Sunday, September 18, 2011

Open House London 2011

If you're really organized, you would have hit all the Open House London hotspots this weekend and taken advantage of free entry to hundreds of buildings in London that aren't usually open to the public, like the Bank of England, for example, or the 120 Fleet Street which was formerly headquarters of the Daily Express -its particular art deco design still drawing sighs of awe today.  I visited 120 Fleet Street and the Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden with Iain about two or three years ago during Open House London; we completed a tour of both and usually these tours are quite loosely structured so that people have the chance to wander and explore/experience the buildings themselves.  It's truly a magnificent thing and I wish that I put more effort into planning and attending this event each year.  But I suppose it's one of those cases of taking where I live for granted.

But this morning, after a leisurely lunch at Gail's in Exmouth Market, John and I stumbled upon an Open House event taking place at the Oak Room in New River Head - former boardroom to London's 17th-century water house.  Unbeknownst to us, it was pre-bookings only (meaning: one of the rare occasions where you need to sign up and register to view some of the more popular attractions) but we tagged along, pretending to be part of the - might I add - small group.  That is, until a busybody blew our cover.

"Is everyone here?" asked the guide from Thames Water.  "I think there are a few latecomers but we'll get started anyway."  "THESE two just joined in, I don't think THEY'VE booked," said a dumpy, red-haired woman at the front of the group, pointing an accusing finger at us.  Her similarly overweight husband carrying a plastic Shakespeare's Globe bag swiveled his cartoon-sheep-t-shirt-torso (sorry, I couldn't help but point out this one, infuriating detail) towards us to glare.  "I didn't see them being checked in outside," the fat woman continued.  I started laughing involuntarily.  I'm so bad.  I just didn't know there were vigilant Open House London Gestapo patrolling the sites.  "Oh, did you book?" asked the guide kindly, whilst the group of six stared at us.  "No, no," said John apologetically, shaking his head.  The woman looked gleeful and shook her head.  "Well, that's quite alright, don't worry, you can still join!  We just ask that people book in case we turn out to have a big group," said the guide kindly.  The woman spluttered and turned an angry red, shrugging her shoulders and gesticulating with her hands.  Ah yes, you pathetic person.  Suck it (sorry, mom - I won't ever use that language again, but it's so appropriate in this instance).

Anyway, it turns out that this building that I walk past every day on my route to work was once home to the Metropolitan Water Board and that the grassy area it faces was a reservoir.  Who would have known?  Today, the offices have been converted into luxury apartments (and luxurious they are, I can assure you - I saw a photo in the lobby of one for sale ... list price of £2.5 million) and the Oak Room is open for the residents' use.  I envisioned my very own karaoke party there until The Giant Pimple (what I decided to rename the nosy woman) began snapping hundreds of photos (USING FLASH) in the revered Oak Room.  The guide explained the history behind the intricate carvings that decorated the walls of the room and drew our attention to the ornate plaster depicting country scenes and the ceiling, which featured two coats of arms and a portrait of William the III, staring benevolently down at those sitting at the table of the boardroom.

Exiting New River Head, John and I felt slightly better about having attended just one Open House event and left The Giant Pimple to torture the guide with her incessant and unnecessary questions.  Until next year ...

A Sushi Don't: Tenshi Restaurant

I admit that I'm spoiled with all the fresh seafood that the Pacific Northwest has to offer and as I've boasted several times (ANNOYINGLY so) already on this blog, sushi in the Puget Sound is no joke.  But I'm not terribly hard to please: for example, I'll happily have Itsu sashimi for lunch or even visit the occasional conveyor belt establishment (as long as it's not Yo! Sushi - I'd recommend Kulu Kulu in Covent Garden instead if you're really desperate for traveling plates).

Craving a light but tasty meal, John, Justin and I made our way to Tenshi on Saturday night for some low-key sushi and noodles.  The positive reviews after a quick Google search on the iPhone were enough to go on at the time and we were quickly seated before the dinner rush began.  It seemed that the restaurant was popular with the pre-partying crowd with a queue out the door by the time we left and a few regulars, which were all (so I thought) good signs.

