Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!!!

As I write this, it is about 11:00pm (London Time) on New Year's Eve. Like any big city, there are numerous choices of where to bring in the new year (London Eye fireworks, pub parties, etc.). We, however, have decided to celebrate quietly with my parents (Mom is still not quite up to going out and about!) while gorging on pizza, chocolate cake, and cheap wine. While it would undoubtedly be interesting to party with the masses, I honestly don't feel like I am missing out on all the much. I have always felt that New Year's Eve is a bit overrated and don't particularly enjoy being out in the cold with thousands of drunks (ok, maybe I am getting old). I am perfectly content to snuggle up on my warm couch while watching all the action on television.

As I look back on 2008, I cannot believe how much has changed. This time last year, I could not have even begun to imagine that I would be celebrating the beginning of 2009 in my London flat rather than in good ole' Charlotte, North Carolina. It is truly amazing what can happen in such a small amount of time. I have to say that I am more excited for this upcoming year than I have been for any other year in quite a long time. I am excited about my new job, our travels, and continuing to live a life in one of the most diverse, vibrant cities in the world.

I hope that 2009 brings you all a year of health, happiness and prosperity! Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

For a city of at least 12 million, Christmas in London is amazingly still. All public transportation (busses, underground, etc) is completly shut down and even cabs are hard (and expensive) to get as they must be booked weeks in advance. So, unless you have a car (or are willing to walk or ride a bike to your destination), you are basically confined to your immediate area. Many stores and businesses even stayed closed for Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). I love this! It allows you to enjoy the day uninterrupted with friends and family. And this is exactly what we have been doing! After opening gifts (with my new scarf, I might actually look like a Brit) we spent the day relaxing, playing board games, and calling family across the world. We were even able to see my sister in Ecuador via webcam and skype! Quiet holidays are sometimes the best.

On another note, today, I cooked my first turkey. Even though I have been on my own and married for almost 5 years, I have still managed to get away without cooking a full Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Today that all changed. Due to my Mom's accident (see blog below), I was on my own for Christmas dinner. Thankfully, the number of people was small at 4 and I had some amazing (and handsome) assistants in the form of Jiggy and Dad. Together (with Mom's direction from the couch), we managed to cook a turkey (carefully measured to fit in a very small oven) as well as stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes all topped with gravy. It was all prepared from scratch and was delicious! I think I could actually do it on my own next year. I have to admit that we cheated on the dessert by opting for a store bought chocolate cake (little steps people). While the cake was scrumptious, it was not a replacement for Mom's homemade apple pie, chocolate pie, coconut cream cake, lemon meringue pie, and chocolate cake (she has a reputation for going overboard on the desserts!). Of course, one of my favorites aspects of Christmas dinner is sitting around in a food coma afterwards and looking forward to leftovers the next day!

To all our friends and family, we hope that you are enjoying a wonderful holiday season! We love and miss you all.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sorry Shoulder Suzanne

England has nationalized health care that is completely free. As an American, this concept is completely strange (but wonderful) to me. I have always wondered about the quality and efficency of the NHS. Unfortunately, last night we found out.

Yesterday, my parents decided to take a day trip to Stongehenge and Bath. They had a wonderful day vieiwing the rocks (as my dad calls them) and wondering the beautiful town of Bath. The day took a turn for the worse as they were walking back to the bus at the very end of tour (just a few more minutes and they would have been home free). My Mom took a bad fall (we think she stepped on the curb or tripped on uneven pavement) and immediately knew that something was wrong with her shoulder and/or wrist.

Jiggy met them at their drop-off point and the three of them took a cab (a bumpy London cab ride is not so good when you have a busted shoulder) to the Royal Free Hospital. Only a five minute walk from our flat, I provided back-up in terms of comfy clothes and moral support. My mom was quickly checked in and saw a nurse within 15 minutes. The nurse assessment was followed with x-rays and a visit with the doctor. The result was a broken shoulder AND wrist. Another nurse then fitted her with a sling and provided some much needed painkillers! The whole process surprising took less than 3 hours and the entire staff at the Royal Free was efficient, kind, and knowledgable. Due to the type of break in my mom's shoulder, there is nothing that can be done but rest and a sling. The wrist, apparently is a different story. She supposedly broke it at an angle and needs to wait a week to have another x-ray taken. Next week's x-ray will determine if she needs to have surgery (keep your fingers crossed that a cast will do the trick). Not once did they ask my Mom for a health insurance card or form of payment. We walked out of there without giving them a thing except name, phone number, and our flat address (let's hope that one huge bill does not arrive in the post in a few weeks). Amazing!

