Posts Tagged With: shopping

London Calling: Fish and Chips and Mushy Peas

Dr. Samuel Johnson famously pronounced that “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” Update that to expand from “a man” and I have to agree.

London was one of those places that I used to dream about when I was growing up. Since I was always a reader, I was familiar with Shakespeare and Chaucer and the other writers. London, it seemed to me, always glittered with magic. Roman Britain, Elizabethan England, Romantic London and England, Victorian London — you name it, you can find it.

I’d read so many novels set there, some historical novels from various periods of history, some of them Regency romances by Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen especially let me imagine the life of her time.

Sometimes I’d get a map and look up streets of London, or find articles on famous buildings — Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace. Some places no longer existed, long destroyed in some disaster or just by time. Some places were outside of London– Hampton Court Palace, Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Stonehenge, Rye, Bath.

My love of history and literature, already established by the time I graduated from high school, only deepened with studies at undergraduate and graduate school.

By the time I first traveled to Europe in 1974, I’d long traveled there in imagination.

That summer I stayed in Stratford-upon-Avon for six weeks and was a student at the Shakespeare Summer School. I spent some time in London.

I was hooked on foreign travel. My mother, I suspect, secretly hoped that that one summer would get it out of my system. Not a chance.

Once I started teaching at Lamar University in 1975, I started taking a vacation to London and other UK sites every summer. I’d spent a week or ten days, go to plays, spend time walking and looking and just drinking in the atmosphere.

Sometimes, it seemed to me that I’d been there in some other life — that’s how familiar the streets were. I’d anticipate where to turn or walk, and there I was. That’s how much I’d read and studied for so many years.

I’d take day trips out of London, going to Canterbury or Oxford. I’d spend a few days in Stratford to see plays. In London I’d go to a museum, sight-see, take in a matinee, and sometimes in a week I’d see maybe 4 or 5 plays. Need I say that I bought relatively inexpensive tickets? However, it is also true that ticket prices were more reasonable then also.

Now London is somewhere I dream of staying for long periods. Maybe renting a flat for a month or so. When I go there now, I no longer try to jam in as much sight-seeing as possible, because now I target a few things, slow down, and savor the experiences.

So when I took a long weekend trip there in May, flying from Athens, it was a rather spur-of-the moment trip. This year, I built my trip around getting a ticket to see a special exhibit at the British Museum, one on Pompeii. Once I’d managed to get a ticket, for the Sunday of my trip, I could sort of think about what I wanted to do.

Specific things I wanted to do: catch up with a friend who was there before flying home to Florida. Have drinks with my friend Sara who lives there. Maybe see a friend’s son who is living there. I managed the first two, but not the third.

Arriving on Thursday, I got to my hotel, checked in, and walked up to Kensington High Street to do a bit of grocery shopping (there was a small refrigerator in the room). I walked around a bit and then went back to my room. I showered and unpacked, ordered room service for dinner, with some wine.

There’s just something so indulgent to me, still, about doing that. I love it. A nice meal, some wine, a book, and a comfortable bed with fluffy pillows and I was in heaven.

Friday was the Covent Garden day — just a short hop away from the Kensington High Street tube station. Emerging from the Covent Garden tube station, I headed left toward the small area known as Neal’s Yard. Until a couple of years ago, I’d never been to Covent Garden, despite many times in London. So my friend Christopher introduced me to it, and it was love at first experience.

In Neal’s Yard, I found Neal’s Yard Remedies, which makes organic creams and lotions and soaps and even makeup, sort of like The Body Shop, but not franchised. Now I always make time for a foray to the shop there, though I have found a New York City store that has a website and I’ve ordered from it. The original London store, though, small as it is, has such a neat setting.

Neal’s Yard itself was undergoing some changes when I was there in May. What had been a small restaurant and, on the corner of the same ground floor of a building, a hair salon, was under renovation. The small sandwich and snack place I knew was still open, though I wasn’t there on the day of the week when a guy plays the piano.
One place was still there — a walk-in massage business. Twenty minutes for my shoulders and back was just what I needed.

