The London Lunch

It’s cold out. Really cold—it feels like -29°C (-20°F) with the windchill. All I want is to be able to go outside and not feel my nose hairs freeze. Is that too much to ask?

On days like today, memories of summer feel a bit like a fever dream. Did that really happen? Will it ever come back? I start to crave sunshine, fresh air, leisurely strolls, and heat. I know I’m not alone. So how about a post on picnicking to remind us that winter doesn’t last forever?

I love a good picnic lunch, especially when traveling. It’s even better when you can go to a market to find fresh goodies and then grab a spot with a beautiful vista to relax and eat. A bit of bread, fruit, meats, and, if possible, some wine can make me just as happy as a fancy multi-course restaurant meal. 


Picnicking doesn’t have to farm-to-table fresh to be good, though. When S and I were in London, we knew that we’d have to watch our spending with meals. Sticker shock is very real there for just about everything. We spent one day walking through the city, with no real purpose other than seeing stuff. I had a map app on my phone that showed us nearby attractions, so we let that guide us and didn't make any concrete plans. 

Around lunchtime, we found ourselves standing in front of Big Ben. As we were squinting into the sun, looking at the beautiful clock tower, the hunger started. It was as if my stomach was saying “Oh, look at the time. Lunch. Now.”


I took note, but we kept walking and decided to keep an eye out for somewhere to eat. We went past the Palace of Westminster, detoured into a little park overlooking the Thames, went to Westminster Abbey, and just continued our wandering along back streets until my stomach piped up and reminded me that it was now past lunchtime. Things were going to get hangry soon. 

Big Ben says it's 20 past hungry.

Big Ben says it's 20 past hungry.

No one really likes hangry me, so we got more serious about food.

We hadn’t really seen a good place to stop and eat, though. Then I had a brilliant idea. Just in front of Big Ben is Westminster station with a very small Tesco (a British grocery chain) Express. Surely they would have something for us to eat. And that little park behind Palace of Westminster, Victoria Tower Gardens? It would be perfect for a picnic. In fact, we saw a bunch of people having lunch on the grass. We also saw people napping, a photoshoot, and someone working out.  

The Thames from Victoria Tower Gardens

The Thames from Victoria Tower Gardens

We walked back to the Tesco and found out that not only do they have food, they have a lunch deal: £3 for a main, drink, and snack. A deal! 

We quickly learned that we while we thought we had discovered something great, just about everyone else in London already knew about it. A good chunk of them were in line in front of us. It snaked through the tiny store and out the front door. 

The line moved quickly, though. Everything that was part of the £3 lunch deal was marked clearly and there were lots of choices. Before we knew it, we both had a wrap, chips and drink in-hand.

Victoria Tower and the view from our picnic spot. Apparently its a decent sort for half-naked nap, too!

Victoria Tower and the view from our picnic spot. Apparently its a decent sort for half-naked nap, too!

We made our way back to Victoria Tower Gardens and picked a prime people-watching spot under a shady tree. It was like we found this perfect, quiet little haven with a lovely view in the midst of the London craziness. It wasn’t our most expensive meal, our healthiest meal, or even our tastiest meal. But it was, by far, my favourite meal in London.

London Light and Photo Prints

I remember one of my favourite parts of family vacations was getting the photos back. In the days before digital, the anticipation of finally seeing the photos you took when was a treat. Now it's so easy to review and cull them instantly that I get lazy when we get home. "I'll make a book someday." Meanwhile, all these great photos just sit on the computer waiting to be seen.

Yesterday, though, S and I finally had some of our trip photos printed. We got a gallery frame set from Pottery Barn months ago and decided we were tired of staring at the empty frames and had prints made at Costco. It was so easy and cheap--under $5 for 9 photos of various sizes--that I'm kicking myself for not doing it earlier. We were even able to upload everything online and pick it up the next day. 

The photos, as nice as they are on the computer, are so much more beautiful printed. My favorite of the bunch is a simple 8 x 10 of a lamppost in London. 

I took it after we got off the London Eye at sunset. I remember seeing the lamppost falling in love with the colors, history, and imperfection of it. Every time I look at it, it takes me back to that moment. 

This is just a little reminder to go check out some of your old photos. Maybe you'll find a long lost happy memory to put on display.

Friday 10: Fall Books and Nooks

A couple of weeks ago I updated my reading list and started thinking about how great it is to read a book set in the place you're visiting.

This week's Friday 10 is about just that: five autumn-worthy books paired with five dreamy nooks to read them in.

Rebecca & Cornwall

Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is an atmospheric, suspenseful, gothic tale of love and fear. The narrator, the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter, is newly married when her widower husband takes her to his grand estate, Manderlay, on the Cornish coast. She is young, timid, and quickly becomes overwhelmed by the house. She is also haunted by the spectre of Rebecca, Maxim's first wife. I won't give much more away, but it is one of those books that sucked me from the first line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again." And it didn't let me go for weeks after I finished reading it. 

There is no other place to stay when reading Rebecca than Polridmouth cottage on the Menabilly Estate. It's tucked away between the south coast of Cornwall, a freshwater lake, and private woodland.

