Tuesday, April 30, 2013

VEGAN LONDON: Alternative London Walking Tour

On our first full day in London, my friend made reservations for the Alternative London walking tour.  He explained it as an urban street-art tour and I was all in.

The company's website describes it more succinctly:

"This is our original tour which was established to showcase East London's incredible creativity whilst giving insights into important historical and cultural events that have made the area what it is today.

Even though this is much more than just a London street art tour, you are guaranteed to see a huge range of artwork from around forty artists per tour. Street art by nature constantly changes, which in turn means that our tours also change and evolve on a very regular basis. This guarantees that a tour with us will always feel fresh.

This is the first London tour to run on a pay-what-you-like basis. This ensures that it is accessible to everyone - regardless of their budget. Tours are around 2 hours and start and finish near Spitalfields Market on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 12p.m & 7p.m, Fridays at 12p.m. and Saturdays at 12p.m & 3p.m. Head over to our bookings page for available dates and bookings"
I couldn't put it better myself.  Part street art education, part history lesson, part political activism: this tour was awesome and our guide, Doug, was phenomenal.  It was a testament to his knowledge and presentation that he kept 30 people out in the relentless, pouring rain for over an hour and a half. 

This is where you'll meet your tour: for serious.    

Here we are embarking on our wet tour:

Awesome Doug

I never would have otherwise noticed this monstrous fella atop the signpost.

 Hidden gem:

I'm sorry to report that, due to the weather, it was impossible to jot down notes of artist's names or history.  However, this afforded me the opportunity to simply enjoy the tour- the whole trip, in fact- rather than documenting it.

At some point in the tour we were all in a narrow alley listening intently.  A person easily navigated through the group of us, yet stopped to complain to Doug that we were blocking the walkway.  He didn't skip a beat: asked us all to huddle closer and then continued with the tour.  This rather unpleasant person took a few steps, then turned around, returned to Doug, and complained again.  It was my opinion that he was responding much too cordially (shrug), so I told her that if she would just be on her way and stop making such a big deal out of nothing, we'd be gone in five minutes.  She seemed astonished to have been confronted, walked up to me, and said, "Well you don't have to be a prat."  I assumed it was an insult, but it wasn't until a few days later that I learned it was British slang for jerk. Really?  I was the one being the jerk in that scenario?  Well, it's Mean Bean to you, lady!  Carry on.


This artist is Roa:

Mid-tour, my appreciation of the important piece before me was interupted when I noticed these hilarious no parking signs that were painted in a designated-motorcycle parking area.

People of East London: know that if you chose to ignore the signs and park here anyway, there's no telling what tragedy could befall your vehicle. It could be cut in half.

It could be put out with the trash.

The neighborhood pigeons will most assuredly poop on it.

A random anvil might fall on it.

 Or it could be eaten.  Consider yourself warned.

Back to the tour!

note the arrows in the building

there's the bow


Ok, this isn't street art; the tree was just really interestingly growing over the fence.  

More art:

Funny Embarrassing story: as I was rounding the corner, Doug asked if anyone knew who this portrait was commemerating.  Because I have no filter, I blurted out "Eddie Murphy!"  It's not Eddie Murphy, of course; it's Usain Bolt (love your gold sneaks, UB).

This piece seemed familiar...

And then I remembered.  Does it ring any bells, New York peeps?

How about now?  Yep, from New York artist, Olek.  It's been my FB and IG photo for years!

L.E.S., NY

Another Roa:

Still waiting...

Not only didn't we lose anyone during the tour, but we actually gained an interested party.  Despite being positively soaked through (the pocket of my bag where I kept my Oyster Card actually had to be emptied of water), I was sorry when it ended.

The tour begins and ends right outside the Spitalfield's Market, so leave time before or after to explore. 

There are proper shops, but also stalls of both independent crafters and mass-produced crap.

fake 89

 We were lucky enough to have been there during a fine art show, as well.

Artists interested in exhibiting in 2010 please apply to Dr.EmmetBrown@DeLorean.co.uk

I can't recommend the Alternative London Walking Tour enough; it was a definite highlight of our trip.  I can only imagine how incredible it would have been if my sneakers weren't squishing water with every step!  If you can't already tell, I think you should go to London.  While you're there, definitely take the Alternative London Walking Tour and make a generous donation to the hardworking folks offering such a wonderful opportunity.

matching kicks
If there's anything I took away from this tour, it was a reminder of the lessons I learned from Grover and the Everything in the Whole Wide World Museum.  To paraphrase: look up, look down; look all around.  Otherwise, you might miss something.
London Tip: Umbrellas: don't use them.  It rains in London; this is not a secret.  In fact, we got more than our fair share in terms of intensity- most notably during this tour!  But we learned quickly that umbrellas- especially on a walking tour, are annoying.  Please wear a hat, or a hood, or anything else to cover your head instead of using something that will obstruct the view and impede the path of other pedestrians.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shakes on a Train: Terri Opens in the Financial District, Makes Dreams a Reality

Rumors have been swirling for some time that Terri was to open a second location in the city.  Not too long ago, it came to fruition: in the Financial District.  My initial reaction was, "Oh, boo; I'm rarely, if ever, that far downtown."  But, then my wheels started turning...  OD worked in the World Trade Center for years and still has a lot of contacts in the neighborhood: most notably, his dentist.  That would ostensibly mean that at least twice a year I could have Terri delivered to my door- FREE OF CHARGE (wink, wink); I immediately got to work writing instructions on a drink caddy.

