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

C4G 2015

Code For Good is one of my favourite events at work. Used as a recruitment event as well as for philanthropy, the event gives university students a chance to show their skills off to JP whilst helping charities accomplish something they really need. This year I had the opportunity to attend and help at not only the London event, but also the first Glasgow one.

The challenges at Glasgow were drastically different than those of London, focused more on the smaller community feel of the Glasgow and Scotland area rather than vast size of London and it’s huge population. The Glasgow office is a tech hub, and certainly shows it. The walls are writable, with dry erase markers everywhere, and different colours fill the office at every turn. There is no canteen like the London office, but there is a communal lunch area where people can congregate over their food and discuss whatever needs discussing. Appropriately, that is where we held the event.

The London office is one of our showcase buildings, making it another perfect location for the event, allowing us to show off the gorgeous facilities JP has. Each year, we take over the canteen and in-house Starbucks for the event, transforming it into a work area with team tables, retro games, a “genius bar” for employee volunteers, and so much more. There’s music playing and prizes along the way for the teams who have been the most active.

The university students who attend the event come from all over the country, and this year, some from outside it as well. There were some students from France among others, which made it a truly international event.

But it is not only the students who make the event so wonderful. There are many staff and volunteers who dedicate hundreds and thousands of hours to making this event successful, and if not for them, it wouldn’t be what it is today. They have done such an amazing job over the past few years, taking the first event and building on it each year to make it better and better.

From the sounds of it, this event is just going to keep expanding to new locations while getting bigger and better, and I can’t wait!

L’Ulivo(The Olive)

[Photos to come soon!]

This week has been a hellish week, to say the very least. And for both of us too. So when I found out mid-week that a neighbour from Elgin was going to be passing through London with a few friends on her journey home, I got excited. Like, REALLY excited. I love it when people we know are in London and we can get together, even if only for a short while. And it’s even better when it’s someone you haven’t seen in a long time.

We made reservations at L’ulivo near Leicester Square, which was a perfect middle ground for everyone. We headed off from work and made our way there, getting the table and waiting for them to arrive. 45 minutes later, we finally connected and realised…we went to the two different restaurant locations. And we were definitely in the wrong on this one. They went to the right one, which thankfully was under a 10 minute walk, so we immediately headed over there.

The restaurant is located just off the main square, surrounded by several others. It’s in the perfect location for pre-theatre dinners, and with outdoors seating great for people-watching. They had already started on appetisers and wine, and since we had spent some time at the other location, we had already eyed through the menu and picked out what we wanted.

The food was wonderful, but the company was even better! The smiles and laughter made the night and t was hard to believe how late it was when we finally departed. Time really does fly when you’re having fun! Thank you again to the three lovely ladies who treated us to a great dinner and even better conversation to end such a long week.

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.

Food Revelation

There are endless food markets in London and you can be sure that you will never go hungry, or get sick of the offerings. The pop-up revolution going on here is incredible as well. Food trucks line the plazas and streets at lunchtime during the week and invade the markets on the weekends where the masses keep coming back for more. For any aspiring chefs and bakers, this is the place to be. Several of them only work on the weekends so they can maintain a day job to help fund their startup. Brilliant if you ask me. But you didn’t, did you?

This evening we decided to stay local and check out the Street Feast Model Market in Lewisham, a short 15 minute walk or DLR ride from home. On a day as absolutely gorgeous as today, we chose to walk it. You don’t get many sunny, warm weekends like this one, and we wanted to make the most of it. Not to mention walk off a bit of what dinner was going to entail.

Lewisham Street Market had a huge offering of very American-style food, with some Mexican and Italian mixed in there. Over half of the pop-ups had some sort of BBQ on offer, along with Nachos, Tacos, Pizza, and freshly made fruit ice cream made right there in front of you. Ok, maybe the ice cream part wasn’t, but you could watch them mix in the fruit and blend it right there so you knew the fruit was fresh and healthy.
Our first stop was for a starter of Nachos from Club Mexicana. Loaded with beans, salsa, and guacamole, these were as close to proper Mexican nachos as you can get in the London/UK area. At least when compared to the various Mexican and Spanish-style restaurants we’ve visited in the past couple of years.

Next up was SmokeStak, offering proper BBQ ribs and brisket at a somewhat reasonable price. Served with onions, red peppers and sauce, the brisket was cooked to perfection. There was seating available at Smokestak as well, so we perched there to people-watch while enjoying the meal. The mix of people at these types of events is very diverse and entertaining when you actually sit back and watch them. Oh, and the number of incredibly pregnant women there…you couldn’t even count with fingers and toes. Which leads me to wonder what happened 8 or 9 months ago that forced people to stay inside? ūüôā

If you’re ever in the Lewisham area in the Summertime on a Friday or Saturday and find yourself hungry- take a wander in here and check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The Play that Went Right

It’s been a while since I’ve updated on our whereabouts around London and it’s about time I did so!