Obviously, I feel horrible for my Mom. For something like this to happen away from home and during Christmas is not fun. Umm...maybe this was her way of getting out of cooking Christmas dinner. If she did not want to cook, all she had to do was say so. She did not have to go to such extreme measures. The one upside to this whole incident is that I get to have my parents in town for at least one more week. Oh, and it looks like I will be cooking my first Christmas dinner.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hitting all the Sights

A Chilly Night in Trafalger Square

Mom and Dad in front of the Tower Bridge

Grabbing some grub at Borough Market

Eating (Again!) at Greenwich Market

Kissing across Diffent Hemisphers

Over the past week, we have been true tourists (Dad and his fannypack is a giveaway!) and have seen many of London's top sights. We toured Westminster Abbey, watched a session in Houses of Parliment, walked across Tower Bridge, toured several museums (National Gallery, Tate Modern, National Maritime Muesuem, etc), stood in different hemispherers, and ate at various markets. Here are some pics of our adventures!


Monday, December 15, 2008

Where's First Class?

My parents fellow "passengers"

Mom taking a nap on the cargo plane

After a long journey, my parents finally arrived in London late Saturday night! As a retired Air Force test pilot, my Dad (and Mom) can fly free of charge on a US military flight. However, there are few catches!

Their adventure began early Thursday morning when they said goodbye to Tellico Village in Tennessee and drove 7 hours to the Charleston, South Carolina Air Force base. Unsure when a flight would leave or if they would even get a seat (that is a very loose term), they were prepared to wait in Charleston until December 23rd. Luckily, they were able to secure a place on a cargo plane that same night. Now, this is no commericial airline! There are no flight attendants, airline pillows, and definitely no movies! Fold down jump seats provided security during takeoff and landing, the floor provided a sleeping area, and a box lunch prevented hunger. One crew member even rigged a hammock for some off-duty snoozes! Along with 14 other passengers (aka stowaways), my parents shared their flight with two huge cranes and a school bus sized crate full of construction materials. About eight noisy hours later, my parents (and construction materials) arrived in Germany. What? Did I say Germany? Yes, the plane did not land England but Germany! Ooopps. The next leg of their journey was an overnight stay in Germany and then a late night Ryanair flight to London and then a National Express bus to central London. Not wanting my parents to get lost in London, Jignesh and I waited for 40minutes in the middle of the night (if you saw some very cold person performing strange looking exercises to keep warm at 2:30am on Baker Street, that was me!). And to think that they have to this all again when they decide to return home!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Our Christmas Tree

Jignesh and his unfortunate accident with the "toppling" Christmas tree

O' Christmas Tree 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

O' Christmas Tree

I have a reputation of picking the tallest, fullest christmas tree on the lot. Ever since I can remember my family would pile into our big blue suburban the weekend after Thanksgiving and head to a local tree farm. Once there, we would carefully inspect all the trees before choosing the lucky one. With an axe as old as himself, my dad would then cut down the chosen tree and we would watch with awe as it was put through the shaker and netter (I am sure there is a more techinal name for that machine that bundles the trees) and then we would join the other hundreds of families driving home with a tree on top of their car. The rest of the day was then spent unwrapping all those crazy, sometimes ugly ornaments we have made throughout the years. Well, all that ended one year during high school when I insisted on getting a tree that belonged in Times Square rather than the Dorosz household. It took us over an hour to just cut through the trunk and I cannot even tell you how many more hours to lug it home, drag it through the house, trim it, and set it up. Ever since then, my parents (much to my chagrin) have used an artificial tree. This year I am happy to report that I have returned to my roots and have a chosen a tree that belongs in a house with large rooms and a tall ceiling rather than our small London flat! And I LOVE it! Besides that fact that we had to excessively trim one side to fit the tree in the corner of our "reception room" and is now weighted heavily to one side causing it to topple over when touched, I love it! I love the fresh pine smell, the beauty of the real tree, and the twinkling lights (even though they are crazy expensive). One thing, however, that I do miss is our decorations. Our 5 boxes of Christmas decorations did not make the cut on the list of things to bring to London so I had to decorate this year's tree with ribbon and ornaments from the 99p (99cent) store instead of all the wonderful ornaments that have been given to me over the years by my great Aunt Helen. I am also missing our stockings, tree skirt, wreath, Charles Dickens houses, and all those other odds and ends that I love to fill my home with during the holidays. Regardless, we are going to make the best of spending Christmas in London (especially if my parents make it here...long story for a blog entry in the near future)! Over the next few weeks, we plan to see all the various lighting displays, go ice skating on one of the many rinks, and spend an evening listening to the Christmas carolers in Trafalger Square. Here is to a wonderful holiday season (pic of the toppling Christmas tree to come..stay tuned!).


