Expat Living in London

Shopping on Oxford Street.

Shopping on Oxford Street.

I was recently asked to contribute an article to the expat website World of Expats. This website provides useful information and tips to anyone considering moving overseas on a work assignment. Below is the article I contributed to World of Expats. At the end I provide additional links to the World of Expats site as well as related articles that I have written about expat and London living.

My family just returned from living in London for two years. We moved there with two teen-
aged children and a chocolate Labrador Retriever in 2011. As a family we feel those two years were some of the most exciting and valuable experiences in our lives. Whether you are single or a family considering an expat assignment in London, I’m here to say, “Go for it”. 

Newly arrived to London in August of 2011. Discovering the Sights

Newly arrived to London in August of 2011. Discovering the Sights

London is an absolutely beautiful city contrasting both modern and classic architecture. Nestled throughout the city are eight picturesque Royal Parks providing ample green space. Our dog certainly enjoyed the parks especially in the areas that she was allowed to go leash-free.

Discovering London on foot.

Discovering London on foot.

London has outstanding public transportation in the form of the underground and buses. If you absolutely need a car, you may want to consider the following: 1) getting a UK license requires lessons and thorough preparation for the test, 2) finding parking in London is challenging, and 3) remember the English drive on the left-hand side of the street. Another option is to rent cars as needed with services like Zip Car. We chose to not have a car during our 2-year stay and did absolutely great getting around.

Mastering the Underground (Subway) System

Mastering the Underground (Subway) System

London offers an enormous array of entertainment for all ages. Whether you like museums, theater, ballet, concerts, or traditional tourist attractions, you will have plenty to pick from. London is a world capital with people from all over the world living there and calling it home. This was a huge highlight for me personally, to be able to meet people from around the world and enjoy such an international experience. London used to have a reputation for having bad food. Well not anymore! The food revolution began around 2001 and London has become a culinary destination. You will be able savor Michelin star cuisine and still enjoy traditional English pub food. There are also amazing outdoor food markets.

Our favorite food market, The Borough Market

Our favorite food market, Borough Market

The tradition of meeting at the local pub after work.

The tradition of meeting at the local pub after work.

It is important to understand some of the practical aspects of living in London as an expatriate. For starters the cost of living is high. As with any expensive city in the world, you will find rentals very pricey. However, depending on neighborhood you will also have many choices to pick from. Set your expectations appropriately, this is city living and space is at a premium.

Little Venice, a beautiful neighborhood in London with water canals

Little Venice, a beautiful neighborhood in London with water canals

If you have children, there are excellent British, International, and American schools to pick from. We chose to send our children to The American School in London located in the neighborhood of St. John’s Wood. We chose this school because we wanted our children to continue with the American school system. The British and International school systems are slightly different. I will share that although our school was “American”, there were over 45 nationalities represented giving the school a very international flair. I recommend you apply to schools as early as possible.

Paul McCartney from the Beatles lived in our neighborhood. Above is his favorite restaurant Richoux.

Paul McCartney from the Beatles lived in our neighborhood of St. John’s Wood. Above is his favorite restaurant Richoux. I saw him twice in our 2 years in London.

Opening bank accounts in the UK is a lengthy process. Again, begin this as soon as you can and even before you officially move. For some strange reason, getting telephone, cable, and internet installed in London is quite a challenge. Request these services early in your moving preparations and be PATIENT. We thought we were so on top of things by setting up these services 4 months ahead of time, only to discover once we arrived in London that the cable modem box would take yet another 4 weeks to arrive. I suppose the advice of being patient is very important when you embark on any expat assignment.

Walking through one of our favorite neighborhoods Marylebone.

Walking through one of our favorite neighborhoods Marylebone. We saw the actor Bill Nighy once.

Our favorite butchery located in Marylebone

Our favorite butchery located in Marylebone

It is certainly advantageous to move to a country where English is the main language. As with any foreign travel or living, it helps to learn about and appreciate your host country and culture. The English have some unique norms and customs as well as their own form of “British” English. Take the time to learn them. When we first told our children we were moving to London they had a million questions for us. We felt it was very important for us to set the appropriate expectations. For example, they would ask us if there were certain foods or activities in London that they had back at home. The standard answer became, “Things will be different, but different does not mean bad, different may mean better”. We embarked on our adventure with an open mind and a positive attitude. In our two years in London we visited over 25 UK and European cities.

