One year later, I’m finally finding the time to document my memories of our trip. I’m calling them diary entries, because they’re mostly thought dumps to recall as many details as possible – mostly for memory sake. I’m already forgetting little details about our trip, which is sad as it was really a once in a lifetime experience that I want to remember for the rest of my life. So these posts will be long and full of pictures. Consider yourself warned. 🙂
For years, I was hellbent on living in London. I obsessed and dreamt about this for 8+ years, and I thought my life wouldn’t be complete unless I fulfilled this dream. Over the years, it started to feel more like a thing I would say, than a thing I was actually going to do. So much time had passed that I started to question whether this was something I still wanted. I was convinced that I wouldn’t know unless I tried. Luckily, Mike supported me in taking on this adventure together. Mike and I have each visited London several times in our lives, but this was our first trip to the city together. We went to London with the intention of getting a feel for the city and deciding if we really wanted to try to living there, together. I wasn’t a single person trying to make it in London on my own, it had to be a move that made sense for us both.
I was pretty convinced that we were going to live in London, though. Mike was hesitant, but I thought my only job would be to convince him. I got in touch with recruiters, I asked my friend who had moved there a few years prior a million questions, and Mike and I tried to live as “normally” as we could (run in the mornings, do work at local cafes, hang out with friends, and sample food all over the city for good measure). By the end of the week, we had a pretty good feel for what we loved and didn’t love about London.
I’ll start with the good.
Things I loved about London (not necessarily in order of importance):
It’s comforting for me to sit in a subway and hear dozens of different languages. It’s pretty awesome to have access to virtually every cuisine in the world. That’s what I’ve grown up with in Toronto, and as I’ve travelled more, I’ve found it to be very difficult to find that same level of diversity elsewhere. London is great for this. Relative to other cities I’ve been to in Europe, I don’t feel like I stick out as much. My only “complaint” is that the Chinatown in London is pretty lame. 😉
London is one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s not a surprise, then, that they also have a plethora of jobs available to those with visas. I had thought for a few years, that it was nearly impossible to get a job and a visa, but I think as long as you go there without too many expectations of trying to get a job in the same field you’re experienced in, it’s not too bad. In fact, I spoke with a few people while over there and they didn’t seem too concerned about finding me decent sounding jobs that were in my field.
Dogs in pubs, public drinking on the streets
Perhaps not a major point, but I really loved this!!! Not that we have a dog, but if we did, we’d want to take it everywhere with us and you can actually do this in London! Sometimes I’d have to watch myself in pubs because I’d almost trip over dogs resting by their owners. In Canada, you typically have to leave them outside (so they can stare at you with sad eyes) or on the other side of the patio if you’re dining outside.
I personally don’t drink that much, but I also liked seeing the after work crowd casually hanging outside pubs, catching up with friends… and not having to worry about getting fined. In Canada, there are some pretty strict rules against drinking “in public” (outside a licensed area), so usually people have to hide it with paper bags. It always seemed like a silly rule to me. Adults can be responsible.
Cheap food prices, so much variety and Marks & Spencer (the best store ever)
I felt that food was much cheaper in grocery stores and in restaurants, especially compared to Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland. We basically felt like kings after travelling through those other countries and paying their prices. Fresh juice was something I relied on a lot in London (and Bristol!). While it’s pretty common in Toronto and Vancouver, it’s not a “thing” at all in other countries we visited in Europe. We never had trouble finding juice bars, especially as we were often feeling under the weather in London. Ironically, we never felt sick in Switzerland despite the fact that they didn’t have juice bars, either…
Oh, and Marks & Spencer is pretty much one of my favourite stores, ever. Part grocery store, part everything else? Their biscuits are amazing.
Unlike our time in Switzerland, we ate all meals out except for breakfast. We were planning to go back to Granichen after London for a while and knew that we wouldn’t be eating out at all once we got there, so we took advantage of exploring the coffee and food scene in London. It was delicious. 🙂 Here are some of the places we went to, and liked:
- Bukowski Charcoal Grill – amazing burgers.
- Ben’s Canteen (Battersea)- great space to do work at, good food/coffee
- Chairs & Coffee – smaller, but we still did work here. AMAZING sourdough toast with avocado/chili/lime. They also did great eggs and giant portobello mushroom slices. SO GOOD.
- Local Hero – okay space. coffee was pretty good (not as good as C&C).
