Listen to a Londoner: Natalie Lester

Listen to a Londoner is a weekly interview with a Londoner – someone who lives in this city, born here or elsewhere. If you’re up for being interviewed, email littlelondonobservationist@hotmail.co.uk.

Natalie Lester

Natalie has a BA in English, BSc in geography and MA in publishing; She loves English literature and her outlet is writing. Her favourite gelato is found in London at Gelato Mia in Notting Hill (dark chocolate and Biscotto). She loves the theatre and when she was younger, wanted to be Christine in Phantom.

LLO: How long have you been in London, where did you come from originally and what brought you here?
NL: I’ve been in London for a little more than a year – I just finished my MA in publishing at UCL…turned in my dissertation in September so here’s hoping for the best! I grew up in Idaho (in the US) and during my undergrad I did a study abroad in London. Ever since I have been planning to come back. In my opinion everyone should live in London for at least a little bit!

LLO: What’s your favourite way to pass a Saturday afternoon in London?
NL: Nothing beats the markets in London on a Saturday. I live right next to Regent’s Canal (Little Venice) and you can easily walk along the canal to Camden Market. If you go early enough then usually you are the only one along the canal and you get to breathe in the crisp air all by yourself. On my way to Camden I sometimes take a detour into Regent’s Park with my book… but I always make sure I get to Camden for my favourite treat in London – Chocolate covered strawberries and pineapple on a banana leaf!

LLO: Where is your favourite place to pick up an American treat if you’re craving something from home?
NL: One time I was in desperate need of some Root Beer and happened to be in the Leicester Square area so I had to pop into Ed’s Diner and pay a ridiculous price for a can of some A&W…it was worth it!

LLO: Which part of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best part about it?
NL: Well, I live on Edgware Road, which is pretty central London, so probably that area and then the Regent’s Canal area I was talking about earlier. London is great for its diversity and there is no better place to see this than Edgware Road with its plethora of Middle Eastern restaurants. And while the rest of London seems to close ridiculously early, you can venture onto Edgware at midnight and it still has the liveliness of midday.

LLO: If I told you I would be in London for one night only and wanted to get off the tourist trail, where would you send me to eat and drink?
NL: Ok, maybe this is still a bit touristy, but you can’t beat their chicken and leek pie at Doggetts Pub. It is right on the southbank by Blackfriar’s Bridge and if you want a nice meal you can go up top to the restaurant and sit by the window and watch London light up at night.

LLO: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an expat in London?
NL: Maybe this is a lame challenge to have, but I miss my clothes dryer every day! Jeans just don’t fit the same here with nothing to dry them back into shape. Like I said, lame, but other than that…oh, and trying to find a frozen turkey at Thanksgiving (an adventure that ended with my flatmate and I carrying a frozen turkey in our arms for 45 minutes on our walk back from Camden). Other than those two things I have very few complaints about London.

LLO: Tell us about a favourite London memory that could only have happened in London.
NL: Keeping on the Thanksgiving theme, last year my flatmate and I were hosting a Thanksgiving party for a lot of people and we had purchased two turkeys. Somehow we forgot that this wasn’t America and not only did we not have room for them in our fridge, but we didn’t have two ovens. On Thanksgiving day we rang up some friends that lived about 15 minutes away to ask if we could borrow their oven. We ended up carrying the pre-cooked (but stuffed and seasoned) bird down the road and stuffed it into their oven which was even smaller than ours. Four hours later I picked up the bird—who was now full of juices and twice as heavy—and proceeded to walk down the very busy Edgware Road with a 20lb bird and turkey juice sloshing all over me everytime I placed a foot down! Surprisingly, after all that poor turkey had been through, and my arms shaking for about 20 minutes afterwards, Thanksgiving dinner never tasted so good!

LLO: Favourite London discovery?
NL: My favourite place in all of London is one I discovered with my fiancé. He is a Londoner and loves to walk on the southbank by the London Eye at night when the trees have their blue lights. While we were sitting, gazing up at the Eye through a sea of blue, we noticed that there was a break in the hedge and on the opposite side of the trees was a park…with swings. Now, it isn’t like this playground is exactly hidden, but it is further back from the main southbank walkway and I had never noticed it before. We quickly climbed over the rest of the hedge and snuck into the playground to swing (my all-time favourite past-time). In front is a large tree, and when you swing at night you catch glimpses of the London Eye lights through the trees and it looks like the London sky is full of stars that you can almost touch. I think it is one of the most magical places in London.

LLO: What would you suggest if I asked you to plan a creative, off-the-wall or otherwise unique date in London?
NL: Saturday morning head down to Borough Market, bring your appetite! Spend the first little bit just wandering around the stalls and take advantage of the free samples. Then, just about midday choose something that either a) you can’t possibly resist or b) something that is really strange and you have never tried before. Don’t eat it yet, but walk to Shakespeare’s Globe and wait in line for the groundlings so that you are the first ones in. While you are waiting break open lunch and enjoy! When they open the gates make sure that you get front and centre and you can lean up against the stage! Enjoy!

LLO: If you move back to America in the future, what five things will you miss most about London?
NL: Where do I start, once you have lived in London it becomes a part of you and I think there will always be something that I miss. But, if I had to choose 5, I would have to say 1) waking up on a crisp Autumn morning, getting a Chocolate Milano at Café Nero and crunching through the leaves in Hyde Park; 2) Big Ben at night…it just looks so magical and everytime I see it at night I think that Peter Pan will come land on the hands of the clock at any moment; 3) Amazing fish and chips the the hole-in-the-wall chippies (they are always the best); 4) Christmas time in London, from the Harrod’s Christmas Parade to the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park; 5) Low-tide on the Thames on the southbank skipping rocks.

Thanks Natalie!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.


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Kill Your TV

So… how about that USA v England match on Saturday night?

I was a bit torn, watching my native country and adopted country in competition. The American goal was a good bit of luck and I’d say England played a tighter game overall, but I suppose a 1-1 draw just figures…It’s funny, because football (soccer) is the most popular sport to participate in in American until the age of 13, but then it seems to drop off the radar and people are always more interested in American football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc.

Besides being an entertaining bit of football, it was interesting watching it from here rather than America – listening to the commentators playfully America-bashing before the game, seeing them mock all the stereotypical attributes of their opponents. The point was made that Americans don’t watch soccer because it involves continuous play which means there’s no room for commercials and therefore not conducive to capitalism and a secret plot to take over the world. Yup.

For laughs, they played a commercial that ESPN (sports network) were running in the States to psych people up for the game – something dramatically overdone, but something I wouldn’t have had a second thought about if I was in America. Seeing it from this point of view I could see why they considered it hilarious. Later, there were comments about the next 90 minutes being the difference between football and soccer. They said Americans should stick to baseball since they’re so good at it – only because no one else in the world plays it. They had a laugh at Obama’s would-be pep talk for the team. Can we win the World Cup, America? “Oh yes we can!!”

During the game, I realised that this was the first time I was watching TV in 2010 (excluding films)! That’s half a year with no TV, which is probably shocking to some people, but I don’t ever even think about it. There’s so much else to do in this brilliant city. Who needs TV?

So I thought I would share some useful advice I found in a shop window on Columbia Road the other day. If you want to share your football thoughts, leave it in the comments.

Kill Your TV

Travel Onion: City Editor, London

This week, a new travel website launched in America, a website that showcases the best blogs to represent each city. I’ve been given the honour of being “City Editor” for London and look forward to contributing. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for other cool London links or plan to travel abroad. Using blogs rather than articles or guidebooks assures up-to-date info and unique perspectives.

Here’s the London page:

Check out the main site here: http://www.travelonion.com/