Welcome to the online diary of the “London Ziegs,” as they journal their experiences relocating from the balmy climes of sunny Orlando, Florida to the more chaotically cosmopolitan environment of London, UK!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Driven to Distraction

I am now determinedly pursuing my UK driving license. I've been reading The Highway Code, studying a testing CD, and making a concerted effort to "get it right" when I'm motoring along the country roads. Driving in the UK does not come easily to me. US driving didn't come easily to me, either. I had to retake the maneuverability portion of the test after hours of practice one gray Sunday afternoon in the high school parking lot. Even as an adult, I still keep my hands at two and ten and get sweaty palms when driving in high-traffic areas. And I am not looking forward to taking the test again as an adult.

So taking my bloated American mini-van on narrow roads with cars parked on both sides and compact vehicles careening toward me takes a bit of courage to begin with, a sat-nav for moral support during, and a cup of tea or a glass of Chardonnay at the journey's end. But I'm getting better. I now stay on the correct side of the road all the time. The children can now talk while I drive. I still don't always talk back. I may turn the radio on during a journey sometime soon.

But I did something remarkable today: I parked the mini-van in my driveway. Let me explain. My driveway is about one foot wider than the van with concrete posts on either side. Cars line both sides of the road in front, so most of the time only one car can pass at a time. And they pass by frequently.

So when I returned from today's journey and could find no easily accessible street parking anywhere on the block, I gritted my teeth and said, "Right. Most Brits would back into a driveway this size -- surely I can do this." So I folded in the left-hand mirror, kept the left side within six inches of the post, and maneuvered my way in. Without being directed by anyone AND without scratching it on the fence posts.

Even my children are proud of me!

Saturday, August 22, 2009


Today we went exploring Cookham, a town north of Maidenhead, thanks to our new interest in geocaching. For those who haven't heard of it, geocaching involves using a GPS device, a sat-nav works well, to find a container that someone has hidden. Usually, there is a log to sign and small items to trade, which adds to the fun of actually finding what you are looking for. If you are interested, you can get started with geocaching.com and find hidden treasures throughout the world.

Since we are novices, we have been staying close to home and trying to combine a geocaching activity with something we were already doing. So today's hike took us past a 17th century inn, a church that's been around since before the Norman Conquest (and a newly-wed couple), a sarsen stone, and one specific telephone pole in order to solve a puzzle that would lead us to a cache that would give us the coordinates for the final cache that was holding the goodies. Well, we solved the puzzle, but we didn't find the cache holding the secret coordinates. Pretty disappointing. Still was a warm, sunny day with my favorite people.

Friday, August 21, 2009

License to Drive

Mark and I are now on our way to being licensed drivers here in the UK -- none too soon, since we have to be fully licensed by the middle of November. We how have our hard-won provisional licenses. Since no one here has known us for more than two years, we had to go to our local DVLA (think DMV) in Oxford to apply in person. Driving in Oxford is not for the faint of heart; a native British friend said that she'd gladly drive in London any day, but even she takes advantage of the park and ride plan in Oxford. She wasn't kidding. We managed to get two tickets within ten minutes of each other for driving in the bus lanes.

Anyway, we are now looking for some good driving lessons (more for me than Mark-- I'm terrible at parallel parking) and studying the highway code to get ready for our theory and hazard perception tests. The theory test is about the same as in the US, except it uses UK laws. However, the hazard perception test is new to me. Basically, you are shown film clips that show a hazard forming, and you have to click a button as soon as you recognize the hazard. I bought a CD to help me prepare for this part, but I still need to install it on the computer. I'll have to do that this evening.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

We'll always have Paris

Last week, we took the Eurostar under the Chunnel to meet my folks for a few days in Paris. (I also took the opportunity to meet some remote co-workers at the Amazon.fr office.) We had a wonderful time, and finally managed to edit most of the footage down to the following four segments:

Bus Tour

One thing that's worth doing in any big city is hopping onto one of those open-top buses and getting a quick introduction to what all's available, where things are in relation to each other, and what looks interesting enough to merit a closer visit on foot. The following is set to the credits score from the Bourne trilogy, which featured many a high-speed chase through the streets of Paris:

Be Our Guest

This is kind of a parody of all the pictures (and slides...endless slides!) that my Dad used to bring home from my parents' trips to Europe, in which my Mom nearly always happened to be snacking on some local delicacy. Since Paris is synonymous with grossfine cuisine, it seemed appropiate to document some of the highlights as we chewed our way across the capital:

Eiffel Tower

Well, you can hardly come to town and not visit this emblematic icon. Although we walked by and under it enroute to other stops, we didn't go up the elevator until our final morning in the city, before dragging our luggage back to the Gare du Nord. Note that, while it is fairly straightforward going up the tower, there are two elevators coming back down; the one we took terminates about halfway down, leaving you to navigate the stairs for the rest!


