berlin // grunge, graffiti and architecture

Much like London, Berlin is one of these iconic cities with a history and culture leagues above other cities. It’s been on my bucket list for years, and this December I was lucky enough to finally visit! And actually, it reminded me of London in more ways than one.

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Changing trains at the central transport hub of Alexanderplatz was almost surreal, because it felt just as busy and chaotic as an interchange station in London, but it was actually in a whole other country altogether. I’ve been lucky enough to visit many different cities in my time, but Berlin was the first time that I felt like I was in a place as big and exciting as London. Of course, they call their trains the U-Bahn’s, not the tube, and they just use ordinary titles for the various branches (the U1, U2, etc), as opposed to odd proper nouns like the Piccadilly Line and the Victoria Line. The station architecture is quite different too, and the platforms were much more spacious than London’s ageing Victorian infrastructure. Despite these differences. I might as well have been standing at Oxford Circus or Liverpool Street station, because the atmosphere felt exactly the same.

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Berlin was also ridiculously photogenic. It was a credit to the city that it actually took me a while to reach the proper tourist sights. Of course, I was always planning to head to the main attractions, but I definitely got distracted by the areas that weren’t even in the guidebooks. I fell particularly in love with the neighbourhood’s of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, the latter of which my hostel was located in. Much like London, the best part about Berlin is how much there is to see. Stumbling around a random corner could be just as exciting as the major attractions.

That being said, the main sites weren’t half bad either. There really was some stunning architecture there!

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Here’s a little list of highlights of my trip:

1. Getting to see the remnants of Cold War Berlin.

Well, of course I had to mention the wall first. That’s one of the first things that springs into mind when you think of the East/West Germany divide, isn’t it? The East Side Gallery was my first look at the wall, running parallel to the river. The murals and graffiti are really cool, but you can’t help but just notice the impossible scale of the Wall.

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It’s just that; a wall. A massive, inelegant concrete wall, and it split up an entire city, an entire culture. It’s mad to believe that it’s only been gone for barely 30 years. Most of it was ripped down soon after the fall in 1989, for understandable reasons, but there are still segments remaining around the city. The East Side gallery is the longest remaining stretch, and is now covered in a diverse array of murals, some abstract, some clever, and some just pretty to look at.

 

You could still feel the divide between East and West Germany in many sides, with the eastern side of the city being noticeably more run down than the west side. That being said, I definitely found the eastern side to be more interesting! Maybe that’s because I prefer East London as well.

2. Wandering around Kreuzberg.

The easiest way to describe the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg is Cool, with a capital ‘C’. I felt trendier just walking around it. There were posters, everywhere, and the events they were advertising all sounded so cool! Graffiti and street art turned the beautiful old buildings into canvases, and it really felt like it was a neighbourhood occupied by people, not by corporations.

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I found so many cute shops and cafes here, and the entire area just exuded creativity. You can easily see how this area became one of the musical hubs in the 1970s, with venues frequented by the amazingly talented David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

3. Shopping in the biggest charity store in Europe.

Usually I’m not one to travel just for the shops, but in this case I made an exception. I’ve been op shopping all of my life (that’s the New Zealand word for thrifting), and basically all of my clothes are second hand, so when I learnt that the biggest charity shop in Europe was in Berlin, of course I had to go. It didn’t disappoint!

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Five floors of glorious second-hand goods, and the icing on the cake was that it was actually reasonably priced as well. My eyes practically bugged out of my head when I saw the €1 sale racks! In the end though, I only came out with a 70s knitted waistcoat for a steal at €2.50. Having an already full suitcase was a very good deterrent!

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4. Exploring the Christmas Markets

People don’t exaggerate; Germany really does come alive in December. Even though I don’t really like wine, I do love the smell of it, and you could smell Glühwein (mulled wine) around almost every corner! There was one huge one right in the centre of the city at Alexanderplatz which wasn’t my favourite, mostly because it felt quite similar to Winter Wonderland in London (yes, I’m spoilt for choice).

However, the beauty of Germany in December is that they take Christmas markets rather seriously, and there was a market around the city to suit just about anyone’s needs. I found so many good ones, hidden away in side streets, or put right in centre display!

