Kate and I spent the beginning of the month in the UK, visiting first her northern relatives and then our friends pir and Miko. Here are Kate's relatively complete notes; I'll follow up with a couple of my usual impressionistic posts about parts that caught my attention. My kibitzes below are in italics.
I didn't start this until day 3 so I may have lost some details on the early part of the trip.
Day 0: did a busy day at work which got busier towards the end, but made my escape around 5:30 and walked to south station to catch the silver line. Finally got to the airport, later than I had told J, but we still had plenty of time until our flight. I changed out of workwear and then we checked our luggage and headed through the secret security line (the old southwest terminals are now international and do connect to the main international terminal) and headed to get some dinner. We'd hoped that terminal E would have gotten a face lift like terminal A, but no such luck. So a terminal with 80% of outbound flights between 6 and 10pm has relatively few dinner options. We stood in line for 15-20 minutes at Vino Volo and then got a teeny table in a teeny restaurant to get some small plates and mediocre wine. (The menu and wine list at the Vino Volo in A looked much better.) Then our plane boarded a little early and J faced the reality of international flights in coach class (he hadn't had to do that in years). I got some sleep in the very uncomfortable seats and he did not.
I've never done intercontinental in coach on British Airways before, at least under normal circumstances. The only time I've done so before was Virgin, I believe, and on the way back we had fortuitous timing: we were flying home on September 11th, and Americans are superstitious enough that the plane was *deserted* -- we had a row to ourselves. This time, though, the plane was packed solid, and the BA seats are insanely uncomfortable: the narrowest shoulder width I've ever seen, and slightly concave in a way that forced me to hunch my shoulders together the whole way. Thoroughly unpleasant.
Day 1: We arrived at Heathrow and did the usual walking of miles to get from one gate to the next including going through security again. We stopped at Starbucks while waiting for our flight to board and was quite impressed with the service and selection. We got toasties (basically grilled cheese from a panini press) and coffee drinks (and a chocolate-chip bun that we nursed for desserts for the next 36 hours) and headed to our flight to Edinburgh. Once we landed, we figured out the bus to the train station and then looked for our hotel. We found that after a little looking, checked in, and then quickly headed out again, me to get our prebooked train tickets and J to get a SIM card for the international phone. Then back to the room for a nap. The room is quite nice with a serviceable if small bathroom and a nice comfy bed. However it is very spare with almost no storage space or flat surfaces to put things on.
Around 7, we dragged ourselves out of bed and wandered over to my cousin Sus's for takeaway pizza with Sus, Si (her husband), Jen (her mother), and a brief early appearance by Ben and Nina (her kids, 14 mos and 3 years respectively). J had nduja pizza which was a spinach and onion pizza with a mild sausage (which was nothing like nduja, sadly), and I had the Vesuvio which was a sausage pizza with red and green chilies (very spicy). We decided the pizzas were excellent complements to each other. We made it to 10pm, helped by Sus providing millionaire shortbread, and then staggered to bed.
Day 2: We slept the clock around and woke up late with less than an hour to pull ourselves together and get to lunch with the crew from pizza dinner plus Rob (my other cousin) and Hannah Bea (his 13mo old daughter). Lunch was a madhouse but very tasty with panini a for us, Mediterranean for most of the others, pancakes for the children, and then cakes after. We then wandered the Royal mile and Victoria street to the haymarket and did some window shopping. We all (minus Si) took the kids to the play park and then J and I headed to the castle. Unfortunately we didn't know that the castle had just gone to winter hours and closed at 5, so we decided to do that Sunday and went shopping for scotch and other intoxicating beverages. We did find some, buying some toffee whiskey and some black currant gin. (The latter were from Demijohn, a marvelous store that sells all sorts of interesting booze.)
We met the family again at an Indian restaurant and had very tasty food. I started with scallops in lime and coriander while the others split more typical Indian starters. For mains we mostly split veggie dishes plus a Goan fish curry. It was a lovely dinner and after a quick round of some whiskey at Sus and Si's we headed back to the hotel room.
Day 3: We started by meeting the family again for brunch which was fine but inefficient. Then we made our way to the castle where we had 2.5 hours which wasn't really enough. J enjoyed a concert by a renaissance musician who demonstrated many period instruments and was quite funny besides. (Very talented guy -- Jim Tribble -- who showed off everything from hurdy-gurdy to bombard. I'm afraid I was a bit of a smartass and corrected him on which bransle he was playing, though.) We then did some touring of the castle exhibits. We headed back down through the Royal mile intending to do more touristing but it was quite cold so I ran out of cope and we headed back to the hotel for a rest.
For dinner, J found us a lovely restaurant called the Dogs. We had whitebait salad and then I had mac and cauliflower and cheese and J had pork belly with pear and celeriac mash. It was all tasty and a little quirky and was just right. We then wandered a little and got some lovely views of the castle lit up at night, and ended up at the Balmoral bar which was very expensive but tasty. Then back to the room for dessert of millionaires shortbread and toffee whiskey.
