Posts Tagged With: uk

Brighton, Round 3

The first time I went to Brighton I was by myself, had missed breakfast, and so happily stumbled on a lovely little privately owned coffee shop… And that is now my Brighton “tradition.” Get off train. Walk past hipster secondhand shops. Get coffee.

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Kate and I both knew our limits at this point in the week. No sightseeing without being sufficiently caffeinated or we will lose steam quickly. It doesn’t hurt when the coffee is also amazing. So we relaxed for a minute with our lattes.

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Looking inland from our spot on the beach.

But I was ready for some (British) sun, so we walked down towards the pebble beach to relax soon after that. You would think it might be difficult to get comfortable on a pebble beach, but it is surprisingly nice… Especially since I had my cardigan for a pillow.

I was disappointed to discover the Ferris Wheel had come down just one month previous. I had been wanting to ride it for awhile and decided this would be the trip for it…. Until it was mysteriously not on the shore.

At least Brighton has some of the most interesting people-watching I’ve ever seen. So we leisurely walked around The Lanes and had some (more) salmon sandwiches and tea in my favorite spot. One of the staff asked if we were locals, so we must have started sufficiently blending in… Or they hadn’t heard us talk too loudly. haha.

Brighton was my much-needed relaxation day for our week in London. We did nothing but wander aimlessly through bookshops, side streets, the pier, and some pubs. For someone who has dipped her toes in the sea in Florida, Mexico, and some Caribbean islands… It isn’t the best choice for a swim. (Maybe you can handle ice cold water better than I. And I’ve never been in Brighton during July/August, so maybe then it’s better?) But the beach and pier are perfect for getting some sun and fresh air after being surrounded by the concrete and stone in London.

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A Week in Notting Hill

notting-hillWhen I booked our Notting Hill AirBnB, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I had been tempted to spend a little extra to go back to the Pimlico area, which I missed living in. But it turns out that exploring new neighborhoods can pay off. (Who knew?)

Notting Hill – at the risk of being cliche – was picturesque and quirky in the most vintage-hipster of ways. It also didn’t hurt that the weather was perfectly overcast and in the 70’s and 80’s (Fahrenheit!) for most of the week.

Kate and I spent a few hours getting lost, found, and lost again in the neighborhood. As soon as we left the busy main roads, everything was residential and quiet. Of course, we were on the edge of Zone 2 which will usually decrease the noise and activity level of a general area. I decided that the facades in Notting Hill were my favorite when it came to London residences. The side streets were narrow and full of crooked cobblestones, and the main roads were lined with sidewalks wide enough for pram-pushing mothers to pass each other going opposite directions. But even with the tranquility, the buildings were impressive enough to keep reminding you that you were in London.

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Afternoon Tea Splurge

After all our running around for the first few days, Kate and I splurged a little with a posh Fortnum & Mason afternoon tea. Their Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon is decked out in one of my favorite colors – mint – so of course this is where I got a reservation. As soon as you step into the tea salon on an upper floor of Fortnum & Mason, the atmosphere completely changes. With a tranquil color scheme and music playing, you feel as if you can comfortably linger awhile – and we did.

20160608_124303The staff turn the tea into a bit of a formal affair, as I was helped into my seat by the host and given two weighty, bound menus. One for the meal, and one for tea blends. We both ordered the traditional afternoon tea, although there were savory and vegetarian afternoon teas available. I opted for the Royal Blend tea, and Kate opted for the Jubilee Blend. They were both excellent! We had to try a sip of each other’s tea for comparison’s sake – while we each preferred my own choices by a thin margin, they were each delicious.

Speaking of delicious – the whole afternoon tea was amazing. The little tower of delicate plates may not look intimidating, but by the end we were so full we could only eat half of the sweets and cake – and I always finish dessert.

(We did, however, order extra salmon tea sandwiches. Those things were impossible to put down.)

I started with my scones, clotted cream, and jam before moving on to the tea sandwiches. I think one of the things I missed most about the UK was clotted cream and salmon on everything. (Other sandwich flavors were Coronation chicken, ham, and cucumber. All good.) We hadn’t even eaten breakfast and those two courses alone would have been able to tide me over until a late dinner. But we didn’t want anything to go to waste, so after another round of salmon finger sandwiches, we tasted each of the sweets and an amazingly rich chocolate mousse cake.

