Thursday, 31 March 2011

Day #10: The one with Stonehenge

The Singleton's turned their dials to full tourist mode.  It was big.  Alarm: 6:15 am.  Out the door: 7:30 am. Breakfast: who has the time.  Agenda: London.

The alarm goes off a good 2 hours earlier than any previous day.  But it's ok, cause we have our game faces on.  It's like the scene from Rocky 1- he is running through the streets of Philadelphia training for the biggest fight of his life, he nears the end of his journey and races up the stairs.  We know you are humming, "Gonna Fly Now or Eye of the Tiger," to yourself right's ok, go with it...and he fist pumps the air with total triumph.  Cut and Paste the link below:

This was us as we took on the city.  Ok, we didn't have little british kids following us down the street, but did have to run to the tube as we were late again (ohh, classic Singleton).  What didn't help our situation was that we were trying to catch the tube at 7:45 am during the peak of morning rush hour.  Let us set the scene: We rush down the tube on the LEFT side of the escalator using the passing lane for the first time (bet you didn't know escalators had a passing lane!). We hustled to the platform and await our arriving train. As it arrives, we can quickly tell that each of the passing compartments is already full.  Doors open, no visible room.  Oh, but we make room.  You can kiss your personal space goodbye.  You might as well help your neighbor drink his coffee.  The sardine can that was the Jubilee line headed for our stop at Westminster where we again got to utilize the California style passing lanes as we raced to our connecting train.  These trains weren't quite as packed, but Shayne did encounter a clear, jelly type substance as she grabbed the handrail while boarding the train. Shayne asked herself, "What do I do with this gelatinous goo?" When the girl next to her was exceptionally rude about creating additional space, let's just say we found a perfect landing strip on the back of her right shoulder.

We arrived at the Victoria tube station, and continued our Rocky type assault through the streets of London, as we made our way towards the Victoria Coach station.  We arrived at the terminal just in time to find our bright red, historic double decker bus waiting for our arrival.  We boarded the bus with our guide Danny, and driver Gary, and headed for the streets of London to soak up a great level of base knowledge about our new city.  You really lose a lot when traveling under ground all the time, so we thought we would connect some dots with an above ground tour.  We buzzed past site after site, and made stops at Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's Cathedral, and the Tower of London.  We then boarded a brief Thames River cruise, and sailed under the Tower Bridge, Millenium Bridge, and the pathetic replica of the London Bridge (who's original now sits in the lovely tourist destination of Lake Havasu, USA).  Back on the bus we went, for more sites and stops at St. James' Palace & Buckingham Palace, the changing of the guards, and we saw the big preparations being set up for the Royal Wedding on April 29th.  Coolest location of the day: The building used for Grigott's bank in the Harry Potter movies (Jake disagrees!) We took in a great amount of fun facts from the city, but unfortunately not many of them have stuck with us just yet.  One day at a time.

After our whirl wind of a morning (yes, all of that was before noon), we headed back to the Victoria Coach Station to catch our bus towards the world famous Stonehenge.  We travelled by coach for about 2 hours towards the town of Salisbury on the outskirts of London.  We made a brief stop off on our way out of town to pick up the remaining 10 guests on our tour.  They board the bus, and we immediately hear amazing mid-western accents being thrown all over the place.  As they had to wait in the rain for about 40 minutes prior to their pick up, let's just say these were not happy campers.  As we get on our way, we overhear the woman in front of us complaining about her frizzy hair made worse by the rain.  She goes on to complain that her blow dryer exploded when she plugged it into the convertor and will need to rush to Wal-Mart when they get home.  Jake immediately hits Shayne on the arm, and she sympathizes with the woman's plight.  We strike up a conversation and they begin to discuss the many benefits of the Chi-brand hair straightener.  Neither have felt comfortable using such a fine product with improper voltage.  In the words of Kristy Keith, "Once you go Chi, you never go back!"
We quickly come to realize that in addition to her hair struggles, they are having a hard time coping without the luxuries of 'Sonic' ice, fountain soda, and the luxuries of American fast food.  Something tells us that our friends from small town Missouri won't be making the trek back across the pond anytime soon.  She and Shayne did however, enjoy watching each other's hair grow larger by the minute in the misty weather!  This would have been a great day for a 'pocket Chi.'

