Monday, August 31, 2015

Great British Beer Festival at Olympia London

Actual date of this event: 14 August

Making plans in London takes quite a bit of work. Because everyone lives all over AND it can take 45 minutes to an hour to get somewhere AND many people travel on the weekends, we have to plan things with our friends well in advance (sometimes this can be three months in advance). We usually plan dinners out at a new restaurant with friends because it is a safe option, but it isn't the most social activity, so we have lately been trying to change it up. One thing we planned weeks ago was to attend the Great British Beer Festival. I really wasn't sure what to expect, so it was a nice surprise to see LOTS AND LOTS of taps. Everywhere!
The majority of festivals in London require a ticket purchased in advance. It's quite frustrating to pay to go to an event, and then pay for everything in the event without receiving a single thing for free. BUT the reason why London does this is because it discourages most people from wanting to go. Otherwise, free tickets would sell out very quickly OR the event would be unbelievably crowded that it would not be fun. So we paid for a 10GBP ticket just to get into the venue. Oh, and I guess to also use the bathrooms.
When we arrived, we purchased our beer glasses for 3GBP each which you could either keep at the end of the night or return it to get your money back (we kept one, of course). Then we went around to the different bars deciding which beer to have. The glasses had pint markings so you could have just a little bit or a lot. I tried 1/3 on my first round, but that was way too little, so I stuck with 1/2 pints the rest of the evening. Luke, of course, went for full pints the whole night.
The festival included over 900 different beers (and also ciders and perries) from all over the world, so it was incredibly different to decide. The majority of the beers were cask, but there were some keg and some bottles as well. Brewers only brought one cask/keg of each beer, so many were finished for the night making it easier to choose, but it was also disappointing when one was no longer available - Earl Grey IPA, Chocolate Cherry Ale,, and practically all 50 or so of the American beers were finished first. Go figure! We enjoyed hanging out with friends, eating delicious food, and trying new beers for the evening.

After the band played, they did last call and then kicked everyone out at 10:30pm. Kinda early, but the festival had been open since noon, so some of those people needed to leave. We could have stayed for longer, but when lots of beer is involved, most of us need someone to tell us to go home and go to bed, right?

Olympia London first opened at the end of 1886, and has never needed to be rebuilt due to war damages.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Random London vol.1

Over the last 2.5 years, Luke and I have done A LOT of wandering around London... walking and jogging who knows how many miles of its streets. Because of this, we have taken many many random pictures of London. We created a Misc. London folder on the computer to hold on to these precious photos since we obviously felt the need to document what we had stumbled upon. I have always wanted to organize these photos somehow, but I don't really see how to go about doing that. And then I got the idea to document some of these interesting bits on the blog. That is what the purpose of the blog is after all, yeah? So here is the first of several editions of our random discoveries.

Sun is shining at the Camden Locks on the Regent's Canal
late March 2014
We went out to explore on a gorgeous day. Naturally everyone else had the same idea. When the sun is shining in London, it is mandatory to be outside! 

Alone in a carriage on the District Line
early February 2014
 It isn't often that you get a whole carriage to yourself on the tube in London... especially during the day on the weekend!

Royal Courts of Justice
 we see this all the time
This was one of the first buildings I saw in London, but it was actually at night. I remember staring up at it thinking, "Wow, this building is so pretty!" Sitting on the Strand across from the Original Twinings shop, it's actually free to go inside after going through a security check.

Emerald Court
 early July 2015
I randomly did a search one day of the "narrowest street in London" and after reading a few debates, Emerald Court is what I came across. The "street" isn't too far from our house, so on the way home from breakfast one day, I took a minor detour to check out this little alley. It is just slightly wider than human shoulders.

Bridges of London
mid-November 2014
I rode the train in from Wimbledon one day to take a jog along the Thames. Jogging east along the north side of the river, I spotted a lovely view toward Tower Bridge. I had only ever walked west before, so this was a new view for me. Note to self: Don't forget to do a 360 turn when exploring cities!

More than 50% of the London Underground, aka the tube, is above ground.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Six Nations Rugby: England vs. Italy

