Category: On London

What’s Right About Summertime?

Summer is here at last, whether it looks like it or not. With daylight seeping through the blinds at just after half past four these days, who can second-guess it?

Might as well embrace the early mornings and the extended evenings, even if the days do mimic Southwest Georgia in the fresh spring, rain or shine.

Ever present in the moment, I’ve learned to take summer as it is. Never mind what is wrong with it, I focus on what is right with it. Though subjective, at the top of  many lists will be holidays and the sporting events that often bring as much pain as they do gain for players and fans alike. As such, I like a good holiday now and then but don’t tend to follow too much sport. Yet there is one that lands in my top five things to do in London in the summertime.

  • Catch a pro tennis match. Not much for queuing in the sunshine or rain, I haven’t been to Wimbledon since my early expat days. Still waiting for that corporate invitation…hint, hint. In the meantime, however, I’m nearly as happy to attend the championship at Queen’s Club, also in West London. This year the world number two, Andy Murray, went away with a record breaking win—the only player to win Queen’s five times. Congrats Andy, though we didn’t have tickets for the final event. Just as well as Sunday was Father’s day and we had a family day in, but we did enjoy a day of tennis on Friday, an intimate witness of tennis on the lawn, and true British summertime fun with the good friends who invited us
  • Attend the summer exhibition at the Royal Academy. This presents an opportunity to not only see some fantastic art from emerging artists and established ones, but also a chance to snap up some of it. Life DrawingThis year, having been invited for a private viewing as a corporate guest, I jumped at the opportunity to participate in a life study class before viewing the art. Though I was born with artistic ability to draw, I haven’t nurtured it over the years and consequently am as amateurish, well, as an amateur. Never mind, it was a great to focus on the reality of the moment.
  • Walk about London without a jacket or a coat. Haven’t done that one since summer became official but a couple of weeks ago, at least two days in a row, I, alongside scores of others, sashayed about as if in the South of France. Never mind the holiday in sunny Spain, Florida and the likes, might as well catch the rays in London as and when they come. Sunglasses, sandals, sun cream. Ready!
  • Eat outdoors. Now there is a real southern experience if I have ever heard of one. Growing up in Georgia, we often had barbecues in the backyard or picnics in the park. In London with the inclement weather, eating outdoors cannot be taken for granted. Never mind that I no longer have a back garden. So when the opportunity hits, we take to the balcony or head out to a restaurant with plenty of outdoor space.
  • People watch. What makes people so special to watch during the summer? Everything, everything and everything, encompassed in the atmosphere ranging from exciting to easy going. Whether on a bus, a bicycle or in a Bentley, ladies and gents step out in their glad rags, come rain or shine, for the summer garden parties, summer events such as Ascot and Henley, or private functions including weddings.

So what else is right about summer? Do tell, right here on



Queen Marks Magnificent 90th Birthday

April 21, 2016…Today the Queen of England turned 90. What an accomplishment unto itself. To be honest, I haven’t had the pleasure of knowing that many 90-year-olds. Three come to mind right away: my BFF’s great grandmother, a wonderfully poised lady; Irene Sinclair, the former beautiful Dove model, whom I only met briefly at a dinner; and my mother-in-law, who died at aged 96, giving me a good 15 years with her.

Surely there are others but these three made 90 seem as magnificent as Queen Elizabeth II does. Remarkable, isn’t she? Still working and looking absolutely radiant, imagine?

Though I haven’t met her personally, for years we teased about being her neighbour when we lived near Buckingham Palace and I will always remember that though Paul has been presented to the Queen at a work event, he gave up, perhaps his one and only opportunity to attend one of her prestigious garden parties, before we were married. Spouses only! Real love, isn’t it?

Reflecting on my 18 years in England, I must admit that living in London during the lifetime of the Queen has been historic. Let’s say I have enjoyed the fanfare of an event or two over the years, one of them the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, and looking forward to many more that kick-off today, some yesterday and before, to celebrate her stamina, her service and commitment, her life.

