Our move to London took place on a Sunday back in September 2016, right before the start of the academic year at our universities, Goldsmiths and City.With luggage of about 100 kg of weight we embarked on the train to Brussels and then the Eurostar to London (a bargain offer for 69€ from bahn.de). This, we figured, was a lot cheaper than getting all this luggage on a plane.
Before actually moving, we went on the risky journey of finding a room online, only having had contact to our future flatmates through Skype and having to pay a deposit of 1 1/2 months of rent before ever setting sight on the room… It turned out well for us, everything looked as expected and there were no unpleasant surprises, but a bit of advice: don’t do this if possible! A better idea is to fly into London for a few days while staying with friends/couchsurfers and checking out potential rooms in person.
Arriving at St Pancras Station, we took our first and only black cab in London to our house in the South East and barely fitted in. So excited! A long while later (stuck in traffic), we finally arrived and could unload our things and get some groceries. Great plus, shops do not close here on Sundays!
A few things that I noticed right away to be quite different:
1. Traffic on the left
This one has been tricky on me and I still struggle from time to time whenever I walk as a pedestrian. Luckily, at traffic lights there is often a writing on the ground telling you which way to look and if you just look left-right-left-right, it also works instead of doing it right-left-right from the start. The best way to get used this weird wrong side traffic it is to start biking in London! After a bit of a trembling-and-trying-not-to-fall-out-of-fear in the beginning, it took me only about a week to get more or less used to biking here. Being part of the left traffic makes it far more normal than just walking through it! Another tip: when going to a bus stop, think about which direction of the road you want to go and look at the cars if they are going there! That way, you won’t stand on the wrong side (and go possibly in the wrong direction).
2. London’s size
London is a hell of a huge city!!! It took me quite a while to find my way around, also as streets are ordered differently in different boroughs, making it quite difficult to orient yourself, especially on a bike. GPS is definitely useful for that, as is either mobile internet (Giffgaff is cheap and I recommend it) or an offline map (Maps.me is an amazing free app for that). For both biking and public transport, Citymapper has been amazing as it gives real time information. But just face it, it will take forever to get somewhere. Biking about 1 1/2 hours a day is completely normal if I want to do something in the centre!
3. A new currency
Apart from the fact that I still struggle to know which coin has which value (the Aldi cashier is luckily very patient with me!), the pound has been easy to get used to. In the beginning, we had some issues with transactions as we used the regular bank transaction which was very costly. Opening a basic account at Santander gave us a credit card as well as a place to transfer our Euros to with Transferwise (the best place for that). Also, as soon as you start viewing things in pounds instead of euros (oh, coffee for 2,80, that is okay!), it does not seem that crazy expensive anymore… which it still is of course, but hey, it is London.
4. London’s diversity
This one is truly amazing. London is the most mixed place of people I have ever been in, especially the South East where we live. When registering with my GP, I was amazed to see a sign that advertised the fact that 8 languages were spoken by the staff, including Arabic, Farsi and Bengali – the most normal thing here! Despite all the Brexit, xenophobia, anti-refugees things we hear in the media, there is this matter-of-fact London diversity and tradition of immigration here which simply is, so people are super used to it. As such, I enjoyed this feeling of total normality when two women in a full burqa spoke in perfect British English to each other next to me in the waiting room at the doctor. Great!
Next to these first impressions of differences to Germany, we also started here by enjoying what London has to offer. A bit of good weather made it easy to arrive in this city and to take up the courage and energy of biking to the centre. Seeing Westminster and Big Ben for the first time, going on a London free walking tour, making the cheesy red telephone box photos and eating fish and chips were all big on our list of things we did in the first weeks.
Some other big London attractions, also a little more off the beaten track will follow soon, so keep on reading. For now, cheers!