Neighbourhoods of London: Richmond

Calling this a neighobourhood of London may be a stretch as it’s in Surrey and is very much its own town.

My second weekend armed with bike I said to myself that if the weather was good I would make the journey out to Richmond Park. The weather was good.I overslept and had to skip the market for the day, so began my cycle to Richmond.

Unfit or incredibly lost I shall never know, but it took me nearly double the time that google maps had predicted.

In preparation for your Richmond arrival, you head west through increasingly more affluent areas: Westminster, Pimlico, Belgravia, Knightsbridge, Sloane Square, Chelsea, Kensington, West Brompton, Fulham, Putney, then finally the great park.

It is not a cycle-friendly route, or a well-signposted one. One way to tell a hipster area is by  the provision of cycle lanes and cycle parking. West London doesn’t need hipsters. Gentrification happened centuries ago. Cycle lanes make way for the tyres of the new Range Rover. It’s important the Tarquin gets to school in style and safety.

On entering Richmond Park I was tired and stressed from the cycle and underwhelmed by the park. Sure, it was a vast expanse of parkland far surpassing most areas that I had seen in Manchester (the walks around Chorlton and Didsbury are quite picturesque) with its rolling hills and attractive people jogging round and through, but this was still just a park for goodness sake. Why was this worth the (what was to become) 25 mile round-trip?

I then ran into some new friends:


Ah yes the deer. Of course the deer. However could I doubt the deer. This is the reason that so many tourists endure the horrors of the District Line and the long walk uphill from Richmond to the park. I had expected some deer, but not to have my path blocked by herds (or proper collective noun) of deer.

They were beautiful, the autumn colours were beautiful, even the sunlight was beautiful. Richmond Park is worth it.

I walked my bike and ran into herds and herds more deer.

There are a number of viewpoints throughout the park, and then on leaving the park there are further viewpoints throughout the town. I imagine the people of Richmond go for weekly constitutions to look out across London to say “we are close to you, big city, but we are not you. We are better than you. We have views towards you without the riffraff, one of the most majestic parks in the world, and a stretch of river that we have made the Thames Riviera.”

Several months later I had a meeting in Richmond. Richmond is very insular. Richmond is very rich. Richmond just needs Richmond. Step off the train at Richmond and acknowledge that you have arrived in Richmond. If you live in Richmond and are very Richmond, there is no need at all to leave Richmond. If there is need to, it is to holiday. Need to run an errand outside of Richmond? Send the help.

As I cycled through the town, again making many a wrong term, I felt very much like an outsider looking in. This isn’t my place and these aren’t my people. I am the Londoner looking up the hill towards the park, no really being able to get a glimpse inside.

The cycle back was more treacherous than the cycle to, with my making increasingly questionable decisions to take the long way back through Kew, Shepherds Bush, Hammersmith, Chiswick, Fulham, then along the Thames Path which is a testament of how not to manage a public footpath.

West London is nothing. If you aren’t an inhabitant, there are few reasons that I saw to make the leap past zone two, especially for cyclists. Past the city and zone one, London in all directions becomes a great suburb for those who historically and recently want nightly respite from the centre. For the urbans, the outer zones, and especially the west, offers us parkland to admire sporadically, clean our lungs for the year, then again appreciate the vibrancy of the city.

Artisan stores have made it to central; the reasons for heading west become ever-less.



Neighbourhoods of London: Gallery Hopping Around Mayfair

Today I fell in love with London all over again. This tends to happen on sunny Saturdays where I have vague plan that then descends into a wander. This was another one of those days.

What other city can you see chic Sheikhs barrel supercars down narrow historic roads lined with some of the most expensive brands in the world barely 200m away from the tourist hordes looking to bag their next bargain from the souvenir sellers that punctuate one of the least attractive but enduringly popular shopping streets in the world. Mad old ladies with outrageous fashion that would be derided in the provinces are celebrated here. This is old money. Old money doesn’t care. The architecture, the history, the sheer variety of things to do and people to see is so overwhelming that I took a 7pm nap in bewilderment.

The part of London that I get most consistently lost in is Mayfair. It is maybe the universe’s cruel way of making me wander the wider expanses of an area that I so clearly cannot afford. Town planners of yore didn’t care about a sensical geography around here. This is the district for promenading, for showing off your wealth, and for parting with it as you come across a new, unexpected shop having taken the wrong turn.

I am starting this new series with the richest square on the Monopoly board because it is one of my favourite parts of the capital due to its sheer ridiculousness. The geography of London will never fail to amaze me, and the sudden and marked contrast between Oxford Street and Mayfair is stark. My first week in London I got deeply lost in Mayfair for half an hour, and was quite scared of it. Nine months in the city and I truly do adore it.

My relationship with Mayfair is quite new. Even though I was born in Camden and regularly visited Chinatown in my youth, mother and I never ventured in the land between Piccadilly and Oxford Street. Now I have meetings in Mayfair (offices here are decorated like fine hotels, and the beverage offerings beat the public sector by quite some margin) and spend my Saturdays wandering around.

