Monthly Archives: January 2014

London wears many personalities. It’s quirky, glamorous, grumpy, lazy, competitive and adventurous. And even though I understand when friends tell me that they could never live in this city, a part of me can’t avoid thinking that they simply haven’t discovered their London yet.

Moving to London was my ultimate challenge. Having grown up in Europe’s mildest climate, a mere 10 minute walk from the beach – it has been a constant push for me to adapt to the changing seasons in Madrid, the cold, snow and punctuality in Switzerland, and the anonymity, large distances and sudden never-ending choices of London. I am now close to celebrating 2.5 years in a city that has been nicknamed the old smoke. A city that, to me, is rough, grumpy and chaotic, but equally stimulating, exciting and strangely familiar.

It’s cozy but trendy; vibrant and ambitious. All to be expected by a cosmopolitan capital. But then, it’s also local, green and wild.

I don’t need to go far to land in a park or even a forest – Richmond Park being one of my favourites.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park is a Natural Reserve and English Heritage located south west London. Back in 1634, Charles I created the space to become a deer park to satisfy his hunting. Today it has become the second largest urban walled park in Britain with over 600 deers that call this park home.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

Richmond Park, London (UK)

What I absolurely love about this open space is how far it transports you from all the hustle and nuzzle of the big city. Even though I occasionally spotted other visitors (Richmond is a popular destination for runners), I hardly crossed paths with anyone else. Well, except for these cuties!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

The park stretches over 2.300 acres with a perimeter of over 20 km and has an ancient forest with nearly 1.000 oak trees. I ventured into the woods, fascinated by the warm leaf colours. I could only hear the sound of a light breeze through the trees, rustling the leaves.

Richmond Park, London (UK)

I didn’t stay long in the forest because, well, I had read too many thrillers. To compensate, I left to search for the red deer herds that can be found in the park. It’s great to be able to get up so close to them, although this requires a certain degree of patience and ingenuity – and a lot of memory space on your camera!

Richmond Park, London (UK)

So, while for many London is busy, chaotic and expensive – I like to think of London as open, wild and diverse. That’s my London. It’s what I go back to whenever I feel the city is fighting against me. It’s what kind of makes it feel like home.

Have you been to Richmond Park? Which would be the 3 words that define London to you?

I’m writing this posts from my large and bright bedroom overlooking a beautiful park south west of London. I’ve been living here for 1.5 years – which I’m quite sure is the longest I have stayed in the same flat (and neighborhood) for the past 7 years. Everything I bought and created to turn this place into my new home is now slowly being wrapped up again, ready to start a new beginning in yet another flat (and neighborhood) in London.

In the 2.5 years I’ve lived in the city, I’ve already lived in 3 (and soon 4) flats. I’ve gone from living in a studio close to Notting Hill (West London) during my first month in the city, to surrounding myself with top hipsters in Hoxton area (North East London) to finally settling for a bit longer in laid-back Clapham (South West). While always stressful and mostly frustrating, moving around in London has been a good thing – every move has taught me a valuable lesson:

Lesson 1: If you don’t like crowds, avoid famous neighbourhoods

Sunset from Chelsea Bridge, London

I’ve learned that Notting Hill, though beautiful, is too crowded for me – and thanks to this and working close to Oxford Circus, I realised that I actually have a problem with crowds, specially when they involve a majority of tourists (even after having developed the power of precognition).

Famous neighbourhoods such as Notting Hill also tend to have quite a heavy price markup on their flats. You’re paying for being close to Portobello Road – the heart and essence of Notting Hill (the neighbourhood and the movie).

Lesson 2: Don’t follow a trend – find your own style

Richmond Park, London

I moved to Hoxton because I was told so. All I knew at that time is that I didn’t want to live somewhere crowded. I was going to move in with one of my best friends, who continuously mentioned places like Old Street, Hoxton and Angel. I followed along – after all, I was the newbie.

Although the area was great for being next to the Regents Canal and some of the coolest underground bars in the city, I felt like an outsider among so much trendiness. I love to go for to the area for a dinner or drinks, but couldn’t imagine calling it home.

