January 31, 2016

Long time coming

After submitting my first visa application all the way back in late May 2009, my immigration journey finally ended on Wednesday when I had my British citizenship ceremony in Stirling. What is hopefully my finally piece of immigration-related paperwork, my passport application, was mailed off Thursday morning. With that I should be finished with visa stuff for sometime.

After applying for citizenship back in August via the Nationality Checking Service in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire and receiving word in December that my application was approved, the final step was attending a citizenship ceremony. While I would have preferred to have the ceremony in Glasgow, the Home Office assigned me to Stirling, and it was easiest to head there rather than deal with the bureaucracy of having my paperwork transferred from one council to another.

Rob Roy in front of the Stirling Municipal Building
The ceremony was held in Stirling’s municipal building near the corn exchange in the older part of town. I arrived around 30 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start and waited with the other participants and their family until we were taken to the room where the ceremony would take place. Once in the room, two women from the register’s office gave us some brief instruction on what would be taking place. Because all five of the other participants were also there early, there was some downtime while we waited for the various local dignitaries to arrive.

The ceremony started with an assistant register from the council welcoming the participants and the various local dignitaries. A Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Stirlingshire and Falkirk spoke for a couple of minutes to welcome everyone as well. Then everyone who was saying the oath said it individually followed by everyone who was saying the affirmation.

The oath is:
I (name) swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her Heirs and Successors, according to law.

As a group everyone then said together the pledge. The pledge is:
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.

The Provost of Stirling now spoke. He talked about the local area and participating in the community. Following his speech, we were each called up, in order, to receive our naturalisation certificates and a nice coin, a gift from Stirling Council, from the Deputy Lieutenant and the Provost. Once the last person had collected her certificate, the national anthem, God Save the Queen, was played. That brought the ceremony to an end, and all that was left was to sign a register for the council's records and to head to a small reception.

And with that I had become a British citizen...

November 27, 2015

German countryside

Below is a short video I filmed for my mother while on a German train passing through the area surrounding Langenbach in the Freezing District in Bavaria. I made this video to show how the Autumn Bavarian countryside is very similar to the Pennsylvanian country. Growing up we were always told that German farmers settled in Pennsylvania because it reminded them of home. It isn't too difficult to see how that could be true.

June 13, 2015

Ostrich Races

When I was recently back in the US, my family and I went to Penn National racetrack to watch ostrich and camel racing. As you can see in the below videos, the ostrich race was the more entertaining of the two. Actual jockeys rode the ostriches and had to do everything that they could to stay on. After the race, one of the ostriches jumped over the track fence and was on the loose. People on horseback frantically raced after the ostrich as it headed towards the nearby highway.

May 24, 2015

Eating and sleeping in Chernobyl

When doing my research before heading to Chernobyl, I found it difficult to find information on where 2015 overnight tours stayed at and ate at. While there is some information out there, much of it seemed to be several years old, and therefore potentially out of date, or was written in Russian. I also knew nothing about Ukrainian food. While the hotels or restaurants aren't likely to sway someone from doing a multi-day tour of Chernobyl, I at least found it comforting to have an idea of what to expect.

I stayed at the Hotel Desyatka in Chernobyl Town. I have also seen this hotel referred to as Rektan on some websites. The hotel is about nine miles from the nuclear power plant. As shown in my below picture, the radiation inside the hotel rooms at .14μSv/h is not much higher than Kiev which was around .11μSv/h and is therefore perfectly safe for a short stay.

Desyatka is a modern hotel built using some sort of modular construction method. It is not the older, Soviet style hotel in Chernobyl. While the rooms are relatively simple (I assume the 80s decor is a more recent Ukrainian style), the bed is comfortable enough, the heating works well and has a TV. At least in my wing of the hotel, several rooms shared two bathrooms with showers.  Pictures of the bathrooms are on the hotel's website.

I ate three meals at the hotel restaurant, a lunch, dinner and breakfast. The meals were a mix of what Americans would call family-style coupled with everyone being given an entree. While you don't choose your dishes, the staff bring out a wide enough range of food that everyone should find enough to eat. There is a lot of different kinds of meats, but the meals are pretty balanced with apples, salads and other vegetables at each meal.

Given where you are, what you are there to do and the restrictions on eating and drink outside, even very picky eaters like me make do and eat whatever is put in front of you.  You do a lot of walking during the day and are hungry enough that you just eat everything even if you are not sure what the dishes actually are.

The lunch on the second day was in the nuclear power plant's employee canteen. On entering the canteen, you pass through radiation checkpoints like the ones at the exclusion zone checkpoints. Like you would do at a school canteen, you grab a tray and go down the line. Similar to the hotel's restaurant, the dinner ladies, who don't speak any English, give you whatever they are serving that day. Again no choices, but no one complained. While you are in a separate section, eating with the plant employees is an interesting experience.

Pictures of the hotel and the various meals I ate are after the break.

May 3, 2015

Chernobyl Pictures

As mentioned in my last couple of posts, I went to Chernobyl over Easter. Here are some of my favourite pictures that I took while in the exclusion zone. You can see the rest of my pictures here.