Sunday, September 20, 2009

Moving In

So, after the zoo, gardens, drinking, and kittens (not in that order), I finally made my way to Leeds on Tuesday. Thankfully the ride back was much easier. Tons of space on the train for myself and my bags, and no delays. Delightful, really. I made it into the train station, dropped off my bags at the left luggage, and walked up to my leasing office to get my keys to the flat.

When I arrived, after a little confusion, I had keys in hand. Since I didn't have my bank card yet, because they forgot to copy my passport visa, I had to go to the bank and get a bankers draft. Fortunately, Danny, the chap who helped me the first time was there to scan in my visa and helped me get a bankers draft for no charge. Shockingly, the teller had a really good sense of humour, which made the whole experience--dare I say it?--enjoyable. With bankers draft in hand, I went back, paid my deposit, and gave them checks for the entire year. I guess they just cash it on the first of the month. Which actually seems to be a far more efficient way to do it. There was a weird thing with getting the keys. Something about them being unsure which keys were the right ones, so one of the guys from the office drove me to the flat to make sure I could get in and out. Nice man, and it was good to actually know where I was going. My first impression of the flat was that it was nice and clean, a bit like a small dorm. We have built-ins, so it kind of reminded me of the dorms at American. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just a bit different from what I was expecting.

On the way back down to collect my luggage, I was hoping to stop in the Primark to get some cheap sheets. Unfortunately, while I saw the bags, I couldn't find the store. And, stupidly, didn't think to ask anyone. So, I went to British Home Store (BHS) to go get some sheets £125 later, I was ready to make my bed. So I overpaid. Egh, it was bound to happen. I grabbed a cab and took my bags and sheets, pillows, etc., back to the flat. My flatmate, Chris moved in, but didn't end up staying the night due to some mix up with the office. All in all, after my delicious (yeah) sandwich from the Sainsbury's up the road, I did a little exploring of the neighborhood. There's a mosque right near me, as long as a few grocery stores. The pubs mostly seem to be on the side streets, but there's a great park right next to my flat, and I'm only 10 minutes away from the uni! Score.

There's more to update, replete with descriptions of the flatmates, new friends, and all the fun that is international orientation. But that'll have to come later. Until then, cheerio!

March of the Tourists

Ah yes, the zoo. Well, one day (I forget which one now), I decided to go explore the Edinburgh Zoo. It's a nice little city zoo, and I'm sure had I been there on a day it was sunny it would have been lovely. Unfortunately, not many of the animals were out that day, and it was overcast, so the effect of animals behind bars was a little bit depressing. The zoo has the largest penguin enclosure in the world. And the penguins didn't really seem to mind the weather, so they were out in full force.

And what would a visit to the zoo be without the zebras and sea lions?

I really got a kick out of this sign, since, I'm pretty sure you would never see a publicly funded zoo acknowledging the human-monkey evolutionary link. Or maybe you would, but either way, I like the sexy stares the monkeys are giving each other.

So many updates, so little internet...

So, I clearly haven't kept up on the blogging recently. It's not for lack of want, but more for lack of internet in my flat. Unfortunately, no one has their internet unlocked in our flat, so naturally, I have to haul to uni to get online. So here I am, and here you are. Lucky you. Annnnway...

First order of business. Chrissy and Jamie got a kitten named Quincy (not Dave or Ichabod as were also discussed). Evidence of said kitten is below. It is quite cute and cuddly, despite my general aversion to these sorts of things (kittens aren't terribly rational creatures; I'm more of a dog man).

So aside from getting the kitten, we ended up going to the Royal Botanical Gardens, as well. It's an absolutely gorgeous place, full of flowers (natch) and other fun green things. I particularly enjoyed the glass houses (greenhouses). Not only was it very cool to be able to go through 10 different exhibits, but the smells were incredible. Some had this incredible, heady, flowery aroma, while others mad a very earthy, green scent that reminded me of walking through the perfume area in Macys. I highly recommend the visit should you go to Edinburgh. I'm going to post all the pics on Flickr eventually, but for now, here are a couple to satisfy your yen.

Well, this post is getting quite long, so I'll save the zoo for another post...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Pentlands

Yesterday (Friday), we went to the Pentland Hills, right outside of Edinburgh. After a bit of a bus ride, and a short walk on the road, we entered the park and hiked in and around the reservoir and along some really beautiful countryside. I’m easily impressed by large fields of golden wheat contrasted against a brilliant sky; so naturally, I took about 500 pictures of the same thing.

