Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The pub 'round the corner...

So while Saturday was spent slogging through the snow and getting everything to make my apartment complete and beautiful, Sunday was spent organizing everything that was left, researching what was needed to get rid of the things that were no longer wanted (i.e. selling off all of the clothes that would no longer fit into my limited closet space, finding out where ewaste could occur so I could get rid of unnecessary electronics and the like), and general "around the house"ness.

At the end of the day, however, we decided it was time to go out for awhile (now that it wasn't snowing anymore) and check out the pub 'round the corner. As it turns out, lucky me, there is a pub literally around the corner from my apartment. Less than a minute's walk, called the Drayton.

As it so happens it is also attached to a hotel, should any large number of guests decide to come visit me at once.

And this is what we found:

A delightful, just-as-you-would-want, stereotypical, neighborhood pub. Like really. They do exist, and they're just as wonderful as they should be and promise to be.

We're talking well lit, merry gentlemen laughing, pool-playing, beer-and-cider-drinking folk. There's even a pub quiz every Thursday. Unfortunately it's all about football and coronations, which I would be utterly useless at, but it's nice to know it exists should I feel down one Thursday night and want the jolly company atmosphere.

The barman was so nice to my parents that when they went up to order our drinks and food (which I'll get to in a second) he let them try four different types of cask and draft beers so they could choose the one they liked. I got to try two ciders that were on tap (one was Strongbow, which I've had many times before) and the other was a fresher more local cider that had no preservatives in it which was fantastic, and the one that I went with. After trying all four beers on offer my parents chose the one they liked and we ordered a pint of their beer and a pint of my fresh cider.

So for the food - the real reason we were there for the evening was because my mom was especially keen to try their Sunday roast. Apparently this is something that is known about and maybe the guidebook had mentioned before.

There were definitely roasts on the menu:

Hella roasts. Four roasts to be accurate. Pork belly, beef rump, roast chicken, and a lamb leg. All roasted for your gut-bursting delicious enjoyment.

We were going to go for the pork belly, beef rump, and lamb leg, but unfortunately the lamb had sold out before we got there, so we went with the chicken instead. Turns out this was an awesome idea.

Btw in case you were curious, they also have a normal menu which also looks completely fantastic:

Anyway, we grabbed our pints and headed back to the table. We were chatting happily when the roasts arrived, maybe 20 minutes later (surprisingly fast, but I guess the roasts had been cooking all day so it's not like there was much prep other than getting things assembled).

Boy were we in for a feast (for the eyes and the stomach). Jeebus those portion sizes...

This is what the beef rump looked like. That huge thing next to it? Yorkshire pudding - a bread thing made mostly from eggs (so it's chewy and delicious) that is baked in the fats/drippings from the meat. Fabulous.

All of the dishes came with the same sides - the Yorkshire pudding, whole crispy baked potatoes, buttered shredded cabbage, and the most awesome roasted regular and white carrots this world has ever tasted. I absolutely loved those veggies. So delicious. I could eat just those and be completely satisfied. And that's not even getting to the meats.

All of them were spectacular. The beef was juicy and bloody (just the way I like it), the pork belly was fatty and roasted, just as it should be, and surprisingly, the chicken was the best cooked. It was tender and soft, with the meat falling straight off the bone as soon as you touched it. Just thinking about it again makes my mouth water.

And all of us ate all of it. I left maybe a third of my pudding and a potato, but that was it. Everyone else cleaned their plates. We're small Asian people and these are large plates of food. It was impressive. Even our waitress was impressed.

Here are the additional pictures of our plates:

They did have a fairly decently impressive dessert menu, but after inhaling this amount of protein we were content to finish our drinks and waddle back home to watch Game of Thrones (my parents have yet to finish season 2 and season 3 is upon us).

Surprisingly even though it was a ton of food, I wasn't feeling especially full. I feel this is a detriment because I was feeling rather fat the next day. I have a horrid premonition that despite my best intentions, London might make me fat. I've been trying to eat fruit at work in an attempt to stave off hunger (which I've been feeling incessantly, despite it being warmer here and me getting decent sleep...I think it's the stress) and what's happened instead is that I eat 2-3 servings of whole fruit a day. I've already told my coworkers: if I end up becoming a diabetic because of all the fruit sugar I'm eating there's going to be hell to pay somewhere. Damn you Don and your cheap delicious food and your horrid weather that makes me hungry all the time!

Looks like I'll be hitting the fancy gym more often soon. :)

But in the meantime, it was wonderfully reassuring to know that should I want an amazingly comfortable bite to eat I just need to pop 'round the corner outside my apartment and boom, I was in an amazingly friendly pub with delicious food. Not too badly priced either (like 15pounds a plate).

So, friendly guests, know that if we ever get too lazy to go out to dinner, this is likely where I'll take you. ;)

You're still in for a treat.

Going back to Ikea :/

Apologies for the skip in post yesterday; was in France for a conference. Without further ado, here is today's post and I'll post another to make up for yesterday's absence.



So the weekend was upon us again and what were our magnificent plans for the break you ask? Fantastic explorations of London? More wonderful plays or musicals? Perhaps even some gourmet foodspotting?

Ah, no, my good friends. It was time to go...back to Ikea!

Yes, as it turns out, I had mistakenly bought some things that didn't work for the apartment. Lampshades that didn't fit, coat hooks that didn't work with my lease (or rather I was too lazy to install them after finding out I'd need to repair the walls once I moved out), and a red toilet brush that just grated on my soul every time I looked at it in my gorgeously stark white bathroom. (You try being raspberried at every time you're peeing and there's a bright red toilet brush with black bristles staring back at you from your immaculate glossy white tile floor).

I decided enough was enough, and we were going to make the adventure out to return them and get the last remaining items on the list to complete this apartment decorating adventure. Oh yes, the design was almost done and things were looking good. But first, these tasks.

Unfortunately the day we chose to go out to Ikea (Saturday, since it's open the longest and we have the most chance of getting there while it's open, given how long it takes to get there) it was...

...snowing. Snowing in London. At the end of March. Ugh, I thought I moved away from you, snow!

Apparently it was now though, and it was pretty blizzardy when we went out. Unpleasantly so. Surprisingly cold, considering none of the snow was settling.

We went to a few stores before we hit Ikea as well, all in my relative neighborhood of Ealing/West Ealing (where I actually live) and Ealing Broadway (the bigger neighborhood to the east of mine). There we dropped by an excellent family-owned hardware store to get some parts to reinforce my Aneboda wardrobes (the weight of my clothes was apparently outmatching the original design intent of the bar and anchor that were provided...so my engineer dad decided to take matters into his own hands and make is own solution...let's just say mine is now better than anything you can get on the Ikea market...way better) and a wonderful store called Wilkinson's, which is oddly like a Target. It sells everything from housewares to groceries (like packaged snack foods), to gardening supplies and other household items (cleaning supplies, general all-around household stuffs). I, lucky me, found replacement lampshades there so I didn't have to choose once again from the limited Ikea selection. Woot woot! They look like a set from an eastern harem. I kid you not. They're awesome. Pictures to come in a later entry when I do the finished apartment tour.

After those stops and a quick drop by home to drop off our goods and scarf some cookies (the "biscuits" here are incredibly cheap and delicious...I have an unfortunate feeling London is going to make me fat), and we were off once again to Ikea. Luckily, since I'm now moved out of Paddington, the path there is much more straightforward.

One bus to Ealing Broadway, then one bus all the way to Ikea. And all free for me with my not-so-futuristic bus pass. Or transit pass, I guess I should say, since I can ride any type of transportation.

Our trip this time went a little bit smoother...sort of. We still had a hell of a time figuring out where the pedestrian entrance was, despite doing research ahead of time. We got off on the bus stop after the one we got off last time, as per the Ikea website's suggestion, only to walk an entire block in both directions with no help whatsoever with how to get past the fences that circled the parking lot and into the store.

We eventually found an opening in the gate and got in. And walked through the parking lot. This is not better, my Ikea friends.

Anyway, my returns went smoothly and shopping was pretty breezy, since we knew what we were there for. My household shopping was finally through.

We decided it was time to eat at the restaurant again and we piled upstairs (for the third time this trip, since they awkwardly make you go to the exit for returns, then you need to go back outside to get to the entrance since there's no convenient way to go back through to get to the front of the warehouse...and the restaurant is at the entrance...).

This time though: the meatballs had returned! Guess they had finally tested clear of horse DNA enough for them to feel confident enough to serve. I was relieved. It'd been over a year since I'd eaten those tasty cheap meatballs. And unfortunately since the meatballs were back, my number one choice, the ribs that were on the menu last time, were taken off as replacement. Guess the ribs were only a substitute until the real boss was back in town.

We gobbled down our food as the snow continued to pour outside. It was seriously blizzarding outside. I've never seen so much snow in England before. It's ridiculous.

