20 January 2015

London - Rotherhithe, Surrey Quays & Deptford

Have you heard of the Mayflower? I had the chance to have a pint or two in Rotherhithe, South East London and learnt a thing or two about that famous British sailing vessel. What's Surrey Quays? Trading the West for something a little bit more East I got to know a side of London I wanted to revisit. Who knew Deptford served a healthy serving of Ho Chi Minh City? Go!

Rewinding back the hands of time to Saxon London led me to Rotherhithe. Deriving from the Saxon terms for Rothra, a marnier or oarsman, and Hythe being a 'landing space'. Early Rotherhithe dates back as far as 1282, when its believed that Rotherhithe was a small village upon the gravel of the famous Thames River. Having previously gone on a pub crawl with my parents and younger brother I had the chance to see the winding cobbled lanes of Rotherhithe. Trusting the Thames Path from Tower Bridge I really got the mix of 18th century brickwork buildings with the new skyline bringing the 21st century into the frame. I wouldn't mind calling one of the flats home because the area seemed so quiet and out of the hustle and bustle that London is infamous for. When in London its key to make the best of the Thames Path to see places such as Rotherhithe. Parental pub crawls are quite educational B! 

Once a bustling water way the River Thames was the lifeblood of London with vessels transporting goods from as far back as Roman times to the maiden voyage of the Mayflower. Once named 'The Shippe' that London pub now goes by the name of 'The Mayflower' making a key reference to the famous United States bound vessel. Leaving Rotherhithe in 1620 the Mayflower docked at Southampton before crossing the Altantic Ocean to New England then known as 'The New World'. It's mental to think that the Mayflower left Rotherhithe 156 years before American Independence was declared on the 4th of July 1776! Contrary to belief London's docks were littered with pubs that acted as the meeting point for the crew, I guess those sailors would have a skinful before setting sail? The ships captain was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary's Church across from that famous public house in 1621. Yes, Rotherhithe helped the founding 'Pilgrim Fathers' reach the 'New World since 1620! Ha USA!

Not wanting to stand around doing nothing, London's Surrey Quays called me next on my continued day of discovery in SE16. Surrey surely doesn't sound very London? Fear not, I did some research to learn that the Surrey Commerical Docks met the border with Surrey and Kent before London had broadened its city walls. Shopping for the usual can be such a drama so when I'm in town I stay away from Central London to favour the shops and amenities at Surrey Quays. Connected with a London Overground station and Tube link its a well connected corner of South East London. After a lengthy absence from the area I had to take a seconds glance to realise I had passed through Canada Water London Underground station when I was about eleven years old during a visit to the city. You know I never miss a beat! Maybe with just a touch of love a new meaning can be brought to a former industrial site? Yes, I see now!

Time never stands still in London! Canada Water, previously known as Canada Dock dealt with the vast majority of incoming vessels that had sailed from the former British ruled Dominion of Canada. Captured above its evident to see the ships haven't called at Canada Water in a long while, nor will they ever call again. Now home to the a sprawl of swish apartments and a library this phase of Rotherhithe's gentrification doesn't look damaging at all! That wasn't a question! The freshwater lake that overlooks Canada Water and Surrey Quays Shopping Centre gives a feeling of calm, it's not difficult to catch a glimpse of the towering Shard skyscraper towards Bermondsey. Compiling all the elements from yesterday and today its an area possessing a crazy urban mix that serves maritime Overness! Walking from the cobbled lanes of Rotherhithe Village to the modernity of Canada Water took me through a ordinary looking council estate with an edge, an intriguing mix of designs.

I'm not one to cross when I'm hungry so I pin-pointed where seemed the best place to grab some lunch. Taking in the urban craze of Surrey Quays Lower Road with high street and independent retailers that hustled their grind, I appreciate that honest view as I left the SE16 London postcode area. I had half a clue where I was heading, one thing I knew was that I wanted some good Vietnamese cooking in my life! Deptford presented Mama Pho Cafe to me just at the moment when I thought I was going the wrong way, like I ever get lost! Never! Ordering a Chicken Pho Noodle Bowl and some Prawn Rolls with peanut sauce, my dining selection took me back to New York City's Chinatown for a brief moment. I couldn't get enough of the Iced Vietnamese Coffee! You already know that my South East London day just got a lot tastier! Let's face the facts, I know my Vietnamese food so just call me Miss Saigon!

