Friday, August 23, 2013

Finally, a Holiday - Back to the US of A

Tomorrow, I am finally going on holiday (US read: vacation).  It is my first vacation since the long Easter weekend (in the UK, most of us get Good Friday and Easter Monday off of work) and my first proper break from work since I took two weeks off at Christmas (another perk of living in the UK).

K and I are flying out of sunny Londontown tomorrow morning for 'Merica.  We are spending three days in New York City with friends before renting  a car and travelling upstate to the Finger Lakes Region, where I originally hail from.  We'll be there for about a week, visiting with my family, taking small tripes (possibly to Niagara Falls) and wine touring.  We're then driving down to the Poconos for a very dear college friend's wedding before packing it in and heading back to LDN.

For me, this trip will largely involve familiar places, but this is the first time that K has visited upstate New York and my hometown, in particular.  I am excited to see it with him - in some ways it will feel like seeing it for the first time.

I will be checking in and trying to post sporadically while we are away, but excuse my long absences - I really need this vacation!


(Photograph behind the quotation above from Pinterest but unable to source.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

London Guide: Marylebone High Street

I have always loved Marylebone High Street for its very English feel.  Living in a completely different part of London, I almost never go there now, but I spent the day there on Saturday re-kindling my love for this road.

"High street" is a commonly used British term simply meaning the main street of a town (like "main street" in the US).  You'll find one in most British towns and in most London neighbourhoods, and this is the place that you will locate the banks, grocery stores and various shops (mainstream commercial fashion even being referred to as "high street fashion").  As such, high streets are often bustling roads, but Marylebone High Street is somewhat of an exception.  It is a fairly busy street, but its full of people enjoying themselves and not hustling to get to somewhere else.  This may be down to its somewhat secluded location, with the top of the road between Baker Street and Regents Park and far enough away from Regents Street and Oxford Circus not to be affected by them.  Marylebone High Street is a delight.

On Saturday, I spent hours at The Conran Shop and Daunt Books, made a quick stop at Divermenti and had a long, solo lunch at Natural Kitchen.  I really like exploring the city on my own, and it had been quite a while since I had been reminded of this fact.

Billing itself as a leading lifestyle retailer, The Conran Shop, in an old stable buildings at the top of Marylebone High Street, has three brilliantly laid out floors of furniture, classic design, lighting, textiles, books, gifts and accessories.  I have spent hours window shopping on The Conran Shop website, and it was great to do this in person.  It sincerely made me wish I had gifts to buy or a new flat to furnish, just so I would have a better excuse to buy something.

Daunt Books is a bit further along Marylebone High Street.  Known as a travel bookstore, Daunt Books is located in an original Edwardian building and has embraced its long oak galleries and stained glass windows, making a beautiful setting for book browsing.  This feels more library than bookstore and is miles away from your average Barnes & Noble or Waterstones.

Daunt Books is predominately a travel bookstore, but they do have a ample fiction, non-fiction and children's sections.  Something notably enjoyable about non-commercial bookstores like this - they lay books out on the display tables because they're recommended as good books, and not because they're 3 for 2 or buy one get one half off.  Refreshing.

The travel books are laid out in a way that I have never seen before and thoroughly enjoyed.  In the same section as the travel guides, are books on the history, language, literature, fashion and art of that country.  You get a whole cultural picture while searching for a guide book. 

After escaping from Daunt Books (I have a serious love for bookstores and will spend the day there if I can't muster up enough will power to eventually leave), I had lunch at Natural Kitchen.  

Natural Kitchen is a cafe, restaurant and deli.  The restaurant and deli counters sell seasonal food with fresh, organic produce, sourced from local farmers whenever possible.  There is a butcher's counter, a gift area and an array of packaged organic foods for sale.  I had the salad box, which involves a choice of three of the seasonal salads from the deli counter, and a cappuccino - all really great (although slightly pricey).

Marylebone High Street also has a number of boutiques, home stores, high street clothing stores, nice pubs and restaurants.  It is a place to return to again and again.

(All photos taken by me unless otherwise noted.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekend Playlist

It's Friday!

I am in serious need of a vacation. I haven't left London since we went to Croatia over Easter weekend in March (apart from schlepping to various county courts in the far reaches of southeast England for work and, trust me, that doesn't count).  Work commitments and K's rugby holiday duped me into some poor summer planning, but I am finally going on vacation next weekend - two weeks in the good ol' U S of A.

