England, Europe, Expat

Sights, Seashore and Settling in

So I’ve told myself since Saturday that I would write a post, but so much has happened that I haven’t had time to sit down and write it down. (Also the Internet in the house I’m living in is kind of crappy.) Anyway, I guess I should start with the big news. I got a job! I’m officially earning the mighty pound sterling. Woot woot!

I actually mentioned in an earlier post that I was volunteering at an organization and I hoped it would turn into a full-time position. Well, it has. I’m working as a client services assistant at an organization that helps new immigrants to Canada learn things like how to write a résumé to Canadian standards, how to set up a bank account in Canada and what the cost of living is in different cities before they arrive.

I’m basically going to be working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday until March 31, 2013. This might sound like a lot, but it actually leaves more time for travelling than my position last October did, and I still managed to find loads in then.

I know you’re all curious about how I’ve spent my week, so I’ll break it all down now. On Saturday, I met up with a friend of mine from J-school in Toronto, who has travelled around Europe for the last few weeks. She came to my house for a barbecue and then I showed her around Bayswater, Notting Hill, South Kensington and Knightsbridge, which is the area I live in.

Our route took us through Portobello Market; then through Notting Hill to Hyde Park; along Kensington Palace Gardens, which is the gated road where many of the embassies in London are situated; through Hyde Park to the Prince Albert Memorial; then out to Kensington Road and the Royal Albert Hall and along Exhibition Road, where many of the museums are. Then finally along Brompton road to Harrod’s.

Probably the highlight of the day for me was eating Honey Roast Wiltshire Ham crisps (chips). Yes, they actually tasted like I was eating a piece of ham. I even took a picture of the bag.

Why are these not in Canada?

On Sunday, it was sunny and almost 30 C, which is unheard of in London, so I went down to Brighton to get the most out of the day. Brighton is a resort town about an hour due south from London by train. I’m not sure if the water really counts as the sea, as it’s actually the English Channel, but it’s salt water, so that was close enough for me.

Some tips if you plan to do a day trip (or half-day trip, as I did) to Brighton to go to the beach:

  • Take the train from London Bridge, not Victoria. I didn’t realize this until I met up with friends who had gone to Brighton a few hours before me, but the train from London Bridge costs only £11 for a same-day return. The train from Victoria, which I took, cost me £22.30.
  • The “beach” in Brighton is not made of sand. It is instead made up of small stones and pebbles. Bring some plastic flip-flops that you can wear right into the water. Otherwise the walk from your towel to the sea is extremely painful.
  • Do not go on the haunted house ride on Brighton Pier. It is extremely lame and a waste of £3.
Monday I had the interview for my job. Needless to say I rocked it. The other days, I’ve been doing errands like getting a gym membership and applying for a National Insurance number, and also heading to the pub.
Now the other big news of the week. I’m actually heading to Belgrade, Serbia super early tomorrow morning. I have to wake up in about 4 hours, but I had some last-minute stuff to do and now I’m writing for my clothes to dry. I’ll definitely write-up a post about my trip when I get back on Wednesday. I’m going with another friend from j-school.
England, Europe, Expat, Travel Tips

Cheerio from across the pond

So I just finished unpacking five minutes ago. I think that qualifies me to officially be living in London now. Yay!

I arrived at Gatwick shortly after 6 a.m. yesterday and then had to wait over an hour and a half for them to unload the luggage. There was some problem with the conveyor belts at the baggage claim roundabouts. Then when I arrived at my youth residence, the office wasn’t open yet, so I had to bang on the door for 20 minutes until someone finally let me in as they left for work. I have a key now, so hopefully that won’t happen again.

The bad news about my room is that I’ve been stuck in the basement. The good news is that I don’t have to share a room with anyone (at least for now.) I’m at a Commonwealth student house in Bayswater, and I really shouldn’t complain when you consider I’m only paying £100 per week (that’s extremely cheap for London).

I’ve actually started working right away, or volunteering I should say, as I’m not actually getting paid at the moment. There’s a good possibility that it’s going to turn into a paying job in the next few weeks and I’m really hoping it works out.

