I don’t often stop to think about how fortunate I am to be able to travel the world, to see all the places that I only used to read about in books, and to experience things that are on most people’s bucket list. I take for granted that I live in a city that in its own right is also a sought-after travel destination, as well as a place that allows me easy access to Europe and the rest of the world.
I admit to sometimes getting carried away by the social media hype, and sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that it doesn’t matter if you don’t get the perfect instagram shot, that what matters is immersing yourself in the moment and appreciating the opportunities that come your way.
I woke up at the unholy hour of 2 in the morning for our Capadoccia Hot Air Balloon excursion. The Turkish heat must have driven me temporarily insane because I became obsessed with the idea of taking the perfect photo, so I changed my outfit three times and spent at least half an hour curling my hair.
Our pick-up time was at 03:45 am and by 4:30 we arrived at a building where we were then sorted into groups. I was very excited to see that there were only four of us in our group and I thought, great, less photo-bombers. We then drove another half hour to Red Valley where the tour company was already setting up our balloon.
At this point it was nearing sunrise and I was getting quite frustrated. I’ve seen many photos of hot air balloons in Capadoccia and I knew the timing had to be right. It wouldn’t do to see it when the sun has risen completely. The whole experience is at its most dramatic during that glorious magical moment when the sun is just about to come up and the colours of the balloons are set against some of the most stunning backdrops you will ever see in your lifetime.
Needless to say I was nearly cursing as full daylight started to set in and everyone else’s balloon was up in the air except for ours. I didn’t want to hassle anyone because I certainly didn’t want them to take shortcuts and compromise our safety. I was not planning on falling off any hot-air balloons that day, that’s for sure. But I was becoming increasingly impatient and irritated from the wait, and I was even more annoyed when I saw a van full of people and was then told they were actually joining us in our basket.
I was also disappointed that, as I was going to actually be IN the balloon, I wouldn’t be able to have any photos with me in it. I was actually very briefly pissed that I wouldn’t have the chance to pose on some balcony somewhere while the balloons were floating up around me.
Thankfully I managed to get over myself and finally decided to stop being so damn pretentious and stupid and to just enjoy the moment.
And dear readers, what a moment it was.
Before I knew it I was climbing the basket and the pilots were blowing up the hot air balloon. We started ascending minutes later and if I had the time to think about what I was actually doing I probably would have been more scared. But as it was, all I could do was marvel at the view. I was too busy soaking in the wondrous feeling of being up in the sky, with the wind against my face, while I take in something that no camera would ever be able to capture.
The lesson here, guys, is that in this day and age where our self-esteem is directly proportional to the number of likes we receive on Facebook, its important to remind ourselves of the reasons why we travel.
We travel to learn about different cultures, to experience the way other people live, and appreciate the fact that despite our differences we are all the same. We travel to fall in love with the people we meet and the places we see, and we travel to have fun.
But most of all, we travel for the moments that take our breath away.
Life doesn’t get any more surreal than when you’re cruising down the river that straddles and bridges the gap between two continents, and between two very different cultures.
I love travelling. I’ve left pieces of my heart in all the places I’ve been to and am looking forward to falling in love with the places I’ve yet to see. But I know for a fact that Istanbul, and Turkey as a whole, will always hold a special place in my heart.
For one thing, the people we met were so warm and hospitable. We booked our tour through Chora Travels who were kind enough to arrange all the pick-ups, transfers and domestic flights for us on top of booking all our hotels.
The Turkish people also had a unique sense of humour and an innate playfulness that I didn’t really expect. For example, our driver was chatty and kind enough to tell me that apparently there were a lot of Filipino women working for the hammam places. Thank you. That’s good to know if I ever want or need a career change.
Our hotel could not be closer to the Hagia Sophia if it tried, any closer and we’d actually be in Sultahnamet Square. Although we arrived really late due to stupid European air restrictions they welcomed us with warm smiles and hospitable greetings. They even booked our sunset Bosphorus cruise for us before bringing our bags to our room.
Restaurants open until late in Istanbul on a Friday night. As the owner told us when we asked about closing times, he’ll close when people stop coming to his doors for a meal or when he feels like it. What a marvellously relaxed way of running a business. He gave us free baklava, cocktails with sparklers on it and a cup of Turkish tea that just hit the spot in all the best ways.
When I was in high school my social studies project involved making a replica of the Hagia Sophia. At the time all I knew of it was that it represented wisdom, and that it was the bane of my life as I was born without the artistic gene. So I was really looking forward to visiting this church to see how my art project measured up. Newsflash: it doesn’t even come close to capturing the opulence and beauty of the original.
I love Istanbul’s history. I love the blend of Christian and Muslim influences and how in an almost strange way the city has made that dichotomy something to be celebrated. You can see elements of both in Hagia Sophia’s interior.
We also briefly visited the Blue Mosque, which was an actual working mosque and thus was closed to the public during prayer times. Having briefly experienced what it felt like to be all covered up in that blistering heat I can now empathise and sympathise with those who are obliged to wear it out of respect for their culture and religious belief. More power to you, I don’t know how you do it.
My second favourite part of our blitzed tour through the city was the Basilica Cistern. Its always fascinated me, especially since I read and then saw Dan Brown’s Inferno. Spoiler alert: they’ve taken out all the water so the term “sunken palace” doesn’t necessarily apply anymore but damn it didn’t take away from the atmospheric feel of the place.
Something you must experience at least once in your life and then NEVER EVER AGAIN is to ride the Istanbul tram at rush hour. It gives new meaning to the term “being one with humanity”. Believe me, there’s nothing like being pressed up against a stranger’s armpit to create the illusion that unity can be achieved in this world.
There’s always that one moment when visiting another country where the inevitable disappointment sets in because reality doesn’t quite live up to the pictures. The Galata Tower is one such experience. Sometimes I think Instagram has both enhanced and ruined travelling for everyone.
On one hand its great to be able to see other people’s travel photos and draw inspiration from it, but sometimes when a place becomes so instagrammable that its filled to the brim with tourists that you can hardly see the structure or take a decent photo yourself I curse all our addiction to social media.
By far the best moment of the tour was taking a cruise down the Bosphorus. Istanbul is the city where East meets West, where Europe ends and Asia begins, and that’s reflected in everything from the food to the architecture. On one hand you get beautiful minarets and lighted mosques, on the other hand its also really easy to find and order spaghetti bolognese.
Watching the sunset over such a beautiful city, and seeing it with the lights shining bright, is something truly spectacular to behold. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the distinct skyline, and of the Galata Bridge when the cover of night takes away the dirt and grime that would normally be visible in the light of day.
