Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wedding Obsession

I've been shopping the after Christmas sales the past few days, and have noticed that I'm starting to go into overdrive mode on the wedding.  We're still 4 months out, but especially given the festive, party bits that are on sale-and that won't exactly be around in March/April, I find myself obsessing whether or not I can buy this bit at 90% off and use it for something in the wedding.  I love a good bargain, and apparently, my wedding is no exception! :)

Christmas in London

For the first time in my almost 38 years on the planet, I'm not home in North Carolina for Christmas.  Given the stress and expense of travel, the fact that we're pinching pennies and pence to save for the wedding, and I was just in the US in October-oh, and Simon asked...-I decided not to go home this year.  Hindsight 20/20, given the travel woes due to weather-London airports shut down for *days* due to a few inches of snow-I may not have made it home-or back to begin with! Best. Decision. Ever.  Yes, I miss my family & friends, but it was nice starting what will be Simon's & my first Christmas tradition for hopefully years to come. aw.

Anyhoo..This post isn't meant to be about that.  Rather, as I've been puttering around town the past few weeks-I've tried to make note of all of the glorious things that seem to happen in London/England at Christmas.  Since I was here for the full experience this year, I wanted to take a moment & mention some of the things I've observed.  I've tried to group them, as otherwise I'd be all over the place:

The Sights....
Having never lived in a super-touristy, large city before, I can't comment if other places do this or not.  But, what I will say is that London decorates for Christmas really well!  All of the major shopping streets get lit up, and even the minor ones too. :)   The scenes below are from Oxford Street & Regent Street this year: 
Oxford Circus
Regent Street

I could fill a book with all of the street lights, but these were my two favourites.
Oh, and never mind that until just a few days before Christmas, there was actually snow on the ground (oh, thiiiis close to my first White Christmas)!

The Food...
Oh, where to begin?!?  This year, Simon & I decided not to swap presents (re: penny pinching for the wedding)-and we extended that notion to everyone.  So,we gave nor received any presents this year.  It was nice not to have to deal with the stress & mayhem of buying presents (and are already talking about not doing presents again next year), but in the course of doing so-and perhaps because Simon was so excited about me staying here & us having a proper Xmas meal (I swear, he's been talking about the meal since *August*)-that I find that I've thought non-stop about Christmas food the past few weeks.  That being said, there seem to be non-stop Christmas Cooking shows on day & night as well...
Regardless, along the way I've noticed some similarities & differences in what we'd eat in the US v the UK at Christmas.
The Similarities:  Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Gravy, Stuffing.  The true basics don't change from country to country. 
Differences:  Brussel Sprouts-very, traditional Xmas veg. It's like the ubiquitous British equivalent of the green bean. :); Mince pies are everywhere!  Duck/goose seems to be a bit more common.  And, though snacking is a big part of the day in the US as well, here, the main snack of the day is Cheese.  The planning that goes into selecting your cheese & other bits-crackers, chutneys, side fruits-is considerable.  And, if the 20 minute, 30 person queue I waited in at Neal's Yard Dairy (best cheese in London....) on Christmas Eve is any indication, folks aren't simply going to settle for a wedge of grocery-store-bought cheddar & a cream cheese ball! :)

Entertainment (TV/Music/Sport)...
Three things to note here...For some odd reason, the 'Christmas Number 1' for the music industry seems to be a national obsession. Again, perhaps it's me, but I don't ever remember it being a big deal who had the number 1 song on the charts at Christmas in the US.  Here?  It's discussed & speculated for weeks before-and, as the X Factor (think, American Idol) winner is crowned just ~2 weeks before Christmas, there's a huge push for the current winner's single to reach number 1.  Ah, Simon Cowell.  As much as I hate your music machine, you are a genius.
Second...Though this year wasn't a good example from what I understand, what's on TV on Christmas Day & Boxing Day (Dec 26) is ususally supposed to be really good TV-lots of recent movies in particular-and the networks seem to be quite competitive over showing good programs.  Personally, aside from the annual 24 hours of A Christmas Story on TBS, US TV seems to be fairly poor this time of year, but as England does a better job of shutting down for the day, staying in & watching TV is about the only thing to do, and the networks are happy to oblige!
And last...what kind of expat would I be if I didn't mention Boxing Day Cricket?  Every year, England & Australia play (effectively...) a month's worth of Cricket-almost a game every day.  Christmas is about the halfway point, and the Boxing Day match is always very popular.  As the games are in Australia this year (they alternate locations every other year), the match didn't start until 11.30pm on Christmas (it's the 26th in Oz), and it would go until ~8am.  I called it a night at 1am, but Simon & Scott (our Aussie friend who spent Xmas night with us) stayed up a bit longer.  Though, I guess in truth, the Christmas Day Sporting Event is no different from the US-it's just the choice of sport that's different! :)

General Bits...
I love Christmas Crackers.  It's one of the best parts of Christmas in the UK to me-though they were an entirely foreign concept to me until 2008.  Crackers are opened with your Christmas meal by grabbing on one end-and having someone grab the other end.  When you each pull, the cracker (with help from a bit of gunpowder) pops ('cracks') as it tears open.  Crackers usually contain a trinket of some kind, a joke, and a tissue paper hat. You put your hat on & wear it while eating your Christmas meal.  It's my favorite part of Christmas, and I love the irony that a country that is considered to be so 'stiff upper lip' sits around eating their Christmas Meal with paper hats on!
Another great part of Christmas in London is that everyone says 'Merry Christmas.'  Regardless of who they're saying it to (read: someone who isn't Christian).  I think I blogged about this once in 2008 about how surprised I was about this, and though I'm still surprised 3 Christmasses on, the child in me likes that PC-ness simply gets tossed out the window this time of year:  I was in my local grocery store on December 23rd, and overheard a store manager say to an employee who was leaving for the weekend, 'I know you aren't Christian, but Merry Christmas anyway!'  If we would have been in the US, a lawsuit would have ensued, but here, the employee just took it in stride and wished the manager a Merry Christmas in return.  Nice.
The Queens Speech...I can't quite figure this one out.  Tradition as long back as I know, every Christmas Day, the Queen/King of England gives a public speech that's broadcast throughout the UK & even the Commonwealth. No more than 10 minutes long-and the speech this year was barely 5 minutes long-it's usually just a simple 'yea, England' type message from the Queen.  Simon says he hasn't watched the speech since he was a child, and a chat with some of my British friends yielded the same commentary.  Nonetheless, I was glued to the BBC at 3pm when the speech came on.  In truth, I can't remember a thing she said.  Hee.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh, Prague...

How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways....I love your beautiful architecture, your amazing food, your delicious beer, ridiculously reasonable prices, and most of all, your many and varied (and beautiful) Christmas Markets.

Simon & I went to Prague last weekend (good timing...Prague airports shut down the weekend before; London airports shut down this weekend.  Both due to snow).  It was his second trip, and my first.  All I can say is: oh. my. god. What an absolutely lovely city.  Yes, it was a bit overrun with tourists, but it was still simply amazing-and a stark contrast to my Marrakech experience just a few days before.

We arrived late on Friday-too late to do anything-so our trip really didn't start until Saturday.  But, once we were up, fed, and bundled from what was supposed to be freezing cold (in reality, the weather was mild-mild not only for Prague, but mild even by my standards), we headed out.  Straight to Wenceslas Square for a wander around-and view of the first of several Christmas Markets we'd encounter.  After a bit of a wander, we decided to check out the Communist Museum (a sharp contrast to the Sex Museum-don't judge us-the only other museum we went to on the trip...).  After the Communist Museum, we continued our wander thru town, and on over to the Charles Bridge.  Sooo beautiful-stunning views of both sides of the river-one with the Prague Castle in the background.  We had a nice wander over the bridge, and continued our meandering for another hour or so before deciding to stop for lunch.  Simon had been talking about the 'leg of pork' he had on his last trip, so we decided to find a place that served them.  Not that it was a challenge, it seems to be a very common item on the menu.  I ordered steak, but had serious food envy for Simon's pork, and in truth, it was large enough that we could have both feasted on it!  Absolutely delicious!  Didn't even need a knife to cut the meat-just a fork to scrape it from the bone.  Oh, my.  After stuffing ourselves on meat, it was time to walk off lunch, so we continued on with the meandering.  Prague is one of those cities that you could easilly go from museum to museum or simply have a wander.  And, given our limited time, we opted for the wander (we can do museums the next time we're back!) for the most part.

