The year that was

As 2011 nears its end, I thought it might be time to reflect on what amazing things I saw or did during the year, and what crap things occurred that I hope to have learnt from!

The biggest thing that happened in the year was moving back to Sydney from London. It was pretty tough settling back into a routine and giving up the nomad lifestyle, but now that I’ve an established a bunch of friends that enjoy catching up for socials and food tours, and am loving being back in my Balmain flat, things are getting easier. It doesn’t mean that I don’t contemplate moving back to London, which I would do in a heartbeat if a) the economy and job market were in better shape, and b) if the salaries in London weren’t so stupidly crap.

Considering that I spent most of the year in Australia, it actually wasn’t a bad year for travelling. I welcomed in the new year skiing in Italy, then made some short trips to Iceland, Poland, Turkey, Lebanon, Singapore, and New Zealand. I will be sending off the year in Japan!

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There is nothing at all to report on the relationship front. Yet more harassment from the parentals as to the whereabouts of my future husband (there was some part of me that wanted to stay abroad!), but sadly for them, there seems to be a shortage of available, nice, interesting and intelligent men in Sydney. I think that 2012 might be the year of Internet dating!

So all in all, I’d give 2011 a rating of 7 out of 10. I wish that I could have figured out what I want out of my career by now, and I wish I had a few more friends that were up for some fun days or weekends away (trying to get people to come to music festivals, diving and ski trips this year has been an impossibility) but otherwise I’m financially secure and have very few cares in the world. The issues above are very definitely First World Problems!!

How would you rate your 2011? What do you hope for 2012?

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Highly skilled

After a stressful 3 months of waiting, my Tier 1 highly skill migrant visa for the UK was finally approved!  As soon as the approval email appeared in my inbox, I ran around the house squealing with excitement, although when I told my mum her face fell with disappointment at the realisation that I would soon be back on the other side of the world.

Not trusting that the British High Commission would send my passport back in time for me to make the Chamonix ski trip that I had planned, I flew down to Canberra for all of 2 hours just to personally pick up my passport, and within 6 days of receiving my approval email, I was back in London!

It was great to be back in the social atmosphere of the Expedia office, where everyone had apparently deeply missed my boisterous laughter.  For three days I had people coming up and telling me how much they missed my smile and laugh!!  It was so nice to have people interaction after three months of working from home.

However, my stay in London was very brief, as I jetted off to France for a week of skiing.  There had just been a dump of fresh powder before I arrived, so the skiing was just fantastic.  I have also finally been converted to the joys of listening to music whilst carving up the slopes, and there was just nothing more amazing than hitting powdery black runs on the side of Mont Blanc to the beats of Lady Gaga, Basement Jaxx, Pendulum and Crystal Castles!

 

 

I am spending the Easter long weekend being a tourist in London, with trips planned to Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace and Windsor Palace.  This is all an attempt to save some money before I head out to Malaysia for three weeks on Tuesday, which includes spending an indulgent 9 days diving and relaxing at the very awesome Kapalai island resort!

A test of patience

Having spent the last seven weeks in the glorious Australian summer, it’s just so easy to fall back in love with all the aspects of the country that I missed when I was in London.  Being so close to friends and family is wonderful, as well as enjoying endless weeks of sunshine, the laid back culture, the fantastic fresh food and wine, and did I mention the weather??

While I’ve been impatiently waiting for the British Consulate to check a few boxes and hopefully approve my visa, I’ve been considering the possibility of having my visa rejected yet again, and formulating an alternative plan.  Needless to say, if my visa gets rejected again, I will find it incredibly hard to justify throwing more money on top of the almost $2000 that I’ve already spent on visas.

Brainstorming an alternative plan has actually been really quite stimulating, and to be honest, it is so exciting that I’m beginning to become a little indifferent as to whether I head back to the UK or not!  I would buy a round-the-world ticket, backpack for up to 6 months in the cheaper parts of the world (Asia, Central America, South America) via London, to pack up all my stuff and ship it home.  No doubt I would then be nearing my 30th birthday, which I would love to celebrate by doing something completely crazy, or just being in a really special place like Mount Kilimanjaro or Iguazu Falls.  Then I could return to Sydney and look to kick off my business idea, return to taekwondo training and also possibly start my own class.

Now you see why I would be excited right??

Having said all that though, I really am looking forward to returning to London.  I miss the big city life, London’s melting pot of culture, the European travel, and just wanting to live out my dream of living abroad for an extended period of time.  I know that if I didn’t make it back to London then it would be something that I’d always regret.

Still, it does rile me that some unskilled worker from Poland can so easily enter and work in the UK, whereas I’m highly qualified and experienced and will no doubt be paying a lot more taxes to the British government and therefore contributing more to the culture and society there.  It just doesn’t make sense does it?  But then again, since when was government bureaucracy rational?

Lady of leisure

I finished up my 6 month contract at the pharmaceutical company on Friday and am officially unemployed whilst I’m looking for my next contract.  I did manage to find a new house share in East Acton, where I’ll be moving to next week and shall be living with Christine, my good mate from uni.  I must say that it was an incredible relief to get away from my previous psycho flatmate, even though the Notting Hill location was just absolutely perfect.