To add icing to the cake you are then able to get a delicious meal of mixed grills and kebabs for the hefty price of 70 Turkish liras, which is like 5 GBP.
There’s so much more to see in Istanbul. In hindsight I should have stayed at least two full days not only so that we can see everything but also because the heat takes a lot out of you so you feel exhausted a lot of the time.
A city is only as good as the people who live in it, and going back to what I said at the beginning, I have never met a group of people who were so eager and willing to please. People who work in the tourism industry in Istanbul give everything they’ve got to making sure visitors have an awesome experience, and that, among other reasons is why I’m definitely going back to Istanbul someday.
After a hectic four-day trip to Vegas, my aunt took my sister and I to a 15 kilometre hike around Silver Falls State Park in Oregon.
I’ve always considered myself a city girl, and I will probably never live more than commutable distance away from a major city, like London. If I have it my way I will be renting my flat in Soho (for the same price!) until I die.
But for some reason I’ve developed a strange fascination for hiking around nature this year. I’ve discovered how much I love to just walk with no particular destination in mind, to soak in the views around me and allow it to soothe my often anxious and high-strung city soul.
You learn a lot when you’re somewhere with no mobile phone coverage or Wifi, especially when you’re running low on battery and can’t even listen to music on your Spotify. In that instant, its just you and nature and whoever happens to be hiking with you (my family, in this case).
I’d like to share some of those lessons in the hopes that, like me, you find the time to get away from it all for a while and have the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures (and lessons!) of hiking.
I’m very vain, and my instagram is filled to the brim with photos of me in various outfits. But there’s no room for vanity around nature. You have to be prepared for rain, sunshine, mud, water and whatever elements Mother Nature decides to throw your way.
For me, this really is a metaphor for life, and its something that I should really be sorting out now that I’m in my 30s. No one wants to think too hard about things like insurance and savings when life’s a party, but you can sure as hell guarantee they’ll be thinking about it when the challenges start pouring in like rain.
Disconnect and Unplug.
I’ve already blogged once about my increasing disillusion with social media, and yet I find myself still posting on Facebook and Instagram time after time after time. Its like I’ve been conditioned to think that anything I do in life is not worthwhile unless its validated by my “followers” in the form of likes.
Be honest. How often do you look around when you’re on holiday to find that you and your friends are all on your phones, racing to be the first to upload photos or post an Instagram story? Or wasting time trying to get the perfect shot that you fail to soak in the beautiful piece of the world that you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in?
Yesterday I had a phone that was dying and was without a Power-bank for a change. I also didn’t have mobile data or Wifi coverage. And I think it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me on this trip. To just be able to enjoy the experience without feeling the need to update the rest of the world about what I was doing, to really BE in the moment, was a gift.
I think for the rest of this trip I will try to be on airplane mode more often.
Put one foot in front of the other
I think of myself as a reasonably fit individual but I have to say I had reservations about the 15km hike, especially when I realised that a) there won’t be a toilet for miles and b) the trail will naturally have uphill, downhill and (did I mention?) uphill portions.
It requires stamina and good breath control, sure. But one should never underestimate the power of the mind. If you psych yourself out by thinking of all the ways it could go wrong, or decide that you’ll never make it before you even try, you’ll miss out on an incredible experience.
There were times during the hike that I thought a particularly challenging trail would never end, but eventually it evens out, and before I knew it I’ve made it to the finish line. It’s a lot like life, you really just need to keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other until you make it.
I live in a city where life is so fast-paced that you wake up on Friday not knowing where the rest of the week had gone. I’ve built a career and most days I find that I actually love my job, but it does account for at least 30% of my overall stress and anxiety.
I attended a talk once where the speaker said that stress is really just a series of tasks that you need to do. You’re stressed because you’ve either procrastinated so much that tasks have piled up, or you’ve set unrealistic goals in the first place.
I’ll add to that and say you get stressed because you forget to sit still and just breathe. This hike was extremely taxing, but there were periods when we stopped to catch our breath, relax, enjoy the scenery and work up to getting our second wind.
Life should be like that. You should be able to press pause and look out for your physical and mental health. I think one of the things I could definitely do when I get back to London is to work less extra shifts and have more time for me. Since getting back from Australia I feel like the energiser bunny that just keeps going and going and going. I feel like I never have enough time to breathe, to just BE.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Nothing’s so important that you lose your health and yourself over it.
The journey is the destination
Finally, and I know this is such a cliche, but cliches exist for a reason. Winnie the Pooh once said:
We didn’t realise we were making memories, we just knew we were having fun.
We spend so much time worrying about where we’re going and what we’re going to do when we get there that we don’t stop to appreciate the journey.
I didn’t even realise we were nearing the end of the trail until my aunt pointed it out to me. I was having so much fun exploring the beauty of one of Oregon’s most beautiful state parks that I didn’t realise we’d walked 15 kilometres.
Whatever you do in this life, enjoy it. Make memories, make friends, try new things, push yourself. At the end of the day, where you go and when you get there won’t be as important as HOW you get there.
In an effort to save money, I decided to book our tickets to the States individually instead of purchasing all of them through a single airline.
Based on enthusiastic reviews from my friends, I booked Norwegian Airlines for our flight from London to Seattle, and a connecting flight with Alaskan Airlines to reach Portland, our final destination.
I then booked JetBlue for the domestic flight from Portland to Orlando, and Norwegian again from Orlando to London. All in all, it cost me 800£ to book all these flights instead of the 1300£ it would have cost me had I gone with my original plan to book United Airlines all the way through.
You know that saying about best-laid plans?
Well, five days before our scheduled departure to the States I got an email from our travel agent saying Norwegian has changed our destination airport from Seattle to LAX, which meant that we’d miss our connecting flight to Portland and they’d had to find alternative connections to get us there.
My carefully planned and well-budgeted 13-hour trip had now become a nightmarish 26-hour journey which consisted of me flying from London to LAX, LAX to San Francisco and from there to Portland. I was livid, to say the least.
I spent an entire evening being transferred from one agent to another, and I am convinced that at one point I was talking to someone from the Philippines. Not one of them could give me an alternative that I was happy with.
Fortunately, my aunt was planning for us to take a trip to Seattle anyway and had already booked hotels to that effect. So I had the option of telling the airlines that I’m happy with a flight that will get me to Seattle by Saturday (we were flying Friday morning, London time). Norwegian confidently offered me a flight that would get me to Seattle by Saturday evening, with only a 2-hour layover in LA, as our flight was apparently arriving Saturday afternoon.
I thought it was just me being stupid at first, but the more I thought about it the more sure I was that IT DOESN’T take 24 hours to get from London to LA, even if you factor in the time difference. Something did not feel right. And sure enough, Norwegian had made a bloody mistake and did not realise that there were more than 24 hours in between the two flights they’ve booked for us.
