This is our second stint living and working in London, and wow, was it easier this time around to find a place to live. Not so much in that it’s simple to get a place here – on the contrary, unless you’re seeking to rent a single room for yourself (which is achievable using services like Airbnb.com, spareroom.co.uk, easyroommate.com or Gumtree.co.uk), finding a home can be a tricky affair. It was easier for us this time however, because we knew exactly the area we wanted to be in, which is half the battle, given this can be one very big, daunting place for the uninitiated.
For those new to town, “homes” here usually come in the form of a studio (literally one room, possibly with a bed on a mezzanine level), one or two bedroom “flat”, otherwise known as an apartment or unit in other parts of the world. London’s renowned for its small spaces so don’t expect to rent a huge house or apartment which potentially you’ll be used to if coming from somewhere like Australia (unless you’ve already secured a high powered job – good on you if so). Never fear however, because London’s palpable energy makes up for any of these other concessions you may have to make.
When we first arrived in 2010, the only area we were aware of was Notting Hill because, you guessed it, we had seen the movie! We ended up in a studio room in Bayswater (next door to Notting Hill) which, while well situated in terms of transport and convenience amenities, didn’t really do it for me regarding value for money, comfort, nice neighbours and a homely type of feel. It’s also very touristy – not very “English” at all, unless you’re talking tacky Cool Britannia gift stores. When we first arrived we had no idea how to find a flat in London. In fact, everything we looked at seemed overpriced, dingy, dirty and overwhelmingly bad.
Fast forward a year on from the Bayswater experience, and by chance we ended up in a one bedroom basement flat in a gorgeous area of the east called London Fields. Our flat had been newly refurbished and was positioned as the lower section of a beautiful Georgian-period three-level home. This was a private rental that we happened across by chance (good timing) on Gumtree.com one Sunday morning – the location wasn’t even listed! We loved London Fields so much that we truly believe it was fate that lead us there. With a serene park up the road, coffee shops, markets, many cute dogs and nice people around, we’d finally discovered a part of the city we could truly enjoy; it is what I describe as “my authentic London”. London Fields presented an opportunity to settle in to a community, topped off with the conveniences and joys the east end now offers, including fabulous transport links (at that point our nearest stations were Haggerston and London Fields).
How to find a flat in London – top tips (particularly for first-timers)
This time around we knew we wanted to be in the east, which has really developed over the past few years to become the new, “hip” area of town. With fantastic overground and underground transport links, as well as bus routes heading every which way, and hot new bars, restaurants, coffee shops and cool communal areas opening every day, we knew this is where we wanted to be. Ironically, the flat (or one bedroom apartment/unit) we’ve ended up in is part of a relatively new complex we saw being built when we were last here, and we’d eyed it off saying, “we’d love to live there one day”! The application process and waiting period can be a bit stressful though. Patience is required. Here are my top tips on how to find a flat in London:
1. Start looking the moment you get to town – turnover of properties here is swift, and you have to be online and making phone calls every day to secure an appointment for the properties you want to view. There’s not much point in looking before you get here because real estate agents want you on the ground. Flats are snapped up in a jiffy so be on the ball and check your favourite websites every morning and afternoon. Our go-to sites included rightmove.co.uk and gumtree.co.uk (for private rentals and agency – but be mindful of scams, if it seems too good to be true, it most likely is.
2. Make calls rather than sending emails, in the interest of saving time.
3. Be mindful, real estate fees for those looking to rent may include the agent’s time for showing you around, referencing and administration fees. These are legitimate, BUT only if they’re outlined on a “terms and conditions” agreement. We once had someone try to charge us after showing us around, with no prior warning of a fee, and invoiced via a very dodgy PayPal transaction – I refused to pay and they did not chase me. These costs are part of finding a property here though, and can range from £99 (AU $200) so save your pennies before you arrive.