Our wandering eventually took us to another Christmas Market (super-small, and this one 'felt'' local), and to a stop at a pivo (beer) hall.  After a few beers, some warmth, and a trip to the loo, we were back out for more walking.  We crossed back over the Charles Bridge to our side of town for a bit of touristy souvenir shopping.  After the shopping, we visited the Sex Museum.  Not to sound prudish,  I don't know what I expected, but that wasn't it!  Oh well. :)  Shoulda stuck to the wandering around. :)  So, we head over to the Old Town square and stop into one of the outdoor (heated) restaurants for some hot chocolate to warm up. Then, we head over to yet another Christmas Market (by my count, we're up to 5 for the day...), and then decide to start thinking about dinner.

After dinner, it's pushing 9.30pm, and there's one more pivo hall I want to go to-it's close to our hotel, so perfect for our last stop of the evening, and according to what I've read, supposed to be outstanding.  And, it is.  Pivovarsky Dum is the name.  They brew all their own beer-including banana, coffee, nettle, and vanilla beer.  Seriously.  My favorite is a 'champagne beer' (no idea how it's made, but it had the *best* flavor-and you drink it out of a champagne flute) called Samp.   Pivovarsky Dum closes at 11.30p, and we were back in the hotel by 11.45pm-after being gone for over 12 hours.  We were pooped.

Sunday was just a quick trip back into town to the Old Town Square-I wanted to explore in the daylight, as it was very crowded on Saturday night-before heading back to the hotel to shower up, pack, and head to the airport to leave.  Sigh.  I can't wait to go back.  I'm betting Prague in the spring must be simply lovely...Hopefully, I'll get to find out!

 Prague Castle as seen from the Charles Bridge 

Simon's knee of pork with side sauces and a side of cabbage.

Christmas Market 
The "Champagne of Beers"-quite literally.

Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square 

Oh, Marrakech-The Photos

Have finally managed to get my photos uploaded.  No pun intended, but hopefully, a bit of the 'flavour' of Marrkech comes thru:
A bottle of Coke.  I am so not in Kansas any longer....

Shoes.  Shoes.  Beautiful shoes.  This is the shop I bought my $9 (yes, $9) wedding shoes in!!!

Olive stall.  Sooo good...

Just thought it looked cool the way the plant was creeping up to the window-though it's outside.

Birdseye view of the Djeema el Fna, the main square, ffrom balcony of one of the restaurants on the square.

A bit blurry as I was far, far, far away...but it's a snake charmer!  Once I got closer (just a bit closer...), I can confirm it is indeed a *very real* snake!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Oh, Marrakech

I've got some blog catching up to do!...

A few weeks ago, I got a last minute hair to book a trip 'somewhere warm', as the weather in London was cold, cold, cold and I was in serious need of even just a few days where I didn't have to wear 4 layers while out & about just to stay moderately warm.  I've wanted to go to Marrakech for a while, and though Simon wouldn't be joining me on this trip due to work, I decided to book a last minute trip anyhow-the flight was only 3 hours, the trip was less than 300 GBP, I'd only be gone for a few days, I've travelled by myself difficult could it be?  Oh, famous last words. There was so much going on on this trip-and especially in my head, that instead of keeping a flow of journal 'posts', I opted instead for bullet points-otherwise, I'd be writing for days!  In somewhat chronological order of thoughts/experiences...
  • When leaving my taxi to head into the maze of 'roads' to find my Riad (like a hotel), my taxi driver patted me on the arm.  Big mistake-on his part. The throng of women that were standing nearby talking amongst themselves immediately descended on him and began doing what I can only describe as 'giving him what-for.'  In Muslim countries, it's a bad, bad, bad idea for a man to touch a woman publicly.
  • The streets are an endless maze.  I wonder how many times I'll get lost while I'm here (update: only twice!)
  • Snakes, monkeys, and kittys-oh my!
  • Are the men friend or foe?
  • I drank the tap water...
  • Best. OJ. Ever!
  • I bought my wedding shoes for 80 dirham!  That's roughly £6 or $9!  Whee!
  • On a related note...I've noticed on this trip that when I translate prices, my impulse is to translate to GBP first-not USD.  huh.
  • Sitting in what is clearly the 'expat cafe' of Djeema el Fna-Les Terraces de l'Alhambra and I'm somewhat relieved to hear even the accented English around me
  • I've lost count of the number of sexist (is that even a concept here?...) comments men have made towards me in the past 36 hours
  • As I continue to ponder the taxi driver incident of my first few moments on the ground and juxtapose that with what I've seen since, I can't help but is it possible to be that repressed but so dominant in society all at the same time?
  • I'm surprised/shocked/disappointed at the number of female tourists here who are either oblivious to the culture (wearing shorts/sleeve-less clothes..) or don't give a damn.  I'm also frustrated that as a solo female traveller (the only one I've seen on the trip), I'm annoyed as hell that though I've tried to respect the culture, I'm the one that is singled out and, for lack of a better word, harassed non-stop.
  • Relatedly...not that I dislike my body (though I wouldn't complain if I dropped 20 pounds), but on this trip, I'm even more grateful for my size-I can only imagine how much more I'd have to tolorate if I were a petite woman.
  • I've noticed a surprising micro-economy in the streets while here; instead of buying a carton or pack of cigarettes, there are men walking around with an assortment of open packs of cigarettes providing the option to buy just *1* cigarette.
  • Immense challenges getting out of the airport in Marrakech and back to London.  Initially a wind storm delayed flights for a while, and then the King of Morocco decided to fly out once the storm ended (meaning the airport was closed for a period to all inbound & outbound flights).  Five hours later than originally scheduled, our flight takes off. The only saving grace of this is that I met two lovely American women-Michele and Lindsay who were individually at the airport leaving Marrackech after breaking from their travel groups.  We had a fantastic flight back to London-chattering the entire time, having a sneaky Heineken that I bought in duty free (I swear, the woman behind the counter *really* didn't want to sell them to me....), some Moroccon sweets and comparing life/travel stories.  Ironically, this may have been the hilight of the trip for me! :)
In general, I'd read articles about the 'challenges' that face single, female travellers when in Morocco:  You don't sit in a bar & drink alone as some men may think you're a prostitute, you don't touch a man (and vice versa)-even casually in public if you aren't married, it's best to keep as much of your body covered as possible (I wore long sleeves & trousers the entire trip.  I brought a scarf to cover my head but felt like I would have been acting like a 'poser' had I worn it...), it's best to avoid too much eye contact...etc.  I tried like the dickens to be as inconspicuous as possible, but I guess single, white, female travellers should always proceed with caution.  It's a pity, really.  From what Michele & Lindsay said of their adventures, I think that had I been in Marrakech with someone else-male or female-I would have genuinely loved the trip/city/experience.  But, as a solo traveller, my experiences were almost 180 degrees away from theirs.

What a bummer.

Dear Link Builders...

I understand that you have a job to do, but I would gratefully appreciate it if you would stop posting crap comments on my blog with links in an attempt to provide a bit of link juice for certain clueless dentists who seem to believe that you're doing a good job in helping them to improve their natural search rankings with these links.

Not only does Google have a tool now which pretty quickly spots spam posts and prevents the comments from showing at all, there's this little thing called a "nofollow" tag which I personally can use if I decide that I don't want a link from my blog to be followed by a Search Engine robot.  Like the one I used above with my 'clueless dentists' link.  Get the picture?

