Saturday 4 April 2015

What to do in the morning? Go for a walk

Cool air, freshness of the morning and fairly empty streets. I honestly cannot think of a better way to start a spring day than going on a  walk with a friend. Freshly brewed coffee and a favourite magazine could compete? Nay. There is nothing better than a morning walk. 

Recently, I went back to my home-town Warszawa to spend time with family and friends. It was a great time filled with reflection, laughter, relax, interesting chats and, of course, walking. I couldn’t resist.
On the last day of the stay I met a very good friend for last one morning meeting before going back to England. We met at 8am, to be precise, and headed to a local park – Morskie Oko*.

We walked, we chatted, and we breathed in the morning atmosphere, reflecting on motherhood, work and life. Children going (or rather scootering) to school, brave morning runners and dog owners with their pets – that all surrounded us. Idyllic.

Morskie Oko has a special place in my life as this is the park that my dad went to as a child, our parents took me and my brother to when we were young and later on I strolled there with my friends during high school and uni years. On one of the visit my husband met there another Ethiopian who ended up being best man on our wedding and a good friend of the family. The park is always on the way and guarantees a place to escape from one of the busiest streets in the city. So strolling across this park with a friend, looking over the hills and ponds is one of essential things for me while being in Warsaw.

But the morning walk can be done anywhere. Even if you stroll along Oxford Street, if you can call that strolling, or have only ten minutes to wander around your local park it’s worthy to use the opportunity. Maybe you can walk through back streets and grab a coffee and a croissant (in Warsaw I would grab one of the sweet buns with poppy seed, cheese or curd...mmm)? Or look above your head and admire the architecture or a blue sky on a good day? Maybe, like me every day, you can only walk along the canal, watch cats playing and ducks wandering too far from the water? Appreciate that! The morning walk, no matter how long or how short, how beautiful or how ugly will give you a time to concentrate before a busy day, pray, think, meditate and start the day afresh, filled with new energy. And morning walk benefits go way beyond just that - it may even change your life like in one Bollywood movie with surprising title... "Morning Walk".
After the stroll around the Morskie Oko, I went to a bakery to buy fresh bread and in another shop I bought fresh lettuce and tomato for breakfast. O, how different they tasted after such a great beginning. And how different the next day looked when the same friend asked by me how her day began, replied that it wasn't as good as the one before. I couldn’t agree more.

*I’ll not attempt to translate the name but you can look it up – just write in google ‘Morskie Oko Warszawa’. If you write the name without the city you will probably be transferred to a website about Morskie Oko in Tatry Mountains on the other end of Poland.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Let’s talk: It's "Time to change"

Whether you are with a friend on a walk or sitting next to a stranger on a park bench make a conversation. It'll make a positive change.
Picture from
I (and not only I) encourage Londoners to talk and be more open.

I was having a coffee in Starbucks at Kings Road when a lady next to me, also having her coffee, pulled out a map of London, clearly looking for something. I thought to help her find the place. At first. Second thought was: maybe not, she will be alright. Next ones: why do I bother, she will think I treat her like ‘a tourist’ and patronising her. In the end, I didn’t speak to her. She left the coffee shop and left me thinking what would happen if I did. I missed an opportunity to talk to somebody, make them feel less alone, help them, have a chat and leave a positive memory in their mind.
On another occasion, just recently, I was reading “New African” on the tube. A man next to me was clearly reading over my shoulder. It’s usually me doing it, so I wasn’t annoyed but rather wanted to offer him to read it properly. We could then discuss the content of the article or he could even take the magazine home. I thought it would cause a funny confusion. But I did neither of these. The man got off before me and we’ve never spoken about elections in Nigeria. 

I had more chances to talk to strangers – to engage with them, to make them and myself feel better, to feel that we’re not strangers but fellow passengers, fellow wanderers or fellow human beings. There were occasions that I used – to chat with a gentleman in the doctor’s waiting room or with a lady buying a wallet, who couldn’t read if it was made of leather. Even though we rather complain about missed opportunities than rejoice over what we’ve achieved I appreciate the difference that those conversations made. That’s why I regret the ones I didn’t make. 

