Summer has FINALLY come to London

So I wore shorts today for the first time since…last August. Not exaggerating. I have a new appreciation for why Brits have the bad rep of being extremely pasty (sorry for the people I blinded today). In conjunction with my personal understanding of the pale Brit stereotype, I also have a new awareness of how precious the sunlight here is. Brits (and all of us expats, too) cherish their sunny days and squeeze what they can out of every ray of sunlight. Which means the 7-day forecast for a heat wave has put a summer spring in my step, not the least because 4th of July is in that 7-day forecast. I’m really interested to see what the 4th is like in England…it’ll be an experience, I’m sure. 🙂

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My heart on the 4th. Thanks, Zazzle, for the accurate depiction.

 One thing that has become increasingly charming for me since moving to London is to just enjoy an afternoon in the park. It’s a very European (or rather, non-Midwestern) thing, I think, because in the Midwest usually the only people you see lounging on blankets in a park are families enjoying a picnic. But here, if the weather is above 60F/15C, you’ll see all sorts of people lounging in the park–families, couples, friend, and even people enjoying some solitude. I think it’s due to various reasons:  perhaps because yards are much smaller if not non-existent, the weather is much more mild so when we get a nice day people want to enjoy it and on the other side, it almost never gets unbearably hot here, people are allowed to enjoy adult beverages in public and the legal drinking age is 18 (hellooo Sunday funday), there is a significantly higher number of parks in London than anywhere else I’ve lived, and people simply live in much closer contact here than in the Midwest so getting together with friends isn’t necessarily the drive-across-town production that it can be in the States. And for me, spending time in green spaces is a way for me to feel closer to home when I’m missing the Heartland.

Whatever the reason, it’s one thing that didn’t make sense to me when I first moved here but after a year I fully appreciate the charm of a day spent lounging with friends in the park. And now that the sun is here to stay, the park is calling my name. 🙂

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Enjoying St. James’ Park. And studying. Also, didn’t know you had to pay to sit in those chairs. Word to the wise: bring a blanket for your lounging pleasure, those are free 🙂

Takeaway Tidbit: London teaches you to appreciate the finer things in life, on so many levels.

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“Park”ing in the city

One of the most unexpected parts of living in London are the parks. They are everywhere, and they are lovely. I never appreciated all the green space I had in the Midwest, but walking around London you realize that “yard” when used to describe the green space around houses is a magical word used in far-off lands. Much further lands than the southern suburbs of London, anyway. Due to the fact that family houses are the size of two-bedroom apartments in the Midwest and stacked next to each other like sardines, the combined area in front of and behind any given house is about the size of a one-car garage, and that’s being generous. In my ‘burb-y neighborhood lawns don’t exist. The 1 x 3-meter front patios are usually paved, but even with the small size most owners do an impressive job of incorporating green into their shoebox patios. Potted plants, hedges, and tiny landscaped flowerbeds are the law of the residential land.  Although the shrubbery does a good job to keep neighborhoods looking residential, grass, room to run, and mature trees don’t stand a chance.

Enter: parks. Thank the Lord for whoever had the foresight to keep those intact. The parks here are almost overwhelmingly large, in a good way. The first few times jogging through my neighborhood park required GPS to figure out how to get back home. The trees are old and beautiful, the grass stretches for kilometers (okay, maybe just one or two. But that’s a lot when it’s the only grass around), and the benches are tastefully placed along the walkways to enjoy an evening and a view uninterrupted by buildings or buses. Usually I see at least 8 different workout groups in the park on a given evening, on top of all the sports practices and pick-up games happening during my jogs through the park. And just in case I ever get bored, there are two more parks to the South and West. I haven’t even begun exploring those.

blog5 (2)View from my evening jog through the park.

As you get closer to the city center the miniscule landscaped patios disappear, but residents compensate by keeping flowerbeds out of their windows. In my opinion, the window flowerbeds are probably one of the most picturesque parts of an urban city. Paris has them too and I become noticeably more happy walking down any floral street I find. As far as public parks in London proper, there are five Royal Parks which used to be royal hunting grounds but are now open for public use (there are eight total, but three are in the suburbs). I’ve only been to three of the eight so far, but it’s fun walking through them imagining royalty trotting through with their hounds. A lot of businesses in the city also create green space near their building to allow their employees a change of scenery. Those are much more frequent, but less picturesque.

801.jpg St. James Park (Royal Park)

8Green space as part of a business center in London.

One of the most sneaky things London city planners have created are small squares of greenery throughout the neighborhoods, which are landscaped and well-kept (perhaps as an oasis for cinderblock-weary travelers to revive them on their journey through the city). The first time I saw one I walked up to the gate and as I opened it I read the posted sign. Unfortunately, entrance to most of these squares is reserved for nearby residents only. There was no one inside so I defiantly walked in and sat on one of the benches for a bit, but then got nervous and left after a minute or two. I will appreciate them from outside the gates nonetheless.

Takeaway Tidbit: Enjoy your yards. If you don’t have one, find a park.