Monday, December 23, 2013

And 2013 comes to an end...

I still have more to post on Vienna, but alas, this will be my last post of the year as I'm starting my glorious holidays tomorrow and will purposefully be stepping away from a computer.

Thanks again, dear readers, for pushing me to keep up this blog through thick and thin - it's come in handy more than once and in ways I never imagined. It's kept me honest and allowed me to become more open than I have been previously. Without you I wouldn't bother; so my appreciation for your support and interest is great.

Have an excellent holiday season, wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I'll see you again on January 9th, 2014. Until then, know that I am roadtripping around California (and Vegas) with my dear friends German K, Hong Kong P, and Churches.

Not all who wander are lost.

Sincerely yours,

Vienna day 4: the Naschmarkt

The last morning we all woke up and lazily got things started. Our original plan was to be out the door by 11am but well, that didn't happen. The daughter ended up coming home right before we were going to leave and offered to come with us to the Naschmarkt, our plan for the day.

The Naschmarkt is an outdoor market where they sell produce, fish, meat, and a variety of other food stuffs. As we wandered the stalls I oozed at how wonderful it would be to be able to buy things and cook in Vienna:

The pure variety of fruits and vegetables they have in Austria is astounding. Just comparing this to Finland it is amazing the difference between one country and another.

Admittedly the prices weren't the greatest, but they also weren't bad. They even had better variety than what I've seen in the UK (though they were more expensive).

They had a variety of better homemade goods too - things like completely vegan breads, homemade cheeses, hummuses, cheese stuffed olives and peppers (my complete weakness), pastas...the variety of easy delicious foods was endless.

And all the while all the vendors (since it was a lonely Tuesday morning/midday) were yelling at us to try their foods, come closer, hello hello (usually in different Asian languages since well...Hong Kong P and I were clearly being stereotyped). Very aggressive these people. German K was so shy that she said she would never respond to any seller that was that pushy towards her.

Everything looked wonderful though. If I'd had more time I would have bought hummus and some of the cheese stuffed peppers (my absolute favorite). When I was backpacking with Rhinda's fiance we used to buy these from every city we were in. A treat for being away from home. That and doner kebab. You can always find that in Germany/Austria because of their large Turkish population. So tasty. And horrible for you/suspicious.

Eventually we did stop at a stall and the daughter bought us each an energiekugel (energy ball). No one had heard of them but they were apparently made with coconut and lots of various spices, so curiosity was peaked. It was lovely - like a spiced dough ball that was chewy.

I realized as we roamed the more cafe/restaurant section of the Naschmarkt that I'd actually been here before, I just didn't know the name (or maybe someone had told me but I'd just forgotten). During my last time there after I'd had my first freak out, a Canadian guy I'd come into town with from Salzburg offered to meet up with me again because I was so scared. We spent the day together at this market and shared a meal, eventually ending the night by seeing an outdoor informal opera in Austrian German that neither of us could understand. It wasn't a particularly good day but more a patch to distract me from the fact that I was scared and felt alone. I thank the kindness of strangers despite that fact that we did not stay in touch and in the end, he did not care.

After the Naschmarkt it was a trip back to the apartment to pick up our luggage and then whisking ourselves to the airport. German K and Hong Kong P's flight was two hours before mine, so we shared a meal together then I walked them to their gate, seeing them off. We would be seeing each other again in another month so it was luckily not a sad goodbye. I love knowing that I will see them again soon - always make future plans with the people you love so goodbyes are never difficult.

I spent the two hours thinking over everything I'd learned in the two years since I'd last been to Vienna, and feeling grateful that life had turned out so well despite everything. I'm happy to say I now associate Vienna with wonderful things instead of the negative things I used to. I know I made the right decision in coming back, despite initial hesitations. I will slowly rewrite all of the negative associations in my life with positive ones. One thing at a time.

Feeling positive and good about life. Thanks to good friends.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Vienna day 3: reliving St. Stephen's Dom

I think most of you know my stance on babies. Though this position has slightly changed over the years (the past year especially, as my biological clock has started to tell me that babies are an excellent idea, though luckily the clock has not started its inevitable ticking which makes so many women so goal-oriented...), in general I still find myself uncomfortable around babies. Instead of finding them annoying though, I find myself scared that I will somehow accidentally harm them. I don't want to hold anyone's babies because I don't know how. I figure once I hold my own I'll just practice until I get it right. Until then I don't want to accidentally mess it up with someone else's kid. That's the kind of guilt I do not need to live with.

The baby I met on Monday morning, however, was the closest I've come to potentially wanting to, which is saying quite a bit. His name is Paul and he is the son of German K's friend, Yulia. An adorable baby with the quietest and calmest of temperaments. I can only hope that any children I have are similar to him. Curious about the world, expressive, but quietly inspired, rather than raging and angry, demanding and anxious.

We met Yulia for brunch at the Welt Cafe (World Cafe) and proceeded to have a wonderful several hour brunch talking about various things. Everyone enjoyed Paul's quiet nature and I think amongst the group of women there, we all silently wondered when we would be in the same position in the future. Everyone was relatively the same age (minus our host's mother, who joined us late and then had to leave us early because of other plans, and had obviously already had children), and none of us are seeing anyone special. Yet we were all happy to be in the presence of little Paul and his surprisingly relaxed mother and soak in the goodness of what could potentially be in the future.

Needless to say the only things I've decided from this encounter are:
  • I do definitely want children in the future, should I be fortunate enough to have the opportunity (I already knew this, but this solidified that decision even more).
  • I want to be a marsupial mom, versus a stroller mom (carrying your kid with you, especially in front, versus having a pram or a stroller, which just seem clunky and annoying, especially on public transit).
  • I want to be a calm mom who transmits that energy to her kid, rather than a stressed mom. I know this is going to be harder than it sounds, but I will try as hard as I can.
That's enough about baby talk though. I'm sure if and when I come to that bridge, I'll cross it and it'll be what it is. Many decisions will be made with the help of my partner, I'm sure.

We all walked to St. Stephen's Cathedral after brunch and that's where our friends left us to continue on our sightseeing and exploration of Vienna, having real lives to attend to, rather than just holiday fun.

We stepped into St. Stephen's, and suddenly I was whisked back to two years ago when I was here last. I remember it vividly:

My girlfriend, Shanti, and I had come to St. Stephen's because I was fulfilling my mission of seeing the most famous and beautiful cathedral of the city. I was leaving the next day to go to Brno, having had a terrible time already and wanting to stay as short a time as possible. I was supposed to stay for four days; I only stayed for two. It was cold and raining outside, which was unusual for the summer but that entire summer ended up being cold and overcast. We were happy to be inside away from the wind and rain. We walked around the gorgeous cathedral in silence and awe of the Gothic architecture, its grace and majesty. I thought about decisions I was going to have to make in my life soon, needing to leave my job in San Diego. I was on the edge of a precipice and unsure about what would happen next. I bought one of the most beautiful rosaries in my current collection. We left soon after to have a disappointing lunch at Nordsea across the plaza.

This time I was with German K and Hong Kong P, which was comforting. The quote about returning to a place misleading; I was glad to have the comfort of two good friends, rather than be alone to face what was not the most positive of memories. Hong Kong P commented that it was more beautiful on the inside than she had imagined, though also smaller. We walked around in silence and I contemplated how much my life had changed from the last time I was there, and yet how similar.

