Thursday, 30 December 2010

Christmas In Bruges

Yes, this is late... in December a group of Kiwis in London journeyed in the wee small hours to catch a coach to Belgium - Bruge to be specific - for the annual Christmas markets.

For anyone who has seen, and loved, the movie In Bruges the city holds a certain serious and humourous appeal.

Our day started ridiculously early - I had to be at Victoria by 6:30am - because we were making the journey to and from Belgium in one day.

From London to Dover, Dover to Calais and Calais to Bruges we rode into town on the Phoenix Tours' bus.

The two drivers were lovely and in a good mood, laughing and joking all the way.

However, the tour guide was not quite right.

I'm not sure how this guy ever got the job. He was less of a guide and more of a rambling old man. He said he'd been doing it for years but his circular and boring stories would have put the hardiest traveller to sleep let alone a bunch of 20 somethings.


Just before arriving at our destination we paid a visit to a Belgian Chocolate factory - need I say more!


On a side note, we were meant to travel the week before but thanks to a massive dumping of snow our trip was postponed.

By midday we were rolling into town, through a largely industrial area to the tall trees on the outskirts of the historic old town.



It's hard to describe Bruges without using a lot of cheesy and romantic words... beautiful, breath-taking, peaceful, magical, fairy-tail town.

All these descriptions are true, but the influx of visitors for the markets meant it was a little less peaceful.

Along with friends Kathy and Becca we made our way through the small village. With so many ornate buildings, stalls, shops and decorations it was hard to know where to look.

First we stopped for a look in some Christmas decoration shops. The ornaments were handmade and expensive - but it's free to look.

Next we sampled the local mulled wine and made our way through the first of two market squares.


The old town is fairly compact and it doesn't take long to cover the main area on foot.

The main market is the centre of the square in front of the Church of Our Lady. There an ice-rink is surrounded by stalls selling food, produce and Christmas themed goodies.

Here we tucked into some tasty banana fritters. Ummmmm!


Kath decided she wanted to join the overly long queue to climb the church tower while Becca and I went sightseeing. You'd have to be a pretty big Grinch not to get caught up in the Christmas Spirit in this town.

After a day shopping, eating and walking we were exhausted. In early evening we were back on our bus making the long journey back to London.

More photos of Bruges here!

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Let it snow! My very first snow fall

Today, the 30th day of November I saw my very first snow fall.

Looking out the window mid morning small powdery flakes were drifting down.

Ahh, a light dusting of snow in Chiswick

A light sprinkling of snow has been falling all day, but not enough for any ground coverage.

I had to try really hard not to dance through the streets like a crazy woman - nobody seemed particularly excited by the wintry arrival, well, either that or we were all too scared to let our inner child run free.

Snow flakes feel like little puffs of rain that fall down and tickle your nose.

Other parts of the city are covered in the cold white stuff. Hopefully we get a good snow-dumping overnight so I can have the full snowman, snowball, snowangel experience.

As tomorrow is December 1, MY official start of the festive season, I may have to tuck into a Starbucks Christmas coffee and take a walk through the increasingly merry town of Chiswick.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Off to Bruges

The weather is getting chilly and the days are shorter. For a southern hemisphere girl I need to be reminded that these are the signs of Christmas.

I should have no trouble remembering this coming weekend as I head to Bruges for the annual Christmas Markets.

The BBC weather page says the highest temperature in Bruges between Sunday and Thursday is going to be -1°C... with snow! The lowest, an overnight temperature of -8°C. 

It's a good thing I've just stocked up on wintery supplies from that great British store TK Maxx.

In one successful shopping trip I now have a pair of sheepskin boots, a padded hoodied sweater, jacket, hat and woolly socks. Ahhh.

Now for some Belgian mulled wine!


Read all about our Bruges Xmas experience here.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Rules for public transport: by me

After several months travelling British style I think I now have the right to comment on public transport rules and etiquette.

If we all follow these basic instructions the world will be a much happier place.

Elderly Women (frail and non-frail)
Now this is easy - everyone who is not elderly or disabled should stand for little old ladies - end of story. It's the right thing to do

Elderly Men (frail)
Again, this is a simple rule, everyone who isn't old and has all their limbs in working order should give up their seats.

Elderly Men (non-frail)
This rule is a little more complicated, and may sound a little sexist.

MEN who are not elderly or disabled should stand up for this group the reason being gentlemen of a certain age don't seem to like taking a seat of a 'lady' no matter how young (children are another matter all together) and will act all chivalrous if offered a space by the fairer sex.

