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Jolene goes to London

As I briefly stated in my Toronto post, I did not begin our European adventure in the best mental health. When I returned and some of my friends asked "how my trip was," I had to be honest and let them know that while in its entirety it was incredible, London was a bit of a struggle for me. Despite it being my favorite, I arrived in London full of emotional and physical stress, making my time a little less enjoyable than I anticipated. This doesn't mean it wasn't enjoyable at all... it just means that my personal experience had a little bit of an additional raincloud over it.

Please note this blog will cover the 'travel' aspect of my time in London! All other food-related adventures will be part of another blog.

It's no secret London is my favorite city. Since I first stepped foot in this fast-paced city in 2014, no other city has captured my heart in the same way as London has.

The more I travel and the more cities I visit, the more I realize just how harsh of a place London is. It's fast, it's direct, it has its own expectations of you. London was once described to me as "damp." That's right, simply... damp. There is an intimidating level of orderliness and no rulebook for visitors. Locals move quickly through the oftentimes chaotic tube stations, commonly exuding coldness when really they are just keeping to themselves. This is the city I love.

“It is difficult to speak adequately or justly of London. It is not a pleasant place; it is not agreeable, or cheerful, or easy, or exempt from reproach. It is only magnificent.” – Henry James

Wednesday, November 16- Thursday, November 17

We boarded our Air Canada flight from Toronto Pearson to London Heathrow, a slightly overwhelming but familiar airport. For those of you who do not know, LHR is not like LAX, in that it's not really located "in" London. Thankfully once we arrived a little less than 6 hours later (after an overnight flight), we took the Heathrow Express straight into Central London. The service is definitely pricey, but if you're like me and you've gone through the trauma of lugging your bags up and down tub station stairwells... the convenience is worth it, even with the steep price tag.

Our Airbnb was hosted by the same host we stayed with on our last trip to London, same neighborhood, same building, so we knew exactly what to expect. It was a lovely, spacious flat and I would highly recommend booking it if you are in London. Having a bathroom in each of the bedrooms was also quite a luxury we did not expect!

I also really loved the view from my bedroom:

Besides our Heathrow Express tickets, we invested in travel cards. I know that the majority of people will recommend top-off Oyster cards, but I've always found them to be a waste of money. "Topping off" means reloading your card depending on how much you are spending on each ride/trip - these prices can fluctuate heavily depending on demand, like during rush hour. It has always benefitted me to purchase a travel card, which only requires a one-time payment. All travel within the designated timeframe is included.

Friday, November 18

We had the most lovely breakfast over in the adjacent neighborhood of Notting Hill before heading off on our Harry Potter adventure.

After a few magical hours, we changed our clothes and got ready for the rest of our evening, which included a gorgeous afternoon tea at Hotel Royal Cafe. Head over to my London eats blog for the... tea if you know what I mean.

We spent the rest of the evening without a real plan - again, something that is uncharacteristically Jolene. I had a vague list of places we could see, but no concrete plans. The sparkling lights in Piccadilly Circus were mesmerizing, and we stopped with other tourists to take a breath for a moment. I'm sure a gaggle of tourists all looking up into the sky was quite a sight to behold, but it wasn't easy for us to peel our gazes away. Once we did, we were back on the tube and eventually found ourselves exiting at Knightsbridge and were greeted by the holiday glow of Harrods.

I am not a stranger to Harrods, and I am also not really a fan. I find it excessively large, difficult to navigate, and unnecessarily chaotic. Historically though, I've found some of my favorite souvenirs in the lower food-related levels (teas, chocolates, etc.). This time we noticed Harrods was structured a little differently, with less souvenir offerings than we were used to. We weren't sure if it was a symptom of Covid adjustments, but we left Harrods lacking. At least the outside was beautiful and reminded us why we love London.

You might notice the prominent Christian Dior on the outside of Harrods - this is not something that appears every year. It just so happens that there was a holiday Dior collaboration going on. I personally liked it, and we got to participate in the Dior Cafe.

Our last stop of the night was the Southbank Centre Winter Market.

Not sure if I simply have an obsession with bodies of water, but I love walking by the Thames at night whenever I can, no matter how cold or late it is. Some of my favorite London landmarks are near the Thames, and I truly find magic every time I visit.

While I do not celebrate Christmas, I do enjoy some of its festivities and specialty foods. I love winter as a season, and there are plenty of overlaps with Christmas, markets being one of them. We walked across one of the bridges and visited the quaint winter market, full of vendors and young adults with hot drinks. Another checkmark in my Hallmark movie experience list.

We joined the masses with our own steaming drinks and found seating by a heater. We warmed our hands as we admired the lights and cheery atmosphere. I finally felt more like myself again, back in the city I love.

Saturday, November 19

Our last full day in London was a bittersweet one. On one hand, we had a few solid days and saw a lot. On other hand, those days felt like they flew by, and I had just begun to emerge from the dark cloud I had been under.

“London opens to you like a novel itself… It is divided into chapters, the chapters into scenes, the scenes into sentences; it opens to you like a series of rooms, doors and passages. Mayfair to Piccadilly to Soho to the Strand.”

– Anna Quindlen

Our only real plans for the day included our second afternoon tea reservation, this time at Sketch London, and breakfast at one of my favorite spots, Regency Cafe.

Bellies full and minds still recovering from the late night before, we decided to go on a little adventure before our tea reservation. The night before I left for Toronto, I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Jonas briefly (yes, that Joe Jonas) and he recommended a very specific neighborhood in London, along with a cute coffee shop that coincidentally shares a name with a new movie he is in. Well, when one of your favorites recommends something... you hop on a train and go.

Islington was exactly the type of neighborhood that I expected Joe to recommend - it was hip, but not obnoxiously trendy, and still maintained a quaint, low-key charm. Our first stop was Devotion Coffee, which required a wonderfully scenic and shop-filled walk from our tube stop. Again, Hallmark movie moment? Check.

We ducked in and out of boutiques and went shopping for records. It was the perfect sprawling English morning, but it came to an end when we made our way to Oxford Circus for tea.

When tea was finally done (it felt like an eternity, and not in a good way), again, we had no plans! Jolene, are you serious? You? No plans? CORRECT!

We ended up doing quite a bit of shopping around Oxford Circus, wandering further and further down the roads until we were near Fitzrovia. We grabbed some drinks at our favorite lounge, and just like that, our last day in London was over.

I'll admit, this particular time in London was very different from what I am used to. However, in hindsight (and while writing this post), I really realized that it was the perfect place for me to adjust and work through some of the struggles in my personal life. I do adore London; maybe my time there wasn't incredibly eventful, i.e. we didn't do major sightseeing like last time, but I can't imagine struggling this way anywhere else. My city was still there for me when I needed it the most.

Until next time,

Happy wandering!


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