Life lessons from a reunion with my bestie

It’s been just over a month since one of my greatest and oldest high school friends from Sydney visited me in London and to be honest, it’s been a little hard.  Having to say bye upon her return to Australia was only compounded by the fact that the day she left my eardrum burst from an ear infection, leaving me with a constant ringing and humming 24/7, like after being at a loud concert but louder and with a headache! Weeks later it is now starting to improve but a problem like this only highlighted the fact how good it was to have her around, to have someone look after me and to have positive people and vibes around you in general.

Landing in Heathrow on New Years Eve, we were lucky that we got to spend the final day of 2017 together, which was the only day that year we actually saw one another for an entire 12 months. This was made more special by celebrating the night with my best friends I’d made in London throughout the year, who without them my time would not have been the same or as easy.

For a brief ten days following NYE, we packed in a bunch of things: a weekend away in Stockholm, shopping in Notting Hill, lunch date in Chinatown on my work break, romantic dinner at the oldest wine bar in London. We spent hours talking and catching up and I had the realisation that while it is the general belief that “not a lot changes back home” when you travel, it actually can. And while travelling grows and develops you as a person, so does life experience in general.

I base this understanding on a few things:

1. People can learn and grow wherever they are in the world.

Yes when you travel you learn; you learn about new cultures, people, history, interesting (and sometimes annoying) local customs. You learn about yourself because you are infinitely navigating new environments and situations without having any real prior experience but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen when you aren’t travelling either. In fact, being away from home can also get you so preoccupied with doing ‘new things’ and going out that sometimes you forget that it’s OK to take a step back and learn new things and reassess if you’re really achieving what you wanted to.My best friend has a bunch of new hobbies: cooking, gardening, meditation, painting… this has even led her to create an etsy store ‘The Art of Life Studios’ to sell all her creations! Check how cool her Instagram is… @theartoflifestudios

2. While you might want to be ‘independent’, it is still nice to have someone to look after you every once in a while.

So many people travel to be or “become” independent but what is often forgotten and often taken for granted is how good it is to have someone waiting for you when you get home, to eat dinner with you (or even cook dinner for you), and to put your clothes in the washing machine when they have space with theirs! Living on your own means you need to do all this yourself, which means you can eat when and what you want, as well as getting away with leaving washing until you literally have no clean clothes to wear. However, the downside is that you really start to miss just having someone to eat with and being a twin, I especially missed being able to borrow their clothes!

3. Being by yourself teaches you but sometimes you need someone to guide you (so you don’t miss the obvious).

Okay I am aware this example puts me at risk of sounding like a total idiot but since I moved in to my flat a year ago I had gone the entire time thinking that my oven simply did not work. Why? Because my former housemate told me it didn’t and I didn’t think (or be bothered) to give it a go. Then walks in my friend from Australia and asks if she can cook a nice meal. No, I answer, we only have a microwave. She walks in the kitchen turns a few knobs, plays around with a few things (few is even an exaggeration) and next thing you know I have a fully functional oven. Since then, not only have I put that oven to good use making lamingtons for Australia Day, I’ve realised I actually like baking and in effect have discovered a new hobby myself all thanks to a visit from an old friend.

It is now 14 months since I have been home and I am very much looking forward to my own ten-day visit. What will be different? What will have I changed? I’m really excited to go back home even for such a short time because I know a lot has changed for me; experiences, perspectives and memories but I’m sure that’s the same for my family and friends too. I can’t wait to share my stories from the past year but to also hear about theirs.

Six Months in London

From freezing days and 3pm sunsets to now blue skies and 10pm daylight, a lot has changed over the last six months since I moved to London. Looking back at one of my earlier posts that marked the first month of living in Notting Hill, I realise so much has happened since then, not just with my travels but work (yes I do have a job!) and personal life as well. So I thought it was time to turn my reminiscing into words and put together a bit of a recap for you all.

