Thursday, 28 September 2017

You must speak German to get a job in Berlin.

Err, no, you don't.


I've been asked many, many times, "How do you find an English speaking job in Berlin?"

Some people will tell you, many of whom are on the internet, that it is impossible to find a job in Berlin without knowing at least a little bit of German. I am living proof that this is not the case, as is my boyfriend, and we are still woefully inept at speaking this glorious language.

It took Dan and I a solid two months of applying, so here's a few tips and tricks we learnt along the way that may make it easier when it comes your time to join the job merry-go-round.

Job searches and aggregators


  1. Google is your friend
    Start off by Googling "english speaking jobs Berlin" - a lot of sites come up, many of which I've listed below.
  2. Monster
    To be honest, Monster.de isn't the greatest search engine for jobs - I've never had a lot of luck with finding good jobs on it. However, lots of recruiters seem to use it to CV sift, so it's a good idea to put your CV up on it. Can't read German? No worries. Put your CV up on the UK site (monster.co.uk), fill in your details and then when you return to Monster.de, most of it will transfer into German. Another little tip is to re-upload your CV every week, as it seems to put it back to the top of the sifting pile again.
  3. Jobs in Berlin
    Just a job aggregator, but it lists a lot of roles where English is required (either natively or not).
  4. LinkedIn
    Facebook for grownups! I'm pretty sure I ended up finding my job here on LinkedIn in the end, but a lot of large name companies advertise here so don't rule it out.
  5. The Local
    As it says straight up on the home page, 8,360 English-language jobs in Germany.
  6. Indeed
    Indeed it is one of the largest growing job aggregators on the web at the moment. They even have a search dedicated to English jobs in Berlin.
  7. Berlin Startup Jobs
    Berlin having had such a divided past, is not the home to many large name corporations. However, it is a absolutely booming hub for startups, many of which are English speaking. The pay may not be quite as good, but you'll get some warm fuzzies from being part of a breakthrough company's story.
  8. Glassdoor
    This site is primarily a employer review site, and to be honest it's not that popular in Germany, with preference going to Kununu. However, you can still find a lot of jobs that have been aggregated here as they pull jobs from countless websites every day.

Big English only companies in Berlin


I don't have a lot to add to this list, as the one I am currently working for has made our whole team redundant, so I obviously cannot recommend it! However, here are a couple of others that I know of that hire a lot of people who speak English.
Note: I will keep updating to this as I find out more companies, and also feel free to let me know if you have some more to add!

  1. Zalando
    Huge Europe-wide online fashion retailer. They hire an insane amount of people every 2 weeks (not sure if I'm at liberty to say how many exactly!) and at any one time there's about 500 jobs on their website (in Berlin alone) in any area from IT, to sales, to marketing. Also, you get pretty sweet staff benefits (discounts, anyone?)
  2. Rocket
    You can either work for Rocket or work for companies which Rocket recruit for. 
  3. Soundcloud
    Not many jobs at one time, but their office language is English and Berlin Mitte is their headquarters.
  4. Wooga
    Pretty cool industry, searching a lot of engineers and designers but other roles in there as well.
  5. Amazon
    Direct competitors to Zalando, Amazon have a big base here in Berlin and at any one time have a couple of hundred jobs available.

Helpful things to know


  1. 3 month notice period
    One thing that would have been nice to know in the beginning was that, in general, Germany has a 3 month notice period when people leave a company. Like wut. In Australia, it's 2-4 weeks and even then sometimes you're shown the door the moment you've put your resignation in. Due to this extended notice period, it can often take companies a very long time to get back to you.
  2. Put a photo on your resume (maybe)
    Another big no-no in Australia is putting your photo on your resume. However, here it is not only expected, but you get tax reductions for what you've paid for professional photos to put on your resume. This could be a two edged sword, though. In my case, my resume stood out to my employer because they were specifically looking for someone not from Germany. However I think in many other cases, my resume was overlooked. You decide and perhaps keep two copies of your resume, one with and one without a photo.
  3. 1st of the month
    Due to "insurance reasons" (everyone who tells me this just shakes their head), in many instances you can only start working on the 1st of every month (or in Zalando's case, the first and third week of every month). This can be mildly problematic if you get your job offer on the 2nd of the month and then have to wait a full month until you start, but that's German bureaucracy for you! Sit back and enjoy the ride.
  4. Not in IT?
    Don't worry - there are jobs out there for you. Berlin is known as a tech hub, specifically for systems engineers who won't have any problems finding a job. The list above is largely for those who are not tech-related, who still want to try to find a role in the field they studied/already work in.

And finally, good luck!


Just remember to hang in there and keep trying. I know it's demoralising, the lack of response, the rejections (although at least you've heard from them, right? Right?) I was reasonably picky about my roles because I wanted to stay in my field (Communications and Social Media) and it paid off in the end. 

You can do it. Stay positive. Get yourself a bier and start sending off those applications. Good luck!

Monday, 29 May 2017

A(nother) year in the life: German edition

Pinching myself, I think "What crazy series of events led me to be living in Germany? I never saw this in the projection of my life path."

Because on this day, my friends, I have now been living in Germany for 1 year. By rights, I should be leaving today - but I am not.

You see, both Dan and I - with relative ease - managed to get sponsored by our employers. The virtually unattainable in the UK was a simple appointment with a trees worth of documentation and, €30's later, we each had a shiny new sticker in our passports.

