The First Week: Tourist-ing

Hi gang! I am here. I made it safely to my AirBnB and from there to my apartment as of today. It’s been, frankly, an exhausting week. I am so glad to be where I’m living for the next year, though. It’s a big relief. Today was rainy but luckily the worst of it didn’t start until after I had moved my bags in. I only had to walk back and forth to the shops in the drizzling rain – and I own waterproof combat boots and a raincoat, so I’m basically invincible. So, here’s how the past few days have gone:

Day 1: Arrival

I got into Heathrow at about 9:30 in the morning. Just so you know, the walk from international gates to passport control is ETERNAL. It was warmer here than I had anticipated, as well as more humid, so I was wearing a few too many layers to be comfortable. The passport control line wasn’t the worst, but it certainly wasn’t short. If you can, take advantage of the ePassport line – if you have this symbol:

biometricpassport

…that means you can use that line. It’s for biometric passports and it’s much easier. I went through the regular line because I wasn’t sure about how my student visa affected that, but now you have been forewarned and can do research! And know for yourself!

After passport control I collected my checked bag, went through customs, and then was out of the airport. From there I requested an Uber – I used Heathrow’s wifi because my cell phone account in the US was suspended (this means I can keep my line at home but not have to pay much) and I didn’t have UK service yet. This actually ended up working out well. The Uber driver was very nice and drove me to the AirBnb where I checked in. The host was very kind and helped me with my bags. I got settled in and FaceTimed my mother who was anxiously waiting to hear from me. By now it was noon or so. Before I left I had ordered a Visitor Oyster card to use until I got my 18+ Student Oyster card. Using an Oyster card is cheaper than buying single fares and London buses don’t take cash, so it’s really your best option.

I slept almost not at all on the flight – in terms of elapsed time, it was only 8PM or so when I tried to sleep, and I was anxious and overstimulated. I catnapped for maybe an hour or so, but that is not a substitute for a night’s sleep. So I took a quick nap and then when I woke up, freshened up a little and then went exploring.

Ok, so in the interests of journalistic integrity or telling the truth or whatever I have to confess that I woke up from my nap pretty distraught. I was far from home, I didn’t have anyone I knew, I missed my mom, I didn’t know how to do anything or get anywhere, there was nowhere familiar, I didn’t have any favorite restaurants and I was living out of a suitcase… What I’m saying is I had some emotions. So I cried about it for like 15 minutes and then pulled it together and went for a walk. I walked as far up and down the nearby high street (Walworth) as I felt comfortable and then discovered a cute little Thai place to have dinner. I ate by myself but made friends with the waitress who taught me how to count change when I paid. The coins here make about as much sense as in America, which is to say – very little.

I’m pretty sure I was asleep before the sun went down.

Day 2: Tate Modern & The Globe

On my first full day in the UK, I had a pretty low-key day planned. Earlier this summer I bought a ticket to Midsummer Night’s Eve at the Globe, and as it was a matinee I decided I could spend the morning next door at the Tate Modern. They’re literally right next to each other.

I got up, put on a cute dress because it was about 80 (Fahrenheit) here, and before leaving the safe haven of wifi, I made sure to save my routes between the place I was staying and the Tate, as well as my route from the Globe back. Citymapper has a great offline save feature where you can star a particular route and it saves it to be accessed offline. Simple.

I successfully made it to the Tate on my first-ever bus ride in London. It was a great confidence booster, and the beautiful weather also helped. Public museums in Britain are free, so it doesn’t cost anything to get in, but they do ask that you donate if you can. The Tate also has free wifi, so if you use iMessage or any apps that use the internet to send messages, you’re set within the Tate’s boundaries. It actually reaches pretty far – later in the afternoon I was making my way down the riverwalk along the Thames and had reconnected to their wifi several hundred yards away. They also have a cafe, which is where I got lunch, but if I’m being honest the food was not great. It was nice not to have to leave the area though, so beggars can’t be choosers.

