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Trip Report London and Portugal trip report

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When I asked my husband Alan some months ago whether he wanted to go away this summer, he said no. But some time around May, he said he would like to go to London to visit family there. And I said maybe we should take advantage of being in Europe and spend a week in Portugal, which we had been considering since our trip there two years ago. We had spent two nights in the Alentejo and thought that was too short to see all the things we wanted to see. We had hoped to return during spring break but two spring breaks had come and gone since then. So we decided to combine the visit in London with a week in Portugal, and on July 7 we flew to London from Boston.

The last time we visited London was four years ago. We arrived at Heathrow airport on July 7, 2005 at 8:30 in the morning. As we headed into London with the car service we had been lucky enough to reserve in advance, we listened to the radio. We learned the entire London transportation network was shut down and heard the unfolding of the events of the morning as the news reporters were just figuring out what had happened. When we finally reached our apartment, it was clear that there had been terrorists and bombs in the tube and on the bus.

It is impossible not to think about that time as we enter London again, but this is a very different arrival. The driver from meets us in the terminal, and we have a smooth ride to the apartment we have rented in Notting Hill.

I found the apartment at It is on the ground floor of a row house that has been converted to apartments. There is a large sitting room with a sofa and two chairs, as well as a desk with telephone and internet access. The owner must collect used books; there is an interesting library on the bookshelves. The kitchen is open to the living room and has a table and two chairs as well as a washer/dryer combination and a dishwasher. The bathroom opens both into the kitchen and into the corridor that leads to the bedroom. The bedroom has French doors opening onto a terrace in an enclosed private garden with fragrant honeysuckle and other flowers. This is very attractive and feels like quite a haven after the long, uncomfortable plane ride.

So I enjoy the view with my eyes closed for a while.

Eventually we go out to explore the neighborhood. There is a small garage next door (which is odd, because every other building on the short street is residential) and we ask the mechanic where to find a grocery store. He points us in the right direction but we don’t get very far. Around the corner we stop at the first pub we see, the Cock and Bottle. This is not the kind of place that would have that name in Provincetown, we remark. There are people sitting outside at picnic tables with small children. One of them makes a run for it. His father yells “no” and this is as effective as it usually is with two-year-old boys. The kid runs into the pub. As his father carries him out again, I comment to the dad, “Listens well.” The dad says, “Ran right up into the landlord’s arms.”

Alan has his first beer or two and we feel we have arrived. After a while we move on and in a few blocks we find the Sainsbury Local. We buy some provisions and then decide to stop for dinner at the Sahara Restaurant, 39 Hereford Road, off Westbourne Grove. There is an interesting selection of Moroccan food. I start with some steamed eggplant with pepper, cumin, coriander, ginger, paprika, garlic and olive oil, which is really good. We go on to order more good things and are quite happy.

Alan goes downstairs and comes back saying there are hookahs there. He asks the waitress about them. She looks startled and puzzled. “No hookahs”, she says. Alan says he’ll show her. “To smoke,” I say. “Oh, shisha,” she says, looking relieved. “You thought he meant something else,” I offer. “Yes.”

Subsequent research reveals that hookah is the Indian word and shisha the Arab word for a water pipe. I have to explain to Alan how the waitress misunderstood him.

Walking back to the apartment, we pass a garage which has the words MAX HEADROOM printed above the entrance. I have one of those etymological “Aha!” moments. That’s where the title of the TV show came from; who knew? And pondering the English language and trying to remember to follow the directions painted on the intersections (Look left! Look right!), we make our way home.

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