Within two months of my being there last, I took the job to go to Helsinki. I whisked myself away from country and comfort and set off on what is now my current world traveler status. I have never regretted my decision but the path has not been easy. I have had so many excellent adventures that I can't even remember them all (which is why I am happy that people pushed me to make this blog, it serves so many purposes). And yet my company is once again at a point of transition. Fortunately this time I am not at a precipice, not knowing what I am going to do next as I am part of the move, rather than being forced out of it, but it is still the familiar feeling of uncertainty. I feel more in control this time though, having clear desires on where I want to go next - grad school for the next several years, stability, love. Now it's just a question of how these situations will play out and how I can plan appropriately for them.

So I bought a second rosary from St. Stephen's. This one to symbolize that I came here again, under different circumstances, and to hope for the future. If there can be this much change after two years, I can do just as much change in the next two years.

After my purchase we left to have some desserts and coffee, then went for the longest dinner ever at a restaurant that was recommended to us the night before. Then ended the night at a sky bar.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vienna day 2: checking items off the bucket list

We were only trying to be semi-ambitious for Vienna - not planning too much but still wanting to see everything worth seeing in the time that we had. The only thing I insisted on seeing was the Lippizaner Spanish horse riding school. When I had been here last time it was one of the only things I wanted to see (other than the State Opera, which was likewise not available as it is closed during the summer and this time it was the premiere night of Mozart's The Magic Flute...fat chance of us getting tickets that were below 250euros a pop) and unfortunately the only time of year they are closed. Apparently horses get summer vacation. Even I don't get summer vacation. I find this to be ridiculous. You can't possibly, as an animal, be being trained so hard all the time that you get the summer off and I don't. You're not a beast of burden, you're doing dressage!

In any case, they were closed last time and I instead ended up seeing a fake version of them when I was in Budapest later the same trip. To be honest, the fake version I saw was pretty spectacular, and Marge and I had a wonderful time later imitating the horse acrobatics we'd seen (yes, this is what my friends and I do). There is even a sweet video of what we saw. So few people were interested in going out that summer night because it was raining we were allowed to leave our seats, go up to the fences that surrounded the arena, and take photos up close and person. Benefits of the fake version, I suppose.

This was absolutely none of that. Because it was the official riding school we barely got in because we were five minutes late, and with standing seats no less: we decided it wasn't worth it to pay the extra 15euros to get a seat and I'm so glad we didn't (our tickets were 23euros for standing and it was only 15euros more instead of 23euros more because we were late and the show had slightly started, making them discounted). The arena is built in such a way that there are pillars every ten feet or so, blocking your view no matter if you are sitting or standing. See from this internet image:

Best seats in the house are the super upper standing deck (see the people standing at the very top) or the ground level seats which were clearly sold out and much more expensive (we're talking 80euros or so for an 80 minute show). We all chuckled that if the royal family were coming to watch the show, they would put a box over the ground level seats so they would have an elevated unobstructed view.

In any case, I still enjoyed it, slightly obstructed view or not. The stallions were gorgeous and yes, they were well trained (of course). They did fancy dressage and some of the most excellent jumps and stands the world has seen:

Naturally there was no photography during the show so I have to take these from the internet. But know that it was just as excellent in person as these photos denote. It's true, they do fly that high and yes, they are that pretty and white.

There were even synchronized horse routines where the riders and horses did complicated moves in unison. Pretty hilarious. All of this was done to classical music, btw, which just added to the atmosphere - chandeliers and all.

I'd have to say that I loved every bit of this. I am a horse dork in this way. But it was a little disappointing in comparison to the one I'd seen in Budapest, which is both surprising and unsurprising. Though the other one may not have been the official school, it's clear they pushed their animals to do more and did some pretty spectacular things. Traditional or not, they would win my best in class award.

But I enjoyed this nonetheless and now I have checked it off my bucket list. I suppose now I just need to come back at some time and finally see the State Opera. 

Next (since I'll be covering the food of Vienna in another post) we went to the Belvedere, a renowned art museum. There is a permanent collection of Klimt there, and Hong Kong P thought we should check it out.

I'm glad she insisted. I've never been a huge fan of Klimt, having seen reproductions of The Kiss everywhere for the last ten years and never thinking it that exciting. Some of his other paintings are vaguely interesting but I've never been that in love with his work.

Seeing it in person was completely different. The beauty of the metallic paints and the detail and technique he uses is completely unrecognizable in the prints. It's almost a shame his work is being reproduced in such low quality that I couldn't see what he was doing. As I stood in front of the several paintings they had there of his, you could see his amazing talent, feel the mood he was trying to express. It was breathtaking, and certainly magical. It's been a long time since I've felt that way about art, and it was impressive. I felt swept away by his paintings and it was glorious.

We saw most of the other works that were there in the permanent collection, though admittedly we blew through them rather quickly, having made a reservation at a restaurant and plans to meet more of German K's friends (one of which was her real cousin, who happened to be in town at the same time for her job).

So we left and made our way through a local Christmas market, stopping just long enough to try three flavors of alcoholic punsch, which is so popular at this time of year. What did we try? Orange, apricot (very popular fruit in Vienna), and passion fruit. Strangely the passion fruit was the best flavor. Orange was too bitter and apricot was nothing special. Passion fruit was probably made from real passion fruit juice. Genius.

The rest of the night was spent with new friends and laughter, the food of which I'll cover in another post.

Vienna was being rewritten wonderfully, and I felt privileged to have friends to make it so.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Returning to Vienna

It's a strange thing, returning to a place you've been before, as a world traveler. As I've quoted before:

"As an adult, I have often known that peculiar legacy time brings to the traveler: the longing to seek out a place a second time, to find deliberately what we stumbled on once before, to recapture the feeling of discovery. Sometimes we search out again even a place that was not remarkable in itself - we look for it simply because we remember it. If we do find it, of course, everything is different. The rough-hewn door is still there, but it's much smaller; the day is cloudy instead of brilliant; it's spring instead of autumn; we're alone instead of with three friends. Or worse, with three friends instead of alone."

This trip was definitely not that. If I'd had my way I would never have returned to Vienna. The last time I was there was also my first time. Associated with this particular city are memories of feeling sullied, frightened, not in control, and ultimately, of being very very alone. 

So when German K suggested we go to Vienna for our next trip after Turku, I was naturally a little hesitant. At the same time, I've grown old enough to realize that it's better to face your fears instead of run away from them, and what better way to face something negative than with the best of friends supporting you? I decided to bite the bullet and face what has been one of the hardest times of my life, despite what I thought at the time.

Fortunately, or perhaps in hindsight, unfortunately, for me, it was Churches' birthday that weekend also, which I was missing. I felt terrible, having misremembered the date so the trip was booked by the time I realized my error. But I still had Friday due to a trick of the cheaper flights for German K and Hong Kong P, so I went out with Churches and a few of our colleagues after work for drinks.

Needless to say we ended up staying out later than I intended and I got home to finish the rest of my mostly packed suitcase and get about five hours of sleep before being slammed awake to rush around my house, make myself a cheesy sriracha pita, take the quickest shower known to man, and run out the apartment at full speed and...

...totally eat it in front of my train station on the way there.

