Tuesday, March 25, 2008

London Observations

OK so we've been here for two weeks.. and it's long enough to develop a few ideas about the place. A few things come to mind :
  • Transport - the tube is great! Absolutely love it. The people here don't know how good they have it. They complain when they don't get a train every 5 minutes! Between the tube and the buses you can pretty much get anywhere in town. Also the fact that the density is so high every place is within walking distance of a bus or tube.
  • Oyster cards - the integrated payment system for public transport. This is what NSW was trying to do and screwed up to the tune of AU$150 million. Why not just copy the UK version.
  • Weather - yes I have to mention the weather. It's early spring and it's been COLD! It snowed on easter weekend and it's just warming up a bit now. Lots of cloud, rain and wind, but it's not too bad.
  • As Russel Peters said "No wait! We're coming too!" There are Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis everwhere!
  • Eastern Europeans too! Most of the service industry and construction industry is Eastern Europeans.. it's strange going to a pub or cafe in London and the staff can't speak English properly.
  • The SIZE! Everything is so small. Houses are small, hotels are small, streets are small. Everything is packed into half the size of Sydney.
  • The water! I knew it was recycled, but it tastes worse than last time. Chami didn't know the water was recycled until a few days after we got here. Water is also very hard, lots of calcium build up on everything!
  • Food is surprisingly good and cheap. Much better than we expected. Guess the Chunnel has done wonders to bringing stuff from the continent - Spain in particular.
  • Shopping is cheap! Specially clothes and stuff like that (well not if you're shopping at Harrods or Selfdirges or something like that.
hmm that's it for now. More to come.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Job Hunting

Apart from finding a place to live, finding a job is the most important thing we need to get done in London. People say that finding a job is easier than finding a place to live, and since we found an apartment in 2.5 days, finding a job would be a piece of cake, right? Unfortunately not so.

Chami and I put up our resumes on a number of job sites on Sunday (16th) night. Chami was using her generic .NET and C# resume, and I was using my basic datacenter / IT infrastructure / jack of all trades one. Looking around places like jobserve.com there were plenty of jobs, specially for .NET people.

On Monday morning at about 8am our phones started ringing. Mostly Chami's, actually. Her phone just did not stop ringing for about 4 hours. In between we were trying to call up places with rooms to rent, so it was absolute chaos!

Unfortunately most of the calls were for nothing as they were all calling about permanent positions, and we were looking for contracts. I was called with a couple of IDEAL jobs if I was in the look for a perm job, but turned them down. One agent called saying that his client was setting up a new datacentre and that he needed people with Clariion, HP blade and VMWare ESX experience (hey that sounds like ME!), but the job was perm and based in Surrey - which is a fair way west of London.

Chami and I had decided to leave perm jobs as a fall back as we would find it easier to travel with contracts, not to mention get paid lots more. Also the 12 month work restriction on our visa made perm jobs a bit difficult.. Some agents became uninterested as soon as the heard that we were on working holiday..

So now we're slowly looking for contract positions and applying for them as they come.. the agent calls have slowed down too. Chami has an interview tomorrow, but I haven't got much yet. We'll try the contract thing for one more week and if there isn't any success will start applying for perm jobs. Option with perm will be to work for a year, then take about 3 or 4 months off to travel and then head home.

House Hunting

Finding a place to live was our top priority after getting to London. We had a hotel booked for the first week, then we could stay at Yui/Jem's place for a few nights after that while they were in Chamonix, but after that it was either couch surf or back to a hotel..

We pretty much hit gumtree as soon as we got our bearings. Flats or even studios were out of our price rance (less than 200 pounds a week), unless we went out to zone 2 or 3. So we had to find rooms to share with other people. Our initial requirements were an ensuite bathroom and reasonably close to a tube station for less than 200 pounds, but later had to ammend that to either ensuite or transport.

The first place we went to look was in Wilsden Green. This was on Saturday night. Wilsden Green is in Zone two, north-west of central London. After getting a tube to Wilsden Green station we started walking to the place. The first impressions we got was that it was a bad area, poorly maintained and ugly houses, not many shops or people about. Definately a shock from Bayswater or Notting Hill. It was also a long walk from the tube, maybe a kilometre. The actual room was a ceiling space converted to a room, the "ensuite" was a little corner in the attic with the toilet. The other people in house seemed nice, but the room, distance to the tube and the area was bad. That was a easy "no".

