In late 2017, I was really missing the UK so I decided to return for more than a holiday. I wanted to stay longer than a few weeks of fun and good times and fully immerse myself into everyday, normal Manchester living with all the grey areas in between.
Lucky for me, Joe goes where I go and was happy to come along 😆 With a few commitments keeping us in Sydney until the end of 2018, we decided that 2019 will be the year! I gave myself 11 whole months there so I could get back to Australia in time for a good friend’s wedding.
On 2nd January, I packed as much as I possibly could into a 30kg case and off we went! It’s difficult trying to pack for four different seasons but I figured whatever I don’t pack can always be bought over there. On arrival, my brother picked us up from the airport and we immediately got fish and chips for dinner which is exactly what I’ve been dreaming about for years. My previous UK trip was so short and sweet (10 days!) that I hadn’t got around to it and I had regretted it ever since. Sausage, chips and gravy are the best 👌 It was also great seeing my nephews Louis and Max again for the first time in 15 months.
Although a couple of friends kindly offered us their homes for the first few nights, I knew we needed to move straight into an Airbnb to begin sorting our lives out ASAP with no distractions. We booked 20 nights in a cosy garden apartment in Bramhall which was the perfect base to recuperate from jetlag and to apply for jobs and somewhere to live. Our host Ian lived who next door was extremely warm and welcoming. He popped over to visit us every couple of days for a chat and to see how we were getting on — even offering to take Joe for a game of golf and to help me with my interview prep. We shared his joy when Airbnb upgraded him to a ‘super host’ 😆 Although this was a stressful few weeks, I have fond memories of enjoying the novelty of being back — mostly around food! Teacakes, Ready Brek, Red Leister Cheese, Hoola Hoops — so much healthy eating.
Read my blog post on Bramhall Hall.
During that first couple of weeks, I explored Bramhall Hall, enjoyed a little bar crawl with friends (and was properly introduced to gin!) and almost got a job with St. John Ambulance in their marketing department. This was the most brutal rejection of all — I had one phone interview, two in-person interviews along with two presentations (that I had to intensely research and prep for) and an editing exam. I got pipped at the post by someone who worked in marketing for their competitor The British Red Cross. I felt so sure that I had the job that I stopped applying elsewhere and lost two weeks in my job search. Lesson majorly learnt!
Nevertheless, some good news came along and we managed to find a flat just in the nick of time (I had even booked another Airbnb just in case we couldn’t swing it). This was a bit of a struggle as we were both unemployed at this point but by going down the private landlord route, along with some savings and a guarantor (thanks Jonny), it all worked out in the end. Our new flat was in Fallowfield which is a vibrant student suburb in south Manchester. I wanted to be close to my old home village Cheadle, yet close to the city centre so this is the perfect in-between place. It also has a Sainsbury’s, Wetherspoons and busses into town every 30 seconds — what more do you need?
One factor I hadn’t considered before the big move was furnishing the flat. It was semi-furnished with a bed frame, mattress, small fridge, washing machine and oven, but other than that, completely empty. Of course, all of our things were in storage back in Australia so absolutely everything had to be bought from scratch. From a kettle, toaster and cooking and eating utensils, to bedding and all the miscellaneous things you don’t think about. We had stupidly not budgeted enough for this at all and it used a huge chunk of our savings. As we only needed these items for 11 months, we knew there was no point going overboard or buying anything high-quality so we led a very minimalist year. No cute homewares or cosy decor, no fluffy pillows and no new clothes unless absolutely necessary as I knew I couldn’t get it all back. The clothes part wasn’t difficult as I’d done that for the past 18 months so we could save money for the UK but the rest felt tough. One thing I was missing was space to get ready in the morning — notably using my dressing table. Now, I had a storage box on the bathroom floor, but we soon got used to it. By the end of the year, it felt completely normal! I like to think we’ve taken something from this experience that you really don’t need a lot to live comfortably.
