Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I caved and bought Panda Express...

Rhinda's flights had been rescheduled until 8am the next morning so we had to keep it reasonable. This still meant getting up at 5:30am and leaving by 6am since the T only starts a little after then. We said our goodbyes in the morning and this time I was truly alone.

It felt a little weird, to be honest...waking up in a hotel room by myself after sleeping in a room with five other people the last few days. At least I'd had someone sleeping next to me last night...I do get the impression that that might have been lonely and weird. Despite the fact that I live alone and have for the last...well, many years.

I did have errands to run though and there were things I wanted to do before leaving Boston. My flight was at 6:45pm that night and I had a schedule to keep. So after a quick shower and repacking of my bag, I was checked out of my hotel and walking down the streets like a native Bostonian on a mission.

One of my first stops? Copley Place - the high end mall of Boston. I know that sounds silly, but really, when a girl gets a chance to shop in America, she's gonna take it. London may be a great place to shop for some people, but I'm not one of those people. I've found British fashion to be...lacking in the style I am looking for. Plus everything is overpriced in comparison to the States. And with laws like "no sales tax for clothing purchases below $175" and a sales tax rate at 6.25%...I was definitely going to shop to my little heart's content. There was business to be had here. And I had serious missions to fulfill.

One of these missions was to find the perfect black pumps. When I moved to London I had to throw out several pairs of my shoes, one of which was my classic black patent leather pumps. They were old, worn, and cheap. Working in London's design department has definitely taught me that this is not alright and I wouldn't have been able to get away with them. Plus as I've worn heels for longer and longer periods (this includes my time in Helsinki), I've really realized the cost to comfort ratio, especially for heels. At the end of the day, all heels hurt. So it really does make a difference - cheap heels can only be worn for maybe 2-3 hours, max. Quality heels will not only last you a good 6-8 hours, they're also easier to clean and will likely make you look great in the process. There's something to be said for premium materials and design. Nuff said.

Needless to say I hit Saks Fifth Avenue first to try to find my One and Only. I tried on Manolo Blahniks, Chanel, Gucci, and Prada. None of them were perfect. I was fairly happy with the Guccis, but if I'm going to drop that kind of bank, it better be perfect. And it wasn't. So I left for greener pastures.

At this point in time I was starting to get a little lightheaded and hungry from all my mission working. I'd not eaten breakfast and it was my intention to hit Legal Seafoods as my last Bostonian food adventure. They had been recommended to me by several people as well and I wanted to have their clam chowder or maybe lobster bisque as my last meal. Plus they had one conveniently located at Copley Place. How more perfect could you get?

Unfortunately for me as my hunger set in, that was still another half an hour away. And I didn't think I could make it that long without something to eat. At that exact moment I happened to pass a food court. What did it have in it?

Freakin' cracky Panda Express.

Now, to those of you who don't know me well enough and my love of Panda Express...let me explain for just a minute. Almost every time I go back to the States I get Panda Express. It usually happens with my sister, who understands my love of bad Chinese food, and usually when we're doing something equally awesome, like watching romcoms in sweatpants. This is the kind of comfort food that Panda Express is to me. I completely understand that it is not Chinese food and that it's not even really good food. But for some reason it is food I need to have. Like once every 4 months. Or more often, if I can get it. It's like how I feel about nacho cheese and Burger King (though now that I can get Burger King in London I feel less about it somehow).

Anyway, this is what happened to me as I was starving, in a fancy mall, waiting for legit Bostonian food to open.

I hesitated. Could I really eat Panda Express in a city known for its lobster, crab, clams, and fish?

Yes, yes I could. I caved, and I caved hard. Not only did I eat Panda Express, I bought the two entree meal for myself and ate the entire thing in one sitting.

One sitting. I am a little person you have to remember. It usually takes me a solid two to three sittings to get through this box. But I guess after a week of nothing but eating, my stomach and metabolism had stretched because I didn't even feel grossly full after finishing this. I just felt satisfied. Not even guilty at my choice. Clearly a win.

Oh, and those who were curious: I got chow mein (always, the fried rice is only good if you want to soak up the sauce of something you've ordered...I feel very meh about it though going half half with rice and chow mein is okay), orange chicken (naturally, what other kind of cracky chicken would you really get), and Angus beef (I was disappointed in this because they charged me $1 extra but didn't tell me until they were already scooping it into my box...something something tell me that shaz beforehand and you weren't tasty enough to constitute the higher price).

Anyway, feeling refreshed and not so shaky after my rather embarrassing meal, I continued on my shopping madness. Straight across the street to Lord & Taylor.

Now I'd actually never heard of this store before. I only knew about it now because Rhinda had pointed it out to me on a walk together and mentioned how it was a fancy department store or something. I was curious and needed all the shoe variety I could get, so I went there hoping for glory.

Glory is definitely what I got.

I not only found great Calvin Klein black suede pumps for an unbelievable price, I also got black Steve Madden booties on sale as well. If I had been allowed to stay there longer I would have likely blown past any sort of control issues I have and bought myself out of house and home (that's not true but I did want to buy more shoes).

So, goals, check and check. I was feeling fine.

I had about an hour left before a scheduled call with my sister, so I walked down the main street of Boston, enjoying the sunshine and a delightful Starbucks chai latte (guess it's only fitting that I start and end Boston with chai lattes). I ran into a Trader Joes (had no idea they had them) and quickly went inside to raid for snacks I can't seem to get anywhere else - the jumbo raisin medley (one of my favorites and something I find so difficult to find in other parts of the world) and lightly salted almonds (I have no idea why but the British don't like to sell almonds...at all...or they're only slivered for baking...why would I want almonds for baking?! I want them for eating like regular nuts...they're one of the healthiest nuts!).

I then went to the Boston Commons and chatted for nearly two hours. It's one of the best parks to talk in - you can walk amongst the crazy nut-hiding squirrels and no one looks at you for talking outside. The scenery is gorgeous and the weather was fine. I was feeling wonderful about things.

And then it was time to leave this amazing city. I've not wanted to leave a place since visiting that peaceful archipelago near Turku in Finland. There are just some places...

Boston is a wonderful, walkable city. I could really see myself living here someday. I can see the appeal, and it is my full intention to return here someday.

Until then, I'll just have to keep all of these amazing memories. Like I said: it's not everyday you're celebrating your best friend's bachelorette party. And certainly not for a week in an amazing city.

Sometimes life is really, really good.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The BEST pizza in the world

Most of our morning was spent helping people get ready, repacking suitcases and eventually checking out of the hotel room. Though I was staying another night, I would be checking into a smaller, cheaper room at the same hotel. Just as well anyway; we had done a pretty good job of using that room over the last 6 days and I'm not sure I would have really enjoyed sleeping in the same beds as the five other people who had been sharing it that entire time. I'm too much of an adult for that nowadays.

Despite the fact that we'd had it cleaned almost every day, we'd still had to sneakily dump our overfilled trash cans into the community trash can near the ice machine (which was also used frequently). My genius contribution to our makeshift solutions: after we were done eating the Edible Arrangement, we dumped all the foam and extra kale that was stuck in it and used it as a large ice bucket for all of the small bottles of bubbly that Rhina and I had bought combined (mine was the Veuve, hers were 6 tiny bottles of prosecco...pretty funny really). Boom, instant large ice bucket. Surely better than anything the hotel had provided. Also another stroke of genius on my part earlier in the trip: we kept calling and getting clean sheets for the air mattress Rhinda had brought with her for the extra two girls (yes, that's right, someone brought an air mattress...no, it wasn't like back in college where it was six people in two beds...that would have been awful). However, we needed a way to get rid of these sheets. What did we do? Placed them somewhere down the hallway so they weren't associated with our room. Hilarious, but genius.

