Europe at 30 Part I: London

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

 "We Wander for Distraction, but We Travel For Fulfillment"-Hilaire Belloc

London, April 2015
Pub on the way back to my hotel in London's Kensington neighborhood. April 2015

I knew that for my 30th birthday I wanted it to be different from any other birthday. Not solely because it was 30, but because I hadn't traveled abroad in nearly four years, and my dream has always been to just take random solo trips around the world. So in early 2014 I began thinking of all the places I wanted to go: Berlin, Austria, Paris, Australia, Morrocco...the list was growing endless. Eventually, after scouring the travel sections of bookstores and endless pins on Pinterest, I chose London and Barcelona. I had visited London several years ago in 2005 as a severely broke college student traveling with my older brother. I think I had a total of $800 to my name and no idea what currency conversion meant at the time, apparently. I thank my brother that he was the reason I was able to sample little more than KFC and Subway my entire trip.

London I was familiar with, and I was beginning to hear so much about Barcelona. I could bump into anyone on the street and just at the mention of the city their eyes would roll back and close gently, the way one does when reminiscing about a great meal or a great kiss. Even the sales associate at TJ Maxx was telling me about her honeymoon in Barcelona being one of the most memorable parts of her wedding. So needless to say I was incredibly excited about this choice. And to top it off, three of my good girlfriends had decided to join me on the Barcelona leg of my trip. But London I was all set to re-explore on my own. And as a planner I'm still surprised at how little if anything I actually planned throughout my trip. And it turned out to be one the best decisions I made while traveling.

I had forgotten how many friends I knew lived in London. During the course of my trip I would catch up with four of them, plus one incredibly fierce and inspiring designer named Gabrielle Smith who runs the The NuBlack. She and I met via social media years prior and it was our first time actually meeting in person. I can't express how great it feels to meet someone whose work you admire online, and be able to connect with them and admire their personality in person. Gabi was an awesome guide, and gifted me with one of my favorite mementos from the trip: a Vivian and Claire poster that she designed herself.

To back up just a hair, I want to mention that I flew to London via Iceland Air, and it was hands down the best airline and flying experience I've ever had. Iceland Air treats you like you're sitting in first class even though my ticket was clearly coach. The flight was incredibly smooth and quiet, and was the first five hour flight that I wasn't incredibly antsy to end. Definitely making sure future trips to Europe are made via their services. Even Iceland's airport was amazing. In fact, my first "selfie" in Europe for this trip was taken in the airport's restroom, that's how ice it is. I kid you not. Have you seen it?? Gorgeous.

From Iceland I arrived in London and spent the first day under the influence of jetlag, and so I slept for hours. My second day I walked a few blocks to the Kensington neighborhood and was sure I had slipped into a pastel Victorian daydream. Could the architecture really be this stunning? Could the detailing on doors and signs be any more charming? Surely not, I thought. And then I arrived at Hyde Park and am pretty sure lost my breath for a few minutes. All I wanted to do on this trip was wander and explore areas I had not seen on my trip nearly 10 years ago. And London made sure my eyes were never without stimulation.

Strolling through London's Kensington neighborhood on the way to breakfast, London, April 2105

I indulged in food from Ottolenghi, the vegetarian restaurant I have been pining after for years every since having read about the owner Yotam Ottolenghi in The Guardian years ago. I can't remember exactly what I purchased because my eyes were the size of grapefruits when I walked in, so I asked the very handsome server to dish up whatever he recommended. I recall roasted red peppers, quinoa, and some sort of salad with a lemon and vinaigrette sauce. And dessert was a little pastry with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. I remember because it was all over my pants by the end of my meal :)

On one particular day I met with my friend Gabi in Brixton, where she showed me around the awesome outdoor market Brixton Village. I cannot believe how spoiled I was by the offerings of this place, and felt a tinge of sadness when I knew coming back to D.C I wouldn't be able to find a place with a similar open concept, and every turn down a side street ripe with more restaurants and vendors selling fresh seafood, fruit, and bowlfuls of handmade noodles. Before I met up with my friend, however, I randomly met another black American woman traveling alone. And for her 40th birthday! She also happened to be from Baltimore! How small and yet mighty our world is, indeed.

Meeting fellow American Cheri in London's Brixton area, April 2015.

Lovely fuscia chairs outside a restaurant in Brixton Village, London, April 2015
The bulk of my days in London were filled with long strolls, sitting at cafes for hours catching up with my old college friends who I am beyond thankful to know and still keep in touch with, late night dinner under a London sky with a long-time friend I used to intern with. After 7 years of staying in touch via Facebook we connect in London randomly! Our dinner at a Parisian restaurant was one of the best memories of that trip. (Miss you, Jennifer!). I did a little light shopping, but my memories are really wrapped in the clear sky and unseasonably warm weather that saw fit to bless my trip. It was nearly 70 most days!

On my last full day in London I met up with my former couchsurfer Amelia! Last summer in an attempt to meet more people from around the world I decided to open my home to couchsurfers via the site Couchsurfing (that post coming up soon!), and Amelia was on the first people I hosted. She was fantastic, and we had a wonderful week in DC and Virginia hanging out like old friends. So I was really thankful when she came down from Bristol to show me around London's popular Camden neighborhood. How was Camden not on my list of places to see?? I didn't know about it. Shows you how lax my travel plans were haha. We ate at Caravan's King Cross for breakfast, and then feasted our way through Camden's many food stalls the rest of the afternoon.

If you'd like to see more photos from the trip, they're all on my Instagram account under the hashtag #europeat30.

Part II: Barcelona is up next!

Roasted tomatoes, bacon, eggs, and portobello mushroom breakfast from Caravan King's Cross, London, April 2015.

Really cute bakery in London's Notting Hill, April 2015.

So many cute doors! On the walk to Notting Hill, London, April 2015

Cote Brasserie. The site for my hours long catch-up with an old college friend in Piccadilly Circus, London, April 2015


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