It was raining outside pretty heavily after our 1.5 hour lunch was over, so we browsed through the rest of the department store for awhile. I decided that if I ever have the funds, I’m stocking my future kitchen with china sets from Fortnum & Mason. (I also wouldn’t say no to an endorsement deal, if any F&M employees come across this! ha.) Eventually, we had enough space in our stomachs again to hit the tea tasting counters… But not enough to visit the ice cream parlour. All in all… it was a very delicious afternoon.

 

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I won’t even deny that over 50% of the reason I wanted to eat here was the table setting. Look at my teapot! 

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Picnics in Parks

One of my favorite things to do in London is to have a picnic. When the weather is nice, why would you want to eat indoors? It’s always great to see the locals working on their next sunburn during the (slightly) rare sunny and warm weekend afternoon. And I’m (almost) always down for some Pret take away.

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Kensington Palace/Gardens

London parks are the best for people-watching. There are people of all ages, accents, and nationalities riding bikes, walking their dogs, and talking. And there are always so many parks to choose from – you can be in the middle of high rise office buildings and stumble upon a half-acre of grass with a few benches, or you could turn off a busy street and find Regent’s Park.

Since we were based in Notting Hill, Kensington Gardens was our go-to picnic spot this time around. Back in 2014 there was a little green space I loved, right along the Thames near my flat that had a few benches. I would cool off there after a run, or take a book just to enjoy the fresh air. And London weather is very rarely so hot as to make bench-sitting un-enjoyable.

 

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Evening picnics near Kensington

This time around I took my travel journal out, and took the time to have some solid introverted introspection while we people-watched. We must have done a good job of blending in with the locals since I was asked for directions by a few other tourists walking past. And after my Italian studying, I paid more attention to the languages I was hearing… It makes the world feel large and small at the same time. The diversity is one of the things I miss about living in London. But a lunch or evening picnic in a London park with my journal in hand goes a long way towards making me feel at home again.

 

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In Which I’m a London Tour Guide Once More

I’m always in favor of taking a free walking tour. But since I figured I was a local for 5 months or so that one time a few years ago… I could handle showing Kate around without the guide. And there’s something about missing your second home for two years that makes you eager to revisit even the tourist spots.

I had scouted out some great looking cafes on Instagram earlier in the month, so we left our little Notting Hill AirBnB for Farm Girl Cafe, which was a 10-minute walk down the road. If you’re ever in Notting Hill, I highly recommend it. We ended up going twice in the week we were here! The lavender lattes are A+.

From there it was time to show Kate some Royal London! The first stop was, obviously, the Mall and Buckingham Palace.

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It’s amazing how little the crowds of tourists get on your nerves after 10 hours of sleep! Yes I know we were tourists too.

With the jet lag gone, my internal London map and sense of direction was back. We managed to catch the tail end of the Changing of the Guard Parade. (Which I really recommend over squishing up against the palace fence with the rest of the tourists to catch the actual changing of the guard… The parade is much more interesting. There are fewer people to make you claustrophobic, and more ponies! Ponies are always a bonus.)

I gave the tour guide spiel I’ve now memorized about why Green Park is green (3 guesses) as we took a detour through it, and re-lived some of my Longines Global Champions Tour excitement as we passed Horse Guards Parade. We took a stroll through the National Gallery, both of us gravitating toward any artwork that contained horses. (Painters used to have a really hard time with the head to body size ratio.) I mentioned how the lions in Trafalgar Square resemble Cocker Spaniels from the mane down.

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Classic London Tourist, in her natural habitat.

Then, naturally, it was time for some fish and chips, because we were starving. And because London is not just about the royal post codes, we took a bus up to Camden for Poppie’s. I think they will always have my favorite fish and chips… Their sticky toffee pudding isn’t bad either. Camden has a completely different vibe, which I was ready for after dodging tourists most of the morning.

And as became habit for Kate and me over the next few weeks… we went back to the flat, took a late afternoon nap, and then ventured back out for a picnic dinner. With Pret, of course! We parked ourselves on a bench in Kensington Gardens to people watch and enjoy the fantastic weather. Really, London weather has always been good to me on the whole.