Above the Neal’s Remedies store, there’s a blue plaque that in England marks a building or flat or house associated with some historic or literary figure. This marker announces that Monty Python’s Flying Circus did something there.

Walking out of the little alley out of Neal’s Yard back to the street, I noticed a chalkboard with quotes on it. One was from Ralph Waldo Emerson. I liked that.
Once at the street, I took a right and two stores later was in Neal’s Yard Cheese shop. If you’re a cheese lover, as I am, this is a real treat. Huge wheels of small-dairy cheeses are everywhere. Hand-lettered signs tell you who made it, what it is, etc. If you’re interested in anything, you can taste it. I ended up with a variety of cheeses, a small hunk of organic butter, some crackers, and a hunk of beautiful bread. Wrapped and paid for, my cheeses and bread and butter went into a cotton shopping bag emblazoned with the name of the store.

I had enough for night meals and snacks, plus a useful memento (the bag).

That joined the Neal’s Remedies purchases, in yet another cotton bag.

From there I walked a bit and stopped at a Starbucks. With a big cappuccino, I sat with a view of the street, took out my iPad and logged on to the free wifi, and enjoyed a relaxing break in a warm place. My view allowed for a lot of people-watching. People wrapped up in coats and mufflers walked around, stopped and shopped. I was cozy inside, sipping my cappuccino.

Once I finished and decided to wander back toward Covent Garden, I stopped at one store to look at a leather bag I liked, but decided against it. A few doors down was the tea shop I’d been in before. Not a place to drink tea, but a store that offers teas and teapots and other accessories. Twenty minutes later I had a third bag on my arm, filled with several varieties of loose teas and a nice flowered porcelain teapot. Right now the teapot is sitting on the counter behind me as I’m at the beach house, which is where I intended for it to be.

Then I crossed the cross street and headed into what many people think of when they think of Covent Garden — market area. The Apple Market has a different set of vendors every day of the week. For example, if you’re interested in antiques, go on Tuesday. I’d walk up and down, look at what was on offer. I ended up with a nice small handmade purse and a shawl. At one end of the open market is an area where street entertainers position themselves. That day I joined a crowd watching some guy on a tall monocycle. Amusing patter, gymnastic antics. At the end, I put some change in his hat on the ground and wandered back to the market area. I popped in a Crabtree and Evelyn store. I found some homemade soaps. Finally, I stopped and ate a late lunch at a Jamie Oliver place. Second fish and chips meal in two days, complete with mushy peas and a great cider.

I walked around a lot more and finally headed back to Kensington High Street, picked up a few more things at a Boots chemist (pharmacy + other things, a UK chain), and then walked to the hotel. Once back in my hotel room, I warmed up under a hot shower that was perfect for sore feet and shoulders.

The nice thing was I wasn’t concerned about ticking another thing off a predetermined list. For a bit I considered going to a play, but I didn’t have any luck getting a ticket to see Helen Mirren in “The Queen.” Night two was another reading night.

And so it went. Though I started out with one idea on Saturday about what to do, and that was to wander down Portobello Road. Saturdays are always market days. Again, it’s worth it. People-watching, snacks, street singers and entertainers, pubs, stores, stalls. Once more, I spent a leisurely day, ending up with some presents — a handful of cotton shopping bags (Portobello Road). I’m not the only bag lady I know.

Saturday evening I met my friend Susan, who was with a friend of hers who lives in England. We walked around and ended up at a pub I’d been to before, the King’s Head, and had some drinks. After they left, I ate dinner (fish and chips again, more mushy peas) and had some more cider.

Sunday was British Museum day, and that was wonderful. That evening my friend Sara met me at my hotel and we sat in the bar and enjoyed catching up while we drank some wine. Okay, make that a lot of wine. I wasn’t driving, and neither was she.

