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.