Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, by 'eck!

A couple of weeks ago the Yorkshireman and I headed back to his homeland to pay a visit to his family. It's always a bit strange for me when we head over to Yorkshire because, although I don't hail from the part of the world, I did live there for two years, so it oddly feels simultaneously like home and yet not home. I still remember the bus routes and the shops and the places we lived and worked and spent time as if it were yesterday.

For the most part everything always seems to stay pretty much the same, but every time we visit something small has inevitably changed that removes a little bit more of the familiarity. It might only be a new café opening or an old shop shutting down, but there's usually something that wee bit different about the place. Whilst there's always comfort in the familiar, I must admit I do enjoy seeing the changes too. After all if everything stayed the same, the place would be stuck in somewhat of a rut, and I like to have new places to explore when I come and visit.

This time one of the changes brought me a bit of a "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" moment. You see, I used to work in the customer services team at the British Gas call centre in Leeds. It's a big, horrible, grey, old tower block of a building, which you can see if you crane your neck to the left when you go round Eastgate roundabout down beside the West Yorkshire Playhouse Theatre and the bus centre.

I hated working there with a vengeance. It wouldn't have been so bad if I'd just been allowed to actually, y'know, provide good customer service and actually help people, but with call times and stats and sales targets (sales targets! I ask you! "Hi I'm calling to complain about my outrageous gas bill" - "Nowt I can do about that I'm afraid sir but while you're on the phone would you like to give us some more money by any chance..?"), it was just a horrible place to work.

When I left back in 2005, they were telling us about this wonderful, new, state-of-the-art call centre we would all be moving to eventually, but I had no plans to stick around long enough to see it. Thankfully it wasn't too long before I left and got a really brilliant job that I loved instead, but going past that building and seeing the British Gas sign at the top always gave me the heebie jeebies.

However it seems that their plans for relocation did indeed go ahead after my departure because, as I took a masochistic glance at the horrible old tower block on this visit, I noticed the British Gas sign is now gone and it just looks like any other old, grey, manky building. I'm sure the poor souls of the British Gas call centre staff have been tortured elsewhere in Leeds for quite some time now, but it was the first time I noticed the sign missing and it gave me great satisfaction to imagine those awful, out-dated, open-plan call centre rooms now empty and powerless to crush the gentle spirits of any more employees.

We also happened to end up paying an inadvertent visit to the area the Yorkshireman and I lived in Bradford. That was another hell-hole, with drug-dealers outside our window, playing heavy-bass music until the wee small hours and the police unwilling to come and escort them out of the (supposedly private) car park. The day before we moved out I had to give a statement to the police about a couple of youths who had hidden some stolen goods behind the wall of our flats and, I kid you not, while they were there taking my statement, they witnessed another attempted break-in across the road! I'm telling you, people who think that Belfast is a dangerous place to live should stay in Bradford for a while - there's no comparison!

Yes, the day the van packed with all our worldly goods rolled out of that road, we vowed we would never return. Unfortunately for us the route from the Yorkshireman's dad's house to his sister's house passes through an all-too-familiar area that made us both visibly wince, even though we just about managed to avoid the top of our old road. The area didn't seem to have changed that much though. The laundrette had closed down and there were a few more takeaways but generally it was the same. Again I had no sense of nostalgia or loss - just pure unbridled relief that we got out when we did.

Luckily the rest of our visit to Yorkshire wasn't quite so harrowing - it was positively pleasurable in fact. We got to play at being local tourists, which I always enjoy doing and which I will write about next, and we enjoyed spending time with our family. Not to mention playing with the Yorkshireman's dad's new kittens, which were insane and made for hours of entertainment. I hope it's not too long before our next visit, but I really want the in-laws to come and visit us next so they can see what changes Belfast has undergone. The last time they were here half of the city centre was being dug up, so I just really want to show off our wonderful little city now that it's all shiny and new. Better get booking those flights, family peeps, or else!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Cardiff Baby - Day Four - Cardiff afterlife

I would love to say I got a great night's sleep in our lovely room at the Novotel Cardiff Centre, but alas, despite the squooshiness of the lovely bed, it wasn't to be. You see, a group of girls had decided to stumble back to their rooms on our floor at ridiculous o'clock in the morning and screech the place down. It was just about getting to the point where I was going to go out and literally kick their asses when suddenly all went quiet. Much better.

Except now I was awake I realised our room was boiling hot and I couldn't get back to sleep. Locating the air conditioning panel on the wall using only the light from mobile phone display, I set it to its coldest and most powerful settings and returned to bed, basking in the newfound coolness. That helped me get off to sleep but then I woke up shivering at 6am and had to readjust the settings again. The Yorkshireman somehow slumbered blissfully through it all. Typical.

Luckily when I woke up again later that morning, there was a spa waiting to relieve my tension. I swam fifty lengths of the pool (daily exercise: check!), dodging families with small children and groups of gossiping OAPs as I went, and then relaxed in the jacuzzi, sauna and steam room again. As chilled out as we ever would be, we returned to our room to get all our stuff together and then checked out of the hotel. I wished we could have stayed longer, especially now I'd gotten the hang of the air con. Oh well, there's always next time!

In the meantime, it was almost midday and we hadn't had anything to eat yet, so we headed off in search of sustenance. We ended up in a really cool Wetherspoons called The Prince of Wales, which is based in an old theatre - even the ladies toilets seem to have once been some kind of dressing room. We had a good feed and some more ale and then made our way over to the Millennium Stadium so the Yorkshireman could take some photos. I'm generally quite nonchalant when it comes to football stadia, especially if you can't even see the inside of them, but it kept him happy. Besides, we were making our way to a place of interest for me next.

Yes, you've probably guessed it - I had located another cupcake shop. This time it was Sugarswirlz in Cardiff's Dominions Arcade. Actually this was a pretty famous cupcake shop, having been dragged into the limelight after a lady went a bit mental there when they ran out of her favourite flavour. Don't get me wrong, I love my cupcakes, but that's somewhat of an extreme reaction, no?

So, after the Yorkshireman finished snapping his stadium, we ventured off in search of cupcakes. We found them, tucked away in a lovely little shop with a girl as sugary sweet as her cupcakes serving us. There were so many flavours I found it very difficult to choose. In the end I could only narrow it down to two, each representing one of my favourite sweeties: white chocolate and marshmallow. However such sweetness clearly required the bitterness of coffee to cut through it a little and so a visit to Starbucks was also required.

