HOW I LIVE NOW

I passed my six month anniversary in London at the beginning of July. I am doing really well, and this place feels like home. Let me tell you, this city changes you after you’ve lived here for a while. It really does. For me the biggest thing is knowing that I never have to see the same thing twice in this city. It is true for friends, dating, shopping as well as restaurants. You learn to be more flexible about making plans and really begin to focus in on the stuff that really matter (if you are lucky) because in a couple of seconds, it can be gobbled up into this city, never to be seen again.

In June I dated for the first time in this city. He was a nice guy from Spain that had moved to the city in the very same week that I did. For a month we wandered around town and marveled about living in such a fantastic place. I met his friends. It was nice. Now he is gone, and I am totally okay with that. The really surreal thing is that the likelihood of running into him again in London would not be likely because this town is so big!

So, at the end of July I FINALLY moved out of the part of south east London that I really hated. I am now living approximately a 10 minute walk from Big Ben! I really feel like I live in London now! So, some of you will want to know if finding an apartment in London is hard. Well, yes and no. It wasn’t too hard for me because I threw a lot of money at the issue. However, for some with less income, it can be more competitive for the affordable/cool places. I found my flat/flatmate on the first day and moved in 5 days later.

A few things about my past life are now sneaking their way back into my life. For example, I have just started exercising again, which is nice. I am also cooking again because I have a nice CLEAN kitchen that I share with my flatmate who is a lawyer and really great to live with.

As for my time spent in the city. I really like trying out new pubs and restaurants when I meet friends. There is always something new and exciting to try out and each part of town is so different from the next because the vibe can be so completely different. I have also been going to the theater which has been amazing! I saw the production of Skylight with Carey Mulligan on Charing Cross Road. It was amazing! I have also seen the theater production of Let the Right One In. It was also super good.

My faviourite morning that I have spent so far in the city has been the morning after I had moved into my new apartment. I needed to do something random like go to the hardware store. I walked really far to a hardware store all of the way in Holborn! I walked past Big Ben, past the Horse Guards, past Trafalgar Square and then quite a ways longer. The hour long walk seemed to pass by in minutes as I stared up at the buildings, and at all of the tourists as I weaved my way up and down the narrow streets. I never knew that buying nails and a hammer could be such a treat.

IMG_0180I know that I keep saying that I am going to post more often. To be honest, I want to, but I don’t know if I can. Settling into this new city has given me a bit of ADD. It is really difficult to focus on anything for too long. And still, at the end of the day, I am absolutely exhausted. I know that my grandmother wants to see a few of my posts… and I know that I have a few friends checking out my page from time to time.

There is nothing that I regret moving to this city. Nothing. I still have a deep and dark pain in my heart for family and friends that I have left back home. As I write this, I can hear Big Ben chiming in the distance. I can’t believe that I am here. I can’t believe that I am here.

LONDON LAST SATURDAY

Okay. This city is seriously cool. I can’t get enough out of my weekends. Despite the little ups and downs, this city is really agreeing with me. So, what is new with me? Glad you asked! New job! I know… so soon… But hey, a girl has to do what is right for her and if it means changing to a job that will be less stressful and allow more freedom to adjust to her new country, so be it. I had to do what I had to do.

Otherwise, things are looking okay. After I start this new job (in a month or so) I will begin to search for a flat in a part of town that agrees with me more. I NEED to feel like I am a part of the London that I moved here to see. I feel so far away from it all where I am located now.

Patience goes a long way in this town and so does personal control. One could literally spend each and every day spending money, over-eating, over-drinking or otherwise indulging on some other illicit activity. As much as I have been able to explore the town, I have dad to hold onto my precious coins that I will need to use to move flats and/or spend on a new work visa. Seriously though, it is really hard when friends are PLEADING with you to go to events, meals or shopping at any given time.

Last weekend was a good example of my difficulty with abstaining from social “stuff”. I went on a tour of a derelict tube station (Aldwych) last weekend, and it was super fun. It has been disused for some time, and the transport museum runs tours of it every so often.

Nowadays the station is pretty much used for films and television shows. For example, V for Vendetta was filmed here, as was some scenes from the show Sherlock, and also the series Selfridges. I highly recommend this tour. It is always nice to see the castles, the expensive department stores and the posher side of London, but sometimes it is the mundane history of this city that can really provoke your emotions.

It was really fun exploring a random part of London’s history. Following the tour we wandered around the local area (around the corner really) to see if we could take a peek at the Roman Baths.

It was raining quite heavily as we tried to find our way. By the way, if you are coming to London for a visit anytime between mid-May and August… bring a cap if you are at all interested in maintaining a nice hairstyle. London has these itsy bitsy tiny raindrops that don’t warrant the use of an umbrella, BUT will soak you to the bones without even noticing…. just a tip.