Btw Rhinda's stroke of genius in preparation for the entire trip: goody bags for the entire set of girls that included things you would actually use: cheap reusable plastic water bottles, hair ties, lip balms, wet wipes, Shout stain removing pens, tiny tins of mini Altoids, and all of the toiletries you could need to get ready for nights out (scented scrubbing face wipes, makeup remover, tooth paste, tiny packs of kleenex, makeup for the group, even cheap jewelry in case you didn't accessorize yourself). Right before the trip started she literally sent out a message that said, Don't bring your own toiletries, I will provide everything that you will need! And she was right. All you needed was your own toothbrush. It was a fantastic idea. If/when I ever get married, this is definitely an idea I am going to run with.

All of this genius was dispersed as all of us prepared our suitcases for the final venture out of the room. A "goods" auction happened at the last minute to distribute the last of the items left in the room. Nothing was left.

The four of us who remained after the morning leavings and some disappearances (the girl with Bostonian guy friends was always in and out, or so we learned along the trip) then went into town for the day and had our last hurrahs. On our way in to Quincy Market, where we'd had the first forays into clam chowder and the disappointing baked clam, we found ourselves face to face with a grilled cheese sandwich food truck called Roxy's, one of Rhinda's bucket list items before she left. It was clearly serendipity.

All of us ordered different types except for the fourth, who got a lobster roll from a nearby other food truck. As we were munching a Latin truck rolled up and we all whispered to ourselves that it was clearly too little, too late.

After tasting all the flavors, we all agreed that we liked someone else's sandwich more. I guess it's always a case of "the grass is always greener...". Hilarious. Especially when the flavors are things like:
  • Fontina with boneless bbq shortribs and caramelized onions
  • Muenster with homemade guacamole and applewood smoked bacon
  • Some kind of cheese (I forget) with cranberry sauce, pumpkin, and turkey (clearly the seasonal special)
I believe the correct answer is: you cannot go wrong. And really you couldn't. I enjoyed the bbq shortribs so much but I got the one with guac. Not a bad choice in any direction. Really, not.

We visited a few places we'd been before, reminiscing about the times that had happened and also stopping into a few new places we'd not noticed. I vowed to go back into a boutique with cute clothes and jewelry later that day after everyone had left. What a great city.

It was around this time that Rhinda received a recommendation for the BEST pizza in the world (literally, that's how it was broadcast in the text message) from the girl we'd met earlier for German happy hour. Well, that was just a challenge we were too interested in to pass up! So we shuffled over to Umberto Galleria and stood in line for the pizza that had such a big reputation for being the best in the world that it usually sold out before 2pm.

There weren't even flavors to choose from. It literally said "pizza" on the menu, and that's what you got. It was $1.65 a slice.

Cheese pizza. I guess I should have known when it just says "pizza" and the place is clearly legit Italian. Real Italians don't do anything to their pizzas except put the finest and simplest ingredients. I kid you not, this is always how it rolls.

When Rhinda's friend arrived to meet us, she said that her explanation for BEST was based on the fact that no one makes a good cheese pizza and this was in fact, the best cheese pizza in the world. I did think it was rather good...but as someone who never orders cheese pizza I'm afraid I'll have to admit that I'm no connoisseur. It was very tasty though, and clearly very fresh.

We then nipped over to the public library for a tour of the place. Rhinda's friend was going to give us a tour herself when we stepped in and saw we were actually five minutes early to a legit free tour. Yes and yes. We waited and the tour began.

As we walked in this library and outside its grounds, I was absolutely spellbound. I've never seen such a gorgeous library in my life. Really. So much art and architecture, such fabulous materials. The woman tour guide kept mentioning how people have their weddings there...I bet they do! It's fabulous in there! I would kill (not literally) to have my wedding there. And thus began the joke between Rhinda and I that I would need to get married there. We'll see what happens in the future.

My god should I be so lucky. This place is incredible. So much history and art and well...everything. The place is absolutely gorgeous. And to be married in a place where all the great stories are stored. I can dream of nothing better, to be honest. (Ah, my silly girl heart dreams!).

It was around this time that more of our group started to peter out, flights and work and all. And after the tour, Rhinda herself and the last remaining girl needed to head back to the hotel to get ready for their flight also. I followed them to check into my room and get ready for the solo night ahead.

We said our goodbyes and everyone left. I checked into my singular room (surprisingly fancy...or maybe I just perceived it that way because there weren't several other people trying to use the bathroom all at the same time or random wet towels thrown everywhere) and repacked my suitcase. I then wrote my singular postcard to the one person I still send postcards to, freshened up, and hit the town again.

What did I do by myself you ask? Haha, not a hell of a lot of interesting stuff, actually. I went to CVS and picked up the hangover formula that I would be testing in London. I went back to the boutique where I'd spotted cute clothes and jewelry before and continued to shop to my heart's desire.

And it was exactly at this point, when I was trying on myriads of clothes that I got the most peculiar of calls...

...Rhinda was calling me from the airport. Said that her flight was delayed to a point where she wouldn't make her connecting flight. She was coming back into town and staying the night with me.

Whoo hoo! Who would have thought? Such strange coincidences life throws at you!

So I finished up my shopping eventually and met her for dinner (she had already had time to drop her luggage back at the hotel).

We went for Boston baked beans, the one thing on my list that I still hadn't gotten to and was so curious about. The concierge at the hotel had recommended a place called Durgin Park by Quincy Market. Surprisingly difficult to find but worth it.

We ordered another mayo lobster roll since baked beans and coleslaw came with it, along with a baker's dozen of oysters and some more Sam Adams beer that could only be had in Boston.

Hilariously baked beans are listed under the "Fresh veggies" category of things on this menu. Along with mac and cheese. You know, cause you need everything ever to count as a veggie when your menu is like this. Maybe this is what fresh seafood does to you - everything that isn't seafood is a veggie.

Anyway, the beans. They were surprisingly different than beans I'd had before. I know that sounds stupid in some ways, but really they were quite different. They had individual texture - so not mushy but rather round on their own and with a little bit of resistance while still being smooth on the inside. Their sauce was also more molasses (which is to be expected, as that's what they're made of) instead of plain sweet and there was almost a bitter or smoky flavor to them instead of a meat flavor, despite there being pieces of bacon with them.

Overall they were great. Not my favorite of all beans, but certainly something I would eat with regularity should I live in Boston. Definitely something I would make should I have a ready supply of molasses.

We then spent the night like we did our first night - we grabbed a bottle of bubbly from a nearby liquor store and watched Keeping up with the Kardashians while chatting until it was late enough to go to sleep. Just until a little past midnight this time, rather than 4am.

Friday, November 22, 2013

You need more jewelry

Everyone took the next morning to sleep in. Rocking nights out do take their toll, but luckily only one of us was hungover.

I'll take this time to let you in on a little secret about this. When I was living in San Diego still, Marc and I used to invest heavily in some pills you could get from Whole Foods called Hangover Formula (I think the reason is obvious). They were large horse pills and you'd take several (like three) before, during, or after drinking. The intent is to not get a hangover, naturally.

I told Rhinda's fiance about this before he went on his bachelor party, telling him to pick some up for our bachelorette festivities as well, should he already be in Whole Foods. Instead, he decided to break down the formula and make his own from the elements that are already there. I'm guessing he did this because Whole Foods is expensive and CVS is closer to their house. Whatever the reason, this works just as well if not better, so cheers to him.

Here is what he put together and what Rhinda brought with her:
  • 1000mg milk thistle
  • 1 non-drowsy motion sickness pill (like Dramamine or similar)
  • 1 extra strength headache relief pill (must have acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine)
You take them all before or during drinking and boom, no hangover. Rhinda and I took the formula before our big night out at Emerald (where we drank everything from bubbly, vodka, and St. Germain's...lots of all of the above), and the next morning we felt...refreshed. Not even just not hungover, we felt awake and completely normal. Like we hadn't been drinking at all.

The beauty is in the formula, actually. Each of the ingredients plays a key part and the more I thought about it, the more it actually does make sense.

