24 April 2014

Things to do in London - Recommendations wanted!

I'm lucky, very lucky. To be living in this amazing city with all sorts of fun things to do at my fingertips is something one usually can only dream of. I have been here since Jan 2012 and have done and seen a lot.

Ive done all your typical touristy stuff...

Visited the Tower of London...

Climbed to the top of Tower Bridge...

Walked in the footsteps of the Royal family at Buckingham Palace...

Seen London through a a glass pod in the London Eye...

Whispered in St Paul's Cathedral...

Ive been to Covent Garden, seen Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre...

Snapped photos of Big Ben and listened to his echoing chime...

Had a pub lunch. Or several. And I've stared down the lions in Trafalgar Square and been to more museums than I can count. Ive also done plenty of day trips from London and travelled for weekends away to Europe. Ive done some wacky things, from running like mad in a city wide treasure hunt, to a Loo Tour, to doing the can-can with perfect strangers. No I wasn't drunk at the time either. For any of them.

What I'd like to do now is dig a little deeper. I want to do those things that are not your average thing to do or place to eat in London. I have started building a list (I have 15 items so far). Quirky restaurants, unusual tours and fun events that you would only find in this city. And here is where you come in. If you have been somewhere or done something I might find interesting, let me know! Drop me an email, let me know via facebook, comment below or tweet me! It can be a cute cafe off the beaten track, your favourite walk, an unusual spot or whatever you like! I'll try almost anything. So, what are you waiting for?

21 April 2014

Moving to Sydney - A Locals Introduction

When I moved to London, there was so much I didnt know and wish I did. It was everything from how to find a place to live, to where I could buy work clothes, to how to navigate the every day (post, transport, phone and internet, money). After 2 years, though I will occasionally still ask people about where to find this or that, I feel I have finally gotten a grip on living in London. These thoughts however have spurred me on to launch the #LondonExpatLife chat to help others.

In reverse though, giffgaff have asked me to share a few things about my home, Sydney, should you be thinking of moving there. As a local, there is so much I could tell you, but you would be reading forever. So, to make things easier, here are some introductory tips for moving to and living in Sydney.

Where to stay
I grew up in Sydney's western suburbs - it is suburbia to the max, and takes forever to get anywhere. Unless you are planning on living in Sydney long term, stick to the inner city suburbs or along the beaches. There are lots of popular spots, and other travellers who would be looking for housemates. Places along the beaches like Manly, Bondi Beach, Coogee, Cronulla, Bronte and surrounding areas are popular. In the city, for a trendy vibe, try Paddington, Annandale, Surry, Leichhardt, Balmain, or Glebe. But bear in mind these places do attract a premium rental price. Good websites are www.realestate.com.au and www.domain.com.au. Both of these sites do listings for flat shares as well.

The famous Bondi Beach
Street art in Glebe
Finding work
The most popular jobsite is www.seek.com.au so start your search there. If you are signing up with a recruitment firm that specialises in your industry, you can expect an interview so they can find out what you are after and to get to know you in person in order to better place you. Don't be afraid to sign up with more than one. It's also a good idea to find the names of companies you would like to work for because often they will do their own recruitment.

Sydney CBD skyscrapers
Where to shop
Pitt Street in Sydney city is the most popular shopping strip with a Westfield newly opened. In your local area you will most likely find a grocery shop (Woolworths - aka "Woolies" - Coles, IGA, Aldi) for everyday food essentials. For basic homewares and basic clothing, there is Kmart, Target, Big W. The two main department stores are Myer and David Jones. For electronics, try JB-HiFi or Bing Lee. Furniture, electricals, etc: Try Ikea, Harvey Norman, Fantastic Furniture or The Good Guys.