Day 4: We had a lazy morning and then J rushed me through packing and morning and we got to the train station in plenty of time to go to Simply M&S to get hoisin duck wraps for lunch (tasty but slightly messy on the train) with some fancy crisps (mediocre) and chocolate "sundaes" (more like mousse cups of multiple types of mousse and chocolate sauce with J's also having honeycomb and a brownie bits, nummy).
The train was easy enough and Linda (my aunt) picked us up at the station and took us to her house which is quite large for England with a lovely back garden. She took us to her local pub for dinner, which has pretensions to being a gastropub. Linda and I split a nice bottle of rose while J had beer and cider. We had bread with olives and a lemon herb butter as starter, and then J had the pork belly w the scallops, mash, black pudding, and cracklings; Linda had the linguini with prawns in a chilli butter sauce; and I had the lamb rack with dauphinoise potatoes, peas/onions/chorizo, and asparagus. It was all quite good, and then we had mini desserts and hot beverages, with Linda having the brownie, J the treacle tart, and I had apple and black current crumble with custard.
Day 5: We were again quite lazy, and when we woke up it was raining which made us lazier still. Linda had decided to serve us brunch at her house and served us lovely strawberries and blueberries with muesli, granola and yogurt. Then there was cheese, bacon, salmon and toast (including a lovely fruit toast). After we went to the station with a brief detour to tour Wolverhampton and see the high street. However our train was over an hour delayed (and the rain was constant) so we spent an ok but not great hour on the platform. Then onto the train and on to London and to Peter and Miko's where we found Peter laid up with a cold. J and I decided to head to Sainsburys to get some breakfast items (and millionare shortbread, which always makes a good host gift for Peter) and look for dinner but agreed on Indian takeaway instead which was tasty.
Day 6: We had been very lazy, so planned a lazy day with a slow morning of hanging out and breakfast mince pies and then we headed into London central. We went to Fortnum & Mason and looked around, then wandered Piccadilly and into the mall and over to Buckingham Palace and then wandered some more. During this we stopped at pret for sandwiches, a cafe for scones with clotted cream and coffee drinks, and the green bar for a cocktail for J and wine for me. Then we went back to Fortnum & Mason's for scotch eggs for J (mmm -- F&M sells eight different versions of scotch eggs, including Jalepeno), and then to M&S for pork pies for me, and back to Peter's to eat our dinner.
Day 7: Our plan for this day was to trek out to Hampton Court palace and the weather cooperated with bright sunshine and not too cold. We got up a little earlier and took the train to Waterloo to catch the Hampton court train since the Thames boats (the more scenic/historical mode of transport) were a little unpredictable. The train was easy enough and we'd bought our tickets to the palace the night before so we got in quite easily. We did a quick trip through some minor exhibits then caught the Tudor tour which was quite amusing and themed around the downfall of Catherine Howard with four actors playing parts in various parts of the Tudor state apartments.
Then we had lunch in the cafe which was quite tasty and appropriate, we split a chicken and leek pie and a jacket potato with cheese and a brownie for afters. We then did the audio tour of the kitchens, and did a quick walk through on our own of 3 or 4 of the other tour paths including the William and Mary state apartments and the Georgian rooms. The Georgian rooms were beautifully organized around the rift between George I and George II with paper costumed mannequins standing in for various players in the drama. That done, we went and toured the parks, completing the maze garden, and seeing much of the rest of the gardens with a stop for cakes and coffee drinks. (I got the Maids of Honour tarts, a theoretically-period recipe that reminded me a lot of Jane's Marlborough Tarts. I'm curious whether they can actually be dated to period.) Then home to Miko's Katsu curry.
Day 8: This day was scheduled to see the Tower of London, and the weather cooperated again. Unfortunately the crowds did not and there were multiple school groups (local and European) all over. However, we did manage to see everything but took no guided tours as they were jammed. The medieval palace and wall walk was my favorite but generally we agreed we liked Hampton better.
Then we wandered into the city to see if we could find a drink and a plan for dinner. We found a nice bistro and bar that had a wide gin selection for J and a nice glass of Pouilly Fume for me. Then we walked past St Marks and then towards Covent Garden, looking at menus all the way. We finally settled on Cichetti which is a small chain of Italian restaurants focusing on smaller plates. We started with the winner of the night with an nduja pizza and a duck salad. The nduja was pretty close to what we got in Rome (yay!), and the duck salad was lovely with pulled duck in a balsamic glaze over rocket and some apple slices. Then we did a pasta course with crispy (large) gnocchi in a cheese and truffle sauce and tagliatelle bolognese.
Day 9: We were exceptionally lazy this morning not getting out of the house until after 1, and then we headed to Spitalfields and got a quick British lunch of Scotch egg for him and sausage and mash with onion gravy for me. We then wandered the street markets on our way to the Geffrey museum which was quite a lovely look at living rooms/parlours from the 17th century to today. We got there a little late so didn't manage to finish the museum with time to see the gardens, but we did get a good survey of the indoors which was interesting. (Note for the future: both Spitalfields and the Geffrey are worth spending more time on.) Then back to Peter's for packing, takeaway, and hanging out.
Day 10: The flight home required an early start from Peter's, but we got to Heathrow in good time. It was another uncomfortable flight, and always seems interminible, but at last we were in Boston, and a quick taxi ride and we were home. It was good to be home.