36 Hours in London

DSC09219

Whatever the reason, an unexpected trip to London, one of my favourite cities in the world, is a joyful occurence. Shortly arrived at my usual headquarters in Golders Green, I switch to fast speed and head to Victoria Station. The massive architecture that every time seems to show me new dimensions of power and creativity that are not easy to find in Berlin.

DSC09223

Talking about Berlin, another important difference with the city hosting me now is the weather. There is a common place to complain about the ‘bad’ weather in London meaning that not too many experienced the constant low temperatures in Berlin. As my short trip to London does include a lot of walking an no specific indoor activities – not even a small museum or exhibition – I use my time in between meetings enjoying the hot sun of the London spring.

DSC09226

The perfectly white cubicle houses in the Kensington area makes me feel a spy in a huge lego town. This feeling is amplified also by the emptiness of the streets, as it seems at this time of the day everyone is even taking a well-deserved siesta or just working hard to pay the loans for these beautiful locations.

DSC09230

The parks offer a more dynamic side of the London life, many offering chaise-longues and green scenery to read a book or enjoy the lunch break.

DSC09237

Near Buckingam Palace, tourists – like me, and maybe you too, my reader – are intensively busy to spot their photographic memories of the trip.

DSC09248

As for me, I am looking for some different royal views, paying a short visit at the local Ritz Hotel, whose soothing piano music makes you feel you are visiting a real palace.

DSC09266

I may not have enough time and peace of mind to dedicate extra time of this trip to an exhibition or a museum, but at least I have the inspiration to stop in the yards of the Burlington House. Time for another open lesson in architecture.

DSC09270

The view of some pleasant small Japanese cookies at Minamoto Kitchoan diversified the list of things seen and smelled in London this time. The pastel colours of the shop and the open smile of the vendors made me feel sorry for not being in the mood for some Asian purchase this time.

DSC09272

Every time I visit London I should see this building near Oxford Street. One day, I hope to be brave enough and discover it properly.

DSC09279

China Town is a place I haven’t visited in London for over 10 years. This time, I want to get lost in the emprorium of senses and colours and authentic cuisine. It is afternoon and I can easily find enough open, half-empty restaurants. When I was there the last time, in was late afternoon and we had to wait some good minutes till having our right to delicious Asian bites. DSC09282

London markets, including in Chinatown, are very well known for their diversity of tasty fresh products and I take the opportunity for some healthy supplies for my trip back to Berlin.

DSC09286

The simple idea to return, after realizing that I will miss so many beautiful streets and buildings and foods, makes me sad. But I keep going and taking pictures, this is my antidote to travel sadness.

DSC09287

As usual, I am trying to see the full half of the glass and I am making mental lists of the activities my next trip to London should include. Her Majesty’s Theater is obviously part of the plan.

DSC09290

The always busy Piccadilly Circus offers everything you need to make your afternoon special: classical and modern art, street music, fresh water and even a lot of people ready to talk and help tourists losts or charmed in London.

DSC09291

There is even a dynosaur’s metal skeleton…

DSC09311

The brave squirrels that cut my way in the Green Park, seems to love flowers as much as I do so it is partly forgiven for the impoliteness. Not too much impressed by humans, it offers long photo opportunities and maybe also a squirrel’s smile.DSC09318

On the other side of the river, the Golden Eye is watching silently.

DSC09320

And so does the Tower of London.

DSC09326

In the shadows of so many historical landmarks, young dancers are practising their hobby on the river’s bank. After so many hours of walking, I decide to stop for more than 10 minutes, watching the gracious steps and almost perfect coordination of the pairs.

DSC09329

This is the beautiful view that I left behind. Another point on my to-do-list for the next time: take a trip on the old Thames.

DSC09334

I have no idea why the time run away that fast, but I am feeling like going fast down the rabbit’s hole. The same hole where Alice in Wonderland got caught. The beautiful porcelain celebrating the 150-year young book reminds me the sophistication yet plaifulness of the British spirit.

DSC09345

The next day, I am decided to revisit and find some new places in the quiet Golders Green.

DSC09348

Every time I am in London I am extensively exploring the diversity of kosher restaurants. This time, I can only take a look around to see if some new things are launched – there is a new Indian restaurant that I hope it will be there for the next time. Taking the advantage of the beautiful weather, I cannot resist the invitation to have a last icecream at SoYo before saying ‘good bye’ to London. I previously reviewed this place, that did not impressed me from the point of the view of the service. Some years after, the situation did not change, but at least after waiting way too much, the icecream is good enough to make myself smiling to the sun.

DSC09351

That was all for this time. I am ready, but not happy, to go back to Berlin, feeling anxious about when will it be the next time to see London again. Meanwhile, I keep repeating to myself that it is up to us to make our travel dreams come true.

