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It’s been many years since my first day of travel but still feels like yesterday. All I had was a one-way ticket from Los Angeles to London. Nothing else was planned. I only knew that I wanted to travel the world. Originally I planned to travel for 10 years and then reassess my life. It wasn’t long before that changed to a desire to travel for the rest of my life.

That first day was quite the adventure, and one I never really told in full. So here’s the story of where it all began.

Oh, and please excuse the images in this post. I’ve come a long way in my photography skills.

Riding on My First Boeing Dreamliner

My journey really began in Portland, Oregon. After leaving my job in Los Angeles, I went up there to spend a couple weeks with my sister, get my blog up and running, and prepare for my travels. I purchased my backpack – the Grand Tour 85 from REI. Sadly, it’s a model no longer produced, but REI is still one of the best outdoor clothing and equipment providers in the US.

Back in December, I had bought my plane ticket from Los Angeles to London for an amazing $200 (it later dropped to $180 ten days before my flight!). At that time, I hadn’t planned to go up to Portland, so I had to purchase another flight back down to LA. I managed to get a deal for $80, but when I got to the airport, my flight was canceled! Luckily, the airline had great customer support and they put me on another flight leaving only a couple hours later so I could still catch my flight to London. Even better, the replacement airline had free baggage, so I got a $25 refund!

I only had a slight hiccup when I was sitting at the gate and heard my name called over the intercom. Turned out I had left my passport at the security checkpoint! I had a bit of a laugh over that.

In Los Angeles, I only had a couple hours between flights, but I was able to do that whole hassle of picking up my bags and then checking in again for a different flight in just a few minutes, despite LAX (the Los Angeles International Airport) having security lines up to 3 hours long back then.

Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner

And then it started. I was on my first international flight. Well, I’d flown twice to Mexico City, but I don’t think that counts. This was a 14-hour flight with Norwegian Air on a Boeing 787-800 Dreamliner, my absolute favorite aircraft in the skies. I might have only slept a couple hours on that flight, but that was just because I was so dang excited!

If you’ve never flown on one, it’s hard to imagine how good they are. The cabin is pressurized to simulate a much lower altitude than other planes, the windows are digitally dimming and there’s a fantastic A/V system on the seatback in front of you. The disadvantage was that my budget ticket came with absolutely nothing, not even a bottle of water or a blanket, and I was wanting for both by the end of my flight. Live and learn, right?

A Long Walk Across London

I landed in London just after noon. It took me a bit to get oriented and for my roaming data to kick in. I also had an interesting encounter with the immigration officer who didn’t like my answer when I said I had absolutely no plans and didn’t know how long I would be staying in the UK. Visa? Huh, what’s that?

At least I had the foresight to purchase a bus ticket from Gatwick Airport to London before my flight, and I managed to find the cheapest option. Back then, it was only $2.70 to get a bus ticket in advance! By 1 p.m., I was on the EasyBus to Victoria Station. So far, so good!

Bus from Airport

Now all I had to do was get to my Couchsurfing host. He had said he lived in the Golders Green district of London. Google Maps showed me it was almost a straight walk up the road to get there. Somehow the 6.5-mile distance didn’t really register with me, or perhaps I really didn’t care. I was in London after all and nothing else really mattered.

Selfie in Hyde Park

With my backpack filled with over 70 pounds of clothes, gadgets and, well, several items that I really didn’t need, I made my way across London. The weather was freezing, but I had my Craghoppers clothing on. As I was crossing Hyde Park, the snow started to fall. I started to cry. With “Good Life” by One Republic playing on my headphones and policeman riding by on horseback, the pure joy of being in Europe really sank in. I’d left a lot behind in Los Angeles, both good and bad, but this trumped all of that. This was the beginning of my new life!

My First Couchsurfing Host

At the end of 2016, I discovered Couchsurfing. My first time using it was between Christmas and New Year’s when I rode my motorcycle from Los Angeles to Portland and needed a place to stay in between. Ananda was a wonderful host, and I even got to stay with her a year later when my dad and I did a road trip on the PCH.

The circumstances with my first Couchsurfing host overseas were quite different. I had posted a public trip on the website, allowing others to offer to host me. The only offer I got was from a man named Uzi. His profile was impressive and long. He’d been to nearly all the countries in the world, he spoke over a dozen languages, he’d been a paratrooper in the Israeli army, and he was gay.

