Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Very London (Hostel) Christmas

“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.”
~Taylor Caldwell

I knew that Christmas was going to be different from the get go this year. It's the first time away from my family, my friends, and all our traditions. I didn't get any of Mama's candy, Bre and I didn't get to watch The Grinch with Daddy, Michele and I didn't get to make our Christmas cookies then veg out on the couch with half the dough, etc, etc, etc. It was hard also because it was an Andersen Christmas this year (my family went to Grammy and Grandpa's in Connecticut) AND Aunt Kate was home in Maine. But I was pleasantly surprised when I ended up having a very busy and awesome Christmas :)

I worked right up until Christmas Eve day. The night before, Jac and I went to our favorite pub for food, and really got to catch up. We talked about taking more trips, especially since we're both working and I'll be in my own place soon. So, Christmas Eve Day I come into work to find out that all the offices are basically shutting down at noon for the annual hallway Christmas party. I helped them set things up: there were 4 tables of food (cheese, crackers, bread, meats, olives, cookies, cake, etc.) and then 2 of wine, beer, and champagne. Thats right--when the Brits do an office holiday party in the middle of the day, they really do it up. The deal was that everyone came out at noon, had some munchies, downed a few drinks, then snuck out around 2. I ended up leaving at 1:30 after my boss tried to give me a third glass of white wine. I went from the party to Bunac because a Christmas miracle had occurred, and my Christmas present had arrived from my family. Woohoo!!! I picked it up, and was back at the hostel by 4pm.

I got back here, and got a call from Allie Packard. She is this total sweetheart who I met through Aunt Kate. She is an actress, New England, and does some voices on Mr. Men. She had decided to come to London for the holiday, and had just flown in. We chatted for a bit, then decided to meet for dinner in Trafalgar. I took the tube in, and met her under the huge Norwegian Christmas tree:

We walked around the area for a while, then found a nice little Italian place for dinner. Our waiter was a very very flamboyant gay man from Poland. He tapping our shoulders with his fingertips while we were ordering food. We both had wine and sea food, and split a piece of the most amazing cheesecake. From there, we walked down to the Christmas Fair in Leicester Square, and grabbed coffee. We clicked really quick, and she was so funny and friendly. She had no problem making friends, and it was nice to spend some time with someone who reminded me so much of home.

After parting ways with well wishes, I headed over to St. Paul's Cathedral. I'm not sure why, but I really wanted to go to Midnight Mass. I heard the service at St. Paul's was amazing due to their choir. I called Nathalie, and she met me there. We were so early, but when we went around the Cathedral (which I have to go back to--it was so beautiful) there was already a line wrapped halfway around the building. We waited for an hour and a half, but it was worth it--we were part of the first hundred people in the door, so we got to sit in the 15th row back, right under the dome:
It was beautiful. There were candles everywhere, and the music was lovely. The service was a Catholic one, which I was a little uncomfortable with, but overall, I'm really happy I went.We sung three of my favorite carols, and it just felt nice to be with people from all over the world and of all faiths. Afterwords, I took a taxi home, and went to bed.

Christmas morning, I actually got up early…ish. A few of the guys were up as well, so we all wished each other a Merry Christmas and puttered around until the others got up for secret santa. While we were doing this, Steven tricked Harry into running out to buy a bunch of breakfast stuff by saying that I had already cooked everything we had, and there was nothing left. 10 minutes, 2 loaves of bread, a liter of milk, a dozen eggs, and a pack of bacon, and I was a French toast machine. They were getting eaten faster then I could make them. Luckily, the boys broke out the goods for champagne breakfast, and made sure to keep my glass full.

Weird tidbit: Aussies and Kiwis eat their French toast cooked in oil, covered in salt and chilli sauce, and without anything like syrup or powdered sugar. So basically, it’s just fried bread. Me and Casey the Canadian were totally grossed out.

Finally, everyone was up and we handed out presents. I was really proud of mine. There is this long running joke in the hostel that I never really got the whole story. For anyone living there for more then a month, the two most common phrases (picked up from a French girl who stayed there a while back) are ‘F*ck my life’ and ‘Oh my Buddha!’. No idea why, its just the way we roll. So I was wandering around the kind of ghetto Elephant and Castle shopping center (think Westbrook) and I found a little Asian cart that had Buddha necklaces. Fairly unisex, and since we had a £5 limit, it worked out great at £4.95. Casey ended up getting it. I got this really pretty little paperweight thing. It’s a piece of cut crystal with a miniature skyline of the Southbank carved in it. (Big Ben, London Eye, etc) I really like it.

After that, everyone kind of drifted around and did their own thing. We watched a movie, had more drinks (Christmas is a HUGE drinking holiday here….) took naps, hung out. I had gotten a package from home that had my stocking on it. I talked to my folks on Skype for a while, then called them back and Mom, Dad, Bre and I all opened our stockings together. We were such dorks—going around in a circle, each opening something and showing it off—just like I was home. It made me really really happy. Best gift: a hamster finger puppet. I love it so friggin’ much!! He is now my travel buddy….still gotta name the little guy….Other then that, got a lot of smelly stuff (because I complained about my room smelling like feet) and just little odds and ends. It was nice to read all the messages from my parents on why they picked each thing.

The rest of the night kind of descended into debauchery, as you can imagine with a hostel full of especially drunk friends who became family. There was food in the afternoon—just cold ham slices, Brie cheese, crackers, mini pizzas, etc. We all drank a lot of champagne and got loopy. There may have been an incident with three streakers…all boys…cute toushies ; -) I took a nap in the late afternoon, then sat up talking with people into the wee hours of the morning. Overall, it was a good Christmas. We were all really happy to be together with people we had become so close to, and weren’t too homesick. For the traditional Boxing Day of shopping and insanity, I stuck with the Andersen family tradition of going to the movies and sneaking around to see more then one. I saw Yes Man with Jim Carry (very similar to Bruce Almighty, funny, but it made me unexpectedly homesick for California) and then Twilight (which I really loved. The scenes were shot so beautifully, I love the soundtrack, and they did a decent job of sticking the original storyline. I agree with Yun—it was a lot funnier they I was expecting). I may have to go back to the theatre and do more day trips like that.

Now New Years...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Chocolate, Lace and Beer: My Trip to Bruges, Belgium

I have had my first trip out of the Big City. As I've been talking about for about a month, Bunac organized a trip to Bruges for their annual Christmas market. Somethings I learned on the tour about it: The population of Bruges is about 100,000 people, but the weekend before Christmas, up to 600,000 people from all over the world come into town. Its a big deal. There are a million little shops that sell classic Belgium goods, such as chocolate, lace, beer and handmade gifts. Belgium has 3 official languages, and the official one in Bruges is Flemish, with some French thrown in there for good measure. If you're going to Bruges for a short time, the priorities are either to a) eat, b)drink, c)eat and drink, d) visit religious monuments or e) shop. I got to do a little of everything.

The morning started at a loverly 4:30am. I had to catch the night bus from my hostel to the International Students House to catch the bus at 6am. I get really lucky, and only have to wait about 10 minutes for a bus. I get on, and climb up to the top level, hoping it'll be quieter and I can just listen to my iPod and try not to miss my stop. Well, I get up there, and there is this guy sitting a few rows back. I watch in the window as he slowly moves up a few rows closer to me. Just as I was about to dig out my keys to gouge him if need be, he taps me on the shoulder and says 'excuse me, do you mind if I talk with you?' He looked kind of zonked, so I assumed he just wanted to stay awake. Wayyy off base. First he does a really slow scan of my body while asking where I'm from and all that. Then, he asks if I'm married. I say no, then he says, all slinky, 'Oh, so you're free then.' As every single gal should do on her own when presented with a creeper, I lied. I said I had someone back home who was meeting me in the new year over here. He bought it (barely) then launched into how he wanted to meet girls over Christmas, but not have a commitment. WTF?!!? THEN, he suddenly asks me 'Are you a Christian?' I'm like, no. This leads to a long, complex lecture about how god exists, and why, and don't I want to save my soul by accepting him? I almost slugged the guy. He finally got off, and I was pissed to see that he had made me miss my stop, so I had to walk back. That was my kick off.

Day got a lot better from there. I got to the bus stop, and recognized a few Bunacers who were also on the trip. There were 3 bus loads of us, so we got on the road quick. My tour guide was this really great lady from Toronto who was 6 months pregnant--lotta energy. We drove from London to Dover to catch the ferry. This was uneventful, other then I met the girl who I spent the day with, Elizabeth. We were waiting for the ferry to come in, and she was reading Twilight for the first time. We got to chatting, then hung out with this bunch of other Bunacers I had met at pub meets.

The White Cliffs of Dover

Around the boat to the route we would take to France.

