January 31st, 2007 by matt

In most places I’ve lived, people jaywalk, be it crossing against a light or in between intersections. While I’ve heard stories on weird places like Seattle where people actually obey crossing signals, I want nothing to do with that. London, I’m finding is no exception. However, there’s a slight difference. Unlike cities in the US, the pedestrian has no rights. Try crossing the street anywhere when you don’t have the light or a zebra crossing and the cars will try to run you down. Add to the fact that there’s no such thing as a straight road or a non-blind crossing (there’s always some sort of obstruction) and lots of small cars, and it’s a stressful experience. So it’s amusing to see people crossing the street here as it’s more like running for their lives in the hope that a car doesn’t come out of nowhere. Even having a crossing light doesn’t always help since they last about 5 seconds and there’s no flashing sign. It goes from green to red and 2 seconds later, the traffic signal goes red-yellow and the cars are revving their engines.

On a similar note, I’ve found an answer my previous question about which side of the pavement people walk on. Yes. They walk on whatever part of the sidewalk they want to. And they’ll walk into you (or play the game where you both hit the same spot and then sort of move side to side until you each pick an opposing direction). I’ve decided that, since I need to get used to cars driving on the left side of the road, I’m walking on the left side of the pavement and I’ll be the aggressive one when it comes to confrontations with the people who are just plain confused.

And a final, unrelated note: my work permit has been approved which means I will be able to legally work in the UK. Exciting! When I get back to the US, all I have to do is go to the consulate and get a work entry thing in my passport and I’m completely legal.

I’ve not been eaten!

January 30th, 2007 by matt

The brits didn’t devour me whole. I’m just in househunting/finance freaking out mode in the moment and not exactly motivated to write about it. It’ll be a very tight first few months in London. πŸ™

An American/British Hybrid

January 27th, 2007 by matt

The last time I was in London, Carolyn and I met up with Dina and Adrian. It was only for a night, and we failed miserably in finding some good pubs as, by the time we finished dinner, everything was shutting down. This time, around, Adrian came up and we got a good and early start. Adrian had researched some pubs that had that classy, uniquely British look in the Westminster area, so I met up with him for fun and games.

We hit maybe 6 pubs, all but one being winners. Some great old glasswork and lighting that had a nice cozy feel to it. And of course, lots of tasty beer. Now, being the responsible people that we are, after pub #2, we realized we needed food to line our stomachs, lest we regret it in the morning. Unfortunately, we were in the Oxford/Piccadilly Circus area. As we found, aside from a number of old school pubs, it’s basically shopping and lunch. As we were really looking for pubs and not food, we just wanted something simple to eat and move on. Alas, this “something” became Burger King. Everything else was closed and pubs apparently don’t serve food on Friday nights (heaven forbid people might wanna have some food whilst drinking!). So here I am, admitting to eating American fast food AND in Piccadilly Circus of all places!!

But I’m not ashamed because it was in the purpose of drinking good English beer in cool pubs. So I hereby claim no guilt for my eating shitty English food! πŸ™‚

The evening ended remembering that England shuts down early. We got back to my hotel’s area around 11:30 and all the nice pubs were locking their doors! Yikes. So we ended up at a more standard bar type place which announced last call 2 minutes later. And finally, we finished the night at the hotel bar drinking highly over-priced cider.

Burger King and things shutting down early aside, twas a fun night for all. Today, Dina comes into town and I hopefully find some more estate agents. The apartment looking on Friday was a good start, but I need to see a whole lot more. I’ll be seeing more with that estate agent on Monday. But I need more more more! πŸ™‚

Running in London

January 25th, 2007 by matt

So I brought my running clothes with the purpose of actually doing some running. First of all, I need to stay in shape if I’m going to drink at every pub in London :). Second, it’d be a great way to see the city. So I got up early this morning and tried to see if I couldn’t get myself lost or hit by a car. Needless to say, I am still standing, so I survived the mean streets on London. I was trying to take a short trip to this canal which has a little park along it, but I took a wrong turn right off the bat which meant I ran sort of in parallel to the canal for a while. Eventually, I hit a canal but the park was closed until sunrise, so I ran on a road that goes along the park/canal. Then I decided I had a good sense of where I was so I started taking detours. The canal was pretty: there are nice apartments along it, it has a peaceful quality and on one side of it, there were houseboats lined up. A nice little trip. Alas, every time I knew where I was, I’d try a different road until I managed to get myself all backwards and took a wrong turn. I did bring my London A-Z, so I was able to figure out where I was. I took one more wrong turn which was actually a correct turn and ended up right back at my hotel and ready for breakfast.