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My favourite market had to me a medieval themed one that I came across in Friedrichshain on my very last day. I needed to burn some time before leaving for the airport that evening, so I decided to just explore the area around my hostel, and I came across this beauty in the middle of an abandoned industrial site.

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True to its medieval theme, it was more traditional than the other markets I had come across, and they even had activities like archery, or even donkey rides! It was a great way to finish off my holiday.

5. Just enjoying the history and culture of Berlin.

I already touched over this a bit before, but Berlin is such a fascinating city. Over the centuries, Berlin has gone through world wars, being split in two, and has emerged into the 21st century as a global hub of politics and the arts. You truly get the feel of a city that has grown and evolved organically.

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I fell in love with Berlin in my short visit, and I can’t wait to return one day, perhaps in the summer where the sun doesn’t go down at 3:30pm! Berlin was the kind of place where I could even see myself living there, one day. Maybe when my German is a little better.

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notting hill // antique markets & pastel hues

One of my friend’s was returning home to her home country, and this was basically our final chance to spend some time together before she left. Notting Hill was an easy choice in deciding how to spend our final day together! Notting Hill is a small neighbourhood in West London, adjacent to the rich and impressive streets around Hyde Park and Kensington. Although still rather posh in its own right, it’s got a much cosier vibe, and there’s a bustle and sense of excitement in the area that its more expensive neighbours lack. Even if I can’t afford anything on the shelves, no one minds if a girl in scuffed shoes and an oversized jacket wants to window shop!

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Ask just about anyone, and they’ll tell you Notting Hill is an incredibly pretty area. Looking around at the late Victorian houses in bright colours, and you’ll instantly see why. Window boxes and potted plants are on almost every doorstep, and I can’t help but wish that the rest of London would follow suit! They certainly know how to make their surroundings photogenic.

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IMG_3908 Portobello Road is home to the market of the same name, the biggest antique market in the UK. The weekend is the real time to go, when the entire market is open and the street is clogged up with patrons. However, despite that fact that we visited on a gloomy Tuesday in the middle of winter, we found ourselves plenty occupied by the ordinary shops still open on the street! We had a lot of fun exploring the shops here.

I absolutely love basically anything vintage, and I couldn’t help but wish I could decorate my flat (and wardrobe) with the entire contents of some of the antique shops! They’re the kind of place where you could imagine finding just about anything for sale. Goods of all ages and uses were stacked haphazardly on tables and shelves. My friend and I were a bit terrified of accidentally knocking something over, so we ended up taking off our backpacks and just carrying them!

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Funnily enough, I had just happened to see the film called ‘Notting Hill’ just a few days earlier. For the uninformed, it’s a classic 90s rom-com starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, and makes a strong point of being set in the neighbourhood of Notting Hill. Although cheesy, I enjoyed it very much, and was a little bit excited to look at the area with a new light.

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Spotted the flat with a blue door, but unfortunately there was no Hugh Grant?

The great thing about Notting Hill is that you feel almost like you’re taking a holiday from the city when you’re there! Of course, just around the corner is Shepherd’s Bush and Hyde Park which definitely feel like you’re back in London again. If you want something a bit different from the usual tourist hustle and bustle of the central city, Notting Hill is there waiting for you.

whitby: a day on the yorkshire coast

While staying with some Yorkshire relatives this week, we decided to take a day trip out to Whitby, a seaside town famous for Dracula and Captain Cook. I have a real soft spot for this town. I’ve only been here a few times, but whenever I come back I’m filled with nostalgia. I came here as a child with the aforementioned relatives, and I have memories of eating fish and chips and playing with 2p coins in the amusement arcades.

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Bram Stoker took most of his inspiration for Dracula from this striking seaside settlement, and you can easily see why. With its sleepy harbour, moody grey clouds and dramatic cliffs, it’s basically a recipe for a great story. Also, Captain Cook reportedly learnt most of his sea craft here as a youngster before his later voyage to settle New Zealand, so that’s pretty cool.

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I came here once in summer, and Whitby was right in the middle of a Goth Weekend, which meant that the town was absolutely packed! It was quite a cool time to visit, seeing people wearing goth fashion wandered the streets, weaving in between the ordinary tourists dressed like a generic H&M advert. It was a glorious juxtaposition. Today though, the streets were empty.

