It snowed this week. Enormous tree branches blocked streets and sidewalks all around Calgary as they broke off due to the weight of the wet snow. It’ll get better soon – our forecast for the rest of the month is quite good, but I’m already starting to miss the warmth of summer. Not that London was particularly warm, actually. But alas, it’s next on my list, so that is what I’ll be reminiscing on today.
This is the part of the trip where I’m going to confuse you with the order of cities. See, first we went to London, and then we went to visit my family in a small town near Cambridge, and then we went back to London. Logical, I know. This was the first but certainly not the last time that I found myself travelling back the way I came on this trip, as you will continue to realize as I find time to write more of these posts. To make it slightly less confusing (I think?) I’m going to compile all of one cities information in one place. Anyway…
We ended up getting into London pretty late, because we took a cheap RyanAir flight to Stansted, which is a little North of London. Side note – We didn’t find RyanAir to be that bad. We knew in advance that we would have to pay extra to check our bags. It was slightly irritating that we had to wait in at least 4 or 5 different (very long) lines in order to check in and get to our gate, making us very near to being late. I almost fainted/puked while we were waiting on the runway (for at least 45 minutes) due to the insane heat and my dehydration (and possibly my hangover). The landing was… well, hard (i.e. we practically crashed). But, you know, as long as you are aware/okay with the possibility of all of these scenarios, RyanAir was not so bad.
When we finally found our hostel, which was on a lovely street of gorgeous houses in Kensington, half a block from Hyde Park, we decided to find a place to eat. And then we saw a Whole Foods. Shelby and I had never been to a Whole Foods. We nearly passed out from excitement and then spent an hour browsing salad bars and interesting produce and gluten-free everything. I believe that my purchases included a passionfruit, green juice, a mango chia seed pudding bowl, and a meat pie, which I proceeded to eat while sitting on a bench right next to Kensington Palace (no, I very sadly did not see Harry or anyone else worthy of attention). And no, I do not regret the fact that my first activity in London was technically grocery shopping. There are few things that get me more excited than a good grocery store – and we certainly needed a little nutrition/detox after a week in Spain.
We ended the night by drinking a couple of ciders in front of a large screen playing the Football game – England vs. Italy (we did a lot of very typically British things while in England, I am very happy to say).
The following day, we explored Hyde Park, High Street Kensington, and South Kensington, with very necessary stops at Harrod’s, Topshop, and at a cute little place for some afternoon tea. We also walked around Notting Hill (no Hugh Grant, or even any lookalikes – mostly some cute rainbow hued houses with pretty flowers and lame tourist shops) and Portobello Road (since it was a little later in the day, we didn’t get to check out the market at all, sadly!) We had fish and chips for dinner at an adorable pub called Finch’s – although, we realized later, that we should have gone earlier and had Sunday Roast, if we wanted to be proper. We were super exhausted by the end of the day – I can’t even begin to guess how far we must have walked.
The next morning, before we headed North to visit my family, we checked out Camden Town and Camden Lock/Market and I was ridiculously impressed. It was busy, but the food stalls were amazing and the culture/vibes were interesting despite being a little touristy. I had a perfect, freshly roasted cup of coffee from an Ethiopian stall, and Shelby and I shared pyrogies, sausage, and cabbage rolls from a Polish stall and a fresh naan chicken masala wrap from an Indian stall – all were so, so good, and we had SO many choices it was practically impossible to decide.
So then we spent two days visiting my family (see below!) and also went on the Warner Brother’s Studio Tour – AKA the official HARRY POTTER STUDIO where many scenes in the movies were actually filmed. It was one of the best things we did on the trip, and it was SO cool to see the sets, props, and learn more about how the films were made. I DEFINITELY recommend doing this if you are in England and even slightly interested in Harry Potter (and if you are not, I am judging you – sorry).
