10 Things To Know Before Moving To London

Some people call it busy. Some call it beautiful. Some call it smug-central. Oh whatever, you’re not moving here to be comfortable and humble. You’re moving here because it’s LONDON BABY.

If you’re moving here in your 20s, then be prepared to add on to the pile of mess that makes up for this city. Feel the excitement, do something that scares you everyday and be part of the magic – because, really, there’s no other way to make the most out of London.

Remember, everyone *wants* to move here… but you just did.

Here are my ten tips for newcomers to the city (coming from my credibility of moving here a month and five days ago, errr!)

  1. You will have more liquid dinners than what should be allowed: Call it a lifestyle change or a quick way to shed kilos or stupidity, you will eat very little in this city. All the socialising and lack of enough funds will force you to choose wine over food (duh!). Locally, it’s called being smart about your money, prioritising what’s more important and being on a perpetual liquid diet. Take that, Miranda Kerr!
  2. You will feel out of place and at home within the first five days of moving here: It’s a big city, so big that it will leave you feeling lost and intimidated on more occasions than one. You will make new friends, but still feel like you don’t have any. You will find your favourite barista, but would never get him to learn your name. You will ultimately figure out where and how to get to places, but still feel left out in one of the greatest cities in the world. You will crave a familiar hug and yet be able to talk to a stranger on the tube for half hour. It’s a contradictory city, I tell you that, and you’ll learn to love it for its irony sooner than you’d think.
  3. You will start hating on tourists, no matter how new you are to the city: Try walking around Oxford Street when you’re late for a meeting and watch how inexcusably and shamelessly swear words come out of your mouth. Tourists crawl around every major street in London, and there’s nothing worse than being stuck behind them when you’re in a rush to get shit done. You will hate them, hate them so hard. I still haven’t been to see Spencer in Chelsea with the scare of it all, can you imagine the terror of it all!
  4. Say goodbye to your gorgeous heels: London’s cobbled streets hate stilettos. Fact. They are little Louboutin and Choo-loving monsters who will munch all the pretty heels you have and not even burp after. This city only likes wedges or wellies; so don’t even attempt to wear your favourite pair around. Also, if they don’t get stuck on a pretty street in Covent Garden, you will ultimately get a serious frost bite and die. It’s really a win-win situation for those rascals.
  5. You will cry at some point: Not trying to depress you in the middle of a serious and important piece, but this is true. There are going to be some tough days, some moments when you’d just want to jump into Thames. Kidding! Have you seen the state of that water, it’s filthy! Why would anyone consider that? But in all honesty, this city is mad. As much as you’d want to swim up and absorb everything happening around you, you won’t be able to deal with its marvellous diversity and overwhelm. There will come a day when the gloominess will go away, and perhaps even a delicious man will smile at you. That’s when you’ll smile at your luck for being able to call this ‘home’. But, I’m warning you, there will be tears.
  6. Public transport comes to a stand still at midnight: This isn’t Sydney where trains and buses run till about 4am. Tubes stop at midnight and night buses are for specific routes only. If you’re planning on having a big night, take a sleeping bag with you or find yourself a couch in the zone 1 to crash on (cheaper cab ride). And while you’re at this, remember not to swear at cab drivers, they will ask you to get off in the middle of the road. Bastards!
  7. Be the biggest social butterfly that you can be: Be shameless and over-the-top happy when you meet new people. Try to be everyone’s friends otherwise this city will suck you into lonesome depression. It’s very easy to make a lot of friends here and equally easy to not make any. Be shameless, talkative, happy and RSVP ‘yes’ to every invitation that swings past you. Do apologise to your bank account before moving here, yeah?
  8. Don’t eat out at Soho, unless it’s a date: Excuse the sexism, but unless you’ve been asked out on a date from the Sheikh of UAE who owns yachts, don’t act all lush and eat out at Soho. You will be broke for the rest of your life and probably won’t be able to afford a cup of tea, even. Soho is in inner-London, home to some of the city’s poshest and most delicious restaurants and bars. Enough said.
  9. There are 8 million people in this city, but it will still be difficult to find the love of your life: All your best friends are either in long-term happy relationships, or engaged, or married or with a child. You are ridiculously single. Yes, noted, I hear you. Don’t move to London thinking you will find love here, because, really, there are more chances of you winning a lottery here, than finding a man. Exhibit A: I won 2 quid from a scratchy last week. Woo! Oh, unless you want to get into online dating in the UK or send your application to Dinner Date on Channel 4. You just won’t get my sympathy for any of these, soz!
  10. You will spend majority of your weekend mornings in bed, not at Portobello markets: You would want to spend Saturday and Sunday mornings at a local organic fruit and flower market, but in reality, you will be in bed pleading for the world to stop spinning courtesy the wine from the night before. Actually, if you’re like me you’d do this, on average, five mornings a week. Another hot tip, don’t go to Notting Hill with an expectation to meet your Hugh Grant; it will not happen, you will leave in tears, deal with it! photo 4
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London Men

Pssst you, stop whatever you’re doing. I need your unadulterated attention for this one.

