Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

For the first time in well over 15 years, I actually said these words to someone on Saturday who wasn't a friend or relative (read:  I know they celebrate Christmas, and thus the comment applies).  Not once, but twice! I was at Borough Market doing my usual Saturday food shopping, and at both the Flaxseed stand and the French Dairy stand (best French butter with sea-salt chunks, BTW...), both proprietors said "Merry Christmas" to me as I walked away and, instead of replying with my usual PC-ridden 'Happy Holidays!', I responded as well with 'Merry Christmas.'

I won't lie:  It felt weird to utter the phrase.  For better or worse, over the years, I've tried to be aware of the fact that not everyone celebrates Xmas-and thus 'Merry Christmas' might be irrelevant.  I've even taken it to the point of not buying 'Holiday cards' that overtly had any reference to Jesus, Santa, or anything that was clearly Christmassy.

So, when I got home from the market and told Simon about this-and about my previous behaviour, he effectively told me to get over it-Brits aren't that overly-sensitive about such a thing!

OK!  Well seeing as how I'm trying to be as accomodating of the culture in which I live (said with tongue firmly planted in my cheek...): Merry Christmas everybody!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Blog Post about Blogging

No, this isn't one of those blog posts where people talk about the millions of dollars/pounds/euro they've earned off their blogs-though, that would be nice....This is just a post about 'my blog.'  Sort of.

Somewhere over the last 2-3 days, I hit what I would call a milestone-though if you would have asked me about this 2 years ago, I wouldn't have thought it important at the time:  25 followers of my blog, American Expat in London.

Somewhere in the world, 25 people seem to think that what I have to say is interesting/funny/stupid (insert additional adjective here...) enough to actually not only stop by & read what I write from time to time, but actually tick a little box that says, 'yeah. i want to know when she's posted something new.'  Crazy.

Who are you people?!?  I say that in jest-as for many of you, I've started to follow your profiles back to your own blogs and have figured that out for myself.  But, I guess for you 25, me, and anyone else out there, I can't help but wonder, what is so [insert adjective here] about someone's personal blog to make you want to follow it?

As for me, I'm beginning to discover a few blogs from folks that are also American Expats in London, the UK, or elsewhere in the world.  Stuck in the Toffee Pudding is my latest discovery of an American Expat blog, or vice versa as Brits living in the US with  Expat Mum. And regardless of which side of the pond they've come from/gone to, I find comfort in the common pain-points of being an Expat, as well as the joys of discovering new things.

For a few other blogs, the ladies seem to cook some lovely recipes-and based on what I've tried from their blogs-can say from firsthand experience that the pictures don't lie.  Thanks, Intrepid Chef-your latest post on Ice Cream Pumpkin Pie looks fantastic!

Though ironically, one of the reasons I started this blog-to easily keep my friends back in the US up to date on my life-I find that Facebook seems to have taken care of that nicely.  Instead, I simply seem to be updating people who I either know here in the UK (hello Simon), long lost friends I haven't seen in years (but who discovered my blog on my Facebook profile), or any other number of people that seem to pop by from time to time. Go figure.

And, let's be honest:  for most of us who have a blog & blog with any level of regularity, there is an eensie weensie kernel of hope that 'someone' will discover our blog, realize what amazing writers & story tellers we are, and offer us large sums of money to publish what we've posted about.  I know there is a part of me that thinks that would be cool. It's not why I blog-and certainly not what I think about when blogging per se. But, from time to time, as I contemplate 'my blog', the thought does creep into my head.

OK.  I realize I've gone a bit long winded here.  But, the past month as I've been thinking about my blog, these are some of the random thoughts that have been floating around, and if for any other reason than to stay true to the reason I blog, I wanted to get it down.

Oh, and completely random...I'd like to add a new 'Weather widget' to my blog-one that isn't so big & ugly.  Does anyone have any suggestions?  I've looked around, but can't find anything...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thank You

It's a common phrase in the English language, but probably one that isn't used enough.  Nonetheless, at lunch today, a few of my British & American co-workers had a discussion about the different ways you can say 'thank you' here in England. Aside from the obvious 'thank you' and 'thanks', I think most folks are also familiar with 'cheers'-which, as it turns out can mean thanks, or a whole host of other things-like 'bye' or 'ok'.
But, one of my personal favorites that I'm hearing with increasing frequency the past 6 months is 'ta'.  In American-speak, on rare occasions, you may hear someone say 'ta-ta' as in goodbye, but apparently here in England, 'ta' means thank you.

I like it, but for some reason, can't bring myself to use it just yet.  I pepper a lot of my conversations these days with 'Brit-speak,' but I think it's the Brit-speak that is common enough that even if used in the US, folks would know what it means.  But, I guess because 'ta' hasn't crossed the pond yet  (has it?...let me know if it has!), I can't bring myself to use it.

I guess I just don't to come off sounding like some faux-Brit-speaking, Madonna-with-her-posh-accent-wannabe...

So, in the meantime, I guess I'll just keep saying thanks!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

We're In! Hello Fat Duck.

This somewhat takes the sting of T'giving away... ;)

After talking about it for over a year, and actively trying to get a reservation for weeks now, we're booked for a meal at Fat Duck!

This is no easy feat: they only accept reservations 2 months in advance-to the date. And, as they book up usually the first 20 minutes of the day their phones are open at 10am, if you're not on the line at 9.59.59 am, you're usually out of luck.

I've tried for some time to no avail-and finally today, at 10.00.05 am, I got thru-and got a table! Oh, happy day. I wonder if it will be crass to take my camera and take pictures of everything?...

Simon's Birthday is Feb 2, so I've booked a Sunday lunch for January 31. I've decided to make an entire weekend out of the meal, but Simon only knows about Fat Duck (though, as I know he reads my blog from time to time, the secret probably won't last for long...). They're located in this adorable 'village' called Bray-about a 40 minute train ride out of London. I've booked a cute B&B for Saturday and dinner at The Hinds Head (the gastropub owned by the same chef as Fat Duck) for Saturday nite.

The tasting menu at Fat Duck is around £150/person, so it goes without saying that the cost of this weekend will basically be our entire entertainment budget for a good chunk of January! But, I'm so darned excited (chuffed as the Brits would say), I can't wait!

Turkey, schmurkey.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What Happened to Thanksgiving?

To me, Thanksgiving signals the arrival of the proper holiday season (regardless of what retailers in September or October would lead us to believe...), and even though I haven't always made a big meal-production out of it while living in the US-my ex-flatmate, Sarah & I decided to continue with the tradition we started last year and co-host a potluck at my flat this year.
We had 17 people lined up to come over, and I'm sure it would have been a blast-great food, flowing wine, fabulous people-American, Brit, and a few other nationalities I believe.

[Cue sound of the record needle scraping across the record]

That is until Simon came down with Swine Flu last weekend. I'm certainly not going to be one to put my friends in harm's way by still having them come to my virus-infected flat, so Sarah & I quickly tried to come up with a Plan B. Long story short, we ended up having drinks and dinner out (no turkey. no pumpkin pie.) at a local restaurant. And though the food was great, the drinks were flowing, and the people were fabulous, it really wasn't the same.

Especially now that I'm not living in the US, there's something about this day of the year in which I was *really, really* looking forward to a Thanksgiving, potluck meal. Poor me. This is all about me. Never mind the boyfriend who's already been out of work sick for a week. :)

So, I think I will have to rectify the situation this weekend: perhaps a small roasted turkey breast, pumpkin pie, stuffing, and a veg or two. No big production, no 17 people over or wine flowing by the gallon..but I do feel the need to make this meal. I guess there's a part of me that simply missed what the day's events would have meant-and, I don't just mean the caloric intake!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

And, just when I think I've gotten the hang of living in the UK, I get this email from our MD today at work:

"Good Morning all,

Today is Armistice Day. We have a number of external meetings, deliveries etc which happen around the building so as usual we haven’t asked for a standstill at 11am.

However, I do want people to feel comfortable to stop and reflect for two minutes at 11am if they wish to do so and would ask anyone playing music, using printers etc to stop or switch off for this period."

