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 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:

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 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 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.


Slower Day

So yesterday didn't go quite the way it was planned, but still ok anyway.

I didn't leave as early as I wanted--I was exhausted, and jet lag is hitting hardcore, as well as the blisters on my feet. I ended up being at the hostel til about 12:30, then headed out to Bunac. However, in legendary form, the Tube was running slow and we stayed at a stop for 15 minutes. By the time I got to the Bunac stop, it was only 25 minutes before I was suppose to meet Hollie and Jac. Their hostel (International Students' House) was only a stop after the Bunac one, so I decided just to meet them there. I guess I got our meeting location got mixed up, because they never came back there, so I left a message at the desk, and started to walk. As I was walking around, it started to get really overcast and drizzly (also true British form), so I was trying to think about some sort of indoor thing I could do. At this point, I was on Baker street, which is in the more touristy section of London. I got down there, and thought maybe I could find a way to get back to the art museum we had gone past the day before.

I found a bus stop, and took my first London bus. It drove down Oxford street, which is one long street of shopping. I think I saw 3 H/Ms, and a ton of other stores on all different scales. I got off the bus at Trafalgar Square, and went to the museum. Almost all the museums in London are free, so I went in looking forward to some quiet reflection with some amazing art. No such luck. At least a dozen different elementary school groups were there, and it was too much to handle. I finally just left, vowing to return some quiet Monday morning to really appreciate it all. (This pic was taken as my first heart picture the day before, when the sun was out, from the steps of the museum.)

I walked back up to the area that had all the theaters and places to eat. I got a sandwich and a bottle of water for 1.84 at the Tesco Express (their version of 7/11). Go me. Then what did I do? Did I go see a fabulous show like Wicked or Avenue Q? Did I sit and sip espresso at one of the fine (but rip off) cafes? No...I went and saw High School Musical 3. I did this for a few reasons, but mostly because I was feeling lonely, and I wanted to not for a while. Movie theaters do that for me. They engulf you, and seeing an American movie with connections with Bre and my sisters helped..and hindered. I got out of the movie, called Bre, then meandered back to the hostel. I stopped at another Tesco and got some tuna and ravioli for dinner. I came back, watched a movie with some other hostelites, made dinner, and went to bed around 11.

So overall, not so exciting, but I am still getting adjusted.I need to start working these job boards at Bunac. I am going back to the center today to look for more jobs and make some calls. One of the girls in the hostel I was talking to is from Sweden, but she was adopted from Guatemala, and is working in a Swedish shop that is hiring. She gave me her boss's name and the location of the store, so I'm going to call there. Not sure if I want to work in retail again, but at least I'd blend in ;-) We'll see how it goes.

Hope everyone is well at home!! I miss you, and love any news/emails/comments/etc. I'm sure the hostel will be crazy with the weekend, but I'll probably stay low key--too poor to do otherwise.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Two: Part Two

Last we left, Jac and I had just made new British friends and were off to find the place to get my checks cashed. We wandered down to the Strand--its this street in London that ends at the Savvoy--remember Notting Hill? Yea, that Savvoy. Anywho, we found the place really easily, cashed my checks, then went back to the bank to deposit them. We walked by some nice theaters and a lot of shops. While I was depositing my checks, I ended up talking to the cashier about American politics and how nervous we all are. I'm thrilled to find that most people in Britain are all about Obama. They all kept asking if I had voted, and I told them I had done my absentee weeks ago. After the bank, Jac talked to her friend Hollie who is from Wales, but works at Parliament in London a few days a week, and stays at International Students' House when she needs to stay overnight. We took the Tube to Leicester Square in Central London. This is where a lot of both film and stage theaters are, and where a lot of film premiers take place.

We got off the Tube and met Hollie, who was the sweetest little thing. She is only 19, but already has her own house, job she is passionate about, boyfriend, and cats. The British school system is different--they are all finished university and everything by 18. She also knows everything. She took us from the Square down to Trafalgar square, where the British Art Museum is. Most museums in England are free, so the girls went in to explore a bit--I sat outside and people watched because my feet were killing me and I feel like art museums need the time to be appreciated. From the Square, you can see the London Eye, Big Ben, and the Queen's Gate, leading to Buckingham Palace. I felt like I had finally arrived. There were so many different types of people and so much going on.

