Still here…

This blog is not dead!  We’ve just been very busy lately…mostly with moving from London back to Spokane, WA, USA, finding new jobs, buying a house.  Basically starting our lives over…again.  So, there’s lots to write about, including our final adventures in England.  Stay tuned…

Our Trip to Devon

I posted pictures of this trip in our Gallery a few weeks ago, but thought I should finally make a quick blog post…at least so you all know to look at the pictures!

In January, we took a roadtrip to Devon (England’s west coast) with a bunch of our London friends (most of whom are American, but whatever).  We rented a big house overlooking the ocean!  It was beautiful!  The weather was nice (cold but sunny), we had the best fish & chips we’ve had since living in England, and we spent a good part of the day on the beach (which Simone loved).  After Simone went to bed, the rest of us adults stayed up late drinking, talking, playing “Would You Rather”, blowing up Fundoms, and breaking our feet doing 80’s dance moves (well, that last one was just Kate).  Good times.

Go look at the pictures.  Now.

Our Trip to England’s Southeast Coast

Back in October, we took a little road trip along England’s southeast coast.  We drove from London to Dover (stopping at William Morris’ Red House and Canterbury along the way), and stayed the night in Dover in a nice little B&B.  Other than Dover Castle and the seaside view, Dover was a yawnfest!  We went out for dinner at prime time on a Friday night, and the streets of Dover were empty and we ate in a nice Italian restaurant all by ourselves.  Well, at least Dover Castle was cool…when we weren’t being yelled at for showing up an few minutes before it opened.  Whatever, English Heritage jackhole…

Then we had a nice drive along the coast towards Brighton, driving through Hastings (where the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066) and stopping in sleepy seaside towns for beach frolicking and the world’s greasiest fish ‘n chips.  We finally reached our hotel overlooking the seaside and Brighton Pier.

Brighton is everything Dover is not…bustling with people, restaurants, shopping, activities.  Brighton Pier was Simone’s favorite, of course, and we spent quite a bit of time there considering it was right across the street from our hotel.  Rides, games, cotton candy (candy floss, they call it here), fresh doughnuts = too much cheesy fun.  We also took a tour of the opulent Royal Pavilion, which was worth it just to see the world’s most “stupendous” chandelier (the rest of the place was pretty dang cool, too)!

Don’t forget to check out the pictures in the Gallery!

Our Trip to Bath & the Cotswolds

Way back in August, the 3 of us plus Sarah’s mom took a road trip west to see Bath and the Cotswolds.  If I had actually written this blog entry in August or maybe September, I could have gone into all kinds of witticisms about every detail of the trip.  Those details are long forgotten. so you’ll have to settle for this drab post and some pictures in the Gallery.

I do remember that we drove right by Stonehenge on the way there.  It was right there!  We could see it from the car!  But, we didn’t stop (which was my decision) and then I immediately regretted it.  I also remember when we came around the bend and we could see all of Bath below us…stunning.  One of the most beautiful, picturesque towns I’ve ever seen!

Our hotel in Bath was perfect…centrally located, beautiful room, good breakfast, lovely hosts!  If you ever plan a trip to Bath, do yourself a favor and book a room at Three Abbey Green!  The main thing to do in Bath is walk around in awe of its beauty.  A lot of British towns start looking the same after awhile, but Bath is different!  Almost all of the buildings are built using “Bath Stone” (a type of limestone), which gives a unity throughout the city, yet makes it distinctive from anywhere else in the world.  So we walked around and saw Bath Abbey, the Circus (where Nicolas Cage sometimes lives), the Royal Crescent, Pulteney Bridge, and all of the other amazing architecture.

The highlight of Bath, however, is the Roman Baths for which the city got its name.  The ancient Romans built a temple and public bath house on the site around 60 A.D., which was gradually built up over the next 300 years.  Sometime in the 6th Century, the baths were covered up in silt and flooding and thought to be lost, only to be rediscovered a few hundred years later to be used by Victorian British Royalty.  Now it’s a museum, and it’s beautiful and incredibly fascinating…even Simone loved it!  We walked on the same stone floors that the ancient Romans walked on, which is pretty amazing.

Next up was the Cotswolds, which is small area in England which used to be known for its wool (“the best wool in the worlds comes from England, and the best wool in England comes from the Cotswolds!”), but is now known for it’s open, green landscape which is dotted with impossibly cute towns filled with stone houses, old churches with cemeteries, and short high streets full of pubs, cafes, and shops.  We stayed in the town of Chipping Campden, which has a cool 400-year old market building standing in its center.  We spent a lot of time driving between towns and exploring them.  There are also public footpaths all over the Cotswolds (they’re all over England, for that matter…but especially all over the Cotswolds!), so we parked in one town and walked through green hills to another town (I wish I could remember which towns!).  Then we found a hotel with a restaurant in the middle of nothing, discovered it was waaaaayyy too expensive to eat at, and then walked back to the first town and ate dinner there.  From there, we went back to our hotel and, while Sarah’s mom put Simone to bed, Sarah and I went out out to the pub for a pint all by our-adult-selves…a rare thing anymore!

On our way back to London, we stopped at Cotswold Farm Park and let Simone run around and feed a bunch of goats.  She loved it.

So, there you have it…better late than never!  Don’t forget to look at our pictures in the Gallery…they tell the story much better than I did!

