I’m going to start with a nod to Charles Dickens, because while our second day in London was not a tale of two cities it was certainly a tale of two vastly different experiences in completely disparate parts of London. Parts of our day were the best of times and other parts of it were the worst of times, or maybe it just seemed that way in the heat (and crowds) of the moment.
We started our day with a fantastic East End food tour with Eating Europe (London). We used the same company last year in Rome and think they provide an excellent product.
The East End of London is one of those areas that has changed dramatically in the last forty years. In the 70s it wasn’t the kind of place that would have appealed to American teenagers…it was filled with dockworkers, laborers, and large numbers of immigrants that had settled in the densely populated area. There was a lot of poverty and social unrest, and quite honestly I think we would have been terrified if we had left our cocoon and ventured over there.
Today, the East End is an area that has been regenerated and reimagined. Immigrants from around the globe still contribute to a rich and diverse ethnic culture. Artists have opened studios, and much of the formerly run-down housing has been renovated into flats. Large townhouses inhabited by master silk weavers in the 17-1800s have been lovingly and painstakingly restored and today are worth millions.
The next three pictures are of Fournier Street with the beautiful townhomes as they look today and as they looked before restoration started in the mid 1980s. I found the transformation of the area to be fascinating, so throughout this blog post I will include pictures of the area as it looked forty plus years ago when I lived there and never saw it!
We ate a light breakfast at the hotel, repacked the still useless Apple product in Jim’s backpack, and left the hotel with more than ample time to be early for our tour. Well, we would have had ample time if Miss “Just follow me I know what I’m doing on the Tube” hadn’t jumped on the wrong train and wound up in Circle & District line purgatory!😳 Yes, that’s right…despite Jim’s warnings I didn’t double check the destination on the train signage, and we wound up at High Street Kensington instead of headed towards Aldgate East.☺️
Confidence is fine, but a little double checking would have gone a long way that morning. Once at High Street Kensington we had about a 15 minute wait before we could get a train back to Earl’s Court, and then transfer to the correct train to be on our way. Fortunately we had allowed plenty of time, so while we weren’t the requested 15 minutes early we did make it to Old Spitalfields Market right at 10:00 and avoided the embarrassment of making the group wait.
Our awesome guide for the day was Flic (Felicity) Wentzel. She was a masterful storyteller and really enhanced our food stops with her knowledge of local history.
Soon after our (almost) late arrival we were off to our first stop, St. John Bread and Wine, for a delicious bacon sandwich. It was served with an interesting house-made ketchup…there was a lot of apple in it, which gave it a very different flavor than typical Heinz. I thought St. John had an interesting looking menu and I would have been happy to return if we had been back in the East End. Their breads alone would have made it worth the trip!
Next up was The English Restaurant, a traditional eatery where we had some wonderful Bread & Butter Pudding. The building has been in this location for many years, and was at one time a wholesale fruit and vegetable store, among other things. The owners used salvaged materials from nearby Christchurch when they created the restaurant’s interiors.
I found some interesting pictures of the same corner and street taken in the 1970s and 1980s. Compare those with my shots of the same locations today!
Bread and Butter Pudding originated as a way to use old, stale bread and not let food go to waste. It was once considered “Poor Man’s Pudding” in England because it was a popular dish among the lower classes. Today it is enjoyed in many countries and is even served in upscale restaurants!
Our third stop took us back into Old Spitalfields Market, where we sampled some cheeses at the Androuet Cheese shop.
There has been a market in this location since 1638, when King Charles gave license for “flesh, fowl, and roots” to be sold on Spittle Fields. The current buildings were constructed in 1887 and refurbished in 2005. Today, the market houses vendors selling crafts, art, vintage clothing, jewelry, and gourmet food.
Despite the fact that we were already full, the tour moved on to Poppies Fish and Chips. Pat “Pop” Newland got started in the Fish & Chips business at age 11, and after 50 years fulfilled a lifelong dream of owning his own shop. Poppies is now a small and very successful chain, but the flagship restaurant we visited was the first, located in the East End where Pop was born and raised. The restaurant is decorated with Cockney rhyming slang sayings…it was fun trying to figure out what they meant!
Fortunately, we did quite a bit of walking and touring the area between stops. We saw the beautifully refurbished townhomes on Fournier Street that were once owned by master silk weavers.
I loved the door knockers and shutter hardware on these homes!
We learned the origin of the saying “on tenterhooks” — it comes from the practice of placing woven cloth on large frames and securing it with tenter hooks so it wouldn’t lose its shape. The open area of the tenter grounds was built on many years ago, but is remembered in the street name.
We saw the Crispin Street Night Shelter that was once filled to capacity each night (now student housing), the streets where Jack the Ripper stalked his prostitute victims, and the Jewish Soup Kitchen that served as a central meeting place for the East End’s large Jewish population until 1992, when it closed after 140 years.
Henry VIII set up an artillery ground in Spitalfields to give local men a place to practice their longbow, crossbow and handgun skills. Although the ground moved in the 1650s, it is still remembered in many local street names, including Artillery Lane and Gun Street.