We asked a security guard on the way out how to get out the best way so we could finally figure out the appropriate way we were supposed to exit and enter, after fumbling three times trying to find the official way. He told us to follow the walls of the warehouse (on the outside) until we hit the stairs to the parking garage, following it through, go through a fence, go over a small bridge to the parking lot of the Tesco next door, follow the gate to the street, and there would be stairs to a pedestrian bridge to cross the street to our bus stop.

Wow Ikea, that is the worst laid plan for pedestrians I have ever seen. Considering how many people don't own cars in this country I am appalled. I do understand that more people use cars here than in Finland but jeebus. Horrid. Just plain horrid.

So we gathered our belongings and trudged our way through the sleet and snow and made it home in one piece, where we installed everything that had been newly bought and continued organizing and clearing up the house. The apartment is really shaping up, and it's a beaut, not gonna lie.

Thanks again Ikea, for your delicious cheap food and ridiculous experiences. I have no intention of ever going back to you if I can avoid it here in London.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Keeping the Finnish lifestyle

Oddly since coming here I've still kept my Finnish lifestyle. I thought perhaps with being in a place that resembled the States more I would slip back into my American ways. But it seems not. Despite being surrounded by an expanse of cheaper food and goods, I've not been very interested in a lot of it. Let me outline the ways I've kept my Finnish lifestyle here in London:

Buying less material goods
Despite being surrounded by shops of all kinds and amazing amounts of clothing stores, I've been very disinclined to go in and buy things. I've definitely started looking at things more, and been interested in them, but buying them is actually fairly low on the list still. I've even been to several markets with my parents and the actual purchasing of things has yet to happen. I believe the only thing I've actually bought so far is a luggage tag (which is kind of necessary, and it was absolutely hilarious).

For whatever reason (call it disinterest in needing to lug it around, knowing that I'd need to move it to my real apartment from the temporary apartment, the nagging feeling there was still so much I wanted to get rid of when my shipping container really did arrive), I just can't get behind purchasing much anymore. I consider this a major achievement. Less emphasis on material goods. Keeping the Finnish way.

Eating good and simply
My parents are staying with me so this is a bit different than how I would normally eat (i.e. a lot more cooking is being done and they eat a lot more bready things and desserts than I would ever consume on my own), but my requests from the grocery store have pretty much stayed with what I would get in Finland, with the exception that I know I can get a little more variety. But the genres of things are still the same: raw veggies, things I can eat with the raw veggies (it's hummus now instead of ranch or potato salad), milk, and the occasional salty snack. That's about it. I get all of my fresh fruit from work still (which is awesome) and I even get cold cereal from them now. Done and done.

Minimalism and sparseness in design
When designing out my apartment layout and what I wanted to have, the main thing I wanted to avoid was visual clutter. I did buy new furniture, but the purpose of a lot of it was to hide things away but also force myself (in a good way) to get rid of a lot of things I already had. For example, there is no built-in storage in British apartments, so I had to buy my own closet system. Two closets were purchased (Aneboda, from Ikea) and a dresser (the largest Malm drawer set, also from Ikea). All of these allow my things to be put away and out of sight, no visual clutter. All in white, gorgeous.

This amount of clothes storage also ensure that not all of my clothes will fit. It is highly unlikely anyway, and I would not want to force it. I realized as I was packing to go that I hadn't worn some of the clothing I had the entire time I was in Finland. If that was the case, it was time to get rid of it, unless I was really attached to it. So, now that it's arrived, it's time to sort through everything before it goes into another closet. Minimalize. Purge. This also applies to anything else in my apartment that wasn't used during my time in Finland (non-clothes related, like my printer or extra speaker set). All to be gotten rid of. Why store it just to move it again?

Appreciation of silence
I've come to appreciate silence more and more through my life. Unfortunately London is not a quiet city, and the new goals in my team push networking instead of inward contemplation. So I'm forced to talk during my day and alone time is few and far between, especially in comparison to my days in Finland. But I plan to relish in this as soon as I can possibly can. And whenever I get the chance to not speak, I definitely take advantage of it. Listening is one of the greatest things you can do.

Sauna, sauna, sauna...
Admittedly one of the main reasons I joined my gym: the sauna. Yes, it's close to my work and only a 15 minute train ride from my apartment. Yes I get a corporate discount on it and it's got an indoor pool and steam room. Yes, it also has towel service and all of the classes are free for me to use. All of these things are just icing on the cake to the main reasons why I go there though: the sauna, the treadmills and rowing machines, and the showers with unlimited hot water and high water pressure. I sauna more here than I ever did in Finland. It's bloody cold here. Debateably colder here than in Finland, no matter what the temperature reading says. Humidity does make a difference. No one can tell me otherwise.

Travel on the books
And of course, the penchant for travel. Before I'd even landed in London my first trip out of London was already booked for 5 weeks after I arrived. Back to Helsinki to use the port to get to a no-visa trip to St. Petersburg. Yes, my friends, tSH is getting to Russia. For Easter weekend. I will most definitely be blogging about my adventures there. German K and San Diego J will be accompanying me on this very excellent journey.

And true to form I'd been here less than 4 weeks before another trip was on the books for the following month: Copenhagen. The weekend after that? Paris for a conference, hopefully for some fun with friends the weekend before. We'll see what happens.

So, looks like the spring will be a busy time. But in the meantime I plan to continue with my Finnish lifestyle of simplicity in the small and pure things and maintain the goodness. There really is something to be said.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Futuristic bus pass?

...actually not quite.

Similar to my situation in Helsinki, as soon as I moved to my new apartment, I needed some way to get to work.

As happenstance would have it, my temporary apartment ended up being in Paddington instead of one of the neighborhoods I was checking out (which was the original plan), so I was walking to work the first month of the time I was here in London. What that meant in reality? No extra transportation costs on a daily basis.

This actually saved me a boatload. Monthly transit passes in London are quite expensive. I'll give you an example. From the zone that my new apartment is in (which is zone 3) to the zone that my work is in (which is zone 1), a monthly unlimited transit pass is approximately 120pounds. Yeah, that's right, 120pounds.

So let's just say for the sake of awesome savings that I saved myself from having to pay 120pounds for that first month. And you can do the math on how much my transit fees are generally going to cost for a year.

But that's sort of getting ahead of myself. Because I didn't need to buy that pass for the first month I was here, I just used my Oyster Card (an electronic card, very similar to my futuristic bus pass in Helsinki) to get around the tube and buses whenever I needed to go somewhere (i.e. sightseeing with my parents on the weekends or out with friends on various other days). Other than that, it was just walking.

Anyhoo, when I got to my new apartment, it was time to buy that annual pass. When you buy an annual pass versus a monthly pass, they do give you some savings. Again this depends on which zones you're buying (you buy zones that you're interested in traveling in; unfortunately there's no all-encompassing awesomeness like in Finland unless you want to buy zones 1-6 which probably costs a fortune) and then they give you a discount accordingly, like 15-20pounds a month savings. This is pretty good because the monthly pass is already saving you about 50%, assuming you are going up to the max of 10pounds a day (they won't charge you more than that per day if you buy an unlimited day pass...but anyway, I'll not get into that because it gets very confusing).

So, time to get my annual pass.

There were two options I could get: get an annual pass Oyster Card or get an annual pass transit card. The Oyster Card tends to be associated most with the underground though it can be used for all transportation types and is pretty convenient because it's a magnetic card. The transit pass covers tube, buses, and overground trains and comes with an ID card. Both are registerable so if they get lost or stolen you can gave them replaced.

At the end of the day I decided to go with the transit card. I wanted to have an ID card and I'd be taking the overground train everyday. Plus I found out that it allows me to get additional benefits like a 30% discount on tickets for up to 3 people if I'm traveling with them. Or discounts for myself on areas outside of my zones (so trips to the airports, for example). I can also get weird 2 for 1 admissions and discounts to various attractions around the city. So, pretty much blasted the Oyster Card out of the water as far as savings are concerned.

The only serious drawback about it: it's a paper card with a magnetic strip. So everytime I come across a station entry with turnstiles, I need to slip my card into the machine, like a day pass (versus an Oyster Card, which I can swipe on the machine).

It is understood that this card will eventually wear out and I will need to replace it (which they will for free), but it's an annoyance nonetheless. Oh well, I'm hoping the benefits will outweigh the negatives. We will see.

Unfortunately no pass that I could buy easily would get me to or from any of the airports for free so that's a benefit that I've given up from Finland (it was nice being able to take public transportation as part of my pass), but oh well. London, you're certainly proving much more expensive, in all ways.