I had slept a little on the drive, so it was easier to stay awake on the ferry. We arrived in France, and got back on our bus to drive from Calais up through Northern France, and into Belgium. Unfortunately, this is not the area that is all vineyards and rolling countryside, but looks kind of like....Idaho, or one of those middle states that start with 'I'. Michele will understand ;-)

We arrived in Bruges around 1ish. We were told to be back on the bus by 5:30 sharp so we could make a 7:45 ferry back to Dover. Then they set us loose. Elizabeth and I branched off from the main stream and went to the Ice Sculpture exhibit. This was amazing. The theme this year was Harry Potter, which I loved all on its own, but also rabbits. Have you ever seen the picture of the giant rabbit on joke sites? The one that people ask is it real or not?: Yea, this one ;-)
Well, they really exist, and are raised for food like sheep in Belgium. This was proven when we wandered over to the ice bar, and all the ice benches were covered in giant rabbit furs to sit on. So the other them was bunnies:

Harry Potter and Hedwig (the owl)

Hagrid discreetly casting a spell on the ice wall

Me with Bunnies

So we left the Sculpture exhibit, and made our way into the city center. It was pretty warm--maybe in the 50s--and everything is still very green. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North for its canal system, which was beautiful.

We walked into the area around the center of town, and did a little shopping. I went into a lace shop and got a few gifts (which I'm DYING to write about, but I don't want the people getting them to know ;-) ) then we went into this one chocolate shop. The family had been making chocolates for 130 years: They were amazing. I sampled, then got some to send home. We took our time walking around, and watched this one woman making lace. She was so fast, it was really interesting. We met up with some of the people from Bunac, and went to this pub that served 350 types of beer. I got strawberry for 2.50 euro. It was 3.5% proof, and my new favorite EVER:

We swung into the market, but honestly, it was really a bunch of cheap stuff. The real finds were in the shops that had been around for hundreds of years (no big surprise) By the end of the night, there was time to grab a bratwurst, and a Belgian waffle (with caramel and bananas...*Drools a little at the memeory*) and we had to high tale it to the bus. Got there with 10 minutes to spare, but we ended up sitting there for a while because two stupid girls got lost, and were getting a ride back from some locals. They finally called and said they were just going to get the Eurostar back, and we headed for the ferry. We ended up missing the 7:45, but luckily got the 9pm...it all felt very familiar ;-) The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I got back to the hostel at 1am...just in time to get 5 hours of sleep before work.

It was a really great little get away, and has inspired me to look into other trips--tho if I go out of country again, I will definitely be making it an overnight trip. My next ideas are Edinburgh, Oxford, The New Forest, Nottingham, and the Lake District to stay on a horse farm where you just ride your horse for 3 days. Thats my first choice. Any other ideas?


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Working Gal

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. ~Charles Dickens

I love Christmas. I feel like it sounds so phoney to say it’s my favourite time of year, but it really kind of is. I love the cold weather, and all of the twinkle lights, and having moments that show what the season is really all about. This is the season for love, friendship, family, generosity, companionship, and care for peace on earth and goodwill towards your fellow human beings. Even if I am a bit cut off from my family and my home, I’m still bound and determined to have a nice Christmas in London.

It doesn’t hurt that I got a pretty great present to kick it off. That would be, my new job AND a job offer for when I get back to the States!!!

Here is how it all started. Last week, I was sick. Like I am every single winter, with my cold and my coughing and all that crap that tied me to a bed for 3 days straight. Because of this, I couldn’t work for Johanna, and had to cancel a few shifts with Esprit. Needless to say, I was in a pretty low place. Whatever you do in life, make sure you have plenty of money to back you up. I also had an accident with my computer and a very drunk roommate stepping on it and cracking the screen. I am literally going to owe my parents my tax refunds for the next 10-15 years.

But, in a true Christmas miracle, I got a call out of the blue from one of the 6 temp agencies I am registered with, and never heard from. They had a gig in the Accommodations Department of King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. It was good until January 31, and had a possibility of being extended further. £10 an hour, and 40 hours a week with paid lunch hours. They needed me to start the next day at 9am, and I took it! I had three days to train with the girl I was taking over for, then I’d be on my own. The job itself is easy. Now, I know I have said in the past that I’ve had easy jobs, but you haven’t heard of easy until now. I share my office with Corrine—everything you’d hope an old bitty from Cockney would be. She’s retiring in March, and doesn’t care if the place burns to the ground. The office itself is in the basement of the hospital, so it’s quiet. We are here for people to find us. We book in on call rooms for doctors, or long/short term accommodation rooms for up to 6 months. In all honesty, we just give them the application, and then fax it to the landlord. Around 2-3pm, I put together the packets that have the keys for the on call rooms, drop them off at the front desk, then am just here til 5. This has let me finish a book, update emails, do remote work for Johanna, and write blog entries like this. ; -) It’s not a matter of lazy—half the rooms we have are being torn down in February, and everywhere else is booked solid. So I’m basically paid to deal with egomaniac god complex sob story doctors who think they deserve to have luxury suite apartments and bitch if they are told there isn’t anything, or that the tiny studios that are the only things available are further then a 5 minute walk. Its working in Residence Life with bigger brats. To add insult to injury, Sodexho runs the cafeteria. But the people are nice and friendly, there are lots of tea breaks, and yesterday I got to spend my afternoon picking music for the holiday party next week and stringing twinkle lights in the hallway.

I love twinkle lights.

For the other part of it, after 2 weeks of phone tag, Johanna and I were able to finally meet up and settle up. I went to her house last night, and ended up staying for 4 hours, leaving with £100, 2 bags of leftovers from her house (she was going back to the States for the holidays today), and a promise that when I get back to the States, I can call her and she will create a job for me in her company to do research on leadership, communication, and teambuilding. She’s the creator and the CEO. She can do that. Until then, she wants me to stay on remotely, and will send me money for my work periodically. On top of that, she and her husband have a beach house in LA (technically Manhattan Beach) that they ‘are more then happy to let you stay in. We don’t use it enough anyway.’ So I may be moving to LA when I get home.

I love the beach.

So life is going pretty well right now. I move into my place on Jan. 4th, have a job that will let me save up for something really good AND pay the bills, I’m spending Christmas with my friends at the hostel (we’re doing a champagne breakfast, Christmas dinner, and a Secret Santa, so it should be fun) and on Skype with my family, and as for New Year’s Eve…guess we’ll have to wait and see!

Oh, and I’m going to Bruges this weekend to the Christmas markets! I need to get out of London for a while, and remember all the wonderful reasons I came here in the first place. Like travel! Here is a website for the markets. They have an entire Snow and Ice Sculpture Garden based on Harry Potter. Can't seem to get away from it here, can I? ;-)

More to come soon,

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

I was talking to my mom last week about going places and doing things on my own. I was talking about how I want to go on the Bunac Christmas trip to Bruges, but how I was a little bummed about going alone. (Now I'm bummed because I don't know if I can go--this cold has held me back from work for a few days, and it's really taking it's toll. But this is a happy blog :)) She said,"Em, I stopped being worried about you being on your own when you went to the Pirates 2 midnight screening in LA alone, and came out of there having made friends with an indie band. (True story: they sat outside in line and played guitar until they let us in. Great guys. We're MySpace friends ;-))

Anywho, in that true spirit, I was looking through some podcasts to load on my iPod, and I came across my MuggleCast one. This is the #1 podcast made about Harry Potter--the best show was when they had JK Rowling herself on for an interview. The great part it, it's all done by 6 fans who are my age, and they started it a few years ago. I went on to their site, and saw that they were going to be at the release party for The Tales of Beedle The Bard. This is JK's latest book having to do with Harry Potter. These are the tales written for wizard and witch children the way Grimm's fairy tales were written for us (Muggles). In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Dumbledore leaves the original copy of these stories to Hermione to decode, and she is able to use the tales to help Harry find the different Hallows. JK hand wrote and illustrated 7 copies: six were given to the people she felt had been the most involved with the HP series, and a 7th copy was made to sell at auction for her charity The Children's Voice. This last copy was bought by Amazon for $3.98 million dollars. For serious. It is 157 pages, all hand written and illustrated by the author, and has inserted notes from Albus Dumbledore.

Now that you have the backstory, here is where I fit in. On MuggleCast's homepage, they mentioned they would be flying over from the US to host the midnight release party for the book (the first one in the world, due to the time differences) at Waterstones Piccadilly. Waterstones is a chain bookstore out here, but this particular one is the largest bookstore in Europe. It is built in an old department store building, and is 6 stories tall, with a cafe and bar. Their fiction section alone was about the size of the Borders by the mall in South Portland. I was thinking about getting a ticket (5 pounds, which covered the podcast, refreshments, and a copy of the book.) But they were only selling 450, and I was worried it was sold out. But I called anyway. Luckily, they had 10 tickets left, and I was able to snag one.