The milk thistle is for liver function - apparently this helps your liver work more efficiently. I think it makes sense that any time you're going to be dealing with alcohol, your liver is going to have to push a little harder, so this just helps it along and makes sure that you're not damaging it in the process. The non-drowsy motion sickness pill is to help with nausea and other effects that make you feel like crap either during or after imbibing. The pain relief is so you don't get headaches or the other pain associated with hangovers and I'm guessing the caffeine just speeds things along while the aspirin helps thin the blood, making things flow through faster and giving your heart whatever boost you need. Also works as an anti-inflammatory agent, which reduces swelling, which could be good because your body tends to retain a lot of liquids after consumption. The acetaminophen is gentle on stomachs while also administering any pain relief necessary.

And there you have the package. Rhinda and I took this every time we drank during the trip and didn't have hangovers at all. I've now picked up the formula and am going to experiment with it here in London to see if it does have that effect every time. Rhinda's fiance claimed that during his entire bachelor party he wasn't hungover at all. That's quite a statement.

Anyway, enough about my pump of that. Eventually we woke up enough to split ways and do various things. Amy had to visit an uncle and aunt who live in town while the one who was hungover stayed in bed the whole day. The other girl with man friends in Boston (including the one who had failed to pick us up for lobster benedict) had never come home from watching a baseball game with them and said she would meet up with us later.

So the remaining three of us headed out to the bar that was filmed in Cheers. I'd wrongly navigated us to the replica bar earlier in our trip and this time I was determined to get us to the right one. We walked through the Boston Commons and Boston Public parks to get there. Gorgeous in the sunshine. And completely filled with crazy squirrels hiding nuts everywhere. Literally.

I did get us there successfully and I felt like such a navigational winner.

The girl who came with us was the only one who actually watched the show, so we let her pick the seats. She sat in Norm's seat...which I guess is significant in some way. I found out that Frasier is a follow up show (this is something I did not know). I enjoyed Frasier, so perhaps I would enjoy Cheers...no.

We had beers (yes, at 11am) - Samuel Adam's Red Brick (again, only offered in Boston, and it was great) and shared lobster artichoke dip with chips. Really just cannot get away from the amazing seafood. Really just cannot. Not even at pubs!

It was around this time that we were to meet everyone else for fancy tea time at L'Espalier. I was excited for this and had specially chosen my outfit that morning to be a little nicer than my normal tshirt and jeans. It was...nicer tshirt and jeans (yes!).

This place was nothing to laugh at though; it was definitely the fanciest tea I'd ever been to, and I've been to quite a few fancy tea places.

Rhinda, Kelsey, and I were the first to arrive and we took a look at the menu. The choices were tea alone, tea with fancy pastries, or tea with fancy cheese, or tea with an entire selection of savory sandwiches and fancy pastries. Not really wanting fancy pastries, I asked if I could substitute the fancy pastries with fancy cheese in the "I want everything" selection. Yes, that would be acceptable.

Amy arrived straight from meeting her aunt and uncle. Upon hearing where she was going her aunt looked her up and down and said with a straight face, "You need more jewelry." Amy laughed it off as a joke but when she came to meet us she said, "OMG my aunt wasn't joking." If taking the elevator to the table didn't give you that impression, I don't know what would. Perhaps the bathroom that has nothing but "use once" towels or the fact that the cheapest thing on the menu is a tea blend that still costs you $20.

I went for gold on this one. You only live once and you spend most of that time making the money you're trying to save to spend on stuff like this. Rhinda did the same. My only mistake was ordering a tea with caffeine and thinking my body could handle it (it couldn't, and I spent a few hours in the afternoon feeling like I would collapse from the shakes and throw up at the same time...I let no one know of my predicament).

The food was pretty tasty.

The savory bites, starting from the egg at the top and going counterclockwise:

Deviled egg with American caviar and mustard. Delicious, as all deviled eggs are, but Rhinda and I agreed that American caviar isn't the way to go. Clearly there are tastier roe elsewhere in the world and this one wasn't the best.

Radish with lobster salad and dill. Absolutely yes on this one; the blanched radish was still crunchy but flavorful and the lobster salad inside was fresh and amazing, as all the lobster on this trip was found to be. Definitely one of my favorites of the bunch.

Small sandwich of guinea hen. My favorite of the selection. I don't know exactly what a guinea hen is but it is fucking delicious. Fatty in all the right ways and incredibly tasty; clearly a game fowl in my mind. I doubt they even put much else with it, it had so much flavor on its own. Probably something I could get from the rare meats butcher I see at my farmers market. Definitely something to investigate.

Ham and cheese croissant. I'm not sure why this was here, to be honest, other than the fact that it is, indeed, a small savory sandwich. It was good, don't get me wrong, and the croissant was fantastically crunchy in all the right ways, but it was nothing special. A very good ham and cheese croissant.

Cucumber and watercress triangle. I think this one they felt they had to put on just to make it fancy tea. You can't have fancy tea without the stupid cucumber sandwich. Again, nothing fancy, but somehow still oddly necessary. I felt unimpressed but still pleased by this.

Salmon sandwich. Same with this. The salmon was nice and fresh but there was nothing special about this.

All in all a good selection but nothing to shout about save the radish with lobster salad and the amazing guinea hen sandwich. Kind of a let down for $20 worth of food.

The second half, my selection of cheeses, was a bit more worth it, in my opinion.

This will go in order from left to right. They also go in order from mildest to strongest in taste. As they intended.

Cremont. Extremely creamy and pretty tasty.

Pecorino Ginepro. Its rind was rubbed with juniper berry and balsalmic vinegar. I like to eat the rinds also nowadays as I feel they have so much flavor and texture (yes, sometimes they taste like mold to me, which freaks me out...but there is so much flavor there also!). I'm not sure if that is proper cheese-eating etiquette but I've decided to hell with it. Definitely flavorful and great texture.

Ashley. This one's rind was actually covered in ash, which they say in the description, "might remind you of a summertime cookout." Yes, I suppose that would. Were it not next to gourmet cheese! Who has gourmet cheese at their summer cookout? Delightfully rich people, that's who. Note to self: become one of those people who has gourmet cheese at their summer cookout. In all reality though, I didn't remember this one tasting particularly ashy, even having eaten the rind with it.

Maxx Extra. Hilariously Rhinda and Amy had already eaten this cheese in real life at one of their many get togethers, and were proud to say that they were clearly part of the cheese eating community. This one was lovely; salty but creamy. I wanted it so badly to have larger crystalline pops in it but it didn't have it, so I was a little let down. The paper said that it may remind me crunchy peanut butter ice cream. No...I don't think so.

Taleggio. Meaty and creamy, nutty yet slightly tart. They liked to choose the tart ones for this tasting. Maybe it goes especially well with tea or something. I like nuttier, heavier cheeses myself so this was nice but also a little bit disappointing.

Great Hill Blue. The only bleu cheese in the tasting, much to my dismay. This one was surprisingly bright, rather than being heavy like most bleu cheeses I've had. It almost had a citrus backtaste, which I found pleasing but also confusing. Tart is the way to describe it. Not one of my favorites, which is a shocker because bleu cheese is usually one of my hands down winners.

All in all a worthy substitute since I don't eat pastries (the girls thought the pastries were good but some of them were too rich and the chocolate one looked like a rich mess...plus it seemed to be covered in something that resembled both in look and feel...like pop rocks...confusing).

My tea was also amazing - I had their special anniversary blend. I made the mistake of drinking the whole pot and as mentioned before, paid the weird sickly price for it.

We split ways again after the tea - three of them going shopping for various things and Rhinda and I returning to the hotel to check on the one who was still hungover (and yep, she was still hungover) and get our jackets before going back out and checking out the old timey printing press and chocolatier.

The printing press had a man who talked about how Boston actually had a printed version of the Declaration of Independence before the (more famous) handwritten one was even made. This guy is also so into what he does that he is the one who owns the press himself and was the one who went to the archives to see the original and have it made in the original way, with each piece (over 900 of them) recast and made into the one that is used in the demonstration today.

