Even though the day was over ten years ago it is still quite fresh in my mind. The big day leaving home, most people might just move up the road or in with friends close to home. No not me I was moving to the other side of the world!
I decided after a trip my mother and I made to Europe in September 2001 that this was the place for me. I was originally going to head over by myself but I got a phone call one day from Kristie, she was a year below me at school and our mothers knew each other. She asked if she could head over to London with me. To be honest I was a little anxious to be heading over by myself so I looked forward to the company.
Kathmandu were having a 50% off sale in Sydney so I drove down one weekend and bought myself a backpack (I still use it today, and it’s on my tattoo!), travel jacket and some travel clothes. I bought myself the cheapest ticket I could find to London and backpackers insurance. I resigned from my job, which I held for five years. I stuffed as much as I could into my backpack and was ready to go.
My mum and dad, my little nephew, my auntie and me and got into the car and drove the two and half hours from home to Sydney airport. I met Kristie there with all her family, they were all crying, but I was too excited and wanted to get on the plane and start my adventure, no tears for me. We said our goodbyes and headed for our flight, South Korean Airlines, yep a bargain price at $500 for a one way ticket to London, the only downside to our already nearly 24 hour flight we had to spend an additional 9 hours at Seoul, trying to rest in the airport in between our connecting flights.
We finally arrived at Heathrow pretty buggered and in need of sleep. We had pre-booked accommodation at Kings Cross YHA so that’s where we headed and hit the hay. The next evening while we were both looking at accommodation options on the internet in the hostel common room, we overhead a girl on the phone in tears to her mother and wanting to go home, we chatted with her and found out she was from Sydney and had just arrived in London by herself and was struggling a bit. We offered for her to look at places with us and we can become flatmates. So Kristina, Kristie and I set off in search of a place to live.
We didn’t search that long really and we found a studio flat in Cricklewood, it was pretty small, a flat with 3 single beds, 3 cupboards, a kitchenette, and small bathroom, we signed the lease and exchanged bond and rent with the landlord whilst sitting in his car. Yay, our first London home! The Landlord was pretty strict with the rent, we had to pay it by bank draft and he would come over to the building and collect it from each of the flats. He had quite the empire in London and we found out after living a few months in London we were paying way too much for what we had, he kind of took advantage of people newly arrived in London, but oh well live and learn as they say.
Next up was finding a job, it was all very simple, I sent my cv off to agencies via email and had some interviews in the same week. I managed to get myself two jobs, on the weekdays I worked at HCA International, which own all the private hospitals in London, I worked with the IT guys helping them with the administration side of setting up their new computer networks. On the weekends I worked at London Zoo, there was a whole gang of us backpackers working there, our job was to greet the customers as they entered the zoo and ask them to fill out forms so the zoo could claim the tax from their ticket as a gift aid. We had a subsidised canteen and could walk around the zoo when we weren’t working so that was pretty cool.
We had a lot of fun those first few months in London finding out feet, our local watering hole was The Crown in Cricklewood, we had a few good nights there and some of the stories I’m not game to put on this blog. Our flat didn’t have a washing machine so we would have to walk down to the laundromat to do our washing. Everytime I went to do my washing this random guy would come in and chat with me, he would never have any washing, one day I walked in and saw him sitting in a corner breathing into a plastic bag, I think he was high most of the time. I was having lunch in McDonald’s once whilst I was waiting on my washing and he spotted me in the window and came in and thought it would be great to juggle a tray on the tip of his nose as they tray went crashing to the ground, security came over and asked him to leave.
While walking home one night in the first few weeks I arrived in London a guy in the street stopped me and starting chatting with me, he asked if I wanted to go play pool with him in the nearby pub. Sure, what harm could it do, I had nothing much else on. Turns out the guy was Ramiz and from Albania. It’s strange how things turned out, we ended up becoming great mates and would meet up nearly once a week for the whole two years I was in London to play pool, go to the pub, the movies or sightseeing around London. So if a person ever stops you in the street to say g’day give them the time of the day as you never know what friendship could become of it.
My dad told me when I arrived home from London after two years he didn’t think I would last the first month there, I would be homesick and come home. Truth is I loved London and cried when I had to leave. London is such a melting pot of different cultures, there is so much to see and do and for a backpacker lots of free things to keep you occupied and plenty of saffas, kiwis and aussies to mix with, Snake Bite Sundays at the She’ Bu Walkie was the highlight of a lot of weeks and a sore head at work on Monday mornings. London…One of the best cities in the world!