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submerged pumpkins in canal water

Day 76 - Canals from Haggerston to Mile End, Brick Lane, Shoreditch



London won't let us go. Our flight to New York is cancelled due to a Lufthansa pilot strike over pensions. Google Now informed us of this, like a truly efficient, mind-reading personal assistant. Our  travel agent in Wellington, a real life person, remains none the wiser. The computer wins this round.

We're sort of at a loss. We're packed and ready to leave. In a last ditch effort to lighten my suitcase, we tried to send a five kg parcel of clothes, books and souvenirs to New Zealand. "That's 92 pounds," says the man at the post office, smirking a little. We're gobsmacked. After one half-hearted attempt to bring the package down under two kgs, we give up. It's still too expensive. I spiral into a long rant about how expensive everything is in this bleep bleep bleep city. 

Trying to make the best of one final day in London (but one less day in New York), we head off to the canals, getting off at Haggerston Overground Station and sort of stumbling towards the water. 


Rob looked up pictures online before we left the apartment. "It's just like Venice," he pronounces, sunnily. "Uh-huh," I reply, not believing it for a second. "But sort of...shabby. Dirty? Dilapidated?" There's that other shoe dropping. 


We wander along the canal from Haggerston, past Victoria Park and to Mile End. It's grey and chilly. A typical wintry London day. This time, I can cope because there's no crowds, no one's pushing me along on the sidewalk, and there's space.   


The houseboats range from scary hoarder to living the twee life. Bikes, old gumboots, radiators, and generators are flung on the roof of the boats. Potted plants add some ramshackle chic too. Houseboat owners can park up along the canal for seven days free but after that, they have to register at 25 pounds a week or something crazy like that.


It's a pretty interesting walk in that specific scruffy, East End, underdog kind of way. Especially when you see a pumpkin half-submerged in the water and a knife on top of a pile of bricks that's sunk to the bottom.


It's starting to spit and the canal walk is getting distinctly shabbier and shadier the closer to the Thames we get. We pass a lone man on a bench, gazing blankly into the water, swilling a beer and jiggling his leg. Now's a great time to quit the canals and head very slowly towards our late afternoon reservation at Dishoom.


Passing through Mile End to Bethnal Green to Brick Lane is like a borough crash course. Each one is so distinct with almost a buffer zone in between. We're weaving our way through a maze of Arabic, veiled women pushing strollers, saree shops, and vegetable stalls. At an intersection, the smells, sights, and sounds get strangely flat until we approach Brick Lane and Shoreditch. I know we're there because there's a cat cafe, a fancy bike shop, and an empty cafe with stripped-back brick walls that's more hallway than room. 

Our massive walk has led us to believe that we have a divine right to eat a salted beef bagel as a sort-of meat aperitif before Dishoom. There's two bagel places, separated by one shop. I can't remember which one is supposed to be the good so we go with the one with more people in it. 


The bagel ladies are surly. I think that's part of the whole shtick. A Spanish guy with a fancy looking wool coat with a popped collar, wearing sunglasses inside, wanders up to the counter to ask for a glass. The lady has only scorn, "We don't have a glass but we got a plastic cup. We ain't fancy round here." Who let Eliza Doolittle behind the counter of the bagel shop?


It doesn't escape me that I'm at Shoreditch once again. Dishoom is the fancy curry place in this area and we have a reservation. The lady who greets us has a big afro, a bindi, and wafts around in a floor-length vest. The food is so great with lots of fresh ingredients and spice. I drink two cups of chai tea and we sit in the comfy booths for a while even after we finish. I think the hallmark of a nice place is how comfortable you feel with lingering at the table after your meal is cleared. I could probably sit in that Dishoom booth until forced to leave. 


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