More interesting sights in the Spitalfields area…
4 Princelet Street is a beautifully restored Georgian mansion with a deceptive exterior. The door is frequently used in films. The interior is available for elegant events. You never know what’s hiding behind a door!
This house had a Fire Insurance Plaque — this medallion would have identified the building as insured in the days when each insurance company had their own fire brigade.
We still needed a food break after our walk and our fish & chips, so we sampled English beer and cider at the Pride of Spitalfields pub.
After we left the pub we walked down Brick Lane, which is a smorgasbord of the many cultures represented by its residents and features many examples of the street art the East End is becoming known for.
I’m not quite sure of the meaning of this sign. It seems to be as much about a man in a thong as it is about traffic directions!
At one time the area was predominantly Jewish and Irish, but is now home to a large Bangladeshi population, leading to many referring to the area as Banglatown. The streets were crowded with people from all age groups and walks of life enjoying the beautiful day.
The area is well known for two foods…curry and bagels (or beigels as they’re known over there), and we had great tastes of both of them!
Aladin has been recognized as one of the best curry restaurants in London, and it was there that we tasted three curries…hot, hotter, and hottest! I sampled all three, but I’m really not a curry fan and for the most part they were too hot for me!
Not too far down Brick Lane is Beigel Bake, where we were treated to salt beef (similar to corned beef) on a soft beigel with a gherkin and spicy English mustard. They were delicious, but believe it or not I could only manage a small bite because I was so full!
Our final stop took us to a trendy and popular East End restaurant in Shoreditch — Pizza East. Thankfully, it was about a 15 minute walk…we needed it!
We were served tea and a salted caramel tart, which was so good I temporarily overlooked how full I was and got even more full! Pizza East had a great looking menu and was another restaurant I would happily return to.
Here’s where things went south…Our tour ended about 2:30, and we decided to go back to the Apple Store in Covent Garden to get a battery for Jim’s phone. We made pretty good time getting there and arrived to find they were closed for renovations!😳 Discouraged but determined, we jumped back on the Tube to go to the Apple Store on Regent Street.
It was a good thing we had Oyster cards. We spent a good part of the day on the Tube!
We got there with no problem, but our determination finally became resignation that Jim would be without a phone for the rest of the trip. The wait for an appointment was at least two & a half hours, and with no guarantee of them being able to help we gave up.
P.S. and bit of a PSA about Jim’s phone…he took it to the Apple Store here the day after we got home, and it was completely dead. There wasn’t even a hint of power, and it couldn’t be resurrected.
We’ll never know for sure what happened, but we have our suspicions. It got very hot in the immigration line at Heathrow, and we both plugged in little fans that operate off our phones. Mine (a different brand) worked fine (and still does), but Jim’s kept trying to get going and then quit. We now think the fan was defective and somehow shorted something out. At any rate, that ended up being a very expensive $4.99 fan! I see the offending fans are no longer available on Amazon’s website. Maybe Jim’s wasn’t the only phone that got ruined.😢
So…back to London. By this time it was about 4:00. We were meeting friends at 6:00 near Piccadilly Circus and didn’t want to go back to Earl’s Court, so we were up in the air about what to do. I would have been content to shop on Regent Street, but it was very crowded and I knew that was probably more than Jim could bear. In hindsight, it might have been the smarter move. Instead, I decided we should go to Selfridge’s!😂 My 40+ year memory told me it was a short walk, but my aching feet by the time we got there told me otherwise! We meandered around Selfridge’s for a little while, but honestly at that point we were both hot, tired, and only wanted to sit and relax for a while. Thankfully we found a wine bar in Selfridge’s and were more than happy to do NOTHING for about 30 minutes.
These wine bar pictures are from the Selfridge’s website:
We headed back to Piccadilly Circus about 5:00. I couldn’t face the long walk back down Oxford Street, so we took the Tube one stop🙄 and walked from there. We enjoyed walking down Carnaby Street. It’s still teeming with people, but it’s a lot less Boho than it was in 1976!
We met our friends Deedee and Chip at the Queen’s Head pub for dinner. The bar was packed because of all the people watching England’s World Cup match, but upstairs in the restaurant it was peaceful and calm. We enjoyed traditional pub food, relaxed, and discussed our cruise plans.
Steak and Trooper Ale Pie at The Queen’s Head Pub:
We had thought about pub hopping after dinner, but reality caught up with us. Jim and I had been eating and walking all day and we were tired (and full!). Deedee and Chip had just arrived that morning and they were tired. All the pubs were packed with sports fans cheering for their country. We settled on a nice night cap at the French House, a walk past some of the West End theaters and through Chinatown, then headed back to Earl’s Court for some sleep. As had happened the night before, the sky said daytime but our bodies said night! We had another busy day planned for Friday, so getting to bed early wasn’t a bad thing!
No thanks…my legs were way too tired for that many stairs!