We finally, after too many years, made it to the West End to see a play this weekend. I know, long overdue! We made an evening of it, going to Bill’s Restaurant for dinner first, which is right around the corner from the theatre.

The restaurant has a creative barn and garden style feel to it, with small white iron tables outside, and wooden inside. There are two floors, both of which could fit a large number of people. We managed to get there around 5:30 before the masses thankfully, but on such a nice evening, I could see it being packed by 7pm. We began with some Kale chips, which ended up being mine as Joe wasn’t a fan. At all. Rabbit food, right? This was followed by a salad and the BBQ evening special.
Conscious of the time, we finished and made our way to the theatre so we could get to our seats before everyone else arrived. The theatre was rather small and personal, with our seats being a couple of feet from the stage and the back of the room being only a few metres back. Whilst waiting, some of the cast members were on stage and made a few “announcements”, setting the scene for the play. The Play that Goes Wrong. A play about a play that goes seriously wrong. I haven’t laughed so hard in quite some time. The cast was well-chosen, with each person representing and looking their part much better than other plays I’ve seen in the past.

The play actually almost reminded me of a middle school play that’s going wrong and they’re trying to do everything possible to restore it. Not that I have any experience with that myself…

Anyway, I would highly recommend the play to anyone who’s in the mood for a good laugh. The theatre is very conveniently located in the West End by many restaurants and city life, making it a great day-in-the-city type of thing to do.

The evening ended with some ice cream before a train ride home to sit on the balcony and take in the city a bit. Have I mentioned recently how much I love London?

PRIDE

I had to wonder if this was planned in advance- The London Pride Parade was the day after the US Supreme Court Decision on gay marriage in the USA. How appropriate.

We ran into the parade last year, unknowingly whilst out for lunch on Oxford Street. We exited the restaurant, headed for the main road, and BAM! A million brightly dressed people with costumes and whistles galore. In the middle of Oxford Street. Didn’t expect that one.

But HEY! Why not go with it?

This year we actually planned to go though, which meant getting there with plenty of time to kill and being able to mosey throughout the shops. And ultimately led me to find an amazing black dress for £10. Seriously.

We went to a few places, but the flagship store we stopped in is one I’ve been wanting to go to for years. Liberty. The ultimate arts and crafts department store. It has all things kitschy, floral, elegant, artsy, and more. And it’s all laid out in an English garden type of style. The character of the building is highlighted rather than covered, with old vaults and original window fixtures. It’s seriously a treasure tucked away in the city.

Once we finally peeled ourselves away, it was back to the crowds, whistles, speedos, and colour. We made our way to Piccadilly Circus for a stop into Tesco for drinks, then decided we were done with the crowds and noise. It was time for some peace and quiet.

The way back meant heading to Green Park, which passes by some really neat little shops, and some well-known ones too. Our favourite? Davidoff. Yes, quality cigars, pipes, whiskey, and any accessories you can think of. The pipe selection behind the counter was huge, with sliding doors revealing another layer and another layer behind that, to nearby 6-fold. And the humidors were beautiful. The wood was so perfectly finished, and the intricate details on some of them were astounding. And given the price tags, I would say must have been handmade.

We ended up getting a couple cigars to enjoy tonight on the balcony, given the temperature lends itself to shorts and there’s not a cloud in the sky. The flavours of the cigars were bold, yet smooth. Robust, yet had subtle hints of other flavours. A Partag√°s Serie D No. 6 and a Regius Carona¬†kept us outside talking for an hour or so. Highly recommended for any cigar aficionados. The perfect night-cap to a wonderful day!

Gatwick Express

Gatwick_ExpressI’ve just gotten on the Gatwick Express to the airport, headed to Morocco for nearly a week. A much needed break after a whirlwind first half of the year. Can you believe that it’s already June? And mid-June at that! Crazy how fast time flies.

Joe has been in Prague the last few weeks for surgery, which is incredibly cheap there. Not because the doctors aren’t educated or the work is bad, but the market there for it just isn’t the same. Many of their doctors are educated at the same schools and return home, not to mention that the cost of living in the Czech Republic is just significantly cheaer overall, hence making the cost of medical treatment seem that much more affordable to those of us who live in extortionarily expensive cities.

But I digress. He just got back last night, and here I am leaving the next day for a holiday. Bad timing, but a lot cheaper and the timing for work was the best it was going to get. So I took the opportunity and ran with it.

As many of you know, our track records for holidays aren’t necessarily the best. Something always manages to go wrong, but it looks like we might be on the uptick finally! Joe’s Prague trip went smoothly, and thus far (knock on wood) so has mine.

Next stop, Gatwick. Time to fly!

