Summertime: London vs New York

When I was asked to compare summers as I remembered them from New York and summers as I now experience them in London, nostalgia and anticipation kicked in in equal measure.

This year, summer also means our wedding.

In both places, summer means planning holidays, which is always exciting. To find London hotels for our wedding, a few friends have used Hotel Direct, who have sponsored this post. We’ll be looking for honeymoon options soon, so I’ll be doing searches for Hawaii, Costa Rica and Kenya to weigh our options. In the meantime, bring on that summer sun!

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New York summers for me were not city summers as you might think when New York comes to mind, but upstate New York summers, which are much different.

Temperatures soar to reach 30C / 85F or higher in New York,. There is a real crisp distinction between seasons. It can be humid and exhausting after a while, but after a harsh, snowy winter, it is much appreciated. In London, summer could sit at spring-like temperatures of 20C / 68F with a random spike up to 28C / 82F on a handful of lucky days. When that happens, layers are stripped, parks are packed and the whole city digs out their sunglasses.

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Summer in New York smells of freshly snipped mint decorating a refreshing glass of iced tea. There’s the earthy scent of just watered cherry tomatoes growing in the garden, freshly cut grass and nighttime campfires. London summers smell of sugary roasting nuts on Westminster Bridge, the sweet scent of rose gardens in Regents Park, the mix of curries and crepes in the markets of Brick Lane.

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In New York, summer tastes like juicy cheeseburgers cooked on the garden grill, of Piece of Cake ice cream eaten on the rocky banks of the sparkling Niagara River and of sticky s’mores roasted over a bonfire on a warm night. In London, it’s jugs of fruity Pimms all around, cups of gelato enjoyed during a walk along the Serpentine in Hyde Park and lovely picnic spreads with strawberries, cheese and freshly baked baguettes from Gails.

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The buzz of local outdoor concerts mark the summer sounds of New York. Also, loud music pumping from souped-up cars and the outburst of afternoon thunderstorms we watch from the front porch as fork lightning streaks across the sky. In London, summer brings the sound of revving engines tearing down the King’s Road, buskers’ Calypso music played on steel pan drums and the merged conversations of crowds milling on the pavement outside of local pubs.

Summers in New York bring textures of hot driveway blacktop scalding bare feet, the rough bark of logs tossed into the fire, the hot seats of a car parked too long in the sun. In London, summers bring grass between toes in Hampstead Heath, the lightness of fabrics between fingers and the many pampering textures of a pedicure.

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In New York, summers mean camping in the wilderness, kayaking on the lake, outdoor music and Fourth of July fireworks. There are shorts and flip flops and baseball caps. In London, summer means the colours of Holi celebrations, visits to the lively Columbia Road flower market and lazy afternoons enjoying long lunches and people watching at outdoor cafes. There are flowing summer dresses and strappy sandals and designer sunglasses.

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This is summer for me. Let me know what summer means for you, if you’re going anywhere exciting this year and what memories it brings back from your childhood days!

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Exploring Lancaster Gate on a Go Native Staycation

Jorge and I were invited a few weeks ago to stay in a new Go Native serviced apartment property on Sussex Gardens near Lancaster Gate and Hyde Park.

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We thought it might be fun to have a little staycation in a different neighbourhood. So we packed our overnight bags and walked from South Kensington to Exhibition Road and over to the other side of Hyde Park to check it out.

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It was still surprisingly Autumnal in the park the first weekend of December.

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There are berries and colourful leaves on some of the trees.

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Others were bare and still others dark green.

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Some had colourful trunks instead.

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We wandered up past the Peter Pan statue.

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It was always one of my favourite stories when I was younger.

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Then it was onward along The Long Water at the north end of the Serpentine where the birds always line up on a row of wooden posts.

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A little Australian boy was told off by his mother for trying to pelt them with stones.

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But overall, it was a very peaceful stroll.

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One of my favourite places in the park is the Italian Gardens, which I was happy to realise were on our route.

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There’s a fountain at the one end where you can stand and look back over the Serpentine.

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It wasn’t a very sunny day, but it was still a stunning view. Imagine with bright blue skies.

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The birds thought it was nice enough to go for a swim anyway.

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We reached the end of the park.

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The rest of the walk was just five minutes up through Sussex Gardens.

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We went to drop our bags in the lobby.

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Then we decided to consult the neighbourhood guide that Go Native had sent us for some ideas on what to do next.