Then this whole cold thing hit--hard. I get this every year, but I was to the point of being dizzy and coughing so hard I woke up my roommates. I decided to take the day, spend it in bed, then go to the release. I slept some, but not much, and made my way into the City around 7pm. I got there, got my entry bracelet, and wandered around in bliss. I ended up in the cafe around 9:30 with a large tea, and waited til they opened the doors at 10. I got to the top, and got in line for another cup of tea. It was crowded, but it was pretty evenly split in ages, origins (they did a poll during the podcast, and about 1/3 were American) and fan worship--there were a lot of people in great costumes--one came as Luna with the Gryffindor lion on her head--she won. I was getting my tea when I started chatting to this really nice woman behind me, and we decided to sit together for the podcast. She's here studying from the US, and was so great. She had come to this Waterstones to get her copy of Deathly Hallows last summer when there were over 2,000 people waiting.

We wandered over to the seating area for the show, and it was a pretty decent show. The store had been decorated in one section to look like the Forbidden Forest, and they had people dressed up like Dumbledore and Hagrid. These characters warmed up the crowd before the cast of MuggleCast came on to do the podcast. They had a quiz where they gave out prizes, discussed the book and the new international movie trailer, and then took questions to discuss from the crowd. If you listen to MuggleCast #164, you can hear me asking how they feel about the theme park that is opening at Universal in Florida in 2010.

After the podcast, they had a costume contest, and while Dumbledore was a bit bias towards some Americans who dressed up like the Harpies (there were others who were more dressed up, even the Harpies said this). The winner got the first copy. That was something else I liked: when you paid to get it, you also had the price of the book included, so you just got handed your copy. Here is the video of the release:

After you received your copy, you got a stamp saying it was one of the first released. I took my copy over and got it signed by the cast of MuggleCast. They were the nicest people. Elysa, the only girl, is from Baltimore, and knows people at McDaniel!! Small world. Then Matt and I totally bonded over Wicked, and Andrew and I talked about TV Production classes and blogging. It was exactly the kind of experience I love having, where I can meet people who I just click with because we love the same things.

Cassandra (the woman I'd been hanging with) and I walked back to Leicester Square to the bus stop. Since the Tube stopped running at midnight, and this was now 1:30am, I had to take one of the many night buses that run from midnight to 6am. Luckily, the N5 lets off right in front of my hostel. I got on the double decker, and sat upstairs to try and avoid the drunks. I called my folks to stay awake, and chatted until I lost my voice, and the drunks stumbled upstairs. I got back to the hostel around 2am, and went to bed.

I've been reading one Tale a day (there are 5) and they are each wonderful and something that I will read to my kids the same way I'll read them Grimm's fairy tales, Greek myths, and The Hobbit, just like my parents did for me. I think these are stories that have the potential to really stick with kids--even before they are introduced to Harry Potter.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Getting Colder, but Brighter too

Ah, the first few days of December. The air is crisp and cool, there are twinkle lights everywhere, and if you try really hard (and grew up in Maine) you can smell the snow before it even hits the ground. You start doing holiday stuff-Hannah and I spent last night building her little paper tree her mom sent her, had pizza and mini-pies her roommate brought home, and watched a bootleg copy of The Santa Clause online. Good times...it actually really was :)

For me, it means my inevitable holiday cold. I use to think that this only had to do with the stress that comes from finals, moving from school to home, that sort of thing. But apparently, you can still get the plague away from all that kind of stuff. Although I am living in a room with 15 other people…and its still cold season…and I’m kinda stressed…guess all the factors are still there.

Things have been ok. Not fantastic, but not horrible. Courtney’s visit, as I’m sure you saw from the last entry, has been a big highlight of my time here. We had so much fun, and it really showed me how far I’ve come. I know my way around, I budgeted, and I enjoyed a lot of the things offered here that I don’t have at home. I was really sad to see her go, but it also gave me hope. Courtney and I are very (VERY) similar people, but we never got as much time to figure that out when we were at school. We had other sisters, friends, work, etc., but I feel like we really came out of this week with a much stronger bond. It’s the first time in a long time that I’ve spent every day with someone in a week, and had no fights, no bad feelings, no frustrations or complications. It was refreshing.

After she left, I started my two new jobs. Now, before we get into that, if I’m not bouncing off the walls, its only because I am fond of security and steady work. These have neither, but I’m ok with it…kind of.

First of all, I started working with the lovely Johanna—this may be the best job I’ve ever had, and the shortest. She has her own company, and lives mostly in the states. Her husband is from Chicago, while she is British, so they also have a beautiful flat in Maida Vale here. Her company—which I may very well apply to full time when I get back—is based out of LA, and designs training programs for different companies. For example, Jo’s latest program is Positive Under Pressure; a professional development training program that she did for Boeing that helps their employees learn how to stay positive under pressure, and manage stress in constructive way. She is currently working on a bigger program for them, and the two areas that I am assisting her on are Gender Roles and the 4 Generations At Work. Here is my favorite part: she is a total movie buff, and was a theatre major at university. I told her about my senior seminar on gender and culture in Disney films, and after looking it over, she is now having me re-write it as a 4 hour seminar!!!!! Its geared to influences and representation of gender roles, and how cultural icons such as the roles in Disney films imprint on us from the very beginning. She wants be to write the entire thing. Ahh!!! My only concern is Disney throwing a hissy fit, but worst comes to worst, she can deal with that in LA (as horrible as that sounds). The other section is on what it is like in the current workplace now that there are 4 generations working in it: The Silent Era, the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millenials. The economy is dropping, so all these generations are working at the same time with different ideals and goals. Our program is designed to pinpoint these goals and show how they can be achieved without leaving anyone out. Again, writing the whole thing myself. She is also having me redesign the website, and she says I get her style better then people she’s been working with for 5 years. Here are the main highlights of the gig: I work in her home office from about 11am-anywhere from 4-7pm. She hates mornings. I usually get there, we go over stuff, I work for a few hours, we take a tea break, talk, work a bit more. She knows I have a cold, so she brings me tea in the office, usually with a scone or chocolate biscuit. I think she is happy to have the company more then anything else. At the end of each afternoon, we walk down to the Tube station together, and she pops to the ATM next to it, and hands me cash for the day. That’s right—tax free, paid daily, cold hard in my pocket cash. Its glorious. The downsides are that she can be kind of sporadic in her timing: when I was there yesterday, she told me she was going to Oxford for a few days, and not to come in til Friday. Good, because I really REALLY need to get over this cold, and bad because its two days I’m not working. Tho I did work all weekend….ca va. She also has a hard time focusing. She repeats herself a lot, and totally pulled a Devil Wears Prada the day before last when she actually said, ‘now, where is that piece of paper I had in my hand yesterday that had the thing on it?’. Being brilliantly in sync, I knew exactly what she was talking about ;-) Overall, its fantastic, but it ends when she goes back to the States a week from Monday. And she has family stuff to do this week, which means I can’t work for her every day. The real reason I’m antsy about this is that I can’t tell my other job how available I am.

Now to the other job. I got hired with Esprit, the number one event waiting company in Britain. They work for a million different companies and events, and Christmas is crazy for them. They do holiday parties almost every day, and work everywhere from Wimbledon (did you know you can do parties there?? Like the sky box at Fenway) to private country homes to the Palace (they did the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday party. Apparently Prince Harry is a douche). The funniest story we heard was when they were telling us about their apparel requirements. Its not too bad—I have to go buy a black shirt with ¾ length sleeves and some ‘shiny polishable shoes’—but Sir Elton John hires them a lot to do his private parties, and he’ll only hire the boys. When he does, if you are assigned to serve him at the head table, they are required to wear pink hot pants, a sparkly vest, and a pink boa. No lie. We saw pictures. One of the guys at the training session almost peed himself. Anywho, we had a 5 hour long training on how to set the tables, what to do at the bar, how to serve champagne and what not to say (you can’t say ‘would you like some more?’ because that implies the person is an alcoholic. I’m totally going to screw that up), and how to set and serve at the table. These are high power hard core Brits here: we can only serve over the person’s left shoulder, then pour wine, clear, and refill water on the right hand side; we learned how to properly set the table and how to line things up evenly; and then how to serve and clear in formation and in sync. Like I said, hardcore. But the people seemed really fun and nice, and I loved everyone at the training. I’m working my first gig for them on Saturday, as long as the plague has subsided. After that, they said they have work for me every day—I just have to figure out a clear schedule with Johanna first. If not, I’ll still have almost 2 weeks before Christmas to work for them.

