Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekend 0 and Week 1 - get around and have some fun!

Ok, I was postponing the second post for last few days and I'm sorry to all of you, who were waiting for it…but now, when I'm finally done with somewhat critical work for Week 2, I can relax and write about some fun from Week 1 (anyways Week 2 was quite boring, if one doesn't count the snow "problem" on Friday, but let's start where the first post stopped).

As I wrote, I the very first night here I slept in the Westwood's Bed & Breakfast. Well, indeed I slept just in the <Bed> part of it, and then in the morning, I got the <Breakfast> part. Those full-English breakfasts are always nice openings of the day, especially if the radio in the meantime plays songs from bands like Black Sabbath or Cream. I do not thing that this nice lady, who runs this place together with her husband, are/were big fans of rock music, which would have to be the case in Czech, I guess it was rather just the thing that this is a typical music for a typical British radio. Well, probably it wouldn't be so bad staying in England for a while :-). We'll see.

After this beautiful kick-off to the day 2, I went to Zeeman building and told the secretary for grad-students at the maths department I'm here. Then it was just boring administration, the only thing that I remember now is that at some point, I had to go the University house to pick up my universal card, that can unlock the building, unlock the office, give an access to the sport center, pay for a lunch if it is charged, provide a teleportation to the moon, give an access to a party on Friday if you have a birthday, and many other things I haven't figured out yet :-). But the thing is, if you want to enter the University house, then, no matter whether it is in office hours or not, you *need* to use your card, otherwise the doors will not open. Ok, that is probably a part of some bigger culture thing here. For example, if you want to open a bank account in England, you need to have an address in UK. Of course, they would not send me letters to Prague, I understand. But this cannot be an address in your office, it *has to* be a residential address (I'm not sure how the rule is exactly stated, but an address of an office cannot be used). But, most likely, if you want to rent a room/flat/house, you need to pay some deposit, and maybe also the first rent, and, you can guess what, typically you should send the money from *your* personal bank account in UK. I've heard about various strategies how to cope with this egg vs. hen problem, I was actually really lucky in my case, as you will read later. Anyways, I got in together with somebody else, found the right lady, got a card from her, the first problem of the day was solved.

I guess I haven't mentioned yet, but actually I have one friend, who's also at Warwick, and was in UK even the day before, but unfortunately he lives a bit far from the campus (around 45mins by train). So I was in touch also with him and he said, although I can't stay at his place, he can lend me a key from his office at Warwick together with a sleeping bag (well, I actually had a one with me, so that was not necessary), and I could sleep in the office if I want. I was not thinking for more than a minute, that's definitely something I want to post on the blog, something like from the second day at Warwick, even before the actual term began, I started living in an office ;-). The grad students office I'm in is, at least virtually, full of students (there are 20 occupied desks in total, although, at least so far, I haven't seen here more than 10 people at the same time). Nevertheless, it was a bit safer to sleep in his office rather than in the postgrad-pool I'm part of. Actually I'm not sure what would be the reaction of an English gentleman who are in charge of the university / math department, when he learns that this new east-European grad student is sleeping in an office (so let's cross the fingers and hope none of the gentlemen follows this blog :-) ). Well, for the case - it was just for one night, sir!

