Friday 31 January 2014

Billingsgate Seafood Training School One Pot Suppers

SL used to organize mass sushi and sashimi dinners in the house, which always involved little pack outings to Billingsgate Fish Market to pick up the necessary supplies. Because the main sales hours start at 4 am and most of the good stuff is gone by 7.30 am, we'd wake up early enough to catch the first DLR down at 5.32 am. Selecting the seafood was never my purview (I was more a part of the entourage than anything), so I'd just look around blearily and yawn until all the fish and scallops had been picked up and we stopped for breakfast at the nearby MacDonald's (Hash Browns!) or the small greasy spoon café (Scallop and Bacon Butties!) in the corner of the market itself. 

I didn't realize the Billingsgate Seafood Training School existed until I was searching for short courses in London and it came up as one of the more interesting places to pick up a new skill. The market had always existed as just a market in my mind, and I wasn't fully functional enough in the early mornings to notice the set of doors just off the main sales floor entrance that led to the teaching rooms on the next floor. The Training School plays a complementary role to that of the market, teaching people more about fish, as well as ways to prepare them in simple, delicious and healthy dishes. They're also a registered charity, providing courses for young local students. With most of their individual courses priced a little out of my range though, it wasn't till I received a Time Out London mailer offering 33% off the price of their One Pot Suppers course that I finally signed up. 

Getting to Billingsgate via DLR isn't difficult, but under drizzly and blustery conditions, the ten minute walk can be a pain. You can't properly admire Pierre Vivant's Traffic Light Tree on the roundabout just outside the market gates for one. The old Billingsgate Market used to be located near the London Bridge area until the early 1980s, and there may have been a point (Or two, or ten) while hunkering down in the frigid cold where I wished the market had a more central location, or at the very least, more accessible entrances from Poplar Station. Finally getting into the warm and dry training kitchen felt like a massive accomplishment. 

The Billingsgate Market has been in operation in one iteration or another for over 800 years. While at its previous location on the bank of the Thames, the river was still the main mode of transport, and over 400 tons of fish (Mainly cod and haddock) were sold daily at what was the biggest fish market in the world in the 19th century. Today, while it's still the biggest seafood market in the UK, only 250 tons of seafood is sold on a weekly basis, and most of the produce is delivered by truck since the market is now considerably inland. The market has had to diversify on a massive scale, and now sells over 200 species of fish and other seafood.  

The One Pot Suppers programme is a very informative crash course on how to pick, prepare and cook a variety of seafood using basic kitchen implements. The fresh ingredients get thrown into shared pots to make a hearty soup that is enjoyed at the end of the evening. All the participants had to call in advance to reconfirm the booking so they knew how much seafood to set aside for everyone, since it's a hands-on class and everyone needed a whole fish each to wrangle with. The ingredients vary from class to class depending on what's seasonal, so what we worked with was the catch of the day (Grey Mullet, also known as Flathead Mullet), Prawns, Mussels, and Squid.  

We first learned how to pick good, fresh fish. This involved an extensive sniff test, wherein we found that fresh grey mullet smells very similar to mushrooms and more importantly, not fishy at all. Most fresh fish should have a sweet or nutty odour, nothing unpleasant. Since the fish had been out of the water for less than 48 hours, it was also still in a state of rigor mortis. You can see in the picture above that it's stiff as a board rather than flopped on the table. Unless it's hake, which apparently doesn't go into rigor mortis, floppy fish are a no-go. The eyes were also still firm and clear, not a hint of dehydration and cloudiness in sight.  

The gill check also showed a good level of freshness since they were a bloody rose colour instead of brown or green. Next up, we got rid of the spiny fins, which is always good practice, especially if they happen to be somewhat poisonous, and it was my biggest hurdle of the evening. While everyone had managed to move on to descaling their fish, I was still stuck trying to clamp kitchen scissors down on the fins. After a heroic struggle (And some help), the fins came off, and I managed to get on with descaling the mullet using the smooth, gliding motions I'd just been taught. There's something quite hypnotic and soothing about the descaling process, and watching the big scales come flaking off the mullet. 

