The Two Month Mark

I think that London may be testing me.

This week marks two months that I’ve lived in London, claiming it as my home. And so the gods of the city threw a couple of lost people my way to ask for directions. In my own neighbourhood. Did I know how to help them? Of course not. Luckily, I can still get away with saying “I just moved here, sorry!!”, although that kind of throws a wrench in my whole Londoner facade. My boyfriend, on the other hand, just pretends that he can’t speak English when people ask him for directions.

It really doesn’t feel like I’ve been here that long, but that may be because the past month has consisted of alternating days full of reading and days full of classes, which start to blur together. And so I’ve decided to take inventory of what I have accomplished in the past two months, since being overly familiar with my own neighbourhood is not one of those things.

In the past two months I can say that I’ve made it to most of the free tourist attractions (except for the  museums, which will take a while to visit).

I have definitely sat next to the little old man from UP! on public transportation on at least three separate occasions.

Navigating the labyrinths that are the underground stations has gotten muchhhh easier. As have working out alternate routes when there are imminent tube closures.

Although I haven’t gotten over my fear of birds (for those of you who don’t know me well, I am collapse into the fetal position freaked out by birds of any kind, but pigeons are the worst), the circumference of the path that I take to get around them on sidewalks has shrunken considerably.

I’ve only had a couple of near panic attacks, and they both happened on Oxford Street (aka tourist shopping hell). But nothing full blown, which is obviously good news.

I found comfortable shoes!!

I have successfully integrated green things into my boyfriend’s diet through yummy paleo recipes, which is a HUGE success because he’s stubbornly been on a primarily meat based diet for the entirety of his 23 years.

I have found that maintaining friendships on separate continents is truly difficult because the time of day that I think to text my friends is in the morning here, which is the middle of the night there. And by the time it’s a normal time of day there, I forget to text. But I’m working on it!

I’ve adopted a few English spellings and phrases (namely behaviour and programme because they are used a lot in my studies and have started to make more sense than the American spellings).

I have NOT adopted a fake English accent, for all of you who warned me not to do that. And I still say “y’all”, but only because I can’t figure out a better way to say it! I refuse to say “you guysss” because I’m not a yankee. “You all” just seems silly. Why wouldn’t I just combine the words? And people find it endearing, so there’s that.

I have not stopped mentally converting pounds to dollars, although I really need to quit that because it’s just depressing.

I have become engrossed in British television. Well, as much as I can be without a TV license. We’ve started watching British shows on Netflix. Him & Her? Great show. Have you watched Sherlock Holmes? Because you should. We’re now looking for the next show to watch, and we are taking suggestions!

I have nearly gotten back to the level of fitness that I was at this summer, after a period of not being able to make the gym a priority.

And most of all, we have survived financially in a country where the dollar is worth practically nothing. Now we’ve just got to make it ’til January, when good ole Sallie Mae pays out again.

Wish us luck!!

There’s no easy way to say this

Psychology

Twenty-somethings are constantly bombarded by the same questions over and over again. I’m not sure if this is because we are, in general, a very fascinating group of people, or if the people asking the questions have such few things to say to us that it revolves wholly around our future. This constant stream of questions is only intensified by being Americans in a foreign country. “Where are you from? What are you doing in London?”  “Oh, you’re a student? Where are you going to school?”  “What are you studying?”

That final question is the one that makes me wince a little bit. What am I studying? Well, when I was in undergrad, it was psychology. Which meant that I was GUARANTEED to get some form of this response:

  • Oooh, so you can read my mind then?

People are so predictable. And they all think they’re soooo clever. No, I cannot read your mind. I wonder what people say to someone whose profession is fortune teller or palm reader or psychic. Although maybe they’re a group that doesn’t mingle much with people who don’t work in places with lots of beaded curtains and incense.

Now that I’m completing a postgraduate degree, my answer is even more specified and I have two possible answers.

  1. “I’m studying psychiatry.” Which elicits similar replies to the psychology answer.
  2. “I’m studying addictions.” This one provokes some different responses.

When I tell someone that I’m studying addictions they will either say “Oooh, you could have a field day with me! I’ve got a bad (cupcake, cigarette, Diet Coke, knitting) addiction.” Surprisingly, that’s not really what I’m focusing my research on.

Or they’ll give me a confused look until I continue talking about it and they realise that I’ve said ‘addiction’ not ‘addition’. I could see how that would be confusing, imagining someone spending 12 months doing an intensive program on mental maths.

What I’m wondering is why psychology prompts responses like this. No one says to a teacher, “Oooh, i’ll bet you could teach me something!”. Actually, I’ll bet they do, that’s not a bad pick up line. But no one warns a salesman not to try to sell them anything. Or jokes that an accountant could really help them to straighten out their taxes, do they? Maybe I’ll start telling people that I’m going to psychic school, just to see if the reply is similar.

How’s the weather?

British weather

Contrary to what everyone thinks, people everywhere like talking about the weather. Everywhere that I have lived (North Carolina, Colorado, Texas, Alabama, the UK), the people think that talking about weather is unique to them. This is a short list of things that I have heard everywhere, including the UK.

  • “Us (insert place here)-ers are always talking about the weather!”
  • “Prepare yourself. You’ll see all four seasons in one day!”
  • “We have the most unexpected weather.”
  • “The weather man is always wrong.”
  • “It looks like you brought the good weather with you!”/ “So it was you who brought this nasty weather here?”
  • And everywhere except Colorado: “The whole city/state just shuts down when it snows!”

Yes, the UK has a special kind of weather that people all over the world think that they know about (namely that it rains pretty often). When I told people in the States that I was moving here I heard the same exact phrase over and over and over again: “I hope you like the rain.” I don’t mind the rain, actually. Not that I dictate giant life decisions purely on the possibility of precipitation, but I do so appreciate the input of those who have rarely, if ever, left the USofA.

