Welcome to my new Living in London series! Over the course of the next two years, I’ll call London home. In honor of my new city, I wanted to delve into the highs and lows of living here in a way I never quite did with Paris. Each month, I’ll highlight my favorite London find of the month, give some insight into the madness of living in this city, and provide any news on what’s next.
So without further ado…
Living in London Chapter 1: Overview
I spent 20 minutes in my new London apartment before sprinting to the train station to catch my connection up to Edinburgh.
This past month has passed in snapshots and blurs; the days are oddly divided up into segments, each entirely separate from the rest.
But I’m here. In London. And there’s a satisfaction in that. A magic in that.
Not everything has been perfect, though.
For example, the person who rented my room before me was a costume designer.
Except that she left behind a present…
Many presents in fact, in the form of tons of pins and needles hidden all over my floor. It’s a war zone. I also found a cardboard box hidden underneath my mattress…? No, not the bed, the mattress.
Anyone know what that’s about?
I will say that my bedroom is larger than my Parisian apartment, I can extend both arms without touching my walls, and we’ve yet to have another pigeon incident, so I really can’t complain.
It’s been an emotional experience, though.
All I’ve wanted since I said goodbye to Paris June 6th was to return to Europe. I spent most of the year planning, scheming, waiting, dreaming. And now I’m in London.
It was in Paris when I first hatched plans to move to London. It was on my evening walks along the Seine when I’d imagine London life: working on a Masters, watching the bright red double decker buses swerve through city streets, following in the footsteps of Charles Dickens. London reminded me of home.
Not that it bears any resemblance whatsoever to my hometown Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin.
But that notion of home – of belonging, contentment, comfort – though with that extra excitement – that extra unknown to make it spectacular.
To be living out my Parisian wish – finally living in London, just a year later than expected, feels foreign.
It was in Paris when I fell in love. I’d finish work, climb the rickety steps up to my tiny chambre de bonne, with its white walls, yellow trim, and blue curtains. I’d go immediately to my window and watch the Eiffel Tower light up the night sky.
My life in Paris was impossible to maintain. Impossibly beautiful, impossibly heartbreaking, and it was all just a bit too much. Too good, too stressful, too perfectly Parisian to replicate anywhere else.
The past two years have been so condensed with lessons and crying and hoping and loving, that I can barely believe I’m actually here, living the life I wanted to live. I’ve had to develop such thick skin. Learn that it’s okay to feel however I feel. To move on, to parcel through which people to hold on to, and which ones to let go of, with countries or harsh words creating chasms that grew wider and wider with each day.
“You’ve got to be more like a duck, Alex,” my mom would tell me.
“A duck? Seriously?”
“Yes! Their coats are made to let everything roll right off of them. Just let it roll off.”
That quote stuck with me so much, I may have even mentioned it on this blog before. I’m not particularly duck-like. I’m sensitive, and words – whether meant or not – sink into my skin and stay there for months.
But I have changed, and I barely recognize the person I was when I first moved to Paris two years ago, back when I started this blog.
There’s a disconnect – a disparity now – for better and for worse.
So to be here, in London, living the life I imagined, feels like remembering a dream. I’m both incredibly grateful and shocked.
I knew moving here would be emotional. I knew it would be difficult, and it’s both less and more than what I expected.
It’s noisy – people shoving into you – sweaty Tube interactions – passive aggressive British people – surprised faces when I start chatting.
The walls of my new apartment are thin. Babies are crying, people are screaming, drunk students are laughing, and it’s all a blend of life and music and ever-present noise. You can’t get away from it. I love it and hate it.
But my street is so typically London, with its white and red brick buildings, bright blue doors, and a 16th century church casually hanging out in the nearby greenery.
It’s not a view of the Eiffel Tower. But it’s mine, and it’s real, and it’s happening, and I’m just trying to absorb it bit by bit, piece by piece, until my new life begins to make sense.
In the meantime, I have a new green zebra pillow, I’ve pitched the moldy duvet that came with the flat, and I’ve removed the odd cardboard box hidden beneath my mattress.
All in all, I’d say we’re off to a good start.
Book of the Month:
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
*A memoir about living in poverty in both Paris and London
Honestly, I don’t know how it took me so long to read this book. Nowadays, Orwell is primarily known for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, but during his lifetime, people regarded him as a journalist; I’d highly recommend reading through his essays.
Down and Out in Paris and London is wrought with flaws, as Orwell makes these sweeping generalizations about life (apparently the secret to a truly successful restaurant is sharp knives), but I found the book both endearing in its faults, and poignant in its strengths. He describes living in the slums of both Paris and London in the early 20th century, offering a gritty insight into these iconic cities, as well as a cutting social commentary, making for a fascinating read.
On London versus Paris:
“It was queer after Paris; everything was so much cleaner and quieter and drearier. One missed the scream of the trams, and the noisy, festering life of the back streets, and the armed men clattering through the squares. The crowds were better dressed and the faces comelier an milder and more alike, without that fierce individuality and malice of the French. There was less drunkeness, and less dirt, and less quarreling, and more idling. Knots of men stood at all corners, slightly underfed, but kept going by the tea-and-two-slices which the Londoner swallows every two hours. One seemed to breathe a less feverish air than in Paris. It was the land of the tea urn and the Labor Exchange, as Paris is the land of the bistro and the sweatshop.”
Blog posts published this month
In case you haven’t noticed, I have a new site! With a new city comes new updates, and I’m so excited to share my upcoming London and travel experiences with you.
London Favorite of the Month
Timber Yard Cafe
No matter where I am, I take it upon myself to find the best cafes (and croissants). Working remotely has its ups and downs, and I’ve found that I work better in cafes than at home. This month, Timber Yard, with its drip coffees, friendly staff, and delicious baked goods – has become my office of choice. Definitely check it out if you’re ever in the Islington area!
Most British thing I’ve heard this month
“The people here simply don’t know how to cue! Excuse me. Pardon. Excuse me.” – A British man aghast at the free for all on Oslo’s metro escalators.
Places Visited This Month
Well this month, I’m off to Paris! The very idea gives me goosebumps. I don’t know how I’ll feel, what the experience will be like. It’s an anxious excitement – has anyone ever felt that way? Where you fall in love with a place, but your associations with it are so complex, so nuanced, the idea of returning simultaneously fills you with dread and excitement.
My favorite memories are almost always small and inconsequential. Standing atop the Oslo fortress, watching the distant boats in the harbor, cocooned in scarves and sweaters.
Or – the most unimportant and important of all – walking back to my freshly cleaned and decorated apartment one night, my arms laden down with groceries. Ingrid Michaelson’s Home was blasting through my poor headphones, and just for a moment, everything felt as it should be. The chaos of finding an apartment, traveling, unpacking, adjusting, had all begun to fade, and its place, I found home.