Rhinda and I delighted in this man after he described his experience of going to the archive and holding the original metal plate in his hands: "I breathed in Paul Revere's particles...my knees were shaking so much." After that we believed that he was clearly the coolest printing guy around. Anyone who can be that excited about printing is the guy you want for this job. Oddly, he is not recognized by the government in any shape or form for what he has done and runs purely on donations.

Across the hall was the colonial chocolatier.

Though this woman is clearly less excited about her job, she still gave a good description of what chocolate was like in the olden days: less sugary than what we have now (that should be obvious, since sugar was rare and expensive in those days) and actually filled with a lot more spices. We got samples of drinking chocolate afterwards and it was pretty amazing. I'm all about this kind of chocolate.

It was after this that we all reassembled at the hotel room and then went to dinner at The Barking Crab. Sort of a walk away from everything (this now meaning something like a 0.8mile walk...which is long when everything you've done so far is 0.5miles or less) but we enjoyed it; the weather had been wonderful and surprisingly warm. Though jackets were needed it wasn't like anyone was going to be freezing to death anywhere.

I'd been told to visit this restaurant by someone recently and a few others in our group had been told as well. We got there and the place was pretty rockin. Large picnic tables under fancy xmas lighting. Reminded me of Joe's Crab Shack back at home...but with the freshest seafood ever!

Several of the girls at our table got the fresh lobster (market price), but I just wanted to try the cold lobster roll with mayo. So Rhinda and I did the split again and got our heart's desires:

Crab cake sliders, for one. Rhinda wanted to see if crab cakes were really better on the east coast as compared to the west coast. Amy claimed that despite what the menu said (that these were famous crab cakes), she was unimpressed with these particular ones (Amy is from Maryland, where crab cakes reign supreme). Rhinda and I both thought these were pretty good though; there wasn't too much breading and you could clearly taste the crab. Plus the remoulade was amazing.

And the cold lobster roll. Definitely my preferred choice. Butter is great and all, but I dunno, it doesn't provide the saltiness necessary to enhance the sweet meat of lobster (in my humble opinion). Maybe it's just because everyone is being a purist and using clarified unsalted butter. If they used the terrible salted butter that I loved maybe I would want it more. But in any case, I'll take the poor man's version any day and be happy as a clam. :)

The fries were also quite good. But I always love fries with a heavy side of ketchup. Or mayo.

After this we took to the room to finish off The Goose and a bottle of wine that someone else had bought somewhere along the way. Everyone was leaving tomorrow except me so it just seemed budgetary to stay in rather than go out. Unfortunately our room didn't have a DVD player because Rhinda had brought Bridesmaids the movie, and that would have been a perfect ending to our adventure. But alas, no dice. We ended up watching Pawn Stars instead, which is hilarious.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


And it was a good thing we went to bed early; we had a 10am appointment with Boston by Foot, a walking tour that tells you all about Boston's historical bits (of which there are many). We'd signed up for the Road to Revolution tour that covered things like Paul Revere's ride and the Boston Massacre, among many other things.

It was a 90 minute tour that took us along the Freedom Trail and among the many historical sites that we'd seen along the way. It was exceptionally informative and I felt much more educated afterwards. The real night's rest surely helped as well. And we were still getting such brilliant weather it was hard not to love it.

The one thing that made us giggle the most was the statue of Paul Revere.

Rhinda's immediate thoughts had been "there is only one reason a man leans back at that angle..." and thus started an entire hashtag competition of who could come up with the best Paul Revere tags for the statue. These were some of the best ones we came up with:

I think you get the point. This was a constant point of hilarity whenever anyone was seen succeeding at something in the trip. The hand motion was also necessary. He has now become the mascot of the entire trip.

It was during this tour that I noticed a free flu clinic open next to one of the places we happened to stop and listen to something (I think it was next to Paul Revere's house). As you know, dear readers, this has been a point of frustration for me given my schedule and the fact that I've not found a way to get it for free in the UK. I quickly asked the woman outside promoting it how long they would be open: only until 1pm that day. I shouted back at her as we started to move that I would definitely be back.

And I kept my word. As soon as our tour was done I had our guide bring us back to the same street and I went in and got my free shot. Murrika! Only in America would they not ask for ID at all and still give you the inoculation for free. Take that, Britain! You have to keep the inoculation levels above 85% otherwise a population is no longer safe. You should be giving it out for free!

Anyway, that awkwardly made my day. I was ecstatic. My arm hurt for the next two days and I was made fun of, but it was totally worth it.

The tour guide was also helpful in giving us a recommendation for lunch, since we were in the Italian part of town. The restaurant was called Strega. As we entered we saw that P. Diddy and Justin Timberlake had eaten here. Good enough for P. Diddy, good enough for us.

And it was. It was amazing.

Rhinda's pasta with mushrooms and cream sauce. I think hers was actually the best, though oddly it was one of the most expensive. Must have been the truffle oil. So simple yet so delicious! My god.

I couldn't decide what to eat so I just went with the veal marsala; classic standby for me in Italian restaurants. So good and so flavorful.

The other girl in our party got the lobster with homemade pasta. It was incredible but also so messy. She says that her husband sometimes berates her for eating with her hands at fancy restaurants. All we said was, fancy enough for P. Diddy, fancy enough for us.

It was at this point we went back to the hotel for naps. Yes, we finally got that nap in, and it was amazing. We also seriously needed it because we were actually going out for real that night. We were going down the block to a lounge called Emerald (oddly the same name as the restaurant Rhinda will be having her reception at).

So I painted on my lips again (though only after the second attempt...my first attempt was vetoed automatically by Rhinda...clearly this will take some practice) and we set out.

Btw I'd like to point out at this point that Emerald was chosen specifically because we knew there would be places to sit (we were actually wearing heels this time) and there would be men old enough to buy us drinks (potentially, should anyone be interested in that). This is how old-person strategy works. Yeah. Place to sit had priority, btw...the second one was more of an afterthought than anything.

Rhinda also had a strategy that if we went early enough (before 10pm since after that they started charging cover, something we were not interested in doing), maybe we would be seen with her in her bachelorette stuff and we would get free drinks or something.

We did better than that. The floor manager happened to see her on the way in and not only gave us a free VIP table until the real party arrived, but also a free bottle of bubbly. Baller! Clearly the strategy worked. We were thrilled. Especially after finding out that her fiance and his party spent 1.8k on their bottle service table at the Vegas club they went to. Let that sink in. 1.8k. For one night of bottle service. Ours? FREE.

Granted we did end up ordering food, another bottle of bubbly, and a few more drinks after that, but it was nowhere near 1.8k.  In fact it was probably still less than $200 at the end of it. The bottles of bubbly were surprisingly reasonable ($40 a pop). Well, cheers to that, Boston.

Another old person strategy we employed: we got drunk enough and danced long enough to be there until about 1:30am and then we split because there was a dumpling place we wanted to try down the street called Dumpling Cafe that was only open until 2am. Yes, really. We prioritized food over anything else, as I'm sure you've started to recognize from the bulk of my postings.

And the dumplings were fabulous. There were soup dumplings (the kind that have meat and soup inside once they're steamed), crispy pan fried noodles with chicken (dein mein, in Cantonese, though the woman understood neither my terrible drunken Cantonese nor Rhinda and Amy's Vietnamese), and some sort of steamed bun which I vaguely remember but don't recall what was inside. Moral of the story: the food was delicious.

The walk home was one of slight old-person shame, however. Amy had taken off her heels during our dumpling fest because her feet had started to hurt during the dancing (she had been sitting most of that time, as per our strategy regarding heels). Unfortunately this is the exact thing you're not supposed to do because your feet swell and it's more painful to put your shoes back on afterwards, as any woman will tell you who has done this foolish mistake. Amy's feet had swollen so much that she couldn't get her shoes back on. At all. So the walk home was slow...and slightly gross. Luckily Boston is pretty clean and we were only a few blocks away from our hotel. Still hilarious.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

So much butter!

