01.08.2010 - 01.09.2010
After a busy week’s search at the end of July, visiting about 20 different flats, I found a basic little furnished one-bedroom in a 1930’s mansion block called Gilling Court in Northwest London. The market was a bit discouraging - not a lot to choose from, and what I saw was not that great. So when I was shown this place, I was happy to make an offer since it’s bright (when the sun manages to shine) and it was basically ready for move-in - just rolled in the suitcase and some groceries. The only real things to worry about were setting up internet and changing all the utilities into my name. I did also make a trek to Ikea for some little odds and ends - bathmat, garbage can (aka rubbish bin) and some scented candles to mask the fresh paint smell. The flat was probably last updated with new flooring in the last 5 years, but it has a sort of cottage-y feel with the tile and basic (dated) fixtures.
Perfectly fine for a few months, and the area is really why I chose it. Sort of posh in that bohemian bourgeois way, Belsize Park is wedged nicely between Hampstead Village and Primrose Hill - both with their lovely parks with great views over London - and very handy for the tube and bus stops. These three areas are all celebrity magnets - and it's easy to see why. Not far from Central London, leafy and village-y, and lots of boutiques, historic pubs, gourmet cafés and organic fruit & veg markets. Plus great bookstores - Londoners still read printed books, especially on the tube. Only real downside is that the Baby Stroller Brigade is out in full force most days so it can get a little cramped in those cute shops and cafes.
In Belsize Park, apparently some of my celebrity neighbours include Gwyneth and Chris a few blocks in one direction, and Hugh Laurie a few blocks the other way. Haven’t been round for tea yet, though.There is also a ‘village’ of sorts, just a triangle of restaurants and a few services.
Nearby, a fake Banksy sits behind plexiglass - they save fakes and wipe off the real ones!
Hampstead Village is an easy 15 min stroll uphill and has amazing history. The spring water was thought to be quite curative, so many Londoners trekked up here to have a taste. Streets are still named ‘Flask Walk’ and ‘Well Walk’. Keats lived up here, as did Robert Louis Stevenson. Elizabeth Taylor was born here. Now it’s home to Boy George, Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais, Liam Gallagher and Ridley Scott - just to name a few. Although the high street can get quite busy on the weekends, the side streets are ridiculously quaint and much quieter.
Hampstead Heath is the main attraction with a massive expanse of forest, meadow, ponds and playgrounds, topped with the beautiful Kenwood House (remember it from Notting Hill?). There are swimming ponds, one for men and another for women, plus great views from Parliament Hill (movie factoids - scenes from Run Fatboy Run and Notes on a Scandal were filmed from this lovely vantage point).
Primrose Hill Park, and Regent's Canal are downhill from my flat and also have a cozy, laid-back village atmosphere - much different than Camden Town just around the corner with its pierced, trilby-and-skinny-jeans crowd and endless racks of cheap t-shirts and souvenirs.
Sylvia Plath lived here, and died here, in Yeats' old house. Even more bizarrely, Daniel Craig (who played her husband Ted in a movie about her life) lives just a few doors down from there. Like Parliament Hill, Primrose Hill Park has great views over London Zoo and the West End - a lovely spot for suntanning on the few days when the weather cooperated this summer.