Saturday, March 31, 2012

One Year Later...

Today is the one-year anniversary of our arrival in London.  It went by fast!  I still feel like we just got here, but at least that "stranger in a strange land" feeling is wearing off.

When we first arrived and I was dealing with all the hassles of figuring out how everything works and trying to get our house set up, I had a lot of complaints.  I probably still do, but there are some aspects of living here that have certainly grown on me...
  • Public Transportation:  We didn't use our car much when we lived in DC, but not even owning a car is a whole new ball game.  Getting around London (and England) by bus, train, tram, tube, and even boat can be complicated and expensive, but you can always get where you need to go.  And it's often still a lot faster and cheaper than driving, especially when you factor in parking, fuel, and insurance, all of which are much more expensive here.
Wimbledon Tube/Train/Tram station
  • Walkability:  Most public footpaths in England pre-date the roads, and are considered sacrosanct, even if they run through the middle of someone's property, a farm field, or an exclusive neighborhood. You can see some amazing things traversing the countryside on foot that you'd miss entirely from a car.
  • TV Dramas:  Downton Abbey.  Need I say more?
  • Supermarkets:  Between grocery delivery and yummy ready-to-cook meals you can just pop in the oven, food shopping has become a whole new experience.  I don't know how I'd survive without Marks & Spencer's £10 meal deal -- main course, side dish, dessert, AND a bottle of wine!
  •  Dairy Products/Chocolate: Speaking of food, I've found that the dairy products here -- milk, butter, cheese, yogurt, etc -- taste much better than their American counterparts.  The same goes for chocolate.  So. Much. Better.
  • Travel:   The departures boards at Heathrow and Gatwick are laden with airlines I've never heard of flying to places I've never heard of.  You can go to Europe for the weekend with no jet lag.  In the past year, we've been to Paris (twice!), Brussels, Vienna, and Innsbruck, and have taken several day-trips to cities all over southern England. 
Notre Dame in Paris
  • Architecture:  Almost any building that survived WWII is worth taking a picture of.  They don't build them like that anymore...
The Churchill Arms pub
Watts Chapel
  •  Festivals:  There seems to be a festival or celebration of one kind or another in London nearly every weekend.  We probably average one per month, if not more.
  • History:  Coming from a country that's less than 250 years old, my mind is constantly blown by how far back history goes here.  A book I recently read about the history of London starts out nearly 2000 years ago.
Tower of London - built nearly 1000 years ago
  • Afternoon tea:  Who doesn't feel a bit peckish in the late afternoon?  Freshly-brewed tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam are a much better snack than anything you can get out of a vending machine.  This is a tradition we have wholeheartedly embraced -- although the scones and cream are an occasional treat, not a daily indulgence.  I always enjoy catching up with my neighbor over a "cuppa."
  • The AWC: I've made a lot of new friends, learned how to play Mah Jongg, and explored parts of London I never would have known about through the American Women's Club.  It has really helped me feel at home here and find ways to fit in.  In fact, I was recently asked to join their Board of Directors, so I'm sure you'll be hearing more about the AWC from me.

So, yes, I do like living here, despite the drawbacks.  What do I still miss?  Besides my friends and family, there are a few things...
  • Clothes dryers:  We have a small washing machine, but no dryer.  In the summer, when it's not raining, we hang our laundry out to dry on a clothesline in the back yard.  In the winter, we hang them on a drying rack by the radiator in the guest room.  If it's not warm and sunny out, or cold enough to have the heat on, it can take 24 hours for our clothes to dry, and our towels feel like sandpaper.
  • Refrigerators:  The refrigerators here are tiny, and the freezers even smaller.   They are designed to be installed under a kitchen counter, like a dishwasher.  They have no space for large or tall items.  Ice maker?  Forget it!
Fridge on top, freezer on bottom
  • Mixer taps:  Yes, they have finally adopted mixer tap technology here, but apparently some people still find separate hot and cold taps charming enough that they insist on installing them even in new sinks -- like the one in our bathroom.  Many public restrooms have them as well, which means you have the option of washing your hands in either ice cold or scalding hot water.
Our bathroom sink
  • Sandwiches:  I don't care how freshly made they are, I am not a fan of pre-made, pre-packaged sandwiches -- but that's the norm here.  I will occasionally go to Subway just to enjoy a sandwich that has exactly what I like in it.  No onions, no mayo, no rocket (arugula).  Ahhhh.
  • Mexican food:  Indian food is the Mexican food of England.  Not a lot of Mexicans in London -- I think the few Mexican restaurants here are owned by Americans.
  • Ice tea:  They love tea, but not ice.
  • Customer service:  "Are you alright there?" is not quite the same as "May I help you?"  
  • Water pressure:  I have yet to take a shower here with consistently pleasant water pressure and temperature.
  • Window screens:  We do get nice weather here, but when you open the windows you end up with a house full of flies and bees.
  • Bargains:  Everything is more expensive here, to the point where I do most of my shopping during visits back to the States.  The same pair of Levi's that I bought for $45 costs £80 ($128) here.  The IKEA lamp I paid $20 for in Virginia sells for £20 ($32) here.  I've learned to stop converting pounds into dollars, but I still have a hard time paying £30 for something I wouldn't pay $30 for.

I'll have to read this a year from now and see if I still feel the same way, or if there's anything I want to add or subtract from these lists.  


  1. I enjoyed your recap of life in our beloved London. Smiles and laughter go a long way, right? Got to find some of that chocolate chip peanut butter!

  2. Better than a travel guide. It sounds like a great experience, Naina. I'm sure you'll remember it fondly one day and it seems you're making the most of it. I'm particularly jealous of the easy getaways to the rest of Europe!


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