TRAVEL LIFE

One of the biggest appeals of moving to London was the temptation and ease of travel compared to living in Sydney. Living on Europe’s doorstep and so close to Africa is something that I’ve definitely taken advantage of over the past six months. I’ve listed some of the destinations I have visited below, a few of which I have already written about and others that are still in the works. To be honest, time has gone so quickly and converting my travel journal notes and photos into enjoyable blog posts for you guys can be a bit of a juggling act! The closeness of destinations also means that I’m always thinking about a next trip or keeping an eye on free weekends and flight prices. My next adventure (leaving this weekend!) will be one of my biggest trips yet, taking me transatlantic for a two-week trip to the United States. Starting with a week in NYC and ending with a wedding on the West Coast, can’t wait to share it with you, stay tuned!

Places I have visited:

WORK LIFE

Besides what some people may think, I do work for a living! It just so happens that by a stroke of luck, this role has allowed me to go on two trips to Egypt to plan and host an international conference. While in London, I’ve been based in Mayfair (yes the Mayfair from Monopoly, just as flashy and corporate as you’d imagine) but also spent some time working from home in Notting Hill. I’ve delved into the world of start-ups and its community through friends and colleagues, and also been able to met other Londoners, locals and migrants, all on their own career path that involves facing the crazy peak hour commutes on the tube each day. London seems to be full of work opportunities but you also have to be savvy – and a bit lucky – to find the good ones. Generally, it does not pay as well as Australia either so you need to keep that in mind. Job roles are a lot more specialised here and having UK work experience under your belt really helps with career progression. One of the best things about working in London has been the friends I have made, who I would not have met otherwise working in Sydney. At my current job, our team is very international and in between working on issues related to Africa, my Portuguese colleague has also made sure we find time to search for the best Portuguese tarts in London!

FIT LIFE

One of the biggest challenges while living here has been trying to fill the void left by leaving my beloved fitness routine of F45 in the morning before work. Fitness classes can be pricey in London and finding something you like that fits your schedule and budget can be a little tricky. I have joined my local gym which I try to go to a few times a week (I do mainly pump and cycle classes) and I also play netball with an awesome mixed team on Tuesday evenings (I normally run or cycle to the games which is actually quicker than public transport!). While it’s always difficult to settle into a consistent routine, I did enjoy a trial week at F45 Tottenham Court Road and I’m planning to try Classpass with some of my friends who love it here to get back into it post America (and post all the bagels)!

Other than that, I’m enjoying the chance to try different things and found a new activity that is challenging, both physically and mentally, called bouldering. It’s basically rock climbing without a harness. I did it for the first time when visiting a friend in Norwich a few weeks ago and it was a lot of fun, not to mention your entire body gets a solid workout (you will feel it the next day!). It seems to be rapidly growing in the UK too so there are quite a few bouldering places or similar around London that I’m keen to check out.

FOOD LIFE

So still vegetarian and loving it but after spending much time during my first few months in London eating out and trying new restaurants, I’ve had to tame it back a bit after taking one too many bites out of my bank account! One of the best vegan/vegetarian spots I have discovered though has to be Bonnington Café. Located just a short walk from Vauxhall station, it’s a community café that has been around since the 80s and began as a venue for squatters. While the menu is simple, the homemade food is delicious and well-priced. It’s also BYO with no corkage charge.

Closer to home in Notting Hill, brunch is still one of my favourite things to do but every now and then I turn on the Masterchef mode and head to the Portobello Markets on Saturdays to buy some fresh produce from the local stalls and bread from Fabrique Bakery to create my own brunch. There are many cafés and restaurants in the area but having tried many of them, the best coffee I found is actually in a little café called Sweet Things just off Portobello Road. If you go during the week there’s normally an Australian girl there who manages the place and makes great coffee. The wifi is good with also power plugs on the tables, so I’ve spent a few days working there recently and rewarding myself with their carrot cake.

A weekend with the Geordies in Newcastle

One of the best things about living in London is not just how easy it is to travel to cities in Europe but also within the country itself. When I studied in Spain, I was lucky enough to make some British friends from Newcastle. And so it was a perfect excuse for a trip up north.