Therefore we are staying on this side of the world for a fraction longer, but for now, let's look at the year that has passed. This, like the previous 2 years, has been crazy, incredible, stressful and exhilarating.



Berlin
Getting set up, has been challenging. We have continuously struggled to find somewhere to live for more than a couple of months at a time. I will be the first to admit that the sheen of seeing new areas of the city is starting to wear off. 

As a city, Berlin has been wonderful. Not London exhausting, but busy enough to never be bored. The bucket list is ever growing - with such a rich, varied and interesting history (oft times quite depressing).

Some of the things we have crossed off the bucket list and experienced in Berlin include:
  • Underground Bunker tour - Incredibly fascinating and moving tour. One rarely thinks of the civilians on the German side of WWII, so this was an amazing insight into what the innocents on this side did to survive when their city was razed.
  • DDR Museum
  • Visited lakes for a swim - Berlin has so much lake area, it's wonderful!
  • Went clubbing (not to Berghain, yet)
  • Drunk in public. Ok this happens quite a lot.
  • Eaten Schnitzel, currywurst, schweinhaxe (pork knuckle), flammkuchen, Berliners ;) (pfannkuchen) and other German cuisine
  • Drunk a lot of beer. A lot of beer. Occasionally a diesel. But mostly bier.
  • Toured the abandoned Tempelhof Airport, which is currently being used as housing for refugees and for big events. Very interesting history.
  • Wandered around Nikolaiviertel, the oldest part of Berlin
  • Celebrated May Day in Goerlitzer Park and managed to avoid the riots
  • Drunk my weight in glühwein (I'm pleased there's 10 months in between when there is no glühwein
  • Played in a frozen fountain and frolicked in Berlin when it was under snow
  • Lots of different Christmas markets around Berlin (and beyond)
  • Lange Nacht der Museen - the long night of the museums, where we managed to cram in 5 different museums
  • Deutsches Technik Museum
  • Bier festivals
  • Seen a play in German (with English Subtitles - still impossible to follow!)
  • Went to a Beards concert with terrifying bearded German people shouting Be-Ards! Be-Ards!
  • Show friends and family around the city
  • Wandered through a lot of markets and parks, stumbling across interesting statues and monuments
  • Underground Metro tour with bright yellow hardhats in an open top train
  • Berlin Botanic Gardens, which is very beautiful
  • Festival of Lights lighting up Berlin

The language
I have been extremely slack with learning German, I will wholeheartedly admit that. Slack, embarrassed, nervous and so forth. My favourite experience of trying to order 2 "festival beers" in German resulted in a wheat beer and a wine, so I'm not sure what went wrong there.

However, my work is now sending me to German classes. I had my first lesson last week, and it wasn't nearly as humiliating as I expected it to be. I know more than I thought, and now that I can see that I can progress - it is quite fun. I think the lessons we were taking previously were just not right for me - it was all spoken, and hardly written. I learn better from the written word than through listening, so these new classes might just work nicely! Maybe my next blog post will be in German...




Travel
The one country a month rule has generally held up for this past year as well. We have also visited many places within Germany, with many more still on the bucket list.
Here's where I have been during the last year living in Germany:
  • Spain for my Dirty 30 Funfest - Ibiza, Seville, Madrid and Barcelona
  • Croatia - Split, Plitvice Lakes, Hvar, Dubrovnik
  • Montengro, where Dan and I celebrated our 1 year anniversary
  • Poland - Stettin, Wroclaw - the Culture Capital of Europe for 2016, Wolsztyn
  • Edinburgh for Nat's birthday
  • Romania - Bucharest, Brasov
  • Czech Republic - Decin (yet to go together to Prague, soon though!)
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Switzerland - Zurich, Lauterbrunnen, up to the top of the Jungfraujoch, Chur
  • Liechtenstein
  • Italy - Tirano (just for lunch!)
  • UK - London - Dan's birthday and work, Dimension Jump!, Nottingham, Coventry (for work) 
  • Netherlands - Amsterdam, Keukenhof Tulip Fields, Utrecht, Gouda
  • Denmark - Billund for LegoLand, Copenhagen, Nyhavn
  • Sweden - Malmo (we visited more of Sweden at the beginning of 2016)
  • Lithuania - Vilnius
  • Ukraine - Kiev for Eurovision 2017!!!!!, Pripyat to see the Chernobyl Reactor 4
  • Bulgaria - Sofia

In Germany:
  • Wenigerode - in the snow, to ride the steam train up the Broken.
  • Neuschwanstein - to see the Disney Castle under snow
  • Potsdam - multiple times, including spending a night there and visiting the Biospäre
  • Dresden - a couple of times, including Christmas markets
  • Munich - Oktoberfest
  • Füssen
  • Essen (for work, more times than I care to think about)
  • Meinigen
  • Hamburg


Just looking at that list makes me feel exhausted. And now we have the chance to visit more.


Work
I have to thank my employer for sponsoring me, although it hasn't all been smooth sailing. There have been a few developments in this area which I do not want to write publicly on the blog, so please feel free to send me a message if you are interested in knowing what's up :) It's reasonably exciting!

And thus, more adventure awaits. The bucketlist is every growing (it never seems to get smaller, somehow!) and now that we have been given the opportunity to stay a little longer, we are going to grasp it firmly with both hands.

