The ‘A Season Of Firsts’ series of blogs is me accounting my experience of relocating from New Zealand to the United Kingdom to work and travel.
On the 20th of June, 7am in the morning, I arrived in London. That’s over a month ago, so any thoughts I’ll be sharing on this iconic city will be from the mindset of the jaded recent arrival, rather than the completely naive and fresh London immigrant.
London has very few public toilets. This was my first major revelation about the place, and one that would strongly taint my initial first impressions of the city. Making my way from Gatwick to a hostel in a suburb I had no idea about, dealing with the underground for the first time, trying to use Google Maps and orientate myself with a 24 KG pack on my back; this was all hard enough. Let alone with a full bladder, and seemingly no way of emptying it. I skipped the toilets at Gatwick assuming I would easily be able to find one on the way. This is one of the largest cities in the world after all. The only one to be found at London Bridge Underground Station required coins, and I didn’t yet have any Great Britain Pounds to my name. There was none to be found at my next stop of Rotherhithe either. This is now a good hour and a half after I boarded the express train from Gatwick into the city. London looked nice, but I’d not yet seen any major landmarks yet, just suburbs of brick houses and a grey-ish sky. It was beginning to seem a particularly anti-climatic entrance to the city, but one that in it’s own way was quintessentially London.
I didn’t make it all the way to the Hostel, I had to dive into the first bushy area I could find and illegally relieve myself, making the most of the one of the conveniences of the male gender. Now able to think straight, I soon found my hostel and proceeded to the next mission of getting some Pounds in hand. Turns out withdrawing money from a New Zealand Debit Card was an equally frustrating endeavor, with the ATM in the hostel spitting my card back at me without handing over any paper. Off I went to find the nearest Barclay’s which were apparently fee-less. I got lost, ended up at a small Thameside mall, and gave in to the first ATM I saw. I would soon find out that there was no avoiding bank charges when withdrawing from an overseas account in the UK. So advice for anyone traveling soon; take all the cash with you.
My first day in London was therefore suitable un-restful. That afternoon, on my return to the hostel I would receive a message from a friend. Blur were playing Hyde Park that afternoon, so it was off to that. Being unaware of the time it takes to travel throughout London, and lacking in any sense of direction I gave up on trying to navigate the tubes and instead booked an Uber. Probably the best decision I made my first day in London, as the Uber got me right to Bethnal Green Station early. I met up with my friends and was able to head to Hyde Park together, right on time to see all the support acts. I wasn’t too tired at this stage; I had slept enough on the plane from Dubai to London, but I was completely overwhelmed by having finally made it to the British metropolis I had been anticipating for sometime. Being overwhelmed I was unable to truly appreciate seeing Blur live, or appreciate what it was like to actually be standing in Hyde Park. In fact, it didn’t seem that special. Turns out Hyde Park is just another park, which happened to have a large stage situated upon in, and a lot of people milling around listening to music.
It may not have the wisest idea to go to a large music festival the day of arrival in a completely foreign city twenty four hours from home. But regardless, Blur were amazing, and maybe one day I’ll see them when I’m not confused – and truth be told, slightly drunk. The ciders were flowing, the exchanging of dollars for pounds were taking place, and my slightly hedonistic first Great Britain summer was had begun. How else do you spend your time in London, then spend all your money on music, arts, performances and substances? I should add, before I sound too jaded, that Blur at Hyde Park was a great concert that well lived up to expectations. The set-list was huge, the new songs sounded great side by side with the old classics and they even made time for fan favorites like Stereotypes. But the whole thing was a bit of a.. fog. Too much entertainment, too soon.
It would not be long until I would have a job yet again. Applying for positions before arrival turned out to be a wise option, and within days of touching down I would have my first interview. Finding a flat was not easy, and for someone looking to keep costs to a minimum I soon learned I would have to settle. London is no place for indecision and my problem solving skills were immediately tested. Savings would not last long, and as I sit writing this, I’m wracked with doubt about how I’m going to avoid expensive meals and drinking sessions yet still remain social. Still another month to go until that first paycheck comes.
If you take anything from my experience, it’s to be prepared. For the bank charges and for the lack of toilets. Learn from my mistakes – use the Airport toilet before you hop on the train to the city. London is a hard enough city without having to deal with a bursting bladder and no options to empty it.