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Friday, November 11, 2011

Becoming British-ified?

Was rather funny this week when I was talking to another American, a man who relocated to London five years ago from Chicago.  He asked if I had become Britishified yet?  I laughed because although I thought I had a vague inclination as to what he meant, I was curious what his thoughts were.  He said on his first visit home his mother was really worried about him because she thought he was depressed because he used to be really smiley but he just explained that he was becoming more British and they just have more somber dispositions.  It's funny because the opposite is also true, most Brits will comment about how 'friendly' Americans are when they talk about their holidays to the US.   He also commented that when he first moved here, he thought the people were really rude but has now come to accept that its just part of the culture in general to keep to yourself and not really talk to others.  So here are some ways that I feel like I have become British-ified and then a list of ways I am holding on to my American self :

British-ified Attributes :
  • I no longer strike up conversations with strangers standing next to me in public settings.  When I first got here, I did but people either looked at my like I was a silly tourist American or worse that I was just plain crazy.  I learned quickly that Brits in public are not looking for casual conversation to pass the time and that the preference is to keep to themselves.  I have gotten more use out of my iPod here then I did the entire time I travelled throughout the US for work.
  • I have begun drinking tea at least twice a day.  I know that 'tea time' is kind of a cliche way that Americans think about the English but it's a cliche for a reason.  They literally do drink hot tea with milk at several intervals throughout the day.  I find that now I drink tea at least twice a day (and sometimes more), once in the morning when I'm starting my day at work and then typically around two in the afternoon.  The kicker was when I was craving tea at home over the weekend and made myself a cup with no peer pressure at all from my co-workers.
  • I started using the word 'quid'.  Quid is to pound as buck is to dollar.  For whatever reason, when I try to say pound I often slip up and say dollar instead.   So to stop my slips, I found myself saying 'quid' instead because for whatever reason it rolled off the tongue a bit better.  My American co-worker made fun of me last week when he heard me refer to a lunch that we could pick up for 'a couple of quid' - he said he's lost all respect for me as a fellow American expat.
  • I know who Take That is now.  I had never heard of this boy band group which is apparently the equivalent to the Backstreet Boys back home.  They had a come back tour this summer and their music was all over the radio and I have to admit I did download one of their songs from iTunes last week - what have I become?  I didn't even listen to American boy band groups before!
  • I have an automatic top up on my Oyster card now.  One of my co-workers once commented that that's how they can tell American tourists apart from Americans living in London.  Oyster cards are the common form to pay for public transports on local buses, trains and tubes.  Public transport is such at the center of everyday life for me now.  I have the tube map, bus schedule, tfl website and the trainline apps all downloaded on my blackberry.  I have to learn what 'zone 1 - 6' mean and before I go anywhere, I have to ask myself what form of transport I'm going to take, what are my available options for transport, will trains/buses still be running when it's time to come back home,  can I carry anything I'm going to buy while I'm out on the bus/train back home?  I do miss jumping in my car without a thought in the world about planning my journey for the day!
  • I think the two most common topics of conversation I have with people is either about the weather or about people's journey on transport.  The conversations are typically short as neither of these two things changes too much from day to day.
  • I now go grocery shopping several times per week.  I typically only shop for a few meals at a time.  The fact that I only have a college dorm room sized refrigerator and no freezer at all really does stop me from buying anything too excessive.  I do think I throw a lot less food away now though so perhaps this is a good thing.
  • I have become a frequent visitor of the local pub.  Pub crawls, pub lunch, pub after work drinks - the pub is a central point for all British social interaction.  These evenings usually consists of several adults binge drinking from 5:30PM until the Pub closes around 11 or midnight.  The only time when the volume of the English voice seems to rise is when there are large amounts of alcohol consumed, which also incidentally many times also leads to flashing - who knew (not on my part so don't worry Mum) !
  • I have started calling 'cookies' by the more common term here of 'biscuits'.
  • I now struggle with what I mean when I say the word 'football' - I mean soccer, no football, no soccer - you get the gist.
Ways I have avoided becoming British-ified:
  • I still can't bring myself to say 'cheers' or 'ta' as a salutation or a thank you.  It just doesn't even sound right rolling off my tongue unless I have a drink in my hand when I do it (or rather several drinks already gone).
  • I have yet to have a Sunday Roast.  Sunday roast is a English tradition of having a meal of roasted meat, veg and potatoes on Sunday afternoon. 
  • I still have a hard time pronouncing something spelled 'Derby' as 'Darby'.
  • I am horrible bad at pub quizzes.  In my defense most of the questions were related to obscure British topics or shows I had never seen or sports I'd never heard of but still I don't think this is something I will ever become any better at no matter how long I stay in the UK.
  • I don't think I'll ever get into the legging fashion trend, just don't have the butt for it!
I'm sure there are lots more that I haven't thought of but these are my observations for tonight :) If you have any to share about cultural differences - any culture - feel free to add! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Escaping to paradise ...

So I think most people know that one of the big reasons I moved to London was to give me the opportunity to travel and see more of the world.   I set a goal for myself at the off set of this year that I would travel to at least five countries outside the UK by the end of 20111.   In addition, I sat down and made a list of all the European cities that I'd like to see first.  Most of my travel this year was planned by deciding what weekend I had available to get away and then searching all the cities I was interested in seeing and finding the best deals for the time that I had to go.  The ONE trip that I had planned out from the very beginning was Greece and more specifically the Greek islands.  When I finally had a full week off work, I knew exactly what the destination would be. 

Greece for me held the mystery of ancient gods and cities, the crisp, clean waters of the Aegean Sea, the white washed domed villages, not to mention the amazing food. To be honest, my goal for the holiday was truly just relaxation.  I wanted a slow paced, chilled vacation where I wasn't stressing out or waking up early to rush around and see all the tourist sights.  Having said that, I didn't think I could go to Greece without at least spending some time in Athens.  I settled on 3 days in Athens and 4 days in Santorini for my week long holiday.

