Thursday, 25 June 2015

Flying High... Sri Lankan Airlines!

Long-haul flights can be a bore for some, but I look forward to each part of a lengthy flight. Embarking on a new part of my life I was about to fly from one side of the world from London, England to Shanghai, China with a short layover in a place called Colombo, Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan Airlines had me flying high, from one continent to the next I was ready for take-off Sri! 

Long-haul travel had left me since I touched down from Newark with Virgin Atlantic Airways into London Heathrow in January 2013 so I was itching for those cabin doors to be secured! I had accepted a teaching opportunity with Meten English in China, getting my ticket booked I wanted to fly directly from mother England to the Middle Kingdom of China but those nonstop flights were getting rather pricey. Getting that Sri Lankan Airlines flight booked was a relief but I wasn't prepared for the craziness that my seventeen hour journey would show me! With my bags packed and that Chinese visa in my passport I was all ready to check my luggage in at London Heathrow's Terminal 3, scared yet excited I had been waiting for that day of departure for long enough! Note to self, the London Underground can be an unforgiving place when a large suitcase is in your possession! Yes, I had checked for my passport too many times! 

I used to be a Passenger Services Agent so checking in for a flight tends to be an interesting experience, I sometimes want to be on the other side of the check-in counter but that's for another time completely. I was ushered over to the Business Class check-in desk for Sri Lankan because I was travelling independently so that saved time for the flight was busy with numerous large families who had small children with them. I already knew that my connection in Colombo, Sri Lanka would be under two hours but that was thrown up into the air with the announcement that the flight would be arriving behind schedule from Sri Lanka. Yes, I had previous experience of travelling long-haul before that day but it had been awhile so some nerves did surface. With my boarding pass in my possession it was time to say goodbye to my parents, as goodbyes go by it wasn't tearful because I had to be on my game! With a possible delay and scrambled layover I headed for a very large Gin & Tonic! Sorted!

Boarding wasn't hurried along at all but the inbound Sri Lankan Airlines jet was being prepared with much gusto, I was more than ready to be on my way! Departing one hour later than scheduled I was relieved to feel my Airbus aircraft take me closer to the clouds, it was going to be hectic in about ten hours so I just wanted the flight to be comfortable and quiet. Make mine a large one please, soon after take-off the traditionally dressed Sri Lankan cabin crew passed through the cabin with a warm flannel and our first refreshment of that long flight down to Colombo. Comfy as permitted whilst sitting in my Economy Class window seat, it finally sunk that I was going to start a new chapter of my life in China but that was slightly overshadowed by the pandemonium of boarding my Sri Lankan flight at Heathrow. Judging by the dimmed cabin lighting it was like that for eighty percent of the flight, no I didn't sleep! I was excited!

As in-flight entertainment goes I was impressed with Sri Lankan's Economy package as their were some Chinese films to watch as my flight soared across Eastern Europe on its way to Ceylon. Saying that I spent the next day on two Sri Lankan Airlines flights so by the time my aircraft touched down at Shanghai Pudong the choice of entertainment was limited. I switched between 'The Big Bang Theory' and segments of 'Meet Me In St. Louis' so I was well entertained on the first leg anyway. Why did I choose Sri Lankan Airlines in the first place? The price of a one way flight through Colombo worked out much cheaper than flying direct to Shanghai, China but the experience did count for something in the end. London and home seemed like a distant memory as I made my way closer to China, I was distracted by the red wine and Chinese films provided to me by Sri Lankan Airlines. I was able to stretch out on the second flight for that cabin wasn't very busy at all. It felt great to be flying! 

Getting my blog on I made my way up to the front Economy Class galley for a photo with one or two of the beautiful Sri Lankan Airlines cabin crew. Firstly, I had a polite chat with the lady on my left hand side and when her colleague on the right of me returned I managed to get a snap. The two crew members that I spoke to were so friendly and didn't mind to have a chat with me when I mentioned my previous Virgin Atlantic Airways job. I was like 'will I make my connection to Shanghai?' The crew member in the dark blue reassured me that with Colombo Airport being small they usually hold the flight for as long as possible, so she stressed that I had nothing to worry about. I might look like I've just got out of bed in this photo but its difficult to look on-fleek when travelling in Economy Class on a ten hour flight! So, back in my seat I tried to catch some sleep but my brain was on overdrive with the move I only napped. 

