Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Eight Days Alone In: London

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 herehere, 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.

101 Comments / Post A Comment


"I'd been asking around about the best restaurants in London for deviled eggs..."



@laurel Please, I would totally do the same thing if I were vacationing on my own with no one to judge me.


@Alli525 (says the girl who just finished secretly-eating an egg-salad-arugula-potato-chip sandwich and hiding it from her coworkers)

Choire Sicha@facebook

Oh my god thank god you went to the John Soane. It is the best. I love how hostile they are. They make you wait outside, and then TURN OFF YOUR PHONE, and then let you in, and it's insane, and you're in the basement, and you just want to become a squirrel and move in.

Nicole Cliffe



"Having been deeply disappointed by the conduct of his two sons, one of whom survived him, he determined to establish the house as a museum to which ‘amateurs and students’ should have access."

He sounds fun!


@Choire Sicha@facebook Ohhh I have to go here soon! I'm like 50 minutes away from London and I never take advantage of this fact.


@Choire Sicha@facebook I like how they make you put your bag into a larger, plastic bag.


You are so stoic about the cold! I spent a week in London back in College and even for this Minnesotan, I could not handle that sort of cold--the damp, bone chilling, inescapable-because-of-lack-of-central-heating cold. Brrrrr!

Diaphanous Gown

@parallel-lines where did you go that had no central heating, 1700's london?!


@Diaphanous Gown I was staying in a hostel (then hotel) that had really poor central heating and you had to pay for hot water--there was a little coin slot by the tub. It was so cold.


""ah, it is cold and I have no plans and know no one," and it was great."

Dream sitch.

Kitty Mittelschmerz@twitter

Where is that the Thames? It looks like a canal.

fruiting body

@Kitty Mittelschmerz@twitter It is the canal :)


@Kitty Mittelschmerz@twitter i think that's the Regent's Canal, and not the Thames at all.

Edith Zimmerman

@Kitty Mittelschmerz@twitter Doh! Yeah, canal. Sorry about that!


....A) this is awesome and I think I'm going to do something like it soon and I love this (mini?) series for this reason. B), "ten years ago I would have been lonely" made me google how old Edith is, and hahaha find this GQ article about Chris Evans and hahaha this is good.


@itiresias Best celebrity interview of all time.


@itiresias I think about that article maybe once a month. I love it.


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.

I am so jealous of these Middleton-types who have hair that whips beautifully in the wind, instead of immediately tangling up into a rat's nest.


@katiemcgillicuddy I bet it's stunt hair!


UGH comments getting eaten. anyway I loved this and I think you are a sweetheart, Edith. Did the English boys like your accent? Were you unutterably charmed by theirs?


This is relevant to my interests. And life. (10 days until I am in you, London!!)

oh well never mind

Sorry, promised you Reading advice then abandoned you! Let me see... I'd recommend Picnic for cafe-type snacks, Bills for rustic-type food or English breakfasts, the lion statue in the Forbury Gardens and the abbey ruins nearby for wandering about if it's not raining, the Alehouse in Broad St (used to be called the Hobgoblin, if people don't know where it is) for pubby pubbiness and beer (bitter, ales), and the Town Hall museum for quiet time and Roman artefacts. Hope that helps cover least one of the type of things you'd fancy!




As an American living in London I spend a lot of time giving unwarranted and unfrequented advice to people who have my accent (hey-o nice lady from Toronto on the tube this morning!) so I will, just this once, hold myself back from just incoherently telling randomers coming to London about the things that are great about London. BUT should you want advice, um, I will give it with a sort of preternatural enthusiasm?


@Hammitt I'm going to have a lot of free time during the days while my friends are working, so advise away! I don't know London as well as I know Oxford and Bath (or really, much at all).


@meetapossum Lucky! I was planning a London trip for March or April, but it was only going to be really feasible if I could stay with a semi-distant relative. And she stopped responding to my emails for some reason. London is super great.

Reginal T. Squirge

I like that your happiest moment involves sleeping.


@Reginal T. Squirge I agree, but maybe because I love sleeping and definitely have a "top 5 best naps of all time" list.


I always feel a little strange being on a primarily American place and seeing references to my home country (not city. I am a proud Norfolk girl, thanks) as a tourist destination. As somewhere with a 'feel' as somewhere you 'travel to'. I mean - it's just London.

I guess it reminds me that to most of you I'm a foreigner, and that's a weird feeling.


@Anninyn Nonsense! We're all citizens of the United Peoples of the Hairpin Republic.


@laurel Can we have a national anthem?


@Decca I nominate this.


@laurel I will join any republic as long as Edith runs the show. I nominate Jolie for all other positions, and Nicole's baby can be on our flag.


