Friday, May 29, 2009

Travelin' Fool

One of my co-workers, Luke, asked me today what my remaining travel plans were for the summer. He knows I've just returned from several days in Barcelona, and he also knows I had spent a quick weekend in Brussels just a few weeks prior. Given this, I think he assumed my reply would be, 'oh. not much...'

Instead, it dawned on me just as I was rattling off the list of what's booked for the rest of the year, that I'm a bit out of control with the travel...

July: 2 weeks in Seattle (YEA!!!!)
August: Weekend in Paris
September: Long weekend to visit my lovely friend Jen, in Boston

And, there are at least three or four other trips somewhere by the end of the year that I want to take: Athens or perhaps Croatia (somewhere warm), at least one weekend trip to 'somewhere' in England (though, preferrably two trips...), hopefully Prague or Warsaw for a quick trip (read: cheaper Eastern Europe...), and hope of hopes, I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for a trip to Thailand later in the year. Mind you, this last one would involve winning the lottery or selling a kidney to fund, but I do still hope.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I'm sorry to say...

but, I watched the Man U/Barca football championship game last nite.

And enjoyed it!

Never thought I'd say that about a football game.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hola Barcelona!

Last week, Simon & I took a proper holiday-four days in Barcelona. Four lovely days off from work. yea! Sometimes, you just need to recharge the batteries...

The weather while we were there couldn't have been more perfect-sunny and 70s the entire time. nice! And, as this was the first warm weather streak we've had since oh, October (regardless of location...), it was greatly appreciated.

I've been to Barcelona twice (though the last time was barely for 36 hours, and the other, proper holiday there was almost 10 years ago...), but this was Simon's first trip there. Aside from seeing the Barcelona Football statium, he really didn't have anything specific that he wanted to see, but based on my other times there, I knew that there were a few must-not-miss sights: Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, the waterfront, Las Ramblas (ok. kinda trashy & creepy, but still worth checking out...), and the Barri Gotic. We managed to get in quite a bit over the time we were there-saw all of this plus the Picasso Museum, Casa Mila, and several other amazing sites, thanks to one of hop-on, hop-off busses that we got tickets for the last full day we were there.

Sagrada Familia is one of my favorite sites in one of my favorite cities-though, I do wonder if I'm ever going to see what it looks like when it's not under construction!

Though ironically, one of my favourite-and likely persistent memories of the trip will be the time that Simon & I spent at a bar (every afternoon-we became 'locals' who got to know one of the servers well enough to have a round on the bar, and actually get to know him a bit) called Mirinda (Calle Xucla 7 for future reference...). Unfortunately, we never got the name of our server, but we're bettting that if we go back again next year, he'll still be there. :)

It was only a block off the craziness of Las Ramblas, but because if was off of a side street, it wasn't out in the open. We just happened to stumble across it our first day there & thought 'ok-let's grab a table & have a beer and a snack.' Little did we know that we got lucky in getting a table, as the place was solidly seated for the next 2 hours we were there. Same for the next two days. Can't describe the place-it simply had a great vibe. We were probably the most 'mainstream' clients the bar served, and the bathrooms were sketchy, but oh well. It was still an amazing place. And obviously, part of what made it so amazing was *who* I was with-Simon. We simply have a great time no matter where we go-and to be able to just sit outside, enjoy the weather, a beer, and a plate of tapas?...doesn't get much better than that!

Overall, Barcelona has and still is one of my favorite places on earth. I love the people, the food, the weather..and the architeture (Gaudi=God in my world...) really is just out of this world.

Anyhoo, a few more photos of the trip to add a little oomph to the post. :)....

A sign located on the pathway at Park Guell. I just thought it was funny.

I think perhaps, Simon's favorite moment of the trip-FC Barcelona Stadium.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Getting Political

In my 15 months in London, I've not yet really spoken about the local politics that I've observed/been impacted by here in London-or the UK, depending on the issue. But, there's been an item brewing here in the UK the past few weeks, that I have decided I am absolutely pissed off about-and it's also made me wonder about our own system in the US Government...

The link below provides great detail of why I'm so pissed off:

A little background to explain some of the underpinnings:

MPs (Members of Parliament), which are like the equivalent of members of Congress in the US, while 'serving' in London can claim expense for said serving. Just like in the US, as DC is the political capitol where representatives come from all over the country and spend a good bit of time away from home in DC, the same is true of MPs and London. In the US, most representatives are easily hundreds if not thousands of miles away from their constituency-given the size of the US. The one big difference being that as London and the surrounding areas are so populous, many representatives that spend time 'away from home' in reality only commute 10 miles into London from their constituency.

Follow me so far? Here comes the part that I'm pissed off about. While 'away from home,' MPs have the option of claiming a second home as their place of residence while working in London. OK. Seems fair enough on the surface. The killer is that many of these MPs primary homes are also in London, and in some cases, only mere miles apart. And, when claiming a 2nd home, they can be reimbursed for the expense by the government. The 2nd home expense covers everything from mortgages, repairs, furnishings....etc up to £24k a year that is reimbursable. £24k. You can buy a lot of house for £24k a year (even in London)-even if that only partially covers your mortgage.

Well...aside from the *incredibly* shady expense claims that are being made (one MP recently got called out for expensing £10 of porn DVD rentals from her husband...), it's now come to light that MPs are selling (or even 'flipping') their 2nd homes-and making a tidy profit. All while their MORTGAGE WAS FUNDED BY TAXPAYERS. So, MPs are pocketing the profits from selling their 2nd homes, all while never having actually paid for the mortgage/equity in the home themselves, and in many cases, not having to pay any capital gains taxes on the sale.


And, in the course of all of this, it has made me wonder about our own policies in the US with regard to these possible expenses/reimbursements/2nd homes...etc...I can't say I recall ever hearing anything about the outrageous claims/problems that are going on here, but is it because the problem doesn't exist-I it just hasn't been sussed out yet. If it's the latter, and I'm sure it is...I'm already pissed about that as well.