The Saturday after I returned from Chicago was my first foray into the Mayfair gallery hop. TimeOut is still my bible for the city, for better or for worse, and it had recommended three or four new art shows in and around Oxford Circus. Thinking about the world, London must also surely be one of only a handful of cities worldwide that can have a weekly magazine dedicated to culture and socialising, with new events fighting for places in a calendar constantly. You can never truly “do” London. The variety within is astonishing.

The galleries that I visited are lost in my memory. First to Stephen Friedman for a “humorous” art exhibition split over two sides of the road, as the gallery is. Two hipsters were the only other visitors. They quickly left. Two severe women fashionably concentrated on their screens. Next, to Savile Row, and my first foray into ringing a doorbell for entry into a gallery. A less severe woman, chatting to I presume her boss about sales. The exhibition was underwhelming. I left quickly.A gallery further down this street or another street caught my eye, with much of the exhibition hidden from street view, but clearly large paintings on display within. I ventured in. It was good. I found my new hobby.

Mayfair is littered with galleries, but far from the usual tourist galleries. These are buying galleries. Pictures and sculptures won’t necessarily have descriptions. If you want a description, pick up a sheet. When they do have descriptions, they will likely be minimal, have a price, or feature a sticker to show that they have been bought. These are either semi-private collections or collections which are concerned with the business of art.

These are not places for the fanny pack tourist. The security guards, doorbells, and severe men and women who are working either furiously or not at all are all there to ward off the people that aren’t made for this type of environment.

Today Ilga and I went gallery hopping. I, dishevelled from cycling, with my raincoat, dress, bare legs, and fitflops, and she also in casual, cycle-ready wear. Up and down the country people may have looked at us as not looking “fashionable” enough, but in London, if you act like you belong, you do and people won’t question it. March in and act like you belong. Take in the hidden, free culture that these public galleries/stores offer.

Ring that bell and feel that plush carpet or cold chrome floor beneath your feet, taking in how designed all of the interiors are. This is your reward for making the leap inside.

Mayfair galleries are seemingly only hypermodern or Victorian millionaire in style. I love the smell of wealth on a Saturday.

Ilga was shocked at how small most of the galleries are. These galleries aren’t for the wider public, they are for buyers, and buyers with this kind of money don’t need to be overwhelmed with choice. They like what they like, or know what an investment is, and will part with their money as they see fit.

Today’s walk went as follows:

  1. The Photographer’s Gallery (not Mayfair): modern on the inside, with four floors of galleries. Usually only one floor takes my interest.
  2. Getty Images Gallery (not Mayfair): first visited on my initial Mayfair gallery hopping trip. The Slim Aarons ‘Poolside’ exhibition was my favourite exhibition that I have seen since moving to London. The new 1926: Britain Through the Lens” exhibition is a charming snapshot of a year in the life of our changing country. The best for well-curated documentary photography.
  3. Ronchini Gallery: following on from my enthusiasm for Slim Aarons, I was excited to see Massimo Vitali’s large-scale photographs of the rich and beautiful at the beach. Slim wins out, but the scale and framing of Vitali’s work was enthralling.
  4. Ben Brown Fine Arts: Ilga’s favourite of the galleries. The subterranean gallery is an oasis of calm in the city, much like the Ori Gersht photographs of zen gardens. Two bohemian art types had a heated conversation in one corner.
  5. Halcyon Gallery: Andy Warhol galore. What a fine city in which you can just happen upon a major Andy Warhol show that has very few visitors and generally isn’t well publicised. An unexpected feature of my day, and the one which prompted me to continue my Mayfair jaunt.
  6. Richard Green: a classical fine art gallery with a doorbell for entry and a plush interior. Oil paintings lined the first room, with works from a few masters featuring, and further in were Dutch flowers and Edward Seago exhibitions. This opened in 1955, but give you an idea of what the dealings of the rich in the 19th century may have been like, only with computers. No pictures were allowed, but I imagine this was how many living rooms of the past few centuries were fashioned. The Fine Arts Society next door, which I thought this was, is only open Monday-Friday 10-6, or by appointment on Saturday. Art buyers aren’t constrained by our usual working week.
  7. D-Contemporary: another doorbell. I was enticed in by the wildlife photography that was advertised on the outside. Roger Hooper is one of the finest wildlife photographers in the world, and here was a chance exhibition. The staff were friendly and gave me a leaflet on the charity and exhibition. People who want money are friendly. Refreshments at the back, photographs that make you want to book a safari throughout.
  8. David Zwirner: the planned end gallery to my trip. The Richard Hamilton exhibition on the second floor may not have been worth the walk, but it did remind me that I like clean plastic products. The R. Crumb exhibition ‘Art and Beauty’ was exceedingly enjoyable. There were roughly twenty people within during my 15 minute visit, a good show for Mayfair. Advertising pays off, and a big name with a comparatively big collection makes it worth the trip.

Other galleries were visited, but these were fleeting. I continued to wander the streets and admire the shops, which are galleries in themselves. There are increasingly few good shopping streets in the country, but these window displays are constantly inviting even if the security and the prices mean that the stores themselves are often not. Aside from the clothing and designers, the specialty shops incite a curiosity as to how they stay in business, but not enough curiosity to actually enter (where galleries accept my disheveled look, shops realise that I won’t be making a purchase and thus it makes for a more uncomfortable experience).

