london, a love story: sunshiny days, good friends, ‘loads’ of pints, and 1000 reasons to return

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” – Samuel Johnson

As I promised (threatened?) last week, I have lots to share with you about our trip to Europe.  I actually somehow managed to find the mythical end of my camera’s (fairly massive) memory card, and spent a good chunk of this past weekend sifting and sorting through nearly one-thousand images. (Most of which was done on a Saturday evening spent in my PJs on the couch – old and moldy lady who?)  I’ve finally shrugged off the jet-lag that comes with an 8 hour time differential between Rome and Boulder, and though we enjoyed ourselves more than I can remember in recent memory, the trip was the type that was so chock full of absolutely everything we were looking forward to, I actually felt OK with boarding the return flight that would ferry us back to our homeland (versus the dramatic pouting and crying that I normally pull).    How often does that happen?

For me — never.  The first leg of our trip was kicked off by arriving at Heathrow airport just in time to catch London’s inhabitants scurrying off in every which direction during the tail end of rush hour.  Having boarded our flight from Baltimore on Tuesday evening at 9PM Eastern time, we had gone through the always-difficult-to-comprehend time warp that happens when one hopscotches ahead through time zones, and touched down after a six hour flight at 9AM UK time – twelve hours later.  With six hours having disappeared into thin air, shaking the sleep out of my head was surprisingly very easy; sure it only felt like three in the morning to me, but in front of me lay a country I’d never been to before, it was a balmy seventy degrees, and it was blindingly sunny outside.  For someone who had taken up a considerable amount of suitcase real estate with wellies, a sturdy jacket, and less than high expectations for Summery London weather in March, I had the genuine feeling that the city, she was giving us a warm welcome.

We hopped on the Tube (which, embarrassingly enough, I was very excited to ride) and took the Piccadilly line (again, and embarrassingly, I gave out a little ‘sqee!’ when I read the word ‘Piccadilly’ – why must NYC subway lines have such dowdy lettered titles?!) which brought us directly to the Covent Garden neighborhood, where we were staying.  The area, although generally very busy and home to many theaters and large shops, has many charming side streets and a very low skyline, making it feel much quieter than I expect it has a reputation for being.  Though I gathered it was almost akin to New York’s theater district and midtown area, our hotel was tucked away on Neal Street, a cobbled little road lined with boutiques, cafes, and coffee shops.  We stayed at The Covent Garden Hotel - a comfortable but stylishly appointed boutique hotel that I cannot recommend more highly.  Very centrally located, it is owned by the same company as the Crosby Street Hotel in New York (whose terrace I used to frequent for Summertime cocktails), and more than lived up to our expectations, being the absolute perfect place to rest our heads for a couple of nights.  The small touches of a boutique hotel are my favorite, and here they did not disappoint: an amazingly helpful and friendly concierge, wonderful bath products by Miller Harris, cool modern artwork and adorable stationary, and an in-house restaurant called Brasserie Max that was not only convenient for lunch one afternoon, but also incredibly delicious.

Though there are a litany of things I can tick off that the guide books dictate we were supposed to do – like witnessing Changing the Guard at Buckingham palace, visiting the Tower of London, or perhaps going on some sort of wild Wills and Kate wild goose-chase – we decided on a bit of a different approach.  Having lived in New York for almost seven years, we had never crammed aboard an overcrowded ferry to motor past the Statue of Liberty or wrestled the masses for a $30 elevator rode to the top of the Empire State Building, and I had no desire to spend my two days in London weaving and bobbing amongst those dreaded guided tour groups in the hurried fog of a go-go-go sightseer pace.  Instead, I wanted to actually see the city, and really get a chance to meet her: to talk to her people, to eat her food, to take in her smells and sights, to soak up her generously warm days, and to drink lots of pints in lots of her famed pubs.

