Monthly Archives: August 2009

A Few Recent Discoveries

……….but still no photo’s (sorry).

Friday night Brad and I took the tube into Wembly, and ventured off to Ikea.  I love Ikea.  Since I first discovered Ikea in Seattle several years ago, I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to build in Colorado.  As luck would have it, Ikea IS building in Colorado—-and I’m not there.  So I was particularly thrilled to find out that there was an Ikea in Wembly, ’bout 5 miles from where we are staying (as the crow flies—which is to say, by the time you get on the tube, get off at the correct stop, and walk or bus to the store, it’s been roughly 45 minutes).  We were there for two reasons:  one, was dinner, and you’ll be happy to know that Swedish Meatballs are just as yummy over here * and two, to look for good ideas for the new home (more on that another time).  We had a great time, wore out our feets and fell into bed nice and tired. 

Saturday was a gorgeous summer day….probably the third or fourth we’ve seen since arriving, so we were determined to enjoy it.  We walked to the High Street, had ‘brunch’ at a little cafe and scored one of the sidewalk tables, went by the grocery store and then picked the big ripe blackberries along the sidewalk on the way back to the hotel.  After dropping off the groceries, we decided to tube into town and check out Harrod’s.

Now, Harrod’s is 6 levels of wonderful, and given enough time and fundage I’m sure I could have done some damage, but some things, well, they are just too much.  Take for instance the child sized, fully operational classic corvette, or if you’d rather, a Hummer.  A fossilized swordfish of sorts—beautiful, but shouldn’t it be in a museum somewhere?  Furnishings fit for a castle, and a rocking horse that any child would love—-only about $10,000.  Hungry?  There are two floors of food, deli’s, bakeries, and oh, the chocolate!  How ’bout a quick bite to eat?  Brad and I chose a 50’s style diner on the 4th floor.  Here are a few of the menu choices, all prices in GBP:  Mo’s Sampler Platter for 2–12.00;  Cobb Salad–14.50;  The Classic Hamburger with fries—13.50 (want cheese? 1.75, mushrooms or bacon? 1.75) ;  but my personal favorite???  Cincinnati Simple Dog (served plain on a bun) 12.50.  Add a Diet Coke and you’ve just spent over $25 .  Milkshakes were 7 pounds.

Eat before you go.  Just sayin’

After we were full of Harrod’s, my Starbucks homing device kicked in and found us a coffee right across the street, where we sipped and watched the world go by from the upper floor.  London is really a great place for people watching—not just because there are so many, but because of the variety.  The first night we were here, we took a walk through Hyde Park, not far from where we were staying at Paddington.  I think I could count on one hand the times we heard English spoken during our trek through the park.  It’s an amazing place.

Sunday, after we filled ourselves with breakfast in the hotel dining room, we moved back into our previous room and then headed to the tube station to go back to the Tower of London.  We had been there two weeks before, but it’s so interesting, you just can’t see it all in one two hour visit.  The day, once again was lovely, and we ate fish and chips outside, overlooking the Tower grounds.  This trip, we wandered around the Medieval Palace, home to Henry III and his son Edward I (if I remember correctly—had to get out my Ruler ruler to figure it out).  We will doubtless go back again.  When the Tower closed for the day, we sat in the shade beside the Thames and watched the people and tour boats go by.  It was a lovely evening.

Now I really must get it together and go take  test so I can drive (the car we don’t have, because we don’t have an address).

 

*I had read (from 2 sources) that meatballs can be called ‘faggots’ here in England.  I was very curious to see how Ikea handled that……..

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Nothing Happens in One Visit

I believe I heard before we arrived, but certainly since, the term “getting UKed.”  This could mean several things, one being the process of acclimating to a new place, getting used to a different culture, a new climate, new words, different money.  I heard one funny example the other day, from a woman who was expecting her daughter and grandson to come for a visit, and was looking all over town for diapers.  Every store she asked stated they did not carry diapers, and E. was getting very frustrated, and wondering what the English do with their babes.  Finally, she saw an advert for a “nappy stacker” and discoverd that she had been asking the wrong question.  She tootled down to the store, purchased the nappy’s and had them delivered.  Problem solved.

