I love Paris. Ever since I visited as a nine year old girl I’ve been hooked. Back then I went to a tea party at Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank, entered Notre Dame during Mass, ate croque-monsieur at a street café at Châtelet les Halles, and collected more sugar lumps in colourful wrappers than I could fit in my suitcase. More recently the city hasn’t been so kind to me; I got my first migraine on the metro and couldn’t move for 3 hours then a few years later I got dumped by not one, but two boyfriends there – city of love, anyone? But still it has a haunting appeal that draws me back there time and again…the language, the style, the energy…
WAIT! This is supposed to be a blog about London, and yet when it comes to great cities, I think about Paris, Rome, Berlin and Barcelona, not grotty old London where I grew up and have spent 20 out of my 35 years. However, in the last few months, I have noticed not subtle but clear changes and I am almost inclined to agree with Time Out’s recent statement that London is, in fact, the greatest city on earth.
Two years ago I decided to leave London for good. I had been here for 12 years and despite the well known observation by Samuel Johnson ‘If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ (the quote is from 1777 so I forgive his use of ‘man’) I was ready to go, I had had enough. It had become too much of a struggle for me to live here, all my friends were settling down, I was getting lonely, and I was convinced there must be somewhere better.
Because of this I spent the last couple of years coming up with cunning and incredible plans to run away. I even managed it last year – going travelling for 7 months, during which time I decided the city for me was New York but, unsurprisingly it is extremely hard to get a visa.
So, here I am. Back in London. I was not brought up here, but I lived here until I was 5 and have been here ever since University so I guess I should call it home. I am a city girl at heart and this is where I belong, I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t get a pint of milk easily at 4am.
I’m lucky enough to live just off Portobello Road, where every Saturday locals and tourists gather for the largest antiques market in the UK. I have heard more French voices on the street than anything else in the last few months, and that’s not just because I notice them more due to the fact I know a handful of French words. So what’s the big attraction? It’s cold and rainy, people are quite rude, it’s expensive…hang on, am I describing Paris again? No, London has the same reputation, but the reality is quite different. On Portobello Road, even on the greyest of days, there is a vibe, an attitude, which bring the colour, vibrancy and diversity of the Londoners who run it to life, reminding us of a London which the weather so often tries to snatch away from us. A London which has recently re-claimed its soul, regained its sense of humour – things which have been missing for a long time.
Now is the time to embrace the city of London, to build on the excitement created by the Jubilee, The Olympics, The Paralympics. The tube may have gone back to weekend line closures and the old heads down eyes front attitude, but the people have changed, their sparkle and joie de vivre have returned and I, for one, am nowhere near being tired of what London has to offer.
Top picks around Portobello:
First Floor – Classic British food in a classical setting http://www.firstfloorportobello.co.uk/
La Bodega – Yummy tapas in fab people-watching location http://www.labodegarestaurant.co.uk/
Goode and Wright – a French bistro with a proper British accent http://www.goodeandwright.co.uk/
Crazy Homies – best Margarita in town, and pretty good tacos too http://www.crazyhomies.com/