Touching down at Colombo Airport felt like a race to the finish line, several other flights were being held because of our late arrival from London Heathrow. I had no choice but to politely shove my way to the nearest exit that being used for the disembarkation process, I was sorry not sorry because I had one very important connection that I didn't want to miss! A small airport Colombo thankfully was I raced to the security check-point, by that time I was probably looking like the hottest mess that the airport had ever seen before! Giving some of my British coins to the security officer because I didn't have enough time to put them in my pocket but he appreciated that offering nonetheless. Recognising one passenger from the Heathrow flight we agreed about the craziness of the transfer between flights. I must have been waiting less than five minutes before I boarded the Shanghai flight. It was a light flight so I got comfy, I was quite exhausted but so glad to be on the way to China!

Departing from London Heathrow at 22:00, dinner could have been a midnight snack by the time the crew started to serve dinner on the first of my two Sri Lankan Airlines flights. I went for the meat option, I believe it was some kind of chicken curry that tasted exceptionally good for Economy Class airplane food, I must of been hungry because I even ate the salad! After desert it was time for a cup of Ceylon tea, oh I loved that Sri Lankan brew! Drinks were served twice by the crew but requests could be made to the cabin crew but most of the passengers slept the majority of the long flight. I had about three glasses of red wine so I was conservative to say the least, I know not to over-indulge when flying because alcohol isn't the best when flying at 40,000 ft! En-route to Shanghai I tried the sweet and sour chicken, if truth be told I wasn't very hungry and the previous flight was taking its toll on me. I wanted China!

Arriving thirty minutes before our scheduled time of arrival we touched down at Pudong International Airport. Thankfully making it to China in one piece thanks to Sri Lankan Airlines, when thinking about the late departure from London and the hurried transfer it did feel good to land early into Shanghai! After all the hospitality I was ready to disembark and attempt to make my way through immigration, that part was a breeze and my luggage had made the connection even though it looked like my case had been thrown from one aircraft to the other. I had eaten well and was made to feel comfortable throughout my long flights from England to China. The cabin crew were great on both flights but shone especially on the first flight over from Heathrow. The delay may have added some stress to my epic journey but that didn't matter when I saw the Chinese signs as I made my way to immigration and baggage claim at Pudong Airport. OK, Sri Lankan Airlines had surprised me! Let' me fly!

More Ceylon Tea, Please?

Joseph Harrison

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

London Markets... A Street Sensation!

It's market day in London any day of the week, here's three markets in the capital that grab my attention! From Shadwell's Watney Market to the great Camden Market, we've got to be savvy in this skyrocketing city and live well at the same time. Leave out the ripe strawberries or anything else those ladies from Oliver sold, I'll see Columbia Road Flower Market for sure! 

Deep within an emerging part of the East End of London is Shadwell's Watney Market, a small yet functional fair of fruit, household items and a sense of Islamic life. Meeting this East London market for the first time in December 2014 by pure coincidence I snapped away like a paparazzo, something that normal passersby couldn't really understand. Knowing that Eastenders isn't real I was pleasantly surprised to see a living East End market was good enough to see. Located just off the Commercial Road from one end to Shadwell's DLR and Overground stations, there's always a better connection to access the Realness of Shadwell's Watney Market. Times have been hard for Watney Market but its no secret that London's East End is ever-changing but after delving into the archives its clear to see that Watney Market keeps on trading! Yes E1, some of store owners were serving items of Halal fashion sense! I had to visit Shadwell! 

London has a long and vibrant history when it concerns its many markets, predominantly centred around the East End it's been a way of life for the costermongers, enterprising from the day dot its changing now but the history will hopefully remain? I really do hope so! Along with Shadwell's Watney Market there's also Pettitcoat Lane Market and the trendier Old Spitalfields Market its difficult to say in what motion these London markets are going to go in the future? I have a feeling that London's had tougher knocks before so the now smaller markets of London's East End still create an impression and serve their communities. I saw certain items of Islamic fashion being sold during my time at Shadwell's Watney Market, a sure sign of the demographic from the local area. Like I mentioned before the best thing I liked about Watney Market was that it served a sense of Walford's fictional East End market in a loose sense because Shadwell's got the real thing! Cheapest haircut in town!

