I moved to London on 6 May. Now that novelty of piri piri and Renaults everywhere is beginning to wear off, I’m struggling to decide what I think of the city.
First impressions are definitely mixed. It is partially because I jumped straight in, found a permanent place to live and started working within a few weeks, so I’ve yet to properly explore many parts I’ve wanted to. It is partially because it really is expensive — Vancouver has a reputation for being expensive but it has nothing on London. It is partially because with old city advantages (density, existing intrastructure, well-established sane land-use) also come old city disadvantages (existing infrastructure is old). And it is at least partially because my commute is 45-55 minutes and somewhat roundabout. (My first post-school commute, a 12 minute walk, really spoiled my expectations.)
But there’s nice parts, to be sure. Living in a very urban space, 2 minutes’ walk from a train and 7 minutes from a more frequent train, and still having a rather big grocery store nearby. A city that treats cycling seriously. (I can only imagine how great it would be given a Vancouver-like grid of side streets it could dedicate to cycling.) Easily accessible big parks. A bikeshare/cycle hire that makes sense. Treed squares in the middle of a residential block in summer sunset sunshine. More modernist buildings than I could shake a stick at in Toronto and Vancouver combined.
There’s the usual annoyances: two taps in the washroom sink; smokers everywhere; tourists everywhere; people everywhere; rickety tube trains, and platform construction that explains why “mind the gap” is a thing; draughts everywhere. (Not much of a problem in June, will check back in January.) Among more surprising developments, banks won’t give you time of the day without a really specific proof of address, a major surprise coming from a place where banks open branches in airports to try to nab newcomers first; and the dissonance of a country with VAT-inclusive pricing and advertisements for home broadband internet connections for £3.50 a month (plus £15 a month “line rental”).
The left-hand traffic wasn’t as big of an adjustment as I might have thought. It did give rise to an interesting situation though: initally I’ve gotten quite confused verbally speaking about making a left vs right turn, as I’m used to a right-turn being the near-side one and a left being the cross-traffic one. But even when I was calling lefts right, I had the correct thought in mind, and the actual turn I’ve made was always correct. I’m beginning to wonder if this will be like bilingualism and the languages I store, process, and recall information in won’t necessarily be the same — if, in effect, I’ll have an English (Canada) and a English (UK) dictionary in my head, with left turn/right turn and queue/line.
The three months also confirm my belief that around three months is a decent timespan to get a sense for a city. It’s enough time to give a number of concrete experiences, and enough to soak in stereotypes. I didn’t think two months in Montréal was quite enough, but then again that was winter.
I’m here for around 18–24 months. It won’t be all sunshine and rainbows. But it should be a fun time.