Dream Shopping in London

So. I’m jetting off to London. (And I totally love saying that. I feel so worldly and sophisticated, suddenly.)

And in all of my obsessive, daydreamy research, I’ve spent a fair amount of time educating myself on the myriad ways I can unload some serious pounds. (And while I could stand to stop eating Valentine’s candy and start thinking about getting in shape for holiday, I really actually mean British pounds sterling.)

Obviously I want to go spend some money across the pond. And come back with a case full of lovely prezzies for myself and my friends! (Wouldn’t they all love something from Fortnum & Mason? I’ll bet they would!)

So, where do I start? I’ve never been to London. As for spending in London (in spite of the corny “serious pounds” crack), I’m on a modest budget. I’ve spent enough money (and then some) just getting myself to London, so I can’t exactly justify going on a full-fledged shopping spree every day I’m there. (Which is one reason why I’m trying to win the VisitBritain Shop Blogger Competition by writing this post. The prize is £500! That’s roughly $760 to us yanks! A decent chunk of pocket change!)

The other reason I’m writing this post is because I want to talk about shopping. And my husband most likely doesn’t want to hear about it. (At least, not on the level that I’m going to talk about it here.)

We’ll be staying in Bayswater, near Knightsbridge. Modest budget or no, a trip to Harrods is in order. A nice (2 mile) walk through Hyde Park will get us there. (Might want to bring my Spare Soles. Or take the Tube!)

So what do I know about Harrods? Other than it’s an extraordinary department store filled with fashion, frivolities, and fabulosity? (Which I’ll never afford.) But visiting Harrod’s sounds like such a special occasion, that I’m already planning what to wear.

I’ve heard much ado about Harrods legendary window displays. I was particularly intrigued by their Disney Princess Display for the 2012 Christmas season. (My favorite being the lovely Princess Aurora.)

As much as I enjoy ogling fashion that rises well beyond my means, the crowning glory (for me, anyway) may just be Harrods Food Hall. I hear it’s rather Willy Wonka-esque.

In spite of my “modest budget”, this post is meant to be about my “perfect shopping trip in London” (according to the Visit Britain blogger competition), so here’s a quick illustrative aide in bringing this fantasy into my mind’s eye.

Harrods

Yeah. I’ll never have that many green shopping bags. But it’s fun to pretend. 🙂

As far as department stores go, I wouldn’t mind checking out Marks and Spencer (a local favorite), Harvey Nicks (another local favorite), Selfridges (another biggie, like Harrods), Dover Street Market (heavy on creative displays), and last but not least, Liberty (a uniquely designed store with a mock Tudor facade, steeped in Art Nouveau history and stocked with carefully selected items.)

In all honesty, I am not much of a big-ticket spender, in general. (Although hubby might disagree.) When I do spend a little more on clothing, it is usually on indie fashions, or on my favorite splurge, Anthropologie.

While I rarely buy beyond the clearance rack at Anthro, it’s an experience just to enter and browse the store. Their displays are always incredibly creative and resourceful, and of course I look forward to checking out the displays at the Anthro on Regent street.

Regent Street and Oxford Street, much like shopping at Harrods, may be a little rich for my blood, but they certainly sound like they deserve a stroll and a looksie. (And worth braving the crowds!)

I will most likely want to pick up a blouse, jacket, or accessory at Topshop, a large, moderately-priced, trendy, youthful retail outlet. Because although I am now in my 30s, I am still aspiring to be “Forever 21.” (For as long as I can get away with it.)

In search of indie fashions, books, and records, it seems we’ll want to head over to Soho. While it is fun to look at gorgeous extravagances the likes of which we’ve never seen, the iconic Carnaby Street, filled with independent boutiques, “concept shops”, bars, and cafes, is a must-see.

While visiting the Tower of London, we must surely head over to Borough Market, one of the oldest, biggest outdoor food markets in London, to sample a smorgasbord of foods  and drink, and maybe bring some back for later.

On the East End, Old Spitafields Market hosts Fashion Day every Friday, a good day to get away from the crowds and peruse clothes, accessories, and art. There’s also a record fair every first and third Friday, which sounds like hours of fun for both the hubs and me. Also worth noting and checking out is Rough Trade Records, an independent record label and shop, also in the East End.

Finally, back in the Notting Hill area, there’s the Music & Video Exchange, another great place to dig for vinyl, rare promos, cheap books, and more. (Hubby will love it.)

And we certainly ought to browse the famous Portobello Market for bric-a-brac, fruit and veg, street food, flea market wares, and boutique fashions.

Well, I’ve spent so much time planning my shopping agenda that I haven’t got very far planning anything else, other than a West End Show and possibly a cruise on the Thames. But that will all come. (As I mentioned in my last post, I am a bit of an obsessive vacation planner. Are you getting that idea?)

Bear in mind, this will be my first trip to London! I can only imagine all the lovely things to see and do, and all the wondrous and amazing stores are just the tip of the iceberg. I will see as many of them as time permits, but there are so many fascinating and important sights to behold. I’m not a big city girl, so I expect the London experience should be duly and delightfully overwhelming.

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Diary of an obsessive (and overly excited) vacation planner

Ok, so, I just finished booking a trip to Europe. My hands are shaking and the back of my neck is as stiff as a tree trunk. For me, what should be an exhilarating feeling of excitement always seems to translate to a physically agonizing state of raw nerves and tense anxiety. I go around with my shoulders in my ears, my eyes as wide as saucers, gnawing on my inner lip. I don’t sleep well. All I can think about is the matter at hand.

