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Welltravbrit's London Sojourn - An Ongoing Trip Report

Welltravbrit's London Sojourn - An Ongoing Trip Report

Mar 31st, 2015, 06:32 PM
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Welltravbrit's London Sojourn - An Ongoing Trip Report

Subtitle: The Glamour Never Ends, Bethnal Green Here We Come!

Well, we’ve rented our house and are hitting the road. We’ve done this a few times before (Paris, Rome + Asia = lots of posts on my blog and Fodors) but this time we are off to London. I’m a Brit, but it has been 25 years since I’ve lived in the UK and though I had student summer jobs in London, I never lived there. We’ve rented a flat from an American cultural historian and will be in Bethnal Green for three months, April, May and June. Right now we are experiencing a bit of a heat wave in California and the drought means our winter has been sunny, warm and dry.
So why on earth are we leaving for London?!! After so many years away I've come to rely on the sun, I knew I shouldn’t have looked at the weather forecast which is predictably cold and rainy!

Once again we used Sabbaticalhomes.com to find a place and to rent our home, it’s been an amazing resource for finding great people to rent our place, and great places to stay when we are traveling. I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a longer stay or if you live near a university and would consider renting out your house to academics.

I’m hoping to get to know lots of my favorite museums and to explore lots of the museums that I haven’t visited before. I’ve been scouring some of the posts here on off the beaten path things to see, thanks Palenque and others. I now have a ridiculously long list of places I’d like to see Including; 2 Willow Rd, the Horniman Museum, Keat’s House, Emery Walker’s House, Spencer House, Petrie Museum, Strawberry Hill House, Red House, Geoffrey Museum, Jewish Museum, Foundling Museum, Apsley House, Eltham House, Kenwood House, Dulwich Picture Gallery and lots more. Of course I won’t see them all but it’s good to have a variety of places to aim for. Overall, I’m hoping to get to know the city and the museums a little better and to do lots of walking.

I don’t know the East End of London and Bethnal Green is somewhere that had changed dramatically since I was a child when Tower Hamlets was a byword for violence, urban decay and social conflict. It’s a working class area that has seen waves of immigration and is now rapidly gentrifying. I’m looking forward to seeing London from a different perspective as we normally stay in the West End. We are close to Columbia Flower Market and Broadway Market and I’m looking forward to being able to walk to Brick Lane, though I haven’t been there since the early 1990s!

To prepare I’ve been listening to a History of the City of London from Great Courses (ok but not great, my husband recommends Porter's A Social History of London) and reading a book on the history of the East End. In the past we’ve joined the Royal Oak Society (the US arm of the National Trust) but this time we will be mainly in London so I joined the Art Fund, membership gives you free entrance to many of the smaller house museums and a 50% discount on special exhibits at the larger museums. I think it’s a good deal for anyone staying for a substantial period and/or looking to visit a lot of small museums and historic houses.

I’m particularly looking forward to seeing lots of theatre and we’ve booked tickets to a number of National Theatre productions including Ralph Fiennes in Man and Superman. Review to follow.

I’ll be posting here on Fodors and blogging about our trip on my blog, though I have to wrap up our last trip report on Egypt first. Here’s the first post on planning our London sojourn

I’m posting from the airport, SFO and we should be leaving in about an hour. We booked the flat eleven months ago and I can’t believe we are finally on our way! If you have any suggestions we should have time to follow up on them.

Hope you'll enjoy following along.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Mar 31st, 2015, 06:56 PM
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How nice...have fun!
yestravel is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 02:05 AM
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Enjoy (from a fellow West-to-East Londoner). By chance I came across the Londonist podcasts and pub guide this morning, which might be of interest to you:

PatrickLondon is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 03:03 AM
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Following.....btw you might like Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields areas - you'll be in Hoxton anyway for the Geffrye museum (which is small but v interesting imho). Whole swathes of Tower Hamlets still feel quite rough in parts but have million pound price tags nonetheless. I will be interested you hear your thoughts on the changes
RM67 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 03:03 AM
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Hi, WTB! Enjoy your travels in London!

I'm so enjoying your blog -- right now, I'm reading your posts on Andalucia, as we're off in a month!

progol is online now  
Apr 1st, 2015, 08:54 AM
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Signing on. Looking forward to reading about your trip as I'll be in London again in September, although probably only for a week.

Have you been to the Dennis Severs house? Also, my current London list includes the Design Museum and Leighton House. Will have to look up Willow Road, Horniman and Emery Walker.

Can anyone use the Sabbatical site, or do you have to be an academic?

Have fun and stay dry - my sister's reports on the weather are depressing.
thursdaysd is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 09:26 AM
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Oh, what fun! Tagging along here and will definitely check out your blog.
LCBoniti is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 10:15 AM
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Thank you for posting. I assume you live somewhere in the Bay Area. Are you renting out your own home?

Fellow Californian
mendota98 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 02:29 PM
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I'm checking in too.