Our Trip to Edinburgh

It’s official…I’m the worst blogger ever! Huzzah! Seriously, it’s just been hard to find time to blog, much less keep up with e-mails, phones calls, Facebook, etc. So much stuff has happened…is happening…that you should know about!

Let’s start completely out of chronological order with our trip to Edinburgh, Scotland (I’m starting here because I’ve already uploaded the pictures).  It was a 3-day weekend, and it just happened to be during the Edinburgh and Fringe festivals, so we decided to endure the lightning quick 7-hour train ride from London.

We arrived in Edinburgh around 11:30pm and still had to walk to our hotel.  Our first impression of Edinburgh:  damn, it’s cold!  We finally get to our hotel, and our room is very nice and posh!  Sure, the window overlooks a garbage pile topped with disgusting mattress…but the room is very nice!

The next morning, we have a nice breakfast and start walking towards Edinburgh Castle.  Our second impression of Edinburgh:  what the hell is that smell?  Seriously, all weekend – no matter where we were in Edinburgh – we’d occasionally gets wafts of this odor.  It’s not a bad odor, by any means…just unusual.  It reminded me a bit a bakery (which is an awesome smell…who doesn’t love the smell of fresh baked bread?), but it was a bit off.  And we couldn’t find any bakeries anywhere!  It remained a mystery all weekend until we got home and asked my dear friend Google.  Apparently, it’s the smell of roasting malt from a nearby Scotch distillery.  There ya go.

We made it up to Edinbugh Castle and were greeted at the door by statues of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce.  I waited (and waited, and waited, and waited) in line to get our tickets, and then we were inside the ancient castle walls!  First of all, the castle is built way up on a cliff and has amazing views of the city and the sea.  Second of all, we’re surrounded by buildings over 800 years old and amazing history.  Cool.  We gawked at the Scottish crown jewels, the giant cannon Mons Meg (if a cannon has it’s own name, rest assured that it’s bad-assed), and the rooms where Mary Queen of Scots lived.  I think the highlights for us were St. Margaret’s Chapel (very small, but very cool nonetheless…and the oldest building in Edinburgh being built around 1130) and the Scottish National War Memorial.

After leaving the castle, we strolled down the very crowded “Royal Mile“.  Since the Edinburgh Festival was going on, there were lots and lots of kooky street performers doing there thing.  We stopped to watch a couple, but as it was so crowded it was hard to get a good look.  We also popped into St. Giles Cathedral along the Royal Mile.  We ate lunch around this time, and I decided against getting haggis, which is a decision I held onto throughout our stay in Scotland.

Right next to downtown Edinburgh, there’s a huge park (Holyrood Park) built on top of several tall volcanic peak…the tallest of which is called Arthur’s Seat.  So the next day we said “Let’s climb that sucka!”  And we did!  What a beautiful park!  So green and lush, yet rugged and rocky…and spectacular views of Edinburgh.  On the way up, we stopped at some cool church ruins to take a few pictures.  When we reached very near the top it became very windy, and the last 40 or so feet up was very rocky and slippery.  Fortunately, I am all man and laugh in the face of danger!  So Sarah and Simone stayed behind while I made the final treacherous climb to the tippy-top of Arthur’s Seat, took a couple of pictures as proof, and then got my ass back down again.  We then descended out of Holyrood Park with Sarah and Simone in awe of my bravery!

At the foot of Holyrood Park is Holyrood Palace (which is the official residence of the Queen whenever she pops up to Scotland…which I don’t think is very often), so we went inside to check it out.  It was all regal all palacey, but I guess that was to be expected.  While we were there, Simone got to make a bizarre unicorn mask.  The highlight, though, may have been the abbey ruins right next to the palace…very cool and photogenic!

The next morning we were at the train station waiting to go home, and we were left to ponder our time in Edinburgh.  We haven’t been to that many places around Europe yet, but everywhere we go we’re in awe of the beauty, history, and culture…except in Edinburgh.  Both Sarah and I felt the same way and neither of us knew why.  If you look at the pictures, Edinburgh looks amazing…and it is for a lot of people!  For whatever reason which will always remain a mystery, Edinburgh only left us feeling lukewarm.  Oh, well.  To top it all off our trip, our train was late.  Then they announced that our train was coming into a different platform, so everyone grabbed all of their luggage and pushed and shoved their way to the other platform.  Where we waited.  And waited.  Until they announced that our train was coming into the platform we all had been originally standing at in the 1st place!  So we all pushed and shoved our way back!

Finally on the train, we dove into the Subway sandwiches which we picked up at the train station…which gave Sarah food poisoning.  She spent a good part of the 7-hour train ride back to London with her face in a public train toilet puking her guts out.  Finally back in London, we took a taxi because Sarah didn’t want to vomit on the tube.  Fortunately, the taxi driver was quick enough to pull over in time for her to blow chunks by the side of the road.  Boy, I love her!

To see all of our lovely pictures of this (Edinburgh, not Sarah’s vomit), check them out in the Gallery!

Simone Ain’t No Hollaback Girl

Our Trip to Oxford

So way back in May, we took a little weekend trip to Oxford…and then I forgot to blog all about it!  That’s OK though…I forget to blog about lots of stuff.  There isn’t a whole lot to say about the trip anyway.  Sarah had some kind of voodoo/witchcraft class in Oxford, so we all decided to go and make a weekend out of it.  Other than the “smartypants” dudes walking around with their tweed jackets and unkempt facial hair (Sarah likes to say that they are too busy thinking about how they’re smarter than you to shave), Oxford is a beautiful town.  Check out the pictures in the Photo Gallery.