Heliot Steakhouse

There are few things that give me more satisfaction than eating. ¬†It is an addiction. ¬†However, unlike Alcohol or smoking or drugs for some ‚Äď eating is essential to sustaining life. ¬†If not kept in check the consequences of over indulging can be hazardous to your health. ¬†Case in point ‚Äď me ballooning to 320 Lbs, 200/100 Blood Pressure, pre-diabetic conditions, Size 48 pants, etc in 2012.

The weekly food pics that you see Bri post on FB or TDA used to be daily or twice daily occurrences in my previous life. I eat much healthier now and work out daily.  I dropped to roughly 180Lbs, normal Blood Pressure, and comfortable in size 34 pants.  Despite all of this, I still need to feed the monkey.  I still need those ridiculously sized or ridiculously calorie ridden meals.  However, instead of doing it twice a day, I may do it once a week.

Well, ¬†this past weekend was a blowout. ¬†As part of my traditional annual Bonus Payout dinner, I chose of course steak and scotch. ¬†Boy oh boy did I choose steak and scotch. ¬†I let Bri choose the venue. As if channeling Dr Jones, Bri chose‚Ķ‚Ķwisely. ¬†Bri knows my requirements ‚Äď Steak, and a lot of it. ¬†She made her decision based on the fact the the menu categorised the steak by small, medium, and large. ¬†A rule I have for this annual tradition is that cost and amounts are of no consequence. ¬†It was clear that Bri knew this all too well when she suggested that I get two or three different large steaks.

So, not wanting to disappoint her, I did!  I started out with a few rounds of Talisker neat double Scotch’s.  This got me ready to make the important decision, the meat.  This was quite easy.  I ordered the 650 Gram T-Bone, the 500 Gram (arguably larger) Sirloin, Chips as
well as 3 sauces ‚Äď B√©arnaise, Garlic Butter, and Chefs Gravy. ¬†The only dissatisfying part of the meal was the knife. ¬†The steaks were cooked perfectly Medium Rare and the sauces were super duper. ¬†Though not as good as Boisdale or Goodman ‚Äď the price of the steaks were half, allowing more spending on Talisker and after dinner cigars.

With this place now in the books there’s¬†a¬†new ranking for steak joints in London ‚Äď 1) Goodman 2) Boisdale 3) The Heliot Steakhouse at the Hippodrome 4) Hawksmoor.

-J

Londons Cuban Finest

Tonight was Cuban night for us. A night out in London was way overdue, and we wanted a bit of Latin-American influence thrown in there. Joe found this place called Floridita in the SoHo area, known for it’s live Cuban music and drinks, and an amazing atmosphere. We made our booking earlier today, which was surprising as it’s known to fill up on Saturday nights, but 7:30 was wide open! Apparently we’re early birds compared to the vast majority of London night-lifers.

The entrance to the restaurant is shared, where you walk inside and are greeted with two host stands, one for an upstairs venue and one for Floridita which is downstairs. As you walk down the stairs, the lighting and music set the mood for the restaurant; dark red lights and latin music that’s¬†just loud enough but still allows for casual conversation.

Our table was situated with a perfect view of the small dance floor and stage, off to the side where there was little foot traffic or people trying toget past your seat. The service and attention was incredible, even by our US standards. The minute you bat an eyelash, there’s someone by your side asking if you wanted something. By European standards, this is basically unheard of.

The drinks menu was a small booklet with latin-inspired cocktails and no shortage of rum infusions. The food menu, however, was quite short with a somewhat lacking variety, but enough for anybody to at least find something that would suit their taste buds. They have two options: 2 courses or 3 courses, ie- dinner either with or without dessert. After ordering, what was probably the only mistake of the night was made. We got drink number 1, which was meant to be a White Russian, but arrived looking like a fruit punch in a champagne glass. The drink was promptly replaced though(Darn! Should have downed it before they came back.)

The appetiser of charcuterie, ham, salchichon, and chorizo showed up within minutes of ordering, and the quesadillas weren’t long after the first plate was removed. Well done, Floridita! Same with the drinks. Even as the night got older and the place filled up, drinks were prompt and no additional mistakes were made. Impressive!

Tables there on a Friday and Saturday night have a two-hour limit, and once we hit our limit, we paid and made our way upstairs and next door to the neighbouring cigar bar, Casa Del Habano. A tiny place with room for no more than 12 and a walk-in humidor in back, they sell only cuban cigars, and at some of the most affordable prices available in London. We’ve frequented Boisdales cigar lounge in Belgravia and Canary Wharf, and their prices are nearly double what we paid at Casa Del Habano.

We ended up chatting with some locals there who we quickly learned really know their whisky and cigars. Down to the names and best years for each one. Impressive! And really nice guys too. One works for a local law firm and the other in IT for a bank, giving us more than enough to chat and connect over. As our cigars were nearing their end, we closed up the conversation, trading contact details, and made our way home for the night.

Of the places we’ve been to in London, these make the top of the list by far!