Small School Children
I know some people out there think all children should give up seats for full-fare-paying grown-ups, but it seriously makes me mad when the tiniest of pupils are left to slide around the bus or train. These tots often carry backpacks that weigh as much as they do and being so tiny they can't reach the hand rails. So be an adult and give up your seat!

Pregnant Women
I imagine carrying around a future human all day is pretty tiring and the added size and shape doesn't make standing crammed in with other passengers easy. So unless you are an elderly woman or a frail old man - stand. The same courtesy should be applied to those carrying babies and small children.

Newspapers
If you are standing and the train is full do not open your newspaper. Where do you think your elbows are going? That's right - all up in my face!

Upon entering
Let people OFF the train first - you're not going to get left behind, just be patient, please.

Well, those are my rules. Nothing more, nothing less.

Just don't steal my armrest!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

We're jammin' in London

I can't believe it has more than four months since I last picked up an instrument.

We'll my head might not have believed it, but my fingers certainly did -and my shoulders are killing me after playing bass for 2.5 hours.

Anja organised a jam for us at Enterprise Studios on Denmark St just off Charing Cross Road. You'll know you're in the right place when you get to the rows and rows of music shops.

The studio is down a skungey looking alley - musician wanted and gig posters plastered all over the alley walls. The studio is huge and with dozens of rooms off the maze-like hallways it's easy to lose your way - I did on the way out.

Our room came complete with drum kit, guitar, bass and mics - all high quality.

With three guitarists and two guitars I was relegated to bass - which meant for a good workout! I haven't properly played bass since my High School jazz band days.

After a slightly rusty start the four of us were soon blasting our way through cover songs and a few original numbers.

We're hoping to make this a regular event - and when I get my first job I'm off to purchase my very own UK guitar!

Can't wait!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The tremendous temping team

What a busy little person I've been lately!

Last week I picked up another temp assignment right in the heart of London City in one of the swishest (is that a word? If not it should be!) looking office buildings I've seen.

Walking up to the building on Thursday in my business best the brand new lobby felt like a mini-city.

Through the Underground-like turnstiles and up to the third floor I find out I'm taking my place with five eager young-things like myself.

The company is a massive international consultancy firm and the six of us and our manager are working on data cleaning for a large project.

While the work isn't terribly exciting it certainly requires attention to detail.

The best thing about the role - aside from the fact we get all the soft drinks, tea, coffee and cookies we can handle - is the tremendous temp team.

All of us get on so well - which makes the day fly by.

We're all educated 20-somethings looking for that perfect full-time role in London.  Kiwis, South Africans and Brits - all our lives revolve around the job hunt and - of course - making enough money to get by in the mean time.

Our involvement in the project is over for now, but we may be recalled in the next couple of weeks.

Hopefully each of us will have 'real jobs' by then, but if not I can think of much worse ways to earn some cash!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Brick Lane: London's Little India

Okay, there isn't really a place in London called Little India, but Brink Lane in the east of the city may as well be.

After hitting a photo journalism exhibition in Southbank, Anja Jargil and I headed east.

The street that is Brick Lane is like a little oasis in the middle of nothing - the surrounding streets are void of pretty much anything - nice, clean and tidy Indian restaurants line either side of the road while male staff from each eatery pester you to enjoy your evening meal at their place.
If you're in the mood for bargaining you could probably haggle a good deal. We had hour hearts set on Aladdin's, but it was fully booked at we were starving.

While making our way back through the pushy salesmen we managed to strike a dinner deal for 9pounds each plus a bottle of wine at Poppadoms.

I think we (okay, mainly Anja) may have been a little too loud for the middle-aged English men sitting behind us. They kept looking over and laughing, but didn't ask us to be quiet so oh well.

The food was exactly what you'd expect - warm, tasty curries at a good price - nothing gourmet, but very yum.

Despite feeling like midnight, the night was still young so we popped into Cafe 1001 at 1 Dray Walk for a drink.

On the way, Anja was distracted by some brightly coloured stools hanging in a shop window so had to go in and buy one - from then on she had her own seat for the night.

Cafe 1001 is on a small walkway and is frequented mainly by students though the crowd was quite mixed. There was a good sprinkling of spoilt-rich kids, but they are easy to ignore.

Outside is a large, and beautifully smelling, BBQ and tables for smokers. You can bring the hot food into the main bar/cafe.

