Whale, Whale Whale…

So on the evening before my parents left they played an episode of Horizon on BBC Two all about the journey of Hope, the Blue Whale now stationed front and centre here at the Natural History Museum. It’s a great show, and I’m not just saying that because I showed up for about 2.5 seconds in it. Seriously, we had to frame by frame it to catch a glimpse.

IMG_5735
Look on the left Ma – I’m famous!

I’m a bit bummed that they didn’t go into more detail about the 3D scanning as it wasn’t just for the missing flipper, but I’m a totally biased opinion on the matter. Just means something for me to go more in depth on at future conferences I suppose. But seriously though, check it out. I worked alongside Lorraine, Richard, and Arianna, and the project would never have happened without them. Absolutely amazing workers, and generally lovely people to boot!

Been mostly just work/sleep/eat/repeat this week, adjusting to the new transport from house to office, but we did a bit more unpacking over the weekend. M about tried to murder a garage shelving unit, but it’s finally up now and still standing last I saw of it. There’s also a floor in the office that was hidden under the boxes. Who knew?

There was a bit of fun in the middle of last week though with the museum Summer Party! We were all issued a ticket and showed up outside to a mostly sunny evening with free food and drink, accompanied by a pseudo-Mariachi band playing some top hits of the last 25 years. If you haven’t already guessed by now, museum life is never a dull moment, and a museum party is an absolute blast. Got home comically late, but it was well worth it.

 

Gotta be honest, it’s been pretty quiet otherwise, just adjusting to the new changes in life.  Will be back next week with any exciting news, but I suspect it may be a general ‘observations on life’ post. Anyway, speak soon!

 

— Kate

Nearly There, Just Missing a Few Boxes.

It has been quite the eventful week! GP visits, packing, paperwork, and really sweaty trains! Where do I begin?

Let’s start with the exciting bit – the house inspection passed and we are officially getting the keys handed over on Friday! We had a rather extensive tour of all the inner working of the house, and learned some cool new facts along the way. I don’t know when I got to the point in life that smooth closing cabinets in the kitchen and built in hair catchers in showers became cool, but it happened at some point. After being taught how radiators work and what not to put down toilets, as well as the useful bits and bobs, we’ve signed off on what will hopefully be some of the last few bits of paperwork before we can move in! Well, ignoring the fact we’ve had to hire movers to get there. That’ll be another 3 forms at least.

Ahh, it was amazing seeing the place at 99% complete! Because I’m a nerd and have nothing better to do on public transport, I even made a little before and after photos between when we last saw the interior in May to now.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Being so close to completion means it was also a week of frantic packing. Unfortunately, that’s where the GP visits cropped up. I’d been poorly on and off all week and didn’t get much sleep. Poor M had to pick up the slack and pack singlehandedly during the workweek, on top of doing his normal 48 hour a week job as well as cart me around for doctor visits. Honestly, I married a saint of a man.

Whatever it is that’s afflicting me, it was mostly contained over the weekend and I managed to get a hefty portion of the house packed whilst M was working the night shift at the hospital. It was a grand team effort, with him building boxes in the evenings before work and me filling them all up while he was asleep. It’s this time of year when we pack up to move every year that I (secretly him as well, a little) contemplate a severely minimalist lifestyle that doesn’t involve ALWAYS having to buy new packing boxes. Honestly, I don’t know if they’re dying at an alarming rate or if our stuff is expanding, or both. It always seems to be a different size that’s gone missing each year too. Moving is fun like that.

As this will hopefully be the last move for awhile, we’re getting movers to help successfully transport everything to the new house without completely scuffing the walls up. I will be eternally grateful to them for moving all the heavy bits in the middle of the summer, especially if the weather decides to give us a heatwave again.

