Saturday, 31 October 2009

We'll always be Blood Brothers...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a FABULOUS Saturday! Okay, so first off, as you'll remember from the earlier post, we were struggling mightily when we got home last night. Consequentially, we didn't get up till about noon (shocker, I know). We milled around until 2 PM, at which point we rolled out and had a GREAT brekkie at this little place called Cosy. I went with the DOUBLE English Breakfast, whilst Jenny went with the Halal Breakfast (meaning she got spicy sausage and halloumi cheese). So guuuuuuuuuuuuud.

After that, we walked to Leicester Square, where we picked up tickets for my "birthday show," and one that had been on our list for a long time - Blood Brothers. Now in it's 21st year, this show came with high praise, and we got tickets for a great price. However, since it was 3:45 and the show didn't start until 7:45, we obviously had some time to kill.

Knowing that my bladder would never allow me to drink more alcohol, soft drinks, coffee, or even water, we spent the next four hours walking, ensuring that I sweated out any drop of liquid left in my body. This walk proved to be wonderful, as we rolled past Trafalgar Square, past Big Ben, Parliament, the Eye, and down along the Thames. It was great, as it served as a fantastic reminder of how amazing this place is and how truly blessed we feel to be living in this great city.

Also, I got to talk to mommy! Jenny got to chat with her dad for a bit as well. Dad - I called you 4,167 times on 38 different phone numbers, all to no avail. We'll try you again tomorrow.

We walked back into the West End for the show, and it was very good. I will say that it is my least favorite show of the four we've since since being here, but it was still very good (with a VERY powerful second act). Next up for us (we think) will be War Horse, and Jenny's just confessed she wants to see The Woman In Black as well, which I saw in 2005 and am STILL having nightmares from.

On the walk home, we got two Steak and Stilton pasties (SO GOOD) - we didn't know how hungry we were! Also, I grabbed a Magnum ice cream bar just outside our door (white chocoloate - hey, it's my birthday weekend, for cryin' out loud).

After chatting with Rice for a bit, we're off to bed. Early (well, earlier) morning tomorrow for the rugby!

Also, I finished "The Wildfire Season" by Andrew Pyper tonight. Good read, well paced - not spectacular. Next up - Son of a Witch - finally!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

A GREAT start to the birthday weekend...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond - apologies for no blog last night, but for reasons you'll soon read, I was in NO SHAPE to blog last night (you can probably already guess the culprit).

So the festivities truly kicked off at lunch, when Liz, Mark, JT, and I all rolled to my favorite lunch destination in the whole of Canary Wharf - Nando's! Gang - this place is GREAT, and it's the closest you'll get to American "hot wings" in the UK. As per usual,I went with the Peri-Peri Chicken wings, rice, creamy mash...and did I mention I threw in another order of chicken wings. Hey, you don't keep my peak physical fitness by just getting a single portion...It was JT's first trip and Mark's as well, and they both loved it (although Mark was probably a bit more on the fence, especially since we requested they cover his steak sandwich with pineapple....mmmmmm....guuuuuuuuuuuuuuud). Liz bought me my birthday lunch - thanks, Fizzy!

After work, we rolled to Wharf local, the Cat & Canary, where we met Liz's dad (Rev. Ken) and their friends, Steve and Beth Womble. Yazz joined us, as well as Katrina and Carolina (two work peeps), and K-Wall, a buddy from the states that just moved to London on a year+ assignment. Our buddy Mike (the one with the SWEET house at the horse race track) came as well, and he and I too care of some Wychwood Brewing. That's right - they were serving Hobgoblin to mark the Halloween Festivities! It was a blast.

After that, we caught the DLR (that would be Docklands - or Donkey - Light Rail) to Limehouse, where we feasted once again at THE BEST Italian joint outside of the homeland - La Figa. I'll save you the suspence - I went with the Mushroom Ravioli yet again. Add in 4 bottles of wine, and we felt good when we left. Oh, but wait...cause we didn't go home...

Nope, instead we made our way to the Narrow, Gordon Ramsey's "Gastropub for British cuisine." While I've heard the food is overpriced, the bar (and it's riverfront terrace) is VERY cool, and we had a pint or two here before walking back (just Yazz, JT, Lord, and me). As you can tell from the picture, my muffin puffin was all smiles...AND, for the record - she is wearing her poppy.

After that, my wife was staggering a bit (too cute), so I steered her home by way of holding her backpack to keep her steady, and 40 minutes later we were at home. Given that it was almost 1 in the morning, I thought it prudent to SACK OUT and write this puppy in the AM.

Okay, you'll get another one tonight after another GREAT DAY in the Smoke!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat later today!
Love,

Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Sammy vs. the South African meat stick...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First and foremost, I need to wish a Happy (belated by 1 day) birthday to the Ad-man - Happy Birthday, brother! Here's hoping it was a great one.

Second - work was fantastic today - another productive day of moving the dial, promoting synergy, and experiencing all that is right and good with change managment. All in all, no complaints.
Third - it's still getting darker, but at least it's remained dry - as long as we keep that trend alive, I'll be a happy camper.

Fourth - my new i-Pod headphones rock the party that rocks the pinata. They actually a) stay in my ears, and b) have fantastic sound quality. Arguably the best 7 quid I've ever spent.

So I lifted weights tonight, and Jenny ran a 5K (Chisel was canceled - looks like I'll live another day). Upon coming home, my wife whipped up a FANTASTIC meal, and now, post pizza, salad, hummous, and carrots, I am fat and happy. However, I did need to feast one one last item, and THAT is the feature of tonight's blog.

So you will all remember Lynda Grimshaw, our South African friend who works with me. In her effort to make me a more well-rounded culinary individual, Lynda likes to bring in food or me to try from time to time. Now, granted, 99% of her selections usually result in me gaining ten pounds on the spot, such as:

1. The Yum-Yum (labeled as an "American style" donut). This thing doesn't look like any donut I've ever seen - it's a stick that looks more like a Little Debbie Dunkin' Log. The only thing American about it would be that it's covered in butter, oil, and lard.

2. Krispy Kremes. They might have died out in Charlotte, but they are ALIVE AND WELL (and expensive) here. Lynda "forced" a glazed one down my gullet today, in fact. My eyes were glazed about twenty seconds later.

3. Bovril - I am now convinced this is the preferred snack of Satan. I've given it two dances, and I've now concluded it's pure evil and not of this earth.

Tonight, however, we found a DEFINITE WINNER. On Tuesday, Lynda brought me the prized snack of South Africa - the Dowoers Spiced Beef Stick. This thing, apparently on sale at every sporting event and street corner in RSA, makes Slim Jim look...well, slim - let's just say Randy "The Macho Man" Savage couldn't hang with this...

Dude - I ate half the thing tonight. I couldn't stop - it was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud. Thanks, Lynda!

Last thing to note - finally, after searching high and low - I GOT MY HAMMERS JERSEY!!!! West Ham forever,baby! Mike Chamberlain - I know you have to be proud.




Okay - that's all the news that's fit to print. Tomorrow starts the birthday weekend - LOOK OUT LONDON! Bring on the Peri-Peri chicken! Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Snowbunnies, all you can eat sausage, and domestic counterparts...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a (you guessed it) FANTASTIC day in the Mother Country. Today was MUCH better than yesterday - uber productive, no arguing over bills, and I had a great evening with friends. I am happy to confirm that I'm in a MUCH better place than I was yesterday.

After work, a group of seven of us went out for drinks and dinner at a great little pub called the Ship Tavern. This place was great, filled with character and proper ales, including a) Deuchar's (a fave of JT and I), and b) the best named ale I've ever seen - Wags to Witches (the photo was CLASSIC). The pub was built in 1549, and it was definitely a spot I think we'll hit again.

After a few pints, we tried to wander off and catch some footy (Arsenal vs. Liverpool). However, after erroneously following the advice of three different people, we'd wandered a quarter of a mile in three different directions without finding a single pub. The end result? We ended up back at the original bar for dinner.

Dinner was great. The food was FANTASTIC. While most of the group opted for all you can eat sausage, I went with doubly cooked Pork Belly, and it was a RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. I might have just taken 12 years off my life, but it was worth every bite.