Our Rocky race continued as we pulled up to Stonehenge.
Back story:
* 5,000 years old
* Engineering phenomenon
* Acts as a prehistoric calendar
* Works as an astrological tracking device
* Ancient burial ground
* Used as a worship site for religious practices throughout history
* Totally and completely marvelous

This is one of those places you watch documentary after documentary about (well...that might just be us!) and never imagine it as a place you will go.  When you walk up to his breathtaking site, you know you are standing on history.  It is really a hard thing to put into words.  It left us both literally speechless.

We journeyed back with our friends from Missouri and discussed the nuances about British vs American  life.  We laughed about the adventures to come and ended the day back at the Libertine for a pint and pizza.

We might not have ended the day in the boxing arena, but we certainly did Mr. Balboa proud.

Lessons Learned:  Wear deodorant on the tube when traveling during rush hour and carry Wet One's in your bag at all times.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Day #9: The one with the cultural confusion

The day started with the search for a great little cafe for a decent cup of coffee (no the instant coffee & whitener is not doing the trick!), and a quick breakfast.  We were envisioning a sidewalk cafe, tiny tables, and little cappuccino cups - you know the scene - but, we quickly realized it was Paris we were dreaming about.  What started as a simple search led to a lazy stroll through a new part of town.  We headed up the southbank a little further, as we made our way past Waterloo station and towards the Thames.  We weren't quite seeing the little Parisian type coffee bar we were hoping to find, so we just kept heading down the road.  We eventually rounded the bend, and staring us in the face was the enormous and beautiful Westminster Palace!  It doesn't matter how many times you see it, it's grandeur never seems to fade!  We had a great view of Big Ben from across the river, and of course snapped a few pictures (to be posted soon, promise).  

It started to rain (surprise-surprise) and we watched as all of the tourists in the area sprinted for cover!   We of course had wonderful, brand new umbrellas (Thanks Mama Kim!) at the flat, but had gotten a little spoiled by the amazing weather since we've been here.  Needless to say, we were stuck in the rain without even a newspaper to cover our heads.  We ducked into a little souvenir stand and decided to look around.  Little did we know, we were walking into a Russian tour bus madhouse.  Within seconds, we were surrounded by yelling parents, pushy teens, and children practically ducking under our legs to get to the front of the stand.  Keychains were flying, William and Kate statue replicas were being scooped up by the handful, and bears dressed as palace guards were getting dropped into puddles.  What a zoo!  It was like being in a park with a bag of birdseed.  You throw out a handful and find yourself knee deep in pigeons each climbing over each other to get a piece of the action.  

We got out while we could!  By this time we were closer to brunch than breakfast and finally settled for a restaurant between the biggest tourist attractions in all of London (not our finest decision!)  We ate breakfast in a place that was clearly 'culturally confused!'  In an effort to accommodate the masses, this place had huevos rancheros, full English breakfasts, massive cheeseburgers, and sushi.  While we ate our eggs, beans, and salty pork product (or 'BAM' affectionally coined by us because of it's similarity to both bacon and ham) we listened to the wonderful spanish stylings of the Gypsy Kings.  OH YEAH - they did have our coffee....and tea, horchata, or saki (depending on your cultural needs).  

By the time we were done, the sun had come out so we headed for The Eye.  Up we went to take in the incredible views from the 443 ft. ferris wheel.  After that we strolled down the wharf, watched professional sandcastle sculptors (yes they have sand here!), and the closest thing we've seen to Rob Dyrdek's posse.  Under the National Theater, 20 some BMX/skaters turned and twisted up the ramps and tried not to hit their heads on the low ceiling - wicked!  Before long we looked at our watches and the panic set in.  We were an hour away from where we needed to be for our appointment with our potential landlord and had only 30 minutes until the meeting started!  We Forest Gumped our rear ends toward the nearest tube station.  

