Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Eats and more around London

Part of my "resolutions" for 2013 were to get out to try new eats and places around London. Besides wanting to try them, I had this fear of people coming to visit and my only suggestion being Pizza Express (which is still delicious!).

So, over the last few weeks, we have tried to get out and about on the town to eat.

The places we've tried include:

1. Taqueria (Notting Hill) - as I mentioned before, we're on a quest to find the best Mexican food in London. I fell in love with the Choriqueso tacos here. Plus they serve black beans with the crumbly white cheese on top, mmmmmm.

2. The Booking Office (Kings Cross/St Pancras) - this is a bar, but I'm sure they serve food, that's located in St. Pancras Station. The best part about this is the atmosphere - high, arched, brick ceilings and the old wood work give it a great ambiance. Added bonus - it's right above the Eurorail entrance, so perfect to grab a quick drink before popping over to Paris!

3. The Windsor Castle (Notting Hill) - not the REAL castle, you must preface this with pub when putting it into Google maps. This is an old pub in Notting Hill, dating back to around the 1860's. Beware - if you go on a weekend for dinner, be prepared to wait and you'll need to be the shark waiting by the bar for someone to hop up. The wait was worth it though. It feels like a true British pub, tiny doors and all (see below picture borrowed online), and the food is pretty good to boot.

4. Byron's (All over) -  this burger place does happen to be a chain, but no wonder its popular. The burgers were delicious, as were the courgette fries (or zucchini fries for us Americans). Apparently the milkshakes are delicious as well, but self control prevailed on this trip!

5. The Pelican (Notting Hill) - this is another local pub that I walk by often with the dog or on the way to Portabello road. We finally popped in last week and it was pretty good. I had the baked stinson cheese (some kind of British blue cheese) and shepherd's pie which was good as well.  Plus, we all know I love British pubs where I can get cider on tap.

Anyone have any London must-try restaurants?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

2013 Resolutions

I hate to call them resolutions. They are more of goals, or things that would be nice, but no need to really hold myself to it.

I don't have any pretenses that I will complete all of these, therefore it can't be a resolution right?

In 2013, I'm working on a few different things, some self-improvement, some experiences, some just fun.

1. Health - I want to improve my eating and workout habits. First stop is a competition through my work where we try to lower our body age (for example, my body age is older than my actual age). I'll track my eating and cardio through a site and the competition ends in April. I'm hoping to keep up my good habits for a long time following that though!

2. Getting around London - we have been a bit of homebodies since moving to London, which has been nice to settle in, relax, feel at home here. But now I'm read and rearing to go try out new restaurants and places. One a week is doable, right? We're starting in our hood and then expanding out.

3. Getting out of London - last year our goal was to travel to 10 new places, which we just eeked by with 11 new places. This year I'm hoping for the same. Our first trip on the books is for March, but perhaps we'll get a surprise trip in between now and then.

I'll take suggestions on 2 & 3 (1 too for that matter)!!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Years in London

Last year, we celebrated New Years in Gallipoli with my sister, seeing the memorials from the ANZAC battles and the ruins of Troy. This year we found ourselves at our new home in London.

What a difference a year can make.

On New Years day, I had one item on my agenda - visit the London New Year's Day Parade. I'm not sure what attracted me so much to the parade, but I was determined. Despite a late start to the day, we bundled up and caught the tube to Westminster in hopes of getting a good spot to view the festivities.

Good morning Benny boy
We joined the parade a bit late, since it was a 3 hour affair. The parade was full of bands, cheerleaders, floats of sorts and people dressed in costumes which didn't really relate to London or the New Years, but the kids got a kick out of it.

American Cheerleaders in London - they came from Cali
and Austin, TX (SFA)

Paul's favorite costumes of the day
My favorite floats of the day - balloons!
I can't decide if the flying eagle or
telephone booth were better.

The best part of it all though was having the streets shut down around Parliament and Big Ben. We got to wander the streets around the historic area and catch some great shots.