I booked at a hotel in Athens that was right in the center of the Plaka with is the old town area within the city.  Most of the key tourist sights are within walking distance and since I was only going to be in Athens a short time, I decided that location was probably the most important factor for this hotel.  It was an amazing location.  The hotel itself had simple, clean rooms and pretty friendly staff but the location was well worth it.  I would recommend it to anyone that really wants to be in the center of the sights as well as having great access to the tavernas and shopping in the old town area (Adrian Hotel  Breakfast is included in the room price and is served each morning on the rooftop terrace, from which you can see the Acropolis and ancient ruins of the Parthenon.

I have found that if I have a limited amount of time in a city, I really do enjoy joining a tour group to hit the key sights.  If I have a lot of time to wander around on my own I enjoy that as well, however, tour groups do allow you to see the most important points and the guides usually will give you tidbits of information or point out specific points of interest that you would have likely missed having seen it on your own.   My tour included entrance into the Acropolis which is in all fairness one of the core sights that everyone sees when visiting the city.  It is amazing to wander around the site of the ancient city and imagine all the different forms that is has taken in its evolution over the centuries.  Each culture, leader, invader putting their own fingerprint on the history found within the ruins.  There is a lot of work to restore parts of the debris so it does take away a bit from the viewing however there is definitely something special about Athens.

The people were really friendly in Athens.  Each night the waiters would take the time to talk to me, asking where I was from and how I was enjoying Greece.  Each meal come out with a complimentary shot of Ouzo at the end (ouch!).  One evening I was even invited out for drinks with a nice Greek gentleman who left me laughing so hard at his cheesy pickup lines, I had to excuse myself and go back to my hotel.  But it's all part of the experience right ? And he did buy me a few drinks and rose so it wasn't a total waste.... Thanks for the story Marco.

Off to Santorini! This has to be one of the most beautiful places in the world!  The unique architecture with the towns built right into the wall of the volcanic caldera make exploring so much fun. Once again, I found hotel paradise.  The B&B I booked at in Oia was in the perfect location for watching the sunset each night and was built in the traditional style of a cave!  I had a terrace right off my room that was the perfect spot for reading, drinking my wine and watching the sun go down.  I intended this part of my holiday to just be a relaxing escape and that was exactly what I got.  I haven't been to the other Greek Islands but I would definitely recommend Santorini to anyone that wants to get away a bit and enjoy some amazing scenery.

Greece was amazing!  The pictures just do not do it justice to be honest.  I'm so thankful for the experiences I have had this year and Greece was definitely a lifelong dream come true and didn't let me down at all!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Never miss a chance to linger in the moment ...

This may be a strange post for me but I was writing in my journal one night in Santorini at sunset and thought I would share it here :) If it sounds a bit sentimental, keep in mind I had already had a few glasses of wine by this time... I will post more about Greece this week when I get a chance to jot it all down...

I do feel very fortunate for the life I have been blessed with.  I have been given a many great opportunities to see some absolutely amazing places.  I like to think that when life has given me a chance I have taken it more often than I have passed it by.  Tonight I am in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and i think about the trade offs.  My life certainly isn't everything I had hoped it would be by this time in my life.  I like to think I have made the most of the life I have.  And even now after watching an amazing sunset over the Aegean Sea, enjoying a glass of wine, listening to jazz in one of the best B&B's I have ever stayed in ... I think about how I would love to be sharing this experience with someone else.  Every place I go I think of my friends and family and how each of them would enjoy pieces of this place for different reasons.  Why are people so afraid of taking chances I wonder? Every time I have offered to share experiences all I get in return is "no money right now" or "just don't have the time right now".  There is never the perfect time to run off I suppose.  I'm definitely not under the perfect financial circumstance right now and probably spent far more on this holiday then I can afford but WHO CARES? What if I never got this chance again?  And never got to experience this amazing place?

When I'm old, looking back on my life, I will not remember that I spent too much money going to Greece.  I will remember the amazing blue water, the remarkable villages, friendly people and the AMAZING sunset that I am seeing right now ...

Life is short, never miss a chance to linger in a moment because right now is the perfect time

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Joyeux anniversaire à MOI! (Usually I butcher the translation so giving it one more go!)

So I have a bit of a confession to make...

While I know many of you think I have it all together and that I am such a go getter, I must admit here and now that I am CRAP at updating my blog - there I said it.  I think we all feel a little better for having gotten that out in the open and we can move on from here :)

I must apologise as it has been a long time since I have posted on my blog but as is often the case with life, mine has gotten away with me and one day has turned into a week which then turned into a month and there you have it - life just slips away from you one moment at a time.  I am back on track though, back in the moment and thought I'd share some of my experiences from the past month.

Probably first and foremost was the celebration of my 24th birthday (maybe that's just a typo but I'm leaving it there as I like the sound of it).   I knew that I had wanted to do something fun for my first birthday away from home as it was a bit of a depressing thought and what better way to avoid a sad weekend on your own wallowing in self pity about being alone on your birthday thousands of miles from your family and friends then to run away to Paris!   I had played with the idea for the weeks before but didn't really settle on going until the day before I packed my bags and boarded the train.  In all honesty I was really excited to take the Eurostar for the first time as it is the high speed train that goes though the underwater tunnel connecting England to France.  I was all worked up for an extraordinary experience but in reality it's just like most other trains with the exception of riding in the dark for a few miles.   If I had designed it, it would have been built as a glass tube with lighting on the outside so you could enjoy sea life whilst on your train journey - engineering limitations be damned! At any rate, it was still pretty amazing that I left the station in central London at 7:22AM and I was in Paris at 10:47AM (a one hour time difference).  By noon I was checked into my hotel and strolling around the grounds of the Louvre and the gardens leading up to the Champs Elysees!  By late afternoon I was enjoying a hot coffee and looking up at the Eiffel Tower!

