Two sides to England

Our trip to England was a tale of two cities; the bustling metropolis of London and the quaint picturesque town of Keswick. We feel it’s only appropriate to divide the blog into two parts because the experiences in the cities were so different.

London

We landed in London, and hopped an Uber to our hotel.  As soon as we were settled in, we got out onto the town!  We were immediately enamored by the character oozing out of Regent street, in the heart of the city.  We were in London and there was no denying it, the streets are spotless and the people were very proper.  The busses run exactly on time and if they are ahead of schedule (not behind here) they stop and wait for time to catch up with them.

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These are not a novelty here, the double-decker buses are everywhere.

London is also a melting pot of people.  People who, regardless of race and creed, have become Londoners, adhering to the standard and culture of proper London.  The people are nice and cordial, keeping to themselves but never shying away if you ask them for help.

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The crowds at Portobello Market

The different neighborhoods of London have their own impression and charm allowing the large city to feel smaller. We love to get a local grasp of the city and try to imagine what it would be like if we lived here. We bought 2 Oyster cards (cards that let you access the red double-decker buses and the tube) so that we can explore more of the city than just by foot. We went from Notting Hill/Kensington to Brick Lane to the business district admiring their differences and similarities.

Before every city we go to, Liana researches and finds the things that we would like to see or do. Borough Market was a must see on her list. When we turned the corner to enter the market, we were both thrilled! We’re both “foodies” and were excited to try all the different foods that were presented at each stall. We weaved through narrow pathways admiring the beautiful food and eating everything our little hearts desired. There was a booth that was selling exotic meat burgers so of course I had to try one! I chose ostrich meat and it was delicious.

Since we had such a pleasant experience with the first market, we decided to go to another one, Portobello Market in Notting Hill. It’s a street market that pops-up on Saturdays and sells everything from food to fur to jewelry. It was such a fun experience! If you have time, escape the crowds and wander the adjacent streets. Notting Hill has the cutest colorful houses with flower bushes that smell like perfume. Liana kept saying “if we lived in London, we would live here”.

London is HUGE and of course the British have considered that as well as the traffic so they put bike-rental stands everywhere! We rented 2 bikes and went into the London traffic. It’s a crazy experience because you are pedaling alongside the double-decker buses as well as the rest of the traffic. To say its a bit intimidating is an understatement. We went down Brick Lane and realized how much it felt like Seattle with its vintage stores and hipster coffee shops, we instantly felt at home! We also rode through the business district which had the coolest modern buildings (the Gherkin building – looks like a bullet) but once in a while you will see a small old cathedral tucked between the towering skyscrapers. The juxtaposition of modern and old conveys the perfect unity of this cities history and future.

London left an imprint on us and our step-counter! There were days where we would get around 30,000 steps in and boy did we feel it the next day. What made the trip even more special was that our friends from Seattle happen to be in London at the same time as us. We’ve been gone for only about a month but it was nice to see familiar faces and catch up.

We loved London.

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Where to Stay:

  • Stay somewhere close to the city center or else you will be putting in a lot of miles on foot.  Somewhere close to REGENT STREET we think is best!

What to Do:

  • Go see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace – it happens everyday at 11:30 AM during the summer and every other day during the winter.
  • Be a tourist for a day and go see Big Ben, The London Eye and The Tower Bridge.. sure it’s touristy but it’s also fun!
  • You must go to the markets!!  Borough Market is a foodies dream so don’t eat or drink anything before you get here, seriously, you will regret eating or even drinking coffee before getting here.  There is also another market to check out called Portobello Market which has lots of trinkets and some food as well.
  • Rent bikes and ride through Hyde Park and weave through the city (this can be a little dangerous on the city streets though, since the cabbys are not fond of bikers).
  • Visit Chinatown, it’s the largest after the one in New York!
  • Brick Lane is a very hipster part of town with lots of leather goods at great prices!

What to Eat:

  • London isn’t really known for its food scene so we recommend going to Borough Market to try a variety of foods which all seem to be cooked to perfection!
  • The cafe’s and bakeries that are scattered throughout the city are tasty and worth visiting.  The pastries are always fresh and the coffee is strong.

