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Friday, September 28, 2007

Weekend Forecast

Well, if I have secretly wished for some "museum weather," I think I will get my wish this weekend! It has been gray and gloomy all day (this has definitely been the worst weather week I've experienced since being here...apparently it's been as cold this week as it gets most of the winter). However, I had a very fun mid-day break, which was lunch with someone that my friend Sandy suggested I meet. He had an absolutely delightful personality, and we had a great time swapping stories. Additionally, last night I went out for an after-work drink with an American girl I met through my friend Graham, and she and I may try to do something this weekend, depending on what the weather does. With only two weekends left, I have to finish checking off my "to do" touring list!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Evening Entertainment

Well, I was starting to feel that things were getting a bit samey, so I decided to spice it up last night. Instead of heading into my building when I walked home around 7:30, I crossed the driveway and went into the new Radisson Hotel that's opened right beside me. I'd checked it out online and noted that the rooms are £300 a night, so I figured it would pull in a pretty upscale business crowd, and I had on a good outfit!

A cute waiter with some kind of rather thick but charming Eastern European accent set me up on one of the sofas, in a seating area right beside the area where an apparently single guy in business attire, who was typing furiously on his laptop. "Oh, goodie," I thought. "I don't see a ring, and he is definitely the cutest guy in here. And he must be here on business and working on some kind of project. This seems promising!"

I figured even if I didn't talk to anyone, it was a very swanky, upscale atmosphere...just a better way to pass the time than my usual routine of watching Friends in my flat!

So, per the waiter's suggestion, I ordered a steak sandwich. Neighbor boy didn't seem to have noticed my existence. Oh, well, the sandwich was pretty tasty...until I got to a big ol' chunk of fat and gristle that just wouldn't give. Attempting to saw through it with my teeth, I looked around to see if anyone was watching this unsavory spectacle, and of course I noticed neighbor boy had finally decided to glance over me...right about the time some of the fat and onions started to drip out on my lap and a big hunk of meat finally gave way.

I later noticed that the important work he was doing on his laptop appeared to be some kind of online soccer game.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

How's the weather?

The week started off with a 12-minute walk to work in the rain. I was literally watching the puddles on the side of the road the whole way, as I just knew I was going to get drenched by a passing bus! It was a good thing Leigh Ann called to request a Monday morning cab on Sunday night because in addition to the rain, it was pretty chilly.

I must say, though, it did seem notable that I was able to exist in London for three solid weeks before I had to pull out an umbrella. Clearly I am bringing this city some good luck in the weather department.

This morning, it was bright and shiny, and I took a minute to just enjoy the view of the sun sparkling on the Thames before I left.

Oh, my, the news just seems to have slowed down a bit doesn't it? We need to spice up this blog with some new characters! Well, I can report that I am having dinner with Adam (see posts from when Christy-Anne was here) on Saturday evening, so there will at least be some weekend socialization. A very nice Australian girl named Beth invited me to join her and some friends for dinner this evening, but I was looking forward to a quiet night at home. I'd discovered a new line of pasta at my store -- goat cheese and red pepper ravioli with a balsamic reduction.

I am becoming addicted to this pear yogurt that comes with hazelnuts...I like to mix in fresh pomegranate seeds, which you can buy in a little prepared package from the produce section.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sisterly Sunday

This morning we slept in and headed out to St. Paul’s around 10. On the way, I made Leigh Ann take a picture of me with Canary Wharf and the Bank of America building in the background…(that would be the small one beside the enormous HSBC tower).

We decided to go with feeding our stomachs vs. feeding our souls, so we didn’t make it to service but did make it to brunch at my favorite bakery, Pauls. She had a cheese tart, and I had a chicken and pepper sandwich, and of course we shared. For dessert, I had a strawberry cream pastry, and she had a pain chocolate with almonds.

After that, we walked across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (a bit of repetition from last weekend, but these are the best things to do on a nice day, in my opinion!).
We split up and toured the permanent exhibits, then headed to the Tower of London via the south bank of the Thames River. I must say I feel I have brought excellent weather with me to London. I have yet to experience a “museum day” (i.e., crummy weather) on a weekend, so I am not sure when I am going to experience the galleries I’ve missed so far.

After a thorough photo op with Tower Bridge, we rested our feet for a while and did the Tower of London. I realized I could cash in my ticket from last week and get a year’s membership to 5 palaces (including Kensington…too bad I didn’t have this yesterday!) for just a little bit more than another Tower ticket.

