March 1, 2016

Hotel Hopscotch

Ugh.

After arriving in Birmingham, several wonderful days of travel, and a tearful goodbye, we sent my mom on her way to the train station early on Monday morning. She had to get to London in order to catch her flight back home. Alone.

I was an absolute mess, as was to be expected. To be completely honest, I'm choking up while writing about it six months later. It didn't help that, instead of going inside a cozy home after bidding her farewell, what we had to look forward to was:
- packing up our suitcases
- checking out of our current hotel (The Prince Hotel)
- paying a taxi to take us to our new hotel (The Paragon - next to Highgate Park)
- checking into the hotel (which is always easier in your native country)
- settling into said hotel for the next week (until we moved to another transitory residence)
Again, I was an absolute mess.

This new hotel was on the absolute wrong side of town, despite being located right next to a lovely park. Guys, it was super sketchy.

Our first hotel was not exactly five-star material: it was super far away from city centre, forcing us to take a taxi or the bus to get anywhere (that gets expensive quickly); the walls of the bathtub were so tall that I could barely get in the shower let alone get out of it; the warm water was scalding hot and there were two water faucets in the sink (I've learned to get used to this bizarre English bathroom quirk); the walls were so thin that I felt like an intruder on another couple's hanky-panky time and felt the urge to shower the gross off me. But they had a very nice staff and delicious nectarines at breakfast, so I was pleased overall.

Our second hotel... oy. It would suffice to say that we made sure we were back in our hotel room before sunset for fear of robbery or physical harm, but that just takes the fun of reminiscing out of it!

The whole experience of "living" at The Paragon reminded us of our days in our ghetto duplex on NW 23rd & Villa in Oklahoma City oh so many years ago. Ah, the memories (that's a whole blog post that I'm working on... there are so many stories to tell!). This experience wasn't much better, and it was in a foreign country. Wahoo! What fun!

"YOU SON OF A BLOKE!"

I kid you not, that was one of the first (and one of the nicest) things we heard shouted outside our hotel room window. This random woman was having it out with someone on the phone at the playground for a good twenty minutes... riiiiight next to where we were sleeping. How comforting.

We heard what sounded like gun shots right outside the hotel. Or a car backfiring multiple times. On multiple occasions. Either way, it was extremely loud and scared the tar out of us.
The shower curtain smelled like pee.
The towels smelled like Chinese food.
The mattress was so thin that we could feel the individual springs.
The pillows were practically nonexistent, as was the duvet that barely covered the top of the bed when we were in it.
Yet again, two faucets in the sink. Why??
The wifi was cuh-rap.
The bus stop was a few blocks away, forcing us to walk by incredible amounts of rubbish and rather precarious-looking abandoned buildings.
The bus fare costs £4.40 per individual, or £8.00 for a family day-saver. Cash only, and you get no change back so you should probably pay in exact change. We had to pay this every time we went into city centre; I opted to stay in the safety of our hotel room a couple of times to save money.
We had to eat practically every meal without the ability to cook or refrigerate.  Eating out is crazy expensive here, so we had to do what we could to survive. Quite a lot of bagels, Nutella, and various fruits were consumed. We had the occasional Meal Deal sandwich for dinner because it was hot and only £1.00 per meal... and I was not going to do Pot Noodle again.




We had to wash our clothes by hand in the tub and dry them in the windows and on our travel clothesline - enter the smell of must into our jeans that I am still fighting during these dark, cold, and soggy English winter days. I would put some of the clothes on the backs of the chairs and put those in front of the radiator to help the process. That being said, we accidentally left the radiator on (through no real fault of our own - the electricity turned off when you took the key out of the door, so we assumed that would turn off as well); when we got back, the room was scorching! The maids who came in to clean had cracked open the window... poor things. Haha!

But the room was large, the windows were large, and we had cable television. And my mom paid for the room, for which we are still so grateful.













At just the right time of evening, the sun came into the room and reflected off the mirror right into Patrick's face while he was sitting on the bed. He came up with a rather genius solution... and it cracked me up!

A new journal for a new journey.

Time to wash clothes!

I love hand-washing clothes in really old bathtubs.

Proof. Two faucets. No sense.

One of the perks of living out of a hotel is the television. We watched tons of American movies (go figure), fantastic WWII documentaries, and the newest episode of one of our favorite British tv shows - Doc Martin!

Local artwork. It's more charming in the photograph than in real life.



An example of the app we got to try to figure out the bus system and how to get into city centre. It's a bit of a mess if you've never had to rely on public transit before.


Our nearest bus stop. How lovely.

The trek into city centre was quite long, so we decided to do a time-lapsed video to show our journey.




After living in The Paragon for a week, our intended-roommates (with whom we currently reside) gave us a heads-up about a place to stay. They had a sweet friend Kathi who had an available room because her roommate was gone for the time being; they had stayed in the room but would be moving into our current apartment at the same time that we needed a new place to stay (because we were not staying any longer at that hotel than we needed to). We were able to move into the room for about a week as our last interim residence before settling into our long-term flat. 

Holy moly, what a difference! We're still so grateful that we were able to get back into city centre (a really nice part of city centre, by the way) and into a place where we could actually cook a meal. I kid you not, heating up a can of soup was never so pleasing!


A pedestrian bridge over the canal right by the interim apartment. It is oddly beautiful.

Waiting to get into the apartment building with all of our possessions.

SMILE - you're not in the ghetto anymore!

A blurry picture of the fantastic room we got to stay in for the week. We were in heaven!

A little bit of joy on a plate - fresh fruit, dark chocolate, and Welsh cakes with a cuppa.

Time to watch the last season of Downton Abbey - before our American friends!

By the time we left this apartment for our long-term flat, we had acquired some more items: pillows, a duvet, linens, a clothes-drying rack, and a slow cooker... just to name a few. And we had to carry it all by hand to our new flat. Soooo we took a few trips. Oy.








Getting into our new room during the daylight hours proved to be a bit of a task as its previous resident was still moving out (you can't blame us for not wasting any time, and we had to be out of the previous apartment because Kathi's roommate came back). But you know what? It all ended well.

And I've never been so excited to unpack my suitcase in my entire life. We had (unexpectedly) been living out of our carry-on suitcases for three weeks. No thanks. Give me closets and washing machines, pronto!


The entire contents of our suitcases.

Annnnnd they're out of the space bags! Wahoo!

Doing laundry in these new-to-us, tiny washing machines and hang-drying all of our clothes took some getting used to. It's amazing how much sunshine helps in this process, but that's not always available here. It rarely shines in the winter months, and there's even less light for us as it's mostly blocked by the rest of our apartment building. Currently, if the sun isn't hidden by clouds, we get exactly 3 hours of sunshine streaming into our bedroom from 9:45am-12:45pm (roughly). I take what I can get!


When you live in a flat in England, you do what you can to dry your clothes in the sun... like put the drying rack on the bed.

The learning curve is steep when you move abroad and change everything that you do. I have since learned how to move my drying rack without it collapsing into a pile of metal and wet clothing - hallelujah!



I took the liberty of buying a candle and this print of Anne Hathaway's cottage (you can read about our trips there by clicking here) in order to make it feel a bit more like home. It's all in the details.


The view out our bedroom window.

Eventually, we both settled into our new flat and our new city. It took quite a bit of time, for me especially, but I like to think that we've adjusted rather well, all things considered. I honestly believe that the transition wouldn't have been quite so rough if we had a place to call home sooner. Playing hotel hopscotch for three weeks was not my ideal living situation in the least, but now it's just a story that we get to tell for years to come.

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