Unfortunately I got stuck behind a group of awkward people (you know the type: "Oh no actually instead of that hot chocolate you've already started making for me and rung into the till, can I actually have a skinny iced soy latte instead? I'm being good hahahaaaaa. And what sandwiches do you have? Oh no I don't want any of those. Maybe a fruit salad. But then if I'm having a fruit salad maybe I'll go for that hot chocolate after all…"). By the time I emerged fifteen minutes later we had to make a run for it to make sure we would be there on time for our bus to the airport. Sadly, it was already time to go home.

Thankfully we made it to the bus station with plenty of time to spare, which gave us the chance to sample our cupcakes. I had my white chocolate one first, which, quite cutely and awesomely, had a white chocolate mouse on top. Eeee! And, actually, it was so delicious. Okay so if you're one of those people who think that white chocolate, fudge, etc is "too sweet", it's probably not the cupcake for you, but if you love a good, concentrated taste of utter sugary goodness, it's perfect. The cupcakes were pretty big too, which is always a plus. The cake itself was very moist - the Yorkshireman (who had a chocolate cupcake himself) described it as "more like a muffin", which I think sums it up perfectly. The white chocolate flavoured frosting had that wonderful balance between the sweetness of the sugar and actual taste and the little mouse was quite literally the "sugar on top" of a wonderful cupcake.

However it was, of course, very, very sweet. One cupcake would have been more than enough but thanks to EBTB Syndrome (Eyes Bigger Than Belly) I had a second waiting to be sampled, and it was marshmallow flavoured - yikes! The marshmallow cupcake had the same muffin-like cake but was topped with a frosting that was a bit differently textured than the white chocolate one - I think it had some actual marshmallow whipped into it, as well as a big plump marshmallow decorating the top. I can't say for sure whether it was just because I'd already just eaten the white chocolate cupcake but I suspect I would have thought it anyway: it was just too sweet. And trust me, coming from me, that's an unusual claim. But as anyone who has eaten marshmallows straight from the bag knows, it gets pretty sickening pretty quickly, and this was like eating a whole bag of marshmallows in one sitting. Even I, the cupcake queen, left it unfinished.

So, in summary of Sugarswirlz's cupcakes: the white chocolate one was very sweet - almost the antithesis of the coffee cupcake from Ella's in London but yet equally divine; the marshmallow one was just that bit too sweet to fully enjoy the tastes and textures. But those were the last cupcakes of our trip and so a conclusion must be reached; my top three cupcakes ever (thus far anyway) are: Gobble Gobble (vanilla with sprinkles) from Crumbs in New York, Coffee from Ella's in London, and White Chocolate from Sugarswirlz in Cardiff. Don't ask me to rank them - it's just too hard - but if anyone wanted to send me some more samples I would gladly have a go at it…

Back in reality again, we were soon on the bus to Cardiff Airport. Somewhat sleep-deprived, I dozed most of the way (in spite of the sugar and caffeine hit) whilst the Yorkshireman kept an eye out for a glimpse of Cardiff City Stadium. At the airport everything went very smoothly and I didn't even have time to buy a coffee before we were called forward for boarding. And that's where it all went pear-shaped.

For some reason bmibaby decided it would be a fantastic idea to take a plane full of Belfast-bound passengers and fly them to… Birmingham. Yes, Birmingham. Say what?! Apparently one of their planes in Birmingham had experienced technical difficulties and we were destined to provide the rescue mission. Not that I'm not sympathetic to the plights of the Birmingham passengers but it would have been nice to have been asked first!

Lookit, I can understand your flight being delayed or cancelled because your plane or your airport has problems, but for you to be made to sit on a plane for an hour and a half extra because somebody else over 100 miles away had a problem with their plane seems a bit ridonculous. Why should you be disadvantaged just because bmibaby can't provide sufficient service to their other customers? And also? They didn't even give us so much as a cup of tea for our trouble. Bah! I wrote a strongly worded letter to their customer service team when we got back but I haven't had a response yet.

Eventually we landed in Belfast and my very kind mummy picked up our weary souls from the airport and cooked us dinner, even though she was sick. Mummies are the best. Although not the bandaged Egyptian ones - they can be a bit scary. Then again so can my own dear mummy… Hmmm…

So that was the end of our mini adventure in London and Cardiff. I had an absolute whale of a time and I would highly recommend both cities for anyone planning a wee city break somewhere in the UK. In London it was great to stay somewhere out of the main tourist areas and get to see a different side to a city we thought we already knew pretty well. In Cardiff it was lovely to see a smaller city like our own being given a new lease of life. I would love to visit both again, but there are plenty of other destinations waiting for the Yorkshireman and I to explore them before then. Hopefully it won't be too long before our next (mis)adventure… the travel itch is already returning!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Cardiff Baby - Day Three Part Two - Cardiff By The Sea

Apologies in advance if this is a long one!

So, we'd arrived in Cardiff and couldn't wait to see what the city had in store for us. I'll be honest, from preliminary web searches it hadn't looked like there was much to see and do in Cardiff apart from a big football stadium (which was closed while we were there) and a castle, so my expectations as we walked into the city centre again weren't particularly high. But, can I just say, I really loved Cardiff!

It actually reminded me of Belfast a little because the city centre is pretty compact and also seems to have enjoyed somewhat of a recent renaissance, much like our own wee city. As we walked through The Hayes, we saw modern art sculptures, a Big Screen and plenty of shops, bars, restaurants and cafés, so it really did remind me of home. Everyone was out enjoying the sunshine and the general atmosphere was relaxed and jubilant, in particular a pub full of rugby fans who were having a merry (and noisy!) old time.

I also saw a few Starbucks scattered around, which made me happy (can't be too far from my next hit of "the green drug"), and there was a Greggs that not only had vanilla slices (unlike in London) but indeed sold the Yorkshireman one so big he could have sailed it around Cardiff Bay, which made him happy. It also sold me a raspberry ripple cupcake (all entries are eligible for contention for "best cupcake") that was just the weirdest thing I've tasted in quite some time. It was like a jammy bun with oddly textured icing that tasted a bit like Haribo. Very hard to describe and, although not entirely unpleasant, it immediately came in at the bottom of my "best cupcake" list, sorry Greggs! If it's any consolation, the chicken and stuffing pasty I bought with it was much more successful though - yum!

