Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Here's to Getting Lost at Every Opportunity

In the midst of job interviews, getting a place to live, and me getting ready to start school (so nervous!) we've been trying to do as much sightseeing as possible. We've had to be both creative and lucky while doing this...

creative: finding free or very inexpensive entertainment such as walking everywhere or drinking cheap beer on a double decker bus. The only downfall to this is very sore feet at the end of the day...

lucky: getting lost (usually on purpose) and disco
vering interesting landmarks or really cool stores and pubs

Today we had some errands to run and wound up getting off the train at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.

The whole area is buzzing with people who seem content to sit around talking, taking pictures, and feeding the pigeons. There are a LOT of pigeons there. There are also signs everywhere asking in 11 different languages (we counted) that people not feed them.

You can guess how well people obeyed. The green bag beside the people talking is full of bird feed - that he sell to tourists so they can feed the birds.

Today we saw a Chinese couple standing in a crowd of pigeons, pretending to be statues as the birds swarmed around, roosted on their arms, and ate out of their hands. Don't know about you, but I just couldn't see myself doing that... lots of pigeons means lots of pigeon poop.

It must be all of the food and attention that brings the pigeons there - everywhere else they go people chase them, yell at them, swing at them with brooms (and umbrellas), and try to run them over with their vehicles. They sense love (food) from the silly, camera-toting humans and hang around all day hoping that more love (food) comes their way.

Since it's free to get into the National Gallery, we wandered in and looked around for a couple of hours, not really knowing what to expect. Didn't realize we were about to see original paintings done by some of the most famous artists of all time. Neither of us are major art affectionados, but when you're in a room with a painting done by Rembrant, Monet, or Leonardo Da Vinci, you stop for a moment and give proper respect. I wanted to snap a couple of pictures (flash-free of course) but was worried about having my camera taken away.

Here are a couple of pics of the entrance - beautiful mosaic floors everywere, surrounded by huge columns and domed ceilings - it was very impressive looking.

Having no sympathy for our already tired feet, we wandered around in search for a good used bookstore, having heard that the Charing Cross area of London is the "book area". Since it was nearby it seemed a worthwhile side trip. I'm a voracious reader and will plow through a 300 page novel in one day if I'm not careful. When we moved here, I had to leave all by 6 books behind. I've read all 6 at least once since we arrived in London - a couple of them twice.

We found one bookstore. Said bookstore was very nice but had very high prices so I decided to look elsewhere, which didn't work out so well since we didn't see any other bookstores at all.

What we did discover was a pub that had been built in 1739, a series of incredibly old buildings that now house modern businesses (like Quiznos of all freakin things),

the Thames River, The Eye, and the Golden Jubilee footbridge (the original having been built in 1682).

Side note
here's why Jeremy and I are such a good couple:
"Hey J?"
"Do you remember the name of that bridge we saw today? Golden something?"
"All I remember is Jubilee"

Apparently all we have to do is remember half of what we saw - the other will fill in the rest of the details when necessary. Thanks honey!

After snapping a few pictures of the river, and cursing myself for leaving my good camera at home yet again, we made our way back to the Underground. Unfortunately, it was rush hour. Anybody who has been to London and experienced the Underground at rush hour will understand how miserable it can get on those trains. People mashed together with barely anything to hold onto, having to push your way (HARD) through crowds at your stop, yelling at the morons who walk through an entrance then stop dead in their tracks to consult with a map, effectively blocking the hundreds of others who need to get past them.

Then you have the creepy guys who stand way closer than necessary or stare at your boobs while you're stuck holding onto the bar above your head since the lower handholds are all taken up. Lots of fun. I don't care as much about the staring at the chest as people invading my personal space - i'd rather not get grabbed in the ass or have my wallet stolen.

We had two different people come up to us today and ask what train they needed to get on - this wouldn't usually bother me except for the giant maps of every train line's stops and destination on every wall of every station. It's pretty much impossible to get lost in London's Underground - I'll get pictures of the maps for another day just to prove this point.

We've decided to take it as a compliment: apparently we don't look like tourists.

About the hunt for a bookstore: I did finally find a few new books on sale at a store near the Notting Hill Gate station - ironically only a ten minute walk from home. At well, the hunt was worth it for sure.

So tonight we're relaxing, resting our legs, getting excited to move into our flat tomorrow (yay!) and me getting nervous about "real" teaching. I have no idea where I'll be working or what the school will be like, if the kids will be good or have "behaviour problems" or if I'll enjoy being "the Canadian Supply Teacher". I've been waiting for the opportunity to be a teacher for a long time and it's at the point now where I must prove myself. Let the kids know who's boss, help them to learn something, and have fun along the way... I guess I just need to remember to keep the things within my control under control and the rest of it will fall into place.

As long as I don't get lost on the way to school it will be all good.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

If I had a Million Dollars... or maybe 3 million pounds

WARNING: This blog post proves that you can take anything and turn it into blog fodder. I cannot promise anybody other than myself is going to find this clever or funny, but read on (and I'm do my best).

I've made no secret that my finances are in a pretty dire state. I'd had to borrow a LOT of money from my parents to come over here and get started, I owe even more money to the bank and OSAP for my year at the U of Windsor. I count every penny that leaves my pocket and really wish there was something I could do to improve things.

Apparently there is a solution to all of my troubles:

I have won the UK National Lottery.

I know! It's amazing! Congratulations to me! I'll never have to work again!!!