Okay, back to the Roman Baths…

I had just enough time to snap this photo before getting kicked out by the security guard. Anyhow, after this little tour of London history, there was some wandering around and a cheap lunch at Pret before heading home. I made the absolute coolest realization as we endeavored to get back home. There is a bus that pretty much drops me at my front door that passes by some of the biggest tourist highlights of the city. At that moment as I watched the tourists snapping photos and soaking in the London air next to various attractions, I realized that I live here and that I was on my way home.

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FOUR MONTH LONDON ANNIVERSARY

Oh, I have been busy… Busy, busy busy. Aside from the fact that work is sucking the life out of me (time for a job change I think), the quality of my weekends are nothing short of spectacular most of the time. I have been in London for a total of 4 months tomorrow! I am at the point now where I know exactly (sort of) where I am going on the tube and buses where I don’t need a map. I can go to the grocery store without freaking out. As well, I can pass by Harrods (see behind me) without needing to go in just to look around.

Today was an exciting day. It is a Bank Holiday Monday so I decided to go spend the day at the V&A and then grab some lunch at Wasabi before heading home. The V&A was an epic fail because there was a queue around the block of people just wanting to get in. In a huff I went to Wasabi for lunch to figure out a new game plan. I ended up at Sloane Square, grabbed tea and decided to do a little shop therapy at MUJI. I ended up back home by 3pm, exhausted but content from my day of wandering in the city.

Life is by no means perfect right now, but I am working my butt of to change the things that I can. First off, I absolutely loathe the part of town that I live in. I hate it. I need to relocate to a place that is North of the river, preferably in the west. Moreover, there is the issue of my job. I don’t want to go into too many details but working a thousand hours a week is not helping my well-being. Not one bit. I am in the process of changing my job. The nice thing is that I have choices. I am fortunate to be living in a place where 1) Change is possible 2) There is room for flexibility/new job options. London is a big city that takes some time to warm up to. If you give it some time, and let the daily troubles and imperfections roll off of you, life will be good.

On to another topic. Guernsey! I went to the beautiful island of Guernsey to visit my lovely friend J. Just short of a one-hour flight from London Gatwick, the place is truly magical. After working a thousand hours on the week prior to Guernsey, I wasn’t in the best shape as I stumbled into the airport at 8am on a Saturday morning.

FOUR DAY EASTER WEEKEND RECAP

I can’t believe the amount of time off that I get off of work in this country. But then again, given that I work 10-12 hour days on most days, and my caseload is out of control, I think that having a few extra days off per month is well deserved. I really liked that I got both Friday and Monday off for Easter holiday. I really needed the days off and the time to just go and do whatever.

I am still in tourist mode which means that I still have a lot of things that I want to tick off of my list. I must admit though… After three months of being here and soaking up all of the history and whatnot, being sandwiched into a building every weekend with tourists is beginning to weigh on me a bit. I guess as well that I feel envious of them. I want to feel the wonderment that I used to enjoy London with when I would come here on holiday. I miss having nothing to do but attend gallery exhibits and museums without nothing else occupying my mind because I would be “on vacation”.

Now, when I go anywhere in England (museum, restaurant or gallery) I still have real life to worry about because I actually live locally. I think about the laundry that I forgot to put in the dryer. I think about that deadline that I have for work. I think about whether or not the grocery store will still be open by the time I get back home.

I am seriously jealous of tourists.

With that said, this past Easter weekend was nice. On Friday, I managed to get to Hampton Court Palace which was awesome. Although a bit of a trek, it is quite accessible by London transit.

Also connected by London transport is lovely Kingston Upon Thames, which is not far from Hampton Court Palace. Although small and quaint, Kingston Upon Thames has some of the best areas for shopping and also good dining.

After some shopping, we wandered over to Hampton Court to tour the castle and wander the grounds. Sadly, it became increasingly chilly throughout the day so we decided to tour the gardens on another day.

If you live locally or have an interest in visiting all of the historic Royal Palaces, I would recommend that you purchase a joint membership which will get you into all five of the palaces for the reasonable price of about £67 per year. As well, being able to bypass long line-ups is quite convenient too.

Saturday I wanted a different vibe. I wanted to be around street food, colour and excitement. After a long slumber, I hit the streets and headed to Camden Town for a wander.

I almost regretted my choice because  it appeared that everyone else in London wanted to do the same thing. It was absolutely rammed packed. But, do you know what? I loved it! I know that I didn’t want to spend my money in Camden Town because a lot of the shops sold novelty t-shirts and a bunch of stuff that I really didn’t want to buy. So, I treated myself to a pedicure (sort of). These fish actually eat the dead skin off of your feet. For £5, you get 15 minutes with these little guys.

I’ve got to admit. The experience was totally revolting. I doubt that any of it was hygienic, given about a million of people plunge their feet into the same water every day… Though my feet did feel spectacularly smooth afterwards .

After I had my fun in Camden, I walked all the way to Covent Garden to grab some food and to do a bit more shopping. The walk there was the best. I passed by Bloomsbury Street (the setting of my favourite book about London The Dutchess of Bloomsbury Street). Realizing that I had not eaten all day, I made a pit stop at Wagamama, a pan Asian sit down fast food joint, because I wasn’t inspired to eat anything epically awesome.