It’s almost ridiculous how superficial I’m about to get, but you know what, it’s well worth it. We’re about to do an analysis on the situation of men in London.

This species of dude is traditionally known for their pronunciations, sophistication and old-fashioned charm, around the world. That’s the impression I came to this city with. I was specifically told that London men just know how to treat a woman. They will hold the door open for you, they will offer to lift your heavy bags, they will laugh with you and then self-depricatingly laugh at themselves, they will give you their coat when you’re cold (which you will be all year round) and they will dress ridiculously well. And after my month-long stay here, I’ve now come to terms with what I’ve been missing for all my adult  life.

I do have to say though, when I say London men, I don’t just mean British men, but men, in general, who reside here. It’s like they are given a code of conduct before moving to this city. In the last four weeks, I’ve met Australian, Indian, American and Italian men – all in London – and I tell you what, they are a changed species here. This two thousand year old city must cast a supernatural spell or something.

The mannerisms of the male in London is much to do with the way they treat women. Whether he’s tattooed or pierced, he will compliment you just like a man in a suit would. Call me a sucker, but even when my fruit seller on High Holborn yells out cheers darlin’ through his broken-toothed smile, it makes me giggle. I’m starting to feel that all this could be an aftermath of all the lining up they do here. Men here spend just as much time on their hair as they do in queues. Stand at Oxford Circus tube station around 6pm on a weekday and you’ll know what I mean; elbows are in, heads are down and gorgeousness is in place.

London men dress like a man should dress; sharp, suited and stupidly handsome. It could be the perfect hair, or the tease of the unknowing architecture of the body beneath all those layers, whatever it is, it’s goddam sexy. They understand the difference between pea coats, duffles, parcas and trenches. They are the masters of pocket squares and sock-less shoes. Suits on men look a million times better here than anywhere else in the world. Even on their worst day, they look the best.

Imagine the fireworks when these mannerisms transcend to the bedroom… ooh la la. 

David Gandy LCM_1 (1)-1

What Bali on steroids looks like…

“South Bali is like a mini-Australia,” said Wayan. “They drink lots and get drunk lots, we Balinese have no problem with that. Why should we?” said my toothless driver while I was on my way to spend the weekend in Bali’s party heaven, the beaches of Seminyak and Kuta. The one that everyone knows of.

As you would have read in my last post (shame on you if you haven’t), I started my Balinese holiday in Ubud, known for its incredibly healthy and chilled lifestyle. There are very few bars and even those don’t have doof-doof music. Of course, they don’t. Ubud wakes up at 3 a.m. to practice yoga and trek up to volcanic mountain tops, all alcohol-free.

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Instagram makes the Seminyak beach look prettier.

I didn’t want to become a hippie with BO by the end of this week-long holiday, so I decided to take a step back from all the nature loving, raw food, cycling and 6am starts and visit friends in the party hub of the island. Guess that bikini might just make an appearance – maaaayyyybe!

Not going to lie, I was a little excited about stopping my two-wheatgrass-shots-a-day routine for the weekend and getting some alcohol in my system (sorry dad!). Wouldn’t have minded a drip of matini, or even an injection, perhaps? Okay, too far! I wouldn’t touch a syringe here, I’m not that crazy, Jeez!

On reaching Seminyak, my first word was ‘ew’! No kidding. There were too many things on its tiny streets, and I come from India, so I know what ‘too many’ means. The people, okay let’s talk about these people. There were hardly any locals to be seen, maybe you’d find them in a spa or an Indonesian restaurant. Otherwise, it was just a sea of tourists, all doing backflips in cringeworthy Bintang singlets. I curse the day those ridiculous tees went to print. Who is responsible for such awful fashion? Bali anyway doesn’t know what ‘fashion’ and ‘trends’ mean, and I don’t expect it to, but those alcohol tees, kill me now, will ya?!

