Note about this essay series:
I’ve always had a mild obsession with European culture. In high school, I fell in love with the streets of Paris watching Je T’aime Paris and nodded my head to the bass drums of London’s grime music. I’m as American as they come—a product of a family that spent most of its “vacations” visiting more family. But there was always a part of me that wanted to taste life abroad. It was a desire that burned deep within me as a teenager, so it’s baffling that I didn’t cross the pond for the first time until I was 32.
To celebrate my nuptials, which had taken place the month before, I spent two weeks in Europe with my new husband as we journeyed through London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin.
It was one hell of a time to get away. Back home in the states, Donald J. Trump had just become the 45th President. Abroad, the climate was still iffy about the long-term effects of Brexit. In France, a heavy conservative announced her intentions to run for office as Francois Hollande became the first sitting French president since World War II not to run for reelection. Two weeks after we returned from Berlin, a terrorist drove a truck through a Christmas market we’d spent our last night walking.
In a sense, this European honeymoon was both a celebration of my marriage and the ultimate form of escapism. I sought to build memories during a time in which most people I knew were trying to forget what was happening. However, in a world defined by chaos, I was able to fill my heart (and my belly) with all the positivity it had to offer.
I swear I’m not a pessimist.
But you wouldn’t know it if you saw my travel notes from London.
“Jet lag is a bitch. We took the 1030pm flight from NY to London. Arrived at 1030am local time. 5-hour time difference so our bodies thought it was 5:30 am. Couple that with the mother of a young child behind me that pulled my seat back with all her body weight every time she stood up, I didn't get much sleep.”
At some point, these paragraph-length gripes devolved into lists. I’d sought out to craft a travel journal on par with Conde Nast Traveler and ended up with nothing more than a rough draft of a Buzzfeed listicle. So much for looking back on this experience with fondness…and great detail.
"I’d sought out to craft a travel journal on par with Conde Nast Traveler and ended up with nothing more than a rough draft of a Buzzfeed listicle."
My London experience reads like the city’s greatest hits: The London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Notting Hill, the Tate Modern, Harrod’s, Picadilly Circus, Big Ben, Covent Garden—you get the picture. If there was a tourist site to be visited, we were there. We maintained a strict schedule so we could squeeze it all in.
But the most memorable parts of the trip weren’t these sites. And believe me, they’re breathtaking and worth every pence of the entry fee. However, I’m sort of an anti-tourist. I get embarrassed taking photos in front of well-known landmarks. I practically growl at tourists in New York when they stop mid-sidewalk for a selfie. I’m fond of discovering every city’s hidden treasures. I want to live like a local, and in doing so in London, I was able to understand what it’s like to be a Londoner. At least I think I was able to do that.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve always heard about London is that the food is bad. “There’s so much to do but you won’t remember the food,” they said. Well, I can surely attest the opposite. After chowing down on chorizo hash at Joe’s Kitchen, devouring fish and chips at Enterprise and tasting some of the most delicious ramen I’ve ever had at Tonkotsu in SoHo, I was quickly convinced that all those other people had been eating in the wrong places. Not only was it “not bad”, it rivaled some of my favorite places at home.
"You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about a culture just by looking at what’s stocked on the shelves."
I also got a kick out of shopping at Tesco. I’m a big Lily Allen fan, and I’ve been listening to Alright, Still a lot in the past couple weeks. There’s a lyric on “LDN” that goes ‘There was a little old lady, who was walkin’ down the road/She was struggling with bags from Tesco.’ That little old lady gets hit over the head by a seemingly nice lad who steals her wallet. I didn’t see anything like that at the local Tesco Express, but I did stop in to try some flapjack bites and a ham sandwich to go. Both my husband and I love going to convenient stores and supermarkets abroad. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about a culture just by looking at what’s stocked on the shelves.
Perhaps what was most striking about London was how polite everyone was and all the little touches. The staff at Egerton House, where we stayed, was delightful. They were all so happy and curious about where we’d come from. There was a fresh fruit plate in our room every morning and votive candles placed in the bathroom each evening.
We had a taxi driver who accidentally left the meter off for most of our trip and charged us a very reasonable fare. He apologized profusely for the mistake.
At the Egerton House, we sipped on expertly crafted Manhattan cocktails. The expertise of the barman was more than enough. But he brought us several appetizers and snacks on the house…just because.
If I’ll remember anything about my time in London, it’s not the grandiosity of Harrod’s or the breathtaking aerial view of the city from the top of the London Eye or the complex and abstract exhibits of the Tate Modern. It’s the little things. I debunked the myth about London’s food. I found out that everyone is just so damn nice. And I found the next big thing in convenient stores (c’mon Di Blasio-New York needs Tesco’s).
I got a glimpse, albeit a brief one, at what it’s like to live in London. A little bit of hospitality and lot of exploring turned my jet lag-induced pessimism into radiant optimism. Next time, I’m sure there will be even more Tesco’s and pubs and neighborhoods to explore.
Until then, I’m satisfied with revisiting what I’ve captured here (because my travel notes suck).