A Travellerspoint blog

Trying to Cross the Street

Beware stepping off the pavement in London

sunny 15 °C

That's the glory of foreign travel. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.
— Bill Bryson Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

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After living for 10 years in Toronto, I had become a pretty militant pedestrian. I was an unrepentant jay-walker, dodging through the snarled traffic along Yonge Street, smugly grinning at motorists stuck behind a sea of brake lights while I power walked my way to work. At corners, I would cross the street, glaring at any cars that dared to try to inch into my space as I crossed, confident in the fact that pedestrians had right-of-way at corners.

You can imagine my surprise, when first visiting England in 2007, at strolling confidently out into an intersection only to be brushed back by a Nissan Micra taking a corner at Fernando Alsono speeds, his horn blaring and fingers raised as he passed me.

Here in the UK, pedestrians don't have right of way at intersections, unless the lights are all red and the pedestrian signal is activated. That has taken some getting used to, having to crane my neck in all directions when approaching a cross-street to make sure that a granny in a Rover or a white van man doesn't run me down.

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On the flip side, the English driver is very respectful of the crosswalk, gladly pulling to a stop and allowing folks to cross. All you have to do, as a pedestrian, is walk up to the crosswalk and stroll right out. The cars stop, like Moses parting a red sea of Mercedes A-classes. In North America, we had cross-walks away from intersections, but frankly I never really put my trust in them. Cars would oftenblindly drive through without giving a second thought to any potential street crossers.

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I am inclined to chalk up this difference to the different emphasis that Europeans and North Americans put on their driving experiences. In North America, we like big cars with big engines that go really fast in a straight line. In Europe, they like small cars with great handling and zippy acceleration. Europeans love cornering on the verge of losing control. North Americans love going straight and fast.

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Thus, the differences in the treatment of pedestrians. People walking shouldn't dare get in the way of a European taking a corner, nor in the way of a North American with the pedal floored on a straight away. It ruins their ultimate driving experiences.

And if there is one thing motorists won't put up with, it's ruining a really nice drive.

Posted by GregW 09:54 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

On the Eve of Upheaval

The last days of the past...

semi-overcast 12 °C

I know I wrote in my last blog entry that I was starting work this week, but I didn't. This week was a short week with Monday being a holiday, so my start date was pushed back to next Monday. Therefore, I had one more week of unemployed bliss before starting my new job.

The weather has been nice, so I've mostly been out wandering around. As I am moving away from the King's Cross area soon, I wanted a last few attempts to check out the area. This week included a trip to British Library beside St. Pancras station to see an exhibition on Maps.

British Library Plaza

British Library Plaza


British Library Isaac Newton Statue

British Library Isaac Newton Statue


British Library Interior

British Library Interior

There was a map from the 1680s - some 15ish years after the great fire - of London. You can see a zoomable flash version or a simple picture version online. What was interesting is that looking at the maps of the City of London and the southern part of Westminster, I was easily able to identify the streets. In fact, I could have taken the map down and very successfully navigated the streets using the old map.

My current home near King's Cross wasn't on the map (it would have been fields and small villages at the time), nor would me new home in Kensington, which also would have been outside of the urban area of London back in the 1600s.

After checking out the British Library exhibit, I headed to the local polling station to vote. Thursday was polling day in the local and national elections here in the UK (local elections only in England, but national in all four countries). As a Commonwealth citizen with residency in the UK, I was able to vote. Unlike the Euro elections last year, the national elections use a simple first-past-the-post system, where the person with the most votes gets the seat.

After watching 4 hours of election coverage on Thursday night, I went to bed at 2 in the morning with the result still being up in the air. Friday I woke up at 8:30 and picked up watching the coverage. The result was slightly less muddy in the morning, but still unclear. The UK woke up to a "hung parliament," with no one party winning a majority of the seats in the House of Commons. Coming from Canada, I'm used to minority governments, but its a very unusual situation here in the UK, and people are justifiably nervous about it at a time when the Eurozone is on shaky ground and the UK's debt load is historically high.

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Come lunch, I went over to Chapel Market in Angel, Islington to grab lunch. I often head over to Chapel Market for lunch, both during the past 2 months of unemployment and during the previous 6 months of employment when I was working from home. Today as I walked through Chapel Market, I realized, starting work on Monday and moving out of the area in less than a month, this could be the last time I head over here for lunch.

