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London Day 2: Exploring Bloomsbury, relishing in family

Flower boxes adorn Bloomsbury homes and offices

I’m a morning person.

While the rest of my household is sleeping, I’m up drinking coffee and reading the headlines.

That doesn’t change on my first morning in England. I wake up at 6:45 a.m. I give up on the idea of going back to sleep, and instead have a quick shower, grab my camera and go for a walk in our Bloomsbury neighborhood.

Bloomsbury is not an area I have spent much time in, except for the occasional visit to the British Library. Which is odd, because my old office at CNN is only a 15 minute walk away near Tottenham Court Road.

My son’s flat is near the London Underground’s Russell Square station. Up and down the neat roads are local restaurants and coffee shops, essentials like dry cleaners and hair salons, and of course traditional English pubs.

Flower boxes bursting with the colors of summer bring life to the windows of hotels and offices. Every few blocks is a lovely park, surrounded by town houses. If you look up at these buildings, there’s a good chance you’ll see blue historic markers telling you of the famous residents of Bloomsbury. Names like Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and William Butler Yeats dot the architecture.

Gandhi statue, Tavistock Square

I wander into Tavistock Square and find an impressive statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Candles and flowers have been left by admirers. Pigeons and squirrels move sleepily through the square, nibbling on pieces of bread. There are only a few other humans around, reading their morning newspapers or walking their dogs.

Having taken a little of Bloomsbury’s flavor, I head back to the flat, where the others are just waking. Because we have nothing on the morning agenda, we make a grand breakfast of English bacon and American pancakes with Canadian maple syrup. The four of us declare it an international success.

Pancakes with Pierce and Ghazal

We are, after all, a truly international group. I’m American. My wife, Grainne, was born in England to Irish parents and became a U.S. citizen. Pierce, born in England, actually holds triple citizenship (USA, England and Ireland) and his girlfriend Ghazal was born in Iran.

Grainne’s Irish mother and father – Horace and Aiveen - moved to London from Dublin in the early 1960s. Not only did her father and mother make the move, but so did her uncle and aunt – Joe and Josie. They all settled in the suburbs of London and their families became incredibly close. The cousins were more like brothers and sisters. Family reunions were not once a year, but constant occasions.

This afternoon, we’re continuing that tradition as we head to East Grinstead, a town in Surrey, to get together with the extended family. Of the original four immigrants, only Uncle Joe is alive today. He is 95 and still as sharp as tack.

The man is planning to go on a Caribbean cruise in few weeks. Uncle Joe rocks.

Uncle Joe with Clay and Grainne

He holds a special place in our lives. After Grainne’s father died, he became almost a second father to her and a surrogate grandfather to our children. He is the essence of an Irish gentleman with dancing blue eyes, a quick smile and a hearty laugh. After more than 50 years of living in England, his Irish lilt is one of his defining characteristics. And from the moment I met Joe and his wife Josie, they welcomed me and let me know I was family.

When the family gets together, there is always an abundance of food, drink and laughter. We soak in the atmosphere and waste no time catching up with the multitude of generations who have gathered. Grainne’s best friend Gabrielle and her husband Greg also join the festivities, making it an even more special day.

The family: Siobhan, Grainne and Bernadette

A feast is prepared and devoured. Ham, chicken and leek pie, roasted potatoes, lasagna, salads, cheeses, pavlova, Jaffa cake brownies and chocolate cakes. Let’s just say that more than a glass or two of Guinness was consumed as well.

Facing the challenges of a limited Sunday rail schedule, we reluctantly say our goodbyes and head back to London.

But our reunions are not yet finished. We meet up with good friends David and Gail Norton from Somerset – who have come to London to spend some time with us. We meet at Russell Square station and walk over to Franco Manca Pizza.

If you are looking for a great inexpensive meal in London, Franco Manca is your place. Pizzas are around GBP 7. The sourdough crusts are delicious. Ingredients are fresh. They are cooked in a wood fire oven and served to you quickly. It’s a no-frills, high taste experience.

Rain is falling and it’s late. We bid goodnight to David and Gail and hurry back to Pierce’s flat. Sleep comes quickly as I lie comforted by the fact that the love of family and friends remains strong.

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