If you are ever in London and in a pinch because you need food fast, this is the place to go. It is a bit pricey (between 10£-12£ per meal) you will get food that is fresh and dependable. The duck gyoza are really good.

After Wagamama, I headed off to Covent Garden and made a big shopping splurge at The Cambridge Satchel Company for a new leather bag (that I got monogrammed with my initials).

After all of that, I was exhausted. After an expensive purchase, lunch and the excursions of the day before, I figured that the best thing for me to do was to head home. Because the first two of my four day weekend were spent out, I was perfectly pleased to spend Easter Sunday and Monday hanging around the house, doing chores.

Tomorrow I am back at work. Although I like my job, I am not looking forward to the intense work week ahead. London can be such an intoxicating city. It can be quite difficult to snap out of lifestyle and the wandering around time after a long weekend. The London that I see during the work week is so different than the London that I see during the weekends… But, I am so grateful to be here. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My three month anniversary of moving to London is quickly approaching (in just six days). It is incredible to think that this is just the beginning of my London journey. I can’t believe that it has just started. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

SURREY IN A HURRY

By the end of a long week of work consisting of hanging out in the business of South East London , I crave getting away to the countryside where the air is super clean and the air smells like earth and green.

Fortunately for me, I have access to getting around by car quite easily, so a quick jaunt to Surrey was super thing to do on a Sunday from London. Although Surrey is super huge, you can get there from London in just under an hour. However, if you want the epic  view of Surrey such as what was featured in the Hollywood film ‘The Holiday’, you are going to have to travel into Surrey an additional hour.

Our day trip to Surrey started at around 9am. After a sleep in, we showered, grabbed a few pastry and a thermos of tea, and jumped into the car. It was spitting rain and the air had a chill, but we didn’t care. We shoved a pile of extra layers of clothing into the back seat of the car. My wellies were a must.

By noon we were absolutely famished, so we stopped at a country pub and had a meal. My flatmate had a Sunday roast, whereas I had a risotto and a glass of white wine. After our meal, we figured out that we were a short distance away from Hever Castle, the childhood home of Anne Boleyn. Okay, fine, Hever Castle is technically not in Surrey. It is in Kent. But, we wove our way in and out of Surrey throughout the day. Isn’t it beautiful just the same?

When we got to Hever Castle we noticed that it cost £15 to get in. We really didn’t want to commit to a £15 afternoon a piece, so we decided to continue driving around the countryside and snap photos. This of course was totally free. Besides, the sheep didn’t mind.

I can’t tell you how peaceful it is to spend time in the English countryside. It was like one awesome cliché after another. The thatched roofs on the little cottages were the best. I think that I want to book a bed and breakfast in Surrey on a long weekend at some point in the near future. I think that a good 4-5 days of hanging out in the countryside would do my brain some good.

By 4pm we were back home in London. Relaxed, a bit tired and cold. We put on a pot of tea. I jumped into my sweatpants and got a digestive biscuit out of the cupboard before sinking onto the sofa to reflect on my day and England. I sipped my tea and chomped on my digestive. As tough as London can be, nothing can replace of how much fuller and enhanced my life has become. I am home. I AM HOME.

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SOCIAL WORK IN LONDON – TWO MONTH PERSPECTIVE

I’ve been getting a pile of emails from people asking me to write about what Social Work is like in London. However, given I have only been here for two months, I don’t feel that I have a comprehensive overview of what it is truly like in the eyes of someone (a North American) that has been here for 2, 4 or 8 years. Lucky for me, I have a good bunch of friends that are social workers in the UK that are there to give me ongoing support as I encounter new challenges within my work, and walls of despair. Yes. I said despair. Please allow me to explain.

By the way, the photograph (above) is of the Black Frier Pub. I chose it not only because I enjoy a good drink, but because I met with three social work friends yesterday that provided me encouragement and insight into what I can expect in the coming months and years as I progress in the field as a UK social worker.

I may have mentioned a bunch of posts back that I didn’t want this blog to focus on Social Work any longer. I feel that this is necessary because Social Work in the UK is not regarded as the heroic and esteemed profession that it is known as in the USA or Canada. In the UK, people actually “hide” their identities as social workers because in this country, they are regarded as baby snatchers and as people that destroy families. It is sad. Really sad.

In comparison, back home, the organizations that I worked at would have signs all over the place that would state that there was a zero tolerance for assaulting and abusing Social Work staff. Over here, there is no such policy. Get prepared to be insulted by schools, police and medical professionals. For some reason, if a child is harmed or if there is concern for the safeguarding of a child, it is the job of the social worker (and not of other professionals) to assure that the child remains safe. If somethings DOES go wrong, it is always the social worker’s fault… not the midwife, not the physician, not the nurse, not the teacher.

I have been called a dirty slag no less than twice since beginning this role.

