Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once In a Blue Moon

Yes that's how often I've been blogging lately, and my apologies for not having kept up with this. I have no good excuses and it isn't that my life has been uneventful lately. I'm not making any promises but I will try and do a better job of blogging in 2010. Wow it's hard to believe that 2009 and another decade is behind us. When the year started I wasn't sure if I would be staying in London or moving back to the US, now I can't believe that I've been in Seattle for 6 months!

I am feeling very settled although I'm not quite sure if Ithis is "home" I still miss Boston and now I miss London (luckily I'm going back to visit in 9 days). I've managed to figure out the bus system here and can get myself around with ease. Of course it helps that there are websites out there to help you plan your journey, and I can't believe I'm going to say this but none of the sites compare to TFLs journey planner. Next year I may actually buy a car again, I have my eyes on a "fun" car and not anything practical.

With the move I am doing less travel so I didn't quite hit my goal of 100K miles this year oh well. I'm still trying to work out what my goals are for 2010 - I'm thinking Alaska and The Grand Canyon (I can't believe I've never been).

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Money Makes The World Go Round

I have definitely been doing my part the last few weeks to stimulate the economy. Bad things happen when I am given a car for a week and can do all the shopping I want. A quick trip to my favorite store - Costco - there's no way to get out of there without less than spending $300. If I had avoided the wine section I might have been able to do it, but what fun would that be.

As of this week I have officially paid off all my final bills in the UK and have closed my UK bank account, HSBC is supposed to be sending me a cheque for the 40 quid that was left in the account. The last bill I had to pay was the UK tax bill, I was a little surprised that I actually owed money. I wonder what would have happened if I didn't pay it, but I wasn't about to find out. It's actually rather bitter sweet to know that everything is now officially closed out in the UK.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stupid DMV

I left work early today to go and get my WA state driver's license. I read through the site and thought I had everything that I needed. As you can guess that wasn't actually the case. The web site says you need to bring the following:

1) Proof of Identity
2) Proof of Washington state residence
3) Social security number

As it turns out my MA driver's license did not count as proof of ID as required. As my license was out of state they require 3 forms of identification that have my date of birth and photo, or if I had my passport that would be accepted. Since I moved back to the states I have stopped carrying my passport with me at all times. Quite frustrating. So what this means is that I now have to go back another day to get my license, and of course they aren't open evenings or on weekends so this means either heading there over lunch one day this week or leaving early again. I am so not happy about this.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Steps to Becoming a Seattlite

This weekend I took a couple of steps towards becoming a true Seattlite. I attended Bumbershoot on Saturday and registered to vote. Bumbershoot is a music and arts festival that takes place Labor Day Weekend at Seattle Center - bands, comedy shows, food, and more. I ended up leaving before the evening bands took the stage as I was exhausted after being there from when the gates opened. I think in the future I'll go a little later in the day.

While I was at Bumbershoot I finally registered to vote. King County board of elections was there and I got myself registered. I noticed that there was no place to register for a party which I liked. I also found out that all voting is done by mail no need to go to a polling place you can vote in the comfort of your own home.

All that's left now in my transition to a west coaster is to get my WA state drivers license. I was informed by a friend last week that you have 30 days upon arrival to get a license since I've missed that deadline I may have to retake my driving test - yuck. I'll be going to the DMV on Tuesday to see what needs to be done.

Monday, August 31, 2009

One Month In

First off my apologies for not blogging in the month of August, it isn't that nothing was happening in my life I just wasn't feeling up to writing. I've settled into my new place quite nicely. The first few weeks I went on a spending frenzy buying all the necessities - grill, chairs for the deck, stereo speakers, receiver, DVD player, bedroom furniture, a spare bed, a bike (OK so the bike wasn't a necessity for the house but for my health).

During the month I've re-acquainted myself with Craig's List as I realized I had stored all kinds of stuff that I no longer wanted - it's amazing what happens when you put things in storage for almost 3 years. The one thing I haven't done yet is sort through all the files and paperwork, I'm sure a lot of it can be shredded and recycled but that's a project for a rainy day.

I also hosted my first dinner party in my new place for some out of town co-workers. I realized that evening that I need to get some extra chairs for my dining room set. In my previous places I always had to put the table against a wall due to space limitations so I only had 4 chairs now that I have more room I can get 2 extra chairs. The trick will be finding chairs that will match. Pottery Barn just sent me a coupon for 10% off any purchase as a new homeowner and I'm thinking I can find 2 nice chairs there.

I'll try to do better about keeping my blog up to date during September.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Settling In

After about 20 hours of unpacking, moving, trips to the shops, etc the condo looks somewhat inhabitable. The movers did a great job and almost everything was unpacked and set up when they left after 4 hours. While items were out of boxes they still needed to be put away which takes time especially when I kept getting side tracked. I would go into one room to move something I would get distracted by what needed to be done in that room.

I took a break from all the unpacking at about 4 to do some shopping. A quick trip to the market to get essential cleaning supplies and a little food, I was shocked when the bill came to $250 and I'm sure I still need to buy more. Next to the most important item on the list - bolts to put my table together. Somehow in the move from Boston they went missing. I took a leg and measured the table and was on my way or so I thought. After getting back from the hardware store I found out that the guy helping me had given me 2 different sizes and the smaller ones wouldn't work so it was back to the store to get 8 of the same size. Imagine my frustration when I got back home to find that even the ones that were measured didn't work! At this point I have returned the Zipcar and figured I would walk to a different hardware store in the morning.

The hardware store is a mile from my house which isn't a problem except I was carrying a wooden leg with me. Of course I realized when I got there that I should have taken a bolt with me to make sure the new ones were bigger. Oh well - I got the largest bolt they had and luckily they worked. If that wasn't hard enough I then had to lift this rather heavy piece of glass onto the table without breaking it. Using the table as a lever I was able to get the glass up with no breakage.

The remainder of the day was spent running up and down the stairs to put boxes and winter stuff in my storage unit. I think by about 4 pm I have things mostly where they belong and put away. I've also find a few things that I need to sell. Very glad I paid to put them in storage and then move them across the country :)

Friday, July 31, 2009

It All Works Out in the End

I finally got the keys to the condo today at 4 PM. It was such a relief to finally have them in my hands and know that everything was worth it in the end. When I got to the condo the first thing I did was measure the space for the television. I've been worried that the 46" television I bought was too big and that the space was only 36" imagine my surprise when the space measured 44" the exact width of the television. The first of many things that have actually gone right. I never should have second guessed myself.

After getting the keys I was off to pick up a car and start moving some of my stuff over. The movers are expected at the condo between 8 and 9 tomorrow so I wanted to get most of my stuff moved over tonight so I don't have to get up too early tomorrow. I managed to book a CRV so I could take the television over. Let me tell you it's not that easy moving a 46" television on your own. It probably would have been easier to take it out of the box but I figured it had more protection in the box. By 8 pm I was exhausted. I need a good nights sleep tonight as I have a very big day ahead of me. I'll be sure to take lots of pictures to document the progress of the move.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Record Setting Day

Today was the hottest day in the history of Seattle. Temperatures at SEA-TAC reached 102 - now that's hot!

In other news after a week of anxiety and running around in circles Chase finally decided to approve my mortgage. I'm not sure if it set a record for the most run-around and incompetence ever encountered for a loan but it sure felt that way. I know that the housing market is different now but it seems like they have gone from one extreme to another. Where 3 or 4 years ago you didn't need to prove you had a job or finances and now you need to provide document upon document.

On one hand it was rather comical the stuff they kept coming back to me and asking. Yesterday I had the same conversation with 2 different people and I had the conversation with one of them earlier in the week as well.

