It was probably inevitable that Rome would be my first continental European destination, this time in Europe; if anything, it’s perhaps surprising that it took me this long to get here – both in terms of my now having been in Europe for four months, and just in general. I have, after all, been a devotee of the ancient Romans for more than half my life now.
I have to assume that it began with ancient history in year eleven; though I own that it was more than just the history books that fed it. I don’t remember exactly, but I was clearly enthralled enough by what I was studying (I had a very good teacher, those last two years of school) to prattle on about it enough that people recommended me fiction to read. It was that year, when I was fifteen and sixteen, that I read Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series (which should not be dismissed based on the frothy over-indulgences of her romance novels), and Lindsey Davis’ Falco series (which may not be historically accurate, but really brought to life Rome as a place). There was, too, a novel I’d read some years previously, the third in a series by a New Zealand author, Tessa Duder, about a young swimmer from Auckland in the 1950s/60s, who came to Rome to swim in the 1960 Olympics: Alessandra: Alex in Rome.
Coming to Rome, then, is the fulfilment of a dream I’ve had since I was fifteen. It means walking the same streets as people I idolised as a teen (I’m not saying I was a normal teen). It feels like a big deal.
Logically, I knew Europe was close and that I could go to places, but it wasn’t until a colleague was talking about her weekend to Berlin that I remembered this as something I, too, could do… I think I booked something the following day. It had to be Rome; of course it did. And now I’m here, really and truly, and it’s both hard to believe and so very, very real.
My flight was nearly an hour late leaving London, for reasons unexplained, so the free walking tour I’d booked in to for Friday evening was already looking unlikely when I landed; that, at least, made it easier to deal with waiting nearly another hour before my shuttle left – and then spending another two hours on that shuttle, for what is allegedly a 25 minute trip (granted, it was rush hour on a friday night; it was never going to be quick). Several thoughts: I am never driving in Rome; these streets were really not built for cars; everything is amazingly beautiful. We drove around the walls of the Vatican (probably as close as I’ll get this trip; my feelings on religion aside, I am keen to see the art and architecture, but I’m just not sure I can fit it in), over the Tiber, and past countless monuments and famous buildings. It was exhilarating; so many places I had read about and seen pictures of.
But finally, some ten hours after leaving my flat in London, I arrived at my hotel – hotel Apollo, on the Via Dei Serpenti, a narrow little street that leads directly to the Flavian Amphitheatre, the Colosseum itself. That was definitely a sight worth seeing in the dying light of the day, lit from within.
My hotel room is tiny – single bed, not much room for anything else – but comfortable, with breakfast served of a morning on the sixth floor terrace, with a view out over the city. I must take a photo; it looks like everything you imagine a view of Rome to be. After a little downtime, I headed out into the city: down to the Colosseum itself, first, and then through the winding, narrow streets in search of dinner. There is something exhilarating by being surrounded by people speaking other languages; there was a group of rowdy Italians next to me at dinner, and a group of Spaniards and another of Germans in tables across the way; if anyone else spoke English primarily, I didn’t hear it. I had pizza, and a house red, and stopped for gelato on the way home; it was all amazing.
This morning, I had a walking tour booked: we went down into the forum, up the Palatine hill, through the amazingly preserved house of Augustus, through Livia’s house (also surprisingly well-preserved given it was discovered and opened to the public much earlier), through the ruins of the Palatine palace, and then onwards to the coliseum. Our guide was an archaeologist, and while I wish she could have gone into more detail, I was probably the only person on the tour with a solid grounding of the history, so I suppose that’s not unfair. Most of the group was American, plus two middle-aged women from Sydney (in fact, even from the same part of Sydney as my family; they both live on the northern beaches).
I don’t know if I can describe what it felt like to walk on actual stones trod upon by actual Romans. We walked down the Via Sacra, and I– because I have an imagination– could visualise what it might have been like during a triumphal parade. I could have spent a lot longer in the ruins, just wandering around and imagining, and I may actually do that: I’ll have to pay to get in again, but if I have the time, I think it would be absolutely worth it.
After the tour ended, I stopped for risotto ai funghi (and, okay, a glass of wine), and then a gelato, and now I’m resting my feet and recharging my batteries (phone; camera; self) before I head out again this afternoon. It’s warm, 24C and feels warmer, and the skies are blue and clear and perfect. Honestly, I could not ask for better.
The fact that I’ve lost count of exactly how long I’ve been in London probably says something about my present state of settlement; I’m no longer really counting. Roughly, though, it’s been a little over two months, and honestly, things are going well. I’m at the point where people have started to caution me about emotional swings– that this is when things start to get difficult. In a way, I’m sure that’s true: August is nearly over, and that means autumn is impending, and that means it is soon going to get colder, damper, and darker. All of those things are going to have an adverse impact on me, I have no doubt.
Having said that, I’m prepared for that– as much as I can be– and mostly, feeling positive about the change. I’ve been buying winter clothes (which is fun! Scarves and gloves and wooly jumpers and all kinds of cozy things), and working my way up to cycling to work (which should keep me exercising, which I think will be important).
Additionally, I have plenty of things to look forward to: visits from several different friends, a trip to Rome, another to France, and Christmas (somewhere; I’m still making final decisions on that). Once I hit January, it’s really only a couple of months before my parents visit (in April; we’re going to Spain together), and then it will be spring again. (Just like that, I’m counting off nearly a full year!)