We're talking full stop sprawlage. One of those moments where you feel the balance tip and everything goes in slow motion and your mind literally says, "nnnoooooooooo!!!!" as you fall to the ground. But there's nothing you can do, you're already falling. I was on the ground before I knew it. Even my rolley suitcase fell with me, much like this:

I laughed so hard the first time I saw this in a Helsinki exhibit last year. Now I completely empathize with this poor man. I totally ate it in the exact same way. Running full tilt up a hill towards my train station, sleep deprived and possibly still slightly drunk, a bit sick and definitely not in the best of physical shape. Boom. 

But instead of my face hitting the ground as this man's did, my knees hit first and my hands never shielded my side and back because my body naturally decided it was the best idea to protect the thing that was most important to me: my hot cheesy sriracha pita. I kid you not - the way I fell was like the Statue of Liberty, holding out my pita like the golden glory it was. Like this:

Except I'm holding with all my might onto a cheesy pita. And I'm falling ungracefully. And I'm not a large black professional football player. Whatever, details.

It remained relatively unscathed in the fall and instead I skinned my knee inside my jeans (the jeans remained completely intact). All in all not bad though. 

Only problem with falling on your back/side and holding your hands out to protect your holy pita is you can't get up. So I lay there a second, dazed, then unable to tip to get myself back up. I literally lay on the ground like a sideways bug running its legs in a bicycle motion in the air, getting nowhere fast. 

Luckily there were some people not so much in a rush to catch the same train that they stopped and helped me up. I really was quite dazed with everything that was happening. I could barely walk for the next 10 minutes or so. I apparently told everyone I was okay (my knees hurt, but otherwise I actually was fine) so they left me and went to run down the stairs towards the platform. I had to go super slowly because I had to lug my suitcase down the stairs...not an easy task when your legs are weak to begin with and are being made shakier from the burst of adrenaline your body just released into your system.

I did eventually make it down the platform though and that's when I saw that my train was 5 minutes late. Sigh. Well, at least I had time to sit down, catch my breath, and eat my f*cking cheesy sriracha pita. It did taste pretty awesome.

The rest was pretty uneventful. I got on my plane, it left on time, I slept the entire way there. 

I arrived and the original plan was to check out the city for the next 6 hours as I waited for German K and Hong Kong P to fly in. Instead I made myself comfortable for three hours in the arrivals hall and ate nacho cheese Bugles and a pretzel bread sandwich while debating whether or not I could nap safely there and thinking over lessons learned in recent times.

Tiredness makes humans into strange beasts. What eventually made me move was the realization that there were cameras in the arrivals hall (as of course there would be, it's an airport) and they were likely wondering what the heck I was doing, siting there and doing nothing. Sure I could be waiting for someone (as I was), but how suspicious was I! So I left.

And went shopping at the first junction where I would have to change trams. Turns out there was a little indoor mall there. I checked off a necessary item I'd been looking for for a little while: a long black woolen pea coat. 

And then I sat in the mall and did more thinking. Probably looking suspicious again, sitting on those benches, not doing much. I finished the rest of my Bugles. Got approached by a few creepy men. I don't know what it is about Austria and this particular phenomenon. I get the impression Asians are somewhat of a rarity; especially young ones on their own. I decided to wait in the train station for my ladies to arrive, despite it being another hour or so.

Finally they arrived and we were reunited. We made our way to our host's house (a very close family friend of German K) and had a very lovely rest of the night - homemade egg, artichoke and sun dried tomato clafoutis, green salad with a vinaigrette of olive and truffle oils, and little homemade mince pies for dessert. It was wonderful. The entire homey atmosphere just made me miss Finland - so European it was with its brilliant use of space (though this particular apartment was huge with its 5 bedrooms, full family room and huge kitchen) and wonderful use of golden wood. Makes sense coming home to a home like this. It was clear a family had grown up here and it was great to see and experience.

Then we called it a night, having flown so far. Our adventures in Vienna were just beginning.

Monday, December 16, 2013

A day in the clouds

Dear readers,

Today is a fly day so there will be no post. Tomorrow I'll continue as normal, and through the week.

Bon voyage and see you on the other side!


Learnings in love from Don

After being unceremoniously broken up with in a surprise move this past weekend, I have taken these past few days to rethink what happened. Shocking even myself, I've not been angry about the thing. Sad and disappointed, sure, but surprisingly not angry. Not even frustrated. This is a new thing - usually I would be spittingly angry at the guy and perhaps even cursing his name. I still did the normal thing of drinking with my friends while hashing out what happened straight after, but other than that, this situation has been completely different than previous breakups.

First, and this will sound like a horribly assholey thing to admit - this is the first time I've actually been broken up with. What I mean by this is usually I am the breaker. The person who makes the decision that it is now time to end things. It's always been on my terms. The only other time where this has not happened I actually did the terrible thing of deciding to wait until that person had had enough and decided to break up with me - but really I was just making it difficult enough for them to end things because I was tired of being the one to always do it and then feel guilty about whether or not I had made the right decision. 

That's the thing you always feel after being the breaker - the guilt about whether or not you made the right decision (well, if you cared anyway...if you didn't then usually you know you made the right decision and you move on pretty quickly...or at least that's what you tell yourself).

Anyway, this is the first time I'd actually been broken up with first before I'd had the time to decide things weren't right. This is the first time I'd actually wanted things to continue and the other person hadn't and it wasn't an even close to genuinely mutual decision. I'd wanted this person. I'd wanted them a little too much, it seemed. In my mind I'd already started making future plans. And by that (don't freak out) I mean things like future dates and fun things we could do together. Sure I imagined the wonderful ideal future where things worked out beautifully and we got married and had kids...but I do that nowadays in general. It had nothing to do with this person specifically, I fantasize about my future regardless of the man - it's just something that happens now that I'm at this stage in life.

Back to the point. These past few days of thinking have led me to realize a few things about people and perhaps the differences in characteristics that I've been mistaking, especially here in London.

Kind versus caring
One of the things I've started to realize is that everyone, generally speaking, is kind. At least anyone I have prolonged interaction with. The difference between anyone that is genuinely good and will stick around and make an impact in your life and who will remain an acquaintance, or in this case, someone who wants to remain just an acquaintance (or just casual, let's just say), is the difference between being kind and being caring.

Someone who is kind will be pleasant and nice and all the things that make things good, but not great. It's the people that care who tip the scale in all things worthy. It's not about whether or not someone is nice to you in the long run, it's about whether or not they care about you. I've been mistaking kindness for care. It's easy to mistaken in a society where politeness is mistaken for flirting. It's been such a long road for me that any sort of kindness is a relief. I'm used to the harshness rather than the soft. I can see now that this is a blind spot and I will be more wary in judging between the two. Kindness is not caring, it's simply nice.

Levels of honesty
Another thing I learned from this particular situation - levels of honesty. I made it very clear to this particular person (as I have with all the people I've dated since I've moved here), that honesty is key to me. I will not keep things from you and I hope you do not keep things from me. I will tell you everything I am thinking and will not shy away from any subject, no matter how uncomfortable. I always hope that people will achieve the same level with me. I understand not everyone is comfortable with this; in fact I know most people aren't. What I want from my future person though, is brutal blunt honesty. I need to know what you're thinking at critical times so I know I can be truly myself.