Oh, and in case it wasn't already obvious, I work in this space professionally and can spot a purchased/promoted link a mile away.  You would be better served by spamming someone else's blog-or rather, not doing it at all and going about link building the old-fashioned way-by asking for the link.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Can I Buy This?..

Gennifer with a G, I thought your question was so good, I decided to move it away from the comments section and blow it up into a post. 

Gennifer just asked about the relative availability/cost of the following food items, a typical grocery list.  I'll admit, I certainly didn't think about something this practical until I arrived-and was then surprised at what I could/couldn't find that I used to buy in the States.  Generally, it's largely the branded, pre-packaged things that are a challenge to find here (and as you'll note from my 'I'm a Hoarder' post....).  The below commentary is simply based on my personal experience-if anyone knows otherwise, give a shout!  Here's Gennifer's list.  My commentary follows:

biscuit dough (like American bread-type biscuits, not "cookies")

1 pkg. Velveeta 16 slices
1 pkg. 12 hamburger buns
1 box Banquet-brand frozen fried chicken, 8 pieces
1 pkg. bacon bits/crumbled bacon (like for salad)
1 quart of heavy whipping cream
1 quart of olive oil
3-pounds/48 ounces ground beef
1 pound-16 ounces ground lamb
1 ounce cinnamon
1 ounce white pepper
1 ounce paprika
2 eggplant/aubergines
1 ounce parsley
1 pkg. pita bread (5 per pk.)
3 ounces of loose orange tea
2 ounces of white loose tea (I have my own bags, brew my own, blah blah)
5 yellow potatoes
2 bags of spinach leaves for salad
6 Bosc pears
1 sweet yellow onion
8 ounces gorgonzola cheese
8 ounces of baker's chocolate
1/2 dozen brown eggs
1 can-diced tomatoes
4 pkgs. toilet paper, 4 rolls each
plastic food storage containers
one 5-pound bag of sugar
2 pounds of coffee
1 gallon of milk, approx. 4 litres
2 oz. pine nuts

The top hilighted items may prove a bit difficult/impossible to find here, but a few comments to clarify...
*'American biscuits' a proper souther girl, there are certainly few months in my life that go by when I don't eat a biscuit.  Made, not purchased-and if you ever find them pre-made here, I'd be stunned.  But, I find even making them has provent to be a challenge-yes, I 'import' my own Crisco shortening (ahem..), but the flour here-even self-rising-must be different.  I haven't actually been able to produce a good biscut here, as they simply don't rise properly. :(  On the flip side, you should introduce yourself to Yorkshire Puddings ('yorkie puds').  They're simply lovely, and you can find pre-made/frozen ones.  I hear Aunt Bessie does a good one (ask me again after Xmas, as they've gone on the shopping list! :)).
*Hamburger buns...You won't be able to find them year-round; they're a summer-only product.  And, the ones that I have found aren't completely like in the US-they tend to be much smaller, and for some reason, a bit harder-and never pre-sliced.  The one thing I haven't done is gone the route of 'butty' buns (butty's are simply sandwiches.  as are 'sarnies.'), and though they don't taste like hamburger buns, they are larger-and if you find good ones-would probably be just as good.  Any good bakery would carry them, and likely and larger grocery store would have packs of them year round as well.
*Banquet frozen fried chicken...Banquet doesn't exist here to my knowledge, but the frozen fried chix part won't be a problem.  I can't comment on quality, but a very quick search on the online grocery store I frequently shop at quickly returned a page of results.
*Velveeta...not a chance.  In fact, I've only once seen 'american-style' sliced cheese here, and it was during the summer.  I've never eaten Velveeta, so I can't actually comment on availablity, but at the least, if you google 'american food store' you'll get a  robust list of both brick & mortar and online shops where you may very well be able to buy Velveta.  Price will certanly be an issue (example: most imported, American boxes of cereal in these shops usually run ~$10), but if you've gotta have it, you've gotta have it! :)
*Bacon bits....I haven't seen these, but I don't eat them, so it's possible they're out there.  As a great substitute however, you can easily purchase 'lardons' (think 'bits') of fresh chopped bacon in the meat cases and make your own!

Everything else, you can easily find-or the subsitution would be so close (not sure about 'bosc' pears, but pears for sure..), you'll be fine.

As far as cost is concerned, I think it comes down to a personal preference.  And it's worth noting that some of the things on your list (spices for example..), you'd buy in bulk once at a higher price-but it couldl take months to fully use.
Presuming the above is just for one person, you could very likely go the basic/essential route that many grocery stores are running these days on their private label brands and probably get away with just spending ~£20-25.  However, if you decide to go a bit up-market, perhaps go for a higher level of quality either in the grocery store, or even venture out to a farmer's market, you could go as high as £40-ish.  In general, for Simon & I, I spend~£25 a week at the farmer's market -and that food tends to get consumed in the week-and I then spend another ~£25 a week at the grocery store, and probably half of that is for things with a multi-week span.  Our food shop also involves buying things we can take to work for lunch, so we eat out less for lunch during the week, but do tend to eat dinner out about 3x a week.  However, I almost *always* use a voucher (coupon...), or my taste card (indespensible!), so we rarely pay full price for our meals out!

Great question, Gennifer.  Hope the above helps.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

In the Public Domain

I've often thought that if I say something outloud to others-in the sense of commit to something-I'll do it. ie I'll have witnesses to my claim, and therefore have to do it. :)

So, it's time to put up.  I've had a goal for several years now of running a marathon by the time I turned 40.  Mind you, I'm not a long distance runner now; in fact, the furthest distance I've ever run has been a 10k-1/4 of a marathon...This was done last year, in preparation of running the goal marathon.  See-being the scardey cat that I am, I have been working up to running a marathon for 3 years now!  Three years ago, I ran my first 5k (after never being able to run more than 2k, and after recoveirng from knee surgery). Two years ago, I ran an 8k. Last year, 10k.  This year was supposed to be the year of the half-marathon-20k.  And, then next year was to be 30k, and the following year, my last year in my 30s, was to be 40k-a marathon.

Well, I've been thinking lately that I'm simply postponing what is hopefully the inevitible, and if I continue to 'prepare', I may just psych myself out of being able to do it. SO HERE IT IS:

I'm going to run that half marathon by the end of the year (never mind that my gym attendence the past year has been horrible...), and I WILL run that marathon before my wedding day next year. 

So, that gives me until April 30, 2011 to do this.  And really, as I'll be heading to the US the week before the wedding, it really gives me until April 22.  And, as I don't really want to be hobbling on the plane as I head to the US, my plan is to run 40k by April 16th.  If anything, this will be good wedding-fitness preparation, right?  Right?...

There you go.  It's out there in the public domain now.  If I decide not to do it now, I'll have to publicly 'fess up, and I'm not one to do that.  No pressure.

Oh, and did I mention that I don't run anywhere but on a treadmill?  I'll run this entire marathon at my local gym.   Should be fun. :)  And painful.  ok.  Now, I'm nervous.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My Thighs

No, this post isn't some ode to Beyonce or Fergie songs...merely a simple observation.

I went out today and was wearing a pair of jeans I'm fairly certain I haven't worn in over a year; what can I say-they ended up in the bottom of the jeans pile. I digress.

I couldn't help but notice when I first left the flat that the jeans were tighter on my thighs than they used to be. Great, I thought: just what I need-larger thighs.  But, the other thing I coincidentally noticed yesterday is that due to all of the walking I do in this city, there's generally less jiggle in my thighs than there used to be.  I vaguely recall noticing this after just my first month here (and may have even made a comment on my blog about it), but haven't thought much about it since. Until now.