4. Have savings! In London you need around six weeks deposit, four weeks rent and additional fees (as mentioned above), and you’ll need to have this on hand (or accessible in a bank account/credit card) to secure the accommodation you want. Also, keep in mind it can take weeks to find a job here, and most people are paid monthly, so potentially you’ll need another month’s rent saved too. Rent here is expensive, but once you’re earning the pound it’s not as bad, and cost of living in London is actually rather inexpensive once you begin to “live like a local”, so keep that in mind at the beginning if your outlays are feeling really large and getting the better of you.
5. The referencing process is rigorous, so be prepared – ensure you have details of personal, rental and employer referees on hand, make sure they know they’re likely to hear from a referencing agent (in our case, it was via email) and ask them nicely if they would mind facilitating a swift turn-around of information. You may need pay-slips and/or personal taxation documentation (if you have been/are working for yourself), and ideally you’ll have (or one of you, if you’re a couple) London-based employer details, to show that income will indeed be coming in, and at what level it will be. The process can be a little stressful, but if you’re prepared with all this information and contacts on hand, you’ll be fine.
6. Be open to meeting the owners (landlord(s)) if they’re interested in meeting you. It’s great for keeping the lines of communication open and easy, and you never know when you might need to call on them.
7. If you need to establish yourself with anything from cutlery to kitchen appliances and linen, head directly for inexpensive options (until you’re earning the pound, at least) like the pound stores (e.g Poundland, everything just a £ (situated on most high streets/within high traffic areas)), argos.co.uk, Primark and Matalan. When I first moved here I bought everything from M&S because I didn’t know any better – talk about watching as your money disappears faster than you can say Superman!
Essentially you need to be organised with information, thorough with following up on all aspects of the process with your agent, make sure you have funds saved and available, referees ready to vouch for you, and details of your past, present and future financial situation on hand.
Also, don’t take it for granted you’ll be approved for the property you hope for – have a few options on the boil until someone makes you a solid offer. You definitely need a plan A, B or C, otherwise you’ll be in that hotel/hostel/staying with friends for a good while.
If you’re unsure as to where in London (or any big city, for that matter) would best suit you, do some research – ask your friends on social media for advice, or drop a line to bloggers and expats on the ground in the city – most are happy to share what they’ve learned and we’ve all been in the same boat. Don’t just choose an area because you’ve seen it on TV or because a friend recommends it – it might not feel or be right for you, or it could be miles from where you’re meant to be working. If in doubt, and if possible, consider signing a six month lease so that if for any reason where you first end up isn’t ideal, you can move on. In summary, read, ask questions, and discover a life you love here in old Blighty!
Do you have a question, or perhaps additional advice to share? Please let us know in the comments below.
I tell everyone I meet how amazing it is to be back in London. I’m so grateful, and I think I’m being rewarded for a positive attitude because it’s been sunny! And hot! Although I could do with it being a few degrees cooler (don’t tell the locals I said that though, they’ll not be pleased with me). Have I mentioned lately that I just love it here?!
It’s been a jam-packed first week in London as we hunted for accommodation – a task we commenced the morning we stepped off the plane at Heathrow. We’ve been blessed in that we have two beautiful friends, Barry and Paulo, who invited us to stay with them in SE1, not too far from Tower Bridge. This enabled us to not have to worry about expensive hotel fees while house hunting, and we’re so thankful to them for sharing their space with us. We met Barry and Paulo on the Mediterranean cruise we did back in January of 2013 and have been friends ever since, although this was an opportunity to get to know each other much better, and let me tell you, they are two of the nicest people you could ever know. I’m not even saying it because they read this space, in fact, they’ll probably never see this post, but still, we are lucky. They even got us into a new show, The Honourable Woman, which we’ll continue to stream on BBC’s catch-up viewer online.
We explored trendy Bermondsey – an area new to Cooper who took to sampling a Guinness in every pub we encountered (he’s on holidays, after all); and indulged at Brick Lane Coffee along this same strip which offers a funky, arty-type atmosphere, nice coffee and fast free WiFi. Another business of note which we found here is Holly & Lil, Handmade in England – a boutique pet store with gorgeous wares and cute dogs hanging out inside for good measure.
We also sampled our way through Borough Market – tip: find the vegetarian Indian curry stand – best curries I’ve had in a looooong time. Delic!!