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We were intrigued by the nearby Leinster Gardens Fake Houses and took a walk in that direction. We passed a small street with shops and some Christmas trees for sale on the corner.

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Then we turned down a pretty ordinary residential street in this area with big expensive homes just minutes walk to the edge of Hyde Park.

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And we found ourselves standing in front of two ordinary looking buildings that we wouldn’t have looked at twice unless we had read the guide. It said: “Take a stroll along Leinster Gardens (just off Lancaster Gate) and you’ll see that numbers 23 and 24 are eerily empty, both missing letterboxes and with their windows painted over. That’s because they’re an illusion. The original houses were demolished during the development of the London Underground and these facades mask the gap that remained.” Learn something new every day, right?

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What next? It was Sunday and we were hungry so clearly a Sunday Roast was in order. But where? After consulting that handy guide, we settled on The Grazing Goat. “Minutes away from Marble Arch is this hidden gem. A simple, elegant pub, it specialises in beer and guest ales but also has a reputation for fresh, seasonal food – specifically, their traditional Sunday lunch. Named after Lady Portman’s grazing goats that once populated the surrounding land, it doubles as the perfect reason to visit Portman Village.”

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So we walked back the way we came and followed the edge of the park down toward Marble Arch.

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This time, on the same route, I spotted something I love to find in big cities – a rack of international newspapers in a mishmash of languages. I can’t read any of them and I never buy any of them, but I love that they are a sign of such incredible diversity.

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We also spotted a sign on a door that said United Lodge of Theosophists. I had a relatively good idea of what that was but looked it up just to be sure. If you’re curious, theosophy is defined by “systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity.”

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Moving on then. Around the corner, we came to Sheila’s Cafe, a hidden little place at the top of Lancaster Mews. With two tables for two, it’s mostly a sandwich takeaway shop and apparently popular with cab drivers and builders. The bacon sandwich got good reviews. We didn’t stop though.

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Across the street from Sheila’s is The Mitre, a popular pub that was listed in our guide, which reads: “Housed in a Grade II listed building, The Mitre was once populated by the Lords and Ladies of the day. Now, film buffs are more likely to recognise it from Woody Allen’s London-based movie Match Point.” Haven’t seen it. Have you? Any good?

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Anyway, we didn’t stop there either.

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We reached the park and kicked through the leaves near the Boris bikes.

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And wondered why there were no less than four red phone boxes back to back in a square across from them.

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Eventually we reached Portman Village, just between the madness of Edgware Road and the madness of Oxford Street. The Grazing Goat was tucked quietly away on a side street.

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But we opened the doors to a packed pub and waited at the bar for a table.

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It had been a while since I had a Sunday roast so it took me a minute to decide but I went with the lamb.

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The food was great and it was worth a visit, but the pub was incredibly noisy and full of squirming, screaming children so we were happy to leave.

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It was time to check into our room anyway.

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This time we went through the back streets. We wanted to check out Connaught Street. According to our guide, it “boasts two worthwhile spots: Le Pain Quotidien and Coco Maya, the latter of which is on the border of Connaught Street and Porchester Place. Interestingly, this is where Tony Blair and his family live – identifiable by the armed protection squad outside.” There was indeed an armed guard in front of a mews.

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The sun was already setting so it was a pretty walk.

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So we made it back and were shown to a large suite on the ground floor with a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen area. It was, however, quite dark and four of the lights didn’t work so we called for someone to have a look.

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Apparently they didn’t have replacement bulbs because they were waiting on a shipment that hadn’t arrived so they kindly gave us a choice of two other apartments upstairs. The one we chose was lovely, with a huge wraparound balcony.

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Unfortunately it was too chilly to properly enjoy it, but the inside was really nice as well. It had very high ceilings, a spare room with a couch and extra set of towels, a living room and kitchen area, a bedroom and a bathroom. Definitely very spacious for London!

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It was also very cool to see they had thoughtfully left a small carton of milk, sugar, tea and coffee as well as dishwasher soap, washing up liquid, and laundry detergent for the small washing machine.

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The kitchen was fully stocked with pots and pans and everything you need really. One thing that would have been nice that we didn’t see is oil for cooking. But we didn’t use the kitchen.

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Taking advantage of its proximity, we headed back into the darkness to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland where we ate German sausages, churros and sweets for dinner instead.

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Jorge was amused by the fake snow, which he hadn’t seen before.

