An American in London: My experience

78D25C55-5DDE-46BB-9B67-A1C3D006ABF4I don’t normally write personal posts, but I’ve gotten so many messages from you all about what brought me to London and what my experience has been, I thought I’d share my story.

One of the biggest questions I get asked is “how can I move to the UK?”

The short answer is: it’s complicated!

We were moved here for my husbands job. This meant a big change for us, because we were both working full time, had a 1 1/2 year old, a car, a (small) house, and family nearby. But we were excited for the chance to live overseas, so we went for it. His company paid for our move, sponsored visas for the whole family (including a visa allowing me to work in the UK, too), and paid for relocation expenses, helped us find a place to live, etc. After talking with MANY other expats about their experience, I feel we got a pretty middle of the road to generous package. Other experiences I’ve heard from friends include companies that pay for your flights and basically wish you luck, while still others will pay for living expenses (including rent, car expenses, etc.), trips home, private school tuition, the list goes on and on.

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For anyone who wants to come over to the UK on a work sponsored (tier 2) visa – and I do think this is the best way if you’re seeking a more permanent relocation – it is all about negotiation. Know what’s important to you before signing anything, making sure you tick off the checklist of important things.

As an American, the best/easiest way to come to the UK right now is to find a firm you want to work for with offices in the US and UK, discuss transfers during any interview processes, and hopefully that will be a way in!

If you’re after a more temporary living situ, I’d recommend embassy/government work or applying to university/graduate school. You can also get a visa by marrying a Brit, but hey, let’s not get too drastic, ok??

IMG_6330Visa laws were tightened right before we moved here, so to make it crystal clear – if you want to move to the UK as an American you have THREE options:

1) work for an international company with offices in the US and UK, get transferred to the UK office

2) go to university and come on a student visa – I think you have 6 months from graduation to find a job, and I know people that have done it successfully and others who couldn’t manage to find anything. I think it varies by profession.

3) marry a British citizen (even this is not as straightforward as you would think!)

It is actually illegal to move here without a job, with the intent of job searching. If you get caught doing this you could face some hefty penalties or even risk losing the ability to ever get a UK visa! So go through the right channels, even though it can be frustrating. And who knows what will happen with the Brexit negotiations, things could change down the road, though this is the current reality.

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Because I get a lot of questions on expat life in the UK and how to choose a neighborhood, I want to give a little bit more of my story that hopefully can be helpful!

We stayed in temporary housing for about 6 weeks. It was great to have a landing pad when we got here because that first week was very disorienting!

I think it was on day 3 or 4 of living here, we were taken around London by a housing specialist to view properties. We’d identified a few neighborhoods we might want to live in on our measly American budget which we didn’t understand at the time was quite small! Looking back, I really wish the specialist would’ve recommended like-minded neighborhoods in our budget. Maybe they did and I didn’t want to listen – that sounds more like me.

After an exhausting and stressful day of house hunting in neighborhoods we couldn’t afford, we found an adorable 2 bedroom flat on a quiet street in Highgate, a little leafy village in North London. We signed a year lease, but after the first 6 months, I was miserable. I didn’t have any close friends, I couldn’t find a job, and I went through some very very difficult personal things at the time. Add in the dark winters – it felt like we made the worst decision by moving to London. Oh, also my husband broke both of his arms in a bicycle accident on his commute home one rainy evening. We were miserable, to put it mildly.

But, we stuck with it. I realized that maybe Highgate – with all its charms – was a bit too far removed from the city life I had been used to living in D.C. (and before that Manhattan). So, I turned to Instagram. I found a few friends who lived in West London and started going down there a couple times a month to meet up for play dates with our children and visit the lovely parks and museums. I felt like I had found our place. I convinced my husband that we needed to go on a long walk around a few West London neighborhoods, and that’s how we ended up walking through Brook Green and feeling completely at peace in this cute little village.

IMG_2479.JPGWe found a new flat, just in time so I could nest and get ready for the impending arrival of our baby girl. And I think the rest is history! This area of London is full of expats, people from around the world, and lots of friendly families. Now I can genuinely say we love London, have made some of our happiest memories here, and the homesickness only comes around every 4th of July and Thanksgiving, if I’m being honest. Some days we long for a more quiet life, but with young kids that’s not really a reality for us anyway, so we’re embracing this stage of city life. Who knows what will lie ahead.

