Victoria sponge and authentic travel experiences, London-style

I love to travel, and like most people, I spend a fair amount of time racing from one “must-see” sightseeing destination to another – trying to cram as much into my trip as possible. Looking back on some of my recent trips, though, I realize that some of my best travel memories are not the “cross-off-your-list” for (insert city here) type.

As examples: Several years ago my sister and I went to Paris for a week. Of course, we saw the Eiffel Tower. We even went up in it. What do I remember, hardly anything. We “did” the Louvre, with out feet already tired and in pain from a day of walking. I was impressed with the Mona Lisa, but overall it was a somewhat anti-climatic experience. What I DO remember, though, is our food tour with Paris by Mouth. The tour was led by an American transplant in Paris and she led the way through various cheese shops and wine shops and all the places I would either not stop in to or be too intimidated to do so! It was great, and I still remember things she taught me about french food (such as Rochefort cheese is cured in caves in Rochefort, france, and can’t be called Rochefort unless it is!). I felt I really learned something about Paris and the people who lived there.

A more recent example. My husband and I went to London for a week last fall with one of our favorite couples to travel with – Jill and Kevin. Jill loves to bake and she had found a workshop on British baking by Caroline Hope. Our husbands were off doing activities related to NFL football in London (watching, not playing! ha ha) so we were up for some girl time. I thought it was a great idea and a good way to explore the life of a real Londoner!

Well, it was everything we hoped and was actually a high point of a really great trip. Like the Paris food tour, Caroline taught us about the culinary heritage of her country as well as customs and … I don’t know what to call it… societal norms? It was really fascinating. She taught us how to bake traditional British baked good like Victoria sponge, shortbread, and scones – not things we typically eat in America (not counting the dry, crumbly scones you get at Starbucks and similar places).


This is the shortbread made by our group. So good! I’ve since learned that the butter in Europe is so much richer and creamier than that which you can get in the US. But I’ve had a decent time recreating this using Kerry butter from Ireland, which I can get at my local grocery store

She taught us about baking, gave us great recipes, and we got to eat our delicious creations and meet our fellow workshop participants (in this case a Canadian by way of Argentina and a Japanese exchange student). But most of all, we just enjoyed her company, her humor, her flat in Notting Hill, and her authenticity. And while we could have spent that half a day rushing around the London eye or going up to the top of the Shard (two things that got nixed because we ran out of time), it wouldn’t have been the same. We got to connect with a real person who was passionate about her culture and wanted to share it with others.

My conclusion: Always, always, try to incorporate an experience like this into travel. NOT through a travel company, not as an excursion, but somehow finding these special experiences from individuals who are great at teaching others about their culture and have an interesting perspective on their country.

What do you think? Have you ever had a travel experience like this? Living in tourist-heavy Maine, I wonder if there’s a market for providing experiences like this here. I’ve guess I have enough side gigs already, and I’m an introvert, so it probably wouldn’t work out for me anyway!

xoxo LL