With sweat dripping down our backs we finally got on the train and hoped for the best!  What do you know....we encountered 'poor service,' delays, and even a completely stopped train claiming there was a 'red signal error!'  Did we mention we didn't get cell service?  Fantastic.  You all know the feeling - you have somewhere to be and the time it takes to get there feels like years have gone by.  Well, we finally made it about 20 minutes late (CLASSIC SINGLETON!) and found our potential new landlord, Paul, to be a delight!  We sat down for a brief interview and midday way through, were interrupted by his assistant offering refreshments of biscuits, cakes, and baklava - we were in the middle of our first English/Greek tea party and the mix of cultural confusion continued.  At the end of the meeting, we were informed that our housing confirmation was waiting on our credit check from the states.  Paul invited us to lunch on Friday and we took that as a good sign!  

So after walking 4 miles, running one, stalled trains, and culturally confused dining experiences we decided to bring it on back to the classic pint.  We found a new little pub called The Libertine and, what do you know, we were just in time for happy hour.  Some things really do come together - Cheers!

Lesson Learned:  Bring umbrellas (even if the sun is out), don't dine near the two largest tourist destinations, and never turn down Greek-lish tea and crumpets.  

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Days #8: The one with the fish and chips!

For the last week, our mission has been to find London's BEST fish and chips! When we got up this morning we decided our day would be dedicated to laundry and fish. Let us tell you...both easier said than done :) Laundry started like this: separate piles into color categories and place a pile in the wash. Laundry continued like this: break each pile into three sub-piles because our original piles were too big to fit in the washer that is located next to our refrigerator. Laundry commenced like this: wash each sub-pile three times each because we couldn't figure out how to dry the clothes and every time we tried, the wash would start again and the door would lock. And so the cycle continued - no pun intended!

The laundry was enough to completely stress us out so we decided to just 'put the detergent down!' and place our efforts into a more worthwhile! Since arriving last week, we have been surveying the fish and chip variety that the brits are so famous for. Here are the categories we have noticed:
1. Sign outside of local pub that says, "Best fish and chips in all of England!" and the people eating there are American, Canadian, or in some sad cases, the restaurant is vacant. Little red flag going up here...if it's the best in all of England, where are the british people?
2. Pub on the corner has no sign at all and you are thinking this is a good. Dark and dirty pub full of locals probably = great fish and chips! WRONG! They bring out a plate with mashed peas and a perfect little square that looks like a Friday's brand mozzarella stick that you would buy in the frozen food section of Von's! We aren't dissing the fried cheese, but we certainly don't want to mistake our fish for it!
3. You walk into the Tesco Express (cross between Trader Joe's, Von's, and a gas station convenience store) and pick out a box that says, 'Fried cod, microwave for 30 seconds on high.'

We needed to locate the fish and chips to write home about. So we turned to our friend, the computer, and googled "the best fish and chips in London." Believe it or not, number three on the list from was located a mere mile away from our front door. With a smile on our faces we set off down to road to Master Super Fish (true story!)

Let us set the stage: We walk into a shoe box and find 50 british people crammed in little tables covered in plastic linoleum table clothes. There is a table full of men, each weighing 450 pounds plus, and on the walls are dollar bills from all over the world...WINNER, WINNER, FRIED FISH DINNER! And they did not let us down. For 8 pounds each we feasted on complementary prawn cocktail (including eyes and legs - HA!), fish that was shaped like fish and deep fried in the most incredible melt-in-your-mouth batter, and chips that were not served in a Ruffle's potato chip bag. Rest assured, when you come to visit, you too will be visiting the Master Super Fish.