Last week they asked for documentation that I was paying my rent in the UK, so the property manager sent an email and a letter explaining how much I paid and how long I was a tenant. The letter wasn't good enough so they had to send a form. The form asked the same questions and they gave the same answers but that was good enough. Two hours after they had received it I was told that I needed to sign the document as well and that was holding up the loan - I hadn't ever been sent the document to sign in the first place.

The worst part came at 2 PM yesterday when I get the call that they've just realized that they missed a previous condition on the loan which requires documentation of where the money that was transferred into my HSBC checking account came from. I had already sent a letter explaining all this but that wasn't good enough. Of course HSBC in the UK is closed at this point and there is nothing I can do. After freaking out for a minute I realize that I have the statements from my checking account which shows regular transfers from my checking into the savings account. I write a letter which provides the account numbers I print out 8 months worth of statements and circle every transfer from my checking to the savings account and state that the savings account was closed 60 days ago. I sign everything and send it over, of course by this time I'm shaking I'm so angry and anxious because if this doesn't work they've said they'll deny the loan. I eventually stopped shaking last night after finishing my first martini.

I have no idea why after having the paperwork for 30 days they all of sudden start realizing that they need more documentation. This has honestly been one of the more stressful things I have ever gone through in my life. I sincerely appreciate the support my friends and family have shown over the last week allowing me to vent, cry and laugh over this. Some of the funnier things that were said:

"What do they care where you lived? Maybe you were trading sexual favors for a cardboard box in someone's backyard."

"You should have told them that the money came from dealing drugs, gambling, or money laundering ."

And yes I'm very thankful that at least I won't be sharing my condo with 200 bats!

Everything appears to be in order and if all goes right I will have the keys either tomorrow or Friday which is good because all my stuff is being delivered. When I spoke to my relocation agent this afternoon she told me that they'll arrange for my stuff from MA to be delivered with the international stuff on Saturday. The driver arrived today and they unloaded everything as they knew I was having problems with the closing and they were going to waive any storage fees.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Homeless

OK I'm not really homeless but I haven't yet closed on my condo and it was supposed to happen today. On Wednesday and Thursday morning I got the bank everything they needed from me so I thought we were set. At about 10 AM today I got a phone call that information was still needed from the condo association and insurance agents. I'm not 100% sure what happened and why they were not asking for the information sooner but that's besides the point all that matters is the underwriters still need information before they'll approve the loan.

Of course my worrying gets the best of me and I start wondering whether or not this loan will ever be approved. As of now they "think" everything that has been provided that is needed but the underwriters have final say in whether or not the information provided is good enough. What completely puzzles me is that there are all these incentives to stimulate the economy and encourage home purchases but yet the lenders are making it incredibly difficult to actually purchase a place!

On the upside and surprisingly there is an upside in this, I found out this afternoon that both shipments of my possessions aren't due until August 1st at the earliest. This gives me the week to finalize things and make sure that everything is set. If the lender goes longer than Friday I really will be homeless. Luckily I have some very nice friends and co-workers and they have offered to point out the nice park benches in town for me to sleep on - some have even offered their couches! I am honestly relieved that my stuff isn't arriving until the 1st and I gave myself until the 4th at my current accommodation but I still just want everything to be finalized.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It'll Take a Miracle

Yesterday was not a good day for me. I woke up showered and checked my blackberry before heading to work. There was an email from my mortgage lender with an update on the closing which is supposed to be taking place on Friday. Starts out that the loan is out of underwriting - yippee, oh wait keep reading there is a long list of conditions and the closing needs to be pushed back a week. Pushing back a week will not work for me as I have 2 trucks with boxes of my stuff on them heading my way and they need a home.

Here's what was needed:
  • A copy of the cleared check for the earnest money deposit. This was written on a Chase account so why couldn't they just pull it themselves (in the end they did).
  • A letter from the rental agency in the UK documenting that I had been paying rent. The fact that I was paying a Chase mortgage on time every month was irrelevant they wanted to know about the rent. I am eternally grateful to the woman at the property management company that got me the letter in 30 minutes - given that the day was ending shortly this was amazing.
  • Explanation of a large deposit that was made into my US bank account in May. This was the wire transfer from my accounts in the UK and I had already provided a description and documentation on this. Turns out they just forgot to send that information to the underwriters.
  • A copy of the offer letter and transfer letter from my employer. Why this was needed I have absolutely no idea.
  • Additional bank statements from Sovereign Bank. Turns out the statements I downloaded online didn't have my name on them. Ordinarily I would just go on-line and reprint the items but when I was home over the weekend I closed the accounts. I called Sovereign they needed me to mail them a letter and a check to get the statements this would have taken about 2 weeks! Thankfully my sister still had some statements and was able to scan them in and get them to me first thing this morning.
Last thing I heard the paperwork should be at escrow by noon tomorrow as they are putting rushes on absolutely everything. The disappointing bit is that given that it is after noon the sale won't be able to be recorded until Monday which means I don't get the keys until Monday - BOO! I find it a little odd that I will be signing all the paperwork, paying money but still not have the keys. I haven't yet heard from the movers saying that the stuff will be delivered in 48 hours so I think I'm ok - still keeping my fingers crossed though.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Random Thoughts

It is funny how quickly you forget things. Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time in about 2 months and was at a loss while looking at the equipment. No I hadn't forgotten how to use the equipment I wasn't sure what I should be using for weight settings. You see in London the weights are all listed in KG while here they are in pounds. After some trial and error I think I managed to come up with the right weights on most of the stuff.

I checked on the status of my shipment of stuff from London and it has officially reached the US and should be arriving on my doorstep next week. Perfect timing as I am scheduled to close on Friday, at the moment they're saying that I can sign and get the keys all on Friday which would be great.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Safe and Sound at Home

Woo-hoo! The flight from Boston to Seattle gave me premier status on United. I would have had it months ago except for a minor snafu on my return flight from Singapore. The flight home brought up a couple of interesting points. First some questions:

1) How is it possible for an airline to oversell a flight by 25 seats? I can see 5 or maybe 10 but on a flight with 120 seats how can you oversell by that many.

2) How do rental cars return to their state of origin for registration and inspections and what not?

I also realized how different traveling in the US is from traveling in Europe. Never in the 2.5 years I lived in London was there ever a last minute gate change for a flight. At Heathrow there is a waiting lounge with shops and restaurants, the gate doesn't show up until a few minutes prior to the flight is ready for boarding. If there are gate changes you aren't aware of it. The downside at Heathrow is they were usually very bad about posting any delays or changes to departure times, in Chicago yesterday the flight was delayed by about 25 minutes due to a late arrival and gate change and this was clearly communicated which was nice.

As you can probably guess by the question above the flight was oversold and the airline was in need of 25 volunteers offering a free round trip ticket anywhere in the 48 states. I can't remember ever having this type of occurrence when traveling around Europe.

It's kind of funny that in the 30 days I've been back in the US, I've spent 11 of these on the east coast. Luckily there is no travel in the foreseeable future and I can just take care of getting settled in my new condo. I should be closing at the end of the week! Stay tuned.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Moving Saga

Today was the day that my stuff in storage was to be packed up and sent on its merry way to Seattle. I got the call yesterday that they would be at the storage place between 12:30 and 1:00. I then got a second call saying we'll be in touch as we may be sooner but should be there by 1. Great so I made plans to visit a friend in the late afternoon.

I went out and did some errands in the morning and started making my way to Waltham. I get the call at noon that the movers are still in Boston, then need to return to Lynn and will then be on there way it would be a couple more hours. Not good this means that I wouldn't be able make my afternoon plans. Slightly irritated at this point since if I had known it was going to be later I would have met Katie earlier in the day. Oh well I wasn't really going to fret over this. They would be calling me in about an hour to say they were leaving so that I could head over.

