Buying a Flat!

I know it has been radio silence over here for so long now. Part of that is because life has been so busy I really haven’t had time to do anything with this blog – every time I try to start writing, I have such a small amount of time to fit it in that what comes out is rushed and of such low quality I can’t do anything but throw it out and mourn the wasted time!

But ALSO I’ve had a lot of really exciting things in the works for months, and I didn’t want to share them until completely official. And the first one finally is so here we go…

We’re buying a flat! In South East London (where we’ve always lived), right next to Crystal Palace Park, and the commute will be fantastic, and it’s got two floors and three bedrooms and two bathrooms. And it’s finally official!

Did you know buying a flat in the UK takes an average 6 month to complete? Because I certainly didn’t, and when our offer was accepted back in June I expected to be in end of August at the latest. Very naïve, I have since learned.

Buying a flat in the UK is also different to the states in that it’s not legally binding until the very end. Meaning you can get months in and right before you expect it to be official (and after paying lawyers fees), you can be “gazumped”.

Per Google: Gazumping occurs when a seller accepts a verbal offer on the property from one potential buyer, but then accepts a higher offer from someone else. It can also refer to the seller raising the asking price or asking for more money at the last minute, after previously verbally agreeing to a lower one.

Basically it’s all verbal up until you exchange contracts, which doesn’t happen until the end of the process. Our offer was accepted in June and then July – October our lawyers sorted out the legal stuff, and we finally exchanged October 23rd, which made it all legally binding. We will then “complete” on November 4th, which is the day we get keys and officially own the house.

Another major difference between buying a flat in the UK vs the US are chains. The system here is legally set up so it’s not just your one purchase, but the sellers forward purchase, and so on, down the chain until you find someone “chain free” – ie moving to rented accommodation, moving abroad, or not buying for another reason. Depending on how long your chain is, it adds so much time. For example, we have been ready to exchange with our sellers for about a month, but there was an issue between their negotiations with their sellers which held things up. Then we were meant to all exchange on the 22nd, but the contract hadn’t been received from the people our sellers were buying from, so we had to wait on that. Nothing to do with our purchase, but legally it all happens on the same day. We were lucky in that our chain was just the three of us – the people our sellers are buying from are moving to rented accommodation. But there can be chains of 6 or 7 people, and if one of the purchases falls through, it delays completion for months for the entire chain. As such, a friend’s home purchase took over 12 months. And statistically, an accepted offer only leads to a completed sale 2/3 times in the UK (I’d imagine this is even closer to 50/50 in London).

We’ve been anxiously awaiting exchange – as desperate as we are to move in, we were more desperate to know nothing would fall apart last minute and no gazumping would transpire. And it has all finally happened! We’ll be in so soon – and with enough time to plan and host Thanksgiving!

We want to do a lot of work on the place but have very limited funds at the moment. So I’ll share photos of the “before” and then slowly share the “after”. We currently have a bed and an old, dilapidated sofa a friend has kindly bestowed upon us, and otherwise virtually no furniture. What a fun and expensive and terrifying adventure this will be!

Krka, Croatia

Krka, Split & Plitvice, Croatia

It’s been far too long since our epic journey around Croatia for me to write a proper post about it. However, it was one of our best trips we’ve ever taken, so solely so I have it to look back on, a photo diary of our time there!

Plitvice

This gorgeous national park has 16 lakes that are joined by waterfalls. It’s incredibly beautiful – though the photos make it look quite wild – expect lots of people and clear walkways you can’t deviate from. There is (paid) parking nearby, and depending on when you visit entry is anything from $8 – $26.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Krka

I actually preferred Krka, and if you visit between June and September you can swim in the water! Note that parking is tough to figure out. It seems like the two official options are to drive to Skradin and catch the boat or to Lozovac where you can walk about 2 km to the park – note that this way you don’t see Roski Slap, only Skradinski Buk. We couldn’t figure it out, ended up wandering around a completely unrelated town for a bit (but got some ice cream out of it!) and then just drove as close as we could (it seems like probably to Lozovac), were very lucky to find parking, and walked about 30 minutes each way, along with dozens of other people. Entry is about $20. Well worth it!

Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia

Split

Split was fantastic and we spent an entire day playing cards and drinking at what is probably my favourite pub in all the world. I have no idea what it is called, but it was full of locals and old and wonderful. We also went up Marjan Hill and had some pretty epic views of the city.

Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia

This was part of a larger trip I took over Semana Santa (Easter) in 2017. I went to Italy (Florence with Rachel, Venice alone), Slovenia, and Zagreb before meeting up with Gareth and driving down the coast of Croatia, into Bosnia to visit Mostar, and finally to Dubrovnik. Easily one of the most epic trips of my life!

Zagreb, Croatia

Four Days in Zagreb

Before going to Croatia, I was most looking forward to spending time on the coast, in places like Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik. However, my friend Lee had spent three weeks in Zagreb in 2015, and insisted it was one of the best places around. Our original itinerary didn’t plan for any time there, so instead of cramming in Belgrade or Sarajevo after Slovenia, I decided to spend four leisurely days in Zagreb, and I am so happy I did!

