Monday, April 27, 2009

London Marathon

Yesterday, the Irishman completed his very first marathon. It was a beautiful summery day, probably about 80 deg F during the afternoon, and the race route was lined with lots of supporters. The Irishman was injured for a critical phase of his training, but he still managed to run the race and finished it in one shape. The Irishman's friend Mark ran as well, and Mark's wife Cam, their friend Mike and I were loyal supporters with signs and noisemakers and some ridiculous orange fabric things along the way. The victorious runners are stiff and sore today, but there are already plans for signing up for next year's race. Good job boys, I'm so proud xxx.

Stoke Newington

On Saturday, the Irishman and I took a mini-trip up to the village of Stoke Newington. The area is slightly north of my neighborhood of Angel, and has a history of counter-culture and subversive activity. True to form, while we were there we saw a protest for Kurdish rebel fighters!

The village is really cute, with lots of little shops, eateries, and a conveniently located Whole Foods. They even had an organic farmers market in a schoolyard. The Irishman was pleased to see a small pub called the Auld Shillelagh on the High Street, while I was excited for some very delicious smelling bakeries. I took lots of lovely photographs of the sites, including Abney Park Cemetary - an overgrown Victorian cemetary.

I'm in the process of figuring out my living situation, with a lease about to expire, and was really in the Stoke to check it out for a potential new neighborhood. But with only a few bus routes and a rail link, it's not the best for convenience. So as much as I liked my first impression of Stoke Newington, I think it's best to save it for a few years when I will want to really just be an old lady and start composting.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St. George's Day

I knew something was odd when I noticed a lot of really big ENGLAND flags hanging out of windows on my walk to work this morning. I also saw a lot more people out and about at pubs throughout the day. It only dawned on me towards the latter half of the afternoon that it was St George's Day, and England's National Day. The best way to think about it is that St George's Day is like St Patrick's Day for Ireland, and 4th of July for the US (since we are not religious and don't have a patron saint).

St George's Day is not a holiday here, and the only way I really saw it being celebrated was at the pub (figures). Apparently there is uproar in certain parts about no one really celebrating the holiday and a few MPs are trying to make St George's Day a public holiday. This all is very amusing to me because St George was not English, did not ever make it to England, and did not slay his dragon in England.

Thus St George's Day is yet another example - if not the best example - of England appropriating things that they did not invent and claiming them as their own. Lovely!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget Day

Today was Budget Day. Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, went to 10 Downing Street to present the UK budget for 2010. He held up a ratty looking red briefcase containing The Budget and then presented it to Parliament. Or something like that. It was a really big deal, and all of the newspapers and news broadcasts went on and on about it. After it was presented, people called into tv and radio shows, and posted their comments about it online, mostly to the tune of "this is ridiculous I should go on the dole."

I wondered why people in the UK got so wound up about The Budget, and someone at work helpfully pointed out that in the UK all taxes, benefits, and economic stuff is decided universally at a national level. So all of the decisions made on the back of The Budget directly affect UK taxpayers (like me!).

This of course is completely different from how it works in the US, which is to say that I know there is a budget for the US, and that Congress approves it, and sometimes when they don't the entire government shuts down for a few days, but that's about it. If Obama passes budget cuts for a certain segment of the population, by the time it filters down to paychecks it is about $20. People in the US are mildly more interested in state and county budgets because those budgets more directly affect property and income taxes.

But at least in the US we don't use a ratty old briefcase that's probably as ancient as the London Wall to carry our budgets!

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The family was in London all of last week and departed on an afternoon flight on Easter Sunday, leaving me with about half of a holiday weekend to recover from their visit. Easter is a big deal here, bigger than in the US, and we had a four-day weekend to prove it. Stores have had Easter candy (and Creme eggs!) since the end of February, and hot cross buns have been all over the bakeries and grocery stores.

I got in trouble because I didn't realize it was customary here to exchange Easter eggs; I thought all of the candy in the stores was just for kids and people like me (big kids). So the Irishman presented me with a Cadbury chocolate egg in a box, and I didn't have one for him! Oops.

To celebrate Easter, after I apologized for not purchasing him an egg, the Irishman and I met our friend Rose for an amazing Easter roast at the best pub ever The Albion. The Irishman and I had a beef shoulder, and Rose opted for pork belly, and we shared 3 lovely fattening desserts and a bottle of wine.

After rolling home and onto the couch, promising myself a food detox, I realized that I still had one more day off from work and celebrated that fact with a very delicious nap on the couch. Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Tea at the Wolseley

No trip to London would be complete without experiencing a proper English tea service. I've lived here for nearly a year and haven't had the chance to go have one myself, so when my mom mentioned she wanted to go for tea I jumped at the opportunity.

We thought at first we would splurge and go to The Ritz, but they were fully booked for the week before Easter way back in February. So I settled on The Wolseley, with the thought that it would be a more accessible venue for the gents in my family. It was definitely a better choice, stylish, fancy, and traditional without being too stuffy or uncomfortable.

The tea service comes two ways - cream tea and afternoon tea. Cream tea is just tea and scones, whereas afternoon tea is tea and a selection of little sandwiches, scones, and pastries. Of course we piggy Americans went for afternoon tea and had two towers (a tower serves two people) on our table. It was a lovely spread of food, and definitely filling; the brother eats for two, sometimes three, and even he was stuffed towards the end. We even left two pastries which is unheard of in our family.

Afternoon tea at The Wolseley is pricey, but worth it in my opinion if you want an authentic English afternoon tea service but not feel like you have to wear a three-piece suit to do so. I will definitely go back (after I lose a stone and save my pennies).

Fuller's Brewery Tour

So after Edinburgh, my parents traveled on to York and I returned to London. They reached my fair city on Tuesday, and almost immediately upon entering the city I whisked them away to Chiswick to the Fuller's Brewery for a tour.

The brewery is pretty easy to get to from the tube, and we set off on a warm spring day. The family really lucked out with the weather - everything was in bloom and they loved seeing everyone out and about on the streets (unlike when it is raining). The brewery tour was quite extensive, and long at 1 hr 45 minutes. It costs £10 per person, and is worth every pence. We were taken through each stage of the brewing process by a veteran employee who answered all of our questions and obliged us by posing for photographs. We learned a lot of history about the area and the brewing process, and DK will be pleased to know I finally know what makes cask ale just so special.

The tour ended with a tasting, of course - 6 different ales plus a special edition ale they bottle once a year. I staggered out quite happy and with a renewed appreciation for my usual pint of London Pride.

Friday, April 10, 2009


If you read below, you'll know that last weekend I went to Edinburgh to meet my family at the beginning of their holiday in the UK. I'd never been to Edinburgh, or Scotland, for that matter, and I was extremely excited to see that part of the UK.

I flew up on Friday, delayed significantly because London City Airport was fogged in (which was a shame because when the weather is nice, LCY is the best airport ever - no lines, plush waiting room, and 5 departure gates!) but when I arrived in Edinburgh the sun was shining and it was a lovely day. I took the bus from the airport into the city center, which was only 25 min and £3 if you buy a roundtrip ticket - I highly recommend it - and went to my hotel to drop off my stuff before meeting the folks.

The rest of the weekend was a whirlwind of sightseeing. We went through the Real Mary's Close, toured Edinburgh Castle, took a bus trip out to Stirling Castle and the Trossachs national park, and of course hit some pubs along the way. My mom had her first shandy and proclaimed the ale shandy far superior to the lager shandy, and my brother entertained me with beer foam mustaches. Dad was happy to sit and eat pistachios with his pint.

While we were in Edinburgh, we went as a family for a special meal at a restaurant recommended by my Scottish friend Ross. The Witchery is a lovely restaurant right near Edinburgh Castle with an excellent menu and really amazing ambiance - it is located in two parts - the Secret Garden and the regular Witchery dining room - and is part of a very cool hotel as well. We ate some really wonderful food by candle light, and the only thing I would have done differently is not book it on the night my family flew in - they were so jetlagged that towards the end of the meal I couldn't tell if some of them were still awake.

Finally, one of the highlights of the trip (for me) was witnessing the haar, the sea fog that envelopes the city sometimes. We went into pub and it was clear, and when we came out an hour later the city was blanketed with a dense white fog. You can see my pictures of the haar and the rest of the city here.

Z Invasion

My family invaded the UK for a visit this week. They arrived a week ago, and will depart on Sunday. God save the Queen.

The Z family has never visited Great Britain, so they are on a tour that started in Edinburgh, stopped in York, and ended up in London with a brief day trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford. I met them in Edinburgh last weekend for sight-seeing (post to follow) and have met them in the afternoons in London after their tour activities. Now they're all mine for the weekend, and we have plans to visit Greenwich, Notting Hill, and everything in between.

There will be various posts along the way of cool things we've done together. Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mr + Mrs O arrive for the G20

It's all the newspapers can crow about this week - America's latest super couple have descended upon the British Isles. No, not Brangelina or Tom and Katie: President and First Lady Obama are here! They are staying in London! In the Ambassador's residence! They are having breakfast at 10 Downing Street! What will Obama say at the G20?! WHAT WILL MICHELLE WEAR?! Politicos and fashionistas alike are beside themselves, hoping to catch a glimpse of this 21st century, credit crunch power couple.

Meanwhile, the rest of London is on lockdown because of the potential anarchy of the G20 protesters. I live and work sort of near The City, but don't expect to see much of anything; bankers and lawyers who work in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf were told to dress down in jeans and avoid carrying laptops so as not to be noticed by the crowds.

Honestly. What year is this? This is such 2001 behavior. And yet, look around - the 90s are back in fashion (along with the choicest bits of the 80s), the Dow and FTSE are at their mid-90s levels, and societal angst and uncertainty is certainly more akin to what I felt in high school than what I've been living for the last decade.

Maybe that's why Britain - if not the rest of the world - is so obsessed with America's First Couple. They're not just a well-spoken man and his well-dressed wife; they are the world's only chance to get us out of this big, fat, old-fashioned mess.

Followup: check out The Guardian's review of the First Spouses at the G20. Hilarious and enlightening.

PPS: Mrs O met the Queen!!! Picture courtesy of Reuters.