We ordered a sushi selection (£22), a chicken yakisoba (£7.50) and an octopus starter to share.  When the sushi arrived, I was horrified as I gazed down at the tuna rolls that had what resembled blood seeping into the rice.  Justin's eyes bulged.  Some involuntary gagging ensued.  The other pieces of nigiri looked dark and far from fresh.  "Is that ... um ... is that ... blood?" I squeaked.  The waitress considered it for a moment and said, "Oh no, that's the spicy tuna.  That is hot sauce."  Then she realized she had delivered the order to the wrong table and that it was actually intended for the couple seated next to us.  "Don't worry," the lady at the table next to us chirped.  "I recognized it!" Clearly a regular, but I don't know why - perhaps she likes eating morsels of food that resemble parts props from a horror film.  I breathed a sigh of relief that the non-bloody-but-bloody-looking rolls did not belong to us but was nevertheless skeptical of the quality of our own selections.

Our chicken yakisoba was up first.  On initial taste, the chicken was flavorful and the dish sizzling hot, which is to my liking.  But the addition of red and green bell peppers was truly bizarre and the Top Ramen consistency and quality of the noodles were just inexcusable.  The oily sheen left in my bowl didn't do any favors to my opinion of the already unimpressive dish and for £7.50, I would rather grab a noodle box at Ned's Noodles.

Then our sushi arrived.  I silently prayed that I wouldn't contract food poisoning and bravely plunged into the hamachi nigiri.  It wasn't off.  I breathed another sigh of relief.  It wasn't great quality or particularly fresh, but it certainly wasn't off.  The tuna was mushy and the avocado rolls (avocado, really? If you want a cheap and easy way to rip people off, cucumber in place of avocado would certainly be a more convincing choice, no?) were, again, puzzling.  We were then presented with a two rolls that looked like it had salad stuffed inside.  "Justin, eat it and tell us what it has in it," I commanded.  He ate and proceeded to say, "Itsch jusht shalad shtuffed inshide." Bonkers.

My verdict is: visit this place when you've finished your karaoke set at Lucky Voice down the road and are suitably drunk.  Then you won't notice the bloody-not-bloody rolls or the grease.  You'll just be grateful to have something line your stomach - which is what Tenshi is good for.  A brutal conclusion, perhaps, but brutally honest.

Photo source

Monday, September 12, 2011

Summer's Not Over (well, yeah, it technically is): My Favorite Pink Drink

Summer's over.  And as much as I gave the British weather the benefit of the doubt (as in, throwing open the curtains every morning it rained in July and saying brightly with sincerity and conviction, "It's a GREAT day today!!!") it let me down.  Though the past few days have been extremely windy in London and, at times, even rainy, it's also been unbelievably warm.  So though summer's officially over, it doesn't stop me craving summery drinks, like Pimm's, or my new favorite, Rekorderlig Strawberry and Lime Cider.

First, two things you need to know about me and Rekorderlig:

1)  I hate cider.  I really do.  Someone once convinced me to try it by saying it was simply "fizzy apple juice."  IT IS NOT.  To me, it tastes - quite frankly - like vomit.  You know, that horrible taste you get in your mouth right after you've ralphed.  Sorry, but that's just what it reminds me of.

2) I had my first glass of Rekorderlig on my birthday, which was in December.  It was snowing outside and I was quivering in my UGGs - as far from summer as you could get.  But one sip of the stuff stolen from a friend's glass transported me to a sun-drenched roof terrace: crisp, cool, refreshing and deliciously sweet, it tasted like John's idea of disgusting and my idea of yum.  Basically, it tasted like a carbonated strawberry gummy bear (without the pukey taste, of course. And it goes without saying that if carbonated strawberry gummy bears aren't your thing, then please - by all means - don't try this at home).

So if you're not afraid of the sweet stuff and you're in a part of Britain where summer still lingers, then I highly recommend a sip of this - even if you're not a cider drinker.  I mean, just because I'm drinking Rekorderlig doesn't mean you'll find me with a Magners in hand any time soon.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Climbing @ The Castle, London vs. Edgeworks, Tacoma

I woke up this morning and realized I couldn't raise my arms above my head.  You might wonder why anyone would automatically want to raise her arms above her head upon waking, but I have this habit of flopping over onto my stomach when John gets up an hour and a half before me, putting the pillow over my head, and adopting a pose reserved for those chalk drawings of murder victims.  Seriously - try it, it's like, soooo comfortable.

