London Summer in a Rush
I have my former boyfriend to thank for that, travellingin London summer, when the city is packed and priced skyrocketing. He died two years ago in July, and it is becoming a a tradition that his friends and family, previously pretty random people who did not know each other, meet up every year.
We held his funeral in the middle of the pandemic, and suddenly there were about thirty people sitting in a pub garden, with very few knowing each other. And now, every July, we meet, in his memory, “for beer and curry” as he would certainly have approved.
Therefore, I grit my teeth as I dropped 150 Euro on a base basics Ryanair flight, and fell into some shock when I saw hotel prices in London – close to 200GBP for a very basic Travelodge in the more unattractive parts of town… A few weeks later, Ryanair cancelled my flight, and I got so scared, I cancelled my hotel reservation and vowed to only re-book it when I would be boarding. In the meantime, I hastily rescheduled my flight, now arriving in London around lunchtime instead of early Saturday morning, really cutting short my weekend jaunt to just over 24 hours.
Add to that the incessant media reports on chaotic scenes at airports with people queueing for a kilometre to check in and piled of lost luggage, I really wasn’t too optimistic for a relaxed London trip.
However… after a very busy week at work (my practice colleague being on holiday), a nice uninterrupted sleep, I pitched up at the airport at 9am, walked through a very relaxed security, boarded my flight, phoned a guesthouse… and was in Stansted before noon and thanks to fully pushing out the boat and going on the Stansted Express, in London at lunchtime.
Now, don’t look at this post for itinerary suggestions. This weekend trip was socialising, shopping and a good bit of roasting in a heatwave. Oh, and if you want to get about London cheaply at the height of the summer season.
Fabric and more Fabric
If you have read here before, you know that I sew. In theory, I am a decent sewer ( I sewed my wedding dress) . In practice, an advanced fabric hoarder. With my current workload, I will be glad to be able to dust my office, where the sewing stuff is, once a week.
And a trip to London would be incomplete without a trip to a fabric shop. This time, a new to me fabric shop. I hopped on a bus to the Barbican, from there on a bus to Islington… I have a Pay as you Go Oyster Card and I use Google Maps to navigate public transport – haven’t tried Moovit. Never taken an Uber in my life.
Within the half hour, I hopped off in a rather middling part of Islington and entered the small Raystitch Shop.
Nevermind its size, this is an extremely well curated little Sewing Shop with high quality fabrics and notions and patterns. Plenty of made-up garments and illustrations to show what you can do with their fabrics.
And then, there is the patterns room. Tons and tons of independent patterns. I remember Deer and Doe, Fibre Mood, Merchant and Mills… and the “Big Four, too. I bought the “Willa” Dress pattern I had been eyeing up for two years. And a Nani Iro Sewing book.
And with a nice haul, I headed off on a red double decker towards Shepherds Bush – almost other end of town. I emerged from the Circle Line half an hour later in a jubilant mood. Goldhawk Road, while not much to most people, is one of my favourite places in London. The fabric shops! Shepherds Bush Market! On my last trip, I found a decent pub as well, and there are a small number of Japanese and Taiwanese cafes now.
I am sorry not to have any pictures of my Goldhawk Road visit. More often than not, I just go to Classic Textiles. It’s a lovely cavernous shop close to the underground station. If you love natural fibres, go here first. About the largest and most reasonably priced collection of genuine Liberty Silk and Tana Lawn in this area. Regular price is about 20 GBP per metre, sale fabric about 13GBP per metre, silk costs more. They also have a lot of cotton lawn fabric in stock with William Morris prints, which are not Liberty, which tend to sell for 8-10GBP a metre. Great to sew with, have not done the laundering test on these fabrics yet. If in doubt, buy Tana Lawn. Looks like new after years of wearing and laundry. ON teh other end of the spectrum, they do have some cheaper cotton and synthetic, but I never paid much attention to them.
I half thought I sit down in a nice caff or Japanese noodle shop for a bit of lunch, but the rendezvous time came near, so I jumped on another bus and headed to Ealing Broadway.
Ray Stitch,66-68 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LR, Opens Daily 10-18.30 except Sundays 10-17. https:www.raystitch.co.uk
Classic Textiles, 44 Goldhawk Rd, London W12 8DH, Opens Monday-Saturday 9.30-18.30 . https://www.classictextiles.com
Far, far west… Somewhat dazed and sunburnt, I arrived at a small pub in deepest Ealing. The following six hours were spent in great company, nothing to write here about. As I made my way “home” around 22.30, I was quite grateful to have booked accommodation near a train station – the new “Elizabeth Line”. This makes staying quite far out a lot more feasible. Like in my case. West Drayton – never heard of it, but it’s a stop on the new line, way past Southhall.
And look what I found!
A simple but classy guest house, 5minutes walk from the station, in an old Georgian house, surrounded by a lovely walled garden.
Comfy bed? Check. Actually, it was so hot, around 30C, but I could open the window and the old building made for a great room climate – no need for air condition. I absolutely loved the matching soft furnishing, with their very English Arts and Crafts inspired bright patterns yet still on the tasteful side of granny chic. I paid 100GBP during high season when every other hotel room in town cost between 150-250GBP for a night.
Yes, and after arriving around 23.00, I went a bit gaga taking these photographs, then charging my phone and eating the oranges thoughtfully supplied by my host.
Sunday – from West to East again
I slept gloriously well, the suburbs being quiet and the air cleaner and fresher. I used the early morning hours to bop around my lovely guesthouse and take some pictures. I just love it. Classic English unfussy style. The owner made me coffee and we chatted for an hour in the lovely garden.
