Highgate Cemetery

Yesterday was a gorgeous sunny Sunday, so my friend Kaite came over and we decided to take the bus out to Highgate Cemetery. The bus ride itself was really pretty. It went down all these cute narrow little streets, some of them on MASSIVE hills and all with really lovely houses on them. We passed Crouch End which I’d heard of before but never seen and it’s very quaint. There are all kinds of really neat little shops and cafes and lots of narrow streets. I didn’t get to stop there but I’m definitely going to go back!

Anyway, when we got off the bus, there was this GORGEOUS church across the street.

To get the the cemetery we had to walk through Waterlow Park which was bustling with people enjoying the heat and the sunshine. Along the way we came across this ADORABLE mother duck and her ducklings. She kept walking them up toward the bridge that led to the pond and then turning round and running back down. It was really cute. In fact, I can show you:

There were also cute ducklings swimming and diving:

Anyway, after we finished gushing over ducks, we meandered our way through the rest of the park to the Cemetery. Highgate Cemetery is divided into two parts – the West Cemetery and the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is only accessible though a guided tour so all we saw of it was the lovely entrance:

We spent the next few hours wandering through the East Cemetery. It was incredibly beautiful and incredibly peaceful though also a bit sad. The East Cemetery is still an active cemetery so there are really, really old graves next to pretty recent ones. Also, it’s been mostly left to it’s own devices so nature has taken over and parts of it are overgrown with ivy and things growing over the grave stones. It’s quite organic.

There are some really unique grave stones in Highgate Cemetery. Some that I thought were quite nice like these ones:

and some that left me scratching my head a bit, like this one:

There are also some really famous graves there like Karl Marx

and George Eliot

So anyway, it was a fantastic day with great weather and fabulous company and we ended it as all adventures should end with ice cream and chocolate sauce!

The rest of the pictures can be found here (click on the picture):

I FAIL at regular posting but I’m still here and kicking

Wow. Okay the last time I posted on this blog was in April. Whoops. I’m so sorry for not being more regular with this blog. Life has just been busy and well, that’s not an excuse but I do intend to get better at this. This past week I’ve been working on a back log of posts (with pictures) of various walking tours and traveling I’ve done in the past year. I should be able to start posting them starting next week, so you’ll finally get to read more about what I’ve been up to in the past YEAR.

Yes, that’s right. I’ve officially been in London now for over a year. That seems crazy to me. There are days where is seems like it was just yesterday when I was leaving Victoria to begin this adventure of life. Then there are other days where I feel like I’ve been here forever. A lot has happened in the past year, both good and bad. Some of it stuff I can’t really share in a public forum like this (which is another reason I haven’t been posting) but most of it has been good.

If I tried to write about everything that’s happened this year, this post would be EPICALLY long and could, quite possibly, break the internet, but I’ll try to break it down and give you an idea of some of the things I’ve been up to.

Work

Let’s start with work. As I believe I’ve mentioned here, in September I was hired to teach Year 1 at a small private school here in North London. I was blessed with a lovely class of 6 very sweet 5 and 6 year olds. My class consisted of 5 girls and 1 boy and my days with them were an absolute delight. They were an intelligent lot and I had a lot of fun finding new ways to challenge them. Sadly, though my class was lovely, and the teaching itself was fine, the school was not. There were problems at the school most of them stemming from poor management by the head and owner of the school. Resources were scarce and I spent a lot of time scrambling to find basic materials (like glue sticks for example) to make my lessons work. The positive of this is that I got very creative. The negative is that it made things more stressful. Added stress came from unhappy staff because the head did not treat any of us well and the turn over at this place is huge (for students as well as staff). Ultimately, by the third term, I decided that I couldn’t stay on another yet. I would complete this school year for the sake of the children but the rest of it was just too much and I would not return in Septmeber. So after April break I handed in my notice for next school year (I was required by my contract to give a full terms notice).

