My first time EVER in Europe! And London was truly a gem. I expected to love Paris, but London surprised me. In the end, I wish we had had a few more days in this beautiful city, but now I have an excuse to fly back.
Before we took off, I told Andrew my intentions for this trip. I did this because I needed to hear myself say it aloud, and I needed someone to hold me accountable. Because in truth, I have been feeling a lot of that stress and worry - you know, what I just talked about on my last post. Sometimes you just feel like you have your shit together and then all of the sudden, you don’t. I spent the last week before my trip mentally wiped and emotionally spent. Constant worry. So I challenged myself to do the opposite this trip - make minimal plans (other than a few tasty spots I had my eye on months ago when we first booked the tickets) and stop overthinking. I would be lying if I said I had total success. I’ll admit I cried once, and worries did creep in every now and then. But deep in the back of my mind, my intentions stood firm. And, with a little support from Andrew, slowly I felt more relaxed. More like myself!
So thank goodness for vacation.
So here is a day-by-day run down of what we did, where we went, and what we ate!
We ended up having a two hour delay from O’Hare so we landed at Heathrow later than we had originally hoped. But that did not stop us from stepping out from our Air Bnb and walking around the area! We stayed in Shoreditch in a private room. Our host was wonderful and hospitable, giving us helpful tips around the area and letting us know what sights to see. Which was especially nice with all the Christmastime cheer in the city! So after a cup of tea with our host, we wandered around the Shoreditch area and walked along Brick Lane. It was a little chilly so we started with a cardamom hot chocolate from Dark Sugars. They cover your drink with freshly chopped chocolate, which takes it to another level. This was followed by a beetroot-dyed lemon-thyme doughnut from Crosstown Doughnuts. The doughnuts are sourdough and the texture was incredible - chewy but still light and soft, all at the same time. By then, we were ready for some savory foods, which made our feast at Ottolenghi Spitalfields all the better. I could have gone there every day. I have never had a better vegetarian experience - each dish balanced fat, acid, salt, sweet so perfectly. I loved the braised leeks, his favorite was the za’atar roasted cauliflower. We also had our first try at orange wines there! From what I understand, this type of wine is when the grapes are fermented with the skins left on, leading to its orange hue. It’s robust, strong, and unlike any other wine I’ve had. After our meal, I thought we were finished, but on our walk back home Andrew declared we were going to Poppie’s, a fish and chips chain we had spotted when we initially wandered out. Looking back, he probably had his mind set the minute he saw the place. The fish was flaky, the chips were hot, and the whole experience was just a lot of fun. We ended the night by walking over to the Tower Bridge to see the Tower of London. We hopped over the Thames and walked a little bit on the other side, before heading back up again to our Air Bnb to get some much needed rest. This was the walk where we remembered Londoners don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, which is why there were already signs for Christmas menus hanging outside all the restaurants and sparkly lights already hung in the halls. I loved it.
We were victims to the jetlag and overslept! Okay okay, for us that meant like we woke up around 8:30 am which is not too late (this is both a little sad and funny to me), and we still made it out by 10 after a quick run around the Thames and a couple of showers. We grabbed a cappuccino (for him) and an americano (for me) at one of the nearby Caffe Nero’s and headed out to see Leadenhall Market, a great recommendation made by our host. The architecture of the hall itself is worth seeing, and if you’re a Potterhead, it is the location of where they filmed some of the scenes of Harry in Diagon Alley! We had lunch reservations and needed to kill a bit more time after walking around the market, so after finishing our coffees we walked back over to Ottolenghi for their amazing desserts display. It is a baker’s dream - so many little mini cakes, tarts, meringues, cookies, all packed neatly and placed beautifully along the windowsill for passersbys to see. We nabbed a small lemon pistachio polenta cake and gobbled it at the Old Spitalfields Market. The market is full of small vendors and they sell everything ranging from jewelry to hats to artwork. It’s an outdoor market, but there is a roof overlying the whole area which is such a fantastic idea. After wandering through the market, we made way towards our lunch at Dishoom. We had heard from nearly everyone that this was the place to go while in London, and it did not disappoint. We started off with a warming cup of chai and shared the chicken ruby and black dal, accompanied by warm roti and naan. The restaurant is so popular and there are no reservations for dinnertime, but you can save a spot for breakfast and lunch so if you want a guaranteed table, I would go at those times. We then walked down Brick Lane, where we had been the night previous, but in the daylight you can enjoy the street art and all its colors. By that point we decided to head over to Westminster to see Buckingham Palace and pretend to wave hi to the Queen. Buckingham Palace also happens to be nearby a couple of beautiful parks that showed off its serene autumn colors. Our long walk was followed by a gingerbread spice cupcake at The Hummingbird Bakery. We thought about dinner, but in truth our bellies were still full from all the eats of the day, so instead we decided to head over to Trafalgar Square. Because… we had tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!!! When we got there, we decided to not pursue dinner, but that did not stop me from spotting Rose Bakery atop the Dover Street Market and convincing Andrew that the night needed just one more pastry. We shared a slice of rich chocolate orange loaf cake, and we just sat. It was nice to “just sit” after walking miles and miles around the city. It was then time for the play! The entire production is actually split into two parts, and subsequently, two nights. That night was the first half of the story. I don’t want to spoil anything, but we left with excitement for the following night.
