Eight Things In London I Swear By
Now that I've been in London for three weeks, I've already begun to assimilate and collect things -- be it habits or items -- that I swear by.
I start every weekday with an M&S croissant, no matter what. Even if I've already picked at the microwavable scones in my fridge at home, even if I've picked at a mediocre Costa croissant. For only 95p, you get a pretty big, fresh-baked, still-warm croissant, perfectly flaky on the outside and light and buttery and fluffy on the inside. I have yet to have a Real Parisian croissant in Paris, so for now, M&S holds the title for Best Croissant in my books.
Lucky for me, there's an M&S in my building and it's unavoidably on my way from the bus stop to the front door of my office. With self-checkout being the predominant means of tilling in the UK, I can be in and out with my croissant in less than five minutes. Plus, the croissant is a a quick-access button in the Look-Up menu so it goes by preeeeetty fast.
Additionally, I've been mainly dealing in cash, just because of how my finances have been structured. The thing about the UK is that there are so many coins. There are eight differently valued coins and I unfortunately have a surplus of each and every kind.
But thanks to my daily 95p croissant and the beauty of a self-checkout, I do what I used to do with my Ventra card back when I was young and before I went card-only; I just keep inserting random coins until I have enough. It's the perfect way to get rid of my small loose change while going through the regular motions of my day.
The Bus System
Yes, the Tube is kinda cool if you're not used to public transport. Yes, many a native Londoners use the Tube, so perhaps it is part of the whole London immersive experience. And yes, I do indeed have a Tube Map phone case.
But the Tube and I are not friends. Please refer to this blog post here, if you'd like to read my complete List of Grievances.
Anyway, the bus system is just as iconic (those double-decker red buses!), a lot more comfortable, summer-friendly, cellular serviceable, and sometimes even more efficient. Oh, and of course, much cheaper. If using Pay As You Go, the Tube daily caps at £6.80 whereas the bus system, regardless of zones, caps at a solid £4.50. Taking the bus at Peak Hours only takes me about 10-20 minutes more than the Tube, requires one less transfer, and drops me off right on the doorstep of my office building (and M&S, of course).
My abroad program, The Intern Group London, did include an unlimited Zones 1-2 Travelcard on our Oysters for the first four weeks of my internship, but the rest will be up to me. Sure, I know I'll be taking the Tube occasionally, especially when out with friends, but my work commute will be exponentially cheaper by utilizing PYG and sticking to buses.
Aside from all the logistical pros, commuting by bus is one of the greatest ways to see London! Grab a front row seat on the top deck on any Central London bus and you'll get to see some beautiful architecture, excellent skylines, and the most fantastic views of the city. Seriously, if you don't believe me, check out my instagram, LOL!
Cadbury Dairy Milk Bars
Ah, my guiltiest pleasure.
I'll be quite honest with you, Cadbury did indeed play a role in why I chose to do an abroad program in the UK. With the classic Easter candy, the Cadbury Chocolate Egg, as my favorite candy, I couldn't wait to be somewhere where there was Cadbury year-round and incredibly accessible.
I've already consumed way too many bars than any one person should consume in three weeks.
Having done the math, I really honestly plan on bringing back £100 worth of Cadbury Dairy Milks. With the extra-large sized bar (200g) listed at Tesco for £2/ea, I guess I'm lining my suitcases in chocolate and bringing home 10kg (22lbs!) of Cadbury. And when I'm back in the Chicago condo and missing England, at least I'll have a taste of my summer abroad (until April 2019, of course, when they unfortunately seem to expire).
But in all honestly, there are days where I have no plans but look forward to coming home after work solely because I have a drawer full of Cadbury Dairy Milk bars waiting for me there.
Look. I didn't ask for this.
I've always been a Coffee Person through and through. I am the Basic Chicago Sorority Girl that chugs cans of Starbucks Iced outside a lecture hall in the middle of January. I am the girl with a Coconut Milk (I'm lactose, relax) Iced Latte wrapped in three layers of napkins in the middle of a snow storm.
My office even has a fancy espresso/drink making machine that I'm able to use freely. I even use it to start my day when an extra strong Caffe Latte with two scoops of sugar and extra 60ml shot of espresso.
So where does the tea fit in?
High Tea, Afternoon Tea, whatever you want to call it -- the greatest thing ever created. Also just tea in general is good. Lots of breakfast restaurants give you a whole entire pot, and you can drink the whole thing all by yourself.
I had a phase during the winter of my freshman year of university where I was an avid tea drinker, probably tried to become a tea connoisseur. Nowadays, I don't like making tea at home because I'm incredibly picky about how it's steeped and which brands I'll use for which blends.
(Okay, so maybe I am enough of a tea connoisseur, mission complete, I guess?)
But the nice thing about the UK is that most people are stupidly uptight about their tea. Especially in a high end restaurant, and even more especially at tea time. They also provide just enough milk or lemon (they offer the lemon without asking!) for your tea.
