I’m writing this from my laptop in suburban Pittsburgh. I’m in an empty Panera Bread in a busy strip mall. It’s a brisk day today. I’m on a weekend-long solo road trip across the state.
I’ve been thinking recently about ways to improve my ability to clear my head and come up with new ideas. Brian Grey of the CGP Youtube Channel likes to go on “workcations” where he goes on a trip to a hotel and just focuses on his work. I decided to try something similar this weekend.
I didn’t have anything specific to work on this weekend. But, I’ve gotten great rest and renewal.
On Friday morning, I drove from Baltimore to Pittsburgh. I decided to drive in 90 minute chunks. I chose this segment length because…
It’s about the maximum time I can focus on a single task.
It’s about how much time it takes me to digest a small meal.
Every 90 minutes I would stop at a top Yelp restaurant. I found this strategy make the trip go by MUCH faster and I never felt that I was getting burnt out from driving. I have never enjoyed long drives before, but this is beginning to change my mind.
The other thing that kept the drives interesting was having a podcast list from which to pull. I have about 50 hrs worth of podcast episodes downloaded on a wide range of topics I am personally intensely interested in:
These made the trip very intellectually stimulating and created an ability for me to pick out the next audio without being forced into content.
It also is a great use of my theory of sandwiching anticipation. I’ve found it vastly invigorating and motivating to have things that will excite me coming up next. I’ll often intentionally delay things I’m excited about and sandwich them with boring necessary tasks. This feeling of having something exciting coming next is phenomenal at keeping my spirits up during boring tasks. I recommend you try this if you haven’t before. It’s one of the reasons I like to plan trips at random times of the year. Because it helps add excited anticipation right after otherwise mundane times of year. In this way, I always leave a few really edge-of-my-seat intriguing podcast episodes to help me always look forward to getting in the car to drive.
So I got to my destination very quickly from a psychological perspective because I felt the time spent listening to podcasts was time well spent. It didn’t feel like lost travel time. The feeling of travel time loss I think is a MAJOR motivator for folks to avoid travel. Think about ways you can feel productive while traveling. Maybe hold brainstorming sessions in the car, plan out phone calls, etc.
I found myself coming up with a ton of ideas for blog posts, future books I want to read, and people I’d like to reconnect with just by giving my mind this mental space in the car to churn in a different environment listening to episodes I know will perk up my ears at least a few times per episode.
I stayed totally free (I got 5-8 free nights free by signing up for the Hyatt Rewards card which required a $75 annual fee and $2000 spend in 3 months) in an upgraded King Suite at the Hyatt in Pittsburgh. Having a hotel room was awesome. I felt totally obligationless and distractionless. I decided to use the time doing some research, napping, and catching up on Game of Thrones. I didn’t feel like I was being less productive than anyone around me. I didn’t feel I had anywhere to be. I was in “travel mode” without having any real travel goals, other than trying out a few awesome restaurants in the city. The night in a hotel was extremely relaxing. There was nothing to clean up. No noise. And everything I needed was right there in a small, comfortable 1 bedroom environment. The one thing I was dissappointed with was the lack of a bathtub. I really was looking forward to just soaking in hot water. Oh well. There was a heated pool, but I decided not to grab a used swimsuit from the local goodwill. Could have been fun.
I think what I’m getting at is the importance of creating physical and mental spaces in our lives that allow us to “reset.” The goal isn’t to get anything specific done. Or to visit a person. Or to see sights. The goal is to let your brain work on the things it’s intrigued by in a setting that is wholly free of distractions. Sometimes we are distracted more by our normal spaces than we think.
The other insight here I think is the importance of not allowing the fear of lost travel time to become a roadblock in your exploration of travel and new things. Have a strong list of podcasts downloaded at all times to tap into during road time. I’ve found this actually now has me looking forward to long trips.
My goal in London was to see a majority of these neighborhoods and peoples on foot, while eating really good food. This is an account of my recommendations and thoughts based on personal research and experience. It is not intended to be comprehensive.
I was able to see several neighborhoods at the center of London.
Soho, Mayfair, and Saville Row
Mayfair exudes old money. It reminds me of the upper West Side in NY, with smaller buildings. I lunched at Fera inside the Claridge Hotel. That hotel is lavish. There are suited courtiers everywhere ensuring the satisfaction of the guests. Ornate molding and high ceilings give a royal feel.
