Tuesday, May 12th, 2020 | Written by Blanca
*Disclaimer: This story takes place in February before the travel restrictions and shelter in place mandates.*
I’m of the opinion, after having stayed for a mere weekend, that London is an extremely underrated city. The architecture, the wide array of food, the marvelous and uber-convenient London Tube—what more could one possibly want? I had actually planned to return to London 3 weeks after the weekend on which I visited in February, but that regrettably didn’t end up happening, so I thought I’d instead wrap up the details of my trip and some of my observations of England’s capital city.
When I left the Airbnb in Stratford for the day, it was raining again. No surprise there. I decided to take the Tube to London’s Notting Hill district, perhaps best known for its quaint townhouses and the Portobello Road Market, which is housed along Portobello Road, running the length of Notting Hill. While I went with the intention of seeing both, unfortunately the Portobello Road Market is closed on Sundays.
It turns out I was just a day too late: the Portobello Road Market is a Saturday street market that boasts countless vendors, most notably clothes (fun fact: Vivienne Westwood got her start at Portobello Road Market!) and antiques. But no matter! Some stalls were still open, allowing me to peruse the unique trinkets—delicate porcelain tea sets, glass miniatures, ornate pewter candelabra—inside. A handful of vintage and charity shops were also open, so I popped into a few; since there isn’t a perfect American equivalent, I was curious to see what they looked like. In Goldsmith Vintage, I was greeted by racks of faux fur coats and stacks upon stacks of vintage Levis that made walking through difficult. As it appears, vintage stores live up to their name.
London probably has the highest concentration of white townhouses of anywhere in the world, but those of Notting Hill have a particular charm to them. Maybe it was because the sun was intermittently peeking out, between bouts of unpredictable rain, so that the rows of white houses, with their curved carved ornamentation and swirly railings, resembled low-hanging clouds. In any case, seeing the architecture I’d admired for so long in-person meant that I was certainly on cloud nine. Notting Hill is also home to quaint shopping and food locations, including a fabulous bookstore decked head to toe in classics with gold-bound covers. For lunch, I stopped for a bite to eat at a ramen spot called Tonkotsu. Did I mention how great London’s diverse food options are?
Traveling on the London Underground is such a great experience! No wonder the oldest subway system in the world is still around; they got so many things right. I was pleasantly surprised to find the Underground platforms spanking clean, as well ventilated as a subground system can get, and with frequent and punctual train arrivals. Take some notes, MARTA. That being said, I decided to forgo the crowded Tube in favor of walking. If the weather permits, I always love doing this in large cities, since strolling through neighborhoods is when, I feel, the character of that city really comes out. London is an exceptionally unique one, with some of my now-favorite architecture and plenty of open green spaces, so this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Following streets lined with small cinemas, cafes, and specialty shops, I walked from Notting Hill, which is in the northern section of the district of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, through to Kensington.
Kensington was my last stop of the day before meeting up with everyone else for dinner—which, speaking of, is nearly impossible to get at a sit-down restaurant without calling to reserve in advance. This is especially true for large parties, so be sure to make a reservation if you don’t want to be waiting for over an hour for some biryani (which was, however, extremely worth it). Kensington also has some beautiful architecture, especially its red brick townhomes, so I opted to stroll through its tranquil and quiet residential neighborhoods, probably to the bewilderment of those who lived there.
My final destination was my favorite: the Design Museum in Kensington. Europe has some fantastic museums, and I made it a point to go to as many as I could, but it’s no surprise why the Design Museum won the European Museum of the Year Award in 2018. It exhibits product, industrial, graphic, fashion and architectural design, and my inner Industrial Design minor was jumping for joy. Some of the installments at the time displayed the evolution of electronic technologies and design projects unique to London; the latter included a case study into a potential project that repurposes the animal fat waste from London restaurants, which was interesting for a number of reasons. Apparently organic fatty materials cannot end up in London’s sewer system—understandably—so they are instead carted away by special trucks. This is just one of many sustainability issues today, but it was encouraging to see that there are people who are taking the initiative to address the problem in a thoughtful and conscious way that would, in turn, benefit London. After visiting so many museums that exhibit the work of the likes of Monet and Michelangelo, learning about the aspects unique to the current city was surprisingly refreshing and a perfect note on which to end my trip to London.