On the move again

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Over the last few years I’ve become accustomed to packing up all my belongings and moving house.  When I was in London I moved house at least every six months.

My first flat in London was in the lovely suburb of Notting Hill with my then boyfriend.  But after that relationship imploded within 3 weeks of us moving to London, I moved into a flat share with an Aussie guy who had lived in London for quite a number of years.  After 6 months and too many occasions catching him smoking in the flat, even though he had promised that he would only ever smoke on the balcony, the final straw that made me move out was coming home one night and finding him drunk (again) with a mate.  I was in the kitchen making myself a bagel when he came over to me and ranting about what an asshole his mate was before grabbing a pair of kitchen scissors and trying to cut himself in front of me.

The next flat I lived in was with my friend Christine, where we shared a house with a lovely Aussie guy called Mike and a Welshman, who thought of himself as quite the ladies’ man.  He would often show us Facebook photos of all his girlfriends in Thailand, where he would visit a couple of times a year, usually to visit some “new girlfriend”.  Creepy.

The next few places I lived in were wonderful, and it made me realise how happy one could be if you lived with good friends who were considerate flat mates.  Even though London flats are small and the rooms even smaller, it was comforting and a relief after a long day at work to come home to a warm home and smiling faces.

When I returned to Sydney last year, I moved back into my own little flat in the cafe suburb of Balmain.  Although I missed the company of flat mates, it was also nice to have your own space, your own mess, and not having to worry about wandering around the place nude.

Now, a little over a year later, I’m moving again!  I’m leaving the bachelorette pad and moving in with my man.  A new chapter of my life, and hopefully no more packing and moving for a while!

Boxes and moving house

The year that was

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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?

The adjustment period

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Almost every single Australian that heads to the UK intends to return Down Under.  Some return after their one-year working holiday, pulling beers at their local pub and then blowing all the money they earned on a shitty flatshare in Shepherd’s Bush and a few Contiki tours.  For others, they end up settling into British life and staying longer than they had initially planned, until they get sick of the weather, and of moaning constantly about how things are better in Australia.

I was one of the latter antipodeans, and returned after three-and-a-bit years away.  Having been back in Australia for nine months now, all I can do is reminisce fondly about is how life was better in London.  Sure the weather was a bit crap, and people always mocked me for saying “thongs”, and “DAH-tah” instead of “DAY-tah”, but it’s only after coming back that I’ve realised in what an expensive, isolated, and history-deprived country we live.  Grocery shopping is a depressing experience when you realise that everything costs twice as much as the UK.  On my second day back in the country, my brother took me to a cafe where an almond croissant cost $5.50 and all I could think about was how it would only cost me £1.70 (less than $3!) in Paul.  Jumping in a plane for 2 hours will get you from London to Barcelona for a weekend city break, but doesn’t even get you from Sydney to Auckland.  And in the UK, you can visit cities that were formerly Norse kingdoms, and ancient Pagan stone circles.  In Australia, we have a some cave drawings in remote parts of the country, and Heritage-listed buildings that are only 100 years old.

Before you all tell me to bugger off back to Engerland, there are of course upsides to living in Australia.  It goes without saying that the weather is rather more pleasant, we have proper beaches, and we have great Asian food.  Our economy is still putting along rather nicely, and incomes are a damn sight better than they are in troubled UK economy.  The newspapers don’t just contain headlines about which married footballer was caught with his pants down with some seedy WAG wannabe.  And our transport system doesn’t grind to a halt from dumpings of snow:

 

It has taken me a little time to adjust back to Sydney life, but things are going well.  I have a new job and a new car, I’m back living in my little Balmain flat, and I have quite a few travel plans in the pipeline.  So all in all, life is good!  How are you guys going?

When’s the next trip?

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Has it really been almost 5 months since my travels ceased and I was plunged back into routine London life??  Back to the familiarity of the local language, being able to throw toilet paper into the toilet, and more dining variety than beans and rice.  However, it was also back to paying a day’s travel budget for a bottle of beer, customer service without a smile, and being packed onto the London Underground like sardines.

What has happened since I’ve been back?

  • Managed to snag a job back at Expedia for a few months
  • Saw Muse rock out Wembley Stadium (quite possibly the best concert ever!) and Pendulum at the Wembley Arena
  • Bathing was forgone for a few days while I indulged my inner hippie at Glastonbury festival

  • Drove a Lamborghini Gallardo and a Ferrari 360 Spider around a race track, which was quite a scary and unnerving experience

  • Met Merv Hughes outside Moet & Chandon champagne house in Epernay – he is big bloke

  • Met Heston Blumenthal after an extravagant lunch at the Fat Duck

  • Didn’t see much from the top of Mt Snowdon in Wales through the rain and fog
  • Saw some great comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe
  • Enjoyed the music and colours of the Notting Hill Carnival.

I am currently a lady of leisure while I look for a new job, the lifestyle of which involves sleeping in, sightseeing around the free sights of London, and baking cupcakes!

Highly skilled

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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

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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

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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

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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.

It’s the Year of the Rat

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Chinese new year is just not the same without family around. Not only did I miss out on lucrative red packets from my parents and aunts, I didn’t get to partake in the usual extravagant feasting that goes hand in hand with welcoming in a new year.

London’s Chinatown comes alive over the new year period, and red lanterns are everywhere – gorgeous illuminated ones are currently strung up over Oxford Circus. Unfortunately, the massive crowds prevented me and Steve from seeing any of the lion dancers. Every Chinese restaurant in the precinct was also packed out, which killed the idea of a gluttonous Chinese feast, so we went to have Thai instead.

What a view!

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I moved to my new flat yesterday, which is on the 8th floor of a tower at Notting Hill Gate. It’s a great location, since it’s close to the city, Tescos is just downstairs, and the tube station is less than 100m from my building! I walked into the city yesterday to see how long it would take me to walk to work, and it would probably only take me about 45-50 minutes, which is similar to the walk I used to do from Ultimo to Circular Quay.

My new flatmate is an Aussie guy that has been living in London for about 5 years. The picture above was taken from my bedroom window! It looks out west towards Heathrow, and to the right I can also see Wembley stadium. Very cool!