I often do what you are doing WTB, but usually take over a friend's flat in Highbury for 2/3 months. It means I dont have to rush about so much to fit everything in.

One discovery I have made is a series of lectures at UCL on all kinds of topics from philosophy to history to art. They are held in the main quad area, someone on the gate will direct you. Free too, and sometimes nibbles are thrown in! There are some interesting small museums on the UCL campus too. Gower Street.

Quite near where you are is Spitalfields where the church has music recitals and a big festival in June. And City of London Festival is around the same time too.

I can't wait to get over there....
gertie3751 is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 02:37 PM
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welcome home, well travelled.

you obviously have a lot of lovely and interesting things planned already, but does lunch in Middle Temple Hall interest you? [forgive me if we've talked about this before or if you have mentioned it upthread]


I would leave it now till mid-April as many of the barristers will be on their Easter hols - it'll be more fun when they get back.

the gardens [Inner Temple's are the best, IMO] should look lovely in a week or two as well.
annhig is online now  
Apr 1st, 2015, 03:32 PM
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Heading back to London for 5 nights in May, after a 6 night visit in February.

I look forward to picking up some pointers for my free hours on this trip.

(I'm mostly there to help my brother move out of his Kensington flat and back to NYC.)
tedgale is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 04:21 PM
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Looking forward to your report....love the Bethnal Green area, the row houses are quite different in that area, and Columbia Road is a great day out...will be back myself in December for Christmasm
kmowatt is offline  
Apr 1st, 2015, 05:39 PM
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I'm looking forward to following your report. We were talking last night about a return to London, one of my favorite cities. I'm re-reading the History of the World in 100 Objects, so of course I'm yearning to go back to the British Museum.
Kathie is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 05:33 AM
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Thanks to everyone for all the encouraging replies and suggestions. I will look into the UCL lectures. I heard about the Spitalfields Music Festival via tickets I booked tickets to an associated lecture, given by Jerry White on “Georgian London”. He’s the author of multiple books on London including one I’ve just started on London in the Eighteenth Century.

Another interesting resource is the Bishopsgate Institute where were are heading in a couple of weeks to hear a lecture on the gentrification of the East End, by the Guardian’s design critic. My brother acerbically declared some amusement at the idea of Guardian readers (myself included) ,who are the gentrifiers, listing to a Guardian critic talking about the problem, but there you are! Annig, the Middle Temple is always a good suggestion, the afore mentioned sibling (after several career incarnations)is now a barrister so I’ve been to one of the chamber dinners over there. The whole thing was fascinating and very reminiscent of the ritual of school but then I went somewhere rather anachronistic!

We arrived in great style - thanks to the recent devaluation of BA miles that encouraged me to use up what we had left. The journey is surprisingly comfortable when you have a flat bed that they make up for you (I’m wasn't going to be seen in public in the pajamas they provided so we will skip over that) and an English breakfast before arrival. 95% of the time we take the tube into town but this time we opted for a mini cab and I can recommend www.blackberrycars.com, the whole thing was very easy to book online and they seemed the cheapest of the places I looked at. It took rather a long time (proving the supremacy of the Tube) due to an underground fire in Holborn that closed down several roads. However, we were on an unintentioned tour of all the tourist highlights. We drove in through Kensington, Hyde Park, past St James and Buckingham Palace, down to Westminster and then along the Victoria Embankment (where we cast a jaundiced eye over the other eye) lots of bridges on our right of course and the Southbank, and then The Tower (momentarily in the sunshine) before we swung up towards Tower Hamlets, not quite so glamorous! It was a magnificent sweep of London and what a way to start.

The flat is very comfortable and I think we will be happy here. We took a brief walk around the neighborhood and went in search of basics. It’s quite fascinating, we are five minutes from the canal and Broadway Market which is FAR fancier than I imagined. A sort of urban, organic, hipster wonderland filled with great food and three bookshops selling mainly art tomes. There are a couple of gastro pubs, all suitably redone in “Tasteful” colours, you know what I mean National Trust green or that fabulous grey that could be blue. The whole place has a slightly surreal feel, like a island (or maybe an invading army) that’s growing amongst the urban decay. It all reminds me a little of the Mission in SF - yes Mendota98 we live in the Bay Area- where you have enormous disparities in income and opportunity right next to each other.

RM67, you are certainly right "it’s fairly rough in parts", there’s a schizophrenic feeling to some of the fancy new developments now under construction on the Hackney Road, surrounded as they are by rundown, grubby shops, but by the time they are finished I’m sure the place will look quite different. Things are clearly changing quite fast in this part of London driven by the boom in the places you mentioned Hoxton, Shoreditch and Spitalfields. One minute we were in yuppie delight at the Broadway Market and the next I was in Tesco Express to buy some milk when the police were called to deal with a crowd of school kids who were less than skillful shoplifters. Clearly teenagers are the same the world over!