@Decca Obviously our national anthem is the Remix to Ignition. ETA: Only given how bananas everyone (reasonably) went in that thread the other day - gin and juice is also perfectly valid.


I desperately need to go to London sometime soon. I always say "this summer," but then I do something else that summer and can't afford the money or time to also go to London. Really interested in the antique market - great find!


Be honest Edith, how often do you sit around wearing that signet ring, drinking from a chalice, and demanding more wine and telling tweens about rape?

RK Fire

@Megano! Hopefully she's wearing a fantastic breastplate while she's doing all of those things.


Does "large" modify "males" or "groups"?

Also, I'm sorry, why can't you wear a bloodstone on your wedding ring finger?


@Bloodrocuted I'm surprise the stall lady weighed in about it too, since I thought Brits wore their wedding rings on their other hand. Is the fourth finger verboten on both hands??


@SuperGogo It sounds really metal.

Diaphanous Gown

@SuperGogo we wear them on the left.


@Diaphanous Gown I thought wrong. But is it the right hand elsewhere in Europe? Clearly, I would rather speculate and look like an idiot than take two minutes and google it.

Diaphanous Gown

@SuperGogo in some they move their engagement ring to the right hand and in a lot of eastern European countries they wear both on the rightvthe whole time. I don't know why I know this?!


8 days alone in London sounds like heaven on earth to me.


Maybe my favorite thing about the Hairpin is that it's run by someone who shares my devotion to deviled eggs.

But, also, you found a ring that fit on your left ring finger but not your right ring finger??


@caddie Are your fingers the same size on both hands? Lucky!
My mom have me a ring she got in Spain before I was born and the only finger it fits is my fourth left finger and it's a band with texture so definitely a no-go. I've been meaning to see about getting it resized for about 10 years :(


@sox Ugh, it is literally impossible to get around to taking jewelry to be repaired.


@caddie my right hand has bigger fingers...i assume its because i use it more so they are more buff???

honey cowl

Two months until I am in you, London! Not alone though. Never alone.


I love London and miss her with all my heart. I got so resentful of the city and my sorta sad aloneness while I was there but now that I am gone I'm like....what the hell was my problem?


I for one volunteer to go on a vacation somewhere and write about it for the Hairpin! All expenses paid, I assume...?

Also, Edith, please tell us about the upside down plants!

Edith Zimmerman

@SuperGogo I think they were air plants!

Hot Doom

Whhhhhhere is that cocktail bar where one can get an old fashioned and listen to an Irish band play country music??


@Hot Doom They are ALL OVER THE PLACE in England.

Hot Doom

@oboe-d-amore Not in my neck of the woods (well, a couple, but they are too cool for school and mostly insufferable). The one where Edith went looks cool and chill, hence my asking.


@Hot Doom It looks like NightJar near Old Street tube. http://www.barnightjar.com/

Hot Doom

@alliot Woop! Thanks!


@Hot Doom I see you got the name of that one - but if you're ever in Oxford, I recommend the Half-Moon. :-)

Edith Zimmerman

@Hot Doom YES! It was Nightjar!!

Hot Doom

@Edith Zimmerman Neato! I will definitely check it out next time I'm in Lahndahn!

@ oboe-d-amore, likewise, I shall check out Half Moon in Oxford sometime, cheers for the rec!


I'm going on my first trip by myself to Miami in February. Debating between airbnb (comfortable, but lonely?) or a nice-ish hostel I found (less comfortable, but less lonely?) Any advice?


@c8te I'm a big proponent of hostels (because they're often cheap & occassionally you'll get meals/entertainment) but if you want to cook/keep food or really have space/time to yourself, I'd go airbnb.


Edith, did you go gawk at Kate's portrait in the National Portrait Gallery? It really is... something.


@Decca I liked it better in person than in photographs, but it was still not all that great. But definitely worth seeing.


This is relevant to my interests! My brother and his wife just moved to Manchester and I am going to spend a few weeks there in about a month (to bring their cat lol). My bro is probably going to be busy with his Ph.D stuff, but hopefully at that point, my sister-in-law will know where to go, but I foresee a lot of exploring by myself, especially for nightlife activities, as neither of them are particularly into that. And I'm definitely planning a weekend trip to London.


@parkerb I'm not really cool enough for Shoreditch (I mean this sincerely, not in a snarky-at-Edith way!) but I think the nightlife around Camden Town is really fun, or if you really want to be Middletonian you can wear your most annoying outfit and go to Sloane Square although very rich English people will be kind of rude to you there, in a Dowager Countess-y way that's not surprisingly less fun to experience in real life!

Camden Passage in Islington is fun to explore too, if you like vintage shops, twee/awesome home design, and random bits of antiquity. I go to London every six months for work (I KNOW) and Edith has inspired me to finally go to the John Soane next week, which I keep hearing about and never visiting. Also am excited to see the Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice! I think it's actually impossible to get bored in London, it's such a wonderful city to visit. Glad you had fun, Edith!