In other news, I am getting a room! Let's call it my Happy New Year's present. I finally found a place that works. It’s more then I wanted to pay, but the deal can’t be beat. I’m going to be living in South Kensington, off of Glouster Road. For those of you who don’t know, this is the upper crust area. There is a hotel 2 buildings down from mine that goes for ₤2,000 a night. My room is in the basement of a building with 6 other girls. We are all Bunac-ers, and all American (kinda bummed about that, but what are ya going to do). The guy who rents the rooms out is Scottish, and has a deal with Bunac. We have access to a private garden (like the one Julia and Hugh climb into in Notting Hill. It’s amazing—think Eden) and are 5 minutes walk from the Tube station, laundry mat, 24 hour Sainsbury’s aka grocery store, plus little shops and cafes. Its 10-15 minutes walk to Hyde Park, my FAVORITE part of London, and is in Zone 1 so very central. As for the money, no deposit and 28 day contracts. I can stay for a month, and if it’s too much, move out. It comes with all bills included, free wi-fi, tv, vcr, linens, utensils, pots, pans, microwave, my own mini fridge/freezer, 2 burner hot plate, kettle, and a lot of storage space. Now, ignoring the mess of the chick who lives there now, for a mere ₤440 a month in a ₤2,000 a night neighborhood, starting Jan. 5th, 2009, here is my room:

Ok, so the shower (in the back right corner, where the bathrobe is) and kitchen (bottom left corner, with the sink under the mirror) are in the room with me, and it’s about the same size as the room I had in college. The closets are on either side of where I'm standing, so it has more storage then it looks...even if it's kind of tight. Who cares? It’s a place to rest my head, store all my stuff, has a window, lets me live in a great area, and is all mine. I’d never be able to get a place without a deposit, and especially now since I’d only be able to sign a lease for a few months. I’m relatively happy about it.

As for everything else, my plan to sublet from my friend for Christmas fell through, so it looks like I’m going to be staying at the hostel. Other then the cost thing, that’s ok. I told my friends here I was moving out next month and they were all really sad. Even AJ the manager was bummed-‘I need someone to keep these yabos in line’ I think was his wording. So here I’ll stay. I’ve been paying on a weekly basis, but I need to figure out my plans soon. Christmas isn’t too bad, but if I’m here for New Years, I need to book asap. I may talk to AJ tomorrow and see if I can pay for New Year’s Eve and Day now, but the rest on a weekly basis. That’s where all my Jo money is going. I did get to set up and decorate the Christmas tree here. I’ll post a picture soon. I was pretty proud of it—for a fake tree, it looks pretty sweet.

I’m going to go take a nap and try not to hack up a lung, but I’ll write more soon. As a treat, since I don’t have to work tomorrow, I’m taking myself out tonight. In true geekdom, but at the same time for the love of, I’m going to the Waterstone Piccadilly bookstore, the largest bookstore in Europe, for the release party of JK Rowling’s Tales of the Beedle Bard. For those out of the loop, this is the book of wizarding myths left to Hermione by Dumbledore in the last Harry Potter book. JK decided to write out the whole book, and have it published. It even includes hand drawings by the author. MuggleCast, the #1 Harry Potter podcast, is hosting the party, so it should be good. I gotta figure out the buses to get back tho.

More to come, I’m sure. I miss you all, and wish I could be with you for one of my favorite times of year.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Phi Mu Sisters Take London By Storm

This has been a busy week, but I want to start off with talking about last weekend, and amazing time I had when my sorority sister came from Budapest for a few days. Courtney brings Phi Mu lovin', the sunshine, adventures...and apparently she is my good luck charm. We have had a crazy weekend, and it all started as soon as she stepped off the plane.

I went into Heathrow to pick Courtney up on Weds. afternoon. On the way back, I had to stop at the Bunac office to pick some mail, so we took the double decker bus from King's Cross. After Bunac, we went up to the Sainsbury's in Isling, and got groceries for the next few days. We came back to the hostel, made dinner, and made plans for the next few days. We decided that Thursday would be a tourist day, and it was exactly what I needed. I've been here long enough to know my away around, but hadn't been around places to appreciate them as much as I wanted. Here is a picture catalog of our first day:

We went down to Trafalgar Square, and walked by the fountains. This was Courtney's first exposure to the more well known London.

Being true Phi Mus, we had to have our pictures taken in front of the lions.

We walked down to Big Ben....

And Westminster Abbey.

Then we crossed the bridge to the Queen's Path on the South Bank. We had lunch under one of the bridges and walked back to Charring Cross.

We went back to the hostel to grab some food and decide what to do that night. A few guys were going to see Spamalot, so we decided that sounded cool. But before we went there, I had read that Bond Street was doing it's Christmas lighting. Bond Street is the most expensive street in London, with shops like Cartier, Tiffany's, and Gucci, and is located across from the Ritz. They had the lighting of the Christmas decorations, and we went down.

They were so beautiful. They even had 'snow' : really, it was about a dozen bubble machines, but it looked like the real thing. Every few feet there was a dancing elf, or a string quartet, or carolers. Plus, a lot of shops were giving out free samples, so we each got a chocolate and some marshmallows.

So we hiked back down to the discount booths in Leicester Square. At this point, Courtney was feeling a little shaky about money, and I had already seen the show,so we opted for the ₤15 seats in the Upper Balcony aka the nosebleed section. We got slices of pizza off a vendor, and ate them as we walked down to the theatre. We got there really early, and went in, thinking we would have to camp out somewhere in the top and rent binoculars or something. The woman looks at our tickets, and says 'The balcony is closed this evening. Head over to the booth, and they will adjust your seating.' We're like crap, where else can they put us. The woman looks at our tickets, checks off a list, and says with a smile 'Just down the stairs, to your left.' Down the stairs? Like to the stalls? Like on the floor?? We go sit in the bar to wait, where we met these two nice guys (our parents' age) who are American, but have been working on planes for the state department in Japan for a few months. One of them goes to church with one of the girls I know from Vagina Monologues!! Small world. Anywho, they open the doors, and we go to find our seats. We are in *Drumroll* 5th row, center. Thats right. 15 quid, and we're in (normally) 75-100 pound seats. GO US!! The show was fantastic, we got sprayed with confetti at the end, and we loved every minute of it. It was nice to see what some of the actors looked like up close, tho I did have 'We're Not Dead Yet' stuck in my head for 3 days.

The next few days were great. We went to the National Portrait Gallery, walked around Oxford Circus, went to Portebella Road Market (got Christmas presents)
and Borough Food Market (amazing samples), met up with Hannah (the sister I met from Virginia) and went to the Mudlark pub (famous bangers and mash and being the location for the Three Broomsticks in the Harry Potter movies), went out for Sunday roast, walked in Kensington Park and found the Peter Pan statue, and ended the whole thing with a little trip to Platform 9 and 3/4.

The nicest parts were that we had a good time no matter what we were doing, we got along the whole time, and we got to Skype with a bunch of sisters at home. It was glorious.

Next entry, job updates!! And possibly flat updates...I'll tell you when I get back...


Monday, November 24, 2008

Work News

So I have updates for this week, and the biggest being, I got job(s)! Kind of...I start one on Thursday as a research assistant for an unmarked period of time, but will probably only be for a few weeks. The other I have a training session/interview for, which is with an event company that sends wait staff, hostesses, etc. to events. Here are the details.

Monday: I have been talking to different sorority sisters online for a few weeks now, and Monday I finally met one! Hannah from Virginia, who come over to the UK for grad school and is doing everything not to leave. She is the cutest thing, and so down to earth. She was wearing sparkles, everywhere, and had this confidence about her I hope for. I met her in her neighborhood, and we walked around for a bit before going to see a movie. We sat and talked about our chapters, international experiences, family. This is why I love Phi Mu-we connected right away. She mentioned that she was also looking for work, but for spare money, she contacted Esprit. They are an event firm that provides hostesses, waitresses, etc. for different parties, events, etc. I had heard of them before, but wasn't sure about hours. Hannah sent me an email address, and I sent in a resume.

Tuesday: So I got up for another day of searching, and I get a call from Suzi at Esprit. We chat for a bit, and she asks me if I can come in next week for a interview/training session. Woohoo-I'm going to be a waitress! It pays 6 pounds an hour, and she said that the hours are up to me--its my availability that determines how much I'm working. With the holiday season coming up, and the fact that I'm in town for the holidays, I could work up to 60 hours a week. That would kill me, but I knew I was going to be working my butt off after being unemployed for almost a month and a half. Besides, it'll be good to be busy.

Weds: I get up, thrilled because Courtney is coming to visit for 6 days! For those of you who don't know, she is one of my sorority sisters from home who is studying at McDaniel's sister campus in Budapest, Hungry. Courtney was one of my Phis when I was Provisional Membership director, and I've always felt like we could be a lot closer if we could just have more time together. We are very similar in our likes, our temperaments, and what we want to experience in life. I was really excited.

I also got an email from Bunac that morning saying there was a woman looking for someone to do research for them. I called her, and about 20 minutes into the conversation, I found myself writing down directions to her house for my first day! To backtrack: I called Bunac and told them I still hadn't found anything. I then sent them a list of all the places I had applied, and what I had been sending them. I got a call later that day from Louise, one of the staff members. She said that for a few days, she was going to email me jobs directly at the same time she posted them as available on the Bunac boards. She was a little worried because people who had weaker resumes then me were getting hired for posts. So she sent me a few emails, and I called this woman because it was the first one I got. Her name is Johanna, and she is the managing director for a company called Potencium. They design team building, training, development, and mentoring programs for companies. She does a lot of these programs in the States, and is based out of UCLA. She lives most of the time in LA, and is only here for a few weeks, but needs someone to do research for a program for Women in the Workplace. She was talking very quickly, but from what she said, I can work from her home, pretty easy hours (11am-6pm) at 8 pounds an hour, 5 days a week. I start work with her on Thursday, so I'll let you know how it goes.

