A four-day London Whirlwind
London | September 9-13, 2018
London was a fuckin whirlwind, as always, but aside from a shitty burger place it was nearly 100% enjoyable. Something I can't say for many other cities, and the reason London has made a firm imprint and keeps us coming back.
The Norwegian flight over here was a fucking dream. It was so fantastic to fly directly into London. Before Norwegian offered flights, we would fly Aer Lingus into Dublin, and then get to London by taking everyone's favorite dirt cheap shit regional airline: Ryan Air. So it was insanely nice not to have to do that.
We landed at Gatwick and took what seemed like a fucking mile long walk through the massive airport to passport control. Every single person we encountered was so cheerful and friendly -- I love the English for that. It's all real human interaction. Even the dude who sold us our airport train tickets and Oyster cards -- he was so witty and lovable.
The train was quick and then we hopped a city bus the rest of the way to our Airbnb hosts house. The walk from the bus stop to his apartment was fucking lovely -- it was like walking through a movie set. It was a quiet, residential neighborhood with the most charming houses and apartments you can imagine.
Our host's place was completely adorable -- a small space, but super stylish complete with a tiny terrace packed with plants and a table for two.
Our room was beautiful and light and all of the linens were natural fiber, earthy colors and it was just a really great space. Our host was a single guy in his late 40s and was justa chatty delight. About 90 seconds in to our first conversation together, he offered us his apartment in Spain in September if we wanted. The Brits are just so dang helpful.
Kris ended up chatting him up a bunch and learning that this area of London had been heavily bombed and there was even a bomb that went off at the end of street and basically made the entire row of houses jump. So now every few years they resettle and large cracks in the walls appear that have to be repaired. There's a church a few blocks away that was used as a bomb shelter and one night it was directly hit and everyone in the bomb shelter died. The church was completely blown out, but the shell of it remained and it still original with the inside having been rebuilt. Can you imagine living amongst that sort of history?
We were pretty hammered from the travel. Matthew (our host) suggested a place that was a 20 minute walk away that would be a great spot to grab dinner. It ended up being super awesome -- a big complex called the Mercato Metropolitano tucked away that was a total foodie haven. We nearly had a hangry meltdown as we were tired, overly hungry and just generally brain fried and there were so many goddamn choices.
We know ourselves pretty well and even in a degraded state, we can manage ourselves well. I ended up getting an orzo coffee from an Italian bakery stand, we each got salted caramel cannolis, and we split a bomb ass pizza. I don't know why orzo coffee isn't a thing here. All we do is shitty decaf as a non-caffeinated option? Orzo is literally just roasted barely that is ground and brewed like coffee and it sounds weird but it's fucking delicious. Fancy people have co-opted it and you can now find it in upscale health food stores as a coffee alternative, but it's overpriced and over complicated. The Italians have been doing it for years because they know that it's nice to drink hot, delicious beverages all day without being wired out of your mind on caffeine.
After our lovely dinner we went back home and dropped heavily into bed at 7:30pm. I did alright sleeping, but Kris had pretty bad jetlag the first three nights.
Day Two: Tuesday
The next morning, we walked up to Borough Market, which is basically an adult playground filled with all the alcohol and coffee and baked goods and meat pies and fresh juice and gorgeous food you could possibly imagine. It's heavenly.
We did a proper walk through and then settled on a rhubard crumb pastry, a cheesy pretzel roll, and coffees. We took it all and walked the bank of the river until we found a spot to sit. After finishing we kept strolling and it started getting denser and denser with people. We realized they were all standing around -- it wasn't like heaps of people passing through walking. Finally I just asked a random dude who looked like he would know stuff. He said it was the 100 year anniversary of the Royal Air Force and they were about to do a fly by. What a thing to stumble upon! And it was so cool -- a bunch of old-ass planes (and new-ass planes) flying directly over our heads doing a big show.
Afterwards we made our way north from the river and strolled through Covent Garden. There was a shop I'd wanted to visit called Petersham Nursery and it was just as darling as Instagram made it seem -- part boutique, part florist, part restaurant with an adorable gourmet grocery store out back that shared the same courtyard. It was such a unique place.
We got hungry and started looking for a place to have scones. All of the cafes were either over crowded or not the right vibe and then, like a beacon of light, there was a Bill's. Bill's is a London chain (maybe elsewhere in England? I'm not sure) and it's pretty fucking magical. There's nothing I can think of in the US that is a chain that is anything like this. It's just decorated to such a high standard and it's inexpensive and the food and drinks are amazing. It's one of those perfect spots where it feels like a treat, but you can dress casually and sit there and eat just a scone and a pot of tea and they love you for it.
After our snack we hit an M&S which is sort of like an unfussy Whole Foods with the prepared food section of your dreams. Let's just call it a gourmet grocery store because they also have a perfectly curated grocery section full of stuff you can take home and toss in the oven for an amazing dinner. We got a salmon en croute and a side salad dish that was cous cous and nuts and spices and shit. It was effin delicious and so easy. We took it back to our Airbnb and ate on the adorable terrace.
Day 3: Wednesday
Wednesday morning we took the bus to north London so we could start at the top and work our way down. I had found this place on Instagram called The Bread Station, which is a Scandinavian cafe in an old railway arch. It was completely adorable and we had the best food ever -- a BLT and then an open faced sandwich box + a cinnamon roll and some amazing coffee.
Afterwards we walked over to London Fields and then down to Broadway Market, which is a long stretch of road crammed with shops and cafes. It was similar to Portobello Road, but felt way more local and less gimmicky.