Less than three hours from London Kings Cross Station by train, Newcastle upon Tyne or ‘the Toon’ as the locals call it, is a university town that has grown quite the reputation. Perhaps most popularised by the TV series Geordie Shore, the UK’s answer to Jersey Shore, Newcastle is a compact city is full of bars and clubs where you can get ‘mortal’ (wasted drunk) and the girls go out wearing next to nothing despite the freezing temperatures. It was actually my second visit to the Toon, visiting the same friends here some five years ago, so I had vague memories of all this before. In true Geordie style, we went to the notorious and aptly named club, Sinners, known for ‘trebles’ (triple shot drinks).

Like all things though, a second look and the passing of time will always reveal something more. The town lies on the river Tyne, which is where you will find the Tyne Bridge (almost a mini-me version of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge) and the Millennium Bridge – two icons of the city. It’s against this backdrop that you’ll really discover Newcastle in all its glory. We found a great deal on an AirBnB apartment right on the Quayside with a water view, if you are ever in Newcastle, a view of the Tyne is key to soak it all in. Here you’ll find the nicest places for a drink, runners zipping past on the walkways (although not so great to see when hungover) and markets that I visited on Sunday, where you can try some Northern delicacies like ‘pease pudding’ (a chickpea spread) or get your fortune told in a gypsy caravan.

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Picturesque Quayside
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Stunning view of the Tyne (and yes, it’s sunshine!)
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The Tyne Bridge – a mini replica of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge
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The Gateshead Millennium Bridge lights up at night
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Get your fortune told at the Sunday markets

Immersing yourself in the history is easy with sights like Newcastle Castle, which stands tall with incredible views of the city while walking around town and through its 1800s architecture will take you back in time. Known for its such buildings (but also the strip of bars and clubs) Grey Street is perhaps the most well-known area in all of Newcastle and marked by the Greys Monument at its Northern end, a 130ft column and statue that is a central meeting place for locals where you can go up for a bird’s eye view of the city. The history is also still echoed in the dialect of the people from Newcastle or ‘Geordies’ and its surroundings area that can be recognised by their broad accent, which is unique to the region. While all regions of the UK have their unique languages, the Georgie accent is really something to behold and can be difficult to understand at times – even if English is your first language (my friend admitted to changing her accent on the phone so ‘an Australian to understand’). Over the course of the weekend I learnt some new lingo (‘tab’ = cigarette, ‘aye’ = yes and ‘wey aye man’ = hell yes!) and that the term ‘Geordies’ itself is a derivative of the word ‘George’ due to the loyalty of the people to King George back in the day.

In contrast to the deep history is quite a vibrant modern Newcastle – shopping, restaurants and some quirky attractions like cat cafes (there are two!). Not the world’s biggest fan of cats, I was convinced to go to “Mog on the Tyne” (‘mog’ = cat) where I tried my best to enjoy a coffee and scone in the presence of some curious felines. As for the nightlife scene now, it’s still going strong but since my first visit it does seem that trebles are not so much the trend anymore. Besides the debauchery, what really sets Newcastle apart is the unique setting, history and people that captures your imagination… and so what if you find the time to have a wild night out on the Toon?

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On top of Newcastle castle – best view of the city!
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Historic buildings of Newcastle 
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Coffee and cats
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Still no trip to Newcastle is complete without a night out!

One Month in London

This week marked the one-month anniversary of my move to London and what better way to celebrate than with the first post of my new blog!? I’ve been sitting on this for a while and I promise I had the absolute BEST intentions to get this started as soon as I practically got off the plane from India (but that’s another story saved for another day). Time somehow seemed to get away so quickly since day one in London in between the dazzling lights of Christmas, a New Year with a countdown one minute early and that trip to Copenhagen…

Anyway, with the festive season over and it’s official that I have survived my first 30 days of London winter, I now have no excuse (besides searching for a way to supplement my spending)!

So what have I been doing and how did I spend my Christmas and New Year in London?

Firstly I’ll tell you that while I’m yet to find my dream job, I’ve managed to accomplish some adult things like moving into a flat, getting a bank account plus a UK phone number, applying for my National Insurance Number and most importantly, joining a gym. I won’t deny that some of this was made a little easier by the convenience of having a boyfriend who’d already moved here from Australia a few months earlier (enough time for him to develop what he believes is a ‘legitimate English twang’ to his voice, I beg to differ) so trust me, I have counted my blessings. If you want to hear an expat horror story, just ask any foreigner about their time searching for a suitable non-extortionist flat in London… in saying that though, every flat of my Australian friends I have visited so far is nice, you just need to take some time looking around and be prepared for a bit of stress on you and your bank account. Bonds aren’t always cheap and often you’ll have to provide proof from your employer that your salary is enough to cover monthly rent, which can be difficult if you are still looking for work.