For the weekend, I was actually in touch also with another friend of mine, Matt, who I met in Montreal during the summer. He actually moved to Warwick from Montreal in October, and he bought a flat in Coventry, and he has a guest room in the flat, and he said he wouldn't mind if I stay for a couple of days, but he's out of the town for Friday. However, on Saturday he was back, so I spent Saturday and Sunday at his place. I have to say it was a really great time, thank you, Matt, once again, because besides the room and bed and everything, Matt also made a dinner on both days, and despite of all the rumors / legends / stories about English cuisine (Matt is originally from England), the food was simply excellent! Oh, by the way, the very first thing that I saw in a TV here (and also the very first thing that Matt's new TV displayed) was
Rimmer shouting "Gazpacho Soup" in Me² (if you haven't spend your childhood watching a TV series Red Dwarf, don't try to find some hidden secret meaning in this; in the case you did, here is one picture from the airport for you :-) ). Ok, for some time, I really wouldn't (and so far I don't) mind staying in England :-).
An ad from Birmingham Airport
From Matt's place I was checking offers of spare rooms around Coventry on the web. It is probably worth to say that Warwick's university is a bit out of the city (which is, based on the stories about the life in Coventry downtown, quite fortunate thing). There were a couple of choices, and, furthermore, in February two other friends of mine are coming to Warwick as post-docs, so there is also an option of renting a flat/house together. But for all of those, it would be probably good to have done the bank account set-up (and also the first scholarship from Warwick might be useful). But actually Dan told me about this young researcher, Agelos, who also moved to Warwick last fall, who rented a whole house in Kenilworth, a town about 5km from the university, and has a free room there. At that point, it was unclear what's gonna be the status of the room at the end of the month, but it was definitely free for, roughly, next two weeks. So it could be actually WIN-WIN situation for both; he'll sublet the room for the beginning of the month, and after 2 weeks I could move out. But I'll have a place to stay (hence also an UK address) at least for the beginning. So I can open the account, get the scholarship, go and see some flats, and so on. We arranged a meeting on Monday afternoon at the department and then we both agreed that I can move in from Wednesday and stay (at least) these next two weeks. If you would allow me now to do a jump to Week 2, I'd tell you that at the end I'll stay at Agelos' place permanently, but let's keep something for the next post :-).
 Back to the first weekend. In the meantime I was also exploring the web pages of clubs and societies at Warwick. There are really a lot of them! First of all, it turned out, not surprisingly, that quite a lot of people here are playing 5-a-side / futsal (outdoor / indoor version of  "small" soccer, eh, football). Indeed, there is a 5-a-side sport club for such a people. I got in touch with them, and this was a bit surprising to me, turned out they are quite short of goalkeepers! Okey, so if I won't become a big combinatorist,  I can try to make my career here in football :-). From Monday, I started my infiltrating mission and already on Tuesday I went to play with people from Warwick's futsal team, who is also playing against teams from the other universities. They have another goalkeeper (btw really good one, young, quick, guess he's an undergrad; have to say I was almost feeling like a retiree when we were playing :-) ), but being a second goalkeeper at the team, that's also not bad :-). After the game, one of the guys said that their 5-a-side team is looking for any players that could come to play, at least sometimes, and a goalkeeper is definitely welcomed. There is some league in 5-a-side at Warwick; basically you and your friends make a team and play against other such teams, that's exactly what I'm looking for. My first match in their team was on Friday night. Cool! There are also bunch of other societies I got interested in, e.g., a hiking group Warwick Mountains, Warwick Student Cinema with a screening almost every day, Warwick Improvised Theatre Society, and so on. Maybe I shouldn't forget I'm here mainly to do some research and not just have fun! :-D

On Monday night I was supposed to meet Terka and finally get a key from Dan's place that works. It took me some time to find the place, but I managed at the end, and I got the key, Terka also invited me for a dinner, we discussed positives and negatives of living here and around 11pm, I went to Dan's place. I'd love to write here something like "the key didn't work, the doors disappeared, the whole room switched on the auto-destruction mode", but (un)fortunately, everything worked out this time :-). On Tuesday night, Dan was supposed to arrive, and since, though it was not the original plan, I had both of his keys and furthermore, he brought me my second bag, so I was supposed to meet him at the airport around 10pm. On the way from the office to the train station in Canley, where I haven't been before, I asked one girl on the way if I'm not going wrong. Ok, that wouldn't be interesting if she wouldn't ask me where I am originally from and to my proud answer "Czech Republic" replied "Ahoj, já jsom ze Slovenska" (something like "hey, I'm from Slovakia"). She was just walking from the campus home to Coventry, which means, that (not only) Czech guys are much more picky about Coventry downtown than tough Slovak girls! :-) Anyways, I met Dan at the airport, we went back to the campus, the key to Dan's flat haven't expired, and then, I got my Christmas / welcome to Warwick / whatever gift from him; a picture is better than 1000 words, so… check this out!