Friday, December 5, 2008

Lanzarote Pics

Here are a few pictures from our holiday in Lanzarote, Canary Islands. Keep scrolling down for the full commentary!
View from the Car

Costa Teguise

Mirador del Rio

A Random Stop Along the Road

A Pelican Waiting for Fish Scraps

Playa Blanca

Playa Blanca

View from Iberostar Costa Calero Lobby

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Lanzarote, Canary Islands

Looking to trade the dark, dreary London weather for some fun in the sun, this past weekend we headed to Lanzarote. Lanzarote is one of the seven islands that make up the Canary Islands. Although the Canary Islands belong to Spain, Lanzarote is actually only 79 miles from the coast of Africa! Lanzarote is a small volanic island filled with amazing views of the ocean and its coastline. It was very hard to go more than 10 minutes without snapping a picture! Despite its large tourist community (50% of which are British), Lanzarote has remained rather low key. Yes, it has resorts, souvenir shops, and restaurants that cater to tourists. However, everything seems to fit into the landscape of the island's natural resources. We stayed at the Iberostar Costa Calero in the sleepy harbor town of Costa Calero. Since it was low season, it was especially peaceful. Our room had a nice balcony with a great, unobstructed view of the ocean!

Our island adventure begin when we landed and picked up our rental car. Wanting to save a few euros, we decided to rent a manual. Since Jignesh has never mastered the skill of driving a manual, I became the official weekend driver. I have to admit that my knees were literally shaking and I had a moment of panic when I first turned on the car as it has been almost 7 years since the despise of Sputnik (my beloved manual Mazda 626). The thought of driving in a foreign country did not help either. I guess driving a manual is like riding a bike as it all came back very quickly (thanks for all those lessons in the parking lot Dad!). In no time flat we were zipping around the island in our little Toyota Yaris and getting somewhat dizzy on all the traffic circles! We spend the rest of the day exploring the area around our hotel and the neighboring villages.

Our first full day on the island found us enjoying an early breakfast and then heading to the setting for the movie Plant of the Apes. Unlike most national parks, there is no exotic wildlife or lush vegetation to be found at Parque Nacional Timanfaya. Instead there are rocks, rocks, and more rocks! Parque Nacional de Timanfaya was the location of one of the most important volcanic eruptions in volcanic history and thus resembles what I have always envisioned Mars to look like. Jignesh and I both thought it was very interesting but a bit creepy. While the volcano is no longer erupting, it is still active. The on-site restaurant even cooks all of its food on an outdoor grill that uses the heat from the ground!

After coming down from Mars, we spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the southern village of Playa Blanca. There we enjoyed some amazing views of the coast and spotted the neighboring island of Fuerteventura. We endulged in one of the Canary Island's speciality dishes, mojo. Mojo is a trio of flavorful sauces that can be paried with just about everything from potatos to seafood. Of course, we had to take several breaks to sit back and just enjoy the sun with a glass of wine in hand! As the sun was setting, we ended the day at El Golfo. El Golfo is a meeting point between the devatastion between Timanfaya and the power of the Atlantic waves. The result is a green lagoon surrounded by steep rock cliffs of various shades of red and oranges. We finished the night of at a lively bar in Puerto del Carmen.

The next day, we hopped in our Yaris and headed to the northern most point on the island, Mirador del Rio. Mirador is literally a viewpoint and rio (river) refers to the narrow strip of water that seperates Lanzarote from the small sister island of La Graciosa. The view was breathtaking! We spent quite a bit of time here enjoying the view, trying out our photography skills, and just enjoying the scenery. Heading south back to our hotel, we stopped at several little villages and scenic overlooks including the former capital of Teguise and Jameous del Agua (an underground volcanic tunnel). Since it was our last night in Lazarote, we celebrated with an amazing dinner at Bodego. The food and wine was delicious. They served my chicken kabob hanging from a tall rack (similar to a banana rack but much taller!). It was riot and attracted quite a few stares. After dinner, we found a live music bar and enjoyed some great music (ok, the drummer was not too bad either!).

Our final day did not leave us much time as we had an early afternoon flight be we did manage a quiet lunch by the ocean! We had almost forgotten about the cold London weather until we landed and felt the burst of cold air from outside the plane. At least we had slight tans as souvenirs. Let's see how long they last.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankgiving in London

Shaun carving the bird

Just some of the many sides including my homemade cranberry sauce
The Bird

We are very thankful that yesterday we were able to attend a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner! Hosted by Tamara and Shaun at their beautiful home in Kingston, dinner was a typical Thanksgiving feast with turkey and all the trimmings. I think there was at least one full dish per person! Oh, did I mention the 7 pies (and cookies)?! Although we missed our families and friends back home, it was great to celebrate the holiday with a large group (I think there were 12 of us!). We had an incredible evening of eating, drinks, and converstaion! I even watched my first NFL game of the season via slingbox.
Tomorrow, we are off to the Canary Islands, a small group of island just 80 miles from Africa. We are looking forward to some sun and warm weather. Stay tuned for details and pics of our trip!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thankgiving (and Birthdays)

It is early on Thankgiving morning and instead of sleeping in and enjoying the laziness of the day, Jignesh is getting ready for work! I have to admit that it is hard to be so far away from home the holidays...especially one that is not celebrated here. Turkey Day has always been one of my favorites holidays as it is about spending time with family and friends without the fuss and stress of giftgiving. Although we are getting together with some American friends this evening for a traditional Thankgiving meal (I am in charge of cranberry sauce and a veggie dish) there is just not the same feeling in the air. There is no talk of Thanksgiving travel and grocery stores are not filled with turkey trimming displays. There is no Macy's day parade or football previews. And all of those store advertisements are non-existent.