Buckingham Palace Band Playing “Man In the Mirror”

My dad and his “lady friend” happened to be visiting us in London when Michael Jackson died.  The morning after poor MJ’s demise, I took them down to see the changing of the guard and the band played several Michael Jackson songs!  I captured this crappy quality snippet of “Man In the Mirror”.  Enjoy!

Our Trip to Belgium

You heard me right…Belgium!  We had a 3-day weekend and wanted to take a quick trip.  As it turns out, Brussels is only a 2-hour train ride from London, so we said “what the hell”!  We hopped on the train, when through the Chunnel, took a left turn at Lille, and there we were standing in the Belgium sunshine!

In most big cities they don’t put the train stations in the nice part of town, and Brussels is no exception.  So our first impressions weren’t completely favorable.  Had we taken the time to figure out the Brussels subway system, we could have been to our hotel (and a mich nicer part of town) in 20 minutes …but we didn’t, so we walked for over an hour.  On the map, our hotel looks pretty close to the train station..and it is, if you can walk a straight line right through buildings.  Unfortunately, roads go in all sorts of different direction in Brussels (I hear other cities are like this, too), and it also doesn’t help when we walk in completely the wrong direction a few times.

Finally, we made it to our hotel and we immediately set out to explore Brussels.  My 2nd impression of Brussels was that it was very “French”…most people spoke French and the architecture, shops, and cafes all had a French feel to them.  We walked down to the World War monument which looked out over the city, and then took a weird elevator down to the older part of town.  We stopped to get some frites at a roadside stand, and we had about 20 different sauces to choose from to dip our fries in!  We chose bernaise sauce, and we chose well.  Yum!  We then walked over to see the Manneken Pis, which is the famous “little boy peeing” statue.  Also, even though I have no evidence to this fact, this little statue might be where the word “piss” comes from.  From there, we walked down a touristy shopping street with bizarre street performers, until we reached the oldest part of Brussels and it’s main square – Grand Place.

The Grand Place – holy cow!  Brussels didn’t feel like France anymore…in fact, it didn’t feel like any place we’ve ever been before!  The architecture was simply awe-inspiring!  We’ve never seen anything like it, and standing in the middle of the square we were completely surrounded by it!  There’s just no way I can think of to put it into words, and there’s no way to capture all of it’s stunning beauty in pictures, but check out the Photo Gallery anyway for just a glimpse of what it is like.

After that, it was time for a lunch of escargot (1st time we’ve had them…pretty good!), mussels (from Brussels), more frites, and Belgian beer.  More walking around the city, saw some churches and parks, then back to our hotel’s neighborhood for dinner (we were basically still pretty full from lunch, but the food was so good we ate anyway…this would become a theme throughout our Belgium trip!).

The next day, we took a 1-hour train ride to Bruges.  If you’ve seen the movie “In Bruges“, you’ve probably heard Bruges described as a fairytale town (and “how is a fairytale town not someone’s f-ing thing?”)…and that hits the nail on the head.  We’ve never seen a more quaint, fairytale place in our lives!  It’s a fairly small town with cute amazing ancient architecture, wonderful churches, horse-drawn carriages, canals…there’s even a chocolate museum!

We walked through the cute side-streets and reached St. Saviour’s Cathedral, which was very cool but we got kicked out because there was a service a noon.  Walked down more cute, touristy shopping streets and reached Markt Square.  More very cool architecture, and lots of horse-drawn carriages here (I checked the prices on the carriage rides, but they were a little steep for us).  We had lunch al fresco at a cafe on the square.  More walking, more cool and unique architecture, more fairytale quaintness!  We decided to skip the Friet Museum (a museum dedicated to the history of French fries), but we went for the Chocolate Museum.  It was pretty interesting  learning about the history of Belgian chocolate, but I think Simone was hoping to be able to eat more of the displays…so we bought some yummy Belgian chocolates at one of the many, many chocolate shops that were everywhere.

We then made our way to Burg Square…more fairytale architecture!  One building caught my eye as being out of place, though…it was very Gothic and kind of creepy looking.  It turned out to be the Basilica of the Holy Blood, where the Relic of the Precious Blood resides.  The story goes like this:  after Jesus was taken down from the cross, Joseph of Arimathea washed the blood from Christ’s body with a cloth and then preserved it.  It was then brought to Bruges after the 4th Crusade against Constantinople in 1203.  The gold and glass cylinder containing the relic dates from the year 1388.  Honestly, there’s no real hard evidence that the Relic of the Precious Blood is genuine, but if it is…words can’t really describe how important this relic is.  On the day we were there, the Relic was available for veneration.  I’ve never really venerated anything before…I was a “veneration virgin”, if you’ll pardon the pun…but I walked up to the alter, placed a shaky hand on top of the Relic of the Precious Blood, closed my eyes, and simply asked Jesus to watch over my family.  As I said before, no one can really say for sure if the relic in genuine, but it was an unnerving experience for me and I was left a bit shaken up by it.  I’ll just leave it at that.

More walking through fairytale town, and we ended our journey at The Church of Our Lady.  There are some very cool works of art here, the most famous of which is Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child” sculpture.  Not only is this a gorgeous work or art, it has survived for over 500 years, been stolen and returned twice, and still looks like Michelangelo finished it yesterday.  Amazing.

