Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Train Travel Suggestion

I am fortunate enough to soon have a few weeks off inbetween jobs (YEA), and I'd like to do some travelling.  Unfortunately, I won't have my passport (thanks, HMRC for your bizarre rules about re-applying for a visa), so I will be limited to Train Travel in the UK.

I've already booked a trip to Cardiff.  But, that's it.  I was thinking about The Lakes District for several days-though I wonder how great it will be without a car (comments?...), and Brighton as a day trip.  I've already been to Edinburgh, and Glasgow doesn't interest me as a solo traveler.  Would consider other locations in Scotland, but think they may be too far afield (read: 8 hours on a train)

Any suggestions of other train trips-originating from London-that I should consider?  Day trips or overnighters are fine.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Life Admin

After several hours on the phone this week and last with my UK mobilie phone company and my US credit card company, it's finally dawned on me:  life admin, as an expat is practically *double* what it used to be!

Now, not only do I have bills & crap to deal with from the UK, I've got bills & crap to deal with from the US!  There's been this feeling the past two years that I spend more time on life admin-and until recently, I assumed it was just 'UK Stuff.'  I realize now it's UK & US Stuff.  Geez.  Can't we poor expats get a break? :)

I feel like I have to make almost one phone call a week back to the US for something-credit card, mortgage, insurance...plus the normal UK life stuff.  It bums me out to know this is probably always going to be the case-either while living in the UK, living in the US-or heaven forbid a third, new life admin country...

Any expats out there have any handy tips/tools for keeping this type of stuff in check?  I'd much rather be spending my time on fun things!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spreading the Expat Blog Love

One of the best things that comes from blogging is 'meeting' other bloggers, and becoming virtually (literally) connected to them thru their blog posts.

I've been fortunate enough to have been contacted by two such bloggers recently who have asked to 'interview' me for their blogs.  So, in the spirit of reciprocity, I wanted to post a link to their articles:

The Canadians & Americans in the UK blog is written by Victoria Westcott. She has some outstanding articles on 'How to...', and it's from her blog that I first stumbled upon the UK to US Bank Transfer info.  Thanks, Victoria!

The second blog I've recently been interviewed for is, Expat Alley written by Tom Frost.  Tom does a great job of covering general Expat life from a multitude of coutries/expatriates/viewpoints, and has been an expat himself a few times over.

Hope you enjoy!

Transferring Money From Your UK Bank to the US: Part 2

I mentioned stumbling across what seemed to be an easy, inexpensive way to transfer money from my UK account to my US bank in a post in January using a website called ukforex.co.uk

Well, I finally got around to doing this a few days ago.  The verdict?  A HUGE Thumbs Up!

The company offered a quick, easy interface to understand,  good rates, low-to no fees, and their customer service was *outstanding.*  Thanks UK Forex!  I'll definitely be using you again.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Not literally, thank goodness.  But, figuratively.

This past Friday, aside from friends & family, I severed the one tie left which had me tethered to the US: the job that got me to the UK.  I served notice to my current company and am leaving to go work at (gasp!...) a British company.

While I am extremely excited about the opportunity that has been presented to me (I do honestly feel that for my industry-ie what I 'do', there is no better place to do it at than London), it has dawned on me that I am now a bit homeless.  It's a bit odd and a bit liberating all at the same time.

Many friends (Expat Americans or otherwise) are a bit surprised when they hear that I'm staying in London-but not going to work with my old employer.  And, I'm surprised that they're surprised.

Has anyone else left their home country with one employer, only to eventually go work for another, 'local' employer?  I wonder if reactions to your move have been the same as mine.

Anyhoo...it's like one small sub-chapter on my life has closed, but I'm already excited about turning the page to the next story!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

NHS: Scarier than a 3rd World Clinic

I'm still trying to catch up on a few posts after being off the grid for several weeks, but as the trauma from my most recent experience with the NHS is so fresh, I wanted to get this down now.