I'm also easily delighted by tea sarnies and sweets, and scones are probably up there on my list of all-time baked goods. Don't get me started on clotted cream unless you have time.
The Intern Group included an afternoon tea service at the Millennium Hotel Mayfair with unlimited refills and Prosecco, which was an absolute fantastic and tasty time with my fellow wave of program participants. On my solo trip to Edinburgh, I had afternoon tea service at The Georgian Tea Room at The Dome, which was so wonderful and had absolutely amazing service, especially considering that they were serving a lone twenty-something, who had the audacity (ie, poor packing skills) to wear jean shorts and trainers to High Tea.
My favorite teas are Earl Grey (or any of its derivatives), which reminds me of James Bond for unrelated, personal reasons, and English Breakfast with just enough milk, the perfect pot to accompany a solid brunch.
Katsu and Falafel (But Not Necessarily Together)
I know. This one sounds so dumb, but hear me out.
It's so hard to find quick, good falafel and/or curry chicken katsu in the US when you compare how easily accessible it is in Central London. There's a falfel or "kebab" shop on nearly every corner, it's a staple item.
Curry Chicken Katsu is everywhere. And yeah, again, it's not impossible to find in the States, but there are grab-and-go Katsu meals in every grocery store, and a restaurant that serves it ready-to-go on every block. My personal favorite is the grab-and-go option at Abokado, my new go-to fast service restaurant across the street from my office. For less than £7, it's a hearty serving, quite filling, and absolutely delicious.
I have them at least twice each week, just because it's so accessible and worth the money, taste and all. It's definitely something I'm going to miss when I'm back Stateside.
Single Serving and Ready Meals
On the topic of food, especially Katsu, I am so taken with the format of grocery in the UK (and, as I've heard, in Europe in general). I mainly stick to M&S, Sainsbury's, and Tesco, all of which have a very large, very wide selection of "ready meals," that is, food that is either ready to be eaten right away or can be cooked in a few minutes.
There's sandwiches and salads, but there's also premade grilled chicken (perfect for throwing into wraps or salads), there's full dinner sides, and, full dinners. I've microwaved plenty of single-meal Chicken Katsu trays since my arrival in England.
It's also nice because fridge space in my shared flat of six women is a little limited. There aren't as many preservatives here than there are in the States, so I only buy what I need over the next few days. The smaller sizes make it easier for me, as one individual, to avoid waste and be more conscientious of what I'm purchasing.
Peroni Nastro Azzuro
Back home, my go-to drink at any bar or club or event is a Bud Light. Yes, I am one of those people, judge me all you'd like. Unfortunately for me, there is severe lack of light beers on this side of the pond, so I had to quickly find a new go-to.
My first day was spent with a Guiness, just to get into that UK mood, but there was no way I was going to have a dark brew as my go-to for the next three months.
After sampling all of my friends' choices, I found my new beer.
Okay, so I'm pretty sure I've actually had Peroni in the States once before. It's comparable to Stella Artois (which was my OG beer, back in the day), but has a mellower aftertaste. They also have them literally everywhere, it's a standard, so I stuck with it. Now it's usually my one and only when we go out. It's officially my go-to.
I've also come to appreciate another drink that seems to be more or less accessible. Old Mount Cider, a product of New Zealand and introduced to me by an Australian friend, it tastes like juice but comes in a bottle that has the equivalent of two standard drinks. About the same price as a beer, it's another of my favorites. The Strawberry and Rhubarb flavor is peak.
However, we did go to one bar in a more touristy section of town. It had Bud Light on draft, so of course, after a few weeks of feeling a little homesick, I got my glass of Buddy. Just to keep me grounded.
I'm fairly certain that everyone that knows me is sick and tired of hearing me talk about Primark. In my defense, I've been looking forward to shopping at Primark since before I even knew what the Intern Group was. Look, I watch way too many British YouTubers.
I've been in the UK for barely three weeks and have already been to Primark four times, across three different locations.
For those that don't know what exactly Primark is, picture Marshall's, but with Forever 21 clothes. Everything is "cheap as chips" (as the English say), and super, super cute. My new favorite shirt in all my pictures, a yellow off-shoulder top, is from there, the pair of jeans that I had to buy in Edinburgh fit me perfectly and cost no more than US$17. They also sell makeup and home goods, luggage and dishes, a whole range of products, all for super cheap.
I can't recommend Primark enough, so if you ever find one, just check it out, maybe pick up a new top for less than a fiver.
Three weeks in London hardly makes me an expert, but my experience so far has left room for plenty of exploring and trying new things. I'm so happy to have found the things on this list, all of which are things that I know I will miss terribly when I'm back home, all of which are things that I know will always remind me of my ephemeral time in London.
If you're ever in town, make sure to check these things out, because they're definitely Jacqueline-approved!