As It Turns Out, Paris Is A Great Place to Eat and Drink Things

Welcome to the special post-Paris trip recommendation roundup, in which I will share the top ten (!) places I ate and drank while on vacation.

I hadn’t been back to Paris since 2007, when I studied there for a semester. The city has changed a lot in ten years. On this visit, it seemed far more similar to New York, with plentiful cocktail bars and upscale-looking burger chains and a frankly surprising number of people who dress similarly to my fellow New Yorkers. But maybe I just got that impression because I was on vacation and was staying in a trendy area.

Ten years ago, I lived in a residential neighborhood fairly far south on the less cool Left Bank and survived on Nutella crêpes usually purchased after drinking an entire pitcher of Kronenbourg 1664 at a dirty but beloved bar called Le Cristal. (OK, that’s an exaggeration. I also ate delicious home-cooked meals with my Lebanese host mom, cooked simple food for myself, and indulged in many a Picard frozen entrée.) But let’s just say that I had a much more luxurious experience in the city during this weeklong trip.

I’ll be happy to share other activity recommendations (like museums and walks and stuff) upon request. I just thought since my travel partner and I had so many great food and drink experiences this past week – and a few people have reached out to me about planning upcoming trips to Paris – it would be a good idea to document them while they’re still fresh in my memory.

A few notes on how we chose where to eat and imbibe:

  • We did a lot of research before the trip, checking out travel, bar, and restaurant guides from some trusted sources (The New York Times, Paris By Mouth, The Infatuation, Time Out)
  • We got recommendations from friends and colleagues
  • We made a Google map of all of the places we wanted to try (organized by category) so that it would be easy to, for example, find a place to have lunch or a drink after visiting the Musée d’Orsay
  • We abandoned all of our grand plans to eat at some super fancy (i.e. starred) restaurants, mostly because we didn’t plan far enough in advance; we only made one reservation, which was for Sunday brunch at Mama Shelter

Here are my recommendations, in the order in which we visited them.

Day 1 (Saturday)

Le Mary Celeste

Location: 3e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Dinner and drinks

This one was easy. I saw it on almost every single Paris travel guide and “best bar” list I encountered. And it just so happened that it was down the street from our Airbnb in Le Marais. Le Mary Celeste serves small plates in a space that would not look out of place in my Brooklyn neighborhood. (They proudly served a few Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap.) We ordered oysters to start and I had a cocktail called “Good Morning England” that was served in a teacup. We had no idea which plates to order next, but decided on lamb croquettes and deviled eggs because, frankly, those were two items on the menu that we could translate? (My food vocabulary is not as good as I thought it was.) The lamb croquettes were perfectly rich and savory bites (actually two bites). And the Asian deviled eggs were literally transcendent and I could have eaten another whole plate of them. They came up in conversation at least once each day for the rest of the trip.

***

Day 2 (Sunday)

Mama Shelter

Location: 20e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Brunch

One of the most surprisingly delightful experiences of the trip was the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet at Mama Shelter, a hip and affordable hotel near Père Lachaise (you know, the place where Jim Morrison is buried). This was recommended by several locals, but I still had pretty much no idea what to expect from a Parisian brunch. (The closest I got to having brunch in Paris in 2007 was going to Breakfast in America, which was then an incredibly popular weekend spot that served standard American breakfast food.) The restaurant at Mama Shelter, which was large and overwhelming at first with its chalkboard ceiling and TVs playing classic cartoons and tables of young families and large groups of drunk twenty-somethings, soon felt welcoming. And the amount and diversity of food available was…simply incredible. We had: many kinds of bread, crepes, jam and whipped cream, salmon tartare, steak, chicken, ratatouille, orange juice, large beers, charcuterie and several types of cheese, duck, pasta with truffle sauce, a chocolate tart, madeleines, and tiramisu. We didn’t make it to the pizza bar, though we would have liked to. Also, I’m sure I left something out. Needless to stay, I left feeling…rather full and I was not mad about it at all.

 

Bluebird

Location: 11e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Cocktails

Bluebird, another spot discovered via its placement on several “best bars” lists, opened just a few months ago. We almost didn’t go at all, since we got to the bar just a few minutes before it opened, but I’m glad we made the decision to take a lap around the block because this place might be at the top of my list of recommendations. I had two different champagne cocktails (the Coco Chanel and the even more unfortunately named Girl’s Best Friend) and both were fantastic. The bartender was extremely friendly and talked to us for a long time, before any other patrons arrived, about the bar’s decor, which reminded me in a very good way of old hotel bars in New York and a few mid-century bars I’ve been to in L.A. (Seriously, check out Bluebird’s Facebook to get a sense of how pleasing it is to the eye.) The bartender confirmed that the look of the bar and its menu were inspired by Mad Men and mid-century Hollywood. I could have stayed there all night, but after two cocktails I needed some fresh air and a bit of a walk and I promised the bartender that I would send everyone I knew to Bluebird. So, if you are planning on being in Paris anytime soon, add it to your list.

