Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ice Skating at Somerset House

During the Christmas holidays, which in London seem to range from October to December, you see ads for ice skating everywhere. Postered all over the tube, in the daily papers, online.

I decided to surprise Paul with a trip to go ice skating on his birthday, because we would be in London and it was the first time we would be by ourselves, without family to help celebrate it.

I was excited about my little secret. I went online, purchased the tickets, got the email confirmation and felt proud of my plans for his special day. Then, next day, I re-read my confirmation email and realise I bought the tickets for the wrong month. Doh. What was I thinking?!

Luck was on my side though. Despite Ticketmasters refusal to change the tickets, my travel plans got cancelled and I was able to take the afternoon off to enjoy our skating. Despite losing the element of surprise, Paul has enjoyed the gift of mocking my lack of details in this birthday planning.

So which of the venues did we decide to try out for London's imfamous ice skating? Westfield? The History Museum? Tower of London?

None of the above. We tried out the Somerset House. I had seen an ad in London's Time Out magazine and a co-worker told me it was the IT place to be for ice skating. I'm sold! To add to that, it's on the Thames and is a stately 17th century building that was once remodeled by Christopher Wren, the same one who you may remember designed St Paul's Cathedral.

Beautiful Christmas tree
So, we decked ourselves out in sweaters, coats, hats and gloves and hit the rink. It was awkward at first. I started out holding the rail. Made it a couple of laps around. What?! It's only been 5 minutes?!

Doning my "babushka" aka rabbit hat for the first time.
Figured it was the perfect opportunity for its debut!

Then, I was able to hit my skating "groove" if you will. This consists of not constantly teetering and avoiding most of the hand rails.

30 minutes later, I was done. Man, skating is tough! My legs will be sore tomorrow.

Overall, it was a fun experience. It was a beautiful, picturesque setting. For those who enjoy skating, its a must. For those who don't enjoy skating, give it a spin, but then cut your time short and hit up the rink's bar for mulled wine or hot chocolate and Bailey's. I may not ever go back for a second round of skating, but I'm glad we were able to take time together to go for our first Christmas in London. Now, what's up next in our countdown to Christmas in London?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Teatime + Happy Hour in London

Brits love their tea. Turks love their tea too, but it's different in London.

In Turkey, it was a casual, post meal, welcome to my home, relaxed kind of tea. Here it's almost an art. There's high tea, with scones and pastries, and lots of fancy types of tea, from breakfast tea, Earl grey and my favorite, peppermint.

Last weekend, I tried a new type of tea. We went to the Dorchester for a last hoorah for my colleagues and to have a few cocktails.

Pinkies up!

The famous cocktail to try? Her Majesty's Cup. And besides being a cocktail, it of course includes tea in the drink.

It's made up of gin, Earl Grey, champagne, and fruits like raspberries, strawberries and rhubarb (Side note: yes, I had to google rhubarb. Am I crazy? I definitely thought those things were apples in my drink). Oh yes, plus it's poured out of a tea pot into tea cups with a nice stem added for easier cocktail sipping. Despite the gin, which I have always said I detest, it was delightful. One tea pot includes two tea cups worth of drinks, so grab a friend, or keep it all to yourself!

Cocktail tea cups
Drink and snack in one

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Santa Clause is Coming to Town

Without Thanksgiving to sandwich in between Halloween and Christmas, Christmas gets an early start in London.

I've seen lights and small decorations up at various places throughout the month of November, but as of this weekend things were getting into full Christmas swing in London.

Oxford Street - best shopping and Christmas lights

Oxford Street again

Stores are beginning to sell Christmas wares, grocery stores touting their hams and turkeys for festive meals, neighborhood trees being raised and lit, and tons and tons of street decorations.

Our neighborhood kicked off
Christmas with a tree lighting,
free hot chocolate and a
kettle drum.

So, despite Thanksgiving looming over this week, we decided to get into the Christmas spirit early this year. Heck, since we are celebrating Christmas in London, I figured an early start is required to be like the locals!

So, with peppermint tea in hand and Christmas carols playing in the background, we trimmed our tree, lights, ornaments and all except the tree topper. I think I may need some pintrest inspiration to make the perfect topper.

Our beautiful little tree!
We are missing a lot of our
favorite ornaments but have
still managed to pick up some
new favorites along the way

 Up next to celebrate Christmas? Infamous London ice skating, carols and maybe even some snow!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Brussels in a Day

Part of my job involves travelling - lots of travelling. I remember times in Dallas where I was gone at least once a week off to Houston, Port Arthur, California, Chicago and who knows where else.

One of the best things about travelling in Europe is that you no longer have to take day trips to Houston. Sure, I have to take day trips for work still, but now I take day trips to France. Sounds so sophisticated doesn't it?

Yes, apart from waking up at 7, flying twice in one day, taking taxis around unknown cities and returning past dinner time it is so sophisticated. Okay, even if it isn't quite sophisticated, it definitely beats Houston.

When I travel, outside of the meetings and working from the hotel room, I try to make the best of trips. I'm there, in a new city, let's see something! Even if its nothing much, I have something to say about the trip.

This week, I found myself with some time in Belgium. So, what did I do with myself and my day in Brussels?

1. Walk to the square - it was cool. I wish I would have thought ahead and brought my camera, because it had to be one of the most picturesque squares I have been in.

My terrible Blackberry photos do not do
the square justice. When will my
phone upgrade happen?!