Now if you are serious about going to clubs in Bali, here’s a fun fact for you – Leave your alcohol-branded t-shirts in your closet. Most ‘nice’ bars and clubs don’t allow those dreadful things through their doors. The definition of ‘nice’ is very subjective here. Unless, you call women on bar tops with laser lights sticky-taped to their body parts, grinding the air, as ‘nice’. In that case, you’d fit perfectly in – no judgements there!

Laser girls!
Laser girls! I warned you.

We were asked to venture out to the main street in Kuta to find the “hottest places in town”. Okay, take me there, I urged!
Mind you, this is the same street where 10 years ago, the awful and sad bombings took place, targeting tourists only! Incredibly sad, mainly because people come here with the hope to have their Balinese love affair and drink alcoholic beverages that would cost them less than a cup of coffee in Australia.

I wonder how much Bintang is produced and bottled on a weekly basis here? That number would be incredible to comprehend. For those unaware and living under a rock, Bintang is the local beer here that I’m told tastes pretty “local”. Well surely those who say that haven’t drank cobra’s blood? That shit is as local as one can get.

Bin that tang!
Bin that tang!

Seminyak and Kuta were disappointing. Not just the sight of lady-boys trying to grind you from behind and Aussie bogans small-talking about cricket to every random they see, it was just like being at the Valley in Brisbane, except hotter (temperature-wise), and with escorts roaming freely outside bars in some serious heels.

Becky Wicks, an English author and a friend of mine, recently wrote a book on Bali called Balilicious, which I just finished reading. If you’re serious about visiting this island, trust me and buy this book. You will thank your lucky stars that you did because Becky talks about Bali from the eyes of a once-sceptic traveller, and how the island slowly converted her into being someone that actually cares about what goes into making Bali a tourist spot. She still parties and has numerous affairs (jealous!), but somehow makes it all sound very special. The writing is incredibly witty and you’ll learn so much more about this island, than you ever will even when you put all the travel guides of the world together. It’s a seriously good book!

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In the book, Becky calls Seminyak, ‘Semin-yuk’. Amen, sister! It’s seriously YUCK! The beaches are brown, the water is not quite blue, there are too many middle-aged women screaming ‘massage miss! massageeeee’ in your face and too many children. I’m sorry, I just don’t like children peeing and pooping on the sand, right in FRONT OF ME. Shame on your parenting.

It’s so yuck and commercial that we couldn’t even find a spa here. It’s Bali – how is there no good spa on the main street here? A spa that wouldn’t give you some sort of insane disease or a masseuse that wouldn’t inject you with illegal marijuana while releasing the lactic acid from your muscles. The coconuts here don’t have meat. Don’t laugh! The coconuts are the shape of a grown man’s face and they don’t have meat, what sort of ridiculousness is that? There is no crowd in one of poshest bars in town on a Friday night; Ku De Ta, looking at you. The shops sell racist and potty-mouthed posters. Not even kidding, I have photo proof below. The beaches are filled with newly-wed couples who I will call, ‘choode-wali-aunties’ from hereon (all Indians reading this, I hope you giggle). The surfers here aren’t hot, and like I said, I live in Bondi, so I’ve seen HOT SURFERS. What’s the deal, beaches of Bali? Why do you seem so alluring when you actually have nothing good to offer?

Seriously Bali - who buys this shit?
Seriously Bali – who buys this shit?

My three night stay here became more bearable due to the fact that I was with friends, and we found happiness in throwing fresh flowers in the pool of our villa. And of course, spending one night getting spritz with ocean water at the most stunning and unique bar on this island called The Rock Bar in Ayana Resort & Spa (Google it! I promise you’ll drool).

But this isn’t what Bali is about. It’s not about sitting in the infinity pool of your luxury villa and sipping Mai Tai’s while watching the sunset (damn, that does sound amazing!). But point is, Bali has more culture to it that is yet to be discovered by all the tourists that flock here with their beach hats and sarongs. It has more love to give than via leg grinding at a sweaty club that can’t get enough of Taio Cruz’s Hangover (seriously, that song is ruining my life. May it burn in lyrical HELL).

I’ll say it again and again until the message gets across – Seminyak and Kuta isn’t what Bali is about. Go to Ubud and I promise you a 120 minute massage for $12.

How’s that Lonely Planet? Put that in your guide book, eh eh? Or hire me… muhaha!

P.S. In case you were wondering, sure you were, that bikini did come out of the suitcase. ooooh-yeah!

P.P.S. Buy Becky’s book, Balilicious, is in bookstores in Australia now. You can also buy it on Amazon or the U.S. Apple store here

The burgers have a name - now this I LIKE!
The burgers have a name – now this I LIKE!

