London is the final stop on our round-the-world trip. This stop is different than the seven that preceded it; from the moment the plane lands, we are no longer in vacation mode. The point of our visit is to do research in preparation for a move to London in December.
First and foremost, our objective is to figure out what sort of living situation we can afford; after that, our goal is to assess neighborhoods based on the quality of local grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes as well as a dry cleaner, good transportation links, and the other sorts of intangible atmospheric factors that make a neighborhood appealing.
In our housing search, we focus on London’s East. The areas that appeal to us the most are in three East London boroughs: Hackney (specifically London Fields, the north side of Victoria Park, Shoreditch, and Dalston), Tower Hamlets (Bethnal Green), and Islington (Clerkenwell and around).
Along the way, we stumble across Victoria Park Village, a neighborhood that checks all our boxes and also perfectly embodies an outsider’s fantasy of an ideal London neighborhood. Victoria Park Village is at the intersection of Victoria Road and Lauriston Road, in the borough of Hackney, just north of Victoria Park.
Emerging from the park along Lauriston Road, a visitor immediately notices plenty of trees, strong foot traffic, many retail establishments, and the slender spire of a small church on the horizon. Were this intersection in Notting Hill, one could imagine a heavy tourist presence. Because this neighborhood is a fair hike from higher-volume tourist areas, it’s firmly off most tourist itineraries.
Carrot cake from Amandine.
The neighborhood has two great cafés, Loafing (below) and Amandine (above); Bill Hall, a greengrocer/fruiterer; a fishmonger; one of four branches of The Ginger Pig butcher shop; several barbershops; a wine store with frequent tastings called Bottle Apostle; a handful of clothing stores; several estate agents; Haus, a fancy home furnishings store, a local bookstore (Victoria Park Books); and a smattering of restaurants. For dining, there’s Su Sazzagoni, a Sardinian trattoria and delicatessen; a takeaway restaurant called Hope Caribbean Cuisine; and Fish House, which is, at least somewhat expectedly, a seafood restaurant.
Loafing, on a late weekend morning.
One appeal of London for many visitors is the promise of a quaint neighborhood, a place where the vague, romantic notion of the English market village merges with London’s bustling energy. The thing is, many parts of London’s West that might once have fulfilled such fantasies have become very expensive, mobbed with tourists and clogged with international high-end boutiques. Nothing against Aesop and agnès b. outlets, but they belong in a shopping district, not a neighborhood retail landscape. Victoria Park Village, with its inarguable cuteness and many local, small-scale specialty shops, delivers the traditional neighborhood goods.
Next week, I’ll finish up the Capricorn Route series with some reflections on five weeks on the road as well as a trip top ten list.
You can check out other posts in the Capricorn Route series here.