What the British interpretation of this so far though, has been to be honest all the time, but without depth. You can tell me things all the time which are true, but that doesn't mean you're being honest with me. Telling me nothing but facts is technically true, but you're not telling me what you're thinking. This is the lesson I have now learned. I've asked you to be blunt, but what you're telling me is simply not lying. It's like the definition of truth means anything that cannot be proven to be false. I don't believe in this definition - I want the all-encompassing, full truth. Painful as it will be. I would rather know it now than several months down the line when things are worse.

Your friends speak volumes about you
Literally and figuratively. Naturally they will speak a lot, literally, but also figuratively. The funny thing about this situation was that he was not the first person who, at the end, told me that I was wonderful and that I would eventually find someone wonderful, that I should stay the same. It was like they were politely excusing themselves from the situation because they didn't believe they were good enough. And maybe at the end of the day they weren't, I don't know. All I know is that we didn't work. I'm not going to judge on that. But what I do know is that every time the shit has fallen my friends have been there for me to support me. Even when I don't turn to them, because I don't like showing emotion around people, because I'm awkward like that.

And what I've noticed about these men is that they don't tend to have these friends. Or at least not ones that I've met. Not ones they've talked about. It's like the city has proven itself again and again; it's harsh and no one cares about anyone else. But the funny thing is that I do care about people. I care about people a lot. And I've wanted to care about people, even these people, who've decided not to care about me. And it's strange that this keeps happening. What kind of city is this, that people don't care or don't want to care? It's weird. Thanks, I'll stick to my friends. They're wonderful.

So that's what I've learned from this breakup. Other than to not want something too hard, because you tend to lose sight of other things. Overlook things for the sake of the dream. It's okay to want something, of course, to strive. But don't lose. And as is said in SATC, the best relationship is the one you have with yourself. And I'm happy with myself. And especially with my friends.

So there you have it.

PS - Another thing that has been mentioned to me after this, is that sometimes, you really just can't tell. Some people are manipulative and deceptive. But I'll still believe the good in people until there's a reason not to. I trust my judgment when it comes to people (that they won't hurt me in a permanent, devastating manner, at least not in a way I can't handle over time), so I have chosen not to talk about this in particular.

Friday, December 13, 2013

VIP at the V&A...again!

I really do enjoy these corporate VIP events, and I don't think in truth I'll ever get tired of them (or of feeling special). After missing the lecture on Friday, I naturally felt obligated and interested in going when we were all invited, as corporate partners, for a private viewing night of all of the rotating collections/exhibits on Monday. Monday nights are usually kind of ragged affairs, especially after such fun-filled and tiring weekends...but I dragged my ass out there, especially since I wanted to see one of the exhibits in particular.

I had originally invited Two but unfortunately she was having a case of the Mondays and eventually had to cancel. I'd also invited Books and DP Steve, but Books had plans every single day of the week plus we had plans to see each other on the weekend and DP Steve, being the executive VIP that he is in real life (unlike my sometimes-VIP status), had plans to see professional tennis. Salads was the only one who was free and clear and angry enough with work to make it on time. So she met up with me at the appropriate time (more or less) and we made our way to the museum.

It was pretty standard fare for our VIP viewing nights - tasty little things on trays floating around (this time a little more minimal with shrimp chips, fried seaweed crackers, garlic cashews, and honey peanuts) and a cash bar where you could buy inexpensive champagne, wine, beer, and spirits. We nibbled on a few of the snacks but I'd already told Salads there would likely be no food so we'd gotten a vegetarian wrap before going in. My bad. I think it was a better plan anyway; despite the nuts being tasty (and rather aromatic), I think this doesn't actually constitute real food. Not for normal people anyway (I would have been fine).

Anyway, the exhibits we ended up seeing:

Tomorrow: Elmgreen & Dragset

This is the exhibit I wanted to see the most. Basically the artists for this exhibit made sets for an unrealized play that visitors can walk through. The sets are an apartment for a disillusioned architect. There were even actresses in maid costumes that you could interact with. It was rather detailed and complete. Fantastic. You could buy the play as a printed book in the giftshop (I actually didn't see it there when I was perusing, otherwise I would have purchased it). The idea of it is marvelous to me though - artists that both write stories and create entire sets for their idea. Very reminiscent of their Memory Palace exhibit, which I was in love with but no one else seemed to enjoy. This exhibit, likewise, was rather empty.

Here are some photos:

The entire idea of this sits very well with me, though the story was sad. It was about an architect whose family was old money. He lives in the house where he grew up and there are reminders of all the wealth and prestige his family gained over the generations. However now he is broke and all must be auctioned off with the help of one of his students (who he is fond of but would never admit).

Would likely be a great but sad read. Too bad I didn't find the book. Hopefully I'll have another chance to get to the museum before the exhibit closes and buy the book then.


This by far the most crowded exhibit and as you could guess it was overcrowded by...women. Women love to gawk at jewelry. It's just something we've been trained to do. There were some interested men there as well, but the vast majority were definitely women. Talking about how beautiful something was, how they would love to have this or that, or how they would definitely take that (in a joking way). Oh women.

This exhibit was a lot better than I was expecting it to be, actually. It went into how pearls are actually formed and the history behind it, who has the most pearls now (oddly it's Qatar...who would have thought?) and how they're manufactured.

First I'll go over how they're made. I took a picture of the sign and got yelled at for it. So I'm posting it, otherwise it'll have gone to waste:

Pearls, contrary to popular belief, are not made by a grain of sand getting in and irritating a mollusk, causing it to layer pearlescent proteins over it.

They instead, are caused by some sort of parasite coming into the mollusk (I say mollusk because things other than oysters can create fact any kind of mollusk can create pearls, just that bivalves tend to create the most and the most common), such as tapeworms, larvae of various worms and other small creatures of this sort, who then inch their way below the protective mantle of the mollusk's flesh, disrupting the cell layer and creating a pocket of these cells around them (as they've dragged these cells with them during the digging). This pocket then seals the intruder in, eventually dissolves them, and the mollusk's body, similar to ours, responds by covering the intrusive body with calcium and other nutrients, creating a cyst. That cyst is what eventually, over a long period of time, becomes a pearl.

So your pearl, your prized possession, is actually a mollusk's cyst. It is trying to dispel a foreign body from its own. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn't. Entire tapeworms have been encased in pearls because of this process. Granted if you cut a pearl open you'll likely not find anything in there anymore because the mollusk's body will have dissolved the original intruder, but technically if you got there early enough in the process, you should.

I joked with Salads how really what we're doing is collecting mollusk tumors. It's a much more realistic way of looking at it. Perhaps likewise we should enamel our own tumors and wear them as jewelry. I know, morbid.

Anyway, the rest of the exhibit was far less scientific and rather went into the historical aspects of pearls. Rising prices with interest in Europe, etc etc. Decadence and the showing of social status with them. How they used to denote lineage of royalty but then more and more rich people got them so it was just about wealth rather than lineage and royalty. Then it's just been continually popularized by our celebrities still wearing them. Ah how the pearl is forever.

Most of our pearls nowadays are manufactured; created by perfected farming techniques. I think this should come as no surprise. The naturally created saltwater pearl is a rarity indeed now, and extremely prized. The techniques for getting these hasn't changed in hundreds of years - people still dive for them (though I imagine they use technology like scuba now, instead of who has the best lung capacity).

