Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”Samuel Johnson
I have come across many such quotes from lovers of London. I am adding my name to those who love the great city of London. I want to write essays and poems about it! Like the artists, poets, and writers, I wish I could draw a beautiful picture of the view over Thames, write a sonnet describing my love, or write an epic about life in the city. But I fear if I say one more word about London at home, my kids will disown me. So, mum is the word in front of them! So far, they have stopped at rolling their eyes, “here they go again” written all over their faces.
My husband and I spent two years in London just before COVID hit our world. We collected so many wonderful memories that we can’t stop talking about it. We’ve dreamt about going back to London in the summer and renting an apartment. But COVID took care of that dream. We were not able to travel there or, for that matter, beyond our own neighborhood.
Memories are made for the whole purpose of reliving those special moments. So why not relive them through photographs, films, social media, and TV shows? That’s what we have been doing lately. We see the familiar sights and become nostalgic or loose ourselves in some shared memories.
This blog is about just that: my journey to my favorite city. Maybe you will reach the end of the post or you will roll your eyes like my kids and leave it without reading it. But if you have ever been there, you will probably understand my love for it.
Little over 3 years ago, we had reached a junction in life, where we needed to make some decisions about where we were heading. Some tough decisions were in front of us. Out of the blue, my husband walked into our bedroom one fine day and asked me, would you like to move to London. My heart went into palpitations. What? How? When? Was he serious? Of course, I said breathlessly. My husband was offered a chance to move to London for work. And there began our epic journey to the city of our dreams. We sat down for days afterwards putting down the pro and cons of such a move. We searched the Internet about cost of living, put the numbers down on paper, calculated and recalculated our budget. Finally, we reached a conclusion with our brains, not our heart (or so we told ourselves), that we should move to London. But to tell you the truth, it was a foregone conclusion from the very first minute my husband asked about moving. Our pro column would always outweigh the con column and we will twist the budget numbers as much as possible to make the dream work.
Then the adrenaline started pumping. Finding an apartment, the area we should live in became a constant time pass and talk. Our daughter sitting thousands of miles apart from us joined the search. She enjoyed it as much as we did. When I awoke in the morning, my inbox sometimes was flooded by emails from her with the links to different apartments shortlisted by her. Later I would start looking at the pictures and researching areas. I started with writing inquiries to the realtors of the properties I had short listed. Within days my phone started buzzing with +44 numbers. The realtors started calling at all times of the day. My list of names and places started stretching. Should we stay near Paddington where my husband’s office was located, or should we live near Kensington? We had traveled to London many times but then focus was always on touristy things. But now, if we have to live there, the focus was different. Which was the most convenient and what would fit in our budget with a reasonable size so when our children or guests stayed with us, we had enough space to accommodate them became the mantra. We made some inquiries through our family. What would be the ideal place to live? What should we be looking out for? We had two things on our mind, location near a tube station and it should be in Central London.
We made a couple of trips to London without informing people apart from our immediate family to search for an apartment. What fun that was. Rushing around from one address to another. Searching through Google for locations all over London while walking in the bitter cold and howling wind. It was still early Fall yet London was all that London is famous for: cold, overcast, rainy. We would get lost sometimes in new areas that we had never even heard about on our previous trips as tourists. Some tube stations that we had just looked at the name on the roundel through tube window of the train on trips as tourists, now we would get off at.
Sometimes after coming out of the dark tunnel of a tube station, we didn’t know whether to turn left or right. We would call our daughter back home in Boston and ask her to look up the directions. We saw quite a few. Some underground, some on the fourth floor without an elevator, some were old and not at all renovated, some were beautifully but out of our budget, some so tiny that the kitchen would be just one wall or a bedroom so tiny that even twin size bed would be an issue. Our son is very tall. My husband and I would look at each other and try to imagine our son in that room. Once we thought we were looking at an empty apartment in Notting Hill but instead found a very old lady sitting in a sparsely furnished bedroom watching TV in otherwise totally empty apartment. That shook us. The loneliness of that woman was shocking. We wondered what would happen to that lady if we took that apartment and prayed that she would have somewhere to go to. Some days only I would go to look at apartments while my husband would take some meetings. At night and over breakfast we would discuss what we had seen. Sometimes we would mix up areas or apartments in our heads. We would send pictures to our children. We would wander around in the area if we liked an apartment to check the shops, cafes, restaurants, bus stops. In my head I would imagine if I lived in that apartment, I would come here to pick up groceries or come out here to the cafe for a cup of coffee. Oh, what a cute restaurant I would tell my husband excitedly and would tell him we will come here to eat. There were two apartments we had loved but, before we made final commitment, they were gone. Some nights we were so disappointed with the ones we had seen that we felt we would never find what we wanted. After two trips, we found what we were looking for. And it was not even in an area we were familiar with or on our short list.
The apartment we found was in Saint John’s Woods. We had never known this area. It’s a totally residential area. The apartment was a completely renovated 3 bedrooms and 3 bath, on the fourth floor. The building had elevator and concierge, two of our must haves. We were going to be the first resident of that “flat”, as they say in London (we will have to call it a flat and not an apartment). We needed a “lift” in the building and not an elevator. The apartment had a “cooker” and not a stove and so on and on. We loved the apartment the minute we saw it. It had big windows all around. We had gone earlier in the morning. The apartment was flooded with beautiful sunlight of rising sun. It was a very nice fall day with a clear blue sky. The realtor pointed out the monuments in distance. From the South window we could see the big wheel of London Eye and the BP Tower. She pointed out that the famous Regent Park is behind those buildings and it takes only 15 minutes to reach. From the West window we could see the big arches of Wembley Stadium. The realtor mentioned that the famous cricket stadium Lord’s was only 10 minute walk away. My husband was sold the minute he heard the word Lord’s. My excitement was hard to contain. We had found our home in London for next two years.
The minute we signed on the paper began a journey through red tape. The management company that managed the apartment would demand all kinds of papers, proof of visa, and so on and on.
We went back to home to finish the visa formalities and do other things to wind up the life we had lived for last 6 years. After getting our resident permits, we moved to London on a cold day. Our daughter joined us to help us move in. The first 3 days we stayed in a nearby Marriott hotel. Finally, the day came when we moved into our chosen home. We stopped being the perpetual tourists and became residents of our favorite city in the world. There began the most wonderful odyssey!