Posts Tagged 'London'

Spring Has Sprung

As if someone flipped a switch, springtime has come to Atlanta. It’s as though the tree outside our house looked at the calendar, saw that spring had begun, and decided to bloom.

Those buds are robust enough to withstand the hail storm that was recently swirling outside.

Despite the freaky storm, it still feels like a new season. In London, a cold, rainy day with bare trees could happen in August, just as easily as it could in December.

Here, the seasons seem to be more obviously delineated. It may be raining, but it’s still about 60 degrees — not bad for March.

But the blooming tree isn’t the only sign of the new season. As soon as the cat who lives up the road started to use our front yard as a toilet again, we knew that winter was over.

We hadn’t seen the cat since October. During his winter hibernation, he hasn’t forgotten the location of his favorite outdoor litter box.

We caught him in the act earlier this week. I know from experience that chasing him away doesn’t deter him from relieving himself outside our house.

So the onset of spring isn’t all about flowers.

St. Patrick’s Day, U.S. style

The neighborhood bars have donned their Guinness flags; the television anchors are wearing green ties; and the local preschools have asked that children bring in green food – a request taken so seriously that the local grocery stores have sold out of grapes. It must be St. Patrick’s Day.

In London, I barely noticed the holiday. Nobody I knew wore green, marched in a parade, or wished anyone a “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” in a fake Irish accent — or even in a real Irish accent.

Not even my Irish friends seemed to care.

I’ve heard that the celebrations to mark March 17th in New York, my hometown, are far more elaborate than what you would find in Dublin. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan, rivers of green beer would form in the gutters as revelers from the Fifth Avenue parade would drink and sing.

It’s truly become an American holiday.

Seriously, why is it so cold?

When we moved to Atlanta, we thought we were in for hot summers, a mere week of winter, and maybe a few crisp cool days in between. It was suggested to me that I might not even need a winter coat while living here.

In fact, an Atlantan told me recently that during most winters, she would wear flip flops, rather than shoes and socks, because the weather was so warm.

I find that hard to believe. Since October, the weather here has varied between chilly and freezing. While there were rare exceptions, like the Sunday in November when we held our daughter’s birthday party outside (that wouldn’t have happened in London without a sturdy tent), it seems like the temperatures have been relentlessly cold.

I have learned skills that I never thought I would master, like driving on snow and ice, and defrosting car windshields.

But for the most part, I find myself in a state of mind where I never thought I would be — nostalgic for British weather.

London was predictable. You might find a gray rainy sky in August, December, or April. And temperatures would probably hover between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s 10-15 degrees Celsius for my European readers).

Here, when it rains, it’s apocalyptic, with flood waters rising and big trees falling down. In London, it rains frequently, but it’s usually just a mist that you stop noticing after a while.

People here tell me this cold weather is unusual for Atlanta. But having lived here for more than a year, I fear it’s becoming the norm.

An Ode to Leaving Drinks

One phenomenon I miss most about London is the “leaving do.” These pub gatherings were fun, well attended, and most of all, frequent.

Co-workers, friends, and even strangers always seemed to find a reason to congregate in pubs for lengthy drinking sessions — no matter how flimsy the excuse.

Almost every week, there was something to toast: a colleague’s birthday; an engagement; a promotion; a debut; or, most, often, a departure.

One place where I worked got so carried away with leaving drinks that the employees threw a pub celebration when a woman left one floor to take a job on another floor. The new position was with the same company, in the same building (and that building was not tall).

Another woman was leaving for a break from the company, then found out at the last minute that she couldn’t attend her drinks celebration — but it went ahead anyway.

The fact that the guest of honor wasn’t there didn’t dampen the mood, or make anyone question why they were there.

I suppose the excuse made it easier for people with families to explain that they *had* to go to the pub (to say “goodbye” to someone, or “Happy Birthday,” or “I’ll miss you when you’re working on the third floor, while I’m still on the first”).

Or maybe the reason for the gathering made justifying to oneself that one had been in the pub for five nights straight a bit better.

Here in Atlanta, leaving parties don’t seem to happen with the same regularity as they did in London. When they do, they seem to be organized by management, rather than by the people.

Perhaps I will try to organize a bar gathering of co-workers on the pretense that I am moving to another floor, and see what they say….


