For the purpose of this blog post I am going to assume you are alone in London for a few days. As this is a position I find myself in often it occurred to me that lots of other expat wives may also find themselves in cities alone while their husband heads off to the office / meetings. If you are taking advantage of this type of situation then what a great city to be in to do it !!
I lived in London for just over 14 years so I have the advantage of being familiar with the tube, busses and the oyster card. Despite having many friends who live here I still feel a little like a tourist when I visit, mostly because I now have free time to do the touristy things !!
When you arrive in London the first thing to do is to get yourself an Oyster Card. Pre-load it with money and you can use it on all the busses and tubes - simply tap it on the card reader and off you go !! You can’t use cash on the busses in London and queuing for the ticket machines in the tube would test the patience of a saint. The octopus card is definitely the way to go!
There are several apps you can download on your iPhone with the tube map or you can go old skool and pick up a paper version at any station.
If it's your first visit to London you might want to tick all the boxes on the sightseeing list. An open top bus tour is the easiest way to get a good overview and you can hop on and off at all the sights that interest you. Most peoples first visit to London doesn't normally allow for visiting too many sights in any kind of detail, but if you have been here before then you might want to fine tune your trip and look into some of the amazing - and free - exhibitions that the London museums and galleries have to offer.
I personally love the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Natural History Museum just a hop skip and a jump away from each other. You can tie a visit to these with the 'must visit' on many tourists list - Harrods. Why not visit the food hall (or the one in Harvey Nichols next door) and pick up goodies for an impromptu picnic in Hyde Park.
Another favourite of mine is The British Museum. Not only is it an architectural treasure but it also contains treasure - literally. The Treasures of Tutunkamun and the new 3D mummy exhibition alongside the huge amount of other exhibits contained in this spectacular building should keep most visitors amused for hours.
The area around the museum is pretty miserable in terms of places to eat and drink but don't despair - Russell Square tube station is close by and the London Underground will have you on the South Bank or in Covent Garden before you know it.
A little planning in advance will not only ensure you get to see the sights you want to it may also get you some nice advance discounts on tickets and will certainly get you better seats at any shows you want to see. Speaking of which - why not pop along to an afternoon matinee of a west end show? Especially ideal if you and the husband have differing tastes. Worth bearing in mind is that The Royal Opera House in Covent garden sells tickets to dress rehearsals for 'friends' of the Opera House. If you are an opera lover then the friends membership could prove to be a worthwhile investment. I bought a membership for the V&A and have more than got my money's worth in just two visits.
The last thing I suggest is signing up for the Time Out mailing list several months in advance of your trip. There are often visiting exhibitions that may require advance booking or have timed entrance especially at the weekends. also you can keep an eye on any concerts and shows that are coming up.
I love the Aqua restaurants on top of the old Dickens and Jones building.
There is a cool bar, 2 fabulous outdoor terrace bars and two restaurants, Aqua Kyoto serving Japanese food and Aqua Nueva serving Spanish.
I usually go to the Spanish restaurant as I think Alberto Hernandez is one of the most underrated chefs in London and his food is amazing. Yesterday evening I went to Aqua Kyoto with a group of friends to try out a new tasting menu. We were treated to twelve dishes - which were thankfully small enough that we were able to enjoy everything on offer. There were 16 of us and service was excellent.
All the dishes arrived together and the waiters explained the ingredients and answered any questions. My favourite dishes from the menu were the swordfish belly, Kobe beef, Grilled scallop with sea grapes and the tempura with wasabi yuzu salt. In fact the wasabi yuzu salt was so good I think they should bottle it and sell it!
From the desserts the Fuji Apple was a masterpiece. It was an apple shape that shattered to reveal an apple flavour mousse and was served with creme fraiche ice cream...
I'm not sure how many of these dishes will make it on to the main menu, but I'll certainly be back to try more things next time I'm in London.
Reservations are advised for the restaurant, get here early if you want to have a drink on the terrace.... It gets completely packed as soon as the sun puts in an appearance. At about 8pm there was a queue downstairs on Argyll Street to be allowed in to join the queue upstairs for the terrace !!!!
5th Floor, 30 Argyll Street, London. Aqua Website
+44 20 7478 0540
Tucked away just off Goodge Street is an amazing haven for foodies -Dabbous.
There is a 5 week wait for a table in the evening so a friend and I decided to go for lunch instead.
Despite being a little early we were given a table and offered still, sparkling or 'Thames' water. It's quite refreshing to be offered tap water instead of the usual pressure to buy overpriced bottled water.
Lunch was a set menu - four courses for £28. Which as it turns out was an amazing bargain!
