Would you believe that I've been all over Europe but had never set foot in London proper?! I've transited through the Heathrow airport many times but had never spent anytime in the grand city just outside of it. This year, for what seems to be my annual winter birthday trip, I had decided that it's time to check London off the list and my friend Noreen from NYC was up for meeting me there.
I landed on an early Monday morning and fortunately, the Clermont Victoria Hotel was nice enough to allow me to check in early where promptly after, I hopped on the on/off London bus tour for about 3 hours while I waited for Noreen's arrival. I will say that the big streets that the bus tour takes you through is a very different experience than the quaint streets and lanes of the various neighborhoods. Once Noreen arrived, we set out on our first of many neighborhood self walking tours. First up would be Chelsea. The sun would start to set around 4pm and so our experience of Chelsea was seen during the settling in of dusk.
The next day, we ventured off to the neighborhoods of Kensington, Notting Hill, Primrose Hill and Camden. Kensington is what I would consider the old money neighborhood of London. The architecture and private gardens that surrounds the neighborhood makes this very apparent. While it lacked some of the charm of the other neighborhoods, I did speak regal.
For the sake of time, once we were done with out 2 hour self walking tour of Kensington, we hopped in a taxi and headed to the infamous Portobello Road in Notting Hill. In my mind, I had these idyllic imagery of the neighborhood being quaint and cute after all, the movie is one of my all time favorites. Real life Notting Hill was a big grungier than I had imagined. Tragically, the corner book shop that was the main feature point of the movie has turned into a cheesy movie tourist shop. I wondered why the city or the neighborhood didn't enforce that the property stay a book shop? Meanwhile, someone must have thought the same and capitalize on the idea by opening The Notting Hill Book Shop down the street. While strolling down Portobello road, you'll also see shops featuring the Notting Hill jacket which is inspired by the jacket that Julia Roberts is wearing in the movie where she goes to William's sister's house for a birthday dinner.
In the interest of time, after our time in Notting Hill, we hopped another friendly London taxi to Primrose Hill where we got a glimpse of the where seemingly many young families choose to reside with it's large park on the hill and quaint street of shops. Real estate was noticeably a bit lower priced in this neighborhood than the rest. Shortly after, we made our way to Camden and walked through the many stalls of the Camden market. What a night and day feel between Primrose which is literally down a canal to Camden. If I had to compare Camden to a neighborhood in San Francisco, it'd be a cleaner Haight Street or Pacific Beach in San Diego. It's definitely the grungiest part of London we had visited during our time there.
The next morning, we started off in Soho before venturing into Covent Gardens. How does this Soho compare to the Soho in New York? It's cleaner for a start and that is what I would say about all the neighborhoods in London. While it felt like New York in some aspects, it was definitely cleaner and classier. The picture above is of Neal's Yard which is probably London's current most instagrammed lane but in person, it's much smaller.
I don't know how London operated before but current London is cashless everywhere. I paid about 95% of my transactions via Apple Pay and only took my credit card out twice. The tube was clean and people were respectable. While I am sure pick pocketing happens, you wouldn't really know it on the London tube.
While our visit added some great memories, we've agreed that London is too expensive to do for a more prolonged period of time especially when it comes to eating out. Sitting at a restaurant is an automatic 20% tax and a 12.5% gratuity tip added on to the bill. We had our best meals at a place called Dishoom (definitely go there for breakfast) and Palomar but I can't tell you when I will be back. Maybe I'll transit for a day through London and stopped by Dishoom for one of their breakfast naan sandwiches! Maybe next time, I will look the right way of the street for traffic as somehow, I managed to look the opposite way even with a the direction painted in front of me!
On the flight back, I watched every movie that United featured London in: Notting Hill, Love Actually and Last Christmas. It was a delight being able to recognize the streets and locations now while watching some of my all time favorite films. Until next time...!