At this point I was ready to inflict actual damage on someone or something. It had already been a day of pointless conversations and phone charges, and it was clear to me that I had to take matters into my own hands if I wanted to survive this holiday without having a stroke.
What I lack in actual riches I truly make up for in friends.
I sent a quick Facebook message to my friends Kittin and Jamie who were based in LA, and within minutes I had someone who can pick me up from the airport and a place to stay overnight.
My sister and I landed in LA as planned and were given an awesome welcome. We got to see the sights and I got to have a catch-up session with my friends that lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I haven’t seen Jamie since maybe college so there was so much to talk about.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such a welcome in any city I go to, but I am really truly blessed when it comes to friends.
The next morning I found myself on the drive that overlooks the Hollywood sign and I thought to myself: things really do happen for a reason. I need to send Norwegian a thank-you card for fucking up my flights (excuse my language) because it gave me a truly amazing additional side-trip.
I have random moments where I suddenly get the urge to go somewhere I’ve never been before. These days, especially, because I’m saving up money for my “big” holidays later in the year, I feel like all I’ve been doing is work, work and more work. I feel like I never even get out of Central London.
So I spontaneously decided that I want to spend Easter in Scotland. There are two things wrong with that sentence: spontaneous and Easter. I looked up plane and train fares and they cost more than what I want to spend considering that I’d still be within the United Kingdom. I think return flights would have cost me around 160£. Come on. I can fly to Spain with that kind of money.
So I had this bright idea that we can take the coach to head over to Edinburgh and then take a flight to come back to London. Megabus fares going to Edinburgh were only around 40£, which is pretty sweet for a last minute trip on Easter weekend. That’s the upshot. However, it takes TEN HOURS to get from London Victoria to Edinburgh.
Ten hours on a bus.
It sounds like a nightmare. Ordinarily, I would balk at spending more than 5 hours on a bus. I’ve done it before and I promised myself I never would again.
But I underestimated just how much I wanted to get out of London. So I booked it (and convinced two other people to book it with me). We chose to go on a sleeper one, leaving at 10:30 from London Thursday Evening and arriving in Edinburgh at 7am the next day. I rushed from work (the list overran, of course) to the station to catch my coach ride, got into my seat and settled in for the long haul.
It was a very loooonnnng bus ride.
Some of the thoughts that were running through my head:
Please God don’t make me want to do number two at any point during this bus ride.
Hey wait, is there even a toilet on this bus? Oh my God, I don’t think there is one.
Okay, how do I recline these seats? My colleague promised me these seats were better than National Express because they recline.
Oh hey, I did it! This seat reclines!
Damn you, woman whose seat is at the back of mine. I have every right to recline my seat if I want to! Its why that feature is there, so that people can get comfy. Have you never been on a plane? Its the same concept. Unless they’re serving us meals, I can bloody well do whatever I want with my seat!
Should I recline this seat just to spite her? I’m kind of in the mood for an argument.
Ugh, its not worth it. Its roomy enough and comfy enough that you’re able to sleep anyway.
Wow, my Spotify playlist really is very good.
I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier. Woohooo, Killers.
I am so bored. I wish I’d taken on more bank shifts or planned this trip earlier so that we could have gotten better fares for the plane or the train.
What time is it in Australia?
No, you will not randomly message someone because you’re bored. That is never a good idea.
Okay let’s start counting some sheep so you can zzzzzzz.
13:00 (I think)
Oh hey, stopover. Should I quickly run to the loo?
Nah, I’ll make it. I don’t need to go to the loo.
But what if I do need to go to the loo and we’re still hours away from Edinburgh. Better to go now than suffer later.
Alright, I’ll go to the loo.
Let’s get this bus back on the road. Hmm, maybe I should start writing a new post for the blog.
Bloody hell, there’s no charging station on this bus. THERE’S NO CHARGING STATION ON THIS BUS and I’m only on 40% with 4 more hours to go on this trip.
Oh man, the Scottish countryside is so beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I saw this much greenery.
Oh we’re here? YES! I survived a TEN HOUR COACH RIDE.
I’ve recently come back from a much needed holiday in the Philippines and despite the weather’s best efforts to curtail my fun, I managed to stick an island getaway for myself and my entire family to Sumilon Island, which is part of Maribago Resorts Group.
Word to the wise: if you’re booking from outside of the Philippines, be warned that you may have to pay international rates, especially if you’re booking through websites like booking.com. If you have friends or relatives who can book for you from within the country, it might be cheaper to book via that route. There’s a substantial difference between local and international rates, plus, if you’re travelling with someone who’s got a senior citizen card, you may also get a discount.
Sumilon Island is a great alternative to the usual beach resorts scattered all over Cebu because it provides more activities than just swimming and lounging by the pool. My dad is not a big fan of swimming. I spent a small fortune on an overnight stay in Shangri-la Resort last April and he didn’t even so much as dip his toes in the water. He said he was basically there to enjoy the view so this time around, I really made the effort to find a resort where he can have his bloody view but where there are also activities for him to do.
Sumilon Island is accessed via pump boat from the port of Oslob, which is in the southern part of Cebu. This port is close to where the famous whale-watching site is so that’s also something you can do while on the island or on the way to the island. Transportation details can be found on the website but if you and your group are thinking of driving like us, free overnight parking is one of the perks that comes when you book a room with the resort. You can also hire a private van or simply head down to the South Bus Terminal for easy transport to Oslob.
Free Parking care of Maribago Blue Waters
The dock at Oslob port
My siblings and my cousin on the boat
Tres Marias at the dock
We booked the Premier Deluxe rooms which will only accommodate two adults and two children. Now to be honest, in some resorts its easy to get around that rule because the staff usually don’t notice that there are extra adults hanging around and waiting while the “official” guests check in. However in the case of Sumilon they make it mandatory to sign in everyone who’ll step on that boat on the way to the island, so they will know exactly how many people are with you on the trip. We ended up paying an extra 16,000 php for 4 extra people, but at least that came with free dinner and breakfast. Its not a bad deal but it is a hell of a lot of money.
The island itself was beautiful. It just took my breath away really.
Like I said, there’s loads of activities to do if you don’t want to go swimming. They have a lagoon where you can feed the fishes, do kayaking or boat pedalling. They also have trails for trekkers of all levels (beginner, moderate and advanced), and during this trek you’ll get the chance to see the lighthouse or “parola” . We were a bit disappointed when we got to the lighthouse and realised you can’t actually climb the darn thing, but it was good exercise. You don’t even have to worry about what you’re wearing (or not wearing) when you go on the trek; for the beginner’s trail you’re perfectly able to get through it even if you’re wearing beach shorts and slippers.
