Portobello Market

Saturday, June 21

It’s been a busy weekend! I will have to break up my posts to make sense of everything. Megan’s younger cousin and her friend are visiting for the week, so Brielle and I accompanied them on touristy activities this weekend. First up: Portobello Market! We rode out to Notting Hill and mingled among hundreds of people cramming stalls that stretched for blocks. It was huge and very, very crowded. Stall vendors were selling everything from clothes to trinkets to fruit to fresh fish. The breadth of the market was incredible.

We all separated on our hunt for lunch among the food stalls. The girls chose nutritious strawberry crepes drenched in chocolate syrup and powdered sugar. Megan and Brielle chose mixed bowls of food from Ghana – they said it was excellent but incredibly spicy! There may or may not have been a sprint for bottled water.

I continued searching until I came across a stall selling Spanish paella. They were making several different batches at once in massive steaming woks. My bowl was absolutely delicious—seriously one of the best dishes I’ve ever tasted—and created quite a bit of food envy. Well, maybe not for the girls with their crepes.

After eating we wandered along the length of the market, which was really so large as to be overwhelming. People thronged along every inch of the narrow yet colorful streets. Along the way we visited the bookstore that was used in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie Notting Hill. Very cute (and no doubt extremely pricey) shop. As we left I made my sole purchase from the entire vast market: a pound of delicious sweet cherries. Fresh fruit always tempts me.

Oh, accents

Tuesday, June 17

So now both Britons and Australians have made fun of the way I say Holborn. "Hol-BORRRRRRRRRN," they tease me. Ahem. I have a perfectly acceptable Midwest American accent and we pronounce all our R’s, thank you very much.


Sunday, June 15

On Saturday I ventured along the electronics mecca that is Tottenham Court Road. Unfortunately for me, my flat’s wireless network is on channel 13, and US wireless cards are only capable of accessing channels 1-11. My poor Airport wasn’t even able to find my flat’s network, much less connect to it. I hadn’t even known different wireless channels existed until Tina informed me of them; I thought a signal was a signal. Oh, how wrong I was.

After much difficulty finding an adapter that would work on a Mac and actually getting said adapter to work at all, I at last have (fairly reliable) internet. Thank goodness! It was rough to go so long without it. My computer at work is on full view for anyone walking by, and besides, I wouldn’t feel right doing personal stuff online at work anyway.

So last night I went to a tapas bar with my Greek flatmates. We met up with several of their Greek friends and……everyone spoke in Greek. For pretty much the entire evening. Yeah. Every so often Mirto would take pity on me and say “Oh, this is what we’re talking about,” and we would chat for a bit, occasionally drawing in another person, but within minutes they would all get swept up in the tide of Greek again. I did a lot of (literal) staring at the walls and ceilings of the bar. It was okay; the food and sangria were good, and I’m glad I went out with my flatmates and spent some time with them. It was just rather awkward since I couldn’t take part in the conversation at all or even pretend like I was listening. Clearly I need to learn Greek.

Big city transport

Friday, June 13

The London transportation system is driving me crazy. Not that it’s bad; it’s a wonderful system, and it never fails to amaze me how easily you can get around the entire huge city. But it’s just not working for me at the moment. I’ve been taking the Tube to work and that’s certainly an adequate way of getting there; it’s only 4 stops between my closest station, Holborn, and Liverpool station on the Central line. But the lone down escalator at Holborn has been broken ever since I started using it. The steps are frozen – the many, many, many steep steps. It takes forever to walk down, and after the first few dozen all the ridges on the steps start to swim together and it’s very disorienting. I hate walking down it; I always feel like I’m about to tumble forward right to the bottom.

Riding on the subway itself is not so bad except it gets very, very hot deep below. It will be chilly and breezy outside, so you have to layer and wear a jacket, but you get down to the train and you’re sweating. Ugh. Finally, Liverpool station is a solid 12-15 minute walk further to my workplace, along super busy Bishopsgate which becomes equally busy Shoreditch High Street, with many intersections to cross. There’s a lot of construction going on along those streets, so the sidewalks are very narrow and uneven in places, and buses are always blowing past and creating a veritable wind tunnel in their wake. It is not at all an enjoyable walk.

All of this is weighed against this fact: there is a bus stop directly outside the door of my workplace. Directly. Therefore, I have been dreaming of the bus as the solution to all my troubles. I won’t mind having to leave earlier if it will save me loads of walking down broken escalators and along busy thoroughfares. I’ve been unclear on where to actually catch this much-longed for bus from my new flat, though, so I had yet to take it. But this morning I spoke with Tina and she described where the closest stop is – super close! Literally around the corner! – and so I determined to attempt the bus this morning.

