London. Well, I know I’m late in putting up this post, but life got a bit hectic after my return until I got into the swing of things.
When I first got to London, I was excited, but questioned what on earth I was doing there. My ex and I had recently broken up and I had limited accommodation booked in. One week in fact, as original plans were to go back to her place in the east of England to live after the week in London. This meant that I needed somewhere to live ASAP! I booked a second week of accommodation in my hostel just in case I was stuck, as my back up plan. I questioned what on earth I was doing settling in London for an unknown period of time, when I had zero social supports knowing noone and having no family around, with miserable rainy weather, cold temperatures, beaches two hours drive away that you couldn’t even swim in, insanely high cost of living, plus an average wage of £7-8/ hr (about $14/ hr), and worst of all, without my beautiful dog coco. Why was I doing this instead of going home to Sydney?!!!
Here in the hostel I met another Aussie, who was in a similar situation to myself. Staying in a hostel until she could move into her house which she had just secured, and who had done a bit of travel before settling in London. Her excitement for the new adventure in London, and talking about my situation, helped me a lot. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, upon reflection, I’m not sure I would have settled into London with as much enthusiasm if I hadn’t have befriended her. We were in the hostel together for just short of a week, and have stayed friends since. She was definitely the right person to meet at that time and she kicked my butt into gear.
In between house inspections, I went to job interviews with recruitment agencies and completed more microsoft word, excel, and typing tests that week than I think I’ve done in my life combined. I was then registered with multiple recruitment agencies though which was helping on the job search front. In between all of that somehow, I saw some of the London sights.
My friend from high school came over at the same time, and she, her boyfriend and I all went to the Tower of London, walked over tower bridge, and went to the London borough markets before calling into an alley way pub for a pint.
I found two places I would love to live in, and went with one in Morden, which is in south-west London near Wimbledon. The houses right across London and the whole UK were all lined up in a row, sharing walls most of the time in townhouse style houses but all exactly the same. Streets and streets of the same house design. Here in my house I had a room in a 5 bedroom house, sharing with 4 other awesome housemates from across the globe. There was another Aussie, a Frenchman, a Lithuanian and a Brit, with a mix of genders. I got on with everyone in the house, and 4 of the 5 of us often hung out. We went for a walk by the river in Putney, down the pub for a pint, or had a BBQ out the back. The BBQ was of course a tin foil tray with coals in it that costs £5 and is a one time use kind of deal. It was smokey and the food stuck to the foil grate but it was a great night of food, drinks and laughs.
Speaking of drinks, one housemate and I decided free poured White Russians were a great idea for a “welcome to the house” kind of drinking night, and for the first time in I don’t even know how many years, I threw up from too much alcohol and passed out with a water in my hand which I spilled into my shoes all before midnight!
I also joined a local gym and loved going there for a workout or Pilates classes. Between jobs I went most days, and I stuck to it at least 3 times a week when I did have work. I got into the best shape of my adult life and although I’ve lost a little of that now with my travel curves happily coming back after my final month of travels, I want to continue it here in Aus.
The public transport around London is fantastic. While people definitely under no circumstances look at each other or make any kind of glance in another’s direction on the tube, it’s a bloody good train system!! Trains come every 3 minutes at peak hour and every 4 minutes during non-peak times, and they’re fast! At times it made me stop and think about life and how it would be different if tube-goers actually did make that eye contact and interact with each other. How many new friends or things you learn about life could come about if only human interaction was more personable and less awkward? I also observed that it is acceptable to fall asleep on the tube, but not to lean forward into the isle or sideways on the person beside you. People might chuckle if you do the headnod/jerk as you fall asleep so you have to nod off gracefully in your own space and you’ll be right 😂 The tube also has great little “baby on board” badges for women who are pregnant and perhaps not yet showing, but so that they can get a seat instead of standing being shoved or falling if the train jerks suddenly. There were also a lot of douchebags who didn’t get up for pregnant or disabled people despite sitting in that seat, and I wonder if it was because they were just arseholes or because they really didn’t see them as they were too busy not making eye contact at anyone else!? My work stop (Tottenham court road) had a station worker who wrote a quote of the day on the white board at the top of the escalators near the “tap off” gates which often made me chuckle, smile, or nod in agreement. I liked the personal touch. There wasn’t one every day so I assume it was one worker who liked to do it. My local station didn’t have one and I didn’t see one at any of the other London stations either.
The London streets were a mix of old and new, rich or poor, depending on where you were. The iconic red London double decker buses zipped all around town. I saw the “pride” bus which was painted in a giant rainbow cruise past one day. I love how accepting London is.