We looked at lots of pearl jewelry from that point on. Pretty awesome.

Pearl created by a mollusk that is not a bivalve. Notice it's awesome coloring and patterns.

Part of one of the Qatar collection. There is one single man in Qatar that just collects pearls. There was a photo of him in the exhibit with his pearls. This guy is just all about pearls. It was kind of nuts.

An example of some of the jewelry we saw. Lots of it historical. Gorgeous, and very detailed. I just imagine the time and energy it took to make one of these and it's mind boggling. Yes, I will comment like a normal woman and say, yes, I'd take one of these.

Naturally forming pearls from different types of mollusks. Notice the different colors and patterns. You can kind of see what types of shells they'd likely come from given their texture. Fascinating. Would definitely like to have these too. ;)

After those two exhibits we went to the 1980's fashion exhibit since Salads hadn't seen it before. She was actually a real person in the 80's, unlike me, so she recognized and enjoyed it a lot more than me. However, having grown up in India during the 80's and acknowledging that globalization hadn't been such a big thing back then, she thinks that regional differences would have been much larger and fashion wouldn't have spread as much. So some of the pieces were recognizable while others weren't (e.g. the fashion shown was very London-based, not global). This makes sense. Now perhaps fashion is more global.

We called our night to an end then, since we'd both had big weekends and it was time to go back. Good viewing of new exhibits though. Makes me think I should really take time sometime and see the permanent collections. I imagine they're just as good.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Sunday after

And then there was the Sunday after. My original plan had been to take things easy and clean the rest of the stuff up (basically wash the remaining dishes and do laundry, including the table cloth I'd shipped over from the States which had been my faithful standby even during my dinner parties in San Diego), but Two had stayed late with me in the night and invited me to dim sum the following noon with a girl we'd met at a previous Internations event, oddly with the same name as me. Well I couldn't turn down dim sum! And I remember this girl being pretty awesome, so I said I would go.

Dragging my butt out of bed after four bottles of grape-related fermentation and staying up until 1:30am cleaning and eating was surprisingly difficult. Especially after being naturally woken up by the sun at 7:30am (I'd decided, lamely, to leave my blinds open in an attempt to not have to use an alarm...too early, too early). I still made it, though I did feel the strange disoriented feeling of living in a dream. Riding a tube has never been so tiring (that's not true, but this was close to one of those times).

I found the girl, who I'll call Aussie J, and the restaurant (located in Chinatown, right down the street from where I met my friend from uni and her husband for the delicious duck several months ago), right on time. She was waiting inside for Two and didn't know if I was coming (she'd invited me as well but didn't have my number).

We recognized each other immediately and started chatting. Eventually they seated us, despite Two and Olive being a solid twenty minutes late, for which Two apologized immensely.

Aussie J explained beforehand that the dim sum at this place wasn't fantastic in comparison to Sydney, or likely San Francisco, but as a Chinese person, it made do. Sometimes you just accept what is in the country you're in and let things slide. It was cheap, in the middle of the city, and a nice restaurant. Plus it was pretty alright, not terrible.

She wasn't wrong. It was alright, not terrible, but not great. I've certainly had worse and better. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this place to people looking for good dim sum, but I wouldn't turn people away from the place either. It's a good standby, in other words. Exactly as she'd said.

We ordered quite a bit of variety, having waited to eat until Two and Olive showed up. We got:
  • An entire plate of char siu (at Olive's insistence)
  • Char siu buns (steamed)
  • Cheung fun (both beef and mixed protein varieties)
  • Ha gow (shrimp dumplings)
  • Shaolong bao (soup dumplings)
  • Savory meat dumplings (steamed)
  • Savory meat "footballs" (deep fried)
  • Fried taro balls
It was the perfect amount with the multiple pots of jasmine tea. I have no photos but I think you know what dim sum looks like normally. This place, btw is called the Golden Dragon (hilariously located next to other restaurants called things like, and I kid you not, the Oriental Dragon, and the Golden was ridiculous walking down the street and seeing all the variations of names you could come up with that basically revolved around the same thing). I laughed out loud, literally. When I told Aussie J and Two about it later they said it would have only been appropriate if afterwards I came upon the Golden Dragon II and III next. That would have only been proper.

Afterwards we separated ways and we met up with Two and Olive's friend, another Australian Asian, who I'll simply call Actor. He moved around the same time as Two as pure coincidence. What followed afterward, since I had no plans that day but to maybe nap and clean my apartment, was a mishmash of stopping into different stores and coffee shops (since Olive and Actor love coffee) and then eventually ending up at an amazing gourmet hamburger place. Unfortunately since I'm still a failure at eating, this just meant I ordered the thing most dear to my heart that I've not been eating much of lately...nachos. And fries.

Chicken nachos with guac, sour cream, and salsa. To be honest I was disappointed with these, and at £9, they were not as gourmet as they should have been. I should have known though; the British have always ruined nachos for me, even at nice places. And this place was really known for its gourmet burgers. I just wasn't hungry enough for that yet. I'm still not hungry enough for that. This is what cooking for a half a day does to me, plus just general non-exercise. Clearly I need to go back to the gym. And soon.

The fries, although promisingly labeled as chili cheese, were also disappointing. The chili, usually incredible to me in all its forms and varieties, was too sweet. I never thought I'd see the day. I always add sugar to my chili (I know, this seems sacrilege). This just...wasn't right.

Needless to say I didn't eat much again. The burgers everyone ordered looked and smelled fantastic though, and good conversation was had all around. I didn't notice the name of this place, but the atmosphere was adorable and it was located in a cute little back alley in Soho. That's all I can remember about it. I'm sure if I asked Two and Olive they'd be able to tell me right away. Apparently it's Olive mission to try every gourmet burger London has to offer. Or at least it's an unconscious goal. He's apparently eaten 2-3 burgers a day before, to try different places. I see this is something he holds as important in his life. I've not known anyone else to do something similar. That's a lot of burger.

We wandered around a little bit more after that but eventually headed home. The sun had already set an hour ago at 5pm. It's disturbing when the sun sets so early. Makes everything feel so late. I got home by 6:30pm but I was exhausted, having missed my ideal window for napping. I finished the rest of my cleaning and laundry and went to bed at 8:30pm. It was the best plan ever.

End to a great weekend, and another great one to look forward to.

Things with Don are really starting to look up. I think this relationship could really work.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My first linner party with Don

There are few instances where I use my organizational skills to their fullest. But dinner parties, or things like them, are one of them.

I was hosting my first linner party in London and I was thrilled.

Btw, in case you were confused - linner is the time between lunch and dinner (so between say, 2-5pm). My event was to start at 3pm so we could take advantage of earlier drinking hours and potentially finish earlier so anyone could go to any Halloween parties in the city and not have any issues catching public transportation back home, as I realize my home is located further out of the city than any of theirs (everyone lives in zone 2 or closer to the city center). All about being a considerate host. Yes yes.

My linner party hosting began at the crack of Saturday morning, when I awoke and sped my way to the farmers market and Lidl, shopping list in hand. I had a very specific menu in mind, and I knew exactly what I wanted to buy. I bought with precision and care, knowing who I was going to peruse and purchase from, no time wasted. I was in and out of the farmers market plus Lidl in about half an hour. Precision.