And about that HEAT. Britain is not an island meant for weather above about 27° C. And it hit 33° C this last week. The trains literally started melting the tracks. They were actually buckling. Greater Anglia tried to work with this by moving trains really slowly across them and not running as many trains in general. Of course, the trains they did run were the mostly older stock which have little vent windows and no A/C. How many trains had further delays caused by passengers passing out in the heat inside the carriages is beyond me, but they intentionally cancelled 47 train journeys on the hottest day. This led to some great British sarcasm at work:

DC0ygABW0AAO1eE

At one point Greater Anglia even put up a picture post on their Twitter account (now deleted) with bullet points on how to beat the heat and all that with tips about drinking water and only pulling the emergency handle at the stations. The best tip though? I swear to god they had put on there “Decide if you really need to use the train today.” Yes, because I’m sure loads of London commuters can just call in to work to say it’s too hot. We’ll all take the bus. Honestly.

Thankfully, the lab has been a blissful 22° C for the last two weeks, so I can even enjoy a hot cup of tea in the dead of summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been limited to only one cup a day for two weeks by the GP to settle out the whole upset body dilemma. The first three days I had a raging headache and wanted to sleep on my desk, but it seems to be getting better now. I might even (*cue shock and horror*) consider keeping my caffeine intake lower after all of this. I’m really feeling like I have more overall energy, and I don’t have the constant desire to snack on things. Meh, we’ll see how it all plays out!

What else has happened over the week? Got to walk through the staff portion of a hospital, got my annual dental check up (no cavities!), accidentally walked outside and witnessed the Chelmsford Naked Bike Ride in full swing, and managed to finally kill our shower and am having to revert to baths for the week. Let’s be real – if the letting agency knows we’re moving out Saturday, what are the chances of the shower being fixed before then? In the meantime if you need me, I’ll be hanging out with Rubber Ducky.

Man, it’s going to be a hectic next few weeks, but all filled with very lovely things. After this week we move, then the next week my parents come to visit, then the week after we’ll be taking them down to Tetbury so all the parentals can see each other and enjoy the English countryside. I will attempt to keep up, but I make no promises!

So far, this week is off to a good start, and maybe we’ll even have all of our packing done in time for this move! Wish us luck for the relocation, and I’ll talk to y’all next week! 🙂

 

— Kate

anatomy of a cup of tea

Hello from the trains!

Let me just get it out there and say that I will not be delving into British politics this week, even with everything going on. Not with a ten foot pole. There are many other bloggers and reporters who have laid it out for those not in the UK, and I would direct you there instead. Seriously, it’ll do my head in otherwise. The only thing I will say is that as an American, I am not allowed to vote. Even though I live here, I can only exercise that right if I become a citizen when eligible in the next 3.5 years. If I were a Canadian or an Australian I could, but apparently if your country left the Motherland like a teenager running away from home and crashing the car whilst doing it, you don’t get to vote while living here.

Also, my heart aches for the latest tragedy to unfold in this beautiful country with the massive fire happening in London and now the attack on people worshipping. The people of the city were amazing as ever though, and so many donations of food, clothing, and basic necessities poured in that collection centres had to turn some of it away. Londoners may not always be the friendliest on the Tube, but they’re always there to look out for other humans in need. ❤

In brighter(ish) news – there’ll be one less reason for spam phone calls here in the UK soon! PPI – or payment protection insurance was a policy sold alongside loans that was meant to cover any loan repayments if you lost your job or got sick. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a massive con that was sold to people who didn’t need it, want it, or could even claim it. Finally, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) stepped in and said no more, and the PPI claims companies began…

Basically, you’ll get a robo-call saying that you might have been sold PPI and they’ll happily find out for you for no charge. The trouble is, these robo-calls happen ALL THE TIME. However, the end is in sight, as the FCA are ending the compensation claims in 2019. It sounds like they’ll just have to double down on the robo-calls saying that you’ve been in a car accident that wasn’t your fault. I sure hope it wasn’t, as I don’t drive!

I mean, I have a US license, but until I get my act together and take the driving test here, I am permanently riding shotgun in the car. But that’s okay, as I’ve become a slave to the train lines. Ah, the things you do for London. Or to not have to live IN London.

