Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Simple Pleasures - our first few months in London

During our year in Indonesia, there were many times when we noticed the lack of modern conveniences we took for granted back home, and we really developed an appreciation for how good, and quite frankly how easy life is in the US. With our move to London, we've been reunited with a lot of those modern conveniences, and oh how sweet it is!

Seriously. When you're used to crazy traffic, regular flooding, and a general lack of everything from home, it's such a relief to be back in a modern, Western society. But, we've noticed it was the simple things we missed the most. For example:

Sidewalks & Crosswalks
Oh sweet sidewalks. They're everywhere. Walking around a city has never been so easy. As detailed in our blog post here, walking in Jakarta was an adventure. Here in London, not so much. London is definitely a walking city, and we have been out & about taking advantage of it all. The only thing we really have to worry about here are the throngs of people who share in our love of said walking.
A typical day strolling though London
Not to be outdone by the sidewalks are the crosswalks. No longer do we play real life frogger when crossing the street. Oh no, we simply wait at the corner, and (allegedly) let out little shrieks of joy when we see this guy:

Not only that, London crosswalks go a step further to look out for your safety by idiot-proofing them:

Yep, the crosswalks actually tell you direction from which traffic will come. Brilliant!

Traffic Signals Being Obeyed
Driving in Jakarta typically looks something like this:
Red light? Nah, that's just a suggestion.
Any traffic signals or signs are generally ignored. Here in London, it's back to the rule of law. The few times when we are in a car (or more often a bus), things tend to flow in an organized way. Who knew those green light/red light things actually worked?!

(speaking of buses) Yaaay public transportation!
Buses, subways (The Tube!), overground, underground, oyster cards...so many options! So many ways to get home! All the things!

We love the public transportation system here. It's been perfect for us. We live a 2 minute walk from two tube stations and a couple bus stops. It's just so convenient. Here's Gloria's take on the tube: people like to moan about the tube but it's the most reliable form of transport I've ever experienced. I know exactly what time I need to leave my apt to get to work at any given time. If there are closures, I get an email about what's going to be shut down, and if a line is shut down there's an alternate bus route - which actually is a pain in the butt, but you're never without direction and the right place to go.

Plus, we've now experienced the Paris metro system and we can say with direct experience that Tube is much friendlier. With frequent reminders to "mind the gap", wifi at the stations, and the fact that the doors on the tube trains don't close with a force intended to chop off a limb (I may or may not have been caught in a closing door in Paris), the London tube is vastly superior to the Paris metro. Also, the Tube doesn't smell like pee...(ah hem, mon cher Paris)

So there you go. London public transportation FTW!

Queues (lines for those of you in the US)
I don't think I ever thought I'd say I was happy to wait in line. But after experiencing "queues" in SE Asia (which are really just crowds of people all trying to push through a door at once), it's refreshing to wait in line without having little old Asian women pushing in front of us.
Ok everyone, time to crowd around in a mass frenzy! Good job.
Food & Groceries
Much like in the US, if there is a type of food we want, we can find it here. Our local supermarket even has an "American" aisle.
Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, Jif...bringing American obesity to Europe one step at a time!
It's amazing. We're even able to get all our Thanksgiving goodies. In the past few days I've bought a turkey, stuffing, cranberries, pumpkin pie....all for only 3x the price back home. That's the one downside of London. Everything is mad expensive. But, that comes with the territory. Besides, look at all this food! It's here! RIGHT HERE! Every day I can have good coffee, breakfast cereals, pastries, AND crappy American snacks. Living the dream!

The one notable exception to the crazy prices is alcohol. It's sooooo nice to have a wide selection of booze at it's ACTUAL price - not quadruple like we're used to paying in Indonesia & Singapore. Seriously. We can get bottles of wine for less than $30 again.
£5 wine - It's so good when it hits your lips!
Also, PORK Products! ALL OVER THE TOWN - with apologies to our halal or kosher friends, pork is awesome. And now we have it again! Roasted ham, sausages, ribs, bacon...wait, scratch that last one. British bacon is some kind of freaky, thin sliced pan fried pork abomination. We'll delve into that another time, but for now, I'll just say this:
Not Bacon
And for those who require a little more info:

So there you have it. Despite the obvious bacon SNAFU, we love it here in London. We're extremely happy to be reunited with the conveniences of modern life, and after only a couple months, London already feels like home.
The London night bus - just like the Shooters bus in Durham

Friday, November 15, 2013

The more things change...