The Yacht

This weekend was a lazy weekend, and a much deserved one at that. So after a day of lounging around, we needed to get out. Joe wanted to see a movie, and I wasn’t feeling well enough to want to join but we wanted to at least go out together beforehand. So he picked a restaurant in the Cutty Sark – Greenwich area and headed there. Appropriately named The Cutty Sark, it’s a local pub on Belfast Quay within walking distance of Cutty Sark DLR, and home if it were nice outside. But it’s still February. Enough said.

After a bone-chilling walk over there and a few great photos of the Old Royal Naval College, we find out the place is booked solid for the night, and there’s not a seat to be found by the bar. So we re-trace our steps to The Yacht, a restaurant down a little side walkway with a great atmosphere. With plenty of open seats and a view over the water, we found the perfect place for dinner.

You’d never know, but this place is a branch of Young’s bars, and has a menu to match. A variety of choices from soup to fish, burgers to cheesecake, there’s anything you can think of. So when it came time to order the choice was….

NACHOS!

A proper, American-style dish, served with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream. The only thing they don’t quite understand here is cheese. There’s never much there. Aside from that, the jalape√Īos were plentiful and the meat was spiced just right. With some quiet music in the background and good conversation for a couple hours, it was the perfect evening out.

Valentines Day Dinner

IMG_4951Valentines Day is the day for lovers, roses, chocolates, and over-booked restaurants. Even 60 miles out of London. We had a long day exploring Bletchley Park nearby Milton Keynes, seeing all the technological innovations that took place there during world war 2, and exploring the neighbouring town, Milton Keynes. By mid afternoon, we were exhausted and ready to head back to the hotel for a nap and relaxation before heading out for dinner that evening.

One good nap, some FaceTime with my parents, and a slight emergency with the house in the US later, we were ready to head out. Murphy’s Law, right? And of course we’re in another town last-minute, which meant no reservations for Valentines Day either. This could be interesting.

There isn’t a large area to walk around or explore in Bedford, so we walked across the bridge where there was a known little shopping centre with restaurants. IMG_4950The cobblestone streets twisted around and led us through back alleyways with hidden restaurants and bars
down each one. A very cute area to say the least!

We came across a little Italian place called The Pantry which looked promising. The menu had something for everyone, and the place had a very homely feeling. It was obviously family owned and operated, which left the assumption that the food was probably made with the same care. After waiting for 20 minutes whilst their reservations showed up, we realised that waiting was probably going to be a bad idea.

On to the next. On the way there, we had seen a few good places, so we went next door to our fallback, the Riverside Grill. A bit less cozy with a very open-style layout, this was a much more corporate looking place with clean lines and modern furniture. The people, however, seemed friendlier and more inviting. We were seated immediately (yay!) and the menu was promising.

The wait to have our order taken was quite long, but worth it. The appetiser of chicken wings came out promptly, smothered in sauce and smelling delicious. Then came the main- a beef brisket burger with chips and salad. Beef brisket,as we’re finding out more and more, is a rather rare find in UK restaurants, and of the places we do find it, there’s usually a lot left to be desires. Plus, unlike¬†London, the prices were reasonable and the portions were actually acceptable for the reasonable prices. What a concept!

Overall, dinner was a success. Even the wait at one restaurant before moving on made the night more enjoyable, people watching and enjoying a few laughs. I usually hate Hallmark holidays, but this time around, it wasn’t too bad. ūüôā Happy Valentines Day everyone!
IMG_4949

Bletchley

The Imitation Game. Anyone who’s seen it, or know the history of Alan Turing, know the importance he and his invention had during the 20th century and into today. Having learned all about it during my MSc studies, The Imitation Game was a movie I had to see. The groundbreaking science and maths that took place during the war, and the significance it had on history are simply amazing. Had none of that taken place, we very well may all be speaking German right now.

Anywho, that isn’t the only influence all of that had on history. Looking at the technological advancements that have taken place since then, it’s hard to imagine a time when the foundations of it were just being discovered. 8k memory was considered massive? We can barely store one document on that. And a hard disk that has a 4ft diameter? The technology in that entire building still failed to match that of the tiny iPhone in our pockets.

 

The place went in order from oldest to newest, starting with the machines built there during the war to today, including all the game consoles, calculators, and other things that rely on the same technologies. It was a throwback being able to sit down and play the first versions of the Commodore 64, Pac Man, and more.

All set in the same building as everything took place in, it was a really neat experience. Apparently there’s an awesome park there as well but given the time of year and weather, another trip for that will be in order sometime.

Boisdale


This has been a long week. A very long week. And last week, Joe was in Ireland, which you can read about here. So we were due for a date night, badly. The original idea was to go to dinner and a movie, but Saturday was another day of work for me this weekend which meant no late night out. Likewise, we were due for an evening of catching up and putting us first, rather than staring at a screen. So that was that decided.

As per usual, I started looking at things to do, places to go, etc etc. But Joe had other ideas, and I was no longer allowed to plan. Hmm.

