I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to get to Leadenhall Market. I was meeting a friend for lunch right by the office we used to work at together and I couldn’t remember how to get there. It was an unsettling feeling. The city I had called home for 12 years felt unfamiliar. I no longer had an Oyster Card to get around; couldn’t remember what end of the carriages to board for easy access to the exits. And yet as soon as I entered the Underground system I began walking like I knew where I was going. I was lost but my stride gave nothing away. I smiled to myself at this typical London behaviour – there is still a little Londoner inside me afterall!
I’ve spent the last 2 weeks back home in the UK after moving to Sydney a year ago. It was wonderful to hang out with friends and family, reminiscing over years of shared history, and already I am wishing my trip was longer. No sooner had I settled into the rhythm of UK life, when it was time to head back to Australia again.
The long journey from Sydney to London was an incredibly comfortable experience though. I had ample leg space and Haagen-Dazs ice-cream on the first leg of the journey in Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy. Then, following a surprise upgrade at Hong Kong Airport, I travelled the second leg in a Business Class flat bed. Although there was a generous amount of wine and champagne was on the menu, I contently cheers-ed my return to the UK with warm mug after mug of English Breakfast tea. It was at once comforting and appropriate.
It took a while for me to find my feet on British soil again though. The accents (although the same as mine) seemed oddly unfamiliar. Transport was confusing and wildy expensive. I was even flummoxed by the introduction of a nifty thing we call Paypass or Paywave in Oz but is known as Contactless in the UK. I had to relearn how to be a local in my own home town. So for anyone who is visiting or returning to London in the near future, these are some of the key things I discovered or was reminded of during this trip.
Travel The Underground Using Contactless Payment. If you have the funny wifi-looking symbol on your debit or credit card you can now use this to travel on London Underground instead of an Oyster Card. There is no need to set up an account (as I mistakenly thought) you simply swipe and journeys are charged to your card, same as they would be on Oyster.
Travel Offpeak. For anyone living or staying outside of London, train fares into the city are reduced by up to 50% if you arrive in the city after 9.30am (may vary for each region but this was the case for South West trains.) It cost me almost £50 for a travelcard on the day I needed to be London for an early meeting –I’ll plan events for the afternoon in future!
Walk With Purpose. Even if you don’t know where you are going (this is how we do it in London!) And walk at every opportunity you can. Many journeys around the centre of town are much faster on foot.
Shop The High Street. O, how I missed the UK high street. I honestly feel it can’t be beaten for price and quality. It took me less than 24 hours to restock my entire wardrobe from the likes of Topshop, River Island, M&S and Primarck (hello, £4 ballet flats!)
Eat Cake. London does afternoon tea and cake so well. On this trip I revisited one of my favourites for sweet treats, Drink, Shop, Do in Kings Cross, as well as tried out a new place called Bea’s Of Bloomsbury at their swanky One New Change address. For just £25 per head my girlfriends and I indulged in chunky ciabatta sandwiches, fresh scones with clotted cream, cupcakes, brownies and meringues. When we inevitably couldn’t eat it all, the kind staff boxed up the rest and my family and I enjoyed tucking into the leftovers later.
Do you have any London local tips that will help me fit in better on my next visit?