Let’s set the scene: the sun was beginning to set, and the Christmas lights were starting to switch on. There was a grey and stormy sky, and and the remnants of the wet morning provided a muted reflection of the sunset on the pavements. The streets were just how I like them; all higgledy piggledy, with messy, alternating shopfronts and colours.

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There were so many cute looking shops around here! If I had the time and money, I would have spent all day inside them. Alas, I could only enjoy from the outside. The people in this town certainly know how to coordinate a shop display.

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After wandering through the cobblestones of the town centre, we had lunch inside a lovely cafe called the Monks Haven, because of course it was. I had fish pie, because a trip to the seaside is not complete without some form of fish in a meal! I didn’t take photos inside because our food was distractingly good, but the interior was very nice.

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We climbed the 199 steps to the Abbey, which is situated on a dramatic clifftop perch, overlooking the entire coast. With it’s weathered gravestones and ruined silhouette, you can easily see why Bram Stoker was inspired by this image. The views from the climb were stunning.

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From the bottom of the steps.

Following the climb, we headed off to the beach for a quick wander. I spent my entire childhood living next to the ocean (although ironically, I never went), but I’ve only seen the sea a handful of times since moving to London. I really miss it. To stand there, on that English coast, just for a moment, was amazing.

The sand was getting all over my boots, and the dying pastel hues of the sun were reflected in the waves. Seagulls flew overhead, and the water stretched as far as I could see. I just stood there for a bit, feeling the cool winter wind on my face and gazing out into the Yorkshire sea.

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It was a long drive back to my relative’s place. We were all exhausted from our long day out, and my headphones provided a soundtrack to the drive as I leaned on the window, staring up at the stars over the bleak moors. It was a good day.

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Whitby is of my favourite places in this country, and I don’t think that its just the nostalgia talking. It’s a lovely town, with friendly people who also happen to have excellent taste in decorating. If I had more time I would have delved more into the historical background of this town, but I know I’ll be back at some point! If you ever get a chance to visit Yorkshire, I highly recommend coming over to the east coast and spending some time in Whitby.

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battersea park & riverfront views

Although most people will only know it for the iconic power station of the same name, Battersea is home to a sprawling park with much to offer its patrons. It was actually much bigger than I had previously expected, and despite being only 3 kilometres upstream from the bustle of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, it had a certain serenity that made it seem worlds away.

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Battersea Park certainly had no shortage of points of interest. The first one I came across was a massive boating lake, with lovely reflections of the autumn foliage and lots of dangerous looking swans prowling around the edges. These gangsters.

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There was a photo opportunity at nearly every corner, and I wasted no time in taking advantage of that! This park works best when you’re just mindlessly wandering through it.

I found one area with a beautiful old bandstand, surrounded by a quiet circle of leaves strewn across wooden benches. I took this chance to stop and sit down for a little, and just enjoy the moment. Then I got cold and had to stand up and start moving again, as silly me had not yet allowed herself to believe that summer is over and was not dressed appropriately. Hmmph.

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I even came across a sub-tropical garden, which featured exotic plants from across the world, including some Flax from New Zealand. I remember my family spending ages trying to get rid of flax in our garden back home in New Zealand, so it made me chuckle that someone would willingly plant it somewhere else!

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As I wandered northwards towards the river, I came across some beautiful botanical gardens. A signpost helpfully informed me that these gardens were purpose built in the 1950s for the ‘Festival of Britain’. While most of the attractions of the event didn’t survive the decades, the grand vision of the past still exists in some lovely water features and mid-century architecture. To my delight, the golden hour was upon me, and it made for some beautiful photos.

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To get back home, instead of walking back through the park to where I arrived at, I decided to take the route that took me across the river to Sloane Square station, north of the park. It worked out much better actually, as I got to see an entirely different side to the Thames river!

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Seeing the old townhouses across the river almost made me feel like I was in some other European city or something. Its hard to believe that this peaceful riverside walk eventually gives way to the bustling South Bank of London! This part of the park is also home to the London Peace Pagoda, which cuts a particularly impressive sight.

