My London Confession
While I was sad to say goodbye to my girlfriends in Manchester, I still had a full week in London to look forward to. While in London I would stay with three different friends and meet up with two more — and that was the full reason for my trip! See, I know I have a lot of UK-based and anglophile readers out there that I might alienate by saying this, but… I don’t really like London that much.
Blasphemy, say the London lovers! But hear me out. First, I can’t take the weather. These first few photos represent the only blue skies I saw in a week — that gray, drizzly weather day in and day out is just too much. Then there are a handful of minor annoyances, like the poor customer service, expensive prices, and the tube closing at midnight. But when it really comes down to it, London and I just don’t have chemistry. I don’t skip down the streets bursting with happiness or planning to move there, the way I do when I’m in Bangkok or Reykjavik or Phnom Penh or Glasgow or any other city I’ve really loved. When I left London after visiting for the first time last year, I turned to my then-boyfriend and said very honestly, “I really don’t care if I never see that city again.”
I guess not everyone can love every place.
But I returned to London, like I’m sure I will many times in the future, because I know so many fabulous people who live there. This summer I had a solid half-dozen friends based in the city, including three of my closest girlfriends from Koh Tao. I was so heartbroken to leave the island, the only thing that got me through was knowing I would be seeing my girls soon enough!
So, you probably thought my not loving London was my big admission, right? Well I’ve got another confession. During my seven days in London I took a total hiatus from being a travel blogger. I mean, I was still doing my regular work and posting here, but I did barely an iota of traveling like a travel blogger — researching, running down post ideas, trying to plan my trip in a way that would make it interesting and inspiring to read about, etc. Nope. Instead I spent this trip eating, drinking, and catching up with friends. And it shows — After a seven day trip to Iceland I produced fourteen posts; after a seven day trip to London I produced three. Womp womp.
So you’ll certainly notice a different tone to this posts. It’s not a beautiful narrative or a tip-filled travel guide or an exploration of an exotic land. It’s simply a recap of my one week vacation in London. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s boring — I somehow found myself in some of the hottest and most exclusive bars in London, met a fellow travel blogger, and even witnessed an almost-riot. Just slap me if you ever find me complaining about my life.
versus several street art phone booths!
My first London host was Kat, my Koh Tao partner in crime who was back in London for a summer of weddings. Words can’t explain how happy I was to see this girl. Some of my most blissful Koh Tao memories involve our steak special dinner dates and laughing gas balloon binges, our days lounging beachside and weekends spent on trips to neighboring islands and big cities. I truly can’t picture what my year would have been like had I not met Kat.
One of our days was spent catching up with our mutual favorite person Freya, who long time readers will recognize from her amazing farewell festival from Koh Tao (she’s moved back home for good!) and from our time traveling together through Cambodia. Freya has been such an emotional rock in my year, I can’t begin to express what she means to me. It was so strange and wonderful to be reunited with my girls across the world from where we met.
Now, continuing my tradition of being befriended by the most interesting people on Earth, Kat worked as a restaurant and nightclub manager in London for years before giving it all up to move to Thailand and teach diving. She was once manager for the uber-exclusive member’s club Soho House Group, and her connections there got us in for a sneaky lunch at Soho House.
All Soho House properties have strict rules against cameras and phones to protect the privacy of the members — rules which Freya and I crudely violated, much to Kat’s horror. Truly though, I got a huge thrill getting a peek into the lives of London’s artsy elite. We had a delicious lunch in the dining room, drank cocktails on the rooftop patio and shared a laugh with the manager. This was a truly unique experience I was lucky to have — maybe someday I’ll have my own membership card!
Kat also took me on a fun (and boozy) tour of the trendy neighborhood of Shoreditch, an adventure which earned a post all its own, coming up this week.
My next big meet up was with a friend I had never actually met in person — Hannah from the brilliant Further Bound blog. If you’ve never been to her beautifully designed and written site, clear your schedule — you won’t be able to tear yourself away from her archives.
No matter how deeply you connect with someone through their writing, I think there’s always an apprehension about meeting face to face for the first time. But from our first glass of wine I felt like I was chatting away to an old friend, and by the time we were slamming back Guacamole at Cafe Pacifico I left that I had met my blogging soul mate.
Mid week I moved to Northern London to stay with my friend Louise, who I met on my first trip to Thailand in 2009. During our Open Water course together we bonded over a mutual fear of the water — years later, we’ve both been diving all over the world! I love my travel friendships — Lou and I haven’t seen each other in years but thanks to the miracle of technology and a shared passion for travel we’ve kept in close touch throughout the years.