It doesn't matter than I never entered the lottery. Or that I'd never heard of it's existence before getting the email from them. By some mysterious circumstance (divine intervention maybe?) my name and email address got entered into this major lottery and apparently I won 2.9 million pounds. Amazing isn't it?!

Must be some kinda miracle because (I'll say it again) I never entered any lottery.

I totally hate these email scams - jerks out in the world trying to get personal information and money by preying on other people's natural greed (or stupidity, take your pick). When something legitimate like the UK National lottery contacts you to say you've won something, a little part of you wonders if by some miracle you actually might have... just for a second though. Most people's natural cynicism (and common sense) would immediately bring them to ask themselves how they won a lottery that they didn't enter.

Or just delete the email and curse the names of the people who somehow got your information.

Just for fun, I emailed them back. Not acting as though I believed them or not, but with some random question just to see what the response would be. I really wanted to see what they would say. Here's the email I got back (I'd LOVE to know how they got my name):

The National Lottery
P O Box 1010
Liverpool, L70 1NL
(Customer Services)
Ref: UK/9420X2/68
Batch: 074/05/ZY369

Attn: Melinda Peterson ,

We are via this mail notifying you that we have completed your payment processing and your winnings in the amount of £ 2,910,000.00 ( Two Million Nine Hundred And Ten Thousand Pounds Sterling) which has been deposited and drawn in JP COSTEN BANK OF UK international cashiers cheque accredited to file KTU/9023118308/03.

Your cheque,along with your certificate of winning and letter of affidavit has been registered and parcelled for onward delivery to you via courier delivery. Your winnings which is in international cashiers cheque, complies with the Anti-Fraud section 2, sub section (IV) of the procedural manual of the funds disbursement agreement existing between Courier Companies and the British Government.

As your cheque,winning certificate,and letter of affidavit has been registered under order number : AZ522406 and parcelled for onward delivery to you,do furnish the courier company that is charged the delivery of your vital documents, a valid and appropriate detail information of your home address.

You are , adviced to write down the order number and save it for future references. ORDER NUMBER : AZ522406 .Do make contact with Frontier Courier Express citing and completing your full name , contact address and phone number as required below
Name of receiver:
Mailing Address:
Phone number:
Order Number : AZ522406
Contact Mr.Simon Gibson via email or phone with the details required above so that necessary information concerning the procedures you are to follow,to enable your winning parcel which contain your vital documents for our lottery be couriered to you. Find as below :

Frontier House, Pier Road ,Feltham, Middlesex TW14 0TW
Tel :+44-703-189-8148 , +44-703-189-8150

We have adequately informed the Frontier Courier Express about your winnings, so you are to follow directives from Mr.Simon Gibson , who is directly in charge of the winnings. However,the cost of the courier service will be borne by you,this is because the UK GOVERNMENT did not make provision for the cost of delivery of your winnings to you in the lottery agreement existing between her and the Frontier courier company .

Also understand that your winnings have been insured under a hard cover insurance policy,so the cost of delivery to be charged by Frontier courier express for the delivery of your winnings cannot be deducted from your prize as aforementioned.So it is impossible to deduct the cost of delivery from your winnings. This fee is a token that can be handled by you.

Ernest Regards,
Dr. Barry Moore.

This is just hilarious. First off the email addresses they use have been with msn or yahoo. Then they use somebody with the prefix "DR" to make things appear more legitimate, give you all of this mumbo-jumbo about your money being all ready for you, then at the end - is of course, the CATCH.

The "cost of delivery". I'm tempted to email them back or call them and ask what that "cost" may be... Also providing your personal details like home mailing address. Brilliant. I can just see how that conversation would go:

Me: Hi, I'm calling about winning the national lottery. Apparently I've won about 3 million pounds and I'm curious about how to collect my winnings. And how much the delivery fee will be.

Dr. Scam (oh yes, i know how clever): Congratulations! Unfortunately since the UK GOVERNMENT (see above email) won't pay for the delivery of your giant check, there will be a delivery fee of oh, about 10,000 pounds. But since you're now a zillionaire, I'm sure you can afford it, right?

Me: Can I pay after you've sent me the money? Like C.O.D.?

Dr. Scam: No I'm sorry - you will need to pay that in advance so we can disappear with your money and sell your information to identity thieves. cough cough

Me: What if I can't pay for the delivery? Can I come and pick it up myself?

Dr. Scam: Oh well normally you could, but no. We really need your money. Just blame it all on Tony Blair.

Okay, maybe I'm not as funny as I think I am, but you get the point.

Here's what the website for the UK National Lottery had to say about email scams:
Lottery scam (fraudulent) emails are increasing at an alarming rate.

Scam emails try to persuade the email receiver to submit personal information or to part with money as an up front payment in order to release a winning lottery prize.

As a general rule, if you have not purchased a ticket for the UK National Lottery, you won’t have won a prize, and you should treat the email with absolute caution.

The following points are some things to look for in order to identify a fraudulent email:

  • We don’t advise that a Player has won a prize on an email. If the email says ‘Winning Notification’ or ‘Lottery Sweep Stake’ in the text, the email you’ve received is not from UK National Lottery.
  • We don’t put winning numbers or winning dates on an email
  • We don’t advise of a winning amount on an email
  • We don’t ask for any Player information like name, address or bank details on an email

I'm trying to think of whether I should send a response to the scammer people - am considering just sending them the information from the National lottery website about email scams. Wonder what kind of response I'd get?

The National Lottery people also had these wise words:
Remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

Guess I don't get to retire before 30 after all...

