Sunday, April 27, 2008

I Ate Cat Food in Porto

Well, not exactly cat food. I think. 'Pate do Sardinha.' Sardine Pate. Looked like catfood. Smelled like catfood. Even came in a small-ish tin like catfood. Kinda tasted what (I think) catfood tastes like.

Needless to say, this aspect of my lunch while in Porto on Saturday was very brief. The smoked oysters, cheeses, and fresh baguette-were however, simply amazing. And, this was just the appetiser that everyone gets. wow. Lunch actually consisted of grilled trout and fresh, boiled baby potatoes. yum. I had lunch at this cute cafe on the Duoro River. What a beautiful city. I'm getting ahead of myself...

I spent this past weekend in Porto, Portugal. A very quick weekend. Flew in Friday nite, and back to London Sunday morning. So, when all was said & done, I basically had one full day in Porto. Which is fine-it's so small, that a day is possible to hit the good stuff (read: port cellers).

My hotel, Grand Hotel de Paris was fantastic. Shabby, but quirky (note the toilet seat covers as wall decorations on the pic below). The weather was *perfect*-even if I didn't really pack for it. The jeans were too hot, and I didn't bring sunblock-so I got fried a bit. But, who cares? The weather was amazing!

My Saturday started with a late-ish (9a) breakfast-and what a breakfast!-for only 40 pounds a night, the spread was VERY impressive. I think I ate the equivalent to Vienna Sausages (for the first time in 25 years...), banana flambe, crepes, a fried egg, cheese, and tomatoes. Yum. After breakfast, I headed down to the Grand Cathedral-which was on the way down to the riverfront, and while there spied one of the local trolley's as it rode by. From here, I headed down to the riverfront for a stroll, and then crossed the bridge to the Villa Nova de Gaia-the town across the bridge where all of the port cellars are. The focus of my day. :)

I started out at Calem, where I got a tour, and the low-down on how to make port, where it's made, and the differences. Then the tasting began. It's barely 11a, and I'm the only person on the English speaking tour, so it's really just me and my guide 'hanging out' with a few glasses of Port. I've decided I'm not much of a fan of white port, and even though tawny is the only port I've had until this trip, it is also my favorite.

After Calem, I *hiked* a ways up to Taylor, where I had more port (including a new, pink variety. eh), and then decided I'd head further up the road to try just one more place. By now, it's getting to be close to 2p, and I'm starting to get tipsy. :) Last stop, Wiese & Krohn (Krohn is the only one I've ever heard or seen-or even tasted). All I can say is, yum. Really liked all the ones I tasted here-a white, a blend, and a tawny. Yum. Plus, the cute, 20-something who was fluent in 4 languages and had muscles out to *there* certainly didn't hurt....

After all the drinking, I head back across to the bridge to Porto, and eventually stop at one of the restaurants on the river where I have the afore mentioned cat food. By now, it's pushing 4p, and I've been trudging around since 9.30a. In jeans and easily 80 degree weather. Time to go drop off my purchases, change into something cooler, and take a few minutes to relax. Out again at 4.30 to head to the shopping district. Where, try as I might to find some fun clothes and shoes (the prices really are super cheap in Portugal, Carolyn!), the styles are just to 'European' for me. So, I settle for some perfume that I know is cheaper than duty free. By now, it's pushing 6p, and since stores close at 6p, it's time for me to leave. I stop at a cafe on the way back to the hotel for a beer. I'm still stuffed from dinner, so I figure the beer will be all I need for dinner, but I also decide to hit up the local bakery on the way back to the hotel to pick up 'dessert.' A mini-cream puff and mini -eclair. yum.

Back to the hotel around 7.30p, where by now, I'm soo pooped thanks to the combo of heat, full tummy, and alcohol that I pretty much hit the bed with a book, and only move to take a shower and pack.

All in all, it was like an extended me-day that just happened to be in a beautiful city. I can't complain!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Oh Boy

I've been a bit quiet about Simon lately. Not because there's nothing to report, but rather because I just wanted to stay quiet about things & not jinx it. Things are actually going really well. So well in fact, that I've been invited to join Simon on a portion of the family vacation in Malaga (Spain) in a few weeks.

I don't know what has me more freaked out: the 'family vacation' part, or the fact that we're planning a weekend that is three and a half weeks from now. Crazy. It's actually been so easy with him so far, that I'm also a little freaked at the thought.

I like this guy a lot, and am actually contemplating inviting him to join me on a portion of my Seattle trip at the end of May/early June. Given the lengthy vacation he'll have just come back from, I doubt he'll be able to take more time off, but who knows?.. He may surprise me.

Oh boy.

Home Sweet Home

My things that came over by ship were delivered yesterday.


I slept in *my* bed for the first time last nite in two months. And, ironically, I didn't sleep well. It's like it took me a while to get used to the actual comfort of my bed. But, the best part is, I didn't care that I was awake-I was COMFORTABLE!!!

The couch was too big to bring up the stairs (they're a little wonky as you turn a corner), so it had to be put in through a window on the second floor with ropes. I took a few pics & will post in a few days. Talk about nerve racking!

I'm already so excited at the thought of going home again tonite and sleeping in my bed.

Friday, April 18, 2008

You know you've lived in London to long when...

I had to call Seattle Public Utilities today to switch the name on the account over to my renter, Jorge.

All it took was one simple phone call. Not 10. Not a form. Not 7-10 business days before it would take effect. I didn't have to provide a blood sample to prove who I was. One phone call.