Currently from Chelmsford, I’m commuting about an hour and a half to get to work. Mind you, that’s from my front door to the door of my office. And it varies wildly. Some days I can catch the right train from the station, then hop immediately on to the Underground, then arrive at work in just an hour. A perfect run is a rare beast though. There’s usually a little wait time for different bits of the journey, but that’s to be expected when you’re using multiple forms of public transport.

And before you tell me that’s still a crazy long commute, keep in mind that I’m not driving anything. I routinely have my morning cup of tea, do my makeup, and catch up on the news (or snooze) on the way in. The only real trouble is my commuter rage that flares up on occasion. Mostly on the Tube. Honestly, 90% of the irritants are people standing places they shouldn’t, be it someone standing in the middle of the carriage and not moving in so we can all fit on, or someone standing in the middle of the queue to the ticket barriers so we can’t get out of the station. Basically, for the love of all that is holy, please move away from the centre of everything when using transport in London. Oh, and for heaven’s sake don’t put your bag on a seat. You’re a monster. Put it on your lap or the floor like a civilised human and let another weary worker sit down.

Anyway, best to leave it there before the bitter commuter rage engulfs my soul. Time to think of brighter things, like the glorious sunny weather we’ve been having, or that we’re inching ever closer to moving to Colchester! It sounds like all of the I’s have been dotted and the T’s crossed in terms of actual building, and they’ve booked us in to do a final inspection tour this Friday now that the site inspector has given it his clearance. After that, it’s going to be released to us to move in on 30 June! This is going to mean some rather hasty packing soon. Will be sure to keep you updated!

 

— Kate

rude rabbit with carrot
The commuting spirit animal.

 

Moving to Chelmsford (Summer 2016)

Because we are gluttons for punishment, only two weeks after returning to England (and returning to the correct mental time zone) we up and moved from Norwich to Chelmsford. Thankfully we had done all the house hunting beforehand, so it was just a case of packing up boxes and sorting out moving day.

But oh, were there boxes to be packed. Boxes and boxes. I don’t know how we keep expanding with each move, but it’s going to have to be slowed before we lose an entire room of the house to storage. It’s always good fun to figure out how you last packed all your breakables before doing it again. One year I’ll photograph it all as it’s done so I remember. Maybe.

Due to time restraints and lack of willing (and wonderful) bodies to help us move, we hired movers for this round. It’s amazing how much faster a move goes when professionals are involved. A bit harrowing to watch though. M and I opted to take the train down to Chelmsford and sort out the rental paperwork whilst they put everything on the truck under the watchful eye of the in-laws. Keys were handed over in much better time than anticipated, so we ended up just kind of sitting on the floor of our new empty rental and waiting for the truck and parentals to arrive.

Everyone and everything arrived unscathed, apart from a flower vase that I had improperly wrapped. Not too shabby all things considered! With much help from the wonder in-laws, we unpacked the basics of the house and even built some flat pack furniture without too much profanity and blood loss. In a bit of a box fortress, but a functional box fortress, we bid adieu to the family and began to settle in for the year.

The excitement for the week (post-moving) came the next day with the arrival and installation of a dishwasher! We’d gone a year without one, and let me tell you what a luxury one is when you don’t have it anymore. Not only the ease of cleaning, but also having a space to put dirty dishes before washing that doesn’t cram your kitchen counters/sink and stink up the place. Let’s be honest – sometimes the night’s dishes don’t always get washed right after dinner. Especially when your husband has the ability to use every pot and pan in the house for even a mere casserole.

IMG_1008
What a sight for sore eyes.

Within a week we had tackled the majority of the boxes and put the rest into banishment in the loft. With the house looking vaguely child-safe, we had company over with their bright eyed little baby. Putting down a blanket in the back garden, this was a brilliant evening for catching up and having a BBQ. There were copious amounts of food as per usual, and no one burnt any hair off their face or arms, so it rates as a general BBQ success.

IMG_1043
Plus it may have just been an excuse to use the awesome new grill as soon as possible.

At the end of the weekend, we felt pretty much at home. We’d decorated some, we’d tidied, and we even met the neighbours. Oh, and the neighbourhood cats.