However, for the past month and a half that I’ve been here, the weather has been lovely! Yes, I shivered for the first week in the 75-degree (Fahrenheit) sunshine because I had just left 110 degrees, but I acclimated! It’s worth noting that the first time my boyfriend told me it would be 23 degrees tomorrow, I almost cried. I’m still just as bad at converting Fahrenheit to Celsius. That is…I have put forth no effort to try to learn the conversion. My Weather Channel app still shows it to me in Fahrenheit and that’s all I need.

It has been entertaining to describe the Texas summers to people from the UK. I would relive the sticky, suffocating feeling and depict the 110-degree, 80% humidity days with a disgusted look on my face, I’m sure. I described how you can’t walk outside without immediately wanting to go back in. How the heat pushes itself in your face and forces its way around your whole body, squeezing hydration out of your pores until you can’t remember what the cold feels like. How simply being outside for 10 minutes to take your dog on a walk can cause sunburn and be reason enough to reapply deodorant. How you can’t ever leave the house without shoes because the ground is literally baking, and that people actually cook eggs on the sidewalk and bake cookies on the dashboards of their cars. How it gets so hot that it doesn’t even feel good to get into the pool because it’s lukewarm like a bath. And that when you finally make it back to the indoors, to the idyllic place where there is at least 1 air conditioning unit for every 2 rooms, you feel nauseous for a minute because of the drastic change in temperature. You shiver a little bit because the sweat on your skin is turning to ice. But then eventually your body maintains homeostasis and you forget quite how hot it is outside, until you’re forced to repeat the process. As I’m describing how grossly hot and stifling it is, these crazy Brits are drooling! Saying how they would love that! No, you don’t understand, I tell them, it’s miserable! But they are unwavering. I think that it’s true: everyone wants what they don’t have.

I could easily count the number of rainy days in the past month and a half on two hands, which is a true testament to the good weather of late. Unfortunately it seems like the days in the sun are officially over. It has dropped to the 50’s and the rainy days are more becoming more frequent; although I’ve been told that October is typically the driest month. But even before the temperature dropped, Londoners seemed to be anticipating the cold weather. Inviting it, even! On days when I’ve been comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt, they walk around with peacoats, boots and scarves on. And I am always cold! Truly I don’t know how these people have been surviving on public transport in all those layers because as I mentioned in “You Can’t Miss It”, the tube is the city’s furnace, accessible to all with an Oyster Card.

It does seem like I’m finally going to get some use out of these sweaters and coats that I’ve worn infrequently over the past few years. So while I hunker down for the fall weather (which will be more like middle-of-winter weather for me), and grin and bear it while I let Londoners repeat to me their weather catchphrases, I hope those of you reading this back in the southern US are enjoying your 80 degree days!

Parliament from the river on a sunny day

Parliament from the river on a sunny day

A portion of the skyline on another sunny day

A portion of the skyline on another sunny day

It's beginning to look a lot like autumn...

It’s beginning to look a lot like autumn…

Green Park

Green Park

A pretty typical weather forecast

A pretty typical weather forecast

Lou and I from the bottom of the Shard

Lou and I from the bottom of the Shard

I Have Found My People

Up until this point I feel like I have kind of wandered through life, forcing a fit with groups of people when necessary (excepting a few instances like my best friend and my boyfriend, who are the halves that make me whole). But I am ecstatic to say that this week I have found my people.

I started my master’s course and am finally surrounded by people who give as much of a $#!* as I do!! And it is fantastic. People who put academics first, people who are passionate, people who want to make a difference. People who did the required (AND suggested) reading ahead of time, people who habitually write down notes and to-do lists and due dates, people who were excited for classes to start, and not because that meant the rebirth of binge drinking season.

This collective group of people is quite amazing to me. Not one of us has a similar story. Every single person has a different motivation for this course and different aspirations for afterwards. Together we form a group that has a wide array of opinions and experiences to offer. Our conversations are well rounded and passionate. It is exhilarating to think that we will soon be the brains behind a societal change that is indeed coming.

I am basically on Cloud 9.

Oh, except that both Lou and I are sick. And I have about the worst case of DOMS (that’s delayed onset muscle soreness) that I’ve ever experienced thanks to my boyfriend’s suggestion to try “Bruin Blasts”, essentially a couple hundred calf raises. It looks like my knees swallowed softballs. The past 3 days have consisted of me walking around on tippy toes in a semi-squat position. I may never work out my calves again. My soreness is somewhat manageable as long as I’m standing and stretching, but gets insanely worse when I sit for extended periods of time. I can actually feel the muscles tightening. Of course in these past three days I have had my first day of classes, which consist of 1.5 hour lectures followed by half hour breaks (for tea, how British!). Oh and then we had a walking tour yesterday, which I struggled on.

Where do you take a bunch of health studies master’s students for a get-to-know-each-other field trip? To one of the largest anatomy museums in the world, of course! For a couple of hours yesterday I perused through specimens dating back to the 1600’s (including plague victims). I saw organs (and heads, and babies!) in jars. Entire sections of the museum dedicated to forensic deaths (poisonings, gunshot wounds, drownings, etc). This was followed by a public health tour wherein we learned about the progression of modern medicine as it developed with the plague, cholera and other epidemics in London. We learned about the horrific living conditions during the Industrial Revolution and all of the silly ideas about what causes disease (including bad smells). And then we went to lunch.

In other news, Lou and I have begun learning Portuguese! We are the only people in our class who were not motivated to take the class because of dating or being married to someone from Portugal. We chose the language because it is close to both French (which he has studied) and Spanish (which I muddled through during high school, but still know enough to speak in broken phrases with the people at my taco stand of choice). In the future we know that we want to move around the continent, and don’t want language barrier to be something that keeps us from going where we want. Whether or not we choose Spain or Portugal, we will at least have studied a language and can use that as a springboard for future language studying.