Since then, I’ve found myself in a bit of a nightmarish situation because my boss seems to think that by giving my notice I’ve terminated the contract and therefore she doesn’t need to pay me the remaining portions of my TWELVE MONTH contract. Yes, I’m fighting it. So far I’ve made very little progress and I’m incredibly frustrated. I’ve been out of school for 2 weeks now and unfortunately they haven’t been as restful as they could be because of the financial worries/stress I’ve had over this situation. I should be able to get through the summer with what I have provided I’m extremely careful with spending, but that means that I have been trying not to go out much so that I’m not spending too much money on transit. It’s limiting and it’s sad because I had really, really wanted to travel this summer.

Still that crazy situation aside, i’m enjoying myself. I’ve been on loads of interviews for next year and I’m waiting to hear back from a few thing. My agency is really good and I’m not worried about not finding something for next year. If all else fails I know I can supply teach and get lots of work. I have a friend here who did supply all of last year and she only didn’t have work when she didn’t want to have work. So I know that come September I’ll be fine.

Wow, okay I said way more about work than I’d thought I would! Moving on.

Travel

Even though I’m mostly going to be London-bound this summer I’m not feeling that badly about it because a) it’s LONDON and there are lots of things I can do here without spending a lot of money and b) I’ve already been blessed with a lot of travel this year so I really can’t complain.

I’m working on complete write ups of these trips but basically this is some of what I’ve done this year:

In November I spent a week in Germany. First in the Munich area and then in Mainz where my best friend Ali lives with her family.
In December I flew back to North America for Christmas and spent some time in both California and Victoria
In February I spent a week in Kent at a cottage I rented with 4 other friends. We rented a car and did lots of day trips from there to places like Canterbury and Dover.
In March I flew to Ali’s in Germany again for a weekend to attend the baptism of her youngest daughter.
In April I flew to the East Coast US and spent 3 weeks visiting Boston, New York and DC. I even made it up to Niagara Falls overnight to visit a friend.
In addition to these big trips I’ve also done some shorter trips out of London to places like Cambridge, Newcastle and Stratford-upon-Avon, so really I’m not doing too badly. Plus, I do have one trip planned this summer – in August I’m driving to France with Jenn. and Claire (two of my current flatmates) to visit Claire’s family in Southern France.

Living situation and Friends

I’ve been blessed with a multitude of new friends this year. Most of these friends I made in November when I participated in National Novel Writing Month (commonly called NaNo WriMo or just NaNo) and attended a bunch of writing session around London. Since then I’ve gradually gotten to know people better and I have a pretty active social life. Which is a nice change after the almost complete lack of social life I had when I lived in Port Alberni.

For most of this year I lived in a small flat with another girl in North East London. My flatmate was really nice and we got along well and the flat was clean and modern, but it was a bit far out (20 minutes on the bus AFTER getting to the end of a tube line) and I mostly lived in my room, which was very tiny. Then, while I was on vacation in Boston in April, I got an email from some of my friends here (some of the ones I met in November) who had a room opening up in their house and they asked if I wanted to take it. I did.

So, long story short, in Mid-May, I moved. I’m still in North London, but not nearly as far north and I’m much closer to Central London. Plus, the transit links from here are about 3 million times better and I don’t have to pay as much to go into town because I’m not coming from as far out.

Even better than that, I’m living with people who were already my friends and whom have become even better friends since my move. There’s 5 of us here total: Myself, Jenn., Claire, Jimmy and Sarah, plus an adorable ginger cat (Jenn.’s) named Nimbus. It’s a big old Victorian house that isn’t in the best repair because the landlords don’t put work into it, but it’s functional and it’s big and I’m really enjoying living here. My flatmates and I have a lot of things in common, frequently watch stuff together and often eat together. Just last weekend we hosted a pub-style book quiz where about 20 people came!!! Claire and I had written the quiz so we ran it and it was a lot of fun.

So yeah, socially, I’m doing really well and enjoying myself.

I love living in London and I’ve had the pleasure of attending a fair bit of theatre in the past few months (I’ll be posting detailed write ups on some of that soon) and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my friends from other parts of the globe this year as well as they’ve passed through here or as I’ve passed through their cities so that’s been really good too.