Lesson 3: If you find an area you like and can afford, stay

Stormy London (UK)

This sounds like common sense, but it wasn’t immediately what crossed my mind. One of the reasons I am moving once again is because, ever since my career change into something more creative than finance, my flat takes away more than 60% of my monthly income. Taking into account my monthly travel card and other living essentials, and I have been ending each month with an empty account. I had nothing left for savings. And even worse – there was nothing left for travel either.

I desperately looked for flatshares in the same postcode (postcodes are king in the UK), but all I could find was either flat shares with 5 or more people or rooms in the same price range I am currently paying. I started to lose hope and opened myself to other areas. I went to Putney Bridge, Parsons Green and even had a look around Richmond. I was devastated – not because I thought these places were wrong, but because I was sad to leave a neighbourhood I loved.

With so many changes and so much uncertainty in my life, I wanted to hold onto the one thing I could possibly keep constant.

I eventually found a room in a flat share closeby. A different postcode *sigh*, but a pretty, modern and more affordable flat nonetheless – only a 5 minute walk away from the park I currently overlook from my bedroom. I couldn’t be happier!

Practical Information

Finding a Neighbourhood (or Borough)

  • London’s Crime Map – This map shows in colour code which areas have had high / average / low crime (you can even see the trend of different types of crime in each area.
  • London Commuting Times Map – This one shows you the commuting time you can expect to central London. This obviously depends widely on where in central London you’re commuting to, but it’s a good start.
  • London’s Tube Map – An all times essential. To avoid long and tedious commutes, make sure to check the transportation links that best connect you to work / school. Some tube lines are more reliable and faster than others!
  • A Guide to London’s 33 Boroughs – This map shows all 33 boroughs. When clicking on one, a short descriprion appears, as well as links to its attractions, restaurants, shops, etc.

Whenever possible, I highly recommend to visit the neighbourhood you’re looking at during the day as well as night. Imagine yourself building a routine – do you have a supermarket? a gym? what are the people like?

Finding a flat or flatshare in London

  • For flatshares: Spareroom and Gumtree. Spareroom also offers the possibility to buddy up (find other people looking for a room in a shared apartment).
  • For flats / apartment rentals: Rightmove or Zoopla.

Note that most of the flats listed are managed by a letting agent – so be aware that a number of fees will apply. Agency fees vary greatly among agents and could include (among others): inventory check fee, credit check fee, contract amendment fee and management fee.

Rental prices are usually shown as GBP per week (pw) while being paid per month (pcm). To calculate the monthly equivalent, you only have to multiply this amount by 52 (weeks) and divide it by 12 (months). Voilà!

Other bills to consider

  • Electricity
  • Heating – Victorian houses, although beautiful and romantic, are usually very badly isolated so your heating bills will probably be higher than in a new development.
  • Council Tax – This is a monthly tax based on the size of your flat and its borough. Wandsworth is the borough with the lowest council tax, while Richmond Upon Thames has one of the highest ones. You can check this borough comparison map from Natwest to get a general idea of the yearly costs.
  • Internet / Phone – Before choosing a broadband, I recommend to check Uswitch to compare all the current offers and check which broadband has the best reach in your postcode.
  • TV License – It is obligatory to pay for a TV license (don’t worry about finding out when and how – they usually send you a letter within days of your move to a new flat!). The license is not only needed for TV, but also required if you have a computer and an internet connection. Pretty much everyone is liable.
  • Water

On a sunny day like this one, the circular route of La Caldera and El Topo in the north side of Tenerife offers some of the most impressive views of the valley and the volcano.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Starting at the Parking of La Caldera (or at the nearby bus stop) at already 1200m altitude, the path is well signalised through a yellow and white mark. There are common sections with a GR route (which you’ll recognise by the white and red mark). PR stands for pequeño recorrido (distances between 10 and 50 km) while GR stands for gran recorrido (distances over 50 km). You might want to leave the latter for a day you’ve packed to stay in a mountain hut somewhere!

