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,, 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.


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! :)