London: The Beginning

As I’m writing this blog post in the comfort of a cozy cafe around the corner from my home with a latte and croissant in front of me, with the hustle and bustle of business professionals on their phones and a cup of coffee in their hands, mums with prams and/or in active wear strutting around, and school kids yelling at each other; I can’t help but giggle to myself when I think of all the mountains AY and I had to climb to get here.

Ain’t no mountain high enough for us, yo. Let me start from the beginning.

Our little Europe trip was fun, without a doubt. But there was always this bad angel voice at the back of our heads reminding us that our holiday happiness bubble would burst eventually and we’d have to go back to London and get down to the serious stuff. The unknown kept us quite anxious during our holiday and should I have the ability to turn back time and do this over again, I would probably have planned things in a different order: JP Tip #1 – if you have similar personalities to ours; i.e. organised, a planner, like making lists, enough of a risk-taker to move across the world, but conservative and prideful enough to not enjoy making calls home every other day telling your parents you’re still, yes still, homeless and unemployed, then I think that moving to London is a mini-holiday in itself and the excitement feels are full to the brim. It is a new city, a huge one at that, and there are plenty of things to do in between attending to business, which is much more productive than putting business on hold for a whole 3 weeks.

Thanks to friends and good timing, we had a housing arrangement when we got back to London for 12 days. The letting/rent period would end on the 12th day, and the guys who were currently occupying that flat wanted to move out as soon as possible, leaving the place for AY and I, provided we covered the rent for the 12 days which was still cheaper than paying for a hotel or airbnb. Win-win, notwithstanding the time limit that was not on our side because we would be getting kicked out on the 12th day. It was nice having our own rooms and a place to settle for longer than 3 days, but by the end of the first week I was getting really fed up with sharing my showers with maggot-like insects that were growing out of the wall and spending 2 hours of my sacred bedtime with drunk people running up and down the road outside my window (which was actually a door that led outside). We’d deduced the areas that we wanted to concentrate on as a place to live to about 4, which is more of an achievement than it sounds, when you factor in that our home standards were quite particular and London has about 23487301309432759201 boroughs, suburbs, areas, whatever you may like to call them. 4 is good, 4 is progress. But time was running out. With less than a week left, and both of us attending interviews of sorts at random times, we decided to just start making offers when a place seemed ok. We walked around King’s Cross and Camden for a day or two and were ready to settle for these areas, but then we stumbled into Angel. I’d never believed in love at first sight previously, but now I do. We knew we wanted to live here, and actively charged our way into real estate agent offices to ask them if they had any properties within our budget available pretty much immediately. Real estate agent personalities vary from one extreme to the other, but we managed to hold our own in our discussions with them.

After numerous inspections, we found a cute flat inside a gated community which was in moderate shape and spacious. AY liked the place a lot more than me, and my hesitations about it were apparent. To me, the flat seemed dark and omnious, with a lack of natural light. However it was one of the nicer flats we’d seen, with great transport links so I didn’t mind. After much thought, we put in our first flat let offer! We had been told that we’re able to negotiate the rent prices, so we gave an offer that was 10-15 pounds less than the advertised price (clearly we’re great at negotiations…), and after that the agent told us to sit back and relax until he’d spoken to the landlord and he accepts our offer. So we did. Waited overnight and into the morning. He gave me a call while we were at Alison’s business bank appointment at HSBC and greeted us with the unfortunate news that someone else had made an offer a few hours prior to us and the landlord had accepted theirs. And so it was, we still had no idea where we were going to stay. We were disappointed, but with determination, we ventured back to Angel and went to see more real estate agents. The first one we went into was having some heated argument with the real estate officials and were getting fined for not having appropriate signage outside their office. With a distaste in our mouths and copious amounts of distrust, we meekly shuffled outside only to have a lady from the office follow us out and apologise for our bad timing. That’s ok, we said, we’ll come back later. We never did. Instead, we went into the office next door and asked the lady whether she had anything for us. She said no initially, but then she had an afterthought and realised one just came up on her desk.

