A Weekend in London

This past weekend, we made a trip to London and stayed with a friend in Notting Hill.  The flight between Bologna and London was less than two hours, but it felt like we had travelled much further.  If we weren’t surrounded by British accents, we might have thought we had returned to the US.  The people were speaking our language.  There were Starbucks.  There were burgers.  There were fries (well, they call them “chips”).  There was Mexican food.  And ice cream.  And we saw Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian restaurants.  We didn’t realize how much we missed all of these foods until we were surrounded by them and found ourselves gawking at the menus in restaurant windows (except for Starbucks… we don’t miss that).

   

We had each been to London before and had seen many of the main sites.  So on this trip, we explored the city a bit more carefree and a bit more like a local might.  Don’t get me wrong.  We did more touristy things in one weekend than a local would likely do.  But as we were choosing our itinerary, we focused less on making a list of sights-to-see and more on choosing activities that we enjoy doing on a regular basis having faith that we’d see the city as we went.  Here’s what we did:

Eat

One of our top priorities in terms of planning was deciding where to eat.  After three months of deciding between THAT Italian restaurant or THAT one, we were excited to take advantage of London’s gastronomic diversity and eat as much non-Italian food as possible.  Top on our list was eating a burger, so we headed over to Bukowski Grill in Boxpark, a pop-up mall constructed out of shipping containers.  I had the vegetarian burger and Luke had the day’s special, a burger with meat patty + pork cheek.  They were beyond delicious and definitely quenched our burger craving.  Friday night, after a coin toss between Indian and Mexican, we grabbed some tacos (purportedly the best in London) at Taqueria in Notting Hill.  Saturday day, we indulged in a variety of foods at the Portobello Market (including a Ghananian stand).  Saturday night, we offered to take our hosts to dinner as a thank you. They picked pizza.  We’ll forgive them because they saved us hundreds of pounds in hotel expenses (and the pizza was pretty legit).

Burgers @ Bukowski Grill, Unit 61 Boxpark, 4-6 Bethnal Green Road (Shoreditch)
Tacos @ Taqueria, 139 Westbourne Grove London (Notting Hill)
Ghanaian & more @ Portobello Market, corner of Westbourne Grove & Portobello Rd (Notting Hill)
Pizza @ Luna Rossa, 190/192 Kensington Park Road (Notting Hill)

     

Visit the Market

Visiting a local market is one of my favorite things to do while travelling.  It’s free.  It’s great people watching.  And you’re generally guaranteed to find some good street eats.  We scoped out the Portobello Market in Notting Hill and took advantage of its many tasty looking food stands (Ghanaian rice and stew, tomato & mozzarella crepe, carrot cake muffin, & apple strudel shown below). Had we had more time, we also would have checked out the Borough Market near London Bridge, Malty Street Market, and/or the Camden Market.

  

Bike

London has a great system for public bike rentals (with an iPhone app that helps you find & return bikes).  We rented bikes both Friday and Saturday.  The first day we did a loop around Hyde Park and then rode back to our friend’s place in Notting Hill.  The second day, we rented bikes in Notting Hill, rode through Hyde Park, and then winded our way down residential streets until we crossed “the River” (as the locals call the Thames).  As we rode through the residential streets, I soaked in the rows of beautiful homes, their style, and their colors.  I love the city’s palette of cool colors in contrast with the striking white trim and bright front doors.  I love the mix of old and new.  I had the urge to stop on nearly every corner and take a picture, but we pedaled on.

After we crossed the Thames, we biked along South Bank until we reached the Tate Modern museum.  Along the way, we took in the sights of the city, including Big Ben and the London Eye.  We didn’t find the Thames Path, a pedestrian walkway that runs along the River, to be super bike friendly.  We were met with stairs, closures due to construction, and a lot of pedestrians.  So we biked most of the way on the road which runs parallel to the Thames Path.

Nap

By the time we reached Tate Modern, I was ready for an afternoon pisolino (nap in Italian) and started scouting for a decent spot to lie down.  To my surprise, we found a crowd of people napping and relaxing in the small yard in front of the museum.  I am likely biased by the good nap and the fact that the weather was at its prime (after two days of gray and rain), but I have to say, this was my favorite part of the trip!  The museum also had a couple of snack stands set up outside, one selling BBQ and beer, which would have been a good addition to our international eating mission had we been hungry.

       

Visit Museums

Most of the major museums in London are free, so it’s easy to pop into a museum to check out an exhibit or two and then escape when you’ve had enough of the camera-toting crowds.  On Friday, we checked out the British Museum, where we saw the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian sculptures, Roman treasures, an ancient chess set, and an exhibit on the history of clocks and watches.  On Saturday, we went to the Tate Modern Art Museum, where we saw a £50M diamond-studded cast of a human skull and an exhibit featuring Surrealist techniques.

Details

Where we went: London, United Kingdom

How we got there: Bologna-London Stanstead on Ryan Air.  Then we took the Stanstead Express train from Stanstead airport to the Liverpool Underground station (about 45 minutes and $35).

Where we stayed: With a friend in Notting Hill & at the Holiday Inn Express @ Stanstead the night before our flight

Where we ate: Burgers @ Bukowski Grill, Unit 61 Boxpark, 4-6 Bethnal Green Road (Shoreditch)
Tacos @ Taqueria, 139 Westbourne Grove London (Notting Hill)
Ghanaian & more @ Portobello Market, corner of Westbourne Grove & Portobello Rd (Notting Hill)
Pizza @ Luna Rossa, 190/192 Kensington Park Road (Notting Hill)

What we heard: “Rubbish anyone?” from a RyanAir flight attendant
“Cheers” from someone I held the door for

What we think:  Despite two out of three days of damp weather, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in London.  It’s a beautiful city that won’t disappoint whether you are looking for things old or new.  Its museums and buildings hold a mind boggling amount of history, while its store fronts, streets, restaurants, and bars have plenty to please for those with modern tastes.  The dreary weather and high costs would probably keep us from becoming locals ourselves, but we will gladly visit whenever the opportunity arises.

Now, I must learn how to make burgers like Bukowski at home for when the cravings return…

London Resources 

Time Out London – online guide to events, attractions, culture and going out in London.

Time Out’s 100 best dishes in London 2012 -you can browse the list by food category, check out Chefs’ and bloggers’ picks, or view where the dishes are located on a map.

Context Travel’s 36 Hours in London- By a Londoner

NY Time’s 36 Hours in East London

{Blog} Parla Food – Katie Parla is a Rome-based food blogger, but has many posts about food in London.  The link I included is for posts tagged with the category London. My favorite posts were Burgers at BukowskiFavorite Meals and Destinations of 2011A Guide to London Dining, and Kappacasein’s Toasted Cheese Sandwich

{Blog} The London Foodie – I stumbled across this blog after our London trip, but it appears to have a plethora of London restaurant reviews organized by type of food & neighborhood.

{Podcasts} Rick Steves London Podcasts: I enjoyed the podcasts titled London Travel Tips I, London Travel Tips II, and Affordable London

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2 thoughts on “A Weekend in London

    1. ciaobologna Post author

      Thanks! Luke’s legitimately napping in that pic, while I was the stealth photographer. You can see his feet look a tad more relaxed than mine 🙂

      Reply

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