Talking on a purpose makes a difference and it’s not only me who encourage doing it. “1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any year. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be difficult but can make a difference.” This is what those behind “Time to change” campaign say. Mental health issues are a serious problem but facing the stigma related to them can be even worse. That’s why two leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink has started campaign “Time to change”. On the website they say: “We want to empower people with mental health problems to feel confident talking about the issue without facing discrimination. And we want the three quarters of the population who know someone with a mental health problem to talk about it too”.
You'll ask: but how? I don't know how to talk to a friend of mine and you want me to talk to a stranger? About what? How to start? Both charities give you a helping hand - "Conversation Starter". It's a simple pack containing some suggestions what you could talk about to other people, whether it is a stranger or your colleague at work.
Conversation starter - part of "Time to change" campaign
Let’s talk – to people on the train, neighbours, people in the line at the post-office, our colleagues, our families and friends. How many times we just keep quiet in the office, or call our parents for 5 minutes once a month, or only text our friends. I also struggle to start a conversation and need to overcome many barriers in my mind but “Time to change” conversatin starter is great to begin with.

The initiative is praiseworthy. Whenever I talk to a stranger, even if it’s just a small talk, it brings a smile on my face and leaves a warm feeling in my heart. Think that a conversation you make with that lady in the line in a shop can be the only conversation she has that day or that it can be your only conversation. Imagine how it can change your lives. You never know when you make a friend.
Surely, you heard that anecdote about a man who was driving in a car with his wife and smiling all the time to the people in other cars and to passers-by. When asked by the wife why he had been doing that 'silly' thing, he replied that he had heard that most people who consider commiting a suicide wouldn’t do it if someone smiled to them once! If a smile can change that much, how much more a simple conversation could do.

I myself am not a great conversation starter and I always regret it. I would like to have more meaningful conversation with people around and unite not only in complaining, when train or tube is late. I would like to know if they’re really alright, what they think about certain issues and how do they feel. Let’s not ignore each other, because of different backgrounds, appearances, habits or fashion choices but let’s talk. And when is a better time than when you are on a walk. You never know who you’ll meet on your way.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Bloomsbury & Fitzrovia: re-discovering love for London

It was great to be back to London several days ago, not just for work but for leisure, and of course some walking. The reason for that was a conference about media and image of Africa at the University of London. For some it may sound like work but for me it was relaxing and took me away from daily routine. Such time always gives me space to breath and helps to look at everyday life from another perspective. It shows me another way of thinking, opens different opportunities and reminds me about a need to go out of a comfort zone.
Leaving the conference a bit earlier was a great excuse to go for a walk around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia. I was only able to experience them on the surface but it still gave me a better idea about both areas and a much needed boost of energy. As they are so close to Oxford Street I am still wondering why I haven’t explored them before.

Bloomsbury is located east of and Fitzrovia west of wide Tottenham Court Road. At the sound of this name, I can only picture tube station with the same name and an old sky-scraper that is grey and boring. But actually as you further along Tottenham Court Road (towards Euston Rd) it becomes much more enjoyable. I like its wide pavements, plenty of furniture shops and, of course Tap Coffee. There are also some other food places worth visiting – Franco Manca with its sourdough pizza, Raw Loaf and Japanese Canteen and one of my favourite chain bakeries Kamps. Tottenham Court Road links together Oxford Street and Marylebone Road/Euston Road and that’s like being a bridge between two different worlds – hustle and bustle of Oxford Street and seriousness of Euston.

