Home. When you easily feel at home in new places and see the best in very many places, you may have to leave a lot of loved places to realise where your heart is (in terms of being tied to a place and not a person or yourself alone). I love Copenhagen; my heart is in London. Well, that’s what I felt and wrote when I was in London, the week filled with happy reunions with loved people and places. Now, as I’m writing this, I’m back in Singapore and feel that my heart is here. Haha. ‘Home’ is less about the place and more about my state of mind.
Mornings. Arriving at Gatwick on Monday morning and taking the train into Blackfriars Station and getting out on the platform above the Thames with that striking, monumental 360 degrees view of the city… glorious! So familiar and so unlikely to ever cease to impress. Taxi drive through Covent Garden to the lovely old office in the white building sitting in one of the corners of leafy Soho Square. Just today, my team has moved to a new floor, which is quite nice – not only am I seeing familiar smiley faces and hugging close friends among the crowd of colleagues, I’m also not alone in feeling new here: everyone is walking around with an investigating attitude, yet to discover where the loos, stationary and coffee cups are. After making my rounds, I settle down at my desk for the week – taking a break in the middle of our Europe trip, S is spending the week at a work offsite in LA, while I’m catching up with work here in London. // On Tuesday morning, I wake up in Angel, crossing a small park and rows and rows of cute terraced houses with colourful doors, feeling all the way into my bones that I love waking up in this city, even if her June is drizzly and chilly. Walk down to Shoreditch Grind for a cup of filter coffee, before meeting a friend by the roundabout for breakfast at a new fancily and flowery decked out Workshop Coffee outlet at White Collar Factory, and finally catching a black cab to go to work (the fat taxi driver’s son is a rugby player and personal trainer in Australia, I learn), which costs me £15 and takes the same time as it would have taken me to walk, 35 minutes – I don’t miss the traffic in London, and the rest of the week I will walk, I decide, even if my knee is dodgy. // Stocking up on unsweetened soy yoghurt at Holland & Barrett, a thing I miss and don’t understand why you can’t buy in a soy-loving country like Singapore (maybe I should start an import business?). // Loving the plentiful stocking of fresh tropical fruits at the office. // Wednesday morning is sunny, and I take a glorious walk along the piece of the canal that runs between Shoreditch and Angel, one of my favourite, favourite spots. The colourful canal boats, the white terraced houses, the flowers, the freshness. Ah. Onto one of the hippest stretches I know, Exmouth Market, for a cup of coffee from Caravan. // Thursday morning is Election Day, and while I’m in bed doing my knee exercises, the friend I’m staying with, who works for MarketWatch, is on a call with a Danish radio station, giving her two cents on affairs and sentiments as their knowledgable London correspondent. // Friday morning is spent at Allpress with two of my best friends, who are moving to Sydney soon. I’m yet to find a cup of coffee or a breakfast to beat what I always order here, and the company is pretty extraordinary too. We’re sitting outside, the sun is shining, and I feel so full of happiness and gratitude. // On Saturday, I walk down through London Fields, violets nodding at me from the bright-green lawns, kids playing soccer and basketball, parents cheering, young lovers kissing. Broadway Market. Standing at the bridge and deciding whether to spend my last few hours in town in Shoreditch or Victoria Park. The park wins. I walk along the canal and enter (one of) my most favourite green area in the world, the flickering sunlight below the canopies creating the perfect backdrop for all of my memories of hanging out alone or with friends here, in all four seasons, year after year. Concerts, yoga classes, fitness bootcamps, 10k women runs, listening to podcasts, laughing, reflecting on high and low topics, reading, picnicking, thinking clearly in the fresh air, meditating, brunching at the pavilion. Litres of coffee. All stages from very hungover to very fresh. Today, I buy a cup of coffee at the pavilion and sit down on a bench by the lake to read my book, Hot Milk. Watching couples and families strolling at a leisurely pace, swans and geese swimming slowly around in circles, kids feeding ducks with oats (because that’s better for their stomachs than bread, their mum says), dogs wagging their tails, one dog losing his plastic ball in the water and not daring to go out after it, which makes me think that it’s amazing that there aren’t any other balls or other bits of plastic in the water. A girl is sitting crosslegged right by the edge of the water, chatting on her phone. Kids are running and falling and hurting their knees and crying and being comforted by their parents and start laughing again. A fit couple power walk by in matching dark sports clothes and cobalt blue New Balance kicks. I stroll back to Broadway to buy design magazines in the bookstore and a vegan burger from the stall I always gravitate towards.