Next was Brick Lane -- another long stretch of road that had a different vibe and was jam packed with the best indian restaurants in town. I had an icredibly overprice iced matcha that kind of pissed me off.
We ended up walking through Leadenhall Market, which is a covered outdoor mall of sorts and the World Cup crowds were starting to build so it was really loud and lively. We decided it would be fun to find a pub to watch it in. We stumbled into Ye Old Cock Tavern and it was super fucking cute and jammed with excitable people. The owner was milling about the place and mostly hanging out near the front door. He asked what we were up to and we said we'd asked at the bar about food, but they said the wait was insane -- at least 45 minutes for food to come out, so we were deciding whether we'd just fuck it and wait or duck out and grab some shitty food to eat quickly and come back. He told us to go get food and just bring it back here and eat it. We were like, "What? We can do that?" he said, "Of course ye can!! It's my pub!"
I thought that was just so incredibly British and again another just perfectly human experience. It's like every person you encounter just treats you like an old friend.
So that's exactly what we did -- walked down to a shop, got some shit sandwiches, and brought them back to eat. We ordered cider and ended up asking this other couple if we could sit at their table with them. Which of course they said yes to. And it was just fucking perfect. It was so warm and friendly and it was entertainment all on its own just watching the people watch the game. I loved it. Like, I cried I was just so heart warmed and happy being there.
Day 4: Thursday
Thursday morning we got up and went to another cafe I found on Instagram and it was one of the most gorgeous and delicious dining experiences I've ever had. It was called Abuelo and it was a little shoebox sized cafe in Covent Garden. One of those places where you walk in and it's so cramped you almost immediately want to leave.....but if you just relax for a second and find your space -- it's fucking magic.
There were two community spaces -- one cluster of arm chairs in the corner and then one long wood table with a dozen chairs around it. We ended up at the long table and just every last detail was the prettiest thing you've ever seen. I ordered what I had come there for -- the toast with mascarpone, fresh figs and roasted pistachios drizzled with honey and edible flower petals. Kris got a mushroom and cheese toastie and it was perfection -- down to even the little side salad. I had a matcha latte that was so pretty I just stared at it and could've burst into tears. The other bonus thing was I couldn't finish all of the toast so I took it to go and it was just as good three hours later.
We walked through St. James Park and then thru Green Park making our way to Hyde Park where we sat by the gigantic lake and just people watched. It's so rich right there. Eventually we knew we should think about dinner. We looked at a couple of different pubs, but they all served curry or thai food and that wasn't what we were in the mood for. Kris pulled up a burger place but we got there and it just wasn't it. We started to do that thing where we were getting hungry and nothing was "it". This is honestly the worst thing that happens when we travel and it always happens. But now we know and so it's easy not to have meltdowns. We looked up another burger place on the map and by the time we got there it just had to be it so even though it wasn't, we sat down anyway. That was probably our only "off" moment so far and one of the extremely rare shit meals we've had in London.
We went home to pack and get ready for the travel day that was coming up next.
Day 5: Friday
Friday we walked to a Danish coffee shop right around the corner and had delicious coffee and croissants. Then we hopped a bus to the Wellcome Collection because I had a fuckin genius idea -- instead of paying expensive per-bag storage fees to stash our luggage for the day at the train station -- let's just leave it at "coat check" at a museum. And it totally fuckin worked. I felt like I deserved an award or something.
Once we were free of our bags, we wandered over to Pret and got a super delicious picnic lunch that we ate in Regent Park. The President was in town doing whatever Presidential shit people do and we ended up seeing shit loads of helicopters and other crazy aircraft flying low directly over the park. It kind of harshed the mellow of the park mood, but was still sort of cool to see.
After lunch we walked to the other end of the park in search of the park's cafe that had mind blowing scones. They're gigantic and come with a large pod of real clotted cream and a mini jar of jam. They're the fucking best. Then we just lounged on the grass until it was time to retrieve our shit and catch the train.
It was the first of many train rides we have booked and all first class for the first time ever. So we were excited for this first one. It was fuckin baller.
The first class car was so fucking comfortable. I don't think I can go back. There was so much room for our shit and we had booked a table for two so we were just in our own little world. The steward came by with the tea cart and said he'd be around again in a few minutes with "the funny business". It was so novel to drink tea out of a real mug at a table on a frikkin train.
He did come by with the funny business and we each had our own cider. FOR FREE. I mean I know, but like -- everything was free. Along with the drinks was a round of snacks -- nice cookies and fruit and such.
Next came dinner -- I had a pasta dish and Kris had a little barbeque plate. It was good! Like -- not any better than airplane food, but still totally edible and worth eating. Plus, did I meantion it's free? And served on real plates? That made it all taste better anyway.
Then they came around with dessert -- cheesecake, which the nice man poured fresh double cream over.
Then the funny business again, and then came around with a cart full of snacks -- hummus and chips, dips and crackers, cookies, etc.
They literally came by with something every 30 minutes or so and it was a 3 hour ride. It was worth every goddamn penny. On this particular ride we didn't have to change trains either so it was even more chill. We barely even watched any Netflix because it was just such a delight being on the train -- there was no tuning it out and wishing it was over.
We rolled up to Colwyn Bay in Wales right along the sea during sunset so it was stunning. A quick bus ride to the top of the hill took us to Old Colwyn, which was where our cottage was.
The cottage was super fucking cute, but ended up being totally covered in goddamn dog hair. I don't want to waste too much space on that, but it fucking sucked ass and I'm never renting from the company (Sykes Cottages) ever again and will beware of ever renting anywhere pet friendly in general ever again.
But instead of ending it on that note, I'll leave you with this snippet of a conversation: