Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cranky

I was talking with two Danish girls at my youth hostile (purposeful spelling), and they asked how old I was. When I said "26," they looked shocked. Then one of them said, "What about marriage and kids?" Not as in, "do you have them?" but as in, "You're so old, you should be popping them out by now." It really bothered me. I mean, it's one thing when a snotty 9-year-old French boy says it, but when someone relatively close to my own age says it, it stings quite a bit more.

I'm tired, so I'm cranky. Simon and Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa" just came on, and it makes me feel a little better. Actually, it kind of makes me want to weep, but that's better than being cranky. :-D

I have no more interesting anecdotes for now. Today was a stupid day. It was registration, but it was horribly inefficient and disorganized. We had to be at school by 9:30, at which point they dismissed half of us until 2pm. Right...

At 2pm, those of us who were dismissed in the morning actually went through the registration. That took maybe 45 min, then we were dismissed again, only to return at 5pm for a party. Grrr...

Apparently, some of the courses have received lots of information from their course administrators, and they know what they're doing for the rest of the week and for the autumn term. My course has recieved next to no information. We haven't met in a group yet, whereas other groups have. But we'll find out more tomorrow, I'm sure, because we have a lunch event. Then we'll meet each other and our course advisers (I assume). So yeah. It'll all be fine. But no Rome this weekend. Friday is booked with vague course meetings.

Ugh. Like I said, I'm cranky. Thinking about the things I need to coordinate for the next two days is not helping. I should just go to bed and handle tomorrow when it comes. So I guess I'll do that, especially since Nickel Creek's "Hanging By a Thread" just came on and now I really want to cry. Nighty-night! I miss you.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Walkabout

I went to another school function today, a walk around central London (we really didn't cover that much distance). It was kind of pointless as far as seeing London or getting our bearings, because we turned quite a lot and I was never quite sure where I was. But it was great for meeting people! I hung out with some of the girls I met before, but I also met lots of new people (again, mostly girls). I spent most of the walk with a really nice girl from Chile. I think she might actually be shorter than me. It always really throws me off when grown people are shorter than me, because it really doesn't happen very often. Generally, the only people shorter than me are kids.

I had lunch with six people I met today, and we're gonna get together tonight and go out somewhere for drinks. Yay! That should make up for my lame day yesterday.

Speaking of yesterday, today I saw one of the girls I was supposed to hang out with. She didn't have my info, and I didn't have hers, so we were both basically relying on the other girl to communicate with us. So I guess I can't blame her for bailing on me. I suppose I'll put her back on my good list. Before the walk, she invited me to the Natural History Museum this afternoon, and also mentioned a really good deal to Rome for this weekend. We agreed that we had to get each other's contact info before today was over...but then we got split into different groups and I haven't seen her. Whoops. Oh well, we'll see each other tomorrow.

So Rome, huh? It's not one of my priority places to see while I'm over here, so I never really considered it, but if it's cheap...Nah, it's still money I'm not yet sure I can afford. If she had suggested Scotland or Amsterdam or Ireland, I'd so be there. I'll see Rome another time.

Oh, and I learned something about Soho. I don't know where the name for Soho in NYC originated, but apparently the Soho here used to be hunting grounds, "with as many as 100 pigs." Supposedly, "soho" was a hunting cry. I'm not sure how believable that is...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Shopping

Today I was supposed to hang out with two girls from my school, but I haven't heard a peep from either of them. Losers.

I also haven't heard from Izzi, who claimed she was going to be in town sometime this past week. She clearly doesn't love me anymore.

Instead, I decided to go to Buckingham Palace, because the State Rooms are only open to tourists until Monday, and then the Queen comes home and everything's locked up until next August. I got there around 2:30pm, thinking I'd have plenty of time to buy an advance ticket for the 3:45 tour and still be able to call Pops and Michele at 3pm. At 3:10, when I was still a ways back from the front of the line, I decided to leave Buckingham for tomorrow. I called Pops and Michele: it was so great to hear their voices! Pops managed to sell my car yesterday (have I mentioned that yet?), so he's my superhero.

After calling them, I went to Harrod's. I haven't really done any shopping since I got here (except the pashmina), but I knew I wouldn't spend anything at Harrod's, so it was safe. Harrod's wasn't quite what I expected. I expected something more like, a giant Nordstrom, I guess. More open. The place was a maze! It was crazy. Everything was super fancy and expensive (i.e. boring) until I got to the floor with the young women's clothes. Then I went into full covet mode. I immediately fell in love with an adorable wool coat. I think it was more than £300, so not really an option. Actually, there were two really cute wool coats. I also feel incomplete without a really, really cute sweater t-shirt by Ralph Lauren for $85. Le sigh...

