That’s Just So… North London!

I spent a decade of my life North London, and those who’ve read my previous few posts will know that I went back there last week for the first time in three years. Anyone who moves to London will suss out very quickly just how attached Londoners are to their neighbourhoods. Many will only socialise in two places: their part of town and the city centre.

There is a particularly curious divide between North and South – to convince a North Londoner to cross the river and set their Kate Kuba encased feet onto the southern Thames shore, you’ve got to come up with a pretty good reason. Taking their children hostage and threatening to force-feed them food additives should do it.

Anyway, here is a selection of pics that struck me as typically North London. Let’s start with a few shots of Hampstead front gardens and back streets…

Hampstead garden 1 Hampstead Garden 2Hampstead Garden 2

Hampstead Street

Hampstead pubHampstead street 2

Hampstead shop inside

Decor inside a Hampstead Shop

Hampstead street 3

I bet my bottom dollar that she’s got a quinoa burger on a bed of rocket and mango salsa in that paper bag…

The Bishop's Avenue

Take on Bishops Avenue, Hampstead Garden Suburb, dubbed “Billionaire’s Row”.

Highgate Tea Shop

One of my favourite Highgate Tea Shops. Oh, the cakes…!

Highgate message board

A message board in Highgate

Highgate house buyer

Now, a house in Highgate will cost you anything upwards of £3m… that’s a lot of cash propping up her pillow!

Highgate Pet Shop

What exactly happens at “Weekly Puppy Parties…?”

Highgate Car

Now, I just want to point out that I didn’t live in either Hampstead or Highgate, but in a more …erm… affordable patch wedged in between :)


London Cakes and Brekkies

I’ve had complaints. Several, in fact. About the dearth of food pictures from my very recent London trip. I want to assure you all that I did, in fact, eat. Morning, noon and night. And in between. Everything in sight. Especially Asian food (which is hard to come by in Toledo) and, of course, CAKES.

I wasn’t as conscientious as usual about taking food photos, but I did come away with some. Here’s a selection:

An adventurous Chelsea bun, with blueberries and pistachio topping, devoured in a new cafe in East Finchley. My friend had a delicious chocolate almond cake.

An adventurous Chelsea bun, with blueberries inside and pistachios on top, devoured in a new (to me) cafe in East Finchley. My friend had a delicious chocolate almond cake.

Brazilian Cake

At a Brazilian café in Cleveland Street. And yes, the board with the cake AND the chocolate truffle was mine :)

Belsize Park Cafe

A café in Belsize Park.

Highgate bakery

A bakery in Highgate


I just had to home in on those jam doughnuts on the bottom right… and they were every bit as delicious as they look.

Let’s finish off with some breakfasts for those of you who prefer savoury fare. After all, this is what the UK is famous for :)

Eggs Benedict

Eggs Benedict

Muswell Hill



‘My’ North London: Hampstead Heath

I’m back in Toledo now (and have been for a full four hours), after the most fabulous ten days spent in my old home in North London. The weather was perfect – autumnal, warm and sunny – and even though I wasn’t able to re-visit all of my favourite haunts, I managed to include quite a few of them in my nostalgic tour. Like my beloved Hampstead Heath. Sigh. Let me share just a handful of photos…

Parliament Hill 1

The view of the city from Parliament Hill never disappoints…

The view from Parliament Hill never disappointsParliament Hill 3Hampstead Heath WalkHampstead Heath Lakes

Hampstead Heath Ponds

Entrance to the Women’s Bathing Ponds



A Stroll (And A Chuckle) Through Highgate Cemetery

Today, I met up with some old friends in Highgate, North London. After a hefty dose of coffee and cake, we decided to take a stroll through Highgate cemetery, resting ground of many famous authors, artists, revolutionaries, thinkers.

At first, we were a bit apprehensive about having to pay to get in (£4), but it was truly worth it. Our only regret was that we’d not arrived earlier, as the gates shut at 5pm, giving us just an hour to explore this amazing place. It has everything: dignity, beauty, nature, and, above all, a touch of humour.

White Flowers

Highgate Cemetery 1HC Writer

Funny ;-)

Funny ;-)

Married to his job...?

Married to his job…?

HC cross flowersHC IvyHG art graveHC BranchHC butterfliesSisyphus

Probably the cemetery's most famous "resident" - Karl Marx was buried in 1883.

Probably the cemetery’s most famous “resident” – Karl Marx was buried in 1883.

Karl MarxAngelTreeHC schiefHC CrossesYellow Leaf

My chums, Tanja, whom I first met nearly 25 years ago when we were both au-pairing in the Midlands, and her lovely husband Russ.