Laundry lesson learned: Each wash/dry cycle can take over three and a half hours if you do it properly. If you do it our way, a t-shirt and 3 pairs of under-roo's (is that british or australian?) can take over 9 hours.

Lesson Learned: Wear scrubby clothes to the Super Fish. You leave the place smelling like fish and grease and, as stated above, you will not be washing your clothes anytime soon!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Day #7: The one with the open mic

Another leisurely day for the Singleton's.  Jake was very exited to have woken up 'before noon', only to realize that daylight savings time had arrived, and he actually rolled out of bed at the brisk hour of 13:00.  This isn't exactly helping our 'morning ritual'.  This gave Shayne a nice amount of time to read and enjoy her tea.  Yes, that's right...she had tea this morning.  So very British of her.  {Side note:  For all of you Harry Potter/Twilight/Hunger Game fans out there, try out 'A Discovery of Witches'.  It's a page turner and totally awesome. (per one Shayne Singleton).}

We got out the door and headed to the tube station only to find that half the tubes in the greater London area were closed for "engineering works" - said in your best British accent.  While we are on the subject of British accents, here's a "Mind the Gap," for you!  While we thought it was tricky to find the Saatchi Gallery to begin with, this construction project made for quite the roundabout journey.  We are talking 3 tube transfers, STUFFED metro cars, and the constant thought of picking up our train companion's common household diseases.  Literally, every turn of a corner brought caution tape and the need for a new route - awesome.  So after all of this, we ended up walking over a mile to get to the entrance of the incredible Saatchi Gallery of Contemporary Art.  For all of you shoppers out there - the Chelsea area shopping is jaw dropping...Prada, Coco Chanel, Hugo Boss, and 15 other amazing designer labels!  We actually saw Bentley's, Ferrari's, and Porsche's galore!

So, into the Saatchi we went.  Sidenote: You will be happy to know that the camera malfunction issue was a product of the dollar store batteries and the issue has been resolved with the purchase of Duracell Ultras.  Hint, Hint - AA Batteries...great care package gift!  Our day was filled with rousing modern artists of every kind.  Of course modern art brings on its fair share of phallic symbolism, but we were in awe none the less.  The two most wonderful pieces (and mind you there were many more where these came from) were: a) an aquarium filled with bee's, dragonflies, and wasps - normal right - but each was suspended in space and mounted by quarter inch skeletal sculptures and b) a room (literally) filled with oil so pitch black and still that it had the illusion of a mirror.  It was trippy - you could see the ceiling reflected in the pool and you felt like you were in an M.C. Escher tessellation : See links below:

After our few hours spent with the artists of today we journeyed back to the street and regrouped (Suz, that one is for you!) on a stoop out front.  We people watched and pigeon watched and had a laugh about the upscale, museum-front birds vs the lower class ragamuffins clearly visiting on a day trip from Clapham - ie: the wrong side of the tracks.  We decided it was time to enjoy our first fish and chips of the trip.  So....we crossed our fingers, closed our eyes, and hoped for the best while getting on the tube.  All-in-all the trek back home was much less painful than the ride there.

Arriving back in the south bank, we strolled down The Cut in hopes of finding the world's best fish and chips shack.  Little did we kno, Sunday is not a day of work for most of the restaurateurs.  BUT - the pubs were open!!!  We stopped and wet our whistles at a pub that (after examining the photos), we realized, had been around since the turn of the century...the 17th century.  Here is a shout out to old stuff.

Down the road we ventured, after giving up on our deep fried cod, we talked ourselves into a stop off at the Stage Door before heading home to cook.  Well, well, luck would have it, our little local dive bar turns on the spotlight and comes alive every Sunday.  Open mic night it was!  The performers had ten minutes or two songs to share their talents.  Some were the next Colbie Caillat and some were the next Phoebe Buffay.  Either wa, a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday evening.

We ended up back at our flat for another Tesco Express delight and enjoyed sharing our adventures with you all on the blog!

