Category Archives: England

Break On Through To The Other Side

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This holiday season, as usual, came quick and flew by even quicker.  The week before Christmas Jessica had off from teaching and we spent the week getting ready for the holiday season.  Buying gifts, wrapping gifts and gallivanting around London.  The by the time the 23rd of December rolled around we were heading to Kent with Jessica’s cousin Helen, her husband Andy and her 12 year old son Ben.  They live north of London in Sheffield and drove down and picked us up.  For Christmas 2011 we were going to spend it with The Bakers, Andy’s side of the family, in Kent.  A quick little 1 hour drive south from the bustle of London and you are in the quaint county of Kent.  It is called the garden of England, so you can imagine how nice it is.

It starts to get dark in England around 4:30pm, so sadly when we were driving to Kent we didn’t get to take in any of the beautiful country side.  Once we arrived at Andy’s parents, they quickly sat us at the table and fed us fish pie.  As far as traditional British food this has been our favorite so far.  Chicken tikka masala is the national dish of the British and probably our favorite, but we don’t think it really counts as real British food.  As much as we got sick of eating out on our travels leading up to London, I think we turned a corner and became sick of cooking every night.  It was great to be served great meals for the 4 or 5 days we stayed.

The days leading up to Christmas we explored Rye (Paul McCartney lives here), Hastings and Bodiam Castle with our tour guides Helen, Andy and Ben.  Both Rye and Hastings are small cute little towns.  We walked around Rye first popping into a few shops here and there.  Then we headed to Hastings where we looked in a maritime museum, walked along the ocean, had some really good fish & chips and then headed back.  Really massive difference in the way of life in England outside of London.

On Christmas day, it was just the usually suspects at the Baker house for gift opening and dinner.  It was a great spread for dinner, getting hungry thinking about it again, and the only real difference from Canadian Christmas dinner was their Christmas pudding for dessert.  Which is pretty much just a fruit cake they drench in brandy, light on fire, blow out and then serve with brandy butter or custard.

Everyone at the table kept on asking us if there were many difference between British and Canadian Christmas, but we couldn’t see any besides dessert.  However we couldn’t for the life of us land on the traditional  Canadian dessert.  Jessica thinks it is pumpkin pie while Aaron thinks it is fruit cake.

Helen and Ben skipped town on boxing day and went to Malta for a vacation.  While the rest of us held down the Baker’s house for the influx of guests.  Andy’s brother and sister came over for the day with their families and it was a lively day.  Kids running around, Christmas gift opening, play with the new toys (this air cannon was the star), Jessica snoring in the corner and board game playing.  It was an exhausting day to say the least!  After a well deserved sleep we packed up, said our thanks to Andy’s parents and hit the road for London.  Our flight was leaving early the next day for Amsterdam and Andy was going to crash at our place and drive us the next day.  Once we got back to London, Andy headed out to explore while we…well Aaron packed for the trip.  When Andy came back we all headed to the pub for supper and a few pints.  The following day Andy graciously drove us to the airport and off we went to Amsterdam, which was less time then flying from Edmonton to Calgary.

Once in Amsterdam, we had a bit of time to kill before we could check into the hotel.  Around town we went searching to exchange our Sterling pounds to Euros and eventually found out banks in The Netherlands don’t handle physical cash or exchange money.  Only those dodgy looking Western Union kiosks do, oh well.  We shopped around for a bit for the best rate and then hoped for the best.  It was almost nearing check-in time so we headed to the hotel and got all checked-in.  The apartment-hotel was beautiful, could not have asked for more!  Modern decor, big gas stove, lots of room and comfy beds.

During our time in Amsterdam we checked out a lot of museums.  On day 1, in the morning we went to the Van Gogh museum where they have a large collection of Van Gogh’s work, paintings that inspired him, paintings he inspired and some of the paintings he and his brother Theo collected.  We easily lost track of time in the musuems three floors of beautiful paintings and interesting letters between Van Gogh and Theo.  You get a real sense of Van Gogh from the museum.  Next we jetted across the street to the Bols Experience, where they have a little museum on the Bols alcohol brand.  Which is the oldest distillery company in the world.  The real highlight of the Bols Experience is the free tasters and 1 cocktail of your choice.  A stiff drink was the perfect ending to a museum day, Jess went with the Original Collins and Aaron the Holland House.  We both had known the Bols brand back in Canada, but just thought they produced that blue liqueur in the weird shaped bottle.  However my friends, they produce mainly Dutch Gin, almost 40 kinds of liqueurs and that weird shaped bottle is highly engineered for bartenders.  All in all it was a cool place.

Day 2 involved going to the Rijkmuseum and taking in some beautiful Dutch Golden Age paintings as well as fairly large Asian collection.  The Dutch was a super rich country back in the day.  Continuing with our drink after museums tradition, we went to the Heineken Experience after.  Touring the original factory, taste testing, interactive ride and finally enjoying a few pints.  Again it’s just what the doctor ordered!

