Jaunt through London to learn about Germany

Our buddy Residentonearth suggested a weekend in London to hit the British Museum’s excellent exhibit “Germany: memories of a nation” before it closes out. We’re glad she had the idea!1 Continue reading Jaunt through London to learn about Germany

  1. She also spotted this photo op. Look at her gorgeous flickr photo stream, too. []

Balham B&B

The Joint

28 Old Devonshire Road
Balham
London
SW12 9RB

http://www.balhambandb.co.uk
Tel.: +44 20 8673 7179
Mobile: +44 7941 960 199
Fax: +44 20 8675 8058
Email: georgina@balhambandb.co.uk

Cliff

Loved it! We visited at a rather dreary time of year, but it was easy to see how lovely it would be to stay there in the late Spring. Georgina, your hostess, is the traveling gardner’s dream B&B proprietor, with her own garden at the house and a wealth of information to share about garden tours and events in and around London.

Each morning we had a scrumptious breakfast while chatting with Georgina about our options for the day. The breakfast highlight for me was the crumpet — perfectly done with homemade fruit preserves as a special treat after the eggs and bran flakes. What a great way to fuel up for tromping around London!

I was a bit dismayed at first at the distance from Balham to the city centre, but we quickly realized there are lots of options. Balham station is a tube stop as well as a national rail stop and if you’re flying in from Gatwick for a stay at the Balham B&B don’t take the Gatwick Express: you’ll overshoot the stop and have to backtrack quite a bit.

The Balham and Tooting area lends itself to walking around at night. I enjoyed the halal markets and cafés and restaurants in the area very much. It was a side of London I had not seen before, having only stayed in closer to the big city, and I’m glad I got to see it.

Sarah

We planned this trip with somewhat less lead time than is usual for us. Because places we’ve stayed in London have varied wildly with regard to quality, and because staying in London is usually an expensive proposition, I was looking all over the place for accommodation possibilites. Enter guardian.co.uk, the website for UK newspaper the Guardian. I don’t use this as a resource very often, but when looking for England-specific information, their travel information is pretty good. As luck would have it, there was an article touting London’s best B&Bs right there on their travel page. After sifting through all of the options and whittling them down according to pricing and vacancies, we ended up with the Balham B&B and our hostess, Georgina.

This is easily the best place we’ve ever stayed in London. Balham is a southern neighborhood of London, between the larger neighborhoods of Clapham and Tooting. The B&B is about equidistant between the Balham and Clapham South stations on the Northern line and is in a lovely row house, right off of the main drag. Georgina was a wealth of information about Balham and various cultural offerings throughout the city (museum and gallery exhibitions, music performances, botanical gardens, etc.). And she serves an absolutely wonderful breakfast with eggs, streaky bacon, yogurt, cereal, fruit – you name it, she’s got it. The guest room is large and comfortable, with a dresser and two closets and plenty of room to stash your suitcases. The guest bathroom was also roomy, stocked with fluffy towels, robes and slippers, plus an assortment of organic soaps, shampoos and lotions for our use.

One special note about the guest bed: this has got to be one of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever experienced in a hotel, vacation apartment or B&B. I am looking forward to going back to London at our earliest convenience just to sleep in that bed again. Some more.

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Five Places for Lunch in Two Capitals

London

A couple weekends ago, we did a B&B stay in London at a perfectly lovely flat in Balham — more on that later. One of the joys of a trip to the United Kingdom for us is a visit — or many — to Marks & Spencer for a fast, simple, comparatively cheap, and possibly even healthy (or at least not obviously BAD for us) lunch on the go. They’re located all over the United Kingdom. It seems like about the time we’re getting hungry, but are on our way to some other exhibit, show, or shopping area with not a lot time to eat, an M&S comes into view just at the end of the block. Big thanks to our pal and travel buddy Monet for this tip. Previously, we only knew Marks & Spencer as a department store and purveyor of fine barnyard animal shaped gummy candies.

Marks & Spencer Simply Food is a great thing if you’re in the mood to snag a bench and eat outside. It’s ostensibly “just” a grocery store, but the things they have in there appear to be very good quality, whether ready-to-eat or requiring a little oven work to make them edible. If you’re renting an apartment with an oven included, M&S Simply Food can be your best bet for not-eating-out meals. For the ready-to-eat, single-serving stuff, I recommend Hoisin Duck and greens wrapped up in a tortilla, a bottle of freshly squeezed orange/mango juice, and a little pudding cup. But that wasn’t our exclusive choice for lunch in England.