The next morning we rose surprisingly early as the guys the previous night had promised to take us to the best restaurant in town that served lobster benedict. A minute before one of them was supposed to pick us up we got the text message that they weren't coming. Some friends. We wrote them off and decided to take the tram and get there ourselves.

Halfway there though, the T line had such massive delays that we decided to change plans and go to one of the other brunch places we were more interested in: Oishii. Oishii is a Japanese restaurant that serves Japanese style tapas at a set price for lunch everyday. Yes and yes.

We arrived ten minutes before the restaurant even opened. YES, first in line. The choices were astounding.

There were four lunch specials to choose from. One of them was ramen, which is what I went with, two of them were tapas-style selections (the biggest one Rhinda went with), and another choice that no one got but still looked interesting.

Here is a brief overview of what Rhinda's menu looked like:

And what her food actually looked like after it was served:

She and I decided to go halvsies to try the maximum amount of food possible.

It was incredible. The flavors were intense and bright and the textures were to die for. Our favorite by far was the grilled miso black cod, which was interesting because it didn't look like anything special.

All of the fish was incredibly fresh and the flavors great. Surprisingly the most uninteresting dish was the lobster wild mushroom risotto. We all agreed that somehow it wasn't like risotto but more like undercooked rice. The lobster itself was good though.

And then there was my ramen. It was great; not too salty, and filled with pieces of completely marinated-to-perfection pork belly. With the normal delicious gooey egg and some cabbage. Wonderful and exactly what I was looking for.

We were absolutely stuffed after this meal, despite everything looking so small and dainty. Beautiful food with incredible flavors. Just the way I love it.

So naturally the next thing we did was the Sam Adams brewery tour. Because when you're full the only thing to do is fill your belly with more stuff...beer of all things.

The tour itself was actually pretty good. It was just long enough to tell you all the informative things you'd want to know (ingredients, brew process, tour of the very small grounds, since this site is really the place where R&D happens and they do all of the experimenting, not the major manufacturing), and then the majority of the time is in the tasting room where they give you three different tastings (basically as much as you'd really want to drink) while telling you about those beers and giving you a free tasting glass as well as selling you on other glasses and telling you where you can get another glass for free. It's a pretty sweet deal for a free brewery tour.

Obviously after the tour was done and we'd toured the gift shop...we went to the other bar where we could get the free glass and sat down for a pint of Sam Adams. Rhinda and I both got the Nitro, only sold at that one bar and exclusive to Boston. I had several types of beer that were exclusive to Boston on that trip. Hello beer...goodbye wine (at least for this trip). I had forgotten how refreshing beer could be.

It was about this time that happy hour was once again starting, and Rhinda had just bought (that very morning) a Livingsocial deal for a German restaurant we'd been scoping out called Jacob Wirth's. We were also to meet one of Linda's Bostonian friends there (someone who lives in Boston but who went to UCSD with us) and another girl arriving was to meet us there. So much coordination!

So we split up on the T line - half of us were going to Jacob Wirth's, the other half were going to Neptune to put us in the queue there for dinner. The wait at Neptune is notorious, since they take no reservations and the restaurant is incredibly small. You literally go there, put in your name, and then wait for two hours until they call it. You're allowed to wander away, but only in that general neighborhood. Apparently those girls went for several cups of coffee and some touristy shopping.

We on the other hand...had more food and beer...

I ordered an amazing grapefruit beer (really, it smelled and tasted like grapefruit..it was so refreshing I can't even describe), and we ordered a plethora of appetizers to share. Sauerkraut balls with ale honey mustard, veal schnitzel with jaeger sauce on spaetzel, and the Jake's nibbler platter with two types of brat with red cabbage, potato salad, and sauerkraut. Fantastic, all of it, delicious.

We had fun talking before walking back to the hotel where Rhinda's fiance had surprised her with an edible arrangement. An entire bouquet of fruit made into shapes of flowers - pineapples, cantaloupes, grapes, strawberries, and chocolate covered strawberries. We ate the entire thing for two days. Given all the other food we ate it was pretty impressive.

At this time our table at Neptune was ready so we met with the rest of our party, including two others, one of which was another one of Rhinda's Bostonian friends (though who she met through her study abroad in France).

Neptune is known for its oysters, lobster rolls, and johnnycakes, so that's exactly what I ordered to share with Rhinda. By now I wasn't hungry; I was eating for experience and taste only. My god, there was so much butter:

The oysters here were incredible. There was a printed out list, describing in exact detail the oysters they had on half-shell with their flavors and where they were from. They were individually priced. I ordered three different ones with worlds like "has a buttery finish," "light notes of citrus" etc. It was like choosing a wine. And the descriptions were completely spot on. They were definitely some of the freshest and best oysters I've ever had in my life. In. My. Life.

Oh, I also ordered a crab claw with my fresh seafood that was just very meh. It was good, don't get me wrong, and it was even precracked for me, but it was just alright. I guess when you have this amount of amazing fresh seafood, when something is just "good" instead of "incredible" it starts to feel mediocre. I'm sure in real life that crab claw would have been out of the park.

The lobster roll and johnnycake. The lobster roll, per reviews recommendation, was ordered hot and with butter. Though the lobster in it was exceptional, I didn't particularly like it this way. I had a cold one (with mayo) later on the trip that I enjoyed much more, despite its lobster quality being a little less good. I think perhaps I'm just too much of a mayo ho to like lobster being so plain. Even though it was covered in butter.

The johnnycake though...ho, it was delicious. I wasn't expecting to like this particular thing, since it was described to me as "a pancake with some sort of savory topping." I'm not a huge fan of pancakes since they're part of the bready family which I usually find little interest in, but well, when in Rome...

This was totally different than people had described. First, it was thicker and more buttery than anyone had described. Its flavors were more intense and it was just...better, than any pancake I'd ever had. Definitely denser as well. And the savory topping? Albacore with caviar. Yes, I understand that this is not a normal person topping, but god was it good. Incredible. I would eat this any day, any time. On any thing. I wish they would sell that in a jar because I would eat it by itself. It was that good. Yes, yes and yes.

By now I was starting to sway with food coma, jet lag, and just general lack of sleep. The complicated billing structure didn't help so I called it a night after we were done. There were mumblings of going out somewhere but I hightailed it back to the hotel and crashed soon after. It appeared that everyone else agreed with me because they all crashed as well. I guess this is what happens when you get older and don't get your nap.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Going on a short hiatus

Hello lovely readers,

Going on a short hiatus this weekend with the lovely German K and Hong Kong P. This trip is definitely needed after recent events and we've been looking forward to it since the time we last saw each other. Vienna awaits us and I look to rewrite my history there, as the first and only time I have stepped foot there, I had one of the most horrifying backpacking experiences to date. Thanks, Vienna.

So I will be back to normal posting schedule again on Wednesday. Until then, have a great long weekend and you'll hear more about lovely Boston once I return.

Much happiness to you all.


The Goose

We woke up a few hours later in order to make our appointment with the psychic.

One of the things that we had done, as Rhinda and I have done with several of our other trips, is join the Groupon or Livingsocial deals of a city well in advance of actually going there. This allows us to get deals for a city we're going to and make appointments and arrangements. One of the deals we happened to stumble upon was a deal for a psychic reading. Rhinda and I had always been interested in getting this done so we made appointments. No one else from the party was interested.

We made our way into the city using the T (Boston's underground tram service, which is both hilariously slow because of the curviness of its tracks but also rather convenient) and got ourselves some breakfast at Starbucks after not being able to decide what to eat.

I ate a tomato and cheese square with a chai latte. She had a pumpkin rosemary square with the seasonal pumpkin spice latte. This was definitely going to be the least awesome food of our entire stay. A failing on our part to try a little harder at eating New England food.

