As I write this, I’m on board my last flight out of London for the foreseeable future. We’ve concluded a two year adventure in the UK and jetting off to Italy. Surrounded by fluffy clouds I find myself in a reflective mood. Our time in London and travelling throughout Europe has taught us so much about this part of the world and also about ourselves. Uprooting yourself and trying to grow in a new country is something I would highly recommend. Some things are hard, stressful and irritating, but in the world we live in today, I really feel it’s important to constantly expose yourself to different people, cultures and values. For someone who comes from a peaceful beautiful island nation, my time in London has taught me a great deal about appreciating my home; it’s beauty and the freedom we have in New Zealand.
Since we’re leaving, I thought this would be a good opportunity to share some thoughts on the big ticket good and bad things about London for me.
Both Richard and I were determined to travel as much as we could while in London (it’s still a novel idea that you can hop over to a totally different country for a weekend). If you fly one hour from New Zealand, you’re either still in New Zealand or over an ocean! London is undoubtedly a hub for travelling. Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport with 75.7 million passengers in 2016. By contributing a small effort to scan for flights, you suddenly find yourself receiving an education in world history, culture and food. And as a side note, Gatwick Airport has the hands-down best, most efficient security screening system of any airport we’ve ever been to – if only it were closer!
Pretty much every European country has some kind of delectable local food to offer explorative travellers and we have enjoyed trying as much as we could. If I’m going to be honest, I will admit that I don’t think I like ‘English Food’. For a nation that supposedly ‘invented’ fish and chips, I have probably only had one or two good fish and chip meals. The humble ‘pie’ is not the same as the pies in New Zealand so they also leave me disappointed. Generally I find the food, in comparison to many cuisines just around the corner, to be lacking in flavour and colour. The best thing about food in London however, was the plethora of restaurants reflecting a huge variety of cultures. There are great restaurants available serving solid Italian, Southern American and Turkish food, among many others. I cannot also forget to mention the cheap berries that I have indulged in every summer. (Groceries in London are much cheaper than in New Zealand so cooking at home solves any issues with not enjoying local cuisine.)
The Tube or Underground is a fantastically comprehensive system. Yes, it’s dirty, often cramped and much of it lacks proper air conditioning, but it gets you where you need to go better than pretty much every other public transport system. London and Paris top my list for public transport systems that are sufficiently expansive and frequent, along with being easy to use.
Brexit created a fascinating time for us to be in London. Prior to the referendum in the UK, New Zealand had its own referendum on changing the national flag. I thought this was preposterous, as did my peers. The result was to keep our current flag, leaving myself and the fellow Kiwis I spoke to quite happy. In the lead up to the Brexit referendum, I was surrounded by remainers and thought it would all work out just like the NZ referendum because surely, most people see sense? I still distinctly remember checking on the results at about 11pm of vote day as it showed ‘remain’ would win. Imagine my surprise then when I stirred at 4:30am and checked my phone to see all the votes for ‘leave’ that had come in overnight. I worked from home that day, but know from my colleagues that the office mood was sombre with some tears shed. It truly was a wake up call to how we have created silos, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people and forgetting about everyone who disagrees with us. Education and economic inequalities have reared their heads in many corners of the world, and both Brexit and the election of Donald Trump indicate how serious this imbalance is. New Zealand is mostly sheltered from all this political tension and drama in a way I never fully appreciated. My shock could not be conveyed to friends and family back home who saw it on the news, but saw it as something happening to a very distant land. Living in London in general and also because of these (and other) recent events has refined my political awareness. It’s also built on an ever-growing appreciation for New Zealand life!
For anyone considering moving to London, I would recommending reading ‘Watching the English’ by Kate Fox to gain an insight into English culture. I didn’t expect to have trouble with the culture because after all, the English settled New Zealand. But there are quirks, and I think the book helped me understand my English friends and colleagues better. Other recommendations would be to get an eye mask to help with sleeping (it’s hardly ‘dark’, even though it’s often grey skies), download CityMapper for transport, get Amazon Prime, and keep you mind open to trying anything. There is something for everyone to find in London.
There can be no regrets to this kind of experience and we certainly have none. As we head towards Australia to set up ourselves from scratch again in Melbourne, there will be many lessons from London we can utilise. We leave London with broader minds, more friends, and so many fantastic travel tales.