IMG_1083

I was back on the internet scouring for work, and M was doing well in his new posting for the year. Chelmsford is infinitely walk-able and I took advantage of this with my time off. By then I was (and still am) a firm slave to my FitBit. I have to say, the city doesn’t have the same charming feel of Norwich, but has everything you could need and is only 35 minutes away from London by train, so it’s a fair trade. All in all, life was good. Now to just find work again. I make a terrible housewife. 😉

— Kate

Americans Traveling to Norwich

As it gets closer, I have been spending plenty of time wedding planning. It has begun to creep into the fabric of my being. On top of it, I’ve also been planning and explaining travel options to my lovelies back in the US. As I’m aware that many of these lovelies already follow the blog, I thought I’d post some of this information here. Even if you aren’t coming to see us any time soon, I imagine it will give you some ideas for any future travel plans you might have for the UK outside of London. Long story short, international travel is going to eat a half a day coming in and another half coming out. Be prepared. Also, unless you’re going to be in the city your flight leaves from the night before, it is almost guaranteed to be a sleepless ordeal for you to get to said airport.

The majority of people will be flying in to Heathrow and leaving Heathrow, although I realise that some may also opt for Gatwick on one leg or another. There are even some intrepid souls who will choose to forgo both options and fly to Europe and then double back and fly right into Norwich Airport. I’ve chosen to explain flying in from Heathrow and then out from Gatwick to maximise usefulness, as getting back to Heathrow basically means doing the same thing in reverse. The same can be said of getting from Gatwick. Keep in mind, like all things, the price of transport will rise the longer you wait to purchase the tickets. Anyway, we shall begin!

From Heathrow
Bus – National Express
Your simplest, though not as pretty option. You’d literally catch a coach (read: bus) outside of the terminal that would take you straight to Norwich Bus Station. If you’re looking in advance, I’ve managed to pull up a sampling of options just fiddling with the website, leaving you plenty of time in case of late planes or long queues at customs. It stops at other places along the way, which is what will always give you the 4.5 – 5 hour journey. It is a viable option if you’d like to very briefly see Cambridge, Newmarket, Mildenhall, and Thetford – or try and sleep for a bit. Norwich is really in the backwaters in terms of flights. Also, the super cheap (~£15-£20) trip can require you to get off at a bus station and reboard another bus in the middle of London. The bus drivers will be helpful if you ask for any advice on this, but I’ll leave it up to you how good you think your mental faculties will be after a long flight.

Train – National Rail

This one could be a bit more of a challenge, as it’s not so simple as jumping onto a bus. In this case, you’d have to get through customs and then follow the signs that lead you to the Underground (it’ll probably read Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3). Once there, you’ll need to purchase an Oyster Card from one of the lovely humans at the desks if you don’t already have one. This is the reloadable card and by far the cheapest way to travel in London. It’s good for the Underground, the bus, and the river transport. It’s also good forever, so as long as you don’t lose it, you can come back any time and your money on it will still be good. (Speaking of, I should probably see what I have on mine!) It costs a grand £3 for the piece of plastic and I think they make you pre-load it with a set amount, but you should be able to put £10 on it and just be charged a grand £13 for a really handy piece of plastic.

From there, you’ll go to the barriers that you’ll see people streaming through with the little green arrows lit up. With your new toy, you just need to tap it on the little blue circle at the top of the barrier and it’ll let you straight through. Be prepared and have your Oyster ready, as Londoners are notoriously grumpy about people who hold up the traffic whilst digging for their card. They may even tut and sigh. Also, there will be a luggage-friendly barrier that you may want to use. If you aren’t quick, the barrier likes to hug your bags and you have to fight them out.

