Headed to Cornwall

I love bank holiday weekends, even if it’s the last one before Christmas and marks the end of summer. Our tour of the UK continued with a trip to Cornwall, a place we’ve wanted to go for ages and just haven’t had the time for the long drive. The demand for Cornwall is huge, especially on holiday weekends, so we had this booked ages ago and still went despite the recent turmoil with my eyes. If you don’t already know the story, you’re probably better off.

We wanted to make the most of the trip, so we left straight from work on Thursday and stopped overnight in Bristol to break up the 6 hour drive. That also meant a chance to grab burgers for National Burger Day(I love a good discount!) and meet up with an old friend for drinks. A short but enjoyable stay, we were off by 8am the next morning to get a head start on the traffic. Little did we know we’d still be sitting in a few hours of backups and construction.

Despite the traffic, we still had time to kill along the way for a few pit stops and sights. There’s no proper highways that far south, and most of the roads were two-lane(more like 1.5 lanes) country roads, which made us feel a lot better about hiring such a tiny little car for the trip. The bonus to that though was that we were able to drive through a bunch of tiny towns and find a few places to stop as we went along; towns that would never be seen from a motorway. Stop one was exactly that- a tiny pub in the middle of cow pastures and just about nothing else nearby. Perfect for some sun and drinks.

We made a quick drive-through of St. Ives, one of the most popular destinations in Cornwall and also one of the most jam-packed with people. We decided not to stop, as there was almost no parking and the number of people walking towards the beach suggested we might not be able to mosey around. So we headed for our flat and figured we would look around out the town before checkin.

Our flat was in St. Just, a small, centrally-located town near the coast with 4 pubs, a shop, and a Chinese place-and I think the Chinese place was the busiest place I’ve ever seen, possibly being the only one in Cornwall at this rate. A bookshop/cafe gave us a much-needed afternoon snack before we headed across the road to our home for the weekend. We’ve stayed in all sorts of places before, good, bad and ugly, but this one added “incredibly amazing” to the list. For less than a hotel cost, we had an entire flat with a kitchen, bedroom, and good-sized bathroom to ourselves, along with some outside seating. And the decor… It was the most adorably decorated place I’ve seen, and not a detail was left undone. If ever in Cornwall, let me know so we can get the details of this place to you. Highly recommended!

And that’s just the start of the trip. Just wait until you see what the next few days brought us. You can check it out here.

Cornish Coast

It’s amazing how much you can see in a couple days on this island when you have a car. With our central location, we knew we would be able to get around to nearly everything we wanted to in the southern Cornwall district in less than 45 minutes, which was the main goal. In reality, nothing was more than 10 miles away, but with the roads down there, everything was a longer drive than it should have been.

Stop one was Lands End, and I don’t mean the store! The southern most tip of the UK, called Lands End, has a few shops, hotels and restaurants, as well as gorgeous waking trails. We got really lucky with gorgeous, sunny weather, which meant exploring a lot of the trails before moving on to the next town. We wanted to stop for lunch, but by the time we left it was nearing 2pm, which we quickly found out is the stopping time for pubs and restaurants to serve any food until evening time. Big change from what we’re used to!

We managed to find a place along the sea in Penzance for a quick snack though. For you movie buffs out there, the town might remind you of Pretty Woman and Julia Roberts. Penzance is one of the largest cities in our region, so we spent most of the afternoon perusing the shops and city centre area, which doubled as a good hill workout too. The shopping and restaurant area is really cute and quaint, and serves most of the surrounding towns and farms, so it had a little of everything you could think of.

From Penzance you can see St. Michaels Mount, a castle on an island a few miles away. We decided to make it our goal to head there the next day, but not after we stopped at Lizard Peninsula. We didn’t get quite so lucky with weather on Sunday though, with a heavy mist and wind, making it hard to do much trail walking along the peninsula. We were able to get to a high-point for some photos and views, but decided to turn around before the rain got much harder. A short 30 minute drive back to St. Michaels and we were in the clear with partially sunny weather.

St. Michaels Mount castle is on an island a short walk from the mainland, and during low tide it’s possible to walk there. We didn’t get so lucky on timing though, and had to take the boat ferry out there. We’re rather castled-out, so we opted not to go inside of it, but we checked out the shops and cafes on the island. There’s even a small residential area there, which explains the port and many boats parked. That has to be an awesome, yet annoying, place to live. The views are amazing, but the number of tourists must get tiring after a while.

Our last evening in town lead us to the King’s Arms for dinner, where they had happened to run out of ketchup. A burger and chips pub that doesn’t have ketchup. How does that even happen!? Anyway, dinner was impressive aside from that,but we still made a last pitstop for Chinese on the way home to fill those last few centimetres in our stomachs. Probably a bad idea, but when in Cornwall…

We got an early start the next morning so we could beat all the holiday-goers and make some stops later along the route. We made a stop in Swindon to check out the designer outlet, which ended up being rather disappointing, and then headed on back to London. Final judgement? Cornwall is probably the most gorgeous part of the UK there is to see, and well worth a trip out there.

Manchester

It’s been one hell of a past couple weeks. Since returning to the UK, I’ve had to give up my passport for visa renewal and we haven’t been able to travel to any of the places we’ve really wanted to go. So, we’ve improvised! We’re realising just how much of the UK we haven’t seen yet and have made a point to try and take weekend trips to as many “local” places as possible. We started with Manchester.

Leaving Friday straight from work, we caught a Virgin Train up to Manchester, arriving around 9:30pm hungrier than hostages and ready to relax a bit. We dropped our bags at the hotel and headed straight out to Almost Famous Burgers, which came highly recommended from some colleagues. Although the burgers were small, the meat was high quality and the entire place just screamed “hipster”. But it solved the hunger issue for the evening and made for a nice evening walk to stretch out after the train.

The hotel, Britannia, was less than ideal, but was centrally located for us to see everything in the city rather easily. Our room was in the back depths of the place, miniature, and with questionable water pressure, but it was a place to lay for the couple nights we were there. I’ll leave the second night drama for later.

We had one full day in Manchester and used it to the fullest. Starting off later than usual we grabbed a bite to eat and walked through China town for a bit which was cute but has nothing on the China-towns of Chicago and London. The next stop was the Manchester Cathedral located towards the north of the city. As we were there early enough that it was still quiet and peaceful, with only a couple tourists lingering about. The rest of the day was spent walking all over the city, trying to take in the various neighbourhoods, especially the hipster area in the north filled with record stores and quaint corner pubs.

A quick nap later and it was time to hunt down another brilliant foodie joint in the city, this time including an all-you-can-eat Brazilian Steakhouse. A UK attempt on Texas de Brazil of the US, it was a far, far cry from it, but definitely fed a well-walked and hungry couple. I will still always argue that TdB has the best salad bar of any Brazilian steakhouse.

Sunday was a whole different story. With train tickets back at 4pm, we had the majority of the day to keep busy, which started the minute we got up. After a loud and windy night listening to some crawl space door in the ceiling slam open and shut, we already weren’t happy when waking but, and then we found out there was no water. Long story short, they gave us a new room, only to find out there was no water there either. Or in the rest of the building. Not amusing. So we packed our things, stashed them with the bellhop and got the heck out of there asap.

The main attraction of the day was the Transport museum. A good few miles walk north, the museum is located off the beaten path on a dead end road with no life nearby. Shady? Yeah, I’d say so. But once you get inside, it’s amazing. They have busses dating back to the start of public transport, including a horse drawn brewery cart. Comprised of three main buildings, it seemed to go on forever, with many of the busses available to board and walk upstairs. It gave a lot of perspective and appreciation for the current system and conveniences we have.

With plenty of time left to kill before our train, we swung by the Manchester Football museum for a bit of sport history. When in ManU territory… yeah yeah yeah. And who can pass up a good Mexican joint for lunch? Not us! So after a good fill-up before the train, we grabbed our bags and got ready for a ride back home. Notes from the trip? Manchester is cute but small, and never, EVER stay at Britannia hotels again. Ever.

Birthday Flight


I know this is late, yet again, but it’s been one heck of a busy summer! This year’s birthday present was one of the best so far. A private flight with friend Dan around Chicagoland including our Elgin houses, Wrigley Stadium, Sears Tower, etc etc etc. Priceless. A clear, sunny day makes you appreciate Chicagoland that much more from the air too.

We started off from DePage Airport, about 30 minutes from home. Travelling north to Elgin, we flew around the wedding site and our houses before heading in towards the city. Making a pit circle around Arlington National Racecourse, we carried on towards the North side of Chicago to see the Cubs home, Wrigley Field. Northwestern University and the major towers downtown followed before we headed over the water and towards the South side.

We passed over Navy Pier, the museums, and Soldier Field before heading inland back towards the airport. Those who know Chicago know Midway airport and how it’s basically one huge city block that’s landlocked and actually rather scary to land at. We flew directly over it and got one heck of a view of just how small it is. Not helping their case for me ever flying in or out of there again!

The final destination of the trip was Fermi lab, home of one of the infamous particle accelerator, fourth largest after CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. They have a huge campus that we used to bike around, so it was awesome being able to see it from above and all the trails around.

It was back to the airport after that, as it was getting rather hot and the day was getting late. It was an awesome trip though, and reminded me how much I love summertime in Chicagoland. Thanks Dan and Joe for the awesome trip!

We’re Hitched! (Formal Pictures Coming Soon!)

It’s official. Those Damn Americans finally got hitched! I know I know, it was about damn time, but hey, these things require planning that isn’t easy from overseas! That said, when we throw a party, we THROW A PARTY. And what a party it was.

The wedding was as “Elgin” as they come, seeing as we both lived there, met there, and still have family in and around the area. We like to support local too, so everything was done through Elgin friends, family, and referrals. That said, the majority of it never would have happened without the help of our closest neighbours who really put the whole thing together. (You know who you are!)

The ceremony was downtown on Walton Island, a small man-made island in the center of the Fox River with a beautiful setting and landscaping, all primed and primped thanks to hours of volunteer work by the Elgin Garden Club members. After a short ceremony, and plenty of Pokemon GO onlookers, we headed off to take photos whilst the bridal party hung out at the Elgin Public House bar & restaurant, and everyone else had some downtime to change, nap, etc.

Now comes the fun part. The reception was in our backyard, with three tents filling the yard, and the side street closed off for the food truck and BBQ grills. The bar was nearby, along with an array of sweet treats for everyone to nibble on throughout the evening. Cakes made by Joe’s sister Jackie were the highlight of the desserts, and a candy bar put together by our neighbour Barb was a huge hit with the younger crowd. Thankfully we didn’t get stuck with too much left over, despite however the parents felt about that! We made up for the sugar rush though, giving the kids a big bouncy castle to run off all their energy and most were falling asleep by 9pm.

