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.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

We're Engaged!

I've been quiet the past month-largely due to work and travel, so hopefully, this will make up for it. :)

Simon, the sneaky bunny, proposed to me last Sunday when we were in Lisbon for the Bank Holiday weekend.  I knew it was coming-we'd already set a date (crazy, I know, but the venue we wanted books up fairly far in advance), but I still didn't expect the actual proposal for a few weeks more.  But, Sunday nite, while we were having drinks and tapas in the Barrio Alto area of Lisbon, he got down on one knee next to our table (mind you, in shorts on a cobblestone street) and asked me to marry him.

I said YES!

A few pictures of the place we were at..

I'll post more about the actual trip later, and catch up on a few other posts, but I wanted to get this one done before more time passed.  I hope not to become one of those women who does nothing but talk about their wedding, so I'll try not to be one.  But, in keeping with the spirit of my blog, if there's anything notable about planning a wedding-as an expat-I'll pipe up.  We're planing to get married at McMenamins Edgefield-one of my favorite places in the world.  But, it's on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon-8 time zones away.  I'm sure there will be some interesting expat-life-tidbits to emerge from this, if anything!