So...possibly bigger, but less jiggle.  It's like the yin and the yang of my thighs has occured.  hmph.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Belated Thanksgiving

As I was heading back from Borough this morning and contemplating the menu and effort for tonite's belated Thanksgiving meal, I started thinking about all the things that I have to be thankful for.  I try to do this every now and then (it beats thinking about the things you aren't thankful for), but it does help to have-what I consider to be-a special day set aside for that very thing.  As I started to compile my mental list, it gave me cause for pause when I realized just how much I have to be thankful for:
  • A pretty amazing Dad, that at the age of 74, is still healthy and happy
  • The most incredible boyfriend/fiance/soon-to-be-husband ever. Yes, I know that many women think this, but I'm fairly certain that mine really is the *most* incredible.  If for no other reason than he puts up with my crap. :)
  • The best circle of friends (on both continents-and a few places inbetween...) anyone could ask for. Period.
  • My health.  For all of the little aches & pains, the fact that I can still put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, with ease makes me grateful.
  • A relatively stable financial base.  No, I'm not trying to say money is everything, and Simon & I are by no means 'rich' (I wouldn't poo-poo a $1M donation to us!...), but the fact that we don't have to choose between the cheapest toilet paper, or worry about whether or not we can afford to turn the heat on when it's cold outside-and it's cold outside!-makes me feel quite thankful, and considering the fairly modest-income backgrounds we both come from, I certainly don't take it for granted.
  • And at least 10 other things that would make this a long winded post if I continued.
A belated Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.  If you can all feel at least half as thankful as I do, you're in a pretty good place!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal Wedding

Though it's been barely 36 hours since the world became aware of the engagement of Prince William and Kate Middleton, just about every British newspaper, news website, TV name it has already pubicized this as the Wedding of the Century.

Fortunately, since Prince Charles & Lady Dianna's wedding was in the 1900's, it's a legitiate claim! :)

Speculation abounds about this being the 'positivity' that the British public need to see themselves thru the tough times ahead (see previous post on 'Austerity'....).  More cynical people like myself probably just think it will be an on again, off again distraction for the next 6-8 months that well, after this week, will simply be sucked dry by every media/marketing outlet in an attempt to make some money.

Regardless, as Simon was quick to point out while watching the news last nite: if the Royals even *think* about spending public money on the wedding (technically a possibility since a portion of tax that every UK person pays goes to the royal family...), the ensuing kerfuffle would probably be more entertaining than the actual wedding itself!

Stay tuned.  I'm sure it's about to get interesting...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Seen on the Tube

When I got on the tube this morning coming back from Borough Market, the lady that got on the car with me, sat her things down & proceeded to take a solo glove out of her pocket & put it on before grasping ahold of the hand-bar. It gave me cause for pause. 

There was a brief moment I thought she must be a bit of a germ-a-phobe/nutter.  Then I thought for another moment and realized that almost every time I get off the tube, I find myself rubbing my hands on my jeans-almost a bit obsessively.  And, I distinctly remember being happy about wearing gloves during the winter when getting on the tube.  Ironically, I think wearing my gloves may have been what helped to keep me healthier than normal this past winter-and it had nothing to do with keeping my hands warm!

OK.  She definately was not a nutter.  In fact, she may have been smartest person on the tube.

Pity I didn't get a picture.  But, the tube was crowded,  and I figure the loud 'click' my camera-phone would make me look like the nutter! :)

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Age of Austerity and Crazy American Politics Observations

Like the US, the UK still isn't fully out of the economic recession, and if anything, the unfortunate financial crisis that hit the private sector last year is now impacting the public sector.  The UK government is having to make major budgetary cuts to various programs in the UK, and when a dear friend asked me about things last week, I realized that though I've been quiet about things on my blog, I very clearly had an opinion & obsevations on the topic.  To wit, here is the email exchange (well, in truth, my friend asking me about the budget cuts and me getting up on my soap box in response...):

Dear Friend: Would love to hear how the UK austerity regimen vs. the insane US political mid-term election nightmares are playing out in your neck of the woods.  After Christine O’Donnell (“I am not a witch”) as a candidate, the world must thing there is something wrong with our drinking water.

Me: UK Austerity...whew...I believe we'll fortunate enough to not feel the impact from the changes-we don't rely on state benefits of any kind (housing, child care/credits, unemployment, utility supplement, healthcare, higher education supplement...) the list goes on and on and on and on and on....Which, should clue you in to the problems at hand. As someone who used to think that Socialism wasn't that bad, I've completely swung the other way since moving to the UK. The *expectation* that the government will take care of you-regardless of whether or not you try to take care of yourself-just kills me. With cuts to the higher education 'supplement' grads can now be expected to pay up to £9k/year for tuition-though, admittedly, 20 years ago, it was all free. But, when I told Simon just last night that most Americans with kids are told to set aside $100-200k for their children's 4 year education, he finally understood why I thought that £9k a year was a joke. That's just one example. I should get off my soapbox though, or I'll write a book-and bore you to tears with it.

On the flip-side, Simon & I were in Las Vegas last week for his brother's wedding. We heard more TV/Radio ads for the Sherry Angle/Harry Reid showdown in 4 years then I think I've heard my entire life! Crazy. Angle's stance on most things scared me more than what was already wrong in Nevada (one in 25 homes in Vegas is in some stage of reposession...), and she was building a campaign on hate & intolerence. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw that Reid maintained his position after Tuesday.

Coverage here has been 'interesting'. I think most view the election results as a sign that Obama has failed-though I don't read it that way. But, ironically, I think more hopes were pinned on Obama from the UK than the US to begin with, so the sentiment makes sense.

Perhaps I'm wrong about all of the above, it's just merely how I've seen things the past few weeks/ months.  Would be curious to know how any other American Expats in the UK see the 'Austerity cuts'-and conversely what any British Expats (or Americans...)think about the recent mid-term elections.  Thoughts?...

Catching Up

I'll be the first to admit it:  I've been horrible about blogging the past month.  Between work, play, travel, and a wedding planning, I haven't had the wherewithall to blog. Well, time to make up for that.  Brace yourselves!...

First a bit of general catching up. The last 8 days of October saw Simon & I heading to the US for Simon's brother's wedding in Las Vegas.  Ironically, the Brit wedding was my first Vegas wedding.  But, I'm already getting ahead of myself. 

Simon & I were (for lack of a better, more PC way of putting it..) 'responsible' for Simon's dad on this trip-financially, socially, logistically, everything-ly.  This meant that Simon's dad was with us from the Friday before we departed (Oct 22) until mid-last week (Nov 3).  I think I've said before how much I like Simon's dad (read: I'm about to complain about him, so I should remind myself and others-including Simon, who reads this blog how much I actually like his father)....but, 13 days with a 56 year old man going on 80 (health-wise) almost broke me.  I won't go into the details-there's no need-but, spending that much time with Simon's dad was stressful, draining, gave us no chance to have much quality time, and gave me a startling glimpse into the future of what it could be like if I don't start taking better of myself.  That last statement is a bit extreme, but seeing how difficult it was for his 56 year-old father to walk even 20 feet at times, and watching him inhale almost every meal as if it were his last has put the fear in me.  I'm going to try to be more mindful of my own health-be more cognizant of what-and how I eat, exercise more, and in general try to take better care of myself. 

OK.  That was a bit of a tangent on the US trip, but it's been sitting on my shoulders for a week now-and if for no other reason than to remind myself-I wanted to get it down.

The US trip was big for several reasons-two of which have already been mentioned (brother's wedding and my 'ephiphany.'), but there was another biggie looming at the start of this trip:  our Dads met for the first time.  Here's how this went down:  Our 10-day trip to the US involved a 2-night stopover in Charlotte, 5 days in Vegas and 2 final nights in Philadelphia.  It was a bit much, but we didn't think Simon's dad would be able to make the 11 hour direct flight to Vegas.  So, we decided to break the trip up into more managable legs-and in particular try to swing by North Carolina so our dads could meet before the wedding.