There were seven of us at dinner, bonded together by a random smattering of friendships. Gang - it was HILARIOUS. If you look at the photo, you see muffin puffin, Yazz, Lord G, Fizzy, Johnny, and....drumroll please...the girl who's managed to elude photography and detection up until now - Katy Rowland (aka K-Rack or Rolly).

Key points from the evening:

1. Tait - Blue Movie remains one of the greatest films ever made. However, we couldn't find any ski poles...

2. British people LOVE "The Hills."

3. British people LOVE "Dawson's Creek."

4. There is NO LIMIT to the number of sexual innuendos you can have on "All you can eat sausage night."
5. Jenny is NOT my domestic counterpart.

6. Seriously - how could ANYONE watch "The Hills?"

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny




Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Taylors vs. UK Utility Companies...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond. Today, the Taylor family were WARRIORS, and like Jason Bourne, left nothing but a trail of collateral damage from Zurich to Paris. The target? Not a British empire with their red coats. Not a government fond of taxation without representation. No, no – today¸ the Taylor family waged war against the British Utility companies.

Okay, so long story short – I rolled home last night to 3 pieces of mail:

1. A bill from our power company

2. A bill from the telephone company

3. A bill for cleaning from the property management company

Why did all three of these bills set me off? Let’s address them in turn, shall we?

1. Power Bill – Okay, historically, power bills in the UK are low, and we’re talking around 20 GBP a month. So imagine my surprise when I open a bill that spans 2 months (2 weeks of which we were on vacation) and requests 391 GBP! The reason? Oh, they had “estimated” my bill since they didn’t read my meter. They had “estimated” my usage to be 3000 units for two months. As fate would have it, I checked my meter to reveal that I’d use 150 units in THREE months. So basically, we’d been overcharged by more than 300 pounds. However, to their credit, their customer service was very polite, and upon calling them today, they are issuing me a new bill for the correct amount. It didn’t help me sleep last night, but it made for a better morning today!

2. Telephone Bill – So, when we moved in, we were told that telephone was included. Oh, no – that was a BOLD FACED LIE. And since we didn’t sign our own contract and only received a copy of it, we didn’t realize that we’d been lied to until we received this invoice. The cost of the service was a mere 15 GBP a month – nothing major. However, due to a CALCULATION ERROR (HITMAN, RAY RAY – WHAT HAVE I TOLD YOU ABOUT FORMULAS!?!?!?), instead of a service charge of 6.75 GBP, they wanted 67.50 GBP (yep – you misplaced a decimal – This isn’t a mundane detail, Michael!). So, after VAT, they wanted a total of 80 GBP more than the actual invoice. Again, we’ve since sorted this (knock on wood), but it was another hassle that set me off last night and made me a bull in a china shop.

3. Cleaning Bill – This was the kicker. They sent us a bill for 883 GBP for cleaning that was contractually agreed to (and stipulated in the contract!). After speaking with them about this, they agreed to remove the cleaning charge, but they still wanted us to pay the 500 GBP for the linen change and towel change (if that number sounds ridiculous, it's because it is - are you SERIOUS?). When we politely told them that we never asked for those items and that we assumed that was part of the “cleaning,” they replied simply that it wasn’t. Property and relocation companies were then involved, and it was more than a slight mess. I think we’ve come to an arrangement on this now, but the missus and I are still out several hundred pounds that we were not expecting to pay (and quite frankly don’t believe we should). Steam was rolling out of my ears, and I’m not happy about it. More to come on this one as we try and put it to bed. It’s really just a good thing I can’t get my hands on any kerosene over here…

So, long story short – whilst we managed to shave over 1,000 GBP off our bills, we’re still out of pocket substantially more than expected. Given that, I regret to say that I could not complete my normal first sentence with “after an AWESOME day in the Smoke.” However, I take comfort in the following:

1. We did claw back quite a bit of cash.

2. My wife is smokin’ hot.

3. I didn’t die lifting weights today (welcome to the guuuuuuuuuuuun show).

4. I had a super productive day at work.

5. My wife is really, really, smokin’ hot.

I will say that I ended on a good note, drinking a Kronie and Guinness (way better than I remembered!) at the Cat & Canary with Liz and Lord G. Then I came home to my beautiful baby pie, who whipped up a tasty dinner.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Signed,

A very hot & bothered Sam and Jenny

Monday, 26 October 2009

Sundown at 5 PM...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fantastic Monday. The sun was down today at 5, and it was PITCH BLACK at 6 PM. Not ideal, but the bigger concern for me is how I will manage to keep myself out of the pubs when it's this dark, cold, AND rainy. So far, at least, the weather's been brisk but not bitter, and it's been quite dry (knock on wood).

Not a ton to report today - I am happy to report that I ran a 5K in 24:30, the best time for me in a long time. Considering that I've had foot pain since the "long run" on Friday, it was happy to pull through today. Tomorrow will be weights (CP - let's keep the laughter to a minimum, shall we) and the bike, which should hopefully give the foot another day to rest before running again on Wednesday.

As I type this, my wife is back at Body Combat, no doubt learning how to rip someone's head off with just her thumb whilst doing about ten million squats and jumps with barbells. Look out, Queen City - we are soon to have the next Sheena Easton on our hands.

Lastly, I've started "Wildfire Country," and so far (50 pages in) I like it. Too early to give it a thumbs up or thumbs down, but I get the sense I'm drawn to it because it's set in the Yukon.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Salad for din-din tonight, and an AFD. Muff Puffin, hurry home - I want to see the haircut with curls! Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Taking part in one of England's oldest rituals...SUNDAY FOOTY!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after a GREAT DAY in London. Today, we experienced one of the great traditions of England – gettin’ hammered at a pub whilst watching footy. Talk about a good time!

We started with a GREAT nutella and peanut butter sandwich for brekkie (at least 12,000 calories a slice) before heading down to Leicester Square to meet Lord G (that would be Mark Goodyer). However, after walking around for 35 minutes and asking EIGHT BARS if they were carrying the Liverpool (you’ll never walk – or stand, in Jenny’s case – alone) vs. Man United match, we called Mark to report that we were out of luck and that no one was carrying it. He replied that he’d already found two places that were carrying it (one of which had told me that they were NOT showing it – DONKEYS), and so we wandered back from Covent Garden (about 10 minutes away) to meet up with Lord G.

We ended up at the Slug and Lettuce, where we had to stalk these people for an hour before finally getting a table. However, once we did, we had some great food (Chorizo and Red Pepper flatbread for me, chicken wrap for Jenny) to accompany our SIX PINTS. It was a great time, and we finally got to see Fizzy Lizzie again! And yes, ladies and gentlemen, she still has that boom-boom-pow…

We watched Liverpool pull off a 1-0 win, and then we stuck around to see my team, West Ham (GO HAMMERS, BABY!!!!) pull out a 2-2 draw with Arsenal. Given that Arsenal is in 3rd and West Ham is in 19th (out of 20 teams), I am treating it as a victory.

We walked home, at which point Jenny’s new shoes were giving her such blisters that she was doing some weird stride-jog-spread legs-keep moving on toes maneuver. Case in point, check this form.

Once home, we called Kim and then later Rice, where we saw our Goddaughter’s room! How crazy is that! Guys – looks like you’re all set. However, I was upset by the fact that there was no a) power T over the crib, b) Miller Lite keg in the corner (Rice – you’ll need it when you’re up late with her), and c) Rusty Wallace Shrine as you enter her room.

Now we’re about to call it a night. After all, it IS 9:40 PM. Yes, yes – we are some wild and crazy people.

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 24 October 2009

A perfect (and productive!) day in the Smoke…

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond – what a PERFECT DAY!

We slept in until around 11, which was a must given that a) we chatted with the Aussies last night (GREAT catching up with you guys), b) Jenny chatted with Christa for about 40 minutes, and c) it was our first chance to have a proper sleep in almost 5 weeks. In fact, this is my first full weekend in London since mid-August (ridiculous, I know).