I am fortunate to have an English brother-in-law, so many of the different words/terms are familiar to me: lift, boot, bonnet, nappy chips, crisps, bisquits and so on.   Some are new, and should not be mentioned here.  But what I was not prepared for, and what some mean by ‘getting UKed’  is how difficult it is to get things done.

On our first day, Brad’s new boss warned us that nothing gets done in one visit.  He told us that at least a third of his time is taken up with just figuring out how to live here.  I was stunned, but so far, he’s been dead on. 

Case in point:  Obviously, England has a different money system than the US, hence, one needs to convert dollars to pounds.  If one is going to live here, a bank account is in order, yes?  Okay, stay with me here.  To open a bank account, you need an address.  To get an address, you have to either buy a house, (which takes an unbelievable amount of time and a loan from a bank) or let (rent) one.  To pay for the deposit, rent and so forth, you need a bank account to draw the pounds from.  But to open the bank acount……….

See the issue?  We were finally, after two visits, two and half hours and one phone call, able to open a local bank account, with our passports, and proof of residency in America, (estimation of monthly income, estimation of monthly expenses….Iwas waiting for blood type and favorite color) but now we’re struggling with getting the dollars into pounds (at a fair exchange rate) and then into that account.  Oh, and the account they were able to open for us could not be opened jointly, so I still have no access.

Next on the priority list is buying a car.  We found one we like, asked how to purchase it and were told, no checks (understandable) no credit cards.  We could finance (yeah, right) use debit card or cash.  Of course, again, the money needed to be in pounds, from a local bank, and the debit cards here all have a microchip along with the PIN, and of course, the debit card will not be here for several more days.

What say we rent a car?  Brad called a local place to hire a car, was told to bring along a passport and drivers license and we’d be good, they could provide insurance.  So off we go on the train, GPS in hand, and find the car hire place.  The guy starts sorting out the paperwork, realizes Brad is in the US military (as opposed to Canadian or British, I suppose) and makes a phone call.  No, we are told, we cannot insure you.  No insurance, no car.  A call to our insurance company reveals that we are not covered abroad, but they can insure the rental car if we provide the make, model and VIN for said car.  Of course when Brad calls the agency back, the car has been given to someone else and what’s left is a Jaguar at twice the cost.

Let’s move on to TV and internet, shall we?  Last night we dashed off to the mall (three tube stations away) to get Brad a tie.  The mall closes at something like 5 so we were in a hurry.  Come to find out, the mall is open til 8 on Thursday (closes early Friday and Saturday though, go figure).  After we secured the tie, we wandered around the mall some.  I went to the bookstore, and Brad stopped to talk to the TV guys.  They will install the digital TV box for free (HD and all that stuff).  5 days later, they will hook up your phone line, and 5 days after that, your broadband.  Not all at once.  Nope.  Because of the “cooling off period” they want to make sure you are going to keep the TV service before you can have the phone, and the phone before to can have broadband.

Nothing gets done in one visit.

Now, before somebody jumps all over me let me be clear.  I am sure there are very good reasons for these precautions and bits of red tape, and while they are frustrating for us, as newcomers, I realize it’s not wrong just different.  Most of the banking issues can be credited to terrorists and those who would launder money.  Understandably, a car hire business must protect their assets.  Don’t quite get the TV thing, but I’m sure there must be some logical reason for that as well.  It’s all a matter of adjustment, to be sure.

And now, I need to move to a different room.  Seems this room was promised to a couple newlyweds for the weekend.

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Abroad

After a long hiatus, it’s time to ressurect the blog (mostly due to the urgings of friends).   What, pray tell, is the reason for this visitation?   Glad you’ve asked.

A little background.  My dear hubby has (if you have been here before, you’ll recall) been in the Air Force nearly 30 years now.  Last summer he was in Iraq and I bounced between Washington and Colorado while he was away.  When he returned and was just settling in back at the Academy, he found out that the powers that be had denied his extension there in Colorado Springs, and decided we would be moving.  In a few months.  (This is a story for a different day, marked with stupidity and waste.  I digress).   We waited anxiously by to see what said powers would determine and finally toward the end of March Brad gets an email, from some dude saying he’s our sponsor—–in LONDON.   Seems we would be moving to London for Brad to work with the European Office of Aerospace Research and Development. 