Following the wide path at the beginning, you already get a chance to see one of Tenerife’s landmarks – Los Organos (meaning, literally, the organ pipes). As of landmarks, it’s probably one of the most hidden ones – only best to be seen when doing this loop trail. They are massive pillars of rock stretching about 100m – 150m high, resembling a Church’s organ pipes.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

After only about 2km, the forested trail starts to climb evenly, sometimes allowing for a gaze at the impressive volcano: El Teide, which at 3718m height is the highest mountain in Spain.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

The path climbs into a forest of laurisilva and pines. Forests of laurisilva are one of my favourites worldwide – they smell great and look magical, as if taken after a fairytale. This section is a continuous climb of about 550m height difference over around 3km.

At the top of the climb, the trail becomes narrower, with rock formations on your left and a barranco (or gorge) on your right. While most of the trail transcurs through forested paths, it occasionally brings you to these exposed cliffs. But don’t worry – usually fencing, handrails and cables are provided for safety.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Here, you can feel (and touch!) the humidity in the ground. Everything around you is a strong green.

But green landscapes are there for a reason: it rains quite often. In fact, this part of the island is often set in clouds, fog and sometimes, heavy rain (something you’ll need to take into account before starting your day hike!). We were aware of the weather predictions (95% chance of rain), but still ventured into it for two reasons: a) weather forecasts in Tenerife aren’t always right and b) we had rain capes anyway.

This was where the trail became misty.

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

Hiking La Caldera - El Topo PR TF 35 in Tenerife (Spain)

I can hardly see the team leader anymore…

Although the clouds took away some of those great views over the valley, I liked their mysterious effect. I’m also convinced that clouds bring cold colours such as greens and blues alive!

And just as the weather forecast had predicted, after the foggy clouds, there came the rain. I didn’t mind though – most of the time, it was just a refreshing drizzle (although those that started a bit later that day were caught pretty badly by a proper rain storm). Most of the time, the weather in this area is better early in the morning and gets worse around 2pm – 3pm. At that time, we were already having a massive lunch next to the fire. Talk about good timing!

Practical Information

Route: La Caldera – Ruta del Agua – El Topo (circular / loop trail)
Elevation gain uphill: 777m
Elevation gain downhill: 777m
Length: 14 km
Duration: 4.5 hrs approx.
Difficulty: Moderate (steep climb and occasional narrow paths)
Wikiloc: La Caldera – Ruta del Agua – El Topo Hike

Click here to go to all my hiking adventures.

If you like almost private black sand beaches, big waves and enjoy an adventurous walk – then you’ll quickly fall for this beach as much as I did almost 15 years ago.

Playa Ancón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Starting at the far-end of La Paz (in Puerto de la Cruz), I took a small path leads into local agricultural land filled with canarian banana plantations. Shortly after, the same path gifts me with uninterrupted views of the ocean. The first beach on sight is El Bollullo – a familiar, beautiful beach protected from the ferocity of the ocean. I can see local families having a picnic and the occasional tourist venturing into the water (they must be nordic, I think).

I continue walking along th same path and realise that there are fewer people in sight. Venturing through more plantations (and fighting the temptation to grab a banana), I soon get sight of Playa Los Patos.

Playa Ancón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Los Patos is a beach frequented by surfers and the occasional nudist. By having its access restricted by the tides, it ensures an almost private getaway. Even with low tides, it’s very easy to get wet while climbing slippery stones to reach the sparkling black sand.

I watch the beach from the top and spot one adventurous soul and his dog, and one brave surfer. It’s a harsh day today. The waves are high, the water is irregular and the current is at its strongest.

I continue along the path, which, at this point, is less obvious. After a short ascent through land of nobody, and a short descent a few minutes later I reach the access to Playa El Ancón – my definition of paradise.

Playa Ancón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

Playa Ancón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

The beach-long waves have an hipnotic effect on me and I loose track of time watching them come and go. So predictable, but extremely captivating.