We're looking forward to a great year in 2013 full of many new adventures!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Arsenal v. Newcastle United

Despite all the football craziness, I never made it to a football match in Istanbul. In fact, I am about 99.99% sure I have never made it to a professional football match in my life (do they even have footyball in Texas)?

We were supposed to go to the Arsenal match on Paul's birthday as a celebration. Then comes the tube strike and the game is postponed. I chalked it down as a loss and figured I probably would never get to go t a match while I was here.

Then, as Paul was browsing ESPN or some other such sport night, we realised there was a game on a weekend, this past weekend in fact.  Arsenal versus Newcastle United - we were going to be there

The stadium is very easy to get to - it's almost in the city center, just take the Picadilly line up to Zone 2. From there, we just followed the crowds to the stadium. I feel so bad for people who live on that walk up. Even though we got there 5 minutes before the start, there were still hundreds of people making their way to the stadium, not the best for entering/exiting your place of residence!

One of the many pop-up stores on the road to the stadium. The
scarves are very Harry Potter-esque to me
The fact that this was my first professional match tells you a bit about my level of soccer knowledge - basic. I couldn't tell you the exact rules for off-sides, or hand ball, so I spent a lot of the first half of the game asking Paul questions like "what was that flag for?" or "can you empty the net like in hockey?". The fact that it was a slow first half probably didn't help. It was in a tie - at 1 to 1.

The stadium - too bad they couldn't bring a little bit of the Middle East
heat from the UAE to the stadium. While it is roofed, it isn't closed,
and therefore not heated. Brrrrr
The second half though is where it got interesting. There were back and forth goals to tie up the game at 3-3. Then with about 20 minutes left, Arsenal exploded. They scored 3 goals within 5 minutes and ended up winning the game 7 to 3. It was an experience like nothing else. Throughout the whole game, people were chanting along to songs, cheering them on. Perhaps a bit like college (american) football, but more organised. For next time, I'll have to learn a few chants so I can sing along!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park

For the last and final of our Christmas escapes in London, Paul and I made a trip to Hyde Park. While we have been here several times before with the pup on weekends, they transform it for Christmas into the Winter Wonderland. I had seen it advertised, but flying over it one night, it was lit up and beautiful in comparison to the darkness around it. That was the moment I decided to go.

I had thought it was going to be a lot like the Christmas markets last year in Germany but with more. I should have known from the website it wasn't though. The website touted a ferris wheel, carnival activities, an ice skating rink, a frozen (magical) ice kingdom in addition to the usual stalls with foods and other Christmas-y goods.

We decided to walk there from our place, about 45 minutes, strolling, enjoying the brisk evening and I went as far as to sing Christmas carols along the way, once we were off the busy streets. Within 15 minutes walk of the park, you could already see the lights. Like a beacon, calling you to them!

Winter Wonderland ended up being less than I expected from the Christmas markets, but more in other ways. While it was lacking the expanse of shops and delicious goods (while there were some food stands, there was a really odd assortment and not nearly as much good food as I would hope), it made up for as a carnival. There were rides and games galore. Paul ruled out most of the easy ride (aka the carousel and "reindeer" ride I suggested as a joke), and I ruled out the rides where you could possibly injure yourself, which left us with mostly carnival games. Paul tried his luck to win me a life size bear, but alas, the darts circled and missed their target, and I am bear-less.

After our losing streak in the games, we found the Bavarian Village and staked out a table. Basically, its a large area where you can, you guessed it, drink beer. They sell some food as well, but we had already stuffed ourselves on bratwursts, potato pancakes and candied cashews, so we stuck with a litre (for Paul) and a pint (for me). There were some lively bands going to keep us entertained until our show time at 8:30.

Bavarian beer

View of the Bavarian village from our perch

Most of the things within Winter Wonderland are free; however, there are a few things where tickets and/or reservations are required. One of these is the Magical Ice Kingdom. I decided it was worth the couple of quid to give it a try, so I had booked us in for this as well. Reservations are needed not just because you need a ticket, but also because it is a frozen little village. They want to regulate the number of people coming through to make sure it doesn't get too warm to melt the sculptures inside.