They also offer a bike trail as an alternative to the trekking although we didn’t have enough time to do that. For safety reasons, all the trekking and biking activities as well as the main beach have to be closed by 5pm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon swimming by the sandbar instead. If you book a room you actually have direct access to the sandbar via the coastline if the tide is low enough, but the afternoon that we were there the tides were too high for us to go via that route so we had to take the longer route instead.
The sandbar was absolutely divine, despite the fact that we were bracing ourselves from the really strong winds coming our way that day. If you’d rather not swim on the actual beach, the resort also has a stunning infinity pool near the reception area. The pool was actually smaller than I expected, which tells you that photos can be extremely deceiving.
Dinner was served at around half past six and though I wasn’t overly impressed with it, i didn’t think it was that bad. I think at that point I had been over-saturated with native Filipino food from the endless rounds of catching up with friends over restaurant dinners, that I was really just craving something different like sushi. But of course, this is a resort that seeks to provide an authentic island experience so they served – what else? – Filipino food. They did have a pasta station though but I thought I’d better steer clear of that if I still wanted to look good in my swimsuit the next day.
There aren’t a lot of late night entertainments around the island; there was no dancing to be had. I actually got the feeling that this resort catered more to honeymooners than family outings. My siblings, my cousin and I did have a round of drinks by the bar but we soon decided to go to our own room with the idea of finishing the two bottles of mojito we had sneaked in to the resort. We underestimated just how much the day’s activity had exhausted us however, and my cousin had come straight off a night shift, so actually I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
We woke up early the next day so that we’re able to swim and explore a bit more before breakfast and check out (which was at 11am). Breakfast was served at around 7, and I actually thought the breakfast buffet was much better than the dinner buffet. The staff were also incredibly accommodating. My aunt was suffering an upset stomach over something she ate the day before and we asked the chef if he could whip up some porridge or chicken arroz caldo for her, and even though it wasn’t part of the menu he was able to accommodate our request. The island transfer and transportation services were also really good. They were on time, they assisted us with all our bags and they were sticklers for safety.
All in all we had a really great time. It was worth the really long drive – Oslob is almost 3 hours away from the city; there was something for everyone and most of all, I cherished the opportunity to have fun with everyone in my family; who knew when my sister and I would have the opportunity to both come home at the same time again? I did find myself thinking I’d love to come back to the island again, but this time with “the one” by my side. Oh well, crazier things have happened.
Shortly before Christmas one of my surgeons asked me where I’d be celebrating the holidays and I answered guilelessly that I’d be going to Switzerland. He was rendered speechless for all of 5 seconds before asking me if I was secretly a millionaire.
People think of Switzerland as this uber expensive, ultra-posh country where the rich and famous go on ski holidays. But for me, Switzerland has always been my home away from home. My nearest relative, apart from my sister, lives in Switzerland and she would always welcome me with open arms whenever I’d get the notion to escape London for a while.
I remember one time I was having a horrendously bad week at work, culminating in a Friday where I had a horrific row with the surgeon I was working with. It was a sure sign of how overworked I was because my composure around orthopaedic surgeons is usually unflappable.
Anyway, I cancelled all my bank shifts because I told our coordinator I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown (haha) and booked an EasyJet flight to Zurich. Its become something of a running joke between that surgeon and I actually (we eventually made up, sort of).
So yeah, going to Switzerland is like going home. My cousin is awesome at all things household-related and stepping into her home is like stepping into a bed and breakfast. Her cooking is awesome; when she visited me for my 30th birthday I must have gained a good 3kilos because of all the scrumptious home-cooked meals I was being treated to.
For the holidays, my mum and my cousin’s mum came over to visit, and because the UK requires a separate visa (apart from the Schengen visa) for tourists wishing to come visit, my sister and I decided that it’d be better for us to go to Switzerland instead.
I really really needed the time away from London. I don’t think I could have withstood another couple of days of watching myself mope around the house. I was starting to annoy myself with how pathetic I was being over (of all things) a guy. Of course, I did a lot of moping in Switzerland as well but at least it was moping with a view. Lol
I’ve been to the Rhine Falls several times – its an obligatory stop when you visit Switzerland -and its never failed to lift my mood. There is just something so satisfying about being able to see and be one with nature after months and months of living with the relentless pace of the concrete jungle that is London (no, Hyde Park doesn’t count).
Getting to spend time with Mum was an added bonus. I love my Mum. There is something to be said about a woman who will still rub Vicks on her sick 30-year-old daughter because she’s coughing so badly that she can’t sleep (yeah, I was unwell for most of this trip). Check out my very youthful and lovely mum!
The Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch were every bit as good as I expected it to be, so good in fact that I went on my annual post-christmas 3k guilt run just to help burn off all those extra calories (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t enough but whatever).
So yeah, it was a very Merry Christmas indeed and I’m pretty sure I’m over whatever funk I was in a couple of weeks ago. A change in scenery was just what the doctor ordered.
Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas holiday, blabbaholics! 😘
As my followers know, I’m not able to travel much this year because a) I needed to save at least 3 grand for my application to become a UK resident and b) I’ve used up most of my annual leave entitlements to go home to the Philippines in January. I usually have a birthday trip each year but this year I decided to spend my birthday at home. There’s plenty of interesting places to see in England anyway (I can’t go to Scotland because apparently there’s a massive festival that starts in August and flights to Edinburgh are horrendously expensive; ditto, Belfast). This last weekend my friend Jo, my sister and I decided to visit (re-visit in my case) two of the country’s premier universities.
When you hear Oxford University anywhere in the world, you automatically associate it with prestige and excellence. The university has produced a lot of notable alumni and a record number of prime ministers. Among its list of fellows are CS Lewis (author of Narnia), JRR Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), Theresa May (I don’t know how proud they are of this), David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, and Lawrence of Arabia.
Also, they filmed Harry Potter in Oxford. Ironically, for a university renowned the world over for a great many things (The Bodleian library, the Oxford University Press etc) most tourists want to see where the dining hall of Hogwarts is, or where they practiced dancing for the Yule Ball, or the grounds that Daniel Radcliffe walked in for the first Harry Potter movie or where Minerva McGonagall received the first years in that classic Philosopher’s Stone scene.
