Eight Days Alone In: London

by The Hairpin

Chiara Atik: Edith. You just got back from a trip to London. Did you see Kate Middleton?

Edith Zimmerman: Haha. No! But I never stopped looking. Not EVER!!!

You organized this whole thing pretty quickly, right? How long between buying the plane ticket and actually leaving? Was it easy to do on a whim?

Ha, yeah — let me tell you about the totally relatable trip to London I took on a whim! I mean, part of that is because I can work remotely and don’t have a lot of other things going on in my life, so, pros and cons, I guess. But yeah, sometimes I get frustrated working from home — “if I could be doing this from anywhere, why do I never leave the block?” — and make last-minute decisions, like this one. I bought the ticket a little under three weeks in advance, for $850, with frequent flier miles, and rented the apartment, which was one of a few I had my eye on, about 10 minutes after that. Both were pretty easy to arrange, and I took about one and a half days off from work.

I guess I was asking mostly because I think it doesn’t always necessarily take months of planning and preparation to go on a trip (which I think is an inhibitor for some people). But you and I do happen to have situations that make it easier, like internet-based work and living in New York. Is this a theme worth elaborating on at all?

It’d be almost impossible to take these trips without being able to work remotely, that’s true. But I took this one during the MLK Jr. long weekend, and if I only had three days to work with, I would have stayed closer to home but done something probably just as impulsive/planning-nonintensive. Probably. I have a fantasy of just going to the train station and taking an Amtrak somewhere, staying the night, and coming back.

I know you used Airbnb. How did you choose your apartment/neighborhood? Did you like it? Was it weird being in someone else’s apartment, or did you pretty quickly start seeing it as YOUR apartment?

I knew I wanted to go to London and use Airbnb, but the initial Airbnb search was so broad, so I think I Googled “London” first, and then read a newish thing in the Times about East London being cool, and Shoreditch in general, so I searched for Shoreditch, and found a neat-looking place and asked for the rental for the week. It was all a little random, but it worked out perfectly. And I DID start seeing it as mine. I still do. Let me tell you about my apartment in London!

People say pretty mean things about the food in London. Warranted, or no?

Not warranted. Pretty much everything I had was great, but I also think everything is great. Highlights: Through a strange sequence of events, I found myself at Scott’s seafood restaurant, in Mayfair, with oysters, champagne, wild boar sausage, a giant bread basket, amazing butter, two additional little pieces of buttered bread, and a lemony water bowl for finger-dipping (at least I hope that’s what it was for), and that was pretty outstanding. I also had a lamb kebab late one night that was both disgusting and fantastic. And fish. Salmon, bass. I was supposed to have a lot of Indian food, but then never did, which is embarrassing. Lowlights: I improvised some unfortunate “pina coladas” at the apartment one night, but drank them anyway, obviously.

Oh, and a little micro-hurdle is that when you order a glass of wine, you have to specify whether you want a small or large, which requires snap social-gauging/group temperature-taking (“what’s the vibe? is it rude to order a small? does that make it seem like I want to leave?”), but then you learn to just always order the large.

Wait, what were the circumstances that led to that restaurant???

I’d been asking around about the best restaurants in London for deviled eggs, and a friend said his mom would know, so I was emailing with her, and I went to the first restaurant she and her husband recommended, which was Scott’s. They didn’t have deviled eggs after all, but the rest of it was a pretty great second. (Or distant first.)

What else did you see??? (The Memorial of Self-Sacrifice seemed cheery!)

That was beautiful. It’s a series of plaques, in a tucked-away garden, dedicated to people who died trying to save others.

(More pictures and information here, here, and here.) I also loved the John Soane Museum, which many people recommended. And the Tate Modern. I didn’t actually do much, culturally, but it it was a working vacation, I swear. It was also snowy!

What, would you say, was the most Kate Middleton-y thing you did?

Haha. I guess having my hair whip in the wind. Doesn’t it seem like Kate’s hair is always whipping around so prettily? Mine mostly got stuck in my mouth, but sometimes I could pretend it was Kate-ish.