Lesson Learned:  One washing/drying cycle here for a load of whites - 3 hours and 42 minutes.

Day #6: The one where life got normal

This was one of those days where you get up, go about your daily business, get into bed, and think...was I really in London?  The day felt so normal from beginning to end.  Perhaps it was the bread, cheese, and jam that has become such a daily ritual.  It is the Pop Tarts of the 80's, the Lucky Charms of the 90's, and the Starbucks of the 00's.  It's the best part of waking up!  Sorry Folger's, Jam has got you beat!

Our big plan for Saturday night was to see the great American classic: The Goonies (HEY YOU GUYS!!!!!!) at the 'Screen on the Green' theatre right on Upper street.  We decided that this would be a great Saturday adventure due to: (1) The bar being located directly in the rear of the theatre, (2) the availability of premium sofa style seating with full foot rests, and (3) the truffle shuffle (who are we kidding).  For those not familiar with this iconic dance move, please see the attached link (  We looked into the 'Screen on the Green' website online, and were devastated to find out that Brits were actually excited about this classic retro film, and the screening was sold out.  We moped around for a minute or two, picked ourselves up, and quickly decided that either way, a movie was in order.

Before our cinematic adventure, we met our friend Lee at the Borough stop to pick up some important paperwork in the housing process (we took this as a good sign toward securing the flat!).  We hopped on the tube and headed to Angel/Islington (we love you!) and headed to the Vue movie theatre to purchase our tickets for the 17:40 showing of the 'Adjustment Bureau'.  No we didn't see a crazy Euro independent film...what of it?!?  We purchased the upgraded VIP ticket option, and decided that a stop off at the Angelic pub was in order before our Matt Damon fix (said in best Boston accent).  Speaking of Boston accents, we're the fighters here...not you, not you, and not you!  In the Angelic pub we happened to catch the annual sporting spectacle of Oxford vs. Cambridge crew.  This was the 157th rowing of the competition, and you will be happy to know the boys of Oxford brought home their 8th win since the turn of the century.  We of course, raised a glass in triumph.

We headed off to the cinema, and enjoyed our spacious luxury leather seating for the movie.  We were especially thrilled to realize that (a) they have pretty much a full bar at this theatre as well, and (b) the movie theatre popcorn is somewhat similar to the states.  Just with more of a salted dryness, as opposed to buttery coating.  The movie was more romantic than expected, so + for Shayne, - for Jake.  But overall, a good film.  Worth checking out, if you are in the mood for a good romantic-suspense-drama-thriller (coined by J&S Inc, all rights reserved).  We left the theatre and headed back to the South Bank for a relaxing evening.

We stopped at the local Tesco Express for a few dinner supplies, and came back to the flat for a home cooked meal, and a game of cards.  We put on the iTunes, and danced our way through the cooking process, and thoroughly enjoyed our first meal in the flat; however, steamed vegetables with butter sauce, seem to take on an oddly vinegary feel here, and should not be consumed unless there is some sort of apocalyptic tragedy (avoid at all costs!).  Our night ended with an online viewing (thank you CBS and your March Madness On Demand feed) of the Arizona Wildcats in the Elite Eight.  We screamed, we yelled, we covered our eyes, and cried.  It was a classic cardiac cats game, and we were sad to see the last three pointer clank off the rim.  All and all, a pretty normal day in the life of the Singleton's.

We would like to take this opportunity to offer all the UofA Wildcat fans out there a personal moment of silence in remembrance of a great Wildcats season.  Not bad for a 'rebuilding year'.

