Monday, April 29, 2013

Traveling within the UK

For Ryan's birthday weekend, we decided to get out of London and explore some of the greater surrounding areas. We quickly learned that booking a weekend getaway here doesn't work in quite the same way as it does at home. For example, it seems that the closer you are to your departure date the more expensive the travel options become. I suppose that is true in the states to some extent, but you can usually find some good deals on the numerous travel websites. Here...well...not so much. With Edinburgh and Paris both being out, we decided to take a train down to the quiet, seaside town of Broadstairs and stay in a bed and breakfast for a few nights.

The train ride down was actually quite pleasant. We took the tube up to St. Pancras station, then took the southeastern line to Broadstairs. The ride itself only took about an hour and twenty minutes, and Ryan clocked us at going 140 miles per hour at one point! Why high speed rail hasn't caught on in the US, I will never know. We arrived just after 8 pm, and were able to walk down to our accommodations at the East Horndon.

The next morning we walked around the town. It had many shops that supported different charities. Sort of like Salvation Army, I suppose, where you can buy used goods and the money goes to support the cause. The town's claim to fame is that Charles Dickens, writer of David Copperfield and Great Expectations, lived there throughout his mid-twenties through his thirties. It was neat seeing all the signs posting his whereabouts. We also took the opportunity to visit the Charles Dickens museum.

Since we stayed at a B&B, I should also make mention of the 'traditional English breakfast'. We have had a few options whilst here, but all of them have included a fried egg, sausage, bacon (which is more ham-like than bacon-like) mushrooms, and tomatoes. The variants have been the inclusion of baked beans and fried bread. And before you get excited about fried bread, I will just say don't be, unless you reeeaally like the taste of grease.

Friday, April 26, 2013

New Apartment

Next month, we will be moving into our more permanent apartment in the neighborhood of Islington. We took a few pictures and lots of notes to help us distinguish it from the many other apartments we'd seen during our search. We think it will be a great place to call home!

Front door of the building at 18 Friend Street. It's very new, having been completed in February.

Open kitchen and living space. We were happy to find a kitchen with room for us to move around! Kitchens here are generally much smaller. The tall left cabinet is the fridge & freezer, and also along the bottom row are the dishwasher and washer/dryer combo.

Two carpeted bedrooms, one of which has a built-in wardrobe.

And two bathrooms!

The lease will likely begin in early May, but most of our belongings won't reach us until later in the month. So it will be a little while until we are fully settled.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Look Familiar?

Walking from the Embankment to Trafalgar Square and over toward Waterloo Station, I suddenly found myself on a very familiar looking bridge! It's not the right light or even the right camera, but I dodged traffic to get a quick shot from the same vantage point as, well, above!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Week In Review

It has been a very eventful week for us in London. Then again, where and for whom has it not been eventful?

Emerging from the excitement of our first weekend in the city, we were very quickly brought back down to Earth by the news of the bombings in Boston, especially with two of our best friends at the site but thankfully out of danger.

It gave us the reality check that we're not in the US anymore. Being across the ocean from home, the distance does feel very real. We're able to closely follow what is happening in the US with so many avenues of instantaneous information and communication, but we aren't there to live through it with everyone else.

The international news coverage here is very good, though. All of the events surrounding Boston were full front-page spreads in the London papers, and long segments of the televised news were dedicated to the ongoing events. The time difference (5 hours ahead of Eastern time) makes it such that we wake up to review all the US updates we missed from the previous evening, and then our day is halfway over before anything else is happening.

Runners by Mile 23 of the Marathon
The big news stories of the week from London were Margaret Thatcher's funeral and the London Marathon. The funeral took place at St Paul's Cathedral, less than a mile from our apartment. We steered clear after being warned of potential rioting by her opponents, and thankfully nothing of the sort happened. Today was a beautiful day for the marathon, and we stopped by to cheer for a bit.

With Heidi not having to start working until April 22, "garden start" as we've called it, we've taken advantage by doing some touristy sightseeing and also looking for an apartment. We visited the British Museum, which is the site of the Rosetta Stone and many other Egyptian, Grecian, and Roman artifacts. We also walked outside Buckingham Palace and along the nearby parks.
Rosetta Stone - very large in person!
The Palace - No sign of the Queen

On Thursday and Friday we had appointments to view around a dozen potential apartments in each of our two favorite neighborhoods, Islington and Marylebone. We struggled with the decision with so many good options, but we are very happy with the place we found! Assuming the paperwork goes though, we will be living in Islington on the corner of Friend Street and Goswell Road. Perks include a never-lived-in unit, walking distance to a Chipotle, and a spare bedroom for guests to stay with us. Pictures of the apartment will follow.

We spent the remainder of the weekend catching up with friends and family on skype. We've had a little bit of difficulty getting fully set up with phones, but once that's settled we will put up information on the best way to reach us.

