I left Sydney, Australia on January 15th, 2016. I had sold most of my possessions, furniture, car and what not, left a few sentimental items at my parents, packed a bag with the rest of my belongings and jetted off to the U.K. I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic workplace who held my position for me for 12 months so that I could go and travel. Travel wasn’t the only reason I was jetting off to England though, having met a beautiful woman who stole my heart some months earlier.She was British and her visa here in Australia was in its final 6 or so months when we met. Love took over and we made plans for me to join her in the U.K. at the beginning of the new year. Things fell into place for my trip so easily it was hard to believe. My studies had a 12 month gap, work handed me the coinciding 12 months off and having had British ancestry, I was able to get an Ancestry visa without too much hassle.
We had 5 months in between when she left and I arrived in the U.K to be reunited with her. I am a very kinesthetic person, especially in relationships so going 5 and a half months without physical touch between us was taxing for me, for her, and our relationship. Seeing if things worked between us was a gamble, having now spent half of our relationship on opposite sides of the world. I was sure, however, that I had found the woman I would spend the rest of my life with so I had no hesitations in packing up and leaving Australia. To be perfectly honest, I actually had not planned on returning.
Fast forward to the day I left Australia. I spent 36 hours in transit from door to door, arrived at Heathrow airport at 5.30am UK time and was making my way out to Cambridge where she was picking me up from the station to drive another 20 minutes back to her hometown of Newmarket, Suffolk. Getting there in itself was a challenge, having to navigate a couple of the London transport options and getting it very wrong. First off, don’t spend the extra quid on the Heathrow express that only takes you to Paddington (where you then likely need to get elsewhere anyway). This is a waste of money. Instead, you should walk to the next exit at Heathrow to the tube. That was rookie error #1.While on this train, I tried to use my pre-paid Travel Sim from Australia Post. I discovered quickly that I could send texts, but not receive them. Data was pitiful so using the internet to help me navigate wasn’t really an option. I could make calls, but the reception dropped in and out, and virtually rendered it pretty useless. I would suggest either turning on your Aus roaming, or buying a pre-paid U.K. sim at the airport.
Then being in Paddington, the station itself was easiest enough to navigate, however do not listen to the station attendants when they tell you to get the next train going to blah blah on such and such line, then swap at the next station for another train to Kings Cross as it is faster than a direct train on another line. I am telling you now, if you have luggage that you need to cart up and down the stairs at said station, then it most definitely is not faster. I learned quickly that London tube stations are not nearly as wheelchair (and luggage) friendly as Sydney. Most stations will not be wheelchair accessible, meaning stairs are your only option. That was rookie error #2. Also, you need to look at the boards in the tube stations for the next train’s destination. Many of the main stations in the city have multiple train lines that share the platform and will take you to different places. This was contrary to the limited research I had done on Tube trains which say that each line is colour coded (correct) and have their own platforms (not always). The board shows the final destination of the next train, then the next, and so on. Simple stuff really. A tube map comes in super handy for that if you don’t know the end of each line yet. If you get on the wrong train, you have yet another set of stairs to navigate to switch platforms to get yourself on the correct line / direction to fix up this error. Rookie error #3. So I was 4 extra flights of stairs down and exhausted but I finally made it to Kings Cross where I was to get a ticket to Cambridge and be on my merry way and see my love.
I learned very quickly that the Kings Cross tube station ticket machines, will only give you tickets valid on the tube. If you need a Kings Cross St Pancras overground ticket, you need to go upstairs to the St Pancras level and buy your ticket there. Rookie error #4. Secondly, I learned that despite needing to find the “Great Northern” train, that you should not follow the black signs to “Northern” in Kings Cross. The Northern is a tube line and does not take you out of London. Rookie error #5. The Great Northern information is actually almost irrelevant. Instead, go upstairs, buy a ticket, (off-peak if you can as prices are extortionate enough as it is), ignore anything that google tells you about which platform you need to be on (rookie error #6) and look at the boards outside the ticket machines to find the correct (and fastest) train to your destination. Eventually (2 hours later than planned) I arrived in Cambridge and was greeted warmly.
Now, one thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the weather. Having come from the middle of summer in Australia in 43°C heat to a chilly -4°C takes some getting used to. I had planned for this fairly well, with thermals, coats, layers, beanies etc. One thing I didn’t think I would need on the first day through the stations was my gloves. I was wrong. Get your gloves or your hands will go numb in the cold and you will not be able to pull your luggage without it hurting. Other than this though, the cold was refreshing. The breeze stung my cheeks and my breath was visible in the air. It felt crisp and clean despite being in the middle of the city. I also learned however, that despite seeing the sun, it offers no warmth. Much unlike back at home where you can feel the tingling warmth of the suns rays on your skin or your clothes even in the middle of winter. Little did I know, I would not get that feeling for some months.
I went back to my girlfriends house and met her family. I had coffee. I showered. Then we showered each other in kisses and cuddles and held each other for a moment. Everything felt right again, like I belonged here. She drove me around the town to show me around and I remember being amused at the houses being perfectly aligned and all the same. All the cars were small and the streets so narrow that only one car could squeeze past at a time if anyone were parked on the street. We went “up the heath” to see the sunset. The heath is really just a hill where horses train of a morning, which had a forested area at the top above the track, and a road to one side. We walked up the track and above to the forested area. Puddles were lying around and the top layer was frozen over. I jumped in them like a child and it was fun! What a great day this was. The dirt had ice particles all through it, and there were horseshoe prints of solid ice along the track. It had a gorgeous view of the quaint little English town as the beautiful orange sunset lit it up and disappeared into darkness at 4.00pm. That blew me away in itself, 4pm sunsets! The memories of the breathtaking orange sunsets there however are something I still hold with fondness.
My first day in the U.K was wrapped up with dinner and snuggling on the couch chatting away and getting an early night. A perfect start to this new adventure.