I was done a little earlier than I had planned on – I finished one floor and there really was no time to start a new one but also it was far too early to go to the Globe. So! I walked along the aforementioned riverwalk, down to the Millenium pedestrian bridge. It’s a lovely place to just wander around if you’ve a spare hour.

The Globe is literally next door to the Tate, but you’ve got a bit of a winding path to get there. If you follow the signs mounted along the street, you’ll find it easily, or you can walk down the riverwalk and also find it very easily. It’s hard to miss. I saw Midsummer there and I have to be honest, I teared up a little during curtain call, thinking about 450 years of theatre happening in that same spot. That exact play, even, those words, echoing through four and half centuries. You can trace a through line from that place all the way down to me, a humble stage manager just starting her career. It’s any theatre kid’s Mecca. I made the Western thespian equivalent of the hajj. Of course I cried!

Be aware, friends, that as a rule there is no central AC in British homes or public spaces, and if there is – say, in the Tate Modern, for example – it isn’t used to the extent you will be accustomed to. Most homes, even those built recently, are built with the expectation that you just leave windows open for ventilation in the summer/early fall. Restaurants are the same way, as are shops. As it has been particularly humid these past few days, you can imagine how I feel about that.

I braved the London bus system today and it was actually much easier than I expected. If you aren’t familiar with the general idea of a bus system, you’ll need a few pointers:

  • Many bus stops have similar names. For example, Elephant & Castle is a different stop than Elephant & Castle London Road. You’re only a few blocks apart, if that, but if you mean to get off at one and end up off at the other, it will be noticeable.
  • Citymapper. Citymapper Citymapper Citymapper. It has saved me. It will tell you all the possible routes to a location from a location with near-endless customization, and tells you how long it will take. Want just bus routes? Want to leave at a different time? Citymapper does it. They cover most major cities and are adding new cities all the time.
  • For the love of God make sure you’re getting on the correct bus and that the bus is going the correct direction. You can get on the same bus on both sides of the street at most stops – the difference is what direction they’re going. Also, the route maps that are posted at each bus stop don’t list every single stop the bus will make, just major ones along the route. When you figure out where you’re staying you might want to note which major stop is near your nearest bus stop, in case you ever have to navigate without the use of the internet or if you want to double-check your digital directions. These posts will also tell you when buses are due and when the first and last bus runs.
  • Don’t confuse night buses (N#) and express buses (X#) with the bus you’re expecting. For instance, X68, N68, and 68 are all different buses that will not all get you where you’re going. Night buses, as the name implies, run at night; express buses are more direct buses to a certain destination; 24-hour buses, indicated on the placard that has the route number, run 24-hours. Pretty self-explanatory.
  • If you want to stop at a bus stop and the STOPPING sign at the front isn’t illuminated/the digital readout on the sign doesn’t say BUS STOPPING under the stop, press the red STOP button that is on a pole just about every seat. A bell will ring. The bus will stop at that stop. This is relevant because if no one is at the stop to get on, a driver will just keep going unless they know someone needs off.

Also, I need an explanation – do I have to hold my hand out to hail the bus? If there are people at a stop on its route, will the driver not just stop automatically? I’ve seen several people do this, but it’s like the hivemind only ever elects just one person. Someone weigh in. TfL should distribute some kind of “buses for dummies” guide.

I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening wandering. There’s a Starbucks across the street from the Globe (Shakespeare would love that) and I stopped and got my first pumpkin spice beverage of the year. Honestly there’s no better end to a day like that. I spent the late afternoon walking up and down the Thames; I considered striking out and trying to get to my campus but I was tired, a little hungry, and not at all confident in my ability to find it or my way back once I had either found it or given up. So I hopped the same bus route I had taken down there and rode back up to where I was staying. So ended my first proper day in London.

(There is no wifi at the Globe.)

Day 3: British Museum

Today, I had planned for a visit to the British Museum in the late morning through the afternoon. Then, I intended to go back and change because I had tickets for the evening performance of Yerma with Billie Piper at the Young Vic. Honestly, if you’re going to the British Museum, you could spend multiple days there. I would take some time beforehand and figure out what you most want to see. I saw the Rosetta Stone and that was very nearly a religious experience for me, so do a little research and figure out your can’t-miss list. I plan to go back many, many times.

