Rekindling my love affair with London

 

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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.

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The castle at Tower Hill with the poppy memorial – so beautiful

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.

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

We took a whole day out of our itinerary for shopping at places like Carnaby Street and we needed it!

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.

A delightful afternoon tea!

  • 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!
Beautiful Brighton

Beautiful Brighton.

  • 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.
A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

A great night out for our anniversary with only minimal translating for RZ when they spoke gangster :p

Learning to Predict the Weather

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.

 

xx

In Defence of Social Media

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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.

What I learnt About Europe During My First Eurovision Screening

Last night I fell in love.

Last night I fell in love.

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.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

Conchita Wurst won the contest last night despite objections from some homophobic countries.

- 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.

 

xx

Dealing with Germany’s Sunday Silence

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When I moved to Germany, it was Easter weekend. We took a stroll through the city of Frankfurt as I started apartment hunting and the main shopping strip, with it’s perfectly manicured trees and well-lit buildings, was looking particularly pretty as the snow settled throughout the streets. The boyfriend casually commented with disbelief at one of the clothes shops being open, and I was slightly confused. Sure, the shops shut on Good Friday but they’re open again on Saturday and Sunday right?

No. Not on Sunday. NOT ON ANY SUNDAY. And throughout Germany this is the case. I couldn’t understand it. Every shop shuts on a Sunday, even the supermarkets? Surely not the supermarkets?!

It’s taken nearly a year and I’m still struggling to get my head around that. In London, supermarkets had to shut at 4pm on a Sunday to give local market stores a chance to up their profits. The problem in England is the big chains are well-known for getting food in bulk for far cheaper prices than the smaller stores so this is their chance to shine. Another problem – as much as I’d like to support local shops, you make so little money in London that you often literally can’t afford to. Some nights I would eat pasta and cheese and nothing else because I couldn’t afford sauce. Or doughnuts all day because they kept me full and cost 50p for 5 at Tesco. It was that dire.

So most weekends, as you wake from what little sleep you’ve had the night before and wonder why you’re still in your heels and how the hell you got home from the club last night, as well as desperately calling your friends to recap other details of the night you don’t remember, a thought pops into your head: “I need to get to the supermarket by 4pm, I have no food in the house!!!!” The idea of missing that late afternoon deadline is as difficult to deal with as brushing the hairspray out of your hair or contemplating the effort of going through the shower-blow dry routine.

So as you can imagine, the thought of shops being COMPLETELY shut is just preposterous to me. The last 11 months have brought many Sundays involving me trawling through the freezer trying to find something to put together for dinner as I’ve forgotten again that there’s nowhere I can go for back-up; once I seriously considered going to a restaurant and asking for an uncooked sausage. Christmas was a near-disaster when we worked out at 12:45pm on Christmas eve that the shops shut at 1pm. Luckily my boyfriend can run fast or there would have been no turkey on the table. And my mum and sister ended up stealing tea bags from a cafe while we waited desperately for the shops to re-open on – I think it was the 28th?!?! That’s 4 days without access to any shops!!!!

Complaining to my fellow expat-girls about the constant problems that come with not being able to remember the shops shut on Sunday, and having to get all my jobs out of the way on Saturday, they turned the idea on it’s head for me; how about treating Sunday as a day of rest like it’s supposed to be rather than worrying about getting a million things done? They had a point.

Now I am making an effort to use my Sundays more as a time for watching movies, going for walks and cooking meals with pre-bought ingredients that are interesting and new for this house. Or writing, or just drinking tea and running a bath. It’s been a big change from the me who wanted to spend the day at a shopping centre, finishing off the errands I was too lazy to get around to on Saturday. It encourages more organisation, and more time for me, which is particularly nice after living in London where it was all about doing things that weren’t really very good for me.

So thanks Germany – you might have scared and worried me with your strange ways at the beginning, but now I am coming around :)