Where to eat
Sydney is not lacking in good places to eat, so there is no point in my listing all of them. But here are a few things I'd like to pass on. Coffee is amazing. You'd be hard pressed to find a bad cup of coffee. Also, you can get amazing asian food here, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Chinese: You name it, it's going to be amazing. If you are a fan of seafood, you should try the Sydney Fish Markets at least once! Be sure to get there early though. One of my favourite cafes in Sydney is Sappho Cafe in Glebe. Newtown is also home to lots of good affordable eats. If you are a fan of good Sushi, then you cannot go past Sushi Rio on the corner of Sussex and Liverpool streets in the city. (Thanks to my lovely friend Amanda for this one!)

This post has been sponsored by the international phone network giffgaff as part of their campaign to share insights by locals into their hometowns for anyone heading there on an adventure. I usually talk so much about London that it was a nice chance to share a bit about my own home and hopefully inspire you to visit, or ease you into living in Sydney, if you happen to be moving there.

If you live or have moved to Sydney, what is your top tip about moving there?

17 April 2014

Birdhouse Cafe - St Johns Hill

Stepping off St Johns Hill into the the hum of the Birdhouse cafe we're greeted with the warm smell of coffee. It's busy, almost all the tables are full but we find one towards the back and take a seat. A staff member appears provides us with sunny yellow menus on clipboards and a jug of water.

I scan the menu, all day breakfast and a selection of Bocaditos are on offer. Everything looks good but I narrow it down to the avocado with mint and feta on toast or the mushroom and goats cheese bocadito. Both are tempting but the feta/avo combo is calling to me. 

My friend decides on the butternut squash, caramelised pecans, spinach, roasted peppers and roquefort bocadito. Along with two flat whites, we settle in for a cosy catch up. The Bocadito is a good size and they must have used up an entire avocado for mine though it could have been better with a little more feta. The coffee is good, leaning more to the bitter brew than I prefer, but full of flavour all the same.

Its a small establishment but it has a continuous stream of customers. Some take a seat, others ogle the dessert cabinet and some stop by for a takeaway coffee. Its a pleasant place, and aside from the lady at the register when we went to pay (maybe she was having a bad day but she seemed a little grumpy) the staff are nice and dont rush you.

I enjoyed the Birdhouse cafe because it has a chilled atmosphere, good coffee and they serve you water without you having to ask - something loads of "good" restaurants dont do. If you find yourself in Clapham Junction one day fancying a cafe that is not a chain and does a decent coffee, take a walk up St Johns Hill and try a cuppa there.

What cafes in London do you like? Any I should try?

14 April 2014

London Loo Tour - seriously quirky

Its not every day you meet someone who is proud to call themselves a London toilets Amature Enthusiast. But Rachel is different, she is quirky, bright, friendly and is taking us around on a walking tour of London's Loos. Its "not a 'bog standard' London experience" and what else would I be doing for my first Saturday afternoon back in London?

Our tour guide Rachel
Following the Loo Lady and her plunger around London I learnt a few interesting factoids about London toilets. Did you know there was a loo with its own Facebook page? Its called the "Jubiloo" and its near the London Eye. There is also a nocturnal urinal near Embankment which i've walked past and over at least a dozen times and never knew it was there.

The Jubiloo - The loo near the London Eye
Also, there was the story of how The Big Stink got up Parliaments nose and forced them to find a solution to the Thames being used as a dumping ground - literally, the origins of the phrase "the wrong end of the stick" (its gross!), the privatisation of bathroom facilities in London and how the City of London is actually the best place to find a free toilet.

The Nocturnal Urinal - it rises in the evenings only!
It was one of the most unusual and quirky tours I have ever done in London and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I mean seriously, where else would you find a tour like that except the charming city that is London? The tour wrapped up in Cellar Door, a bar just off the Strand which, in keeping with the Loo Tour theme, was converted from public toilet.

Cellar Door - an ex-public toilet
Moving to the UK from the US as student, Rachel was interested in finding free things to do in London. She also refused to pay 30p to use a loo (who can blame her?) and when someone suggested she do a tour she thought why not? She has now being running Loo Tours for just over a year.

