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A day of firsts (plus a bit more about cars)

Saturday was again spent on the run, and it was certainly a day of several firsts.

I had my first full-day experience of using public transportation in suburban London. The atlas provided to me by the relocation agency keeps proving invaluable, plus I printed out several potential itineraries from the London Tube website (it is pretty handy – you can figure out your route pretty much anywhere in Greater London, using all possible modes of public transport). I did miss my bus stop once and lost my bearings one other time, but overall it was pretty uneventful.

Weird observation: Every train I had to take was delayed by a few minutes. I have not noticed much of that during the workweek. It almost feels as if they are late on purpose…

On a positive note, the weekly travelcard I bought last Sunday (which allows unlimited travel within zones 2,3 and 4) was perfectly sufficient for everywhere I went to today. It costs £18.60. Monday through Friday, 2 train rides (costing £2.30 each) and 2 DLR rides (costing £1 each), come to £33. Today, I had 4 train hops (did not bother to check how much each was) and 3 bus rides (costing £1 each). And the card is valid all day tomorrow. At least £50 overall, I think. Not a bad deal…

I’ll start buying monthly in November. At £70.40, it is not very meaningful savings over buying a weekly each week, but definitely more convenient.

It should be noted, though, that adding zone 1 (which is where Central London is) to the ticket almost doubles the cost. We’ll see whether it makes any sense, depending on how often we”ll go to the city and how much we’ll spend there.

I had my first experience riding on the top deck of a double-decker bus. Of course, we”ve ridden hop-on/hop-off tourist double-deckers in many places, but it is quite different when there is no narration. It turned out to be pretty cool just to sit in front and look at changing landscapes from the additional height.

I had my first experience of visiting an all-girls school. Blackheath High is reputedly the best educational institution in area (it also happens to be an independent school that costs tons of money). They had an open house for prospective next-year students, and I went along. It is a small school, with great facilities and really good teachers (or so it seemed – I honestly cannot discern how much of that was for show). Becky is already scheduled for an exam there, and if she is accepted, I think it will be very hard for us not to send her there, no matter the money.

Funny thing. I walk into the reception room, say literally one word, “Hello”, and a woman extends her hand to me and says, “You must be Mr.Burlak”. There must have been 20 other males around. The woman turned out to be the admissions secretary, whom I spoke to on the phone the week before. She knew I was coming. Could she recognize me by the single word I said? I doubt that. Every other father was with a wife and a daughter in tow – could she, being familiar with our situation, within a second make a logical conclusion that a guy by himself could only be me? Possibly. The other theory that comes to mind is that my look and demeanor is so obviously American that it gives me away. I have to think whether it is something that I need to work on – blending in…

Afterwards, it was all cars again.

I went to the Vokswagen dealership and was advised that there is a serious dearth of automatic-transmission cars; there may be a couple of them coming in in a week or so. Given how much time I have already invested into this search, it is unlikely that I’ll sit and wait for such possibility.

Along the way, I stopped at a Fiat dealership, which was never in my plans due to mental association with Жигули. There was a single automatic car, a very smallish Punto, that I decided to test-drive – it was not too bad – and briefly considered on the account of its cheap price. But there is a limit to how small I can tolerate: In order for Kimmy to have place for her feet in the back seat, I would have to kiss my knees all the time. Not that I can actually physically perform the feat…

The OCD guy at Citroen did not follow up on his offer to come to my office during the week, but I let it pass and came back for a test-drive myself. Citroen 307 immediately vaulted to the top of my list. It is a very modern car, with many technological advances being put to work, and drives very nicely. I am looking at an almost-new model, with less than 1500 miles on it, and the price – while still unreasonable in absolute terms – is fairly reasonable compared to everything else.

The last one I went to for a test-drive, Vauxhall Astra, is the only other choice, I guess. It is a fairly comfortable drive, nothing to be excited about, but the almost-new automatic cars of this make are discounted so much that it is irresponsible not to consider it, for purely financial reasons. If they approve me for financing (Vauxhall is the only place where the sales guy warned me that I may need 3 years of credit history in order to be approved), it could be a difficult decision whether to go for something a bit more exciting or for something somewhat cheaper.

The cars I looked at last week are now in arrears. If you recall from this, only Mersedes and Renault were really in the running. The quote on Audi came in much higher than what I wanted to pay, and Peugeot’s quote I was unsure about from the beginning. Renault, while as impressive as Citroen, now appears more expensive. Mercedes is obviously the most expensive of the bunch. Despite the fact that I am learning quite quickly not to convert pounds into dollars for every purchase, I can’t help realizing that I will be paying roughly $600 a month for a car smaller than Civic. Hence, the cheaper the better.

If you are not yet tired of this stuff, stay tuned.