We also tried Dish Dash, at our B&B hostess’ recommendation, just up the road a short walk. It’s a Persian (is that politically correct outside the realm of cats and rugs?) restaurant with lots of items to mix and match, differing portion sizes, and plenty of vegetarian options. I had the Khoresh Ghomesabzi, a generous bowl of thin lamb stew with fresh parsely, coriander and chives, a side of rice (works great IN the stew) and a side of tabbouleh. Sarah had Joojeh Kebab, a skewer of lemon, garlic, and yogurt-marinated chicken with a side of crispy spicy potatoes. Very tasty food in a comfortable atmosphere. They looked well-equipped for large parties, too.

For sheer variety of offering, try the Borough Market at lunch. Individual hawkers of meats, cheeses, sandwiches, pies, burgers, sausages, breads, falafel, curries, Greek stuff…the list goes on and on. It’s popular at lunch, and with good reason. Plan lots of extra minutes to tour the whole area and make (mental) notes about the stalls warranting a second look. We ordered some lovely pies from pieminister and followed up with a falafel from Arabica Food & Spice.

Berlin

Cabin 2We took a night train from Munich to Berlin on Wednesday night. We’d done this once before, years to the week ago with friends visiting from California. Back then, we’d chosen sleeper berths for the four of us, but they weren’t in a compartment. Rather, they more more like individual pods built into the sides of the train car, with an aisle running down the middle, and I recall zipping up a side wall to isolate myself from passers-by or ambient light. This time was a completely different configuration, however: one side of the train car had the aisle along the edge and the the other was marked with two staircases — one down, one up — each leading to two tiny twin bunk berths. You can see there that I’m standing in the only spot in the “room” where one person could conceivably stand. If you don’t happen to have a close, personal relationship with your bunkmate, you will pretty quickly.

Dolores Burrito FairyAfter we got settled in Berlin, Sarah met up with Yelli the next day for coffee while I was working a little. Eventually I joined them and she gave us a choice of Dolores or …something else. It doesn’t matter. Dolores was the right choice. Big, flavorful burritos with plenty of variety and not skimpy on the extras essentials like sour cream and shredded Monterrey Jack (!!!) cheese. Be prepared for a wait at lunch time; every hipster in Berlin knows about Dolores, too.

Sunday brunch at Café do Brasil was the final stop on our three-continent culinary tour through London and Berlin. This was another suggestion from Yelli & Co. and I am thankful for it. It certainly was eclectic: standard German buffet things like salami and cheese and yogurt, sure, but also fresh pineapple, shrimp on skewers, deep-fried crab legs, eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions, breakfast sausage, beef stew over rice and barbecued chicken wings — oh, the chicken wings. All this, plus a bottomless cup of coffee (pretty unheard of in German buffet settings, since the coffee is almost never included). We paid just over €40 for a feast for 4 adults plus one kiddo (pretty sure the youngest didn’t even make it onto the bill, but really, I’m not sure the kiddo did either). Take the U7 to Mehringdamm and walk about 2 blocks. Just make sure you’ve got a reservation well in advance or are there on Sunday morning before they open at eleven o’clock to snag a table; otherwise you’re probably out of luck.

Whew, we’re back

Wow, that was a long trip. We flew from Munich to Hamburg, spent three days there, flew from Hamburg to London, spent three days there, and took a train from London to Whitstable, where we … (can you guess?) also spent three days.

We are back safe and sound after a marathon travel day starting around 3am this morning. Pictures are posted here.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip and we managed to squeeze quite a bit of mileage out of our Euros, despite the lousy exchange rate against the Pound. Details on the places we visited and stayed are forthcoming in a new project we’re going to start working on. Stay tuned…

Easy Hotel Lexham Gardens

The Joint

14 Lexham Gardens
Kensington
London
W8 5JE
United Kingdom

http://www.easyhotel.co.uk/

Cliff

I couldn’t believe the room. I don’t think I read this FAQ before we got there (I bet Sarah did, though — she’s good like that). We were exhausted, so after the marvel of the dimensions wore off, we drifted off quickly. Definitely not for the claustrophobic. Still, it was cheap, and we needed sleep. And we heard not a peep (ok, sorry, couldn’t resist).

