Europe 2015 Diary Entry VIII – London, England

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. 🙂

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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):

Diversity

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. 😉

Opportunity

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…

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Our “coffice” for a few days at Ben’s Canteen in Fulham. Great food, coffee, and work spaces.

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:

Brixton

Fulham

  • 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.
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I could eat this every day.
  • 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.

Shoreditch 

  • 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.

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Come for dinner and drinks, stay for a movie (and they’ll even hand out free popcorn!).

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.

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We stayed in Fulham (bottom dot) and our friend lived in East London (top dot). Distance wise, she was 8.6mi (~14km) from us. Not too far, but it took over an hour to get to her travelling with the subway.

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…

The chaos

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.

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My beautiful friend, Heather. I still haven’t forgiven her for moving across the world. Then again, I moved, too…

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.

Housing

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.

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I was surprised at how nice the kitchen in our Airbnb was. But the house itself felt isolated and lonely with every room having been converted into bedrooms which meant there were a lot of closed doors and no common area.

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.

alison

 

Europe 2015 Diary Entry VII – Bristol, England

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. 🙂

If I had to sum up my main memories of Bristol, it would be as follows: Clifton Suspension Bridge, jacket potatoes, polenta cake slices, and Wetherspoons.

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First sighting of the iconic red telephone booth. Had to snap a photo, obviously.

Bristol is another city that I would have never thought to visit if it hadn’t been for Mike. Back in 2005/2006, he lived and worked in Bristol for about a year (basically living my dream, NBD) and wanted to show me around. Throughout the years, he had told me a few stories of his “Bristol days” and I was looking forward to putting pictures to memories.

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The Clifton Suspension Bridge is a bit of a landmark in Bristol.

Unfortunately, the AirBnb that we stayed at was one of our least favourites of our trip. The room itself was actually quite cosy, and the bathroom was really modern and clean, but the host controlled the temperature and during the day, opted to turn it completely off. Keep in mind that we were here in the middle of the winter. While not as cold as Canada, the buildings are not insulated at all. At night, they turned on the heat so we were warm and content, but during the day, when it was turned off, it was colder to be indoors than outdoors. This was problematic because Mike was sick with a cold at the time. Obviously not planned, but we would have preferred to have the option to stay inside and take it easy until he was feeling better. In hindsight, it was probably a blessing because it forced us to wander around.

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Cute and cosy Airbnb room – at night.

We spent 3 nights and four days in Bristol.

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There’s that Clifton Suspension Bridge again. Photo quality not great, but it was so pretty at night when lit up.

Not surprisingly, the first thing we did after we checked into our AirBnb was go for a run. Mike booked our accommodation in Clifton because that was the area he used to live in. The first place he took me to was the Clifton Suspension Bridge because he knew I’d like it. I do love bridges!

After our run, we went in search of food and wound up at a pub. Since it was a Sunday, I saw that the bar was advertising a roast as one of their meal options. Now keep in mind, that I had no idea what a “roast” was. I know what a roast chicken is, but using a “roast” as a noun to include multiple items was confusing to me. Naturally, I began to quiz the bartender there about what a roast dinner was. I didn’t really get a satisfactory answer, so it took me a while to really grasp the concept of a “Sunday Roast”. I THINK a Sunday Roast is equivalent to a Sunday Dinner. Items on the menu can change but it’s a meal eaten at dinner time on a Sunday. Does that make sense?

In any case, after all that quizzing, I glanced at the menu and something else caught my eye – jacket potatoes. I mean, really? A baked potato served as a main, rather than as a side dish?!? Was I in heaven?

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I realize this picture is not the greatest quality, but I had to include it because this meal was pivotal in creating a long lasting obsession with jacket potatoes. This baked potato was topped with a delicious, mild vegetable curry.

I just LOVE baked potatoes, but in Canada, they’re typically topped with sour cream, loads of cheese, and other things I’m not into like bacon bits. And if you order them as a meal, they will not be satisfying enough on its own. I had mine with a lovely vegetable curry and a side salad. I tend to be obsessive about things I like, and I began searching for jacket potatoes at every restaurant in every British city we visited after that. #adulting

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At times, I felt like I was walking around my old uni campus.

Bristol reminded me a lot of Guelph, the city I lived in during my university days. It was small, cosy, and full of students. We spent most of our days trying out new cafes so that we could get work done during the day.

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Earl grey tea with hazelnut milk? The best.

One of my favourite cafes, Mockingbird, was a block away from our AirBnb. They had ginger shots (which we would order to try to fight the cold germs), great coffee and great tea. One day I ordered Earl Grey tea and had it served with hazelnut milk. It was amazing! I’m always looking for trends in cafes when I go to new cities, and a big one here were polenta cake slices. I’m obsessed with cornbread, so I was quite inspired to try as many different versions as possible. You know, for research purposes…

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Polenta cake slices! A reminder to myself that I must recreate these at home.

Two last major items on our agenda were to walk by Mike’s old apartment and to have a cheap Tuesday evening meal at Wetherspoon’s for nostalgic reasons.

It’s crazy to imagine what his life was like back then. Fun fact: we were both in the UK around the same time, but obviously didn’t know each other then. And I was travelling and playing tourist, while he was a resident. And I was in London and he was in Bristol, but you get the point!!!

Current (well, early 2015) photo of his old residence.

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Apparently his building used to be pink on the outside. I’ll try to get him to send me a photo some day to compare.

Old photo of his residence (dark pink building), taken around 2005-2006.

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Mike dug up this photo of the same place from back when he lived there. Loved the dark pink. 😉 And all the cars parking in whichever direction they feel like.

Regarding Wetherspoon’s, Mike warned me that the food was far from gourmet, but he had so many memories of eating there on a semi-regular basis because they had a “Tuesday Steak Club” meal that included steak, chips, peas and a beer for relatively little money. He was pretty excited to share this experience with me so of course we went. 🙂

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Wetherspoons Tuesday Steak Club: Steak, chips, peas and one mushroom with a pint of beer for less than £8.
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I quite liked the meal!

We also visited his old work area and had drinks at a nearby pub that he used to frequent often.

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Near the Bristol harbour, where Mike used to work. Pretty snazzy looking if you ask me!

Overall, I really enjoyed Bristol. Probably because I had my own personal tour guide and it was really fun to imagine what life was like for Mike.

img_0104It felt very liveable with a nice, low key atmosphere. My kind of place! I love any city that is built around or near a body of water as well. I imagine it would have been even more lively in the summer, so I’d love to go back and experience it then some day.

alison

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