And then we went to the psychic. A strange place the Tremont Tearoom, it took us a long time to locate it since it was in an office building on top of a jewelry store. But we eventually did find it. Rhinda went first since apparently we're not allowed to be in the room at the same time (something something the psychic would pick up on both of our energies instead of just one) and they had a schedule to keep. We had half an hour each.

Rhinda said hers was strangely accurate. The psychic went into details such as that Rhinda gets her fiance to eat better (which is true) and other very accurate things such as "who wears the mask of deception?" when her fiance had recently revealed to her that he didn't want their children to be raised Jewish (this is something they had agreed upon years before and is important to her, having converted to Judaism back in college).

And then I went in. I would also have to say that some things were strangely accurate: she correctly guessed that I'm doing excellently financially and will be completely buttoned up in that way by the time I'm 30 (I have no doubts that this will in fact, be true). She also knew about my troubles related to some health stuff I've been dealing with (it was very specific though, she correctly guessed the area of my body that was ailing me, and this is not a part that can be seen or detected by a normal person). The rest of my session was focusing on an area of my life that has been taking a lot of my mental space and time: my love future. As you, dear readers, have likely gleaned from some of my previous posts, dating life abroad has been anything but rosy. I don't write about everything that has happened (because, well, that's personal), but needless to say, things have been abrewing. Her answers were strangely reassuring and unreassuring. I also pulled the deception card. I guess the question of "who is wearing the mask of deception?" though, doesn't have a good answer in this case. Am I wearing the mask of deception? I don't think so. But I don't think the other party does either.

[Future add-in: it appears the other party was wearing the mask of deception. So that answers that question.]

All in all a wonderful experience. Rhinda and I felt very good leaving the place, and continued on our day of fun together before the others arrived. One of our major goals was to choose our MAC lipstick colors for the big day in March. The makeup artist Rhinda has arranged for us will not only do our airbrush makeup (some incredible makeup innovation that blends with the oils of your skin to make it look more natural), but will also get us a tube of MAC lipstick for a discounted price so everyone can do touchups for the rest of the day. We were on the hunt for our perfect colors.

We had spotted a Macy's when getting our Starbucks earlier in the day so that's where we went back to. The MAC counter was conveniently located in the beauty section and we started hunting for good colors. We noticed a line out the door of Asian customers and realized quickly that Clinique was having one of their fall gift pack giveaway days (where if you spend a certain amount of money you get the gift pack with free products in it...Asian people love these things..my family used to be one of those people in line).

A lovely gay man eventually came over and helped us. I found a gorgeous deep red and Rhinda found a pink purple. I bought mine immediately though, having been convinced that I should use this in real life and not just for her wedding, with a brush to help me draw the lines on straight. Trust me, this is one of the many reasons I've never gotten into makeup - you have to do it right otherwise you just look foolish. It's a lot more difficult than it looks. The irony of it all: the brush was more expensive than the lipstick itself. They clearly know what they're doing in the pricing department.

We then took the rest of the time to shop the career dresses department. Having not shopped in a Macy's in a long while I'd forgotten they even had a department like this. We ended up buying the same dress: a sleek black Calvin Klein number that was on sale. I need dresses exactly like these for work functions, VIP events at the V&A, and countless Internations meetups. My god, if only they had stores that sold things like this in London! And for so cheap yet quality!

At this point the first girl had arrived so it was time to meet up with her back at the hotel. We went back and gathered her while also putting down our new purchases.

We then headed out for the first of many food adventures that day. Quincy Market:

Basically an indoor market hall filled with all sorts of amazing food delights. Unfortunately this was the only time we got to eat in there, but if I'd had the time, there would have been so much more exploration.

This time around we got clam chowder in a bread bowl and a baked clam. No photos, sorry about that. I was a horrible photographer on this trip because I was having so much fun and others were taking photos. A lot of food photos you'll see on the blog for this trip were actually taken by Rhinda for posting purposes. My apologies in advance.

The clam chowder was delightful - not at all salty, very fresh clams, wonderfully soft bread bowl. Very different from the ones I've had in San Francisco with their sourdough breads. But all of them are tasty in their own ways. This was great though.

The clam bake was horribly disappointing. What looked like a bread-encrusted creamy masterpiece was a dry bready baked thing with clam bits in it. The only redeeming part of it was the tartare sauce that came with it. I was heavily disappointed. At $4 a pop you'd expect at least something that isn't dry. My mistake.

At this point another girl had arrived so we had to go back to the hotel again. It was also just about time for happy hour, something rare and elusive in Boston, so we were definitely going to RSVP.

We headed off to Q restaurant, where happy hour was booming for a very short time. We found out once we were snuggled in at the bar that only appetizers were half off; Massachusetts is one of those states that can discount food but not booze. We also found out the hard way that booze is only sold in dedicated liquor stores or some larger grocery stores (and only things like low-alcohol beer and wine).

So we took off ordering appetizers like we were starving (which we weren't) and enjoyed what we could. The cocktails, though not discounted, were still delicious:

We had sashimi (tuna, salmon, white fish), scallion pancakes, seafood salad, and black fungus (otherwise translated as "cloud ears" by my family). All of them were great, though my favorites were definitely the seafood salad and scallion pancakes (which had a side of hoisin, my long lost love). Everything was fresh and quite tasty. And after being half off, very cheap.

After this tasty meal we decided to hit a liquor store, after having had this rumor confirmed. We tried CVS, which is when we found out that clearly, there would be no booze to be had there. We at least bought mixers though, and then headed out to a liquor store. We had to take the tram to get to the nearest one. Granted Boston is not a big place and is still very walkable, when you have to take public transit to get to your nearest liquor store, you know that you're in a town that used to embrace prohibition with wild abandon.

We picked up a bottle of Grey Goose from there and called it a night (it was hereon out referred to merely as, The Goose). I said classy booze or bust, and this is what we decided on. We later emptied the one tiny ice bucket our room provided and tried to chill our one bottle as much as possible for later consumption.

Our plan was to then take a nap, as had been heavily discussed in Facebook messages before all getting together, but we had taken so long in procuring booze and eating happy hour that this failed. I'd like to state here and now that we did successfully nap all of the other days and that I would highly recommend this to other bachelor and bachelorette parties the world over. Rest is essential, and when you're getting to sleep at 3am or so every night and somehow still waking up at 9am, you'll want that rest. Trust me.

Instead we got ready to go out for a night on the town. To a speakeasy called Drink. It was a very classy joint in the recently renovated and rejuvenated part of town. Super excited.  I even drew on my lips that night with my new red lipstick. Rhinda heavily approved. She wore her new black Calvin Klein dress. We so fancy.

The drinks were actually spectacular. They were real drinks (instead of homemade concoctions) called things like The Bohemian (that's the only one I can remember that I had...and it was incredible). Apparently there is a whole world of drinks out there that I don't know about. Figures.

The last girl to arrive that day had some friends she'd met while in Vegas who lived in Boston who joined us. Not only did they secretly buy us a round of drinks (Rhinda thought that she traded in the little "Bride to Be" hat she was wearing for free drinks...a secret we will let her continue to believe), they also took us for late night Chinese food afterwards at a great restaurant called New Jumbo Seafood.

There we had things like fish maw soup, spicy fried calamari, black bean clams, and beef with bell peppers and onions. It was fabulous and greasy; the way that late night food should be. We ended the night at 4am.

Yes, Boston, the eating had just begun. And so did the fun.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Arriving in Bawh-stun

It's not everyday you celebrate your best friend's bachelorette party. So when I arrived in Boston to start the festivities, I was overjoyed. I was going to spend a week in Boston, doing exactly that.

I arrived at the Boston Park Plaza hotel after a rather excellent 7.5 hour flight direct from London Heathrow to Boston Logan. A short trip to the duty free section provided me with everything I needed for the party - a bottle of Veuve Cliquot and a gift box of the finest beauty products for the bride-to-be for recovering after all of our late nights. I figured we're not old yet, but we're old enough to need a little help in looking like grapes again rather than raisins.

