Notting Hill

london, Travel

As my time in London comes to an end, I’ve been running around trying to fit in adventures between library sessions. My window to cross things off my London to do list is getting smaller and smaller, so I took a (well-needed) break from the library on what was meant to be a sunny Saturday to head to Notting Hill for a wander.

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Initially my day was going to be a solo adventure (like my search for Wisteria), but my need for outside motivation meant that previous attempts to make it to Notting Hill had been limited to searches on Pinterest and a snoozed alarm clock. To get me moving, I invited a friend to breakfast at Drake and Morgan in King’s Cross before my walk. The day was dreary enough that I could justify a mocha with breakfast.

After, I managed to convince my friend to join me on my adventure, partly to help me take pictures, but also to have a nice chat. (He’d previously joined me on a walk to Primrose Hill, so I knew he’d be interested.)

We hopped the Circle line from King’s Cross to Ladbroke Grove with the idea being to avoid the massive crowds that seem attracted to Notting Hill Gate station. It worked and we were able to make our way up and down Notting Hill without having to fight for our space on the sidewalk.39871962_1991677651124066_1200271706569048064_n

I kept pointing out cute houses painted in pastels and my friend had no interest, but I loved it. Notting Hill is cute, cute, cute. We walked and we chatted and I pointed towards brightly colored doors and mini gardens tucked into corners and stairwells, dreaming of sneaking a peek inside the homes.

By the time we hit Holland Park Avenue and the Notting Hill Gate tube station, we were looking for some more snacks. Fortunately, Portobello Road and Market were just around the corner.

Because it was Saturday, the streets were packed with people and stalls. Music played from bars and vintage shops and food stalls. My personal favorite part was a man playing Dua Lipa on a steel drum. We wandered up the road, peeking into shops and people watching, snapping photos.

39917129_2135476983439104_9064656317909565440_nBy the time we hit the end of the stalls, we were ready for a nap. So we made our way back towards Ladbroke Grove and struggled not to snooze on the train.

Did this adventure write my dissertation? No. But I have a feeling I’ll look back fondly on our wanders, rather than regret spending a day on an adventure.

Things I’ll Miss & Things I Can’t Wait For

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As my time in London comes to an end, I’ve started two lists: Things I’ll Miss and Things I Can’t Wait For. I’m trying to keep it positive; so rather than thinking about how much I won’t miss living in a room with 16 housemates and no air conditioning, I’m thinking about how nice it was to live so centrally, etc.

My list of things I miss about home really surrounds comfort. I’ve missed the ease of walking into a Target or Walmart, or hell even a CVS, and having every strange little thing I might need available to me at every hour. Convenience based stores aren’t quite as popular in London and I miss getting lost in the chaos of American consumerism.

Speaking of convenience and comfort, I’ve missed having a dishwasher (and no, I’m not being snarky. I don’t mean my mother. I’m referring to the actual machine…) and laundry in the same building. No one will be surprised by this, but I miss air conditioning being the norm and I miss sleeping in my big, comfy bed with a fan running. And as much as I’ve loved the public transportation that London and the United Kingdom in general provide, I miss my car and the freedoms it allows me.

Obviously I’ve missed my parents and my friends and being “home,” which is a very particular feeling that I’ll get even once in a while here, but my childhood house is always going to be home. I miss knowing exactly where everything is in my room, in my house, and in my neighborhood. I’ve lived in London for so long and, as much as I love still wandering into new places or finding new spots, I miss the familiar.

The last things I can’t wait for when I get home are all things that the U.K. has tried very hard to replace and just hasn’t quite managed: my favorite foods. I’ve already got my menus planned out for the first few weeks I’m home. I want Popeye’s chicken. I want properly crispy bacon. I want my mom to make me mac and cheese from the box (because mac and cheese always tastes best when your mom makes it for you). I want bagels with cream cheese from Panera. Should I go on?

On the other hand, a lot of what I’ll miss about living in London is about the freedoms afforded to a 20-something living centrally in a major city with next to no responsibilities. I’ll miss late night wanders through the city with no destination in mind and no worries about an alarm clock the next morning. I won’t have that same freedom when I move back to the suburbs and get a job (hopefully).

