Thursday, April 15, 2010

It Takes a Village... sustain an expat.

I'm in the process of trying to rent my condo in Seattle, and am heavily relying on my friend/current renter to help me out.  He's offered to do showings while he's still living there, and even just yesterday helped me get the Craigslist ad posted (I'll spare the gory details.  suffice it to say, I'm not a fan of Craigslist any longer....), and as I was leaning on him, it dawned on me just how much I've leaned on my friends the past two years while I've been here.

Sometimes it's the small stuff like, "Mind if I buy something online and have it shipped to your address for me to pick up when I'm in town?", sometimes, it's a bit more like, "Mind if I buy something online, have it shipped to your address, and you bring it to me at some arbitrary location when we're both in this location at the same time?"-this is happening right now.  I just bought a laptop online, am having it delivered to a friend in Seattle, and she's bringing it to Minneapolis in May-where we'll both be for a friend's wedding.

Other times, it's "Mind if I stay at your place for a day or two so that I don't have to rent a hotel?" And even, "Here's a list of a few things I'd love to have.  Would you mind bringing them when you come over for a visit?"

I've really leaned on my friends a lot the past two years.  And I *hate* having to do this.  I'm the person that struggled to let friends take my trash out when I had knee surgery and couldn't walk-nevermind taking out trash.  And yet, here I am.  Probably once a quarter, I reach out to friends to do this very thing that I don't like having to do.  But, as long as I'm living outside of the US, this is likely to be the reality.  I don't know how I'll ever return the favor (well, if they move out of the US, that will be a pretty easy pay-back...), but I'll figure out something.

Monday, April 12, 2010

East London Field Trip

I don't want to jinx us by saying that Spring has finally arrived, but the past 5 days certainly make it seem that way!  So, while I still have some time off from work, I'm trying to be out and about as much as possible. On Friday, I decided to give East London another try.  I'd just received Taste Britain two days before, and had decided to put it to some local use.  So, after much debate, I decided to head East to Pellicci's for lunch and on my way back West, to the Algerian Coffee Stores.
Where to begin?...I got to Pellicci's at 12.30, which was just in time to beat the rush.  The inside (maybe 20 seats) was already packed, but there was a free table outside-fine by me; it was a lovely day.  I was barely there for a moment before I was being given a menu and asked what I wanted to drink.  Nothing on the menu is more than £6.40 (sandwiches for 2 quid?  OK!), and the £6.40 meals were for meat and two veg-type family-style Italian meals.  I had just walked a mile to get there, so I opted to splurge on a proper meal-grilled lemon chicken with potatoes and cabbage.  Wow.  It was delicious!  The server, when I told him that's what I wanted, said 'Good choice-my mamma was just making the chicken this morning.'  It really felt like a home cooked mea,  and the food was simply fab-fresh, simple, full of flavor..  Total for my bill, which included a can of Coke?....£7.20.   Seriously, if I would have had that meal in Central London, you could easily have doubled or tripled the price!  As I was paying to leave, the server asked me if I enjoyed the meal.  I told him, 'it's very unfortunate.  I live in West London, so coming here is a bit of a hike.  But, it's completely worth it!  The food is delicious.'  I'm sure he hears this a dozen times a day, but he still seemed quite pleased, and as I was putting my change in my purse, he said 'young lady-wait a minute' (I *love* anyone who still calls me young lady! :))...and he reached into the pastry case and handed me a piece of bread pudding:  "my mamma just made this this morning.  please take a piece and enjoy.'  How incredibly sweet. 
While I was at the restaurant, I got the distinct feeling that I was the only person there who doesn't come in at least 3 times a week; now I understand why.  Great food.  Great service.  Great prices.  If you find yourself with some free time, make the effort; you won't be disappointed!

On my way back West, I opted to find the Algerian Coffee Stores.  Never one to turn down a good cup-or opportunity to smell good beans (which seems to be the calling card of this tiny shop), I ventured into tourist-town near Piccadilly Circus to find the shop.  It's barely large enough to fit 10 people in, but the selection of beans-flavoured and normal, and the selection of equipment is by far the most complete collection I've ever seen.  I could easily have stayed in there for an hour and scoured the shelves, but it was too cramped to do so (2pm on a Friday.  my mistake...).  So, I stayed long enough to buy some beans and a double espresso (yum), and headed out.

All in all, a pretty successful field trip.  I think I'll have to break open the book again this week and try another suggestion or two!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Coffee in London

I have from time to time commented about coffee here in London (yea:  Monmouth and Ginger & White  boo:  Starbucks (sorry...)), but I just happened to stumble across this article on just now titled Coffee in London

Methinks I feel an uber-caffenated, week-long field trip coming up in a few days! :)

1st Contact Interview

It's always a puzzler to me whenever I get contacted about doing an interview.  Well, I say 'always' like it happens every day..3 times, really.  Neverthelss it's still a puzzler. :)

A few weeks ago, 1st Contact, a company that specializes in finance and legal issues for both expats and residents pinged me about an interview.  I had a putter around their site-there's actually some interesting stuff on there (note to self:  File for my National Insurance rebate when I leave the UK..), and decided  I'd give it a go.  For the curious-or the bored-feel free to read my interview and post a comment.