One of the largest differences that I have observed as a social worker in the UK in comparison to in North America, is that there are few, very few jobs in which an advanced/senior social worker can be employed as a therapist in a school or in a hospital. The majority of roles remain within statutory social work, in Children’s Services.

Okay, woah. I sound really angry and disheartened by Social Work in the UK. Don’t I? Well, it’s really not as bad as I make it sound. Over all, I can give a much longer rant about Social Work in Canada if giver the opportunity.

The most amazing part about Social Work in the UK is that there are jobs. There are jobs galore. If you are lucky to get a position here, you will never have to ever worry again that your contract is ending or if you will ever get that promotion. The sky is virtually the limit. One of the hardest things that I have had to wrap my head around since arriving here is that the job that I have now is not the position that I will be in next year. There is a lot more movement between roles and I find that it is highly encouraged by management to explore new opportunities within your local authority.

As far as advice goes, I feel that having an opened mind will be very beneficial to you if you do decide to give Social Work in the UK a try. I can tell you this straight out, your life as a social worker (at least in London) will not resemble the film Love Actually in any way, shape and form. Your position will likely involve many home visits, riding around on buses that smell like urine, sweat and gum disease, and you will be dressed accordingly… especially at the beginning. But, overtime you will learn the life hacks that are necessary to survive this mammoth city. You will settle into a position that suits your lifestyle, you will learn how to drive on the opposite side of the street and things will get easier. It depends what you are looking for.

At the moment, I am at the phase where I am frustrated. I am working an insane amount of hours and I am not socializing and experiencing the side of London that I came here to see.  I am slowly carving out a career progression that would work better for my lifestyle. I have to be patient but also focused as I try to obtain it. It feels good because there is something to progress to over here.

Since being here, I have done a pile of traveling within London and have also started exploring other parts of England. I am planning some holidays in other countries and am also getting exposed to new and exciting things every day.

The fact is, I love it here (despite this city being incredibly harsh and lonely at times). Work is incredibly difficult but also rewarding.

If you are thinking that Social Work in the UK is for you, do your research. Seriously. Do your research. First learn the credential assessment process, the visa process and (if you can) try to learn as much about the local area that you are interested in working in. Once you get here, don’t be disappointed that you don’t have the ideal flat, job or lifestyle in comparison to what you were hoping to get off of the plane. Take it day by day and be open to learning opportunities. Slowly, you will begin to get some of the things that you came here to find.

The policies are different, the clients are different and the procedures are different. Some of your colleagues will be really, really good at the job, whereas others will be really, really bad at the job. Just like back home.

 

My Canterbury Tale

So, part of moving to England for me has been actually getting around and seeing England. I really like the country so far. It really does have all of that “cool stuff” that I wanted to move down here to see, such as the wooly sheep, the rolling hills, the large metropolitan city as well as the quaint narrow streets.

BUT. Big but. I hardly see that side of this beautiful country because I am living in a part of London that lacks (to a great extent) the charm that I moved to this country to see. I have to remind myself around Thursday evening that there are things worthy of leaving my flat on the weekend for aside from, well, the darker side of this great city. Lets leave it at that.

This weekend, I needed to leave the noise and the hustle. This weekend was for Canterbury! Oh what a treat is was. It is a compact little town but with a lot to offer. From London, it only took us an hour by car. The drive was pretty awesome because there were a lot of rolling hills and sheep to look at.

The town itself was lovely, although I find that there were too many shops that you could find on Oxford Street. Frankly, too many. Lots of little museums and historic sites to pop into. I think that it was the perfect place to just wander around.

The Canterbury Cathedral was certainly the highlight of the entire trip. It is totally worth the £9 per person to go. The building itself was ginormous. I regret not paying for the audio tour.

cathedral2So. What else I have been up to aside from touring my beloved England. Work. Lots of it. I work about a thousand hours a day… and frankly, I was not expecting it to be so “bad”. I think that I have also hit that part of expat life where the city is weighting on me a bit. Probably because I am not able to do all of that awesome stuff that I came here to do as frequently as I would like, or perhaps because I am totally exhausted all of the time. I am not sure really. However, my 2 month anniversary in the UK is quickly approaching (in about 5 days).

I’ve gotten a bunch of requests via email mostly and also on the blog itself about what Social Work is like in the UK. Obviously, two months in does not make me an expert, but I will dedicate my next post to what my impressions are about SW from the perspective of a North American. Moving forward, I feel that I will be spending a lot less time talking about Social Work on this blog because, well I do it all week long, and the last think I feel like doing during my weekend is talk about SW. I will try to write something helpful and insightful. That I can promise.

Otherwise, life is okay. Had (and still experiencing) my first bouts of homesickness. I am also feeling my first run of expat fatigue… which is that thing that happens after the “romance” of a city dies several months after you move to it. More on that another time as well.

 

A TUDOR SUNDAY

A few Sundays ago, my flatmate and I felt restless. We both wanted to get outdoors for a bit, but we didn’t want to hit anything loud and touristy. It was raining and super windy, so he thought that it would be a good idea for us to take the car.