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The Peace Pagoda.

The stations in its immediate vicinity are not part of London’s tube network, so it can be a bit of a pain getting there, which is a let down for its otherwise potentially high rating. That being said, Sloane Square (which is on the District/Circle line) is only a 10-20 minute walk from the park, which also includes sections walking along the picturesque riverbank, so its not all bad! If you’re ever in the area, Battersea Park is a lovely day out with lots to see and do.

Final rating: 7.5/10

Nearest stations: Battersea Park or Queenstown Road (National Rail). Zone 2. Sloane Square (District/Circle). Zone 1.

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chingford // epping forest

Disclaimer: I got a little lost here. That was okay though, because I still had 4G signal, so Google Maps was always comfortably in the back of my mind if worst came to worst.

Actually, I’m not even sure if I’d go as far to say that I was lost, per say. It was more like I knew what direction I came from and where the exit was, I just wasn’t on a Official Path. So this was an organised form of being lost.

Folks, this is the story of an adventure in Epping Forest.

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Epping Forest is a massive, 2,400ha swath of woodland, located on the northern side of London. There’s been evidence to suggest that this area has been continuously wooded since the late stone ages, and it’s uncultivated nature has been a source of local interest for just about as long. The infamous ‘black knight’ scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail was even filmed inside, which I was quite delighted to learn! Epping Forest is so vast that it technically encompasses a few train stops, but for today, I visited the Chingford section.

Chingford is quite a fun word to say, and for a long while I only recognised the name as the northern terminus of one of the several Overground lines. A yet, a mere 5 minutes from the station, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in the middle of nowhere quite quickly. It’s autumn now, so I was greeted by orange and red hues in every direction. It was very peaceful. Epping has that almost magical feeling, where you feel like anything could happen. The only reminder of civilisation is the faint chatter of people and dogs barking, and you can go several minutes without seeing a soul. It’s easy to see why centuries worth of creatives have found their muse in these paths.

There’s also an excellent example of Tudor timber-framed architecture in Queen Elizabeth’s hunting lodge, a bespoke building by Henry VIII. It’s quite close to the edge of the forest, and it cuts quite an picturesque image at its hilltop perch. It wasn’t hard to imagine the pompous and frilly nobles of the day enjoying a lavish feast, looking out through the iron windowpanes towards the plains. It’s rare to see this kind of architecture this close to London, so for someone who came with literally no other expectations of the area beyond the fact that ‘Epping Forest is supposed to be quite nice’, seeing some Tudor design was quite exciting!

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Not real deer, of course!

 

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View from the hunting lodge.

 

Epping Forest is absolute massive, and it’s formidable 2,400ha means that there’s several different ways to get there. Obviously today I entered via Chingford, but the Central Line runs along the perimeter as well, which gives you an alternate route if the overground isn’t that accessible.

On a nice day I could easily imagine bringing a picnic here to enjoy, and on a more overcast day like when I went, it was just nice to explore the atmosphere. Epping Forest is well worth seeing if you ever need an escape into nature from the city! There’s a varied enough landscape that you’ll be entertained for hours. I know I’ll definitely be coming back often.

Final rating: 9/10

Nearest station: Chingford (London Overground). Zone 5.

impressions of oxford

It’s hard to describe exactly what makes Oxford, England so great. Perhaps it’s the obvious sense of history and sense of curiosity exuding from the gaps between the well-worn flagstones, or perhaps it’s just the small things. Flowers spilling out over bicycle baskets, books haphazardly piled along window sills, reflections of the past in store windows.  It’s just as much about the little things as it is about the obvious, big historical attractions.

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I have been there on two separate occasions; once in a rainy spring day in May, and another in a mild autumn day a few weeks ago. I don’t think it matters what the weather is when you visit though; Oxford’s appeal is not consigned to one particular climate. Here are some photos I’ve taken during my two visits.