I think it's pretty cool that in this day & age, it's apparently still commonplace for people to pause for a few minutes to reflect. I can't imagine any email like this going out to people at a US company encouraging a 2-minute pause at work!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Moving to London? Part 2

Well, as expected, after my first Moving to London post, I've had a few other things come to mind that I thought might be worth mentioning. I tried to wait until I had several more things to mention, so there wasn't a constant stream of blog posts entitled, 'oh. one more thing.' :). In no particular order of importance..
1. If you have the luxury/flexibility/budget-and assuming you won't drive, pick a place to live that doesn't force you to rely on *only* one tube line. Especially the Jubilee. With increasing frequency as I've lived here the past (almost) two years, parts of a tube line-or in some cases an entire line will be shut for part if not all of the weekend. Yes, there may be bus-replacement service, but seriously...what would normally be a 15 minute trip for you may be a 45 minute-plus trip. You won't want to deal with this on such an ongoing basis. I have a friend who signed an 18 month lease in Canary Wharf a few months ago. The Jubilee line is the only lie that serves that part of town. He's effectively without tube transport at all on the weekends. Every weekend. For 18 months. Avoid at all costs...
2. Say goodbye to your American clothes dryer and hello to your new best friend-a clothes rack. Most London flats don't have the space here as in the US. I realize that's stating the obvious that most people know already. But, what most people don't know (I didn't until I moved here...) was that that in the never-ending pursuit of space-saving appliances in Britain, the invention of the combo washer/dryer simply means that your clothes will never, ever get dried in the machine. Not unless you wish to dry a load of clothes for well over three hours. Which, let's face it: who has the time-or budget to run such an appliance? Instead, you'll end up buying one of those multi-tiered clothes racks, just like you used to have in college. Joy.
3. With that being said, what not having a proper dryer also means is that your jeans will never fit you tightly again (god, how I miss the miracle-jeans-shrinking my American dryer provided).
4. www.tfl.gov.uk will become crucial to you knowing what tube lines are open at any given time during the week and on the weekend. You will save yourself endless amounts of frustration if you sign up to receive the weekly email that provides details on all the weekend line closures.
5. Customer service. I know this is one of the things I've talked about several times in this blog-especially early on, but I'm just going to come out and say it: The customer service is so bad-and there is so much to take care of when you first arrive-that the first three months you're in the UK, you will simply be perpetually pissed off. When I first moved here, I reached the point after having so many bad experiences, that I *started off* my calls to customer service already in a bad mood-and I'm definitely of the 'catch more flies with honey' belief. It simply couldn't be helped. Perpetually pissed off...
6. Timeout website. For me, it's an infinite source of information when trying to find a new place to eat, new pub to try, movie information...basically, all things entertainment. There are a ton of websites that go into more detail on individual topics, but for one-stop-shopping, Timeout is a great source of info.
7. I am soooo not a tax advisor, but I implore you: talk to a tax professional about something called the 'DDR.' It's a special (and somewhat unknown-though, I certainly don't understand why...) deduction that expatriates who *intend* to live in the UK for under two years-and who have been moved here by their employer-are allowed to take. The DDR effectively allows you to deduct all of your basic living expenses (rent, most utilities, council tax, food...), transportation to work costs, and transportation 'back home' costs. This is NOT an inconsequential deduction-most of your out of pocket expenses in the UK are for these very items. This can mean the difference between kissing 42% of your paycheck goodbye or keeping most of it. If there is one thing you do before moving to the UK, seek tax advice from someone who specializes in US Expatriate tax returns, and talk to them about this. DO IT.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Anthropologie Opens in London!

Dear Anthropologie,

After months and months of waiting, you've finally arrived in London! I signed up and received your email telling me you had finally opened: a glorious day. I received your next email a few days later saying that 5000 people showed up on opening day! Could 5000 people be wrong? Certainly not! To avoid the mob, I went at noon this past Sunday-right when your doors opened. I wanted you all to myself-or at least myself and slightly *less* than 5000 people. I waited in anticipation for a full week to see you in all of your glory-all three floors of beautiful clothes and housewares and your amazing, inspiring store design. Wow.

And, you did not disappoint! Glorious clothes-all in *American Sizes*-and sized even larger (I think, or was I just giddy with excitement?...) than what I find in Anthropologie in the US! Ah, this could be trouble...

Until I got home, and hopped on your website to look at a few other things and discovered this:
YOUR PRICING IN GBP IS EXACTLY THE SAME AS USD.

So, tell me this, Anthropologie: Why do you want me to pay £88 for the same sweater I can by in the US for $88?!?!?

Are you f-ing kidding me?

Anthropologie, you were thiiiis close to making me simply sign away a quarter of my paycheck every month. Now, due to your amazingly appaling pricing strategy, not only will I not be spending my paycheck at your London store, I'm going to tell everyone I know about this.

Anthrpologie, it's over between us. You've disappointed me in a way that is simply beneath you.

As eloquently as I can possibly think to say,


Bite Me.

Catching Up!

It's been a whirlwind week of All-Things-American!
NFL UK came to Wembley on Sunday (Sunday, Sunday...) Oct, 25. New England Patriots versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley. I was fortunate to go with a pack of friends-and one of the girls (Melissa) in the group kindly offered her place for a tummy-filling brunch feast before we went to Wembley. Long day, though...Simon & I were at Melissa's at 10.30a, and we finally got home at 8.30p. Whew!
But, it was a great day: great brunch, *amazing* weather all day long, great pre-funk 'tailgate' in the Wembley carpark, great seats, good group of folks to go with. All in all...a perfect way to spend a Sunday!
















And, then this past Saturday was the most hallowed of American Holidays: Halloween! Perhaps my favorite holiday of the year-and certainly the only day of the year in which I actually like children. :) Another American friend, Carrie had a fabulous H'weenie party-complete with keg o' beer (a huge rarity here in Britan. um, the country that drinks a lot of beer...go figure), and Hidden Valley Ranch dip. hee. A lovely taste of Americana. It was Simon's first Halloween party-he went dressed as a Ghostbuster. I went dressed as an '80s Girl'-which, I guess isn't much of a stretch given the fashion trends that are currently prevailing here in the UK. But, I'm pleased I finally got to bust out some of my costume jewellery that hasn't been worn since literally, the 80s! :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Moving to London?

It seems like 'tis the season for expats moving to London. I've had two seperate conversations with people this week who are moving here and in the course of answering some of their questions have realized that though I talk 'around' some of these things in my blog, I've never directly come out and stated a few things I've figured out since being here.


In the spirit of one of the reasons I started this blog, it's never too late to disclose my top 'hindsight 20/20' thoughts on the topic. So, in no particular order, if you're moving to London, here are my tips/thoughts-for what it's worth...