Camden Town is supposedly where some of the cool kids hangout? For this one I'll keep an open mind because Camden Town serves something different for me! Yes, Camden Town's Roundhouse might bring the beat but I'm on about Camden Town Market! Set close to Camden Lock the market offers a whole range of alternative fashion and a lot more. I have been to Camden around three times but I only browse because I don't like spending my pennies at all! Leaving the clothes behind us for a short interval its always great to take a seat on a moped style seat to eat some international street food and take in the views of Camden Town along the Grand Union Canal. I stayed away from the 'Bang Bang Chicken' because I just didn't trust it but I embraced other international foods alongside Camden Lock. Camden Lock looked just fine me but the first visit was definitely the best! Yes, Camden Town sure interests me much!

Camden Town has a bohemian feel about it, well I thought that the three times I took the time to visit! Intertwined with a hint of 'hipster' there's a cool notion around the centre of the action. Back to the market, keeping calm and getting on with proceedings I bought a alternative print t-shirt from one of the huts by the many international food concessions. That side of London brings back memories from my February 2012 visit, re-grouping with some friends who I used to be members of a drama club, we had a great time even though the cold bit our faces. Originally warehouses, the area that now makes up Camden Town Market was almost crafted into a motorway but someone saw sense to make the market official around 1976. London does it again, representing as a market city with a town feeling for Camden Town and Lock both contribute a canal-side experience with a twist! So, looking back Shadwell's Watney Market serves Halal Couture Realness! A floral tone next L?!

Bring me flowers in the pouring rain! No, that wasn't meant to be a question! Bethnal Green's Columbia Road Flower Market fully blooms each Sunday, showcasing a gargantuan range of beautifully coloured flowers for those who embrace a flower power vibe. Dating back to 1869 when flowers weren't the main attraction, no it was all about food and lots of it. Located between Bethnal Green and Hackney this fragrant market street also has many niche shops that looked right up my street during my June 2015 visit. I had firstly discovered the Columbia Road Flower Market during a detour from Bethnal Green's high street, I saw a closed and quiet Victorian street that didn't fit in with the look of the surrounding council flats. Missing the boat because it wasn't Sunday, also the post Christmas weather left me with a lack of vibrancy, so a summer visit had to be planned so I could finally be part of this E2 floral show B!

A certain buzz could be felt around the streets that surrounded Columbia Road the day I visited this flower infused market, I sensed that this market was a hit with tourists and locals alike. I could not believe the sheer amount of people that were attempting to take a glance at one of the many bright and sweet smelling flower stalls. Comparing that crazy situation with the stillness of my previous visit it was made because people really didn't know how to act over a bunch of flowers! Skipping breakfast I was hungry, finding Cakehole for a pot of tea and a deliciously rich slice of Chocolate Orange cake. Located within a cute antique shop that fitted the feeling of that backroom cake cafe. Having my cake and eating it too rounded off my Columbia Road Flower Market time, I'll bring you flowers in the pouring rain? Getting a grip of the three London markets that I've been to I don't have a favourite because each one showed me a different flavour entirely. Oh, who said Costermongers?!

Embrace London's Markets!

Joseph Harrison 

Monday, 22 June 2015

E17: Walthamstow, London!

Don't worry Walthamstow it's alright, yes it's really alright! Other parts of London need not stay another day because E17's got that special something! No, I didn't want it to rain but I wasn't expecting for the streets to have such great names! Yes, I'm talking about that Turkish cooking and culture that Waltham's Forest served up! Londra gerçek bir Türk havası vardır! Evet W!

My inner tricking ass self gagged over the choice of street names during my time in Walthamstow, London! Hoe Street served European Realness judging by the wide variety of Eastern European grocery stores and restaurants along that East London street! Romanian, Russian and Polish food stores lined the first section Hoe Street as it tailed away from Walthamstow's high street. I was hungry for some good Turkish cooking that June afternoon, Istanbul had the key to my hunger! Ordering chicken soup, a Beyti Kebab and a ice cold glass of Ayran I was ready to have my taste-buds transported back to Turkey if only for a brief moment. Even though I'm a city boy at heart I just can't stand the pandemonium that tourists bring with them to London, I took the tube from London Bridge to Walthamstow Central via King's Cross St. Pancras. I wish that London's Underground was less expensive but I had the 'stow!