So we popped up, got showered, and made the move for the Prince Regent, the site of our first meal upon moving here in July. The goal – Full English Breakfast. We got there at 12:15, upon which they told us Breakfast was done. However, when they saw we were about to walk out, they magically announced that they’d whip up brekkie for us. Ten minutes later, we had bacon, eggs, beans, toast, coffee, mashed potatoes, black pudding (organ sausage – my FAVORITE PART), sausage, coffee, and orange juice. That’s right, boys – I’m as svelt as ever…or as spry as Tait’s ever seen me.

After that, we hit Waitrose (the “fancy” grocery store) for some shopping (CP – think of Gooding’s on O-town, only MUCH smaller), and then we dropped our stuff at home before heading to Bond Street for some shopping (a perfect activity on such a gray and blustery day).

After 90 minutes of shopping, I’m happy to report that we now have a camera for Skype! Hitman – you’ll be happy to know that I dropped 10 quid and bought the ABSOLUTE CHEAPEST P.O.S. they had, but it works fine and dandy. Also, Jenny picked up some proper FMB’s at Clarks that are HOT.

JT then crossed off a CRITICAL to-do for the weekend – her first haircut in the Mother Country! Okay, the name of this place was Percy & Reed, and they were NOT cheap. JT got the cheapest stylist you could get (they have 5 tiers), and it was 48 pounds! However, this place was awesome. For example:

1. They had a full bar – you picked what you wanted, and they brought it to you in your chair.

2. She got the full consultation before they kicked off.

3. She got a scalp massage.

4. You have full access to the internet whilst there, so you can do facebook, email, whatever you need.

The end result is that my wife is Smokin’ Hot – check her out – I present…..NEW HAIRCUT JENNY!!!!!

For the record - I finished "The Night Listener" during JT's haircut. Whilst I thought it was a brilliantly written book, I'm NOT going to recommend it due to some fairly graphic material. If you aren't squeamish in any way, shape, or form, then I would say it was VERY well written, but be prepared for some fairly explicit material.

After that, we rolled down to Putney (this REALLY CUTE neighborhood in Southwest London) to meet our friend Catherine and some of her girls out for dinner and drinks. We had dinner at this GREAT spot called Mezza, a Lebanese joint with very tasty food, free desert, good wine, and a free coffee ground reading with every meal.

We then hit the Duke’s Head, a little pub famous for promoting no name artists who hit it big. I drank 1 beer (a Kronie), and Jenny finished off a glass of Malbec. Puma, you continue to be right – there’s no such thing as a bad Malbec.

It was SO GREAT seeing Cath and catching up, and it was also meeting her “girls” from Sydney, almost all of which were actually English but lived there for a bit. Key lessons learned from the evening:

1. Polk County, Florida is apparently THE PLACE to go for a holiday if you’re tired of Disney. After all, they have the real “Southern Belles.”

2. If your grandmother starts hoarding Kit-kats or accusing you of peeing on her carpet, you might want to have her looked at.

3. Men do NOT play Netball – period.

4. The pencil museum is a MUST DO activity for any visitor to England.

5. The Stone Circle is NOT a must do activity for any visitor to England. However, the two hour walk to get there is apparently quite lovely.

And now we’re back at the flat, ready to turn our clocks back (we do it a week earlier than the states) and call it a night.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and (super hot and trendy) Jenny

Friday, 23 October 2009

Date night!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond - it's the weekend!!!!! JT and I are SO EXCITED that we have NOTHING planned and that we're in London!

Okay, so not a whole lot to report tonight. After work, I met up with Lord G (Mark Goodyer) and the proud pappa (Owain Morgan) for a couple of pints at the Cat and Canary. I can tell that I've a) been sick, b) not been on my normal boozing routine, and c) haven't had my usual calorie count, as I was tipsy after 1 beer! Weak, I know...I couldn't help but shake my head as I didn't finish my last pint before catching the train. However, mom, I will say that, at no point did I put my glass down and say "I can't feel my teeth."

JT and I had a "date night" at a place called La Vigna, a GREAT little Italian joint. She went with the Caneloni (Please keep the "Grumpier Old Men" jokes to a minimum), and I had a GREAT pasta dish as well. UBER-TASTY!

And since I don't want folks whining about no photos for 3 days in a row, here's a picture of me (now 7 pounds lighter post-parasite) and my smokin' hot wife (in her sexy "lingerie").

And for the record - 4.25 miles today! It was slow and painful, but I'm on the road to recovery! Mom and dad - I ran in the new shoes! First time on the road solo since June!

That's all the news that's fit to print - Time to call the Aussies (and show little Charlotte how true Charlotteans sound). Chat tomorrow!
Cath - can't wait to see you!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The 4th load of laundry...almost there...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fabulous Thursday – one day until the weekend! The Taylors are looking forward to a relaxing one FINALLY back in London.

So, not a whole lot to report tonight, but let me try and roll through the highlights:

1. Has anybody seen the Video “Where the Hell is Matt?” on YouTube? Utterly BRILLIANT. The music was a must have on i-Tunes. If you haven’t seen this, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlfKdbWwruY

2. So, after 4 straight days of laundry, the Taylors are ALMOST caught up. Do we really dirty that many clothes you ask? Well, actually, anyone who knows us knows that’s not the case. After all, I’ve only owned 8 dress shirts since college, and I wear each one 42 times before washing them. No, no – instead, it’s more a case of the washer/dryer (or really washer/fling some water around so the UK Power and Water companies can bill me for something) only holding about 4 pieces of clothing at a time (and let’s face it – if my boxers weren’t already in shreds, it would probably just hold 3 at a time).

3. Sammy started Cipro today to fight the parasite. Oddly enough, I have found out that some of my friends are cheering for the parasite. More to come…

4. Credit must be given to Matt Miller – the idea of giving the parasite a homeland came from him, as did the following advice: “Get it looked at dude – those things DON’T go away on their own.” I couldn’t help but think of “The Hangover…”

5. My wife is currently at a gym class called “Chisel.” The 3 classes she now attends are “Body Combat,” “SAS (think UK Navy Seals) Circuit Training,” and “Chisel.” Rumor has it she’s about to submit an application to also be a training at Globo-gym, where she aspires to some day be part of the Purple Cobra Dodge Ball Team (Dinger – that’s for you – Air Goodman, Comin’ atcha).

6. Today is our 4th AFD in a row. What is becoming of me?

7. Dad – good call on the Gillette Fusion. That thing is MONEY. Can a brother get a Cherokee V'ball and Hoops update?

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and (absolutely ripped…and soon to be very sore) Jenny

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Turkey Part 3: Sammy vs. a 3rd World Parasite...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fine Wednesday. So since returning to the UK, Sammy has been struggling mightily with an unexpected visitor that managed an illegal immigration to the Mother Country – a parasite from Istanbul. Not sure what he is, but he’s had me on the can for the last 3 days. And while this photo wasn’t taken in the spot where I’ve spent most of my days, it does pretty much sum up how I felt yesterday.

The good news is that I was actually able to eat real food today (as opposed to the 3 yogurt pots I’d managed over the previous 36 hours). So hopefully I’m on the road to recovery.

In other news, it’s been quiet in the world of Sam and Jenny. We spent the evening planning a trip to Cardiff next weekend for my birthday, and JT talked to her parents on Skype. Other than that, all quiet on the Western Front.

I will say that I finished my first Patricia Cornwell novel, “At Risk.” Quick, easy read – but not much there. If you need something to consume in a sitting, it’s worth the plunge. Otherwise, skip it. I am currently reading "The Night Listener," which is incredibly well written 80 pages in but not for the faint of heart on a lot of levels.

Okay, I know that’s short, but hey – it’s all the news that’s fit to print (and my little friend is calling...AGAIN). Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Turkey Part 2: Istanbul - where East meets West..

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fabulous Tuesday. Okay, without further ado, I present to you Round II of Turkey and the magic that is Istanbul.

Day 5: Byzantium architecture and a walk through history...

Okay, talk about a FANTASTIC DAY. We get up, have breakfast at the hotel on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Marmara Sea on one side (busiest port I have EVER seen) and the Blue Mosque on the other – AMAZING.

10 minutes walking up the road, we come to the Hippodrome – the seat of power in Constantinople for a thousand years. First up is Constantine’s column, at which point I launch into this history lesson about how this signified the change in power from Rome to Constantinople, heralding the shift from a “Roman” empire to a “Byzantine” empire.