We assembled some bacon and cheese sandwiches on freshly made bread. We also grabbed some tea and biscuits and then piled ourselves in the car.

We were going to Hall Palace and Gardens, just outside of London in Kent. Visiting an old English country home was exactly the experience that I wanted that day. After all, the weather was perfect.

One of the best parts about this place was the wildlife! They actually had a butterfly sanctuary and an owl exhibit. We actually got a chance to learn about all the different types of owls and even got to hold some of them!

The Tudor house was really beautiful, even if it was quite bare. It was super quiet and you could almost imagine what it was like to wander through it on a similarly rainy and cold day several hundred years ago. I was secretly hoping that Jonathan Rhys Meyers would suddenly walk through the room and sweep me off of my feet.

I don’t think that this place is a top tourist destination. However, it is a wonderful place for locals to visit and a great place to bring out of town guests. If I lived close by, this is the sort of place that I would go to wander and to spent some alone time with myself. Oh yes, it had the most spectacular gardening centre too. Makes me with that I had an English country home… Hmmm….

TOWER BRIDGE!

On Friday I had completed by first two weeks at work. I was exhausted, brain-fried, happy, and just needed to stick around home for the weekend. I was looking for a ‘typically average’ weekend after a week of work. Terribly boring and domestic. Friday night involved me going to bed early. YAY!

Saturday involved me catching up on some boring shopping at a very North American office supply shop (Staples), a dollar store (called POUNDLAND  over here), and some very uneventful grocery shopping (snore). The thing is, that since moving over here, everything has been super cool and awesome, I have really been craving some boring/slightly underwhelming activities to occupy my free time. A weekend of domesticated errands should certainly set me straight.

However, Sunday changed everything. When I woke up on Sunday., the sun was shining and not a drop of rain was supposed to land on that day. The air was warm and there was just a tiny breeze in the air. I HAD to be outdoors.

Luckily my flatmate felt the same way so we put on our jackets and hit the outdoors.

We wandered through Greenwich which was jam packed with tourists as we made our way to the ferry into central London. You can kind of see the outline of the CUTTY SARK just to the right of the photo.

towerbridge1Greenwich is such a beautiful part of London that so few people ever venture out to see. It is just 10-15 minutes on the tube into the center of the city!

Given that it was such a bright and clear day, there was no other place that would be suitable than to tour the INSIDE of Tower Bridge. So, we took the ferry over to Tower Bridge from Greenwich. We were greeted by THE TOWER OF LONDON as soon as we docked. My first time seeing it in over 3 years! What a sight!

It was absolutely perfect. Just as I remembered it. Even though it is a series of buildings, from different periods in history, I can’t believe that some of it is over a thousand years old and still standing. I just find that incredible.

Anyhow, we continued along about a hundred meters along the Thames, and our destination finally came into sight. Tower Bridge. Did you know that you can actually take a tour of Tower Bridge from the inside? It’s true. you can actually walk along the inside of the beam that is wedged between both towers,,. I must say that it was very cool. However, I feel that the videos that they showed as part of the TOUR were somewhat lacking and outdated. Sorry. Despite this, for 8 quid, it is totally worth it.

I must say that my favourite part of the day was when Tower Bridge actually opened up to let a little boat through. It was really quite exciting. I never thought that I would ever get a chance to see it for myself.

By the time that the tour was done and managed to get back home, it was around 4pm. Just enough time to rest up before dinner, prepare my stuff for work the next day and chill out before bedtime.

I must say that I like the pace of life here much better than it was back home. Even though it is soggy and chilly most of the time, it helps you to appreciate how much of a treat that this city is on nearly perfect weather days. Many people don’t throw them away. They abandon their housework and their television sets and hit the park, streets and city!

LONDON, I LOVE YOU

What a remarkably crappy blogger I’ve been. I mean, who starts a blog about wanting to move to England, and then after five years of tedious writing, decides to stop posting the minute she arrives in the UK? Me. Apparently.

IMG_4028It has truly been fantastic here. The truth is that I don’t really feel the euphoric rush of emotion that I thought that I would get from moving here. To be honest, so far I feel kind of like I am at home. It is not a magical enchantment, but has a familiarity that I can’t quite describe. Of course I have been struggling with coins, supermarket shopping and trying to find my way around the overground, but at the same time that deep and fuzzy feeling that I’ve always had for London is with me all of the time now. That is nice. All of the little things that suck right now don’t feel that annoying because I just swapped the daily annoyances that I had in Canada with new ones.

So, the jet lag is now gone and I am getting accustomed to the daily grind. The only thing that I wish that others had warned me about is of the gastrointestinal upset that moving time-zones and eating new foods has caused me. Ouch! My stomach has been a total mess since I have arrived. It doesn’t seem like I am “digesting” at the times of day that I am supposed to be digesting. I am fighting the urge to gain 10lbs by eating as much fruit and veg as I can in one day. However, the food here is amazing and my office literally has cookies, cakes and treats EVERYWHERE. Each day is a battle to keep my calories down.

