I moved to London last September after graduating that summer. After years of passing through London, and my parents semi-living here, I foolishly thought that I already knew a lot about London. I was wrong.
I’d seen the major tourist sites. I didn’t get lost or stressed on the tube. But I didn’t really know what it meant to navigate living in a megacity. In the last year, I’ve actually been learning how best to live in a huge, chaotic, thriving place like London. Post-graduation, everything was such a blur between travelling and interviewing and moving, that a year has honestly slipped away from me in a blur of 9-5 days and 2-for-1 drink evenings. It’s been a blast. I feel like I’m just starting to ‘get’ this place.
It’s big. Really big.
London is actually huge. Coming from a childhood in Oxford and a degree in Cambridge, ‘a long way’ to me meant somewhere that you might get a bit sweaty on a cycle. The centre of Cambridge is about the size of King’s Cross station so we’re talking orders of magnitude larger. If something is thirty minutes away, it’s next door. I can get from my house to Cambridge in the same time it would take me to get from Stratford to Putney, which, in the words of my friend Nick, “are actually at the global diametric opposite positions to each other.”
Get on your bike
Transport in London is fucking expensive. It’s super convenient, so can be worth it, but taking the tube multiple times a day, every day, can really add up. If it works for you, get two wheels and brave the streets. I’ll be honest – cycling in London has its moments. Only two weeks ago I was thrown off my bike after crashing into a pedestrian who strode out into the middle of a busy road without looking because she was glued to her phone. I yelled, I hit the brakes, she screamed, I soared through the air, she was fine and I couldn’t turn my head for three days. I have now become that cyclist who yells at people as they sprint across the road during the traffic’s green light. They then look flustered and pretend they had no idea they were crossing the road. (I am aware that cyclists and drivers can be just as bad but honestly the past few weeks have convinced me that all pedestrians are secretly competing to see who can almost kill the most people on their way to work.)
Um. Having just re-read this paragraph I appreciate that I’m not really selling the cycling thing. Despite a few moments of abject terror, I truly love cycling around the city. It’s free, it gets me moving and it lets you actually see London. The tube is amazing but you do just pop up at various stations without having any idea where you are. As I cycle around, I understand how the streets link up and what goes where. It lets me fit the puzzle pieces of the numerous London areas together. Plus, everyone should cycle across Waterloo Bridge at night because it’s awesome in the truest sense of the word.
Unfortunately, with food, you usually get what you pay for
London is expensive. That’s not exactly breaking news. But it’s made more expensive if you habitually leak money on mediocre Pret sandwiches. You can spend a lot of money on food and drink that just isn’t worth it. I love the idea of finding London’s hidden food gems – cheap eats that taste incredible. This is definitely possible (I’m looking at you, Bone Daddies) but for the most part, I’ve found that’s really easy to spend £50 on fairly plain food or £40 on a couple of badly mixed drinks. While you do have try places to find out if dropping some dollar is worth it or not, for the most part, if you buy average chain food you will be eating average chain food. Bring lunch from home and save it for a nicer dinner somewhere.
It’s so well connected to Europe
Again, I know this isn’t breaking news. Major world hub and UK capital has the greatest concentrations of airports and regular links to other countries. Give me a medal for observation. But when you like to travel and are lucky enough to have the opportunity to, it’s so straightforward! From Central London, you’re at max an hour from all five of the main London airports (don’t listen to anyone who says Southend is a convenient London airport. It’s not. It’s basically on the coast.)
After leaving work, I’d made it to a different country by 9pm UK time! Usually all I’ve done by 9pm is settled into my favourite corner of the sofa.
This is hands-down my favourite thing about living here. With Jake working in the theatre industry, us getting our own tickets and both sets of our parents generously inviting us to shows with them, I’ve been able to see some amazing theatre in the last year. Both the Hamilton and Six songs have been the soundtrack to my life at various points, resulting in Jake banning me from singing them at home. I said indignantly, “how am I going to learn Lafayette’s Guns and Ships rap if I don’t practise?!” I’m not throwing away my shot at lyric dominance (because a random white girl was the person Lin-Manuel Miranda had in mind when writing these songs, of course). Hours of entertainment after the curtain falls.
I also wept copiously at the stage show of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls and teared up during the stirring finale of the student production of Made in Dagenham that Jake worked on, which told the story of equal-pay in the UK. Nothing quite like live theatre.
Tower Bridge is the best
This is my favourite spot in London. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve spent looking at and photographing this bridge. Look at it.
I just love my parents
After years living in a different city, in the notoriously narcissistic Cambridge bubble no less, it continues to be so lovely to be able to pop over for a quick dinner with my dad or grab post-work drinks with Mum. The problem with adulthood’s long distance friendships is that every meet-up can become a prolonged catch-up, with very little time to just be in each other’s company and do the things you used to enjoy doing together. It’s so relaxing to feel up to date with my family and get to see them regularly, without spending a whole weekend making the trip home or planning it for months in advance. I can’t say that we will always live in the same city, but for as long as we do, I will continue to make the most of my parents being close to me. And not just for the free food. Though I won’t turn it down because free food. I’m not a masochist.
(This post has also alerted me to how few photos I’ve taken with my parents recently. On the to-do list).
I like London. As someone who is known for being loud and brash, I think it suits me. It’s not all sunshine and cycle superhighways (don’t ask about our neighbour and his rat gun or paying £9 for a green soup by St Paul’s) but broadly, London and I get on. Looking forward to year two!