Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Canterbury Tale

Spent a lovely day in Canterbury yesterday.  I knew I'd like Canterbury, but it really exceeded my expectations.  Lots of great 'old' things to see, a completely walkable-and easy to navigate-city, and the weather fully cooperated!  I was also fortunate enough to be at a few sites, and due to perfect timing, I guess, have the entire place to myself.

Canterbury is a 90 minute-ish journey from London, and given the size of the town, is do-able in an easy day trip.  I arrived at the Canterbury East station at 12.02p, and by 12.05p was at the Norman Castle.  It's almost literally right next to the station.  Built close to 1000 years ago, the Norman Castle is one of the three original royal castles in the area.  And, for the most part, I had the whole place to myself!  It's not huge by modern standards-nor is it the size of Windsor-but, it was impressive nonetheless. Next to the castle is an old graveyard and church.  So, I took a wee wander off the trail.  I have a thing for graveyards.  I don't know why-perhaps I got it from my mother...I just find them so darned fascinating.  So, I had a little wander around there as well.  Completely alone.  I felt so lucky!

By now, it's pushing 1p, and my tummy is starting to rumble, so I take out ye olde trusty map and make my way to Cantina.  Mexican food.   Random, I know-but it looked like a nice place from the Canterbury website-and it was open on a Monday.  I initially wanted to go to a place next door called The Farmhouse, but they're closed on Mondays.
Nevertheless, Cantina did not disappoint!  Homemade nachos and calamari with lime, garlic-and peanuts were my two dishes.  The chips for the nachos were fresh, and the calamari was so tender I almost didn't need to chew.  I don't think I'll return to Canterbury any time soon-but if anyone else is headed there, I'd cerainly give Cantina an A+.

After lunch, I decided to make my way over to St Augustine's Abbey and St Martin's Church.  By arriving at Canterbury East station, I was able to plan my day basically starting at the station and working counter-clockwise around the city-via City Wall to see the sights.  So, the abbey and the church were next on the rotation.  Unfortunately, The Abbey was closed on Monday as well (drat), so I carried on to St Martin's Church.  Along the way I passed a prision.  Across the street from a primary school.  Am I the only one else that thinks this a bit odd?...

Anyhoo, the actual church at St Martin's is closed on Monday, but the grounds (read: cemetary) at the church is open.  And, I had the entire place to myself!  St Martin's is the oldest church in England still in use-since c.580.  Wow.  The sun was out, it was a beautiful cemetary, and no one was around.  I spent about 45 minutes there just wandering, reading, sittinging and taking it all in....just 'being.'  It was fantastic.  For me personally, that was the hilight of the day. 

When I first entered the church grounds though, I was struck by this sign:

So, does that mean that if you're not warned-or if the officer isn't in a uniform-it's not an offence?...I just thought it was funny.

Anyhoo...After St Martin's, I headed into city centre to the big daddy:  Canterbury Cathedral.  It did not disappoint, and at £7.50 for entry-the only entry fee I'd pay all day, I felt like it was a steal.  The place was a mob scene with school groups, so it was a bit difficult to navigate, and after the peace I'd had at St Martin's was a bit jarring, but the Cathedral itself-and the history-was quite stunning nonetheless.  The Cathedral dates back to 597, is the seat of the Archbishop, and for me personally, has the most amazing undercroft I've ever seen in a church, and the cloisers were just stunning:

But, just like with St Martin's, I saw another sign that struck me as funny and I had to take a photo:

From the Cathedral, I had a wander around city-centre.  After 20 minutes though, I realized that a)this place has the same shops as London (Highs Street, mostnd b)it's mobbed with school groups.  No bueno.  So, I high-tailed it out of the centred headed west to the West Gate for a quick peek at the Towers.  Unfortunately, the Towers Museum closes at 3.30p, and it's pushing 4p by now, so I decide to carry on along the city and head to The Millers Arms for a pint of ale.  Afterwards, I have one more little wander-to the Stour River park-literally next door to the pub-to enjoy the scenery:

And, then had a final wander back to the train station and headed home.  Oh, but here's a few shots of the cemetaries that I saw during the day:

Organ Donation in the UK-My PSA

I've been a registered organ donor in the US since I got my first drivers license at 16.  And, though I'd talked many a friend into becoming a registered donor in the US over the years, it never dawned on me until I saw a TV advert the other day that I wasn't registered in the UK-and if (heaven forbid), something should happen to me while living here, it's not like my body is going to be flown back to the US immediately-"Quick!  I'll bet she's registered to donate her organs in the US. We must get her back there!" Or something like that...

So, there was a TV advert on the past week.  A simple PSA to encourage people to go to the NHS Organ Donation website and sign up.  So I did.  It didn't even take 5 minutes.

You should do it to if you haven't already.

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's Bright in Brighton

I spent a day puttering around Brighton last week, and it was a glorious day.  It's surprising at how busy Brighton was in March in the middle of the week; I can only imagine that summer weekends must be insane!

Brighton is easily explored in one day on foot.  And, like Cardiff, small indy boutiques rule the roost-particularly in the North Laine part of the town.  Fun, fun.