I had been to Paris before luckily so I didn't feel the pressure of seeing all of the big tourist sights.  The queues were outrageous since it is a big attraction for family holidays during the Summer months.  I walked around to most of the main sights to take pictures but didn't really bother with fighting the crowds to get inside.  I did have an awkward moment with a snobby French woman in Notre Dame but what would Paris be if the people weren't rude to you at least once - all part of the experience in my opinion :)

Paris was actually the first city in Europe I ever visited and I think was the first time I fell in love with the history and beauty that Europe had to offer.  I couldn't wait to order a crepe from one of the street vendors in the morning for breakfast as it reminded me so much of my first trip to the city.  In a strange way the nostalgia of that original visit concreted for me that my first holiday to Paris may have been the first step in a journey that eventually led me to living in London.  It was then that I feel in love with traveling and creating a life from experiences.  At the time, I definitely didn't have the path laid out but in some ways it was the spark that lead to the eventual fire.   Funny how one small change in direction can lead to big changes in your overall journey.

After enjoying lots of good French cuisine, amazing wine and boutique shopping in the Latin quarter, it was time to end my one night stay in Paris and head back to London and work on Monday morning.  I will say that my weekends are far more adventurous here then they were back home - but now I wonder if there were adventures to be had in Colorado and I had just overlooked them because I wasn't in the mode of taking advantage?  Was I just lazy in the monotony of a life I had become so accustomed to that I missed opportunities to enjoy my weekends just as much as I have since I have lived here?   Maybe this experience will teach me to live every day as though I could be sent packing at any time!

On to the next adventure - Barcelona this weekend :) Will report back once I return home next week!

Monday, July 18, 2011

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home...

Going home was a bit strange for me ... I know this is my new home and that going back to Colorado was just a holiday but it felt quite the opposite.  I felt like I was going home and now I'm back in England on my extended holiday.  I wondered on my flight back when that would change?  Will the day come when on my flight back to London, I will feel like I'm coming 'home'?

I think I have changed since I have moved, I may not have realised how much until I went back home.  In many ways it seems as if I have just left and in other ways it seems like I have been gone quite a long time.  It was interesting that in many ways it was so easy to go home and slip right back into my old life and old routines.  Before I left it was that routine that was driving me crazy but now that I have completely changed my life, it seems like a nice break from my life here.  Funny how perspective can change the way you see things.

Speaking of perspective... It was funny seeing things back home now that I have had to change my lifestyle to adjust to European living standards.  There is so much SPACE back in Colorado!  I suppose because I do live near the city now, I have become accustomed to the rows of buildings and houses, narrow streets and lots of pedestrians.  In London, it can take an hour or more to travel 10 miles but when I'm back home in Colorado I can typically travel that distance in 15 minutes or less in my car.  There aren't many pedestrians on the streets back home either because most people own or travel by car.  I was also blown away by the big retail stores and the variety of products that we have at our disposal in the US.  I was shopping with my mother one day in Target and had to stop and marvel at the fact that there was an entire aisle dedicated to toilet paper!  How many toilet paper options do we really need?  Apparently there is a vast difference of opinion amongst American consumers which toilet paper they prefer to purchase.

I did do quite a bit of shopping when I returned home because London is quite expensive so I do think you get better prices and better quality products back in the States.  I guess I'm specifically speaking of clothing in this instance.  I also have been plagued my entire life with the horrible affliction of having ginormous feet (I would like to say that this is an exaggeration but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't won a 'big foot' contest when I was in 5th grade - very proud moment for me I'm sure you understand).  In my defense I am quite tall so large feet are needed to keep me upright but I digress.    I rarely find shoes my size in the UK (size 11 US, size 9 UK), so when I returned home I did pick up a few pairs of shoes as well as a pair of my favourite Silver jeans as well.  Luckily I had gone to the pub the night before I returned home which caused me to pack 'light' the morning of my flight when I awoke on only two hours of sleep to pack my luggage.  I guess that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

Seeing my family and friends did make me home sick.  Going home and hanging out with them made me feel like I was slipping back into my own skin.  So many times in the UK I feel a bit out of place or out of sorts working to figure things out.  I know it will get better with time but I would say I'm just now getting past the culture shock of my initial move.  I understand that it was a very big move so I take it in stride.  It was funny that all my friends thought that I would come home with an accent.  I know that some Americans do pick up the accent as I have heard it when I have met up with other American expats living in London.  I really don't see myself picking it up to be honest.  I have a hard time even faking the accent so I'm guessing it won't ever come naturally to me but I guess only time will tell that as well.  I do feel out of touch with what is going on back home and it has prompted me to start reading the US news more this week.  I need to stay abreast of what is going on in my own country and ensure I don't fall out of touch.   This was a tip that was offered to me by another American living here and I see now how right he was that it is important to stay informed about what goes on in your home country.

I do believe that living abroad has expanded my view of the world.  There is so much to see and people are so different every place you go.  I want to experience as much of it as I can in my short lifetime and maybe in the end I will better understand my place in this world.  I think the only way to truly get to know yourself is to push your limits, take yourself outside of your comfort zone and see the ways that others live so that you can learn to appreciate the life that you have.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stepping back in time ...

Time is passing me by here people!! I really gotta step up my game, get down to business, kick butt and take names, insert additional cliche phrase of your choice here ...