As I hinted at in my previous post, the past couple months have brought some pretty big changes in our lives. Most significantly, we moved from Jakarta, Indonesia to London, United Kingdom. We exchanged hot, smoky Jakarta, for foggy old England. But, there was one twist: although Gloria and I left Jakarta on the same day, we did not arrive in London together. You see, while Gloria's went straight to London to start work, I had to go back to the US to get my UK visa approved. So I headed back to Philly to submit my visa paperwork. The good thing is that it gave me a chance to catch up with Gloria's side of the family, and I got to see our nephew Alex and give him his belated birthday present.
Lego & block!
I was also able to take the opportunity to head home to Michigan to see my family. As luck would have it, my visit coincided with Gloria's parents' trip to visit my parents, so I would be able to see everyone at the same time. Perfect! (yes, our parents get along so well they plan trips just to visit each other...how great is that?!)

So, after taking care of everything in Philly, I headed off to Michigan for some Helminski family time.
First time I'd seen my parents in a year
And since this is my family, the first item on our agenda was drinking a few beverages out on my parents' deck.
A reason to live indeed...
Lucy was ready and waiting to chase the tennis ball
Immediately getting spoiled by Mom's food
My original plan was to spend most of my time in MI at my parents house, with a couple nights at my brother's place to hang out with him, Tammy, and their boys, then head over to Detroit for the Lions game (my anniversary gift from my AMAZING wife), and finally head up to our cabin for some time with nature. But, as with most plans, things didn't quite work out. You see, my brother & his wife have two little boys: 3 year old Dominic and (almost 2 year old) Ryan. The boys decided that the week of my visit was the perfect time to get sick. So instead of spending time at my parents' house, I got to take care of sick little boys.  It wasn't too bad though. For the most part they were good, and Ryan got to revel in the joys of not wearing pants all day (pardon the vertical video - I'm ashamed of myself).

As you can see I took my Uncle duties VERY seriously. For the uninitiated, here are a few of the key things you must do when taking care of young children:
Make sure they wear adult shoes on the wrong feet
Teach them to copy your goofy faces
If they want to play on stairs alone, go for it! Just take pictures (through the cat door if possible)
No shirt? No pants? Must be dinner time.
Post bath time = put on your brother's pajamas
Uncle duty? Nailed it.

Alright, enough kid stuff. Time to make the most of my anniversary gift from Gloria and go see the Lions play the Vikings in their season opener. Yep, my wife got me tickets to an NFL game for our 1st anniversary. Best. Wife. Ever. True story.
With my buddies Todd & Rich tailgating pre-game
Our view as the Lions beat down the Vikings. Woo hoo!
The trip to Detroit was great because in addition to the Lions game, I had a chance to catch up with some of my buddies I haven't seen in years. Always a good time.

Then it was back to Muskegon for a quick visit with my parents and Gloria's parents before they headed off on their road trip to the UP,
Morning coffee in the Helminski house
and then after picking up my sister Liz at the airport, it was up to the cabin. Ah yes, the cabin. Our rustic family sanctuary in the woods. Basically we head up there to eat, drink, play games, laugh, share stories... just good family time.
Why yes, that is a lens flare over the old outhouse. 
A proper meal at the cabin: steaks grilled over the fire.
Lucy in her happy place.
My Dad, also know as Dzia Dzia (that's Polish for Grandpa), pushing the boys in the wheelbarrow. 
If you're not playing in the dirt, you're not doing it right
This is like looking at a mirror image separated by 60 years. Ryan is pretty much my Dad's shadow
Ryan's trademark pouty lip 
And the flip side, when he's having fun
It's not a proper trip to the cabin without the old red, white, & blue
The spoils of the seafood boil. A ridiculous meal
In the end, it was a pretty typical trip to the cabin. Lots of eating, drinking, laughing, etc. Oh wait, there was that one thing we haven't seen in a good long while. Cardboard box sledding! First up, Liz:

As you can see, we pretty much just hop on a box and cruise on the down the hill. We've been doing this since, well, since my Dad was a kid. The simple things... Anyway, here comes the Moms!

Yep, that's our Moms sledding down the hill, giggling like schoolgirls. So much fun.

After the cabin trip, my time back home came to and end, and it was time to head across the pond to my wife and our new home in London.
Mother nature greeted me with a beautiful sunrise from the plane
With that, the next chapter began. Stay tuned for more tales from jolly old England....