Yes, there are many things I am going to miss about today (arguing over Scrabble with Jen, running with Lauren, watching football with Dad, and pulling out the Christmas decorations with Mom) but I am still extremely thankful for so much in my life. Jignesh and I both have amazing families that we love and cherish. We have been given an opportunity to explore a different part of the world! Most of all, we have each other. Oh, and don't forget about our son! We are simply very lucky for all things that we have in life and this is the time to recognize and remember that.

To all our friends and family who are spread throughout the world, we want to wish you all very happy Thankgiving! Have a wonderful day and enjoy this time with each other. We love and miss you all!

Ok, now there are couple of turkey babies out there that need some special mention. My older sister Lauren, Jignesh's brother-in-law Bob, and our good friend Eyal (whew...there must be something in the water 9 months before this day!) will all be celebrating their birthdays today. Lauren is currently living in Ecuador as a Peace Corp volunteer so I have no idea how she will celebrate Turkey Day or her birthday. Maybe she will get a marriage proposal or two?! Bob will be having a huge gathering in Chicago with family and friends! I am sure that Eyal will be enjoying the day with family as well. Happy Birthday to you all. Cheers!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Conversation Overheard on the Underground

Using public transportation, you see and hear just about everything! Here is a recent conversation that Jiggy recently overheard on a crowded lift (elevator) leading to the exit of the Belsize Park (a nice but not posh area of London) underground station.

Young, attractive woman: "Why do we have to live here? This area is such a dump."

Old, white-haired partner (spouse) of young woman: "This is one of the top areas in all of London!"

Woman (with frustration and disgust): "No it's not you bloody moron!"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Chili for Dummies

Over the past few weeks, Jignesh has had a craving for chili. If we were in the US, I probably would have driven to one of the 5 gigantic grocery stores within 1 mile of my house and picked up some fresh chili from the salad bar or headed to a reliable restaurant like Panera Bread. Being that there are very few big grocery stores and none of them have salad bars (yet alone fresh Brits even know what chili is?), that was not an option. Growing up, my family never ate chili and I have always been somewhat scared and skeptical of it...scared of the taste, scared of the ingredients, and definitely scared of cooking it. I was secretly hoping Jignesh would forget about this chili idea but after he mentioned it several times, I knew that I was going to have overcome my fears and make the darn stuff. Unlike my Mom, I cannot just look in the refrigerator and throw together a tasty meal with whatever happens to be laying around. Ok, let's just lay it out there...I am not a good cook or even a cook at all. I am usually rely on ready made (but healthy) meals. I will even admit that I have arrived at more than one potlock with with a store bought dish that has been transferred to a personal serving dish and then passed off as my own cooking! Needless to say, I was quite daunted by this task. After finding a healthy recipe on the internet that seemed somewhat simple, I dragged Jignesh to the grocery store to help me collect all the ingredients (Is celery seeds the same as celery salt?). 45 minutes and 40 gpb ($60.00) later, we emerged with a plethora of ingredients (What I am going to do with the rest of those cumin seeds or 3 extra hot peppers?) and hauled them home. Not wanting to mess up the recipe, I followed the instructions word by word and measured everything with the careful eye of a scientist. I even researched the proper way to cut an onion and mince garlic (gotta love the internet). Well, the result was surprisingly easy and successful! Although there did seem to be too much meat (umm... maybe I did not convert my kilograms to pounds correctly) and not enough zip (maybe I should have used those other peppers afterall), Jignesh gave it a thumbs up (or maybe the gobs of cheese on top masked the real taste) and I have to admit that I am quite proud of myself. I even have some ideas on how I can tweak the recipe for improvement! Since I have more free time here, I am definitely going to try and expand my cooking skills. Who knew that moving all the way to London with a kitchen the size of my bathroom back home would inspire me to cook? If you have any good recipes with 10 ingredients or under (little steps at a time folks), then pass them along!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Short Days, Chilly Nights