On Monday I returned to Athens.

Just a neat short trip, and if there was something I didn’t get to do, that’s okay. London always has something on offer.

Dr. Johnson was right.










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Bazaar Experiences in Istanbul

Shopping in Istanbul can be overwhelming, whether you are wandering on your own or being herded on group tours.  If you’re wandering, you can spend more time and simply immerse yourself in the experiences.  Many of us, though, are in Istanbul for short periods of time and are hustled through on a time schedule.  Central to any Istanbul visit, though, is some time in three major bazaars in the old neighborhoods of Istanbul.  Two are covered bazaars; one is a shop-lined street bazaar.

Join me as I try to give you a taste of each of these.

The Grand Bazaar

Entrance to Grand Bazaar

Entrance to Grand Bazaar

Cheryl at the Grand Bazaar

Cheryl at the Grand Bazaar

In the Grand Bazzar

In the Grand Bazzar

In June this year, though, I had even less time.  I was on a day-tour, and when we stopped at the Grand Bazaar area, we were hustled into a “shopping mall” first — and spent far too much time in the main carpet area being instructed on carpets.  It was interesting, but we were also being targeted as potential buyers.  I’ve been in carpet stores before and while this one was interesting, it meant that by the time I walked three or four blocks to the Grand Bazaar itself, all I really had time for was a quick entry into the main gate, a glance around, and a quick exit.  Clearly, I need much more time.

How much time, you might wonder?  Well, consider the facts about this bazaar.  It’s not known as The Grand Bazaar without reason.  Construction began in 1455.  It is one of the largest — and oldest– covered markets in the world.  In its 60 or 61 covered streets lie over 3000 shops (some sources peg the number at 5000).  Once this was also home to master craftsmen who demonstrated their various trades — metalworking, jewelry-making, weaving, and the like.  That’s no longer really there, sadly.  And many of the shops are filled with tourist tacky items, often made in China. There are some good recommendations from various guidebooks, but with a limited amount of time, you really don’t have time to spend searching these out.  Only tonight I found that The Grand Bazaar has its own website:  grand

So my true adventure in this most famous of Istanbul’s bazaars lies in the future.  Possibly next trip to Athens, I hope;  I’m tentatively planning on flying there through Istanbul, with a stopover.

The Spice Bazaar/Egyptian Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar

The Spice Bazaar

The second largest covered bazaar (after The Grand Bazaar), the Spice Market is in Fatih in the Eimonu neighborhood.  It’s a 17th century structure, with 88 vaulted rooms (with upper and lower storeys).  Unlike The Grand Bazaar, it’s open 7 days a week.

Perfume Oils

Perfume Oils

Teas to Choose

Teas to Choose

Spices of Many Colors

Spices of Many Colors

The Spice Bazaar was on my must-see list, and I did get to spend 45 minutes there — far too short a time, once more.  But that was because I found one lovely shop (Aladdin’s) near the main entrance and blew much money there, buying perfume oils, spices (particularly saffron), and teas (oh my, the variety).  Happily, I paid my small fortune, left the store, wandered a bit, and then exited to sit on the step right outside the bazaar.  Be aware that buying saffron can be tricky.  Be sure you’re getting the real thing.  Any number of travel websites about spice shopping here warn that often, if the price seems really too good to be true for saffron, it’s probably not really saffron, but another spice such as turmeric. Spend some time searching online for advice and warnings about shopping for saffron in Istanbul.

Near the main entrance is the Yeni Mosque is a great place for observing everyday life.  Besides the tourists shopping there, you’ll see locals as well, wandering with traditional clothing as well as modern adaptations.  The Spice Bazaar is on a large street and across from the entrance is the Bosphorus.  You can get a bite to eat from any of a number of street vendors, sit, and spend lots of time people-watching.


