Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Home.

Ah, home, sweet, home...Wherever that is.

In case you ever wonder if it's physically possible to gain 4 pounds in one week, let me assure you that it is. Dear God, I don't think I had a single meal in which I walked away from the table feeling anything less than *stuffed*. By the end of my week in Hickory, I was actually tired of eating-and in serious need of some exercise that extended beyond walking around the mall for 30 minutes!
It was great to be back home in Hickory for Christmas (and the sunny, 64 degree Christmas day was a nice surprise)-getting to see Dad is always a good thing, and catching up with a few freiends was also fun. But, as I haven't actually *lived* in Hickory in almost 17 years, 'home' is a relative term; a small part of me was just as excited to return to London as I was to go to Hickory to begin with.
Don't get me wrong...The first Cherry-Lemon-Vanilla-Sundrop at Shell's BBQ is always a welcome taste (and don't get me started on the sweet tea...), but were it not for my father still living there, I don't think I'd really have a reason to go back to Hickory. On some level-partially because it's changed so much over the years-Hickory isn't 'home' any longer. Rather, it's just the place I came from.

They say, 'home is where the heart is,' and I guess it really is true. And though London does feel like home in many ways, it still doesn't completely. Neither does Hickory. I guess the closest thing to home for me is still Seattle (partially because I still own a physical 'home' there...), but since I'm not there at the moment, I wonder, does that make me homeless in some way?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wowsers

Well, I didn't see this coming. Honestly...

Simon & I were chatting Saturday nite and I had just told him that my renter had informed me Friday nite that he was planning on moving out at the end of his lease (so much for wanting to stay put for 2 years...). Anyhoo, I told him I was stressed out at the prospect of having to find another renter-and get everything sorted-from London, and especially freaked out at the prospect of having many, many months of a rentless mortgage to pay. ugh. I told him absolute worst case scenario was that my place stood empty for so long, I couldn't financially swing mortgage and rent (read: previous post about the loss of the GPB to the USD...), and would have to move back to Seattle. Ironically, as I had thought about this the previous 24 hours, I realized that I *really* wasn't ready to move back to Seattle.

So, we were talking about ways to save money here in London-and it goes without saying that the most obvious way would be for me to move to a cheaper place. But, as I told Simon, though that were certainly possible, the lack of space (the tradeoff for a cheaper place) would be a challenge for Sarah & I, given the setup we have now. Then he dropped the bomb on me: 'Well,' he said, 'would you consider finding a flat with me?' Wow.

I think my heart actually stopped for a moment. At the rate of about a billion thoughts in a split second, I realized that yes, I would want to do that-cost savings aside-because I did want to live with him and spend more time with him. I told him I would like very much to do that-and then I confessed about my epiphany from two weeks ago (I still hadn't screwed up the courage to tell him), and told him he was my lobster.

We didn't exactly hammer out the fine details-and I still need to have a chat with Sarah about this. Our lease doesn't expire until the end of March, so there's time. But, it's funny: just the thought of doing this with Simon suddenly made the stress of my renter leaving seem much, much less.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ouch

The plummet of the GPB to the USD officially hit 'ugly status' for me this week.

I just did a back of the envelope calculation of what my current GBP salary would be in USD, and it turns out I'm actually making LESS now in USD than when I transferred from the US. And, I'm not talking about just a few hundred dollars. I'm talking about a loss of almost 10%.

WTF?!?!

Monday, December 1, 2008

An Epiphany

You know how some of the most defining moments or thoughts can come at the most mundane times in your life when you least expect it? Well, it appears as if that's what happened to me at dinner Saturday nite.

One of my oldest and dearest friends, Jen, is in town visiting, and she, Simon & I went out to dinner Saturday nite. We'd finished a fantastic meal-and I think between the outstanding food, yummy wine, and general good time, there was a halo of happiness over us as we were just chit chatting away about this and that. Jen & Simon were talking about I don't even know what, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I want to spend the rest of my life with this guy sitting here next to me. I'm not sure where the thought came from; it's not like I was sitting there having an internal debate with myself-I was actually listening to the conversation. But, there it was anyway.

Admittedly, the past two months or so, I have begun having a bit of an internal debate-is he?isn't he? if he is/isn't, how/when will I know? if he is, what does that mean? if he isn't, now what? London? the US? somewhere else?....on an on. I had pretty much resolved myself to not resolving anything for a while. Then Saturday nite-and wham.

Just when you least expect it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turkey Troubles

This isn't exactly a topic I thouhght I'd be blogging about, but here goes..

My flatmate, Sarah & I are hosting folks at our place for Thanksgiving this Friday (Americans and Brits alike), and it's taken weeks of effort to get the turkey sorted out. Apparently, turkey is only consumed at Christmas here, so it's taken a while to find a place that is selling them now. And, finding a bird big enough to feed 12 (we're assuming 10kg), has also been a challenge. Silly Americans and their portion control... :)
Also, 'free range' is quite the rage here-which is fine, if that didn't mean that a 10 kilo turkey wasn't going to cost over £100 (SERIOUSLY), so it's also taken effort to find a place that didn't mind selling a large, hormone filled bird. It was really only yesterday that we finally managed to find a place.

Then there's the cooking of said bird. Our oven isn't big enough to handle anything over 5 kilo, so if we went the pre-cooked route (even non-free range), we were looking at over £80-and we'd have to transport the poor thing back to our place! Yeesh. Luckily, our friend (and fellow American/Amazonian expat) Justyn has an 'American size' oven in his flat, and likes to cook.

Whew. All this effort, and the day to celebrate isn't even here yet. I think next year, I'll just do like everyone else and go out to eat!

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Third Miracle in the Week

They say things happen in threes...

I finally have cable TV! This isn't something I've mentioned on the blog before-I don't think..but, I haven't had cable TV here (even the 5 basic channels that come 'free' once you pay your TV License) since I moved out of corporate housing!

Crazy, I know-and the worst part is that one of the first things I did when we moved into the flat (thinking we'd have cable due to everything I'd read...) was buy a nice, brand new, HD Flat Screen £400 TV. Which, for the past 7 months or so has been nothing more than a glorified DVD player. Grr..

Anyhoo, the TV has 'Freeview' capabiltiy (think, like automatically being able to access basic cable in the US without having to sign up for the service), so it was presumed that minute we plugged in the TV, we'd be sorted. Wrong. Tiscali (our internet/landline service) isn't in the area yet. OK. Get a pair of bunny ears and we'll be sorted. Wrong-the terrestrial signal on our Mews street is so poor, everyone either has satellite or a big, huge aerial on their rooftop. Well, there is a satellite dish on our roof, but we assumed it didn't work-or would have to pay some crazy monthly fee to use. So, after several months of trying, we gave up, and I just figured I'd deal with it in November once the weather turned icky, and I was spending more time inside the flat.

Fast forward to last weekend when the landlord, Dan, comes around to make a few repairs. 'Still no TV?' he asks. Then he says, 'The last thing I can think of is to buy a FreeSat box. If that doesn't work, nothing will.' Part of me wants to laugh in his face-at this stage, I assume nothing will work. But, he says it can easily and cheaply be purchased off of Amazon. Well, in that case, Amazon's return policy is generous-and easy-so, OK.

So, I buy the one he suggests on Monday, get it delivered on Friday, and Friday evening after hooking it up, and punching in my Post Code, it takes about 20 minutes to 'think.' In the process, Sarah & I are sitting in the living room chatting, and wouldn't you know? 20 minutes later, BBC1 pops up on the TV! We're in business! The jaw-dropping, shocked look on our faces was actually comical.

I spent my Friday night watching the news-BBC and Al Jazeera. God, I've missed the news! Sadly-and somewhat gratefully, I forsee many nights on the couch over the upcoming winter months!

I guess it shouldn't be such a big deal that we now have TV, but the reality is, this really was the one last piece of the puzzle to make me feel like I was truly part of London. No news, no pop culture references, nothing...over the past 7 or so months have come my way via any other means but the internet. I've hated listening to my co-workers talk about who's going to win The X-Factor (the UK version of American Idol), and not knowing who they were talking about. I've hated not being able to watch nightly news and keep abreast of what's going on not only here in the UK, but back in the US as well. But, finally! I can!

And let's face it. Sometimes, after a hard day at work-or a long week, there's nothing better than to come home, grab a drink, and sit in front of the TV and veg for a little bit. I look forward to doing that some this week...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Two Miracles in One Week!

First Obama is elected, and now this?!? I don't think I can take many more good things like this happening to me!!!...

I've been provisionally approved for a credit card! WOO! I guess I should explain why this is such a big deal..I already have one UK credit card, but I get nothing from it-no points/cash back/anything. Coming from the US where, not having a card with benefits seems like an aberration, I've been keen on getting one as soon as possible.

Problem: I've only lived here 9 months. I had heard a rumour when I arrived that after 3 months, it was possible. So, I applied. And was quickly rejected-for not having enough credit history/job history/living history in the UK. Alrighty. Though I was anxious to get a card, I also had to be mindful of having my credit report hit too many times (also considered a risk indicator here just like in the US), so I decided I'd give it another go at the 9 month mark-surely two hits in 9 months wouldn't be that bad?