Before I finished up at my old job, I was invited to attend the company’s Accountant’s Conference, which really was as boring as it sounds.  The important thing to know is that it was in Malta – do I hear some of you say junket???  Well, it was a complete junket, with a lot more play than work, lots of feasting, and we even did a tour of Mdina (the old capital of Malta) and of the nearby islands, Comino and Gozo.

Today I went out for a brief visit of the British Museum.  It must be impossible to get a good look at it in one go, so I’m hoping to get there a few times whilst I’m here to check out the whole place as thoroughly as I can.  Then I went for a stroll along the banks of the Thames, past the London Eye to the Houses of Parliament.

And until I find my next job, it’s free sights and cheap nights in with a box of goon!

The 2-month evaluation

I was having dinner with a few girlfriends a few weeks ago, all of whom have been living in London a fair bit longer than me.  They asked me what my thoughts of London were so far, and I was thinking that it was worth noting down how I feel now and then see how my feelings have changed in a year’s time.  So having been here for a little over two months now, here goes:

Likes

Public transport 

The London Underground, or the tube, is absolutely fantastic.  Sure it’s overcrowded and hot, but it runs frequently (you hardly ever have to wait more than 2-3 minutes for the next train), it’s pretty clean, and those colourful maps and station signage make it dead easy to use.  Buses in central London are cheap, and the Oyster card makes ticketing so simple and straightforward.  Hello Iemma government, take note!

Eating out

There is just such an enormous variety of restaurants and cafes, with cuisines from all over the globe.  Initially I thought that I would have severe pad thai withdrawals, but there are loads of Thai restaurants (albeit not as good as in Sydney) along with Indian, African, Turkish, Chinese, Italian, Korean, Caribbean and more.  There are lots of cheap eats, as well as the Michelin-starred affairs.  The fast food here is also very good, with lots of tasty yet healthy options through places like Eat and Pret a Manger.

Theatre, culture and entertainment

There is certainly no shortage of entertainment in London.  There are more theatres than you can poke a stick at, and you can almost guarantee that every big name play or musical is showing somewhere in town along with loads of smaller productions of upcoming playwrights.  There are also lots of dancing clubs, ranging from big superclubs pumping out house and trance, R&B clubs, and Latin dance.

Proximity to Europe

The ability to be able to make weekend trips to other parts of the UK, Ireland and continental Europe is obviously the big drawcard for lots of Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans.  With the fast Eurostar train and the multitude of budget airlines, you’re paying the same price to fly to Spain as you would from Sydney to Brisbane or Cairns.

Chip and pin cards

I had seen chip cards floating around in Australia but here they are extensively used.  Apparently they came in last year and every debit and credit card has them.  Almost all shops and restaurants have EFTPOS machines where you insert your chipped card into the machine, you enter your PIN, and voila, instant payment without signing slips of paper.  A much more secure method of payment, since noone looks at signatures these days anyway.

Splitting bills

If you’re in a restaurant with 3 other people and noone has cash, you can embarrassingly excuse yourself and duck down to the nearest ATM, or each person can throw down their debit or credit card!  I swear, the waiters won’t even blink an eye!  They bring around a portable EFTPOS machine and then process each person’s card.  Fantastic!! Of course, we have the facilities to do this in Australia and it doesn’t cost the proprietor any more since they’re only paying a fixed percentage of each charge, but if you even suggest separate payments the lazy person behind the counter will attempt to smite you with an evil look and promptly point to a sign that says “Bugger off, no separate bills”.

Dislikes

Coffee

There is no shortage of coffee in this town.  Starbucks, Costa, Caffe Nero – there is usually one *each* of these chain café outlets on every block in the city and one each in every other part of town – and sadly they all serve extremely poor-tasting coffee.  I’ve been to a few smaller coffee outlets and their standard is usually wide of the mark too – either too weak, the milk is lukewarm, or the coffee is burnt.  I guess it’s understandable when no Italian in their right mind would live here when they could live in Italy (or Australia!).

People
I imagine that an aerial view of Central London during the day would look like an ant’s nest that has just been bombarded with rocks and probing sticks.  Particularly along Oxford Street, the city is teeming with people and the overcrowding makes catching public transport and even walking down the street unpleasant.  After one particularly frustrating experience walking along Oxford Street on a Saturday in January (when all the sales are on) where I was constantly having to stop and then weave around slow-walking people, I vowed never to go to Oxford Street on a weekend.  Apparently Christmas time is ten times worse. Ugh.

The free London papers

Every morning and evening, there are people giving away free newspapers to the commuter crowd.  It’s filled with mindnumbing celebrity gossip and quasi-news, and then eventually litters the ground and the trains.  It not only looks messy but I shudder to think of all the energy used to produce this waste (literally, and waste of brain cells) and then the supposed collection and recycling.  Read a book, people!

Smokers

Not only do people here eat badly, not exercise, and spend an inordinate amount of time in the pub drinking themselves stupid, they also love a fag or twenty.  Walking down the street, you’re invariably walking behind a smoker and having to fan their foul smelling toxins away from your face.  At least smoking is banned in all pubs and restaurants here.  I only wish that cigarettes would kill smokers faster.

Cold and grey winters

Enough said.