Monthly Archives: July 2011

Being Tourists (aka our first weekend in London)

Our first few days in London were filled with lots of errands–finding the grocery store, some sheets for our bed, etc–but we also managed to spend most of Saturday in Hyde Park.  I can’t say we saw everything in Hyde Park (it is HUGE), but we walked around until my feet felt like they were going to fall off.  Of course I was also wearing un-broken in shoes…

Queen Victoria's Memorial to her husband Albert

After having lunch at an old flower-covered pub called Churchill & Arms in Notting Hill that also serves delicious thai food, we walked to the park and soon came upon Kensington Palace. This is where Prince Charles and Diana lived while they were married; according to tradition Prince William and Catherine will live there too, we shall see. There was a construction privacy fence around the palace as they are redoing the grounds in front of it, so there wasn’t much to see unfortunately, but I think it will reopen soon.  We walked slowly through the park past manmade (I assume) lakes with ducks and swans. Supposedly the Queen owns all of the swans.  The park is vast with huge greens lawns, some kept wild so the grasses were a few feet tall, and trees growing into thin pockets of woods. Every so often you stumble upon a memorial, people playing football (soccer), rose gardens and even an art gallery! At one point there is a river that flows through Hyde Park where people rent paddle boats and canoes, take in some sun on cloth chairs or walk over beautiful bridges to get to other areas of the park. We live only about a 10 minute walk from here, so I’m looking forward to spending time in the greenery.

The next day we took the tube to a stop near Buckingham Palace to begin a walking tour of the major tourist sites. It was also our first time dealing with the tourist crowds.  I’m glad DC has prepared me for this and I’m looking forward to most of the tourists leaving at the end of the summer, it’s just so hard to walk downtown with them around.

Buckingham Palace

Anyway, the palace was just as it looked on tv during the royal wedding and we watched the guards pace back and forth between the entrance and their posts. There was one point were both guards were facing away from the entrance at the same time and the outside gate was open.  I was going to run for it, but J cautioned me against it…there were police with very large guns nearby. I wasn’t afraid of that (I’m invincible, of course), but I realized the front door was probably locked. I hadn’t called ahead.

My sprint and obstacles

After not getting arrested for pretending I’m track star that can trespass, J and I went down the mall (London has one too!) towards St. James’ Park.  I loved this park at first glance (its pictured in my first post and below).  The pond looked so natural and beautiful as did the gardens.  Everything looked a bit more wild and stumbled upon then in Hyde Park. You also got great views of some beautiful buildings downtown, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey and (turning the other way) Buckingham. It was a bit crowded with tourists, but this is my favorite park in the city and I know I’ll be back to read beneath its trees and wander though its gardens.

St. James Park

Once we decided to continue on towards Trafalgar Square, it began to pour.  Now it had rained already this weekend, but  only light rain that you just put up your umbrella and kept walking through.  This was an east coast style rainstorm–large raindrops in buckets waterfalls and of course wind blowing it at an angle. Luckily we somewhat sensed it would come (DC has taught me well) and had time to run to the nearest arch for shelter.  After about 5 minutes of standing around with strangers under the Admiral’s Arch (even our spontaneous sheltering spot was historic!) we made to Trafalgar, but continued on towards Parliament without going into the square (we had both seen it on previous trips to London and the street looked like a writhing mass of humans).

Parliament

We fought the crowds to walk around the Parliament and Westminster Abbey and tried to remember any history about them with no real luck (I’m looking into buying a history of London book soon), but it was one of those moments when we were both pinching ourselves to realize that we were actually here. We didn’t try to go inside Westminster today, for the most part we just wanted to see everything and start to get our bearings on navigating the city, there’s time for tours.

Looking Across the Thames

Once we got our fill of beautiful architecture and ducking out of tourist’s photos, we crossed the Westminster bridge over the Thames to Southbank.  As we walked north along the water it began to pour again and we found a pedestrian overpass to hide under. I was thankful to rest my feet until the rain stopped. There are a lot of art galleries, film institutes and the like in Southbank.  We wandered around outside of those until we happened upon an outdoor food fair.  Just in time for a late lunch.  After spending way too long being indecisive, I had a saltmarsh lamb burger and J had a couple of Polish-style meat pieroges.  We split churros and chocolate for dessert.  Delicious.

We ended our walk that day, after crossing back over the Thames towards home, at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul's Cathedral

St. Paul’s was beautiful as everyone would expect.  It was close to 5 pm by this point and we weren’t certain we could go into the cathedral, especially for free. Somehow we managed to slip inside (I believe a public organ concert had just ended and a mass was going to begin soon) and get a quick look around the front half of the cathedral (from my experience, the back half is almost always roped off from tourists in these situations, sometimes you get access if you pay a fee.  The coolest paintings are always in the back).  I didn’t take any pictures inside because you are not supposed to and given that we didn’t even pay to get in like you usually have to, I didn’t want to break another rule, especially in a church. J was very impressed with the architecture, but having seen many European cathedrals before I only yearned to see the murals and statues at the back up close.  Maybe another day.

