HELLO LONDON!!! This QU-EEN is Back!
Last time was too short, not even a full 24 hours spent in this city and so I’m happy to report I finally listened to the CALL OF LONDON! I booked one week in England for the first leg of my Christmas Holiday, 5 nights in London and a day and half visiting my dearest friend Sophie a little south in Maidstone. My first observations upon exiting the Underground on December 21st were: THE CHRISTMAS ELVES GOT TO WORK IN LONDON decorating the entire city with spectacular lights of all shapes and mostly gigantic sizes. I brought my warm yet comfortable walking boots, and you should too because my first piece of advice when exploring London is. . .
1. WALK, WANDER & GET LOST
I started the very first night. Even though I was tired from flying and the evening was cold, Brrrrrrrr, I went in search of food. After a lovely Indian Meal I was energized for some walking. I began to wander when a tipsy but cheery guy who wasn’t a local recommended I check out the lights on Regent Street. As I walked just a few more blocks in the same direction cheery tipsy guy was headed we had a great discussion about if working extreme hours to the point of killing yourself in pursuit of a lot of money/big paycheck is worth it. In the end can you really be happy living life like this? He was honest about the fact that he makes tons of money but hates how hard he works and how little vacation he gets, how little time he has to do things he wants to do. That’s one of the reasons I left the U.S. in November 2015. That’s one of the reasons I left a job I hated, because all the money in the world cannot make you LOVE YOUR LIFE or LIVE IT IN THE TRUEST MANNER listening to heart and mind. I told that guy on the streets of London that night to find something that makes him happy then, and he agreed he probably should, laughed as tipsy people do and ran to join a group of people dancing in the street to the music of some local street performers. Other beautiful and lively Christmas areas you can and should explore are Oxford Street, New Bond Street and the Covent Garden and Mayfair Boroughs (zones of the city).
2. VISIT A MUSEUM (most of them are FREE)
I hit up the TATE MODERN and SAATCHI GALLERY. . . just 2 of the dozen or so museums London has to offer. Something that I loved about this was not being in a rush when visiting. I got to move through the rooms and exhibitions wherever my curiosity took me. Both of these happen to be Modern Museums, so there were some really innovative and also wacky pieces and exhibits of ART, but there is definitely something for everyone. The standout exhibit in the Tate Modern for me was African Adventure by Jane Alexander, whose work ‘addresses different histories of European engagement with Africa’. I was mesmerized in that isolated room where her installation was. It spoke to me, everything from the expressions on their faces to the red earth sprinkled across the ground recalling Africa. I was paralyzed for some moments thinking about how much we have taken from that continent; collectively foreign nations have taken so much from Africa. I was really moved by her art. Take a look for yourself if you get a chance to visit London, or research this South African artist.
3. GO FOR AFTERNOON TEA
I like to channel my inner Downton Abbey character whenever I drink tea with milk the English Way, so of course London had me feeling all kinds of CHEERIO DARLING. . . and since it’s not often that I act a proper Lady I channeled Maggie Smith while with my Brit friend Sophie at AFTERNOON TEA. She chose the spot at Saatchi Gallery ***and also pre-booked a reservation. For 20 British Pounds per person you can enjoy delicate sandwiches without the crust, your choice of tea and a delectable variety of desserts including my favorite British invention: THE SCONE!! How they do me soooooooo right with this simple yet superb dessert!!! The clotted cream is especially sinful, paired with jam and enjoyed atop a scone, but indulging in this treat after all that walking in London means I don’t have any regrets. Pictured below is a DEVONSHIRE CREAM TEA= SCONE+CREAM+JAM. As a Brit once told me, “It’s all about the order”, and that’s my preferred order. The best part though was catching up with Sophie, my friend from last school year in LUGO, Galicia, España. She’s a Brit who, like me, had ventured away from home to teach English for some years in Spain. She left me though!! She’s back home in the UK and although I sorely miss her presence and our reunions and many tea sessions in Lugo I am happy that she’s happy back in the motherland. And I’m happy that I have a friend in the UK for future visits I plan to make. Surely I’ll be back. Thanks for experiencing my first proper Afternoon Tea with me and for choosing a lovely spot. We headed to check out the galleries after; free entrance in the Saatchi museum makes for a fun, cultured and affordable activity in London.