Lesson(s) learned: Book your retro night movie tickets early.  Those Goonies go fast.  And also, the Wildcat losses aren't any easier across the pond.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Day #5 - The One with the Batteries

Please note:  All entries not specified by {Shayne's post} or [Jake's post] are written by both Shayne and Jake.  My lovely wife wanted me to mention that :)

Friday March 25th started like any other in the Singleton household.  And by household, we mean temporary corporate flat accommodations in a completely different country.  The alarm blares at the chipper hour of 07:45.  For those of you that have been following along, that's not quite our usual wake up time these days.  In the efforts to secure our flat in Angel/Islington area we had to wire a holding deposit to our good friends at the estate agency as soon as possible, which in this case was bank opening at 08:30.  In the states, we would have stayed in our pajamas, hopped in the car, and deposited the money in a drive thru ATM.  Might have even stopped at a 24 hour mexican place, for a delicious breakfast burrito (let's be honest); still without leaving our car.  In this case, we needed to take the 'extraordinary' measures of bathing and brushing our teeth, as the bank is located in the highly concentrated business district, which is about a mile and half from our flat.  With the deposit safely wired, we headed home for the usual morning routine.  That's right ladies and gentlemen, cheese, bread, and you guessed it...jam.  But hey, here's a wrinkle for you.  Be actually toasted the bread without setting off the smoke alarms.  Win!  OK, not a huge wrinkle, but we did expand our cheese repertoire to both soft delicious french heaven, as well as a delightful camembert wedge.  Yes, KJoy we know camembert is your personal favorite :)

We were still a little tired, so we decided to have some more coffee and catch up on a little light TV.  What we thought was going to be a interesting documentary on a English footballer (that's soccer player), ended up to be an hour long special on the first german WWII P.O.W to win the English footballer of the year award.  So after an hour of Hitler youth, war camps, and the unending struggle between post war germany and the rest of the European community we got into a discussion about how much of their TV here is dominated by historical reflection.  Only then did we realize we were watching a channel called "Yesterday: Where the past is always present".  Maybe it's time to change the channel, put the box of cleanex away, and head out into the city for a little touristy fun.

To the Tate Museum of Modern Art we went.  Not exactly a puppy dogs & candy canes type venue, but at least we got to work on our shapes and colors (any fans of Mondrian's work out there?).  As many of you have requested that we add pictures to the blog, we decided to bust out the trusty Canon camera to document our trip.  We noted the batteries were getting low during our last week in San Diego, so we added a few additional sets of AA batteries into the carrying case as a backup.  Sure enough, we were able to take about 3 pictures before our first set of batteries kicked the bucket.  "Good think we have 12 more" Jake says.  We proceed to change out the batteries and begin our next photo shoot, only to realize there is already a 'low battery' indicator light flashing on the camera.  We are able to take about 2 pictures  before it died.  Except this time, Jake is standing on the opposite side of a massive instillation piece called 'Sunflowers' by Ai Weiwei (which is made up of 100 million porcelain hand crafted sunflower seed replicas - see link below).  So as Shayne is attempting to take the shot, and requesting a pose (1,2,3...go), each time, as she goes to snap the image, the camera dies again.  So we rendezvous for a quick battery change, and take up our respective positions across the instillation.  And so the dance begins.  We spent the next 2 hours changing out batteries, sometimes all, sometimes just 1 or 2...with only 2 or 3 pictures to show for it each time.  We are really hoping that it's the cheap dollar store batteries as opposed to our expensive camera that is causing the problem.  More high quality AA batteries needed.  Shayne would like to add here her favorite quote of the day:
At one point Jake decides to replace all 4 batteries and diligently searches through our stash to match a complete set of all the same brand AA's.  When he saw the inquisitive look I was giving him he says, "I think they might work better as a team!"  Perfect!

