There is nothing like going to the gardens at the Victoria & Albert Museum in the South Kensington area of London. You can have a cup of tea in a beautifully printed cup and cool your feet in the fountain on a warm day. The John Madejski Garden at the V&A is one of my favorite meeting spots in London. When the weather is warm, it’s an idyllic place to spend a few hours in the afternoon. After the many grey months you get in London, it’s probably one of the cheeriest places in the city you can be and one of the rarer instances you can splash around in a fountain! The best part is that the gardens and the museum are open to the public and have free admittance!
Aside from being the former residence of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge as well as some highly amusing and inappropriate sheep jokes — Wales tends to be the most overlooked country in the U.K. It’s a bit like the embarrassing relative of the family who no one wants to admit being related to but is still invited to the reunion because hey…they’re family. Some people who don’t live in the U.K. actually think Wales is a part of England. So, here I am to set the record straight for a country that is very proud, has it’s own language, it’s own flag and what’s more some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. Not to mention it’s a cheap weekend getaway when you don’t want to spend tons of money to fly somewhere. Here’s a few great areas to check out in northern Wales.
Trearddur Bay (pronounced “trather) is only a few minutes outside the small village of Holyhead, where one can catch the ferry from Wales to Dublin. The area looks a bit like something from a period drama. The bay opens up into the Irish Sea and is dotted with small white houses and Inns. If the weather is decent, it’s not uncommon to see a photographer out on the bay taking pictures of the sunset which I have been told are “some of the most beautiful in the world.” I have made it a routine to wake up early in the morning and walk around this bay with a pen and journal to write on the banks. My American accent stands out a long mile in this small area but everyone is always friendly and happy to give a “good morning” as you walk by.
An hour’s drive away from Trearrdur Bay is Conwy. This ancient walled city boasts it’s own castle on a large bay that is always filled with colorful sail boats. The castle was originally built as a fortress as were the walls which surround the city during the 1200s as part of the English’ conquest of Wales. For a few pounds, visitors can walk around the castle and get a great view of the town and the sea. Lastly, one of Conwy’s quirky tourist attractions is “the Smallest House in Britain.” You can access the house for 1 pound, and as it only takes less than five minutes to view — it doesn’t exactly eat up much time but it wasn’t really worth looking in either.
There are a lot of bay’s in Northern Wales (as already illustrated) but the last one to visit is the seaside resort town of Colwyn Bay. The area here reminds me a lot of Brighton with it’s posh looking little white 19th century hotels that line the beach and it’s own pier (the Victoria Pier). Colwyn Bay is a very touristy city but it’s not too overwhelming and a great place to get away for the summer.
When people ask me what I miss the most about the the States, my answer is immediate — the food. Unfortunately, my adopted country isn’t filled with many flavorful options (with the exception of really good curry and cream tea) and it has caused some homesickness. Thankfully, since moving to London, I have discovered a few places that serve some of my favorite things.
The U.K. takes its tea very seriously but i’m from Seattle — a city that takes it’s coffee seriously. Note that when I’m talking about coffee — I’m not referring to Starbucks. Bearing all this in mind, the first thing I set out to look for when I got to London was some good espresso. After several unsuccessful finds — a fellow coffee lover put me onto Monmouth Coffee Co. Located on Monmouth St in the Seven Dials area just a stones throw from Neal’s Yard. There is always a queue out the door, but the service is fast and friendly and the coffee is spot on.
Electric Donuts in Notting Hill serves up delicious donuts made fresh daily. It’s based in the lobby of Electric Cinema, one of the oldest cinemas in London, on Portobello Rd. Electric Donuts run a small operation that only has four flavors of donuts at a time which are alternated every week. The flavors come in traditional chocolate and vanilla and venture into some more interesting varieties such as Maple Bourbon and Mexican Chocolate.
Red velvet cake
It is true that there is red velvet cake in Britain — but it’s made with buttercream icing. True red velvet cake has sweet cream cheese icing. After complaining to an English friend of mine about the blasphemy of British baking over this icing issue, she pointed me towards Hummingbird Bakery. It’s a small chain in London that is known specifically for it’s red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing. In fact, they are Hummingbird’s best seller.
Burgers and floats
Nostalgic 1950’s style soda shops and diners are not difficult to find in the U.S. They always sell thick milkshakes, good burgers, and there is always a jukebox with old hits playing. It’s an iconically American franchise, so I was surprised to walk into Ed’s Easy Diner in Soho on a rainy afternoon looking for lunch. I was thrilled to sit at the counter and get a good burger and a root beer float. Root beer is not available in most places in Britain and usually has to be imported by specialty shops, so the float was a rare treat. Ed’s even has the old rock n roll playing jukeboxes at every seat. All the money that goes into the jukeboxes are donated to charity.
L’Eto Caffe was a recent find when a friend came to visit. We were on the hunt for a breakfast place we had heard about but when we arrived, the queue was wrapping around the building. Thankfully, we stumbled onto a great alternative — L’Eto Caffe. The place was one of those charming yet quirky cafe’s where everything is homemade and the prices are cheap. My apple pancakes came fresh made with real apple slices and creme fraiche as well as a side of fresh fruit. The best part is they weren’t heavy and cakey like a lot of pancakes I have had in the past.
Photo credit: Monmouthcoffee.co.uk, electricdonuts.com, Andy Melan