When we decided to make the move to London, one of the first things that our good friends (we miss you Lewis and Minde!) warned us about was the short winter days. At the time, I did not think much about it and was more concerned with other things. I am now discovering what all the fuss is about. While the sun still rises fairly early in the morning (something that I am told will change), it does get dark very early in the day. Today, it looked
like midnight by 4:45pm! I have been further warned that as December and January approach that time is only going to become earlier. It is hard seeing the light disappear so early in the day. It is difficult to motivate yourself to participate in afternoon/evening activities. At 7:00pm, my mind and body want to go to bed instead of to running club or out for a bite to eat. As you can see in the picture above, we have even had our first winter snowfall. Snow is actually not all that common in London but I was delighted to discover a good 1/2 inch one late October evening (this as the first snow London as seen seen in October since 1936) as I let Schlopy out before bed. Those of you living in Chicago or Boston may think I am crazy but I actually enjoy snow. Mabye it is because I have been living in the warm climates of Charlotte and San Diego for the past 5+ years but I love big, wet flakes as they blanket the ground. I love the sound of fresh snow crunch as you walk along the streets. I love the look of a fresh snowfall void of footprints and tire marks. I can even live with chilly temperatures. I have no problem throwing on a winter coat and scarf (a must in London, both for fashion and warmth!) and trudging through the rain. I, however, am quickly learning that I do not like short days. Winter has hardly even began and I am already wondering when Spring will arrive!


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Few More Pics from Belgium

The Burg, Brugge

The Grand Place at Night

The Manneken Pis

The Royal Palace

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Weekend of Chocolate, Beer, and Waffles

The Burg, Brugge

Another Belgian Speciality

Chocolate, Chocolate, and more Chocolate

Add Image The Grand Place, Brussels

This weekend we escaped London and headed to Belgium. Our trip started with an early morning ride on the Eurostar. This was our inagurual ride on the Eurostar and we were quite impressed with the ease and comfort of the train. The only bump in the ride was a minor disagreement with some coffee that caused me to walk around Belgium all weekend with coffee stained coat. While there is some security, the procedures are not nearly as complex and frustrating as the airlines. There are no limits on baggage and all your luggage is stored near your seat. The loading and unloading time is minimal and there are no annoying safety speaches! Reaching speeds of 186 mph, the Eurostar delivered us to Brussels in just over 2 hours. It is amazing to think that we crossed the English Channel on a train.

After a short nap (we did get up at 4:30am!) and a quick lunch, we headed out to explore Brussels. After passing about 50 chocolate shops and just as many waffle stands, we finally found our way to the Grand Place. The Grand Place is the focal point of the city with a large square sourrounded by rows of former guildhouses. As we start to travel more, I become more aware of architecture and am quite impressed with many of the Eropean just don't find buildings like these in the States! These particular guildhouses were built in the Flemish Renaissance style of the late 16th and early 17th centuries (according to our trusty guide book). Needing a break from the cold temperatures (that our excuse and we are sticking to it!) we headed to a bar to sample Begian beer. Jignesh especially enjoyed Fraimbois, a light beer with a slight raspberry flavor. Full of beer and slightly warmer, we meanadered the streets and strolled down the Galeries Royales de Saint-Hubert, a magnificent shopping gallery. The day ended with dinner and an evening out at O'Reilly's, an Irish pub near both La Bourse (the stock exchange) and our hotel. For an Irish bar in a French and Dutch speaking region of Europe, they sure do love their American tunes.

Saturday morning we took a 55 minute train to Brugge. Brugge, a small medievel city with canals and narrow cobblestone streets, is the ultimate tourist destination. And despite the cold, rainy weather, the tourists (us included) were out in droves. Brugge is the ideal city to just wander with no agenda in mind. And that is just what we did! Of course, we covered all the major sigthts including the Burg (Brugge's own charming square), St. Basil's Chapel, and the Basilica of the Holy Blood (an impressive and lavishly styled church). We also endulged in the best waffle (covered with Belgian chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream...see picture above) of the weeked at Sweet Brugge. Because of the weather we skipped the popular canal cruise and opted for the warmth of the local bar instead. (do you see a theme here?). We sat outside under heaters and enjoyed the sound of the rain as well as the company of a local who was babysitting his "grand-dog" while the rest of his family enjoyed the city. Oh, did I mention that we also overdosed on Belgian chocolate?! The day ended with a return train ride to Brussels and dinner at a Greek place near the Grand Place.