After that, we decided to call it a day and head for an early dinner at Gordon Ramsay’s new gastropub in the Limehouse area. It’s called The Narrow…we’d tried to get a reservation earlier in the week, but this had turned into quite an ordeal. So, we just got there around 5:30 and hoped we’d have luck. Indeed we did, when we promised to be gone by 7. It’s actually pretty much a traditional pub, albeit much cleaner and airier…Gordon Ramsay is apparently trying to remake a lot of the classic British dishes into something more palatable. For a starter, I had sardines and tomatoes on toast (yum! The sardines were especially tasty), and Leigh Ann had a salad with artichokes and mushrooms. She had the Sunday roast, which is a very quintessentially Sunday thing to eat (with Yorkshire pudding and potatoes), and I had a fantastic pan-seared halibut with chive mashed potatoes (just “mash” for the natives), peas and tiny shrimp. For dessert, I had the lemon posset with cherries, which turned out to be kind of a lemon curd over cherry gelatin, and she had an apple gooseberry crisp with ice cream. It was pretty tart but had a fantastically crunchy top.

And there went the weekend!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Leigh Ann's visit

Wow, this has been a busy week! I had three work-related field trips, including one on Thursday night at the London Zoo. It was a celebration related to our corporate foundation…the zoo is near Regent’s Park, and this outing should have gotten its own entry, but I was busy on Friday because my sister arrived! I decided to take Friday afternoon off work and spend it with her. Leigh Ann was a little peeved upon arrival because she didn’t realize her Verizon BlackBerry would not work over here (Verizon is for some reason totally useless in the UK…AT&T is your friend).

I met her at the flat around 2 p.m., and we walked around Canary Wharf then headed to Marylebone High Street to have tea at Patisserie Valerie. (We walked by Madame Tussaud’s and briefly considered doing it, but I think it would have been like $30 each or something ridiculous.) This was one of my favourite streets so far in London.

It is a pretty high-end neighborhood, plus it was in the middle of the afternoon on Friday, so it was fairly quiet. Tea was actually not that great (it came with two scones – split and toasted, with lots of clotted cream and a choice of honey and preserves). We should have gotten a few of the pastries for a little variety. Anyway, from there we walked down Oxford Street and all the way to Leicester Square, where we were meeting Leigh Ann’s friend Susan, Susan’s husband Jeff, and another girl named Laura for sushi. LA and I stopped at a pub for a pint because we were early, and some ladies from New Zealand took this sub-par photo of us.

We had a really yummy meal at the sushi place (even Leigh Ann, who doesn’t do the “raw fish” kind of sushi, enjoyed it), and Jeff treated, so that was extra nice.

This morning, we were up in order to leave a little before 9 for our 10 o’clock Buckingham Palace tour. The ticket pickup point was a bit of a hike from the palace, which was also a bit of a hike from the Westminster tube station, so we were really hustling and almost missed our ticket time. This would have been a shame!!

(We made a brief stop to take this photo with Big Ben)

Buckingham Palace was honestly not really on my radar, but Leigh Ann read that it’s only open about 2 months a year, during the summer when the queen is away. So, this was one of the very last weeks, but she got us tickets online, and it was completely worthwhile. First of all, just the architecture of the place is interesting, because it went through all of these evolutions.

But the state rooms were really something to see. We also had individual audio guides, which added a lot of commentary. The only thing we couldn’t quite figure out was that the thrones themselves were somewhat shabby…the upholstery was incredibly worn.

(Can't see the worn parts from here, but trust me.)

This is clearly intentional, so I’d be curious to know what the history is.

(That big mirror on the left is a secret door that comes from the queen's private apartments.)

One special thing was that they were having a special exhibit to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, so we got to see her wedding gown, etc.

They had some cool black and white film clips, and the audio tour talked about what a bright spot the wedding was during all of the war rationing, etc. (In fact, they got several “practical” wedding presents, including one that was the ingredients for their wedding cake!)

We were informed that the queen checks the table settings for dinners herself, and all the palace menus are in French, the "language of fine cuisine."

Photos were prohibited inside (naturally, all the ones above are clipped from the Web), so we got this one outside. Several of the state rooms in the back overlook the garden, and the sun was shining in, with a gentle breeze blowing through the open windows, and it was just a lovely morning.

After Buckingham Palace, we made our way to Notting Hill, in order to check out Portobello Market.
This was not one of my better plans, as I should have realized we’d be getting tired and somewhat cranky…the market was of course packed, and we had a specific destination in mind of a restaurant called the Electric Brasseire, which is a “Fodor’s Choice” as as “the best people-watching.” A girl at work had also suggested it. It was full, but after about 10-15 minutes at the bar, we got some smoothies (with a little vodka to take the edge off), and then we got a really great table outside on the sidewalk. I had some really yummy eggs Benedict with salmon and spinach, and LA had scrambled eggs with salmon. The people-watching was indeed fantastic. Revived from our brunch, we hit the market again so I could buy yet another scarf. Then, we spent about an hour walking by Kensington Palace and through Kensington and Hyde Parks. That took us to Harrod’s, where we joined every other American tourist in the “section to buy your things with Harrod’s name on them to take back to your American relatives.”

(Oh, wait, I forgot to mention earlier that it was like being in Spain today...somehow, Portobello Road and Harrod's seem to be THE PLACES for Spanish tourists. Even the fur protestors outside of Harrod's were broadcasting in Spanish. I literally just checked online to see if there was a Spanish holiday this weekend...)