The last London street lamp powered by sewer gas
The thing she enjoys most about these tours is meeting the people who come along and hearing their stories - "almost everyone has a story, even if they don't, they do" - I was one of them, totally surprised by how much I knew and how much i'd noticed about different loos id been in!

Westminster has privatised public loos
So, if you are looking for something different to do in London why not let Rachel take you on a tour - I'm sure you will discover something new and have a few laughs in the process.

What other quirky and unusual London tours should I try?

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10 April 2014

Update from London

Hi all!

Im back in London and I have been busy getting over jetlag, sorting out work issues, organising catch ups with friends and planning fun things to do. I mean, who wouldnt want to go on a walking tour of Londons toilets, right? The life of a London expat :) Im happy to say that London greeted me with some lovely warm weather (allow me to clarify, that is warm according to London standards), sun and blue skies.

Im lucky to be staying with a friend for a couple of weeks while I sort out my work situation but after that i'll be staying a hostel - last time I lasted 6 weeks before getting a little fed up with inconsiderate people. I did meet my first friend there though so it'll be interesting to see how long I last this time around.

current view from my room - not bad :)

I think that one of the hardest things, when moving to a new country, is feeling settled. And despite having lived in London for 2 years, I dont expect I will feel settled for at least another 6 months.

A big part of this is not having a permanent home. When I left London last year, I had to give up my place and now I will have to jump through all the delightful hoops of the London real estate market all over again. I still cant decide if I should find a place of my own again (and pay through the nose) or start up my own house share. I think once the work situation is settled, that will help me decide.

Such a poser!

In the meantime, I have a little furry creature occupying my friends house who I'm totally in love with and is always on the look out for cuddles and pats. Nothing destresses like a purring kitty dont you think?

Dont forget, the #LondonExpatLife Twitter Chat starts next week, details are here.

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08 April 2014

Does it ever get easier to say goodbye?

No, it doesn't. I have been away from home twice now - three times if you count this recent period at home - and it doesn't get easier to say goodbye to your family, your friends or everything you know or have come to know.

Here is the thing. Even if you are leaving for a great adventure or opportunity, you are still walking into the unknown so it is hard to leave behind the familiar and the comforts of home. If you are leaving a great experience abroad to return home then its hard to say goodbye to those friends you've made, the life you created and that chapter in your life that will soon become but a memory. And if you are leaving home again, for the second or third time, you know what you are getting yourself into. You know about the struggle, the occasional loneliness, the things you will miss about being home, how hard it is on the people you are leaving behind and how much you will miss from each others lives.

Sorry if I'm rambling a bit, it is 7am Sydney time, almost 1am here and I'm on about 2 hours of airplane sleep. Probably not the best time to be writing a deep and meaningful post but I have the time.

OK, so how do you deal with saying goodbye? Here is what I think helps me.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings, say what you need to say, feel sad, feel a bit panicky. But set yourself a limit or it might overwhelm you. If you don't think you can do this then just skip to #2
  2. Focus on the positives. Why you are going? What is the long term/overall objective?
  3. Figure out a communications plan and visits. This will not just help you, but those around you.
  4. Distract yourself. Take silly photos, talk about anything but your leaving at the airport. Save that book you have been dying to read or movie you have been itching to see for the departure.
  5. Remember that it isn't really a goodbye, you will see the people you care about again.

I have to say, some of these are hard to do and I'm always keen to hear how other people manage. How do you deal with saying goodbye?

07 April 2014

Goodbye Sydney

Before the flight attendants tell me to switch my phone off, i just wanted to leave you all a little note to say that todays post will be late. I have been busy packing, spending time with my family and saying goodbyes that i havent had time to prepare a post ahead of time. By the way,  do goodbyes ever get any easier? Anyway,  be sure to check back tomorrow for a full post.

Hope you all have enjoyed your weekends and Monday treats you well. 

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