It was our last full day, and we started off with a bacon sandwich from St. John Bread and Wine. Yes, it is buttered, toasted bread with slices of Canadian bacon. Yes, it is incredible. We also shared a plate of toast with butter, orange marmalade, and honey - a little sweet to go with the savory. But that bacon sando… wow. We debated getting the doughnut, but decided to hold off because we knew we were going to want to try a bit of everything at the Borough Market! This market was sensational. I mean that it really hit all the five senses - the sounds, the smells, the tastes. I had to circle the market twice before I could even decide what I wanted to try, there are that many options. We kicked off our market experience with a caramel sea salt honeycomb doughnut from Bread Ahead. A CARAMEL SEA SALT HONEYCOMB DOUGHNUT. I die. I think you can tell from the photo below the pure joy I had biting into that thing. I then had a bite of Andrew’s delicious chorizo sandwich followed by my own bowl of paella. The vendors were so animated, and their enthusiasm and friendliness are infectious. I was giddy by the end of the whole experience.
Alas, we were pretty full after the market and it wasn’t even 1 pm (LOL) so Andrew suggested we tube up to Abbey Road. Andrew has been a Beatles fan forever, and I became one after dating him, so I said yes…only to walk out of the station to pouring rain, without an umbrella. But all is good, we speed walked over to the souvenir shop and stared at old pictures of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, leafing through records and debating if we should buy Beatles dedicated eggcups. After only a few minutes, the rain stopped and we were able to walk back out to the road. Which is literally all it is folks, it is a road that is still used today - and trying to get a picture walking across it without any cars or other tourists walking with you is basically impossible. But it was fun, and after a few failed attempts we decided to walk back down toward Soho and enjoy the post-rain sunshine. And yes, we sang Here Comes the Sun while doing it.
In Soho we found Liberty, the department store on Carnaby Street and popped in to snag some cute Christmas souvenirs for the siblings, and a little ornament for ourselves. The whole street was ready for Christmas! As an American, I don’t think I’ve gone into full Christmas mode yet since we still haven’t reached Thanksgiving, but Christmas is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year so all this holiday cheer brought me so much joy. After shopping, our feet had had enough. We dropped into a coffee shop for tea. We took some leisure time just sipping our tea and after adequate rest, walked back out only to find a Christmas market (!!), located in Leicester Square. Finally, we headed over to Burgers and Lobster to meet up with some good friends who live in this great city. They literally only serve burgers, lobsters, or both, which is kind of awesome. We stuffed our faces then went back over to Palace Theatre for the second part of the Harry Potter play. No spoilers here, but you should go.
Our very last stop of the night was a cute ice cream shop called Udderlicious, recommended by our friends at dinner. I was hesitant to walk in the rain for the ice cream, but I’m glad Andrew convinced me. We shared a blueberry plum scoop that gave me the sweet taste I needed to end the night. Tired, happy, and full, we tubed ourselves home and fell asleep, ready to head over to Paris the next morning.
London was a gem, a surprise, exactly what I needed to kick off our Europe trip and just tons. of. fun. I already want to go back because even though we did so much, I felt like there is still so much more I want to do. From Shoreditch to Soho, each area of London was special and beautiful. Paris was next, more to come!