Sunday was our final day in Brussels we were surprised to discover a different part of the city that we had not seen on Friday. We first headed to the Manneken Pis. This statue of small boy cheerfully pissing into a pool below is wildly popular with tourists depsite its very small size. On special occassions, the boy is even dressed up in costumes that can be found at one of the local museums. We thought the statue is extremely overrated but joined the crowd and snapped a few pics anyway. We did not, however, purchase one of the many cheesy Manneken Pis bottle openers that can be seen in tourist shops. Next, we passed the art and antique district and finally ended up at the Musees Royaux d'Art et d'Historie (Royal Museum of Fine Art). Although we did not see the whole museum, we did check out the paintings and sculpters in the lobby (I only have the patience for art museums in small doses). We then passed by the Royal Palace (it is not no longer the residence of the royal family and, thus, has become somewhat dilapidated), the Parc de Bruxelles, and Palais de Justice, and the area home to the European Union. Oh, did I mention that we once again overdosed in Belgian chocolates, beer, and maybe a waffle or two! After a light dinner, we headed to the train station to catch the Eurostar back to London. We are now trying to detox from chocolate, waffles, and beer and plan our next adventure.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

There's a Presidential Election?

As the US Presidential election nears, I have to admit that I feel completely out of the loop. I know this may sound absolutely nuts but I would like to see the constant barrage of television ads and receive those annoying automated telephone calls. I would like to hear everyone on the streets talking and/or arguing about the cadidates. Heck, I would even like it if someone to knock on my door in the middle of dinner to hand me a brochure. Yes, I have sent in my absentee ballot (weeks ago, in fact). Yes, I try to keep up on the latest election news on And, yes, there is quite a bit of interest among Brits in the election and most locals here do have an opinion. Unfortunately, it just does not make up for the excitement of the election and the buzz that it brings when living in the States. I have to admit that I am not usually one to follow elections and am not a big fan of politics. I hate to say it but I have even skipped the polls the last few Presidential elections. However, there is something about this election that interests me. Maybe it is the state of US economy, housing market, or Iraq war. Maybe it is the candidates. Or, maybe it is simply because I am living in a different country and long for a piece of home. Nonetheless, I will be anxiously waiting for the results regardless of how late I have to stay awake and I am excited to see what will happen in the next US Presidential term.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hampstead Pub Walk

Last night, Jignesh and I joined a group of Jignesh's co-workers for our first London Walk. London Walks, a popular walking tour company among tourists and locals, provides guided walks in London's most historic and scenic areas. This particular walk was a pub walk in our own neighborhood, Hampstead. Even though we live in the neighborhood, the walk introduced us to some well-hidden cobblestone streets that we had yet to explore. We also learned about many of the famous authors and artists that lived and worked in Hampstead including D.H. Lawrence and Peter O'Toole. We also visited a plot of land that was a public execution site! On this particular plot, individuals were hung in front of thousands. The victims were then left to sway in the wind for 5 days to allow royals and celebrities to view them without the crowds. I had been by this plot of land several time but never knew the signifcance of it until now. Our guide even took us to the highest point in all of London. Halfway through the walk we stopped for a drink at The Holly Bush, one of London's oldest pubs that started as a stable block in the 1640's. The walk ended at the Olde White Bear Pub, another quitessential London pub, where we finished the evening enjoying a few pints next to a great fireplace. Despite the rain and chilly weather, the walk was an informative, fun avenue for learning about London's deep history.


Monday, October 20, 2008

Sounding like a Brit

It is amazing that after just a few months in London, I am starting to sound like a Brit. No, I have not mastered the accent (although Jignesh and I often like to practice our very bad British accents after a few pints) but I have found myself saying many of the common phrases and words not used in the States. While I do not think I will ever be able to use words like knackered (tired), gutted (upset), or wanker (I don't even know how to explain this one!) without a slight giggle, other British words now flow naturally. I no longer use the restroom but rather the "toilet" or "loo." Instead of taking out the trash, I take out the "rubbish." I dread the "queue" at the grocery store and not the line. Some of my other favorites include bloke (guy), bugger (shit), and pissed (drunk). Of course, you cannot forget to throw in "bloody" every once in a while! I am sure I could spend hours coming up with American phrases and their British equivilants. I guess it is just another interesting difference between two countries and their cultures!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Time to Say Goodbye

Napping with "Grandson" Schlopy

Riding the tour bus and checking out the London Eye

Jignesh's mom in front of Tower Bridge

The trip for Jignesh's mom is winding down. She will be returning to Chicago on Friday and it will be sad to say goodbye as we have had a busy two weeks full of visiting, indulging in loads of Indian food, and sightseeing. Jignesh's mom even connected with a school friend that she had not talked to in 44 years. The weather has been remarkable for her visit as the last week has been filled with days of warm temperatures and sunny skies.

When asked about her visit, Jignesh's mom will tell you that her favorite thing about London is the London Eye. Even though we did not even go on the eye (Europe's biggest ferris wheel built for the millenium), it has somehow made a big impact on her. Whenever we are out and about and the London Eye comes into view, she remarks with glee "Look, it is the London Eye!" While in London, Jignesh's mom also went on the double deck tour bus, saw the Royal helicopter land in front of Kensington Palace, walked across the Tower Bridge, took a cruise to Greenwich, ate at various outdoor markets, and braved the crowds to see the changing of the guards. It was especially great to have family in town to help celebrate my birthday. She has defnitely seen more of London than Jignesh himself! Our flat will become a little lonelier and a lot more quiet come Friday as this fornight ends but I am sure we will fall back into our routine of daily life and begin to look forward toward our next adventure.