It was only then that I realized I was looking at the WRONG COLUMN, and the little stack of rocks I was raving about was NOTHING of consequence. Yeah..that’s Dr. Taylor, PhD in History…

Next up was the Blue Mosque. Much like the Aya Sofia (which we went in next), it was just so amazing to be in the presence of and inside two of the world’s most famous and architecturally fascinating buildings. Both of them were beautiful from the outside and packed with history on the inside, so it made for some GREAT sight-seeing.

We also made time for a street vendor snack of roasted (well, let's call this incinerated) corn before hitting the Basilica Cistern, an underground chamber where water flowed in from aquaducts and was stored.
After that we walked along the river, known as the Golden Horn, and across the Galata Bridge. You wouldn’t BELIEVE how many fisherman are out, plucking fish out of the water and selling them to the cats who grill them right by the poles.

So we crossed the Galata bridge, celebrating because we’d “just walked to Asia.” We were so proud of ourselves that we’d crossed “the Asian shore” off the list. 20 minutes later, atop the Galata Tower (apparently the world’s oldest tower still in use), I came to the realization that we still WEREN’T IN ASIA, but rather had just crossed to another section of Europe. Details, details…at least we were treated to a MAGNIFICIENT sunset from atop the tower.

The Walk home was awesome – not only did we get the best meal we had the entire trip (including my beer served in an espresso glass…), but I even bought new shoes! So here’s the deal – people are selling stuff in EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY of the city. This includes the underground walkways, which were hilarious. So I roll in and see a pair of shoes (about as thick as a sheet of paper, but details) selling for 10 Lira ($6.50). Gang – I had no choice – after all that chatter, laughs, and trying the shoes on when clearly NO OTHER FOREIGNERS were down there was priceless. In fact, here’s a photo with my new best friends.

Day 6: A day of religious exploration in Topkapi

We popped up this morning for one of Sultanhamet’s feature attractions – Topkapi palace. This was the spot from which many a Sultan ruled between the 15th and 19th centuries (between moving to the Bosphorus and erecting new palaces).

The guide books told us to plan for a full day here, and they were right. We spent 5 hours in this place, including hitting some of the following highlights:

1. The Harem, where the Sultans kept their 14 billion concubines. And get this, apparently the Sultan’s mom picked who went to his room every night…I mean, come on…

2. The Treasury, we saw enough rubies to end world poverty forever AND the world’s 5th largest diamond (the Spoonmaker’s Diamond, weighing in at 86 karats)

3. The Chamber of Relics – okay, now you guys know me and know that I LOVE to believe in the authenticity of artifacts (I am thinking of me trying to convince my mom of aliens during our visit to Roswell). However, a few of these have me shaking me head:
A. The sword of King David (as in vs. Goliath)
B. The cooking pot of Abraham (and we’re not talking Lincoln)
C. The turban of Joseph (yet the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat has been lost)
D. The Staff of Moses (as in yes, he would have parted the red sea with that)
E. The skull and arm of St. John.

I really want to believe they are all real. However, some of them looked to be in mint condition, and it left me wondering just a wee bit…

After that, it was off to fish sandwiches down by the water. They are literally catching these, frying them, and putting them in bread (you have to rip the spine out yourself). SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUD. And 3 sandwiches? Yep – a grand total of $8 USD!

After that, we hit the Yeni mosque and then turned for home, where we had one of the best surprises of the trip – the Whirling Dervish. So here’s the deal – there are a lot of shows with Dervishes, belly dancers, and Sufi music, the latter 2 JT and I saw in Egypt. Given that, we didn’t want to drop cheddar on another show. But we found out that there was a hotel that had free “dervish whirling” at 6:30 PM. So we rock up to this place, only to be told that, if we want to see them, we have to have dinner there. We can’t just sit at a table, because there is no alcohol on the premises.

Two seconds later, Jenny asks, “What is that bar there with spirits and a wine rack?” So we walk over there, only to be told that there is booze, but you can’t take it up to dinner with you. Really? REALLY?

So then we find out that we CAN go upstairs and drink, but the dervish isn’t whirling until 8 PM (the sign was apparently wrong). So I’m all in a right strop – I’ve paid too much $$$ for beers and am not going to see the dervish. Only then does some cat from the hotel walk right out in front of mine and Jenny’s table (we’re on the outside balcony) and drop some powder in front of us. One minute later…that’s right – the Dervish comes out and spins RIGHT IN FRONTOF US FOR TWENTY MINUTES. Check out this footage from Muffin Puffin.

After that, we went home and cracked open a bottle of Turkish wine. So you guys know – Turkey imposes a 400% tax on imported wine to support the local vineyards. After having finished a bottle, I’m gonna recommend you cats jack that up to about 800%...

Day 7: The Taylors vs. a Monsoon

Okay, so this day started out SCORCHING. Given that, we walked to the pier to book a cruise. 30 minutes later, it is POURING like a Class 5 Hurricane. So, rather than sail, we go “mosquing,” hitting lots of various and sundry mosques along the way. First stop (after being lost for what felt like a decade), was the Sultanameyi Mosque, one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Istanbul skyline. However, because it was Friday prayer, the mosque was closed for an hour. So JT and I got our first (and last) Turkish coffees whilst waiting, and then entered only to find the that THE ENTIRE PLACE IS UNDER RENOVATION UNTIL 2010. So we left there and rolled down to see the Aquaduct of Valens (HUGE) and then the Shezerade Mosque, which JT and I both agreed was our favorite.

Then it was off to the Bazaars, where we haggled ourselves into oblivion, picking up more than a few trinkets. Talk about a good time!

We then had a stopover in the Spice Bazaar as well before heading for home. However, as we were tired of always being the ones who looked like boozers in restaurants, we opted instead to drink at the North Shield (a chain of “British pubs” in Turkey). This place was great – filled with Brits, dark and nasty like a good pub should be, and filled with tellies covering sports. We had Efes at first, but when we noticed a lemonade flavor to the beer (Shogun – think Radler), we opted instead for Becks.

Then it was more food and home after another amazing (BUT WET) day.

Day 8: A great cruise and lots of nasty, sweaty Turkish dudes

Okay, so this day started out with a BANG. We hit the water, find a cruise, and we spend the next 2 hours sailing on the Bosphorus (that's right - I was ON A BOAT!!!) on a perfect day (including FINALLY setting foot on the Asian shore). After that, JT and I went for the last thing we needed to do to cross off our “Turkey List,” the fabled, the mythical, and the truly unique, Turkish Bath.

Okay, so simply put, here’s how this goes:


1. First sweaty old dude marches you upstairs and points at an Alcatraz like cell and says "change." Mercifully, he doesn't watch you.

2. Second sweaty old dude points to a huge marble slab filled with dudes in just wet towels and you are told to lay on it and "start sweating." This involves a LOT of dude touching and more than a little athlete's foot. All the while, scores of sweaty old dudes are walking around us in a circle like we’re fresh meat on a sacrificial altar, deciding who they’re going to eat.

3. Third sweaty old dude pours 9 THOUSAND degree water on you and then scrubs the absolutely DONKEY @#$# out of you until you have no leg hair left (and look like Tom Price – sorry, I just couldn’t resist).

4. Third sweaty old dude then asks for a tip. Well, he doesn’t really ask, since he can’t speak English. Instead, he rubs his fingers together and gives you the look that says “I’ll eat your children if you don’t pay me.” Either way it’s odd, especially since he knows you have no money SINCE ALL YOU'RE WEARING IS A TOWEL THAT HASN'T BEEN WASHED IN 6 YEARS.

5. Fourth Sweaty old dude rubs you with oil for 30 minutes while the theme from Brokeback Mountain plays in the background.

6. Rinse. Repeat. Run like HELL.

7. You walk up the following morning with weird bites all over your body, having no idea at which point Ebola chased you through the hallowed halls of the Turkish bath.

After that, muffin puffin and I needed BEER in the worst way, so we rolled over to a GREAT little place with live music and outdoor seating and had a few Efes. We were treated to a full blown concert, as some dude walked in from off the street and started requesting all these songs (which he then proceeded to sing – and quite well, for the record). That, coupled with a final mixed grille and beer in an espresso glass, capped off what was, for us, the perfect trip.

