Getting back to life in France means a stopover in London is a must!
A stop in London may not be the fastest way to return to Uzès, France, but it’s definitely fun. With no actual schedule except to meet traveling friends heading to visit Uzès in early May, my return to France was left pretty much to my whims.
“So what else is new?” you ask.
I contemplated several routes for my return to France — through Barcelona, Paris, London — or perhaps, take a cruise. My son suggested a ship might be fun if I wanted to take the extra time. When checking out the various fares, it was surprising that I could easily fly to London and stay a few days for the cost of any other alternative. So who’s to argue with that?
London is one of my favorite places. I used to visit London regularly for work. The project was scheduled for three weeks each year during the fall. It lasted for five years.
My last trip to London was for the wedding of William and Kate. Yes, I was among several million other crazy Anglophiles there for the festivities. It is truly a time and place that will always be remembered; the royal affair was straight out of a fairy tale.
Meeting new friends along the way
By now, you know that making new friends is the highlight of my travels and adventures. The flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to London was no exception. While the relatively quick trip from Atlanta to Toronto was uneventful, fortunately, the journey’s long leg- from Toronto to London- was more fun than I could have expected.
At first sight, my middle seat in the crowded plane looked like torture. I hoped the young girl sitting in the window seat would trade places with me to sit by her traveling companion occupying the aisle seat. It wasn’t to be. The young lady from Montreal, who had just turned fifteen that day, stood her ground. Snuggled next to her and the eighty-five-year-old French grandmother living in Toronto, I was entertained.
The grandmother is the person I want to be when I’m eighty-five. From helping her stand with her bare feet on a seat to rummage through the overhead compartment to watching her perform her calisthenics in the aisles during the night, I was in awe. Indeed she was not being truthful about her age.
When we “deplaned” and I struggled up the airport ramp, she sped by me at warp speed. And guess what? The little lady travels with a backpack!
Just think, one day, this could be me with my grandson.
Where to stay in London?
My “go-to place” for travel accommodations is AIRBNB. I haven’t been disappointed yet. The flat in London is no exception. Not only was it in a perfect location — in South Kensington, close to museums and shopping — it was so much fun. Gabrielle, the owner’s daughter who manages the house, is young, adorable, and accommodating.
When I left, it was like we were mother and daughter. She’d pitched right in to help me translate some emails from the phone company in France and put up with my occasional lapses with reality.
Yes, there was a “Deborah” moment while in London. I booked the flat for one night less than needed. Gabrielle discovered the mistake just as I had taken off to shop along Kings Road. She sent a text message to tell me the bad news. Fortunately, I checked my phone just before returning to the flat. I had exactly fifteen minutes to pack my stuff and get out of the way for the next guest. When I was back at the flat, Gabrielle had found a hotel room for me nearby. She and her boyfriend even helped me carry my bags up the street to check in at the hotel.
The fickle finger of fate was foiled again. In fact, it gets better. The lovely gentleman taking my room at the flat for the night walked up the street with us … and invited me to join him for a lovely dinner.
London for Foodies
During the three days, I was in London, I checked all my “hunger” boxes. I was set on enjoying “local” cuisine. Even some old favorites.
No 5-star restaurants for this travel bug. Just good food at a reasonable price. Check out these old and new favorites. (Where the restaurant’s name appears in the text, click the link to view their website.)
London is one of the best places in the world for good Indian food. I started craving it as soon as flight arrangements were made. Gabrielle’s flat in Kensington was close to where I used to stay on work trips. The restaurant was just down the street, just off Brompton Road.
The menu was broad and exciting. Aside from the best naan I’ve ever tasted, I was anxious to dig into another meal of delicious Indian food.
After devouring crispy papadum, raita, and other assorted condiments with a cold beer, I honed in on one of the Biriyani dishes on the menu.