That ends the tale of our first weekend. I know these stories and pictures are already known to some of you, but I hope it helps whet your appetite for adventure.  I will gladly give anyone a tour who happens to show up in London.

Our Flat

We live in central London smack between the rather expensive Marlyebone and Paddington and near a few tube stations. Our street is a main hub for Middle Eastern cultures and immigrants.  It is actually probably the first time I’ve ever been the minority on the block (we can discuss this more later). The streets are always bustling with people (there’s a hookah bar across the street we’ve never seen close) and the smells of food and flavored tobacco are always scintillating.

On the corner of two major roads five floors above an always noisy (almost painfully so when the windows are open) street is our flat. It consists of 4 rooms–bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen–hardwood floors and creamy white walls. Most of our funtiure is brown-chocolate brown colored.  We have a leather loveseat and chair, small circular dining room table and espresso/glass coffee table in the living room.  I could describe the rest of our furniture to you, but it is all pretty normal.

To be honest, even though the furniture is nice and the flat, I’ve heard, is better than most young professionals’ in London, I was slightly unhappy when I first saw our flat because it was even smaller than I expected, but after the jetlag wore off and my things were put away the flat started to seem less like a tiny hotel room and more like a perfect sized London home.  I think getting a flat that came furnished was key to downsizing my American mind to European apartment standards. I didn’t have to worry about making it look nice or buying furniture that would fit, most of that was already done for me.

So now I love it.  We’re still adding details, learning appliances and figuring out how to fit all of our clothing into tiny “cupboard” closets. In fact, I’ve spent much of my first week here (while J was at work) calling and hosting repairmen for our boiler, sink, dishwasher and wardrobe. Things are slowly coming together and nothing was completely broken when we came just not quite up to snuff (ie. a sink that works, but with no hot water). While I have yet to use the oven (scary celsius oven!), the only appliance I am having trouble with is our washer/dryer

The War of the Washer/Dryer

No, I wrote that properly it is one machine that both washes and dries your clothes.  If that weren’t enough for me to wrap my very American brain around, I have yet to figure out how to get it to dry my clothes fully.  An hour and a half in the dryer sounds like long enough to me…especially given that loads are about 1/2 the size of my old apartment dryer. To put a comical spin on top of the dryer issue, J and I bought blue bath towels on our first day from a cheap store recommended to us by our real estate agent. After showering off the airplane residue, we discovered that we were now covered in blue lint. Smurf Katie then ran all of the towels through the washer in hopes of getting all the lint off the towels permanently.  It almost worked (took a few more washes and many more uses), but now the dryer is somehow holding on to all the lint, spreading it all over our clothes, especially (it seems) J’s work clothes. I have wiped down the inside of the dryer with a cloth, pulled out all the lint I could find (minimal by US standards) and discovered that there is no lint trap. This perplexes me because not only can’t I stop the source of this blue lint plague, I feel like this is a fire hazard waiting to happen (firefighter’s daughter is always on alert). I have no idea where lint goes.  When I look for it, there’s nothing there, but when I wash J’s clothes…I find it when they come out.

So that’s a long way of saying that I have almost no clue how to work my dryer properly, but I’ll be putting my conflict resolution skills to use in a way my professors would not approve–I shall be victorious, I will not compromise with this machine, one day I will have dry, lint-free clothing within a reasonable time period.  (In all honesty, I’m not sure if I’ll actually win this battle…)

I could tell you an equally long story of how hard it was to find a lint roller to clean said clothing, but I’m getting off topic.

You’ve had a little introduction to our flat. There are many more humorous stories of us trying to fit our clothing into odd shaped and small cupboard-looking closets and my new chore of handwashing all of our dishes, but I don’t want this to be too long.  I’ll post pictures when I can, my camera isn’t working (that’s another story).

And So It Begins…

St. James' Park

Only one year after finishing grad school and landing an engaging job with a well-known non-profit, I left this all behind to move to London. I didn’t even have a job lined up by the time I left, but I went anyway.

I have always been the one in my family that people knew would do things differently.  I am not sure I always liked this categorization, but it is one my mother and others kept making and it is the one that is turning out to be true. I went to college out-of-state, I completed my Masters, I traveled abroad and now, I’m an expatriate. That word still doesn’t ring true, I still feel like I’m on a long vacation; a sabbatical from real life.

So here it is, on July 15th I landed in London with my fiance, J, and we began our new life here together. The opportunity to come came through his job at a business consulting firm, but really we came because of my own adventurous spirit and his desire to deepen his.

I have always wanted to live abroad, especially in Europe.  It was one of those dreams that you always had such a conviction about making it happen, but in the back of your mind you never thought would come true. All of a sudden, I had to make a decision about 6 months into my new great job to actually fulfill that dream.  It was scary, exciting and overwhelming, but I jumped because somehow it felt like the only choice to make.

I’m glad I did. So far life here is a cross between living my dream and, well, utter normalcy. I haven’t wrapped my head around everything yet.

Now I begin this blog, to orient you to my new life, send dispatches back home and cultivate a space so I can properly reflect on what all this means for that little girl who dreamed of living abroad.