Lost in London
Veganuary-ish Visit - 21/01/22
Better Health Bakery
By The Bridge Cafe
The Argyll Arms
Apple Regent Street
The British Museum
The Rosetta Stone
The Prince George
Full photo gallery, scroll through and click on the images to enlarge them!
As the plane’s wheels touched down on home soil on the 2nd January, having departed from Los Angeles the day before, I felt both relief and sadness. Relief at being safe on the ground, but sad for once again finding myself so distant from the loved ones I had to leave behind in California. It was a fascinating and cherished virgin trip, but it was too short….what I would have given for just a few more days!
After a week of serious jetlag, I decided to push past my melancholy by booking my next solo day trip to London for as soon as possible. A day spent in the city always recharges my soul, while being only an hour away in Ipswich makes it highly accessible for a quick day-dash. Being a creature of habit, I followed the same route as I did back in October, booking a train to depart Ipswich early on a Friday morning, returning home the same day, with an all-day underground pass bolted on. This time I decided to come back on the last train at 11.30pm - a risky strategy, but I had been invited for Vietnamese food with friends and there was no way I was going to pass that up. That totalled more than 16 hours on the go, but such a large chunk of time to wile away in our capital city filled me with joy. To know I would then be tucked up in my bed that same night was a comforting finish to what I already knew would be a great day. The date was set for the 21st of January, so with only two weeks to wait, I eagerly began researching potential stop-offs. I set Veganuary as the general theme, with the odd variance here and there.
During my October jaunt, I went to a wondrous free exhibition of rare and unusual items linked to nature, the star attraction being spider silk garments. I like to format these solo excursions to consist of something cultural and preferably free while I’m on a student budget, sandwiched between as many snack stop-off as I can wedge either side. I plan one or two definite stops, then a shortlist of maybes to pick from depending on how the day unfolds. A plan is handy, but flexibility is key as the day sometimes goes off on a tangent – and you should let it! The drifting spaces in-between are just as important as the planned stops, as that’s where you find unexpected gems.
I love the train journey down, the views are stunning. I should really pay more attention to the names of the places the train passes through. Next time! Snaking through our beautiful countryside, watching the landscape and architecture change, I always study the houses along the route, picking which ones I would like to live in. As the train enters the suburbs then heads straight to the city centre, it’s impossible not to feel excited to be there.
Liverpool St Station was exactly the same as last time with it beautiful intricate pillars and arched windows overhead, except this time while heading up to street-level I spotted a sign with an arrow, saying ‘Free Drinking Water’. Score! I followed the arrow and was joyful to discover a very fancy high-tech looking ‘Hydration Point’, sponsored by the Mayor of London. My water bottle from home still being full at this point, I made a mental note to fill up at the nearest major station when running low. The thought of not having to buy multiple plastic bottles of water throughout the day made me even happier than I already was.
Ipswich to London
My journey to London went much the same as last time – a twenty minute walk to the station, enjoying the sunrise along the river path as I went. A Starbucks coffee was purchased for the train from Ipswich station. I don’t usually seek out Starbucks, but the only other option for coffee at the station is from the Greggs concession and although considerably cheaper, it’s a terrible cup of coffee. I’ve tried it more than once in multiple locations, so am not saying that flippantly. I brought a litre bottle of water from home, knowing full well that would not get me very far. Staying hydrated in London is one of the biggest challenges I have found.
Better Health Bakery, Haggerston
The sun was dispersing the morning chill as I stepped out onto Bishopsgate. I love the street view there, the contrast of old and new architecture towering high above, the Gherkin peeking through between the buildings across the street. I turned left and headed North along Bishopsgate, which turns into Shoreditch High Street (where there are tons of Vietnamese restaurants), then Kingsland Road, hanging a right after Haggerston Bridge onto Dunston Street, which was where my first stop-off was located: Better Health Bakery. Total walking time: 30 minutes.
Better Health Bakery is a vegetarian social enterprise artisan bakery, which along with Better Health Bikes next door, forms part of The Centre for Better Health, Hackney’s oldest independent mental health charity. They provide work skills training placements for those who have been distanced from employment due to mental ill-health, while making and providing quality products and services for the local community. And tourists like me!