Ah, to have this kind of wealth. Ah, to be this free to see this fine city how the other half live it.


Slim Aarons, Poolside Glamour


Londoners do what they do

Final Thoughts On Surfing

Ten lessons in, injuries abound and am I more of a surfer than I was a week ago? Yes, I suppose I am, as I have actually been surfing (for one) and know the technique (for two) although am still yet to be at a stage where I can apply the technique.

Surfing should have taught me to relax more. In a way it has, as it has shown me just how many anxieties that I have. Money, timing, these are the two main ones. For this trip I was helpfully ferried everywhere by the staff at the surf club. Being surfers, they were often late. One thing that sends my anxiety into overdrive is sitting on a step waiting for a car to come with no way of contacting the driver, especially if it is my car to the airport. My mind thinks of ten different ways to get to the airport, all of which will hopefully not result in missing my flight or spending too much money. The driver came. They always came.

Even out on the sea, I couldn’t every fully relax into it. It’s true what they say: the less you think about it, the easier it becomes. This morning the waves were flat and I spent most of the time paddling around on the flat. That was remarkable. Though tiring. Oh how my poor muscles and brain have been overworking.

I don’t think I’m sociable enough to be a surfer.

I will miss the rolling of the waves, and even the sea crashing relentlessly into my face. I won’t missing changing into and out of wetsuits.

I can stand on the board, in spite of my bruised legs and blackened foot (a bad landing is a bad landing indeed). I will try surfing again. Once you have the basics, you can go off and do. But this will likely be my only “pure” surf holiday, a holiday that I still fit a lot of sightseeing into. I like to try new things. I’m a commitment phobe of sorts.

Being alone for a week has been both a blessing and a nuisance (not a curse, I wouldn’t put it that far) as other people can help assuage worries just by merely being there. You feel less stranded in a crowd. Three newbies landed this morning. They will have a less alone week.The girl that I spoke to (who told me of another couple being there) said I must have been lonely and bored, but I was immediately grateful for my week of relative solitude. Classes break it  up a little, even if everyone else is speaking Portuguese. She was English as well, and her anxiety was growing I could see. Maybe it’s a great British-Portuguese divide.

A girl in one of the surf classes said that her hero is Queen Elizabeth I. She was 15 and Portuguese. A Swiss soon-to-be Commodities Trader is venturing through Portugal with no real plans to learn to surf and find some spots. I wish I had the confidence and freedom of others sometimes. I can work on that. Time is fluid. Like the sea!

Here ends another good trip, where I have let loose, tightened up, and learned a lot about myself. Life learning never ends, just as the waves never stop (ick).

Final note: Porto Airport is one of the best that I’ve been to. Easy access to the city, unlimited wifi, a good Duty Free, mobile charging points, and even water! The Portuguese are very hospitable.




The city dish of Porto (the one that’s not tripe) is an abomination.

In the wise words of Wikipedia:

“[It is] made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries.”

With this, and the tripe, as their crowing culinary glories, it is a wonder that gout and obesity isn’t rife in Porto.

It was delicious. Of course it was. Something that looks this terrible must be. Accompany with a Super Bock and that’s a  real good time that you have going on.

Café Santiago is supposedly the place to go for good Francesinha, though every Porto-guese has their place of choice. Its window is filled with stickers and it has been going since 1959, so even if it isn’t your place of choice, it is an institution. Thursday at 8.30 required a wait. Everyone else inside was Portuguese. No-one looked at menus; just order the Francesinha and decide whether or not you want egg (the egg was nice but added very little).

‘Ave it, Majestic Cafe around the corner. This is what Porto is about.

Not my favourite sandwich, but deep and rich with a semi-spicy almost gravy-like sauce that hardens your arteries while looking at it but doesn’t stop you from ordering more. 95% of the people of Porto can’t be wrong. If you want a vegan option, you can leave.

Aside: smoking is allowed in Portuguese bars if you want to feel like it’s 2007 all over again.



Secondary Thoughts on Surfing/Initial Thoughts on Portuguese Salmon

Two surf lessons in one day and I feel great, though tomorrow morning will be the real test of strength and versatility.

In the morning I got mildly frustrated with myself that I wasn’t able to stand up without using my knee, but then I thought I should let go. I saw the Dutch mother naked for a third time. The Dutch father bought me a coffee and gave me his business card. I’m great at networking. Portuguese coffee is stronger and more bitter than Italian coffee, just like the Portuguese and Italians. Both of those descriptions are probably incorrect.

The Dutch father, a presently very chill and friendly man, told me about how he had two burnouts in his previous job as the owner of a bespoke furniture business.

“I would just worry about money and work. It wasn’t good for my family. I was very fat. I just ate, drank and worked. I spent €40,000 a year on food and drink for the business, which is ridiculous. Money isn’t everything. The more money you have, the more you spend. It doesn’t mean anything. People with less money have a good time. And now, I have a nice house, can take holidays when I like, do things that I like, am much healthier, and am getting to know my family a lot better. I am a better husband and father, and that’s what matters. So no, I’m not good at surfing, but it is all good. And one day I may finally learn.”

