We have officially been in England for exactly one week! I know I posted last time about the culture shock we experienced back in the Netherlands, but now Holland feels like it was eons ago… and it’s truly hard to believe that we were ever even in Africa.
Our first couple days were pretty long. We packed up a mere 200+ pounds of luggage and said goodbye to the Netherlands in the wee hours of the morning.
We traveled by car, train and plane and landed at Heathrow, where I was subjected to a lengthy and probing conversation with the not-at-all-friendly woman at customs and immigration. I’m pretty sure Joost just flashed his passport at a machine and walked right into the country. Lucky EU citizens.
US tourists are able to acquire a tourist visa for six months here in the UK, but the fact that we’re staying for 178 days (out of the allowed 180) made the immigration official wary. She asked me questions about what I was doing here, what Joost does for a job, how much money I have, how much money Joost has, how much money my parents have, what I write about (I wrote ‘writer’ on the ‘occupation’ line of my visa form… figured it was better than the alternatives—‘unemployed,’ ‘housegirlfriend’ or ‘I just want to find a freaking country where my boyfriend and I are both allowed to work’), my parents’ ancestry, my adoption, where in South Korea I was born, where I went to school, where I was planning on traveling, what I was bringing into the country, where I was living, how long I’ve been dating Joost, my favorite sexual position… okay, just kidding. We didn’t get quite that far, but I was pretty sure that was going to be the next topic of conversation. After hovering her stamp over my passport for an agonizingly long moment, she stamped it, handed it back and said sternly, ‘be sure to leave before the 180 days are up or you’ll be in trouble. We have it all in our system.’
Welcome to the UK!
Joost grabbed our luggage as I attempted to air out my sweat-drenched clothing and slow my heart rate back to something close to normal. Our driver, hired by Joost’s company, was waiting for us right on the other side of customs. Judging by the look on his face, he was obviously expecting smaller and lighter travelers. We barely fit everything in the car and had to buckle one of our suitcases into the front seat, but then off we went. It took every ounce of self restraint I possess not to put on my best British accent and exclaim, ‘Home, James!’
Our flat is wonderful, minus the fact that Joost doesn’t fit in our bed, we didn’t have hot water and it took us five days to figure out the six unit, five zone heating system. That being said, it’s really quite lovely and a massive step up from our digs in New York. We live right above a flower shop, so it always smells lovely when we walk in and out of the door. There are big windows that let in the sunlight and it has just been refurnished. We also have relatively high ceilings, which is a blessing we didn’t realize would be necessary. Joost will most likely be in a permanent vegetative state by the time we leave the UK at the rate he’s smashing his head into doorframes, light fixtures and ceilings here.
The town itself is small and quirky. If you were to take Diagon Alley, Privet Drive and Hansel & Gretel, throw in some mullets, old women with purple hair, a man shuffling up and down the grocery store aisles yelling about the idiots going to hell and what I think is the world’s entire population of pigeons, you would have our town. It’s right along the Thames River and claims to be the oldest city in Britain. The locals seem to all be able to tell that we’re outsiders. One of the bartenders at a pub said, as soon as we walked in, ‘I can tell this is your first time here.’ With the exception of one of Joost’s co-workers and his girlfriend and our downstairs neighbor, who’s a physicist at Oxford from Italy, people have not been particularly friendly, helpful or welcoming. Maybe it’s the Minnesotan in me who’s accustomed to Minnesota Nice, but… well, it’s going to take some time to settle in here and for this place to feel even remotely like a place we could call ‘home.’
So, beyond trying to get Internet, shopping for secondhand dishes and all those other fun things that accompany moving, what have we been up to?
We’ve been exploring town. It didn’t take long. Joost’s co-worker loaned us his bike for the week, so Joost has a way to get to work until we can find a secondhand bike big enough for his 6’7’’ frame (according to every shopkeeper we’ve spoken to, this could be an impossible task). Joost has been chauffeuring me around town as I ride on the back. Quite romantic, and as a bonus, it’s one of the few modes of transportation that doesn’t make me motion sick!
We attended our town’s spring Cycle Festival. People of all ages gathered in the town center for bike rides around the area. A dude in a green dress announced the various routes, followed by vigorous bell ringing and a rousing chorus of ‘God save the queen!’ after each announcement. We went on a 10-mile ride, which very nearly killed me. My rental bike’s gears were broken, so it was stuck in the highest gear for the whole ride!
We’ve been working out and running—kind of. Joost has been having some foot troubles and I got completely lost on my first solo run, so our training for the Edinburgh half marathon is going to be a bit rushed. The other day, we attempted a run and aborted it less than a mile in. Beer, watching cricket, walking up and down the Thames and laying in the sunshine took priority over training.
We went to Oxford. It’s about a 20 minute bus ride away from where we are, which is close enough to bring me hope that I will be able to interact with civilization when need be. The city is stunning. The architecture is straight out of Harry Potter. I am guilty of being a total tourist and frolicking up and down the streets pretending we were at Hogwarts. We looked for bikes, stole internet when we could, got cell phones and did some sightseeing.
Joost headed off for his first day of work today, so I suppose this means that real life is beginning! I am still a bit unsure of what I’ll be doing during my time here. I can’t work or volunteer on my tourist visa (and I learned in Tanzania not to mess with customs officials), we are unable to get internet due to only being here for six months and we are currently too poor to afford bus tickets, a bike for me or a gym membership, so… suggestions are welcome! Perhaps I will write a novel about an American girl who meets a Dutch boy and they fall in love in Australia and travel the world together…