1. Furniture...Most flats in London come furnished-even down to the toaster & tea kettle & utensils. So, unless you simply have a piece of furniture you *can't live without*, I'd strongly encourage you to sell it/give it away/store it...something. Just don't bring it. Aside from possibly not needing it, it may be too big to even fit! :) An American Queen size bed=a British King size bed, and many flats are multi-level non-elevator. Think about how difficult it was just to get your Queen mattress into your 3rd floor apartment in the US-that accomodates larger things. Now, cut that hallway width in half, add a few turns up the stairs, and imagine trying to cut the corners. It can't be done.
If, for some crazy reaon you end up in a flat that isn't furnished, I have one simple word: Ikea.
2. Appliances...Regardles of what the label says it will accomodate-in terms of voltage-very few US appliances will properly function/charge here in the UK. The only thing I've been able to use without any problems (though I have had to use both a plug & voltage converter) is my Wii and my Blackberry charger (though again, I've had to use a plug converter). Leave everything else at home. Yes, especially the TV-voltage aside, US TVs will simply not receive a picture in the UK. Also...if you're keen on bringing your US DVDs, know that you will need to buy a DVD player here that is either 'multi-region' or can be programmed to play DVDs from just the UK.
3. Prams (Strollers)....People here seem to use prams for one of three reasons (sometimes all at the same time): to transport their children, to transport their shopping, or as a weapon. I somewhat joke about the last one. Only somewhat...
Nonetheless, unlike in the US, where it is expected that past just a few years, kids will toddle around when they're out with their parents, the reality in London is it's not possible. Sidewalks are too crowded/unstable, people are too agressive, and ultimately, children will be too slow. So, people here seem perfectly fine continuing to use a pram even when toting around a child of 4 or even 5 (at least, a few look this old). My point is, if you're moving here with children under the age of 5-and planning to live *in* London, you may seriously want to consider bringing your stroller.
4. One of the best information resources for financial, utility, shopping, coupons, deals...anything: Money Saving Expert. Find the website and save it as a favourite. You will want & need to refer to it often!
5. Shoes...Unless you will have a car here, or won't be walking 3+ miles a day...leave your heels at home. I'm not talking stilettos. I'm talking anything over a one-inch heel-perhaps two for special occasions. You will simply ruin your feet. I brought a pair of wedge shoes with me that were comfortable. Right. Comfortable in the US when I drive and park two blocks from the building I'm going in. Not when I'm in London and have 2 blocks to walk just to get to my nearest tube. Save the space in your closet-and your feet.
6. Mobile phones. Unless you're going to have a phone provided/paid for by your employer, don't bother getting a contract. 18 month contracts are the norm here-you can find some 12 month contracts, but it's rare, and more expensive. And really, as cheap as a pay as you go SIM card is, you'd be hard pressed to save any money by going on a contract. Also, you can't get a contract unless you have a UK debit card/bank account (more on that in a moment..).
5. Coffee. Sadly, it breaks my heart to say this: Starbucks in the UK is no bueno. On a normal day in the US, a drip coffee from Starbucks would do me just fine. But, flavour palates here are different, and as such, SBUX drip here is pretty awful. Save yourself and just pay a few pence more and get an Americano. Also, if you tend to like your coffee a bit strong-skip the Starbucks (oh, the pain...) and go to Nero. Nero is another coffee chain here who makes the best coffee-for a chain...
6. Banking...For the love of god: if you're transferring with your employer, DEMAND that they help you get sorted with your bank account-AND a credit card. If possible, even prior to your arrival here. You will simply not be able to funciton without a UK bank account-there are many things (mobile contract, montly gym membership, etc...) that you can't even get without a UK debit card. And credit cards?....Get one if you can at the time you're getting your banking sorted. It will help build up your credit rating here-should you decide to stay for any lenght of time.
If possible, work to have your bank applications started-and completed before your final deparure to the UK. And, most importantly: your first ATM/Debit card and Credit Card will have to be signed for upon delivery-not that you know when it's going to be delivered. So, unless you work at home every day: have the card either sent to your local bank branch or to your work address. Trust me on this one. I had to learn the hard way.
7. Banks...not to be confused with 'Banking'...I personally bank with NatWest. Wasn't my choice-it was who my employer had the relationship with. But, hindsight and choice allowed?...I would suggest Barclay or HSBC. They're a bit more 'global', and I think provide better features than NatWest. But, beggars can't be choosy.
8. Getting around...if you're not fortunate enough to have a phone that has either built in GPS or you've been able to download some type of GPS application, get yourself an AtoZ" (prounounced A to Zed). It's a tiny book of all London roads-indexed. It was invaluable for my first year here in being able to get around. You should be able to grab them in any book store-or online at Amazon.co.uk (hint, hint.. ;)).



OK. That's the brain dump. I'm sure that's not it. Likely a few more things will come to mind, and once I've save up, I'll post again.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

10 Things I Love About the UK

1 Pork. Sausage, bacon, roast pork belly with cracklins.... I don't know why, but the Brits know how to prepare pork better than anywhere I've ever been in the US. Ever.
2. Eurorail. In less than a week, I've trips planned via Eurorail to Paris & Brussels. Why? Because it's that cheap & easy.
3. Pub quiz. Not that I didn't play and enjoy pub quiz in the US, but there's nothing like a crazy, old drunk local woman playing pub quiz on a Tuesday night to add some spice the week!
4. Public transportation. As much as it can be inconvenient (weekend closures of lines and stations...), it doesn't get easier than using public transport in London.
5. Proximity to Europe. See Eurorail commentary above...
6. Marshmallows. They're a wee bit crunchy on the outside, unlike the super-soft ones in the US. There's something about the added texture that actually makes them even better!
7. At lunch today, here is the lists of meats that were on the Mains list: Grouse, Rabbit, Pork, Offal, Mallard, Brill. I think there may have been one or two more. Either way, how many of them have *you* had before in the US?...Maybe pork, and I'll bet that was it...
8. The accent. OK. I know I'm completely stating the obvious, but, well...it it's true!
9. Postal service. I think this needs a clarification, as the actual postal service isn't that great. But, due to the small size of the UK, it's entirely possible that I could put something in the post this afternoon, and the recipient-in Scotland, even-would receive it tomorrow. Awesome.
10. Primark. The home of 'disposable clothing.' It may not be high quality enough to last beyond a season, but where else are you going to find an entirely new-and stylish, outfit for less than £15?...Amazing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Catching up

It's been two weeks since my last post, and the primary reason, is also the main topic of my post-a lovely 5 day trip to Boston to visit my lovely friend Jen.

What can I say? It was a perfect trip! Surprisingly, the weather was as close to perfect as you could expect (especially for mid-September), Simon & I both had a good time playing tourist, it was great to see Jen and have a proper catch up (and Fiona too!...), and all in all, it was just a good way to spend 5 days away from the insanity that is London. I think we both would definitely go back again-and at 'only' a 6.5 hour flight from London, it was easy and fast to get there. Yea, Boston!
We landed Thursday around 1.30p, and by 3p, were already at Jen's place. After dropping our things off, Simon & I headed to the nearest metro station and went to this cute area of Cambridge called Davis Square. Puttered around for a bit, and then headed back to Jen's where we met up and then headed back out to go to a Boston Red Sox game (YEA!!!). Our seats were good, the dogs were good, the beer was good, and the guys in the row behind us?...Pure Boston!.. Simon & I started fading around 9.30p, so we decided to head back to Jen's.
Simon & I started Friday at Harvard, and the square. Jen took a half day on Friday, and came to join us for lunch. After, we headed out to be tourists for the day-Boston Common, Downtown, general puttering around, with frequent stops for drinks and nibbles. Good times!

Saturday was another puttering around day-after brunch and a quick trip to the grocery store so I could stock up on a few things to bring back, we headed to Little Italy, where we hit a local bar for a few beers while watching some American Footaball. Around 3p, we decided to grab lunch, and then head to Mikey's Bakery to get yummy Italian pastries for dessert. I wasn't stuffed from lunch, but I made the mistake of getting something called the 'lobster tail'-basically, a *large* pastry shaped (and striped) like a lobster's tail, filled with cream. It was delicious, and though I didn't eat the entire thing, by 7p that night, my tummy was *very, very* unhappy with me. So unhappy, that I had to bail on dinner plans to meet up with my friend Fiona, and spend the evening over the toilet. oy. I was fine by 10p (which, as there wasn't a single thing left in my stomach, I should have been!..), but was bummed to have to spend Saturday night of my vacation on the couch feeling icky.
The weather on Sunday was, if possible, the most perfect. We had a luxurious brunch on Jen's back porch-complete with mimosas, and then headed to the wharf where we hopped a boat to Spectacle Island, in the harbor. We simply puttered around the island, hung out, and enjoyed the day & weather.
Around 5p, we headed back to 'land', where Jen headed off to church before meeting up with a friend for dinner, and Simon & I puttered around before meeting Fiona for dinner. Ole! Mexican for the evening. Most perfect fish taco's I've ever had. yum! :)
We had a 9a flight the next morning, so we were back at Jen's and calling it a night by 10p, for the 6am wakeup call.

Oh, and that's one of the other good things about Boston-it's possible to get back from Boston without taking a redeye flight. Double yea!
Since returning, this past week in London has seen the weather gently begin to slip in to the first part of Fall. The weather has been chilly enough in the mornings to warrant wearing a scarf for a few days, but not a coat. At least not yet. That being said, I sat outside in the Mews reading the newspaper around noon today, and I'm fairly certain if I would have stayed out for another 30 minutes, I would have had a touch of sunburn!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

RIP Monmouth Coffee

As per my usual Saturday errands, I went to Borough Market this morning to do the weekly food shopping.
I know it's been coming for quite some time, and last week while at Borough it appears as if the threat of construction due to the expansion of Thames Link rail, has become a reality. As a result, a good bit of the stalls have been shifted to new space, crammed in to existing space, or in the case of at least one stall-has decided to simply bail: Monmouth Coffee. Not to sound cliche, but this stall is an institution to Borough, at at least in the beginning, one of the reasons I kept coming back to Borough-I finally found a place in London in which their coffee rivalled that of the cafes in Seattle, and it gave me a comforting feeling of a Saturday routine.
Apparently, no longer.
Though there is a permanent Monmouth Coffee shop in one of surrounding market buildings, the inside stall was always half as busy, more friendly, and less touristy (yes, I'm complaining about the tourists...). I'm simply gutted, and while standing there waiting for my latte be finished, actually contemplated not going back to Borough-unless shopping for a special occasion.

