We did it! We’ve just touched down in Heathrow (and earlier than expected… must remember to get a lottery ticket) and the epic journey has come to an end.
You and I both know that this is only the beginning, but doesn’t it feel good to hear that “Ladies and Gentlemen… Welcome to London” after you’ve been on a plane for what feels like an eternity?
Whilst we were quite spoilt with our business class Cathay Pacific flight via a 3 day stopover in Hong Kong (highly recommended to break up the Melbourne to London trip and thank you very much frequent flyer points) – there’s no avoiding the confusion and delirium that ensues when you de-plane on the other side.
Bam – we’re now in London – time to adjust to life in an English speaking country (Ok, so that’s the same as Australia) who drive on the left (also the same…) and that find it difficult to vote in a leader (OK, the similarities are uncanny). Here’s just a few little wake up calls that we received in the first few months of arriving;
Travelling by car is great, but you’re in London – There’s a better way
Arriving at Heathrow, we thought – we’ll just hop and Uber to our East London accommodation. What a great idea!!
So, the thing about London – Heathrow is in the West – East London is in the East. The only way (it would seem) to get to the East from the West, is to go through the centre of the city. Something that I’m not used to coming from Melbourne, which is proliferated with tollroads, ringroads, freeways and tunnels.
2 hours later – we arrive out our bizarre hotel in a gated estate (another story) – and the poor Uber driver is paid far less than he should for that epic journey stood in traffic.
Lesson learned – Don’t bother with the Uber if you need to cross town. Use public transport wherever possible.
Australian phones ‘4G’ wont necessarily pick up the UK’s ‘4G’ signal
Being the ever savvy tourists we are – we immediately picked up a local SIM card at the first opportunity. Popped it in, fired it up and off we went – no problems at all.
Over a week or two, we noticed that we were NEVER on 4G. There may have been the instance of a few minutes here and there right in the centre of town, but nothing noteworthy.
Staff at the phone provider were bamboozled and didn’t find a solution. We carried on our merry way (you’ll come to understand that it’s much easier to walk away from these places than to push an issue).
A few months in, we decided to upgrade our phone to a new and shiny variant of our existing phones. Fire them up – what do you know? 4G signal like, all the time!
Lesson learned – swearing about your phone provider’s terrible coverage may result in having to eat your words when it turns out that your device is the issue!
Everyone will ask you if you’re ‘Alright?’
Don’t worry – you aren’t bleeding from the nose or have a patch of your hair missing… this is the local greeting – especially in the East.
“You alright?” or “Hiya – You alright?” or simply “Alright?” will be thrown at you on the odd occasion that someone in a store will greet you.
Just simply reply with either ‘Yeah, alright’ or ‘Good thanks, you?’ and you’ll be fine.
EVERYTHING will ask you for your local UK address
If you want to do anything which remotely resembles a service, they’ll expect that you’re a resident and that you have an address.
Some common scenarios;
- Add your credit card to your Oyster account for the trail – What’s your address? Make sure it matches your credit card address… “But I don’t have one, though”
- Go to Nespresso and join the club”But what’s your address, though?”
- Apply for your National Insurance Number — “We really need to know your address though… and also… provide a mountain of documentation to prove it”
- Apply for a bank account – “But what’s your address, though… we need to post out your card yeah?”
Lesson learned – if you’re staying for any length of time, try and organise rental accommodation before you leave or as soon as you arrive. That way, you will actually have an address and not have to explain your life story.
Once you have it, try and memorise it because it will be asked for, a lot!
Know your tube connections – download the app!
There’s an app called ‘City Mapper’ – it will singlehandedly save your life when you arrive to London. The Tube is a complex, tangled marvel with interconnections at various stations. There’s an art to being able to get from one side of town to the other with as few connections and disruptions as possible.
The City Mapper app will do all the hard work, plan your journey and also react to delays / service disruptions – replanning your journey.
I often see some poor schmucks on the tube fumbling with their tube map, or rudely pointing at the map above my head… get the app and save the heartache.