Lunch with the surf instructor. I couldn’t decide between squid, salmon or sardines. The waiter said salmon so I went for salmon. The surf instructor had the squid. He had to Google the translation for squid even though it was right there on the menu. I love it when people add unnecessary steps to their day. The salmon was fresh and meaty. The squid was fresh and with bite. I went to the dark side of carbs with bread and potato. The Portuguese know how to do their seafood. I impressed yet another person with the quantity that I can eat.

Meaty fine fish

Meaty fine fish

The streets were alive with the smell of seafood

The streets were alive with the smell of seafood

The Portuguese sure do love Super Bock. €6 for 10 bottles is too good value, darnit. Also €6 for a bottle of wine in a restaurant is straight madness.

“If you don’t stand without using your knee, they will change the code to the hostel and you will have to sleep outside.”

Nothing like threats to make me improve my technique. The afternoon class was two rather than eight, and my improvement was marked. That was some magic salmon alright.

There is no feeling quite like gliding on a wave, even if it is a wee wave by the shore. I can see how people get addicted to this. I laughed and flailed my arms with glee/I hugged my instructor in the sea/all in all: yay me! Good for the soul and good for the abs.

My instructor the following day reminded me of a Northern Irish girl that I lived with in the first year of uni, though not Northern Irish. I didn’t know that girl very well so maybe my comparison is wrong. The waves beat me down on day three. The sea is a commanding mistress. I love it when I’m put in my place.

Initial Thoughts On Surfing

There is nothing quite like surfing in the ocean. Oh to be a terrible person that starts posts in this way.

I injured my ankle a week or two ago and wish I hadn’t as it surely has had a negative effect on my surfing abilities.

I can pop up on land easily enough but the instability of the sea makes it all the more difficult. I managed to stand on my second wave, but flew too close to the sun too early on and didn’t manage to stand again until my second to last and final waves.

The Dutch family from the pool lesson were there again. I saw the mother naked again. The father and I discussed work and he was impressed that I knew an interior designer/architect (Frei Otto) that he does work for. He went much further out than I did, into the bigger waves. After the surf  I asked him if he had caught any good waves. He replied that he hadn’t really, but that’s not the point. It is exercise for the mind. I asked him what he meant, as it was certainly exercise for my body but it was hardly reading Nietzsche, and he replied that you can’t really think of anything else while you are surfing. Clears your mind is what he meant. A meditation by surfing. I couldn’t agree more.

As I walked through the water again and again trying to catch a wave, I went through different feelings of exhaustion, frustration and absolute calm. The vast expanse of water, the lolling of the waves, the crashing of the waves into my face, the dragging of the surfboard, the heavy rain followed by breaking sunshine: it was all so beautiful, and any life concerns simply don’t matter in the moment.

It was exhausting, and my stamina gave out. I thought that I was quite fit. I shouldn’t have walked so much these past few days. Onto land briefly to work on my “pop up” technique, and to regain some stamina.

“You’re tired” my instructor said as he dragged me through the sea.

“A little. It’s fine.” My arms and legs were throbbing.

“Try again, just once more!”

Five more times and I was getting it. The less you think, the better you do. Surfing goes against a lot of my natural persona, but by doing so shows me the many sides of life’s beauty. (I am writing this sat in a window listening to thunder and watching a downpour).

My afternoon lesson was cancelled, which I am thankful for as I should take this time to rest and recuperate.

The surfing instructor (fit and good looking, as you would hope/expect for a Portuguese surfing instructor) showed me where the good fish restaurants are in the area, told that I simply must try a Francesinha, validated that I have seen all of Porto. Even though he has lived in Porto all his life, he said that I now know it better than him. He may have been being particularly nice after having to hold my hand through surfing much more than he expected after my initial success.  He said that he didn’t like Casa de Musica, that it was like an alien shot it down from space. It is besides a lovely roundabout and statue and doesn’t blend in too well with the landscape. Guidebooks have us believe otherwise: “The crowning glory of Modernist architecture for the people of Porto”. Portuguese traffic is sudden and unexpected, much like the rain.

“You have an accent of English.”

“I am English.”

“Then it’s okay.”

The smell of the restaurant street was spectacular and I will go again to eat. Today I am forcing myself to try and rest.

Portuguese to pata de nata very well. I got some from a supermarket, as that’s what’s closest.

Now to fully embrace the surfing lifestyle through rest.

Porto Day 3

Last night I tried fitfully to watch TV and ended up settling on music videos. Meghan Trainor could have a better director. This morning I tried fitfully again to watch TV. My year and a half of not watching television has really shown me just how little I like it.

A relaxed breakfast followed by a walk in light rain to the metro station. There is a closer metro station, but it takes fifteen minutes longer in total. I’m a busy lady, I need to get things done.