Right after work we headed out, I with no idea where we were off to and following along blindly. A short
walk later, we were there. Boisdales. One of the first places we ever went after Joe moved here, although one of their other, more convenient locations right on the wharf. And with significantly better views. Perfect date night idea.

For those who don’t know, Boisdales is known as a London staple for all things Cigar, Whisky, and Steak related. They have a wonderful choice of cigars in their¬†in-house humidor, and a lovely heated cigar terrace, as well as indoor smoking lounge for those bitterly cold evenings. All of this is beside the large bar where you have a vast array of whiksy and spirits to choose from to accompany your cigar.

Our first venture to Boisdales was to the Belgravia location near Victoria station. An aged location that is quite warm, cozy, and homely. The ceilings are low, the dining room is quiet, and the overall location is quite small. The Canary Wharf location is quite theopposite, although still very romantic. It probably didn’t help that it was a Friday night either, which means the bar will be jam packed until at least midnight with business people drinking away their work week worries. This location is large, with high ceilings and very grand looking woodwork throughout. The downstairs bar is a massive semicircle that takes up half the floor, with views that overlook half of the wharf. The upstairs…well I’ll get to that later.

The humidor, located next to the downstairs bar, is a large, walk-in style closet with a cigar connesseur there to help guide you with your selection and answer any questions. We got drinks, made our cigar selections, found seats and settled in until our dinner reservations. Perfect opportunity to sit back, relax and talk. Just what the week had ordered up for us. An hour later it was reservation time and we headed upstairs.

The upstairs dining room is a large and specious open room, with a huge bar in the middle, and a round, gallery-style window overlooking the wharf with tables alongside. Being a two-person reservation, we got a table right next to the window. The view, the candle, and the lovely music made for the perfect evening atmosphere.

Dinner began with some of the best French Onion soup we’ve ever seen. Just the smell of it was to die for. Next up, Joe was finally able to get some much-deserved steak, seeing as he wasn’t able to get any in Dublin. And at quite a reasonable price compared to some of the other places we’ve been, like Goodmans and Hawksmoor. It may not be just as delicious, but if you can have it three times over for the same price as one time at the other places, I’d say it’s worth going three times instead. I digress. Dinner was wonderful, and as the evening came to a close, I didn’t want to leave. The view, the candlelight, and the conversation was just what we needed.

Southbank Christmas Market

I love Christmastime. The decorations, festive parties, the atmosphere in the air. It’s all so cheerful. Minus the weather, that is. So…cold… *brrrrr*.

Anyway, there are so many things to see and do in London at Christmas time. Our most recent venture out was to the Christmas Market at Southbank. Every year they put together a Christkindlmarkt with stalls filled with delicious food, mulled wine, and crafty gifts.

Even though going to the market meant dodging people and rubbing hands together to stay warm, the festive feel of it was priceless. Everyone was walking about with their warm mulled wine, hot toddies, and dinner, taking in the views of the city and the goodies on offer in each stall.

We ended up stopping for a cheese sammie from Grill My Cheese, one of the stalls there. By that point it was beginning to get a bit too cold for comfort and we headed inside to find a seat. That’s the great thing about South Bank. They not only have space for concerts and events, but they have several cafes, shops, and seat areas for people. It’s one of the best places to go to people watch, catch some good music, and maybe even do a bit of work if you’re so inclined.

There was a charity shop market there as well, so after finishing up dinner we made our way downstairs to see what was on offer. And there wasn’t much. Although called a “market”, there were all of about 10 clothing racks that were very limited in selection, a table of books, and a few odds and ends scattered about. Disappointing to say the least.

After that we were cold, tired, and sick of fighting the crowds, so we made our way to the exit and headed home. Not before stopping and getting some roasted nuts for Joe for the ride home though.

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.

B

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

com-basemetals-1

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.

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!
IMG_4151

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!

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…

Mudchute Farm

London has so many hidden oasis’ to explore, and we recently discovered another one at Mudchute Farm on the Isle of Dogs. A small zoo amongst the chaos and towers of the city, tucked away behind trees and a walking trail. Originally we had planned to walk around the Canary Wharf area, but whilst walking over there we decided to take a detour and look around. We had walked along the trail once before, but only on one side of the farm.

As we walked in the farm and trail, we decided to take the trail the opposite direction this time. The first thing we came upon was a group of kids taking horseback riding lessons. Who would have thought that this would be in the middle of London?

Chickens

From there, we followed the trail into the trees and decided to let it take us wherever it went. With nowhere to be and nothing planned, it was nice to just let go and let nature take over. The trail led us to the petting zoo where there were all sorts of animals. Goats, pigs, chickens, horses, and more. There were several families walking around with bags of carrots to feed the animals which was really neat to see. Many of the zoos I’ve been to recently no longer allow the public to feed the animals.