After we had enjoyed eating our baked goods on a bench, watching the world go by, I declared my craving for something alcoholic to drink and so we set off in search of a bar. Bypassing the aforementioned noisy rugby fans, we headed down to Castle Street, which is funnily enough beside the walls of Cardiff Castle, and ended up in Revolution, one of a chain of vodka bars I had passed many times during my adventures on the mainland but had never actually tried.

On our way from the hotel we had seen many’s a sign for the local ale, which curiously enough was called Brains, so we decided to give it a go. Ordering "two pints of Brains, please" was an interesting experience and possibly one only recommended whilst in Wales! It was quite nice actually, despite the unappetising name. There was a cocktail masterclass going on in the back of Revolution whilst we were there, with some enthusiastic-sounding hen parties cheering one another on. It sounded like great craic actually and I wanted to join in with the frivolity, but instead I made do with a shot of flavoured vodka from the diverse menu that had been eyeing me up since we walked in. I went for a shot of the birthday cake flavour and it was indeed both delightfully sweet and delightfully alcoholic.

Suitably lubricated, we set off across the road to Cardiff Castle. I hadn't really been quite sure what to expect from the information and photos I'd seen of the Castle during my online research and whether it would be worth the admission price, but actually it was a really cool place to visit. It would be a great place to have a picnic actually - the grounds were lovely.

Using our well-honed museum-goers' tactics, we decided to "start at the top and work down", the highest point in this case being the top of the keep. There were quite a few steps in all, some very steep and others narrow and spiralled, but the view from the top was worth the exertion. The Yorkshireman got snap-happy with his camera as per usual whilst I just enjoyed the view and engaged in a spot of tourist-dodging (people can get quite pushy when they have a big camera around their neck!). After a while we decided to make way for the next batch of visitors trudging up the spiral staircase and made our way down to ground-level again.

It was at this point I realised that the keep of Cardiff Castle has an actual, honest-to-God moat around it! I cannot tell you how exciting this was to me. When you're a child playing with your bucket and spade on the beach and you decide to build a sandcastle, it's only really a success if you make a moat around it: the sense of achievement when you drag your little bucket of water back from the sea and finally fill up the moat is like nothing you will feel in adulthood, I'm convinced of it. Unless of course you're an adult like me who has no shame and continues to build sandcastles on the beach with an air of defiance regardless of your age. But anyway, I live in a country more full of crumbling old castles than most, and I had yet to see an actual, real-life castle with a moat… until now! They do really exist! What utter glee! I don't think the Yorkshireman quite shared my sense of thrill but he gamely humoured me, bless him.

Having recovered from my moat-related excitement, we ventured into the Castle Apartments. I'm not generally a fan of wandering around posh houses to be honest ("look at all this luxury you can't afford!"), but this one was pretty stunning. I'm sure the Yorkshireman will upload some of his photos sometime soon but in the meantime I shall just say it was very ornate. I especially loved the library, with its very old books on the shelves and the fireplace incorporating different languages.

Next we ventured up on to the Castle walls for a bit of a walk. The views were pretty and it was fun to peek out every now and then at unsuspecting passersby, just going about their business, oblivious to being stared at from up high. That's the funny thing about Cardiff - the Castle really is right in the heart of the city centre, so you look out from this centuries old historical landmark and see the cars driving past and the high street stores and bars across the road. Peculiar, but I like how well the growing city has incorporated itself into the Castle's surrounds.

At the far end of the walls, we found an unlabelled staircase. Not being the sort of people to pass up the opportunity for some adventure, we headed down inside and realised we had found our way into the tunnels. The tunnels were used in World War II as an air raid shelter and there are some authentic items from the period down there, for instance a little canteen set up where people could buy food and drink during an air strike, some bunk beds where people would sleep, and a few "are you my mummy?" type gasmasks sitting around. They were also playing a Winston Churchill speech and Vera Lynn's We'll Meet Again over some quite tinny-sounding speakers. Combined with the long, dark, echoey corridors, the disembodied voices made the whole experience a little chilling but it was also pretty damn cool.

Having emerged from the tunnels to find that afternoon had now become evening, we decided to head back through the city centre to our hotel. After all, there was free usage of a spa awaiting us!

It was a nice little spa actually - the pool was a decent enough size for a spa and the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna were very gratefully received by our well-travelled bodies. There was a moment in the jacuzzi, as the jets and bubbles worked their magic on my stiff back and shoulders, where I sighed a deep sigh of relaxation and thought, yep, I could really get used to this. I have since decided that should budget and practicalities allow, all future hotels I book shall have a spa, which seems strange bearing in mind I can't stand massages and have no interest whatsoever in paying about £50 for a "treatment", but there you have it.

Eventually the Yorkshireman successfully lured me out of the spa with the promise of drinks and dinner. We showered and changed in our lovely hotel room whilst watching the start of a film called No Reservations starring Catherine Zeta Jones, which was entertaining enough in spite of its plot being so blatently transparent from early on. We also heard around this point the sad news about Amy Winehouse, which was quite shocking even though, given the history of her short life, it perhaps shouldn't have been. Such a shame - I really loved her music and it sounds like she might just have been on the point of finding some real happiness in her life.

But anyways, on with brighter things as we headed down to the hotel bar for a pre-dinner drink. I fancied a cocktail and was given the option to "double up" for a pound or two extra. I thought that maybe meant adding extra shots of alcohol in them, but no, two piña coladas promptly arrived at our little booth (both for me), and very tasty they were too!

And then it was off into the lovely sunny evening in Cardiff. We walked down past a little river and saw a family of ducks (cue more photography from the Yorkshireman), before we finally reached the Millennium Centre down by Cardiff Bay. It's a lovely little area down by the waterside and, of course, we had to locate the secret entrance to the Torchwood Hub in Roald Dahl Plass before we could have dinner (hint: it's in front of the water tower).

I then saw a carousel and demanded that the Yorkshireman accompany me on a fun-filled ride around in circles on a wooden horse (see "no shame" above). He was less than enthusiastic but I had a whale of a time! And is always the way with these things, it had been empty before we went on, with everyone looking at it and deciding no, they were too old or too cool, but as soon as we stepped up to the plate, it started a trend. It was like the Big Piano incident at FAO Schwarz all over again. By the time we were disembarking a queue was already forming at the ticket booth. You're welcome, carousel man!

