Listen to a Londoner: Carolina Baker

Carolina landed in London in November, a bit bleary eyed and nostalgic for what was formerly home. She’s Colombian American and loves Chai Lattes. During the day, she works in finance and at night she can be found blogging at GirlHabits or working out at Crossfit Thames.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
CB: I’m originally from Bogota, Colombia, but consider myself a Colombian American. I went to high school in Bogota, and lived in Boston, Connecticut, and New York for the last ten years. I moved to London in November and my husband brought me here. He wanted the experience of living and working abroad, and while I was a bit resistant at first, we took the plunge when an opportunity presented itself. Evan moved over in August and I joined him here in November.

LLO: Tell us about a fun night out in London. Where were you and what was memorable about it? 
CB: I think one of the most fun nights out in London was when we went to the Christmas Market in Hyde Park. The hubby and I drank some mulled wine, listened to a band play some amazing covers, and just chilled amongst the Londoners. Although it was very cold, the atmosphere was lively, relaxed, and buzzing with the holiday spirit.

LLO: Best part about living in your postcode?
CB: The best part about living in my postcode is that I don’t have to use the tube to get to work and I get to walk by the water on my way to work every morning.

LLO: Is there anything you miss from Colombia or America? If so, what is it? If not, is there anything you’d miss from London if you left? 
CB: From Colombia, I miss the warmth of the people. Latin Americans are very warm, hug-oriented, happy people. We’re also louder than most Americans and Londoners combined. :o) From America, I miss my family, the work culture, the way my barista used to make my chai latte, and my favourite food place near the office, Press NY. Mostly though, just my family and the fact that New York is full of Latin American Immigrants, so I feel at home with the majority of the population.

I think from London I’d miss the little things; the fact that people are more adventurous with their fashion, that we can drink on the streets and not get arrested,  the borough and Portobello Markets, and the proximity of about two dozen other countries.

LLO: What was the biggest challenge (no matter how trivial) you have faced so far as an expat in London and how have you coped?
CB: I think my biggest challenge was remaining happy on a day-to-day basis in spite of  having to adjust to a new culture, work environment, and way of life. Coming to London was more my husband’s choice, so it would have been easy for London to be harder than it was. I focused on building a life around things that mattered to me, and that’s how I coped. I showered my family and friends back home with love, I took a trip to Morocco with my mom, I’m spending quality time with my husband, I visited family that’s scattered across Europe, I found a gym that’s similar to the one back home, and I reached out to people that have similar interests.

LLO: In three sentences, what little observations have you made about London life that you didn’t expect before you arrived?
CB: Even though Londoners aren’t as warm as Latin Americans are, they really love to socialize.  A Londoner can tell you one thing and mean something completely different. And my favourite observation so far? That it doesn’t rain in London all the time.

LLO: I’m coming to London for one night only and want to go out for food and drinks, but not in a touristy area. Where would you send me? 
CB: If you want to spend out, I’d go to Gaucho Tower Bridge as they serve the most amazing empanadas, steaks, and have some killer apple martinis. If you want to keep it more budget friendly, I’d send you to Wahaca on Wardour Street , a very good Mexican restaurant that offers many delicious dishes (the ambience is also very lively).

LLO: What’s your ideal way to spend a free Saturday in London? Is there anywhere you’d like to explore or visit in London that you haven’t gotten to yet? 
CB: I adore the markets here, so I would send you to have lunch at Borough Market and then to peruse the people and the knick knacks at Portobello Market. There’s nothing more enjoyable than buying a £5 pound duck sandwich and passing it down with some Prosecco.  And there’s no better place to people watch and find amazing accessories than Portobello Market. I would like to explore the fashion side of London a bit more. While I know it’s extremely expensive (one of the reasons I’ve stayed away), I can’t wait for summer when I’ll have to start dress shopping for my brother’s wedding. I’m open to any and all suggestions from your readers.

LLO: Tell us about your fabulous website, Girl Habits. Why did you start it, what’s it all about and why should we all stop by and check it out? 
CB: I started GirlHabits because I had a fabulous idea to create a sports bra with a pocket (mi-bra – http://www.girlhabits.com/?page_id=60 ), and I needed a home on the web. GirlHabits also houses my blog, which has awesome interviews with other amazing entrepreneurial women. As I venture out into the freelance world, I plan to also use GirlHabits as a platform to house my professional and personal writing.

You should check it out because I offer the mi-bra in the UK now, and because when you’re in need of a daily dose of inspiration, it’s the perfect place to go.