Goat Sheep

One of my favourites was the gigantic pig that was there. And when I say gigantic, I mean bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before, and probably three times my size. After looking around the main zoo area, we ventured along another one of the trails to a field with a couple of beautiful horses and another with sheep. Looking out at the pasture, you could see the bank buildings in the background, and the dynamic was breathtaking.

4th of July

Happy 4th of July! Or Independence Day rather. Everyone can technically celebrate because it’s the 4th of July. We could even celebrate because it’s the 5th, or 6th, or…you get the idea.

USA

Seeing as there isn’t much celebrating going on here (I wonder why!), it’s a day to hunt down or create your own celebration. This year, Independence Day landed on a Friday, which also happened to be a colleagues last day and leaving lunch. Convenient. The choice for lunch was Porky’s, an American style restaurant nearby the office.

 

As we arrive at the restaurant, the smell of ribs, burgers and pork fills the air, and Elvis can be heard playing in the background. Feels like home all over again! The decor inside consists of pictures of Elvis, Michael Jackson etc., there is American Flag bunting on the walls, and the tables slightly remind me of solid, as opposed to slotted, park tables. We’re guided to a table in the back, and menus are handed out. Those who were Porky’s veterans swore by the Porky burger and all but one person ended up ordering it. The lone deviant chose ribs though, for which he cannot be blamed at all.

The conversation was light throughout most of the meal, partially because nobody wanted to stop for air whilst scarfing down their food, but also because the music was way too loud. You car barely hear yourself think, let alone listen to someone else speak. If nothing else, I strengthened my lip-reading skills during our time there.

Remind me to comment on the service later on.

Porky's Menu

After work, the festivities continued. We went to the Steam and Rye nearby Bank/Monument station for the American Meetup, assuming there would be food available too. Boy were we wrong.

Decorations

They were booked solid aside from the meetup going on. They did, however, have all sorts of festive drinks and popcorn. From a proper popcorn stand machine. YES!

Steam & Rye

Steam & Rye

One drink later, it was time to find some American food, and although I had already been, Joe had not, and so back to Porky’s it was!

Porky's

Porky’s

We got there, and it was relatively quiet for a friday evening, but still a good crowd and atmosphere. This is where the service comment comes in. We ended up with the same waitress as we had at lunch. Granted lunchtime was busy, so the confusion and wait for drinks and food was understandable. But dinner? Notsomuch. We got our drinks right about the same time as the food. And it took even longer to get the bill at the end.

Ribs

Mmm Ribs!

Overall though, it was a wonderful evening. Steam and Rye is on the list of places to return for food someday, whilst Porky’s makes the list for OK food, but likely not somewhere to return. There are too many other places calling our stomachs in and around London.

Cafe Crêperie

I love re-discovering little hidden gems in a city this big. Saturday morning, Joe finally got to claim his massage that we had purchased so many weeks(I think we’re into months now) ago. Rather than walk around for an hour, I decided to stay home and meet him at Oxford Circus when he was done. Leaving a bit later than expected due to rain, I knew I would arrive past when he was due to be finished with his massage and I hoped that I would be able to find him in the hoards of people that pack the shopping district of London on the weekends. It was my lucky day! As I exit the station, out of one of their many exits mind you, there he is! Good timing. And placement.

Lunch time. Where to go when you’re on such a touristy street? Somewhere not touristy.

Time to escape.

I remember having gone to this cute creperie located down this tiny alleyway off of Oxford Circus nearing two years prior, and decided to try and find it. I couldn’t remember a thing about where it was, and it was pre-determined that we would just walk until we found something, but keep our eyes open for this narrow opening hidden on the street.

Lo and behold, we found it! A few steps from Selfridges was this tiny gap between two stores which lead back to a quaint square with several small shops and eateries that I instantly recognised. We looked at the Creperie menu and a few others, but as I expected, the crepe place won with it’s Mexican-inspired option. A few minutes later we had our table outside under the awning.

Cafe Seating

Cafe Seating

Whilst waiting for the food to arrive, we sipped our drinks and noted how even though we were in central London, a place that we now called home, it felt as though we were on holiday in some unknown place. This square certainly gives off that type of vibe. Far enough from the noise and bustle of Oxford Street, yet close enough to allow plenty of people watching, it’s the perfect place to get away for an hour for a good meal.

The meal of choice was a Crepe of spanish descent, with beef, cheese, sour cream, salsa, and more. Finally! A slice of our coveted Mexican-style food in London. Oh, how you’ve been missed! It even came with a little condiment set which held the salsa, ketchup, and sour cream.

Condiments

Condiments

The whole cafe is quite open, with the inside seating pouring over to the outside tables as though it’s one room. Inside, you can see the crepes continuously being made. The cooks have the process down so well that they don’t even need to watch what they’re doing, carrying on conversations with guests whilst they pour, flip, repeat.

