“In London, everyone is different. That’s good because that means anyone can fit it”
That Paddington was a smart guy/bear!
I was in England last week – partly to celebrate my husband’s aunt’s 85th birthday and partly because that part of the world is one of my favourites!
I’ve been to London a few times before but I thought I would do a recap, this time, from a touristy/foodies point of view (in case any of you are planning a trip in the next little while!). Now, I should say that both London and Manchester, like any European city, have many small gems in terms of attractions and food destinations…this is just my quick little window into my way of travel. And, in case any of you are wondering, this post is my small gift to you all (none of it is sponsored). I tried to link websites to this post just to make it easier for all of you to get more information on the places I mention.
We landed in Manchester, on a Friday morning. As a travel tip, I like this time slot – leaving Toronto at 9pm the night before, having a quick snack on the plane about 2 hours in and then settling in for a “sleep”, or as much of a “sleep” as you can manage on a plane. That way, when you land, you can go on your way without a nap and just plan for an early night that evening.
We got to our hotel by 9am. The young man at the front desk kept our bags until our room was ready so we could go adventuring!
But, before we talk about the city, let me tell you a bit about this cute hotel. The Principal Hotel came up on my search when I was looking for a place to stay. It is a fabulous spot that is housed in the former Refuge Assurance Company building…a stunner to say the least! Refuge, the bar in the hotel, has had rave reviews by The Guardian, England’s Time Out magazine, and our very own Globe and Mail.
The architechture is fabulous, leaving all the original details and adding just the right amount of “newness”. Even if you happen to be passing by (and not staying at the hotel), I would suggest the breakfast buffet which is spectacular (not sure what they put in their scrambled eggs, but our entire table declared them the best eggs ever!!)
One afternoon, we stopped in the bar and had some drinks and tapas…seriously good tapas!!
The lobby is spectacular with a statue of a three-metre bronze horse in mid-trot created by Sophie Dickens (great great grand daughter of Charles Dickens…which is why the horse is encircled with a quote by Charles himself!!
It has so many hidden hallways and niches…so exquisite! And it even has it’s own little flower shop!
And if you think this came at an exorbitant amount, you guessed wrong. It was exactly the same as another mid-end North American hotel chain down the street and sooo much prettier (and did I say the staff were incredible?!?!?!)
Now, off to explore the great city!
First stop: Manchester Cathedral.
Manchester Cathedral has been centre stage in the city’s history for nearly 600 years. In 1421, Henry V signed a royal charter granting permission for a collegiate church to be built. In 1847 a new Manchester diocese was created and this historic church became a Cathedral.
This is the first place I encountered the “bees of Manchester”.
The bee was adopted as a symbol for Manchester during the industrial revolution (seven bees are even included in the crest of the city’s arms), which were granted to the Borough of Manchester in 1842. At the time it represented the hard work of Mancunians and the textile mills that were commonly described as hives of activity, with the workers inside them compared to bees. It’s been an emblem of Manchester for over 150 years – but now the humble worker bee has come to represent the amazing sense of unity and solidarity shown in this great city in the wake of the bombings that have occurred in recent times.
It’s a stunning cathedral in the heart of town.
You can see below some of the walls that were destroyed during the war and left as a reminder of survival.
Next stop: Chetham’s Library.
In the heart of Manchester and founded in 1653, it is the oldest public library in the English speaking world.
Originally, the books were chained to the shelves (see below) to stop people from removing them from the building.
But, as more books were added, higher shelves were built and books could no longer be chained. So, instead, they built gates…when you wanted to see a book, you had to be inside the gates (below).
Beautiful printing press below…
All that walking made us hungry…so off to a pub for some proper fish and chips. Knowing this would not be my first “fish and chip” meal, I opted for the kids portion (don’t laugh…it was the size of what I would get in Canada…minus the mushy peas!). A perfect afternoon meal with Heinz ketchup and malt vinegar!!
Next, off to John Ryland’s Library, home to one of the world’s richest and most unique collections of books, manuscripts, maps, works of art and objects (including a remarkable Fragment of the Gospel of John, a small scrap of papyrus that lay in the collections for many decades before being discovered in the 1930s)
Here you can see breath-taking architecture and spectacular stonework…a Neo-gothic masterpiece.
The main staircase leads up to the beautiful Historic Reading Room where anyone can study…imagine how inspired you would be!!
St. Anne, as majestic as she is (and looks eerily like Queen Elizabeth) is on stage because the cathedral is literally on the corner of St. Anne’s Square.
