The end is the beginning – again – Travel Live Learn in London

Sarah Blinco London #TLL-London

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


Sustainable London leading by example

Sustainable London leading by example

London is a wonderful world city; most can appreciate this. What’s fascinated me about the place in recent years however, is the technology and progressive engineering that is emerging. ‘Tech City’, within London’s east-end, is the region’s equivalent to Silicon Valley, and home to many of the globe’s great technology companies. Additionally, innovative new structures are erected every year, each designed to better manage pollution and all the issues we generate as avid consumers of…. everything!

Co.Exist by international business brand, Fast Company, produced analysis on statistics in late 2012 which found London to be among the world’s top six greenest cities, alongside New York, and unsurprisingly, Vancouver, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Stockholm.

The city held firm at number five on Fast Company’s 2012 Top 10 Smart Cities on the Planet, for intelligent use of technology and resources; “Resulting in cost and energy savings, improved service delivery and quality of life, and reduced environmental footprint”. Environmental responsibility is determined by factors such as car ownership, green space, bicycle usage, solar installations, recycling and water consumption − all taken seriously by contemporary Londoners.


Loving sustainable London

The city is simple to explore on foot, so with a day to spare I decided to emerge from the Underground and take a look at what makes this place ‘green’, and what’s driving sustainability into the future. Helping me to discover whether we can indeed learn something from operations here was Stephanie from Insider London, an organisation which has recently added another interesting walking excursion − the Cutting Edge Green Tour − to its already comprehensive, personalised guided services that showcase London from street-level.

Following the green success of the 2012 Olympic Games, numerous projects were set into play thanks to newly introduced government funding, to encourage a lasting sustainability legacy, with an aim to better balance our human needs against those of nature. Green spaces within the city’s newer precincts are a must, and my first port of call with Stephanie − Central St. Giles‘ bustling office area − provided an ideal example. This interestingly-designed space features an excellent BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) rating, as 80 per cent of heat in the development is generated from renewable sources (biomass), 60 per cent of rainwater falling on office roofs and into the piazza is collected and used, 100 per cent of cooling tower water discharged is collected for re-use, 90 per cent of demolition materials were sent for recycling, and green roofs and roof gardens attenuate rainfall and heat build-up. Stephanie did point out that there needs to be a balance when it comes to roof gardens − if too much water or maintenance is required it defeats the notion of sustainability, but by the same token, greenery is being added to all major cities now as it defends against smog.

Sustainable London Walkie Talkie Sarah Blinco

We explored the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, which was one of the first buildings in the city to be green retrofitted utilising recycled and regenerated original materials. It features concealed solar panelling too, and an ingenious ventilation system − creating what’s described as ‘the Monroe effect’ − designed to conserve energy usually required to temperature-control museum spaces. The ‘Monroe’ terminology indeed alludes to the famous picture of Marilyn caught crossing an air vent, as this describes how the cutting-edge cooling and heating system provides an even temperature, thus preserving the oldest exhibits, including three horse-drawn vehicles from the mid-19th century.

From a spectacular stand-point on Waterloo Bridge, we discussed the successes and pitfalls of recent additions to the London skyline, the Leadenhall Building, nicknamed ‘Cheesegrater’, Strata Tower, also known as the ‘razor’ for its likeness to an electric razor, and London’s famous Gherkin Tower at 30 St Mary Axe. All new developments come ready-made with simple energy and water-saving benefits, including sensor lighting (turns off when not in use), LED lights, light and temperature monitoring and rain harvesting systems. While these buildings (and the majority of sky-scrapers in London) are now rated quite high on the aforementioned BREEAM scale, another of the clan, the ‘Walkie Talkie‘ building (20 Fenchurch Street), has been re-dubbed, ‘Walkie Scorchie’ because the contractor who supplied the glass has somehow got away with using material that heats up anything in its path; akin to a death ray from Star Wars! And yes, UK journalists have taken to the street to test a theory you could fry an egg within the beams of light emitted from the building, and indeed you can! Then there’s the Strata Tower where although green measures are in play, plans for a more significant level of sustainability didn’t quite pan out. There are three massive turbines at the top of the 147-metre-high building, which were supposed to generate eight per cent of the energy needs within, however, turns out they are far too loud for anyone inside the building to be able to think, and they cause vibration − like a small, incessant earthquake. The design team are to be admired for their idea though, and it’s quite sad it hasn’t worked out as planned. Could it be that other designers perfect such a scheme in the future?

