Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What a way to start the day

After work I went to buy linens at TK Maxx. I found it strange that all of the sheets were "hotel issue white" and the majority of them are sold as separates. In the separates there were lots of fitted and top sheets but the pillowcases all came in packages with duvet covers. I was luckily able to find 1 sheet set. Maybe it was just the store I was in but there definitely did not seem to be a plethora of options of thread counts, colours, styles, etc. From my foray through the bedding section I have confirmed that there are only 3 bed sizes - single, double, and super-king. A double is the equivalent of a Queen sized bed in the US.

If a bedroom is listed as a single it most likely can only hold a twin bed. One of the bedrooms in my flat has a double in it but there is no room to walk around. The bed is most likely going to be taken out in the next few weeks. This room should be classified as a single.

I got back to my flat and started to get settled in. I realized a few strange things that I didn't noticed when viewing the flat. For instance - the bathroom does not have a toilet paper holder, medicine cabinet, or a mirror over the sink. However, it does have a towel warmer which seems to be pretty standard for bathrooms in England. The other added bonus in the bathroom that I discovered this morning is a complete lack of water pressure in the shower. The bathroom has decent pressure however when I pulled the switch for the "overhead bath" there was barely a drizzle. As I moved the shower head around the drizzle stopped completely. My guess is that this is not normal so a plumber is coming to visit me on Thursday.

I made it to Heathrow for my flight to Amsterdam - all the hoopla over the proposed strike seemed to have scared many people away. The airport was quite empty. A BA representative tried to direct me to check in for my flight at BA instead of KLM thinking that I had inadvertently gone to the wrong counter to check in. As we were being pushed back from the gate the plane jolted which caused the flight attendants to stop their safety spiel. Turns out something happened to the towbar, the plane wasn't damaged and we took off.

I managed to navigate my way through the Amsterdam airport to the train station for my ride to Amersfoort where our office is located. At the Amersfoort train station it was interesting to see the hundreds of bikes that were racked up, seems like the most popular mode of transportation is the bike. Didn't have time to take pictures of anything, maybe tomorrow or on the next trip.

Monday, January 29, 2007

I'm in, I'm in, I'm in!

As you can see I'm just a little bit excited. I was able to get into my flat this morning. The estate agents were quite apologetic about the mishap and quite accomodating today. They checked to make sure the hotel I stayed in was OK and after I left they came running out and said they would drive me to pick up my bags and move in!

The only minor problem was the lights upstairs weren't working. I called the management company and they walked me through finding the fuse box. It turns out that if a light bulb blows then it trips the fuse. After about 5 minutes of searching I found the fuse box, flipped the switch and sure enough the hallway lightbulb is not in working order. At least I figured this out before it gets dark.

I headed to the office to take care of a few things since I don't currently have any phone or broadband access at home. I'll put in a few good hours and then I have to go to TK Maxx (the UK version of TJ Maxx) to buy sheets, pillows and towels for the AM.

I head to Amsterdam tomorrow morning for a couple of meetings. I'll take some pics of the flat tonight and maybe of Amsterdam if there's time.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Too Good to Be True

I should learn to trust my instincts. I knew that something would go wrong with my moving in today and sure enough I was correct. When I arrived to pay my deposit I was informed that they couldn't take my debit card unless it had a chip. They need either cash or a "chip and pin" system to accept payment. If I paid with my debit card I needed to sign and the funds wouldn't be cleared for 3 days.

Needless to say I was a bit upset by the turn of events. Had I been told earlier in the week I would have been able to get the cash. It turns out that estate agents are very untrustworthy here or people looking to rent are untrustworthy. Agents need to make sure that funds have cleared since one could cancel a payment before funds have been transferred.

After the disaster at the agents I checked into a hotel and decided to make the most of it. I headed to a pub for a drink and lunch. Wondered around Chiswick while I tried to figure out how to get the funds I needed. Luckily before I left Boston I added my sister to my bank account so she went to try and wire funds to the agents. While Amy was at the bank I went to Sainsbury to buy dinner - Wine. I wasn't too keen on drinking wine out of coffee mugs or plastic cups from the hotel, luckily Sainsubry had 4 wine glasses for 88 pence.

Unfortunately the bank needed a swift number which the agents didn't have the accounts department who have that information were not in on Saturday. Since the wire transfer wouldn't work we looked into Western Union. At first it appeared that I would be able to wire myself the money. Amy and I started filling out the form and given the way my day has been going a message popped up that only $900 could be transferred which was not going to help.

Tomorrow I head into London to get a cash advance. It will cost a little bit more but I'm stuck in between a rock and a hard place, given that it's the weekend and I have to go to Amsterdam next week.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I have survived my first week. The office was busy today and I was able to meet more of my colleagues. Went out to breakfast with the pre-sales team. A lovely greasy English breakfast - eggs, sausage, bacon, beans and toast. Worked for a couple of hours and then went out to lunch with the inside sales team, sales reps and marketing. All in all quite a productive day.

In between my eating I had to book a flight to Amsterdam for next week. With the British Airways strike next week I had a feeling this might not be easy. When I got a proposed itinerary back from the travel agent I was perplexed to say the least. One leg of my flight was to Amsterdam the other was from Copenhagen. While I do have a bit to learn about European geography I was pretty sure that Copenhagen was not an adequate substitute for Amsterdam. It turns out the agent gave me somebody else's itinerary.

I spent part of the day researching cable, Internet and phone providers. I was prepared to be gouged but was pleasantly surprised. Telewest offers bundle packages starting at £ 30 per month. Phone service will include calls to international numbers - yippee. I can add more minutes or different movie channels and the cost will go up but this is considerably less than what I was paying in Boston.