RIP Monmouth Coffee

Catchin Up: Bonjour Paris

It's been a bit since I've blogged-sadly, I've been too busy during the week, and with travel & weekend guests the past three weeks, this is the first free weekend I've had in a month with proper time to sit down & catch up.

After our quick 'pop down' to Brussels a few weeks ago, Simon & I geared up for the last long weekend of the Summer with a trip to Paris. The August bank holiday meant Monday, Aug 30 was off for us, so we spend Saturday & Sunday nite in Paris. God bless Eurostar...

For my previous two experiences in Paris (with the stereotypical rude waiter/taxi driver, horrible lines at touristy sights, etc..), I found this trip to be 180 degrees in the opposite direction-amazing service, friendly/helpful people, minimal queues to get in to the Eiffel Tower & Louvre; all in all-a perfect weekend! Oh, and the weather? Perfect! And (all kidding aside...) the few times I had to use a toilet while out and about...twice was totally free & clean (at Notre Dame and off the Champs Elysses. who knew?!?), and the other time was 20 cents-but still clean. Amazing!!!

We stayed in a lovely hotel in the St Germain area, and spent Saturday after our arrival walking around. We walked all the way to the Eiffel Tower, and the queues were so short compared to the last time I'd been there that we decided to go all the way to the top; Simon had only been to Paris once for a half-day stop over on a road trip years ago, so this really was his first touristy experience there.. We queued for barely 30 minutes before getting up to the 2nd level, and immediately queued to get to the next level. Again, 30 minutes later, we were at the top of the Eiffel Tower! I know it seems crazy to suggest 'only one hour'...but the last time I went, I was in line for 45 minutes just to get to the 2nd area, and the line to get to the top literally wound all the way around the 2nd floor. In comparison, I knew our timing couldn't be better, and the time we'd spend in line would be 'minimal.' It's all relative...:)
With the weather, our views were amazing!

Dinner was at some quaint little place in the area we were staying in called 'La Grennouille'-the frog. As you can probably guess from the name, they had an entire menu dedicated to frogs legs. As Simon had never had them before (this southern girl certainly has...), he opted for that for his starter, while I went a bit more 'traditional': escargot. Honestly? Pretty tasty!-kinda like mussels..





Ribbitt.....

Sunday was the 'power tourist' day. After a lovely breakfast at a cafe around the corner, we decided to do one of those hop-on hop-off busses. As painfully touristy as they are-they also provide maximum viewing pleasure (esp when the weather was a good as it was) for minimal effort. There were three different bus routes in Paris, and we took all or part of all three around town. Hopped off & puttered down the Champs Elysses, had lunch, took le metro to another part of town to catch another bus...cheesy thought it is, it really is a great way to see a city when you've limited time. Yes, we have become 'those tourists.'

Monday was an early trip to the Louvre-we really wanted to avoid the queues and crowds-so we got there at 11am. And honestly? Aside from the crowd around the Mona Lisa, it really wasn't bad! But, truth be told...I still like the Tate Modern in London better. :)

We were going to be on the train back to London during dinner time that evening, so borrowing from one of my last train trips in France, we hit the local grocery store, bought some cheese, bread, meat, & wine, and had a little mini-feast on the train back. All for less than $15!



Vive Paris!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My new favorite website

Check out http://www.moo.com/

I visit this website and dream of all of the random reasons I want to order things. Especially the mini-moo cards.

Just because.

Oh, and if you're in the UK, a Google seach for 'moo promo code' should net you a nifty 20% off your first purchase discount code!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Why I Love Living in London

Reason number 24: Last minute travel bookings to the Continent!

Wild hair at lunch=a few minutes spent on a travel website=t-minus 18 hours & counting to a quick trip this weekend to Brussels. Yea!

Within less than 20 minutes of thinking, 'hm. it would be fun to pop down to Brussels this weekend. wonder if there are any cheap trips/train tickets left?...' and done. Two tickets. 5 star hotel. 36 hours in Brussels. Breakfast, late check in, and check out. All for under £200 each.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Funny TV Commercial

I've been meaning to post about this for a few days, but it took me a while to find a clip of the ad.

This is by the UK Government (HM Customs, to be specific), and is seriously one of the funniest tv adverts I've seen in a while. It came on TV Monday nite, and Simon & I actually stared at the TV while it was on & then burst out laughing when it was finished.

Brilliant. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCGBmsWl_cA

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Paris Dining Suggestions

With the last of the UK Summer Bank Holidays upon us, Simon & I are heading to Paris in 11 days. We'll be staying in the St Germain area near the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Am looking for dining suggestions. This will be the first time I've been to Paris & not been on a crazy-strict budget (think baguette & banana for lunch), and this will simply be Simon's first trip to Paris. I realize there are tons of good restaurants there, but I'm hoping to find a few now-and pre-book.

Any suggestions?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Only in London...

...would you have a discussion with a total stranger on a train about whether or not it's now 'socially acceptable' to go to the toilet before the train leaves the station. And flush.

Anyone have any comments? Is it OK to do this now or is it still considered rude? Based on the puddles of waste I see (seriously...) on the unoccupied tracks in Paddington, I'm inclined to think it's an acceptable practice now. Albeit, a gross one. hm.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Top Travel Websites

I'm just sayin...

AirfareWatchDog.com
Airfare.com
CheapTickets.com
Expedia.com
Hotwire.com
Kayak.com
Mobissimo
Orbitz.com
Priceline.com
Travelocity.com
Vayama.com
WhichBudget.com
Yapta.com

Sunday, August 9, 2009

And you think you're having a rough day...

Seen at Spitalfields Market today. Roat piggy...



Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bugger. I mean Booger.

There's no kind way to say this...London is a city of nose-pickers.

Perhaps it's because I'm living in the largest city I've ever lived in-and thus, haven't been exposed to the population size. Perhaps it's because most of my transportation is on foot or on a train/tube, and this is behaviour normally reserved for the privacy of one's own car...but, for Pete's sake...Can we please stop picking our nose in public, people?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer? What Bloody Summer?!?

I'm becoming increasingly disgruntled as I read my Seattle-friends' Facebook posts about how hot it's been in Seattle the past week or so-basically since I returned to London.

I wore a freaking sweater over my top and jeans to work the other day, people. It's still July.

What gives?!? If this is the end of 'Summer' in London, I am going to be one pissed off person!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Catching up on the Seattle Trip

Geez. When I posted a brief comment on my last post and said I'd provide details on the trip to Seattle in the 'next post', I didn't think it would take me 5 days to get around to it! Must. get. better.at.posting...

Anyhoo.. The trip back to Seattle...what can I say? It went by so quickly, it's hard to believe it's already come and gone!
We arrived late Tuesday nite (July 7th), but surprisingly, got thru passport control, customs, and baggage pickup relatively quickly. Opting for easy instead of cheap, we took a taxi to the hotel downtown, where we'd be spending our first night. I believe our flight landed at 8.30p-ish, and we arrived at the hotel at a few minutes before 10p. Not bad at all! After checkin, we trudged upstairs, and basically, by 11p, were settled in and going to bed. 8 hours of jetlag is no fun. Regardless of which direction you fly, and what *anyone* says, 8 hours bites. So, I was awake at 4am. I knew it would happen. Simon woke up around 4.30. Clearly too early to do anything, I opted to be a good girl (I knew I wouldn't have many opportunities while on the trip...), and went to the hotel gym for a quick run. Yes, I just became that nutjob you see in hotel gyms when on vacation.
Simon got up at 5a (so he says), and hopped in the shower. I got back to the room at 5.15, and got in after he finished. I know it seems crazy that we'd be showering so early, but all along, we were planning on using the jetlag to our advantage (ie knowing we'd be up crazy early...) to pop down to Portland, OR the first full day to (taxfree) shop, see some friends, spend a lovely evening at McMenamins Edgefield, and then come back up to Seattle the following day (Thursday). Everything went off without a hitch, too! Early breakfast at Lola on Wednesday. 7am. Seriously. Who actually eats a full breakfast that early!?!?? A quick 15 minute walk to the downtown Budget car rental, back to check out, and we were off and on the road to Portland by 8.30am. Perfect.
Shopping in Portland was great. Seeing Colin, Lindsey, Hadley, and their newest addition, Sadie was lovely as well. By now however, its 6pm. We've been awake for 14 hours, and according to our internal clocks, it's approacing 2am, and I still have to drive us 45 minutes to get to the hotel. It was a too-brief visit (a continuing theme for the duration of the trip..), but we needed to go so that I could stay awakef or the drive.
McMenamins was, as always perfect. It's a pity we couldn't stay awake longer to enjoy it. :) We were both falling asleep in our food by 8pm. I think we got to bed around 9.30p, but were again awake around 5am. We bumped an hour every day there (and conversely have done the same since returning to London...). No problem though. I had to be back in Seattle at 2p for a dentist appointment, and knowing we'd still be jet-laggy, were using the early mornings to our advantage.
Thursday, after getting back to Seattle and getting a clean bill of dental-health (take THAT, London..), we raced down to SoDo to meet my friend Elizabeth at SBUX SCC to pick up her house keys. [Elizabeth had *very* generously agreed to vacate her place for a week so that Simon & I would have a place to stay that didn't involve $120 a night (or more...) hotel rooms. The BIGGEST thank-you to her for that. I can't say enough how much, financially, that helped us on this trip. Well, the savings most likley got shifted to Nordy spending, but it definitely still lifted the financial burden!] And from there, we raced to her place, dropped our stuff, setteled in for a moment, and then raced to Tamarind Tree to meet my friend Aaron for dinner. After dinner, and again, us starting to fall asleep in our plates at 9p, we headed 'home', stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few things (Ranier Cherries, I've missed you...), and back to Elizabeth's where we passed out for the night. And, thus began a week of this type of 'racing' from one place to another. whew. Let's see. In summary...