We took lunch in a little garden area next to a ranger station. It was a gorgeous day out, so the weather was perfect for dining al fresco.

After lunch, walked a bit more, making our way to Black Hill (named for obvious reasons), eventually making our way through muddy roads and over to the bus stop.

After a rousing debate over the state of health care in the U.S., we encountered a very, um, happy gentleman who proceeded to tell us about his house for sale and how much he hated Cleveland, Ohio (we had to agree). Soon the bus came, and we were on our way back into town.Once back in town at the University, we met up with a couple of Chrissy's mates at the pub, had some nice coversation, and played a game of darts. I started out strong, with a bullseye on my first round, but sadly, it was all downhill from there. Highlight--or lowlight--of the pub was trying Bacon Fries and Prawn Fries. Kind of disgusting, but eh, that's what you get for pre-packaged pub food. Back to the flat for some late night kebab and pizza, and then we settled down for an episode or two of Stargate SG-1, which is one of those terrible, but great shows. A show where 95% of the aliens speak English? Great. And terrible.

I'm getting ready to move into my own flat on Tuesday. Hopefully all will go swimmingly.

Going to Edinburgh

On Friday, September 4, I set off for Edinburgh to visit Chrissy and her fiancĂ©, Jamie. I traveled to Edinburgh last year to visit them, and met up with my sister while there, so I had done a lot of the touristy things (Camera Obscura, Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, etc.). They just moved into a new flat in Portobello, right near the Firth of Forth (the sea, more or less). This explains the lack of internet, and consequently, the lack of posts for the last week or so. The train trip was a short hop to York, then a change for the train to Edinburgh. Much of the track that I was supposed to be riding on had been flooded the prior day, so I was naturally a bit worried about significant delays, but it had all been taken care of before I had to board my train, thankfully. The train to York was only about an hour, but it had been delayed by about 30 minutes (which meant there was no way I would make my connection), and we were constrained to the first three cars of the train. While this wouldn’t have been a huge deal had I had an overnight bag, with two large suitcases, it meant I basically had to stand for most of the trip. Not a huge deal, though, just a little annoying. After finding a new train from York to Edinburgh I was on my way, only about 20 minutes behind schedule. Luckily, there was room for my luggage, and seats on this train, so I was able to dive into my book The Botany of Desire (sounds sexy, but it’s just pop-science).

The trip was relatively uneventful, save for some slow going over a bit of high water, and I arrived in the station to find Chrissy and Jamie waiting for me. We took a cab back to their flat and promptly set about catching up, drinking wine, and eating a home-cooked meal. They have a guest room/office in their new flat, so I was able to crash in my own room. Bonus. Oh, I should mention that after I set my things down, we went to go look at a new kitten they are getting. While the kitten was supposed to be picked up on the 25th, it’s mother died, so we’re getting the cat today! Bring on the Zyrtec!

During the day, on Saturday, we went to look for new furniture for their apartment and did a bit of shopping. Sunday, we went to the IKEA to do some major furniture shopping. God, I love IKEA. I never fail to get excited and overwhelmed, no matter how often I go there. That night, we went and watched fireworks from a room at the University. The fireworks capped off the Edinburgh International Festival, which unfortunately, I just missed, but the fireworks were set to music, which was pretty cool. Afterwards, we went to a pub and met up with some of her friends from the linguistics program, whereupon I had the game of cricket explained to me. None of it still makes sense, but at least I have an introduction.

Chrissy and I went into the city center on Monday to go to the bank and deposit my wad of cash, do some milling about, and have a bit of a late lunch. We finally got to some Internet when we went over to the university, which was like being hooked up to an IV drip. Much of the time we’ve just been hanging out, which has been a really nice vacation. Since I now have a bank account, and everything seems to be going along with my housing (we’ll see on Tuesday), I’m much more relaxed now than I was before I left.