Monday, August 28, 2006

Carnivale - Part 2

Two posts in one day! Apparently now that I'm a Londoner (again) I've got lots to say.

There really isn't much to tell about Day 2 of Notting Hill's Carnival except that there were even more people in the streets today than yesterday. An astonishing number of people.

We set out with our cheap beer (8 king cans of Fosters for 6.35) and made our way towards the festivities. A few things became immediately obvious:

1. People were much drunker than yesterday.
2. Anybody with children had opted to stay home (for the most part).
3. The number of police officers in plain sight had tripled.
4. It was going to take us way longer to get to Notting Hill because the crowds started pretty much out our front door.

This is a view of the street where my bank is... about 2 minutes from where we're staying.

Since the parade route was wider today we were entertained by the fabulous music for most of our journey. When we finally arrived to the barricades, we noticed a very large number of police standing around, blocking a road. At first we thought it was just to control the crowd, but then we noticed this:

Apparently there had been an incident with a gang.

Ordinarily hearing this bit of news would be enough to make this small town girl turn right back around for the safety of our secured-entranced flat. My worry was immediately erased when I saw the WALL of police, standing shoulder to shoulder as they held the unruly men against a brick wall. Nobody was going anywhere. People were rubbernecking and taking pictures - something I was about to joke about until I noticed that there were some horse police, so remembering my promise in Part 1, I pulled out my camera.

If you look carefully at the background of the picture you can see the wall of police. Pretty impressive...

Didn't have time to try for a better picture because the policemen on the horses started yelling through bullhorns for people to clear out of the area or they'd join the unforunate men behind the barricade.

Didn't have to ask me twice. Those dudes looked CRANKY and my general rule of thumb is that a cranky person with a gun and the authority to arrest me gets to be the boss of me.

We found yet another good spot to stand and watch some of the parade. Since the crowd and performers were a little older, things were a little bit sexier too - it was very entertaining though. At one point we burst out laughing as this teeny girl leaned over and stuck her butt out at the guy behind her, who immediately jumped up to her and started knocking her forward with his hips. All of the dancers looked like they were having a great time and once again the costumes were incredible.

My little camera phone took a lot of blurry pics - sorry the quality isn't better, but I wasn't risking my pricey one with a crowd of 2 million people.

Jeremy & I at the parade

So our first experience with "The Carnival" was a pretty good one. It took forever to walk anywhere because of the insane number of people around, but most of the time people were in happy moods as they sang and danced along with the music. While walking down the main road in Notting Hill (Ladbroke Grove), Jeremy commented that it felt like we were in a giant conga line. I had to agree.

At one point we smelled food and realized we were hungry. Following the yummy smells, we and about 2,000 other people sat on the side of Portobello Road and had dinner. Jerk chicken was really expensive, so we went for the more-affordable oriental food - spring rolls, chow mein, and satay chicken. It was delicious. We tried taking a picture of the crowd on that street, but they all turned out really blurry:

On the way back down the road, I realized we were on the street that one of the characters in"Oliver Twist" sings about - "on Portobello road". Very cool and definitely one of my favourite things about living in London. The history in this city is mind-boggling. We're always joking around how "this brick wall / sidewalk is older than Canada". Guess in time the novelty will wear off, but I hope it never does completely. I've never lived anywhere like this and am starting to be very happy that we made the decision to go on this adventure.

I still miss home and WILL be going back to Canada someday. Because it's home. And you always go back home.

But for now this is a hell of a cool place to be.

"somewhere between ignorance and incompetence"

I had planned to write a nice little post about Carnivale part 2, but that's going to have to wait. As usual, I was scanning through news articles on and read a story about the Emmy Awards show last night - talking about how Conan O'Brien's skit at the beginning of the show was hilarious to some but not to others.

Wondering how anybody would actually think he's not funny, I clicked on the article.

I'm sorry I did now because it reminded me of how many completely daft morons there are in this world. People who can't look past the end of their noses or use common sense and a little understanding in their daily lives.

Take anybody who watches something on TV and becomes so full of rage / distress that they threaten to sue the station for bringing harm to their delicate psyches. I can't help but think of the person who wanted to sue people because "Fear Factor" was disturbing to watch. I completely agree that it's disturbing. My solution to that little problem? I don't watch it.

This situation is a little different, but definitely fits into the same category (in my opinion anyway).

Everybody who pays attention to the news probably knows about the terrible tragedy that happened yesterday with the Kentucky airplane crash. Yes, it's horrible and sad - just like every other time a plane crashes. People's lives are changed forever. I read a few of the human-interest stories surrounding this and they were very sad.

How many people though would find a way to connect Conan O'Brien's pre-recorded skit poking fun at several NBC shows (particularly "LOST") to this tragedy? How many of you would see him in a mock plane crash and winding up in the fictional world of LOST and immediately become so offended that you demand NBC issue you an apology???

Listen, I understand that when you're going through something terrible or hard that things are going to seem harder to handle. Like listening to certain songs after a bad break-up. The thing is - this little skit was in no way related to the Kentucky tragedy, yet it's now a news item on the internet because somebody got offended. Since that somebody happens to be a member of NBC's news affiliate in Kentucky I can see how things would be a little more close to home, but to make a fuss about something that was not set out to be insensitive or offensive is just ridiculous.

Maybe they'll have to stop airing LOST now - might upset more people.

Give me a break, folks. If something you see on television bothers you - CHANGE THE CHANNEL.

Don't know if anybody else thought of this - but if you just lost a loved one in a terrible plane crash, you probably wouldn't be watching the Emmy Awards anyway. I guess laughter isn't always the best medicine...