EasyHotel Room merely the curtain separates this shower from the john

Sarah

A fun concept, but only good in practice if you’re using the hotel solely as a place to sleep, clean up and lock up your stuff. This was the last night for us in England and we only needed to stay in London to get to Gatwick early in the morning – so it was perfect for us! You can get a room with a window, but it costs a little more. The bathroom was the smallest I’ve seen in Europe, but it’s so well arranged that it doesn’t seem so tiny (despite it saying so on the door). Very clean, pretty darn cheap and centrally located. And for how shockingly expensive London is, that’s high praise.

Azzuro

The Joint

145-146 Sutton Walk, Waterloo,
London, SE1 7ND
phone: +44 08713325332

Cliff

After walking around all day on our last full day in London and checking out the Salvador Dalí museum, Sarah wanted to find yet another Indian restaurant, but I just wanted to eat and we happened upon Azzuro. I was pleased with the carbonara pasta I had. It was a nice way to round out our trip to London.

Sarah

Nice little place. Right in the middle of a museum/business district, so I bet they do huge lunch business. Good pasta, good price. I was most excited to sit down and drink something!

Masala Zone

The Joint

147 Earls Court Rd
London SW5 9RQ
phone: +44 20 7359 3399

Cliff

I had the Lamb Coromandel — coconut milk, fennel, and red chilies provided most of the flavors. It was simply great. It came with mushroom rice and had fresh cilantro in the sauce. I’ve been craving fresh cilantro pretty much ever since we moved away from the U.S. It was labeled as “quite spicy” or similar in the menu, and they weren’t kidding. It was pleasantly hot.

Sarah

I had the Chicken Madras noodle bowl with Udon noodles, tandoori roasted chicken, lettuce of some sort, fried onions, green onions, white onions, red chilies, bean sprouts, red and green peppers and a heavenly sauce.

Shalimar Garden

The Joint

42-44 Gloucester Terrace
Paddington, London W2 3DA

http://www.shalimargarden.com

Cliff

I had Goa Chicken and pilau rice, and we split an order Sag Aloo. This little bitty place was not even really visible from the street — you can see the sign for it coming from the Paddington tube station, but you enter the restaurant after descending an external staircase. It was small and seemed almost hastily put together. But maybe that made the food all the more delightful. This was my 2nd favorite Indian restaurant in London.

Sarah

This place was a little treat. Like Cliff said, not impressive looking, but the food was pretty tasty. And it was on the walk from the tube station to our crappy hotel. So points for convenience.

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London House, Apartments Apart

The Joint

13 Craven Hill
London W2 3
U.K.

http://www.apartmentsapart.com/Europe/UK/London/Apartments/Detail/495

Cliff

We had a great time wtih Apartments Apart in Berlin in 2004 at a one-bedroom apartment set up for 4 guests. I was a little disappointed with the London House studio apartment – the results were better in Berlin. I was expecting a stove in our kitchenette, and the lack of one made cooking there impossible (we’d been hoping to cook a few meals in the apartment to save on restaurant expenses).

Note to self: get a clear definition of nebulous terms like “kitchenette” and “shower” (tub with a curtain? shower cabin? tub with a hose?) before you book. In this case, we got the shower all squared away before booking, but neglected to consider what might be considered a “kitchenette.” Got a little miffed about that.

Other than that, the room was a great deal and well-situated for our purposes.

Sarah

This company frustrates me. As Cliff stated, our experience with them in Berlin was outstanding – beautiful, in an interesting neighborhood and generously sized and appointed – a great value for four people. This place is something else entirely. Part hostel, part boarding house and part dumpy hotel. The desk staff was nice, but the room itself felt more like a cell. Ugly carpet, threadbare and coming up in one corner, tiny shower cabin with crappy water pressure and a small refrigerator, sink and microwave glorified into a “kitchenette.”

The location is in a very nice, quiet, safe-feeling neighborhood. It’s very close (10 minute walk) to a central tube station. That just made the condition of the accommodation all the more disappointing.

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