Category Archives: London

Detour to Blighty

It’s been a long while since I blogged! The reason being, I found myself back in the UK for two weeks. It was the three-month trip marking the end of my tourist visa – booked so that I wouldn’t get myself in trouble as an over-stayer. I should never have worried! Aside from it appearing like nobody in Albanian officialdom cares if I stay or go, my one-year Albanian visa arrived the morning of my flight to London.

So this is where the blog post comparing London and Tirana would normally sit.

Except that it is clear that three months is not enough time in Albania and too little time away from London to really compare. Besides, comparison lists I’ve seen online essentially seem to focus on two things: 1) driving in Albania and 2) donkeys. Neither of which really do the country justice!

I missed Albania dreadfully – mostly because that’s where my hubby was – but being in London, in my old flat, was eerily familiar. I went out shopping and spent ridiculous amounts of money for someone whose intention is to be unemployed for a year. I enjoyed knowing the language; eating bacon, dim sum and mature cheddar; knowing where everything was, and miraculously finding it there and open when it should be.

But the UK isn’t my home any more. On some level it jarred with me. By the end of week 1 I was ready to get back on the plane to Tirana.

By the end of week 2 I was desperate. I was so happy to land at Rinas, in the rain, and see the mountains. And my hubby.

The next few weeks bring much excitement for us, and therefore – as dedicated readers of this blog – you! In two and a half weeks the first of our overseas guests arrive ahead of our big fat Albanian wedding, a mere four weeks away.

It’s good timing to have a bunch of visitors over as the Albanian government has just announced the winner of their ‘Branding Albania’ competition – their goal is to reposition Albania and drive tourism to the country. Glad to be able to do my part!

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Family reunions

So, flights are booked. We leave soon. Like, really soon. In less than three weeks’ time I will meet my husband and his family in Tirana and will be enveloped by a whole other life. I am so excited. In less than two weeks’ time my husband will step off the plane in Tirana and into the arms of his family for the first time in 12 years.

This is my dream come true.

For complicated reasons we aren’t travelling to Tirana together but I so wish I could be there to witness this family reunion. It has been so longed for by so many people. (I’m told a pig will be killed in celebration!)

What isn’t going well is my London bucket-list. It’s poorly populated with a few random places I haven’t yet managed to tick off in the last decade. I suspect none of them will be visited and I will end up spending my last few days lurking around my favourite haunts.

In the meantime, cardboard boxes are taking over our living room and we have been marking the occasion of our departure with boozy nights in the pub with lovely friends. Leaving everyone is such a wrench. A huge part of what has made London my home for the last 10 years has been the quality of my friends! Surely evidence of a life well lived is in the quality of the people who’ve come along for the ride?! And you’re all spectacular!

Moving on

When I first moved to London, nearly 10 years ago, I kept a travel blog. It was an easy way to update friends and family about my travels in a pre-Facebook age. I was off on my big adventure. I had my one-way ticket out of Auckland and the world was my oyster. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do!

[I remember the morning before I jumped on the plane I was in the shower and just had this big panic attack and turned into a sobbing mess (proper ugly sobbing) – I was terrified, like leaving-all-the-safety-nets-of-home terrified. I just want to say, it doesn’t necessarily get any easier with age and experience. ]

A few months into my adventure I was settled into London… in the job I was to stay with for nearly 10 years, living above a street I’m still living above. And on my travel blog I wrote this list of things I loved about London:

1. London is the world’s biggest intersection. There’s always someone I know passing through. I’ve had so many house guests lately – and it’s great. I love taking people around the neighbourhood. And catching up with some of the people I’ve met on my travels.

2. I’m never bored. I guess that’s what you get from a city of over 8 million people – there’s always heaps to do – people to hang out with – pubs to sit in – galleries/museums to visit. I’m not too sure I’ll get through everything I want to before I have to head back to NZ.

3. The people here are mad. And that’s always entertaining.

4. My local pub has become my second living room. In fact, my first living room cos my flat doesn’t have one.

5. I’ve got this whole new bunch of lovely friends, who look out for me, who enjoy hanging out, who are all wonderful. This is a very cool thing.

6. I get a huge amount of holidays here. And there’s no shortage of places to go to use them up. This is very exciting. I just seem to lurch from one holiday to the next.

7. I’m completely in love with my job. Yay. Maximum job satisfaction.

I still stand by (most) of that list! London is the world’s greatest city. The place heaves with life, not just in that there are so many people, but in its vibrancy and diversity. In its sense of itself, its confidence, its history, in the way it changes constantly. Most importantly, London has a brilliant sense of humour.

So there’s a big part of me can’t believe I’m leaving. But London has a Peter Pan mentality. If you’re not careful it sucks you in and convinces you that life is so good here that there is no need to move on. And sometimes in life, you just gotta move on.

So, in about two months’ time, I’ll farewell my London family. My life will once again be reduced to boxes and a couple of suitcases. One morning in February I’ll find myself ugly sobbing in the shower. And then I’ll get on a plane to Albania.