As Tower Bridge, Tower of London and St Katherine Docks are within a short walk from this area too, we explored across the Thames to where, this very week, moving tributes commemorating the beginning of World War 1 – The Great War – have commenced.
On Tuesday, Barry, Paulo, Cooper and I wandered across for dinner at The Dickens Inn, a divine pub situated along St Katherine Way, a bit of a local secret, even though it’s only a few steps beyond the Tower of London and the bridge. The reason for our journey in this direction though, aside from dinner, is that we wanted to see what’s being called an “evolving installation” by artist, Paul Cummins, and award-winning stage designer, Tom Piper, surrounding the famous Tower of London. Called Bloodswept Lands and Seas of Red, the installation is, in fact, thousands of ceramic red poppies which by 11 November 2014, will be “planted” around the Tower of London, and will number 888, 246 representing all British military lost during the war. The poppies – each uniquely hand-crafted – will be sold off in November and monies raised will be shared between the UK’s six key service charities. –Read more here.
Tip: Head into the area late afternoon so you can view it all as the sun goes down and then prettily lit up into the evening.
Night fell around 9pm, and the sound of canon fire from outside the Tower of London rung through the air. As we walked across the bridge we could see smoke billowing out from around the river front – a surreal experience in 2014! We then noticed a tower of blue light beaming into the night sky in the distance. We’ve since discovered it originates from Victoria Tower Gardens, and is another of the city’s commemorative nods to The Great War. On closer inspection, the light – called “Spectra”, by Japanese sound and light artist, Ryoji Ikeda, is a square of black matting on which 49 powerful spotlights are beamed upwards into eternity.
Background story and image source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2014/aug/05/ryoji-ikeda-spectra-first-world-war-artangel
The light was actually launched on the evening of the fourth, when the city plunged into darkness as a mark of respect commemorating the beginning of a terrible and tragic time for families of the period. It will be visible for seven evenings from sun down, and I hope it reminds everyone of how lucky we are 100 years on. “Spectra” is visible for miles across the city, and indeed we can see it from our new place in Dalston, east London.
Spectra and London Eye visible from Dalston – evening view across the East by Sarah Blinco.
All in all it’s been a memorable and wonderful first week back. We’ve now secured a place to live and are gradually catching up with friends. Here are some of our discoveries, August 1 to 7, 2014:
Best free WiFi:
Costa coffee, Shepherd’s Bush
Westfield Shopping Centre, Shepherd’s Bush
Brick Lane Coffee, Bermondsey
Le Ziz Restaurant & Lounge Bar, Dalston Junction
Cafe Route, Dalston Junction
Brick Lane Coffee, Bermondsey
The random little stand on platform 2 at Highbury & Islington train station
Lime Orange, Victoria (Korean cuisine)
Le Ziz, Dalston Junction (Turkish)
Dalston Eastern Curve Garden
“Rip it off like a band-aid,” I said.
“What?” Replied my brother.
“Rip it off like a band-aid,” I repeated, “You know, make it quick.”
“Oh, right,” he answered.
I was referring, of course, to our final goodbyes – the worst and only bad part about leaving one home to go and live in another that just happens to be far across the seas. I once had a conversation with a friend of mine, Melissa, who loves the UK like I do. We only wish England and Australia were closer. Yes, theoretically it’s only a flight away, but it’s a big one, and in some instances seems rather too long, tiring and expensive. Of course, these aren’t points I bring up when trying to make my mum feel better about me leaving, or things I dwell on when I’m sad about leaving my loved ones and my dog.
This past week was lovely but quite draining. If I could leave without saying goodbye to anyone I would. Not because I’m heartless and rude – the opposite in fact. I don’t like goodbyes and really didn’t know how it would all end.