Leigh Ann thought we needed to refresh the lunch bags Mom had gotten us a few years ago, as ours were a little worn out. Then, we sat in the food hall and had something to drink – we were worn out by all of our walking! At that point, we called it a day and headed back to Canary Wharf, where we ate dinner at a yummy Italian restaurant outside. (Not particularly notable food, but it was still enjoyable…I had spaghetti with clams, and Leigh Ann had a salad, and we split some tiramisu.)

Hasta manana!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Photos from the weekend

Christy-Anne and Adam on a Thames river cruise Friday afternoon

In front of the London Eye

Tower Bridge (note...everybody thinks this is London Bridge, but it's not)

At the Tower of London on Saturday

I make Adam pretend like he knows me

On the Millenium Bridge between the Tate Modern and St. Paul's late Saturday afternoon

At Spitalfields Market on Sunday (where I bought yet another scarf)

Tea at the Savoy Hotel

Love's Labours Lost at the Globe Theatre on Sunday night

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Field Trips!

Today my colleague Amanda and I took a day trip to the bank's office in Bromley, which is about 40/50 minutes from Canary Wharf. We really amused ourselves (and the boss!) by hitching a ride in the mail van. We'd giggled about whether we'd have to hold packages on our laps, but it was actually just a regular ride. It was really helpful to get out of London and see the perspective of some of the associates who work in a more suburban environment. (Sharon Hawkins says hello, Mona!) I feel like this job is a great opportunity to use some of what I learned in my prior role about how certain parts of the bank work, while also getting a much broader perspective about communications overall.

Tomorrow we actually have another field trip to meet with a marketing agency, and it's in a really nice part of town that I haven't been to yet. So, I'm pretty excited about that.

Last night, Christy-Anne and I had what I thought was a fabulous dinner at a place called Plateau:

I had a goat cheese potato terrine to start; it came with a small green salad. It was super goat cheesy and really just quite delish. My entree was a grilled pork chop, which was perfectly thick and flavorful and seemed like it came out really fresh off the grill and just piping hot. It was served on a bed of orzo with spinach, some kind of nuts and green know when you have something you just remember fondly for several days? This was one of those.

Oh, I am trying to get the act together for Leigh Ann's visit this weekend and am hoping we'll get to try Patisserie Valerie for tea (, should be WAY cheaper than the $70 Savoy experience). We have a reservation to eat at Gordon Ramsay's new gastropub on Sunday evening:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Weekend recap -- and a visitor!

Coming soon…pictures with actual people in them!! But first, the news…

This weekend, my friend Christy-Anne came over from Charlotte. She arrived on Friday and found her way to my flat, then met up with her friend Adam that afternoon. He just moved over here to work for a big law firm. My team had a happy hour after work, so I met Christy-Ann and Adam for dinner in Soho at an Indian place. You may know that I pride myself on eating almost anything, but spicy food has been my biggest obstacle…yikes…this was some spicy stuff, but they brought some kind of yogurt sauce to cool it down.

See, now you're missing those food pictures, aren't you?

Afterwards, we went to a club called Floridita…a bit random – go to London to hang out in a Miami/Havana knock-off -- , but one of the event planners here at the office was able to get us on “the list,” so we didn’t have to wait in line or pay. However, after one $14 cocktail, considering the fact that the guy/girl ratio was a little skewed (guess groups of dudes don’t really think “let’s go salsa dancing” sounds like a fun boys’ night out…), “we” (“we” being “me”) called it a night. (Though we did stay a good hour and had some fun watching a few older guys and their sweet young things!) I’d had a long week at work, and I was just worn out! Plus, it is just very logistical to go “out” because I’m in the very east end of the city. The Underground stops running at 12:30, and you don’t want to be walking around by yourself because it’s kind of a wasteland around my building at night…and a cab even the short distance home from the train station is $10.

Soho is full of interesting people-watching, that’s for sure! (I am trying not to use the phrase "freak parade," oops, there I went...we're talking the 80s punk rocker types...I also saw the skinniest pair of legs I've ever seen on a grown-up.)

Saturday we headed to the Tower of London, and I had forgotten how very interesting it is. You really get a sense of the incredible history that this country has, especially with the monarchy. We really had a good time at the Tower for several hours…in part because the weather was GORGEOUS. (Let me point out that I have yet to see rain here, though I think my good luck will come to an end this week.) Then we walked across Tower Bridge and along the southern bank of the Thames, which was chock-full of people because of a Saturday festival. By then, it was about 3 p.m., and we hadn’t eaten lunch, so we were starting to get a little fed up with the crowd. But, once we made it to our destination, the restaurant at the Tate Modern, we were thrilled. The venue is really stunning because it’s a wall of windows looking out from the 7th floor over the river – St. Paul’s across the way, etc. We had a fantastic late lunch of cheese and crackers, chicken sandwiches, etc., and I had an enormous piece of flourless chocolate cake. We walked around the galleries at the Tate Modern for a while. Although some modern art is sort of laughable or easy to dismiss, I also think it’s just much more intriguing and interesting than a lot of the classic stuff.