As with the London crossword, I failed spectacularly.

As usual, I was running late. I think this is simply my lot in life, to always be late. I trotted down the street and around the corner to the bus stop, where a quick glance at the board showed my bus wasn’t due for another 8 minutes. Eight minutes! I wavered over whether to wait or just continue to the Tube, but at last I decided to wait. I wanted the bus and I was going to take the bus, dammit. So I stood and fidgeted for 8 endless minutes while bus after bus drove by. Many times several of them would come at once, and they would stop one right after the other all down the street.

At last my bus - #242 – appeared around the corner . . . behind three other buses. It positioned itself waaaaaaay down the street. As is my usual state in this country, I was confused. Was I supposed to walk all the way down to the bus? When the others cleared out, would it move forward to the stop? I was at the bus stop – I shouldn’t leave it, right?? What should I do???

At last I started to hesitantly walk toward it down the street. Then all the many buses started moving, swung into traffic, aaaaaand . . . . there went my bus. Blew right past me while I stared at it in disbelief. I could not believe that I had found my bus stop, found my bus, and yet I still missed it. So not only did I wait all that time for a bus I never got on, I still had to walk to Holborn, walk down the (still broken!!) escalator, squeeze onto the Tube, and walk all the way from Liverpool to my workplace. Talk about a disastrous commute.

I have since learned (of course) that no, the bus will not always conveniently pause right at the bus stop for you. It stops where it stops and it’s up to you to get to it. I love how you can be right at the bus stop, ready and waiting long before the bus arrives, and you still have to run to catch it. Madness!


Tuesday, June 10

I moved into my new flat today! I met the Greek girls and saw their flat twice on Saturday and Monday, and I loved it. My room is quite small but that's just fine; the rest of the flat is more than big enough to make up for it. Tina and Mirto, both originally from Athens, are super nice and we get along quite well. Tina has been in the UK for 8 years - she went to college in Edinburgh and has been working in London for the past 3 years - and has her own car in the city, a very stylish MiniCoop. This MiniCoop was my absolute savior because it transported my hideously heavy luggage from Megan's to the new place. I would have rolled my suitcase along the sidewalks if I had to, but oh, am I glad I didn't have to.

Everything's in a bit of a mess as I haven't had time to settle in, since I started work on Monday. I love my internship already. Everyone I've met in the office so far is wonderfully nice and determined to help us interns gain experience. My first assignment was researching several business-oriented events and conferences in select European cities for a sidebar, then writing up a summary and formatting each event. It was quite simple to do and I enjoyed doing it. And I think this means my words will appear in the magazine, so that's exciting.

Brielle, the other American intern who's already been here for a week, has been showing me the ropes a bit and I know we're going to have a good time working together this summer. For lunch we went out for Indian food at Meráz Café, a sweet little restaurant right off Brick Lane - the Brick Lane, the center of London's Indian and Pakistani community. I had to read the novel Brick Lane for my European history class my sophomore year of college. I'd really wanted to visit the neighborhood during my trip to London last summer but never managed it, so I'm pleased that we work so close. Meráz has an absolutely scrumptious chicken korma (my favorite Indian dish; of course I must love anything with coconut milk in it) and I know we'll be going back many times this summer.


Saturday, June 7

I tried to do the London Paper crossword this morning and failed utterly. Out of 30 clues across and down I got exactly two: Jennifer Ehle who was Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, which they just showed on PBS last February and which any major P&P fan (such as myself) should know, and the gila monster of the US and Mexico. So yes: the two I got were an actress and an American lizard. Heh. Could my Americanness be any more apparent? All the rest of the clues were exclusively on British actors, authors, singers and soccer players that are completely unknown to me. Now I feel like I don’t know anything about this country.

British TV

Friday, June 6

Friday night, nothing to do. I've spent the last two days exchanging money, getting a phone, and riding the Tube to map out my route to work. It is now time to watch some quality British television.

Oooh, EastEnders is on. I’m totally watching. All I know about the show is that Bridget Jones loved it, so hopefully it’s entertaining. I’m pretty sure this is supposed to be a soap opera. In American soaps everyone is rich and beautiful with glamorous jobs and houses all perfectly lit. EastEnders . . . not so much. I think the characters aren’t supposed to be that wealthy – hence living on the cheaper east side of London – but man, those are some shabby flats. A lot of the actors are rather out of shape and all the indoor scenes are quite dark; the actors’ faces are all in shadow. Production values are definitely a lot higher in the US.