As it got dark we continued to walk around to get a glimpse of a few landmarks all lit up. The Royal Albert Hall at night really is gorgeous. I think I did a pretty good job as tour guide. Even if I knew there was some history I knew I was forgetting. I got to revisit some places that have some pretty good memories attached to them. Which is almost everywhere I’ve set foot in Central London, really. So if anyone needs a personal tour guide of London in the future… Take me!

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. – Samuel Johnson

 

 

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10 Things I’ll Always Miss About Living in London

I lived in London for a short time and then I was back stateside again, but it still feels like home when I return. Even if your Visa is short-term, London tends to make a big impression – especially once you start to feel like not just a tourist but a resident.

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When I stepped onto the Heathrow tube station platform after two years away, everything I missed came rushing back. I don’t think these ten things are in any particular order, but they are the things I thought about while I was separated for so long from the city that is now my second home. Let’s not stay apart so long next time, okay London?

  1. Public transport. Do I need to say more? London’s public transport system has permanently spoiled me to the point I feel disappointed in every other city’s transportation system. I could live here for years without needing a car at all! Which is good, because there is zero parking.
  2. The diversity. You can walk through Hyde Park, down The Mall, or through a random market and hear 5 different languages spoken in 5 minutes. It reminds me of how small the world really is, and how closely we’re all connected.
  3.  The history. Walk down the street. Almost any street. Look around. Look up. There are historical buildings everywhere. Little “___ person lived here” signs. Memorials. An old medieval church that is still halfway standing after the Blitz. After living in London, the States seem so… young. (Which, comparatively, they are.)
  4. Pubs. Chain pubs, local pubs, pub food, pub TVs with the match on. Pubs are now my favorite place to sit around and write, think, chat with a friend, or simply people watch. There are few people watching opportunities more enjoyable than watching a football match in which you have no loyalty ties, surrounded by fans, from a small little local pub.
    • The fact that half of London goes for after work drinks on every weekday and there are so many people they spill out into the streets for an hour or more of chatting and winding down still delights me. I’ve never been anywhere else that does after work drinks like London.
  5. The Evening Standard. I never really got excited about newspapers… Until that one seat on the rush hour tube opened up and I needed to occupy my hands. Now every time I travel I try to pick up a free local paper. Thanks, Standard.
  6. Food markets. Pretty self-explanatory. Street food anywhere in the general vicinity of Europe is my favorite type of food. And Borough Market? Just leave me there with a wallet full of cash for a few hours and I’ll be happy.
  7. The parks. You can be walking down the most crowded city street, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by acres and acres of grass and trees and people playing badminton or fetch with their dogs.
  8. Empty tube platforms at night. There’s just something so soothing about them to me. The sound of a train through the tunnel, and the automated voice over the speakers that sounds crisper when you’re surrounded by fewer people. Mind the gap. Not competing with crowds of commuters for a seat. The few hushed conversations half a train car away.
  9. Day trips. Get on a train and in one hour you can be at Hampton Court Palace or on the coast in Brighton. It’s so easy. (And still, no driving required!)
  10. The culture. Museums. West End. Parks. Locally owned cafes and boutiques. London has everything, half of it free, for you to do on any given day of the week. Something is always going on, even if your biggest calendar item for the day is people watching.
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*London is Always a Good Idea

Sure, Audrey Hepburn (in Sabrina!) was talking about Paris… But I think I feel the same way about London. Plus, I’ve never actually been to Paris. London is definitely always a good idea. And after neglecting my poor passport for over two years, I breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped past border control at Heathrow and onto the escalator that took us down to the tube.

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We got quite attached to our little street.

We got quite attached to our little street.I’ve never been in love with big cities, but London is the exception. I felt like I was back home, and my feet still wanted to hit autopilot as we passed Victoria station on my old route to Pimlico.

For the 7 days I got to be back in London, we stayed in Notting Hill. It was an area I had never really explored while living in Pimlico. There’s just too much London to explore all of it in even five years’ time, much less five months! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Notting Hill!