Managing everything was Krissy, who kept the order the whole day, and a HUGE thank you goes out to United Way and the kids who volunteered to help manage things like the bouncy castle, ice cream cart, and candy bar. We never could have managed without you!

So without letting this get too long-winded, it was an awesome day, evening, party, you-name-it. It was like one huge reunion of most of the people we love and care about(minus the select few who weren’t able to make it). There are a bunch of other people that made this day possible, and I know I didn’t list everyone, but if I did this may have been more of a novel and less a blog post. We love you all and thank you to everyone for making the entire day so much fun!

Love,
Those Damn Americans

Birthday on the Beach

A year come and gone, a year just gone by.
A year full of laughter, another year to try.
We saw many places and travelled afar,
three continents around and many a bar.
An engagement and family, and air miles galore.
These are some of the things that we all live for.
It hasn’t been easy, that much I can say,
But when it comes down to the end of the day,
I couldn’t be happier than where I am now,
Even on days when I’m “having a cow”.
I owe each one of you a big thank you,
for sticking beside me like Elmers glue.
Without you I wouldn’t have done what I’ve done,
Seen so many places or laughed a whole ton.
I’m certainly no poet,
and I sure as hell know it.
So take it from me when I say thanks a million,
This damn thing took ages, and its far from vaudevillian.

This birthday in Tenerife has been nothing short of amazing. A long weekend off work, a gorgeous beach and weather, great company… I couldn’t ask for more. But then there was more. Parasailing off the coast of Tenerife really topped the day. The views were astounding, and the weather was absolutely perfect for it. Enough wind for a quick pick-up, but calm enough for it to be enjoyable and peaceful once up there. After a long walk back to the resort, with some breaks in the middle, we got cleaned up and de-salted for dinner. Yes, de-salted from the seawater, which, as much fun as it is to swim in, feels incredibly nasty once you dry off.

Dinner ended up at a Mongolian buffet down the road from the resort. Not somewhere I would have ever expected to end up at, but it was incredibly good. Made-to-order stir fry, with extra salads and sides to pick from at your choosing. By the time we left, it was late and drinks and cigars were way overdue. Drinks and vices in hand, and a deck of cards to keep busy, we headed out on the deck for a few hours until our eyelids couldn’t handle it any more. Or maybe it was my pride that couldn’t take it anymore after losing by so much.

Which leads me to now. Falling asleep typing this on our balcony where the only signs of wireless life exist. I like the disconnection though. Nice break from reality every once in a while, if only for a couple of days. Ah well. with that I sign off. Until next time.

TDA

Irish Roots

Ireland is one of our favourite countries ever. The people are so warm and welcoming, it’s quiet, spacious, and most importantly, it just feels like home. We’ve been to Ireland several times but never to the towns our family ancestors came from. We had done that in Poland, and now we wanted to do the same in Ireland.

Three days, 1 car, 700km, resting our heads at the Doonbeg Trump International Hotel(more on this later)- we made the most of this trip. With research in-hand, we managed to get to both Tuam(Murphy/Fahy) and Claremorris(O’Malley), to see what we could find. Not much luck in terms of family, but we were able to see the towns at least. Not all was lost though. A stop into one of the local Church of Ireland Parishes in Tuam ended up in a conversation with the local Reverend Alistair Grimason who directed us to a few websites where we might be able to find additional information on our families.

Family history hunting wasn’t the only order of business on this trip though. The West coast of Ireland holds an incredible amount of history and sights to see, and we did our best to get to each and every one possible. Rather than list them all out- check out the map below for all the spots we hit.

As for the hotel- all politics aside regarding Trump, this place was amazing. Recently acquired by Trump to keep it from closing, it’s been completely renovated and several new buildings created. Our room was larger than our entire flat in London, and the staff were nicer than any 5-star hotel I’ve stayed at before. Because of the number of jobs and tourists the hotel has brought back to this area, the Irish here absolutely love Trump, or Mr. Trump as they refer to him. It’s interesting to hear their point of view on it as it’s certainly not what we’re used to hearing in the US or UK.

Anywho! Another successful long weekend holiday bites the dust and it’s back to reality, but the break was more than worth it for both of us.

Happy New Year

Another year come and gone, and what a year it was! We managed to travel nearly every month, made some wonderful new friends, got engaged, and laughed a lot. All the ingredients for a wonderful life(which we appropriately watched on Christmas). This year has been the most challenging and busy year ever, but also the best one so far. So as this year comes to a close and a new one begins, I want to reflect on all the things that happened, and the things to come.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Roots

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The main point of this holiday was to discover where Joe’s ancestors came from, so we spent a full day doing that. We hired a car, and after an eventful adventure trying to find the car rental location, we managed to get on the road! As an aside- Europcar in Bydgoszcz could definitely use a sign. Any sign, but at LEAST a sign!

Finally around late morning, we were on the road and driving on the right side, which came as a big relief to Joe. Bydgoszcz is a large city of approximately 350k, but we were outside of the city and into the country roads within minutes. The town is about 30 minutes north of Bydgoszcz, and surprisingly it was all paved. Even the rural roads, with the exception of one that we ventured down. Reminder of driving in Italy. Eeeek!

Wudzyn was first on the list, which is where the family church is located and the weddings would take place. The church itself was closed, unfortunately, but we were able to walk through the cemetery surrounding the building, as well as the one a few minutes down the road. We weren’t able to find any relatives there, and Joe noted that nearly all of the headstones there are from the mid-1900’s to today, making us curious as to what the burial practices were prior to 1900.

We decided to walk the town afterwards, all 10 blocks of it. At least it was big enough to have a fork in the road, and a roundabout! Of which had a really cool actually. A stone in the centre of it said 1307-2007. Amazing how old some of these towns and villages are. There is a school, which I can only guess services the surrounding farms and villages too, as it is highly unlikely that many kids live in Wudzyn itself. There was an even split of what appeared to be low income housing, as well as some very cute, large and well-kept homes. I can only guess that many people who have made their money already, or whom work in the city, live out here as it is cheap, quiet, and relaxing.

Next up was Brzezno, where the family was born and raised, according to family records. This was even smaller than Wudzyn, although it appeared to have a fire station? Still not quite understanding that one. Anyway! There wasn’t much to stop for, so we drove slowly through, taking in what there was before moving on to the next town. Serock appears to be the main local hub for nearby towns such as Wudzyn and Brzezno, with 2 slightly larger grocers that carry the basics, as well as boutique shops with toys, secondhand clothes, and basic hardware supplies. There was another cemetary in town , so we stopped to see if we could locate anyone again. No luck. It also seems there is a tradition of lighting candles and placing them in glass lanterns on the graves. It was actually surprising to see how many of these were lit!

By this time it was late afternoon and we were exhausted. It was wonderful being able to see all of the history and heritage of these small towns though, and I’m really glad we were able to make the trip.

It’s Official!

It’s official!

I’ve been surprised. Beyond belief. As unexpected as it comes. Never in a million years did I expect this. And the story goes a bit like this…

We were “supposedly” going to a dinner for his work. Something that warranted a suit at least. And this said dinner was nearby Westminster. We were supposed to leave by 6ish, so I made sure all was OK with my boss and tried to get out a bit earlier than that so I could swing by for pre-drinks. That all went according to plan.

We left around 6 and headed to Westminster. Joe led the way, and with a minor wrong turn and 5 minute detour, we were finally on the right track. About a block away from this said dinner, we stopped so I could swap out of the walkable shoes into the painfully professional heels. (Oh yeah, I hate heels) Anyway, we were stopped on a corner with a gorgeous view of Westminster and even a horse drawn white carriage behind us. Not to mention a beautiful day!

As I stood up from swapping shoes, someone else got down on one knee. Nice suit and all, I might mention. (Really, who wants to ruin a suit knee?? But it’s worth it, right?) Oh yeah, and there’s no work dinner and the carriage is for us.

WHAAAAAAT?

Yes. The answer is yes, yes, yes.

Surprise #1.

The carriage took us all over London. People were waving as we passed by and the entire ride was perfect. Couldn’t have asked for more. It dropped us off near St. Pauls Cathedral at One New Change, a local shopping centre with various restaurants and such. We had a few minutes before dinner reservations and we decided to walk around a bit. I swapped shoes(again), and noticed Joe looking past me as though he saw someone… I should have caught on to something but nope. I guess surprise will get the best of you.

We headed over to a centre square about a block away that had a small chapel and a restaurant, and then I saw who had been noticed earlier. One person, and then two, and then four! All four parents popped out of the chapel archway. Cue jaw drop.

“Oh, and you don’t have to work tomorrow.”

If there’s a record to be set for surprising the least surprisable person, I think it was just set.

Dinner was at Jamie Oliver’s Barbecoa, a deliciously fantastic restaurant with plenty to choose from. By the time we were finished, everyone was exhausted and we began the walk back to everyone’s hotels, walking past my old office for a view of it lit up at night.

Ok, you got me. You got me good this time. But just you wait… I have a few things of my own up my sleeve.

Goodbye Amsterdam!

Already time to go home? That went by way too quickly. Our final morning there, we hit the final restaurant we wanted to get to before leaving. Burgerfabriek. A build-your-own burger bar in the Red Light District. The inside had a very industrial style look, and we were the only ones there, which I guess could be seen as a good or bad thing. Maybe the food was horrible? Nahhh.

The burgers ended up being handmade, shaped right there in front of you with all fresh ingredients. Impressive. The fries came with mayo (in proper dutch fashion), ketchup, and a creamy garlic sauce. The burger had fresh mozzarella, salad, and a sourdough-style bun. For myself, a delicious cheese and chicken omelet with toast on the side. What can I say? I’m not much of one for burgers, and especially not in the morning.

It was about time to head to the airport after that, so we collected our bags from the hotel and headed across the bridge to Centraal Station to hop on the train to the airport. The trains here are incredibly nice, with large, plush chairs and plenty of leg room. And a very reasonable price too. Something like €5 each way to and from the airport. Then again, they pay taxes, and lots of them.

We made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. And then the flight was delayed. Another 2 hours. Murphy’s Law, right? But given the winds outside, that’s fine by me! I’ll be happy just to make it home, even if it’s a few hours late. The rest of the journey went smooth, and the weather back home is beautiful and sunny, just what we wanted!