On that note, I am pleased to join in with millions to say Happy 90th Birthday, Queen Elizabeth II.






London Lights Up European Tour

Lately, I have run into a few Americans in European cities who have decided to give London a miss on their tour or I’ve heard my friends and acquaintances tell of their travels abroad sans London, too.

‘What is up with that?’ I have asked often. ‘London is a great city. You will never tire of it, promise!’

‘Not the problem,’ I have been told.

‘Then what is it?’

It’s expensive, really expensive. Fair enough, but you are not coming to live in the place for pete’s sake. You are coming to visit and when it comes to entertainment for free, London has much to choose from. From checking out its many cathedrals to its eclectic neighbourhoods, right in central London, the city promises to light up any European holiday.

Literally, this past weekend, London lit up in a special way. Though you will always find Leicester Square heaving, it was teeming that much more with Londoners and tourists alike this weekend, those keen to see what all the light of the Lumiere Festival was about. There, was the Garden of Light, first stop on Lumiere’s map.

Though a bit crowd shy, Paul and I wrapped up and joined in with the sightseeing on Saturday, the second night of the event, but chose to make Leicester Square, our last stop with a view that we would grab a bit to eat at one of our favourite spots in Covenant Garden. Not a chance. Never mind, we ended up in South Kensington, where we lived when I first arrived in London.

Posh neighbourhood indeed, but even there one can get a bite to eat without breaking the bank. Though we had planned on sitting down to one of the many neighbourhood restaurants, we ended up grabbing a take away from Rotisserie Jules. But I digress.

Back to Lumiere and where we started, (Mayfair), we got off to a slow start, when daunted by the crowds herding into Grosvenor Square to see the two, possibly three light displays—Brothers and Sisters, Spinning Night in Living Colour and the Light Bench. Not sure if we saw the latter or not. Never mind, we headed to Regent Street, where things literally lit up.

With the famous shopping street closed to cars, crowds adored the 1.8 London display on one end of the street, streaming like a ribbon in the wind,  and on the other end was Les Lumineoles, fluorescents of the fish species. Also on Regent’s street was Keyframes light show, beamed from Liberty’s Department store.

On from there we headed to Piccadilly, where perhaps our favourite was 195 Piccadilly, a display of picturesque faces on the building next to Maison Assouline. Eager to escape the crowds, however, we took side streets into St James and into what was perhaps the heart of the festival, Les Voyageurs, The Travellers, featuring amazing characters perched on buildings around the area or seemly flying through the night.

Having had our fill of crowds, ranging from young to old, we decided to give a miss to Westminster, Trafalgar Square, The Mall and King’s Cross. Okay, so we missed out on a big part of Lumiere but not because we were tired of it, or of London.

As Samuel Johnson wrote, ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’

And though Lumiere is over, such events as it have a way of lighting up an already happening city, an enlightening stop on any European tour.





Taking a Stand for Christmas

The excitement of Christmas is still on for most of us. At least for me it is, as I prepare to celebrate with family on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, three days now. Okay, so we don’t have chestnuts roasting on an open fire and Jack Frost nipping at our nose in London, due to unseasonable temperatures for December, but we have laid on a gorgeous spread, from spectacular carol services to fantastic decorations throughout the city to sought after Christmas gifts to delicious food, all on offer right up to Christmas Eve.

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But yesterday as I was doing some last minute shopping at a major retailer in Sloane Square, I was shocked to hear at least one of their Christmas trees was being taken down.

There I was in customer collections, a wonderful way to shop, online and then collect it (yeah, it’s that easy) when a young man walked in and said he was sent down from Christmas to take down their Christmas tree. Was it okay?

Christmas, I thought. How contrary, but I guess that it is the name of a department at this time of year. Anyhow, the first sales assistant hunched her shoulders and said you’ll have to ask her, pointing to a lady who might have been the manager.

Nonchalantly, she said, of course.

