Friday, February 24, 2006

Ah, the backwardness of it all...

Okay, haven't blogged in awhile. Sorry about that. Having a hellish time at work, with two of my staff of three quitting in the past four weeks, it's meant going in early and working late, and it has really cut into my blogging time. When I get home, I cook dinner, we watch a small amount of TV, and we go to bed.

At any rate...having returned from a little diversion in London two Wednesdays ago, I can tell you that it's more than the driving that's backward there. Of course you know that cars in the UK have their steering on the right instead of the left. That's so drivers can maneuver more easily, seeing as how the traffic lanes run in the opposite direction of what we're used to here in the U.S. Even the traffic circles run clockwise instead of counterclockwise. It's all very unsettling. I'm glad we didn't rent a car. We would have most certainly wound up in a wreck. Bad enough that we would have been run over as pedestrians were there not directions painted on the street, "look right" or "look left", there are apparently plenty of people around the world who have also been confused (and injured) because of the issue. Even with the painted-on instructions, we habitually looked the wrong way (as well as the right way) at most every intersection.

But back to my backward conversation. Toilet handles on the right instead of the left. Hot water on the right instead of the left. People descending stairs on the left instead of the right.

One thing that was really backward to me was that smoking was allowed in restaurants. I have become very spoiled by non-smoking workplaces, no smoking in restaurants, no smoking in hotels, nightclubs, etc.

It ain't that way in London.

Street signs - what street signs? Many of the streets weren't marked at every corner. In London, street signs aren't on poles. Most commonly they are found mounted to the sides of buildings or on fences that are on street corners. But with only one set of two signs at a given intersection (when you're lucky), you don't always see the street signs when they are there. And the damned street names change about every two or three blocks! Again, I was glad we didn't drive.

Apparently, banks keep odd hours Saturdays. Stupidly, we didn't bother to locate an ATM in the airport so that we would have some pounds on us to tip bell staff or get a quick bite, so once we got into London that was our first order of business. How were we to know that ATMs would be so hard to find there? There was only one ATM within three blocks of our hotel and it was not accessible 24 hours. We got into London at 9:15 and dropped off our luggage at the hotel, then walked back to the bank to use the ATM. The bank didn't open until 11:00 a.m.

We also found that on weekdays, many businesses didn't open until 10:00 a.m. (except restaurants) and closed at 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. What the heck is that? How do people shop after work?!

Fortunately, Jess had the presence of mind to pick up a little "Welcome to London" booklet which was put together by HSBC, who had their name all over the Stansted Regional Airport. The booklet, which was pocket-sized, turned out to be one of the best tools of the trip. It had a terrific street map of central London as well as a map of the Underground (subway). We used the heck out of that little booklet.

"How was the food?" you ask. Well, the food was, uh, EXPENSIVE. We thought NYC was expensive. It has nothing on London. We had to keep reminding ourselves that when we thought prices looked okay at a place, we were looking at pounds, not dollars, so we had to multiply everything by 1.75. Holy crap, we paid through the nose for restaurant food. One night we went to a very good Indian restaurant (London has many good Indian restaurants) and were happy with the food and service, but were shocked when the bill came; £38.75! (That would be about US $68.00.) I can count on one hand the number of times we have spent that much on dinner in NYC, and definitely not on Indian food. Let me clarify that. Indian food is typically not expensive in NYC, and we certainly didn't expect it to be so in London.

Of all the places we ate, we only went to one restaurant where we got away for less than $50.00 U.S. Next time, it's McDonald's, Pret a Manger, or one of the little Cornish pastry shops.

No, we didn't eat blood sausage, or blood pudding, or anything with blood in the name. Gross. I could do a lot of backwardness, but not that. We did eat scones with clotted cream and jam, though. Yes, it sounds horrifying, but clotted cream is actually a smoother, creamier version of butter. It's fabulous. But it sounds horrible. You'd think they could come up with a better name than "clotted cream." They have this thing about blood and clotting and food. However, we did have fish and chips - twice. Great at one place, so-so at another. At the great fish-and-chips place, the desserts were mind-blowingly good. Jess had a wonderful chocolate cake and I had an apple crisp that was bathed in a slightly thickened vanilla custard that was heaven on a plate.

At any rate, we're looking forward to going back in May, and we will really have our $h!+ together when we visit next time.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Snowed in

Last weekend, we had fun with Byrne. He came over Saturday afternoon, and for dinner we went out to Chili's to celebrate Jess' uncle Louis' 60th birthday. We don't usually drag friends along to family events, but we didn't want to give up a weekend with Byrne, so we brought him. On Sunday, I prepped, Byrne cooked, and we ate like kings. We made a salad of baby greens tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette I made up, with peach slices, sundried tomatoes, and corn relish, with some of the Pepperidge Farm Hearth-Fired Classics bread (in the frozen section) that had rosemary in it. It was pretty incredible for frozen bread! Then we had a casserole-type thing made with pumpkin, covered thinly with pesto, then covered in parmesan cheese. and a fabulous chicken cacciatore, with onion, garlic, crushed tomatoes and a little Ro-tel tomatoes for spice, fresh basil, fresh parsley, etc. It was wonderful. If you ever have Byrne over, have him cook. You won't be disappointed, I guarantee it.

However, this weekend was a totally different story. We braved the supermarket Saturday night as the snow began to fall - it was a madhouse as everyone scrambled to have enough groceries on hand that they didn't have to go out Sunday. We were snowed in Sunday with 22 inches of snow. There was no going anywhere. So we took a nice relaxing bath in the soaking tub, then came down and had some leftover Italian food from Saturday's wonderful lunch at Vincent's, one of the tastier Italian places out here. (We had lunch portions and still had enough for a full meal at home!)

We built a fire in the fireplace, printed our taxes to file (good refunds - yeah!), and cooked a roast in gravy, with onions, carrots, parnips and celery.

It was nice to be able to just sit there and enjoy watching the snow fall from our comfy sunroom.