I love Londontown because I can walk by some hardcore punks with purple liberty spikes asking for change and then walk by a cute old couple sitting on a bench watching butterflies dance across a flower bed. And there is something to be said for a town where you can take a different route home and happen upon something beautiful you never even realised was there. I’ve walked home from an afternoon in Camden plenty of times, but I usually just take the main streets. Today we turned down a random road, walked down some moss-covered stone steps, and followed Regent’s Canal all the way home. It was the nicest 2-mile walk we’ve had in awhile and even the teens enjoyed it. Along the way we listened to the water splashed aside by the boats, found a cool bookshop, walked by some of the ZSL zoo habitats, and saw the garden side of some of the coolest houses in Primrose Hill.
So, I have a cat. Her name is Nani and she’ll be 13 this year. I adopted her as a kitten for my then 3-year-old and they became instant besties. She never left his side and when we’d come home she’d flop onto her back to get belly rubs or go find her bottle cap to play fetch (yes, she thinks she’s a dog). Since we moved abroad, we left her in the care of Auntie Wobbie because frankly she’s a cranky old lady and would hate that flight hard. When we visit home we carve out time just for Nani and we get pics of her so we know she’s still doin her thing.
The funny thing is, I was always afraid of being labelled a cat-lady. But after reading a blogging-pal’s post, I realized that what I am is just a proud pet-owner. She’s been around for the majority of my son’s life. She’s moved from place to place with us. She’s stayed by my side through sickness and heartbreak. She turned dog-people into Nani-fans. She comes up to you and meows and flops around and you can’t help but think she is rad.
So yeah we miss her. We’ve adopted some great kittens here in London that are awesome and we’ll take them back to the States with us one day, but Nani. She’s badass.
One product that we love for our day trips around London are these flashcard-style walking tours for areas all throughout London. Anytime we’re stumped for something to do we go to the cards, randomly pick one out, and off we go!
What I love about these cards is they are so easy! They point out an Underground station to start at and give super simple directions on where to walk and points along the way. And the set is affordable on sites like Amazon, much cheaper than paying for individual guided tours all the time.
Not only do you learn a little bit about the area with the descriptions of various landmarks, but they also highlight good places to eat along your journey, maybe a bookstore you never knew existed, or cool pubs to pop into for a pint.
We’ve made it about halfway through our cards. We even let the teenage monkeys take turns picking out a card and it’s fun to go discover a new area we can go hang out in or show friends when they come to visit. I’d highly recommend this nifty little find to anyone who’d love a good walk about London!
For City Walks cards in other cities: Chronicle Books
So as you’ll quickly learn… we’re dorks. We love a good walking tour or cheesy day trip anywhere and when I tell my Londoner friends where we’ve gone, I always get the response, “Where’s that?!” or “I think I went there as a kid.” Luckily, one of my good friends here is just as bad as we are and told us about the National Trust, which has loads of great historical buildings, gardens, castles, etc. all over the UK that you can take tours of. There are some great places locally around London, but if you like short train rides or getting in the car and cruising through the English country, there are endless options for day and weekend trips. Dork urges fulfilled.
Our first adventure on the list was to Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. We took an easy one-hour drive from London. It was built by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1874 to display his art collection. The 45 rooms on view contain beautiful French furniture and decor from the 18th century.
The Victorian garden is considered one of the finest in Britain with its parterre, seasonal displays, fountains and statuary. At its heart lies the aviary, stocked with species once part of Baron Ferdinand’s collection.
Before our drive back home we stopped at a local pub, Queen’s Head. Super nice atmosphere with an outdoor patio and a Thai kitchen.
As American Expats in London we have completely embraced two things: walking and pubs.
In Los Angeles, we drive everywhere. Whether it’s over the hill to the Westside or across the street to a bar…we drive. So after work we’d have to strategically plan our happy hour endeavours depending on how far we had to drive home afterwords and how smashed we intended to get. Because that’s the other thing, we don’t drink calmly and socially. We go big and for no good reason at all.
But here, we love the simple notion of walking from the office to the local pub and having a pint of Guinness with our colleagues to unwind and have a laugh before heading home. There is such a surprising joy in the simplicity of walking from our flat a few steps to our local pub where the manager, Francis, knows our names and asks what new adventures we’ve been on over the weekend. Where I can walk in, grab a seat wherever there is room and hang by myself or strike up a conversation (yes, at your local pub this really can happen…even in London) or join a team for pub trivia. Our local is a fireplace and game of scrabble. Our local is finding a friend who’d also just stopped by. Our local is a decent fish n chips. Our local is good music and the guy in the corner who always sings the words. Our local is joy.
Upon finishing their self-titled debut album, Trophy Wife also decided to put the band to rest and move on to do other projects. They had a handful of shows to celebrate the album including Birthdays, a rad basement venue below Psychic Burger in Dalston. It was a perfect space for the amount of energy we all threw around as we jumped and danced to every single song. It was an amazing show and only made us more bummed that we won’t be hearing more from them as this band.
So after securing your great new job in London, the next big thing for any family is figuring out where your kids will go to school. Over the year leading up to our move, I trolled through endless blogs and message boards trying to figure out how I get the process started. What I am about to tell you is in no way an expert opinion, but that of a mom who desperately just wanted answers and all but beat down everyone’s doors trying to figure out the best way to get them into a school as seamlessly as possible.
There are a decent number of all-ages American and International schools available in London, but they are costly (generally £15k – £20k a year per child). Some links can be found here:
American Schools in London: http://london.usembassy.gov/american_schools_uk.html
International Schools in London: http://www.londonpreprep.com/2011/09/london-international-schools/
Terms I’ve learned:
- Primary = elementary
- Secondary = middle school/junior high/ freshman & sophomore years of high school
- College / year 11 and 12 (this is voluntary as kids technically graduate at year 10) = junior & senior years of high school
- University = college
- State = public
- Independent = private
- CofE or CE = Church of England / Christian
- Specialty = If a school also focuses on certain career skills (i.e., technology, media, science, etc.)
- Borough = County
I decided to base where I wanted to live on the schools in the area, but you may decide to do it the other way around. If you want to register your child for a state school in your area, you will all need to be physically living in the borough with your visas and proof of residency. They may be nice enough to give you piecemeal information, but you basically won’t get anything until you live there. Once you have moved in, the best thing to do is:
- Contact the school district for the borough you are living in (i.e., I live in Westminster and the school district website is http://www.westminster.gov.uk/services/educationandlearning/schoolsandcolleges/) and let them know you have recently moved from outside of the UK and you would like admissions forms posted to you. They will probably ask you for your children’s ages and your postcode to make sure you’re calling the right district.
- Using the list of schools in your district, do some online research on how far they are from your residence, what their website boasts of, and what their OFSTED scores are http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/ (these are usually inflated, but they’re a good start and will give you a good sense of the size and type of school).
- Choose 6 schools that you would consider (the admissions form will require you to list them in order of priority). They don’t necessarily all need to be in your borough, but the school district will only contact those 6 for you in order to get your children placed. I chose 3 in my borough in order of vicinity to our flat and the last 3 were good schools in nearby boroughs that I am comfortable with them travelling to.
- If you arrive before they break for summer, call the schools of your choice directly and request visits. We arrived during the summer so I’m banking on my research and applied for what I think I want and basically just crossing my fingers until September.
That’s what I know so far… in a nutshell. As I find out more I’ll add to this post.