Between the NYT “36 Hours" feature and my one colleague who raves about it non stop, Hampstead has held the #1 position on my "London neighborhoods to explore" list.
Although it’s located in north London, when you arrive in the region, the only thing reminding you of your proximity to a dense city are the views.
The New York Times captured it better than any of my attempts:
"Start with Montmartre. Add a cupful of Beacon Hill, a shot of vintage West Village and a splash of Hollywood. Combine with London’s most beautiful hill, and garnish with one unwelcome McDonalds. Here in Hampstead, London’s worst-kept, high-altitude secret, the ghosts of Sigmund Freud, T. S. Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson mingle with Ricky Gervais, Ridley Scott and more Madonna-accented American expats than you can shake a Land Rover key at. But we’re all equal when it comes to losing ourselves in the charming lanes of Hampstead Village and the joyfully directionless expanse of the Heath, a metropolitan mini-wilderness that may be Europe’s finest city park. Welcome to Hampstead, as serene, green and lovely as ever."
I only saw a small bit of it, but I’m already in love.
I met some friends in Belsize Park and we began the walk north towards the Hampstead Heath, navigating all the brick lined streets and peak foliage along the way.
We soon arrived at Parliament Hill, the southern tip of Hampstead Heath.
And made our way up to through the trails…
All for the worthy views.
Before heading down the hill toward the market.
While all the pooches waited patiently for a taste.
We rounded out the afternoon the best way we know how…
With tea and scones back in Hampstead Village.
The Old Hampstead Village Walking Tour. Stay tuned!
After our afternoon riding adventure, we returned to our hotel, Cotswolds Grange, for a cat nap.
(Side note, I don’t know if it was the dungeon-like rooms or the frigid hospitality, but none of us were big fans of the overall accommodations and we wouldn’t recommend it).
Since it essentially felt like a house, not a hotel, we did what we’d do in our own homes….
Pop open a bottle and toast to great friends.
A couple of my colleagues live around the Cotswolds, so I naturally asked them for recommendations before the trip.
All of them answered unanimously…
Visit Stow on the Wold and Bourton on the Water.
So we did what we were told.
We spent the evening at Stow on the Wold, another small market town with honey stone buildings (notice a theme yet?)
Dinner was at The King Arms, which delivered on charm, not on great food.
Before leaving Cotswolds Grange….
We loaded up on their full English breakfast and headed out again, this time to Bourton on the Water, my favorite town of the weekend.
The town features a canal and arched bridges running through the High Street, justifying the nickname “the Venice of the Cotswolds”.
And although the drizzling rain and angry grey clouds threatened the day, it only added to the English countryside charm.
I pulled out my camera and started snapping away….
We piled back into the car and made our return to London, but I’m still dreaming of a little honey stone thatched cottage to call my own.
Although the Cotswolds’ winding roads provide excellent views, there’s an even better way to take in the scenery: on horseback.
After lunch in Winchcome, we drove north east to Stanton, a sleepy village in the Worcestershire hills.
We saddled up at Jill Carenza’s equestrian centre and had a quick demo, perfect for our group as we had a variety of riding experience.
While we waited, I noticed this woman riding sidesaddle, something I thought only existed centuries ago. I soon learned that riding aside vs astride still exists in a niche market and provides an extra challenge for female riders as its forces you to use a different group of muscles.
Talk about impressive!
I also spotted this little equestrian fashionista. Also, very impressive.
We began our hack (i.e. a trail ride) through town and up the hills….
And just in time, the clouds parted and the sun broke through revealing rolling hills, the likes of which I have never seen before. It was as if we were standing in front of a green screen.
Two hours later, we dragged our tired legs east to Broadway, a town known as ‘The jewel of the Cotswolds’.
Ale, lager, cider - all our pints were very well deserved.
I knew how I wanted to celebrate my birthday before even arriving in the UK….
A weekend trip to the Cotswolds.
To say this hilly western region of England is stunning would be an understatement. In fact, it’s listed as an official “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”.
In other words, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. Period.
Elysha, Pascal, Lady, and I hopped into the rental car and watched Joel’s first attempt at driving on the opposite side of road.
All in all, success!
Two hours and gorgeous view after gorgeous view later (85% of the drive from London to the Cotswolds is one lane countryside), we arrived in Winchcome, a historic market town with honey-colored stone houses that we would soon learn is a very typical Cotswolds aesthetic.
Frankly, the town of Winchcome felt like a storybook, a phrase I continued to use throughout the whole weekend.
Lunch had to be at a pub, naturally, so we chose The White Hart Inn after reading about it Conde Nast Traveller. We had a big sporty afternoon ahead of us, so we filled up.
Bangers and mash, dumplings, and sausages - oh my!