I know I mentioned it before, but I have absolutely loved the public transportation. Being able to hop on a bus or the tube and get where I need to quickly and efficiently is amazing. Even when I’m not on taking public transportation, being able to walk everything is so nice. Currently, I can walk from the Queen’s house to my school, passing by my former place of employment, through Covent Garden and Leicester Square to the top of Primrose Hill to see all of the city, back through a massive park next to the zoo, and still make it home for dinner. The history tucked behind every corner and the access to it, you can’t get that in the suburbs.

I’ll miss breakfasts at Dishoom and afternoons spent in a pub after class. The people I’ve met here are pretty cool and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’ll miss having my friends so close by and always being able to convince someone to go on a mini adventure with me.

I’ll miss having a seemingly endless bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to go. I regret not seeing more of the city and the country sooner, but I also know that every time I cross something off my to-do list, I add two more. I’ll just have to come back and see it all.

For now, I’ve got to finish a dissertation. There will be time for plotting my return to the U.K., for creating a bucket list for D.C., and for reminiscing, all in due time.

All the World’s a Stage

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My first time in London, my parents took me and my brother to see the Lion King. (My parents still talk about seeing Joe Morton in Covent Garden before the show. Unrelated to Lion King, but I think that might have been their favorite part of our trip to London?) If you haven’t already seen it live, go. I’ve seen the Lion King in both New York and London, as a child and a slightly older child, and it’s such an incredible production. The costumes, the songs, the dancing — it’s spectacular. (It’s very tempting to see it again before my time in London comes to an end.) Seeing a favorite film come to life before my eyes was the beginnings of a beautiful journey with stage productions.

My mother introduced my brother and I to Shakespeare at a relatively young age, getting us season tickets to D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre. We would get dressed up on a random Sunday night and make the drive into the city. Some of the plays were frustratingly difficult to follow; others just made sense.

I had my time on stage during high school, but college meant moving away from my mother’s encouragement to see live theatre and to a smaller city with fewer performances on offer. This didn’t stop me from seeing the Butler Ballet‘s incredible productions of the Nutcracker all four of my undergraduate years (yes, I came back to campus and saw it even when I had been abroad all semester). Every few months I would see a performance, just because I was on a small campus where someone was always doing something.38432186_313729982701103_5526808850440650752_n

When I got to London for my Master’s degree, I knew that I had to take advantage of London’s amazing theatre scene. Luckily, I had friends with similar interests. No, I wouldn’t be queueing for last-minute Harry Potter tickets, but I wanted to see what London had to offer. And I haven’t been let down yet.

It started with Dreamgirls with some friends, then Wicked. I watched Translation at the National Theatre and A Monster Calls at the Old Vic for some non-musical productions. A last-minute trip to Kinky Boots to celebrate resigning from my job rounded out my theatre trips so far. The production for all of these is incredible, with amazing costumes, great music, and attention to the tiniest of details, bringing every story uniquely to life.

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While I still have a list of shows I would love to see before I go, I’m thinking that wherever I end up after London, I’ll be seeing quite a few shows. (First up: Hamilton in DC with my momma. She’s very excited.)

King’s Cross to Primrose Hill

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In between pretending to write my dissertation and my last few work shifts, I’ve given myself the mission to actually cross all that stuff off my London to-do list. I recently wandered Regent’s Canal for the first time since moving here and realized just how much of this city I’ve been missing my last ten months.

It started off with a long breakfast at my favorite spot in London. If you haven’t been to Dishoom, specifically for breakfast, you are missing out. A couple of friends and I munched on some Naan Rolls and drank copious amounts of Chai at the Dishoom in Granary Square. It was nice enough, despite the current heatwave, to sit outside and get a nice breeze.

Quick Tip: If you want to enjoy Dishoom without waiting in line, visit them for breakfast on a weekday. Especially at the Granary Square location, it’s no problem to get a seat for breakfast before 11 on any given Tuesday. Weekends are another deal and lunch or dinner is a whole new ball game. (Breakfast is best, and cheaper, anyways!).37807650_10214756228113186_3594843788020809728_n

Once hyped up on chai, we wandered through Granary Square, down the stairs to the canal. Our first stop was the precious Word on the Water. A floating bookshop on the canal, Word on the Water has a decent sized collection, though its ceilings are low and may not be suitable for tall folks or weak knees.