Thursdaysd, I haven’t been to Denis Sever’s House but it is on the list and fyi anyone can use sabbatical homes though the pricing is different for academic and teachers. Paule, glad the blog is helpful for Andalusia, have a great time on your trip. Hope we can meet up with you and Yestravel somewhere else unexpectedly soon!
Patrick thanks for the Londonist links, much appreciated.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 07:24 AM
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Glad to hear you have arrived safely, WTB.

I hadn't realised that you have legal connections [sounds like the old Radio 4 game Twenty Questions] but the information might be interesting to someone else.

looking forward to taking part in your trip, albeit vicariously.
annhig is online now  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 08:03 AM
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Looking forward to reading of your stay in London, especially since I will be there in three weeks for a few days and then off to Devon and Cornwall.
irishface is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 10:20 AM
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hope you bring some warmer weather with you, irishface. Where are you headed for?
annhig is online now  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 10:56 AM
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I am certain you know about London Walks. I have taken their day trips out of London and found them excellent. Some take you places where in individual traveller without a car would. Find difficult. Plus many of the guides for their London tours are really good.
We have tickets to Gylindebourne this June. Hard to get the tickets but we are excited to go. Have you been?
Enjoy London. Lots to do.
Elainee is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 12:55 PM
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I'm another fan of London Walks - they have some really great neighborhood walks.

I'm actually heading to London again end of June - my first time in early summer so hoping for flowers. (I usually am there fall/winter.) I look forward to reading of your adventures for ideas (and definitely will take annhig's middle temple suggestions.)
LCBoniti is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2015, 02:18 PM
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Well, our first full day in London and the sun came out, that alone was enough to get me out of the house. So we decided to walk to the Courtauld which seemed a good place to start our art adventure, something familiar but somewhere that never disappoints and the joy of the art fund pass is that because the entrance is free you can just drop in for an hour.

So we set off on foot and headed down the Columbia Road which is less than ten minutes from the apartment and the site of the Columbia Rd flower market. Well I've found another slice of hipster heaven in London. Lots of small shops, stationery, antiques, all horribly tasteful and fabulous. But also mostly closed on a Thursday at lunchtime. So onward we went as we started to feel very pleased with ourselves about this whole Eastward orientation.

Ok on we walked, down Old Bethnal Green Rd to Brick Lane. Well lets just say I haven't been here for twenty years and things have changed! It looks a whole lot trendier and what happened to all the Bengali restaurants?

We are starting to get hungry so it was the perfect time to drop into Beigel Bake (white sign or you could choose the yellow signed Beigel Shop - though today it was closed) a 24 hour old time East End establishment selling, you guessed it what we call a bagel! The lines were long but they moved quickly and for 1.60 pounds I had a bagel, cremates and salmon, cheap huh? It was delicious. My husband opted for the bagel with salt beef which he said was like a Jewish corned beef. It looked too meat for me but he loved it, tho as a New Yorker he wasn't quite so sure about the bagel itself. This is real street food, nowhere to sit and brusque service at the counter but full of character.

From here we walked toward Spitalfied's church with a wonderfully classical facade and then into Spitalfields market which was full or "antique" cough bric a brac but lots of fun stuff nevertheless. It this rate we were never going to make it to the Courtauld so we picked up the pace, past Liverpool St, down Bishopsgate and through the city. We walked around St Pauls but resisted going in and sped down the Strand to the Courtauld.

The Art Fund Pass worked like a charm and in we went with an hour to go before closing. IT's such a charming gallery and it wasn't too busy so there was plenty of room to admire. Who could complain about a room of Cezannes, or a tiny room filled with small studies by Seurat? I've been there lots of times but somehow had forgotten a second version (not as large as the one in the D'Orsay) of Dejeuner sur L'Herbes, magnificent. An hour made for a brief visit but after a full day that was more than enough.

WE were going to end our day at the roof top bar at the ME hotel opposite the Courtauld but due to the underground fire yesterday in Holborn they were still experiencing a power cut. Instead we took the bus home (via Shoreditch which looked both fabulous and painfully hip) and stopped at the Broadway Cafe at Broadway Market.

It was all so familiar, we could have been in Soho, Brooklyn, the Haute Marais, or the Bay Area. Even the menu looked like home, Padron peppers or arancini with hipsters anyone? WE were certainly bringing up the average age and I'm still in my 40s! But sometimes familiar isn't bad. Friendly service, a glass of rose and a great day, I wasn't complaining.


Annig, It's too dangerous, if we keep going with the legal connections we are bound to find someone in common! Rather like what my husband called "Jewish geography" where you talk about summer camps and temples until you "situate" yourself!
Elainee - I've been looking at the London Walks website, I can't get over how many they offer every day. I've never been to Glynebourne but my sister goes every year, do bring a picnic and plenty of champagne. Frankly if I drank the amount they do at these things I'd sleep through it all!
welltraveledbrit is offline  

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