2. See the fountain - yes, THE fountain with the little guy peeing. It was tiny and unspectacular. But, hey, I've seen it now. (In proper circles, it is called Manneken Pis - translating to Little Man Pee in the local dialect).

All the replicas throughout the city are larger
than the statue itself. Oh, and they dress him in costumes.

3. Ate a waffle - Sound familiar? I at least got Belgian chocolate on it to make it authentic. And mmmm, it was delicious.

That's it. One day and a couple of hours. I've gotten just enough of a taste to bring me back for more!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Days Workout at St Paul's Cathedral

It is the changing of the guards here in London. My friends and colleagues who I came to London to take over for are finally leaving. It's bittersweet - I am so happy for them to go home and be reunited with their loved ones and move on with their new lives. Selfishly, for myself, I am so sad to see them go. They have been great guides to the city, and friends showing me the way here in my new town.

In honor of their last weekend, we had a day filled with last minute bucket list items. We hit up Portobello Road and shared with them the buzz and a bit of hippy flavor of our neighborhood. Being the tour guides for once was fun, since they have showed us so much of London! Plus, I always leave Portobello Road a happy camper, having munched my way through all the food vendors possible.

Next - we tried something new, for both my friend, Paul and I. While I have passed by St. Paul outside several times, I had never made it inside.

Of course you would expect a theme park
right outside of historic church

As soon as you walk into the cathedral, your eyes are drawn upward. High ceilings, tall columns and at the peak of it all, beautiful mosaiced domes. In Turkey, we marvelled at Aya Sophia and Chora Church's mosaics; however, St. Paul's gives you a pristine example of what those churches probably looked like back in their prime. Despite being built in the 1700's, it looks just as it must have upon the day it was completed in 1711. Awe-inspiring, beautiful and still gold glistening in the light.

View looking down from the center of the church

Mosaics up close and personal
After taking in the whole of the cathedral, including the giant, ornate organ, came the hard part of the day. We wanted to check out the galleries in the dome of the cathedral which includes steps - lots and lots of steps. Luckily for us, they were broken up into a couple of different parts.

First was the Whispering Gallery - this is a famous gallery where legend has it you can whisper from one side of the dome and be heard on the other. I say legend because we weren't able to to experience it. With us, and about the 25 other tourists up there, it was impossible to witness the 'miracle' in action!

Next up, 115 steps or so later was the Stone Gallery - in addition to the 360 degree views of the city in this outdoor dome, there are some nice benches providing a respite from the climb.

The final 150 steps bring you to the very top of the dome to the Golden Gallery. While you have to fight (slightly scary) spiral staircases, tourist crowds slowing down your ascent, and a little bit of claustraphobic spaces in some places, the views are worth it. So breathtaking. All you can do is walk around the narrow circle and then head back down to allow others to soak in the view.

Panorama - the Thames, London Eye and more

View from the top

The Shard

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Happy Overseas Anniversary!

This weekend was a big weekend for anniversaries for me.

It marked 2 months in London - how time flies! With Paul, the dog, and all our stuff finally here, it is finally starting to feel like home. We're finding our way around town, discovering new restaurants and making some friends.

Even bigger, it marks my one year anniversary overseas. It's hard to believe that one year ago I left our empty house and stuffed 8x10 storage unit to start our new life overseas. And what an amazing experience it has been. I wouldn't change any of it and am looking forward to what the next few years have in store.

So, how did we celebrate?

Some Mexican food at the best Mexican place I have yet to find in London - after an extensive search.

Guess you can't take the Texas out of a Texan!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Belle's Weekends in London

In Turkey, life wasn't very dog friendly. Our apartment manager didn't like dogs, often the people at the neighborhood park didn't like dogs, and even more often, people would jump out of the way when we would walk with her (on a leash!) in the streets.

Of course Belle knew no better, but I'm sure she missed the days of dog parks in Texas, running free of the leash and playing happily with other pups.

This is one of the reasons I am so happy to be in London. Having a pet isn't unusual. People walk their pets everywhere, and even on a day like today when it's 40 degrees out, I saw plenty of people sitting outside, if only for the reason that they could dine at a restaurant with their pup. In fact, Paul and I were those people!

I'm pretty sure Belle is loving life here. She still has someone at home with her all day and she gets lots of walks and outdoor time.

What did this Saturday have in store for Belle?

6:30 am - Wake us up excitedly  - let's get the day started people!

8:00 am - we actually get up and get her feed - yay food!

She knows the park already - better be prepared for some running
when you show up with Belle
 11:00 am - take a 20 minute stroll to Kensington Gardens

Kensington Palace Gardens - Belle's new backyard

 11:30 am  - run around like a mad dog, chase squirrels, birds and run wild with other dogs. Plus, if she's really lucky, roll around in some mud. Oh yeah, and check out some of the sights

While Belle loves the Swan Pond at Kensington, she is not
to be trusted here! No getting in the water and no attacking
the Queen's swans

We trotted by Prince Albert's memorial
1:15 pm - hit up the local pub for some food, or at least food for us and Belle hoping for some table scraps

2:00 pm - take a stroll back and make a detour to Portobello - again, just hoping for the last bite of a Brautwurst

Oh, is that food I see down there?
 3:30 pm - whew, this day calls for a nap!

She loves all the green spaces here, and so do we. It's so refreshing to have a place where dogs can run around, enjoy themselves and get rid of some of that pent up energy that comes along with living in a very urban city. Not to mention for us, it's a great place to sit, relax, read a book, or maybe even picnic. Now, we just need more sunny days and warm weather to enjoy the outdoors!