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.