After a week in England and whirlwind weekend trip to Portugal, I am once again all cozy in my harpy nest (where there is no food in the fridge and the contents of my suitcase are scattered all over my bedroom floor).
My journey began at the Kentish country home of a dear friend, in a guest bedroom created from the former maid’s quarters under the eaves of the grand old manor (totally “Upstairs, Downstairs!”). It was so very English–the bells to summon servants are still in the kitchen, the Victorian stable block is full of lovely horsies and the WWII era bomb shelter in the garden is still intact (although now used as a storage shed). Here ’tis:
After a weekend of stuffing my face with local delicacies–strawberries and cream! plum jam! lamb! asparagus! rhubarb pie!–I headed north to London. I spent a few days doing boring work stuff and the rest just socializing. I stayed with some American friends who moved to London a couple years back and are now essentially operating a B&B out of their gorgeous 2-bedroom flat in Marylebone; the week that I was there, there were also three other New Yorkers rotating in and out for a night or two. Fortunately it’s a big apartment and my friends seem to enjoy the company. Also in residence is Miss Sukha:
As a thank-you for their stellar hospitality, I took my friends out for a massive dinner at Fergus Henderson’s St. John Restaurant, which specializes in “snout to tail” (i.e. lotsa offal) English locavore cuisine. I ate: roast marrowbones, lovage soup, smoked mackerel, Jersey royals, buttered cabbage and an apple-Calvados trifle that made me swoon with utter delight. I wasn’t hungry for about 12 hours afterwards. Then on Friday I headed way the fuck out of the city to Stansted airport to catch a RyanAir flight to Porto, Portugal. For those of you who aren’t familiar with RyanAir, they’re known for their rock-bottom fares (my ticket was only 99GBP) and rock-bottom customer service. The RyanAir hordes tend to include groups like the one I encountered in the security line: six twentysomething English dudes wearing matching custom-printed shirts reading “MICHAEL’S STAG DO: RIGA 2009.” It was only 6 AM, but it was clear that the stag party had begun in the car on the way there, because these guys were half in the bag. Look out, Latvia! (Judging by the other groups I saw, similar expeditions also appeared to be underway to Krakow, Tallinn and Prague, i.e. cities where beer flows and the prostitution laws are lax). Michael and his lads did kindly offer to take me with them, but I politely explained that my great-grandfather had left Riga in 1904 for Ellis Island–true family history, actually–and I was quite sure he didn’t want me going back on a RyanAir flight with a bunch of pimply drunken yobs (okay, maybe I didn’t say that last part out loud.) At any rate, Porto was worth the hassle of RyanAir simply because it was warm and sunny and extremely scenic:
So I spent a rather frenetic 48 hours seeing as much as I possibly could, including some dazzling churches, charming little winding streets, and buildings aglow with blue and white azulejo tiles and a surprising number of very good shoe stores (bought two pairs!). I also ate a ton of local specialties, including a dozen different pastries, which I consumed with cafe con leite each morning. I mostly just bought several that looked good and then took a couple bites to decide which I liked enough to finish. There was also the ever-present sardines and bacalhau (salt cod), which were surprisingly delicious. I did not partake of the city’s best-loved specialty, port wine, since I gave up the booze a couple years back. Although when I did drink, I loved port, and it’s so much a part of the city’s history that I made sure to go by the famous warehouses along the river where it’s made and sold. They’re almost without exception named for English families, since the English dominated the port wine business for centuries, and were its most enthusiastic customers. Some of the names, however, are a modern-day branding FAIL:
At any rate, I have missed you bishes, especially my lovely harpies, and after visiting no fewer than seven international airports in the last two months, I am staying put for the foreseeable future. When the Customs lady said “Welcome back” as I went through passport control today, I couldn’t help but think, “Home! Fuck yeah!”