And Modern Dress

And Modern Dress

The Blend of Traditional Dress and Modern Technology

The Blend of Traditional Dress and Modern Technology


Arasta Bazaar — near the Blue Mosque

Entering the Arasta Bazzar

The third bazaar is much smaller and easier to navigate.  Situated two blocks behind the Blue Mosque (also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or the Sultanahmet Mosque, built between 1609-1616), this bazaar also has its own website:

It even has a map with the shops named.  Having spent time online and with guidebooks, I knew there were a couple of particular shops I wanted to spend time in.  Another couple were lagniappe (Cajun for “extra), serendipitous finds that I am glad I wandered in.  One interest of mine is traditional Turkish weaving and fabrics, especially the pestamels, the kind of towels you get in many Turkish hammams (or baths).  Jennifer’s Hamam was one of my targeted stops, and well worth the time.  The store is one of two (there’s one in The Grand Bazaar) owned by a Canadian who sources her work from traditional weavers.  I bought several pestamels,  a beautiful blue silk scarf, and some other cotton items.  Jennifer was there and happily spent a lot of time with me, showing me different types of towels, different sizes and qualities of pestamels and matching hand towels, huge towels, bedspreads, and even bathrobes.  She also told me how she has built her business, finding traditional weavers and helping to re-build the dwindling numbers of trained weavers.  Her dream, she told me, is to create a handicraft collective, complete with a school so that the various associated crafts will not die out.  Jennifer does have a website, if you’re interested:

Jennifer's Hamam

Jennifer’s Hamam

Inside Jennifer's Hamam

Inside Jennifer’s Hamam

When I mentioned that I was also interested in buying a rug, she led my friend Seth and me through the bazaar, out of it, and to a nearby street to a very nice store (the 5K store), where I bought an old camel bag/camel rug.  Folded up, it functioned as a kind of saddle bag, specifically for using on a camel.  Though it looks like a patchwork of different rugs, it is actually a single rug, woven on a single loom, switching techniques.  For now, it’s living on the sleeper couch in my apartment in Athens.

A Camel Bag as Rug

A Camel Bag as Rug

Besides Jennifer’s Hamam, I also shopped for scarves and hand-woven fabric.  I ended up with a beautiful shawl, several scarves, and an early 20th century textile that can be a wall hanging or a bracelet.

More Scarves in the Arasta BazaarScarves and More in Araasta Bazaar

The store that surprised me, though, was one that sold illuminated manuscripts.  How could you not be drawn in by the window display?

For Illustrated Manuscripts -- Arasta Bazaar

This bazaar was also walking distance from the small hotel where I stayed, in Sultanamet district, perhaps two or three blocks away.  Since it was so close, I actually visited here a couple of times.  It’s also on my “must-return” list.

Though I didn’t go beyond these bazaars, there are apparently daily markets that are worth exploring.  I have already bookmarked a website about these (and the three bazaars I’ve talked about):

Yes, Istanbul is a fascinating city.  I will go back, and back yet more times.  Other posts will explore different places and experiences, but since Istanbul (formerly Constantinople, or as my Greek friends still refer to it, Constantinoupoli) has been a port city where many trade routes crossed, it has long been known for its handicrafts and shopping.

I’d still like to find actual fabrics, traditionally woven cottons and silks that can be bought by the meter.  And I didn’t even look at jewelry this time.  Lord, watch out when that happens!

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Since I was in Greece for nearly three months, the last 10 days back in Lake Charles have presented me with the usual adjustment issues.  I’m getting there, but still have some challenges.

For the first few days, I found myself awakening (without any clock) between 3 and 4 a.m.  Wide awake, not sleepy.  Of course my still-on-Greek-time body thought it was 8 hours ahead, and that I’d slept until 11 a.m. and noon.  By 5 p.m., I was whipped and ready for bed, sound asleep by 6 p.m. This was awkward when I wanted to meet friends for dinner, or watch television, but I just let my body dictate what it needed.