On the train back to Brussels, we got kicked out of the practically empty 1st class section (we didn’t know it was 1st class…and it was empty!) and were forced to pay extra because it was a “fast” train (it took about an hour to get to Brussels…um, that’s not any faster).  Nice.  Oh, well…the next day we were back home in London, and we realized that we hadn’t eaten 1 waffle while we were there.  Oops…and that concludes our Belgium adventure!

Simone Sings the Wiggly Woo Song (with a cute British accent!)

For those of you on “Simone’s British Accent Watch”, check out this video of her singing “Wiggly Woo”:

Our Trip to Disneyland & Paris

For Simone’s school break, we decided to take her to the Most Crowded Place on Earth Happiest Place on Earth – Disneyland Paris!  Also, for Sarah and I, we also went to the Most Romantic Place on Earth (except when you have a yappy 5-year old following you around everywhere) – Regular Paris!

So we hopped on the train that takes us directly from London to Disneyland (yes, Disneyland has their own train station!) and walked around Lake Disney to our hotel.  Once we were checked-in it was lunch time and we were all pretty hungry.  When you walk from any of the Disney hotels to Disneyland, you have to walk through the Disney Village, which is full of places to spend your money quaint shops and restaurants.   So we stopped to eat at the first place we saw – Mickey’s Cafe.  It sounded like a quick, cheap place to get a burger (no, we stupidly did not look at the menu before we went in), but this lunch turned out to be the most expensive meal we had in Disneyland!  A chicken-finger kids’ meal (which came with cheap-o paper Mickey Mouse glasses which Simone wore for the entire trip), an appetizer, and a pizza cost us over 50 Euros – yikes!  Admittedly, it was pretty good and more in common with French cuisine than the name “Mickey’s Cafe” would lead you to believe, but we were going to thoroughly inspect the prices on the menu beforehand for the rest of the trip.

After that, it was all Disney, all the time!  We walked in just before the parade was about to start, so we took advantage of the short lines.  We walked right into “It’s a Small World Afterall” (which Simone called “My World” – appropriate), but by the time we got to our 2nd ride, the “Madhatter’s Tea Cups”, the lines were already getting longer.  The next ride was “Dumbo”, and Sarah and Simone stood in line for over an hour!  Simone, however, never seemed to mind the waiting and had a great time!  She went on the Small World ride I think 4 times, and Pirates of the Carribean 3 times (where we got this hilarious picture).  We also went on Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, Snow White’s Scary Woods, Lancelot’s Carousel (pretty lame compared to the Loof Carousel in Spokane), Pinocchio’s Voyage, Peter Pan’s Flight, Adventure Isle, Captain Hook’s Pirate Ship, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Alladin’s Enchanted Passage, Autopia (Simone loved being able to drive a car!), and Phanton Manor -whew!  I also wanted to go on a rollercoaster and mistakenly waited in line for 90 minutes to go on Space Mountain…I’ve never been on a more intense rollercoaster!  My head got knocked around so much that I actually thought I was going to lose my balance and/or pass out when I got off, and when I grabbed ahold of a post to steady myself, some French ass-clown laughed at me.  Well, screw you French ass-clown…and Space Mountain, too!

We all had a great time, but after 2 full days in Disneyland, Sarah and I were ready for some grown-up time.  So we hopped on the train and were in Paris an hour later.  After checking in to our hotel, we immediately set for Jardin des Tuileries for a couple of hot dogs (French hot dogs are 2 sausages & cheese on a baguette…delicious!) and then crossed the Seine to see the Musée d’Orsay.  They didn’t tell us beforehand, however, that nearly half of the museum was inexplicably closed…the half that contained many of the artists that we really wanted to see.  Lame, but we’ll try again the next time we go.  We continued to walk along the Seine until we reached Notre Dame.  We walked around and gawked inside…simply beautiful.  While we were standing around trying to decide if we should go up into the tower and see the gargoyles, a guy came along and shut the line down.  Oops…maybe next time.

The next day we hoped on the Metro up to Montmarte.  We climbed up the hill to Sacre Coeur (another amazingly beautiful church) for a spectacular view of Paris, then over to St. Pierre (the oldest church in Paris, and very cool).  While walking through Montmarte, and artist offered to draw a picture of Simone for 20 Euros.  We said OK, and now we have a picture of what Simone might look like if she were white…interesting.  We continued our walk and, thanks to our Rick Steves book, we saw the nightclub where Edith Piaf used to sing and the studios, cafes, and cabarets where artists like Picasso, van Gogh, Renoir, Utrillo, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Dali hung out.  Very cool.  We then hopped back on the Metro to the Eiffel Tower, which Simone was very excited about climbing up in…668 steps later, we made it to the 2nd platform (about half-way up) and were all pretty tired…but we had an spectacular view of Paris and took lotsa-lotsa pictures.

We had a little bit of time before catching our train the next morning, so we walked over to the Musée Rodin to see Auguste Rodin’s sculptures.  I handed the camera over to Simone, and she did a great job taking pictures of all the sculptures!  This museum also has a few painting by van Gogh, Renoir, and – one of my favorites – Edvard Munch (who I didn’t get to see at the half-closed Orsay).

Finally, we hopped the train back to London.  Don’t forget to check out all of our pictures of this trip in the Gallery.

