Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Catch-up Blog #4 – Sammy risks life and limb by consuming a lifetime’s worth of bacteria in the City of Lights…


And a good evening to you from across the Pond – I’m BACK IN THE MOTHER COUNTRY AND BACK WITH WIFE MUFFIN!!!!!!!! I can’t believe that June has come and gone and tomorrow is the first day of July – that is just NUTS. But before we begin the July celebrations and turn our attention squarely to the last 6 months of our time here, I am pleased to give you the final catch-up blog that will return us to the present. It is a story of hard work, HOT weather, expat bars, great views…and a dance with death – courtesy of raw beef. And so we begin…

I arrived in the afternoon on Sunday and made the walk from Gare du Nord (the Eurostar station) down to the hotel. Two cool aspects to this – first off, the hotel in question was the Westin Paris, the same hotel that Jenny and I had passed during our time there in May and REALLY wanted to check out (and the Paul Harvey component to the story – I’d tried to book it on points before, but because they spotted me instantly as a poser who didn’t belong, it was politely explained to me that I couldn’t stay there using Starwood points. If I wanted into the courtyard, my redneck ass had to pay. Details…). Second, the walk to the hotel took me past some GREAT sights of Paris, including the Opera House (which, on a gorgeous day like Sunday, is BEAUTIFUL when light hits the gold on top) and the Vendrome, which was right beside the hotel.

On the walk to the hotel was a classic “Why on earth did they assign Sam Taylor to this project?” moment. Every bar and restaurant did have soccer on, but I noticed the letter abbreviations for the teams playing were “ANG” and “ALL.” I was pissed, and I actually said to myself, “I can’t believe they are so bitter about not making the knockout round that they are showing club soccer vs. the World Cup.” Only later did it occur to me that THEY SPEAK FRENCH IN FRANCE, and those WOULD BE the abbreviations in French for England and Germany. Yep, you can take the boy outta the country…

I met Brother Bill, and we caught the second half of the England – Germany match. Let’s just say I’m glad that I only had to endure the second half, as it was DONKEY TRASH. The highlight was the hotel bar, as it was STRAIGHT UP Old School French – red velvet wall paper, the classic crown molding. Posh, but “I’m on the Orient Express to catch my train before boarding the QE2 for Sydney” style posh. Just give me some peanuts and a sawdust floor and I’m good. Oh, and Fat Tire – can a brother please get some Fat Tire?

Dinner that night was at a local brasserie, and it was tasty. We then rolled over to the Oz Bar, and UBER-CHEESY French version of the Walkabout, to watch the Argentina-Mexico match. Dean – you would have been so proud. I walk up to the bar (drank Toohey’s, btw) to order and the Aussie gal behind the bar says to the other bartender, “It’s a @#$#ing Australian Bar – I’m GOING to speak English. If they don’t @#$#ing like it, they can go somewhere else.” Just promise me that won’t be Charlotte in 16 years…

On Monday I got up early and went for a run along the Seine. It was truly FANTASTIC, as the weather was great, and a 4.25 loop takes you past some INCREDIBLE sights. I ran through the Tulerie Gardens, past the Louvre, along the river (saw the Eiffel Tower on the run back), and the Notre Dame. It felt SO GOOD, and it was just GREAT to get out and stretch my legs. Unfortunately, my feet and tendons have been sore for the last 2 days, but honestly, - that run was worth it.

The work day was great (Hitman – check out Padre and I HARD at work – I realize you can’t see the clock, but it was like 11 PM – I promise - I mean, just LOOK at us in action!), and we got a real treat at lunch. We walked over to the Architecture Museum, where there is a cafĂ© with an outdoor terrace. Let’s just say the picture below of a certain landmark pretty much tells you everything about the view…

Dinner that night was a O’Sullivans (YES, another expat bar). I know it sounds kitsch, but this place was GREAT. We had TV’s all around us, they had chicken wings (still not US style, but I’ve abandoned that crusade), the Carlsberg was cold, and all was right with the world.

Tuesday was another great day – I was VERY proud of all we knocked off during out time in Paris, but this day was definitely the best. As for lunch, here’s a laugh for all you cats in Gateway Village suffering with Bytes cafeteria. The following is what you can expect to find every day at the canteen of the French office:

WINE. BOTTLES AND BOTTLES OF WINE (and NO, I didn’t partake)
A Cheese bar. Seriously – I did get into this. It was all SO fresh and SO GUUUUD (super peppy cheekies).
6 different made-to-order stations. And this aren’t “scoop up your General’s chicken” kind of stations. These are “if it’s not fresh or prepared to your liking the rest of the folks in line can wait while I make it right” kind of stations. AWESOME. I highly recommend the Tuna…

After work, we celebrated by knocking off my final “foodie” must do in Paris – tartare. Okay, seriously, Puffin and I had tried this in London, and it was a small amount, fairly well spiced, and just enough. When you order it in France, however, YOU GET A CAN OF ALPO. Let me see if I can do this moment justice:

The plate comes out, and it’s a burger - we are talking at least half a pound of precooked weight.
There are enough peppers, onions, and even horseradish sauce to kill a small horse.
It is MARBLED with fat.
That @#$# is RAW. It is in the shape of a pattie, but you KNOW you are like Mad Max beyond Thunderdome and eating dog food.

I was able to get through about 2/3’s of it, but I didn’t feel right the rest of the night. In fact, I was lightheaded and pretty sure I wouldn’t see the sunrise. Perhaps that’s why I was awake until almost 3 AM last night.

Today was a good day, wrapping up the work and taking the Eurostar back. And now is the best part of the entire trip – BEING BACK HOME WITH WIFE MUFFIN!!!!!! No more work travel in the foreseeable future, and that is MUSIC TO MY EARS.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. We’re caught up! Chat tomorrow!


Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Catch-up Blog #3: And so, here endeth EMEAC...