After Harrod's, I made an unwise decision to go into Zara. Well, I don't know about unwise. Zara has a line of basic sweaters that they sell year-round, every year (at least for the last three years) at really good prices. I ended up buying a long gray v-neck sweater for £12. Then came the really dangerous part: they had a "home" section. So much gorgeous stuff! There is a "kids" blanket that I reallyreallyreally want for £85. I mean, that's a reasonable price for a comforter, right? I'll shop around, but I doubt I'll find another I like that much.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Huge sigh of relief

Well, things are looking pretty doggone good at the moment! *looks up to make sure no piano is about to fall on her head*

But I feel exhausted because it has been quite the roller coaster today. It's like the up-down visa game all over again.

Up: I heard there might be double studios available in the residence halls.

Down: I was told there were no rooms and applications were no longer being accepted.

Up:
I called, and was offered a double studio! No more sad Charlie Brown music! I went to go see it. The woman seemed sorry about the fact that the window of the room faced a cement wall. She clearly didn't know how desperate/eager I was to live there. She said that I would have first priority for a room change. Sounds good to me! She also said that the reason I was allowed a studio at all, the reason I was allowed to "queue jump" in front of all the waiting list applicants, was because my school had such a small allocation of rooms. I easily decided I wanted it, and left to get cash for the (exorbitant) deposit. I was told I had to make the deposit by 4pm (it was 1pm).

Down:
At the cash machine, I was informed I couldn't withdraw the full amount for the deposit (granted, it was a lot of money). I tried to call my credit union with a phone card. It was only six o'clock in the morning there, so no one answered. The phone booth smelled like excrement. Back at the bank, I took out as much as possible, but for two and a half hours, I was in panic-mode. I had no idea what I could do! Call Pops? What could he do before 4pm London time? Borrow money from a classmate? No, it was way too much money. All I could do was go back and beg the woman to take what I had.

So I went back and told her I had a problem, that I wasn't able to withdraw all the cash. It was only then, after 2.5 hours of me panicking, running around north-central London like a crazed woman, whining to classmates about the injustice of it all, looking over my shoulder constantly to be sure no one was trying to steal the 400GBP cash I was carrying, only then did she inform me that they have the capacity to take cards.

I could have paid up front at the very beginning, without even going to a cash machine! I could have made it to the international students' picnic in the park! I could have relaxed all afternoon, knowing that I had a bed to sleep in and an address to ship my stuff to! I could have gone to the zoo with the other Karen and Sharon, the gorgeous Irish girl with the gorgeous accent! (Other Karen is also gorgeous, to be fair.)

Oh, well, all's well that ends well. I am now enjoying a very rare moment of having nothing to worry about. All is right with the world...for the moment. I seriously feel so relieved. I feel like several weeks' worth of worry have all melted away, though not without leaving me feeling like I need a rest.

And the woman just called to tell me that if I wait until Wednesday to move in, I can get a better room that doesn't face a cement wall. My youth hostel booking is up to Tuesday, so I'll just extend it a day. I'm going to go ahead and give all of you credit for helping this all work out. You're beautiful, beautiful people and I love you all!

Friday, September 26, 2008

International Students Welcome

I have the funniest friends! You guys are all a riot. Equanimity, I totally forgot about that implication of "dazzling"! Awesome! Joderita, I remember Laura, okay? She's blond and tall (taller than me, anyway). If you really want me to contact her, I will, but everyone stop worrying about the absentee ballot! I'll be fine! Jax: Puh-lease. I can only just barely be bothered to care about politics, and now you want me to care about financial stuff, too? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Hm. Well, I had a big day yesterday. Huge, really.

Yesterday was the International Students Welcome. It was absolutely fantastic. I met so many people! I'll be amazed if I can remember 50% of their names.

I rushed out the door of the hostel with wet hair, and only just barely made it to the school in time. Because I arrived at the last minute, I didn't meet anyone beforehand. The school leaders and the student adviser introduced themselves, then had us talk to our neighbors about how London was different from home, and what our expecations were for the city. So I met the girl sitting next to me. She was from the Basque Country, and I could not for the life of me figure out how to pronounce her name, nor could I remember it all day. Luckily, this morning I woke up and there it was on my tongue. Spelled phonetically, it would be "Oi-yan-ah." Now I won't be embarrassed when I see her again!

We had a 15 min break, and I thought I might meet some people then, but I was too shy...and so was everyone else. It was okay, though, because at lunch, "Oi-yan-ah" and I met an Irish girl (gorgeous accent), then another Irish girl, who introduced us to a Canadian girl, and the circle just kept growing from that. Probably 50% of all the international students are either American or Canadian. The other 50% are literally everything else: many countries of Africa are represented, Pakistan, India, Spain, Italy, Germany, etc.

I had a really great time. It was both a grounding and an energizing experience. I feel like I've been living the youth hostel life for ages, and it's a weird environment to be in. It's like limbo, and everyone else here is in limbo, and I feel unattached to anything. But meeting with my fellow students, I felt like I was able to attach myself to something. Here were people like me, with similar goals and aspirations as me, and in similar situations.