Honestly! Was I the only one bothered by this, the dismantling of a tree four days before Christmas, with as many shopping days left, too?

Still I kept quiet and thanked my lucky stars that it was there when I walked in, keeping me in the Christmas spirit. I hurried off, unable to bear the tree’s premature departure.

Since then, it has occurred to me that while the rest us might like to take this thing to the last mile, the retailers have decided to wrap it up, rather earlier, evident in lack of stock for the last minute shoppers, and the preparation for the next big thing, the January sales.

Sure there are deals to be had but most of them were done last week when most of the big boys had a 30% off pre-sale because this week, the January sales start–precisely Christmas Eve, even if it is online. What does this mean?

On the news this morning, one expert suggested that maybe they’ve called it too early this time around, participating in Black Friday and Cyber Monday and so on and bringing the January sales into December, disappointing their shoppers.

She went on to say it means that some people are finding the last minute bargains already snapped up, out of stock.

You know, I ran into a bit of that, too. But the real point is this: the shopping frenzy has become a part of the holiday festivity, but it was never meant to overshadow and disrespect the celebration, was it?

I always think of gift giving, likely originating from the gifts the wise men brought to Jesus, some time after his birth, as an important part of Christmas as long as it is kept in perspective.

I know I know, I got a little out of hand, but I get the point of Christmas. And as I have years before, I’m keeping it sacred. Hoping that the majority will join in, too. And if they don’t, never mind. Everyone has to take a stand sometimes, if even the stand is alone. On that note, Merry Christmas to all!

Capital’s Vibrant Spirit Everywhere

London is a great city full stop, if you ask me. But then I live here and have for nearly 18 years. Admittedly, though I haven’t always counted my home city as a great one. So what is it about London that makes it great?

First, the capital has a vibrant soul, a spirit, which dominates central London but also stretches from east to west, north to south. Sure, different neighbourhoods have different charms, attractions, depending on whom you ask.

And if you ask me, I’ll tell you that most areas share this underpinning of vibrancy, even the areas that are as different as the eye can see, like Camden Town and Knightsbridge, for example. The charm is in the people, the restaurants, and the shops.

Speaking of shops, a plethora of choices contributes to London’s greatness. Jokingly, I am known for saying that if a city doesn’t have a Harvey Nichols or the likes of it, then it can’t be great.

Trendy Shops in London
Trendy Shops in London

Admittedly, swank department stores feature big in London. The complexity of course, with some of them, is the word big. Take Harrods, for example, it’s easy to get lost in there, lost in the crowd or just plain old turned around. And then there is Selfridges, covering blocks of the busy Oxford Street. It’s all too much, one tourist admitted recently.

But that’s before she talked to me about navigation. Though it’s true I prefer Liberty and Harvey Nichols to the bigger stores, I can’t imagine London without the big girls. The trick is negotiating them.

Three rules of thumb:

  • Number 1 – Get there at 10.00 or shortly afterwards to beat the crowds.
  • Number 2 – Have a plan. In other words, do not try to do the entire store in one go. If you want to buy shoes, go the shoe department. In both places, you will find plenty of choice. But if you want to browse only, go to Toy Kingdom at Harrods. You will see things there you’ve never seen before.
  • And number 3 – Get your bearings, using an escalator or elevator as your landmark. Also, ask for a map and use it as you would in a busy city.

As for those who don’t want any part of a department store, check out the boutiques, the smaller shops.

“Where are they,” an acquaintance asked recently while visiting London?

“Everywhere I told her, everywhere.”

The trick here is to go neighbourhood browsing, so to speak, to find either locally owned boutiques or flagship designer boutiques.

Take to South Kensington, where Carven has a beautiful store on Pelham Street, for instance, and if you don’t find anything there, head to Fulham Road and feast your eyes on the range of boutiques from Joseph’s to Chanel. There are some reasonably priced ones, too.