Beyond that, though, I am feeling settled. I’m settled at work, where I’m beginning to make friends, and where I’m feeling very positive about the work I’m doing, and how it is being received. I’m settled outside of work, too, with an active life (including a social life!) and lots of things to look forward to. I’m even making plans to combine the two, with some weekend plans with a friend from work. All good things!
Home is a little more difficult, as matters continue to be a little complicated with my flatmate. I’ve never been good at flatsharing; I hated it when I was in my early 20s, and I definitely hate it now. It’s difficult because I’m sure some of my gripes are personal to me: things that don’t really matter in the scheme of things, but matter to me because of how I prefer to live. Some of them, however, are not. I’ve definitely had moments of staring at rooms for rent, and considering moving again, but I’m forcing myself to stick it out for now– there’s no point rushing out into a different place until I’ve really tried to make this one work. If things still suck in a few months time, well, that will be different.
This evening, a handful of minor things piled together to the point where I refused to cook in that kitchen (it would mean cleaning up after her, and no, I was not in the mood for that), and couldn’t stand being in the same flat as her (I am over-dramatic sometimes, yes), so I took myself out for dinner. Which also bothered me, because I’d just bought food to cook for dinner (and the leftovers were supposed to be for lunch tomorrow, sigh), but it helped, so that’s something. I’m calmer, now, though I haven’t dared to check the kitchen to see if she read my note/did anything about it.
I miss living alone. At the same time, faced with living alone and not being able to afford to do anything, or living with someone else and having disposable income for travel, fancy food, theatre and so on… well, I’ve made my decision on that one. There’s no point being in London if I don’t have the money to make the most of it! So I will make it work, the best I can.
And in the meantime, I will enjoy the rest of what life has on offer for me. I’m on a day trip to Glastonbury on Saturday, and a chocolate tasting the following Wednesday. I’m seeing Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in No Man’s Land, and Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer, and then there are my visitors and then Rome and… September and October are filling up. Life is good.
One of the reasons I try to walk as much as possible, rather than catch the tube, is that it makes it easier to work on my mental map. As I explore this city, I’m constantly filling in more pieces of that map: this connects with that. I am here. When you travel by tube, or even by bus, you’re getting disconnected pieces of things– and I find it hard to pull those together.
On my second full day in London, six weeks ago today, I walked from Paddington to the British Museum. I was trying to do it without constantly looking at the map on my phone, and in the end, well, I got a little turned around and ended up having to stop and regroup. I did so over a (terrible) coffee and a pain au chocolate at a chain cafe that I found down some road; I wasn’t sure that the road was, but at least, in the safety of that cafe, I was able to figure out roughly which direction I was supposed to be travelling in.
Today, when I went out for lunch, I ended up deciding to stop and get a baguette at Paul, which is a ‘French’ bakery cafe chain – there’s one just a block up the road from work. It was only when I was inside the shop that I suddenly realised I’d been in here before: it was the same cafe I’d stopped in six weeks earlier, but this time I knew where I was. That piece of my mental map has now been filled in, and that foreign, unknown street now has a name – and more than that, it’s part of my life.
Of course, this doesn’t just happen with my own experiences. I’m reading a book at the moment about a young woman working for the BBC in the very early days of radio, back when the BBC was located at Savoy Hill. Curious about the location, naturally I looked it up: my bus goes right past there, every day. Two of the pubs mentioned in the book still exist. Marconi House, where the first BBC radio transmissions were managed from, is also on my route. Thus, now, as I read, I’m picturing places I know, and that’s another kind of map building.
Of course, I did that back in Sydney, too: there was a great thrill, always, in reading something and knowing where it was. “I’ve been there!” Ridiculous, really, because yes, I may have been there, but so have millions of others (including, presumably, the author), but there you go.
And since I’m talking maps, have a look at the new scarf I bought. New York subways! Maps! They had a London one, too, but it seemed a little too touristy to buy a scarf of the city one lives in… maybe eventually.
Tomorrow night will mark four weeks since I arrived in London, but as I will be at dinner, following my first day of work, it seemed appropriate I write something now. My inner librarian, orderly and delighted in synchronicity, is especially pleased with this: that phase two of my new life begins four weeks after stage one. And although I am going to miss the relatively unstructured life I’ve been living – the one where I have been able to wander out and do things at a moment’s notice – I am also looking forward to actually settling down in earnest.
In a way, I’ve spent the past four weeks living outside the world. I’ve had moments of connection, but 95% of my time has been spent alone (happily so), and in my own head. It’s been wonderful to have the space to do that, but it can’t go on forever; it’s time, now, to actually start living in London, not just existing here.
It’s a pretty special thing, though, to get to have that much time to explore one’s new home before getting bogged down in the mundanity of life. Or, really, to have that much time to explore any city. I’m pleased with how much I’ve managed to achieve in my four weeks, though I’m aware, too, that there’s so much more I want to say. Part of me regrets the days of downtime I took; part of me is well aware that I needed them, just as much as I needed to get out and see things. And it’s not like the explorations need to stop, either – I will still have time after work, and on weekends, and eventually, I will have leave to take as well.
So how much have I seen?
