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Lovely London

Men on motorcycles passing a taxi and a bud emblazened with BIGBUS.COM on the side

NICE UNCOVERED

Thursday of last week, Jeanne Oliver, author of Nice Uncovered: Walks Through the Secret Heart of a Historic City, enlightened an SRO group of expats at Après-Midi in Nice with a slide presentation and talk about the history of Nice. She concentrated on the development of the city, first by the various visitors who made their mark, such as the British, the Russians and the Americans, and then from an architectural point of view, pointing out special Belle Epoch and Art Deco buildings of note. We’ve walked past them dozens of times, but maybe never thought much of them, except that they were beautiful. Now we have a chance to see them in a different light.

Adrian Leeds and Jeanne Oliver

Adrian with Jeanne Oliver

One of the Art Deco buildings, located on Avenue Victor Hugo, is the Palais Les Mimosas built in 1938. It just happened to be the building in which is located an apartment on which one of our clients had made an offer just two days earlier—and was accepted. He and his wife grinned ear-to-ear to discover its importance in the history of the city.

Even if you couldn’t attend, you don’t have to miss it. The entire session (1 hour 30 minutes) was recorded, as it always is, so you can enjoy it for yourself. To see the report, the photos and watch it on our YouTube channel click here.

Immediately after the event, I gathered my belongings and hopped Tramway #2 to the airport to fly to London for the weekend. That part couldn’t have been easier or cheaper. My friend was already sleeping when I arrived at the hotel in London, very late due to a delayed flight. It’s been several years since I’ve been to London, in spite of the ease of getting there, particularly from Paris when it’s just a 2 hour 16 minute ride on the Eurostar.

LANDING IN LONDON

London is an expensive little adventure. Be prepared. My friend’s Uber from Gatwick was £110 sterling ($139). She warned me in advance not to make that mistake and take the Gatwick Express instead. However, at midnight, realizing I had to shuttle from the North Terminal to the South Terminal, get tickets. etc., I would have missed the last train. At that hour and exhaustion, the easiest answer was to taxi to our hotel in Knightsbridge for £144.50 ($188)! It took one hour with zero traffic at that hour. Still, I vowed never to fly to London again, if I can help it.

Good news came by email when the Victoria and Albert Museum (aka, V&A) sent me tickets to see their Diva exhibition, thanks to my press pass. We hopped on them immediately by heading out and arriving just after it opened. We wandered through the expansive display focusing “the power and creativity of iconic performers, exploring and redefining the role of ‘diva’ and how this has been subverted or embraced over time across opera, stage, popular music, and film.”

The Diva Exhibition at the V&A in London

The Diva Exhibition at the V&A

The museum in itself is a work of art, and shouldn’t be missed. The only critical thing I could add to this particular exhibit is that I found display cases were poorly lit, the glare from the glass cases made it difficult to see the garments and the signage was tough to read. The curators of the exhibit managed to pay very little attention to the one diva I expected to be at the top of the list—Aretha Franklin, who I adore above all others. On one obscure wall was a copy of her hit “Respect” and a small plaque. That’s all. Even Nina Simone had an entire wall devoted to her. It was very perplexing to say the least.

Sheet music for Aretha Franklin's Respect

The museum redeemed itself, however, during a stroll through their gift shop, which is brilliantly done and puts French museums’ shops to shame. Don’t miss the jewelry section, ladies!

MEETING RICHARD

For lunch we met up with Richard Blanco, my U.K. counterpart on House Hunters International. Richard has filmed more shows than me, and that makes him the only agent to have broken my record of 50-some-odd-shows with his 60-some-odd. We’ve been friendly rivals for a while now and I was jazzed to finally meet him in person, anticipating that we would get along famously…and we did. He’s not a real estate agent like I am, but does own and manage quite a bit of property in London, so he’s quite knowledgeable and does a great job helping the contributors choose the best rental or purchase. He also has a great look—with his thick black beard and big white toothy smile. He’s a keeper.