I have now been in London for five months today!  I've travelled to quite a few cities around England as well as Holland, Belgium, and this past weekend to the Czech Republic.  I'm well on my way to hitting my goal of five countries by the end of 2011.  I really am getting a great appreciation for the history that all of these European cities have that is so different from my own countries beginnings.  I think Prague is probably one of the most picturesque cities I have visited.  It was one of the only cities that survived the war relatively unscathed and the buildings definitely reflect that.  Many of the streets are the original cobblestone, complete with narrow passageways and sculptures on every corner. 

I've decided that I'm always going to at  least try to take public transport whenever I visit a new city.  Granted it's not always easy when you're trying to read signs that are in a foreign language but I think its worth giving it a shot.  It's far less expensive then trying to take cabs everywhere and if you can master it you can really widen the scope of your visit because its so much easier to get around to all the sites.  I easily navigated from the airport to my hotel via the 119 bus and a few changes on the Metro.  I stayed on a boat hotel on the river, the Boat Hotel Matylda.  The room was small but very modern and the hotel staff was really helpful and friendly.  Breakfast was served on the other boat and was great each morning to get me started and then a LONG day of walking until it was time to go - BACK TO THE BOTEL (not sure if anyone else has the song I have in my head when I say that! ha ha).

I thought that I might have run into more issues not speaking the language in Prague but as in most tourist centers of major cities pretty much every one I came into contact with did speak at least enough English to communicate.  Almost makes me feel guilty being in their country and not having mastered at least the basic phrases but the Czech language is not exactly the easiest to master.  I did try a word here and there but I think I only succeeded in completely butchering their language (my apologies to the Czech people by the way).

I spent most of my time wondering around, although on my second day I did join one of the many free tours that you can pick up off the main square in Old Town.  They basically work for tips and the one I joined was a three hour walking tour mostly around the sites in Old Town and then ending at Prague Castle.  I'm not sure how accurate all the historic facts were but the guide was great and I loved the way she told the cities stories and legends.  One Czech tradition that she seemed to love telling is of "defenestration" or throwing people from high windows to their deaths.   The incidences that have been recorded throughout history were instances of revolt but it is interesting how it does repeat itself in the history of the city.  From my tour I learned two lessons: 1.  Stay away from windows on high floors when in Prague and 2.  Anything was possible in the 1400s which was the time of magical happenings.

I spent the last day in Prague visiting the sites around the Jewish quarter.  I paid 200 Czech Crowns to get a pass to visit several of the sites around the area.  The first was a memorial center where the names of all the Jewish people that died written on the high walls of three rooms.  A voice is on the speaker reading through each of the names and the recording takes three days to read off all the names.  There was also a room of children's drawings, some that depicted typical scenes of any childhood artwork and others showed scenes that were unique to the Jewish ghetto from the time period- it was very touching.  I also visited the Jewish Cemetery that was also a very interesting site, with tombstones stacked one on top of the other.  Since they were only allowed the small plot of land for all their burials, the bodies were stacked many high to make room. 

With each city I visit I feel like I learn more about the world but also a better understanding of my place in it.  It makes you realise how different people are and how we each come from our unique place and time in history.  I'm very lucky for the opportunities I have been given in life and even though I have loved taking every step of my journey I am so fortunate to take, I also know there's a lot to be said for going home.  And where is my next holiday you may ask --- well there is NO PLACE LIKE HOME! Happy Independence Day!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lessons learnt care of London Transport system

Lesson 1 : Patience
   You never know when you will be stuck at a bus stop...waiting... stuck on a train platform ...waiting.... stuck underground on a hot, muggy tube ...waiting ... diverted to a different station in order to wait for another route to open up.  A strong public transport system definitely has its upsides but it also has its downsides as well and you have to learn very quickly to roll with the punches and be flexible with your schedule at all time.  London has always been a leader in the public transport arena with the oldest underground train network in the world that was first built in 1863 and while that makes them pioneers, it also makes their network REALLY old.  

Lesson 2 : Silence
   There is nothing stranger then being packed on a commuter train with hundreds of other people so tight that you can't even move and it being so quiet that you can hear a pin drop.  No one talks or makes any noise on these trains and it is so strange to be in such close proximity with so many people and not hear a single word spoken from any of them.

Lesson 3 : Never take the stairs up from the Covent Garden tube
   I always try to opt to take stairs when there is an option versus taking a lift.  I made this crucial mistake at the Covent Garden tube station once when I saw a sign that said there were 193 stairs to street level from the underground.  Honestly, it didn't sound like that much at the time but about halfway up you realise the horrible mistake you have made!  Later I found out that climbing these 193 stairs is the equivalent of going up a 15 storey building.  Well, trust me, that is good information to have so I'm sharing with all of you.

Lesson 4 : Always stand on the right 
   Nothing drives locals nuts more then tourists who stand on the left hand side of the escalators in the tube stations.  Standing is on the right and the left is to be open and available for those who chose to keep walking up/down the steps.  This is a well oiled machine for commuters who are on these transports every day and God help you if you get in their way. 

Lesson 5 : Free reading materials 
   There are no lack of free papers in the stations throughout London and you will find them everywhere.  I'm also becoming a fan of the magazine that they are shoving at you each week called the Short List. 

Lesson 6 : Do not press your ticket against your phone
   So those that know me, probably know I'm one of the most clumsy people on the planet and I'm not great at juggling my bag, my phone and my tickets on the best of days so they often end up all in the same hand.  Unfortunately, if you put your ticket against your mobile phone it de-activates the strip for the electronic readers in all the stations. For the rest of the day, you'll be flagging down the workers to show them your ticket manually and begging them to open the gates so you can make your train.  I still do it every time I travel, so I guess this lesson is still a work in progress. 