That orderly side of me is going to take over again, I think. Here goes:
I have walked an average of 12,813 steps per day (though that includes, at this stage, the day I spent in transit, so it’s probably over 13K in actuality)
I have visited nine museums/historical houses (that I can think of at this moment):
The British Museum
The Imperial War Museum
The Museum of London
The Tower of London
Hampton Court Palace
The National Science Museum
The Victoria and Albert Museum
I’ve been to five markets:
Brick Lane Market
Camden Lock Market
Portobello Road Market
Petticoat Lane Market
I’ve applied for countless jobs, and been offered five interviews (actual interviews, not just recruitment agency interviews), of which I ended up attending two.
I’ve been on three trains outside of London:
To High Wycombe
I’ve joined countless MeetUp groups, and attended five events with four different groups… all of which involved a pub (or a wine tasting).
I’ve joined my local library, and borrowed several (actual, physical) books. And read them, too!
I’ve watched basically no television.
I’ve been to the theatre three times:
In the Heights
The Phantom of the Opera
The Book of Mormon
I’ve inspected exactly one room in a flatshare… and signed a rental agreement for it.
I’ve done about 20 hours of contract work.
I’ve cried two or three times, but never for long. I’m aware that there will be lonely and difficult times ahead, but for the moment, I’m feeling positive about my future.
I’ve listened to the digital mix-tape my sister-in-law Josien made for me probably a dozen times, and especially this song, which is really speaking to me at the moment.
I’ve planned one holiday for later in the year (I’m joining a group for Champagne tasting in France in November), and am working on a second (Christmas!).
I’ve religiously tracked down good coffee using my London Coffee Guide app in four places; for the most part, I’ve actually been going without coffee most days.
… and without alcohol, too, except with those meetups (and, all right, on my daytrip to Dover, and then I had an individual serve bottle of Prosecco this evening).
So… I’ve done a lot. I feel good about it. I have more planned: a dinner with my wine meetup group tomorrow, and a ticket to Tim Minchin’s ‘Groundhog Day’ on Friday. A walk on Saturday, and the Proms on Sunday.
Oof. It’s been an interesting few days – ups and downs all over. That’s inevitable, of course: I uprooted my entire life, moved on my own to the other side of the world, and did it all within the space of six weeks. It’s basically inevitable that some days will go better than others, and that some things will be more difficult than others. On the whole, though, I have to say I’m doing pretty well: I have moments of… not loneliness, as such, but uncertainty, but they pass. I don’t really feel as if I belong here, yet, but I also don’t expect to. I’ve not even been here three weeks, and I’m still largely in tourist mode; that will change.
I went to a wine tasting on Monday night – all South African wines from Meerlust. Again, I was almost certainly the youngest person in the group, but that’s never especially bothered me: I had a very enjoyable evening chattering with some of the other women, and enjoying the wine. Some of the wine, anyway: one of them I thought was awful, and several were merely okay. The two most expensive wines? Yes, I’d gladly drink them again (of course). If you get the chance, do try their ‘Rubicon’ – highly recommended. There were six wines, and for tasting serves, they were generous; that, followed by the pinotage we had with dinner afterwards, meant I was relatively tipsy by the end, especially as I’ve not actually been drinking much at all since arriving in London. It made for a merry evening, though, and a very pleasant one, and the leader of our group (this is another meetup group) clearly knows his stuff – I’ll be doing more things with him (in fact, I’m going to a dinner with this group in two weeks, and then on a champagne weekend to – yes – Champagne in November, and no doubt more in between).
I teetered a little on the way home, but it was a relatively straightforward trip: Jubilee line between London Bridge and Bond Street, then a quick change onto the Central line for Notting Hill Gate. Increasingly, yes, I know my tube lines (some of them).
Tuesday was quieter: some contract work in the morning, and an interview with (another) recruitment agency in the afternoon.
On Wednesday, I ventured out to Hampton Court Palace. Lovely! I’ve actually bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces – there’s another four I can see (The Tower of London and Hampton Court being the first two), and I’m quite sure I’ll squeeze them in over the next year.
To get to Hampton Court, one (or at least, if one is me) catches the District line to Wimbledon (this is as close as I’ve gotten, or will get, to the tennis), and then an actual train from Wimbledon to Hampton Court. I actually really enjoyed that: you can watch the shift from inner London to outer London, bit by bit, until you’re basically out in the country. And oh, the green. It’s going to take some getting used to, for me: grass actually being green. That… isn’t so much a thing in Australia, a lot of the time.
The garden show is also on at Hampton Court at the moment, which I hadn’t realised; I was a little perturbed by the masses and masses of people getting off the train with me, but they quickly thinned out to head to the garden show, as I ducked into the palace itself (which has lovely gardens of its own). Thomas Wolsey rebuilt the original manor house into a palace in the early 1500s, and then it was taken over by Henry VIII and has been a royal palace ever since. In the late 1600s, Sir Christopher Wren rebuilt some of it again to turn it into a baroque palace for William and Mary, which means it’s an interesting collection of time periods. There’s lots to explore – and even some live action recreations to be part of (I rather enjoyed being one of Queen Catherine (Howard)’s court, though regrettably we did not save Culpepper or Lady Rochford – alas! Though perhaps they deserved it, the treasonous scum).