We had sort of mini-lectures until 4pm on topics such as transportation, bank accounts, and safety. Then we had a two-hour break before an optional social event at the school's bar. Now, the school is relatively small, so the word "bar" is to be applied loosely here. Yes, there was alcohol and a bartender and even an actual bar. But the bartender was totally miffed by my request for a "vodka cranberry." My explanation of "It's half vodka, and half cranberry juice" didn't help much. Anyway, like I said, I met lots of people (mostly girls and mostly North American), but at the social event, everyone had a chance to introduce him or herself, and then we played a "get to know you" game that involved finding people who fit certain descriptions. It was stuff like, "Find someone who has a dog. Find someone who can sing."

All of the people there are following 1-year Master's courses, like me, but there are a range of different topics. Some people (the largest contingent) are doing public health, but there's also medical microbiology, reproductive and sexual health, and much, much more. I actually met a girl who is doing the same course as me who is from Seattle! And before coming here, she lived on Capitol Hill! Small world! There are a couple other people from Seattle, as well (one from Mercer Island), and a girl from Berkely. There's a girl from Pennsylvania named Karen (though she's not in my course) and several others from the east coast. I ended staying and chatting with a small group until the "bar" closed. And that's where I learned about the residence halls...

So. A Canadian girl was telling me that she applied to the same residence hall as me back in June, and was rejected (just like I was). When she got to London, she frantically searched for flats/rooms, and then, as sort of a last-ditch effort, she walked into the residence hall and asked if they had anything available. Turns out, they did! She was given a double studio (my second choice on my application after a single studio). I asked her if she did the re-application thing on September 11, and she said no, but that didn't stop her from getting a place. But then I was remembering all the reasons why I didn't want to live in the residence hall anyway: no oven, no freezer, no space, shabby looks. She said the studios were actually really nice, lots of storage space, there is a tiny freezer inside the beer fridge, and the microwave is a combination microwave/convection oven. She said I should show up first thing in the morning and see if they had any left.

So I did. I hoofed it over there this morning and was there at 9:10. I was told by the man at reception (I suspect he may have just been a security guard), that there were no rooms and they weren't accepting any more applications. Poo. I was very disappointed. I knew from the beginning that I shouldn't get my hopes up, but I couldn't help it! I walked back to the tube and rode it back to the youth hostel dragging my feet and with my head low, Charlie Brown music playing in the background a la George Michael from "Arrested Development" (the thought of which made me laugh a little, but I was still depressed.)

But I got the impression that the guy I talked to didn't really know what he was talking about, so when I got back to the hostel, I called the hall. When they established that I did in fact have an application on file (from June), they said there was a possibility I could get a place. The woman said she would call me back later on today. So I'm hopeful! Crossing my fingers and praying, "Please please please!" If I get in, I'll be within walking distance of my school. And I'll be around other students, in the center of London, close to everything, in a fairly posh neighborhood. And though the price is high, it covers all bills, internet, and TV, and I think it's worth extra money to a) live so close to school, and b) live among students while still having my own space, my own bathroom/shower and kitchen.

So now I wait. I would ask you all to wish me luck, but you're all asleep. Poo on you for sleeping at such an important time for me. So selfish.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Flat for me?

"R," your comment had me laughing out loud! Worry not. I will do everything in my power to stop the government from forcing you to have babies you can't afford.

Well, I think I may have found myself a home. Less than 24 hours after TOTALLY FREAKING OUT and getting all depressed about my prospects.

I spent all day answering ads online. Didn't leave the hostel until 4pm. I made a friend, though! She's Danish, and she spent the whole day searching for jobs online. And she cooked me spaghetti for lunch, so of course I love her forever. I also spoke ever-so-briefly in French to two French guys. They were trying to figure out how to dry their clothes (the dryer is broken), but didn't know the English word for "dry," and I surprised them by saying "Secher?" They were also really surprised to learn that I was American, because apparently, no Americans speak French. News to me! Sure, we hate the French, but we still learn their language in high school. Anyway, the encounter highlighted just how horribly rusty my French is. Maybe I should try to speak more to them.

[Side note: There's a Scottish guy in the room and it's seriously distracting me, even though I can't understand what he's saying.]

Anyhoo, I answered this one ad for a place in Kennington (south of the river). It's a two-bedroom flat I'd be sharing with a woman who just finished her PhD (so she's a bit older). We'd be sharing the bathroom and everything. I got there early--learning from yesterday's mistakes--and wandered the neighborhood. I liked it immediately. I mean, it's nothing special, but it isn't shabby, and that's all I really care about at this point. I was comfortable there. On one side of the main road, everything looks sort of posh, and the other side of the road (the side the flat is on) is a large complex of low-income housing. So it's sort of a borderline neighborhood, which is alright. Even the low-income housing isn't as shabby as the other apartments I've looked at. And the flat itself isn't part of the low-income complex.