Last time around I left with a heavy heart and eyes overflowing with tears. It’s not that I didn’t feel the same this time, but I discovered the way to deal with such situations – humour. I can thank my brother for that. I’d spent weeks worrying about final goodbyes with some of my best friends and my lovely mum-in-law, sisters-in-law and of course my immediate family. On the Gold Coast though, my time with good friends was spent laughing, not being sad. And at home with mum in Brisbane, Josh, my brother, simply turned potentially teary moments into funny ones. Like when my mum started to get upset over a lunch, instead of telling her to turn off the tears (the only tactic I know!), he made a reference to the “Last Supper”, and then we were laughing.
Leading up to my departure too, we had a terrific dinner at a fab Japanese Izakaya restaurant called Wagaya, which was filled with laughter and bubbles (champagne, that is – my idea, of course). We transformed trembling lips into fun moments, and instead of “consoling ourselves” about the end of things as they are, we planned for the future and talked about all the good things we’ll do together.
We reached the train station with only a few minutes to spare, which was ideal because there wasn’t time to get too upset. Hug it out, wipe away tears and bid a quick farewell. Rip it off like a band-aid. It’s just easier that way, in my opinion.
3 lessons I’ve learned on how to cope with the goodbyes that matter
1. Don’t dwell on the negative or on being sad. You can end up in that space for hours, and to what end?
2. Love and laughter are the answer – laughing trumps tears every time.
3. Drink champagne and celebrate all the things you have to be grateful for and happy about. Life is an adventure – always drink to that.
On a final note though, I’ve realised something else important – that I’m lucky to have even one person, let alone a few, who would shed a tear about me not being closer by, just as I shed a broken-hearted tear (or rather, several) over having to leave my dog behind. Is that really how my mum feels? It’s traumatising, but that’s a whole other post, unless I take my own advice written down here.
Fellow expats – what’s your experience saying goodbye? Do you have tips to share for those who are leaving and/or those that stay behind?
Announcement – Travel Live Learn in London
We’re about to do something insane – again! It’s the same crazy manoeuvre which actually brought to life this space, originally named, “Sarah’s blog: Cool Britannia”, launched to share our expat experiences in London. For the past few months I’ve been bursting to announce something but needed to wait for one piece of paper – a very important document – the visa. It FINALLY came, and so here we go on another life-changing adventure. Honestly, it is overwhelming and not a decision we take lightly; but our hearts are in this big move, and the approval of my visa sparked a happy dance in the front yard. Fortunately the neighbours already know I’m a “unique character”.
We’re going back to England! Yay! And it’s no insignificant “yay” either, but a, “I’ve-been-waiting-since-the-day-we-left-London-to-go-back” kind of “yay”.
The move this time isn’t so straightforward though, with a more specialised visa requirement which had to be fulfilled (rather than the youth mobility visa which is fairly accessible if you’re under 31). My head’s already there, and my heart never left, but there’s been an anxious period this year – while this is what we want, it’s still really difficult telling loved ones and nice employers/clients/friends that you’re leaving. We’re so lucky to have people who don’t want us to go, but even though I feared the worst prior to each of these conversations, everyone’s proven to be supportive and kind. Not to mention most were not surprised – it seems my unconventional reputation precedes me.
It’s not so easy having your dream be so far away (“home” being Australia), and pursuing our various goals does come at a cost, which at times causes me quite a bit of anxiety, and even guilt. It’s a tough decision to move so far away – it’s not like a move from Cairns to Sydney, Edinburgh to London or even Vancouver to New York, for that matter (and they are big changes); there’s a reason people carefully consider trips to and from Australia – it’s a bloody long way from anything! It would be remiss however, to not follow the advice that I give others every day – life’s too short to not do what’s in your heart, particularly if you have the opportunity to do it, and with the support and companionship of your best friend. I’m lucky and extremely grateful.
I can’t wait to move back to London. The moving part this time is probably the easiest – we know where we want to live, what to do or not to do and with a second chance at it all, we’ll be sure to make the very best of it. We have to, you see, in honour of the goodbye tears that will be shed over the coming weeks.
