Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our European Honeymoon, Part 1: London!

At the beginning of October, we took a long-delayed honeymoon to a few places I'd never been before: London, Paris, and Barcelona. Two solid weeks of European travel which blew my mind! Oh, I can spend all day writing about the museums, the food, the people, the sights, and the culture we took in and loved.

But you don't want to read about that. You want to read about Mod stuff!

Well, let me start off by saying that the first thing I told my wife was that I didn't want to do ANY Mod stuff while in Europe. We have Mod people here in the U.S. I want to see stuff I can't get over here! So, no Brighton Beach visits, no Carnaby Street visits, no Mod clubbin'. Let's be 100% tourists!

But then I heard about the 'Reading Steady Go' Mod exhibit which would be closing within days of our arrival. Then, our hosts in Paris let us know that their band would be playing part of a French Mod weekender while we were in town. Then, we discovered that our American friend would be moving to London days before our arrival, just in time to let us know of any Mod nights going on. Well, turns out I'd be needing a larger suitcase to carry more outfits. Of course, this lead to my first mistake in traveling abroad: overpacking! I'll save this for a future post, though.

So obviously, we'd be fitting in some Mod stops into our trip. Still, I protested, no Carnaby Street! All these years, I had heard about it being a grubby alley with cheesy Mod shops and I just didn't care to give in to all that nonsense. (Yup, you guessed it... I ended up changing my mind on that too.)

Well, let's start this thing. We flew in to London in the afternoon, went through the long customs lines, picked up our bags, and hopped on to the Underground. Boy, was I excited... until the train arrived. Hey London, I've got a suggestion for you: instead of 'Mind the Gap', how about "FIX the Gap"?! Seriously... when our first Underground train arrived and I heard the announcement, "Mind the Gap," I snickered and elbowed Irene.
That snickering ended as I tried lifting our OVERPACKED luggage up and over that darn gap within the few seconds allotted to board the train! Oh yeah, and a little air-conditioning on those trains couldn't hurt.

Speaking of which, we hit a heat wave in London! We had packed for nice, Autumn, cool-to-cold weather, and then found out the hard way we should have packed short sleeves. But I'll get back to this in a bit.

We finally hit the end of our tube stop at Euston Square and I am very proud to announce that not ONCE did I make a Jam reference! Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my wife who started to sing a little lyric when we walked out of the station: "Saturday's girls work in Tesco's and Woolworths." I looked at her perplexed. She smiled and pointed at a corner store across the street, Tesco's. Again, I looked at her blankly. "From the Jam song!" she cried. Now, I thought I was a pretty alright Jam aficionado, but apparently not. Turns out it's a lyric from "Saturday's Kids," but unlike me, all of you probably already knew that. (SIDE NOTE: this wouldn't be the last Jam song reference she would make on this trip. When I pointed out Wardour Street to her, she replied, "Oh no! I hope they don't drop any A-bombs on us!" Cue rimshot. And I'm sure at one point she did say, "Hey, we're going underground!" Sigh...)

Now friends, let me tell you about our very first meal in London. After lifting our luggage up 2 narrow flights of stairs in the heat dropping our luggage off at our B&B, we decided to find some good English food to eat. So, we settled on a corner Italian pizza eatery and sat outside. As we were eating our pizza, four women surrounded us, asking for money. Now, here in the Bay Area, we're pretty savvy when it comes to panhandlers. Once you say 'no,' they tend to go away. Not in London! After asking us for money, they then asked for our food. I said 'no' again and thought that was it. I was confused... these women were dressed well, much better than our panhandlers back home. Then we realized they were gypsies! After I declined their request to take our food, one of them actually REACHED OVER AND GRABBED A SLICE! I threatened her with my fork as she looked me in the eyes and smiled a toothy grin. Now, I don't know about you, but I've seen Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell
I pulled my fork back because last thing I needed was to spend the rest of my vacation looking over my shoulder and worrying if I'd be dragged... to hell. Luckily, one of the waiters came out and chased them away, but that right there was my first dining experience.

Well, on our first evening in London, we decided to spend it in Reading instead. We had learned that the final days of the 'Reading Steady Go' exhibit would be celebrated this evening with a performance by The Birds with original lead singer, Ali MacKenzie, The Small Fakers (Small Faces tribute band, in case you couldn't figure it out) and DJs Jim and Paul 'Smiler' Anderson (the man behind the exhibit).
We were into this! Despite the heat (did I mention we were in a London heat wave?), we got all dolled up and ready for action! Little did we realize our only action that evening would be learning how the Underground works.