In better news, we got some snow! It had been snowing lightly on and off for a few days but it was never heavy enough to stick. That was until I woke up one morning and everything was covered in a blanket of white. Joe was completely unbothered but I was like a kid on Christmas morning, waking him up so we could go outside. The silver lining on unemployment meant we could to go to Platt Fields Park for a long walk to enjoy the snow properly. We also got to celebrate Max’s 2nd birthday this month which was a lovely evening watching him blow out his candles and play with his new toys.
Back in December, I missed a phone call from a couple of Manchester friends who left a drunken voice message telling me to keep the 4th – 7th February free and to have my passport handy. They had previously booked a trip to Dublin for our mate Fred’s 30th and that night while on the gin, they had the bright idea to book me onto the same flight. It turned out to be the best four days ever!
Read my blog post on Dublin
This month, I also got a job! I was feeling anxious throughout Dublin about not having one but I needn’t had worried as, by the end of the month, I was working in my new role as a Content Marketing Specialist for Exposure Ninja. Although I had originally planned to leave the world of freelance and return to a standard office job, it was a good opportunity to learn something new, write more and be flexible around my travels for the year ahead. In hindsight, it has been the ideal job so perhaps it was meant to be that I didn’t get the St John Ambulance job after all.
Finally, the UK experienced the warmest February day on record at 20.6C. It doesn’t sound a lot but it was beautiful! Coats were off, pub gardens were brimming and the flowers were blooming. It was so bizarre but everyone was so happy for 3 days 😂
March was a quiet month as we were a bit miserable! Joe was hating his job as a team leader in a care home for brain injuries as his working hours were all over the place and it was a bit of a toxic environment. We barely saw each other and to top it off, our flat was plain depressing with a leaking roof in the bedroom. By the end of the month, Joe had to quit his job as it just wasn’t worth it and not how we wanted to spend our time in the UK — even if it meant being skint for the foreseeable future.
Moving overseas (or anywhere, really) looks like fun and rainbows but it can be hard to get settled. Although we knew it was temporary, it was hard because it felt like we had rolled backwards five years to how we were living when we first got to Sydney in 2013, but better things were coming! March ended on a positive note for Joe though as he had already planned to go to Amsterdam for his birthday weekend with his school friend from London and they had a great trip.
After all of the excitement in July, August was a little more gentle. The standout moment was my trip to Newbury to visit Highclere Castle — AKA Downton Abbey. Goosebumps.
Read my blog post on A Trip To Downton Abbey
As Louis and Max were in their summer holidays, we also managed to squeeze in a few day trips with them to Walton Hall and Gardens and Speke Hall, Garden and Estate. Both are great family days out to explore, enjoy a picnic and have fun.
For my birthday in May, Joe had gifted me a voucher to a High Tea at Princess Street Hotel Manchester so we finally got around to using it and had a splendid time. I also visited the tea room cafe at the Stockport Plaza for the first time. This Art Deco Café goes back to 1932 — it’s so cute in there. The staff are volunteers in bow ties and it’s amazingly affordable. I later took Twinny there for breakfast and it quickly became our go-to place for meetups.
Additionally, August was two big events for two friends — Alice’s baby shower and Siobhan’s 30th birthday party. Siobhan has an amazing garden which is ginormous and perfect for gatherings. There’s even an old bomb shelter in there! Wonderful evening celebrating her entry to the big 3-0.
Finally, mum’s four month trip had come to and end so with Jason visiting again, we went to the Village Hotel Cheadle for an all-you-can-eat three-course roast dinner.
September began with two Aussie visitors — Natalie from Brisbane and Tash from Sydney. They came a week apart but I fit in a lot with both of them including the People’s History Museum, the Discover Manchester Walking Tour, the John Rylands Library and plenty of drinking, eating and catching up in-between.