She took us to see the property, as it had just been vacated over the weekend by its previous tenants and… It. Was. Perfect. We both knew we had to make it our home as soon as we stepped inside. The lady could sense our urgency and serious intent on getting our place, so she helped us fill out the offer paperwork and offered to take the property off the market even without having received our deposit yet. Yes that’s right, we meant serious business. We had to experience the waiting game again, and sat at a pub across the road eating a sandwich and staring at my phone willing it to ring. She finally called back after what seemed like three lifetimes and said the landlord had accepted our offer! Thank goodness, things were picking up finally.

We hurried along and tried to figure out our next hurdle: a guarantor. Having just landed in the country without jobs, and wanting to take out a lease in our names proves to be the most difficult thing we’ve had to do in London to-date. With our circumstances, we had the choice to either find a guarantor that was UK-based, had a permanent job and earned 2.5 times the amount of our yearly rent, or pay 6 months of rent upfront. I had an initial brilliant idea of getting a friend to sign as our guarantor until we found a job and then he could be removed and the lease changed to our names since we had proof of income that could afford the rent. We met up, explained the terms to him and offered to leave the equivalent 6 months of rent with him until he was released from the contract. This brilliant idea was chucked out all the way to planet mars when we found out that as our jobs would be contracting, as opposed to permanent jobs, we would never be able to take out a lease in our own names, at least in our first year here. My extended family were really helpful, asking favours from family they knew here in the UK to sign as our guarantor. We knew it was a big ask from someone who didn’t even know we existed until a day ago. We had coffee with my Uncle’s niece as she wanted to meet us before agreeing to sign as our guarantor. It took a lot of convincing from my Uncle for her to agree, but she did in the end  and we thought all was sorted! Far from it. She messaged me the next day telling me that she just realised she needed to have a base salary that was 2.5x the amount of our rent, and it wasn’t before receiving her bonus. I didn’t ask her explicitly what her salary was because that would be rude, but I’m sure I had mentioned this point to her when we met. Oh well. At the same time, AY’s boyfriend was working on getting his British cousin to be our guarantor. Another long-shot. We had another brilliant idea that they could split the guarantor responsibility so it would reduce the risk and stress for them, and it would make sense that they would only need half the salary requirements. AY’s guarantor needed a lot more convincing than mine, with safeguards and backup contracts on backup contracts on backup contacts to be set in place before he agreed to take on half the guarantor responsibility. Then another setback hit us. The real estate agency advised that they have a policy of only accepting 1 guarantor per property. It took a lot of schmoozing on AY’s behalf to convince him to to now take on the whole guarantor responsibility. He was close to saying ‘no’ on multiple occasions, especially when he thought about all his possessions he’d have to sell in order to cover our tenancy if we were to default on our rental payments – he was a cute man. However on the 11th day he finally agreed, with much appreciation from us, and we thought everything would be smooth sailing from there. He just had to pass the referencing checks, which is done by an external party to make sure he had an adequate salary and credit history. We were just one step away from securing the place. On the 12th day we packed our bags to evacuate our temporary home (goodbye forever maggots!), I had a job interview in the morning so AY was put in charge of our nerves and the contract signing. To our demise, we were graced with more bad news at 3:30pm. Our guarantor failed to mention to us that he was actually in-between jobs at the moment and the reference checks came back as ‘failed’.

So we were back at square one. Homeless. So close yet so far at having a home. The landlord was kind enough to let us leave our suitcases in the flat until we sorted our drama out over the weekend. Oh, I failed to mention that this was happening on a Friday, and if we couldn’t sort it out on the day, we’d have to wait until Monday. We really wanted to move in on the day, and it wasn’t ideal but we’d finally accepted that we would have to go through with the 6 month upfront payment. We cried a little on the inside, but soldiered on and ran all around London trying to find sources or a method to transfer monies from Australia to the UK instantaneously. The funds had to be cleared in the real estate’s bank account before we could move in, so it was a race against time. Think: The Amazing Race in 1.5 hours. We exhausted all options by 5:30pm and resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to move in that day. Take note that instantanous things don’t happen in the 21st century apparantly, ha. For about an hour we were actually homeless, as we hadn’t booked any accommodation for the weekend. AY’s boyfriend came to the rescue and booked us a hotel because he was against us, I mean, her, staying in a hostel dorm. I was humoured, but extremely thankful.