Sunday it was back to Gumtree calling places. We probably called 20 or more places, using up quite a lot of credit on our phones. Only about 1/5 of the places did we get go see as they were either already taken (the good ones) or didn't take couples or the people just didn't respond.

On Sunday night we went to Greenwich to see a place to share with an aussie guy. It was quite a hike from the west side, had to take a tube to Canary Wharf, change to the Docklands Light Rail and then walk a long way. Canary Wharf was pretty cool. The whole docklands area is pretty new - and has lots of modern looking high rises.

We got off the DLR at Cutty Sark and walked towards Greenwich. It was a fairly long walk. Got to the apartment, which was quite new, the guy seemed ok, though a bit quiet.. The area wasn't that fancy neither close to Greenwich village or to Canary Wharf.. the walk was a bit too much specially if Chami has to go by herself. Another easy "no".

From there we went back to the south west, to check out a room in North Clapham. It was advertised for 200, with all our requirements, seemed too good to be true. When we got to North Clapham first thing we noticed is that it was a bad area, worse than Wilsden Green. I got a bad feeling about the place. Second we had to walk a long way, about 20 minutes to an even worse area. When we got there we discovered that the room was actually in a housing commission estate!!! All the other apartment blocks around there had security walls with barbed wire and CCTV and security at the gates! Not a good area, I was pretty sure. We walked back without even bothering to check the room. I had a really bad feeling about the place, and the sooner we left there the better, I thought.

Back to looking on Monday, but had trouble keeping track because Chami's phone was constantly ringing due to job agents calling her. We were looking at gumtree and calling places as they were being advertised, to try and get to the top of the queue.

Finally got an appointment to look at a place close to Edgeware Road tube station, at a lot of flats called the Hyde Park Mansions. The agent was a young Aussie guy called Oliver, and the room was a decent sized room at the back of a large apartment with an ensuite. The building was quite old, but in reasonable condition. It had 4 bedrooms and there were 5 other people in there already. We had a quick look around and Chami and I pretty much said "We'll take it!" We were getting sick of looking already and this place had our two main requirements (ensuite and transport), and was in a good location. The price was a bit high - 205 - specially to share with 5 other people, but we didn't want to look any more.

We walked to Baker Street were the Agent's offices were and signed the documents and put in a holding bond. Our accounts didn't actually have any money in them so I had to pull out cash from an ATM. Went back on Thursday to finalise the documents and pick up the key and pay the remaining 1300 pounds in deposit and rent. This was putting quite a dent in my Australian account.. :)

We went to check out the place after and had a better look. The living room and kitchen was a mess, and it wasn't really that great, but our room was ok and we had our own bathroom. It will have to do till we both get jobs. We did some shopping for cleaning products and linen, cleaned the bathroom and got the bed ready.

Moved in on Saturday. Our flatmates are 4 young French guys and one Columbian girl. They are ok, but communication is a bit of an issue. Sharing a kitchen in particular is hard, specially as it's small and quite old. They also happen to smoke, and the living room stinks of smoke, so we don't spend much time out there.. but as I said, will have to do.

Pictures later.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

First Days In London

We arrived on Thursday morning, but all of Thursday was pretty much a write off. We were completely jet lagged and zombified. As it happened, we woke up on Friday morning at about 4am!

After getting a nice brekky from our hotel, we set off to explore the local area. We were based in Craven Hill Road in Paddington, so we explored the few blocks around the hotel. It was a pretty posh area with rows apon rows of identical white houses on the streets. One thing I was amazed at was the CARS! Every other car was a Porche or an expensive Merc or a BMW. Maybe every tenth car was a Bentley or a Aston Martin or a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce. Even with Mercs, there were more S classes going around than Es or Cs! Anyway, over it now..

For lunch we walked over to Bayswater and found Jem/Minh/Yui/Myle's apartment. We pranked their doorbell but there wasn't anyone home.. We had some nice lunch at a Thai/Indonesian place. They had some nice Nasi Goreng there.. We went to Kensington Gardens to have a quick walk around, but it was a bit too cold to spend too much time.

We went back to the hotel to have a quick nap, then went off to a Spanish restuarant in Bayswater to meet the London Crew. Dave and Thuy were there early, so we joined them to have some drinks.. then the others slowly started trickling in.. It was great to see everyone there, seemed like the old days.. there are more people in London now than in Sydney. Had lots of yummy payella and tapas and had a good chat to everyone. Some of the photos are up on Chami's Picasa, and Christina has some too.

