Arriving at Heathrow this time on the Piccadilly line from our West London home was different. It was the last time I would make that journey. There was no return plane ticket. Only memories and an expiring visa in my passport marking the end of my welcome. The day had come.
It was time to go home.
Standing under the departure boards with my packed bags, the past three and a half years felt like they had gone by in the blink of an eye. How could my initial “one to two years” response to family and friends who asked how long I would be gone for have doubled so quickly?
Quite simply, London does that.
Time is distorted with its fast pace and endless offerings. A month often feels like a week, six months, two. It gets under your skin. Sometimes for the wrong reasons, but mostly for all the pockets of magic it does offer.
It was an instant love affair that started two weeks before the 2012 Olympics and after three months of countless laughs and adventures through South East Asia. A flat was quickly secured and not long after a job with my dream company; right in the heart of all the action. Oxford Circus.
Bank holidays and Christmas closure became opportunities for travel and maximising annual leave. There was always somewhere new to see. I ventured to destinations like Egypt, Croatia, Montenegro, Prague, Portugal, Greece, and one of my favourite trips, a cruise from Southampton on the Queen Mary 2 to spend Christmas in New York. If there was a chance to explore, I took it. It became a joke with colleagues about how much travel I seemed to do and how I must surely have twice the company holiday allowance.
In such a transient city – and for most antipodeans a ‘not forever’ city – most of the contacts I knew on arrival moved on within a few months, so new friendships were constantly established as people came and went.
Family and friends visiting was always a cherished time to look forward to, as well as being the perfect excuse to tick off the popular (usually avoided) tourist spots. Actually, who am I kidding? All of London is busy and what is a tourist attraction for some is part of someone else’s daily commute. It’s unavoidable. I think the beautiful and extraordinary surroundings are often taken for granted by locals rushing about their day. Even after three years, I still had to pinch myself walking to Piccadilly Circus after work. Closing my eyes now, I can still feel the mixture of excitement and awe as I took everything in.
In between all the travel (and work), spare time was filled with brunch dates, weekend markets, theatre, music gigs, strolling along South Bank, picnics in Hampstead Heath, pop-ups, shopping, deer spotting in Richmond Park, blogging events, afternoon teas in hotels older than New Zealand, walks along the Thames and tube missions to Camden, Greenwich, Shoreditch and Brixton.
Weekdays quickly became weekends – with so much to see and do, there was no reason to leave all the exploring and catch ups to only Saturday and Sunday. Every night of the week there is anything and everything to do. All part of what I miss.
Fast forward to two days before leaving, I was sitting on my bedroom floor – tired, frazzled and absent minded from everything to remember. Surrounded by belongings strewn everywhere, the previous few weeks caught up and I sobbed while feeling ALL the emotions as they came pouring out.
Moving countries takes its toll. Packing up your worldly possessions takes twice as long as you think, it’s stressful and a roller coaster of highs and lows finishing work and saying goodbye to cherished colleagues and friends. Those same people, who when you are living on the opposite side of the world also become your family.
There really is no other place quite like London. Others who have experienced the vibrant, chaotic, busy, beautiful and intoxicating city will know the all too familiar feelings. Moments of dizzying love, excitement, overwhelm and stress – sometimes all at once.
Every day I felt inspired by my surroundings. I explored and it was a time I learnt more about myself. With the anonymity that living in any large city gives, comes also a sense of freedom of being able to be yourself away from preconception and expectation.
Now I sit here, that other world feeling a distant memory away with an ache, a desire and a heartfelt longing to be part of that rush again. There are feelings of sadness for the past I know can no longer be re-created and mixed feelings of being far from where I was, but knowing I’m perhaps right where I need to be.
Who knew the hardest thing about London would be leaving it.
Home of course continued – friends got married, careers progressed, families were started and expanded and I find myself now trying to figure out where I fit in the dynamics of this familiar, yet very different environment.
New chapters are always an exciting time to start fresh. To re-set, re-evaluate and focus with the new knowledge learnt along the way. So, right now, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Looking forward.
But, London, I just wanted you to know you will always have a special place in my heart.
Loving & leaving London,