Do they have a shitter - That was probably the funniest thing we heard all night. A sort of prim looking younger girl asked her boyfriend that as we walked through one of the older buildings on South Bank.
We woke up around 4:00 this afternoon after having rested 3 or 4 hours. Neither of us had eaten anything resembling a meal since dinner on the plane, at about 3am London time, which seemed about right since I already feel as if I'm on the local time. We had a packet of crisps at around 11:00am, and a really crappy breakfast on the plane, but nothing beyond that. We decided to jump on the tube and head into the city to visit the Cologne Christmas Market (www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk/cologne_christmas_market.htm)and see South Bank.
We got to the city and Waterloo station with no problem. Within 2-3 blocks of getting off of the tube, we found an Indian restaurant (Chilli Chutney). Not really a proper Indian place, but a take away with precooked foods that are reheated when you order them. These places also often sell more than one culture's food, and this one specialized in baguettes and fish and chips also. We both ordered the dinner special, which is a salad, Indian style rice, and a curry. I choose matar paneer (home-style cheese and peas, a favorite of mine) and Karen ordered chicken tikka masala, and we also got samosas. The samosas were on par with any we've ever had, and better than many. The filling was slightly different than the masala-based ones that we usually get, being more vegetable loaded, but really tasty. Karen said that her chicken was as good as any she's ever had, and my matar paneer was pretty good too. The cheese was different, softer, less squeaky, and less flavorful, but it's really hard to screw up and definitely hit the spot.
We headed to the Cologne Christmas Market, modeled after the traditional German Christmas markets, and run by Germans. It was very neat! Karen bought a gingerbread cookie that was huge. I am not a fan of gingerbread, but I had a nibble and it was awesome. Very spicy, but sweet and delicious. We walked through the market checking out the goods for sale but restraining from buying wooden ties and knitted hats. There were traditional German foods for sale that smelled incredible, and our mouth's were definitely watering. The curry wurst looked great, it's time like that that I struggle the most with began a vegetarian.
We continued south past The Eye of London, which looking very festive in it's blue lights, and continued on toward Westminster Bridge. Along the we took pictures across the Thames, getting pictures of Big Ben and Westminster Palace. I noticed in this area that the wide walkways that seem so charming turn to mazes of walkways sprinkled with filthy mud holes when it rains. The low spots in the paths were filled with filthy brown water, but I guess that is to be expected with the recent weather.
We crossed the Thames, stopping to take a closer look at Big Ben once we got across. I actually said "I have no idea what time it is" immediately after taking pictures of Big Ben, as it struck the half hour. Karen let me have it for that one.
We stopped briefly at a Tesco Express in order to get some shampoo. I snagged a Cadbury's Milk Dairy Fruit and Nut; I love those things, but they are a bit much. We then meandered about, heading away from the busier tourist areas and the next thing we knew, we where in the middle of Trafalgar Square. This area is not terribly large, but the statues and the square itself are lovely. We enjoyed the fountains, the people milling about and listening to a performance group singing to raise money for a medical association before donating and heading to get coffee.
We stopped at a Caffe Nero on the square and had coffee, hot chocolate and sweets. The chocolate was great, thick, slightly bitter and very warm. The apricot danish and cranberry twist we paired with them were as every European pastry should be. I know that the local bakeries have even better choices, but European pastries are always so much better than what we have in the US that even the mass produced stuff is incredible.
We realized that it was quite early still, so we decided to head to Piccadilly circus since it was close and should look best when lit up at night. The array of restaurants that we passed along the way were great. Sushi, high end noodle shops, Thai, traditional-looking pubs that were probably quite expensive. We took a quick stroll through Piccadilly, avoiding shops and Ripley's Believe it or Not. We did stop at Cool Britannia, a sizable and stylish souvenir store in order to get what few things we were bringing back to the states for other people (sorry! We realized that the stuff that's really affordable for a bunch of people is truly crap that no one wants, except those people that collect that crap!). It was a pretty cool looking store with a bunch of stuff. Of course, we found a little hole in the wall down that street that had slightly better prices, so we bought ourselves a Union Jack pin to put on our camera bag.
We proceeded through Swiss Court to Leicester Square where our senses were assaulted with the onslaught of street food. Delicious, greasy, street food. We were not hungry, which is for the best, but I have a feeling that we will be making a night run to Leicester Square before leaving at least once. There were little shops selling kebabs and falafel, pizza and Lebanese, fresh sushi, and even a Halal place serving "American Fried Chicken" along with Arabic treats. These pockets of goodness are my favorites!
We ended up near the Covent Garden underground station, so we headed down to check a tube. Instead of taking a lift down as everyone was, we decided to take the stairs down. 193 stairs really isn't that fair, but it seemed to be much farther than I thought it would be. The spiral staircase seemed to loop on itself 5 or 6 times before we arrived at the bottom.
We managed to find our way to the correct stations to make it home, and the short walk to the house was easy enough. The light rain this evening seems to have melted a good chunk of the snow on cars and sidewalks. If it stays above freezing for very long, the sidewalks will be much easier to traverse.
Tomorrow we are headed to London Bridge, Buckingham Palace, and the British Museum before seeing the Keys Ceremony tomorrow night. Maybe I can talk Karen into falafel after the ceremony!
More pictures from tonight: http://s290.photobucket.com/albums/ll256/sandalscout/GB%202010-2011/Dec%2021-South%20Bank-Trafalgar-Piccadilly/?start=all