Disneyland Paris Video Preview!

I’ll write more about our recent trip to Disneyland Paris and Regular Paris later, but for now take a ride with us on the Mad Hatter’s Teacups…

Jason and Brian’s London Adventure

Forewarning:  the following post is link-tastic!

A couple of weeks ago, our American friends Jason and Brian came to stay with us (pictures here). They were the very first of our friends and family to visit…hence, they are now our BFFs! Suck on that, Cori and Dave! Anyway, Jason and Brian actually flew over separately (Jason from Seattle and Brian from Spokane), but their visits overlapped a few days.

Brian arrived bright and early Monday morning. He had the whole day ahead of him, but was a little worn out from the long flight and wasn’t yet ready to dive head first into London activities. So instead, I showed him around the East Finchley hood with a nice stroll through Cherry Tree Wood.  Then I made him walk to Muswell Hill, since that’s a cool neighborhood, too.  Then, since Alexandra Park was right there, we walked through there…and then back to Muswell Hill for lunch…and then back home to East Finchley.  Then Brian took a nap…so much for taking it easy!

The next day was the start of our tourist extravaganza!  After dropping Simone off at school, I took Brian into Central London.  Our first stop was the Tate Britain, followed by a stroll along the South Bank for views/photo ops of Parliament, the London Eye, etc.  We had a huge lunch at Wagamama, and then I left Brain to explore the Tate Modern so I could pick-up Simone from school (incidentally, on the way to pick her up I got the call from Friern Barnet School inviting me to an job interview…so that’s pretty cool).

Next day, Brain and I explored the vastness of Hyde Park.  That took all morning, and after lunch I left Brian so I could pick-up Simone from school.  By the time we got back home, both Brian and Jason were waiting for us.  They went to explore East Finchley, and then we had dinner from the excellent Indian takeaway Imperial Spices.

Jason, Brian, and I spent the next morning at the Natural History Museum for dino-maina!  This is the 3rd time I’ve been to the Natural History Museum, and it was by far the least crowded I’ve ever seen it.  We walked right in to see the dinosaurs instead of waiting in line for an hour…awesome!  We ate lunch at the Museum, and we all ordered the child-sized chicken pie…and were all stuffed afterwards!  The pies were huge!  What kind of gigantor kids are they trying to feed?  From there we walked up to Hyde Park and saw the Albert Memorial and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountains, and then continued on to Buckingham Palace…and the Queen was home!  Well, we didn’t actually have tea with the Queen or anything, but her flag was flying.  We then contuned our trek to Trafalgar Square and saw a bit of the National Gallery, and then on to Picadilly Circus, Regent Street, and Hamley’s before heading heading home to a dinner of a pile of doner meat, hummus, and pita bread.  Yum!

Sarah took Friday off of work, so she joined Jason, Brian, and me.  We walked from Leicester Square, through Trafalgar Square, and got the surreal close-up view of Parliament.  We then went into Westminster Abbey, which is just simply incredible.  The sheer amount of history here, along with the many influential people buried here, is overwhelming.  That evening Jason, Brian, and I went to see Avenue Q…which was hilarious (maybe not pant-wettingly funny as advertized, but still pretty damn funny)!

The following day was Saturday, so Simone got to tag along with us to the Tower of London (the damn thing is nearly 1000 years old…awesome), a walk across Tower Bridge, and then a trip way, way up high in the London Eye.  Brian went home the next day, so Jason, Sarah, Simone, and I went to Highgate Cemetery and saw some cool old tombstones along with a few famous dead people (i.e. Karl Marx).  Simone and Sarah then went home, and Jason and I took a quick peek at St. Paul’s Cathedral, followed by a romantic cruise along the Thames.  We ate ginormous burgers, and then we went on an equally romantic Jack the Ripper tour…really cool!

Jason spent the next couple of days in Paris, and then stayed one more night at our house before heading back home.  I think that covers everything!  Be sure to check out the pictures in the Gallery!

Gainfully Employed

Hello and welcome to the world’s worst blog…where nothing ever gets updated! Truthfully, I haven’t posted anything in awhile because nothing was really happening, and I had zero motivation to post anything. Then suddenly, so much crap was happening that I didn’t have time to post anything. Then I realized that it had been so long since I posted anything and I wasn’t looking forward to writing one of my epic all-updates-at-once posts. Then I realized that I’m sitting in bed right now writing a new blog post, and I still haven’t said anything!

The major news is that I got a job! A real one that pays money and everything! I don’t start until April 20th, but I’ve officially been hired by Friern Barnet School as an ICT Technician (i.e. computer support).  Everything about this job is ideal:  it pays well, it’s very close to Simone’s school (about a mile away), and the hours are perfect so I’ll still be able to drop off and pick up Simone from school.  I couldn’t have asked for a better situation!  The way things were going, I was beginning to get worried that my experience wasn’t amounting to much over here, but as soon as I accepted Friern Barnet School’s job offer I suddenly became a hot commodity!  Here’s a timeline of job search related events over the past couple of weeks:

  1. I had 2 interviews on the same day.  The 1st was at Friern Barnet School, and the other was for a part-time job at another school (I liked the idea of this part-time job, too…but it paid a lot less and it was farther away).
  2. I got a call from Friern Barnet School.  They said that they deliberated for a long time, and that it came down to me and another candidate.  They chose him, so I guess I was only 2nd place (or as my brother-in-law Tim would say, “1st loser”).
  3. I didn’t get a call from the other school by the end of the week and assumed the worst.  I was pretty depressed all weekend, but at least I had one more interview the following week.
  4. I got another call from Friern Barnet School.  They told me that the other candidate accepted another position, so I was in!  Huzzah for being 1st loser!
  5. I got a call the same day inviting me to another interview, which I declined.  I also canceled my other scheduled interview.
  6. I got invitations to 3 more interviews in the next few days!  Where were all these jobs for the past 3 months?
  7. The other school I interviewed with called me up and offered me a job (which I declined, of course)!  I’m the most awesome 1st loser ever!