Adrian Leeds with Richard Blanco in London

Adrian with Richard Blanco

ART IS INFLATABLE

We didn’t know what to expect when we booked the Balloon Museum, where “Art is Inflatable.” The number of kids with their parents waiting in line to enter was a dead giveaway that maybe we were a bit too old for this kind of exhibition…but we weren’t. If you want to feel like a kid again, don’t miss it.

The Balloon Museum is considered a groundbreaking concept featuring works where “air” serves as the defining element. The entire experience was a journey through larger-than-life installations with unexpected forms, placing participant interaction at the heart of the experience. It’s tactile and engaging on every level. No doubt, it captivated the kids, but also their parents and even us adults on our own as we enjoyed the installations ourselves. And even more so, watching the kids and others enjoy it just as much.

It’s located in one large building on the River Thames. With parts divided by black curtained walls creating a labyrinth-like path going up and down stairs, down hallways and around, visitors are led from one installation to another, each its own kind of air-related fantasy. One in particular is an olympic size pool of yellow plastic balls in which you can jump and fully immerse yourself, and even drown as if in quick sand. The experience is hilarious to say the least, all while a huge globe spins in the center on which is projected all sorts of psychedelic images. It was then I thought about eating magic mushrooms and what it would be like to combine the experiences! I jumped in and then couldn’t get out. Thank goodness a gentleman nearby managed to grab me under my armpits to lift me out. The kids (and we) were having a blast!

The Balloon Museum pool

The Balloon Museum pool

CHEEKY SHEEKEY

When my friend and I exited our taxi on Charing Cross Road, so obviously in the very center of tourist town, that she became distrustful of the restaurant at which we had reservations, J Sheekey. It had been recommended to her as the best seafood restaurant in London. In spite of its location, we’d have to agree that not only was the atmosphere and service impeccable, but our dinner of shellfish was amazing, rivaling even Niçois style “plateaux des fruits de mer.” Of course, the prices were almost double to Nice, but as I said from the beginning, expect everything to be expensive in London. The platter of fresh raw seafood was brimming with oysters, dressed crab, Atlantic prawns, mussels, clams, ceviche, cockles, whelks and tiger prawns at £57, however, it was so copious that even I couldn’t finish it!…And that’s saying a lot considering the seafood foodie that I am.

Plateau de fruits de mer at J Sheekey

SHOP TILL YOU DROP

Saturday morning was destined for shopping. With Harrod’s Department Store just down the street from our hotel in Knightsbridge, avoiding a visit would have been unthinkable. Established in 1849 by Charles Henry Harrod, the store has since become a symbol of quality and luxury goods and celebrated as one of the world’s premier department stores welcoming approximately 15 million visitors annually. Situated on a rather sprawling 5-acre site with 330 departments spread across 1.1 million square feet of retail space, it’s one of the largest and most iconic department stores in the world.

Harrods Department Store in London

The Dior display in the center of the store is a mini replica of the display in the La Galerie Dior in Paris with its color-coordinated array of miniature fashions mixed with life-size shoes, hats and handbags. It’s beautiful and oh so Dior with their hourglass shaped dresses and feminine style.

The Dior display at Harrods in London

Harrod’s motto is “Omnia Omnibus Ubique,” Latin for “all things for all people, everywhere,” but that works as long as the “people” have enough money to spend there. For a cheap thrill, head straight to the Food Halls for something very special—they have it all. It hardly rivals, however, La Grande Epicerie of Le Bon Marché in Paris, which is pretty tough to top!

The Harrod's food court

OH MY GOD, ROVI

One of the Ottolenghi restaurants restaurants was also top of list of things to do in London. Founder and chef, Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi, is Israeli-born but British restaurateur and food writer. He is the co-owner of seven delis and restaurants in London and vicinity and the author of several bestselling cookery books. A mutual friend of ours recommended the location named “Rovi” on Wells Street and scored reservations for lunch on Saturday.

