London

I have a funny way of remembering things. I could spend hours feeling grumpy about a head-to-armpit incident in my morning commute and days rummaging over how annoying it is to get yet another bank holiday soaked in rain. And then – the second I’m over it (the moment I finally leave London for greener pastures), I think to myself: it wasn’t that bad, really, was it?

I admit that I started this post quite a long time ago (back when I was still living in London)  but I could not bring myself to finish it. Now that I’m in Spain, I’m slowly coming to peace with the city that, at times, was so ruthless. In fact, I find myself missing the simplest things (like, public transport, parks and cute and crowded pubs!). Good and bad, this city has taught me a few things I would have probably not learned otherwise:

St Paul's Cathedral, London

  1. The difference between a cappuccino, a latte and a flat white
  2. How to start a conversation by chatting about the weather
  3. Or London property prices
  4. Where to stand on the platform to face the carriage doors – increasing my chances of getting a seat
  5. Never to change at Waterloo
  6. Nor at Bank Station
  7. Bus beats tube (always)
  8. Food festivals are fun but also a rip off
  9. When I see a queue, I feel an urge to join it
  10. However, no matter what critics say – no food is worth queuing 2 hours for
  11. Walking – while drinking a green juice, sending an e-mail, under the rain on Oxford Street without bumping into people!
  12. There is no such thing as a quick drink after work
  13. Wednesday night has become the new Saturday night
  14. £6 for a glass of wine is normal… 
  15. …and so is paying £900 for a tiny room in zone 3…
  16. ….in a shared flat – with strangers
  17. Your postcode is a status symbol
  18. North East London is further away from Clapham than Brighton
  19. People go bonkers when the sun comes out
  20. …and in such rare occasions, it’s perfectly acceptable to cancel any appointments to spend the afternoon in the park
  21. However, cancelling plans with a friend means not seeing them for another 3 weeks
  22. Umbrellas are for out-of-towners – us Londoners throw on a hood!
  23. You burn almost as many calories going to the supermarket as you do going to the gym
  24. Nobody lives in Mayfair – it’s a myth
  25. It’s not sunday until you’ve had a roast and a Bloody Mary
  26. Gordon’s wine bar is always a winner for a first date…
  27. …except if your date doesn’t like wine…
  28. …In which case, it’s probably better to dump them before it’s too late
  29. You know there won’t be a day you’ll be completely happy…
  30. …but hey, at least you’re in London!
  31. (Bonus: you’ll just need to accept that you’ll never be able to buy a house, ha!)

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Over the past months, the Tower of London has been transformed into a red sea of hand-made ceramic poppies to commemorate the start of World War One. The first poppy was planted in July – ever since, 16,000 volunteers from across the World have donated their time to help plant the 888,246 flowers – each of which represents a British or colonial life lost during the war.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

The evolving installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins and set designer Tom Piper has a remarkable theatrical effect. I felt overwhelmed by the number of flowers filling the moat and moved by the flow of poppies pouring over the walls of the tower and out its windows. It really provides a sense of perspective to the vast consequences of World War One (or, any war, really!).

Sure, the installation only commemorates the loss of british allied services’ lives, but the truth is – any life lost to war is one life too many. I can’t even imagine how the installation would look like if we added all +16 million lost lives, regardless where they came from.

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Each poppy has been sold to the public for £25 each, with a share of the proceeds going to six service charities in the UK – and they’ve already been sold out!

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

Blood swept lands and seas of red

The last poppy will be planted on the 11th of November, Armistice Day. If you’re in London before this day, I strongly encourage you to pay a visit this installation – it truly reflects the magnitude of this event.

Writing is a key way to refine my thoughts and keep a clean record of my experiences. I love composing thoughtful post ideas and choose and work on the photos that best go with the topic. However, sometimes I just want to share my thoughts, goals and the little things that make me smile on a day to day basis.

At the end of each month, I will put together a behind the scenes post in which I’ll give you a peek of my weekends, business travels, goals and favourite links.