We tried to get tickets to a play at the Globe Theater, the recreation of the original Shakespearean stage, but they were sold out for Saturday, so we booked for Love’s Labours Lost on Sunday evening. Then we just walked around the festival for a while. We got a great table at a restaurant and shared a bottle of wine with some snacks while watching the people and just enjoying the lights of the buildings along the river. Then we (er, I) again called it a night. I’m sorry, but it was 9 o’clock, and we’d been walking around since mid-morning. Am I turning into an old lady or what?

Sunday morning, we were up bright and early for the 10:15 service at St. Paul’s, followed by brunch at Pauls bakery next door. The service was interesting; probably the best part was watching the little choir boys file in wearing their collars. Most of the service was music, with a short homily. It was pretty amazing just to sit and look around the cathedral. Brunch was probably the best thing I’ve eaten in ages…I had a fabulous latte with a leek quiche and a pistachio macaroon, and Christie-Ann had a tuna salad baguette with a “pain chocolat” (that would be a pastry, not a medical condition, for you non-French speakers). As we ate, the bells were tolling like crazy, and it was just really pleasant.

From there, we walked to the Monument, which was closed for renovations (it commemorates the great fire of 1666, I believe), so we couldn’t climb up it. (Will be closed until 2008, just so you know.) We took the tube over to the Liverpool Street station and walked around Spitalfields Market for several hours. Again, the exchange rate HURTS! There are few good deals to be found…though I did get yet another multi-colored scarf, since I find them both practical and fashionable. Spitalfields is very cool, and I would recommend it; it was a nice way to pass the Sunday. There were lots of stalls with cool purses, coats, tops, dresses, etc. I restrained myself, although I am quite tempted by a certain black and white houndstooth coat with a wide patent belt, which would look just smashing and oh-so-London when I am back home.

We were due at the Savoy Hotel at 4:30 p.m. for tea, but we ran into a snag when some train lines were delayed indefinitely. I was quite proud that my ace navigational skills identified an alternate route and we arrived on time! Tea was OK, but not exactly worth the price, which turned out to be $70…hard to eat $70 worth of cucumber sandwiches and pastries! Nevertheless, it was an experience, and I’m glad we did it…they had a pianist, and it was fun to do something a bit prissy for a few hours.

From there, we hustled over to the Globe at 6:30 for Shakespeare, which was quite good…they have recreated the original theater, so they sell 5-pound tickets for “groundlings,” which means you stand the whole time. So, we’d decided that after walking around all day, we’d probably be glad to spring for the 30-pound decent seats, and we were! The theater is open to the elements, and it got a bit breezy once the sun went down. Overall, it was a pretty good story, but it’s one of the comedies, with lots of sexual puns, and at the point when a man in a donkey costume mooned the audience, I felt as if I were in an Elizabethan version of a Will Ferrell movie…

After that, we ended up eating at one of the most bizarre “fast casual” places I’ve ever experienced. It’s called Nando’s, and the menu literally came with instructions for Nando’s first-timers. My induction to spicy food continues.

Anyway, time to return to the working world…Christy-Ann and I will go out to dinner one more time before she leaves early tomorrow morning. She is out by herself today doing Harrods, etc.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bonjour, Pierre!

Sorry I have not posted much this week...I stayed late at work several nights. One funny little thing I wanted to pass along was a story I worked on this week (for our internal Web site) included working with someone in our Paris office. And, I literally got to say, "Bonjour, Pierre!" Pierre finished our correspondence with a message that said only "Bravo." So, bonjour and bravo...I'll let that sum up the week!

We are heading our for happy hour as a team, and I have some fun things lined up for the weekend since Christy-Ann is here, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Tuesday (that felt like Monday)

Eeks, I have so much work to do! No wonder they wanted someone to come over here for just six weeks...they have completely under-resourced with communications. I stayed at work until 7 and really need to keep working now, as I am two days behind on a deliverable.

So, no news to report, other than I have lots of lunch plans this week. (Just in the company cafeteria.) Yesterday, I ate with a really cute girl named Marta, who is 1/2 Italian and 1/2 Spanish. I met her at the happy hour last Thursday. Today I had lunch with a guy who just moved over with his wife; he is a friend of my friend Chris in Charlotte. We had fun comparing notes and agreed that London must be the Porsche capital of the world. It appears to be the must-have status symbol for all of the investment banker-types.

Tonight, I really amused myself with smart use of existing resources for dinner, which consisted of penne pasta and a rich sauce of roquefort, heavy cream and lemon juice. I sprinkled it with walnuts. Delish!

I have also taken to wearing my iPod on the walk to work...I always thought people who walked around like that in Charlotte looked a little anti-social, but it's a nice way to spend the 15-minute walk, and I just fit right in with the crowds. However, it did make me wonder if our white earbuds would one day look really retro...I have this vision of people walking around Tokyo with Walkmans in the 80s!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sunday...the long version

Well, I like to tell things in detail because this is my journal too, so if you don’t like details, just skip on down to the summary version in the previous entry!