I made it to his place just before 6 p.m. (yeah, it was a really, really long walk). I was a little nervous, and I had my hand on my phone with my sister’s number on speed dial just in case. Uzi greeted me at the door and led me up to his flat (British English for apartment). It was tiny. I later learned it wasn’t an uncommon size in London, but by tiny, I mean it was one very small room. No bathroom (that was down the hall), a micro kitchen, a tiny office and couch, and a loft bed above the office.

I can’t say I was fully at ease, but Uzi was really hospitable and welcoming, and I was tired. At first I didn’t like the idea of him offering me his bed while he slept on the couch, but I didn’t want to argue either. We had a fantastic conversation before I went out for dinner.

My First Fish and Chips – Indian Style

My travels started with me on a shoestring budget. I actually ended up spending only £100 (about $135 back then) during my first 10 days in the UK. To get started, I went out in search of a cheap meal. I really wanted fish and chips, but all the restaurants were so expensive. I finally found one with a £5 special. The only catch is it was an Indian restaurant. Looking back at it, I don’t think the fish was all that great. At the time, I thought it was simply divine!

Fish and Chips

I walked around a bit more to see the other restaurants, pizzerias, chippies and ice cream parlors before returning to Uzi’s. I was just in heaven exploring London (I think I already said that) and I also loved listening to the deliciously sexy British accent.

Sleeping in a Bar

I had a good sleep that night (not that I could have helped it considering how tired I was) and cleaned up in the tiny shower down the hallway. In the morning, I was supposed to leave early as Uzi had to leave himself, but he ended up sleeping in so I did too.

I wasn’t up for another trek across London, so I picked up my first Oyster Card and made my way back to Victoria Station. I saw Westminster Cathedral (yes, there is such a place) and then Westminster Abbey. I took selfies at Big Ben and saw the giant blue chicken at Trafalgar Square (not an official attraction; a temporary replacement for another statue). I walked past St. John’s and eventually made it down to Cannon Street.

Loose Cannon Bar

Under the train station was a pub called the Loose Cannon (since renamed the Steel Yard). There was supposed to be a Couchsurfing event there in the evening, but I was hours early. I asked the barmaid if I could sleep on one of the couches since no one was really there yet and she was fine with it. It wasn’t dignified, but nothing was about to bring me down from my euphoria.

An Epic Couchsurfing Event

After a great conversation with Adela, the aforementioned Romanian bartender, the Couchsurfing event started. I’d already been to a few in Portland, but those had a dozen or so people in attendance. This one had over 100! It was great because I primarily wanted to find a host for that night. Uzi could only host me for one night and I was daunted by accommodation prices in London.

I hobnobbed with dozens of locals and travelers, telling them of my journey while hearing their stories. I also found a few potential hosts, but they all fell through when their roommates said no. Finally, Mathew (one of my favorite fellow travelers) connected me up with Emily who’s flatmate was gone for the weekend and therefore wouldn’t object to me crashing on the living room couch. I got to stay with her for a couple days before accidentally heading off to Brighton on my way to Bath (it should have been Bristol!).

The Future is History

I’ve since become far more travel savvy, although I still have my adventures with accommodations that fell through (like in Cyprus), and I’ve stayed with dozens of more Couchsurfing hosts, not to mention hosted several times myself (both in Scotland and Thailand). Yet despite everything, the first few hours of my travels will always hold a very special place in my memory.

Why Keep Going?

As I flew across the pond to begin my adventure, my plan was to travel for 10 years in which I would visit every country in the world. After that, I would reevaluate my life to see which direction I wanted to take. It was less than three months before that plan fell through. I quickly realized that my travels would not end in 10 years, but would continue for the rest of my life.

Granted, I’ve slowed down in my country hopping. Instead of the 35 countries I passed through in my first year of travel, I’ve been averaging about 15 a year since then. I also work from “home bases” now, setting up a stable place to keep my bags for a couple months and then doing short trips from that spot.

I never want to be fixed in one spot, but I definitely want a tiny home to travel in, with my own bed, books and a good kitchen. I’ll also have a wonderful woman traveling with me in the tiny home, and someday will have a kid and a puppy too. Those are the plans, and I plan to bring them to fruition in the very near future. And if I ever need them, there are all those great travel quotes to keep me inspired.

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First Day of Travel Pin

Further Reading

Enjoyed reading about the beginning of my travels? Here are some more stories about how I got going and the early days of my travels.

