Dear London: Thank you

AFTER my mom died, London was the first place I turned to for solace. I was 27 and newly married. Two months after the memorial service, my husband accompanied me on the trip from Chicago to a quiet and January-cold London.

People say nothing prepares you for death, even when you know it’s imminent. Waiting at my mother’s bedside through the final days of her living with stage four cancer were the longest hours of my life. I wasn’t thinking clearly, if at all, in those last moments with my mom. Though I felt a heavy pressure seeming to crush my chest, I was numb. My senses were dulled by the relentless effects of her illness and although our family wanted a better outcome, we were realists. We knew death would be her final resting place.

London was not an escape from grief. It wasn’t a distraction or a refuge. London was an acceptance of life — hers and mine. Having just witnessed a 56-year old beloved woman’s final breaths leave her body, I was shaken by the fragility of life. I was spooked but it only fueled my desire to devour the world and take all I could from it while time was on my side.

I felt embraced by London, consoled by its rich culture. Even in my mournful state, London brought out the best in me. I found inspiration in the city to live in the present — with intention. I felt challenged to wake up with purpose and greet each day with opportunity. I felt my senses coming alive, as well as passion for discovery and learning.

I cried upon seeing Canova’s Three Graces at the Hayward Gallery. Its precise anatomical beauty overwhelmed me. I couldn’t stop looking. I studied Matisse and his influence on Russian art at the Royal Academy, fascinated by his interests in eastern Europe. I attended plays at The Old Vic which had me crying one minute and laughing another. I allowed myself to be swept away by movement and story lines. I tasted the depths and layers of Indian spices that left my eyes watering and tongue panting for more flavors.

Perhaps most important, I visited the house where my mom lived as a teenager and diplomat’s daughter in Chester Square and imagined her strolling the neighborhood thinking about all the possibilities that lay ahead.

My mom and I never visited London together but whenever I return I play a running conversation in my head. The sound of her voice and her soft gestures are vivid in my mind.

“I loved living here,” she says. “I have the fondest memories of London.”

“Yes, mom,” I answer gently,” you always tell me.”

“I love the gardens and flowers. Walking through the open parks. It makes me so happy. My favorite times were roaming around with your Grandpa who appreciated the little things. London was good to us.”

“Yes, mom,” I say, “I know.”

London appealed to us in different ways. For my mom, it was the traditional and aristocratic London. She grew up with privilege, formalities, and decorum, where manners and appearance were expected and praised. She attended a private all-girls school in the ‘60s designed to prepare a girl to be a lady of society and find a rich, handsome husband.

I was always drawn to London’s modern sensibilities with its punk vibe and rebellious spirit. While my mom preferred high tea at Fortnum & Mason, I was content with samosas on Brick Lane, washed down by a cider at the local pub.

While our memories and desires of London differed, my mother and I possessed a shared passion for its diverse offerings. London was a city large enough to accept our diverse perspectives and cultural identities. In many ways, and in the days to come, London will always be that intersection of past and present between my mom, myself, and my now three-year old-daughter.

On my last visit to London we celebrated my daughter’s second birthday. We found ourselves on a spontaneous playdate with Prince George at Diana’s Memorial playground in Hyde Park. Nanny, Prince George, and Princess Charlotte were visiting the huge wooden pirate ship. My daughter and young George ran around on the ship and took turns on the slide. My daughter grabbed Prince George’s shoulders and directed him to wait while she moved around the quarter deck.

My mom met Princess Di back in the ‘80s at a diplomatic state dinner. Who knew that their two future grandchildren, whom they would never meet themselves, would somehow come together in a sandbox? That’s London. Our London.

Best airbnbs in London

London’s sprawling city can make finding a location for accommodation a challenge. The local touch when renting a house or apartment transforms the experience of a large city like London. Even if you are a foodie and have restaurant reservations lined up, these listings below offer more than a well equipped kitchen. Here’s our selection of some of the best Airbnb’s in London.

$747/night River Thames

Photo: Airbnb

For those who are looking for a centralized location and a view of the skyline next to the River Thames, this big apartment for $747 a night is worth it.

Photo: Airbnb

$68/night, Camden

Photo: Airbnb

Camden is a great neighborhood – some would say, London at it’s best – full of shops, bars and Camden Market and Primrose Hill. Considering the location and beautiful decor it’s a steal for only $68 a night.

Photo: Airbnb

$955/night, Greater London

Photo: Airbnb

The place is walking distance from the London Museum and School or Arts. The two-floor penthouse features original street art and sleeps up to 16 people.

Photo: Airbnb

$134/night, Knightsbridge

Photo: Airbnb

Looking at this listing, it seems almost too good to be true for the price. It’s not greatly exciting, but it’s clean, has a garden and is located in Knightsbridge, which is perfect for a first-timer to London.

Photo: Airbnb

$1,082/night, Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge

Photo: Airbnb

This gaff once cost over 8 million pounds. It’s all yours for just over $1000 a night. If you need luxury and glam, this will tick those boxes. It’s located in Cadogan Square, one of the more exclusive areas of Knightsbridge. The owner asks for background information about guests before booking. If you are not PLU — people like us — don’t bother inquiring.

Photo: Airbnb

$2,379/night, Piccadilly Circus

Photo: Airbnb

Don’t be too alarmed at the cost per night as this 7-bed, six-floor townhouse in Piccadilly Circus sleeps up to 30. It goes all out in the way of comfort with many jacuzzis and a steam room.

Photo: Airbnb

$436/night, Nottinghill

Photo: Airbnb

The 20-foot-high penthouse was designed and crafted with “love and wit” by Scandinavian designer Rowan. It’s right next to the canal facing Nottinghill, famous for carnival in August.

