While I was sad to say goodbye to my girlfriends in Manchester, I still had a full week in London to look forward to. While in London I would stay with three different friends and meet up with two more — and that was the full reason for my trip! See, I know I have a lot of UK-based and anglophile readers out there that I might alienate by saying this, but… I don’t really like London that much.
Blasphemy, say the London lovers! But hear me out. First, I can’t take the weather. These first few photos represent the only blue skies I saw in a week — that gray, drizzly weather day in and day out is just too much. Then there are a handful of minor annoyances, like the poor customer service, expensive prices, and the tube closing at midnight. But when it really comes down to it, London and I just don’t have chemistry. I don’t skip down the streets bursting with happiness or planning to move there, the way I do when I’m in Bangkok or Reykjavik or Phnom Penh or Glasgow or any other city I’ve really loved. When I left London after visiting for the first time last year, I turned to my then-boyfriend and said very honestly, “I really don’t care if I never see that city again.”
I guess not everyone can love every place.
But I returned to London, like I’m sure I will many times in the future, because I know so many fabulous people who live there. This summer I had a solid half-dozen friends based in the city, including three of my closest girlfriends from Koh Tao. I was so heartbroken to leave the island, the only thing that got me through was knowing I would be seeing my girls soon enough!
A regular phone booth…
So, you probably thought my not loving London was my big admission, right? Well I’ve got another confession. During my seven days in London I took a total hiatus from being a travel blogger. I mean, I was still doing my regular work and posting here, but I did barely an iota of traveling like a travel blogger — researching, running down post ideas, trying to plan my trip in a way that would make it interesting and inspiring to read about, etc. Nope. Instead I spent this trip eating, drinking, and catching up with friends. And it shows — After a seven day trip to Iceland I produced fourteen posts; after a seven day trip to London I produced three. Womp womp.
So you’ll certainly notice a different tone to this posts. It’s not a beautiful narrative or a tip-filled travel guide or an exploration of an exotic land. It’s simply a recap of my one week vacation in London. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s boring — I somehow found myself in some of the hottest and most exclusive bars in London, met a fellow travel blogger, and even witnessed an almost-riot. Just slap me if you ever find me complaining about my life.
versus several street art phone booths!
My first London host was Kat, my Koh Tao partner in crime who was back in London for a summer of weddings. Words can’t explain how happy I was to see this girl. Some of my most blissful Koh Tao memories involve our steak special dinner dates and laughing gas balloon binges, our days lounging beachside and weekends spent on trips to neighboring islands and big cities. I truly can’t picture what my year would have been like had I not met Kat.
One of our days was spent catching up with our mutual favorite person Freya, who long time readers will recognize from her amazing farewell festival from Koh Tao (she’s moved back home for good!) and from our time traveling together through Cambodia. Freya has been such an emotional rock in my year, I can’t begin to express what she means to me. It was so strange and wonderful to be reunited with my girls across the world from where we met.
Now, continuing my tradition of being befriended by the most interesting people on Earth, Kat worked as a restaurant and nightclub manager in London for years before giving it all up to move to Thailand and teach diving. She was once manager for the uber-exclusive member’s club Soho House Group, and her connections there got us in for a sneaky lunch at Soho House.
All Soho House properties have strict rules against cameras and phones to protect the privacy of the members — rules which Freya and I crudely violated, much to Kat’s horror. Truly though, I got a huge thrill getting a peek into the lives of London’s artsy elite. We had a delicious lunch in the dining room, drank cocktails on the rooftop patio and shared a laugh with the manager. This was a truly unique experience I was lucky to have — maybe someday I’ll have my own membership card!
Kat also took me on a fun (and boozy) tour of the trendy neighborhood of Shoreditch, an adventure which earned a post all its own, coming up this week.
My next big meet up was with a friend I had never actually met in person — Hannah from the brilliant Further Bound blog. If you’ve never been to her beautifully designed and written site, clear your schedule — you won’t be able to tear yourself away from her archives.