IMG_4015So, I work in mainly none-touristy areas, so my London exploration will be happening mostly during my weekends. Last Sunday was a real treat. I really got a chance to see Greenwich for the first day during daylight. Isn’t it beautiful? Greenwich park is absolutely lovely. I am convinced that British dogs are the absolute happiest and cutest of anywhere in the world. ALL of the dogs were in the park that day.

IMG_4022I must admit that some of my digestion problems must  have something to do with all of the British food that I have been sampling these days. On Sunday after a bit of light shopping, we went to one of the oldest ‘pie and mash’ shops in London. It was really cheap but high quality food… this place has been around/full of customers for over 100 years (since 1890)! Just amazing. Oh yes. The eels are optional. People say that London is a super fast-paced city, but I disagree. People take there time on Sundays. They stop in a pub for a drink, enjoy a museum or stroll leisurely down the street (and no they are not only tourists). It is refreshing to the laundry/grocery shopping/house cleaning that would fill my Sundays in North America.

IMG_4025My work has a pretty sharp learning curve so I will be quite exhausted as I get accustomed to my new city. Sometimes I don’t believe that my dream has come true. It has been raining relentlessly every day, but I love it. Even the dodgy ends, and the fact that the bus sometimes smells like pee and fried chicken.

This weekend will consist of hitting a beauty supply store, visiting a gallery, visiting old friends, and trying to stay dry.

FIRST DAYS IN LONDON

I’ve been in London for four days now. My jet lag is still in full swing, and my mood has slightly dipped (probably because of the exhaustion that I am feeling).

IMG_4011I’ve been trying to be as gentle to myself as possible, and trying not to do too much. I keep having to remind myself that I ‘live’ here now and that I don’t need to hit every gallery and museum by the end of the week in an attempt to see everything before I have to leave.

So, I’ve been doing mostly chilled out stuff such as grocery shopping, watching movies and getting to know the area that I will be living in. I’ve spent one day out shopping for toiletries and stuff that I was unable to pack in my suitcases. I’ve had an epic hair conditioner fail, and will likely need to purchase a new flat iron because the one I have currently is useless. Otherwise, I couldn’t be happier in my new country.

I attempted to go to the Tate Modern yesterday but was too physically tired to do anything by the time that I got there. So, I grabbed a tea from the restaurant overlooking the Thames and sat at the window for a while before venturing back home,

When I left the Tate, I realized that it was 2:30 and that I had not eaten anything since early morning. I grabbed a sandwich from Pret a Manger next to St. Paul’s Cathedral and ate it standing up in the covered pedestrian walkway as it rained. I cried a little as I ate the last bit of my sandwich. Maybe because of my happiness or perhaps because everything in my life is so incredibly new.

Today I managed to make an appointment to open a bank account. Tomorrow I will be registering with the NHS and with a local GP and I am also going to start running again. Saturday should be fun because I will be hanging out with L for dinner and drinks.

I really hope that my body will adjust to the new time zone quickly. I am enjoying the weather here because it is not -35 degrees with stupid amounts of snow. It is nice to walk down the street and be able to smell the grass and trees. Although it is a bit chilly, buds are on the trees and are peeping out through the soil.

I was thinking of some helpful expat tips for you….. First, make sure to book a banking appointment for as soon as you arrive here because you may wait upwards of 2-3 weeks to meet with someone! As well, beware of indigestion and other unfortunate stomach ailments when traveling. Eat very clean foods before departing, stay hydrated and pile up on fibrous food… just saying.

Until next time!

UP, UP, AND AWAY

IMG_4009So. It appears that my relocation plans have come true. It took me five hard years to get there, but I have finally made it. I am at the airport waiting for my London flight right now, and it still doesn’t feel real.

These last weeks have been completely nuts with the last bits of my visa paperwork and visa processing. My visa showed up by courier on Friday night, at which time I was able to book my one-way flight to London. It was a little freaky booking a flight for only two days away, but given I am starting my new job in one week, I needed to get there as soon as possible so that I can get settled.

Yesterday was spent finalizing my packing which ended up very well. Thanks to Iceland Air with their generous baggage allowance. My grandmother and I worked our butts off to cross things off my list. By the time I showered and styled my hair, I could hardly keep my head up.

I hardly slept last night. I had a terrible migraine and stomach pains (thank you stress). However, this morning there was nothing left for me to do but wait for my friends to take me to the airport.

Everything went smoothly while I waited for my flight to Toronto (on route to London). Several more friends showed up to for a surprise ‘party’ at the airport before my departure. As I was leaving them, I bawled and bawled for like 15 minutes. Once I cleared security, I started feeling better. But, little did I know that they had their faces pressed up against the glass as I passed by the inspection station. It was certainly a memorable goodbye!

As I write this I am waiting for my flight to London. I’ve been alone for the first time in months. It is a strange but exciting feeling. Luckily the connection is good at the airport, so I was able to Skype for a bit with my gran. Leaving her was the single most difficult part of all of this. I love her so much. I could not have gotten here without her.