Rather than retrace my steps on the train and tube, I elected to pay a little extra (£17, ouch!) to take the three hour river cruise back to London. I wasn’t in any particular rush, and it seemed like the right thing to do: the Thames is such a notable part of London, after all. There weren’t a lot of people on my boat, which was fine by me – plenty of room to spread out – but unfortunately the commentary I’d read about did not eventuate. I wonder if they only do that on trips upstream rather than down? In any case, it was still an interesting trip – there are some lovely, lovely houses along that river, let me tell you.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of a headache by the time we got back to Westminster. Extra unfortunately, I couldn’t go straight home (which would have been a bad idea anyway – the tube can be pretty hellish at 5-6pm): I had an appointment to view a flat and no time to get home and then back out again. I ended up having dinner at a pub in Southwark, and a glass of wine that regrettably did nothing for my headache (sometimes it helps!), but I managed: it was bearable. By now, too, my phone was beginning to run out of battery, and I was a little worried that I wasn’t going to be able to find my way to where I was going before it died – disaster!
Luckily for me, I found the bus I needed without too much difficulty, and equally luckily, it was a very direct route to where I needed to go: once I was off the bus, I literally only needed to walk around the corner, and there I was. I think the area is officially Bermondsey, or possibly South Bermondsey; it’s a little ambiguous. Either way, it used to be a pretty working class area but is increasingly (unsurprisingly) home to a lot of young professionals. It’s still quite multicultural, though, and I liked that.
The flat was the first I’d inspected, which was a little difficult: how did I know what questions to ask? Renting in London is very different, it seems, to renting in Australia. For one thing, most flats come fully furnished, and bills are often included in the price, so you don’t have to sign up to your own utilities or worry about additional bills. I suppose that makes sense when most flats are shared, and people don’t necessarily stay for long periods of time. Anyway, this particular flat was nice: newly refurbished, nicely decorated, with a bath and gas cooking, and a balcony. It’s just two bedrooms, and the living room has not (as in many other flats) been turned into a third; I much prefer this, because I don’t particularly like the idea of living in my bedroom and feeling uncomfortable leaving it.
So, yes: I applied for the first flat I inspected, and ‘applied’ is not really the right word because I think I was provisionally accepted on the basis of my email to the landlady before we even set up the viewing. It may or may not be wise to take the first place one looks at, but it worked for me. In part, that’s because I don’t have any local rental references (which are generally considered very important) or a job, so I knew a lot of agencies and landlords would be reluctant to consider me. In this place, I have an ongoing tenancy rather than a strict lease, so if I want to leave, it’s just a notice period of two weeks. Easy.
Having inspected the place, and verbally indicated that I was interested, I made my escape: home and bed, pls. My headache was pretty much pounding by the time I made it back onto the bus, and I felt pretty miserable. One nice thing about London’s long summer days, at least, was that it wasn’t dark yet, despite now being close to 9– you get some really beautiful twilights. Needless to say, I made it home safely. And then I slept. It was a long, long day.
Thursday, I promised myself, would be less long. It would be quiet! I would… I don’t know, do something simple and easy and not too taxing. I ended up at Camden Lock Markets, just because I could, and I’ve been basically visiting every market I can find in London, so why not? I didn’t buy anything (except a bagel and a coffee), but only because I had no cash in my pocket: there were some lovely, lovely things. Still, I’m trying to avoid buying anything more since in a couple of weeks I will have to pack up all my things into suitcases again and… well, I don’t know if they’ll fit.
On the way home, I had to change trains at Tottenham Court Road. Which… reminded me that I wasn’t that far from Leicester Square, and didn’t I deserve to reward myself for successfully finding myself somewhere to live? And wasn’t a theatre ticket a Very Good Reward? You can see where this is going.
Leicester Square is full of tourists, many of whom bitch and complain and moan and roll their eyes, but I still kind of love it. I overheard an Australian woman tell someone, shocked and horrified, that someone had stolen her purse right out of her open handbag on their first day in Paris. Gosh. (I don’t think I ever mentioned the wonderful exchange I overheard on my flight to London, wherein two young university students complained to each other about how one shouldn’t have to order a vegetarian or vegan meal on a plane – it should just be a normal option – to which I wanted to lean forward and point out that a) there are a number of types of vegetarian so which one should be catered for? and b) what happens when they run out of vegetarian meals before they get to you, mm?)
In any case, the queues at the TKTS booth were not long, and while I was tempted by all kinds of things, I ultimately decided to go to the matinee of The Phantom of the Opera. I grew up with the soundtrack to Phantom, and first saw it on stage in 1996, when I was twelve. We’d only recently moved back to Sydney, so it would have been June or July – 20 years ago, almost exactly. I remember we sat right beneath the chandelier, and it was thrilling. My seats were not quite so good this time (even cheap, last minute tickets can get expensive), but it was still absolutely magical – it’s one of those shows that really benefits from the spectacular staging of a permanent home. It’s hard to believe that it has been showing in that theatre in London for 30 years; almost as long as I’ve been alive. Needless to say, I enjoyed the show.
(Having said that? People who try and sing on their way out of the theatre, uh, probably shouldn’t. Phantom is not something most people can sing along to, and you’re really better off not trying. Seriously.)
Today? Today I did almost exactly nothing.
That’s not quite true, I suppose, but it’s almost true. I did laundry; I applied for more jobs; I ventured up to Tesco to buy more milk. I had a phone conversation with another recruiter, and spent an hour putting together a supporting statement for that particular job. And then, almost no sooner had I finished that, I received an email containing a letter of offer for another position, one I really had not expected to be offered.
So, uh, that was a surprise?