Later note: Those of you who disagree with my opinions here will be happy to know that NBC did apologize.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Carnivale - Part 1

Does drinking too much beer and wandering in the sun all day make me a good writer? I guess we're about to find out...

Before I get into my description of the day's events, I just have to comment on how wicked cool internet radio is. I was very worried that I'd miss listening to good music until we got settled in our flat. And buy a clock radio (since the one I've been using since I was 17 is in a box underneath Jeremy's grandparent's house).

All I did was ask the all-powerful Google to find me internet radio stations and before me appeared a list of hundreds of sites. Since they all claim to be the "best radio station on the internet" I got very adventurous and clicked on the first site. Found Guy Smiley FM, a station that plays hiphop, pop, and top40 music with a little bit of old school tossed in just for fun. We've been listening to this station nonstop for the last two days and I have to say I've never heard such diversity from one station in my life. I just listened to:

"One Man Army" Our Lady Peace
"Ya" Usher & Ludacris
"Poison" Bell Biv Devoe (ya for real! I haven't heard that song in like 15 years)
"Do it To it" Cherish
"Walk Away" Kelly Clarkson

Just when you think you're listening to a hiphop station, they toss in Our Lady Peace or a rap song from 1990. It's great.

Anyway - just had to share.


If you checked the website for this event, you would know that two million people from all around the planet converge on Notting Hill (and apparently our neighborhood too) for two days every August. Neither of us had ever seen so many people in one area before in our lives and I doubt we ever will again. The streets from our building all the way past Notting Hill are all closed except for the main road, people are everywhere drinking beer and having fun, you can get any kind of food you could imagine, and the music is incredible. The parade goes from noon until 7pm, with people rotating in and out of the groups as they get tired or hungry.

Today was "Kid's Day", meaning all of the performers were under 21 years old and that more families were around. It was a good way for us to get an idea of what tomorrow's festivities will bring.

Homesickness reared it's ugly head for a minute as I thought of my friend Ledawit and how she'd appreciate this more than anybody else we know. Maybe next year some of our friends can come and join us... (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

I didn't want to bring my good camera out because it recommended to leave expensive cameras and purses at home on the carnival's website. Kinda wish I had today though because I could have gotten much better pics. Here are a few that turned out okay...

This rastafarian dude was hilarious - he kept balancing his water bottles on his forehead and hose and dancing for the crowds.

We're not sure why these people are full of mud. But they had a lot of fun pulling random people over the barriers and dirty dancing with them until they were full of mud too. One poor girl who looked about 16 and very shy got sandwiched between two guys who had to have been 250 pounds each. She was smiling at the end even though her once-white shirt was brown when she joined her friends.

Our dinner was fish & chips - super yummy and oh so healthy - and of course more beer (notice the Red Stripe brand - had to get the Jamaican brew). We sat on a side street so we could eat and actually hear each other talking. This turned out to be a good decision because we were entertained by the horse police.

They rode through the streets in black tights (even the men), police jackets, flourescent yellow blazers and the oh-so-stylish police hats. I didn't get a chance to take pictures of them because my hands were full of grease and salt, so I'll try my best to get some tomorrow. It was pretty wierd watching them ride horses through the massive crowds down the street where I go to the bank and market.

I can still hear the police cars even though the festivities have technically been over for two hours. We opted to spend a quieter night at home tonight since tomorrow will be wilder and busier and probably a much longer day.

I got ambitious and found a map of our area. We're staying temporarily in Porchester gardens, which looks like a long walk to Notting Hill, but in reality is only a half hour walk (the map is very detailed too - don't think it's missing any streets).

That half hour goes by very quickly when you've got a cold beer in your hand.

Mine appears to be empty now, so it's either time for another one or time for bed.

Until tomorrow...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Sometimes it's fun to be a tourist. Especially when exploring your own neighborhood

Here are some pictures we took on our walk to Buckinham Palace and the bus ride to Big Ben. These first pics are in Kensington Gardens, which is about 3 minutes from where we're going to be living...

Buckingham Palace
Missed out on the changing of the guard, but I did get some neat pics of them anyway. The Palace itself it incredible - it felt like we'd jumped into a movie or something.

The Canadian War Memorial
This was really cool and totally unexpected (reminded me of a certain trip to DC when we kept finding monuments by accident). We noticed a very pretty water feature in the park outside the Palace and wandered over to it to look. Jeremy noticed a plaque embedded into the ground nearby that explained what the monument was - it was a nice surprise to find something honoring Canada so near the Palace, where thousands of people wander around, looking.

Big Ben & Westminster Abbey
Instead of forking over 20 pounds each to pay for some tourist bus ride, we've been riding around on the double-decker buses to see the sights - a lot cheaper and we're getting to know our way around the city in the meantime. Plus you can drink beer on the buses.
We had planned on going to see Big Ben at night because it's pretty amazing when all lit up (as you can see) and it was an unexpected bonus to find Westminster Abbey right across the street. Also lit up, but with much dimmer lights, it was completely gorgeous at night. I get the feeling that early morning might be the best time to visit the Abbey though - the stained glass windows must be completely amazing in sunlight.

I've got tons more pictures - will add them soon.

Things are definitely starting to get more fun and interesting now. This weekend we have the Notting Hill Carnival - so I'll definitely post pictures of that. Check out their website - it looks like it'll be pretty amazing.