Two hours later no phone call the irritation is starting to set in. I call and am told they're leaving in 10 minutes so that means they'll be in Waltham at 3. Don't really have enough time to do anything and I expressed my displeasure at the co-ordinator and he wanted nothing to do with it, saying I could have done things in the morning if I needed to do things. He was completely not seeing the point that I had based my day on the fact that they would be there between 12 and 1 so I made plans for the late afternoon.

I arrive at the storage place and get a phone call at 3 that the driver is stuck in traffic on 95 and will be there when they can. They said they were 25 minutes from Waltham without traffic and his phone is about to die so stay put and they'll be there. It wasn't until after I hung up that I started wondering where on 95 they are if they had come from Boston they should have been coming North on 95 from the pike and no way would that take 25 minutes. Only if they were coming from the North would it take that long. 4 o'clock rolls around and still no driver I'm then informed by the storage facility that they close at 5:30. Panic starts setting in. I can't get in touch with the driver the co-ordinator isn't answering my calls (probably because I expressed my displeasure earlier), I leave a message for the relocation co-ordinator in a total panic - luckily she called me back in about 5 minutes but we still have no idea where the movers are.

About 4 minutes later they show up. This gives us all of 1 hour to get the stuff out of storage and onto the truck. I didn't have a lot so it shouldn't take too long but an hour when it's 90 degrees is push hing it a bit. I then find out that the gate is open 24 hours but the building itself is locked so we just have to have every thing on the loading dock which is much easier.

As the movers get everything downstairs he starts chatting and I find out that I was the 3rd job they had that day. 1st job was in Lowell, 2nd job was in Boston, then they need to drop the stuff off in Lynn drive to Peabody to pick up the Ryder truck they were using to load my stuff in and come to Waltham. This explains why they were driving down 95 South when they were coming from Lynn. I also realize at this time that the co-ordinator who planned there day was hallucinating if he thought they could possibly be in Waltham by 1. I have no idea what they were thinking.

Everything gets loaded without a problem 64 items in total now en route to Seattle, well actually they're en route to Lynn but will eventually get loaded onto another truck and make there way to Seattle. It was kind of funny seeing the stuff come out I had forgotten I owned some of the stuff. I actually also pulled away about 4 boxes that are going to Goodwill tomorrow. There's a few more items that I know I don't want or can't use in the new place but I'll just sell them when they get to Seattle. Thankfully the condo has a big storage unit included.

I'm hoping the unloading of the stuff is less eventful.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Now All I Need is the Keys to the Condo

After a shaky start this morning with the Zipcar I did end up having success with the furniture adventure today. I got to the car, plugged in the handy dandy GPS and low and behold no power to the device tried everything a could and no luck. Called Zipcar and they were able to change my reservation to another car which was good. The new car was a mini - never having driven a mini before I was a bit unsure on how to start the silly thing. Luckily the owners manual was there and I found out that you have to depress the brake as you press the start button. Now that the car was powered on I plugged in the GPS and again no power. The irritation really started to set in. I looked into the lighter and it appeared to be broken after some fiddling around I finally got a charge so I was off.


In the end I decided to go with Bassett as I was able to get custom order on fabrics in only 30 days. Other places I would either have to go with what was on the floor or wait 8 weeks which just wouldn't work with my schedule. I opted for a sofa, love seat, occasional chair and a storage ottoman. They tried to talk me into a $900 area rug which was just a tad pricey I know I can find a cheaper rug elsewhere. So here's the pieces and color scheme I decided on in the end.



The colors: Sofa and love seat brown ,throw pillows and ottoman - pattern, occasional chair - blue



Occasional Chair


Storage ottoman

Sofa and Love seat






Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day

Another milestone in my repatriation today. My first 4th of July! To celebrate the long weekend I am spending lots of money. Yesterday I went with a friend to Fry's and bought a snazzy new Samsung 46" LCD HDTV quite drool worthy. I was torn between the 40 and 46" but in the end I decided the space is large enough that it can handle the larger TV. I am so tempted to open the box and set it up now but then it would be harder to move - who knows I may cave and do it anyways.

While at the store I realized I can't really do a surround sound system for a number of reasons this was a little disappointing but the disappointment didn't last long because actually make speakers now that simulate surround sound. I think I'm going to go with this Polk Surroundbar I just need to measure the bookshelf to see if it will fit on the shelf. Looking at the picture of the shelves I think it will but just need to make sure. I also was a little surprised that the cost of the speaker online is much less than at Fry that is highly unusual so I'll be buying that online a little later.

Today I'm going to kick back and relax before I go out tomorrow and spend more money looking for furniture. I'm excited to use my zipcar for the first time and yesterday I also invested in a GPS so I don't get lost.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Phew- What a Relief

Today an electrician came and inspected the condo I was hoping to buy and good news. Everything is fine, this means all systems go YEAH! The sellers are very motivated to sell and actually had an electrician in earlier this week to fix some of the minor issues with GFIs not installed and broken outlets. The agent also relayed information on how the arcing in the fuse box happened. It has nothing to do with bad workmanship originally but rather the homeowners trying DIY and screwing it up. If you don't know anything about electricity don't try to fix things at home!


I meet with the bank this afternoon but it looks like everything is in order. Of course the bank has loads of questions and needs all sorts of documentation since I've been living overseas for 2+ years hopefully there are no major problems there.



This weekend I go furniture shopping if I get the membership information from zipcar. I should have it by tomorrow so fingers crossed.




Onto the details and pictures of my soon to be new place. 2 bedroom 1.75 bath - that's right I have a master bathroom. Washer/dryer in unit, and loads of storage space.

The most important thing - MY VIEW:








Second most important - The Kitchen























Living room with working fireplace and built in shelves
















The second balcony is mine

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Two Weeks In

It's really hard to believe that I've only been in Seattle for 2 weeks, ok to be precise it's been 16 days. It seems like it's been so much longer, probably because I've packed so much into this time. Before I go on any further here are some of the pictures I've been promising.

The apartment I'm currently staying in:




The hill I have to walk down and up every single day, I probably should have taken a picture from the bottom instead of from the top it really is steep:




You may notice that I haven't put up any photos of the place I'm looking to buy. I did take some yesterday during the home insepction but am holding off an posting them. The home inspection yesterday revealed some electrical concerns which need to be addressed hopefully I can get some answers early this week and everything will continue if not it's back to the drawing board - ugh! I'm keeping my hopes up but realize I may need to walk away from this if I don't get a good answer from the electrician.
The other not so good news I got on Friday was in regards to moving my stuff from storage in Boston. They've given me a time estimate of 7 -22 days, quite a wide range and you need to accept delivery if it's there within 7 days otherwise there are considerable charges. If the sale on the condo doesn't go through I may need to find a storage place and then bribe friends with food and drinks to help me move the stuff once I do find a place. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
The one good thing is in my wandering around today I stumbled across a furniture store that is going out of buisness so there are huge discounts. I was pretty impressed with the price and quality of stuff. I'll keep my eye out for other sales but I like the idea of a liquidation as there is no need to order and wait for stuf to arrive. I have to say I'm looking forward to going on a nice shopping spree.
That's it for now will keep you posted on what the electrician says.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

Wow it seems like I've barely had any free time and that's probably because I haven't between trying to find a place, work and travel I've been going crazy the last week. I had to go to NYC for meetings earlier this week and had an impromptu visit with some family. It was great. I hadn't been to NYC in about 3 years, since then travel has sure changed. Taxis in NY now accept credit cards it was quite shocking. I was also surprised to see that Delta offered in flight wi-fi access. The cost was only $12 not too bad for a 6 hour flight. I didn't take it as I had somehow forgotten to pack my power supply so I would have run out of battery power very quickly.