And a good evening to you again from Paris, where the weather is about 14 BILLION degrees, but no complaints here. If anything, I'm trying to soak up every SECOND of it, as I'm sure it's probably negative THIRTY in London. But anyhoo, I owe you all a catch-up blog!
Okay, so when I last left you, the achy-breaky Taylors had arrived back in London Euston, where there said farewell to the ladies and then went him for some guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud curry (the Doot, of course!). We got in bed at a decent hour because I knew that I needed my rest (and so did my liver). After all - this week was the Knowledge Transfer Summit, and was had TONS to do.
So for those of you not familiar with our project methodology (if you're not you're a better person for it), the Knowledge Transfer week is important for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, it's a chance to improve our management styles and documentation for future projects by discussing what worked well and what didn't. Equally as important, however, this session traditionally signifies the official end to the project as folks move onto their next jobs or implementations. For that reason, it is a happy yet somewhat sad time, as you realize that the folks you've lived in a foxhole with for the better part of 2 years will soon be leaving you, and the work that you have enjoyed and truly found a rhythm with will soon be gone, replaced by new activities with a new cast of characters. With all this in mind, there was a mental pact amongst the group - MAKE IT COUNT. I am happy to report that we succeeded in this mission.
For starters, Monday was the first of 4 great days of sessions. And in the evening, Puffin and I got a chance to hang with Tout Suitte, Old School Cool, and Q (that would be Debbie Martin - she's officially inherited a new nickname) at this GREAT Belgian Beer Cafe called (appropriately enough) "The Lowlander." Determined to actually MAKE IT THROUGH DINNER this time, I stuck to half pints vs. going tall and ordering Mardesous Triples...I think it was a good call.
It was great to catch-up with everyone, and our livers thanked us for not staying out until late that evening. After all - it's a marathon - not a sprint.
On Tuesday, the sessions went great, and then the evening saw the first of 2 treats - a reception at the Churchill Cabinet War Rooms. Simply put - this was AWESOME. For starters, we had the museum to ourselves AFTER IT WAS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. Being a history buff, this was pretty much a dream come true. I'd actually been there in 2006, but it's DEFINITELY a place that deserves more than one visit.
The highlight of the event was actually being able to VISIT THE CABINET ROOM!!!! We had a great tour guide who gave us a quick history of the place whilst we stood in the war room where Churchill himself conducted his meetings. And whilst this photo pretty much shows the extend of my "Heathrow Injection," I simply had to include it, as that is Churchill's chair that I'm standing beside - AMAZING!
Dinner that night was the Mango Tree, where I ate curry out of a pineapple boat. Yep - you can't hide culture.
Wednesday was the biggest day of the week, as we had an off-site to complete the sessions. The day was simply PERFECT - great food, AMAZING views (we had the 31st floor of a tower in CENTRAL LONDON, and it was a PERFECT day), good times with the game, and talk about a THRILLING VICTORY FOR TEAM U-S-A, baby!!!! The Brits had a viewing section and the Colonists had a viewing section, so it was really fun to hear the cheers (and jeers) between the two groups. For the group's sake - I'm glad that both got through.
And btw - Lisa Tavares - I KNOW that you love chairs. In fact, the entire project team knows that you love chairs, particularly chairs that no one sits in. However, should you find it necessary to purchase another chair for the Tavares household, Old School Cool Brother Ray HIGHLY recommends the one he found at the Paramount Club.
The evening was capped off with a GREAT dinner, the traditional Sam Taylor Transition Poem, and chatting with friends whilst watching the sun go down and the lights come on all over London. All in all, it was a PERFECT day.

Thursday was another busy one, and we ended it the only way it could ultimately go down: Final pints at the Cat & Canary, followed by a final dinner at La Figa. Once those 2 things were complete, all was right with the world (it was almost Six Sigma it was so perfect).
And so, after more than 18 months of work, countless emails and meetings, about 40,000 miles in the air (for me alone - some folks are over 200K), tons of documents, 59,000 communications reviews, 14,000 signoffs on documentation, 15,000 Change Controls, and who knows what else, here endeth the EMEAC project. However, life doesn't slow down for anyone, as the rest of the International Transition projects anxiously await our focus. And so I say, "Once more to the breach, dear friends. Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war..."
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny

Catch-up Blog #2: Tackling an English to-do: Scafell Pike...


And a good evening to you from the City of Lights. That's right, Sammy's in ole' Perrie!!! I'm here for the next few days with work, and so expect some random shots from France before it's all said and done.
Okay, last time I left you, we were in real time and had just recounted a Saturday with the Tacy clan. Today, however, we’re going back in time to last weekend, a truly PERFECT 3 days in the North of England that showed me a side of this great country that I NEVER knew existed. I am speaking of the Lakes District, and of and adventure that had been calling to Jenny and I for over 3 years – Scafell Pike.

So back story – puffin and I have been trying to get to the Lakes District (a National Park in England) since 2007. However, between schedules, timing, and everything else, we hadn’t been able to make it a reality. But FINALLY in February of this year, we found a date that worked for everyone and booked tickets to Penrith – the gateway to the Lakes.

The problem with booking 4 months in advance, however, is a rather basic one – IT’S TOO FAR IN ADVANCE TO PICK YOUR SEATS. What does this mean? Nothing if you’re traveling to somewhere like Bromley, but it means EVERYTHING if you’re on an over-crowded trip to the Lakes. So yes, for the first 15 minutes of a THREE AND A HALF HOUR JOURNEY, Muffin, Yazz, and Sammy were wedged into a convenient but less than sanitary spot – the floor beside the toilet.

Luck proved to be on our side, however, as suddenly the conductor appeared and told us that he’d “de-classed” First Class (I’m sure those who paid for tix LOVED that). Consequently, check us out in the lap of luxury for the remainder of the trip!

We arrived on time, where we were greeted by Lady Catherine. Whilst sporting a dodgy knee due to a recent hiking injury, Cath was in great spirits and whisked us over to Keswick, where we checked into our Bed and Breakfast – The Dollywaggon. That’s right, folks – Sam Taylor staying with SIX GIRLS in a B & B called THE DOLLYWAGGON. If that’s not code for “Sam’s on a bender weekend in a brothel,” I don’t know what is. But seriously – it was all on the up and up (just like Target’s new label).