Amsterdam pt. 2

IMG_6297Our first full day in Amsterdam and the weather is gorgeous!! About 22C (72F), sunny and calm. It doesn’t get much better than this. We decided that today was going to be a day for walking around the city and seeing what we came across. First stop? Breakfast!

We found two places this morning- one, a Spanish tapas restaurant where we got a chicken-soup like dish, although it claimed to be chicken with Spanish sauce. It was good, but certainly not filling, so we made our way on found a corner cafe with omelettes and settled there for a second breakfast.

Filled up, we continued on walking up and down the side streets and canal ways. We came across an old Mercury Colony Park station wagon, which is hard enough to find in the US, let alone Europe! And a motorbike with a sidecar. This country is awesome…

The houseboats on the canals were numerous, and much different from those you find in London. They’re larger and more “homely” looking. Many even look quite modern, with square architecture and lots of glass to let light in.IMG_6306

And of course, we found a whiskey shop. Well, more like a liquor store as it carried a huge variety of wines, spirits and liqueurs. But the whiskey selection was huge and included many specialty brands and years. The displays were fantastic and the entire shop was filled with dark wood, giving it a very classic look and feel. Sadly, a €150 bottle of whiskey wasn’t in the budget for this trip though.

After a nap, we went on a hunt for dinner. This time we headed towards the Red Light District to find a place so we could walk around that area afterwards. It was already getting late, so the timing was perfect. We dined at an Italian pizza place with pizza and salad, sitting outside to people watch and enjoy the lovely weather.

The remainder of the evening, we walked around before finally getting fed up with the mass crowds and headed to Koee for some build-your-own frozen yogurt. Delish!

Finally back to the hotel to relax and catch some Zzzzzz’s!

Anne Frank Haus

 

Another day in Amsterdam and there’s one big thing we hadn’t done yet. One of the main attractions in the city. The Anne Frank Haus. We tried to book tickets online before going, but even at a week and a half out they were sold out so we got stuck waiting along with the masses.

We got up extra early to get over there by 8, which ended up being closer to 8:30. Apparently everyone else had the same idea too. We got in line and started passing the time as best possible. The house opened at 9, and we got to the ticket booth/entrance around 10, which seemed reasonable given the number of people in line.

The house itself looks very understated from the outside; a brick building with dark green paint on the doors and trim and a small plaque marking it. Once inside, you walk through the factory part of the building, climbing some of the steepest stairs I have seen to get up to the living space. Along the way, there are several short videos and photos with the story and history of each room.

The bookcase that hid the living space was almost eery with how well it covered the small hole in the wall. The living area covered two floors and was left unfurnished per Otto Frank’s request when they opened it to the public. The lack of furniture in the space made it seem quite large, but given there were 8 people living there for 2 years without the ability to leave, it must have felt smaller and smaller by the minute.

The space was just as I pictured it whilst reading the book and watching the movie, and seeing it brought everything to life.

After our tour, it was about lunchtime and we were famished so we headed off to a well-known place in town called Crepes & Waffle for some proper dutch “pancakes” or crepes as we known them. We got the Spicy Mexican and the Egg Scramble, both of which were absolutely delicious.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with walking around along with a nap before dinner, which we were pretty excited for. We had come across this Argentinian/Mexican restaurant nearby and were itching to try it, so as soon as the first pang of hunger hit, we were on our way!

One side of the menu has dishes from Argentina and the other from Mexico, with more than enough to choose from. The final decision was enchiladas and chicken salad, which were pretty good, but not quite as authentic as we expected. Guess we’re just going to have to take a trip to Mexico one of these days.

Strolling the streets the remainder of the evening, we came across some live music on one of the bridges and stopped to people watch and listen.

The Other Sin City

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Amsterdam. Next to Vegas on the list of “sin cities”. Don’t ask me which ranks higher though. We flew in mid-afternoon, leaving us time to get settled in the hotel and then head out for the evening. The hotel is perfectly located, right across the water from Centraal Station and in the middle of everything. It was on a loud corner and quite small but given everything else, that was easily overlooked.IMG_6271

We got situated, then headed out to explore and find dinner in the area. Just about everything in the area is along the water, seeing as the entire city is built on canals. It’s as though there’s a bridge around every corner. Anyway, there’s a large shopping area just behind the hotel which spans for many blocks. We spent a good hour walking around and getting a feel for the local fare before choosing a place for dinner.

IMG_6269Did I mention that every other restaurant seems to be an Argentinian steakhouse? It’s almost like McDonalds and Starbucks in the US, or pubs in the UK. They all have the same basic menu too, so our big question is- how do they differentiate themselves to gain business? Or maybe there are just plenty of tourists to do that for them. When one is full, they flock to the next one two doors down.

We decided on Five Bells Bar & BBQ, which is a well discussed place in town according to many, and had a wide variety on their menu to choose from. Just what we needed after the journey there. Some kebabs, chicken salad, and a burger later, we were well fed and satisfied to carry on exploring before it was time to head back and catch some shut eye.

4th of July

We woke up to a bright, clear, sunny Saturday morning with no plans other than to walk around the city and see what was around. We were told in advance that the main port had an outlet mall and several attractions to see, so we headed in that direction. Just down the street from our hotel was an old church from the 1200’s that was open to the public for the weekend so we swung in for a few minutes to check it out. It once served as a hospital as well was a chapel, and many parts of the original building were still there. A bomb from the war in 1941 had destroyed much of the front though, and the roof was still missing from there, whilst many of the walls had been rebuilt.

Walking along the coast, we came across the old barracks and towers that were once used to protect the city from sea invaders. The towers weren’t open, but the path along the coast took us through many of the barrack walkways and where they used to keep the cannons. We moseyed around the streets and came across a few restaurants, one of which we stopped at for lunch called The Spice Island Inn. It’s right on the water with a gorgeous view of Gunwharf Quays and the harbour. Not a bad menu either.

We made our way on to Gunwharf Quays where there are several restaurants and the outlet mall, much like many of the outdoor ‘lifestyle’ malls in the US. Being an outlet mall AND outside of London, the prices were significantly better. Thankfully we didn’t do much damage.

Dinner was an international celebration of the 4th of July at a restaurant called Shorties, which claims to be a British-American restaurant. Closest we were going to get to American style food in a small city outside of London and right next to the hotel, so we tried it out. The building looks like an old home, and the inside still features the dark wood and style from the 1800’s. Staff were friendly and warm, with one waitress excited that we were American and telling us all about how her sister lives in Boston and how she loves Chicago, but hates New York.

An after-dinner stroll around the neighbourhood let dinner settle before heading in for the night. A great British adventure to celebrate the independence of the United States. Sounds appropriate, don’t you think?

Local Haunts

 We’ve been trying to get out to a few more “round the corner” restaurants. You know, the ones that are some people’s hangout go-to, or are hidden on a off street but recommended by every local in the area. We’ve found a few that I figured I would compile and throw out there for everyone to check out.

The first one just so happens to be the closest one to our place, and we stare at it from the gym window every morning, so it’s only appropriate that we finally made our way there. It’s called The Golden Chippy, a small burger and fish & chips shop right up the street with outside seating. A burger and chicken fingers, with chips on the side, cost next to nothing, and the fresh, outdoors seating was well worth every pence. The waiter that brought the food out ended up being a really nice guy who studied in Virginia and had plenty to say about the US. Yep, that’s what us Damn Americans bring out in people.

Next up is a local bar and restaurant next to Lewisham Mall, about a 15 minute walk from home, called The Watch House. Part of the JDWetherspoon chain of bars throughout the UK, this place still retains it’s status as a local haunt. The inside is huge, with seating for well over 100 and an additional upstairs. It has a wide range of typical pub food, plus a selection of Mexican style foods, which was rather surprising. Surprise surprise, guess what the selection of the evening was? A burrito!

The last place is nowhere near home, and was actually an after-work affair with Joe’s colleagues that I joined in for. Tayyabs, a Punjabi place in the Whitechapel area, is a very well-known BYOB restaurant that has plates to share and build your own meals. Perfect for group outings. We went at the start of the week and the place was absolutely packed. I can only imagine what it’s like on a Friday or Saturday evening.

So, next time you’re in town, check one of these places out! You won’t be disappointed.

Dan & Southern Joe’s

I’m slacking, I know. Things have been crazy, but I’m trying my best to get you all caught up.

A few weeks ago we had one of Joe’s friends in town to stay with us for a few days. While they managed to get out and see the town quite a bit, and have some “guy” time, I was able to tag a long for a few of the outings. Namely Saturday.

We started out early, heading to Jenny’s Cafe up the road for breakfast. This place is a knock-off American 60’s diner with incredible prices and a menu that never ends. Literally. It takes up one wall of the place.

So after a good fill-up, we headed to Greenwich Park, Cutty Sark, and the Naval College to check things out. We got incredibly lucky with the weather over the weekend too. Sunny, warm and calm. Doesn’t get much better than that. So I guess that means winter will be back in a few weeks, given how things go on this side of the pond. Good choice in timing to come visit, Dan!


We popped in one of the museums, but decided our time was better spent outside around the college grounds and checking out the park. One of the things we’ve been meaning to do since moving here over a year ago, but somehow haven’t gotten around to, was heading up to the observatory and the meridian line in the park. So we made the trek up the ridiculously steep hill to the observatory for a look over London, the O2 and Canary Wharf. On a day so clear, it doesn’t get much better.

Heading back down to the college park, it was about time to find a good place for a drink and a sit in the sun. Thankfully, Meantime Brewery is on the park grounds. Phew! A few beer paddles later we were ready to call it quits and head back for a bit before taking on the afternoon and evening.

The guys did their thing while I did mine for a while during the afternoon and we met back up for dinner, which ended up being at none other than Southern Joe’s Kitchen and Bar.
Really?? Way too appropriate.

The dish names were great too, with starters such as Coq-n-balls, and plates called the Prison Platter. They even have the well-known “Beer Can Chicken”, which they cut and serve in the dining room while the can is still inside. This may not be anything special to
many American’s but it certainly seemed to impress the others there. And did I mention they even have a “Blue Plate Special? Yep, this place is real.

An entertaining walk back along South Bank and a train ride home, and we were all ready for a good night sleep.

Biscuit Ceramic Cafe

The weather is finally looking up! We’re supposed to hit the 20’s this week(or the 70’s for you US folk) and the people are starting to come out of hibernation. It’s days like these that I love the Cutty Sark and Greenwich area, as the atmosphere and park are gorgeous, and there’s endless people watching to be done.