A polite society

Good news! Turns out the place we're staying in until September 1st has a free wireless connection. We found this out today while they were showing our little flat to potential long term tenants and learned that all we needed to get was their password. Whew. I never thought of myself as an internet junkie, but I guess you never know what you've got until it's gone (or at least not available to you for awhile).

Jeremy set his computer up in the room so he can play games on it, since our TV has terrible reception, and (let's face it) British television is rubbish. We did entertain ourselves the other night watching a show called "Traffic Cops" which I guess is their version of "Cops" in North America, only much less graphic and violent. People try to make friends with the police instead of yelling at them or throwing punches - even when they are informed that their unlicensed, uninsured vehicles are going to be taken away and CRUSHED. Yep, this is the new law in London now - the police are authorized to take the vehicles away immediately. They also seem to take great pleasure in telling people their vehicles will be reduced to a block of tin. Not like back home where you have a period of time to produce the missing documents. They also have this computer program that records and analyzes every license plate number to find out whether the vehicle is registered. Very cool stuff.

It's hard to explain to somebody who hasn't been to the UK about the politeness of the British people. They can appear completely snobby yet unfailingly helpful all at the same time. Last night we left the window open and were treated to the sound of a girl shouting insults at some guy in the street around 2am.

Not the "f-word" or anything like that.

"YOU STUPID BLOODY SELFISH BASTARD!" (Imagine this with a very thick accent - it was so hilarious)

A motorist yells at another driver who has just cut him off:

"WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE ABOUT THEN!?!!" (accompanied with a dirty look)

We looked at each other in amazement. No "you f-ing asshole where the hell do you think you're going?!!" No shaking hand or middle finger protruding. No loud horn being blown. To add to this seemingly calm tantrum, the other driver actually appeared upset by the outburst and drove away quickly trying to look unconcerned.

I personally must admit to getting bouts of road rage (though I never admit to it at the time) when somebody does something stupid while driving. My grumblings or shouting - that they never hear - usually involve much more colourful language and occasionally the ever-popular hand gesture. Haven't seen anybody use that here even once. I should also admit that it would be much less satisfying to shout "what do you think you're about?" to somebody instead of the very loud "F you" that we're used to hearing / using back home. If you don't believe me find a place where you can yell without people thinking you're crazy and try it. Maybe we Canadians aren't so polite and friendly after all...

Friday, August 25, 2006

Fastest post ever

Sad news: no more jumping onto somebody else's wireless signal for the next little while... I know some of you might think less of me for doing so - but it's pretty pricey to pay for internet access here. We signed up with the British Telecom service for broadband but unfortunately won't have it set up until the 11th of Sept. And so here I am at another internet cafe, watching my time run down and thinking about how I miss sitting outside that other place with my laptop. We couldn't stand the size of the room there, but at least we had free internet - both with my laptop and the computer inside (when you could catch it not being used by somebody else).

Today we went over to Notting Hill in hopes of catching the big annual carnival that happens every year. Walked and walked and walked some more (I'm getting in good shape living here) but couldn't find anything. Turns out that even though it's the weekend now, the carnival doesn't start until tomorrow. So we'll walk and walk and walk to get back there again tomorrow :) Apparently it's a pretty amazing event - thousands of people (including celebrities - ooooh) go there, the shops all have sales, kiosks for food and other stuff everywhere, live DJs and bands from around the world. I'm pretty excited to be a part of that. Will definitely be back to update you all on how that goes!

I'm pretty tired from all of the walking we're doing, but am starting to settle in pretty well. The area we're in is completely gorgeous - walking distance from Kensington Gardens, a huge park with ponds and wildlife and trees everywhere. It's always pretty busy, but you don't feel congested at all, so it's a great place to grab a coffee and relax.

We're going to try hunting down some places that have free wifi hotspots tomorrow since apparently there is one close by. They generally have them in the fancier hotels, which there seem to be a few of in this area. While we were exploring today we found a late-night store that sells wine, beer (1.29 for king cans), hard liquor and fresh fruits and veggies. Interesting mix. But I guess at the end of a hard day of teaching I can always go for a bottle of rum and some oranges.

The clock's pretty much run out for my session here. I'll try to get back on this weekend to tell about our adventures at the Carnivale... good thing it's not like Mardi Gras or you might hear stories on the BBC abut a drunken Canadian singing her national anthem in Notting Hill wearing love beads and drinking rum out of a bottle.

hmmm maybe I'll try that anyway.
Until next time...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

First week in London

It's hard to believe that only a week has gone by since Jeremy and I got on the plane. We've forked over a LOT of money (it's incredibly expensive to rent places here - especially temporary housing), gotten me a bank account, and yes, found a flat!
The good news? It's a one-bedroom flat in Bayswater, which is on the edge of Kensington Gardens, part of Hyde Park. Those of you who've seen the movie Notting Hill might get a kick out of the fact that our place is one Underground stop from Notting Hill Gate. The area is beautiful, one of the safer places in the entire city, and is close to every line of the Underground - which I desperately needed for my job. We were worried that we'd be stuck in one of the edges of the city because rent is so high - which would have meant me spending twice as much in transportation each month. So the extra money this place is costing us is what I would have spent getting to and from the schools in the city.
The bad news (yes, there is some) - it's EXPENSIVE to rent here! Our teeny little place would cost about a third of this price in London, Ontario. This one-bedroom flat was the only one anywhere near our price range - we found it after signing up with a company called "flatfinder" who take money from you and guarantee to find you a place to live as soon as you need it. They were expensive too, but in the end worth it because we would never have found a place so easily - without needing references either. We would not have had access to this place at all - many landlords in the city only deal with agencies.
In the UK, you often need to provide references to get places to live - the trick is that they have to be for UK addresses. Because of this, people immigrating to the area often have major trouble finding places. Before we signed up with them, we looked at a few flats that were tiny, in faraway corners of the city, with independent landlords. It would have taken me almost two hours to get from one end of the city to another from those areas - which won't work for a supply teacher at all - simply not enough time to get to where I needed to be.
So we signed up with this place for 6 months, knowing I'd be harassing my parents for way more money that I should ever be asking them for and that Jeremy would need to find work immediately. He's pretty excited about getting a job here though - and it looks like the company I'm working through might find him work too. Keep your fingers crossed for us - if he gets a job that even pays half of what I'm making, we'll have plenty of money to pay our families back what we owe them (although it'll still take forever), save a little, eat well, and travel around without having to worry.
Every time somebody finds out my salary they seem impressed by the amount. It's funny because after taxes it sure doesn't seem like much to me. Guess time will tell...