Shakespeare in all his glory below!
The cotton flower is another icon that can be seen around Manchester (like in the back of the chair below as well as in all of the lights at the library). As textile manufacturers switched from the home to factories, Manchester and towns in south and east Lancashire became the largest and most productive cotton spinning centre in the world using in 1871, 32% of global cotton production
Again, more pub food!! This time we visited Mr. Thomas’ Chop House which is a local pub known for some pretty epic pub fare! We were meeting up with friends for dinner who had been before, so we knew it was goingto be yummy!! We had bangers and mash, steak and kidney pie (with mushy peas), corned beef hash (this was my dish and it was EPIC) and finally sticky toffee pudding (I ate ALL of it including a large dollop of creme fraiche!!). The next day, my MIL and I went back for lunch..I tried the veggie stew with a poached egg paired with onion rings (’cause it’s all about balance!).
Again, more bees…this time on the side of a garbage bin on the street!
And aren’t these war coats, below, amazing? At the Manchester museum, we found lots to see including so many artifacts from the war like these (complete with hand sewn poppies).
Manchester, like all of England, is not short of beautiful cemeteries (call me weird, but I love reading head stones…so many stories buried there…literally).
Below is a section of one of the cemeteries where ashes are kept after cremation…each “toppled” stone was engraved.
And so many angels…
More bees on a restaurant wall!
Next, off to Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United Soccer team. So, a bit of a backstory here…my MIL is from Manchester and her entire family, including my kids, all all Manchester United fans so this is their heaven! My husband is a Manchester City fan (a huge rivalry!!)…watching soccer can sometimes get ugly, if you know what I mean!
It’s not called the Theatre of Dreams for nothing!!
More bees…this time in a bathroom!
For as awesome as our time in Manchester was (3 1/2 days), now we were off to London. The food pics in Manchester were a bit limited (sometimes, when I’m with my extended family, it’s hard to constantly be snapping pics of food…it can be an annoyance!).
But, with only my husband and adult son with me in London, embarrassing or not, the food pics were going to be better!
This time in London, we stayed in the Notting Hill district and our neighbourhood bakery/coffee shop was literally on the corner of our street – it’s where we would stop in for our morning “flat white” and pastry!
You could also find the most glorious meringues (below)…
And luscious pastries!
We grabbed a coffee and went back to our apartment to get settled. I’m sure if you’ve ever traveled with a family, you know that when you need 2 or more hotel rooms, it can get pricey. We have used Airbnb in the past but we thought we would try One Fine Stay…the price of this entire apartment was 1/2 the price of 2 single rooms!
Off to explore, we walked through Hyde Park…a beautiful green space for people to gather!
The monuments all around London are really quite something but, as a Canadian, I really noticed all of the poppies everywhere…
Some of the prettiest doors I’ve ever seen!
And the tree lined streets are just beautiful!
On our way to our tour of parliament, I had to stop and take a picture of the man himself, Winston Churchill!
And Big Ben is always a sight to see! As Jimmy Kimmel said “how can you ever be late in London? There’s a giant clock right in the middle of town!!!”
Now, an in depth look at Britain’s parliament…and the stunning building that houses it!
This modern installment of art represents the ends of all the rolls of paper that are kept in the chambers and the colours change as the tide changes…
See below, the difference from the first picture..it was literally an hour later!
I just loved this monument below!
Can you tell I love doors? This, below, if the oldest door in Britain (in the parliament!)
I’m not sure what this building was but I want that ivy growing on MY house!!
Next, onto Covant Garden market…lost of retail stores, vendors, restaurants and…
of course outdoor entertainment (yes, that’s a knife he’s catching!)
As I planned the day ahead, which I had to myself, I headed to “my” bakery to fuel up with a homemade scone with creme fraiche and jam and a flat white…and off to explore!
I headed to Notting Hill Market which was so, so lovely!!!
So many antiques!
And the famous Humingbird bakery…but my belly was full of scones so I passed!!
The chic of London can be seen everywhere! I knew this was a place to share with my hubby and son so I planned to return on Saturday (market day!).
I was meeting a friend for dinner and we decided to go to Ottolenghi’s restaurant in Islington (just on the northern part of the tube – about 30 min from Notting Hill). I wish I had more time to explore this neighbourhood…it is a gem!!
As I waited fro my friend Tara, I spied his new Sweet book in the window…
As well as all the goodies you can get at the take away counter!