Before I left I had seen a number of condos on Saturday and decided to put an offer on one. The owners countered and I accepted this evening, by the end of July I'll be in my own place - yippee! A lot of people have commented on how quickly I moved and I did but then again I've been looking at a lot of places on-line and in the end I knew what I wanted. There was a lot of fixer-uppers out there and unrealistic prices on tiny places I think I really lucked out. I'll be doing the inspection on Monday and will take pictures. Speaking of pictures I know I promised them in my last post but haven't gotten around to that yet. I'll get that taken care of this weekend.

The house buying process in the US is quite different from the UK from what I've been told. There's no need to worry about chains and wondering if somebody is going to drop out. I will be in the condo no later than July 30th, potentially sooner depending on how long it takes the financing to come through. There is also no need to worry about gazumping or gazundering they've agreed to the deal and there will now be penalties if they decide to take another offer.

It's surprising the things that I'm having to re-adjust to being back in the states. As I was signing and dating the offer for the condo today I was writing the date sometimes the British way and sometimes the American way. I very frequently have referred to condos as flats, luckily people know what I mean. The strangest thing though is the money. I've gotten so used to money being different shapes and sizes for different denominations I find myself spending much longer trying to figure out how much money I have and if I have the correct amount to pay for things. I've also found myself opening my change purse when I'm expecting less than $5 change so I Can put the coins away. I then realize that I'm getting dollar bills back. I'll get readjusted eventually.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Made It

Wow my first blog as a re-pat. That just doesn't have the same ring to it as expat. First off let me apologize for not posting sooner but the Internet connection at my apartment is absolute crap. If you are ever tempted to go with a service from Clearwire run away don't do it. The speed has been worse than dial-up if I can even get a connection. Last night I did go out and get a Verizon wireless card and that works much, much better. Now on to the fun and exciting stuff.

The flight over from London was good I actually managed to sleep for a couple of hours on the plane and arrived feeling rather refreshed. I thought to myself this is good maybe I won't have jet lag. No such luck I've been getting up at 4 or 5 am every day since I arrived. Today I was shocked I actually slept in until 6:30.

The place I'm staying is very nice, I'll take some photos one of these days and get them uploaded. The only drawback is that the place is on top of a very steep hill. The last 3 blocks are the worst and am usually out of breath by the time I get to the apartment door. Of course by the time I get to the door I have also walked quite a distance. As I didn't rent a car I've been walking everywhere - earlier this week I was in training that was 1.7 miles from my house a nice 40 minute walk in the morning. I did cheat in the evenings and take either the bus or monorail to the Seattle Center and then walked from there.

Some of the many things I've been up to:
  • Unpacking
  • On Monday I traded in my UK mobile for a US mobile
  • Finding the important places grocery stores, restaurants, bars, etc.
  • Looking at condos a rather discouraging endeavour - there are a few possibilities though
  • Getting pre-approved for a mortgage
  • Figuring out the buses

Today was my first day officially in the office. It is a little odd being in a cube. I haven't worked in a cube ever! All of my previous companies I was either working from home or there was an open or semi-open floor plan. Some of the perks of being in the office today I was given a $10 gift card to the cafe across the street as a new employee.

Friday, June 12, 2009

2 Years 4 Months 3 Weeks and 1 Day or 75,533,627 Seconds

Today's the day in a couple of hours I'm off to the airport thus ending my adventures as an expat. I've thought for a while about what I could possibly say to summarize my time here and the words just don't seem adequate. It has really been an amazing time and I am so glad I had this opportunity it is sad to see it come to an end. There are still so many places I didn't get to see, but I guess that just means that I have more reasons to come back.

My adventures by the numbers:

253 Blog posts
20 New countries that I had never visited before
4 Different continents
50 Different cities
112 Passport stamps and visas

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have visited places that I never would have dreamed possible. Some of the highlights:
There are definitely things I'll miss and thing I won't miss about living in London. What I'll miss:
  • Nando's
  • My masseuse - I'll just have to find a new one
  • Jetting all over Europe
  • British Music
  • Richmond Park and The Thames
  • All the great people I've met

What I won't miss

  • British customer service
  • The sound of planes constantly flying over my flat

And of course there are the things I'm looking forward to about being back in the states:

  • Watching the Superbowl at a reasonable time
  • Exploring the west coast
  • Being able to get Diet Dr Pepper whenever I want
  • Finishing my state quarter collection (The Denver Mint)

Thanks to everyone that's made my time here so much fun. I must go now before I get too emotional.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dawn's Question Time

I've gotten a lot of questions about the move so I figured I would take some time to answer the questions.

When are you leaving?
Friday June 12th at 3:15 PM.

Are you happy to be going home and being closer to your family?
I'm not going home. Home is on the east coast. I'm going to Seattle, that's on the west coast. I am no closer to my family in Seattle than I was in London. Still a 6 or so hour plane ride. The time difference is a little different instead of being 5 hours ahead I'm 3 hours behind.

Are you taking any time off before you start?
No I'm crazy and start working Monday. I have a 2 day training and will be in the office on Wednesday morning. I will have the weekend to get adjust to Pacific time. I'll probably take some time off over the summer just don't know when.

Do you have a place to stay in Seattle?
I have a temporary place lined up for 30-90 days. I am hoping to be in my own place by mid-August - yes this is quick but there's no need to drag things out.

I received 1 question after I posted the quiz on Monday asking what size the boxes - luckily I took a picture - I didn't measure them.

See left.

And the answer to the question you all want to know - the answer from the quiz on Monday. How many boxes were my belongings packed into?

33 - Dad was the closest with his guess of 30 congratulations you get to help me unpack them - HAHAHAHAHA

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Taking A Break

Taking a quick break today from the re-patriation related posts. I was checking out my Google Analytics account today - yes that's right I track all the readers of my blog and my photography site. Today I looked at the search terms that have taken people to my blog, in the past 30 days there have been 30 visits sent via 30 different keywords. While the keywords are different they do fall into some similar categories. The time that users have spent on the site has been next to nothing as most people probably realized that the information was not what they were looking for. Below are 10 categories/keywords that have landed people on my blog
  1. Landlord not responding
  2. Top 10 things in Copenhagen
  3. Adventures of Delvish
  4. Basheesh
  5. Custom Fees
  6. Expat Boston Blog
  7. Kangaroo pyramid / Kangaroo Tudy
  8. Sofas
  9. Expat problem
  10. Lease Renewal

Monday, June 8, 2009

Bye Bye Belongings

It's surprising how many boxes your life can be reduced to ( or maybe it's how few). The movers came today and packed up everything I decided to take to Seattle. Shocking how quickly they work. They started at 8:30 and were done by noon. Only 1 minor problem but that was quickly resolved. When I checked out the kitchen I realized they had emptied a cupboard that they weren't supposed to. I had left all the cabinet doors open showing what needed to go and what was closed was supposed to stay. One cabinet accidentally got emptied. Luckily all the boxes are clearly marked and there were only 3 possible boxes the stuff could have been in. Yup you guessed it the third box had the stuff in it. The only reason I wanted the stuff is I was afraid what I would be charged to replace the items, in my mind they're worth about £5 in total if that - 3 year old heavily used Tupperware.

Not only was I moving today but so were my neighbors so my tiny little street had 2 big moving vans parked on it. I have never seen the parking police patrol my street but they were there today. I can only guess that somebody called to complain that they couldn't get around the corner.