When we got back to London, we stayed in a different hostel which was very near to the London Museum – kind of close to Oxford Circus, Soho, and Covent Garden. We got sushi at a local chain restaurant and then decided to go out, and ended up finding a few pretty fun bars – I believe near Leicester Square. The following day, we saw all of the “big” sites – Big Ben (there was some sort of security threat at the parliament next door, so the entire area was blocked off), Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, etc. It was very busy, as expected, but if you haven’t seen them, you definitely have to check them out at least once! We also went to the Borough Market, which was huge and pretty cool – I got scotch eggs on arugula, and I was surprised how much I loved it. That night, we saw The Lion King on Broadway. If I’m being honest, it wasn’t at the top of my list of shows to see, but it worked out well. We got same day tickets at a box office near many of the theatres, and were surprised to learn (we had asked around a bit) that we should have lined up at the actual theatre that we wanted to see a show at, early in the morning, in order to have the best chance at getting the cheapest tickets. I’ll definitely keep that in mind for next time, because we ended up paying a fair amount and had to sit in the second last row of the massive theatre, which was not entirely ideal.
Before catching a train to Paris the next day, we went and saw Buckingham Palace (like the other main sites, I think it’s one of those things everyone should see at least once!)
I loved my time in London despite the weather not being overly great, and the hostels we stayed being sub-par at best. There was tons of things to do, so much to see, and lots of yummy things to eat. I wished that I had time to check out the East End of London, as I had heard from multiple sources that it was the new “place to be” if you will, but we totally ran out of time, despite having almost four whole days! Next time…
I doubt that you have heard of the charming, quaint English town that is Saffron Walden (most people I met who actually lived in England hadn’t either), and I would never have known about it or gone to visit if I didn’t have close family in the area. My dad’s family is from England, and while he moved to Canada with his parents and siblings when he was 8 and stayed in Canada, both my Uncle and Aunt moved back to England, eventually settling in Saffron Walden, when they were older. So this trip was actually my second (or maybe third?) time in Saffron Walden, but it was the first that I clearly remember.
Shelby and I stayed at my uncles place – an adorable townhouse style home from the 1600’s that is a few blocks from the centre of town. On our first evening there, my uncle gave us a quick tour of town – it is quite small, so this maybe took only an hour or so. Next, we stopped at a very typical English pub for a pint, and then went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. I knew that England was well known for having good Indian – but this place was even better than I expected. My uncle insisted on ordering about 6 or 8 dishes for 3 people, so I got to try things that I’ve never even heard of and left very, very satisfied/you could have rolled me home. There was way more variety than anywhere I’ve been in Canada, and everything was cooked absolutely perfectly. I also (believe it or not) tried lamb for my very first time here. I guess I was just a little squeamish about it previously, but decided to go for it and omg, I am very glad that I did – in fact, I think I ate it 2 or 3 more times while I was in Europe.
The next morning, we checked out the town market and a few shops in the town centre. Saffron Walden is one of those perfect European towns where people still buy all of their produce from the market, meat from the butchers, etc., etc. and there are a ton of cute little antique and gift shops. According to my uncle, the market was far smaller and the town was less busy than usual, but we were totally okay with that. After spending the day in Cambridge, we had a lovely dinner at my aunt’s house, which is in a suburb-type area just outside of Saffron Walden. Although I imagine that there are many similar, equally picturesque towns plotted around the English countryside, if you happen to be in the area, definitely take an afternoon to stroll around Saffron Walden.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from Cambridge. Of course I knew it would be a university town, but besides that, I hadn’t really heard anything – which I guess probably made me easy to impress. Cambridge is about an hour drive from Saffron Walden, so we decided to head up for the day with my uncle and one of his friends. First, we grabbed lunch at Pret A Manger (the best to-go coffee/sandwich place ever – there are also MANY in London), and then we walked over to the canal and found a boat and a guide to take us punting. If you have never heard of such a thing, you are not alone. A punt is basically the Cambridge equivalent of a gondola in Venice. It is a flat bottomed boat that is propelled by someone standing at the end of it with a long pole that pushes against the riverbed. There might be other places where you can go punting, but it is a popular tourist (and local, on special occasions) activity in Cambridge. Anyway – we spent an hour or two punting and basking in the rare English sun while eating our sandwiches and drinking Pimm’s. I challenge you to find a better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon.
Afterwards, we walked around the campus a bit and quickly browsed the Cambridge market, and then headed home. If you are in England, I would definitely recommend taking a trip up to Cambridge. It’s only maybe an hour long trip by train, and the whole town was bustling and there seemed to be plenty of interesting stores and places to eat. Plus, it’s really interesting to see one of England’s oldest and most well known Universities.