But at least I can now ride unlimited on all tubes, buses, and overground trains within zones 1-3. It's nice not having to worry about that. And I just got the money back from having turned in my futuristic bus pass back in Helsinki (I still had time left on it so I turned it back in). So that's something. London, you are going to be explored. :D

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I hate British showers

And I mean that in the literal sense of the statement, not in the "it's raining here all the time" way. Which it is. When it's not snowing. Or windy.

Though my new bathroom is gorgeous as can be (pictures will follow), the water system of London is pure and utter bullshit. How can civilized people live like this?!

First, as my friend Ozzie Luke will perfectly attest, there is a pure and utter lack of sense when it comes to the ideas of hot and cold water. Hot is boiling hot and could be used to make instantaneous black tea (black as the streets are gritty) and the cold is cold enough to basically make ice cubes out of as they fall out of the faucet. Really, my hands have never hurt so badly as I tried to wash dishes.

If you're lucky enough to have a combination faucet of some kind (which I am lucky enough to have, with all of the sinks in my apartment...this was a special thing I looked for when doing my viewings, because of the warnings I had gotten from Luke and others), you may get a combination that equals warm. Usually you will get boiling hot (if you're lucky enough to get something that resembles hot water on a normal basis) or freezing cold. There no happy medium. Even when the water is being premixed for you. Really.

This, apparently, also applies to their showers. Stupid as that sounds. And really, it took me several minutes of dumb staring at the thing to even figure out how to get the shower working in the first place. I figured out easily enough how to turn on the faucet that fills the tub, and how to get that temperature just perfectly...but then there was no lever to get the water to the shower head. Hence the dumb staring.

Now, in all fairness, I'd seen this kind of contraption before. In Thailand.

Yes, in that developing country I'd been in two months before. I'll repeat that: in that developing country I'd been in two months before. Developing country. Developing. Country.

And yet it was here, in my first world European apartment. On the "Grand Island" (as my boss calls it).

What the deuce?

Anyway, in Thailand they were smart enough not to bother with bath tubs (though admittedly I love the choice and missed them when I was in Finland), so I never had to bother with this situation. Hence the confusion now. And the mystification. And the feeling dumb.

After about 5 minutes of standing there completely dumbfounded (really, I searched the damn thing for buttons other than what was on the face, which wasn't clear), I eventually called my parents in to give it a go as well, to see if I had just stupidly missed something.

The answer was no.

Eventually we decided to just start pushing buttons on it. Clearly there were no other levers or buttons we'd missed on the bathtub itself, so, guess it was time for some very awkward trial and error.

We did figure out the button to push. It's the bottom one with the single red line on it. Obvious right? Hmph.

Anyway, the water pressure was pretty low, though it was hot, so I got in and continued to shower.

While I was in there though, thinking that maybe I should explore and possibly improve my situation, I tried the other buttons.

This was a horrid mistake.

The button with the single blue line quickly turned the water ice cold (well, within about 3 seconds...the machine itself is changing the water temperature as the water runs through it so it takes a little while to adjust the temperature you're commanding it to be). I was yelping as I pushed the button with the single red line again.

The button with the two double red lines? Burning hot magma water. I had to jump out of the way to avoid giving myself second degree burns. No wonder I hear sirens all over the city, this snazz is ridiculous. The water pressure didn't seem to improve on either of those either (though my mom claims afterwards that the double red lines setting does make the water pressure better, you just need to lower the temperature on the knob beforehand so you don't scald yourself).

And to turn the thing off? It's not by pushing the button of the setting you're already on. Hooo no, that'd be far too simple. You need to press the STOP button on the top. Obviously. :P Yeah, naturally.

After getting out of my mostly adventurous and unsatisfying shower I then had to step the two and a half feet down back to earth. For whatever reason the British feel the need to elevate their tubs to monumental heights. I'm not sure the reason for this other than to accentuate the fact that they are above the world/were above the world at some point in time. Something something imperialism. Or to keep old people from taking baths or showers. Can't tell. [It's okay, in actuality I understand that it's because the plumbing all fits underneath the tub and not into the floor or wall, as we do in the rest of the world/the States.]

Anyway, that was my first shower experience in my new apartment. Terrifying.

Pretty sure my main conclusion is that I'll be showering most of the week at my fancy gym. At least there they have incredible water pressure, unlimited hot water, and I can stay in there as long as I want without having to wonder how much my water bill will be.

Gym membership, you just became even better...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Celebratory meat

So what did we do after things were generally cleared up and put away?

We went to eat. And then go and get the rest of the stuff from the temp apartment so we could check out and really sleep the night in my new place.

What did we have for dinner? Well, considering we'd had pretty small stuff that day (breakfast early in the morning, sandwiches standing up in the kitchen since there was no furniture), we were hungry by the end. Really hungry. And I was especially hungry for meat.

Oddly my diet goes almost vegetarian whenever I go abroad. Call it being cheap or just being more health-conscious (or lazy, since cooking takes a dive as well), I just don't eat much meat when I'm by myself. Granted I'm with my parents right now, so they're still supplying meat to me, but in general, on my own, not much meat.

So when huge amounts of strenuous activity happen. Meat is desired. And required.

And what had been catching my attention every time I came out of the gym and was walking back home?

Aberdeen Steakhouse. Right across the street from Paddington Station.

Blast you delicious smell of meat!

Well it was high time I had it. And so I suggested it, and we went.

And it was fabulous. I ordered the Mather's Black Gold Angus Ribeye. 8 ounces of sweet sweet meat. Rare of course.

I didn't bother to go into the details with this waiter of how I would love it if they just waved it over the flames and gave it to me, I was too hungry. I did, however, spend the extra 2pounds and get the red wine sauce. Was it worth it? Yes. All of their other sauces are pretty tempting though, so I'm pretty sure I would have been satisfied either way. My dad got the bernaise for his steak and it was to die for.

For sides I ordered to coleslaw (which was mayonnaisey perfection). Vinegary, sweet, crunchy, fabulous. I haven't had my mouth water for coleslaw like this in a long time. And I've only recently (like in the second half of my life) decided that I actually like coleslaw. Strange things.

The quality of meat here was quite good, I'd have to say. I was very pleased. Certainly not a cheap place (19pounds for my steak), but not horribly expensive either. A great treat for a tiring move-in day. Celebratory meat for a momentous occasion in my life.

Let's face it: didn't think this time last year that I'd be here. This time last year I was a week away from moving to Finland. I was terrified and excited to be moving to such a foreign place, leaving somewhere I'd been for 8 years, wondering if I would be able to adjust. And look where I am now - I had a great time in Finland, still love everyone I met there, and now I'm here, in London.

Life never looked so strange and so good. Wonder where I'll be this time next year. Maybe I should book a fabulous steak in my calendar, just in case.

Aberdeen Steakhouse

Monday, April 22, 2013

Move-in day

And within a day or two it was my official move-in day. How did it go, you ask?

Well, let's first examine how it was supposed to go, then we can reassess how it went.

Ideally, had things all gone to plan, it was supposed to go as follows:

  1. We meet the check-in clerks from both my relocation company and the landlord's company at the apartment. We go over the apartment condition and make a thorough inventory list of all of the damage (so I wouldn't get charged for anything after I've left). They give me the keys and the apartment is mine.
  2. The movers come and deliver all of my Finnish business. I'm ecstatic that everything arrives and it feels like Christmas because I don't have to feel like I want to burn all of my clothes because I've been wearing the same ones for the last 4 weeks.
  3. Ikea calls and delivers all my new furniture and we spend the rest of the day putting together all of my new stuff and putting away all of my possessions into the new furniture.
  4. I have a delightful night's sleep in my own bed with all of my stuff nearly put away and I go to work the next day.

The general conclusion of the move-in day: no.

Nope, no sir, I don't think so.

It didn't go disastrously, really, but it certainly didn't go as planned.

First hiccup? Ikea calls at 8:30am to tell me that they can deliver within the hour. I have my check-in appointment at 10am. I ask them if they can stall until then. They say no. I tell them I can't be there until 10am. They ask if they can backlog me and push me to tomorrow. I ask if I will get charged for a redelivery if they do that. They say "oh, eh...probably not." So we pretend that they failed to deliver and my delivery gets pushed to the next day. Admittedly, this is the best time ever to have someone home for you, like your parents. Not the ideal situation, but crisis averted.

We arrived early at the apartment building with about 2/3 of the stuff from the temporary apartment. We had the temp apartment until the next day, but anxious to get into my real apartment and spend the night somewhere else, we brought most things with us.

The agent from my end shows up on time and he seems pleasant enough. We wait about 10 minutes for the landlord clerk before deciding that he's horribly late. We call him. Where the hell is this guy. A half an hour passes and lots of phone calls are made. No one knows what the hell is going on. I'm praying my delivery guys don't show up with everything and we're not able to get into the apartment (the landlord's clerk is bringing the keys, not my guy).

It's cold and we wait outside. With our 7 bags of stuff. Awkwardly.