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

A friend once asked me what my favorite cuisine was. Without hesitation, I answered “British.” “That’s not a real cuisine,” he said. I beg to differ. England certainly has its own dishes, and a London food tour is the perfect way to learn about them.

I won’t bother listing out every dish in the British cuisine. They’re already listed on Wikipedia. But I will mention some of my favorites just to point out it really is its own cuisine.

Highlights of the British Cuisine

Fish and Chips

This is by far my favorite British dish. To say I knew it as a child, eating fish fingers and french fries, would be an insult to the meal. The first time I can say I tried real fish and chips was at the Britannia Pub in Santa Monica, California. It was so good, It made me want to move to the UK someday just so I could eat it all the time.

When I finally arrived in the UK for my first time in 2015, I was determined to have fish and chips for my first meal. Unfortunately, I was pitifully ignorant of what I was looking for. I ended up at an Indian restaurant in Golders Green, simply because it was the cheapest place in town near my Couchsurfing host. I have long since come to appreciate better fish and chips.

British fish and chips are usually made with cod or haddock. The batter is either a flour base or breadcrumbs, and often made with beer or whiskey. Fries in the UK are called chips (like a chip of vegetable) and are cut thick like the fat fries at Fatburger. The quality of the fish, chips and oil can vary wildly. More than once, the fish I was given was so bad, I had to throw it out.

Glasgow Art Club Fish and Chips

The best places to buy fish and chips are usually along the coast. Bankers in Brighton was my favorite until I found Stein Inn on the Isle of Skye. Stein Inn uses Mallaig haddock caught fresh every day, and the portions are massive. A single piece of fish is usually over a foot long, and the pile of chips is even bigger.

Fish and Chips at Skein Inn (Eat in Edinburgh)

Fish and chips is definitely an integral part of the London food tour, although I’m not going to spoil where you’ll get a sample from. Suffice to say, top-quality options are definitely available in London.

Bangers and Mash

Perhaps my second-favorite British food is bangers and mash, or sausages and mashed potatoes. I don’t think there’s any restriction on what kind of sausage is used, although my favorite is the typical Cumberland sausage which is made from chopped pork and flavored with pepper and other spices. The mash is usually basic mashed potatoes. Gravy is a common side, although British gravy differs wildly from its American counterpart.

Bangers and Mash

Bangers and mash is one of my favorite meals to cook at home, especially since it’s almost as cheap as a big bowl of pasta (and a tad healthier). I put a little twist on my mash, adding butter, milk, paprika, pepper and other herbs. If you happen to be heading to Edinburgh, I’d recommend trying this dish at MUM’s Comfort Food. They have different fresh sausages every day and a long list of mash and gravy flavors.

Bangers and Mash at MUMS Comfort Food

Full English Breakfast

The Scottish breakfast is my favorite breakfast in the world, and the full English breakfast is the runner-up. They’re quite similar actually. The basics are eggs (fried, scrambled or poached), bacon, tomatoes and sausages, all fried up and served with baked beans and toast. The Scottish variant usually includes national items such as black pudding, haggis, lorne sausage, tattie (potato) scones and/or oatcakes. Tea is obviously served with the breakfast, although coffee has recently become an option too.

Cafe Class Scottish Breakfast #2

One of my favorite things about B&Bs in the UK (and sometimes even AIrB&Bs) is that they often serve a full English breakfast with your stay. It is a bed and breakfast after all! Getting all the ingredients together for home-cooking when you’re on your own isn’t always feasible, but many pubs will serve a decent breakfast for a fiver (£5, or $6.50).

Village Hotel Breakfast

Just make sure you ask for the full English breakfast. You might get the tea if you only ask for an English breakfast.

Shepherd’s or Cottage Pie

I think it’s a little funny that what I used to call shepherd’s pie in America, which I made all the time, was really cottage pie. Shepherd’s herd sheep and thus shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, while cottage pie is made with beef. You’re probably familiar with one or both of the pies. One thing I learned in the UK (and most of the world) is that meat quality is usually better outside the US. Other than layers of meat and potatoes, the ingredients can vary wildly from corn and carrots to bell peppers and cheese. Everything is baked together as a “pie” and it can be quite filling, not to mention cheap considering one pie is good for several servings.