After a wander through the stacks, we avoided the swans and started down the canal. As we walked the canal, avoiding tourists and bikers, we keep catching quick breezes and little patches of shade, a nice refreshment in the middle of an endless heatwave. A nice spot for a walk, not so nice on a bike. The architecture from the canal is also worth a look as you wander, getting a different perspective than one might from the road.

37779873_10214756229593223_5733534005878325248_nThe canal path led us straight to Camden Markets, stopping first at KERB, as well as the old Stables Market and the food stalls. I grabbed a donut from Crosstown Donuts, which was yummy, but nothing too exciting. We also had some fish and chips (aka my friend ate the fish and I stole his chips) while we walked the stalls.

Once we’d grabbed some lemonade and orange juice, we made our way away from the canals, which are currently under construction, and up the hill towards Primrose Hill. We lingered for a bit on the top of the hill, soaking up some sun and enjoying the perfect view of London.37803602_10214756230473245_9193812607339855872_n

With plans for the evening, we made our way slowly down the hill, passing all the pups enjoying the park, and down to Regent’s Park. To get back home, we made the walk through Regent’s Park, which is always a lovely end to the day.

Five Favorites: Amplified Voices

Five Favorites

I started this blog to talk about traveling and my experiences abroad, but being an American abroad means never escaping American politics or celebrities. The number of questions I get about my feelings on Trump or the Kardashians negate the ocean between me and the place I was born and raised.

Yes, I have feelings on the current American political system and its visible (but not new) flaws. Yes, I have feelings about the idiots folks donating so that Kylie Jenner can go from having 900 million dollars to a billion dollars as a “self-made” millionaire. I’ve got a lot of feelings, but my words just don’t seem to cover them.

So I’ve stuck to safe topics, like how I pack for trips and my happy walks around London. My tweets have transitioned from funny daily occurrences to retweets of people whose voices I believe need to be amplified. I don’t want to be silent and I don’t want to be just another voice screaming into the void, hoping for recognition for my insight.

Instead of penning my political thoughts in extensive rambling form or spending the rest of my life apologizing for the stupid things I’ve thought and said as I learned about the world around me (No, but really. I’m so sorry if anything I’ve ever said was ignorant or misguided. I’m still learning. I think about my mistakes every single day and am working towards being a better, more informed human being.), I thought I would share some favorites of mine from right now. These are just five of my favorite voices that I am choosing in this moment to amplify.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Recommended by a friend, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special is an hour-long, but worth every second. Hannah speaks her truth, shares her frustrations, and thoroughly entertains, while weaving her personal stories with art history in such a clever way. She brings a new perspective to what it means to be a comedian, especially now. If you have an hour free and access to Netflix, Hannah Gadsby’s special is worth the watch. It’s heartbreaking and honest. I’m not a huge fan of stand up comedy, but I’ll be watching this again so soon.

Simone Giertz’s TedTalk

One of the great disappointments of my life has been my utter inability to do anything sciencey at all. I’ll never understand space, despite my love of stars, nor will I fully understand how the human body works or why some things go boom when others sizzle. But science can still bring joy to even those of us without a science bone in our bodies. Simone Giertz is an example of bringing joy to the experience. Simone creates “shitty robots”. I’m sure you’ve seen a video of the alarm clock that smacks her awake or the robot that spills soup on her instead of feeding her. They’re amusing and wonderfully flawed.

Simone has a YouTube channel worth subscribing to, but she also recently did a TedTalk. Now just like I hate comedy specials, I also hate TedTalks. This one is an exception. TedTalk is marvelous, insightful, clever, and a love story to the best parts of science. While I won’t be learning to program robots anytime soon, I can’t help but be infected by the joy she brings to these shitty inventions (even while dealing with a brain tumor named Brian). Maybe her shitty robots won’t change the planet, but if they inspire someone to try something new — you never know what might happen.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls at the Old Vic

I have read two Patrick Ness novels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and more recently Release. He intertwines the Young Adult genre with a sweet SciFi in easy to read and clever stories. The rest of his novels are on my to-read list, but when I saw that he had a play in London, I gave it a quick look and quickly forgot about it. (I hadn’t read the book that inspired the play, nor had I watched the film that recently was produced.)