Looking for something different, then head to Marylebone High Street, any high

street, really. But Marylebone is one of my favourite’s to nip in and out of trendy shops.

There, what to do now in this great city – pop into one of its many trendy restaurants. Recently, we had the pleasure of dining at two newer ones—Tredwell’s in Covenant Garden and Sea Containers at the Mondrian Hotel. Delicious on both accounts!

There, it is true, …”when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson.

I agree and would venture further to say that even the rain doesn’t dampen the spirit of London. Catch it anywhere, the spirit that is, not the rain, although there is plenty of that around, too.






London Ready for the ‘American’ Football

London has been ready for the football, American pro football, since 2007 when the NFL launched its International Series, hosting three regular season games at Wembley Stadium, home of major football (soccer) matches, including team England’s games and the Football Association’s (FA) Cup Final.

Yesterday’s game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions was a sell-out even it was more like a blitz, instead of a contest, the Chiefs scoring 45 points to the Lions 10.

The point is the two preceding games—the Jacksonville Jaguars versus the Buffalo Bills, final score 37-31 on October 25, and the New York Jets versus Miami Dolphins, final score 27-14 on October 4—sold out, too.

With all of this NFL mania happening on my doorstep for eight years now, I’ve at last caught the excitement, not that I could have ignored last year’s adverts—the Raiders are coming or the high flying NFL flags on Regent’s street, one of London’s most popular tourist streets. Locals like it, too.

This year, however, I’ve had two up close and personal NFL experiences, one directly and the other indirectly. Directly, Paul and I attended the Dolphins game in style, from going to the tailgate party to watching the game in the owner’s suite. And somewhere in between I managed to get the autograph of NFL Hall of Famer Dan Marino on a mini Dolphins helmet. And that’s not all. Not only did I rub shoulders with the former quarterback himself, so to speak in the owner’s box, but also had the pleasure of a short conversation with him the next day in the Atlanta airport, having arrived on the same flight.

Though I am the world’s worst groupie—just ask my friend Pam Oliver, Fox NFL side line reporter, who once had to just about drag me to the front of the room to speak to Alice Walker—I managed to strike up the nerves to acknowledge Mr Marino and chat to him on the tram, having been in the same corporate suite/box with him for a good three hours. What was I to do? Pretend like I didn’t know who he was. 

Surely, he hadn’t a clue who I was, except we had both been a part of a relatively intimate gathering in the owner’s box and no one else in the room looked like me. And very sadly and unlike me, I had on the same outfit. Argh! Thus, I thought I’d better come out of the box, no pun intended.

Sonja and Pam in London restaurant
Sonja and Pam in London restaurant

Rightly so, my friend Pam agreed, which leads me to my next NFL experience. Though I didn’t make the Chiefs/Lions game, as it was on the same day Paul was travelling home from New York, beforehand I got to hang out with Pam, who was in town to cover it.

From Watford, home of the famous Grove Hotel, where the Lions camped out, to Wembley and many places in between, Pam and the Fox team stayed on form, broadcasting the game back to the US. My dad, for one, caught the blow out.

So what’s the future for the NFL in London? Although pro-football is the most popular sport in the US, can it compete with the beautiful game known as football here?

That’s the big question. Still at least one Uber driver, who had chauffeured one of the Jaguars around during his stay, confessed that though he didn’t really understand the game, he had a great time. He’d get to know it and support it. Others agree. Hence, the full house every time.

Thus, according to the NFL’s international website, American football will be played here for the next five years, at least two games during the regular season at Wembley and possibly two more at the new Tottenham Hotspurs stadium to open in 2018.

It’s a long way to go for a football game, Pam and I agreed, at least for those travelling from the States, including the players. But the series does put American football on the international stage.

And this American, though I am not a major football fan, remains ready, for the football, that is, right here in London.





Charming London – A Love Affair

I can’t tell you how far back my love affair with flowers goes but nowadays it’s torrid, so much so that I get a weekly delivery just because. And I love showering people with flowers, too, and visiting the varied gardens and parks not only around London but also throughout England.