My fish (I never got round to naming it) was given a quick blast under the tap before I turned my hand to filleting. The class had been given a thorough demonstration before we'd even touched the fish, and our instructor Eithne's chatty style of teaching meant that even after my epic de-finning and descaling encounter, I still remembered the exact steps I had to undertake. Of course, knowing things in theory and putting them to practice are two different things entirely, so my slab of fish fillet looked a little... Rough around the edges. Still, not bad for my first try! I then had to behead and gut my fish, saving the rest of the bones for stock-making. 

Our instructor for the evening was Eithne Neame, the Training School's principal chef trainer. She was a wonderful teacher, who drove the class along with her no-nonsense attitude, and there were more than a few laughs during the evening thanks to her cheery banter. The class progressed in a very relaxed manner, and it wasn't till I looked back on the evening that I realized how much information she'd managed to convey while chatting with us. 

We gathered round to watch how the stock was made with a couple of fish bones and a lot of prawn heads, but in the manner of all good cooking shows everywhere, we were given jugs of stock that had been made earlier to use, instead of having to wait around for it to simmer and reduce. 

While Eithne was running us through the ins and outs of Fish Stocks and Prawn Shelling 101, a pot of chopped onions, garlic and herbs were distributed on the cooking hobs of every pair of students standing next to each other. We let that start to sweat while shelling our prawn portions. The prawns had been pre-cooked and came with salty pockets of roe, and I couldn't help but snack on every other prawn a few in the midst of shelling. My kitchen partner caught me in the middle of popping a prawn into my mouth and laughed at me. 

Once the onions had a nice sizzle going, we tossed in the bowl of chopped tomatoes and white wine that had been prepared before we got to class. Eithne joked that they had to put the white wine in with the tomatoes because in previous classes people had been nicking sips instead of putting it in the pot. In also went the fragrant jug of fish stock. 

While we let our soup simmer, we moved on to the squid. I remember extremely random things from our Aesthetics classes in RGS (Although I can't recall anything from our sewing elective apart from the fact that it was the site of pretty epic Friday Stitch-N-Bitch sessions) and squid prep was one of them. I don't even like squid, but there you go, the brain is a funny thing. Still, it was quite heartening to know that the tricks I learned in secondary school are fairly universal.

It was easy enough to let muscle memory take over as I separated the tentacles from the body sac and plucked off the 'wings', taking the rest of the membrane along with it. From there it was a quick wiggling out of the quill and cleaning of the guts before the body was ready for slicing. 

We also reserved the tentacles, using our wickedly sharp kitchen knives to slice away the eyes and beak. The flesh of fresh squid is a nice creamy-translucent colour. If squid has turned pink in any way or starts to smell, throw it out!

The last ingredient for our supper was mussels, and we each got a handful to check for freshness and toss into our pots. A few had beards to be yanked away, but in general we got a nice, firmly closed lot with no cracks to speak of.  

With the soup base bubbling, we threw our mussels in first, squishing the chunks of mullet into the empty spaces. As the mussels opened, we added the prawns and let the soup simmer. Once the fish had cooked through and we ascertained that all the mussels had indeed opened, we turned the electric stove off and cooked the squid with a quick stir through the still-hot soup so it wouldn't get too hard. As we cooked, the lovely kitchen assistants helped to clear out work spaces, so we didn't have to clean up after ourselves. Felt thoroughly pampered. 

The island counter nearest the door was converted into a dining table for the class, with cutlery and crockery set out for our use. There were also toasted baguette slices with roasted red pepper roulade for us to enjoy with our soup.

I felt quite proud when we plated up our final product and everyone sat down to dinner together. It was a very hearty and flavourful soup, and I even enjoyed the bits of squid in mine, given how fresh and soft it was. After walking through the rain to get to the Seafood Training School, it was exactly the warming meal I needed. When we wrapped up the evening, I got to take home the fish bones, prawn shells and the other half of the fish I'd filleted, as well as that of my kitchen partner, who was headed to a party after and couldn't cart the remains around. Since it was my turn to cook on Saturday, I bagged everything gladly. 

When we left, the next day's action was just starting, with most of the work to be done around 2 am. Having only ever been while the market was a noisy and bustling hive of action, it seemed strange to see it so sleepy and quiet. It's one of those places that are lovely in stillness though. 