Phew. Okay, I think that’s enough for now. I am going to make a better effort to update this blog regularly. In fact, I’m going to try to make this a weekly thing, I do better if I have deadlines! Please, please feel free to poke me if I don’t. I don’t want to leave such a long gap between updates again. I miss those of you who are far away and I think of you often. I hope all is well.

Something A Little Bit Different

I’m travelling in the Eastern US right now and will soon be posting about that trip as well as others that I’ve been on in the past 6 months, but in the meantime, there’s something important I’d like to fill you all in on. I haven’t really mentioned it here, but one of my closest friends, who goes by Rumpelsnorcack online, lives in Christchurch, New Zealand.

For those of you who don’t know, Christchurch was hit by a massive Earthquake on September 4th, 2010 that caused a lot of damage to the city, but thankfully no loss of life. Unfortunately, on February 22nd, 2011 they had a very large aftershock that caused extensive damage and killed over 150 people. It’s not mentioned on the news anymore, but thanks to Rumpelsnorcack I know that things in Christchurch are far from normal – or easy. (Be sure to check out her journal for some first hand accounts of what it’s really like right now).

It’s easy to forget that after the sensationalism of such a disaster, that there are people there – mothers, children, husbands, etc. who have to deal with the ramifications. It’s been overshadowed by the disaster in Japan, and rightly so, but it’s important to remember that Christchurch is still in a National State of Emergency. There are thousands of people who’ve been displaced from their homes – a troubling fact as their winter rapidly approaches. Much of Christchurch’s infrastructure has suffered extensive damage. The sewage system in particular is a complete mess and many people are having to use porta loos and chemical toilets because the system just can’t handle anything right now.

The roads are a mess. Although most of them are drivable, there are diversions and sections blocked off all over the place. Most of the Central Business District – where most of the deaths took place, is still closed which means rebuilding and reopening of businesses is a challenge. In short, the city is suffering and needs help to get back on it’s feet.

I’ve been wanting to do something to help for a while now and today I stumbled across an opportunity to do just that. The owners of the Gerkin tower in London have organized a fundraiser for May 22nd called Step Up For Christchurch. Basically it involves climbing (or running, or taking the lift) up 1037 stairs to the top of the building in an effort to raise money. 100% of the proceeds go directly to the NZ Earthquake Appeal which means the money will be used to help rebuild infrastructure and fund public programs made necessary to help with people resume “normal” life. I’m planning to do it. I’ve already signed up and I’m hoping to raise at least £7000 by doing this.

So that’s where you come in. If you’re at all able to, please visit my official participant page and donate. Any amount will help no matter how small. If you can’t donate (and even if you can) you can help by passing on the information to others whom you think might be able to help. Rumpelsnorcack and her fellow Canterbrians will benefit directly from any help we’re able to give.

Also, if you live in or near London (or don’t but will be visiting then) consider joining up yourself. It only costs £25 to register (all of which goes to the NZ EQ Appeal) and the more people who participate, the more money we can raise to help rebuild this wonderful corner of the world.

Thank you for any help you’re able to give.

*Meek Wave* I’m Alive, Really I Am!

Wow. I just loged in and realized that I haven’t posted anything here since NOVEMBER. Whoops! I’m so sorry about that. There’s plenty going on I just haven’t seemed to have found the time to sit down here and write. So I figured it was high time I did.

Life in London remains good. My day – day life is incredibly busy and my job definitely keeps me on my toes. I enjoy my students and the teaching side of my life is much less stressful than before so that’s a huge blessing.

I’ve been trying to make the most of my time here in London and explore the city as much as possible in my days off without wearing myself out. Museums here are free and plentiful so I’ve been trying to visit them on a regular basis. I’ve found that it’s more effective to go to the same museum for a shorter amount of time on more than one occassion and just focus on one area than it is to try and do it all at once. I’m getting way more out of things that way.

