Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two Weeks With The Queen

Well, this will overlap slightly with my last epic post, but it seems the most sensible place to start.
We arrived in London on a Thursday evening, not greeted at the airport by my older brother as we had hoped, but he did send a text message with instructions on which tube line to catch and where to get off, then call him when we got there. We gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he'd been working and unable to get to the airport in time (we later discovered he didn't start work till Monday, and had actually been asleep and woken up too late) In any case, we made our way through customs (they left me alone this time, unlike my last experience with British customs where they questioned me about my visa conditions and searched my bag) and down to the tube station ( I love that - why doesn't Melbourne have a train to Tullamarine?) with the lovely Hannah (Loud Hannah) accompanying us down. It took us a few minutes to work out what ticket we needed (Hannah had to catch a bus, but the nice man behind the window helped us) but we were soon on a train across London.
Partway there, Andrew (umm, my brother, he's not going to like the whole world reading this but for the purposes of distinguishing between the two, I'll call him Boo) messaged me to find out where we were, and thus was there to meet us when we arrived at Caledonian Rd Station, and led us back to his place (he even offered to help carry stuff! I only gave him the bag containing the vodka we'd bought for him at the Russian airport though). There, we put down our stuff, and sat (splodged is more like) for a couple of hours, before we finally summoned the energy to wander down to one of his local pubs (there are so many in that area, though the one across the road has closed down) along with his flatmate/squatter Mark, for drinks and dinner (which Boo even paid for). We were also joined by a female friend of theirs (who has been in the past and is soon to be again, their cleaner) and met Boo's actual flatmate, Rick. Dinner was great - I had the most divine steak (though admittedly my views may be coloured by my food experiences of the previous two weeks) Finally, we went back to the flat, where Andrew and I were given a choice of whether or not we wanted to change the sheets on our bed (!) before crashing (actually, it's Mark's bed - he stayed in Boo's room)
Friday we got going reasonably early, as we wanted/needed to activate our new British bank accounts. This took longer than expected, but the man was really nice and explained everything to us and issued us with credit cards (on the basis that it was much easier to do it then and there than to try to get one later, as we have no credit rating here) From there we wandered down to Trafalgar Square, which manages to look both better and worse in Summer than it does in Winter (more crowded, plus in Winter the contrast between blue water and grey sky is really cool), through the National Gallery (hundreds of paintings, by famous artists - free!) and along the River Thames, which is where we discovered the Star Wars Exhibition, which Andrew had to see, naturally. It wasn't that bad - I got to take a fairly close look at some of the costumes, and I think all the staff are Star Wars fanatics, which actually makes them pretty funny. Finally we headed back to Boo's apartment.
Boo's apartment is pretty small (though it managed to hold three guys, plus us for a week and a half) but it could be pretty cool. There's not many rooms (2 bedroom, bathroom, kitchen/dining and lounge - which is being used as a 3rd bedroom as well) but they're all pretty big (except the bathroom) It even has a small balcony. It's biggest problems are that it has 3 grotty boys living in it (and it is pretty grotty) and that the bathroom leaks onto the stairs below. The boys (all three of them) were pretty good hosts actually. We didn't see all that much of them, but they made sure we were okay.
Saturday was a nothing much day - a late start then time on the internet catching up (since we hadn't really checked it since Beijing and I had to type my last email to you lot) Sunday however, at Boo's suggestion, we headed to Camden Market. I was quite surprised that he'd send me here actually! A large part of the town is a market (or maybe multiple smaller's hard to tell) mainly selling hippy and goth stuff (which is why I was surprised I had been sent here - Boo knows I like this stuff and he disapproves) There is also a lot of funny t-shirts (Andrew bought a few - People's Front of Judea and Judean People's Front for the Python fans) and just generally cheap clothes and shoes. I was very tempted to buy some of the goth stuff (there was the coolest long black coat....) but it was quite a warm day, and my main focus was a skirt and sandals (which I didn't end up buying in the end - apparently normal sandals don't exist over here. I miss my Colorados) Andrew also bought a wind up pocket watch before we grabbed some food from the supermarket and headed 'home' (which was much harder than getting there had been as we couldn't get back into the same station - the tube is undergoing a lot of renovations)
Monday was an early start because I had a couple of 'interviews'. The first one was with a company that helps you maximise take home pay, by making all your relocation expenses (flights, food, rent, travel) tax deductible, which is cool and Andrew can use them too. The second one was with (I thought) an employment agency that works with teachers. As it turned out, the company is based out of London and I actually met with a woman from a sister company who just wanted to collect some details/references etc from me (which was really fun when the company I was looking for didn't seem to exist...) From there we bought tickets to a musical - Avenue Q - and went to Hyde Park. Hyde Park isn't really anything exciting, but it was nice to be somewhere green. We had dinner at a nice little Italian restaurant before going to Avenue Q. Avenue Q is probably the funniest musical you will ever see, if you get the chance. Designed to look like Sesame Street - puppets, stereotypes and all - it's definitely for grown ups (Andrew: "puppet sex", Katie: shudders). There is no attempt made to hide the puppeteers who also provide the voices, usually for at least 2 characters who may be on stage at the same time, so one person may be holding/operating the puppet while another does the voice. Also included are songs like It Sucks to Be Me, The Internet is For Porn, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist, and If You Were Gay. I laughed till I almost cried....
The rest of the week wasn't all that interesting. We caught up with my friend, Karla, from my last trip over here (I was a bit worried about that, because I haven't seen her since, but I might as well have seen her the previous week) and my cousin Erin (a bit thinner, but otherwise unchanged), went back to Camden Market where I did buy a couple of skirts this time (a long turquoise hippy one (which Boo was disgusted by) and plain knee length black one) though I still have no shoes to wear them with, and stressed over where to go next.
Finally the following Monday we boarded a coach to Glasgow, which is where I am writing this from. We have been here for about 5 days, and leave the day after tomorrow, returning to London first, to pick up our credit cards, then on to Stratford-Upon-Avon...