February 21, 2015 – Five hundred years later and I’m finally writing about my time in London. Just kidding, it’s only been about two months.
My roommates and I had been wanting to check out London for a while – it’s so close to Paris, why wouldn’t we? So we hopped over the English Channel or, rather, under it, on a weekend in late November. The night before our departure, we had hosted a Friendsgiving celebration at our apartment, but we managed to get ourselves up and out for yet another early train. Seriously, I don’t know why we always chose the 5AM departure…
Luckily, Em’s family friend had an apartment near Camden and was in the States for Thanksgiving, so she graciously let us stay there for the weekend. Free (and homey!) housing meant the trip was already off to a great start. When we got in, we were exhausted – the train had not been so conducive for sleeping – so we napped for while before setting out to explore. First on the list was Borough Market, the famed food market in Central London. We navigated the Tube, which oddly enough has you present your ticket both before and after your ride…talk about stressful, and found our way to the expansive gourmet food booths. After perusing what seemed like the whole place, I settled on some amazing-smelling Ethiopian food, while Cassie & Emily went for gourmet sausages. The food was phenomenal, but the atmosphere was even cooler. We sat on a picnic bench and people watched as children played and the smells of a dozen different cuisines wafted in the air. So cool.
When we finished, we grabbed some dessert from a booth with mountains of treats and then walked off the calories by the London Bridge. Fun Fact: The London Bridge is not the same as the iconic Tower Bridge, it’s actually the more plain-looking one next to the Tower Bridge. Crazy, right? We still took pictures of the Tower Bridge and sang Fergie’s homage to the landmark.
Upon the recommendation of Em’s family friend, we headed over for a late afternoon drink at The Shard, an 87-story skyscraper in Southwark. The massive building houses a viewing platform, bar and hotel. Instead of paying for a 10-minute stunt on the viewing platform, we opted for the more leisurely bar, which still had amazing views. Our waiter was extremely charismatic and, despite comments from the bartender, brought us the house Old Fashioned, with lavender honey. Yum. It was like Mad Men, except in London and not in the 1960s. We had the best time just relaxing and enjoying the setting as dusk descended on the city. The waiter liked us so much that he ended up letting us into the pool room, or the best view of London, in his opinion. Holy cannoli, it was breathtaking. Now I know where I’m staying when I’m rich and visiting London!
The weather was getting chillier, so we hurried back to the apartment to change before going to dinner at an Indian restaurant that had gotten rave reviews on Yelp. Mala Bar, in Notting Hill, is a godsend. We ordered half of the classiest Indian establishment’s menu, including samosas, curries, multiple vegetable side dishes, naan and rice. The best part? It was all reasonably priced, something you don’t find often in Londontown.
We feasted and then rolled ourselves home for an eventful day of tourism the next day.
Saturday started with wandering around Camden – the neighbourhood we were staying in. We ventured to Camden’s passage, a haven for vintage boutiques and cute coffee shops. Cass & Em splurged on much-needed fur vests and then we bundled up for some museum-going. The museums in London are mostly free, so taking advantage of this is definitely a must. We walked through the giant British museum, wondering at the Rosetta Stone and the oldest preserved human remains. This place can take a good 2-3 hours if you do it right. Then we were off to the National Portrait Gallery, my personal favorite, which houses the portraits of famous people from the dawn of time to the most recent history. I loved seeing all the faces of greatness next to each other and reading about some that I hadn’t previously known. What a neat idea!
We hit up Soho shortly after, dead tired from all the walking we’d done, but determined to make it to Big Ben. After getting lost (it’s inevitable), we ended up heading to Hyde Park, which, unbeknownst to us, had been transformed quite literally into a Winter Wonderland for the upcoming Christmas season. The line – or should I say crowd – was huge, but we muddled our way through. And thank goodness we did, because I had the best hot chocolate + Bailey’s of my life there. [still dreaming about it now…]
Although the park was insanely packed, we made it out and cabbed it to the London Eye to at least see Big Ben and Westminster. The line for the Eye was incredibly long – we learned from our cabbie that this was the first year London had participated in Black Friday and the amount of people had been unprecedented…lucky us. Once we finally boarded our capsule, it was worth it. Seeing London from above by night was beautiful. The lights in that city are just right!
After trekking back home, we decided to grab some fish & chips at a local pub and head out to a bar in Camden to make the best of our final night.
I was really surprised at how at-home I felt in London. Aside from the fact that we were able to stay in an actual flat and not some rented abode, hostel or hotel, it felt like the people were genuinely welcoming. The city was so full of life and color – something that desperately lacks in Paris. And the adorable British accent didn’t hurt either.