Thursday 30 January 2014

The Bacchus Friends Champagne Tasting

Possibly the biggest lie anyone's ever told me (Apart from D promising to teach me how to cycle when I was 5, which still hasn't happened yet) was in the first few weeks of my new life in London, when I was informed that the universities' wine society had been forcibly shut down and wasn't going to make a comeback anytime soon, because everyone turned out to be a massive wino and administration had stepped in for reasons of health and safety. Imagine my surprise when, before the first day of class had even started, my course-mates told me all about this amazing wine society in school they'd already signed up for, and haven't I been a member all this while? Since it seems totally my thing? 

Turns out, the Bacchus Friends had been around all this time (And not just that. It'd been founded in 1895!). While I can't actually recall who conned me, when I do find out, they're going to get hung, drawn and quartered for making me miss out on three whole academic years of wine tastings. All that time I've wasted! It makes me want to weep. Even as a member though, I've been seriously missing out. This year, most of the events unfortunately clashed with other things, and the one other time I showed up half an hour early they turned me away at the door because they didn't have enough spaces for everyone. So, by the time the annual Champagne tasting rolled around and there was miraculously nothing else on, I knew I had to go. The rest of the Gs were bringing their A game as well, which was how the lot of us ended up in a pow-wow outside the venue an hour and a half to two hours before the event was due to start, toting an assorted of foods to snack on before and during the wine tasting.  

Getting us to rock up to the Champagne tasting with snacks had been an utterly inspired idea by DB, and it gave us a fair bit of things to do while waiting for the tasting to begin. We had a pretty varied selection of food that worked with the theme.  Between the lot of us, there were three different kinds of cured meats, a whole lot of cheese, water biscuits, bread, grapes, olives and even two tubs of Rocky Road mini bites, because it's really hard to go wrong with those. A shout-out here to Wensleydale and Cranberry, which is now my favourite cheese, as well as the Camembert that JR brought - it seemed way too overwhelming at first, but eaten with bread it worked for me. (All the wine & cheese nights we've been having have been very educational for my palate. Can no longer say I'm definitely not a cheese person any more.)

The evening's tasting was conducted and sponsored by the lovely people from the Scala School of Wine, and our speaker was their director Tim Hall. Very appropriately, he's a massive Champagne buff, with the credentials to back up his enthusiasm - he's been named the UK's Champagne Ambassador for 2013-14, and came in runner-up in the European Champagne Ambassador competition. Apart from all the qualifications, he was a great speaker as well, going through a whole range of information in a very compelling, conversational manner. Everyone had worksheets and for the evening, although we did have to share what brochures they had given the sheer number of attendees. 

I’m sorry to say I had utterly dreadful tasting habits throughout the evening, which went much like how most of my multiple course meals do. I’d take one or two sips when first receiving the Champagne, another bigger one to let linger, and then forget entirely about it while completely engrossed in listening and taking notes to A Brief History of Champagne, or How Champagne Is Made. Then, when Tim Hall announced “Let’s move onto the next bottle shall we?”, I’d panic and down what remained of the glass before the assistants came round with a new bottle. Darling SSH brought a bottle of water to share with me & GW, which saved me from all the bubbles going to my head. 

We were treated to six different types of Champagnes over the two hour course, going from the floaty and delicate Taittinger Brut Reserve Non-Vintage, to a more structured and powerful Bollinger Special Cuvée Non-Vintage. A Vintage Champagne came next, and we could really discern the difference of the 2004 Laurent-Perrier in its lingering aftertaste. From there, we tasted two different Rosé Champagnes, the first a perfectly pleasant Champagne de Castelnau Brut Non-Vintage, the second a fuller bodied Louis Roederer Vintage from the magical year of 2008. The evening was rounded off with a sweet Champagne Lanson White Label Sec, Non-Vintage, which would have paired quite well with a pâté.

GW looked on incredulously as I took notes on malolactic fermentation (A process which softens the acidity of the wine) and how rivers affect the taste of Champagne through the creation of warmer night ambient temperatures (In all fairness it was pretty compelling stuff), occupying her time instead in the creation of works of art that will no doubt one day be the foundation of her oeuvre. Here’s one she did of me, which I must say is an excellent impression:

The highlight of the evening was probably watching as Tim Hall did a demonstration on the best way to open a bottle of Champagne after briefly explaining the technological processes that had to occur before Champagne could be safely exported. Having been hit on the head by a stray cork before (It bounced off a wall and the ceiling before landing on me), I was terribly impressed with the ease with which he worked with the existing pressure inside the bottle, eventually pulling out the cork with nothing more than a gentle twist. Once we all heard the tell-tale pop, the room burst into thunderous applause. Definitely remembering that trick for the next time we open a bottle of bubbly.

I still think much of the allure of Champagne has to do with its association with celebrations and other happy occasions, rather than the actual taste of the Champagne itself. For me, it calls to mind family, sneaking a glass of Moet when we toured the region and expansive Sunday brunches with good company. Even so, it was good to finally have some guidelines when it comes to appreciating the flavours in each glass rather than just quaffing it straight down, and now I finally know that the buttery, biscuit-y tastes are there for a reason and it isn’t just my fevered imagination. Salut!

Wednesday 29 January 2014

Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse

By the time I realized that Coriolanus was playing at the Donmar Warehouse, all the seats had been officially sold out and the ticket draw contest had expired. Not wanting to sell a kidney in order to afford a scalped ticket and with only a few weeks left in the run, I decided to do the crazy thing and queue for day seats with SSH. Most websites were still saying "Turn up at 6 am!", but those had been posted in December, and as paranoia kicked in, we extrapolated that we needed to be there at 5 am or earlier. I'd never stood in line in the middle of the night for anything before (During the crazy Hello Kitty years we knew the manager at the McDonald's at Parkway Parade so there was no need for us to queue), so I did all the necessary research before heading out of the house at 4.20 am. The night bus was late, but it rolled around eventually, and I was almost surprised by how crowded it was at Please-Let-Me-Sleep-Some-More-o'clock in the morning. But really, London's one of those cities that don't really sleep. When I arrived at the Donmar Warehouse at 4.40 am, I was 10th in line. 

Having experienced first-hand the horrors joys of queuing for day seats, I've put together a Handy-Dandy Packing List for everyone thinking of doing the same anytime in the near future:

1. Notes (And other reading material) - If you're a student, you can really get a whole lot of work done while standing in line. Street lighting's pretty good round the Theatre District in London, so no worries about eye strain. I finished all my compulsory readings, as well as a couple of optional ones before the sun came up. SSH had her notes loaded on a Kindle, but she totally ended up ignoring them in favour of other books. Either way, bring something to keep yourself occupied.
2. Snacks - You will get the munchies. Also, they're great for sharing with others as an ice-breaker.
3. A Winning Personality (Or Just Be Civil) - It's the dead of the night, and if you had any sense at all you'd probably be in bed, but since you're camped out on a sidewalk with a load of other strangers, might as well make a go of it. There are serial queuers who wind up becoming best friends with the crowd around them (Like the bunch of girls who got there an hour before we did), but even if that's not you, a bit of small talk and a smile liberally applied here and there makes for a cozier atmosphere for everyone.
4. Warm Clothing (Especially socks - Seriously wear many layers of socks) - I forgot to wear my socks. 2 hours in, I could no longer feel my toes. Sticking them under warm water when I got home later in the day was torture. Remember to protect your extremities. 
5. Something to Sit On - Waiting for the morning paper to arrive to use as insulation for your butt may be too late. Grab a stack of Evening Standards the night before. Or make like that really resourceful lady who brought a lime green collapsible stool. (Although maybe the stool's kind of like a LVL 100 thing for really seasoned queuers. I mean, she was there from 2 in the morning.

The first and the last hours were probably the worst, but 10 am rolled round much more quickly than we were expecting it to, and next thing we knew, it was our turn to buy tickets. By this point we'd sort of made friends with the other people in line, and listened in on one of the chattier girls' entire life story. There were only 20 standing tickets in the back of the theatre available that day, and thankfully the people in the front didn't make use of the two tickets per person policy, so we managed to get what we needed. The lady in the back who'd queued for the second time in as many days also managed to eke out a space, and we were all pretty happy for her - it would have sucked to have been turned away twice. Tickets in hand, we hightailed it to school to sit by one of the many radiators and warm my toes. It began to rain only after we'd ducked into one of the school buildings, for which we will eternally count our blessings. If the massive downpour had started any earlier in the morning it would have utterly sucked. 

It was a great show that night. Coriolanus takes on a whole new dimension when you're one of the plebs craning your neck from the back row, and when you have AT as a housemate to rant about democracy with afterwards. The Donmar Warehouse is a small enough space that even from the back I think I managed to make eye contact with Tom Hiddleston a couple of times we could see the whole performance clearly, and the intimacy of the stage lent itself extremely well to Deborah Findlay's Volumnia. Completely blown away by her. 