Part of me finds it hard to believe that we're here. Right now I'm sitting outside with my laptop (stealing wireless connection from somebody's network and it only works outdoors), watching the cars and people walk by on their way home from work or wherever they've been. This area is quite nice - very north and out of the way, but nice - with lots of trees and gorgeous homes down the road. One night we took a walk around the neighborhood, looking at the houses and cars. Given the prices of living in London, we're already impressed by the size of homes that would be considered small by Canadian standards. It's funny seeing fancy gardens and BMWs, Porches, and Ferraris (yep, seen several already) down the road from our somewhat sketchy accomodations.

Last night we bought very cheap beer (6 king cans of Stella for 5 pounds - it's not considered imported here) and jumped on a double decker bus to explore a little more of the city. Got a few good pictures of the Thames River at sunset and the traffic in the downtown area. We had a blast drinking beer on a public bus and have now participated in the London tradition of drinking beer while walking through the streets, riding buses, and the trains in the Underground. Not only is this legal, but nobody even seems to notice or care. Can't wait for Jeremy to start working so we can do that again! (saving money for groceries instead of liquor to the time being)

I'm still very homesick, but starting to warm up to this place a little. I still smile at the little children with the British accents (they sound so cute) and stare at the incredible architecture that is displayed everywhere, and will probably do that for a long time. There are tons of parks and green space and lots to see and do - looking forward to getting out more once we're settled in financially. Alcohol is pretty cheap though - bottles of wine for 3 and 4 pounds, pints of imported beer for 2.5 pounds - if you don't think about the exchange it's a great deal.

So now I spending time to get to know the city, find out where all the schools are, prepare for what I'll be teaching and try to get as comfortable as possible. I'm nervous already about that first day of school, but know that I'm a good teacher and as long as I keep control of the class that things till be fine.

We're leaving our hole in the wall tomorrow so I'm not sure if I'll have internet access for next little while... The people we're renting from have arranged for a place for us until Sept. 1st right in their office building - it's very posh and usually much more expensive than that we're paying (they gave us a deal since we're renting from them for 6 months - "only" 314 pounds for 10 days - just a pound more a day that what we're paying for our little room here) so we'll be in a little bit of luxury for 10 days. If there's an active internet connect we're laughing, but I won't get my hopes up. There are literally hundreds of internet cafes though - might have to check those out so I can keep the blog up in the meantime.

And so ends the first week in a foreign country, where we've met more Australians than British, spent time with some of them and an Italian dude who's learning to be a day trader, slowly getting used to using the slang words (quid and dodgy for example) without sounding completely stupid, mastering the transportation systems, and getting the feeling that we finally have some control over our lives again.

For my parents:
Thanks Mom & Dad for helping us out when we needed it - and having faith in me that I will make it here. Your support means more than you'll ever know - and pretty words are not enough of a thank you. Unfortunately that's all I can give right now.
Guess I owe you a huge party for your 50th wedding anniversary, huh :)
Thanks again & love you lots

Saturday, August 19, 2006

sometimes song lyrics can say it all

Grew up in a small town
And when the rain would fall down
I'd just stare out my window
Dreaming of what could be
And if I'd end up happy
I would pray

Trying hard to reach out
But when I tried to speak out
Felt like no one could hear me
Wanted to belong here
But something felt so wrong here
So I'd pray
I could break away

I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly.
I'll do what it takes till I touch the sky.
Make a wish, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away.
Out of the darkness and into the sun.
But I won't forget all the ones that I love.
I'll take a risk, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away

Wanna feel the warm breeze
Sleep under a palm tree
Feel the rush of the ocean
Get onboard a fast train
Travel on a jetplane
Far away
And break away

I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly.
I'll do what it takes till I touch the sky.
Make a wish, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away.
Out of the darkness and into the sun.
But I won't forget all the ones that I love.
I'll take a risk, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away

Buildings with a hundred floors
Swinging with revolving doors
Maybe I don't know where they'll take me
Gotta keep movin on movin on
Fly away
Break away

I'll spread my wings and I'll learn how to fly.
Though it's not easy to tell you goodbye
Take a risk, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away.
Out of the darkness and into the sun.
But I won't forget the place I come from
I gotta take a risk, take a chance,
Make a change, and break away

Never wanted to be one of those bloggers who posted song lyrics, but this one fits pretty much everything I've been going through for a really long time. Sitting on the airplane at 3am eastern time, Jeremy pokes me in the arm.
"Look! It's the SUNRISE!"
As he changed the time on his watch to UK time, the line "out of the darkness and into the sun" popped into my head. Kinda cheesy, but the lyrics to this song made me feel better and reminded me about why I chose this adventure in the first place.

guess I owe Kelly a thank you ;)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

London, Baby!