 

Little Red Door

Location: 3e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Also cocktails

We walked from Bluebird to Little Red Door to have even more cocktails, just closer to our Airbnb. Since we’d had our enormous brunch at 3pm, dinner wasn’t entirely necessary. I didn’t enjoy Little Red Door as much as I did Bluebird, probably because the cocktails were more creative and I am definitely more of a classic cocktail gal. However, if you’re seriously into cocktails, then this place is a must. The drink menu was super interesting in its contents and design – it’s a board book with the drink contents listed in tabs that you pull out from each page – and most of the drinks I saw around the bar looked beautiful. I definitely recommend Little Red Door for at least a nightcap if you’re in the area.

***

Day 3 (Monday)

Café Montorgueil

Location: 2e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Drinks and people-watching

We spent most of our third day walking around, first visiting my old stomping grounds in the 15e and 14e arrondissements, then to the Jardin du Luxembourg (one of my favorite spots in the city), and finally to the Louvre. We decided to find a place to relax and have a beer before grabbing dinner. We chose the Rue Montorgueil since it was pretty much halfway between the Louvre and our Airbnb. This turned out to be a great idea, since Rue Montorgueil was packed with Parisians doing last-minute food shopping or grabbing drinks and dinner with friends. We randomly picked Café Montorgueil as our spot to watch people on their way home from work, munching on their freshly purchased baguettes. It wasn’t that the food (we didn’t have any) or drink (I think I ordered a Belgian blond ale, something I haven’t consumed since about 2009) was particularly good. It was the experience of being on vacation and having the time to watch other people go about their business.

 

Poulette

Location: 1er Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Dinner

I’d seen this restaurant in The New York Times’ most recent (from 2015) “36 Hours in Paris, Right Bank” and put it on our list purely because of the image that accompanied the article. And yes, this tiny restaurant is very, very beautiful. But it also serves absolutely incredible classic French food. We got a bottle of Côtes du Rhône and I ordered the steak frites, exactly as the Times recommended. They were perhaps the best thing I ate during the entire trip. (I can also confirm that they make very, very good duck and carrots. Yes, I’m recommending carrots.) Even though I didn’t think I had room in my body for more food, we had a perfect Pomme au Four for dessert. We walked out of the restaurant stunned and very happy that we’d chosen Poulette over the many, many other places we could have gone.

***

Day 4 (Tuesday)

Le Loir dans la Théière

Location: 4e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Lunch

After two days of near constant walking, we had a lazy morning and decided to go to Le Loir dans la Théière (“The Dormouse in the Teapot”), a restaurant with what I’d say has a light to medium Mad Hatter theme. While I really wanted one of the huge slices of lemon pie with meringue, as described in another New York Times piece about one writer’s experience of living in Le Marais, I couldn’t do it after having two cafés crèmes and a slice of ham and leek quiche, which exceeded all expectations. (I usually think of quiche as boring and tasteless, but this was anything but.) Le Loir dans la Théière was perfect for a relaxed weekday lunch.

 

Le Kitch

Location: 11e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Drinks

We noticed Le Kitch on our way to see my friend’s band play at Point Ephémère, a venue on the Canal Saint-Martin. It looked cute from the outside and was fairly packed for a Tuesday night, so we decided to stop in our way home. It turned out that Le Kitch was literally very kitschy, with its bar top collage of ‘70s magazine images and disco balls on the ceiling and various other bits of memorabilia placed around the space. I ordered a drink called “The Garden”, which was gin-based but mostly tasted like sugar and cucumber and lemon (in the best way). I watched the bartender, a friendly young woman who was very game to communicate with us in Franglais, make a drink in the blender for a group of dudes and I was very intrigued when I saw her add like, a pound of mint. It looked like a smoothie when she poured it and I can confirm, since she gave me my own glass of this concoction, that it was indeed an alcoholic mint smoothie. I’m still confused and delighted that this drink exists and that three grown men ordered not one but two rounds of it. I need someone else to go to Le Kitch to figure out what this drink is called, order it, and text me a photo so I know that it’s real because honestly I feel like the whole thing might have been a dream.

***

Day 5 (Wednesday)

Florence Kahn

Location: 4e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Sandwiches

On our last full day in France, we decided to get a Zipcar and drive about an hour south to visit the Château de Fontainebleau, a beautiful palace that is way less crowded than Versailles. Before we left Paris, we decided to get some sandwiches to eat in the car and wandered on to the Rue des Rosiers, which is the center of the Jewish quarter in Le Marais. We couldn’t find a regular baguette sandwich and ended up settling for slightly unappetizing looking turkey sandwiches on round onion bread from Florence Kahn. I was starving almost as soon as we got on the road and decided to eat my sandwich, even though I was still mad that it wasn’t ham and butter on a baguette, which is what I really wanted. But of course, it turned out to be like one of the Top Ten Sandwiches of My Life. The bread was buttery and full of caramelized onion flavor. And the filling basically blew my mind? Turkey, mayonnaise, pickles, and maybe ratatouille? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either, but I promise you that it was GOOD.

