Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas Time!!!

Joe and our friends Has and Lui decided to volunteer for Crisis this year, which meant Christmas Eve and Day, they would be spending the day at a temporary homeless shelter helping the running of the centre through cleaning up, serving food, chatting with the "guests" and so forth. 
I was duly appointed chauffer and chef for the duration and grasped my responsibility with full vigor!
The centre was in West London, nearer has and lui's place, so we decided to move into theirs for two days and enjoy Christmas together.
The entrusted me with their keys and I opened up Christmas Eve early and alone in their kitchen cooking up ribs, chicken wings, fois gras that I got from a great colleague!, quesadillas, prawns and dip, and a massive triple layer chocolate cake that couldn't make the journey upright and ended up in a big bowl.
When they all got in Chrismas Eve night around 10pm, the food was ready to go. 
Lui and I ended up talking into the morning till 4am and we woke up, exchanged pressies and managed to suck down more food - this time a wonderful Swedish Christmas feast made by Lui!
With all bellies full, we dressed and I got them to the centre and went home for phone calls to the states.
Later that night, I picked them all up again (by the way, I was well impressed with my uneventful drives across central London all by myself!) and we, you guessed it, ate again and crashed.
Boxing day started with a lay in, breakfast out and a four hour walk through the fabulous Wimbledon Parks.
We headed home late afternoon filled with warmth, love and lots and lots of food!
Thanks to Has and Lui for sharing their Christmas with us!

My pressie from Has and Lui!

From xmas with has and lui
Lui likes her pressies!

From xmas with has and lui
What could it be?

From xmas with has and lui
The anticipation!

From xmas with has and lui
I'm guessing Has liked his pressie?

From xmas with has and lui
Joe's turn!

From xmas with has and lui
Lui's feast!

From xmas with has and lui
Everybody is feeling the love!

From xmas with has and lui

From xmas with has and lui

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Godfather Part 4

Well, I'll say, that little Scarr sure is cute!!!
Godfather Joe and I made our way over to Simon and Catherine's for a long awaited reunion with little Juliette, and boy she did NOT dissappoint! 
I monopolised her most of the afternoon because she was just so much fun to giggle with, but Joe managed to hold his Goddaughter a few times and enjoy her lovely little personality.
I have to say, she is going to be a heart breaker and you can arlready see how daddy Simon is going to have a hard time saying no to anything she asks for!!
Given Catherine's incredibly difficult pregnancy, this baby is truly a miracle and we are so happy to be a part of her and her parent's lives!

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Peace Corps Reunion!

Ten years after the shit storm that was Kazakhstan, my dear fellow Kaz-6er, Bruce, decided to pop into London for a little visit.  To say I was overjoyed was an understatement! I was ready to show him London.  Instead, we just sat in most coffee places we rambled upon and just got caught up.  I felt like I jipped him, not showing him anything about London, but he seemed happy enough.  And that made me happy.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Off to Spain!!!

We decided to get away in early December to Barcelona - and boy were we in for a treat!
What an amazing city!!!!  The weather was amazingly warm and sunny for December and with all that the city had to offer, we found it difficult to get in everything we wanted to see.
I don't normally like visiting places more than once, but I definitely want to come back.
Main highlights of the trip include visits to Park Guell, walks through Barri Gotic, the massive Fountain, bike ride through the city, Mont Serrat, lots of cafes for cappucino descaffianatos, a casino(!), and just walking around aimlessly dipping into shops and restaurants as our mood carried us.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Visit to Hughenden Manor with Has and Lui

As members of the National Trust, we've enjoyed frequenting the beautiful manor houses, ruins and castles dotted across the country. Our friends Has and Lui don't have a car, and I made it my mission to get them out of London to visit a nice but of British history that they wouldn't otherwise be able to get to (well, wouldn't bother with public transport to get there - nor would I without a car!). Plus Lui's and my new British citizen stati (is that plural for status?) means we need to brush up on our new country's history!
Home of Benjamin Disraeli, ex-prime minister of Great Britain sometime in the 1800’s, this manor house was his sanctuary away from Westminster. Only an hour outside of London, its completely rural and peaceful.
We walked for quite a long time and inevitably ended up eating in the cafe warming up our mitts while doing so.
Great day out!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Rock climbing with the girls

We decided to have a girlie day out rock climbing, hanging out at the pub and enjoying the south bank celebrations!
lui, yen, juliet, yvette and I tested our mettle hanging from walls then tested our endurance in a 4 hour session in the pub. we managed to force gelato down afterwards too.
later that night, we ended up in front of the Tate Modern where a fire festival was in full swing - fire everywhere! so cool!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

My Birthday getaway!