Sunday morning started a little cloudy, but by about 10, it was obviously going to be a gorgeous day, so I headed to Greenwich. I decided to walk there because the DLR (Docklands Light Railway, a public train service that connects to the Underground but serves the East End) was closed for maintenance. In hindsight, this was one for the ever-expanding “it seemed like a good idea at the time” file. Oh, well! I just walked about 45 minutes down a sort of random city road. I guess it was good to see a very, very average part of town. Anyway, I arrived at the park at the tip of the Isle of Dogs, where there are some lovely views across the river to Greenwich, and just thought, “Hallelujah…back in tourist land at last!”

I took the foot tunnel under the river, which was kind of neat, though definitely old and a little drippy. When I came out, though, I was immediately so pleased I’d made a good choice for the day. Greenwich is definitely touristy, but it also has that sort of quaint English look that we tourists love! There was an open market going on, so I poked around that a bit and then walked round the river by the Royal Naval College.

I had lunch at Trafalgar Tavern, which was kind of a mistake, as the food was crappy and there was a table of unbelievably poorly behaved children running around the patio. But, it definitely had a nice atmosphere, and I would recommend it for a drink, just not really a meal.

Then I walked up to the National Maritime Museum, finding myself just loving the architecture and the views from every angle. I knew I couldn’t take in the entire museum, so I checked out an exhibit about the naval influence on fashion, starting with when Queen Victoria had little Prince Edward a sailor suit made, and continuing through haute couture by Chanel and Galliano. Then, I visited the Admiral Lord Nelson exhibits upstairs, where they have the coat he was wearing when he was shot and killed…eeks. You can see the bullet hole. (He was a famous naval, uh, admiral who led the British to all sorts of fabulous victories…I hope none of my former history teachers read this.)

I walked through the park and up the very steep hill to the Royal Observatory and listened to a very interesting explanation of why the Prime Meridian was created, which had to do with giving sailors a fixed point where the time was established, from which they could calculate their exact location at sea. After almost 2,000 British sailors drowned at sea, it became a national challenge to find a solution to the navigation problem. They had lots of interesting exhibits about time and worldwide timekeeping. (Insert scads of tourists in the photo below.)

The views of the city from the Royal Observatory were awesome, and there were tons of people out on the lawn enjoying the day, just like this photo I found on the Internet (like all the other photos...I am finding this to be so much more efficient than hauling a camera around).

From Greenwich, I decided to take a river boat down the Thames, because I couldn’t bear the thought of walking back home! This was a lovely way to spend the afternoon, since the sun was shining and the temperature was so pleasant. It was almost 5 p.m. by then, so I took the Underground back home.

I washed my first load of laundry in my washer/dryer combo – you just put it in with the detergent, and it cycles through the entire wash and dry…I think you can take things out mid-way if you don’t want everything dried.

Last night, I met Eduardo and some of his friends for drinks and dinner. Due to many concerns about that situation from the Peanut Gallery, I will just say that I am glad I saw him, but I don’t believe I’ll try to get together with him again.
Well, week 2 at work is proving to be equally busy...they weren't kidding when they said they were understaffed over here!

Sunday summary

I had a LONG day yesterday and want to write it all down so I'll have a record, but here's a quick summary, in case you're curious! Went to Greenwich, which I could actually walk all the way to from my place (even under the Thames via a foot path). It was a great afternoon for being outside, as the weather was just perfect. In the afternoon, I took a boat from Greenwich to the Westminster area, and that was a fun way to see a lot of the city at once. Last night, I went out with Eduardo and some of his friends for drinks and dinner. Unfortunately, I am really dragging this a.m.!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Saturday at the British Museum

I slept in this morning and headed to the British Museum in the early afternoon. I remembered it fondly from my first trip here (back in 1994! Much has actually changed since then, including the relocation of my favorite part, the library). My plan had been to go to Greenwich, but the weather was not nearly as nice as what had been forecast, so it seemed like more of an indoor day.

When I stepped out of the Tottenham Court Road station, I was a little confused about which street I was on, but then I was swept up by a tide of young Japanese men on a big tour...I am not kidding, there must have been 50 of them, and I was the only non-Japanese male in their midst. At first, I found this kind of weird, but then I realized I could just stick with them, as they HAD to be headed to the museum!

I ate lunch outside (a tuna salad and cucumber sandwich on a baguette from Pret a Manger, a great sort of deli chain) and read a free copy of the Times I'd picked up on the train.
The outside of the building is really quite spectacular...

And, the Great Court is super-cool too and really just nice to sit in (I later enjoyed a delicious $4 bottle of Evian during a break).