 

Les Chouettes

Location: 3e Arrondissement

Purpose of Our Visit: Dinner

For our last dinner in Paris, we chose this two-story restaurant in Le Marais which I’m pretty sure I’m recommending more for its design than its food, though the food was good (not great). We had duck foie gras followed by a veal and octopus dish and seafood risotto. The wine we ordered was really delicious, though I cannot remember what it was called for the life of me. And we ended our meal with a lovely black forest éclair (a chocolate éclair filled with chocolate pastry cream and raspberry jam), which was listed on the English menu as “French éclair like a recipe of black forest cake”. (Maybe I’m a jerk but I find English menus offensive, especially when they’re not even written well.) Sorry, I realize this doesn’t sound like a recommendation but I promise it is and maybe you should just go to Les Chouettes for a drink and ogle the beautiful decor which you can see here.

Advertisements

48 Hours (Alone) in Iceland

I arrived at the Keflavik airport on a Wednesday, in the late afternoon. After collecting my suitcase, I purchased a ticket for the Flybus, which would take me the 45 minutes to Reykjavik. The sun had started to set as we boarded the bus. I already started worrying that I wouldn’t be able to get my bearings once we got to the city. I hate my arriving anywhere unfamiliar in the dark.

I was hungry, so I ate one of the British candy bars I bought at Heathrow on the bus. I stashed the wrapper inside of a plastic bag inside of my backpack, sat back, and tried to  catch some scenery through the bus window. I was in an aisle seat, so this proved difficult. We drove down a long road flanked by large street lamps for what seemed like forever. By the time we reached Reykjavik’s bus station, the sky had gone from purple to black. There, I boarded a van that would take me directly to the hostel where I would stay for two nights.

The van dropped me off in front of a fast food drive-in, which was directly across the street from the hostel though I didn’t realize it at the time. I walked up and down the block, past a Dominos and an apartment building, looking for the entrance. Finally, I saw the modern wooden rectangle of the door. The sign posted next to it directed me upstairs.

I checked in at Kex Hostel easily. I was sure I had fucked up my reservation somehow, or that I would get there and the hostel would have no record of it. But it turned out that I did, in fact, have a room and that was a huge relief. I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since I studied abroad in 2007. My experiences were varied. (Berlin was wonderful, Amsterdam and Strasbourg were pretty OK, Rome was abysmal, Geneva was such a fever dream of a trip that I honestly have no memory of where we stayed.) Kex was a delight. My private room – I thought this best since I was traveling alone and also, I’m no longer a poor student – was comfortable and adorable. The bar-restaurant on the main floor was convenient and actually very good. It was also centrally located, which I would realize once I left to explore.

the bar at kex hostel

the bar at kex hostel

I ate an early dinner downstairs. The whole time I felt uneasy at the thought of leaving the hostel to explore Reykjavik in the dark, but I only had two days and two nights to do everything I wanted to do. I eavesdropped on the group at the table next to me, two young American men who had approached three young Australian women. They were trying to get them to go on a car trip around the Golden Circle the following day. Even though the guys seemed annoying – one of them spent at least five minutes pompously explaining the research he did on white blood cells – I was jealous of them, having people to do things with.

It was only 7 o’clock when I left the hostel, but it felt a lot later because it had been dark for so long. I’d mapped out a few bars that I wanted to try on my phone, though first I thought I would find a power adaptor so that I could charge my phone when I got back. After two or three blocks, I found myself on a sort of main street, which all of the bars were on or near. One of the larger tourist shops was open, so I popped in to look around for an adaptor. I came out empty-handed and figured I might have better luck in the morning.

Though I walked into the highly recommended Lebowski Bar, I couldn’t find a seat and it seemed a little too rowdy for my situation, a woman out for a drink on her first night in a foreign country, with only her book for company. Instead, I headed to Kaffibarinn, a quiet bar in an old house, just down the way. I ordered a beer from the very attractive bartender and parked myself at a candlelit table nearby, where I opened my book.

I read very little at the bar, mostly because I couldn’t help but people-watch while I was there.

kaffibarinn

kaffibarinn

The patrons around me were mostly Americans. I learned that they were all a) married, b) in their thirties, c) in Iceland because they found really cheap flights, and d) completely unable to control the volume of their voices. I didn’t dislike listening to them talk about what they had done so far in Iceland and what they “did” with the “lives” back home. I did dislike how a few of them spoke about Iceland like it was some kind of all-inclusive resort, nothing more than a playground for tourists.

So while I was listening to all of these Americans blather on about their jobs back in Colorado and how they met their wives junior year at Texas A&M, I noticed a really rad thing, which was a communal cheeseboard in the middle of the room. Anyone at the bar could just get up and grab some free cheese and fruit. For free! I wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t try anything, but I still thought it pretty noteworthy. And then, I got pulled back into listening to the Americans, but only because one particularly loud woman had started talking to the hot bartender, asking him all sorts of questions about his life.