I wandered Soho and Savile Row. Savile Row, London’s garment district, is speckled with haberdashers adorned in slim-cut suits and fine leather shoes. Soho is more relaxed. Avoid Leicester Square. It’s a tourist zoo. I spent one evening listening to pop/dance music at O’Neill’s in Soho. Londoners can get down like the rest of us over here on the left side of the pond. O’Neill’s was a fun place to dance and enjoy London’s nightlife without spending too much. Cover was $10 and I only had one drink, which my friend bought me. Thanks Keny 😉
I visited the campuses of LSE and Imperial College of London, both nestled quietly within a few city blocks of each other in Aldywch. I was excited to check off visits to the #25 and #8 universities in the world within a 5 minute walk of each other. Both host old stone architecture which speaks of a long gone era of holistic and virtuous pedagogy focused on cultivating the person and the intellect in a way that prepares students to first be, then do. Not vice-versa.
A beautiful area on the eponymous south shore of the Thames. This is home to a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, Borough Market, and views of the Thames along a long walkway. It’s an area worth a stroll if just to see the choppy Thames course through London with surprising force. It filled its banks the day I was there like a muddy and tumultuous bathtub.
I was thoroughly disappointed. It’s a drab stone building in a park that needs powerwashing. This feels like a place tourists need to tick off the list. I wouldn’t skip it because of it’s historical importance. But, I would limit my time on the campus. I also saw Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. Both were neat to see in person. The scale is impressive. The crowds on a Saturday were unbearable.
A massive department store of the uber-wealthy in London. I was impressed with the selection of exotic foods. Foie gras, smoked fishes, cured meats, intricate pastries and chocolates. I never thought I’d see a place with vastly better quality fresh prepared foods than Whole Food and Wegmans.
City of London Walking Tour
I spent the day wandering with a fellow hostel mate, Keny, a Dominican living in Switzerland. We took the public & free “Strawberry” tour. This was a nice way to get a visual history of the city while chatting with travelers. This tour explored the “City of London”, an enclave within the larger London. The City of London houses much of the original architecture from London’s olden-day.
After the tour, my new friend Keny and I walked through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, and Harrod’s. We put in 11 miles walking. We enjoyed the weather and the stately British architecture despite the massive crowds.
At the end of the day I met up with my old floormate at McGill, Graeme. It was excellent to see him. We caught up and swapped old stories over pints.
Southhampton Football Match
I wanted to see an English Premier League match. No games were going on in London during my stay. I made my way by train to Southampton to see the local squad take on West Ham. The match was phenomenal. The crowd was raucous. The pints were cheap. The home team triumphed in the 90th minute on a penalty kick. I couldn’t ask for a more fun sporting day.
The was the only great reasonably-priced meal I had in London, save perhaps for the Kebab I had during a late night drinking.
The beef is fresh, smoothly ground, and the toppings are generous and well-suited for the burger. The bun was chewy and soft, but did not dominate the dish. I chose the Honest Burger and I’d recommend you check out any of the burgers from this popular chain.
I was disappointed with the street food of London. All the top rated places I found were serving mediocre to good food. Nothing spectacular except this burger.
Imperial War Museum
Several friends recommended this museum. It is thorough, fun, hands-on, and easy to pass through at one’s own pace. The exhibits were informative without being dry. Multimedia elements made the wars of Britain come to life. I learned about WW1 (the section I went through) from a new perspective. Allot 90 minutes per war section, even if you’re going quickly. The exhibits are thorough.
Fera (food review)
I had lunch inside the Claridge hotel at Fera, which was my favorite meal of my trip. Fera is a Michelin-starred fine dining restaurant cooking refined tasting menus. I had the dining room to myself, which is a fanciful and ornate homage to London’s art deco era.
Fera exhibited excellent execution and flavor combinations in exquisite beauty. The service was phenomenal. I’m not sure how Fera was empty when I went for lunch.
I ordered the Lunch tasting menu.
The first treat from the chef was a delicate chickpea crisp with a light herb créme. The flavors were light and complex, cooling and herbal. What began with a petal, continued with the smooth creaminess accompanied by a soft touch of goat’s cheese, and ended with the light crisp of a cracker. Excellent start.
For the first course, the cured trout was pickly, but not overpowering. Peach and dill balanced the fish.