Also, our flat mates speak in nothing but Russian (we think…) around us, unless they are speaking directly to us. It’s a bit like living with the nail lady who you think is always talking about you in front of you. And so we want to have our own language (besides Pig Latin which Lou has been trying to make happen for the past month).

That’s all that’s going on here! And now I’m going to make the most of my immobile state and go read some more non-mandatory scientific articles!

Cheers! xo

 I Love London

The Shard

The Shard

I find hidden treasures like this when I wander around London.

I find hidden treasures like this when I wander around London.

A shrine to the outcast dead.

A shrine to the outcast dead.

This monument is 202 feet tall. If you turned it on its side, it lands in the exact spot that the Great Fire  of 1666 started.

This monument is 202 feet tall. If you turned it on its side, it lands in the exact spot that the Great Fire of 1666 started.

The poppies at the Tower of London; one of my favourite spots so far!

The poppies at the Tower of London; one of my favourite spots so far!

What’s The Food Like?

I’ve been asked to compare a lot of very basic aspects between the US and the UK since I’ve moved to London. Some of the questions are quite difficult to answer. Like what’s my favorite thing about living here? That will be easier to answer when I find something that I don’t like about living here. Some, like “how are you liking it so far?” are easy to answer. This question is always asked with extreme trepidation. I’m not sure if it is because they think America is so wonderful, or if they think that London is crap or if they’re just not sure how a southern girl is adjusting to the big city.

Nonetheless, I’ll be addressing these questions in my next few blog posts. Today, a favorite topic of mine: FOOD!!

I was quite nervous about the food moving to London because the last time that I visited, food was not the high point of our trip. However, it’s been quite good! Well, to be fair, the only real British food I’ve experienced was when I stayed in Southampton with Lou’s grandmother. Let me preface this by saying that she spent years as a caterer. She is a very good cook. We had rack of lamb, steak, shrimp (prawns), fish pie, shepherd’s pie, etc. All so good that we were obviously disappointed by anything we concocted after.

No, I still have not had fish and chips. Just like in America, I am avoiding anything fried like the plague. At least until I spend enough time in a pub to lower my dietary inhibitions. Which leads me to my next point, what do we eat for “drunk food” here? In America, the traditional drunk meals include Taco Bell or Waffle House. For some people it’s McDonalds, but even at my lowest inhibitions, I won’t eat McDonalds. I prefer to go for an arguably even lower quality of meat that is Taco Bell. I make excuses for WaHo because at least you see the “chefs” prepare the food, but you still never feel like it was a good life decision when you leave. In London, the best kind of food to get after the bars close is kebabs!

My boyfriend had told me about kebabs, and I pictured meat on a stick, which is not what kebabs are. They are more like gyros. And they are delicious (what isn’t after five pints though?). I also love that the ingredients are in front of you. They shave the meat (chicken, steak, or lamb) off of a giant slab in front of you. I have no idea about the quality of the meat, but at least I can see that it wasn’t taken from a vacuum-sealed bag and microwaved. Lou won’t let me try them sober. So there may never be an unbiased opinion on these.

A 1 am London kebab

1 am is kebab time in London

Since we’ve been living in our place, we’ve gone back to maintained a budget of about £5  a meal. It hasn’t been too bad (thanks to Pinterest!). We’ve been using a lot of recipes we cooked at home and have kind of repeated the ones that combine easy, cheap and yummy; our favorite courses tend to be very spicy (what can I say? We’re from Texas). Stuffed peppers, fajitas, curry (of which we have tried 4 different sauces and cannot get it spicy enough!!) and jambalya (ingredients for which are extremely difficult to find here) . Thank goodness for Tabasco sauce. We put it on everything.

Speaking of sauces, I have found some condiments unique to the UK that I could put on everything: Marmite and HP Sauce. I can’t really explain the taste of Marmite. There’s nothing that compares to it in the States (people have told me it’s “yeasty”, which doesn’t sound appetizing to me and, let me assure you, it is). We put it on toast in the morning. HP Sauce is comparable to A1 Steak Sauce, except that it is much better. I have yet to find something that HP Sauce doesn’t make better.

There are some condiments missing here, though. Most notably, ranch dressing. I never ate it with a lot, typically just with pizza. But it is definitely an American thing. Now if you’re looking for mayo, you have plenty of options. There is an entire aisle at the grocery store dedicated to mayo. Apparently the Brits love the stuff. Personally, it makes me a little gaggy.

We started looking online for an American food store. There are British Emporiums in the States and so there has to be a place here. Indeed there is. And if I ever get to craving Froot Loops badly enough to pay £8, I will make a trip there. The only things we would really get there are peanut butter (preferably Jiff because, choosy expats choose Jiff), ranch dressing (for the aforementioned pizza) and Gatorade, which I was surprised is not sold here. But then! Like a little mirage in our own Tesco, we stumbled across an American end cap. And then another! Quite funny what American foods made the cut. You can see the little Jiff up there! Along with Twinkies, Crisco, a multitude of maple syrups, any flavor of jell-o you can think of, 4 shelves of candy, Pop Tarts, and old school Pepsi. Americans are a people of varied sugary obsessions, or so it would seem.

American food as perceived by Tesco Part I

American food as perceived by Tesco Part I

American food as perceived by Tesco Part II

American food as perceived by Tesco Part II

Neither of us ate very many processed foods before and we’ve continued that here. Which is why I love the markets here! I never really experienced a market in the states. There are farmers’ markets, but it’s really just a re-purposed parking lot for 3 hours once a week. These markets are open on various days, most are Thursday-Sunday, but some are everyday, usually from 10-2. And they have EVERYTHING! It is my heaven. There are stands that have food from everywhere: Kenya, Korea, Japan, Greece, Armenia, it is beautiful. And fits within my £5 budget usually! There are also stands of people who bring in handmade chocolate and pastries, tons of different honey and coffee, and organic fruits and veggies of every kind. Oh, and of course there’s free samples everywhere you turn. It’s fantastic.