After the things I've had to deal with here so far to take care of 'basic living,' I forgot how easy taking care of things could be in the States.

Three More Nights!

It was confirmed today: My cargo shipment arrives on Monday. My bed, more clothes, kitchen 'things.'!

Three more nights of sleeping on an air mattress, then I get my bed back. It will be a good night of sleep on Monday. For once, I can't wait for Monday to come!!!

There's No Delicate Way to Say This...

The toilets here are different.

Evidence remails after flushing that makes it clear what your business was. Every toilet I've used so far. I guess the glazing just isn't as good on porcelain here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Last Connection has Been Cut

I just finished cancelling my US cell phone. Done. Gone. No longer. 206...does not exist to me any longer.
And, for just one brief moment, when the T-Mobile person said, 'are you sure?'...there was a moment of hesitation on my part.

But then, I plunged ahead. What the heck.

Friday, April 11, 2008

O Happy Day!

I finally got the PIN to my ATM card!!! Dance of joy!!!

Now, while this may seem like a non-event to those of us who have spent our lives in the US, let me explain. I don't think I've yet told the saga of "kristina trying to get her ATM & Credit Card.." If I thought Ikea was Hell, Banking in the UK is surely Purgatory!

I knew several weeks before moving the UK (that's like 2 months ago by now..) that with Amazon's help, I could set up a bank account and get a credit card at NatWest. Cool. I was told the process would take 2 weeks for the bank account and another week or so for the credit card. Cool! I even emailed the paperwork over from the US before leaving. Two months ago. remember this.

I arrive in the UK, and after a week am told the bank needs the 'originals' to the paperwork. OK. No problem. I mail it in. On March 26-3 weeks after I arrive and 5 weeks aftere I've submitted even the first hint of paperwork-I get my bank account. I then am told, my ATM card is on it's way to your home. Cool.

Two Saturdays later, I just happen to be home at 9a, when the mail courrier comes. I have a package to sign for. It's my ATM card. I had NO IDEA I had to be present to sign for it (which likely explains why Sarah never received her card...), I just happened to be at home. Cool. I'm in business!

Wrong. I still need my PIN. Which, I have to apply for seperately, and will be mailed to me seperately. OR I can go to my local branch bank and receive. There's literally a NatWest downstairs, so I pop out at 9.30a on Saturday, March 29-10 minutes after receiving the card. I am told by the teller, 'oh. your account is in Jersey. we can't do anything for you in the local branches.' Jersey, folks, is the offshore place I was told to set my account up at-for tax purposes. whatever. like i ever have to do anything 'for tax purposes' given what my income is here. the best the branch can do is mail the application form for me. but WAIT. the address the bank has for me is the corporate housing address and I'm moving to my permanent housing in the next weeek. so, I have to also change my address. which the local branch can't do. grr..

Monday comes, and I call Jersey to request an address change. I have to mail in another form. And pray it gets there and gets processed before the PIN is issued. Well, thank my lucky stars it was-hence the delivery of my pin to my house just now. 8 weeks after I started this proces.

Oh, and the credit card?!?! First one was mailed to the old address last week. A. I have to be present to sign for it. and B. It's my old address. So, I then had to call the bank up (not Jersey..) and request an address change, have the first card cancelled, and request a new card. I requested that it be mailed to work. If I'm lucky, it will come some time next week. 9 weeks after I started this process.

So, in the time that I've been here, I've charged just a few things on my US credit cards (freakin 3% 'international transaction fee'), and paid for most things with cash. Food, beverages, touristy things in Edinburgh, transportation, 'stuff.' I feel like I'm bleeding cash. Which, I basically am.

But, with the arrival of my PIN today, I can stop tapping into the US account and start actually using the money that's been sitting in my UK account and inaccessable.

This process has been the bane of my existence since I arrived, and has wasted so much of my time. I don't know if it's this bad for folks who move to the US from outside the US, but if it is, I can certainly sympathize.

My American Optimism has certainly been crushed, but maybe with the arrival of the PIN today, I can buy a bit of it back later tonite! :)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The London Diet

Holy crap! I've lost 7 pounds! And, given the *utter junk* I've been putting in my body-more chips, cookies, chocolates, and soda in the past 6 weeks than in the past year for sure, I'm stunned!

But, when I hopped on the scale at the gym lat nite (FINALLY got a membership), my weight in both kilograms and stone (14 pounds equals one stone, btw...), I confirmed with the calculator this morning that I have indeed lost more weight. This is like, 17 pounds in 4 months. Crazy.

I'm sure that the 10 minute walk to the train, 10 minute walk to work, and doing this all in reverse every day-plus just general walking around, has certainly kept me from gaining weight, but I never thought I'd loose.

7 pounds lost AND I'm eating what I want?!? I may never come back to the US.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Next Travel Destination: Porto, Portugal

I'll be heading to Porto (or Port, as we Americans know it...) the weekend of April 25.

I'm beginning to sense a theme: Whiskey in Edinburgh. Port wine in Porto. I think Champagne in France should be next, followed by beer in Munich! Any other suggestions?...

Oh, and Edinburgh was fantastic. Coldest I've been in a while, but otherwise, I loved it. It's very picturesque-reminds me a lot of Seattle-mountains and very hilly, sits on a port, so it's surrounded by water. Friendly people, much cheaper than London. Oh, and the whiskey certainly didn't hurt either. :)

For you whiskey drinkers (and non-drinkers-of which I primarily am), you should try to find a single malt blend (yes, you heard me right...) called Monkey Shoulder. yum. Burns the gums long after going down!