Your only option will be to take the Piccadilly line towards Cockfosters. I will be ashamed if you don’t giggle at the name when they announce it. It is hilarious. Fight your way to a seat as soon as you can and ignore people giving you evil looks for having a suitcase. They are jerks. You will then just ride deeper and deeper into central London past 20 stops that should take about 50 minutes of travel. You should then get to Holborn, where you need to get off the Piccadilly line. If there’s a crowd that won’t move, just push your way to the front and mutter sorry sparingly. They’re used to it. It should be pretty dead when you’re riding it though, unless somehow you’re on the Tube during morning or evening rush hour. After you’ve gotten off the carriage head towards the exit signs until you start seeing options for other lines. You’ll be looking for a red coloured line called Central Line, and you’ll want to be going East on whichever one comes first. Don’t worry about whatever ‘via’ line it is. That one you’ll ride for 4 stops or about 5 minutes until you get to London Liverpool Street (sometimes just labeled as Liverpool Street) in which case you jump off and follow the exit signs. Do not shorten the name and ask how to get to Liverpool Station. You will be laughed at and told you’re in the wrong city. Once through the barriers (in which you’ll need to have your Oyster ready to tap again), just follow the signs for Liverpool Street Station, or the little red rail logos with white arrows on them.

At that point you’ll be directly in the station. We’re assuming you’re a clever person and have booked your tickets in advance, which means you just need to go to one of the machines all over the middle of the station, put in the card you paid for the tickets with, punch in the code they’ll have emailed you, and follow the instructions to have them printed. Hold on to all the tickets it prints. Sometimes you’ll need them for inspection on the train. With your tickets now in hand, you need only to look at the giant board overhead that will read places and times. Find the one that matches the place and time of your ticket and wait for it to say what platform you will need. Since it’s an advance ticket, you have to get on the time you chose, not before or after. Once it has a platform number, head to the platform and feed your ticket through the barrier. Grab it when it pops back up and head to the train on that platform. Chances are that you’ll have a reserved seat because you bought an advance ticket, so look at the tickets and they should have a Coach and Seat written on them. You have like a 90% chance of being in Coach C, and that it’ll be at the very far end of the platform. If you can’t be bothered to walk that far, you can get on any Standard Coach and sit in any seat so long as they don’t have a reserved ticket on the top of them. There will be luggage racks at either end of every coach, and some overhead and under seat room as well.

From there, you just need to get cosy and sit there for a good 2 hours. Sadly, Greater Abellio don’t have a trolley service, so you’ll have to get up, grab your purse, and walk to the buffet coach (they’ll announce which one that is at the start of the journey) if you want any snacks or drinks. Even better is that you’ll be riding the train from end to end, so there’s no panic of missing your stop and ending up in Edinburgh. You can sleep if you want and they’ll wake you up to check your tickets and/or tell you the train is in Norwich. You’ll likely discover you have a magically ability to wake up right before pulling into every station along the way. You’ll get off the train, through one last set of barriers with your ticket (you can toss them at this point if you want), and you’ll pop out in good old Norwich!

Last I looked we were still about 2 weeks too far ahead to book train tickets in advance, but based off figures for a random Tuesday in November you’d be looking at about £9 or £13 for your ticket. Anyway… Now for the way back! I promise the rambling will be much shorter. Maybe.

To Gatwick

Bus – National Express
This is all under the assumption that you’ve likely got a flight back Monday morning. In that case, both the train and the bus options are grim. Because you have an international flight, you want to be there with 3 hours to spare. With the bus, you’d either want to get a hotel and stay the night Sunday night close to the airport or be prepared to leave at late hours and kill some time in the airport. And it’ll be a 5.5 – 6 hour journey either way. If you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport.

Train – National Rail
This one could be just as awful, depending on what you want to do. Really, international travel is a righteous pain in the bum. Again, you’ll have the option to go down Sunday evening or go super early Monday morning. Looking at staying the night Sunday evening, you can catch a couple different trains ranging from early afternoon to evening times for an estimated £20. Again, if you wanted to stay near Gatwick Sunday night, I’d recommend the Best Western Skylane that is currently advertising £44 a night and has 24 hour complementary shuttle service to and from the airport. There may be other hotels worth looking at, but that’s probably a similar price no matter where you end up, and these have a guaranteed ride.