It's been a little over two days since we landed at Gatwick Airport and both Jeremy and I are still exhausted and trying to get our bearings. London is a very interesting city with lots to do and see - but everybody was right when they said it's expensive. Since I won't be getting a paycheck until mid-September we're trying to keep things as cheap as possible, which defnitely isn't easy. But we're managing - and it's definitely an adventure.

The flight here was uneventful, in fact we got through checking our bags and the security in 35 minutes at Pearson Airport. Fortunately people are not as stringent with security in Canadian airports and I was allowed to bring both my laptop and my cell phone onto the plane. After a 7 hour flight (way too long) we landed in London, grabbed our 5 suitcases and jumped on the train into the city. The only unfortunate part of the whole journey was trying to get our luggage on and off the trains. Luckily the British are incredibly helpful, friendly people - we actually had two different strangers help us move our luggage around. Try to imagine that happening in Toronto or New York.

So far we've survived on and off rain every day, a ride across the city in the Underground (much nicer than Toronto's subway system), getting mobile phone numbers set up, and a general feeling of unease that I expect will last until we get a place of our own and have regular paychecks coming in. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being wildly homesick (so much so that part of me wanted to turn right around and get on the plane again - and i hate planes) and missing things I used to take for granted.

We've met some really nice people already and have been offered to visit a couple from Salisbury - right near Stonehenge. They seemed to love the idea of playing tour guide for us so I'm sure we'll wind up visiting there sometime soon. I can't imagine seeing something like Stonehenge in real life...

There are still a lot of obstacles to be faced: getting a flat, getting a bank account, Jeremy finding a job, learning our way around the city, finding foods in grocery stores that we already know taste good (had a bad experience with "real English mustard" - very spicy and wierd). The good news is that the company I'm employed with provides letters to help smooth over the bank and tenany stuff, which is often very difficult for foreigners to get straightened out. Apparently you need a tenancy history and British bank account in order to get a flat. Sounds easy? The catch is that you need an address in the UK in order to get a British bank account. This causes a lot of headaches for people just entering the country - hopefully my letters will help ease this process a little because we really need to find a place to live (currently our room is about 10 by 12 feet) so we can settle in a bit more.

All of these things aside, I feel a little more confident that things will be okay now. It'll probably get more exciting once we get explore the city more - been trying to sleep off the jet lag. So here's to the first weekend in London, England - I'll raise a glass to you all in the pubs!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

the adventure finally begins

I've been trying to write this post for a week. Trying to think of a way to record this step that I'm taking in a way that I can look back at later and be proud of. Unfortunately the closer we've gotten to getting on this plane the more jumbled things have gotten.

So here's my best effort at summarizing the last two weeks since we moved away from Windsor. I'm very tired so please ignore the poor grammar and changes in tense (some of this was written a few days ago).

The Week In Dunnville
We had a great visit with Jeremy's family - lots of great meals, peace and quiet, and good conversation. Living with his grandparents was nice because they give us lots of space too, which made things easier since I have been in major need of some alone time. I went on a little date with Jeremy's grandmother (who's only a few years older than my mother) to this really nice pier where the Grand River feeds into Lake Erie. We bagged a couple of coolers and drank them while watching the sunset. (I got tons of great pictures - but since I'm on dial-up will not be adding them until later) Then we went for ice cream and walked around the river for a little while.
On the last day of our visit, we went to Port Colborne for the annual Canal Days boat parade and fireworks display. Each year seems to get better - the fireworks were amazing and left me open-mouthed as I stared up at the sky. We ate tons of food - turkey, ham, stuffing & gravy, potato salad, veggies, a hot cheese & artichoke dip and a cake that said "Good luck Jeremy & Melinda". We took a ton of pictures, finally getting the family pictures that his grandmother has been bugging us to take for half a year now. It was the first time I've ever been in a family picture that wasn't my parents and brother.
The goodbyes were really hard - each one of them cried, which of course made me cry too. I can't help but feel damn lucky that we have people like them to miss - and to miss us.

Chasing Geese
I could go on for hours about the reasons I love it up at the lake. Anybody who reads my blog can see tons of pictures from up here - a very small fraction of the ones I've saved over the years. It's quiet here, you can hear loons at night, there are no lights to interfere with the stars, the lake is clean & warm, the people are friendly and have known my family for generations... I've had a lot of people comment on my move to England - people I've not seen for as long as 8 years, but talk to my parents so they know what's going on with all of us. Gotta love the small towns.
My father has found a new mission: chasing a flock of Canadian geese away from the nearby cottages (using our boat). They mentioned that I should bring the camera and I'm very glad that I did - I've never seen anything like it. There are 8 or 9 of them and boy do they move fast when a boat speeds towards them, flapping madly and honking and looking like they're trying to run on the water. One of them actually dove under water like a loon - something I didn't know geese even did. I felt kinda bad that we were scaring them, but since they'll likely be back tomorrow I don't think we bothered them very much at all. Apparently chasing them has become a fun pastime for several cottagers on the lake, since I've watched at least 4 other groups of people doing the same thing.