Charlotte was fantastic.  The weather for the 48 hours we were there was simply perfect, it was gret to see my dad (& his gf), and surprisingly-though we'd lightly joked about needing 'translators' between my dad's heavy Southern accent & Simon's dad's heavy Scouse accent, there was only once where there was the need for translation. :) 

Vegas was..Vegas.  It's been 10 years since I've been to Vegas, and it's totally changed-and stayed the same-all at the same time!  More hotel/resorts and 'stuff', but the look & feel of Vegas really hasn't change.  Surprisingly, I really, really enjoyed my time there-and Simon did as well-and I think it was largely because we didn't try to force too much.  We hung out, gambled a wee bit our first night, had some drinks, did some touristy things with the wedding (limo ride on the strip...good times...), but really just approached the trip as a way to hang out.  It was the right thing to do.  Hindsight Vegas is like New Year's Eve:  the harder you try to have fun, the less fun you'll actually have.  Just go with the flow, and you'll be surprised.  For both of us, the wedding aside (that was truly good), our favourite part of the trip was actualy the last full day we had -when we rented a car and left Las Vegas.  Simon, his dad & I took a trip down to the Hoover Dam, had a putter around and then came back to the hotel to drop his dad off (he was falling asleep in the back seat at noon-by now, the trip was catching up with him), and then went on to Red Rock Canyon.  Wow.  I mean, Wow.  If you've never been, it's just a 30 minute drive off The Strip, and is well worth the effort.  Simply amazing.  And, after the faux-feel of Vegas, and the dry, re-circulated air in the casinos, it was nice to get out & about-roll the windows down in the car and enjoy the sun.  Loved it.  Hindsight 20/20, I would have worn better shoes so we could have taken a hike. But, I didn't know, so most of our adventure was just a few feet off the National Park highway.

After Vegas, we spent 2 nights in Philly.  I'd been to Philly before, but neither Simon or his dad had.  We arrived around 4pm on Friday, and were at the hotel by 5pm.  We dropped our stuff off and then headed out for a putter before it got dark.  Simon's dad was struggling to walk around too much, so our putter mainly consisted of heading to Chinatown for dinner before heading back to the hotel to drop his dad off before we headed back out to walk around and go have drinks.  We ended up at a hotel bar (surprisingly good hotel bar at The Mariott...), where around 9pm, it was clear that there was a large party taking place in the bar.  Well dressed people started appearing, the music got louder, and a few security folks started showing up.  We didn't have a clue what was going on, so we asked the bartender.  'Networking event,' he told us. At 9pm in a bar on a Friday night?  OK.   But, here's the thing.  Whatever this event was, it was clearly for African-Americans.  Past a point, Simon & I were the only two white people in the bar area.  And, while we were sitting at the bar, I was casually listening to the two guys talk behind us, and caught snippets of converations on the other side of Simon & around us.  There's probably no PC way to say this either, and the intent of what I'm trying to say is for good not evil, but it dawned on me in the bar:  I miss being in the company of African Americans. Both casually/socially and the friends I have.  There is a lack of diversity in my life now-and even in my life in Seattle-that can only be described as 'white.'   And, I don't like it.  Nothing I can do about it, but even as just someone sitting on the side-lines at the bar in Philly, I was happier just for sitting there.  Anyhoo.

Saturday in Philly was tourist day.  We got tickets for the hop-on, hop-off bus (though, we really just hopped on...), and took a spin around Philly.  It was funny seeing the town-one of the hearts of the American Revolution-with two Brits.  I think Simon & his dad both thought our 'history' (recent to British history in comparison) a bit quaint, and obviously, what they had learned about the American Revolution in school had a slightly different spin that what I learned-and what the tour guides were saying!   Aside from the general tour, we had a putter around Reading Terminal Market-so I could get my Farmer's Market fix (no Borough for two weeks).  Lovely.  I'd been there before, and it was just as incredible as my first trip.  Huge thumbs up if you're ever in Philly...

By 5pm, Simon's dad was done for the day, so we dropped him off at the hotel, freshened up and caught our breath, and then headed back out.  We first stopped at McGillans Olde Ale House-the oldest pub in Philadelphia for a few beers.  What a great place.  Ridiculously reasonable prices, not too busy, and we got to catch a few football and baseball games on TV.  After that we had a wander around town before settling on Italian for dinner.  In fact, we liked McGillans so much, we went there with Simon's dad the next day for lunch! :)

We flew back to London on Sunday nite-landing on Monday.  It was an incredibly fast-but at times painfully slow-trip.  It's always good to be back in the US, but that should be my last trip to the US for quite some time.  For the first time in my life, I'm not going 'home for the holidays.'  I'll be staying in London and celebrating with Simon.  Food for fodder in a few weeks for the blog, I'm sure!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

British Teeth Explained

*Now* I understand.  After resisting for the 2.5 years I've been here, I finally broke down & went to the dentist yesterday.  It's been a year since I saw my US dentist, and it's going to be a while before I see him again, so I decided to bite the bullet & go to the dentist here. I decided to book a checkup & cleaning appointment, and there's a dentist around the corner from the flat who is open on Saturdays.  What could be easier?

I was in and out of the office in 40 minutes-and 15 of that involved paperwork and reading a magazine while waiting.  The sum total of time I was with the dentist?  25 minutes.  In this 25 minutes, he checked my teeth, ran two x-rays-and reviewed them, and put a bit of composite seal on the back of a tooth that was looking a bit 'iffy.'  He said my teeth were clean enough with no tartar that warranted a cleaning (thank you Sonicare!), so off I went.  At first, while walking home, I was tickled that the appointment didn't take that long.  But, the more I thought about it, the more I realized just how indicative this appointment must be to the general attitude of the Brits to their teeth; case in point:  in September, Simon finally broke down & went to the dentist for the first time in 3 years!  I'm pretty sure the only reason he went was to get me off his back.  And, here I am worried that it's been a year.  hm.

I can't remember a time that I was in & out of a dentist's office in less than an hour-and I certainly can't remember a time while I was there for a checkup that a cleaning wasn't almost manditory.  But, with my dental professional's almost chill attitude about my teeth, now I understand why toothcare seems to be such a low priority for most Brits.  Yes, I realize I'm stereotyping a bit, and on some level, the flip-side of all of this is that perhaps we Americans are a bit *too* obsessed with our teeth, but as I personally plan to take my one and only set of adult teeth to the grave with me, I can't imagine being any other way.

Glad this mystery has finally been solved!

London's Newest Cool Attraction

Last Sunday, thru the beauty that is Groupon, Simon & I went and had brunch at London's Newest Cool Attraction:  Altidude 360.

The brunch was off to a dubious start before it even began as we had problems with the reservation, but once we got all of that sorted, this ended up being one of the coolest things I've done in London in *ages*! Altidude 360 sits on the 29th floor of the Millbank Centre (on Millbank, almost due north across the river from London Eye).   Our Groupon entitled us to arrival cocktails, brunch, more cocktails, and 360 degrees of uninterrupted view of London.  Not too shabby. :)

The cocktails were scrumptious, the brunch, though it was really 'English Breakfast', (which I can take or leave..) was outstanding, and the views?....A-mazing.  Our Groupon entitles us free access to the floor any time between now & the end of the year, and I can guarantee you, we'll be back many times!  Amazing.  See for yourself!~

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Seen Randomly Around London

From the infamous, recent George Michael car crash in Hampstead Heath:

Seen last nite while walking home. It's a bit dark, so I hope it's view-able. Simon was surprised I'd never heard of 'fouling' like this before. I thought it was hysterical.

And last, but not least...Seen as the 'ladies' bathroom image at Fino a few weeks ago.  So, the ladie's sign gets breasts.  The men's sign?  Nothing.  Does that seem fair?...(Sorry, you'll have to roate your head a bit!)

Catching Up

I have been absolutely horrible about blogging lately (barring the post I just put up entitled Bite Me RMT).  I've been working my fool arse off too much during the week, and the weekends have been jam packed-largely in trying to catch up from things I can't get around to during the week, wedding crap, and then we were gone to the US for a week to take care of aforementioned wedding crap, and then Simon's sister was in town this past weekend.  Whew.  Needless to say, the to-do list is long, and there's a lot to do, but I'm pretty stoked at the relative peace this weekend will bring.  Largely because as I look out over the next 8 weekends, we're gone or just plain busy for most of them.  Double whew.