These plans have been in the works for weeks. Months, really, if you count the time from which I started daydreaming and collecting inspiration on Pinterest.

It was around December that Ryan and I decided 2013 was the year to go to Europe. For me, this is a life-long dream. I am hungry for travel.

We’ve haven’t ventured outside the US much, except for an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta where we stayed for my dad’s wedding. But being served an endless supply of tequila while never leaving the confines of the pool doesn’t really count as international travel.

Ryan spent a few years of his childhood living in Holland, and toured much of Europe with his family during that time, but he admits that, at the time, the sight of breathtaking cathedrals and majestic ancient castles lacked a certain luster and quickly got old for him. I guess when you’re six, you really just want to be playing Atari. (If you’re six in the 1980’s, that is.)

So, for us to finally go now, together, is a pretty big deal.

It all started with me wanting to go to England, actually. I am obsessed with England. I love everything about it. For all the standard reasons; nothing terribly original here…

The charming accent. The amiable British slang. The dry humor. The quirky names for food. The legendary music. The mahogany-wooded, brass-railed pubs. The rolling hills. The country gardens. The red phone booths and black cabs. The ritual of afternoon tea. Even the rainy days and grey skies.

I even had a British flag in my college dorm room:

flag

(OK, so I wasn’t the best interior decorator back then….)

These days, I seem to watch more British television than American television. I’ve discovered and fallen in love with shows like Peep Show, That Mitchell and Webb LookSpaced, Look Around You, Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place, The IT Crowd, Snuff Box, The Inbetweeners, Black Books, Saxondale, etc.

What I’m trying to say is,I just really like England. And I wanted to go there. Badly. So we decided to go to London.

But then we got to thinking….since we’re already over there, shouldn’t we see some other countries? Of course we should.

That’s where things became difficult. Which countries should we visit? How much time (and money) could we afford to spend there? Should we go with a “less is more” approach, and spend more time in fewer places? Or should we just take a bit of a “sampler tour”, seeing as many countries as possible?

There are so many beautiful countries in Europe. We’ve heard particularly wonderful things about the cozy nature of Germany from more than one friend, and Brussels, Switzerland, Spain, and Italy also got rave reviews from other travelers we know. We even considered adding a Scandinavian cruise to our agenda. (Although then we’re getting back to our “comfort zone” of indulging in “small tastes” of each port of call, and this time, we were up for some real, self-guided travel.) I do hope to see all of those wonderful places someday.

Ultimately we decided to keep the itinerary clean and compact. And, well, Paris seemed like a no-brainer. It’s fairly close to England, and it’s an amazing city that I’ve always known I needed to experience at some point in my life. And since we’re not likely to get out to Europe every year (if our track record is any indication), we also considered the fact that it’s apparently one of the top places to visit while you’re young. (Or in our case, young-ish.)

Plus, it’s très romantique!

So, we had settled on London (with a side trip to beautiful, gorgeous Bath) and Paris for sure. But what about one more country….just one more?

It was a tough choice. And I’m sure not everyone will agree with it. (And others, wholeheartedly, will.)

We decided on Amsterdam. (Which also, along with London and Paris, happens to be one of the previously mentioned Buzzfeed’s top cities to visit while you’re young. And I’m not sure as to what criteria they base this on, but it seems about right, so we’ll go with it.)

Aside from the fact that Amsterdam is adorable, I was particularly curious to see Holland, since my husband spent part of his childhood there. Obviously I’ve heard a lot about it. I even fill his wooden shoes with candy every Dec. 6th for Sinterklass Day.

sinterklaas

I imagine us on a tandem bike, careening through the tulips. It’s idyllic, I know. It’s all part of my A’dam fantasy.

So, we’ve gotta go to Holland.

I scoured travel forums obsessively day and night for weeks, gleaning advice, looking for the best hotels in the best locations, etc. I also asked a couple friends for advice and recommendation, which helped immensely to point me in the right direction and instill a sense of confidence in making decisions.

I finally bit the bullet and started booking hotels, which, true to form, I found exciting, yet nerve racking. The good ones (at least, what I think were “the good ones”, according to hours spent trolling TripAdvisor) were filling up fast, even months ahead, and I missed out on one that was recommended by a friend by waiting one day too long. After that, I picked up the pace.

Once I got the ball rolling, I found myself feeling more gleeful with every booking. I even called England early one morning to book a beautiful, gorgeous B&B in beautiful, gorgeous Bath, and spoke to a very lovely British woman who chirped, “Bye-bye, love! Bye-bye!” before she hung up, which delighted me.

In addition to the hotel bookings, I also lined up a Tour of the Cotswolds, for that English Countryside Experience, and tickets to The Book of Mormon in London, the comedy musical from Matt Stone and Trey Parker. The fun has just begun!

The whole thing finally felt very official when I booked the plane tickets, however. I still have to fill in the transportation plans between cities (which I’ve looked into extensively, just haven’t booked), but other than that, we are good to go.

And yet, I still can’t quite believe it. I am floating in a haze of over-excited, stiff-necked elation. I’m going to London! I’m going to Paris! I’m going to Amsterdam! Part of me wondered if I would ever say those words. I am so very grateful for this special time in our lives.