Photo: Airbnb

$1,387/night, Hyde Park

Photo: Airbnb

The place makes our list mainly for its location. The house has a balcony overlooking Hyde Park which is famous for its art and architecture exhibitions. Perfect place to enjoy a spot of afternoon tea.

Photo: Airbnb

$727/night, Chelsea

Photo: Airbnb

This place makes the cut because of the decor. The house has been designed in traditional British country house style. Located in Chelsea it’s tucked away in a very quiet part of the district. It makes it a super base for exploring the city without sacrificing a good night’s sleep.

Photo: Airbnb

$694/night, South Kensington

Photo: Airbnb

Just off Sloane Avenue, this three bedroom, renovated house would be perfect for those in London for a long weekend. Note, it’s in a relatively posh area, so remember to pack your Barbour jacket and wellington boots.

Photo: Airbnb

Train tripping through Europe: Pt 1

FOLLOW FILMMAKER Blaze Nowara as he traverses Europe, hitting up London, Paris, Berlin, and Krakow, and visiting the local Hotel Indigo properties (part of InterContinental Hotels Group). These hotels are individually designed with each city in mind, taking care to reflect their locale and offer an authentic experience. Cookie-cutter chain hotels they are not.

In episode 1, Blaze’s first stop is Hotel Indigo London Kensington, where he meets a fellow traveler, dines on wine and meat pies, and ambles through Holland Park. He then takes himself on a high-speed train to Paris, checks in, and hits the streets. Opting to avoid the usual tourist attractions, Blaze keeps himself open to serendipitous encounters and — surprise surprise — more wine!

 

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This video is proudly produced by Matador for the IHG Travel Blog.

 

7 alternative spots to hit up on your first trip to London

Photo: Pedro Szekely

When visiting London for the first time there are so many ‘MUST DO‘ lists. Selfie Big Ben? Taking in the panoramic views from the London Eye or perhaps catching a glimpse of the Queen at Buckingham Palace? It is like a conveyor belt of iconic tourist destinations. If this is your first trip to London, of course, you will want to see all these, but what about heading somewhere else. Somewhere not as busy that offer a different, local, experience.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Greenwich Park

 Greenwich ParkLondon, United KingdomFresh air with amazing views of London – what more do you need? Greenwich park is great with friends or for taking a wander and escaping the hustle and bustle. #viewpoint #london #free #hiking


Take in the views of Greenwich Park. This is a free viewpoint offering great alternative views over London. While getting to Greenwich Grab a beer from the bar on board the Thames Clipper and take in the sights along the river towards Greenwich. After checking out the Cutty Sark, head up the hill in Greenwich Park to check the Prime Meridian with a longitude of 0’ and then take in one of the best views over the city of London.

Ride on the DLR

 Docklands Light RailwayLondon, United KingdomThe DLR is a good way of getting around. Not as busy as the underground and generally above ground allowing you to see where you are going. It can be a bit slower, but you can play train driver ?
#publictransport #train #railway


This is the Docklands Light Railway that operates around the Docklands area in London. These driverless trains are a great way of traveling around that offer alternative views over the city. Get to the front and you can be the driver.

Canary Wharf

 Canary WharfLondon, United KingdomLondon’s major business district is home to some architecture. It is deserted on the weekends making it rather eerie and great for taking pictures of London’s skyscrapers. #skyscrapers #businessdistrict #quietontheweekend


Canary Wharf is in the Docklands area and is home to the second largest building in the UK, One Canada Square. This is a major business district and is very busy Monday to Friday. It is deserted on the weekends, making it the best time to go and check out the metal and glass architecture. While here, Crossrail Place Roof Garden is a must see, hidden oasis with beautiful flora and fauna that is completely unexpected in London’s major business district.

Lewisham Book Exchange

 Phone Booth Book ExchangeLondon, United KingdomThis phone box is a book exchange ! Swap your book for a “new” one ! What a cool place. I was here for ten minutes and three people came by. I don’t think there is wifi like a library would have though ? #free #londonbookexchange #bookexchange


Pop along to the coolest little book exchange in London. It is in a Red Telephone Box. There is a surprising selection and you do not know what you may find.

Brixton

 BrixtonLondon, United KingdomBrixton is growing increasingly popular and is worth visiting for food and drink. Check out the David Bowie memorial while you are there #food #drink #davidbowie


Brixton is a multi-ethnic population that is predominantly Caribbean. It is an area that has seen gentrification and is now home to independent bars and coffee shops offering fantastic food and a buzzing nightlife. It is also where David Bowie was born and his mural is worth a visit.

Monument

 MonumentLondon, United KingdomAfter climbing 311 tight steps you are greeted with a great view of London. Take your camera and you can get pictures through the mesh #viewpoint #london #lotsofsteps #greatforyourstepcount #history


The Great fire of London is a very important part of London’s history. There is a monument that stands 202 ft tall, that has a viewing platform at the top. After climbing the narrow staircase of 311 steps you can look at the sites of London through mesh fencing. It is £4 to climb to the top, but the view is worth it and is great for your step count.

St Thomas Hospital Garden

 St Thomas’ HospitalLondon, United KingdomWestminster and the Southbank are crazy busy. Head to the tranquil garden of St Thomas hospital and relax on a bench while taking in the view #viewpoint #free #relax #london


Head to the garden of St Thomas hospital, find a bench to relax on while taking in the views of the garden and of Big Ben. This is a nice peaceful hospital garden that is well maintained and is the perfect spot to sit for a while and reflect on your visit to London.