Let's take a walk around the Islington area of north London with local resident Masha Gordon - mum-of-two, philanthropist, experienced mountaineer and successful businesswoman.
"When I first came to Islington, I knew immediately that I wanted to build my life here. Besides, I was working in the City, and I really liked the fact that this area was close to the office. Of course, twenty years ago it looked different; there were more independent shops, an interesting mix of people everywhere - professionals and ordinary blue-collar workers. There was (and still is) an understanding of normality of life here, which really appealed to me.
For anyone visiting Islington, I'd advise strolling through the small squares and parks that are within the residential blocks. There's also an abundance of cultural venues that are definitely worth exploring. For example, Islington is home to the much-loved Sadler's Wells Theatre, dedicated to dance.
If you want to explore Islington, get to Angel tube station and turn off towards the canal, or go through Camden Passage to Chapel Market, where you can browse the little antiques shops. Then walk up to Upper Street.
Despite the changes that have taken place in recent decades, Islington has still retained its identity. For one thing, it remains the area with the highest population density, and there's a real sense of life here. Interestingly, it used to be one of the smaller villages (London is generally a collection of villages) and along the Great Northern Road, now called Upper Street, traders drove cattle into the City to the famous Smithfield Market. Liverpool Street even retains the former Royal Agricultural Hall (now the Business Design Centre), built in 1862, where cattle used to be exhibited and sold. All in all, the picture was quite pastoral. It was partly this pastoralism that made the area an attractive destination for the wealthy. In the beginning of XIX century beautiful houses began to be built here, but at some point, when proletarians were forced out of central London, many ordinary families arrived in Islington and began to share the beautiful Georgian and Victorian buildings among themselves. And until the 1960s, the area was in decline as the cultural strata continued to change.
A new chapter in Islington's life began when it was taken over by artists, writers and poets - the kind of liberal intelligentsia who were attracted by low housing prices. Many of them still live here today. I really like the fact that there's a wide variety of people among my neighbors. We meet up with them in the original English pubs. One of my favourites is The Pig and Butcher near Gibson Square.
Islington is good because to this day it has a spirit of independence (sometimes even called the Republic of Islington), a spirit of liberal intellectuals. Here everything has its own way. For example, it was in Islington in the XIX century that unique pub theatres appeared (perhaps you have not even heard of them). The tradition still holds true today at the King's Head Theatre Pub on Upper Street.
While we're on the subject of theatre again, it's impossible not to mention that Islington is home to one of London's finest independent theatres, the Almeida, which puts on wonderful plays about modern England. I recommend buying a ticket in advance and including a visit to it in your itinerary around the borough.
Another pub I love is The Albion on Thornhill Road. If you want to experience the authentic "Englishness" found in villages outside London, the pub is the right choice.
Interestingly, along with the liberal intelligentsia, a large number of French expats settled in Islington and transformed the local restaurants and bakeries for the better. Thanks to them, Upper Street has become a gourmet paradise. If you're strolling along it, be sure to check out the Belle Epoque Café.
And there's one more secret spot. For those with a passion for sport, Islington has The Castle climbing wall. It's housed in a former water tower, which is located next to Clissold Park. There is a very good community of liberal people there, even probably hippies, and they have their own organic cafe, the vegetables and herbs for which they grow right on the grounds of The Castle. Be sure to check it out when the weather is nice - you won't believe you're still in a bustling metropolis.