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I, on the other hand, am wishing for real snow, but considering it is still about 13C / 55F in London, that’s not looking likely any time soon.

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We didn’t go on any of the rides.

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Nor did we play any of the games.

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But we did do one of my favourite activities – try on silly hats!

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Jorge was going for the furry Russian look.

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I went the reindeer route.

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We were there mostly just to soak up the atmosphere.

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And then we headed back again.

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This time we walked through the Bathurst Mews where the Hyde Park Stables are, to see the horses that were tucked away for the night.

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Back in the apartment, we found a late night Christmas movie and then got up and walked the 40 minutes to work the next morning.

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All in all, a fun little adventure. I do like the idea of a staycation. While it wasn’t too far from where we live now, it was a nice getaway! If it were in East London and it was over a weekend, it would have felt like we’d really been on holiday!

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 Thanks Go Native!

Sponsored Post: A guide to alternative Christmas events in London

Have you ever wanted to say Bah! Humbug to a traditional Christmas, but still want to see friends and family over the festive season? We have discovered some great alternative events in London that are sure to tickle your fancy.

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Photo: Bint by Steve Reed

Walking With Dinosaurs

The O2 Arena will be hosting the return of the family event, Walking With Dinosaurs. From 26th December and through to 6th January audiences can watch walking life-size dinosaurs. This is the perfect event to take the family to if your kids loved watching the BBC series and are fascinated with these monstrous vertebrates. Using state of the art animatronics you will feel as if these creatures have returned from extinction and are on the hunt for their next meal. Ticket prices start from £29.

For more information on Walking with Dinosaurs check out the O2 website.

Harry Potter Christmas Tour with Muggle Tours

Always wanted to discover the film locations that created a backdrop for one of the greatest family adventures? Muggle tour guides will take you on a trip across London, showing you the attractions that inspired J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. The event runs on the weekends leading up to Christmas with the final date being 26th December. Yes, that’s right you can even take a guided tour on Christmas Day!

Find out more information by going to the Muggle Tours website.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!

Why spend Christmas cooped up indoors when you can discover a two-headed calf, a blue-faced man from China and over 700 other weird exhibits? Piccadilly Circus will be over-run by all things extraordinary and out of this world. Leading up to the main event you can see a vegetable orchestra, Phat Santa DJ, a giant snow globe, mini Santa, live reindeer and even a cow drawn open sleigh. Now if you wanted a Christmas with a twist, Ripley has got that covered.

Have a look at the Ripley London website and discover what else there is to discover.

Other Alternative Christmas Events in London

So there you have it, London is open 365 days a year, including Christmas Day. So why not ban Christmas this year like Oliver Cromwell and discover an alternative way of making the most of the day?

A Guide to Alternative Christmas Events in London is a sponsored post written by Refresh Accommodation. If you fancy taking a trip to London over the festive season to enjoy an alternative Christmas, why not have a look at the range of service apartments Refresh Accommodation have to offer?

Sponsored Post: The House swapping Craze in London

This is a sponsored  post by Londoner Tracey Chandler, aimed at those of you who would like to visit London more so than those of us who already live here. Although, if I had a house of my own (perhaps one of those “grand house with spacious rooms, a conservatory and a large garden” in Hampstead that Tracey mentions would be nice), I’d certainly be willing to think about it if it meant travelling on the cheap and staying somewhere equally fabulous in a different country. Anyway, here’s Tracey, writing for lovehomeswap.com…

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Photo: At Home by Dave McGowan
(from the LLO Flickr Pool)

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Words by Tracey Chandler

With the current economic climate, house swapping is fast becoming a new craze. Given that accommodation is the most expensive part of any trip, house swapping is a great low-cost holiday option, allowing you to save money whilst still staying in luxury accommodation.

London has become an incredibly popular place for house swaps. It’s now the most requested global holiday swap destination on many home-swap sites, including Love Home Swap. London has a variety of options when it comes to what type of accommodation you’re looking for, and what area you’d like to stay in.

Here are some of the choices London has to offer:

Hackney. You could swap your home to live in a purpose-built flat from the 1960s in Hackney, East London. During your stay, enjoy the trendy bars along Broadway Market and the food market that takes place here on Saturdays.

Highbury and Islington. Perhaps you’d rather stay in a spacious flat built in the 18th Century in Highbury and Islington, North London? A short distance away is Highbury Fields, perfect for a morning stroll and a stop off at a café. Upper Street is definitely worth a visit, with its many independent retailers as well as great restaurants and bars.