The woman was really nice. She's from Burma (Myanmar). We chatted easily, and then she asked where I was from. She said she has a cousin in Seattle. We chatted some more, then I said I was really interested in the room and definitely wanted to be considered as a candidate for it. Other people were coming to view the place, but she basically told me it was mine, because she liked me and was sold on the fact that I was from Seattle! Too funny! She said she was really looking forward to telling her cousin that she had a housemate from Seattle. So maybe she's a little bit crazy? I don't know, but it sounds good to me!



So.

Pros:
  • Nice, simple, not shabby flat, so I could make my room cute without too much effort
  • Walking distance to two tube stations
  • Kennington tube station is on the Northern line, and so is my school!! We're talking a direct connection (there are 11 tube lines in London, and many of them split so are more like two or three lines, plus the light rail, etc)
  • Only one other person messing up the kitchen and bathroom
  • Walking distance to multiple grocery stores
  • A little yard ("garden") in the back with garden furniture and a bbq and a shed where I could store a bike if I get one
  • The room is partially furnished (bed, wardrobe, nightstand)
  • The kitchen is nice and new-looking and has an oven and freezer
  • It's really close to multiple nice parks
  • I could move in pretty immediately (yay for having an address!)
Cons:
  • Because the woman is a little older (i.e. more mature) and the flat is a bit out of town, I worry that I'll be sort of isolated from young people. I mean, this sounds dumb as I write it, but I want to be able to have people over, if I manage to make any friends. Eh, I'm sure it'll be fine.
  • There are just the two of us. I had already decided that the ideal living situation, other than living alone, would be to live with two other people. If it's just one other person--as this situation is--there is more pressure on the relationship, you know what I mean? With more than three people, there are too many people creating a mess. Three seems like the perfect number. But maybe I'm crazy to put this much thought into it. I just know that I'll worry more about whether I'm being clean enough for her standards.
  • The neighborhood is ever so slightly on the sketchy side. As I left, I passed an old man drinking whiskey from the bottle on the sidewalk who asked, "Are you married?" as I passed. He was at least 60, if not older.
  • It's not close to school or the city center. But the direct tube line sort of makes up for that.
  • There may be a lot of money to pay up front (I emailed her for clarification; it might not be so much).
So, I guess the pros kind of outweigh the cons, huh? I'm still hesitant, but what else is new? I hesitate about everything! Because I have decidophobia! hahahaha!

I had another arrangement to view another apartment afterwards, out near Devons Road. On the way, I was sort of feeling like maybe I didn't want the place in Kennington, maybe it wasn't ideal. Then I saw the Devons Road place. Flashback to yesterday's scary encounters. I mean, the room itself was perfectly fine, not depressing. But the bath/shower room (separate from the toilet) would make me seriously claustrophobic if I had to use it. *shudder* And it was a sort of messy, crappy student residence. And it was in a totally, totally charmless neighborhood. *shudder again*

So, Kennington is looking pretty good now. But I do have another appointment on Friday, so my options are still not limited.

On the way back from Devons Road, I had to switch trains at Canary Wharf, which is where London's money is made and lost. It is the financial district, and I was awestruck by the tall, pretty buildings (especially at dusk). This is also where London's young and wealthy spend their Tuesday evenings, cuz the place was hopping. Super chic restaurants and shops. Then I spotted Lehman Brothers, the London branch, located on Lehman Road. For the last several days, the papers have all been talking about laid-off Lehman Brothers bankers being picked up by the other banks. Eh, whatever. Anyway, it was pretty. I was dazzled.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apartment Scams

I'm both very happy and quite angry. Happy because I finally have free wifi!! And I didn't have to spend 4 pounds to get it! Signs all over this youth hostel say they used to have wifi, but got rid of it because it had too many problems. But apparently, they're a bunch of liars, because they totally do have wifi. I was very smart to befriend a Hungarian guy named Caroly (not sure of spelling), because he told me the password for accessing it. Yay!

I am angry because I have answered two ads via email that are scams. I had heard that London suffered from a high number of apartment scams, so I'm not really surprised. It's just that they're not even creative! Both people have Western-sounding names, can't speak English very well (i.e. bad spelling and grammar), claim the family lived in the flat but had to leave due to work transfer, the husband is on a Christian crusade in Africa, he gives me his wife's email address, the wife is in the States (one in New Jersey, the other in New York), and they are not interested in the money, they just want someone who will keep their family home clean. For both, I will get the keys and documents sent to me from the States after I pay. One of them went so far as to say that his wife was in New York and had "a shock incident happen two months ago, she has an accident and she's using a wheel chair and it also affect her eat drum," the implication being that she can't fly to London anytime soon, of course. I saw the ad just 12 hours ago, and now it's been deleted off Craigslist. Interesting...

How dumb does a person have to be? I knew both of these were probably scams when I answered them, because the rent was really low, but they were in great neighborhoods and posted pictures of a luxury bedroom. I guess I'm pretty dumb for even bothering to answer those ads, but I'd have to be born yesterday to pursue them now! The thing is, I'm angry that they would do this. I feel like responding with a rebuke, but I know it won't do anything. They won't stop trying to scam poor, naive students.

