When I first saw Notting Hill in high school, I instantly fell in love. Not just with droopy-eyed Hugh Grant, but with the location of the film itself. Notting Hill—the name sounded straight out of an Enid Blyton book. Over the years, as I re-watched helpless Hugh feign being a reporter from Horse and Hound only to meet a famous actress, played by Julia Roberts, I imagined that Notting Hill—just like this romantic comedy—must be too good to be true. In my imagination, it occupied the same territory as Never Never Land or the Far Away Tree. So I was a little surprised when I discovered that Notting Hill was, in fact, a neighbourhood in London.
With the film being such a formative part of my adolescence, it was as a pilgrim that I arrived, one windy November day, at the Notting Hill Gate tube station. I began my search for the house with the blue door, in which Hugh Grant’s character lived. I walked excitedly past brightly painted homes, joining a crowd headed towards bustling Portobello Market, the flea market depicted in the film. From Scottish curiosities to colourful hats, stalls selling pies and lemon tarts, haggling antique dealers, and goth clothing outlets, the atmosphere of this neighbourhood was as cheerful as I had imagined it.
Several people misdirected me to random house numbers, and when I finally chanced upon the Blue Door Souvenir Shop, I thought I had finally found it. When the owner saw me taking crazy photos in front, he gave me a strange look and revealed in low tones that the actual house was further down.
As I continued, I spotted a blue board announcing “The Notting Hill Bookshop”. A sign below mentioned that it was built on the same site as the decades-old, well-loved Travel Bookshop, an independent book store that had inspired the film’s Travel Book Company where Hugh and Julia’s characters first meet . The original entrance and the interior still remain after the original shut down in 2011, and paper cut-outs of Hugh and Julia line the bookshelves. The bookstore owner finally directed me to the actual house with the blue door from Notting Hill, next to a Starbucks cafe. Unlike the Blue Door Souvenir Shop, the actual blue door is nondescript, and located on a quiet street. It reveals itself only to those who come looking.
Standing in front of the door, it struck me how well it suited the honesty of the film’s romance between a simple bookstore owner from Notting Hill and a star from Beverly Hills, who turn out to have more in common than they expect. For me, the fact that Notting Hill exists, and that I got to visit it, is proof enough that happy endings do exist.
Piya Bose is a lawyer-turned-travel consultant for women. Her passion for travel has taken her to Tibet, expedition cruises in Antarctica, and homes of Inuits in Greenland and head hunters in Nagaland. She has spoken at a TEDx conference, on "Making a career while travelling".