Hampstead. Swap your home to live in Hampstead – enjoy Edwardian architecture in a grand house with spacious rooms, a conservatory and a large garden. You could visit Keats House during your stay and revel in British Literature. If you’re looking to do some sightseeing, you could climb up to Primrose Hill, which is a short walk away. From here you can get a clear and breathtaking view of central London.

Richmond. Enjoy Victorian architecture in Richmond, South West London. Here you can walk or cycle along by the river and visit Kew Gardens, which is a World Heritage site. Richmond Park, the second largest park in London, is also very close. You could make a day of it and take a picnic, or stop off at a bar along the riverside. Richmond is just a short drive from Heathrow, so it’s easily accessible.

Chelsea. Have a real adventure and stay in an elegant, but cosy, houseboat on the Thames in Chelsea. Here you’ll be near Hyde Park and the Notting Hill area, home to the famous Portobello Road Market. For a good place to have a drink, why not just go up on to the terrace and soak in the scenery?

London is certainly a place of great variety. When it comes to home-swapping, you’re bound to find something for you. If any of these places in London have taken your fancy and you want to find out more, just check out this page and a low-budget, luxury holiday could be just a click away.

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Bio

Tracey Chandler is a freelance travel writer, originally from London, making her way around Latin America at present, with plenty of romantic stories to share.

Londoners Abroad: 6 reasons why Latin Americans want to learn British English

Having spent six months living in Latin America myself, I can say that this sponsored  post by Londoner Tracey Chandler rings true. Tracey has been living in Buenos Aires for a while now and is here to give us some insight on what it’s like to be a Londoner abroad. In this post, she tells us about the reputation of her mother tongue in her adopted country. As an American with a Spanish speaking boyfriend who learned English in the UK and uses BBC as guide for pronunciation, I often get teased for my American English accent and general “Americanisms”. It’s nice to hear Tracey is admired for her British one!

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Words by Tracey Chandler

As an expat Brit living in Latin America I have always been surprised at how highly thought of British English, as opposed to American English, is here. I had only just arrived when a new acquaintance grasped my hand firmly and declared warmly: “Me gustan los ingleses porque hablan muy lindo.” (“I love the English because they speak so nicely.”)

At the time I thought this an odd statement but I now understand that he meant we speak ‘proper’ English. Here are seven reasons why Latin Americans want to learn British English.

1. Authenticity and authority
In Latin America, British English is seen as the “authentic” English. It is as though the language began losing something the moment the Mayflower touched land in the Americas. Britain, home to Oxford and the world-famous guardians of the language at the Oxford English Dictionary, is seen as the original source of English.

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2. Social status
Linked to this is the view that British English confers a higher social standing on the speaker. This is a view that researchers have found extends to the States itself. Americans, when asked to rate the social status of people with standard American or standard British accents, have a strong tendency to assign speakers of British English a higher social status.

3. English schools
There is a belief in Latin America that English language schools in Britain are the best in the world. This is related to the points above, but it is certainly true that quality language schools such as UIC – the only language school in the world to win the Star Award and the British Council ELTon, as this page explains – have done much to cement this reputation.

4. The Latin American presence in London
In recent years there has been a growing Latin American presence in Britain. London, in particular, has seen a four-fold rise in its Latin American population over the last 10 years. This presence is a reflection of push factors from countries such as Brazil, but also of pull factors such as the high esteem that Britain is held in and the perceived opportunities that exist there even in an economic downturn.

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5. Studying English in London
An aspiration I have encountered many times is to study English in London. To learn English near the iconic images that define England’s capital – such as the London Eye, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral – is a dream held by many. It is as if the history and authority of these buildings will add the same qualities to the speaker’s English.

6. Being in London  specifically
For many, to study in London is to laze in Regent’s Park by day and party at night. The lure of British English is, in part, the lure of Europe. It is somewhere different where life must be better. It is not Central or South America nor the other America across the border, but somewhere new and fresh. Life must be better and the language must be better. Learning British English is like a passport to a better life.

Bio

Tracey writes her way around the globe, focusing on travel, culture and love. She has developed a penchant for Whitesnake and Joss Stone on a daily basis, doesn’t have the guts to jump out of a plane and cannot live without internet connection.

And a video for your amusement…