We allocated one full day to exploring the famous musée of Paris, dutifully stopping to verify all the plot twists in Dan Brown's factually-challenged bestseller:

Of course, there is so much more to be said about Paris, and France and Europe in general, but that'll have to wait for another time :-)

A Poke in the Eye

My parents arranged to meet a few of their college buddies from Capital over in Europe for a reunion tour, so got to spend a few days with us at the beginning and end of the trip. One thing we got to do was finally take a ride up into that big wheeley-thing that decorates the Thames pier:

aka "Football"

Christopher has always been the more sports-minded of our kids, and adapted to England quickly enough by joining both his school's soccerfootball team, as well as their cricket club! These are a few short snaps from his first official game:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lyme Regis

DailyMotion allows me to use my original audio track, but the video quality is rather poor, even with "HQ" enabled:

Conversely, YouTube forced me to change the audiotrack (still processing, as the current version is silent), but clearly provides the best video quality:

I suppose that if this is the worst I have to complain about, I should count myself pretty fortunate :-)

YouTube Hrmm

It took some time to upload the second and much-longer video from our Easter vacation to YouTube, and when it finally was posted, I was startled to see that YouTube had automatically deleted the audio track. At Laura's request, I had set this episode to Yes' "Roundabout," a fitting pun on the dozens of roadside roundabouts we circled while driving through the English countryside. However, apparently Google has a spankin' new algorithm which actually listens for, and recognizes, popular tunes which may appear in your video, and refuses to play them until you can demonstrate copyright holder approval.

A similar warning had come up when I uploaded Stonehenge, but with a fairly light restriction that still allows the movie to be played in America, Britain, and a lengthy list of other net-centric nations. Even so, I assumed the detection was made against metadata, as I had not only titled the post to match the song, but had even listed "Spinal Tap" as a keyword. However, in the second vid, I hadn't mentioned group, album or track (although it's possible QuickTime .mov files retain some of the MP3 metadata, which I was lapse in not purging).

Anyway, the long and short of it is that I'm heeding the recommendation of this post to simply switch to an alternate video host for potentially litigious clips. Annoying, and in my mind, counter-productive, because frankly some of these 60's- and 70's-era bands could use a little modern publicity!


The kids got two weeks off from school for the Easter holidays, and we decided that we'd been "playing it safe" (keeping close to Maidenhead and it's immediate rail-accessible environs) long enough, so decided to strike out into the verdant verge for a 4day camping trip along England's "Jurassic Coast", down around Lyme Regis on the southern Atlantic coastline.

There are a lot of interesting points to visit between Berkshire and Dorset, but one that had long topped our hitlist was Stonehenge. A lot of the locals here shrug, "but it's just a bunch of rocks," typically to go on about how Avebury is both larger and less commercialized, if you go in for that sort of thing.

But that's not it at all. Stonehenge is more than a pile of rocks: it's a center of myth, legend, and folklore dating to before the time of wallpaper screensavers and forwarded emails with 3MB attachments showing precariously perched kittens and dancing babies. It's the primordial lodestone, a keynode of ley lines whose ferric poles pull at our cultural consciousness. Not to even get started about Seekers, Aspirants, Ovates, and your new-agey Hierophants!

"And their legacy remains...hewn, into the living rock of Stonehenge."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hello! Goodbye.

Tuesday I interviewed for a teacher assisting position at Chris's school and got it! It is the perfect way to learn the local school system and school culture. I'll be working in a year four classroom just down the hallway from Chris. So, after Easter I'll be saying hello to lots of new people.

Unfortunately, I have to say good-bye to Narcoossee Community School a bit more permanently than before. Originally, I had taken a leave of absence from the school, but that leave is now nearing expiration and I need to let them know if I am returning or not. Since I'm not going to commute across an ocean, I guess I have to say that I am not coming back. Sounds like a door closing with resounding finality.