The only reason I'm not jumping out of my skin about these jobs are a)I still haven't started them yet, so I'm still a little up in the air to what I'm doing; b) the research job at least is temporary, but that might be different once I start and know what the hell I'm doing; and c) I'm just frustrated that it has taken me this long, and still all I could get was a 2 week gig, and waitressing. The waitress thing is a side job, so I'm still open to other stuff once I know about the research job, but I dunno...I just want to work, I don't care at what now. I just wish I knew when!!

A job is a job is a job. And it would be really great to be out of the hostel for Christmas. I'll let you know by the end of this week what I've gotten myself into :)


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Just Keep Swimming, Just Keep Swimming...

Hi all-

After freaking out about no job, no flat and all that, I kind of had a 'pop!' moment. I was walking down to the tube, and I realized that if I was at home, I'd be doing this same thing. But I'd be home, in this little safety net, doing the same thing and not experiencing anything. And the truth is, despite how stressful the last few weeks have been, I wouldn't given them up for the world. I've proven to myself that I can interact on an international level, and come away pretty strong. I can learn my way around a new city (one of the most confusing cities EVER!!! so many roads lead to no where, and nothing intersects the way you think it will). Despite having to get more money from home, I've handled budgeting pretty well, being aware of living costs. I feel that confidence everone always seemed to see in me. Its because of all this crap that I feel that. I talked to Mom last night, and she had a similar kind of moment where she realized as much as she wants to help me, I'm still doing pretty good all things considered. We both kept cracking up because our mic connection on Skype was bad and all I could hear was 'So I think *Static*' or 'This is a good idea *silence*'

Overall, I'm loosening up. This doesn't mean I'm giving up or anything, but I've resolved to be here, keep looking for a job, all that, but I'm going to stay at the hostel for a bit. At least until I find a job. As much as the bed sucks, the rent isn't bad, I have a kitchen and unlimited movies and wi-fi, and I've made friends here. I've re-packed my bags and done laundry to get organized, and am making plans. Courtney is coming on Weds., so I'm going to take the week off from all the stress and enjoy. I've been sending out CVs all morning, and will check in, and I'll set a general spending limit for the weekend, but I'm going to have some fun.

In general news, after my night of 'pop!', I decided to do a London-y thing--I took myself to a musical. Spamalot to be exact (the one based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail) There are all these stalls around Leister Square that sell cheap tickets. I got front row center balcony (normally a 75-105 pound ticket) for 25. Thats right, 25 quid. I went alone, and had the best time. I laughed so hard (I love the Knights that Say Niet!--if you haven't seen the movie, you totally should. It's excellent) and left in a really good mood. I kind of like doing stuff like that on my own. I can just enjoy it for myself, and not worry about what the person I'm with thinks or if they are bored. For some reason, I do that a lot when I go out. But this was just for me.

On Friday night, I shared a few drinks with some of the girls at the hostel and we all sat around in the kitchen with the guys and talked about life, travel, culture, everything, until 4am. It was so awesome--exactly the kind of experience I was looking for. Saturday night, I went out with Jac, her friend from home Erica, and her boyfriend Chris. We went to this intimate club called Juno in Old Street, and had a really great time. Sunday was kind of a re-coop/laundry/bumming around day.

In Thanksgiving news, I talked to the manager here, and he said if I wanted, I could collect money from people here and make it here. Its doable, but I'd have to get a pre-cooked bird. The mini-stoves aren't big enough. People here got ubber hyped about it, and it might be cool--bringing all nations together to gorge on food. Could be a really nice way to spend the holiday. Tho I proved I was a sucky American: I totally thought it was this week, not next. Its like summer here: time has no meaning since I don't have anything to mark it by. Good and bad thing. Plus, the manager loves to tease. I went down this morning to book in another week, and he said his bet is I'll be here until January 3rd--apparently I'm already down to do vegetables for Christmas. Boob.

I'm going to go plan some activities for Courtney and I. Maybe we'll get out of the city for a day and go to Oxford or something. Check in for Adventures of Phi Mu's Abroad soon!


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hard but Not Beaten

Dr. Phil says that if you don't have a job, you should make looking for one your job. This means 8 hours a day, 5 days (or more) a week, you should be doing everything possible to find a job. So thats what I've been doing.

I'm still at London Backpackers. Surprisingly, the longer I've been here, the more settled I've been. I like having the longer tube ride back, so I have some time to just be with my thoughts. They moved me into the 'long term' room--means discounts as you book in weeks instead of nights, only 15 beds, and I get to know people better. There are a lot of Aussies staying here, and now we're friends. I know names, we smile more and move over when someone wants to sit on the couch to watch whatever movie is on, and we keep an eye out for each other. Its been nice. They are all in the same boat as me--job hunting, job having but in retail or service, or just bumming around. The free wi-fi is a lifesaver, and I found a grocery store and got things to save money. The really stinky french guy left. And I've kind of become a pet--I'm the only American in the hostel, and they all get a kick out of that. I think they also see how bummed out I get after looking at an apartment and not finding it, or when I don't hear back from jobs.

I think the reason I haven't been updating is because I don't want to disappoint anyone, even myself. Nicole, Nathalie, Jac and I decided to look on our own for places, and more importantly, look in different areas. Its hard, but it should be easier to find places when we all have different goals in mind. I honestly think I'd be ok staying here for a few more weeks and saving up more money to find a better place/room. The only thing I'm worried about is Courtney is coming to visit next week, and I don't have a place for her right now. I suppose I can ask her to book into the hostel, but it would be better to have some space. I've been writing down a lot of numbers and looking for a lot of different types of rooms, studios, or houses. I looked at 2 on my own, but the guy who showed me the first was kind of creepy, and the 2nd guy was going to let me have my room, the bathroom, and the kitchen, but I wasn't allowed access to the living room or dining area until he felt he could trust me. Go figure.

The job thing is back and forth. One of the temp agencies sent in my stuff for a great job at Regents College. Its in their Humanities and Arts department as an admin assistant. The department is in charge of arranging trustees meetings, school activities, graduation, etc., and is right in Regent's Park. It pays 9.50 an hour, and is a temp to rolling position. I really really really want it, but they have been dragging their feet for 3 days now, and the temp agency called to tell me that they had someone apply for it that use to have that job, so now they are taking the weekend to consider everyone and everything. Originally I felt really good about it--my resume has a lot of that type of stuff--but if someone who already had the position before me applied, then I'm not sure how I can compete with that. I've sent out 45 resumes since I've been here, and tried following up on most of them. Some have had the positions filled, some have said no thanks, some have just ignored me. I don't know what to do at this point, but keep plugging away. I think I'm going to look at hotel and live in jobs for a while. Something will come. It has to.

Other then that, things have been ok. I went out to an Indian place the other night with the girls. I walked around Oxford Street in the rain and looked at the shops. I bought postcards that I just have to get stamps for. I walked around Westminster. I'm still here.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Treading Water

First of all, I need to congratulate the American nation for having the intelligence to elect our new president, Barack Obama. I stayed up til 3:30am at the ISH bar watching the coverage, and I gotta say having a bar full of Americans definitely gives the place a different vibe. I'm not sure how exactly how to describe it, but its almost like I had just let out a sigh--I didn't have to wonder how to behave. Anywoo, go Obama and thanks to my play by play coverage ;-)

Now we come to news: All of it. So I'm going to simplify things into sections:

Still lacking. But with prospects. The job interview I went on on Monday was for an office assistant at a firm that designs and builds luxury hotels and resorts world-wide. I would have been crazy busy, but they seemed like good people. The interview went really well, they gave me a tour of the building, I thought I was a shoe in. On Tuesday morning, I got a very polite email saying that I had a brilliant interview and I came off confidant and capable, but there was an interview right after me with a Canadian girl who had a year long visa, so they went with her. Makes sense, someone in the company longer is good, but still!! I didn't hear anything yesterday, the today I got called in for three interviews tomorrow :) I have 2 in the morning: both at temp agencies. This is both good and bad--I think they both were offering jobs that I applied for and thats how they heard about me, but still. The last one is at Felix Marketing--I have no idea what the job is, but hey! Could be good.

UPDATE: I am such a bad blogger. I went to all three interviews. The first two were at temp agencies, so I am now registered with them. Yay :) The third was at this marketing firm, and the interview got me really excited: they promote client's products at events. I figure hey, it'll just be like doing a CMN event and promoting Phi Mu, something I can do very well, but also interests me. The guy was really great, and invited me back for a second interview tomorrow!! Woo excitement....

But wait....

As with everything, there is a catch. I re-read the email I received from them and 3 things popped out at me: personal sales, OTE, and commission. Basically, its the knives all over again. For those of you who don't know, I answered an ad in the paper a few years ago that said a sales group had openings making $16.50 per hour. Sounded great. When I got there, I found out that it was a job selling knives from door to door, and the interview consisted of a 2 hour long demo of the knives, then explaining how to set up appointments. They only invited 3 out of the 15 of us to join the team. I was one of them, and the guy looked at me and said 'You're not going to take this, are you?' NOPE. Sorry, but I don't want to live on commission and its bad enough with the culture shock--I am not going to spend all my time here trying to talk people into buying crap when they won't even smile back at me on the Tube. Uhg.