The generous serving of chicken cooked in fresh herbs, almonds, and raisins, then mixed with basmati rice and lightly fried in ghee, was served with spicy mixed vegetable curry. Not too hot .. just right. After a favorite Indian dessert — pistachio kulfi — which they prepare perfectly, I was stuffed.
Let me repeat, I am a committed “Anglophile.” That is, I love anything related to the Royal Family. Every visit to London has to include a stop at Buckingham Palace or some other royal site. This time Kensington Palace and The Orangery topped my list.
First, a stroll through Hyde Park — an easy walk from the AIRBNB flat.
Then onto Kensington Palace, home to Kate, William, and baby George. The Palace has been updated, and the King’s Quarters and Queens Quarters are open to the public. That means I’m literally walking in royal footsteps.
And what’s a visit to Kensington Palace without a meal or tea nearby at The Orangery?
The Orangery at Kensington Palace’s Royal Botanical Gardens was designed in 1761 by Sir William Chambers. Like other glass houses throughout Europe, the building was constructed to provide a protective spot for citrus plants and trees during the winter months. Importing orange trees to adorn stately gardens became the rage in the mid-1600s. Like banana and pomegranate plants, orange trees were famous for their flowers and scent.
The unique menu item for the day was a wild mushroom and asparagus tart with asparagus puree and truffle dressing, served with a green salad. So delicious!
The meal was scrumptious and filling, with a glass of pinot grigio to start and a cappuccino at the end. No need for dessert, even though the dark chocolate mousse with caramelized banana and white chocolate sorbet was sooooo tempting. (Looking back, I could kick myself for not splurging!)
I love fish, as you might remember from earlier blogs. As strange as it might seem, my hankering for fish in London this time was for the traditional fish and chips. Several recommendations for the “best” fish and chips were offered and considered seriously. One won because of its reputation and proximity to the Borough Market.
Eating and shopping nearby. How could I go wrong?
Friday was busy at Borough Market, so the streets were filled with shoppers and people on lunch break. Other restaurants and street vendors with temporary food stalls offered tempting specials, but my mind was set on fish and chips.
It’s been 40+ years since I last had this meal in London. It was back when traveling “Europe on $5 a Day” was my mantra. Fish and chips are no longer found wrapped in newspaper and served at every corner. Today they are plated alongside “mushy peas” and tartar sauce. Fortunately, vinegar was at the table.
After a few bites of the tender cod filet with a crispy crust, I wonder why this dish seems too “ordinary” these days.
Along with the main dish, I had to try”whitebait fish,” served at a nearby table. The tiny fish, smaller than sardines, were fried ’til crunchy and served heaping on a plate. Good eats for a fish lover!
For a quick lunch, if you’re heading to the V&A Museum, Natural History Museum, or any of the many sights and exhibits in the South Kensington/Chelsea area of London, Muriel’s Kitchen is a perfect choice. The atmosphere is casual but fast-paced. If you’re lucky enough to get a table at lunchtime, you can sit and relax while the staff is shuffling around, providing excellent service.
On entering the small restaurant, you are immediately tempted by the luscious-looking food inside a glassed case. You can choose salads and main courses to go to. Or the same items are on the menu, so you can check them out before you are seated.
I was there on a Saturday, so I could choose from breakfast or lunch menus. Fortunately, I could sample both. My godchild, who commutes to work in London from Tunis, was in town to join me.
We shared the breakfast sandwich on fresh toasted bread stacked high with bacon, lettuce, and tomato. It was topped with two soft poached eggs and creamy hollandaise. Muriel’s Seasonal Greens were the perfect accompaniment. The greens mixed with steamed broccoli, french beans, edamame beans, baby spinach, and peas were dressed with wasabi and yuzu dressing and sprinkled with red chilies and chia seeds. If it all sounds very healthy, it was.
You’ll be pleased to know that we also shared dessert. A slice of decadent dark chocolate cake for me and lemon drizzle cake for her. Both were even more sinful when accompanied by clotted cream. Oh my!
Stay tuned for the next chapter … London for Fashionistas!