I worked in Holborn and Tottenham Court Road which was an older part of the city centre. The buildings were lovely and I was lucky to be there in spring. The leaves were starting to grow back on the bare trees, some started to bloom their Spring blossoms, and the sunshine meant people left their workplaces at lunch time (everyone gets an hour for lunch) and sat in the park soaking up the few warm rays they could get. I learned not to take sunshine or warmth for granted anymore. You appreciate the little bits you get. With everyone around you having the same appreciation, spring time in London is the perfect time to be there and soak up some excellent vibes all around you. People hide away in the cold, dark winter months, and it rains too much in summer for people to be happy, so Spring is the time to do it. I walked from a station a little further away instead of changing trains to enjoy the morning and afternoon sun. Of course I was there during April, where I was warned to make sure I always had an umbrella on hand for the infamous “April showers”. Basically it showered briefly most days, but usually after lunch and before I left work. There were no downpours, although there was one freak snow storm one day that saw every season in a day. We had sunshine, clouds, a shower, more sunshine, a quick snow storm, more sunshine, more rain, more snow, and wind before finishing off with sunshine again. The sun was finally setting each day after my gym workout, after work, at around 9-10pm, stretching to 11pm by the time I left London, and up again as early as 5am during spring and 4am during summer. The sunsets were amazing. Those nights in Aus where the sky goes beautiful shades of pink and orange were a nightly occurrence in London. By chance the spring time is when I had my time there, and maybe it glorified London for me more than reality but I don’t care. I loved it.
I came across mole hills, hedgehogs, and many squirrels. Some squirrels were so used to humans that people would feed them nuts from their hands. A lot of locals don’t like the grey squirrels saying they have almost wiped out the native red squirrels but I learned later on that the reds are making a comeback and they often live in slightly different habitats anyways so it’s actually more us as humans that have hurt their numbers. Either way, I liked both colour squirrel and I would watch them grab the nuts and run to bury them.
I caught up with a friend and we went to the Camden markets for the first time. Oh my goodness. I can’t even begin to describe Camden except it felt like I was home! It is like every hippy or alternate raver, goth, or other socially diverse minority all in one happy bustling place. The streets are lined with market sellers on the way to the actual markets which is like Paddys markets on steroids, plus the best food markets you’ve seen, all in one place. They have permanent market stores there but one store was unlike any other. It is called cyber dog and it plays trance music so loudly you swear you were at a dance party. In fact, they have half naked fleuro-goth-raver dancers up on platforms in the entrance hall. It’s 3 levels and sells all kinds of raver clothes, cool accessories, fun toys/accessories (think hens night gifts), and of course has a sex toy section to boot! I spent at least an hour in that store alone, and spent the rest of the day wandering the markets and eating.
We also went to the top of the “monument” for a view of London, and to a secret open garden within the walls of a church that was bombed during the war (St Dunstans in the East). We also went to a rave night and danced around to Andy C, a possible God of dnb (drum and bass music).
I had some American friends who I met in Greece come to visit London so we met up for the day and saw the “Big Ben”, the Westminster abbey, rode the London eye, had some good food, and of course too many drinks. We also went and saw Wicked at a west end theatre which was simply amazing. I met one of their friends who is lovely and we caught up a couple of times afterwards. It’s blossoming friendships like that which I’ve hated to leave behind.
On another visit to camden, while grabbing coffee or a cocktail and dinner with my friend who I met in the hostel (which we did semi regularly across different places in London), I met a man who lived on the street and made his money with his street art. This particular day he was writing poems in colourful chalk on the pavements. They were poems about not getting caught up in the 9-5 corporate world and forgetting who you are or your true purpose. Wasting lives being unhappy and forgetting to see each other as human souls. They were great poems and I stopped and talked to him for a while while I was waiting for my friend. We talked about life and love of the planet. This man didn’t have a home, but he was inspiring. It goes to prove once again that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that homeless people deserve to live without the judgement of others.
London of course had downsides too. Namely the cost of literally everything. A takeaway lunch of a salmon sushi roll and seaweed salad cost the equivalent of $18. I bought the same thing in Aus yesterday for $8. Other downsides are the tasteless food. Nothing has flavour, and I missed the Aussie veggies (although I will admit the farmer street sellers berries were amazing, and cheap)! Also that rice crackers (think sakata) are apparently an Aussie thing and nowhere in Europe or the UK has them or anything like it. How do GF people there (such as myself) eat cheese and crackers (it’s a conundrum, I know)?!?!!
In the UK you have to pay for a TV license if you have a TV, for your free channels. Yes, that’s right, you have to PAY to receive “free” television. Sure, it gives you a heap more channels than Aus, but there is still never anything on. Every household has to pay and the council is after you within days of not having an active account. Apparently it’s for the BBC, but I think more money goes into that than the BBC would ever see. We paid £5 a month, per person in our house, which is the equivalent of $50 a month for “free tv”. The tenants are also the ones liable for the council rates, or as they call it council tax. This was much higher at $80/ month, per person! This is on top of extortionate rent and bills, and tube prices.