Anyway, other than that, I have an appointment with a large estate agent company to look at some places tomorrow around noon. Hopefully, it’ll be productive. I don’t necessarily expect to find the apartment of my dreams on my first time out, but to just get a lay of the land and understand the whole real estate market better. fun fun!

London Notes

January 24th, 2007 by matt

These are just some random observations:

  • I’m forcing myself to comprehend the whole “driving on the opposite side of the road” idea. I’ve gotten the jaywalking thing down pat. but it means I spend a lot of time reminding myself which side of the street the cars are driving. Never fear Mom, I am not blindly crossing the street. I spend a long time determining which direction the traffic is coming from and then cross. And, as I walk along the street, I keep reminding myself whic direction the traffic next to me is going.
  • I’ve picked up 2 more smart cards. In the US, I had a smart card to get into the office building and to use the CTA. Now, I have another card for the UK office and an Oyster Card. That and the hotel room card means i have a lot of magnetic stripe and smart cards
  • Gastropubs have some tasty, but not cheap food. Plus if usually guarantees that they will have some hand-pumped ales (yummy!)
  • I have found a single pub with beer that is cheaper than an American pint. Granted, an imperial pint is about 20% more than a US pint πŸ™‚
  • I had strike one on my housing hunt. The place my coworker Ben found his place said they had nothing available with my criteria. I’m a little worried I sounded to rigid or that they thought I had rigid criteria. The tricky thing is that many estate agents only focus on a single borough or two. If they have nothing in those boroughs, I need to look at others. Anyways, tomorrow, I will walk into places and make it clear I’m more flexible.
  • I like the questions to the Prime Minister. Granted, I think he knows what to expect more than you might think (he’s clearly reading off prepared notes), but I’d love to see Bush answering questions from Congress or the Senate πŸ™‚

What Side of the Sidewalk Do you Walk On?

January 23rd, 2007 by matt

That’s a serious question. In the US, we more or less drive on the right side of the road and walk on the right side of the sidwalk. In the UK, they drive on the left side of the road. Interestingly, with a lot of thought, I’m about 60% used to this. However, when I walk on a sidewalk, I have no idea whether to be on the left or right side of the sidewalk.

Anyhoo (is that better mom/dad/a friend??), i kind of hit a jetlag wall. I woke up early this morning to see if I couldn’t check a little of the east end out, but it was cold and I was almost asleep on my feet. So I headed to work for morning, did a little work and kept trying to take in the city (digitally, of course) without feeling overwhelmed. Since one of the primary purposes of this trip is to actually get a grasp of this enormous city, I left after lunch and went for a wander. I’ve now seen a little bit of the city center (not gonna live there), the east end (I need to see more), Islington (nice but I doubt I can afford it) and now Camden. Camden seems like a good candidate. It’s got a little bit of an edge, but not in an unsafe way and it has all the nice aspects of a London borough. I almost feel ready to talk to an estate agent so I can be shown places and still have some idea what area I’m looking at!!

I promise, in the next few days, my camera will come out and you’ll get pictures of London, not 2 year old pictures of my broken bruised body and Carolyn’s broken and totaled car πŸ™‚

PS – If the British news folks talk about the Brits who got nominated for an Oscar again, I’m gonna kill someone!! The BBC isn’t doing themselves too proud based on what I’ve been watching on the tele! It’s almost worse than the US entertainment folks in that they are supposed to be respectable news and all they can talk about is some silly fucking movie with Helen Mirran (I liked her in Gosford Park but I have zero interest in hearing anything about a pampered “royal” like Queen Elizabeth!) and Judy Dench. Oh yeah, that and people have been looting the shit that has washed up on shore from that half-sunken freighter.

Back to London

January 22nd, 2007 by matt

Alrighty, lemme try to sum up the fun of the last few days with some bullet point observations:

  • The US domestic airlines can’t do international flights for shit. I flew American to London in October and they kindly provided a seat and some movies and nothing else. I just flew British Airways and they provided toothpaste/brush, good food, unlimited booze and nicer seats. And there is less of a sense that you are just a piece of cattle to them
  • London is a little overwhelming. I need to focus my energies on getting a good feel for this city, but that’s a tall order in just a couple of weeks.
  • The local football team, Arsenal, beat Manchester United in an exciting match. I found a pub that wasn’t packed to the gills and had a couple of pints whilst enjoying some friendly (and happy) football fans. It was interesting to see all sorts of people I recognized from watching the world cup this summer
  • The UK office is very nice. I like the design and, after they crammed our desks together in the US, I’m used to the lack of workspace every one has. I should be able to do all sorts of fun work that will keep me nice and busy for a while
  • Jetlag hasn’t been too bad and i’m managed to avoid getting sick after a flight. hurray!