I had never been to Boston before, so it was a major and pleasant surprise to me when I found out how easy their public transportation was. Rhinda, being the master planner that I try to be, had sent messages around beforehand on how much a one-day versus one-week pass was ($11 versus $18) and what the nearest tram stops were to the hotel. From there I went to the info center in the arrivals hall and mapped my way to the hotel. Took about 40 minutes. I definitely bought the week pass. Why wouldn't I, at that amazing price? A one-day pass in London is about $15. I think you get the picture of how ecstatic I was at this price. This is ridiculously low.

After checking in and talking to the groom-to-be John about some things, I putted around a little bit. What would I do for the several hours before Rhinda showed up? It would only be us two for the first night, then other girls would start arriving the next day, then more the next day, etc etc. Eventually there would be a full six of us sharing the room. We were going to make it work just like in the college days. Luckily a little more luxe though (staying in a nice hotel with six girls instead of a terrible hotel with thirteen girls).

I walked down the streets nearby and took in the gorgeous fall weather. It was sunny and warm in Boston, which was amazing. I'm talking high teens Celsius, which is fantastic. Even the Bostonians were surprised at how unseasonably warm it was still. I love breathing in fresh warm fall air. It's such a luxury nowadays.

As I walked around the blocks, I saw what a gorgeous city Boston is. Unlike London it seemed pretty walkable and reasonable to get around on public transportation (everything took about 15 minutes either walking or transit), and as we were there for longer this was only confirmed even more. Everyone was super nice and talkative; this is something I've missed so much about America. The openness. The ability to approach someone and just start talking about anything; the lack of fear. The friendliness. This is definitely one of the friendliest large cities I've been to in a very long time. And it was amazing.

After consulting the concierge, I picked up a brie and fig jam sandwich, a bottle of red wine, and some snacks for later in the night and booked a massage for an hour later. Clearly I knew what I would be doing in the few hours before Rhinda arrived - relaxing.

I ate a bit of my sandwich and arrived right on time for my appointment, which was awesomely across the street.

The sandwich was incredible, by the way.  I only ate half of it before my massage, not wanting to be too full during my session. The shop I bought it from was a gourmet cheese and wine shop. It was the only grocery store in a half mile radius. I guess one thing Boston does not excel in is grocery stores. I think the entire time we were there we didn't see one. Not only do they not have major grocery chains, they're also incredibly hidden. The closest thing we found were CVS pharmacies...at least there were many of those.

Anyway, back to the massage. I'd spotted the place walking to the hotel earlier. It was called Exhale. Located next to the Hermes shop (no big deal or anything). The joke later after I told Rhinda how to get to the hotel and she passed the detailed instructions to everyone else was, "I always orient myself via Hermes."

This place from the outside looks quite small; they offer nail services and yoga classes. You can see high-end yoga clothes being sold and boutique jewelry. So when I arrived five minutes before my appointment time I expected to be ushered straight to a room with a table and that would be it. It did seem kind of expensive at $135 per hour, but I figured I didn't care; it was located near an Hermes and I was on vacation. You give it up a little sometimes.

I was in for a genuinely good surprise. After signing all the appropriate forms about how if I die during my massage it isn't their fault, I was led to an elevator and we went downstairs. When the elevator opened I was led through the entirety of the spa. The entirety. Included with my massage price was use of their facility, which included rainforest head showers (all inclusive with amenities such as shampoo, conditioner, face wash, body wash, razors, hair ties, brushes, hair dryers, etc), towel service which included robes and slippers, a steam room, and a quiet room (every good spa has one of these...trust me...this is where you fall asleep after your massage and feel great about yourself with that designer magazine in your hands and that cup of hot tea or refreshing cucumber water while wearing your bamboo fiber robe...I'm not kidding).

Fool of a Took! If I had known my massage had included all of this business I would have come hours before and been pampering myself instead of walking the city. It's fine though; I'd done good activities like settling up the bottle of wine for the night and gathering my food stuffs...at least I knew I had a half a sandwich waiting for me back in the hotel room. I tried to console myself with the knowledge that I could do all my spa relaxing after the massage instead. No one would be missing me for several hours still.

And then I had my massage. Which was genuinely good and necessary. I know I say this like a first world asshole, but it's true. Everytime I've gotten a massage since moving abroad the only words the masseuses have for me afterwards are, "so knotty...you should really get massaged more often." Dude I know! I'm trying! They're expensive and I'm busy...if I had a masseuse at work (like I used to in San Diego) or one down the block from me, I'd be there every week (no joke). The Thai people clearly have the right idea by including it in their health plans. It really is preventative medicine.

Anyway, then I did my several hour steam room multiple-shower pampering, and I almost did fall asleep in the quiet room but I had a 900+ page Vogue to keep me busy, so I was too interested to fall asleep. Yes, it's true, I do find designer clothes so interesting now that I'll refuse sleep in order to finish a 900 page magazine. Apparently I was in there for so long that the receptionist thought I had left and charged my card so I had to fill out the tip part separately. Whoops, my bad.

I went back to the room after that and ate my sandwich while watching wonderfully guilty American tv (things like "What Not to Wear" and "Alaskan Girls Looking for Love"...that last one sounds like a porn but really it's hilarious...they really are a group of Alaskan girls looking for love in Miami...something to the tune of, "I know how to hunt and live in minus temperatures and be a man...being girly is confusing and the men here are so pretty!").

Eventually Rhinda arrived and we opened the bottle of wine and caught up as only good friends know how to. Like in the up-until-4:30am-talking kind of way. Yeah.

And that is how we started Boston. Fitting, because the other nights we didn't go to bed that much earlier. It was a week to remember...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

OMG Neil Gaiman

So after a rather short week (since I was leaving for Boston the next day) I was hitting my fake "Friday" and going out with a bang. I had purchased tickets to see one of the most coveted authors in the sci-fi/fantasy world: Neil Gaiman.

Luckily in Two's current bout of voluntary unemployment, she has time to look at what is going on in London and spotted the event. It definitely sold out not too much later after we bought our tickets. I feel fortunate that she even noticed it; usually by the time I read about things in the free weekly published magazines that I get coming off the train it is far too late for me to do anything about things. People find out about events early enough through means I'm still left mystified by. Clearly Two, in her ultimate free time and wisdom, has learned things already about London that I have not.

Anyway, it was the night of the big event and I was excited. I finished my work early and left to go to Westminster, where the big thing was happening.

Naturally, still being a noob after eight months of living here, I didn't realize it was in Westminster until I was getting off the tube and surfacing on the streets. Looking around at the majestic buildings, it took me awhile to realize where I was as I was mapping my way to the venue. "My god everything here looks amazing! What is...omg, I'm in Westminster."

The line to get in wrapped around the block twice. Clearly sold out. This guy is legendary. If you haven't heard of him, he's a bestselling author of books such as the Sandman series, American Gods, and Neverworld. I'm sure he's known for much more: go look him up on Amazon.com. He's huge.

It was a good thing I was early and standing in line; seats were first come first served, so by the time I got to the front Two was just getting to the venue (plus time to get lost...as I almost did...this is what being a noob to London gets you...more time for navigation because you will, indeed, get lost).

We took our seats on the "common persons" balcony and caught up since last time seeing each other the previous Friday at an Internations event (Two's second and finally one where she was able to be social...she volunteered to help at her first event, which was an unfortunate mistake).

Eventually the event started and it was an interesting spectacle. I don't know why but I was expecting a lecture of sorts, perhaps a very formal book reading. I also hadn't really thought about what type of book his newest would be (it was titled, "Fortunately, the Milk.").

What we got instead was two openers, then the mighty Neil.

The first opener was a comedian of sorts. A rather skinny young Englishman wearing punk clothing and making jokes about what he should not say on stage (of which he read a list that contained things like, "bogey, fart, bum, etc") and delightful things that included audience participation, like having one side of the audience clap while the other stomped, eventually getting us to do a very excellent rendition of Queen's "We Will Rock You" without us realizing it.