I arrived in time to meander thru town and do a swing by Brighton Dome and the Royal Pavillion.  It was so beautful ouside that I opted not to go in either, and instead just walked around-and then sat outside just to enjoy the fresh air. 

But, it was still chilly ouside, so I had to get a moveon, so I headed  down to the shore-front, where I wandered the pier for a bit, then decided to try to find Terre a Terre-a local veg restaurant for lunch.  Found-and OMG.  I had their faux fish and chips.  The 'fish' was battered and fried halloumi, and was accompanied by chips, lovely minted peas-topped with two vodka infused tomatoes, and their own tartar sauce.  Honestly, everything was delicious-and so plentiful that the chips weren't even needed!  Sadly, the picture doesn't even do it justice.

After lunch, I popped next door to Scoop & Crumb, the local ice cream parlor for dessert, and then spent the rest of the afternoon wandering from shop to shop, and just generally enjoying being outside.

A few things were closed, as it is still off season, so I finished playing tourist a few hours earlier than I'd planned, so I simply hopped an earlier train home.  Honestly, I knew  Brighton was close, but a 45 minute train ride goes by in a flash.  That's one place I may have to pop back down to one weekend-just for another another lovely lunch at Terre a Terre!

Croeso i Caerdydd

That's Welsh for 'Welcome to Cardiff.'  It was charming to be in a country in which English is commonly used, but still would show the Welsh version as well-on everything from signs to tour maps. 

Two weeks ago, during my first 'unemployed weekend,' Simon & I went to Cardiff, Wales for the night.  While my passport is off being visa-ed, I'm limited to where I can go, and Cardiff is a simple jaunt from Paddington Station-which is as convenient as it gets-so it seemed like a logical choice.

Cardiff during the day?  Lovely:  pretty, clean, friendly...everything you'd want and more. Cardiff a nite?  A totally different story.  Let me put it like this:  by 9.30pm, we were sitting in the hotel bar having a beer because of the drunken, mad chaos on the streets.  And mind you, this wasn't a rare occasion-this is apparently Cardiff *every* Saturday nite.  Anyhoo, I'm jumping ahead...

We got to Cardiff around 11a on Saturday, and dropped our things off at the hotel.  We were lucky to have a great location-effectively a hotel on the main street (but thankfully, a room on the quiet, back side).  If you're in the mood to shop, Cardiff is definitely the place!  More High Street shops than you can shake a stick at.  And, if mainstream isn't your thing, there are tons of amazing, little boutiques in the labrynthe of arcades in city-center as well.  The Arcades alone make Cardiff worth a quick trip, if for no other reason.  So, this is how Simon & I spent the bulk of our day: just having a nice wander around the town, and popping into one shop after another.  Surprisingly, neither of us bought anything, but the looking was fun enough!  We also spent a few hours at "Castell Caerdydd"-Cardiff Castle, which was lovley-well preserved and beautiful-but a bit expensive on the admissions (tickets are about 10 quid each).

We spent so much time walking around, that both of us were actually ready for an early dinner.  Well that, and the fact that Simon knew the 'tone' of the town would change at night-and he knew neither of us would enjoy being out in the drunken mess. Good call on his part...

We had dinner at Positano -and Italian resto.  Apparently, Cardiff is a bit known for Italian, and Positano looked good from the ouside.  And, it was!  Simple, fresh, authentic dishes.  Amazing prices (starters and mains for both of us, 2 beers, and a delicious tiramisu to share all for under £35), and good service.  score.

After dinner, we were going to go for a wander, but it was pushing 9pm, and the madness outside had already begun (I feel like I'm referencing something from a zombie movie..), so we decided to head back to the hotel for another drink and call it a night.

While having a wander on Saturday, we came across Madame Fromage in one of the arcades.  I'd heard of Madame Fromage before (though I didn't know it was in Cardiff), so we decided to have lunch there on Sunday.  I am so glad we went there!  The food was amazing.  It's a pity we weren't hungrier-meals aside, they had a good number of Welsh cheeses in their cheese case I was itching try.  Pity I didn't get to. :(  But, our mains were still delicious.  I had lasagne, and Simon had a Breton Fougasse (a pastry with cheese, ham, and olives).  Yum on both accounts.

After lunch, we walked down to the bay, where we spent the rest of the day before having to come back up to town and catching our train. The bay was fab-a great weather day, and clearly folks decided to take advantage!

All in all, Cardiff-nightime follies aside-was a good, cheap, easy overnight trip.  If for no other reason but to have anothe wander thru the arcades, and cheese at Madame Fromage, I'd go back!

Cardiff Castle                                                                                      Breton Fougasse                                 

Cardiff  Bay

Travel, travel, travel

Details to follow, but in the course of getting sorted for my trips the past few weeks-and one more upcoming to Canterbury-I heavily relied on the tourist websites for the towns I visited.  And, I have to say-they were FANTASTIC!  Plentiful, helpful, up-to-date information.  Good maps.  Good 'itenerary planning' functionality.  The works!  If you're thinking about going to any of these places, I highly recommend the following:

Visit Cardiff
Visit Brighton

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Responding to a few Comments

My crap laptop settings won't allow me to respond to comments the past few days, so I guess there's no other way to do this...