Actually, one component of this joint was REALLY up and up. Jenny and I were on the top floor (read: ATTIC), and our bathroom was a converted closet. This wouldn’t have been a problem save for the RIDICULOUS STEP UP TO GET TO THE TOILET. Basically, this one design flaw ensured I wouldn’t drink too much in the evening, as it made the bathroom a DEATH TRAP. Good times…

We rolled over to a sports bar called Sweeney’s ( I SO wish it would have been called Selwyn’s), where we had a few pints and enjoyed the AMAZING weather. After that, it was down to the boat dock, where we booked a cruise around Derwent Water and caught a glimpse of one of the two peaks we’d make a go at during the weekend – Catbells.

The sun, the breeze, the company – it was all just PERFECT. We’d heard from EVERYONE that the Peaks District was beautiful but WET constantly. Some folks had been there 6-7 times and had never had ANYTHING but rain. However, the rumor is that, on the 20 days a year when it’s sunny, it’s truly STUNNING. I am pleased to report that we had 3 days of EXACTLY that.

But more than just the weather, it was great to have a “country” holiday. Normally Jenny and I do “city” breaks, with an outdoor activity here or there to balance it out. In truth, our last big “outdoor” break had been Costa Rica in October of 2008, so this was WELL overdue.

We met the girls later on and rolled back to Sweeney’s, where we had GREAT seats on the couch and watched England vs. Algeria. And whilst it was, without a doubt, the WORST game of the World Cup so far, it was a GREAT evening, especially with all the Italian we had later at Casabella’s (we had to carb up for the next day!).

Saturday was, in no uncertain terms, AMAZING. We started the day with a delicious full English brekkie, and we set out around 11:30 to tackle England’s highest peak: Scafell Pike (elevation 2,823 – but don’t laugh if you’re an American – just keep reading, as this hike was NO JOKE). And so began one of THE BEST days I’ve had in a LONG time.

For starters, the owner of the B & B offered to show us a “short cut” to the mountain. Well, Alison and I (lead car driver and navigator) assumed this meant “I will take you to the peak.” However, what it really meant was “I will take you to a roundabout in the middle of nowhere, point a direction, and abandon you to the wolves.” And so here we are, with Alison driving and me navigating using a map that has NO LANDMARKS OR TOWNS ON IT. I am confused by the fact that, on the map we have, Scafell is something like FOUR THOUSAND MILES AWAY. This, coupled with Alison’s announcement that: “I’m out of petrol and I don’t expect to find a petrol station anytime soon.” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat.

However, once we pull over, trade maps with Cath, and then get back on the road, we find the trail head no problem. And so begins the half mile walk from the parking lot to the trail head. As you mentally prepare yourself, let me give you the summit team (as they appear from left in the photo):

1. Sarah – perhaps THE FITTEST PERSON ON EARTH – just back from Ecuador (this gal hadn’t run in 2 months and did a 12 MILE RUN THE DAY AFTER THIS HIKE – Really? REALLY?)
2. Lady Catharine – the architect of the trip and the pride of Manchester and Sydney law firms
3. Jenny (not muffin puffin) – Training for Kilimanjaro and fresh off a week of work in Cairo and Madrid

4. Muffin Puffin – the hottest girl in the United Kingdom – especially in her sexy hiking gear
5. Yazz – Desperate to find Elvis (or a boy from Memphis at least), she was hoping one of those studly 3 Peaks hikers was rockin’ Blue Suede Shoes…
6. Alison – henceforth known as the BULLET – this gal walks 5 miles to and from work every day and hikes on weekends – she is pretty much .00001% body fat and is probably part Mountain Lion
7. Sammy (not in photo) – I’m pretty sure you know how I am by now. If you are a new reader, consult any of the 235 posts to your right.

So, a little bit about hiking in England:

THERE ARE NO SIGNS. You get a map with trails on it, but other than that you get NOTHING. Seriously – this was as close to off piste hiking as I’d ever been, and it was truly exhilarating.
Don’t let the sunshine fool you – IT WILL BE WINDY AS HELL.
Peaks are lower, but all hikes START A SEA LEVEL AND GO STRAIGHT UP. Seriously – this climb was like the last 2 hours of Pike’s Peak, only lower. I am NOT joking.

The entire hike took 8 hours and 15 minutes, including stopping for photos, lunch, and a break at the top. And while I’m at it, the view from the top – AMAZING. We could see the Ocean and even the Isle of Man! It was INSANE! It just couldn’t have been more perfect – fresh air, fellowship, GREAT views, a tasty lunch, and a challenging walk to burn off some upcoming beer calories. How does life get any better?

Granted, there were a few “rough patches” a long the way, like the time we COMPLETELY lost our way until we saw arrows carved into a rock. Basically, the arrow told us that we either had to a) base jump to our deaths down the side of a cliff or b) climb straight up an Eiger-style cliff face. It was at this point that Yazz says to us: “Guys, this could be a bit of a problem. I have vertigo.” Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet…

But we did get through it, and we treated ourselves with a DELICIOUS meal at the local Indian joint – The Royal Bengal. I have no lie to tell – Kingfisher NEVER tasted better – nor did a BRILLIANT (and flamingly hot) curry. SO GUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).

We sacked out at Midnight (it was light until 11) – new born babies don’t sleep this well.

On Sunday we got up, had another AMAZING breakfast, and then wandered around the CUTE little city for a bit before heading down to the water and taking the ferry across the lake to tackle our second hike – Catbells.

Now, a little bit about this hike: Catharine told us that this was “a VERY easy hike that 4 year olds and grandmothers could do. It’s the hike for families.” I’m going to tell you right now – unless your grandmother is also an Ironman Triathlete or your 4 year old does the Appalachian Trail every year, you should NOT take them up this hill.

Cath’s description of the hike when from “just 10 strenuous minutes” to “steady for an hour” to “it’s really a 3 mile hike round trip.” And whilst we got to the top in just over an hour, it was STRAIGHT UP. That thing was almost as bad as Scafell!

But we did it and even got down in time to cruise around the river a final time, taking in the sights and the PERFECT weather. We also got to make Sweeney’s a final time (seriously – they had Carlsberg AND an outdoor beer garden – what more do you want?) for a couple of pints before driving back to Penrith and hopping on the train, where we treated ourselves to First Class Upgrades (‘cause that’s how we rooooooooooooll”).