Joe treated me to a weekend getaway from London for my birthday! We stayed at a beautiful spa hotel and each got two treatments to relax us before the chaos November will be for us!
The hotel was set in the countryside, surrounded by beautiful manor houses. We took walks, slept, had massages, played tennis, and even went running. We managed to be very productive which helped work off the lovely food!
We also stopped in at Stratford Upon Avon to see where Shakespeare lived - lovely town!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Sarita is here!

Busy busy busy - that girl was running herself ragged, but I managed to get a day in with her and Rahul!
They treated me to lovely dim sum and we caught up on things. Too short but I'll take what I can get!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

My first football match in England

And it only took 7 years!
But, what a great way to experience a footie match - in the box seats with complimentary lunch and drinks!!
As I sat in our seats, I asked a great work colleague of mine "all the seats in this stadium are leather?". he laughed and I realised we were in the posh seats, centre field!!!
It was a great show because Liverpool and Chelsea were playing and ended up having a sudden death finish with Chelsea bringing home the trophy!
A great time had by all!
Thanks to dunhill for offering the seats to me and Joe - otherwise we would never have ever made it to a match - ever.
From summer 09 charity shield game

Sunday, 26 July 2009

I did it!!! I ran two hours without stopping!

Today was the big day...I managed to finish my half marathon in 2 hours 14 minutes with a sneeky little walk for 45 seconds near the finish line....
Thanks to has and lui for being part of the cheering section with joe!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

it's tennis time!

we thought after 7 years in England, I should go experience Wimbledon!
We ended up getting some cheap tickets for court 1, NOT centre court, but it got us in the compound where we watched the big final at Henman Hill (who we saw on a walking bridge later that day!) and then some friends of ours kindly gave us their centre court tickets for the doubles match so we did get to experience it after all!
yes, we did do strawberries and cream, as every Brit worth their weight in salt should do at the tennis....

Monday, 22 June 2009

Sea, sun, sand and sunburn

Joe and I managed to save enough air miles for a trip to the caribbean and chose Tobago for our big getaway!
we couldn't be happier with our choice - what an amazing island!
Joe found us a great "no-frills" cottage overlooking a golf course which ended at the ocean, so fab views!
Avocado Cottage had no air con, open air plan (meaning the geckos got to hang out with us at night), a resident doggie with such a sweet disposition, and an avocado tree whose dropping fruit managed to wake us up every morning...and some nights too!
Being only 26.2 miles long, before arriving I thought it could be a great place for a marathon. However, one day of driving around the island for over 7 hours slowly crawling around hair pin turns and incredibly steep gradients, we managed to get back in one piece.
One beach we settled into after our lunch had a great bit of wave to it, so we enjoyed splashing around. it wasn't until I got out and dried off that I saw the sign warning visitors of the manta ray that resides in the area. If growing up in land locked Illinois hadn't already ill prepared me for the creatures found under water, that sign certainly sealed my fate of being forever fearful of open water (yeah, I hear the ozzie contingent laughing at me right now!).
Having to prepare for my half marathon next month, I did attempt running at 6am a few mornings, getting up with the rest of the island who do all their yard work that early to avoid the sun. well, I might as well have run at high noon because it didn't make one bit of difference to me. it was hot, damn hot. Joe even got out there to run on the beach and we both gave up quite soon after starting.
We enjoyed snorkelling, jet skiing, drinking and just being plain lazy - overall fabbest (is that a word) hols ever!

Monday, 18 May 2009

Milan and Lake Como

I little jaunt across the channel to Italia! What a lovely city Milan is with all the amazing architecture and well, lets face it - the most important thing of all - GELATO!!!
Oddly enough, having arrived on a Thursday, the town seemed dead up until Saturday night. It's as if the city has a hidden life away from the tourists, behind their massive century old doors in their private piazzas. I was dying to get inside some of them!
Although Milan was beautiful, Joe and I enjoyed Lake Como the most. We took the funicular up the mountain and found an off the beaten track path to wind down into the other villages sitting along the lake. Each village hung to the mountain face, buildings clammering above each other with balconies opening up to cliff side drops and views to die for. Narrow passageways zigzag through each village,some only a few feet wide.
With the sun bursting throught the clouds, the mediterranian colours of all the stuccoed buildings were so bright and beautiful.
Goerge Clooney might have some new neighbors after this trip!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

