Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bathrooms and Toilets

I had an enoyable weekend with my sister. Took her around my neighborhood, introduced her to my local and did some shopping. One of my favorite purchases was a new toilet paper holder for the bathroom. After buying it I was disappointed that it wasn't going to work since you can't put it on paint only ceramic tile. Then I realized that I could put it on the sink pedestal! Next up is a mirror for over the sink.

At the train station today I had to pay to use the toilet. At first I couldn't figure out why there were turnstiles at the toilets. Then I realized it cost 20p to enter. I suppose it's a way to cover the costs of cleaning and to keep out vagrants.

It's been interesting in my travels over the last few weeks to see the different ways that showers operate. In some instances there are separate mechanisms to run the shower or to run a tub.

I bet you all thought I was joking when you saw the title and didn't really think I was going to talk about toilets and bathrooms.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weekend Festivities

Well my weekend visitor gets off the hook and doesn't have to help me unpack. I heard from the moving company today that my belongings have cleared custom and are ready for delivery on Tuesday of next week. Of course I am not available until Friday of next week but at least my stuff has arrived.

It was quite an adventure tracking my shipment down. There was a tracking mechanism on the web site but I didn't have the correct number to pull up my records. I was able to find the number of the agents in the UK and they informed me that my things had just cleared customs and could be delivered starting on Tuesday.

Next weekend will be spent unpacking. If there are any volunteers who want to spend a fun weekend unpacking boxes I'd be happy to accomodate your strange desire to unpack my junk.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

One Month Down

I realized today when I got home from the airport that I have officially been here for 1 month. Time has sure gone quickly. Being so busy will do that to you. The tour seemed more hectic this week than last and I didn't get a chance to get on-line which explains the absence of my postings this week.

I have decided I really like southern Europe. All the stops this week included wine and beer with lunch. Luckily I presented in the morning. I also received a bottle of wine when I checked in to my room in Madrid. I stashed that in my suitcase and it is now the lone bottle on my wine rack (at least until Saturday).

On Tuesday night we went to a tapas bar in Madrid and had some amazing food. I also learned that paella is a dish that is only eaten at lunch. If you see people having it for dinner they are most likely tourists. I had a little free time yesterday afternoon before we left so I got to wander around the city a little, it's definitely a place I want to go back to and spend some more time.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Lazy Weekend

I spent the weekend lounging around enjoying the fact that I didn't have anything to do. On Saturday I took a walk into town, went to the farmers market and took a stroll along the Thames. The farmer's market was not what I was expecting. Only 1 stall had vegetables the rest were all prepared foods, cheeses, pies, desserts and meat. It was quite nice.

Sunday I wandered down to the home improvement store. It was much more than a Home Depot or Lowes. There was a linens section, electronics, small kitchen appliances, storage and of course all the home improvement stuff. I'm looking forward to checking out the garden department and getting some plants and flowers around my house.

I also made a little discovery on Saturday while I was cleaning the house. I just realized that my couch is actually a sofa bed. That makes my decision to get rid of the bed in the upstairs bedroom a little easier. I'm also going to invest in an aero bed in case the sofa bed isn't that comfortable. But then again if the bed isn't comfortable guests won't want to stay that long :) My first guest arrives on Saturday morning. Maybe if she's lucky my stuff will have arrived and we can spend the weekend unpacking.

Friday, February 16, 2007

It's finally here

In case you're not sure what I'm referring to my telly finally arrived today. This of course was after the fiasco earlier this week with the delivery service. I was told when I placed my order that I would be called to arrange delivery. I was quite surprised on Monday from the delivery agency. They were outside my house trying to deliver the television and were quite upset that I wasn't at home. When I informed them that I was in Germany and was not able to come home later in the day to receive the item they hung up on me!

After a quick call to the company I ordered the TV from they took care of everything and arranged delivery today. It's only been 3 weeks that I've been without any television. Luckily the Internet has provided me all the news I need to know.

