Friday, April 5, 2013

Homesick for a place that isn't home

I have been uncharacteristically silent on the subject of my recent trip to London (and in the blogging world in general), and for that I apologize.  The problem was and is that I have so MUCH to say, that I don't even know where to start.  LAM asked me the other night, what images come to mind when I think about London.  That's easy.  Packaging.  I know, that sounds ridiculous.  He was really disappointed with my answer, since for him it was architecture, historic sights, cleanliness and the overwhelming kindness of every single person we met.  Well, I think about all of those things too, but for me it was the way things looked.  Take for example, the photo above.  I pinned this on Pinterest onto my "Chic Packaging" board, because I loved the refinement of the packaging.  I had no idea what or where this company was located, but I knew I wanted to carry that cup in my hand because looking at it made me happy.  When we arrived at Heathrow, we took the tube to our hotel and upon climbing out of the tube station (where btw, I didn't stand for more than two seconds at the foot of a long flight of stairs before someone asked to help carry my luggage), I noticed a Paul Patisserie.  Holy crap--so this is where it lives!  Ok, so it's really a French company, but they are ubiquitous in London and they did not disappoint.
An English friend warned me that British coffee is terrible and that I would do well to scout out every Starbucks in the city so that I wouldn't curl up into a caffeine-starved ball and die.  I didn't need to.  In fact, there are HUNDREDS of Starbucks in London, some of them only a couple of doors away from each other, which made no sense to me at all, and I never went into a single one of them.
We had breakfast every morning in this little cafe on Gloucester Road and sometimes caught a latte in the afternoon.  My favorite location was the one in Picadilly Arcade, which had a lounge area on the side.
This is actually a photo of the other side, but you get the idea, plus the breathtaking view.  Note the lack of tourists.  Early March is THE time to visit.  The weather was pretty much the same as in Philadelphia, but not as cold.

Where am I going with all of this?  I do have a point.  It seemed clear to me right from the getgo that marketing in the UK is very different than in the US.  Here, we have products that compete with each other to see who can be the loudest and most obnoxious to grab your attention when you walk down the supermarket aisles.  HEY, BUY MY DETERGENT, MY LOGO IS RED AND YELLOW AND REALLY UGLY--SEE IT?  NO?  HERE IT IS AGAIN!!!!!!  BUY ME!!!!!!

I saw none of this.  What I did see were thoughtfully packaged items, some actually downright adorable.  Case in point, just about everything from Marks and Spencer (or Marks and Sparks for the initiated).
I bought these because of the packaging.  I had never tasted rhubarb in my life.  It's delightful, btw.

I felt calm and serene walking around in a world where I was not constantly assaulted for my buying dollar.  This made me WANT to spend money.  The concept seemed somehow consistant with the personality of every British person I know.  They are refined.  They are kind.  They enjoy quality over quantity.  They are reflective and cerebral.  I felt right at home.

Here are some things I miss terribly:
Teatime at Duke's Hotel.  This hotel (not where we stayed, although it was in the running) was GORGEOUS and tucked away in an alley so tight cars had to back away because there is not enough space to turn around in the courtyard.  The very best tea in the city.

Fortnum and Mason.  Forget Harrods.  Yes, the food halls are very cool, but the rest of the store is just like every other department store on earth.  If I could have visited only one store in the city, it would have been Fortnum.
The Gloucester Road tube station.
Hatchards.  I was surprised by how much I loved this store.  Yes, it's the oldest bookstore in London, but they sell editions here you can't buy in the US.  Their children's department was particularly delightful with really beautiful copies of Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne and every other prominent British author you can think of.  It was really tempting to go crazy, but carrying books home on an airplane is a pain because they weigh a ton, so I didn't.
Jermyn Street.  LAM purchased a hat at the famous Bates shop (they made all of the hats for the Indiana Jones movies).  It is the softest thing I've ever felt.  He also had a cashmere sport coat custom fitted.  Yes, everything in London is expensive, but there are some things that are worth paying for and the service you get on Jermyn Street shops is worth every penny.
Here's my handsome guy with his new hat.
Here's Indiana Jones riding the tube.  Oh, did I mention that I miss the tube?  Without question, the best public transportation system in the world.  When the line you want to ride isn't closed for repairs, that is.  Still, I loved it.  Clean, fast and I don't think we ever waited longer than 30 seconds for a train.
Last, but not least, the postboxes.  I love seeing E II R written on everything.  And how everything is "royal" this and "royal" that.

I know I've left a ton of things out, but this is my little memory slide show.  We went to every major museum in the city and they were all incredible.  I probably enjoyed the National Galley the most and wished we had spent more time there.  The building itself is as beautiful as the works of art it showcases.  Oh, well, there's always next time, which reminds me, Virgin Atlantic is the best airline I have flown to date.  Our American carriers have a lot to learn.  Every time I fly a European airline, I am blown away by the service.  All in all, London is my favorite city so far and I felt instantly at home there.  I was indeed sad to get back on that airplane.


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