How did I end up in this beautiful ancient city?
I got on the plane without knowing where I was going in England with a piece of paper in my hand with an address of a house in a city called St. Albans City. I took the train from the Gatwick airport and around an hour later I started feeling like I was getting into a peaceful place full of green fields on both sides when I looked out the window. Honestly I thought I was in middle of nowhere in a country I have no idea of. Even though I love quiet and village like places I definitely wanted to have some social life during my stay there. The purpose of my trip was trying out one of the top tennis academies in the country where the top British professional tennis players train. They set up housing for me with a host family. It was 20 minutes away from the tennis club which was in Welwyn Garden City. I had been to the tennis club before when I stayed in London and it was only an hour away with the train. So I thought St. Albans shouldn’t be too far away from London either. The family picked me up from the station and after a 5 minute drive we were home. I knew there was something unique about this place right away. During that 5 minute drive it was like being in an old and small town and very modern and expensive city at the same time. The location of the house was perfect for me because when I didn’t have a lift I could get to the train station and the city center by walking in 25 minutes. Since it was an upscale neighborhood it was great to walk by the nice houses and a lot of trees. As I discovered more about this city and traveled to different places from the train station I realized it was only 50 minutes from London Kings Cross and 25 minutes from Luton Airport. So the place I thought was a village in middle of nowhere was actually one of the easiest places to get around without getting in the traffic.
Location: Hertfordshire – East England. (North of northwest London)
History of the city: The name of the city comes from the first British saint, Alban. St Albans was a Roman city of Verulamium. You will see a lot of Roman buildings, road names and feel the breeze of an old, historical place. It is worth visiting, Saint Albans Abbey Church (St. Albans Cathedral), also Verulamium Museum is great if you like to see some Roman objects, mosaics and equipment. You have to pay to visit this museum. They have different pricing depends on age and number of people you are with. You will also see the Clock Tower in the middle of the city center. You can either sit around it and have a coffee or climb 93 steps to top for the city view.
Hotels: Bed & Breakfast around £25-30. If you prefer a high quality Spa Hotel Sopwell House is very popular. Another option is Air BnB.
Transportation: Train is the best option to get to different cities. It takes you to London in 50 minutes for £8.40 and to Luton Airport in 25 minutes for £6.90 one way. The Oyster Card that is used for the train and bus in most of the zones in London doesn’t work in St. Albans. I didn’t know it and used it to get back and almost had to pay £25 fine because of that. So don’t forget to get your ticket even if you have an Oyster card. To travel in the city best way is the public bus and taxi. You need some type of card for the bus.
Shopping: There are a lot of shops in the center but mostly expensive brands and some chains. I recommend TK Maxx where you can find famous brands for lower prices. It’s kind of like an outlet and they have everything from clothing to house stuff. Also, on St. Peters Street there is a Farmers Market on the second Sunday of each month. They have fruits, vegetables, cheese, freshly baked cakes, breads and pastries, and many more. It’s a fun shopping experience where there is a lot of social interaction as well.
Food: You can find a few cute, small street bakeries to have delicious and warm pastries and coffee. For a real English breakfast I recommend Pudding Stop. You should also try their ‘scones’ with some butter and jam, and have some tea with it. Then you will know what the English tea time is all about. Another famous place is the St. Albans Waffle house. It is really popular for Sunday brunches, yet difficult to find a free table. And for the Italian lovers Prezzo is a good choice if you are willing to spend a bit more and have a fancier lunch or dinner. They also have an amazing chocolate fudge cake!
Night Life: If you want to have couple of drinks and socialize there are a few small bars with live music. If you want to experience more than that I’d hop on the train to London!
If you’d like to go see a movie with couple of people I’d definitely recommend this movie theatre where you can reserve a table and watch the movie while having champagne. I think it’d be a really unique experience. The prices are between £8.50 -£11 per person.
Picnic by the Remains of Roman Wall
One more amazing place to spend time is Verulamium Park where you get to see the remains of Roman wall as well. The park is perfect for a walk/run, picnic, and reading, for anything really. There is a very long lake with beautiful swans, big trees everywhere and an ice cream shop. Luckily when I was there the weather was really nice so I almost spent all day at the park a few times.
Overall my stay in St. Albans for a month was one of the best experiences I’ve had in every way. Every time I had a day off from training I went into the city center and explored something different. The city is ancient enough to taste some history, rich enough to experience the modern life, and quiet enough to help you hear yourself.