Til next time,
xx

Monday, 2 January 2017

To 2017 and beyond!

I wrote this sitting toasty warm in front of the gas heater in my apartment in Berlin on New Years Eve, having only disembarked from a plane from the Australian summer only a few hours before. I was back in Berlin after a short and whirlwind visit Downunder. It was a good time to reflect on the year that has passed, as I sat weighed down by jet lag but unable to sleep. So here goes. 

As we are all painfully aware, on the world stage, politically and in popular culture, 2016 was a pretty terrible year. Personally, however, it was full of adventures and opportunities to push myself to the limits to continue discovering what I am capable of. This year I haven't faced my challenges alone, however; I've had my partner in crime, Daniel, who I picked up somewhere along the way in 2015.

2016: a recap.

2016 consisted of a lot of movingI moved out of the home I had been living in since arriving in London in Hammersmith because the lease ended and the place, rightly so, required renovating. From here, I moved in with my boyfriend Daniel in Wimbledon. Then my UK visa ended and we made the crazy decision to move to Germany. Because yolo.

Travelling. The country a month rule still stood, with much more local travel included also:
  • Gibraltar
  • Spain x 2, including Ibiza for my 30th birthday for the Spanish Dirty 30 Funfest, with Dan, Al and Nat. We then went on to Seville, Madrid and Barcelona.
  • Sweden, where I saw the Northern Lights
  • Norway, where I caught a ferry cruise through the fjords 
  • Belgium, where I attended the Anzac Day ceremony in Passchendaele, the battle for the western front which saw some many Aussies and Kiwis lose their lives in World War One
  • Ireland
  • Germany - my new home
  • Croatia
  • Montenegro
  • Poland x 2, being so close to Germany, Dan and I literally pop across the border for day trips
  • Romania
  • Czech Republic
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
United Kingdom travelling included:
  • Northern Ireland
  • Wales
  • Scotland, for the Fringe festival and Nat's birthday
  • York, Scarborough and Whitby
  • Cambridge
  • Cornwall, including Penzance, St Ives, Lands End and the Eden Project
German travelling included:
  • Potsdam
  • Munich
  • Dresden
  • Hamburg
  • Berlin, of course
Being a nutcase. With the support of photographer Dan and my awesome team mates Al and Nat, I completed my 2nd Tough Mudder. Naturally, I insisted on going through the electrocution obstacle even though, as a Tough Mudder "Alumni" I didn't have to: I ended up getting shocked in the head.

Turned dirty thirty. With friends, I celebrated my 30th birthday at Pacha in Ibiza, as I wanted to have one last chance to party before I got too old for it. Turns out, there are plenty of old fogies on Ibiza island, and I didn't bring the average age up to 22!

Anniversaries. Dan and I made it to 1 year, and what a truly incredible year it had been! We were, of course, taking a day trip to Montenegro from Croatia on that day, which was a fitting way to spend our anniversary. May there be many more years and even more adventures to follow.

Work. I wound up at The Elders, where I learnt so very much about the state of the world. I became properly interested in world events and as a result can now have proper adult conversations with people. I was sad to leave the Ducklings but we have remained in touch. Arriving in Germany, I searched tirelessly - and demoralisingly - for a job. I eventually found an incredible role doing what I enjoy. It took Dan and I both 2 months to find jobs, and we were at the point of giving up. We later learnt that 6-7 months was the average, and realised how lucky we both had been to get such great jobs in 2 of the biggest English speaking organisations in Berlin.

The difficult times. I wallowed in my own self pity at how poorly (or so I thought) the job hunt was going. I panicked until I broke down about not being able to find somewhere to live, or how to get my bank card, or how to register to live in this strange country. In the end, Dan and I pulled through though and are making the most of the time we have here. 

I have become a beer drinker! After Germany and Belgium visits the year before, I decided the golden beverage was alright. Now living in Germany, we have discovered that beer is literally cheaper than soft drink, so the result is obvious. I've discovered that I enjoy the Erdinger dunkelweiss, amongst others.

I went home home for the first time since June 2014. I visited New Zealand and met Dan's wonderful family and friends for the first time, and they made me feel so very welcome. He showed me his beautiful country and I fell in love with it. We then flew across the pond and I hugged my mum for the first time in over 2 years. I cuddled my best friends' baby girls who I had never met yet. And I gave the biggest hugs to my beautiful nieces who literally pelted down the driveway on Christmas Day and wouldn't let go of Aunty Sasha all day (except when we played Crack the Egg on the trampoline, which could have easily ended in disaster). 

At home, I celebrated a joint milestone year for myself (30 years old), my brother (50) and my mum on her 70th birthday surrounded by friends, family, and ensuring I got myself painfully sunburnt. 

I caught up with countless friends to find out about their lives, loves, losses and laughs of the previous few years. I tried not to say things like "I can't decide if I'll be having my birthday in Paris or Portugal" and failed spectacularly. 

It was more difficult to return to Berlin than when I left in the first place, and the plane journey was an emotional one. I am back now though, and many more adventures await. I feel very fortunate that, with the support of my family and friends, this is the life I have been able to carve out for myself over the last couple of years. Travel has truly become an addiction. 

2017 has so much in store for it already, and it's only just begun.

So let's say Prost! to an amazing year ahead!