I selected a seeded sourdough loaf to fill the void in my then empty tote-bag, along with a beigel with cream cheese and pickled gherkins to eat straight away. I know, not vegan. I had not heard of a beigel before so asked what it was and was told by their baker Adam it’s the traditional spelling for the much loved bagel, originating in the Jewish communities of Poland.
They do authentic sourdough loaves, pizzas, soups, stews, lunch-boxes stuffed full of hearty salads, tortillas, patties, dips, crispbreads and more, then sweet offerings like brownies, cakes and pastries – all evidenced on their Insta. I ate the beigel walking down the street and it was absolutely delicious. Quite often the simple things are the best and in this case they hit the nail on the head with the chewy bread, amazing cream cheese (not the easy-spread stuff from the supermarket) and what I am presuming were pickles they had made themselves, having spotted on Insta that they make their own sauerkraut. Worth a return visit just for another beigel, as I have craved that sandwich numerous times since.
By The Bridge Café, Shoreditch
Walking back towards Haggerston Bridge and concentrating on not losing the precious pickles from my street beigel, I decided to stop at By The Bridge Cafe as it looked funky with its graffiti and roof terrace overlooking Regent’s Canal. I needed another coffee, more food (greed driven, as opposed to hunger) and a quiet place to plan the next stage of my day. I went inside and ordered a latte and a croissant. Again, failing at Veganuary. One of my absolute favourite things to do is tear chunks off a plain croissant and dip it into my latte. I have been assured this is acceptable as it’s what they do in France and as France is super cool, I consider the matter closed.
By The Bridge Café is also cool, with vegan, vegetarian and halal offerings which all look delish, nice staff too. I was chatting to the manager Izzy while she made my latte and it turns out she’s from Saxmundham - a half hour drive from Ipswich! After joking about it being a small world we live in, I took my croissant and coffee up to the empty roof terrace and positioned myself with a good view of the canal. It was still quite early, about 10am, so I had lots of time to play with.
It being Veganuary, I had decided to visit a vegan chocolatier. I also wanted to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum after passing it the last time. Happy Sky Japanese Bakery was also on the list because it looked interesting, while more ramen was being considered, perhaps for lunch. There were tons of ramen options in the vicinity, but it was too early for that, so I decided to head in the direction of the vegan chocolatier.
Copperhouse Chocolate, Angel
Walking west along the canal, it had begun to cloud over and the temperature was dropping, but I was wrapped up warm and it was pleasant enough as long as I kept moving. Feeling energised by my coffee and second breakfast, I followed the canal path as far as it would take me, which was conveniently right to my next destination, Angel. I love to navigate the city via the canals, although you’ve got to be mindful of people on bikes as it can get a bit hectic at peak times. Walking up the steps to street level I immediately recognised where I was, having been there before to eat at a very famous vegetarian restaurant there called Indian Veg. I crossed Upper Street then walked through Chapel Market, finding the vegan chocolatier was immediately opposite the famous restaurant. The walk from By The Bridge Café to Copperhouse Chocolate had taken 35 minutes.
Sadly closed as it was still shy of 11am, I was only able to enjoy the outside of Indian Veg on this occasion. An established institution set up in 1985, it was originally known as the Indian Veg Bhelpoori house. A no-frills all-you-can-eat buffet setup, I happily grazed my way through their vegetarian selection of delights a few years back. But not this time, alas.
Luckily, right across the street to pacify me was Copperhouse Chocolate. And pacify me it did. I was feeling pretty cold by that point and in need of a sugar injection, so didn’t hang about in ordering a hot chocolate. I went for the chilli one, as recommended by the lady serving me. We chatted for a bit and she showed me the chocolate making machine which was nice of her and really interesting. The various hot chocolate flavours caught my eye so I bought a selection (ginger, mint and orange), as did the chocolate-covered candied oranges (bought two bags), then I needed some dark chocolate for a vegan chocolate key lime pie I was making. I also bought a piece of the cardamom, chocolate and coconut tart with an almond and date crust, even though I was not hungry, having it boxed up for later. I got given a free chocolate in a cute pink stripy bag, so that joined the rest of the goodies in my swag bag. The hot chocolate was excellent, definitely warming, not too spicy, the chocolate intense and divine.
