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: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2025632&l=9ae4d&id=53000651) 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.