My first trip to London was roughly ten years ago, and it was that trip where I caught the travel bug. I was enamored with all the history you could see and feel throughout the city (see and feel are key as I have fairly little actual history knowledge). I went with one of my best friends from middle school, Anna, and we met up one of our mutual friends, Peter, who had finished backpacking around Europe. Hearing his stories of backpacking Europe completely whet my appetite, and I was set on doing the same as soon as I could. I would backpack Europe for a month only half a year later, after I graduated from university. My brother and I toured the major cities in seven countries in four weeks: England, France, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Greece. I was hooked.
I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing London this third time around because I felt that I had already seen the city, and it honestly wasn’t on The List. However, one of my good friends from high school, Emiri, now resides there, and I was very excited to spend time with her. She had moved back to Japan during high school, during which I lost contact with her for close to a decade. I tried looking for her a few times, even asking some Japanese friends I made one summer if there was any way in Japan to find a particular person, and then one day I found her on Facebook. We hung out whenever she’d come to visit her parents in Maryland, but it was always so short. Seeing that we both loved to travel, we would always talk about traveling together or visiting one another, but then we made it happen. After a reunion with another high school friend, Jihfan, the three of us set out to see London, Paris, and Cotswold together, with Emiri being our host and guide.
I suppose it was rather stupid of me to think London would not have changed in the last ten years since I had visited. Even if I was prepared for it to be different from what I remembered, I don’t think I could have fathomed by how much. The biggest difference I found was in the food. I was dreading the food we would have in London. London has a reputation for having terrible food, and it is for a reason. Ten years ago, all the restaurants were the same and were serving the same pub fare, nothing special really. I remember having excellent fish and chips, but you can only have fish and chips so often. However, the food this time around was phenomenal! Never will I think of London as having terrible pub food again. And maybe I didn’t go to the right places ten years ago, but the whole city just felt more vibrant this time around.
My favorite place in London that we visited was the Borough Market. The Borough Market is one of London’s largest food markets, and is the oldest fruit and vegetable market. It is an open-air market and is known to be one of the best shopping experiences in London. There you can find wild mushrooms, truffles, freshly caught game, and artisan everything. Aside from all the wonderful sights and smells of the bounty of food, I loved the old industrial feel to it, as the market sits underneath a network of railway viaducts. It’s just so romantic, and I’m a sucker for romance.
We happened to walk by the Twinings of London store, Twinings 216 Strand Shop and Museum, and as a huge fan of tea, I was happy to stop in. The store, which has a tiny museum in the back, is a narrow sliver of real estate along Strand and is directly across the Royal Courts of Justice. It is the heritage store for the company that Thomas Twining bought in 1706. Today, in that tiny little shop, they have a wide assortment of teas, samplers, pick’n mix teas where you can select individual tea bags and make your own sampler, and also a sampling bar. Did you know that the tea that Twinings sells in England is far superior to the tea they sell overseas (well at least in the United States)? I have never been fond of Twinings Tea in the United States, but the tea they sell in London is quite good. They also have some flavors that you can’t buy in the United States like, my favorite, Lavender Earl Grey. Wonderful stuff.
We had a proper Afternoon Tea at Bea’s of Bloomsbury. When we were roughly planning out our trip, I was most excited for Afternoon Tea. Afternoon Tea is not cheap, especially for what it is (tea, scone, clotted cream, jam, some tea sandwiches, and bite size desserts), but I think that is true even in the States. It was, however, a fun experience to do with the ladies, and Bea’s has the best scones & clotted cream combination. I think I have a pretty good knowledge on good scones and clotted cream because after Bea’s, Jihfan and I were addicted to clotted cream. My goodness, that stuff is heaven; we practically OD’ed on it. The scones at Bea’s were more like a dry/semi-dry biscuit, which doesn’t sound delicious, but it complimented their firm clotted cream and jam so well. So absolutely go there for Cream Tea (which is all that you really need: scones, clotted cream, jam, and tea). I am now determined to make both clotted cream and scones at home to relive my England experience (but mostly to eat clotted cream).
We strolled around some more along the Thames, passed by the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the London Eye, other tourist destinations, but then found a bunch of these metallic street performers who were sitting on air. It probably looks obvious what is going on in the photo, but it was initially mind boggling in real life. Maybe I should’ve cropped the photo a bit more to confuse you. Then to Buckingham Palace, where we got photobombed by old men, and Harrods to do some window shopping.
On another day while Jihfan had some school work to do, Emiri and I made a trip to the world’s largest antique market, Portobello Road. I love so many things about antiquing: the history, the hunt, the mystery, the education, and even the bargaining. Portobello Road is a definite must if you love antiques and vintage, but be prepared for sensory overload. It is one road that is lined with antique shops, markets, and vendors on both sides; there is an unending amount of antique everything, not to mention an unending amount of people. It was fun to look, but it being Portobello Road, there weren’t any deals, so I left empty handed and exhausted. However, it was neat to pass by the previous residence of George Orwell in that area. We also stopped in a clothing retail store called AllSaints where I fell in love with the antique sewing machine wall displays.
Somehow, Jihfan and I chose to go to London when they had their coldest winter in 50 years. We left cold DC to go to even colder London, where it was snowing upon arrival. Not really what most people have in mind when they think of vacation. I knew it was going to be cold, but not that cold. However, if it wasn’t that cold, I would not have gained the life changer that we called the Water Baby. It was cold at night, but Emiri had this plastic bottle that you fill with hot water and slip into your bed by your feet. The bottle must have been thick walled because it still gave off warmth even in the morning when we woke up. Gosh, we loved that Water Baby. I don’t think I could’ve slept without it.
Next stop: Paris!
London Life Changer:
Cafe L’eto - Aromatic, fresh teas and some of the best dessert I’ve had
Borough Market – Artisan everything. Great food. Everything smells so good here. Cool atmosphere.
Bea’s of Bloomsbury – Go for cream tea. Scones and clotted cream heaven!
Portobello Road – Look, but don’t buy. A must if you love antiquing.
Indian Restaurant – Any of them. Just go!