Summer Days in London

When the weather heats up in London, everything breaks.

Literally everything. England is not here for extreme weather be that snow or sun. They function their absolute best in cloudy, rainy weather. This I learned this past weekend when a simple plan of wedding shopping and sight-seeing turned into the longest days of my life.

Wedding Shopping

As you know, our walimah is coming up in August. With all the big stuff done, we really only have a few bits and bobs left to sort out. One of those being hijabs for the girls, including me. The mission of the day was to find scarves for everyone that matches our dress. Ivory for me and a taupe-ish color for the girls.

Everything started out great. My sister in laws and I had breakfast at the my favorite cafe and then headed to Whitechapel in London to start shopping.

If you’ve never been to London, I’ll warn you now… they don’t believe in air conditioning. Very few places have air conditioning and if they do, it’s not the cold air I’ve grown to love in the U.S. it’s more of light breeze that’s still slightly warm. The underground where Londoners do 90% of their traveling has no air conditioning. So by the time we made it to Whitechapel, I was already hot and sweaty. But it was just so exciting for the weather to finally be sunny and getting the last things for the wedding, that I wasn’t too upset. But after hours of walking around in the heat, I could absolutely care less about what people were wearing or if it matched.

We took a quick break to visit some family that lived in the area and then headed home. This was when trouble begin. We arrived at Waterloo to get on the last train to go home, only to find out ALL the trains in ALL directions were either canceled or delayed. So, in a station that is already one of the busiest in London was even more packed with angry, hot travelers. To sum up we waited around three hours to finally get going. It was also confirmed that this was the hottest day of the year so far.

The London Eye

As a wedding gift, my hubby and I were given a hop-on and hop-off cruise voucher. This voucher allowed us to travel along the Thames River and get on and off as many times as we liked for the day to visit some of London’s biggest tourist attractions.

We decided to go a couple days after the wedding shopping fiasco as the weather was still super nice. Thankfully all the trains were working and we arrived at the London Eye with no problem. We get in line, super excited as I’ve been dying to do this since I got to the UK. The line is literally a mile long but moving quickly. We even got some ice-cream while we waiting. (Fun fact: a soft serve cone is called a Mr. Whippy and they serve it with a chocolate wafer stick)

Ice cream with chocolate flake – a taste of summer

We get up the ramp to the London Eye, I can literally count the people ahead of us until it’s our turn… and the ride stops. So, we wait and wait and wait. Eventually, workers start evacuating everyone and say they are issuing refunds for people who would like their money back as the ride is now shut down. Apparently, due to the heat something caused something to expand and blah blah blah, a very technical answer was given, all I understood was because the sun is shining the ride is broken. Naturally mobs of people started heading towards the ticket office for their refund.

We decided to get something to eat and then head back to the London Eye since that is also a cruise point we could get on our cruise at. After lunch we came back and JOY everything is working. We were allowed to go through the fast track line and are on the London Eye in no time. It was definitely worth the wait. I would highly recommend everyone who visits London take a ride. On our cruise we also stopped at London Tower and London Bridge.

We’re now back to cloudier weather but it’s still warm at least… I wonder what other adventures the summer will bring.

Learning a New Language in the UK.

I didn’t think moving to England would require learning a second language, but it does. Although both England and the US are English speaking countries, there is a HUGE difference in our day to day language. Also similar to the US, depending on where in England you are people speak with different accents.

All of this has definitely made for some interesting conversations.  Here’s a list of the biggest word mix-ups I’ve heard so far!

Mate – Friend

Flats – Apartments

Carpark – Parking lot

Chips – Fries

Crisps – Chips

Toilet – Bathroom

Autumn – Fall

Biscuits – Cookies

Lift – Elevator

Lorry – Bus/Trucks

Mobile – Cell phone

Sweets – Candy

These are just a few. I’m sure I’ll hear many more.

Living in England.

I’ve been in the UK for a little under a month now and I think I’m finally getting adjusted to things here. I didn’t think going from the United States to the UK would be so different but they’re different worlds. This is what I’ve experienced so far.

  • People will greet you with “Are you alright?” ( I’m still not really sure how to answer that.)
  • London reminds me very much of New York. Busy streets filled with traffic going every which way, tons of stores and places to eat, and tons of people.
  • Drivers sit on the right side of the car and roundabouts are everywhere. People tell me it’s to help the traffic keep following. I’m not convinced, I feel like we’re just chancing our lives every turn we take on there.
  • The British are HUGE tea drinkers, but you can find coffee shops nearly everywhere. There are three different ones in walking distance from our apartment. (Apartments are also called flats here.)
  • If you ask for soy milk in your latte, they will often correct you and call it soya.
  • Walking is the easiest mode of transportation. Finding a parking spot is like hitting the lottery.
  • Portion sizes are much smaller here as compared to the US. This combined with the all the walking, I may be in the best shape of my life.
  • London is also very diverse, which I found very surprising. Just walking down, the street you will hear loads of different languages being spoken.
  • There are tiny switches on EVERY outlet. You turn the switch on when you want to plug something in there and turn it off when you’re done. Which makes me think we may be wasting a lot of energy in the US.
  • England is naturally beautiful. This little gem of island is filled with so much history and gorgeous scenery, you’ll want to take pictures everywhere you go.