When I snap back I realize I’m smiling at the memory of spending nights around a campfire and waking up early to the sound of the waves. Feeling the burning black sand between your toes. Being caught by one of those waves that turn your entire World upside down and still wandering out triumphantly, wanting to do it all over again.

Practical Information

Route: From Calle Aceviño (in Puerto de la Cruz) to Playa del Ancón (La Orotava), Tenerife
Elevation: 320m
Length: 6 km
Duration: 1 hr if you rush, the entire day if you stay for a swim
Difficulty: Really easy (if you wear closed and comfortable footwear)
Wikiloc: For the one that wants a bigger challenge – From Puerto de la Cruz to Vista Paradíso (via Playa Ancón and Los Patos)

Click here to go to all my hiking adventures.

Update: I’m linking with Budget Traveler’s Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday. Make sure to check out the link for more travels posts!

I recently spoke with a good friend about New Year resolutions and how they never seem to last because, well, life gets in our ways. You see, after careful thought I’ve realised that the past few years have always held one huge life changing event that I would have never thought of in January of that year. Some examples:

  • 2013: I moved from London to Barcelona for 4 months on a 3 week notice.
  • 2012: I quit my well-paid and respected job in commodity finance to do something more creative.
  • 2011: I was offered to move from Switzerland to London on a 4 months notice.

Do you see what I mean? How am I supposed to set New Year resolutions if I don’t even know in which country I’ll be in or which sector I’ll be working in?

Playa Ancón, Tenerife (Canary Islands)

My life as it is doesn’t allow me to set very tactical goals on a long-term basis – I want my goals to be more strategic.

As I usually do, I looked for an answer in Google and came across a completely new approach to New Year resolutions that seems to adapt way better to my lifestyle – Choosing three Words that reflect my overall goals of the year (a method created by Chris Bogan).

Grow

30 St Mary Axe, London (UK)

Last year I lived in continuous uncertainty. Even though I learned to enjoy the excitement and curiosity about what’s next, the lack of groundness (is this actually a real word?) made it an impossible scenario to grow professionally. In 2013, I grew experiences – but 2014 is the time to become more intentional about my new career path. Obtaining an official certification in Project Management, learning Brazilian Portuguese and concentrating on developing new business contacts and opportunities are three specific goals I have set myself for this year.

Grow also resonates with my saving goals. I haven’t always been responsbile with my own money (which is rather strange for someone who has specialized in finance). In fact, 2013 beat my savings up hard. Whatever little income I had, I spent it in less than a month and from there on, tapped into my savings. This year, I’m moving into a more affordable flat, setting up a direct debit of 200 GBP a month to go into my savings account and am being more conscious about where I put my money in.

Simplify

Chamonix, France

I’ve learned a valuable lesson in 2013 – Being open to change is way easier when you don’t have other long-term commitments. You see, when I accepted moving to Barcelona, I didn’t really give enough thought to the fact that I was going to be paying for two flats at the same time (one of them being in one of the most expensive cities in the World). How easy would it have been if I didn’t have a long term contract, all my thoughtfully bought furniture and 10 boxes full of clothes!

This doesn’t mean that I’m going to turn all minimalistic (I do enjoy having more than one pair of jeans), but just simplifying things (both, emotionally and physically) whenever possible. I’m starting with decluttering my wardrobe and moving to a more flexible rental in London. I firmly believe that less complexities and clutter around you also brings clarity and reduces stress – an added bonus!

Radiant

Sunset from Las Terrazas del Sauzal, Tenerife

In 2014, I want to feel as radiant as the sun. One of the many definitions given to this beautiful word is having or showing an attractive quality of happiness, love and health. There couldn’t be any word more global than this one.

I want to feel energized, healthy and happy. I’ll continue to exercise regularly, go to bed before 11:30pm and get up in time to have a decent breakfast at home. But I’ll also be consciously reminding myself of the things I’m thankful for (specially on those days I feel like it’s me against the World). If there’s anything that 2013 has taught me is that in the end, everything will be ok.

What are your three words for 2014?