Anyways you may have noticed that I didn't actually mention how many boxes were packed that's up to you - can you guess?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Next Week At This Time

Exactly one week from today I'll be sitting in the lounge at Heathrow preparing for my journey back across the pond. Last night I started going through the items remaining in my cupboard and fridge. It's amazing some of the food that just purely needed to be tossed - they've been sitting in my cupboard for 2 years, a few more items to clean out tonight.

Between now and next Friday there is still a bit of stuff I have to do but it isn't much.
  • This evening I will be packing as much as I can into my suitcases and prepare for the move to my friends for the final week.
  • I'm still hoping that Virgin sends me the bag to return the set-top box so far no luck.
  • Monday the movers come and package my belongings for the long trip to Seattle.
  • Pay the final bills.
  • Professionally clean the flat on Thursday.
  • I've also managed to take some time on Thursday to relax a bit and then have one last goodbye drinks and dinner with the guys from the office.

Tomorrow is the big goodbye BBQ, I am using the power of positive thought to make sure there is no rain tomorrow. The Q is happening rain or shine, I would just really like for it to shine.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

It's About Time

The call came this morning at about 8:45, the landlord has finally decide to re-let the apartment. This is almost exactly 1 month after I gave notice that I was leaving. I have absolutely no idea why it took this long. It's incredibly frustrating as I am responsible for the rent until July 7th or until new tenants are found, as the landlord took so long to start advertising the chances of finding a tenant that wants to move in next weekend is probably slim to none. Had the property been advertised sooner I'm sure they would have found somebody.


What makes this even more frustrating is that when the call came in they asked to come over and take pictures, I am 4 days away from having the movers come and pack things which means the place was a real mess. Things on the tables, and everywhere I spent about 45 minutes running around putting things away so that the place would be relatively tidy for the pictures and now I have to make sure the place stays tidy for prospective tenants. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to post the flat on the site and start actually showing it to tenants.


In other news I walked outside today to see the parking ban sign posted for my move. Does this make it real?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

You Get What You Negotiate

Today I read an article that made me realize I did a really poor job of negotiating my relocation back to the US. The ex-boss of Vodafone received £500,000 to move him and his belongings from the UK back to the US, I'm getting slightly less than that. Some of you may think that there's a difference in our roles; he was running a company for 5 years, saw profits of over £10 billion, and made more than £8.1 million in his last year (Again I made slightly less than that).

Of course what I want to know is what is he moving that he needs £500K. With my package I'm managing:
  • To move all my belongings from the UK
  • To move all my belongings in storage
  • A first class flight from London to Seattle (OK so it was using miles but it still counts)
  • Rent for temporary accommodation while I find a permanent place

Isn't it something how the other half lives.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

They Don't Make It Easy

I had to jump through hoops today to cancel my TV License. I had called a month ago but you can only cancel the license 10 days in advance. Now here is where it really gets interesting. In order to process a refund they will mail you a form it takes 10-14 days to receive the form - hmm this means that you will likely be gone by the time the form arrives. No worries there is a form on-line to download. There is a full page of instructions which list the supporting documentation that is needed. In addition to the original TV license you need to provide proof that you are leaving the property in the form of a final utility bill, plane ticket, letter from a solicitor, proof of sale, etc. I printed out my e-ticket and TV license, filled out the form and realized the one thing that was missing from instructions is the address where to mail the refund. To get this I had to go back on-line and look-up the address. Why would this not be included in the instructions or on the form, everything else was there. I'm really going to miss this British bureaucracy.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Checking Out

I received a letter in the post on Friday indicating that the checkout for my flat has been scheduled. Along with it was a list of notes of what will be done and the condition the flat needs to be in. In speaking with others I was aware that much more needs to be done when checking out of a flat here to ensure the security deposit is returned. Here is a list of some of the items:

Furntiure must be returned to their original places to avoid any charges for misplaced property or time spent finding and repositioning.

The flat needs to be cleaned to a professional standard. I have cleaners coming on Monday to give me quote as I knew this needed to be done. They property managers provided a list of items that are often missed.
  • Lime scale build up on taps and shower heads
  • Ceramic tiles in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Burned grease to ovens, grill pans, wire racks and hob burners
  • Kitchen units, cupboards and drawers - inside and out
  • Soap dispensers and filters of washing machines
  • All paint work
  • Fans and air vents
  • Ceiling/wall fittings, shades and bulbs (OK I have to ask who cleans light bulbs?)
  • Curtains and blinds
  • Carpets and flooring (another sections indicates that carpets should be professionally cleaned)
  • Upholstery
  • Linen (should be left cleaned and pressed)

They do make allowances for normal wear and tear of items but I will be very surprised if I get my entire deposit back as they seem rather picky.

  • Windows

Friday, May 29, 2009

And Then There Were 2

My final rent payment was made today and the checkout of the flat has been scheduled for June 12th right before I fly out. I'm very glad that is all sorted. Most of my bills and services at the flat have been cancelled. I did have a bit of an interesting conversation with Virgin Media. I called to cancel the services in mid-May as they required 30 days and was told that I would be notified when they would come to collect the set-top box. I hadn't heard anything yet so I gave them a call the guy I got on the phone was absolutely no help. Here's a sample of how our conversation went

Me: I need to schedule a time for somebody to pick up the set top box
Virgin Agent: Please hold a minute (30 second pause) Your services end on the 16th we'll send somebody out after that.
Me: That's a problem as I'm leaving the country on the 12th. Can the pick up be arranged for a date prior to that.
Virgin Agent: Please hold (30 second pause). Yes somebody will contact you to schedule a time.
Me: That's what I was told when I first called to cancel the services I really need to get this schedule.
Virgin Agent: Please hold
Me: Wait is there somebody I can talk to directly instead of you continually putting me on hold as you can't answer my questions directly.
Virgin Agent: Sure hang up and I'll call you back in 5 minutes.

At this point the conversation ended and I did get a call back 5 minutes later and the agent had transferred me to somebody in the moving home department. What a relief to actually talk to somebody who could answer my questions. While Virgin says they need 30 days notice they can actually cancel services with less than 30 days so they are terminating the services at the flat on June 9th and refunding the money. They are actually sending me a post bag so I can mail the set top box back instead of waiting for somebody to come to the flat and pick it up, much more convenient.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Where Has The Time Gone

The weekend flew by and it's hard to believe it's Wednesday. I guess that's what happens when ever minute of the 3 day weekend was pretty packed with cleaning and preparing for the move. The flat doesn't look like my place anymore. Most of the pictures have come down from the walls, all the furniture has been rearranged as it all had to be returned to the rooms it was in when I moved-in, and lots of stuff has been removed. I've given loads of stuff to charity and just thrown some things out. It's a great feeling to clean out.


In between all the cleaning out I managed to finally secure temporary accommodation in Seattle. I will be staying at Prospect Suites which is in the area I am looking for a permanent home. Hopefully I can find a permanent place relatively quickly.




In the midst of all this I did manage to have a bit of fun on Monday. I went with some friends to Cooper's Hill in Gloucestershire for the annual cheese-rolling competition. People do the craziest things, of course there were people in costumes and one guy wearing nothing but a thong. The hill is incredibly sleep and I'm sure that there are numerous injuries every year. At first we headed to the top but it was so packed and difficult to stand on the edge of a steep hill that we decided to head to the bottom instead. It was definitely an experience.



Friday, May 22, 2009

T Minus 3

Wow it's been a busy week. I must be crazy to continue to work and try to move house all at the same time. The days are filled with meetings, the evenings are filled with cleaning. Luckily I think by the end of the day today I'll be mostly done clearing what I need to get rid of. All the furniture that I haven't managed to sell is being collected on June 1st. It's surprising how difficult it was to find a charity shop to take it. I stopped into 2 shops in Richmond neither could take furniture, 1 did give me a number though. 3 phone calls later I actually was in touch with a shop that would pick up from my house. Another item crossed off the list.

