One of the best little luxuries in life? A long walk and a full day ahead with no obligations.
And so, at 8am on Saturday, I set out toward South Kensington Station where I picked up a breakfast tea and gourmandise from Paul to eat on a stroll down Exibition Road where the cafe tables outside that are packed in the summer are empty this time of year.
Slipping away from the traffic and into the green expanse of Hyde Park, I heard the honk of geese overhead, flying in a “v”, birds chirping in twisted winter branches and the quacking of ducks in the Serpentine. Tiny pink blossoms burst from a single tree.
There was a stillness this early in the morning, before the tourists set out for the day, the park full of runners, trainers slapping against the pavement, concentrated looks on their faces. In the distance, the muddled clip-clop of horse hooves against the dirt trail that runs along the edge of the park near Knightsbridge, their riders laughing and chatting as they trotted by at a relaxed pace.
Above, the skies were overcast, mist still hanging in the air from the recent rain, the water a dull grey. Swans glided by paddling with their black feet while others floated tranquilly over the ripples. They dipped their beaks into the water, made swan noises and pecked at their feathers.
Snowdrop flowers sprung from the wet earth near muddy pathways with boot tracks and bike tracks cutting through the grass. I added my own and carried on through the park all the way to Marble Arch in the far corner.
It’s an uninspiring corner where a white splash falls from a bird at the top of a flag pole. All around, homeless people hunker down against the cold, buried in sleeping bags on wet wooden benches. Pigeons lurk, pecking, scrounging for crumbs. They find plenty.
Across the square, traffic flies by, heading toward the shops of Oxford Street, thankfully not yet open. It’s one of my least favourite corners, crammed with money exchange counters, tourist tat shops, beggars and unswept streets with the smell of a the remains of a rough Friday night. A woman kneels, rocking on the pavement outside the station saying “pleasepleasepleaseplease…” with a tin can containing a few pennies in front of her knees.
I walked up James Street, around dinner time always crammed with people dining outdoors, enjoying Lebanese food or Spanish tapas with shopping bags placed around their feet. It was empty this time of day.
Not far from there is Marylebone High Street, a whole different world from Marble Arch. The few people out and about are dressed as if they just stepped out of a style blog. They gather in cafes that advertise natural, organic food, looking out at the shops that line the streets: a mix of high street and boutique with some of my favourites like The Conran Shop, Claudie Pierlot, Maje, Designer’s Guild.
There are certain parts of this city that I can’t help but to return to again and again. Marylebone is one of them.
I stepped into Daunt, the beautiful Edwardian bookshop that is, without doubt, my favourite bookshop in London, and probably anywhere that I’ve been. There are shelves and shelves of books, organised by their area of the world – the perfect traveler’s bookshop – lit by skylights and set out with armchairs nearby to soak in a page or two before you make a decision.
Back outside, a lilac-coloured Bentley drove past as I walked by the flower sellers setting up their stand for the day. There was a surprising but silence before the shops opened, the sound of only traffic (especially the specific grumble of those London cabs) filling the air.
As I wandered back toward Oxford Street, zigzaging through sleepy side streets, the clouds inched back to make way for a patch of blue sky.
On my way, I swerved through Cavendish Square Gardens and onward toward Bloomsbury.
I popped into a few shops along the way that were now open and carried on all the way to Holborn, avoiding the construction around the new Tottenham Court Road station. By this time I was ready to relax for a bit.
I wanted to check out Hubbard and Bell inside of the Hoxton Hotel which I hear is popular with a hipster crowd and a great place for bloggers to work. This is definitely true on both counts. I ordered a cup of tea, looseleaf, which came with a pot and a mini glass milk bottle. Cute. I only wished I had my laptop and it was quite so far from home…but I’d definitely go back more prepared to settle in for a while if I was in the area.
And with a quick tube ride, I was home again, Jorge working on a new blog post, Oakley yawning from his blanket by the window, rain just starting to dot the glass behind him. Time for a cosy afternoon indoors.
Or check out some of my favourite books that I’ve bought from Daunt over the years.