So, theoretically, I may have both a flat and a job sorted after 2.5 weeks in London. Which, now that I’m on this end of it, seems pretty good (but earlier today, I would have probably told you I was freaking out about lack of job progress, so). I’m pleased: as much as I’ve enjoyed being a tourist, I think I’m just about ready to start settling down. If I accept this job, I’ll have one more week of freedom to fill, and that seems reasonable.
Yes, I’m falling down a little on the blogging. It’s hard; I’m both very, very busy and also not, in part because some of what I’m doing is boring life admin stuff, and so much is just… ‘and then I saw this‘. Things continue to go well, by and large. Friday was a difficult day – I had a job interview that did not go well, and it shook my confidence a little – but I turned it around: the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery are wonderful places to go to regain one’s zen. I also went to the Tower of London, and… and other places. I’m finding it difficult to keep up. So many places, so little time!
Saturday was effectively a day off, because Australia had an election and my present location on the other side of the world was no excuse not to follow it. I did go for a walk first, though: down towards Kensington, a direction I’d yet to wander in. This eventually led me to Kensington High Street, where I discovered T.K. Maxx (I’m not sure why it is T.K. in the UK and T.J. in the US, but I digress). I’m trying not to do too much shopping, but that place is amazing: big name brands for often half price. Buying a proper raincoat had been on my list, so I was delighted to buy a high quality one for half its normal retail value. I also, later, made some purchases on Amazon UK: merino wool is my new best friend. This was exciting in part because, with Amazon Prime, I can get next day delivery (or even same day delivery), and that just about blew my mind. In some ways, yes, Australia is a backwater.
(Also, it is somewhat ridiculous that I have travelled halfway around the world to start buying up New Zealand merino. It’s just… I never really needed it, in Sydney!)
I digress again.
I spent the rest of the afternoon watching election coverage. All of it. I admit, it is something that is more fun watched with others, but I had a lovely time all the same: I drank some T2 tea (I hadn’t realised that T2 is an Australian company that has spread to the UK, but I’m so glad: going in to that shop and smelling the lemon myrtle tea and so on was delightful, though I ended up buying raspberry rush and french early grey instead), ate some chocolate biscuits, and gorged myself on it all. Another hung parliament. Yay.
At some point during the day, I registered a facebook post from my friend Kat, in Canada, in which she talked about the poutine she’d just eaten. This… this encouraged a craving. Which in turn led to a quest: good poutine is not easy to find in Sydney. Is it easier to find in London, a much larger city? I found the answer quickly: yes. In fact, my timing was perfect, because every Sunday there is a poutine truck at the Brick Lane markets in Shoreditch. My next step was clear.
Thus, I found myself at the Brick Lane markets this morning. Actually, this turned out to be an excellent decision, because those markets were amazing. Shoreditch is cool; there is a lot of street art, and the whole area has an artsy, alternative vibe. I’m told that it wasn’t like that ten years ago, that it used to be quite a downtrodden and dangerous area. There are still some hints of that – and it is still heavily multicultural and very very different from, say, Notting Hill – but it hasn’t turned ‘trendy’ so much as alternative. Newtown before it was gentrified, I suppose.
Those markets are, too, a food lover’s paradise. In addition to the poutine, I saw duck-fat chips with truffle mayonnaise, crepes, sushi, all kinds of vegan goodies, and food from every possible ethnic group you can imagine. There were rainbow bagels. And… The Cereal Killer Cafe. Which, yes, serves cereal. Just cereal. Finally, of course, I can’t forget to mention Dark Sugars, which had some of the most amazing chocolates I’d ever seen – with some of the best presentation, too. Big, beautifully carved bowls of truffles; a huge array of fancy chocolates; shiny chocolate pearls; an impressive collection of vegan chocolates, too. Reader, I died. (Read, I hyperbolised.)
The markets are also full of antiques, home made wares, and general random market junk, but for me, it was mostly about the food. The weather was perfect; it was a lovely morning.
In the afternoon, I was due to meet up with a group for a tour of ‘Shakespeare’s London’, which I was very much looking forward to. It was a good choice: there were perhaps 20 or 30 of us, mostly locals, and everyone was very friendly and social. I ended up spending most of the walk talking to one woman in particular, and she and I got along very well, despite a fair age difference. The guide knew what he was talking about, and showed us all kinds of things along the way – and afterwards? Most of us went to the pub for a few drinks, where I ended up in the midst of a lively discussion about politics, among other things.
One thing I really like about meetup groups is that if you pick the correct groups, you know you’re going to be meeting people who share at least some of your interests. Most of the people in this group are a good 20 years older than me, but we still share interests, and that made it easy to interact. Age is no barrier!
It was a good day. But now my feet hurt, so I am going to curl up and relax for the rest of the evening.
In a couple of hours, it will have been a full week since I arrived in London – and I’ve survived (hurray)! It seems like a good time to catch up on what I’ve been doing; it’s been quite a busy, intense week!
According to the pedometer on my phone, I’ve averaged 19,358 steps a day over the past seven days – 14.3km. It’s true that I had two particularly lengthy days, walking-wise, but even my most sedentary day still had me above 10,000 steps. Given I used to find 10,000 difficult, I’m feeling pretty pleased about that! A lot of that has, of course, been spent walking through the city. On Sunday, however, I joined a walking group and headed out to High Wycombe, which is about a 30 minute train ride out from Marylebone, and that ended up being a very, very long walking day indeed. It was worth it, though: the scenery was spectacular (so green!) and it was really lovely to meet some people, talk, and (of course) share a drink at the end.