Before I went to Iceland, I’d heard more than a few Americans comment on the friendliness of the Icelandic people. While I was there, I found the people I encountered to be polite, responsive, and tolerant of tourists. I think this tolerance is often mistaken for friendliness. When I saw Americans act “friendly” in that sort of stereotypically open, overbearing, and sometimes prying manner some of us possess, they weren’t treated with disdain as they might be in other European countries. I think a lot of Americans project “friendliness” onto Icelanders when it’s really that Iceland has a culture of decency. Icelanders aren’t popping up like magical elves every time you get lost to give you directions, but from what I observed and experienced, if you approach someone with a question, they’ll probably try to give you a good answer. But who really knows, I was only there for two days and I also am so unfriendly that roughly fifty percent of my friends have said that they were “scared” of me before we became friends.

Anyway, this woman was talking to the bartender and eventually I heard her say, “Wait, are you American?” And it turned out that he was from Seattle. She asked him how long he’d been in Reykjavik, how he liked working at the bar, and finally, why he was there in first place. “I have a child here,” he said. That was the first of three times I heard him tell his story to American women that night. Before she went back to her table, the woman told him he had “kind of an Icelandic accent.”

***

view of volcanoes from the shore in the morning

view of volcanoes from the shore in the morning

I woke up at 7 o’clock the following morning. I’d gotten back to my room at 10 previous night and stayed up to finish that book I wasn’t really reading at the bar. (It was The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters and I highly recommend it.) I wanted to get an early start because I had a lot of sightseeing to do and also needed to charge my phone before going on a bus tour of the Golden Circle that afternoon. However, when I woke up, it was pitch black outside and my entire body still felt tired. I went back to sleep until after 9 and was outside by 10, just as the sun was rising, on the hunt for a power adaptor. One of the hostel employees had directed me to a camping supply store just down the street, which she said would have power adaptors.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the camping supply store. Also, nothing was really open? Like, things were starting to open, but nowhere that looked like it might sell power adaptors. I ate breakfast at the first café I could find. I had a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino and a wonderful view of the only other patrons, a Spanish-speaking couple, canoodling across the room.

I went back to the same tourist shop I had gone to the night before, because it was one of the only things open, to see if I had possibly just missed the power adaptors. I looked all over the store and finally approached the counter to speak to a clerk.

“You don’t have power adaptors, do you?” I said, stuttering. She told me they did and pointed off to the side. I turned around. “Wait, where?” She pointed again. “Here,” she said. And then I saw them, in a large display, literally six inches in front of me, slightly to my left. I thanked her, assured her that I was a huge idiot, purchased a power adaptor, and left.

Then I had to find a place to actually charge my phone. I ended up in a bar that smelled like

inside harpa

inside harpa

stale beer and espresso. I ordered an Americano, parked myself in a booth with cracked vinyl seats, and plugged my phone in under the table. It was taking forever to charge and I was nervous about time. I had wanted to do at least one activity that morning before my bus tour. I ended up waiting until it got to 50% before unplugging and heading to the Harpa concert hall. I just hoped that the bus would have outlets.

Harpa opened only a few years ago. It’s a gorgeous building and stands out from the rest of the city’s architecture. Once inside, I couldn’t stop taking photos of the glass panels. The views from the upper floors were worth the trip alone, but I also enjoyed the small shops on the main floor, especially the small outpost of the record store 12 Tonar. With not much time to spare, I headed back toward the hostel where my bus would pick me up, stopping on the way to grab a few snacks for the road.

***

The bus was more of a van and I quickly found that it did not have any electrical outlets. I was the first person to board. The driver who would lead our tour checked my name off of his list. “Flannery,” he said. “Is that Irish?” I told him it was an Irish name, but that I was American. He smiled at me approvingly. I later learned that many Icelanders believe they are descended from people of Irish origin who intermarried with Norse conquerors.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir

We drove around Reykjavik, picking other tourists up, before getting on the road. I was the only person who was not part of a male-female couple. As we drove out of the city, our driver-guide told us about the history of Iceland and the city of Reykjavik, as well as basic facts about the island’s geography. We drove for a long time before reaching Þingvellir, the site of Iceland’s first parliament, founded in 930. There, we were given about 45 minutes to explore. I walked on a path between some huge rocks, eventually finding a spot where I could view the whole valley. The wind was really strong – our guide had noted that Iceland really should have been called “Windland” – and I worried about falling rocks. I felt, not for the last time, like I was on another planet.

Once our party was back on the bus, we drove a much shorter distance toGeysir, to view the

geysir hot spring area

geysir hot spring area

geysers. I had never seen a geyser before. I was just as impressed with the atmosphere of the park area, the red dirt and the steam rising off the ground, as I was by the actual geyser eruptions. I spent a lot of time trying to capture a geyser eruption on my iPhone camera, with very little luck. And then my phone died before my battery was really drained because the cold wind zapped all of the power. I walked around the park, watching other people get dangerously close the geysers, even though there were signs everywhere with warnings about the extremely high temperatures of the water and statements about how far the closest hospitals were from the park.