Monday came around and I’m not sure if you’ve ever carried around 9,000 pounds in cash before, but we can attest that it’s the most unsettling experience ever. I could never be a drug dealer. For me, this amount was a combination of a Western Union transfer Jiggs did for me back in Australia from my bank account, where he had to withdraw $2,000 each day due to my limit, Citibank withdrawals I made here of 500 pounds per day also due to my limit, and a withdrawal from my local Lloyds bank account. After depositing the funds directly into the real estate agent’s bank account and sitting in their office for 2 hours like bums waiting for them to check their bank account, after which they politely asked us to leave and that they’d call us once they’ve checked. Cutting this story short now, we finally moved in that afternoon! Thank goodness for all who had to put up with our homelessness complaining.

Furnishing and styling our home has been fun. London definitely feels more like home now.

JP Tip #2: Perseverance, positivity, a bit of luck, and a lot of savings can go a long way.

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Hungary: Budapest

Hungary is a nation with ancient history but makes decisions like an adolescent teenager. This isn’t exactly how our walking tour guide explained its deep-rooted past to us, but it’s how the story was transposed into my head. It picks battles that it can’t win and chooses sides in war that lose every single time, resulting in the country witnessing half of its population killed time and time again over thousands of years. What really drew me to Budapest and its history is that it reminded me of my best friend, Stupid. I won’t emphasise on how I draw my associations, but his name will serve as a decent hint I’m sure (I miss you, by the way).

One man on our tour asked, ‘how would you describe a true Hungarian?‘, since they have had to bring in people from neighbouring countries just to save their population from dying out. Much to our surprise, we found out that there is no physical stereotype of a Hungarian person – if you are able to speak the language, then you are considered a true and local Hungarian. On the flip side, for tourists there is a ‘Budapest Card’ that is sold everywhere, which gives access to free public transport, museums, exhibitions, tours, a thermal bath and 10-50% discounts to heaps of sights and restaurants. There are 3 different options of cards: 24, 48 and 72 hours and the price increases proportionately. Would highly recommend this card to easily access the city’s best wonders and experiences.

Budapest itself is split into 2 parts – Buda and Pest, on the west and east of the river respectively. As a result of a river conveniently running down the middle of the city, it has the most scenic bridges, and has also fuelled my new mild obsession with bridge architecture. Their street food is ridiculous; deep fried pizza dough topped with sour cream and cheese (introducing: lagos), and chimney cake. Food servings in Budapest are very generous when it comes to serving size, with no shortage of meat so side dishes/entrees are not necessary unless you can eat an entire cow. Lastly, their famous thermal baths are not the cleanest things I’ve dipped my body in, but where else in the world would one find a unisex change room?

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Must sees:

  • Chain Bridge and Liberty Bridge: Both very close to each other, and pretty sight by day or night.
  • Parliament building: Largest parliament house in Europe and second largest in the world. It really fairs more to looking like a palace rather than for government assembly as the architecture is phenomenal. Paid guided tours are the only way to get inside, and per TripAdviser reviews, had mixed reviews, so I admired freely from the outside.
  •  Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center: Not sure if I loved this exhibition because I’d just gone through 2 weeks of viewing churches and buildings that are thousands of years old, but the photos spoke and represented so much of what is currently going on in society. Really deep and really worth going to.
  •  Jewish Quarter: Depressing history turned trendy restaurant, pub, ruin bar go-to area.

Overall, Budapest is a beautiful place that isn’t littered with tourists. There’s a lot of things that I didn’t see because some days were extremely cold and rainy so I would love to go back. Rating A+ for Europe destination.