Where Chennette visits London.
I traveled from Edinburgh to London by train. A trip that’s a little less than 5 hours and one I have taken only a couple times before. Whenever I tell people at home that I studied in Scotland, or the UK, if they haven’t been to Scotland, they tend to assume that it’s just like England. Hah. And that you must be gone to London plenty, man. How else you going to meet up the West Indians? I have to admit that during the time I studied in Scotland, I didn’t head down to England all that often. The couple times I did, I made sure to lug back my West Indian essentials, readily available in markets in East London – Golden Ray (“for that real creole flavour…” in my stewed chicken and pelau), saltfish, a couple bottles of Chubby (for when the homesickness was extreme), some more packs of pholourie mix (why make your own when Lion Brand did such a good job ?) and even a bottle of mauby (unfortunately this was a Bajan mix and had vanilla essence in it). But the truth is I enjoyed being in Scotland. And exploring parts of Scotland. Our kitchen took some trips in the beginning, just within Scotland, before conflicting schedules and interests took over (YES, the kitchen! The stove and sink had loads of fun in Glasgow and St Andrews, I swear!) and even after that I had little holidays in Inverness and in the Inner Hebrides that were perfect for relaxation and sightseeing. Just walking around Edinburgh was great – old city, with castles and old buildings, and parks and water, and golf courses. It’s Scotland.
But I am supposed to be talking about my visit to England…
My family friends live in East London, which is veritable haven for things from home. A Trini or West Indian in London doesn’t really have to fly in stuff from home. Seriously. I didn’t visit the market this time, because I was on holiday from the Caribbean and going right back in a week or so. I didn’t need to shop for life-saving essentials I was free to visit and tourist. What really impressed me though, was my hosts’ garden. A city garden with grapes, and potatoes and berries and tomatoes. Not forgetting the roses! They had so many tomatoes that they were able to make ketchup and give away. They even manage to grow shadon beni. Really impressive. I killed my chadon beni. And I have no idea what happened to the sweet basil…No green thumb here I suppose. Although it might help if I was actually here more to look after such things.
I really don’t know London that well, and this time I still only managed a couple actual days in the city, only one in Central London. But I managed to check things off my list (if I had one 😉 ) and of course enjoy some good food. Starting with a good Guyanese pepperpot for breakfast 😀 Yes. Pepperpot. That Amerindian Guyanese national dish of meat stewed with cassareep and spices, that can be heated up every day with additions of more meat, to provide days of food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. The matriarch of my host family is a Guyanese who married a Trini. Their daughters being Trini. So the pepperpot, happily, was free of the ahem other cow parts. So I enjoyed a rare heavy, spicy, meat dish for breakfast, before setting off for Central London.
It was not the greatest summer, this July in the UK, so I was thrilled that when we arrived in Green Park en route to Buckingham Palace it was bright and sunny. Yay. Green Park was filled with people, many taking advantage of the free lawn chairs to get some much needed and missed sunlight. We didn’t linger, as we were forewarned with a weather forecast that predicted rain after 1 pm, and we didn’t know whether we would catch the changing of the guard, not having checked the schedule. As we approached the gates of the park, however, we could hear drumming. And there were people packed around the gates of the Palace. So, something was going on. It was some kind of military band inside the Palace gates, people were marching and there was a group of VIPs watching.
I couldn’t see it at the time, but later on reviewing my photos, I realised one of the VIPs had a Jamaican flag! And doing some online checking, I discovered it was in fact the Jamaican Defence Force military band. (Think that’s a great coincidence? Well, if I’d stayed in Edinburgh until August, just a few days later, I’d have been able to see the Trinidad and Tobago Defence Force Steel Orchestra perform at the Military Tattoo at the Castle. All Festival long. Ah well, there will be another time.) But it was fun anyway, being outside the Buckingham Palace gates and watching the JDF band march past. It was a Saturday. And sunny, so it was packed with tourists. Especially noticeable were the many large student groups from all over. They usually had matching jackets, or bags, so you could spot them easily in a crowd. I got to take pictures in the bright sunlight of these crowds, of the Palace, of the statuary in front. And then of course, it started to rain.
The rain didn’t daunt our touristing, however. Good indoor plan? Head to the British Museum. Along with hundreds of other people who clearly had the same idea. It was a bit of a crush getting in. But once inside, it’s huge enough to swallow most of those people (until of course you get to the Rosetta Stone or something, which always had people 5 deep all around). The great hall or courtyard of the British Museum is reason enough to visit. The huge space and the design of the ceiling certainly makes an impact. And the exhibits, of course, are duly impressive. I didn’t make it to a great percentage of the rooms, but I managed to see a lot of Ancient Egypt. And slightly less ancient Egypt. And then a large room with Islamic exhibits. It was fascinating for me to see the Qibla pointer from the 16th century and realise that certain aspects of science and discovery have been around for a long long time. (The Qibla is the direction of the Ka’abah/Qa’aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia) Or to look at the progression and merging of artistic styles as people moved through different parts of the Arab and Asian worlds. The museum has many many other rooms and floors. And one day, perhaps when it’s a little less crowded, I shall return to explore more fully.
I ate a lot of homecooked food in London. But we did go out to dinner the night before I left to Pandoo’s Family Restaurant, which has been around for a little while in East London, but is now franchising and has a couple more branches. It’s a Muslim family style restaurant, which seems to be modeled after Nando’s, which specialises in peri-peri chicken (spicy grilled chicken) and a range of house specialty sauces, hot and/or flavourful. Pandoo’s has a similar menu, and a range of sauces, together with the self-serve dishes and cutlery and unlimited drink refills that are part of the modus operandi at Nando’s. Having had some Malaysian chefs, Pandoo’s also offers a fusion menu, with some Malaysian, Thai and Chinese dishes. We ordered a lot of food (I think partly so that I could taste the range, and partly so the returning-from-Uni daughter could have her favourites to take home) so I was able to taste the chicken, the chicken and veggie Thai-noodles (ah peanuts in noodles are heavenly), spring rolls, prawn toast, fried rice, chicken fingers, huge fried shrimp. The food was great, but I only ate a very little. When I see a lot of food in front of me, I get full from the sight. Plus, it was perhaps a bit too heavy on the fried stuff. Next time, I’d go for the noodles and chicken, or try out their green curry.
I was supposed to have tried to arrange a meetup with Trinifood in London, who promised a good lunch, but unfortunately my time was too short and it didn’t happen. My fault. It’ll happen soon.
Flickr set of London photos.
This is part of What I did on my Vacation (July 2007).
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