I've also discovered not to cross government agencies here. I called to set up my interview for my National Insurance number today. After answering a number of questions I was told that the system would assign me the first date, time and location that was available. I innocently asked what happened if I was unable to attend on that day due to scheduled travel for work. I was very promptly informed that I can't be jetting off all over the place, if I want to reside in the UK I need to stay put,if I cancel or miss my appointment twice I won't be granted another appointment and will not be issued an NI. Luckily for me the computer picked a day that I will be in town.

I won't be posting over the weekend as I'll have no Internet access. Hopefully I'll be able to survive until Monday when I get back to the office. Luckily I now have a mobile with voicemail enabled.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another hectic day

Good news. I found out today that I can move into my flat on Saturday. Of course that meant a lot of time getting things in order. Luckily personnel was able to write the letter confirming my employment today and I was able to take care of the rest of the items.

The only snag occurred when I found out that they needed a standing order mandate upon arrival. The rent needs to be directly debited from my chequing account (see I'm even adopting the British spellings). The only problem with a direct debit is the account will not be set up until mid-next week. It's surprising how long it has taken to open the account but we're in the final stages now. Luckily my account manager was willing to write a letter stating that they are in the process of opening my account and I will have it soon. Now as soon as I get the account I have to go back to the estate agent to set up the direct debit.

I'm actually happy that I am able to move in sooner as I was not looking forward to spending the weekend in the middle of nowhere with no access to transportation. No I can spend the weekend shopping and getting to know my new neighborhood.

Somewhere in between all of this I was also able to get some work done :)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Snowy Day

Here's some friendly advice from a signpost in Richmond:

I wonder what they'd think of people that foul on the pavement.

Woke up to a light dusting of snow on the ground. No more than an inch however this cripples the city. Trains stop running, taxis aren't available, and traffic backs up. On the plus side it's quite entertaining to watch the snowball fights and the snowmen being made from next to no snow.

The flat hunt was successful. The first flat I viewed was the definite front runner until the end of the day and got knocked out of first place at the last moment when I was shown a cottage that's 5 minutes from the train and shops. If all my references check out than I will be moving in within 7 days. It's strange how each rental company requires different items for references. Items can include:

Bank Reference
Employment Reference
Character Reference
Landlord Reference (since I previously owned I need to show a mortgage statement)
Bank Statements

For the employer reference they've been asked to answer the following questions:

How long has the applicant been employed by you?
In what capacity has the applicant been employed by you?
Annual salary amount?
Would you consider the applicant to be respectable and trustworthy?
Any other comments that you feel would assist the applicant in securing accommodation.

All this just to rent I wonder what would be required if I wanted to purchase something.

The agent that showed me one flat was from Poland and asked if my surname was Polish. When I confirmed she said that it is a common name in Poland. Given the difficulty we've had with finding our ancestors I found that kind of interesting. I'll have to do some more research on that later.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Home Sweet Home

Hurry, don't wait, book your tickets now... the London 2012 Olympics are 2012 days away.

I took a couple of photos of the apartment where I'm staying so you can see what I am temporarily calling home. I spent the majority of the day trading emails back and forth with estate agents to schedule time to view some flats so I can have a permanent home. I have appointments to see about 9 different flats in the Richmond/Kew area tomorrow. It will be a busy day and hopefully I can say I have a home by the end of the day.

You have to move fast here as the good flats are quickly picked off the market. The one that I was most interested in was available this morning and by the afternoon it had been let. Although I would like to find something permanent for February I am willing to look at flats available during March. I don't want to take something that's marginal just because it is available now.

Everything that I'm looking at is within walking distance of the trains and or tube station. It's unfortunate that some estate agents will only publish one picture of a place which makes it hard to determine if it will meet my high standards. I'll give you all the gory details of the apartment viewings in a later post.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Adventure Begins

The trip went off with a bang, not really a bang more of an alarm.. a fire alarm. Shortly after arriving at Logan the fire alarms started going off, and continued to go on and off until I boarded the plane. A very peaceful way to start the trip. After a turbulent flight over I arrived at Heathrow airport and quickly cleared immigration. I realized on the flight over that although it was only January 20th this was the 10th airplane I had been on so far this year.

I thought things were going to go my way when the guy at the currency exchange booth did not charge me any commission fee as a welcome gift to London. Unfortunately that was where my luck ended.

Upon arriving at the apartment I had no way of accessing the flat. The office was closed and nobody was answering the phone. I instead went and checked into a hotel so I could rest and make more calls. By 2 pm I finally got information on how to access the apartment - information I should have received in an email.

The flat is quite nice with lovely views of the Thames off the back porch. I'll post pics tomorrow. The next surprise was that althought the apartment was listed as being close to the rail links there is actually no transportation available to the rail except by taxi. It turns out a taxi ride round trip is going to be better than taking the train.

At the office everything was going smoothly as I met with my boss to go over what is expected of me in the first 90 days - no surprises there. Then the office lost power - actually most of Chertsey lost power for about 2 hours. This delayed the ability for me to get my mobile phone today so I am still without a mobile. This may be the longest I have gone without a mobile in years. I haven't had much withdrawal symptons yet but maybe that's due to the jet lag.

My schedule is fairly low key for the next 2 weeks which should give me plenty of time to find a permanent abode. Once February hits I then get quite busy with training and the road show. With the road show I'll be in Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich, Milan, Madrid, and Utrecht.

That's it for today.