Now on to the fun stuff that, I’m not going to lie, pretty much makes up everything else. I believe it fits nicely into three simple categories; eating, touristing and fiesta(ing?)…

EATING

I’m not a huge foodie (my friends who believe/know I can’t cook will attest to this) but I do try to eat healthy and can appreciate a tasty (and hopefully) nutritious meal. The thing is, after being vegetarian for two years I have finally come to realise that finding decent places to eat can be a matter of life and death(bycarbs) plus cheese and peanut butter can only get you so far.

What’s great about London though is that restaurants and cafes almost always have vegetarian options while wholefood stores are definitely not few and far between. Within the first four weeks of being here I took it upon myself to sample a few of the local places in my area and while they can be overpriced, for the most part they are delicious. Also grabbing organic chocolate from the wholefood stores makes it so much more healthy, right? Like Australia, avocado on toast is a thing here too while brunch is just as popular as back home except one key extra: the option of bottomless prosecco. Need I say more?

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Visited the vegan-inspired ‘Farmacy’ twice already!

TOURISTING 

Ok so I’ve been to London as a tourist a couple of times before, the first was on my inaugural “Eurotrip” eight years ago where, in my final year as a teenager, I thought Camden was the greatest place ever while taking a ride on the London Eye + getting the souvenir photo was absolutely essential. Besides that though I visited the typical sites, you know The British Museum, Big Ben, The Tower of London, Hyde Park… but looking back and thinking I’d “seen it all” was a massive underestimation. There are still so many things on my list of things to see and there is SO MUCH TO DO in London.

Although I’ve moved here with the intention of becoming a ‘local’, I openly admit that I’d never really been to the West of London until now. In saying that then, I’ve been taking the time to get to know the area and explore the city. Some of the highlights would include afternoons spent at Portobello Markets and Borough Markets (Portobello Road is literally a two minute walk down from me), a visit to the Tate Modern, seeing a  couple of theatre shows and going up on the viewing platform of the iconic Shard courtesy of a best friend who gave me tickets as a farewell gift.

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Exploring the pretty streets of Notting Hill
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The Thames from Tate Modern
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View from the Shard

FIESTA(ING)

Everyone says Christmas is truly magical in London and it’s the truth. The lights on Oxford Street, the carols, the sparkling trees shining through peoples’ windows, and just the general festive buzz is something unique. Then there’s Winterland Wonderland in Hyde Park, which is kind of like Oktoberfest in London minus the dirndls and lederhosen. I kid you not, there are even Bavarian beer halls. I spent Christmas Day a bit differently than I would in Australia, beginning with a midnight mass the night before at the local chapel, something I’d never done before. In the morning, I FaceTimed my parents where I found and opened the presents they’d hidden in my suitcase then made pancakes for breakfast before heading off to feast at a friend’s house with his family who were so nice to invite us over to spend the day with them. There were the cheesy Christmas sweaters, festive movies, games and round two of presents but I can tell you now that it was also the first time I’d ever had Indian food on Christmas day.

New Year’s Eve was also different to the norm in Australia, where the whole day is spent drinking in the sun and the whole night is spent, well, drinking in the dark. Getting back from Copenhagen at midday did not have a bearing on our plans as I found out that for Londoners the biggest events are often held on New Years Day and most people tend to go to house parties at night on NYE. And supposedly it’s only the dedicated tourists or “grown-ups” who camp out for hours, in the cold (and sometimes winter rain) to watch the fireworks on the Thames. In considering this then, we had a four-course pub dinner with some British friends and danced the year away at a NYE party instead. Come countdown however the DJ was a little too keen and did the New Year countdown a minute before the rest of the country. Regardless of this, I’ve had a great (and minute early) start to 2017 and am so ready for a year full of possibility ahead.

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The magic of Winter Wonderland
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Homes like this make Christmas in London special