LLO: What has life in London taught you about yourself and the people around you so far?
CB: I think that life in London has taught me that there is no right way to live, and what makes London so special is that everyone is so different. In the States, you can get very caught up in the progression that others expect of you (college, job, masters/MBA while working, marriage, mortgage, babies). Being in London just reaffirms that choosing different is okay and extremely satisfying.

The people around me have taught me to be more accepting of accents that I don’t understand, customs that I’m not familiar with, traditions that I have no knowledge of, food that I’m not accustomed too, and communicating styles that I haven’t been exposed too. Nothing is necessarily better or worse, it’s just different and that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

Thanks Carolina!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

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Listen to a Londoner: Lisa Bolton

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.

lisa
Lisa Bolton

Lisa is a northern lass from the French countryside who is integrating into London’s Colombian community. She’s trying to get used to overcrowding and living like battery hens whilst growing very fond of cultural diversity, chips and Primark!

LLO: How long have you been in London, where are you from originally and what brought you here?
LB: I’ve been in London for 2 and a half years. I was born in Salford, Manchester but have lived in nearly all my life in a forest in Normandy France which is where I call home. I came here for work and a new beginning. After finishing my studies and working in Spain for 2 and a half years there was little work in France so I made my decision one morning to come to London and find a new job!

LLO: Which area of London are you most familiar with and what’s the best thing about it?
LB: Having lived in various areas in London I really love Elephant and Castle and Brixton. As I said I grew up in a forest 2km outside a village of 467 people. I had a pretty sheltered life to say the least. I had heard so many horrible things about these 2 areas I was scared to death, but there is a really sense of community. Even though I have moved away from the area now I still enjoy going to Weight Watchers every week in Brixton and the Ritzy cinema is brill and there is a lot of different shops. And Elephant is the best place in London as there is so much going on, transport is excellent and you feel as if you are in another world. You can walk into central London in 30 minutes!!!

LLO:  Tell us about your favourite unique London discovery.
LB: Uhmm, quite hard. I think it depends on what you are into and unless you are in that scene you wouldn’t know about it. Thanks to my circle of friends which is made up of Colombians I suppose it would be the Vallenato sub-culture and the private parties, functions, festivals and carnivals.

I would also say that the Fitzrovia live radio performances are a great discovery and brilliant. They often perform at the Globe’s pub The Swan. I discovered this through my friend and ex-flatmate who is an actor.

But of course my most precious unique London discovery is my fiancé Carlos who I met here.

LLO:  Where are your top choices for a night of dancing?
LB: I LOVE dancing but mostly salsa. However, I REALLY like G-A-Y to let your hair down and for cheap drinks! People there are really friendly and will come up and dance with you.

I don’t really like the “Latin” places here. The music is not that great and the dancing is quite the same. I believe La Floridita is great and it has been recommended, but I’ve never been. There is one place in Brixton called “La Mazorca” which is a bit of a dive and there are a few dodgy characters BUT if you go in a group they play great music and have a great dance floor. Otherwise, I have always had the best dancing time at improvised parties in various little bars and open air festivals like “Carnival del Pueblo”.

LLO: Give us an unusual or quirky idea for a date in London.
LB: To be quite honest I have no idea, probably not been on enough dates to know. But I recently met up with a former flatmate who told me he had had a few dates since we had last seen each other and one guy took him to a taxidermist shop! Needless to say he didn’t go out with him again!

LLO: If I only had one night in London and wanted to head away from the tourist trail for food and drinks, where would you send me?
LB: Gosh, this is a hard question as it depends what type of food I fancied. I have my favourite Colombian restaurant, French restaurant and Indian restaurant! But I suppose if I weren’t here I would be living outside the country and therefore it would probably have to be a pub where I could have steak and ale pie and chips. It’s not off the beaten track but the Horneman over-looking the river on the south bank near London Bridge is easy access and the food is quite nice also, but most good pubs could probably do the same.

LLO: If you want to experience another culture in London, what’s your first choice and where do you head to find it?
LB: WOW, the choice is incredible as London in itself is a cultural mish-mash. The first time I went to Whitechapel, I thought I was in some Asian country. It was incredible. Elephant again springs to mind. Latin American and African cultures are predominant and you can get by just speaking Spanish!