All of a sudden it was New Years Eve and we had not made a plan on what to do!  After much researching and looking around we found a place that hadn’t sold out.  For the stroke of midnight we went to this nightclub call Rain.  Which was packed, but did have a disco dance floor.  New years day we were all hurting and just wound up watching Wallace and Gromit.  However the next day we went with Rachael to the Anne Frank museum which was really neat and we were glad we went early.  The queue  here was huge by the time we came out.  I don’t know what it is with Amsterdam, but buy your tickets online and beat the lines.  They are ridiculous.

The last ‘big’ thing we did in Amsterdam was go to a place called Nemo’s which is a big science center.  We were expecting it not to be so kid oriented, but it was still a good time.  They had soap bubble stations, this chain reaction-domino show every couple hours, science lab, ball factory and a bunch of other pretty neat stuff.  The novelty didn’t last too long and we probably spent more time on the roof looking at the panoramic view of Amsterdam.

As soon as you knew it, we were packing our bags and checking out!  With some time to kill before our flight we wandered around Amsterdam, having a sit for dinner, taking some photos and did a canal tour.  All in all Amsterdam was a success.  It’s a really world class city with lots of sights and things to do!

Brilliant Music Scene

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We recently picked up a weekly magazine called TimeOut: London, which we first encountered in Mumbai, that keeps you up to date on what’s going on in the city from arts to plays and everything in between.  This is where we came face to face with how many quality bands play London.  Now obviously it makes sense being a world class city, but it still boggles our mind.  You can honestly find a concert you’d like to see everyday of the week.  The amount of good bands playing here is in that large of quantity.  Jessica soon saw The Secret Sisters were playing here (we saw them at the Edmonton Folk fest this past August) and Aaron saw a local act King Krule that interested him.  We didn’t end up going to any of those two, but we did break the London concert ice by going to the English dub step producer James Blake’s concert the following week.

The venue James Blake played in was a unique old theater with high red ceilings and Roman looking art work done in gold.  It was a type of venue you would not find in Edmonton or even Canada for that matter!  The show was good, a young London based band named after the Amsterdam park, Vondelpark, opened up and put on a good show.  James Blake set was good playing his major hits like The Wilhelm Scream, CMYK and his cover of Canadian artist Feist’s song Limit To Your Love.  His music is mostly electronic ballads that carefully build up in intensity, so the crowd vibe was not high energy.  Some people were even sitting on the floor!

Rapper Big Daddy Kane sporting the infamous hi-top fade.

Once the concert bug bite, we soon went to another concert this time to see Toro Y Moi.  His music wasn’t Jessica’s cuppa tea, but he plays an lo-fi electronic/pop, garage, chillwave type genre.  If that makes any sense to anybody.  Sometimes at these show, especially the indie/hipster crowd, people watching over takes the show.  At the Toro Y Moi show there was this tall guy with a huge hi-top fade that would make 90’s hip-hop artist green with jealously.  This guy just happened to get the front middle spot for the show too.  His head and hi-top rose  above the crowd like a mountain peaking through the clouds.

After we bought some drinks we tried to make our way to the stage and wound up pretty close to the guy with the hi-top fade and his buddy.  Out of the corner of our eyes we peaked over at them here and there and noticed they were huffing and passing a paper bag back and forth.  Some peoples children.  All the openers and Toro Y Moi put on an enjoyable show.  With that second concert it sort of started a Wednesday date night tradition for us.  Where we have tried to do something special every Wednesday to spice things up a bit.  Other then that it’s the same old, same old in London.  We moved out of the Guesthouse into a place her son rents out down the street and it’s been nice so far.  We only have 2 roommates, a washing machine, kitchen to our selves pretty much, our own private bathroom and shower.  Can’t complain!

Toro Y Moi in the flesh

What Aaron was trying to take a picture of

One last thing, at our new place the bedroom window looks onto a small backyard and one day Aaron saw a bunch of birds lined up on a roof. Wanting to take a picture he quickly ran out the basement door and started clicking away through the gap between the wood gate and stone fence in the backyard.  When all of a sudden somebody yelled ‘there’s a pervert’.  Just thinking that this pervert must be somewhere down the street or something, Aaron continued taking pictures.  Then he heard it again, so Aaron put down the camera and saw a group of 6 or 7 people walking down the street.  Someone in the group asked ‘where?  where?’ and at that moment Aaron made eye contact with the boy who cried pervert.  Sorry mom, the pervert was Aaron.  Quickly Aaron yelled at them ‘no, no, no, no I was just taking pictures of the birds up there’ and pointed to the roof.  The group of them collectively looked up, went ‘ohhhh’, said sorry and continued on walking.

The shot that got Aaron called a pervert.

Here’s a song by each band we went and saw if you are interested:

Pip, Pip, Cheerio

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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!

-Aarissca