We initially booked a free walking tour with Footprints and then upgraded to a University Tour because I fell for the blurb on the poster that said we could visit the colleges and the library. The reality fell short of my expectations and I think we would have been better off with our original plan and saving ourselves £15. We weren’t able to get into a college because they changed their rules about the size of the group that can be pre-booked. Travel tip: if you want to go into one of the colleges, don’t do a group tour. Do your research and pre-book your own tickets if they give you that option. The queue for some of the more famous ones, like Christchurch College (with the Hogwarts dining hall and where Lewis Caroll was inspired to write Alice’s adventures in Wonderland) were incredibly long.
This is actually my 5th visit to Oxford but only the 2nd one that actually lasted more than 2 hours. The other three were part of the Evans Evans tour package that included Bath and Stonehenge so they were incredibly abbreviated. The first time I came to Oxford we stayed overnight. I think I had only been in the UK for four months at the time and I was still adjusting; I don’t think I was able to appreciate it as much as I do now. Plus there were 11 of us during that trip and we were all incredibly different: I was interested in the history and the university’s achievements; the others were concerned about where to eat. That’s why I loved this trip because first of all, Jo is easy to please. He may not be the world’s biggest fan of Harry Potter or of classic literature but he appreciates it – signs of a seasoned traveller. Second of all, I was with my sister who DOES share my interests; we’ve read the same books and can geek out over the same things so it just made going around Oxford more fun. I guess that’s another two travel tips I can give. Don’t come to Oxford for more than a day trip and make sure you know what to expect. Its a university town full of history, its not exactly the world’s most exciting city.
I revisited some of my favourite Oxford spots for the nth time: the Bridge of Sighs, the Sheldonian theatre, the Radcliffe Camera and others. I don’t actually know why the Bridge of Sighs has been replicated so many times (there’s one in Cambridge as well), its pretty enough I suppose but the original one in Venice actually has a gruesome history: it leads from the Doge Palace to the prisons and would give prisoners their last view of Venice and the Adriatic before being incarcerated, and apparently they’d give a sigh at such a sight hence the name. In Oxford, all it does is lead students from one part of New College to the other. 🙄
The Bodleian Library is a place I’ve wanted to visit ever since I read the All Souls Trilogy a couple of years back. This library’s got publishing rights so they are entitled to receive a copy of every book that’s printed in the United Kingdom. That is A LOT of books. I wonder if there’s an opening for a librarian post there? Lol. Needless to say, they’ve had to build a place for all the excess books. They’re now kept in the New Bodleian or the Weston Library, which also houses some other treasures like a copy of Shakespeare’s folios, an early edition of Geoffrey Chaucer’s poems, a copy of Handel’s Messiah and others. The rest of the books are actually underground. There’s a tunnel that leads from the Old Bodleian to the Radcliffe Camera (which is actually a reading room). This underground passage is the reason why sometimes you’ll see a student go into the Radcliffe and seemingly never come out because they’ve already exited in another part of the city.
The weather was a bit uncooperative so we stopped by an apparently famous pub to have some lunch. Legend has it that an ex-prime minister of Australia once held the world record for the most number of ales drank in a period of time or something like that. Bill Clinton, who was a Rhodes scholar, apparently “smelled” but did not take marijuana while he was in the same pub. Let us all laugh together. I’m sure their ale is quite nice but I’ve never acquired a taste for it. I had my usual Reikorderlig cider instead.
After lunch we went to another pub called TheBear, which is more of a “town” pub. Our guide said there was once a rivalry between the “town” people and the university folks. It turned brutal one night and a few students ended up dead, which is why for many years the mayor of the city had to pick four citizens in a ceremony where they apologise to the vice chancellor year after year after year until someone figured out how stupid that was. Anyway, so The Bear was a town pub from which vantage point people used to watch bear baiting, hence the name. How barbaric. Now its more known as being “the tie pub” because the old barkeep collected ties from people and framed them.
Can I just take a moment to say how much I love the British pub culture? Not that I condone an excess of alcohol, but I don’t see anything wrong with social drinking. I also like how families can go to a pub, and the tradition of fathers buying their sons their first drink. In the Philippines, we do most of our drinking either at a house party, a place by the streets, some hole-in-the-wall or a club where we have to dress up. Needless to say we would never dream of going there with our parents. There’s no place where people can just hang out after work to have a pint. Pubs are great; and god knows we need them in the winter when there’s nothing else to do in London. Lol.
We went to Christchurch college next, well, not inside because it was closed by the time we got there but we got a good view of Christchurch meadow which inspired Lewis Caroll. We ended the day at Blackwell, one of the biggest bookstores in the country. I predictably ended up spending a ton of money on books but its money well spent. I’ve always imagined myself reading at Blackwell’s like Diana in The All Souls Trilogy.
In fact, in an alternate universe I think I would have liked being an Oxford University Student. Taking the entrance exams, getting into one of the dorm rooms, having my first lecture and knowing the history of the hallowed halls I find myself in, sitting my exams while wearing my robes, becoming a fellow…I think I would have thrived in that kind of environment, I’ve always felt most at home in the academic environment.
Either that or I would have become obese with stress (stress-eater here). Wouldn’t it be nice to be abl to provide my children someday with the opportunity should they wish it? Imagine the endless possibilities they would have when they graduate. Oh well. One can dream. Ultimately, as important as your education is, its what you do with that education that’s more important. I went to a humble school in the Philippines and I still somehow made most of my dreams come true. And that’s something to be proud of as well.
But I know that I can make it, as long as somebody takes me home every now and then…
When Brandon Flowers sang Sam’s Town at the Royal Albert Hall to the thousands and thousands of Londoners who came out to watch the Killers, it just gave me chills. The last line from the song (quoted at the end of this post) probably says everything that I need to say about how I feel living in London. Despite its faults, despite the struggles, I absolutely love being here.
LONDON AND ME: A LOVE STORY
The journey to this kind of contentment takes ages, and the best thing is I’m still on that journey. Here I am, five and a half years down the line and I’m still discovering new things to love about London. My love for London is what I imagine being in a relationship is like. You start off with stars in your eyes and you get swept up in the romance of it all. You visit Big Ben and Tower Bridge, or stroll along Southbank or walk down Pall Mall towards Buckingham Palace – you know, touristy stuff – and its like those first few dates when everything seems perfect. I think that first year, London could do no wrong in my eyes. I arrived on the tail end of 2011 and I rang in the New Year by watching the famous London Fireworks at the London Eye. The amount of people who turn out for that, and who are willing to wait 7 odd hours in the freezing cold for a 10-minute firework display, simply boggles the mind. I’ve watched it twice and I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. But back then, I was in love with the wonder of it all that I barely noticed the crowds (or the struggle to hold your pee in because the journey to the public toilets was more difficult than climbing a small mountain).