I have become a big sissy when it comes to the cold.

When other Atlantans talk about how bitter the temperatures here have been over the past week, I nod gravely, and exchange dramatic stories about the biting wind and the icy ground.

And it is cold here. This normally lively fountain on Peachtree appears to have frozen.

But then, these 30 degree days are balmy compared to most winter days in upstate New York, where I went to college. And here, most people tend to spend mere minutes outside, while they walk from their climate controlled houses to their cozy cars.

In New York, I would trudge through the rain, sleet and snow to the subway, then slide down icy steps to the train.

Here, I just spend five minutes defrosting the car. So really, I have no right to complain.

From what I gather, temperatures here are rarely this low. And I am out of practice with cold climates. While I was living there, London was generally pretty temperate. Now, of course, that seems like a distant memory. I really feel for Londoners; the roads and public transport system have been snarled by far less snow than what they’re seeing now.

But I wonder whether cold weather aficionados in Scandinavia and elsewhere think we’re all a bunch of whiners.

London Snowing

London looks pristine in the snow — for about ten minutes. Then, the parade of pedestrians and barrage of buses turn it into a sloppy grey mess.

So when Londoners wake up tomorrow, I imagine they’ll see a scene like the one I photographed here on High Street Kensington nearly three years ago. It will look wintry and charming, until a slippery walk through slush to the tube will scupper any cozy and pleasant sentiment towards the snow — especially when the traveler discovers that the tube line they want has been driven out of service by the sloppy weather, regardless of whether or not the snow has completely melted.

From a distance, though, when I read forecasts calling for “a heavy blanket of snow,” I get nostalgic for the undisturbed, pristine fluff. I didn’t see it often during my seven and a half years living there.

In fact, it feels as though more snow has fallen on London in the year since I left than the whole time I lived there. That makes it easy to romanticize what will be an epic and potentially dangerous commute for Londoners.

Veterans Day

This is a poignant look at Veterans Day, and remembering the survivors. I used to buy the Big Issue — London’s newspaper sold by homeless vendors — from the man profiled in this article, so I’m glad to know his story.

Lost and found

I’m glad that some Londoners get their missing property back. The Tube’s trove of lost and found items (false teeth, fish, cell phones…) implies that goods that go missing on the Underground aren’t gone — just lost.

If only the same were true above ground. When I lost track of my phone in Whole Foods, I never saw it again. The stroller I left outside my daughter’s nursery school disappeared quickly while I nipped in to pick her up. And the wallet I left in my purse by the Starbucks on Notting Hill Gate went missing for good.

But maybe people are a bit more honest deep down, on the Tube.

NBA in London

I hope that the National Basketball Association brings regular season games to London. As exciting as the odd exhibition game is, like Monday’s preseason friendly between the Utah Jazz and the Chicago Bulls, the crowd would be mostly American expats like me.

With the start of games that actually matter to the US season, Brits might actually start to care.

But maybe that’s a stretch. Brits, I’ve found, are purists about their sports. Scantily-clad dancers, jumbotrons and action-appropriate theme songs (i.e. Final Countdown during the last few minutes of an NBA game) wouldn’t go down well there.

At football games in the UK, most stadiums are creaky, the concession stands sell a fraction of what you find in the average US arena, and the sound of the fans singing and shouting obscenities at the opposing team would drown out any stereo system that tried to offer themed music.

So the NBA games would probably be played for the ex-pats. But there are enough ex-pat basketball fans in London to fill the stands. I wish I was one of them.


I’m a big fan of the Eurostar: central London to the middle of Paris in under three hours, Brussels in under two and a half, decent deals available, reasonably kid friendly…what’s not to like?

I will not pose that question to the one thousand passengers stranded Friday night on their way to Paris and Brussels, waiting for buses and replacement trains.

When things go wrong on the Eurostar, they seem to go spectacularly wrong. A friend of mine spent an unpleasant pre-dawn hour stranded between Paris and Calais, waiting for a train to pick her and her fellow passengers up after their train had broken down.

But when it goes right, and you’re sipping champagne at the swanky bar in the new St. Pancras International home of the Eurostar, or taking your kid on their first trip to Paris (see photo above) you can forgive Eurostar for the odd glitch.