In other positive news. I stopped into the property management company yesterday to find out if I could be checked out when I leave instead of in July as I hadn't heard back. The hold up has actually been the landlord not responding and indicating what she wants done with the property when I leave. Thankfully the branch manager agreed that I can be checked out on June 12th so I am all sorted there.

This weekend will be filled with trips and delivery of a bookshelf. Fun, fun times.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eerie Coincidence or Not

Last week I got an email from United Airlines offering me 4 upgrades for flights within the US. If I wasn't in the process of moving back to the US this wouldn't be any help to me, but since I'm moving I might actually be able to use these. Now my question is how did UAL know that I was moving back? I haven't updated my address yet and my one-way flight to the US is booked on British Airways. Hmm maybe there are spies out there watching me.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cleaning Out

Even though I was suffering from jet lag over the weekend I managed to get quite a bit accomplished for the move. I am mostly working on organizing what I am taking, what is going to charity, what is rubbish and what I can sell. A rule was implemented that if I haven't used or worn something since the move I am not moving it back with me. I have however made a few exceptions to this rule - hey it's my rule I'm allowed to make changes to it. I haven't used my pizza stone but that's because I couldn't find proper pizza dough and I am looking forward to making pizza again.

I spent a great deal of Sunday putting the office back to a second bedroom. I had taken the bed out to create more room and set up an office, now the desk is unassembled and the bed frame is reassembled, I still need to move the mattress but that will be done next weekend when I have some assistance.

I accumulated a list of things to sell, mostly the electronics and furniture I've purchased. Sunday evening I sent out an email to work and was instantly bombarded with requests. I guess I priced some of the electronics very reasonably. Within a matter of minutes I had requests for the TV, home theatre system and stereo. Still working on the furniture bit but that may be taken care of as well.

Still so much to do, luckily a three day weekend is here and I can power through it all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Communications

I've realized over the past couple of weeks that the way we communicate has changed drastically over the years. When I accepted the product manager position in Seattle I immediately wanted to share the news with all my friends and family on my blog and my Facebook profile, what better way to quickly share the news. Unfortunately I had to wait. The problem is certain notifications had to be made internally first so I had to wait. Waiting is not an easy thing for me but I did manage to wait a week until I posted anything on the Internet. I have been really touched by the emails and messages I have received since making the announcement last week. My ego has only gotten slightly bigger.

Now that I am back in London I have a ton of stuff to do. Yesterday I called Virgin Media to cancel my services in June. I was a little surprised when I picked up my phone and realized they had terminated the phone immediately - cable and Internet still work though. Luckily I have my mobile so I am able to stay in communication for the next couple of weeks.

Friday, May 15, 2009

4 Weeks and Counting

It's been a busy week. On top of all day meetings I had to find time to sneak in things I need for the relocation.
  • I met with a realtor and started looking at condos, I've gotten a good idea of where I do and don't want to be which is good and I'll resume the search when I arrive.
  • I've put a deposit down on temporary accommodation when I arrive while I look for a permanent place.
  • I have a bank account open with Chase, much easier opening the account here than opening the account in the UK, everything was done in 20 minutes.
  • All the paperwork to become a US employee again has been completed.
  • I've scheduled the movers to come and pack my belongings.
  • And most importantly I booked my flight. I decided to use all the BA miles I've accumulated in the 2.5 years living and fly first class. I had to buy a few miles to get the 75K that were required for the one way ticket but it was cheaper than buying a one-way economy ticket. My date of departure is June 12th.

The next 4 weeks are going to be a whirlwind.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Start Spreading the News, I'm Leaving Today

Okay so I'm not actually leaving today but my time as an expat will be drawing to a close. I have accepted a position at our headquarters in Seattle and will be moving in June. I am a whole mix of emotions at the moment regarding this move. In some ways this seems harder than when I moved to England. I've had an amazing time and met some great people but it's time for me to move back across the pond. I will definitely continue to chronicle my experiences as I repatriate. Even though I'll no longer be an expat the name of the blog will not be changing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Photo Friday - Water Edition

I haven't done a photo Friday in a while so I thought I would reintroduce it with a special edition. Can you identify the body of water or at least where it was taken? In no particular order.

1)
2)
3)


4) 5)

6)
7)


8)

9)



























Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture


Another lovely sign I've found in a hotel bathroom.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Me Gusta Tapas

As you may guess from the subject I'm in Madrid this week. Went out for tapas at lunch and had some amazing food. Thick & creamy gazpacho (made by the addition of bread) & Iberico ham - some of the absolute best I've had. I was very surprised and touched when my colleague bought me some to take home with me. Right now I am thinking it will be nice to share with my sisters at our annual vacation but then there's the devil in me that says "MINE ALL MINE!" We'll see who wins as July is a long ways away and the ham was mighty tasty. All this talk of food I'm getting hungry and even though it's early by Spanish standards I'm going to dinner.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St George's Day

St George is the patron saint of England and today is St George's Day. Unfortunately unlike Ireland who get a bank holiday on St Patrick's Day England isn't so lucky. No day off no parades not really much of anything, just a lot of English flags flying around. This weekend however the mayor of London, Boris Johnson has decided that it has been too long since London celebrated St George's Day and there will be a free concert in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. Not the same as a day off but it's a start.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Where Do They Find These People?

I don't normally write about a program I've watched on television but I just have to make an exception here. Last night I was watching a BBC documentary entitled Drinking With the Girls overall the program didn't bother except for one American woman that was interviewed. Her responses clearly revealed to me why people may have a misunderstanding about Americans. Now I'm paraphrasing here so please forgive me if I don't get this exactly right but basically she said...

"People in America don't drink unless they are an alcoholic. People don't go out with their friends for a drink socially and don't enjoy alcohol at holidays like Thanksgiving or Christmas."

EXCUSE ME! This is so incorrect and not representative of America as a whole. I know it was a documentary and she is entitled to her opinion but to generalize all of Americans in this way is absurd.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cornish Coast


The past 2 years I've taken full advantage of the long Easter holiday with getaways to the Virgin Islands and Florida. This year was no different but instead of jetting off to an exotic location I decided to explore England and went away with some friends to Cornwall. We couldn't have better weather - beautiful blue skies and warm weather the entire weekend. We rented a cottage in St Tudy which is in the Moorlands section of Cornwall. The town
was charming and the people were all incredibly friendly. Everybody stopped to talk while I was out taking pictures asking where I was from and where I was staying, since it's a small town everybody knew I wasn't a local.


It is rumoured that this area is where King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table was based in this area. The river Camel runs through this region hence Camelot. On Friday we headed to Tintagel to see the ruins of the castle, breathtaking views of the ocean from the cliffs.

The other interesting fact about Tintagel is the hotel opposite the castle is the setting of the movie Dracula. After a few hours at the castle we headed out to the small fishing village of Port Isaac. While there we picked up some fresh mussels for dinner.





On Saturday we headed off to the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway for a ride on an old fashioned steam train. 70 minutes through the English countryside very relaxing. As we were leaving we got to see them refilling the engines.










Easter Sunday we went to the Eden Project. Biomes filled with Rainforest and Mediterranean flora. 5 huge domes to wander through with trees, waterfalls, flowers, and of course bees. Another little tidbit of movie trivia from Cornwall - parts of Die Another Day were filmed at the Eden Project.




To top off the weekend prior to returning to London we had lunch at Rick Stein's The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow.