My desk at Warwick - Thanks, Dan! :-)
On Thursday, Terka said I can borrow her bike until I'll bring mine / move from Kenliworth somewhere closer to the campus. I was very happy about that, especially because I've heard there is a nice biking route between the university and Kenilworth. Well, there is, actually a really nice one, but probably it was not the best idea to leave the university and start looking for it at 11pm :-). Well, I checked the way online, shouldn't be so hard, should it? It's just in an unknown town, to the place where I moved in at yesterday's night by a car, on an unknown and actually quite small bike (a kind of that old-school BMX bike, where the knees hit the teeth during the ride :) ), where the breaks are not really breaking (AND WTF, THEY ARE SWAPPED?! The rear one is actually on the LEFT side)… so tell me, what can go wrong?
Well, basically everything :-). First, though the bike has a front light, it wasn't really designed for night biking let's say. Especially not inside the forest at the campus, so if I arrived after 5 minutes of biking in the forest back to the math department, I realized that, most likely, it won't be as easy as I thought. Ok, let's check the STT - Seagal Team' Toolbox. One quite good flashlight, a tape and a swiss knife => a MacGyver' style upgrade in 3 minutes :-). Ok, now I'm going through the forest in the right way, but, where is actually the beginning of the biking route? I was biking around the campus for a while, but, without any success. Get back to the reality, it's super-naive to think I'll find at midnight :-). Ok, I'll take the main road to get to the town and then let's see what next. Another thing is that I smartly kept any kind of gloves at home and, though the winter here is much warmer than the ones I'm used to from Czech, it's still a winter. But, already from the high school times I remember an advise of Lieutenant Dan (and, more importantly, from Viták III. alias citrónek - my metal twin from the class), always have an extra pair of socks with you! Most likely they both haven't meant it as gloves, but, it actually works pretty good. Okey, I really do hope nobody saw that strange night-rider on a super-small bike, with an ad-hoc taped flashlight on the handlebar and with socks on his hands going down the main road between Coventry and Kenilworth. If one would, I guess he/she would decide to stop the car and go the rest of the journey by foot :-D. Anyways, I got home around half past midnight I think.

On Friday morning, I could use also a daylight for finding that route. It was, who would guess that, quite easy job, up to a tiny detail that google maps are suggesting that the best way how to get to the route is turning right on the bridge. That's right, like 10m downstairs, there is the right path! But that was just a tiny issue (if you don't count 10 signs like "BIKES ARE NOT ALLOWED HERE" on the way), I figured out where is the other end of the route, I got to the university, spent the whole day there, then went to play 5-a-side at 8pm, and, after that, I went to this <interesting event> I got a free ticket for from the student union…

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Let's czech the campus!

I was thinking a bit if I should reborn this idea of having a blog, where I'll write about fun I'm gonna experience in England. I still remember how I stopped updating my "trip-diary" from my first visit of US after two weeks, because of… well, let's say lack of time :-). On the other hand, it's a new year, it's also a new country, almost like starting a new life, so it is worth to give it another chance. Ok, if you are reading this, then you probably already got what the result is (so why the hell, Jan, are you bothering everybody with this paragraph?!). But the truth is, that my final decision was made because of what happened today and that's the thing I was trying to say here… in a bit complicated way, which is indeed not atypical for me :-). Anyways, sit down and stay tuned!

I'm probably not gonna describe the beginning of the day with too much details, because it was just a normal and boring morning with one trip to Havel (that's the new name of Prague's airport, it might be somewhat related with the name of our previous president) - thanks a lot Urbi for a ride! So, then there was a flight to Dusseldorf, after that there was a sleeping-break for more than four hours at the airport, then there was a flight to Birmingham, after that there…oh, there was a nice french girl from Lyon next to me on the second flight; she's studying now at the University of Birmingham and helped me in Birmingham to get to the train station with the airport shuttle - thanks Claire! …anyways, after that there was a train to Coventry, then I took a taxi that took me in front of the Arden - a place at Warwick's campus well known to all the taxi drivers here - and, finally, a short walk to the flat. Btw, next to Arden there were three or four geodesists, so I thought they are perfect targets for a question like "where is the north". However, they were probably more surprised by my question than me by their answer "we have no idea". On the other hand, they gave me a full map of the campus (I had just a printed map with few streets around Arden), which turned out to be much more important than I thought at that point. They also recognized one big road on the map, so after that I knew exactly where to go (and also where the north is :-) ). Oh, I should probably mention that my (original) plan was that the first days in UK I will stay in a flat of Dan, my Czenglish advisor. Since Dan is arriving on 8th, he lent me the key when we met in Prague. Ok, finally we are getting to the punchline of the story - the key he gave me was able to unlock the front door of the house, but, unfortunately, it was not able to unlock the door to the flat (Dan is using another one, that can do both). Welcome party started right at the beginning! Let's switch to a live broadcast for the next paragraph ;-).