To cover all my bases, they also had little cafés set up and free wifi, but their wifi was much slower than the Tate Modern’s. The food was, however, better. Qui pro quo, I guess.

And, hey, no one tells you this, but London smells. Not bad, necessarily, but definitely not like tea and lemon. Sorry Bath & Body Works. There’s just a scent that’s different from other places I’ve been, and I’m still puzzling it out, but. You know. Just fyi.

The Young Vic is very easy to find. The box office is inside, and you should definitely not get in line outside without asking what it’s for, because you will get in line for returns when you already have tickets, thinking it’s the line to pick them up. If you have tickets, go straight inside to the box office to pick them up. There’s also a cute little restaurant and bar inside that I didn’t arrive in time to enjoy, but if you’re planning a trip, I would suggest it. It looked nice. There are also a lot of other restaurants up and down The Cut that look appealing. You have options, is what I’m saying. There is, however, no wifi.

Yerma was incredible. From minute one I was captivated. Billie was amazing and carried the show. It was touching and hard and I cried more than once. I had worried, briefly, that I wouldn’t be able to connect to a show about infertility because I don’t want kids but boy was I wrong. It closes in a few days so I’m sorry to everyone who will never get to see that show. I will be thinking about it for a long time. Huge kudos to the design team and to the SM calling the show – she may as well have been calling a musical, with the amount of precision she had to have.

Day 4: Imperial War Museum

I slept in a little today because I knew I still needed to be at the house at 10 AM. Donmar is doing a program for their Shakespeare trilogy in which they give away free tickets to under 25s – I wanted to make sure I got tickets, and the next batch opened at 10 AM. I also finally got my SIM card in the mail, so I tried to set that up in the morning. As it did not go to plan, I went ahead and left for the Imperial War Museum, planning on finishing that evening. I spent quite a while at the IWM and could easily go back and do more; it’s got a lot of information and thousands of artifacts packed into four or five floors. The Holocaust exhibit was especially emotionally resonant for me. Until I got there and had gone through the WWI exhibit, I didn’t know that the IWM was founded explicitly as a WWI memorial/educational site. It then expanded during/after WWII, and now also has an exhibit dedicated to Peace and Security from 1945-1995, including the Cold War and the War on Terror (all my issues with that phrasing aside). They also have a few other specialized galleries, including one on the stories of decorated British soldiers and armed forces members. For consistency’s sake: they had free wifi and the best museum café so far. Schools here are back in session, so I did have to share the IWM, The Globe, and the British Museum with school groups. They were mostly entertaining and rarely a nuisance. In the end, I did get my phone set up and then ended up going to bed at like 7 PM. You win some, you win some.

Day 5: Moving Day

This is the day I was most excited about. I got to move into my apartment and see the neighborhood where I’ll be living for the next year!

I took an Uber from the house where I was staying to my apartment – no part of me wanted to deal with the hassle of moving three pieces of luggage on public transport. Uber is much less expensive than a cab and I’ve never had anything but good experiences. Granted, my entire two experiences are both described on this post, so take that with a grain of salt.

Turns out, my apartment building is literally right next to a huge transportation hub – Stratford station has Overground, bus, taxi stand, DLR, National Rail, Underground…I have no excuses for not being able to get somewhere. It is also right across from a shopping center that includes one of every major bank, Boots, and Sainsbury’s. I bought two pillows from a linens shop in it for £10 total, and then did some grocery shopping. Let me tell you, grocery shopping in the UK is definitely grocery shopping in a foreign country. You speak English but you don’t speak British grocery store English. I struggled so hard. Also I bought a Kinder Surprise Egg, because they’re illegal in the US and I’m that kind of a person. I’m not sure the soy milk I bought is actually soy milk and what I wanted was almond milk but Sainsbury’s was having none of that. Also, milk and poultry and who knows what else is labeled “British X”? So there was “British Chicken Breast” or “2% British Milk”. I require an explanation.

