First Paris, then Stockholm, then a hop-skip-puddle-jump from the spotless Arlanda airport to Heathrow for the England part of my sabbatical.
I feel like the movie version of this story would now kick in with a few rousing bars of "God Save the Queen.” Actually, just throw this thing on before you keep reading. I'll wait.
Here’s the thing about England, guys: It’s ME. It’s in my blood. I mean it’s both LITERALLY in my blood—I just recently traced my family back to Yorkshire in the 17th century—but it’s just also the source of everything I love in life. History. Food. Art. Movies. Comedy. David Bowie. I’m all in on the Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Harry Potter shit as much as the chavs, the queuing and the constant, insatiable yen for tea.
So. My dream here was to stay in London for a night or two while waiting for my equally enamored mom to come out and meet me. Then we’d rent a car and do a complete driving tour history fuckfest from the southwest to the Peak District and back around the Cotswolds before returning to London and fin.
The route really planned itself: I plotted my mom’s and my sightseeing bucket lists first, then narrowed down the stops based on where I wanted to sleep each night.
A huge factor in all this was my membership in the Royal Oak Foundation. It’s a pretty great deal: this group, in Partnership with the National Trust, holds lectures and tours throughout the US for fellow history buffs with an Anglophilic bug. The truly useful thing here though is my $30-something annual membership also lends free entry to EVERY National Trust property in England and Wales. When each property over there costs anywhere from 15-30 pounds to visit, that’s an enormous savings.
Okay, here we go:
Day 1-2: London. (A or H. Make up your mind, Google.)
Day 3: London to Winchester Cathedral (B) for lunch, then a visit to Stourhead (C), spending the night in Shaftesbury (D).
Day 4: Shaftesbury all the way up to Chatsworth (E) in the Peak District, staying on the property in an inn run by the duke and duchess of Chatsworth.
Day 5: Chatsworth to Hardwick Hall (F), then a few hours’ drive to Oxford (G) to explore the topless towers and get our beauty rest.
Day 6: A morning in Oxford, then back to London for days 7-10.
And here’s how it went!
Day 1: I landed in London, shuffled through Heathrow customs, tapped my way onto the Tube and then landed at my Airbnb a few hours later completely, utterly wrung out.
I’d picked the place based on its central location, and it ended up being a great stay, barring a few small details. As soon as I chased the owner out of my space around 9PM, I threw all my disgusting, two-week old clothes into the washing machine. Then I called a Thai place around the corner, grabbed a shitty bottle of wine from the Sainsbury’s downstairs and watched the fuck out of some BBC iPlayer. It. Was. Magnificent. (And I highly recommend this guy, whatever nefarious paths it might take to access.)
I realize in the retelling that having a Netflix and chill sesh alone—IN LONDON—is not the stuff of dreams. But after two solid weeks of navigating foreign languages and cultures, I could finally take a load off and recharge a bit “at home,” as it were, before the week of driving and running around ahead of me.
Day 2: I woke up and immediately saw this. Ooh yeah. Big smile. London, baby.
My mom flew in very early and, after tracking her down and dropping off her luggage, we headed straight to Columbia Road for the flower market.
Somehow in my study abroad tenure I had overlooked this market. I was all about the other guys, from Borough to the UpMarket to Camden and Portobello in a pinch—but now, Columbia Road is an absolute essential.
It wasn’t busy at the early hour, so we had room to wander around, pop into a few shops (and destroy the sausage part of a sausage roll), all the while making heart eyes at the hawkers singing out their wares.
Then we hit up the Spitalfields and Brick Road markets before bussing to Covent Garden. I had wanted to check out the Charles Pétillon balloon installation before it came down a few days later. The little white balloons were a bit worse for wear at that point, but it was a stunning setup.
Back in Clerkenwell, Mom napped off some jetlag while I took myself for a walk around Bloomsbury. The area had always seemed boring when I was uh, 20, but my aged, wise eyes found it absolutely beautiful and neighborhood-ly. Of course I shed a little tear in the Brunswick Centre Waitrose, the supermarket of my dreams. And below, I spent some serious time rummaging around this amazing bookstore.
That night was all about an early dinner at The Jugged Hare, one of my favorite spots near Barbican. And then we got to bed early so we could make it to our rental car—and adventure!—at 8AM sharp.
Coming up next time: roundabouts, BBC radio and other tales from the wrong side of the road.