Where am I?

The Smoke, Part II

December 19, 2006 at 04:53 PM | categories: food, travel, beer, UK | View Comments

I'm not going to complain much about the exchange rate. It's true that restaurant meals were expensive, but beer wasn't such a bad deal. In London, less than $6 gets you 20-oz of cask-conditioned ale. In Manhattan or San Francisco, $4-$5 gets you 16-oz of questionable keg beer, and the barman expects a tip. I also find the English attitude toward alcohol quite refreshing. Stopping right now, sir!

Their attitude toward conservation, however, sometimes appalls me.

There's a preservation order on the exterior, eh?

There isn't a lot to say about my last couple of days in London. I went to some very nice pubs, but all the LondonLand pubs get plenty of business without my advertising. Brooke's Market Leadenhall Market Seven Stars

I did get to the new British Library, near St Pancras station. The architecture is nice, and the exhibit on London maps was stunning.

St Pancras, from the British Library plaza

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The Consultant's Tale

December 17, 2006 at 05:02 PM | categories: travel, beer, UK | View Comments

With training over (job well done, guys!), I decided to get out of London for a night. According to the BBC, this Saturday night was the peak for holiday parties, and I wanted to be elsewhere. Hmm... someplace close to London, interesting to visit for a day, and as yet unvisited by me? Ah, isn't Canterbury a World Heritage Site? I'm collecting those - everyone needs a hobby.

So I found a web site for the Miller's Arms, a Shepard-Neame gastropub in the old city center. Their rooms are named after Chaucer's tales, and I booked into the Pardoner's Tale. Saturday morning, the 11am train took me from Charing Cross to Canterbury West, arriving some time after noon. It's a fine-looking old cathedral town, with views of the cathedral towers around every corner. Canterbury, looking toward Westgate Canterbury skyline The Miller's Arms turned out to be a nice little place, with several seating areas and a long, L-shaped bar. The Shepard-Neame beers are some of my favorites, so I was pleased to stay there. For some reason they put me into the Wife of Bath, rather than the room I'd booked, but I think I got the better of that deal. My room was spacious, by English standards, with a modern bathroom and a view of the cathedral towers. I also gave thanks that I wasn't arriving on 31 December.

Rumors of my demise are exaggerated

I dropped off my bags and went exploring. Once I got my bearings, I quickly realized that Canterbury has been thoroughly re-purposed as a tourist destination. The Cathedral actually charges for admission, and the old city center is entirely surrounded by parking lots (also for pay). The cars look like an invading army laying siege to the old walls.

Have you no shame? Still defending the city?

Since it was winter, most of the tourists were Europeans - and mostly Catholic? I don't know. And despite the tourism, it's well worth visiting. I walked around inside the old walls, and stopped at a number of interesting pubs. It's great to drink in a genuinely old pub: London doesn't have many, and nothing as old as (say) Simple Simon, which claims to be 14th century.

The Cathedral looked even better at night, I thought.

Cathedral, with Christmas tree

Canterbury has been occupied since pre-Roman times (it means something like "fortress of the Kentish"), and it continues to develop. This results in a lot of mixed construction - bits of Roman masonry in a modern brick wall, for example. And there are other, stranger contrasts.

Fancy a curry?

I went to Simple Simon's again, in the evening, for a plate of fish and chips and some live jazz. They were both good, and so were the pints of Incubus.

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The Smoke

December 08, 2006 at 04:21 PM | categories: UK, travel, beer, XQuery, MarkLogic | View Comments

Happy chance puts me in London on the last two nights of East London CAMRA's Pig's Ear festival. I'm here to teach a 5-day session on XQuery and MarkLogic Server, but that doesn't start until Monday. So I have time for another.

Pig's Ear 2006

I'm using Hilton points to stay at the Waldorf, these first two nights. Then I'll move into a cheaper place for work. To get to the Pig's Ear, I walked up to Bloomsbury Square, then took the 55 bus to Hackney Town Hall. The festival was in a place called Ocean, across Mare St from the Town Hall (and from the Hackney Empire) - in other words, quite far from LondonLand. I suspect that I wasn't the only American tourist in the crowd, but it was probably close.

The Pig's Ear has been on hiatus for a few years, but I've been once before, when it was in Stratford (no Avon please - we're Londoners). The new hall is a bit sterile, compared to Stratford Town Hall, but it does have much more room. Stratford was always standing only, while Ocean seems to have enough seating for a much larger crowd. The festival beers still tend toward "winter warmers" - strong stuff. That isn't my favorite style: these days I prefer milds. I did try "Night on Mare Street", and found it dangerously easy to drink. But I managed to try every mild on the program, too - St Augustine's Tower was nice. I also tried several cloudy halves from the cider and perry counter. That's good stuff, and it's impossible to find in the USA. It's impossible to find through most of the UK, too. No, the processed stuff doesn't count. Sorry.

But you didn't come here to listen to me rant - you came for a pint. Cheers!

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