I made it around to the Elgin Marbles, Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies, treasure of Sutton Hoo, Rameses statue, Portland Vase and most of the other biggiest...but I think the part I enjoyed the most was the Enlightenment Room. I am not sure if this was (a) it was the first thing I saw, and the room itself is really neat (b) there were fewer people (c) the stuff was intriguing and interestingly presented.

Now, in case you are wondering, all of the photos I've posted are just copied from Wikipedia, and I would really suggest this strategy to the scads of people who clog up the place taking pictures of exhibits...honestly, people, buy a postcard! I wonder if it has gotten worse with the advent of digital cameras (since you don't have to worry about wasting film). I felt like I spent a bunch of time standing there waiting for people's photos to take, so I could pass through.

After the museum, I was sleepy, so I went to Russell Square near the University of London and laid in the grass for a while reading the paper.

I should have been a little more ambitious and walked down to the Dickens House, which was close by and would have been neat, but I was just pooped. I was also being kind of cheap, because it was $10 to get in (5 pounds). But I walked by later, and then just kind of strolled around Bloomsbury and back to New Oxford Street, where I had a coffee, looked at some of the trendy cheaper chain stores and just watched people.
When I got back to Canary Wharf, after being in such a historic part of town for the afternoon, I realized how sort of generic and any-new-city-anywhere "my" part of town is, but I still like it nevertheless!
Here is another picture of Canary Wharf, since I am feeling a little photo happy...

I tried to go see Atonement, but my timing was off, so I picked up some things at the grocery store and walked home. It was already dark anyway and had been a pretty long day.

For dinner, I heated up some gnocchi from last night and made a FABULOUS salad. It was a variation of something I saw Jamie Oliver make earlier this week, but he used shallots, and they were out of them at my store. So, I bought a salad mix of arugula, watercress and spinach. On top, I put roquefort cheese, walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Then, I made a dressing of creme fraiche, vinegar and olive oil. MMM. I could have had seconds!

Oh...let me just report one little kitchen calamity. I noticed when I got home with the groceries that the fridge and freezer were off. I climbed up on a chair and checked the circuit box, wondered if there had been a power outage, etc. Just before I went downstairs to ask the concierge, or called the rental company, I saw two little switches behind the teapot and toaster...oops, guess I was overzealous in switching off the lights last night!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Friday night

Wow, it has been a CRAZY Friday night! First of all, I stayed at work until 6:45 and was, I'm pretty sure, the last person on the floor. How lame, huh? However, they have assigned me this certain project, and it is taking me longer to complete than I anticipated...and I really want to finish it up. So, I may even work on it some more this weekend.

I am sort of relieved that they are keeping me so busy, as I figure that way there's no chance they'll send me home early! Plus, it is certainly nice not to be twiddling my thumbs, and it's pretty cool that this is turning out to be such a good experience all around.

Anyway, I decided to make myself a yummy dinner, based on a recipe that I watched Nigella make earlier this week:

Cider Mustard Pork Chops with Gnocchi
Pound a couple of chops to flatten them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Saute in olive oil for 5 minutes on each side. When the chops are done, remove and keep warm. Boil the gnocchi while you prepare the cream sauce: Pour a bottle (I only used 1/2) of cider into the skillet and let it reduce. (Wasn't sure how long this should take, so I let it boil a good 10 minutes or so.) Then, stir in some grainy mustard. Once that is incorporated, add double cream (think this must be the equivalent of heavy is 45% fat. YUM!).

It was pretty good! I have discovered this delicious brand of dessert called GU. It comes in these little glass ramekins, which I am now collecting. I got a box of two that were chocolate fudge and rasperry sauce, and those were divine. However, the lemon cheesecake ones I got tonight were a little disappointing.

There is a CUTE neighbor across the way. (The crazy 'fro head and his girlfriend must be out tonight.) For quite a while, he was sitting on his sofa shirtless and working on his computer...too bad he finally closed the blinds!

The weather is supposed to be very nice this weekend, so I need to pick out some good outdoor activities. Apparently I need to take advantage of the pleasant forecast while it lasts...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thursday = Friday

Thursday = Friday

Well, Thursday is apparently the big night for happy hour, judging by the unbelievable amount of people who were milling about this evening! My new lunch buddy, who is a very cool Italian guy, invited me to join a bunch of (mostly) Bank of America friends for a happy hour. One girl was celebrating a birthday, another guy was celebrating his birthday and passing the CFA exam, etc. It was a big group of probably 20-30 people, but I managed to have 3 or 4 really interesting conversations and set up a few more potential lunch dates. Everyone I talked to was very friendly, and I think they are equally interested in networking and making connections with people in the U.S. So, even if I do not manage to do a whole lot by way of socializing this weekend, at least I got out tonight! (Though I left early and was still home by dark.)

I must say, I am enjoying this sort of big-city snooping/watching your neighbors. Right now, I am quite curious about the people across the way from me…this guy with a big frizzy Afro is drinking a Corona and dancing in front of a wide-screen TV in such a wild way I cannot help thinking it’s more entertaining than what’s on the telly!