On some level, due to how busy we've been, there isn't much interesting stuff to catch up on.  But, anyhoo, there are a few bits to catch up on.

In mid-August, I finally got to go to my first cricket game.  Day 4 of a 5 day 'test match' between England and Pakistan.  The test match games start at 11am, there's a break in plat at 1am for lunch (seriously), and a break in play again at 4p for tea (SERIOUSLY).  I've tried for ages to get into it when watching it on TV, but haven't, and feared I'd be bored to tears for this game (up to 7 hours of play too-a long time to be bored...).  But instead, I LOVED IT!  The first hour was a bit boring, as my biggest problem all along is that I struggle to understand the game.  So, I went for a stroll around the Oval to see what there was to see, buy a beer and a T-shirt, and then went back to my seat.  Well, I don't know if it was the beer, or the play, but I suddenly started to figure out the game-and once I did-bam.  Loved it.  Like, have already asked Simon when we can go see another game loved it.  Go figure!

We were in Portland for the last week of August to take care of wedding crap, pick up the engagement ring (yay!), and several friends from Seattle came down for the weekend to hang out.  It was a busy, but great trip back-and as this will very likely be the last trip back to the Pac NW until the wedding in April, a bit bittersweet.  All good, though, and it really was fantastic to see friends.

Two friends are pregnant (and will have given birth by the wedding), and I finally got to meet the boy of one friend -he's 4 months now.  It dawned on me on this trip that Simon & I, are currently (and forever, for that matter...) just about the only childless couple of ALL of our friends. Wow.  Most of the kids are under the age of 4-and they're all under the age of 6.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died after just a few pictures there (stupid me for not charging before we left...), that I don't have anything to really show for the trip.

Other than that, the only other 'happening' was that I *finally* went to see my first BBC Prom this past week.  'Prom' here refers to a series of classical musical shows, though they have expanded into other musical genres the past few years.  The Proms are at the Royal Albert Hall-very convenient to us-and this past Wednesday, we went to see on of those 'other musical genres'-the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.  They were amazing.  Simon's bene a fan for years, and introduced me to their music, which as it turns out , I know-but didn't know I knew. :)   Simon's best friend Herbie was actually the one that organized the group, so Herbie, Simon, Noonie (another friend of theirs) & I went.  It was fantastic.  GREAT seats-box seats, my first time, and dirt cheap at 15 quid (as they're subsidized heavily by the BBC); GREAT music, and we were home in 20 minutes.  Which is good, as it was late-starting show, and we didn't get out until 11.30pm!
The Proms run thru the summer and the last concert is actually this weekend.  But, I'm already thinking that I'll be going back next year-it's just a matter of for what!


RMT is the Rail, Maritime & Transport Union-the union for public transport in Britian.  Public Transport includes the Tube in London.  Now, my rant.

Starting this past Monday from 9pm to 9pm on Tuesday (effectively all of Tuesday...) and for the next 5 weeks, the RMT is striking.  During this time, effectively half the tube is down on Tuesday. This past Tuesday, my commute to work was 45 minutes (double what it normally is) on a bus, in which I'm pressed up against the glass to the point, I really can't move.  Coming home, my commute took 70 minutes-I mostly walked (mind you, this was after waiting for 20 minutes for my bus -only to have one come by out of service and one come by that was so full it didn't even stop). At least the weather was fine.  Good times.  Looks like I'll be doing this along with most other Londoners for the upcoming weeks.

Why is the RMT striking you ask?  Surely it must be because pay, benefits, work scheudle, something is SO bad that the union feels like it has no choice, right?  Surely I would want these hard working people to be given a fair shake in the world, right?  WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.  They're striking because due to the recession, the UK budget is having to severely be slashed-and part of that is public service-under which the RMT falls.  800 jobs are being cut in stations across London.  RMT workers along with the rest of the government, NHS, and other public sector jobs are being hit hard.  As is the case during a recession. 

Tube workers (drivers, and staff, specfically) get oh, about 6-8 weeks of vacation (compared with the standard 5 for the rest of us), and work only 36-ish hours a week.  And, I believe the average pay is in the mid 30s.  Not too bad.  Oh, and did I mention that they striked (struck?..) last year for almost 3 days demanding pay rises-above & beyond what most of the country was getting during the FREAKING RECESSION and WON?!?!?

Did I mention there was a RECESSION?!?!?

I think if I were left alone in a room with Bob Crow (leader of the RMT), I'd likely have a few choice words.  And perhaps a swift kick to his arse.

I'm dreading the next 5 weeks, and at the same time will be personally avoiding trying to take any tube on the days of the strike as my on personal 'Fuck You' to the RMT.

Bite me RMT.  Bite me. Bite me. Bite me.

I was too young in the 70s to know much about the auto-worker union strikes in the US, and not much news (that I recall...again, too young...) of the UK coal miner strikers in the 80s.  So, except for the occasional 'oh, the French fill-in-the-blank Union is strking.  again' thought the past 10 years, the past 2 years are really my first strike-aware experiences.

And, where I may have been mildly sympathetic at some point, given what I know about the pay & benefits of the current RMT staff, any sympathy I had went out the door ages ago.

Sorry my first post after being silent for so long is a negative nellie rant, but it's kinda an important one.


Bite me RMT.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The North and South

No, this isn't a story by John Jakes.  Nor is it commentary about my Southern American angst a la "The South Shall Rise Again.."  This is a different North and South:  this is about North England and South England.  Though, for all intents and purposes of this post, 'South England' really means 'London.'

A few weeks ago, my group at work hired a new person, who is originally from Northern Engalnd-Sheffield to be specific. This now brings the count of North England people in the group up to 2, and has since become a source of commentary (and good-natured ribbing) in the group.  'Joe' is now living in London for the first time, and we've had a few conversations about the difference of where he comes from versus life in London.  Oddly, for the first time since I've been here, I think I've finally met someone who understands me when I talk about the aggression and rudness of London-as a a big city, not an English city.  Joe has commented that he's stunned at how frequently he'll get run into/hit while on the tube, and rarely does anyone offer a 'sorry'- muchless a sincere apology.  He said it would be very uncommon to walk around the North in much the same way as in London, and *not* apologise to someone if you ran into them.

Of course, the Southern American in me can't help but giggle a bit inside when I think about the inversion of the stereotypes of North and South in England-versus the Northern & Southern parts of US.  In England, it's Northerners who live a slower pace, are friendly and ougoing, and show a level of civility to their fellow man when out in public.  In the US, this is the stereotype of Southerners.  In the US, stereotypes of a Northerner are that you'll be rude, loud, & aggressive; that's also the stereotype of Southern England.

Kinda funny, I think.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Engagement Photos

I swore I wouldn't turn my blog posts into 'wedding-this' and 'wedding-that' posts, and would try to focus on the Expatriate viewpoint of said impending nuptuals.  Hopefully, this qualifies.

Last Friday, Simon and I had our engagement photos taken by an Aussie named Damian that I met at social function a few weeks prior.  We decided to go with Damian because, when I was just throwing out a few ideas/thoughts to him, it quickly became apparent that he 'got it'-and even easily improved upon the ideas that I had for the photos.  I wanted the photos of Simon and me to be reflective of our relationship-which has largely hinged on 'London.'  As much as I sometimes moan about "London", I do also clearly have "London" to thank for something great in my life.  Yes, Simon.  I'm talking about you...

So, in keeping with that premise, we settled on two locations for the shoot-the Mews we live on (we can't take any credit for how lovely it is, but we do recognize it's a beautiful Mews), and Tower Bridge.  (here comes the Expat-viewpoint part...).  Never in my life did I think I'd be so fortunate as to have these beautiful photos of me taken on Tower Bridge.  It was surreal when we were there taking the pictures, and three days after getting the proofs from Damian, it's still surreal to see Simon & I on the bridge at sunset.  I can't take any credit for how amazing the photos look-that's all Damian.  We just stood there & did what we were told! :)
Well, without further ado, here are a few of the pics. Hope y'all like them as much as we do!