Once revived and laden with food, I decided to walk the 17 minutes from Copperhouse Chocolate to Kings Cross Station, where I could pick up the underground and hop four stops on the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus in Soho, then walk for 7 minutes to Happy Sky Bakery at Ingestre Place. Or so I thought.
The Argyll Arms, Soho
I came out of the Oxford Circus underground into unsurprisingly, hoards of people chasing about shopping. I had not come into contact with any heaving crowds yet that day as I had been keeping off the beaten track and even the underground had been fairly thin on the ground, so it took me by surprise. I stood outside the underground entrance pressed up against the wall and started to put Happy Sky Bakery into my phone for directions, but it was coming up as being located nowhere near where I was, instead being nearly 40 minutes away by public transport, or 1 hr 36 minutes on foot. I had got my wires crossed somehow. Feeling overwhelmed and in need of a sit down, I headed to the safest place nearby – the pub.
Right in the eye of the storm, The Argyll Arms proved to be the perfect sanctuary. The 1742 Grade II listed pub named after the Duke of Argyll who lived in a mansion where the Palladium now stands, is rumoured to have a secret tunnel linking the two locations. It acquired its present décor of late Victorian opulence in 1897 and is beautiful inside and out.
I bought a pint then sat in the front bay window to people watch and figure out where I had gone so wrong in locating the Japanese bakery. Turns out I had written down the address for their registered head office, but that was not where the baked goods were located. It was getting on and they shut at 3pm, plus I was facing the added complication of needing to charge my phone. I had to accept defeat on the bakery this time round and prioritise charging my phone before I moved on anywhere, as it was alarmingly low on juice. I had brought a battery pack and my charging cable with me, but was dismayed to learn I had grabbed the wrong cable while in a hurry to leave for the station that morning. However, I had also brought my old phone along in case of an emergency. So I still had a way to navigate around the city, but the downside was that the camera was far inferior. This just would not do. After mildly panicking for a few minutes, I decided to start Googling electronics shops in the vicinity to source a new cable, which soon led me to discover I was only a 3 minute walk from Apple’s flagship store on Regent Street – result! I did not care if it cost me £100, I was going to get myself a new charging cable.
Apple Regent Street, West End
I was unsure of the protocol on approaching the Apple shop, as there were multiple barriers, people queuing at various points and what appeared to be numerous bouncers. It looked like a swanky nightclub. I had to explain to four separate people that I needed a USB cable. Each person would be talking into an earpiece, then I would be passed onto a new person, who would then ask me again. I felt sheepish that I was only there to buy a cable and nothing more. I was eventually handed to a ‘specialist’, who escorted me to the cable section and picked out the right one for me. I can’t remember her name now and did not make a note of it unfortunately, but she was lovely and very sympathetic to my situation, soon recommending me Japanese eateries close by after hearing of my bakery failure.
Only £19 lighter for the cable which was worth every penny in my opinion, I plugged my phone in to charge and decided to get myself over to the Victoria & Albert Museum for some free entertainment for the remainder of the afternoon, which was only 20 minutes away by bus from Piccadilly. Or so I thought.
The British Museum, Holburn
I walked for 5 minutes down Regent St until I hit Piccadilly, where I had been instructed by Google Maps to pick up a bus to Knightsbridge. I got on the right bus, but heading in the wrong direction. I didn’t realise I was on the wrong bus until it pulled up outside The British Museum and I was informed that was the final stop. Oh well, at least I was at another beautiful location that was also a source of free cultural entertainment!
The weather had turned bitterly cold all of a sudden and by this point I was freezing, dehydrated, very hungry and in need of a sit down. I had not been able to locate a ‘hydration point’ at Kings Cross Station, so was out of water. I had to remind myself I was meant to be having fun. Food, fluids and a sit-down were my priority - behind taking photos obviously. I headed inside after some essential photographing of the giant pillars with my now recharged phone, checking the water fountain outside but sadly it was not in use.
