick Me”, “No! Pick ME!”

Isn’t Bosco a funny word for “The Woods”? When I think of a food and the word Bosco, I can’t help think of the funny kids add-it-to-milk-and-stir kind of drink. Wasn’t that an ad icon on Saturday morning cartoons? But Funny name or not, Frutti di Bosco is a wonderment. I want that on pannacotta – when Stefi makes it at Masolino’s in Panicale. And when I can get it on a tasty looking torte sign me up. Like here at La Masseria. Tiny, tart wild berries in red and blue on the lightest pastry almost floated off my fork. Come back here, you pastry you. Nope. All gone. Again with the Italian music in the air and the staff all chattering away in Italian. I swear, these days in London, if you see someone coming at you on the street talking at the top of their lungs and gesturing madly to someone on their cell phone just assume it is another Italian headed off to yet another Italian coffee or food shop. They are everywhere. Case in point.


The Wiley Traveler and her Daniel have the nicest apt in Golders Green. The town is just out of central London but their apt is pure civilization as it is over an ATM, next to a very quiet very convenient train station and from their bay window you can see not one, not two, but three big cappuccino dispensers in the form of Starbucks, Costa, and Café Nero.

totally Italian, really Italian Piazza Express
Side benefit of owning a house in Italy: People COVETwantDESIRE MADLY what you have. And are willing to trade big for it when you are not using it. There are people we’ve found listed in an International house exchange who live in Wiley’s town. They want to trade. In fact, when we call they can’t show us their house as they are in Chianti. We may just consider doing a trade sometime. We’ve done that in the past with a house in the US and it worked swell. Charming town Wiley lives in: Golders Green. (You saw the bit about the number of cappuccino places.) Most of the stores in town are kosher and many people on the streets are the formally dressed in black hats, beards, prayer shawls etc. And yet. There is a Pizza Express. Ubiquitous in London, like Macs in Moline. They aren’t too bad and they are quick and once again we are starved. And even here in the burbs and in a pretty much kosher burb, in a chain pizza joint, the waiters and their friends are all hanging out, folding napkins and nattering away in fast paced Italian. You can run but you can not hide from Italians in London these days.

Daniels Family in Holiday Mode in Harold Wood outside LondonLONDON TIMES

Except maybe at Daniel’s family party in Harold Wood. What happened to the Great British stereotype we are wondering over food, fun and chatter. Where is the famous reserve, the stiff upper lip business? They even challenge Italians to a bit of a contest with hugs and kisses and singing and carrying on and just having a fine time and making darn sure you are having one too. We are so not in Kansas, Dorothy.

Travel tip. Do not assume because 80 year old grandpa George is here filling a glass with whiskey and water and downing it with great regularity that you can do the same. Or accept a beer every time you are generously offered one. We are rank sissy amateurs thrown to the lions here. These are pros. Do not attempt to go where they go.


A scene I’m glad to replay in my mind is the Grandpa and the Spilled Whiskey Moment. He’s neat as a pin, ramrod straight. Was in the service and you can tell. He carefully set his fifth? fifteenth? fiftieth? whiskey & water down next to his chair and someone walking by knocked it over for him. A number of people went Oh, too bad, bad luck that George. And put a new drink in his hand. And a new smile on his face. Then. And this sequence of things is what is important. Then, and only then, did anyone sort out the spill on the carpet. Jolly good. Lesson learned. Life is all about priorities.

non smoking children welcome in London restaurantAND THE SUNDAY TIMES

And yes, yes, yes, ok, we did have a classic Sunday lunch in a pub. Was it the one with the No Smoking Children’s section or was that from the place we went after the play? Regardless, we spent a lot of time in this beyond classic, dark wood, etched glass pub called the Holly Bush in Camden Town.

This is a long-time Wiley Traveler Favorite Pick from her undergrad days. We’ve eaten there with her in the past and will look for any excuse to do so in the future. It was packed to the gills, we got a bit of nook big enough for one tiny table and we sat and sometimes talked and sometimes kept reading the Sunday London Times and watched the show around us. RobertoVision at the Holly Bush in LondonA Roberto Beninni type was behind me with three, count’em three, girls. One had her arm lolled around his shoulders giving him a happy Isn’t This Fun? squeeze every now and then, but when she would go off for more cigarettes or to “the loo” one of her mates (that blonde ponytailed one) would ever so casually slide her hand into the back pocket of Roberto’s stone washed jeans. And just sort of leave it there till her girl friend would show back up. He’d never bat and eye. And of course, neither did we. There was a mirror over our table and so his act was Must See TV for me. I’d read the paper and glance up and get a bit of RobertoVision and read some more. It was swell watching Roberto smoke and talk and talk and smoke and get hugged and patted, and patted some more, his every word producing tickled responses from all three of his adoring crew. They all needed to get a room already. But they settled for our table when we left.

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