If you come here I'd recommend a Bailey's Hot Chocolate to warm up on a cold London night. And while I didn't try one, the selection of brownies and cupcakes in the cabinet looked splendid.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Tube strike, what tube strike

I totally owned my first tube strike last week.

Despite industrial action closing stations and restricting the number of trains I managed to arrive a mere 7 minutes late to the office.

While I know many, many more were affected much worse than I was it was just like any other day for me.

Now I might be wrong, but how can it be a true strike when trains are still running? How can the big people upstairs truly take notice when you can still catch a ride to work?

I'm not suggesting the unions actually do this - but if I wanted to put on a strike that really got people's attention I'd stop each and every train for 24 hours.

A little background on the issue: two transport unions, Rail Maritime and Transport and Transport Salaried Staffs' Association, are at loggerheads with London Underground bosses over job cuts - and it doesn't look like they're going to get their way.

So until the whole mess is sorted out I say bring on the next strike... unless of course you decide to close Turnham Green, then please stop!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The dark, dark night

I'm now in work until the end of the week.

My contract with the Designer has been extended so more money for me - and it certainly is needed!

This week I celebrated my first London Halloween.

It felt very eventful around Chiswick on Saturday even when Halloween was really on the Sunday, but who's counting.

M&S had a witch face painting and giving lollies to the kids and staff at most stores got dressed up in the spooky spirit.

I was invited to a small gathering in Richmond so had to start the hunt for a costume - which of course I left to the last minute.

In the end I found a suitably cheap option in Hammersmith- black cat ears - I'm terribly poor at the moment so my usual Halloween effort will have to wait until next year.

The train to Richmond was scattered with groups of vampires and ghouls - no brave solo costume wearers though.

On Sunday the real Halloween started an hour late thanks to daylight savings coming to an end.

And it doesn't half get dark here!

By 4pm car head lights are on and the sun is well and truly hidden - it's going to take me a while to get used to this. I always wondered why it was pitch black when they finished work on Coronation Street - I thought they were just hard working!

The plus side... leaving home in daylight!

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Champagne and cake - all in a days work

I got a job! A temp job! Until Wednesday...

If you've been reading you'll see I went to an interview on Thursday, but this is another role.

Without wanting to name-names I'm now processing orders for a well-known luxury goods and cosmetics firm - let's call them the Designer.

Finding out that I was working for an elite company made me both excited and nervous - ooo it's going to be fancy-pants, but possibly pretentious.

But I was totally wrong on both points.

The Designer is in an understated office in southern greater London and staffed with some of the loveliest and most down to earth people I've meet since moving here.

My work is fairly simple and involves processing fax and email orders for the flat out customer service team - simple but it keeps me busy.

The office is filled with perfume and makeup as are the bathrooms  it's makeover heaven. And the kitchen has the coolest - and yummiest - coffee machine I've ever seen.

Friday flew by and around 4:30pm the big boss came downstairs along with other office workers to fill us up with champagne and cake (one of the perks of working at a company that has stakes in wine!).

So bring on tomorrow - my second day at work in three months!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A small success

Well, I have a job interview tomorrow. It might not be for a media job, but it has good pay and is close to home so it will suit for now.

So far I've had two interviews with employers and several with agencies and sent out what feels like hundreds of CVs.

The process here feels very different than in NZ. First up there are many more people applying for the jobs so it takes a lot longer to hear back - if you hear back at all!

Also, everything is done by email so it means even after an interview if you don't get the job you're more likely to get a friendly email then a phone call.

So all going well tomorrow I'll be set up with a good temp role in a company that sounds like it's a fun place to work.

Fingers crossed!

Monday, 25 October 2010

In sickness and health...

I'm currently sitting on the couch a snotty, coughing mess - tissues growing in a pile beside me.

Woe-is-me!

If you haven't noticed already I'm feeling a little sorry for myself at present.

I have managed to drag myself from my sick bed and apply for some more jobs as well as clean the food-bomb site that was our kitchen.

Thankfully my boyfriend is lovely and is on his way to get me some dinner - awwww.

He had his flu-shot today so aside from a sore arm he should be free of any future aliments - but that doesn't include the common cold so I guess I'm still infectious.

It's times like these I wish they'd left the 'P' in cold and flu tablets - they were the best at killing off my colds from Nam.

So apologies for my rambling blog - hopefully I'll be a little more coherent tomorrow.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Let's get physical, physical!