Talk about a shock.  Just a few days before I had been weighing the possibilities;  “I hope it’s not Florida—-what would I knit in Florida?”  “I’d really rather not go back to Dayton.”  “Salt Lake City might be good.”  “Albuquerque is close enough for a long weekend in the Springs.”  But London???  Never seriously entered my mind.

So, not four months later we were on our way, and as I write this now, I’m sitting in a lovely hotel room in the western outskirts of London, England. 

Today, I think I’ll begin with the Top Ten Things to Love About London.  I’m sure I’ll find more and more, but let’s start here:

10.  CarGiant.  Seriously.  We went poking around a used car lot the other day that was the bestest and biggest I had ever seen in my life.  All makes and model, some I’d never even heard of.  And the best part?  In the 2 hours we were there not one salesman approached us. 

9.  Fish and Chips.  One of my favorites anyway, but here, you can get them about anywhere—every pub, most restaurants.  I’m not sure about take-away (to go) orders, but every time I’ve had them, they’ve come with peas.

8.  Shortbread.  With tea in the afternoon.  Enough said.

7.  Newspapers.  There are so many!!  “Real” news, gossip. Some of each.  I usually find one on the train to occupy the ride.

6.  High Street.  Each village has one, a place with shopping and eateries, banks and so forth.  Obviously some are better than others, but it’s a pretty sure bet that you can find something to eat and a coffee if you can find the high street.

5.  Theatre.  You just would not believe the choices; I can’t imagine New York has a better theatre district.  There must be 20 musicals on stage in London right now, in addition to the dramas.  You can see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre for 5 pounds.  You can get good seats for much less than in America.

4.  Public Transport.  I know there are cities in America with excellent transportation systems; New York, Chicago, DC to name a few, but there really is no place you can’t get by either train, tube, bus or a short walk.  We’ve been here two and a half weeks and only wished for a car once.

3.  Double Decker Buses:  Along the same lines, but almost as good as a thrill ride (if you are lucky enough to be up top and in the front seats).  You see way more from the bus than from the tube (obviously).  One of our first evenings here we just hopped on the city bus going east to see what we could see.  What we saw was Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, St Paul’s and the Tower of London.  We passed the theatre district with all the bright marques, rode above the crowds and had a great time of it.  If you’ve got time, the bus is the way to go.

It bears mentioning here that the trains, tubes and buses are in really good shape and kept very clean and tidy.  In some cities that’s not the case (gee, I wonder what I’m sitting on, what’s that smell), but I’ve never once feared for my health or my trousers here in London.

2.  Parks and Open Space.  London is really not all that big a place, geographically, yet 10 million people live in Greater London.  Even with that many folks dashing about, there are wee parks/squares everywhere, and many large beautiful parks you can stroll through. Our first evening in the city we left our hotel near Paddington Station and walked to Hyde Park.  Now here is a great example of open space in a big city.  It’s attached to Kensington Park (home to Kensington Palace), and one can litteraly walk for hours on the paths that wind through the grounds.  There is an ‘open air’ theatre in the park (with a new version of Peter Pan playing), the Prince Albert Memorial, Diana Memorial Fountain and Memorial Playground (which is excellent, I might say), as well as a man made lake and tons of trees and birds—–it’s a wonderful place.  And that’s just one example; there are also St James Park, Regents Park and a host of others I’m anxious to explore.

1.  History.  The number one thing about this grand city must be it’s history and it’s buildings.  In America, we think of a really old building as being of the colonial era, perhaps 300 years old.  There are high street shops in London older than that.  The hotel we are staying in right now has buildings that date back to the 17th century.  The Tower of London is an amazing place, begun in 1066, it has been a royal residence, a prison and several other things over the centuries, but is still home to the beefeaters and their families.  Amazing.  Just to walk through buildings and grounds where Henry VIII and his wives lived, where his daughter Elizabeth I lived, it’s surreal.

I’m sure over the next three years I will find more to love.  Maybe next time we’ll explore the top 10 things to be frustrated about.

***I would love to add photo’s and I’ll bet you’re wondering where they are.  They are stuck in my camera, and the cord is somewhere either packed and yet to arrive, or in the mail.  Frustrating.

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