Walkie Talkie building London Sarah Blinco

Back on street level, we discuss improvements made to the likes of the Southbank Centre, Royal National Theatre and London Eye which boast upgraded energy-saving ventilation systems and LED lighting. The new Blackfriars Bridge has been hailed “the sunniest bridge in the world” courtesy a roof made up of 4400 solar panels, which means it is apparently the largest solar bridge in the world, and the bridge produces enough clean energy to power about 50 per cent of Blackfriars transit station’s needs. Also worth a visit is the Southbank Centre Roof Garden − one of the city’s best-kept secrets − an oasis which features fruit trees, wild flowers, herbs, stunning views and a cafe and bar.

Wandering around we notice a few of London’s new fleet of electric buses ferrying commuters between central city stops. The new vehicles have three doors rather than two, which is not only more energy efficient but means additional staff score jobs as one more person is needed to man each bus (at the back end). Cycling is becoming more popular by the year here, particularly following the implementation of the ‘Boris bike’ and its hire system originally inspired by the city of Montreal in Canada, and one that has since rolled out around the world. New and improved ‘cycle highways’ are encouraging commuters to re-think costs that can be saved by cycling, not to mention the reduction of our carbon footprint and personal wellness benefits. Free, super fast electric car charging stations are now also located around the city, so you can plug in, nip into Marks & Spencer (M&S) for some groceries, and be on your way, petrol-free.

Sustainable London OXO Tower Sarah Blinco

Speaking of M&S, did you know it is one of the greenest retailers in the world? Just a few of the innovations the organisation has implemented since its 2007 Plan A eco-agreement are all lights in stores are now LED, plastic shopping bags come at a cost, their operations are carbon neutral and no rubbish is sent to landfill − it’s all recycled or composted. M&S also engage local British suppliers, recycle plastic bottles into polyester which is then used in some of its clothes lines, and sell fair-trade product. Another high street example of an eco-friendly retailer is Lush, who promote a ‘naked’ policy − no packaging where possible, which saves water, energy and transport costs. There are not too many liquid products sold at Lush, and a few of the company’s innovative items include tooth tabs (an environmentally-friendly alternative to toothpaste) and ‘hard’ hand-cream and body butter which looks like soap but rubs off and melts into the skin. The colourful and quirky Neal’s Yard in Covent Garden is an interesting place too, as the precinct hosts some of the UK’s leading independent organic and natural health retailers, including the famous Neal’s Yard Remedies which was founded quite ahead of its time in 1981.

View outside Walkie Talkie building London Sarah Blinco

Of course, mistakes have been made here, and there’s always room for improvement. In London that is particularly highlighted when it comes to water conservation, where the city struggles due to ageing and leaking pipes. However, plans are underway to address the issue, and citizens are behind the push. London has been internationally recognised for sustainability innovations such as congestion tax and its robust transit system. Importantly, because players at the top of the game are setting an example and encouraging sustainable lifestyles − gardens, cycling, conserving energy and recycling − the people are following suit. From my perspective, on my ‘home front’, many Australians are doing their utmost to lead the charge, but there are many others falling behind because of laziness and a poor attitude to sustainability portrayed by many regional councils. One would assume it would be harder to get people to act on a larger scale, such as that of a city like London or New York, but evidently it is entirely possible. And I think that’s a great message for all of us − no matter where we live − moving into the future.

While in London I also took the wonderful, informative and fun Quirky Walking Tour with Helen from Insider London. Two enthusiastic thumbs up if you’re seeking a better way to learn about this interesting metropolis. 


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Ask and it is given: law of attraction stories

Ask and it is given: law of attraction stories

I realise I’m a little slow off the mark, compared with a lot of people who have no end of law of attraction stories. I’ve just discovered the ‘Law of Attraction’, via an amazing book (bible?) lent to me, Ask and it is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks.

Evidently it’s all similar or the same principle as The Secret which was huge a few years back. Indeed the law of attraction stories in there were inspired by Ask and it is Given (you’ll need to listen to some interviews with the Hicks’ to find out more).