Don't know if anything else will come up that I'd be keen to queue for, but at least I managed to tick it off my London Bucket List for a show that was worth the wait. I imagine the queues are going to get utterly insane for the final performance. 

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Benugo at Covent Garden

Ah, London. The city where most people get sandwiches for lunch. A week into first year, having come straight from Singapore where food is good, plentiful and cheap, it got so depressing that I wound up taking the bus home in between classes to cook my own meals just so I wouldn't have to eat another soggy egg mayo from the supermarket ever again. In the time that has passed, I've since lowered my expectations dramatically learned to appreciate a well-made sandwich. Thus, when BA sounded the call for a group lunch at Benugo's shop in Covent Garden ("Guys, they have great coffee! And I think they do sandwiches!"), I didn't outright refuse as I might have done three years ago. 

The first thing that greeted me was the display of roasted pork bellies, the current special. Stood proudly under the spotlight, it was like a display of gleaming jewels. Didn't bother looking at the rest of the menu - my mind had been made up for me. Found BA in the basement with his friend T, realized we were all after the same thing, and went to place our orders back at the cashier upstairs so I'd have a chance to watch the sandwiches get assembled. 

Armed with my receipt, I went over to the sandwich counter, where the sandwich guy was already carving through the crackling and into the soft pork belly. The main reason he'd managed to anticipate my arrival was due to the fact that I initially tried ordering the sandwiches directly from him, and he had to wave me over to the counter. Perhaps it was more efficient that way though, since he'd pulled out the ciabatta loaves as well and all that was left was arranging everything nicely. 

Looking at the camera I was clutching in my hand, with a sly wink, the sandwich guy told me to take all the photos I wanted, and proceeded to tell me about his deep appreciation for this particular variety of sandwich. 

"It's the best one we sell," he murmured, like he was letting me in on a secret, "And the apple chutney goes very well with the pork."

The lovely man helped me carry everything to our tables downstairs as well. I was very glad I didn't have to balance the plates - the last time I worked as a waitress, I managed to drop a knife on someone's leg because my motor skills are so poor. 

As sandwiches go, these were fairly enjoyable. The pork belly had been well cooked and my only issue was that there wasn't enough of it. There was a good tang to the apple chutney and the salad greens were crisp. Really, the only issue I had was that the bread was a bit on the dry side and I kept having to take sips of tea so it didn't end up sticking to the roof of my mouth. 

IZV and MJ also joined us for lunch, and IZV had the Sicilian with Brie, which by all accounts was a pretty tasty sandwich. Not a bad place for a simple lunch: the price was right and it felt quite healthy as well after all that rich food we'd been eating in Amsterdam.

Sandwiches = Success. We're in London after all. 

Friday 10 January 2014

Abigail's Adventures in Amsterdam (Day 3)

Once the horrors of what awaited her if she took the coach journey sunk in, GW abandoned me to it and booked the cheapest train out of Amsterdam (She can't fly). Since we'd all made plans to meet up and have pie for breakfast, the lot of us ended up walking all the way to the printer (For her e-ticket) and the station with her to make sure she didn't get lost. The address provided by Yelp for the nearest printer brought us to a makeup store instead, so there was a rather touch and go period till she spied a sign down a rather dodgy looking alleyway just off Dam Square. The owner of the store asked us if we'd prayed to God we'd find a printer, and looked fairly pleased when we said we had. 

Printer Dude: Good. He is always watching, and He will answer your prayers. 

Well, can't argue with that. 

After dropping her off safely at Amsterdam Centraal and pausing a moment to admire the stately brick red building (Also a work of Pierre Cuypers, who'd designed the Rijksmuseum), we walked towards the Jordaan where breakfast beckoned. Along the way, we passed the copper dome of the 17th century Round Lutheran Church (Ronde Lutherse Kerk) on the Singel, which today remains largely closed to the public. 

Amsterdam's stance towards graffiti (Where the artists have to pay for the cleaning of the work) means that we saw a lot of unofficial tagging done on disposable plywood coverings over renovated buildings, instead of the buildings themselves. This sign is much funnier if you've read Adorno & Horkheimer. 

