Our time at Harvard has come to an end. After a rocky start I ended up really enjoying our time in Cambridge. A few features stick out: the extreme seasons, the battleaxe local women elbowing each other out the way in the supermarket, the general shabbiness of the whole place, the hundreds of international wives of students and scholars with nothing to do, my sub-2hr half-marathon, and of course, the three times the city was completely closed down in those two years (hurricane Sandy, snowpocalypse, and marathon manhunt).
But now we’ve arrived in California. I have no doubt that the West Coast will have a range of equally interesting quirks to get used to. The freeways, for example: they have to be experienced to be believed, but that’s a story for another day.
Moving thousands of miles requires a list, and this was ours:
We have to:
1. pack up our apartment
2. say goodbye to everyone
3. apply for new visas
4. fly to London to have an interview for said visas
5. get at least one car
6. find somewhere to live (preferably to buy – so add to the list ‘buy a house’)
7. I have to get a job
The only good thing about this list is that we’ve done most of it once already – a mere two years ago – and that time we were moving from Australia and had to add to the list things like getting a US bank account, US cell phones, social security numbers, not to mention making friends and making sense of a new country, all with absolutely zero assistance, and often outright hindrance, from others.
As of today we’ve done the first four things on the list.
Packing up the apartment was relatively easy, because all we had to do was supervise the movers who came and did everything. This was completely luxury.
The three men (Jay, Mike and Mike) tore through our apartment packing all our stuff into boxes. The air was full of the sound of tape being unwound and wrapped around things, and the rustling of paper being scrunched up. The whole process took about four hours from start to finish. One slight problem – they forgot to take my bike in the basement… oh well, a lucky spouse got to take that away for free.
Saying goodbye to people was much harder of course. We had a work farewell dinner and afternoon tea for my husband, which included an amazing cake by chef Ben and a gift from my husband’s boss. Our French friends outdid themselves with a lobster dinner. My good friend from the Museum took us to ‘her’ restaurant for a spectacular evening where we were treated like royalty. My friends from the spouse group wished us well through the traditional means of Facebook. Our neighbours downstairs had us for dinner and then kindly took all the food from our fridge so I didn’t have to chuck it out. And our little group of Cambridge Aussies consumed many beers.
The most painful part of anything to do with the US is always the visa. Even doing the application form, which has all your details still in it from last time, took us an hour. Each.
One wrinkle in the process was the expiry date of my husband’s passport – 18 months away. Would they put a two-year visa in his passport? There was no information on the web, and no-one was confident of the answer. We tried to renew the passport twice but the photo kept being rejected, then we ran out of time.
We had our visa interview in London, so we could combine it with a visit to my parents on the south coast. For London I booked a ‘cheap’ hotel half a mile from the embassy – the Park Mews (my review was mixed). This was also walking distance (sort of) to the location of the Sherlock’s flat in the BBC series (actually at 187 N Gower St) so we went for a look at that too…
I’ll outline the full visa process in another post, but needless to say we got our visas – and the full two years in both. We were so happy about this, until we arrived at LAX, at 5am body-clock time, to be told by the nice immigration man that the stamp in both our passports can only be until the expiry date of my husband’s passport. Trying to keep a pleasant demeanor at this point was a challenge.
Car, house, job
Getting a car: We have a rental for a month, so there’s less urgency to solve this than you would think.
In terms of finding a place to live, we had a small headstart on this thanks to a house-hunting trip here before we left Boston. We talked to the local credit union, we found ourselves an agent (Noushine from Coldwell Banker in Pasadena), and set ourselves up with a mailbox. We also joined the Huntington Gardens on the recommendation of several people and spent a pleasant afternoon there.
So when we arrived earlier this week, jetlagged and strangely hungry, our agent took us around many, many places. We saw about four that were ok but each had different problems (renovations required, dodgy selling agents, too small, next to a freeway). We’ll keep looking.
Finally, getting a job for me is so far down the list, it’s not even funny.
So meanwhile I’m holed up in a hotel in Burbank, doing a minimum of four trips a day on the freeway, and itching to explore every corner of LA. I’m really excited to be living in a place that is so famous and where people actually want to visit (hint – it’s warm all year round!), I love that there are Jacaranda trees and jasmine bushes everywhere, and I love that the San Gabriel mountain range dominates the skyline. I look forward to exploring the area over the next few years.