Entries Tagged as 'Europe'

London Beginner’s Guide



A lovely friend of mine from Brussels has just made the move to London and it got me thinking about 10 months ago when I made the move over myself. What did I wish I’d known before I got here? Here’s the advice I would have given myself:

Get used to booking time with friends 

This is perhaps the biggest change from Brussels, where everyone essentially makes plans at the very last minute. Life gets a little less spontaneous. Its tricky to just call someone up and ask if they are free in 30 minutes because it might take an hour for them to get to you. It takes some getting used to but can make what you end up doing a bit more fun.

People cannot pick a side of the sidewalk

Very possibly my biggest pet peeve with this country: people in London cannot pick a side of the sidewalk. They can pick a side of an escalator to stand on in the Tube – but once they are unleashed on the streets, anything goes. You will need to become an adept weaver. It will take time (and you still may be tempted to play chicken with a mom and a stroller to see who will swerve first.)

You will talk transport

You knew London was big. But sometimes you didn’t realise just how big. You will talk about travel routes way more often than is normal anywhere else. And the TFL website, while a great first resource, is actually not always to be trusted. Test the system. Get the City Mapper or Tube Delux app on your phone. Try new routes. It took me 6 months to find out it was faster to travel all the way down across the city to Canada Water and then take the Overground back up to Shoreditch than to go straight across. Also: download the Hailo app. And Minicabster. And Train Times. (You’ll know you’re getting used to it all when you know where to stand on the platform and end up close to the exit at your home station.)

Summer update: I laughed when I saw the signs in the Tube advising you to carry a bottle of water with you in summer months. “Isn’t that kind of them?” I naively chuckled… “Aren’t the English kind?” Then it got hot and I realised its approximately 57 degrees hotter in the Tube than it already is outside and people are fainting left, right and centre. My advice? Take advantage of the fact that its light outside at 6 am, leave more time to get to work and take the bus.

You’ll become obsessed with reading about all the cool things you could be doing

And then you’ll only do a fraction of them. But it doesn’t matter. Reading about them is half the fun. Subscribe to The Londonist newsletters, pick up your Time Out at the Tube on Tuesday mornings, The Stylist on Wednesday mornings and the Evening Standard Magazine on Friday evenings. And of course, one must pick up The Sunday Times. Start keeping a list of all the restaurants you want to try and exhibitions you want to go to. (Mental lists don’t count.)

You’ll delight in finding an oasis

You will inevitably decide you are going to face the crowds on Oxford & Regent’s Streets on a Saturday afternoon to go shopping. You’ll enjoy this for awhile because its still better than shopping on Rue Neuve (at least clothes are usually displayed in something resembling a pile and not just thrown around the store). But then panic/exhaustion will strike and you will wonder how to escape the crowds. Plan your shopping route so you end up down by Selfridges, across the street tucked behind the main store fronts and raised off street level are Brown Hart Gardens. Its an oasis away from the crowds with a lovely little Benugo cafe (found thanks to a fun Mayfair walking tour.) You’ll be refreshed in no time.  Or take a little stroll around the nearby Duke Street Emporium – an adorable relatively new shop combining Jigsaw & The Shop at Bluebird, with a Ferdinand & Wells cafe inside.

You may become more susceptible to being spoiled

This has come in the form of Ocado. As in: delivery grocery shopping. As in: potentially a life saver. Delivered during an hour of your choosing, pre-sorted and with a shopping list you can put on your fridge so you remember when things will go bad. You can select a time they will already be in your neighborhood, to be more environmentally friendly. And they’ll recycle any plastic bags for you. Minimum spend of £40 but worth it if you plan your meals for the week.

Also: Netflix and iPlayer.