Why Walthamstow? My brother had previously been for a party and didn't approve of E17, he's too much of a home bird if I'm honest. The former members of British 90's pop band E17 all hail from Walthamstow, London so I used that topical reference to bolster my reason for heading to the 'stow! I know that London is an extremely multi-cultural city but E17 proved that notion without a shadow of a doubt, from the vibrant market on the main avenue by Walthamstow Central station to Hoe Street. Hoe Street took that multi-cultural vibe to the next level, hosting a large Turkish community judging by the Eastern European people that passed me by during my afternoon in East London. I might be contradicting myself in a moment! Was I in Essex? Not quite but I did see a few buses heading for Ilford and Woodford, going over the borderline to the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Brownie points for Walthamstow, I was extremely impressed by the freshly made Ayran B!

Some would say that Central London is the only part of the city worth visiting? I disagree with that thought because each neighbourhood in the many London Boroughs all have something different to say, presenting a less of an act compared to the likes of the West End as much as I love that creative corner of London I just can't be doing with all the tourists! Sorry, not sorry! Walthamstow fared to be a part of London that required basic research to see what places deserved my attention, choosing something alternative I favoured the headquarters of the Walthan Forest Council. Following Hoe Street from the Tube I stumbled upon this unassuming part of Walthamstow. Built in 1941 this regal looking Town Hall now boasts Grade II Listed status to protect it from any modification. Things were really quiet that June afternoon, giving me the chance to not look the fool, its not an average hotspot! I don't care!

After serving Town Hall Overness I didn't really have much else planned apart from heading to a Turkish bakery but that would happen soon enough. During my pre-Walthamstow research I was intrigued by the former Walthamstow Stadium dog racing track, which looked worth a nose around but places change so I kept that idea on the back burner, trust me to walk for an age when I decided I wanted to find the dogs! I usually approved of a little bit of gentrification within a city but Walthamstow's Village left me feeling flat, on social media they promote the street as a Nouveau-Riche quarter but it didn't have much edge or personality! Oh, yes I just expressed that shade! Loose the Artisan feel and shun the pressure to be trendy in a conventional sense E17 because you're already serving Realness without a shadow of a doubt! Turkish food done! I hadn't completely had my fix of Turkish delights in Walthamstow but I'll get to that chestnut guh! No, hipsters! Go sit down!

Sour Cherry juice and Ulker treats? Yes, Walthamstow's Akdeniz Turkish Market unlocked the key to a world of Turkish groceries that I last saw in Turkey during the summer of 2013! As if I couldn't be anymore hungry I found another Turkish foodie treat! How about some Turkish tea and savoury Gozleme? Yes, please Walthamstow! Niyazi Usta had caught my eye not long after getting off the Tube from South London, I had so much choice so I left this Turkish gem before I got the bus back to London Bridge. I had been so greedy that day, going one further by taking away a seriously sweet Turkish pastry from Niyazi Usta. Look for a little Turkish lady who will be sat in the window making the Gozleme's fresh for order, I chose a cheese and spinach Gozleme but I had to get that wrapped up aswell! Thankfully I had walked a lot that day because I had eaten so much good food! Yes, E17 serves Turkish Delight Realness!

Getting away from the tourist traps by the River Thames gave me the chance to see so much cultural diversity, also reconnecting with a Turkish vibe was absolutely amazing! Walthamstow holds many identities but its Turkish influence allowed me to eat some delicious food and to find freshly made Ayran! It's unclear if Walthamstow's dog days are over yet but I did my research anyhow. Ditching the London Underground for the 48 bus to London Bridge I was baffled by the sheer amount of Romanian businesses that operate within E17, from Romanian barbershops to a bar called 'Bar Transylvania!'. Challenging the concept of Walthamstow Village gave me a sense of nothingness because Hoe Street served a side of E17 that I imagined would be there. That Town Hall impressed me much! E17; Walthamstow, you already know that everything's going to be alright! I'm not going to apologise about making cheesy references to E17's lyrics, I know that I'm good with that!

Walthamstow... It's Really Alright!

Joseph Harrison 

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

London - Limehouse, Canary Wharf & Poplar

London's got many looks, moving forward with the times during a phase that questions the make-up of London historic Docklands. Delving further into the Docklands I wanted to see how the everyday folk and professionals operate side by side. Staying in love with a certain city I saw a new side to Limehouse that I previously didn't know existed! Yes, I'll get to Poplar! 

