Swan Song

We had no specific plan for our last day in London, so I checked out what Google Maps had to say. It pointed me to the Notting Hill Carnival. Apparently this was some Caribbean themed event over on Notting Hill. That sounded pleasant and relaxing, so we took the tube over to Notting Hill Gate.

It was not pleasant and relaxing.

The Carnival was more akin to a Fat Tuesday Carnival or Pride march. It was massive. Floods of people were walking into Notting Hill. Shops and homes had the first floors boarded up to protect them fro the crowds, and these were sprayed with Graffiti for the festival. We walked a few blocks into Notting Hill, past ranks of security and police, until we hit the real crowds. This was shoulder to shoulder people and floats for the Carnival Parade blasting music. It was honestly amazing. We found a side street and went through booths of food and demos. Music played everywhere. I looked down the block and this stretched through the side streets. I chatted with a few locals, and this was apparently the largest Caribbean festival in London. It sure looked like it.

We caught part of the parade, the dancing and music were amazing, as were the costumes. But the crowds were getting to be more than what we wanted to deal with. It was crowded already, and there was still an unending flow of people coming in. No wonder the buildings were all secured with wood and fencing on the first floor. We worked our way against the flow, across a canal, and out of the party zone. I grabbed us the first taxi, and we went to Hyde Park.

The taxi dropped us off by the water in the park We were hot from walking in the crowds, and wanted to just cool off. There really wasn’t any way to walk or stand in the water, but there was a nice snack bar on the opposite side. We took a short walk over a bridge, and got a table in the snack bar to cool off. We were walking across the bridge that separates the Serpentine from The Long Water, the two lakes in Hyde Park. The day was hot so the park and shores of the water were filled with Londoners trying to beat the heat. There was an actual swimming beach area, but it was pay only, with a huge line. We ignored that and just ducked into Lido, which was the snack bar. It was shady here, and I couldn’t tell if there was AC or just better air flow, but it was an improvement. We decided to walk up the park to wards the north end, there were usually some interesting art sellers up there, and it was also the location of my Home Pub for London, The Swan. There are actually a few pubs called The Swan in London, but the one at Hyde Park is where we’ve gone on every trip to London. So we had to make a stop.

The walk through the park was hot, but we tried to stick to the shade as much as we could. There were a lot of birds we didn’t recognize out on the water, and a bit further up we found a display detailing all the species we were seeing. The Egyptian Goose was one we had never seen before, we recognized Canadian gees and Cormorants, but they also had three varieties of gulls there. all smaller than the seagulls we have in Seattle. Frankly, they all looked the same to me. Once outside the park we walked along the sidewalk and checked out the art stands. I picked up some Mini Pub signs. These are popular and touristy. I figured a few more would look good over my bar at home (I already have two). We crossed the road from there into The Swan.

On our very first trip to England, we went to the swan by total chance. It was a typical pub with food and beer, and we’ve been going there every time we have come to London since. It’s my home pub here. It’s also a Fuller’s Pub, so they have Fuller’s ESB, as well as London Pride on tap. Two of my favorite beers. We grabbed a table around the back side of the bar, and ordered lunch. We weren’t in a particular rush, as it was too hot outside, and crowds were starting to come back from the Carnival, so things were filling up. We stayed a few beers longer than lunch, partially to let the crowds move along, and partially because it felt good to be in the pub. (the meat pie they had was particularly good. I really miss good meat pies) We took a hot and crowded tube ride back to the apartment. Vadim and I went back to have some beer and just hang out. Yulia and the girls went shopping.

Three hours later, Yulia and Sasha returned. They had lost Dasha somewhere in one of the shops, and figured it was easier for her to find them back at the apartment. They were right, and Dasha showed up about ten minutes later. The sun was down and things were finally cooling off, so we had one final stop on our trip. Once everyone cleaned up we headed out and grabbed a taxi. I wanted us to have cocktails at Trader Vic’s.

Trader Vic’s is an institution in my family, we never miss a chance to go. I don’t just mean Yulia, Sasha and I, my parents are big Trader Vic’s fans, and my Grandfather worked on Kitchen Redesign at the original Seattle location. We were sad when the Bellevue Trader Vic’s closed. I still have mugs from there. The London Trader Vic’s is in the basement of the Hilton, so when the taxi dropped us off we walked right in and down the stairs. When you come down into Trader Vic’s, it’s seriously old school Tiki. (in fact, the London Trader Vic’s is one of the oldest continuously running Tiki bars in the world, since the late 40’s) The walls are rattan covered, with the island tiki’s, fake birds, everything. It’s kitch, but I love it. The food was great, but for some reason, the drinks seemed light. We were still enjoying everything, then the Hawaiian music stopped. It was quiet for a bit, then some dance music came on, at the wrong volume. It didn’t sound like anything we recognized, then it stopped. another song came on, with singing not in English. We asked the waitress what was up with the music, and she informed us it was Arabic DJ night.

That was unexpected.

It probably wouldn’t have been too bad if the DJ had any idea what he was doing. Volume was different for each song, he couldn’t mix them when changing. It was pretty bad. That kind of killed the tiki vibe, so we headed out after a while. We started packing once we got back to the apartment, as we had our flight out the next day. No matter what, it was great spending so much time this trip with Friends and Family. After all, in the long run, there’s not much difference between the two.

Just a few folks…