Lesson 7 : Mind the gap
   Mind the gap was adopted in 1969 as the warning for the Transport for London at all trains / tube stops to warn passengers to watch their step getting off and on the trains.  How do I know this fun fact?  I goggled it of course! I googled it originally not because I was curious what year the phrase was adopted but because I was curious how many people fell into the gap before the warning had to be posted EVERYWHERE you go!  I guess some people just need to be reminded that it's not a good idea to put your foot into an empty space between a train and platform that will cause you to fall several feet onto a track below a fast moving train. 


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Spreekt u Engles?

So finally got to take a quick trip out of the country, my first since living in the UK.  Now that I have experienced how easy it is to travel from London I think I'm going to be hooked! :)

Amsterdam was a beautiful city.  So many things to see and so much history to explore.  I've never been much of a museum person.  I will take in museums that have something of particular interest to me but I've never really been the type to go piece by piece through an entire museum taking in every display.  After looking at the most common tourist spots in the city, I did decide to visit two while I was in Amsterdam.  The first was the Anne Frank museum which turned out was just around the corner from my hotel.  I had decided to get up early as this weekend was a bank holiday here and the city seemed to be very crowded with tourists. I got to the museum just before it was scheduled to open only to find that there was already a queue (English for line ha ha) to the end of the building outside.  It was one of my only 'must see' sights for my visit to Amsterdam so I jumped in the queue and waited my turn to buy a ticket.  The tour actually takes you through the front office of Anne's father's business and then takes you through to the secret annex where eight people hid from the Nazis for just under two years.   I think Anne's story always touched me because I was an pre-teen girl when I first read 'The Diary of Anne Frank' and remembered really relating to her and thinking how terrifying that must have been for her and her family.  The family had built a movable bookcase in front of the door to the annex to hide the back apartment of the home and from the day they went into hiding never came out until they were discovered in 1944.  It was amazing to see the apartment and the reality of how the families staying there lived for almost two years.  The windows all had blackout curtains on them to ensure they weren't seen moving in the apartment from the outside so the rooms were very dark and small.  While there are no furnishing in the rooms today there are models showing how they fit the eight people into the few small rooms. On the walls in Anne's room, you can see where she glued magazine and post card photos of film stars from the time to decorate her small space.  On one of the walls you can see where the two young girls had drawn pencil lines on the wall to track their growth over the two years they were caged in the small space.  Everything there were small reminders that while life was stifled, it did go on for the family while they hid from the atrocities outside.  It was a bit like being in a church or a memorial as everyone touring were very quiet and somber walking through each of the rooms.  Anne and her sister died in a concentration camp just one month before the liberation.  Only Anne's father Otto survived of the eight people who were in hiding in the secret annex.  If you haven't read the book before, I would highly recommend it.  With the vision of their secret annex fresh in my mind, I do planning on reading the book again for my own reminder and benefit. 

I also went to the Van Gogh museum.  I had remembered in my freshman art class at university the story of the tortured Van Gogh cutting off a piece of his own ear and putting in the mail to one of his love interests.  If you know me at all, then you know I have always been fascinated by the macabre things in life and this was no different.  I recognised several of the paintings so it was amazing to stand in arms reach of some of the most iconic pieces of art of our time.  I'm by no means an art critic but I did enjoy his style of painting and how what seemed like a chaotic series of small brush strokes melded together to really show the life of the scenes he was depicting.  His style was very unique to the time when he was painting and as the museum is ordered chronologically, it was interesting to see how his style changed at different stages of his life and how the topics and colours of his pieces changed depending on his mental state.

I don't think I could post about Amsterdam without talking about the obvious things that people typically visit for.  So aside from the unique architecture and gorgeous canals running throughout the city, there is of course the coffee shops and red light district.  I think because I was a woman travelling alone, I did avoid these for the most part but it is worth mentioning how open the use of soft drugs and the sex trade are within the city.  I think I was contact high most of the days when I was strolling through the central districts of Amsterdam.  Coffee shops are the only place where small portions of soft drugs like hash can be bought and consumed for personal use.  It is not uncommon to see someone smoking while walking down the street and while I was told it's frowned upon, its not really something that the police focus on.  I didn't visit the Red Light district at night just because I felt like it would be swarming with seedy men and I didn't really think I'd feel safe being a single woman down there alone but I did walk through during the day just to get a feel for it.  It was interesting as there were women standing in the windows who were barely dressed, waving to men to come in and see them.  I guess it does stand to reason that morality and how you look at these things is a cultural construct and while we may be uncomfortable with the display of something that we were taught was wrong, its not universally believed to be so.

Enough of Amsterdam already!! Let's talk about chocolate and waffles!! :) I did take a day trip into Belgium as well.  I had the choice of a few different cities and chose to go to Ghent and Bruges because they were the smaller cities with more of the medieval city center that I find so charming.  We first visited Ghent which was a very small village which didn't seem to have as many tourist and a very small quaint city center.  I only had an hour and a half so I strolled around the many shops, bought my obligatory piece of Belgium lace and then went straight into the cafe known for their Belgium waffles.  I've never been a huge waffle fan if I'm being honest but it was pretty amazing.  I had mine with strawberries and cream and the waffle was definitely fresh and kind of just melted in my mouth.  I'm sure it was a billion calories but if you ever visit, just go for it - so worth it!  

 We then went on to Bruges, a slightly larger city with an amazing city center of old medieval buildings.   It was so much fun just wandering through the cobblestone streets and every other shop was a chocolate store so who am I to complain.  It was amazing seeing all the chocolate treats and the smell of chocolate seem to almost be a part of the city landscape.  I did sample a piece of chocolate from one of the shops with a cup of coffee in one of the small parks.  I also had a traditional Belgium meal of mussels and frites (fries) with mayonnaise.  It was a yummy dinner before heading back the three hour bus ride to Amsterdam. 

