Almost two and a half years ago I departed Australia on a new expat adventure. My destination was London, and everything to come was completely unknown. En route back to Australia I travelled through three continents, visiting Morocco, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, not to mention all the other countries I’ve added to my passport since I was last home. It’s been quite a ride.
In my first blog post about the move I listed the things I had: a two-year visa and my suitcase, along with the things I didn’t: a job, a place to live, and more than three friends in the city. It really is crazy is to look back on that time and all that was to happen over the next two and a bit years — so many things I could never have predicted or dreamed; so many expectations that turned out to be completely inaccurate, in the best way. I had done the living abroad thing before, so I thought I could plan a little how things would go, but the biggest thing I learned from this experience was to let go of expectations completely.
In that first post I mentioned checking in to a hostel I would call my home for the next ten days. Well, that turned out to be a huge underestimation — in that hostel I found my first home in London where I stayed for 16 months, many wonderful friends from all over the world; a job that would serve as a perfect safety net, allowing me the time to build myself up as a freelancer, something I previously thought of as unattainable; and a tall Italian who would be the star of my UK adventure. That a hostel would play such a huge part in my London experience was definitely the most unpredictable aspect of my time there. It’s not for everyone, but living in the hostel was one of the most fun, hilarious and random things I’ve ever done.
The time the guys actually rated girls walking past out of 10. They received only smiles in return — how does this work?
Some kid was born on my birthday:
Hostel living: the philosophy applied to any and all inexplicable/hilarious/ridiculous events experienced as part of this inexplicable/hilarious/ridiculous living situation.
A man in the park asks to sketch Nathan.
My farewell from AHP.
The hostel, Astor Hyde Park, is on a beautiful wide street in South Kensington, one of London’s fanciest neighbourhoods, just down the road from Kensington Gardens. I can’t count how many hours I spent wandering, running and lazing about in Kensington Gardens and adjacent Hyde Park, not to mention walking around South Ken in disbelief that I lived there.
The time a Hugh Jackman movie (Pan, still to be released) was filmed on our block. There were huge spotlights, fog machines and I could hear the director shouting ‘action’ as I tried to sleep well after midnight.
All this time I was steadily working on building my client base and becoming busier and busier with work, until I was able to focus solely on that. Serendipitously, in my last week working at AHP my boyfriend was offered the Manager position at a different hostel: Astor Museum, so after a month of summertime travel in France and the Netherlands, I was lucky enough to move in with him in beautiful Bloomsbury.
Leaving South Ken was sad, but discovering Bloomsbury was amazing. I fell completely in love with this gorgeous neighbourhood full of parks and garden squares; handsome old buildings very different — though just as worthy of admiration and photo-taking — from those in South Ken; history; and countless independent coffee shops that served me as excellent offices.
The location was spectacular for getting to know parts of central London even better. I absolutely loved our weekends: wandering down to Covent Garden for brunch, meeting a friend in Angel to find a new coffee spot, frantic shopping on Oxford and Regent Street, or practising handstands in Regent’s Park.
At Museum, I found a new hostel family.
We invented (maybe not) the closed-eye selfie and found it hilarious.
We made Christmas jumpers mandatory for the whole of December.
The time Kye got locked in the shower and it took at least 20 minutes to get him out.
I always believed the expat experience is worth the pain you will inevitably feel at the end when you leave the home away from home you have created for yourself, but I must admit I’ve questioned that philosophy a little over the last couple of months. A piece of my heart will stay in London, and it’s not easy. Maybe J.K. Rowling was onto something when she wrote that every time Voldemort created a new horcrux into which went a piece of his soul, he became a little bit weaker.
Arriving in a new place with little or nothing planned and finding your way is one of the most satisfying things I can think of; it’s why I’m hooked on moving around and discovering new places. There’s nothing like the pride of actually making a life on the other side of the world work, but then the chapter closes and all those wonderful moments become memories — and sharp pangs that haunt you for a long time afterwards.
There are a thousand things I’ll miss about that city:
Markets and festivals
Iconic buildings Incredible, free museums The crazy fun of Notting Hill Carnival
The parks, and watching them change
Sundays at Brick Lane with SA
Southbank and the river
Tube and double-decker bus rides
Camden and Notting Hill Christmas — there’s something unique about Christmas in London
And all the random moments in between