Our Dublin crew planned to go to Chester Races for the weekend to celebrate Siobhan’s 30th. It was an amazing day, starting with Prosecco and breakfast at The Stockport Plaza, followed by a 90-minute drive to Chester while drinking cans of Bailey’s Espresso Martini’s and a day placing bets, lots of drinking and so much laughter. Afterwards, we hit a few pubs and used the winnings to buy a £45 ($85) Chinese! It seriously saved us though as the following morning we mostly felt okay and hangover-free.
This month, I also got around to using a very generous birthday spa voucher from my girlfriends in Sydney. It was for the This Is The Life — 1/2 day experience package at Spa Urban Oasis Manchester which included a relaxing back, neck and shoulder massage, a facial and a manicure and pedicure. This was my first ever facial and I loved it — I felt like I’d been missing out for years!
And, Alice had her baby boy! Thomas ❤️
As we came into the final two months, every week just flew by. The first weekend was our eighth anniversary so Joe organised a surprise for us to go to the Hilton Hotel Manchester for dinner at the Podium Restaurant followed by drinks up in the Cloud 23 bar. This was originally booked for Saturday 5th but I made him reschedule the dinner by saying “Nah we’ll be too tired from our day trip to Chester — let’s go the night before instead” — which we did and it was a lovely evening. The following day, we went to Chester as planned and it was a great day of quality time and exploring. Joe proposed later that evening and we got engaged! 💍 Cursing myself for changing those Hilton celebration plans 🤦.
This month, we went to Blackpool for a night to see the illuminations which was as wet and cold as I remember! I also went to a Bottomless Prosecco, Mamma Mia! Sing-a-long event with Lauren. Backstory — we LOVE Mamma Mia! We’ve been known on many occasions to watch it together via Skype while on different continents…) so we excitedly booked this months ago. Unlimited Prosecco, popcorn and singing along — a perfect night. Well, the venue got changed last minute and the new one was practically a community hall. We didn’t have a private table as described and it also wasn’t unlimited Prosecco as advertised. In fact, they said WE got that wrong and it was unlimited drinks (cheap wine and gin). Funnily enough, in the toilets, loads of other attendees thought it was unlimited Prosecco too 🤷. All-in-all, not worth the £30/$57 we each paid, so I complained afterwards and fortunately got a full refund. Nevertheless, we went elsewhere for cocktails, and I had the hangover from hell the next day (that cheap wine!).
Read my blog post on Blackpool.
November was jam-packed — I felt like I didn’t stop for a month straight. On the 5th, was birthday celebrations for Lauren with lunch at Las Iguanas (so good!), followed by some shopping and the bonfire night display at Platt Fields Park. I LOVE bonfire night (Guy Fawkes Night) — it’s genuinely one of the biggest things I miss about living in the UK. Wrapping up warm, eating chilli con carne and Parkin Cake, watching the bonfire being lit and the huge firework displays — it’s so nostalgic. It was everything I remember!
The following day, we went on a day trip to explore beautiful York and on the 8th we hired a car to visit Alton Towers — an amusement park in Staffordshire. I was SO excited for this as I use to go to Alton Towers a lot with school for the end of year reward and it’s always such a brilliant day. Everything went right. It was dry and sunny, and as the park was shutting for winter that weekend, it was practically empty! It was a long day but we managed to go on every ride (The Smiler was our favourite). And, to celebrate bonfire night, the park hosted a fireworks display that evening. It turned out to be a phenomenal show and the best firework display I’ve ever seen. Growing up in the north, Alton Towers is our local amusement park and growing up in the south, it was Thorpe Park for Joe. So, over the years, it has turned quite competitive as we’ve passionately championed our own theme park and after this trip, Joe is firmly team Alton Towers.
Read my blog post on York.
