I started researching ways to live in London as an American and work, so I could, well, afford to live in London, and of course travel outside of London whenever I could. I applied for a work visa. I found an organization that helps young travelers find jobs. I made a week-long reservation at the same B&B where I had stayed while taking my class, so I'd have a place to crash while looking for a place to live. And then in April of 1997, I started dating my husband.
We had been friends for years, having worked together in the video department of our local mega-grocery store chain. Friends became "more than friends," and we started our relationship. By that time, my plans for moving to London were in full gear. He never once suggested I stay home, or made me feel guilty for leaving him for so long. In fact, he encouraged me to pursue my dream, and I'll always be grateful for that.
So, in August of 1997, he sent me on my way, with sappy mix tape (remember those?) in hand. I flew across the pond with my friend who was going to complete a semester abroad at the University of London. When we arrived, we both checked into the B&B for a few days.
Here's a picture of me, sitting on the bed, looking a bit homesick.
I started looking for a job and a place to live right away. It turns out the job search wouldn't be too difficult. I went to the headquarters of the employment agency I had found, and saw on the job board a posting for a full-time position as a marketing assistant for a company that repackaged and resold recycled printer cartridges to businesses, which was right up my tree-hugging alley. I set up an interview, and they hired me, which to this day I find surprising since I had not a lick of marketing experience. Then again, my job essentially required me to take orders over the phone, stuff brochures into envelopes, and to make the boss coffee. But I didn't care. I was living in London! I was working in London! And I could afford to eat at Pizza Express!
Now I only needed a place to live. Luckily, that same employment agency had a housing board. I made several appointments to see apartments. Most were extremely dirty and scary. However, based on what I could afford, I figured I'd have to make some concessions. I took an apartment in North London, near Camden. It was a huge place, where six other young people lived. I soon realized I had moved into my own Real World experience, minus the cameras, of course.
My apartment is the brown building in the center. My room was the one on the bottom floor, to the right of the door, and had a nice big window facing the front of the street.
My roommates were from all over the world. There were two Canadians, one French guy, one girl from Italy, another guy from Australia, and Nikki, who became a close friend of mine, from South Africa. It was such as incredible cultural experience living with all of them, and so much fun as well. I remember being fascinated watching Nikki and Matilde, the girl from Italy, roll clove cigarettes on the kitchen table. Nathan, the guy from Australia, would make marmite sandwiches that looked repulsive to me, but he loved them. And the Canadians brought a taste of home with them, since their accents, for the most part, sounded just like me.
Here's a picture of some of them in our kitchen, plus me and my husband, when he came to London to visit me.
One of the most incredible things I witnessed when I first arrived in London was the fact that the city was in mourning. I arrived in London three days after Princess Diana's funeral. There was a subdued air about the city, and everywhere you went, shops and restaurants had tributes to the Princess taped to the front windows of their businesses. My friend whom I flew over with and I went to Kensington Palace, where Princess Diana had lived. And what we saw is still to this day imprinted in my mind as if I just saw it yesterday. Yards and yards of flowers, piled five feet high, placed in front of the gates of her former home. You couldn't get anywhere near the front gates, not because of guards, but because the massive amounts of flowers prevented you from getting anywhere close. And despite the many thousands of tourists and Londoners stopping to see the tribute and to take pictures, it was absolutely silent around Diana's home.
I'm 5'2". As you can see, the flowers from my vantage point are at my eye level.
And so I lived and worked and traveled all over the U.K. (including trips to Cambridge, Oxford, Brighton, Salisbury, home of Stonehenge, and Liverpool). I also spent several weekends in Scotland, and a four-day weekend in Ireland, which was absolutely incredible. We visited Dublin, Galway, and then the breathtaking Cliffs of Mohr in County Clare. Here's a photo of Nikki, my South African roommate, and me in front of the Cliffs. Notice the complete absence of any fence to prevent you from falling over the edge!
Living and working in London was an experience I'll never forget. I haven't been back since, but someday I hope to return to the place that will always hold a special place in my heart.