We finish our time at the Tate with the purchase of a souvenir refrigerator magnet, and head back out towards the Thames.  We cross the millennium bridge, towards St Paul's Cathedral and figure it's probably a good time to rest the feet.  What better to place to rest, than in a local pub we think.  So we start the trek back to Southwark and stumble across the Mad Hatter pub.  We, of course, select this as our establishment of choice.  While it wasn't exactly an 'Alice in Wonderland' theme, it was enough to spark some Disneyland Paris commentary, and some reflection on our Vin de Syrah adventures in San Diego.  I was just happy not to be in a head to toe Cheshire Cat costume this time around.  We had a couple rounds and took in the local culture, and then decided it was time to get some dinner.  Before vacating the facility we knew photos would be needed to document the find.  So here we go again - 'one, two, thr....dead camera!' It basically became a game of how quickly one could power one, point and shoot!  Not sure we actually captured the sign we were going for (with the dead batteries we didn't want to turn on the camera to see what we shot), but we will make sure to post whatever images we can salvage.

We made our way back to 'The Cut' in Southwark, and settled on an italian restaurant called Paradiso Olivelli.  Jake had the 'Americana Picante' pizza with pepperoni & jalepenos (that one's for you Mike Braund), and Shayne had the pasta carbonara with pancetta and a great cream sauce.  We were seated in the very center of the restaurant, about 12 inches from our neighbors, but it was great to be right in the middle of a true cafe type environment.  The people watching was great, and we enjoyed the conversation over a bottle of house vino.

We headed home to catch up on the blog, and plan the next days adventures.  More to come I'm sure.  Hopefully with a more operational camera.  Pictures coming soon.

Lesson(s) learned: There's a rousing special on Victorian English farm living on the Yesterday channel tomorrow.  Comes on at 10:00am though, not sure we will be up.  Might have to set the alarm again.

Day light savings time begins here on Sunday March 27th.  We will spring forward +1:00 hour.  This makes us between 5 and 8 hours ahead of the US (depending on which coast you are on).  

Ai Weiwei - Sunflower Seeds

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Day #4 - The one with the Flat

Wouldn't you know it, the Singleton's decided to set their first alarm clock in the UK.  Holy crap, why is there a piercing noise blaring in our ears at 9:00am.  Not cool, little black glowing clock, not cool.  We had to get up because the maintenance man was coming to fix our shower (which we broke), and teach us how to use our washing machine (which we couldn't operate). The day started like most other days, breakfast (bread, cheese, jam) and coffee...only it was 4 hours earlier. Well let's just say, we weren't quite ready to hit the town just yet.  We putzed, we blogged, we journaled...all the things you can do when you don't have to worry about going to work.

We hit the housing trail around 11:00am, with a quick jaunt to the Northern line at Borough station, and arrived at the Angel tube station bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to find our dream flat.  For those of you not familiar with the area, the Angel street tube stop exits almost directly onto Upper Street.  There are a ton of shops, bars, pubs, restaurants, etc that line the street.  It's a happening place, even midday on a work week.  We popped into a few estate agency offices, and were quickly informed that they all had a few 'great flats for us' a mere 5 tube stops away, and just outside the neighborhood we had specifically targeted.  With broken hearts, we begrudgingly called the one phone number from (London's craigslist), and asked if the flat we saw on the website earlier that morning was still available for viewing.  A lovely man, with a classic British accent (surprisingly enough) answered, and said he was in the area, and we could come see it right away.  After three additional phone calls, we finally honed in on the specific location he was trying to relay (in his 'British English').

REWIND:  A few nights ago, as you recall, we encountered a flash mob opera on this very street (Upper St.).  On the way home we had a pretty good feeling this might be the neighborhood for us.  Jake whipped out the trusty moleskin map (thank you Heidi!), found the closest intersection, and marked the map as a potential return destination.

FAST FORWARD (to present):  Three sets of directions in, we have finally decided to consult our trusty moleskin map.  We open it up, use our finger to trace along Upper Street, find the intersection we need, and stop dead in our tracks.  The flat we have called about, is literally...X marks the spot.  If grandmothers are reading, turn away...HOLY SHIT, we said! You've got to be kidding.  Divine intervention...we certainly think so.