Mums Comfort Food Steak Pie #1

Shepherd’s pie is just one of a huge range of pies made in the UK. Steak and kidney pie is another big one, but you can get almost any group of ingredients. Just go for one that’s made fresh from farmers. You’ll get to learn all about that on the London food tour.

Sunday Roast

It hasn’t been long since I enjoyed my first Sunday Roast at the Village Hotel in Edinburgh. How I made it that long in the UK without one, I have no idea. There’s hardly a pub in the country that doesn’t serve them. The meal is roasted meat, roasted potatoes, roasted vegetables and Yorkshire pudding (souffle batter baked at high heat). Recently when I joined my friend for a Sunday roast at her parent’s house, my plate was heaped with way more food than I could have hoped to eat in three meals. I learned that this was a tradition in many households across the UK every Sunday morning (or early afternoon), and often it’s the only meal of the day that’s consumed.

Sunday Roast at the Village Hotel

Discovering Borough Market

On my first visit to London, I lucked into finding the Southbank Center Food Market, which I thought was simply magical. Later, I had several friends recommend that I visit Camden Market, but I wasn’t particularly impressed with that one (maybe I just found the wrong part of it). It wasn’t until my dozenth visit to London that I discovered the Borough Market, thanks to the Secret London Food Tour. Ironically, I had spent the previous night almost across the street from the market without knowing it was there.

The Shard Above Borough Market

The Borough Market is a highlight of the London food tour, although I’m not going to spoil all the information they’re going to give you about the market. I’ll simply say that it’s my favorite food market in London, and the whole UK for that matter (since I don’t really know any other markets like it in the country). We were given a chance to wander around while some of our dishes on the tour were prepared, and I meandered from one stall to another, sampling everything from cheeses and chocolates to chutney and smoked haddock.

Food Stall in Borough Market

At one point, my nose twitched to the unmistakable smell of Thailand. I followed my nose to a stall selling Pad Thai, manned by a large group of Thais. It’s the first time outside Thailand when Thai food has actually smelled like…well…Thailand. If I hadn’t been on a food tour, that certainly would have been my lunch. I’ll be headed straight there the next time I’m in London for sure.

Pad Thai in Borough Market

Obviously, Thai food wasn’t the highlight of the market. It does focus on British food, but again, I don’t want to spoil the tour. Also, the London food tour isn’t the only tour that will take you to Borough Market. Any Harry Potter Tour of London will probably take you there too (hint, hint).

Click here for information on the Borough Market Opening Times. 

Secret London Food Tour

The London food tour I booked was with Secret Food Tours, although they aren’t so secret. They operate in 31 cities across North America, Europe and Asia. I did their Edinburgh Food Tour, on which I learned about even more delicious Scottish food than I already knew about. The one in London was no different, and I was introduced to a couple British dishes I was unaware of, while getting the information behind many of my favorites.

Cheese Platter on the London Food Tour

The London food tour lasts about 3 hours and starts from the south end of London Bridge outside the Evans Cycle shop. There are three other tours available. An Indian food tour on Brick Lane given Tuesday through Saturday will sample 9 dishes at 6 locations over the course of three hours. There are also two tours in Shoreditch, one a food tour and the other a craft beer tour. That last tour is adults only. If you’re not a big foodie, you can always just take a normal walking tour in London.

Summary

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London Food Tour Pin

Further Reading

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

5 Steps to Book Cheap Flights
Hostels: To Book or Not to Book
Is Workaway Worth it for the Traveler?

What are the attractions you first think of when London is mentioned? Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye are probably some of the first. The truth is that London is simply massive, and there are thousands of things to do, many of which are too often overlooked. The musicals in the West End were like that for me.

I’ve been to London a dozen times and walked through Covent Gardens, noticing how The Lion King, Chicago, Aladdin and Les Miserables were all playing at some of the best theaters. In fact, one of the first landmarks I saw as I entered London on my first day of travel was the Apollo Victoria Theater with Wicked performing.

Lyceum Theatre Playing the Lion King in London's West End

I spent years working in Hollywood, and the theater was a big part of my life. Not only were many of my friends performers, directors and other positions within the industry, I saw my share of musicals, including Cats, The Lion King and Stomp at the Pantages. I’m not sure why continuing that tradition didn’t occur to me right away in London.

My current visit to London has been for the World Travel Market (WTM), where thousands of exhibitors in the travel industry from all over the world have converged at the convention center. I had some time at night on the first day (after walking nearly a dozen miles between the stalls), so I decided to relax and watch a show. Which one? Wicked, of course!