I grabbed one of the best lunches available. First up a burger from the "Designer Burger" stall, where the proprietor calls his customer's agents - "Agent 2," he called out to me, being the second customer in line, "what would you like?"

"A burger - non-chilli - with cheese, please," I replied.

"Non-chilli with cheese," he confirmed, before moving on to get the order from Agent 3.

After my burger was prepared, I headed over to the Crown Fish and Chip Bar to pick up a large order of chips. Real, honest-to-God chips, with vinegar and salt. Ordered it for "take away," so they wrapped it up in brown paper for me.

Burger and chips in hand, which I have come to call my "Chapel Market Lunch," I headed home to see the rest of the election coverage.

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I headed home and spent my last day of weekday freedom eating my last Chapel Market lunch and watching the leaders of the political parties discuss how to form the next government. How it will all shake out is still unclear, but what is clear that a minority or coalition government will be a change for the UK. Just like the change coming to my work life on Monday, and the change coming to housing situation in less than a month.

Days of upheaval are ahead, both for this country and me personally. I'm not scared, though. I'm excited.

Posted by GregW 09:59 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (0)

The Safety Net Of Everywhere Else

How moving abroad once has impacted how I look at job hunting.

sunny 15 °C

As I wrote about a few blog entries back, January wasn’t the best month. Within the space of a couple weeks, I found out that I would neither have a place to live nor a place to work in short order.

Since that time, I’ve been a bit quiet in the blog on the job and house hunting front, so now I shall provide an update. I prioritized the job hunting, and have over the past couple months settled into that. Unlike my previous experience looking for work here in the UK, things were pretty active, and I was pursuing a number of opportunities.

The problem with opportunities, at least in my mind, is that they often become a reality - if you are lucky then by becoming something more concrete, but unfortunately more often winding up with a rejection letter. I’m always happy and excited when pursuing a new job, and will admit that getting that letter that says, “we had a number of qualified candidates, and have decided to go in another direction,” always bums me out.

I have, though, managed to remain pretty even keeled during this time. I noticed something interesting that was keeping my mood up. It was this little voice in the back of my head that kept saying, “worse comes to worst, there’s still all those other places...”

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When I’ve been force to job hunt in the past, back when I was living in Canada and prior to moving to London, I always felt the pressure of finding something from the listings I could find for Toronto. “There’s only a finite number of jobs out there that I want,” I would think to myself. “I need to land one of these few options.”

This time around, though, I didn’t feel that same pressure. “If things don’t work out with one of these London opportunities,” I would tell myself, “I can always look somewhere else.”

In a sense, the rest of the world, including my homeland back in Canada, became a safety net for me.

Whether the rest of the world is actually a safety net is debatable, but that thought was there in the back of my mind, and that relieved a lot of pressure.

Before I moved here to London, the thought of starting a new job in a new city - in essence starting all over again - seemed too much to take on at once. It was too big a mountain to climb. Thinking about not getting a job in Toronto was too stressful, because it meant I would have to face that mountain.

Now, though, that I’ve moved to a new city, secured a new job and found new friends once, doing it again doesn’t seem that big a deal. I’d look at my options here in London, and if things didn’t work out, I’d look elsewhere. Looking for a job was no longer was about grabbing one of the limited set of opportunities where I was. Looking for a job is now about opening up to all the possibilities out there, where ever they may be. With a view like that, suddenly the world seemed a lot more fruitful of a place.

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= = =

That being said, I won’t be travelling off to Dubai or Singapore or Panama City for a job. I have found one here in London, though like my previous jobs its as a consulting so I’ll likely shortly be back on the road and up in the air again. I start next Tuesday.

With the job sorted, it only took a week to sort out a new place to live as well. From my current North London base, I’m heading west to live squashed between the hip-rich of Notting Hill and Holland Park and the Aussie enclave of Shepherd’s Bush, straddling the line between the two. Yet another area of London to explore after I move in early in June.

So, with a new job and a new place to live, the fog of uncertainty is lifting and the future is clearer. While I have discovered that the world is my safety net, I’m looking forward to spending some more time setting up my life here in London.