As I sit here typing this, I am still smiling thinking about that trip. I hearken back to a shirt that Dad and Alice once bought me from Claytor Lake State Park, upon which is printed a quote from John Muir: “The Mountains are calling and I must go.” I do love city life, no question about that. But weekends like this one remind me that there is always a piece of this country boy that will be staring off into the distance, looking at or imagining the lofty peaks just beyond the horizon. And eventually, I have a feeling that those peaks will get the better of me, their call will be too great, and Jenny and I will follow their song, wherever they may lead.

Lovely ladies, it was SUCH AN AMAZING TRIP. I had SUCH a blast being one of the girls, and I sincerely do want to thank each of you for allowing me to come along and be part of such a perfect weekend with you.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow for the next catch-up blog – I’m getting there!


Sam and (somewhere on the Thames back from Greenwich) Jenny

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Real-time post: A scorching day and a battle for the USA...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, at the risk of turning the blog into something akin to a "Lost" episode, I'm going to by-pass a few catch-up blogs and give you a real time update tonight from today's festivities. And whilst they don't necessarily have a thriling ending, it was a good day all the same.

So we woke up about 10:30 this morning with the plan of taking showers, drinking coffee, and waiting for the Tacy's (lofty goals, I know). However, we'd been awake for about 90 seconds when the doorbell rang, announcing the return of Bob and Jan. Since I was shower bound, I was BUTT NAKED, but luckily I found a pair of 14 year old hole-filled boxers and opened the door. As always, I'm sure I looked HOT (but for the record - no one called me fat today - although I'm sure a lot of you are thinking it...).

We sat around chatting until about 1, at which point we went to Regent's Park to look at the Rose Gardens. Let me say it again - REAL MEN LOVE GENETICALLY ALTERED FLOWERS. THE CRAFT HAS MERIT (props to Schill dog for the original permutation of that joke). I can confirm that the flowers were beautiful, and we strolled around the gardens for a bit, taking in the sunshine.

After that we hopped the Tube down to Piccadilly Circus. We then walked through Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Garden before settling in for the evening featured activity: WORLD CUP. We rolled over to the Porterhouse, where we sat with some Irish Guys and watched Uruguay vs. South Korea. The game was great, but it wasn't nearly as entertaining as Bob Tacy's best 3 comments of the day:

1. "Hey - we just got back from Ireland! We drove the Ring of Fire." (They cackle and then start singing Johnny Cash.)

2. "Hey - is your friend gone? Because I really want his seat since it has a back." (The friend returns about 4 seconds later, but they let Bob keep the seat. However, they do say, "Well, mate - it's your round." Bob was somewhat confused...)

3. "You know - soccer would be a lot more interesting if they would remove the goal keepers." (There was no response to this - nor should there have been.)

It was a great match, and props to both sides for a good game. We then rolled back to Marylebone, where I went to the Masons Arms for the first half of the USA match. Puffin and her folks joined me, but when they learned they didn't serve food on Saturdays, they went back to the flat. I watched the first half there and the second half back home, and I type this knowing that Africa is ALIVE with dancing whilst we are going home. However, props to the US squad, as they fought hard and, in my opinion, put up a good showing.

Tomorrow it's off to Paris for me, but on the train I'll type up catch-up blog #2. It won't have the great photos until I get home, but I want to ensure you guys get caught up in the lives of Mr. & Mrs. Assignee 47.

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

Sam and Jenny

Friday, 25 June 2010

Catch-up Blog #1: Open Air Theatre and farewell to a friend...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. Okay, so first off -I know that I've been off the grid for a week. I am sure Tom Price summed up all of your feelings when he wrote me an untitled email yesterday that said only, "Footy Frenzy in Frankfurt is getting old." To the rest of my loyal readership, I offer a profound apology. To Tom Price I simply say, "Go shave your legs."

So, since plenty has transpired, I feel it best to divide the updates into segments. Therefore tonight's blog wil focus on last Wednesday and Thursday, each of which had an activity. And so, without further ado, the humble bard will attempt to reclaim favor in each of your eyes as he begins with catchup blog #1, filled with a new experience and the end of an era.

Wednesday was a good day, but the highlight came after work, as we got a chance to be part of, as Carolyn Jones would say, "A true London experience" - the Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park. Simply put - this was something that had been on our list for awhile, and so we were THRILLED to go. I am happy to report that it did NOT disappoint. In fact, it was AMAZING.

We showed up about 7:45, only to learn that we had seats on the FRONT ROW (because, like the Wild Card, that's how I roll). In truth, I wish we'd been a bit further from the stage, as our row was actually a wee bit below it. That being said, with the exception of the first 5 minutes, it was an AMAZING seat and allowed us to see just how talented these performers were.

We saw Arthur Miller's "The Crucible," and it was simply FABULOUS. It was interesting to watch a show (our second) where EVERYONE performed with an American accent, but they did it FLAWLESSLY. The energy and pace of the show was brilliant (and necessary since it was 3 hours long), and it was SO COOL to watch the sun slowly set late in the day around the theater. In truth, it complemented the show well, as it took a dark turn in line with the sky fading to pitch black (simply BRILLIANT choreography). We walked out of there at 11 PM envigorated by the experience (partly because of the performance and partly because it was cold as HELL sitting there for 3 hours. That's right -it's JUNE in this country as well...), and we are DEFINITELY planning to go back. We got home just before midnight, at which point we PASSED OUT.

And as a side note - the Roses are finally in bloom!!!! After months of waiting (and no, I'm not gay), the roses are in full bloom and BEAUTIFUL! Check out Muffin Puffin taking time to stop and smell the roses...literally.

Thursday was another great day, and we rolled over to the Cat & Canary for pints (which was good) and a farewell (which was sad). That's right, ladies and gentlemen - after 3 years of keeping Comp & Bens in the good graces of the church, brother Mike Branca is repatriating back to Charlotte. Knowing it will be (at least) 6 months before we see him again, Owain, Muffin, Lord, Mike, and I went out for pints at the Music Factory to celebrate all the good times. After (more than enough) pints at the C & C, we rolled over to Srinam for a farewell curry, and it was guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).