Well, apparently not; I got a letter from Barclays yesterday requesting a few bits of information to verify my address, and hopefully that means that in just a few short weeks, I'll be earning cash back on my purchases! So long NatWest crap card, hello cash back rewards!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Proud to be an American Again

What a night/morning!

I finally got home and to bed at 3a today-basically staying out at the US Expat gathering long enough to feel like Obama was going to win Florida-and thus the election. Last night/this morning was so much fun-it's the first time in a long time that I've felt a sense of pride when recognizing to a large group of people that I'm an American. Sad, I know, but I've made it a point for many years now (say...8...) to try and keep my US Citizenship under wraps (re: one of my first posts on my new passport cover) when I'm out and about.

But, this morning as I was heading in on the train, I didn't feel the need to cover up my interest in the stories about the election that I was reading in the paper and on my Blackberry. Heck, if I had a Stars and Stripes shirt, I would have probably been inclined to wear it today! :)

I hope today really is the start of things turning around for the US-both within the country and how we're perceived abroad. As I was walking to work this morning, I couldn't help but think that for the first time in a very long while, I actually felt a sense of hope for where the US could be headed-and got a little teary eyed. And, Obama's book title, The Audacity of Hope, suddenly seemed incredibly appropriate.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today is THE DAY

I've been waiting for this day for FOUR YEARS (well, more like 8, but who's counting?!?)...

If everything goes according to plan, this time tomorrow, I should be blogging about the new Democratic President of the United States. Dream of dreams.

I'm going to a MeetUp event this evening in London for US Expats to watch elections returns until the wee hours...http://www.meetup.com/americansabroad/calendar/8875408/

Normally, I avoid mass-US gatherings/celebrations (July 4th, Thanksgiving, Elections...) when I'm out of the country like the plague-it seems like we're just sitting ducks and not the most loved country in the world. But, for tonite, I'll make the exception. Hopefully, there will be safety in numbers-and if anyone has half a brain, they'll realize that probably 90% of the people gathering are pro-Obama (ie anti-Bush)...;)

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Taste of Home

Yesterday for lunch, Simon & I went to this 'American BBQ' place in town called Bodeans. www.bodeansbbq.com

I'll be the first to admit...American BBQ in London? I was totall skeptical. Heck, I was even skeptical of BBQ in Seattle! :)

But, it was actually good. Their Cornbread was fantastic, the pulled pork was yummy, and even though it wasn't as good as in the South, I at least appreciate their effort to serve a glass of sweet, iced tea...

It's kinda making me miss 'home' (aka North Carolina) a little bit-I'll be there for Christmas at the end of December, so in only 6 weeks and some change, I'll be able to get a proper glass of sweet, iced tea!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Catching Up

When I logged in just now, I realized it's been almost a full month since my last post. Whew. I've been travelling again (as much as I love to do it, I hope that's it for a while...)-most recently, I've spent two weeks in the Dominican Republic for my annual Habitat for Humanity Global Village trip.

It was a blast (as they all are), and I'll post photos this weekend and properly post on the trip, but I wanted to at least post a quick check in while I had a few mintues to catch my breath.

In reality, there isn't much of 'London Expat Life' to catch up on...My flatmate & I are going to host Thanksgiving at our flat this year the Friday after for some of our American Expat buddies and non-American friends, and we're all counting the minutes until the election results start rolling in late Tuesday night (London time..). A bunch of us are going to get together and stay up until the wee hours with fingers crossed. We figure that depending on how the East coast lines up-particularly Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina determines whether we stay up all night glued to the returns postings, or we'll get to bed around 3a.

Just think. This time next week, we could have a new party at the helm. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Back Home

Or did I just leave home? It's hard to tell. Either way, I just returned to London after being in the US for almost 3 weeks. Parts of me are happy to be back, parts of me aren't.

Regardles, it was great being back in the US. I got to attend two great weddings, visit with friends, do a ridiculous amount of shopping (my luggage weighed over 200 pounds on the way back-and only weighed 70 going over!), eat some yummy, cheap food (god, I miss good sushi for under £30...), finally saw the sun (in both LA and Seattle!), and in general, had a great time.

Simon was there for half the trip as well, and while I was at work during the day, he puttered around town & had fun. It was kinda interesting-coming 'home' to him after the end of the day. Makes me wonder if this is a glimpse of what it could be like. I'm trying not to think about it too much, but the reality is, I am. We've hit the all-important 6 month mark two weeks ago, and it's hard not to think about this stuff. Anyhoo, enough about him.

The one bummer about this trip unlike the last one? On the last trip, I already had this trip booked-I already knew when I was coming back to Seattle. Not this time. Yes, I'll go to North Carolina for Xmas-and I'm looking forward to it-but, the next time I'll be in Seattle is completely up in the air. boo.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Taxman Cometh

Well, the info I've been holding my breath for basically since I decided to go to London has finally arrived: How much tax do I owe the HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs)-the equivalent of the US IRS.

Keeping in mind that I only had 1 month of income before the end of the 'tax year'-yes, the UK's tax year (for whatever stupid reason. sorry. there was judgement in that statement) is April 1-March 31...my tax liability?

£9.50

Yep. £9.50. That wasn't a typo. Now, admittedly, for the one month, I am considered in the lower income tax bracket, and I had extra deductions I likely won't always have-but, this does also make me believe my post-tax income is going to be much better than I thought. The one downside? Unlike the US where you can adjust your withholding throughout the year, you can't in the UK. 'They' calculate your withholding based on your income and without regard to your deductions. How clever. 'They' get to keep hold of my money for a full year before I get it back. So, though it means my monthly 'income' won't change during the year per se, I am led to believe I will get a huge, fat refund come this time next year.

A big, fat whew after this.

Yea!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Complicated

First off...I am a slacker. It's been two weeks since I last blogged. Yes, I've been busy-flight to LA. Wedding. Flight to Seattle. Simon arriving, another wedding in a few days...but, that's still no excuse. I'm a bad, bad blogger. And, I promise once I get back to the UK & can upload photos, I'll fully catch up on what's been going on.
Especially when, there's actually something to blog about-I've just been too busy to do so!

I think I may have mentioned that Simon is in the Financial Services industry. In London. He's in IT, but nonetheless, he's only ever worked for Financial Services companies. A year ago, this point wouldn't have been worth mentioning. Given what is going on in the US/UK/world... economy/financial sector however, it bears mention. I don't think he would seriously mention it, but while Simon is here in Seattle with me, I think he is a little nervous about what awaits him when he returns to London next week.

So, he kinda dropped a bomb on me last week right before he came over: "Do you know how I could find out more info about the UW MBA program? I'm thinking about going to check them out while I'm in Seattle. I need a Plan B." Now, Simon contemplating an MBA program isn't anything new to me-but UW as one of those schools certainly is new. I'm trying not to get too excited at what this means *exactly*, but it's hard not to. Unless something massive changes in London in the next 8-10 months (read: I get a new job making £100k a year in London...), I don't think I'll stay there in perpetuity. If Simon & I are still together, well, things are clearly complicated. Do I stay in London? Do I stay in London with Amazon? A different company altogether? Do I come back to the US? When? With Simon? Do we break up? on and on and on. It makes my head hurt. As I've said numerous times this week, 'It's Complicated.' But, Simon deciding to get an MBA at UW (say..oh, starting in 2010), suddenly uncomplicates a *lot* of things. At least in the short/mid-ish term. I don't think I want to live in London long-term. I don't know if Simon would want to NOT live in London long-term. So, the question of where we do live (if there is a long-term we) is complicated.

I'm a huge fan of keeping it simple. So, the fact that there doesn't really seem to be an obvious, easy answer here is difficult. Yes, we've only been dating 6 months. But, I'm not 22. Neither is he. Not that everything needs to be figured out by next week, but things are going to need to be figured at some point-and preferrably, not 6 months from now. oy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Norway. Hm.

As I alluded to earlier in my post about Crazy Travel several weeks ago, Simon & I went to Norway this past weekend. The airport we flew in to was about 120km outside of Oslo, so instead of going thru the effort to go to Oslo (we flew in Sat morning & flew out Sunday nite. a 2.5 hour bus ride to Oslo just didn't make sense), we opted to stay in the tiny, quiet town of Sandefjord where we flew in to.
If you're looking for a quiet, low key, relaxing weekend, Sandefjord is your place. If you're a city-boy like Simon, well...that's a different story. On foot, we actually managed to see the entire town (or what was worth seeing) is less than 5 hours-and that included going to the Whaling Museum and wandering in shops. Wow. Which, it's a good thing it only takes 5 hours-the town closed down at 5p on Saturday, and from what we could tell on Sunday, didn't open back up either! :)
And, let's talk about cost. I knew the Scandinavian countries were 'expensive.' But, I thought that after London, I'd be prepared. Wrong. Two beers in the pub (the *one* thing that was open Saturday nite past 6p...) cost $26. Yep. $26. That's not a typo. Thank goodness the hotel provided free breakfast and dinner-eating there was the only way we could afford the beer! :)

Super nice, friendly people. A huge thumbs up there. The scenery is pretty (not stunning-which that could just be a function of where we were at..), but it reminded me so much of being in Alaska-both the landscape and the buildings-function over form-that I didn't feel like I was actually seeing or experiencing anything new. Odd.

