Snow in Europe has always brought with it many happy memories for me – the first time I saw the real thing in England was exactly a year after taking a one-way trip to the country and getting my working visa stamped. It was amazing having it on my doorstep and between building snowmen in our backyard and having snowball fights with friends I knew the European winter wasn’t as bad as the naysayers in Australia told me.
The next time I saw it was in Chamonix, just next to Mont Blanc, two years later almost to the day. The 2013-14 winter brought no snow – something which was particularly frustrating as my parents had come to visit for a white Christmas and just got rain instead – but my first skiing trip with my snowboarding-obsessed boyfriend couldn’t have been more spectacular. We didn’t have a chance to build a snowman and my skiing was as terrible as I remember but I was introduced to a new and wonderful concept called ‘apres ski’ :)
This year, I’ve been pleading to the weather gods to bring me some snow. We’re still stuck in this little village just outside Stuttgart while we look at apartments closer to the centre, which is not so bad now that my schedule at work is dying down, but one of the positives of living so far out of the city is that when it snows, it’s like someone has taken some whiteout and turned your whole area into something from a wintery Christmas cartoon.
The trees sparkle and snow covers your coat and scarf as you walk along the street. It’s perfectly soft under your feet and as you find parks and long walkways nearby you really start to feel like you’re in that Christmas movie.
So many Europeans complain about the snow, in the same way we Australians complain about the hot weather. I hope I never lose this excited feeling over seeing it fall and settle around me, because it makes the winter so much more enjoyable. When we noticed the flakes falling at rapid rates on Friday night, despite being in my pyjamas and suffering from a bad cold, I was dressed and ready to explore within minutes. And what we found, even in the dark, was pretty spectacular. Perhaps it’s partly that it reminds me how far away from home I am, and how happy I am to still be having this adventure.
I have fallen off the radar with posting lately. With the end of the year came more work than I had ever done in my life, preparation for the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, short trips booked within two weeks of one another and changes happening once again in my career that gave me little time to breathe, let alone write. But now I will get back into this, and as it slowly becomes my only outlet for writing I’m going to make it an important part of my schedule!
So, at the end of November, on the back of heading to Portugal to visit a friend, I made the trip to Liverpool to see another. And the friend from Portugal came too. And some girls from London as well. Somehow it ended up being a complete reunion of most of my favourite people on this continent – something that seemed to happen by complete luck as we can hardly find time to Skype nowadays, and it was a meeting that likely won’t happen for a long time thereafter (until I get married perhaps). It certainly made my 12 hour travel time consisting of a train to Munich, then a flight to Manchester, then a train to the hostel totally worth it.
So when we arrived we had dinner and cocktails on the waterfront, and it already looked like a beautiful city, even in the rain and with cab drivers refusing to take us the short trip back to the hostel. By morning the sun was shining, a rare sight in an English winter (I know this from experience), and we took the opportunity to walk around and see the city from one side to the other. The shops were bustling as Christmas crept up and with an ice skating rink in the city centre, along with a few German-style christmas markets here and there, it made for lots to see as we wandered around the waterfront once more and took in the sights of the huge ships with fellow tourists. Eventually we came across Mathew St, the place in Liverpool cashing in the most on The Beatles’ fame. They played regular gigs at the Cavern Club before becoming household names and with two venues across the street from each other there’s something for everyone, and I could enjoy my first English cider since we visited London a couple of months before.
After our own little tour of the street we headed to Hard Days’ Night, a classy cocktail bar with Beatles themed cocktails, and a friend insisted we try a Ringo’s Drumstick, a lethal vodka martini with a lollipop for added flavour.
Thankfully we survived the experience, and equipped with our Liverpool ‘costume’ purchases – fake tan, fake lashes, hairspray and double-sided tape – we headed home to get ready, enjoying the sightings of girls walking around in public with their rollers intact along the way.
The night brought a lot of drinking and dancing. We were advised not to bring our coats despite the negative temperatures, because Liverpool nightclubs don’t have cloakrooms, and the pre-drinks gave us just enough courage to take such advice. Everyone in the bars were so friendly, and the music was aptly 90s-esque, making for a brilliant night out. After arriving back at the hostel at around 5am, we finished our late night snacks with some visiting French and Irish guys who could play Oasis songs on their guitar.