London's Limehouse Basin hasn't always been a swish canal-side address! Limehouse worked its waters back in the earlier years of London's busy industrious past. Receiving vessels from Scandinavia, America, Belgium and other far out posts, the work was hard but that that's how London's Docklands made its money! From 1820 to 1969 there was a whole lot of coal and ice being processed through this southern terminus of our grand canal network. This E14 waterfront is connected by the Docklands Light Railway its not difficult to be a city slicker! The former Docksmen literally worked their fingers to the bone, there wasn't modern machinery for those working men around Limehouse's former powerhouse. Oh, they worked it! Nowadays, the money is made from the heights of the many towering glass fronted skyscrapers at Canary Wharf, the suits wouldn't like to that former Docklands way of life. No L!

Those converted storehouses may now be hot property for those with the budget but remove that notion for a moment, the Medland and Bergen Wharves welcomed large shipments of fruit, timber and ice. The Limehouse Basin was a distribution centre for London, spreading the wealth across the city to their respected addresses. Colder than ice those frozen shipments were packed off to the fishmongers, ice cream parlours and butchers of London and quite possibly beyond. Sipping their speciality Starbucks Coffee and negotiating a business deal of another kind, the pro's of Canary Wharf operate from their futuristic offices to carry on the Docklands knack of enterprising. The Docklands got a new groove in the 1980's, transforming those forgotten storehouses into luxury apartments that boasted convenient marina views. I wouldn't mind sitting one of those balconies with a strong drink as the lights flash from Canary Wharf! Limehouse's Basin impressed me so!

Westferry DLR Station passed by, I wasn't having contractions but I wanted to 'Call The Midwife' when I saw the signs for Poplar! My sights were set upon the former residence of the midwives from Nonnatus House, to be honest the majority of Poplar served Tower Halmets Realness with the abundance of council flats but I'm not going to judge the Poplar that stood before that June afternoon. Depicting a Poplar from the 1950's the midwives of Nonnatus House worked to serve the expectant mothers of E14, delivering up to one hundred babies per week. After seeing the latest series of  'Call The Midwife' in late 2014 I had to see what was left of Poplar's baby boom! Home to many seamen and immigrants from the rapid expansion of London's port I recognised a certain modern Islamic flare present in Poplar during my visit. Have the towels and tea ready, Poplar needs to 'Call The Midwife!' Those babies B!

Hold that gas and air! Poplar stood under the umbrella that was Canary Wharf as it overshadowed the low lying council projects that now exist. Those banking corporations rule the skyline around that London Docklands region, leaving the marinas of Limehouse Basin in the distance I looked up from an ordinary Poplar street with a state of confusion for the HSBC's didn't match the grey council flats! The ways of midwifery may well have changed within the streets of the East End of London it was easier to imagine then what Poplar might have looked like in the 1950's along Woodstock Terrace with the aged look from the Victorian terraces. Poplar's Recreation Ground had a sense of calm about it, considering the number crunching centre of Canary Wharf being on the doorstep! The ways of delivering babies probably hasn't changed a whole lot but the nuns of Nonnatus House made their contribution to the mothers and babies during Poplars past! Yes, I want the gas!

One moment, E14! London's Chinatown began its day around the streets of Limehouse, East London. Those Shanghai sailors called London home not long after dropping their ships anchor along the banks of London's busy Docklands. Limehouse served some serious Chinatown Overness from the 1880's to the later 19th century before London's Chinese community up-sticks Westwards to Soho. Comprised of Oriental supermarkets, gambling dens and restaurants there's not much left of London's former Chinatown. Washing the suds away from those epic Chinese sea crossings its believed yesterdays Chinatown boasted many launderettes or washing houses, instilling the strong Chinese work ethic that was instilled by the earliest Chinese settlers to London. Ming Street and Canton Street both bore names that resonate the most likely Chinese fit for Limehouse. London's East End has many secrets to share!

Seeking the unconventionally appealing I admired the stories that Limehouse shared with me, I appreciated it all! London's Docklands will keep on changing far off into the future but we'll always have the same past to recollect and be proud of. From the busy Limehouse Basin, trading a manner of raw materials that powered London in many ways. Utilising those former storehouses as redeveloped high-end apartments may have been a controversial decision but they possess an expensive view for certain! Certain shades of Canary Wharf need to be thrown, those bankers live a life that those Poplar council estate tenants don't but I'm not going to be too judgmental! Keep the gas and air on hold because the former midwives from Nonnatus House helped the women of Poplar's past, bringing babies into an ever-changing city! Soho wasn't the original London Chinatown! Limehouse takes the gold! I'll have no airing of any dirty laundry because that's really shady!

The Real EastEnders?

Joseph Harrison