75 poorly composed, sepia-toned photos, a book, 2 maps, and an umbrella.
*there might have been a t-shirt too*
Those are the mementos of my first trip to London nearly 15 years ago. I never thought I would be back, especially not for a trip as grand as the one we just came back from. Of course the memories flood back upon recollection. 16 year olds don't retain much, but London memories are sharp.
- The Indianapolis airport floor during a long flight delay smelled like popcorn and feet.
- Buckingham Palace plaza is crowded and I was sure I was going to get pickpocketed so I held my backpack in front of me the entire time.
- The tube was exceptionally exciting.
- History takes on a different context.
- Bath (the city) smelled weird.
- I wanted to attend Oxford University.
As a newly minted 31 year old, the vibes (and photos) were much different this time around. I was content to wander without a plan - or at least the plan that tour groups and 16 year olds need to accomplish anything. There were rough agendas that turned into serendipitous moments only traveling can orchestrate.
Going through our photos on the back end of the trip, I've realized how difficult it is to distill a 2-week trip - no matter the location - into a blog post. I think that's why travel vlogs are so popular. Video does a much better job of telling a big story – and this trip is a big story. But at our core, Lee and I are photographers, so 4,000 photos and just as many memories are our mementos.
I'm hesitant to share hundreds of photos - mainly because you, dear reader, will likely leave me about halfway through - but I didn't want this trip to go undocumented.
So how about a compromise: I'll share some photos and our itinerary/travel tips in a series of 3 blog posts over the next couple weeks – just in case you're inspired and looking to plan a trip much like ours – and over on Instagram I'll share some additional photos and videos to round out the trip.
We'll start today with the first part of the trip – it can easily be broken into three parts – London, Countryside, Castles and Coastlines.
Welcome to London
Greenville > Atlanta > Heathrow
Two smooth and easy plane journeys from South Carolina, we landed in Heathrow, breezed through Customs, Passport Control, and were relieved to see our slightly battered suitcases slam onto the luggage conveyer belt. Ahead of time I had mapped out the best way to get from Heathrow into Central London. If you're familiar with the layout of London you'll know Heathrow is about an hour away from London proper. There's normally an express train, but it wasn't running the day we arrived so we popped onto the Elizabeth line from Heathrow to Paddington Station.
Thank goodness for England's public transportation.
Travel tip: if you arrive at Paddington and your accommodations are not ready yet, use Bounce Luggage (an app) for a safe place to store your luggage while you wander/explore. There's a location inside of Paddington station that was cheap and so convenient.
We stayed in Notting Hill. And yes, we watched Notting Hill whilst in Notting Hill. If you're looking for charm in abundance, a slightly quieter side of London, and beautiful architecture around every corner Notting Hill is the place for you.
A few Notting Hill highlights included:
- Daylesford Organic – grocery and cafe
- Portobello Road market - fun to stroll but very busy on Friday/Saturdays
- Orasay – a Scottish Highlands inspired restaurant that had the best fish dish I've ever eaten.
- Westborne Grove road – filled with excellent shopping
- Notting Hill bookshop - iconic and excellent bookshop
We spent a full day in East/Central London's trendy Shoreditch neighborhood. It was a bustling and busy vibe that reminded us of the West Village or Chelsea in New York.
Some Highlights/Must Visits:
- Liberia – a bookshop designed by a pair of Spanish architects. Instead of organized by genre, the books are sorted by emotion/theme such as Wanderlust or Enchantment. It's beautiful and brilliant.
- Spitalfields Market – a quirkier Covent Gardens
- The Culpepper - go for an excellent pub style lunch
- Paper X Cup for coffee and a quiet place to sit in Arnold Circus
- Lyles London – our dinner here was one of our favorites of the trip
We spent a beautiful morning in Chelsea and Belgravia. You could truly spend an entire trip exploring just these neighborhoods, but for us a morning would have to do. Chelsea London has a very similar vibe to Chelsea New York and Belgravia is comprised of old money beautiful neighborhoods and quiet city parks.
A few highlights in this area:
- Chelsea had some of our favorite shopping corners. The Burberry store had a dress I was sorely tempted to purchase.
- Harrods is actually worth visiting. We almost didn't go because who did we millennials think we were exploring a department store? But Harrods (and later Liberty's of London) was more like a museum of fashion rather than a department store. Truly it was something special.
- Granger and Co has a brunch spot in Chelsea (we went to another one a different day) but if you can get in for brunch it's worth it!
From Belgravia we wandered up to Buckingham Palace, through St. James's Park, and over to Big Ben and the Thames. Honestly, skip it all. We really debated even going into this area but since we were so close I felt like it was worth a quick walk by. It wasn't, but Lee and I also hate big tourist areas, so maybe it would be worth it for someone else.
At any rate, don't go on a weekend. There were more people milling about than we were comfortable being around so we power walked through it all and ended up taking a taxi back to our quiet little Notting Hill street.
Funnily enough, Lee and I had some other plans and ideas of things to do – Kew Gardens, a few museums, and art exhibitions – but the weather was picture perfect – it only rained once for 15 minutes our entire trip - so we opted to forgo our other plans and just walk/wander for our time in London.
We really enjoy this agenda-less style of travel and always end up doing things we love without running ourselves ragged. And after about 2 hours in the city we knew London would be a place we'd come back to time and time again.
Up Next: the Countryside