Click here to read my previous Behind the Scenes.


On the road

Tenerife from above, Spain

August was shorter than May, June and July all combined. How is that even possible? The past month still feels like one big blur. So much beauty. So much sunshine. So much food. So much wine. Each time I return home for a few days, it becomes harder to leave. As I arrived at the airport to check in for my return and couldn’t find my passport, I felt a guilty relief. I thought that it was just meant to be.

Fortunately or not, life has other plans. We found my passport and I left Tenerife once again – but not without plenty of great memories and adventures, such as watching the sun rise from the highest peak in Spain.


Weekend scenes

The Power of Summer - Outdoor Cinema, London

Whenever I feel grumpy about London, I remind myself of the amazing things you can do on a sunny weekend in the city.

One of my summer favourites has been The Power of Summer – a pop-up food & film festival set at one of London’s coolest landmarks – Battersea Power Station (an old power station south of the Thames). After working our way through the food market, we grabbed a mojito and entered the silent cinema area, filled with colourful bean bags and set with the power station as a trendy industrial back drop.


Mantra

“I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

– Thomas Jefferson

July goals

View from Guajara, Tenerife (Spain)

  • GMAT. August has definitely seen me struggle. While some days I thought I could totally beat it, others I felt like giving up. It just felt disheartening to spend so many hours devoted to something, only to see you fail. But there’s one valuable thing I’ve learned from this: making  mistakes is not a bad thing – it’s actually a good thing, it forces me to learn something new! I’m repeating this over and over until I breathe this new mantra.
  • Hiking. My two weeks in Tenerife were adorned with great escapes to the outdoors. Aside from watching the sun rise from the top of an active volcano, I also peaked over lava fields (picture above) and watched the sun set in between lunar landscapes. I just love volcanic landscapes!
  • Photography. I have a confession to make. I forgot to pack my camera! I think I’ve gotten so used to not carrying one that I don’t miss it. And that’s not a good thing. Instagram may do miracles, but I really want to get back to the time in which I had photo memories of my travels that I could print in large size if I wanted to.

September goals

Sunset in Tenerife, Spain

  • More GMAT. I can’t believe I’m half way through my GMAT course already! There’s still plenty of new material and revisions to do before the exam though. I aim to take my first test end of October-Mid November, so I really need to speed up during the next two months!
  • School selection. and am starting to get a better sense of what exactly I’m looking for, so it’s time to dig deeper into my top programs and develop an application strategy to describe my story. This month, I aim to narrow down my selection to 4 programs I truly love and reaching out to at least one current student or alumni.
  • Getting back to the habit of running. Can you imagine what I enjoyed even more than hiking? The lunches and dinners afterwards. Spain, I love you to bits – but these 3-course late lunches that last the entire afternoon have serious side-effects! So I want to make use of the (still) late sunsets and (occasional) rain-free evenings in London to head to the park before it’s too cold. P.S.: No. I don’t run outside in winter. I hibernate.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah

Rainbow after the Rain, London

Sometimes finding the positive side in a difficult situation can by pretty challenging. Far too often, we focus on the things we don’t have rather than those we do have, which blurs our vision of those small things that could turn our day around.

Of course it’s not ideal to wake up after a bad night sleep and realise that you just ran out of coffee. It’s also pretty annoying to spend a fortune at the hairdresser, only to step outside under the pouring rain. But the truth is, we can either choose anger or joy, to look back or forward. It’s our choice.

While London has definitely set me a challenge from the start, it has also given me plenty of joy and happiness. Here are a few things that brighten my days.

  • Waking up with the sun shining in my face.
  • A pre-breakfast run in one of the many parks around me. I feel lucky to be able to choose between Tooting Bec Common, Clapham Common and Wandsworth Common every day – who gets bored with so much choice?