Now's a good time to tell you that I'm starting a new metric - it's called the "Today Sam was called fat metric." Since I've had about 10 people tell me that I'm a first cousin to Porky Pig in the last week, I've decided to test the metric and see if it increases as I get fatter and fatter. It almost feels like a cross between a middle school science project and the movie "Super Size Me." I'm not fat - I'm big boned! And to quote Mirza - "Tanned fat is muscle!!!"

Mike - best of luck, brother. I hope that the Queen City treats you and your family well. Enjoy the new addition to the home (woof, woof)!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow for Catch-up Blog #2!


Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Footy Frenzy in Frankfurt...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off - how cute is my wife? Not one, but TWO blogs for the Readership Faithful. Thanks, muffin! You are the best wife EVER!

Second - There will be NO BLOG until Monday night, 21 June. Why, you ask? Because the Taylors are TAKING ON THE LAKE DISTRICT, BABY!!!! That's right - bring on Scafell Pike!
Third - Welcome Ashley Hardee! The triple F (Frankfurt Friends Forever) Society is pleased to welcome you into the fold.

Okay, so in the spirit of muffin's recaps, I wanted to give you the run down on my time in Frankfurt am Main.
So I arrived at 12:15 on Sunday and hopped a cab from the airport. I rattle off what little German I know, and the cabbie nods. Two minutes later, he takes the on-ramp onto the freeway, and 30 seconds later my stomach is in my throat and my teeth are behind my ears. Why, you ask? Well, the guy's doing 160 km/hr and rising because HE'S ON THE AUTOBAHN. Yeah, I forgot that was up here. Oops. But once I got over the shock, talk about AWESOME. HAIR ON FIRE!!!!! (and no, Old School - we're not talking Heat Miser style - more like Maverick and Goose).

I checked into the hotel, realized I was fat as a damn bear, and went for a run along the river. I gotta tell you, while I would never tell folks to visit Frankfurt over some other cities in that country (which is rapidly becoming my favorite on the continent, btw), this city was BEAUTIFUL. Filled with squares, water, trees, and AMAZING skyscrapers (it was the first city in Germany to allow skyscrapers), it really is a gem of a city.

Frankfurt was LEVELED during World War II, but it has since built back in grand fashion. The skyscrapers were simply GORGEOUS, as was the Old Square. Seriously - Frankfurt is what I thought Dubai would be - a super clean city with amazing sky scrapers reflecting light off a blisteringly blue, clear sky.

I logged 4 miles before meeting up with a colleague (and Canuck) - Brother Bill Muise (aka Padre). We rolled down to the Kia Outdoor Arena, where we were SURROUNDED by Serbs and Ghanans for the upcoming World Cup match. We watched the first half there (CRAZY) and then caught the second half in an outdoor bar, where we drank Binding (local brew) and ate...well, you guessed - FRANKFURTERS. It was a classic moment when I realized I was eating the "original" hot dog. Good times. But don't worry, Hitman - we were FOCUSED on the task at hand...sort of.

We strolled back to Kia Arena (these outdoor venues had been popular since 2006 when Germany hosted the World Cup) for the highlight of the day - Germany vs. Australia. Simply put - WHAT A PARTY. We arrived 2.5 hours early, and the place was CRAZY! Picture 11,000 Germans sprechening Deutsch and waving flags whilst consuming GREAT beer and eating TONS of brats (I had 2). The place was heaving, and EVERYONE was covered in Germany gear. Even I got into the spirit when a woman with the face paint smeared the stuff across my lips - who says World War II enemies can't make up?
Germany handled the Socceroo's easily (4-0), and we stumbled back to the hotel, where I PASSED OUT. I woke up the next morning like a shot, but I couldn't bring myself to run. Instead, I went to teh gym and tried to lift until I started sweating booze bullets (yep, Matt - it was the DT's) and had to get outside for air. Consequently, I walked 40 minutes, thinking the whole time that I'd grown 4 sizes overnight.

The workday was GREAT, especially the part when one of our German teammates said to me, "I'm assuming you want to watch the World Cup - it's on a huge screen outside if you'd like for lunch?" 10 minutes later, I am sitting in the sun on a PERFECT day, chilling at a table, eating 2 brats and kartoffelsalat, watching footy on a HUGE jumbo tron in RESERVED SEATS, drinking a BEER. Yes, ladies and gentlemen - in that moment, all was right with the world.
Dinner that night was AWESOME. I told Ash and Bill: "All I want is a salad." I settled for PORK KNUCKLE WITH FRIED SKIN (aka a lifetime's worth of saturated fat). Throw in a few beers, and you have a recipe for a guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud night.
I got up on Tuesday and ran 4 miles along the water. It felt SO perfect, and I managed to NOT feel big as a house. That didn't last long, however, as we spent lunch on the lawn AGAIN watching footy and eating brats. Hey, I can think of no other way to preserve this gorgeous specimen that is my stomach, can you?

The highlight of the workday was when we visited the Merrill office and got a free visit TO THE 54TH FLOOR VIEWING PLATFORM!!! This is normally not allowed, but given that we were "special guests," they made an exception. The day was perfect, and the view was AWESOME!

Dinner that night was a classic experience. As always, we sat down with menus we couldn't totally translate and tried to find something we could eat. This night there was "Flammekuchen" on the menu. Ashley (who speaks some German as well) asked me what that was, to which I replied, "I think it's an open faced sandwich." Well, as fate would have it - IT'S NOT AN OPEN FACED SANDWICH. It's actually a skinny-ass pizza covered in cheese and meat, and so we got 3 of them. Needless to say Ashley cackled when the waitress corrected me. I think her quote was, "Boy, I'm sure glad I didn't get the exotic open faced sandwich..." FUNNY GIRL!!!!!! SERENITY NOW!!!!!

We caught World Cup every single night, even catching (during a walk home) the amazing Italy corner vs. Paraguay. And whilst the match of the tournament is still Spain vs. Switzerland, I simply must hand it to the boys from North Korea. True, their leader is a TOTAL DONKEY, but those boys played hard against soccer's patriarch - Brazil. Full marks...even if your flag does look like the Texaco logo.