Gents...you may want to *stop* reading here.  This is about to become TMI (too much information).  Ladies...well, if any of you have plans for your first 'smear test' in the UK any time soon.  I'm sorry for the fear I'm about to strike in you!

I've touted the good of the NHS on more than on occasion, but my 'smear test' (pap smear) with the local Well Woman's clinic yesterday has made me re-think this whole stance

The clinic I set my appointment up with isn't my regular GP.  If your GP isn't 'equipped' to do these tests, you can easily be referred to other clinics in the area that are. OK.  Nice.  I picked a clinic that was about 10 minutes away from the flat and booked my appointment.  It wasn't until yesterday however, that I looked at Google maps to realize that the Clinic is actually located on what is known as a Council Estate.  Think  "Section 8" housing.  High rise flats for low income/support income families.  I don't mean to bash the concept of low income/support income....merely painting the picture.

After my intake meeting with the nurse, to go over basic paperwork, I return to the lobby to wait for the Doctor (I use this term loosely.  I truly don't even know if the person that did my exam was a doctor!...) to call me.  While sitting there, I noticed another couple in chairs.  How can I say this delicately?...They looked and acted as if they were coming down off a week-long binge-and I don't mean of the booze kind...  OK.

Eventually I was called into the doctors office/exam room.  I have noticed it is common here for doctors to have their offices/exam rooms combined, so I didn't think anything of it.  Silly me.  After a quick 30 second chat, she said, 'Ok.  Take off your bottoms & hop up on the table.'  I presumed she'd step out for a moment, so I paused.  She didn't move.  OK...
So, my 'bottoms' come off, and I hop up on the table-first noticing that I'm too short to hop up directly on the middle paper strip over the table.  So, theoretically, my bare-ass is supposed to hit the table, and then I'm to scoot onto the paper.  I decided to pull the paper over to the side of the table, but I wonder how many bare asses have hit the table (literally!), without doing this.  OK...
While hoping up on said table, I also happened to notice that there are no stirrups at the end of the table.   Odd, I think.  She's going to pull these out after I'm already up here?  OK...
Silly me.  There are NO stirrups.  She tells me to simply lie back, bend my knees, and 'open your legs and scoot my ankles as close to me as I can.' OOOK...

I then proceed to have a pap exam with the examiner literally bending over my leg-my knee was in her armpit the entire time.  Never mind the awkardness of what is already a very unpleasant experience, I've now got her pit on me, and the angle of my pelvis from just lying on the table with my 'ankles as close to me...' as they are...it is not a comfortable position to be in for this type of thing.

Once the actual smear was done, that was it.  No manual exam.  No breast exam.  No nothing.  OK.

Oh, and the UK NHS will only allow the test once every years if you're normal.  That's it.  A slap-dash test, in a place that makes me believe I'm getting the exam in a 3rd world clinic, and I'm only supposed to have this done once every three years?!?  Part of me is thankful-I don't look forward to repeating this trauma any time soon, but this entire test just screams "ineffective."

Ladies, I don't know if this is a typical experience here in the UK, but it was such a shocking experience, I had to make note of it.  Never in my life did I think I'd look forward to a Pap smear in the US, but after yesterday, I can say with certainty that I will most definitely-and happily-have my next Pap in the US. Yikes.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Team GB! Team GB!

Er..I mean...USA!  USA!

It's so bizarre being out of the US during the Olympics. I vaguely noticed this during the 2008 Olympics, but, as I'm watching more Olympic coverage for the 2010 in Vancouver, it's become especially noticable.

Local Olympic coverage is focused on the Great Britan team.  And, they suck at the Winter Olympics.  Not trying to be mean, or pick a fight...Merely stating what has already been said to me by more than one Brit.  Anyhoo.  This means that I generally only hear about/see the US as fringe to GB coverage.  Or Canadian coverage, since it seems like the BBC commentators have adopted Canda as their surrogate country for the Olympics. :)

It's all a bit odd.  I think I know more about the GB team than I do the US team.  And, somehow, that just seems weird...