My last day in Amsterdam I decided for it to be a relaxing day. I slept in that morning in my teeny tiny bed and when I finally did venture out I went down to the flower market to explore.  I sat out at one of the canal side cafes enjoyed a coffee and a salad and read for an hour or two.   I enjoyed the slow pace of the day.  It seems that the Dutch culture supports this pace as they never seemed in a hurry to rush me off.  The Dutch in general seemed like a very happy welcoming people.  The city was also streaming with cyclist, I don't know the hard facts but it seemed like there were more people with bicycles in the city then in cars!  I also liked the fact that I didn't feel so 'tall' as there were several women far taller then me there.  I loved the Dutch language as well, so different from any other.  I didn't pick much up on my visit because as with most European cities, everyone I encountered did speak English.  It seems a diservice to American children that they only learn one language (just barely)  when it is common place all across Europe that they are often fluent in at least one other language then their native tongue.   

I really did enjoy my visit to the Netherlands and Belgium and now that I've been bit by the travel bug, I'm hoping this is just the first in many trips to come!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'm not Canadian!!!

I wonder how much me being an American really is a novelty some times.  I clearly stand out the second I begin speaking and while Brits are very astute at sizing up other Brits by their accent and figuring out very quickly what area someone is from based on small differences in the way they talk, they have no clue when it comes to American accents. We spent an entire night in the pub once with them trying to teach me the subtle differences in British accents depending on where someone grew up but I have to admit it never really sank in.  It could be due in part to the large amounts of lager that I had consumed but I digress... I can't even really tell the difference between a Welsh accent which is a ghastly mistake by their standards!

In much the same way, they have no idea the differences between American accents.  While I could pretty quickly delve out what region another American is from, I sometimes think that they only associate Americans with either very thick east coast or southern accents.  The rest of us are apparently Canadian.  I have now been mistook for being Canadian on four different occasions because my accent is so 'flat'.  I guess the Colorado accent doesn't really have anything distinctive to make it stand out and it's not as if I could pick out another Coloradan here if they were to walk up to me out of the blue - but Canadian? 

I actually find that most of them don't even know where Colorado is geographically within the US.  Most of them know the big coastal cities like NYC, Orlando and San Francisco but then kind of look at me confused when I try to explain where Colorado is relative to the coasts.  But really that makes perfect since, doesn't it?  It's not like I could have told you where Sussex was as compared to Yorkshire before moving here and the US is geographically far more spread out then the UK is really.  Why would they care where Denver, Colorado is?  It's not really a vacation spot for most Brits :)

So now I guess all I have to decide is do I continue to correct people or should I just go with being Canadian when I meet new people.  It could be fun, eh?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fun with English Cuisine ..

So one of the first questions I get from home when asked how I'm finding it here is 'How is the food?'.   All in all the every day food you'd find in the grocery store is going to be the same type of stuff you'd find in the States, although the brands are different or you may find different variety.  I do like that there are a lot of specialty shops within the neighbourhoods, so you can get fresh breads, cheeses, meats, seafood or fruits/veggies from a small local shop.  There is also a great range of ethnic foods to choose from and much of it is very authentic and very well made.  Excellent Indian food, great pizzas and kebabs!

While I will say there are some odd combinations of ingredients, I guess its all down to your tastes really.  So I say, don't knock it 'till ya try it!  I have included some traditional English dishes here for your perusal, tell me what you think:

Toad in the Hole: This is a traditional English dish of sausages and Yorkshire pudding (which is a type of pastry bread bowl) usually served with vegetables and gravy.  You can find the recipe here:

Toad in the hole British sausage in batter mix served in...

Cheese & Pickle Sandwich: This is just what it sounds like and is a very common selection on any Pub menu.  It consists of a slice of thick cheddar cheese with either pickles or pickled onions.  This is one of the Brits favourite sandwich selections.

Fish & Chips : You can't have a list of British food without including fish and chips!  This is definitely a common choice both within the pubs and restaurants but also at many of the take away spots.   This is typically Cod fish fried into a big greasy mess and served with a huge helping of chips (or fries).  In my opinion you have been short changed if your order doesn't also come with a good helping of green mushy peas (which is basically green peas mushed up to look like a green version of mashed potatoes). 

Sunday Roast : Traditional meal served at lunchtime or in the afternoon on Sunday, not unlike any families Sunday dinner.  In the traditional sense it usually consists of some form of roasted meat, roasted potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, gravy and vegetables. It's not necessarily a specific meal but you hear the term a lot and this makes up the general components.

Traditional English Breakfast : Eggs, bacon, sausage, fried bread and wait for it .... baked beans. 

Bangers and Mash : Bangers are sausages, so this is basically sausages with mashed potatoes. 

The Pasty: This is a flaky pastry filled with different ingredients of meat, veggies, cheese and gravy depending on your tastes.  It comes out looking like a flaky calzone and is actually quite tasty.  

Chip Sandwich:  This is basically a sandwich that is made from putting chips (french fries) into a bread roll with either ketchup, brown sauce or just plain butter.  I've never had one but sounds like a carb load huh?

Sausage Rolls: Basically a flaky pastry wrapped around a sausage, coated with egg and baked.  Its a savory food that is easy to grab and go and you'll see them quite often at take-away places.

Spotted Dick: This is a dessert with pieces of dried fruit, usually served with custard - don't ask me about the name!

Pimms: Typical English summer drink.  Pimms is usually served with pieces of various fresh fruits and lemonade but there are lots of varieties of how it can be prepared.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Time to get going ...

As of today I have been in the UK for three months. I can hardly believe that it has already been that long.  In some ways, it feels like I have been here forever and in other ways it feels like I just got here yesterday.  