Oh and in case you were wondering Ike came along too and had an wonderful time, riding his first Harley and meeting a wizard



Thursday, April 9, 2009

Easter Break

Just a quick note before I head off for a long Easter weekend. One of the great things about living in the UK Good Friday and Easter Monday are official bank holidays. I decided that since I have done almost no exploring of England outside of London that I would take advantage of the long weekend and head down to Cornwall. I've rented a cottage with some friends for the weekend and plan on checking out the cliff walks, the Eden project and whatever else we fancy. I've packed all my camera gear and hope to get some nice shots while there. One thing I am not bringing is my laptop so I will fill you in on what Cornwall has to offer when I return on Tuesday.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Top 10 Things I Learned Today in Copenhagen

It was a very educational day for me today in Copenhagen. Here's a list of what I learned.



  1. Even though it's spring Copenhagen still thinks it winter.
  2. One minute there are beautiful blue skies the next it's snowing.
  3. My coat has a hood if I wear it I stay warmer.
  4. My travel agent likes booking hotels for me in the red light district.
  5. Car tax is outrageous - it can be up to 200%.
  6. Cars all have a sticker on the inside front windshield with a dial. You specify the time you parked, if there is 2 hours free parking it is based on when the dial on your car says you parked.
  7. Many people here speak English with an American accent. At least it sounded American to me.
  8. Don't walk in the bike lane.




Did I mention it's cold but don't take my word for it check out the temperature in the photo on the left.







And #10 - it pays to advertise

Friday, March 20, 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Yippppeeeee!!!!!!

The photo and the title says it all. My new sofa arrived today. I don't think I've ever been this happy for a furniture delivery.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Weekend Update

Random News Highlights from the past 2 weeks.

1) I've had to go to Norway twice in the past 2 weeks. The first trip I had a connection through Oslo. I was a little surprised when n I had to check-in again and collect my luggage and re check that in as well. At the check in counter I was asked if it was my first visit to Oslo as SAS has a new way of issuing boarding passes there. They don't. You put your finger on this little scanner they add your passport information and that's it. At the gate there are machines to again read your fingerprint and allow you to board. It was quite a unique set-up.

2) I received a call last week that my new sofa is in - YIPPEE! The unfortunate thing is that while they could have delivered it on Saturday I was flying back from Norway then so I have to wait until Tuesday. Normally waiting around for deliveries is no fun as they are unable to give a potential window when they may arrive. In the states I seem to recall receiving a call the night before indicating a delivery window, not here they'll call by 9 AM the day of delivery to provide a window. When I said this means I basically can't make any plans for the day and will need to work from home, the rep said no we'll call you in the morning so you'll know when we'll be there. They didn't seem to understand that receiving a call the morning of the delivery makes it difficult to plan other activities for the day. I just hope that the delivery actually occurs and this doesn't turn into another fiasco like I had with the washer.

3) I've been playing around with my Facebook account. I just found out that you can have RSS feeds pulled in so when I post to my blog it should provide a status update and a short summary of the post. When I set the feed up this morning I didn't realize the default setting is to include the entire post not just a summary. I've changed the blogger settings so hopefully this post will only show a summary. We'll see if I keep the feed, just something to play around with.

4) Sitting around in airports I tend to have a lot of time on my hands, typically not enough time to get online and I'm too tired to read or do anything else. Last week I was bored during a layover and decided to count the number of stamps in my passport. As of last week I now have over 100 stamps and visas - a major milestone.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My First Exhibition


You may recall that a while back I entered a photo in a Lonely Planets competition and was a finalist. While I didn't win my photo was shown in a gallery this week in London. On Tuesday night I headed into town with some friends from my photography group to check it out. My photograph was actually chose to be part of a lightbox display. The gallery was small so I guess there wasn't room for full size pictures of all of the photos. My photo was actually included twice in the lightbox which I thought was cool. My name is also listed in the exhibition guide as having been a Judge's Favorite. Overall I thought it was really cool.
I didn't bring my camera so I had to use my blackberry to take the picture above. Can you spot my picture?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Invisible Kangaroo at the Pyramids

Ike had many adventures in Egypt and wanted to write his own blog post.

I watched the sunset from the roof deck of the hotel and had my picture taken in front of the pyramid.


Did you know I have special powers and keep leap tall pyramids in a single bound?



I tried to climb the Great Pyramid but it was too tall.


I wanted to go for a camel ride but it was scary being up that high.


This is much better.

Playing Hide N Seek.



I pretended to be a Sphinx.


This is me and the captain of the Felucca.
He was nice and let me sail the boat for a little while.


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Whirling Dervish

No I'm not talking about me although I do feel like a Whirling Dervish at times. I compiled 3 video clips I took on the dinner cruise of the entertainment. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Walk Like an Egyptian

Yesterday I got back from a mini-holiday to Giza and Cairo, I spent 3 days touring the sites. Now I don't normally do tours but when I started researching Egypt everything seemed to point to the need to have a guide so I found a tour that seemed to be offering what I was looking for in terms of lots of free time and flexibility and the dates fit with my schedule. I left Thursday morning and arrived in Cairo around 4 in the afternoon (2 hour time difference between London and Cairo). Traffic in Cairo is horrible and reminded me of Jakarta, it can take up to an hour to travel only a couple of miles. I would not recommend trying to drive in Cairo there are no lane markings on the road to indicate lanes there are no street lights or traffic signs from what I could see it mostly seemed like a free for all. Add to that the pedestrians walking in the street even though the sidewalks exist many people seem to just walk on the road, you even see pedestrians standing and walking on 4 lane highways. There are no crosswalks or pedestrian crossing so pedestrians frequently jump in front of cars crossing the road. Oh yeah and there's also people in donkey-drawn vehicles. Given there is no real demarcation of where a lane ends and begins the curbs on the sidewalk are high (probably about 2 feet) I can only guess the height is so cars don't drive on the sidewalks. This came as a bit of a surprise to me when I was walking to dinner on my first night and stepped off the curb without looking and fell quite a distance, luckily I only stumbled and didn't fall flat on my face.

On the bus from the airport all of the women on the trip were given a single red rose by the tour guide. As I expected most of the people on the trip were couples there was only 1 other person that was travelling alone, Richard or Chris or Wellington depending on who was asking (I called him Richard). Luckily we got along well and "adopted" one another for the duration of the trip. It was nice to have a companion to have dinner and drinks with and also to go off exploring. The one thing that did surprise me with the group was that I was the youngest person by a couple of decades (this was also pointed out to me by others on the trip) it wasn't a problem as I had many interesting conversations with the others on the trip.


Friday morning we were off to the Egyptian Museum for the morning. There is unfortunately no photography allowed inside the museum - that is of course unless you find a security guard wanting to earn a "basheesh." Basheesh is a tip and is a way of life in Egypt, everybody wants one from the people in the toilets that hand you paper towels and toilet paper to the people at the pyramids that "offer" to take your picture. After an hour with the tour guide getting an in-depth history lesson on the artifacts in the museum I decided to go off on my own so I could see more of the museum. The information being given was good but it was too much sometimes the guide would speak for 10 minutes about a single sculpture, I usually tuned out after 3 or 4 minutes. It was while Richard and I were exploring on our own that we came across a film crew from Japan that was shooting footage in the museum for a documentary. We stopped to check out the filming and ask a couple of questions, it was at this point that the security guard with them came over and told us we could take some photos - now all cameras had to be left either on the bus or with security so the only thing we had were our mobiles but I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. He took us around to two sculptures and allowed us to take pictures when other people tried to do the same he said they couldn't we were working with the museum and were allowed to take photos. The one thing that amazed me about the museum were the sculptures that were from 2000 BC and earlier that were still in amazing condition, of course not all were there were some that had many pieces missing but the majority were fully in tact. In the sculptures of the men and women the woman always has her arm around the man, this signifies that the man is the center and the woman is supporting him. By far my favorite part of the museum was the animal mummies. Not only were the kings and queens mummified but animals would be mummified as well. Some of the animals were provided as food so the king and queen wouldn't starve others were sacred fish or pets. Some other little tidbits I learned at the museum:

  • The beard attached to statues and masks indicates that deceased, these statues also have their arms crossed.
  • The mask is attached to the mummy so that the King can be recognized, as the face of the mummy is bandaged there is now way to recognize him without the mask.