Seeing as we spent yesterday lazing around and relaxing, today it was time to get out and enjoy some of the weather. Having been looking at the map for a restaurant Friday night, I noticed a place in the area that took me back to a childhood birthday party I had attended. A ceramic painting studio. A pick-out-and-paint-your-own piece of pottery place, with a built in cafe and bistro. Right next to Greenwich Market, it’s located in the heart of the tourist area and near the college park, leaving us with endless things to do for the day.

We got there early and it was pretty empty. We had the pick of the place, so we chose the sunny corner table, which later turned out to be an oven but I digress. We decided to work together on one thing instead of each doing our own, and chose our favourite. A Mini Cooper. Appropriate, right?

Now the hard part. What should it look like?? Thank you to Google images for this one. We knew we wanted to go with the typical flag on top, but we wanted to mix it up a bit. And being the OCD and traditional people we are, it was time to venture out and break free. But only a little… 🙂

The winning design- a British flag on top, an American flag on the front hood, and British racing green on the sides. Yeah, yeah, so maybe we didn’t go all-out crazy, but we were able to incorporate “a few of our favourite things”. And best of all, it’s a piggy bank, so we have somewhere to stash all of our leftover money from the various countries we’ve travelled to.

After leaving the hotbox corner, we headed for Greenwich Park and the University for a bit to lay in the sun and cool off. And people-watch of course.

The best part of all of it? It was all within walking distance of our flat. And people wonder why we love London.

TDA

Hippodrome Casino



There are a ton of places in London we haven’t checked out yet, so we decided to tackle another place on the list last night. This time we headed to the Hippodrome Casino for drinks, dinner, cigars and a little gambling. The occasion, an annual tradition, was bonus payout for Joe, which means a night out for steaks and whiskey with no price limit. This time around we paired it with a few other things for a full night out on the town. Dinner was great (you can read about it here), as expected from a steakhouse in a casino, but what surprised me was the rest of the place.

Situated in central London around Leicester Square, space is at a premium and the establishments are usually very small. But there’s always some charm hidden throughout, and tonight we found it. We went a bit before dinner to check out a few of the slots and have a drink. The downstairs bar is in the centre of the gambling floor with a wide selection of spirits to choose from, which we checked out first. Then, with some time to kill before our reservation, we looked for the slot machines with £5 in hand. Not much, but given that we only had 15 or 20 minutes, it was plenty. We even managed to turn that into £27 before dinner!

After dinner (which I’m sure you already read about…here) we went upstairs to the terrace where there’s another bar, cigars, and plenty of space to enjoy them both outside with surrounding heaters to keep warm. The terrace even has an additional floor with a spiral staircase leading to it, where we headed to get away from the noise.

As the evening wore on and it got a bit windier and chillier, it was time to head back inside and see what we could do about the £27 slot credit we had from earlier. As nice as the Hippodrome is, I wouldn’t hesitate to say that they need more slot machines. Arguably, it’s in one of the busiest areas of London, and it would make sense that the place fills up on a Saturday evening, but you could say the same about Vegas and you’re never pressed to find a machine there. Given that the tables had many empty seats here, they might want to reconsider the ratio of slots to tables, if they want to maximise people’s spend there.

Anyway! We managed to get 2 machines and play for another hour or so before deciding to quit while we were ahead. Walked out with £54 on a £5 investment. Nearly paid for the steaks! I guess if you’re going to go for a night out, this is the way to do it!

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Eggs in a Bell

We tried something new again. Surprise surprise! This time it was something Joe wanted to try doing that was a bit more on the creative presentation side rather than the food and flavour side.

Those of you with kids, or anyone who’s tried to cook food in various shapes know all about using cookie cutters for just about anything. Pancakes, pizza, you name it! We took the same idea and modified it a little for this one.

Seeing as we don’t have any cookie cutters here, or anything along those lines for that matter, it was time to put that creativity to use. We had bell peppers that needed using, as well as eggs.

Using the bell peppers, we sliced them width-wise instead of in strips so we could fill the centre, much like a
cookie cutter. Placing them in the pan, we cracked an egg into each one, added on spices on top, and let them cook on low-medium heat for about 10 minutes. Eggs usually don’t take that long but since the pepper keeps the egg from spreading out, it takes longer for it to cook all the way through. And that was it! Simple and delicious, with minimal mess and cleanup.

 

Valentines Day Getaway

Murphy’s Original Law-If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it.
Murphy’s Law-If anything can go wrong — it will.
Murphy’s First Corollary-Left to themselves, things tend to go from bad to worse.
Murphy’s Second Corollary-It is impossible to make anything foolproof because fools are so ingenious.
Quantized Revision of Murphy’s Law-Everything goes wrong all at once.
Murphy’s Constant-Matter will be damaged in direct proportion to its value.
The Murphy Philosophy Smile… tomorrow will be worse.

Conclusions

  1. If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the first one to go wrong.
    Corollary – If there is a worse time for something to go wrong, it will happen then.
  2. If several things that could have gone wrong have not gone wrong, it would have been ultimately beneficial for them to have gone wrong.
  3. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.
  4. If anything can’t go wrong, it will anyway.
  5. If you perceive that there are four possible ways in which something can go wrong, and circumvent these, then a fifth way, unprepared for, will promptly develop.
  6. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.
  7. Everything takes longer than you think.
  8. You never find a lost article until you replace it.
  9. If nobody uses it, there’s a reason.
  10. You get the most of what you need the least.
  11. Nature always sides with the hidden flaw.
  12. Mother nature is a bitch.

The law that will get you whenever, wherever, regardless of the situation. Holiday and travelling are no exception. Actually, I’m beginning to think that they’re specialty cases where the probability exponentially increases.

Why do I bring this up? A last minute trip booked to Bedford for Valentines Day weekend started going wrong before we even managed to get out of London. Surprise surprise. I booked a hotel and car the night before, with plans to leave right after work yesterday. I had Joe booked as the driver, so he could pick the car up before I got home and we could leave right away. Well, I’ve learned my lesson with that one now. The entire booking, payment, and everything had to be under his name, or Hertz wouldn’t let him pick up the car. And you have to have your passport in addition to the 2 other kinds of ID he brought with him. And we both had to be drivers, even though I wasn’t driving. Just because my name was on the credit card. Because that makes sense…

4 hours later, 2 trips to Hertz for Joe, and one trip to meet him there for me, we had a car and were headed home to get our things and go. Finally, outside of London by 11pm. Not ideal, but hey, we made it. Arriving at the Park Inn Hotel in Bradford, we made our way back to the car park. But, as we turned the car around the corner, we hear a load hissing noise. Uh oh. You guessed it- flat tyre. This just isn’t our day.

Getting to reception at the hotel, they didn’t seem very receptive or friendly, but then again it was 1am and I wouldn’t be too cheerful working that shift either. Not to mention that it said online there was free parking (£5/day), and the wifi only allows one person at 512mb/s. And I forgot how slow that is with current websites. Apparently we’re still in the dark ages when you leave the Greater London area.

But, we’re here. Away from reality for a few days. Finally.

No Water

There’s never a shortage of excitement around here, and this latest one tops the list of random occurrences. It’s a Wednesday night and close to bed time. Joe’s gone to bed, and I’m about to close things up for the night as well. I decided to clean some things up and have some tea before bed, but when I go to turn on the water…there was nothing! Not even a drop. Bathroom, toilet, shower, nothing!

First things first. Yes, the water bill was paid. Those things don’t quite work the same way here at our flat. The bill is paid for multiple months at a time via direct debit, making it nearly impossible not to pay or have your water turned off. But even so, I called Thames Water just to check, and sure enough, we were in the green with them. My next check was off of the balcony to see if there was any local work going on that I could see. And once again, nothing.

By this point, I got my keys and headed downstairs to concierge. I knew as soon as I got in the lift that something was up. It was cold and smelled terrible. Beyond terrible, actually. And suspicions were confirmed when I reached the lobby. Water everywhere and a smell that would make sewer rats turn their heads and run from. Turns out the sewer line was completely blocked and back up into the building. Water was turned off with no ideas on when it would be turned back on. Great.

Being one of “Those Damn Americans” and overall genuinely interested in the way things work, I decided to stay downstairs and watch what was going on for a while. Since they had shut off water to not only our tower but also the surrounding, connected buildings, everyone was calling or coming down to concierge to find out what was going on. While the situation isn’t the most desirable, the side effects can be great sometimes. I ended up meeting all sorts of our neighbours, and even spent a decent amount of time with a group of them chatting.

There’s a Canadian on 19 and a PE teacher in the next building over. Several people in the building are night-time gym goers who, sadly, were out of a shower for the night. At this rate, I could just about do a full analytic report on the people of our building and their behaviours.

Long story short, water was back by the time we got home the next day, which was good. Hot water the next morning? Not-so-much. But hey, we have running water again. And the hot water came back by day’s end. Now let’s just hope this isn’t a recurring thing.

The Diner

It’s almost the end of the holiday festivities, lights and decor. It’s sad to see it go, but it also means the beginning of longer days, and soon, warmer weather. The holidays are great while they last, and there’s nothing wrong with making the most of it afterwards while you still can. And for that reason, we decided to make the most of the London decor and lights after the holidays while they were still up.

Friday night after work we trekked to Oxford Street to check out the Oxford Circus lights, and check out some of the sales around too. Even after spending 3 Christmas’ here, the lights there never cease to amaze me. After a few shops, it was time to find a place for dinner. We headed over to Bodean’s BBQ, one of the better known burger and pork places in London, and surprise! 45 minute wait. NEXT!

Close by is Carnaby Street, so we headed there to find another well-known restaurant, Pitt Cue. And it was closed. CLOSED! On a Friday night. Just off one of the busiest streets in London. By this time we were about ready to head home, but I insisted that we walk around just a bit more to see what else there was, and we came across this little gem called The Diner.

This place was really neat, with an American-inspired menu full of burgers, hot dogs, and blue plate specials. Best yet, they have a milkshakes and a full breakfast menu. The location itself is really neat, with a dark atmosphere, neon signs, and retro seating, not to mention the great oldies music playing. One steak & eggs plate later, we were in business.

If you’re ever near Carnaby Street, The Diner is one worth trying.

Checkpoint Charlie

I was in fourth grade when the Berlin Wall was being torn down.  I remember our teachers trying to explain the significance of it, why it was erected, why it was being torn down.  I never really paid attention to lessons, but I remember that one very vividly – where I was sitting in class, the pictures of the wall, the general mood of the classroom not giving a damn.  For some reason, it just clicked with me, I didn’t understand all that was happening and why but I knew that it was important.  25 years later, we were lucky to see this history in person.  