The Tower of London Bridge

The Tower Bridge

We also experienced “city” living and were exposed to a wonderfully diverse community. If you ask any of our family members if they would do this again, the answer would be a resounding “Yes”.

For more of our expat and London living and select the corresponding tabs:  https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/

About Finding Housing in London: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/finding-housing-in-london/

About London Post Codes: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/london-postcodes/

About Borough Market: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/borough-market/

About moving overseas: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/moving-overseas/

About the Queens Jubilee celebration: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/london-gets-ready-for-the-queens-jubilee/

About Eating Around the World in London: https://thelabyrinthguide.wordpress.com/2012/05/28/eating-around-the-world-in-london/

To visit the World of Expat site go to: http://www.worldofexpats.com/

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Another Day in Maya’s London Life

One of Maya’s favorite pass times in London was going on adventurous walks. On this spring morning, Maya took us to some of her favorite London sights and shared some of her thoughts.

 

At the Wellington Arch

“You want me sitting where?”

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At Buckingham Palace

 “I cannot wait for my Corgi friends to come out and play in the Royal Gardens!”

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Standing by the Red Phone Booth

 “Indeed, one must admit to oneself that there is a presence of brilliant odours enveloping these boxes.”

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The Bobby by Big Ben

“Who’s Bobby and who’s Ben anyway?”

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On the Westminster Bridge with a View of the London Eye

 “We are allowed on the London underground and buses but not the fun ride. That’s not very nice and it makes me sad.”

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Across from The Parliament Building

 “Can I please, please, please jump in and swim?”

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At Westminster Abbey in Quiet Contemplation

“What is my life’s purpose? To eat, to sleep, and to go on walks but most importantly to teach my humans about love, patience, humility and loyalty.”

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London Taxi Cab

 “My human says London cabbies are the best in the world… that’s interesting… ooh, I think I see a doggie friend over there.”

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Modeling Along the Mall

 “This is definitely getting old, can we please please just continue walking. I see another park down the road!”

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Riding the Bus Home

 “I’m really tired now, oh but is that a potato chip I see over there?”

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Time for a Nap

“Exhaustion overtakes me… I must rest up today for tomorrow will bring another adventure. ”

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London Department Store Offers New Service: Baby Hanging

Yesterday afternoon I was at the Westfield Shopping Center in Shepherd’s Bush (London) killing time while my daughter took her ballet class nearby.

I went into the department store, Marks & Spencer, to buy a card and decided to visit the toilet as it is referred to here. As I looked for the ladies’ room I came across the following door.

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What? Baby Hanging? I wondered what it meant. As Americans living in London we are accustomed to hearing and learning different phrases and words used by the Brits. So I figured this had to be one of them. I kept staring at the door and wondering, wow, is that what they really call a diaper changing area in this country. I also thought, “Strange how I have not come across this term before”.  As I took the picture I thought of how terrible but funny it sounded.

“Baby Hanging”

I had images of hooking the baby to some kind of device that allowed you to change its nappy (diaper) while in an upright position…or perhaps if as a mummy (mommy) you ran out of positive parenting skills and were at wit’s end you…

As I washed my hands, I noticed two ladies also taking a picture of the Baby Hanging door as they entered the ladies’ room. I engaged them in conversation and soon we were all laughing together about the door. (Cannot imagine this happening in the men’s room) I recognized their British accent and realized that it was not an English Phrase on the door but the fact that the letter “C” had fallen off the door. They too were amused with the new service being offered by M & S.

The Little Venice Walk with Maya

Little Venice is an area of London located north of Paddington, west of St. John’s Wood, and south of Maida Vale. It is a quaint neighborhood named after Venice in Italy because of its waterways that join together in a small central lake where the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s canal meet.

Blomfield Avenue to the right.
Maida Avenue to the left.
Regent’s Canal leading to meet the Paddington Arm of Grand Union Canal in Little Venice

Little Venice – where the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Regent’s canal meet.

Maya and I take this very scenic walk many mornings of the week. We walk down Blomfield Road along side Regent’s canal, we turn left on Warwick Avenue, we continue walking until we take an underpass below the street that ultimately brings us over a pedestrian bridge connecting to Sheldon Square with all of its office buildings and restaurants near Paddington station.

Walking through the Underpass

And Over the Canal
Sheldon Square in the back

We stop and pose by the commuter statues.

