London in 36 hours
Is London in 36 hours pure idiocy? It was all I had.
Last time I visited London, it was August 2020. I travelled to attend a funeral for my former partner, one which I hoped would not happen for at least another 20 years. Due to the restrictions, his best friend and I had just jointly arranged with – all online, after tracking down the rest of the family whom he had not been in contact with. Imagine my state of mind then, add to that a fear of COVID-19 back in the day pre-vaccination and you can imagine this made a very gloomy trip indeed.
Table of Contents
Recent trips to London weren’t fun and games
Before that, the trips to London were not highlights in my life, either: meeting unsuitable men, going for job interviews, then having a change of heart and returning to my native Germany instead. Even after that, about five years ago, I could feel the gloom and despair digging their claws into me as I happily gained a professional registration I almost lost my nerve over, had a great boyfriend and a hotel room bigger than a shoebox.
And then, 2020 came. And then, 2021 and several aborted attempts to catch up with friends new and old and to help scatter my friends ashes on his anniversary. Five attempts altogether, I think.
Time for some good new memories
Earlier this year, casually browsing the internet on the sofa, a favourite pastime after a heavy week at work, I experienced a flash of having to go to London. I am not even sure any more what triggered it, but five minutes later, thanks to having the app of a very cheapskate airline on my phone, I had booked a flight, going out early Saturday morning, returning Sunday night. No need to beg work to grant me a day off, no need to pack much. Ah!
But then, as I got up at 2am on a Saturday, I did not feel like going to London at all. As I sat on the once-hourly train, I thought “what the heck got into my head”, and even in the airport, sitting at the gate, only the thought of a bloody huge English Breakfast gave me some joy. So forgive me if this post is in diary form, as I felt the need of chronicling every fart, such was my joy of being back in London.
Flight survived (it was quiet), I landed at the National Express Counter and found that my bus ticket purchase through Ryanair had somehow gone missing.
The nice man at the counter checked and told me so nicely, I gave in quickly and paid about twice as much for a new ticket. The early morning traffic was tame, and before I knew it, the National Express Coach had delivered me 300m from E. Pellicci in Bethnal Green. Now, that is about the only advantage of using the National Express I can think of: you get off in Bethnal Green, past cash machines of all major banks to get a bit of cash, past some nice greengrocers and Asian shops, and of you arrive early enough, there will be a free table and a humongous cooked breakfast waiting.
With mask mandates still in place in Germany, I somewhat cautiously took a table outside and had soon acquired a friendly Londoner to chat to (something that almost never happens in Germany) telling me about his electric guitars and, a humongous veggie breakfast.
Said breakfast was indeed huge, and a bit stupid, as we had 12.00 reservations for lunch. But when your poor sod English breakfast for the past two years has been beans on toast, the “Have the lot” offering of E. Pellicci is irresistible. If you are just having one cooked breakfast in London, make it E.Pellicci. Yes, it is a bit of a trek, but it is an experience.
Meanwhile, while I tried to chat electric guitars and accommodate my breakfast lot outside, the tiny cafe was heaving so I only shot a tiny section with my single 30mm lens to show you a tiny fraction of the lovely Art Deco wood inlay and masterful mirror tiling.
After breakfast, I tried to walk off the surplus on calories consumed and came across further gems from a bygone time that appeared to be thriving here. Well, not at this very moment, as it was barely 9am, but in general – trading and alive
A vibrant market with veggies and fabrics and ready-made clothes was just setting up, but the clothes shops were beautiful to look at.
Covent Garden and Soho
Then my friend called and said she is going to set off but would visit Arome Bakery for a takeaway. It seemed rude not to meet her there and full to bursting, I hopped on a stuffed underground train and, a bouncy walk into Covent Garden later, joined her in the queue.
There they were, croissants and danishes, glazed and shiny like works of art. Since when did London have such amazing bakeries? In my day, the German bake stall at Spitalfields Market was the culinary highlight of my weekends. Once we got to the front of the queue, I was persuaded into a piece of sugary toast for about 4 GBP but hey… it was revelatory.
Stuffed with sweet baked goods, we walked across to Soho for lunch via Rococo Chocolates, another shops I had missed dearly in my three years London absence. And with the sun out, walking around a normally very full Soho war a joy. We had lunch at Hoppers Soho, a Sri Lankan Restaurant.
First, a bit of spicy paneer.
Then, a masala dosa, a fish curry and pilau rice. Unlike the Indian restaurants I know, you order relatively small separate portions, none of theat “full banquet” nonsense. I did love the flavour, but it tasted very much like Indian restaurant food, and the dishes were quite familiar.
After that, I was begging for a break. Soho Square was full of sun worshippers by now, so we dug into a Marks&Spencer for a short break. I was shocked how 1980’s and dated the interior looked and how empty the shop was. However… my staples (knickers, pyjamas) were as lovely as ever, and very reasonably priced.
And then… we hopped on a bus out West.