No matter how deeply you connect with someone through their writing, I think there’s always an apprehension about meeting face to face for the first time. But from our first glass of wine I felt like I was chatting away to an old friend, and by the time we were slamming back Guacamole at Cafe Pacifico I left that I had met my blogging soul mate.
Mid week I moved to Northern London to stay with my friend Louise, who I met on my first trip to Thailand in 2009. During our Open Water course together we bonded over a mutual fear of the water — years later, we’ve both been diving all over the world! I love my travel friendships — Lou and I haven’t seen each other in years but thanks to the miracle of technology and a shared passion for travel we’ve kept in close touch throughout the years.
Louise was a fantastic host, welcoming me into her beautiful flat, introducing me to her friends and taking me all around London. She’s truly an inspiration for me — she’s a hard worker at the top of her creative field, yet manages to hop the globe constantly. And frequently solo! When I get apprehensive about traveling alone, I think to myself WWLD? — What Would Louise Do, of course!
One of our big nights was the opening of The Shard, London’s newest tallest building.
The Shard at right
Louise is yet another friend with connections to Soho House — she’s a member — and so for the second time in one trip I entered a posh member’s only club and tried in vain not to look impressed when I rubbed elbows with minor celebrities and various members of the London glitterati. This time I was at the Shoreditch House location, selected for the rooftop pool’s perfect vantage point over The Shard. The much-hyped light show turned out to be the laughing stock of Twitter, but we had a great evening nonetheless.
On a more casual night, we went to neighborhood pubs, dogs welcomed.
Our final evening together was an epic one — continuing our pattern of vertigo-inducing evenings, it started with drinks at The Attic, located in the UK’s tallest residential building. The views extended over Olympic Park and were well worth hoofing it down to Canary Wharf.
Afterwards, we set off to the Bloc Festival, where we were promised a fun and star-studded outdoor music event. We arrived to find total mayhem and didn’t even make it through the gates, which I didn’t regret when the festival was soon after shut down by police due to riot fears and named “The Worst Festival Ever” by the masses. Day two was cancelled and all ticket fees were refunded — quite the drama.
We couldn’t stop laughing at our comedy of errors between the anticlimactic Shard opening followed by the police-shuttered Bloc festival. Luckily, our night was saved by drinks at a cozy bar who’s name I can’t recall. I hope I don’t let so many years pass again before the next time I see Lou!
Before I knew it I was off to stay with my final host, Suze. Suze is another one of my core group of girlfriends from Koh Tao, and also traveled with me through Cambodia. When I first arrived back in Thailand I didn’t have many friends and Suze saw that and scooped me right up. This is a girl who goes up to strangers on the beach and asks if they want to join her group — she can’t stand seeing someone lonely.
And the girl knows the way to my heart: a food market. We spent a morning wandering around Borough Market, sampling delicious dishes and marveling at cute stands and lovely packaging. Right in the center of town and free to enter, I can’t believe I didn’t come to Borough Market on my previous trip to London.
If you come here, you’ve got to come hungry. There were free samples galore — or as I call them, Broke Girl’s Dinner.
We also dropped by Old Spitalfield’s Market, though we didn’t check the schedule very well and most stalls were closed. Whoopsie.
On our final day together, Suze and I did the most interesting thing of all: We ate dinner and saw a movie. Yup, we are two wild and crazy world travelers! We did in fact stop by Stanford’s en route to the movies — it’s the world’s largest travel book store! I was in heaven and if there is one thing you can take away from this post — which I realize will be a struggle — it should be to go here. I mean, we also went to The National Portrait Gallery, which was amazing, but I hesitate to mention that and ruin my Worst Travel Blogger Ever streak from this trip.
Of course, I am somewhat exaggerating when I say I took the week off from travel blogging. I did end up going on two adventures that were so blog-worthy they earned posts all their own! So coming up this week look out for posts about my two new favorite areas of London.
Readers, do you forgive me for my lazy trip to London? Fellow bloggers, do you ever take a vacation from being a travel blogger and just plain go somewhere?