First of all, I need to get out of the way how silly I feel not knowing more about the musical. I had no idea that Idina Menzel, who played Elsa in Frozen and sings Let it Go (one of my favorite songs), originated the lead role of Elphaba in Wicked, or that the song Fighting Gravity (another of my favorites) was sung by her in this musical. Heck, I didn’t even really know what Wicked was about at all before watching it. Perhaps that made it even more enjoyable. What an idea to have an alternate story behind a classic tale.

The musical, as many do, lasted two and a half hours with a 20-minute intermission. And…that’s about all I’m going to say about it. I certainly don’t want to spoil the show for you if you haven’t seen it yet. I’ll just add that I absolutely loved it (many who know me have seen me get emotional in shows like this). It was a great way to forget about all the toils and troubles of life and de-stress for a few hours.

The musical was showing at the Apollo Victoria Theater, just outside Victoria Train Station and not far from Buckingham Palace. The theater was built in 1930, and started showing musicals in 1981, starting with the Sound of Music. Wicked has been performing there since 2006, which is readily apparent in the sophistication of the set design. Many theaters in London have long-running shows. The Lyceum Theater in Covent Gardens has been playing The Lion King since 1999!

Apollo Theater Playing Wicked in London's West End

Visiting the Apollo Victoria Theater was a lot of fun. Although they had a bag check out front, they allowed outside food to be brought in, and I had my dinner while watching the show. Of course, they also had drinks and snacks available for purchase, but at usual theater prices. It’s definitely a family theater. While I didn’t hear any babies crying during the show, there were some kids running down to the bathroom now and then.

As to the musical itself, tickets start at £29 ($38) and go up to £256. Other musicals are as little as £10 for the cheapest tickets, and several hundred for the top seats. As far as I can tell, all the musicals in London perform at 7:30 p.m. Mon-Sat, and at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I got my tickets through Encore, an easy booking platform.

Book your tickets now for a musical in London’s West End.

My conclusion is that the theater district of London’s West End should be on everyone’s itinerary for London. The shows are wonderful. If you’re feeling stressed, depressed or just a bit down, they’re a great way to make your day.

Cambridge Theater Playing Matilda in London's West End

I’ll be in London a couple more days at WTM, and then I’ll enjoy a food tour to learn more about the British cuisine (yes, there is one) before heading down to Morocco for a couple weeks. Country #47, here I come!

Surprisingly, I had never heard of the Notting Hill Carnival before Kacie of The Rare Welsh Bit invited me to attend. Not sure why I hadn’t since it’s only the second-largest street carnival in the world.

History of the Notting Hill Carnival

Since 1966, the Notting Hill Carnival has taken place in and around the Notting Hill district of London, just west of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. The festival was originally organized to promote racial unity after the 1958 Notting Hill riots. Since then, it has been not only an outlet for Caribbean culture in London, but also forwards a multitude of other objectives, such as inspiration, integration, engagement and education. This year, a tribute to the Greenfell Tower Fire was also held at 3 PM with a minute of silence for the victims of the fire.

The event takes place each year on the Late Summer Bank Holiday (the last Monday of August), and the preceding Sunday. Upwards of two million people attend the festival, roughly 80% of which are locals. Sunday is considered “kid-friendly” insomuch as the festival is less rowdy than Monday when the parade hits the streets and walking through the crowd can become oppressive.

Children's Day Parade at Notting Hill Festival

Safety at Notting Hill

I heard a lot of concern over safety at the festival. It was recommended I didn’t bring anything of value with me, and to leave the festival before it got too late at night. I heeded the warnings, taking only the bare essentials in a small, secure backpack. Another suggestion was to take a bum bag (fanny pack to Americans) to keep your possessions in, but I didn’t have one of those.

The police presence was strongly felt, with over 9000 policemen on the job patrolling the streets. While there have been problems in the past, the festival is relatively safe compared to other events. In fact, there have only been five deaths in over half a century. That’s almost half of what Disneyland has had over the same time period.

Police at Notting Hill Festival

Although there was a big scare of an acid attack this year, the biggest reported incident was an unknown substance which was thrown into the crowd, affecting three people with a minor skin irritation. Otherwise, the police said the festival was no more disruptive than a Saturday football match.