Strike One

I can't believe I forgot to mention earlier in the week that there has been a strike going on since Monday evening. Fortunately, I can walk to work, but others in the office were busy making plans to get around the strike by taking alternate trains, leaving earlier, etc. The entire Underground was not shut down, just certain lines, and the one here at Canary Wharf remained open.

I'm trying to very actively work at making friends and reaching out for people to have lunch with, etc., but that in itself could be a full-time job! I have connected with a few people whose names were given to me before coming over, and I had lunch today with a very friendly Italian guy who works in treasury services. He even invited me to go out for drinks with a group this evening! So, I know you will be pleased to hear I am making social progress. It also turned out that someone I'm working with went to Vanderbilt with my cousin Mary Beth and was even in the same sorority!

Last night I finished unpacking my bags...I'd had to buy some more hangers in order to get everything out of the suitcases. This morning, I discovered that my very modern and sleek-looking bathroom has a shower that floods the floor! Guess form won out over function...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

My flat

In settling into my flat this evening, I was simultaneously reminded of two unfortunate realities: (1) everything is smaller in big cities (2) everything is bigger in the U.S.

So, combine those two, and I was, um, startled by some close quarters!
It’s not exactly a studio, but I’d be curious to compare the square footage of this vs. my room at the Marriott. I immediately realized that I may not be quite as well set up for guests as I’d hoped (though there is conveniently an Accorr Hotel just down the block if Leigh Ann and I start squawking at each other!).

That trash can takes up approximately 1/2 the depth of the kitchen...

The most hilarious part is that there is a door on the kitchen, but it is totally in the way. So if you have it open you cannot open the dishwasher, but if you close it, you cannot open the freezer. And, for some reason, there is a dishwasher. Honestly, I don’t think one is going to be having dinner parties for large crowds here…but I guess you could if you really wanted to. You’d just have to say things to your guests like, “Hi, would you mind holding the trash can for a minute so I can get these pots out of the cabinet?”

Anyway, I am just being silly, it really is actually quite nice, and I feel lucky to be in such a great location. The river view is super cool, and I am directly across from the Millennium Dome at Greenwich, in case I didn’t mention that before. (However, I may have to figure out how to drag some furniture onto the little balcony.)
After I settled in, I walked to the market, which will be on the way home from work (in the fabulous underground shopping at Canary Wharf). There is an awesome store called Whiterose, which I think must be the British version of Target. (The guy from the housing agency was telling me how I could take a bus from about halfway there to a cheaper store, and I just thought, “Um, I’m sorry, I am American, there is no way I’m getting on a bus to buy groceries…Will there be someone available to drive me home in a big ol’ SUV?”) The grocery bill for a bottle of wine, a big thing of tagliarini pasta, tomato cream sauce, arugula (a.k.a. “rocket”), spinach soup, yogurts and assorted other items was about 18 pounds…less than my breakfast at the hotel on Monday morning!

Being at a grocery store in a foreign country is just bliss to me, as there are so many things I’d just love to try. I could really spend all day in there.

Oh, I must also add that they sell these nifty little canned gin and tonics, which I cannot wait to try. And, even if you can get such an item at home, you certainly cannot just pick it up at the Teeter with your pasta!

Monday, September 3, 2007

New Job (And a Merry Un-Birthday to Me!)

Well, I am finishing up my first day of work, and it’s been a really good day! (That is, as far as work goes, where as my sister puts it, “They have to pay you to show up.”) It was fun to meet the people on my team here, and I look forward to the opportunities of the next few weeks. One of the things I’ve done well in the past is to rewrite senseless corporate blather into simple, concise prose…so, one big challenge for me will be to determine what is culturally different here (since the British do have a slightly more formal way of communicating) and what is ripe for rewriting.

I can report that I believe the cheapest food in London is to be found at our corporate cafeteria! I think my inexpensive soup for lunch made up for the $30 bowl of yogurt, fruit and granola I had for breakfast at the hotel this morning. Honestly.

I decided it was preferable to have an “incognito birthday,” since it seemed a little awkward to be like, “Hi! Nice to meet you! It’s my birthday!!” So, as a treat, I have scoped out a Spanish tapas restaurant by the hotel for dinner. Then, I need to hustle home by 9 p.m. so I can get a good seat in front of my television for "My Penis and Everyone Else’s” on BBC3. (No, this is NOT porn…it’s a follow-up to the previous hit documentary “My Penis and I.”) Toodles!