Wednesday was up early and an easy ride to the Airport, where I caught a Luftansa flight home. All in all, a PERFECT (and exceptionally high calorie) trip that I absolutely LOVED. I simply can't say enough good things about Germany - good times.

I know that I owe you a blog from Wednesday and tonight, and true to form plenty did happen. However, that will have to wait until after the Lakes, as I still need to pack and it's growing late (those 6 beer I had tonight didn't help - but at least I got the glass!).

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

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Ireland Part 2

Hello Family & Friends - Well, I am thankful to report that the rest of our Ireland adventure was not so dramatic and life threatening. :) Tuesday we awoke to another amazing breakfast and set out toward the Talbert car ferry enroute to the Cliffs of Moher. The ferry across was only about 20 minutes and very beautiful, not raining yet. The roads today were also a lot better, still narrow but not quite like yesterday. We got to the cliffs in a few hours and explored, then hit up Doolin where we did a cave tour and saw the world's largest stalactite open to the public, 2nd largest in the world (1st is in Brazil apparently.) I wasn't expecting much but this was actually a really cool sight to see!

After that we drove up along the coast through The Burren, which I personally thought was a more beautiful (and safer) drive then the Ring of Kerry. We got out to walk a few times and take in the scenery of the rugged coastline. We drove a bit more along the coast before finally arriving in Salthill, just outside Galway. We picked the night they were having a huge music festival and 5k, so traffic was scary, but we did finally make it and set out straight for the pub for dinner.

Wednesday we decided our key activity would be Bunratty Castle, down near Limerick where we were staying that night. I did not want to be in the car all day. We arrived in 90 minutes (after our Irish breakfast of course) and explored the main tower that they had refurbished and reconstructed as it might have looked in the 16th century. After that we wandered through the folk town they had set up mimicking what a farming town in Ireland would have looked like back in the day. It was neat and we spent a good 3 hours there. We checked into our B&B earlier than normal, had some tea & coffee, and then went out for our pub dinner. A Guinness was had and my mom & I split an amazing burger!

Thursday we awoke and had, you guessed it, an amazing full Irish brekkie, before setting out to Blarney Castle. We did the tour of the Blarney House which is this mansion on the grounds that people actually still live in. Then we did the Blarney Castle and of course kissed the Blarney Stone to give us eloquent speech. (You can let me know if it worked later.) We spent about 3 hours here before heading into Cork for a bit before heading into the airport. I managed to park the tank in a parking garage, squeezing through many tight corridors of concrete (barely) and we walked around Cork and along the river. My dad had no faith in my sense of direction and did not believe we were walking back the correct way because he didn't think we'd walked that far. I assured him I was pretty sure it was just up a bit on the right. Still not convinced, he stopped a random girl and asked her if there were 2 rivers in Cork. OMG! Mom and I kept walking with our heads down and then low and behold 5 minutes later we were there! (I just shake my head.)
We finally make it to the airport with lots of time to spare, and the relief I feel upon handing over the keys is immeasurable. It was a great trip and Ireland is gorgeous, but I am very glad to be home and not driving anymore. Mom & Dad, I hope you had fun! Sorry about the small hiccup with the car, but at least we made our insurance count! I love you and hope you are having a wonderful time on your cruise. See you in a few weeks back in London!

Jenny and (somewhere in Frankfurt eating a brat) Sam

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Ireland Part 1

Hello Family - As promised, here is Part 1 of 2 of our Ireland adventures last week. We left on Sunday, same day as Sam set off to Amsterdam. It was a smooth flight on Ryanair, and despite what Sam says, we all thought they were great. We arrived on time, it was cheap and we got lucky and ended up in row 5! We arrived in Cork and then proceeded to get our rental car, which was a tank! I had tried to get the smallest automatic that we could and we ended up with a Honda SUV similar to a CR-V (can't remember the exact model but it was huge.) So I was a bit nervous setting off, but we made it to Killarney without too much drama, except we hit town right as a Gaelic football match was letting out between County Cork and Kerry and it was a madhouse. I thought I'd lost a mirror a few times but luckily we were ok. We checked into our B&B and then walked across the street for our 1st pub dinner and my 1st Guinness of the trip. (It does taste better in Ireland!)

Monday we awoke to a torrential downpour outside, and the weather forecast for the next 3 days was the same. DARN! I guess we are in Ireland but we were hoping for better. We had our amazing Irish breakfast and set out enroute to Muckross House. We arrived and did a horsedrawn carriage ride up to the house and to the Muckross Waterfall. It was raining just a bit, but gorgeous scenery, and it was the 1st time I'd ever done a carriage ride. Very fun!

Then it was time for the main event of the day, the Ring of Kerry. This is a scenic drive around one of the southwest peninsulas and I'd been warned how narrow the roads were but nothing could have prepared me for this, esp not in the monster we were driving. Not 30 minutes into it, a huge coach got the better of me, and being well over the line onto my side, I swerved and went off the road into a ditch scraping up the entire left side of the car on a fence post sticking out. This caused the passenger door to not open completely and we had mud stuck in every possible inch of the tires and door panels. Hmmmm, this is not how I drew it up. So mom and dad were now confined to the backseat and I was their chauffeur for the rest of the trip. Nice!

Moving on (a bit shaky) we continued along the ring, stopping at lookouts and little walks along the way, but it was hard to enjoy because I was so nervous about driving. The speed limit on these roads was a constant 100 kph, and I was only able to do about 50. Insanity! We decided to take a coffee break at this cute little town called Waterville. The sun had come out so things were looking up. We chose a cute cafe and got coffee and cakes, and as my dad is chewing, something suddenly crunches in his mouth. It turns out to be a large shard of glass! At first I didn't believe it could be glass but it was. We alerted the owner and he did some investigating, and turns out it was a piece of the bottom of the jam jar that had somehow broken off as he was making the cake. It fit perfectly in the jar he dug out of the trash. How is that possible, the one piece of cake that my dad chose from the huge pan had this glass in it. Today is DEFN not shaping up to be that great. Not sure what else could happen, but I just wanted to get to our next B&B in Tralee.