It wasn’t until I was doing a search on TodayTix for cheap entertainment that I saw the tickets for A Monster Calls were for sale and within my price range. A Monster Calls tells the story of a teenage boy visited by the yew tree outside his house. As the boy deals with his mother’s breast cancer and her worsening condition, the yew tree monster tells him stories. The yew tree is brought to life beautifully by ropes strung from the ceiling in one of the most stunning productions I have ever seen. The stage is so minimal and yet so expressive; the story is magical, yet honest; the acting is lovely and raw. The music and words from the stage were joined by the sniffles of the entire audience brought to tears by such a wonderful play. (If you’re in London, it is playing at the Old Vic Theatre and even the highest seats are worth the show.)

dodie’s rainbow

I discovered Dodie Clark on YouTube a few months ago. She makes quirky, sweet music that I find very calming, so I’ve added her songs to my Spotify. (Give In the Middle a listen, as well as Would You Be So Kind and Sick of Losing Soulmates.) She has a unique voice and her videos provided me with a lot of joy upon discovery and introduced me to other lovely musicians as well.

Recently, for Pride month, she posted a song titled “rainbow“. In the middle of figuring out who I am and volunteering for Pride in London, dodie’s song was a gem. The words spoke to me in a time of confusion and loneliness. Give it a listen.

Shaun King’s Twitter

I’m exceeding aware of just how white my five voices are so far. Yes, they represent minority voices and new perspectives, but I’m still questioning how much of my media intake is white. This is where Shaun King comes in.

I actually had to unfollow Shaun King on Twitter because it wasn’t a healthy mindset for me to be in. To pretty constantly see everything wrong with American politics flashing by was both frustrating and upsetting. I didn’t want to ignore what was happening but seeing it every time I logged on wasn’t good for me. I’ve since refollowed in my disuse of the platform, so that when I randomly pop back in, I am getting some reliable news. Shaun King is a great source for the constant inequalities that exist in the United States and around the world. He shares his educated opinion, as well as sharing the opinions of others and facts, and he isn’t afraid to tell the truth.

Other Twitter accounts worth a mention: Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint), The Associated Press, Terry Crews, Gene Weingarten, and WeRateDogs (because we can always use a little joy in our lives, no matter how horrible they may get).

Just because I am choosing to amplify other voices today does not mean I will be silent, but sometimes it is best to just listen. What voices do you want to amplify today?

Heatwaves

london, Travel

Holy guacamole. It is humid in London right now.

For the second time this year, London’s been hit with a heatwave. With highs in the 80s and lows in the (high) 60s, the stories I’ve heard about mild summers in the U.K. are apparently all a lie. The worst part? I have no A/C.

Growing up I’ve survived humidity thanks to D.C.’s swamp summers. I survived a Swedish winter and an Australian summer. I’m not usually this impacted by weather, but when the entire country is utterly unprepared for warm weather, it sucks.

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It finally rained after weeks of heat and cooled the temperatures down, but just like in D.C., rain is followed by even more humidity. The lack of airflow is stifling; my hair is a frizzball. The best part is that it isn’t going anywhere. Our little rain burst was just a tease, not a change in London’s pattern of providing me with no breezes and a need to keep deodorant at work.

Despite having a dissertation to work on, I’m thinking that a trip outside the city and preferably somewhere cool is in the books… Until then, I’ll be sleeping with the windows open, eating ice cream with every meal, and slowly turning into a puddle of sweat.

Study Spots

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Like most, my summer will be filled with adventures and sunshine and friends, but there will also be dissertation writing. One perk of choosing to do my Masters in the U.K. is that it only lasts a year, but while many students get to spend their summer away from the library, that’s where I’ll be finding myself each week. Though I’m done with exams and classes, I have 15,000 words due at the end of August.