Thursday, 1 September 2016

Ich bin ein Berliner

I have neglected my blog badly. I know this. I know you know this. You know I know you know this. We all know this. Life has been a hectic, crazy, incredible roller coaster the last 9 months and yes, I have had time to write all about it, but often less energy to be able to.

I haven't told you about the Northern Lights on our Nordic Odyssey, nor Anzac Day in Belgium, guinness in Dublin, drinking 70% beer in York, the Dr Who Experience in Cardiff or exploring Cornwall. I haven't told you about Spain, my birthday extravaganza, Croatia or, most recently Edinburgh.

But most of all, I haven't told you about Germany. 

Today marks exactly 3 months since Daniel and I arrived in Germany. 



3 months since leaving London and preparing to attempt a new adventure in this different part of Europe (well, at the time the UK was still part of Europe…ZING! NB: I know it's still part of the continent Europe, I'm being facetious...)

It's been 3 of the most challenging months to date, far harder than starting anew in London. But if it hadn't have been for London, starting in Germany would have been damn near impossible. Finding housing, jobs, and dealing with things like bank accounts in a non-English speaking country, with no help whatsoever, has been eye-openingly difficult. But we did it. We got there. And it's all been worth it.

PAPERWORK
Oh my, do the Germans love paperwork. There's numbers for this and that. Can you apply online? Highly unlikely. Do you have to battle a 2 hour queue to discover that the computers are down and to come back tomorrow? Yes. The Germans are known worldwide for their efficiency but when it comes to red tape and paperwork, getting ourselves set up has been the most inefficient exercise I have ever encountered. And I say this affectionately (now, that it's all sorted), as I have spoken with locals who have to go through exactly the same process that we do any time they want to move house, and they agree and bemoan the situation too.

There are 3 main bits of paperwork required to be able to get a bank account, and each requires the previous to be gotten first.
  1. Anmeldung. I don't think it'll matter how long I live in Germany, I'll never learn to say this word. Basically, this is the registered address form, and the first thing you need to apply for once you have semi-permanent accommodation. This took us 5 attempts to get, 2 computer mishaps, 1 appointment for far too far in the future to be useful until finally, with a lovely lady who didn't speak a word of English, we got the paperwork sorted after lining up since 6.30am. Every single German resident has to do this every time they move house. It is the faffiest faff I've ever had to deal with and I almost cried with relief once we finally got it.
  2. Sozialversicherungsausweis. I think this is my new favourite German word (sorry, kartoffelpuffer!) Literally, "Social security card" or number. I braced myself for faffy faffness like the Anmeldung, but it was relatively painless. It still couldn't be done online, but thankfully once it's got, it's got. Dan and I are in the system now!
  3. SteuerID. Tax file number. This was meant to be sent to us after we applied for our Anmeldung but we never received it, so I braced myself to go into a Burgeramt (kind of like a town hall office) to deal with more faff. Thankfully again, this was a quick matter, with the lady behind the counter printing out two sheets of paper, and it baffles me that I couldn't do this at home.

However, geared with all 3, last week Dan and I could finally apply for bank accounts! (Which only took an hour and a half and about 300 sheets of paper).

Et voila! Dan and I officially have all the paperwork completed to be German residents.

JOBS
I started applying for jobs while I was still in London. This tactic had served me very well for landing a job in London, where I interviewed for a role the day after I arrived. Not so with Germany. For both of us, the rejections came thick and fast, the number of jobs we could apply for not as great as we had been led to believe, and things were starting to feel a bit dire. 

We had a date to find jobs by: first week in August. We had already booked travel to Edinburgh on the 12th of August, and decided that if nothing had come to fruition by then, then we would make that our exit date. 

We applied for job after job. We spent our days applying for jobs, or searching for English-only speaking jobs, firing off as many applications as possible. They all started to blend with one another (and frankly, I should have kept a spreadsheet). Then one day while we were out: a phone call. Dan had an interview for a short-term role in a school. 

This sealed our fate, as the short-term role gave us an extra couple of months to find full time employment, and in that time, the offers started coming in. I ended up having about 4 phone interviews and 3 in-person interviews all in quick succession. Turns out the job turnaround in Germany can take quite some time (and that jobs remain on job boards long after they have been filled). A couple of the jobs I decided straight away were not for me, and this was empowering to realise - no matter how desperate I am for a job, I simply cannot do something I do not believe in or know I would be bored doing. 

In the end, it came down to two jobs. I had a great interview for a music education startup, even joined the team for breakfast but at the 11th hour, they decided that my visa situation was too difficult for them. They offered me an assistant role until the end of my visa, and I said I would think about it. In the meantime, I had an amazing interview for a company called e.on. Is it weird to say the interview was pleasant? Was kinda fun? I really enjoyed chatting with these people, and it seems they enjoyed chatting with me as less than 24 hours after my interview, I was offered the role.

It's a 2 year contract, however they were upfront with understanding that I may not want to stay in the role for the whole two years. They looked into visa options for me, and it seems that extending is as easy as walking into the tax office with a letter from my work. How about that, London?!

However, more German bureaucracy stood in my way. Even though I could start straight away (this was the beginning of August), due to payroll (and the same thing happened to Dan), I couldn't start until 1 September. This left me with a month to waste (and waste it I did) and dwindling funds. 

But no matter! Tomorrow I start, and I'm looking forward to it. It's been 3 months since I worked and while it's nice having time off, it can get a bit tiresome. I don't make a good housewife.