I’ve now invested in some proper walking boots, as it has become quite plain to me that I really do need the extra support and comfort. My next step will be to change the insoles, as I’m getting quite a lot of arch pain – they need even more support. Amazon UK should deliver me those in the next couple of days, and hopefully that will help. In the short term, one of my little toes is almost more blister than skin (it was quite painful walking on heels earlier today for my first job interview).
Job interview, yes! I’ve been pleasantly surprised and pleased by the responses I’ve been getting to my applications since arriving – I had an interview this morning, and I have a few others scheduled throughout the week as well. I’m not in a huge rush to get a job– I do have savings to get me through a reasonable amount of time– but I’m pleased to be making an effort towards it all the same. Interestingly, I’ve found that a lot of organisations here assign additional tasks after offering you an interview: I had to give a 10 minute presentation for the one this morning, and for others I’ve been notified of various tests, additional questionnaires, and so on. It’s not a bad thing, and I can see how it can be useful, but it’s interesting; different.
Otherwise, I’ve been doing a lot of sightseeing. I’ve seen (by accident) the changing of the guard. I’ve been to the British Museum, and the Imperial War Museum. I’ve shopped (oops). I’ve walked through Hyde Park, and through Regent’s Park. I’ve found good coffee (and not so good coffee).
I’m liking the place I’m staying. The room is comfortable, and every day they come around and make the bed, carpet the floor, and so on. Every day, wherever my companion bear has ended up, I come home and find her sitting on my pillows again (I could choose to believe she puts herself back there, of course, but…). Breakfast involves cereal, yoghurt, fruit, toast, eggs, bacon, cold meats and cheeses, stewed tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns, orange juice, and sometimes croissants. I’m getting very used to having a proper cooked breakfast every morning. Dinner involves a soup course, a choice of three mains, various side dishes, and then a choice of desserts and cheeses. None of the food is fancy, but I’ve been enjoying it: I’ve had salmon, steak, pork ribs, lamb… and with three options, there’s always something I’m interested in.
I’ve not really made any friends or connections in the house, but I’m ok with that. It takes time, and I’m generally quite enjoying being on my own. I did really enjoy going out on that walk on Sunday, and getting to know a few people there – and then today, I had lunch with Kristen, whom I’ve known since my early days at University. For the moment, I’m feeling very comfortable with my own company. No doubt there will be lower points, but for now, I’m feeling pretty good.
I’m happy, here. I’m loving London, and all of the possibilities that are here for me. I’ve joined a dozen meetup groups, and am looking forward to going on more adventures with them; I’ve already booked to go on a weekend to Reims for champagne tasting and Christmas markets in November.
For now, I’m going to take it easy. I have a ticket to see ‘In The Heights’ tomorrow afternoon, and otherwise I’m going to try and rest my feet a little; I’m allowed.
Honestly, I feel pretty damn lucky at the moment. I wish I could go back in time six months and reassure my past self that things would get better; that amazing things were coming.
After I blogged yesterday, I ventured out again: I needed a sim card for my phone, and to vote at Australia House, and anything else was a bonus. Sticking to my ‘walk as much as you can’ plan, I decided that the 45-odd minute walk to Australia House was perfectly reasonable, and off I went. My meandering path eventually took me through a different bit of Hyde Park (and, okay, down Park Lane because Monopoly demanded it of me)… and eventually past Buckingham Palace where, quite by chance, I was just in time for the Changing of the Guard. I hadn’t intended to go that way– I saw the Guard twenty-five years ago– and I didn’t actually see much (the throngs of people! It was insane), but still. I was there.
I then made my way through St James’ Park, up towards Trafalgar Square, and then down the Embankment for a ways. By this time, my feet hurt. A lot. I am not… how shall I put it? In my previous life, I was not terribly active. I had a five minute walk to work; at most, I walked a couple of kms into the city, and that was it. I struggled to get 10,000 steps per day when I was doing Steptember last year: I literally only managed because I went out of my way to try and catch up. So. This walking? This is new. This is intense.
Nonetheless, I was undaunted. Catching the tube would be for wimps! I am trying to explore and get to know this city, and I am going to do that on foot (damn it).
I did, however, eventually make it to Australia House, where I dutifully performed my democratic obligation, and cast my vote (no, you don’t get to ask how I voted). It was actually pretty cool, and definitely the prettiest polling place I’ve ever been in, all ornate floors and walls and arches and… well, you know. Old building stuff. I’m not homesick or anything (yet), but there is something comforting about being around one’s own countrymen, however briefly. Having said that, I very much did regret the lack of democracy sausage sizzle or cake stall, though I guess I can understand why one would not have either in an official diplomatic building (sigh).
I intended to catch the tube back. I even got on one! But… but. I got off again. My feet were hurting less, and it seemed like a bright idea.
It was not a bright idea.
I mean, don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed my walk back. I saw interesting buildings, and did not take any photos because I was distracted, but still. By the time I arrived back at my hotel, my feet really hurt, and so did my legs.