The fireworks display that year was extra special because 2012 was the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. The atmosphere that year was electric, I could not have timed my arrival better if I tried. I threw myself into the celebrations that year with the energy of a woman possessed. I waited three hours in the rain for the Royal Parade down the Thames, jostled elbows with the crowds near Trafalgar Square so that I could catch a glimpse of the Royal Family as they made their way to Buckingham Palace, watched the London Olympics Opening Ceremony in the park with my friends, bought tickets to the games, and celebrated a job well done with the rest of London during the Closing Ceremony (which fell on my birthday!) on a special viewing area at Westfield-Stratford near the venue.
With one of my best friends, soaking up the sun in Canary Wharf
Tower Bridge all ready for London 2012
With some enthusiastic Brazilian supporters during the opening ceremony
The atmosphere around the Olympic Park was unbelievable
With my friend Russel, getting ready to watch Team USA in the preliminaries
Oh hello, Kobe. 🙂
I gradually adjusted to adulting. I learned to do my own laundry, set up my own Wifi and even cook. I was doing well at work, but it was probably the first time in my ambitious existence that I focused less on getting ahead in my career because I was too busy “living the life”. All I wanted was to get paid at the end of each month so that I can pay rent and do fun things. I refused bank shifts because it took time away from my exploration of all things British. I fulfilled a childhood dream to watch the Backstreet Boys in concert (don’t judge me!) and followed that up with what is still one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to in my life, watching Coldplay live at the Emirates Arena during their Mylo Xyloto tour.
The Seven-Year Itch
Inevitably, the excitement wore off. Winter began and whilst I used to scoff about Seasonal Affective Disorder when I was studying about depression at uni, I sure wasn’t scoffing when I started to feel really blue as November kicked in (I still do sometimes). I discovered that I actually needed the sun, and the shorts days and long nights really got to me. I developed a love-hate relationship with the London Weather. The first time I was running to catch my bus with groceries on one hand and an umbrella on the other because it was raining so hard, I think I nearly cried.Reality really does bite. The honeymoon was over. I started to think about what it really meant to live in London. Why am I here, so far away from family, friends and everything that’s familiar to me? Am I here to just do a job so that I have enough money to go to the Philippines every year because that’s where I think my life still is?
Making it work: couples therapy with London :p
Ultimately, I made the conscious decision to stop being a tourist and really live in London and all that entails, horrible weather and all. I learned a lot of things that year, and while my previous post dealt with how to get started in London, I think this one is more of a guide on how to be really live and be happy here.
Accept the weather
Now this was something I struggled with. I came from a tropical country where it would be 30 degrees Celsius even with a storm raging. Everyone you’ve ever met who told you about the constant, seemingly-never-ceasing rain in London was not kidding. There are times when it rained for two full days nonstop. I hated it. I’m a shorts and flip-flops kind of girl, I hated wearing closed shoes and jackets. I cannot (and still can’t) layer to save my life. I used to moan a lot about the weather. But now I’ve learned to embrace it. I bought myself a pair of Hunter boots and an all-weather warrior jacket from Hollister and that was that; I had my battle armour ready for the next torrential downpour. I bought a sturdy umbrella that wouldn’t turn itself inside out with the next strong gust of wind. I learned to plan my activities around the weather. My friend visited me a couple of years ago and commented on my almost obsessive hourly checking of the weather. She had obviously never experienced going out in shorts and Toms because it was sunny when you left the flat and then two hours later, you’re soaked to the bone because it had begun to rain. Do not underestimate how much of an impact the weather will have on your London life.
Love your job
Most people will tell you that they’ve taken a job abroad so that they can travel, and that’s what keeps them going: the thought of going away every couple of months and exploring the world. That’s all fine. But realistically speaking, you won’t be able to travel more than twice in a year. Maybe if you take short weekend trips you can stretch that to four, but the fact is, a lot of the time you’ll be caught up in making a living. The average nurse spends 37.5 hours a week at work, more if you do bank shifts (overtime). Honestly, I didn’t love my job as much as I should have, nor did I give it the appreciation it deserved for being the reason why I’m in London in the first place. Maybe my first job wasn’t really the right fit for me, but the one I have now is. Part of the time I’m working in a speciality that continues to excite me, but most of the time I’m doing what I love and do best: teaching.
Its the kind of job that challenges me, frustrates me, pushes me to my limits and ultimately, gives me that sense of achievement that only comes when you know you’ve made a difference. Don’t get me wrong, some days I feel like doing a primal scream or burrowing underneath my duvet and never leaving the apartment. But the good days outweigh the bad. Having a job I love has kept me sane even as it makes me insane.
Develop a hobby or a passion
I have to be honest. I haven’t been listening to this part of my survival guide for the past year because I’ve been too caught up with work. I feel like I’ve taken on the problems of the world on my shoulders, I’ve forgotten the simple fact that the world will go on turning with or without me. I am irreplaceable to no one except myself. This is part of the reason why I’ve taken up blogging again. I used to write and write like there’s no tomorrow, even if no one would ever read it. I wrote for the fun of it. I used to go dancing twice a week and training every other day. I used to go for runs just because the weather is good and I feel like it. It’s really essential that you have a work-life balance, and -what’s that saying – that you don’t get too caught up in making a living that you forget to live. The people who have enjoyed living here the most are those who have made the most of what the city has to offer. They do yoga, go wall climbing, joined running clubs and others. For those who less physically-inclined (like me), there’s book clubs and social groups that you can join to keep the monotony at bay. Push yourself though, I never thought I could do Muay Thai but I’m not only doing it but loving it.
Meet new people, not just fellow countrymen
When I got to London, the Filipino community was pretty much established. Most of them were people who went to the same school as I did, acquaintances more than actual friends. But it amazes me how much being in a foreign country together forges a bond. No one else will know what its like to be living and working abroad apart from the people who are having that same experience. However, I didn’t want to limit myself to the Filipino community. I’m living in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. I love to talk (hence, blabbaholic) and I have a genuine love for getting to know people and gaining new perspectives. I think one of the reasons why I love my current job is because it allows me to get out of my comfort zone and actually network with people. And the more people I meet, the more I’ve realised that people are essentially different but the same, and that those differences should be embraced and celebrated.
My boss is Scottish and my vocabulary has gotten so much better ever since I’ve started working with her. I’ve also picked up a couple of quintessentially Scottish words, the kind that have no English translation. There are no words to express how much I’ve matured as an educator because of her advices. One of my closest friends is Australian, and she’s taught me to see things from a whole different perspective, and to stand up for myself every once in a while. She’s also brought me to a sports bar to watch State of Origin and got me to cheer for Queensland against New South Wales, and to wear red in support of “my” team. Another one of my best friends is Italian, and she teaches me Italian swear words and brings me cheese from home. She’s also one of my most avid cheerleaders, and she always reminds me to love myself and to look at the mirror and think, “I am beautiful”.
