The Weird and Tasty in London

I never go to London to go to London – it´s usually on the way from Iceland to somewhere else, or a stopover to switch airports. I´ve been to London a dozen times, and always left the airport if I can, but never really wanted to stay long since London struck me as a grey and overpriced, crowded city. I also hate commuting, and the London underground is the most complicated public transport system in the world, but this was finally going to be the first trip to London for the sake of getting to know London.

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typical London to me

For the first time, I started liking London. I stayed in zone 1 and tried to walk as much as possible, and actually saw blue skies more than once. Oxford street with all its Christmas cheer was undeniably charming, and the handful of parks around still had green grass. The trip was focused on wining and dining, since it will be my WSET Level III exam location in a couple of months, but a string of strange sights and events also made the trip quirky and memorable.

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magic tricks with liquid nitrogen at Dinner by Heston

I don´t have any proof, but out of the window of my Gatwick airport express train, I saw a green parrot flying freely. I wondered where one could post to a Lost and Found forum about their missing exotic bird, or if its possible that it flew here, naturally and by its own will, from somewhere warm and tropical.

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a street scene in downtown St. Helier, a weekend detour we took from London

I had one of those moments where you wish someone had caught it on camera, or suspected there was a hidden camera and it was done on purpose to record your reaction, but it was simply a stroke of bad luck, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was walking along the sidewalk where a small puddle had collected in the curb, and a car drove by close and fast enough to send it spraying over me, head to toe. It was stinky, grey, icecold water, but the shock factor was too much for me to worry about that. The woman just behind me, who got pretty much the same splash, gasped and screamed ´that is SO unfair!´

British people are known to be pretty rude drivers, especially in city center traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road and all. But its not funny anymore when it gets racist, and I heard one truck driver screaming out of his window down to the guy in the Mercedes Benz that had just cut him off ´where´d you get your license? Moscow right? Learn to fucking drive!´The Mercedes guy answered and they started screaming all sorts of profanity at eachother, threatening to get out of their car, but luckily the light turned green and everyone went on their way.

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how did he get there?

The weirdest thing I saw was a car parked on its nose against a house. It had somehow driven, or slid, off the road and lay beside the window of a basement suite. It had taken out the railing, but missed the window and the garbage bins, even though it had fallen down a crack only one meter wide.

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Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

The most impressionable part of the trip was by far the food. Dinner by Heston, a double Michelin star restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, was mind blowing. I ate chicken liver pate that looked like a plum and tasted the best chocolate tart imaginable. Street XO had a fusion of Mexican and Asian bites, with deliciously experimental cocktails, decor, plating, and even server outfits (think tophats and suspenders worn unconventionally).

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Street XO

We drank gluhwein and hot cocoa, made gingerbread men and had to catch up on our advent calendar chocolates. We had a private lunch at our friend´s work kitchen and ate the best African food in Picadilly Square at a place called Ikoyi. I brought even more of an African with me to London while watching the Lion King, but quickly started embracing the cold, crisp feeling of winter and the change of season. Christmas doesn´t feel right in the heat, you know what I mean?

 

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Paris, je t’aime

My first visit to Paris was in 2007, and I was mostly chasing a cute Parisian guy I had met in Fiji. I don’t know if it was his kiss under the Eiffel tower or just Paris in general that had me smitten, but my infatuation with this city of love had begun. Obviously it didn’t work out with the Parisian, but my love affair with Paris is still ongoing. I returned only a few months later to study the piano at a music school Chopin once taught at, which was very appropriate for me, someone only learning Chopin’s nocturnes.

The Eiffel Tower in the backround from one of the many Seine bridges

The Eiffel Tower in the backround from one of the many Seine bridges

Now, 10 years later and another 5 visits under my belt, I’m still infatuated. It changes every visit; the season, the food, and the people I meet are different every time, and I think only a lifetime in Paris would be sufficient to experience it all. I never tire of the endless parks, museums and cafes. Staring at the sparkling Eiffel tower at night or just checking out any old residential building is like glimpsing a piece of history and an architectural wonder. I crave for crepes and paninis, and more recently, I discovered the French Taco.

Hotel de Ville + bicycle + musical carousel = Paris in a nutshell

Hotel de Ville + bicycle + musical carousel = Paris in a nutshell

This trip was an exceptionally wonderful visit; it was just a short weekend trip, but 9 other Icelanders were also in town. And we had reason to celebrate. Our friend and one of the worlds top chefs had just won third place in the Bocuse d’or competition in Lyon, so after filling our stomachs with foie gras and wine in the gastronomical capital of France, we now had Paris to toast our champagne glasses, with Bocuse de bronze at our side.

Viktor Orn and Yannick Alleno with Mr. Bronze

Viktor Orn and Yannick Alleno with Mr. Bronze

Paris has over 15,000 restaurants, and more Michelin stars than any other city. We chose a 3 Star restaurant, as you do, and wined and dined at Yannick Alleno’s mansion Pavillon Ledoyen. It was the most amazing, and perhaps expensive, meal of my life, and even after 15 courses, I had to keep tasting everything they offered. After rolling out of there and swearing I’d still be full the next day, the next day came and there were mussels, oysters and escargot to be eaten.

can't get enough macaron's either, especially inside a chocolate piano

can’t get enough macaron’s either, especially inside a chocolate piano

Even when I thought I was finally satiated of French food, then I realized that Paris is full of so much more. The last meal I had was Japanese udon, a kind of casual fast food joint, but lined up out of the door and an easy 100 euros for two to dine. I also discovered an underground scene of speakeasy bars, like Candelaria – a bar you have to enter thru the back door of a taco shop. I learned that the Moulin Rouge neighbourhood is open later than most other night life, and the sex shops must be 24 hrs. How I know that isn’t the point of this story. The point is there’s always something new about Paris to love.