The next day brought a lot of pain as we licked our wounds at a Wetherspoons, and once again I was reminded why their roast lunches are only 7 quid. We all had long journeys ahead of us to get home – my Portugal friend’s was the worst, as she had to take a plane at 6 the next morning from London and had planned to sleep at the airport – mine wasn’t much better, as I contemplated arriving at Munich at 11pm, and hiring a car to get home in time to prepare for a job interview the next morning.
Of course, a couple of months after the trip I found out Ryanair is going to start flights from Stuttgart to Manchester which would have made my journey a lot easier. But the new travel route will come in handy, and I would highly recommend going to Liverpool, or any place in the north of England – the personalities are far more interesting than in the south of the country, the culture always makes for a huge part of the city’s identity, and English food will always have a really special place in my heart after being deprived of it in Germany for nearly two years now.
Will certainly be heading back for another visit, and on Ryanair this time!
When I moved to Sydney it took me one day to fall in love with the city. I visited a flat and agreed to rent it – it was a steal in the quiet expensive area of Neutral Bay for $160 a week – and we were advised that the best way into the centre was to take the ferry. We walked 5 minutes, and waited at the beautiful harbour, marvelling at the small and quaint park behind us and the sweet breakfast café on the wharf. When we took to the ferry, it drove through all the sailboats and yachts and turned the corner to a picturesque site of Sydney with the Opera House and Bridge in full view. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as it pulled into the Circular Quay, a place where people had travelled for days just to take a picture. This was a place I knew I would love living in.
Fast forward two years and I was excited to be leaving. The sheen had worn off, the love had gone a long time ago and I hadn’t yet faced it until that point, and as I packed my final things and thought about the good times I couldn’t wait to start a new chapter elsewhere.
London was a different story. It took me about eight months to fall in love with it, and when it finally happened, it was for much more than just the aesthetics. I had allowed an outside influence affect me and my feelings towards this brilliant city in the beginning, and when I finally got rid of it I felt freed and like this place could be my home for a long time. London went from being unhealthy for my confidence to being the perfect medicine for it within weeks. It taught me that the company you keep has a big hand in making a city great. When I had to leave, and not by my own choice at first, I really didn’t want to.
Next came Frankfurt, and although the German skyline-capital was much like Sydney with the immediate love factor, it was for much more grown-up reasons that I developed such a strong affinity with this place so quickly. It provided a future, somewhere to find more permanent friendships, and a place that would be affordable and enjoyable to live in. It was the first time I pictured having children in a city and it put me on a path where I felt like I was no longer a carefree kid but someone who wanted to build a long-term future with someone else.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out for long with Frankfurt – only 10 months or so – though I hope we are reunited again someday. It turns out that this whole growing up thing, and growing with someone, means you have to make sacrifices that don’t fulfil just your own needs anymore.
So here I am in Stuttgart. It isn’t quite love yet, just a strong like, though we’ve had our ups and downs. I am dealing with it’s flaws, and the differences it and I have. It’s also dealing with some of my flaws it would seem, forcing me to become more a part of German culture and adjust my own way of living from being an expat to ever so slowly becoming a local.
Perhaps it’s more like the slow-moving type of relationship where things blossom in a deeper way and can’t be reversed so easily. As I drove to work the other day, I crossed one of the bridges in Stuttgart central and caught a glimpse of the vineyards in my rear view mirror. It was one of the those moments that made that ‘strong like’ a little bit stronger. Who knows, maybe this will be The One after all?
After feeling slightly more settled in my jobs and Stuttgart, RZ and I decided it was time for a holiday. With his birthday coming up London seemed the perfect place to go – the first visit for him and a return to the place that used to be called home for myself.
