I arrived in London Heathrow airport close to 6am, after a fairly comfortable flight. I was lucky enough to have two young children sitting right in front of me who were incredibly well behaved – the parents were great and kept them very quiet. The in-flight movie selection had some nice recent films, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I watched right after takeoff. After we touched down, it was very easy to get through the plane, security, and baggage. (Good decision making: make your baggage distinctive. It saves time at the baggage carousel because you can grab and go, rather than having to inspect every black suitcase that comes around.) It took me a little bit to figure out how to make sense of the Underground, but I did eventually manage to buy an oyster card and get to Notting Hill in one piece.
I’m staying at the flat of a family friend who lived in Notting Hill, although she has since moved back to the United States. Her flatmate is still here, and he let me into the apartment on his way out to work. It’s a beautiful place, and very comfortable set-up. I am so glad to have a chance to stay here, as it puts me a lovely part of London and gives me a lot of flexibility/peace of mind when it comes to leaving my stuff when I am exploring the city.
I got a chance to shower and charge my phone and computer while I was at the flat, and get in touch with Jin, a friend who is staying in London. He is taking classes through a Penn specific program, which is coincidentally also centered in Notting Hill. Although his dorm room is only a mile away from the flat, I left a few hours before we were supposed to meet for lunch so that I would have plenty of time to wander the streets.
I came across Portobello Road when I was wandering. When it’s in full swing on the weekends, Portobello Market is the largest antiques markets in the world. Since I went on a Tuesday, only a few vendors had sidewalk stands set up, and there were very few people walking along the road. Even though it was smaller-scale, it was still a ton of fun to check out.
After Portobello, I really just wandered around for a good hour or two, checking out the different houses and passing by a few churches. The streets in Philadelphia are laid out as a grid, which made trying to navigate here a little bit more complicated. Although I never really had a set location in mind (besides arriving at my friend’s dorm when his classes let out) I kept finding myself doubling back around and arriving one or two streets past where I had thought I was going. A lot of the streets are variants on the same name, with distinctions made between roads, drives, crescents, places, alleys, etc. I am glad to have a map on my phone to be able to figure all of these things out.
After Jin’s class let out, we ate lunch together and then took the metro over to Harrods department store. My parents had recommended that I check it out – and I am glad that they did. I didn’t think that I would be one for a lot of window-shopping (and, trust me, with the prices at Harrods, that’s all I could afford to do) but it was a really strange experience. Each floor felt like a completely different set of stores – from the eateries, to the haute couture, to the children’s toy room, it was fabulous. Best part of the trip there was definitely the Egyptian elevator though – it was in the center of the store, although was not the entrance that we originally came into. We stumbled across it though, and took it back up to the top just to get a view. The shrine to Princess Diana and Dodi at the bottom was impressive, to say the least.
We walked back to Notting Hill after Harrods, going through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Once Jin and I had split up, I walked back to the flat. I found an Asian grocery store on the way back, and picked up a package of instant noodles (the international food of cheap students everywhere) for dinner. I also bought a pack of tapioca pearls, which had very simple instructions for cooking. I am chalking that purchase up as a necessity, because who knows what the bubble tea situation is going to be at Cambridge? And I definitely couldn’t go without it for two months. I spent the rest of the night at the flat, and fell asleep pretty early.