The first two months I was in England, I basically moved every other week. And I didn’t know where in London I wanted to live, so I was open to a lot of areas — and did a lot of widespread flathunting that had me going places for flat viewings where, in retrospect, I would not have liked to live. Even though I didn’t end up at any of those places, I still got the chance, for lack of a better word, to live in a few different areas in a very short amount of time, and I thought I’d share my impressions with you.
1. Belsize Park/Chalk Farm (North West) / April 28—May 5
I’m splitting the area here because I’m not sure what it actually counts as. Annemari and I booked a twin room in a hotel on Primrose Hill Rd, just around the corner from Adelaide Rd, and the closest station map-wise is Chalk Farm, but we walked to Belsize Park Station on a daily basis because it was a much nicer walk; Chalk Farm is really boring. I’m not actually sure what’s there, though I know there’s a big Morrisons down there somewhere. On the opposite side from where we were.
Anyway, I basically fell in love. It’s not super well-equipped compared to other areas, but there’s a really nice Starbucks on England’s Lane, some small shops, a rather ugly Tesco, and on Haverstock Hill where Belsize Park Station is there are a lot of cafés and a Budgens and a pharmacy/beauty Boots and a bookshop and whatnot. Not too far off there’s Hampstead and Hampstead Heath, and if you walk south you hit Primrose Hill, though I haven’t been there yet. (Annemari and Ashley went there the day I took lorazepam and accidentally napped from 11 AM to 2 PM.) The bus connections are fairly good, though you mostly have to take two buses if you want to go somewhere off the Camden Town—Holborn—Pimlico path. But then you’ve got the northern line at your disposal, and even taking two buses takes a fairly short time to leave you anywhere in central London, so it works out.
The area just off Primrose Hill Rd, on Adelaide Rd and Fellows Rd, has a few council houses that look extremely uncomfortable — I went to a couple of flat viewings there and I would have been grossed out of my mind to live there, despite the flats themselves being perfectly nice. But other than that it’s just gorgeous — lots of pretty doors and steps and railings and green. It’s residential, so it doesn’t feel as London-y as other areas, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
1.5. Marylebone (Central) / May 5—May 6
I didn’t get to live here, but I was around quite a lot my first week in London because it was where Ashley lived. I loved it a lot, a lot a lot, at least until I spent a night at a hotel and realized it was incredibly noisy. Even with the window shut I could barely hear my mom on Skype… or sleep. I would have got used to it, I’m sure — I got used to sleeping with construction work outside the window in Hampstead Heath — and in fact, even when I closed my flathunting search to North West London, I kept an eye out on that area. Presumably there are better soundproofed buildings than the last-minute hotel room I found on Expedia for £40, but even if there weren’t, it would still be fucking Marylebone, which is beautiful and London-y and full of shops and restaurants and activity in all the best ways.
2. Ladbroke Grove (West) / May 14—May 21
This was interesting to me — I wasn’t used to walking ten minutes to everything yet, so the walk to anywhere with shops or cafés from the street off Harrow Road where I lived felt extremely long. It was actually seven minutes to a massive Sainsbury’s, and you got to walk over a canal to get there, so I don’t know what I was thinking.
Ladbroke Grove itself is a bit messy, but the numbered avenues off Harrow Rd were urban residential, with really good bus connections to the city. Notting Hill is fairly close, and Shepherd’s Bush has really good train and tube connections. It’s also really kind of nice at night — or at least the street just outside the station and some of the streets I saw from the bus back home from there are.
So it was interesting in the sense that I wasn’t used to walking places yet and I had a travelcard and was still going to flat viewings all over, even once going all the way to Mile End and coming back on a bus to Bank to take the tube from there. I was so proud of myself because I went back home using a different route — I wanted to see a little bit of the city, and Bank is so pretty (and eerily dead) at night.
I wish I’d taken more pictures. It wasn’t the nicest, but it was all right.
3. Streatham (South) / May 21—May 30
Streatham taught me everything I know about overground trains. I was there catsitting, and it was miserable out all week, and I was tired and exhausted so I slept a lot, got some hot food in me, and began the slow, uphill climb of catching up on work. That’s where I finished (most of) the design for The Luminous Kitchen, on the couch in the living room with a kitten on the back.
It was a long way to London on the irregular trains, and halfway through I managed to get a place for two weeks with potential for a lease, so I didn’t venture in much. I think that happens a lot when you live in the suburbs — it happened (happens) to me in zone 2, even, though part of that is the fact that I work from home and don’t have to go anywhere, so spending money on transport is hard to justify. I’m working on it. But it was good for me to take it easy in Streatham, with a lovely one-bedroom flat and a kitten both all to myself for the week. I think I only ended up going to Streatham High Rd twice, and the first time I just kept walking and walking and ended up in Tooting Bec. It was exhausting, but I found my way back and also the path I was supposed to have taken, which was a weird lane with a couple of tunnels and whatnot. Super charming, actually, and once again, I wish I’d taken more pictures. I also think I’d feel differently about it now that I’ve got used to ten-minute walks.
I didn’t feel all that safe walking around there, or walking from Streatham Common, but there were families around and it wasn’t bad. The houses were nice, in a less posh residential way than Belsize Park or West London, but nice. I really liked the train stations. I got to stop at Clapham Junction a couple of times and, all right, that station wasn’t much to look at, but I got there by bus when I headed over with my luggage and the outside of it, even when it’s pouring, is just stunningly beautiful in a completely different way than most of London or the residential areas are. It was good to find that out, and to see Fulham Broadway, which is also awfully charming, from the bus. I also learned more about Wandsworth and Balham and even Surrey, though obviously I never went that far. Never went further than Streatham Common on the train. But it was a good experience.