Eventually the landlord clerk's replacement comes and does the check-in for him. The keys are oddly sticky (like they don't work well in the locks). She's thorough in the inspection but oddly impersonal. Whatever.

The check-out finishes but we have tons of questions still that will likely not get answered. Welcome to London.

We eat lunch standing up in the kitchen because the delivery guys still haven't arrived (not a big deal, they called earlier in the morning to say they'd likely be there in early afternoon, they were taking the ferry over from France...yeah, my stuff was being driven around Sweden previously and I guess it ended up in France at some point in time).

As we're heading downstairs to walk a few blocks to a shoe repair place to get some spare keys made, my phone rings and the delivery guys are there. Literally as I step outside my front door they're already there, truck blocking half my small street. Well, alright then.

True to form they're two Swedish guys, just like my removal guys were. Unfortunately they're not the two same Swedish guys (would have been nice to see familiar faces), but one of them is really nice and both of them speak English well. The unpacking and reassembling of my furniture doesn't take too much time and I fully realize for the first time how much room I have in this apartment versus Oksa. Kind of crazy.

After they leave we start the process of putting things away for real as everything at the moment is scattered on counters and surfaces (we just wanted them to unpack everything and take away the packing materials). Since my furniture wasn't delivered from Ikea there's nowhere to put my clothes, since Britain doesn't build in their storage units so some things are oddly sacrificed to the gods of plastic bags and weird temporary homes. Oh well, just temporary.

I realized on this move how much stuff I want to get rid of. What I didn't really use when I was in Finland and what I really need to get by. A lot is going to be sold off and donated in the next few weeks. Another thing I completely noticed: I need to stop buying used books (or books of any kind, haha). I have quite a collection and um...I need to clear some space before getting any more.

And there you have it. The hen has landed.

Visitors soon to be welcome. :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

On a rainy Sunday afternoon...

So what did we do the day after that 7 hour Ikea marathon?

Absolutely nothing. And it was fabulous. It also happened to be extraordinarily raining that day, so we sat inside the temporary apartment, stared outside, and did nothing but eat, read, and occasionally take naps. Literally, didn't even poke my head outside. It was the best thing I could have done ever.

I slept 12 hours that night. That's the kind of exhaustion 4 hours of sleep plus that kind of Ikea experience does to you.

I did pile through almost 300 pages of Tolstoy, which was rather satisfying, and imagine the glory that would be my new apartment, but more about that later.

This is why you need to make your apartment as fabulous as possible in London (though it seems most people don't bother, unlike in Helsinki): the weather here, although warmer than Finland, really isn't better. You're gonna be indoors like this sometimes, and when you're exhausted, it's the best place ever. So why not make it as wonderful as possible?

Just sealed the deal on why I spent so much money the day before. Done and done.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

7 hours in Ikea...

After scouring the Ikea catalog for days on end and pondering the gloriousness that would be Quirky, I finally had my master list of things I wanted to purchase. How much would it end up being? I didn't even want to think about it. Who cares when you can make apartment heaven come true? And it'll all match and be beautiful and have the right mood lighting? That's right: it's priceless.

It was finally the weekend and time to actually go to said Ikea and buy said items.

How did it compare to Helsinki? It was bullshit in comparison, to be honest.

Instead of a fabulous free shuttle bus that picks you up from the center of town (a convenient location), you have to take public transportation all the way there. And it's not conveniently located (I know realistically it can't be, since it's a warehouse after all and London is already huge and sprawling enough as it is with its 20 million people or whatever...actually it's 8 million but whatever), but did it really need to be out there in like zone 4 or 5? Mehhhh.

Anyway, the reason I am pointing this out is that there used to be a free shuttle bus. It wasn't fabulous or conveniently located (it would only pick you up from a place that was already 5/6th of the way there), but whatever, at least it got you to the door, which after our experience there, is quite a thing. Getting off the bus and trying to find the pedestrian way in was an adventure in it of itself. Quite terrifying. I almost slipped in some oily mud and ate it (as in "fell") in front of a car. Luckily my supreme yoga balance saved me.

We did get there though, after a time (about an hour) and made our way in for our 7 hour excursion in the depths of IKEA. 7 HOURS. Seven.

Now I've always loved Ikea and what it holds for me (fond memories, hilariously cheap and decent food, despite the recent scandal with the whole horsemeat in the meatballs thing...again I ask whether or not this is important and where these horses are all coming from...apparently Scandinavia somewhere...they did a population count and it didn't match the records), but even that's pushing my limit. And I'd slept 4 hours the night before because I came home at basically 5am. My own fault of course, but it's not the best circumstance in which to go to Ikea. You need to be a real person when going to Ikea. It's already exhausting enough as it is having your neurons fire at every single perfectly designed room they have to show you. And I had real decisions to make; I couldn't find everything I wanted online.

Anyway, we did make it through the maze (and a maze it realistically is). I bought almost 700pounds worth of goods and furniture for my new place (yes, I'm revamping some of the furniture I brought with me...replacements, improvements, necessities...you name it). But we barely made it. Near the end there we were this close to snapping, and here's why.

We'd already gone through five and a half hours of shopping, carefully selecting all my goods. We even did the awesome thing of collecting our own furniture (and all of the pieces) onto the cart to wheel it to shipping so they could deliver it to us on the appointed date (a few days later, when my apartment would finally be available to me, after all this fiasco).

What did we find, after paying almost 700quid and gathering all this business and shopping 5.5 hours and not eating since 10am that morning?

...they only do same-day or next-day delivery.

Excuse me )*&*&^ what?

None of your signage says anything of the sort, you fools!

The people there kept trying to tell us that there is clear verbiage posted that says they only do next-day delivery but all we saw were things that said "next-day delivery available." Uh, sir, that looks like you're trying to encourage me to upgrade to next-day shipping, not that you only offer (in poor taste, I might add), next-day shipping.

Fool of a Took!

Anyway, after calmly explaining the situation (my apartment really isn't available until x date), I charmed my way into influencing the delivery man that he really should deliver my furniture on the right date (well, the day before I really wanted it, but we'd have the apartment that date) and he wouldn't even charge me extra. The only catch? I had to carry all the little items home with me, because they weren't insured if the little things got lost.

Sigh. Whatever, that's close enough.

So that's what happened.

After our fiasco we carried all of the items (three Ikea bags' worth) to the restaurant and had the most ridiculous fish and chips meal of all time. Three plates of baked fish and chips with peas, heaped high with tartar sauce, an extreme amount of ketchup and mustard, two apple cakes, an organic orange soda and lager beer...and we were revived.

Ahh, better.

Amazing how simple things like a full belly can make you feel so much better about things.

And then the hour-long public transportation (bus then tube) journey back.

UK Ikea I hate you so much. But eventually you got my goods to me so I guess I can't complain too hard. Maybe. I still kind of hate you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Planning out Quirky in Stirling Court

So the lease was finally signed after 4 weeks of horrible waiting and impatience (mostly my anger was pointed towards the utter lack of transparency in my relocation agent who I'll still not-so-kindly refer to as a "useless portal") and it was indeed to be Quirky in Stirling Court!

So, the great Spreckled Hen is to live over a ceramics cafe. What better place to roost than such digs as this?!

Anyway, true to form, and with the parents firmly behind me, the designing and planning of the apartment began once again. Just like with Oksa.

Oh yes, we were once again combining the beautiful combination of decades (over half a centennial!) worth of design, finance, and engineering experience to its maximum. Though this time, since much learning had happened from the last time, the emphasis would be on design instead of finance (since I'd had to live with the consequences of putting practicality before visuals), engineering time and effort instead of dealing with the learning curve (since we'd all been to London and it's a pain in the ass to get around here versus Helsinki), and finally, comfort over making due (chairs with backs, for the love of god!).

Yes, many beautiful lessons had been learned from Oksa, despite how well-planned that apartment had been, and many of those wonderful lessons would be poured into Quirky. Oh yes, so many lessons. This was going to be the crowning jewel of all of that experience, once again. Best foot forward, that's for damned sure.

So, let's study the first lesson learned:

Design instead of Finance
Not that I have any problem with being economical when it comes to finances, because certainly wasting money is not my MO (and still will not be), I realized with my last apartment that I put a lot of creed into practicality and sacrificed a lot of design in the process. What I mean by this was that although I created a very practical space for not a lot of cost (which is a fabulous achievement in it of itself), I didn't visually enjoy my space and when it came down to it, thought it could have been done even better. Things could have matched more, the quality of items could have been better and therefore more enjoyable. This time around, in other words, the balance of quality versus cost was going to be studied a lot harder.