Day 9: They know we have a flight, right?

So this day started great. Great breakfast, beautiful weather, we’re already packed. All we’re awaiting is the 10:40 airport shuttle, which, oddly enough, doesn’t arrive until 10:55. When it does roll in, we proceed to start driving back through the crowed streets of Istanbul, only to find out that we need to go to ANOTHER hotel to pick some cats up. The result is that, at 11:20, we still haven’t left for the airport.
But finally our boys gets on the road and tries to get to the Interstate…only to collide with the road block that is the 31st running of the Istanbul Eurasian Marathon. The look on his face – priceless. Everyone else on two continents knew the race was happening, and JT and I assumed he’d have a new route planned out. But come to find out, he did have a backup plan – DRIVE LIKE HELL IN THE NOW POURING RAIN UNTIL YOU SEE AN AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TOWER. Priceless…

But we got there and we got here, and now we’re looking forward to 2 weeks of no travel and enjoying life in London.

In summary – if you are a traveler, add Turkey to your shortlist. If you’ve got 2 weeks, you can really see a ton, and you will have a blast. If you’re not a traveler but figure you’ve got a few international destinations in you, I would highly recommend this be one of them.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 19 October 2009

Turkey Part 1: Tracing the footsteps of history...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after our first day back in the UK. Okay, as promised, tonight will be a recap from our first 4 days in Turkey. Before, however, I simply must comment on two items:

1. Running tally on the "Chub-o-meter": 5K in 25:45 today, baby! Granville Six – It’s not a gut – it’s a fuel tank for the next generation of Kenyan. I can now store 15 years worth of carbs in my belly. Tell me that Paul Tergai can store that much - I think NOT. T-bone – I am pained that BJ has replaced me as your preferred race partner for the Cow Town (especially as a blond...). I will have my vengeance on this. Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war…

2. So I’m walking to the Tube today, and I happen to look up as I cross over Bond Street, and what do I see? CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS. Really? REALLY? CAUSE IT’S OCTOBER 19TH. Hey, at least they weren’t lit up yet…oh wait…but it's coming. Can't we at least get ONE DAY of Diwali lights? After all, it IS the Indian Halloween ("The Office" reference for those junkies out there).

Okay, so enough UK news – let’s talk Turkey – literally.

Day 1: Remind me why we fly before UPS again?

Okay, so this morning started EARLY. And by early, I mean a 4:30 AM taxi to Heathrow. My body still hurts thinking about it. The good news was that there was no traffic (imagine that), and we got to the airport easy. Which is a good thing, becase we arrived to a line LONGER THAN THE LINE OF ANIMALS CLAMORING TO GET ON BOARD NOAH’S ARK. Come to find out, the “highly advanced and technical” security checkpoint wasn’t working, resulting in EVERY TICKETED PASSENGER PROCESSED THAT MORNING BEING SENT BACK DOWN FOR ANOTHER TICKET. Awesome…

However, we did eventually get on board, and 3 hours later we were in Istanbul. However, the ultimate destination wasn’t Istanbul for the start of the trip, but rather Kusadasi (which is NOT how you pronounce it, for the record), the closest city to the historical city of Ephesus. We had a 3 hour layover, but the flight was super-smooth. I will say that Turkish Airlines is AWESOME – these cats feed you on EVERY flight, including the 45 minute puddle jump from Istanbul to Kusadasi.

After landing and an hour cab ride, we found our way to Kusadasi and the Villa Novak hotel, which was SUPER-CUTE. So we get dinner that night at the “San Marco,” where I have my first of 57 kabobs on the trip (and YES, Shogun – I did have more than one Donner…) and the local beer of Turkey – Efes (let me spoil the drama for you – there is only ONE type of beer here, and it’s really just brewed for foreigners).

That night we slept like rocks, only to be woken up at 4:15 by the Call to Prayer. Yeah, apparently Mohammed thought it would be a great idea to put a minaret about 9 feet outside my window. However, since I get up every hour to pee anyway, my body just took it as some assistance with the hourly rotation.

Day 2: In the Footsteps of History…

This day we rolled to Ephesus, riding in a bus called a Dolmus (basically a mini-bus) to the site. Folks, this place was AWESOME and DID NOT disappoint. We spent 5 hours in Ephesus – some of the highlights:
1. The first church to ever be named after the Virgin Mary and perhaps the spot where she was (initially at least) buried.

2. The amphitheater (24K strong, baby) where Paul preached against paganism (and was summarily run out of town).

3. This really wicked library (check out the photo).

After that, we rolled to the only other of the “7 wonders of the ancient world” still in existence outside a museum – the Temple of Artemis. Honestly, I’m sure it was impressive in it’s time. Now, it’s a pile of rocks. Mom – I couldn’t help but think of what Nanny would have compared it to, especially considering that standing at Mather Point, she referred to the Grand Canyon as “nothing but a big hole.” I mean seriously - they even STACKED the bloody column, for crying out loud.

We then rolled to a mosque and then the Basilica of St. John. This church, now in ruins (albeit impressive ruins), was where John wrote the 4th Gospel and was buried. We actually saw the spot where he was buried and the chapel erected on top of the spot. Honestly, it’s a lot of history to process – and truly amazing.

We had dinner that night at a great little spot and tried dinner “in the tile,” which is Turkish for in a skillet, basically. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD.

Day 3: Um, is that a glacier in the desert?

Having struck out trying to book a Miletus/Didymus tour, we opted instead for a trip to Pamukkalle. Okay, so let’s review what we knew about Pamukkalle before booking this trip.

1. It was named Pamukkalle.
2. Pamukkalle is in Turkey.

3. Yep – that’s pretty much it.

When we got picked up for the tour, I looked at JT and said: “Well, at least this way we won’t be in the car all day.” 5 minutes later, our guide Farouk tells us that it’s a drive of THREE HOURS EACH WAY.” Jenny didn’t say anything, but I could certainly feel the vein shaking in my temple.

3 hours and a glass of pomegranate juice later, we arrived at some hotel with a thermal bath. Okay, let me translate what that means in Turkey:


1. Thermal bath = 1 foot of dirty water with a mud bottom.

2. You are supposed to rub the mud on your body for “healing properties.” Not sure what those could be considering that every wad of mud we pulled up was covered in human hair.

3. To rinse off, you get in even hotter water that boils your leg hairs off until you look like Tom Price.


4. When it’s over, you shower in arctic water without soap – anyone else feel refreshed yet?

We then went to the “Open Bar Buffet,” where we found the food free but all drinks (even water) had a price tag attached to them. Hmmm….someone should work on their marketing campaign…

The next spot, however, was a highlight of the trip – Pumakkalle Cascades. This place looks like Mammoth Hot Springs looked like ages ago – AMAZING, totally white rock formations, filled with gorgeous Carolina Blue water. We had 2 hours here, and we spent most of it flopping around in the water. The rest of the time we spent wandering around the ancient swimming pool of Cleopatra – she actually built this thing and swam in it with Mark Anthony.

The drive home resulted in a minor shouting match, with me ultimately telling Farouk to shut up before I burned his house down. I really wasn’t going to do it, but I would have absolutely stabbed all 4 of his tires if he’d said one more word to this poor lady he was berating for being late (whom he then later tried to mack on, for the record).

Dinner that night was a Turkish pizza – dirt cheap and uber-tasty. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Day 4: Being Manly at Ladies Beach

This day was a trip to Ladies Beach, some of the prettiest water that you’ll ever lay eyes on. Despite some stormy weather, the water was super clear (and even shaded in blues and greens). So, I figured the best thing to do was pull up my pants, tie my shoes around my neck, and wade out as far as possible. The result was three words: "Macho, Macho, Maaaaaan..." Tacy has the uggs, but I have pants rolled up to look like Speedos. That, ladies and gents, is just how we roll.
After that, it was into the bazaar for some shopping. Honestly, this experience is SO MUCH BETTER than Egypt or India, simply because you don't have people pawing you CONSTANTLY. Instead, dare I say that folks were actually civil, and the "haggle" truly was more of a conversation than the 4th Crusade attempting to sack Constantinople.

