Uncovering an England I Never Knew

So what’s it like to be back in London? This loaded question keeps being asked yet I’ve quietly gone about my transition landing in the Big Smoke undetected as if I were a phantom. No Facebook broadcasting, Instagram snapshotting or even blog writing. Gasp. But that doesn’t mean I’m holed up in seclusion exactly.

Because honestly, being back in London simply just feels like home. I feel normal as if I haven’t lived away from the US for close to five years and on the other side of the world gallivanting around the South Pacific.

Strangely, for the first time in all my times moving abroad, I don’t have the overwhelming anxiety and confusion over moving somewhere new. There is no culture shock, which even surprised myself. It’s such a massively refreshing feeling to know where to go and what to do. I know to stand on the right on the escalators, how to weave in and out of chaotic commuter people traffic, which sandwiches at Pret are my favorite and which ready-meal curries to avoid. I was elated last weekend to be even more in my element at Hawker House, a foodie night market with craft beer and hipsters in East London.

Street Feast, Hawker House

Street Feast, Hawker House

I’m heading up a marketing team at a tech start-up in trendy Richmond, and enjoying the fact that after 8.5 years with one company I’ve landed in a role that ticked all my boxes: start-up, newly created position, leadership opportunity, fun culture, technology focused and international. This means I’ll get to travel to see family and friends in New York more regularly and continue to go exploring in Asia and beyond.

I’ve taken the leap as an ‘adult’ to live alone in a one-bedroom flat in my old, posh stomping grounds of Nottinghill. This is the hardest transition of all as I’m used to my social calendar being filled months in advance and friends to dine with all nights of the week. With a long commute and late working hours coupled with my poor cooking skills I’ve decided in such a multi-national city that I should be living with flat mates again to meet people and explore new areas. I’ve landed on Clapham Junction, a middle-class neighborhood south of the river that will get me to work, the city or my friends in East London in about 20 minutes. It’s full of restaurants, nightlife and boutiques and even better, infiltrated with Aussies so I may just feel even more at home once I move at the end of December.

I’m also experiencing a very strange gravitational pull toward France. This happened while visiting Paris again recently in August 2014, and then I fell in love with Bordeaux in July 2015. As I begin to learn more about French wine I find myself planning on how to get to each unique region over time. Only two weeks ago I found myself back in Paris with two Australian friends hopping between arrondissements, sipping wine, eating fondue and waiting in an extremely long line to have my breath taken away at the magnificent view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I never expected to say that it was so worth it.

In fact, I have a feeling that Paris will substitute what Sydney was for me in Australia; An opportunity to jump over every few months and catch up with an American friend just living the life like a local. We’ll see. For now though, I’m already booked to head over to Lille in January and Lyon to taste the wines of Cotes de Rhone in May.

So as a newly arrived expat I’d only be staying true to form if I devised my ‘must-do’ list or what others would deem as a bucket list. So here it is:

  • Uncover an England I’ve never experienced before
  • Hot-air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey
  • See the Northern Lights and Fjords in Norway
  • Go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
  • Eat dumplings in Hong Kong
  • Drive down the coast of Ireland
  • Eat kimchi in Seoul
  • Learn French/Italian wine
  • Create amazing, lasting friendships
  • See family/friends more regularly

How I accidentally became an AFL fan

Okay I’ll admit. I like AFL.

The revelation came to me last night during the semi-finals of Hawthorn vs. Port Adelaide. My eyes were focused, my pulse was racing and the comments coming from my mouth were volatile. In fact, I never anticipated when entering the dark, unassuming warehouse of Moon Dog Craft Brewery that I would witness a large screen projecting the second most awaited game of the season on its back brick wall. Hipsters don’t like football. But Melbourne hipsters do.

And that’s what I think makes it all more appealing. It’s a game like nothing else; call it football or footy or Aussie Rules. It’s a sport that combines the skills of soccer and rugby with a very visually stimulating set of athletes – tall and lean, toned arms and quick speed.


My second live AFL game at the MCG

Maybe it’s the fact that Melbourne breeds AFL. There are currently 18 teams in the Australian Football League (AFL), half of which are based in Victoria and around Melbourne. It’s a bit of a religion, and during football season you better know which team you support.