Time and Effort versus Learning Curve
This one is pretty self explanatory. London isn't a new city to the three of us and because of that, we sort of know what's available here and also how expensive it is to get around. And how long it takes. And how little time we actually had. Though 6 weeks felt like an eternity in Helsinki it is like a snap in London. Bigger city, more bustling, less time for me to get settled as my job took off like a rocket (or more like, continued at its whip-cracking pace). No time to deal with the learning curve and significant new experiences - I needed to get with the program and get this business done fast. There would be no three trips to Ikea this time. There would be the one trip to Ikea where everything was bought. And maybe the second one if maybe those well-selected items for some reason didn't work. Nothing would be superfluous.

Comfort over Making Due
This one ties a lot to the first point. But basically I wanted to make my place as visually stunning as possible as well as comfortable. I'd not-so-surprisingly gotten even more obsessed with one of my favorite interior design blogs, Apartment Therapy, and it drove me to want my space to be the best it possibly could be - design and otherwise. It also focuses on practical, economical, and beautiful solutions. I could have it all, really. And I would.

The other, more real reason for this push was simply that I made a lot of mistakes with my last apartment that I just couldn't have foreseen without having lived through it - things like only having bar stools in my apartment as chairs. Great from a space-saving and economical point of view, horrible in actuality for things like hosting dinner parties, working from home, doing crafts. Painful back aches were enough to tell me that this was bullshit and something needed to be changed.

Another one was having more available table space so I could do more crafty creative things. Though I could do scrimshaw with a fair frequency given the furniture I had, the lighting was all wrong and so was the setup. I wanted to do more things, like painting and sewing and crafting of all kinds. You need a real surface for that, and I had none.

Lighting. Lighting is a huge thing for me and I want to be able to watch a movie, read a book, drink a mug of tea and feel completely relaxed. I completely failed to plan a lighting scheme for my last apartment and it fell apartment. I didn't have mood lighting. Real fail. This became especially apparent when I was in other people's apartments who did have those things and it was bliss. Pure bliss.

So, I had my work cut out for me. I was going to push my design probably to its limits. And I was looking forward to the challenge. I scoured the Ikea online catalog for days. With glee. Absolute glee.

But I'll get to that later.

Here is the floor plan, and here is what happened:

That's the apartment with the furniture I shipped from Helsinki. The plan was already beginning. What would change? Oh, so much. So much.

But that's for another entry.

Stay tuned...

Being a jazz cat

Apologies for the skip in post yesterday, I was at an all-day off-site workshop, so I was away from my computer. To make up for it I'll double post today. Enjoy! :)


In all truthfulness, I am not someone who enjoys jazz. It's 100% true.

I know, I know. All people who really love music love jazz, right?

That's probably true, actually. I would never pretend to claim that I am someone who knows a lot about music or who particularly has good taste in music. This has never been something that I have pretended to be. Aspired? Maybe. But pretended...meh, only sometimes. When I'm trying to impress a cute boy or something. But not lately. Not for a long time at least. That got left behind when I left Randy Ego. 

Anyway, when Turkish C asked me if I wanted to go out for a night on the town and listen to some sweet jazz, I kind of wondered if I would really say yes. I love hanging out with my girlfriends, especially girlfriends I now rarely get to see because they're still with Finn and I'm here with Don...but jazz just really isn't my thing. I find it...confusing. And not altogether comfortable. I should also probably admit here that I am an adamant disliker of the saxophone. I think it's cheesy. This is no lie.

Anyway, my interest in hanging out with good friends and continuing to put myself out there in a new social scene won out, and I decided to spend the slightly exorbitant 30quid in order to see said live jazz in a snazzy jazz club in central London last Friday night.

The plan was set and I met Turkish C and who was supposed to be the housemate who threw the smashing Mexican-themed birthday/housewarming party last weekend who I am had met (we bonded over a love of throwing dinner parties and an interest in cooking), but unfortunately he got sick and decided to stay in for the night, so it was just us two ladies before two (actually three) of his other friends decided to show up and fill in for his tickets instead (he had reserved us tickets ahead of time).

Those three friends, unfortunately, like me, had no appreciation or love of jazz either. And were already quite drunk when they arrived. It was going to be an interesting night.

But before they arrived, it was just Turkish C and I checking out the digs, and the digs at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Bar are pretty sweet:

Be proud to see this pic, dear readers, since it seems photos are completely forbidden at this venue. Turkish C and I were one of the few people who were not shushed immediately when taking out our phones to take pics of each other and of the place (even though we were there early and there was no one there).

Anyhoo, it's a gorgeous place and it was a perfect place to spend a Friday evening after a long work week. Before the boys arrived it was peaceful girl talking and more catching up (yes, Turkish C and I work at the same place, as many of my girlfriends do, and yes, we'd had cute coffee and cake dates all week...but we still had more things to talk about, as girls always do).

I ordered a glass of white wine off of their extensive bar menu and Turkish C ordered a fabulous winter martini (this meant it had lemon and something else). Not too sharply priced either; I think my glass was 7,50pounds. Not terrible.

To the music. The music was..


Absolutely breathtakingly fabulous.

Admittedly it wasn't real jazz, but I was still impressed with my ability to take something in a jazz setting and completely enjoy it.

What it was instead: blues. Which I have probably in the past loved just as much as jazz, but I do understand it more. And so I did. This night's first artists were called Blue's Explosion (god, I know), but they were actually quite good. The lead singer looked like Jesus and played the electric guitar of some kind. The pianist was extremely talented as well. Well, hell, everyone was really talented (isn't that how it always goes with bands of this variety?).

But the one who stole the show, and who was lovely all around with her sass, was a woman singer who came on a bit later. She sang the most wonderful edition of Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." It was hearthbreakingly good. I've always loved Etta James, and she really has always had a special place for me, but this was wonderful. This girl could sing it too.

Unfortunately this was slightly ruined by our male counterparts, who were talking loudly most of the time and unfortunately upsetting the parties around us (they were shushed a bunch of times and asked to speak quieter, as others were also trying to enjoy the music), but well, drunk is drunk. Some of their conversation was actually quite interesting, so I won't blame them for everything, but well, I had to admit, the music was pretty good.

And then the first band was over. 

Now you must keep in mind that they didn't start until around 11:15pm. So by the time their set was over, it was around 1:30am or so, maybe later (I'd had two glasses of wine during that time, both of which were very good). 

Anyway, by 2:30am we decided that we should move to another venue and find something else to do for the night. I was fine with listening to more music (it was a great venue and the tickets weren't exactly cheap), but Turkish C was in the mood for dancing and the guys were just getting rowdier and more rude to those around us (and I hate to admit it but I feel awkward about upsetting people around me when they start to get annoyed), so we went.

Where did we go at 2:30am on a Friday night/Saturday morning in the middle of London? The real answer is that I'm not really sure. We were in a taxi for 25pounds worth of fare (clearly my sense of direction hasn't improved with my moving, and London's a big city with a lot of neighborhoods), and our options were limited. It seems you have to plan out your nights in London otherwise things are sold out or you'll just end up standing in line somewhere without getting in (no Helsinki mentality about that, I guess).

So we went to a warehouse party. I'm not sure what it was called (though I'm sure I could ask one of the guys we were with), but it had an entry fee and it was...

...weird. It was like walking into a highschool prom that allowed their kids to drink and smoke. And when we originally got there, also buy food (like grilled food).

We were all a bit put off by the whole thing, since it was a bit trashy and young for our taste (everyone in our group was older than me, up to the ages of 34 or so, so it's not that I was just being snobby about the age thing)...everyone there looked to be about 19. And very covered in glitter.

But we threw our concerns to the wind and danced anyway. Because we'd come there to dance. And the music was decent (as it always tends to be around young people...weird how that doesn't seem to change from city to city), and so we danced and partied until the wee hours.

Eventually I got tired though (just in general, not from anything in particular) and called it a night. I finally arrived home around 4:30am.

And thus ended a very interesting Friday for me. I have a feeling there will be many more nights like this with Don, but hopefully they'll be better planned next time. At the very least I'm proud of myself for giving jazz another chance (even if it was technically blues...it's in the same family at least), and knowing that I could make the best of a situation and dance through another highschool prom (I had a great time at my real one).

And there you have it. Don, things are looking up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Refinding my creative

So one of the great things about switching from the Helsinki offices to the London offices is the sense of creativity.

This wouldn't be immediately obvious given that the surroundings look basically the same - they're both glass and steel corporate buildings settled in business parks in the middle of fairly large cities. And both are filled with designers who have their complaints or their champions and are doing their work day after day of various interesting kinds.

But one thing that I've come to appreciate in my short (or sometimes long) 3 weeks here thusfar, is the change in attitude here. Maybe it's a cultural difference or maybe it's just the people here, but there is a shift happening here in London that I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have gotten had I stayed in Finland. There is a desire to want to continue innovating. To want to create.

