A Stroll From Sydney Street to Sloane Square

London welcomed 2013 with brilliantly blue skies, a perfect day for a walk. So I tossed my camera over my shoulder and headed outdoors, strolling through the bare Winter gardens of St. Luke’s Church on Sydney Street where Charles Dickens was married many years ago but today where teenagers kicked a football across the grass wearing only tee shirts in January.

St. Luke’s Church, Sydney Street

Weaving my way through the side streets running parallel to the King’s Road, I headed toward Sloane Square where I was meant to meet a friend for lunch. It was nice to take the back roads, away from the high street shop fronts. I looked up at the details in the architecture. The clay-coloured chimneys stood in sharp contrast against the vibrant sky.

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The afternoon light cast harsh shadows on the houses that lined some streets with their uplifting colours, this row on Burnsall Street full of oranges and yellows with a bit of bright white in between.

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Instead of window shopping as I would have done walking down the King’s Road, I noticed the little details: the peeling paint of a run down building that stood out against the grand homes all around it…

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…a vivid green door that popped out from the surrounding bricks with its small lion door knob…

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… and the ubiquitous pineapple, the symbol of hospitality that dates all the way back to the 15th century Spanish explorers found embedded everywhere in London architecture.

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A bit further down, I passed some private communal gardens, which I always find intriguing (every since watching Notting Hill where they climb over the wall!). Here are a few sculptures that were dancing among the trees. (Angles aren’t the greatest since I had a limited point of view.

IMG_5215“Dancer with a Bird” in Cadogan Square Gardens by sculptor David Wynne

IMG_5219“The Dancers” in Cadogan Square by sculptor David Wynne

Both sculptures are by David Wynne, the same artist who created the”Girl with Dolphin” piece near Tower Bridge as well as the “Boy with Dolphin” sculpture across from Albert Bridge which I photographed the other day:

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I ended up on Elizabeth Street, a lovely little road tucked away behind the hustle and bustle of Sloane Square and the Victoria Coach Station. Spotted this old sign on one of the buildings:

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The street is only small, but full of little independent shops, bakeries and coffeehouses like Tom Tom’s which is a wonderful place for people watching. Sit outdoors in the sunshine under London’s lovely blue skies or they’ll turn on the heat lamps for you when it’s a bit chilly.

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Next time you walk around a place you think is one of the most familiar for you, like this area is for me, take a camera with you. It becomes a whole new world!

London Streets: Cranley Mews, SW7

Jorge and I stumbled upon a peaceful little place called Cranley Mews the other day while wandering around South Kensington. The first house caught my eye with its red bricks and black and white stripes:

Out of curiosity, we wandered down the mews a bit, passing a couple outdoors enjoying a coffee at a small table.

And naturally, a walk down this secluded little row of colourful houses, one with a Union Jack on the front, lead us to check property prices (as you do…). If anyone is interested, it’s anywhere from about £600 to £1,400 per week to rent or £1.5 million to buy.

Interested in seeing some photos of the interiors? Here’s a couple photos in the links below:
£625 per week, 1 bedroom (US$ 993)
£925 per week
, 3 bedroom (US$ 1,470)
£1,200 per week
, 2 bedroom (US$ 1,907)
£1,400 per week, 3 bedroom (US$ 2,225)

Support LLO and the “Steph-Wants-To-Live-In-Walking-Distance-To-Work-But-Works-In-Gloucester-Road” Fund by buying a lovely photography print from my Etsy shop, or perhaps from jewellery or a handbag from my other Etsy shop). That would be fab and seriously make my day (probably week).

Listen to a Londoner: Elizabeth Remes

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!!

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.

