Tales of Travel: Leaving London

The decision to leave London was one that we made early in 2009.

Everything started to fall into place when Tall was head-hunted back by the company he’d worked for prior to us leaving Dunedin. He’d already put them off once, but with the doom-and-gloom recession starting to hit New Zealand, he recognised he was lucky to have received such an offer.

Flights to South America for one final jaunt on the way home booked and paid for, we then found out I was pregnant with Tiny. A few weeks of tears and “should we? shouldn’t we?” later, we both handed in our resignations, and began the process of packing up our lives and preparing to leave the country that had been home for almost two-and-a-half years.

London

I knew that the hardest part about leaving would be saying good-bye to my sister and her family (they stayed in England for a few more months longer), and to the wonderful friends I’d made. But I always knew we wouldn’t stay indefinitely, and that my sister would head back to Melbourne, and I knew that I would always keep in touch with those friends who really mattered. So instead of spending our last few months thinking about what we were leaving behind, we chose to make the most of our time and made sure we saw and did all those things we’d been putting off.

Picnic at Hampstead Heath with my sister and family

Things like visiting museums and galleries, going to see The Phantom of the Opera and having a picnic at Hampstead Heath.

Brighton Pier

Visiting Brighton, taking last strolls for squirrel watching around Hyde and St James’ Parks, and having one last shopping spree on Oxford Street and the maze of streets in Covent Garden.

Course four at Le Gavroche – scallops cooked with ginger, oh my!

Going out for a fancy eight course Michelin-star meal at Le Gavroche, and having “last drinks” at the various pubs we’d spent so much time in over the past couple of years.

Squirrel!! I love squirrels.

There were tears – copious amounts of them – and hugs I never wanted to end, and promises of keeping in touch. There were removal men collecting our boxes for shipping home, and strangers collecting items we’d sold on eBay. There were new tenants to take over our lease, goods to be donated to Oxfam, and food to be used up.

And suddenly, it was the 1st of November, and we were in a taxi in the driving rain, on our way to Heathrow Airport. The tears had dried up, and the excitement and anticipation of eight weeks in South America had set in.

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Tales of Travel: Living in London

Before leaving on our New-YorkNew-ZealandThailand adventure, we’d moved out of our St Albans flat – in deep, deep snow, no less (in fact, the morning we flew to NYC, we trudged from my sister’s house to the train station, in deep, deep snow…)! We spent a couple of weeks selling things on eBay and putting everything else into storage; it was scary how much stuff we’d accumulated in less than two years!

Snow at our front door…

Arriving back in England, we headed back to St Albans to stay with my sister while we looked for a new place to live; conscious of the fact that she had two young children, we wasted no time in figuring out what areas of London we’d consider living in, and set about the daunting task of trawling through ‘Flatmates Wanted’ ads online.

Tall was going to be commuting to St Albans six days a week (five for work, one to play cricket for Wheathampstead), so we needed to be near the Thameslink trainline. Our search, therefore, started in West Hampstead and nearby suburbs – the perfect spot with the train station for Tall, a good tube line to the centre of London for me, and loads of great pubs, bars and restaurants.

The first flat we looked at was in Swiss Cottage, a 10 minute walk from West Hampstead train and tube stations. It was on the third floor of a Victorian terrace, in a quiet street close to Finchley Road and not far from Hampstead Heath. The bedroom was huge, the lounge was even bigger, and the bathroom and kitchen were ginormous by English standards. The flatmates who were staying in the flat just happened to be a young kiwi couple, and we hit it off at that first meeting; she was huge fan of cooking shows on TV (yey for me!) and he was a massive Arsenal fan (yey for Tall!). We fell in love with the flat straight away, but had arranged to view another the same evening.

Swiss Cottage

That second flat was in West Hampstead itself, five minutes from the train and tube stations. The room was small but had a modern ensuite and a separate closet, and the rest of the flat was very tidy and had been recently redecorated….and the flatmates who were staying in the flat were – you guessed it – a young kiwi couple!

Knowing how quickly nice flats get snaffled up in London, we knew we had to make a decision immediately. That night, I called the first flat to say we were keen to take the room; it was tough situation as we didn’t want to seem too eager and scare them off, or too nonchalant and have them give the room to someone else. Luckily, we made a good impression, and they immediately agreed; the flat was ours!

Five days later, we were taking all our belongings out of storage and moving in to the flat that would be our home for the next seven months.

What I’m Reading

Book #114 on the BBC Big Read list is ‘Les Miserables’, by Victor Hugo.

I’ve seen the musical. Love it; know the songs.

I’ve had the pleasure of dining at the michelin-star restaurant named for the little urchin, Le Gavroche, in Mayfair, London.

However, I had no idea what the book would be like, and was expecting something depressing, gruelling and somewhat hard-going.

Let me tell you how pleasantly surprised I have been thus far, and how much I am struggling to put this book down at night. “Just one more chapter” (and bless him, they are nice and short), I tell myself….and another 15 minutes passes by.

Hugo writes a compelling narrative and intriguing, fascinating characters. The way he intertwines their lives is fantastic – and unpredictable – and his ability to capture the moment is phenomenal.

The descriptions of people living in dire poverty make me shiver and try to steel myself against biting winds; I’m drawn into their lives and imagine myself alongside them, suffering with frozen feet and surviving with barely nothing to eat.

Loving it so far, and I’m probably three-quarters of the way through. I can’t wait to get to bed tonight and read some more!

Tales of Travel: Windsor

One wintery Saturday in December 2008, my friend Jess and I took a train from the grey, concrete jungle of London to the rolling green pastures of….well….just out of London, to Windsor.

(That's fake snow)

Windsor is a beautiful town, with cobbled streets and gorgeous old buildings, a crooked pub and quaint little stores (as well as the usual high street offerings). We spent some time just wandering in and out of shops and alleyways….and watching as Santa’s sleigh was pulled down the main street by reindeer.

We had lunch in a traditional English pub that specialised in pies; the ceilings were low and the decor didn’t seem to have changed since the 1700s, but the pies were really tasty and were washed down with crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc.

Windsor Castle

After lunch, we wandered back up to Windsor Castle. The castle is simply beautiful, and the interiors were opulent and elegant and so very regal. It was amazing to think that we were walking the same carpets (mostly) as Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Queen Mary.

Queen Mary’s dolls house was a highlight – the detail and craftmanship were phenomenal – and St George’s Chapel (burial place of 10 monarchs) was beautiful.

St George's Chapel

We could have toured Eton, or visited Ascot, but chose instead to take a relaxed approach to our visit; we both wanted to see the castle most of all, and once we’d seen that, we were quite content to jump back on a train bound for London.

All-in-all, Windsor was a great choice for a day trip from the capital – easy to get to, easy to navigate, easy to enjoy.