Menabilly was one of Du Maurier's favorite places. She lived there with her family from 1943 to 1969. Although Milton Hall was the model for Manderlay, Menabilly was the inspiration for the estate's setting.

The Thirteenth Tale & Yorkshire

We're staying in England for our second pairing. Diane Setterfield's novel The Thirteenth Tale is about a young biographer, Margaret Lea, who is chosen to write the biography of ailing reclusive novelist, Vida Winter. Lea is confused as to why she was chosen, especially since she has never read Winter's work before. Since her father owns an antique book shop, she is able to get her hands on a rare copy of Winter's Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. When Lea realizes there are only twelve tales in the book, she become increasingly interested in unraveling the mysteries surrounding Winter's life. 

The Thirteenth Tale takes place on the Yorkshire moors, so I thought Unique Home Stay's Bramblewick would be the perfect place to get cozy with the book. It has just about everything I could ask for in an English cottage: stunning views, a wood fireplace, numerous comfy places to hunker down with a book, and lots of walking trails from the house through the North York Moors National Park or around the Robin Hood's Bay (to fish and chips!). 

Imagine spending an afternoon walking the beautiful, wild moors and coming back to a hot tea, a view of the sea, and a gothic tale.


The Shadow of the Wind & Barcelona

We're off to post-war Barcelona now with Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind. The book begins with Daniel and his father walking through the streets of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Daniel's father owns shop full of used and rare books. He is also one of the few people in the city who knows about and cares for the labyrinthine Cemetery of Forgotten Books, which keeps out of print books from being lost forever. Tradition dictates that when someone visits the cemetery for the first time, they must choose one book to keep and watch over. Daniel chooses (or does the book choose him?) a novel entitled The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. As soon as he starts reading it, he becomes enthralled with the story and wants to find more from the author. 

Soon afterward, Daniel learns that all of Carax's books have been destroyed except for his copy, but someone is bound and determined to destroy it, too. While trying to protect the book, Daniel stirs up--and puts himself in the middle--of an old, dangerous unsolved mystery. 

The city itself is like a character in The Shadow on the Wind. My copy of the book even includes a walking tour of the important spots, which you can also find here. So the place I chose is a luxurious boutique hotel in the Barri Gòtic/Gothic Quarter called the Mercer Barcelona. I didn't go with a rental here because they tended to be very modern inside. I wanted something that seemed rooted in the past while still feeling luxe. It looks like the Mercer does that beautifully with its stone walls and exposed beams. It's also located within a short 10 minute walk to most of the major spots in the book. You'd be right in the middle of it all, but have easy access to the rest of the city. 

The Lantern & Provence

Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern is a lush, modern gothic tale reminiscent of Du Maurier's Rebecca. It's the story of couple, Eve and Dom, who have a whirlwind romance and then fall in love with a dilapidated house with a beautiful garden in Provence called Les Genévriers. As the seasons turn and the relationship cools, Eve becomes suspicious of Dom's past. Meanwhile, Les Genévriers begins to reveal that it has its own mysteries. The book switches back and forth between two time periods, slowly revealing secrets and unraveling the stories along the way.

I chose Le Mas de Belleroche for where I'd want to stay while reading The Lantern. It's a private, sprawling farmhouse perched on a rocky hill within walking distance village of Les Baux de Provence. It's also a short drive to the beautiful St. Rémy de Provence. The house has a gorgeous garden, plentiful outdoor spaces, an inviting pool, and lots of typically Provençal rooms. I can imagine spending hours relaxing and reading about Les Genévriers here after touring around Provence for the day. Add in some wine, some fresh melon, and charcuterie platter. . .well, I don't think I'd ever want to leave.

Neverwhere & London

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is something a little different from the rest of the books I chose. It tells the story of Richard Mayhew, your average, everyday good guy businessman living in London. His life changes in an instant when he stops to help a peculiar young girl who has been injured. Suddenly, Richard is part of the strange, magical subterranean world of London Below.

I downloaded the audiobook version of Neverwhere for the Audible free trial a few months ago. I've only listened to a bit, so I can't tell you how I feel about the whole thing, yet. I've loved every moment of it so far, though. The story is unique, magical and makes me feel like I'm listening to a fairytale for adults. I usually hate audio books but Gaiman does the reading and he has a way of making everything come alive. I only wish I had picked up the book before our trip to London last year. I think it would have been fun to imagine it coming alive around (and below) me. 

Naturally, I had to choose an interesting London flat for Neverwhere. When I stumbled across the Salisbury on London Perfect, I knew I'd found one! It's located in Kensington, close to the Tube and within walking distance to Museum Row and lots of shopping. The furnishings are opulent and modern--oh how I wish I could lazily read on that red leather couch right now--and there's a lovely little terrace overlooking a garden.  

That's it for this week! I hope these ideas stir up some fall reading and travel inspiration for you. It was fun to put together! I might have to do more of these. 

Do you have any book recommendations? I'm always open to ideas!

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.