Commuter Sculpture walking Maya

From there we continue along the canal back to the Little Venice pond. We continue up the Paddington branch of the canal until we reach the bridge by the Waterway Restaurant and cross over. We continue on Formosa Street and make a right onto Warrington Crescent. Then we turn left onto Clifton Gardens. We pass through the Little Venice High Street. We cross over Maida Vale Road and complete our loop on Hamilton Terrace.

We walk by the canals filled with houseboats.  Some of the boats have such clever names.

Canality J’aime = Calamity Jane

I try to imagine what life on a canal house boat is like.

We watch swans make dramatic landings on the water.

Spring 2012

Fall 2012
Down the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal

In the winter months we witness beautiful sunrises. We also walk on grey and wet mornings.

November 2011 Sunrise

We pass commuters, walkers, and cyclists. We see the coffee drinkers at Starbucks. We greet other dog walkers and dogs. And most of all we stop to take in the views.

November 2012 –
Maya Enjoys the Sunrise
More like the Swan Landing

Borough Market

FOODIE OVERDOSE IN LONDON

Borough Market

One of the first things we did when we moved to London was going to the very famous food market, Borough Market. If you are a foodie, you will love to immerse yourself in this food mecca. The market is located at 8 Southwark Street in London SE1 1TL. The closest underground station is London Bridge. The market runs Thursday from 11 – 5 pm, Friday from 12 -6, and Saturdays from 8 – 5.

The market is very popular and can get very crowded. They recommend for you to visit either on the earlier or later side. My husband and I like to go early on Saturday mornings when we have the market almost to ourselves.

By noon you can barely walk through this area.

At this market you will find vendors selling baked goods and confectionery products. You will find stalls offering dairy, fruit, vegetables, meats, seafood, fish, beer, wine and international foods.

There are dozens of artisans selling their culinary creations. The market also offers a huge selection of cafés, bars, and restaurants. Once the market closes to the retail customers it turns into a traditional wholesale market for London’s restaurants and shops.

Although, I don’t have a picture of the spanish store, Brindisa, I am here to tell you that they sell the best Spanish chorizo I have ever had in my life. They also hand cut Iberian ham to order that will melt in your mouth. In addition, they have a separate tapas restaurant at the market. For more information go to:

http://www.brindisa.com/

Notice the Gigantic English Muffins on the Left

A decadent late morning breakfast for me is to buy the grilled cheese sandwich at Kappacassein. This most delicious toasted cheese sandwich is loaded with Montgomery Cheddar on onion, leek, & garlic bread. You will have gone to grilled cheese sandwich Nirvana and back by the time you finish this delicacy.

Grilled Cheese Nirvana at Kappacasein’s Stall

Another very popular place for a take away (take-out) lunch is the deli arm of the restaurant Roast. The lines to this place are huge. There you can order all sorts of beef, pork, and turkey sandwiches.

For Delicious Fish and Chips go to Fish!

Whether you live in London or you are just visiting, if you love food then a trip to Borough Market is a must.

For more information go to:

http://www.boroughmarket.org.uk/borough-market

Borough Market

The London Paralympics

2012 London Paralympics
The Olympic Flame

There are times in our lives when we are impacted by something. Well, one of those moments for me was when I attended the Paralympics on September 6th in London. It was one thing to watch the various events on television and it was another to sit in person and cheer these men and women on. It was both sobering and moving to see the Paralympic athletes compete in athletics, track and field. Once you get past feeling sorry for them because of their disability, you begin to admire their physical and emotional strength and there’s only room for pride in your heart.  I could not help but think as well of all of the amazing parents, families, friends, and coaches who have supported these athletes. By now you are all familiar with the South African blade runner, Oscar Pistorius, who also ran in the Olympics. I loved hearing what his mother would say to him and his brother growing up, “Carl put on your shoes, Oscar you put on your prosthetic legs”. Pistorius grew up not really thinking he had a disability. He grew up thinking he had different shoes.

The blade runners get ready to run. T44 100 meters
Pistorius standing in the middle behind runner #3.
World-record holder Peacock #6 of Britain standing behind Pistorius won the race.

It is about focusing on the abilities and not the disabilities.  I was so happy to have shared this experience with my children. I do hope that the younger generations are growing up with more empathy, understanding, and acceptance of people with differences. Attitudes have come a long way since I attended Public School 151 in Queens New York in the late 60’s. I remember we had children with Down syndrome in the school but they kept them completely separate from the rest of the students. I suppose that the fact that these children could attend public school was at least a trend in the right direction.