You read that right:

I was able to ascertain from VM a reliable source when his next appointment was scheduled and emailed him my inaugural order: almost a month in advance.  Then I began peppering him with questions about his general dental health.  The mission is Terri optimization You can't neglect those chompers!

VM and I chatted excitedly about the impending delivery, dubbing it Operation BFS.  Before we knew it, the day had arrived.  For VM, our favorite chickpea "tuna" melt: chickpea salad, Daiya cheddar, tomato, red onions, Vegenaise.  She chose not to reheat it and it was TERRIFIC as is.

I decided to try something highly recommended that I'd never had before and went with the bacon cheddar chicken ranch: "chicken", soy bacon, Daiya cheddar, ranch sauce, lettuce.  I put it in a 375 degree oven for about ten minutes and it was great as well.

What a nice dinner on what would have ordinarily been a night of leftovers in front of the tv (not that there's anything wrong with that).  The one thing that was missing, though, was potato salad.  I actually did order it, and OD did buy it; unfortunately, it was invisible.  I tried to call the cafe, but the number I had contained too many digits.  And, for some reason, I couldn't convince OD to go back for it.  Until next time, potato salad!

(212) 74669-686897 [I didn't really try to call!]

Truth be told, I wasn't exactly sure if OD was going to be able to deliver the real goods.  Sammies are one thing, but schlepping shakes on a subway and bus in 75 degree weather is no easy feat.  "Snakes on a Plane" are one thing, but shakes on a train is entirely another.

But, he did it; he secured our Butterfinger shakes.  HE REALLY DID IT!  The lids were firmly taped on, he'd frozen them as suggested, and now it was time to drink them!

VM has no self control is a Terri Butterfinger shake fanatic.  She drank around the edges as it defrosted and even resorted to a spoon at some points.


I, on the other hand, managed to maintain decorum and allowed my shake to defrost for 2 hours before partaking in its glorious perfection. 


And, I'm happy to report that even though it had traveled, been frozen and defrosted, it was just as I'd hoped.  For those of you who aren't familiar, the Terri Butterfinger shake tastes like an ice-cold, super-thick, liquified butterfinger.  In other words: YUM.  Because of the success of the mission, I've already floated the idea of keeping multiple shakes frozen in our respective freezers at all times...in case of emergencies.

But, wait; there's more.  Apparently Terri had samples of baked goods on the counter and OD was so impressed by the banana cake that he got us each a slice.

Full disclosure: I'd made my own banana cake earlier in the week.  This was, admittedly, much better.  So moist and springy!  I'm also a sucker for a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Let's just say that in a showdown between mine and Terri's, the Esteemed Tasting Panel unanimously sided with the professionals.  My feelings are hurt just so much that another Butterfinger shake will be sufficient to ease the pain.  XOXOXO, OD!

All of our best of luck to Terri: especially in their new Financial District digs.  I can't always make it to their location in Chelsea, so it's nice to know that I'm guaranteed a downtown feast twice a year (at least?).  The report from OD was that the staff could not have been nicer and could not have taken greater care to pack the order so that it could sustain its considerable journey (he's been instructed to take an establishment shot for context next time).  If you haven't yet given them a try, I urge you to do so at once!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

VEGAN LONDON: Starbucks (Much More Vegan-Friendly Than in the U.S.!)

What can I say?  My traveling companion is a Starbucks fanatic, but I was hoping to tea it up like a local in various cafes.  Unfortunately, none of the ones we came across offered any vegan food options- which made the SB oatmeal porridge awfully appealing when we were in need of something to fuel our days of running from one tourist attraction to another.

Yes, porridge.  "Perfect porridge".

When said friend ordered his coffee with a splash of soy, the barista was kind enough (not to mention extraordinarily pro-active: good luck having that happen in America) to point out that- unlike in the US where the oatmeal is made with water and, therefore, vegan by default, UK porridge comes in "regular" (inclusive of a dairy-derived ingredient) and "soya" varieties.  Choose soya! 

Buuuut, do be forewarned that it isn't porridge in name only.  It was very different from U.S. oatmeal: a larger, more liquidy, stickier portion of breakfasty warmth.  And I, for one, thought it was in dire need of added sweetener (none of the toppings offered were vegan).  Truth be told, most days I brought my own breakfast: in the form of whatever baked good I had leftover from the previous day's haul, and paired it with a soya beverage.

Another difference was that their lattes were MUCH stronger than in the U.S.  Their chai, however, was made with the Tazo concentrate we have here.  Ah, the taste of home. [UPDATE 4/24: It has been brought to my attention (please see the comments) that Tazo chai concentrate contains honey.]

Oh, and guess what?  Unlike America where it's been usurped, UK Starbucks still offer FREE SOY to registered card-holders.  Hmph.

Another UK win: unlike the dairy ingredient-laden American counterpart, the UK dark chocolate candy bar from Starbucks is vegan by default.  Not to mention good!  It was a gift from my traveling companion and it kept me awake for all 130 minutes of Oz the Great and Powerful in 3D (it was a good movie; it was just that we'd spent a long, wintery day at the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London).

London Tip: As always, Starbucks is a great place to pop into if you're in need of some quick wifi* to figure out how to make it from Big Ben to Harrod's. Be a sweetie and bus your own table; it was disgraceful to see that hardly anyone did this throughout London.

*The wifi in our hotel was spotty, so one evening/early morning we were desperate and found ourselves huddling outside a closed Starbucks taking advantage of their apparent 24-hour wifi!