The cross is an antique French cross that has been restored and repainted. I must say it appears in pretty much every Google review and it intrigued me! So when I phoned the guesthouse to enquire about rooms and someone answered with a slight accent, I thought, yeah, guesthouse run by Irish older couple… but nope! It surprised me to find the house run by a Russian man.
I had to make the long haul back from West Drayton to Shoreditch – not so long now with the Crossrail. A godsend for my budget-conscious travelling soul. The trains are pretty fast, and in 20 minutes I was back in Paddington, Crossrail stops here for now, although you could change onto another train going across London but underground. Since I am no fan of tunnels and subways, I changed onto a bus where I was remembered its main holiday season, with rucksacked tourists out in full force, and all of us sweating on the bus ride across town, through picturesque M\rylebone and not to pretty Kings Cross and Old Street to Shoreditch.
I got off and toddled in the shade towards Redchurch Street – my new favourite street. Forget the High Street or Bethnal Green Road and noisy Boxpark, the parallel street is where it’s at. I went to see if the old Underground trains are still on the roof of Village Underground. Admired a smidgen of street art here and there, photographed a lonely house and walked into Dishoom. This whole area, between Liverpool streetat the edges oft the city, and Brick Lane, is in a rapidly gentrifying area. As if they needed extra proof, a few giant high rise apartment towers are being built across Great Eastern Road, turning this into tourist and rich people’s playground.
Honestly, the shops in Redchurch Street already show. Wonderful small boutiques to look at, but kinda out of my price bracket. Leaving room in my Ryanair-conform “small item” for Sainsbury’s later, I was happy enough to just look.
Brunch with an Indian touch
My friend is the best when it comes to picking restaurants, and Dishoom was no different. According to the restaurant, it is modelled on an “old Irani cafe of Bombay” . I wouldn’t have a clue, sonce I have neotehr been to Bombay nor to Iran, but it has very nostalgic 1950’s vibe to me, although the exposed brickwork and pipes speak more industrial chic.
Absolutely love the graphics of their menu, and the plethora of nonalcoholic cocktails! Another great thing was the unlimited chai, one reason to visit alone!
We were too early for lunch, so we had what one can only describe as a good quality fry-up. They are incredibly messy, so I never cook them at home, and I am good with that! Points for free range eggs, vegan options were not so great, but all-in-all, a very tasty meal, and I will certainly return for lunch or dinner.
Shopping and Hauling
Pretty full, we went to stroll along Redchurch Street. Small boutiques with cute French fashion brands, a large Sunspel Store, and Labour and Wait stuck out to me. I love Labour and Wait especially, with their curated minimalist offerings, but like with so many other shops here, nice to look… and nothing that I need immediately. If you need homewares, or simple sturdy clothing, then this is a great place to browse.
At some point, we stopped for another coffee and a bit of cake, more to escape the eat than to eat more, really.
Then, as tradition has it, a trip to the Brick Lane Beigel Bake. There has been much discussion as to whether the “white one” (Brick Lane Beigel Bake) or the “yellow one” (Beigel Shop) is better… when it comes to beigels, they are equally good.
The yellow shop has the insta-worthy “rainbow bagels”, the other one has a wider choice of baked goods, as well as rye bread. I tend to follow a simple algorithm when buying beigels there. Usually I am pushed for time and en route to Stansted Airport, so I buy from the one with the shorter queue. Unless I have time and want cheesecake, then I go to the white one. My friend wanted to take home cheesecake, so we joined the queue, I packed up 18 beigels neatly into my handbag, said goodbye to my friend and headed to the Whitechapel Sainsbury’s.
What a find. With a large Asian population, this huge superstore is an Asian foods emporium. I got carried away a bit and grabbed about five bags of Cofresh snack mixes. In Germany you can buy a different brand for much more money, which does not taste nearly as good. Cofresh snacks are from Leicester, so no chance finding them in Germany. And of course they had my Tunnocks wafers and Bendicks mints as well. And five types of vegetarian gravy. Can I say this was my favourite shop all weekend? When I lived in the UK< I hauled rye bread, chocolate and gummibears with me, now I sure find enough cheap chocolate wafers, cream eggs, mints, gravy granules and Indian snacks to take with me.
How I got all this into the Ryanair-mandated “small item (40 × 20 × 25 cm)? Well. I didn’t. Armed with one of those reusable shopping bags, I hopped on my train, then repacked it all a bit. In Stansted Airport, I was greeted with one of the longest queues ever, but their crowd management on this occasion was excellent, so I ended up with plenty of time, added two books and a couple of magazines to my shopping bag, and in the end, it dodn’t matter. Seems if you come with the correct size piece of baggage and a small appendix, all of which can be squished under the seat, it doesn’t matter.
So here is what I got, apart from 30 pounds worth of food! The pale blue flowery is a “William Morris” cotton from Classic Textiles, the colourful print is a Storrs of London cotton fabric. Storrs is meant to be similar in quality to Liberty Tana Lawn, fabric varies a little in thickness, and it’s about 20% cheaper than Liberty. Well, I picked some nice intense colours, lets see how it does with the first wash! I also got matching thread, reasonably priced Japanese Sashiko thread, a few labels, a Nani Iro book and the “Willa” Dress pattern.
I don’t know when I will be back in London. I was lucky enough to visit the third time this year, after a three-year hiatus! I have a lot of travel planned for the rest of the year, free days all carefully allocated, but perhaps I can squeeze in a November weekend to brighten up my work week… fingers crossed.