Saturday, October 11, 2008

Where are all the pumpkins?

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love unpacking the sweaters for those chilly evenings. I love the brillant colors of the trees and I love the excitement of the upcoming holidays. Over the last week, I have felt that there is something missing this fall season but I have not been able to put my finger on it until now. There are no pumpkins here! I have not seen a single pumpkin! How can you have Autumn without pumkins patches, toasted pumpkin seeds, and homemade pumkin pie? Have British children ever even heard of pumpkin carving? I cannot imagine a childhood without spending a Saturday afternoon picking out the the perfect pumpkin, lugging it home, cleaning it of those messy seeds, and then finally attempting to create the perfect jack o' lantern. I have to admit that I really miss my pumpkins! It is amazing how something as simple as a pumpkin can make you miss home. I have heard rumblings that Whole Foods in London does have some pumpkins that have recently been shipped from the States. With the goal of staying away from stores that cater to American expats (and the outrageous prices they charge for American products), I have avoided Whole Foods like the plague. I can live without Betty Crocker cake mix and Wheat Thins but I am not sure I can go through Autumn without adorning my door with a pumpkin. So, I might head off to Whole Foods tomorrow to pick out the perfect pumpkin, lug it home, clean out those messy seeds, and then attempt to create the perfect jack o' lantern!


Monday, October 6, 2008

Brick Lane Market

On Friday, Jignesh's mom arrived as our 3rd guest! After a long flight from India (she was there for 6 weeks visiting family and friends), she was suffering from a little jet lag so it was a quiet day of relaxation and catching up with one another.

Saturday, we hit the ground running and headed to the Sloane Square area. With no exact agenda in mind, we wondered the streets and stumbled upon the Chelsea Market. It was perfect timing as we were all ready for lunch. Jignesh's mom and I selected surprisingly delicious and flavorful vegan wraps while Jignesh was a bit more unhealthy with his chorizo sub! After lunch, we did a little shopping and then walked along the Thames River. We ended the day by taking a ride on the #19 city bus that gave us a cheap, self-guided tour of Chelsea, Mayfair, Belgravia, Hyde Park, and Piccadilly Circus! Our quick tour made me realize how lucky I am to be living in such a diverse, beautiful, and active city.

Yesterday, Jignesh, Jignesh's mom, and I braved the cold wind and rain to check out Brick Lane Market. We thought it was going to be filled with mostly Indian food, clothes, and accessories. We were wrong. The food booths covered everything type of ethnic food imaginable (from Thai to Brazilian) except Indian! The other booths were a little bit of everything...second-hand clothes, jewelry, various arts and crafts, etc. Despite our disappointment in the lack of Indian food and clothes, we still had a great time browsing the booths and checking out all the stuff. I did pick up a coin purse made out of eel skin to hold all the coins I seem to collect here. After the market, Jignesh and his mom headed to an Indian restaurent in our neighborhood to get their fill of Indian food while I opted for the gym. The day ended with naps for all (especially for Jignesh's mom who is not use to all the walking that city life requires).


Monday, September 29, 2008


I know that I have been absent as of late. While I don't have a great excuse, I am going to blame my laziness on our recent visitors as well as our trip to Barcelona. Since this blog has been delayed, I will spare you the details of our trip and keep in short and simple (this time only!).

Our long weekend in Barcelona was amazing. Barcelona is a city rich in culture, entertainment, and scenery. Instead of opting for a hotel, we rented a small flat near a busy strip of restaurants, shops, and bars called La Rambla. While it was nice to be only feet away from all the action, I think I would have perferred to stay somewhere more peaceful and less touristy. Jignesh and Dennis, however, loved the La Rambla and the constant party that it provided. During our 4 day holiday, we experienced a little of everything that Barcelona has to offer. We indulged in some amazing food and beverages (paella, sangria, tapas), toured some great sights (La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Parc Guell, the National Art Musuem, the 1992 Olympic Park, etc), and relaxed at the beach. We even attended our second football game in less than a week! While we were there, one of Barcelona's largest festivals was also taking place. We never figured out the reason or the theme of the festival but we were surprised by random bands and large monsters parading through the streets. One night we were even showered with masses of confetti. The locals are some of the kindest people that I have met. They were all willing to help with directions and answers to our typical toursity questions. Spain is truly a country that works to live instead of living to work. Dinner does not typically take place until after 9pm (many restaurants do not even open until after 8pm) and it is not unusualy for stores to close in the middle of day so that people can return home for a long siesta! Clubs and bars stay open until 7am and the main streets are still filled with people at 2am! While I usually turned in early by Spainard standards, Jignesh and Dennis seemed to fit right in. The weather was also amazing. Before leaving, reports were expecting heavy showers for our entire stay. While it did rain a little in the evenings, the days were warm and sunny. It was a nice change from the cloudy and increasingly chilly weather now found in London. Honestly, there was very little that I did not like about Barcelona and it was hard to board that plane on Mondy. Barcelona has ignited our travel desires and we are looking forward to exploring many more countries and cultures.