Entrance to Tap Coffee
The secret, however, is in the backstage. Even if the front looks interesting and wants to tempt you to stay, it is at the backstage that things are happening. And so, east from TCR there is Bloomsbury with its famous houses. None of them go higher than 3-4 storeys, I believe, and they are all finished with dark graphite bricks with creamy additions. Among them there is (not so) hidden University of London (with its massive senate building), British Museum and lots of hotels. Once you enter the area it seems to be another world from the rest of the city. It’s a very touristic area but definitely worth visiting in your spare time – gardens around Bloomsbury are open to the public and there are also free walks offered from time to time. Bloomsbury Festival that takes place in the Autumn is a great way to explore the area and get to know its history.

Gower Street in Bloomsbury with characteristic buildings
If you go to the other direction of TCR you will find yourself in Fitzrovia. This name has always been attracting me – the reason for that is that it probably doesn’t sound very English to me (much like its other –via sister – Belgravia). And the area itself has been to me a bit of a mystery.
It’s much more eclectic than Bloomsbury and more concentrated on the business than learning. The historically bohemian area was once home to such writers as Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw and Arthur Rimbaud.
You’ll see quite a few of business buildings - old and new, and you can have sneak peek into some of them, like I did at the one below...

Mortimer Street seems to be the main one but this time I didn’t actually have a chance to explore it, but I will be back. I love the fact that you can stroll around narrow streets and feel a bit like in a labyrinth. You can be sure that no matter which way you turn you will find something if not a toy museum than a great newspaper kiosk with lots of interesting magazines you cannot get anywhere else.

Fitzrovia boasts with a lot of art galleries and food places. I tried butternut squash and sweet potato soup with amazing sourdough bread at The Black Sheep Coffee - absolutely loved the place after spending their only few minutes. Two girls that were serving me and other customers were friendly and chatty and even appreciated my new ‘friend’ who now goes with me for walks (aka my DSLR). Their coffee and menu of sandwiches, cocktails and quiches looked very tempting as well and I am a fan of the claim they put on the paper cups - "Leave the herd behind". Weather permitting you can enjoy food and coffee outside sitting by the window sills. Next door, for those in more carnivorous mood, is the Wild Game Co, once very well reviewed by Time Out

Entrance to Black Sheep Coffee
This walk was special in different ways. For those who don’t know, a few weeks ago I and my husband moved to Reading. I still come to London for work but don’t get that many chances to breathe in the atmosphere of the capital. So this walk gave me a new energy. It also came in a right moment – probably a few days earlier, being still a bit anxious and rushing everywhere, I wouldn’t have time for it or wouldn’t appreciate it that much. But that day God granted me with peace and acceptance for the things around. That morning I prayed and I’ve been thinking on what thoughts I let in to my mind (“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Thanks to the influence of these words I looked at everyday situations in more realistic way. I was able to slow down and appreciate more. Since moving out from London I’ve been feeling a bit anxious with all new places around me and things to get used to, so going back to what I love was a perfect remedy.

Friday 12 December 2014

How to celebrate (Christmas)? Your own way.

Celebrating different occasions and moments in your life is not easy. But once you master it, it can actually become an art.

On your set! Ready! Go! Off they went and the Christmas race has begun. As soon as Halloween’s decorations and sales are taken down Christmas appears. It’s time to be in a Christmas mood, enjoy every party you attend, get drunk and do something silly that you’ll not even remember, stand in long queues and at the end get grumpy and complain that it all doesn’t make sense. Really? Is that what Christmas is about? That’s what everyone around is trying to convince others about. But I say ‘no’ to that and go back to the roots of Christmas to find its meaning and my own way to celebrate this time of the year.

The reason for the season is Jesus and you cannot deny it. Hanuka, Ramadan and Dewali have reasons behind them and so does Christmas. Is Christmas really about getting stressed? Arguing with your family? And buying gifts that people will not like? No, it’s not. It’s just what culture makes to believe in. Christmas is a God’s birthday celebration and that’s not another boring point from a religious talk. It’s about God who decided to come down to this world to save His people from dark, meaningless, boring and unfulfilling life and instead give them (means every one of us) life that is full of everything we need. It’s not just a celebration of winter holiday and nice time to give gifts to each other. There is more to it and that’s why I like to listen to the lyrics of Christmas carols and Christmas messages, because it all has meaning and take the stress out of our life.

