Monday, August 29, 2011

Summer's Over

It's hard to believe that our four months in London is now coming to an end, but May does feel like ages ago.  On Friday we board the 10am train up to Dundee from King's Cross, first class thank you very much.  We have our flat sorted and I've already had an interview for a proper Dundee job (I should hear something by Thursday, fingers crossed).  All things considered, our second year in Dundee is shaping up to be an improvement upon our first, which is nice.

Our summer in London has been a real treat and it has turned out much better than either of us could've hoped.  Mike has solid experience for his CV and some great contacts for the coming years and I have a bit of my confidence back, so the swagger has returned.  London itself is a great city and we're looking forward to returning though we're not sure when that might be.  It's too early to start planning for next summer but, depending on my employment situation, we may decide to stay in either Edinburgh or Glasgow or check out a new English city (we're hearing good things about Manchester).  We're still really keen on making the most of our time over here, so it makes sense to spend next summer exploring a new city.

Some of the more memorable moments from this summer include seeing The Queen and other members of The Royal Family at Trooping the Colour (no matter how briefly), outdoor screenings in Trafalgar Square and Canary Wharf, park hopping and picnicking in all the lovely parks, and all the amazing markets.  The alcohol laws here offer true freedom (think Las Vegas) and nothing was more fun than sitting in Hyde Park on a sunny day with our picnic and pints soaking up the sun and people watching.

If we were to offer any advice to tourists, come to London in May.  May offered us the nicest weather of the summer (which we're told is typical) and wasn't crowded at all.  If you can't make it in May, September is the next best option (again, we're told) for both weather and crowds.  We recommend doing a few walking tours (we enjoyed the Jack the Ripper Tour) and visiting a few markets (CamdenSpitalfields, and Portobello of course) in addition to whatever other events you may have planned.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

One Year Later

on the train to Dundee, 12 Aug 2010
Later this week we’ll be celebrating the one year anniversary of our arrival in the United Kingdom, having arrived in Dundee, Scotland on 12 Aug 2010. It was one year ago this week when we were living with our friends on Queen Anne, overwhelmed with excitement, ready to embark on this new adventure. It was one year ago this week when we were also experiencing degrees of sadness about making such a drastic life change, leaving everything familiar behind. One year later and, though our excitement has dulled a bit, as has the sadness, we’re moving forward with every confidence that we made the right decision.

Mike has adapted to being a student with greater ease than either of us had expected and is looking forward to his future career as an artist or, at the very least, in the art field.  Duncan of Jordanstone was the perfect programme for him, allowing him the freedom to be creative and to pursue his specific interests (right now, subconscious drawing) and is fully supportive of his artistic growth.  Mike is really looking forward to returning to his studies next month and we're both really looking forward to his first university field trip in October, when his class will travel to Venice for a week to attend La Biennale (and I get to join him).

After a rough start, I’m now doing much better but I'm still struggling a bit with this transition; there are both good days and bad but the bad days are occurring less often nowadays.  I’m optimistic about returning to Dundee, too.  We’ve almost secured a flat (just waiting for confirmation) and, based on pictures and location, it’s sure to be better than what we had there before.  Additionally, my job prospects have improved after my summer in London temping with the Scottish government.  I’ve made some great connections down here with people who know Dundee and who’ve already proved exceptionally helpful by making introductions and pursuing leads on my behalf.

Within a year, in addition to parts of England and Scotland, we’ve seen Paris and parts of Mallorca and have been to Sweden.  Plus, to celebrate one year in the UK, we’re off to Baden Baden, Germany this weekend for our second, and final, mini-break of the summer. 

London, summer 2011
We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished this year and there is no doubt in our minds that we made the right decision, both for immediate adventure as well as long-term foundation building.  Looking back, although a year in Puerto Rico would’ve been amazing, we’re glad Mike was accepted at Duncan of Jordanstone.  Looking ahead, our future is much brighter than it used to be.  

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Staycation

Mike & I both had this past week off from work and we had a great time just hanging out.  We bookended the week with Saturday day trips to Oxford and Brighton but stayed in London during the week.

We haven't had a chance to visit many museums so we stopped in at the British Museum to see the Rosetta Stone which was surrounded by a whole lot of camera wielding tourists, pushing into the crowd to get their picture and then pushing their way out.  We just stood back and watched the people because getting too close to the Stone would've proved catastrophic.  Our experience at Jim Morrison's grave site in Paris taught us that a tourist will cause bodily harm for their picture (I was hit in the face with a long-lensed camera by a tourist with no care or remorse).  It's sad, really.  All those tourists would rather get a mediocre picture to look at later than to experience the history live and in person.  Don't they know, both options are achievable?

We stopped at the Victoria & Albert museum in Kensington, too but we didn't find anything there that held our attention.  We're more art museum fans than anything else and even those make me really tired.  Minutes after stepping into both the V&A and the British Museum I was yawning, so we left rather quickly.

We enjoyed fantastic weather throughout most of the week, only having rain on Thursday.  The week was gorgeous otherwise, allowing us to spend much of it park hopping, one of our favourite London past times.  Ever since first arriving in London, we've enjoyed the novelty of picnics (including beer & cider) in the park.  Our favourite area is The Serpentine at Hyde Park and if you can't find us on a sunny day it's because we're catching a nap near this area.

We wandered away from Hyde Park long enough to find London's Japanese garden, located in Holland Park in Kensington.  Kyoto Garden is a very small but pretty area and only took us a few minutes to explore.  We expected London's Japanese gardens to be a larger affair, at least larger than Seattle's Kubota Garden, and we were shocked by how small the area actually was.  Perhaps London does not have a large Japanese population and the size is proportionate to said population?  If that's the case, though, I can't help but wonder why.

We walked along Regent Canal, from Maida Vale to Regent's Park.  This area is called Little Venice and it was picturesque and pleasant.  There were houseboats, kayaks, and canal cruises; actually, this and The Serpentine may be the only place in the UK where water is used for pleasure rather than just commerce.  This canal reminded me a bit of Seattle.


The weather was so nice this past week that we were even able to enjoy an evening stroll along the south bank without jackets.  A perfect summer evening.

Our week's staycation has been great.  We've done a ton, exploring a lot of the city in more depth than weekends and evenings alone allow.  Surprisingly, we had thought our favourite areas of the city were Shoreditch and Camden but we wound up spending most of our time in the Kensington and Chelsea area.  We dared to venture into the Primark on Oxford Street (something we're sure only tourists are crazy enough to do), explore the Marylebone area a bit further (do the tourists queueing outside Sherlock Holmes's house, in the pouring rain, know that he's fictional and didn't really live there?), and even experienced a couple different shopping centres (Brent Cross and Canada Water) where I may have discovered my replacement for REI (Decathlon).  

This first week of our last month in London has been idyllic and if the rest of August resembles it at all we'll have been very lucky this summer indeed.
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