Only cards were being accepted at the metro station that I went to, so I risked getting on without a ticket. Naturally, a guard came, but my confusion combined with my clearly not being from here and natural charm meant that he let me ride for free, something that I felt very proud of before realising that I only saved €1,20. All hail cheap public transport.

Things I Refuse To Pay For

Number one: entry into a bookshop. I’m sure Livrario Lello is lovely, but queuing to buy a ticket to enter a bookshop is beyond me. I shall forever remain not well read enough.

Number two: a church. Until today! I had been told by Paul and several guidebooks that St Francis’ wasn’t to be missed. The interior carvings are coated with some 100kg (of an original 4-500kg) of gold, and I can’t resist gauchy splendor.

St Francis’ is no longer an active church, but a museum, catacombs and visitor attraction. I momentarily thought about how it’s a when churches are turned over to secular uses, but then considered that the other option would be to let it fall into ruin. Empty buildings deteriorate at a worryingly rapid pace, and once the downfall starts it becomes increasingly less likely that someone would want to foot the bill. There is a house in the Tower of London that beggars belief at how it’s managed to slowly rot for twenty years.

So tourists come in and try to get their holy on. For 100kg gold, I had expected that it would be a church that would make me feel like eating foie gras whilst wearing mink, but instead I just sat down and looked at the carvings. Another point for Italy. Paintings beat carvings. If you are into rococo I expect that more could be appreciated than for me. Piped in classical music played on a loop. The catacombs and museum were touristy. I thanked the guards (correctly at last) and considered how I am glad that up until this incident I have largely avoided going to tourist traps.



Free churches for all!


The Monument Church of St Francis: gothic in the streets, baroque in the sheets

Number three: tours. Wandering along to the Bolsa Palace, I remembered that baroque halls didn’t necessarily do it for me, and wandering around baroque halls with a coach load of the elderly certainly didn’t. The same went for all of the Port wine cellars, where the tours were either overpriced or overbooked.

Am I the first tourist to come to Porto and not try Port?

My rule that I shouldn’t drink alone may be my undoing. Going on a tour of wine cellars feels like something that would be better appreciated with company. Looking around at the other tour-goers, I doubt I would have been able to make any fast friends with the aforementioned coachloads of the elderly, the small families, or the fondling couples. Travelling alone has its perks but also its pitfalls.

Firm Butts

As mentioned in my day one post, Porto-guese must have great butts. Spending the day traversing up and down hills made me grateful that I live in a flat city. But the views made me appreciate that the hard work for the legs and glutes enlivened the body and the soul. Thank goodness this year has been the year of working out otherwise I may have given up and befriended people so that I could get a coach ride.

But my, the views. As ever (say those who try to build character), hard work pays off. You’ll never lose when you have views. Recommended viewpoints:

The old wall, entered by an alley beside Santa Clara:


Anywhere along the Ponte Luis I


Shame about the crane

and the Monastery of Serra do Pilar:


Tourists huffed their way up to the last spot. Porto around the river isn’t a place for the physically unfit, but people are willing to test their limits for the perfect (literally any) picture.

I saw a man walk up to a viewpoint and I admired how he was just appreciating the view for the sake of appreciating the view. As soon as I finished that thought, he whipped out a camera.

Vila Nova de Gaia continues my trend of preferring the area to the south of the river. This wasn’t the art district, like in Florence and Rome, but, like deeper into Oltrarno, was the hilly historic heart of the city. With added wine smells.


You could hardly turn a corner without coming across yet another port wine cellar. The riverfront was awash with revellers, but even slightly up the hill the streets were quite desolate.

I walked from the Ponte up to Taylor’s then west to Graham’s (n.b. it’s only 3.4km from Trinidade to Graham’s, the furthest of all the wine lodges). Taylor’s had an hour and a half wait for the next tour in English, and Graham’s was full up. From the outside, either looks rather elegant. Possibly too elegant for my H&M jeans with raincoat self.

Loop down the streets and walk by the river. As ever, restaurants on the riverfront are overpriced. A waiter with dreadlocks was failing to attract customers. Coaches clogged up the traffic flow. Coach drivers stood together to smoke and wait.

From the outside most of the riverfront port wine cellars don’t seem very inviting, for this lone traveller at least. Porto doesn’t seem to advertise prices too willingly, and looking through the doors to see the sharply-dressed sommeliers (or receptionists) in darkened rooms doesn’t fill me with desire.


Cable cars for the lazy

Sandeman is the most prolific of the port wine sellers. Their tour was also full for the day. Advertising for Sandeman is apparent throughout Porto, and they seem to have a number of different outposts south of the river. The Scottish, they get ya. There is a free exhibition within the lodge on the advertising history of Sandeman. It was powerfully interesting, and is possibly the longest that I have spent inside anywhere during my stay. It reminded me of how interested I used to be in advertising, and how, while I am now somewhat opposed to techniques in advertising, it is still something that holds my attention.