 

I’m not a particularly studious person, but it is difficult to avoid the gentle influence that Oxford University has had over this city for so many centuries. I’ll be honest – if I had to describe my ideal student life it would be in Oxford! I almost could have imagined myself trawling through one of the bookstores looking for an obscure volume, curled up in a coffee shop with my laptop, or studying with friends in the wide lawns of the colleges. Or to be more realistic, running through bucketloads of tourists in the cobblestoned streets because I slept in and don’t want to be late to my class. Dreams need a bit of a reality check sometimes as well, don’t they? I’m almost jealous of the students studying there. Academic results aside, you can easily see why Oxford is one of the most prestigious universities in the world!

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Oxford has a certain timeless feel to it. Sometimes it feels like any modern urban centre, and other times you could have stumbled into the mediaeval times. Students tap away at their MacBook keyboards with their headphones in, but then sometimes you will stumble into a deserted street and it will strike you that this street probably hasn’t changed in centuries.

 

Oxford is also home to one of my favourite museums, the Pitt Rivers/Oxford Natural History museum. It’s got an amazing collection related to anthropology, and it’s situated in a gorgeous Victorian building. I’ll write a more detailed post about the museum soon!

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Oxford is barely an hour away from London on the train, and a return day fare from London is only £26.00 (or less if you have a railcard!) which isn’t too bad as rail fares go. If you buy in advance you can get return fares for just over £10 too! You can walk literally everywhere in Oxford too, so there’s no need to worry about getting around once you’re there. So, if you are ever in London and feel like taking a day away from the city’s hustle and bustle, maybe you’ll consider Oxford.

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This is something a little different for me, so I hope it turned out okay. Thanks for reading, and I hope you liked my photos.

an ode to brutalist beauty

The emergence of Brutalism in the ruins of post-war Britain is one of the most fascinating parts of modern design. The name suits it; brutalist architecture knows what it is and doesn’t care if you like it or not. Done wrongly, it can look rather depressing. Think of 60s era council flats with dirty, water stained concrete. However, done correctly, it can be powerful, unassuming, and beautiful, all at the same time.

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The other day, I had the pleasure of wandering around the Barbican, a massive complex of buildings in central London. I was meeting some friends nearby in Old Street, and the route I found on Citymapper told me to walk from Barbican station. I never really visit this side of the city, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

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It’s impossible for the Barbican to not catch your eye. It’s there, blocking the horizon in its brutal, brutalist way, as soon as you exit the station. I had time to burn before meeting my friends, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to enter this cavernous sprawl, one so important as to lend its name to its very own train station.

IMG_0362As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by grey; lots of grey. Massive concrete monoliths rose forebodingly into the skyline, and balconies bedecked with small potted plants greeted my eyes in every direction I looked. It was stark, unapologetic and in-your-face. It was beautiful.

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In a way, it’s even more true to the nature of the concept of a building than anything. Brutalism doesn’t pretend to be anything else, to integrate into the environment around it, because that’s impossible. There’s no paint or glossy facades, it just is. It’s simply a building, built for and by humans.

If you were describe an ideal building on paper, it would not be a brutalist one. It’s too easy to enjoy bright, smooth surfaces and big windows, but then again, that’s what we’re conditioned to like in a way.

Bold, unapologetic, and undeniably urban; people are quick to dismiss brutalism, but it’s just another type of beauty.

hampstead hill gardens

The Hampstead Hill Gardens quite easily make my short list of London attractions. Hardly anyone seems to even know about it, and that’s all part of its charm. When you first enter the sanctuary with flowers and vines twisting over marble pillars you could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve stumbled into an enchanted garden from a fairytale.

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SEE WHAT I MEAN ABOUT A SECRET GARDEN?

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The gardens are the public part of a large estate, which is still inhabited today. They date back to the early 1900s, where they were a prime location for evening strolls and showing off to others at Edwardian garden parties. The most interesting thing about these gardens though, is that back when they were constructing them, due to the time period they obviously had no large trucks or heavy machinery to transport the dirt for landscaping, which made things difficult. However, conveniently enough, the Northern line tube extension was underway very close by. They needed somewhere to put all of that dirt from the tunnelling, and guess what it was used for! The contractors were so desperate to get rid of the dirt that they actually paid the the garden builders to take in the dirt. Public transport really shaped this city, even in the most unlikely of ways!IMG_1345

