When we heard (from our favorite private chef) that Wu’s Wonton King is the place professional chefs eat, we were there! We found it on an unglamorous corner in Chinatown/the Lower East Side on East Broadway and were not disappointed, although we probably should have asked what the house speciality, fried crab, cost ($84) before ordering it. Then again, if we had asked, we wouldn’t have ordered it and it was delicious. This will sound familiar to members of the $317 Club. (Inside joke explanation: years ago we got a surprise dinner bill of $317 after eating with friends at another Chinatown restaurant post-Thanksgiving.)
Our other entrees were in the $18 ballpark (which suddenly seemed like a bargain) and also excellent including the #1 wonton soup, stir fried chicken with veg, and pork dumplings. All very fresh, quality ingredients and well seasoned.
On to LaGuardia where we were delighted (not something I’ve ever written about LaGuardia) by the spanking new terminal C, all white walls, wide white corridors, clean modern design, appealing restaurants. And our delta flights were on what felt like new planes with well-upholstered seats and screens to watch TV and movies.
Several airport and flight procedures have changed since I last traveled overseas, pre-pandemic, in 2019. (Fortunately there are no longer Covid protocols , for now at least. ) Here’s a few I noticed as a US citizen during our recent trip to London:
No more entry stamp in our US Passport for the UK: sadly, this is no more, thanks to today’s person-less immigration procedure (aka automatic epassport) involves interacting with a computerized machine, not a human. I don’t miss the sometimes hostile questions from the old human immigration officers, (how long you’re staying? when you are leaving?) But I still find it spooky to have to stand in front of a facial recognition machine, bleary-eyed after a long flight, to check while scanning my passport atop a screen — to check my identity by making sure my face matches my passport. Fingerprinting is also spooky…I watched some people, presumably not American citizens, doing this when entering the US.
No more paper forms to fill out before (or after) landing: this includes the once-standard form for entering the UK, which required you to give the address where you are staying during your visit. Upon returning to the US, we actually conversed with an immigration officer in a booth who took our photos, looked at our passports and gave us a form to declare our purchases for customs, if need be. (No need.) In the past you needed to fill out a customs form and do so in the plane. Bn
Older, less perfect-looking or polished flight attendants – Not that there is anything wrong with this but our flight attendants this trip appeared to be in their 50s or 60s, and dressed more casually. One female attendant was full of good humor; another looked downright unhappy, like she hated her job…Or maybe passengers.
More passengers with carry-on luggage, although still plenty of overhead compartment space – We gave up a rare chance to check our bags free of charge and instead lugged our suitcases onto the plane in order to avoid our bags being lost amidst other checked luggage and/or to shorten our journey out of the airport.
On a foggy morning that later cleared, we took a scenic river ferry (and pricey ride: about 11 pounds, using our Oyster card) in southwest London from the pier in Putney to Battersea Power Station, a towering brick Art Deco landmark that operated from 1933 to 1983, powering buildings including Buckingham Palace and Parliament. It was once known as “the Cathedral of Power” due to it enormity. St. Paul’s would fit comfortably within its footprint, one of the many helpful signs around the revived station informed us.
The station has recently been reborn, after decades of inertia, as the dominant feature (and main draw) of a new 42-acre tourist destination. It was fun to walk inside the station, admiring the original industrial structure, but I soon realized we were, in essence, inside a glitzy shopping mall with chain stores and restaurants (Ralph Lauren, Tag, Lacoste) often found elsewhere, including Chicago. Many are high-end, although there is a Uniqlo, Swatch and Pret. And some of the restaurants have cool designs, reminding me of Las Vegas offerings.
So one visit may be enough, although we might return when the new glass lift that goes up 109 meters through one of the four (rebuilt) circular chimneys opens. We were a day early for the opening of “Lift 109,” which promises great 360 degree views and should, given the cost (about 12 pounds). Some of the development’s future offerings, scheduled to open in 2023, including a food hall, might also make it more interesting. A seasonal riverside ice skating rinkmall Ferris wheel (“vintage funfair ride”) and outdoor sculpture add things to do and see.
The power station/mall is surrounded by huge new glass and steel luxury housing developments, adding a certain soullessness, compared to the edgy industrial-chic charm of the Tate Modern, another converted power station further east on The Thames, which is home to a fantastic art museum (rather than ritzy shops), plus surrounded by a mix of buildings, new/sleek/striking and old/gritty/full of character.