identity crisis

Today was the big day for me and my life here in the UK! I am now a citizen!!! Considering I had already been living here for about 7 years, I didn't have any more hoops to jump through in terms of years to wait to fulfill the requirement for citizenship.
I did however need to take a "Knowledge of the UK" test. Passed with flying colours, so all that was needed to proceed was a gross sum of money and this ceremony.
To be accepted as a citizen in another country is quite nice: a sense of relief that any past shenanegans in my life didn't raise any red flags, a excitement over getting to come and go from England any time I want for as long as I want, and the excitement of knowing I can live anywhere in Europe without any paperwork!!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Running, running and more running....

Well, I say....
I am very impressed with our friends today - they finished the London Marathon!!!
Five of our mates decided to get themselves in shape and torture themselves with the grueling 26.2 miles through the streets of London. We were of course on hand to cheer them on, managing to locate each of them along the way at some point.
A few serious knee injuries later and they all crossed the line.
Although their style of walking afterwards was a bit humorous, it didn't take away from how impressed all us "cheerleaders" were with them being able to actually walk at all after such an incredibly serious pounding they put their bodies through!
Well done all!!!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Scotney Castle

Our visit to Scotney castle was a cold and windy day but well worth the hour treck from home!

Upon our arrival, we realised that only the day before had the new cafe and visitor centre been officially opened. So, in true expedition spirit, we promptly warmed up with some coffees and rather enjoyed the service and quality of the java!

Scotney Castle is actually a small castle at the foot of a hill upon which sits a massive manor house which was lived in up until the 1980s. The lady of the house finally passed it on to the National Trust upon her death as there were no heirs.

Walking around the inside of the "house", you could get a real sense of the incredible amount of maintenance that was required just to keep it looking okay. In fact, both she and her husband were living with water stained walls, deep long cracks, and loads of pretty intense maintenance problems. Goes to show that no matter how grandieose the setting, this place was a bear to keep in tip top shape. (Enter Joe's lesson in asset rich, cash poor people)

Nonetheless, it was a pretty incredible to walk through!

Here is the front of the house:

And the back:The back of the house overlooked the castle and moat - my favourite part of the whole property!
The castle is in ruins, something Joe and I thought was the natural cause of nature reclaiming itself over the years. We were shocked to discover that a previous owner during Victorian times had intentionally destroyed portions of the castle to create a more romantic feel to the place! The horror! Okay, we secretly liked it...

What a place, eh? And this was on just a portion of the entire estate!


On our way back to London from the big Birthday celebration weekend for Joe, we took a Wales.
After almost having a heart attack paying almost £6 to cross the bridge into Wales, i took a few deep breaths and soldiered on.
We were about 5 minutes from the entrance to our destination, when a wrong turn tested the wonder that is "Joe Joe", my own version of Tom Tom made up of Joe and his mobile phone gps. Note to travellers: gps on mobile phones isn't very reliable in remote places. Numerous back country gravel paths later, we found the parking lot for our day hike mission.
The country park consists of 4 big waterfalls situated along a 3 mile path. For each waterfall, you need to descend (quite a long way I might add) along rock strewn paths and water drenched mud steps to get nice a close for photo opps and getting wet opps.
At one point, Joe and I went down through a waterfall and chose another trecherous path back up the other side only to find out we went the wrong way. Bemused and exhausted, we scaled down the incredibly steep, muddy and slippery rocks back to the correct side and huffed our way back to the car.
It was hard, we were in pain, and in hindsight, it probably wasn't the best choice of activities before a 5 hour ride home. But, it was worth it!!! Check these photos out!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Joe's Birthday Balloon Ride 2009

What an amazing day in April!!
When we got to the site early in the morning, the blue sky was taking over from the cold, dreary and cloudy night. You can actually see the cold front in one long line moving further and further away from us in one photo.
I couldn't believe my eyes when we saw the size of the balloon basket. Talk about the mini van of baskets - that puppy fit 12 people!
We barely had any wind, so didn't get too far. But, the sites were lovely nonetheless and we had a great time just soaking in the beauty and the sun on the crisp spring day.
Ended of landing in a field, had some champers and got moving back into downtown Bristol.