Feeling stuffed I took to the streets to make my way back to Bermondsey, some things go but from where I was walking Rotherhithe looked gold to me. London is my secret project in many ways, I know there's so much more than Queen Elizabeth's Westminster residence. I don't need to prove anything but I want to reinvent my view of London. From the sailings of 'The Mayflower' from the docks of Rotherhithe to the 'New World' I know that trusting the Thames Path was a wise choice to make. The docks of Canada Water no longer deals with shipments from the Canadian nation but a new wave of life has grew from within, acting as a beneficial asset for SE16 with connections to serve the city of London. Seriously, how did 'The Mayflower' make its maiden voyage from a developing and strong port to a new frontier that wouldn't have its independence for another 156 years?! With Rotherhithe and Surrey Quays done, I want to take another chance on Deptford.

South East London is Legendary!

Joseph Harrison

16 January 2015

La Línea de la Concepción, España

Que Paso La Línea?! Yo sabía que no podía mantener lejos! Being on the Frontier with Gibraltar I made the most of my trip to La Línea de la Concepción, let's just say the contrast between the two entities was crazy! La Línea served me something that I appreciated and respected because being on the borderline can be tough! Voy a tener una gran cerveza y unas tapas!

Leaving Gibraltar behind me I crossed the border into Spain to be acquainted with La Línea de la Concepción. From the very first moment I could tell that this Spanish border town had an edge, I welcomed this notion because I'm a sucker for a bit of drama. I half knew where to walk to find my hostel but I was far to busy checking out this unassuming town to care. It didn't want my love but I knew deep down that La Línea would show me something worthwhile. Calle Real was one of the hubs for the townspeople with a whole street dedicated to outdoor cafe style seating, something clicked that I made a wise choice to revisit Spain. If truth be told it was too quiet for my liking on the day I arrived from England. Oh, it was the Epiphany! Aside from that public holiday it happened to be the daily siesta, it figured when I realised all the shops and cafes had closed shut! Ay dios mío! Confia en mi y dias festivos! No!

No stress with my accommodation, never-mind waiting for my room to be cleaned I was out searching for an authentic place to have my first Spanish beer. I can't remember the name of the bar but it looked local far from British company. Ordering my first beer in Spanish felt so good, settling into my new surrounding was easy enough for Spanish was the language of choice for the local patrons. Staying at Hostal Paris on Calle de Sol for £56 for three nights afforded me to see two countries for a cut price, I may have been enjoying the Spanish vibe but the border with Gibraltar only lay a five minute walk away. Translating to 'The Line of the Conception' I'm guessing its got some connection with the birth of a new border, I wasn't drawing any line or judgement to my allegiance to Spain or that British Overseas Territory. The chilled pace of La Línea impressed me much with its no frills attitude I felt comfortable to be back in a non-touristic town. Ese es mi tipo de cuidad.

I was gunning for a cup of coffee and cake during my short stay in La Línea, I'm all about trying the local flavours of wherever I travel to. My 'café con leche' otherwise known as 'coffee with milk' tasted great at the time but sent me to another planet because I'm not so used to drinking strong Espresso coffee but my tart was light and tasty. The people of the line love their tapas and seafood so I didn't want to appear rude by shunning their local delicacies, trading my cafe con leche for a cerveza grande I ordered some calamari fries to complement my latest Spanish escapade. If the truth be told I probably should of ate more but the beer tasted too good for me to frankly care! Would I indulge in another café con leche? I'm afraid I'll leave the people of the Continent to enjoy their Espresso in peace. My love for foreign food knows no limits so I tried my damnedest to sample as much authentic tapas as possible. Sí B!