Cheers from this side of the world!

Monday, April 15, 2013

London Neighbourhoods

This past weekend we spent quite a bit of time looking at various neighbourhoods in London in order to try to find a suitable place to call home. Here's a short overview of where we went:

Clerkenwell: overall, this neighbourhood had an 'up and coming' sort of vibe to it. It was fairly quiet, but there were plenty of people walking about, especially near the City University of London. It is just north of the financial center, so one of the closest neighbourhoods we could potentially live in.

Islington: Islington's High Street (aka Main Street) is called Upper St., which reminded us a lot of Halsted in Lincoln Park in Chicago. It has plenty of different restaurants, pubs, shops, optometrists, dentists, and even a Chipotle! The street runs all the way from the Angel tube stop to the Highbury and Islington stop, with the former being much busier. There were many residential streets leading off from this main drag.

Covent Garden: this was a very interesting place. We will definitely be recommending it as a place for friends and family to visit, but we aren't sure we want to live here. There are numerous places to go shopping here, including  a very well known market. There is also a transportation museum and various theatres nearby. It felt quite touristy on a Saturday morning, which is fine for visiting, but not for living.

Soho: located right next door to Covent Garden, this neighbourhood feels a bit touristy as well. It contains Chinatown and a good part of the theatre district. Again, a good place to visit, but not so much to live.

South Kensington: this place definitely has a more residential feel to it. The tube stop was crowded, likely because of the many various museums that are located here. There is the Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Science Museum all right next to each other. The corner by the tube stop had various shops and restaurants, and overall seemed fairly pleasant.

Pimlico: located just southwest of Buckingham Palace, this neighbourhood was insanely quiet for being located in the heart of the city. We walked up and down two streets that were completely lined with hotels, but also saw a few restaurants and corner pubs along the way.

Notting Hill: if you've seen the movie, you might have a small idea of what is in store in this neighbourhood. There is again quite a bit of shopping here, with both high end boutiques and a market that stretches the entire distance of Portobello Road. There are many side streets with large houses and many private garden areas.

Marylebone: the Bond Street tube stop drops you off right in the middle of a large shopping area (think Michigan Ave) but just a few hundred yards up the road is the High Street in Marylebone. This will take you past pubs, shops, restaurants, and the grocery on your way up to Regent's Park, which is a huge public park that apparently used to be royal hunting grounds. Also on Baker Street is everything Sherlock Holmes-related.

If you haven't guessed it already, our two favorites are Islington and Marylebone, which we will be touring Thursday and Friday in hopes of finding a flat.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Business Class

Heidi demonstrating some of the perks of United's Business class on international flights:

We Made It!

It's quite amazing how time flies while you are, well, flying. We were able to fly business class across the pond courtesy of Zurich which made the flight obviously much more enjoyable. We were able to use the united club before departure, then received a complementary amenity set and drink upon boarding. The best part was a toss up between the ice cream sundae with your choice of toppings for dessert and the seat that folds down into a bed. Actually, it was the bed, but the sundae was pretty delicious! We both got at least 4-5 hours of decent sleep before landing. Oh, and lets not forget about the express line through customs! Now, with all that awesome stuff, would I ever pay to do it out of my own pocket? No. It's good, but not THAT good.

The cab ride to our apartment was about an hour (passed right by Buckingham Palace on the way), but I think it's safe to say we probably won't be taking many cabs from the airport in the future due to London's amazing transit system. We picked up an Oyster card today and put enough on it for a seven day fare. The plan is to do some exploring of different neighborhoods this weekend and next week, so that we will have a good idea of where we want to live before too long.

Our temporary housing is nice, but I think we did feel a little bit of culture shock seeing how very little closet/storage space we have, and also by the size of the dishwasher! It is probably a fourth the size of a normal one back home. Even smaller than the one our friends had when they lived in Australia! The great news, however, is that we were able to do a bit of exploring and there is so much located near by. We have a post office, drug store and grocery store within a block, and my office is right down the street practically!
Lots more to do, of course, but so far, so good. Miss you all!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

We're Off!

It wasn't easy or remotely speedy, but the visas are in-hand, our apartment is packed up and moved away, and we are ready to go!

We will fly from O'Hare to Heathrow, leaving Wednesday at 9:00pm and arriving Thursday at 11:15am.

Our temporary housing looks quite nice and will have us living near London's financial center. We will be there for the first thirty days before we need to move in to a more permanent place.

Going Away Bash - Pictures

We had a fantastic time this past Saturday hanging out with friends and family. Here are some of the pictures from the event. It was great seeing everyone!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Going Away Bash

Saturday April 6, 3pm
Clark Street Ale House
742 N Clark Street, Chicago

If you're reading this, you should stop by for a drink!