Their take on pea soup was excellent. It cleansed the palate. The soup was light and foamy and yet powerful in it’s flavor.
Definitely order the snack supplement.
The rabbit fritter was insane. Perfectly executed rabbit, fatty and well seasoned encased inside a light panko crust.
The calamari bite was delightful. Acidic flavors brought my palate back in balance with soft squid and a light dust of seasonings.
The bread service here was outstanding. The crumb was chewy and soft while maintaining a formidable structure.
The main course, herb fed chicken, was good. But it didn’t wow me at the same level as the other dishes. It was still impressively sous vided to perfect execution and plated with fresh green onions and black garlic. None of the flavors took me away to gourmand’s heaven, however.
The desserts were complexly flavored with sour and sweet elements. They were a coup de gras of a phenomenal lunch at Fera.
At £52 with the supplement, this is an excellent value. From a value perspective, this was a better choice than Hedone.
I stayed in WhiteChapel, which was close enough to the metro to be acceptable. Though, it may have been more fun to stay in a more central location like Soho.
The rooms were quiet and clean. As other hostels, personal space is limited and I always seem to be assigned the top bunk.
The Wombats London hostel was vivacious. Their basement catacombs bar was lively every evening, filled with travelers from everywhere. I met a lot of people who quickly became friends.
I had a deep conversation on choosing a working path on a young Melbourne guy was was down on himself for being underpaid at his garage job. I talked Williamsburg burgers (can’t wait to try Peter Luger) with an Indonesian girl living in Brooklyn. I shared my thoughts on Austin’s Rainey and Sixth streets with a guy from there.
Andy Hayler (the fine dining expert I met up with earlier) recommended that, if I only visit one restaurant in London, it be Hedone. It’s a contemporary French, open-kitchen place is one Michelin star about 45 minutes outside London in Chiswick. It’s run by a former lawyer with vengeance. He paces around the place with a scowl. I’m fine with that. You can do whatever you like when you run the world’s 98th best restaurant.
The food was perfectly executed. The flavors were incredible. Light acids, deep fatty flavors. Most fun was the open kitchen. Seeing everything ordered, prepared , and plated directly in front of me at the bar was awesome. The intensity of the chef’s espirit de corps engrossed me.
Despite the awesome food and ambiance, at $175 I can’t help but feel that the meal was overpriced. None of the food items were made with ultra-expensive ingredients. I believe the $65 spent at Fera was much more on par with the experience, and was likely a greater quality meal.
London: Things that would help
They drive on the left. But crosswalking is easy because there are helpful arrows on the street telling you where to look.
Fish & Chips are not a London thing. Don’t expect them to be that great.
Leadenhall market isn’t an open-air market, but a fancy indoor bar/restaurant area.
Camden market seems awesome and I missed it. I went to Borough Market and I’d give it a 3/5 on the traveler enjoyability scale. There is some good food, but long lines, lots of tourists, and lack of selection make it only moderately attractive as a destination.
I also missed Hyde Park, but I would have enjoyed seeing London’s most iconic park.
Stansted Airport (the Ryanair hub) is cheap, but it’s an hour from the city. The train ride is pleasantly bucolic, but note that it is mildly inconvenient.
The Tower bridge has a really nice view of the London skyline and the Thames.
London is a diverse place. Every corner brings a new famous sight. Every turn is teeming with life. The city is crowded, and fast, and yet less chaotic than New York. There is an air of civility to London. I was delighted to see how Londoners live and move throughout their city. It is a happy place. The people of London seem to be in a place they are proud of. I am proud I could visit.
The past few weeks I visited a few cities in Europe. I ended up in Copenhagen because I scored a flight deal on FinnAir. This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide on Copenhagen. It’s based on my research and personal experience.
I enjoyed my three days Copenhagen. It’s clean. It has moderate weather. The people are calm and friendly. The deep blue skies were only interrupted by fluffy white clouds floatings their way east across the deep Nordic blue strait to Mälmo.
I stayed in the Generator Hostel. This turned out to be a great place to meet people. It was a large hostel with ample bar area. The first night I met a guys from Toronto and Northern Italy (Brixen, specifically.) We merged our group with a larger group of travelers and had some lively discussion. I befriended a girl working in Manhattan as a consultant at a small firm there. We discussed organizational psychology and NY food over Danish IPAs before getting into a heartfelt story at the bar from a Polish pianist working as a chef in Copenhagen about the struggles of living as an artist in Poland. Travel exposes us to such multitudinous topics. There are too many to recount here.