But what do I care? I have access to free wifi for the next six days! Woohoo!!! I can answer real ads. I have all the time in the world! Except that I really need to shower right now. I didn't shower yesterday, and my hair is greasy and I'm starting to sweat.

John, to answer your earlier question, no, I haven't registered to vote absentee yet, though I might need to in order to be in on time. I've been waiting because I don't have an address yet. I could enter the address of this youth hostel, but then they would send the ballot here, and that does me no good. But I did just find this: "The following states: AZ, IA, MT, ND, NE, OR, SC, and WA will accept the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot as a simultaneous voter registration application and voted ballot; or have no voter registration requirement." So I think that means I'm alright if I miss the deadline. I'll look into it more.

Apt Hunting

Today was a rough day. I knew I was tired this morning, and I knew it would probably spell depression later in the day. But I didn't know that the day itself would be frustrating.

I had three apartment meetings today. Really, I should feel like I got a lot done. But I don't. The first meeting was just to meet a girl who was renting a 3-bedroom apartment with a friend, and looking for a third roommate. I was supposed to meet her at 11:40 in King's Cross. I switched from one hostel to another this morning, but I thought I'd be done well before that. It was 11:30 before I knew it, and I was miles away. So I texted her and we rescheduled, but she was meeting with 5 other people today, so I felt bad for screwing up the schedule. The flat isn't available for viewing until tomorrow, but I met the girl and we chatted for about 15 min. She seemed really cool, and the flat was within walking distance to my school and still affordable, which is hard to find because my school is in a really nice area.

I had a meeting in Shadwell at 4pm, and gave myself over an hour to get there. Problem was, I still didn't know how to get there. I took the train too far, turned around and went back one station, walked out of the station, wandered for a while, realized I was in the wrong place, got back on the tube at a different station, took it one stop and switched lines, took that train one stop and switched to the overground, then got where I was going but couldn't find the building itself. I called the guy and he was really nice about it and helped me find the place over the phone. Thank goodness I have a phone! Anyway, that place felt far away, though it's not necessarily very far mileage-wise, and the flat was kinda shabby. I would be sharing with three strangers, two guys and a girl. I think I could make it work, but it didn't feel right.

At 5:30, I had my third meeting. Right before I got there, I received a text from the first girl saying she was renting the apartment to someone else, nothing personal. Le sigh. Anyway, I was hopeful for the last apartment, knowing it was a studio, so I'd be living alone. Yay! It was right near a tube station, which was great, but the aparment was seriously depressing. The closet doors were painted black (the room was white) and the bathroom was icky. It was a bachelor pad, and I am not a bachelor (though I do hold a bachelor degree). I left wanting to cry, but I know that's mostly just because I'm tired, and I always find something to cry about when I'm tired.

So I feel drained now, and hopeless, even though I know that's dumb because I've only seen three places. I've booked a bed in this hostel for seven nights, so I have at least six more days to find a place before I can start freaking out.

It's just, I realized that I don't know what I want. No, that's not true. I know exactly what I want. But I also know it doesn't exist. You can't get a charming flat in the center of London for a low price. What I need to figure out is what things to strip away from my ideal. So far, I've been operating on price and distance. If it's too far out, I don't even read the ad. Maybe what I need to do is compromise on the distance in order to find something I can see myself living in for a year.

Someone in my position should be flexible and willing to live in a shoebox dump. Students do this all the time. It's sort of a rite of passage. But I know that if I try to force myself to be that way, I'll end up unhappy. I really, really wish I wasn't so picky, but I don't think that's something I can change about myself.

Anyway, I need to relax and remember that I still have time. And I haven't even gone to orientation and met all the other students in my course desparately looking for a place to live, or a roommate. I'll be fine. I just have to keep reminding myself of that. I'll be fine. And I'll get some sleep and feel much better in the morning.

The one bright point in the day is that I bought a pashmina. For one pound! I've noticed that everyone is wearing decorative scarfs here, and while I'm not normally one to partake in trends, I got scarf envy. I've been eyeing some for a couple days now. They sell them at all the souvenir stores for £3.99 or 3 for £10. I don't want three. Just one. The second flat I visited was located directly above an Indian street market, and they had them for £1, so I bought a pale blue-green one (Becky would say it looks like toothpaste). So now I'm depressed, but I feel pretty! That's all that really matters. Oh! And I got honked and waved at by a random guy. What did he think I was gonna do? Run after him to give him my number? Boys. *shakes head*

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Houses of Parliament

After spending a couple hours online, answering apartment ads (I left a bunch of messages, only two were returned), I decided to check out the Houses of Parliament. During the summer, you can tour the houses, so I decided to do that before it's too late. Both of my guidebooks said it would cost £7, so I was more than a bit peeved to discover that the price is actually £12.



I need to be really careful that I don't let money rule my life. I get way too stressed out by it.