The second opener was a pair of older gentlemen on guitars who sang hilarious songs about various humorous topics. I don't remember exactly what they were about but I believe they included fish. I think you get the gist though that these openers were anything but normal and the set up to Neil was...unusual at best.

Finally the man of the hour was introduced and he took his place at the podium. He has a rather unusually quiet and calming voice, a lot like Alan Rickman, actually, from Harry Potter (he plays Severus Snape, in case you are unfamiliar), but less sinister. He makes an excellent storyteller in any case, and it was hard not to be completely and utterly, entranced.

Very lucky for us, his newest story is actually a children's book. I guess this explained the number of children in the audience (most of whom I hadn't actually noticed, which is a great sign...it is also likely I was too into retelling my life's events from the past few days so just hadn't been paying attention). But also this meant that his story was short enough for him to read it in its entirety. Something completely unheard of in the past.

I was excited; he has such a nice voice and he's a great author and we were now going to hear him read his new book in its wholesome goodness. This was great.

He started reading and it was great. It was about two children sitting down to eat breakfast with their father because the mother was leaving for several days on a business trip. It is day two when the milk runs out and they are supposed to eat cereal for breakfast. This is a dire situation. The father goes out to the corner store to buy some milk but takes what the children feel, is an exorbitantly long time to return. When he does return with the milk they question him as to why it took him so long to return. He launches into a grand story as to what happened to him when he went to get the milk and the adventure that befell him.

The story includes things like a time-traveling stegosaurus, globby aliens, wumpires, volcanoes and tribal peoples, pirates, and prophecies. All in all a great story.

There was a surprise in the storytelling as well - multiple voice actors! As Neil was galloping through the story with his beautiful voice, suddenly others gathered around microphones and filled in the voices of other characters with uncanny diction and gumption. It was great. The best story hour I've attended in years. It was humorous and delightful and made me miss the times when things were easier and distraction was something more than tv. Ah, the power of a good story and books.

Before I knew it the story was over and we were all clapping. Another masterpiece by a fantastic writer. The line to buy his new and signed book was overwhelming, so Two and I decided to skip on that and get dinner wherever we could find it. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Westminster is oddly devoid of eating holes on a Tuesday night.

Finally we found a pub that served food and sat ourselves down. The dining area smelled of oily fish but we were hungry so didn't care.

Despite the fact that I knew I would be eating a ton the next week in Boston, I still went for the cheeseburger. I was hungry and you only live once.

Plus I've begun to realize that I am in fact, far too thin. All this first world worry about being the right shape...it's all for nothing. The right person won't care what shape you are and if they do...they're not the right person anyhow. Having said that I don't think I actively try to stay one shape but I do catch myself wondering too often whether I should do something healthier and I'm not sure if it's really necessary.

The cheeseburger was amazing, by the way. The meat was a bit too salty, but other than that, it was quite tasty. Melty cheese with bacon. The fries were just alright but I've started to enjoy them with ketchup so much.

And a hot chocolate. Just because. This one was surprisingly good. I knew I would be drinking a lot in Boston, so that I did plan for. I may not be worried so much about the fatty foods, but drinking too much is still something I try to go conservative on. The hot chocolate was the right call. So good.

And then we rode the tube home and parted ways at the appropriate junction. I finished packing and got ready to board my flight to Boston the next day.

Bachelorette party, here I come!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Drinking on a Monday at 3pm

It seems work will take any excuse to celebrate these days, and the more I'm chatting with my friends in Espoo/Helsinki, the more I realize the British offices (specifically my office in London), are rather boozy.

I mean this in the nicest way possible, by the way, I'm not trying to say we're raging alcoholics.

But our frequency of office parties and the seeming reasons behind them don't really help support that. Really, from the outside perspective, it looks pretty ridiculous.

Take this data point into consideration: for the past month or so at least, we've had at least one office party a week (this is only in the design department again, I'm not sure how other departments celebrate, since we're in the special high-security section of the building that requires extra badge access and can only be gotten to by the select and few...plus we have that free fruit and breakfast bar and the free all-inclusive Friday breakfast that make people so upset) and all of them include booze that has been paid for by someone's budget.

These "celebrations" include things like birthdays, wedding announcements, birth announcements/upcoming babies (the fathers), and even...women going on maternity leave.

Yes...sometimes we're even celebrating (with booze) women who can't even drink booze. Don't worry, there's usually juice or soda at these things. ...usually.

Usually also there are snacks, like beer nuts, rice crackers, wasabi peas, or sometimes if someone decided to go fancy, some pastries or cupcakes. Depends on the celebration I suppose. I've been continually impressed with the growing variety that's been seen.

But what I really have been noticing (and why I am claiming that perhaps the London office is slipping into seeming alcoholism) is that our celebrations have been going from the end of the week (Friday, Thursday), towards the beginning of the week.

Two weeks ago we finally hit rock bottom: Monday at 3pm. We finally had a celebration, with booze, on a Monday at 3pm.

I'd have to say that's pretty bad. In the best possible way of course, since that's awesome and in America we would never even be able to have an office party with booze unless it was a company-wide and company-organized event that included everyone and likely families/outsiders for a legit reason (like the holidays), but jeebus. This is getting kind of ridiculous. Wowie.

It was someone's birthday, so granted we haven't hit the lowest of the low by celebrating a pregnancy on a Monday afternoon so there's still room for lower. But this is pretty difficult. I stopped several parties ago from drinking booze at work. Just gets you into trouble and I'm still too American to drink booze and then go back to my computer, pretending like I'm doing something productive. The words "workplace violation" still ring too loudly in my ears.

Just thought I'd record it here because it's hilarious. What's next? I guess we'll just have to see. :) I guess anything to keep the morale going. ;)

I'm guessing this is just yet another reason that other departments hate us...

Monday, November 11, 2013

I'm on a boat...again!

But this time it wasn't to eat...it was to potentially find something to read.

I swear, these boat owners are getting more and more creative. Though I guess in this economy, you'd have to be to keep your business...afloat.


I'd seen this particular boat store a few times before I had the opportunity to actually explore it. Being naturally curious about anything that has to do with books, I was thrilled to see it was an actual used book store, instead of just selling new books or specialty books (like how Helsinki was obsessed with antique books).

Pretty jazzy on the inside, I'd have to say. Basically someone gutted all that was inside minus a small bed and a bathroom and turned everything into bookshelves.

I was both thoroughly impressed and amazed. I would definitely live in this floating palace of books. If only it didn't oddly smell like cat.

There were all sorts of books to choose from; there was no obvious categorization of books. They were the sort you would normally expect though, from this motley collection - best selling paperbacks, historical novels, general biographies.

Even a few hardbacks for coffee tables and the odd collection of weird art books and eccentricities that one might enjoy if one needed an odd gift for a unique friend.

Out on the deck there was a nice lounge space for the owners/book keepers and I suppose for anyone who felt inclined to take advantage of the shop atmosphere. Since it's only been a few weeks since I noticed this particular boat it's not been great weather, so I've not seen anyone here except the shop keepers.

I'm still amazed that a place like this exists. It's like something you'd see covered in a travel magazine that you hope you come across in your travels. I'm so happy I found it.

It's right outside Paddington station on my way to the office. Right along the canal.

Called Word on the Water. Unfortunately I didn't find anything there the one and only time I've been there so far, but there was possibility. I could see myself being lucky another time while browsing.

I intend to stop anytime I do actually have time to look and hopefully give patronage. I love giving as much business to places like this as I can, especially as I've not found a proper substitute for Arkadia since leaving Helsinki. What I've done so far with my read used books: donate them to my local West Ealing train station, as they have a small bookshelf there for commuters/travelers to browse. I figure I'll give back to the world until I find a better trading solution. Seems to work out well.