Not that I was done yet, oh no. I took a rest for a while, but then I went back out, because the one thing I hadn’t done yet was open a bank account, and as I had received on my way back an offer of a job interview, and that interview required me to provide proof of address, this seemed important. Unfortunately, that venture was a bust: the woman at the bank insisted that that bank would close my account if I listed a residential address that was not an actual flat or house, and so could not help me. ‘List a friend’s address’ she suggested, which… meh. It was frustrating, and I was tired enough and feeling alone enough that I shed a few tears, even; I did not agree with her assessment, and this bank was the only one I could find that would let me open an account without proof of address, and… frustrating. (I report back, now, that today I visited a different branch of the same bank and opened an account without incident.)
After that, I was just done. Done with the day, done with everything. I had an early dinner and was in bed before 8pm, which turns out not to have been a good idea, because I woke up at 12:30 convinced it must be morning. It was not morning. It was not even a little bit morning.
Happily, I did eventually go back to sleep, but it was restless and intermittent and not ideal. Still, it was enough to get me started today, when I promptly failed to learn my lesson from yesterday, and decided it was perfectly okay for me to walk from Paddington to the British Museum. Which… well, sure, the walk over was fine, but clearly I hadn’t taken into account the fact that I would want to, you know, walk around the museum as well. I am not always the brightest of people. I say this, because I then ended up walking back to Paddington. Oh, self.
But: the museum. I love the British museum. I only explored little bits of it (see previous paragraph re sore feet), but I know I’ll be back. There’s time!
The walk back was hard. By the end, I was not filling too great, and… well. My next step? I had to get my two suitcases from Paddington to Notting Hill. ‘Relatively easy!’ I thought, on the basis that I was not far from a tube station, and Notting Hill Gate was only two stops away. What I had failed to consider– and this is something I am going to have to remember in future– was that not all platforms have lifts, and sometimes there are multiple staircases to ascend and descend in order to reach the correct platform.
Twice, some very well-meaning and kind people offered to carry one of the suitcases for me as I descended or ascended a flight of stairs. Which was lovely of them, and very helpful. The rest of the time (and there were several times), I had to manage it myself, while people around me stared at the stupid tourist with too many belongings. Which was frustrating, because I am normally an incredibly light packer– if I can get away with carry-on baggage, I absolutely will. I’ve never had multiple suitcases for anything in my life, until now, and now… well. Those suitcases contain almost everything I own. Oh well. (Next time I move, here, I am going to suck it up and get a cab.)
I was, needless to say, exhausted and hot and sweaty and feeling gross by the time I arrived at my new home. I had a moment of horror when told my room was on the fourth floor, fearing I would have to lug my bags up the stairs; you can imagine, I think, my relief and glee, when I discovered that there was, in fact, a lift. My room here is small but comfortable: I have a private bathroom, a single bed, a desk, a bookcase, a TV, and a wardrobe. The room overlooks a little private garden in the back, and it’s all lovely. Having showered, and collapsed on the bed for an hour, I even unpacked: I have a home again!
A quick trip to the bank (to open my account), and to Tesco (to buy some necessities), and I’m basically all set up. This place has about 150 rooms, with people staying anywhere from a couple of weeks to upwards of a year, so I’m hoping it will be a good place to meet some people – perhaps even at dinner tonight (dinner being part of the room rate). For now, though, I am resting my aching feet and legs. I have blisters (not surprising), and my muscles are cramping, but it probably was worth it. I managed 20km on foot yesterday, and another 15 today, and that feels pretty good. Tomorrow? Tomorrow, I think I’ll take it a little easier.
I’m really glad to be in my medium-term accommodation now. I now have five weeks (more, if I need it) to get a job, and then find somewhere else to live. Being here, rather than in a hotel, makes me feel just that little bit more settled and ready to build a life. I’m feeling pretty positive about things (knowing I have an interview, and potentially more than one, next week helps – I’m not desperately rushing to get a job, but I like to see progress).
… I mean, aside from all of the other shitty ways to travel.
Sydney to London is a long, long way, and there’s really no way to get around the fact that it sucks as a trip. I mean, I’m sure travelling business or first class is an improvement, but you’re still stuck in a chair for the better part of 24 hours, and that bites. Sydney to Manila was bad enough; Manila to London, however, is significantly worse – fourteen hours of suck. Happily, I managed to get some sleep on both legs, though my shoulder muscles are screaming at me now for sleeping on them funny. Still, I could have cried with relief at actually getting off the plane, though that relief was short lived: it took over an hour to get through immigration. By the time I was done with that, I was grumpy and exhausted, and desperately eager to just get horizontal somewhere for a minimum of eight hours.
Luckily, I was relatively smart and booked a hotel for myself just around the corner from Paddington station, so I was able to hop on the Heathrow Express train, and arrived by about 11pm. My hotel is pretty basic: the room is barely large enough for the double bed in it, and my luggage makes getting around difficult, but the bed is fine, the shower is amazing, and honestly, who cares beyond that? I’m also, luckily, on the first floor rather than the sixth, as there is no lift and getting my luggage up that many flights of stairs would be awful.
So I managed. Found the hotel without a hassle (there are maps on street corners here and it is the best thing ever for those of us who don’t yet have the internet on our phones), checked in, showered, slept.
And then woke up not long after 5am. Because of course I did.