I saw the site with what can be argued as beyond fourth grade intelligence level and a passion to understand root cause and affect.  It had been on our list of places to see, and decided to make the trek on our first day in Berlin.  We walked from the hotel a few miles to the plaza area, then got lost.  The streets can be damn confusing with no non historical method of pronouncing them.  We found our bearings, and there we were, walking  the site.  If we didn’t know what we were looking at, we wouldn’t have gave it a thought beyond that fact that we were shouldered against an old concrete divider – nothing more or less.  The wall itself was just that, a wall make of concrete and rebar.  But when you apply the history is stops being considered a wall and becomes an artefact.  

The wall still exists in various places, we learned.  I wonder if this is due to low funds to tear down, no logistical need to tear down, or the desire to have a constant reminder.  If you are fuzzy on the history or pre-and post WW2 Germany, the museum is a perfect opportunity to learn.  I could have easily spent all day there, reading every bit of information.  I loved the way that it was all laid out.  In good German fashion, it was engineered in a very organised and efficient manner.  It discussed post WWI Germany, economic woes, the rise of the socialist party, manipulation of the masses, the effects of war, and the aftermath that was divided Europe.  Step by step we followed the chronologically laid out presentation.  Some was familiar history, others gave behind the seen insight into everyday German life and military coordination.  It was fascinating to say the least.  

Some of Germanys past is very dark, violent.  They have a choice to hide itand allow time to dismiss its history or they can own up to it, show thatmistakes were made, and do whatever they can to prevent it from happening again.  I admire that.  I wish we had more time to read every bit of information and examine the period photos of life in Germany, but we had a few mile walk to get back to the hotel.  I left the site with another item crossed off my list of things to see in life and a little more faith in humanity’s ability to overcome hardship.

Classic Remise Berlin

Germany. The source of some of the best engineering the world is capable of producing. Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, VW…and the list carries on. Being the car lovers that we are, going to Germany also meant trying to see some of the beauties that the country produces, and we found the perfect place. Classic Remise Berlin. A center for vintage, classic and new cars alike. A museum, consignment shop, and storage facility all in one place. And it was amazing.

The variety of cars, boats, and motorcycles that this place had was amazing. As we walked in, we were immediately greeted by a few 1950’s luxury cars as well as current, high-end sports cars. We sudddenly had a problem though. There were 3 aisles to choose from, and we didn’t know where to start. So many choices! We decided to begin with the right aisle to work our way around the perimiter first, and it was immediately apparent that we made the appropriate decision.

Remise not only houses cars, but also has a series of workshops for hire and the first one we came across was the American classic car shop. Everything was closed today due to the holidays, but with everything being glass we could still see inside the garages and the vehicles being worked on or that were on display. Mustangs, Chevy’s and more. It was Joe’s ideal heaven.

Across from the American shop was another dream store: Ferrari. And this wasn’t just an affiliate shop setup by someone, this was a proper corporate Ferrari showcase.

Moving along, we found a motorcycle shop and several vintage car displays before getting to the main warehouse and showcase. Here there were cars lining one wall in glass cases, stacked two high on car lifts. Opposite these were a series of shops and club fronts, and more cars parked two deep that anyone could walk among. The cars in the cases were what appeared to be storage for many of the auto owners who could not or did not want to store them at home. Most of these appeared to be extremely high-value cars, ranging anywhere from vintage to new. There was a classic red 1960’s Chevy that reminded me of the diner we had just been to yesterday, as well as a very rare Bentley that is probably worth millions (Of $, that is).

This is only a snapshot of what was on display at Classic Remise too. The place was huge! Definitely somewhere worth returning on another trip to Berlin someday.

Leftover Breakfast

Thanksgiving leftovers. A guarantee until the next massive meal at Christmas, which leads to even more leftovers until Easter’s big meal. I think summer may be the only time which we don’t continually eat the residuals from some holiday past. This year, I decided to put the leftovers to good use and made an un-traditional breakfast this morning to use things up. Stuffing waffles anyone?

This may have been the simplest breakfast I’ve ever made before. Our leftover stuffing was a tad bit dry from being chilled overnight, so I mixed in the small bit of remaining mashed potatoes and a bit of gravy, making a somewhat moist mix. I buttered the waffle iron, put some of the mix in, and voila! Since the mix is pretty heavy and thick, it takes a lot longer to cook than regular waffles, which left me with the perfect amount of time to get all the other food prepped and ready.

Leftover cranberries. What to do with these? These went into a pan on the stove, mixed with some maple syrup, heated up, and ready to go! And the main staple of all Thanksgivings past, present and future? TURKEY! The leftover slices went into a hot pan with oil and fried.

The final presentation of the morning? A waffle topped with fried turkey and cranberry syrup. And a reasonable-looking refrigerator. A win-win situation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The breakfast was a hit, surprisingly. I was a bit worried as it was nowhere near my traditional breakfast, but it went over well! And while there’s still way too much Turkey left over, everything else is used up! Turkey pot pie or turkey soup anyone?

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Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving. A time to give thanks for what we have and the people we have in our lives. Thankfully (no pun intended) we were able to stay through Thanksgiving while back in the states for Pat’s wedding. Since they had just celebrated the wedding, most of the out-of-town family had already gone back, but the wedding could almost be considered a pseudo-Thanksgiving. Everyone was still giving thanks for being together and celebrating such a great event. And those living in the area were still able to get together on Thanksgiving day, which was a lot of fun. Seeing all the kids running around and playing is so much fun. I miss seeing that in our own family now that everyone is grown up.

For my family, my Aunt and Uncle came in for a few days, and being that I hadn’t seen them in years, it’s been really nice to have a few days to catch up. Sure, we chat on Facebook, but that just isn’t the same as good old-fashioned face-to-face time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And of course we can’t forget friends. I didn’t get much chance to see anyone aside from family while back home, but I was at least able to make a 10 minute pit stop at Kai’s Thanksgiving Party for a few friends on Wednesday night, and swing by to see my favourite runners Thanksgiving morning. Every time I go home, I’m reminded of what great people are there and how much I miss them all, although I still wouldn’t change a thing with where we live right now.

Although Thanksgiving is over and we’ve moved on to leftovers and recovery today, I plan to make this a year full of Thanksgiving, rather than just a day of it.

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New Job

I officially started my new job today. And let me just tell you, this is going to be a challenge. A good one, but probably a long and frustrated one too. I’ve finally made the hop from my safety net of Java into the wild scripting world of Python. For those of you non-techies, no- I am not switching from coffee to snakes. Just very different coding languages and styles of programming.

The new position is located in our Bank Street, Canary Wharf location rather than where I was previously, on Victoria Embankment(VE). While VE is an amazing, new building, it was also a 45+ minute commute, whereas Bank Street makes the commute about 10 minutes. I can’t really argue with that. The floor is a lot louder, being sat between a mix of technologists and traders. There’s no shortage of excitement, banter, yelling, etc.

The new team and management is a significant change as well, with management all the was up the chain being development-heavy coders who sit alongside all of us doing the same things as everyone else, albeit a bit more paperwork and hours. The pace is much quicker as well, with problems that arise needing instant fixing with no minutes to spare. The team of people seem very friendly and open to helping though, which will be necessary for a while whilst I build up my Python skills and get acquainted with the business. I’ve definitely gotten lucky with this team though. Most would not be so understanding and patient with someone who’s just learning a new coding language.

It’s only been a day, so stay tuned for more on how it’s going. So far so good though! Only time will tell…

Signing off,
B

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Code For Good

This weekend was the JPMorgan Code for Good Hackathon, and every year it seems to get better and better. Of course there are the usual improvements that are made based on the feedback from the attendees and volunteers, but I’m talking about the students and the solutions that they come up with for the challenges presented. Every year, the applications the teams create are more creative, inventive and clever.

This year showcased three new charities and one returning from last year, all of which needed very different solutions. I decided to attend both days, although I was only “signed up” for Saturday, so about mid-way through Friday, I made my way to our Bank Street location to get my goodies(this year was a pullover fleece and t-shirt) and namebadge. Afterwards, I went down to the lobby where the students were pouring in from all over the country and walked around to mix and mingle a bit. The groups were quite varied and traveled from all over with kids from northern Scotland as well as here in London. Most majors and backgrounds were Computer Science, but there were some MIS, engineering, and other science-related degrees mixed in here and there as well.

The kickoff speech and NGO presentations lasted about an hour, and then it was off to deliberate, assign groups to NGO’s, and chat with the charity representatives for a better understanding of just what it was they were looking for. Finally, after a few hours it was time to hop into the code and let the kids get their hands dirty. And for us, that meant finally being put to good use as SME’s(Subject Matter Experts) and being able to help out with problems the kids ran into.

The coding area was the same this year, in the buildings’ canteen area, but this year there were several really cool additions including a jukebox, life-sizes board games(think Connect 4 that’s two metres high) and a fuse-ball table. They also moved us SME’s out of the separate back room into the middle of everyone, which was a welcome change. Last year the divide seemed to keep the students from coming to ask questions, whereas this year they didn’t seem nearly as scared to ask for help.

Knowing myself and that I need a good nights sleep to function, I went home to catch some shut eye before returning first thing the next morning to do some more SME’ing and judging. In what few hours I was gone(about 7 to be exact), the teams had a lot to show for themselves. They had until noon to finish their prototypes and submit the code and presentations, and then the judging began! We went through technical reviews, then sent the teams to present to the NGO representatives so they could each choose one team to progress to the final round where they were to present in the main auditorium.

The winning team wasn’t necessarily the one that had coded the best over the last 24 hours, but they had a good working prototype and a wonderful presentation. And they each got an iPad Air as a prize! Can’t beat that in return for 24 jam-packed hours of caffeine and coding! It was a great event with some fantastic projects that can be taken away and continued by teams within the bank. I can’t wait to see what next years event has in store for us now!

Until next time.

Suiting up for Winter

We went on a shopping adventure yesterday to TMLewin to take advantage of their current offer on suits. £199/suit. Pretty awesome if you ask me. Seems as though the season of clearing out summer stock and bringing in autumn and winter stock is officially here, and with the time change this coming weekend in the UK, it’s about time to suck it up and accept the changing seasons. This week was the first week that was noticeably pitch dark outside whilst walking home from the gym at 6:45am. Likewise, the sun has been setting around 17:45.

To really make it all sink in, we’re headed back to the US shortly for a wedding and Thanksgiving. Yes….THANKSGIVING. Already. And then what is it? Christmas and New Years! Oh my god, it’s going to be 2015 before we know it! Make it stop! Next thing you know, 20 years will have gone by. ::Shudder:: I’m not liking this.