A couple of years ago, I tried a social group called Thinking Bob, and I thought it was fantastic. I got to meet so many new people while doing activities. I learned that I have the courage to walk up to a group of strangers and socialise; because of this group, I had the guts to step up on stage in front of a rock band and sing ‘Proud Mary’ like I was Tina Turner, complete with the dance moves. It was exhilarating to be with people where I can be someone besides usual myself. There’s comfort in the company of strangers because they have no basis with which to judge you, seeing as they don’t really know you.
There’s nothing like the home crowd though…
I’ve met lots of people and I love it. But there’s something to be said about having the kind of friends who you just know will help you bury a body if you ever decide to murder someone. The kind you can call long distance at 3am because you’ve just unlocked one of life’s important achievements. The kind you can have two-hour conversations with just because. So stay connected to the friends who have known you long before you ever landed on Heathrow.
Yes, travelling tops every 20-something or 30-something year old’s list of things to achieve. There’s so much fuss about travelling lately, and so many travel blogs or vlogs about exploring the world and finding yourself while getting lost in some random city. There’s a reason why there’s so much hype, because travelling changes you in so many ways. I’ve always loved and read about history, and travelling gave me so many opportunities to visit places that I’ve only ever read about in books. The first time I entered the Louvre gave me the most surreal feeling. I think I cried when I entered St Peter’s Basilica and when I finally got to walk down the gardens of Versailles. I had authentic German beer in Berlin with friends I met on a free walking tour; I visited Anne Frank’s attic and felt profoundly sorry for the innocence that was lost there. I visited a concentration camp and got up close and personal with just how low humanity can be brought to when driven by greed, hate, prejudice and desperation. I toured the canals of Venice, prayed in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona and enjoyed aperitivo along the coasts of Italy. Each time I came back from travelling, I came back not quite the same person, but more. So yes, before Brexit fully comes into its own, travel. A lot.
Stay connected to faith and family
I put these two together because for me they are one and the same. My faith and family keep me grounded, and give you a reason to go on during days when everything just seems to be going wrong. By faith, I don’t mean religion. I am not at my most eloquent when talking about spiritual matters. But I suppose by faith I mean just having the belief that everything will be ok in the end because there is a plan for you; and that you are here for a reason. And if you get that kind of faith by going to church or praying or meditation, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep the faith. I think when we stop believing and we stop hoping, that’s when we stop seeing the beauty in being where we are. Its happened to me a couple of times, and each time it helped to go home and spend time with my family.
Because really, there is no substitute for having family. There is something to be said about people who have to love you no matter how horrible you are simply because you share the same blood. When I was having a bad week at work a couple of years ago, I cancelled all of my extra shifts and hopped on a plane to Switzerland, where my nearest relative was. I didn’t have an itinerary or any kind of plan, and I didn’t care. I just wanted to be somewhere else and be with someone who has no expectations of me. I think when my sister moved to London last year, I breathed a sigh of relief. Life just got a little easier (and my waistline a little thicker, she’s such a good cook!).
I try to go home to the Philippines every 2 years to see my family. It recharges my batteries like nothing else can. One of the highest points of my life was when I got my entire family to go on a Eurotrip with me last year. Seeing London through my dad’s eyes brought me back to those honeymoon days when everything was new and wonderful. They made me love London again, and made me love London more.
Take care of you…
Home isn’t a place, its a feeling. Its the feeling of belonging somewhere, of being somewhere where you can learn new things and explore other parts of yourself but still have a place, and people to turn to, where you can just be you. And YOU are important. You are allowed to be selfish and to pamper yourself every once in a while. Have a mani/pedi, get a gorgeous haircut, buy that dress that fits you like a glove. You deserve it.
A happy ending
The truth is, the book doesn’t end when you find happiness because happiness is an ongoing thing. I have come to the conclusion that no one is every truly always happy or always content, we go through cycles of happiness and contentment. More importantly, we have to work for it and not be passive observers of our life, because as cliched as it is , life really is short. Your circumstances can change in an instant. Have you made the most out of this experience or are you still waiting for life to happen to you? Wake up and smell the roses: that future that seemed so faraway is happening now. You’re an adult, deal with it.
I’m going to stop blogging now and go out to re-explore this city that I love so much. I didn’t come here expecting to find home, I thought it was enough for me to have a job, to earn money and to have the chance to travel. But home is what it has become. It’s my Sam’s Town, and I could not be more grateful for that.
You know I see London, I see Sam’s Town
Holds my hand and lets my hair down,
Rolls that world right off my shoulders.
I see London, I see Sam’s Town now.
I’ve got this energy beneath my feet, like something underground’s gonna come up and carry me…
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
There are few things more important to a Londoner than the tube map. Nothing is more important to a working Londoner than the tube, the local name for the Underground system ran by TFL. I remember one time there was a tube strike because the train drivers wanted higher wages, and it completely disrupted the city’s way of life. In the hospital where I work, cases were delayed because both patients and nurses couldn’t get to work. The buses were so crammed that if, like me, you’re just barely over 5 feet you were basically standing under somebody’s armpit. And that’s only if you were fortunate enough to get on a bus at all. It was one of those times that I felt extremely lucky that my flat was at a walking distance from work. It really got me thinking about a) how much Londoners depend on a working tube system; and b) the close relationship between the tube and the choice of where to live.
Deciding where to rent in London is a really big and often difficult decision, especially if you’re new to the city. You don’t have enough information to know better and I think everyone’s first London flat always has that tinge of desperation on it, like we settled for the first available house or flat that would have us, even it means sharing a room with another person and losing all privacy. You learn from every experience though. God know I have, and I think I’ve come a long way from Mount Pleasant Road, where I had to constantly look over my shoulder when I come home at night to make sure I wasn’t being followed. Now, because I don’t want any of my potential followers to go through the same experience, I thought I’d share some tips on looking for accommodations in London.
Have a budget and stick to it.
This comes first for me because London is an expensive city. All those stories about astronomical flat prices are not exaggerations. If you’re not smart, you could end up paying half your salary for what is basically a double room in a tiny flat that is an hour’s commute from work. Figure out how much you are willing to and can afford to pay and work around that when looking for flats.
