I stepped off the plane and officially planted my two feet on British soil. I was moving to London, this huge metropolis of people bustling about, always with somewhere to go.
I knew no one; and while this notion may be scary in a city so large, it wasn’t. Although I had no idea where I would live on a long term basis, I knew deep down that the right place would come along. I wouldn’t be homeless, a beggar on the street dragging around 2 suitcases having nowhere to go. No way! There would always be somewhere to go-even if it was just an Air BnB for a few weeks.
Living in a city like London, there are rarely any accommodations which are affordable enough that one can live on their own. While us young twenty-something single girls envision finding a cute little apartment straight out of ‘Bridget Jones’, the reality is far from this. This is not a movie and we are not the star of our own personal rom-com. The simple fact is, to survive in London as a singleton, you need to find a house share to settle your life into. It is after all, the only way to live.
When an expat moves to London they come to truly experience this city. The same goes for a city like New York. No one moves halfway across the world to live an hour outside the city center, in the suburbs. It is not in the plan. And when moving away from home into a city full of strangers, meeting people to know here is also important too.
Considering any place past Zone 3 is a no-go. Hell, the chances of one leaving Zone 2 is a stretch on any given week. I knew what I could afford, and as a suburban Melbournite; I knew I did not want to move into an area full of noise and hustle and bustle. The idea was to be central enough, but not too far out. Close to the Underground if possible, and in a room which did not amount to feeling like a mouse in a shoebox.
House Share One: Forest Hill, South East London
The first of 3 house shares I would enter over the next 12 months, would be the biggest. Sitting on the cusp of Zone 2 and 3, this was as close to suburban London as I wanted to get. There were chimney’s everywhere around here, and the cutest little houses that it felt like I was in a ‘Willy Wonka’ turned ‘The Holiday’ type of town. The positives were clearly evident: a nice area, cheap rent, a 12 minute train ride to London Bridge and a room so big that I had space to lay down on the floor and work out if I wanted to. I was on the second floor of a 3 bedroom house and it was an amazing place to begin my adventure.
The landlords for this property were an interesting bunch. The male, whilst being the peacekeeper and friendliest of the two, reminded me of a typical Aussie bloke. He worked hard in a trade and was always approachable whenever there was an issue that needed fixing.
His partner however, well she was a completely different story with the words ‘wicked witch of the west’ the only description that could apply. They lived next door so a random visit was always possible, plus her son lived in the house with the rest of us and he really was a Mummy’s boy that needed her to do everything for him, including his laundry.
She wasn’t always horrible though, but constantly complained about how little we all cared about cleaning the house, trying to enforce rules as they suited her. When the house mates disapproved of these changes we spoke to the peacekeeper to advise her that she was dreaming if she thought we would abide by her new rules; because regardless of what she thought, we did look after the place and she should be lucky she had tenants like us living there. We always stood our ground with her.
After 7 months here I was happy to leave, as I was over the hour long commute (and 3 train changes) to and from work each day, and decided to move closer to work. But the major reason why I stayed so long was because of the friendships I had made with 2 of the 5 other housemates living there: Daina and Marius.
Both were around my age, but they hailed from Europe (Latvia and Romania), while I was the token Aussie. This friendship was everything I needed when I first began to settle into the city, as it gave me people to connect with. When you see people everyday, they become your second family, and for me; no matter how exhausted I was, or how bad a day was, walking through the door and chatting away as we made dinner, or sat around talking in the kitchen, was exactly what I needed living in a city all on my own.
Coming from other countries also helped, as it enabled us to learn about each other and our different cultures, including recipes, alcohol preferences and just simple terminology to describe something. I am so grateful for those moments and really do miss those days in that house with these two.
House Share Two: Ravenscourt Park, West London
When Summer arrived, I was glad to be near the Ravenscourt Park area as it was close to work-only a 2km walk, or a short bus ride away. It was still quiet enough, but far more inner city being smack bang in Zone 2 in the West.