I have now settled into my flat, had my first weekend holiday on my own and had my first visitor from the states.  Finally this is feeling more like my home.  I am starting to adjust but still have more to learn.  It was really interesting having my good friend out for a visit because she was able to observe all the differences that I have been seeing over the past few months myself.   Meeting people here is more difficult because it seems the people aren't quite as open to striking up conversations with strangers as they are back home.  I think I'm often seen as strange when I go out with friends here since I will approach people at random and just start talking.  I do need to venture out more to meet people outside of work because the excuse of 'I'm just getting settled' really isn't going too fly much longer.

I have also experienced my first major bout of home sickness.  My grandfather fell ill a few weeks ago and has subsequently passed away.  It has been really hard to be away from my family during this time.   I knew that these things were likely to happen while I was away but wasn't sure how I'd handle them.  It just wasn't going to be reasonable for me to go home to be with my family but I do miss them terribly and hope they know that my thoughts and prayers are with them.  I just have to find my own ways to pay tribute and remember my grandpa from here so that I can in some small way feel like I'm part of the bigger picture back home during this time.  I will definitely be ready for my trip home come July.

I also came to the realization the other day that I really hadn't done any traveling in Europe since I'd moved here and now the year is nearly half over!  Both with business and personal travel throughout England I have been very fortunate to see many of the major cities here (London, Bath, Brighton, York, Manchester, etc.) but I haven't gotten to take advantage of the travel experiences that are right at my doorstep beyond England. 

London: Big Ben / Parliment

Bright Pier

Bath: Pulteney Bridge

So that I don't let this chance pass me by, I have set a goal for myself to travel to (at least) five other countries before the end of this year.  This actually really shouldn't be a stretch as many major European cities are so easy to get to from London.  I can easily get to Edinburgh, Rome, Paris, Madrid, Munich, or Marrakesh all within just a few hours from here.    

To jump start my goal I have booked a long weekend at the end of May to Amsterdam.  I have never been to the Netherlands and have wanted to go for quite some time.  I will have three full days in the city to explore so I may even choose to take a day trip to Antwerp and Brussels so I can check Belgium off my list as well (see how I work it, two countries with one trip!).  I have heard wonderful things about the city and canals so I'm excited to take my camera and share lots of pictures!

I'd really like to take a full week to explore Greece perhaps this fall and would love to take a two week photo safari to Africa early next year but I will take baby steps for now.  Thanks for catching up with my blog and I promise to try to update more frequently. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bits & Bobs - Getting ready for the big move

I'm finally starting to feel a bit more like a local!   I think I will always feel like a foriegner since the second I open my mouth I get the comment returned 'You're American?'.  Not like I can hide my flat manner of speech.  It's so funny after living my entire life thinking of other people having accents, that now the tables are turned and people are constantly commenting on my accent.  I used the term 'word on the street' in a business meeting last week and the agency rep across the table from me grinned and said 'That's so very American, I think I'm going to knick that for my own presentations.'    My company is definitely exploiting me being American and I'll be hosting a round-table at an industry conference in a few weeks where the subject is 'Hot Topics for US Mail Order.'  In all of my meetings everyone is so interested to hear what the US marketers are doing.  I suppose because the UK market is about 10% of what the American market is (gotta love that good ole American consumerism), they're always looking to the States for innovations and insights.  The dinner that follows that evening is a black tie affair.  None of our business conferences in the states included men wearing tuxedos and women wearing ball gowns - so had to go shopping.   I bought a dress I will likely never wear again so bought it on deep discount so I won't feel guilty while it withers away in my closet. 

I have spent the past week getting ready to move into my more permanent flat.  Against all good judgement, I decided to rent a flat on a high street that was un-furnished.  For those of you that are not familiar with the concept of the 'high street' it basically means the main street with all the shops and resteraunts for each area or town.  There is typically one long street running through each town where all the activity is centered.  Being on the high street will allow me easy access to the markets and pubs which will be a great improvement to my current flat which is about a mile walk away from the high street in Hampton Hill where I can do grocery shopping and get a coffee.   My new flat will be adjacent to everything I might need to grab on my way home.  There is also a famers market on Saturday mornings just behind me and I'm only a 5 minute walk to the fast train to central London or to the River Thames in the opposite direction. 

Twickenham High Street - My new home

IKEA has become my best friend.  Cheap furniture to fill up my new flat.  Everything comes in a box (including the sofa) so I will likely spend the next month building furniture from the flat packs I'll have delivered this weekend.  Customer service here isn't really what it is in the States.   Customer service people seem to move at their own pace here and there really isn't any rush to get back to you with information or go above and beyond it seems.  I think you just have to roll with the punches and take it in stride and realise (the proper english spelling of the word) that it's just the way it is here.  Often people seem a little bothered if you ask too many questions or ask for something to be rushed a bit.  I would say this trend is across the board, from bank tellers to waiters to bartenders to IKEA delivery men. 

It could be due in part to the fact that the labour laws here are such that it is very difficult to fire someone.  You really have to document over a period of time if there is a deficiency in performance and give the employee every opportunity to correct it.  In the States, it's far easier to let someone go if they are defaulting in their job responsibilities.   Other employee protections include not being able to take a benefit away that an employee was offered when they started their employment.  Benefits can be made better but cannot be taken away or decreased which seems common place with employers in the States.  Other benefits include gaurunteed 25 days of vacation which is in addition to the bank holidays and a full year's maternity leave.  Only six months of the maternity leave is paid by the company and after that they go on a nomial pay from the government but the company is still obligated to have their job available when they decide to return to work a year later.  Not a bad place to be a new mother! Taxes do seem to be higher here to pay for all these additional services but I can't really work out if the savings I get from social healthcare, etc.  ends up washing out for the higher rate of tax. I guess it's neither here nor there. 

