Friday, May 14, 2010

A little bit of London

The first winter that I lived in London, I was walking to work and it started snowing. It was one of those delightful moments when you feel a child-like excitement and glee. I hurried back home to get my camera and then spent the next half hour taking photos of the snowflakes falling in Holland Park and in front of the rows of terrace houses in Kensington. When I got to the office, the group of Danish people that I worked with thought it highly amusing and bemusing that the Australian thought snow was such a novelty and so worthy of excitement - especially when it was only a few centimetres on the ground. They were all accustomed to walking to work in Copenhagen in knee-deep snow. Just thinking about that day brings an unwitting smile to my face, and it was just one of many such moments of living in that city.
Living in London can have its ups and downs, like anywhere. You get annoyed with the tourists dragging their trolley cases up and down tube station stairs when all you want to do is rush past and get to work on time; you get frustrated by the rubbish; and disheartened by the crime; and you get sick and tired of the pre-packaged meals in every eatery. The winters are long and chilly and the summers are brief.
However, like Cairo, Istanbul, Venice, Shanghai, Rome and Hong Kong, you know that you're just one passerby in one moment in a city that's been at the forefront of the world. London: a once grand capital of an empire, where every stone has a history and a story, as melting pot of culture and the arts, as travellers' hub, as stoic survivor of war and terror, and with icons at every turn. London is one of those cities that for an expat, some marvel is around every corner. Of course the English are all trying to leave and come to Australia, but for those of us who haven't grown up there it holds countless wonders. 
Once in the early hours of the morning after a late flight from Europe, my husband and I got a taxi from Liverpool Street Station home to Parsons Green. The city was asleep but for the men unloading carcasses of animals from trucks in the Smithfield meat market streets. As we drove past the London Eye and Buckingham Palace and the lights of Harrods, I recall having to pinch myself that I lived in such a place. 
London is a city full of wonderful moments. From visiting the great galleries to lazy afternoons in former royal hunting grounds to discovering that antique means something more than a hundred years' old to long and lavish afternoon teas in posh palaces and grand hotels. Hearing a half dozen different British accents as you walk down the street, not to mention the same amount of languages. Seeing the amazing department store window displays and Christmas lights and realising that Christmas with its lights and heavy meal makes sense in the Northern Hemisphere. With Europe on its doorstep, and Asia considered the 'Far' East, London is geographically a long way from home, but somewhere that most Australians feel nostalgia for.
'Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford' - Samuel Johnson.
'Cast your eyes over London, that city which is forever reinventing itself' - Henri Alphonse Esquiros, 1884.
And now to my good friends, Claire and Tony as you set forth to live in London, my best advice is to explore and discover and marvel and wonder, for living even a little bit of one's life in London will stay with you forever.


  1. Ah the memories of London. Our short visit in March was definitely not long enough. Alice I enjoyed reading your article, written with such felt like I was really there.

  2. We are only a few weeks away now from launching into our London experience and I know that I will carry your insights and encouragement with me as I tackle my first winter...Thanks Al xx Clarrie

  3. I keep thinking of more wonderful London tips for you: Have a curry in Brick Lane, go to Spitalfields' market, visit the eerie and gothic and beautiful Highgate Cemetery, shop at Whistles and the White Company, and try Gourmet Burger and Chinatown for cheap, yummy eats. I could go on . . .

  4. Alice your post definitely brought back some great memories...especially waking up to a snow covered street!
    Claire, can I add Islington market, Sketch Parlour, Food for Thought, Monmouth Coffee...the list is endless!!

  5. I will miss London so much when we finally leave. Making me homesick and I still live here!

  6. You leave London?! No way! I'll believe it when I see it! :)

  7. What a wonderful stream of happy memories! As someone lucky enough to live in London (and write about it) I often feel the locals forget how lucky they are. So much in London is 'iconic' that we can be blasé which should never be the case. I really enjoyed reading your post, thanks.

  8. Thank you for your lovely comment. Your golondon guide is great, too. I'll be sure to read it for tips on things I haven't done in London before I next visit.