Sandeman started advertising back when it was still considered a “common” pursuit, one which high-class, established brands needn’t do. They had been around for 130 but, as the junior partner says, that was slow progress; with advertising they will see their sales blossom. With their masked marauder mascot (with a Spanish hat and Portuguese student’s cape as an homage to their Iberian sherry and port respectively) their sales did indeed rise, and they did much for alcohol advertising during the period (or so the exhibition tells me). Slogans such as “look who’s here”, “I couldn’t wish for better wine”, “you’ll like it”, and “…is always correct”, along with cartoons about how people tried Sandeman for the first time were forever converted, show a humorous brashness which is the bread and butter of advertising. Cheesy in places, but always knowingly alluring. The “established in 1790” fact gave this brash pursuit credibility. And here they are, still going, tours sold out, al fresco drinking in the rain.

Another climb from the river’s edge up to the Ponte Luis I. Rain started. I stopped for my first nata (a steal at €0.90). I counted money then dropped it on the floor. The cafe was basic but comforting. Suave looking women chatted on high benches while sipping coffee and slowly eating pastries. Maybe the Portuguese do know how to relax. Or to enjoy food instead of facing the rain.


Nata big deal

The Chinese have stolen the Nata and made it their own dessert of choice. Having tried the real thing, I still prefer the Chinese-style. Maybe I will have to try some every day before I make my final decision.

Also to try: Francesinha, or “heart attack on a plate”. A sandwich that includes  wet cured ham, cured sausage, fresh sausage, and steak or roast meat, covered in melted cheese and hot thick tomato beer sauce, served with fries and an egg. I went into a cafe to have one but their kitchen had closed for the day. My arteries plod on for now.

Heavy rain again. I ducked into a church and nearly cried at the service, as is becoming a habit, and a wander around the church of commercialism before heading back to the hostel/apartment. Ah, the sweet ticking of solitude.






Porto Day 2

A nine hour slumber, broken several times by torrential rain. I awoke feeling rested and nervous about surfing. Thankfully surfing was in a pool. I played water polo for half an hour and got increasingly confused at to why we were playing water polo. Surfing then came. I stood on the board a few times but the lack of wax and tides made it more tiring than it should have been.

Sauna, steam room, shower, out.

A Dutch family were in the surf school. I saw the woman naked in the changing room. Mainland Europeans are much freer than we (or this) prudish island Europeans. They said that they found surfing hard and had explored a little.

Another girl goes to to the French school. She and the teacher recommended the Museum of Contemporary Art, or Serralves Museum (which sounds nothing like it is spelled. Portuguese is a curiously ridiculous language)

The sun broke briefly this morning. I then stepped out of the door and the rain was so hard that it bounced back up to my knees. The sun came out again while we were in the swimming pool and thankfully stayed glorious when we exited.

This dog was also thankful for the break in the weather

This dog was also thankful for the break in the weather

I walked briefly along the beachfront and then through the city park, the only city park in Europe which connect directly to a beachfront (so says my surfing teacher, and who am I to fact check to verify or falsify his claims).

A walk in the park is a walk in the park. It  quite a lovely park. An attractive couple passed me, as did several joggers (surely making the most of the opportunity to jog outdoors for once) and small families. It was very quiet. Maybe the torrential downpour of the morning had left the Porto-guese ill-planned for the afternoon.

I enjoy taking pictures of ducks. They may have replaced penguins as my favourite animal. I wonder how a penguin tastes.

I enjoy taking pictures of ducks. They may have replaced penguins as my favourite animal. I wonder how a penguin tastes.

My surfing instructor said that Porto generally has really good weather and this rain is an anomaly. Paul told me that Porto is renowned for rain, and a taxi driver had informed him that September is the only time to come. Taxi drivers are a fount of all knowledge, but as a cyclist I am inclined to disagree with everything they say. My vow to never use a taxi again lasted exactly two days.

Through the park and to the contemporary art museum. I was told that I needed to put my bag in the cloakroom so I decided that I didn’t like contemporary art enough to be parted with my precious satchel.

Designed by Pritzker winner Alvaro Siza Vieira, it is one of the more attractive art galleries and modernist buildings that I have been in. He isn’t really well known, or known, at all outside of Portugal (and the architecture world). It would seem that architects need to build internationally to get worldwide renown, or to build something monolithic or magnanimous in a country that attracts the worldwide gaze more than Portugal. More than Casa de Musica, this should be Porto’s modernist draw.

Casa Da Music

Casa Da Musica

From a masterplanning perspective, too, the Serralves wins, though maybe this is because much of its surrounding landscape is walled off from non-ticket payers. I grew up in the countryside, I refuse to pay for nature. Casa Da Musica, on the other hand, is an oddity on one corner of a roundabout beside a series of quite attractive (if only for their blandness punctuated with the odd charming building) thoroughfares.

An English couple stopped me. “Scusa. Which way is the museum?” It was nice of them to attempt some Portuguese to this very clear tourist (the camera is a giveaway) to only go ad give up after one word. Still, it’s the attempt that counts.

A slow walk down a hill to the seafront. Behind me, an English person spoke about how Sadiq Khan didn’t have the same council state experiences as he did.

The douro again with its vistas. An ambulance parked besides a bus. This building wasn’t on the map. I assume it’s a fancy home or a fancy port cellar.