If you are lucky, the city will still make your heart smile on a regular basis

And, 10-months-later-self, you have been lucky. You’ve taken boats down the Thames and gone to the theatre. Your commute includes walking along a canal and with a detour, Regent’s Park.  You’ve delighted in views both from Primrose Hill and Greenwich Park. You’ve welled up with tears at the Royal Ballet and gotten lost in countless bookstores. You’ve walked across bridges and wandered through historic houses. Leaves have crunched under your feet in Green Park in Autumn and you’ve been surrounded by blooms in Kew Gardens in Spring. You’ve met lovely people during fantastic high teas and had drinks on rooftops in the City. You’ve eaten enough Mexican to make up for at least some of the time you spent without it in Brussels. You’ve fallen in love with Everyman Cinemas. You’ve spent rainy mornings in the V&A and been humbled by exhibits at the Imperial War Museum. You accidentally found the lady’s swimming pond in Hampstead Heath. You’ve found your local pub. You’ve given your first advice to tourists. And it has started to feel like home.

Photo taken at The Tower of London.

England’s prettiest island



We ended up on England’s prettiest island almost by accident and thanks to “friendly spam”**.

We’d received mails at work from the Tourism Board of Cornwall so often that I finally (in a moment of total expat ignorance) googled the place to find out what we’d be looking at if we eventually wanted to film there.

I was hooked.

(I’m serious. Google Cornwall. It looks like Italy. But it is England’s most South-Westerly point and about a 5-6 hour drive from London depending on the scenic route you take.)

I told my travel-loving Mom about it and before I knew it, we were booked for two nights in lovely Carbis Bay, just up the coast from St Ives.

The highlight of our trip was without any doubt: St Michael’s Mount, just a 25 minute drive south from St Ives. Not even one-square mile of history, cliffs, gorgeous gardens, and stunning views, it makes its French cousin – Le Mont Saint-Michel - look a bit rustic. (But as a colleague of mine pointed out, that’s the difference between France and England – the French keep it religious and make it public and the English give the place to aristocrats ;)

All joking aside, the Mount was founded by the same monks as Mont Saint-Michel after the Norman Conquest of 1066 – it is just fascinating to see how two such similar locations ended up with vastly different histories.

While also serving as a fortification, the Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy has remained a monastery since the 8th century. The Cornish Mount was turned into a fortress under the rule of Henry VIII and then in 1659, was purchased by Colonel John St Aubyn whose descendants still live in the house today.

I took what in old-school terms would amount to some 50 rolls of film up there so this will be turning into a series of posts. But I will entice you with these photos and my favorite tale so you’ll come back for more.

We asked if St Michael’s Mount had ever come under attack and a guide told us that on one particular occasion when the French tried to attack, the English managed to seize the ship and install its 6 small cannons on the battlements as you exit the castle (which can still be seen today). In a lovely little twist, she then mentioned that at Mont Saint-Michel in France, you can also see six small English cannons that the French managed to steal shortly afterwards…

More from our summer holidays to come…

* St Michael’s Mount was a wonderful surprise and one we were surprised not to find more highly promoted in our guide books. Our only conclusion was that they want to keep it a secret. The Mount is open until 2 November, 2014 when it will close for the winter months.

** “Friendly spam” being identified as those e-mail alerts you have knowingly signed up to but which you still never have time to read and which constantly stream into your inbox until you just can’t ignore them anymore. In my case, this means mails from Banana Republic and, apparently, the Tourism Board of Cornwall.


Take. The. Clipper.



Londoners, you failed me. So many of you told me how lovely Greenwich was and that I absolutely must visit – but none of you told me how much awesomer (yes, that’s a technical term) it is if you take the Thames Clipper on your way back to town.

The Clipper only costs £4.50 one way if you have your Oyster Card on you and the city looks completely different from the water. Stay towards the open back of the boat so you feel that fresh, watery air on your face. You won’t be sure which way to turn your head because there is so much to look at on both banks. You’ll start to piece together landmarks that you didn’t imagine to be so close to/far away from each other. Those famous curves in the Thames you see on all the London maps start to make a little more sense. And it is just lovely.

Try it.

For more information on how to take the Thames Clipper to/from Greenwich, read up here and plan to board or get off at the Greenwich/Cutty Sark stop. It is very popular during the summer months and you cannot book ahead on weekends, so plan ahead and make time to wait in line for tickets. It is worth it.

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