Looking back on my first afternoon I made a split decision to cross the border from Spain to Gibraltar but the cervezas were starting to talk, I decided to halt at El Braseron steakhouse. My hazed judgement paid off big time for a tankard of lager only costed me £1.40 per drink! Choosing to visit during the week turned out to be a great thing because everyone endorsed a healthy level of nocturnal socialising, donning some smarter threads I made my way to 'La Chimenea' by chance to find a beautiful tapas bar that transported me to somewhere like the Dominican Republic with its rustic decor and Reggaeton music I was in a mild state of euphoria. Vamanos La Línea! I really miss living in a Spanish infused neighbourhood like when I lived in Newark, NJ so I appreciated La Chimenea! I sampled some cured ham of the bone that tasted on-point with a few pints of Cruzcampo lager! Every corner of the world has to have an Irish pub, I loved my pint of Strongbow at Molly Bloom's!

Leaving my problems at the front door I paid a visit to the 'Iglesia de la Immaculada' for some reflection. I'm not a religious soul but the Church of the Immaculate served Realness with a serious of statuesque and solemn figures of the Madonna, Jesus Christ on the cross and the saviour as a baby. Being early January the chilled approach to dismantle the Christmas lights gave a feeling that time isn't usually an issue in La Línea de la Concepción? My hostel was conveniently located around the corner from the square that's captured to the left. I loved the relaxed pace of life in the central square, I didn't stray too far away from that familiar centre because it was lovely. I didn't feel the need to walk endlessly. Supongo que menos es más? Sí sí!

I'm not going to throw shade on La Linea de la Concepción for being a quirky border town in the South East of Spain because I recognised the questionable parts of town. I endorse Realness completely, walking to and from the Frontier I passed a series of council flats that gave La Línea a personality along with its winding centre streets I embraced it all! Hablo Inglés? I got the feeling English wasn't the language of choice within the town of the line but I tried my best to be respectful by asking for most things in Spanish. I found if I asked how to say the phrase or request in their native tongue it was appreciated. I used two requests considerably throughout my trip to Spain such as 'una pinta cerveza, por favor?' and 'mismo otra vez' so I got my drink on! Me encanto La Línea de la Concepción!

Donde se siguiente?

Joseph Harrison

13 January 2015

Gibraltar: Britain In The Sun

Worshiping the Queen I wanted to stay close to the crown, I choose the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar for my short holiday. Endorsing the Rock I craved the taste of British food on Spain's doorstep, did I not mention there's a Morrison's in Gib? British since 1704, Gibraltar has some typically British sights but retains a certain something that keeps its individuality. 

Standing on the Frontier from Spain I had to take a moment or two to take in the magnificent Rock of Gibraltar, standing before me with the flags of two nations fluttering in the morning's sky. I had wanted to visit this Mediterranean British Overseas Territory for a while so I bit that bullet! I woke early with a mission to see what Gib had to show me, I wanted nothing less than Overseas British Realness! Showing my British passport secured me entrance into somewhere closer to home compared to Spain, thankfully the runway was shut because that's the road that took me closer to the Rock! I was tripping on the fact I was walking across a live runway surrounded by busy commuters who were making their way over from the Spanish Mainland for work. I have seen many sights but the Rock of Gibraltar stopped me still. From standing in Spain no longer than five minutes earlier to seeing a red phone-box! Gib!

From the winding Calle's of La Linea I was faced with a barrage of council flats that made me feel right at home, minus the Rock and the temperate climbs I could of been in the West Midlands. Winston Churchill Avenue told me that this slice of Blighty was going to serve pure regality from the Motherland. Quoting what I had previously seen on Channel 5's documentary that featured Gibraltar I recognised several things as I made my first impressions of Gib. Would I be going to the top of the Rock? No, I like to keep my feet on the ground providing I'm not on-board an aircraft. With the Rock looking down over me and the rest of Gibraltar I knew I had to see as much of this endearing territory! Those council flats baffled me, I could live in a residence like the Gibraltarian's do. My Monarch Airlines flight had only landed the other morning but I wanted to build the hype, thinking about it was almost like I hadn't boarded that flight! Honestly, Gibraltar I really want to know your secret!