I doubt I'll ever go back to Norway-unless I'm suddenly inspired to join the jet-set winter ski group. But, at the very least, I guess I can now say, 'been there, done that.' Not exactly the reaction I like to have after travelling somewhere new, but it's the truth. Hm.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

On the Outside Looking In

It seems that over the past few weeks, the talk has turned to US politics; whether I'm talking with US friends in Seattle or here in London, Brits, Germans, French...you name it. Obama versus McCain seems to be one of the more popular conversational topics.

For some of my non-Amercian friends here, I'm beginning to feel like the US Spokesperson for International Politics. Which is an unusual position to be in-though, admittedly, I could probably do a better job than Bush! :)

It goes without saying (or maybe not...), that most folks I've met over here are very, very pro-Obama-and even the media has picked up more favorable stories on him than on McCain. Actually, I can't say I even recall a favorable story on McCain. In fact, the story I read this morning on Palin's daughter referred to her boyfriend as a 'redneck' in the title of the article. hah!

But, I can't help but wonder if I'm missing out on the reality of what's going on with the elections by not being in the US: is Obama just as widely and favorably received in the US as he is abroad? Does McCain's choice for running mate seem as odd in the US as it does outside? I hope I'm not living in some pro-Democrat abroad bubble that is just going to get shockingly burst come November.

Though I can say for certainty that the one thing I don't miss about being in the US right now are all of the ridiculous TV commercials!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Crappy Weekend

Monday was a bank holiday for us-the last until Christmas. So, I was greatly looking forward to a nice, quiet, fun, relaxing 3 day weekend. Simon and I were supposed to go to a friend's place for a BBQ on Saturday nite, and in general just enjoy hanging out.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. While at the gym on Saturday, some jackass broke into Simon's locker (along with 5 other unfortunate souls) and stole his wallet, keys, and cell phone. Were it not for the fact that Simon's gym is walking distance to my place-and we were planning on him coming over around 5p, he would have been absolutely stranded there, as his money, credit cards, ATM, and Tube pass were all in his wallet.

So, instead of a lovley, relaxing evening with friends, we were on the phone from 5p-7p getting cards canceleld, reporting the phone stolen, and trying to track down anyone that would be able to contact his landlord to get a spare set of keys.

Fortunately, Simon's 'landlord' is his best friend's wife (Herbie & Shalma), but without his phone, the only phone number Simon could remember was Herbie's mom. So, we called and left a message. Then, I scoured the internet looking for any way to contact Herbie. I emailed him through facebook, you tube, djhistory.com, and even the estate agent that is selling their house. yeesh. Luckily in the end, Herbie's mom got the message, and Herbie called us back-agreeing to meet up clear across town at 8p to get a set of keys to Simon.

So, we dashed off to the nearest tube station to cancel his old pass and buy a new one, and then went clear across town to meet Herbie before then going to Simon's flat to have the locks changed. The robbers stole his keys and he couldn't remember if there was anything in the wallet that would indicate his address. Better to be safe than sorry, though. Locksmith finally arrived at 11.30p-and at a cost of £130, we were done. We weren't planning on staying at his place-Simon had nothing to eat in the pantry, had left his contact 'stuff' at my place, and I didn't bring anything with me except my purse, so we turned back around and proceeded back to my place. Clear across town. Two busses, two failed attempts at getting on the tube (it was too late...), and a £20 taxi ride later, we arrive back at my place at 1a to grab a bite of 'dinner' before falling into bed at 2a.

Grr. What an f-ing inconvenient experience. I feel bad for Simon. When he was making the phone calls at my place when he first arrived, his hands were shaking. And, I'm pissed off to know that someone made him feel that way.

For once however, I was thankful for the British way of doing things. All cards (whether ATM, debit, or credit...) are required to have a PIN to conduct a transaction. So, we have safely confirmed that not a single £ was taken from his account-or spend on his credit card: there's no way to make the transaction. We cancelled the phone so quickly after it was stolen, the only thing the phone will be good for is the £10 they'll get if they try to sell it (if they're smart enough to try..). Ironically, the most valuable thing that was stolen was Simon's tube pass. It's a monthly Zone 1 & 2 pass-that was just re-upped that very day. Value? About £90. Luckliy, we cancelled that thing fairly quickly as well. So, when all is said and done, there wasn't much financial damage-just a real pain in the ass to get things sorted out.

Grr.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Muscles in Brussles

Bonjour! I've just returned from my first holiday since returning from Seattle. 'Holiday' in the sense that I actually took two days off work. Woo hoo! It's been two months since I've had a day off, and it was high time.


I think I mentioned several weeks ago that this trip was booked-Brussels. So, Simon & I depart by Eurostar on Friday morning, and two easy, comfortable, non-turbulent hours later, we arrive in Brussels. It doesn't get any easier than that!


Getting from the station proved to be a bit of a challenge (a small bit...), but I could tell it stressed Simon out a bit. When we finally got near the vicinity of our hotel, he somewhat grumbled, 'we're taking a taxi back to the station on Monday.' Poor bunny. 30 minutes of effort and he's already ready to throw the towel in. At any rate..


We arrive at our hotel around noon, quickly check in, drop off our bags, freshen up, and head out. After puttering around for about an hour-and ducking under a tree for 15 minutes to avoid a downpour, we stop for lunch at Le Chappilers (The Hatmakers). In a word, yum. It was so good, this is where we return for our final lunch on Monday!


Friday was spent puttering around, checking things out, stopping for an occasional beer, and just enjoying being on vacation. We found a great beer hall (conveniently around the corner from our hotel) called 'a la Mort Subite' (By Sudden Death). There's a series of beers named after the beer hall. Simon & I both love the Lambic. Framboise. Yummy Raspberry. I also tried a 'Geueze'-pronounced girs (rhymes with 'firs'). ick. It was like an extra bitter cider. ick. Then I had a Faro beer. Yum. Amber, mellow, honey, and super light. Simon had the rest of my Geueze and several Lambics. Good thing we were just a two minute walk to the hotel that nite! :) So many Belgian beers are so yummy, you forget about the super-high alcohol content! Here's a picture of the beer hall. It's not that great, but you'll get the idea...






Saturday was spent puttering around some more. After a late breakfast, we took a walk to find the last brewery-Cantillon-in Brussels. It was quite a walk, but well worth the effort! The owners of the brewery were super nice, and their Geueze was much better than what I had Friday nite. After this walk, we came back to town & had a late lunch, and a few beers. Then we decide to take a stroll to find the sound of the brass band around the corner we had been hearing at lunch. Turns out it's a holiday in Brussels-Maipole Day. Lots of brass bands & lots of people celebrating. We just ambled and followed the random crowd that seemed to assemble to listen to the band as they marched to some random spot in town. From what we could gather, the Maipole is actually a tree-lots of folks were walking around with bits of branches in their hands. Neither Simon or I were sure what it all meant, but it was fun just standing around watching people celebrate!


Dinner Saturday nite was in a restaurant on the Grand Place. Lunch was so big & so late, that it was a fairly light meal. But, the restaurant was definitely 'quirky.' Yes, those are pigs bladders attached to the light fixture above Simon's head. I'm not sure what the significance is of those things either...



On Sunday, we hopped a train to Brugge for the day. Brugge is a small, cute, well preserved town about an hour from Brussels. Unfortunately, it's also fairly overrun with tourists, but oh well! We started off at De Halve Maan-the last brewery in Brugge. Their Zot Blonde is *amazing*. Probably my favorite beer on the trip. And, the courtyard at the brewery was the perfect place to sit outside & enjoy the day. We eventually wandered into town and into a little chocolate shop. Oddly (or so I thought for the moment..), they had a picture of Rick Steeves, the travel writer, posted. I pointed the picture out to Simon & told him who he was, and the lady behind the counter asked if I knew him-turns out he had just come in the store not 30 minutes before we had! Apparently, he was on one of his self-guided tours of Brugge, and had stopped off at his favorite chocolate shop! Small world. I didn't see him that day, though. Dang...


After puttering around town, we decided to meander back to De Halve Maan for one last beer before hopping on the train and calling it a day. We arrived back in Brussels around 8p, popped out for a nibble and a few beers more, and decided to call it a day.


Monday, our last day, was 'chocolate day.' We spent the day wandering around town finding all of the chocolatiers that I had been reading about. Yum. The obvious places aside (Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas..), we opted to find the smaller places-where, after tasting, I do believe quantity and quality do not equate. Pierre Marcolini for champagne truffles, Wittamer for the 'holy cow can I afford this' experience, and Debailleul for the 'down-home, I'll be happy to talk to you for 30 minutes' experience. YUM. Simon & I were actually tossing around the idea of a quick day trip back down to Brussels a week or so before Christmas to pick up presents. Not a bad idea!


Anyhoo, after overloading our tummies and our bags on chocolate, we decide to pop back into Grand Place for one last look around, one last yummy lunch, and then go to the hotel to grab our our bags & head to the station for returning to London. And, we didn't even take a taxi to the station!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Weekend Wedding

No, not mine! Simon's friend Chris...