Just a teaser of our menu (which was amazing!) …this was one of two desserts we tried. It was a chocolate tart in a shortcrust pastry with brittle and creme fraiche and served with a warm vanilla custard…HEAVEN!
The next day was all about seeing all of London (we always go on the On-Off Bus when we travel whenever it’s available…it’s the best way to see a city…I even did it in my own city!!). We went around the entire loop and saw every attraction (including the first Twinings shop below)!
Then, of course, another pub lunch with steak pie (below) and I had a meat free version which was an open puff pastry with roasted beets and brie…so good!!
After lunch,we jumped back on the bus and landed right at Borough Market (totally my call here!!)
If you are a food lover, then you NEED to get your butt right over to this market the next time you’re in London!
Duck confit sandwiches at a food stall…imagine (it smelled divine!!)
And prosecco spritzers? Preach!!
All kinds of treats…
to cured meats of all shapes and sizes…
And, of course, it is a carboholic’s heaven!! Starting with these pizzettes…
to donuts filled with house made jams, bittersweet chocolate, dulce de leche, vanilla custard and lemon cream (I had lemon…glorious!!)
Of course, the stalls were peppered with gluten free goodies too!
There was fudge of all kinds…
ready made wraps…
noodles to your liking…
these incredible cheese sticks…
a myriad of mushrooms…
and a reminder of Narnia…good, old fashioned turkish delights!
Once, my belly was full (again!), off we went adventuring again. We found this church where the only original piece left was this incredible stone wall standing on it’s own…
Of course, crossing the London Bridge is always a necessity!
And the Tower of London is one of the best places to tour with so much history to share (TOURIST TIDBIT: not too many people know about this but once the tower closes, you can get tickets – which are free but you have to order them ahead of time – to the oldest and most colourful surviving ceremonies of its kind, having been enacted every night without fail for over 700 years. It is called The Ceremony of the Keys, is set amidst the mighty battlements of this ancient historic fortress, and it is honestly something not to be missed. But, a word of warning, it books up quickly, oftentimes, being booked a year in advance!)
More monument hunting…
If you are a history buff or love Winston Churchill (I just saw the movie The Darkest Hour and I have to say he has a new fan in me!!), I highly recommend a tour of Churchill’s bunker…most of the underground headquarters where he was stationed during the war is pretty much as it was on the day the war ended…it is truly amazing!!
I know I love statues but I loved what this one below represents: ““Holding the elephant in a high position gives homage to the traits that we share and gradually forget, such as family, solidarity, compassion and cooperation. We may not have the extraordinary memory of the elephant, but we need to remember to prioritize, work positively, and relentlessly towards reaching our goals, and dreams.” says sculptor Bushra Fakhoury
And, then as Saturday approaches, off to Notting Hill market we go…again!
The splendour of this market was beyond belief! As my son said, “mom, I think I could furnish my whole apartment here!!”.
From antique cameras…
to printing presses and accessories!!
Want a gas mask from the war? No problem!
How about a feather fascinator?
Or how about some flowers for your apartment?
And did you think it wasn’t going to be about food? Well, you can have a savoury tart…
or the freshest paella ever (you had to smell this!!!)…
some savoury pastries…
or how about some olives??
You could find silver galore…
and even pieces of lace and trimmings..
There was nothing that you couldn’t find here!!
As we left the market, we stumbled upon Paul Smith’s shop (a famous designer in London who is known for driving his mini-cooper around town and stopping in to talk to customers!!)…you can now find his clothing line in Canada!
And, with our bags packed and on our last day in London, we found a gem of a restaurant called The Shed
Tucked away on a side street in Notting Hill, I would highly recommend this place!!! The patio is just darling…
And the food is beyond incredible! We started with their signature Gin and Tonic!
The dishes are served as fairly large sharing plates, so we started with a butter bean hummus served on toasted sourdough topped with poached egg and baharat…deeeelish!!
Next, gin-cured trout with poached eggs, cucumber, horseradish, crisp bread and herb oil…outstanding!!
This dish was cured grouse, sweet corn, berry, and smoked onion!
My hubby’s favourite was fallow deer (venison) with shaved cabbage, celeriac puree, juniper berries and pear!
Venison ragu with spaetzle and a parsley crumb!
Pumpkin gnocchi with tunworth and sage…
And last but not least, a dark chocolate coated honeycomb crunch with marscarpone and taragon sugar…and all around fabulous meal that we won’t soon forget!!
So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this recounting of our trip….a little bit of this and a little bit of that. We had a fabulous time together!
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford” Samuel Johnson
So much truth Samuel!!