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Visiting London in a week-end for the first time

Here’s how we made the most of our weekend in London. We arrived on Thursday night and left at lunch-time on Sunday. This itinerary is great for those visiting London for the first time but also eager to experience something more typically Londoner than only its famous touristy spots.

Valeria lived in London for years, so she knows pretty well her way around it.

1 – Arrival

Arrival in the evening, stay at apartment/hotel. We stayed here at Sophie’s, in the heart of Angel/Islington which was perfect for 2 couples.

2 – From Tower Pier, to the Parliament and Oxford Circus

Take the Original Tour, or any other tourist buses or public buses, and tour around London to eventually get off at Tower Pier. Here get on a boat and get off at Charing Cross Pier. Walk around Embankment, the Parliament and Big Ben, then take Whitehall, where you’ll find Downing Street no. 10 on your left, and arrive to Trafalgar Square. Continue to Covent Garden, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, and Oxford Circus. Take a tube or Uber to Camden Town to check out the foumous Camden Market, or go shopping in Oxford Street/Bond Street.

3 – Portobello Road, Hyde Park and Buckingham Palace

On Saturday it’s great starting off at Portobello Road Market for plenty of street food, or a lovely brunch in one of the many cafes. Valeria’s favourites are Cafe 202, and Granger & Co, although it always has a long queue.

When it’s warm enough, consider renting one of London’s bikes around the Portobello/Ladbroke Grove/Notting Hill area. You can cycle from there until the bike stand nearby Whole Foods Market in Kensington, where you can buy some food for a picnic in Hyde Park!

Alternatively, from the Portobello area, walk all the way to Trafalgar Square. It might seem a long walk but actually, done little by little, it’s very enjoyable. From Portobello go through Notting Hill Gate and walk towards Hyde Park. Approaching Hyde Park and Kensington Palace, take Kensington Palace Garden, where all the embassies are. There are patrolled gates on both ends of the road, making it perfect for pedestrians, or those cycling.

After the park, either go to Harrods, or to the Natural History Museum. Later, walk to Buckingham Palace, and reach Trafalgar Square where you can also visit the National Gallery. Museums are free in London which is pretty special.

In the evening, dine at a gastropub, or watch a musical in the West End.

4 – Columbia Road Flower Market through the canals

Take the footpath on the canal around Angel and reach Columbia Road Flower Market on foot. You’ll find plenty of flower stalls making you feel like taking everything with you for how fresh and gorgeous the flowers look! Towards the end of the market you’ll also find some food stalls where you can have a quick bite.

It’s already time to return home unfortunately..! Take a Uber back to your apartment/room, or go back straight to the airport.

Budget

London can get very expensive on a weekend, although it varies depending on where you decide to stay and eat. We decided to share an apartment and ate in mid-range restaurants. In terms of transports, being 4 people, we chose Uber over the tube most times. Overall, it came up to around 400 euro per person, excluding flights. Half the budget went into the accommodation, the rest for transports and food.

Transports

The easiest and cheapest way to move around London is by public transports, tube and bus. There are many options in terms of tickets, but the most convenient is using Oyster Card, a magnetic card that you can use on all transports, ferry included, and work as ‘pay as you go’. With an Oyster Card you top up a certain amount of money that will be deducted as you use the transport system by ‘touching in’. The maximum amount that will be taken for limitless use in zone 1-2 is £6.60 per day. It works this way: money will be deducted for each single journey every time you touch in, until you reach the £6.60 cap. An ordinary daily ticket will instead cost you £12.30, so you can see how this it’s more convenient.

You can buy an Oyster in one of the main tube stations in London during the day. Alternatively, you can also buy it online beforehand to save time and hassle. If you do so, order it well in advance to avoid problems with the delivery. For 3-4 days get a £30 card.

Tips

Try an English gastropub for dinner, we went to Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge nearby our apartment.

London is the most happening place in Europe in terms of musicals and theatre offering: definitely go for it! You can book in advance online, and although the best prices are for week shows and matinees, you can still find good deals on weekends. Another option is checking out last-minute theatre deals in person, at the Tkts ticket booth in Leicester Square. The best discounts are on the day of the performance.

 

 

My ex London

Every time I go back to London, it feels like meeting up with an ex. It’s awkward at first, then something clicks and you I’m drawn by what charmed me when we first met. For a moment I think something is still there, music starts playing. Ultimately, I understand I’m are either a different person, or I simply remember too well all that I don’t really like about it.

Indeed we have shared a prolonged engagement. I have been seduced by the language, the culture, the amazing melting pot, the intricateness of the stories of the souls that arrive and leave like falling leaves in autumn.

I moved to London when I was 20, bursting with energy and ready to take it all. I wanted fight, to find my own way and create a new life for myself. I met more people that I currently recollect, and I never felt as lonely as surrounded by the crowds. Life in the city has been as exciting as alienating, to finally become balanced and stable.