Found out that the WOW geeks were having a WOW day at Yui's place on Saturday, and the girls were getting upto something else so we decided to drop by. Chi was already there by 10am and Yui and Minh and Chi were fully into it when we arrived. Zoolander also arrived a bit later and joined them. While they were busy with WOW, Myle, Christina, Chami and I took a bus to the Portobello Markets. They were PACKED! There was lots of fresh fruit and vegies and of course there were tons of antiques and various odds-and-ends..

We had a lunch of "Spicy Boneless Chicken" from a stand which was delicious.. we went by a place making MASSIVE dishes of payella, but let it pass. It started raining a bit so we took shelter by walking through the antique stores.. After a few hours we headed back to Myle's place as Chami and I had to do our first room inspection in our house hunt..

Friday, March 14, 2008

Flying Over

Each time I do a long flight I'm reminded why I don't like flying. Our trip from Sydney to London was pretty much 21 hours straight, with only a small 3 hour break in Abu Dhabi.

We left Sydney on Wednesday afternoon, Chami's family and my parents came with us. It was a big surprise to find out that Renee had also come to the airport to see us off. There were big lines at the Etihad checkin, and to our dismay we saw that the weight limit per person was 25Kg. We had packed assuming 20Kg because that was what the website and ticket said. Chami was furious because she had left behind lots of stuff that she wanted.. But I think it was for the best as I don't think we could have coped with 50Kg of luggage. Anyways, finally checked in our luggage (my bag was 23KG! and they even weighed our hand luggage) and went to the gate.

There were many tearful farewells at the departure gate and we were gone. Security wasn't much of a issue, we got to the gate and settled into wait. This was the first time we had flown Etihad, and were were impressed. The plane was a new A340-500 and the cattle class seats had more leg room than Emirates, Cathay or Singapore. Each seat had it's own 11 inch on-demand entertainment system which was quite cool. Though it was quite buggy. The cabin crew was nice and the food was not too bad (guess standard QF Catering).

The first leg of the flight was 15 hours, leaving Sydney flying out north west over Australia, over the Indian ocean and along the Gulf to Abu Dhabi. I tried my best to sleep during the flight but it as pretty much impossible. Even though the seats were quite good, I could only manage to doze off from time to time. Chami didn't seem to have any issues sleeping as usual. :)

Finally arrived at Abu Dhabi at about 11pm at night. I had heard all sorts of stories about the airport (my mother had been there in the late 60s, and said it was a tin shed in the desert back then - and others said it's full of mid-east excess). Unfortunately the reality was that most of the terminals were run down 70s or 80s typical airport, with the central chamber this garish tiled monstrosity.. it was like being inside a fluro blue and green torus. Anyway the airport was full of all sort of seedy guys and lots of Indian workers travelling to other places in the Emirates. There was an unusual mix of western backpackers and tradition Saudi Muslims. Very weird.

We sat around for a few hours and finally they announced the gate the plane is at. When we got there and lined up for a while, some official told us to go back and get our passports stamped! So we went back, queued again, and then queued for security. Which was piss poor, I must say. They hardly even looked at the bags, hardly checked the people going through.

The final leg from Abu Dhabi to London was 9 hours. This was a lot easier than the first leg, probably because we knew in our heads that it was only half the legth. Also possibly because we were so tried we dozed through most of the flight, and it seemed to be over a lot quicker.

Finally got to Heathrow after flying in over the city, low enough to identify the Eye and the Gherkin and the Houses of Parliament. Got off the plane without much issue (though the backpacks were getting quite heavy at this stage), unfortunately there was a LONG line at immigration, which we had to endure. For the first time in ages Chami and I managed to grab our luggage quickly.

We thought about staying at Heathrow for a while until the rush hour ended (it was about 8:30 by the time we got everything organised). Disoverved that the Heathrow Express to Paddington was alost 14 pounds, so decided to take the tube instead. The walk from the Terminal to the tube seemed to take for ever! But finally got there, and got a one way ticket (4 quid each).

Got on the tube (it was empty) and started headng into the city. As we got closer and closer the train filled up with more people, and we were stuck in the middle with our huge luggage! We spent about 20 minutes planning how to get off the train! Fortunately for us most of the people got off when the announcer said we'll be held at the platform, so we moved towards the doors.

We changed trains at Hammersmith, but we didn't realise that changing trains at Hammersmith meant that we needed to get off the train, leave the STATION, cross the ROAD then across to the other station! The different lines had different stations!

Anyways, worse was to come as when we arrived in Paddingtion. There were no lifts from the patform, and you had to walk about 500m across various stairs from the tube to the main road. I've now realised that the London underground isn't the most accessible in the world.