Bali: Realism and the Rice Fields

“Pack your bikini,” said a friend as I announced I was going to Bali. Coming from Bondi, I highly doubted that the beaches of Bali would spell any magic on me. Call me a smug, but the beaches of Australia have spoilt me and my standards are set very high. Unless you bring me a beach with turquoise-hued water, unicorns in the air and glistening sand, I will not raise a brow. Oh, and no children helps too. Have you got that all noted?

So, I did pack my bikini but thought about how it’ll probably be sitting at the bottom of my suitcase, along with the running shorts I packed. I was going for a holiday – surely I wouldn’t be exercising!

What really happened was, bikini stayed underneath the mess and running shorts were sent to laundry three times.

Tourists come to this island to stay around the water and surf in the amazing currents it has to offer. Maybe an odd adventurous lot would make a day trip to the north of the island to see the two active volcanos (I KNOW!) but dare they leave their 40-inch flat screen TVs, the clubbing district of Kuta and the overpriced spas behind for more than a few hours. Oh the horror!

How I started my holiday was contrary to what Lonely Planet suggested. I started in the heart of Bali, in a little town called Ubud. The town is known for its rice paddy fields, tree-hugging yogis, overly healthy food and wet, humid weather. Oh, and after staying there for the past week, I’ve also found out that it’s known for its scary reptiles that you can’t recognise and its really dead streets post 9pm. No nightlife here, folks! It’s no Kuta or Seminyak; it’s a century far from it, in fact. I don’t think it could handle all those lady-boys on bikes and Chris Brown on repeat. Ubud would have a heart attack and so would all its geckos.

It’s a slow paced town which you hear a lot of in Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book, Eat Pray Love. In fact I’d say more than half of its tourist attraction comes from women oohing and aahing after reading the book. Everyone wants a love affair in Bali, and she promises you that (LIES!)

If you haven’t read the book, I’m assuming you would have seen the awfully directed movie starring Julia Roberts. The pretty woman makes Bali look oh-so-serene and lovely with its playful monkeys and non-existent reptiles to wake you up in the middle of the night with their loud gossip sessions. How rude! Reality is that Bali has ferocious monkeys and zero Brazilian hunks who will crash into you and sweep you off your feet. Trust me, I looked!

What Ubud has is a lot of smiling people; a ton of them. You see them all, from wide eyed confused smiles, to toothless ones from old grandmas and even some creepy ones from farmers, but you can generally avoid the latter. Also, there’s more spirulina here than in the warehouse of a health food store in Bondi. From spirulina cupcakes to spirulina quiches, the amount of green I’ve eaten in the last week, I wouldn’t take offence if you compare my insides to Hulk’s. The amazing part is that Ubud loves its raw and vegan food, and thanks to that it made my turning-vego-for-the-holiday pretty freaking easy. Just bring me some raw blueberry cheesecake and I’m yours.

I’ve been cycling, a lot, here in Ubud. I hadn’t sat on a bicycle for over 8 years until day one in the town. I hired a cycle with a basket (totally living my Parisian dream in 40-degree heat, so what?). Apart from scratching a car, falling over a million times, dragging my bike up massive hills and looking like as red and confused as a chicken who just ran a hundred miles sans its wings, it was so much fun! Yes, I did have my, I-am-Julia-Roberts-bitches moments, but those didn’t last very long, as I was splashed with muggy rainwater and dogs chasing me down the side streets. I got to see the town in its true essence with no one trying to sell me sarongs or offering me “transport” which is a cue for taxi ride here in Bali. If you ever come here, make sure you do the Banyan Cycling Tours. It’s one that’s not to be missed, especially if you want to cycling past the Komodo Dragon and fall in rice paddy fields where there are snakes! Okay, let’s not scare you – it’s amazing! You cycle for about three hours, cover 25-30 kilometres in and around Ubud and I say there is no better way to enjoy a new place than by doing that. Apart from my really sore bum (sorry for the overshare!) and calf muscles, I had a ball of a time trying to dodge motorbikes, four-legged creatures and chickens on the main road. Actually, I was chasing the chickens away; they run really funny. Almost like a wave-your-hands-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care move, but coming from a chicken… ha ha!

Gibert talks about reaching this balance in her book where she found her soul, found the sense of being and challenged herself to living the city life, post her enlightenment, with utmost ease. I’m not sure if a week anywhere in the world would be able to give you that. Most certainly not when you decide to take a break from all the earth-loving and party with Indonesia’s prime gay community (yeah baby, I went there – more on that later!).