It’s amazing to me how many amazing things are practically right outside my front door here. In the past few months I’ve seen works of art that I’d only ever heard about or seen pictures of in text books, I’ve been to buildings that were built CENTURIES before I was born, I’ve seen relics of history from time periods my brain can barely fathom. It’s incredible really and there are days where I wake up and want to pinch myself just to be sure that it’s real.

One of the greatest benefits of being over here for me is the way the school year works. It’s broken down into three terms, each with a half term break about 6 weeks in and longer break between terms. What that means is that I’m getting a proper break every 5-6 weeks which has made a huge difference in my energy levels and my ability to teach effectively. Since I’m at an independent school, my breaks are even longer so that’s been an added bonus.

I’ve been taking full advantage of these breaks and trying to get some travel in wherever I can. In November, for example, I headed to Munich for a few days, then met up with Ali in Mainz (Which incidentally is the last time I posted in this blog – whoops). In December I went home to North America to celebrate the holidays with my family in both Victoria and California. In February, I spent a week down in Kent, renting a cottage with 4 friends and exploring the southern region of England (including places like Dover and Canterbury). I’ll be posting about those trips in much greater detail in the coming weeks, along with some pictures.

March was a really busy month for me. In addition to spending time with many of the new friends I’ve made here in London in recent months, I also managed to go to THREE plays/Musicals, and take weekend trips to both Cardiff (Wales) and Newcastle (Northern England).

My next adventure begins next week. As of this past Friday, I’m officially on my Easter Break which is nearly a month long (we go back April 27th). On Wednesday morning I leave for my next trip – I’m headed to the Eastern US to visit some cities I’ve always wanted to: Boston, New York, and DC. I’m also going to be doing a side trip up to Niagra Falls to visit a friend so it’s going to be an eventful few weeks. I have a week scheduled for NYC alone and I’m really excited about it because New York is a city I’ve always wanted to visit and it’s one I think I’m really going to love. I got a small taste of it in December when I had flight issues and was stuck there overnight, but a proper week there is going to be amazing. I’m already plotting which musicals I want to try and see while I’m there, and this one: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying staring Daniel Radcliff (from Harry Potter) is at the top of the list!

I’ll be back in the UK on the 22nd so I’ll have another few days to relax in London before I head back to work on the 26th for an inset. Then, we have kids for only two days before a 4 day weekend due to the Royal Wedding. So we won’t be back to “normal” until May 3 which is INSANE to me. I decided to make good use of those random two days and am taking my class on a field trip to the Geffrey Museum.

In other news, the weather here is starting to get nicer – it’s actually quite sunny today and spring is definitely here (as my allergies are being sure to tell me).

So that’s the very abbreviated run down of what I’ve been up to lately. I’m working on getting pictures up so I can report back on my past and upcoming trips so expect to hear a lot more from me from now on!

I love and miss those of you back home and living far away. I hope this message finds you all well.

Happy 0th Birthday Clara

I had planned on making a post today about my last few days which were spent travelling in Munich. But I’m in Mainz now, to visit my close friend Ali, and due to a little thing called childbirth, my plans were slightly derailed.

I’m exhausted right now and about to head to bed, so I’ll have to post proper details tomorrow, but tonight, at 6:53 pm Germany time I witnessed the birth of Clara Imrlind Martin. It was incredible and definitely one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life. Both mother and babe are doing well and recovering in hospital tonight. They’re supposed to be released in the morning so I’ll get to see them again before I leave for my flight back to London tomorrow.

So anyway, more details will come soon on this and my travelling adventures before this. But for now, I just wanted to drop a quick drive by update before I collapse into bed. It’s been a long night.

How to take public transit in London – Bus Edition

Taking transit in London (or indeed any large city) is quite an experience.

Now, I’m no stranger to public transit – I took the bus to school all through high school and my early university years, and I’ve ridden the sky train in Vancouver. In highschool, I went on trips to Toronto and Montreal and experienced what it’s like to ride on an underground subway. I’ve ridden the bus in San Francisco and taken trains throughout Europe. But none of this quite prepared me for the reality that is London’s transportation system.