** update on the geese: they did return the next day. Jeremy wandered over to the beach where they had landed carrying a drink in one hand and a paddle in the other - they didn't seem fazed by this at all. Then my father shows up in the van, jumps out and starts moving towards them. The geese haul ass as quickly as they can back into the lake - apparently birds do remember people who chase them around in boats. **

Stupid Terrorists
Yes, I understand that this is a "well d'uh" statement, but the news of the latest airport scare caused a lot of extra stress and headaches.
"Hey did you hear about the whole airplane thing?! Apparently people can't even take laptops on the planes! And they might even ban carry-ons!"
"Hey did you hear about the whole airplane thing?! I saw on the news that people might have to have see-through luggage!"
Seriously now - see-through luggage?? Honestly I wonder about some people... When I called the airline to confirm our flight departure times, I had a conversation with an overworked and very amused employee who informed me that half of the stuff you heard on the news was completely inaccurate. She assured me that laptops, digital cameras, and cell phones are just fine to bring as carry-on, but did advise me to put all liquids (even makeup) into my checked baggage. From what she was hearing, this restriction will likely be around for a very long time. Makes you wonder who the duty-free stores are going to cope with people not being allowed to purchase liquor while waiting for their flights. I can't help but think of the thousands of dollars of products that would have been surrended when they first implemented this whole law - apparently there were dozens of bins full of alcohol, perfume, makeup, and pretty much hundreds of other liquid products. Wonder where all of that stuff went...

So Long, Farewell...
I was hoping to find something a little more eloquent to say. This is such a monumental step for me and I can't even begin to explain the mix of emotions that run through me each day. I have had to say goodbye to every person who matters to me (except the parents - they're taking us to the airport) in the last month or so, and each time it gets a little bit harder. I remember joking about the loooong goodbye in previous posts, but I honestly didn't expect it to feel like this. I guess I realized that some of the people I'm saying goodbye to will never be in my life again - the people who didn't keep in touch or didn't seem to care that we were drifting apart. All a part of life, I know, but it still sucks.

When I get on that plane tomorrow I'll be leaving everything I've ever known for a place that still doesn't seem completely real to me.
In a month I'm sure I'll feel right at home.
But for now I'm letting myself mourn a little for everything I'll miss.
Birthdays (especially the 1st birthdays), holiday traditions (and the food of course!), two hour long conversations just because my friends and I feel like chatting, road trips around Ontario, watching my kitty run into walls or chase his tail when he's being silly, hours of Friends and Seinfeld reruns, playing with my nephews, saunas and campfires at the lake, beating the boys at Euchre or "That 90's Game", poutine, current music being played on radio stations, COLD BEER, snow (yep I'll be wishing for a white Christmas), and I guess just the feeling that I'm somewhere that I belong.

I'm a pretty lucky person. Thanks to everybody who is a part of my life - I love you, I'll miss you lots, I'll send postcards, and I will do my best not to lose my "sexy Canadian accent".

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Part two...

After spending several hours trying not to completely stress over what was going on with Uhaul, I grabbed some orange juice and sat outside watching the sun rise. Trying very hard to relax.

8:35am: I finally say #&@% you to Uhaul and call several truck rental places in the London area, deciding that my friend John can drive the truck to Windsor and return it from Jeremy's grandparents' place after the move. Unbelievably, there was a small local company that had two trucks available for only $84 per day, 200 free km and only 10 cents per each additional kilometer. After doing a happy dance around Ledawit's kitchen, I ran upstairs to tell her the good news.

Little did I know that it would be the last time I got to see her little son before moving away. That's another story though...

9:30am: pick John up at his place and head up to the truck rental place

10:15am: finally leave London (more than 2 hours after we'd been scheduled to pick up the Uhaul truck. They still have not called us back)

1:00pm: arrive in Windsor after a looooong drive and pitstop at McDonald's (first time eating there in a really really long time)

3:30pm: Uhaul calls us. "Hello, I'm looking for Miss Peterson - please tell her we have a truck available for her at the Dougall pickup office".
I'll have to leave Jeremy's response for your imagination.

8:00pm: FINALLY get the hell outta Windsor! I drove away with the sunset behind me and no feelings of sadness. I had a few good times there, but definitely won't be going back.

9:45pm: Yet another goodbye at Ledawit's place. Jeremy and I had originally planned on being there Sunday night, but decided against this since we wouldn't be getting there until way after midnight. So I picked up my overnight bag and hugged my friend goodbye. I didn't cry too much until I started driving through the city where I'd hoped to live again some day.

12:30am: FINALLY arrive at Jeremy's grandparents' place. When I arrived, I felt like crying with relief - or exhaustion. His grandparents had stayed up way past their normal bedtimes to help us out with the unloading and between them and John and Jeremy the truck was unloaded before I even got there. I remember thinking that everybody looked very subdued and felt very bad for poor John who was now going to have to drive the truck all the way back to London. I didn't even notice the dent.

Yep, the dent.

Apparently after getting the truck filled up, John misjudged the distance between a concrete pole and the side of the truck and well... it got dented, broke the gas cap, and a nice smudge of red paint along the side. I was so tired and relieved to be finished with the day that I didn't even get upset.

I blame this on Uhaul too since he probably wouldn't have banged into anything if we weren't all so exhausted - due to the extra 3 and a half hours that our little situation added to the day.

(we later found out that the estimated cost of repairs is around $980)

I don't remember falling asleep that night.

I usually hate stating the obvious, but that was really the move from hell. It took 3 days before I started feeling normal again. After 4 days I realized I had developed some kind of throat infection (definitely a result of the stress) so I still have a souvenir from that terrible day. Here's hoping that we can look back and laugh sometime.

And that Uhaul goes bankrupt.