There is one gem near the Battersea Power Station — lovely Battersea Park, with its river views, small ponds with graceful trees and colorful gardens. We found a surprisingly good charcuterie board at what looked like a workers cafe near a put-put golf course.
Walking over the Albert Bridge, we landed on ChelseaEmbankment, including posh Cheyne Walk, home at one time or another to many famous people (Keith Richards, Catherine Middleton George Elliot, Bob Marley, Margaret Thatcher….) as a helpful, detailed map in pretty little Ropers Orchard Garden reminded us.
The Kings Road was even posher than I remembered. We found a tower of classic American canned and boxed foods (Nestle’s Chocolate Chips, Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, canned cranberry sauce, Stovetop Stuffing) on display for Thanksgiving shoppers at Partridge’s, the famous English fancy food shop. (I used to have to search far and wide for chocolate chips in London during the early 1980’s.)
Back in Mortlake, we had drinks at the cozy Hare and Hounds pub in East Sheen, followed by takeaway fish and chips, so I could check off another food item on my to-eat list. Next trip: cream tea at the Petersham Hotel in Richmond Park.
Usually when in London, we spend quality time with our English friends. This trip we’ve gotten to do that again but also reconnected with a surprisingly number of American friends who are living here, as students or journalists.
Today we had a wonderful long overdue get together with friends from a paper I worked at in Connecticut during the mid-1980s. We probably hadn’t seen each other in 33 years. We spent the afternoon wandering around Hampstead, where they live, especially the Heath and 18th century village, with its narrow winding lanes dotted with cafes, posh shops and pretty homes (including Boy George’s). Lunch was excellent on the patio at Burgh House, off the Heath…toasted sandwiches with mature cheddar and sausage, robust soup, hearty quiche.
Tonight was delicious paella at The Tapestry, which we learned harkens back to Mortlake’s famous 17th century tapestry makers, whose handiwork can be seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum
The 11th century castle at Ludlow is spectacular, surrounded by stone walls, and almost intact in a few places with a circular tower you can walk up (only 50-some steps, one quarter of the number at the Ludlow church) for some fantastic views of the town and rolling green countryside with sheep dotting pastures.
As part of our sentimental journey/tour of charming country homes, Jemima drove us along narrow curvy roads lined with hedges to Presteigne, on the welsh border, where we dropped by her family’s former ancestral home that is now a public property showcasing artwork by Sidney Nolan. I visited what was known as The Rodd and the nearby Little Rodd about 40 years ago when it was a private home in Mima’s family. Still spectacular.
On the way back to Ludlow, we stopped briefly in the “black and white town” of Pembridge (so called due to its abundance of white stucco with black timber framed buildings) and then onto an enormous old farmhouse mansion in Herefordshire (near Shropshire) where my friend’s sister lives. Dinner was back in Ludlow at CSons, overlooking the river.
Before leaving town today, we loaded up on sandwiches and florentines at Watsons, the bakery in town (there was a line out the door) and then took one last walk through town, past the market and castle , down to the river and then back to Ludford and the bridge leading into Ludlow.
We drove a scenic hour west of Ludlow to Presteigne and soon after entered Wales, where at first I couldn’t detect much difference between Wales and England except of course for the signs in unfathomable and unpronounceable (for yanks) Welsh. In another half hour we landed in the Elan Valley, outside the town of Rhayader. Elan Valley is famous for its dramatic dams that supply the water to the big English city of Birmingham. The scenery is also spectacular, a bit like Scotland, with mountains towering above the water, clad in vegetation in full autumnal glory, which here means browns, yellows, oranges (not red).
We started at the visitors center with sausage and bacon Baps (sandwiches), apple juice and tea, then browsed through the Wales-made goods in the gift shop, Then we ventured into the drizzle, which fortunately proved off and on, with dramatic bursts of sun that lit up patches of the mountains in the distance. We spotted at least three rainbows. Glorious.
In Rhayader, which bills itself as the outdoors capital of Wales, we stopped for a drink at the pub and then drove for dinner at the cool house of Jemima’s brother Francis, in Presteigne, where the England/Wales border runs though his back garden.