During the days I’d wander the city for the best food and sights as planned. I listened to podcasts and music and think about things back home. It was pleasantly reflective. I walked 21 miles in 3 days according to Google timeline.
Copenhagen (“København” in Danish) is the capital of Denmark. It’s a calm city despite it’s 1.3 million people, the most populated in Scandinavia. Clean minimalist contemporary architecture blends seamlessly with stately Nordic royal buildings. The people, in public, are reserved and orderly. The city is clean. The food is excellent. Being on an island, water is a common theme in Copenhagen. The city is walkable.
Walking Sights of Copenhagen I enjoyed
The Meatpacking District (Kødbyen)
Cool restaurants, Danish young people drinking in the streets (there is a vibrant public outdoor drinking culture here like London.) An interesting open restaurant area with several packed places. I visited a brewhouse (called “Fermentoren”) with good IPA.
This is the tourist/shopping/historical area catering to weekend warriors and international travelers. It’s worth seeing for Danish architecture. Get an introduction to Danish sidewalk culture (how they act in public).
This is the classic Instagram spot. It’s in the heart of Copenhagen. Very touristy, but also pretty.
The Lakes (Søerne)
Just west of downtown find three long lakes. They allow for wide views of the city and the local Swans, albeit from ground level. Denmark doesn’t have hills.
Paper Island (Papirøen)
Cool island dedicated to 25+ gourmet food stands in an indoor market. View of the harbors. Danish people enjoying good food and drink.
I’m split on this. It was a cool idea in the 70’s of hippies who formed an anarcho-conclave in the city. Now it’s become an uncomfortable blend of tourists and grungy weed-seekers. Felt very forced but is probably worth seeing.
Beautiful Church. I only saw it from the outside. You can go up to the dome every day around 1pm. That’d be worth doing though I never could make it work.
Amager Strand (Beach)
Clean beach with views of the dark waters of the Øresund (strait) separating Denmark and Sweden. Views of windmills. I spent a few hours here with a fellow hostel traveler from Frankfurt. This beach in conveniently located between the city and the airport.
This is where the queen lives. It’s a great example of Danish architecture and close to the rest of the sights.
Many people in Copenhagen commute by bike. It’s worth experiencing this culture from within. I was able to rent a bike for the day at my hostel for around $12. (72 DKK.)
Attempting to learn the Danish language without a tutor was a fool’s errand for me. Unlike Latin-based languages, Danish written language has hidden added sounds. This makes it impossible to phonetically attempt to pronounce words. I’d stick to “Tak” (thank you) unless you have a personal tutor, in which case I’d encourage you try more. It’s a unique language that’s intellectually challenging and will give you a deeper view into the Danish mindset.
According to the OECD, Denmark is one of the most expensive places in the world, behind Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland. This reflects in pricing in the city. Expect prices to be 1.25-1.5x what you’d expect in other major cities.
I met up with traveler friend Amalie (see Ecuador). She gave me insights into the Danish lifestyle as we walked around town. It was cool to meet up with someone I met in South America on a different trip.
I met a lot of interesting folks at the hostel.
I took one night to go off on my own for drinks. Before I found the first place I was accosted by a group of friendly Danes who insisted I join them for a game at the local bar. There I ended up getting hit on by a drunk guy, pivoting between several groups of Danish people, discussing the differences between Denmark and Norway, and the absurdity of local laws.
Copenhagen is a place I encourage travelers to see. 3 days was the proper amount of time to accustom myself to the city but still leave several things to see. The people are content. It’s fascinating to see what the “world’s happiest place” looks like. It’s not filled with joyful frolicking gnomes. Instead most of the time people seem content with the way life is treating them.
A few tips I picked up:
Don’t approach strangers. Respect Danish people’s personal space in public areas (the street, the subway, stores.) They are friendly, they just don’t get chummy in public.
Wait for the walk signal at crosswalks. Danish people seem to believe that the rules are in place for a reason. Follow them while you’re here.
Be super cautious of bikes. They are more prevalent than cars.
Stay out of Nordvest at night. There have been some gang issues in this area recently (Summer 2017.) Overall the city is SUPER safe. But this area at night it’s smart to avoid. Most tourists and travelers won’t end up going out this far, but just be aware.