Travel Junkie Diary of United Kingdom

Serene Touma

Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Serene ToumaLike0

We are in London, a first home away from home to us and to Serene Touma, a “chief communicator” and co-managing partner at Purple PR, a boutique communications consultancy based in Dubai. she is most recently blogging at www.cookingmybooks.me and at thirtychallengingdays.blogspot.com just before that – both blogs about cooking and self-discovery though culinary exploration. You might never find a more detailed diary about London and being a tourist in London as this one! This is a perfect example of a great foodie guide around London. For all you food lovers, enjoy this!

Here is her diary

Destination: London, UK

Traveling alone has always appealed to me, but rekindling old friendships, just as much. Having not seen my childhood ‘bestie’ Elena from my Limassol, Cyprus years for far too long, I decided on an almost-summer vacation in London this year. With a very loose itinerary in hand, I found myself staying in one of the most picturesque areas of Surrey, with daily trips of discovery in London. For me, this version of London offered the best of both worlds: relaxation and bird-watching in Oxshott, Surrey when I needed solitary reflection, followed by excitement in one of the most stimulating culinary and cultural cities in the world when excitement is what I craved.

Stayed at The Vines

It was all perfect needless to say, complete with very clean bathrooms, a garden view, an indoor pool and cinema, laundry services and 24-hour room service (almost!) My accommodation was the envy and confusion of many friends and followers on my social media accounts. “What hotel are you staying at?” “Is that a bed and breakfast?” “Are you on a cooking course?” “Can you send me the website of the boutique hotel you’re in?” and one time “Surely you didn’t find this on Air BNB!”

I was lucky enough to have been generously invited by Elena to stay at The Vines, her aptly named gorgeous country home in Oxshott, Surrey, replete with a menagerie of six dogs (including a French Bulldog and a Pug), two cats, house staff and a backyard extending as far as the eye can see. It was a wonderful experience – the beautiful guest room I stayed in meant enough ‘time-out’ from one another to still be ‘besties’ when it was time for me to leave!

Month  May

In your suitcase I am a notoriously light packer, which, to most of the female population, is a reprehensible quality. However, there were some things I simply wouldn’t do without:

  • My iphone  and a battery charger. For 10 pounds, get a Vodafone data package.
  • {Wolford and CK tights} – turn any dress into a warm London-appropriate outfit. Comfort is key!
  • {All my Kiehl’s and Nuxe skincare products }– don’t skimp when you’re on vacation! Your skin, just like everything else, should be resting and rejuvenating.
  • {Very, very comfortable shoes} – my new Toms, my hi-top pair of Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers and my riding-style Aldo leather boots were indispensable! I wore my heels a total of three times only!
  • {Many scarves} – to transform your basics (and to keep you warm!)
  • {A good book} –  for the planes, trains and tubes
  • {A new fragrance} – I always pick one up at the airport and it will remain my bottle for the trip – the strongest sense tied to memory is scent! On this trip, it was a bottle of l’eau narciso rodriguez

Dined at This is an incredibly hard choice to make, especially in a city like London. I can’t remember a bad meal I had, even my post and pre-museum snacks at Prêt-à-Manger were a culinary treat! If I did have to pick, it would be a tie between

  • Cut (the food at this place was a spiritual experience)
  • Casa Brindisa (Spanish tapas – I went twice, and once happily on my own! A perfect menu)
  • Coya (Peruvian cuisine where culinary adventure culminated in one of the best desserts I’ve had – ever – “the popcorn dessert” is all I know it as!).

Shopped  Shopping was certainly secondary to seeing, eating and doing, but here is a list:

  • Covent Garden (look for ‘Cucumber Alley’ which is lined by a few cool boutiques I forget the names of)
  • SOHO, High Street Kensington, Marleybone High Street
  • Regent Street
  • Portobello Market are all fun shopping destinations
  • Selfridges (stop by for a glass of champagne at Aubaine upstairs)
  • Harrod’s (don’t go on a weekend)
  • Liberty (one of the loveliest department stores I’ve ever been in – window shopping!)
  • ‘sex shop’ Coco de Mer for some clandestine souvenirs
  • Urban Outfitters (quirky gifts and a fun collection of books)
  • TOPSHOP (the landmark 4-story Oxford Circus outlet – across the street from the Oxford Street tube station)
  • Teacup boutique (after a crêpe at the Hampstead Crêperie!)

Diary  During my three weeks in London, no two days were alike. I saw old friends and made new ones, relived old experiences and added fresh ones. On some days we took the car into town, enjoying the drive, praying for parking spots and vowing not to drink too much at dinner. On others, the train was our mode of transportation, which allowed for its own adventures (I may or may not have run through Waterloo station in high heels to catch the last train to Oxshott!) I ate my way through London – that is really the best way to describe my journey discovering the city. An evening of hotdogs and champagne at Bubbledogs (a restaurant that only serves hotdogs and champagne) came after a ninety-minute wait in the cold line-up on Charlotte Street. Needless to say, it was worth every minute. A stroll through Portobello Market meant only one thing – a red velvet cupcake from Hummingbird Bakery before browsing antique record players and vintage magazines. A bike ride through Kensington Park and Hyde Park, with a stop to watch the Changing of the Guard (the Queen was unable to receive us for high tea) pointed in one direction: arguably the best steak I’ve ever had, courtesy of Wolfgang Puck at his London steakhouse Cut. On some days, lunch was more important: At the members-only The Arts Club, dessert (and champagne) reigned supreme – the banana sticky toffee pudding was nothing short of sublime. A pre-visit to the zoo lunch at The Wolseley meant sophistication was in order, but I wasn’t brave enough to join Elena for steak tartare, opting for the duck instead.