I then went home, put everything in its handy place, closed my bedroom door (no food smells in there), and began my cooking. I was cooking then for the next 5 hours before people came, minus about a half an hour break in the middle where I laid on my sofa and thought about nice things before continuing.

The menu was set and everything was made accordingly:
Lamb chili made from local organic non-GM fed lamb
Butter lettuce and arugula salad with Glastonbury mature cheddar with bleu veins, dried cherries and raisin variety, and honey roasted peanuts with a homemade mustard vinaigrette (all lettuces local, arugula was local, organic, and wild)
Roasted parsnips, red bell peppers, and brussel sprouts (all local)
Garlic bread made from a locally baked ciabatta and Gilroy garlic cheese sprinkle
Skillet potatoes (local, both the potatoes and onions)

Most things turned out well, surprisingly enough. I was a bit disappointed with the roasted veggies, actually, of all things. I couldn't get them to roast sweetly, as I had with the cabbage several weeks ago. For whatever reason the parsnips and brussel sprouts in particular were resistant to my roasting efforts. I eventually got them soft but I felt this was somehow a failure since they seemed dry and chewy instead of caramelized and sweet.

Likewise the homemade vinaigrette was somehow not as good as all the reviewers raving about it claimed. I even let it sit in the fridge for several hours as they suggested. Not as good as they claimed. Either that or I'm biased about vinaigrettes (still not my favorite of dressings anyhow). I'll likely try making something else next time, but I figured everyone coming would prefer that kind of dressing versus everything else.

The chili was fantastic, if I do say so myself. I let myself. I stewed it for hours and hours this time, and took appropriate care to cook it over really low heat. The flavors were subtle and it was just spicy enough. Fantastic.

Everything was warm and ready to go exactly at 3pm, as I'd planned. Unfortunately everyone was late and the first person didn't arrive until 3:30pm. Books was the first to arrive, with wine.

At least I got the table set and extended all by myself, which is something in it of itself because since I've stopped going to the gym I've noticed I don't have the muscle mass to do anything (and I do mean almost anything...lifting things like chairs is starting to become's pathetic...I'm going back to the gym this week).

Anyway we chatted for a solid half an hour before Two showed up. Then we all chatted for another half an hour before deciding to start eating. It was a good twenty minutes before Salads and Churches showed up. Oh well, guess I shouldn't have planned so carefully to have the food ready on time. :)

It was a beautiful spread though, if I do say so myself. Despite the hiccups and some of the dishes which could have been done better. I am relatively pleased.

Overall people were very happy with everything. The chili was praised for its flavor composition and people liked elements of the salads (the honey roasted peanuts in particular were shocking for their sweetness).

I admitted during the dinner that surprisingly, nothing had been made with butter. The only thing I have in my fridge that resembles this is the slightly salted vegetable oil spread I use in substitute. Kind of funny to think that vegetable oil spread made garlic bread that good. Oh the power of science.

And everyone brought something with them, which was amazing. Churches brought a bottle of cava and quinoa salad from Whole Foods, Salads brought a bottle of rose and rum truffles for dessert. Two brought a sweet potato pie which we baked and then ate for dessert. It was gluten free and sugar free as well. Try putting that into the middle of a group of women!

One of the most amazing things about this linner party though? My apartment was left in almost the exact condition it had been found in before the cooking began! Many of the girls helped clean up after the meal was over and almost all of the dishes were washed before they left. Leftovers were stored in tupperware and things were put away. No trash was even found in the recycle bin! (This is a constant problem whenever there are guests over at my house...for whatever reason people never notice how the plastic bag is for trash and the standing bin is for recyclables). Amazing, absolutely amazing. I've never had a dinner party like this before. So good!

Also something we noticed during dinner - most of the continents were represented at the party. We had America, different parts of Europe (Finland and Germany, plus Turkey depending on where you consider Books from), India, and Australia. Quite a diverse group! We've decided from this conversation that we need to befriend girls from Africa and South America in the near future. Internations, here we come!

The conversation flowed and after we'd had our fill we decided to take a walk to the pub around the corner and have another bottle there. We chatted there for another several hours before calling it a night.

Pretty successful first party together, I'd say. This is just fuel to the flames for me hosting more, and soon. I don't think December will work that well since now others have gotten the bug for hosting (Churches wants to have a night of her own at the beginning of next month, as does Two), but January will be another month for get togethers. I love me some good food and good friends!

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Friday of choices

It's a rare occurrence in my life where I need to choose between too many good things. I consider myself extremely lucky in these cases, but they do happen on occasion.

Such was my Friday this past weekend. I'd already made plans to see another VIP lecture at the V&A. This one was being hosted by Appetite UK, a brand agency lecturing on...well, something design-related. It was supposed to happen the week before, right after I'd returned from Boston, but alas, they had to reschedule for some reason or another. I could still make it this new Friday, and I'd even invited Two along as she'd expressed interest before in my academic side events. Unfortunately she had excellent plans to see Goldfrapp instead (her explorations into London's music scene were extensive and impressive...she'd gone out five nights in a row the previous week with Olive to see...well, five concerts in a row...I know I couldn't pull that off...but she can).

So I was going to be alone for the night with my design lecture. No worries, I'd done this sort of thing alone. Instead of giving up though and going quietly, I decided to invite Churches. Surely she, also working in the design department, might be interested.

Instead she put in a counteroffer for my Friday night - a fireworks show. What I'd forgotten in my haze of work and excitement of plans and upcoming linner party organization was that it was almost the 5th of November - Guy Fawkes Day. Somewhat big in the UK, which is sort of ironic considering it's celebrating the day that a guy almost blew up the houses of parliament. Naturally he didn't succeed and historical evidence seems to show that he was merely the fallback guy but whatever. We're going to use this as an excuse to set of thousands of kilos of explosives and wear the now very-familiar mask of his face (a la V for Vendetta).

I was torn. I did want to see the design lecture, whatever it was about, since it'd been a few months since I'd been to the V&A and their lectures were always inspiring. But I'd need to go it alone. I also absolutely love fireworks and it would be nice to do things in groups more, aka being more social and not a weird loner who lives alone (I'd recently read an article that said people who live alone eventually go insane...though upon further inspection really all the article was saying was that some of the things we allow ourselves to get away with when we're alone could be considered...not socially acceptable).

I decided to go with the fireworks. What the hell. It'd been awhile since I'd seen them and I love them. Once as a slightly younger person (like maybe four years ago) I told myself I wanted fireworks at my wedding. That no longer holds because I think it's ridiculous but I do sort of kind of want it still. We'll see.

The design lecture by myself could happen another time. I spend enough time during my day alone, thinking about design. Time to spend some time with friends and see some fireworks.

We set out straight from work. It ended up being a nice group of four: me, Churches, Charmaine, and another girl from work who I'll call Paints.

We met at the tube station near Bishops Park where the event was being hosted and walked our way over there. We made enough time to catch the kid's fireworks show and the adults fireworks show. Entrance was a mere £7.

Surprisingly it was more like a fun fair than a festival about fireworks. I was expecting something pretty low-key and low-cost, like a field where you paid to have a clear view of the fireworks display. No no! There were even rides and...

By god there was even cracky fair food. The glorious smell of deep fried washed over us in waves as we walked around, checking out everything. That smell is like no other. And it always makes you hungry, despite the fact that you've eaten all day and want no more food.

