London in January: Part One

Looking for day trips from London? This is a look at things to do in St. Albans, a beautiful cathedral city that makes an easy trip from London by train.

Girl on the Train to St. Albans

I just got back from a holiday. To England. In the middle of January. Call me crazy? Or call me Cameron Diaz in “The Holiday.” But instead of car service to Surrey, I took the train to St. Albans. It could be summed up as a scene from a romantic comedy. Minus the romance. But, I love (and hate) that anybody’s life can look like something out of a Nancy Meyers film online when you only get one snap shot of a person’s day. If you follow me on social media, you definitely got one version of the story. I wanted to give you the rest because upon my return, I realized that I play into this social media facade as much as anyone.  Life according to Instagram can make it seem like you are the only one not throwing confetti in the air while donning a bikini in full hair and makeup on a private island in the Seychelles.

In reality, the New Year for me meant finding a new perspective. Despite all that I have, I found myself incredibly unhappy, but not able to figure out why. Something needed to change, and mostly that thing was me. Nothing forces you to live in the now like travel. And traveling alone, while very hard at times, is something I think everyone should experience.  So, following 8 days in New York, I extended my trip to England, my favorite place in the world, alone in January. It was full of fantastic adventures, new found friends, lonely nights, and a few disappointments. And so it begins…my very own “Eat, Pray, Love,” the short story…

I stayed in one of my favorite London hotels in South Kensington the first night before moving to a room I had booked on Airbnb. What I learned is that I’m a hotel girl, which apparently is no surprise to any of my friends (am I THAT transparent??). It was raining the day I arrived (the only day it rained), and as the cab drove off, the owner of the flat shouted down from a very narrow, steep stairwell for me to come up. So, I comically dragged my insanely heavy (now wet) suitcases up a million flights of stairs into a stranger’s tiny flat in a neighborhood I didn’t know at all. The door to my bedroom wouldn’t lock, and after many falling tears that night, I dreamt the lady I was staying with tried to murder me in my sleep. I was terrified and felt very out of place. It was the exact opposite of how I pictured this trip going and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

My friend Alanna became my saving grace. We worked together back in the day, and though we hadn’t seen each other in years, she invited me visit her in St. Albans, an easy 30-minute train from London.  As you can see, it is the most charming English city, and it was my absolute favorite day I had the entire trip.

If only I had packed my wellies…

Alanna gave me a walking tour down winding cobble stone roads…

Through gorgeous neighborhoods aligned with cottages…

To what I was sure was the door to the “The Secret Garden” (my childhood obsession).

But, it turned out to be just the wall around the garden to St Albans Cathedral.

It is the oldest site of continuous Christian worship in Britain, and it’s a sight to behold.

After a little self-guided tour inside the cathedral, Alanna took me to The Waffle House for lunch. No, not that Waffle House! This is centered around a 16th Century Watermill in a historic part of the city, where the flours used in their waffles are organically grown, produced and stoneground. They specialize in savoury and sweet waffles, so I went with the ham & mushroom with the most amazing Lancashire cheddar cheese sauce you have ever tasted.

After lunch, we strolled along the River Ver, watching the swans wade in the freezing cold water.

And saw the remains of The Roman Wall when St Albans was the ancient Roman town of Verulamium.

As we walked back, we got a perfect view of the Cathedral in all its glory.

After such a long walk, we were in need of a rest (and a beer), so we headed to Ye Old Fighting Cocks for a distinctly British pub experience.


Hee hee…I’m so immature.

We made our way back through the city…

Past the Clock Tower, which I learned was built around 1412 and last rung out for Queen Victoria’s funeral in 1901.

It was a perfect day, and Alanna and I were never short on things to talk about. She told me about English life, what she misses about Southern California (the sun, the space, American M&Ms) and I reminded her about the crazy life as a publicist. In many ways, Alanna lives the life I wish I had— maybe in my next lifetime. She even has a daughter with my favorite name ever (Cora). But, it also made me see my actual home with new eyes.  I’m so grateful to her for taking me in for a day and showing me a place I’ll never forget.

That night we got Indian takeaway (one of the things I miss most when I’m back in the states) and she helped me get out of the Airbnb situation. At 9pm she and her hubby called me a cab and I stuck it out one last night at the flat.

The next day, I moved back to South Kensington…


The last time I was alone in London

My favorite hotel (when someone else is paying) in London

My favorite hotel (when I’m paying) in London

Another great boutique hotel option in London









6 thoughts on “London in January: Part One”

  1. Wow amazing! Can’t wait to hear the rest, though this will probably be my favorite part since I’m always obsessed with those charming country towns. Meanwhile, coincidentally, look at what I went to see at the Getty this weekend!:
    “The St. Albans Psalter is one of the most extraordinary manuscripts produced in 12th-century England. Written in Latin, the St. Albans Psalter contains more than two hundred historiated initials with pictures that give visual form to the accompanying prayers. Letterforms teem with human figures, animals, and demonic creatures that provide a literal illustration of particular lines from the psalms.”

  2. I love this, Molly! What a great account of this part of your trip. I’m so glad you were able to come and spend the day. Now you know why I love to show off our little part of the world. 🙂

  3. Pingback: January in London: A Love Story

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