Posted by GregW 03:10 Archived in England Tagged business_travel living_abroad migration_experiences Comments (1)

St. George and The City

The St. George's Day Pageant through the streets of London

sunny 15 °C

At some point back in the 3rd century in what is now modern day Libya, there was a well guarded by a dragon. The well being the only source of water for a nearby town, the villagers used to bring a goat round each morning to draw out the dragon, distracting him long enough to get water for the day. Then the village ran out of goats, so they started sacrificing virgins. The virgins were selected by a lottery drawing every morning.

One morning, the lottery drew the king’s daughter. The King tried to buy off the people with all his gold, but being in the desert the folks valued water more than gold. Luckily for the princess, a Christian warrior happened to be in the area. He slew the dragon, saved the princess and got all the locals to convert to Christianity.

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The slayer was canonized in 494 by Pope Gelasius I, and afterward was known as St. George.

Most modern historians don’t believe that the dragon slaying story is real, the reason most strongly given being that dragons are fictional, however most believe that the man credited with the slaying was in fact a real person. George was a Roman soldier who was executed for refusing to renounce Christianity.

St. George is the patron saint of England, among a number of other places. The feast of Saint George is celebrated on April 23rd, and as the patron saint of England, April 23rd is the national day of England.

The flag of England, the St. George banner

The flag of England, the St. George banner


Crest of the city of London

Crest of the city of London

Strangely, for a city that goes all out to celebrate the national days of Canada, Australia, America and Ireland, London (and for the most part the rest of England) puts on a pretty muted observation for their National Day. It isn’t a national holiday, and many of the English people I have met don’t even remember what day it is.

However, this year a tradition that hasn’t taken place for 425 years was revived. The St. George’s Day Pageant, which sees a parade through the streets of the city of London. In addition to some soldiers and bands, the parade includes the King, his daughter and St. George himself.

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Nothing more English than a Germany liquor dropped into a Thai/Austrian energy drink

Nothing more English than a Germany liquor dropped into a Thai/Austrian energy drink

April 23rd is also the birthday of William Shakespeare, who wrote the play Henry V, which includes the line, "Upon this charge, cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!" 

After the parade, I headed to a nearby pub, where I had a pint and pie. Nothing more English than that, is there?

A pint, a pie for Elizabeth the second, England and Saint George!

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Posted by GregW 09:12 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (2)

Boat Race!

The 156th running of the Oxford vs. Cambridge 8 man boat race, run from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge in London, England. The crews are known as "the blues," with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford dark blue.

overcast 10 °C

Where I went to university, if someone said there was going to be a boat race, I'd be getting ready to drink. Boat (Beer On A Table) races at my university meant that two teams would line up against each other. The race would start with the first member of each team chugging a beer. Once the first member is done drinking, the second one picks up their beer and chugs it. This continues until you hit the anchor, who downs two beers. First team to finish all their beers is declared the winner.

Here in England, boat race has a very different meaning. It is the annual rowing race between the two oldest universities in England - Oxford and Cambridge. The two universities have been picking a team of eight (plus a coxswain) since back in 1829. The event became an annual one since 1856, excepting during the two wars.

The teams are known as blues, with Cambridge in light blue and Oxford dark blue. The race is obviously quite popular with current students and alumni of the two universities (known colloquially here in England as Oxbridge), but also is popular with known Oxbridge folks. According to the Boat Race's own numbers, a quarter of a million people line the banks of the Thames to watch, with 8 million watching on TV in the UK and 120 million watching world wide. Personally, I doubt those numbers are accurate - do 120 million people around the world really care about a boat race between a couple of posh schools in England?

The course is 4 miles and 374 yards long, snaking its way from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge upstream. Even though the race is upstream, this race is timed so that the current is with the teams, as the Thames is still tidal at that point and the tide was coming in, causing water to flow upstream.

I went down today to watch it. I watched at Hammersmith Bridge and Furnival Gardens, about halfway through the course. I took a few pictures and some video, which I have edited together for your viewing pleasure.

If you can't see the video, view it on YouTube at this link. I understand that the video may not be available in Germany due to using bits of music in the video. I think that using short clips of music is fair use, but whatever...

Cambridge won this year. Congratulations to Cambridge, and chin up, Oxford. You'll get 'em next year!

Posted by GregW 15:11 Archived in England Tagged sports events Comments (0)

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