Sunday, August 22, 2010

London Week 1

So, the title of this post is a misnomer.  I've been in London almost two weeks.  School starts tomorrow (Monday Aug. 23).  Can't believe the summer flew so fast.  I've been keeping a list of "stories" from week 1 on my iPhone, so this blog post is dedicated to those stories.  My apologies for it being disjointed.

On day 1, Binita and I went to IKEA near Wembley (area of London where main Olympic complex is being built).  The Underground goes there, and IKEA has a shuttle to help get you back to the station after shopping.  IKEA in London is very similar to IKEA in Houston.  Big box retailer with hordes of people.  It's back to school season here as well, so the selection was somewhat limited.  I bought essentials mostly (boxes, dishrack, hangers, frames, etc.) and noted some furniture I needed for storage.  One of my roommates came back that weekend and ordered my stuff with orders from others.  IKEA has a great delivery scheme here.  If you live in our post code, delivery of goods (up to 2,000 GBP) is only 40 GBP.  So, my flatmates and I split that cost.  One surprising thing I've realized...flat sheets in London are hard to find and really expensive.  Most sheet sets include a duvet cover, fitted sheet, and 2 pillowcases.  Flat sheets (low thread count) come in colors like black and white and cost $15-$20.  Also, hangers are really expensive in London.  I bought 3 packs of 10 hangers for 15 GBP total.  That works out to about 75 cents a hanger.  I have a lot of clothes too, so I was stuck.  Luckily I found plastic hangers at IKEA that were about 20 cents each.  Expect to pay the "London premium" on even the basic things here.

Crossing the street in London gives me the heebee jeebee's.  First, there are few intersections that are right angles (London is a very old city with windy roads and intersections that come in all sorts of shapes).  You don't always know which way traffic is coming from.  A lot of intersections have big words painted on the street "LOOK LEFT" or "LOOK RIGHT", but that's not always the case.  Park Road, Baker Street, and Marylebone High Street are the three big roads I have to cross on a daily basis.  Imagine having to cross Westheimer Street in Houston on foot, and it'll give you an idea of how scary it is.

Blast from the Past
One of my first clients at Alvarez & Marsal was a recycler. Since then, I have become a recycling fiend. London is a "green" city (which I LOVE). I was surprised and admire Pret for their recycliing practice. Pret is a chain of cafe's similar to La Madeleine or Panera in the States. My friend Reese and I were there for lunch when I saw this...

Haggis and Such
My wonderful sister Binita came to help me move to London.  She spent 10 days with me, and we decided to make a last-minute trip to Edinburgh, Scotland for four days.  Edinburgh is FANTASTIC and definitely a place to visit.  Especially in August when they have their month-long Edinburgh International Festival.  It's really a mix of 10 or so different festivals.  There are tons of comedians, street performers, plays, musical performances, food festivals, and even a book festival.  Edinburgh is so green and beautiful.  It's charming and it's locals are friendly.  Go to Scotland if you want to enjoy the beauty of the Highlands, scotch, golf, cashmere, shortbread, and haggis.

OMG...I LOVE Skype.  Maybe it's because it allows me to feel like I'm not that far away from friends and family.  Skype to Skype calls on laptops are always free.  Otherwise, calls to most countries are 2 cents / minute.  So, I was using that until I discovered the Skype app for the iPhone.  This allows you to make calls from your cell phone cheaply.  On top of that, I bought a 12-month subscription for unlimited calls to the US and Canada landlines and mobiles for $2.99 / month.  (Make sure to buy it in the US, otherwise it's $8 if they detect an overseas IP address). So, now, I can essentially make a call from MY iPhone to ANY person in the US for $36 a year.  Not too bad...

Lucky Lady
That's what I consider myself to have such great friends and family.  Within my first week of London, I had two sets and aunts, uncles, and cousins visit while they were vacationing iin Europe.  In that first week, I also had two Aggie friends from Houston in town.  The weekend was full of sight seeing, eating, and Speed Scrabble. 

The Calm Before the Storm
Tomorrow is the first day of school.  I've made a handful of friends over the past few months and plan on making many more over the next two years.  Admits Orientation, Flathunters Pub Crawl, and rugby practice on Sundays have been a great way to meet people.  Over 90% of my class comes from outside the UK.  So, whenever you meet someone, you instantly have something in common.  Initial conversation is around where you come from, whether you've found a flat, what you did in your pre-MBA career, etc.  It's very easy to make friends.   I would say that the friendships are superficial right now because I really don't know many people.  However, even the littlest thing (such as a text message from a classmate wishing me good luck in rugby practice) makes my day.  It makes me feel part of something rather than an expat in a overcrowded, expensive city.

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