I enjoy weeks leading up to Christmas. I like Christmas markets (at least some of them), Christmas food and traditions. I love the fact that people forget all the wrongdoings during that time and are more likely to forgive and I think we should celebrate Christmas but let’s not add some artificial stuff to it. So what’s the way to celebrate? Of course there are many and everyone is free to choose their own. Actually, it’s not easy to celebrate in general, so let’s have a look at celebrations in our life.

When we are children it is easy to celebrate birthdays, Christmas, and even our parents’ wedding anniversaries, because everything is always new and exciting – things we do and gifts we give. But when we grow up (not yet old) it all becomes a bit different, less meaningful. How you can make 30th Christmas amazing and original? How birthday can be different than the previous one and how you can still surprise the loved ones?

I like when someone else is celebrating and I usually try to remember about friends and family’s special days and write a nice card or present a gift. I want them to feel special and let them know they are remembered and important to me. The problem I have is with my own celebrations. Birthday is a special day. After all, it reminds me of the day I came to this world, though I don’t really remember the day itself. I don’t want to make the celebration a must – a day when you have to be happy and sometimes pretend that it’s special. So when my birthday is coming up I am always thinking it’s a day like any other, I can celebrate any other time. It’s a bit like waiting for the New Year’s Eve – it’s the same every year and it’s only a night. You wait for the whole year, or maybe only since Christmas, wait for that countdown, fireworks but really it’s a night like any other. It’s only the fact that we add a celebration to it and we think we must have fun.

But we should be celebrating. Life is hard, life is busy, life is a routine and celebration days are meant to be the ones that make a difference. So what are the ways to celebrate in (creative) style but without creating unreal atmosphere? 

1. Pray
Your birthday, Christmas and any other celebration is the day God has made and it commemorates something different than other days. This is something to be thankful for. Even if you don’t pray or you’re not a Christian, just say few words into the air. Maybe someone will hear. It is the moment to stop and say “thank you” for all those years that passed and for all those that will come.

2. Plan or ... be spontaneous 
That doesn’t sound like the best advice ever. I know. But we are all different. Some will feel better by planning and some by being spontaneous. Whichever options you choose don’t think about the upcoming celebration as something big that you must celebrate. 

3. …do what you like and be with those you like
Don’t throw a huge party if you are not a party person. Invite few good friends and just be with them, laugh and enjoy life. Be with those you like and love but if you prefer to be alone and read a book and then eat a piece of birthday cake, then do it. Have me time, time to slow down, think and look into the future. 

4. Go back to the basics
To find out what you really would like to do on that special day, remind yourself about its meaning. Christmas is not about shopping but it is about celebrating Christ’s birth and that has a lot of meanings. Birthday is about remembering the day your life began in this world; anniversaries are to remember those milestone moments in our lives. So what are things really associated with them?

5. Relax and remember why you are celebrating in the first place

Friday 5 December 2014

Oxford Circus: Don’t judge the place by its cover

If you think about Oxford Circus only in terms of crowds, shops that sell nothing out of ordinary, your daily commute and packed tube entrances then, think again. 

There are small but beautiful green spaces, inspiring churches, historical places and great coffee shops around Oxford Circus. You don’t have to walk far to feel a different vibe of this area. It doesn’t sound like I am describing the area between Oxford Street and Regent Street and Piccadily Circus but it is true. Whether you work around here, live nearby or just pass by from time to time you don’t have stay away anymore, because here comes a handy guide where to go to enjoy Oxford Circus. I’ll repeat: to ENJOY Oxford Circus. I would never think that one of my posts will be about the most touristic place in London, the place I usually avoid and every time I go there I get upset with the crowds that are not letting me to walk faster than one step per minute. But one of the busiest junctions in the world can be an interesting place to visit, have a walk, relax (sic!) and admire the architecture of Central London. 