Also! It is so rude to me for them to package THE EXACT SAME PRODUCT I purchase in the US differently here in the UK. All I needed was my tea and my digestives and both of them look completely different here. Same brand, same product. Completely different.

Also, update: I am still tired. A day that I will not be eternally tired has been promised, but I am beginning to doubt that it will ever come. I am glad I came so early even if it had just been to get this constant low-level exhaustion out of the way.

Because I am a millenial, I checked out the snapchat geotag for the neighborhood almost immediately – I don’t love it. However, I can learn to live with it, because we have two really cute general “London” geotags that I like.

Anyway, you have been updated.

Good night!

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The 1st Purge of Everything I Own

I have done it! I am home! I graduated college! And now, because I lack anything resembling an instinct for self-preservation, I’m going to grad school.

But before I do that, I’m working at a summer-stock theatre in Indiana for 9 weeks over the summer. For the two weeks I’m home from school before leaving for Indiana, most of what I own is in my mom’s living room. As I moved out of the dorm, I performed the first great big purge of the sum total of my earthly possessions.

Throughout the last semester, I’ve been slowly pulling things out of my closet and putting them into a bag. These are things I don’t enjoy wearing anymore, haven’t worn in ages, that sort of thing, but that I’m a bit wary of absolutely getting rid of quite yet. They’re things I’m pretty sure I’ll never want again, but they’re still within reach, just in case. That particular cleaning-out has been happening since January. I finally consigned them to my mother to donate or give to my younger sister a few weeks ago. However, now, moving out of my on-campus apartment for the last time, I’m doing a real purge.

Some of you may be acquainted with the KonMari method of de-cluttering. To summarize her entire book in a sentence, “if it doesn’t give you joy, toss it.” So, piece by piece, I’ll be going through every. single. thing. in this apartment and deciding, based on usefulness (sorry, Marie Kondo) and whether I still like it, to keep or toss it. I’ll probably actually do this full-scale in August, but I’ve started sorting through things using this method now.

To elaborate on the destination for these items:
There are four general categories. Number 1 is “get rid of it entirely”. Whether this is being donated to my little sister or the local Goodwill, it’s no longer my problem if it lands in this pile. Some of what’s in this pile is being sold; for instance, my TV. Plenty of college kids would be happy with a 3-year-old TV for much less than sticker price, and I’m certainly not carting it across the Atlantic.
Number 2 is “store at home”. I’m not getting rid of it, but I’m not packing it either. It’s things like PJs, non-essential but much-loved books, and a smattering of home furnishings and accessories.
Number 3 is “I need it for this summer”. These are things I will need for my summer job/furnishing housing there, whose fate won’t be relevant until August. I suppose, technically, there are three subcategories here: “Definitely Keeping It”, “Definitely Getting Rid of It in August”, and “TBD”.
Number 4 is “taking it to London”. These are the things that are for sure, absolutely, no doubt about it, coming with me.

Group Number 1

Included in this group are the contents of that bag I told you about earlier. This bag holds a lot of dresses I wasn’t quite ready to admit I’d outgrown, some pieces that no longer mesh with the rest of my closet, and a handful of bras that I should have gotten rid of a year or two ago.I threw away a lot of school supplies that weren’t worth the space to store them, some old binders, a lot of paper or scribbled notes from classes that I took three years ago. I also sold my microwave, TV, a bookshelf, some rugs, and a lamp, along with a handful of other odd dorm furnishings I’ve purchased over the last four years. Luckily for me, I don’t own a lot of the furniture that I was using – the school does – so that was left at the dorm.

Group Number 2

As mentioned, many of my beloved books are included here. I can’t justify shipping them but I can’t bare to get rid of them. I also have more t-shirts than a single human being needs, so most of those will live at home. Some other articles of clothing will also be permanently housed at my parents’. A lot of this stuff is not necessarily always banished to my parents’ house, but it will stay here until I know with some certainty what my postgrad plans are. For instance, I might ship some more kitchen stuff or some things with sentimental value if I end up in the UK permanently.