Elizabeth Remes

Betsy is a city girl at heart and is proud to call London home for the forseeable future.  She works in development in the performing arts, sings in a chamber choir, loves the expat blogging community, and intrepidly explores the best (and worst!) that London has to offer.  Her boyfriend wants to you know that although she is assimilating very well to life in England she once fell asleep at a cricket match at Lord’s.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
ER: I am originally from Washington, DC, although I have also spent a significant amount of time in New York City and in Paris. I got my MA in London a couple of years ago and that allowed me to apply for a Tier 1 visa – I moved back in June 2010, happily! I now live in South London and work in North London.  (Yes, I do need a passport to cross the river!)
LLO: What have been your biggest challenges as an expat so far? Any advice for newcomers?
ER: I have found that the biggest challenges are the nitty-gritty! Expats should (and usually do) expect a certain amount of culture shock and so prepare themselves for that. I don’t think that most newcomers arrive ready to do battle with banks, mobile phones, and utilities companies. My advice for newcomers is: try to do as much research as possible on the nuts-and-bolts of living in a different country.
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LLO: Favourite London locations for a romantic or unusual date?
ER:
I actually just wrote a blog post on my top five London date spots – good timing! I think my favorite for this time of year would have to be the Somerset House ice skating rink. It’s a fun date in a gorgeous venue, and you can treat yourselves to a yummy dinner at Tom’s Kitchen afterwards.

LLO: Best place to spend a Saturday night out with the girls?
ER: For a classy girls’ night out, I’d recommend Purl, a new cocktail bar in Marylebone – it has a great speakeasy vibe and very imaginative drinks with secluded booths perfect for gabbing. If you want to be a bit more wild and crazy, though, try The Lexington in Islington – it’s a loungy bar with an incedible selection of whiskey, and they’ve played retro dance music every time I’ve been there!

LLO: You post “Frock Fridays” on your blog. Give us a few of your favourite London shop recommendations that aren’t on the high street, especially since the big NYE is coming!
ER:
I’ve brought my love of Anthropologie with me from the States (there’s one on Regent Street and another on the King’s Road in Chelsea). They’ve got great party dresses plus unique jewelry and quirky accessories. There’s an amazing vintage shop in Shoreditch called Absolute Vintage. They have tons of clothes from every decade you could want, plus shoes and bags galore. Trilogy, which has a couple of stores around London, has a great selection of jeans. And – I want to include this even though they don’t have any physical shops and are only online – I love Boden for basics.

LLO: Best place in London for people watching and fashion inspiration?
ER:
Depends what kind you want! But I think that one of the most entertaining places for people watching and fashion inspiration is The Book Club in East London. Go for breakfast with a newspaper, stay for lunch with your laptop, and then hang around for drinks and music in the evening. They cater for everything – and everyone goes! It’s eclectic and fun, though it can tread the line of too-cool-for-school.

LLO: Tell us about a memorable moment that could only have happened in London.
ER:
In early September my flatmates and I went to the Mayor’s Thames Festival, a free weekend event on the South Bank. We went on the Sunday, and it was packed! There were tons of food stalls as well as activities for kids and live music – in fact, there was a swing dancing spot in front of the Tate Modern! The day closed with a massive Carnivale-style parade and then an incredible fireworks display. The whole thing was so much fun, and it was amazing walking next to the river, seeing the sun set over iconic landmarks, and thinking, “I live here!”

LLO: Have you found a place in this city that always seems to make you happy? Where and why?
ER:
Borough Market always makes me happy! You can tell from my blog that I love cooking and entertaining, and my weekly (if I can afford it!) pilgrimage to Borough Market is an integral part of the dinner party process. I have a whole routine for my Borough Market Saturdays that includes my favorite butcher and Neal’s Yard Dairy for British cheeses – and the trip has to be concluded with lunch and scrumpy from one of the stalls. No matter how hungover I may be after a too-late Friday night, stepping out of the London Bridge tube station and seeing the sign for Borough Market always makes me happy.

LLO: Favourite quirky or unique London discovery?
ER:
There are so many options available to you if you want to get some culture, but my favorite discovery is that there are tons of possibilities other than West End shows and the most famous museums – check out the smaller venues for performances and exhibits that might be even more exciting than the big stuff!

