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.