Wish me luck on all of my home moving / furniture building this week.  I'm going to need all the help I can get.  I foresee flying tools in my future due to the frustration that will inevitably come.   
Church Street - Across from my flat

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I'm sorry what did you say?

So of course one of the most interesting parts of getting integrated into my new culture is the difference in accent and dialect.  From time to time I do have to ask for something to be repeated or play my dumb American card and ask them what some term or phrase means in context.  I have jotted down a few words or phrases that I've picked up along the way (although I'm sure there are hundreds more that I haven't listed here).  Feel free to add some to the comment section below that I may have missed ...

My dictionary for English to American translations (keep in mind I work with almost all men in the sales group):

cheers = hello, goodbye, thank you (I think of it like Aloha in Hawaii)
and some bits  = a little extra, used in context "how long do you take for lunch?" "An hour and some bits"
bespoke = custom, specially made
not = zero
boot = car trunk
bonnet = hood of the car
windscreen = windshield
direction indicators = turn signals
pissed = drunk
smart = dressy, dressed up, put together well
fancy = to like or desire something or someone
fortnight = two weeks
pikey = term for gypsies or people that live in caravans
trousers = pants
uni = university
diary = schedule, calendar
chips = french fries
crisps = chips
pudding = general term for desert
biscuit = cookie
holiday = vacation
snog = make-out, kissing
in a strop = annoyed
nappies = diapers
knackered = tired
hoover = vacum
rubbish = crappy
chav = juvenile delinquent, low class
posh = upper class, well-mannered
bin = trash can
lift = elevator
charity shop = thirft store
loo / water closet  = restroom
you alright? = how are you?
let = rent
post = mail

Monday, February 28, 2011

Rain rain go away, come again some other day ...

I suppose this little life experiment of mine is yet to be determined if I look back and say it was the best decision I ever made or if it turned out to be a huge mistake but one thing is for sure:  this is going to be one of the biggest learning experiences in my life and I will never see the world the same again. 

I have always said that the only way I have ever been able to grow as a person is to push my limits and see if I can grow to a greater potential by taking one step beyond what I think I can do.  I have yet to hit the point where I haven't been strong enough to figure out how to take that next step so I guess I'll just see how far I can go and make the most out of every success and misstep along the way.

I'm finally starting to find my stride in the new city.  For the most part I have figured out the transport and can get to most places with a little planning ahead of time (my version of planes, trains and automobiles - trains, tubes and buses). 

I have had a great time at happy hours with the group from work.  They are a great group of people and they are so social, they pretty much have a standing happy hour on Friday's after work at the Hogarth which is the pub across the street from the office. They have promised to do a pub crawl with me through Teddington in the coming weeks so I can see the "classier" places around the area but I can't see it getting any better then the Hogarth! And as you can see by the photo above, my bus stop to go home is right outside the front door so it is actually pretty convenient to get home after drinking.  I have to say I love the British sense of humor.  I was laughing so hard on Friday night that my stomach was literally sore the next day.  I also got an extensive lesson on service levels and tipping.  There are really no table servers in the pubs in England so if you want a drink, you go to the bar and order.  I was reprimanded on my third round of drinks for over tipping.   Apparently, tipping more doesn't mean you get a higher level of service so the expectation is a bit lower for the amount you tip here - good to know!  

This weekend was my first step in meeting new people outside of work.  I have found a few groups on to connect with people who have similar interests. Saturday was lunch with other American expats living in London.  We met at Cafe Pacifico for authentic Mexican food.  Having moved from Colorado I think I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to Mexican food but I was actually really impressed (although I have to admit my expectations were pretty low on what Mexican food would be like in London).  The chips and salsa reminded me of home and while I don't think they have really mastered the concept of "smothering" all in all it was a great meal.  The group was very diverse in people from those that had just relocated to London like myself and some that had been here for many many years.  It was interesting to hear their different perspectives on the city.  Many of the newcomers had a common gripe about the weather which has been pretty much non-stop rain since I arrived three weeks ago.  I have finally given up on staying in on the days when it rains because if I do I never get out of the flat! I have been reassured by many that this spring and summer will bring at least a few days that will have 'intervals of sunshine' - gotta love those intervals and make the most of them when they pop up I guess.   Many of the expats had lived here quite a long time and had become citizens here.  One topic that I found particularly interesting was the discussion of the 'melting pot'.  How we often talk about the States as being a cultural melting pot but how really London is a much better representation of a true melting pot then what you see in the States and I do tend to agree.  While there is some diversity in the US for the most part in the major cities many of the different cultural influences are separated into their own distinct neighborhoods which doesn't seem so much the case here.  I was walking in Convent Garden area on Saturday and I heard five different languages in walking a single city block. It's such an amazing opportunity to meet people from all over the world. 

Sunday I woke up to the sun shining and was so excited because I had planned to go back into the city to meet up with a photography group for a five mile walk along an abandoned railway line to take pictures.  I took the 45 minute train ride into the city (delays due to upgrades to the overground lines so the city can prepare for the 2012 Olympics) and a 30 minute ride on the tube (subway) and when I resurfaced at the Finsbury Park station it was pouring down rain.  I did find the group which was actually pretty large given the weather and after a quick vote, we had decided to grab a coffee and head to the Museum of London to see their street photography exhibit.   Another great group of people and although it wasn't the day I had expected it was still a great day in the city.  There are so many museums throughout the city and they are all free to the public.  There really is no lack of things to do and see - I really do love London and all it has to offer if you get out and experience it.

One of the expats in the group on Saturday recommended the Borough Market for what she claimed was the "best grilled cheese sandwich you will ever eat in your entire lifetime."  With claims like that I just cannot resist checking it out!  I do love me a good grilled cheese sandwich...