Anyway, not much to say about the Houses. They were kinda cozy. Very small. There are some 700 lords in the House of Lords, but only seats for 300-400. Which works out, since only half of them ever show up on a given day. Similar situation with the House of Commons. Once you're appointed to the House of Lords, you're there for life, but seats are no longer hereditary. That's all I can be arsed to say about that. Politicians, blech.



Ooh, speaking of: tonight there was a commercial on TV advertising the US Presidential debates. They're actually advertising the debates here! And the only reason I noticed the TV at all was because they were using one of Obama's speeches to advertise the debates. Brilliant! I doubt they use McCain to advertise anything (well, you wouldn't want to put people to sleep). In the interest of fairness, they probably should. But this isn't their election, so I guess they don't have to be fair. Fine with me! Obama's voice is so soothing!

Love you all! Pictures here.



Monday, September 22, 2008

Science Museum

“R,” I was halfway through your comment before I figured out who you are. I’m thick. I was like, “Who do I know whose name starts with ‘R’ and who is with someone who starts with ‘B?’” Then I was like, “Law school? Wait, I know this one…think, think…” Will you take residual jet lag as an excuse?

Sunday, I decided to actually do something with myself other than wander the hard, lonely streets. I thought about going to a market, cuz it’s the weekend! And I’m a huge fan of huge crowds. I decided on Spitalfields Market, clear on the other side of town from my hostel. Then I thought maybe I should try to go to the Science Museum, which is FREE! But those two things are miles apart. Reading in my Lonely Planet guidebook about the Science Museum (FREE!), I realized it’s located right next to two other enticing FREE! museums, the Natural History Museum, and the Victoria and Albert. So I decided to hit that bunch. I started with the Science Museum, and ended with…the Science Museum. I was there pretty much from open to close, give or take a half hour. It was pretty nifty!




The Energy Hall and Energy Ring





A mural made up of gumballs (up close)





Gumball mural








Add that to my list of ailments



Even though it was FREE!, it was an excellent museum, very modern. At least as good as OMSI (and obviously way better that Pacific Science Center, which is totally ghetto). There was a whole cabinet naming different phobias (pictured above). Each phobia had an object to describe it, except arachniphobia. I knew it was a trick meant to scare you; I knew the spider was somewhere in the case, but it didn't make it any less jarring when I found the tarantula on the floor of the case. I mean, it was behind glass and all, but it was BIG!

I didn’t get very far in the museum, though, before it was lunch time and I was HUNGRY. I had meant to make myself a sandwich earlier, but I got really lazy after breakfast, and also realized I didn’t have sandwich baggies. So I was hungry and without food. The museum cafeteria served up enticing meals for seven and a half freaking pounds, so I decided to wander around South Kensington (“South Ken” to the locals) in search of cheaper food. I didn’t find it, but took some photos along the way! Yay!





Old fashioned mile-marker





In back of the college, a veritable wasteland of kegs.






In the end, I sucked it up and paid the 7.50GBP for “sausages and mash” at the museum. Did they call them that because they thought tourists might get confused by “bangers?” Cuz I’m pretty sure tourists only come to London to hear/read words like, “bangers.” I sat at an empty stretch of the communal table, but it wasn’t long before a group of at least five teenage girls sat down across from me. I hate teenagers, especially teenage girls. Especially this type of teenage girls. You know, the popular, stylish, permanent sneer-type of girls. The best part was, at least three of them were wearing elastic headbands that pushed their hair up around the tops of their heads so they looked ABSURD! I should have taken a picture, because it was hilarious, but hard to describe. When I was feeling self-conscious, assuming they were judging me, I just had to remind myself that they were the ones that looked like freaking mushrooms.


Anyway, as I suspected, 7.50GBP worth of food was too much for my small, but empty tummy. I had to very stealthily wrap the final “banger” in a napkin and secret it away to my purse. I felt like a criminal, even though I paid for it, and in an American cafĂ©, they would have provided me with a take-away container. After I left the museum (much, much later), I walked the short distance to Kensington Gardens and ate the sausage, and it still felt like I should hide what I was doing. Clandestine public consumption of a sausage that was rightfully mine. Oh, the thrill of it all! London really is bringing out my wild side! I’ll be getting a tattoo and eyebrow piercing next thing you know.

"Materials House" made up of as many different materials as possible (backside)




Materials House (frontside). Each material has a single display "loop"




I'm too lazy to look up the name of this statue. The people with wings are "Peace Faeries" celebrating the Internation Day of Peace






Royal Albert Hall




So many pretty buildings

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Saturday, Part 2


Guess what? I found the Goodness Cafe! It was empty. As in, no furniture or people. And the "G" in its name is covered by a real estate agent's sign. The Goodness Cafe, as in, "Goodness gracious, how many more miles am I going to have to walk before I can use the freaking internet?!"

But it's fine. I caught the tube into the city and I'm sitting in a cafe called "The Breakfast Club." Izzi and Tim brought me the other day. It has a really fun atmosphere, and free wifi. You know, if you don't think about the 2GBP I spent getting here on the tube, or the 3.50GBP I spent at the cafe itself. (Hm, I just realized that was a $7 smoothie...Must remember not to convert to dollars.)