If you want to go in the wee hours of the morning, there are early trains (pre-5:00 even) that will cover your travel all the way to Gatwick and includes the Underground fares. You’d get your tickets from the machine in Norwich, then take the train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street and go back to the Underground entrance. Do not throw away any tickets! Instead of using your Oyster card this time, you would feed your train ticket into the barriers. You’d get on the Central Line again, but this time going West for only one stop. You’d jump off at Bank, then look for the Northern Line (a black line instead of red) going South for one stop. You’d get off at London Bridge (of rhyme fame!) and head upstairs towards the London Bridge Train Station. From there, you’d do the whole song and dance of finding your train again. This time though, you won’t be going end to end. It’ll likely say to Brighton or similar, but underneath will be a list of all the stops along the way. As long as the time is right and your stop is on that list, you’ve got the right train. This can be explained much easier at the station help desk if you’re a bit lost. Get on that train, then keep an ear out for the conductor who will say when your stop (Gatwick) is coming up. Or just watch the time. For instance, this one should get you there at 8:24, so if you felt antsy you could gather all your belongings and stand at the door by 8:20. From there, you’ll hop off the train and should be within shouting distance of Gatwick.

So yes, there are some options. A common theme I am seeing is that a lot of folks don’t realise that just because the UK is smaller than the US, doesn’t mean that it’s small. Please plan accordingly, so you don’t miss out on any of the wonderful things there are to see and do!

— Kate

I'm good. I haven't slept for a solid 83 hours, but yeah. I'm good.

It’s All About the Mentality

Something that you will probably not consider too seriously (but totally should) when studying abroad is what you plan to do with yourself afterwards. After being here a few months I’ve realised that there are three main branches to this – the Education First, the Tourist, and the Not Leaving branches. These are of course geared towards non-EU students doing their entire degree abroad and not study abroad, as it’s all much different and sometimes easier if your country is a part of the European Union. It’s important you figure out early on which one you are, especially if you’re on a limited budget, so you know how to make the best of your year. Let me explain through broad, sweeping stereotypes of the groups.

The Education First

The Education First is at this university because it was the best option for their career choices. They can love, hate, or be indifferent towards this new country because they already have a goal workplace in mind (or lined up for them if they’re lucky). This person will go to events and see cultural attractions if it’s reasonable or doesn’t upend their workload, because their priority is first and foremost towards their education. Depending on the situation, they’ll go home for the long holiday periods and may go home for their dissertation if it’s economically feasible. This student will likely be the one with the smallest sum of student loans, because they’ve been planning in the long term what they want to do with their life.

The Tourist

The Tourist is likely planning on going back to their home country after their degree, but they may try for a job in their host country. Regardless, they aren’t entirely sure when they’ll be back in this new country and want to see and do as much as they can with this definite period of time. They will be travelling to see new cities every other weekend and out on the town as much as they can. They’ll likely try to make as many friends (and memories) as possible because this is a liminal year and should be lived to the fullest. This student will want to save up as much money as possible beforehand and be chill about cheap accomodation and odd hours for inexpensive transport options.

The Not Leaving

The Not Leaving is decently versed in visa regulations and is determined to become one of the limited accepted immigrants into their new country when their degree is done. They will likely be jockeying for anything to tack on their CVs that will make them stand out and will (like the Education First) be hesistant to going out on many adventures across the country. It’s not that they don’t want to go, but they see it as something to be visited later when they’ve got jobs and instead save the money for the few months post-degree that they’ll be applying for work before the student visa runs up. These students will want to save up money like the Tourist, but hoard it for the costs that trying to stay inevitably drag up.

When it comes down to it, most people in this experience won’t know for sure what they want to do until they’re already here. I know there are some folks in my programme that definitely started in one group and have migrated to another, and there are others who came here knowing exactly what they intended to do and are sticking to it. And you know what? That’s awesome either way. It’s just something you need to stop and think about when you decide to do your higher education in another country, and something to consider of the friends you make while you’re there. I know I haven’t gone on as many trips and events as some of the people in my group, and I only hope they don’t think I’m horribly antisocial, just maybe taking a different mentality of my time here. Or maybe that I’m just perpetually broke being a student on student loans. :p

— Kate

 

turns out meeting new people is a lot more complicated than I'd originally thought