4. DO A FREE WALKING TOUR
I was given a map at Gatwick Airport that had Strawberry Tours free walking tours advertising and I’m so glad I decided to give them a shot. You have the option of doing any of their tours in English or Spanish. They offer a variety of tours that take you to see the monuments and such, but I opted for something different, something thrilling. I went on the JACK THE RIPPER TOUR! Holy Crap it was a fascinating tour. I was lucky that I got a guide that wasn’t interested in the showy aspects, in the hollywood exaggerations, he let the facts of the Jack the Ripper Case speak for themselves. And they were terrifying facts. We walked at night throughout the EAST END OF LONDON where all these crimes took place. He gave us facts, only what is confirmed from evidence in the case. I highly recommend Alex’s tour, and he works as a guide for Strawberry Tours where the get paid in tips. So that’s what a Free Walking Tour is, an opportunity to see and learn interesting things and you can Tip the guide whatever you can offer at the end of the tour. Could be as much as little as you want based on your experience. A couple days later I took the STREET ART TOUR with the same company and had a different guide. I don’t remember his name but he offered a good tour as well. The only critique I have is that he was rushing through the facts and we rushed from site to site so that he could show us the most art in the allotted time. We saw great street art in the city (East End and Shoreditch neighborhoods). I have included some favorites of mine below.
5. SEE A PLAY AT THE THEATRE
Remember, the British have the legend of SHAKESPEARE to live up to, which is why this city is a hub for the theatre. I hadn’t thought of seeing a play here; I was sure tickets would be very expensive. . . My friend Sophie suggested one to round out our night after Tea and the Saatchi Gallery and I’m really glad she did. Early in my exploration of London by foot I happened to walk past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre along the River Thames. I felt as close to the great playwright as I could ever be and reminisced about my high school years studying Macbeth and of course Romeo & Juliet “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O, that I were a glove upon that hand That I might touch that cheek!” Some of those quotes just stay with you, forever ingrained. How entertaining it must have been to be in the Globe witnessing such a raw form of live theatre in Shakespeare’s day. Sadly the Globe is closed for the season and reopens in Spring when the weather is more forgiving, but I have been told it’s a great place to see outdoor theatre including many of Shakespeare’s classics.
Sophie picked out: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time for our night at the theatre. This play had everything. It was heart-warming and touching, funny and clever, well-written/acted/designed too, just a perfect way of ending any night in London. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but it is based on a novel with the same title whose protagonist and narrator is a 15 year old boy with Asperger Syndrome or Autism. It is an empathetic story whose final scenes of the play left me in tears. I would highly recommend if in London, you seek out this play. I was also gifted the novel for Christmas, which I recently started reading. So in summary: I HIGHLY RECOMMEND BOTH!!
6. IF YOU VISIT NOTTING HILL: GRANGER & CO. RESTAURANT IS A MUST FOR BRUNCH!!
Foodies, if you like BRUNCH or food in general, or heaven disguising itself as PANCAKES more specifically, then you absolutely have to hit up: Granger & Co. It was on a few lists that I looked over on google, so I had written it down the in my travel notebook. I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to Notting Hill which is further out from the center of London and not really walking distance from SOHO borough where my hostel was, but I caught the train early on my last morning in London and got to walk around gorgeous Notting Hill. I passed by George Orwell’s flat (author of 1984 one of my favorite novels) and took it as a good sign, Universe always reminding me along the way that it has my back. I walked around and looked at the colorful houses whose style and feel were unique to this part of London. I made my way over to Granger & Co. for a final meal in the city, and OH MY BRUNCH!!!!!! I arrived at a line that wrapped around the building, hungry and eager Londoners waiting for a precious table at this restaurant. I popped in line and was lucky because being just a party of 1 they seated me at a table faster than you could say Ricotta Cheese Pancakes. . . although once inside I ordered my food and a cappuccino and finished my drink before my food came out much later. But THOSE PANCAKES are the BEST THING I ATE IN MY ENTIRE WEEK in the UK. Hand’s Down. But you don’t have to take my word for it, go and try them yourself and then thank me later! PERFECTION!!