The streets are too narrow. It’s probably why most of the cars are tiny, in addition to the huge number of them on the road. If there were cars parked on the street, only one way traffic could get through at a time. It’s common courtesy to wave a thanks to who ever has stopped further ahead to let you pass first before they come in the opposite direction. The main roads also don’t have speed signs but rather the “national speed limit” symbol, which looks like this: 🚫. On highways the speed limit is 70mph, and on residential streets it’s less (I can’t remember what), which was confusing on the few occasions I did drive as I just kind of had to guess I was doing the right speeds!
The other negative I found was nearly everything was disposable! Microwave dinners or ready prepared foods are most of the supermarket (pre-mashed potato, peeled apple slices, spiced and cooked chicken portions). So much rubbish as merely waste! Not only food but regular items such as a BBQ were all a one time use and throw away the rubbish kind of deal. Strangely enough, to reduce plastic waste they charge you 5p per bag at the supermarket to encourage you to use re-usable cotton/tough plastic type bags instead, yet they get filled with more throw away plastic from your groceries than any of the bags could ever produce.
They have no freaking clue how to do iced coffee, or any flavoured milk in general. Like seriously. You get this thing almost as thick as custard in a small bottle that tastes like syrup. Its disgusting. Dare and Ice Break could make a killing going international! Better yet, get some Vitasoy Iced Coffee happening!
Their radio stations are also notoriously terrible. I had triple J withdrawals.
Aside from that though, I loved it there. London was one of the most multicultural and welcoming cities I’ve encountered, even running into a lot of Aussies! You kind of get used to the British accents (and European ones), until of course, you’re in the lunch room and 6 different people say the word yoghurt in a row (like yoggert) and you can’t help but laugh! I also got used to terms like “bell-end (dickhead), bollocks (oh shit balls), knobhead (another term for a dickhead), flip flops (thongs), ketchup (tomato sauce), brown sugar (raw sugar), brown sauce (a HP type sauce that’s kind of like a steak sauce and is in place of BBQ sauce), crisps (chips), you alright/ you right (hello how are you? Are you well? / gday), junctions (intersections), football (soccer), fit (good looking), and lorries (trucks/ semi’s)”. Speaking of lorries, they didn’t have b-doubles anywhere! They were all single semis and were nowhere near any of the cities, only on main highways. Some of the above mentioned terms actually started to rub off on me and I started using them naturally as time went on.
I found it strange that the British don’t wash up their dishes in the kitchen sink, rather, they wash their dishes in a plastic tub that sits inside the kitchen sink. I have no idea why, it’s a mystery that remains.
They also have nothing that resembles an RSL club. They have small casinos that are basically empty every time you walk past, and more TAB’s than you can poke a stick at, but no “club” type venues.
People drive on the left, but stand on the right on escalators etc. You can park on either side of the road facing which ever direction you damn well please, and no one really seems to know if you walk on the left or the right of the sidewalk! I wonder if it’s a confusion thing because there is no consistency with what side people drive/stand/park on, or because it’s so multicultural with Europeans where you walk on the right.
I spent my last few days/ nights as a Londoner going to a silent disco with one of my housemates at the top of the shard. It’s where everyone has headphones and picks one of 3 stations to listen/dance to so everyone is dancing to different music at the same time, with spectacular views of London at night. It was so much fun!
I also saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace and took a walk through Hyde park, via the lake, past the ducks and squirrels. Here I randomly bumped into a friend I had met on tour and we had one last chat before I left!
And so that wrapped up my 3 months of living in London! At the end of it, looking back to how I felt when I started in London, I’m so glad I stayed. London in the spring time has a magic to it, as everyone starts to liven up with the warmer weather and more sunshine. The days are spent feeling grateful for the sunshine you get and you go outside more to appreciate it. The blossoms and squirrels and sunsets all add to the magic. I loved the life I had started there, with a variety of different temp jobs, getting fit, making friends, and gallivanting all over the English countryside to other towns for weekends in between it all.
While I’m now glad to be home, studying what I love and coming back to a great job, not to mention being reunited with my greatest love (coco), a part of my heart will always be in London. I’m adjusting to being back but I miss it there. For now, I know that it’s taught me to be more free, like I was over there. Not to take work “home” with me. No need to stress or worry, have faith that things will work out. To get out more and meet people, see more and do things. To enjoy the sunshine and the sunsets and feel blessed to have amazing nature around me, even in Sydney. My travels taught me a lot, but perhaps just living as me, in a totally different place, taught me the most. I wish it could have been longer, but I know I’ll visit again one day, and just to make certain it will be magical, I’ll make sure I head over in spring! Thank you, London, and the people I met along the way- you’ve made it something special that I’ll never forget ❤️ 🇬🇧