In the meantime, I've been oscillating between very lethargic and super excited.  I'm afraid this range of moods is reflected in this weekend's playlist, so please excuse any drastic changes in tempo!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Drink This: The Chelsea Rose

I know that only yesterday I wrote that the cool summer nights had me thinking of fall, but don't get me wrong - I am not ready to let summer go.  In an attempt to hang on to the warm days and the sunshine, I've been keeping myself in the summer mood with fruity cocktails.  This week, I've gone for a celebration of English summertime with the Chelsea Rose.

Don't be fooled by the name - there's no rose in this cocktail (I really can't stand rose-flavoured anything).  The name is referring to the London neighbourhood of Chelsea and the English Rose, for which Chelsea is somewhat renowned.  By "English Rose," I don't mean the flower that grows on a thorny bush (which England obviously also does well) but the classic image of female English beauty - natural, pale-skinned, rosy-cheeked, dignified, and demure (but not in the modern nasty sense).  English women possessing this natural beauty are still referred to as English Roses.  

The ingredients in this cocktail all have English ties (gin, elderflower, English raspberries)
and the colour when mixed is the reminiscent of rosy cheeks.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Thinking of Fall [Fashion]

The weather in London has cooled down a bit after the "heat wave" we had (everything is relative...), and the cooler summer nights have me thinking of fall already.  Oxblood, trending in 2012, seems to be sticking around for A/W 2013.

(J.Crew Minnie pant in stretch twill | Reed Krakoff Atlantique mini colour-block leather tote | J.Crew silk blouse | Jigsaw crepe pleat back dress | essie lacy not racy | Zara ballerina shoes with ankle strap | butter London La Moss | Zara structured shopper with pocket |  Zara high heel shiny shoe | Zara kitten heel with sling back | Cambridge Satchel Company the Classic | Topshop lacey deep lace thong | Clare Vivier oversized clutch | Ted Baker contrast trim leggings | Zara high crested moccasin | All Saints leather biker jacket)

Monday, August 12, 2013

London Guide: Brunch at Pincho

The London Guide for this week is slightly more local because work has run me ragged this week, and I have spent most of the weekend sleeping or otherwise relaxing.  Taking the trip into Central London this weekend just felt entirely too daunting, so K and I went for brunch down on Church Street in Twickenham.

Pincho, a Mediterranean tapas bar, is at the end of the row of quaint little shops and pubs that lines Church Street, although a number of them now sadly sit empty, with local businesses having recently been forced out.  With a large amount of outdoor seating space, Pincho seems to be full every weekend for lunch and dinner.

Open since 2007, Pincho has done a good job at converting an old English terraced building into a restaurant with a real Mediterranean feel, with stripped back wood beans, clay-inspired rendering, stone and decorative iron window grates.

Pincho serves breakfast until 11:30 on weekends, and we made it just in time yesterday.  The breakfast menu is simple but satisfying, with your usual suspects like eggs benedict and eggs royal but also offering both English and Spanish-style omelettes and baked eggs.  

If we hadn't had something similar for dinner Saturday night, I would have been all over the baked eggs with chorizo and tomato.  I ended up ordering French toast with pancetta (I know, an unusual order at a Spanish restaurant) and K went with eggs benedict with ham.  My French toast looked slightly underwhelming when it first arrived, essentially being comprised of a nice homemade loaf of bread that had been cooked with scrambled egg poured on top, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was simple but really well cooked, with the eggs being slightly wet.  The pancetta was great and salty.  K reported that his eggs benedict was also good - served on sour dough with big, light poached eggs. 

I must admit, I was slightly disappointed that the coffee machine that they use at Pincho is the same brand that we have at my office.  So I drink out of the coffee cup below every weekday, and that took a bit of the enjoyment out of an otherwise perfectly good cappuccino.

The value was definitely an additional perk.  Our entire breakfast (with coffees) was £12 and change.

I am now intrigued to try their lunch and/or dinner menus - although you now how I feel about tapas. They have their work cut out for them on that one.

Ratings: (numbers out of 10, £ out of 4)

Food: 7
Atmosphere: 7
Service: 8
Price: £ (for breakfast - I imagine lunch and dinner are a slightly different story)
Overall experience: 7.5

(Exterior photo from Pincho, photo of Church Street from, all other photos mine)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An Ode to London

Back in June, I celebrated five years of living in London.  I came here (and to Europe) for the first time in January 2007 for a semester abroad, and I cried the night before I left because I was so afraid that I would hate it here and wouldn't be able to do anything about it (I may or may not have control issues).  Turns out my fears were completely ridiculous - I was hooked as soon as I arrived.