I first visited Borough Market (pictures below), which is celebrating its’ 1000th anniversary this year. Yes, that’s right. One thousand years. As long as my schedule allows, going to the market will be a weekly thing for me, which will be beneficial because my goal for October is to cook meals using vegetables that are in season. If you have any yummy recipes using squash, leeks, potatoes, cabbage or Brussels sprouts, please leave a comment!!

And now I’m hungry. Tonight’s dinner is good old-fashioned meat loaf!

And tomorrow is my first day of classes (finally!). Let the hard work begin!

A honey stand

A honey stand

That entire stand is chocolate.

That entire stand is chocolate.

To the best of my knowledge, this is a German and a Brit sausage fencing?

To the best of my knowledge, this is a German and a Brit sausage fencing?

Cookies as big as my whole face.

Cookies as big as my whole face.

I'm really not a cheese person at all, but I couldn't resist trying these! And I was not disappointed.

I’m really not a cheese person at all, but I couldn’t resist trying these! And I was not disappointed.

That's a hog.

That’s a hog.

Wine. Obviously.

Wine. Obviously.

An entire store for olive oil. Perfect.

An entire store for olive oil. Perfect.

Europeans’ Conceptions About America

IMG_0900

When people ask me why I moved from America to the UK, I have a few different answers prepared.

The first is that I came here to study addiction because it is treated very differently and, in my opinion, more humanely in Europe than it is in the United States. That, of course, begins a long discussion of varying opinions and experiences; all of which go fairly similarly because it is not a topic on which most people are well-read.

The second reason is that I have itchy feet and that I lived in a small town for four years and I needed something completely different (which is exactly what I got). And this begins more discussions of their respective hometowns and reasons for moving to London.

And the third is that American policies were getting a bit unnerving. I have certain opinions about these policies, at least those in the regions that I was living in, that did not jibe well with what was playing out. This, of course, could have been different had I chosen to live in a different state within the US. Nonetheless, I needed a change. When I choose to answer this way, I know the topic that will follow.

Gun control: It would appear that people in the UK have a preconceived notion that America is full of gun fanatics…which statistics and my experiences have proven to be fairly correct. Many who I’ve talked to have a pop culture inspired mental image of America. They envision a scene from the Godfather, or an old western movie (I actually had someone ask me if there were lots of tumbleweeds in Texas), or news footage of one of the many school shootings.

However, people find it shocking when I tell them that you can buy a gun from superstores, that you can actually buy a loaf of bread and a gun from the same place. That it is as easy to get a license to carry a gun as it is to get a driver’s license (this is conveyed a bit differently here as it actually is very difficult to get a driver’s license…or so I’ve been told). That although there is meant to be a mental health analysis done on people who want to buy guns, that rarely happens. I quite enjoy the look on peoples’ faces when I tell them that I have seen basements that are as decked out in guns as some military bases. For those of you reading this in America, having a gun in the UK is rare! In fact, only a very small fraction of police in London carries firearms. There’s also much less gun-related homicide. Purely coincidental, I’m sure.

Indeed, as Americans, our reputation as a gun crazed people precedes us. In one of the five orientations that I attended in the past few weeks we had a policeman (a “bobby”) come in to discuss safety in London to all of us “freshers”. When he began talking about weapons that you are not allowed to carry, he said, “Any of you from America will be quite shocked at what you aren’t allowed to have here”. He then went on to say that any item that is meant to be able to inflict harm (e.g. mace, pepper spray, knife) you are not allowed to carry and could be arrested for having. Then, at the conclusion of the discussion, he asked for any questions. A guy close to the front raised his hand and asked, (in a strong American accent) “What do you have to do to own a gun here?” The embarrassment over this reputation fulfilling inquiry forced me, then, lower into my seat.

My favorite thing that a Brit has said to me about gun control is that “somebody just needs to put an end to it. Just say ‘no more buying or owning guns.’” Oh, silly Brits, that will never, ever happen. And I, like most Americans with half a brain, realize that it will never happen. There are so many things have to change in order for gun policies to change, and one of the biggest is the way that society views mental illness. It would also help if political parties were more concerned about what’s best for the majority than making sure the other party doesn’t get their way.

Needless to say, I am enjoying my time in a country where I am not so worried about who might be carrying a gun. It even makes me feel safer that many of the police are unarmed. Although I still don’t walk down dark alleys by myself because, like I said, I have half a brain.

Letters and Numbers

The past week has been so busy! I’ve been in and out of induction ceremonies and orientations for various aspects of school (International students, Health studies, my institute, and my programme). And although I heard a lot of information repeated, I’m so glad that I went to all of the events because I met lots of people. The first few days I met mostly Americans…we kind of clumped together out of a desire to talk to someoneeee who would understand the frustration of the visa process, the various opinions of friends and family back in the states, how we’re trying to stop converting pounds to dollars in our heads (and consequently getting depressed at how expensive everything is) and our favorite little quirks about London and Londoners so far. Among many things, we discussed the very different way of speaking. People in the states surely cannot grasp the intricacies of the English English language. Most students had just arrived a couple of days ago and so I enjoyed getting to share my limited knowledge with them including how things are pronounced. The speaker kept referring to a book called London A-Z (pronounced A-Zed). The other three Americans were confused and I filled them in on how zebra is pronounced here (zeh-brah, not zEE-bra). That one didn’t take long to pick up on. But I don’t know when I’m going to understand how ‘W’s are pronounced here. There is an area of town and subsequent tube stop called Southwark (to the best of my knowledge, pronounced Suthuck), there is another part of town called Southwyck (pronounced either the exact same or very similarly). Apparently W’s are just placed in the middle of words for the fun of it. I did make a bit of a fool out of myself when on the tube I asked Lou if we were stopping at Leicester (I pronounced as it looks…lie-chester). Turns out it is pronounced Lester. I’m not sure in what language that spells Lester, but I won’t make the mistake again. During orientation we had an hour dedicated to learning English slang (some of which I already knew):

  • Pants: underwear…you have to say trousers if you mean pants, which I can’t get myself to do without snickering.
  • Loo: the bathroom and also a word that I cannot get myself to say because my boyfriend’s name is Lou. Therefore proclaiming, “I need to use the Lou” is just not something I can do.
  • Rubber: eraser. I was the only American who knew this didn’t mean condom! I was quite proud of myself and also entertained by their astonishment at seeing the word printed on a university handout.