Complete this sentence: “The entire trip was worth it, if only for the __________.” (Elaborate.)

The boring answer is “getting set up with friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends.” It was so neat to see that web in action. There was the guy I hung out with from the email group that a friend’s friend was a part of, and the woman who’s friends with a friend of mine here, and the guy who went to school with a guy I’m friends with through the internet, and BLAHHHHHHH everyone was great.

Also, the snowmen.

What did you BUY???

On a tip from jeweler Sarah Nehama, I spent hours at Grays antique market, and bought a simple bloodstone signet ring, for £70. BEHOLD!

The whole experience was really nice, actually. I’d looked around at a lot of stuff before finding it in a little stall on Grays’ bottom level, in a crowded corner of a glass case. I asked to try it on, but it didn’t fit anywhere except my wedding-ring finger, so I murmured “well, that’s probably a bad idea,” and kept trying it on the other fingers, except it kept not fitting, so I put it back on my wedding finger just to see how it looked, and the really sweet woman working at the stall was like, “Oh! No, you can’t do that — cannot,” and I laughed and was like “I know!” so I got it resized and picked it up the next day. Maybe there’s some kind of reverse Cinderella story there. (One of her evil stepsisters should have taken the slipper and gotten it resized, or turned into a wine glass or something?)

How do you feel about broadcasting your vacation? If you’re constantly Tweeting/Instagramming, does your trip become less for you? And more about how you’re documenting it? (The question of how much vacation to broadcast, if any, is one I think about a lot.)

I hear you! When you’re traveling alone, it can be nice/reassuring to throw that rope backward, or whatever it is, and connect with people you know back home via Tweets/Tumbls/Instagram “likes” etc. But before I send a Tweet/Instagram (←- gahhhhhh), I try to think about whether I’m doing it to hopefully bring strangers some amusement or otherwise be of interest, or if it’s ultimately an attempt to show off. Because if I’m like “check out this amazing view from the plane,” it’s also like “I’m on a plane, isn’t that fantastic, where am I going, aren’t I mysterious? Please think I’m enchanting and fantastic and mysterious!” Or at least that’s sometimes how I see it. (Also, obviously, “I spend this much time thinking about my Tweets!”)

Your happiest moment on the trip?

I think at one point I accidentally fell asleep after doing some work, and woke up thinking I could keep sleeping if I wanted to, or do anything, or nothing.

Also, the second-to-last night, drinking an Old Fashioned while listening to this Irish band play classic American country music.

Your most frustrated?

I couldn’t figure out how to use the washing machine (that was also a dryer) at the apartment. I don’t know why; it was really straightforward.

Most useful thing you packed???

I think I wore the same pants every day, although that’s a boring answer. But I want to come up with a term for the feelings you have when repacking at the end of a trip, taking stock of the items you never wore. Sometimes it can be kind of nice, but for this trip it was like, ah, I guess there wasn’t a reason to bring two dresses, or even one. Or these high heels. But that was okay.

I think a question people often want to know about when they hear that people were traveling on their own is “Were you lonely?”

I wasn’t, but I think it depends. Ten years ago I would have been. I certainly was the first trip I took alone. I think it depends what your regular day-to-day is like, too. And what you’re trying to get away from. But because of the internet, it’s really easy to arrange as many or as few get-togethers with people as you want, if you’re feeling starved for company.

Why did you end up in London?

Because they speak English, and I like gloomy places. When I got there, I was like “ahh, what am I doing here?!” because it was cold and I had no plans and knew no one, but then on the second day, I was like, “ah, it is cold and I have no plans and know no one,” and it was great.

Previously: Eleven Days Alone in Paris

And who knows if this’ll work, but if you’ve traveled alone in the recent past, and would like to be part of an interview/chat like this, we’ve been thinking it could maybe work like a “tag” situation — one solo traveler interviews the next, and then he/she’d interview the next, etc. Might be fun / a disaster? Let us know if you’re interested.