Louise was a fantastic host, welcoming me into her beautiful flat, introducing me to her friends and taking me all around London. She’s truly an inspiration for me — she’s a hard worker at the top of her creative field, yet manages to hop the globe constantly. And frequently solo! When I get apprehensive about traveling alone, I think to myself WWLD? — What Would Louise Do, of course!
One of our big nights was the opening of The Shard, London’s newest tallest building.
Louise is yet another friend with connections to Soho House — she’s a member — and so for the second time in one trip I entered a posh member’s only club and tried in vain not to look impressed when I rubbed elbows with minor celebrities and various members of the London glitterati. This time I was at the Shoreditch House location, selected for the rooftop pool’s perfect vantage point over The Shard. The much-hyped light show turned out to be the laughing stock of Twitter, but we had a great evening nonetheless.
On a more casual night, we went to neighborhood pubs, dogs welcomed.
Our final evening together was an epic one — continuing our pattern of vertigo-inducing evenings, it started with drinks at The Attic, located in the UK’s tallest residential building. The views extended over Olympic Park and were well worth hoofing it down to Canary Wharf.
Afterwards, we set off to the Bloc Festival, where we were promised a fun and star-studded outdoor music event. We arrived to find total mayhem and didn’t even make it through the gates, which I didn’t regret when the festival was soon after shut down by police due to riot fears and named “The Worst Festival Ever” by the masses. Day two was cancelled and all ticket fees were refunded — quite the drama.
We couldn’t stop laughing at our comedy of errors between the anticlimactic Shard opening followed by the police-shuttered Bloc festival. Luckily, our night was saved by drinks at a cozy bar who’s name I can’t recall. I hope I don’t let so many years pass again before the next time I see Lou!
Before I knew it I was off to stay with my final host, Suze. Suze is another one of my core group of girlfriends from Koh Tao, and also traveled with me through Cambodia. When I first arrived back in Thailand I didn’t have many friends and Suze saw that and scooped me right up. This is a girl who goes up to strangers on the beach and asks if they want to join her group — she can’t stand seeing someone lonely.
And the girl knows the way to my heart: a food market. We spent a morning wandering around Borough Market, sampling delicious dishes and marveling at cute stands and lovely packaging. Right in the center of town and free to enter, I can’t believe I didn’t come to Borough Market on my previous trip to London.
If you come here, you’ve got to come hungry. There were free samples galore — or as I call them, Broke Girl’s Dinner.
We also dropped by Old Spitalfield’s Market, though we didn’t check the schedule very well and most stalls were closed. Whoopsie.
On our final day together, Suze and I did the most interesting thing of all: We ate dinner and saw a movie. Yup, we are two wild and crazy world travelers! We did in fact stop by Stanford’s en route to the movies — it’s the world’s largest travel book store! I was in heaven and if there is one thing you can take away from this post — which I realize will be a struggle — it should be to go here. I mean, we also went to The National Portrait Gallery, which was amazing, but I hesitate to mention that and ruin my Worst Travel Blogger Ever streak from this trip.
Of course, I am somewhat exaggerating when I say I took the week off from travel blogging. I did end up going on two adventures that were so blog-worthy they earned posts all their own! So coming up this week look out for posts about my two new favorite areas of London.
Readers, do you forgive me for my lazy trip to London? Fellow bloggers, do you ever take a vacation from being a travel blogger and just plain go somewhere?
I love that you managed to catch up with so many people from your travels. That’s one of the benefits for me of living in London. And it looks like you had a great time! Soho House twice in one week – you lucky lady!
Yup, once at Soho House and once at Shoreditch House — I felt like the most well-connected lady in town!
I think it’s great to take a break from blogging sometimes and we have done it in Mexico. We spent four days in Mexico City just enjoying ourselves, and not thinking of possible stories for the blog at all (even though we stumbled across one, but that was unplanned :D)
I don’t miss the London weather at all but looking at all your photos made me kinda ‘homesick’ (even though I am not from London, but it was our last permanent address) – especially the photos from Borough Market! We lived only one stop from that market and I loved sampling cheeses and other yummy stuff there on Saturday mornings. And Stanford.. sigh.. that’s where we spent hours mapping out our trip around the world 🙂 Love that bookstore!!
Looking forward to reading more about your time in London (Shoreditch – yay for East London!!)
Okay, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who takes breaks sometimes 🙂 Usually, being a travel blogger makes me a better traveler, but sometimes I just get so burnt out.
London is growing on me slowly and I’m sure I’ll return again and again due to its location and the high concentration of friends I have there. As far as places to live though… if I’m going to live in a Western world city, it’s going to by NYC!