People watching people watching their rods as the fish fail to bite

People watching people watching their rods as the fish fail to bite

The rain came as I walked up a cobbled hill to the “crystal palace”. Sandals had been a good choice for the day thus far, and I was pleased that my sunglasses were not a useless packing choice. I looked strange in my umbrella, sunglasses, and camera zipped underneath my raincoat, but this is the year of you do you.

The park surrounding was unwalkable in sandals during the downpour

The park surrounding was unwalkable in sandals during the downpour

The rain came down in torrents again as I trudged towards Casa da Music, longing for the dry. The dry came as suddenly as the rain, and I headed to a cemetery to celebrate. Portugal does good cemeteries. Some of the most important sculptures of the city are housed within the dead centre. I used the toilet (having had to run around downtown Boston for an hour looking for a toilet, I make a point of using nigh on any free toilet that I see). At least I enjoyed it more than these guys:


Spirits raised, I walked the three miles back (as Google maps said. I took 5 as I got quite lost) bringing my walk for the day to a distance that makes me glad that I don’t track my walking.





Goose (girl power!)

Goose (girl power!)

Porto Day 1

Part 1: The Flight

Stansted is the cut price London airport. I haven’t been to Luton in a decade, and I refuse to accept London Southend as being a London airport. So that leaves Stansted. Poor Stansted, out in the distance, with the majority of its flights seemingly at godawful o’clock and the departures area the most cattle-like of any of the UK airports that I’ve been to.

Having been to US airports, I find that the UK by comparison doesn’t care for its citizens hydration nearly enough. Toilets and wayfinding are average. Customs was very swift, especially considering how full the airport was. I suppose most people are queuing for the hold.

A German woman sat next to me on a bench at 3.45am. My coach was due to get in at 4am but left ten minutes early (I assume they knew they were full?) and arrived half an hour early. National Express: better than Terravision, although waiting in an airport isn’t necessarily preferable to sleeping on an air conditioned coach. The German woman thanked me for moving slightly to accommodate her. She then struck up a conversation with the guy from New Jersey next to her. She jollily said how tired she was and told him tales of her travels to London and her friends’ travels worldwide. He spoke too, but I was reading and eating a peanut butter sandwich. Clearly neither of them were form London.

I slept the whole flight, in the unattractive, mouth open way that I always sleep on flights. I was in the aisle and I hope that the people next to me didn’t need the toilet.

Twenty minutes from getting off the plane to heading out of arrivals.

It was 13 degrees and raining. The couple wearing shorts looked horrified, and the goosebumps on their legs suggested that they may need to head to a clothes shop.

The Day

After some anxiety prior to coming, I was informed that I would be picked up either by a dark grey Ford van or a dark grey Renault Espace. There are a lot of dark grey people carriers in Porto airport.

The Espace came, picked me up, we chatted about how he started surfing last year and it has changed his life, his job as a textile sourcer for various high end high street shops, London, Porto and the weather. I was informed that I was probably the only one in the hostel and that I would be picked up at 2.45 to surf. I asked whether I had time to head to Porto, he suggested that I could go to the surf spot with him then. I decided to stay in the hostel.

A German girl chatted to me over breakfast. She left later in the day, but wrote a nice note saying that I could have anything from the fridge (I did. I had it all in a Frankenstein’s monster of a dinner, all chilli and charcuterie). I tried to write and vaguely read up about Porto.

2.45 came and went and I frantically tried to contact the surf school. Being alone, in a strange place and unable to contact people is its own special kind of stress. Through Facebook and email I was informed that I would be starting surf school tomorrow and that I was texted about it earlier (another strike against the BlackBerry, which also won’t connect to wifi). In my panic I tried to ask the maid for help but her English was limited to “Portuguese?” and my Portuguese is limited to saying “thank you” as if I were a man.

There is a room with indo boards that I can’t access. The hostel gets high marks for a hostel. As I’m the only person here, it’s pretty much just a large apartment.

I decided to venture to Porto, but quickly realised I had no idea where I was going. There is a hospital very near by which is good to know. I wandered around a shopping centre trying to find wifi and get Google maps to work. No luck. I resigned myself to staying in the area for the day.

I left the shopping centre and followed the flow of people, who led me to Metro. Always go with the flow, it will help you in more ways than you will know.


A modernist church, spotted on the following

€3 return into Porto. Mainland Europeans have it so good. Saying this, London buses are only £1.50 for a single, and a single can take you as far as Clapham to Liverpool Street (if you are getting the 344 bus). I asked the guard for advice on trying to get a ticket and he talked me through my instinct.

Into Porto. The rain continued. The entrance sequence from Trinidade isn’t overly appealing. I am still yet to be charmed by Porto, but it took me a day or so to be charmed by Rome, although I immediately found the churches to be magnificent and have always been drawn to the Italians. Porto so far seems faded in comparison.

My map suggested that there was a church very close to the station. Indeed there was, and it was the first of many masses that I was to crash in the day.


Taken from under a tree to shelter from the rain

Armed with my trusty map, rain coat, and making the decision to add an umbrella into the mix, I was ready for the day.

