Good morning from London! Getting here during covid & Streaming US TV while here

Good Morning from the UK!! (I write this at 3am while suffering jet lag)

After being in Illinois where everyone was vaccinated and masked (and even without the mandate most people neurotically continue to wear a mask indoors or in crowded outdoor areas), arriving in the UK was a bit of a shock. NO ONE here seems to wear a mask. Even in places like Borough Market at noon on a weekend, when the place is cheek to jowl with maskless people … most of whom are there because they won’t eat inside a restaurant, and are kidding themselves that because the market is semi exposed and not heated that means it’s safe… Dear lord people, music concerts and sporting events outdoors can be super spreaders… EEK!!!!

Anyway… After a bit of me going on about how I got here and where I’m staying, this blog post is started out intending to be about streaming American TV while in the UK, and do you need VPN? The answer in short is, probably not, but it depends who you’re signed up with back at home. For that bit, jump to the end….

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I’m loving the night capabilities of my new iPhone’s camera

After 2 years of being locked down in one place yours truly was starting to suffer the beginnings of depression. Just couldn’t do it anymore. So once the covid numbers dropped enough for me to feel the risk was worth it, I bought myself a plane ticket to the UK (like 2 days before flying — in an attempt to find the emptiest flight possible) and got the hell out of dodge.

With regards to the flight, I found if you buy a one way ticket instead of round trip there was no difference in price if I bought it for a flight this week or in a month from now. And the flight was in fact pretty empty. Ironically (or not), United’s business and economy plus zones were almost completely full. Economy basic was also kind of full, but United now charges an extra fee if you want to sit along the window sides rather than the center isle, and THOSE were almost completely empty. SO I bought a window seat in an isle where there was no one in the rows before or behind me, putting a nice buffer between me and most of the other passengers for the eight or so hours it took to get here, and I was able to lie down — go stuff it business class, which would have cost over a thousand dollars more!

I also found a place to stay with in a friend’s spare room. It’s in a truly stellar location, in fact it’s so central that if it were an Airbnb I’d normally avoid it because anyone with such a home is rightfully going to charge you just shy of what the local hotels would — because they can; and their mortgage payments/rent is probably obscene so they sort of have to. (If they didn’t need help meeting their bills they wouldn’t be offering up space in their homes to tourists.) If I’m going to pay THAT much for a place it’s often just a few dollars more for a hotel room. But this time I got lucky and hit up a friend with a spare room who agreed to let me stay for a few months as long as I chipped in for utilities and didn’t eat his food. … Granted those of you who read my page regularly know I normally stay at airbnb’s, because staying with friends for more than a week or so rarely works out, and when I do rent a place I never pay more than 2k a month if I can avoid it. But, because of Covid I needed someplace in London that was SO incredibly walkable that I could avoid rapid transit almost entirely after I arrived — and THAT you can’t find for less than 5.5k on airbnb. If he hadn’t offered I’d have probably ended up at a nearby hotel that rents out full apartments which was just a few bucks more than the airbnb’s I did find in the location I wanted (easy walking distance to the historic city).

That said, the trip from Heathrow Airport into the center of town via taxi is STUPID expensive, don’t do it unless you’ve got like a whole family you can load in  … A few years back I once flew from Tel Aviv to London for LESS than it cost to take the Taxi from Heathrow to where I was staying in north London, which because of highways is a much quicker/cheaper trip than the one into central London I would have had to pay for this time — traffic and infinite traffic lights even in the middle of the night which would have made taking the taxi from Heathrow to here even MORE expensive than the aforementioned flight. At the time I had no choice because the plane arrived really late, like 2am, just after the trains and bus options to Paddington Station had stopped running.

So unless you’re rich, accept that you’ll need to take the train from Heathrow to Paddington. To reduce covid risk I suggest the more expensive direct train, rather than the underground… also it is MUCH easier to get suitcases on and off of that train and there’s way more room to store them, and a significantly lower risk of someone trying to steal your bags… an all around win that makes the extra price worth it.