Spanish Crepe

Spanish Crepe

Cinco de Mayo

To celebrate the recent Cinco de Mayo holiday, which is unsurprisingly not really celebrated here in the UK but also happens to be a Bank Holiday, we decided to go to South Bank’s Campo Viejo Streets of Spain festival. Representing all things Spanish, there were food stalls with dishes from Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, and more, as well as vendors with goods from the same variety of places. 

Chilies Galore!

Chilies Galore!

Even Boxed Chilies!

Even Boxed Chilies!

Sweets!

Sweets!

To take it all in and keep from making any hasty food choices (it all looked so good!), we decided to walk the entire riverfront of stalls first. There were all sorts of different foods from little finger foods, to full dishes, sauces to deserts, and the chilies! Oh, the chilies! They were all over. Mild, hot, and in-between., this was any chili-lovers heaven. I have never seen so many chili sauces in my life, either. 

As for small and large plates, the food choices were all over the place. Meatballs, hog roasts, wood-burning ovens cooking pizza, pork kabanos, sausages, vats of sautés and the list goes on. The choice of the day after looking through all of the stalls was meatballs with sautéed vegetables and a chicken curry-like dish, minus the curry.

Lunch; Meatballs and Rice

Lunch; Meatballs and Rice

To top things off was desert. Ice cream, churros, chocolate… choices, choices. The stall that stood out the most to me had the largest and widest variety of chocolates and fudges that I have ever seen in one place before. And I’ve seen some pretty big chocolate shops! The final decision ended up being gelato, merely because of the number of times the line for churros wound around the plaza. Maybe next time.

On-the-bone meat

On-the-bone meat

Wood burning pizza oven

Wood burning pizza oven

Alcohol

Alcohol, of course

Canned goodies

Canned goodies

Meat Assortment

Meat Assortment

SAUSAGE!

SAUSAGE!

Produce everywhere

Produce everywhere

Additional dessert, anyone?

Additional dessert, anyone?

Word of advice for those of you who missed this event: put it on your calendar now for next year so you don’t forget. This is one festival not to be missed!

The Bridge House

The Bridge House Menu

The Bridge House Menu

There are hidden gems all over London, and one of them is The Bridge House in Little Venice. A quaint little restaurant and pub right off of the canal, The Bridge House offers a small selection of sandwiches at lunchtime, expanding the offerings to a full seasonal menu for dinner. In addition, they have special Saturday Brunch and Sunday menus, and for those looking to find a special treat, a lengthy pudding menu is available.

Burger

Burger

 

 

 

Right around the corner from the Canal Cafe Theatre(http://www.canalcafetheatre.com/), The Bridge House is also a great place to go pre- or post-theatre, if your fancy strikes. And you can always take a stroll along the canal to burn off all those delicacies calories.

The real treasure at the House though is their selection of drinks¬†and “Cask Marque-accredited” ales. Don’t get me wrong, their¬†beer selection is great, but don’t forget to try some of their great cocktails too; from Bloody Marys to nurse a Sunday hangover to homemade mulled wine and sodas, there’s something for all ages!

Restaurant

Restaurant

Pulled Pork on the Burger

Pulled Pork on the Burger

The Best Steak in Town

Full Goodmans Meal

Full Goodmans Meal


My favorite food is steak. My favorite drink is Whiskey. Being from the United States, I believe that I am born with a natural ability to assess the true quality, taste, value, etc of a hunk of meat specifically butchered for my culinary enjoyment. Being 25% Irish makes me convince myself that I have an innate ability to seek out the best Whiskeys. However, the UK has proved to be a different world altogether for steak and Whiskey. In terms of steak, the names of the cuts are sometimes different and the selection is not typically as wide ranging it would seem. Whiskey, though choices are abundant…Jack Daniels seems to be considered top shelf (quite an upgrade for the Tennessee Bourbon). Bri and I went to Goodman Steakhouse on Canary Wharf for a celebratory dinner. Goodman had a remarkable selection and very well trained staff. They provided a full listing of all cuts available, both US and UK bread meat, including specifics around the differences for each. I was truly impressed. I went with the 1200 Gram bone in ribeye. This, my friends, was one hefty piece of meat. Though incredibly thick, it was prepared perfectly medium rare. It took me a while to finish, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I must admit though, that it was rather pricey at £90. I loved the quality, the taste, the size…but good lord that was an expensive dinner. The Whiskey selection was respectable and manageable. Unlike other places that have 300+ types of whiskey, Goodman provided a wide enough array without being overwhelming. Between the Talisker,Red Breast, and Highland Park whiskey and scotch buffet…Red Breast best complimented the meal in my view.

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

Finished

Finished

London Transport

London Underground Logo

London Underground Logo

Decoding the public transit system is fairly easy and there are two schools of thought on it. ¬†You can either do your research or be thrown into the fire. ¬†My preference is to do my research. ¬†Bri‚Äôs preference is to be thrown into the fire. ¬†Since she was an expert at London transit by the time I arrived, she threw me into the fire. ¬†I dont play nice in the fire, and this proved to be a ‚Äúmemorable‚ÄĚ point in our relationship. ¬†That said, I will lay out the basics of what I have been able to decode of the system. ¬†If you understand a few basic points, you can be thrown into the fire and feel as though you at least have a bucket of water to fight the flames.