But the benefits make the price worth it. I'm in SOHO, around other young people, in a sunny cafe (it's decorated yellow and orange, and the chalkboard outside the door has the lyrics to Coldplay's "Yellow"), and, best of all, using my own laptop. The cheap internet cafe I was using before was dark, depressing, and cramped, and I had to use public computers.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Saturday

Becky, you are too funny.

Well, one night at the hostel and I've already had a semi-date. While I was cooking my dinner (ramen!), a South African guy came in to cook his own instant noodle meal, and we got to talking. After dinner, we went to an "off-license" liquor store (no idea what that means, but it's perfectly legal), and we each grabbed a Smirnoff Ice, then went back to the hostel bar to hang out. While we were talking, a guy from Vancouver, BC started talking to us. Youth hostels are great, aren't they? I decided to be lame, though, and go to bed around 10:30. The Canadian guy invited us out with some other people, but I figured I should save my monies. Lame lame lame. Anyway, don't get any ideas, cuz I wasn't even remotely attracted to them. Well, the Canadian guy was kinda cute, but he smoked three cigarettes in the hour that we were sitting there.

I'm in a four-bed, all female dorm. Two of the girls left this morning (must remember to wear earplugs tonight), and the remaining girl is really nice. She's from Australia (everyone here is from Australia) and her name is Pip. I had to have her repeat it three times before I would believe that's what she was saying.

I'm using the internet connection at the hostel (1.50GBP per hour; :-p) and it SUCKS! Super slow. But the good thing is, I can use my own computer! So, pictures below! Yay! Though I haven't taken many. I'm still having an awful time finding free wifi in the city. I went to three places yesterday that were listed on the map John sent me: the first wasn't free, the second was free but they based how much time you got on how much you spent at the cafe (I spent just under 5GBP, so I only got 45 min!), and the third has no wifi whatsoever. Grr. And at the place where I "earned" 45 min, I was very disappointed to discover that my 17.99GBP (about $36) power adaptor didn't accept grounded US plugs. My laptop has a grounded plug. GRRR! Luckily, I was able to return the adaptor at full price, and I bought one from the youth hostel for under 5GBP that works fine. It doesn't convert power from 240V to 120V, but my laptop can supposedly handle up to 240V. Cross your fingers and pray that I don't fry it! But that's another day without free internet. Alas.

I shall try one more place down the street from here, called the "Goodness Cafe." As in, "Oh my goodness, I finally found free wifi!" I hope.

Hm, what else to say? Did I already talk about letting agents? They suck. A lot of the advertised apartments here are handled by letting agents, which are sort of like real-estate agents, but for apartments. You have to pay them a fee, and they allow you access to their advertised apartments, but they don't guarantee that they'll find you a place. I went to one the other morning, one with a lot of cheap apartment ads, and the woman told me I wouldn't find anything in my price range. Even though there were a handful of their ads that were within my price range. She said I can pay the agency fee, and then she can set me up with an apartment out of my price range. Gee, thanks. So I think I'll try to deal privately for now, though it limits my options. :-p


Saying "no" to scurvy, one mandarin at a time.



Barack Obama on the tube!
The British are obsessed with him,
God bless them.
I think they wish he was
their prime minister. This picture shows
him in front of 10 Downing Street.



This is the bottom of my suitcase.
Once upon a time, it had two wheels.
Now it has but one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Feeling better

I'm feeling a bit better today, though still having trouble finding a place to live. I slept all through the night last night! Yay! I think I might be adjusting to the time zone. And John sent me a map of all the cafes in London with free wifi, so I'll go find one today. I asked a woman at the youth hostel if there were any around, and she said, "No, in London, they're few and far between." Turns out, there are two within a mile of the hostel.

I think I forgot to mention about my flight, I was feeling all grown up for leaving home alone and moving to a different part of the world and all that, and then I spilled a full cup orange juice all over my lap within the first 30 min of the flight. Seriously, the first 30 minutes. It went everywhere. I was wearing fairly quick-drying pants, though, so it wasn't too bad. I felt like a child, though.

Did I say Izzi and her boyfriend had iPod Nanos? Cuz I was wrong, if I did. I have an iPod Nano, and it certainly doesn't access the internet. They have those things that are iPhones, but without the phone. Whatever those are called.

I have been riding the tube a lot. I love the tube. They built it really near the center of the earth, so it's hotter than Hades, but it's still fun. There is seriously no ventilation whatsoever, except at random points riding the escalator, when you're suddenly blasted with large gusts of wind. I don't know what possessed them to add super-powered fans to the escalators.

Today, I moved from my couchsurfing digs to a youth hostel. Actually, I haven't checked in yet. I just left my luggage there. But the thing about the tube is, they only sometimes have escalators, and elevators are even more rare. To get in or out, or even to transfer from one line to another, you have to take stairs. My luggage is really heavy (I know, Becky, I know, I brought way too much). Earlier, I was attempting to drag it up some stairs to a train, and a really nice guy picked up the bottom to help me. He was cute, too! I probably should have offered him some Pringles to thank him, but he got on the train and I didn't. Oh well, I'm sure there will be other nice, hot guys I can share Pringles with.