New feature to the blog - I will be tracking the number of flights I have taken this year

As of 15 February 2007 I have taken 16 flights.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Back Home

I survived my first week on the road. Made a minor mistake going through immigration when I got back to Heathrow but corrected it 5 minutes later. Initially I got in the wrong line -oops I mean queue. There are actually 4 queues at Heathrow but not all are very clearly marked. There are queues for EU citizens, non-EU citizens, IRIS and UK visa holders.

At first I thought that the line for visa holders was not open because there was nobody in it, but after 5 minutes I saw somebody walk into that line and immediately bypass all the non-EU citizens.

IRIS is also a way to speed up immigration at Heathrow. They implemented this project in 2005 which utilizes biometric technology to look at iris patterns to identify an individual. This along with passport information is scanned into a computer. When going through immigration you walk into this little booth it scans your retinas and if the computer recognizes you you're through. I'm not sure it makes sense to sign up for this program since that had a longer queue than the visa holder line. We'll see how it goes.

I ran into an interesting blogging situation while in Germany. I logged in to the admin console to post and the entire site was in German. Since I didn't understand German I wasn't sure what link I should click on to change the language. Luckily I've posted enough that I knew what buttons to hit to publish my post. In talking with one of my colleagues we think that one of our company's products is actually being used to direct users to different language sites depending on what country they are in.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Munchen (Munich)

I arrived in Munich yesterday for the start of the road show tour. The majority of the day was spent reviewing the presentations and preparing for the upcoming sessions. The fun began in the evening. We went into town for dinner with a co-worker via the autobahn. I think at one point I checked the speedometer and we were going almost 200km/hour!
My presentation wasn't until the afternoon so I spent the morning walking around the city center with a co-worker. The picture on the left is from the new city hall building. Walking through the marketplace I found it surprising that there were 4 or 5 butcher shops in a row. The sausages all looked very good howeverI have no place to cook sausages in my hotel room. Maybe tomorrow for lunch I'll find a good brat.
On my excursion into the city we popped into a church. Turns out it was a catholic church that Pope Benedict was cardinal-priest from 1977-1982.

In talking with different people over the last two days I was slightly confused as to the differences between Bavaria and Germany and how they wre related. I was given Bavarian beer and ate at a German restaurant. When I asked a colleague what the differences were he replied "What's the difference between Texas and the United States?" Turns out Bavaria is a free state of Germany.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shopping Conversions

Somehow in my packing and unpacking I managed to only bring 1 suit with me. As a result I had to head to the shops today to find another suit jacket for my trips this week. I had to remember that sizes are slightly different here than in the US.

US 6 8 10 12 14
UK 8 10 12 14 16

US 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 10.5 11.5
UK 5 6 7 8 9 10

So while my feet are getting smaller the rest of me is getting bigger!

There's been a huge controversy here over size 0 models at fashion week. Some cities have banned them saying they promote eating disorders, while others are still allowing them to model. With the difference in sizing I'm wondering if they mean size 0 US or size 0 UK?

Friday, February 9, 2007

POETS Friday

I took a taxi home from the office as I needed to bring home one of my systems that's been sitting under my desk for 2 weeks. Had some rather interesting conversations with the taxi driver on the way home. He informed me that Friday's are referred to as POETS Friday's standing for "Piss Off Early Tomorrow's Saturday. " That gave me a good chuckle.

The weekend does not hold much excitement for me. I get to organize all my paperwork for my accountant (gee that makes me feel so important), wait around at home for my debit card to be delivered, and maybe catch a game of rugby at the "local." I'm a little perturbed with Amazon, I ordered my television through them partly because they said it would be delivered this week. I got an email Wednesday evening saying that the delivery service would contact me within 48 hours to arrange delivery within the next 4 to 10 days. It's now officially 48 hours later and I haven't heard from the delivery company. I'm hoping I'll be pleasantly surprised and my tele will magically appear tomorrow. I'm not holding my breath for this to occur.