Our Spouse Visa Story

I’ve been wanting to craft the perfect way to describe our experience with the spouse visa for a while now. I think the idea of wanting it to be perfect and writing it in the most effective way has hindered me from writing this post at all. In all actuality this experience was one of the hardest I’ve ever done in my life and I have yet to write something so personal on this blog. But here it goes, imperfections and all. It was super helpful and comforting for me to read the stories of other people who were going through the same thing, so I hope that this can be that source of comfort for someone else.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, or in any position to give legal advice. I am simply sharing our story.

The Beginning

To backtrack just a little let me start by explaining the love of my life is a British citizen, living in the UK and I was from Cleveland, Ohio. We decided to start our new marriage and life living in England. As young people just trying to survive and muddle our way through this thing called life, we were very uneducated about the whole process of moving countries and everything that it entailed. In our first attempt, I packed up my entire life in two suitcases and flew to London. No visa, return ticket, or money. Do NOT do this. I was promptly refused entry into the U.K. and had to return to the United States after spending 8 hours being detained. This was the lowest point of my life. I had left everything in the United States, my apartment, job, I had given away virtually all of my furniture. Thankfully, I had left my job in good terms and my boss allowed me to come back to work. I was able to return to my apartment and my mom helped me get all of my things back.

My then fiancé and I racked our brains trying to figure out what we should do next. Our next attempt was a visitor’s visa, that would allow me to visit the U.K. Our thinking was that we could get married while I was on the visitor’s visa and then apply for me to stay in the U.K. Also, do NOT do this. Our visitor’s visa was refused. As it turns out, you cannot marry in the U.K. on a visitor’s visa. This visa is namely for people who intend to just visit the U.K for a short period. You need to submit things like, what you plan to do while visiting, bank statements or something of the sort proving you can support yourself while visiting, also you must show some sort of proof that you intend to return to your home country. We had only provided some of these evidences, again we were very uneducated about this process. Do not be like us.

Devastation hit again. For those who don’t know, being in a long-distance relationship is hard enough on its own. So, to add on the extra stresses of being denied entry on two occasions now, was even more stressful for us. We finally resolved to speak with a lawyer. I met with a lawyer in my city and left feeling worse than before I went in. The lawyer advised that I would most likely never be able to enter the U.K. because of the two different refusals I had. I remember feeling hopeless.  It’s lucky my husband is a much stronger hearted person than I am, he never gave up hope and assured me that we would find a way no matter what.

It’s funny how things work out. We ended up changing gears completely and married in the United States. I’m so happy that we did, the closest people to me were able to attend and it was the most magical day of my life. After the wedding, my husband and I decided that he would meet with a lawyer in the U.K. to get a realistic look on what our chances were for me to be there with him before we started the process for my husband to move to U.S.

The UK Spousal Visa

My husband met with a lawyer, or solicitor if you’re a Brit. She assured us that each application is looked at on its own merit. That as long as we provided all the necessary documentation, we should have no problem obtaining a Spousal Visa for me. So, after much deliberation we decided to give it a go.

We started pulling together all the necessary documentation in January. We needed things like bank statements, an agreement from the landlord, a housing evaluation, pay stubs and letter from my husband’s employer, our marriage license and wedding photos as well as photos showing that we’d actually met in person. By April we had all the documentation and funds we needed to process our application. After submitting the application with the help of our lawyer, all that was left was for me was to attend what is called a biometric appointment. All you do here is have your fingerprints taken, passport sized photo is taken and a list of your weight, height and things of that nature. I remember thinking after I left the appointment, that we had made it. That the hardest part was over. I was wrong.

About ten days later we received an email from the UK Home Office that our application was currently being processed, that it would take 12 weeks to process and we would receive an email once a decision had been made. Keep in mind that the 12 weeks only takes into account business days and excludes weekends and holidays. So, 12 weeks is really 16 weeks.

The Wait Begins

These 16 weeks were the hardest weeks in my entire life. They were much more stressful than the months we spent gathering all the evidence. I think it’s the feeling of being left totally in the dark. There is no way to track your application, no way to see what stage it’s at and no way of knowing what’s going on with it. I mean even when I order pizza from Papa John’s I can see when my pizza goes from baking to boxing to when it’s on its way to my house. This was not the case with our visa.

Every morning I would wake up and check my email to see if a decision had been made. It was agony. You send off your application with the hopes that it would be approved, but then you’re left waiting. Every day you wonder if an officer would make a decision on your application today. Maybe today would be the day the rest of your life would be decided. I spent my days going crazy wondering if everything was okay with our application, wondering if our evidence was good enough or if we made an error on one of forms.

Finally, after 16 long weeks we received an email that a decision had been made on our application. As if the process isn’t hard enough, when you finally get an email saying a decision has been made, the email doesn’t say whether or not your application has been accepted or not. What happens is that, the UK Home Office mails your application and supporting evidence back to you and if your application has been accepted, your passport will now contain a shiny new vignette sticker stating your entry clearance into the UK.

The Decision Finally Arrives

When my documents finally arrived, I opened it with my husband on Facetime to find a letter stating that our visa application had been successful. After all of our attempts, all of our hard work and weeks of waiting. I was finally on my way to starting our new life in the UK.