For starters, it’s MASSIVE. When I first got here, I asked my sister-in-law if there was a guide to all the bus routes that I could get somewhere – or at the very least a map of them (I was thinking along the lines of the bus guides that BC transit publishes in Victoria) and she laughed at me. Why? Because it would be pretty much impossible to get all of the buses and routes onto a map like that. And if they put it in a book it would be the size of a phone book. There are SO many buses here, probably at least 300 different routes – some that go into central London, others that just cover parts of different boroughs (kind of like the different regions of the city – like Gordon Head, or Fernwood in Victoria). Some buses have routes that take nearly 2 hours to complete because they literally go from one part of the city to another (and because traffic in London is no peach!). Basically the bus system here is so vast and complex, that trying to put it on paper would be a full time job in and of itself.

So how do you figure out how to get somewhere? How do you know you’re on the right bus, or where to catch it or when? I learned, not long after arriving here, that bus stops/shelters are your friend. They are filled with helpful information. For example, at every bus stop, there’s a list of the bus numbers that stop there at the top, and a posting of the schedule (although sometimes the schedule for the bus you want isn’t there). The schedules seldom list the exact times the bus will come because if they did that, with the traffic in London, no bus will ever be on time! So some of the smaller buses/routes have specific times, and busses in the early morning and later evening usually have some specific times, but for most buses it says something like “Every 8-12 minutes”. So even if you’ve just missed a bus, you’re usually not having to wait too long (the most popular routes are usually more like 4-6 min or 6-8 min).

Aside from bus time tables, the shelters usually have a map of the immediate area that lists all the routes/buses that pass through that general region (not necessarily that stop). Published under and around the map is a list of popular destinations so you can easily figure out which bus you’d take to get there, and from which stop you’d take it. Every bus stop has a red circle at the top of it with a letter printed on it in white, so there’s a matching red circle and white letter next to the places you can get to from that bus stop – it’s very useful. The stops are also posted on the map so you can figure out how to get to the correct bus stop from where you are (they’re usually within a couple blocks or less). This has helped me get unlost on more than one occasion.

Once you’re on the bus, if you’re lucky enough to get a seat, you might get jostled a bit – the ride tends to be a bit jerky, and it’s not unheard of for the people standing around you to lose their footing and nearly fall on you. If you’re standing (which happens a lot – Londoners who take the bus often have to stand, particularly in the busier times) you definitely want to hold on to something and brace yourself – you’re likely to go flying at least once!!! (I haven’t injured myself yet! Huzzah!)

I’ve noticed, that depending on the time of day, the types of people riding the bus changes. In the middle of the day on weekdays (particularly during breaks) you see lots of mums with young children and older people with their carts doing their shopping and things. The morning brings out the business people, dressed nicely and heading to work – most of them either sit quietly, read a book, listen to music or browse/text on their phone. It’s rare (but not unheard of) in the morning to see people talking on their mobiles on the bus. If you’re bussing slightly later in the morning (ie, closer to 8) you’re going to see lots of kids on the bus – most of them over 11 taking the bus to their schools – they’re kids, so of course they can be rather excited and noisy, but I’ve usually got my ipod on so it doesn’t bother me.

In the afternoon, you start to get rush hour(s) – people coming home from work or school and you see all kinds of people on the bus. This is usually when the buses are the most busy – often there are 2 or 3 mums or dads with buggies and the buses are usually packed. These are the times when you want to get ready to exit the bus at least a stop early because you have to weave through people just to get to the doors – that’s just the way it is!

On weekends, and on most bus routes that connect to tube stations, you’re likely to see a few people with suit cases or other luggage. There are several airports in London that people access either by tube or by train and a big international train station at King Cross/St Pancras so it’s really common for people to travel with luggage.

Most people I’ve encountered on the buses have been quite pleasant. You often find yourself sitting or standing next to a stranger and smiles are exchanged or understanding looks. It’s a big city with close to 8 million people in it, but for the most part, people are pleasant – most of them keep to themselves, go about their business and rush from point a to point b.

