Thursday, December 31, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
"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
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
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.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
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
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
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
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
Saturday, July 4, 2009
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
Second most important - The Kitchen
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
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
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:
- 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
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:
- 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
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.
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
- Landlord not responding
- Top 10 things in Copenhagen
- Adventures of Delvish
- Custom Fees
- Expat Boston Blog
- Kangaroo pyramid / Kangaroo Tudy
- Expat problem
- Lease Renewal
Monday, June 8, 2009
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
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
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
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
Sunday, May 31, 2009
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)
- 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.
Friday, May 29, 2009
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
Friday, May 22, 2009
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
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
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
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
- 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
Friday, May 1, 2009
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
"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
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.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
It was a very educational day for me today in Copenhagen. Here's a list of what I learned.
- Even though it's spring Copenhagen still thinks it winter.
- One minute there are beautiful blue skies the next it's snowing.
- My coat has a hood if I wear it I stay warmer.
- My travel agent likes booking hotels for me in the red light district.
- Car tax is outrageous - it can be up to 200%.
- 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.
- Many people here speak English with an American accent. At least it sounded American to me.
- 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
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
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
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
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.