HOUSING
This is our final hurdle. We stayed in a hostel for the first few weeks either side of our Spain holiday, we stayed a week pet-sitting last minute in Moabit, we were lucky enough to be approached for a 7 week stay in a lovely apartment in Mitte, and currently we're in a 4 week stay near Wedding. However, it is proving very difficult to find (or be responded to about) long term accommodation. We have 2 weeks left in our current place and time is now of the essence to find somewhere - even if only for a few weeks - to move into at the end of this lease. 

We visited a place tonight that would take us to December. Later in the year we should have more luck finding a long term place, but I guess it might be interesting to take these couple of month flats and live all over Berlin - it's been fascinating exploring all the different areas so far! That's me being glass-half-full about the situation. Ultimately, a place we can call home for a year would be perfect, but it isn't likely to happen.

GETTING OUT AND ABOUT
Before our funds dwindled significantly, Dan and I got out and around Berlin as much as possible.

Potsdam
Potsdam has become one of my favourite places (thank you, Nat!). It's a town just outside of Berlin (but still accessible by public transport) that is home to well preserved hundreds of year old castles and their estates. You can wander through the grounds free of charge, and many of them are spectacular. There are 3 main parks and we have explored 2 of them so far. There's interconnecting rivers and lakes, big expanses of wild park, perfect manicured gardens and elaborate castles dotted all over the parks.








Day trip to Poland
Yep, that's right. Just two hours from Berlin is a Polish town named Szczecin (which is virtually unpronounceable, so try Stettin) and we just popped over the border for a day trip. It's a cute little town with a dotted path encircling it so visitors can take themselves on a self-guided tour of the city. Why don't more cities do this? We saw some lovely architecture and ate some incredible food. Cheap food. Painfully cheap beer. 1L for €3? I'll take 2.


Museums
Unlike London, museums and art galleries in Berlin are not free. We have paid to visit a couple, including the DDR Museum which showcases what life was like in East Germany under Communist rule, the Deutsches Technic Museum where we spent a literal full day and still didn't see it all, as well as underground bunkers which German civilians hid in during WWII while Berlin was being razed. 

In addition, we bought tickets for the Lange Nacht der Museen (The Long Night of Museums), which, for the entry cost of 1 museum, gives you access to over 70 museums and art galleries across Berlin, and also includes all public transport costs to get between them. We managed:
  • Neues Museum (which houses the bust of Nefertiti, and I myself was busted when my flash went off trying to take a photo of her in the Do Not Take Photo's room!)
  • Pergamon Museum
  • Berlin Cathedral
  • The Wall Museum (Mauer Museen)
  • Deutsch Currywurst Museum (yes, that's right, a museum dedicated to that sausagey snack - it was the wurst!) Actually it was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed it :)




Lakeside
One thing I never knew about Berlin was how many lakes, rivers and channels divide the city. For the warmer weather, there are many lakes which you can go swimming in, however some enterprising person has added an entrance fee to most of these. We found one that was free called Schlachtensee that turned out to be perfect! It only has a couple of areas on its 7km circumference that has a very small sandy beach, but every few metres there's a small gap in the trees allowing you to set up your towel amid relative privacy and have your own little patch of shore. The water was very clear (the clearest in Berlin, apparently!) and I was doing fine until some little fishies started nibbling at my toes. I never expected to be able to swim in nature so close to the city.


***

There have been other little bits and pieces such as a quick trip to the Botanic Gardens, drinking lots and lots of beer, and exploring all the areas we have been living in (and finding interesting parks and lakes). We have had 3 big international trips; 2 weeks in Spain, 6 days in Croatia and 4 days in Edinburgh. In the near future, we have Oktoberfest in Munich and a trip to Bucharest, Romania on the cards. It's a crazy time!

And so I'll finish this long update here - we've made it. We actually made it. We did it. We're going to succeed. We are registered. We have bank accounts. We have jobs. It's going to be alright. It's going to be amazing, in fact, as we have bought ourselves another year in which to explore the rest of this diverse continent. 

Til next time,

x

Monday, 30 May 2016

The end of an era, the beginning of a new.


3 weeks.

My Tier 5 visa technically ends on 2 June, though I landed in London on 23 June, 2014. That means I miss out on 3 weeks of my visa due to a series of unfortunate events. Right now, I would do anything to get those three weeks back.

2 years.

Still, I have spent the last [almost] 2 years living on the opposite side of the world from my home, away from friends and family in a selfish attempt to find myself, learn, explore, discover. And it worked - a little too well, I'm afraid. I'm not ready to finish having adventures and so the European Extravaganza won't be ending here...

1 year.

The next adventure. I will be saying So long, old chap! to London, and Guten tag! to Berlin, Germany. I won't be making the move alone - somewhere along the way I fell in love, and a gentleman will be joining me for this next challenge. Berlin simply won't know what hit it.

Recapping the past two years

The last two years have been the greatest adventure of my life. There were incredible times, there were the lowest of low times, there were hardships and there were experiences so amazing that I pinch myself to this day. There were the best and the worst of decisions made. Then there were the people I met and the friends I made who will last a lifetime.

I've learnt that ugg boots are an outside shoe. I've repeatedly forgotten the First Rule of London: always carry an umbrella. Imperial pints are the norm (and at first, I couldn't even get through two...). Sunshine is not to be taken for granted and squirrels are brazen little buggers. What they call a "big" spider here...well. I've developed a love-hate relationship with the tube and I always, always minded the gap. Hairdressers are notoriously awful and the water somehow tastes worse than Adelaide water.

