For those of you wondering what I have been up to the last 9 months, keep on reading ’cause you are about to find out. After living and loving Dublin for the last 7 years of my life I packed up and moved across the sea to England. I was very excited about the prospect of a ‘big’ change in my life, but didn’t really think of it as much of an adventure given the obvious similarities between the two… However, I have been pleasantly surprised by just how different the two are and by what a wonderful and exciting country England has turned out to be. Let’s start with all the good things I have discovered in the last couple of months, shall we?
English countryside: England had completely slipped under my travel radar. I had been to London, Cambridge and Oxford a couple of times (all of which are wonderful), but in my head, that is all I needed to see in England. That and Stonehenge, although let’s face it, I was not particularly intrigued by a couple of big rocks in the middle of a field. However, before moving, I picked up a couple of England travel guides from the library and they kept referring to the Cotswolds as a must-see. I hadn’t even heard of it before! As it turns out, it is a protected area of English countryside comprising a whole bunch of little villages and small towns. In summary, it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. And it is not just the Cotswolds but many other places I have been to since. Discovering the English countryside, what with its funny hard-to-pronounce-right names, its tea rooms and its local people, is definitely one of the highlights of my time in England.
So much to see: Building on from my previous point, and due to my complete ignorance on all things English, I have been extremely overwhelmed (in a good way) by just how much there is to see in England. I thought it was probably double the size of Ireland, but there is so much packed in, that it feels like it is ten times the size! There are so many different national parks to explore; so many more cities other than London; so many beaches and islands; so many little towns, each special in its own way … the list is endless! I have been here since February and despite going somewhere most weekends, I still feel like I haven’t seen anything.
People: Given the hard-to-top fame of its Irish neighbours as the most welcoming and friendliest of people (calm down you Irish, I still think you are the best!), and given the bad publicity the English get in certain TV shows and across holiday resorts in Spain, I am going to be honest – my expectations weren’t high. Thankfully, I was proven very wrong. I have only encountered super friendly, welcoming and chatty people. From the lady that helped me open my bank account, who we discovered used to live in the same apartment block as me; to the owner at the Lady Jane Tearoom who welcomed us in and made an effort to communicate with my parents despite their complete lack of English; to the lady at the insurance number office who the day after the Brexit vote purposely went out of her way to state to Airam that he, as an inmigrant, was very welcome here; to the receptionist of our hotel at Stow on the Wold, who took us on a walk around the town late at night and pointed out the best places to go for a meal. I could go on, but I think you get the point.
Public transport: This is a controversial one, as you shall find out when you get to the bad stuff, but I’d just like to point out that there is plenty to choose from. There is rarely (and by rarely I mean I haven’t found a place yet) anywhere, no matter how remote, that cannot be reached by public transport. This is one of the reasons why it is so hard to stay at home in England during weekends.
Pimm’s: At the risk of sounding like a complete alcoholic, I am tempted to say this is my absolute most favorite part of England so far. Very few things beat finding a new pub and sitting outside enjoying the sun (that’s right, the sun comes out during summer over here) with good company and a jug of Pimm’s. According to Wikipedia, Pimm’s “is a brand of fruit cups, but may also be considered a liqueur”. It is generally served with carbonated water or lemonade, and slices of orange, cucumber, mint, strawberries and/or apples. Basically, it is the English equivalent of Sangria.
London: This one should be self-explanatory really. I have never been that big a fan of cities but London is just the most fascinating city I have ever come across. I have lost count of how many times I have been now, but there seems to always be something new to do. There is just no end to it, and I can’t wait to keep uncovering what it has to offer, one step at a time!
English pubs: This has been another of the big unexpected surprises. The Irish love their pubs and I have been to many in my Irish past life, and I somehow assumed they would be the same over here. Well, they aren’t. And the strange thing is I can’t really put my finger on what is different! Each one of them seems to have its own personality and I have come across some real beauties in my time here. If we plan to go for a walk, we know it will automatically include a pub stop. It is some kind of English ritual – you can’t go for a walk that doesn’t involve a pub stop, and I must say it is something we have happily embraced.
