Listen to a Londoner: Julie Falconer

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Julie Falconer is a London-based travel writer and consultant. She writes an award-winning travel and lifestyle blog, A Lady in London, for which she has traveled to over 90 countries. Julie’s writing has featured in the National Geographic Intelligent Travel Blog, Time Out, Lonely Planet, and other publications. She also lectures and teaches classes on social media and blogging. You can read her blog at http://www.aladyinlondon.com.

LLO: Where are you from originally, how long have you been in London and what brought you here?
JF: I am originally from San Francisco, and I moved to London in 2007 after leaving a career in finance. I wanted to see a different part of the world and decided that London would be a good place to do that!

LLO: Tell us a bit about your blog, A Lady in London – an introduction to those who are unfortunately not yet acquainted!
JF: I started A Lady in London in 2007 when I moved to the UK. Originally, it was a way to keep in touch with people back home, but over time I started writing for a much broader audience. I have now written the blog as a full-time job for over three years, and I write about travel all over the world with an emphasis on food and culture.

LLO: Your career path started in finance. What’s your story? How did you end up as a blogger, a travel planner and a teacher of social media classes, etc?
JF: I left finance because I felt burned out and I wanted to do something different. Moving to London provided me with a lot of great ideas for things to write about on my blog, and it attracted a following over the first two years. When I started working on it full-time, I added the travel planning services as a natural extension. A couple of years later, I was asked to speak about social media in travel, and that spawned the teaching and lecturing. I also work with businesses on social media strategy, which resulted from the blog as well.

LLO: Having travelled to some 90+ countries (even before you turned 30!), what are your favourite and least favourite travel destinations so far? How does London compare?
JF: It’s always hard to choose favourites  but I like different places for different things. The Maldives is a great beach destination, and I love the food in Spain and Thailand. The only places I have been to that I don’t like are the ones that are really touristy, but that’s usually my fault for staying in the wrong place. London compares favourably to many destinations, as it is a world-class city with a lot of great history, culture, and attractions.

LLO: Where else have you lived and what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a serial expat? Most rewarding moments?
JF: I have lived in San Francisco, San Diego, Providence, Prague, Nice, Paris, and Brussels. The biggest challenges are always the ones that come with getting settled in when I first arrive, and the rewarding moments come once I get a chance to really explore a city beyond the major tourist attractions.

LLO: What’s the best thing about living in your postcode and why?
JF: I love living near one of London’s largest parks. Being in an urban environment is great for a lot of things, but I need to get my outdoor fix to remind me of the natural world beyond the city.

LLO: Tell us about your favourite London discovery.
JF: One of my favourite places in London is the Chelsea Physic Garden. It is a tiny garden near the Thames, and it has a great variety of plants and flowers. It is really peaceful and not many people know that it is there.

LLO: Best place to go for an afternoon tea in London? How about a Sunday roast? 
JF: I have had great afternoon teas and Sunday roasts all across London, so it’s hard to narrow it down to just one of each. For a classic afternoon tea ambiance, I love the Corinthia Hotel and for a great ambiance for Sunday roast, the Holly Bush in Hampstead is perfect.

LLO: Give us your top three London restaurant recommendations.
JF: My favourites are Kitchen W8 in Kensington for great food and service in an understated atmosphere, Ottolenghi for great salads and light fare, and The Grazing Goat in Marble Arch for good pub food.

LLO: Favourite way to spend a Saturday in London?
JF: It depends on the weather. If it’s warm, I will be in a park, and if it’s not, I will be in a pub!

Thanks Julie!

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Listen to a Londoner: Dr. Lewis Halsey

Dr. Lewis Halsey has lived in or around London for most of his life and works as an academic at the University of Roehampton. Here he talks about the changes he’s noticed in London over the years, what it’s like to cycle to work every day and a different way to view renting before buying if you’re interested in stepping onto the property ladder like he did a few years ago.