On the exciting side of things, I’m looking forward to sharing it all with you too, as I secretly (or not so, now) harbour a desire to become a London expert. They say do and share something you’re passionate about – well, fellow fans and future fans of one of the greatest cities in the world – get ready to share the ride with me. It will be filled with colourful places, culture and vibrant people who also call London home; but aside from anything, the story and this space will be abundant with love and passion – for life, for opportunity and for adventure. Thanks as always for your support. Be true to yourselves regardless of how weird or unique you and your aspirations are. Remember, if you’re stuck on a life mantra, you’re free to adopt mine: Travel. Live. Learn.
Have you gone through this roller-coaster ride on your path to expat life? Or are you considering taking the leap but apprehensive? I’d love for you to drop a comment below -Sarah
Well, that’s it then.
After all that it appears it may already be over. In case you hadn’t figured it out, I’m writing this on my last morning in the UK. I never thought that on my way towards Canada (my ultimate travel destination) I’d feel despondent; I feel a bit like a broken-hearted girlfriend not ready to let it all go. Moving to England had its challenges and certainly it took us a good six months to settle in. Overcoming it all is part of the ultimate achievement though; in April we found a ‘home’ in a chic London Fields neighbourhood, settled in, the weather was sweet and I fell a little in love with London.
Apparently all good things must come to an end and although I’m grateful to finally get to travel to Canada again, I am sad to think it might a long while before I return to my ‘mother-land’ (which originally I had joked about, but I literally just discovered the sentiment to be true in a cool twist of history this week). Here is a land where I’ve fitted in, where the shopping is great, the people fun, surroundings energetic, buildings like The Tower of London are old and amazing and history of The Tudors and co. are everywhere in a contemporary setting, media and travel opportunities abound, and the pub culture is something that I actually enjoy…
Isn’t it ironic when you feel more at home somewhere else than ‘home’. Sounds like a song.
In preparation for this day, I’d compiled a list of my favourite things about England, specifically London. So, in celebration of the good times (which more often than not were at Bar Soho with our mates Nicole and Iain, Janice and Craig or the Fairbairn’s) I give you:
The things I love most about living here (ongoing list compiled 2010/2011):
1.It’s so cool (weather-wise) that I can wear my hair out (and grow it)! A simple pleasure but one that is difficult to enjoy in Queensland’s humidity.
2.Being able to wear hats, scarves and boots (special mention to Accessorize, and the accessories at Camden Markets)!
3.Darren Hayes and Gillian Anderson live here – awesome!
4.Seeing dogs bemused by squirrels in the park haha. And on that note, Squirrels score their own mention – I love ‘em. Have you ever noticed how they seem to play in pairs? So cute.
5. Grabbing a Starbucks latte on the way to the Tube.
6.My truly, genuinely nice bunch of Sparkle girls.
7. London Fields, Middleton Road, The Pub on the Park, Broadway Market.
8.Dog people – everywhere!
9. Having the opportunity to meet inspiring writers, journalists, and people from all walks in general who are just really good (and accomplished) at what they do.
10.That people say ‘Bless You’: from others outside the UK it sounds a little out of place (except for my mum, she’s cute and has always said this); but many people say ‘Bless You’ affectionately here. I think it’s sweet, and quite ‘English’ in my experience.
And an honorary mention to Tesco, Saisburys, Waitrose, Boots and Superdrug – I miss you already.
It’s with a lump in my throat that I bid farewell to my ‘other’ home, all gloomy weather and grey skies that you generally may be. I hope to see you again sooner than anticipated. In the meantime who knows where we’ll end up? I only hope that the wishes we made upon superstitious monuments in various parts of Europe come true: that we continue to live happy, healthy, inspirational and adventurous lives. But shortly – time for a maple syrup fix! x
Just this morning I was pondering what we would do now; what would we talk about? This time a week ago we had the big, romantic wedding and street parties all around. Then the weekend was topped off by the news that Osama Bin Laden had finally been captured and killed.
Ironically enough, I stumbled across quite an amusing editorial in The Daily Telegraph by Hannah Betts which proved I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines. It really was such an amazing event: “For a few hours we came together as a country in a way that no sporting activity, or religious celebration could muster. In a multi-media age, where the populace rarely views the same subject matter, we united on a single theme“. Am sure quite a few of you will, with a knowing smile, agree…
Have you fallen into the arms of post-wedding-day blues?
