As we write this blog entry, a quick 3 weeks has already passed in London and more like 3 months since this was posted. Our plane touched down in the afternoon on October 31st and after a long immigration line plus a wrong train we finally arrived at our guesthouse! With a 5 and a half hours time difference and a 1am arrival, it made for a really long travel day. Right off the bat we made friends at Mrs.Wilson’s Guesthouse by opening the door for Kat, a Aussie, who was coming back from hockey forgot her key. In our brief late night chat, we talked with her about living in London and soon found out she is a teacher also. After our talk with Kat, we all went up the stairs to retire for the night.
Before we set off to Japan, we never set up shipping for our proper clothes to get to London and obviously we didn’t take care of it during our travels! Here we were in London stuck with hot weather travel clothes and nothing really fit to work in. The housemate we let in the previous evening, Kat, had the day off from work and offered to take us around to do some shopping in Lewisham, a borough of London.
View from Greenwich Park
First stop was a store called Primark where they have decent looking clothes at an affordable price. For 31 pounds Jess bought a pair of dress pants, a sweater, some dress shoes and just like that she was ready for her orientation tomorrow. We also did a bit of grocery shopping before we headed back to the house. The place where we are staying at, Mrs. Wilson’s Guesthouse, is an old English house with 11 rooms. In total there is about 15 people staying in the house and let’s say things can get a little crazy during supper time with only one kitchen! Overall we have been happy here aside from the lack of fridge space, but we manage. Located in a part of London called Greenwich (pronouced Gren-itch) we are rubbing elbows with some of the rich and powerful of London. It’s not the expensive area in London, but it has lots of upper class Londoners who like how close it is to the city yet it feels far away with it’s open green spaces. Greenwich park is absolutely beautiful and only a 5 minute walk from our doorstep.
On day two in London, Jess had her orientation at 10am with the agency she is working for. It seemed simple on paper get on the train at Westcomb Park, take it to Cannon Street, then get on the underground and we should be there! Unfortunately, it quite didn’t work out that way in practice. Once we arrived at Cannon Street, quickly we became disoriented as we couldn’t find the route to the tube station (lots of construction is going on to the underground for the 2012 Olympics). With luck on our side we asked the right (I’m sure UK spell check will turn that to proper) Londoner as she was heading in the same direction as us, but walking. Running a bit late we hustled with our guide and quickly found it wasn’t a very far from where we were. Once you get into the city, London is a very walk-able city as everything is relatively close.
One of the resident foxes in Mrs. Wilson's backyard
Eventually we got to Jess’s appointment a bit late, but it was better late then never! After she did her orientation and all the formalities we went to open a bank account. With her letter from the agency saying she has a job off we went to the bank to open an account. We went with HSBC and they have this, what seemed cool at the time, little device called a secure key here. It looks a like a calculator, is almost the size of a credit card and it’s propose is to protect you from online banking fraud. When you enter your details to log-on to your internet banking everything is the same except there is one extra step. Where you have to turn on your secure key, enter your PIN for it and then it generates a 6 digit code you have to enter into the computer to complete the log in process. How it works is, your secure key will generate a specific code at certain times of the day and HSBC’s servers know this code. Your internet banking account is linked to the secure keys serial number on the back, so it’s unique code. It is a little annoying to use in reality although. Opening an account took another couple hours and next was seeing a company that will take care of Jess’s taxes.
In the UK it is your employers responsibility to file your taxes every year. So in Jess’s case since she is a ‘contractor’ in a sense she needs to hire a company to do this for her. Sort of sucks since they take a percentage of her pay, but it’s needed. That was the last thing we did on day two aside from getting a pay as you go chip for Jess’s phone. You have so many choices for cell phone providers out here and it’s pretty cheap. A lot cheaper when you compare it to Canada, that’s for sure.
The rest of the week we spent just getting used to where we are and settled in a bit. We also checked out London’s National Gallery on the weekend and WOW! They have a huge and diverse collection. In total they have 40 or 50 rooms with over 2,000 paintings and large collections of famous painters. It will take anyone numerous visits to take it all in, thank goodness it’s free admission. As a matter of fact almost all the museums in London are free, it’s just the special exhibits museums host that charge an admission fee. Like the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit the National Gallery is hosting right now.
An afternoon in Greenwich Park
By the time Monday morning rolled around on the next week, Jess was all dressed and ready to go teach! She got five days in for the week, knocked some socks off and did it all in the same Primark outfit! That weekend a housemate, Koorri, was celebrating her birthday so the house cooked up a feast with chicken parmi’s (crazy Aussie lingo, Chicken Parmesan in English) as the main event. After we were all full and merry from Rachel’s cooking, we stuck around the house for a few drinks and then headed to the train in dramatic fashion to go out. Most of the housemates came out and danced the night away in the city. The next day was slow moving in the house with a lot of laughs over the pictures taken that night.
Our luggage was enroute during week two in London, after some technical difficulties and with the help of Aaron’s parents & his friend Jeremy. In perfect condition out luggage arrived on Friday right before Koorri’s birthday, so it was really good timing! Thanks again! Excited to now have more London appropriate clothes, Jessica was ready for another week of teaching and couldn’t wait for Monday to roll around.
Or maybe not, since on Monday she slept in and didn’t call into work to see if they had any work…opps. They eventually called her with something, but she used the old I have a Doctor’s appointment. We used that stolen Monday to get some some errands done and tried to head to the Doctor’s to register for a NHS number to make the day off look legit but it was closed. The NHS number is exactly like your Alberta Healthcare number, but in England it’s country-wide. For the remaining 4 days Jess woke up on time, sort of, and worked the rest of the week with varying success.
The Imperial War Museum
Aaron during this time as been applying for jobs in the morning and then being a tourist in the afternoon. He’s seen the Remembrance Day celebration, The Imperial War Museum, The National Maritime Museum, a couple National Gallery’s and just strolling down in the city. This next week he’s been told by two parties to stop looking for the perfect job, so potentially he might be educating children as a teachers assistant. Keep your eyes on the news for updates on that.
Aside from that you are up-to-date on London! We are in full stride now, but still not used to flicking the light switches the opposite way and looking the wrong way when crossing the street!