So naturally, I’ve been procrastinating. I keep telling myself I just need to find the right spot to study, somewhere not too loud and not too quiet. It can’t be my room because despite having a perfectly good desk to use, my (semi-)comfortable bed is just so close. I can’t work in my kitchen because the table is too wobbly and there’s too many people walking through. I don’t really drink coffee, so coffee shops are sort of out of the question, especially when I start to feel bad for hogging a table for multiple hours at a time.35922705_10214503902725209_6669531920843407360_n

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The last few months, I’ve been studying in my university’s library. The Maughan Library is one of those beautiful monuments of academia and was perfect for long days reading through endless journal articles. But after a while, the walk there and the uncomfortable chairs just aren’t as appealing. (It’s pronounced Mawn like Lawn, apparently. Have I used the difficult pronunciation as an excuse to not study there? Maybe…)

As it’s now summer and my motivation is fried, I’ve come up with a new trick to get me writing. I’ve searched out some more Instagram-worthy spots. I figure if it’s pretty, maybe I’ll be more motivated to actually get out of bed and get some work done.35733525_10214503894365000_508092002596814848_n

Thanks to the interwebs, I’ve begun complying a list of adequate places, starting with the British Library. I stopped by for four hours on a random Tuesday and while it was busy, it was calm enough that once I plugged in my headphones I had no problem getting to work. (Though I did have a few quick study breaks to watch random tourists wander through and take pictures.)

In two months, you may be hearing from me again, complaining about how I ended up back in the same spot in my university library all summer, but for now I’m adding a little bit of adventure to my academia.

Wish me luck (and send me recommendations, please)!

Spontaneity

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Sometimes I plan and I plan and sometimes I am spontaneous. Recently, after discovering that a friend and I were both free on a random Thursday, we spent a day playing tourist in London. And let me tell you — it was fantastic.34814421_10214424243293773_1887582261952380928_n

Our day started with breakfast at Duck and Waffle. I’d read somewhere online that Duck and Waffle offered pretty good views of the city. Being a restaurant on the 40th floor of a building in a city that doesn’t frequently build that high, we got some views.

We made reservations, dressed up a little, and enjoyed a lovely breakfast. It’s pretty difficult to get reservations for lunch or dinner, but we’re students with next to no responsibilities, so middle of the week schmancy breakfasts were no problem. The food is surprisingly reasonably priced and quite tasty. (I can recommend the caramelized banana-nutella-peanut waffles with ice cream and the hot chocolate, for sure.)34909235_10214424243133769_1501864280029396992_n.jpg34985046_10214424243653782_3389102227338559488_n

Not wanting the party to stop, we hopped on the tube towards The London Eye and avoided all the tourists by visiting the aquarium. Sea Life London is a pretty sizable aquarium right in the center of London. The tickets weren’t horribly expensive and there was no line to get in. We wandered for two hours, watching the sharks and jellyfish and penguins and lobsters.

Although we were swarmed by a school group every once in a while, I found watching the fish to be so peaceful, (despite my leftover sugar rush from breakfast).

To round out our day, we grabbed an Uber to Covent Garden to eat at Flat Iron. They don’t take reservations, so it was a bit of a gamble, but we only had to wait fifteen minutes for a table (in Covent Garden, at lunch time). We grabbed drinks at the bar (because we’re students with next to no responsibilities) and I have to say their Strawberry Basil cocktail was so refreshing.34901665_10214424245893838_1910508690004246528_n.jpg

We had a couple of flat-iron steaks, which were delicious, and had a good laugh at the tourists around us, Instagramming each bite of their meals. (I will admit to taking a photo, but when you’re eating something other than cereal, you gotta share it with the world.) The best part of the meal was definitely the complimentary caramel ice cream for the road.

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To work off the calories we inhaled throughout the day, we walked home through Covent Garden, doing some quick window shopping. One of the many perks of living in central London was the ability to walk home passed the British Museum and plenty of green parks filled with people.

Each step of the day wasn’t planned further than a few hours in advance and it was absolutely lovely. (The nap when I got home was also superb, in case you were wondering.)

Happy Encounters

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I told my mom that my next blog post would be about how I pack for trips with only my backpack, and I promise I have a draft post being worked on, but I had a happy encounter today that I wanted to share.

While living here in London, I decided to get a part time job. In part to fill my hours with something other than Netflix and in part to afford my travels and Diet Coke addiction, I have been working in retail. It’s introduced me to some wonderful characters: my coworkers are lovely and we regularly chat about cultural differences and what it’s like to live in a city like London and what funny customers wandered into our shop on any given day. Most days, in fact, I genuinely feel happy being busy at work, tidying and organizing (and occasionally dancing/singing along to mediocre music).