This weekend, Simon and I headed out to the 'English Countryside' to Chalmsford for a wedding. We left Friday nite and got back to London just an hour or so ago. I hadn't been out of town for a weekend in two months an was definitely going stir crazy. So, the weekend away to a such a quiet place was exactly what I needed-and it was good fun, too!
We stayed at a place called Five Lakes Resort. Wow. The interior was a little dated, but it was an amazing place nonetheless-it's a golf and spa resort. But surprisingly, the prices there are ridiculously cheap: 100 pounds per night. Yes, I know that's $200, but even at that, it was a good deal-and remember, that includes 17.5%....
We didn't get there until Friday at 9p, so we just had a low key evening to ourselves. After we got settled in, we headed downstairs to the bar to have a drink and a snack and watch some of the recap of the England v South Africa cricket. But, being Friday nite, by about 11.30 or so, we're ready to call it a night.
Saturday morning was leisurely-as the wedding reception we were going to (the wedding was only for family) didn't start until 3p, and we were awake by 8.30p... After breakfast (a huge buffet which was included!..see? The 100 isn't sounding so bad now, is it?..), we decide to take a stroll outside for a little while and see the grounds. Really nice-bunnies, ducks, geese, and who knows what else are all around. The ducks are actually so tame, even the babies came right up to us without the mama duck attacking.
After that, the pool/sauna/steam room was calling our name, so from around 1oa-noon, we proceed to go from playing around in the pool to hitting the jacuzzi, to sweating a bit in the steam room-and back and forth. It's one of the laziest Saturdays I've had in I don't know how long-and it was exactly what I needed. Plus, the steam room did wonders for my skin! :)
Around 2.30p, our taxi arrives to take us to the Golf Club where the wedding reception is. Drum roll, please. Aside from Herbie, whom I've already met, I'm walking into the event in which I will proceed to meet ALL of Simon's friends. About 12 in all (at least the ones he's super close with). Now I know how Simon must have felt at the Beer Garden in Seattle in May when he met everyone all at once. It's a bit overwhelming, but his friends really were just amazing. They were all funny and fun, and it's obvious they all just get along so well. For a group of mostly guys (and of course wives now...), they didn't at all act like a stereotypical group of guys will sometimes act. If you really can tell a lot about a person by his friends, what I think about Simon didn't change one bit after meeting everyone-that's a good thing. And if anything, I know he's a lucky guy to have such great people in his life like he does. Anyhoo, here are a few photos from the day....

Simon & a 'mysterious lady.' Compliments of the onsite balloon maker.

Herbie & Simon Simon & Moi

Murphy & NoonieEd, Massimo, & Jane

Oh yeah. Alcohol may have been a little involved in some of this, but no children or small animals were harmed...Good times.

Catching Up

Wow. Except for a few quick posts during last week, I've been remiss about writing lately-mainly because the events I'm about to write about have kept me too busy on the weekends to actually write about them! :)
So, without further ado, it's time to get caught up...

Sunday, July 20-Kristina's First Roast
Simon and I decided to head over to the Imperial War Museum; neither of us had been there before, and it was just one of those random things we decided to do. The War Museum is really impressive. I can imagine that if you were a war buff, you'd want to spend days there going through all the exhibits-the info and displays really are fascinating. But, embarrassingly neither Simon nor I are completely up on WWI and WWII, so we were through in just a few hours: without being into that stuff, there's only so many old canteens, uniforms, and guns you can look at. Plus, we wanted to go to the Holocaust Exhibit upstairs, and the day was getting away from us. The Holocaust Exhibit, like the others I've seen before, left me with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and a general feeling that took the rest of the day to shake. It's just too stunning to put into words.

After leaving the musuem, we decided to stop at a pub around the corner for Sunday Roast-a very popular thing here where a pub will go out of their way to produce a meal on Sunday that would be the equivalent of what your Mom would make for you on a Sunday: meat, a few veg, and Yorkshire Pudding. My first Yorkshire Pudding (and my first Sunday Roast all around). All I can say is, yum. It's the pizza-slice-shaped thingy on the bottom left of the plate:






After this, we went our seperate ways to go run errands for the day.

Saturday, July 26-Kristina Meets the Best Friend
Finally, after a few cancelled trips due to various reasons, Simon and I finally head out of town to Chingford to meet Simon's best friend, Herbie and his wife Shalma. We head up around noon on Saturday (after a delicious breakfast at Roast in Borough Market. The porridge was amazing!). Herbie and Simon met in undergrad and have been fast friends ever since. I can certainly understand why-he's an absolute hoot, but completely different from Simon; they compliment each other's personalities.


We arrive in time for lunch, and eat out in the back garden. The weather is perfect, and it's nice and warm, and the food, conversation, beer, and general fun are just the best way to spend the day! By 6p, we realize we aren't going anywhere anytime soon, so we make plans to run into town to pick up a few things for dinner, and before you know it, it's 11p at night, and Simon and I are having to head back into town to catch the train in so we can get back to London before the Tube closes. It really was a great Saturday. Here's Herbie and Shalma. This pic was taken at the wedding we went to this weekend (more on that in the next post):







Aren't they just cute?!? And, Shalma wanted me to point out that they have nice, straight, white teeth! :)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Travel Frenzy

One of the local cheap airlines was having crazy, low sales to the Scandinavian countries today.
RT to Oslo plus taxes, fees, and other stupid charges? £26
RT to Stockholm plus taxes, fees and other stupd charges? £25

Crazy. One trip is the weekend before I depart for Seattle, and the next the next trip is the weekend I get back from Seattle. Oh, and the following weekend, I leave for Dominican Republic for two weeks. Crazy. But, for those prices? I couldn't *not* book the tickets!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bound for Brussels!

Well, the wanderlust was just more than I could handle! :) I've booked a trip to Brussels with Simon for the second weekend of August. The rate was just too good to pass up: 3 nights in a 4 star hotel, plus Return on Eurostar for only £175. Yes, I realize I just used the word, 'only' with '£175.'

It's been ages since I've been to Brussels, and Simon has never been, so we're looking forward to a nice, long weekend getaway.

Any suggestions on what we should do/eat/drink/see/etc...while we're there?

Saturday, July 12, 2008

My Favorite Place in London

Welcome to Borough Market. The 'Pike Place' of London. This is my favorite place in London (Tate Modern runs a close second..).
It's become quite the Saturday ritual for me to get up and head to Borough Market to buy yummy, fresh produce, meat, cheese, have a cup of coffee and a croissant, and just in general, wind down and enjoy 'just looking.' I like this place so much, that last weekend, when parts of the Tube were shut down for weekend work, I actually went completely out of my way and took almost an hour to get there. That's how much I love this place.
Borough is only open Thursday-Saturday-go figure-and with work out in Sluff, Saturday is really the only day I can get there. Fine. It's a great Saturday ritual I hope to continue for a long, long time.
So, today I took my camera (I felt like such a tourist!), and took a few shots of my favorite things at Borough. Hope you enjoy.

Monmouth Coffee-best drip (and cappuccino) I've ever tasted. Here. Seattle. Anywhere. Darned good stuff. They grind the beans and individually pour a filter for each order. Can't beat that level of freshness! You can see the white filter lined up in the bottom left, and the dude in the striped shirt is pouring water into them that will drip down into cups under the filters.








Tower of brownies at Flour Power Bread Co. The picture says it all. :) This is the place I buy my crossiant or Pan au Chocolat from.



Neal's Yard Dairy-probably my favorite place inside my favorite place. Neal's Yard was actually started by an American-they even
export cheese to the US-and it can be found at Beecher's at Pike Place. Free samples galore, their staff are super knowledgeable, and the cheese? Well, let's just say, I've probably already consumed more of their cheese in the past four months, than I did of Beecher's in the past two years!


Today, I got a little gung ho. Usually, I'll purchase enough veg, fruit and cheese to get me through the week (or as a treat), but today, I added pork to the mix-bacon and chops. If there's one thing the Brits do better than perhaps any other country, it's pork. So, I figured, I couldn't go wrong. I may have spent 15 pounds more than I normally do, but it's a small price to pay. :)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sprucing up the Blog

For my many, many regular readers (kidding. i realize there's only two of you...;)), you'll likely notice some changes to my blog that have happened over the past week.

Last week, I spent a lot of time puttering around the web looking at different websites for work (honest!), many of which were blogs. That's when I realized just how boring mine was in comparison to others and decided to do something about it.

So, over the next few weeks, you'll likely see some changes-I'll add things, take them away, move stuff around, change templates, etc...just to try to make it more enjoyable for y'all.

So far, my favorite new widget is the 'Where Are You' widget. It tracks where my readers come from. It's no surprise that folks in Seattle, the South, and London are accessing, but who the heck is in Australia!?! Seriously, leave me a comment-I'd love to know who you are! :)

If there's something specific -a widget-template-anything-you'd like to see on my blog, let me know!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Wimbledon-Failure and Success

As you all know, we're in the final days of Wimbledon, here in England. Until poor Andy Murray was crushed on Wednesday, there was actually hope that a Brit would make it to the semi-finals. But, alas, he was buried from the start by Nadal. Not that it was much of a surprise-even to Andy.