  • Friday: haircut at Salon C. Doctor's appt. Drop off a prescription. Race home to get Simon and head to Pyramid for pre-Mariners beer. Friends arrive, and there is much rejoicing. David and family, Luke, Jon, Adam & Kim, Carrie & Tony, Tom, Katie, Mary Ellen, Kevin & Susie, WT, Megan...geez. who am I forgetting?...Then the game, and late-nite druken HH at McCormicks, where dinner and drinks for 10 comes to $60. Both Luke (an Aussie co-worker of mine in the UK) and Simon do a double take at how cheap it is. yeah...
  • Saturday... Breakfast at Starbucks on the most weather-perfect Saturday in history. I have perma-grin from sitting outside having a delicious coffee, scone, and sun on my face. Then, a little drive around town to try to find Simon the perfect view of Ranier on a clear day. He is obsessed. Massages for both at Derby Salon. Jessica is simply the best. Words cannot describe how awesome she is as a masseuse and a human. Much love. A solo dinner date at Cafe Bizarro, and then back to Elizabeth's where we watch a bit of TV and fall asleep on the couch. :)
  • Sunday...Breakfast at SBUX again. Simon is addicted to Top Pot chocolate donuts, and I've now discovered the Clover coffees. So, this unhealthy b'fast ritual will persist over the duration of our trip. Then, it's on to lunch at Zoopa with Carrie and Tony. Much anticipated on both our parts, Carrie is Zoopa salad bar buddy. No one else seems to understand our obsession with this place. Actually, I don't either, but oh well. Simon & I were planning to putter downtown in the afternoon, as were Carrie & Tony. So, we decide to 'double date', and end up hitting the Nordy Anniversary Sale-Pre-Sale. Score. No crowds, same selection. Life is good. After shopping madness for a few hours, we part our ways, and Simon decides he wants steak for dinner. A splurge-expense steak. ok. So, we pop down to El Gaucho where we proceed to do major arterial damage, and I think this is where the first 2 pounds of the 7-pound trip addition can be accounted for...
  • Monday-Wednesday, I work at corp HQ during the day, so my social/fun is 'restricted' to post-5pm. I use the word 'restricted' lightly, as it was great to see the folks in Seattle that I work with, albeit over the phone & email these days. Good folks.
  • Monday evening is another solo-dining option for Simon & I, so I opt to introduce him to proper TexMex at Mamas and proper cocktails at ZigZag. Both are winners, and Simon declares the ZigZag martini ('dirty, with Grey Goose please'...) the best.
  • Tuesday evening is a proper catch up with 'The Ladies.' Mele, Anne, myself and sporting Simon meet at Blu Water on Lake Union. The only thing that is missing from this perfect evening of drinks, laughter, and catching up is Tracy. She was missed, and I hope the 'missing' is short lived.
  • Wednesday evening was catching up with my friend Alicia (who is now 5 months pregnant) and her boyfriend, Dean. Unfortunately, work & traffic made Alicia a bit late, and my friend Chris, who never arrives on time, actually does. So, I don't feel like we ever got to have that proper catch-up. Next time, Alicia. And sans-boys, so we can get down to the nitty-gritty. Promise?
  • Thursday nite is our last nite in Seattle (we'll be in WA for three more days, but at Semiahmoo in Blaine for Adam & Kim's wedding). But, again, now that I'm on 'vacation time' again, a mad day ensues: up early for breakfast with my lovely friend, Cheryl. Where, unfortunately, my tardiness means we barely get to spend 80 minutes with her before we have to dash down to Kent to take some things to storage and remove some things to go to Goodwill. We then pop up to South-Seattle to test driave a Smart car. [If there is one thing that London has taught me, it's that we are stupid, stupid Americans for having large cars. I will never own anything large (ie over smallish-sedan size) again. And, as there is a 6 month waiting list to purchase, if Simon & I end up back in London any time in the next 18 months, I need to have the car-thing sorted upon landing.] What can I say? That car was AWESOME!!! It would be good fun to have, I just need to understand if it's really practical; we certainly couldn't take it to Portland for a weekend trip, as the trunk wouldn't fit our stuff. hm.. Anyhoo, after the test-drive, we popped back up to Seattle where Simon completed his burger-eating experiment triumverate (Red Mill, Dicks, and now Kidd Valley). We then popped over to Goodwill to drop off stuff from storage, then raced back to Elizabeth's where we packed up, bugged out, and then popped back down to SBUX to give her her keys. We then went to check in at the hotel, freshen up, and head out for the evening: Simon to dinner with the guys, me to my old place to take some photos (if I end up sticking around longer than next Summer, I need something to post...), and then to the TapRoom to meet a few folks for dinner/drinks. whew. I'm exhausted just reading this.
  • Friday...a bit of shopping at Nordy, but we hit the road early to get up to Semiahmoo and swing by the outlets at Tulalip on the way. Once we arrived at the resort, we agreed: no more. No more racing around. The next few days were going to be low-key. And they were.
The wedding and weekend at Semiahmoo was beautiful. The weather while we were there, the hotel, and the scenery were perfect. Truly. The next two days were spend lounging, tanning, drinking, hanging out with friends, watching two lovley people get married, and all in all, calling it an end to yet another wonderful trip to Seattle. sigh.

Aside from catching up with everyone, the big recurring theme of this trip was, "when are you guys moving back?" Fair enough. It goes without saying that it's on my mind. After this trip, it's certainly on Simon's (how could it not be? we got asked by everyone... :)). But, the two big questions are when and how? Unfortunately, these are not easy questions to answer, and they are not mutually exclusive. Especially now. We've only been living together for four months, and though it's going well, it's still early days. So, I think we've decided to table the discussion until the end of the year and revisit. By then, if things are going well, we'll have been together almost 2 years. Living together for 9 months, and have a better sense of the 'how'-which also dictates the 'when' to the question..It's just too much to take in. So, for now, I'm punting, and instead will show a few pictures to distract me and everyone else.. :)





At the Beer Garden before the Mariners game.







Sunset at Semiahmoo...

Mt Baker in the background

All dressed up for the wedding.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Home.

Just yesterday, Simon & I returned from 12 glorious days in Seattle. 12 days and 10 extra pounds on both of us I think...

It goes without saying that after a 10-month absence from Seattle, it was good-no, f-ing GREAT to be back. It seems like everything about Seattle (including my friends) have changed-but at the same time, it's all still familiar.

The main purpose of the trip was to go back and see friends, Adam & Kim get married. The opportunity to spend more time in Seattle and catch up with everyone was gravy on the reason. Their wedding was beatuiful and amazing-as I knew it would be. And, the opportunity to spend the weekend away from Seattle for the wedding with some of my favorite people-and have a proper catchup-was simply the best.