Since I was with my friend, I limited the number of Goldhawk fabric shops to one, but did that extensively… a look upstairs, stumbling over rolls of fabric, but most importantly, a good rifle throught e Liberty offerings. Walked out with two times three metres of some lovely older season Tana Lawn – my favourite fabric ever, light to carry as welll, as we decided it was now or time to sit out in the sun. And just beyond the train underpass, we found the loveliest place for it: an urban courtyard garden (with a piano) and a few free tables at the Hawks Nest. What I also loved was the variety of alcohol-free drinks available in London now!
Our purchases toasted, we then took a bus back. I absolutely love the bus, and travel by bus where I can. I am not really into the Underground, in general. I was near London during the 2005 bombings and have this irrational fear of the Underground since then. Nevermind a bus got bombed, too, but somehow I love the buses. So, a longish bus ride through Notting Hill and Bayswater back, before I managed to fill most bags I had brought with foodstuff from the Japan Centre. And next door, there was a cute little bar called Machiya, where we had a little bit of dinner.
Skipped the pub this time.
Two miso soups, a bowl of rice, a sliver of salmon, and this excellent miso aubergine.
Then it was time for me to get on the Underground in order to get the rest of my food shopping done at a large Sainsbury’s and finally fill every available pocket with gravy granules, mints and chocolate wafers. Such were the cravings for some British food favourites from the past two years. At the tiny Kilburn Park Station, a classic oxblood tile and brass fitted tube station, the Air on a G String was piping out of loudspeakers and mini jungles grew in disused ticket booths, but I hurried, and rode through the night to the Ladbroke Grove Sainsbury’s where I had exactly ten minutes to throw said foods into my basked, check out, and hop on another bus to get to my hotel for the night before they locked up.
By then, I had broken into a light jog, having no eyes for the beautiful architecture of tall Bayswater Terraces and hotels and pubs on the way. I was welcomed by a tall sturdy blonde at the Latvian Centre, who lent me a adapter and showed me on my room on the top floor – a phantastic bargain, lovely toom, comfy, enough tea bags to make a gallon of tea and a great view of your archetypal West London Street.
I finished my day with a couple cups of tea and the danish from Arome I retrieved from the bottom of my backpack, magically still intact and wonderful with my nightcap, then slept a sound sleep, not needing earplugs at all, after by 23-hour day. Stay tuned for Part Two! Only 12 more hours in Londpon before flying back home and back to work on Monday!
I have marked all places visited in the map below, where you can find addresses and opening hours as well!
A first time visit for me, this tiny 1930’s cafe (Established in 1900, the style is rooted in suburban Deco) on Bethnal Green Road is a legend among locals and tourists, and it’s that kind of mix you get when you visit. It is full to bursting pretty soon after opening at 8am. The fare is traditional “caff”, bacon butties, fried breakfasts, Anglo-Italian lunch dishes. Plenty for vegetarians. If you speak to locals, they praise it as one of the best, if not THE best traditional cafe in London. Also famous for being a daily haunt of the Kray gangsters (don’t worry they are dead). I had a “Have the Lot” veggie breakfast and coffee for about 17 GBP. Go at least once and plan not to eat much the rest of the day.
Arome Bakery London
A fine addition to the saturated Covent Garden gastronomic scene, this fancy bakery and cafe churn out French baked goods with an Asian touch. Think picture-pretty Danishes, croissants and the honey and cinnamon toast. I was going to pass because, well, the prices are a bit eyewatering at 3-5GBP a piece, but after I tried it, I was convinced this is a must-visit.
A classic by now and an old favourite of mine. This was the perfect time to come for their cute yet stylish Easter chocolates, eggs and boxed chocolates. Normally I am not a fan of English chocolate, Rococo is an exception. Prices are, as you may expect for a “luxury chocolate” brand rather high, but a bag of chocolate coffee beans or seagull eggs goes a long way.
Imagine you would like some Indian food in a classy ambiance – then Hoppers is your place. They belong to a chain of upmarket Indian subcontinent restaurants (Trishna’s, also very good is part of it) and serve Sri LAnkan and South Indian food which is still quite hefty and hot!
Goldhawk Road Fabric Shops
To forego a trip here would be a crime. So I wouldn’t. The whole street between Shepherd’s Bush Green and the Goldhawk Road Underground Stop is filled with fabric shops; the road has undergone a rather unsubtle gentrification, and some of the shops are now rather what you’d find in Soho, the old school cafes have shut and fancy little resturants, amongt them quite a few Far Eastern ones, have opened. My favourite fabric shop, Classic Textiles, is still standing strong. Other than that, there are some really nice shops with varying offers. For someone very much into Liberty prints, I always find something inC lassic Textiles.
The Hawks Nest, Shepherds Bush
Apparantly famous for “pizza nights” this bar, just nestled under the railway arches by Shepherds Bush Market, has a lovely outdoor patio and garden for a good weather day and an impressive list of cocktails, including many alcohol-free ones. Great place to sort through your haul from the Goldhawk Road fabric shops before heading home.
Having undergone many changes from a multilevel site in Piccadilly Circus to their current quarters in quieter Panton Street, this is now mostly a Japanese Delicatessen with some very high priced foods (spices, green tea) and a few stables along with an extensive food court. I do like the supermarket, althpough in recent years the “normal” foods had to give in favour of more food court and fancy teas.