For more photos from London, including from previous tips, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/london/

5 Places to Spend Pesach this year

Pesach or Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals, celebrating the freedom from more than 200 yeas of slavery in Egypt. Attended by both observant and non-observant Jews, it is a family celebration, when the story of the liberation from slavery (Haggadah) is told around special foods for long hours. This year, it starts on the evening of 14 April and lasts till the 21st in the diaspora and 22 in Israel.

This holiday requires a lot of special preparations, especially for observant Jews, as for the duration of the holiday any traces of leaven (chometz) should be avoided. As Jews were leaving Egypt in a hurry, there was no time to fully prepare the bread and the restriction against consuming leaven for one week is aimed to remind of those times. On a symbolical level, eating only the crisp biscuit (matzah) instead of the puffy bread is aimed to be an exercise of humility, eliminating arrogance out of the soul. The dietary restrictions differ from a group to another, with the Jews of Oriental origin (Sephardim) having less food interdictions, being allowed to eat, for instance, rice and various types of beans, which might make their menu more rich and interesting. The Moroccan Jews organize at the end of the Pesach the Mimouna, a very joyous celebration with a delicious menu, as well as music and dance.

Besides the intensive cleaning – wondering why I did not write too often in the last days? – and the need of a long-term planing of the menu, there are also many opportunities to celebrate this week long holiday with family, old and new friends. If you want to offer yourself something special and enjoy a different ambiance, there are much more possibilities nowadays as it used to be a decade ago, due to the constant development of kosher accommodation industry, with many hotels and restaurants ready to answer even the most stringent guests.

The keyword for a successful Pesach holiday time is planning. The sooner you make a reservation, the better, especially if you plan to travel to Israel. From Europe, be ready to pay for a the two-way ticket more 1,000 Euro if you spontaneously decide to fly this week, and it seems that the prices are raising from an hour to another. As for the full Pesach package – including hotel, food and other activities (including special program for children) there is hard to find anything available right now in the big locations, but writing as soon as possible to the local synagogue or rabbi will help for fast guidance.

However, if not yet sure where to spend Pesach, here are five suggestions that if not this year, maybe the next year can help you to better plan your holiday time. For more suggestions of restaurants all over the world, here is a comprehensive travel list.

1. Israel

What other best place can be better for a full Pesach feeling? Religious or not, you are at the right place. During the holiday, you can see the whole diversity of the country, with people from all over the world easily communicating to each other spontaneously and, why not, inviting you for a party or just for a great glass of wine. From Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from Haifa to Eilat, elegant resorts and museums are ready to welcome guests.

On the occasion of ITB Fair in Berlin, I had the occasion to speak with several companies that introduced me to the interesting and not yet fully explored offer from Eilat, that diversified significantly, especially in the last years, particularly for the observant travellers during Pesach time..Image

A lot of special activities are available for different age categories, many of them completely for free during the holidays. My best recommendations are: The Design Museum in Holon, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Haifa Zoo or the Tikotin Museum in Haifa, with an impressive collection of Asian art, or the underground exploration of the City of David in Jerusalem. Otherwise, a walk to the beach in Tel Aviv twice the day is the best free detox you can offer yourself. Image

2. New York City

Time for a change? New York City is the right place to forget the too much sober Europe, both in term of diversity and concentration of Pesach activities. Many synagogues and Jewish centers are full time open with special program during the holidays, especially in Brooklyn. Finding reservations for hotel is not easy right now, but don’t worry, very often you can get a lot of help locally, so try to get in touch as soon as possible with people from the area. During the chol hamoed (weekdays between the first and last days of the festival when limited activities are allowed) it’s so much to do in the city: from museums to private exhibition spaces, architecture and walks to the Zoo or parks. Otherwise, don’t forget to pay a discovery visit to Williamsburg that changed a lot in the last years and Flatbush too. Or take your kids to Coney Island for a walk.

Otherwise, there are other places in America where to spend an unforgettable kosher l’Pesach holidays among which: Los Angeles, Florida, Miami, Philadelphia and Boston. Would not say no to ‘New Orleans’ either.

On the other side of the border, think seriously about Québec and Montréal.

3. Antwerp

Image

I instantly fell in love with Antwerp during my last year trip and would love to be back as soon as possible to test more kosher restaurants. The city has a special charm and many old Jewish communities found here refuge after the war. Hence, the diversity of Jewish learning and activities offered here during the holiday. Careful travellers made the reservation for a full holiday in a kosher all inclusive hotel months in advance and not too many places are left. But otherwise, it’s easy to find a reservation in an average hotel and eventually get your kosher breakfast.