Visually impaired runners prepare to run.
Some have guides with them.
The guide is also awarded a medal if their runner wins.

I also took the opportunity to learn about the differences between Paralympics and Special Olympics. Both are non-profit organizations. The Special Olympics started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities (ages 8 and above) and all levels. This organization helps develop children and adult’s self-confidence and social skills through supporting sporting events held throughout the year in different locations.

David Weir of Britain winning the T54 800 meter race.
The audience roared!

The Paralympics is for high performance athletes with physical disabilities however, beginning this year mentally disabled athletes qualified for some events. The overall categories of allowable disabilities are: amputee, cerebral palsy, intellectual disability, wheelchair, visual impaired, and Les Autres (meaning The Others). Included in Les Autres are dwarfism, multiple sclerosis, and congenital disorders. These categories are further broken into classification. The athletes must conform to strict criteria regarding their disability and all receive a classification before the beginning of the competitions. The Paralympics follow the same schedule as the Olympics.

Women Blade Runners
On Your Mark, Get Set…

Some athletes were born with their disability and others obtained their disability later in life, either through an illness, an accident, or a war injury. And although, I don’t know every athlete’s personal circumstances, I do know that at some point in their lives they made the critical decision to focus on their abilities and pursue their athletic dreams. Knowing what these courageous athletes have done serves as an inspiration to me.

The women wheel chair runners get ready.

To read more about the London Paralympics go to: http://www.london2012.com/paralympics/sports/

To read more about the Paralympics go to: http://www.paralympic.org/

To read more about the Special Olympics go to: http://www.specialolympics.org/Sections/What_We_Do/What_We_Do.aspx

A Wee Bit About Our Wee Weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland

(Noteworthy Fact: The Scottish say the word “wee” a lot to mean, small quantity or amount.)

Mum’s Restaurant

Last weekend we visited the beautiful city of Edinburgh, pronounced more like Edinboro.  The “r” is pronounced like a Spanish single “r”. As hard as I tried to pronounce “Edinboro” correctly, the waiter at Mum’s, a delicious Scottish comfort food restaurant, told me he would not bring my beer until I pronounced the name properly. It was a Scottish beer called, Edinburgh Gold. And obviously my American/Colombian “Edinboro” pronunciation was not cutting it. After several futile attempts I think the friendly waiter gave up and still rewarded me with my beer.

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the second largest city in Scotland, after Glasgow.  The first settlements of the city can be traced to where the Edinburgh Castle resides today. In AD 638, the Angles captured what was known as Din Eidyn and renamed it Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle

The Edinburgh Castle sits on a natural fortress formed by a volcanic plug. A volcanic plug is a rock land formation created by the hardening of volcanic magma. In 1130, the royal castle was built on the rock. Among the first structures built was St. Margaret’s Chapel, one of my favorite buildings on the grounds.

St. Margarets Chapel Alter

It is the only medieval building to have survived the 16th century artillery bombardment during a siege. It is a quaint, small, and cozy chapel that is also the oldest building in Edinburgh. And it is said that all Scotsmen want their daughters to have their wedding at St. Margaret’s Chapel (in case you are unaware, the Scots have the reputation for being thrifty) For more information about Edinburgh castle visit http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/index.htm

Entrance to Edinburgh Castle

The Royal Mile (pronounced mail) is the street that extends between the Edinburgh Castle on the west end and the Hollyrood Palace on the east end. Hollyrood Palace is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland.

We have known Scotland, as the land of “Scotty” from Star Trek, the land of handsome burly men in kilts like Mel Gibson playing William Wallace in Braveheart, and of course the land of single malt and blended Whiskies. It is also the land of castles and palaces, of High Lands and of Low Lands.

In more recent times, Scotland has been known for J.K. Rowling writing the first Harry Potter book in a small cafe called The Elephant House.

The Elephant House – Where JK Rowling began writing the Harry Potter series

It is said that she modeled Hogswart School after a private Edinburgh school.

Hogwarts was inspired by this private school

We climbed Arthur’s Seat, another volcanic peak formation. From there we enjoyed beautiful views of the city.