Really, though, not a big deal. I’m still tired, but not so tired as I can’t function, and today was always intended to be a relatively low-key day. I spent some time catching up on email and then wandered downstairs for the included breakfast soon after 6:30. It was real food, cooked to order, and after a day of eating plane food, it tasted amazing, let me tell you. The whole ‘full english breakfast’ thing is delightful, and I think I can get used to eating like that, let me tell you (though, note to self: order tea rather than coffee next time and buy your coffee elsewhere).
Of course, by the time I was done with breakfast it was still only 7am, and thus still 2.5 hours before anything I needed to do could be done. Time for a walk! I basically headed out without any particular idea of where I was going, but ended up with a direction anyway: I might as well find where my semi-permanent (for the next five weeks) home is, and how I will get there tomorrow. Of course, I will catch the tube tomorrow rather than walk, but… walking overground is a much better orientation, right?
Thus, I walked through Paddington and down towards Kensington Gardens, where I walked through the park a fair ways. I love Hyde Park: once you’re in the middle of it, you can barely hear the sounds of traffic, and you can’t see anything but park, so you might as well be in the middle of the country. The last time I was in Hyde Park (albeit the other end of it), it was the middle of winter and we were throwing snowballs at each other. Today, despite the earliness of the hour, it was pleasantly cool, and the sun was shining; perfect weather for a walk.
There were lots of people about, unsurprisingly. Tourists, of course, but also locals out for a run or walking their dogs, or riding the bikes that are basically ubiquitous. Later, as I started heading back towards the streets, there were lots of children off to school and adults on their way to work (some with high heels strapped to the back of their backpacks; very clever!). I took a very roundabout and convoluted way through to Notting Hill, walking somewhat in circles at times. It was nice: I actually haven’t done a lot of just random exploring in London. The first time I was here – almost exactly twenty-five years ago (June 1991) – I was seven, and more inclined to whine and moan about sore feet than really get into explorations. The second time, in 2010, it was winter, and getting places seemed a little more important.
It’s strange, because on one hand I’m a tourist here, exploring and experiencing, and on the other… well, this is home, now. I live here. These are going to be my streets. They’re unfamiliar, now, but they won’t be for long; at the same time, I don’t want them to lose the sheer thrill I’m experiencing at the moment. London!
I did, eventually, stumble upon my future home. It’s a relatively boring-looking building just off of Pembridge Square in Notting Hill, only a block from the tube. It’s a good location, and I’m looking forward to moving in there tomorrow. For now, though, my hotel is working just fine for me, and I’m glad I booked in for two nights: the idea of manhandling my suitcases again is exhausting, and I could do without it just now.
I could have caught the tube back to Paddington, but I decided to keep walking. It’s still only about 18 degrees, but the sun is warm and honestly, it was lovely just to be out and walking and not stuck in a narrow chair in a rattling box. It meant that by the time I arrived back at my hotel, at about 9:30, I was footsore and a little tired, and sitting at over 10,000 steps on my pedometer.
My room has a door to nowhere (ie a window that opens like a door), so I have that open for some fresh air and sunshine(!) while I hang on the bed and type this. I’ll head out again soon: my goals for the day are to vote in the Australian election, open a bank account, and collect my permanent visa card. Beyond that… we’ll see how long I can keep going without wanting to nap.
Also: job hunting. But… that’s not an immediate priority, right? It can wait.
And just like that it’s over, we tend to our… wait, no.
And just like that, all of my farewells are finished with (at least the kind that happen in person). I’m now sitting on the (very comfy) king sized bed in the hotel room I’m in for the night, just a few hundred metres from the international terminal at Sydney airport– this is it. It’s a relief to be finished with all of that; it’s been a long, emotionally draining week. A wonderful week, in as much as I’ve seen so many people I care about, and felt so loved, so appreciated, so incredibly special. But I’m also not good at saying goodbye, even temporarily, and so of course that’s been difficult.
So here we are. I’m on my own now (I mean, as much as anyone ever is; let’s not be over-dramatic). I’ve written before about how this feels like a fresh start, and it absolutely is. I’ve spent the last couple of months preparing myself; now I’m ready to begin. Right now, at this moment, I feel more excited and exhilarated than nervous or lonely and upset, though I retain the right to change my mind at any moment as my mood suits. I’ve shed a few tears today, but not too many. I’m ok with that.
Yesterday was spent packing (and repacking, and then repacking again). I’ve had to abandon a few more pairs of shoes, but it was absolutely worth it to make sure that my beloved teddy bear, made for me by my Oma, fit into the suitcase. I can always buy more shoes, but Jackie Bear is irreplaceable… and we all need something to cuddle sometimes. I have two suitcases (one big and one small) and I’m 99% sure their combined weight fits within my luggage allocation, though they’re not exactly going to be easy to wheel around in the short term. Still: workable. It was a quiet day, and I needed it.
Today was busier, unsurprisingly. I spoke on the phone to my Oma and aunt Helen, I had brunch with my sister, brother, and sister-in-law. I watched my sister-in-law come very close to winning her science debate at the Powerhouse Museum. I had dinner with my lovely friend Sue. I managed not to drown in the torrential rain. All good things!
Shortly, I will try and wind down and get some sleep. My alarm will be set for about 3:30am, so I’m not anticipating a full night’s rest, but a few hours would be nice if I can manage it. I’m not presently feeling anxious (something that often plagues me), and hopefully I can keep it that way, but otherwise? Well, I’ll manage.
I can’t believe tomorrow is the big day. I can’t believe this is really happening.