I got an excellent vegetarian toasted ciabatta from the café consisting of mozzarella, semi-dried tomato tapenade, coquille olives, basil, spinach and mayo. It was like a giant hot pizza sandwich and it was amazing. I had it with a can of Aranciata Rosso San Pellegrino (posh fizzy orange) and a packet of crisps. It was the best meal ever. It wasn’t the lunch I had envisaged, but sometimes you just need a sandwich, crisps and can of pop. I reluctantly bought a plastic bottle of water as I had no other option and made my way revived and refreshed towards the exhibitions – Egyptian sculpture, Rome (Cities and Empires) and Ancient Greeks (Athletes, Warriors and Heroes). Ok it wasn’t the Beatrix Potter exhibition I was aiming for at the V&A, but I was just grateful to have found something interesting and absorbing to lose myself in for a couple of hours.
The Rosetta Stone
The item that caught my attention for the longest was The Rosetta Stone, in the Egyptian exhibition. Part of a bigger slab dating back to 196BC, soldiers in Napoleon's army discovered it in the Nile Delta in 1799 while digging foundations for a fort. On Napoleon's defeat, the stone became the property of the English under the terms of the 1801 Treaty of Alexandria.
It’s inscribed with a decree, affirming the royal cult of the 13 year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.
The inscription is written three times; in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration).
The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. When it was discovered, nobody knew how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. However, because the inscriptions say the same thing in three different scripts and scholars could still read Ancient Greek, the Rosetta Stone became a valuable key to deciphering the hieroglyphs.
It’s been exhibited in the British Museum since 1802 with only one break when in 1917, due to heavy bombing during the First World War, it spent two years in a station on the Postal Tube Railway, fifty feet below the ground at Holborn.
There were many other beautiful pieces on display, too many to list, but the other items that caught my attention were the Roman jewellery because I love a bit of bling – they took gold leaf to a whole new level - while I also spent a considerable amount of time studying the precious gems.
I particularly enjoyed the gift shop, counting fifty-five different ways in which the Rosetta Stone had been represented in souvenir form. I made a list and thought about including it here but decided that might be a bit overkill even by my standards, so I will just highlight my favourites - nail files, boxer-shorts and a set of mini Rosetta Stone bookends, only £80 for the pair…..
The Prince George, Dalston
I got kicked out of the museum when it closed at 5pm along with the other stragglers and began to head in the direction of Dalston, to The Prince George where I was to meet friends. This involved a lovely walk across Russell Square to pick up the underground. There are so many stunning green spaces woven into the city, Russell Square proving particularly beautiful in the dwindling twilight.
A few stops on the under/overground, I found myself back in East London. Having alighted at Dalston Junction, I made the 7 minute walk to the Prince George pub. It being the first night that masks were no longer required to be worn in pubs, the place was packed and it was surreal to see so many people crammed into the place, not a mask in sight. I soon got used to it though. Every corner was filled out and it was a hard job to move inside to locate my friends, but I found them up the back near the open fire and pool table. It was certainly a novelty to be out, in London, with friends, in a packed pub! We didn’t waste any time in getting a few drinks in and having a long overdue catch up. The price of a single gin and tonic did shock me at £7.55, but then I was in London.
Mien Tay, Shoreditch
After a few beverages we made our way back to the very place I had walked through approximately 12 hours previous – Kingsland Rd, Shoreditch. There are tons of Vietnamese restaurants along there, all of which I had been drooling over earlier that day. It was also handy being a 20 minute walk to Liverpool St Station, so I could relax knowing I did not need to navigate any more public transport other than my train home.
We stopped off for wine and beers then joined the queue at Mien Tay, who have a ‘bring your own booze’ policy. With a faithful following since 2008, this restaurant in Shoreditch is one of four owned by Mrs My Le, Mr Su Tran and family, who are from the Mien Tay region of Vietnam. It didn’t take long for us to be seated. I must be honest here and admit I did not study the menu in close detail as I already knew what I was going to have, based on the recommendation of one of my friends. I know it was Veganuary, but the dish my friend told me I MUST have sounded too good to pass up – Sea bass with Fish Sauce & Mango. It wasn’t just recommended by my friend; a 5/5 review from TimeOut London was printed on the menu, which read, “The stunner of our meal was deep-fried sea bass with fish sauce and mango. Presented whole with slivers of the just-ripe fruit, chilli and lashings of fishy nuoc mam, it was a pure harmony of flavours (sweet, salty, sour) and textures (crisp skin, moist fish, slippery mango.” I can concur this was exactly what it tasted like. I also had a Green Papaya salad with Prawns; generous with the prawns, a delicious dressing and crushed peanuts. Everything I had was very fresh and packed full of fragrant Vietnamese flavours. Sorry Veganuary. In retrospect I probably should have thought to add a carbohydrate element to my dinner to help absorb some of the booze, but this thought did not occur to me until the next morning.