I’ll fess up though, I don’t have a team. Nearly a year and a half living in Melbourne and I just can’t choose. I live in Richmond, yet previously lived with a Geelong supporter, casually dated a guy who went for Essenden, but then again Hawthorn is number one. There was also that one time that I partied with a handful of the boys from the Sydney Swans, my other housemate went for Fremantle, and I used to live in Brisbane so have a soft spot for the Lions even though they aren’t very good. You can now see my predicament.

I can only blame this on the boys. Living with two faithful AFL fanatics for a year seemed to have influenced more than I would have thought. During football season our townhouse became an AFL haven. I didn’t have a choice in the matter. From watching countless matches I learned about goals, handballs and kicks. I could associate names and numbers with those players I deemed as hot and which teams they played for.

What pushed me over the edge was my voluntary entrance into the work tipping (betting) pool that lasted the entire season. I’m proud to say I came in 4th place, which is pretty darn good for a first timer. Because there was potential to win a few hundred bucks, I even surprised myself by checking the scores on my phone over the weekend and ensured I got my bets in on time while traveling overseas.

The best part about the madness of football appreciation in Melbourne is that Richmond, the neighborhood I live in, is where the action takes place. The MCG (Melbourne Cricket Grounds) is the 13th largest stadium in the world, and can host 100,024 people. Because there’s a guaranteed game every weekend during season, along with the fact that all of the pre-game bars are a short walk from my residence, whether I want it or not, I’m surrounded by AFL hype. Plus, the large stadium lights are now an iconic symbol of what I’ll always remember Melbourne by.

Melbourne Skyline

Melbourne Skyline and the MCG from my old rooftop

The biggest game of the year, the Grand Final, is scheduled for this coming Saturday. And while I think it would be an experience of a lifetime to attend, the cost for the ticket is what is dissuading me. At the least, I can rest assured that instead of being turned off by the madness that is Grand Final Day at the MCG in Richmond, I welcome the sport and all that comes along with it.

Welcome to Richmond

Welcome to Richmond, Victoria.  This inner city suburb, about 3 kilometers from Melbourne’s city center is my new home and by no coincidence.

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Just a swift jaunt off populated Swan Street sits my humble abode – a 3-story townhouse with city views that are hard to beat. No longer is tanning in the park necessary, my rooftop balcony will do the trick in the heated months so far gone. In the meantime, I’m shacked up under electric blankets keeping warm in this frigid winter.

Luckily I have new housemates Adam and Chris to get to know and their love for AFL (football) hasn’t gone unnoticed. I think I can finally say I now understand the major difference between Rugby Union, Rugby League and Aussie rules. I’m sure it’s also no coincidence to them that we live down the street from the MCG (AFL stadium).

While living just off Swan Street I’m discovering boutique eateries like the Swan Street Social and Cheeky Money amongst Greek and Asian takeaway joints, shoe stores, nail salons, pubs and more. Even the Melbourne music institution, Corner Hotel, may be my new live gig haven. A 7-minute walk later and I’m at the doorsteps of my office. I’m still unsure if working and living in the same neighborhood will be a good thing or a mistake I’ll regret at a later date.

Lucky for me 10 minutes further and I have one of the most famous shopping streets in all of Melbourne, Chapel Street, at my disposal. This could potentially be dangerous for my wallet though. And in the other direction I have Bridge Road for excellent brunch spots, more shopping, and closeness to Victoria Street known for great dumpling and Vietnamese spots.

Being just a hop-skip-jump to the city center, I have trains within immediacy and better yet, a few different tramlines to choose from. Apparently, Melbourne is the largest urban tramway in the world! Read about it here.  Old trams, new trams, fast trams, slow trams – they’re everywhere in this city and a fun way to get around. Now, I just need to remember to look the right way before getting off so I don’t accidently get taken out by a car!

Nevertheless it’s early days and there are still friends being missed, new ones to be made, eateries and boutique beers to be discovered (Mountain Goat Brewery is just down the street), and plenty more in store. In the meantime, I’m off for the next 3 weeks to Sydney -> Perth -> Brisbane -> Hilton Head (USA) -> Brisbane and finally back to Melbourne to truly begin it all.