The sky turned a darker gray as we drove to our final destination, the Gullfoss waterfall. The couple in the seat in front of me – a man wearing Willy Nelson braids and a bandana tied around his head and a woman with frizzy, graying hair who looked very cold – started chatting to me. I found out that they were from Oregon and had already been in Iceland for a few days and that it had been much colder when they had arrived, in the mid-twenties. (It was in the mid-forties, though the wind made it feel colder outside the city.) They weren’t sure how they would spend the rest of their time. I suggested horseback riding, which I’d heard was a thing to do but wouldn’t be able to get around to it myself. The woman shook her head. “It’s way too cold for that,” she said.

trying to take a selfie at gullfoss

trying to take a selfie at gullfoss

The Gullfoss waterfall was by far the largest waterfall I’d ever seen. Since I’d been able to charge my phone in the rest area at Geysir, I was ready to mark this occasion by taking some selfies. But I guess Willy Nelson Braids saw this and felt bad for me, so he offered to take my picture for me. I handed my phone to him, he took two photos, and handed it back to me. I was hoping they came out well so that I could post them on Instagram, maybe get a new profile photo out of this experience. However, when I looked at my camera roll, I found two photos where I’m smack in the middle of the frame, obscuring the waterfall. Also, my eyes were closed.

***

I was back at the hostel by 6 pm. I changed quickly and decided to hang out at the bar downstairs for a while. I figured I could have a beer while I charged my phone and did some more journaling. My plan was thwarted by one of the young American guys I had seen the night before, chatting up the Australian girls at the table next to me. He asked if he could join me and I didn’t really see the point in turning down a potentially interesting experience, so I said yes. It turned out that he was a professional surfer on his way to Bali. He was training to be a firefighter in some beach town in California, but in the meantime, was traveling around the world surfing wherever he could get sponsored. I figured he was in his very early twenties. To me, he seemed young and carefree in a way that I had never been and will never have the opportunity to be again.

His friend joined us a little while later. They had only met the previous night, at the same bar, and had ended up driving around the Golden Circle with the Australian girls they’d chatted up. The second guy was a little bit older and a little bit more square. He was a medical researcher who lived in Queens and got excited when I said I also lived in New York. But our conversation about New York fizzled quickly once I realized we had literally nothing in common other than the city we lived in.

They asked me what I was doing for dinner and I told them that I was planning to go to a restaurant that had been recommended to me called Grillmarkadurinn. They invited themselves along. I didn’t say no but I wasn’t necessarily enthusiastic about them joining me. We all went upstairs to get our coats, but when we met again, they had changed their minds. I assumed they had looked up the restaurant, which was on the pricier side. They decided to get hot dogs from a stand instead. We walked to the harbor area together and parted ways there.

***

I hadn’t made a reservation at Grillmarkadurinn but was seated right away, at the bar in front of the open kitchen. I’d never eaten a full meal alone in a nice restaurant before. I tried not to look at my phone and I thought it would be inappropriate if I took out my book, so I just watched the chefs in the kitchen and thought about my trip. I was sad that it was almost over – it was my last night – but felt ready to be back at home.

I ordered a glass of wine and was served rustic white bread with fresh butter and lava salt. For

mini burgers of lobster, whale, and puffin

mini burgers of lobster, whale, and puffin

my main course, I got three mini burgers of lobster, whale, and puffin. I had never tried whale or puffin before and figured it was the perfect time to do so. I didn’t love the whale; the texture, to me, was similar to tuna, which I’m not a huge fan of. The puffin, however, was absolutely delicious. (And so was the lobster.) I decided to get dessert, since I was feeling celebratory about having almost completed my trip, and ordered a plate of homemade ice creams, which were all wonderful. I was so full when I left the restaurant, I felt sick.

***

I got up around 8 the next morning to check out. I’d gone to bed fairly early again because I had quite a few things to do around Reykjavik before I left, but also because I literally could not have gone out even if wanted to after dinner, that’s how disgustingly full I felt. I ended up reading three New Yorker articles on my phone before finally falling asleep around 11.

I was able to store my bags at Kex and was out and about well before the sun was up. I ate

hallgrimskirkja

hallgrimskirkja

breakfast at Mokka-Kaffi, which I had discovered thanks to the New York Times’s ‘36 Hours in Reykjavik.’ (Between you and me, I modeled my whole trip on ‘36 Hours in Reykjavik.’) I ate exactly what they suggested: a waffle with fresh whipped cream. It was the best waffle I’ve had in a long time, though I should add that I’m not much of a waffle eater these days.

From there, I headed to the Hallgrímskirkja, the largest church in Iceland which is also notable for its Expressionist architecture and its views of Reykjavik. I paid a small fee to take an elevator to the top of the church, where I took photos of the city, the water, and the volcanoes in the distance. The wind in the tower was incredible. I felt like I could have blown out one of the windows if they hadn’t had iron bars over them.

12 Tonar

12 tonar

Afterward, I stopped in a few shops in that part of the city, including Geysir, famous for its Iceland-inspired clothing and home goods. I was almost relieved to not have any room in my suitcase, otherwise I could have splurged and bought everything in the store. I also found the main location of the record store 12 Tonar, which was totally empty that morning. I had some fun looking through used vinyl in the basement, but was again stopped from purchasing anything by my lack of luggage space.