Having lived there for two years, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about coming back as a tourist. Would I miss it too much and become unsettled in my German bubble? Would I be reminded of the things I didn’t like about the place, the things that made it feel like a temporary home rather than a permanent one? The end result was somewhat mixed. I loved seeing my friends again and it made me miss being there a lot, and I felt quite sad on the last night knowing we were going home. But after a few trips on the tube in peak hour and realising how much my body is not used to hangovers on the back of too many jagerbombs and bottles of wine, I was pleased to get back to a place where a cocktail with dinner is standard on a night out rather than a bottle of cheap vodka and there’s always a seat on the train home.
Living in London was a fantastic party for me, but the party was always going to end. A lot like many of the parties we had in London, this trip felt like the end of the night where only your good friends are left reminiscing over what happened and who was the most ridiculous, drinking the last of the alcohol and pushing thoughts of tomorrow to the back of your mind. I loved it, and knowing that I can now enjoy this place whenever I like is a lovely feeling without having to pay the exorbitant rental prices and work 15 hour days.
For those of you who might be considering visiting London for a weekend, it is certainly doable, and on a budget as we found (apart from one extravagant night to celebrate our 3 year anniversary). But when you’re not a local, this can be difficult. Some things I found –
There’s an online oyster card you can buy that covers 7 zones and costs £20 a day. Unless you’re planning on going all over outer-London –I’m talking an hour to an hour and a half each way – don’t buy it. You can buy an oyster card at the station for a small deposit which you get back, and it caps at £8.40 in the first two zones each day making it slightly cheaper than a day ticket.
There’s a great site – afternoontea.co.uk – which offers amazing deals on afternoon tea. We chose the Harlequin restaurant and it was fantastic, the service and the all-you-can-eat macaroons were worth£20 per person.
If you want the novelty of the open top bus tour do it, but for the price of a daily oyster card –£8.40 – you can see the same things by foot in two days. The first day we went to London Bridge, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Tower Hill, Covent Garden and Trafalga Square, Big Ben, the Queen’s Guards, and walked around Waterloo. The second day we walked around Hyde Park and saw Buckingham Palace as well as Harrod’s. When you see the prices for the buses it works out a lot more expensive!
If you have a day trip somewhere and it’s in the summer, you can’t go past Brighton. It’s £15 for a return ticket if you book a couple of weeks in advance, and just walking around the laneways, the Pavillion, and having Pims on the beach is so very English. We also got a fantastic roast at The Pond for £12. It’s cheap and will fulfill many of your wishes on a trip to London!
When you’re looking for trips and things to do, make sure you check out the English Groupon. They have trips to Bath and Stonehenge for half price on there, as well as boat tours in the Thames.
If you spend an afternoon at one of London’s markets you will find so many treasures and the food is one of a kind. I love the Spitalfields markets as well as Portobello. If you go to Borough market it will make for a brilliant few hours and you can put together a picnic for later that’s far cheaper than what’s on offer at many of London’s restaurants.
Lastly, do your research on the internet for prices on London’s musicals. I got 2 tickets to Jersey Boys for £20 each through Love Theatre and although we were at the back we could see everything really well. You can also wait until you get to London and check the ticket shops at Covent Garden which always have sales.
The last couple of weeks I have once again been hit by the phenomenon of springtime rain, a concept that has taken some getting used to since moving to continental Europe. In Australia it hardly ever rained as we were in a shocking drought during my second decade in the country; meanwhile in England, while the country holds a visual reputation of never ending rainy days, I found it to be more of a whimper than a full blown storm most of the time, resulting in constantly getting your umbrella out and putting it back in your bag.
Springtime in the south of Germany is like London’s rain on steroids – every morning as the sun comes up it buckets down, leaving me feeling quite glad that for these last few weeks at least I haven’t had to go out there on my way to work. Next week that all changes though unfortunately.
My boyfriend and I were woken up by the storm the other night, not quite understanding what it was at first. Some workers have been doing scaffolding on the side of our house and he automatically thought it was falling down with the loud banging noises jarring in our ears. I, on the other hand, had thoughts of the apocalypse in my head. which I put down to the vivid dreams I tend to have quite regularly. So we clutched hold of each other like two little children for about 5 seconds before realising that it was just a bit of thunder. Our ridiculous reactions made us laugh for quite some time.