Living in London wasn’t an easy transition for us, but once we figured out how to navigate it, I feel like it’s easier to live here than any place I’ve lived before. A few things that save us in the city: online grocery shopping and delivery, amazon prime, babysitting swaps with friends, gorgeous green parks everywhere, an amazing transportation system that means we don’t need a car, and museums that the kids love.

We also just went through the process of Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) which was a very long process, and perhaps I’ll share in another post. But this means we can stay in the UK for as long as we would like. How long will that be? Only time will tell!

 

13 best activities for kids in London

56679AE0-0172-421B-B4D2-8F026E85502DThe lovely thing about living in London is it caters to whatever you need, and the same goes for families. We feel lucky to raise our kids with London as our playground. Endless parks, museums, kids clubs, restaurants, and friendly people (and pups, of course) to make any outing enjoyable.

These are some of our favorite places, tried and tested, and always hard to leave!

IMG_1046 2The Best Museums for Kids (and my tips for each)

Natural History museum – Use the exhibition road entrance, and have a plan for what you want to see. It’s always crowded, but you can find some more peaceful spots in the wildlife garden (open during warmer months) or the gem and minerals hall. Don’t forget to walk upstairs to the very top for that famous view – one of my favorite viewpoints in London.

Science Museum – Wonderlab opened last year catering to kids all ages featuring hands-on activities, including three slides to educate kids about friction. Amazing. Day passes at £8. Downstairs is a another interactive learning space, The Garden, with water play and plastic boats, building blocks, and other fun perfect for babies – 5.

Victoria & Albert museum – Head to the education desk to pick up a themed backpack with activities to help your kids get creative in seeing the treasures of the V&A. I always learn from the backpacks, too, and there are a range of backpacks geared towards different ages.

London Transport Museum – Home to one of my favorite gift shops, my kids have always loved this museum. Lots of hands-on activities and a big double decker play bus where kids can role play being a bus driver or a chef or a number of other things. We really love it here, and once you buy tickets, they are good for a year.

IMG_4497Playgrounds

You are never too far from a playground in London. Some are hidden away, and some are more obvious like the Diana Memorial Playground with the pirate ship near Notting Hill. This is also where I sat next to Adele while our kids played together and I was too starstruck to say anything to her. Can you imagine?! Here’s my proof. Yes, it’s Adele’s back. You just have to trust me on this one, ok.

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We love the adventure playground in Holland Park complete with roaming peacocks, and when we want to get out of our neighborhood, we’ll head to Hampstead Heath for their fun playground (and paddling pool in the summer) or one of the many playgrounds around Regents Park (our favorite is the playground with the huge slide on the Southeast end of the park).

B49E0C6B-AF5B-4B54-B7AD-17533051297DAfternoon Tea

Feeling like some tea and cake? We’ve experienced some of our favorite afternoon teas with our children (and one of the worst when our three year old was NOT having it – you win some, you lose some).

Our favorite places for afternoon tea are the Palm Court at Langham London (best scones in London and kids get Hamley’s teddy bears) and the Science afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel. Or if you just want a quick cake, get to Peggy Porschen for their seasonal cupcake or Hummingbird for the black bottom cupcakes, trust me.

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Off the Beaten Path

Hyde Park horse stables – Book riding lessons in Hyde Park or just pop over to the mews where the horses live and say hello. The staff are very friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Electric cinema kids club – Big cushy armchairs, bins full of sweets, but book at least a week in advance.

Greenwich day out – Ride the ferry to Greenwich, walk onto a real 19th century sailing ship – the Cutty Sark, walk to the top of Royal Greenwich park for the views (and the royal observatory if you have time), visit the food markets, and another favorite museum – the National Maritime Museum.

 

My new favorite skincare line for travel (and home)

I’d been aware of the cult status of Bioderma skin products, but until a few weeks ago hadn’t tried out any of their products. When Bioderma contacted me to try their sensitive skin line, I was excited because I’d been looking for a change in my skin care. IMG_5410.JPG

July was full of travel and as it turned out, a massive lower back injury that put me in the hospital and left me bedridden. On my trip to Mexico, I used the travel-sized versions of the micellar water, which left my skin feeling SO fresh and clean. Because you never know how hard or soft the water is when traveling, it was nice not to worry about how the water would affect my skin since I relied on the micellar water for my sensitive skin.