Actual date of this event: 15 February

Luke emailed me one day and asked if I wanted to go to a rugby match. His office was doing a few giveaways for sport tickets, but the catch was that if your name was drawn for something, you could not put in for another. So for the rugby match, they actually had less names than tickets because everyone was holding out for the Arsenal football match. There was an extra ticket to the rugby, so I was invited to go. Off to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (home of the football club) we went.
Six Nations is an annual tournament played by six countries: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, and Italy. The tournament began in 1883 with only England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, but overtime grew to six nations in 2000. It is quite the big deal every year - the pubs decorate with each nation's flag, and host viewing parties.
I was attending the event with the mindset of being a lone female around a bunch of big burly men, watching a bloody fight, in a game that makes absolutely no sense. I was blown away with how wrong I was! Rather than being a poor-man's sport (apparently, football/soccer is the poor man's sport), it is actually a semi-prestigious sport that started as a hobby for bankers and other rich-folk. Rather than starting fights and being inappropriately rowdy while watching, it is actually a friendly game. Rather than wearing casual/ragged clothes, it is a smart-casual dress code of collared shirts. The only thing that is correct is that people do get very drunk... but not in an obnoxious way. Like at an American football game. Like certain college's I know. Not naming any names.
Now, we did attend this match as a special treat, so we got special treatment. We had lunch in the private dining hall that included a three course meal with all the alcohol we wanted (we asked for a bottle of prosecco, of course - it was 10am afterall). Then, the servers took our halftime order, so that when we came back, our drinks would be waiting for us at the table. The servers also prepared to-go drinks and set them out on the table for us to grab on our way out the door to go watch the match. Special treatment indeed! But before going to watch the match, one of the players came in to say hi and welcomed us to the stadium and match. It is apparently a tradition for one of the players to do this.
When the match began, we got a lesson from Luke's colleagues on the sport, and I was surprised to find how easy Rugby is to follow. Ask me today to explain it, and I will have to tell you I have forgotten it all. Ooops.
Luke's colleague who set up this event was so kind as to give Luke and I a set of earphones called RefLink. Since there are no announcements to the crowd as to what the calls are during the match, we could hear quite a bit everything the referee and players were saying on the field through the headset.
Luke and I giggled to each other quite often as some of the words and phrases the referee used were so incredibly British. "What's going on here then?" It was also funny how polite and calm the players were to each other. "Now now, you cannot do that. You must not do that again." (Note: I realize I am writing incredibly British right now. It's contagious.)
The anthem for the England rugby team is "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" which took Luke and I by surprise, wondering why on Earth is this their anthem. Here is the reason according to Wikipedia. Anyway, we continued watching and understanding the game as best as possible. England ended up winning the match!

After the game, we went back to the dining hall to have a few drinks while the crowd dispersed. It was a great time and a great experience. Ireland ended up winning the tournament, but England and Wales still have the most championships at 26 each.

A typical rugby match is 15-on-15 players, but the game of 7-on-7 is now recognized as an Olympic sport and will debut at the 2016 Summer Game in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Home in Central London

Actual move date: 30 January, 2015

Did you know that Luke and I don't live in Wimbledon anymore? (I mentioned that a few posts ago...) Yeah, that changed almost 7 months ago! Wow, I can't believe it have been living in our new and LOVELY flat for that long.
It's quite the long story as to why we moved, so I will try to keep it as quick as possible (and we all know how that usually turns out...). Luke's office used to be in Leatherhead in Surrey. Here:
We originally chose to live Wimbledon as the area was still within the tube lines, and just about halfway between central London and Leatherhead. Here are the tube lines (Wimbledon is just slightly northwest of where Mitcham is):
Well in December 2014, his office changed to The City. And by "The City", I mean The City of London, which is one of the smallest cities in the world at about 1sq.mi. Confused? Here:
So anyway, his office is now located in that area, so we immediately began discussing the pros and cons to moving into central London. Pro: Shorter commute for Luke. Con: We would have to move everything ourselves and pay for it ourselves. (Boo hoo us right? As expats, in the past, we have been blessed with other people doing this for us.) Con: Rent would increase. Con: We will have to find a new place all on our own and pay for it all ourselves. (Boo hoo us again. We have had help in all moves previously.) Con: We will likely have a smaller place. Con: We would likely need to get rid of our current couches and buy new couches. Con: We may not have a guest bedroom so guests will have to sleep in the living room. Con: We might go thru this hassle and then be moved from London shortly after. Pro: We will be LIVING in Central London!!!!! In the end, the pros outweighed the cons, so we were moving baby!!! But that is easier said than done.

The amount of work I put in to finding us a new place was insane. I felt like I was working as a teacher again. And it was early-August, and I was setting up my classroom, and preparing for the new school year (my thoughts and prayers go out to all teachers who are going through this right now). Except take that amount of work and multiply it by like 1.5 (it would be wrong for me to say more than that because the amount of work teachers put in at the beginning of the school year makes up for any time off they get the rest of the year), and add in walking 8 miles daily and not being able to sit for more than 10 minutes at a time or go to the bathroom, and I would scarf down my lunch in about five minutes between appointments while sitting on a park bench. I felt like a hobo for a good week. Luke was quite impressed with me though because I kept up with all emails and phone calls from agents (there were about 30 total). Luke did some work too, but as he had his own work to do at the office, I took control for the most part. Oh, and this was also the time when I was trying to complete the full program of Insanity, so I would wake up at 6am, do my INSANE exercise, answer emails, get ready, eat breakfast, and leave the house by 9:30am to go walk 8 miles in the mid-January cold and rainy weather while viewing properties. Needless to say, I got ill from the stress, so I was relieved when it was all over with! I won't go into dirty details, but almost 3 weeks passed from the time we made an offer to the time we signed the lease. Us two OCD people were heading toward rock bottom for a while there... But hey, in the end we hit the jack pot!