I should mention that all of the interviews I listed above, and the couple of interviews I had before, I got on my own.  I researched, found the vacancies, filled out lengthy applications, and got the interviews completely on my own.  Meanwhile, I sent out my CV (résumé to my Yank friends) literally hundreds of times to recruiters, and I spoke with dozens of recruiters about my qualifications.  Did I get any interviews thanks to my friendly recruiter?  Not one.

So how did I celebrate my new-found employment?  I bought a car!  A 2002 Toyota Yaris, to be exact.  I really didn’t plan on driving over here, but it didn’t take long to realize that it would be necessary once I started working.  Driving a right-hand drive car on the left side of the road isn’t actually that daunting (I’ve only driven on the wrong side of the road once…so far!), but the strange road signs, crazy roads, traffic, and the unfamiliarity of my bearings has proven somewhat stressful.  Anyway, I’m getting used to it.  I’m sure I’ll have some kooky driving stories pretty soon.

The other exciting news is that we had our very 1st visitors from the USA!  Our good friends Jason and Brian came to mooch off us  grace us with their companionship.  I’ll save that for the next post, though…and I’ve got a lot of pictures to go with it.  I’m really, really going to try to post again in the next couple of days before we go to Disneyland and Paris…but don’t hold your breath.

Simone Tells a Story

During dinner on our last night in Nice, Simone was making up all kinds of stories for us. I captured this one on video about a baby dragon…

Our Trip to Nice

Last week, we took our first vacation (holiday, they call it here) away from London (check out the pictures in the Photo Gallery).  It’s been so cold in London (unusually cold Londoners tell us, and then there was the record-breaking snowfall…) that we decided to go as far south as we could stand by train, so we chose the French Riviera with Nice being our home base.  As our departure date came closer, we kept checking the weather outlook…it looked promising as Nice was consistently about 20F warmer than London.

We woke up early Sunday morning, walked to East Finchley station, and took the tube to St. Pancras International.  While walking through St. Pancras, we happened upon a pant-less woman.  Seriously.  In the train station.  Her and her male companion walked right past us.  She was wearing a standard-length shirt, pantyhose, and no pants!  You could plainly make out the dark patch in the hoo-ha region!  She was leaning pretty heavily on the guy/friend/customer (who was fully clothed, by the way, and even had on a coat that I guess he didn’t think/want to offer his lady-friend) and may have been pretty out of it…at 8:00 on Sunday morning!

Despite that spectacle, we made it through passport control and got to our train on time.  This train took us to Paris where we took the RER to another train station, where we waited to find out what platform to go to.  When it was finally listed, we were in completely the wrong part of the station and couldn’t find the track!  So despite being an hour early for our train, we had to rush and just made it.  We sat in our seats and prepared ourselves for the 7-hour train ride…which took 9 hours.  First the train had to stop because of a “suspicious package” on-board, so that was encouraging.  Everyone had to get their luggage and hop off the train and wait.  Then we had to haul all of our luggage and ourselves back onto the train.  Later, because our schedule was off from the bomb scare “suspicious package”, the train had to just stop and wait for other trains to get out of the way.

We finally arrived in Nice, tired and hungry, and it’s cold.  Apparently, while we were on the train, London warmed up and Nice got colder…the temperatures in the 2 cities were about the same the entire time we were there.  Oh, well.  Our hotel room was very nice and the people who worked there were wonderfully helpful…they even booked us a table at a nice nearby restaurant for a late (after 10:00 pm, at this point) Sunday dinner.  We woke up the next morning, and we were all sick!  Simone had gotten a bit of a runny nose a couple of days earlier, and now we were all stuffed up and coughing.  Nevertheless, we were determined to enjoy our vacation!  It was a beautiful, sunny day in Nice, and we set out to explore.

As is mandatory when traveling in France, our breakfast consisted of various French pastries (croissant, pain au chocolat, brioche au chocolat, and whatever else that looked good and I could point at).  We walked down to Nice’s rocky beach on the Mediterranean Sea and soaked up the exquisiteness.  The city, the beach, the sea, the cliffs, the sun…just simply stunning.  We walked up to the top of Le Chateau and the higher we got, the more amazing the views became.  There were a lot of steps to climb, but we stopped occasionally to take pictures and gawk at the beach and city below us.  There was a park with a playground at the top, so we let Simone burn off some energy…seriously though, no playground deserves to have as good a view as this one has!  There were also a couple of cemeteries up here (and if you looked at out Eastern Washington Ghost Town pictures, you know we love old cemeteries!), so after we calmed Simone down from a mini-meltdown after leaving the playground, we explored the cemeteries.  We walked down from the hill a different way and ended up in Vieux Nice, which is the Old Town part of Nice.  It has narrow pedestrian-only streets, cool shops, quaint bistros, and is absolutely dripping with charm.  We ate lunch at a little bistro next to a cathedral, and then we set out to explore more of Nice, a quick rest at the hotel, and then a nice dinner.