We got into position on the field to watch the kid's show and vowed to buy food as soon as it was done. This is what fair food does to you.

We watched the kid's show. Surprisingly good! It went on for a solid 20 minutes. There was even a very cute and logical countdown to the start, which began right on time.

Then we went for food. Churches and Charmaine wanted burgers, I decided to go for cracky Chinese food. I always want Asian food. It's just in my genes I guess. I know it'll never be good, but I can't help it.

I went with veggie wok noodles with sweet and sour sauce on top (it was either that or curry). It was...alright. As I knew it would be...but I just can't help that smell from luring me in! We had a discussion how they must buy that smell in bulk then pump it through their ventilation systems to bring you in. Whatever food they're making is never as delicious as that smell. So it must be fake. Engineered to smell delicious. Chemical crack smell.

I didn't finish the entire thing. I just couldn't. It just tasted like mediocrity and disappointment. I still relatively enjoyed it though. Admittedly.

By this time (since I'm extremely slow at eating) we'd lined up again on the field to take in the adult's fireworks show. This one promised 900 kilos of explosives and no countdown (well, a very vague countdown I suppose, that was mostly audience-produced...and rather late, like 20 minutes late with no explanation...which made it kind of funny).

Despite all that, this show was considerably better. It went on for longer, the fireworks were higher and more sophisticated, and there was even a musical accompaniment (mostly soundtracks from superhero movies). I could see the theme they were going for (the fireworks' colors matched the superheroes of the music that was playing) and many of them were quite impressive. I wouldn't say it gave Disneyland a run for their money (because let's be honest, those imagineers are definitely paid well for their creativity, as they should be), but it was one of the better fireworks shows I've seen outside of large commercial amusement parks and for £7, it just couldn't be beat. We were all rather satisfied with the entire thing, having pulled the plan to see it together at the last minute and rather patchwork.

Unfortunately I have no photos of this part as I was lost in the fantastic display that was this fireworks show, plus it had started to rain a bit so it was difficult looking up into the sky as rain was pelting into your eyeballs at the same time. Luckily I'd worn my snowboarding jacket with the thoughts that I would be out late for the lecture, plus my leather riding boots, so I was well prepared for the weather. Others in our group were not so fortunate.

After the fireworks display ended we wandered around, got some mulled wine, then slowly made our way home early. It was a good way to end a Friday as I had an early morning the next day in preparation for the linner party. Still didn't get to bed before 1am as I was busy organizing and planning, but such is the way.

Good Friday. I am confident I made the right choice.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Just getting older, not wiser

I've started to notice a disturbing trend with my nights out. No matter how much I drink or don't drink, and regardless of my hangover status the next morning, there will inevitably be holes in my nights. Entire conversations have vanished from my memory as well as things that are fairly important, like the memory of whether or not I showered when I came home. This is kind of important and should be fairly easy to remember. But for me entire segments are seemingly...disappearing.

I recently heard a rumor that one of the medications I am on for my migraines causes memory loss. I've now looked it up on the internet (clearly the best resource for trusty information, but I tried to use a bevy of trustworthy sites for this kind of information) and it's true: it can cause memory problems and confusion and even be the cause of my decrease in eye sight (rather than my reasoning that it was clearly Finland's climate and low light conditions).

But why now? It's started to make me wonder. I just assumed I was getting old and time was taking its toll. Now I'm not sure. What I do know is that I want to get off my meds, and hopefully soon. With the incidence of my painful procedure I can now hopefully move onto other more healthy things, like hopefully getting off of my meds and hopefully being completely headache-free. I guess we'll see when I talk to my doctor next, which is in a few weeks to check on how things are going.

The purpose of this entry was actually to talk about how getting older doesn't necessary mean getting wiser. I had a great conversation with my boss this morning about how we fared after the big corporate event last night which involved completely open bar and very minimal food. I couldn't remember getting home at all and apparently showered then forgot (like I said, had to piece the clues together), and she fell asleep on the tube and had to be woken up by a stranger to make it home.

Clearly getting older does not mean getting wiser. At least no one can blame me when I'm older and still making mistakes.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

My first Byron burger

The next day Churches and I got up slowly and took Sunday at a leisurely pace. We had no real plans for the day so it was easy to get up, take showers, and head out for brunch.

Unfortunately the brunch place of choice, by the time we got there, had a line out the door. So we started walking away when I spotted a Byron Burger. I've always been curious and I'd still never eaten there. Lettuce and meat sounded amazing after our night the decision was made.

It was a gloriously sunny day but unfortunately a bit windy, so we sat inside right in the sun.

I decided to go for the classic cheese burger and start with something standard. Churches recommended we get fries and courgette fries as well to share because apparently they were out of this world. I happily agreed.

This burger is definitely one of the best I've had since moving to London. Hands down extremely juicy meat (which I had cooked medium...a rarity for me but I wasn't sure how it was supposed to be cooked...e.g. what the quality of meat at this establishment was, but the waitress seemed to assume that medium was what I would have wanted), very good mayo, and fantastic chunk of bleu cheese (which is the cheese I chose...could have been mature cheddar, Emmentaler, or American).

You could order other varieties of burger, such as smokey bbq, etc (I believe this is the one Churches got), but I wanted to try something traditional first to really taste its quality. I was not unhappy.

One of the burgers I was interested in trying from the menu was the skinny burger. No, not because I think I'm getting fat (please, people), but because I don't usually eat the buns off of burgers anyway. Bread is still uninteresting to me and it just seems like a waste. The only reasons I ended up ordering the burger with the bread anyway?
  1. Churches insisted that I try it with the bread the first time. I could do whatever I wanted when I came again on my own time, but the first time should be tried the original way. I think that's a fair argument and so I agreed.
  2. Where would I get the mayo otherwise if there is no bread? As I've explained before - bread is merely the vehicle for the things I really want in life (in this case, mayo). No bread equals no mayo. That would be unacceptable in a burger situation. What I really wanted in or around my mouf was juicy meat, lettuce, and mayo. I couldn't do without the bread, apparently.
So I ordered the normal cheeseburger with bread.

A discussion with the waitress after we finished told me that I could have still ordered the skinny burger (any burger without the bun) and gotten mayo on the side. Next time for sure. I definitely left 3/4 of that bun at least. I scraped off most of the mayo and ate it on the meat. Incredible. Definitely enjoyed all of that burger (minus the bun).

Courgette fries. Surprisingly nice batter, almost like what you can get on KFC but lighter and not as tasty with spices. Very nice, though could have been crispier. We also ordered garlic aioli as a side sauce but I had it with ketchup. Too much mayo perhaps. It had a strange aftertaste as well, like plastic slightly. It should have been better.

And the fries. The fries were wonderful. Shoestring, thin, very crispy. I ate all of these after finishing my burger. Fabulous. Who doesn't love a good fry, and they love the large cut fries here so much (or chips, as they call them, I suppose). Love me a skinny fry. So tasty. Lots of ketchup for these.

I would definitely eat here again; fabulous burger and quality ingredients. According to Churches there is a rivalry between Byron and Gourmet Burgers. They're always located near each other (like across the street). I've only recently started to notice the Gourmet Burger restaurants because they're not as iconic (their font is also smaller and less easy to read with black letter against relatively dark wood exteriors). But now my curiosity is peaked. Churches said she's never gone to a Gourmet Burger because she loves Byron's so much already. That kind of says a lot. And most of the British people I've talked to about it have said nothing when I tell them about the rivalry. Perhaps it's not a thing.