And also some that I didn’t know:

  • Numpty: a stupid person
  • Blag: to persuade
  • Narky: grumpy

After our crash course in UK Culture, we moved to a lecture hall to learn about the Academic Culture. As the four of us Americans sat near the back giggling at how nearly every word can end in ‘r’ (examples: idea-r, area-r, shadow-r). Just another quirk of the English English language! It was here that we learned that the UK grading policy is drastically different than in the US. Undergraduates don’t receive letter grades (instead they have 1st, 2:1, 1:2, etc.), but postgraduates do (thank goodness!). However, an ‘A’ is a 70 or above. I don’t know about the other Americans in the auditorium, but all four of our jaws dropped. When the speaker then revealed that a 75 is very, very good, and it is very rare to receive above an 85 I think that our eyes popped out of our heads a bit. And then! He says “This may be a bit different for some of you from North America. In America, they actually give out 100’s and 110’s!” And then the whole auditorium burst into laughter!!We all looked at each other. Of course they give out 100’s in America! If you get 100% of the answers correct, you get 100%! We all got to this point in our lives, attending a top university and very selective programmes by not accepting anything less than 100%! This will perhaps be the hardest adjustment for me to make in my move to the UK. After that earth shattering information, we obviously needed a drink (also it was about a bazillion degrees in the air conditioning-less auditorium). And so the four of us went to explore the area. We found a nice “Mexican” restaurant that served both the most delicious and miniscule margaritas. Really all of the dishes were tiny. Portion size is something difficult to adjust to (especially portions that are affordable), but I see how there are so many thin people in London! Dividing the bill turned out to be a bit difficult. I was the only one paying with a card and the others struggled with the currency. They collected the money okay, but when one started to re-count to make sure that everything added up, she counted off £1 coins “5, 10, 15”. “No, no, no! Those aren’t nickels!” Ahh it is so good to be around some Americans…although I’m pretty sure that the wait staff hated us. And that everyone in our section of the restaurant experienced our currency struggles at a high volume. Also, many Americans are probably familiar with the signs in bars and restaurants that state “We ID 60 and under!!!” or something to that degree. In the UK, the signs read, “If you appear under 25, please do not be offended if we ask to see ID”. Coincidentally, the first time that I was ID-ed this summer was in the UK. Some other numbers that have bewildered me a bit is simply all of the numbers that you have to memorize (or at least have handy). For me this includes passport number, visa number, phone number (which is 11 numbers instead of the rhythmic 10 in the US), student ID number, student email number (which of course aren’t the same, and are similar enough to be easily confused), National Insurance Number, National Health Services number, banking numbers (card number, PIN number, online banking number, telephone banking number, etc.) It goes on an on! And I am not good with numbers!! And finally, to wrap up my post on letters and numbers, three little letters that are sure to create an uncomfortable situation: PDA. The PDA witnessed in London is probably not unlike the teeth gnashing and tongue attacking that you’ve seen from any hormone plagued teenager in the US. But I’m not talking about just teenagers. I’ve seen all ages! Including full-grown adults. And all nationalities! People are gettin’ it on in the middle of parks, on public transportation, and in the middle of footpaths. I really thought that this would be part of the Europoean culture that I would be open to (not that I was open to take part), but I’ve found that it makes me very awkward. It’s icky. Despite the frenzy of the past week, the city has started to feel more like home. I’ve gotten to know my way around a little bit, I have people I can text to go grab a drink (coffee or beer), and Lou has started his new job! And now I have a Programme Handbook to devour!

Buckingham Palace: not very palace-y in my opinion...

Buckingham Palace: not very palace-y in my opinion…

Funny hats

Funny hats

More funny hats. And GIANT horses

More funny hats. And GIANT horses

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The Shakespeare Globe Theater

The Shakespeare Globe Theater

Just some men climbing up a building

Just some men climbing up a building

Me and my man. And £10 beer buckets.

Me and my man. And £10 beer buckets.

Lessons in Public Transportation

It is fair to say that everyday in the past week I have both been to a new part of this city and learned something new. Most of the lessons I’ve learned, particularly this weekend, have been about public transportation. I spent a lot of time on trains commuting to work and have collected these lessons for you here.