I'll go into the long details about the trip in the next post (with pictures...), but for now I'll just say this: I had a feeling that going back for this trip was going to be equal parts great (see: afore mentioned friends and wedding) and equal parts sad. It was. I spent the first 20 minutes of our flight back to London in tears because I was so sad to be leaving. Though, oddly, I was also looking forward to getting back to London. After not living in Seattle for almost a year and a half, the concept of 'home' is becoming more and more difficult to define. Parts of me still feel such a connection to Seattle that at times, there is a physical pain in my chest when I think about "Seattle." At other times, I'm still so freakin' happy to be in London, that I can't imagine leaving any time soon. Add to this the complication of Simon-albeit a welcome complication-and it makes it even more difficult for me to figure out where 'home' actually is.

Is it Seattle? London? Does it matter, as long as I'm with Simon? I haven't a clue, and would really love it if someone would tell me. Seriously. It would make the confusion simply go away. Where exactly, is home? I'd really like to know.

Friday, July 3, 2009

All quiet

It's been a while since I've updated the blog-a full month, actually. The truth is, it's been a relatively quiet June. Simon & I have both been working way too much and honestly haven't done anything that's been 'newsworthy.' God, I sound like an old fart.

Don't get me wrong, it's been a fun month-the Summer has *finally* arrived in London with a bang (hottest June in ages...), I've had the pleasure of seeing two groups of Seattle friends pass thru London on their world travels, and Simon & I leave for 12 glorious days in Seattle on the 7th-just a few days away.

But, that's been about it. After the back-to-back bank holidays in May, and the upcoming time in Seattle, I think I've been holding my breath in anticipation of the trip. I'm really looking forward to getting back-it's been 10 months since I've been in Seattle, and 5 months since I've been back to the US at all (my longest time outside of the US, ever).

With travels, I'm sure it will be quiet again for a while, but I expect I'll have a good bit to say once I return from Seattle!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Wonderful Weekend...and my first 'Oi!'

This entry marks my 100th post...a milestone in some right, I believe. Or not. There are some bloggers out there who have been doing this for *years.* A little milestone for me, at least. :)

What a wonderful weekend to be in London! The weather could not have been any better, and I for one was happy to feel sweat trickle down my back when out and about. Saturday morning started off with my typical, Borough Market food shopping run. Simon joined me, and we had brunch-well, breakfast really at Roast- it was only 9a when we got there! Can I just say, Roast has the *best* porridge ever? And, I've become a huge fan of their bubble and squeak. B&S, comes from years ago when moms/cooks would simply take the week's leftover veg, chop up, combine and add some meat sauce (also leftover...), and fry up in little patties...Kinda reminds me of my moms day-old mashed potato patties (somewhat resembling a latke, I think...) from when I was a kid, but bubble & squeak is simply delicious! Potatoes, a green of some sorts-kale, spinach, leeks, onions/shallots, and meat sauce to add a little gooey to. yum.

Anyhoo, after the requisite Saturday morning shopping at Borough, we headed back home, dropped off the groceries and then decided to go over to Hyde Park to laze in the sun a bit-thought it was barely 11.30a, it was already warm enough outside to put on shorts (scary, scary glow in the dark white legs) and a cami top and still feel perfectly comfortable. Loves it. After an hour of laying on the grass and reading, we were both starting to pink up, and decided to play it safe and head home-plus, it really was starting to get downright hot outside, and we were both ready to cool off.

That evening, I got a wild hair and suggested we go do the London Walks walking tour, The Hampstead Pub Walk. We couldn't have had a better time! The weather was still amazing, the tour guide was a hoot, and the scenery was incredible! I'd been up to Hampstead several times for dinner, but this tour took us into nooks and crannies that I had no idea were there. I knew from reading that Hampstead is home to some of the poshest houses and well known residents in London (think Ridley Scott, George Michael, Jeremy Irons...), but getting off the High Street and ducking back into side alleys and roads was incredible. Fell in love with the area-as I do every time I'm there-and the scenery....simply perfect.











To top it all off, after the tour, we backtracked a bit and found a Portuguese restaurant, Stella, and on a whim decided to pop in there for dinner-it was pushing 10p and we were starving! What awesome food! Best calamari I've had in ages, and my chicken was amazing. Simon's steak was delish as well-and actually cooked rare as he ordered! Two, huge thumbs up! By now, it's pushing 11p, so we waddle out, head back to the tube, and go home. We're so full and tired, I don't think I managed to stay awake for more than an hour after we got home.

Sunday was just as lazy, warm, and amazing-view filled...

I had previously heard about Columbia Road Flower Market from my friend, Jamie, and decided to finally get my butt out of the flat early on Sunday and go-it's only open from 8a-2p on Sunday, and as it's in the NE corner of London, it takes a solid hour door to door to get there. So, I scurried out of the house at 10.30a, and by 11.30a realized I wasn't in Kansas any longer. I've never been to 'proper East London' until Sunday, and all I can say is....wow and yikes!

The few blocks that the flower market were located on (aside from the insanity and beauty of the flower market) were really great-cool, hip, trendy food, clothing, antiques shops, and overall a really great vibe. Wow. The walk from Old Street tube to this area?...yikes! I walked on a section of what can only be described as London's greasiest stretch of sidewalk (it's immediately in front of the door to a kebab shop, so it's not a a total surprise), and while on the stretch of Columbia Road that leads to the two blocks of the flower market, I passed by a group of flats that were truly gorgeous. Not only did they look like they didn't fit in this part of London, they really didn't look like they fit in London! Paris, Italy, parts of Spain, perhaps. But not London. In fact, one flat in particular was really well done up with all sorts of green leafy bushes and plants (I assume acquired from the market nearby...), and on my way back, decided to stop and take a photo of the flat. I wasn't on private property-in fact, I'd stepped out in the road in between two parked cars. I wasn't doing physical harm to anything. I wasn't making a nuisance of myself. I had barely stopped for 10 seconds to take one photo, and was actually in the process of putting my camera up and walking away, when I hear a door open and a disembodied voice yell at me, "Oi. Just because it's Sunday don't mean you can take pictures of my flat!" And then the door slammed shut.

WTF?!? Uh, sorry?...I think.

Interestingly, apparently said resident doesn't want to be found or seen-at all. The shrubbery all but conceals the entire porch (part of why I thought it was so cool...), and while digging around on Google Maps to pinpoint the jackass so I could properly call them out on my blog-Google Streetmap and all, I come to find that any view immediately in front of the flat has been 'blocked.' hm...Curiouser and curiouser...There's also a 'Beware of Dog' sign on the gate to the porch...this is beginning to seem so suspicious...




But, the best part of all of this?...When I zoom viewed the one photo I took when I was on the tube ride back home & reviewing my pictures, I realized that I could see his face peeking out of the window at me. Gotcha!










Oh, and here's a picture of the flat from Google Streetmap...it's the bottom flat seen above the 2nd car parked from the right -you can see a few bushes and greenerie peeking out. Corner of Columbia Road and Waterston St, London E2 if you're ever in the neighborhood.

Yeah. Consider this my petty shout out...





Oh, and 'Oi' for anyone that doesn't know... is like the equivalent of 'hey, asshole....here in the UK. OK, well, maybe not 'hey, asshole', but close...and is usually met with a 'shut the fuck up' retort...which, hindsight 20/20 is what I should have said back! :)

A banner day, for sure. Anyhoo, I digress again.

I returned home around 1p, and at 3p, after Simon & I deemed it not too Skin-cancer-inducing hot to go outside, we popped back over to Hyde Park for another hour-long laze in the sun on the grass. It was a rough day. Capping this off was a yummy grilled chicken and asparagus dinner, and an evening relaxing.

I couldn't have planned a more perfect weekend if I would have tried.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Travelin' Fool

One of my co-workers, Luke, asked me today what my remaining travel plans were for the summer. He knows I've just returned from several days in Barcelona, and he also knows I had spent a quick weekend in Brussels just a few weeks prior. Given this, I think he assumed my reply would be, 'oh. not much...'

Instead, it dawned on me just as I was rattling off the list of what's booked for the rest of the year, that I'm a bit out of control with the travel...

