Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Walking Tour: Little Venice to Camden

Last weekend was our first weekend in London without travel plans or visitors. With high travel season in full swing, we wanted to avoid central London and the usual tourist circuit at all cost. Yet we were determined to explore neighborhoods off the beaten path.

Saturday morning, we were off to North London for a walking tour along the Regent's Canal from Little Venice to Camden Lock. Who needs Venice when you can head to Little Venice? It's not as picturesque as Venezia, but Regent's Canal does have its charm and is indeed a little oasis for us Londoners especially on a pleasant English day. The Regent's Canal was built in 1820 to link east and west London, and later opened to the public as a scenic walkway.

We tubed it to Warwick Avenue, the start of Little Venice, and followed a footpath along the canal lined with little colorful houseboats and willow trees. Somehow we got off path and ended up on Edgware Road, a major street lined with Middle Eastern groceries and kebab stands -- come here if you want good Lebanese food! After reorienting ourselves using our trusted A-Z map, we found our way back to Regent's Park where there were loads of people out -- not because it was a beautiful English day, but the annual Taste of London Festival was taking place in Regent's Park over the weekend.

Avoiding the crowds, we walked along the northern edge of the park and took a detour to Primrose Hill, the exclusive enclave where Gwyneth Paltrow and other celebrities have homes here. As the name implies, we hiked up the hill for an amazing view of the Gherkin, London Eye, and Canary Wharf. The view from Primrose Hill is far better than Parliament Hill in my opinion.

Back along the canal, we walked another mile to our final destination -- Camden Market, which is an area that comprises the High Street, Lock, and everything in between. I have not been to Camden before. I have to agree with Keenan's description of Camden Town -- it's like Berkeley's Telegraph on crack!! Strange, bizarre, weird, and lots of weirdos to go with it. Camden seems strangely out of place considering it is literally enclosed by highly desirable and expensive neighborhoods -- Hampstead, Primrose Hill, St. Johns Woods, and Regents Park. Strange. It is busy and more touristy than I expected. We made a stop at Keenan's favorite stand for some tasty Ghanese mutton stew, then walked around the High Street and the Stables before making our way back on the walking path to Regent's Park.

Back to Regent's Park, one of eight beautiful Royal Parks in London, is a haven for sport enthusiasts be it rugby, cricket, football, or tennis. It was the former hunting ground of Henry VIII, and now home of the London Zoo and Open Air Theatre. Many festivals take place in Regent's Park including the aforementioned Taste of London. Regent's Park also boast a beautiful rose garden of over 400 varieties -- all perfectly manicured and delightful to spend a lovely afternoon.

Then we made our way to Marylebone, one of my favorite neighborhoods in London. Marylebone High Street is not just any High Street -- it has beautiful boutiques, cafes, pubs, specialty food stores, furniture/hardware stores, and restaurants -- somewhat of Palo Alto's University Avenue meets Berkeley's 4th Street. Keenan discovered a fantastic bookstore - Daunt's. It is one-of-kind bookshop with stunning Edwardian architecture and its books are neatly arranged by places, so if you head over to the Russian section, you'll not only find travel guidebooks, but also memoirs and all the Russian classics from Tolstoy to Dostoevsky. If you are familiar with the Berkeley campus, my alma mater, then Daunt's Bookstore will remind you of the gorgeous Morrison Library.

We decided to stay in the area for dinner and went to a little sushi place called Tomoe on Marylebone Lane, a place I have been meaning to try since March after reading some great reviews on my favorite London foodie blogs. Walking into the restaurant, we noticed that everyone was Japanese including the staff who gave us a warm Irashaimasu! I miss Japan! An assorted sashimi platter, several rolls, and two Asahi later, we were two happy campers. The fish is really fresh here at Tomoe and quite reasonably priced for sushi. I think we might become regulars here! =)

Sunday was Father's Day -- Happy Father's Day! Hope everyone had a great day! In spirit of Father's Day, we went to a BBQ at a friend's flat near the famous Battersea Dog Home and had a nice time catching up with some of Keenan's friends whom I haven't seen since January.

While we had a fun weekend in London, my sister and brother-in-law spent the past few days frolicking in Paris, their last stop on their 3-week European vacation. They came back last night via the Eurostar armed with croissants, pastries, pate, wine, and delicious macaroons from LaDuree. I suspect someone did a bit of shopping at a very famous French institution...and remember those pumps I spoke about a few weeks ago? Well, it turns out that my sister is still on a hunt for those pumps in London despite having a 5:00 PM flight back to Hong Kong today.

It is sad to see them leave today but I don't think this will be their last trip to Europe! Hopefully, our kid sister can join us next time.

OXO, Lily

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