  1. Weekends are times for “engineering” on the underground, and there are bound to be stations closed; plan time for re-routing. Thankfully, I’m me and I am always at least 15 minutes early to everything. I’ve updated this to at least 25 minutes whilst in London, allowing for time to get lost. On Saturday, my Getting Lost time ended up being Frantically Find A New Route time. I had, of course, planned out my morning commute the night before and knew both Plan A (Circle Line) and Plan B (District Line). When I got to the station I promptly found out that both lines were closed for “engineering”. Cue the increased heart rate and frantic running up no less than four escalators,  desperately grasping for cell phone reception to look up an updated route. When I finally reached the ground floor I still couldn’t get any WiFi and resorted to calling Lou, at home sleeping, to help me find a new route. From his end it didn’t look like there were any that would get me there in time. Just as I’m about to lose my mind, I work up the nerve to go ask the perturbed looking Eastern European man working at the station about my situation, which is how I learned lesson number 2…
  2. Transport For London workers know everything and are generally nice and willing to help. The man I spoke to, who by the way had watched me pace around the station for about 7 minutes, was prepared for questions like these. He quickly gave me a new route that required minimal backtracking and would still get me to work on time. I thanked him profusely, and ran back down four escalators.
  3. The doors open automatically on the underground…overground train doors do not open automatically. This I learned on Sunday. I was, again, on my way to work. And again, I had planned my commute the night before (an entirely different route because I was scheduled to work in a different part of town this time). I also allowed ample Getting Lost time. I sat on the train for 30 minutes, attempting to read my book but hardly getting anywhere because I was constantly checking to make sure that I hadn’t missed my stop (you will see the irony in this momentarily). When my stop was announced, I collected my bags and stood by the door. I pulled my phone out and began searching the directions to walk the rest of the way from the station. Only as the train began to pull away did I realize that you have to push the OPEN button by the door in order to leave. This time I did not hesitate to communicate my situation with a TFL worker. The man checking tickets was three cars away. “Excuse me” I said slightly out of breath after I had charged through three train cars, “the train just passed my stop and the doors didn’t open.” To which he responded, “The doors did open, you just didn’t push the button.” And then I apologized, as if he cared either way. But he looked up the next train time and pointed me on my way at the next station. Lesson #2 holds true.
  4. Body odor does not discriminate. The foul stench of putrefying urbanites could just as easily be coming from the man sitting on your right wearing baggy clothes, sporting what appears to be a yeard (a beard unshaven for 12 months) and talking to himself as it could be coming from the wafer thin, immaculately groomed woman with an armful of shopping bags from designer stores. It is safer to try to remain as much in the center of your seat as you can rather than to lean your olfactory nerve towards either edge.
  5. Armpits aren’t so bad. On a related note, rush hour in the tube is guaranteed to be crowded. When presented with the rare option of standing up, holding onto the hand rail with 6 other people and being crammed between at least three armpits or sitting down next to questionable others, it is a gamble. Even if you get lucky and the person that you sit down next to has showered, the person who replaces him/her could make you miss the anonymous armpits.
  6. Stock up on Vitamin C and hand sanitizer. As sure as that man will hack up a lung without covering his mouth or sneeze right into his hand, he will grab onto that handle and spread his plague onto all who are unsuspecting. I am one who does not see a limit in the amount of hand washing one can do daily, and so my habits haven’t been too affected. My boyfriend, however, has taken to carrying hand sanitizer with him and we now have a vat of Vitamin C chewables in our bathroom that we punctually chew each morning.
  7. Hydrate! But not too much. The first few days that we were in London I felt naked without the giant water bottle that I had with me everywhere at home. I easily ingested the recommended 8 glasses of water by noon each day. And so I was, or felt that I was, dangerously dehydrated. As soon as we moved into our flat and had access to a fridge, I began carrying water bottles with me again. I certainly didn’t miss being thirsty, but I learned that I have to exercise self control (yes, with water) because public bathrooms are few and far between (fewer and far-er that are free), and the tube ride home when my (as my boyfriend says) hamster-sized bladder is full is long and miserable beyond words.
  8. Train time entertainment includes, but is not limited to, fantastic people watching. I, like most people, will admit that I like to watch other people. It helps me to feel normal sometimes (and I’m sure that there are ample times that I present others with opportunities for the same joy…like perhaps on Saturday when I frantically paced around Green Park Underground station). Some people (most people) are on their phones while in the tube, but there is nothing on my phone that doesn’t require WI-Fi that interests me . And there is nooooo WiFi on the tube. Some people read, I have a lot of respect for these people, mainly because I was under the impression that they were an endangered species. Someday, when I’ve grown accustomed to public transportation and don’t feel the need to clutch my bag to me at all times and keep my eye on anyone slightly suspicious-looking, I will be able to read on the tube. Until then, I watch people. 

Even with all of these blunders on public transportation, I am loving life in London! And I am not yet missing sitting in stopped traffic on the highway.

This Is What I’ve Been Training For

Lou and I on the bus with our mountain of luggage.

Lou and I on the bus with our mountain of luggage.

I didn’t know it, but all of the hours that I spent working out this summer were not just due to boredom, vanity or fitness obsession. I was training for this move. 

Moving is always hard, it sucks no matter where you’re moving from or to. But I dare anyone to provide a story comparative to maneuvering wheel-y suitcases and bags busting at the seams miles around London.

The walking itself is enough to tire someone out. For anyone who has ever traveled to London, you know that going anywhere requires lots of walking. Blocks and blocks of walking to get to a destination, and then blocks and blocks to get to the tube station or bus stop that you need. Also, I’ve decided that there is no such thing as comfortable shoes (that aren’t tennis shoes…trainers). Nothing, even the shoes that were comfortable before this, cannot take the amount of walking that has been done here. My heels are torn up, they spontaneously start bleeding from blisters that appear between one destination and the next. Louis can feel the rubber design on the bottom of the shoe through the worn out sole. When we finally get home it takes a little over an hour to stop feeling our heartbeat in our feet.

Oh yes…home! We moved into our flat on Monday! And it is glorious. The few days spent in a hostel immediately preceding the move-in made me appreciate it even more. We are officially residents of London, and can no longer be confused for tourists (as we don’t plan to wheel around multiple suitcases for a while).

All of the training I’ve done on my arms and shoulders paid off. When walking with the suitcases, I was quite convinced that my arms would pop off at the shoulder sockets. Oddly enough, going through the crowded streets of London was not the worst part. The worst part was getting the suitcases down the gravel driveway and not more than 1/2 mile up the road (uphill the whole way) to the train station in the town Lou’s grandmother lives in. The sidewalk (footpath) is extremely narrow, the cars drive like it’s the Autobahn, and due to the curves of the road, there is no good place to cross the street (which we had to do twice) because you can’t see both ways. I was fairly convinced that was how I was going to die. My hands got a good workout too, as they weren’t reallyyyy big enough to grip all three handles of the bags I was lugging. So my forearms were quite sore afterwards. My back and shoulders are still sore from wearing my backpack. We both agreed that it was one of the worst things we had ever had to do. 