LLO: Tell us about a London memory that could only have happened in London.
LB: I am an English teacher on Oxford Street and I have large, very culturally diverse groups of people who maybe have never left their country before. They have strong preconceptions about different nationalities, colours, cultures, sexual preferences and, of course, religion. As a Teacher it is very hard to approach such sensitive subjects especially concerning homophobia and the stigma which every Muslim/Arabic student is viewed with. Some Latin American students have never met a Muslim let alone a woman in traditional dress. But one day in a class in which I had Baptists, born again Christians, Catholics, Buddhists, Russian orthodox, Shintoists and Muslims (from Turkey, Russia and North African countries) the debate turned to religion which I allow as long as everybody respects each other’s beliefs. The students all found common ground within their different religions and traditions using English. They all got along so well and were respectful of each other. I know sounds corny, but I really warmed my heart that despite all the war and hatred in the world, people from  incredibly different walks of life found they were all the same.

LLO: Who is the most interesting Londoner you’ve met and why?
LB: Everyone in London has had an interesting life and a story to tell. But one of my students, Maria, had come from the slums of Lima, Peru, and had been to a school run by nuns and financed by fundraising from Europe. She had worked her way up to become an English teacher and came to England to better her skills.

Doing the job I do has been a real eye opener to see that intelligent, highly qualified people who are psychologists, engineers, lawyers, film directors etc… perform menial jobs due to their legal status and language skills in order to learn the language. It really angers me when you see office workers ignoring cleaners knowing that they are probably for more qualified than them. It cost nothing to smile or acknowledge someone.

LLO:  If you were to move away from London in the future, which five things would you miss the most?
LB:
1) Cultural diversity
2) The choice of different products and restaurants
3) The different events
4) Primark
5) Public transport especially the tube (despite all the strikes, hahhaha!)

Thanks Lisa!

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Taste of Colombia in London

Still, by far the strangest Colombia food I’ve eaten is hormigas – the giant toasted bacon-popcorn-tasting ants, but I recently visited three different Colombian restaurants in London and tried different versions of plantains, yuca (cassava) and delicious, huge steaks as well as ox liver, ox tongue and some delicious fresh fruit drinks.

The first restaurant we went to was the loud and lively Latin Corner on Camden Road where I ate a massive steak plate called Sobrebarriga dorada. The tables surrounded a bar where they sell, among the usual choices, Colombia beer. The atmosphere was alive and a few people stood up to salsa near the tables.

La Bodeguita

Twice we went to La Bodeguita in the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre, the area of London where the biggest Colombia population lives followed by Stockwell and Brixton. La Bodeguita had a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere than the Latin Corner – better for conversation – but still with Latin American music and it does turn into a party place later in the evening. Here I tried Carne Asada, another steak dish as well as well as the ox tongue – Lengua a la criolla – which was suprisingly tasty. To drink, I had guanabana juice/smoothie. Yum!

For a friend’s birthday, we had dinner at Leños & Carbón on Rockingham Street, also in Elephant & Castle. A bit of a different atmosphere with a mix English and Latin music. I ate ox liver here and had an excellent fresh lulo juice – which is a sweet tropical fruit that somewhat resembles a kiwi in certain ways, I am told. Lulo juice is amazing, and it’s unfortunate you can’t find the fruit to buy in the markets like you can with some other oddities that Colombians enjoy like mamon.

In all three restaurants, the waiters were incredibly friendly and talkative, joking and laughing with us. The prices were very reasonable. The food and drinks were delicious at all three of them as well.

I’m sure there are some other good Colombian choices hiding in London. I also stopped in Brixton Market the other day to buy buñuelos from a vendor who was also selling cheesy arepas.

If you can recommend any other places in London to find delicious Colombian food, leave a comment.

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The Latin Corner
La Bodegiuta

Leños & Carbón

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Editor’s note – For anyone interested in Colombia, check out my blog from when I lived in a village called Mogotes in the Santander region of Colombia for six months in 2011 – http://www.littlecolombiaobservationist.com (A Colombia version of LLO!) Also, you can see my Flickr photos from my Colombia experience here

Brixton Market

I rarely get down to Brixton, but the village is a great place to pick up some unique fruits and veggies and try some Caribbean food. Jerk chicken – mmmm. Last Saturday I went to catch up with some friends and took a few photos while we were there. I bought some mamon, round green fruit that grows on little branches. You crack open the shell with your teeth, take the peach coloured fleshy fruit in your mouth and use your teeth to scrape it off the small pit in the middle. We also tried buñuelos which are deep-fried doughy balls. Brixton’s got a unique vibe you won’t find anywhere else in London. If you haven’t been, it’s worth it. Bus 159 from Piccadilly Circus or the Victoria Line straight down to the end.

Record Exchange

Brixton Village

Fish for Sale

Salmon Heads

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Brixton Market Meat

Brixton Mural

If you’re got your own Brixton pictures you’d like to share, add them to the Flickr pool.