I'm sure it will make World Cup coverage a bit bizarre as well.  Well sort of.  We all know the US is going to get killed in their group.  Oh, and England is in the same group.  Good fun.

Catching Up

It's been a busy four weeks, and I've been horrible about blogging.  I blame the travel. :)  So, in an effort to right my wrongs, I've a bunch of items to catch up on.
A week after my last post, I headed to Seattle for a week of work, and then to North Carolina for 5 more days of R&R before heading back to London.  The work-part of the trip wasn't as horrible as I anticipated (read: training+full-time job duties+8 hours of jetlag=horrible), but it certainly was exhausting. Never did I think I'd 'use the jetlag to my advantage' and be awake at 5am and WORKING.  Good grief.  But, average temperatures of 55 degrees-plus (and LOTS of sun) certainly helped ease the pain.  Particularly compared to what the weather has been like in London...

It goes without saying that it was *great* to be back in Seattle.  I think I was successful in managing to have quality catch-up time with most folks.  I finally got to see my friend Alicia's, new baby boy, Wes, and I got to pat my friend, Chris' growing baby-bump.  I also got to have great catch ups with a host of other people-and hear all about their plans for the Winter Olympics.  Being only 3-5 hours from Vancouver and the venues, it goes without saying, that many, many Seattleites would head to the Olympics.  And, my friends are no exception!  Their frequent Facebook status updates this weekend-from 'The Olympics' certainly confirms that! :)   I've been green with jealousy ever since.

After a week in Seattle, I took a red-eye to North Carolina, and killed the day puttering around in Charlotte-while I awaited the arrival of Simon's plane from London.  He was sweet enough to come to NC and join me for that portion of the trip.. It was an important trip, though.  Aside from being able to spend time with family & friends and celebrate my birthday (albeit 20+ days early), Simon came with the express point of having 'the talk' with my father.

Yes.  The Talk.  I know it seems odd that in this day & age, a 30-something female, who is as independent as they come, would have her BF ask for permission from her father for marriage...And, well, it is odd.  But, Simon didn't do this for me.  He did it for my dad.  My father is a 70-something, old-fashioned, Southern man.  He *needs* to be asked.  And truthfully (sorry, Simon...I know you read my blog from time to time)...I wanted Simon to jump thru that hoop.  A little extra effort never hurts!  I am pleased to report that the Talk went off without any problems.  Whew.

While in NC, Simon & I took a little road trip to Chapel Hill.  It's about a 2.5 hour drive from my hometown, and I hadn't been back to Chapel Hill since Feb 2005.  A trip was long-overdue.  I love CH.  I spent two lovely years there in grad school.  It is a beautiful town, and I wanted Simon to see it.  I was also somewhat curious about whether or not CH would be a possiblee wedding venue for us at some point. 

Let's face it:  Between living in London, having most of my US friends on the West Coast, and being from NC...there is no logistically good place to have a wedding. So, in thinking NC-and Chapel Hill specifically-might be a good compromise on logistics, I wanted to check it out.  I don't know if other US expats who meet/marry a local (wherever said 'local'/location is...) have figured this out, but I'd certainly love to know how the *heck* we're going to pull this off without causing our friends a ton of pain/expense-or cause us a ton of pain/expense!

Anyhoo...I casually mentioned 'possible wedding venue' to my father (and mind you, this is *before* Simon had the Talk with him...), but somehow, he jumps to conclusions and thinks that Simon is actually going to propose to me in CH!  Which, couldn't have been further from the truth.  This news has already spread from my father, to his girlfriend-to her kids.  Yeesh.  I think I have everyone sorted, but I can't help but laugh at my dad for jumping the gun.

So, after what felt like a whirlwind trip back to the US (though, as it was almost a 2 week trip is far from it), I'm back in London and attempting to dig thru the pile of email, mail, blog backlog, work, and everything else...