I’m learning in Ask and it is given that if we’re guided by how we ‘feel’, that we have the best chance of following our true paths. There are many, many inspiring law of attraction stories out there (and now, on this blog, like here and here).

When we feel great, as in, we feel/know things are right, then ultimately we’re doing the right thing and are very ‘connected’ with our source energy.

Law of attraction stories: the feeling of ‘home’ or belonging

Tonight, walking through my old London neighbourhood, London Fields and quaint Broadway Market (pictured below).

I remembered how every day here I felt happy. From the moment the flat ‘found us’ by chance, the energy in the neighbourhood felt right. It was the law of attraction. It’s a law of attraction love story!

I loved walking in that gate every day, loved the little flat, adored the park, markets, shops, dogs in pubs…

Every moment felt right, and leaving felt so wrong, to the point where I know I wasn’t meant to leave (at that time, anyway). Life was ‘right’.

The energy was flowing and I was meant to be there in that place at that time; perhaps in another life, I’d be there for longer.


Given these kinds of situations then, how do you get that feeling back?

How do you make another situation ‘right’?

Not that I’m unhappy with my lot (on the contrary, I realise I’m one of the lucky ones), but curious – anyone got any insights?

What are YOUR law of attraction stories? Let me know in the comments.

PS you might be able to tell from the newer posts in this blog – my law of attraction story ended up pretty great, because a few years later I’m back living just two train stations away from Broadway Market.



How has living abroad changed you?

How has living abroad changed you?

As I write this I’m mid-air on a flight across Queensland. I’ve been on a work trip, and in all honesty I’m a little sleep deprived, but it just occurred to me that the next time I’m due on a plane – in around seven weeks – I’ll be on my way to London again. While this space has been updated with travel advice, images, media clippings and social commentary, I haven’t updated recently on my true inspiration, travel. This site was born of my desire to share an experience that began in 2010 – that of changing tack, leaving life behind as I knew it, to move to the other side of the world to start again at 30 years of age. Nuts, I know. But the best thing I ever did.

How has living abroad changed you?

Loving + leaving a  new home.

When I was in Vancouver for a few months late last year, I caught up with a friend from there who lived in Australia for a number of years. We discussed how it feels to leave somewhere you’ve settled into – a place you’ve come to call home, that has offered new opportunities and regular adventures, not to mention chances for personal growth that can too often be missing in ‘everyday’ life. When she moved back home she couldn’t understand what it was she was feeling – sadness, depression, loss. A friend told her she was grieving for her life in Australia. Immediately I understood. Leaving London was like breaking up with a love of my life. I’d grown, lived, begun again, learned, travelled, ticked items off my bucket list that I hadn’t even imagined might be possible just a few months prior. I wasn’t at all ready to leave and am actually only just getting over this terrible ‘break-up’ now.

DSCN3421 [640x480]

I in fact investigated this experience further for a story commissioned by a national women’s magazine, and interviewed four women, all who, like me, moved to live and work overseas in their thirties – to Jordan, London, Hong Kong and Paris. Each, like me, agreed that making this move ‘later in life’ was in hindsight, more beneficial than going over as a young backpacker. Regardless of the fact that it’s a little harder to ‘settle’ when you’re a bit older, the opportunities to advance career and add new life experience to our repertoire of skills far outweighed any difficulties. Challenges became obstacles we overcame – these then transcended into achievements. One case study however, particularly identified with my feeling of loss. She fell in love with the ‘city of love’. A few years on, when I spoke to her, she was only just ‘getting over it’. She said that a second small stint in Paris was either going to ‘make or break’ it for her, but upon her return she managed to find some closure. She caught up with friends, walked her old neighbourhoods, contemplated the experience and happily, was able to move forward when she returned back home again to Australia.

Living for the moment; enjoy the ‘now‘.

I suppose the same will happen for me. Images of my old life have started appearing in my mind again: reading a book in front of the Tower of London, wandering around Broadway Market, gazing up at the old buildings from a bus navigating its way through Whitechapel, and squirrels racing through Kensington Park. It’s the little things – so different from my home in Australia – that are sometimes the things I miss the most. Those flashes of memory that come from nowhere, but that are often triggered by a sound, song, photo or the accent of a fellow traveller passing by in the street. Does anyone else agree? Buying a Tube pass, lunch from Tesco or dropping by a pub for a pint on the way home on Friday afternoon… I’m really looking forward to going back and retracing steps; and I’m excited to be inspired about the adventure ahead. Watch this space.