As most people who work in retail can tell you, you’ll meet some pretty unpleasant people. Folks who are frustrated, angry, impatient, generally unpleasant. These people come into the store just about everyday and you do your best to help them out. Sometimes they leave happy and sometimes you’re left feeling a bit down or useless.

But then there’s real gems. Like the girl who came up to the till and asked how my shift was going (and then remembered me the next week when she came in again). Or the girl on a mission trip who informed me that God had sent her to the second floor of our shop to offer aid and prayers to whoever was working there. Or the babies that come in and smile.

Because of the location of my particular shop, we get a lot of tourists, oftentimes popping in to buy shoes to replace their broken ones or to grab an umbrella for a rainy day. Sometimes, they are just killing time while they wait for their train. French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, Korean, all spoken in one place. As I struggle to translate my question of “would you like to purchase a bag for 5 pence?”, we use smiles and hand motions to communicate.

Every once in a while, I hear it though: the American accent. I don’t know if folks aren’t expecting it or if I’ve been in the U.K. long enough that my y’alls aren’t as strong, but most Americans don’t seem to notice that I’m not British.

But then there’s those happy encounters, like the one I had today, where an American (usually a mother, bless them) will stop and do a double take, asking me where I’m from or what I’m doing here.

Today, I had a customer leave the fitting room and then come back to chat with me. When I mentioned that I was getting my Master’s here, her face lit up. She was visiting her daughter who was studying abroad in London. She asked about my travels and how I was finding it with such enthusiasm and joy that our small conversation washed away any frustrations about my shift or any anxiety about my upcoming exam.

We exchanged a high five, or two, and she said “if I knew you better, I’d give you a hug!“. We’ll probably never cross paths again, but my day was made by this simple happy encounter of an enthusiastic, interested American mother who I just so happened to run into.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to have three days off from work in a row, but it was a nice reminder of why I stay in my part time retail job: the people.

 

Wisteria Hysteria

london, Travel

London has been kind enough to give us some decently pleasant weather. The rain has stopped for now, the temperature is not too miserable yet, the sun has been shining brightly for the last few days, and the flowers are in bloom.

Because I am a master procrastinator, instead of studying for an exam, I decided to follow some blogs’ advice and take a wander to find the stunning Wisteria that has flooded my Instagram feed for the past few weeks.

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I planned out a route and decided I would take off on my adventure on Friday. The first stop was Abingdon Road, then down to Kynance Mews, then down to Elm Place, back up to Sumner Place. The map was designed to give me a loop, starting at one tube stop and ending at another, making it convenient for me to get there and back to work if need be. (Some of the later stops were left off for another day’s adventure. One of the perks of living in London, rather than just visiting.)

Thanks to procrastination and a work schedule designed for sleeping in, I pushed it off a day. So, on Saturday I woke up early (ish), went to a theatre on the most beautiful spring day to watch Avengers: Infinity War (I have so many feelings, let’s chat…), and then hopped on the tube at Tottenham Court Road to begin my walk through Kensington.

It started with a walk through Holland Park, which was packed with folks enjoying the nice weather. There were little baby moorhen chicks floating around in a pond that definitely entertained me for a good fifteen minutes. They were so fluffy. I had hoped to see some bluebells, but in avoiding the crowds, I missed the flowers. Oh well…

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I made it out of the park and grabbed a bite to eat at Waitrose, cooling down a bit and plotting out my wanders.

Wisteria was all over the place, more spectacular in some areas than others. The sun would hit a bunch and you could understand why people loved the vibrant purple colors. Drapped over a house or a fence, it seems to pop in London’s otherwise drab color scheme. Some of it was tucked down streets I would have otherwise overlooked and I definitely ran into a couple of folks with the same idea as me. The locals would give me a strange glance as I wandered down a dead end street or through an alleyway while staring at Google Maps, but at some point you know they’d all pulled out their phones to capture the same flowers as I was attempting to photograph.

I originally planned to tack on an adventure through Notting Hill on the end of my walk, but due to the pollen and general exhaustion and laziness, I made my way home, with plans to wander Notting Hill on another day.

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