Arthur’s Seat

Climbing Arthur’s Seat

View of Hollyrood Palace from Arthur’s Seat

Views of Edinburgh from the Edinburgh Castle

Scotland was also the home to Deacon Brodie. By day, Deacon Brodie was the model citizen, a cabinet-maker, head of the trade’s guild, and a city counselor.By night, he was a burglar who did this in part for fun of it but also to support his gambling habit. Deacon Brodie was the real life inspiration to writer Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Deacon Brodie’s Tavern

Greyfriar’s Bobby

 Edinburgh was also the home to Greyfriar’s Bobby. Greyfriar’s Bobby was a Sky Terrier dog who belonged to John Gray, also known as Auld Jock, a constable in the mid 1800’s. Originally, the dog was named just “Bobby” a suitable name for a constable’s watchdog. Bobby and Auld Jock were inseparable until Auld Jock’s death in 1857 of tuberculosis. Auld Jock was buried in the Greyfriar’s Burial Grounds, the cemetery of the Greyfriar’s Kirk (Church). Bobby went on to mourn his master’s death by staying at his grave for 14 years until his own death in 1872. Eventually he became known as Greyfriar’s Bobby.

Greyfriar’s Bobby Burial Site

Over the years, Greyfriar’s Bobby was taken care of and protected by his neighbors and friends.  Greyfriar’s Bobby was also buried in the Greyfriar’s Burial Grounds, and friends from around the world visit his grave. http://www.greyfriarsbobby.co.uk/home.html

Edinburgh has its fair share of gruesome stories, like that of the serial killers William Burke and William Hare of the West Port area of Edinburgh. Burke and Hare discovered that they got paid good money for delivering dead bodies to the Edinburgh Medical College for dissection experiments. Initially, they started out as grave robbers but then realized they could just kill people and sell their bodies. Burke and Hare’s accomplices were their partners, Burke’s mistress Helen McDougal and Hare’s wife, Margaret. Margaret ran a lodging house where unsuspecting guests would be lured, drugged, or gotten drunk, and then Burke and Hare would commit the murders. From here comes the term “burking” that means to purposely smother and compress a victim’s chest. Their first victim was in 1828. In total, they killed and sold 17 bodies to their contact at the Medical School, Dr. Robert Knox. Eventually, Burke and Hare were caught. However, since it appeared there was not enough evidence to convict them, Hare was offered immunity from persecution if he confessed everything and agreed to testify against Burke. Burke was found guilty and hung in December 1829. He was then dissected in public at the Edinburgh Medical College.

We spent a day traveling through the Highlands visiting various castles, lochs (lakes), and villages.

Views in the Highlands
Castle turned into time-share units
Highland cows on the pasture

Our first stop was to Stirling Castle located in the center of the town of Stirling. The castle dates back to the 1100’s and its history is linked to famous Scots like William Wallace and Queen Mary of Scots. The Palace located on the grounds of the castle was built in the 1500’s and has been beautifully restored to its Renaissance splendor. One of my favorite buildings of the palace was the Great Hall.

The Great Hall at Stirling Castle

The Great Hall is one of the few buildings to be restored to its original color.  The Great hall was used for feasts, dances, and pageantries. For more information about Stirling Castle visit http://www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk/

We drove by the National Wallace Monument honoring William Wallace the Scottish Hero who led the fight for freedom from England and united the clans of Scotland. Mel Gibson plays the role of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart.

National Wallace Monument

We drove by Stirling Bridge where the first battle of Scottish Independence from England was led by William Wallace and Andrew Moray on September 11, 1297. For more on William Wallace visit http://www.nationalwallacemonument.com/index.html

Stirling Bridge
Site of First Scottish Independence War

We also visited Doune Castle where the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.

Doune Castle

“Hamish” the famous Scottish Highland Cow

So as we made our way through the city I discovered a wee of an interest with the Che Guevara. Then again, I think there’s a general global obsession with him since his image appears everywhere. Good topic for a future blog. In brief, he was the Argentinian born to a well-to-do family, medical student turned Marxist revolutionary who ultimately joined Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. Well, somehow The Scottish must feel a connection with him because I found the following t-shirt of El Che wearing a Scottish hat.  I also located a Sudanese restaurant called Che and sporting el Che’s image.

Sudanese Che Restaurant

A 3500 bottle collection of Whisky bottles at The Whisky Experience in Edinburgh

That concludes my wee summary of Scotland.