We spent about 30 minutes perspiring in King's Cross station as we tried to find the Reading tube stop. Guess what we learned? There is no Reading tube stop! But we were, however, directed to Paddington Station which we did get to, but not before jumping on a train that went in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, by the time we got to Paddington we realized we would be getting into Reading way too late, not to mention the time we'd need to figure out how to get back to our hotel afterward. So we sat in Paddington, dressed all Mod-like and consoling ourselves with memories of Paddington Bear animated shorts on Romper Room.
We ended up getting back to King's Cross and having a couple of delicious ciders at a pub up the street from our hotel. Then, it was back in the sauna that was our hotel room.

The next day, we continued our trip proper-tourist style: Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, Big Ben, Soho-oh-my god, the London heat! Seriously, guys, we're weather wimps... we admit it! That's why we live in the Bay Area. This heat was too much for us (even though it was probably just in the 80s, or mid-20s, for you Celsius folk). It was so hot, I broke my vow not to go to Carnaby Street. See, I figured that'd be the best place to buy a short-sleeved Fred Perry. After seeing guys all over London in pretty-cool looking FPs, I told my wife I needed one. I'm not even a huge Fred Perry fan, but I needed something to keep cool! (Plus, by this point, it was hitting me: I'm in London. It would be silly to skip Carnaby Street since we're already here!)

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the street, most everything had closed. However, Carnaby Street was not the alley I had been led to believe it was. Oh no, this place was huge! Several blocks, I'd say, with side streets on top of that. Oh, we'd be coming back alright... but not before taking a couple of photos:

Our 2nd full day in London was spent at the British Museum. Seriously... like the full day was practically spent there! An AMAZING place that is definitely worth a visit (along with the National Gallery)! Afterward, we did a little more shopping in Soho. I was still hunting for a Fred Perry, especially after seeing great-looking vintage-styled ones on random people. We found the 'flagship' Fred Perry store, walked in, and walked right back out after seeing those price tags. We then walked over to another Fred Perry shop and walked out of that one too, seeing as how much worse the quality of those shirts seemed. Gotta tell you, London really loves its Fred Perry brand! We saw this during our hunt for the shirts:

After not buying any Fred Perrys, we met up with our friend Syd at a still-bustling Carnaby Street. Honestly, we skipped so many shops on the main street: Pretty Green, the Merc, Ben Sherman. Sorry guys, but as 'Mod' as these shops claim to be, nothing in the windows looked appealing. And regarding the Merc, I've NEVER been tempted to shop there. I always associated that place with the easy, insta-Mod look. Just not my thing. We did walk in to Sherry's, more as a joke than anything else. For years, I saw this shop as the type of place where insta-Mods might go for their insta-gear. However, I will say this for Sherry's: the people who run it were super nice and welcoming! Sure, they sold a lot of janky, cheap Mod gear, but y'know what? They also sold John Smedleys about 30 pounds cheaper than Fred Perry was selling them for. So, yes, I picked one up! Plus, they carried other current Moddish labels that looked interesting. I always like supporting the small shop owners and for a little mom'n'pop shop, I'd totally recommend them! Stay away from the cookie-cutter 'Mod' suits and hunt down a John Smedley or two.

Hey. Mod enough for ya?
The best shops, however, seemed to be OFF Carnaby Street. As we were walking along, I mentioned that I wished I knew where the Blaqua shop was. Lo and behold, we were walking right in front of it! I ran in, while Irene and Syd looked at the Paul Weller photos in the window. I heard Irene say, "Aw, he looks like such a grandpa..." and put my head down as the shop's proprietor also heard the comment. I told her, "No, no, my wife's a fan..." That started a long conversation on PW between them. I wanted to talk to the shop owner about Carnaby Street fashions and the influences of her clothing styles, but it was hard to interrupt their talk about what Paul Weller was like in person and how his recent shows had been. I did, however, enjoy what she had to say about Carnaby Street and how her shop had been doing. I highly recommend checking Blaqua out, but don't expect a by-the-numbers Mod shop or a Mod shop at all. It's just a small boutique with beautifully patterned shirts and ties, slick jackets, and more. Plus, the items they sell are made in extremely small quantities, so chances are that whatever you get, you'll be one of a few to own it. Dandified clothing that's worth being a part of your wardrobe! (Heck, I bought myself a red/purple floral tie!)

The other shop I dug was Peckham Rye. After Blaqua, I peeked in to this shop to drool over the ties in the window since they had just closed. But the man working in the shop was kind enough to open his door for us!
He shared some of the store's history and probably got a kick out of some American acting like a kid in a candy store in his shop. Ties galore in this place, not to mention pocket squares and scarves! And good news for any of you not near Carnaby Street: these items are sold online!

Well, after a nice Indian dinner and drinks at a pub with our pal Syd, it was back to the hotel to sweat through the evening heat. We had to catch up on rest because the next day, we'd be hitting Highgate Cemetery and then taking a Eurostar to Paris! Up to this point, despite the temperature, London was a hit!

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of our exciting European (Moddish) Vacation!