We caught a 7 PM flight and crashed that night in Istanbul at this CUTE place called the Saruhan. Granted, he had to drive through Baghdad to get to it, but we emerged on the other side in a very cute little hotel.

Okay - that's the Kusadasi portion. Tomorrow I'll roll through the exploits in Istanbul, including perhaps the most "interesting" experience of my life - the Turkish Bath.

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,

Sam and (currently sweating out a week's worth of kabobs in body combat class) Jenny

Sunday, 18 October 2009

We're back.....and introducing....Runway Model Jenny!!!!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond. We're back!!!!! Okay, I promise that, over the course of the next 2 nights, I'll give folks the recap from Turkey. Monday will cover our time in Kusadasi, and Tuesday night will recap our time in Istanbul (yes, yes, feel free to sing the "They Might Be Giants" song here). But let me give you this confirmation now - Turkey is, without a doubt, THE BEST trip Team Taylor has EVER taken. For anyone who likes traveling, add this to your short list. More to come (and hopefully convince) soon, but suffice it to say that it was AMAZING.

Okay, as for today. We got home around 5 PM and instantly set about the business of tidying this house and putting away dirty clothes and such. During this unpacking debacle, my beautiful bride dug out two key purchases from Turkey - her Uggs and a pair of "Seven" jeans (Kim - I'm guessing that only you will appreciate the label, as I have NEVER heard of them - which I know you will all find odd considering the fashionista that I am...). And so, posing for tonight's photo, check out my tractor beam of hotness (tip of the cap to Ricky Bobby for that one): Runway Model Jenny - version 7.0.

Tonight has been low key, but I finally had my first ever Skype conversation! JT and I talked to the Rice clan (7 weeks to go!) for about an hour, getting all caught up on life in Volunteer Country. Gang, consider this my plug - if you are NOT on Skype - do it, DO IT. It was SO GREAT to not only be able to chat in real time (for FREE!) from our apartment, but also to be able to see the person you're chatting to (except when they whip out random ass avatars of aliens and mutant cats vomiting like something from the exorcist). Price - I know that, despite being the HUGE Oprah fan you are, you have been a Skype holdout. It's time to get on board, dude - if it helps any, I'm sure Carre Four sponsors a "Skype jersey" for the dude who uses the service and shaves his legs most often.

Dinner tonight was the old post-vacation staple - the Ranjoot, where JT ate some Garlic Chicken whilst I polished off a vindaloo. I'm still sweating...

And AC - I FINALLY finished "Guns, Germs, and Steel!" Yes, I did it! I'm somebody now! My name in print!

Also, I tackled Matthew Reilly's "Hell Island" on the flight home. It was a TINY book, so I barely get credit. But hey - it's another book down!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Highlights (and pictures) coming tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Beauty of Garden Leave...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond - IT'S THE WEEKEND!!! Okay, so important announcement first - there will be NO BLOG for the next 10 days. Why, you ask? Because Jenny and I are heading to Turkey, baby!!! Bring on the whirling dervishes, bazaars, and kabobs!

It should be a great trip, and I fully expect to come back with some ridiculous stories, at least one of which involving a Turkish Bath, a sweaty naked dude, and enough steam to make you think you're in a horror film.

As for this evening, we met up with Yazz for drinks at the Lamb and Flag in St. Christopher's Place. SCP is a GREAT little out of the way collection of restaurants and pubs, and we had a fantastic time catching up. And big news - Congrats to Yazz on her new job!!! Big news!

And the bigger news? She's got a month of GARDEN Leave. What, pray tell, is garden leave? Well, that's where you take a job with a competing firm, and so your current firm sends you home but CONTINUES PAYING YOU. So yes, whilst JT and I were recovering from our hangovers at work, Yazz was in her robe and fuzzy slippers, drinking coffee and watching the UK equivalent of "House Hunters." Well done!

After a few pints (Becks Vier for me, Kronie and Stella for JT), we rolled over to this little Italian joint, where we had some DELICIOUS FOOD. Yazz and I went with the Tagliatelle with Salmon and Vodka sauce, while Muffin Puffin went with the Fusili and Broccoli, covered in Gorgonzola cheese. Yeah, Price - go ahead and say it. Chuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuubby Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnny!!!! But at least I'm not wearing the Millet Brun or whatever the "somebody had to be" award winner is wearing...that's all I'm sayin'...

Okay, sorry so short, but there is packing to do, and we've got a 4:30 AM cab to Heathrow. Dow Jones - keep climbing. LVS forever, baby!!!

That's all the news that's fit to print. Chat in a week's time!

Love,

(A very excited for vacation) Sam and Jenny

The Carter Clan, Proper Write Locks, and Yes…there’s an app for that…

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond on this fantabulous Friday. First off, apologies for no blog last night, but after helping to split 3 bottles of wine…well, let’s just say it was bed time.

So last night, we made a long overdue trip to King’s Cross to visit some of our oldest friends in the UK (dating all the way back to 2006…eons ago) – the Prime Minister himself – Mr. Andy Carter, his lovely wife Jill, and the new wee one (3 months old!) – Grace.

This was our first time seeing Grace, and she is absolutely adorable. However, as Grace stayed up with us almost the ENTIRE time, I had a revelation that I’m AC (who I know is reading this) and Jeebs can appreciate.

For whatever reason, babies who ALWAYS sleep through the night and maintain their schedule go haywire when they are around me. Georgeanne (AC and John’s wee one) has pretty much slept like clockwork except the 2 times that Jenny and I have been over for dinner. Watching Grace stare at me for 4 hours, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s the accent that’s just terrifying smaller children. I have a feeling that, if these kids could speak, they would start calling me Jabberwocky…

Anyhoo – it was GREAT to see them and catch up with them, and we had an absolute BLAST.

I started out with a cask ale, but I switched to red wine once I had a sip of Jenny’s. The good news was that this stuff (Spanish) was AMAZING. The bad news is that Carter seemed to have unlimited bottles of it, and somehow my cup was always more than half full…

Also – we got take-away from mine and Jenny’s FAVE Indian joint (Shogun, Hitman – TRAPS SHUT ABOUT STEP IN INDIA – that place is good, damn it – we just went on an off night) – Spices. This place is AMAZING. It’s a tiny little dive that whips out dishes FULL of flavor (and heat, of course). Lamb Ceylon…so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).

So, the funniest part of the night – we are talking about the i-Phone and how there’s an app for everything. I start with Urban Spoon, and then we throw in a few others we know about and what it can do. Then Jill asks, “Do you mind if I feed Grace?” Well, of course we say no worries, at which point she grabs her i-Phone. In a moment of confusion, I ask: “Why the i-Phone?” Jill’s response: “Oh, I purchased one of the breast feeding apps.” Gang – it was all I could do to NOT spit red wine all OVER the place.

As it turns out, this app (apparently one of 5 breast feeding apps) can do the following:

1. Tell you how long it took to feed the baby


2. Tell you the amount of time between feedings


3. Tell you which breast you used last time

Honestly, Apple – I have to give you credit. Your slogan “Yeah, there’s an app for that” is now officially 100% true.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Another blog comin’ shortly!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The magic of TWO cell phones...who knew?

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another fabulous (yet rainy!) day in the Smoke. First off, whilst I realize that I’m now bound by a covenant of silence to not reveal last names of co-workers, I would like to thank a certain Transition Executive nicknamed “The Hitman” for offering up his cell phone whilst he’s not in the UK. Today, for the first time EVER on this assignment, I was actually able to call my wife and make dinner plans. Who knew technology could be so helpful? But for the record, Ray, this doesn’t for a single second change my motto: “Back to Paper, baby.” That’s all I’m sayin’…

So, after 3 straight days of salad for lunch and dinner, JT and I decided it was time for hot food tonight. The winner? A new joint on Great Portland Street named Vapiano.

