Saturday, April 2, 2011

We Have Arrived

After an uneventful flight during which I managed to get a few hours of decent sleep, thanks to the fully reclining beds in Virgin Atlantic's Upper Class (a luxury I'm trying not to get too accustomed to), we landed at Heathrow at 6:30 am Thursday morning, half an hour early. After breezing through immigration, collecting our sizable pile of luggage, and zipping through customs with Nothing to Declare (except "We Have Arrived!"), we made our way to the Virgin Revivals Lounge, where we confirmed our car service, had breakfast, and freshened up in their lovely restrooms.  I even had time for a quick (and free!) manicure before our drivers arrived to take us to our temporary digs in Wimbledon.  If only airline travel was always like that!

Since there are no private vehicles in the UK that could accommodate all our luggage, they arranged two cars for us.  We put the bulk of our bags and Josh's bike in the back of a Volvo station wagon, and then stuffed the remainder in the trunk of a Mercedes sedan and climbed into the back seat.  Although Wimbledon is less than 20 miles from Heathrow, it took us about an hour and a half to get there in rush-hour traffic.  Some poor soul was waiting outside the apartment complex when we arrived, and had probably been standing there for at least half an hour, since we called just as we were leaving the airport to say we would be there in 45 minutes.  He gave us our keys and a quick tour of the apartment, which is located right in the heart of Wimbledon.  We'll be staying in this furnished apartment for our first month here while we wait for our belongings to be shipped from the US and for our rental house to become available on May 3.   Here's a quick tour:

The apartment is on the 5th (and top) floor of a complex called Cascades Court.  You enter into a large vestibule that has 8 doors leading off of it (including the front door).  On either side of the entrance are two closets, one of which houses the water heater.  To the left is the kitchen, which has a refrigerator, freezer, oven, gas stove, microwave, and washer/dryer (one machine), but no dishwasher:
The kitchen
Next is the smaller of the two bedrooms, which has a lovely view of the train tracks (as does the kitchen):
We're so close to the train station that our apartment overlooks the tracks
Directly across from the front door is a bathroom with a tub and handheld shower:
 And to the right of that is the master bedroom, with an ensuite bathroom containing a stall shower:
Master bedroom
Master bath
To the right of the master suite are double doors leading to the living/dining room, which has a small balcony overlooking the courtyard of the apartment complex.
living/dining room
Looking down from the balcony

Looking southeast from the balcony
Looking east from the balcony (at a parking garage)
The apartment is great, except for a few small points.
  • The queen bed is in the smaller bedroom overlooking the train tracks
  • The mirrors in both bathrooms are so high I can only see the top of my forehead
  • The water pressure in the shower is sadly lacking
  • When trains go by, you can FEEL them as well as hear them
  • While there is WiFi, there is no desk, so we are limited to the small round table or the sofa
We called the maintenance number soon after we arrived and asked if they could send someone over to switch the beds, so the queen bed was in the master bedroom and the two twin beds were in the smaller bedroom overlooking the train tracks.  They said they'd send someone the next day to take care of it.

Of course, most of these small complaints are easily outweighed by the extremely convenient location, and the fact that apart from the trains, it is otherwise pretty quiet here.  (Although as I'm typing this, the silence is interrupted by frequent cheers from people watching the India vs Sri Lanka World Cup Cricket final.)  There are several supermarkets within walking distance, including one only 2 blocks away where we stocked up on groceries Thursday morning.  Josh spent the afternoon assembling his bike and unpacking while I succumbed to sleep and took a lengthy nap.  In the evening we walked to a Wagamama for some Japanese food, and then I unpacked my bags and we debated over which bedroom to sleep in.  We decided to take our chances with the train noise on the queen bed.  We didn't have any trouble falling asleep -- nor did we have trouble waking up in the morning, thanks to all the commuter trains.

We were out all day yesterday running errands on foot, although I don't think we ever strayed more than half a mile from the apartment.  We went to the letting agents office first to sign the lease for the house on Florence Road.  That took a while, as we had to initial every single page, and in some cases, every single line item, of an 18-page document -- in addition to signing it in 3 places.  Then we stopped at NatWest to check on the status of Josh's bank account -- which now exists, but we can't withdraw funds until he gets his bank card next week.  Since we needed some cash, we found a Thomas Cook and exchanged all the dollars we had in our wallets for pounds.

Then we spent a considerable amount of time and legwork (literally walking all over town) trying to determine how to set myself up with a UK cell phone, which was complicated by the fact that we had no bank account or UK credit cards.  I could write an entire blog post just about that ordeal, but I'll spare you the details.  Suffice it to say we found a temporary solution that will tide me over until we get everything sorted out.  We also poked around a few shops in search of a waffle iron and a decent multifunction printer -- both of which will have to wait until we have a way to pay for them that won't cost us a hefty foreign transaction fee. When we were completely exhausted, we stopped at the supermarket to pick up some stuff for dinner and some more basic necessities (foil, paper towels, laundry detergent), and headed back to the apartment.

We got back at 5:30 and discovered that the maintenance people never showed up to switch the beds.  I called to find out what the deal was, and the guy who answered was very apologetic, but had no explanation as to why it didn't happen.  Since everyone had gone home for the day, the best he could do was promise to send a couple people over first thing Monday morning.  Josh decided he didn't want to wait that long, so we set about doing it ourselves.  Fortunately, they were pretty cheap, lightweight beds, and Josh had a few basic tools for assembling his bike that came in handy.  It only took about an hour.  Then we fixed ourselves some dinner, watched a little TV, and slept peacefully in the much quieter master bedroom.

I'm still trying to shake this cold, and my ears have been plugged up since we landed at Heathrow, so I decided to take it easy today and get the blog up and running.  Meanwhile, Josh set out on his bike to find a decent route to Clapham Junction.  His plan is to commute to the train station by bike and then take the express train to Farnborough.  If the weather is crappy, or he's just not feeling up to it, he can also take a local train from Wimbledon station, right next door.  Either option will take roughly an hour, since the train from Clapham is direct with no stops, whereas the train from Wimbledon stops at every station in between.

Now that I've finally caught up with the present, it's time to scare up some dinner so we can try to catch a 9:30 movie at the multiplex down the street.  We should be sending out an email soon with all our new contact info -- I'd rather not post it on the blog.  Ta ta for now!


  1. While we're glad to hear you're settling in well, this business of "wow, we really like it here" disturbs me somewhat. Don't get any wacky ideas about staying after your 3 year stint is up, K? We miss you!

  2. I love that they've got two twin beds in the master bedroom. That's so 50s sitcom! I hope you find a waffle iron soon, so you can at least have one holdover of your regular DC life. Let me know if there's anything you can't find there and I'll have it shipped to exchange for more UK Mini Eggs!


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