Expat Chronicles, Part 4

In another blog post I talked about how easy the transition has been moving from the U.S. to London, then I listed the similarities between the States and the UK, and a few of the differences. This post is devoted to a few things I really like about London for anyone considering a move here:

  1. The schools. London, like any massive burg, has great schools and not-so-great ones, so it pays to do your research. On the whole, though, the schools here are probably better than those in the States for the simple reason that a bigger chunk of resources are devoted to them. Good schools in London can fill up quickly, even the public ones. We were lucky because we were able to get our kids into a very good public primary (elementary) school before it ran out of slots. We couldn’t be happier with their education. The reading, science and math(s) are at a very high level. They’re learning a lot but they’re not buried under an avalanche of homework. The teachers basically gather all the students’ work for the term, and when the term is over, they hand it the parents and you can see all the wondrous things your kids have learned. The student body is diverse, and our daughters have made many friends from many different backgrounds. Oh, and there’s this: the schools in London are safe. No having to train teachers on how to use firearms, or train kids on what to do in case of a shooting, or hire cops to patrol the hallways. These things shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. In a sane world they wouldn’t have to be.
  2. The parks. I’ve never seen a big city with as many parks and green spaces as London. Not just little scrubby parks, either. There are many huge ones, spanning hundreds of acres, with beautiful gardens and manicured lawns, bike paths, playgrounds, ball fields, cafes and wooded areas to escape into.
  3. It’s family friendly.  My wife and I lived in New York City for a few years, and when it came time to start a family, we had to look in the far reaches of New Jersey just to find a semi- affordable home. The idea of getting a reasonably priced, decent-sized apartment in the city was laughable. So we picked up and moved to Charlotte. Here in London we have a 4 BR, 2 BA townhouse in the city, right by the Thames, with a small back yard and a garage, in a nice neighborhood, a 5-minute walk to the tube station, for a monthly rent that might fetch you a cramped 2Br apartment in Manhattan. Two parks are near our home. We’re walking distance to the school. It’s in a quiet residential neighborhood that’s an easy stroll to some of the busiest spots in the city, including Tower Bridge and London Bridge.
  4. The food. First, the complaints: London needs to embrace the wonders of Mexican, Salvadoran, Honduran, Peruvian and other Latin American cuisines. It’s crazy that a global powerhouse like London has such a crappy selection of Latin American eats (and no, cheap and bland burrito joints don’t count). Also, London restaurants close way too early, and there aren’t enough full-service places in certain neighborhoods (like ours). With that out of the way….London does have some of the best Middle Eastern, Indian, Moroccan, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Turkish food you’ll find anywhere. You can get it cheap at a food cart or takeaway joint, or high-end at a plush sit-down restaurant.  There’s some righteous fried chicken here as well, and even the pub food is delicious.
  5. The museums: London ranks as one of the world’s best cities when it comes to the number and diversity of its museums. You have numerous choices here, including the Tate Modern, the British Museum, Museum of London, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, National Museum, Transit Museum and Maritime Museum. Many are located close to transit lines for easy access. The best part: many are also free to enter (at least to see the permanent exhibits), so you don’t have a to take out loan to a visit them.
  6. Access to Europe: We’ve been living in London for less than a year-and-a-half and we’ve already visited Brussels, Paris, Strasbourg, Zurich, Milan and Amsterdam. We’re heading to Barcelona later this month. We have plans to see Copenhagen, Munich, Prague and Vienna, among other stops. You can get to all of these places in a few hours or less, by plane or by train. It’s like traveling in the States, except you visit whole different cultures with their own languages, customs, food and histories.
  7. The Thames: London is a river city in the truest sense of the word. The civilization here sprang up along the river a couple thousand years ago, and London still vibrates around the river. There are plenty of places to eat, drink, shop and play riverside. You can take long walks along the Thames and see great views of the city, or take one of the boats back and forth and experience London from a different perspective.
  8. The history: We live not too far from a castle that was built 1,000 or so years ago. You walk around and you see homes where Dickens once lived, or Keats, or Karl Marx. We’ve ambled past the remains of a fortress that dates back more than a millennium. A neighborhood right next to ours is home to a pub that sits right beside the part of the Thames where the Mayflower was docked. It’s pretty cool when you can not only teach your kids about the Mayflower, but also show them where its journey began.  

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