London to Ipswich
I made my way straight back down the A10 to Liverpool St Station. I was nervous about missing the last train so I set off with time to spare, the street looking so different at night compared to the day. Crowds of people spilled out from the now heaving bars, which 14 hours previous had been shuttered and silent, the roads full of traffic making the walk back almost unrecognisable. I managed to stay on target and get to the station with no issues, planting myself with much relief on a carriage with 15 minutes to spare before departure.
The journey home passed smoothly with my pre-booked taxi waiting when I pulled into Ipswich at 00.39, shuttling me home safely to my bed before 1am. A full day well spent in London, but boy was I ready for my bed. I was very tired, but content from a day well spent.
After getting lost in London twice for real this time while using Google Maps, my London-savvy friends laughed at me then kindly informed me that no one uses Google Maps anymore and that CityMapper is where it’s at. I downloaded the app and it all looked much easier to understand, so I am looking forward to utilising it during my next visit.
Free drinking water
One Less Bottle, the Mayor of London and MIW Water Cooler Experts teamed up to install 28 drinking fountains across London, to give access to free drinking water. Perfect! It was one of these that I spotted at Liverpool Street Station.
A map and list of the 28 locations is here, although I cannot see that they have created an app to help guide you to the nearest one while you are in the city, so it’s just a case of looking at the map.
I did find a different app, Refill, which connects people looking for water with shops, businesses, fountains and transport hubs where they can refill for free on-the-go, across the UK. As well as filling up your water bottle for free, it also finds places offering discounts and rewards for bringing your own cup, places you can take your own lunchboxes to get your food to go and plastic free shopping options to reduce pointless packaging. I had a quick play with the app it to see what was on offer in my home town of Ipswich and was pleased to note there are three free refill options in the train station alone, which was news to me. Again, it’s amazing that you can uncover all around when you actively begin to look.
Total spend = £183.85 (bit steep)
Travel = £43.90
To the station – no cost, 20 mins walk
Train - £20 return, booked two weeks ahead with no student concession applied
Underground – £13.90 for all day travel card
Home from the station – taxi £10 (£6 fare, £4 tip)
Exhibition = £0
I didn’t have to book ahead (just as well really…..)
Food and drink = £120.95
Starbucks – Latte x 2 - Ipswich train station & opposite British Museum - £3.05/£3.60
Better Health Bakery – sourdough loaf & beigel - £8.10
By The Bridge Cafe – coffee & croissant - £4.00
Copperhouse Chocolate – Chilli hot choc, then lots of treats to take home - £27.25 (ouch haha)
The Argyll Arms – pint of beer – £6.10
Various off-licenses – bottled water - £4.20
The British Museum – ciabatta, pop, crisps, water - £10.75
The Prince George – G&Ts x 3 – £22.65
BYOB – red wine & beer (will I ever learn to not mix drinks?) - £10.45
Mien Tay – dinner - £25
Misc = £19.00
iPhone cable (oops)
Total spend for 16 hours travel, exhibition, emergency electronics purchase, all food and drinks - £183.85, so £11.49 per hour.
I spent less last time (£106.10 in total, so £8.84 an hour), but then I did not do the following things; buy loads of vegan chocolate for myself, take the wrong cable, drink alcohol, get a taxi home. I would have liked to spend less than that, so next time will aim to do so.
If you remove the excessive amounts of vegan treats, iPhone cable, alcohol and bottled water I would have spent over £80 less, which is more in the region of where I would be aiming for with my day-trip budget. I totally forgot to ask about student discounts, so will have to make sure I do so next time. I have been recommended to use the UNiDAYS app so will use that in support of my next jolly.
Verdict – another great day out in London, not quite the one I had planned but still magic none-the-less, helping to at least partially alleviate the post-America blues.
Once again London, thank you for restoring my spirits; I can’t wait to see where I end up next time!