I have had the extreme luck and fortune to have been introduced to one of the in-house creative teams at my site that does pure innovation work. With the awesome blessings of my boss, I am going to be allowed to participate once a month in all-day workshops that center around topics of various kinds submitted by people just like me. We will discuss all-day about whatever we think is relevant. And based on those ideas and discussions and ponderings, create things and ideas and products that are completely unrelated to our day-to-day projects.

It's groups like these that created things like Google Plus within Google.

It's nice to be back among people who want to think outside the box again. Who want to push the envelope and not just work the normal 9-5 (as if I could be that lucky on a normal basis anyway, even when I try).

So, here's to the future of that, and looking forward to creating some excellent stuff. :)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Musical Billy

My first musical experience in London since 2000.


Even though I'd been to London several times since my first in 2000, this was the first time I'd made it to a show since my first voyage. Shocking and terrible, I know. But hey, the other times I was merely passing through or on business trips. What can I say, I'm a busy person. Something something priorities and unfortunately, the stage sometimes takes a hit. As do many other things (like eating, for example).

Anyway, it was time for us to check out the wonderful nightlife of showdom again and check it out we did.

Discounted tickets were on the docket and what was the best of the selection? Billy Elliot.

It was the best rated of the bunch, no doubt, and certainly the one that we'd not all seen. (Unfortunately I have the rare gift of having seen many of the shows that are currently touring London: Wicked, The Lion King, etc. We've also, as a group (my parents and I), seen many of the classics that are currently playing: The Woman in Black (which I highly recommend to everyone, because we saw it before it was made into the movie and it's incredible, even if you don't love horror though it's better if you do because it'll scare your pants off), Les Miserables, Stomp, Phantom of the Opera, etc).

Anyway, it was decided that Billy Elliot would fulfill our desire to see something on the stage, so we bought some awesomely discounted tickets and set the date.

As it turned out we were also celebrating the opening of the sound studio at work the same night, so I quickly scarfed some h'ordeuvres (salmon sandwich, chicken skewer, sun-dried tomato tarte), and tanked a Heinekein before meeting my parents and making our way to our show for the night.

The result? Definitely not a disappointment. Billy Elliot was just as fantastic as all my coworkers said it would be and more.

First off, I had no real clue what it would be about. Yes yes, young boy who loves dancing at a time when boys were not supposed to love dancing. That was all I knew.

Didn't know that there would be a backdrop of coal mining and abusive family structure. Something something sad times and poorness. But anyway, just added to the flavor.

One of the more hilarious things about the production: sometimes their accents were really difficult to understand and well, sometimes we missed dialogue or parts of the story because of it. What are the coal miners striking for? Ah, I missed it! Who's that boy again? He's the one that cross-dresses and traded an autographed photo of someone for a Nurse Sandy doll.

We had hilarious conversations like this because sometimes, we really just didn't know what was happening. But it added to the greatness, so no worries.

And the dancing was fantastic. I don't know how many boys they have to constantly have trained so they have a constant crew of Billy Elliots available for their shows (which they basically run 5 days a week, sometimes with matinees as well), but these boys are pretty young. The one we saw that night was 12 years old I think (we looked him up afterwards). So if these boys only have a window of maybe 3 years to perform before they're too old, and they have to have tap dancing, ballet, and modern dance training beforehand, or at least enough training to know the routines they do on stage, then jeebus, these kids must start early.

Another thought that occurred to me - they sing. What do they do afterwards with all of this sing and dance talent? Surely they must go onto showdom afterwards, but what kind I wonder? No idea. There are a lot of shows in London though, so I'm sure they find their way.

Anyway, long story short, the musical was fantastic and it was a good reintroduction to the world of London theater.

Thank you Don, finally starting to see your good side again. Your weather has been horribly unpleasant and disappointing, but at least your night life has been pretty good. :)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Winning the wine lottery

Strangely there is a lot of awesome action going on at this office versus the headquarters where I was previously stationed.

One of these events (which makes me think there is much action going on, despite the 200-300 employees who live here...which is quite small since only part of this is design, unlike how it was before), was a wine tasting event we had last Friday.

And what did we do there you might ask?

Well we drank and tasted wines. Many wines. Like 12 wines. And there was bread. But unfortunately no cheese (which I've come to think is sort of necessary if you're having wine...or at least a savory snack of some variety...bread by itself doesn't really cut it...but I shouldn't be complaining, it was free wine, after all).

Anyway, the wines were laid out, 6 per table in our upstairs restaurant. All for our tasting. Apparently it was just for our company (the other companies in the building were not invited, as it turned out) so we could drink in peace and mingle amongst ourselves.

There was also a very nice competition announced before we arrived. It asked how well we knew our wines and there was a chance to win a 100pound bottle of wine (as in value of the wine, not in weight).

Well I thought I was decently knowledgeable about wines, though I would try not to be loud about that fact so as not to embarrass myself should I end up being completely full of myself. Who knows, it'd been a long time since I'd drunk any considerable amount of wine because Finn had deprived me of anything good and readily available. This is what happens when you live in a country that doesn't produce any wine of its own except berry wine and the wine that it does produce it doesn't bother shipping around (i.e. you need to go to the source to try any of it). Harumph is all I have to say in hindsight.

Anyway, I went up at the appointed time with Dan, the ginger who sits next to me, and we tried some wines. I needed to bring him with me because he'd claimed, in a not so gentle fashion, that he believed all wines tasted like vinegar, and he'd prefer a pint of beer any day of the week. I told him he was totally wrong (because he is) and that it's likely he'd just never had any of the good stuff.

And I proved him how wrong he was. We set up camp at one of the tables and he tried two reds (one was a blend and the other was a merlot). He was heartily impressed and decided that yes, there were wines that didn't taste like vinegar. I said that perhaps he'd just had wines that had oxidized and had been let out for a little too long. In any case he was happy that he'd found wine enlightenment but still had work to do and was a little tipsy so cut off at his two glasses and went back downstairs to finish more work.

Plus he'd already gotten his drawing ticket (turns out the competition was just as easy as come to the tasting, get a ticket for the drawing and be sure to be back at 4pm when the drawing was to occur because you needed to be present to win the bottle of wine), so he was going to continue working then come back to possibly collect his winnings. Smart lad.

I decided to stay though. None of my team was around for the day (my boss was sick at home with the flu and my other teammate was back in Bristol, where she lives and works for the latter half of the week), and I wasn't inclined to do work anymore, having started drinking (I still have the American mentality of once you start drinking you shouldn't be allowed to go back to your desk to continue working, no matter how well you handle your drink), so, I stayed up there.

And did my duty wine tasting. And mingling. With people in our customer support department. Interestingly one of them was a Cuban who had fled to Florida in his childhood/growing up (there was a time in his life when he was a citizen of no country - apparently Cuba strips you of your citizenship if you leave...or did, and he wasn't a citizen of the States until he passed citizenship...so he was literally a citizen of nowhere for a significant portion of his life) and another was from Dubai. Fabulously interesting, talking to those two. They kept me company as I met with random others from their department and until it was 4pm and Dan returned for the grand drawing.


I didn't win the 100pound bottle of wine.


...I did win the second place bottle of wine!

Which is not bad, all things considered. I have no idea how much it's worth, but it's something less than 100quid. I'll take it!

Free wine from work? Yes please!

So all in all a good start to my working here. A hilarious man in payroll who I've been interacting with a lot tried to convince me that only employees who had been working at the site 6 months or more could claim prizes, but I knew he was joshing me. No way, good sir, this bottle of wine is coming home with me. :)

And so it did. It will be drunk in celebration when I (FINALLY) move into my new apartment.

Fingers crossed that it will happen next week. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Nando's...and Bonda?

Although we've been eating out a fair bunch, foolishly I've been not documenting everything we've been having so unfortunately, thusfar this will be a very sketchy account of what's been going on. Immense apologies for that. Admittedly quite a lot of the meals have also been eaten in (lots of fresh salads, halal chickens, pastas of sorts, etc...now that groceries are actually affordable again).

On a whole though, we've had lamb and chicken burgers (from a halal fast food joint down the street from our apartment - fabulous and cheap), Nando's (a hilarious Portuguese chain that's rather popular here and is championed by one of my New Zealand British friends), Persian (on the first night that we arrived and were too tired to cook or shop - we had skewers and rice), and perhaps a smattering of other things that I've simply forgotten. All in all, London's food is cheap, readily available, and fairly good.

Overall I've wondered heavily about the quality of food here, especially with the outbreak of news about people finding horse DNA in all of their meat (again, I don't care that it's horse meat, I just keep thinking 1) are horses really that cheap 2) where are all these horses coming from? and 3) really? horses and not something else like rats?) or finding out that famous meat things don't actually have any meat of any kind in them (horse or otherwise).