After the girls were done with the museum, we walked through the gate and through St. James' Park toward the palace. There were a MILLION different geese and birds there. Hollie had bought us some bread to feed them, and they were the most aggressive animals EVER. This one friggin' goose BIT my ankles twice trying to get bread. They were a lot nicer to Jac.

After the birds, we went up to the palace, but it was hard to see as it was getting dark fast. We walked back down the other side of the park and came out by Big Ben. Since it's attached to Parliament, we passed by this group of protesters who have been living in tents since the British Government sent aid to the US in Iraq. That was in 2004. They have been living in tents on concrete for almost 5 years. Needless to say, I didn't say anything when we passed to protect my American accent from getting our butts kicked. From there, we looped back up to Leicester Square to get dinner. We went to this great Japanese place called Wagamama's that my dear dear friend Chelsie Houser told me about. It was really good food, and we stayed there drinking green tea for an hour talking about cultural differences. After dinner, we walked back to the Tube station, made plans to meet today for shopping (all window for me) then went on our seperate Tubes. It was almost 10 by the time I got back to the hostel, and there was this huge party going on for one of the managers that was leaving. A lot of drunk people. It was like I was back at school.

So now, I slept...a little bit better. I totally crashed until 9am, came down and had breakfast this morning (the milk wasn't luke warm!! WOOHOO!!) and have been updating this. I'm going to head out to Bunac soon to use their facilities to look for a job. I've been pretty good with money, but I'm already paranoid. Especially since I need to find a place to live, and all that. After I do my thing at Bunac, I'm meeting Jac and Hollie for window shopping on Oxford street, so I am still getting out and seeing the sights. I miss you all, but am doing ok now that I have some friends :)

Talk to you tomorrow.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day Two: Sight Seeing and New Friends

Ooooo, my blisters have blisters.....but SOOO worth it.

Ok, so last we left, I had been waiting for check in-this was Tuesday night. I basically bummed around the hostel getting settled, then walked the 200 feet to Hyde Park. It is incredibly beautiful. (I will continue to post pictures here as I go, but here is a link to my first album on facebook: I sat on a bench, wrote for a while, and watched all the people go by. This was around twilight, so people were coming by with their dogs--I swear, I sat there for 2 and a half hours, and I didn't see the same breed twice!

I headed back to the hostel for dinner around 6. They were having an all you can eat salad and lasagna dinner for 3 pounds, so it seemed to work out. I ate with two American girls who are in the UK on holiday, and studying in Florence for the semester. They were really sweet, and we ate with a guy from Argentina, a girl from Sweden (who was adopted from Guatemala), and a girl from New Zealand. I went to bed early, as I was still jetlagged. Sleeping was kind of hard--it was a bunk bed, and there were no curtains to block out the street light--but it was fine.

I got up yesterday morning at the crack of dawn, went down to the dining room, had breakfast. After a quick shower, I hit the road towards the South Kensington station. I am doubly thankful I took a taxi after walking the mile to the Tube--hauling those bags would have been awful. I got on the Tube, and arrived at the Farringdon stop in about 25 minutes. From there, I walked about 15 blocks to the Bunac office for orientation. There, the real adventure began.

Orientation itself was pretty straightforward--a lot of information very well explained, but very quick. But most important of anything, I made a friend!!! The fabulous Jaclyn, also known as Jac. She is from Vancouver and has a lot of spunk, curiosity, and is as outgoing as I am (Thank god). I met a few other girls from Australia who were very nice, but Jac and I teamed up for the day. After orientation, I made an appointment at the bank, and then we walked back down to the Tube stop where the phone store was. I am now a proud owner of a phone, a local SIM card, and an international SIM card. I can call the US for 4pence a minute, and here is my favorite part: I can receive calls FOR FREE!! Texts too! Apparently, not matter what your phone plan or service, any calls or texts sent to a phone in the UK are received with no cost to the person who is getting them. I will send out my phone number in an email, and you are welcome to call or text me at anytime (Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Staples all have international phone cards, and Best Buy has international phone cards for cell phones) I still prefer to use Skype, especially since I can use my webcam, but in case of anything else, there will be that.