Worst part is, I might be ok at it. Good, even. I have another interview with them tomorrow morning--I can always say no. I'm going to go collect retail applications this weekend. I'll turn them in Monday, and then work my temp stuff around them, if I even get any.

Flat Hunting:
In a nutshell, nada. We split from 2 to 4 back to 2, but different pairs. Jac and I are looking to stay together, but this is proving difficult as our jobs seem to be in different areas and we plain just can't seem to find a place together. After my interview tomorrow, we are going to sit down and really look hard at what needs to be done to get us in a place. As of Saturday morning at 10am, I am out on the street. I refuse to move again unless its into a place, and my hostel is booked solid until Monday. I would like to say I can just say screw it and move to a place in the city, but for some reason, everywhere is booking up, so places are costing more. This is a problem as I am trying to manage my funds. Jac said she would put a deposit on a place for us, since she has more money and will get it all back. I have enough in my account for first months rent in our price range, then just enough to keep me alive until I get a paycheck. If I get one in the next month. Which may or may not happen.

I'm going to be selling crap to crabby Brits, aren't I? Ca va....

Moments here and there. The hostel is better as I've become a regular. Tho I need to do laundry so bad, and I'm starting to smell like my room. Not cool.

I know the Tube pretty well.
I really want to do the Haggis Tour to Scotland for 3 days where you stay in a castle, there are parties and lots of snowy Christmas cheer, and its actually not bad on price...if I can get a job.
I have good friends who care about me enough to text before interviews and are always up for a drink after a hard day.

I'm doing ok. But I need to get these things, or I'm not going to be able to relax and enjoy. This chick I met at the Bunac office said that if we can't get anything in 2 weeks, we should go to Edinburgh. I love London, but I wanted to see more on this trip. Maybe its something to think about.

I miss you. All of you.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Part 2

We got back to the hostel and got ready to go out for Halloween. Bunac had some space reserved at an Australian club called the Walkabout. Basically, we told the guy on the door that we were with Bunac, and he'd let us skip the line and get in free. Halloween here is not a big deal--people don't really get dressed up, not many kids actually go trick or treating-very different then home. Being good ol' North American gals, we went all out. Nicole was the most brilliant--everywhere you go here, you hear 'Mind the Gap' on the Tube. So she had the idea to cover herself in red paint (which got all over the rest of us) and write on a shirt 'I didn't Mind the Gap'. People on the Tube thought it was pretty funny. Nathalie got some black wings and went as a dark fairy. Jac, with only my sailing knots and a belt to hold her up, went as a Greek Goddess. And I recycled last year's Disney social costume and went as Alice in Wonderland. I think we turned out well.

We went down to the ISH bar first. That was more like a classic Halloween party. The only downside: Creeper McCreeperson who hit on Jac in the first 3 minutes in there, then bought us all a round of drinks and left his friend to try to distract us while he tried to get Jac alone. She gave him her number because he said he worked at Sony and could get us all jobs, then we left to go the Bunac thing. We were literally gone 5 minutes before he called her, 3 times in a row! He was trying to come with us, so she finally blocked him and we headed out. The club was cool. It was in a restored church, and had 2 dance floors and 3 levels. They played everything--I mean everything. Pop, rock, techno, hip hop, showtunes, everything. Bre, I thought of you during '5, 6, 7, 8' ;-) We were there until 3am, then got the night bus back to ISH where we crashed hard.

We got up early to go back to look at the dream house. We met up with T, the really cute agent, and Nicole of course loved it. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to take it. EXCITEMENT!! T drove us back to the office to sign the paperwork. Now, the guy we dealt with was nice, but there were things we weren't aware of-such as, the landlord wanted us to pay 75 quid each to pay for our background checks, and that plus deposit plus security would have wiped me out. I literally would have had nothing left until my first paycheck. After talking it over, we decided to sign the papers, and that we would figure something out for me. I left the other girls, grabbed a 65p sandwich from Tesco, and trudged back to my hostel. The whole time, I am stressing and anxious, because this is a big scary decision. But I'm resolved. I'll call home and cash in some savings bonds, take the money I have in my Key account, whatever it takes. I get off the train, and am in the hostel uploading pictures and figuring out how exactly to tell my parents and then ask to borrow some survival cash, when my phone beeps with a message. Apparently, the landlord (who we never saw) has decided that he doesn't want to let the place go for a 6 month lease, and isn't comfortable giving it to girls who don't have UK references. So even tho we signed a deposit and gave the guy 400 pounds, we're out. Luckily, we get the deposit back, but still!!! I called the other girls to tell them, then got on Skype to talk to Mom and Dad.

Honestly, part of me was a little relieved. It was a big step, and a LOT of money. Any place is going to be like that, but I don't want to be somewhere where they jerk us around like that. It was disappointing and emotionally draining. Not cool. Sunday, I took the day off. I called some places and prepared for my interview today. In the afternoon, we got a call from another place. This one is in West Dulwich-about 15 minutes outside of the central city. Cheaper then the last place. Still a house. I called the girls and we decided to take a peek. Jac and I met up in Covent Garden and walked around for a while before, and went to a pub called The Wellington for Sunday Roast dinner. Really good, and pretty cheap. We had treacle tart for dessert, because I'm a huge dork and have read about it in Harry Potter for the last decade having NO IDEA what it was. It was like a blond brownie--but better. We took the train out and met Nicole and Nathalie. Then, we saw the place. I really really like it. It had high ceilings, access to a private community garden, and was really close to the bus and train. The others were a little worried about the distance, but I told them for me, I've always commuted. And it might be nice to be a little outside the city and be able to explore. I mean, its only 15 minutes across the river.

I think we may end up taking it, but I don't want to get my hopes up. I have my interview at WATG this morning for a receptionist gig. The more I look at the website, the more I want this job (www.watg.com) Its a company that designs hotels and resorts all over the world. It looks interesting, and the mission statement is “to design experiences that lift the spirit.” Sounds like me, huh? Wish me luck!! Maybe by the end of the day, I'll have a job and a house!!


Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Really Great, the Hopeful but Scared, and the Down and Dirty

It has been a hell of a week. All kinds of, but crazy all around.

So, last we left I had made some friends, sent out a lot of jobs and was looking for a two person flat. Currently, I have a bigger group of friends, have 2 interviews next week, and had a DREAM HOUSE for 4 that was ripped out from under me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Wednesday morning, I finally made my way over to Bunac once again. I checked some more jobs, then Nicole and I were off to see an apartment. It was really nice--brand new, never been lived in, balcony, big beds. However, the guy showed it to us even after someone else had put in a deposit. What is this, tempt the poor foreign girls?? We loved it, and only minimally mourned its loss. I had to go to the bank to pick up my debit card after that, and then I met back up with Nicole to look at another place. This one was way the heck out in Canada Water (about 35 minutes out of the city) and we got all the way out there to be told by the landlord that he got a call and wanted to go out, so could he call us back? Great. Jerk. We turned around, and met Jac and Nathalie for dinner at this Canadian bar called the Maple Leaf. This is where the day picked up. The four of us just click so well. Nicole and Nathalie laugh together a lot, while Jac and I are more laid back, but we can interchange as well. This bar was awesome--we had good Canadian food, and beer, and this amazing ubber dessert. Nathalie got this huge kick out of the fact that Nicole’s cheeseburger came with an egg on it. (ps pass on the beef in England—not very tasty-must not use that good Angus cattle ;-)) We stayed at the pub and watched a football game for a while--it was really funny to see how crazy all the guys in the pub got when anyone scored a goal. The New Zealand boys showed up for a bit, then I had to take off to catch the Tube.

Thursday, I went into town around noon, and met up with Nathalie, Rob, Bradley and Paul (aka NZ boys). We walked through Regent Park and went to the London Zoo. It wasn't crowded because it was drizzly, but it was kind of depressing. I think that was more because of the rain, and all the animals were hiding out, but even still. We went to the cafe and had some snacks, then headed back to ISH. There, Nicole and I met up and went back to her room to talk flats. While we were there, Nathalie came in, then Jac, and before we knew it, we were looking for 4 person instead of 2. We found a few places, made some calls, then went to meet Nathalie's friend for dinner. We went to this place called Pizza Express on Baker Street, (much posher then it sounds, but still cheap) then went to look at our first place. It was so tiny--4 bedrooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. We'd be tripping over ourselves. It could have fit on the first floor of my parents house. Oh well, first one maybe a 6 out of 10.