I have started to gain some much needed weight here, despite joining the fancy gym near my work and running, biking, rowing, and saunaing (doing more sauna here than I ever did in Finland - blasted clammy cold really gets to you), so that also makes me worry. It's like the food doesn't keep you filled. A few people have whispered to me about food conspiracy theories. But I'll not get into that here.

So, onto a food outing that I've actually properly documented. :) We went to Bonda a few blocks away, a Malaysian restaurant. It was very highly rated on Yelp, so, why not?

It didn't disappoint. In fact it definitely surprised - we'd never had food like this before and that's saying quite a lot. It reminded me of Thai food, but was definitely different. The flavors were certainly unusual.

Since there were several of us we ordered many dishes to share. The joys of having a group. :)

First off, drinks!

I had their rose syrup with milk (left) and my dad had the rose syrup with black jelly (right). We were curious to see if the black jelly was in fact just grass jelly (it was, as far as we could tell). The rose syrup? Weirdest stuff I've had in a long time. It was extremely sweet, and when mixed with milk (which tasted like sweetened condensed milk, similar to what they put in Thai iced tea), it sorted of tasted like milk candy - like what you'd get in a white rabbit candy. It was definitely an unusual but still pleasurable experience. It was still thin and liquidy though, not a thick drink by any means. Cut through the spiciness of the food really nicely.

This was our favorite dish by far and the one we thought would be the most like what we'd had back at home. We were wrong. It was listed on the menu as Cantonese noodles (more or less). My dad recognized the noodle type as the same that is served in chow fun back at home, but other than that it just listed some ingredients that we all liked and we kinda thought it would be a stir fry dish or something similar. No. Gravy, crazy veggies and seafood. We're talking shrimp, fish cakes, calamari. Veggies (like the long stem choy I'd seen in Thailand), bell peppers, chilies...tons of veggies. And the gravy was fantastic - clean, thin but still coating everything. And the noodles were fresh. This was the only dish that didn't really have any spice. We tried taking out the chilies since my mom isn't a huge fan and this one succeeded in not being spicy.

Fried rice with egg and lots of green onions. Pretty typical dish but fantastic. Flavorful and hit the spot. This was a great base to have despite it having tons of flavor on its own. If we had thought about it a little more we probably should have gone with plain rice instead (given how intense everything else was), but well, live and learn. This was not a disappointment.

Special beef dish (rendang daging). Again not what I thought it would be. Sort of like stewed shredded beef with tons of green onion. The sauce was thick and coated the meat fantastically, sort of like a mole sauce but thicker. Savory for sure, with hints of maybe five spice or some other spice I've had before but can't place. Good and earthy but not stewy. Not like anything I've had before.

And the weirdest dish of all. This was their weekend special and the waiter vaguely described it as "noodles." It was called something penang but it was like nothing I recognized. Nothing at all. Basically it was a thick, stewy fermented fish paste with udon-like noodles in it mixed with canned pineapple, onions, a hard boiled egg, and some other veggies (like shredded raw cabbage). Very unusual. And fairly spicy. Never seen anything like it. It was good but I would likely not order it again. A little too aggressive on the fermented fish paste and that's a lot of fish paste to eat in one sitting. We saw a pair of guys eat it and they got as far as we got (you don't eat all of the stewy stuff).

Overall it was a great meal, and not even very expensive, but it was crazy filling. Would definitely recommend this place to everyone who wants a cheap and delicious meal, but be willing to try unusual stuff otherwise you're in for a rough experience.

Definitely the most different food experience I've had in awhile. Opened my eyes. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pink party at the mansion

So I'd spent my first couple of weeks with Don sorting out my apartment affairs (still ongoing, btw), checking out grocery stores, eating pies and a hell of a lot of fresh fruit and veggies (still getting free fruit in the design department, much to other department's chagrin...still), and fighting the oddly bitter cold that exists here, and now it was time to go out for a little fun.

Lucky for me, despite not having a group to welcome me to London the way I'd had in Helsinki, I've still been able to network fairly easily due to my awesome network in Helsinki and other places. Just goes to show - you never know who knows someone else. And this was definitely the case for who I've gotten to know here in London. Everyone I've met here was through someone else I already knew and was introduced to. I've also been told that this is the only way to really make friends in London - meeting people while out and about who are not friends with someone you already know is a sure way to not make friends with someone. Interesting bit of advice but as far as I've seen...this has been true. I guess it's the mentality: big city, lots of people...don't know you, don't care.

Anyway, I'd networked with a nice Italian guy who I'll call Scooter through someone I knew in Helsinki who'd lived, traveled, and was good friends with Scooter during their 11 years in London before moving to Helsinki (to follow the Finnish woman of their dreams and eventually marry them, which is where I met them). And Scooter had invited me out to a ridiculous party on Friday night: it was called Pink at the Mansion.

Basically the idea was everyone bought a ticket to this organized party, everyone needed to wear pink, there was unlimited booze, and it was going to be at a mansion. Also mentioned was a live performing artist, live music, and a DJ.

Well, not too shabby for a first night out in the big city (or the Grand Island, as my boss calls it).

So, I bought my ticket and a pink flower for my hair and eagerly awaited my Friday plans.

Friday comes along and I get ready. I meet Scooter at the door, along with another girl I met through him who oddly works in my department at work (who I'd failed to notice in my weeks working since arriving) and started meeting everyone in his group and the rest of his network.

Needless to say it was extensive. And very Italian.

But that wasn't the most memorable thing of the night. Everyone I met was pretty lovely and that was all grand. The party definitely delivered as promised. There was unlimited booze (including a pink fruit punch that was delicious and dangerously flavorful), live jazz on the upper floor, live DJs spinning on a dance floor in the basement, and well...sort of a mansion.

Actually it was more of a converted church, but whatever, no complaints. People who had been to previous color parties (apparently there had been a gold party, a black party, a red party, and blue party, and a white party...at the very least) had said that previous locales had been actual mansions. What this meant was people could separate into other rooms and there were separate vibes. People could have conversations and the music wasn't so loud all the time. For this one there was one large room (where the live jazz was playing and the live artist, who I'll get to in a minute), and the downstairs dance floor, where people were unwilling to go to until the very end of the night. Not having separate rooms to go made people less inclined to go downstairs because they wanted to continue mingling and talking. Interesting things you get, when you change the circumstances and environs people are forced to socialize in, but I'll not delve too deeply into that.

The live artist. He was clearly the highlight of my night because he was so ridiculous.

First off, he was Korean. Ethnically, he was Korean. But he was apparently raised in France or something of the sort because when the girl in my department introduced herself to him, he gave her his card (which btw very awesomely said "Art Director" instead of something common like "Painter" or "Artist") his name was Francois-Xavier Touzard. Scuzzi?

Yus. His name was that. And he was a character. Wearing nothing but a white wifebeater, jeans, and slicked back hair, this guy did a live painting for about two and a half hours. What were his instruments of choice you ask? Paintbrushes, spray paint, wooden poles, rope, and nunchucks (nunchakus).

Oh yes, nunchucks. He only did it near the end of his painting (when his passion for his painting had really geared up) but he covered one part of the nunchucks in paint then would scream and go nuts and nunchuck his painting.


I waited patiently for him to get to this point because there were a few close calls (when he brought out the nunchucks and swung them around, no paint), but alas, no dice until the very end.

As you could imagine, by the end of the painting he was completely covered in paint himself. I stayed a safe distance away so as not to be part of the "experience."

It was absolutely hilarious. Yes, I did crack more than a few jokes at his expense. I'm sorry, I love art, but some art, is not quite art. Forgive me, modern art.

Here is him in action:

Would I pay several thousand pounds for his paintings? No, no I would not. But I'm almost certain that there's some ridiculous person out there who would. He does have business cards, after all. And someone in Scooter's group had already heard of him and seen him do his performances before. So, there you have it.

The rest of the night was not as memorable as this man's performance, but it was good nonetheless. Partying with Don is certainly going to be a lot livelier than partying with Finn, but it's all just different rather than better so far.

Pretty good for a first time, I'd say, pretty good.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The life of pies

I guess it was only a matter of time before we tried the meat pies. English are known for meat pies, especially as delicious pub food.

As a child I used to love reading English stories about olden times, especially those about the middle and poorer classes, eating meat pies with their hands. They were always so descriptive about the flaky crusts and gooey gravies. Made my mouth water.

I was always especially interested in lamprey pies, which at the time, as a somewhat ignorant child, I assumed was some sort of fowl. I learned, somewhat later, that this was eel. Tasty tasty eel (well, that's still yet to be seen but I'm going to pretend that it was delicious).