Keswick

It was about a 5 hour drive from London but boy was it worth it.  We rented a car and hit the road in England.  Almost immediately as you head out of the city you see green fields with little white dots all over them, as we got a little closer to the dots we saw that they were fluffy sheep!  Liana loves all things fluffy so for her, this was heaven!  And to her delight they had lots of little lambs next to them.

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Along the way, we decided to pull off since we wanted to get some snacks. To our surprise, we pulled off at an old farming town called Fritville.  This little town was full of old stone cottages and tiny hedge lined streets.  After wandering for a little we found the only store in town, this was also the butcher shop and café.  After chatting with the owners for a bit and having some coffee with fresh-baked cakes, we headed on our way to Keswick.

As we got into Keswick, we were immediately enchanted by the town full of historic buildings and old-world charm. It is a charming little town with tons of little mom and pop shops selling anything from hiking gear to hand-woven rugs, at very reasonable prices (we wanted to buy something from every shop, but only ended up with one hat since we only have carry-ons).  Our Airbnb was nice and nestled right in the center of town, and the wood burning fireplace felt appropriate in the setting.  As soon as we checked in, we were out on the town zig-zgging through the little shops and heading for the open fields to see the lake.

Along the way we stumbled upon a field full of sheep openly roaming with their lamb!! Their LAMB!  We had to pet them and so we began our careful pursuit of the little guys.  We pet the lamb to our hearts desires despite the glares and threats we received from their protective moms. Needless to say, we were falling in love with Keswick and the Lake District, but the love affair was just starting, the next day we were going to head up Catbells.

As we ate breakfast at one of the cute little cafes, a couple told us that we HAD TO go on a hike to Catbells (a mountain peak nearby).  Agreeing to their advice, Liana and I geared up and headed out to the base of the mountain; 1500 feet up and an hour and a half later we were looking out over the most beautiful view of Keswick, the lakes, and 20 other peaks.  To say this hike was memorable is an understatement, it was breathtaking!  We were up so high that the birds were soaring below us, but none the less our fluffy friends (the sheep) accompanied us along the way to the very tip-top.  Once we got to the top we didn’t want to leave, the spectacular view had a hold on us, but wanting to re-energize for the next day and our adventure through the country, we reluctantly made our way back down.

First thing in the morning we were at the café having our coffee and rearing to go, excited for the adventure ahead.  We hopped in our car, not charting any course in particular, we set out down a very narrow country road.  First stop we made it to a slate quarry and despite countless warnings we went out to see an abandoned mine cut into the side of the mountain.  The building was collapsed and the mine was buried but we could still see the steel tracks that at one time thundered along this ledge with tons of slate from the quarry.  We imagined the men working hard, chiseling away at the stone, and perhaps from time to time, steeling a glimpse of the spectacular view.  We could have spent much of the day up here exploring the various mines but we pushed on to the next town.

I won’t bore you with every detail of the day, but I will tell you this, we craned our necks and peered around every bend in the road because of the abundant beauty we saw.  We stopped in every little town we drove through and pulled over to take pictures of sheep. We parked our car and hiked narrow little paths through the woods and followed little creeks.  It was as if we had fallen into a fairy tale story and as the day progressed the story just kept getting better and better.  We ended the day in a tiny town where we stopped for dinner, it was a loud pub full of laughing jolly faces at the tables and faithful patrons at the bar.  Our experience in Keswick was a magical one, and if we come back to England in the future, we will most certainly come back to visit.

Where to Stay:

  • Keswick is small so staying in town is very important.  We got a great Airbnb here and thoroughly enjoyed it.

What to Do:

  • Hike Catbells, it’s about a 2 hour hike to the top but you will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts with incredible views.
  • Head to the lake. If you are lucky there will be sheep along the way in one of the pastures. You can freely go in the gate and try to catch one.
  • Visit the merchants in town.  There are lots of little mom and pop shops selling anything you could think of, from antiques to climbing gear, they have it all.
  • If you have a car be sure to drive the little road that goes around the lake.  We spent a day going through the little towns meeting lots of people and critters along the way.

Where to Eat:

  • Merienda – Great little cafe for breakfast
  • Lakland Spice – For all our Indian food friends (we loved it)
  • Georges – For a traditional English dinner (make reservations in advance)

Manchester

We also stopped by Manchester for a few days and there isn’t much to say about it.  Besides a couple of really cool libraries, the city was pretty modern and there was not much to do there.

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