But I fell in love with this city. London is everything, all at once. There is a saying, "When you are tired of London, you are tired of life." It is true. While it can't organise itself enough to implement the 24-hour night tube, it is still a city that never sleeps, a city full of every interest you could perceive imaginable. You like food? Food festivals and restaurants galore. You like art? Museums, graffiti, you name it. You like sports? Join a team in Hyde Park or go hiking in Wales. Every taste, every interest is catered for and one can never, will never be bored in London.

I fell in love with this city, and I am going to miss it like crazy.

Travel

I had a rule: visit a country a month. I stayed pretty much true to this goal. If a month loomed without a weekend away, a quick squiz at Skyscanner and an impulsively bought flight would quickly correct that.

In all, here is the total list of countries visited:
  • England (of course)
  • Scotland (cheating, I know)
  • Northern Ireland (also cheating)
  • Wales (REALLY cheating now x3)
  • Republic of Ireland (x2)
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Germany
  • Austria (x2)
  • Belgium (x3)
  • France (x2)
  • Spain (x2)
  • Luxembourg (also cheating, I only got out of the bus and ate a donut)
  • Gibraltar (kind of cheating as it's still technically British)
  • Poland
  • Czech Republic
  • Slovakia
  • Latvia
  • Iceland
  • Hungary (x2)
  • Croatia
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (I ate an icecream when I got off the bus)
  • Montenegro
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Egypt
There are some noticeable omissions, such as the Netherlands and Portugal, but that is one of the founding basis for continuing the adventure: another year in Europe to finish off those countries I didn't quite make it to.

I also wanted to see as much of the Motherland as I could too:
  • Bath
  • Salisbury
  • Stonehenge
  • Oxford
  • Cambridge (x2)
  • Windsor
  • Nottingham
  • Birmingham
  • Stratford-upon-Avon
  • Ascot
  • Weston-super-mare (Dismaland)
  • Liverpool
  • Lake District
  • Cornwall (St Ives, Penzance, Lands End, St Austell)
  • York and Yorkshire (Whitby, Scarborough)

Theatre

What else is London known for? The West End, of course. I have seen a metric truck-tonne of live performance, and bought the programme for almost all of them (which was extremely weighty and inconvenient to post home, curse my compulsions!):
  • Les Miserables
  • 10 x shows at the Edinburgh Fringe
  • 1984
  • Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch
  • Miss Saigon
  • The Scottsboro Boys
  • Kate Miller Heidke
  • Rhapsody in Blue by Candlelight
  • The Nutcracker (ballet)
  • Matilda
  • Forbidden Broadway
  • Dan Sultan
  • The Lion King
  • Evita (hilariously awful!)
  • Assassins
  • Wicked
  • Showstoppers!
  • Peter Pan Gone Wrong
  • Eddie Izzard
  • Noel Fielding
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream (the Globe)
  • The Book of Mormon (x2)
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Tina Arena
  • Avenue Q
  • Urinetown
  • War Horse
  • Taming of the Shrew (the Globe)

Conclusion

I am a melting pot of mixed emotions.
Sad that I am leaving London and everything it has to offer. Sad that I don't know when or if I'll see Big Ben again, or walk across that little bridge in St James's Park that overlooks Buckingham Palace.
Excited that I am continuing the adventure with my love, and moving to such a fantastic city as Berlin, where I too can fall in love with its architecture and life.
Scared that it won't work out, scared that I won't find a job or a house.
Content that I filled my time in London to the brim, that I let no opportunity go to waste and experienced as much as I possibly could that was thrown my way.

Happy that I got the opportunity to undertake this adventure at all, and blessed by the people in my life who have been so supportive.

And so, I leave it here. London, til next time.
xox


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Les Misérables

45. See Les Misérables

12 hours since I left the theatre, and I am sitting here conducting the soundtrack into thin air at my desk, unable to concentrate on anything else.

Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men?

It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!


Six weeks shy of my 30th birthday and I have finally been privy to the wonder that is Les Misérables, enjoying its own 30th year on London's West End.

How did it come to take me so long? I have known much of the music from various choirs, orchestras, singing lessons and piano books across the years but had never seen them put together. I missed the opportunities when it, on rare occasion, would be performed in Adelaide.

In 2012, I refused to watch the movie featuring Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. I wanted to see it on the stage first. I didn't know if I would like it, but dammit, I wanted to see it.

By 2014, I had crumbled, and watched the [abomination] of a movie. Now I had a fair idea at least of the plot and how the music I knew so well fitted into the story line. I read as people complained that there was no speaking in the movie, and shook my head at the stupidity of humankind.

Fast forward to arriving in London in June 2014. Here was my chance: Les Misérables was performed on the West End, every night, and had been for 30 years. And I waited. I waited for discounts and special deals which never came.

When it came time to write my bucketlist for the last few weeks I have left in London, I put Les Misérables at the top. Dan and I had been saying for the longest time that we should use his theatre tokens on Les Mis, but we continuously forgot to take them into the city to buy the tickets.

Finally the day came. Tickets had been purchased a few weeks before, seats D 1 & 2. My day at work was less than ideal, but I was looking forward to that evening. I rushed out of work towards a restaurant near the theatre, blathering away to Dan about how excited I was and occasionally breaking into song.