Taking the tube or the train is a different experience all together – but one I shall write about another day.

Half Term Week 1 – Bits and Bobs

I’ve had a fairly mellow first week off and it’s been lovely.

I did end up going into the school for a few hours on Monday, and again today to get a few things done, but otherwise I’ve been enjoying the time off.

I’ve had a lie in most days (the british way of saying “Sleeping in”) and, since I’ve been a bit broke until today (payday!!!) I’ve mostly been staying close to home.

Last weekend I decided to explore my neighbourhood a bit more and window shop at some of the lovely shops up the street. I really am lucky – we’ve got everything around here – supermarket, 99p stores, shoe stores, clothing shops, all kinds of restaurants and cafes, banks, travel agents, pubs. It’s really very nice. A few days ago I did go up and get the boots I mentioned in my last post and I’ve been loving them. They keep my feet and legs really warm. I wore a skirt with tights and the boots yesterday and I barely felt the cold at all!

Monday night I decided to try one of the classes at the gym instead of just working out in the gym. So I signed up for “Bums, Tums and Thighs”. OMG! It was an hour long class that had aerobics mixed in with the squats, lunges and situps and by the end not only was I sweating but I was sore. Muscles I never knew I had were aching. It was effective – I definitely noticed some toning after that, but I was achy and sore for 3 days afterward – even now, days later, my thighs are still sore when I stand up or sit down. Needless to say I ended up taking a mini break from the gym after that – I mean on Tuesday I could barely walk!!!

On Wednesday I decided to get out for a bit and explore something new so I took a bus I’d never taken before to the end of the line. It turns out the bus I picked went all the way through East London to London Bridge. Now the London Bridge station is an area I’ve been to before, but on the hour long bus ride I got to see some new areas of the city that I hadn’t seen before. When I ride the bus, particularly a new one, I always sit up top so I can see the streets better – I love the way you can look down at the street below and see far ahead of you.

After I got off at London Bridge, I made my way down to the southbank and walked it a little bit. It was nearing dinner time, so I stopped in at a greek restaurant that’s right on the water and had a delicious greek meal – Chicken Souvlaki (though with a tomatoey sauce that is apparently authentic greek as well as the tzaziki – very good), greek salad and an appetizer of greek flat bread with olive oil and a really delicious blend of spices and nuts that you dip it in.

When dinner was over, I wandered up the southbank, stopping to admire the Globe Theatre (again – I love that place!) and then stopping at the Tate Modern before heading back to the bus stop at London Bridge. I have to say that I think the Southbank is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places in London – I find myself ending up there a lot and I never regret it. (Except maybe that time with Ali when there was a festival going on and it was more crowded than Oxford Circus on Saturday afternoon!)

Yesterday, I took the bus to Iilford (which is actually in Essex – it borders the northern part of London) and met up with one of my coworkers for a lovely Chinese Buffet and movie. We saw “Social Network” which was absolutely fantastic. Even though, I don’t actually use facebook these days I found the movie incredibly interesting. Plus it was well made and well written. But it’s Aaron Sorkin so I’m really not surprised. (He created “The West Wing”).

Today I went in to the school again, mostly to get my paycheck but while I waited I puttered a bit in my classroom. If I can I’ll go in once more before school starts again on the 8th of November, but if not, I’m pretty much good to go.

Since it was payday today, I started looking into holiday options for next week. It’s very last minute now, so sadly any sun vacations are out, but I’ve found some decent prices. The cheapest I’ve found were flights to Germany so I’ve decided I’m going to fly in to either Berlin or Munich and after having some time there, take the train to Mainz to see Ali for a day or so before I fly back out of Frankfurt. Ali’s due on November 4th, so hopefully there will be a new baby for me to fawn over when I get there. Right now I’m trying to decide if I want to try and do BOTH Berlin and Munich (2 nights in each place) or just one and stay a bit longer. I think I’ll sleep on it an make the booking tomorrow morning. But either way, I’ll be off by Monday or Tuesday. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be nice to get away.