Anyhoo, I digress. I was having a chat with the MD of my company on Tuesday, and he asked if I was going to see any of the matches. I lamented my ability to get any tickets for under £200 at this late of a date, and he suggested that I should just show up late one evening (meaning I'd have to take off work early...), and try to buy tickets from someone as they leave early. His daughter had just been successful at getting centre court tickets for £5 on Monday-and was able to catch the the last two hours of the Andy Murray match. Not too shabby.

So, I took off work a little early yesterday (perhaps my first leave early-ie before 4p in my year and a half at Amazon. lame...) with a co-worker, and we headed down to Wimbledon. Unfortunately, just as we get to the gate where folks would be departing from, we realize that people are getting busted for doing the very thing we were going to try to do. Apparently, they really take the concept of 'non-transferrable' very seriously at Wimbledon. poo. Failure.

But, it is Friday at 4.30p. July 4th. My country's birthday, the sun is shining, and I'm in a great part of town. So, we head to a pub (Dog and Fox) in Wimbledon Village and settle in for a few pints. Get ready. Here comes the 'success' part of the story..

At about 5.30, we're just sitting there in the outdoor area, having a beer, and guess who strolls by with her 'people'?!?! Venus Williams. WOW. Makes sense-we're only about a 15 minute walk from the tennis grounds. She was stunning. More sizeable than most of the group she was with-but not nearly as large (read: muscle-y) as she appears to be on TV.

We were the closest to her as she walked by, and a few guys at our table actually said, 'Look. It's Venus!' and when he did, eveybody started staring, and clapping and cheering. Good fun. She actually seemed a little embarrassed by it all. Humble, even.

Success! My first official celebrity sighting in London-and I actually knew who it was. There were also apparently some big name rugby players in the pub last night, but I sure as heck had no idea who they were...

A Lazy Sunday

Last Sunday, Simon and I spent a lazy day tooling around. We were planning to go see a cricket match (my first!), but the state of the weather-at the time-suggested we should do something else. So instead, we headed over to the East side of London-Farringdon and puttered around. Had brunch at a great place called Tid Bit, and then strolled the area stopping occasionally for a drink.

It was closed, but we came across this one pub that just had the best sign I've ever seen:






Three Kings. Get it? King Kong ,Elvis ('The King'), and King Henry. Hilarious!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Missing Seattle

Funny how these things happen..

Got in to work an hour ago, feeling pretty happy with the day-and contemplating going to Wimbledon on Friday...simply working away, listening to my tunes, and while listening to The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (by The Postal Service-a great Seattle band), it hit me: I miss Seattle.

It took four months, and some silly song that I've heard dozens of times since I've been here. But suddenly, it hit me.

Funny how these things happen...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Work Culture

Just when I think I'm beginning to get a grip on the differences between British and American work culture, I'm thrown a curve ball.

I'm on the social committee here (isn't that just cute?...), and am helping to organize our Holiday Party. Up until now, the only dates/days we've discussed have been Fridays. Which, strikes me as odd-I've only ever attended a company holiday party (mine or anyone else's) on a Saturday. So, I posed the question to the group, 'how about a Saturday?' You would think would have asked the group to set their hair on fire. Apparently, even if it's a party, it's considered 'work', and the thought of work interfering with the weekend is very, very bad.

Which, in theory, I kinda like. But, in the case of a swanky, dress up party-even further out of London than our office, it just strikes me as impractical. So, our holiday party will be on a Friday. To make the party-and in proper attire, I'll probably have to leave the office by 4p. Get home, get ready, get back on the train (in full dressy mode-and at the cost of *another* £10. grr), and trek back out to the party. Am I the only person who thinks this is a lot of freaking effort? No wonder the parties are apparently very poorly attended.

By the Numbers-an Update

This Tuesday marks the four month point of my move to London-where has the time gone?!? Feeling a bit nostalgic, I was puttering back to a few of my old blog posts today and came across the 'By the Numbers' post. It got me thinking about what the reality has become, so I thought an update was warranted. Though the details have changed (both for better and worse...), the outcome is still about the same. ughh. Old versus New numbers are below.

OLD
Monthly take home pay (post taxes): 4300
LESS:Rent 1500 (this is just my half assuming I have a roomie & we're crammed into 700 sf)
401(k): 200
Insurance: 50 (rental)
Medical: 50
Transportation: 300
Food: 300
Travel: 500 (yes, I plan to do this A LOT)
Utility bills (power, mobile): 200
Entertainment: 300
Clothing: 200
"Stuff": 200
Total expenses: 3800

NEW
Monthly Take Home Pay: 3700 (but, I'm still awaiting a tax refund for being an expat-long story...I think the final amount will be more like 3900)
Rent: 1565 (this includes Council Tax)
401(k)-here, a 'Pension': 200
Insurance: 10
Medical: so far, 0. Insurance is free.
Transportation: 250
Food: 300 (this doesn't count beer. see Entertainment)
Travel: 500
Utility: 150 (still just a swag. long story..it will probably be another month or two before I've a firm grip on these costs)
Entertainment: Also known as beer:200 (hey, it's a drinking culture!)
Clothing: so far, 0. This doesn't count Seattle purchases, though! :)
'Stuff': 50
Total Expenses: 3225.

Which, still leaves me with ~£500 a month left over.

I gotta admit, I'm surprised I was able to swag the outcome like I did-4 months ago! Now that I'm fully settled in though, I do think some of the above will change a bit...I need to work a bit to get the Beer number down a bit, and hopefully, the Utility number isn't as high as my swag. I'll update again in a few months to see if my updated estimates are still holding true.

Bored Now

It's been three weeks since I've returned from the US. Three weeks that I've stayed in London and not gone anywhere. Slough does not count. I'm bored. I told myself I wouldn't travel until August (unfortunately, even the British Pound doesn't grow on trees, either...), but I'm getting antsy again. There is no known cure for the travel bug-nor should there be, come to think of it.

Any suggestions for a weekend trip? In the UK or elsewhere?... The weather thusfar hasn't been warm enough (at least, for me...) to lay out in a bathing suit to get some sun, so a beachy location would be nice. But, the Scandanavian countries (maybe Copenhagen?...) are also calling my name-it will be daylight well in the wee hours of the morning there this time of year...hmm..

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only in London..

On my way to pub quiz night last night, I saw the funniest sight-and wish I had my camera. I guess a description is going to have to suffice...

On Marleybone High Street (a fairly busy road), a well dressed banker type rode by me on what is known here as a commuter bike. He had his satchel slung across his shoulder, one hand on a handlebar with a cigarette in it, and the other hand had a cell phone up to his ear in which he was talking.

I can barely walk and talk at the same time-muchless do something like that. God, I wish I had my camera.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Flip Side Of the Coin

Long story short, I stumbled across this random blog today, and couldn't help but laugh outloud (primarily because I identify all too well...) with a few of his posts on moving from London to New York.

I thought it worth a mention..

http://londonmark.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The House is Officially Warmed

Sarah & I had our house warming party Saturday nite. It's safe to say, I now know I can easily fit 20-30 people on the 2nd floor living area without any problems. Hopefully, once the weather warms up (is it just me, or does it suck to have to say that in the middle of June?!?), we'll be able to have another gathering and take advantage of the rooftop. Preferrably with a grill!

Saturday was good fun. Yummy food (especially the Neal's Yard Cheese. I know Beechers imports it. Check it out!), good beer selection, and the Wii was great entertainment. Fun folks too! After meeting so many people in a one-off manner over the last several months, it was surprising to see just how many new friends I have-now that they were all standing in one place! I'm a lucky girl.

The one oddity of the evening? Due to the tube closing around midnight, most folks were gone by 12.30 (they were walking/biking home), and we were basically cleaned up by 1a. Crazy. Seems like this is the time when most house parties are just getting out of control in the US. :) Though, I don't think I'm complaining. Just an observation that makes me go, 'hm.'

I'll test the theory again this Saturday, as I have a house party to *attend.* We'll see!



This is Paul-he's Scott's (my bff) younger brother. Doesn't he look cute?...He was in London on business and was able to come to the party as well.



Monday, June 9, 2008

Home Sweet Home

It was nothing short of a perfect two weeks that I just spent in Seattle.

The weather (at least, on average..) was good, the Mariners won the night I went to the game (miracle), I got to get my sushi and red meat fix (neither of which are that great here-at least at a price point I can afford!), time spent with Simon was fantastic-and he really enjoyed himself, and most importantly, I got to catch up with everyone that I've been missing the past three months!

It was a whirlwind trip, full of lots of nights out, eating and drinking-and funny observations....