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View from the living room balcony of my friend’s place
That said I found a really choice location with a friend. It’s in a part of town that ironically I have spent almost NO time at all in during my 57 years of coming to the UK on a fairly regular basis (most of my family that I have any interest in staying in touch with lives in the UK so we came here almost yearly till the late ’70’s and I’ve come often since then — used to say I knew my way around London better than I did Chicago). The building (as you can see from the image above) is just on the Queen’s walk (an almost 4 mile promenade, built in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the runs along the southern bank of the River Thames between the Lambeth and Tower Bridges). It is also directly just across the river from St. Paul’s Cathedral and right across the street from both the re-creation of Shakespeare’s Globe theater and a bank-side pier where the ferries going up and down the Thames all stop.
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Bank-Side pier: Ferries by Uber and Tourist ones with guides stop here
I will write more about these later (once I’ve actually used them) but they’re ferries, that travel up and down the Thames like open air busses…. an ancient highway that during covid has become re-discovered by the city locals as a safer way to commute east to west. Business got so good that Uber bought a stake in one of the companies and you can now pay for it via the Uber App.
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From the Pier, my building (left), Globe Theater (center), Tate Museum (smoke stack)
I mean seriously… I’m only about a 30 minute walk from a huge swath of historic London… not the Victorian England side, which is where I’ve spent most of my life in, but rather the Roman/medieval & Tudor parts of London… the walled city part of Shakespeare’s time and before, which during the time of Covid means I for the most part can completely avoid rapid transit and still keep my days full — and it forces me to do a lot of healthy walking …. my weight this week has dropped from 174.5 lbs to 168.9 lbs.
ANYWAY… before I get completely off topic.. when I got here I was of course in Jet lag HELL; I didn’t sleep at all on the plane, and in Chicago my body clock had me falling asleep at around 11am and waking at around 7pm … which meant for the first few days most of my sleep was during daylight hours… (just yesterday I had my first day of being awake while the sun was up, but I then crashed at sunset, around 6pm … slept till about 2am and then started working on this post.

Anyway, this means since I couldn’t go out in the middle of the night I was watching TV on my computer.

This leads me to my discovery which initiated this post….

I’ve noticed that when trying to stream (WITHOUT installing the new VPN software I bought just before jumping on the plane) that I ran up against inconsistencies…
Your NETFLIX account works in the UK!! They just bump you from the US version of the application to the UK one, which means the content is different but overlaps. Pretty much all the Netflix productions on offer are the same, the difference lies in content they didn’t produce … so that’ll offer up new stuff not available in the US along with stuff that is… but some of the shows you might have been in the middle of binging might not be there.

Amazon Prime: basically the same story only they will NOT bump you to UK content. Instead you’ll be able watch their content, stuff they made for their network  … I just watched the new ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ episodes for instance … but not much else. BUT there’s a lot of that, so it’s not like you’re deprived.

HOWEVER, Amazon UK keeps trying to get me to sign up for a free 1 month trial of their prime membership, which I’m sure would widen what’s available there … and could be useful if you want to use Amazon fresh to have your groceries delivered so you can avoid going into grocery stores. You can still use Amazon fresh, or get free shipping from normal Amazon (rather than dragging my supplements I found most of them for sale on the UK Amazon, and when I got to the friend’s place, he’s a very tall guy and he didn’t think to buy any step stools and his closets are uncomfortably tall for me, so I bought a cheap step ladder and a bathroom scale — which is how I know I’m losing weight) without, but the amount of money you need to spend to qualify for free shipping almost doubles.

If I try to watch let’s say to watch Disney+ or HBO directly via their websites or apps I can’t do it, in both cases its says “you’re out of country” and tries to get me to sign up.

Interestingly Disney+ says, if you buy an amazon prime membership for the UK store you qualify for a full year of Disney+ for free… so again, it might be worth grabbing that trial 1 month membership (but read the small print… I have not as yet done it so I can’t tell you).

HOWEVER if I go to my Apple+ TV account, it also knows I’m traveling, but it STILL recognizes some of my other channels that I was watching through it when in the states on my Apple TV… It also allows you to watch shows that are part of Apple+
Even though I can’t watch HBO from HBO’s app, if I open it up via the Apple+ app I can IF its a movie I’ve already started, Ditto for Disney+ (I’m currently watching West Side Story). I was unable to start new movies but if I was 1/3 through or what have you they allowed me to finish. (Odd, I know).
this is NOT however true for HULU shows or Showtime or Paramount… that said, I’m wondering if it’s like on a timer where you get 3 weeks while abroad and then it says, “you’ve been away too long if you want to continue watching these other channels you’ll need to sign up for them in that country”
BUT… if you’re interested in the Paramount shows a lot of them, along with other US tv shows that wouldn’t show on back at home ARE shown in the UK on NETFLIX… so there’s that
ALSO, while here, download the BBC’s iPlayer it will allow you to watch the BBC live stuff plus the stuff they have available for streaming
IF you have VPN, which in this day and age you should (You’re going to want to use in hotels with unsecured networks, etc)… HULU will work… any other services you pay through VIA Hulu, (I have HBO, Starz, etc.) should work… I haven’t tried ALL of mine but so far HBO and Starz have both worked).

HOWEVER, Amazon prime seems to know full well that you are NOT in fact in the USA even if the server you’re connected through is… Hulu doesn’t care, Amazon seems to.

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