Conveniently located across the road from the Japan Centre, this tiny restaurant is right in theatreland but offers quality Japanese food – more small meals and sharing plated rather than multi course dinner. The small dishes we had were great, but, well, very small, but the prices were about 6-10GBP per dish, which is fine given the quality of the food.
Unless you are in search of mass or into Victorian iteration of Byzantine Architecture, you might give this a miss. The cathedral is undoubtedly pretty, very large, offers regular mass services but is otherwise squeezed into a generic neighbourhood of 1970s architecture and chain shops.
Why this hasn’t featured heavily in the tons and tons of London sewing blogs I do not know. Anyway, astounded about this fabulous place and its presence metres from hipster Shoreditch High Street, I could barely believe my eyes. Great British made fabrics, a lot of wool, tweed, boucle… all offerings were mor eon the wooly side, what you need for a trip to a country house, really.
The owner is nearly 90 years old, but agile and lightning fast. I bought some great Harris Tweed for 20 GBP a metre. Enough said. They close on Saturdays, and take cash only. Not going to mak e too much of a song and dance about it before it gets overrun with self-proclaimed designers asking for 100 samples.
Don’t know much about this friendly and airy pub other than that it’s spacious and prtty empty in the day time and a great place for a civilised drink. The choice of alcohol-free drinks is, like at the Hawk’s Nest, pretty impressive.
Dennis Severs House
Artist Dennis Severs bought a dilapidated Early Georgian terraced house near Spitalfields Market in the late 1970s and, while living in it, imagined a Huguenot silk weaver family living there, creating a middle-class Georgian phantasy. While a lot of the items are authentic, others aren’t and it is less of a museum than an art installation. I went with a friend after we both decided we’d rather see this marvel than eat lunch, and although the self-guided tour is a bit strange and there are no explanations inside the house, it is a pretty bizarre but cool experience. No picutres are allowed in the house, which is a great shame, because it is very photogenic, but as much as my hands were itching… there are plenty pictures online to take a peek before you part with your 15 quid-plus
Brick Lane Bagel Shops: Beigel Bake and Beigel Shop
While Germany used to be well-known for its bread and cakes, you cannot get a decent bagel there, which is why I occasionally import them from London. A Sainsbury’s bagel will have to do at a push, but whenever I can, I buy them in a bakery in Brick Lane. There is much discussion about which Brick Lane bagel bakery is better, the “yellow” one (Beigel Shop) or the “white one” (Beigel Bake). The white one is more famous and has the longer lines, and apparently the monopoly on the “salt beef bagel” and they also do simple but good cake. The yellow one has countered by offering rainbow bagels and being slightly cheaper. As far as the hyumble bagel goes, plain or with cream cheese, I have not noticed much of a difference. Every time Iasked for a dozen bagels or two, I received some freshly baked, still warm bagels, and if you fed me one from either bakery I probably could not tell the difference.
Things you need to know
Pandemic? Which Pandemic??
If you are uncomfortable with a totally slack approach to infection control, may I suggest you do not travel to the UK and especially London while the incidence is still quite high. Here in Germany, we jokingly say Putin ended the pandemic, but the truth is, there are still infections, and you can still get sick, but since no one is checking, you may catch COVID, pass it on, etc. Plenty of even triple-vaccinated people in my social circle got sick, plenty people I know got vaccinated AND got long COVID, but well, just saying. I used a mask in indoor places, and didn’t catch it.
You can find up to date numbers here.
At the time of writing there are no COVID-related entry restrictions to the UK and no mask mandates.
Prices are a bit bonkers right now
Where I stayed
I stayed at the Latvian Centre London in Bayswater. While I did book mine on the bus home, they do prefer direct bookings. Nope, I am not Latvian, doesn’t matter, they are a small guesthouse, although a lot of Latvian-speaking people stayed there. And I am going to stay there again, too, because you cannot do much better for a really central guesthouse, with a decent breakfast included, that is clean, quiet and has good beds and lets you have a good nights sleep! They even have a garden and a Latvian bar.
Getting to the Airport
From London Stansted, which is where most of the cheapies fly, you have two options: train or bus, both serve Liverpool Street day and night, with some buses also going to Victoria, Baker Street and some other places in town, but you might be far better off to just go to Stratford or Liverpool Street then hop on the underground or train – it’s faster.
TheStansted Express is a train shuttle to Liverpool Street Station that is by far the fastest. Unfortunately it is also quite expensive. Best to book far in advance, and unlike most UK trains, your dates of travel are fixed, but the trains aren’t, giving you some flexibility. Ther are often closures and repairs, in which cases it’s a bit pointless to spend on a train ticket.
The National Express Airport Coach is great in principle, running at least every half hour, to various destinations in London. If booked well ahead, you pay as little as 12GBP for a return and although tickets are in theory flexible, more than often I got quite flustery because buses did not turn up, did not let passengers board if they were booked onto another departure, or were stuck in traffic for two hours. What is good is that some of its stops are walking distance to Brick Lane bagel bakeries and E. Pellicci, though.