“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson
Note: I’ve put placeholders in for now for pictures. I’ve been holding off on posting this until I could get the pictures from Jason, but we’ve been so swamped in the evenings after work we haven’t had time to sit down and load them onto the computer. So those are coming…in the meantime, this is at least to catch you up!
Well I’m well past due on getting an update put together – big surprise. With how eventful the last two weeks have been, though, at least I have plenty of material to work with. Jason and I pretty much hit the ground running after I got in at Heathrow. Between social events, work, and moving to a new flat, we haven’t yet had a whole lot of time to do much exploring…not that we’d necessarily have wanted to. Until about two days ago it has been, in Jason’s words, “bitch ass cold” or, if you like, in mine, “colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra” (Nana would be so proud).
To Jason’s credit, he didn’t bat an eyelash at my excessive complaining about it, and, as there’s a silver lining to everything, now that it’s warmed up to 30 degrees, it feels quite balmy.
Besides the extreme cold, which every Londoner has told me is highly unorthodox for the area, the weather itself has been really rather lovely. It’s snowed twice. The first time was only a few days after I arrived. It stuck for one night, largely melting away by the end of the next day, but that was enough for Jason and me to go out and enjoy it a bit.
The second snow happened in the middle of last week. It was pleasant because it didn’t stick…which meant it was, by comparison to the first week and a half, actually too warm for it to!
Aside from the snow and cold, I’m pretty sure people exaggerated how gloomy London is supposed to be. We’ve had a fairly reasonable balance of sunny, partly sunny, and drizzly days. It’s actually not been that unusual or depressing.
Jason, being the slave driver that he is, had me at the office my first full day in London (Thursday, February 2). I honestly didn’t really mind too much; everyone’s very nice, and I’m excited for the work. Though, I definitely struggled a few of the first days to stay awake during the quiet periods when I was left to my own devices. I am currently, officially, assigned to the “partners team” meaning that I help manage the accounts of other companies who buy our products white label and then advertise them through various channels as their own products with their own branding.
Coming from a marketing department of 1 to one of 50+ is really fascinating. There are teams of 5 to 10 people, and each team is dedicated to a specific range of tasks (partners, ventures, retention, VIP, design, social media, etc.). Because of how big the department is and how localized duties are, I feel pretty fortunate that I’m able to work outside the confines of one single team. My primary job right now is with the partners, but I’ll also soon (hopefully) be starting in on working with marketing design, Flash development, and somewhat with retention as well. As my skills with various programs and company assets progress, it’s my goal to eventually end up down with the game design/animation department too. I guess we’ll see!
Friday Night Social
There are some very neat things about work that I’m likely to end up getting spoiled on. Firstly, they provide a rather impressive array of beverages to all employees for free including: juice, tea, coffee, hot chocolate, pop, milk, etc. Secondly, every morning right around 9 o’clock each kitchen area (there are 4 that I know of for sure) is supplied with a bowl of fresh bananas, apples, oranges, and pears. Since the vast majority of people don’t come in until 9:30 or 10:00am, I end up having breakfast every morning. Bananas are the most popular of the fruit, though, and I’ve had to learn to play rugby in order to ensure I get one. Jason cheats…he picks up the bowl on his way to his desk, ostensibly to be nice to the admin girl who delivers them to the various kitchens, but I think it’s just his clever way of getting first pick of the bananas. 😉
The other notable neat thing that the company does is hold a sort of post-work social on Friday evenings. Supplying the top floor “game” room (which consists of couches, tables, a kitchen, a pool table, and some video game consoles) with alcohol and snacks, every Friday at 5:30 employees are welcomed to go upstairs for an after work drink and socializing. The drink and snacks last all of about 10 minutes I think, but it’s a very cool tradition that probably promotes camaraderie in the company and lets people unwind at the end of the day. I’m convinced the early morning rugby matches over the fruit are intended to train you up for the Friday evening alcohol rush.
Jason and I have happily vacated “the circus tent” in Finsbury Park and settled down in a cozy little flat in North Clapham which is part of a charming and bustling area in south London called Clapham Commons. Clapham (or “Slap Your Momma” as Mommy likes to call it) is home to a large number of restaurants, bars, cafes and leisure facilities. As a result it is now regarded as a fashionable and desirable place to live for new university graduates, foreigners, and the general British “middle classes” and is within easy commuting distance of the city center. The area apparently dates back to Anglo-Saxon times though, and interestingly the main road through, Clapham High Street, is an ancient “diversion” of the Roman military road Sloan Street. There’s a Roman stone from that original road in the Clapham Library that says it was erected by Vitus Ticinius Ascanius and is estimated to date from the first century AD.
Our flat itself is situated on a residential road a little ways off of Clapham High Street. When it was “bitch ass cold” out, it seemed like a very long walk, but in actuality is quite short and also very pretty with row after row of old houses of various color and character. There are a smattering of trees along the way as well that I think will make it really picturesque in the spring or summer.
Our flat also benefits from being less than a 2 minute walk from Wandsworth Road Station (which we can see from our bedroom window). This is an over ground train that makes our commute into the city for work every morning very convenient. We’re also fairly close to the North Clapham stop on the Northern tube line (which we avoid in the mornings because it is slam packed, Tokyo style), and about 15 minutes walk from Vauxhall (?) Station on the Victoria tube line (I think this will also be a very pretty walk in the spring/summer).