And we did just that.  We set off totally on foot, forgoing the Tube for a bit of walking to partially offset the contrite-but-nevertheless-delicious platters of fish’n’chips I knew I would be indulging in.  We walked down Carnaby Street, we bumbled through Piccadilly Circus, we ambled lazily through gorgeous Notting Hill, and down the winding cobbles of Portobello Road.  We stopped in too many pubs to count, thus consuming too many pints in the process, and chatted up locals at every opportunity.  We had a fantastic lunch in Mayfair at an outdoor cafe called Aubaine (of tender octopus carpaccio and meltingly sweet beef cheeks), and shared a bottle of white wine while the verdant sunshine was busy tinging my bare shoulders to a rosy hue.  As we walked, I snapped away, and looked every bit the tourist I had been striving to avoid while climbing into one of the characteristic red phone booths for a photo op.  But I didn’t care.

Maybe it was all those pints.  

Our first evening, we met our good friends Ian and Lucy, who are Baltimore transplants lucky enough to experience living in London for just over a year now.  Seeing a city is always that much better when you have good guides, and we were treated to a wonderfully curated evening courtesy of two of the best.  Our first stop was Anglesea Arms in South Kensington for early pints (natch), where we were met with a throbbing crowd of young people quite literally spilling out the sides of the pub and into the streets.  The pub culture here truly does not compare to anything I have seen before; even though it was a Wednesday evening at five o’clock, the sidewalks of the storied streets were brimming with overflows of energetic and happy people tipping back massive glasses of beer, laughing jovially, chatting, and dissecting their days.  We managed to elbow our way inside (and even secure a table!), and settled in for a few moderately cold pints of Fuller’s and Guinness while taking in the scenery.  (‘Cold’ beer in America means something entirely different than ‘cold’ beer in Europe – a concept that takes some getting used to!)   After drinks, we headed to a seasonally inspired restaurant down the street called Bumpkin where I had an excellently cooked piece of Scottish salmon, and we were able to catch up a bit more quietly over glasses of red wine at a cozy table in the back corner.  The evening was wonderful, capped off with a stop in at a local favorite bar, and finally ending with us flopping down gratefully into our thickly padded bed.  This was the kind of London I came to see, after all; the kind where I was actually surrounded by the stacked and varying degrees of friendly British accents, and not by the blinding flashes of other tourist’s cameras.

We continued the next day casually sightseeing on our own terms – a plan that was only moderately stunted by a bit of jet lag catching up with us.  The beds in our hotel were so (so!) cushy and comfortable, the room became a black hole of sorts when the darkening shades were pulled, and I shrieked when I fumbled for my watch and saw it was one o’clock – in the afternoon.  I know we needed the sleep, but I would be damned before I saw us miss the opportunity for another fantastic lunch in the city.  Unlike many places in the United States, most restaurants in Europe only serve lunch until 2 or 2:30, and then bar snacks [if anything at all] until dinner service begins that evening.  As much as I am generally happy with bar snacks, I was not about to forgo the chance to eat somewhere fun and new in London.  Not wanting to overlook the fantastic restaurant we had just down one flight of stairs, we decided to sit outside on Neal Street, at Brasserie Max, and had exactly the type of lunch we needed to ditch the lingering lag.  Fried mackerel and fat hand cut chips with housemade tartar sauce for me, a juicy porkchop for he, and hearty salads for us both – along with a tip or two of white wine – had the life back in us in short order.  We spent the afternoon exploring Hyde Park, taking in the heady floral scent of all of the new blooms on the warm breeze, basking in the sun, drinking Pimm’s cups, and pointing out the houses that we would want to live in – you know, if we had an actual reason to move across the pond, and a spare several million pounds lurking around in our couch cushions.

Totally reasonable, I know.

Our final evening in the city we met up with some of James former colleagues, who are an incredibly funny and kindhearted group of guys.  They had all brought their wives, girlfriends, and fiances along, and treated us to an insanely fun night out at one of the city’s newest hotspots: Novikov Restaurant.  Of course, before dinner we met up for the obligatory pint (a practice that, after only two days there, I know I like), and continued on to an incredible spread of sushi, seared meats, dumplings, sashimi, and noodles at supper.  We finished out the night by heading down to the subterranean lounge for some amazing people watching, and found an excuse to extend our bedtime into the wee hours.