Lunch Times. One of my best friends (well, everyone I’ve arranged to see this week goes under that definition) has flown in from her new home in Stockholm to meet up with me. We used to live together, first in Bethnal Green and then in Shoreditch, and she will always be a kindred spirit. She makes me laugh and challenges my ways of thinking while encouraging me to be just as I am in a wonderfully smooth way… haha. We have lunch with a glass of wine at Balls & Co around the corner from my office, and then meander over to fetch coffee from Holborn Grind. // Picking up my favourite falafel wrap from the market in Berwick Street with my team mates, and munching on them back in our office’s lovely rooftop garden. // Meeting my best German friend, the one with whom I spent last Christmas in Bali, for tapas at magnificent Somerset House, the sun shining brightly, encouraging us to get a glass of chilled rosé with our lunch. // Popping by the Tottenham Court Road branch of Waterstones to buy Sweetbitter and Hot Milk, excitedly flicking through them in the cosy downstairs bar and cafe, amazed at the sudden realisation that even just the anticipation of hours in the company of well-written fiction always manages to energise, calm and inspire me…
Drinks. Coffee breaks with my best co-worker friend in a new in-office tree house kind of arrangement, just next to the giant plane wing that serves as a welcome gesture for outside vendors, clients and partners stopping by; and meandering through the narrow, charming streets of Soho with him, to get coffee at small, dark, exclusive Mimi’s Hotel, where heavy velvet curtains, stately leather furniture and a romantic fireplace rule, and at hipster cheerful Milk Bar, in front of the glass facade of which we sit on a bench and watch life go by for a short while. // Heading over to our favourite wine bar, Boston, with my two best team mates, one Italian and one Bulgarian, for after work drinks – our fourth wheel, a Spanish girl, I’m visiting in Barcelona on Saturday; she and her husband recently left London. // Meeting a sweet old English colleague for her birthday drinks at a speakeasy I didn’t know existed, also in vibey Soho, also after work.
Dinner Times. On Monday, I meet more English friends at Bokan (not a place I’d ever have chosen, but the stylish decor, ambiance and food are all impeccable, and the sweeping views of the skyline from its 37th floor location is quite something too) in Canary Wharf, where one of them lives for a lovely long chat about love, sports and natural food; our mutual interests. // On Tuesday, another one of my old flatmates hosts a dinner for me and our other Danish besties at her new elegant digs at Rosebery Road. The building is a huge Victorian mansion which has been carefully restored and converted into luxury apartments with modern fittings and freshly painted white walls. The lobby is the size of a ballroom. My friend’s flat is at the parterre level and filled with big french windows leading out to a private garden and letting in lots of light. She only just moved in and doesn’t have a dining table yet, so we all camp on the floor and tuck into deliciously cooked chicken, salad and chunks of watermelon. These girls are so full of life and humour, so smart, well-reflected, inspiring and passionate. No one talks too much or too little, everyone listens carefully and gives each other space, creating a nice flow in the conversation. One is glowing when she talks about her current project at work – creating a game with Google inspired by the new Wonder Woman film, to encourage girls to learn how to code. Two have new dream jobs with frequent business trips to New York. One has recently recovered from a long period of feeling stressed and depressed; she spent some time to heal in Denmark, but has now moved into a lovely new flat in Notting Hill and feels much more calm and positive. One is happy living with her boyfriend in Chelsea; she and I used to share a charming little one bedroom flat in Spitalfields… When I walk home to Angel after the dinner, I feel so full of positive impressions. // Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are spent at Portuguese Taberna do Mercado in Spitalfields, vegetarian gastropub The Gate in Islington and Peruvian Ceviche in Soho respectively, meeting more of my best friends for catchups and appreciating the ease of all of the coordination. I could fit in all of those after work meetings completely effortlessly and without a hint of stress. It’s great to see friends, but only if everyone is in a good mood:)
