Having to go into the lab once or twice each day on the weekend to take care of precious cells really puts a damper on any travel plans. We have a mental list of places to visit, and fortunately some of those places are right here in Oxford. Unfortunately, lab schedules never really cooperate with recreational plans, so we can’t really even block off solid hours during the day to check stuff out yet. As a compromise, we have decided to at least take one short trip per weekend to explore a new neighborhood (we want to move our of our flat). As a bonus, we have managed to couple these trips with additional errands as well.
One of the major differences we initially had to adjust to was grocery stores. All of the stores around us are quite small, and expensive. We are fortunate to have three different chains within 1.0 mile, but unfortunate in that we usually need to go to all three just to get our week’s worth of groceries. One problem is selection, and the other is price. The prices really get me actually, because something I would recognize as costing $5 in the USA, is £5 here. That would be fine if we were getting paid the NIH minimum postdoctoral salary in pounds – but this is not the case. As a result of the exchange rate (£1=$1.6), we spend a lot of money on groceries.
I have been keeping track of all money in and out during our time here, and have plotted our weekly grocery expenses above. “Groceries” aren’t limited to only food items, they include trips to the pharmacy, booze store etc. The really high weeks are when I decided we needed liters of Bombay Sapphire and Makers Mark to go with our 6 bottles of wine or when we needed to stock up essential toiletry items – basic startup costs. As you can see, the trendline indicates that our spending is decreasing, and hopefully it continues to do so.
There are a few large chains of grocery stores here (one owned by Walmart even) but the Sainsbury’s just North in Kidlington is the most convenient to get to by bus, so last weekend we decided to check it out. Yes our big weekend plans consisted of checking out a big grocery store. Well, I’m glad we did. This is what I would consider a “proper supermarket”, equivalent in size and selection to most US grocery stores. We even managed to buy everything we needed except aubergine. I don’t think the words here have done justice to how happy I was to discover this store. Thinking about it again actually, our shopping experiences here in Oxford probably aren’t unlike what they are like in any big city. There are “local” versions of stores, but they are small and expensive. It takes a trip out to the outskirts of the city in order to find the bigger stores. One life lesson learned.
This weekend for our big trip, we decided to venture into Headington and check out the Homebase store. Homebase is the UK equivalent of Home Depot that was -oddly enough- started by Sainsbury’s a number of years ago. Of course the store we visited wasn’t quite as big as any Home Depot I have been in, but it was nice to know there is a store with tools etc. It was also nice to know that we didn’t buy a house here to work on. The prices of DIY work here in the UK seems prohibitively high.
While at Homebase we picked up a really basic tool kit that should hopefully cover any sort of work we would need to do as renters, nothing like what we did before. In fact, I already used it to give my bike some new cables and a tune-up. Now that we have a go-to big grocery store, and have some tools at our disposal, we certainly feel more at home in this strange land.