Zagreb, Croatia

I spent my time in Zagreb before Gareth arrived, and it was the perfect city to do solo. It was small, safe, walkable, and oh my god so cute. I LOVE Zagreb. In an alternative life I never left and am hanging about, still as enthusiastic and in awe as I was when I first arrived.  It was my favourite part of Croatia. Perhaps if we’d gone in warmer weather, when swimming was an option, I’d feel differently, but we went in April and Zagreb was the hands down winner.

Where to stay

I stayed at Hostel Chic which was exactly what I needed after being in crazy (bed bug ridden!) hostels for the last week. I’d only recommend Hostel Chic in the right circumstances. Unlike any other hostel I’ve ever stayed in, I was the youngest person there. It seemed to have about a 50/50 mix of people there for a short time, and people there longer term. Each night I planned to leave to find somewhere a bit livelier, but I ended up staying there the whole time. Zagreb is known for its amazing hostel scene, which is definitely worth looking into. But Hostel Chic was quiet, and each bed had its own lamp, plugs, and a half wall, so no one could see anyone else from their beds, and the bit of privacy was so refreshing!

If you’re looking for something a bit more social, I’ve heard great things about Swanky Mint Hostel.

Things to do

Zagreb is so beautiful and so walkable. The city isn’t very large and it’s easy to explore. It’s also home to my absolute favourite museum in the world, the Museum of Broken Relationships. I spent hours in there—I wish they would open a place in London so I could go back all the time. It was so interesting and healing in a way, to see all the different experiences people have had. It wasn’t just romantic relationships, but familial, friends, everything that once meant something. A lot were decades in the past and it was like getting to skim the book of someone’s life. I really loved it and could not recommend it more.

Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia Museum of Broken Relationships, Zagreb, Croatia

I also went to the  which was smaller, quieter, and fairly inexpensive to visit. The art inside was gorgeous, and I loved getting another tiny taste of Croatian culture.

Museum of Naïve Art, Zagreb, Croatia

St Mark's Church, Zagreb, Croatia

Be sure to visit St Mark’s Church which is maybe the most vibrant and fun church I’ve ever seen. On the way up I stopped into some really cool art shops, and picked up a hand painted canvas depicting Marija Jurić , the first female journalist.

Marija Jurić , Zagreb's first female journalist

After leaving, keep heading away from the church and you’ll end up at an incredible outlook, with great views of the city. You can order drinks and sit, which I did, spending a few hours reading and writing. It was one of the best days, and I basically repeated it again and again —just changing up where I ate, and adding in a few new hang out spots—the Botanical Garden, the little café next to the Museum of Broken Relationships, and the other parks around the city. There’s also Dolac, a big market open daily from 7-2, a great place to pick up fresh produce and souvenirs. And while Zagreb was very relaxed, the city still felt really vibrant and alive.

Zagreb, Croatia

I feel awful Gareth missed it, but it just means we have to go back to Croatia—what a not terrible problem to have!

Food Recs

Definitely do breakfast at Otto & Frank. I went there two of my four days, and nowhere else compared.

Eat at one of the places above the market. I went to PLAC and had their mixed grill plate, which was pretty good, though some of the other food looked better.

Make sure to try a fritule, a yummu donut-like Croatian pastry made for Christmas (but available year round).

Dolac market has fresh fruit and veg, which is a nice snack for a day spent wandering.

Croatia

Zagreb was just the start of a fantastic week and a half in Croatia, but I maintain it was the best part. Don’t skip it just because it isn’t on the coast!

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Where to Eat in Montpellier, France

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in Montpellier earlier this year, studying French. Montpellier is exactly my kind of city – fairly small, walkable, artsy, has fantastic weather and tons of delicious food. If you’re heading to France soon and wondering where to eat in Montpellier, I recommend:

Breakfast

For breakfast there is no beating the patisseries. There are two I strongly recommend:
Des Rêves et du Pain was named the best patisserie in France a few years ago, and this everything from this place is insanely delicious. However the staff are not the nicest and it’s more expensive than other patisseries.
Lo Monaco is just as good (better?), with more/cheaper things on offer and the smell wafting out of this place in the morning is the actual best way to start your day.

Lunch

Auden, Montpellier, France

I loved my lunches at Auden. The food was so good, fresh, and healthy. Exactly what I was craving after eating almost entirely noodles and zebu whilst living in Madagascar. Most days I ate here, went to the market and had some sort of cheese, fruit, and bread combination, or got something from Lo Monaco.

Dinner

Cocotte, Montpellier, France

Rosemarie has great vibes, good wine, and yummy food.
Rocco et Sa Mere was delicious and has a really cool painted facade.
La Cocotte was also wonderful.

Dessert

Montpellier, France

Absolutely go for wine and a crepe at Le Melody and enjoy the views of the Cathedrale Saint Pierre.

Pubs

Montpellier, France

Montpellier has amazing wine and too many good places to drink it, but I had a great time at Le Beehive and Le Foch.