I will be boarding my plane in about an hour. Traveling to London feels different than it did in the past because this time I will be living there. I don’t have those ‘goose-bumps’ and that anticipation that I had all of those other times. Perhaps because this is real life and not a holiday? Perhaps because I am so tired? Perhaps because I feel sad to be leaving those that I love the most? I am not sure, but I will get back to you on that.

I am going to try to listen to some audiobooks to pass the time as I wait for my flight. I am going to try to make my peace with Canada, to forgive myself and all of the difficult stuff that I have experienced over the past years. I am looking forward to this clean slate.

London, I love you. I will be in my new home tomorrow.

WORK VISA APPLICATION TIME

What a treat. Tonight was the premier of the third series of Call the Midwife on the BBC. I’ve been literally waiting a year for the newest season to air. Actually, that is incorrect. I watched the Series 2 Christmas Special on Christmas Day. It was magical and held up to my high expectations about this show. I actually haven’t watched the the episode yet because I was busy polishing up my paperwork.

What paperwork do you ask? Well, I completed my application for my Tier 2 Work Visa application this week! Tomorrow I will attend my biometrics appointment, and mail everything off to the UKBA in New York. Within 24-48 hours (if there are no glitches) I should find out if I get my UK work visa! Several days after that, I will be departing on my one-way-ticket flight to London.

I don’t actually know the exact day I will be traveling yet because I have to see what the UKBA has stamped as an entry date in my visa. With any luck, they will be following what is written on my contract date (which is dated as soon) which will mean that they will make the entry date effective immediately. Hopefully. Anyhow, whatever happens I will have to bite the bullet and pay for a last minute flight. Luckily I have already worked this into my budget.

Basically all of my relocation details are in place. I have a super awesome flat to move into upon my arrival. I even have a new duvet, new hangers, pillows (etc) ready for me upon my arrival. As well, a lot of my London friends will be located close by. I am blessed to have such a good support network available to me.

My suitcases are pretty much ready to go as well. I have one giant suitcase and a giant duffel bag. The airline also allows me to take one piece of carry-on luggage of up to 22lbs, as well as a small personal item (a tiny back pack). I put a lot of thought into what I am bringing. I am glad that I didn’t crumble under pressure when people were giving me unsolicited advice early on.

These next few days are going to be totally nail-biting and stressful. I guess that there is not much that I can do but wait for my passport to be returned to me by the UKBA. It is kind of surreal to kind of know that I will be moving soon, but not totally certain.

By the way, the Tier 2 Work Visa paperwork is actually quite brutal. The UKBA website is not very useful and doesn’t really have a handy list of all necessary documents that one needs for the applications. I really had to comb the immigration forums and do my own investigation work to make this application complete. I’ve been at the copy shop FOUR TIMES, making sure that my paperwork and supporting documentation are perfect.

These are my Tier 2 Work Visa Application Tips:

- Start the process early

- Have an all-in-one photocopier/printer/scanner available (you will make silly mistakes)

- Make copies of EVERYTHING  you will need a ridiculous amount of copies

- Read every expat/ UK immigration forum available online

- Memorize the visa/documentation requirements on the UKBA website

- Make sure your name appears on all of your supporting documentation

- Make sure your passport picture is perfect/all of your data is uniform throughout the application

Stay tuned everyone, and thank you for all of your support, emails and comments. I’ve got to get to bed because I want to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for my appointment.

KEEPING CALM AND CARRYING ON (SORT OF)

Hello Hot StuffThe past few weeks have been about trying to manage the HR department at my new London job. Very shortly I will be given my  start date and the go-ahead to start my visa application. This move is really beginning to feel real now. It is an incredible and scary feeling.

Unlike all of the past traveling and vacations that I have taken in England, knowing that I am going to be in London soon doesn’t feel the same way that it did before. For the weeks and months leading up to one of my UK trips, I would spend my days researching all of the cool stuff that I would do once in the country and psyche myself up by re-watching all of my favourite British films. Although I am sort of doing that right now, the “magic” seems somewhat duller than it has been in the past. I am not only researching cool events on TIMEOUT, I am actually researching not so fun stuff like where I will find a good dentist.

I imagine that the reality of how much work I have put into making this happen throughout the past year is why I am just physically exhausted with the whole thought of England. I also feel that a lot of the stuff that usually would go into my London travels is not the center of importance any more.

I will have a JOB there and responsibilities. I can’t just fill my days drinking pints and hanging out at obscure art events. I mean, I will be doing that stuff too, but there are other sorts of stuff that I will need to do to such as find a yoga studio, a reliable butcher and a hair stylist. These are not the sort of things that I did as a tourist.