The bar in Rovi

The bar in Rovi

The decor is lovely in red, black, white and natural woods…casual, but elegant. We ordered three starters (Grilled Cabbage, Charred Leeks and Grilled Calamari) and one main course (Jerusalem Mixed Grill with Chicken) to share along with a green salad. We had more food than we needed, but not that we wanted! Every morsel garnered an “oh my God” until we licked the plates clean. When all was said and done and we waddled out having paid only £117 for all that with drinks, I realized it had been a big bargain for quality.

The charred leeks served at Rovi in London

The charred leeks served at Rovi

PERUSING THE PORTRAITS

The National Portrait Gallery wasn’t too far away, so we strolled over after our copious lunch at Rovi, taking the back streets. This is one of my favorite London museums and somehow I have managed to sneak in a visit almost every time I’ve been to London in the past.

The National Portrait Gallery

A couple of hours were spent wandering through the main galleries admiring the beautiful portraits, whether painted, sculpted or photographed. One such painting of Julia Margaret Cameron caught our eye for its beauty of a rather sad, but lovely woman. Upon discovering the subject of the painting, it was rather coincidental that we happened to have tickets to the special exhibition taking place within the museum of Cameron’s photographic work: “Francesca Woodman and Julia Margaret Cameron, Portraits to Dream In.”

Portrait of Julia Margaret Cameron

The two pioneering female photographers have left indelible marks on the history of photography despite living a century apart—Cameron in the U.K. and Sri Lanka during the 1860s, and Woodman in America and Italy starting from the 1970s. Both artists delved into portraiture beyond mere representation and they infused their works with creativity and imagination, exploring concepts of beauty, symbolism, transformation, and narrative. The exhibition presents over 160 rare vintage prints, spanning the careers of these remarkable women.

I had seen the Cameron photos before in Paris at the Jeu de Paume last Fall and knew what to expect—a collection of beautiful portraits mostly of women as if from another time or even another plane, such as heaven. Woodman’s photos, however, left me uninterested. Regardless, it’s worth a special visit, as is the National Portrait Gallery on any occasion.

A photo of women by Julia Margaret Cameron

BIMBOS AND BIG GUYS

We couldn’t exit our hotel to catch our car to dinner as there were five big cops guarding the door from the street. We were told that there was a ruckus on the street by a large number of “Gypsy Travellers.” Mostly women, young and dressed like bimbos in their mini skirts, high-heeled boots and extreme make-up, they had been boozing it up in the hotel and were now out on the street causing mayhem.

Police guarding the hotel door

Upon some research, we learned that these were the Irish Travellers who live in Ireland, Britain and North America. Despite often being incorrectly referred to as “Gypsies” the Irish Travellers are not genetically related to the Romani, who are of Indo-Aryan origin. The U.K alone is believed to be home to up to 300,000 of these people. At least about 200 of them were on our sidewalk outside the hotel, and many inside, too. The next day we learned that they had invaded Harrod’s and the Zara as well, shutting down the department store for a period of time!

Gypsy Travelers outside the hotel in London

DISHOOM DISHES

One of our Uber drivers, when asked about London’s best Indian restaurants, recommended Dishoom, the city’s most popular chain of contemporary Indian cuisine. Its slogan: “From Bombay with Love.” But, be prepared as we were warned, because they don’t take reservations except for parties of six or more and the wait can be up to one-hour-twenty-minutes. We decided to brave it and set out to get on line at their Kensington location, the first of them all.

Dishoom

Inside Dishoom

Inside Dishoom

The police let us exit, we grabbed our Uber and headed to Dishoom. Regardless of the wait, Dishoom is very well organized. One person takes down your name and number in your party when you’re in line on the street. The next person mans the door and lets people in as the foyer opens up. At that point you are given an electronic beeper so you can be called when your table is ready. From the foyer you are escorted to the bar where you can order drinks and wait pleasantly. The restaurant is packed and buzzing with activity. Everyone is extremely pleasant and friendly and not at all stressed or rushed. Eventually you get your table and you might want everything on the menu (like we did). The restaurant is gorgeous Art Deco style—large, and bustling, but not so loud that you have to yell or strain to hear your companions. In fact, the acoustics are quite good. Our order came quickly…and every single dish was more delicious than the next. We pigged out, once again. London has proven to be a gourmet delight from beginning to end and this time, it wasn’t at all expensive for a truly incredible meal and experience.