After returning from Barcelona, Dennis stayed with us a few more days before heading back to Chicago. Brian, a friend who lives in Australia, picked up where Dennis left off and this past weekend was spent exploring a few London sights but mostly just enjoying the company of a good friend. We have a few days of quiet before we welcome Jiggy's Mom this Friday!


Friday, September 26, 2008

Sights From Barcelona

The marina

Having fun in Parc Guell

Dennis, Jignesh, and Kat in front of La Pedrera

Jignesh and the Parc Guell dragon

Jignesh lovin' Barcelona

La Pedrera rooftop

La Sagrada Familia, a Goudi design

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chelsea v. Bordeaux

Jignesh with his new British friend!

A stadium, a field, and some players. That is about all you get when attending a European sporting event.

Last Tuesday night, Jiggy, Dennis, and I were lucky enough to get the last three tickets available to the Chelsea v. Bordeaux football (soccer, for those of you a little confused) match. For Dennis, a huge football fan, this was a dream come true. He must have been feeling the same emotions when I went to Wimbledon…giddy, amazed, and outragiouosly excitied. His perma-grin said it all. While I have been to one European football game in the past, this was a first for Jignesh.

Unlike the American fans, European fans attend games truly for the sport. There are no fancy scoreboards, scantily clad cheerleaders/dancers, or halftime entertainment. The concession stands mirror those at a high school football game rather than the upscale dining that can now be found at stadiums across America. There are no vendors walking the stands while selling foam fingers and overpriced beer (actually, there was no alcohol at all!). On-field advertising is almost non-existent and unidentifiable mascots are nowhere to be seen.

Despite the simplicity of the event, it is an amazing experience. The stadium was packed with 42,000 knowledgeable fans that jubilantly chanted and sang for 90 straight minutes. Even though the home team was leading and dominating the contest, almost every seat remained occupied until the last kick. The athleticism of the players was undeniable and the competition between the teams was marked with intensity but respect. It is safe to say that European football as gained two more fans in Jignesh and myself!


Oh, stay tuned for the latest on our trip to Barcelona!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Our first Visitor

Today, we welcomed our first official visitor (the rest of you missed out on that honor)! Dennis, a good friend of Jiggy's from Chicago, arrived this morning for his first trip to London! Dennis is just the first of a string of guests over the next few weeks. I would like to think that our visitors are coming to London as a testament to our charm as great friends but the reality is that they are coming for the amazing sights, the English pubs, and the European adventures Nevertheless, we are happy to pull out the extra linens, stock the fridge (however small it may be), and serve as tourguides (ones that admitedly have to still refer to travel books and manuels). If your timing is right, you may even score like Dennis and join Jiggy and I for a side trip (in this case it is a long weekend in Barcelona)!

Before Dennis even boards the plane for home, another freind of Jiggy's will be joining the crowd. Brian, who currently lives in Australia, will be overlapping with Dennis for a night (that pull out couch will come in handy after all) and then staying a few nights on his own. Just days after Brian says goodbye, Jiggy's mom arrives for a two week stay on her return journey from India! We are extremely honored some of our friends and family have already taken us up on our offer to visit and cannot wait to roll out the welcome mat (ok, at least couch or air mattress) to many more. While we cannot promise a massive guest room and luxury bathroom, we can promise free lodging in one of the world's most amazing cities with tourguides willing to do whatever it takes to show you a great time. With the price of hotels and exchange rates being what they are, who wouldn't jump on that offer? Heck, we will even throw in a spare mobile that we keep just for guests. Who's next?


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rain, Rain Go Away

Well, London has finally lived up to its reputation. It has been raining here almost non-stop for the last month. In fact, August 2008 officially became the rainiest August on record. Sunny skies can quickly turn to rainy ones. My umbrella has become another limb and soggy shoes are are now expected. I don't want to discourage anyone from coming to visit though. The rain is a culture and you learn to live with it. In fact, there are some things about the rain that I actually enjoy. I love listening to the rain hit the conservatory windows. I love bundling up in a soft, comfy sweatshirt after being out all day (a nice glass of wine is an added bonus!). In a weird way, I even love sloshing through the streets! Of course, I might have to be reminded of these things a few months from now! Rain is truly part of the experience and culture and I going to embrace it!