July: 2 weeks in Seattle (YEA!!!!)
August: Weekend in Paris
September: Long weekend to visit my lovely friend Jen, in Boston

And, there are at least three or four other trips somewhere by the end of the year that I want to take: Athens or perhaps Croatia (somewhere warm), at least one weekend trip to 'somewhere' in England (though, preferrably two trips...), hopefully Prague or Warsaw for a quick trip (read: cheaper Eastern Europe...), and hope of hopes, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for a trip to Thailand later in the year. Mind you, this last one would involve winning the lottery or selling a kidney to fund, but I do still hope.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'm sorry to say...

but, I watched the Man U/Barca football championship game last nite.

And enjoyed it!

Never thought I'd say that about a football game.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hola Barcelona!

Last week, Simon & I took a proper holiday-four days in Barcelona. Four lovely days off from work. yea! Sometimes, you just need to recharge the batteries...

The weather while we were there couldn't have been more perfect-sunny and 70s the entire time. nice! And, as this was the first warm weather streak we've had since oh, October (regardless of location...), it was greatly appreciated.

I've been to Barcelona twice (though the last time was barely for 36 hours, and the other, proper holiday there was almost 10 years ago...), but this was Simon's first trip there. Aside from seeing the Barcelona Football statium, he really didn't have anything specific that he wanted to see, but based on my other times there, I knew that there were a few must-not-miss sights: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, the waterfront, Las Ramblas (ok. kinda trashy & creepy, but still worth checking out...), and the Barri Gotic. We managed to get in quite a bit over the time we were there-saw all of this plus the Picasso Museum, Casa Mila, and several other amazing sites, thanks to one of hop-on, hop-off busses that we got tickets for the last full day we were there.


Sagrada Familia is one of my favorite sites in one of my favorite cities-though, I do wonder if I'm ever going to see what it looks like when it's not under construction!









Though ironically, one of my favourite-and likely persistent memories of the trip will be the time that Simon & I spent at a bar (every afternoon-we became 'locals' who got to know one of the servers well enough to have a round on the bar, and actually get to know him a bit) called Mirinda (Calle Xucla 7 for future reference...). Unfortunately, we never got the name of our server, but we're bettting that if we go back again next year, he'll still be there. :)

It was only a block off the craziness of Las Ramblas, but because if was off of a side street, it wasn't out in the open. We just happened to stumble across it our first day there & thought 'ok-let's grab a table & have a beer and a snack.' Little did we know that we got lucky in getting a table, as the place was solidly seated for the next 2 hours we were there. Same for the next two days. Can't describe the place-it simply had a great vibe. We were probably the most 'mainstream' clients the bar served, and the bathrooms were sketchy, but oh well. It was still an amazing place. And obviously, part of what made it so amazing was *who* I was with-Simon. We simply have a great time no matter where we go-and to be able to just sit outside, enjoy the weather, a beer, and a plate of tapas?...doesn't get much better than that!

Overall, Barcelona has and still is one of my favorite places on earth. I love the people, the food, the weather..and the architeture (Gaudi=God in my world...) really is just out of this world.

Anyhoo, a few more photos of the trip to add a little oomph to the post. :)....


A sign located on the pathway at Park Guell. I just thought it was funny.










I think perhaps, Simon's favorite moment of the trip-FC Barcelona Stadium.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Political

In my 15 months in London, I've not yet really spoken about the local politics that I've observed/been impacted by here in London-or the UK, depending on the issue. But, there's been an item brewing here in the UK the past few weeks, that I have decided I am absolutely pissed off about-and it's also made me wonder about our own system in the US Government...

The link below provides great detail of why I'm so pissed off:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6264768.ece

A little background to explain some of the underpinnings:

MPs (Members of Parliament), which are like the equivalent of members of Congress in the US, while 'serving' in London can claim expense for said serving. Just like in the US, as DC is the political capitol where representatives come from all over the country and spend a good bit of time away from home in DC, the same is true of MPs and London. In the US, most representatives are easily hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their constituency-given the size of the US. The one big difference being that as London and the surrounding areas are so populous, many representatives that spend time 'away from home' in reality only commute 10 miles into London from their constituency.

Follow me so far? Here comes the part that I'm pissed off about. While 'away from home,' MPs have the option of claiming a second home as their place of residence while working in London. OK. Seems fair enough on the surface. The killer is that many of these MPs primary homes are also in London, and in some cases, only mere miles apart. And, when claiming a 2nd home, they can be reimbursed for the expense by the government. The 2nd home expense covers everything from mortgages, repairs, furnishings....etc up to £24k a year that is reimbursable. £24k. You can buy a lot of house for £24k a year (even in London)-even if that only partially covers your mortgage.

Well...aside from the *incredibly* shady expense claims that are being made (one MP recently got called out for expensing £10 of porn DVD rentals from her husband...), it's now come to light that MPs are selling (or even 'flipping') their 2nd homes-and making a tidy profit. All while their MORTGAGE WAS FUNDED BY TAXPAYERS. So, MPs are pocketing the profits from selling their 2nd homes, all while never having actually paid for the mortgage/equity in the home themselves, and in many cases, not having to pay any capital gains taxes on the sale.

Pissed.

And, in the course of all of this, it has made me wonder about our own policies in the US with regard to these possible expenses/reimbursements/2nd homes...etc...I can't say I recall ever hearing anything about the outrageous claims/problems that are going on here, but is it because the problem doesn't exist-I it just hasn't been sussed out yet. If it's the latter, and I'm sure it is...I'm already pissed about that as well.

Grr.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Simply Worn Out

When I first arrived in London 14 months ago, one of the most vivid memories I have is of noticing how worn out people's shoes here seem to be (I'm a girl. I notice shoes. I can't help it...). Holes, tattered, worn down heels. You name it. I was really surprised at the common, sad state of people's shoes.
Well, it's dawned on me recently that I have now joined the ranks of these very people I was noticing last year:






What can I say? Walking 4-5 miles in an average day takes its toll!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I love living in London

For all of my moaning, as the Brits say, there are some obvious reasons why I (or anyone) would love living in London...
Just yesterday, Simon & I decided we wanted to 'pop' down to Brussels for the weekend-Monday is a bank holiday here.
So, in matter of minutes, we were booked on the Eurostar, with hotel for one night for the measley cost of £170 per person. How easy is that?!?
Also, another reason I love living here: the 'cultural opportunities.' Last nite, I went to see 'Priscilla Queen of the Desert' musical with a few girlfriends. All I can say is: Pray the show tours where you live! It was fantastic. If you like the movie, you'll love the play. Wow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A few photos

A few photos for some of the things I just referenced in the blog...Budapest, and a few funny things I've seen in London recently...

Looking back down at Buda, as we're climbing the stairs up to the Castle.




A few photos from inside the Jewish SynagogueBurial site at the Jewish Synagogue. Though this isn't 'kosher', as these people died during the one of the coldest winters in Budapest during the War, the only option, once the ground thawed, was to bury them in the Synagogue.



Just a random road in Budapest. I thought the buildings were pretty..
As seen at a Tesco (like walmart) in Slough. Open 24 hours? Really? Funny...you're closed from 1op on Saturday to 10a on Sunday, and close again at 4p on Sunday. Apparently, the British version of Open 24 hours is different from the US version. :)


Cajun Squirrel potato chips. 'Suitable for Vegetarians,' the packaging says. Seriously. I'm not sure which I find more disturbing: the thought that they *are* suitable for vegetarians or the thought that they're *not.* hm...

A proper catchup

Wow. has it really been a few weeks since I last posted? amazing what not having the internet at home can do to a blog! the good news is, we finally got interenet access-a story within itself...

And, I haven't said a thing about my trip to Budapest with my old flat-mate, Sarah over Easter weekend (got bless the UK for making Good Friday & Easter Monday proper holidays that most companies are compelled to give...).

Lastly, there a few general life things, both Simon/new flat related and some more of the 'you crazy Brits' photos that I wanted to post...

Where to begin?..internet access. such a simple thing that I take for granted has become a pain/effort all unto it's own. Apparently, the owner of our flat didn't install phonelines when he lived here, so if we wish to get a landline/internet access via a 'traditional route', it will cost us 122 pounds to get things installed. and, if we're lucky, we'll have internet access in 6 weeks time. mind you, we've already been here for 4 weeks. yeesh. apparently, to get everything all set up, you have to first get the lines 'installed', then wait two weeks to get the phone actually up and running, then wait another two weeks before you can try to include internet access. good grief. neither of us have the patience to wait that long-or think we should have to pay to install. so...we've gone to plan B, and my fingers are crossed that it works-Mobile Broadband!