Big cities are interesting places; you either feel like an alien, walking around lost and confused, or feel strangely calm, as the throbbing energy of so many cultures and languages draws you in and holds you close.  I loved – love - London.  It felt amazing to be back in a big city with so many different twists and turns and areas and opportunities, even if only for a short visit.  Because she is such an old city, her skyline is low, and she never leaves you feeling like a rat trapped in a maze, as I often used to lament about certain areas of Manhattan.  The streets are  mostly cobblestones, and the lack of any real ‘grid’ or reason to the placement of the narrow roads makes you feel as though you are always in a village – never really in the middle of a major metropolis. And then, there are the people; the wonderful and fabulously welcoming people.  Her inhabitants are so friendly, so eager to ask where you came from and where you are going, and most have a sense of humor that I honestly admire.  I found Londoners to be very authentic, humorously self deprecating, good natured, and so very genuine, and felt very lucky to fall in the company of such wonderful friends, and strangers.

As we headed to the train station that would take us out to the countryside, I made James promise to me a thousand times over that we would come back.  I know that we were treated to some unusually amazing weather, and that life isn’t always full of bouncy dinners with friends, hilarious conversation, tons of pints, and lazy weekday strolls, but something about London really spoke to me, and made me feel very much at home – very happy.  

{snips of the city}

{lunching / octopus carpaccio / beef cheeks in dijon sauce}

{blue skies for miles}

{toe bows / streetscapes /tube}

{chilled white at lunchtime}

{sweets, londonstyle}

{piccadilly circus}

{pub stops / bike lines / street corners / outdoor hideaways}

{wrought iron / double deckers}

{hyde park}

{in full bloom}

{catching just the right hour in hyde park}

{on foot}

{a bubbling soundtrack}

{discovering hyde park}

{so much to take in}

{a touching monument to animals who have lost their lives in times of war}

{i couldn’t resist – to the chagrin of one husb}

{welcome}

{covent garden hotel elevator art}

{a fine feathered friend}

{when you drive on the left…you must always look right}

{a pint here / a pint there}

{blooms, by the pound}

{pops of springtime}

{in love with our hotel stationary}

{a proper pour}

{a wateringhole}

{after a long walk, an oasis}

{fullers for her, guinness for him}

{flowers / horsemen / decorated windows / fantastic kebabs}

{would love to have known what lie behind}

{an arcade, in orange / mayfair}

{indeed}

{lunchtime: covent garden hotel}

{baby lettuces, pancetta, poached egg, dijon vinaigrette}

{fried mackerel & chips / maple brined porkchop}

{fried chicken, mache, chili vinaigrette}

{anticipation}

{exactly.}

{transport of choice}

{canary on carnaby}

{miller harris scents}

{ranunculus}

{a perfect pimm’s cup}

{pub wisdom}

{sunshiny evening}

{pimm’s + 75 degrees = ldn evening bliss}

14 responses to “london, a love story: sunshiny days, good friends, ‘loads’ of pints, and 1000 reasons to return

  1. Cory, I absolutely LOVE your account(s) of your trip. Keep ‘em coming, I am a big fan. Can’t wait to read the next one.

  2. As always Cory, a lovely account of your adventures! Much love to you both, Ali xx

  3. Hi Cory! I will travel vicariously through your trips. You have a wonderful way of making everything feel like we’re right there.
    Great photos.
    Patrice

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  5. I clicked on this, having read & enjoyed your post on Positano. Again – such cool photos & a beautiful description of London, which makes me very proud. I’m inspired to pick up my camera, jump on the Tube & enjoy my surroundings – so easy to forget how stunning and characterful London is when life gets in the way. Thank you!

    • thank you so much for your sweet comment! i am very envious that you live there – i totally fell in love with it, and already cant wait to return. i hope you are having a wonderful spring there…and thanks again for stopping by!

  6. Fantastic blog! by far one of the most interesting and inspirational I’ve seen! you’ve certainly piqued my interest in international travel, cuisine, history and culture! I have some new goals to reach!!

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