There are two arguments that always go on in my head about whether or not food was actually delicious back in the day or not, but authors sure do a good job of making it seem so. Meat pies are an excellent example of this. Observe:

Although ingredients were far scarcer - things like meat, spices, seasonings, and even things as easy as salt, I do believe that the cooking methods were likely truer (i.e. open fires, real wood burning ovens, and lard, if it were available) were used, and it is likely that the cooking implements were not as cleaned, leading to the possible "cast-iron" method of cooking. Therefore, layers and layers of flavoring were never washed away, henceforth, more tasty and flavorful food.

The counterargument of course, is that there was, as pointed out before, scarcer ingredients, especially the aforementioned spices and seasonings and therefore, not as tasty. Finnish food has proven this to me many times over, so...what can I say. Sources of fat were also a lot scarcer, and less fat? Equals less tasty. Evolution has made our tongues believe it to be so.

So the jury is still out on whether or not food back in the day was tastier. Even for the upper class with their sumptuous feasts (and the wonderful descriptions therefore of).

While it is debatable that food in olden times was delicious, we were in either case going to have meat pies to see if they, at the very least, were delicious now. With our modern spices and readily available ingredients and readily available heat sources and implements.

These meat pies were acquired from Harrod's, a rather famous and well-known department store (which according to my parents, is ever-crowded, even during odd-times like middle of the day on Tuesdays).

Anyway, the pies were bought from their fresh food section, where oddly you're not allowed to consume your fresh handmade pies. Many people online have complained about this. But does Harrod's care about your measly complaints? Of course not! Go eat your pies somewhere else, good sir!

And so we did. We ate them at home, several hours later (which is when I got home from work).

And this is what they looked like:

There were four pies du jour (from top left clockwise): blood pudding and pork, steak and kidney, royal game, and duck and orange.

Quite shockingly it was the innards pies that were the tastiest. We were not expecting that, given that royal game sounded so...well...awesome. And duck should always be tasty. But somehow this one didn't tasty very "duck" and rather more orange (it was clear that this one was heavily zested and though there was a clear mandarin orange segment on top, it was more than decorational).

So, to go over the details:

The blood pudding and pork was exactly as it sounds: blood that's been made into a gelatin and mixed with pork. I'd had blood pudding before so this was no shocker (and yes, I'm a fan of blood pudding and blood sausages and things of the like...it's not my favorite thing in the world but I do think it's rather tasty and enjoy it). It was savory but not overbearing and kind of like eating a hotdog in texture.

The steak and kidney was the clear winner of the bunch. Savory, filled with luscious gravy, soft beef chunks like beef stew and the kidney chunks weren't offensively mushy like they sometimes can be. Fabulous and just how I'd imagined them from the stories I'd read. Just remembering this pie makes my mouth water. Definitely something to go check out if you happen to be in Harrod's with the hoards.

The game pie was surprisingly disappointing. Dry, not particularly gamey...just an overall texture failure. Imagine eating shredded pork that doesn't taste like pork. Kind of like that. Not particularly spiced well, sort of like...well, meat that's dry. Not horribly overdry but just not...moist.

And the duck and orange. Very heavily zest-flavored, as I mentioned before, not very much duck flavor, despite the fact that the inside was clearly mostly meat. Beautifully decorated with a little orange segment on top but not much to show for it. Heavily disappointing considering all it could have been. No gravy to be seen.

Overall an interesting lot but not what we were looking for (minus the steak and kidney, which was awesome). Continuing on our pie journey we got some really cheap frozen beef pies from Lidl (a German grocery store) at 2 for a pound and they were fantastic. Just goes to show, it's not about who's making them. What with all the scandal over horsemeat lately though, you never know what you're eating nowadays. I personally have no qualm with horsemeat, but it seems to be a big deal over here.

So if you're looking for a quick bite at Harrod's, I'd recommend the steak and kidney, but otherwise, maybe try something else at the fresh food section.

Friday, April 5, 2013

We was robbed!

Well, not we, but my parents were.

Typical Thursday night, or so I thought. I left work after having a pretty normal day - got some work done on the project I'm shuffling through, had some good chats with far away friends, looking forward to my time at the gym. I work out at the gym (get in some running and stretching, take an extra long hot shower instead of heading to the sauna), and then walk the mile home.

I get to the temporary apartment and my parents ask me if I've read my email. Mmm no, come to think of it, I haven't - why, has something happened?

Here my parents were, having a nice touristy day in the city. They had checked out Chinatown and a few other places before deciding they would have their dinner in a pub my uncle had recommended from his time in London since they knew I would be home late from the gym.

They were sitting down to have a tasty meal and a pint when my dad put his man satchel down on the back of the chair. He put his jacket down over it and forgot about it. Apparently they never got up from their chairs and my mom was facing him the entire time but in that time someone (a man) slipped my dad's bag off his chair (without moving his jacket) and took his bag.

They lost an iPad mini, his hat, some maps, and my dinner (a Chinese sausage bun and a panfried sweet cake).

Luckily my dad had his wallet on him and they weren't carrying anything else important inside his bag. My mom had her own purse on her and the other groceries they had bought in another bag.

As soon as they realized what happened they contacted the barman. They had CCTV cameras in the bar and could see the man who stole their stuff. But instead of filing a police report (which they felt would only be semi-helpful), they rushed home to change all of the passwords to the accounts that were linked on the iPad and disconnect anything that was synched. Smart choice.

I'm just happy there was no physical confrontation and they didn't lose anything official.

At the end of the day nothing big was lost - iPads are replaceable, new hats will be found, fresh maps will be obtained.

But damn Don, you're doing a hell of a job making an impression. Useless apartment agents and service workers (minus Dominic), rude drivers who don't follow the law, noise and pollution, general unpleasantry.

You're sure not selling yourself as a long-term partner. I'll still keep an open mind about you because you're supposed to be a glorious partner, once I get to know you, but there's only so much patience a girl can have before she'll throw up her arms and call you a liar. I did this with Vienna and I'll certainly do it with you.

I'm still waiting to see the good, Don.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The design future...of conferences!

One of the nice things I was told this year while we were doing our team future planning was that we were going to be given individual training budgets of about 1000euros/1000pounds. We could use it on whatever we wanted as long as it relatively related to our work and the benefit could be seen. This could be used for things like conferences (and the appropriate travel, boarding, etc necessary for such conferences), trainings or classes of any kinds, mentorships, etc. You name it and get it approved, you go for it.

So, when the opportunity to potentially go somewhere else (of my choosing), came about, the possibilities exploded in front of me. Where could I potentially go for several days on a 1000pound budget (including conference fees, of course)? Oh the possibilities!

Of course there was also a lot of awesome stuff going on in London as well, so this was going to be a hard bunch of decisions. I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as possible, which meant, if possible, several trainings/conferences/things. Yes, multiple uses for my monies.

And so, I did a little research. And had opportunities presented to me by my manager. And so, without further ado, this looks like my conference schedule for this year:

CHI 2013 (Computer-Human-Interaction) - Paris
Oh yes that's right, the dorks all coming together in Paris at the end of April. Seems like a good place to go to me! My boss was actually trying to pawn off her Monday ticket for this one, as she has family coming into London on that Monday and will already be attending Saturday and Sunday but couldn't get away with just buying a weekend ticket. So I, being the fantastic team member that I am, faithfully volunteered to take her Monday pass. How good of me! And who would have thought, there is a direct train from London to Paris that is less than 2.5 hours long! Hoo hoo!

Admittedly this will use a bit more of my budget than I would like, but after speaking with my manager, things could be arranged should the right set of conferences come up. Excellent.

What Design Can Do - Amsterdam
Although I am thoroughly interested in going to this one, it pains me that it is right on my birthday (which is on a Friday this year), so I am hesitant. But it has such interesting speakers (people from Twitter and ridiculous magazines like Fantastic Man!) and who wouldn't want to have a ridiculous birthday celebration in Amsterdam? I could potentially invite my girlfriends to come along (as one of them, *cough* German K* also has a birthday at the same time). Discussions will need to ensue, and quickly. Getting flights here might be a little more pricey than I would like as well, but whatever, I'm willing to spend some my own dollars if it will get me there for a weekend in Amsterdam for my birthday with my friends!

EPIC 2013 - London
This one by far has the dumbest name (EPIC? Really? - it stands for Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference...I think someone was stretching something a bit...), but my team is highly interested in this sort of business so...it might be made into a team outing. September? I can definitely put that into my calendar. The speakers and schedule have not yet been announced but we are waiting to hear more about its awesomeness. Pretty sure it's gonna happen.

And among this amazing tour of potential great places, I am also going to be checking out the London School of Economics and Politics lectures (apparently they're free to the public and my manager has been checking them out) as sometimes they overlap quite heavily with my industry and other topics that may be of interest.

Overall this ties into my year's goals of being more out there and getting back my sense of creative wonderment. Since I left university I can say that I may have let this drop a bit, and that's a shame. Time to get back into the kick of academia and maybe, if I stay long enough, getting back to school and continuing my edu-ma-cation.