As for the Yorkshireman and I, we located a little restaurant called Signor Valentino in the Mermaid Quay complex, which had outdoor seating overlooking the bay, and enjoyed some comforting Italian food and red wine as we watched the sun set on our lovely day in the very charming city of Cardiff. A lovely day turned into a lovely night, spent with my favourite person in the world - what more can a girl ask for?

Later, tired from a good three days of adventures, we walked back to the hotel, drunk on life (and in my case a steady intake of alcohol throughout the day) and ready for a good night's sleep in that big, comfortable bed. It would, very sadly, soon be time to go home.

To be continued…

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

London / Cardiff Baby - Day Three Part One - Goodbye London

On Saturday morning we awoke, packed and checked out of the Travelodge, all within half an hour. Man, we're efficient! Normally we're not in quite such a rush but we had plans for that morning which required keeping a tight schedule.

Our first plan had been to call into Greggs across the road from our hotel for breakfast so that the Yorkshireman could get his fix, preferably a Bavarian or vanilla slice. They totally need to bring Greggs to Belfast - it would be very popular indeed! But anyway, this particular Greggs proved to be somewhat of a disappointment. No vanilla slices, no Bavarian slices… just some weird-looking things called "London cheesecakes" that appealed to neither of us.

Undeterred I consulted my BFF Google Maps to try and locate another Greggs close to either our current location or our next destination, but alas it was about a mile away in both cases and, with no guarantee that these alternatives would be any more suitably stocked, we gave it up as a bad job and headed for the last time to the now-familiar Fulham Broadway tube station.

But what's this? The station is closed?! Replacement bus service to Earl's Court? Damn, I guess we should have paid more attention to those announcements about changes to services we kept hearing. Oh well, it wasn't a problem. I stocked up on a coconut ice flavour Krispy Kreme donut (it had been taunting me since I first saw it two days before) and a coffee from Starbucks and we went to wait for our bus. Thankfully it was easy to find (i.e. right outside the door), the journey was quick to the neighbouring station and before we knew it we were emerging once again at Victoria. Wee buns, as we say in Belfast, or "lemon squeezy" as the Cockneys would have it.

We were a little early for our next activity so we went in search of proper breakfast. We found a cheap and cheerful café nearby and enjoyed fried breakfasts. However, the area also proved fruitful in my ongoing search for "the best cupcake". The Yorkshireman was somewhat bemused (and also really impressed deep down, I could tell) that I managed to spot a cupcake shop from the other end of the street. In my defence the shop was painted pastel pink, so it was either going to be a cake shop or a baby shop, let's face it. It turned out to be Peggy Porschen and I bought a very expensive but beautifully packaged vanilla and blueberry cupcake for later consumption.

Weighed down by my huge monkey of a backpack and yet conversely delicately carrying my cute little single-cupcake-sized box, we headed over to Victoria Coach Station and joined the queue for the 509 bus service. Yes, we were off to Cardiff!

How this came about… I genuinely still am not 100% clear. Usually I am involved in all logistics and practicalities of planning our trips, but this time the Yorkshireman started thinking "outside the box" and threw a bit of a curveball. You see, whilst we were still contemplating whether or not to start booking everything, the price of return flights from London on the Saturday started climbing again. By the time we were finally ready to commit, the choices (as I understood them) were to just suck it up and pay the extra or to book a cheaper return flight on the Sunday and find a cheap hotel room for an extra night in London.

However one day I came home from work to find that the Yorkshireman had been doing some research of his own that afternoon and had developed a cunning plan. For around the same price as booking the Saturday flight from Heathrow or staying an extra night in London, how would I fancy exploring a bit more of the UK for a day? Intriguing… It turned out that flights back from Cardiff to Belfast were über cheap and the hotels were pretty reasonable too. All we would need to do was get from London to Cardiff and hey presto. As it turns out the National Express was really cheap too and before we knew it we had a pretty strange but exciting adventure planned. Why Cardiff specifically? Well, why not?

And so Saturday morning saw us spend three hours on a coach from London to Cardiff. Actually it was quite a pleasant journey. There's not a lot of legroom on National Express admittedly, but then it's the same with a lot of cars and planes these days anyway. The Yorkshireman and I spent most of our trip playing on our smartphones and keeping an eye on our GPS to see what we were currently passing or approaching (spoiler: it's mostly motorway).

Oh! The cupcake! I vowed I would wait until we were over the Welsh border before I ate it (as a celebration) but there was a small box-dropping incident that led to some smooshing of frosting, so I caved in somewhere outside Bristol and went in for the kill. The cake itself was pretty nice but I've had lighter and fluffier. However the frosting… oh so good! I love frosting that actually tastes of something rather than just sugar and this really did. I hesitantly stated that I thought it might have been my favourite frosting ever, which is a rather bold claim coming from me. However on the negative side, the cupcake was very expensive, especially given its rather small size, and I suspect you're really paying through the nose for the dinky box.

So, all-in-all, if I had to buy just one of my London cupcakes again, I would probably choose the coffee one I'd had a couple of days before from Ella Bakehouse over Peggy Porschen's vanilla and blueberry, with Ella's still ranking up there with Crumbs in New York as the "best" so far in my quest.

Cupcake long-since consumed, we eventually stepped off the coach for our first Welsh experience. Our first move was to find our way to our hotel, the Novotel Cardiff Centre and check in. Despite the name it was actually a bit of a walk from the centre, especially with our heavy bags, but we found it easily enough. We actually really loved the hotel. It was spacious, light and modern, with big, clean, comfortable rooms and a lovely spa just waiting to be abused downstairs. I especially love it when a hotel room has a sofa in the room as well as your bed - it's nice to have that extra space to chill out and separate the sleeping from the relaxing.

However there wasn't much time to relax - we had a whole city to explore and a spa to enjoy, and only one afternoon and one morning in which to achieve it. And so it was straight back out into the city to discover what it had to offer!

To be continued…

Sunday, 21 August 2011

London Baby - Day Two Part Two - The Wickedest Sound

After our unscheduled stop at the Museum of London, we realised we were running out of time to get back to the hotel, get all dolled up and get our asses back to Victoria on time for our big night out.

Typically we just missed a train at one of our connections and, as happens after you've been in London for more than a day, you start to feel irked that you have to wait, like, four whole minutes for the next one, whereas if you were back here in Belfast waiting on a bus that would be delightful news indeed. Luckily when I find myself thinking like that I catch myself on, whereas the group of local fellas who were next to us were genuinely incensed that they'd missed it! Calm down boys, there'll be another one along shortly!

