Guest Post: London Calling – Ex-pat life and just going for it by Broad World

I recently had dinner with my friend Stef, who I hadn’t seen in years but had stayed connected with through the wonders of technology. Thank you, Facebook. Stef is one of the most adventurous people I know. (Who else would semi-randomly move to Ghana??) Her most recent adventure has been living in London the past two years.

Stef is also a blogger*, so while we were having a proper catch up over a delicious Asian fusion dinner at Wild Rice (on the Quay in my stomping grounds of New Westminster – check it out. Tasty stuff.), I asked her if she would do a guest post about her adventures as an ex-pat in London. When I read what she sent, it made me think of this quote and what nice segue it would be:

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.

Jawaharlal Nehru

And so…

~

From the time I was born I was always a little restless – my curiosity can only be satiated for a short while before I’m onto the next musing or adventure. Although this constant need for change and stimulation has brought on many challenges – not to mention occasional sleepless nights – it’s also brought me more riches than I could ever imagine!

Southbank
Chillin’ on the South Bank

Back in the spring of 2012, I knew it was time to end my current adventure in West Africa (That’s a whole other story!) and my next step was an easy choice. Over the course of my time in Ghana I had spent many extended weekends visiting London, and I had completely fallen in love! A little research, picking the brains of some friends and a thorough visa process, I made a quick whirlwind trip home to Vancouver to pack and give my love before becoming a UK resident.

Westminster at Big Ben
Big Ben at Westminster Palace

And what a crazy couple of years it has been! I could spend hours talking about my love for this city without exaggerating one iota. It’s the epicentre for all things art, which means weekends are full of shows, galleries, exhibits or strolls through neighbourhoods laden with incredible street art. London is a foodie’s dream, and I credit this on its incredible tapestry of culture. Coming from a diversified city like Vancouver, I thought I understood multiculturalism – but the “melting pot” I was used to at home is nothing like the clearly identifiable nationalities you see in London. You know that your local eats – be it Peruvian to Lebanese – are as authentic as can be.

Yes, this is one of the world’s biggest cities and is full of hype and bustling in the city centre, but there’s no place that feels cozier to me than my little Chelsea neighbourhood where my coffee shop knows exactly what I caffeinate with, and I can cycle through the market on a Saturday to get fresh produce. With so many ex-pats living in one spot, London has been the most welcoming and easiest place to make friends with everyone in the same boat.

Thames
Literally in the same boat. Me and a fellow Vancouverite cruising on the Thames.

Moving to a new city always comes with its challenges, and by far, London posed the most for me. I’ve never been a person to worry about buying a coffee every morning or what wine I was ordering in a restaurant, but let me tell you, job hunting for eight months while converting Canadian dollars to British pounds will suck the fun out of any purchase! My £1,200 rent didn’t seem so “reasonable” when it syphoned more than $2000 out of my Canadian account each month. Also, little surprises like what’s referred to as “counsel tax” in the UK – aka: a neighbourhood specific tax paid by the residents, NOT the home owners, for park upkeep, garbage pick-up and other common amenities. Surprise! You owe another £170 this month – oh, wait, that’s $300. Needless to say, when I finally landed my permanent job I celebrated hard… with really cheap wine.

First day at my job!!!
First day at my job!!!

I have spent the last two years of my life outside of my comfort zone in many different ways, and am definitely not the same girl who arrived to Heathrow in 2012. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count. I’ve nearly fallen flat on my face a time or two, and undoubtedly would have had it not been for my incredible family and friends! But, all in all, I have learned more about my own strengths and limitations, and who I am and what I want out of this life in a way I never thought possible.

Being goofy in West London
Being goofy in West London

If you were to ask me if I would do it all again, the answer is yes. A million times, yes. Would I do things differently? Absolutely. But this is how I know these years have been pivotal for me – if I were to do everything the same way I did, then what would I learn? Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone is never, well, comfortable! But it’s truly where self-discovery comes from, and for me the most important lesson was appreciating all of the little things around me that are so easily taken for granted.

~

*Stefanie McAuley is the founder and writer of Broad World. Check it out at broadworld.co.

Alberta Bound (and Arrived)

I am sitting in a beautiful house watching the Canucks kick the Oilers to the ground. I’m just outside Edmonton sitting my with Canucks jersey clad hubby and his Oilers jersey clad cousin Ward. And I’m feeling rather smug.

Why, you ask, are we in Alberta? Purpose: Operation Surprise Ward. Sean’s cousin and one of his best friends. He was best man at our wedding and his birthday is on Tuesday. We coordinated with his wife and he was so surprised and happy to see us. As were his adorable children. And the pets are thrilled to have new people to mooch food and affection from. There are few people in the world that I would brave the Alberta cold for and they are so worth it.

We hopped in the new VW last night to drive to St. Albert, AB. (Sean recently traded in his VW City Golf for a diesel Golf. It’s (for me) pretty and blue but is still a standard, so when I finally get my license, it won’t that be fun to learn how to drive. One step at a time I suppose…) We left at 10:30pm and Sean drove us through the Rockies and a couple of snow storms (that I am so happy I slept through). He slept the evening before and has been high on coffee since we left.

During my awake hours, the scenery was beautiful and Sean woke me up so I could see the sunrise. It was slightly cloudy, but it’s hard not to be impressed when you are surrounded by such majestic landscape. The Rockies (or Rocky Mountains) are gorgeous. Neither my camera phone nor my Canon did them any justice from inside the car. But I tried.

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We stopped in Jasper for breakfast on the way to St. Albert. Sean has made the drive to and from Edmonton quite a few times and there is a bakery that he loves called The Bear’s Paw (4 Cedar Ave, Jasper, AB). It is apparently world famous and has been featured in Oprah’s magazine. The baked goods are well worth the hype and the wait in line. Sean had a raspberry white chocolate scone and I had a fruit filled bran muffin.

Jasper is not quite a resort town. It’s a tourist town. It’s a ski town. But it’s not Whistler. Oh my gosh, I’m a West Coast snob…

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Upon walking back to the car, it was no longer beautiful and blue. The highway was not friendly – full of mud and slush. It had to happen sometime.

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Back on the road, we continued through Jasper National Park. And we saw a pack of moose on the side of the road. And then a deer. And then a mountain goat. They were beautiful. and I was beyond thrilled. Sean kept pointing them out and I could barely get my camera going fast enough. And then we got out of the park and all of a sudden, everything was flat. We were officially in the Prairies.

I’ve been watching the Canucks game and he ref just called no goal for what could have made the game 3-0 for Vancouver, but I’m not worried. Time for a soak in the hot tub and another glass of red. I’m willing to brave the cold for 10 seconds for a chance to soak my travel weary muscles.

Drifter = love