4. London

Image

I haven’t been in London for a while, and I am missing the city dearly. Right now, I can imagine the rush from Northern London, with people hurrying up to finish last preparations of the menus and welcoming friends and relatives from abroad. Besides Paris (which right now is unfortunately an unsafe place for Jews) London has the exquisite selection of gourmet kosher restaurants in Europe and nice welcoming small hotels, many of them situated closed to synagogues. London and Golders Green in general is child-friendly too and one can consider a lot of interesting activities among which, visiting the Aquarium, Kew Gardens, or many of the museums. It is never enough time to fully explore this beautiful city.

Another great option for spending an unforgettable seder in the UK is Manchester, where the famous Gateshead yeshiva is located. From there, driving to the beautiful Lake District is a great family.

5. Nepal

The biggest sederPesach meal – in the world, with more than 1,000 attendees (even 2,000 in some years) is held in Kathmandu. I am adventurous enough to dream that one day, will do it. And ‘if you will it, it is no dream’, isn’t it? Most participants are Israeli backpackers spending time in India so expect a very lively ambiance.

If still in the rush and not enough time and money for a far away travel, other recommendations for your Pesach are: Milan, the Swiss mountains, Strasbourg. If planning to visit Central and Eastern Europe, the Jewish communities from Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow from Poland are getting ready for the hag – the holiday, as it does King Solomon restaurant in the middle of the Jewish quarter in Prague. For Germany, most Jewish travellers are going especially to Berlin and Munich.

A Happy and Kosher Holiday Everyone!/Hag kosher v’sameah!

Golders Green food tour

Eating was never one of my biggest targets when on the road, but once my travel preoccupations increased, so did my interest in testing local foods and flavours. When in London, I always try to get the latest good kosher restaurants and trends and where else can I find inspiration but in Golders Green? And I never got disappointments, as the local food scenery is dynamic and diverse, trying to answer the needs of the very sophisticated customers. The home cooking in this part of London is extremely diverse and sophisticated and if you want to impress and take the people out of their homes for dinner you should be very good and to offer the best quality menu at a good price. 

Since my last adventures in the world of Golders Green food, some of the restaurants reviewed closed down – Yum Yum for instance – but new one appeared, inviting the food writer I wish to be to test them at least once. Many offer the possibility of take away – sometimes in exchange of a little extra fee.

I am very careful with the Chinese food, but after a long diet, I decided that Met Su Yan – a game of words and sounds, as in Hebrew metsuyan means ‘excellent’ – could be a good choice for a special evening. Especially on Sundays it can be very crowded so a reservation is highly recommended. The place is cute, clean, but a bit crowded, if more than half of the tables are taken. The prices are 3-4-star, but the portions are big. If you decide a 3- or 4-course menu, you will get a good price and a lot of food of your choice. The service is good, with the waitresses patient enough to explain to the non-educated customer all the details of the mysterious names of some of the plates. The cuisine is not necessarily Chinese, but also Vietnamese – I strongly recommend the coconut rolls – or Japanese – lovely sushi choices for the curious and passionate or Thai – not to miss the Pad Thai. I was not extremely impressed by the sauces – especially for the duck with plum sauce – but instantly went in love with the mango duck. Mouthwatering only when I think about it. As for the sweets, highly recommended the ginger icecream. The next time I’m back, there is where I want to start my food trip.

Late on a Saturday evening, Isola Bella is not open and if not going there for one of the delicious cakes – I went there the last Thursday and tasted an Irish cream meringue that finished too fast – why not continuing with more meat meals? I can’t refuse such an offer and tried Sami’s. Two days after we were back. I did not like the red decorations and the lights, but otherwise it is clean and with a friendly service. They have a lot of Iraqi specialities – the zaatar bread is unforgettable – and well done skewers. The chicken Tikka is unexpectedly delicious – I don’t trust always the Indian specialities prepared in a not typical Indian restaurant -, but the simple Chicken skewers are light and tasty too. I liked the roasted potatoes and the coleslaw, but I am sure there are more hidden gems in the menu. The choice of desserts isn’t that great, but a vanilla or choco icecream (parve) can end up the meal in a very smooth way. 

Curious to check if everything is fine, I stopped by at Dolce Vita (again) where I was overwhelmed by flavours and taste of the risotto salmon. As usual, the choices of fish and salads is good and the taste accordingly. The green beans salad and the olives at the beginning were good enough to appease my big hunger after hours of travel.

The last on the list was SoYo, where I wanted to have only a simple frozen yoghurt.  It is usually busy during the morning – they serve a 7.95 £ breakfast menu that looks quite rich. But there are also soups and salads and pasta, and some smoothies too. Upstairs it is a playground with heavy air conditioning during the summer. It is medium priced and not very clean. My biggest disappointment was the service: unfriendly, unhappy and delayed. I will return only if all the restaurants, pubs and fast foods around are closed. Image