After celebrating the royal wedding our nation is left deflated, says Hannah Betts.
Look deep into your soul and ask yourself: do any of the following symptoms sound familiar? A wistful longing for romantic conviction; the feeling that one might be a tad chubby or lacking poise; an overwhelming sense of drabness; an indignant rumbling to the effect: “Where’s Monday’s bank holiday gone?”
One week on from what the nation is still rapturously referring to as “The Wedding”, a certain post-nuptial depression would appear to be afflicting the collective female psyche. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Great Wedding Wobble.
Personally, I am no ardent monarchist, without being a republican; I am not looking for Mr Right; nor do I believe in marriage. Nevertheless, my own wake o’ nuptials malaise set in last Friday at 4pm prompt.
What, no more watching royals motor about the capital? No further tittering at Beatrice’s titfer? No more fashionable nose-upturning at the former Miss Middleton, who – even former naysayers must concede – pulled an absolute blinder? How could we be expected to wean ourselves off the eye candy so quickly? Surely the couple had a responsibility to fulfil their role as reality television stars to topple Essex’s finest and commit their wedding night to the small screen?
The male commentator who described the wedding as the “World Cup for women” didn’t come close. For when has the outcome of a football match made anyone question their quality of life? The introspection – ye gods, the introspection! I may not want to get hitched, but the couple’s beatific happiness (after 10 years!) reduced me to a gibbering heap. Theirs was a radiant certainty that I have yet to feel about anyone or anything.
Happily – unhappily – I am not alone. Legions of otherwise sane women would appear to be suffering post-nuptial angst. For those enduring separation or malcontentedly single, the wretchedness is palpable.
Said one 38-year-old divorcee: “I couldn’t help but reflect on my wedding day and the confident assumption that my life was complete. And yet here I am living alone in a bedsit, with unhappy children and an incandescent ex. The pair’s tangible warmth crawled beneath the armour I had used to protect myself, causing me physical and emotional symptoms.”
Another friend, awaiting her prince just shy of 40, admits: “It’s the first time we’ve seen a royal couple so genuinely in love and, once the excitement had passed, it was so deflating – and a stark reminder of where we are not in our own lives. It was all so damn effervescent and now life’s the opposite. To be honest, I’m a little green. They’re 10 years younger and have a happy road ahead, whereas they’ve left me looking backwards.”
The image of the oh-so fragrant Duchess of Cambridge has led to some particularly self-lacerating feminine critique. As one staunchly sensible career woman bemoans: “I am (secretly) jealous of everything: her poise, having so many amazing pictures of her big day, that incredible mane of hair. I found myself in Prêt the other day thinking: ‘Well, I won’t buy the Caesar salad because Kate wouldn’t get that. Mind you, nor would Kate have that second bottle at lunchtime or go to bed with her slap on.’
“Her stellar performance has made me look at my own existence and find it wanting. Moreover, without any desire to get married, I’ve started thinking: ‘A dress with a 9ft-train really is the minimum.’”
The incredulity with which such confessions are expressed cannot be exaggerated. From our Slough of Despond we wail: “Is it only a week since Blighty thrilled to cartwheeling vergers and pirouetting plods?” For a few hours we came together as a country in a way that no sporting activity, or religious celebration could muster. In a multi-media age, where the populace rarely views the same subject matter, we united on a single theme.
A self-confessed pessimist remarks: “I had a strange sense during the wedding of losing all cynicism – and that so had much of London. There was a genuine air of camaraderie. For once we had good news – and on an epic scale.” The sense of jaundice and ennui that marks the comedown from this delirium would appear to be universal, even among those who like to be modishly countercultural.
And late 30- and 40-somethings – who prefer to imagine themselves as young – remembering Diana’s first-born crawling around in his romper suit have felt dispiritingly middle-aged. And all of us have had to face the end of that stretch of sunlit loafing born of consecutive bank holidays. “There’s simply nothing to look forward to,” comes the lament.
A nation mourns, or rather, sulks. Zara Phillips, take note.