On my own
Pretending he's beside me
All alone
I walk with him till morning

 
The Queen's Theatre is a beautiful theatre right in the heart of the district. I was worried about Stall seats because I often struggle to see past people, but the stage was high enough that the people in front did not obscure my view.




The show
From watching the movie, I had a sort of idea what the plot was, so I wasn't going in blind to the story line. Les Misérables is quite a complex narrative spanning multiple narratives across many years, culminating in Paris in 1823 with the uprising of the French Revolution. If you don't already know the general story line, then this blog post is probably not for you!

To be fair, I couldn't really remember what happened. And so I watched with baited breath and anticipation as the plot continued to unfold. We had the understudy for the main character Jean Valjean and honestly, he was so incredible that I felt it was a disservice for him to be the understudy.

Javert was a suitably stiff and stoic character, with a permanent frown whose staccato tone punctuated his unwavering commitment to hunting down Jean Valjean. The tragic Fantine grew higher and higher in my regard, and I loved the beauty and relaxed aura she possessed at the very end when she returned to Jean Valjean. Cosette felt a little over performed, but still possessed an incredible soprano voice and Eponine, the beautiful Eva Noblezada who I had seen previously in Miss Saigon, was wonderfully heartfelt for her rendition of On my own.

I giggled a few times throughout - not least because of the Master of the House, the wicked and immoral Monsieur Thénardier and Madame Thénardier and the small moments of comic relief are truly a relief in this ultimately tragic tale.

Conclusion
At the end of the show, after joining most of the crowd in a standing ovation, I turned to Dan and said,
"Can we see it again? Like, now?"

I have now spent all morning listening to each of the songs again, desperate to commit the words to memory. Les Misérables has now joined my list of favourite musicals, and has gone from a show-I-guess-I-should-see to a show-that-I-must-see-again-and-again.

Til next time,
xx

Friday, 15 April 2016

Nordic Odyssey Part 1: Stockholm

19. See the Northern Lights
The driving force behind the Nordic Odyssey was the desire to witness the dancing sky, the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis.

And dance the sky did.

Our adventure spanned 9 full days and 9 nights travelling over 2700km through Sweden and Norway, right up above the Arctic Circle and back again. It was truly an experience of a lifetime and one of the most amazing holidays I have been on to date.


Friday 12 February
STOCKHOLM
We arrived very late at night and so made our way directly to our accommodation. The air outside was cold, the icy ground slippery but there was little to no snow to be seen. A flake or two fell like dandruff from the sky, but that was all we would see of the white stuff that night.

Saturday 13 February
STOCKHOLM
As we had trudged towards our accommodation the previous night, I had stopped to adjust the gigantic backpack in front of a coffee house selling a delicious looking cream pastry. We promised to return the next morning for breakfast, after we picked up our 24 hour Stockholm travel pass.

We had a big day of activities ahead of us, and the travel pass turned out to be invaluable. Not cheap, but it paid itself back within a couple of journeys: throughout the next 24 hours we were on and off the trains whenever the fancy took us. Scoffing the delicious pastry topped with cream and apple sauce, we headed to the nearest train station.

"It looks pretty out there, let's get out!"

We were on our way to the Ericsson Globe when we spotted a pretty scene out the window of the train. It was cold, but all sunny blue skies. The scene infront of us was a partially frozen lake with large shards of ice and pretty houses up on a hill.

Also, the ground was covered in snow.




Sufficiently photographed out, we hopped back on the train, just to get out 2 stops later when we saw another pretty scene out the window. This time, we had to walk down quite a steep (and slippery) hill until we reached the bottom; a dock, a ladder and...what's that on the lake? Footprints? Is the ice thick enough to stand on?

I perched myself on the edge. Rested my feet on the ice. Three...two...one and I was standing! Both Dan and I had a go at wandering around on the thick, frozen ice, but a couple of little splintering noises had me back on the jetty quick smart.
 

We walked along for a short way, and watched someone skiing along the other side of the frozen lake. They must have been off to the shops!

Time to get back on the train and head to the Ericsson Globe. A little miniature globe scales the side of the giant globe, and inside this mini orb we were offered a slightly different aerial view of Stockholm as it is a little further out from the city centre. We could see the frozen lake we had just tap danced on and all the pretty red rooved houses.
 

Next stop on our itinerary: Ikea. The one thing (other than the Northern Lights, of course) that I was adamant to do in Sweden was visit Ikea. Back in Australia, I was obsessed with Ikea having lived so close to it: I had become sufficiently brain washed. Dan, however, had never been to one before so naturally it was time to start with the largest one the world - and where the phenomenon began.

It was huge. We took some embarrassing photos outside before making our way straight to the restaurant (we would never have made it through the whole store without sustinence!)
 

And guess what that sustinence was? Swedish meatballs, of course. Swedish meatballs, that delicious gravy and of course: lindenberry sauce. I was in heaven. We wondered what the strange white drink everyone around us appeared to be drinking, so Dan went to the dispenser to collect a glass for us.

Milk.
It was milk. Not so strange after all, but definitely a moment of cross language confusion!

The Ikea store was massive, and not particularly well laid out. There were mezzanines within levels, and mezzanines within mezzanines but I am quite sure we managed to see everything in the end. We sat on comfy and garish couches, we imagined how the pouf would match the rug in our imagined home. We spun on office chairs and wrote obscenities into the children's calculators.