Friday morning, I did....something. Probably emailed and worked on looking for work. I did get an email back for an interview tho!! It's at WATG--a design firm--in central London--they do hotels and stuff all over the world. They need a receptionist, its 8 pounds an hour, 40 hours a week, for the whole 6 months. I have the interview tomorrow at 11, so fingers crossed! The lady I talked to was really sweet. It would be really great to get involved as it is an international company. Not to brag, but I'm good at the interview thing. I just hope I'm British good. After this exciting news, I head in to meet the girls to look at another place. It is BEAUTIFUL!! Its a brand new house, huge, 2 1/2 bathrooms, living room, great kitchen, backyard, everything. We LOVED it. Nicole couldn't meet us, so we told the guy we had to talk to her, but we'd get back. We went back to ISH, and got ready to go out for Halloween.

Hate to run, but I have to meet Jac for tea! Will continue this story tonight--believe me, it's got some fun twists.

To be continued,

PS I love this blog. Its made me realize how much I love writing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Job Searching, roommate, and museum

So the last couple of days have been busy. At least its getting so that I’m so exhausted when I get back to the crappy hostel, I fall and stay asleep, and the smell doesn’t bother me until I get back from the shower (I have French men in my room. French men apparently don’t shower. Its really disgusting).

What have I been up to? A fair amount, actually. After I moved in here on Sunday, I got up realllllly early on Monday and headed into Bunac. London is divided into Zones, Zone 1 being the center of the City, Zone 2 being more residential, but still considered City-ish, Zone 3 starting to feel like Westbrook or Gorham—smaller communities, but still have some sort of life to them, and then Zone 4 is way out in the boonies, mostly residential. My stop on the Northern Line of the Tube is literally on the border of Zones 3 and 4. Not that this is way out of the city, but it takes me 45 minutes to an hour to get back into any central part of London. The Tube is costing so much that I'm cutting back on food, which can't be good. Today I get to pick up my bank card, which will help me feel a little bit better, but I still haven't touched the stash of cash in my passport wallet. I'm terrified it won't be enough for a deposit (tho it should be) and that I may lose a really good apartment or something. Ahhh, stress.

Anywho, Monday is a Bunac day. I went into the office early in the morning, and set to work looking for a job and apartments. I registered with this site called spareroom.com. They have a lot of listings for places, and once I narrowed it down to Zones 1 and 2, and made sure to say I was looking for 2 rooms (for me and Nicole), I was able to find a far amount. We're trying to stay under 400 pounds a month (again, trying not to think about the conversion rate as that would just cause immense depression) with the idea that as long as we get jobs where we get paid 250 a week, we should be all set. I ended up contacting 15 different people, and set up some appointments to look at places. I then proceeded to send out my CV to every job listing I could see. I was holding back because I had been waiting on Kelly Services and to hear from Aunt Kate to see if she had a contact here. I haven't heard from either, so I figured it wouldn't hurt. And I can hear my parents going 'you idiot, of course you apply to EVERYTHING first, not hold out!' Thank you, I'm aware. :-) I ended up emailing out 14 CVs, and Bunac said to give them a week to answer back. So now we wait.

After being productive all day, I ended up going back to the International Students House (ISH) with Jac. We went to the pub and I finally had my first British pint. They had really cheap good food too-I got a fish sandwich, and it came with good thick cut fries and a salad. When we were up at the bar ordering, this New Zealand guy I met at Bunac came over to say hi. I had run into him and his friends last week at Bunac when they were looking for a new hostel to switch to. I told them how my friends had like ISH, and maybe they should check it out. They moved there the next day, and had been there all week. It was pretty cool to see them again. They ended up joining us (Paul, Bradley and Rob) and Rob even bought us a round. It was a different vibe--there wasn't any real girl/boy pressure of flirting or anything--we were just meeting and getting to know each other. At home, you do that, but even with your friends, there is this underlying...tension. None of that here. May of helped that Paul said that North American girls were too outgoing, and therefore, they wouldn't be interested in them.

Came back to the hostel--the tube stopped twice on the way back so it took me almost and hour and a half to get back. London Backpackers has a curfew at 10pm--they lock you out after that unless you leave a deposit for a key. Honestly, I'm too sketched to be out alone at night for too long anyway, so it works out for me. I need to get the key for tomorrow night and Friday tho--Thursday, Jac and I may be going out with Dominic and Abbie-Brits we met on the street when we went to the bank last week. They were the ones who sold Jac the makeover day thing we're doing together. Even after she got it, we stayed on the street and talked for 20 minutes. Dominic gave us his number in case we ever wanted to get together, so Jac texted him and he said he'd check with Abbie. Then Friday night is Halloween, which is not a big deal here at all. Seriously, the kids don't even really go trick or treating or anything. But Bunac is having a pub night at a place thats having a Halloween come-in-costume party. I'm going to go as Alice in Wonderland. Again :) I mean, white skirt, blue shirt, black headband. I get a costume, but also can pass as just looking really dressed up.

Yesterday was a little more hectic. I ended up spending the morning at the British National History Museum. This is the Museum that is near my old hostel, Hyde Park. It was so funny to get off at South Kensington and feel like I was back in my neighborhood. I met this girl Jenny (From South Carolina, met on Facebook) who has been here a few weeks, but is going home next week. She said she did a lot of traveling in the UK and just felt like she didn't want to ruin London by becoming part of the Rat Race within it. .....ok..... When I finally got there, there was a 30 minute line to get in. Most of the museums are free here, and all the kids are out on school holiday right now. This is where I was in line when I first got there.
The museum itself was really nice, but had a bajillion kids in it. We went through the minerals room, the vault (which has all kinds of precious gems in it) the human biology section, mammals, and underwater creatures. The line to see the dinosaurs was 45 minutes long. They had signs. It was insane. I want to go back on another day when its not so crazy.

After the museum, we headed to Bunac. Jac and Nicole were both there, and I talked to Nicole about apartments and what ones we could go see that night. Jenny took off, and later that evening, Jac, Nicole, myself and Natalie (from Quebec) went to another all-you-can eat cheapo Thai place for dinner. It was really great to be able to hang out and chat with some girlfriends. Nicole and I left around 7, and out of the 3 flats we were suppose to see, we only saw one because the tube was late, and so were we. The flat we saw was....ok. Basically, it had a kitchen and bathroom, and then we would get the top floor--a single room with a single bed, and a double room with a double bed and a couch/hang out area in it. It smelled like cigarettes were used as the air freshener. It was in our price range, but was off a side street that seemed a little weird, even tho the woman living there said it was near a lot of Council housing and was safe. We gave it a 5/10, and are looking at 3-4 more today.

Overall, things are ok. I don't like coming back to this hostel, so that always puts a damper on the end of the day, but hopefully that won't be for much longer. Same goes for the job searching. I like my friends here, and London, but I feel like the stress is outweighing that right now and making things clouded. I just want to settle, and then I feel like things will click--I can plan trips, and cook food, and finally let myself be happy. Everyone said the first few weeks were the hardest. They got that right. There was one thing last night that was kind of cool....

Snow :)

More to come soon-

PS Here is a link to more pictures I posted: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2025817&l=02bb6&id=53000651

Sunday, October 26, 2008

From a Palace to the Pits

So devastatingly, I had to change hostels today. I just needed to go to a cheaper one for a while, at least for a week or so to save some money. The tube trip was not as bad as my first wild adventure from Heathrow, tho the Tube itself was a pain in the butt.

I had to take the circle line to King's Cross, then switch to the Northern line, then switch again since it branches off in two different directions. Basically--less stairs, didn't fall down, had a number of very nice (and very teasing 'what do you have in here, a body??') gentleman help me with my bags up and stairs, and didn't pass out. I did yell 'Fuck!' in one of the stations when I dropped the bag with my computer in it. No harm, but still felt...less then ladylike. Finally, I got on the last Tube I needed to take.

My last hostel was heaven. It was light and airy, I was making friends, there were plenty of bathrooms, and there was always tea on. Plus, the location couldn't be beat: On Hyde Park, 10 minutes walk to the tube, museums everywhere. And no curfew. Then I came...here. London Backpackers. Overall, could be worst, especially for 7pounds a night. However, compared to Astor Hyde Park, its the pits. It is almost 40 minutes outside of downtown London (I had previously been 10). The rooms...They made me change because they put me in the wrong one, I had to make my own bed (not a huge deal, but the other place did it for you), and I went from a high ceiling private bath with floor to ceiling windows opening out onto a balcony...to 18 beds, a bathroom with only 3 showers a floor above me, and a tiny window that the guy who went to bed at 7 has been complaining about all night. Oh, and did I mention the beds were triple bunked? Thats right-not one, not two, but THREE beds high!! I feel like a sardine. I am in a middle bunk--Thought about trying for a top, but honestly, I'd probably get tangled in the sheet and fall out. Also, the hallways are painted with all these cartoons and stuff, but they are painted on cement walls...its like kiddy prison. There is a kitchen, and free wi-fi, but no all you can eat toast-Nutella and tea breakfast, no comfy lounge to curl up in to be online, and as for the smell...gym socks come to mind. OH, and 10pm curfew. 5 pound deposit for a special key to get you back in. PAIN in the BUTT!