Tube Musings

I have now been commuting to work on the Tube for 3 months-it's the first time I've had a daily commute on the Tube since moving to London (suck it, First Great Western! I so do not miss you...).
I can honestly say that the novelty has worn off.  I don't doubt for a minute that it's still the best way to get around London, but the daily commute has forced a few observations about humans-some funny, some perplexing-that I'd never noticed before on my weekend journeys on the Tube. To wit:
  • Why, oh why, do men have to sit on the Tube with their legs spread sooooooo wide?  Truly gents, is this your sad way of trying to say to the world: "Look at how much junk I have between my legs, world!  The only way I can possibly sit here comfortably without crushing my man-bits, is by spreading my legs obnoxiously wide to give it the space that is needed!!"
  • Tourists:  Dear tourists, for the love of god:  Stay off the Tube during rush-hour.  The museums don't even open until 10am, but yet you insist on clogging the tube when there are hundreds of thousands of us trying to get to work.  Nevermind the fact that the Tube can't even cope with the strain of Londoners using it during their commute already, now you have to overload it even further-with your prams, backpacks, and maps spread wide.  Don't even get me started on stopping in the middle of the stairs, elevator, or platform-for NO APPARENT REASON-while the rest of us have to stagger around you so we don't run over you.
  • The urgency of your need to get from point A to point B via the Tube is directly proprtionate to the likelihood that the Tube will be slow, delayed, or simply suspended due to signal failure, an ill person on the train, or even a body under the train.  Go figure.
  • One must acquire Tube Face as early into their journey as possible.  Tube Face is the way making the world think that you are lost in thought, in your own world, or simply not paying attention-largely so you can appear to be ignoring the crazy person next to you-or made to not feel like you should give up your seat to someone who needs it.  But the reality is: you're still paying attention to every little thing going on around you.  Hopefully, no one notices you blinking, or your ruse is up.
  • Just like death and taxes being inevitible, it is also inevitible that you will end up sitting next to the smelliest person on the Tube when you have your choice of seats.  Just the other day, I took a seat inbetween two men-one of which smelled of dead cow due to the leather jacket he was wearing.  The other, smelled of ash tray and booze.  Lovely.
  • If just one more person tries to barge on the Tube while there are still those of us trying to get off, I may have to commit to a random act of violence.  Wait.  Until. Everyone's. Off.  Thank you.
I've observed on more than one occasion-and even commented in my blog-that Living in London is turning me into a rude asshole.  (For the record, I don't think it's "London" doing this to me, but rather life in a big city.)  Unfortunately, I can't help but think that my new commute is going to make me even ruder asshole.  I fear for loosing my humanity; but, in the grander scheme of things, I guess I've really just traded my road-rage from when I was driving in the US to Tube-rage.  I suppose it's just the difference of having an anonymous shell of a car around you versus the face-to-face confrontation of public transport.

Good times.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lighter Side of London LIfe

When I moved to London 28 months ago (28?  Really? wow), my exposure to British TV was limited to seeing re-runs of Benny Hill when I was a child, and catching a few episodes of Coupling on BBC America-which is *fantastic*, by the way, and makes Friends look a bit 'simple' in comparison.

Since being here, either on TV or or via DVD, I've been exposed to a few other shows that are also outstanding in their own right, and for anyone contemplating a move to the UK, here's a lighter look at some 'cultural research' you can partake in before arrival...Woefully, I'm rubbish at figuring out how to embed video in my blog, so a linked list (where a good link was available) will have to suffice-but if you go to YouTube, Hulu, or just do a search on the interwebs, you should be able to find a few clips.  In no particular order...
  • Green Wing-one of the first shows on DVD I was exposed to when I move here, this medical comedy did things that were cringe-worthy hilarious, and the character of Sue White is honestly one of the most memorable characters I've ever seen on TV.
  • Spaced-I've been a fan of Simon Pegg since I saw Hot Fuzz in the US a few years ago.  When I found out he had written & starred in a 'Singles' type of UK TV series in the late 90s, I had to watch it.  Loves it.  Loves it even more since Simon (my Simon) used to hang out in the area of town, Crouch End, where the show is set-and can point out random things about scenes of the show!
  • Little Britain-I realize this series has crossed the pond (jumped the shark?...) and a Brit-American version was run a few years ago on cable. It's crap. Must. See. The. Original.  And then begin to say, 'computer says no' at work to the confusion of your co-workers.  This is sketch comedy at it's best.
  • The Mighty Boosh-Season 3 in particular (my personal preference; everyone has a favorite, it seems...).  Another series that seems to have crossed the pond-I recall seeing a few random episodes advertised for some cable channel-super late nite-when in Seattle last year.  Absolutely hilarious.  Just thinking the words 'crack fox' makes me giggle...and I have a wee crush on Noel Fielding.
  • Mock the Week:  it's a panel comedy/news commentary show.  Sorry.  I know that seems confusing, but I know of no other way to explain it.  Frankie Boyle (one of the *best*-though most offensive-comedians I've ever heard) made the show what it is.  This program is a perfect way to quickly get up to speed on what's going on in British news-and pop culture-all while laughing your arse off.  I love this show so much, I've applied for tickets to the studio audience.  Fingers Crossed!
Unfortunately, except for Mock the Week, all of the other shows are now off the air-unlike US TV, where shows are run into the ground-and usually on life support before they're cancelled, Brit TV (though woefully, just the good shows, it seems...) likes it short & sweet.  Two to three seasons is a good run.  Except for Mock the Week, all of the shows above were before my time, but I found them thru other people.  The least I could do is pass the suggestions along, and pay it forward.

Any other expats have any favorite Brit shows worth mention?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My name is Kristina...and I'm a hoarder

Simon & I are making a trip back to the US in mid-August to pick up the engagement ring and take care of some wedding planning.  For every trip I've made back to the US since I've been here, I've made a 'grocery list' of items I want to pick up while I'm there.  Some of the items are simply 'American' and I can't find here (like grape jelly or Kraft Mac & Cheese).  Other items are simply waaaaaay cheaper in the US (Aveda products), and I'm all about saving a few pennies.

While beginning to contemplate my grocery list today for this upcoming trip, and giving *serious* thought to getting not one, but two jars of jelly (I plan to start taking my lunch with a bit more frequency to save some $$, and even at my age, I still love a good PB&J), it dawned on me:  I am a hoarder. 

To wit:  there's currently a jar of jelly in the fridge now that's not quite half full, plus a new/never opened jar in the garage as backup.  And, I'm contemplating buying two more?  Oh, and Q-Tips.  They sell them here (even the brand that I prefer), but I only buy them in the US.  I've currently two boxes (750 count, each...) sitting up in my closet.  That's 1500 Q-Tips.  Even at my current usage of 2 a day,every day, it will still take me 2 years to use all of them!  And, I'm contemplating picking up another box in August?  I need help.

I was never like this when living in the US. Yes, I'd stock up on things if there was a sale, or if it was something that I'd run out of with regular frequency, but I never once kept a stash of anything that would last more than a year. Muchless two years!  At least not intentionally.

I know we all have things we can't live without, but the way that I've started hoarding makes it seem like I'm not going to be back in the US for at least a year-when in reality, that's not happened yet, and isn't likely to happen for a while.

Sadly, it's not just jelly and Q-Tips that I seem to be this way about; I won't list everything I've hoarded since I've been here though-it's just too sad, and you'd seriously believe I had a problem. Which, I guess I do.