LLO: Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do? Which area of the city is home for you?
LH: 
I am an academic at the University of Roehampton. I’m a biologist. Southwest London is my stomping ground. I live and work there so that’s where I tend to be.

LLO: Having lived in and around London most of your life, what are some of the ways in which you have seen the city change over the years?
LH: 
I was born in London and then lived in the Midlands during my late educational years but now I’m back.

Changes? Skyscrapers. More patriotism. More love for the Royal family. More bicycles. Congestion charges. A mayor. We didn’t have a mayor when I was a kid. Better trains. Much higher house prices. More bridges and cable cars. And there wasn’t the DLR when I was a kid either of course.

LLO: You cycle to work every day. Do you feel safe as a cyclist? Where else do you enjoy cycling in London?
LH: 
I like cycling to work and feel pretty safe because it’s a short journey and most of it’s off the roads. Half of it is through Wimbledon Common which can be a very pretty start to the day if you have good weather like one of those crispy Spring mornings or low lying sun across the open ground. I think Richmond Park is even better. Sometimes I cycle into central London which is quite a big effort for me, quite a bit hair-raising and less picturesque until you get to the Thames. But I’ve survived so far. Just. Famous last words…

LLO: What is the best thing about living in your postcode?
LH:
 It makes me sound posh or successful.

LLO: How would you spend an ideal Saturday in London from when you wake up to when you go to sleep?
LH: 
I’d have a slow morning with a good newspaper and my bread machine working in the background. I’d be sat outside in the communal garden area on a bench. Then I’d go for a jog in Wimbledon Common and work up an appetite for a big lunch down in Wimbledon Village. In the afternoon I’d go off into town and visit an exhibition with friends at the Natural History Museum or Tate Modern and have a walk along the South Bank. I’d be picked up in a helicopter from the top of the OXO Tower and then taken on a tour of London where I did the navigating (but not the flying because that would go all wrong). Dinner. Cinema. Nightclub. Come out of the nightclub without the munchies so that I don’t go out and buy a kebab. And then a cab that will take me straight home and jump all the lights.

LLO: You travel outside of London quite a bit for work. Is there anything you miss about the city when you’re away? Anything you’re glad to escape?
LH: 
I miss the vibrancy and the cosmopolitan feel. You appreciate it in a different way. I miss the options that are available when I have free time to go out and do things. I do like getting away from the intensity and the density of the city.

LLO: Tell us about a Londoner you know who is doing something interesting worth talking about.
LH:
 I know a girl who is a science communicator. She travels around London and the country doing science gigs in pubs and clubs trying to enlighten people about science through comedy and showmanship.

LLO: Favourite London based athlete? Why?
LH: 
Frank Lampard because he’s the same age as me.

LLO: You bought a flat a few years ago. Any advice for Londoners looking to get onto the property ladder?
LH: 
The concept that you’re throwing your money away if you’re renting is a misnomer. If you are able to save while you’re renting, consider that saving to be mortgage repayments on the home you are going to buy. You won’t be paying interest on that part of the mortgage so when you do come to buy a home, your interest payments will be lower. This saving can at least if not more than compensate for the rent you are paying now.

LLO: Best London discovery?
LH: 
The Monument. It’s very old and the cheapest way to get a great view of the London skyline.

Thanks Lewis!

For more about Lewis and his work with Roehampton University, have a look here.

For more Listen to a Londoner posts, click here.

Londoners Ride Bikes

A photo entry today. Here’s a great Londoner shot from the Flickr pool, captured by Sabine Thoele. I am endlessly fascinated by Londoners. I could people watch for days on end and never get bored.

Born to ride

Anything exciting planned for this week? Anyone going to Stik’s Dulwich walk over the weekend?

Photography print giveaway coming soon…

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.