What amazes me is that, five years on, I'm still just as hooked on this incredible city that I am proud to call home.  Maybe it's due to my recent anniversary, maybe it's due to the fact that my life has settled a bit lately, or maybe it's because I will soon be applying for a settlement visa, but I hope that my constant appreciation for London will be something that I always feel.

No matter how my day is going, for better or for worse, I find myself in the quiet moments feeling grateful that I am able to live in this amazing city and remembering to step outside whatever has me wrapped up that day.  I will never get sick of passing over Waterloo bridge, with the skyline of St Paul's, the City, Canary Wharf and Southbank on one side and the London Eye and Parliament on the other, the wide expanse of the Thames connecting them, and I think its because the view gives me the greater sense of the city - how vast and varied it is but also how connected everything feels.  Something that I have always found surprising and welcoming about London is the feeling that we're all in this together - whether its a collective moan about the weather or the public transport situation or collective joy from the Royal Wedding, the Olympics, the Jubilee, British sporting triumphs or just a warm summer day.

I will stop waxing lyrical and leave you with some photos of London that I've taken over the past 6 years - as the constant tourist - and a list of 10 things that I love about London.  These certainly aren't the top 10 things - that would be an impossible list to make.

10 Things to Love about Living in London:

1. Each neighbourhood seems to be greatly different from the others and its individual quirks will be both immediately apparent and take years to reveal themselves to you

2. The parks and green spaces - Regents Park, Hyde Park, Richmond Park, St James's Park, Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill, Greenwich Park, Kensington Gardens, Kew Gardens, and all of the squares, commons, fields and gardens in between.  London puts Central Park to shame.

3. The food here is excellent, despite the poor reputation, and not just the British food and not just at fancy restaurants (see London Guide for further details).  It's all here and most of it is excellent (I'm tired of defending London on this one and get quite tetchy about it).

4. British English.  You would think there would be many more similarities between American English and British English than there really are (e.g. you'll notice I used "tetchy" in number 3; US read: irritable).  With all of the idioms, colloquialisms, regional and class slang, it is hard to keep up.  After living here for five years, I still learn something new on an almost-daily basis.  Learning how to spell things with an added "u" and "s" instead of "zed" was the easy part.

5. The River Thames.  A wide, winding river that cuts through city and divides opinion as to whether North London or South London (i.e. north and south of the River) is best - some people actually rarely cross this divide (out of choice).  I, myself, am a north-of-the-river advocate.  You can find a pub on the river at almost any point in London and spend hours staring out at the Thames.  There are annual boat races in many forms, and the Thames has recently brought us the Jubilee boat pageant and the delivery of the Olympic torch.

6. The people - a hugely diverse mix from around the world. Londoners are renowned for keeping themselves to themselves, following strict, unwritten social guidelines about interaction with others (e.g. stand on the right; quiet on the Tube; always say you're sorry, whether you bumped into them or the other way round, etc.).  However, Londoners are also quick to come out of their shell (e.g. rushing to the aid of anyone during the Olympics, a rare display of patriotism for the Royal Wedding, etc.).

7. The architecture, particularly the mix of old and new.  They speak for themselves.

8. London is full of markets, from the very small to the very large and selling almost anything you could imagine - Borough, Portobello Road, Camden, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Alfies Antique Market, Broadway, Covent Garden, Columbia Road Flower Market, Greenwich, all of the farmers markets - the list goes on and on and on.

9. It is so easy, and relatively inexpensive, to travel anywhere from London.  The rest of the UK is easily accessible by public transportation and Europe is only a train ride or a short flight away.  I've seen more of the UK and the rest of Europe than I have seen of the US, as a result.

10. The work-life balance.  While London is a Western city, driven by capitalism, it maintains a good sense of the work-life balance.  It isn't continental Europe, which is often much more focused on the life side of things, but it also isn't America.  I had to leave America to understand how much American culture encourages an individual to work as hard as he can to obtain as much as he can.  Working life in the UK accommodates the rest of an individual's life, as well (e.g. at least 4 weeks paid holiday leave per year for everyone and statutory maternity leave of up to a year), and people understand the importance of that.

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