It was too early in the day for most of the boutiques to be open, so we did a lot of window shopping. January's supposed to be the time for blowout sales in Amsterdam (They only have two sales periods apparently, the other one is in July), but somehow we never really got around to buying much things. 

If you've ever searched for 'Best Apple Pie in Amsterdam', or 'Best Apple Cake in Amsterdam', chances are you're going to find Winkel 43 at the top of most lists. BH and I popped round for a slice when we'd visited in 2011, and ever since then whenever I've craved a sweet pie it's always featured heavily in my fever dreams. Thank goodness the rest were fairly amenable to my suggestion (Probably just so I'd stop abusing hyperbole) that we visit, if not I'd have run off on my own on a pie pilgrimage. Winkel 43 is located on the corner of the Noodermarkt, which is the heart of the Jewish Quarter in Amsterdam, and on Mondays and Saturdays there are street markets right outside to visit. 

Even cooled down to room temperature, the homemade pie at Winkel 43 retains a delicate, crumbly softness to its crust, which never ceases to amaze me. The generous chunks of baked apple are studded through with plump, squidgy raisins, and the whole thing is served with a massive cloud of fresh whipped cream that comes out of a dedicated dispenser that sits proudly on the counter. IZV & BA agreed that it was really great pie once they'd tasted it. 

There wasn't enough time for us to shop for clothes and accessories, but we'd set aside an hour for the purchasing of cheeses, so right after breakfast we were out the door and on the hunt. We hiked along the Prinsengracht, which offered a few hilarious gems as we passed, including this rather snarky sign:

There was also a painting of the Western Church, arguably Amsterdam's most famous, done in the style of a Van Gogh. 

We also passed this sign, which invited a bit of philosophical contemplation, and a desire to have a peek at the store windows, which did have rather nice T-Shirts on display.  

Did a bit of a double take when I saw this, and had to do a bit of a mental pat down to assure myself that no, I definitely wasn't high when I saw this. Which begged the question "Why does this then exist?"

Thanks to the handy map I uploaded that morning, we were able to make it to the Nine Street Neighbourhood (De Negen Straatjes) where De Kaaskamer van Amsterdam is located. The smell of cheese is the first thing that hits, but it's a rather inviting one that envelopes you like a warm hug. 

Before she left, GW entrusted me with the mission of getting her a chunk of matured Gouda cheese, so when we went in I resolutely did not lose my head over the floor to ceiling cheese, instead going straight to the guy at the counter, who was more than happy to let me try a few different cheeses before settling on the Aged Farmhouse Gouda that had crystals and the right amount of bite. My work now done, I was free to check out the over 400 cheeses they had on display, as well as the specialty hams, salads and wines. We were too full from pie to get their freshly made cheese sandwiches, but now that I think about it I'm regretting not having tried one. 

De Kaaskamer pride themselves on selling only high quality cheeses made by suppliers they know personally, and the artistry showed in the slices of cheese we tried. The shopkeeper was very knowledgeable about his products and generous with the tasting shavings he passed to us, so we had a very pleasant shopping experience. 

Cheese (And truffled salami on my end) in hand, from there, we went to pick SB up to go to for lunch at Ron's Gastrobar. It was a bit of a hike, but we got to see the less touristy side of town. 

Post-lunch, and pre-Wynand Fockink, I followed BA & IZV as they did a spot of last-minute souvenir shopping round Dam Square. The big clog outside the store reminded me of a book of nursery rhymes I had as a child, and the illustrations for The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I keep hearing so many contradictory things about Dutch clogs that I'm still not sure whether they're comfortable or not. I almost bought myself a pair to test them, but I remembered AT's complaints about the endless sea of shoes he has to contend with on a daily basis when living with four girls and held back. 

As souvenir stores go, this one was well laid out and properly decorated, going so far as to have a cow grazing on the ceiling. Since you learn something new every day, I found that Miffy was Dutch, which come to think of it explains a lot about the amount of orange she wears. 

On our way back to the apartment to do some last minute packing before we all split, we came across a row of street lamps that had smoke billowing from them. We're still not sure what was going on, but they were interesting to watch. 

Apart from being woken up by French customs at 2 in the morning and missing two ferries no thanks to the X-ray search they put us through, the ride back to London was fairly pleasant. Amsterdam had been gorgeous as always, and now I have a few more places to show M & D when we visit in April to see the tulips.