The next morning, we took a quick 30-minute train to Monaco.  We thought that it was pretty strange that we took a train from France to Monaco (which is a whole separate country…or so they claim!), walked through the train station, and right out the door into Monte Carlo without even seeing one official looking person, much less having to go through customs or passport control!  Maybe it was the customs guy’s day off.  Anyway, we made three fatal errors this day:  we did not have any plan for Monaco, we did not have a decent map, and we exited the train station some weird way and ended up on top of a cliff overlooking Monte Carlo.  From the crude map that we printed out from the internet it seems like you can just walk from here to there, but not so!  Because the city is built on a cliff and because of so much construction, we ended up backtracking a couple of times and wasted a couple of very, very frustrating hours.  We finally worked our way down the cliff and found the path that led up to Old Town Monte Carlo and the palace…which is on another cliff!  While we climbed, climbed, climbed, we were greeted with more spectacular views of Monaco and ridiculous yachts below.  The path came out right by the palace, and then we took another path that leads around the perimeter of the cliff.  We popped into the cathedral and happened upon the graves of Prince Rainier and Princess Grace completely by accident (remember, we didn’t have a plan).  We then made our way to the Musée Océanographique, which is the aquarium that Jacques Cousteau was director of for 30 years…they even had the mini-sub and arctic cat that he used.  We made our way through Old Town Monte Carlo (more narrow pedestrian streets, cool shops, quaint bistros, etc) and by that time we were too tired to try to figure out how to walk half-way across the city to see the casino, so we hopped on the train back to Nice for dinner and beddy-bye time.  After Simone went to bed, I went out to see the Carnaval parade…I’ve never seen so much silly string in my life!  Lots of people, loud music, and weird larger-than-life animatronic floats.  Check out the pictures.

We were still not feeling well the next day, so we decided to take it kind of easy.  We stuffed our pie-holes full of French pastries, and then headed down to the beach.  Simone fell into the water about 5 minutes later, so I put my sweatshirt on her and we went back to the hotel for a change of clothes.  We then walked up to the Chagall Museum to check it out.  Previously, I had only a passing knowledge of some of Marc Chagall’s paintings, but after visiting the museum I am a true enthusiast.  I don’t pretend to know a lot about art, but I know there are some things that I just like and there are some things that affect me emotionally…and Chagall’s work definitely stirs the emotions.  I see a lot of people that like to stand way back to look at a painting, where as I like to get right up next to it to see all the nuances and textures of the brush strokes.  Chagall painted for close-lookers like me.  There are all kinds of things hidden in different shades of the same hue that you can’t see until you get up close, and then they just suddenly materialize.  Also, his paintings look chaotic but they are actually very carefully planned entire stories on canvas…remarkable.  We also went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art for some artsy-fartsy stuff, but there was nothing there that could compare to Chagall.  The view from the roof of the MAMAC, however, was worth the price of admission…true, admission was free, but it was still a pretty damn nice view!

For our last full day in the French Riviera, we decided to take the train to Cannes (because we already had a map).  Simone is a connoisseur of carousels, and she got to ride on the top of a double-decker carousel right by the beach!  Cannes’ beach is sandy (as opposed to Nice’s rocky beach), so after lunch we bought a shovel and pail for Simone to play with on the beach.  Despite it being kind of cold this day, we stayed on the beach for quite awhile.  I saw an old castle/cathedral looking thing on top of a hill, so we decided to walk up there and check it out.  Well, it wasn’t that great, but it did afford us nice views of Cannes down below.  We took a different path back down the hill and ended up in a cool pedestrian-only street.  Lots of really cool shops and bistros (Cannes is a little more highbrow), and we got some chocolaty goodness at a little bakery.  We took the train back to Nice to see the beach one last time and had a very nice dinner where I ate rabbit for the second time in my life.

The next morning, we had one last chance to munch on pastries before cruising across France at nearly 200-mph.  There were no unexpected stops this time, so we made it back home in London on time.  It still sounds weird saying “back home in London”, but this is probably the first time that London has felt like home to me.  We’ll see if I still feel like that the next time someone shoves their way in front of me to get on the bus.

Restaurant Review: Cochin (East Finchley)

As promised, we’ve been going out to a local restaurant every weekend (we rotate each week who gets to pick the restaurant – me, Sarah, or Simone).  I’m already a couple of weeks behind in my restaurant updates (deal with it), but so far we’re finding we’ve got some pretty good restaurants within a few minutes walk from our flat!

The first week’s choice went to the man of the household (that’s me, FYI…no seriously, stop laughing), and I chose the South Indian restaurant Cochin.  It’s located at the heart of East Finchley’s High Road.  Indian food is the unofficial 2nd national cuisine of the UK, andthere are Indian restaurants dotted all over the place.  They range from take-away-only holes-in-the-wall to very nice, upscale digs.  I’d say Cochin is a mid-to-upper scale restaurant.  It’s small but with a very nice atmosphere.  The main dining room is in the basement, but it’s open to the ceiling of the ground floor so you can still watch people out the windows as they walk down the High Road, which is pretty cool.