  • The face painted on the sarcophagus is usually identical to the mask on the mummy.

After the museum there was an optional tour to the Citadel and the Khan-el-Khalil market but I decided I would rather do those on my own on Sunday so I just had lunch and headed back to the hotel. We took a taxi back from lunch and knew that we would have to agree on a price prior to getting in the cab and we were told that it shouldn't be more than 20 or 20 LE (Egyptian Pounds). The driver first wanted 50 and this is where the negotiating started, he refused to budge and eventually as we started to walk away and another couple headed to the second taxi in the queue he started getting rather animated and upset saying he was there first so he gets the first fare. He told us he would take us and we confirmed the fare would be 30 he said yes yes. I have to admit I was slightly surprised when the taxi driver started smoking in the cab, I haven't seen a cab where smoking is allowed in many years. When we arrived and paid him the 30 LE he said no it's 40 - this is rather typical we held our ground said no we agreed on 30 and just walked away, he took the money and left. The process of negotiations are definitely an art form in Egypt.


That evening I went up to the rooftop terrace of the hotel to have a drink and watch the sunset. The only problem with the view from the rooftop is the radio tower smack dab in the middle of the second pyramid. Here by far is my favorite picture taken of me while in Egypt.




That evening I signed up for a dinner cruise on the Nile complete with entertainment. I realized when we were seated that we weren't given menus but other diners were we had only been given an option of 3 dinner entrees. Of course I wanted to see what I was missing and how much more we were charged by going through the tour so I asked to see the menu. The entrees we were offered were all £30 each which was the cost of most of the entrees only 2 were higher. As I had paid £45 which included transportation to and from the hotel I didn't feel I was ripped off which was good. The best part of the entertainment was the whirling dervish - I had never seen one before and watching this man spin around and around was impressive. I've got video which I'll upload later this week.

Saturday was the day I had been waiting for THE PYRAMIDS!!! You might think that the pyramids are out in the desert and far from the city but they aren't you can actually see them from the city and there are major roads and businesses all around them. Even though I could see them from my hotel and as we were driving around I was still eager to get up close and personal with them. The tour did not include entrance into the pyramids so I spent an additional 30LE to go inside the second pyramid, how can you not go inside. The trip into the pyramid is rather interesting you go 15M down a slope hunched over as the opening to the tomb is maybe 4 ft high. There is then a little chamber where you can stand up straight before heading up a 15M passage to the burial chamber. Unfortunately no photography is allowed inside the tomb so you'll just have to imagine it. As you start the upward climb it starts getting warm and musty at the top you are in the burial chamber at one end on a tiny altar is the crypt that you can look inside - bear in mind the room is completely empty as everything in it has been removed and is now either in various museums or possibly in personal collections around the world. The room isn't that large maybe about 10 ft X 20 ft and I just looked around and tried to imagine the room packed with the various belongings of the king.



The number of people at the pyramids that ask for Basheesh is ridiculously high you have to be very prepared for the people who will offer camel rides or to take their picture or come up and offer you something "for free" only to come back and ask for money. I managed to ignore everybody trying to sell something but ran into debates when taking pictures of Ike. When taking the photo on the right a man dressed as a security guard stood behind me watching me take the photo and after I was done followed me asking for basheesh I said no and walked away. (In case you're wondering why the photo is in B&W it's because Ike wanted an artsy photo of him. More photos of Ike's adventures in Cairo will be provided in a later post).

The reason I say he was dressed as a guard is I quickly realized that there were some people there wearing guards uniforms that weren't actually guards it's actually a pretty good scam if an official looking person offers to guide you to a good place to take a photo or to take your picture you'll be more likely to oblige than not. In addition to scaling the pyramid Ike also wanted a camel ride I went up to one of the men offering camel rides and asked if I could take a picture of Ike on the camel for 5 LE he said OK and we went off arranging him in various poses and I took some pictures he then said that he would take a picture of me and Richard we kept saying no but he did it anyways. Afterwards I gave him the 5 LE and he started asking for more he said that was for the bear but he took pictures of us too and we needed to pay for that. Saying no we didn't ask for that and walking away seemed to do the trick.




It really is impressive just looking at the pyramids and the construction and manpower involved in creating these.











Walking around outside the pyramids I could avoid many of the crowds however this wasn't the case at the Sphinx. The masses of people jostling around to get their picture taken in front of the sphinx and jumping on anything in site is a tiny bit overwhelming. It's a much more enclosed area so while there may not be more people there than at the pyramids they are in a smaller space so it looks like more.


The afternoon was a trip further out of town to Memphis and Saqqara. Memphis is the site of a small museum with a giant statue of Ramses II and was originally the capital of Egypt. Personally I didn't think the trip to Memphis was all that impressive but Saqqara was. Saqqara is the site of the Step Pyramid of Zoser one of the oldest pyramids in Egypt. Comparing the construction of this with the "modern" Giza pyramids you can see how the thinking and construction evolved. In the distance you can see the bent pyramid and the red pyramid. The angle of construction of the bent pyramid had to be changed midway through construction which gives the bent perspective this knowledge resulted in coming up with the correct angle necessary to create the Giza pyramids.

Sunday was a free day and I opted to explore the Citadel and markets on my own. The military museum at the Citadel is unique. There are many wars, and battles that aren't discussed it would appear that only the wars that are favorable to Egypt are discussed if the end result was not favorable it is not mentioned in the museum. The views from the Citadel over the city were amazing. Everything is pretty much the same sand-stone color, there is very little in the way of colors on the buildings, my guess is that the paint would quickly look dingy with all the sand flying around. Satellite dishes are everywhere, looks like cable television didn't make it's way to Egypt. Many of the buildings look like they are unfinished, I found out that this is because if the building is under construction then there are tax breaks available.

Leaving the Citadel I headed to the market. Knowing that a bomb went off there a week ago I wasn't sure what to expect. All entrances to the market area are guarded by police every non-westerner is stopped and asked for ID and their bags are searched. We were able to walk in without being stopped. Once you get in the market the hawkers are all out in full force offering "just what you're looking for" - most of the shops are selling similar items jewelery, pipes, silk, purses and for similar prices I imagine the person that yells the loudest gets the business. Outside of the markets it seems like the majority of the shops are Papyrus and Perfume shops.
Anyways I wasn't looking to buy anything just photographing. It wasn't until we were on the way out that I stumbled across a nifty little trick to get people to stop bothering or following you. As soon as somebody came up to me I picked up my camera to take their picture they immediately said "no photo" and walked away. I tried it out on a couple of other people and got the same reaction. It was funny to see the reactions of course there were some people that let me take their picture and really got into it. Sometimes the people in the next shop would also ask for their picture to be taken. Through this I managed to get some great photos of the people in the souk. I'll have to remember this the next time I'm at a souk.


Sunday night was a sunset dinner cruise on a Felucca. It was a nice way to end the holiday. The only thing I was slightly disappointed in was the food. Of all the meals that were provided as part of the group excursions the meals were all identical - grilled chicken and lamb kofka. It would have been nice to have had some other options as well. I'll be posting more photos to my photography site over the weekend.