After that adventure, we went to lunch at this little cafe next to the pub. I got a really good sandwich (Which was HUGE and came with a salad) and a bottle of water for 4 pounds. Now, as long as I don't think about the conversion, I'll be ok. Jac and I sat and talked for almost an hour. It was so great to find someone else who is on the exact same track you are, and you connect so well. I was able to do that with a few girls on Facebook, but it was really nice to be able to do it with a real live person. After lunch, we walked around trying to find the right branch of Nat West, the bank that I had my appointment at. We walked for almost an hour, from bank to bank, and it was so great. We had NO IDEA where we were, and just kept stopping to take pictures or look at something. Finally, we were in a neighborhood called Aldwych, when this British girl stopped us on the street. She was selling these package deals for a hair salon or something. Jac stayed to talk to her for a few minutes--she has just been saying how she needed a trim--when I realized that Abbie (of course we got to know her ;-) ) had stopped us right outside of the bank branch we needed to be at! We had been talking so much we would have just walked right by it if she hadn't stopped us. I ran in and set up my bank account--the deal Bunac has with Nat West is that we get a checking and savings account, plus a free Railcard that gets us 1/3 off train tickets, phone insurance, and some other perks. The only bummer is that you have to pay 6 pounds a month for maintenance, but I was paying $15 at Bank of America, so I guess that works out. I went to cash my traveler's checks to deposit, but the woman told me that it would cost me 20 pounds--HOWEVER, there was an American Express exchange that would let me do it for free. I went back outside to get Jac, and re-met Abbie and Dominic (total flirt-kept winking at us--really cute tho). We ended up outside talking to them for 20 minutes (this was after Jac bought the deal) and got their numbers to hang out. The deal was pretty sweet-as a bonus, Jac gets to go to this upperclass salon and have a Pamper Day-mani, pedi, hair styling, facial, makeup done, then a photo shoot where she gets to pick out her favorite picture to have framed and take with her, plus all the champagne and strawberries she can have while this whole thing is going on. Guess what---she gets to bring a friend for free for the same treatment!! And lucky me, I'm the first friend she thought of! We're going to do it next month, after we're settled, but basically, I get to have a free pamper day AND made new friends!

Ok, this is getting a little long, so I'm going to break it up for you. This all just happened yesterday morning! Check the next entry for the rest.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arrival in London

Here I am!

So at long last, I am in London. I am currently sitting in the Great Room (aka the front room that they are redoing) at the Astor Hyde Park hostel. It is a gorgeous 60 degrees out, the sun is shining, and what have I done all day??

Well, actually a lot, but I've been napping on the couches in the Great Room for the last 4 hours or so until I can check into my room. (This is the view from the front of the house)

OK, here is the tale, starting with yesterday:

Yesterday morning I went into Portland to finish up a few things (saying goodbye, running a few errands, etc.) The plan was to meet my parents at home at 12:30 to do one last check of everything, finish loading the car, and leaving for Boston around 2. Yea, about that. First, I got stuck at Kelly Services for an hour because my supervisor was in a meeting and hadn't written my recommendation yet. Finally got out of there around 1pm. Then, they are repaving the main drag by the mall, so I tried to take a long way around the construction, but what happens? I'm at a red light behind this HUGE SUV. She is too far into the intersection, so she gets the brilliant idea to BACK UP. A dented hood and headlight later, we exchange insurance info and I am now over an hour late. Get home--Mom and Dad have been great and packed up the rest of my stuff, but in the shuffle, I lose track of my Bunac handbook (essentially my Bible t this whole crazy trip. We sit in the driveway and do a mental rundown of ANYTHING I could have missed, but of course it doesn't dawn on me until 20 minutes down 112. Turn around, I cry, run into the house, find the cat sleeping on it on my bed, run back out, hit the road. Mom reassures with the good old "bad things happen in 3s--you're done."

So we get the airport, and she's gotta be right--we get there with 2 hours to spare, they weighed my luggage which is 2 pounds over the limit, but they don't charge me any extra money for the weight :-) BWI was never so kind. Then talked with Mom and Dad, did some facebook style pics, and got some parting tokens. The coolest is this little carved heart that my Grandpa gave my mom when she went to Europe. She carried it with her every day. Grandpa carved me a heart shape jewelry box for my graduation gift, and I took that thing to California with me, I love it so much. So she gave me the heart to take with me. I have to bring it home, so it's pretty much going to live in my bra. I don't trust pockets. But then it'll be closer to my heart.

So get on the plane, no trouble. Big Boeing 777, so sat in a middle row, 2nd seat in. Had a kid kicking my seat the whole way, but watched some movies and dozed a bit. Decent food--brought us all hot croissants at 4am to perk us up before getting off.