An agronomist who knows his seeds (and sells them), Francis and Dirck had lots to talk about. Francis has an interesting stone and wood cottage that used to be an old mill. The millstone and gears remains in the house, between the between the kitchen and dining room.
How lucky to have a friend from London who moved to Ludlow, a beautiful medieval 11th century town, in the Midlands, just east of Wales in Shropshire. And where else would you find an ancient parish church, St. Laurence’s, with a 201-step circular tower that leads up to the top, with spectacular views of the town’s castle…and that has a cafe inside with vicars trained as baristas? Also a very nice gift shop, as well as stunning stained glass windows. (More on the famous castle to come…)
Lots to see and good shopping, with an outdoor market on Thursday with local cheese (Cheshire!), bread and sausage. Among the lovely shops, a butcher (a favorite of Jemima’s sweet pup Winston), the Index bindery with gorgeous leather and marbled paper found books, and the Silver Pear. Amidst the medieval timbered buildings (some with 18th century Georgian brick and stucco front), are some lovely pubs. I finally found a ploughman’s lunch at The Blue Boar pub, as well as an excellent sausage plate, with three sausages, fried eggs chips and peas. We also enjoyed drinks at another pub, the Wheatsheaf inn.
Beautiful narrow lanes with cobble stone and brick pavement are lined with pretty cottages and the occasional shop. We walked across an old stone bridge to the neighboring village of Ludford, with its smaller, beautiful church, graveyard and several timbered homes, then along the river which was rushing with water (no otters sighted yet but they’re in there!) Jemima tells me Lud means water and ford means crossing and lowe” means “sound” in old English.
Today, met old friends in London at Camden Town contemporary apartment with fantastic views of Primrose Hill and Hampstead, in one direction, and downtown London in another, including St. Paul’s Cathedral and the BT Tower (which looks like something out of the Jetsons).
We stopped before lunch briefly in Camden market which was hopping on Sunday midday, full of people browsing in stalls filled with t-shirts, jewelry, jean jackets, junk…not as nice stuff as at Spitalfields but a much livelier, edgier scene. We picked up some delicious treats, fondly remembered from our trip to Lisbon years ago: Pastel de nata, a Portuguese egg custard tart pastry, dusted with cinnamon.
After an incredible lunch (how lucky to have friends who are such good cooks and generous hosts..last night another friend treated us to an elaborate dinner at her house in Mortlake) we took a walk through Regents Park as the sun was going down (early…at 4:30) and then took the 27 bus to Hammersmith, so I could do one thing always on my London list: ride in the front seat of a double decker bus. It never gets old! Thanks to our London pals for being such good sports in coming with and indulging me.
There are certain touchstones for me in London and Covent Garden is one, even though it has changed a lot since I first roamed around it over 4 decades ago. Neal’s Yard used to have a hippie bakery that served whole-wheat pastries and tea on the top floor overlooking the yard. That’s long gone and there’s a more posh feel but Neal’s Yard Cheese is still there so I got a wedge of Cheshire and a blue from Shropshire.
We stopped for coffee at Ole & Steen, a Danish chain of cafes, and a lovely mezze platter and spinach and cheese pie at The Lost Goddess, a Greek restaurant inBloomsbury. It was still drizzly so we went inside to The National Gallery to see a retrospective of Lucian Freud’s work, which had not only obese nudes but early work that seemed also folk art style portraits, flat faces on blank backgrounds.
It was a rainy day in London so we stayed close to home, or our temporary home, in Mortlake. Fortunately it was a light rain so we could walk, which we did along the Thames past scullers toiling in the drizzle, to Barnes, another suburb that feels more like a country village with a pretty green and old pubs and a good outdoor market with everything from cherry tomatoes, cakes and cheese to kimchee, beef jerky and sushi.
We took refuge in The Sun Inn, a pub that is kid and dog friendly so there were several of both. It proved a good place to come in from the damp, drink some cider, beer or coffee and nibble on halloumi fries, chips and avocado salad.
From Barnes, Dirck and I took the 419 bus to Richmond where we half heartedly joined the shoppers on George Street but more enthusiastically walked down the narrow shop-lined lanes leading to pretty Richmond Green and the grand orange brick Richmond theater. As befits the area that has become a film location for one of the most popular US TV shows, we soon chanced upon a “Ted Lasso Walking Tour,” a young woman holding a sign on a pole, guiding two tourists to see the sights.