After that, I headed to Hafnarhus, which houses the Reykjavik Art Museum’s contemporary collections. There were only about five or six exhibits. The collection of controversial Erro works – which are displayed there permanently – were the most interesting to me. (Erro, an Icelandic painter and collage artist who works in Paris, has been accused of plagiarism many times.) I was alone almost the entire time I walked through the museum, which felt much different from my recent experiences in London museums, where I’d been pushed through every exhibit by other tourists.

in line for pylsur

in line for pylsur

I grabbed lunch at nearby Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, a famous hot dog stand. Since I’m sort of a huge hot dog fan, I’d been looking forward to this moment. I ordered one hot dog with everything (raw onions, crispy onions, ketchup, sweet mustard, and a mayonnaise-type sauce) and a soda, using up the last of my Icelandic krona. I ate it while walking through a light rain on my way back to the hostel, where the Flybus would pick me up to go back to Keflavik airport.

***

Back at the airport – my third time there in ten days – I struggled to find a seat to wait for my flight. I’d picked up an English-language novel set in Iceland, Burial Rites, at the bookstore and started to read it while I drank some Kokomjolk, a brand of Icelandic chocolate milk. Though I was anxious to get home, I wished I could have stayed in Iceland just a little bit longer. In my head, I was already making a list of the things I would do on my next visit.

London, Part VI (The End)

I’ve been putting off wrapping this thing up because every time I start writing this last part, I don’t have my journal, where I kept a list of everything I did. Also, it’s hard to write about something that happened months ago at this point. Maybe next time I go on a trip, I’ll write about it right after I get back? We’ll see.

I started my second-to-last day, a Monday, by visiting Westminster Abbey, which I’d visited when I was 12. I barely remember specifics of that visit, other than being impressed by the tombs of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, both of whom I was very interested in at that time. I figured it wouldn’t be a bad place to revisit, so I took the Tube there and stopped to take some selfies in front of Big Ben and the London Eye before getting on a rather intimidating line.

I waited in line for probably twenty minutes and listened to other people’s conversations. Once inside, I took my time walking around, reading the memorials to people who lived, for the most part, centuries ago. The overall experience was not as exciting as I’d remembered it being when I was younger. This time, I felt annoyed at being jostled by other tourists, all of whom had their ears glued to the handheld audio tours they hand out at the entrance. Out of guilt and some sense of obligation, probably because I’d paid an entrance fee, I made sure I saw every bit of Westminster Abbey that I could see, except for the gift shop and cafe, which I think are kind of tasteless things to have in a church, even if that church is a tourist attraction.

on my walk to the british museum

on my walk to the british museum

From Westminster Abbey, I walked to the British Museum, which was not exactly nearby. My route took me to the edge of St. James’s Park and behind 10 Downing Street. I thought briefly about going to see Buckingham Palace but I felt like that was something I only needed to do once in my lifetime. I ended up in Trafalgar Square, which was an interesting coincidence. A scene in the book I’d been reading the night before took place there. While I was figuring out which direction to walk in from Trafalgar Square, I realized I was hungry, so I stopped into the 800th Pret a Manger I’d seen that day and bought a cheddar and pickle sandwich. I ate it on my walk to the museum. I knew I looked gross, but it’s not like I was going to run into anyone familiar.

***

the british museum's display for germany: memories of a nation

the british museum’s display for germany: memories of a nation

At the British Museum, it took me a really long time to figure out how to access the exhibit I wanted to see – Germany: memories of a nation – and that made me grumpy. But once I got it all sorted, I had a really great time. The exhibit told the history of Germany through art and artifacts in a really manageable yet thorough manner. It wasn’t super crowded. And I felt pretty at home with the mostly elderly crowd, especially once my fatigue and sciatica kicked in. At one point, I sat on a bench for a while next to two older men and listened to them talk about Hitler.

I wandered around the permanent collections for a very long time. By that point in my trip, I was museum-ed out. I can barely remember what else I saw. I know that I walked through some rooms with stuff from Roman Britain. I saw the Sutton Hoo hoard, which was a must for me while I was there. And I remember at least a room – or two – full of clocks. I also twice visited the bathrooms, which were podlike and an awful shade of orange, clearly someone’s idea of what the future would look like decades ago.

When I left the museum, it was raining. I bought a a shitty umbrella at a shop full of touristy knickknacks and walked to the closest Tube station. I got in a car with a bunch of uniformed schoolgirls chaperoned by their teachers. They were probably around twelve-years-old, all chatty and earnest and still trying to get attention and approval from one teacher in particular, who was clearly exhausted. The girl across from me was eating a bag of prawn cocktail-flavored potato chips, which intrigued me, though I never remembered to buy a bag before I left the UK.

***

afternoon in notting hill

afternoon in notting hill

I had no idea what I was doing in Notting Hill. At least it had stopped raining. I followed Google Maps, walking along beautiful residential streets, until I found Portobello Road. I remembered someone had told me to go to Portobello Road Market. I thought it was like…fine? I don’t know. I bought some silly souvenirs for my roommates and myself from one of the stalls. I walked into a few random, cutesy looking shops and ended up spending a stupid amount of time at a Cath Kidston without buying anything.

