London was lovely. We landed at noon, hopped on the Heathrow Express to Paddington, and then walked to Marylebone Parish Market, all in under an hour. Cristiano, his wife, and daughter were waiting. There is something so reassuring about finding friends exactly how you remember them. The last time I saw Cristiano, he was showing my mom and dad and me around his hometown of Padua, outside of Venice. This time we drank mint tea at a new Lebanese restaurant. His daughter slept. He and Zilla chatted. Friends, I thought. Sometimes the concept still amazes me.
It happened to be—Cristiano told us—Guy Fawkes Day, the annual celebration Fawkes capture and the foiled plot to bomb the House of Lords in 1605. Around four Cristiano and family left to make their way back to Greenwich and the fireworks. At first we thought we’d join them, but then the jet lag began to set in. “But you are returning, no?” Cristiano asked. We nodded. After Istanbul. “Then there is the possibility of a pop-up restaurant, if you are interested…” Zilla and I nodded. “Yes, yes!”
Outside, the weather was just like Seattle, grey, vaguely wet, and not quite cold. You would think it sounds dreary, but the people on the street made it lively. The crisp clip clop of footsteps. The quick pace of everyone walking where they needed to go.
Z tucked my arm in his as we turned down a side street. “Why is it that townhouses are so much cuter here?” he asked. “Is it the window boxes?”
I shrugged. “It’s just London.”
For dinner we took the train out to Canary Wharf to a pub called The Grapes, half of which is built on pilings out over the Thames. Our hope was that we might catch a view of the fireworks and enjoy a real ale. And that is exactly what did happen, except that to the ale we added fried deviled whitebait, aged 21 day aged Welsh steak, green pea mash (which is lovely) , roasted carrots, and sticky toffee pudding at the nice old restaurant upstairs. We got invited to share a beer with one group and I engaged in a loo line chat with another. According to the menu the place was a favorite hangout of Dickens. If I lived there it would soon be a favorite hangout of mine too.
We got to the hotel tired and fell fast asleep till about three, pretended to sleep another hour or so longer and then decided to get up and go to a traditional all-night ‘beigel shop,’ from our favorite guide book in Hackney. By five thirty we were on our way just as others were stumbling home.
We ducked in to Brick Lane Beigel Bake as the night began to fade and took our place in line. A man in a blue work suit stirred three spoonfuls of sugar into his tea from the large bowl by the register. “What are you doing today, luv?” The plump clerk asked him as she made change. “Werkin, always werkin,” the man said, with a nod. A tray of bagels came out from the kitchen. The bell on the door dinged.
“And what would you like, luv?” the lady asked Z. A heat lamp shone over a slap of what looked like corned beef. Z read the sign. “A salt beef bagel please.” She nodded. “Mustard?”
Just to be scientific, and also because I ordered cream cheese, I ordered a second salt beef bagel with mustard and a pickle from the competition next door.
I’ve always been skeptical of short trips, fearing they’d be too hectic, but we spent a relaxed afternoon with Z’s cousins in Sunbury and were back at Heathrow just over a day after we arrived. We are on the plane now, flying over the Malives. We should be in Sri Lanka in an hour.
Comptoir Libanais, 65 Wigmore Street, London, W1U
The Grapes, 76 Narrow Street, E14
Brick Lane Beigel Bake, 159 Brick Lane, E1