Anyway, I should probably clarify: physically, I could raise my arms above my head, but not without a great deal of pain.  This is because I went indoor rock climbing yesterday (for the second time in my life) with John and my little brother, Justin, who happens to be a very experienced and advanced climber.  This kid is about my height and skinny, but he's got arms like Popeye The Sailor Man. He claimed he didn't even know how muscly his arms had gotten from climbing until he looked in the mirror one day and didn't recognize his own arms due to the size of his biceps.  He is ripped (he was also randomly approached by a middle-aged woman at SeaTac Airport and told that he was a "very good looking young man").  Moreover, he creeps along climbing walls nimbly, his movements graceful, decisive and calm.  And unlike the other climbers - novice or not - who wear name brand climbing trousers and tops, he climbs in none other than skinny jeans, a graphic tee and a pair of thick, black rimmed (non-prescription) glasses.  Basically, he's a badass.

On Saturday, we traveled to The Castle Climbing Centre in North London, to see how it compared to Edgeworks in Tacoma, Washington, where Justin usually climbs and where I had my first climbing experience.  Upon arrival, we were met with the overwhelming stench of ... feet (you know, that smell that stays in your memory forever if you ever took gymnastics as a kid or played in one of those ball pit area things).  Once I got over my initial inner retching, we signed in as Justin's novices (experienced climbers can register two novices at a time) and he was given a short quiz by one of the staff members.  We were all made to sign statements saying that we acknowledged climbing is a dangerous sport and that we understood we could die (yes, this was on the form) if not practiced properly and under correct supervision, clearing the centre of any liability.  John and I rented some cheesy shoes and harnesses for £5 per person and paid a fee of £12.50 each to climb.

One noticeable difference between The Castle and Edgeworks is the space.  Granted, we were probably there at peak time on their busiest day (Saturday afternoon), but there was literally hardly any room to manouevre - and if you weren't quick enough when bouldering (free climbing short walls without ropes, which help develop your strength and technique), Spidey Man on the other side with his North Face cargo shorts would simply encroach on your territory, rolls his eyes and sigh at you until you were pressured to move or fall off.  Nice!  Climbers bouldering would literally jump and hit the person behind them belaying.  People formed queues to climb and, whilst waiting, used that opportunity to eye each other up.  No one smiled.  Most scowled.  Annoying drum & bass (and I happen to like drum & bass - this was ANNOYING drum & bass, which is another category) played at a threatening volume behind us.  Between that and the foot-fungus smell, I started to feel a little queasy.  

"I'm ... um ... hot," I complained.  I looked at my watch.  We had only been there for 10 minutes.  Sigh.  I longed for the sky lit, air conditioned, fresh-smelling surroundings of Edgeworks.  And some smiles.  At Edgeworks, even at busy times, the walls are well spaced and no one is - literally - on top of each other.  Staff and climbers - novice and experts alike - are friendly and courteous.  Most of all, they look like they're enjoying themselves - you know, like, having fun?  Did no one at the Castle climb for fun?  Or did I stumble upon Climbing Olympics 2011?  Sheesh.

Nevertheless, I chalked the attitudes up to big city living and put my best climbing foot forward to scale my first route.  My first climb was easy but the fourth was a little challenging.  I tried the route once and gave up, asking Justin to let me down.  Then I tried it again, reached the same point, and again asked to be let down.  The answer came back as "NO."  What?  What do you mean no?  I DON'T WANT TO BE UP HERE ANYMORE.  MY ARMS ARE TIRED.  I THINK MY THIGH JUST SPASMED.  "No, you're gonna DO IT," barked my small but Popeye-the-Sailor-Man-limbed brother below me.  I whimpered a little and thought about my huge behind just hanging out in the harness.  I sucked in my core and decided to climb (well, I had no choice - my little brother wouldn't let me down!).  And I got to the top (to be fair, I was powered by anger and if you know me well, you know my anger serves as pretty good fuel for most things energetic).  "Now, don't you feel GREAT?" my brother asked me patronizingly but with a gleaming smile as I came down.  I wanted to smack him, but I was pretty pleased with myself, so I grumbled something unintelligible and unhooked the rope from my harness.

An hour and a half later, my arms were shaking (and here I was thinking I had good upper body strength from all that dynamic yoga) and my hands kinda raw.  It was time to go (though I had acclimatized to the foot smell by now).  Will I return to The Castle?  Only if I'm desperate for a climbing wall (i.e. never).  Otherwise, I'll wait until I get home to Edgeworks and have another go there.  

There, at least the people are nice and the foot smell is minimal.

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