London | A Simple-Beauty-Seeker City Tour
I am finally back in Tangier and part of me is content with swinging back into a routine, especially with this perfect spring weather blowing across the mediterranean, but the other part of me wants to stay on the move. The electricity of travel is still sparking in my veins and I can’t help continuing to lust over Pinterest photos, city names and calls for international dance workshops. I also keep revisiting all of my pictures from this last trip to London, wondering how soon I can go back again.
In my personal experience, London is a place that loses its charm when you live there, with its over-crowded indifference and pause-less pace. However, I have recently found that when you have had a break, read too much British turn-of-the-century literature and re-romanticize the entire country, coming back gives you that little thrill all over again.
The beauty in revisiting a certain place at different times in your life is that you find new sparkling things in the details that you may have overlooked before. Both my friend Aida and I arrived in London filled with nostalgia, since weirdly we happened to have lived there in similar periods of our lives. Despite seeing ghosts of our old selves in long-forgotten corners, we were steadfastly determined to create and enjoy new adventures this time around.
It turns out that it is perfectly lovely when you find a travel companion who shares your interests and curiosities. We both appreciate the simple things. I always feel like when I am somewhere different, the haze of everyday life is lifted and suddenly I have the capacity to see every little moment as delightful. The food tastes even better, painted doorways and alleyways look as if they were curated just for our appreciation, and company is all the more welcome and close-held. With that in mind let me present a very unofficial and pretty casual guide to London as explored by two beauty-appreciating, slightly-instagram-obsessed, foodie, long-deep-conversation-loving women.
Morning at the Borough Market.
As memory serves, I visited this beautiful market during my last week living in London back in 2012, but being a novice solo traveler and quite a bit more shy than I am now, I felt too self-conscious about being alone and didn’t work up the courage to blatantly take advantage of free samples or buy myself a treat. Not only have I changed since then, but I think the market has changed quite a bit as well. It is a lot more trendy than I remember and stuffed with so many amazing shops, stands and food. I was determined to find this bakery that I had heard so much about through my London foodie research, so I dragged Aida around until we found a humble sign for Bread Ahead Bakery, perched on top of piles of delicious fresh loaves, pastries, and rows of cream-filled brioche donuts. I chose a salted caramel honeycomb bomb of deliciousness and Aida chose a classy + creamy vanilla custard. I kid you not when I say I still daydream of eating these to this day.
Because eating a donut in the morning without coffee is not an option for me, I had heard rumblings that this place around the corner called Monmouth Coffee had the best cup in town, but apparently this was true for everyone. There was a line around the block. We decided not to waste our limited time so instead I got a perfectly delicious americano from an Italian Gelateria, 3bis, next door.
Afternoon in Chelsea.
After a short walk by the wind-swept Thames and some mediocre Chinese food in china town, we headed to the ritzy Chelsea area to do some window shopping and tried to resist actual shopping in the gorgeous design store, The Conran Shop Ltd. Even if it is out of your budget (as it happened to be for us), it is like walking through a museum of aesthetically pleasing objects.
Since at that point our feet were pretty sore and we were getting shopped out, we stopped in a beautiful, airy cafe in an impressive old building called Cafe Bibendum for an amazing raspberry tart and a cappuccino.
Afterwards we stumbled on the South Kensington Bookstore, just as we had both been mentioning how much we wanted to find some good reading material on this trip. I tried to stop myself from going crazy, due to unfortunate luggage restrictions, but ended up going home with three books anyway.
It just so happened (as the lovely fate would have it) that Aida and I had a mutual friend living in London who we didn’t know was a mutual friend until just several months ago. We caught a glimpse of his studio (serious workspace goals) and then happily followed along for a tour of Brick Lane, stopping for some mouthwateringly delicious dumplings and Chinese chicken in The Boiler House Food Hall. The bustling, hip, and just a little bit grungy area eventually paved neatly out into sleek office buildings, where us three artists/design nerds stopped to take a photo of this giant golden window. Some locals walked by and looked mystified as to why three people were taking a picture of something so mundane.
At the heart of this business-driven neighborhood we found our landing point, the Barbican Center, the largest cultural center of its kind. After wandering around the shop, me lamenting about how I had no more space in my luggage for those two extra books that I needed, we wandered down to the Barbican Kitchen for a light lunch, a coffee and one of the best slabs of nut & seed packed carrot cake that I have had in a while. If I happened to live near this restaurant, I would probably be there daily, with a laptop in front of me and a slice of carrot cake to my right.
The final full day in London was a bit of a whirlwind, starting quite early to get my tired legs all the way to a dance class at The Place. It ended up being so incredibly worth the effort of getting there, but I’ll save the dance talk for another post.
Naturally, after a hardcore class I was absolutely starving by the time I found Aida in the train station, so we went on a hunt for her happy place- a great Malaysian food restaurant. We found one that she remembered from several years ago called Satay House, where I let her do all of the ordering. I truly cannot believe I have never tried Malay food before because it is so good. It has the richness of Indian and yet some similar flavor palates to Thai. If you have never tried it, you should, and if you are in London, this is the place you should probably go.
Lulled into food comas, we couldn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon, especially since our ankles felt like they were coming loose from the sockets, so we made a brief stop at a place we had both been excited to see, The School of Life. Ever since I picked up The Art of Travel, I have been a huge fan of Alain de Botton, his books and his endless wisdom. His two appearances on the On Being podcast are so insightful (listen here and here), and we were both thrilled to see the little place where many of his conceptions are held.
Aida had to go meet her in laws for dinner at the end of the day and I was still feeling a bit heavy from lunch, so I decided to get a nourishing dinner of all of those healthy hippie foods that I crave when I’m in Morocco. I devoured this miso macro plate at The Good Life Eatery and went to bed content and full of so many delights.
Near the end of our all-too-short trip, Aida asked me which was my favorite part and in all honesty, I had trouble answering. Not because we didn’t do anything special, but because we didn’t really do anything big or touristy. We simply walked, wandered, enjoyed, relished company and small moments, so that in the end it all came together as one sparkling, inspiring and refreshed experience of a city.