Admittedly, I’m not much for gardening but I ‘m a keen admirer, even if I haven’t ever been to the much talked about Chelsea Flower Show, which is on now. Why? I have no idea. Up until nearly three years ago, I lived within a short walking distance of the Royal Hospital Gardens, where it is held.

And what I remember most is the excessive vehicle and pedestrian traffic on my street, causing the most exciting fanfare, mimicking an amusement of some sorts, sunshine or rain. Good thing because the rain has been torrential this week. Yesterday it hailed, at least twice.

Anyhow, this got me thinking about places that I admire in London, places that are ever so charming and varied like flowers, but aren’t necessarily on the main tourist map, though the first one is more central that the other two. Twice now, however, I have taken visitors there, who simply didn’t know it existed.

So with schools already breaking for summer in the US in particular, I thought now would be a good time to share three of these charms, which are great places to visit for holiday makers and locals alike, again sunshine or rain.

That’s par for the course here. So grab your rain hat and your sunglasses, too, and off we go:

The South Bank – Sure, I am still a newbie to the London south of the river but in less than three years, I’ve likely spent more time on the South Bank than I have in the seventeen years I have lived here. Likely to do with Waterloo Station being a main artery nowadays but whatever the reason, it continues to be a pleasure.

Though there isn’t much shopping on the South Bank, that’s the only thing that isn’t there. From favourite foods to enticing entertainment, it’s happening.  As well as its festive atmosphere, the South Bank offers stunning views of the city of London.

Richmond upon Thames – Staying south, if you will, head to this charming village. Though popular with Londoners, particularly when the weather is warm, it shows a different side of the capital to visitors. Let’s say a smaller side with cobbled streets and hidden lanes.

Plenty of shopping here, including many speciality shops, but that’s not all. For a picnic or stroll or to just catch a breathtaking view, make your way to Richmond Hill or Richmond Park and at the latter, prepare for deer spotting.

Hampstead – Head altogether north for this pretty village on a hill. Fortunately, I spent oodles of time there working with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts a few years ago and took endless opportunities to explore the many trendy shops and restaurants.

Filled with gorgeous English mansions and pretty side streets too, Hampstead is one of London’s most characteristic, and certainly most affluent areas. But if that is not what you are looking for, never mind. Go to the Heath and chill out there, enjoying nature as its most uncultivated finest.

Charming London! What a wonderful affair. I could do this for a long time yet.

















Charming London! What a wonderful affair. I could do this for a long time yet.


















No Need to Compare Bright Light to Mysterious Smoke

I don’t know about a thousand words, but this picture certainly says a few – stroppy, serious, sad yet sanguine and simply Sonja.

Wrapping up our weekend in Paris at the Musee d’Orsay was delightful, yet I stropped at Paul for taking a close-up photograph of me. I so despise head shots and then on the way home on Eurostar, getting my second fix of magazines (the first one was on the way there), I read an article about self-image and how women could sometimes be their own worst critics.

Ouch – I sat up straight and considered the charge, flipping through photos on my iPad. The closer up the photo, the more unpleasant the emotion, proving me guilty as charged.

I found it unbelievable that I, so full of self-worth, could have self-image problems. Who would have thunk it? Of course, my problems pale in comparison to serious esteem matters, which are no joke whatsoever. Still the point is all the same – poor self-esteem leads to dissatisfaction, unhappiness, unhealthy living and so on, even if it is on a small level.

And who has time to be unhealthy, unhappy and dissatisfied when in Paris or London for that matter. So with memories of The City of Lights in the near distance, I took in the blustery air of The Smoke.

On the taxi ride home, I recalled returning from Paris to London last year with my BFF, godson and one of his friends. Having gone from one elaborately stunning hotel to a sedately beautiful one, I remember thinking that the Parisian hotel got the prize. I even said it out loud and suggested that the London beaut was a bit tired, though I wouldn’t turn down a night there anytime. I love the place.