So this place is great: you walk in, and you’re instantly given a card (Roger & Merritt – this is EXACTLY like Rich Tree Market, except your meal doesn’t cost you 14,000…Canadian, of course). Then you walk up to the different food stands, select your entrĂ©e, get a buzzer, and then go find a seat. We selected two Pizzas: Raclette and Diavolo, both of which were uber-tasty. Throw in a bottle of wine, and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Also, other key points:
1. Today broke the streak, but prior to this evening’s vino, I’d managed two consecutive AFD’s. I actually think I heard my body thank me, as it was afraid it would actually start to recover before I busted it up with the Carter Clan (tune in for tomorrow!). As it is, I’m certain my body is starting to wonder what in the WORLD is going on and why I’m giving it all this stuff called “water.”

2. I logged another 5K today – slight foot pain, but it stopped hurting as I sped up. If that’s not motivation to get in shape and run faster, I don’t know what is.

3. I still think the Polka Dot jersey in the Tour de France is a RIDICULOUS IDEA.

For the record – today was the third straight day of miserable weather, with the umbrella out wherever you go. And whilst I equate it to Hurricane Andrew, Brother Morgan today said, “Yeah, it’s not too bad out there today – in fact, it’s getting much brighter.” It seems I have a lot to learn about perspective…especially since I wore a TOBOGGAN to dinner tonight (aka ski hat, beanie, or took for you Northerners/Foreigners). At least I was sporting my football colors – GO HAMMERS, BABY!!!

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

P.S. VA – GREAT news – can’t wait to see you!!!

P.P.S. Marriott - thanks so much for the card - SO SWEET! You guys have a GREAT time in the Smoke - I HATE we'll miss you!!!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Jenny’s First Bliggy Blog…

Hello family and friends! Yes, it is true - this is Mrs. Assignee #47 writing for the 1st time. Many of you have asked what I have been up to while Sam is away, so here goes. I had a fantastic weekend visiting my friend Catherine, who I met traveling in Australia. I thought it would be the perfect girls’ weekend with Sam away. I took the train up to Manchester after work and arrived just after 9. Catherine collected me from the station and took me to a fabulous Pakistani joint called Akbar’s. I found out tonight that there is such a thing as a non-alcoholic Cobra. That is just plain wrong! But Catherine was being the very responsible driver, so I can’t argue. We had a great time catching up and turned in past midnight exhausted from the week. Saturday morning was meant to be an early start, but when I awoke at noon, that changed plans a bit. We set out, fighting the gale force winds (not joking, the strongest winds I’ve ever seen) and headed toward Lytham. We had a nice walk-around the city, had a great lunch of fish & chips, and then walked along the River Ribble, admiring the huge windmill and trying not to get blown away. (I unfortunately do not have photos from Lytham because I left my camera in the car.) After Lytham we drove to Blackpool for the Illuminations they hold each year. So Catherine had said she hadn’t been here in 5 years, and after today’s visit probably wouldn’t need to come back for another 5 years. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, but as we started to walk around I began to understand. On every corner you saw a few things: (1) Amusement / arcade games (2) The best fish & chip stands (3) Transvestites (4) Stag do and Hen’s parties (bachelor & bachelorette parties) (5) the rednecks of the UK surrounded you. This was the Myrtle Beach of the UK!!! But, in case you didn’t know, Blackpool does have an Eiffel Tower of their own – the Blackpool Tower. So I had the chance to see 2 Eiffel Towers in 2 weeks. Now who can say that? It was quite the adventure, and to top off the evening we spent 3.5 hours in the car in traffic making our way through all the Illuminations strung up along the main drag. It was definitely a fun evening and we have some GREAT stories! So we got home about 11:30 and I finally got to meet Catherine’s parents (who are such lovely, sweet people), as we are staying with them in Eccleston. (Thank you for having us!)

Sunday morning we awoke and had a nice walk with the whole gang through the beautiful countryside. I wore wellies for the 1st time, which they got a kick out of! Our walk was about 2 hours and we visited a church over 1,000 years old before popping in for a pint at the Original Farmer’s Arms. Catherine’s parents then prepared us an amazing lunch back at the house and I even got to meet Catherine’s sister, brother-in-law and 3 month old nephew who was the cutest thing ever! We said our goodbyes to everyone late afternoon and drove back to Manchester where I caught my train. Catherine, thank you for a fantastic weekend and I look forward to doing it again very soon!!! (You know I had to have a laugh about Blackpool right?) ;)

A weekend where my cup truly runneth over…

Family,

And a good evening to you from seat 1 B on Flight 732 to London – Gatwick. Yep – I got the last upgrade! As I sit here, emotions an absolute roller coaster, I just thought I’d share with you guys the recap of an absolutely PERFECT weekend with my family and my city (and my Katie!). If my wife had been there as well, I think I can honestly say it would have been something akin to the peace I hope to find in Heaven.

This weekend was, simply put, one of the best weekends for the soul I’ve had in a long time. I knew that my wife going to have a great weekend in Manchester with Catharine (and I’m hoping she’ll do a little posting of her own for that one), and I knew that I had some quality time coming with my family. At no point did those 44 hours disappoint.

Friday night was wonderful. Mom showed up with my birthday presents (hey – I’m an only child – this is just how I roll), and then she took me for a GREAT meal at McCormick & Schmick’s (salmon stuffed with brie and lump crab…THAT’S RIGHT – KEEP THAT SPARE TIRE WELL FED, BABY!!!). We then went back to the room (thanks to Cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuz for hookin’ us up), where we promptly crashed at 11 PM.

We woke up at 9:30 the next morning, and it was the first time I could truly say I’ve felt refreshed in about a month. Puffin and I have been going SO HARD, and it was so nice to just have a lie in and know that the schedule for the day was not going to be BTTW (Chuck – that acronym’s just for you…and Jamie Pressley).

Dad and Pattie showed up at noon on the nose, and we promptly rolled to one of the MUST DO’s on my culinary tour of Charlotte – The Counter. We had some GREAT burgers, and dad was even able to celebrate the re-discovery of Blue Moon (apparently no longer on draft in TN due to the emergence – and conquest – of Fat Tire).

After that – it was time for the day’s main event – shopping at Target. Okay, so back story – shopping for things like lotion, shampoo, conditioner, and soap are a bit tricky in Britain. Usually, you have two options – the cheap brand or the expensive brand, neither of which provide you the life-changing experiences you glean from products like Vasoline Cocoa Butter lotion, Night of Olay face cream, or Gardinier Fructose Conditioner. Given that, I was on a mission to get Muffin Puffin every cream, gel, and spray her American heart desired (as well as some Ivory soap and razors for me).

Honestly, I looked like Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway when I rolled into Target. I had a list, but it suddenly occurred to me that I’d never shopped for ANY of these products. This posed several obstacles.

The Lash Blast Debacle – Okay, so thanks to Madeha, Jenny AND my mother are now ALL ABOUT this new mascara called “Lash Blast.” And while I love the fact that it’s cheap, the tricky part is figuring out which type to get. I mean, how do you choose from the following – a) black, b) very black, c) midnight black, d) brown black? What happened to “BLACK?” Maybe the Brits do have something figured out there…

Shopping for Target brand products – Okay, again, because we HATE spending money, we try to roll Target Brand whenever possible. Well, I spent a solid 15 minutes looking for Target Brand Night of Olay, but to NO avail. And when I didn’t find the sunscreen or face cream (SPF 15, of course!), I was really getting frustrated. Only then did I learn that Target has REBRANDED TO “UP AND UP.” Really? Really? You are selling Target brand in the Target store, and you feel the need to change the brand (and move the bullseye to the back under the packaging? How much did you spend on that advertising campaign – 160 million dollars?

However, I am pleased to report that EVERYTHING was located, and I am even now the proud owner of Gillette Fusion (Dad – if you’re lying to me, you owe me 20 bucks).

After that, we tried a new spot for me – Strike City. Okay, this place is AWESOME! TV’s everywhere, great sports bar atmosphere, and even TV’s in the front of the lanes. A little pricey? Yes – but worth EVERY penny. And check out the form – I AM THE WALRUS!!!!!

And in case anyone’s scoring – I won both games. That’s right – I roll on Shabbas.

After that, it was over to Wild Wings, where I had my 4th installment of wings for the week and we caught the Vols in action. I tried (and succeeded) in getting my fill of Fat Tire and LongHammer IPA, and we even made it over to Champions Bar and Grille for some more cheese fries and a Fat Tire night cap. Yeah, as you can imagine, I slept pretty good last night…

Today was wonderful – the morning started with Megan showing up at our room and chatting for a bit. She and mom hadn’t seen each other in a long time, so it was good to have a proper (even if quick) catch-up.