Last night I caught up on my sleep…14 hours’ worth! So, I was a little late starting the day. I had a tasty spinach, brie and asparagus tart with a cup of coffee at a café while reading the thick Sunday times. Then, I walked over to the Canary Wharf Underground station and figured out how to charge up the Oyster card that someone at the bank had loaned me before I left. I went to Westminster station, which is on the same tube line and seemed to offer lots of walking opportunities. It turned out to be a pretty good call, as The Mall along St. James’s Park, Buckingham Palace and Hyde Park is closed on Sundays. So, although there were lots of people out, it didn’t feel too crowded. I also walked by 10 Downing Street and Trafalgar Square I listened to an orchestra for a while in the park but mostly just strolled around. (I think I’m going to have to get some decent-looking black “trainers,” as the ballet flats just aren’t cutting it, and there’s no way I’m walking around in jeans and my white running shoes!) I had a nice time just taking it easy and not being in a hurry to do or see anything. I was around Westminster Abbey a little after 5, so I decided to sit on a bench by the Thames, just south of the Parliament buildings, and wait for an organ concert at 5:45. Although I couldn’t see most of the Abbey (it’s closed except for services on Sunday, which I think is rather nice), it was really lovely to hear the organ. The weather was in the low 70s and quite pleasant, with the sun peeking in and out of the clouds. Tonight I had a Caesar salad and mushroom risotto in the hotel restaurant (I was literally doing a mental total on my expense allowance to see what I could afford…it adds up faster than you’d think!). I have my clothes all picked out for the grown-up equivalent of the first day of school tomorrow!

Not sure if you could possibly find this as amusing as I did, but I smiled at some homeless men sitting on a bench as I passed by, and they then called out, “Hello! What is your name? Francesca? Natalia?” So, I may have a new alias!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Day One

(The canal right by my hotel.)

(This is Browns, where I had tea.)

(This is the view from my hotel window.)

Today I arrived in London and got to explore the area where I will be working and living for the next six weeks. Unfortunately, I was exhausted! I feel like I spent the day waiting until it was time to go to bed…which I think will be happening right at 9 p.m. (Trying to reset my clock.) Until then, I am back at the hotel watching what appear to be the German and Spanish versions of Dancing With the Stars.

I was worried that I wouldn’t get on my flight to London, as I was one of the last people to get a seat assignment (despite the fact that I checked in over 2 hours in advance). I was planning in my head how I would work it all out logistically if I got bumped…but my lucky streak seems to continue, as I got bumped up to FIRST CLASS! (I swear, if I am complaining 5 years from now about how nothing good or interesting ever happens to me, please remind me of this year!)

The funny part about the upgrade, though, is that I didn’t take my sleeping pill because I wanted to check out the first class cuisine (and, of course, free alcohol). The food was pretty respectable: portabella mushroom salad with sun-dried red and yellow tomatoes; fish with herb butter and veggies; pecan pie with assorted cheeses. (I think I may serve the last one at home sometime…blue cheese and pecan pie are actually really tasty together!) Anyway, by the time I ate, I figured it was too late to take an Ambien, so I just reclined in my big fat chair and slept as much as I could for 3-4 hours. Breakfast was yogurt, granola, fresh berries and a croissant.

After I stood in line at least an hour at Immigration, my driver was waiting for me with a sign, and he loaded my enormous bags into the Mercedes (one had to go in the back seat…oops), then drove me to the hotel, which took about 90 minutes. Gatwick is WAY out there, and I am on the opposite side of the city.

Canary Wharf is really interesting, and I like the area around the hotel a lot. It’s a very pedestrian-friendly area right on a little canal (all of this used to be the city docks until the 70s, and it was redeveloped as office space, etc., in the late 80s). Everything is very new and modern, with lots of glass and shiny chrome. Next to the hotel, there is a converted warehouse with a museum and at least 5 or 6 restaurants, all of which have abundant outdoor seating for sunny days like today. I had taken a nap upon arrival, so when I finally got outside, it was about 3 p.m. Just in time for afternoon tea! I had a pot of Earl Grey and some cucumber and salmon sandwiches, a scone with clotted cream, and fruit cake. It was £6, which was quite a deal comparatively…I decided before I came just to get over the prices and not whine about it, but basically, everything in pounds is similar to what you’d pay in dollars (e.g., most of the entrees at this very average café were in the £9-11 range, with nicer stuff £17), but of course it’s twice that in dollars. Schneikes.

After that, I found the bank's building, which is really close. This is like a second financial district (the other is called "the City of London") -- HSBC, Credit Suisse, Citibank, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers, etc, are all close to each other. Then, I walked around the underground shopping areas. It was funny because it felt fairly quiet outside…not deserted, but not really packed with people either. Apparently, they were all underground in the mall! It’s like a whole little world under there, and I was able to scope out my new grocery store. The prices there were actually not too bad.

I was determined to find my apartment building (I move there on Tuesday), so I got the concierge to help me with the map. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the bank building, but there is a lot of construction going on, and you walk along wider roads, so it’s not quite as nice of a stroll…it’s also in more of an, er, “up and coming” section of blocks. Not exactly shady, just clearly in the middle of major upgrades and gentrification. The building is pretty large and really nice…I just walked around the outside and saw a really cool indoor pool, exterior waterfalls in the courtyard, etc. It has a great view of the river, so my fingers are crossed I will have some sort of view! Oh, and outside there was a Lotus, a Hummer, a Porsche, and two Mercedes, so here’s hoping for some cute neighbors. ;-)