Tube Map

Tube Map

 

1.) Know your options. There are 5 different forms of Transit (Bus, Tube, Overground, DLR, National Rail). ¬†The busses are commonly those double decker staples of London. ¬†It is broken out to routes, similarly to any other major city. ¬†Use these for shorter distance trips where the other options don’t run. ¬†The ‚ÄúTube‚ÄĚ system is a seemingly unending series of tunnels for trains to move under London. however, the Tube does pop its head above ground at points, you know, to say hello. ¬†It is broken out into different lines, like other cities, but have an unbelievable amount of intersections and backup routing options in case of service outages. ¬†If you miss your train, another will literally be minutes away. ¬†Overground‚Ķ.think Tube, but always overground. ¬†It is not nearly as prominent as the tube but serves the same purpose in places where underground access isn’t available. ¬†DLR‚Ķ.think fancy Overground trains. ¬†Lastly, National Rail. ¬†National Rail…think fancier Overground Trains.

2.) Map your Journey.  Get a map of the Tube line, and keep it with you.  Have a brief view of it.  It will depict a birds eye, basic view of London.  There are 6 rings upon each other, denoting zones 1-6.  The further you go out from the center, the larger the zone and the higher the price to travel.  This will show all the different lines, at what stations they intersect for transferring from one line to another.  For all other transit, google map it and you will get the hang of it pretty quickly

curvy tube map

More Realistic Map

3.) It isn’t free. Each of the transit systems require you to check in and check out with a transit pass, called an oyster. ¬†Busses only require you to check in. ¬†Each station provides terminals and sometimes people to help you purchase a transit pass. ¬†You can purchase by zone, by length of access, by ‚Äútopping up‚ÄĚ cash, etc. ¬†Be sure to tap in and tap out, else you are subject to an 80 pound fine.

 

Borough Market

Borough Market CheeseI love farmers markets, and London has more than enough markets to satisfy everyones interests. Some are better known than others, like Borough Market which just so happens to be the most well known food market in London. Dating as far back as the 11th century, Borough has been known for its food markets, attracting traders selling grain, vegetables, fish and livestock. In the 13th century the traders and market were¬†displaced and relocated to Borough High Street where the market has been ever since, aside from a short closing by Parliament in 1755. A group of locals raised the money to buy the land and reopen the market though, and¬†“The Triangle” as it’s known is still at the heart of the market. Anyway, back to the interesting stuff. Borough Market is a paradise¬†for anyone who loves exceptional food from independent suppliers from throughout the UK and abroad. As soon as we exit the London Bridge Tube station, the aromas from the food stalls fill the air. People are in abundance and the atmosphere is full of life. Farmers markets back in the states have nothing on this. Walking into the market, we’re surrounded by the most amazing selection of fresh vegetables, cheese, meat, preserves, patisseries, beer, wine and more. Where to start?! We perused the market¬†finding all sorts of goodies. Be careful though, as it’s easy to spend your last paycheck here if you don’t pay attention. Most of the stalls happily hand out tasters of their products, which is delicious, but can also sabotage your lunch if you had plans to swing into one of the fantastic restaurants on-site, like Elliots. The local restaurants work closely with the market suppliers,¬†using¬†the freshest in-season ingredients¬†to create their menus.

Borough Meat Selection

Borough Meat Selection

 

If you aren’t into a sit-down meal, there are hundreds of other options such as curries, paella, oysters, and every type of burger or meat known¬†to mankind. To satisfy those with a sweet tooth, there’s everything from pies to meringues, gelato to brownies, and all sorts of cakes and tortes. And it can all be washed down with bubbly drinks, shakes, a beer or some wine.

Fresh Veggies

Fresh Veggies

 

 

One of the best parts of the market is that it caters to everyone, including those with food allergies or dietary restrictions. One of my favourite is the Free From Bakehouse. As someone with a love-hate relationship with dairy and sugar, I love the selection they provide. Everything they sell is gluten-free, with many of the options also being dairy, sugar, and egg-free as well.

Borough Market Bread

When you go, be sure to get there early in the morning. If you go anytime after 10am, the market is packed full with¬†mums and their¬†buggies and tourists with cameras stopping at every stall to snap a photo. And don’t forget everyone standing around eating their samples and purchases. If you want to truely experience the food selection London has to offer, Borough Market is the place to go!

Selection of Olives

Selection of Olives

Curry

Curry

Chocolates

Chocolates

Vegetable Selection

Vegetable Selection

Meat Market

Meat Market

Preserves

Preserves

FIsh Selection

Fish Selection