The City of Lights shines
The City of Lights shines

Suddenly, however, this Londoner felt second-class to a Parisian. Oh dear. And now speeding through Bloomsbury, I was comparing the two cities again, having been caught up in the romantic atmosphere of Paris for the weekend. I compared the Seine to the Thames, Marble Arch to Arc de Triomphe (unfair!), our bridges to theirs, museums and so on and then it struck me that I needn’t choose one over the other.

Like their respective luxury hotels, one wears its opulence on its sleeve and the other is ever so mysterious. And to be honest, I like a little mystery now and again. No wonder I can’t get enough of Hercule Poirot.

And anyhow, I haven’t seen the real the grit of Paris, albeit it is a dirtier city than London, on the surface. Still they are both impressive cities, just different—one characteristically French and the other English. Come to think of it, so are many of those headshots of mine, different that is.

But one showing is enough, at least for this outing. No need to compare, seriously!












Hazy Weekend Coming Up in London

Just as well that I wasn’t able to get out for my run this morning. Dust from the Sahara desert has blown into London, once again, sending runners and many other outside enthusiasts inside for the hottest day of the year, yet to come.

A low-grade asthma sufferer, I remember all too well being trapped inside of a gym for days in 2012. This time, as the dust blew in, I spent the morning in my car, driving across London, gazing through the haze upon buildings such as the Shard.

My pre-planned trip to Essex to see my specialist about implants, dental implants that is, okay, had robbed me of the run anyhow, thus I wasn’t as gutted as before. Still, as I glimpsed the London skyline, I thought ahead to Saturday, realising that my plans would surely go up in dust.

In the morning, I had hoped to take to the Thames Path,  but meteorologists are forecasting blood rain, a term scientist use to describe rain when it is mixed with the red dust.

That means hitting the gym or giving my run a miss. Make no mistake about it, I am not above taking to the treadmill – oh no, not I. But do so dislike it, if only for the repetitiveness of running in place. Not to mention that on a Saturday morning the gym will be packed.

Excuses! Excuses! Sounds like a hazy weekend to me.



Expat Takes Off On Flying Holiday

Make no mistake about it I love airplanes. Without them, I would be grounded, likely in the US, instead of the UK. Let’s say I owe my expatriate experience in many ways to the airline industry. I never took to the waters, if you will.

And certainly I owe my visits to the US to see family and friends to planes, not to mention holidays abroad. And I am not the only one indebted to the industry; the tourism industry must be, too.

In 2013, the UK had more than 31 million visitors with London leading the way with 16.8 million of them, an increase of 1.3 million from 2012, when the Olympics were held here.

The rise was the highest recorded number of overseas visitors since records began in 1961.

Presumably, many of these visitors arrived via airplane, though the Eurostar, ships and coaches provide other travel options. But if you are in a hurry, flying is the fastest route. And I almost always am.

Admittedly, however, I find the preparation for flying rather tedious. I do understand it and wouldn’t have it any other way for safety. Still I long for the nonchalant preparation of throwing things in a bag or two willy-nilly and taking off.

Last weekend, Paul and I did just that, joining our English family at a Center Parcs village, sort of a vacation park, which offers short breaks year-around. How very interesting we found it.

Though marketed for families with children, Center Parcs offers something for everyone from outdoor activities such as walking and cycling to indoor sports including swimming and playing tennis and squash. Also, the facility has a spa, plenty of restaurants and a few shops. The accommodation is not bad either. 

Honestly, it’s not a holiday destination that we would take without family but with them, it measured up. I’ll take their Aqua Sana Spa over the chilly rain any day. And most importantly, there was no commotion about packing and travelling. So, I did throw in two bags after all, one for each day.

The next stop, however, calls for flying, with only one-bag to carry on. Argh! Considering that the trip is tomorrow, I’d better get sorting. Otherwise, I’ll be grounded. And I do like flying.