What’s your experience of travel, living and learning abroad? Share with us or Tweet me, @sarahblinco 

Alight Here (series): Haggerston

Alight Here (series): Haggerston

All about Haggerston and London Fields

As I walk back towards home from Haggerston station after seeing my love (that would be Cooper) off to work, it occurs to me that I probably have very little time left in what has become my new home. Saddened by this sudden realisation, I stop mid stride to take a look around, attempting to record it in my brain. It’s quiet here this morning, all except for a soft breeze and the sound of the 7am trains pulling in overhead. A black and white cat appears by me in front of the Duke of Wellington pub where I’ve paused. She stops to peer up at me as if to assess whether I’m friend or foe; we eye each other for a moment before she nods nonchalantly and proceeds with her morning’s exploration. Going home won’t be all that bad, after all, I get to see my dog again. We sorely underestimated how much we’d miss Harry, ‘our child of nine years’. I’m not a ‘cat person’, but here I’ve even begun to develop a soft spot for these slinky little animals – they’re furry and occasionally friendly – anything to remotely fill the ‘Harry void’. We’d fly him across from Australia, but he’s been in a good home for the past eleven months and we simply couldn’t put him through a long-haul flight and possible quarantine, especially now that he’s in the later stages of his life. So, we’re back to going home. I shouldn’t be sad, we (hopefully) have travelling time ahead of us yet, but I am teary at the thought of leaving this place, my new home where I’ve happily and peacefully settled.


Snapping out of my thoughts as I notice a park-dweller glaring suspiciously at me, I continue on my way. Crossing Queensbridge Road onto Middleton Road, I take special note of the buildings, developed, I read, by Sir William Middleton (a relative of the new Duchess of Cambridge, aka Kate, I’m assuming) at the beginning of the 19th Century. I enjoy walking in this area past these beautiful Georgian period homes that lead into lovely London Fields. Although I know there have been issues with gangs at times in the past, in my experience here I’ve just seen people having fun, BBQs in the sun, dogs playing, Broadway Market action and a generally great vibe and energy that’s made us both happy. Usually we rush about, but in this area we tend to stroll and take in the environment, patting dogs, making friends in the bars and admiring the old architecture of surrounding homes.

Middleton Road Sarah Blinco

No point in being miserable about leaving though, because life goes on, and as far as ‘problems’ go, this isn’t a critical one by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just a sentimental girl (especially when I read my posts from this time last year, as I prepared to journey over here to the ‘Mother Land’ /unknown territory); but I realise I’m lucky to have had the experience in the first place. It’s not been perfect or entirely as I would have imagined, but we’ve settled, lived and conquered London – something I never envisaged as being possible.

Just as I open the gate to our building I see a tiny ray of sunshine finally poking through the clouds following weeks of wind and rain. Hopefully we’ll have some nice days between now and when we leave. With that in mind I’ve resolved to spend some of my spare days recording what it’s like on any given day at the precincts that make this city tick – at tube / train stops around London – stops that act as vital arteries to this city’s existence. Landmarks that see thousands of commuters pass each day, for work, travel and leisure. I want to record what it’s like to sit and watch the Thames in 2011, or what the townsfolk are doing within historical Covent Garden or down by St. Paul’s. I’ll stop at train stations to capture their activity and reflect on what might have been going on there in the past. Each stop in London offers new and exciting parks, pubs, restaurants, cafes and hidden old gems, and being that I’m a tad obsessed by The Tudors at the moment, this seems like a fitting and worthwhile pastime, and conclusion to life as we know it in the UK. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll have the opportunity to come back and compare my musings at some crazy future date like 2031 (if the world doesn’t actually end next year, that is). Or perhaps, as others have come to England and followed in the path of Wordsworth, Shakespeare and Austen, maybe some soul who is a youngster this year, will follow in my steps and add their findings to this entry in the future. Who knows how it will have changed. I do hope the old homes are here though, and I would certainly assume that the Duke of Wellington pub (the same place we saw the historical Royal Wedding of April 29 take place) would still be standing… the pubs always are!

London Fields Sarah Blinco