The show is a little hard to follow because I can’t figure out who anyone is. I don’t think anyone has been named in a whole hour. On The Bold and the Beautiful people are always having long conversations where they state each other’s names dramatically: “Ridge!” “Brooke!” “Taylor!” I’m impressed with the variety of scenes on EastEnders, though. There are several different (shabby) flat interiors, a dance club, a pub, a restaurant, and quite a few outdoor street scenes. I don’t think they ever go outside on B&B.

Oh, they’re playing Amy Winehouse’s "Rehab" while a character is sitting in her car drinking. HAHA.

Next on: a show on that relates the news of the day while making fun of it. The host and his panelists are pretty funny; he looks familiar but I can’t place who he is. They had a long section on the American presidential primaries, basically making lots of jokes about Hillary and Barack. They pronounce Barack Ba-RAAAAAAAK. Heee. Apparently they think all our candidates are very silly. Man, we finally get some good candidates and we still get no respect. At least they’re making fun of their own politicians too.


Thursday, June 5

I have arrived in London! Terminal 4 of Heathrow was quite familiar to me from my visit last year and I had no problem making my way through immigration and baggage claim down to the Tube. I had a bit more trouble using my Oyster card. I forgot how it worked and tried to use it the way it’s done in Japan, by slipping the card into a slot that shoots it out the other end as you walk through the gate. I tried bumping it a few times against a depression in the front of the machine that looked like a slot. Obviously it didn’t go in, and I basically reenacted part of my trip to Spain last year where our Madrid hostel manager showed us very carefully that we were to use our keycard only for our room, not the outer door: “Like this!” *swipe* “NOT like this:” *tap tap tap against the solid wood*

A worker had to help me locate the huge yellow buttons at each gate. Right.

Once I made it through it was just a few steps further to the waiting train. However, the train looked pretty full and I was not at all certain of my luggage-wrangling abilities, and I preferred for any embarrassing struggles to be enacted in front of the fewest people possible. The board also said the train was leaving in two minutes, which I took to be not enough time for me to heave my stuff on board. Wrong. Two minutes when you’re waiting for a train to depart that is full of people staring at you is the longest time in the world. No one could understand why I wasn’t trying to board the train. A worker came up and pointedly told me “That’s your train.” “Ah, yeah, I know,” I said. “I’m . . . just going to wait for the next one.” Oh, the weird looks and elaborate shrugs people can give you. I turned aside and started rummaging in my purse just to have something to do. Boy did I rummage.

At last, at last, the doors closed and that horrid train left. The next one was near empty and I had plenty of space to position my massive luggage in a good spot and nab a seat right next to it. See, it was all part of the plan. The train departed just about 8:15 a.m., which meant . . . just in time for morning rush hour! As we continued along the Piccadilly line more and more people piled on, forcibly squeezing themselves around my luggage. Awkward. I was getting really nervous that I’d never be able to get through them all to get off, but the three stops directly before Russell Square are Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square, and Covent Garden. That took care of nearly everyone, much to my relief.

I was not so relieved to gaze upon the impressive set of stairs at Russell Square. I began to haul my suitcase up one agonizing step at a time. I’d only made it a few steps when the next train arrived and a crowd of people filled the staircase and once again I was the star of the show. My saviors were first a woman and then a man, who both stopped and asked if I needed any help. Oh, I love people. With their assistance I made it to the street, and from there it was just a test of endurance to drag my things to Megan’s a few blocks away. I nearly thought I would die, and my hands got calluses from gripping the suitcase handle, and the steep narrow stairs to Megan’s 2nd floor flat nearly did me in, but I made it at last.

I collapsed on the couch, stared blankly into space, and I was in England.


Wednesday, June 4th

I'm sitting at the gate, waiting to board my flight to London, and I feel fabulous. And not just because my checked bag barely squeaked by under the weight limit at 48 pounds exactly. The whole ride down I was anxious and queasy, nervous about spending 3 months in a foreign city with a hideous exchange rate. I don’t know what my internship will be like, I still don’t have housing figured out yet . . . a lot of things are up in the air. But it’s fine. I know that everything will work itself out somehow. I’m excited more than anything else. This is exactly what I’m meant to be doing right now, and only good things can come from it.

I don’t know anything about what my tasks will be for my internship, except that my contact lady assured me I wouldn’t “just be making tea,” which strikes me as delightfully British.

And even if my housing isn’t totally figured out, it’s very close. I’ve been writing back and forth quite a bit with a Greek girl who’s lived in London for the past 8 years; she and her flatmate have a 3-bedroom on Museum Street in Bloomsbury, exactly where I want to be. The rent is great, they sound super nice, I can move in right away and stay through the whole summer – it is just about as perfect as you could ask for. I’m going to visit the place this weekend. I really really really hope it works out. I have visions of them showing me how to cook mouth-watering Greek food. Mmm, feta.

They just called boarding. Time to go!