Ballet. Thursday’s dinner was an invitation from my friend, and for dessert, she takes me to experience the Scottish Ballet at Sadler’s Wells in a sensual, brutal and spellbinding spectacle of an avant-garde piece, which seems to intend to juxtapose the glorification of strength and the condemnation of force. The first part, MC14/22, is created for 12 male dancers, who again and again surrender to striking forms of tender care (they break up their dance to kneel down and massage and caress each other on the floor) and wretched cruelty (slapping, pushing, fighting). The second part, Emergence, features 38 male and female dancers who are transformed into a creepy swarming horde of insects. We leave the theatre feeling completely disgusted, thrilled and impressed…
Abodes. Monday-Thursday I’m staying with a friend in Angel, and Thursday-Saturday I move further east to stay with friends in Dalston. I can’t count the times I’ve stayed in the first place – sleeping on the couch whenever we’d had a late dinner or party there. In the second place, all of my winter clothes, my bike helmet and a lot of my favourite books have been living since I moved to Singapore, but as my friends are moving to Sydney soon, I have to sort through it all and take it with me (next week, the clothes will find a new home in my parents’ house in Spain, while the helmet and the books get to travel to Asia with me). On Saturday morning, I’m all alone in that flat, my friends having left for a wedding in Jersey. I lie on the couch and feel so connected to the tiny studio flat because of the happy energy it holds – and the happy memories of girls nights years ago, drinking wine and dancing around on the tiny speck of floor in that same living room. Through the window I can see the pale almost-full moon, which makes me think of S. We met each other when the moon was full 12 months ago. It’s great to have some me-time today, but I miss him and look forward to seeing him in the afternoon. On that note, I quickly do my exercises on the floor, shower in the mezzanine bathroom and get dressed. No time to waste.
Barcelona. On Saturday evening, I touch down in Barcelona (for the first time ever!) and take a taxi to my friends’ flat. They live very centrally, and their big, airy flat opens up to an even bigger patio in the back. S is already here, drinking coffee on the patio with my Spanish friend from London (her husband arrives on Sunday morning). So nice to see her again – and this time in her natural habitat. Since every bit of our Europe trip so far has been full of familiarity, it feels refreshingly exciting to be in a city for the first time. S and I are equals now in taking in new impressions. We meander through the neighbourhood and make three stops – at a wine bar for a single aperitif, a small local tapas place for pretty much everything on the menu and, finally, a rooftop bar for cocktails. On Sunday, I’m totally wiped out – hungover for the first time in a very long time. We all drank the same amount of bold, full-bodied red wine last night, but I’m the only one who’s under attack – maybe it’s not just a hungover? I don’t have a headache, I’m just feverish, weak, so sick. I’m so gutted, as our friends had made so many plans for the day, but there’s nothing I can do. Well, yes, I can walk in a slow pendulum rhythm between bed and bathroom, feeling sorry and ashamed for myself. S stays in with me for most of the day, tucking me in and making sure I stay hydrated, but joins our friends for a late paella lunch on the beach. In the evening, I finally feel like myself – curious to experience the city, and a tiny bit hungry. We go for a lovely short wander through the back streets of the gothic quarter, stopping for tapas at a very small and rustic joint, where we sit on wooden stools around a barrel used as a table. I’m still a bit subdued, but it’s good to be out and about and socialising. And the city is just as beautiful and romantic as I had expected, especially as experienced with a sweet pair of locals.
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