Lambchops at Dishoom

Lambchops at Dishoom

Broccoli salad at Dishhoom

Broccoli salad at Dishhoom

FALSE ALARM

With our very full bellies we were looking forward to a good night’s sleep our last night in London, but that didn’t happen. At 1:25 a.m., the smoke alarm went off in our room and all over the hotel. We grabbed our essentials, donned our coats and headed to the lobby via the stairs and out onto the street along with the rest of the hotel guests. The false alarm had us back in the room about 45 minutes later and back in bed…but that didn’t last long when the alarm went off again. From what we could gather, the Travellers had been pulling some pranks on all of us. Ha, ha, ha…ugh! And on top of it all, someone in the next room was making enough noise to keep my friend awake most of the night. What an adventure and a misadventure!

Easter Sunday morning was fortunately quieter than the night before, but the weather had turned colder, windier and grayer. Bundled up, we walked through Hyde Park and down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, arriving just in time for the Changing of the Guard. The website promotes 11 a.m., but in truth, it didn’t take place until 11:45 a.m., so while everyone else was outside waiting patiently in the cold, we arrived at the perfect moment. We could at least say we “had been there, and done that.”

Buckingham Palace in London

Buckingham Palace

Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace in London

Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

Easter Sunday lunch was to follow, having made reservations at the Michelin Star restaurant (since 2006), Amaya, just around the corner from our hotel. It was our most expensive adventure into London cuisine, but one of the best. “Amaya is one of the most important Indian restaurants in the history of its genre creating a generation of peers and chefs.”

Restaurant, Amaya

Restaurant, Amaya

The decor is stunning, the service impeccable and the culinary delights unimaginable. We loved every moment. But, while sitting there enjoying each morsel, we reminisced over every great meal we had and couldn’t say a bad word about any of them.

Chicken Crisps at Amaya

Chicken Crisps at Amaya

All in all, the weekend in London was picture perfect in every way except typical London weather—that resembles Paris’—so it’s tough to complain. Then, my friend flew off to Marseille and I hopped the Eurostar to Paris which couldn’t have been faster or easier.

A few comments about London:

The streets are immaculate, and I mean immaculate. I never saw a piece of paper or cigarette butt or puppy poop on the sidewalks. By comparison to Paris, it’s downright embarrassing. Madame Mayor Hidalgo…really!? Are you going to let London outdo you?

Big Ben in London

Big Ben

The restaurants outperformed Paris and a lot of other cities for inventiveness, ethnicity and atmosphere. The days of Britain eating Shepherd’s Pie and Yorkshire Pudding are clearly over. For us, it was a gastronomic extravaganza that didn’t have to break the bank, even though London is more expensive than Paris and the Sterling rate of exchange isn’t so great at the moment. The atmosphere in all of them was lively, friendly and downright fun. Waiters were smiley and easy-going. Every meal we had, we’d happily do over again. I never dreamed I’d recommend going to London for dining out, but now I definitely have changed my tune. The French could learn a thing or two about embracing inventive and multi-ethnic cuisine and a more casual and fun dining experience.

London Bridge

London Bridge

The weather ain’t great in London, but neither is Paris’. We did, however, manage to have one day of sunshine, brightening everyone’s spirits. Just like Paris, the Londoners don’t let it get them down, and neither did it dampen our spirits.

Would I want to live there? No. Am I happy it’s a short ride away for a visit? Absolutely.

A la prochaine…

Ardian Leeds in the Balloon MuseumAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

Adrian in the Balloon Museum

P.S. Are you ready to vote in the 2024 U.S. elections? If you’re a U.S. citizen abroad, you must register and request your ballot every election year. If you have not yet done so, please go to this website to register and request your ballot today. The process typically takes about 5-7 minutes to complete. Need help? Contact them by email or call or text OH GOD VOTE to +33 6 44 63 86 83.

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