Of course there was and before we knew it we were back at the hotel, freshly showered, suited, booted and back down to the Underground on our way to Victoria. Unfortunately there was another little unscheduled delay and by the time we emerged from the tube station in Victoria and picked up our tickets at the box office we only had around forty-five minutes to spare. Should we, (a) rush to the first restaurant in sight, order dinner and risk not being done on time, or (b) go grab snacks at the Sainsbury’s Local across the road then head to the pub for a drink instead?

We went for option (b) and surreptitiously enjoyed our pre-packaged sandwiches in a doorway alcove of a pub whilst sipping another pint of London Pride. Bliss. The only thing that could improve the evening was a spot of musical theatre… and as luck would have it, we had tickets to go and see Wicked!

I've always been a bit of a fan of musicals, ever since I first heard I Know Him So Well on one of my mum's CDs (or possibly cassette tapes… it was quite a while ago!). I was always in choirs and orchestras and stuff throughout school, so I picked up a few more well-known musical numbers through that, and then in 2001 I got to be in the chorus for Les Misèrables when it came to the Odyssey in Belfast, which was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Since then I've been even more interested in musical theatre and the Yorkshireman and I have been lucky enough to see a few different shows in London and New York. And then, of course, there's Glee, now bringing songs from the musicals to the masses, including a version of Wicked's Defying Gravity that I just love.

When we went to New York in November, number one on my musicals bucket list had indeed been Wicked (not just because of Glee, honest!) but the show was so popular (little in-joke there for anyone who's seen it) that there were no discounted tickets available and I just couldn't justify spending over $100 each to go see it. In the end we got to see two shows for that price and they were both brilliant, but I was still a bit disappointed not to have seen Wicked. And so when we were planning our little spur-of-the-moment London trip and the Yorkshireman enquired about which show we could go and see, it immediately sprung to mind.

So I checked ticket prices and they were again a bit on the steep side, but there were a few lower priced tickets in the restricted view areas and I figured, hey, why not - how bad could it be? But when we went to book through the official site, it kept saying there were no tickets available! Oh no! However somehow or another we stumbled across lastminute.com and, bizarrely, they did have tickets… and for only £22.50 each! All very strange but we weren't arguing and with constant chanting from me ("Just click ok! Add to basket! Hurry up and checkout already!") the Yorkshireman had them booked within a few minutes. Woohoo!

And so as Friday evening descended on Victoria, the Yorkshireman and I made our way up into the upper circle. It was, admittedly, quite high up and we did both invest £1 in hiring some of those little binoculars on the back of the seat in front, but it in no way diminished the show for us. In fact for some of the effects I think you might even be better off way up in the back so you can take it all in.

The show itself was truly spectacular. The cast were brilliant and there were some great numbers, both vocally and choreographically. I'd always been a fan of Rachel Tucker when I was following I’d Do Anything (well, she is a local girl after all!) so I was really pleased to see her playing the lead of Elphaba. I wasn't really familiar with Louise Dearman, who played Glinda, but it turns out she's the lady who sings the kick-ass vocals on the Somebody To Love confused.com ad and she was both amazing and also very funny.

I'd only really heard three of the songs from Wicked before (Popular, Defying Gravity and For Good) and those did actually end up being my favourites anyway (I guess they're the most famous for a reason) but even when the song being performed was one I would consider a "filler" (i.e. the ones that set the scene, move the story along, etc), there was so much happening on the stage that the show still held my captive attention from start to finish. I think that, even though I’ve seen plenty of musicals where I liked the music a bit more, Wicked was up there amongst my favourites overall.

So, after an Ozsome night (hehe) at the theatre and a well-deserved standing ovation, we were on our way back out into the rainy London streets, dashing back into the Underground once again. Given our timing issue earlier in the evening, we had decided to head back to Fulham and hopefully find a restaurant still open and serving dinner at 10pm somewhere near the station. Unfortunately we were a little too eager and in our haste to get back we only realised too late that whilst we were on a District Line train, it was not Wimbledon-bound as it needed to be. Oops. We decided to alight at Earls Court and walk back to the hotel from there, hoping to pass some kind of open restaurant on the way (Plan C?).

Alas that was not to be either. After a quick pit-stop back at the hotel we headed out in search of takeaway (Plan D). Unfortunately the options immediately around our hotel were not looking good at what was now 11pm. The fish and chip shop was closed and, oddly, so apparently was the pizza shop I walked straight into through an open door. Interesting definition of “closed” if you ask me. We wandered a little further around Fulham in search of sustenance, which we eventually found in the form of a sub from Subway for the Yorkshireman and subs from Dominos from me. We had a floor picnic back in our hotel room whilst watching the so-bad-it’s-almost-good Marriage Ref on TV.

And then, after a long, busy and awesome day, it was time for bed in preparation for yet another long day full of adventure on Saturday.

To be continued...

Friday, 19 August 2011

London Baby - Day Two Part One - On the Steps of Old St Pauls

Friday morning dawned and, after a good night's sleep in the surprisingly comfortable Travelodge bed, we made our way to the first place on our day's itinerary. I have a compulsion to over-research and over-plan any trip I intend to go on, which actually ends up being a good thing because the Yorkshireman and I are both indecisive and easily bored when we have nothing to do. For this trip my research had led me to a tour of BBC Television Centre, the birthplace of so many shows we grew up watching (and still do!).

So it was back down to Fulham Road to Fulham Broadway station (with a quick detour via Krispy Kreme and Starbucks, sugar and caffeine being the only way to start a busy day of sightseeing) and back into the Underground. At least for today we were free of our monkeys, which made it a lot easier to get around. We emerged at White City station and, hey presto, there across the road in all its glory, just like you've doubtlessly seen on TV, was Television Centre itself. We checked in at reception for our tour and waited around for our guide alongside the group of bored-looking college students who would be joining us.

The tour was pretty cool but, in my opinion, too short. We started off outside where we got to see the actual Tardis from Doctor Who (well, one of them anyway), which was pretty cool. Then we were off to the news area, where we got to sit around a conference table in a completely transparent meeting room in the middle of the news room, gawping out at the hardworking journalists like they were an exhibit in a zoo. Or maybe we were the exhibit... Either way it was pretty cool.