An afternoon at the movies with Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan meant popcorn, with a side of Merlot of course. High tea in Covent Garden saw me holding a glass of Veuve-Cliquot in one hand, and Earl Grey in the other, surrounded by shopping bags. A late lunch with Dubai friends meant excess was in order, so Burger and Lobster was on the menu (narrowly avoiding the several-hour queue for early dinner we saw as we walked out satiated and a little tipsy).
A visit to the Experimental Cocktail Club in Chinatown beckoned a dinner of crispy Peking duck – and perhaps the best I’ve ever tasted!
Reconnecting with an old friend landed me in Brixton, the side of London that sees few tourists. Our drinks spot was a renovated tapas bar in the basement of a still-functioning church – bring on the sangria!
Tapas at Providores before an afternoon of shopping in Marleybone, and tapas at Casa Brindisa after a morning of museums, and tapas (again!) at Casa Brindisa after a night out so late we saw the sun rising – it seemed like there was no wrong time for tapas.
On a visit to Hampstead, crêpes at a food truck / celebrity haunt were devoured and remembered fondly – both savory and sweet.  An entrée of mushrooms, and a dessert of Nutella and bananas. Enough said.
An Italian dinner at family-style restaurant Monza with an old friend was almost improved by the rain falling outside – or perhaps it was the effect of the chilled shot of Deep, the “exclusive” melon-infused vodka that we just had to take a bottle home of!
A night of clubbing at Maddox was preceded by a bite to eat at Novikov, where we enjoyed black cod and warm sake, and may or may not have spotted a Chelsea football player on a night off.
Peruvian food – very of-the-moment – was on the menu one London evening after a stroll through Regent Street’s department stores at Coya, a favorite must-go restaurant.
Last but not least, the wonderful breakfasts, lunches and dinners at The Vines, where Elena and I shared our love for eating too well. The ‘last supper’ culminated in an epic feast, a BBQ (with steaks and burgers from Harrod’s of course), that left nothing off the menu, where, with new friends, old friends and very old friends, I sipped that final glass of wine, and then cup of tea, and bid farewell to an unforgettable vacation.

Tips  Things you must absolutely do before leaving London are:

  • The London Eye – yes it’s full of tourists, specifically Italians when I visited, but the 30-minute ride is well worth it, and it has the best photo-op for Big Ben, Westminster Abbey and the rest of London
  • A visit to London Zoo – the 25-pound entrance fee is definitely worth every penny as it goes towards the conservation and care of the animals. Expect a totally different kind of Zen at the zoo – watching a tiger enjoy a raw steak for lunch, eying a giraffe as it gazes out on the horizon, connecting with the monkeys who are more interested in your iPhone than in you… and one of the most fun gift shops I exited through!
  • A bike ride through the parks – start at Kensington, where you can pick up a bike for as little as 2pounds, ride it towards Buckingham Palace (wave hello to the Queen!), and then through Hyde Park, before stopping at Serpentine Lake to take in the view and enjoy a moment of peace
  • Go to a musical! I recommend Wicked if you haven’t seen it. I also managed to see a play (The Hothouse) and a matinée (Once) which were both amazing. See as much as you can on a stage, in a theatre. Book of Mormon was on the list, but too new and too hot for me to dream of a ticket.
  • The Royal Albert Hall: Watch anything here! It’s an amazing experience – I was lucky enough to have gotten to see an Eric Clapton concert.
  • Museums! I just can’t get enough… Notable mentions go to the V&A, The National Portrait Gallery (my favorite), the British Museum (overwhelmingly amazing), the Natural History Museum (dinosaurs anyone?) Make sure you check to see if there are any special exhibitions – I missed out on the sold-out David Bowie exhibition at the V&A!

Key apps

  • Google Maps (indispensable!!!)
  • Tube Map (self-explanatory)
  • Wally (to help you track how much you’re spending!)
  • Foursquare (for the tips and reviews!), and of course my favorite
  • Instagram, to help document your trip on the go!


Mode of travel I took my inaugural flight on Virgin Atlantic – I highly recommend it, a great experience.

Elena making Sunday Roast - Day 1 Portobello Market Notting Hill graffiti London Eye view London by bike Hyde Park with Hadi Hampstead The tube The Wolseley - Picstitch SOHO  A walk through Kensington with Ziad Big Ben - clouds Earl's Court

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6 comments

  1. Serene says:

    Hi Rita,

    Likewise lovely to put a face to a name! It was indeed a beautiful vacation in the UK… I totally fell in love with the city!

    Thank you for your comment, truly appreciate you taking the time to read 🙂

    Hope to meet in person soon!

    Serene

  2. Serene says:

    Thank you Aunty Randa! Let me know if you do manage to check any out! 🙂

  3. Malin Lundberg Mueller says:

    Great description and a very personal travel late. London is always London, the photos are superb.

  4. Rita Walker says:

    Enjoyed that.

    Thank you. Feeling a bit home – (UK) – sick.

    Could almost taste the fresh air in your photographs

    Nice to put a face to the name 🙂

    XX Rita ( Amy’s Mum )

  5. Randa Ashqar says:

    Serene, amazing I love your blogs and i love London now more places for me to explore. Bravo!
    Randa

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