So, ended up landing an hour early. Hiked a mile to customs, which only took ten minutes. I was so hot and delirious I think I was freaking out the woman. She kept asking if I was excited since I was so red. yay me. Got through there, and picked up my two bags of death. I realize I am packing without knowing what job I'll have, and for winter stuff, but I was on crack. I had to sit for a whole 20 minutes before I could catch my breath to go get on the Tube. Got my Oyster card (apparently it cuts all your fares in half, as long as you keep adding pounds to it), and hopped on the Piccadilly line, dropping my bags at least 3 times. Luckily, Heathrow is the first (last?) Stop, so the train was empty. By the time we got to my South Kensington stop, it was so packed I couldn't reach my bags. I tried to drag them all off, and this nice guy finally grabbed them for me--I think I was the only one who got off on that station.

Here is something they don't tell you about the Tube: half the stations just have stairs. No escalators or elevators. I almost had a heart attack, and actually fell down one flight and banged my elbow. Some angel helped me up and threw my bags up the stairs, and then ANOTHER one took them up the last flight, then gave me directions...kind of. I had a general idea of where I was going, but no one could tell me quite where to turn. So I ran into the 2nd guy who helped me with my bags again, and he told me the best thing I could do with the bags and all was to grab a cab--it wouldn't be more then 5 pounds, and I was hurting. So, equally nice cabbie took me up Queen's Gate Road, and pointed out some sites along the way (also explained about tipping and paying--its hard because they have paper money and coins in 1, 2, and 5 pound denominations, so you grab a coin thinking its 5 pence, and it could be 2 pounds.) I am SO glad I splurged for the cab-5 pounds with tip, didn't break me-because the hostel ended up being almost a full mile and a half from the Tube. Normally walking, thats fine, but not with an extra 150lbs in baggage. WHEW.

Come in, DRIPPING with sweat cuz its me, and the cute guy tells me that I can't check in til 2pm, but showers are on the 1st floor and baggage storage is on the ground. 30 minutes in the shower, the wi-fi password, and a granola bar later, I'm a new woman. Until I pass out on the couch in the Great Room from sheer exhaustion. And this was all before 10am.

Now its a little after 2, and I think I'm going to go check in officially, then go walk around the park. The hostel is having a lasagna dinner tonight for 3 pounds, so I'll probably do that. Tomorrow is Bunac orientation, and a punch party with a few other hostels. Stay tuned!

As far as my mental state, I'm a little overwhelmed, but overall feeling good. I think it'll be better when I get out walking and all that. People have been nice, and I just have to keep an eye on my cash and all that. Miss everyone so much already, and I wish my parents could be here to see this. But I'm ok. Excited, even :)


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Signed, Sealed, Delivered!

I am all set to rock and roll!

The visa FINALLY came back, and I am completely legal and ready to go :) Well, with all the red tape, anyway.

I leave in 6 days, and I feel like I still have a million things to do. I am working today, half day Weds., and then Thursday will be my last day. My plan is to sleep late on Friday morning, and then I am going to be spending the afternoon and evening in Portland with friends, saying goodbye and all that. I am going to my grandparent's farm to say goodbye this weekend, and my parents are taking Monday off to take me to the airport in Boston. I have to pack, talk to my bank, get letters of recommendation from the temp. service, find a new home for my Fishy, call or Skype with people not in the area, breath, breath, breath. Its going to be a hectic week.

I am so excited and so ready for this adventure to start, but I have always been resistant to change. Going back to college after a break got easier because I knew what I was going back to and it was more like a transition between homes then between worlds. College felt naturally like the next thing to do in my life when I was 18. I feel like this is the first choice I've made in my life that was completely independant of what I expected to be the next step in my life. The next step in the cookie cutter version of life would be to move out of my parents' house, get a job, pay my bills. Going to explore the world is a once in a lifetime chance, and even if it means putting off the stability or the expected, I wouldn't give it up for anything. I can't resist. Scary, but so so sweet.