Also? The guide told us that, when you see the journalists all working hard in the news room in the background on the news? It's all CGI! They're not real journalists! Something about the real journalists not wanting millions of viewers worldwide to see when they fall over their handbag or drop ketchup on their shirt, which I suppose is fair enough, given that if I worked there, that person would be me. But still, I will never watch the news the same way again!

Other highlights of the tour included:
  • The circular outdoor concourse in the middle of the Centre that is affectionately known as the "concrete donut" and contains a fountain that they have to keep dry because the sound of the running water makes all of the BBC employees want to wee constantly.
  • The superdupermegastars' dressing room as used by the likes of Elton John, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga.
  • a huge studio with a billion lights suspended from the ceiling which they apparently call "the comedy studio" because a lot of comedy shows have been filmed there
  • The corridor outside the weather offices where we saw actual weatherman Liam Dutton en route to do his thang.
  • An Interactive Studio where poor unsuspecting visitors are bullied by eager tour guides and meanie spouses to take part in a pretend quiz show and lose to a sixteen year old (who was so totally cheating by the way).
  • The gift shop.

It only took about an hour and I would loved to see more of the place, for example a studio all set for filming (or even being prepared) or some costumes (we had been thrilled to see one of Kryten's heads from Red Dwarf randomly on display in the Interactive Studio), but it wasn't to be. The tour was still worth it though and I think it would have been better if you were in a group who were actually interested and asked questions rather than just awkwardly staring at the floor beside the guide's feet and staying resolutely silent like the college students in ours. BBC Television Centre is apparently now up for sale so if you'd like to see a true piece of entertainment history you'll need to book a tour before it's too late.

Next we decided to pay a visit to St Paul's Cathedral. Actually that's stretching the truth a bit. I'd decided I wanted to go to the shopping centre One New Change because I'd read it had a cool rooftop terrace open to the public with great views of London and, also, a recent episode of The Apprentice had featured Lord Suralan descending in the awesome glass lift they had there, with a view of St Paul's in the background, so I wanted to look stern and grumpy in the lift too. Just for the craic. But we happened to be passing St Pauls on the way from the Tube anyway, so we stopped to take a look and for the Yorkshireman to take a billion photos (as he is often wont to do). We couldn't see inside (they were consecrating a Bishop or some such that day apparently) but we did see plenty of pigeons on the steps, which meant I went around singing Feed The Birds from Mary Poppins for the rest of the day.

After getting a bit befuddled with directions we eventually found One New Change. It was all very posh black and metal and glass and I quite liked it, although it seemed a bit intimidating. We made our way up to the roof garden (although there were disappointingly too many people in the lift to pretend to be Lord Surlan) and checked out the view, which was indeed quite cool. After another few photos we pondered our next move and decided that lunch would be the answer.

We descended once again in the glass lift (this time I even got to try on my surly Suralan pose) and after some deliberation of our options chose Eat for lunch. We don't have Eat in Northern Ireland so even though it was a chain (like most of the places there) it had a certain novelty value. However I went into Apprentice overload when I realised their menu included pie, mash and mushy peas! Like Tom and Helen's MyPy! So, of course, that is what we went for, served up in the same cute little brown boxes Tom and Helen had originally chosen for their pies. I also had a vanilla cupcake (all contenders are eligible for the title of "best cupcake"). We then ascended back up to the roof garden and sat eating hot pies, mash potatoes and mushy peas in 20°+ heat. Perhaps sandwiches may have been more weather-appropriate but the food was very nice anyway, although the cupcake tasted disappointingly mass-produced (which I suppose, in fairness, it probably was).

After lunch we sat and deliberated our next move. We had originally planned to visit Vinopolis to taste some wine and beer and generally have a (quite expensive) merry old time. However neither of us was really in the mood for wine (both finding ourselves in more of an ale frame of mind at the time) and it seemed a shame to spend so much money on something we would probably enjoy more at a later date. But what to do instead?!

There was a whole huge city out there (we could see it from where we were sitting!) and my Time Out app was listing thousands of things to do in London that day but yet our choices still seemed minimal. We'd already done most of the usual touristy stuff on previous trips and we didn't want to pay the extortionate amounts of money or queue for twenty years to do anything we'd so far missed on the tourist trail. We looked up tour times for brewery tours but they were too late or too far away. We considered the IMAX but the only thing showing was Harry Potter (no thanks!). In the end I declared that we should get out of the sun (my legs felt like they were on fire in my black trousers) and go find a nice shady pub with alcomahol in it to consider further.

However there seemed to be some kind of breakdown in communication somewhere along the way as I dutifully followed the Yorkshireman through the streets of London (I am useless at directions without the aid of a map) to what I believed was going to be an area thriving with pubs. But no! I discovered en route we were actually somehow on our way to the Museum of London instead! What?How?When?Why?! Ale, man! I clearly demanded a pint of ale! Not a museum! How did that happen? You wily Yorkshireman, you! Trying to make me be all edumacated instead of drunk! Why I oughta..! In the end we compromised - we sipped our pints of London Pride in what was clearly a popular businessman's lunchtime haunt close to the Museum and then headed in for some culture.

Actually, for a museum, the Museum of London was pretty good. It wasn't a massive museum but they've managed to somehow cram exhibits about the whole history of the city from prehistoric times right up to today. Like all museums it had some pretty dull exhibits and some more interesting ones. My favourites were probably the Victorian Walk and Pleasure Garden (always a fan of interactive exhibits at museums and these were very pretty) and the film exhibition about London in World War II (heart-wrenching but really interesting). Admission is free so if you're interested in museums and you've already done all the major ones in London, it's definitely a decent way to pass an hour or two and learn more about the history of the city you're exploring.

Having exhausted the exhibits at the Museum, we set off back to our hotel to get ready for a night out on the tiles. Apart from the football match, this evening was what I has been looking forward to the most for the whole trip.

To be continued…

Thursday, 11 August 2011

London Baby - Day One Part Two - Fulham Stomp

We emerged in Fulham, not really sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised actually. We'd emerged from the tube at Fulham Broadway and it was a great little station as tube stations go - there was a supermarket, a cinema, a few restaurants, a Krispy Kreme stand (which I may have frequented a couple of times) and, always a winner with me, a Starbucks.

Outside on Fulham Road I decided I liked the place even more. There were loads of cafés and restaurants and bars and shops and essentially everything you'd need whether you lived there or were just visiting. It was pretty busy too, but in a nice, buzzing kind of way, not a frantic, rushed way like in the middle of London. As we walked towards the hotel we found that market stalls also set up on the pavements outside the high street shops, so you can buy a pair of boots on a stall and then head into Boots for some blister plasters - genius!

