London - The First Weeks

How often do expectations and reality perfectly line up with each other?

In a word: rarely. Still, something special happened in October 2017.

Come sit down! Join me at the pub and grab a drink while I share my experience arriving in London for the first time – and settling here.

Let me introduce myself: my name is Olivia and I am from Canada.

I have been to a few large cities – Toronto, Montreal, Paris, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami and many other “medium-sized” places, and spent a time in Cayo Coco, Cuba.

Overall, I was prepared for London to be the metropolis that Toronto and L.A. was, but perhaps with more elaborate transit, and a longer history including its renowned culture.

As said, the size was expected – but the hustle and bustle with the amount of people was a little more than I imagined even though I was prepared for it. The tube/underground (especially at peak times) can be a mad rush. Nevertheless, I believe anyone could adjust after a handful of times. What I appreciate most is the clear signs indicating platforms and directions, making it easier to navigate, even for rookies.

London's landscape looked how I thought it would based on photos and YouTube videos of people's experience (except Buckingham Palace seems smaller/“shorter” – the television effect?).

I picked up a book from the library in my area – actress and Dame Joan Collins' first autobiography Past Imperfect. The first chapter alone referenced many neighbourhoods and streets in London that I actually recognized after only 2 weeks living here! London has 32 boroughs (plus there is the official City of London). Although I did not go out every day, you quickly learn your geography without much effort! Certainly using the transit maps and looking at listings on SpareRoom unconsciously helped.

Once you land in the UK, you need time to settle in and very importantly, sightsee. Someone who is budget conscious or overwhelmed can go on free tours as a starting point (Strawberry Tours was recommended by a friend I met the first day I arrived). The West Tour in particular (including St. James' Palace and Buckingham Palace) was great timing for me because I witnessed the changing of the guards as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, drove right past!

When it comes to food and shopping, there is an immense amount of choices. From budget grocery stores (like Iceland) and shops (Primark), to high end Oxford Street and world-famous Westfield Mall, you always have options.

Lastly, there is the Londoners themselves. Are they all “stiff upper lip”? How about “Keep Calm and Carry On”? For the former, it might seem so at times but whenever I approached someone who looked serious, they always turned out to be helpful and friendly. As for the latter, I would say it is accurate – one bright example being that when an area gets crowded, or there is a long queue (for North Americans – line!), there is no rudeness, pushing or panic.

So, did my expectations = reality?

In many cases, yes. In other cases, it went above and beyond. London is a plethora of activity and there is something for everyone, no matter your background, hobbies and personality type. You will always find something to do – or not do, if you want to sit back and enjoy the scenery!

Of course, London is not the only place in the UK. With its great transit system, you can easily go and settle wherever you want – or visit whatever place strikes your fancy.

But first you have to get here! My advice? Read up not only on what is required, but people's experiences – and contact BritBound! Their team is second to none. If I did not have their support, I would be wasting time stressed out instead of enjoying all that UK has to offer!

P.S. Want to know how and why I came to the UK in the first place? Check out London: Making the Choice

By Olivia Worobec