On the flip side, it’s lovely to be living somewhere where the seasons can be so easily pigeonholed. Reading children’s books I never quite understood what they meant when they referred to the spring rain, the long hot nights that only happen in summer and the snowy winters that took them inside for the Christmas holiday. Germany has very set actions during each particular season – in the winter they celebrate the lead-up to Christmas and then spend the next three months riding out the cold with growing frustration until the first signs of spring peep through in March.
Then this constant rain, until a few days over 25 degrees start to mix in with the springtime glow. June will likely be as it was last year, bringing more of those hot days and allowing you to turn the fan on for the first time and buy ice-pops for extra relief. And July and August… that’s the time for getting away on a beach holiday (an all-inclusive one preferably if you’re really German).
I like how these things are becoming annual traditions for me, and are allowing me to gauge exactly how far I’ve gotten through the year. It allows more time for reflection and celebration of what you’ve achieved since the last time you were doing these things.
I fly out to Berlin today and then onto Copenhagen for the weekend and I’m hoping the rain will be at least a bit limited for us to see these beautiful cities. When I return, I’m hoping the June weather will have well and truly hit and rain is a distant thought in my mind as I rejoin the daily grind.
When I moved away from Australia I got a job working for a social media company in London. It had taken advantage of the rise of Facebook and quickly built millions of followers by setting up credible-looking pages for sportsmen. Off that, a successful business was born and now the company represents lots of athletes and sports organisations across the world, keeping fans in touch with their heroes on social media.
It was the only company that had replied to my application, and having sent out about 100 applications I felt very lucky to get the call back. I almost hadn’t applied on the fact that you had to work six weeks for free on an ‘internship’ basis, but I figured while I wasn’t doing anything else I might as well try it and work there while I applied for other jobs.
It turned out to be a job that wasn’t right for me for a number of reasons and within six months I was out. But my social media experience at that company propelled me into my current journalism position, which has in turn given me the opportunity to move to Germany and have immediate work, supported me throughout my many visa issues and above all, has allowed me keep writing about one of the things I love most; football.
Meanwhile, after finally getting out of a toxic relationship and feeling comfortable with myself in London for the first time, I travelled to Oktoberfest with some Australian friends feeling on top of the world. It was there that I met a guy who didn’t speak English but asked for my Facebook details anyway. I’m on a super-private setting where people who aren’t my friend can’t search for me, so I asked for his instead. He gave me a really weird name, making it obvious he was just as concerned with privacy, and I assumed it would be impossible to find him. But alas, the nightclub we were at that night posted a picture of us and I found him after his friends tagged him. I added him, not expecting anymore contact, and a year after writing to each other constantly we were quickly realising there was something more going on. Another year on, we were planning on moving in together.
Since being away from Aus I’ve prioritised keeping in touch with people around the world; I’ve talked about the difficulties of this before, but as well as the down points of trying to juggle past and present lives there are so many benefits I enjoy from the ways I can keep in contact. Without Skype I wonder if I would have left in the first place; it’s unimaginably wonderful having family there at Christmas and birthdays and all those times you’d feel pretty lonely otherwise, and it’s a massive bonus that you don’t have to be rich to enjoy the privilege.
My relationship with Facebook has changed over the years like my relationship with real-life friends. I, like many 20-somethings, went through the stage of obsessing about having as many friends as possible, and staying friends with people for far more political reasons than simply liking their company. I grew out of that, and got rid of a lot of the ‘quantity’ friends in real life as well as on social media when I moved to Germany. Now I feel good about Facebook, much like my real-life social interactions; and I use it a healthy amount. When I was travelling last summer my mother asked if I could post pictures on the way. At first I felt uncomfortable about it as I didn’t want to look like I was spending my holiday on Facebook. But then I thought, who exactly is this page for? Me and my friends and family to stay updated on my life or the people who might bitch about what I’m posting?
The constant ‘oh you shouldn’t post baby pictures, and people who post they’re drunk are so annoying…’ whinging should surely be put into perspective. You’ve chosen to be friends with that person, you can easily block them from your newsfeed without deleting them if social politics ask for it. And like in real life, there will be people who are annoying and weird and attention seeking. This is just another way to display those qualities.