My grandparents (from CT) and my cousin Catherine came this past weekend to say goodbye. We spent an amazing weekend taking walks in the beautiful fall weather, shopping in the Old Port, going for micro brews at Gritty's, watching movies, and talking for hours and hours. We went to my favorite store in the Old Port, Mexicali Blues, and all the girls bought scarves, rings, or watches. Originally, I waited outside because I didn't want to spend any money, but as we were sitting drinking beer and chatting over sweet potato fries, I realized that I wanted something to remember the day by. Maybe it'd be one less fish and chip take away in London, but my hips don't need that anyway ;-) I got a beautiful silver ring with a long mother-of-pearl stone in it, and I love it. Its the first real weekend of goodbyes, which makes me sad. I wish I had talked with my grandparents more. They are amazing, wonderful, inspirational people, and I love them. But it's only a year. I'll see them again soon. Hopefully they'll come to Ireland--I'm sure they could find a place to stay.

Back to my last week at work, and finishing things up. They are taking me to lunch on Thursday, so there is something to look forward to. Look for a 'night before I leave sure to be reflective and make no sense whatsoever kind of rambly I'm sure' entry next week. Kind of like this one :)


Friday, October 3, 2008

Being Prepared

"Don't agonize. Organize." - Florence Kennedy

I am currently waiting on my Entry Clearance from the British Consulate, but I did FINALLY get an email from them saying it was in processing. Keep your fingers crossed for me that there isn't anything wrong with it! I had sent it in at the beginning of September, and it got returned to me 3 weeks later with a note stating that my photograph was the wrong size. 35 dollars in overnight fees, with a new photo taken by my disgruntled dad, and we're back in business. I feel like once I get this, then it will all feel official. Like this is really happening, and after making this decision 2 years ago, I'm finally about to get my feet off the ground.

I'm ready. I have read everything I can lay my hands on about London, the culture, the city, the Tube system, apartments, cell phones, temp agencies, grocery'd think I was moving there or something ;-) Honestly, I'm not as scared as I though I would be, not about the move anyway. I feel as prepared as I can be. I'm not trying to be pretentious, but I'm not worried about getting a job. I'm qualified for so many things, I work hard, and I'm willing to do just about anything. I just need something that will give me enough money to survive and travel. I was scared about being lonely, especially since our last family talk had us come to the conclusion that I would definitely be on my own in London for Christmas. I was worried about making friends, or working somewhere like I am now--in a cube with people twice my age who I never really see and never really talk to. I do want to share this experience, as well as savor it for myself.

Here is why I'm not scared anymore: Facebook. In the past 2 months, the social website Facebook has put me at ease. For those who don't know, Facebook is a social networking website that was originally created by Harvard students as a way of communication for college students. A certain number of students from any college in the country had to apply before their school was added to the list, and they had access to friends at other colleges and anything else on Facebook. A year and a half ago, the site was opened up to High Schools. In the last nine months or so, it has been opened up to anyone and everyone. Now, you can still put limits on your profile so only certain people can see it, but the overwhelming amount of people of all ages who joined changed this from a small college student interaction site to one of the largest social networks in the world.

The reason this helps me out is due to the world wide access. Because of this, Bunac was able to create message boards for people in the program, allowing us to see who was going when we were, who had been there, and how to contact them. Because of this, I have met several people, including a real sweetheart named Nicole, who are going through the same things I am: paperwork, getting ready to leave, where to go, how to meet others. Nicole and I have been emailing for over a month, and now are seriously considering living together (depending on what jobs we get and where they are-it doesn't make sense if she gets a job in Shepard's Bush and I get a job in Leyman for us to live together-its just too spread out) But we are both joining temp agencies when we get there, and want the same experiences, so why not? There is another girl from Mass. who is coming in the day after I am, and is staying at the same hostel. We are planning on meeting for dinner and some sight seeing that weekend. So even though I did't know anyone going in, Facebook has let me meet people so I won't be alone.

The cherry on the cake of this whole Facebook thing came when I got a request to join a group called Phi Mus in London. For those of you who don't know, Phi Mu is the sorority I was a part of in college-changed my life, gave me some of my best friends, and gave me the confidence to even embark on this adventure. Apparently, there are about 16 Phi Mu Alumni living in London. They come from all over the US, and range in ages from early 20s to mid-30s. They get together a few times a month and go out to the pubs, singing Phi Mu songs to the locals who tend to keep their glasses full. Phi Mu is an incredible organization, and I am SO excited that I will be able to meet new sisters who were kind enough to search me out and bring me into their social circle. We've never met, but we're still sisters at heart.

Yea, that's corny. Get over yourselves. I have people!!