So we continue on and the last hour or so of the trip is done in pouring rain, I can barely see. FINALLY we get to our B&B and the nice owners drop us off in town at a pub for dinner. I have a couple Smithwicks and am finally starting to relax. Back at the B&B that night the owners invite us for a drink and are literally shocked that my parents don't drink anything. They keep trying to offer them wine or whiskey but to no avail. "Nothing at all?" they say. I however take them up on the offer and Kay will not let my glass become empty. I LOVE the Irish. See mom and dad, Sam and I really aren't alcoholics. We are the norm. :) We ended up chatting with them until almost midnight. My dad and Dan for the record spent the entire time talking Gaelic and American football, we're talking almost 2 hrs here. I was amazed. Finally we hit the sack after a super stressful 1st day. I'm honestly just relieved I didn't kill anyone. I pray that it can only get better from here.
Jenny and (somewhere in Frankfurt in a sea of Germans cheering on Germany in the World Cup...yes, he has left me again) :(

Saturday, 12 June 2010

World Cup Fever, BABY!!!!

And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off - 3 little letters for all you out there: U-S-A!!! U-S-A!!! Word Cup Fever has taken over the Taylor household, baby! OH, YEAH!
So yesterday was a good one - I got a run in outside (PERFECT running weather) and logged 4 miles on about an 8:30 pace. I was struggling a bit, but all in all I was pleased with the effort. I did take today off, but no complaints - I needed a day off. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight...
So after work Jenny, Brother Morgan, Steve Ray, and I all rolled over to the Fine Line (the Music Factory was HEAVING) to watch the World Cup opener. We watched South Africa and Mexico, and then I continued throwing 'em back as a) Jenny left to meet her folks, b) Owain his marriage at risk by staying for 1 more, c) Steve got loosened up for leaving drinks at another bar, and d) I GOT BLOODY HAMMERED. Seriously - I was so loose by the time I got on the tube that I thought I was going to THROW UP because of the constant rocking. Yes - I am VERY sophisticated individual.
All the same, I rolled up to the Mason's Arms to eat some Thai (thanks, puffin!) and watch Uruguay draw France in the second match of the World Cup. After that, it was back to the palace, where I PAAAAAAAAAAAASSED out. Good times...
Today we woke up bout 9 AM, had a cup of coffee with Jan, and then led the Tacy family to Waterloo Station, where Bob and Jan started their 2 week, 9 country cruise! SO COOL!!!! We put them on Platform 9 to Southampton, and then we rolled to the featured destination of the day - BOROUGH MARKET, BABY!!!! It's been 2 months - time for some RIDICULOUS calorie consumption!
It was a PERFECT day weather wise, so we walked to the markets and queued for the double chorizo sandwich, followed by some green curry and drunken cheese (ubriaco). It was a quick spin through the market, but MAN did we make it count. DELISH!
After that, we walked over to the Anchor and then across the Wibbly Wobbly Walkway (and saw this dude doing some CRAZY artwork outsid St. Pauls - he's been at this FOUR WEEKS!) before crossing off another of the London to-do's - WE HIT THE KIWI BAR!!!! Seriously - JT and I have been wanting to hit this place called "The Southerner" for about 4 months, and today we checked it out. T-Bone & Wild Wallaby - you would have LOVED it - they had Speight's and Steinlager on draft, and EVERYONE in there was a Kiwi or an Aussie except us. It was GREAT, and we got to watch some Rugby Union and World Cup whilst drinking Gold Medal Ale and the new Alpine Summer Lager (that was easily the best brew). The guy did find it quite hilarious that I'd been to the brewery in Dunedin - T-bone - you would have been so proud.
After that, we walked toward the casa, but we ended up rocking the Tower Tavern for drinks and tonight's match with England. SERIOUSLY - a draw with the Mother Country is a WIN for us, and I am NOT complaining. I'm really just happier we didn't get stabbed.
We're now back at the flat, where we're cooking up a pizza. And mom - we're eating the cheese from Volendam! MAN is it good! The goat's cheese - LIFE CHANGING. Seriously - don't fret about the pesto - those 3 cheeses rock the party that rocks the pinata.

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

Friday, 11 June 2010

A rare philisophical moment from Sammy...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. If the readership will permit me (like you really have a choice), I will wax a bit emotional on this one, as today was an interesting one for me emotionally and mentally.

For starters, I woke up feeling lonely. Now granted, I hadn't seen my wife in 5 days and I'd just said goodbye to my mother after 4 AMAZING days in Amsterdam, but I think it was more than just the separation. I realized as I said goodbye to mum at Piccadilly Circus on Wed night that, for really the first time ever - I wasn't the person leaving. This time - I was the person left behind. It's hard to describe, but there is an emotional difference between the two. When you leave, you are going to your next (hopefully exciting) destination. When you are left, you simply return to normalcy (if there is such a thing for an expat), only without the person or people that had just brought you so much happiness. Couple that with the fact that I had no one to return home to, and it just wasn't a pleasant evening.

As I walked home down Regent Street last night, walked to the Tube this morning, and even got my jog in at lunch (25:15 for a 5K - I was pleased), I found myself thinking about the natural order of things and how, eventually, you mentally and emotionally know when it's time to do something and where you need to go next. I think that is the inertia that a new expat never sees through all the excitement, but someone who's been abroad longer starts to appreciate. It's not that I am not loving this experience, because I absolutely am. I can say without hesitation that these past 12 months have been among the best (if not the best) of my entire life, and I expect the next 6 to even surpass the previous year as we truly make a final effort to take it all in and enjoy every second. However, I have realized that, when December arrives, I will be ready to go home and try to find my place as an American again. It's more than the chicken wings, the Mountain Dew, College Football Saturdays, or even family. It's all that plus the fact that, once you're abroad, you realize that America truly does have a "culture," and it's one that I now appreciate and love a lot more. That is another reason this experience has been invaluable - I know see a lot of things in a different light, and I feel truly blessed for that new found insight.