So I’ve resolved to make this winter unlike the past winters. No more wallowing in our sorrows and hiding inside until the flowers start poking their fresh green heads out of the dirt. It’s going to be a winter revolution! A change to rival all prior changes! This year, we’re going to celebrate Nov. 5th with fireworks and fun! We’re going to go back to the US and enjoy the wedding, family, friends, and Thanksgiving holiday. We’re going to get away to Berlin for Christmas, explore the markets and get outside to enjoy the snow. Yes! We’re going to really, truly live!

 

Ah, that all feels great to say. And honestly, I can’t wait for it all. Heading back to the states for a couple weeks will be a much welcomed change of pace and chance to see everyone again, especially those whom we missed when we were back in May. Berlin will be a great holiday escape with so much to see and do that I’m sure we’ll be even more exhausted when we get back. But it’s worth it.

And at this rate, all of that will be here and gone before I know it. And until then?

It’s cold and it’s dark. So I’m going home to hibernate. Change? Hah, it was a nice idea while it lasted…

Vauxhall Fire Festival

It’s Halloween night and we needed something to do since we wouldn’t have trick-or-treaters to stay home and give candy to, nor did we have any Halloween parties to attend. Not to mention how gorgeous of a day it turned out to be. Thankfully, TimeOut London has a great list of things to do around London on any given day. After sifting through the numerous entries that involved going out at 11pm drinking and dancing until the early hours, we discovered a free fireworks display and festival in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

We headed there after work, arriving around 19:00 and JUST in time for the fireworks to begin. Literally as we were walking up to the festival, the fireworks began going off. Perfect timing!
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We listened to the music and watched the display for a bit, and then moved on to walk around and see what else was nearby. There were a few food stalls in the area, and people had brought their dinner to eat on the grass. Knowing it was to be a beautiful evening, we had brought cigars, so we pulled those out and strolled around the park for a while before finding a bench to sit and talk for a while before heading home.

There was good music, great people, and wonderful weather. Couldn’t have asked for a better night!

Vote

It’s election day in the Land of the Free, and just because we’re across the pond doesn’t mean we still do our civil duty and vote. There’s something to be said for absentee ballots. So if we can vote from here, you can vote from there. I know, I know, it’s a pain getting up extra early, standing in line forever just to vote for the lesser of all evils that make up the list of names on the screen in front of you. But imagine living in a country where you have to abide by their rules but have no say in who creates them. Welcome to my world.

My appreciation for our rights in the US has drastically increased since moving to the UK. I am now bound to the laws that govern this tea-loving country, but I have no say in who gets to make those laws. A big unfair, don’t you think? But as an expat on a visa, that’s the way it is. Take it or leave it. If we stay for 5 years, we can get indefinite leave to remain, apply for citizenship, and eventually have the same say that citizens here do, but that’s a long way off.

Just as I knew very little about the UK voting system before moving here, many Brits know little about the US voting system. Although I must hand it to them, they know more about their own system than most American’s seem to understand about ours. But in our defence, the US system is confusing as hell. And I’m being nice in saying that. Who can honestly keep the various polls, election days, primary’s, generals, midterms, etc. straight? Let’s explain a bit about the current one, and forget about the rest. We can tackle those as they arise in the future.

Today is a midterm election. What does that mean? It means that we’re voting for representatives in the middle of the president’s term. We aren’t voting for the president today. It’s in the ‘middle’ of his term. It usually refers to elections of upper houses of legislature, ie the House and Senate, where a subset of the seats are up. So why do we do it this way? Checks and balances. If we elected everyone at once, at a selected time every ‘X’ years, what could we do mid-way through if we weren’t happy? Impeach everyone and start from scratch? No.

That’s our current election in a nutshell. I could go on for ages about it, but I’ll spare you all. Thank me later.

And what if your right to choose those people disappeared tomorrow, and you were left with no say, no rights, but still had to follow whatever rules they imposed on you? You wouldn’t be too happy, would you? So then I ask you- why are you sitting at home and not voting in each election? Our neighbourhood back in the US always talks a mean game about voting, but what happens when the voter turnout is published? Last election we were under 20% turnout. 20. Percent. 20!!! If you don’t voice your opinion(if you have the ability of course, sorry ex-pats in the US), you have no right to complain about the people in leadership. Plain and simple.

So I urge you all- GO VOTE. It’s your right. Exercise it.

Guy Fawkes

guy-fawkes-mask

‘Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

It’s/Bonfire night and the fireworks have been a not-so-subtle reminder for the past week that this day was coming up. And although the noise can get annoying at times, standing on our balcony and watching the gorgeous colours light up the sky across the horizon makes it all worthwhile. With our view, we can see nearly all of London from the Eye all the way over to the O2 and beyond. And there have been at least 5 fireworks displays going simultaneously at any given time all night tonight.

Tonight is also a little bitter sweet, as it’s the night before Joe heads back to the states and I stay here for a few more weeks before heading back myself. Sure, I may like my “me” time alone, but that’s only for a bit each day. The flat is going to be rather quiet and lonely, but I’m sure I’ll find plenty to keep myself busy.

Gunpowder Plot Conspirators

But enough of that. Back to the interesting stuff! Guy Fawkes and bonfire night. For all my Yankee friends who have no clue who that is, let me explain a bit. Guy Fawkes was a member of the Gunpowder Plot in Great Britain who was arrested on 5 November 1605 whilst guarding a set of explosives the plotters had put under the House of Lords. If detonated, it likely would have killed King James I, amongst others. To celebrate his survival, and Guy’s capture, people throughout the city lit bonfires. Hence, Fireworks to represent the gunpowder and possible explosion, and bonfires for the celebration. The best modernised take on the story would be the film V for Vendetta.

There are even some traditional dishes they make to celebrate the evening, just as we do for the Fourth of July. We chose to make a dish calledToad in the Hole. If you want more on that, you can check it out here. Until next time…

Toad in the Hole

Toad in the Hole. An interesting name for an interesting dish.

Among some of the most traditional British eats is this simple, cheap meal. Having been mentioned as far back as the late 1700’s, it is presumed this dish has existed for several years prior to adopting the funny name ‘Toad in the Hole’. Made from scraps of meat left at the end of the day at the butcher, and a batter mix, the meal is very cheap to make, which is probably what led to it’s popularity throughout the years. As time went by, these scraps were traded for sausages, and the name ‘Toad in the Hole’ is thought to have arisen because the sausage ends look like frog eyes popping up from the hole in the ground. Speculation though. You can draw your own conclusions.

I decided to make this to celebrate Guy Fawkes night, and after much raving from colleagues throughout the office, I knew it would be a hit even before attempting it. I found some recipes to get a general idea of what it includes, and went off to make my own version of it with what I had laying around. And here we are.

The ingredients:
6 Sausages, we used spicy ones
6 Strips of bacon
2 regular white onions, diced
3 beef bullion cubes, mixed with about a cup(+/-) of boiling water(or beef stock)
Whole wheat flour; self raising(baking soda/powder and salt added)
Mustard or Soy Sauce
Milk
2-3 eggs
Garlic glove, pressed
A few teaspoons of butter or oil.

Boil or cook the sausage until close to finished, but not quite. Remove and wrap each sausage with one slice of bacon and place on a tray. Scatter half of the onion on top and pop in the oven to cook until very lightly browned. Don’t worry if they aren’t completely finished, as they will cook more in the dish itself.IMG_4239

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For the batter, I put the eggs in a bowl and added a good bit of flour, maybe 250g or 2 cups, give or take. As I think I mentioned before, I don’t use measuring cups. Extra dishes to clean and laziness leave me approximating each time instead. 150-200 or so ml of milk, the pressed garlic clove, and mix it all together. I’d suggest adding the milk slowly to get the consistency right and to make sure you don’t add too much. In the end, the mix was similar to the consistency of brownie batter.

I made less batter than I should have, intentionally, knowing that Joe was leaving and we didn’t want to have much, if any, leftovers. If you want to do it properly, I would suggest doubling what I used for the flour, egg and milk. We put that in the oven to begin cooking, and after about 5 minutes, took it out and added the sausages and onion to it. That went back in the oven, and while it cooked we made the onion gravy.

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For the gravy, sauté the diced onion you have left with the butter until brown, add the beef stock, a tablespoon(again, +/- to taste) of mustard or soy sauce, a bit of flour to thicken, and stir until a nice gravy mix is had. Take the dish out of the oven once brown and a stick comes out clean from the middle. Serve onto plates, pour some gravy on top, and you’re done!
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Total time? Probably 15 minutes for us. Total cost? Ridiculously cheap. Maybe £2 per serving? And given the reduced batter, ours served about 4, or about 1.25 Joes, even though we used 6 sausages.IMG_4257

This was one of the easiest and cheapest recipes we’ve tried so far. Next time, I plan on either doubling the batch or using a smaller pan so the batter properly overflows like it’s meant to. Maybe I’ll make that when I make my way across the pond. All our recipes seem to come here, it’s about time we reciprocate!

Happy Halloween

Halloween PumpkinsHappy Halloween!

What a beautiful day! It’s 21C(70F) outside, sunny, and simply amazing! Sorry to rub it in, Chicago. I hear there’s some pretty horrible stuff going through today for you guys. Glad I’m not there right now!

So, Halloween. A commercialised, Hallmark holiday that gives kids an excuse to dress up for candy, and adults the chance to dress up to party. Good enough excuses for me.

There are some marked differences between the US and UK on Halloween, I’m noticing. The origin of Halloween comes from All Hallows’ Eve, which is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest Soul cakesfestivals, with possible pagan(probably Gaelic Samhain) roots. I learned all about this during a Celtic Mythology course taken at University College Cork in Ireland. Interesting course, but I digress. The “important” part, the trick-or-treating, is believed to have come from an old religious practise called “souling”. Likewise, the disguises(costumes) originated from “guising” in Scotland and Ireland and from “mumming” in Germany, Scandanavia, and other parts of Europe. Time for a quick, but interesting, history lesson.

“Souling”, which was practised until approximately the 1930’s, was a Christian custom which involved groups of people that were usually poor and either Protestant or Catholic. These groups would go from parish to parish, begging for soul cakes in exchange for praying for the souls of the givers and their friends.Mummers Similarly, “guising” has been recorded from the 1890’s onwards, where people in Scotland and Ireland would masquerade themselves, carrying lanterns made from scooped out turnips and visiting homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit, and money. “Mumming”, on the other hand, involved a similar fancy dress costume, but involved people parading the streets and entering homes to dance or play dice in silence.