So when I’m having stupid ‘social media is bad, get off your phone and see the world’ stuff thrown at me on, ironically, Facebook’s newsfeed – and the majority of the time by people who post the annoying stuff in the first place – it does get a bit tedious. Especially the Youtube video with the bloody spoken poem – next thing we’ll have someone preaching at us with puppets and interpretive dance telling us that real life is so much more important than the communicative services we use to make it so wonderful in this day and age.
If you’re sitting on your phone constantly posting at the expense of spending time with loved ones, you obviously need to change your habits. But I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be doing something else just as lazy and obsessive (video games, watching TV, sleeping even) if they didn’t have a phone/laptop. So maybe when we’re all up in arms about social media taking over our lives we could remember it also enriches our lives a lot too and accept that some people are lazy, and some are annoying, whether it’s on Facebook or in reality.
I have a confession to make. I had never watched Eurovision until last night. I had no idea who the acts were who won it in the past (apart from ABBA, though I didn’t know they were on Eurovision), and I didn’t even really know what the structure of the show was, or what was involved. I have a friend who travelled to Europe to see the Eurovision final from Australia and he’s obsessed with it, but when he would talk about it I wouldn’t really pay attention. I’m not a fan of pop competition shows like Idol or The Voice, why would I find this interesting?!
After watching the show from the beginning to the end last night I cannot believe what I have been missing for the last 28 years of my life. The ridiculousness of it all, the glitter and the lights and the creativity, the hilariously weird presenters and how seriously every country takes the voting and all the accusations of political influences and cheating… it’s absolutely amazing! For so many reasons I loved Eurovision and here’s just a few…
– The women are fantastic role models, of all different sizes and body types and showing a much more diverse and interesting picture of a pop star than all the naked ones that keep coming out of America at present. I grew up idolising the likes of The Corrs, Alanis Morrisette and the Spice Girls, and yes Geri Halliwell wore short dresses but you never really noticed it when you were a kid. I do worry for young girls growing up with constant imagery suggesting to them that women must be as naked as ratings will allow and as often as possible to be considered sexy. And excluding Poland on this occasion (laundry porn seemed slightly out of place), 2014 Eurovision offered an alternative style, from beautiful skinny women to tall and short, curvy and big and even men dressed as women. There’s no shame here and that’s something I would love for a possible future daughter to witness and enjoy.
– It certainly improved my geographical knowledge of Europe. San Marino a country? You don’t say! More to add to my travel to do list…
– People might criticise it for being political but last night’s political involvement was all positive from my point of view. With Russia currently making it all the more difficult for gay people to feel comfortable in their own skin, it was great to see viewers protesting with their votes and voices during the show. And Austrian cross-dresser Conchita Wurst winning the contest will help people struggling to deal with their sexuality all over the world feel more comfortable with it and have a role model to look up to. That is bloody fantastic.
– I love bubblegum pop, there, I said it!! I had a friend in London who hated all mainstream music and was always trying to convince us to go and see bands that sang about depressing subjects. The way I see it, music is supposed to make you happy. I love listening to pop music because it puts a smile on my face, it makes me thing about one of the most positive and simple things life has to offer – love – and it puts a spring in my step as a result. Coincidentally, said friend was a pretty unhappy person. And probably would detest Eurovision. I know which camp i’d rather be in ;)
– Somehow, without even meaning to care, you get really involved in the results and towards the end you’re insisting you will never watch again if the Netherlands or Sweden or Armenia win. To end up being so enthralled in the result of something I didn’t care about until 2 hours before… they must be doing something right entertainment wise!
– The games that you can play during Eurovision (from the drinking ones to betting and guessing what the judges will say) are almost as much fun as watching the show itself.
So after watching the show I suggested to my boyfriend that we go to the next one. He didn’t particularly like that idea too much. But being able to partake in this European tradition, whether you love it or hate it as a European, made me feel a bigger affinity with this great, strange and wonderfully interesting continent.