For a person that loves travelling, it’s where it feels natural to be. A myriad of nationalities, languages, customs and oddities come together. English culture as contour, but in reality, it’s a constant interaction between continents: from India to Europe, taking a detour to Australia, glimpsing a bit of Africa and breathing Atlantic breezes.

To me, London is the most cosmopolitan town in Europe, with plenty of stories to tell. A once was capital of the largest empire in history, to a country that is still struggling to find its own modern identity. And please forgive me London, I forgot to say you are pretty, and indeed prettier than Paris.

The outcome of this is somewhat scruffy and colourful, democratic and inclusive: how can you not feel free in such a context? But just at first. Later on, you realise that for such complexity to coexist, there is a lot of polite exclusion and class divergence between the lines. Despite superficially welcoming all visitors, in the long run London reminds you too well you don’t quite fully belong there.

Somehow, the electoral Brexit results have been anticipated in my stomach, and one day I woke up and I knew that between London and me it was over. Shockingly, for the fist time in my life, I desired returning home.

For sure, over the years, priorities have changed. Things I could have never imagined wanting, are now at the hearth of how I decide to live my life: better quality of life, family around. But I also know that what felt amazing 10 years ago, turned, slowly, into something I started to despise. The tube, the crowds, the weather, how easy it was to meet people and forget about them.

At a certain time, London felt like a city of the 20 something, to a point that it became weird. Even if there were other age groups around me, somehow they still acted just like ‘us’. They still shared apartments and rooms, considering whether to stay or to go back, they still got wasted on weekends. As if they were frozen in their 20s, condemned to live like this over, and over, again.

What got me out of London, though, was the awareness I didn’t belong. I didn’t feel any ancestral connection to the place after all, and I realised I was only a temporary guest. In the meantime, my dad got sick so I felt the urge of re-connecting to those roots that were at my very core.

Now that I re-visited London over a lovely weekend with Luca, his father and companion, I know London it’s still the same old town with the same old tune: instead, I’m the one who changed. Despite this I look at London with great affection for all that we shared, as little by little it became part of who I am.

 

 

Turning 60 in London

A trip with special people. The first flight, the first visit abroad and a birthday to celebrate: all this in 64 hours.

I wished my dad’s 60th birthday was special, simple people feel intense emotions, bringing my dad and his partner to London was simple, but believe me, very emotional.

We worked hard so that his partner could see a European town, something she dreamed about for a long time.

They were looking around, studying, getting excited, asking questions, just like kids eager to learn. For them everything was new: the language, the culture. Yet, they managed to deal with it well and were left with more energy compared to us!

We visited London with one of the typical tours, The Original Tour, and we showed them the attractions this magically hectic city offers.

Based on their request we took them to Buckingham Palace, where they got disappointed, just like we expected, seeing a massive grey building, the same colour of its city’s sky.

Things got better though. Trafalgar Square was closed due to a protest against the NHS, and in this surreal atmosphere, like Vanilla Sky the movie, we watched the changing of the guards at the Horse Guard Museum. We saw two adolescents getting ecstatic. My dad’s eyes were the ones of a happy child, his partner was filming everything, including the spectators heads.

I don’t want to talk about London, it’s a place that most people already know, but I’d like to suggest a few great picks that Vale had prepared for us thanks to her years as Londoner.

Brunch at Cafe 202 in Notting Hill. Industrial design meets fashion, medium prices, fast service, great plates of food with British classics and interesting re-visitations.

Dinner at Riverford at The Duke of Cambridge, in Islington, the only organic pub in Britain. Pillars of English cuisine such as duck and lamb, as well as Middle Eastern inspired options like humus, or African couscous. Excellent quality of produce, easy-going environment, popular between locals spending their night playing cards over a drink or two. Medium price range of about 30 euro each excluding wine/beer.

Walking on London’s canals, and Columbia Road Flower Market on Sunday morning: you’ll be charmed by this place. Since we stayed at Airbnb rental in Angel, we got there directly on foot, grabbing breakfast in one of the cafes on the way.

As usual the weather and the sky of my beloved Northern Europe has given its best, with 4 seasons in 24 hours, something more to experience for our travel companions.

Overall, I spent 3 intense days, happy and carefree.

I was looking at my dad adapting, what men can do best, and at last, I saw a man away from work, that has taken away a bit of his life. I was noticing TRAVELLING, this amazing passion and attitude of Vale and I, opening up his eyes and enriching the soul, like only the world seen from a different perspective can do.

I saw a person struggling with her personal health battle, to make a dream come true, and it was priceless.

I travelled with all my family for the first time of my life and it has been a unique experience.

Thank you Vale.

 

 

London