In any case I'm happy to have found a real burger place here. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Could just be the really good beef too.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Exploring the London bar scene

Sometimes you just get inspiration from other places you've been and you just want to explore the city you're living in. After being in Boston for the week before, I was in a delirium of post-vacation craziness. I literally went insane over the weekend and felt I needed to get out of my apartment, despite my despicable jetlag and post-procedure exhaustion. I was determined to get out.

So I contacted all of my girlfriends and rallied up the most ambitious London weekend plan I'd had yet. I was going to explore the bar and club scene like I'd never bothered doing before. And I was going to be a success at it. Admittedly this was expensive and rather insane on my body (causing me to sort of get sick at the beginning of the work literally I'm still recovering from it), but in the end I think insanity is really the only way to explore the London bar/club scene. It's either that or you miss your youth and somehow your chance.

I was off to a running start, which began Friday evening with Salads.

Central & Co

Salads and I hadn't seen each other in months due to conflicting travel schedules and just a whole lot of life. It was good to finally catch up with her. Since I'd last seen her she'd graduated from grad school and sinceforth moved into her new apartment, gotten annoyed with her roommate, and sincerely wished for new love (this is true with all my girlfriends except Two, who has Olive).

I told her we should meet at Central & Co, a new bar I'd heard about through Ironman, an Irish Icelandic guy I'd met several Internations events ago. He went there for his birthday celebration a few weekends ago.

Centrally located right next to Oxford Circus, it's incredibly easy to get to and easy to spot. I delighted in its modern interior and the young crowd that gathered there (but not too young, so roughly my age, not the early 20s that I've started to see everywhere). Comfortable. Unfortunately a bit too loud for easy conversation though.

We ordered a bottle of prosecco to share while Salads ordered a salad (I'd eaten dinner before going out) and also to celebrate her graduation. It was a good bottle and reasonably priced at £27. One thing that I grumbled at was the inclusion of service already on the bill, considering there were only two of us at the table (this is very unusual in the UK and I thought it rather pretentious).

So, overall pros: beautiful interior and reasonable prices for drinks and food plus an age-appropriate crowd.

Cons: overly loud and the inclusion of a rather high-percentage service fee considering the small party we had and the small amount of food and drink we had on the bill. Service was also rather slow and inattentive (we had to ask for tap water three times before finally getting it).

I think in conclusion I'd come here again but it's not a first choice. Great location in the center of town.

The next night I was out again with Churches and her friend Charmaine. This night was going to be one to remember; and a bit different than we originally intended. I originally suggested we go to either Market Place (also told to me by Ironman) or Freedom Bar, which had been told to me by a random passerby when Salads and I eventually wanted to switch bars. I even had a name to drop by the barman in case I wanted better service and such. We didn't end up going that night because it was difficult to navigate to from where we already were.

Churches decided we should check out Market Place because they had live hip hop that night.

Market Place Bar

Marketplace was likewise located next to Oxford Circus, very centrally located. We immediately went downstairs since we were there for the live music and ordered some very premium cocktails from the barman. I got a mojito. It was overly sweet, but well made and the barman was very nice and friendly.

There aren't good photos of the inside basement, which I find kind of hard to believe since that's where about half of their nightlife happens, minus the terrace they supposedly have which I definitely didn't see while we were there (I only found out about it because I visited their website after...but then again we weren't looking for it and maybe people weren't interested because a storm was brewing during the weekend).

The longer we were there the more we noticed how young the clientele was. We're talking very early 20's or so. Too young for us in any case, and one again Churches and I are the very single kind and Charmaine is the very attached kind (she and her British boyfriend have been together for years and have been discussing purchasing a flat together...lucky girl).

So we decided to move venues. Clearly my suggestion was not a good one, especially after the live hip hop started and then we were surrounded by very young black people. Nothing wrong with that, it was just clear we were not fitting in (a very white Finnish girl and two very Asian So we left.

...and went to the most ridiculous touristy dance club London has ever seen. Or I have ever seen, in London. Charmaine said that it's where all the expats and tourists go. I talked to Books about it the next day: No, it's where all the chavs from Essex go. Ohhh boy we were in for a night. But it was great.

Tiger Tiger

I think you can just tell from the outside that it is a classy joint (that's pure sarcasm). We had been warned by Charmaine that we might need to pay cover. We were fine with that since we were already out and wanted to go dancing. It was £10 at the end of the day; more than acceptable. Plus there was no line. We had a hilarious conversation with the bouncer when he stopped us and asked us who was the youngest in our group. We actually didn't know (since I've only met Charmaine a handful of times) so I said I thought I probably was then he asked me how old I was. Oh, I'm 28.

The bouncer snorted and let us in. Clearly not even worth checking our IDs with an age gap that large (drinking age in the UK is 18).

This is one of the four dance floors there. That's right, four. They're all located on different levels and cater to different dance styles (top 40 dance hits, oldschool hits that sounded a lot more like 70's groovy tunes and the like, electronica, and something else that I'm now forgetting). We unanimously agreed on top 40 dance hits and stayed there the entirety of the night.

What resulted was a ridiculous night of fun and sleaziness. Not from our side, mind you, but from the crowd around us. What Charmaine had failed to realize in telling us about this place was yes, many foreigners went there for dancing, but also everyone there was really looking to pick someone up. Though Churches and I are single, we're not that single. Having a good night out with your girls really is just a good night out with your girls. Being approached by men every few minutes is a real annoyance.

It got so bad that eventually I switched the ring I was wearing to my wedding finger and pretended I was married. Yeah, that bad. Played the married card to stop guys from flirting and introducing themselves, from dancing in our group. We had to move several times to different parts of the dance floor and they sometimes even followed us. With creepy amounts of persistence.

Granted none of these men were particularly aggressive in the scary way, merely forward. They were expressing interest in a very non-British way. And none of them were British, to be clear. I met a man named Joan (pronounced like "yawn") who wouldn't even tell me what country he was from or what Japanese business he worked for. Shady mofo. The majority of men there looked Indian or potentially middle eastern. There were some Asians. Some South Americans potentially. Hard to tell. Everyone had an accent though, and were definitely not of the Western European variety.

We drank a lot, danced the night away. Eventually we realized it was cresting upon 2am and clearly the tubes had closed. It was time to get a taxi and go home.

I was clearly not going to taxi from the center of town (we were around Picadilly Circus at this point, having walked from Market Place where we started), so Churches kindly let me crash at her place for the night.

In conclusion, Tiger Tiger was definitely the most fun I've had at a club in London thusfar. It's not that expensive (both for cover and for any drinks that were purchased) and the music is just the kind that me and my girls want to dance to. The cons are pretty horrendous though: lots and lots of flirty sleazy men and the crowds were sometimes pretty bad. I guess you always get the good with the bad though. I'll keep it in mind when I want to have a great dancing night, but remember to wear a fake wedding ring to stave off the pick ups. Or just bring a guy with me, though I doubt any self-respecting Western guy who knows about the place would ever go there.

And thus my first review of London clubs. Not a bad start for one weekend.