“Seriously, what am I going to write about this week?,” I called out to my friend Kat as I stepped into the shower in her Shadwell flat. “I have done nothing but eat and drink since I got my passport stamped. Maybe I’ll just title my post Places to Get Drunk and Fat in London?”
So, I went with something a bit more sentimental. But still. This being my third spin through the city, I felt 100% free from the obligation to sight see or play good tourist. Let’s get real — I wasn’t playing good blogger either, even flirting with the idea of leaving my week in the UK off the blog entirely. All I wanted out of this trip was quality time with my favorite British-accented babes, and nothing else. Okay. Maybe a few delicious ciders too.
My first stop on the friend tour of London was lovely Lou’s flat in Queen’s Park. Louise and I met in 2009 when we did our Open Water diving course together in Thailand. Through the wonders of the internet and my occasional trips to London, we’ve stayed in touch swapping travel tales and tips ever since. She’s been a bit of a role model to me and I love the way she lives her life!
Lou is an HBIC at a major corporation in London (someday I am going to have to get this girl to write a guest post about how she balances a major career with so much travel), so throughout my stay we met up in the evenings for drinks and dinners and during the day I did my own thing. “My own thing,” in this case, meant a brunch-tastic business meeting at Gail’s, writing blog posts, sleeping off my jetlag and my overnight airport layover in Iceland (when will I learn to stop doing that to myself), building mix and match salads and Marks and Spencer and heading to a cool local gym for what I assumed would be a weightlifting class but turned out to be more of an hour long bounce sesh but was lovely nonetheless.
Also, I remembered how much I enjoy British humor.
But wait, sorry, this post is supposed to be about places I got my gluttony on, not snarky bumper stickers! One night, I met Lou outside her office after work along with special guest Neil, our Open Water instructor and one of my dear friends — you might remember him from our last reunion on the other side of the world in Nusa Lembongan. Because I was in chilled hang-with-old-friends mode and not be-a-good-blogger mode, I forgot my camera and only took this one crappy iPhone photo, which zero percent reflects how cute Riding House Café is. Perfect spot for tapas and drinks if you’re near Oxford Circus.
My time with Lou (and Neil!) was all too short and soon I was on my way to my next hostess with the mostest, Kat. Kat was my first real friend upon moving to Koh Tao in 2011 and is one of the closest I’ve made in all my years of world wandering. Damn did we tear that island up! I do not have words to properly express the happiness I felt sitting side by side at the bar of Opera Tavern, reminiscing about the good old days, filling each other in on some of the harsh current ones, and toasting to better ones ahead. Though once again my mind was elsewhere and I didn’t take a single photo, Opera Tavern is a must in Covent Garden — and I’m only slightly biased by the fact that Kat is the General Manager.
Soon it was time to move the party onwards and upwards — all the way up to Radio Rooftop Bar. Just a few steps and several stories away from Opera Tavern, Radio had views impressive enough to inspire this lazy vacationing photographer to whip out the iPhone. As we sipped away on the balcony, we watched the sun set over London and all its impressive landmarks — The London Eye, Big Ben, and the River Thames.
We may have gone a tad overboard at Radio. And by tad I mean we racked up one of the biggest bar bills of my life, raged our way back to Opera Tavern, and had an after hours dance party that is
somewhat fully fuzzy in my memory. What can I say? There’s nothing like reuniting with your old partner-in-crime to inspire you to let loose in a major way.
Kat, ever the fabulous entertainer, had had big plans for the following day. However, relentless rain and the worst hangover I can remember in recent history put a damper on them and we spent the entire day lounging around her gorgeous flat (doesn’t flat sound so much more glamorous than apartment?), save for an extremely touch-and-go bike ride to Sainsbury’s for emergency snacking supplies.
By the time evening arrived we had flat fever, and over the conversation this post opened with, we vowed to have a blog-worthy evening. I mean, guys, I brought my big camera and everything.
Our destination was Shoreditch, and our unamused companion was Kat’s darling husband Stefan, who’d been peacefully slumbering when we came crashing in from our bender the night before and woke him up by jumping on the bed and trying to start a pillow fight. Considering how much I love listening to these two banter in their South African accents — possibly my favorite lilt on the planet — I was in heaven. Minus the residual hangover.
Shoreditch will always be the place that melted my heart towards London.
I fell madly in love with this particular piece of street art, which seemed to speak so poignantly to relationships I hold most dear. Let’s adore and endure each other, indeed.
Dinner was dim sum at The Drunken Monkey. Kat and Stefan weren’t impressed, but aside from the disinterested service I had no complaints — the garlic soaked broccoli was a particular favorite and the cocktail list was impressive.
But after dinner was the real treat. While halfheartedly searching for something to do that night, Kat had showed me a website BarChick, which reminds me of a London-specific version of the Drinkadvisor app I just reviewed. BarChick’s description of Shoreditch speakeasy The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town intrigued us — I mean with that name, how could it not? — and we made note of the detailed directions for entering the hallowed grounds.
Step one was to make our way to The Breakfast Club, a hip AM eatery that is high on my list of places to dine next time I find myself in London town.
Once inside, we took a seat in the mostly vacant restaurant, ordered a round of drinks, and alerted the waitress that we were “there to see the mayor.” He was a bit busy at the moment, she replied, but she’d let us know when there was an opening. Just as we started to lose hope, she beckoned us forward and led us inside a secret passageway hidden within a Smeg refrigerator (hipster homeowners eat your hearts out.)
We liked what we found.
The teeny tiny speakeasy at the bottom was dripping with cool. The decor was kitsch in the hippest kind of way, and the extensive cocktail list was full of surprises. Such as the fact that my drink would arrive on fire. With flames.
But my favorite bit? Heading to the
loo bathroom and noting the stenciled words etched across the wooden door; WORLD’S SMALLEST DISCO. Indeed, inside, the reflections of a small rotating disco ball sparkled against the black tile. Mayor, you won me over.
For my final evening with Kat and Stefan we switched gears entirely from trendy to traditional, and rode our bikes through the balmy evening towards Prospect of Whitby, London’s oldest riverside pub. After grabbing a round of ciders and crabbies from the 494 year old bar, we made our way out to the deck and soaked up the views of the River Thames. Later, my iPhone decided to eat my most adorable snaps from the day, but it had the compassion to spare these two.
I’ll wrap this post up with the short version of a long but beautiful story. That final afternoon, getting off the bus at Kat’s place after running a few errands, I froze, realizing suddenly that my wallet was not with me. What followed was a mess of frantic phone calls with endlessly friendly dispatchers, breathlessly hopping on various buses to please my case to bemused drivers, and eventually biking several miles out to the bus depot to retrieve the sweetly rescued wallet. Maybe it was the adrenaline from the ride, but as we whooped our way back, wallet in hand, I never like London more.
The best part? Earlier in the day, I had found an iPhone on the street and turned it in immediately. That same afternoon, I lost my wallet, and it came back to me. Coincidence? I think karma.
Stay tuned for part II of my week in London!