Another food spot I recommend you try out is at Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden. This isn’t just one restaurant but a group of vegan/veggie- friendly cafes and restaurants all next to each other on a little street called Neal’s Yard. If you happen to be in the UK during Christmas/holiday season then you MUST MUST MUST have a minced pie, warmed up if possible. And if you would like to taste typical British cuisine, go for the Full English Breakfast (pictured below on the Right though not veggie-friendly guys).
7. DON’T BE AFRAID TO VISIT SOLO/ALONE
It was a bit hard to come to terms with this being my second Christmas away from familia and it was also a little surreal to realize it would be my first Christmas holiday spent 100% SOLA. The way things turned out, I had to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day ALONE IN THE CITY OF LONDON. . . I know what you are thinking: How LONELY! How SAD! What?! No loved ones or friends!? I did my best not to focus on feeling like I was missing out on some big celebration somewhere else, or missing out on being cozy by a fire or cozy in someone’s arms. . . I really focused on being PRESENT in the city of LONDON; I focused on how GRATEFUL I was for choosing such a visibly cheery city to spend my first Christmas SOULA (traveling alone for the soul). I also had quite a few passing conversations whilst on holiday in London likely because I was Alone. Sometimes people talked to me first, other times I felt compelled to ask a question and then shared some really lovely moments with locals & foreigners alike. I met Michael, a street artist playing a beautiful instrument native to Africa, or Brasil; he told me they have a version of this instrument all over the world. I was walking at a normal pace towards the Tate Modern and his music stopped me in my tracks. I stood to enjoy until the song finished and when I went to leave him some coins we just struck up a 20 minute conversation. We talked about his holiday plans and his love of music. He was just a really cool dude that I was really happy to meet. Here is a link to his Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/search?q=rabimsha where you can hear him jamming on that instrument.
On Christmas day I asked a lady about her Mulled Wine that she was drinking outside a pub. I hadn’t had much contact or really any conversation this day because shops and public transport were closed and less people were on the streets. But finally here was someone who looked like she was enjoying the fresh air drinking something warm and festive too, so I bought myself one (I had been meaning to try one since I arrived 4 days earlier) and enjoyed it with her. Angela was really friendly. She was a book illustrator in London which I found fascinating. What a cool job! I believe that I will one day write a children’s book and illustrate it myself. ***So perhaps another sign from the Universe!! She answered my questions about what London was like 20 and 30 years ago. She said it has certainly changed over the years/decades, but she still loves this city and particularly that neighborhood of Bloomsbury where we met. She told me she was bidding for her next job, to illustrate a special edition of Dracula. I wished her luck and we parted ways when we both finished our wine. It’s these travel moments that make me appreciate traveling SOULA/SOLA/ALONE and that stay with me long after the trips are over.
I had one other serendipitous Christmas encounter with a group of tipsy Mexicans, an Irishman and a singer/guitar player from Chile. Instead of simply enjoying their rendition of FELIZ NAVIDAD for a bit, I was invited to join them on Christmas Eve right there on the streets of Shoreditch. We talked and talked, sang songs and drank beers. I haven’t been that spontaneous in awhile. I wasn’t planning anything like that and I’m so grateful that the Universe allowed me to feel connected to my Latino Roots and my Mexican Roots that night when I was missing my lovely Mexican family celebrating Christmas Eve in LA. The older and wise Mexican of the group said I was from México Tomado (Taken Mexico) because California is in fact part of the U.S. that was Taken from Mexico in 1848. Some say it was a cession, but come on, who are we kidding. They welcomed me as one of them that night and it’s something I will remember for years to come: singing Christmas songs, cantando canciones en español también, and sharing with beautiful souls who were willing to share a good time and some cheer with me who was so very far away from loved ones and friends. HOW MAGICAL / QUÉ MÁGICO!!
British author ROALD DAHL reminds us to…
“Watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in MAGIC will never find it.”
I believe I am the MAGIC, and you, and you are the MAGIC. And together, WE ARE THE MAGIC throughout the whole world! Copenhagen for New Years post is live and also a post on taking a day trip into Sweden’s city of Malmö. 4 Seasons of Berlin post is live, and also a Coffee Lovers Post: Berlin Edition!