The big news of today was that I managed to set up not only one but two bank accounts. Well, kind of, I got a chequing and a savings account at the same bank. Though here, chequing accounts are known as current accounts. I had heard terrible things about how hard it is to get a bank account in the UK, especially in London and I must say I found it dead easy.

I had done some research online and I found that Lloyds TSB allows newcomers to the UK to open an account with only their passport and work visa as long as they’re from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Africa or the U.S. They didn’t even require me to put money in the account to open it. (Though I did, in fact, deposit a cheque of practically all my life’s savings.) The whole process took about half an hour and I just did it over my lunch hour. I should warn you that you do need to have an address before you can open an account because they send your debit card, and access information by mail.

Alright well, I’m exhausted, so I’m going to end here. My goal for tomorrow is to apply for a National Insurance number (or at least start the process).

Europe, Expat, Travel Tips

Cram it all in and away I go

I’m writing this post from Gate 17 of the Ottawa International Airport. My flight to London boards in about half an hour and then I’m off on my two-year adventure. I’ve promised for months to write a post with packing tips, so I figure now would be a good time to do this.

This morning, I finalized the suitcase I was bringing with me on my trip. After three tries and some emptying of things by my dad, I finally managed to get almost everything I wanted in my bag and get it to an acceptable weight.

As I mentioned before, I decided to fly Thomas Cook to London because the ticket was about half the price of the next cheapest ticket and about 1/3 the price of flying Air Canada. I’ve taken the airline before and the only problem is that their baggage restriction is 20kg. For a 20-something girl trying to move my life to the other side of the ocean, this is nowhere near enough.

Full disclosure: My dad is travelling for work in a few weeks and will be coming via London, so I’m getting him to take another suitcase with him, as he’s allowed to bring extra bags with his frequent flyer card.

Here’s a picture of everything I tried to stuff in my suitcase. (That’s a queen-size bed). I actually managed to get almost all of this stuff in, but then had to remove several items because it was too heavy. So how did I get it all in?

Fool-proof tips to cram everything in:

1) Roll!!! I’m sure you’ve heard people say this before. It’s actually ridiculous how much more you can fit in when you roll your clothes rather than fold them. I’m not sure why this is, but it works.

2) Start with your small items like underwear, socks and tank-tops and gradually work up to bigger items.

3) Place your shoes in two separate bags and pack them in different parts of the suitcase. I find that the best way to fit them in is to build up a layer of shirts first, and then slot them in somewhere in the middle.

4) Take breaks. It took me about two hours to pack everything in my bag and in that time, I spent several minutes, either sitting on the clothes in my suitcase, or just letting them settle, to get them to take up less space.

5) Give it your full attention. I was texting my entire second attempt at packing and I managed to fit about a third less stuff because I wasn’t maximizing every little space. Socks fit nicely inside a shoe, and I’ve even managed to get a rolled t-shirt in shoe. Just think of it like a big game of Tetris.

Alright, well I’m about to board. So I’ll see you all on the other side!


One week to go!

Just a quick post to apologize for neglecting you all for the past three weeks. I’ve been crazy busy getting my life in order before I run away to England. (10 days!) I’ve moved out of my apartment in Toronto and I’m back living at my parent’s house in Ottawa until I leave.

In case any of you are wondering… the hardest part about getting ready to go is deciding what to bring. As I’ve mentioned before, I bought a very cheap flight, so I can only bring 20 kg of luggage with me to London. (That’s 44 pounds for those of you who are metricly challenged). It basically amounts to one suitcase. I’ve already tried packing my suitcase twice and I still can’t fit in everything I want to take… I’ll have to go through a third round of pitching clothes.

I’m also trying to tie up all of my loose ends in this country before I go. I just cancelled my cell phone plan today (well I’m actually switching to a holding plan because it’s cheaper than paying out the rest of my contract) and I’ve spoken to my bank to figure out the best way to bring my money across the ocean. It seems that since I don’t have a bank account yet. The best thing to do is to take part of my money as a bank draft and then send the rest over by wire (or through the Internet) when I have a bank account set up.

I’ll write-up another post soon on some of the places I’ve visited in Toronto and Ottawa… I’ve tried to play tourist before I leave.