Using public transportation with that amount of luggage is truly a test in core strength. We stood in the wheelchair/stroller section of the bus, praying that no one came in who had priority to that space, and so of course, someone did. A petite Indian woman with a stroller got on the bus, we couldn’t see her until the bus started to move, because our bags were blocking our view. I had to move some stuff around, all while the bus is jolting from the stop and just as suddenly slamming on the brakes. I didn’t really have hands to hold onto poles or handles for support because I had to keep my mountain of luggage from tumbling onto the face of a young child, whose wide eyes indicated that she knew the impending possibilities. I made it work by “brazening” my abs, like my Body Pump instructor would yell over the music for the class to do. My core was also sore the next day. 

Then came the shopping! Oh we had plenty of things to buy for our new place. All the usual groceries, but we of course carried them back from the market rather than putting them in the trunk (boot) of the car and driving home. Oh but if I thought my arms hurt before, the real challenge lay in shopping for sheets and towels. This was my first excursion in the city by myself. I went to Primark (basically a larger version of Forever 21, complete with all of the cheaply made clothes and with additional housewares section). I went in, dodging tourists and decided to forgo getting a basket because, in my mind, it would only provoke me to put things in there that I didn’t need. I quickly regretted that decision. I grabbed the towels and sheets we needed. With my arms loaded up I jumped in line. I couldn’t see the entire line. But after two turns around the top floor, I could. And if I hadn’t already been waiting upwards of 15 minutes, I would have abandoned ship to get a basket. But instead I stayed in line until my biceps were shaking and I was sweating from the inside of my rain jacket which I wore to save arm space and couldn’t remove because of my loaded arms. So I sat in my own personal sauna, strengthening my arms, for 30 minutes. It took me so long to get around to writing this post because it hurt to straighten my arms until today!

I never thought I’d say it, but I miss Wal-Mart. One-stop shopping? You can’t beat it! I’ve been all over this city looking for a hair dryer and an iron!! Obviously they weren’t at the same store. 

But we survived. We made it through London with bags four times (to the storage center twice, to the apartment twice, to the store and back numerous times). And now we’re home.

 

We found Chipotle in London!!

We found Chipotle in London!!

And it was yummyyyyyy

And it was yummyyyyyy

It's "TKMaxx" here

It’s “TKMaxx” here

I'm constantly amazed at how beautiful this city is.

I’m constantly amazed at how beautiful this city is.

Our first tourist-y stop: St. Paul's Cathedral

Our first tourist-y stop: St. Paul’s Cathedral

A beautiful afternoon spent in Trafalgar Square

A beautiful afternoon spent in Trafalgar Square

Big Ben peekin' out

Big Ben peekin’ out

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The London Eye

The London Eye

Doin' tourist-y things

Doin’ tourist-y things

Louis needed some new sunglasses.

Louis needed some new sunglasses.

I decided to learn my area by running it. I ran along the River Thames.

I decided to learn my area by running it. I ran along the River Thames.

 

You Can’t Miss It

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We’ve just gotten back from our first adventure together in London. And it was an adventure. We didn’t get to do much of the tourist-y things that we wanted to, but everything that we had to get done was accomplished. The only things that we did that could be considered tourist-y were getting lost, looking lost and doing entirely too much walking. Hopefully without being too narrative, here’s an overview of our chaotic day with tidbits that I’ve picked up about London and its inhabitants sprinkled throughout.

10:30 am We started out in Southampton, a little later than planned, and took the train 90 minutes into London.

12:00 pm We arrived at Waterloo Station, loaded up like pack mules with all of our bags (rolling suitcases to put in storage, backpacks of clothes for the next couple of days, suit carrier and my purse) and began the journey. First we found the bus station and took the bus to the storage center that we had reserved a place at that morning. We got off at the stop that we were told (by Google maps) was ours, and walked. And walked. And walked. Then we called the storage center to make sure that we were walking in the right direction. Louis gave them our location, which took a while to find.

Interesting tidbit #1: It seems that London likes to keep its addresses a secret. Finding your way around is meant to be a big guessing game! Street names and numbers on buildings are put in inconspicuous places. Really, we had to walk a couple of blocks just to see what street we were on.

The response of the woman on the phone, “uh yeah. It’s a big grey building. You can’t miss it.” And that was it. So we kept walking.

All the while we couldn’t look more like tourists. That’s the one thing that I hate about traveling. I hate tourists; I don’t want to look like one. But when you’re rolling giant suitcases, wearing backpacks and comfortable shoes, it’s hard to look like anything else. You might as well slap a stupid, confused look on your face because anyone within a 2-block radius can tell that’s exactly what you are.

At last, we see the storage center (CELEBRATION!!!) but we walk in to find that it’s not the right one. And they have no available units. They assure us to keep walking because it’s “not too far”. This happens once more before we finally find the storage center that we were looking for. It was indeed, a big grey building. Right next to a bus stop for the bus that we exited many stops ago, and next to a primary school, and across the street from a Catholic church. Really, I think that there were many more descriptive landmarks that could have been given on the phone. I assure you that if “big grey building” is the standout characteristic of your building in one of the largest cities in the world, I can miss it.

2:00 pm With the bags put in storage, Louis changed clothes, as his interview was across town in an hour, while I chatted with, and tried to avoid chewing out, the people who work at Store4U! By this point we haven’t eaten since 8:30; we planned to do it after we put the bags in storage, but didn’t allow time for so much hiking. And so we get back on the bus.

2:43 pm We find a pub for me to wait at while he interviews, because my phone still would not unlock  (shoutout to AT&T!!) and he would have had no way of contacting me if I were to wander. So I waited with the bags. It was a nice pub, quiet during the day. I find a table near the window and drool over the menu. I wanted at the very least a large glass of water, and at the most one of everything on the menu. I then read a small line on the back page that directs you to order at the bar. My table is not close to the bar. And there is a plaque on the table that says “WATCH YOUR BAGS” with a crude image of a hand snatching at air. And so I helplessly sit and wait until he comes back to order anything. If the bag that held my entire life (passport, visa, birth certificate, banking information, etc.) weren’t at stake, I may have risked it. Pretty miserable, really. Being so hungry and thirsty, in a place filled with food and drink, but unable to do anything about it. What’s that saying about all the water but not a drop to drink?

