After 2 weeks spent traipsing around a somewhat developing nation, it was quite refreshing to land in London and be reminded of the comforts and luxuries of the Western World. The lack of constant begging and the sound of English were both very welcome changes. We had 3 days planned for London and the great fortune of staying with and old friend and great Beta brother, John Dietmann, at his home in Stanmore (about 30 minutes on the tube from the city centre). We were both excited for London and to see John, and for good reason- the man is coming up on his 72nd birthday and he has boundless energy and a zest for life that is inspiring. Both he and his wife treated us like kings, a luxury that we did not expect and certainly did not deserve. There are no words to express the genuine feeling of embarrassment and remorse as we were being fed beers and stew and we were undoubtedly smelling up his nice home with our bags and unwashed clothes.
The first full day in London was one that any of us can appreciate- a conveniently cold, rainy day in which a man can only go one place in search of refuge: the comforts of a cozy English pub. John is the ultimate tour guide- he knows the best “real ale” English pubs in any section of London and is always greeted by the owner with a smile and a proper pint. We first hopped into “The Harp” near Trafalgar and had the pleasure of meeting Johns good friend, Henry. Henry is a 62 year old personal consultant to oil tycoons worldwide, has lived in 45 countries, and has a reputation as “the guy who gets what he wants.” Also described by John as an “eternal adolescent,” Henry entertained us with his worldly stories and impressive background.
After a few pints at the Harp and a brief stop at The Porter, we went to our old favorite watering hole, The Guinea Grill. Henry astonished us by taking us to the back restaurant (probably frowned upon to sport gym shoes and a severely wrinkled shirt) wherein we dined for hours on ribeye, English pudding, along with a couple bottles of 91 Bordeaux. Clearly, not a lunch that we would have afforded on our own dime. A few more pints followed with the old Guinea regulars and left us well-suited for the train back home, some homemade pizza, and a nice rugby match before bed. It goes without saying that we will never have another day like this on the trip, and maybe not for the next 20 years.
Other than johns hospitality, we were also excited to see the old London haunts that we (and Berner) used to frequent. After an afternoon of pints and bidding John farewell, we trekked over to Kensington/Hammersmith seeking nostalgic fulfillment at the pubs where we used to work. As some of you know, the pub that Burt worked at was a bit of a joke. The Albion served as a refuge for the alcoholic elders of the community, and Burt spent many a day serving up one Fosters pint after another while trying to decipher how the heck cricket is played…
Boy have things changed! The Albion is now a Kensington hotspot- live music, a young trendy crowd, no Fosters to be found in the whole bar. We honestly considered staying in London for a while longer and trying to work at the Albion full-time. It is safe to say that Burt’s presence at the Albion served as the moving force behind the bar’s dramatic transition from drunkard’s haven to the hippest spot in South Ken.
After a few pints, as is customary, guys need to “refuel.” before continuing a journey. We found our fuel at what we consider to be the finest sing establishment in all of London, the take-away restaurant Kebab Machine. We always had fond memories of this heavenly establishment and our high expectations were not only met but exceeded. Truly a magical experience. We giddily snapped pictures as the same old Turkish men “sawwed” the lamb and layered it with sauce and salad. The proprietors watched in bewilderment at our slightly tipsy obsession as we devoured the artistic creation that is The Kebab (Burt’s note: Bato didn’t finish).
We washed it down at Bato’s old pub, the Brook Green before hopping on the bus to Gatwick for a restful night in the “special assistance” area of the airport…
Next stop: Istanbul