Manchester Tart

@parkerb Manchester is fun too! I mean it isn't pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a cool city with lots of good stuff going on. Give me a shout if you want/need and recommendations. Also it's conveniently near lots of other more pretty places like Cheshire and The Lake District and The Peak District if you wanted to see some scenery whilst you're over.


@Manchester Tart
I am super excited about Manchester! I've been doing lots of research and the size and culture of it seem neat, particularly the music scene. I will probably take you up on some recommendations :)

Manchester Tart

@parkerb Please do! You can always email me at jo march 80 at the mails that are hot.


The bar with the Irish band playing classic American country music looks awesome! Do you know where it was? I have a thing for Irish Bands, country music and bourbon... hmmm ... bourbon ...

Flora Poste

Haha now I'm trying to work out how many times I specified a "large" glass of wine (and got the side eye from the barman) when I was in New York.


Hee, Edith, my brother and sister-in-law have been living in England for a year now (military, but they live off base), and my sister-in-law STILL struggles with their washer/dryer thing. Particularly the part where it only fits about four towels at a time.


@bitchycrosstownexpress I have lived in the UK for over 10 years, and I cried the day they delivered my American washer and dryer. I love just about everything about living here, but having fluffy towels again is the icing on the cake.


@bitchycrosstownexpress Four towels? That sounds huge! *is English*


@Eatbigsea Sometimes my towels are so... crunchy that I can't use them to dry my nipples. My kitchen is huge so I do technically have room for a tumble dryer but I think convincing my (English) fiance that they are a Very Good Thing will be a challenge.

Hot Doom

@Eatbigsea Yep. I have informed my husband that the very first *big* purchase I make when I find a job here is going to be a proper dryer. I can't abide the crunchy towels.


Ooh, I live here and haven't been to the John Soane or to that antiques market. Or Scott's. This is giving me ideas.


Re: antiques markets in London, Portobello Road sometimes sounds like a cliche, but it is gigantic and totally worth it. You can find anything there, at any price.


@oboe-d-amore Anything and everything a chap can unload is sold off the barrow in Portobello Road.


I've lived in London 5 years and have never been to Grays. I am obviously doing it wrong. (Though I do love Islington antique market in Camden passage, but it's itty bitty.) Excited to try Grays!

almighty jugs

I'm (mostly) alone in Scotland right now and taking notes for when I make my way down south. In the meantime, though, I think my favorite thing to do alone here is explore various castley ruiny things- you get to set your own pace/secretly pretend you're an intrepid archaeologist discovering whatever you're visiting for the first time. (That one might just be me.)


Disappointed that you came to London without telling me personally so I could bore you to death with all my favourite places. I actually would have told you Scotts and Postman's Park both of which you went to and liked so I take that as a positive sign of your feelings towards me. Love the Regent's Canal and down by the Thames round Limehouse where you can practically relive the final scene of Great Expectations. I also like Alfie's market over Grays (though love the ring) so maybe that's for next time. Also good seats to see someone great at the Royal Albert Hall is hard to beat (I've only seen great Americans there - Al Green and Don McLean. Actually I have seen Van Morrison who is from the UK but he is so grumpy on stage he cancels himself out).

I actively don't have a tumble dryer (have room, don't want one). I think I quite like non-fluffy towels. Mine are quite bracing. I think that might be a particularly British word and preference.


You know I'm a little bit sad because I had to take a week off work last week (rolled over from last year) and had no money to go away anywhere, but then it dawned on me that I have a flat in one of the best cities in the world, ie London, and why can't I just pretend to be on holiday in my own city and do lots of tourist-y style exploring?, and I almost e-mailed the Hairpin to ask if they wanted to do a 'five days on holiday alone in the city in which you actually live'. It sounded cooler when I initially thought of it, honestly. Anyway it was an awesome five days, the snow made it extra brilliant, the John Soane museum was on my list but I didn't actually make it - but I wish I too had known you were here Edith!

(First comment but I've been reading for months)

Emily Jordan@facebook

we could have met you at the airport with a banner! Bit weird? bit weird.


I totally spent 8 days alone in London last summer... AND I saw Kate, The Queen, and the whole Royal family in the flesh! Diamond Jubilee :-)

Guillaume Hérault@facebook

Great article. Thnks for this and click here

Rosie Clarke@twitter

So glad you had a good time even when London was at its coldest! And yes, the Soane Museum has to be seen to be believed. After reading Tania Kindersley's description of her art crushes in the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery, I'll definitely be looking out for paintings of smouldering Victorian chaps next time I visit: http://taniakindersley.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/in-which-i-immerse-myself-in-art-or.html


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