-Oddly, I only had one home cooked meal (thanks, Eric & Kristi! you made my one meal to be FANTASTIC!). I actually thought I'd cook a bit while staying at Carrie's. I don't think the rice & canned tuna I had my first night on arrival counts...
-You know you've been in the UK too long when 'pop to the loo' makes it into your every day vernacular-even when you're not in the UK! I think my hair dresser is still scratching her head over what, exactly I meant when I said this.
-It's weird staying in a hotel in a town in which you own property. Between that and staying at Carrie's, I never actually went to my condo. So, I ultimately felt like a visitor who really knows their way around town-versus a Seattlite who was at home. Odd.
-I have too many shoes. I (only...) bought 3 pairs of shoes when in town. But, when added to my collection in London, I realize just how many I have. Maybe too many. Maybe...
-Hit and runs suck. Especially when you're the 'hittee.' Not that being the 'runner' would be any better...
-Being on a boat on Lake Union when the weather is good? There's really no better way to spend the day.
-And to that, when the weather is good in Seattle, there's no more perfect place I'd rather be.
-In an effort to consume as much good coffee as possible while in Seattle, I think I actually overdosed. I had one cup today-and could barely finish it!
-I think I barely walked more than 3-4 blocks on any given day in Seattle. A typical day in London is more like 3-4 miles.
-Though the London diet is a smashing success (to the comment about eating and drinking...), it's a good thing I'm back. I think I gained back almost every pound I've lost over the past 3 months during the two weeks in Seattle. Sad.
-I much prefer converting from dollars to pounds when in the US than from pounds to dollars when in the UK!

And, as much as I loved being back and visiting with everyone, towards the last few days, there was a part of me that really started to miss London. Partially because of Simon. Partially because of not sleeping in my own bed. But, I think as I was walking to dinner last nite, I finally understood the real reason: the hub-ub of London is contagious: people on the streets walking with purpose, the sound of traffic-and the sight of the double decker busses, the smell of (in this case) amazing Mediterranean food wafting from the restaurants we were passing by, just the 'feel' of the city. Don't get me wrong: I miss Seattle. But, at least for the time being, there is a novelty to living in London that I'm just enjoying. I'm sure at some point in the future, the things I just mentioned above will actually become the things I curse about this city (rude people plowing over you on the sidewalk, diesel fumes chugging forth out of bus engines, stinky odors coming from restaurants...), but until that day comes, I'm simply going to enjoy every moment of living here-and look forward to continuing to be a visitor in Seattle!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I Love my London Scales

If they're lying to me, so be it! I've somehow dropped another 5 pounds, bringing up my total weight loss since I've been here to 12 pounds. crazy.

Who would have thought that (literally) walking your ass off in this town could be so easy?!?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Malaga

If Ikea is the equivalent of hell on earth, then surely Malaga must be the equivalent of heaven.

What a lovely place! Unfortunately, in my rush to get out the door, I forgot my camera-and apparently Simon doesn't own one. How is that possible?!?

It's a quaint beach town-but there's more to it than just the beach. The 'downtown' pedestrian shopping area is simply amazing. In fact, we never left this area to make it to the beach.

Our hotel was amazing-Simon found it all by himself. :)... http://www.hotelmolinalario.com/ingles/

Food was fantastic (the best Iberian ham and Manchego cheese), wine was AMAZING. I suggest Faustino VII (red) or Faustino V (blanco). YUM. Brands I've never heard of, but are apparently quite popular-and very inexpensive. I bought a bottle of the blanco in duty free on the way out for €4.60. Not too shabby.

And the weather? Perfect. 70s the entire time. Not too hot, not too cool. Just right. We sat outside for lunch on Saturday from 2p-ish to 4p-ish. Got sun, but didn't roast (or fry). Perfect.

Apparently, Malaga is like the British back yard, so there are frequently cheap flights/hotel deals to be had. Good. I'll definitely be going back before the end of the year!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Meet Simon

Really. Meet Simon. He'll be joining me in Seattle the first week I'm there!











Anyone feel like introducing a Brit to the wonderfulness that is American Baseball-a Mariners game?...Looks like they're in town on Memorial Day-Wednesday playing Boston. I'm thinking of a Wednesday game...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Ate Cat Food in Porto

Well, not exactly cat food. I think. 'Pate do Sardinha.' Sardine Pate. Looked like catfood. Smelled like catfood. Even came in a small-ish tin like catfood. Kinda tasted what (I think) catfood tastes like.

Needless to say, this aspect of my lunch while in Porto on Saturday was very brief. The smoked oysters, cheeses, and fresh baguette-were however, simply amazing. And, this was just the appetiser that everyone gets. wow. Lunch actually consisted of grilled trout and fresh, boiled baby potatoes. yum. I had lunch at this cute cafe on the Duoro River. What a beautiful city. I'm getting ahead of myself...

I spent this past weekend in Porto, Portugal. A very quick weekend. Flew in Friday nite, and back to London Sunday morning. So, when all was said & done, I basically had one full day in Porto. Which is fine-it's so small, that a day is possible to hit the good stuff (read: port cellers).

My hotel, Grand Hotel de Paris was fantastic. Shabby, but quirky (note the toilet seat covers as wall decorations on the pic below). The weather was *perfect*-even if I didn't really pack for it. The jeans were too hot, and I didn't bring sunblock-so I got fried a bit. But, who cares? The weather was amazing!

My Saturday started with a late-ish (9a) breakfast-and what a breakfast!-for only 40 pounds a night, the spread was VERY impressive. I think I ate the equivalent to Vienna Sausages (for the first time in 25 years...), banana flambe, crepes, a fried egg, cheese, and tomatoes. Yum. After breakfast, I headed down to the Grand Cathedral-which was on the way down to the riverfront, and while there spied one of the local trolley's as it rode by. From here, I headed down to the riverfront for a stroll, and then crossed the bridge to the Villa Nova de Gaia-the town across the bridge where all of the port cellars are. The focus of my day. :)

I started out at Calem, where I got a tour, and the low-down on how to make port, where it's made, and the differences. Then the tasting began. It's barely 11a, and I'm the only person on the English speaking tour, so it's really just me and my guide 'hanging out' with a few glasses of Port. I've decided I'm not much of a fan of white port, and even though tawny is the only port I've had until this trip, it is also my favorite.

After Calem, I *hiked* a ways up to Taylor, where I had more port (including a new, pink variety. eh), and then decided I'd head further up the road to try just one more place. By now, it's getting to be close to 2p, and I'm starting to get tipsy. :) Last stop, Wiese & Krohn (Krohn is the only one I've ever heard or seen-or even tasted). All I can say is, yum. Really liked all the ones I tasted here-a white, a blend, and a tawny. Yum. Plus, the cute, 20-something who was fluent in 4 languages and had muscles out to *there* certainly didn't hurt....

After all the drinking, I head back across to the bridge to Porto, and eventually stop at one of the restaurants on the river where I have the afore mentioned cat food. By now, it's pushing 4p, and I've been trudging around since 9.30a. In jeans and easily 80 degree weather. Time to go drop off my purchases, change into something cooler, and take a few minutes to relax. Out again at 4.30 to head to the shopping district. Where, try as I might to find some fun clothes and shoes (the prices really are super cheap in Portugal, Carolyn!), the styles are just to 'European' for me. So, I settle for some perfume that I know is cheaper than duty free. By now, it's pushing 6p, and since stores close at 6p, it's time for me to leave. I stop at a cafe on the way back to the hotel for a beer. I'm still stuffed from dinner, so I figure the beer will be all I need for dinner, but I also decide to hit up the local bakery on the way back to the hotel to pick up 'dessert.' A mini-cream puff and mini -eclair. yum.

Back to the hotel around 7.30p, where by now, I'm soo pooped thanks to the combo of heat, full tummy, and alcohol that I pretty much hit the bed with a book, and only move to take a shower and pack.

All in all, it was like an extended me-day that just happened to be in a beautiful city. I can't complain!


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh Boy

I've been a bit quiet about Simon lately. Not because there's nothing to report, but rather because I just wanted to stay quiet about things & not jinx it. Things are actually going really well. So well in fact, that I've been invited to join Simon on a portion of the family vacation in Malaga (Spain) in a few weeks.

I don't know what has me more freaked out: the 'family vacation' part, or the fact that we're planning a weekend that is three and a half weeks from now. Crazy. It's actually been so easy with him so far, that I'm also a little freaked at the thought.

I like this guy a lot, and am actually contemplating inviting him to join me on a portion of my Seattle trip at the end of May/early June. Given the lengthy vacation he'll have just come back from, I doubt he'll be able to take more time off, but who knows?.. He may surprise me.

Oh boy.

Home Sweet Home




My things that came over by ship were delivered yesterday.

YEA!!!

I slept in *my* bed for the first time last nite in two months. And, ironically, I didn't sleep well. It's like it took me a while to get used to the actual comfort of my bed. But, the best part is, I didn't care that I was awake-I was COMFORTABLE!!!

The couch was too big to bring up the stairs (they're a little wonky as you turn a corner), so it had to be put in through a window on the second floor with ropes. I took a few pics & will post in a few days. Talk about nerve racking!

I'm already so excited at the thought of going home again tonite and sleeping in my bed.


Friday, April 18, 2008

You know you've lived in London to long when...

I had to call Seattle Public Utilities today to switch the name on the account over to my renter, Jorge.

All it took was one simple phone call. Not 10. Not a form. Not 7-10 business days before it would take effect. I didn't have to provide a blood sample to prove who I was. One phone call.

After the things I've had to deal with here so far to take care of 'basic living,' I forgot how easy taking care of things could be in the States.