My friend said an important thing to me with regards to the stress, anxiety (and tantrums) that I have been taking about relocating to the UK. She said that ‘you really have to want it’. I truly agree with her on this. What she means by this is that very rarely is a relocation to a new country ever easy. If you are an adult, and don’t have a convenient method of getting yourself there such as by marriage or an all expenses paid education in a UK university, you are going to have to work your ass off to make the relocation happen. You have to really want it, because the obstacles and the sacrifices will be plentiful.

Just the other day, I had a bit of a mini nervous breakdown because of yet another obstacle that could have potentially jeopardized this move. I mean, I had applied for this UK job nearly a YEAR ago. Between all of the paperwork, waiting, money and stressing, I know that I have come so far to just walk away from it all without some serious emotional pain. As well, knowing what I know now about the process of relocating to another country, I don’t think that I will ever have the energy to try this again if it would fail.

I don’t think that I am physically capable of experiencing this roller-coaster ride ever again. I do believe in the saying that ‘the journey is as important as the destination’, but I also believe that self-torture should not be a feature in a healthy life.

So this upcoming week I will have to pay my fees to the HCPC, get passport photos done, purchase postage envelopes and other stationary for my visa. I will also make a list of the stuff that I will need to buy with regards to packing, and talk to my gran’s next door neighbour about gaining access to his printer so that I can do my visa paperwork.

WHAT MY FIRST DAYS IN LONDON MAY LOOK LIKE

I will be renting a cool room in London so I will need to arrange for some bedding (duvet and pillows) for when I arrive. I plan on enjoying the city as a tourist on my day of arrival, so I don’t want to be bogged down with having to do too much shopping on that day. Oh yes, although my first day will be laid back (a tour around my new part of town, a curry meal and then a pub drink), I imagine that my work start date will not be long after I arrive, so I won’t have too much leisurely time .

My second day may consist of a mixture of fun and necessity. There are some attractions that I must visit within the first days of my arrival, so I will probably do that. As I am jumping from gallery to museum, I can take care of some errands, such as getting a mobile phone and picking up the toiletries that I need from BOOTS.

I imagine that the days following will be sort of a mess. Applying for a National Insurance Number and registering with the NHS. Of course, that is all worth a blog post of it’s own. Stay tuned!

RANDOM BUNCH OF UPDATES – THIRTY DAYS COUNTDOWN

Oh, how I have been a bad blogger… a bad bad blogger. The truth is, I have been neck high in employment paperwork and more waiting for my UK work visa. It has been exhausting and I am physically depleted at this point. The problem is that the UK HR department has been slow, very slow with each step that needs to be completed. It is as though they are not sure what to do or how to do it, in many ways making it up as they go along. I feel like I am babysitting a small child with ADD. My future is literally in their hands.

Every morning I wake up and DREAD opening up my email to see what kind of insanity is waiting for me in my inbox. At least two times last week I screamed “WTF!” upon opening my email. It is not a good thing, but oh well. I am close. Very close to having all of the necessary paperwork in.

Conde Nast Traveller - January 2014  UK-122

photo courtesy of Conde Nast Traveller (UK), January 2014

The good news is that I have an awesome place to live when I arrive in London. I have figured out which airline I am going to travel with and have figured out a whole bunch of other tedious details related to this relocation. The nice part about having this really long layover is that it has given me plenty of time to research all of the minutia of relocation such as UK banking, getting a National Insurance Number, and what airlines have the best deals for excess baggage and travel amenities. I am at the point now where if I had to, I could be packed and ready to hit the airport within hours.

I should have all of my work related paperwork in by the end of next week. Following that I will have a visa application to expedite. My guess that is that I will be arriving in the UK within the next 30 days! I seriously can’t wait for this to be over and for my relocation to start feeling more real.

In other news, I have been watching some really good films lately:

1. PHILOMENA (2013) – Was a fantastic surprise. It was a good balance of humour (thank you STEVE COOGAN) and drama that kept me at the edge of my seat with laughter and tears the entire time. The film consists of the same subject area as the MAGDALENE SISTERS (2002) which is a horrific part of British history. This film is a must watch!

2. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (2013) – Oh, this was much better than than the first film (Unexpected Journey). I’ve got to say, with nearly six hours of endless watching between these two films, they were a great distraction from obsessing about relocating. Really beautiful cinematics.

3. CALL THE MIDWIFE CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (2013) – If you haven’t gotten up off of your butt to watch the series Call the Midwife, do it NOW! The Christmas special, in anticipation of the Series 3 release, was everything that I could ever have hoped for in a Christmas Special for my favourite BBC show. I am sure if you search for it on Youtube you will find it, but don’t watch it unless you have watched series 1 and 2!

4. HOUSE OF CARDS (USA) – Okay, this is a USA HBO series, but it is based on the UK series of the same name. I must admit, I liked the USA series a lot more than I liked the UK version (which is very unusual). Anyhow, it has been another great show to just get carried away with.

No one can really blame me for being a super couch potato these days. The weather has been hideous lately! Temperatures between -25 and -35 on most days, and more snow than I can cope with.  I really can’t wait until this insanity is over with. Thirty more days! Hopefully.

 

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