LLO: If you were to leave London in the near future, which 5 specific things would you miss the most?
ER:

5.
Full English Breakfast – America does good brunches, but if you want to get down and dirty with good hangover food, you have to have a full English. 
4.
Borough Market and the guy at Laithwaite’s Wines (whose name I embarrasingly can’t remember!) who always helps me find the perfect wine to match my menu.
3.
Meandering along the South Bank and watching the sun set at the horizon of the Thames.
2.
All the commons – I love that almost every neighborhood has its own green space.  It makes the city seem more intimate and more spread out at the same time.
1.
My life with my English boyfriend of two years – even if he came with me to wherever I was going, I would miss the life we’ve been making here in London. Even just over the past six months, we’ve really set down roots here together. I’d definitely miss that.

Thanks Betsy!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Fr Stephen Wang

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.

Fr Stephen Wang

Fr Stephen Wang is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Westminster, London. He is Dean of Studies at Allen Hall seminary in Chelsea, where he also teaches philosophy and theology. His latest book is Aquinas and Sartre: On Freedom, Personal Identity, and the Possibility of Happiness, published by Catholic University of America Press. He blogs about culture and faith at Bridges and Tangents.

LLO: As a born and raised Londoner, what are the most noticeable ways the city has evolved in your lifetime?
SW:
It’s bigger and busier. I remember a study recently about how our walking speed has increased (they secretly time you crossing bridges etc). It’s more culturally and ethnically diverse. Immigration has enriched London immensely. Random landmarks that didn’t exist when I was born in 1966: the Gherkin, the Millennium Bridge, the London Eye, Oyster Cards, sculptures on the fourth plinth, Boris Bikes, Tate Modern, the ubiquitous CCTV camera. Tragic losses: the Routemaster bus.

LLO: Tell us a bit about your background and your blog, Bridges and Tangents.
SW:
I was born in University College Hospital just off Tottenham Court Road, when my parents were living in Chiswick. I grew up in Harpenden, near St Albans. I’m a Catholic priest and I work in the seminary in Chelsea, where we prepare men for the priesthood. I never imagined I’d start a blog. It happened quite quickly. I was thinking of writing a book, and a friend pointed out that if I really wanted to communicate and share ideas, then a blog would be more immediate and reach far more people. The penny dropped.

LLO: Freedom is your most used tag on your blog. In a recent post, you wrote “Perfect freedom is being able to step off the back of a London bus whenever you want, whatever the reason, and walk into the sunset without a bus-stop in sight.” Are there other London moments that give you a perfect sense of freedom?
SW:
The fact that London is a city for walking around gives me the greatest sense of freedom. Other random moments of exhilaration, freedom and space include: sitting at the front on the top deck of a double-decker bus; looking at the cityscape from the middle of any of London’s beautiful bridges; jaywalking with abandon — in the knowledge that this would be illegal in some countries; walking through the parks; and along the river at South Bank.

LLO: Can you recommend a few places in London to go for a sense of spirituality without stepping foot in a church/temple/mosque, etc?
SW:
Whenever the next Kieslowski retrospective runs at the British Film Institute; standing over the Greenwich Prime Meridian line, knowing that you are at the still point of the cartographic world; walking round the Serpentine; the Jubilee Line station at Canary Wharf.

LLO: As a catholic priest and philosopher, how important would you say religion is in people’s lives in London today compared to when you started out in your career?
SW:
There are various crosscurrents: some people are much more secular, hardened in their secularism, and dismissive of religion. Yet many more people seem interested in religion who are not believers — as if they are more open to spiritual and transcendent questions, more open to the idea of spirituality and prayer. And religion is a bigger cultural and political reality than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Plus the new immigrants tend to be people of faith (indeed anyone coming to London from outside Western Europe tends to be a person of faith!)

LLO: You recently contributed to a BBC Online article about celibacy, sharing your own experiences. The post on your blog includes tags “happiness” and “loneliness”. Is this commitment one you ever regret or are you content in your decision?
SW:
I don’t regret the decision I have made at all. The whole life of being a priest, including celibacy, has brought me enormous happiness. And the celibacy itself has given me a real freedom, a freedom of heart – to be present with other people in all sorts of wonderful ways; and to pray in a way that would be difficult if I had the responsibilities of family life. I couldn’t live this way without the love of friends and extended family and the communities I have lived in over this time.