The city is eminently walkable. Pick up a tourist map and follow the winding roads and you will quickly come across most of the main attractions. My main attractions are always churches, of which I managed to see several. Most of them had a Mass going on. Catholics sure do keep their obligations seriously. A lot of the churches were standing room only. Seriously indeed.

Churches are quite beautiful on the outside but lack some of the Italian verve within. They are more sculptural than pictoral. The holy water was dry. A statue of the Virgin Mary made me feel sad. I stepped outside and admired the view.

Bakeries abound! I am yet to try anything yet (I overate at breakfast so have to curb my enthusiasm somewhere). Queues form around many of the cafes, and customers seem to inhale their coffee and pastel de nata (custard tart) as soon as they have made their purchase. This is a routine part of life, clearly, rather than a moment to savour and enjoy.


For my mother’s enjoyment

I think I may suffer from seasonal affective disorder. I suppose most people do. I put the weather down as being responsible for a big part of a nation’s identity. If you think of nearly any stereotype, bar Jewish stereotypes, you can somewhat explain it in relation to the weather. Maybe this is why the oft-wet Porto-guese are less relaxed than the warm, Mediterranean-sunned Italians.

Hills and buildings, small parks, more buildings, more hills. The people of Porto must have great butts and thighs.

Surprisingly for a European city (or Europe in general) there didn’t seem to be many cars on the road, and the cars that were on the road were very courteous. This marks the first time that I have been abroad where I have thought something positive about road users.

There were a number of cycle hire places. Considering the weather, I wonder how much business they do.

The Photography Museum was free. The building was lovely but the exhibits were limited. Free sounds about right.


Photography Museum and seagull

I wandered around streets from church to church, view to view, meandering down the lanes until I came to the river. The river is always the heart of every city, and Porto’s is particularly grand with its Eiffel bridge and views to the various port makers perching on the hill with their names emblazoned on the landscape.


There was water on my lens. It will be fine I’m sure.

Couples strolled, huddling under umbrellas. An English couple were lost and had no umbrella (but raincoats instead). I said to them that I was glad that someone else had a map that was as wet and falling apart as mine. They mustered a laugh but were more concerned with being lost.

Up stairs to the Se.


Drying clothes in the pissing rain, and other futile pursuits in Iberia

I sat in the Mass for ten to fifteen minutes. It was nice. Nice, but not beautiful. It is not my favourite cathedral, and being from Canterbury I put a lot of thought into these things.


I rarely take interior shots of holy places. This is no different.

I saw a Chinese restaurant. Always find a Chinatown (of sorts) on your first day in a new city.

The rain got worse. Shoes soaked, trousers wet to the mid-calf, camera hidden under my rain coat, map dropped. Onto the metro and back to the hostel.


Camera status: drying. Church like bone china.

I shopped, I wandered around the food court and admired their traditional Portuguese shops such as “H&M”, “Primark” and “Nespresso”, saw that I could have taken a shorter route, got mildly lost, found my way, ate and showered.



Pho-ckon: Cafe Hoang

After a horrendous morning of a 5.30am flight followed by several questionable choices during our travels, we made it back to Norah’s apartment at 9.30am truly exhausted from our Boston jaunt. We immediately went to sleep. Brett later commented that we sounded like hilarious old ladies on arrival: “oh I can’t wait to get in bed,” “I didn’t know there was a tiredness like this”, “arbelgarble”.

We awoke at 4.30pm as new shiny, happy people. We went to get groceries and to briefly walk around the neighbourhood, then picked up Brett to go grab food.

Norah suggested Vietnamese food. I am unconvinced by Vietnamese food, but also averse to making decisions moreso, so off we went.

One of Norah’s bosses is Vietnamese (the other is South Korean, in case you wanted to colour the whole picture) and they took her out to dinner at Cafe Hoang as they simply had to show her the good Vietnamese place in her neighbourhood. Andersonville, or Little Vietnam: when presented with too much choice one can get overwhelmed and make bad decisions as a result.

Norah is so keen on Cafe Hoang that she only ever orders takeout and tries to hide  herself from view when doing so, in order that people won’t look in through the window and decide against dining there because white people go there (true life when making Asian dining decisions).


Norah ordered the Bun Bo Hue without the pig’s trotters (saying no to the finer things in life), I ordered some kind of chicken with crispy noodles that was one of the more appetising pictures on their wall, and Brett ordered something else too. His meal came way earlier than hours.

A mango drink while we waited. Far more delicious than a simple mango drink should be. Probably laden with sugar. A perfect cold drink for four degree weather.

Home to eat.

I have no idea what London’s Vietnamese restaurants do, but they make their food wrong. Norah and I shared our meals. On returning to London and doing some Googling, I realised that I had eaten the exact same dishes previously, but Cafe Hoang did them right and made them come alive. The flavours were vivid. The portions were large. I savoured, then slurped. The bun bo hue is their specialty and was my favourite of the two dishes, though the chicken dish added a freshness and crunch to counterbalance the richness and slop (an unattractive word for an attractive dish) of the bun bo hue.

Little Vietnam know their food, and Vietnamese food returns to my good books.