It’s a posh little neighborhood, full of stereotypical white facades with pillars and tiled stoops. Our host was really lovely, and the room was twice as spacious as the little shoebox I was used to during my internship. It only took until the jetlag wore off for my mental Central London map to start working again, and to get back that instinctual grasp of North, South, East, and West.

It was especially fun showing Kate around central London since she had never been there before. I’m sure I was dragging her from place to place more than was strictly necessary, but I was also eager to see all the sights I had missed in the last two years.

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Back Across the Pond

My 2014 adventure abroad is over. While mom and dad finished packing before the taxi arrived, I went for a walk. The sun was just rising, and the majority of the people I passed were kids in uniforms heading off to school. I had to bundle up, because the weather was definitely in the process of transitioning into fall and winter. (Meanwhile, it was 80F when we landed back at home.) It was a peaceful morning before the tedious, 11+ hour travel day ahead.

Taking the internship in London is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made… And I was already feeling a bit homesick for the tiny, shoebox-sized room I had in my London flat, with the almost revolving door of interesting flatmates from all over the world. I was definitely planning on how to get back to this side of the pond again before we even left Edinburgh. Until next time, UK and Europe.

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Stonehenge and Bath

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Me, Lily, Amie. Photo cred and best group selfie taker award goes to Amie!

I cannot believe I neglected to post about my day trip to Stonehenge and Bath. Two of my bucket list items crossed off, and no blog documentation? I must have been going crazy. Or, you know, I was just in the midst of writing my 20+ blog posts for work at that point in my 4 month adventure.

Amie, Lily, and I loaded up on the bus on a cloudy British morning for a perfect day. Traffic was kind of horrible, but we still had plenty of time to listen to our audio guides once we hit Stonehenge. Stonehenge was, actually, much smaller than we all expected it to be. However, I predictably geeked out a bit and captioned all of my Instagram and Facebook pictures with Doctor Who quotes. From the season 5 two-part finale, of course. Hello, Stonehenge! Who takes the Pandorica takes the Universe!

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With traffic once again on the slow side, it took us awhile to get to Bath. But once we did, I decided that even with the tourists it was all so picturesque I might be able to live there for awhile.

We were all three excited to see inside the Roman Baths. We were warned off touching the water, though I’m pretty sure none of us would have wanted to touch the lime green standing water anyway. The history and other artifacts that were in and around the structure were all fascinating. The waters were believed to have healing powers, though I would bet they also used to be less, well, green.

We all chipped in to share a glass of the (not green, but not entirely clear) “healing” hot spring water from the area. It tasted a bit like eggs. I suppose I’d choke it down if I really did believe it had healing powers.

So then we got the taste out of our mouths with some tea and scones at the Pump Room. We finished off our day walking around Bath before hopping on the coach to head back home to London. (I miss saying that. Home to London.)

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Behold, the greenest water I have ever seen.

“Now, the question of the hour is: Who’s got the Pandorica? Answer: I do.”

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Travel by Train

IMG_2452Over my four months abroad, the train has definitely been my favorite way to travel. From Brighton to Derbyshire and across Italy, it has been the most relaxing way for me to get around, so we were definitely utilizing this mode of transportation when my parents came to visit. (Why don’t we have widespread trains back home? Get it together, America.) Dad was excited for his first train ride, and I think Mom was just happy to travel above ground. We took a little day trip to Brighton, and were able to enjoy the whole trip without any stress.

The day after Brighton, however, we turned into a traveling circus. Have you ever taken three people with 45 lbs suitcases and a carry on each (plus a backpack for me, because, well, 4 months abroad means needing more stuff) on a bus, then the tube, then through King’s Cross? Hahaha. We probably would have been better off with a taxi to King’s Cross, but you live and learn and attempt to save money.

I’m already looking back and laughing at how hilarious we probably appeared, from King’s Cross to York and York to Edinburgh. Thank goodness for taxi drivers who didn’t complain too much about the heavy luggage on the way to/from the train stations, hotels, and airports. (Because we did definitely use taxis in York and Edinburgh.)

Now, the US just needs to get some decent train lines for passengers so I can easily visit all the friends I met this summer! And while I do actually love the traveling part of traveling (except for airport security), I found this quote appropriate:

Most travel is best of all in the anticipation or the remembering; the reality has more to do with losing your luggage.  ~Regina Nadelson

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