LLO: Tell us about something, someone or somewhere you’ve discovered in London that you think the rest of us should know about.
SW:
One secular and unknown: The Clockmakers’ Museum at Guildhall, a single room containing the whole history of clocks and watches, including John Harrison’s 5th marine timekeeper made famous by the book Longitude. One religious and very well known, but I’m still amazed by how many Londoners have never been in it: Westminster Cathedral (not the Abbey), an oasis of calm and devotion near Victoria Station, full of amazing art and architecture.

LLO: With Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists and others living side by side in London, what sort of atmosphere is created when people of every religion mingle in this melting pot city?
SW:
The whole world is here in London, and probably every language and religion. It’s good that we can live side by side, and in peace. Perhaps people don’t talk enough: We occupy the same social space, but often stay within our own mental worlds – unless there is something like a school or sports club or whatever to bring people together. London Citizens is a wonderful grassroots example of people of all faiths and none coming together for justice issues and forming real bonds through that common work. When I get back from Lourdes I want to start talking to strangers in London, but very soon I realize I am becoming one of those crazy people that Londoners fear…

LLO: What do you say to people who are suspicious of religion as being manipulative or deceptive?
SW:
It’s true that religion can sometimes be manipulative and deceptive – we have to admit that and watch out for it very carefully. And as a Catholic priest I wouldn’t push the abstract idea of ‘religion’ for its own sake. But religions can also be sources of spirituality, community, liberation and healing for many people. That’s something to be open to and not afraid of.

LLO: What’s your favourite part about living in your postcode?
SW:
Being near the river; living close to three cinemas; the number 19 bus.

Thanks Stephen!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Listen to a Londoner: Mary Higgs

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.

Mary Higgs, 30

Mary lives in Battersea. She’s an interior designer by day and a London dating guru by night. She set up the Great Date Guide to help give Londoners inspiration and advice on where to go for a great date in this fantastic city.

LLO: Tell us about the Great Date Guide.
MH:
I had the idea for the Great Date Guide a few years ago, when it started its life as a homemade book for my older brother. He had recently found himself new to London and single (after ending a 7-year relationship) and with an unenviable yet unavoidable lack of dating know-how. As it turned out, he wasn’t alone. I realised that I had so many friends in their late twenties who had hit the “make or break” stage in their relationships and had opted for “break”. This meant that their last “first date” was about seven years ago and often at university – a distant memory from a distant city!

Fed up with my brother’s constant emails at lunchtime on a Friday asking where he should take his date that evening, I decided to take action. I put together a book of eighty dates for him, written in the format of a travel guide. Each date was given a number based on its stage in the dating game (1 for a first date, 2 for early days etc.), and also a symbol to tell him what type of date it was – a heart for romance, a wine glass for drinks… you get the picture!

Anyway, he (and all his friends) absolutely loved the book and I kept an idea, in the back of my mind, that I’d like to do more with it.  A few years later I decided it was the right time to do something with the idea and here it is – a website designed to take the hassle out of dating for busy Londoners who need a bit of inspiration. Single, married or somewhere in between, we should all be dating. Whether it’s cocktails in a ritzy bar, a romantic dinner for two or just a leisurely stroll through one of London’s fabulous parks, it’s our belief that dating should be a firm fixture in everyone’s weekly schedule.

LLO: Would you consider London a romantic city?
MH:
Absolutely! Although, I believe that any city can be romantic if you approach it with the right attitude. It’s less about the city – more about how you interact with it. That is one of the reasons we started the website, to help people find the great dating spots in London that might otherwise have passed them by. I do think London is special though, and full of quirky romantic places.

LLO: Where’s the best place for a date in your postcode?
MH:
For a first date, I think my local pub, the Lighthouse in Battersea, is pretty perfect! There’s a great garden for the summer and a roaring fire in the winter. The atmosphere is seriously relaxed so you can start off with a glass of wine, and if the date is going well you can settle in and order food. If the date is going really well you can finish off with a romantic stroll around Battersea Park and then reward yourself with a cheeky kiss on Albert Bridge – definitely the most romantic bridge in London!