Our starter smoked salmon with elderflower was delicate and beautifully decorated with elder flowers. Next the coddled egg with mushroom was full of flavour and beautifully presented in a nest of grass. My lamb with runner bean main was excellent.
The desserts were a little disappointing. My friends burrata with roast nectarine and honey didn't quite work, and my raspberries, strained yoghurt and barley didn't quite hit the spot either...
The food is inventive, ingredient led, using local seasonal foods and clever cooking techniques. The restaurant itself is quite industrial and surprisingly not too noisy. There is a great bar downstairs that I imagine gets packed in the evening. Dabbous has had amazing reviews on many websites, and rightly so. I'm going to carry on trying to get a table in the evening. I suspect that as soon as I book my next flights these will be the next people I call.....
Dabbous, 39 Whitfield Street, London W1T 2SF +44 207 323 1544
As I've written before I think it's extremely important to use the time spent as An Expat Wife well and to take advantage of the situation you find yourself in. This could include taking part in a new activity anything from learning Tai Chi during a posting to Shanghai to learning to scuba dive in Australia.
If you often thought you would like to do something but never had the time, then there quite literally is no time like the present. Even if you don't have any specific goals then I think its still important to use your time wisely.
There are two things I have started doing recently instead of wasting my energy complaining that I am bored or sitting at my computer with Mr Google as my companion.
The first is that I came up with a list of places in Switzerland I wanted to visit. The second is to go for a walk for at least an hour on the days where my daily chores leave me mostly housebound.
The list of things to visit in Switzerland was as easy as buying a guidebook and putting post-it-notes on all the pages that interested me. In CH I can buy a reasonably priced train ticket for the entire network to use after 9am and pretty much get anywhere in Switzerland and be back in time for dinner if necessary. It has also enabled me to learn a lot about my new home country which will also benefit any visitors we get as I can give first hand recommendations.
Of course this is much more fun to do with friends however, its really is something you can easily do alone. The view from the train window is often quite spectacular and you can listen to music or even a spoken book at the same time (I'm currently listening to the Michel Thomas CD's in an attempt to improve my German !).
Of course not all countries have such good rail networks but creating a list of things to do can easily be a list of things within the city you live in. Many people who live in London never visit many of the cities museums and galleries. There are loads of events and pre-viewings during the day time. Also, for example the V&A Museum have a fabulous membership with a packed diary of events that can keep you busy and educated at the same time.
My second thing to do, going for a walk, was the easiest thing to do that has also had a positive effect in several ways. Besides the fact that being outside in the fresh air and getting some exercise is a good thing for anybody. I also feel the positive benefit of simply enjoying the environment I live in.
I notice different things going on the the village where I live. Signs for pick your own cherries and flowers or the start of the pumpkin season for example.
Going for a walk also gets me away from the drudgery of the laundry, ironing, bathroom cleaning and all the other necessary household chores. I listen to feel good music, turn the volume up and almost literally dance though the forest nearby my village. I arrive back home energised and often with my head full of ideas for anything from things I'd like to do do with my time to things I'd like to try to cook.
I have noticed a steady increase in my stamina and consequently my energy levels have increased too. Its a win win situation. Plus I get to see all of this .....
So my advice is get out there and enjoy what is often on your doorstep, learn new things about your country and new home.
Take a camera so you can share what you see with visitors or even your Facebook friends but most importantly get active.....
We have been to Roast before for dinner and brunch and had such good experiences we decided to bring friends here for a late Sunday Lunch. The restaurant wasn't full and as requested we got a lovely table by the window. The restaurant is in Borough Market so the window gives a nice view of the markets activities. (There is of course a lot more going on during the week or on a Saturday) As with a lot of the restaurants in the Borough Market area there is a strong emphasis on local seasonal produce.
We even had a wine from Kent - Bacchus, which got a resounding thumbs up from everyone at the table.
Our meal was excellent from start to finish. We had cuttlefish, chorizo croquettes and ribbon courgettes to start and we all had roast beef with Yorkshire pudding for the main course. I loved that we could choose how we wanted the beef to be cooked and liked it even more when it arrived cooked perfectly. We were served an assortment of vegetables and roast potatoes.
The set menu for £35 included desserts and we were not disappointed when fruit crumble, vanilla parfait, almond loaf and cheese selection arrived
Our waitress was charming, the food was excellent, we didn't feel rushed even though we were the last diners and the live music was a nice finishing touch to a lovely meal.
Thank you Roast. We will be back and I will certainly recommend that friends come here.
Roast, The Floral Hall, Stoney Street, London SE1 1TL - 0845 034 7300
Last week my beautiful British Airways gold card arrived in the post. I’d definitely earned it as from beginning of January 2014 to the end of June 2014 I had already been on 45 flights.