I will say that the day absolutely rallied in the evening, as I met Kat, Fiona, and Lynda (Sam's Angels) for drinks at Waxy O'Conner's (KJ - tell me you're not proud). I went here with the team back in April, but I had NO IDEA how big that place is! We're talking 5 floors, with a bloody TREE in the center of the place - INSANITY. And I did try Carlsberg Export - that stuff is guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...

From there it was over to the Mint Leaf, where we ate a DELICIOUS meal (Puma - you would have been so proud) before getting a night cap at The Imperial (Hitman - finally got that Doombar I was after - guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud). We then said bye and I walked home, where I WAS REUNITED WITH MUFFIN PUFFIN!!!!!!! Her and the family were back from the Emerald Isle, where they have some GREAT stories (but you'll have to wait for her blog to hear them - that's right - Guest blogs from Mrs. Assignee 47 coming soon!).

It was so good to hug my baby again, and in that moment I had another (and don't worry - final) revelation about the natural ebb and flow of emotion. When the day had started, I felt like a guy spinning in space, alone in a big city with nothing but a beer gut and a hangover for company (melodramatic, I know). By the evening, however, I was back with my soul mate, had caught up with friends, and was rejuvenated from some exercise and a nice walk. So Thursday wasn't really all about closing doors and opening windows, but it was definitely one of those moments when you can almost feel God giving you the nudge, saying, "Don't worry, brother - it always works out. Just trust me." And I gotta admit - He sure hasn't failed me so far...

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


Sam and Jenny (REUNITED!!!!!!!!!)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Ending on a (SUPER) high note: 2 PERFECT days with mum...


And a good evening to you from across the Pond after another GREAT DAY in the Mother Country. First off - apologies for no blog last night. And now, it wasn't because mom wanted to see the Red Light District again - it was because we were simply having too much fun and our time was too precious to take the hour required for the commentary. However, as mom rolls back down the Piccadilly line to Heathrow and I sit here alone and lonely in my flat, I have the time required to cover off the last 36 hours, all of which were FANTASTIC.

So the work day was good - I got out and about for a little walk at lunch but settled for Subway again since it was by the office. I wanted a beer so bad, but I knew I'd be asleep at 3 PM if I imbibed. Consequently, I settled for a second straight 6 inch spicy Italian (that's what she said).
After work, mom and I braved the deluge (but I did get SOAKED) and visited the Van Gogh Museum, which was AWESOME. Seriously - we only had 1 hour, but it was SO WORTH IT. I've never been a big Van Gogh (pronounced - Van Gohghuh apparently - crazy Dutch people...) fan, but this museum was MIND-BLOWING and made me a HUGE fan now. Honestly, after this experience, I want to go back to the Dam again - something I honestly NEVER thought I'd say before last Sunday.

After the museum, we rolled over to Rembrandtplatz again, where I followed Shogun and Hitman advice and tried Ijskoud Amstel. Fellas, I gotta be honest - HEINEKEN IS WAAAAAAAAY BETTER. Hitman did say that, but Riegel - this was a rare moment of dissention in our beer camp. Meditate on this, I must...

In fact, I was craving a Heineken so bad that we went BACK to the place from the night before, where I had 3 more (Old School - if you thought I was in trouble last night, you should have seen Taylor in action. If they'd had the "Tazewell Tornado" here, my life might have been over) before heading to dinner at...wait for it...wait for it...HARD ROCK CAFE, BABY!!!! Okay, okay - I know it might be cheesy. But dude - their ribs might have been the best of my entire life (other than House of Ribs in Johnson City, TN - "Let's Go Toppers!"), and I have NO REGRETS about going there. We had a GREAT table overlooking the water, and it was just plain fun to hear some American music and eat American food. It really was a nice slice of home.

After that, we walked home, where we got mom checked in on another BA flight whilst I made myself a HEALTHY Bailey's on the rocks (a guy beside me actually laughed - I don't think he'd ever seen a Bailey's glass so full that the ice actually floats on top - I'm just ahead of my time really...) along with some Port. We then went upstairs and watched Bad Boys and cackled until we fell asleep.

We got up at 6:30 AM this morning, and I went down for brekkie whilst mom slept. She was OUT, and her sentences when she got up were much like someone conducting a seance and speaking in reverse English - HILARIOUS. All the same, we got out of there and time, to the airport by 8:15, and then we had to separate for different terminals.

Seriously - Dutch airports - WHAT THE HELL ARE THEY THINKING? You DO NOT go through security UNTIL YOU GET TO THE GATE, at which time you then show your passport FOUR TIMES even though YOU'RE ALREADY IN AN ENCLOSED SPACE AND THERE IS NO WAY YOU COULD HAVE HANDED IT TO SOMEONE ELSE. I'm sure there's a method to the just might involve a little more time in a coffee shop.

However, we both landed safely, and tonight we met at Piccadilly Circus for dinner. I took mum to the Bear and Staff so she could see where I've dropped 35% of my disposable income, only to find that the Timmy Taylor had soured! I handed the pint back in, and they gave me a choice of another. I tried Pitchfork, and it was DONKEY TRASH. So we walked to the Sussex on Long Acre, where we got some GREAT fish and chips and I had better beer. Brew #1 was a Leffe. Brew #2? HEINEKEN. That's right - I am officially a convert.

After that, mom and I walked down to Trafalgar Square, where we spent an hour sitting on the steps and taking in the sights as London slowly transformed into a city of lights. It was a magical hour, and I was constantly vacillating between loving the experience and growing increasingly sad knowing that our time was almost over. I don't remember ever being down at the Square on such a perfect night, watching the lights come on and the city settle down around me. Being there with mom was a perfect memory, and I will keep that image in my heart forever.
After that, we walked back to Piccadilly Circus, where I put mom back on the Tube. Fighting back tears (as it will be 6.5 months before I see her again), I decided it best to go for a long walk down Regent Street to clear my head. The walk did help, and I'm now in good spirits again, but it doesn't change the fact that I'll be sorry to see mom head back to the states.
Mom - it was SO much fun, and I love you so much. Thanks SO MUCH for making the trip over. London, Rome, Amsterdam, London - we've definitely seen some AMAZING things!
Muffin Puffin - be safe on the Emerald Isle, and I'll see you tomorrow. I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!

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

Sam and (just outside Limerick) Jenny