It has been just over one year since I moved from Brussels to London. I’ve recorded a few thoughts on moving to London thus far… but one year in, I thought it only fitting to confirm:
1. It is addicting to live somewhere where so many people love what they get up to on a regular basis.
2. It can feel like a gigantic metropolis or a little village.
3. It can be comforting.
4. It can be overwhelming.
5. I am still not cool enough for Shoreditch.
6. I gloat a little bit when I’m smart enough to check for weekend Tube closures.
7. British television is amazing: the documentaries, Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Honorable Woman, Luther, Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Bake Off, anything with David Attenborough or Simon Reeves in it… I can keep going.
8. I have only ventured south of the river a handful of times (because Southbank doesn’t count). There is no excuse.
9. Londoners can be very territorial (see point above).
10. There is such a thing as historical monument overload. (But one can recover very quickly.)
11. Trains are expensive. And why on earth they need to give you so many tickets every time you travel is beyond me.
12. Half my salary has gone to London bookstores.
13. You can pay for virtually anything by card.
14. I respectfully decline to start calling a garbage truck a “dustbin lorry”.
15. Eating out is just as much about the experience as the food.
16. I’m still chuckling about a menu that offered “Braised English Kid” on it.
17. You can get carded. I did. (It was ridiculous.)
18. London is a charitable city. But most of the time likes to pretend it isn’t.
19. Everyone talked to me about tea… but the coffee to be found is amazing.
20. London’s green spaces are very possibly more special than its concrete ones.
21. The NHS is hard to get your head around.
22. If someone says “Hallo, y’aright?” they are not actually curious to know if you are alright.
23. London squirrels = town jesters. Seagulls = menaces. October spiders = absolutely terrifying.
24. Even just thinking about the V&A lowers my blood pressure.
25. I love it.
I’m surprised how quickly London has come to feel like home… if home also happens to be a place where you often can’t wait to get out and explore something new.
Photos by Jess-On-Thames – Little Venice, The Shard, Portobello Road and Parliament Hill.
Ahhhh, Paris. Paris in autumn is magical. In what has become a spontaneous and absolutely fabulous series of travel weekends, my friend Lindsay and I just got back from two days in Paris.
Traveling to Paris in the autumn feels like something of a pilgrimage for me now, spoiled as I am to still live only a two hour train ride away. It sends me back to 2001 when myself and a dozen other naive American students from upstate New York ignored our advisers’ advice to not pack everything we owned and instead shoved all our earthly belongings into over-sized suitcases to prepare for a year “à Paris”. We were spoiled rotten and had the choice of more or less any classes in the city. Want to study literature at La Sorbonne? OK. Politics at Sciences-Po? Pas de probleme. I didn’t realise at the time how lucky we were.
Things were thrown into limbo when, 6 days into our trip, the date turned September 11, 2001. The year of adventure I thought we were setting out on became a year of truly feeling the distance and wondering if part of us didn’t really want to be back home.
My own way of processing entailed throwing myself into discovering Paris. We had art history passes which allowed us free entry into practically every art museum across the city. I’m pretty sure I’ve walked through every hallway in The Louvre (which actually isn’t a good thing because you end up telling others its not worth it unless you have time to see it all). I watched the leaves fall in the Tuileries Gardens and learned how to tie my scarves like the Parisian girls did. I lamented the absence of take-away coffee (for these were the days before Starbucks came to France) but learned the pleasures of lingering with a book at the sidewalk cafe.
I cannot count the number of walks I’ve taken across the Pont des Arts or the times I wandered down one of my favorite streets: la Rue de Saint Andre des Arts which connects the Place St Michel to the St Germain area. I grew used to the sound of church bells ringing on a weekend. I proclaimed nutella-banana crepes the best dessert on earth and I embraced a closet-full of black clothing. I purchased more than a few pairs of European-looking shoes. I smiled to myself when I understood most of Amelie in the movie theatre without the help of subtitles.
Going back now is incredibly special. Some things have changed: There is an electronic billboard on a building that lines the Seine – just down the way from l’Academie Nationale – that almost sent me into shock. Some of my old favorite haunts are gone and some delightful new ones have appeared. The scaffolding has finally come off the front of Notre Dame (the evening autumn light when it hits the facade is not to be missed.)
There simply isn’t a better way to state how I feel about Paris than to quote Casablanca. I doubt I will ever live in Paris again – but going back will always feel a delightful autumn shade of comforting.
Londoners are lucky. I like to think they grow up learning how to sort through the billions of options they have to eat out in this lovely city of theirs.
Those of us who are fairly new to town, on the other hand, find ourselves frequently intimidated by the choice and distance involved in finding little eatery gems. But I’m learning that a little research can majorly pay off.
I have recently struck gold in the London restaurant department and I thought it only fair to share two of my recent favorite finds on the North Westerly side of town.
Exhibit A: The Salt House in St John’s Wood
I just love the laid back atmosphere of this place, but the food is seriously good. It feels like a cozy and inviting local favorite pub with a lovely restaurant attached. Dark and simple decor, with wooden tables and candlelight; Moody in that perfectly English kind of way. During both recent visits, the staff were friendly, funny and helpful. And if that didn’t already sell it, I have two comforting autumn words for you: Pumpkin Gnocchi. Honestly, this dish was amazing. But if you’re not a fan of pumpkin (ahem, crazy), the lamb is also delicious.
Exhibit B: Maggie Jones’s in Kensington
Quirky, adorable and delicious – Maggie Jones’s had my foodie father asking the waiters all kinds of questions (which is always a sign he is fond of a place.) We ate in the basement, which you should not avoid because it is full of little high-backed wooden benches you can squeeze into. I loved the white and red old fashioned china and the little plate of raw vegetables they brought out for us as an appetizer. I had a gigantic artichoke to start while my Dad had what might be the world’s best onion tart. The service was lovely and helpful with their suggestions – our only surprise was why it wasn’t fully packed with diners on a Thursday evening.
I will be returning to both for special occasions or just the mid-week treat.
Way-too-dark pictures of The Salt House on the left and Maggie Jones’s on the right, taken by Jess-On-Thames with my iPhone.