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I threw my back out last week, a few days after returning from Mexico (great timing!), and it’s been a nightmare. But while I’ve been bedridden, I have been using the make-up remover wipes to freshen up and they’ve honestly been a lifesaver! They’ve made me feel human during this time where I’ve relied on other people for everything. EVERYTHING. It’s nice to have something I can do for myself – a little self care when I need it the most.

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I get the cult status now, I absolutely love Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O line! After trying MANY products, and drying my face out with other make-up removal face wipes, I can definitely tell the quality of this line. From now on, you won’t find me travelling without it.

Wimbledon tea at The Draycott

The Draycott Hotel treated me to truly the most relaxing afternoon tea I’ve had in London, with a beautiful tea based around a Wimbledon theme.

7806CCB7-5FBA-4308-B28C-5255934891EBLocated right in the heart of Chelsea, in Sloane Square, The Draycott is perfectly placed on a quiet street, a stones throw from the famous doughnuts of Bread Ahead and one of my favorite London cafes, Granger and Co. Close to the action, but somehow tucked away on a quiet street the way only Chelsea could do it!

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The hotel is elegant, the staff are superb, and the feeling of the hotel lounge is unlike any other London hotel I’ve been inside: it’s incredibly charming and relaxing. I felt right at home in the comfortable furnishings, and was immediately welcomed by kind staff, and swept away into the drawing room which overlooked a gorgeous and expansive garden. I wouldn’t have believed the busy streets of London were just a 1 minute walk away if I hadn’t just walked up myself.

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The tea was designed to celebrate Wimbledon, and the theme was carried throughout the tea. We were served all courses at once, seated on an incredibly comfortable sofa (where I could’ve had a cheeky nap if time allowed!) and my friend and I oogled and nibbled all the food and sipped our tea while in the most relaxing of settings. We felt like welcomed guests of The Draycott and absolutely loved every minute of the experience. The tea menu brought us finger sandwiches, scones, lemon macarons, cakes, and perfectly ripe British strawberries and cream with tea and pimms served on a cheeky swatch of green tennis turf – how perfectly cute!

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Thanks to The Draycott for having me, and for indulging us in a true afternoon retreat from busy London life.

You need a pink sofa (YNAPS)

Dear everyone,

It’s 2018 and if you don’t have a pink sofa, then what are we all even doing here? You’ve been thinking about it, haven’t you? It’s time. I can help. Let me be your pink sofa yogi.

This is what you need: a snuggle sofa/chair, perfect for a reading nook or snuggling up with your instagram machine (judgement-free zone) and I have SCOURED the internet for just the right shapes, sizes, fabrics for the pink reading chair of your dreams. The thing is, with pink furniture, you can end up in grandma territory quickly. If that’s what you want, then I am not here to squash your dreams: GO FOR IT. But I’m all about the clean and modern lines WITH the added bonus of being really comfortable. Style AND substance. I want it all.

Here’s the round-up:

DFS Zinc Velvet Cuddler Sofa – £799

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This has to be one of my favourites. I originally found it from the brilliant Gold is a Neutral and I cannot get over the perfect size, the squish, the snuggle factor, and that perfectly pink velvet. It’s everything you need, and it’s currently on sale for £799. Should I get it already?

IKEA Soderhamn – £195

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This cheap as chips cutie is hard to beat. Very modern, but still soft and squishable. I did lots of research on its comfort levels and have been assured it is, in fact, very lounge-worthy. I love the sweet pale pink and low impact, and the assurance that I can probably move it myself if the rearranging bug kicks in. It also comes as a corner piece or armchair for a hundred quid more.

Maison du Monde ICEBERG – £395

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I’ve had my eye on this one for months. It’s been in and out of the shopping cart for months, until I finally accepted that it’s slightly bigger than the space we have. It would be perfect for a small living room or a conservatory. I’ve read reviews of it being slightly firm, but I think that could be remedied with lots of pillows, as styled in the photo above.

Loaf Crumble Snuggler – £1449

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We have a loaf sofa and it is THE BEST sofa investment we’ve made (and we’ve made a lot, thanks to my past sins of indecisiveness and regret). It’s snuggly and perfect for curling up, and Loaf has amazing customer service, too. I would love to snuggle up in this cutie every single day. When I find that extra £1449 laying around, I will be first in line at Loaf!

Loaf Slim Jim Loveseat – £1249 – £1449 depending on fabric

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This Loaf loveseat is winning me over with the clean lines, and the squish factor. Also, I get a laugh seeing the slippers posed next to the chair. Yes, that is the life I want, please.