After a few consultations with my new BFF Google Maps, we found ourselves outside our hotel, Travelodge London Fulham. Okay so we weren't exactly living in the lap of luxury but it had good reviews, it was reasonably priced and actually it turned out to be pretty good. Don't get me wrong, it was very basic, but it had everything we needed (essentially a bed, a bathroom and a TV), it was clean and there was plenty of space. It was pretty convenient too - only about a ten minute walk from two different tube stations and, as I said before, plenty of places to keep you occupied nearby, including a Greggs across the road, which the Yorkshireman eyed with delight upon arrival.

Having confirmed to the receptionist that we were indeed there to see the Fulham v Crusaders match, and having consequently been sternly warned not to be crazy, drunken football fans or we would incur her wrath, we set off through the pouring rain to the bar next door (hehe). We're pretty much as far from loud, drunken football hooligan types as you can get but it was fun to feel like a rebel for a few minutes. We had hoped that the rain would ease off whilst we sipped our first pints of the day, but alas it only seemed to get heavier, so I bought a shoddy £2.99 umbrella in a shop across the road and made a dash for it.

Having made it through the rain we caught the tube across to Putney Bridge and, like the classy people we are, headed to Wetherspoons for some more alcohol and dinner. Actually Wetherspoons often gets a bad rap for being cheap and nasty, but I've never really had a bad experience at one. The food may not be haute cuisine but it's certainly tasty and good value, and they have a great selection of drinks for reasonable prices - what more can you ask for really? This particular Wetherspoons, The Rocket, was pretty new and I liked it, especially the Tucher wheat beer I tried - yum!

After a few bevvies and a good feed, we were ready to set back off through the rain for the walk across Putney Bridge to Craven Cottage. In the end we didn't need directions - we just followed the masses of Fulham fans who were heading in that direction (giving us suspicious looks as we merrily skipped along with our Crues scarves on). Having wandered through the very lovely residential area around the ground, we finally found the right gate and in we went.

As always I won't go into a blow-by-blow account of the match, because I just don't pay that much attention in the first place and also have the memory span of a amnesic goldfish. However the BBC have a lovely match report should you desire further details. But basically Fulham completely kicked our asses, which is fair enough to say they play at a standard the equivalent of at least three or four leagues higher than the poor wee Crues, but I still think we put on a decent show. The game ended 4-0 to Fulham, which meant they won 7-1 on aggregate. We hadn't expected it to end any differently really but the experience was fantastic anyway - it really was a case of the taking part that counted, not the winning.

The Crues actually managed to sell out of the away tickets they'd been given, so we reckon there was probably 450-500 Crusaders fans at the game. Most of us seemed well behaved and just happy to be there, although I was less than impressed with some ignorant idiots standing behind/in front of us, whose loudmouth stupidity did ruin the game a little for me. But never mind - I just hope karma strikes them down. In the Crues Social Club on Saturday I did overhear a tale that one Crues fan got drunk in Fulham after the game, danced on a bar, promptly fell off, broke his leg and was then left to get himself to hospital alone because his mates were too busy partying. I can only hope it was one of the idiots I was stuck beside at the match.

*deep breath*

But anyway! The Yorkshireman and I followed all the other football-going sheep to Putney Bridge station and got on the tube. We emerged at the other tube station near our hotel (West Brompton) and decided to walk back that way to see what was in the other direction. It turns out that at night it was mainly takeaway shops and not a very interesting walk at all. Oh well, you live and learn! We ended up stopping in a newsagents for some bottled water (it's a crime not to use the tea and coffee making facilities in your hotel room should such amenities be available) and sweeties to help us get over the defeat we had just witnessed. Then it was back to the hotel for a cuppa and some rubbish TV before bed. After all we had a long day ahead of us the next day.

To be continued…

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

London Baby - Day One Part One - Funky London Childhood

So, where did I leave off my tale of excitement and adventure..? Oh yes, Crusaders had played their first leg match at home against Fulham in the second round qualifiers of the Europa League and the Yorkshireman and I had been making plans to go and see the away match the next week at Craven Cottage in London. And so we did!

On Thursday 21 July at ridonculous o'clock, we loaded ourselves and our backpacks into a taxi and headed to Belfast City Airport for our flight to London Heathrow. Everything went very smoothly and before we knew it we were touching down in London town and heading for the Picadilly line on the London Underground. What with the early start, the warmth of the day and the gentle swaying of the tube car we were both feeling a bit sleepy but I jolted awake when I realised that whilst we had figured out how to get from Heathrow to "London", we hadn't yet decided where exactly in London we were headed. Oops. Minor detail.

A perusal of the Picadilly line stations and brief discussion led us to Covent Garden. Neither of us had actually been before, even though it's quite a famous Londony place, and we were intrigued. Also I wanted coffee, like, yesterday. And so at Covent Garden station, we emerged from the tube and headed in the direction of the "Way Out" signs. And then the Yorkshireman uttered five of the most seemingly innocuous but inevitably horrifying words he would say all day…

"Shall we take the stairs?" And I agreed. And so up we went… up all 193 of them! But you don't realise that when you're at the bottom, do you? Oh no. There is no warning that this seemingly harmless spiral staircase ascends to heaven and beyond! We later discovered climbing said stairs on a list of weird and wonderful things to do in London - each to their own! Personally, by the time I reached the top I was gasping for air and, more importantly, that long-overdue coffee, so we set off in search of breakfast.

First of all we wandered around Covent Garden itself and the surrounding area and, although not much was open yet (it was only 9.15am at this stage), I had clocked the David and Goliath shop and an old favourite shop of mine Octopus en route and marked them for a visit after breakfast. The Yorkshireman, not really one for shopping, was more excited to stumble across the Drury Lane Theatre, which apparently has some kind of significance in the world of entertainment that had completely passed me by. As he merrily snapped a few photos, I started searching for a cupcake shop rumoured to be in the area (thanks Google!).

I should explain. I have a bit of an obsession with cupcakes. You may recall my previous endeavours to find the best cupcake in New York for example. Well, during a bit of general research on the London TripAdvisor forum, I came across a few threads where people had asked where to get the best cupcakes in London. As with all such debates, there were many suggestions and no consensus. I therefore decided that my search for the most awesome cupcake should move UKwards and that, if I happened to be in the area of any of the major contenders for the role, I would be duty-bound to give them a try.