- Pizza Express (Fulham) – we knew this was chain, but, despite the cheesy name, the pizza was pretty good.
- Merchant’s Tavern – great food. But rich, and filling. We went here after our half-marathon (so with appetites) and still walked out too full for dessert!
- Strongroom Bar & Kitchen – fun spot for drinks. We did order fajitas off the menue, because it was the night before our half-marathon and wanted something very bland and plain. I wouldn’t recommend the food here, but would definitely go there for drinks.
- Ace Hotel – Bulldog edition – loved this place. Great atmosphere, so much seating to sit and do work at.
Random movie nights and restaurant street hagglers
One night, Mike and I were wandering around Shoreditch, waiting for our friend Heather to finish work and join us for dinner. The place we chose announced just as she arrived to meet us that they were turning off the lights, pulling out the projector and playing a movie with dinner. It was so cosy and cute. I just loved how random it was. This city is definitely great for keeping you entertained.
Perhaps not something I necessarily “loved” about London, but it was certainly entertaining. We have people standing outside restaurants on certain streets in Toronto as well, but they just don’t have the same personality or entertainment value as they do in London.
Things I didn’t love about London:
Travelling between neighbourhoods
While it may be relatively easy to travel outside of London, travelling WITHIN London is another story. We originally wanted to find accommodation near my friend’s flat in East London, but instead found an adorable room in a small house in Fulham. Mike thought I’d like Fulham, and he was right! It’s a very cute neighbourhood and it was a different part of London I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, it was a hassle to travel away from. Our friend lived not too far away distance wise, but getting to her was surprisingly difficult and time-consuming.
The air quality
This was major for me. I knew right away that the air was harder to breath as soon as we walked off the plane. Maybe it was more noticeable because I had a direct comparison to Switzerland? My skin reacted and broke out within the first few days, I felt wheezy, and whenever I blew my nose, I saw black gunk on the tissue (sorry, TMI). I couldn’t imagine living like this every day…
I left Toronto because I was burnt out and overworked. I wanted to slow down and have more work/life balance. I felt like London would have been even more fast-paced than Toronto and that worried me. My 20 year old self would have been excited and up for the challenge. My 30 year old self wanted to take a nap. If I was going to live and work in London, I wanted to have the time to enjoy it and travel around Europe in my spare time. Maybe it’s still possible to have that, but it was definitely something I was concerned about.
The (social) lifestyle
My friend Heather is one of the most social people I know. Simply put: she’s amazing. She’s one of those people who can connect with just about everyone she meets – and it’s not in a fake or insincere way. She’s held me every time I’ve cried in front of her, patiently listened to me, and opened up about her struggles AND triumphs in the many years that we’ve been friends. She’s one of my people.
Because she’s so wonderful, however, she also has a LOT of friends and a VERY active social calendar. London is perfect for her. I’m not so sure that lifestyle would have been perfect for Mike and me. I went out a lot in my 20s. I don’t regret it. I had to get it out of my system, I had a lot of fun, and some of my best memories and most important friendships were formed during those years. But, I wasn’t sure if London was necessarily the place to be if I wanted to slow down my lifestyle.
And they say housing in Toronto and Vancouver is expensive. At least I’ve always been able to afford living on my own on a single person’s salary. I’m pretty sure Mike and I would have had to make a lot of lifestyle changes, especially in the housing area if we had tried to rent a flat in London. My friend shares a house with 5 other working professionals. And most houses (that I’ve seen) have converted every single room that’s not a bathroom or kitchen into a bedroom. I don’t need a lot of space, but I do love having my own space and one that includes a living area to lounge and relax in.
So why didn’t we stay?
In terms of culture and the job market, this city has got to be one of the best in the world. And you can’t beat its proximity and accessibility to the rest of Europe (and the world).
Some days I regret not making better use of the work holiday visa that I painstakingly applied for. I feel like I wasted a really great opportunity to live/work in London once I finally had it in front of me. But, I was also travelling with someone who couldn’t actually stay in London with me unless I worked for a company that sponsored him, and what I wanted in my 20s (fast paced lifestyle, climbing the corporate ladder) is not necessarily what I want in my 30s. It was tough to finally admit that and move on from London, but I do believe it was the right choice. Doesn’t mean I don’t love that city though, and will always look for an opportunity to visit.