After two months of fast food and massive portions in the US I've joined the gym.

For years I've been a regular gym bunny, but the last 70 days have seen my fitness level drop dramatically - and my jeans were starting to feel a little tight.

I have a bit of time on my hands these days and to stop my life from becoming an endless cycle of CVs and applications I thought a bit of sweaty activity out of the house would do me a world of good.

There were a plethora of options in Chiswick, but the majority were "health clubs" which loosely translates to "extremely out of my price range" like this one...


In the end I settled on West4 a friendly, community gym. It's still fairly expensive when you're thinking in NZ dollars, but cheap in London terms.

I wont go into how lost I got trying to find it the first time - who would put two streets with the name 'Sutton' right next to each other! - but so far I'm enjoying my daily dose of calisthenics.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Vimto, I'm a slave for you!

I dream of your indigo, purple, red, blue and green can - if I'm extra lucky you'll be dressed in white.  Your sweet, but not too sweet fruitiness. Your certain je ne sas quoi.... I heart you Vimto!

As you can see I'm on to one of my favourite blog topics - food and drink. I can promise there'll be many, many more to come.

I had my first Vimto at Aunty and Uncle's shop and it was love at first sip.

It's taste is hard to describe - like a fruity creaming soda that's not sickly sweet.

The Vimto website says:
"Vimto is made from a top-secret recipe, one that's been passed down from John Nichols (Vimto's creator) to us - and he said not to tell anyone! What we can tell you is that our secret formula includes a mix of three fruit juices - grape, blackcurrant and raspberry - along with a mysterious blend of 23 fruit essences, herbs and spices. And we can also tell you that we only pick the very best ingredients to ensure that your Vimto tastes totally terrific!"

Vimto was created as a tonic over 100 years ago in Britain and can now be bought around the world! ummmm.

Supposedly it's really big in the Middle East - those people have great taste!

My kiwi readers who want to try this amazing beverage should visit this store in Onehunga or order online.

Here's a rather funny ad for the world's best drink by Purple Ronnie...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Dr! Dr I feel sick!

Visas - check

British cell phones - check

NI number - almost check

Find a doctor…..
It’s not that we needed one urgently, but seeing that both Nick and I tend to be walking medicine cabinets we thought we’d  better sort it out quickly.

We turned up around 11:30am hoping to fill in some forms and be on our way, but soon found out it wouldn’t be so simple.

“We only register new patients between 8-11am so you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” the receptionist told us.

We’d also need a letter with our address and our passports.

So once again we rolled up at the medical centre - this time at 10:30.

“Sorry, but registration takes one hour so I suggest you come back tomorrow,” the always helpful receptionist told us.

Finally, the next morning we were there by 8:30 and were handed several forms by a nice woman. Then we were told to pee in a cup - so far this is turning into the weirdest doctors appointment ever.

The most awkward part was handing the sample back to the woman in the middle of a busy waiting room.

Plus, I was slightly worried I’d get a funny test result as I taken multi-vitamins in the morning that make my pee bright yellow (extra vitamin B).

We were each are seen by a tiny South-East Asian nurse who kept apologising for her English - it seemed perfect to me!

She was warm and friendly and seemed genuinely concerned with our health.

Despite being florescent my pee was fine. Then came the questionnaire.

“How many servings of fruit and veg do you eat a day? How much salt ? How often do you exercise?

“Do you smoke? No take drugs? No. Drink – how many? Five a week - that’s
 about a bottle of wine.”

But nick admitted to drinking eight beers a week which put him “over the limit” and he was moved onto the “special form“.

“Have you ever hurt yourself or others while drinking? Have you ever woken up and not known how you got there? Do you need a drink first thing in the morning?”

Thankfully, Nick answered ‘No’ to all of the above.

Half an hour later and it was time to see the doctor, Maria. Nick was a little weirded-out by the fact that all five doctors were women - he’s never had a female doctor before.

But Maria removed all fears. A lovely Spanish woman, she recommended I book myself in with the asthma nurse as the winters here can be extremely nasty.

And that was that. One hour gone - Find doctor - check.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Computer says no…

You know that character in Little Britain – bespectacled middle-aged woman in a blouse and vest with long greasy hair sitting behind a desk who can’t possibly help because “computer says no”.

Before the character was never more than a humorous skit, but after moving to London the uninterested, unhelpful customer service representative is a frightening reality.