After spending at least 5 hours exploring the store, we made it to the ground level and out, having purchased only a thermos. In the outside store, we grabbed some chocolate and snacks while we organised where to go for dinner.



Dinner had to be a viking restaurant. Using our transport pass, we hopped back onto the trains and back into old town. We walked through the door and a large blonde man greeted us. As we did not have a booking we would have to leave by a certain time. "Was this ok? And what are your names and where are you from?" he asked us.

We wondered why he asked, but gave him the information he required. The next minute, we were standing on a set of stairs, full to the brim viking restaurant laid out before us.

"Please welcome..." he boomed, "Sasha and Dan from Australia and New Zealand."

The room erupted in cheers and hollers as we decended the stairs, and we, visibly embarrassed, crawled into our seats in the middle of a long table. Is this because we didn't book? We soon realised, however, that every time a new table were seated they were introduced, and each time we joined in the whooping and applause.

So, it's not a secret that Scandanavia is expensive. It's very expensive. Eye-wateringly so. So when we looked at the menu, we were glad we weren't particularly hungry. We ordered mead (of course!) to be drunk from our chalises, a pot of mussels and a meat selection comprised of reindeer heart, bear, moose and more.

In case you wondered, reindeer heart is very strong and gamey and probably my least favourite of the meats. Stabbing our dinner with our viking implements, and regaled by traditional music - it was an excellent evening.



We began the wander back to our hostel, stopping to take night time photography and generally be irresponsible throwing chunks of ice into the river. It started snowing on us, and we giggled and played in the snow all the walk home.



Sunday 14 February
STOCKHOLM - KIRUNA
We checked out and stored our luggage at the station before setting out for the day. Today we wanted to explore the old town and the Djurgarden. It was much colder today, and the sky was white and grey. Despite the 3 pairs of socks, my feet remained cold. No matter! That's what snow does.

As we walked towards the Djurgarden, we passed the Palace and had a peek inside.

"OUT OF THE WAY" I heard from behind me, and promptly jumped further into the path of the guards stomp marching their way past. Oops, it was the changing of the guards. We followed at a safe distance (to avoid being shouted at again!) and watched the ceremony of the guards.

On the outside of the palace, the steps had been converted into a skiing ramp and children young and old were practicing their technique. I thought this was particularly cool - you'd never get a skiing ramp on Buckingham Palace!

After a warming coffee at the entrance of the Djurgarden (which is a very large public park filled with museums), we set off to explore. And it was beautiful. The landscape was white, the trees were stark black and white, the sky was white. The occasional bit of colour popped on the horizon; a little house here, some orange reeds there and us of course, in our bright purples and reds.




Dan had been here before, and wanted to show me a rather rudey statue. We had a look through the statue park and indeed there was a very sensuous, naked, sprawled lady statue looking a tad cold in the snow.




All of this wandering was in aid of reaching the Vasa museum. The museum is solely dedicated to a ship, but not just any ship: an almost fully intact 17th century ship that had been salaved and restored and now offered a fascinating insight into the people of the time over 300 years ago. Hilariously, the ship sunk within about 10 minutes of its launch as it was too top heavy (the king demanding Extra Cannons! But not being able to account for it in the design...) but due to the cleanliness of the water and the lack of tide, the entire ship sat at the bottom of the sea perfectly preserved.

Our cameras fogged up in here having come from the very cold into the very warm, and so a lot of our limited time was spent trying to get the lenses clear. However, I found it completely fascinating and soon they were calling for us to leave.

We had a few hours now before our overnight train to Kiruna, so we returned to the entrance of the Djurgarden, ordered - you guessed it - meatballs!, had a few beers and then went back to the train station.



One the way back to the station, we discovered a free outdoor iceskaing rink. Honestly, some of the things about this country are just so amazing - you definitely wouldn't find free rinks or ski slopes in London! We watched one girl effortless skate and twirl, and a boy try to impress her but ultimately fell over and embarrassed himself. It grew quite cold, and so we continued on.

We chose to catch the overnight train to Kiruna as it would be a different experience for me, a chance to look at the pretty scenery and basically covered transport and accommodation For an additional £4, we were able to upgrade to a cabin. We waited in the cold for a little while but soon enough our train approached, and we boarded.

Our cabin was adorable, and perfect. Two bunk beds that could be folded away into couches, hidden storage at every turn and the best bit: our own tiny toilet and shower. We made ourselves comfortable and decided to go check out the restaurant car (the food carriage).

Ok let me set the scene. I'd made myself comfortable.
"Can I do this barefoot?" I asked Dan.
"Absolutely, it should be the next car."
So barefoot and braless, and I threw my shawl over my shoulders and pottered to the end of the carriage and, between the two of us, we hauled open the two very heavy doors dividing the carriages.

Not the food cart.

"It must be the next one," Dan said, and we continued on.
And on. And on.  About 6 cars down, we found the food carriage. I threw Dan a look as filthy as my bare feet.

"We're here now, we're buying something," I said, and got us a couple of pizza slices, continuing to throw Dan [now mock] filthy glares.

It was after midnight now, so once I mustered the energy we made the [barefoot] trek back to our room to settle in for the night.

***
Part two sees us waking up above the Arctic Circle, well on our way to Kiruna and the next leg of our Nordic adventure.

xx