Money, Money, Money

And I’m back. Catch up time, I suppose. The day before I left Leeds, I secured a phone and went in to Barclays to set up a bank account. Unfortunately, because I’m an international student, I had to make an appointment, and also get a “bank letter” from the school, which turned out to just be a visa letter I already had. So I went in last Friday for my appointment and with very little difficulty was able to set up a bank account. The only downside is that I have to fund it with £1000. I was planning on setting it up with my money from the loans, once they were distributed, but due to timing, the money ended up coming out of my U.S. account…in £300 chunks. I assumed this wouldn’t be a big problem, I figured I’d just take it out of the ATM, no problem. Wachovia, apparently thought differently. Before I left, I had set my card to “international,” it seems this didn’t apply to ATMs. So after my mom called Wachovia, and then they called me, we got it all sorted out with the fraud department. £1000 later, I was set to go. Everything got deposited in the Barclay’s account and, although I’m still waiting on my debit card (which would make things easier), I do have checks, so at least I can pay my rent. While waiting for my appointment, I did have a chance to check out more of the campus. I finally found my school, which was exciting. Though, since it appears to still be under renovation, I wasn’t able to actually go in and check things out. From the outside, it looks pretty normal, though. The campus is rather interesting. There is a real mix of early 20th century brick buildings and some newer, more modernist architecture. A few of the buildings remind me of the Lloyds of London building, but they’re all significantly bigger than those on AU’s campus. Luckily, the campus is relatively compact, so it should be pretty easy to navigate once I get a feel for everything.

Monday, September 7, 2009

In Edinburgh

Well, I'm currently in Edinburgh, visiting Chrissy; however, due to lack of the internet at the flat right now (moving, etc.) I'll have to write about my adventures thus far a bit later.

Keep refreshing every 5 seconds

Good news, though, I was able to get a bank account. Of course there's bad/mediocre news, so I'll just have to keep you guessing until I fully form my thoughts. Which may take a while. Either way, Scotland is great, and I think I'm addicted to 99 cent cookie packages and Maynard's Winegums. Also, please note that Dr. Pepper is made with actual sugar here, which I had forgotten about. It's like a Dublin Dr. Pepper in England. Except Dublin is in Ireland and Texas, and now I'm just confused. 'Till later...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hipsters...You Knew It Was Coming

On a side note (this whole blog is kind of a side note, no?) I found the hipsters. Clearly this will not be shocking to any of you who know me, but still, it is exciting for me. Even better, they seem to congregate near the University of Leeds. And Subway. I can't figure that one out, other than there are some lost kids from Williamsburg that hopped on to the wrong flight and were hungry for a sandwich.

While I figured it would be potentially difficult to spot them, given, the generally tighter and more eclectic fashion sense of the UK, I must have hipster-dar. Seriously, I spotted one the minute I went on to campus. It's like hunting for big game, except with flannel. And Beards. And peg-leg jeans.

I shall attempt to find photos of them in their natural habitat soon enough.

(...starts playing Animal Collective

Other things I enjoy

The most notification I ever had in DC that it was midnight was when I ran to the metro, only to find the last train had left and the station was closed. Cut to Leeds: church bells at midnight.

Things I Appreciate

Signs in the UK tend to be more courteous to their readers. Witness the sign on the leisure/fitness center: "Would all guests please show their picture identification to the attendant." Much nicer than "All guests MUST show ID before entering the premises." It's the little things, really.


After the anticipation, e-mails, flights, trains, and blog posts, I'm finally settled (kinda) in Leeds. The flight from Detroit to Amsterdam was largely uneventful, aside from having my seat switched on me. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to sleep (note to self: bring Ambien next time) but I did catch up on "The Proposal" and "Star Trek." By the point we landed, I was ready to go to sleep, but the airplane gods had other plans. Those plans included 5 hours in the Amsterdam airport. The flight wasn't delayed, but Northwest had changed my flight so many times that what was supposed to be a 2 hour layover became 5. So I ended up mucking about for a while until my short flight to Manchester, whereupon takeoff, I promptly passed out. I think it was when we were on the tarmac, waiting to board the plane that I had my "oh shit" moment and realized that yes, I was actually going to be living in the UK for 1+ years. Weird.

After a train ride of a little over 1 hour, I finally arrived in Leeds. When I got in the taxi, the driver mumbled something, but I couldn't quite understand him. When we arrived at the hotel I finally understood. It seems my hotel is all of 2 blocks away from the train station. Perhaps I should have thought about this ahead of time and just walked. Oh well, it saved me from having to drag my bags all around.

I checked in, set my bags down, took a shower, and promptly poured myself a cup of tea (gotta get in the spirit). After a short nap, I took to task #1: getting a mobile phone. I decided to go the pay-as-you-go route, since it seemed the easiest. Well, at least the concept seemed easy. While there aren't appreciably more major carriers in the UK than in the U.S., they all have varying "top-up" specials going. I honestly had no idea which to choose. I went into all the major shops, but at only one (O2) did someone offer to help me. Ugh, I'm not sure if this is a british thing or not (I'm assuming its more of a mobile phone store thing), but if I'm standing there, offer to help me! The phone selection was, to borrow a line from 10 Things I Hate About You, "whelming." Lots of poor choices, and I was still unsure about the company. Did I want 300 free texts, or free mobile internet? Free in-network calls or 100 free minutes? While I was glad to have all the bonus offers, it all gets a bit confusing. I decided to hold off and do a little more research.