Despite the constant attempt by the media and journalists to portray the Notting Hill Carnival as a dangerous event, I found it very safe and friendly, with the music, food and messages uplifting the attendees. I’d say they did a great job forwarding their missions of the festival. Too bad more news stories don’t promote the positive side of the festival.

Steel Drums at Notting Hill Festival

Attending the Carnival

There are some things that you should know if you want to attend the festival. While this is a holiday weekend, London is used to massive crowds, and there’s no lack of accommodations. I was honored to stay at the Travelodge Covent Gardens, just a few minutes walk from Trafalgar Square and the Seven Dials. From the Holborn station, it was about a fifteen-minute tube ride to the Notting Hill Gate station. Until 7 PM, that station is exit only, keeping the crowds to a minimum. However, from what I saw of the streets around the festival, traffic wasn’t that bad, and a bus would also be an option to get there.

Selfie at Notting Hill Festival

There are over 300 food stalls on the streets of the festival, mostly serving Jamaican and other Caribbean food. There are also hamburger stands, Thai food, Indian curries and many other cuisines. Most plates are £5-£10, and a drink will cost £2.50-£5. A good idea would be to bring your own food, and especially drinks, if you want to save money. Make sure to bring water too, as you might be there for a few hours.

Food Stall at Notting Hill Festival

For clothes, wear something you don’t mind getting dirty. Parts of the carnival also include a paint party, and slapping each other with melted chocolate. While nothing happened to me, I saw many others who weren’t as lucky. Also wear some comfortable shoes, unless you plan to simply sit on the side of the road and let the parade pass you by. I averaged nearly 10 miles of walking each day of the festival.

Crowd at Notting Hill Festival

Public toilets have been set up around the carnival, but expect to see some long queues for them. Many homes also offer the use of their bathroom for a small fee of £2-£3.

What to Expect

My first impression of Notting Hill Carnival was that it was an unorganized confusion. While two million people do tend to make it a little chaotic, there is actually a massive amount of organization that goes into the event. Aside from all the work done by emergency services and the 300 food stalls, the performers, parade floats and band stages integrate into a pretty spectacular event.

Mas Band Dancer at Notting Hill Festival

There are 38 band stages set up among the streets of Notting Hill. It’s been a long time since a band like Pink Floyd performed at the festival, but the locals musicians keep the crowd dancing and having fun.

Stage at Notting Hill Festival

The parade is quite different than any other that I’ve seen. Instead of a straight parade lasting for an hour or two, at Notting Hill Carnival the parade is a 3.5-mile circular route. It starts at 10 a.m. on Monday morning and lasts until around 6 p.m. It doesn’t move fast, and there’s a good chance you won’t see all the floats.

More Dancers at Notting Hill Festival

The performers in the parade are made up of mas bands, mas being short for “masquerade.” Each band has 30 to 300 performers, all wearing hand-made costumes. Some costumes are more decorative than others, and more than a million man hours went into making them all.

Butt Bumping at Notting Hill Festival

On the first day, Kacie and I wandered around the streets, watching several of the bands play and trying some of the Jamaican food. The crowds weren’t bad and the atmosphere was pleasant. Not a lot of people were dressed up yet, as the costumes are saved for the parade.

The second day was far more active and busy. We didn’t arrive until nearly 1 p.m. and the parade was in full swing. At first we tagged along with a single float, swept along by the surging mass of the crowd following the music. Eventually we pushed our way forward, seeing other floats and dancers. There were points where the street was wide and we were able to make headway. By the canal, the street got more narrow and moving through the crowd was a tedious affair. Instead, you tended to be pushed and pulled by the thousands of other people…and it continued to get worse.

Male Dancer at Notting Hill Festival

Finally we broke away from the parade, finding solace by one of the stages. After a short rest, we opted to call it a night. We had a dinner scheduled at Native in Neal’s Yard that evening and didn’t want to be late. Overall I had a wonderful time at the festival and was very glad I got to attend, even if it meant missing the last couple days of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Notting Hill Carnival Message

The Notting Hill Carnival did a great job forwarding their vision of “To foster the creative development and enhancement of diverse artistic excellence, thus transforming perceptions of London Notting Hill Carnival culture locally, nationally and internationally.” – Notting Hill Carnival Website

Despite the small hiccup of the “unknown substance” and all the bad media hype, the Notting Hill Carnival 2017 was a great success. It brought together nearly two million people from across London and abroad to enjoy the music, good food, incredible costumes and other festivities. The Carnival in Rio, the only larger street festival the world, could learn a thing or two from its London counterpart.