The waiter asked us if we would like to start with some pappadoms with various chutneys andsauces, to which we replied “yes”!  Pappadoms are a thin, crispy flat-bread (kindof like Indian tortilla chips) – kindof bland on their own but perfect for scooping up the tasty dips.  I’d tell you what dips we had, but I honestly haven’t got a clue – sue me.  We also ordered the Vegetable Samosa, which are various veggies and spices wrapped up in a deliciously flaky pastry triangle.  These were very yummy!  Simone loved them so much, she ate 2 of them while Sarah and I only got 1 each – I could’ve eaten about 8 more.  We’ll definitely be ordering these again.

For my main course, I had the Cochin Chicken – “chicken pieces marinated and cooked in a mild coconut flavoured gravy”.  This was a mild, basic curry but very tasty.  I also ordered a pint of  Kingfisher, an Indian lager, which was smooth, crisp, and refreshing – a perfect complement to spicy Indian food.  Simone said that she didn’t think I could drink the whole thing, but I proved her wrong!  Sarah won the superior entree award with the Non Vegetarian Thali, which is “an assortment of Lamb & Chicken dishes with dal, rice, poppadom, raita, and chapati served in authentic Indian style”.  She was brought a huge compartmentalized plate chockablock full of different kinds of delicacies…way too much food, and way too yummy.

We’ll definitely be visiting Cochin again, and probably taking our friends and family when they come to visit as well!

A Walk to Simone’s School

Every morning I take Simone to school via 2 London public transportation buses.  It’s super fun (he said sarcastically)!  Without Simone with me, I can walk the distance faster than the bus can take me, so to save some time and get some exercise I walk back home.  Then in the afternoon, I walk back again.  My guess is that it’s just about a 2-mile walk and it takes about 35 minutes or so.

I decided it might be fun to take the camera along and take a few pictures so that you could experience this walk for yourself…while sitting on your lazy butt in front of the computer (lazy).  The pictures below are from the afternoon portion of my walk.  If you want to experience the morning walk, just turn around play the pictures backwards!  Just click the arrow buttons to scroll through at your leisure, or click the “Play” button to let the computer do all the work for you (lazy).  You can also right-click an image and select “Open Image in New Window…” to see it bigger.

And now, I present to you a pictorial perspective or my walk from East Finchley to Hollickwood School north of Muswell Hill.  Enjoy!

The Explicit Post (aka A Bad Morning)

For those of you who know me, I like to intersperse the occasional descriptive “adult” word in my speech.  It’s true, I throw down expletives all the time!  I have made a conscience effort, however, to leave the naughty words out of this blog because I want anyone to be able to read it…including Simone when she gets older.  Sometimes, I imagine whole families gathering together in front of a crackling fire with their laptops all aglow with…well, maybe not, but you get my point.

But now, unfortunately, I have to break my “no expletives” rule.  Families, please make sure the kids are in bed before you read this post.

This morning, Sarah left for work while I finished getting Simone ready for school.  Sometimes, Simone fights me a little bit with getting ready, but she was pretty good this morning.  We headed out into the rain and walked down to the bus stop.  There were a few people already at the bus stop, which is a good sign because then I know we didn’t just miss the bus.  Buses on this route are supposed to come about every 10 minutes…20 minutes later, Simone was restless and there were a lot more people at the bus stop!  Finally, the bus shows up and it’s already crowded.  Everybody at the bus stop (most of whom arrived there after we did) started shoving their way in front of us…even one guy who had just got there!  I protested and made comments, but everyone pretended to ignore me.

Suddenly, I realized that the bus was way too full.  The doors closed and the bus drove off with me, Simone, and 1 other person left standing in the rain.  Simone and I could have walked to where we change buses in the 20 minutes we waited at the bus stop, but we waited for the bus, got screwed, and then had to walk in the rain anyway!  We were late for school and Simone missed the morning assembly, which she always has fun at.

So, to all you Londoners who think your lives are so important that it’s OK to shove your way in front of a 5 year old girl, who just wants to get to school on time, and leave her to walk in the rain:  fuck you.

Fuck you.  Fuck you.  Fuck.  You.

Tribulations and Accents

So, I must apologize again for not posting more often.  I want our blog to be very honest about our experiences here, but there are some subjects that are simply too private to post on a website for the whole world to see.  A lot of great stuff has been happening, of course, but my mind has been preoccupied these past couple of weeks with some not-so-great “private matters”.  Things might be looking up a bit, though…anyway, enough of that.

Once I get my head in the right place and can exercise some self-discipline, I’ll start writing about the day-to-day type stuff (because I know you’re all waiting with bated breath to read about me going to the grocery store).  Also, we’ve decided to go out to a different local restaurant (in either East Finchley or Muswell Hill) each week, so you can expect some restaurant reviews/experience reports.

Also, Simone officially started school full-time 2 weeks ago.  She came home the very first day and was talking with an accent…although “accent” isn’t quite the right word.  She speaks with her typical American accent, but when she asks a question she uses British emphasis and inflection.  It’s hard to describe the difference, you’ll just have to hear it for yourself.  Maybe I’ll post a video of her doing it.  The first couple of days of school, I’m pretty sure Simone asked me about a million questions just for the sole purpose of talking in this new way.  It was cute…the first 2 times.  Fotunately, the number of questions have subsided (somewhat) and she is now genuinely talking this way all the time.  So, that makes it cute again (sometimes).

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