When I purchased my first DSLR I knew this was the place to practice my photography, which is why the photos in this article are so much better than all of my other ones! Honestly, this place is ridiculously photogenic. There’s an endless array of interesting angles, shadows and perspectives to play around with, it’s such fun!DSC_0154DSC_0119

However, it’s otherwise high rating is let down by it being a bit of a walk from the station. Sure, you could take the bus directly there, but that’s such a hassle. I jest. It’s actually a very pleasant and quiet ride/walk through the leafy suburbs/forests of north London, and it’s well worth the extra effort! You can either walk/ride the bus through the leafy and village-like suburbs of north London from Hampstead station, or take the overground to Hampstead Heath and take a lovely stroll through the park of the same name.

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The contrast in colours is beautiful here.
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The view over the trees.

Final rating: 8.5/10

Nearest station: Hampstead (Northern Line) – Zone 2

Thanks to the historical background from: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/heritage/Pages/the-pergola.aspx

sounds for september – a playlist

The leaves are starting their journeys away from from the trees, my outfits are now incorporating multiple layers again, and I’ve already forgotten what it’s like to not have a just-in-case umbrella with me.  Summer is well and truly over. As always, I find myself wistful, but also kind of excited about the departure of the summer months.  There’s something inherently cosy about the colder months, and I know that I’m not the only one to feel this way, judging by the millions of ‘autumn vibes’ posts I see all over the internet.

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New Zealand winter; it looks the same as summer, just colder.

Last year I experienced my first autumn/winter in the northern hemisphere, and I’ve gotta say, I finally understand what all of the fuss is about. In New Zealand just about every tree is evergreen, so you’ll generally find that winter is just as green and luscious as summer is! Where I was from, temperatures never got too cold either (daytime temperatures were never below 7° on average), so you’d look like a muppet if you busted out the treble layered outfits and heavy scarves like you do here. However, since moving here, I’ve gotten to stamp through burnt orange and brown leaves on the ground (and the subsequent brown plant-matter sludge when people fail to sweep them up) and bundle up tight in cosy knitted clothes. It’s still not too cold during the days, but I’m definitely feeling the chills when I finish work in the evenings.

I’m sure in a few weeks I’ll be complaining about the cold, but for now, I’ll enjoy the season while it lasts. I’m looking forwards to revisiting the London parks in all of their  multicoloured glory. Of course, one of the bonuses of having an early sunset means that I can watch the sunset before I even start work at night! See, this time of year isn’t so bad.

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Regent’s Park, November 2016. My first proper autumn.

Anyway, here’s eight songs which, to me, represent these cooler and slower autumn vibes, but still manage to capture the last upbeat dregs of sunshine as well.

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https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1232708975/playlist/3aT3aB2Tvl35DFQ5bpa0fT

abney park cemetery

Just a few minutes off the busy Stoke Newington High Street, you will find yourself in the cavernous Abney Park Cemetery. Melancholy is the word that immediately springs to mind when you walk in here. You can’t help but feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook. This is one of my favourite places to visit when I want to just think in silence.

Every time I’ve visited I’ve been pretty much the only one there, so it’s actually quite eerie in a way. Abney Park has a timeless feel to it; save for the occasional plane flying overhead you could be just about anywhere, or anytime. I don’t know, maybe I’m just being a romantic, but you can’t help but feel that you’re the first person to discover this place.

This cemetery was built during the industrial revolution to deal with the quickly rising city population, but after it reached capacity it was left completely untouched. Decades of neglect have resulted in today’s cemetery/nature reserve, which is totally overgrown with greenery. Branches and leaves snake over the tombstones and many have disappeared into the undergrowth completely. It’s got quite a fascinating history actually, but I won’t get into it here, it’ll take too long! I highly recommend looking it up though.

It’s not too far out, with a location on the edge of Zone 2, and it’s only a short walk from Stoke Newington station. If you don’t have an connection to this particular Overground line you can change at Hackney Central or Seven Sisters, so it’s quite well connected. The rest of Stoke Newington is a quite nice area as well, with a rather village-like atmosphere despite its its close proximity to the A10.

Final rating: 8/10

Nearest Station: Stoke Newington (overground). Zone 2