1st Contact also posts about more than just the serious stuff:  I think I'll be checking out one of their suggested wine bars this weekend; I'm always on the lookout for a good one, and until this weather gets to the point of me being able to be outside drinking without getting frost-bite, I might as well hole up with a good bottle of vino!

If any of you fellow expat bloggers would like to have your say about living here and have an interview posted on their website-and wouldn't mind providing a bit of free link juice- please contact Paul at Paul(dot)Lombard(at)1stcontact(dot)com.

Happy Reading!

Good Times

'Cross the Pond & I met for lunch on Tuesday at this lovely coffee shop called Ginger and White (seriously: one of the best flat whites I've *ever had*).  She's a newly arrived work-at-home-expat-mom and I'm awaiting my frickin' visa papers to get processed so I can start my new job.  So lunch in the middle of the week?  Can do! :)

Aside from deciding to form a Mutual Admiration Society because we both thought we're about 7 years younger than we actually are, it was nice to get out and meet a new expat and talk about our experiences.  Most of my expat conversations are with folks who arrived at the same time as me with my old employer, so I find that our experiences are somewhat homogenious; it was nice to chat with someone else and get a completely different perspective.  But, it was all a bit odd:  Since I read her blog, I felt like I knew her better than if she were a total stranger and we were meeting for the first time-but that's exactly what we were.  I'm sure she must have felt the same.  Either way, it was nice to finally put a voice to the words.  Hopefully, once she's settled in to her new flat, we'll be able to get together again.

On reflection, I found that my conversation with her about getting settled in-and all the trials that go along with that-brought me back to my own experiences, and I couldn't help but feel a bit stressed!  That seems to happen whenever I talk to anyone about 'just arriving', read a blogs about someone's first few months here, or even go back and re-read my old posts.  Yeesh.  But, on the flip side, it makes me appreciate how much easier life is now-and just how settled I do feel here now.

Landline/Internet Service-A Comment Response

I received a comment the other day from Anne, a newly arrived expat inquiring about suggestions for the vast array of landline/internet services that are available, and in the process of beginning my response to her realized it was going to be a bit lengthy-and perhaps a proper post about the topic would be better.  So, here goes..
Unlike the US, the telecomm industry here is ridiculously competitive.  Landline.  Internet.  TV.  Bundled.'s enough to do your head in trying to figure out which company/package to go with. 

When I first arrived two years ago, my flatmate at the time & I decided to go a Landline/Internet bundle from a company, TalkTalk because another expat suggested them.  They were reasonably priced, and our package allowed for 'unlimited' phonecalls back to the US.  That was great.  The customer service of TalkTalk (now Tiscali...)?  HORRIBLE-worst than any other customer service I've received here. And, that says something!  I cannot under any circumstances recommend Tiscali.  The cost savings-given that there are *tons* o' companies here of offer a similar package-sihmply wasn't worth it in hindsight, but like Anne, we were overwhelmed with options, and went with TalkTalk on a recommendation-and to kind of get it over with. If memory serves me correct, with taxes & everything, we paid about 30 a month-which was worth it for the internet access & US calls alone.  Truthfully, we hardly used the landline for local calls at all, but peeling that out of package wasn't an option at the time.

The past year, Simon & I have gone in a completely different direction-no landline, and a 'PAYG'-Pay as you Go mobile broadband dongle from O2.  For phone calls back to the US, I use Skype.  For the most part, this arrangement has worked out without any problems.  Occasionally the Skype connection is crappy, and on 1-2 occasions we've been unable to connect to the internet-last nite being one of those times.  But, that can happen with any internet service.  We pay 17.50 a month for the broadband access, and I don't think I've yet spent 10 quid on a good number of hours conversation back in the States.  All things being equal, this has been a much better option for us, and I can't imagine going back to a fixed contract service while here.

The one thing I have't mentioned in either of these scenarios is TV as part of the bundle.  Most TVs in London can get a good 20 channels with something called Freeview (think basic cable-with a few extras) for free.  There are exceptions to this depending on how old your TV is, or the area you live in, but this is the gist.  I don't completely understand all the details, so I'll refrain.  But, my point is, unless you are a hard-core TV watcher who simply won't be able to do without 50+ channels-and many US shows-I don't think it's worth it.

Anyhoo.  The reason for my long-winded commentary thusfar is to illustrate a)the array of options and b)to hilight some of the things you should think about when trying to figure out which company/package to go with.  It's a lot to take in, and no normal human being should be forced to think about all of this.  Fortunately, there are a good number of comparison shopping (comp shop) sites out there that do the thinking for us! :)  All you have to do is plonk in a few details about where you live (to determine which services are availble in your area) and what features you want.  There's still a ton o' options from there, but at least the wheat has been seperated from the chaff.  So, to that are a few of those sites that I'd recommend.  I'd start with Money Saving Expert.  They'll provide a great overview on options/prices, but also provide information on additional comp shops.   [As an aside..I almost always start with MSE whenever I have *anything* financial to contemplate here in the UK.]
After MSE, I'd suggest or or  I don't mean to overwhelm...they're all basically the same, but you may simply find one UI better than the other for your purposes.

Whew.  That was just supposed to be a few sentences about my Internet service! :)  Sorry about that, Anne, but I hope that answers your questions a bit-and perhaps a few others as well!