There’s a ton to do in Montpellier as well, a small mountain to climb and a bike ride to the beach, but as I was locked in the library my only time appreciating the city was during meal times. I’ll go back at some point and write a better guide to Montpellier, but until then I’ve got the most important bit – the food!

National Garden, Athens, Greece

Two Week Intensive French Classes in Montpellier

I was lucky enough to take intensive French classes in Montpellier because after Madagascar, there was a lot of uncertainty – would I actually go back to London? Would I move back to California* like I’ve been dreaming about for a few years now? Look for another position in the field with a more robust health care system? Or even take a few months off just to focus on language?

Then I got offered my current position back at MSI and the decision was made. I’d be moving to London and happily back in with G! I had a few weeks to play around with before my start date, and learning French is something that has been on my list of goals for years. It would be a huge career boost, and despite taking a course at MSI in early 2018, I still felt like I lacked even the most basic building blocks of the language. So I decided to book in for an intensive two week course in the south of France at LSF French school. I decided on this school because of price, location (I’d never been to the South of France, I liked the small size of the city, and the weather was meant to be lovely – though I had terrible luck in that regard), and reputation – it had loads of excellent reviews.

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

French Classes in montpellier

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Host Family Life

I stayed with a host family which is very out of character – I highly value independence and privacy. I did it because it’s meant to offer the best opportunity to learn French, and while I don’t regret having done it, I wouldn’t again.

Pros:

  • You can practice French in a natural environment with people who have to be patient with you. You’ll learn how people speak colloquially, learn words about everyday living that may not come up in class, and be exposed to the language basically 24/7.
  • You can see how locals live, which is something I think is important when visiting a new place – to get outside of the tourist bubble. I was quite far out and had to take a 25-minute metro ride into the city centre every day, and while this wasn’t ideal it did allow me to live a bit more like a local than tourist.

Cons:

  • Every family is different, and you’re inserted right into someone else’s family. Two weeks is a bit of an awkward amount of time. It’s difficult to get close, but you’re right there there for long enough to feel a bit involved – there was some personal drama with the host mom that happened while I was there that I was a bit caught up in – very awkward when you’re an outsider who doesn’t speak the language.
  • In my experience, the expectation was very much that I would spend as much free time with the family as possible. I spent 90% of my time in the library studying, and I think my host mother felt a tiny bit put out by this. I didn’t sign up for catered food, but started feeling guilty if I didn’t eat with the family every night anyway (with my own food obviously), and even at nearly 30 years old, they very much wanted to know my whereabouts at all times.
  • I think the biggest issue I had was that I came in as a complete beginner. The family didn’t speak English, and I think a few decades ago the model would have worked where I’d have been forced to gesture until I could speak, and then speak and build from what I was learning each day, etc. Instead the host family used Google translate to communicate with me. I did eventually ask them to at least speak the words as well, so I could hear it in French, and it wasn’t terrible both seeing it written out and hearing it out loud. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that right away, and for a while it felt like the only things I was learning were from listening in on their conversations to each other.

These things all might be very expected for a host family, and even desirable for some people. It’s also just one experience – I’d stayed with one other host family when I was in Guatemala for a few weeks in 2010, and in that instance we had breakfast together every day, but there were no expectation to spend free time socializing together. They were very happy to help when needed and would have a chat in Spanish at the end of most nights, but I still felt quite independent. That wasn’t the case here, and I think will be hard to know what kind of situation you’re getting before arrival.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

What Can You Learn in Two Weeks?

A lot, actually! I was lucky that I was in a small class (there were only four of us) and we were all really motivated to learn. We also came in at complete beginner, so were luckily all at nearly the exact same level. I had class from 9 – 12:30 every day and then and extra 90 minutes in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spent every afternoon in the library studying, and the library was usually quite full. When I came back I joined an A1.2 class in London, was pushed up to the A2.2 class the next week, and that was actually the right level! This is the result of London labelling classes as more advanced than they are (I found the same thing when I tried to do Spanish classes here as well), but also due to my time at LSF – I really did come back quite good. I learned far more in two weeks than I expected. I’ve since forgotten loads, but I know with a bit of dedicated study, my new class at MSI, and hopefully a few more trips to LSF, I’ll get there.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Looking to take French classes in montpellier?

I have a lot of good things to say about LSF. I think they’ve nailed the model, have excellent, well trained teachers, dedicated students, and I 100% plan to go back to the LSF for French classes in Montpellier in the future. I think language lessons can be extremely hit or miss, and I am really comfortable telling you LSF is a hit. They know what they are doing – they aren’t the cheapest but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and if you’re serious about French this is a place you can go to improve. Also Montpellier is not a bad place to spend some time! It’s got a gorgeous old town, is a small-sized city, perfect for learning a language, generally has fantastic weather, and has great food. What more could you want?

Montpellier, France

*This would have been difficult to do as I don’t have health insurance in America anymore. If I got sick now, it would be nearly impossible to move home with my family to receive care. Another reason America’s HC system needs overhauling and another reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming primaries and election!