While it is small, some of the sculptures are pretty amazing. We got to "ride" in a carriage pulled by a unicorn and sit a top a frozen throne, although we did restrain ourselves from joining the 5-8 year old kids in sliding down the ice slide. After the freezing temperatures there, we were quite content to head back home and warm up by the fireplace!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Tarts!

Christmastime is over in London, as I was harshly reminded of this morning by the men sawing up our office's Christmas tree in the lobby.

As I had previously mentioned, this was Paul and I's first expat Christmas where we stayed overseas. Which meant, we had Christmas all to ourselves for the first time in our married lives.

It was a great chance for us to wind down and catch up, away from the usual hustle and bustle of Christmas. So, what was our agenda for the big day?

Eating. And everything else that revolves around eating.

We woke up and popped into the oven the ham, which I had cooked and prepped glaze for the day before, the egg casserole, fruit salad, and re-heated and iced the sweet cardamom bread I had prepared the day before.

My first ham - success!

We opened gifts with Christmas music playing and a fire on in the background. My favorite gift? An antique Belleek tea set from the 1930's in a sea design (think coral and sea shells!).

Even Belle was able to "open" gifts, which she immediately christened
by running around in mad circles and squeaking, much to Paul's delight.

We watched Love, Actually. I think Paul only agreed because he didn't know exactly what it was, but this is one of my favorite movies for Christmas.

We cooked some more! The evening course included left over ham, mashed potatoes with bacon & chives, corn bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole and some delicious rolls. We were so full, we decided to not even attempt the dessert.

Okay, lots of carbs. Note to self - veggies next time!

This meal was also followed by movie watching - this time, White Christmas, as neither Paul or I had seen it.

Finally, we wrapped up the day by Skyping with family and friends. Perfect end to a relaxing day.

Merry Christmas from the Tarts!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Visions of Sugar Plum Fairies

This Christmas, we will be spending our Christmas in our new home in London, which means for the first time we will be away from our native home and families back in Texas on Christmas. At first, I was sad to miss it - all the time with family and friends, the food, the traditions.

Then, I realised the opportunity we had to create our own traditions and do whatever we wanted on Christmas. We were skipping out on the hassle of flying back during the busiest time of the year and simply relaxing at home, kicking up our feet by the fire and doing what we like best.

Coming up with your own traditions can be daunting though. To compensate, I think I have tried to fit in every possible Christmas celebration I can in London from ice skating, to orchestra concerts, and now, seeing the Nutcracker at the London ballet.

Me and the Nutcracker go way back. My grandmother used to take us often to see the ballet in Fort Worth, dressing up especially for the occasion. Oddly enough though, my most distinct memory of the Nutcracker is from my elementary school, where each Christmas, the 5th graders put on a show of the Nutcracker. 

Now, don't get too impressed yet - this was no performing arts school. Our version was not something people had to pay to see (at least I don't think so!).

It was more along the lines of this. 

Okay, it was almost exactly like this, lyrics, dancing and all. I will say, our costumes had something on these baggy t-shirts. I remember painstakingly wrapping red around my white tights. And for some odd reason, this performance has stuck with me all those years - my first and last "ballet" performance.

Back to present day, seeing the Nutcracker here in London was the first time in probably 10 years that I had been to the ballet. There's some things I had forgotten, such as how unlike my elementary school production, there is no speaking, and it was nice to reacquaint myself after all these years.

You couldn't ask for a better place to see it - the theatre itself even gave off an air of Christmas with the red, plush velvet seating and ornate stones decorating the stage. Add to that walking out of the theatre to Trafalgar Square and standing to admire the Christmas tree puts you in the Christmas spirit.

This weekend, we buckle down for our final Christmas preparations - wrapping last minute gifts (and buying them), shopping for our Christmas feast and hoping for a little bit of Christmas snow.

Happy Holidays to everyone!