The following day, Joe’s stepdad Paul came up to visit us from London. The Manchester Christmas Markets had just opened so we ventured there which turned out to be not the best timing. It was heaving, freezing cold and chucking it down — just the combination you want. Nevertheless, we had some delicious Bailey’s hot chocolates and got to keep the Christmas theme mugs for our collection. I’ll add here that I ended up going to the Christmas Markets a further two more times in November — couldn’t keep away! The Christmas flavour coffees were also released in every coffee store and I lost count of how many Irish Velvet lattes I got from Costa Coffee. Obsessed. I also squeezed in a trip to The Trafford Centre for the first time in 12 years and it was as huge and great as I remember. Full of the festive spirit, we went to see the movie “Last Christmas” while we were there and it so bad 😅
Later in the month, we went to Wales for an amazing couple of days of glamping with Siobhan and Leo. I also squeezed in a viewing of The Grinch with Lauren while eating vanilla slices (cake of choice when we worked at Hampsons Bakery), one last breakfast at The Stockport Plaza with Twinny, Joe and I got a bumblebee tattoo each to symbol the Manchester bee and before we knew it, the month was over! The roller coaster ended with a joint engagement/bon voyage drinks party with friends and family on the 29th, followed by a few loose ends being tied up on the 30th (i.e. frantically cleaning the flat and trying to fit everything into our cases) and then it was time to leave Manchester the next morning. All while working still — I was telling myself, you can sleep on the plane!
The only negative about November was our gross flat. It was so old and we could not get rid of the moisture no matter what = one horrific mould problem. I lost many shoes, clothes and bags to the mould spreading 😭 and in the last 2 weeks, it was getting into my chest and causing problems. I was literally counting down the nights to leave — 17 more, 15 more…
Read my blog post on Abergele, Conwy and Llandudno.
Our flight back to Brisbane was from London Heathrow on the 4th so we headed to London early and stayed at a small studio Airbnb in Bromley which was a handy location to base ourselves. On the evening we arrived in London, we were supposed to meet Joe’s family for a special three-course Sunday Roast dinner at 4pm but we got stuck in horrendous traffic. What should have taken around four hours ended up taking almost eight so we were majorly late! We felt awful but nevertheless, it was a delicious meal and our final UK roast dinner. We have eaten a LOT of roast dinners these past 11 months and the best ones probably deserve a blog post of their own.
The following day, we still had the hire car so we drove to visit Joe’s Nan in Bexhill-on-Sea — a seaside town in East Sussex. We had a lovely lunch and walked through the high street and along Bexhill Beach. Afterwards, we returned the car in London and headed to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland for a final dose of British Christmas. We came here in 2015 and it was magical. It seemed a lot busier this year and not as good but I think we were just a little burnt out from the previous few weeks. Still managed to fit in a hotdog and mulled wine though!
And there we have it, our 11 months in the UK were over. On the final day, we had one last Weatherspoons lunch and headed to the airport for our evening flight. No tears this time! I was just exhausted and wanted to get going.
On arrival back in Brisbane, it was a bit of a culture shock going from cold and busy Fallowfield to hot and quiet Cleveland. I was struggling with why we had decided to come back which I think was largely down the horrible jet lag I had (awful insomnia for almost a week), but that soon wore off. By the time I caught up with some Brisbane friends over high tea, I felt more like myself.
To finish off 2019, we had one last trip to Sydney for my friend’s amazing wedding. It was a bit weird being back in Sydney (I lived there for 5.5 years) but no part of me wanted to live there again (as fun as it is being there) so that’s something. It was lovely to catch up with my friends though! Back in Brisbane again, we spent Christmas catching up with family and a enjoyed a fun new year’s eve playing board-games and drinking bubbles.
And that’s a wrap on 2019! I felt like I hadn’t done enough in the UK but writing everything out for my closure on the year shows me that I did fit quite a lot in. We may not have done lots of fancy European holidays but we did spend lots of quality time with family and friends and explore the country we both love and miss. I’ve come back 10kg heavier from too many Strongbow Dark Fruits and roast dinners to count but I have zero regrets. Most of all, I’m so happy that I got to reconnect with old friends. I even started a Christmas bauble collection with my favourites from Dublin, Paris and Manchester. I spotted the champagne bottle bauble below at Heathrow before our flight back and it was the perfect one to sum up the year. Here’s to a great 2020 ahead! 🥂