“As the winter winds litter London with lonely hearts
Oh the warmth in your eyes swept me into your arms
Was it love or fear of the cold that led us through the night?
For every kiss your beauty trumped my doubt.”
– Winter Winds (Mumford and Sons)
October 7th. Day 2 in London.
It was Saturday and the sun had decided to go back into hiding and let the dark clouds take its course. We met up with a high school friend of mine, Tung, who is now residing in Southampton, a town some hours train ride north from London. Our plan was to leave London for Bath on Sunday to make it to the Cotswold by my birthday, October 11. I honestly just couldn’t wait to be in the countryside.
I had texted Tung the night before that we could meet around 8:30 or 9 a.m. at Queensway, a station near Notting Hill. I read somewhere online that you should try to arrive at Portobello Road (the heart of Notting Hill as they say) quite early in the morning, like 8 or so, if you want to get a glimpse of its true beauty. I was aiming to get up early, but in the morning, it was gloomy and freezing. We were so tired from the jet lag that I snoozed my phone a couple of times. We ended up making it to the station around 10 or 10:30. I was incredibly grateful for Tung to be so patient, welcoming us with a big smile as we emerged from the Tube. (It turns out that English people are very much punctual about their time.)
The rain started to drip just about the time we arrived at the station. Grey carpeted the sky but I guessed it could have been worse. We were determined to try and go without an umbrella as long as we possibly could. It turned out that Queensway is a bit of a walk to Portobello Road Market and we could be much closer if we had met at Notting Hill Gate instead, but all was fine. “The best way to see a new country is to walk through it”, as they always said.
It was fairly nice on the big road. I was hoping that people would still be sleeping on such a dreadful, gloomy day, but as we turned to a small road leading to Notting Hill, suddenly everyone was there. Everywhere, all we could see was a sea of heads and faces. The closer we got to Portobello Road, the more people appeared. I turned around and the tide of humans kept growing and growing. I sighed.
Still, I stopped every few minutes or so to take pictures of anything and everything. The shops around here were so busy and full of activities, but there was something about this whole messiness that I wanted to document. I found this cute bright yellow painted restaurant with baskets of flowers hanging out front that I wanted to capture, but I stood there and waited for what felt like hours without any hope. At last, I gave up and moved on. Then we stumbled upon this most beautiful cobblestone-covered driveway with ivy growing all over the walls around it. I had to wait in a so-called line that no one knew who was going next to get a decent picture. It was hard to stride a dreamy pose with so much pressure, I soon learned.
Notting Hill was gorgeous – so pretty and elegant with all the terraces of large Victorian townhouses painted in all sort of colors. Each house had a bright and vibrant door that stood out from the pastel walls and a little front yard full of flowers. I tried to imagine the locals enjoying a peaceful, sunny morning out on the patio. That must be pretty tough. They must have felt like being in a zoo full of curious tourists, all in line taking pictures of their own little haven. In a way, Notting Hill reminds me of Beacon Hill in Boston (not just because they both share the word “Hill”). Residents of Beacon Hill loathe the number of tourists and photographers flooded their streets. I’d argue that they would feel thankful once they see Notting Hill.
Portobello Road runs almost the entire length of Notting Hill from north to south. Despite the rain, the outdoor market was packed with people and business went on per usual. There must be hundreds of antique shops in this area, plus many second-hand, food and clothing stalls on the side of the street. One moment you could smell the fresh Nutella crepe stuffed with strawberries then another moment, you could smell the dusty, rustic air from the antique shops. The funny thing was that all we could hear was international languages like French and Spanish. It hardly felt like we were in England. We wandered for a while and I bought a tote bag with an illustration of Portobello Road on it before we headed out of Notting Hill.
We continued the adventure on with London Eye and the banks along Thames River. Tung had to take an early train back to Southampton due to a change in the train schedule so we met up with our lovely host, Truc, who’d give us a quick guide through some must-see spots in the city. The sky was now full of heavy clouds as if we could be caught in a downpour at any moment. Behind the dense clouds, the sun began to set when we reached St. Paul’s Cathedral.
All of a sudden, the light peeked out and then came one of the most beautiful “gloomy” sunsets we had ever since. Orange rays of sunlight washed all over us and covered the buildings. The St. Paul’s Cathedral stood tall against the grey background, its roof coated with a layer of golden light. To make it even better, a double rainbow appeared and left everyone absolutely stunned, hands reaching for their phones and cameras. What a wonderful surprise.
After a moment of pure wonder, the sun melted into the horizon and disappeared. The rains started to pour heavily shortly after and everyone frantically looked for shelter. We were around London Bridge area and all of us started to sing “London Bridge is Falling Down”. The winds howled and tore through every corner of the city, making it so difficult to walk outside. At last, we made it to Tower Bridge, took a picture for proof that we were here and took the bus back home. The long day wrapped up with a big, warm bowl of Pho.
Tomorrow, we’d leave for Bath.