On the way I home I decided to stop into a pub for a pint in the hope of a little human interaction. I'm not sure what I was thinking, since I was feeling a bit out of sorts anyway, but going to a pub by yourself in an unfamiliar city is not so much fun, especially when everyone's with their friends (mates) already. Ergo, no talkie. I drank my pint as fast as I could, stopped at the noodle shop for some thai (naturally) and headed home to eat my take away. All in all, I felt pretty unaccomplished, very American, and totally unfamiliar. I resolved to go to the gym, which I think was a good idea since I knew it was the one thing I could definitively accomplish.

Anyonemileonthebike, I had a great nights sleep and resolved to get my phone. After a bit of research this morning, I got my crappy phone. I decided on Virgin Mobile since I'm a history buff and I can only assume it was the same mobile the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I, used. That, and I get free mobile internet. I went into Phones4U to get my phone. Tried to pay for it on the old Amex, since there was a discount, but apparently, despite having the appearance of a smart chip in the card, I actually don't. Out came the cash and away went the discount. Oh well, 34 pounds (I need to find that symbol on my computer) later, I was the proud owner of the same quality phone I had six years ago. Eh, all it has to do is text, and make a few calls. And help me Google when I get lost.

I did end up exploring a bit, however, and walked up to the university, trying to get a bank account and look around the campus. Unfortunately, you have to have an appointment with the bank to open a new account. Seems a little odd, but hopefully, after my appointment tomorrow, I'll have a new Barclay's account. I did have to get a bank letter, though, from the university, which, like everything, was a process, not a difficult one, mind you, but it just meant more lines. Letter in hand, I explored the local scenery. The campus is just one big maze of steps, limestone, and brick. I'm sure in time I'll get used to it, but for right then, it was confusing as hell. I did manage to find Woodhouse Moor (big park) and a cemetery (score!) along with the student union. I still have no idea where my school building is. I mean, I saw it on the map and everything, but I couldn't find it for my life. On the way back, I had time to think and reflect on my whole day and a half here, so here are my first impressions:

  • No one wears sunglasses. I find this odd, because a) at times there is sun, hence the need for protection and b) the sun through the clouds gets awfully bright
  • British people LOVE to queue up. Jesus, everywhere I went there was a queue. I'm sure that at some point I'll encounter a queue for a queue and I'll just go insane.
  • Leeds supposedly has a financial district. The only evidence I have found thus far are a large number of people in suits.
  • Leeds has great shopping arcades. I mean, really, its the way it should be: pedestrian only, large indoor and outdoor streets lined with shops.
  • It seems there are a lot of clubs and it's the primary way to go out. This may be a problem as I dance like a robot-monkey on redbull.
  • Good food can be found for cheap. Full meals for 3 pounds. Glorious.
  • Marks & Spencer's Food Hall. Enough said.
  • Not having to tip on a pint is awesome.
  • It rains. A lot. But it's really schizophrenic. It'll rain for 5 minutes, then stop for 10. I suppose that's why people just ignore it.
Well it's off to get a bank account (hopefully) tomorrow, check out of my hotel, then I'm on my way to Edinburgh to see Chrissy. I can't wait.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Orbitz FAIL

Hey Orbitz, next time, when I select a seat on a plane, how about you actually let me have it? Just an FYI, 18-F isn't an aisle's a small valley in the middle of two mountains of flesh. K? Thanks.

My Life In Two Bags

After all the prepping, packing, waiting, calling, and Facebooking, I'm finally off to Leeds in a few hours. First stop: Detroit. Then it's off to Amsterdam, a 3 hour layover and a short commuter flight to Manchester. From there I'll hop on a bus or train to Leeds and settle into my hotel for a couple of days.

I hope they don't have a heatwave--I only have one pair of shorts.

Last night, after watching a couple of episodes of Mad Men with my parents, my mom and I set about packing up my life for the next year. Naturally, very little was packed (or unpacked from the boxes I shipped home, for that matter) prior to her help. But after laying out clothes, considering what I really needed, we managed to get it all down to two bags. My life in two bags. Weird.

So now it's off for a long day of travel, some bad airline food, and crappy romantic comedies from the in-flight entertainment.

I'm really looking forward to that hotel room.