Next week I start the road show for work. I'm in Germany and Switzerland next week - word of warning blogging may be spotty. I may actually have some time in certain cities to do a little site-seeing... we'll see how it goes.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Boys in Blue

Within the last 2 days I have witnessed two events with police officers that made me chuckle - OK I didn't witness one of them more on that below.

Yesterday I was walking in Hounslow when a police officer spotted a couple of guys drinking beer while walking through town. The officer informed the gentleman that they were not allowed to drink in public. Well essentially he told them that they couldn't be seen drinking in public that they had to hide their beer in their jackets. This exchange happened right in front of the police station. I guess some laws aren't rigidly enforced or the officer was just lax in his duties.

The second event occurred this evening. When I arrived home with my mail was a little post-it note message from the metropolitan police. The letter wasn't for me, most likely from somebody that previously lived here. It read (Names and numbers have been removed to protect the innocent or guilt):

"Dear Mr X,
I'm a police officer from Richmond Police Station and came earlier to issue a summons for you to appear (sic) court. Please ring me on ... to let me know when to come round."

Now I don't know about you but if I got a note like this I would definitely ring them back immediately. I mean how exciting a summons to appear in court, maybe I'm not even guilty!

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Learning to Speak Differently

I constantly find myself thinking twice before speaking and sometimes it just doesn't come out right. At my interview for my National Insurance number today I was asked to confirm my date of birth. They gave me a funny look when I gave them the date. They then realized that I had given them the month first and then the date. When writing dates I typically remember to write the date first and then the month however when asked verbally to give my birthday the month came out first.

I have also had to learn:
1) To spell my surname differently - it's a Zed and not a Zee! I had a lunch on Sunday with a woman who has lived here all her life and learned the alphabet from Sesame Street. She thought they were joking when she arrived at school and told her it was Zed not Zee.
2) When given numbers if there are 2 or 3 of the same digit in a row such as 44 or 555 to say "double 4" or "triple 5."
3) Soccer is football. Even when watching England vs Spain tonight at the "local" I found myself calling it soccer. I do however remember to say "American Football" when referring to good ole gridiron.
4) Sweaters are jumpers.
5) Sneakers are trainers.

Some of these I knew previously but I still find myself reverting to what I know and when I get strange looks I quickly realise to correct myself. See when writing in the previous sentence I remembered to change "realize" to "realise."

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Recent Discoveries

1) Diet Coke - There are 2 versions of Diet Coke that you can buy here in the UK. Diet Coke is just like it is in the states however at some places they sell Coke Light. From what I gather this is the European version and it is way too sweet.

2) Washer/Dryers - While terribly convenient and space savers they do not seem very efficient. Given the small size of them you can only wash a few things at a time. That's not too much of a problem but one would think that with smaller loads it would take less time. The wash cycle took an hour and after an hour of drying larger items were still damp. I will most likely look into a clothes line to dry things the old fashioned way to save electricity.

3) Recycling - While I've been recycling for over 15 years in NY and MA, recycling in Richmond is a relatively new thing. The recycling scheme here is just being rolled out and there is limited amounts of what can be recycled. Items that can be recycled will be getting expanded over the next year. One thing that they offer which is unique is curbside food/compost recycling. Small green bins are available for your kitchen so you can discard food waste (no garbage disposals here) and larger bins are outside that get picked up weekly along with the regular rubbish pick up. While my cottage did have the composting containers I needed to send an email to the council for the bins. I was shocked that I got a response back less than an hour later informing me that the bins would be delivered to my house within 5 days.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Weekend Projects

Welcome to my first interactive blog poll. Trying to figure out the best way to arrange things. Three options are below. Cast your votes now. Be advised that I reserve the right to over-rule the public's decision based on personal preference and logistics such as tv cables and electric outlets.