Group Number 3

This includes my rolling laundry hamper, a lot of kitchen stuff, and an assortment of furniture. I don’t plan to take a lot of my kitchen stuff to London – most of it can be replaced for cheaper than shipping it. In addition, I’ll sort through most of this clothing when I get back and probably end up getting rid of some of it and storing some of it here for me to pick up when I come back at Christmas. London is far milder in September than north Arkansas is, so a lot of my “summer” clothing that I usually think of as being needed in September and October can wait to make it over.

Group Number 4

Things in this group that aren’t also going to Indiana with me include a lot of fall/winter clothing and my full-sized bedding. According to the accommodations website, the beds in on-campus housing are some in-between size between full and twin, so I’m taking my full bedding with me, or at least that’s the plan right now.

All that being said, I have survived and made it out with a few tips:

  • The more you can get rid of before you have to move it, the better. Getting rid of stuff as I encountered it was a good idea – I felt less frantic and I had time to consider each item individually instead of feeling like I was throwing things out willy-nilly.
  • Try to consolidate boxes and sort them by their contents to make finding stuff easier on the other end. I still haven’t found my eye cream.
  • No matter how packed you are the night before, you still have so much to do the next morning. I recommend laying out exactly what you’ll need for the next day at the end of the night before and packing literally everything else.
  • There is a sweet spot in terms of having help. I find that more than two people helping becomes more of a stressor than a help. Think about how many people you can fit in your living space comfortably, and then remember it’s full of boxes.
  • Always plan as though you won’t have as much time as you think you’ll have. You won’t. Inevitably there will be traffic, someone will oversleep, a whole box of stuff you forgot to pack appears.
  • It’s probably not worth keeping most of what’s in your pantry. Throw it out, replace it later.
  • Sometimes throwing things away can feel really cleansing. Don’t underestimate that feeling.

Also, you guys, SPACE BAGS. Ziploc makes some great ones but pretty much Space Bags in general. They will save your life. So much fits. We live in the future.

I haven’t moved terribly many times in my life; I do a lot of back and forth between my parents’ house and my dorm. Do you have any advice for moving? Leave it in the comments!

Getting There, Part I

As I am leaving the US to go to London, the only practical avenue by which to travel is air. For those of you seeking a boat, perhaps, or a subterranean train, or the world’s longest (maybe soon to be less impossible than you think?) road trip – this is not the post for you.

I booked my plane ticket on March 12th – a Saturday, for those of you who subscribe to the arcane witchcraft of buying tickets on certain days. This was a few days less than six months before departure.

I watched prices using Kayak, which I don’t regret as of yet. Kayak offers a lot of useful flight price tracking options, including periodic emails with price tracking. The site is easy to use, pretty intuitive, and displays a lot of information really comprehensively. You can save flights to watch to a “Trip”, so you can come back and check the same flights every time. Kayak will also offer up a comparison of what the other sites like them are quoting. Probably my favorite feature is that I never got annoying, unsolicited email from Kayak. I got the fare tracking emails I asked for and nothing else. Personally, I didn’t see a huge shift in the price like I have with some other international fares; I attribute this to it being LHR, but it could be anything. Honestly, I don’t think there’s any certain time to buy with this one, other than “soon” – flights were selling out pretty fast, even in March. They seemed to have the best prices on offer. They don’t serve as a booking agent, and I was referred to vayama – I don’t know if that’s because of the flight I booked or if that’s who does all of their booking.

I definitely did not use the “Trips” feature to its fullest extent – it also has hotel and car rental functions.

I was trying to watch for a major drop in prices – when I was looking to buy a ticket to go to Dublin, about eight months out there was a sharp drop of about $200, after a slow descent that totaled about another $150-200. I’ve decided, though, that no such precipice exists for London Heathrow. There was a slow downward trickle, and a few days of the price bouncing back up again, but honestly the total difference wasn’t more than $200. There is a very real risk of all the flights being booked, however, if you wait too long. Flights were filling up seven months out as I was waiting to book my ticket.

Look for updates from the airport when I actually leave to find out how it all works out.