Today wasn't a total wash tho. There are three girls staying in my room from Georgia who are all doing the Bunac program in Scotland and are here for a long weekend. I went back into town after dropping all my crap off to go find Nicole at the ISH house. I got there, after a 45 minute trek in, and called her room with no answer. However, who should appear around the corner, but JAC!! (Canadian friend I met at Bunac--awesome girl--clicked like crazy) She saw me and was as happy as I was! Apparently, she and Hollie never got my message and thought I dropped off the face of the earth. Thank god I'm the only Emica on facebook, or they never would have found me ;-) She had just finished messaging me. I got around the reception desk, and got my first hug since I've been here. If you know me, you know what that means. If you don't, meet me and you will.

We went to her room and caught up on activities. She has a friend who is in Italy right now and is thinking of going to stay with her for a bit. I invited her to live with me and Nicole, (and anyone else who wants to) but she said she'd think about it-she's looking for jobs with live-in housing, which isn't a bad idea if I go that route. We decided go get dinner, as neither of us had eaten all day, and Jac had heard about this all you can eat place down the street. We went back to the lobby, and ran into Nicole!! She is very cute and as bubbly as I imagined. I did blanch a bit when I was talking to her and helping with Bunac stuff, and she said 'Aww, you're just like my mom!'. Chya, thats not happening on this trip. We made plans to meet at Bunac tomorrow to talk apartments and such, and Jac and I went to dinner. We talked for over 2 hours, and the food was great--it was all you can eat fresh vegetarian Thai food for 5 pounds (not at ALL like American Asian food--no grease). We walked back to the Tube, and also made plans to meet at Bunac tomorrow.

I miss Hyde Park and all the great people. But another Bunac girl is checking in there tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll be back ;-) Hell, if we can't find a place, I may look into long term stays there. And now that people are getting here, I feel better. Jac and I are already making all kinds of plans (she's going to come to Amsterdam with me and the home boys next summer)--I don't think I've clicked this fast with anyone since freshman year (yes, Meghan, I'm looking at you ;-)) So other then the (temporary) crappy accommodations, things are picking up.

Thank you to those who sent me emails with updates--I love hearing from home!!


First week and moving on

I seriously don't know what I would do without this laptop. I have been on this thing so much I feel like I'm back at work. Well, I suppose I kind of am with looking for work and all. Tho in my first week at the hostel, I've seen about a dozen of those little half computers--the ones that would fit in your purse, about the size of a book. That'd be nice, so I wasn't banging this poor thing up. But I'm still thankful.

So yesterday was pretty uneventful. The hostel is crowded with a lot more strange people, as it's the weekend, and it gives it a kind of 'what are you doing in my house??' vibe. I ended up looking for more jobs in the morning, then I headed out to Oxford Street to get my iPod looked at. Oxford is like Park Avenue meets Exchange Street--a lot of different stores on a major road, but all different types. I found the Apple store pretty quick. After waiting an hour and a half, I got to meet with them for less then a minute for them to reset my iPod. This is what I get for not being a Mac person. However, it did get me out and about. On my way back to the Tube, I was trying to decide if I wanted to go to the London Zoo, or head back to the hostel, maybe go to the British Museum when I got back, when I saw one of the tourist carts with all the 'I Heart London' shirts and all that. But the thing that caught my eye was right at the top--it was a JOEY HAT!!! Before I left home, Mom was talking about the episode of Friends where they all go to Britain for Ross's wedding to Emily, and Chandler doesn't want to hang out with Joey after he gets a floppy Union Jack hat. Joey goes off on his own, and ends up meeting the Duchess of York, who LOVES the hat. When Joey and Chandler are leaving the hotel, Joey opens a pop-up map and stands in it to get his barrings. I need a pop up map. But anywho, I saw the hat!! Next time I'm there on a Saturday, I totally have to get one.

I decided that for the 15 pounds it would take me to go to the zoo, I could feed myself for 3 days, so I headed back to South Kensington. I went and walked around the wildlife garden outside the British Natural History museum. Its really nice--has a small pond, sheep, a fox den, and lots of wildlife. I sat on a bench for a little while, and it all kind of hit me. What I'm doing, the fact that I'm here, the fact that I still don't have a job, and that I'm on my own. I started crying (first time during this whole process) then snapped out of it. I mean, I'm in LONDON. I just started looking for a job YESTERDAY. I decided I just needed a push in the productive direction, so I went back to the hostel (it was raining and cold anyway) and got back online.

I got to Skype with Grammy and Grandpa, Kim, and my family at home (plus Aunt Kate). All that made me feel better. Mom and Bre were teasing me a lot when my mic punked out, and I was laughing so hard I think some of my hostelmates thought I'd 'started on the mickey' a bit early ;-). I took a break for dinner, and met a really great girl from the Channel Islands--Mel. We chatted for a while about the world, moving around, school, and Disney. Needless to say, I love her. :-) I am moving to a cheaper hostel today, and I'm really bummed about it. The people here have been so fantastic, and this morning when I was bringing my stuff down, 3 or 4 different people stopped me and said they were sad I was leaving. I've been here a week, so I've got some of that live in part of the crew thing going. Stupid money!!!

Its ok tho because a girl I've been talking to on Facebook is moving in here tomorrow, so I'll come back and visit. Its great that its so open and cool. This place I'm going to this afternoon has 3 tiered bunk beds. I'm nervous. But Nicole is here today!!! We're meeting this afternoon, so WOOHOO!! I feel like things can really take off now, even tho I want to give her space to get settled. But now we can start apartment searching and all that.

Ok, I'm going to go brave the chilly weather and the Tube once more to get to my new destination. Will be checking in soon, as they have Wi-Fi as well. Miss you all!


Friday, October 24, 2008

Job Hunting

Oh my gosh, 2 posts in one day?!?! She must be ubber lame...

Or ubber money conscious. Unfortunately, I am now limiting myself to a ₤10 per day limit, and that's at max. This limits after dark activity, but whatev--I have all year to catch up on that. And I'm definitely working the daylight hours. Luckily, there is plenty to do for free during the day-walk around, go to landmarks, go the park--plenty.

Today was a working day. By that I mean, I went to Bunac office in the morning, and spent 3 1/2 hours writing down names and job opportunities, working on making my resume into a CV (the really nice girls who work there proofed it for me), tentatively looking at apartments (tho that is hard without knowing where I am going to live, and with my future roommate still being in the US) and generally trying to be productive. I was really proud of myself tho--I figured out a shorter route to the offices with the buses instead of the Tube. Cheaper too. Gold star me.

I didn't find anything I particularly loved, but I emailed myself a ton of websites they had to look at tonight so I didn't have to hog a computer there. It's a lot of temp office work, research, reception and hostess kind of thing. Some of the hotel jobs look ok, and come with housing, but I liked the idea of having a flat--even if I share it with a million people. And new friends, of course :)

After I did all my job stuff, I ended up walking back down to the Tube with a guy from Canada. He wanted to know where the phone store was, and I had been there the day before. He was kinda awkward. He had glasses and liked being in school but hated tests. His name was Chris. Seriously. I had a hardcore high school freshman flashback, and said my goodbyes quick like a bunny. No offense, but I am not doing that again. At least not back at the beginning. Too many signs. :-P

I stopped at a shop by the Tube and got a meal for ₤3.50. Really good panini, crispes and a soda. Not really healthy, but cheap cheap cheap. I have to go out tomorrow and find an honest to god grocery store. Or at least one of the fruit stands I saw the day I went wandering in the West End. The chips were Cheese and Onion...not bad. I took my lunch down to the park and sat on my 'Gaston' bench again. I really like the feeling of having a 'spot'. It was really funny too, because it was about the same time I sat there on my first day, and I saw some of the same people walking their dogs as before. It made me want to get a dog so badly. I just think they are such great companions. PS Mom/Dad--has anyone fed my Fishy lately? Feel free to take it to work/school/give it to Bre--I think Meg was ok with having her ;-)

I stayed in the park and read until it started to get dark, then I came back to the hostel. I really wish I could stay here longer, but it's booked up all next week, unless I want to pay 3 times as much for a private room. I found another hostel to go to on Sunday night-the London Backpackers hostel. Its a little out of the city central, but for 11 bucks a night, can't really beat it. It still has free wi-fi and has decent reviews--it even has the kitchen, but no continental breakfast. Oh no, no all you can eat toast??? What am I going to do?? Buy a bag of apples and my own bread for ₤2, I suppose ;-) At least with this place, I'll have another week covered, and I'm updating my Oystercard to unlimited travel, so it'll just be about timing. Plus, they have a DVD collection, which will be great when I'm being poor and staying in.

Most of the jobs just want you to email them a copy of your CV and they'll contact you, so that's my plan for the night. That, and more 65p ravioli. Woot dog. I haven't even had a beer or been to a pub yet. Friggin' money. Tomorrow I have to go to the Apple store in Oxford Circus--my iPod is on the fritz. Life here is so much less fun without a soundtrack. Well, the Tube is at least.