Three More Nights!

It was confirmed today: My cargo shipment arrives on Monday. My bed, more clothes, kitchen 'things.'!

Three more nights of sleeping on an air mattress, then I get my bed back. It will be a good night of sleep on Monday. For once, I can't wait for Monday to come!!!

There's No Delicate Way to Say This...

The toilets here are different.

Evidence remails after flushing that makes it clear what your business was. Every toilet I've used so far. I guess the glazing just isn't as good on porcelain here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Last Connection has Been Cut

I just finished cancelling my US cell phone. Done. Gone. No longer. 206...does not exist to me any longer.
And, for just one brief moment, when the T-Mobile person said, 'are you sure?'...there was a moment of hesitation on my part.

But then, I plunged ahead. What the heck.

Friday, April 11, 2008

O Happy Day!

I finally got the PIN to my ATM card!!! Dance of joy!!!

Now, while this may seem like a non-event to those of us who have spent our lives in the US, let me explain. I don't think I've yet told the saga of "kristina trying to get her ATM & Credit Card.." If I thought Ikea was Hell, Banking in the UK is surely Purgatory!

I knew several weeks before moving the UK (that's like 2 months ago by now..) that with Amazon's help, I could set up a bank account and get a credit card at NatWest. Cool. I was told the process would take 2 weeks for the bank account and another week or so for the credit card. Cool! I even emailed the paperwork over from the US before leaving. Two months ago. remember this.

I arrive in the UK, and after a week am told the bank needs the 'originals' to the paperwork. OK. No problem. I mail it in. On March 26-3 weeks after I arrive and 5 weeks aftere I've submitted even the first hint of paperwork-I get my bank account. I then am told, my ATM card is on it's way to your home. Cool.

Two Saturdays later, I just happen to be home at 9a, when the mail courrier comes. I have a package to sign for. It's my ATM card. I had NO IDEA I had to be present to sign for it (which likely explains why Sarah never received her card...), I just happened to be at home. Cool. I'm in business!

Wrong. I still need my PIN. Which, I have to apply for seperately, and will be mailed to me seperately. OR I can go to my local branch bank and receive. There's literally a NatWest downstairs, so I pop out at 9.30a on Saturday, March 29-10 minutes after receiving the card. I am told by the teller, 'oh. your account is in Jersey. we can't do anything for you in the local branches.' Jersey, folks, is the offshore place I was told to set my account up at-for tax purposes. whatever. like i ever have to do anything 'for tax purposes' given what my income is here. the best the branch can do is mail the application form for me. but WAIT. the address the bank has for me is the corporate housing address and I'm moving to my permanent housing in the next weeek. so, I have to also change my address. which the local branch can't do. grr..

Monday comes, and I call Jersey to request an address change. I have to mail in another form. And pray it gets there and gets processed before the PIN is issued. Well, thank my lucky stars it was-hence the delivery of my pin to my house just now. 8 weeks after I started this proces.

Oh, and the credit card?!?! First one was mailed to the old address last week. A. I have to be present to sign for it. and B. It's my old address. So, I then had to call the bank up (not Jersey..) and request an address change, have the first card cancelled, and request a new card. I requested that it be mailed to work. If I'm lucky, it will come some time next week. 9 weeks after I started this process.

So, in the time that I've been here, I've charged just a few things on my US credit cards (freakin 3% 'international transaction fee'), and paid for most things with cash. Food, beverages, touristy things in Edinburgh, transportation, 'stuff.' I feel like I'm bleeding cash. Which, I basically am.

But, with the arrival of my PIN today, I can stop tapping into the US account and start actually using the money that's been sitting in my UK account and inaccessable.

This process has been the bane of my existence since I arrived, and has wasted so much of my time. I don't know if it's this bad for folks who move to the US from outside the US, but if it is, I can certainly sympathize.

My American Optimism has certainly been crushed, but maybe with the arrival of the PIN today, I can buy a bit of it back later tonite! :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The London Diet

Holy crap! I've lost 7 pounds! And, given the *utter junk* I've been putting in my body-more chips, cookies, chocolates, and soda in the past 6 weeks than in the past year for sure, I'm stunned!

But, when I hopped on the scale at the gym lat nite (FINALLY got a membership), my weight in both kilograms and stone (14 pounds equals one stone, btw...), I confirmed with the calculator this morning that I have indeed lost more weight. This is like, 17 pounds in 4 months. Crazy.

I'm sure that the 10 minute walk to the train, 10 minute walk to work, and doing this all in reverse every day-plus just general walking around, has certainly kept me from gaining weight, but I never thought I'd loose.

7 pounds lost AND I'm eating what I want?!? I may never come back to the US.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Next Travel Destination: Porto, Portugal

I'll be heading to Porto (or Port, as we Americans know it...) the weekend of April 25.

I'm beginning to sense a theme: Whiskey in Edinburgh. Port wine in Porto. I think Champagne in France should be next, followed by beer in Munich! Any other suggestions?...

Oh, and Edinburgh was fantastic. Coldest I've been in a while, but otherwise, I loved it. It's very picturesque-reminds me a lot of Seattle-mountains and very hilly, sits on a port, so it's surrounded by water. Friendly people, much cheaper than London. Oh, and the whiskey certainly didn't hurt either. :)

For you whiskey drinkers (and non-drinkers-of which I primarily am), you should try to find a single malt blend (yes, you heard me right...) called Monkey Shoulder. yum. Burns the gums long after going down!

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Perfect Sunday

Yesterday was my first Sunday I didn't spend scurrying around London shopping or playing tourist. Instead, I did the thing that makes me feel most normal and settled when in a new city: I played softball.

A co-worker at Amazon (who just moved over 10 days ago from Seattle) found a league, and I joined him yesterday for what I thought was supposed to be a light practice and scrimmage. Well, four hours later...we had a practice in which there were drills, and we played a double-header scrimmage. But, the weather yesterday was unbelieveable: so warm, I was comfortable in long gym pants and a long T-shirt. yea! Spring is officially here. I hope...

The team is quite diverse (as apparently all of the softball teams here are): half Aussie, not quite half American, and an odd Brit or other European or two thrown in for good measure. Apparently, softball is a HUGE sport in Australia-especially women's fast pitch. This I learned yesterday.

It's a pretty hard core group of people in terms of their dedication & love of the sport. But, I feel like I'll be able to keep pace and contribute-and perhaps even return to the US with some new skillz. And, the best part: It's a fun group. We had a bbq at someone's house after the game yesterday, and I just had a blast. It felt good to simply be hanging out in someone's home with a beer and a burger, and talking about whatever.

Softball has never let me down: It's how I found friends in Atlanta when I moved there and didn't know anyone. It's how I found friends in Seattle when I moved there as well & didn't know a soul. If yesterday is any indication, it will also be how I find friends here.

It was a good Sunday.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ikea=Hell

I just spent 4 hours in hell yesterday. My soon to be roomie and I trekked (and, I'm not using that term loosely) down to Ikea in Croydon yesterday. A tube ride, train ride, and tram ride-and an hour later-and we were there.

The 'shopping' part of the experience only took two hours-an Ikea record, when you consider how much we had to get. Then, as we left to pay, it's like the gates from Purgatory opened up and said 'welcome to hell.' After ringing up our purchases (£750 yikes), since we're both still struggling with the UK Bank thing, and have no UK credit card, Sarah decided to pay with her US credit card. This is where things went horribly sideways. To charge the amount with a non-UK credit card, the cashier had to get approval from the credit card company. So, she called her customer service, who in turn called the credit card. 30 minutes later, we're still waiting for approval. 30 minutes. That was not a typo. grr.

Well, after 20 minutes of it, since we knew we still had to take our haul (bed, bureau, dining table & chairs..) over to the "Home Delivery" section, I set off with the two carts to go queue up and start the process. 10 minutes go by, and Sarah finally makes it over to me. Where, I haven't moved, and have observed perhaps the two slowest workers-who clearly didn't give a crap-in my life. A snail's pace would have been faster. Twenty minutes in line we wait before we're called up, and then 10 minutes later, we're done and are off.

So, in a nutshell, here was a good portion of my Saturday: 1 hour of transportation, Two hours of shopping, and hour of queuing, and an hour and a half of return transport. No wonder the Brits complain about everything-they've got A LOT to complain about. I think my 'American Optimism' may have been damaged a bit yesterday.

Oh, and the worst part? We've got to go back again to get all of the little things (outdoor table, lamps, rugs, etc...) that we didn't have time to get this time. Oh joy. I get to take another trip back to hell. God save me.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My New Favorite Commercial

Random, I know..but I was talking about this commercial at dinner tonite with Simon, and I couldn't help but come home and find out about it. It's an addictive song. Sung originally by Steve ("Higher Love") Winwood. Who would have thought!...

Hope you like it as much as I do:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9beQh1yH5uU

well I'm a man, yes I am and I can't help but love you so....

catchy!

Friday, March 28, 2008

My First Paycheck

Oh, I'm po' (That's poorer than poor for all of y'all not familiar with this southern slang).