I didn't have a plan for my time in Gibraltar, after making my way over the border I unknowingly headed towards Grand Casemates Square to piece together another reference from that Channel 5 documentary. Formerly known as 'La Esplanada' before the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. Given that it was before 09:00 am the bars and restaurants were just opening but I could only imagine the excitement and energy the walled square would usually serve. The British vibe of Gibraltar could be felt everywhere as I made my way closer to Main Street. Honestly, it was completely bizarre to think that I was practically in Britain. I would be lying to say that I was expecting to see something else but it was such a bizarre mash of contrasts I was speechless. Spain had recently celebrated the Epiphany so I drank my body weight in beer so I wasn't feeling good, that wasn't going to stop me seeing Casemates Square. Go!

I needed a Full English Breakfast to replenish my sources because I didn't fancy my chances of getting a Desayuno Completo over the border in Spain! Choosing the Gibraltar Arms for my breakfast worked like a treat, trusting the 'Early Starter' with a cup of English tea I was laughing! The British brands surfaced as I walked along Main Street from Grand Casemates Square so the bizarre notion carried on furthermore. Marks & Spencer served Royal Britannia with its quintessential range of UK based products, was I in some state of euphoria? If I was in any need of a herbal remedy I could of relied on Holland and Barrett to cure me better. I had been clever to take half Pound Sterling and half Euros so I had a hassle free trip, lets just say my British currency came in handy when I needed it the most! I won't lie I did see some Moorish and Spanish influence in the architecture but the colonial British vibe stayed stronger! Gibraltar, I haste to say you've got a identity crisis! Oh my gosh B!

Call me crazy but I had to make some purchases in the Morrison's in Gibraltar, I'm not sure If I was more excited to see that supermarket than the Rock? I'm mad! I made two trips to Gibraltars main supermarket, I managed to get bits and bobs that I couldn't find in Spain but If I'm honest I purposely waited for most of it when I got to Morrison's. Everything looked the same as my local store in Bilston so I was in awe of that ordinary looking supermarket. Serving Gibraltar since 1994 the British superstore is surrounded by a huge estate of what looked like council flats, sounds like a home away from home to me? I forgot to mention that I didn't go near the Upper Rock for two reasons, I don't have a head for heights and the cable car was closed for maintenance. the simple things I saw in Gib complemented my dual-country trip. I'm putting my name down for a council flat in Gibraltar!

I must confess that the Gibraltarian's had a crazy chat going on, was it Spanish or English that they're suppose to speak?! It all became clear that a dialect known as 'Llanito' sets the conversation on the streets with a mix of many influences due to Gib's colourful past. I listened in my amazement because their 'Llanito' cut mid-sentence from Spanish to something like 'I'm on my way to pick the kids up'. So I stayed in Spain for cost reasons but if money was no object I would have made reservations on the Sunborn, an exclusive vessel that's docked in the Marina within the Ocean Village development. I don't think I'll get my head around walking over the runway to reach the two nations but like the many quirks that I saw over my trip this British Overseas Territory follows the beat of its own drum! From the Rock to the winding colonial streets I adored Gibraltar's military facade, there may be politics with the Spanish but I'm proud to say Gibraltar has affiliation with the British Crown!

Keep Gibraltar British!

Joseph Harrison 

5 January 2015

Let's Introduce ... Richmond-upon-Thames, London!

London's Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames might look pretty, she's a looker but Richmond doesn't come for free! Serving Royal Highness at Hampton Court Palace, those queen bee's are bugging about Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens, oh that's just the start! I traded the chaos of Central London for a quieter and tranquil side of the River Thames. London stays legendary!

Tucked away from the smoke and blinding lights of the city lies Hampton Court Palace, a Baroque masterpiece that made me swell with British pride! Completed in 1514 this architectural queen served Royal Highness! I wanted everybody out I wanted to enjoy this marvelous palace to myself! The former residence of Henry VII and many other dignitaries from the British Royal family. The winter deal loved me, I only paid £7.00 for my ticket which is a great discount compared to the usual ticket price. Intoxicated by its grandeur and some other royal potion I had to pinch myself to realise I was still officially in London. Taking the London Underground to Richmond wasn't enough so I trusted the R68 bus to Hampton Court, perfection should never be rushed. The ratchet parts of London will forever be my favourite but choosing class worked right. Don't you act like a peasant! Bow down to Court Palace!