Morning run in Wandsworth Park, London

  • Having avocado on toast for breakfast. Not a daily routine, unfortunately, but my favourite source of morning energy nonetheless.
  • Grabbing a coffee-to-go from one of London’s top independent coffee shops. I’m a regular at Black Lab Coffee and Lantana Cafe.
  • Getting on the Northern Line tube via Charing Cross (instead of Bank). This means that I’ll be able to fully immerse in my current book without risking to skip my stop!
  • The excitement of winning a pitch and anticipation of working full-on on a new project.
  • Surprise afternoon snacks in the office. Mini cupcakes, anyone?

Mini cupcakes at work

  • Meeting a friend for dinner somewhere we’ve never been before.
  • Food shopping at Planet OrganicWhole Foods and my most recent discovery – As Nature Intended. Seriously, this is way better than shoe shopping!
  • Watching the sun set over the neighborhood’s rooftops while preparing dinner.

Which are the little things that brighten your regular day?

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

It’s been a while – but there’s a perfectly acceptable excuse to my absence. Birthday parties, afterwork drinks, a girls trip to Frankfurt and a surprising visit from Spain. What a great way to slowly settle back into London!

So, even though I have plenty of things to share on travel and getting closer to 30, I decided to make my return with one foodie discovery in London that I’ve fallen head over heels for – Sushisamba. Those of you from the States might already have heard of the concept – a creative blend of Japan, Brazil and Peru all under one roof.

However, there’s something that makes Sushisamba in London special:

View from Sushisamba, London

The restaurant is set in the 38th floor of Heron Tower (finished in 2011), which at 230m is currently the tallest skyscraper in the City and the 3rd tallest in Greater London (after the Shard and One Canada Square). The see-through elevator takes only a few seconds until the 38th floor (nothing for the faint-hearted!). Being in the heart of the financial district gives this height an entire different meaning – from here, you can see how the city stretches over the surface and it´s easier to appreciate the heights of other skyscrapers around the area. For instance, on the other side of Heron Tower is 30th St Mary Axe (the first shot of this building was actually taken from the restaurant back in April – when I had only come in for a coffee, ignorant to the food heaven next-door).

So, what’s a Japanese – Peruvian – Brazilian fusion like, anyway?

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

Lunch at Sushisamba, London

The fusion doesn’t come as a surprise – after all, Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside Japan, ever since early XIX century. Actually, I recently read that sushi is one of the most popular dishes in Brazil – it’s so popular, that it’s often even served at Churrascarias (with a Brazilian twist). Nobu offers a famous blend of peruvian japanese dishes, while others like Sushinho focus on the brazilian – japanese connection. Either way, the result is light, refreshing and delicate – and incredibly beautiful.

Fall In Kew Gardens, London

Last sunday I visited Kew Gardens. I had been wanting to go since I moved to London more than a year ago, but there was always something last-minute stopping me (most of the time, it was sudden rain showers). Kew Gardens, for those of you who may not know, is one of the World’s most famous gardens – a UNESCO World Heritage site to my collection.

These gardens are home of thousands of different species from all over the globe. They never really lose their charm – no matter the season. With it’s 16 GBP entry fee, it’s definitely not a bargain – but it was definitely worth it to capture the most out of autumn in London.

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Fall in Kew Gardens, London

Where is your favorite spot to capture autumn shots?

London City, UK

During the Middle Age, Southbank developed as London’s outlaw neighborhood – a place where taverns, theaters, bear-baiting, cock-fighting and prostitution entertained the crowds. The borough was conveniently located outside the City’s walls, on the other side of the river. For decades, locals from the north side rarely crossed the river to the south, nor did the tourists visiting the City.

However, in the past few years, a series of projects have focused on improving this area – turning it into an must-see artistic hub with numerous museums and art galleries, as well as a real foodie heaven with the boom of old Borough Market.

Southbank is one of my favorite areas of London. Its tiny streets and alleys boast with history and diversity. Local pubs are authentic – small, dark and crowded. Its architecture is a perfect blend of the 18th Century industrial era and modern developments. But what really makes Southbank so special is its views over the City’s skyline during dusk or dawn.

Can you imagine having this view from your balcony?