We finally managed to make it to our Hotel and check in, which required us to walk down the road about 500m with our luggage. It was about 10:30am and checkin was at 2pm, so we left the luggage behind and went for a walk.. Dunno what we really did because we were in quite a zombified state.. but we managed to spend about 3 hours out and about..

Finally got into the hotel room at a bit past 2pm. We tried to stay up as late as possible to try and synchronise our clocks with London time.. but no luck.. We fell asleep at 3pm and slept through the night!

And then woke up at 4am, which set the pattern for the next few days. More to follow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

About to Leave

Everything (I hope) is in order.. Just done the last checks and about get ready to go. Bags are rather heavy, and since we're only taking 20Kg each it's hard to fit everything you want in there.. Its times like this I regret lugging around a SLR, because with the laptop, 20D and the 24-70 f/2.8 (a kilo just by itself!) my carry-on is getting very, very heavy.. :(

Pretty much everyone has been asking us if we're excited, and I'm usually too ashamed to say "not really". It's been a long time in the making and there has been lots of stuff to worry about, so it's not exactly a "holiday" that you can get excited about. I'm sure we'll be feeling more excited once we're over there and settled down.

Will update on the way if I manage to find wi-fi access in the airports, else next update will be from the hotel in London!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Farewells

Last week we've been going from Farewell to Dinner to Lunch to Drinks to whatever.. seems like it's been a non stop farewell-a-thon! Had the last (hopefully) big one last night with our friends, and it was lots of fun, so good to finish up on that.

Chami and I had been planning to (well, more Chami than me) do a big do as a combined birthday party and farewell on Sat, but we just never got around to organising it properly... When we did start looking for venues they were asking for $500-1,500 for a private function, so we dropped that idea and just decided to gather at Alberts in North Sydney, which is Chami's normal watering hole.

When Chams Raji and I turned up we saw Chunga sitting by himself having a steak.. then other people slowly started trickling in.. Raz, Shivs and then Nhi, Van and Mach, QT and others.. Some folks like Phonica and Milli and Ed were at Future Music, and Mark D, Marissa etc were at The Wombats gig, so we were missing a few people..

Got a big shock when Melanie turned up with Granny, I didn't know whe was even in the country (bad Mel!).. was definately good to catch up with them and Scotty and Tanya and the others.

The highlight of the night however, was getting to skull a beer with VAN! Didn't think he'd do it but the man soldiered through it. Very impressive. Then Granny got into the spirit and skulled a beer with Quang! I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't see it with my own eyes!

I was getting a bit pickled by about midnight, by which time I had lost count of what I had to drink.. switched between beer, scotch and some sickly sweet shots (QFs?) and I was paying for it..

Most folks were heading off around midnight and things finally wound down, and the usual suspects were hanging around till about 2:30.. we finally decided to call it a night when we couldn't think of somewhere to go eat that wasn't a maccas. Said our farewells and headed back home to have the leftover Thai take-away from earlier in the night.. :) All class, we are!

Woke up surprisingly clear headed (the food was good) and headed home to do packing and other important stuff!

So that was the last big gathering in Sydney. Next one is on next Friday in London! Can't wait!

BTW pictures should be up on Chami's picasa site soon.

Monday, March 3, 2008

DD No More

After 2 and a bit years at DD, Friday the 29th was my last day. It finished in a bit of a whimper really, because most of the company was leaving for DD Away in Coolum, Queensland. We had some mini farewell lunches on Tuesday (Mark was up) and then had a big night out to celebrate the SCOM project finally finishing. Ben, Chad and myself finished up early(ish), but Iain, Alex and Nick went hard.. they had finished at least 3 litres of beer by 10pm!

Anyways, Friday was pretty quiet... Had my exit interview with Janice from HR (I had lots of nice things to say) and explained that I'm leaving coz I'm going to the UK and stuff like that. Anyways, I was actually quite busy till 4:45 doing docco and making sure all the systems were ok before leaving.. don't want people blaming me for stuff breaking... :)

Had a couple of beers after work with Alison and Nick at Harts.. then headed to North Sydney for drinks with Chami's work friends.. Then headed home for some dinner and got into bed early (was quite tanked at this stage).

We were out on Sunday night having dinner at the Crazy Doctor's house. We were doing our best to annoy the other folks by reminding them that we didn't have to go to work on Monday! Slept in till about 9am today.

Feels good to be a bum. For now anyway. Being broke prolly isn't that good.