So from the day I landed (Thursday) until the following Wednesday, I woke up early and went to sleep early.  Each day, though, I found that I woke up just a bit later and went to bed just a little later.  By the Thursday after returning, I was sleeping until 6.  That was fine.  I had no real demands.

Now, ten days after my return, I’m waking up at a more reasonable hour (between 7 and 8 a.m.) and staying up as I’m used to doing.  Right now, it’s almost 11 p.m., and I’m beginning to yawn.

Sleep patterns are only the most obvious and immediate adjustment, though.  Others quickly emerged.

For three months, I’ve gotten around by walking and taking trolleys, buses, and taxis.  Until last Friday, I hadn’t driven at all.  Within 24 hours of my return, it was a different story:  once more if I wanted to do anything, I had to drive.  Driving is something I’ve always loved, so that really isn’t too big an adjustment.

Shopping has also been something that I have to do differently.  In Athens, I walked to the markets, limited to buying what I could carry home to the apartment.  My refrigerator there is American-style, not a small apartment-sized unit, but there I shop frequently.  Here I have a car and can manage to shop less often.  I found myself buying for a day or two, though, and only today did I actually buy enough for several days.

Usually, I’m gone until mid-August, but this year I went to Greece early (I landed in Athens on April 20) and thus returned in mid-July (July 18).  I returned to Louisiana in full summer, with high humidity.  My air conditioner here is always on, while I ran the apartment AC only when I needed it; it wasn’t yet hot enough there to keep it on for hours (unless I was cooking and having guests).  I get outside here, walk to the car, get in, and realize that my sunglasses have fogged with temperature changes and have to take them off and wipe the lenses so that I can see.

In the 10 days I’ve been home, it’s rained almost every day — not necessarily for long, but enough to leave the sidewalks, lawns, and streets damp for a while.  Only on Saturday, while I was driving back from Baton Rouge, did I actually find myself in a full-on thunderstorm, complete with sheeting rain and lightening.  I slowed down and tried to guide by the taillights of the 18-wheeler in front of me.  Luckily, it cleared pretty quickly.  High temperatures, high humidity, possible thermal showers, thunderstorms, and light rain.  Normal summer in Southwest Louisiana.

Oh, and it’s hurricane season, of course.  I keep my eye on the Hurricane Tracker app every day now.  And remind myself that it’s time to begin gathering the usual hurricane supplies.

For the first time in months, I’ve got to deal with the pets.  Dogs need attention.  Cats do too.  Cat litter.  Dog papers.  Water.  Food.

Once more I have a house to keep up, not a small apartment. I need to mop floors.  Mondays are the days I must roll the garbage can out to the curb for pickup (and I have to get up early enough tomorrow to have it out there by 7:30 a.m.).  I think this week will see me re-organizing my office, first of all, and getting ready for the writing projects and some jewelry work.  The office looks nice, and I want to keep it that way, but it definitely needs some work before it’s just right.

My calendar has also begun to fill with appointments and meetings – even in retirement.  In the coming week, I need to schedule an appointment for car maintenance, another for a three-week program I’m going to direct at a local library, and yet a third for a writing project I;m planning.  I realize that I have no idea where my checkbooks are, and I will have to find them.  I still need to finish sorting through the mail that piled up while I was gone.

In a few days it will be August.  I haven’t been in the U.S. at this time in a while, and I’m remembering daily what my summers usually are like.  Hot, steamy, and sticky.  I find myself wearing shorts a lot, even to run errands.

At least I don’t have to worry about getting ready to begin teaching in a couple of weeks.  I now am planning writing projects and road trips to the beach and to Egan.

Re-entry into my Louisiana life isn’t too bad.  The  issues are familiar from almost 13 years of summers away.

Time to get some sleep.  Garbage day is tomorrow.  Pets are ready for some cuddle time.  And the laptop battery needs recharging.  Guess my battery does too.

Ah well.  I am still retired.  That’s the continuing adjustment I face now.

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