It was almost sundown and I’d thought I might try to walk by Kensington Palace, so I started heading toward Kensington. I promptly got lost. It got dark and for a while, I was the only person walking along a street lined with really, really nice furniture stores. I ended up hopping on a train at the first station I saw, which was High Street Kensington station, which I later realized is like four blocks from Kensington Palace.

That evening, Katie and I went to see a Jane Austen-themed improv group called Austentatious. (At a pub in Islington called The Old Queens Head.) They describe their performance as “an entirely improvised comedy play in the style of the wondrous & witty Jane Austen, based on nothing more than a title from the audience.” That is exactly what it was like! (It was really good.)

***

remembrance day poppies at the tower of london

The next day – my last full day in London – I did a bunch of stuff. At this point, I’m bored writing about this trip, so I’ll give you a quick rundown of how I spent my remaining time.

at the tower of london

at the tower of london

I went to the Tower of London. However, I forgot that it was Remembrance Day, so I had to watch an official Remembrance Day ceremony taking place on a big screen while standing in a crowd of thousands before I could get my ticket for the tour. Then I did the tour and it was great.

I walked along the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral. And then didn’t go inside. Just like, walked around it.

at liberty of london

at liberty of london

I spent my afternoon shopping. I went to Selfridge’s Food Hall for lunch and picked up a few little gift-y things for people back home. Then I walked around Liberty of London literally for hours. It was really maybe one of the most fun things I’ve ever done by myself. And then I checked out Sister Ray Records, which was close by.

I took the Tube to Whitechapel, where I was meeting Katie and Chris for dinner. I was super early, so I stopped into a little crepe shop for a coffee. I did some writing and charged my phone until it was time to go to Tayyab’s. Dinner there was definitely an experience for me. I hadn’t eaten Indian food since probably 2009 and have a really hard time handling anything spicy, so I was kind of nervous for our meal in general. (Note: I was the one who’d suggested we get Indian food in the first place, as I had put it on my London to-do list.) I think I maybe had a mild allergic reaction to something, but I liked most of what I ate!

I said goodbye to Katie that night. And in the morning, I said goodbye to Chris.

And then I was off to Iceland!

P.S. I’ll write about the two days I spent alone in Iceland soon, I think.

London, Part V (A Sunny Sunday)

I woke up hungover. I showered, got dressed, took some Advil I had brought with me in a plastic sandwich bag, and went down to the kitchen, where Katie was getting breakfast started. Instantly, I felt terrible. I should have been cooking them breakfast! But then, I thought, how could I possibly do that when I don’t know where anything is or how anything works? And I love doing stuff like this when I have guests. Just stop it, I told myself, and enjoy the damn breakfast.

And so I enjoyed the damn breakfast. It was very good.

***

We decided to walk along the Regent’s Canal on our way to the Columbia Road Flower Market. When compared to the day before, the day was spectacular, sunny and almost warm. I think it was the only day I wore shoes without socks. I spent our walk both partly delighted at the sight of narrowboats in the water and small cafes tucked along the path, and partly afraid that I would be knocked into the canal by one of the bikers zooming by us at top speed.

We exited once we’d tired of the traffic and single-file walking. I think it was then that we passed by the The Geffrye Museum of the Home, which Katie and I decided we had to go to on our way back. We proceeded to walk around in what felt like a lot of little loops through identical residential blocks until we got to Columbia Road.

Once there, we stopped in Vintage Heaven, which had a cute little cafe in the back called Cake Hole. Chris got a coffee and Katie bought a delightful needlepoint pillow that matched their couch at home and I wished that I could buy something but I didn’t have room in my suitcase and everything that caught my eye looked fragile. Also, every time I tried to look at something I got knocked into by another shopper, which didn’t exactly put me in a purchasing mood.

literally the only photo i took at the columbia road flower market

literally the only photo i took at the columbia road flower market

Outside, we headed toward the Flower Market, which was so crowded that I could barely look at any flowers. I had it in my head that I would take my time looking at beautiful flowers and take a lot of pictures that I would examine later in the day in order to choose a few to post on Instagram that would get like, a million likes. Instead, I was pulled quickly through the throngs of people almost against my will, while forced to endure the shrill sounds of flower sellers trying shouting bargain prices from their stalls. I was, of course, reminded of “Who Will Buy?” from Oliver!, in which Oliver Twist finds himself in the middle of a busy market after recovering from a fever and ends up getting stolen by Nancy and Bill Sikes. When we found ourselves at the end of street, I was relieved, but also felt I should go back and really fight my way through the crowd. I’d only taken one shitty photo.

***

my favorite model london living room, from the 1930s

my favorite model london living room, from the 1930s

The Geffrye Museum of the Home is housed in former Hoxton almshouses. Inside, you can walk through recreations of typical London living rooms from the 17th century to (nearly) the present day. If this sounds boring to you, you should stop reading right now. I was kind of obsessed with how weird this museum was, like walking through a train in which each car existed in a different period of time. Each living room from before the 1900s was accompanied by tons of information on household duties and activities, as well as the types of furniture and tools that Londoners would have used at the time. There was plenty for me to nerd out on, though by the time we got to the 20th century, I was exhausted. I spent our last 15 minutes watching a father try to hold the attention of his three young daughters, all of whom must have been under the age of six and were more concerned with playing with their museum-issued headsets than looking at the actual exhibits.