I didn’t come to Bali to get tanned (damn, have you seen me?) and neither I came here to “find” anything. I’m not sure what this trip was about. Well apart from travelling solo and eating one-coconut-a-day, I guess this trip to serene Ubud was like a house inspection. I’ve checked out the place, saw if I would fit in its vicinity and if things changed in the future, the stock market of my life sustained its shares, then who knows, I might return here to write a book one day (I want Anne Hathaway to play me, dear director). Maybe even learn how to do black magic and voodoo (evil vs good spirit is a HUGE thing in Bali. They believe in ghosts, damn straight!). I might not return to be a hippie or become one, not at all, I don’t think I could pull off the no-underwear situation. But I might come back to uncover my already-found self. And this is completely going by the fact that I have found myself and what I want from life elsewhere. Where is that? Damn, I don’t know! Don’t ask so many deep questions.

Ubud makes me want to be a happy person with its numerous smiles and angry dogs. It makes me want to be creative and do something, as opposed to lying on my stomach in a bikini and letting the sun burn my brain cells.

When I was leaving the town last night and heading to the airport, the peachy pink sky peeped from behind the dark grey clouds from the heavy afternoon of showers. That sight of hope and assurance that shone through the lush green blades of grass in the rice paddy fields is what made me think, “I’m going to come back here… if not to find someone or something, then just for its chickens, smiling locals and to live amidst REAL Bali minus the loud tourists for another week… or a few months”.

Speaking of which, I have two more yoga classes to do at the Yoga Barn, and I’ve already paid for them. Need to come back for that – if anything!

And until then, I’ll try to find solace and enlightment on the beaches of Bondi, where I actually like the feeling of sand between my toes and the ocean breeze kissing my hair strands. No cringing or whinging required!

Below are some of the photos from my time in Ubud… your chance to take a glimpse of the REAL Bali.

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First Impressions

What people think about you when they first meet or see you… does that every bother you? Do you care that someone might be judging the way you eat or the way you scratch your nose as they first plant their eyes on you? Does it bother you that almost 97 per cent of this world’s population makes an instant decision on whether they would be your friend or run for their life the minute they see you (Warning: This statistical data is purely out of my head, bad journalism – I know, but you know what I mean, right?).

Just as we are judgemental about people, we are judgemental about countries, about cities.

The whole “first impression is the last impression” cliche – yep, it exists.

An acquaintance of mine went to Thailand to get her body fixed. She returned with bigger assets (ahem!) and smaller respect for mankind. All she could talk about was how there were flies everywhere in Phuket, women just baked on the footpaths and how it was “so-third-world-oh-em-gee”. She judged and as Karma would strike back, she is probably getting judged by people in the luxuries of her first world now.

But point is, and I do have one, is that you judge the moment something appears in front of you. People, food, clothes, fashion trends…

Four days ago, I landed at the International airport of Bali. I stepped out of the aircraft and the humidity-filled air gushed through the strands of my perfectly straightened hair (P.s. They’re great friends now, my hair is in love with the bastard). The driver who drove us from the aircraft to the terminal flashed the cutest toothless smile at me as I took my seat beside him. It was adorable! He probably drives a few hundred tourists a day and assuming that he smiles at all of them, that’s a hell lot of free ‘welcome to Bali’ smiles. He should be the official representer of this island; no one could ever hate this place. I mean why would you?

So I got out of the airport and landed in traffic hell. I have to say, the city did not impress me at all. There were too many motorbikes, too less road space and was way too humid. But then again, there was a sense of familiarity. I could spot enough helmets to be able to create a mental art piece out of them. It was kinda therapeutic. I see a map of Australia in the sea of helmets… ooh la la.

I asked my driver, Kumar, to put on a local radio station, just so I could get a real sense of Indonesian culture and get diverted from this bumper-to-bumper situation. He followed my command and put on 93.2 FM which blasted Katy Perry, Jessie J and Coldplay. How perfect! I am stuck in a crazy traffic jam that doesn’t seem to move and Chris Brown doesn’t want to be woken up! Is this Bali?

Perhaps not… I didn’t know what it was until much later (more on that soon).

But my first impression of the island… wasn’t quite the first! It was home to me. Home in its literal sense. I was taken back to the streets of New Delhi where I would perhaps be stuck in a similar jam, with an International pop song on the radio and a visual of five adults sharing the space on a single motorbike. Same to same! 

My first impression  of Bali was a very old one, and that is what made the 2.5 hour drive to Ubud so very special!

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