The flat itself is on the second floor of what was probably once an old house but has been converted into a three story apartment building. There are a couple of girls in the flat on the 3rd floor and a few in the 1st floor as well, but they are mostly very quiet. Jason and I haven’t met them yet. We share our own flat with another couple. Iza (Izabela), who is from Poland, will be 25 in June. Her boyfriend, Emmie (which is short for a name I couldn’t begin to pronounce or spell), is a 31-year-old technical security professional from Malaysia. We haven’t yet spent a great deal of time with them, but I sat down and had a beer and chat with Iza on Monday (February 13) night while Jason was at basketball. Besides seeming to be overall friendly people, they have the added perks of being fairly quiet and pretty tidy, which makes them fabulous in my book!
Jason and I have, by London standards, a very spacious room in the flat. It lacked in the way of storage for our personal needs having only a wardrobe, chest of drawers, and bedside table with two small drawers when we moved in, but with all of the stuff between the two of us we definitely needed some extra closet space so Jason and I ordered an additional wardrobe and a desk and chair, which Jason put together Saturday night after they’d been delivered. (As an aside, I also learned Sunday night that he can magically unclog a toilet without a plunger. I’m not sure how, but I’m pretty sure he gets extra man points on his man card for those skills!)
Welcome to “Slap Your Momma”: Cafe Sol Dos
Our first night in Clapham, Jason and I decided to celebrate with dinner out. At 10:00 on a Tuesday night, we had some trouble finding a place that was still serving food. We settled for a promising looking (though largely empty) Mexican place on Clapham High Street that had two giant braziers burning welcomingly on either side of its door. By happy circumstance, Cafe Sol Dos was still serving dinner, so we ordered some Mexican mojitos and ate way too much food. I had a respectable attempt at a chimichanga (Mom’s are still by far the best ever), and Jason ate chicken and beef mixed grill fajitas which were pretty delicious also. Overall, we liked the place. It has a neat atmosphere and the interior decorations are very cool with colorful Aztec/Mayan inspired tile murals on the walls. Their menu is pretty robust as well. Our general impressions of the restaurant were validated when we passed by on Saturday night and the place was wall to wall packed with diners.
Borough Market, Sundays in London, and H&M
Since we had largely been trapped inside our flat on Saturday waiting for Argos to deliver our furniture, we didn’t get to do much in the way of area exploring, so Sunday, after finishing up tidying and unpacking in our room, we headed out to take a peek at a place called Borough Market. Borough Market is, evidently, one of the largest wholesale and retail food markets in London, selling foods from literally all over the world. In the 13th century traders selling food wares were relocated from London Bridge to Borough High Street. The market has existed there ever since. It sounded very vibrant and interesting, but Jason and I will have to wait to tell you more about it because once we arrived at the correct tube stop we were informed that unfortunately, like many places in London, it was closed on Sundays. Not to be deterred, we amused ourselves for a bit by hijacking a children’s park before trekking back to the station to head on to the St. Paul’s area.
Where we hopped off the tube at Bank, there is a convergence of several roads and across the intersection was this big building…
Is this the Bank from Mary Poppins?? I thought it looked familiar, and I remember from the “Feed the Birds” song that the old woman goes to the steps of St. Paul’s. Anyway, a couple of streets up from here is a new shopping mall. It’s pretty small with only about 10-15 stores and probably 5 or so restaurants, but here I got to have my very first H&M shopping experience!
I have known about H&M for some time, but frustratingly they don’t allow online orders/shipping in the USA yet, and the closest H&M store to Charlotte is in DC (I think)…there might be one in Atlanta too. Anyway, H&M is notable for having quite fashionable clothes at very reasonable prices. I got a number of very cute dresses from there (all receiving Jason’s stamp of approval). The most expensive one was £24.99 which is about $40. Just to be fair we also stopped in All Saints and got Jason a really nice hoodie.
All in all the first two weeks have been really great. Though punctuated occasionally with some misery over the cold (which, fingers crossed, has passed) and random spurts of homesickness, we’ve managed to keep very busy. Now that we’re settling into a comfortable rhythm, we’ll be able to have a lot more fun exploring, traveling, and socializing more. What better way than to kick off with a trip to Paris!? For Valentine’s Day, Jason surprised me with a weekend trip to Paris. We’ll leave tonight after work and come back on Sunday. I had a cute little preview of what we’re planning to do and see in Paris, but it’s going to end up being a “post view” because this video, like the pictures, is on Jason’s phone. In the meantime just…
Imagine A Cute Video Now
P.S. Please pardon any strange or exceedingly British looking spelling in my posts. Microsoft Word keeps tossing in extra ‘u’s and swapping out ‘z’s for ‘s’s. I try to catch most of them, but it’s possible a few will slip through.
- Dates are always written (and said) in the Day/Month/Year format. So February 13th, is written and said 13 February. The same is done for telling time where 12:30 is said, “Half Twelve”.
- Kellogg Crunchy Nut Bites: Caramel and Nuts is quite possibly the best cereal ever invented. I’m tempted to join their Facebook page just to convince them to sell these in the States.
- Potato Chips are called Crisps, and French Fries are called Chips.
- 7-Up is referred to as Lemonade here. If you want U.S. style lemonade you have to order “Cloudy Lemonade”. Ordering Sprite is right out (at least at Thai Orchid).
- All pigeons are, in fact, French. How do I know? If you charge them, they always flee!
You can also keep up with the places we’ve been here: London Exploits