My chums, Tanja, whom I first met nearly 25 years ago when we were both au-pairing in the Midlands, and her lovely husband Russ.

Cheesecake…? What Cheesecake?!

I was walking past one of my favourite Muswell Hill bakeries today for the first time in three years. Its hallmark used to be a delicious tray of freshly baked cheesecake gracing the window. Well, it seems that standards have slipped abominably since I left town three years ago:

MWH Bakery

WTF is this?! Alien turds…???

On a more positive note, I’ve had the most fabulous day, meeting up with a number of pals and flitting from one cake paradise to another in the process.

I spent the afternoon in Marylebone, where I used to live as a student (oh sweet nostalgia…) with local resident Karolyn. She is the author of one of my favourite blogs, Distant Drumlin, and one of the most lovely people on earth.

Simone and Karolyn in Patisserie Valerie

Karolyn and I in Patisserie Valerie, dosed up on cake and Earl Grey.

Honey, I’m Home!

Lola and leavesThis is Lola, my friend Gaynor’s cat, peering at me from the depths of the clematis. Although she looks a bit apprehensive in the pic, she was, in fact, very pleased to see me, when I wandered into her garden yesterday morning. I called her name, and almost immediately, she rocketed out from behind the garden shed and came bounding up to me, covered in sand and leaves. We’d not seen each other in three years, but it was quite clear that she remembered her old friend and neighbour.

So, the upshot is that I’m back in London, this great city which had been my home for a decade, for the first time since I left for Spain. Due to a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, I’m staying in “my” old flat in East Finchley. Everything’s the same, and everything’s different – a feeling most expats will be able to relate to.

Right now, I’m floating on a rose-tinted cloud of nostalgia and my diary is choc-a-bloc. Sadly, I won’t be able to catch up with everybody in the space of just a week, nor visit all of my favourite eateries… but I’ll have a damn good time trying :)


Toledo’s Foulest Fountain

Public art is meant to challenge the mind. I get that. I’m only too painfully aware that I know NOTHING about art, so I’m usually reluctant to shoot my mouth off about it. But sometimes a piece foisted upon the unsuspecting public is just too horrendous to pass up comment. So, please, indulge me, just for a minute. Tugging at the shackles of my ignorance, let me rail against the indiscriminate artistic littering of sacred places, and I might feel a smidgen better afterwards.

Here it goes:

This year, Toledo got a new fountain. Or, rather, I should say fountain. It was conceived by the (I gather, renowned) artist Cristina Iglesias. I’m not planning to diss her, I’ve not seen any of her other works. And she’s clearly thought deeply about this project, which actually consists of three pieces (“tres aguas” – three waters), one of which is this wretched runnel I’m about to show you.

It is supposed to represent the changing flow patterns of the river Tagus, which circles the city. According to the project’s website, the installation is meant to give the impression of an “an ancient aquifer or subterranean channel that had recently been unearthed”.

As intriguing as it sounds, as a concept, it’s not just that the end result is ugly as sin, but it also happens to be in the most conspicuous of places: Smack bang outside the town hall, and 20 metres from one of Spain’s most magnificent cathedrals. We’re talking about the hallowed heart of a  medieval city centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, visited by thousands of tourists every day, who’ve come to enjoy Toledo’s stunning beauty and thousands of years of history.

And they don’t know what to make of it. I don’t blame them. Actually, standing by Crappy Creek and listening to people’s bafflement is my new favourite sport. “What is it?”, “Is it broken?”, “What’s it going to be when it’s finished…?” “How disgusting!”


No, it won’t get any better, I’m afraid…

Fountain close-up

The bed is made of steel, and, as you can see, with all that sun, heat and trickling shallow water, it’s the perfect breeding ground for algal sludge. And God knows what else…

Fountain 3

He’s got the right idea. Just keep walking… don’t stop and look!!!

Teenagers at the fountain

There’s no better place for contemplating Spains 60% youth unemployment.

Fountain 5

Fountain 4

Sufficiently depressing to make you want to commit suicide, but not deep enough.

OK, you get the idea. There is no flattering angle that can make this glorified sewer look like a piece of fine art congruous with an historic town centre. And I took these shots on a couple of good days, because there’s usually empty drinks bottles and soggy paper napkins floating in it.

BTW, it’s not the only eyesore Toledo has to offer. There is also THIS, but, luckily, it’s a bit too far out of the way to traumatise innocent tourists:

[If you would like to see some pretty snaps of Toledo, take a look at this post by fellow blogger Jenna, who visited me a couple of months ago.]