Here it is with luggage tags just waiting to be used !! I am so excited about this I felt it deserved a blog post all to itself !!
My husband nearly always flies with Swiss Air. He usually flies direct and in business class. If I flew with him I’d be in economy (no premium economy on Swiss) so we wouldn’t actually be ‘together’. Also hubby usually has some work to do and so even if we sit together, as we often do for the short flight to London we don’t talk to each other anyway - sound familiar ? So he flies Swiss and I fly British Airways. I usually connect in Heathrow. I get a reasonably priced ticket, there is the option of premium economy which is perfectly acceptable for even a 13 hour flight and I get to collect both tier points and Avios.
Shopping in Heathrow is fabulous, there is everything from Prada to Gordon Ramsey’s Plane Food and of course British Airways lounges. This is where loyalty truly matters….
I already loved the British Airways Silver Card, the quick check-in, the seat selection, the fast track at Heathrow, the extra luggage allowance and of course my favourite perk is the lounge access in terminal 5 Heathrow where I connect for all my long haul flights.
It is fabulous, I love these lounges.
Both the lounges in Heathrow T5 are busy, of course the airport is ENORMOUS, but you can always find a spot to unwind, charge you phone and catch up on emails.
They have showers that I use regularly after long flights. After sitting in your clothes for 10+ hours a hot shower with the fabulous Elemis products they have is priceless for me. (I often leave the plane in my jersey trs and t shirt and head straight for the shower. Afterwards I change into the clothes I first boarded the plane in - immigration don’t appear to care !!)
There is a great selection of food, my favourites are the bacon rolls for breakfast and the chicken curry at lunch, not forgetting the kettle chips and the cookies. There is a complimentary bar both soft drinks and wine. There is also a selection of spirits too but I never go there especially as I’m usually waiting for another flight,, however no lounge visit is truly complete without a glass of champagne. You do need to ask for this, but its not a problem, and it has become a little ritual for me.
So now I have my gold card I can’t wait until my next connecting flight in Heathrow T5 in September to see what the ‘Gold card lounge’ looks like. I have booked flights to New York, Tokyo and Boston for later in the year….. so I will be back to report on the extra benefits. Who knows maybe even an upgrade !!
Having moved house 5 times in the last 8 years I think I’ve gotten quite good at the whole packing malarky. My friends are usually blown away by my level of organisation and even the professional packers that come and do the actual wrapping and boxing are impressed. And I really have to say the key for me is in the run up to the actual date.… I don’t work well in chaos and to the annoyance of all those around me I am just very well organised.
Everything has its place and I can probably find most things in my house with my eyes closed…… scary but true.
We have used different companies to do the actual packing and shipping every time. Not through choice, simply some companies have a better representation in certain countries and have local offices etc. Sterling Relocation took us from London to Hong Kong, Crown Relocations took us from SIN to USA and then from USA to CH and Asian Tigers took us from HK to SIN and also a move within SIN. We have had excellent service from all the companies we have used.
Unfortunately all relocation companies are only as good as the person who actually physically wraps the items and often this job is sub-contracted out anyway. I would highly suggest getting professionals in to do this job. Its expensive if you have to pay yourself, and make sure you tell them this when you get a quote - but what price can you put on sanity ??
When it comes to packing and moving I am usually one step ahead of lots of people, simply because I am quite organised to start with, that aside here is my bullet point list of how to cope with the minimum amount of stress when the actual packing and loading the lorry day arrives…
When putting together the boxes list it is also helpful to write descriptions on the actual paper shipping list of what is inside each box. When we moved to Switzerland I had the floor plan of the flat and I enlarged it and printed it out. I was able to write on the plan the numbers of the boxes that needed to go in every room. (see photo) Once you get boxes up flights of stairs you don’t want to have to take them back down again. Get it right the first time. As I had good thorough lists I was able to take my time and do this properly in advance of the unpacking day and everything went very smoothly. The people who arrived to unpack had a bit of a giggle at my instructions but it saved LOADS of time and dramas in the long run and when they left they admitted I had a great system. They thought I was bossy and controlling but I was the one laughing because after 4 days I had completely unpacked a 3 bed house, everything had a home and I was able to have friends over for dinner that weekend.
Last but not least... Have a bottle of bubbles and a few champagne glasses 'borrowed' from a local bar or restaurant to say good bye when everything has been packed and the day is over. I would also book a last night (or even 2) in a local hotel. Just in case there are any last minute hitches. Its easier than being on a plane and realising you didn't do a final meter reading or you forgot to disconnect the internet service !!
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