London Art Spot: Justin Sneddon

Justin Sneddon spends his working life exploring London’s streets as a taxi driver and a good chunk of his spare time as a exploring London’s faces as a photographer. He’s recently shed his inhibitions about approaching strangers in the street to photograph them for his growing collection of portraits and as a result, has been able to forge a greater connection with his subjects leading to more powerful images.

In his interview for London Art Spot, Justin talks about who and what inspired him to approach that first stranger, exactly what he said to him and the most negative reaction he’s received so far.  Scroll down and, between Justin’s stories, you’ll see some lovely work and a brave approach to street photography.

LLO:  Give us a bit of background info first. Where are you from and what do you do for a living?
JS: I am a London taxi driver. I grew up in Greenwich and now live in Bexleyheath, Kent.

LLO: How has your photography style changed and developed over the years?
JS: I don’t think it has changed, at least not in the style sense. I have always made an attempt to frame my shots properly, and where possible include some background or foreground detail. The reason I wanted to start getting closer and closer to my subjects was that the more I travelled, the more I saw the world becoming homogenised, thus making getting an unique photo from a particular destination very difficult. Basically it’s all just glass and concrete, no matter where you are. My first trip with my first digital SLR was Hong Kong, and I know it sounds utterly ridiculous, but I was expecting it to look like it did in the film Enter The Dragon. What I mean was I was looking forward to the low flying aircraft coming into land (the airport has been moved further away), rickshaws (gone), and the bustling Junks of Aberdeen Bay (now more a tourist attraction). Then what happens when you point your camera at someone abroad is they either pick up an object to hide their face, or hold their hand out for money.

LLO: When did you start taking street portraits?
JS: I have been doing street photography for a few years now, but it has always been in one of two forms.  The first was “from the hip”, which was putting a wide angle/standard lens on, setting the camera to servo, and taking photos anywhere but up against my face.  I would see someone that caught my eye, then employ various methods to avoid looking like I was taking a photo of them.  This way resulted in some nice candid shots, but I also lost a lot because they were out of focus, or cut parts of bodies off.

The second method was to use a telephoto lens 300/400mm, and take a photo while  maintaining  a  comfortable distance. The problem I have always had with these two methods is the anxiety beforehand, the funny looks I was about to get, and people looking annoyed that I was photographing them.

LLO: What influenced you to begin capturing strangers with your camera?
JS: A few months ago I picked up someone who was a friend of my someone in my family, and who was, how can I say, always extravagantly dressed – usually a leather trench coat, lots of piercings, and dark make-up. I told him about my photography methods, and he said disagreed with that approach, that if someone asked to take his picture, he would gladly let them.  I then heard about the street photographer Eric Kim on The Candid Frame podcast, and listened to his methods.  He actually, for most of his shots, asked people, and they, for the most part, agreed.  After getting my hands on a 50mm f1.4 lens last year, and seeing the stunning results using the shallow depth of field, I decided I wanted to take pictures of people with just their eye(s) in focus.  I preferred this because it meant the image doesn’t look flat due to a person’s whole head being pin sharp.  It also means that photos look like they were taken with an SLR, not a compact.  The final item that I needed, which arrived this week, was a battery grip for my DSLR.  First of all you don’t have to arch your arm right round when you need to turn the camera to portrait, but most importantly, when people see this monster of a camera I am carrying, they take you very seriously.  I remember reading an article about a pro who goes to big events, and he noted that the bigger & more impressive his camera looked (battery grips, flashes and brackets, big lenses), the more celebrities etc would want to to stop and allow themselves to be photographed.

LLO: How do you approach people?
JS: The decider was seeing a tweet that listed Eric Kim’s “102 things I have learned from street photography”, and one was to ask people if you can take their picture – they are usually always very  accommodating.