Weather: I have heard time and time again the English complain about their terrible weather. Back in June it hit 30 C for a couple of days, and everybody was telling us “that’s it, enjoy it guys ’cause this is as much summer as you are going to get!”. Two weeks later it hit 30 C again. And again. And again. Basically it has been really warm during the whole summer and it is the longest I have seen the sun out in the last three years. Sure, it is not the same weather you’d get in Spain or Italy, but it may as well be if you compare it to the Irish weather!
Eurostar: You can take a train from London to Paris. My two most favorite cities connected by a 2 -3 hour train ride. Just how freaking awesome is that?
Despite of what I have been telling you so far, it hasn’t been all wonderful. Close enough, but not quite.
Snakes and other creepy crawlies: Yes, they have snakes in England. I was walking home one evening when we spotted a decapitated snake on the road. I was shocked! So I told some of my friends at work the following day and was met with complete skepticism along the lines of “ok, even if there are snakes, they are not poisonous” HA! YES THEY ARE! Turns out there is one native English poisonous snake species – the adder. And the worst part is, they are not that hard to find, particularly if you go hiking. With that said, I still haven’t come across any besides the dead snake, but we haven’t been doing a lot of hiking (coincidence?). It may seem like I am being ridiculous to those of you reading this from the USA or other countries with snakes, but having gotten used to Ireland, where the most dangerous animal you are going to come across are cows, or growing up in the Canaries where the worst that could happen to you is stepping on a weird fish, it has been a big adjustment. And it is not just the snakes! Due to the humid warm weather and all of the vegetation, the place is riddled with all sort of creepy crawlies as well as bees, wasps and other terrible creatures. Despite being a big fan of nature and the big outdoors (I know, you wouldn’t believe it after the last couple of lines, would you?), biting insects and other poisonous creatures are just not my cup of tea.
Public transport: Remember when I said public transport was great? Well, it would be awesome if it only ran effectively. I don’t know why it is but having a single smooth train ride seems like the biggest challenge in this country. The first time we took the train into London, we had to wait an extra half an hour, and after finally boarding, we made it as far as two stops before being asked to leave and wait for the next train. It hasn’t gotten much better since! And if you want to take the bus, well it might not just turn up, so best of luck to you! If on top of that you add the extortionate prices for some train rides, it kind of makes it hard to not want to buy a car.
Brexit: We were here for the Brexit campaign, we were here for the vote, and we were here for the aftermath. And let me tell you when you witness such a strong hate anti-inmigration campaign and you witness a whole nation vote in favour of that campaign, it changes things. After-Brexit England has not been the same, and that is all I will say about it.
Logistics: I have lived and worked in four different countries, and I have never witnessed anywhere that makes the most simple of things as complicated as they do here. The process to get a social security number involved a month wait for an appointment followed by two meetings in two different towns after which we still had to wait a couple of weeks to get the actual number on the post. And it is not as if they give you the number to use in the mean time! That is just an example – anything from opening a bank account, to renting a house or other day-to-day activities you are made to jump through a whole bunch of unnecessary hoops. I remember the days when I thought the Spanish liked paperwork a bit too much… turns out they do over here too!
English accent: When I first moved here I could not understand the English accent at all. You’d think after 9 months I’d be well used to it, but despite a slight improvement, I’d still take a thick Irish accent any day. And don’t even get me started on the names of places… I cannot for the life of me get the pronunciation right!
So there you have it – my life in England so far. And despite the creepy crawlies, the train nightmares and having difficulty establishing conversation with certain people, it has been a wonderful nine months. Can’t wait to start sharing all of my little adventures on this blog and to see what the next nine months have in store.
Are you also another expat in England? Or have you recently become an expat somewhere else? Let me know in the comments!