Option 1:

Option 2:

Option 3:

Now onto the weekend musings...

Spent a majority of the weekend shopping for a tele. The shopping excursions were quite eye opening. I headed down to Reading to visit Costco on Saturday afternoon. Note to self- in the future do not attempt to take a train that goes through Twickenham when a Ruby game is scheduled, the train is mobbed but only for 1 stop. Believe it or not Costco looked just like every other Costco I've been in. I checked out the tele's the one I wanted was about 550p but I would need to either rent a car or pay a delivery service which would take the price to over 600. I figured it would roughly be the same at an electronics store in the long run. I was shocked when I went to Curry's and the same tele was 250 more. Further research today and in speaking with my co-workers I confirmed that the store was a rip off and that I could get it on-line for much less, even at Curry's. The TV arrives on Wednesday! I splurged and got the 32" Samsung.

This evening I attempted to set up my new broadband connection and phone. After a few obstacles I got the broadband connection set up. The phone was another story. Unfortunately they need to send a technician out to my house and they can't do that until the end of the month! The only good news is I get my broadband connection for free until they can send the technician out.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Getting Settled

I managed to do a little bit of grocery shopping last night and decided to the rest with an on-line delivery service. Trying to stock a house from scratch there are a number of things that are needed and without a car the best way to do this was with the delivery service. Saturday afternoon my house will be stocked with groceries and cleaning supplies.

It was an adventure today getting my travelcard for the rail system. It turns out that you need a photocard to get anything more than a single day travelcard. There is a photo booth in the rail station where you can get a passport sized photo. The rail station then gives you a little photocard to use in conjunction with the travelcard. Not sure what the purpose of this is but who am I to question to the process.

I've started getting mail at my house which makes me feel like I'm at home. Of course it's bills which isn't so nice. One of the strange things about the UK is that property taxes are paid by the tenant of the property not the owner. The council tax bill came yesterday, they waste no time getting these out. The taxes are based on what the property would have sold for in 1991 and is based on 2 person occupancy. If the property is occupied by only 1 person you get a 25% deduction. It doesn't say anything about if the property is occupied by more than 2 people.

No Internet access at home until Monday so no posts until then. The weekend will be busy enough with the shopping and furniture moving I have planned. Stay tuned for the first interactive poll on the blog next week.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Money makes the world go round

I finally have my bank account set up. Now I just need to get funds deposited to it and a debit card and I can officially feel like I live in the UK.

I stayed home from work this morning to let the plumbers in since my shower has had no water pressure since I moved in. Of course when the plumber showed up and I went to show him the problem the shower was fine. I tried about 12 times over the last few days and it just wouldn't work. No matter how hard I tried to reproduce the problem this morning the shower worked just fine. Our theory is that since it was a new shower that maybe the washer was stuck and it just needed to be primed a number of times.

The estate agent sent over the updated invoice to me - subtracting two days rent for the days I was not able to get into the place. I was pleasantly surprised to see they had also taken off the 100 administrative fee. I'm assuming it was taken off for all my troubles, but I'm not going to ask. I've already cashed the cheque they sent me so they can't have it back!

To answer some questions I have received from people lately.

Do you live in a cottage or a flat?
I officially live in a cottage. The entire building is 2 floors and both belong to me. There are many different terms that I had to become acquainted with during my property search:

Purpose built = Apartment Complex
Conversion flat = Multi-family home that has been converted into two or more individual apartments.
Cottage = Small row houses could be compared to townhouses.

How does a washer/dryer work?
Most places here have a washer/dryer combo. I have yet to try mine and figure out exactly how it works. That's a project for the weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

Are you going to watch the SuperBowl?
Given that the game starts at 11 PM, I currently do not own a TV or have cable, and I have to be in a training class on Monday morning I most likely will forgo trying to find a pub in Richmond that is showing the game.

Tonight's adventure - grocery shopping!