So off I headed for the Brick Lane area; I parked up just east of it (most places free on a Saturday), and headed down one of the many graffiti covered streets looking for my first victim, err, I mean, model.  My first was a real gem, a guy, maybe in his mid thirties, dressed pretty normally, but, he was adjusting his monocle!!  That was really rare, I had to get him, so I crossed the road and made sure I stopped about 10 feet in front of him; so as not to startle him.  I asked “excuse me, would you mind if I took your picture”, (holding my huge camera up for him to see) he replied “sure”, and the deed was done.  For the next hour and a half I wondered about, just asking this same question to people, and only 1 in 10 said “no thanks”.  I was asked a few times what it was for, and told them I was just a street photographer; this seemed to be enough of an answer for them all.  One thing I quickly realised that I needed to print up some business cards, as some people wanted to know where they could see their photo.  Roll on the next trip out.

LLO: Have you ever had a negative reaction from a subject? How did you (or would you) smooth over the situation?
JS: Yes, from a punk sitting on the canal bridge in Camden Town. I pointed my lens at him, he immediately clocked me and shouted “if you want to take my photo then I want money”. In that situation I just wondered off sheepishly. Hopefully now that I am asking people’s permission, I shouldn’t get any negative reactions.

LLO: Tell us about the most interesting Londoner you’ve had the pleasure of photographing so far.
JS: To be honest, I don’t really chat to the people that I photograph, other than asking them firstly to take their photo, and secondly to not step back as I want a full head shot. If I had to choose one, I would say the first I photographed with my new technique, which was the man with the monocle. Most of the other people that day looked like many other people I have seen around London – various lengths of facial hair, different styles (rockabilly, punk, hippies etc), different ethnicities – but why was this guy in his mid thirties wearing a monocle? I think maybe as I gain more confidence I will start asking people about their look, then I can add it in the description field on Flickr. Also, I have now printed up 1000 business cards to give people after I have photographed them. Maybe when they go on line to see their photo, they themselves may want to add something.

LLO: What do you hope to accomplish through this work?
JS: Why am I doing this? well I like to take pictures of anything that catches my eye, whether it’s a building or a bird, aircraft or a shark, but to be honest, they all become a bit stale after you have one or two photos of each.  You end up looking for that one “stunning” capture, which means you touch your shutter button less and less.  Not only is there always a different number of faces on this planet at any one time, but they change every fraction of a second depending on different circumstances – ageing, disease, emotion, make-up, pollution, location, time of day, lighting etc etc…  You can see whole stories in faces, and you can stare endlessly at one trying to imagine what’s going on in their minds and their lives.  Basically I can now see this being my chosen direction for the foreseeable future – to build a library of “faces”.

LLO: Where do you see your future as a photographer?
JS: I don’t want to become a photographer for a living, as every professional photographer I have ever met or read about, hardly ever lift their camera up for fun.  I am happy as a London Taxi driver, but wouldn’t mind my work being displayed in public – museums, galleries, shops – I don’t mind. One thing I did advertise myself as once was as a “personal travel photographer”. The idea being that someone, a couple, or a family, would hire me to travel with them, and record their trip through both pictures and video. This would then free them up to do what they want to do, and rest assured that all of their adventure would be recorded. Of course this would rely on them being relatively well off, as it would mean paying me not only a wage, but any transport, accommodation, and food costs. I created a website, but only got one enquiry in 2 years, so just let the website expire.

LLO: Which other London-based photographers do you most admire and why?
JS: I’ve always seen photographers being asked this question, and always dreading it being asked to me – because I don’t have any. I think is just down to I don’t spend much time scrolling through the internet looking at other people’s work. I have several other hobbies that take up much of my time. When it comes to my photography, I go out, take pictures for a few hours, spend an hour or so tweaking them before uploading to Flickr, then onto my other hobbies. I rely on suggestions from “Light Stalking”, “photojojo” and “petapixel” on Twitter. These bloggers put up links to cool stuff they’ve found, saving me the trouble, then I have quick scan.

Thanks Justin!

See more of Justin’s work, visit his Flickr page.

For more London Art Spot interviews, click here.