LLO: Tell us about the best date you’ve ever had in London.
MH:
I’m in the lucky position of having had lots of wonderful dates in London with my boyfriend. It’s hard to pick a favourite but I think I’d have to say when we took a day trip to Greenwich. Taking the boat down the river, you’re really reminded what a fantastic city London is. Then in Greenwich there is so much to do: fascinating museums, beautiful art, colourful markets, romantic walks with spectacular views, not to mention standing on the line where time officially starts! We finished off the date with a delicious meal at the Rivington Grill and then a very tipsy boat ride home in the dark, mesmerised by the lights of London and the romance of it all. It was a perfect day.

LLO: Any great date disasters you’re willing to share?
MH:
Hmmm, I had a pretty bad first date once when my date wanted to take me out for dinner, but it turned out he hadn’t booked anywhere. Every restaurant that we tried was fully booked until an hour later and we ended up going to Pizza Express – not exactly the height of romance! Then to top it off we went to a nearby pub after dinner to bump into a bunch of his male friends who were having a pretty boozy night and thought the fact that he was on a first date was cause for relentless “banter”. Anyway, it wasn’t too bad as we went on more dates and are still friends now!

LLO: Can you recommend a cozy, quiet, candlelit restaurant for us?
MH:
Of course! Plenty to choose from… We love Julie’s in Holland Park as it’s full of romantic little nooks and crannies, making it the perfect place for dinner. Clos Maggiore is another favourite – you’ll be hard pushed to find somewhere more romantic, with it’s indoor courtyard complete with roaring fire, fairy lights and blossom laden trees (all year round)!

LLO: Best place for a first date in London?
MH:
Again, there are so many options (we’ve got a section about this on the site)! Also, it sounds obvious, but you really have to think about who you’re going on a date with. If they’re an art lover then the top floor bar at the National Portrait Gallery would be perfect, but more of a foodie would like Moro in Exmouth Market, oh, and a music buff would like 606 Jazz Club in Chelsea!!

LLO: What about a date of people who have been in a relationship for a long time and want to do something completely out of the ordinary to help rekindle the passion?
MH:
Lots of options here but if you lead a busy stressful life and have forgotten what it felt like to fall in love, then a spontaneous candlelit supper picnic in one of London’s parks will do the trick (summer or winter). It involves a bit of effort and that’s what makes it so special – you’re saying you can do more than just pick up the bill. However, if you do want to go to a restaurant then Dans Le Noir would be perfect. From the moment you enter you are blind-folded so all your senses are heightened and you can focus on each other with no distractions.

LLO: It’s summertime and London is full of rooftop terraces just waiting to be filled with cocktail drinkers. Can you recommend the best place to wine or dine above the treetops?
MH:
We’ve actually got a list of our top 10 roof terraces on the website – we couldn’t pick a favourite! For the best view in town it probably has to be Vista at the Trafalgar, where, as the name suggests you can see the whole of Trafalgar Square and beyond. You do have to queue which is a pain but it’s worth it for the incredible view. If you’re in the City then Coq D’argent is a must with it’s roof terrace and garden and the kind of quality food you expect from the D&D group.

LLO: What’s your favourite unique London discovery?
MH:
I discovered the Chelsea Physic Garden recently. Like so many places in london I’d walked passed the entrance for years and never gone in! The gardens themselves are a complete oasis from the traffic on the Embankment and the bustle of the Kings Road. In the summer you can eat in the garden: either bring your own food and a picnic rug or tuck into the seriously delicious food on offer in the cafe. But, as you’ll have guessed from the rest of this interview I’m not very good at picking favourites!

Thanks Mary!

Get some great ideas from Mary and team at www.thegreatdateguide.com. They’re also on Facebook www.facebook.com/greatdateguide and tweet at @greatdateguide.

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.