O2 (one of the UK Mobile companies) offers a pay as you go plan for 20 quid a month. internet? check. Phone capability? maybe check. I'm going to try out Skype this weekend with Sarah's Skype headset, and if i can easily make a call to Dad...check. No BT (British Telecom-the company we'd have to have the line installed with..). No Landline. And, considerably cheaper than a BT plan altogether! Fingers crossed Skype works...

What else? Oh, Budapest....What an AWESOME place. The weather for the four-day weekend was unseasonably warm. Meaning, tshirts and capris for four days. Yea! People were *amazingly* friendly. The food was much, much better than what I was anticipating (gulash isn't something I feel compelled to eat...), and Budapest as a city is just beautiful. The Buda side (to the East of the Danube) is hilly. Pest (the West side of the Danube) is flat. Each side has a different vibe, even thought it's part of the same city. And generally, it was not only *much* cheaper than London, but it was really even reasonably priced/cheap by 'American Standards.'

Aside from simply walking around, my favorite thing in Budapest is the Jewish Synagogue. Outside of the synagogue in NYC, it's the largest in the world (it can hold 3,000 people), and was absolutely beautiful. I'll post photos in a moment of the inside-and a few other things-but they simply won't do justice...Budapest is a great city for a weekend break-there's enough to hold your interest for a few days without feeling like you're not going to get to see it all, but there's not so much to do that you feel compelled to spend a week there. Probably one of my most favorite cities in Europe now. Yea Budapest!

I should jot down a few extra details of the trip for my own memory...We arrived super-late Thursday evening, and really all we did was get to the hotel & go to sleep. Friday and a good chunk of Saturday were just walking around days. Friday, we probably walked 8 miles! All on one side of Pest. Crossed a bridge to Margit Island-an 'island' on the Danube-and walked all around there. Then we continued on over to the Buda side, and walked around even more. By the evening, I was pooped!
Saturday was a bit more of the same. We went to the local Saturday market (think Borough or Pike Place), and puttered around there. Bought some souvenirs, walked around town some more, walked up to the top of the 'mountain' on the Buda side to the Castle, took an evening boat cruise on the Danube (all of the really beautiful bulidng...Castle, Parliment, etc...are all lit up at night. beautiful), and called it a night.
Sunday was more puttering. The first part of the morning was spent at the Jewish Synagogue-tour of the synagogue, museum, and holocaust memorial. Then, more puttering.
Monday was our last day-and our flight was at 6p. We spent the bulk of our day at Gellert. It's a swanky hotel on the Buda side, but it's also renowned for their Turkish spa. Wowsers. The size and features were really impressive. The 'logistics' of getting in, getting a locker, and getting sorted, were horrible. The place is so disorganized, I have no words. It could have been the perfect, stress-free experience, but was unfortunately very stressful to get in and get sorted. oh well. It was however, warm enough to lay outside and get a bit of sun in our bathingsuits, so I really can't complain that much!

Lastly..
Life in general...This is week five of the move in with Simon, and I have to say..it's going better-and is even easier than I had hoped for. Laughingly, in speaking with other friends that co-habitate, Ithink it's because we have seperate bathrooms...but, I'm not going to complain! :)
As liberal about male/female roles as I am, I absolutely love coming home from work and getting dinner ready for 'my man.' And thankfully, he likes to eat what I cook! I love to cook, so it's really win/win. Simon's dad, Jerry came down last weekend, and I think he enjoyed himself-it was nice to have a spare Bedroom/Bathroom to put a guest in without feeling like they're still 'in your space,' but with the setup of the flat, it's going to be pretty easy to host folks who want to come for a visit (hint, hint, y'all...).

OK. Short of posting a mini-novel, I should stop there. Since we have the internet sorted at the flat for the time being, I should be able to get back to more regular posts now..

whew!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Finally Settled and Flat Moving Lessons Learned

It's been two weeks since Simon & I have moved in together, and I think it feels like we're finally settled. One of the biggest lessons I've learned since moving flat here in London? Once you're out, there's still work to be done. And, because of the 'work to be done', you actually will never be able to stay in your rental up to the date your contract expires. Here's what I mean...
When renting here, you go thru an 'inventory check in/out' process. This is where an independent agent comes and makes note of all of the furniture (if applicable), scratches, dings, working condition, etc...of everything in the flat. The checkin is to make note of all of these things, and the checkout is to make note as well-and compare to the checkin. The things that are different-and not associated with 'basic wear & tear' you're charged for. Fair enough.

But, to get ready for said check-out, you have to have the place professionally cleaned (at your own expense)-and perhaps repaired (though, we didn't damage, so that wasn't a problem...), so in all actuality, though Sarah & I had our flat until the 27th of March, we actually needed to be out at least 3 days before that so that the cleaning/check out could happen. Hm. I've paid for 3 days of rent (which, at £735 a week, comes to £315, or £157.50 per person. no small beans...) for a flat which I won't be able to use.

Rubbish, as the Brits would say.

The other big learning I've had? Hindsight 20/20...though it was nice to have my furniture here the first year, as a 'safety blanket', I look at it now and think, 'Pain in the Ass'...Here's what I mean...

Though Sarah & I rented our flat unfurnished, the greater likelyhood is that flats here are furnished (odd in its own way, as far as I'm concerned). The flat that Simon & I moved into? Furnished. Fortunately (and rarely...), we have an attached garage, so storage isn't an issue. Swapping things out, and getting my "American Size Queen Bed" (aka a King in the UK) up to the second floor (or First, according to the Brits..) was a horrible experience. Luckily, the mattress is bendy. Unfortunately, the boxsprings aren't. It wouldn't fit. But, not so surprisingly, the Brits have found a way around this: Box Springs that come in two pieces (halves) that you then link together. Half of a queen box spring will easily fit up our stairs. A whole wouldn't. Whew. But, that means that for the next year (or however long...) my American Queen Boxsprings are sitting in the garage unused, and wasting space. And of course, we then had to bring the two twin beds that were up on the 2nd floor (now I understand why there were only twin beds on the 2nd floor...) down to the garage and store them as well. Lesson learned.

My #1 piece of advice for anyone thinking of moving here?...As painful as it may seem (we all like the 'comforts of home'-especially when not at 'home'), leave the big stuff at home/sell it/give it away/whatever. It just makes no sense to bring it, when keeping it will likeley mean extra expense, effort, annoyance, need for more space (which also brings about extra expense, effort, and annoyance... :)).

Yeesh.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Single or Living with Domestic Partner

I know there's tons to catch up on regarding the move-and I'll get to that in a later post once I have internet at home and can upload photos of the new diggs-but, in the interim, there's this one little thing that just happened to me that I thought was worth a mention...

Being the marketing-geek that I am, I voluntarily take surveys with certain panels I've signed up to over the years. It's a good way to stay on top of trends and marketing research experiences.

I just took my first survey since Simon & I moved in together, and one of the classification questions really stumped me. It was regarding my Marital/Relationship status. Am I:
A. Single
B. Living with a Domestic Partner
C. Married....etc...

Well, yes, I am Single. And though technically, I am now living with a 'Domestic Partner,' part of me wanted to tell the survey people....'It's only been a few days! This is too much pressure. Can't I just be Single with an "*"?....'

I actually had to have a little debate with myself as to what I considered myself to be now.

In the end, I chose 'Living with a Domestic Partner'. Boy, I hope I didn't just invite bad karma...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three Days Left

Three days left to sleep in the entire span of the bed by myself.
Three days left to be able to clear my throat and not think about how it sounds to someone else.
Three days left to go to the bathroom and not have to shut the door for privacy.
Three days left to only think about what *I* want to eat for dinner tonite.
Three days left to just think of Simon as, 'my boyfriend who lives on the other side of town.'



Three days left before I get to come home to Simon and ask him in person, 'How was your day?'
Three days left before I won't hate saying goodbye on Sunday nite any longer.
Three days left before I'll no longer wonder if leftovers will still taste OK at lunch the next day.
Three days left before I get to think about the person I'm living with as more than just a roomie.
Three days left to keep thinking about how excited I am about there only being three days left!

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Week of Firsts!

Oh happy day.

Yesterday, Sunday, March 15 marked the first day in over 5 months in which I got to putter around London without being swathed in a coat and scarf. Yea mobility! What a glorious day it was.

Oh (I say casually, like it isn't important...), and yesterday also commerates my first anniversary with Simon. One year-hopefully of many to come.

Also, T-minus 4 days and counting to Simon & I moving in together. Another first!