Living simply couldn't have been a concept practiced by the Royal tenants of Hampton Court Palace for William III's private quarters exuded opulence and splendour, I could live in a house like that! Intertwined with the scandalous behaviours of the Stuarts and Tudors of Britain's early Royal Family, the latest Baroque influence was lovingly designed by William III alongside his wife Queen Mary. A love story that was dissolved when William's beloved Mary passed away with Small Poxes the palace moved on with the times. The Privy Garden impressed me much, now can I have the landscape gardeners number please? Taking a brief interval within the Great Fountain Garden made me realised that England is blessed with a host of architectural gems. I'm looking for the greatness that those royals lived in! The base court got me at 'wow' with its red brick facade, I blocked out the tourists because I was channeling a Royal moment. Retain your greatness Hampton Court Palace!

Many say that its not possible to visit both Hampton Court Palace and Kew Gardens in one afternoon but I never pay much attention. Stepping from the Tube at Kew Gardens Station was a pleasant surprise to see a picture perfect row of chocolate box businesses. I had been transported to another sight of greatness. OK, so I've already been to Birmingham's Botanical Gardens before but I knew that Kew would have an edge of its West Midland counterpart. Successfully bagging another bargain I only paid £9.50 for my entrance fee. The tranquil tones of the gardens steadied the pace of my day, even though the sights were pleasing to the eye I felt like I was on a military pursuit. Where have I gone to now? Apologies, I'll get back to Kew Gardens momentarily! Opened in 1759, Kew Gardens didn't look to shabby for its 256 years of age I was almost bowled over by the peace. I just didn't want the sun to go down on me!

Heading straight for the Palm House I was taken aback by the humidity, the high ceilings didn't do much for the heat but it was rather chilly outside. I saw tropical plants and trees from around the world, from Africa to the deepest parts of South America. I was very impressed by the elevated walkway that afforded me some amazing views of the towering tropical palm trees. There's no getting away from tourists, they just don't know how to take their photos without causing me to get frustrated! On a historical note I suggest that we should say a big thank you to the Victorian's who gave these gardens a thought! That wasn't intended to be a question! The chilled out vibe of the gardens waned for a moment or so, well every ninety seconds because I twigged I was standing under the eastern approach into London's Heathrow Airport but it was ace to see a Virgin Atlantic Airways Airbus A330 make its finals into LHR! Check out Kew and its gardens, its a true pocket of calm!

The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames makes central London look a maze of intense energy and impatient chaos, I caught a glimpse over the Richmond Riverside and knew instantly I had to check it out. Richmond itself presented itself as a lovely community of shops, restaurants and a chilled branch on the Thames Path. Talking of the River Thames it was staggering to believe I had dodged my way across Tower Bridge in the heart of London's busy tourist trap, I was in awe of the calm that was served along Richmond's portion of the Thames. I saw two pubs that oozed charm, I was on another hype, I took a small stroll along the water front to fully appreciate it. The afternoon was almost through, I saw the Tide Tables Cafe alongside the riverfront so I couldn't say no to some Macaroni Cheese and a Chai Latte! Richmond kept its London vibe, the stillness of the waterfront kept away the stress-heads!

I hadn't been cursed under any Ju-Ju spell, my senses had been transported to three unique sights within Greater London. Trading London's Urban Realness for a slice of royalty and class was more than worth the epic Tube journeys and bus rides because nothing good is ever easy. Hampton Court Palace served Royal Highness to me with its grand designs not to mention its quaint East Moseley location. Kew Gardens turned the temperature up a few notches with a whole host of tropical flora presented to me. Richmond felt right with its leafy setting I didn't miss my usual London pursuits. Maybe just a little bit! Yes, Richmond!I don't need a dozen roses to be impressed, Richmond's chilled out Riverside didn't even have to say pretty please! London owns its legendary flare, I say branch out away from the city centre just that little bit further. London is like a journey, I sometimes get a little lost but the ending is always sweet! Richmond-upon-Thames, London, keep looking fresh!

Richmond! Keep Yourself Classy!

Joseph Harrison

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