4. Crouch End (North) / May 31 — June 13
I went to a creative industry meet-up while I was living in Crouch End and when I told someone that was where I lived, she made a face. I… don’t get the aversion to Crouch End. I thought it was wonderful. The transport links are a bit questionable, but I got used to the more sparse train timetables in Streatham, and if you use public transport on a daily basis, a weekly or monthly travelcard would make the extra transfers and additional fares unnoticeable. If you’re okay with it taking an hour or so to get to central London, and I was at this point, it’s more than worth checking out.
My two favorite things about this area were the brick-heavy architecture, all these beautiful, beautiful houses and greenery around, and the Crouch Hill shopping area. There was a big Sainsbury’s near where I was staying — it was just near Harringay station and they have a megastore on Harringay Green Lanes — but the Crouch Hill Broadway has everything. It’s also lovely to walk around in. It’s this little, super well-cared for village, of sorts, and the street is lined with supermarkets, local and chain, and coffeehouses, and restaurants, and butchers and grocers and banks and everything you could possibly need.
The one minor problem is that the hill is very hilly indeed. The streets are steep as fuck. But they’re also awfully cozy. The whole area felt like its own little bubble. And I was super into that.
5. Hampstead Heath (North West) / June 13—September 1
Living in Hampstead Heath made me put my foot down about where I wanted to flathunt, because everything else paled in comparison to Hampstead and Belsize Park, and I mean, I was still up for Marylebone and Crouch End, but I’d rather find a place I could walk to and save time and money that way, since that meant I wasn’t going to flat viewings at opposite ends of the city and wasting hours upon hours on public transportation with the same likelihood of failure I would if I stuck to an area I already knew I liked.
Hampstead Heath is a lovely, lovely area to live in. The houses between Keats Grove and Hampstead are full of charm, and the little roundabout south of Hampstead Heath station, and South End Rd — it’s so lovely, especially in autumn, with its multicolored leaves and the two red phone booths in the middle of the road, and the Marks & Spencer (small) supermarket and my favorite Starbucks of all the Starbucks I’ve been to. I never got around to trying Le Pain Quotidien, but there was that, too. And it’s walking distance to both Belsize Park and Hampstead. You get to Belsize Park down Pond Street and the Royal Free Hospital, and there’s a little shortcut between a children’s school and a church that’s all leafy and lovely. Hampstead is a little harder depending on where you are — I was at the bottom of South End Rd, so it was uphill, but the walk was nowhere near as steep as Crouch End. Roslyn Hill has some of my favorite houses in the area but absolutely nothing useful for a good while, so it gets a bit exhausting.
My impression is that within Hampstead and Belsize Park, the closer you get to the Heath, the earlier and calmer the nightlife gets, and it’s not like the area’s a party zone. At all. Not even close. But it was funny to me that Starbucks there was always dead on Sundays (my assumption: family day, rest day), whereas the Starbucks on England’s Lane is always dead on Fridays. Skews a little younger/less settled the closer you get to Chalk Farm. I could absolutely be wrong, though.
But Hampstead Heath is beautiful. As far as transport, it shares a lot of buses with Belsize Park, plus the 24 straight to Pimlico, which is the poshest fucking bus I’ve ever seen in my life. I love it. The inside is designed with the same sensibilities as a hotel. And wherever you are, you can get to a tube station on the northern line fairly easily, plus there’s Hampstead Heath, which is the overground and has trains from Stratford to Richmond — also pretty handy.
Basically, it’s awesome. And I kind of miss that roundabout sometimes. And the Starbucks.
6. (back to) Belsize Park / September 1—now
I can’t believe I ended up here after all. I was a mess for a lot of the summer, even as I tried to get back on track with my work and venture into photography and modeling, so my budget was still a disaster. I think at the end of the day I had as much of a chance focusing my efforts here (with invaluable help from my friend Maria, who saved me from insanity by scouring through flat listings for me so I wouldn’t get caught up in it and have a breakdown) as I did spreading them further out, and it made sense to me on basically every level. Better stay somewhere I want to stay, you know? So I can accumulate stuff, so even if/when I move out to another place, I probably won’t want to stray far.
I’ve ended up on one of the streets Annemari and I walked down to get to Belsize Park Station — remember how I said we did that because it was prettier? Yeah. My section of the street in particular is just — yeah. And if you turn the corner just outside my building, there are some seriously lovely flat blocks. They’re not amazingly fancy or anything, but they look cozy and well cared-for, and some of them have lovely driveways that I would love to shoot in.
It’s quiet, and the houses are beautiful in an old, lived-in sort of way, and there’s a lot of greenery and a lot of people walking dogs and babies. There’s always a few people around but not very many, and it feels safe. I really love it. I love going out when it’s warm, and I love going to the supermarket at night on Haverstock Hill with all the lights on from cafés and restaurants and the people milling around without making any fuss. There’s a glow from the station and some of the houses on the street I usually walk down make me think of Peter Pan.
It does sometimes feel like I’m in a different town entirely because I don’t get to London much, and when I do the contrast is very sharp. But Camden Town is half an hour away by foot, and I could literally walk through Regent’s Park and be on Great Portland Street in under an hour. One day I’ll do that. One day. When I’ve made a dent in my photo backlog and feel comfortable adding a whole lot more pictures.
I’m really, really happy. I still can’t believe it’s where I ended up.