Here, I was only temporary as I was staying in a room while a girl traveled for 3 months around Europe. But this suited me just fine and I was hopeful I would find something else in the area once my time was up. I really enjoyed being able to sit at my window on the top floor of a 3 storey building, the Summer breeze in the air, looking out at the street and the comings and goings below. I also loved that the front door was blue, just like Hugh Grant’s door in the film ‘Notting Hill’.
I lived with 2 New Zealand couples who were a little younger than me but I really enjoyed staying there as it allowed me to feel a little more at home having people just like me living in the house. People who understood my need for Kraft Peanut Butter and Burger Rings; who understood everything I was talking about and above all, were just really similar to me in what I was doing as an expat in London.
I became friends with all of them, especially one of the girls, Caitlin who shared in my sarcastic humour which made our chats interesting pretty much all the time. As an Aussie, I didn’t really know any Kiwis too in-depth even though they are a stone’s throw away; so it was a good experience to live with a group of them for a couple of months and learn more.
Living in this area was also quite handy as Ravenscourt Park was a lovely place to spend Summer nights walking around, sitting and reading a book and relishing in the limited London warmth. It was also an awesome running track.
I am glad I did not live with Aussies while I was in London, because with so many of us here it would have lessened the experience. I didn’t come here to live a life I could have back home, I came here to meet other nationalities and learn more, which I really feel I did, even living with Kiwis.
House Share Three: Hammersmith, West London
Lastly, my final and current house share in Hammersmith is a 5 minute walk to the office and right in the center of Hammersmith’s shopping and bar district.
I moved into a 5th floor apartment at the beginning of October, and will remain here until I leave in January when I head off on my 3 month traveling adventure. I like living in an apartment as I have never done this before. It feels like what a hotel does when you stay in a huge complex. It is quiet though as our apartment is in the back of a courtyard, but I love it!
As an avid ‘The Hills’ fan, I would describe this place as a scummier version of the Hillside Villas Lauren and Heidi moved into in the first episode, not because it is a repulsive place-the room is decent, even though it is small, and the bed is huge. It is really cozy to live in and a nice room. I guess London is just a scummier version in general to other places, because it is old and feels dark and gloomy. The winter nights have not helped lift this feeling at all. This is London on the cheap-it’s not ‘Made In Chelsea’; but it is nicer than a lot of places I considered when I was looking so I am happy with it.
Living with 4 other people, 2 boys, 2 girls; has really been a breeze, as majority of people here work different schedules to what I do, so using the kitchen and bathroom is an easy event to master. I have made good friends with a woman named Sonnie, who I talk to regularly while cooking dinner after work, and at various points in the weekend when we have nothing else on.
Sonnie is a Netherland hailing Brit who is always making me laugh at her dating stories, lack of pop culture knowledge and the conversations that happen as a result. I like to think I am schooling her in all the films, tv shows and music she SHOULD be getting into…and it is A LOT!
Even though it has been a short stay, it has been a wonderful place to ride out the time which remains in London…which is quickly ending! I will miss our crazy conversations though.
Living within walking distance to Hammersmith station is the best thing about living here purely because everything is so close, even if it is past midnight. Night buses stop right outside and Heathrow and Kings Cross are both on the Piccadilly line, so that offers easy access to getting on a flight or to an international train. Shepherd’s Bush is down the road with the huge Westfield Shopping Center a short walk away. Kensington Palace and Portobello Road are 2-3 kms walk from here as well. You can’t beat this location for the price and it really is a dream to live in this area.
London is a wonderful city to live in. If I could have anticipated how amazing an experience I was destined to have I needn’t have stressed at all about any living arrangements I would have whilst I was flat hunting.
I like to think I am a pretty easy person to live with, adding to the fun of every house share I have lived in for the past 12 months; with all my funny stories, film and tv references and Aussie outlook on life.
Making the decision to live here was not an easy one to make, but with every friendship I have made with the people I have lived with, it has made it that much better. I have truly lucked out with the experiences I have had, the memories of each room I have lived in and the people I have made life-long friendships with.
Who knew my London house shares would give me all of this?
Oh, and I never had to live in a shoebox…so that pretty much warrants this as a success!
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