After a stroll through Winchcome, we were off to our next Cotswolds adventure!
Attended the Jaguars vs. 49ers football game at Wembley stadium where everyone rooted blindly for the “home” team, the Jaguars, who were down 30 points by the time we left.
It was a pretty special moment when they sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Save the Queen” back to back, rippling the respective flag following each.
Also, fun side note: the tagline for the NFL in London was “Awesome has Arrived” because “awesome” is the most American thing you can say in the UK.
Treated myself to my first manicure since arriving. It was more than double the cost of a NYC manicure and nowhere near as good. If you have any London nail recommendations, please send my way. My hands will thank you.
Took Lady on her first bus ride to east London to visit a friend. TFL (Transportation for London) are significantly more pro dogs than the NYC MTA and don’t even require a bag for pooches on the Tube or bus.
Finally figured out the best AM and PM bike routes for my work commute. The evening one includes a cruise down this block, a daily highlight.
Attended a Pub Golf/Crawl event which forced everyone to wear Hawaiian or animal prints. Not much more needed to say than that.
Received a beautiful bouquet of lillies from my husband. I asked him to put them in water. This was the result…….
Attended a work event at Skyloft. The views alone were worth attendance.
Celebrated a new friend’s birthday with a proper Sunday Roast at The Orange, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots.
Enjoyed my fair share of flat parties. In case you’re wondering, my favorite ones take place on Mews.
Spent hours getting lost in the National Portrait Gallery.
Grew more accustomed to my bi-weekly adventure out of Paddington Train Station. And by “accustomed”, I mean I no longer run around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Speaking of biweekly train adventures, the trip to Bradford on Avon is a dream.
Dealt with a squirrely situation.
The story goes that Mr. Squirrel jumped down into our terrace and, presumably, couldn’t get out because of our extra high walls. Mr. S felt trapped and started going crazy, as was Lady, who spent hours on end watching his grand failed attempts to get out, ninja-style. We called animal control, our landlord, anyone who would listen, but essentially we found out the hard way that we’d have to help Mr. S ourselves. That, or else Lady had plans to massacre him.
We tried to give him something to climb to get out, but our metal broom didn’t provide enough traction and he simply kept sliding down.
Finally, Mr. S slid right into our bag and we took him to the nearest park to set him free.
He has yet to write us a thank you note.
Fell sick with a viral infection in my throat, which meant I got to finally experience NHS, the UK’s health system, which is radically different from the US.
I had previously registered with them and was pleasantly surprised by my experience. I gave them a ring at 8:30am and they were able to fit me in at 10am same day, and I was home within thirty minutes. Also, because it’s neighborhood based, my doctor is only a short walk away.
All in all, not bad.
And Lady stayed on my lap for three days straight while I recovered.
With our move to London scheduled only five days after the wedding, we delayed a honeymoon and instead spent the day after saying “i do” saying goodbye to the people we love.
Joel’s Aunt and Uncle generously offered to host an impromptu post-wedding BBQ at their vineyard for our nearest and dearest who were able to stick around for even more festivities.
July/August 2013 was a whirlwind (ending our time New York, leaving a sweet job, getting married in California, saying goodbye to my favorite people, moving to London….all within 18 days), I look back on this time and cherish how we were able to end such a memorable chapter.
Elisabeth Millay - the woman, the myth, the legend.
It was very serendipitous that I was introduced to her via Tumblr (gotta love this small world), just in time for our Engagement photos in New York City, as she was about to move to Napa Valley, just in time for our wedding.
Timing couldn’t have been better.
Then we met and it clicked.
Elisabeth believes in seeing past all the details and capturing the moments with the people that matter most to you, ones that can’t be pre-planned in a shot list or forced into poses.
Looking back on the photos, I hardly remember her being there for many of them. She simply took a step back, sometimes even hid behind trees, and captured us being us.
Nothing less, nothing more.
And on top of all that, she is sweet as honey and ended up being so much more than a “vendor”. In fact, I remember breaking it down with her on the dance floor and more than one person told me that night “your photographer is the best”… and it had nothing to do with the photos.
I know this blog has become all wedding pictures all the time, but here are just a couple more of my favorite moments, captured by, who else, Elisabeth Millay.
To all of my parents (both official and unofficial),
Thank you for helping to make August 9, 2013 the most special day of my life.
Thank you for always being my role models and teachers for the past 20+ years..
Thank you not only for the support, but also for the challenges.
Thank you for providing guidance and respecting our values.
Thank you for being YOU, and I mean that in every way possible.
We may not have the most traditional of family structures, but I feel privileged and grateful to call you all mine.
For everything and nothing, I can never thank you enough.
Images via Elisabeth Millay.