Well, admitting I have a problem is step 1.  I think I need to go figure out what step 2 is... :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

World Cup Fever

It would be border-line irresponsible of me if I didn't post at least once about the World Cup while living in London, wouldn't it?
For anyone who has been living under a rock or in a cave for the past week-or, outside of the UK from the looks of the US newspapers I've been reading online-England is in the throes of World Cup Fever. Has been for several weeks now, even though the official games just kicked off (no pun intended) a week ago.  I'll refrain from any game by game commentary-that's already been covered 7,000 ways to Sunday by everyone else, I'm sure.  Instead, just a few general observations about the differences between World Cup in England versus World Cup in the US.
  • Life as we know it grinds to a halt on the days that England plays.  Yesterday evening (6pm), I was one of 15 people in my gym (only 2 men, both of which were trainers, and simply had to be there)-a time & day in which it's normally packed.  Why?  England played at 7.30pm. 
  • Want to go to your local and have a pint?  Better not on game day.  Especially if said local has a TV.  You're better off to stay at home, as it will be too crowded, noisy, and drunk.
  • A good England fan is delirious with excitement leading up to an England game.  And, then quickly starts to bash the team during a game, the minute something goes wrong.  By the end of the game, a good England fan will be downright despondent at having ever thought England could win anything-nevermind tie a team that truthfully they should have crushed-and are basically ready to dis-avow God and Country.
  • The tube stations become fully staffed with British Police.  In the US, on a major sporting day, we'd see extra cops on the roads to stop drunk drivers.  In London at least, there are extra cops in the tube stations.
  • In the US, as a female, I never thought that anyone (men) was surprised when a female had an intelligent observation to make about a sporting event.  Here, if a female makes an intelligent observation about a sporting event, men treat it as a sign of the second coming-the shocked look on thier faces says it all.  Loves it.
  • I've had more people than I can count ask me if I was pulling for the US or England-particularly during the US/England match last week.  I never once entertained the thought of pulling for anyone other than the US, and can't help but wonder if an expat living in the US would have ever been asked that same question (regardless of their country of origin). 
  • There's just no escaping World Cup Fever.  It's everywhere here:  tv, radio, print, references on tv shows, the Top 20 chart is populated with 'England Fooball' type songs, and even if you're a brand that would never before have associated yourselves with Football (food, beverage, cars, finances, you name it..), suddenly you're mentioning 'England World Cup' in your advertising.  Even as recent as 3 days before the US/England match last week, I struggled to even find one US newspaper (well, online...) in which World Cup was even the front-page story.

I'm sure there are dozens more differences between what's going on with World Cup here in England versus the US, but those are the ones that come to mind off the top of my head.

Anyone else have an observation they'd like to share?  Drop a comment!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lisbon, Portugal

OK.  Time for a proper travel catch-up.  From the previous post, it's obvious that I went to Lisbon 2 weeks ago, but aside from the engagement part, I didn't actually comment on Lisbon, so I'll do so now..

Having been to Porto two years ago, I had at least that mental standard of what to expect, but actually expected more from Lisbon-as both a larger, and the capital city.  On some level, Lisbon didn't disappoint (*massive* protests in the main part of twon we were in on the Saturday we were there), but at the same time, I can't actaully say I liked Lisbon as much as Porto.

We got there on Friday evening, and basically dropped our stuff off at the hotel & headed out for dinner and drinks.   Lisbon is surprisingly hilly-shockingly so, in certain parts of town.  And, the area we wanted to get to required either a 15 minute walk *straight up* a hill.  Or, a cute 3 minute trolley ride.  We opted for trolley. :)  We then wandered around the Barrio Alto area looking for a place to eat, and I was struck by how much it reminded me of  'Restaurant Row' in Brussels-restaurant after restaurant for several blocks in any direction, and hosts were outside trying to get you 'come sit down. try. you willl like.' 
Instead, we headed a few more blocks off the main path and ended up at a place called Artis.  WOW.  Our first meal pretty much set the standard for the rest of the weekend-how could it not, when one of the tapas dishes was "aguardente flambeed sausage"?  We were barely the 3rd table in the house when we got there at 9p, but by 9.30p, the place was packed, and every table-including ours-had ordered this visually stunning, and very tasty dish.  Yum.  We also ordered a bottle of Vinho Verde-the white wine that Portugal is known for.  Double yum.  We'd go on to consume a fair number of bottles of this wine over the course of the next 3 days.
After dinner, we went and found the Solar du Vino do Porto.  Effectiely a port-wine bar.  After my trip to Porto, I've really come to appreciate port, and to go to a place and be presented with a 20-page menu with nothing but port wine is pretty exciting.   Some for as cheap as 1.80 EUR for a glass, up to 30 EUR.  Simon & I had a few ranging from 1.80-7 EUR, and they were all simply delicious.  By now, it's pushing midnight, and as Friday was a regular work-day for us, I was getting tired.  So, we headed back to the hotel for the evening.

Saturday started out with a quick trip to the pastry shop across the street of the hotel for breakfast.  Two croissants, two coffees, and a bottled water for 5.40 EUR (about $5) .  And it was also delicious.  THIS is why I love Portugal!  I will say...our food all weekend long was really good, and every meal made us marvel at how cheap-but fantastic-the food is.  It's very similar to the food we've had in Barcelona (also amazing), but about half the price.

Since our time was limited in Lisbon to just a few days, and we wanted to cover as much ground as possible-but knowing that walking from one part of town to the other could a)take ages and b)kill us because of the hills..we opted to go on one of those hop-on/hop-off buses.  I'm not ashamed to admit that we've done these buses now in Paris, Barcelona, and Lisbon.  And though it screams 'unimaginative tourist', if the weather is good it is the easiest and best way to see a city.

We got off at one of the waterfront stops to go have a wander around a few of the touristy things.  Ship Rock (I think that's what it's called?) and a castle.  After a few hours, we hopped back on another tour bus and passed by the Monestario do Jeronamo and then headed back into the main part of town, where we got off and went to grab a bite to eat for lunch.  After lunch, we were planning to have a walk back to the hotel for  a lie-down and freshen up before heading back out for the evening (it was pushing 4p...), but on our way back to the hotel, that's when we encountered the protesters.  It was peaceful and well organized-I'd say well over 10k people turned out.  From what we could eke out on the signs-and later when we were talking to our server at the beer garden we went to, I think they were mostly Labor/Trade Unions protesting Capitalism. 

Well, since we couldn't easily get back to the hotel because of the protest, we turned around and headed back down to the heart of the city (and back downhill!) to a beer garden in an area that reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona-but without the scary street people.  We thought we'd gone far enough to get away from the protest, but instead...for the next 2 hours, we had a front row view on the street, as every Union group in the protest came by us!  From time to time, some of the protesters would come to the beer garden, have a seat-and a beer-and take a break.  Then, they'd grab their signs, drums, whatever they were carrying & join the protest again.  It was all good family-fun. :)

Anyhoo, after dinner that nite, we went back to the port-wine bar for a few more tastes before calling it a night.

We decided that Sunday would be a more relaxed day.  After breakfast we headed in to town to go to the Contemporary Art Museum (free before 2p on Sundays), and then caught a trolley over to the Monestary. 
We'd only passed by the day before & I really wanted to go in.  But, man, the queues were enormous-as were the crowds-and neither Simon or I had the patience for it!  So, instead, we went around the corner to a pastry shop that's well known for selling "Postres do Belem" (Belem is the part of town we were in...), and we bought one and grabbed a spot on the steps at the Monestary for a quick snack.  By now, it's pushing 1p-and it's blazing hot outside.  Not wanting to get fried to a crisp, we decide to head back to the main part of town & eat an early lunch under the shade.

Another lovely meal-and another lovely bottle of Vinho Verde, and the plan to again go back to the hotel for a lie down gets tossed aside when we walk by the beer garden.  A few pints (well, technically, Litres-as each glass was one Litre) and 3 hours later, and we decide to go up to the Barrio Alto area for a little tapas and a drink before having full-blown dinner.

The rest they say, is history.  Little did I know, but Simon had been walking around all day with his faux-ring in his pocket to propose to me at some point in the day, and after arriving at the tapas bar, and getting settled with our order, down on one knee he goes.  Sneaky bunny.