You’re still traveling and blogging, what’s the difference. Good to meet up with friends along the way.
Glad I’m getting a pass from everyone 🙂 Feels good to take a break!
I am not a London fan whatsoever! Glad I’m not the only one, though it looks like you had SO much fun!!!!! What awesome pics, even though you were taking a break. I can’t stop looking at those mojitos at the Soho House. Yuuuuum!
Ah, Soho House was amazing! And I too am glad to hear I’m not the only non-London lover 🙂 I always just feel like I might as well be in NYC if I’m going to be in a big English speaking city!
Yeay – I totally forgot about that photo! I was so happy to finally meet up with you (and yes, we are totally blogging soul mates!). I had a great time and look forward to crossing paths with you again soon 🙂
Me too! So glad I annoyed our waitress and asked her to take it, hah! Thank you SO much for coming into London to meet me! Maybe some day you can show me around Brighton!
Funny thing is, I like to let travel happen. I plan extensively what I want to see but otherwise I like to let things just happen. I don’t worry about missing the “touristy” spots because frankly, half of them don’t interest me – I dislike museums, aquariums, and other random buildings. So most of my travels I try to spend having a local let me into their life. I say try because some people find me intrusive, I find myself curious. SO its great you had friends to show you the city in a way you would never see it on your own, even if you HAD planned it as a travel blogger would. Glad you enjoyed visiting your friends and I have to pipe in – minus the weather, London does no wrong for me. But we can’t love everywhere we visit, that is true.
Ha Chrystal I would probably drive you mad if we traveled together 🙂 I LOVE to plan, I think it’s half the fun! But I also love to see how locals live. That’s what I’m doing right now in Hawaii, staying with friends, and I’m having such a great time!
Hi Alex, I’ve been reading your site for a while but have yet to comment but after reading this I just had to! My bf and I currently live in London and are getting ready to set off on our RTW trip in March. I absolutely Love London and am going to be so sad to leave…it’s interesting to hear from someone who doesn’t share my love for London, even it does completely baffle me! Glad you saw Borough Market though, it’s on my list of things I love about London: https://www.ourbigfattraveladventure.com/2012/09/17/i-love-london/
I feel that way when people tell me that they don’t love New York City — it’s heaven on Earth for me! But different strokes for different folks, I suppose 🙂 Thanks for commenting, chime in again!
I LOVE the idea of having “chemistry” with a city. It’s just so… right and true and accurate. The best cities really are the ones that you have an inexplicable romance with, aren’t they? Happy to hear that Phnom Penh is on your much loved list – I must agree! 🙂
I’m glad that resonated 🙂 I wasn’t sure I was being very descriptive… it’s hard to explain what I don’t really like about London but I feel I owe people an explanation considering what a beloved city it is!
I agree with the prices in London… they’re outrageous! The markets you went to look beautiful though, I would love to check those out the next time I’m there. Also Stanford’s looks pretty cool.
Stanfords is a must for future London visits! And stay tuned… I have another great market post coming up!
I lived in London for three years, and very much have a love/hate relationship with that city. Mostly love though, especially Borough markets, so glad you got there! Summers in the various parks or by the Thames are pretty spectacular (when there’s sun) and I love the British sense of humour. Aah memories…
I didn’t know you lived in London! I agree on the sense of humor though.
I knew you were going to say you don’t love London as soon as I saw this post’s title. I’ve been three times and it’s one of my favorite cities, but in all fairness one of my best friends lives there in a lovely flat right in the city center… so I’ve been a bit spoiled. The city that I just can’t seem to love is NYC… not my ‘spirit animal’ as I call it. Thankfully the world is a big place with something for everyone.
See, New York City is total bliss to me! Different strokes 🙂 However I can totally see how a friend with a front and center flat would enhance one’s view of a place!
Don’t apologize! You really need to take time off now and then… you’ve just gotta live life and can’t write about everything all the time otherwise you’ll burn yourself out and travel will become and means to an end instead of something you enjoy and look forward to.
Loved your London tales… looks like a fantastic time.
I think the reason I am so chronologically behind in blogging is because I really DO write about almost everything I do! Ha. Definitely nice to have just a few posts from a week instead of two dozen 🙂
Everybody needs a break every now and then, and blogging is no difference to any other job in my opinion. I understand your feelings about London. I have worked there for 7 years and it ripped the soul out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I love its history, the buildings, the flea markets and Borough Market (those meringues look amazing). But the weather, the grumpy people, the busyness and shitty transport system really made me despise this city more than once.
That’s true… most Americans get two weeks off per year, so let’s count this as one of mine!
