I’ve never particularly liked Portobello Road, yet it’s linked to some very pleasant memories. It has changed through the years, but so have I and now I look at Notting Hill from a different perspective.
At home in London
Curled up on the couch, with a checked blanket and a cup of hot tea, I struggle to collect my thoughts. Traveling can be stressful. Carrying bags around and up and down the stairs, taking trains, waiting at the airport. Fearing you’ll miss your flight because you’re stuck at the security check, where a stern woman asks you to open your hand luggage looking for a moisturizer you forgot to take out. Then running to the gate, adapting to the airplane seat, fighting against a panic attack during a turbulence.
I often come home with the only desire to sleep for two days in a row. That’s why sometimes I wish I could stay longer in a city I love and enjoy everyday life instead of being forced to run around with a ticking clock.
But let’s not digress. It’s foggy outside, which makes me dream of lit fireplaces and lazy Sundays. In London the sun is shining though, and the cold air doesn’t bother me at all. It keeps my mind awake.
Notting Hill is painted in gold and scarlet, while the city is already preparing for Christmas. We step over yellow and red leaves as we walk along Kensington Park Road, among vintage shops and real estate agencies. I wonder how much a house would cost here, but I’m not sure I want to know the answer. On our left, Ladbroke Square Garden lures us with the promise of a green, quiet area where we can have a peaceful walk. And we have indeed. White houses alternate with brick ones, with front gardens in which flowers are still blooming and maple trees show their autumn foliage.
In front of a stone church, Saint John’s Notting Hill, a priest is chatting with a man on a bicycle. It’s a suburb for families, as we can guess from the sight of young mommies pushing strollers, the quiet park and the family cars parked outside the buildings. A little further, in Clarendon Cross, art galleries are squeezed between houses; if you head north-west, you’ll find a shabbier atmosphere, less beautiful residences and more ordinary shops.
And yet a few blocks away, towards Portobello Road, it changes again. A blue door, a red one. Coloured houses are lined up in a row facing the street, which is famous for its far-too-touristic market.
However, we can’t resist the temptation to walk to number 142, where we enter the travel bookshop immortalized in Notting Hill, the romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant. The bookseller is busy selecting new titles for Christmas in a catalog. I stare at her for a moment, fascinated, before looking around the shop, among picture books and Season’s Greetings.
An organic break at Daylesford
It’s past lunchtime, we’re hungry and need a break. Those who are attracted to raw food can look for Nama in Talbot Road, while The Hummingbird Bakery catches the eye of muffin and cupcake lovers and Gail’s is for those who prefer a quick lunch and homemade bread.
We decide to take Westbourne Grove, a charming street close to Portobello and packed with nice houses and shops. We stop at Daylesford, an organic café where you can eat as well as buy organic products. The open-plan kitchen, the wood oven and the warm atmosphere invite us in; the menu is interesting, the fragrant bread and tasty cereal salad are super. Before leaving, we look around the shop, tempted to buy some cookies and a take away coffee.
On our way back to Notting Hill Gate we stop at 293 Westbourne Grove to have a look at the first kimono boutique in London, a charming little shop selling design clothes and accessories. A red umbrella placed outside reminds us that this is a Japanese-style place, with a matcha bar where they serve green tea and sweets. Trust me, “Wasoukan” is worth a visit.
It’s almost dark when we take the bus, knowing it’ll take us more than an hour to get home. We’re intrigued by the idea of watching the bustling city as the light starts to fade, of feeling part of this living organism that is London.