Have a selection criteria
I am not suggesting that you have to make some obsessive-compulsive checklist, but I do suggest that you have a mental checklist about the things that are important to you when it comes to living conditions, and highlight which ones you refuse to compromise on. For example, I will gladly pay a little extra money to know that I live in more or less a safe neighbourhood. You cannot pay me to live in Peckham. I’m sure its a perfectly fine area but I went there once I just got bad vibes. Which leads me to my next point:
Do a preliminary visit
In most cases, you will have a viewing before you decide to rent a house or flat, and i think this is a really great idea. No only does it allow you to check out the house, you also get a chance to have a feel of the neighbourhood. Sometimes decisions can be based on the most mundane of things, like that quirky cafe a few blocks over your flat that you can just picture yourself reading a book in or that park that you can see yourself running in. I personally like the hustle and bustle of the city, and I feel at home anywhere there are lots of people. I guess its the kind of security that comes from knowing that you’re never really alone. Doing a visit also gives you the chance to check out what the transport is like to and from your prospective address. Do you have decent access to a bus stop? What is your nearest tube station, if you have one? These are all important questions to consider.
As I said, commuting comes part and parcel with working in London. You really want access to a tube station, and more to the point, you want to be on a line that provides the most direct route to work. I know it’s sad to plan your life around work, but let’s face it. On average you will be spending 37.5 hours a week at work, why add commuting time to the time you’re already losing to work??? I’ve always said I will gladly pay an extra 100£ for an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning. In an ideal world, you want your flat to be on the same line as the nearest tube station to the place where you work and still be affordable. Here’s why that wouldn’t necessarily work.
London is divided into Zones. I work in Warren Street, right in the heart of central London, which comprises the whole of Zone 1. If the map below, which shows the average cost of renting a one-bedroom flat on each of the tube stops, is accurate then I would have to be living as far as Edgware or High Barnet (Zone 6), which is probably an hour’s tube ride away at least, to be able to afford rent. And even then its equal to nearly half of my monthly salary.
This map basically tells you really can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom flat on a nurse’s salary. If you attempt to do so, you’ll basically be spending all that money on a flat you don’t get to enjoy because you’re working overtime shifts to be able to pay for said flat. Most people opt to flatshare. And you can look for those on sites such as Gumtree, or Spareroom.
There are also other options available for key workers such as nurses and teachers. We get what they call intermediate rent price, which is a lower price compared to what someone who’s not a keyworker would pay. Housing associations that offer intermediate renting include Catalyst Housing and Genesis Housing Association. Generally, you have to fill in an application form and wait for it to be approved or your employer may have arranged this for you before you even arrive. I’ve lived on flats provided by both of those associations. the latter being the official provider of accommodation for those who work for our hospital. And let me tell you, there are definite pros and cons
The highs and lows of living in a housing association
As the header of this post suggests, its all about location, location, location. There’s really no faulting the location of the buildings owned by housing associations. Most of them are in central London or if not, an easy commute away. On average, it probably took me 25 minutes via bus to get to work when I was living at Ashgrove Court (Catalyst). It took me 10 minutes to walk to work when I was living at John Astor House (Genesis). Both locations were really central. Ashgrove Court is a short bus ride away from Notting Hill and the famous Portobello Market. John Astor House is close to the famous shopping areas of Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road.
However – and the same is true for flatshares as well – having a flatmate that you get on with depends mostly on the luck of the draw. I once had a flatmate who had some kind of light that she shines over the kitchen surfaces so she’ll know whether I’ve cleaned it properly or not. We also had washing facilities inside our room, and as her room was next to mine she claimed that she can hear the drip of the faucet whenever I failed to close it as tight as I should. Seriously, this person threatened to report me to the council for singing along to the songs on my iPod because this was apparently not allowed after 10pm. Jesus. Its a funny anecdote now, but back then I had only been living in London less than a year and I didn’t realise I was being bullied in my own flat until much later.
John Astor House took the meaning of cramped to an all new level. I never really understood the term “matchbox-sized room” until I moved there. But I thought, you know, this is probably better for me because JHA was more of a dormitory than flat. You don’t really have a “flatmate” and after living with a psychotic one for about 2 years, this was a huge draw for me. JHA also had cleaners who were responsible for cleaning common areas. What I failed to realise is that the cleaners were off on the weekends, and that I would be smelling how good other people’s Friday night went whenever I have to go to the toilets on Saturday. The toilets, like the kitchen, are shared by at least 10 people maybe more. Boy was it interesting to take a leak in those toilets come weekend. Do not let me get started on having to wait to take a shower that is shared by more than 10 people, some of whom take forever to have a bath. I wake up some nights to people either running screaming down the hallways or “unmentionable” noises in the room next to me as other people…”get to know each other” if you know what I mean.
Unfortunately, if – like me- you’ve been hired as a nurse in one of the hospitals and you don’t know anyone in London, chances are your first flat would be in one of these accommodations. Its the easiest choice, I suppose. In these accommodations, the rent you pay per month includes bills and council tax. You don’t have to worry about setting up all kinds of payments, which is a huge help during the first few months when you’re still settling. Its not that bad. You get to meet a whole lot of people from different walks of life and you get to meet people who may have been in the same position as you 6 months earlier who can give you the benefit of their experience. You get to have some kind of support system in these accommodations because everyone there more or less knows what you’re going through as a London newbie because they’ve all been a newbie at some point. Some of the things that people have done for those who are new to London just restores your faith in humanity. Some of them buy cookware for you, or give you some of their secondhand stuff for free. They cook you welcome dinners in the common kitchen, show you around London and do what they can so you feel just a little less lonely. I was lucky because whilst my first London flat was not an accommodation and left much to be desired, I already had lots of friends here who gave me the support I needed.
If you do decide you’ve had enough of accommodations, you can try your hand at looking for a flat of your own. Maybe you decide its worth paying the hefty price for the sake of comfort and privacy. Its up to you. The important thing is to plan ahead, consider different options and to move only if you’re absolutely sure its right for you. Moving flats is a huge undertaking and requires a lot of organisation, you do not want to do it again and again and again. Believe me, I’ve moved flats three or four times and it amazed me how much stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in all the years I’ve lived in London. In addition, two or three bedroom flats are probably cheaper than one bedroom flats so be on the lookout for potential flatmates.
For those working in and around central London, there are ways that you can get affordable flats. That’s what I did, because let’s face it, without the benefit of key worker discounts there is no way I’ll ever be able to afford a flat in Soho. Visit Peabody Housing or Dolphin Living for more details and a list of areas where developments are being built. You’ll probably have to be living in London for at least 18 months to qualify for these though, so if you know someone who’s been here a while who might be a good potential flatmate, maybe you can lure them into moving with you so that you can ride on their coattails. This what I did for my sister. I applied for both of us because I had been living here longer and was therefore eligible for the scheme.
I hope this helped. Either way, don’t get too worried about accommodation. These things have a way of falling into place in a way that you don’t expect. Enjoy the experience of being here. Welcome to London, newbie!