There you have it. A quick overview of where Halloween came from. So back to the differences between the US and UK. Halloween in the US has become a very commercial holiday filled with costumes, parties, and candy. There is little or no connection to any religion and unless it’s a booze-filled costume party, adults rarely partake in the festivities. Here, the holiday has become much of a mix. There are still many religious festivities and the day is often referred to as All Hallows Eve, as it has historically been known. Rituals for the dead/souls of the dead are still performed on the days surrounding, and celebrations are much more abundant for the general public. There are many costumes, but it’s much less commercialised and the candy flows a lot less. I’m sure part of it is lifestyle and safety as well, but kids just don’t go trick-or-treating like they do in the US.

Anyway, enough of my ramblings. Time to get our celebration on at the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens Fire Festival! Watch for an update on how it went later on!

Hats Hats Hats

Saturday. The day for adventure and fun. The day for relaxing and enjoying what little free time there is between hectic work schedules, chores and other obligations. I love me a good Saturday. And we made sure this Saturday was a good one.

We’re headed home in November for Joe’s brothers wedding, and his mum wants a hat to wear for it. And where do we currently live? The country of hats. Hats, hats, hats. The Queen loves hats, therefore everyone loves hats here. Right? But in all seriousness, this is definitely the land of hats galore. So this Saturday we decided to go hat shopping. But not just any hats. We were on a mission to find bad, crazy, or downright insane hats. 

We didn’t have much luck, but we had fun trying! We almost went to Harrods or Selfridges, but decided that we weren’t up for fighting the crazy crowds and went to Covent Garden instead. Trade one crowd-laden place for another. Heh. Next time I’ll remember to choose a horribly rainy day to go.

Meandering the streets, we ducked into every shop we came across that looked like it might have some outlandish hats, and struck a few good ones, but really not much. I think the best one we found was the hat made of yarn balls in a vintage resale shop.
To refuel after several hours of shopping, we headed to Cafe Pacifico for some drinks and nachos before making our way home. A cute, authentic Mexican restaurant on a side street off Covent Garden market, Cafe Pacifico offers a wide variety of Mexican dishes to choose from. The service leaves much to be desired though. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, right?

Until next time…

Photos on the Bus

We’re an exciting pair, as I’m sure you all are already aware of. The booze, parties, clubbing…we do it all on a regular basis. NOT.

We may not be your typical young, hipster, party-loving kids but we still know how to have fun! It’s just, our idea of fun is a little bit different. Nothing wrong with that, right?

This morning was a lazy and relaxed Saturday morning, filled with making breakfast and laying around. As
afternoon approached, we decided to part ways for a bit, as I headed to a cafe to get some things done and Joe headed to the Imperial War Museum that is FINALLY open again! More on that one later. The plan? Meet up afterwards for dinner.

And that we did. Meeting at the museum, we walked over to Vauxhall Station to go to Dirty Burger, a well known London establishment that is meant to have some of the best burgers in town according to TimeOut London. That has yet to be seen or tasted though.

Dirty Burger in Vauxhall is a tiny joint with seating for 15-20, conveniently located under one of the station arches and meant mainly for the stations’ numerous daily travellers. Arriving around 19:00 on a Saturday evening, the place was quiet except for a few couples enjoying a quick bite before moving on their way. It’s an order-at-the-counter-and-wait-for-your-number kind of place, but the wait is next to nothing. It took an excruciating 2 minutes to have our number called out. Yes, you read that right. They’re fast. Almost Jimmy John’s fast(for you Yanks who understand that reference, for others- YouTube it).

That kind of speed makes me wonder if they keep a backlog of burgers like McDonalds does, heating them up as they need. But regardless, the burger was good. Having recently been to Advisory which is also on the TimeOut website, Dirty Burger has a lot of competition and doesn’t quite compare. They win on speed, but not on taste or quality. Offering much the same menu as Advisory, there’s a bit of differentiation lacking here.

IMG_4083Back to the fun part though. “Wait, the food wasn’t the fun part??” you ask. Well, yes it was. But the even better bit was the 45 minute bus ride home that included taking a photo shoot and bad jokes, of which probably aren’t rated appropriately for this site.

So in retort we ask: Who needs all-night parties and clubbing to have a fun Saturday night?

Halloween Hats

I love the holidays. Not the weather, but the holiday spirit and decorations and most of all…the baking! There are so many ideas and recipes out there, and not nearly enough time, money, or hungry friends and relatives to try them all. Most of you who know me, know that I love trying new things and experimenting with my recipes, so when I came across a photo of witch hat cookies, I knew I had to give it a shot. And this time around I had help!

And in the spirit of holiday baking and experimenting, this time around I’m just going to give the ingredients and a jist of how I did it, and let you all take it from there! I’m sure ya’ll get sick of my play-by-play sometimes anyway.

My ingredients:
Cupcake/Sponge Cake Mix of your choice
Orange Food Colouring
21 Carousel Ice Cream Cones
1Lg/2Sm Package(s) Chocolate Digestives/Biscuits/Cookies
300g Melting Chocolate
Vanilla Frosting
Black and Red Writing Gel

To start, make your batter. I chose to colour mine orange in light of the upcoming Halloween holiday. You could change it up and put brownie mix or pancake batter in the cones instead too. {TIP: given the style of cones this recipe calls for, make sure you think ahead about HOW you plan on baking the batter in them. We didn’t really consider that until it was time to pour it in and OOPS! Thankfully I’m dating a creative genius who came up with putting the cones in the oven rack. Worked like a charm!}

Pour the batter in the cones and bake until finished. Make sure you don’t fill them up much at all. They’ll expand, and you don’t want the batter above the top or else they won’t sit flat on the biscuit when you put them together.

Melt the chocolate, and once the cones are cool, pour over the outside of them. We had a small bit leftover, which I used to coat the other side of the biscuits.

As the chocolate cooled and dried, I added orange food colouring to the frosting and got ready to assemble.

Time to put the pieces together! Since the batter didn’t make the bottom of the cones flat, I didn’t frost the entire end. Instead, I piped frosting around the edge of the cone and placed them on top of the chocolate side of the biscuit. I then added a bit more frosting around the edge to seal it and make them look like one piece.

To top them off, a bit of writing icing to put a buckle on the orange frosting “belt” and the hats are finished!

Easy, right?

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Kitchen Fires

Dinner is meant to be burnt sometimes…right? Kitchens are meant to be set on fire sometimes too, correct? Uhhhh….no.

Another night in the eventful cooking lives of ThoseDamnAmericans. What began as an innocent evening of dinner, a bit of work, and tv turned into a night of smoke detectors going off and airing out the flat. Oops.

After some drinks and spending some time at Starbucks after work, we came home to make dinner and relax a bit. I popped some chili hotdogs, broccoli, and cut up tortillas in the oven to bake, and carried on cleaning and getting things situated. Having been on low heat and that much in there, we knew it would take a while to bake. I caught the hot dogs and broccoli in perfect time, but the tortilla chips weren’t even close to being done. So I quickly popped the other food onto a plate and turned around to find the oven smoking. All of 60 seconds had passed in that time.

I opened the oven to see what was going on, and POOF! The room filled with smoke and the tortillas ignited, quickly to be engulfed in flames. Cue both smoke detectors to go off. I meant to do that….

The remainder of the evening was spent airing out the kitchen and oven, and even retrying some tortilla chips, which I kept a very, very close eye on this time. Happy to report that there were no tortilla casualties this time around!

This morning was a rude reminder of the evening before, walking into the kitchen and smelling the remains of the smoke that inhabited it the evening prior. Ah well, after this many years of cooking and baking, I was due a kitchen fire. And now I can cross it off the cooking bucket list.

La Dolce Vita

Italy, la dolce vita. “The sweet life”, in the movies. But that wasn’t quite the case when we got into town at 11pm to start a week-long adventure in the country of wine and olives. It was more like “la vita stressato” or “the stressed life”.

Our holiday started with rushing though the tiny airport in Pisa to get to the car rental place before they closed, only to wait nearly two hours before finding out that we couldn’t get a car with them without an international driving license. We ran over to Hertz before they closed to get one of their last cars…at nearly 7 times the cost of the other place. Such is life. Tale è la vita.

Our mini, expensive car

Our mini, expensive car

Then our real journey began. The trek from Pisa, through Florence, and on to Norcenni Girasole Club where we had a week booked in a 2 bedroom apartment. To those at home thinking that they’ll activate international cell coverage before they come over, let me enlighten you. Don’t expect much…or anything. You’ll be lucky to get any coverage, and the 3G is slower than a snail crossing the Sahara. After plenty of turning around and stopping to look at the map(thank god there’s nobody on the road at 2am) we finally made it to the site.
Pisa to Florence Map

Florence to Camp
Being a campsite, there is no front desk to check in at, and especially not at that hour of the night. There was one security guard there who was expecting us, and was arguably one of the nicest people we met throughout the entire trip. He showed us three different flats, giving us the option of whichever we wanted. We ultimately chose the first one, a two bedroom place with a kitchen and patio area up on a hill. Then again, what isn’t on a hill there? This might possibly be the hilliest country I’ve ever been to, but I haven’t been to all that many countries either.

This also isn’t Chicago or London. Nothing is open at 2 am. I repeat, NOTHING. Not even a rest stop or convenience shop. Having not eaten since lunchtime, the security guard took us to the on-site “disco”, which consisted of 2 people dancing and a bartender, and also had small snacks. Dinner was served; Pringles.

Pringles

That was enough excitement for one night. It was off to bed to recover from the travel and get ready for a full day ahead.

Too bad the bed ended up being the least comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. La dolce vita, right?

Catching the Rye

We went on an adventure this past bank holiday weekend to Ashford, Kent for a much needed getaway. MUCH needed. We took our bikes with us, planning to ride around the area and see what Kents finest has to offer. Since Ashford is conveniently located in the middle of the area, it was the obvious place to stay for the weekend.

Staying at the Ashford International Hotel, we had a gym and buffet to start off each day energised, and a pool, sauna, and hot tub at our hands to end each day relaxing and unwinding. They even had a storage closet for us to keep our bikes out of the way, which was much appreciated.

The trip out went smoothly, cycling to Charing Cross to catch the Southeastern train to Ashford. The hotel was about a mile from the station, making it really easy to get to on our bikes. When we got there, the staff were very accommodating and friendly, providing suggestions on places to eat and things to see.