Dancers at Notting Hill Festival

Planning to Visit England?

Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.

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I was invited to eat at Native with fellow food blogger Kacie of TheRareWelshBit.com. Despite a dozen visits to London, I’d seem to have missed Neal’s Yard every time. If you like hip spots, delicious healthy food and cozy, small restaurants, Native is the perfect option for central London.

We stayed at the Travelodge in Covent Gardens, just a couple streets away from the Seven Dials and Neal’s Yard. While I’d passed through the Seven Dials in my first visit to London three years ago at the outset of my travels, I didn’t really understand the significance of the location, nor did I know anything about Neal’s Yard a few feet away.

The Seven Dials is an intersection of seven streets, about a five-minute walk due north of Trafalgar Square. Some of the famous landmarks here are the Cambridge Theater and the Mangum Pleasure Store, where you can get a freshly-made Magnum ice cream bar. Then, if you walk up either of the two streets heading north by northeast, you’ll come to the entrance of Neal’s Yard, a courtyard in the middle of the buildings filled with cute cafes and fancy restaurants.

One of those restaurants is Native, serving up to 32 patrons at a time with dishes made from wild food locally sourced. What’s wild food? They forage as much as they can including plants, berries, vegetables and (vegetarians, avert your eyes) local game killed by buckshot. Just be warned, that buckshot might still be in their meat! Another hallmark of their cooking is their penchant for no waste, utilizing nearly every portion of the foods they receive. Perhaps someday they’ll even find a use for those onion peels.

Courgette at Native

The menu changes weekly, depending on the available food. It includes more unusual meats, such as ox cheek, wild rabbit, wood pigeon, grouse and hake (a fish). Their vegetables are equally rare. I’ll spare you from reading them, since I don’t know what half of them are myself. I just know they tasted delicious.

Our meal started with a “Melilot Mule” – Native Meliot vodka, lime and organic ginger beer, perfectly blended so that no one flavor overpowered. We were also given a plate of freshly-baked flatbread and rapeseed oil infused with garlic.

The starters were made from unused portions of previous entrées. The first was Yorkshire grouse, cooked to a mouth-watering tenderness, and garnished with baked beets, cobnuts and berries. Next was an egg poached perfectly at 62ºC, on a bed of creamed corn and other toppings. Last were oysters, also garnished with a long list of unique vegetables (like sea blite, a fishy seaweed which complemented the oysters perfectly).

Yorkshire Grouse at Native

The main entrees were even better.

That dorset hake I mentioned earlier was the first option. Honestly, I’ve never had anything like it. Textured like a good breaded fish fillet, I was shocked to learn that no coating was used. Instead, Joe manages to cook the fish to the perfect texture – melt-away flaky on the inside and crispy-crunchy on the outside.

Hake at Native

The second item we had was Longhorn ox cheek, topped with burnt beets, girolles (a type of mushroom) and bone marrow, and Yukon Gold potato puree with a nasturtium flower on the side. It was a good thing the ox cheek had a crunchy topping, or I would never have noticed it in my mouth. I can’t remember the last time I tasted a more tender meat. It just fell apart in my mouth before I could even start chewing.

Ox Cheek at Native

Finally we got to desserts. There were too many to choose from, so we had a little of each. The list is pretty long, and they’ll have changed by the time you arrive, so I’ll just let these photos speak for themselves. I will say, by far the most interesting was the Kentish wood ant fudge.

Dessert at Native #2

Dessert at Native #1

Dessert at Native #3

Native is located at 3 Neal’s Yard, a few steps from Seven Dials. Opening times are Monday-Saturday, 12:30-14:00 for lunch and 17:00-22:00 for dinner. Book directly at bookings@eatnative.co.uk or call 0203 638 8214. Reservations are recommended, but they accept walk-ins as well. See if you can get the chef’s table (where we sat) where you can watch the food being made while talking with Will, David and Joe (the amazing chefs). Tell them I said hi!

Please note that I was not paid to write this post. I only want to forward an amazing dining experience that perhaps you will enjoy too. After all, a journalist at a UK magazine was already paid to cover the restaurant. Unfortunately he, like too many journalists, was paid to write about everything he could find wrong or criticize. I figured I’d write this to balance the scales, since Native does deserve the praise!

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