I start the walk in Cavendish Square Gardens – at the north-west side of the circus. A friend of mine took me there once in the summer for lunch. Since then, every time I visit Oxford Street and I am looking for a place to unwind I go there. It is a small garden in the area that doesn’t have many green spaces and hidden just behind Debenhams is a perfect spot for people working in surrounding buildings to have their lunch or for you to have a rest after exhausting shopping. Cavendish Square Gardens are surrounded with great architecture and some noble institutions such as The King’s Fund, Medical Society of London, Royal College of Nursing and the Convent of the Holy Child. 
What always catches my attention though is the statue of William Duke of Cumberland, in a complete state of devastation. I have never seen such a pitiful statue that actually makes me smile. Great general towering over those small gardens is going to fall apart in a moment. Bizarre. Not that I know his military achievements but thanks to him I learnt how (some of) the monuments are built. I always thought they’re sculpted in the stone but it seems that’s not true, as you can see on the picture.

Monument of William Duke of Cumberland,in a very poor condition

Even without studying much of the history you can say that he went on many wars. This bizarre addition to very pleasant gardens leaves me smiling for the rest of the walk. 

I continue through Henrietta Place, Old Cavendish Street until New Bond St. I don't have any particular feelings towards expensive labels but sometimes it’s interesting to walk through such places and see what people are up to, especially at this time of the year when Christmas is fast approaching. Seeing few shops is more than enough for me, so as soon as I can, I turn into one of the side streets – Brook Street. George Frederick Haendel lived here in the 18th century and was making his way walking to a nearby St. Georges church in Hanover Square. At no. 25 there is now the Handel House Museum.

“Handel” street leads me to another small but pretty green space – Hanover Square. That is definitely a place to have rest – among palm trees, wooden benches and... abandoned bunch of flowers (one pictures). You can make your own story as to why it's there.

What caught my attention from afar is St. Georges Hanover Square, a temple in the place where people rather worship money than true God.

I follow narrow streets leading to Saville Row, place known for men's tailoring. However the street’s history has been varied. At some point in history the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society was at 1 Savile Row and significant British explorations to Africa and the South Pole were planned here. From more recent time, the Beatles gave their final performance at the roof of 3 Savile Row.

Today, you can find here almost nothing else but tailors workshops. You can actually see how they work if you look a bit down towards workshops in the basements. Handicraft hasn’t died but is definitely more expensive today. “Isn’t that exciting that you can watch tailors working” – one gentleman says to another. Yes, it is.
Tailors at work at Henry Pool & Co at Saville Row
I leave the world of Saville Row and turn to Vigo Street that leads me to Glasshouse Street and later Brewer St. I find myself almost at Piccadilly Circus and also running out of time. So I am trying to quickly find Nordic Bakery. If I see on the map a word “bakery” you can be sure that I’ll get there at some point. Now I know where it is and next time will pop in for coffee and a treat and take them to a bench in Golden Square to relax. It’s amazing what power green space, even very small, has. Even if everything around you is spinning, crowds are running, when you enter a small garden and sit on a bench you will travel into another world. I cannot stop being amazed at that and I’ll not stop loving and spotting those places, because we need to treasure them.

I head back to the heart of Oxford Circus via Carnaby Street passing an amazing coffee house where I tried coffee a day before. It’s Speakeasy. Make sure you try their a little bit bitter, fruity and thick cappuccino or latte. I finish at famous Oxford Circus underground station but richer in new experience. If I had a bit more time I would go and take a deep breath at All Souls at Langham Place just few steps north from the station. Next time.

There is something intriguing about discovering places that seem so obvious. I pass through Oxford Circus almost every day changing from Central line to Victoria on my way to work. It's mainly a changing point. Even if I want to see it in a different way, my prejudices has been winning. Many times I wanted to get off here for an after work walk but I was always thinking “There is nothing to see there and nowhere to go and I will only waste my time”. So I was either choosing to get off at another station or to just go straight home. Hopefully, I’ll not make that mistake again.