Thus endeth my first list post of things in London. Tomorrow I’m going to try to spend more daylight hours taking in the city and working a little less. Hopefully, I’ll also see some apartments and see what the UK housing market has to offer.

Two years and no more car crashes

January 22nd, 2007 by matt

Not to be morbid or anything, but two years ago today, I was sitting in a hospital room after a pretty bad car crash. I was very lucky and feel pretty good that I’m here today and walking without any permanent problems. So let me show you how I looked two years ago:
Matt in the hospital

Meanwhile, here would be the car I was in.

Car Crash

Picture me in the part of the car that’s pretty much pushed into where the driver sits (I was the driver). One fractured pelvis and three ribs later, I have been running and trying to take good care of myself. Let’s hope I have many more healthy days ahead of me πŸ™‚

Greetings from London

January 22nd, 2007 by matt

Well, I made it to London yesterday morning without a hitch. The flight was a little late, but that was no problem. My hotel room is nice and I was awake enough when I got there to wander a little bit and have a couple of pints while watching Manchester United lost to Arsenal (Arsenal is located a little north of where I’m staying). Then I went out to dinner with my soon-to-be coworker Ben and his wife Jeri (sp?). Very nice people, good food and so on. Then I caught some of the end of the Bears winning and heading back to the Super Bowl. I slept good and hard last night and it’s time to really start my adventure. woo hoo!!

Travel Day!

January 20th, 2007 by matt

Phase one is here. Tonight, I shall be taking leave of Chicagotown for the great land of tea and scones! This is just a 2 week business trip, but it’s a start.The only exciting news is that I checked in to my flight and got a window seat! Woo hoo!

Anyway(s), today is just a day of getting a whole lot of shit in order so I can leave for the airport this evening. I swear I will not make this one of those “this morning i woke up” blogs. Just pointing out that not a whole lot is going on today, but it’ll get fun tomorrow!! πŸ™‚

A Way to Navigate London

January 18th, 2007 by matt

So, a move from Chicago to London is going to be different in many ways. One of them is navigation. Chicago has to be one of the easiest cities to get around. They have a simple grid system, almost all the streets are straight and in 90 degree angles and they have a numbering system to determine where you are. London, by contrast, appears to be a mess of narrow winding streets with little logic to it. Anyways, I was pointed to a fun link that has listings of a shit ton of pubs in the city and you can search by tube stops. So let me begin my pub exploration and navigation of the city by a list of pubs near my future office. I’ll be working near the Old Street tube stop (postal code EC1Y 1HQ).

One More Week and it Really Gets Interesting

January 15th, 2007 by matt

As I’ve pointed out before , this is going to be a slow-moving blog for a little while. And yet, I keep writing :). Regardless, things really get “interesting” (pictures! stories! adventure! Europe!) very soon. This week is all about boring errands I should have done earlier but now have to do since I’m leaving the country. But on Saturday night, I hop a plane and begin learning all I can about London, living in London and my new job. I’m really looking forward to it  because it’ll mean I’m done with the worst part of all of this and can begin truly enjoying what is happening and not just dreaming about it. Wheee!

In the meantime, here’s a picture of some very nice people.

Mom, Dad and Carolyn

Goodbye Anna and Chewy

January 14th, 2007 by matt

Anna and Chewy left with my parents this morning to begin a 6 month adventure. They have lived in this particular apartment for almost 3 years and now they get to spend the next 6 months in CT and Michigan before boarding a plane for England. I’ll miss them a lot but I know my parents will take good care of them until they are cleared to make a big ol’ trip.

Matt with the Cats
Me and two very sweet kitties.

I’ll stop writing about this now πŸ™‚

A Farewell to Kitties

January 13th, 2007 by matt

My parents have arrived with a nice big car. They leave tomorrow and they take with them two very cute cats. In their honor, here are a few pictures of them. It’s going to be a sad 6 months without them πŸ™

Kitties playing

Chewy and Anna playing with a toy on a string.

Chewy In one of his favorite spots

Chewy sitting on the couch. When I’m home, this is one of his favorite spots. He just likes to lounge.

Anna On Some Pillows

My mom put these pillows in the living room like this. Anna likes it. She tends to like small squares to sit and perch on.