Shit! Dan just confirms by the phone that he probably never tried that key; he believed it works the same as the other one. Both Terka and Lukáš, other students of Dan, are still in Czech. As well as Dan. But the math building (called Zeeman) is opened until 5pm or 6pm, don't know exactly (since this is my very first day at Warwick, I do not have a card to open it after that point). But Dan said that until 5pm it is opened for sure, and it's just 4:30 right now. Ok, armed with the campus map, a swiss knife, Seagal Team' Saracstic Button and a flashlight, there is no chance to fail! Just hope that my eduroam wireless account from Prague is still valid (since my student status there was suspended two days ago). Dan sent me also numbers to two other people from here, but both of them are originally from somewhere else than UK, so most likely they are still out of the country. Maybe, maybe not, but both numbers are switched off. The map is really handy and after not more than 10 mins, I'm in the Zeeman Building. And, internet works. And, Dan also sent me a name of some bed & breakfast place next to the campus. And, my cell just switches off… But, switching it on fortunately works, so I'm calling to the Westwood Cottage Bed & Breakfast (btw, Westwood, that reminds me my childhood). And yes, they have a free room tonight, although the voice in the phone sounded quite surprised that somebody is calling at 5pm and asking for a bed for tonight. I'm not gonna sleep under the bridge tonight! :-) Since I'm saved, I could relax a bit and buy some chips with something to drink in the vending machines here. I'm fighting with the machines a bit (e.g. one of them just took four of my twenty-pennies, turned them to one ten-pennies coin, and said thanks for using it), I'm buying two sacks of chips (well, I wanted just one, but, those buggy machines…), one can of coke, two bags of grass, seventy-five pellets of mescaline, … oh, sorry, that's another story :-). Anyways, time to move (and switch off live broadcasting mode).

I left my quite big suitcase behind the front door of the house with Dan's flat (one more person lives there, she's probably also out of the campus for today, and I left there a message like "Dan's luggage, it will be removed tonight or tomorrow morning"). So, I had to backtrack to Dan's flat and then go to the place. So far, one can say I had more luck than I deserved, and since in the meantime it got dark outside, it turned out I forgot how to get back. I was going back and forth for like 20 minutes, but then finally I found the right way and walked back. Although I lost some of my luck, still quite a big amount of it remained with me. I have to say that the weather here was really great today (and tonight); quite warm and no rain at all. Ok, there was a small space for improvements (e.g. I was too optimistic with the sunglasses in the morning :-D ), but still, really great weather. On the way, I was thinking like "I would kill for having my bike here today and not bringing it in February" (actually, that reminds me that I forgot to try to kill someone in Czech before I left the country, which is kind of unfortunate ). Anyways, my suitcase was there and then I went off to the Westwood Cottage. I met some Indian-looking guy with a big van on the way. He asked me "where are you going?", so I said something like "Bed & Breakfast place near the campus, it's close to here". He replied "Arden house?" (which was like 25 meters in front of me) so I said "no, but that's ok, I know the way". He replied "I'm going this way", pointed to a big road, and continued "So Arden house?"… We chatted in this way for like three more minutes and then most likely we both thought about each other something like "this guy uses a different language than me" and said good bye to each other :-). At least that meant the same in both of the languages ;-).

So, and that's about it for the first day. Now I'm in the Westwood place, in a nice small room, looking forward to some fun coming tomorrow. Hope it will be at least as exciting as today! Ok, just a half of it would be fine as well ;-).