My last meal in the Queen City was an old staple – The Original Pancake House. I ordered Bacon and Eggs with an EXTRA side of Bacon (Onisick – this does NOT give you the right to call me fat again the next time you see me – otherwise I’m THROWING you in the river). It was SO GOOD.

After that, I held it together as I said goodbye to Dad and Pattie, and then Mom and I spent the next 4 hours rolling all over town (in Katie!!!), crossing off the rest of the to-do’s.

The oddest moment of the day was swinging by the Villages at Eastover, where I peeked in at mine and Jenny’s condo. Honestly, it’s weird knowing that’s your house and you can’t go in (and don’t even have a key for that matter). JT – the place looks great. Unfortunately, Kristie wasn’t home. However, I’m happy to report it still feels like home.

I spent my final “free” hour in Charlotte sitting in the Breezeway of Gateway Village, chatting about everything and nothing with mom, and loving every single second of it. After that, it was the final ride of Sam and Katie until December, where I drove to the airport and said by to mom (and mercifully managed to keep it together there as well). Mom – it was too rushed, and I wish we’d had more time to say goodbye. However, since I was on the verge of tears, maybe it was better I shuffled off quickly.

This trip to Charlotte and my weekend with the fam were both so amazing, and I feel so blessed to have had this time, both with my city and my family. As I alluded to earlier, expat life is truly an amazing experience, but it’s also a roller coaster of emotions. Every day moves so fast, and finding a way to take it all in, pinch yourself to realize this is your life, and try to burn the memories into your mind is a challenging proposition. I say with 100% certainly that I am absolutely having the time of my life, and I wouldn’t trade a second of this experience for anything. Folks hear me say it in the office almost daily, and I mean it every time when I say I’m “livin’ the dream.” Furthermore, I hope and pray that this magic carpet ride continues, as I love the expat life and fully intend to continue on this journey for as long as I can.

However, it is of great comfort and promise to me to know that, when mine and Jenny’s time abroad does come to a close, a host of loving friends and family will be back in the states waiting for us, ready to pick up where we left off with laughs, tears, and love.

Family – I love you guys SO MUCH. The miles might get longer, but the love only grows deeper.

Jenny – I love you more than anything and can’t WAIT to have you back in my arms again.

Followership – That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow – time to get my game face back on.

Love,

Sam and (in a matter of hours and miles) Jenny

The Weather Turns...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond. Well, it's official I think - the British summer has ended. How do I know, you ask? Let's consider the evidence...

1. On the walk to work this morning (7 AM) it was already dark. When I left to go to the states, it was at least bright outside.

2. Gale force winds have now decided it's time to blow constantly on cross streets. It's a good thing I don't have the "Senior in High School Pony Tail" hair to contend with - otherwise I might have to result to gel...juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust kidding.

3. The sky is 100% gray...and all the same cloud. We are talking a blanket of cloud that would make Stephen King proud.

4. Rain - I mean, this country has to stay green for a reason - and now I remember why. And don't think your umbrella will save you either...that's what #2 above was designed to prevent.

All the same - no complaints. In fact, it was almost refreshing this morning, walking under the umbrella amidst the neighborhood buildings, looking at them the way they were meant to be viewed (amidst drizzle) and appreciating them anew. For some reason, I have always enjoyed the brisk English air on my face and in my nostrils, and I got a healthy dose of it today (of course, talk to me in a month, and I might be telling you I've packed it in and am moving to Bora Bora).

On the jogging front, I managed a 5K today in under 27 minutes. While that's not a great time by any stretch of the imagination, it was good to just be able to run a consistent pace for 3.1 miles - I'm comin' back, baby!!!!!! Knock on wood...and mom and dad - I'll be trying out the new kicks tomorrow - I'll give you the update!

Okay, normally I'd say that's all the news that's fit to print, but I've got one more addition tonight. I'm about to post a second blog for the evening, which should have posted Monday night. It's the recap of my weekend with the fam. I'll invite muffin puffin to do the same with her weekend, recapping her time with Catherine and her visit to exotic Blackpool (talk about some GREAT photos), but in case she doesn't want to write, I'll ensure we get some Blackpool photos out there for the faithful in he coming days.

Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 5 October 2009

Back with my Muffin Puffin!!!!!!!!!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the Pond. I am back on the ground, safe and sound and waiting for pumpkin to come home after her Athletic conditioning class. That's right - she's lifting weights - I'm lifting my fork. All is right with the world.

So first off - whilst on the plane last night, I wrote the blog entry that was intended to be tonight's installment. However, because it's still saved on my work PC, looks like that will just have to wait until tomorrow. I realize that this throws my day count and chronology out of balance, but you'll just have to forgive me.

Okay, so this morning started off great - we landed on time, I was the third person in the customs line, and I cleared immigration at 7:05 AM. After that, things take a storyteller's turn for the worst.

1. Baggage Claim: So we wait FORTY-FIVE MINUTES for the bags to arrive. Keep in mind that we were the third flight to land that day, and the other 2 flights had already cleared their belts. What exactly were all those cats doing in the bowels of Gatwick? And further more - my bags were among the very last to come off, which I can deal with. However, as they tumbled down the conveyor belt, I couldn't help but chuckle (or rather tremble with rage) as I noticed the "priority" sticker on mine (since I've got "status"). If that's priority, I'd hate to see how a bag labeled "extreme donkey" is treated. Hee-haw...

2. Gatwick Express: THEY'VE MOVED PLATFORMS!!! WHY WASN'T I CONSULTED ON THIS? So I am running from platform to platform (carrying both bags and my backpack, mind you, because there are NO DOWN ESCALATORS), and finally I catch the Express that's 15 minutes late. The cause of the delay? RAIN. Really - because we've never seen rain in the United Kingdom I guess...

3. Victoria Station: Getting on the Tube was like hitching the last helicopter leaving Saigon - CHAOS. I had to wait through 5 trains before I could finally get on one - talk about a MADHOUSE! I was ready to leave all the US purchases on the platform and learn how to make homemade shampoo at that point.

4. The walk home: Rain. Wind. Cold. No free hand for an umbrella. No foresight to pack a jacket. Welcome back!

That being said, I got home, got showered, and got dressed. All uneventful, save the moment when I noticed one of the lotions I'd brought back for JT EXPLODED all over my shoes. VERY stylish. So rather than the cap-toes, I went with the Sam Taylor Corporate Hiking Shoes - the picture of European sophistication.

But I did get to work, and it was a productive day. And now here I am, having just talked to puffin and and anxiously awaiting her arrival back at the flat! Hurry home, baby pie!!!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. I promise to give you the weekend re-cap tomorrow. Chat then!

Love,

Sam and (back together again!) Jenny

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Introducing........Verona and CUUUUUUUUUUUUUUZ!!!!!!!!!!!

Family,

And a good evening to you from the Marriott City Center after another GREAT day in the Queen City. So work was really good today. After several straight weeks of meetings, I feel like I’m back in the groove and cranking through to-do’s.

This evening was a terrific night – I had dinner and drinks at Brixx (local Charlotte pizza joint) with two of my favorite people in the world – Jen (with one “n”) Webb (also known as Verona) and Megan Quesenberry (also known as cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuz)!!!

Okay, so first off, the big news – Megan got promoted!!!! Very exciting stuff, and I am SO PROUD of her. Muffin Puffin – I’ll let her fill you in on all the details, but suffice it to say this is really exciting news!!!!!

We had a great night, kicking back and eating some good food (I actually went for a salad since, well, I’m fat as a damn bear) and having some good beer (Anchor Steam on draft, baby!) for a couple of hours. Webb was feeling a bit under the weather after her return from Ireland (Mom – she loved it just as much as we did!), but she was a trooper and hung with us the entire night (those 5 cups of hot tea had to have helped…). Also, Verona – diggin’ those uber-stylish Converse glasses…

Okay, short tonight, I know, but I have to get through the last 100 pages of Twilight to complete the series! I’m on the cusp, baby – Bring it on!

That’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Samwise