As a former civil servant, I know just how hard the majority of these people work, well in New Zealand at least. I will never again complain about waiting in line for the IRD call centre.

It began even before we left for overseas.

Applying for a Youth Mobility Visa takes time. Fill in a form, scan your fingerprints then send everything off along with your passport, a return envelope and $300 to Canberra.

One month later and no sign of my Visa I emailed the UK Visa office. Several days later I get an email back saying my Visa has been approved, but there was no return envelope. Now, I knew I’d sent one, but rather than get into an email battle went down to the post office and sent a second envelope to Australia. Finally, a couple of days later what should appear in my letterbox but my passport complete with Visa in my original envelope!

*sigh*

One of the first things you have to do when you want to work in the UK is set up a National Insurance number – it’s kind of like a tax and an ACC payment all in one.

On our forth day in the country I rang up the NI Office and after a few basic questions a pack of forms were make their way from Scotland to Chiswick.

Now, it was slightly for a more complicated for Nick. Being a British Citizen he had to visit the NI office and have an interview in just under a month’s time

My package arrived quite quickly and two days later they were heading back to Scotland.

I followed Nick to his NI interview for moral support. It was a wet and chilly London day as we travelled 45mins on the tube. The interviews take place in a giant, open office – no privacy here – you can easily listen in on the various personal interviews going on around you.

“Now is that your FIRST name or your LAST name?”

The lovely reception lady took a look at Nick’s form.

“It’s nice to have an easy name for once,” she said only half joking.

Shortly Nick was taken to one of the 15 or so desks.

“How long have you been in the UK? How did you get a British Passport? Where are you living? Now, I’ve just got to get my supervisor to check these and I’ll have them back to you in 15minutes.”

One hour later Nick has his documents and an NI number should arrive in two weeks.

Over one month later there is no sign of my own number so I pick up the phone and ring Scotland.

“I’ve been waiting for over a month and was wondering where my number is?”

“Reference number please….okay, it (the computer) says your application was received too late so it was cancelled. You’ll have to ring the mainline again and make an appointment.”

“But I sent it just two days after I got it?!”

“Well, there’s nothing I can do you have to make an appointment.”

It turns out I don’t need an appointment just another set of forms. I asked if there was anyway to get them to Scotland quicker so they don’t arrive late, sadly there’s not.

“Hopefully they’ll arrive quicker this time.”

Hopefully indeed.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Welcome to Chiswick – cheese town

On September 2 we arrived in London Heathrow. A seven hour flight from New York JFK to Frankfurt then another hour to England.

It was an awkward flight, but pretty uneventfully. We didn’t get our own tv sets so that put a stop to my planned movie viewing.

In Frankfurt we had a two hour wait before heading to London. We had to go though screening again and wouldn’t you know they picked up something in my carry on. Nick’s diabetic needles and insulin were fine but they made me unpack my laptop and this….

The customs girl’s eyes lit up… “It’s so cute!” as she proceeded to dance the beaver around to the other female officers.

We were led to a small office where the computer and Canadian were given the once over with a drug swab – poor little Canuck beaver!

A little dance with the officer and he was returned to me with the laptop and we were on our way.

Since we arrive in England on a European flight the non-EU line was shorter and so despite his British passport Nick jumped in the foreigner line with me.

With our massive packs on our backs we jumped on the Piccadilly line tube – I’m glad I’ve visited before as it makes getting around a lot easier. We’re staying with Nick’s Aunty and Uncle so we follow their directions to Chiswick.

After a change at Acton in no time at all we are at Turnham Green Station. Turn left out of the station followed by short walk down the road and we are home.


The place we’ll be calling home is over a shop on Turnham Green Terrace right in the middle of all the action.

Chiswick is part of the borough of Hounslow. The name comes from the Old English for cheese farm (thanks Wikipedia). It’s very pretty with plenty of shops, caf├ęs, restaurants and pubs - it’s a little bit posh.

But none of that mattered as all that was on our minds was sleep and as soon as we hit the pillow we were gone.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Rule, Britannia

One month in and still no job. Welcome to my London life! Well, isn't that a cheery way to start a blog - but never fear, I'm largely a positive soul so now that that's out of the way...

Drum roll please...

Welcome to my London Blog!

Here I'll be piecing together a collection of musings, stories, questions and possibly even some advice for those looking to journey to the Motherland.

Sit back, relax and boil up a brew.

Welcome to my London story... Rule Britannia!