Moving to another country is stressful and there is no way around that. I allocated a portion of my mental energy to reminding myself daily how fortunate I am because otherwise I would have been consumed by the feeling that my life is falling apart. It became apparent how mentally exhausted I was when saw steak on a pub menu and asked Richard “What does 100 Z mean?”. With much amusement, Richard informed me that is meant 10 oz. And here I was thinking they had a dodgy printer than made the two zero’s different sizes! We dissolved into a fit of delirious laughter and I vowed to try and sleep early.
Our first week in London was emotionally tumultuous but I know that when we look back on this time, we will be grateful for the having had the experience of starting a new life somewhere so far from home.
London weather greeted us warmly for which we are thankful. The journey from Heathrow to our accommodation took just over an hour by train followed by a 20 minute exhausting walk hauling 66kg of luggage up narrow roads. I don’t know what I would have done if it had been raining as well! We felt ridiculously hot and gross after that and our 12+ hours flying but it was a relief to arrive.
The first couple of days were full of excitement as we discovered pockets of London and even bumped into an old friend from NZ who was travelling in the area.
My honest first impressions of my new home:
- Narrow! Streets, footpaths, stair cases – Richard and I struggled a little to fit our suitcases with us up the stairs upon arrival at our accommodation. Also, no ‘berms’ here. You walk on the edge of the footpath with cars whizzing by your elbow. I suppose they don’t have an issue with who will mow the berms here!
- So easy to get around – we started using the tube system right away and found it great to use. Google of course provides a lot of assistance with this! The first blip was the tube strike from Wednesday 8th to Thursday 9th I experienced a crushing urgency on trains and buses which rivaled rush hour in Xi’an. It also took a ridiculously long time to get around due to increased traffic and general mayhem as the millions of people usually underground were now above ground. Train stations have amusing tips on train etiquette:
- Cultural fruit salad – Both Richard and I have been struck by the wide variety of people living here in London. It is such a wonderful mix of cultures which we don’t get in Auckland. As a result, there is a huge variety of food available here! Many small grocery stores stock beautiful produce and interesting ingredients that make me itch to start cooking again. It’s so wonderful to have these small stores spotted all over the place exhibiting culinary styles from far and wide. HALF A KG OF CHERRIES FOR £1.80!!
- Dry – this is probably only a result of the season we have arrived in, but the atmosphere is very dry. My hair is brittle and is a great state of disrepair now. While we are on the topic, my skin has been very dry and temperamental since arriving here. Some of you will know how much that distresses me… BTW did I mention it was dry?
- Dirty – I naturally thought about how to say this nicely but I don’t think there is a way. The underground stations certainly feel polluted and the whole black nose thing happened after the first day of catching the tube. But the streets also feel dirty with smells of rubbish / sewage (though not from the Thames) wafting around every now and again as we walk about. We also briefly visited Hyde Park but did not settle down on the grass because the ground was littered with cigarette butts, bottle caps and other small pieces of paper and plastic. I had heard from people who have been here that London feels dirty so I was not surprised. Perhaps prior to leaving NZ, I would have been surprised that I felt this way coming from China but in actual fact, Xi’an was rather clean. The thing about Xi’an is that there are a lot of workers hired to clean things. Everywhere we went there were workers sweeping, mopping, wiping etc. Also there were very often poor people collecting paper and plastics for recycling as a means to make some money. As a result, not a lot of litter was lying about.
- Amazing fruit – thus far we have had nectarines, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, cherries, red currants, black currants, watermelon and granny smith apples in England. They have all been so delicious and I’m so excited by the taste and flavour of berries here. You can tell what I will be eating a lot of during summer!
Right now we are finding our life admin to be harder than expected. We have been told different things by different people and discovered nuances in the way things are done here which frustrate us. For a stressful first week, we were caught in the catch 22 of not having a permanent address so not being able to get a bank account and yet not being able to get a permanent address because we don’t have a bank account. It is easy to get consumed by the frustration and despite my best efforts, I have to admit I lost my patience a bit. After listening to several banks saying they were unable to help us, I began to feel at wits end. On Monday of week two we tried again at a bank where an appointment had been booked for us. The banker was berated by me before we left unsuccessful again. The following bank also turned us away but I stood at their counter and must have spoken with sufficient emotion to the lady behind the glass. Embarrassingly I was almost in tears at the helplessness of it all. It might have helped us however because she went to seek assistance and we were able to get an appointment 15 minutes later (instead of a week!). In the following hour we got our first bank account. I felt ridiculously giddy with relief. Who knew opening a bank account could feel like such an accomplishment?
I am glad we took some time to be tourists and visit Kensington Palace. We have no knowledge of architecture but it certainly felt very “English” in its structure and layout. The grounds were also incredibly vast. The fabulous weather made it feel so relaxing to walk about in. There were quite a few people around but nothing compared to what we have experienced in China. It was great to take our time and enjoy all displays.
We were fortunate to see the Fashion Rules exhibition which displayed dresses worn by the Queen, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana. One of my favourites was a dress worn by the Queen to the opening of the NZ Parliament.
I felt that the palace was grand but could certainly feel homely actually. It’s no wonder so many in the royal family have enjoyed and still enjoy living there.
Richard and I hope to enjoy more of the tourist attractions in the city before we become fully adjusted to life here. It will also distract me from shopping! Until we move into our new home, I will do my very best to resist buying a whole new wardrobe. No guarantees.
The adventure continues!