Bristol April 2009

Wow - what a great city! I didn't realise how nice it was, what with the canal system and all!
Joe and I spent a few days here as our "base camp" for Joe's Birthday Balloon ride a short drive away.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Bradford Upon Avon

You ever driving somewhere and end up going through somewhere just so stunning that you stop your journey and forget about the end point?
Well, that's Bradford Upon Avon.
After a quick look into estate agent windows at picture perfect homes costing a minimum of £700k, our dreams for a better life quashed yet again, we drowned our sorrows in a lovely walk along the Avon River through the town, along a path into the countryside and back again.
Simply gorgeous.


Our visit to Lacock didn't disappoint! In fact, after walking around for a little while, we realised we had been then before with my grams and gramps a year prior on a cold, wet, windy night on our way back to London from Stonehenge.
A fantastic village with picturesque charm, looks like it hasn't really changed much since the 1800s, with the exception of the cars! In fact, it is often used in period dramas, for some of the Harry Potter films and other films. Beautiful!
We were there just before Easter and that day the village organised a massive Easter hunt throught the entire village, with all the shopkeepers involved, getting the little kiddies and their parents to follow clues which eventually lead to....well, frankly, I don't know, cause we didn't follow them! We ended up in the pub!
Met a great potter who has a pottery right across the street from the church (I posted about him in the jml pottery blog) which I would die for!

The Courts Garden

This is the courts gardens, now on the site of a former turn of the century mill located near Bath.
Although certainly lovely in April during our visit, aparently it is alive with colour in the summer.

I'm trying to impress Yen with my photos here - so I'll be happy to hear what she has to say!
But, here they are for you all to enjoy!!!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

10k in Richmond Park

My big 2009 10k is over!
Thanks to Has and Joe for coming along for support!
Did it in 57 minutes!!!

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

We managed to get tickets to see Tina Turner at the O2 and boy, she was impressive!
I couldn't believe how hot she still looks and how much energy she has on stage - she still has those legs that won't quit!!!
Here is a quick video of her working her magic:

From tina turner

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Waddeson Manor

Wow - driving into the property made me feel like I was entering the world of royal elite, slowly winding upward through beautifully manicured gardens toward a great big hunk of a mansion....thinking all along that a butler and housing service of 15 people would greet us at the entrance, take our bags and rush us into the great room for tea.

So, no one greeted us....but a fantastic view of the manor house surely did!

I was captivated by it's sheer size and ornate beauty!

I could see how the grounds would look quite remarkable in the spring, with all the gardens in bloom. However, this trip early in the year meant all the property was covered in lots of snow! Nonetheless, still quite a breathtaking bit of land (even better if the cute guy in the photo comes along with it!)

And, of course, you can just see how people would mistake us for the owners of this fine estate....

The architectural details really interested me. Check out the ornate water feature and groovy facade of the "house":

Monday, 2 February 2009

Wakehurst Place

Drove to Wakehurst Place on Sunday. We went into it knowing that it was associated with Kew and the Milennium Seed Bank, no really knowing much more of what to expect.
A pleasant surprise upon arrival with a roughly 2.5 mile roundtrip walk around an estate that is filled with an incredible array of plantlife representing all sorts of habitats from here and around the world.
In amongst the massive grounds is the most beautiful 15c massive home. Access on the inside was dissapointing, as much of the house was converted long ago to house various scientific research carried out by Kew, and even longer ago by several past owners. This is not the case for the exterior of the manor house. Stately and gorgeous as the sun tickled it's golden hued stonework. Simply stunning.
Although only February, there was so much to see by way of colours and new growth throughout the grounds. What amazed both of us was how the grounds wound upward and downward, revealing the hills and steep valleys of the estate. Although the car park was packed with visitors, it was rare to cross others along our way.
There were fantastic look out sites with places to seat and, in some cases, tables to eat, and we knew if it had been later in the year, we would most definitely have plonked down and ate a picnic then and there.
The Milennium Seed Bank is a modern development blending in very well with the surroundings. The entire programme is expertly and simply conveyed to visitors, with a multitude of interactive displays which engage and inform the viewers.
The design of the building leads visitors into the centre, and displays flank the outside walls of the central area, walls which are glass panelled walls allowing the visitors to observe the MSBank scientists in action through the entire process.
As we made our way through this building, it had started snowing and a blanket of snow greeted us on our way out.
The main entrance building housed a great cafe and shop, including a garden shop with Kew plants!
We had a fantastic time and cannot wait to come back in the late spring!