Cricket

After a good nights sleep and full breakfast buffet, we were ready to start the day. The original idea was to bike to Canterbury for the day, but after some googling and a suggestion from the guys at the local bike shop, we decided to bike out to Rye instead. And what a good idea! It ended up being the Rye International Jazz & Blues Festival.

As we pulled into town, there was a large carnival going on and cricket players in the park. A similar sight to what we see in the states with carnies that are just as scary, and baseball. The town centre was just up the hill, which really shouldn’t be called a hill. It was steeper than any mere “hill” I’ve ever seen before!

Old Town Entrance

The first shop won me over, and the subsequent ones just reiterated how absolutely adorable this town is. The streets are made of cobblestone and are there for walking more so than driving. During the entire day, not once did I see a car drive down any of those roads. Just how I like it!

Castle

We got lucky with this trip. Being the jazz and blues festival, there were live bands playing throughout the town pubs and parks and the people were a plenty, but it wasn’t over run or crowded at all. Just a pleasant number moseying along and taking in the beautiful buildings and weather.
Wine Cellar

I was also pleasantly surprised at the cleanliness of the streets given the number of people walking around. Not a single piece of litter was to be found. What a change from London!

Cathedral

We found the town castle, which overlooked the fields nearby as well as a pub down the hill where more live music serenaded the crowds sitting in the sun. After sitting to enjoy the area for a bit, we made our way back down to where we locked up our bikes and enjoyed a bit more R&R over ice cream and coffee before mustering up the energy to bike back to Ashford for the evening.

Ice Cream Coffee
Although beautiful and quiet outside, the ride back is not what I would call the easiest. It was obvious that we hadn’t been on bicycles or long rides in quite a while. The frequent gym-going made the trek easy for our legs, but the backs and shoulders were a whole other story! The hot tub was much appreciated when we returned.

Overall, the Rye trip was a great success. We didn’t find the Catcher, but it was worth the excursion nonetheless.

Friday Night Lockouts

There’s a first for everything. This time it was getting locked out on your own balcony, 18 floors up.

I always wondered why our balcony door had a lock on it. Who could possibly make it up 18 stories, and even then, why would they? It’s not like we have much of any value that anyone would want. Now I understand that it’s partially a feeling of security, and makes sense given the wind and weather some days, but still. That, however, was not even the issue on this particular given evening.

After a tough day at work and a not-so-great sleep the night prior, we were pretty shattered by the end of the day. A 3 hour nap did the trick, and before making dinner we decided to have a sit on the balcony and catch up on the last few days happenings. I threw dinner in the oven and out we went. Simple, right?

Well, we chatted for a bit and then decided it was time to go in, check the food, and carry on. Until we realised the handle on the door had slipped a bit. Now this might warrant a bit of explaining on how our door works. It’s a sliding door, but with an additional setting that makes it possible for the door to lean inwards, but not open entirely. That setting leaves the bottom of the door latched, making it impossible for anyone outside to slide the door open. You can guess what happened to us.

We had slid the door close to shut, as we always do. However, this time, the handle slipped down and the door latched at the bottom. We were stuck. Good thing one of us always brings our phone with us outside. But who do you call?

Locked Out Face

Locked Out Face

I had thankfully taken a photo of the concierge sign when we first moved in so we could call them later regarding bike storage. Mobile reception in our flat is pretty terrible, so it took a few dials, but we finally got a hold of someone and lucky for us, they have a key to every flat in the building. 5 minutes later, we had someone there to rescue us! Too bad there wasn’t anyone to rescue the food though…

Turkey Meatballs

Turkey Meatballs; A bit overcooked

 

Chicken Chilli Mac and Cheese

Bri amazes me everyday with her ability to simply throw together remarkable meals in under 15 minutes. Though my taste buds have changed since I was three, there are always those specific comfort foods from our youth that we can always fall back to. Specifically, I think of things like PB&J, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets. However, the crown jewel of them all is Mac N Cheese. The Mac and Cheese that Bri made was not any normal Mac and Cheese. To help adult-size the meal, alleviating the feeling of having a three year olds taste buds, Bri developed a new recipe. Slicing up raw chicken breasts into strips and cooking them on a pan with chili and garlic seasonings provided for just the right protein balance to the carbfest that was about to ensue. Partially cooked macaroni noodles were topped with loads of different cheeses and mixed together with the prepped chicken. The advantage here is that you can make loads of it and have it for a couple days following it. Which leads me to moving on to the fridge to warm up some left overs…

The Mac

The Mac

The Chicken

The Chicken

Chilli!

Chilli!

Almost ready

Almost ready

Add Some Cheese

Add Some Cheese

Done!

Done!

Time to Eat

Time to Eat

 Looking for the recipe? Contact us!

Chaplins Barbers; They Even Accept Gingers.

Chaplins Front

Chaplins Front

I went to a charming barber shop today.  Yes, I said barber shop and not stylist.  It has been literally years since I could honestly say that I “go to a barber” and not a stylist.  There is a certain environment that you expect at either one.  Allow me to take you on a journey of each.

At a stylist you enter in the front door and are met with a migraine inducing stench of nail polish remover, hairspray, and sin.  As you approach the counter you are greeted by a late teen girl, dressed to go clubbing, chewing gum in a way that could wake the dead.  Magically, she knows your name, and you have that ‘hey, I must be a big deal’ thought in your mind.  “Hello Joe,” she says, as if she has known you for years.  Then, you start to think about this.  How did she know my name was Joe? Hell, I could be one of a number of male appointments scheduled for this timeslot.  Of the four stages of manlihood demoralization, you are now at level one,  realizing that you are a “man” walking in to see a stylist, not a barber.  Prepare yourself as we progress through the stages.  She continues, asking if you are here for a haircut.  You respond back, “yeah.”  Internally though you think to yourself, ‘what the hell else would I be here for?  You know my name but you don’t know what my business here is?”  Though you are on time for your appointment, you are now directed to what i like to call ‘the den of awkwardness and dismay.’ Here you will wait for an indefinite period of time either listening to the musical serenity of a nature CD or the utter man-hating discussions of The View, all the while being stared at and judged by women with foreign objects in their hair and hate in their heart.  It is when you begin cursing the God that would allow such an establishment to exist that you begin to realize that you have approached level 2.  Welcome.  After 20 minutes in the den, searching for a knife to end it all, the gum chewer approaches.  A weight is lifted, your stylist must finally be ready for you.  Nope.  Keep searching, and search harder.  You have just been offered wine…from a box.  Being the calm, polite, non-trailer-trash, sober individual on a Saturday morning that you are, you respectfully decline.  After another 10 minutes, you hear the gum smacking getting closer and begin to cringe, “what now?”  Relief, they are only 30 minutes behind schedule this time.  You are handed off to a stylist in training.  She will perform the task of washing your hair, because you are a man that is simply not capable of washing yourself.  Walking down the center of the aisle toward the hose down area, you are eyed by each station.  I warn you to not make eye contact.  Keep your head forward and your eyes down.  You must not engage the onlookers.  Here you are the minority.  Here, you are the sheep amidst the wolves.  You are directed to sit down and a cape is draped around you.  Initially you have the sensation of being batman with your fancy new costume.  Panic sets in as you realize that you did not wash the product out of your hair before coming and that they were right all along, we are not capable of washing ourselves.”  Level three has been breached.  Sit back and relax.  There is nothing better than having someone else do what you are physically capable of doing yourself.  With a sweet voice, she engages in meaningless chitchat, asking about my day as if that would distract her from the stale mess that she is about to run her fingers through.   “This is the life” you think to yourself as you listen to the hypnotizing sound of the running water.  Steam begins to rise from the sink as she places your head under the…..”HOLY SHIT THAT IS HOT!”  Welcome to stage 4.  All eyes are on you as you sit in agony realizing that you left your chest hair in your girlfriends purse, moaning and whaling at the advanced temperature of the water hoping to God that she only uses Pantene Pro-V conditioner since in your mind it out performs its competitors and has soothing aloe that may help the 3rd degree burns that you have just experienced.  After a minute you being to question yourself on your personal hygiene techniques.  “I would have been done 45 seconds ago.  What the hell is taking so long?”  Finally, done.  Ready for a cut.  You stand up and are escorted to the stylist.  You walk feeling foolish, hearing giggles as your cape hides the fact that you are actually wearing shorts underneath, and are not simply a nudist that like to protect his feet with flip flops.  Have a seat in the captain’s chair and get comfortable.  You are about to spend the next 10 minutes of your life trying to explain how you want it cut but ultimately caving to her ideas.  The following 20 minutes you will again search for the knife while the pointless dribble spews from her stale tobacco mouth.  If you have made it this far, you are in the home stretch.  Simply stand up and proceed to the till where you will happily fork over half of your lifesavings for the chance to escape alive, only to return 3 weeks later for the same experience.

The alternative, a barber shop.  Step outside your flat, and take a midafternoon stroll down the high street.  Relaxed you stream your fingers through your hair, and think, “perhaps it’s time for a trim?”  Welcoming the thought, you look forward and notice a barber pool a half block ahead.  Standing as a testament of simplicity, classiness, and ultimate manlihood your lips curve upward in anticipation of the experience.  Entering in, you are welcomed by a well groomed, smartly dressed gentleman.  “Hoping to get a trim,” you anxiously communicate to the barber.  “Surely sir.  We will have a slot available in 20 minutes if you care to have a seat or venture back.”  You decide to sit because the atmosphere is calm and relaxed as you sense commodore for you fellow man.  Leaned back you notice a number of magazines at your disposal that not only entertain but also challenge the mind.  You pass though as you gaze upon the handiwork of the artist in front of you, sculpting his latest masterpiece.  While being mesmerized by the barbers craftsmanship, you fail to notice that 20 minutes have flown by.  Right on schedule, it is your turn.  “Take a seat,” he says, welcoming you to experience his art first hand.  He wraps your neck in cloth, providing a layer of protection against fallen hair irritation.  He stops and listens to how you want your haircut, asking for guidance when needed.  He commences.  He is like Divinci painting the Mona Lisa, and you are amazed at his ability to openly engage in meaningful and genuine conversation.  the time passes as wistfully as a leaf in the autumn air.  You are done.  As you approach the till you think to yourself, “whatever the price, it isn’t enough.”  To your surprise, he communicates a cost far under his artistic talents.  Satisfied and reborn, you pay the man his wage and add a bit extra for his time and talent.

It is good to be back at a local barber, Chaplin’s of London.  So good that it inspired me to write about the experience here.  Pay them a visit and be amazed at the results, physically and spiritually.