Oh, and be prepared to walk a LOT when you need to travel in London. The interchanges may be in the same station, but you may be walking up and down 2 or 3 flights of stairs and ultimately walking a kilometre to get to the other platform (I wish I was joking – see if you can find ‘Bank’ station on a map and also ‘Monument’ station – They’re effectively the same station – get used to navigating that distance below ground.
It’s awesome fun though – and when you know where you’re going, you’ll share the same smug / lifeless look on your face that others carry when pushing past you to get to their train.
You can use your credit card pretty much everywhere… except if you need to ‘spend a penny’
Being the millennial that I am, I use my credit card for everything. Cash is for losers.
This is all well and good, because you’ll find that pretty much everywhere has a credit card machine and will happily accept credit cards (also note that their tap and go payments are called ‘contactless’ and there’s a limit of £30 for some reason).
So, you’d think that cash isn’t required. This is true, unless you want to play tourist and visit some of the hotspots with a full bladder.
We have been caught out on a few occasions without coin – dashing for the restrooms to be greeted with coin operated turn styles isn’t a fun experience and can be life threatening. Make sure you’ve got a few coins (like, maybe a pound) just in case you need to ‘spend a penny’.
Meanwhile, you will start to have these revelations as you come to understand the origin of some of these sayings that make absolutely no sense to us at all — until you come here.
One of the best and the worst things about London is that nobody cares
I was told this little pearl of wisdom to get me over my initial anxieties when I arrived.
Quite literally, people don’t care what you do (so long as you don’t interrupt their day or mildly inconvenience them). If you’re the shy kind (like me), you’ll benefit from knowing that you’re able to walk down Oxford St dressed as a Giraffe for anyone cares.
You may be met with a smirk or an “Alright, stretch?” – but I’d be highly surprised if anyone reacted more than raising an eyebrow.
Equally, the negative side of this equation is that there is a lack of anyone really willing to help or care if you need someone to. It can be cold in more ways than one, but we’re all adults here and can hack it.
The lesson here is, be who you are and look after yourselves – as nobody cares.
Foxes are everywhere – don’t bother calling animal welfare
We were enjoying a lovely lunch in Canary Wharf in one of the parks – which is surrounded by buildings and roads. The last place you’d expect to see a fox let alone a cute little fluffy baby fox!!!
So it seemed a bit odd when there was a timid little fox running around avoiding the office workers (who also didn’t seem to care – see my points above).
Being the caring Australians that we are – we phoned animal welfare who giggled and mentioned that “They are not equipped to handle such an incident” and hung up. Oh well, we tried.
A few minutes later we come across a policeman walking the bomb sniffing dog (oh yeah, get used to sites like that) – He looked at us like we were morons when we explained what we saw. “Oh yes… he is quite the celebrity here”
Lesson learned… adopt the blasé approach to life that the locals have
There is nothing on television
You’ll note a distinct lack of Americanism in London. The same goes for television.
Back in Australia, we would be subject to hours upon hours of American sitcoms, reality, lifestyle and news. It’s just part of our daily life that it really does go unnoticed. That is, until, you turn on the tellie in London.
Oh look, there’s a documentary on something dreadfully dull… or, there’s a gameshow on in prime time… or … the news is on again… or… a ‘move to the country’ or other property show on. Where is my fix of ‘Modern Family’ or endless re-runs of the ‘Simpsons’?
These shows are relegated to the PayTV network SKY – so if you’re desperate for your fix of American culture – you can connect to a service like ‘Now TV’ which allows you to watch live channels from Sky at a fraction of the cost.
Alternatively, you can pick up a book, like I should really do.
It’s an amazing place
Even with some of these minor erks that will disappear with familiarity and time – this place is amazing.
You’re so close to Europe and the West Coast of the US, people talk like they do on TV shows from the UK (I had my first “No problem at all babe!” conversation about fake tan the other day), you are in one of the worlds cultural and business centres – and… you’re in LONDON!
Make the most of it – make it your own.