Never knew London had such interesting phone booths. Totally random but are you a part asian by any chance? You look exotic but very western at the same time.
It is SO funny you ask that because I was just telling one of my friends this week that I’ve had probably half a dozen people ask me over the years if I’m part Asian! I’m not… that I know of 🙂 But you are far from the first person to ask!
Finally! Someone else who doesn’t like London! I’m a native Brit and don’t like the city, possibly being a Northerner and living with the whole north/south divide but I really don’t care for London. Much prefer Manchester, Liverpool or Newcastle 🙂
Well if the comments section is any indicator, its a divisive issue! Glad I’m not alone though!
Just to echo the comment above and your article. It feels like blasphemy, almost, to admit to not liking our capital city but I am in your gang. I don’t see what all the fuss is about and the sheer expense of the place means that you truly need to love it there to bother spending time there. It’s all about the Northern cities for me :).
Glad to hear from another person who makes me feel less alone in my non-London loving! I guess I need to check out these Northern cities once and for all.
Great post! Everybody needs to just be in the moment once in a while, I took an extended hiatus from my blog last year, and heve come back refreshed and renewed!
Where London is concerned, I lived there for a while in the early 70’s, (or should I say I used London as a base camp to get my “PHD of Eurail Pass”,…) it definately has it’s high points, but there are many places in England I found far more compelling. Can’t wait to see where you land next!!?!!?!?
I love the “PHD of Eurorail!” Sounds like a well earned degree!
You did better than me! I LIVED 30mins outside of London for almost a year and didn’t go to a museum until I went back to visit people almost a year later. Must be something about visits = museums. Here’s more blasphemy for you, I’m still waiting for my “first city love.” Must be the country girl in me, I go on a lot of first dates with cities but the out-of-the-way places always end up hanging around longer.
Ah, I am a big city girl 🙂 I can’t help it, I just love that urban energy. But different strokes for different folks, as they say!
Fun! I didn’t like London the first time around, but it has grown on me and a lot of it has to do with my friends who are based there. 🙂
Sounds like we have had the same experience! It’s growing on me, thanks to friends, as well 🙂
Is it too late to comment on this entry? Haha. I like your honestly. There’s a place I do not find that interesting but other people are sort of raving it. Won’t name the country but yeah, different strokes for different folks. Hahaha. Cheers!
It’s never too late to comment! 🙂 I’m curious what this place is, now…
Not London but that place is also known as a ‘sterile’ nation 🙂 I am more drawn towards other cities.
You are missing customer service in London???? If you ever come to Germany, please don’t feel offended but the customer service around here is totally horrible! I used to live in London for a year and I did not like it too much, either but I never complained about customer service. Even now, when I go back there with my husband to meet my friends, he always tells me how nice and friendly everyone is and how much he loves that!!!
Very few countries seem super friendly when you compare them to America, land of big smiles 🙂 We truly value our “have a nice day!” hollers!
As a local I am a tiny bit offended by you’re lac of love with the city, but it’s the same way I feel about Paris. I think big expensive cities are not always the best to visit, but are a lot more fun to experience as a longer term lifestyle. There’s also a reason why it’s only tourists at a lot of the stereotypical ‘tourist’ spots – it sounds like you managed to experience some more of the real London so hopefully that changed your mind a bit!
London keeps growing on me… in fact, I’m headed there again this fall and can’t wait 🙂 It’s a city that has taken me a while to wrap my head around, but now I love it!
Enjoyed your London confession. There’s definitely nothing wrong with unplugging from the travel blogger grind sometime to reconnect with people (instead of digital screens!) and remember why you enjoy travel in the first place.
Sorry to hear that London wasn’t your cuppa tea overall. The grey skies and rain can do that sometimes. On a sunny day, though, we’ve always thought that it very well might be the best city in the world. Glad to hear that it is growing on you a bit in time, too.
If you read my more recent London posts, you’ll see it’s definitely grown on me over the years 🙂 Third time is charm, for sure!
Hello, I’m Caroline from Argentina and will be travelling with my 15th year old daughter to London next september.
Thanks for the info of major attractions, will study them one by one and try to do the best.
I wanted to know which are the best outer London places to visit. My idea is to get a train, see the country and reach some place not too far, but different from the city itself, viewable in a day. Any suggestions? I have in total a week in London. Thank you
Hey Caroline! I wouldn’t say I’m an expert exactly on England travel but I actually do have a trip there that I haven’t started writing recaps of yet (so stay tuned!) I would say Brighton would be an amazing day trip — it’s a beautiful beach town that I loved! I’ll be posting about it soon!