A good thing about the tube is that, when a train stops unexpectedly in between stations, the drivers get on the PA and make a little announcement, even though it's usually something mundane like, "There's another train in the station, and we're just waiting for them to clear out." In France, I once sat on a stopped train in the middle of a field for 10 minutes. Rather than make an announcement about why we were stopped, the driver turned off the power, including the air conditioning (it was June in the south of France: hot!)

I guess I've been looking forward to moving to London for too long, because I sort of take everything for granted, even though I only just got here. I'm far too worldly. Where is my sense of wonder? Excitement at hearing a Cockney accent? This morning, the radio was on, and people were giving the news in British accents and I didn't even bat an eye. The one thing that still makes me smile every time, though, is school-children. They all wear adorable little uniforms, and speak with adorable little accents. Even if they're horrible little monsters, they still look and sound so charming!

So, I've spent all the (British) cash that Aunt Chris and Sara gave me. It goes so freaking quick! Fear not, though. I shall find a bureau de change and change all my American monies into pounds. That should last me for at least six more hours.

Feel free to email me or ask me questions in the comments. I'll try to remember to answer them in following posts. I miss you all to pieces! Come visit me! I don't have any place for you to stay (or even for me to stay) but we can wander around and be useless together!

Ugh

Hello everyone. I'm writing you from an internet cafe. £1 per hour! I have no idea if that's a good deal, but it doesn't really matter. I've walked all over London in the last two hours trying to find a cafe with free wifi. I'm not sure they exist.

Anyhoo...where to begin. I think I'm still quite jetlagged, because I'm getting frustrated and cranky easily. So far no leads on apartments, but I haven't had internet access in order to really search. But I suppose I have time. I feel kind of aimless in general, though. Useless.

The jetlag is weird because I keep waking up at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning (9pm-ish in Seattle) just starving, even though I've had a good dinner. Then, of course, I can't fall asleep. I hope I adjust soon.

I saw Izzi today. That was great. I spent a few hours with her and her boyfriend. They used their iPod Nano's to help me search for apartment ads. I think I'll get to see her again next week, so that's something to look forward to.

My flight was great. You know how when you get on a plane, you wonder who you'll be stuck next to? Maybe it'll be someone nice and friendly, or maybe someone really annoying and chatty, or maybe your future spouse. But you don't really entertain the possibility that there won't be anyone next to you. My plane was only about 75% full, so lots of people, including me had empty seats next to them. It was great because I could put up the armrest between the two seats and sort of stretch out to sleep. So I ended up sleeping for much of the flight, maybe 5 or 6 hours. Also, the flight somehow arrived an hour earlier than was printed on the ticket.

I've been spending these first three nights "couchsurfing" with a woman in Camden. I had serious issues finding her place, and along the way, one of the wheels of my luggage broke. Ah, memories of Arles! Becky, did you burn yourself on your wheel cuz it was hot from friction? I had to basically drag the bag across the sidewalk for about a mile. I think I may have left two black lines on Camden Road, one for going up the street, and one for when I realized I'd gone way too far, and had to come back. My shoulders and back are dying. Camden is brilliant, though! I love it. Unfortunately, it's also kind of spendy, so it's unlikely I'll be able to live there.

I've heard about as many American accents so far as British accents. Most accents, though, are neither. It's funny to ride the Tube and wonder just how many people on your train are actually British.

Well, I should probably start focusing on finding an apartment. Thank you all for your emails and messages! I love you guys! Cross your fingers and pray that I can get settled down soon. Amy, stay safe! Latuhz!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Mmm, money

I sold some stuff via Craigslist.org on Friday, and then I held a garage sale yesterday and today. Things were pretty slow at times, especially this morning. And for some odd reason, people kept paying me with pocket change today. I mean, $6 or $7 worth of pocket change. From three different people! The kid that lives across the street bought my speakers for $7 with $2 in rolled pennies and $5 in loose quarters. But hey, $7 is $7.

I just finished up and counted all the cash, expecting somewhere around $600. Including all the pocket change, I made just over $1000 in three days! Amazing! So big thank you's to all the people who donated their stuff and their time! Thanks to Becky and John for being enthusiastic sandwich-board people (minus the sandwich boards). Thanks to Ross and Sandra for the donated big-ticket items. Thanks to Pops for all the time and junk you donated. Thanks to Michele for the sandwiches and moral support. And thanks to Amy for letting Pops clear out all the stuff you had in storage at his house. Barbie's got a new home! And thanks to all the random neighbors who forked over a lot of money for my junk.

While I wouldn't exactly call it "fun" to have a garage sale (in fact, I whined about it both days), I do certainly enjoy large wads of cash. Now I can buy food when I get to London!