We'll start at the beginning, in London, under a dark gray sky at dusk. I snapped a few photos on our walk to the hotel the night we arrived, views that almost made me forget I had a fifty-pound backpack strapped to my back. Almost. As I made my way across the bridge to our hotel I told myself I need to invest in grown up luggage, proper luggage, with wheels. We dropped our bags and found dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant close to midnight. With a belly full of roasted potatoes and sautéed garlicky spinach, I slept like a log on a fifth floor hotel room, on a very firm mattress, with the noisy streets of London beneath me. It felt good to be back.
It had been nine years since I was in London. A high school friend was studying abroad in Spain and I was studying in Ireland. We decided to meet up for a weekend in November. Since we planned our trip over email, or maybe it was instant messenger, there was some miscommunication over the times our flights would arrive. Needless to say, I spent Thanksgiving eating packaged triangle sandwiches at Heathrow airport. We bunked up in a hostel with a well stocked bar. It had this sort of over-the-top club scene they took very seriously, though not as seriously as replacing the empty toilet paper rolls in the communal bathrooms. Dance music pumped through the walls all hours of the night and the only water that fell from the shower was ice numbingly cold, which doesn't exactly work well after a cold rainy day. When we talk about this trip now, my friend and I, we can't help but burst into hysterical fits of laughter, the kind that makes your eyes tear up. We've told these stories so many times I think they've become more embellished over the years.
This trip was an entirely different animal. I went to London with my mother whom I can only describe as having an unimaginable amount of frenetic energy, waking up at five am regardless of the time change. She hits the ground running and can easily outlast me on my best day. I was prepared for an overzealous and hectic pace. London also has this energy about it. I knew they would get along. So we stepped out the next morning, street map, tube map, and guide book in hand. Our hit list was long and my excitement squelched any feelings of jet lag. Our first stop was a stroll through Borough Market along jars filled with flowers, ripe produce, and baked goods. We easily spent an hour taking in the smell of baked bread and melting cheese, walking from table to table admiring mini tarts, jams, and mustards.
Later that afternoon, I was on my own personal frenetic mission to find Ottolenghi in Notting Hill. I've long been admiring the gorgeous full-page photos in his newest cookbook. I haven't yet cooked from it yet and I should. The shop had such a gorgeous display of vibrant salads; it was difficult to choose between them. We sat on a stoop in front of a colorful street corner dipping sourdough bread into roasted garlic butterbean hummus. My takeaway container was packed to the brim with four different salads, including roasted butternut squash and red onion with tahini, za'atar, pine nuts, and parsley. Lunch at tibits is also a favorite of ours, a restaurant we first became acquainted with in a Bern train station on a previous trip to Switzerland. We ate there twice this time around, finishing off meals of falafel, curry, crispy potatoes, and couscous salad with sticky toffee pudding. Their version of this classic British dessert made with maple syrup and dates, was made a little healthier than the original, one I wouldn't mind trying to replicate in the near future.
We took a walk to Trafalgar Square and visited the National Gallery the next day. It's really one of London's best finds. With free admission, or a small donation, and no line, we got up close and personal with Van Gogh's sunflowers, Rembrandt's self portrait, and Monet's Japanese Footbridge. A night of bright lights in Piccadilly Circus followed afterwards.
We experienced our share of double-deckers and black cabs. We pushed through crowds to see the changing of the guards and took a few goofy pictures in red telephone booths. At the end of the two days, hundreds of 'mind the gaps,' two blisters, and a dozen of empty tea cups later, I'd say we gave London our best. It was good to us.