@Ashley Edwards (re: comments on Proximity): I transferred over with my US company who had an outpost here in the UK.  18-24 months ago, I would have said: pack your bags and come on over!  You're young and will have 3 months to find a job.  Piece of cake!  Now?  Not so much.  General economy woes aside (which make it challenging even for Brits to find jobs...), the UK government is making it more difficult for expats to get working visas.  Not *impossible*, just *more difficult.*  So, I'd strongly encourage you to do your legwork/networking on the US side of the pond before coming over.  And, in a perfect world, you'll have some Very Strong leads before coming over.  Obviously this will be more difficult, but the expense of living here without a job-and with it being as hard as it is...not worth the risk.  Totally my $.02.

@Boston chick (re: comments on Lambing Live):  In truth, not much about my expenses has changed since my last post.  I've moved in with my BF to a cheaper flat ('just' £560/week now v the £730 in the old flat), and have tweaked a few montly bills-ie cheaper monthly mobile phone contract and killed the landline/internet in favor of Skype and a PAYG monthly mobile broadband connection, but that's about it.  All told, I'm probably spending about £360/month less than.  Well, actually, I guess that is a big difference...

Friday, March 12, 2010


I swear, this is the week of revelations!...

While getting my last dose of Lambing Live last nite, there was a montage of lambs and sheep in different settings around the UK:  the coast (did you know that there's a type of sheep that lives off of *seaweed*?!?!?), mountains, rolling hills, etc...And, while I was watching, there were several scenes that made me think to myself, 'wow. that looks great!  i'd really love to go there one weekend.'  And, that's when it hit me:  popping away for the weekend here in the UK is totally possible-and in particular, with all of the food/cooking/lambing...programs that are on TV here, it seems like I've seen more of this country than the US-and am more familiar with where-and *how* food is sourced here than in the US.

I mean, I *know* that potatos come from Idaho, but it would probably take 10 hours (at best?..) to drive there from Seattle and find a potato farm.  The UK?  I could probably be on a farm in less than 3 hours.  And, there's something I find comforting about that; the proximity itself is definitely a good thing-I am most definitely a fan of buying local.  But, beyond the actual proximity, is the knowledge that I'm gaining by learning about where the food is sourced from.  Good stuff.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Lambing Live

You know you've been in England too long, when the following happens:  On BBC2 each night this week-and this week only-is a show called 'Lambing Live.'  The show is following a farming family in Wales this week as their ewes give birth to the spring lambs (lambing), and sometimes live on the program.

Now, the first time I stumbled across the show on Monday, I watched for 20 minutes, and thought...ok.  Definitely not something I'd see in the States.  Tuesday at 8pm came, and as I was looking at the program guide, I thought....ok.  maybe worth watching again.  No live births on Monday, maybe something tonite.  And, the little lambs were cute.

But, last night takes the cake:  I actually made a point of going to BBC2 at 8pm to watch the show again!

I have definitely been in England too long.  I'd love to embed a video in my blog to show, but I don't konw how to do that (if anyone knows how, please let me know!)  So, I'll just have to go old school with a link: 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

It's the Corn, Silly!

Since moving here, I've noticed that my eating habits have shifted.  Namely, I'm eating less beef-ground (mince, as the Brits say) to be specific...I don't eat as much gound beef because it tastes different than US beef, and it's a taste I haven't been able to adapt to.  It's more 'earthy' for lack of a better way to put it.
Well, two weeks ago, I finally figured out why.  I was taken to a business lunch at Automat, a Mayfair American-style restaurant perhaps most well known as the location of where Renee Zellweger 'plumped up' for her Bridget Jones role.  Well, I have to say, I can certainly understand why!  The food was fantastic, and the burger I had tasted like 'home'.  Read:  AMERICAN Beef.  Why?  Because, it was actually 'USDA Corn-fed Beef'-it proudly said so on the menu.  Corn-fed:  the same stuff that I now know is completely harmful to the food industry (both beef rearing and corn-farming) in the US.  Anyone who has read Omnivores Dilemma will know this.

So, while in Automat it hit me: it's the corn, silly!  This is why UK beef tastes so different-cattle are grass-fed, not corn-fed!  And worst part?  I prefer the no-good-for-me-no-good-for-the-cows, Corn-Fed beef.

Hmph.  I am a horrible, horrible omnivore.

Say Twat?

Sorry Americans, for the seemingly offensive language. But, unilke the US where 'twat' is a fairly offensive word (at least to my ears...), it's tossed around here much like 'jackass' would be back home.  In addition to twat, there's also 'twatted'-usually used in reference to being drunk-but that seems to be used less frequently than twat.

Sadly, I think I've now picked up this word, and though I don't use it with every passing breath, familarity breeds comfort; I've found myself uttering it on more than one occasion-usually when dealing with Joe Q. Public while out and about.

Note to self:  this is one British-ism that should *not* make it's way back to the states with me!