Instead I watched what must have been thousands of people pass the window I sat by. What I learned was that I did not bring nearly enough tights or sweaters. London summer clothes are more closely related to Texas/Alabama winter clothes. So that’s not great…

Interesting tidbit #2: The women who you see wearing posh shoes during the day can be divided into three categories. 1) women who wear tennis shoes (trainers) on the commute and change into the killer shoes when they get to work. 2) Women who can be seen hobbling home at the end of the day. 3) Superhuman women who have either had some kind of surgery to deaden the pain receptors below their ankles, do not stand up from a desk during the workday or were born with a grace I have not perfected and walk perfectly normally at the end of the day.

4:30 pm Louis has finished his interview and we finally refuel. He points out that if nothing else we did save money today, because we didn’t eat lunch. And then we load up our bags and go to find the place that I’m working the next day, a job that I’m not entirely at liberty to discus as it caters to London’s top 1%. As we’re walking there we pass through what must be the Ancient Art District. We see at least three ancient art dealerships. Not galleries, but places where you can BUY a piece of HISTORY. Greek vases that are thousands of years old, that people are going to put on their mantle. We look around for a bit, vow to live there one day, and press on.

I then get to experience public transportation during rush hour.

Interesting tidbit #3: London has adapted to not having warm weather by the use of public transportation. Essentially the buses and trains are mobile furnaces available to everyone! Especially between the hours of 7-9 am and 5-7 pm when simply going down the stairs can cause you to break a sweat.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t have those damn backpacks with us still.

7:00 pm Although our initial plan was to go to the hostel earlier in the day to put our backpacks in a locker, we don’t make it there until 7. And so obviously our shoulders are killing us. We check in, take a quick look around the lobby, throw our backpacks in yet another storage locker, and quickly get back to the bus stop to go across town to meet our landlord at 8, which is also the time that the Arsenal game kicks off. In a frenzied state we (mostly Lou, I was unfortunately helpless and without technology the entire trip) try to figure out what mode of transportation to take, and hop on the first bus that comes through.

7:45 pm This time we get off at the bus stop closest to our destination and have a minute to look around. It is a beautiful area, right off the Thames River. Our landlord pulls up not a moment too soon; Lou’s phone dies as soon as he gets there. At this point I get to see our new flat. And it is perfect. There are no other words. He did a really good job finding it. Sign, Sign, Sign and we’re on our way to find a pub.

8:50 pm We’ve wandered for a while. As I mentioned in my last post, most pubs don’t have TVs. So we popped into a couple to ask if they knew the closest place that did. The first bartender’s directions were to “go to the main road…”. The main road? In London? Really? Hopefully someone in this city can give decent directions. We arrive at the Adam and Eve right after half time and get to see Arsenal win. Then we decide to head back to the hostel and get a good night’s sleep because tomorrow is a busy day for both of us.

11:30 pm By this time we’ve learned that even when you’re in a rush, if you’re leaving a place that you will eventually have to get back to, it is beneficial to take a second to look around and establish what the closest bus/tube stop is called, or even what street it’s on (which, as I established, is not the easiest task). Truly, I don’t know how people got around the city (or anywhere) without GPS and Internet. We certainly didn’t.

We got on and off the same bus at least 6 times. We got on and decided that we were going the wrong direction, so we got off and got on the same bus going the opposite way. That happened again. Then we got off and thought that we got off too early. Even though I insisted that I had recognized a building (I was told later that I didn’t insist hard enough…), a big green building (pictured above) near the hostel, which we had just passed on the train. So we got on again. Then we went across the river and knew ohhhh no we weren’t across the river.

It is also at this point that Lou decides to speak to me in nothing but Pig Latin. Which of course only added to my pleasant demeanor.

We decide to give up on the bus and just take the tube to the station that we know is closest to the hostel. We descend about 6 escalators to Middle Earth and are then told that we’ve missed the last train by about 5 minutes. I had by this time resigned myself to the idea that we wouldn’t make it back tonight and I would be working a 9 hour day on 0 hours of sleep. But a gracious and tipsy Londoner used his mobile to help us find our way back.

Interesting tidbit #4: The American accent draws the attention of the Londoners. They are instantly interested in where you’re from and why you’re in London and who your mother is and what you like to eat and your whole life story. In the past two days I was told that I “sounded very West Coast”, like I was from California (from an Englander who had never been to America), and also that my voice was “like a movie star’s”; both things that I had never heard before, but took in stride. It is equally as intriguing to them as the English accent is to Americans.

12:05 At last we arrive at the hostel. Lou has stayed in one before, but this is my first experience. I realize that there are two aspects of my personality that do not jibe well with the hostel lifestyle: I am a germaphobe and I am instinctively very untrusting of everyone. But all in all, the hostel was not bad. Even though I never found the women’s bathroom (there was a men’s). We had a pretty quiet 6-person room. And I managed to calm myself down just in time to get a solid three hours of sleep.

And that wraps up our first day in London. We knew that we’d get lost sometime. Might as well be the first day. I’m sure that there are many more nights of wandering in the future.

The first things we bought in London.

The first things we bought in London.

The view of the Tower of London from the second story of a double decker bus. How London is that?

The view of the Tower Bridge from the second story of a double decker bus. How London is that?

We thought it was the end of our very long day...

We thought it was the end of our very long day…

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

Ever seen the London episode of Friends? LONDON BABY!!

Ever seen the London episode of Friends? LONDON BABY!!

I caught a glimpse of my beautiful campus.

I caught a glimpse of my beautiful campus.