I was temporarily excited by my first paycheck I received yesterday-because the after tax part wasn't that bad. Not great, but not bad... until I realized that it's my only income in UK for this 'tax year' (their year ends on March 31. Go figure..). So, the UK 'IRS' thinks I earn the lowest tax bracket amount. Sadly, it's not true, so the next paycheck will have even MORE tax withheld as we start the new tax year.

Double the expense of living here, and my takehome pay will (at best) equal what I took home in Seattle.

Shite. Anyone know any rich Barons, Dukes, Princes, or something similar I can marry. Sir Paul (Macca to the Brits) is single now, but he's a bit too old for me...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Date Update

For all you enquiring minds..

Second date in London was also successful. We met at 3p on Monday (gotta love those bank holidays), for what was suppposed to simply be drinks and maybe a nibble. Well...8 hours later, I finally jumped into bed (alone. minds out of gutters, please...). Drinks and a nibble turned into drinks and a nibble and drinks and dinner. Good fun, but I had way too much to drink for a school nite.

There will be a third date on Saturday...These Londoners take this dating thing very seriously!

But, to all my single lady friends back home. A few observations: British men are huge gentlemen! They open doors for you, wait for you to order first, hold your hand when crossing busy streets, and put up a huge fight when you try to pay for anything on the date. It's really too good to be true...All you guys back in the US had better take note!

Homeless no More

By tomorrow, I will officially be a renter in London. We had our Mews House inspected this afternoon (yes, inspected. the process here to rent is almost as rigorous as the process to BUY in the US), which is the last step before getting keys. Our lease terms starts today, but due to some MAJOR screw ups by the bank, it will be tomorrow before our first month's rent is deposited with the landlord and we get keys.

woo hoo! thiiis close to feeling like I have a home here, which should make London in general seem more like home. though it's funny. i had to pop over to the leasing agent this morning to drop off some paperwork, and I couldn't help but notice how incredibly comfortable I felt just walking the streets with nothing more than my AtoZ London Street Guide and written directions. I guess London is starting to feel more like home already!

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Farewell Tour

Well, it seems a little out of place in the flow now, to post about my leaving Seattle, but since I only got my camera connection/upload thingy in my air freight shipment yesterday, better late than never!

Departing Seattle was such a surreal experience, I can't even begin to describe-and heck, after 3 weeks, seems difficult to even remember all the details. But, as they say...A picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll just let them speak for me. In order of my farewells for the week:





Monday, March 17, 2008

Great Online Travel Resources

Partially for me, and largely for anyone who is planning a trip to London-with the intent of going elsewhere in Europe (HINT, HINT), I thought I'd keep a running list of those those travel websites that are most helpful...

Discount Air
http://www.ryanair.com/
http://www.easyjet.com/
http://www.wizzair.com/

General Travel (air, hotel, car, etc)
http://www.kayak.co.uk/

Rail
http://seat61.com/ (thanks for the find, Tom)

London Tube
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/

General Consumer Stuff
http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/travel/ (the travel tab may be worth checking out...)

London Car Rental (a la Flexcar/Zipcar)
http://www.streetcar.co.uk/


Happy Travels!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

My First Date in London-the Update

Success!

My New Obession

It's utter crap-the acting is horrible (as are the story lines) and I don't even watch this type of show in the US, but I am so addicted to one of the serial soap here, The Eastenders.

Check it out when you have a moment: http://www.bbc.co.uk/eastenders/

Good times.

My First Date in London. Yikes.

Well, like most singletons in London (and Seattle..), I've joined a dating site in an effort to quickly get myself out there and meeting folks. Be careful what you ask for...

I've my first 'date' tonite. First meeting-and in fact, since I don't have a cell phone yet, it's the first time I'll have even spoken with him. And, unlike most US-based first dates, where a drink or two-and an hour of two is the maximum, this is pretty serious: reservations at a proper restaurant. drinks before. and, if it weren't for the fact that it's been pouring buckets all day long, we were going to go for a stroll around Regents Park beforehand. yikes.

His name is Simon (JenArm, you'll appreciate that...), and he seems like an incredibly funny guy. But, dinner AND drinks? Yikes.

Should be interesting, to say the least..

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Great Tea Debate

I couldn't ask for a more British post than this..

The past 30 minutes at work have consisted of my co-workers (who sit near me) debating the merits of tea. How long could that really take, you ask? Well, there's much to consider here...

Typhoon tea (popular brand here...) versus Earl Grey versus Pickwick (the brand in the breakroom). Add to that the proper water temperature (hot versus hot, hot) and preparation method (tea kettle, versus tap that's been microwaved versus the hot selection from the filtered water bottle in the kitchen), and we have ourselves a full blown debate!

The verdict? Typhoon that is hot (not hot, hot) made with the filtered hot water. Why?...At
£1.10 and 50 tea bags, Tyhpoon is cheapest. Hot, hot, is too hot for most people. And the kettle is scary now with all of the sediment that's built up in it over the years-and no true English person would ever think of heating water in the microwave for a proper cup of tea!

In case you ever wonder...

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Ick


I love tuna. I love mayonnaise. I love the two together. When I do it myself.

While shopping in Tesco today (local grocery market chain), I came across a jar of "Tuna & Mayonnaise Paste." Ick.

What are they thinking?

I took a picture (yes, and received some stares along the way...), and will upload when I get my camera linking to computer thingy next week.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

My First Holiday Booked!

Edinburgh, Scotland-here I come!

We get a four day holiday here in two weeks for Easter. Yep. Four days. Crazy, I know.

And, I couldn't just let this opportunity go to waste. So, I decided to book a trip. Opting for cheap-since it's a major travel holiday and I'm waiting until 2 weeks out to boook, my choices were limited. But, when I say 'cheap', I mean under a £100 for a round trip ticket. So, I'm going to Edinburgh. Price? £65. And half of that is tax. Crazy.

Can't. Wait.

The First Week in Review

I must admit: I really didn't think this week would be as productive and painless as it was. I was expecting a general sense of overwhelming stress (not that there weren't moments...), late nites at work(not that there wasn't one or two), and an overall feeling of 'oh crap' (which, this never really happened).

But the reality was 180 degrees away from this for the most part. In review: Monday was a wasted day really-half day of orientation, 2 hour lunch, and the rest of the day was filled with 'new job' things-paperwork for health insurance, getting the computer set up, getting the phone set up, passwords, etc...ick. All in all, a lost day-but necessary in any new job. It is what it is.

Tuesday (and BTW, I won't review every single week like this...I just want to get the first week down for memory...) was more productive: I drafted my 90 day and 12 month roadmap (yikes! more like 6 month and 2 year roadmap-from all the work...), had a brief chat with my new boss, Les, and finalized all the little details (setting up meetings with all my main points of contact for the balance of the week) that i didn't get to do on Monday.

Wednesday and Friday were one in the same: meetings with those main points of contact. About 10 in all, I think? And from each of these, a long list of things that need to be done. I should add it to the roadmap next week. oy. I think I'l now be up to a one year and three year roadmap! :)

Thursday was a treat-and frustrating all at the same time. I worked from home on Thursday because I had a 3 hour lunch & chat with a vendor right in the middle of the day. A trip out to Slough and back (and the expense) for just a half day isn't worth it. Our lunch was at a restaurant called Scott. It's in one of the poshest areas of town I've seen so far-a Rolls Royce dealership and Marc Jacobs store were just around the corner. www.scotts-restaurant.com. The cool thing was that this is the restaurant where Ian Flemming (James Bond writer) came up with his 'shaken not stirred' martini idea. Yep. That chi-chi-poo-poo...One of the ladies at lunch said this was one of the places that get stalked by paparazzi on a regualr basis.

The frustrating thing was that the metro line I was on to get to said restaurant shut down due to a train problem-and I was still 2 miles away from the restaurant. By the time I surfaced and started walking, all of the cabs I saw were full of people. So, I started walking. About a mile and 20 minutes later, my feet said 'no more', and at about that time I turned around and saw the first vacant cab I'd seen since I started walking. Whew. My poor feet, after living here, will never be the same. I understand now why it seems like everyone's shoes always look so shabby. Mine are already taking on that appearance. Between this little walk and my other walking for the evening, I'll bet I walked 4-5 miles that day. whew!

The social life this week was a hodge podge: Sushi with co-workers Monday nite. Mexican with my soon-to-be roomie, Sarah on Tuesday. Crazy Homies. Actually, really good-and packed with American expats...I stayed home on Wednesday. Dinner with the brother of a friend of a friend (crazy, I know...Jeff. Nice guy. We had a good chat.) on Thursday (Thai-and it was quite tasty!), and dinner out last nite. So much for cutting back on my going out spending. I figure the first few weeks while I'm trying to meet as many folks as possible, that I'm not going to turn down any offer simply because of cost. A month from now? Different story. But, I'm being really good about eating lunch in-either taking or bringing leftovers from the nite before. And, since the 'good' coffee at work isn't that great, I'm suddenly down to two cups a day (and one of those I make at home!).

All in all? Short of winning the lottery, being told they made a mistake in my salary-and it really should be double my US earings, or meeting Mr Perfect, I couldn't have asked for a better first week. Oh, and the weather-up until today has been brilliant. Cool, but sunny every day. Not too bad!