***

After the museum, we ate at a tapas place in Hackney. I can’t remember the name of it. I don’t even remember what we ate, really, except that there was a lot of food and it was all Spanish and maybe there were croquettes involved and some kind of goat cheese thing. I think I was suffering from extreme fatigue. (Actually, I know I was. Looking back on this day now, it all seems foggy and like someone else was doing everything I’ve described.)

As we were leaving, I saw a man wearing a crisp pink Oxford shirt and a matching pink cableknit sweater thrown over his shoulders sitting at a table on the sidewalk with his little white dog. While we waited for our Uber, I watched a toddler try to play with the dog, who was very calm and poised, just like his owner.

***

We were too tired to do anything that night, so we stayed in and watched He Got Game and about half of the MTV Europe Music Awards hosted by Nicki Minaj and ate Halloween candy out of a plastic pumpkin.

London Travel Diary, Day Three

I woke up feeling groggy but pushed myself to get dressed and ready so that I could get to Spitalfields Market in time to meet Ruth, a family friend from New York who had recently moved to London with her family. On my way, I grabbed a coffee at a small cafe called Appestat. I would have liked to sit and read if I’d had time, but I didn’t so I took my coffee to go and dripped it all over the front of my jacket during my Tube ride.

It took me approximately one hundred years to find Spitalfields Market. Once there, I had enough time to walk through the stalls and look for gifts for friends back home. I had to meet Ruth and Christine, another friend who was visiting London that week, at noon in front of a statue of a white goat, where our Street Art Walking Tour would begin. I got another coffee at a chain coffee place while I was waiting. The woman behind the counter seemed unable to understand me, giggled after I ordered, and I ended up with an Americano the size of a large movie theater soda.

street art, somewhere near brick lane

street art, somewhere near brick lane

I found the tour group assembling in front of the statue and checked in under Ruth’s name. Neither Ruth nor Christine was there by the time we were supposed to leave. Josh, our tour guide, looked at me and said, “Ruth, are you able to get in touch with your friends?” and I stared at him blankly before realizing that he thought my name was Ruth. I told him that I hadn’t been able to yet, but we left without them anyway. I spent the next ten minutes frantically turning my data on and off to see if they had responded to an email they had sent earlier.

Ruth, Christine, and three other friends from our hometown who had literally just arrived in London met up with the group outside of Christ Church. We all caught up as we walked around East London, looking at street art that Josh pointed out. An artist himself, he showed us a few pieces that he had done. Overall, the tour was informative and I walked away feeling like I’d learned a lot about the history of East London, so I’d recommend an Alternative London tour to anyone who’s looking to do something slightly off the beaten path.

The day was cold and windy, so we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant in Shoreditch called Pizza East. I was still jittery from all of my coffee, but drank a few glasses of wine, which evened me out. I hadn’t seen most of our group in a very long time, so it was really nice to hang out and hear stories about everyone’s lives.

(Please note that this was the second meal during which I, a New York native, ate pizza in London. The pizza was thin crust and delicious but it wasn’t better than other fancy restaurant pizza I’ve had recently. That is my brief review.)

selfie session in front of tower bridge

selfie session in front of tower bridge

We took the bus to the Tower of London, where we were going to look at the poppies and I planned to take a tour. We worked our way through the throngs of people to see the display, which was really beautiful, but the experience itself was overwhelming. I said goodbye to everyone and went to buy a ticket to get inside the Tower, only to discover that they had just stopped admitting people for the day. I had about two hours to kill until I was to meet Chris and Katie for dinner, so I decided to walk to the Tate Modern.

Before I left, everyone I talked to who had ever been to London was like, “You have to go to the Tate Modern.” And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve been there before.” Also, it’s annoying to be told the same thing over and over again, even though everyone had good intentions. The last time I was at the Tate, I was twelve, with my parents and our friends Gary and Pat. It had just opened a few months before our trip. All I remember about it was a video installation featuring a naked dude. We weren’t there for long.

at the tate modern

I walked across the Tower Bridge to the south bank of the Thames and made my way west to the Tate as the sun was setting. This time, I had just enough time to see the permanent collection. I walked through the building quickly and distractedly, worrying about how I was going to get to my next destination. I felt lonely.

I met Chris and Katie at Shoreditch House for dinner. Shoreditch House is literally in the same building as Pizza East. I did not realize this until I got there.

After dinner, we went to see Mr. Turner at the Barbican. I wish I could see every movie at the Barbican. It felt fancy, yet accessible, mostly in the sense that the service at the concessions counter – which had candy in glass jars and an espresso machine – was as terrible as it would be at a normal movie theater. (I ordered Katie a tea, we waited for it, they didn’t give it to us, and when we asked for it, they told us we had never ordered it.) Anyway, Mr. Turner was fantastic and I’m going to go see it again this week.