So, after a quick Google Maps session, I established that Primrose Bakery was very close by. However to my dismay, whilst there were staff going in and out of the shop and pretty little cupcakes sitting in the display case, they remained resolutely closed. Oh well, never mind - it was time for breakfast! We found a little café (nothing classy) nearby and settled down to some toast and scrambled eggs. That and my latté were very gratefully received. We passed Primose Bakery again on our way back to Covent Garden but it was still closed, so I gave up on that idea. My research had happily revealed a cupcake rival in the area anyway.

When we reached Covent Garden again someone was actually setting up a stall selling mini cupcakes, so I figured if all else failed I could get my cupcake fix there before we left the area, but in the end I didn't need to. After a brief look around the shops, I stumbled across Ella's Bakehouse, another contender for "best cupcake" in London. By this stage I was really craving the sugary smooth sweetness of the frosting and the squashiness of the cake and I found it difficult to make a decision between my stock favourite (and comparator) vanilla and a coffee one that looked gorgeous… so I bought both - mwahahaha! The Yorkshireman selected a chocolate cupcake and we took all three to go.

Happily be-cupcaked, I took a quick look around the David and Goliath shop where I lusted after many things but could not justify spending the money on them, no matter how cute they were. And so we set off back into the Tube. This time we used the lift (!) and shortly thereafter were speeding underground towards the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood. We'd decided to spend some time here because it was free, open at the right time and, basically, we are big kids.

We stopped in the Museum Gardens for a water and cupcake break before we took on the toys and games. My verdict on the cupcakes: the vanilla was nice but I've had better - the cake was moist and light but the sugar in the frosting overpowered the vanilla flavour; the coffee was absolutely gorgeous - the bitterness of the coffee perfectly juxtaposed with the sweetness and I think it might be one of my favourite cupcakes ever; the Yorkshireman, who is partial to the odd sweet treat but not really a cupcake connoisseur, said his was like a nice chocolate cake, so I think it was a general thumbs up there from him too. Overall I figured I would slot Ella's in alongside Magnolia, but Crumbs still had the lead as my favourite cupcake ever.

Happily fed and expecting an imminent sugar rush, we headed into the Museum. I really enjoyed it actually. I tend to have a short attention span in museums - if the subject matter is not something I'm interested in, I just stare blankly and slowly keep walking with one eye on the exit. However the Museum of Childhood held my attention the whole way around. It's not a huge museum but the layout is interesting and the exhibits are essentially big piles of toys - what's not to love? We exclaimed our way around, with yelps of "Oh wow I had one of those!" and "Do you remember these?!" and by the time we were halfway around I had regressed to being about 8 years old and wanted to go and play Barbies with my sister again.

Instead I made do with playing Snakes and Ladders with the Yorkshireman on the top floor, dressing up as a policewoman and clambering into a wooden police car and then later feeding coins into a model railway display to "make it go!" Most of the interactive activities are clearly aimed at children but I have no shame so my rule is that, if I am not too big for it, I will play on it (see, for example, the incident with the Big Piano at FAO Schwarz and my inability to walk past Custom House without jumping up and down on the musical squares in the ground).

In fact there were only a few disappointments in store for us at the Museum of Childhood. One was that I didn't get to play on the rocking horses, partly because I was probably a bit too big and partly because of the actual children who wouldn't get off them (bah!). A second, for the Yorkshireman, was their complete lack of Manta Force paraphernalia and only small display of video game stuff. The third is that it just wasn't big enough with enough things to play with for my liking - in fact we were back out on the street and seeking further entertainment after only an hour. That said, admission was free and I would definitely recommend it for anyone at a loose end in London who fancies reliving their youth or has young children to entertain.

Having exhausted the displays of toys and games in a shorter time than expected, the Yorkshireman and I went back to the Museum Gardens to regroup and plan our next steps. Again out came the smartphones and we searched away. Incidentally, as a side note, if you are ever planning a trip to London and you have an Android phone, I would highly recommend having both Google Maps and also the London Underground free app, both of which were invaluable to us on our trip. I especially loved the latter; you don't even need an Internet connection for it to work - you just plug in your starting point and your destination and it gives you detailed instructions of what line to get where, when and how often they run. Brilliant - saves staring at a tube map for about a year trying to figure out where you're going!

Anyways, after utilising our shiny apps, we had decided to head down to the river and walk across London Bridge. However when we got off the tube we couldn't find the pedestrian way on to it, so we gave it up as a bad job and headed for Tower Bridge instead, which the Yorkshireman had been across before but I hadn't. It was quite a nice walk actually.

Firstly we wandered through some kind of purpose-built business development, with shiny-fronted office buildings on one side and little cafés and restaurants for the little worker bees on the other. Upon Googling it seems to be called More London, just in case you're interested (probably not). I couldn't help but notice that, even though I thought it would be nice to have such amenities near my own workplace, the office workers out enjoying their coffee and croissants still looked as bored and miserable as I do when I'm facing a day at work, so perhaps having a M&S Simply Food within 100 metres of your desk isn't as much of a pull as I think it might be.

Next we meandered over to the Thames itself and walked along it, dodging joggers and mad groups of tourists en route. Actually, seriously London, what is with all the jogging?! Crazy, running people everywhere! They clearly also enjoy playing chicken with tourists whose reflexes are physically impeded by the weight of huge backpacks on their backs.

Man those bags were heavy! For some reason it reminded me of that old allegory they tell you in management seminars, Who's Got The Monkey, about everyone having metaphorical monkeys on their back all the time (i.e. their burdens) and wanting to offload their monkey on to someone else for them to carry instead, so for the duration of the trip our backpacks become known as our "monkeys." In retrospect that nickname could have potentially been construed as referring to something else, but we knew what we meant anyway.

Sorry for the tangents there… back to Tower Bridge. I quite enjoyed my little wander across the Thames, although I was disappointed not to have any huge boats coming in that would necessitate the bridge opening up, or any vehicles bursting through barriers to make the jump just in time. I think I've maybe seen Spice World too many times (i.e. once).

On the other side of the bridge we regrouped and then headed off in search of burritos for lunch. Mmmm, Mexican food... Feeling as stuffed as our tortilla wraps had been, we figured it was probably now time enough to set off to Fulham to find our hotel and prepare for a night of football frenzy. Back on went the monkeys and back underground we went.

To be continued…