I must give a huge warning that I have been known to go on and on about our place. I love it. It's perfect. It's amazing. Luke is constantly telling me to stop bragging, but I just can't help it. I guess it is my way of showing how lucky we are to be given this opportunity. We are trying to take advantage of a situation that we never imagined we would be in, and I think most anyone would want to do the same. So I'm not bragging about what we have, I am just showing my appreciation for this once in a lifetime experience. But let's get on with this, shall we?

Opening the door to the flat, the first thing you see to the left is a very long hallway...
The apartment is very very long. Let's go to the right first though...
Walking into the living room. It's quite the open space...
The first time I saw it, I exclaimed, "Wow!!!" NOTHING I had seen previously came even close to comparing to these first few steps I had taken while in this property.
It's quite unusual to have such an open floor plan in Europe.
Looking out the windows: To the left takes us to Tottenham Court Road which is a main street where ,while changing names a few times, a mile north runs up to Camden and a mile south runs down to Trafalgar Square. To the right takes us to the "main" street in the area, Charlotte Street. It is full of restaurants, so we never go hungry.
Across the street is one of the best tapas restaurants in London. Everyday I watch people sit outside at the little tables and drink their wine and eat Iberico Ham platters. Don't those people have jobs?!?! Oh wait, I don't have a job, maybe I should join them? Just kidding, Luke! (maybe)
It's about to be the ultimate slap in the face to anyone who lives or has lived in Europe - those vents in the picture below... that is a.i.r.c.o.n.d.i.t.i.o.n.i.n.g.
We didn't even know this place had a/c until we moved in! No one advertised it. Um, hello?! Major selling point!! So the kitchen is quite large as well.
It has a massive amount of cabinet space. In fact, after I unpacked the kitchen boxes, I discovered cabinets that hadn't even been touched and were empty. For instance, the two tiny ones at the top, I've never even opened them.
I love having a large counter as well! I missed that in Wimbledon.
I can easily hear Friends playing on the TV while I'm cooking. And if needed, I can peek around that wall of windows to see Friends on the TV without ever having to leave the kitchen. Rarely do I need to do that though. Erm, see Friends on the TV, that is. I don't live in the kitchen.
Those windows are actually doors, that seem to be an invitation for flies when open, so they usually stay closed during the day. At night, we like to open them to hear the sounds from the restaurants nearby. It can be noisy in the late afternoon and on the weekend, but it doesn't bother us too much. In fact, I love hearing that we are right in the action!
Heading to the back of the apartment, that long hallway has FIVE closets! FIVE! So rather than putting all of our junk into a second bedroom that wouldn't be able to be used as a second bedroom anyway, we have everything in these closets. They really make the whole apartment.
On the right side of the hallway across the closets is a water closet aka half bathroom. This was another aspect that was not advertised for this property. It is really nice to have a second toilet!
Looking back toward the living room area...
The ONE bedroom is very big. There is plenty of space between the end of the bed and the dresser.
If it hasn't been obvious already throughout this post or in my previous posts about our homes, we aren't interior designers.
But we pretend...
The windows off the bedroom are actually folding doors, so the whole wall opens up out to a large terrace, which is another aspect that was not advertised for the property. We have yet to get some furniture out there, so in the meantime, I have my beach chair. It gets sun (when the sun is out) around noon, so I try lay out for a tan sometimes. Obviously, today is not the day.
We are just a few blocks away from the BT Tower, so it lights up the bedroom at night when we have the curtains open.
The bathroom is HUGE and I am so glad! We have TWO sinks which is practically unheard of in an apartment in Europe. We also have a separate bath tub and shower.

Whether people said it or not, we know the first thing on everyone's mind when we told them we moved into a one bedroom apartment was "Where will the baby go?" Well, folks, there is no baby. But believe me when I say that we did think about it, and we took that into consideration. IF that time comes while we are living in London, we will not be the first people to have a baby in a one bedroom apartment, and we will not be the last. (my niece says the baby can sleep in the bath tub - yes?) Just like everything else, if other people can do it, I can do it. I will do it with a smile on face because we are getting to live in Central London!

Which brings me to my next point: We are in an AMAZING location. When doing the home search, I looked in a few areas, and I am so glad we picked this one. The area is called Fitzrovia - some people might say it is called Noho, but they are wrong. The area publishes a newspaper and magazine every couple weeks or months, and both are titled Fitzrovia, not Noho. Why would it be called Noho though? Because we are just north of Soho.
For safety reasons, I have not pinpointed our location, but we are located just about where the name "Fitzrovia" is located. Some facts about our location:
- Closest Tube Stations (in order): Goodge Street, Tottenham Court Road, Oxford Circus
- Distance to Parks: Regents Park is 0.8 mile, Hyde Park is 1.4 miles
- Distance to the River: 1.2 miles
- Grocery stores within a 5 min walk: Tesco, M&S, Little Waitrose, Sainsburys, Co-Op, Planet Organic (6min)
- Distance to closest Pub: (75ft but unfortunately this one is closed for refurbishment, so...) 250ft, but the wine bar is 190ft
- Number of Pubs within a 5 min walk (according to Google): 20

Do we miss Wimbledon? Hmmm, not really.

Fitzrovia is located in both the City of Westminster and London Borough of Camden.

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