Swoon Kalmar Loveseat – £799

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This scandi-inspired loveseat has me going crazy. I love the elegant lines and tapered legs. Somehow they’ve made it squishy and modern all at once! WITCHCRAFT.

Swoon Kalmar Armchair – £649

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The smaller version of the above. Still big enough to snuggle up, still squishy, still a fan!

 

If you have a favorite to share, leave in the comments…

 

7 insta-worthy brunch spots

There is no shortage of brunch spots in London, but there are some that stand out for their special attention to fresh ingredients and beautiful interiors. In the instagram age, cafes are popping up everywhere, but they are not all created equal! These are some of my favorites, the ones I keep coming back to because they tick all my boxes of pretty, delicious, and great service.

Eggbreak

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Eggbreak, an Aussie-style cafe, serves their brunch menu all day long, and with good reason. They have my favorite pancake stack in London (the caramel syrup is TOO DIE FOR), the egg dishes are phenom – think Turkish eggs with dill yoghurt and a cheese toast for dipping and fluffy scrambled eggs on toast. Also the cornflake french toast is not to be missed!

Fresh juices, hot drinks, and an overall lovely spot to pass an hour with friends. Note: this place gets VERY crowded on weekends, we’ve waited over an hour for a table, so get there EARLY or go on a weekday if you can for no lines.

Darcie & May

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Not your average canal boat, Darcie & May has adorable interiors (those pink chairs all lined up do things to me) and a delicious menu to match. Definitely one of the most unique brunching experiences in the city! Just outside of Paddington Station, it’s in an easy to reach location but somehow being on a boat makes you feel far away from the city! Brilliant. I recommend the Shakshuka or the Bondi if you’re hungry.

NAC Mayfair

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Source: NAC Mayfair IG

This gorgeous French bistro is a great central London option serving up classic simple brunch (and lunch and dinner). My favorite: the merguez shakshuka with baked egg, feta, za’atar, and pita.

NAC Mayfair has a great range of healthy options like acai bowls and chia pudding or go for something slightly naughty like crushed milk chocolate cookies and frosties self serve or truffled mac and cheese. I’m sure you deserve it!

Dreamy interiors, well located (it’s a stones throw from the fab instagrammable shops of Bond Street), and delicious food, it’s hard to go wrong.

The Dayrooms Cafe

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You’ve probably seen these gorgeous interiors around the ‘gram, but I’m here to tell you the food is just as good, if not better! My favorites: the breakfast bowl with avocado, courgette fritters, sweet potato, and poached egg, and the bircher muesli bowl with lemon curd. The staff is friendly and accommodating and there is a breezy casual atmosphere that I just can’t get enough of. It’s never too crowded like some of the other Notting Hill spots (or maybe it’s because I pop in on weekday mornings!).

There’s a small cafe in Notting Hill, just off Portobello Road or a newer location in central London Holborn.

Bluebird Café White City

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Full disclosure: I have not eaten here yet, but Bluebird Chelsea has been around for years and the food is always on point. This new branch has insanely gorgeous interiors and I plan on heading there sometime this summer to try out the menu. I couldn’t leave it off this list, though, just look!

Palm Vaults

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An insta-darling,Palm Vaults has a bohemian, garden vibe that I can’t quit. The food is SO good, and I love the gold and pink and #plantproblems interiors. Their avocado toast is the best in London, IMHO, with the most insanely addictive chili sauce. I’ve also had their lovely homemade vegan cakes that are always brightly coloured and infused with floral and berry flavours. They also have a few alternative lattes, including my faves Turmeric and Rose. Who doesn’t love to drink a pink latte!?

Really, I wish they would open a West London location because it’s a quite a haul to East London, but for those of you on the East/Central side, count yourselves lucky!

Farm Girl

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No doubt you’ve seen the pink tables in the lovely courtyard of Farm Girl. This Aussie-style cafe has fresh juices, yummy egg dishes, and great lunch options. I can’t go here without getting the my fave – I love the pomegranate-studded feta-topped avo toast here. They also do french bull-dog latte art, truly the cutest latte you’ll ever have.

Dishoom

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I can’t leave Dishoom off my list, solely based on one item: the egg and bacon naan. It’s only available in the mornings, so get there to try it! There are several locations across London, but my favorites are the Shoreditch location for its outdoor space and the newly opened Kensington location with its stunning art-deco interiors. I’m sure there are other good things on their brunch menu, but I’ve never tried them because I can’t say no to the bacon egg naan.