So we find #24 Almeida Street, and out walks Lee, our new best friend.  Turns out, there's not one, but two flats available in the same building.  Both for under our desired price point.  Chime in the angel chorus!!!  HALLELUJAH!!!  We do a quick walk through of each one.

Positives for Flat #1 (downstairs/basement unit):
Larger living space, refrigerator that did not resemble the Hilton in-room mini bar, bedroom that could fit both Shayne and I at the same time, breakfast nook, private entrance, additional outside storage, larger bathroom.

Positives for Flat #2 (upper/groundfloor unit):
Large completely private garden in the back, quaint living room with fireplace & mantle (negatives - smelled like dated parisian rug store, bedroom would have contained a 1 in 1 out policy, daily entrance to bathroom would have been postponed for a couple weeks as we hit the gym for a few crunches (to clarify, it was a little narrow), total fridge capacity - one 6 pack of mini coke cans (a la, the kind you buy your hyperactive child, because you don't want them to have that much sugar) and an airplane sized bottle of booze)

Needless to say, as tempting as the private garden was, we opted for the dual living space.  The downstairs flat isn't huge, but it's got just enough room to have a visitor or two (wink, wink!).  We talked up our man Lee, to get the logistics on how to secure the property.  We quickly scooted home to submit our base level information/offer for the property, and are currently waiting to hear back from the landlord if our offer has been accepted, and our references have checked out.  Here's hoping.  If you are of the prayer warrior variety, mount up...if you are of the lucky horseshoe variety...let's bust out the trusty rabbits foot, and keep those fingers crossed.

We ended the night, with a trip to the local Tesco Express (which is a slightly larger market), and our second trip to the Culture Grub chinese restaurant.  We enjoyed our take away (yes, that's what they call take out) back at the Webber St flat, and watched a delightful episode of Friends.  You'd be surprised just how much American television has infiltrated over here.  So here's to Ross & Rachel, and a little slice of home.

Lesson(s) Learned:  An outside private garden doesn't hold as much weight here, as they only have 18 sunny days a year.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Day #3 - The one with all the tube rides

We slept in again today, waking up around 12:30ish.  We fixed the coffee situation, and now realize that coffee whitener (coffee mate light was a good find) is way better than the butter cream.  Sat down for a breakfast of toast/jam & cheese, and figured we'd give the toaster a whirl.  A couple minutes later the smoke alarms are sounding, and we realize we are sitting in a cloud of smoke.  Needless to say, we did not eat the hockey puck french baguette pieces.  We'll keep a better eye on the super toaster tomorrow morning.  We cleaned up, and started to get ready for the day, and quickly realized we had managed to break the shower (which was no longer draining).  One heck of a morning for the Singleton's.  So one maintenance call later, we are out the door.

We met with our first estate agent who happens to share the building here on Webber St.  These are basically apartment brokers that are set up in each neighborhood.  We got some great initial info on how to tackle the house hunt, and we were on our way to explore various neighborhoods throughout the city.   We headed to the 'closest' tube station to our flat, and of course got lost on the way.  Not the 'closest' station if you take a couple wrong turns.  Alas, we arrived at Borough Station on the Northern line, and headed south to the Clapham area (exit Clapham Common).  We took in the local fare, and strolled around a nice little park, as the weather was again gorgeous (probably close to 60 degrees and sunny).  We are still convinced that London is trying to trick us into staying with this beautiful weather.  In the end, Clapham (or at least this part of Clapham) was not for us, and we hopped back on the Northern line back into the city.

We transferred to the Victoria line at Stockwell station, accidentally got off at the Pimlico station.  Got back on the same train 4 minutes later, and then transferred to the Circle line at Victoria station (you still with me?!?).  On the circle line we were greeted by a father and son combo that had just raided the local snack kiosk.  I'm so happy they had the worst chewing etiquette of all time.  Mouths gaping open, with unheard of smacking noises (so glad the little boy decided to shove all 14 pieces of his pink taffy in his mouth at the same time).  Almost to the point where we had to get up and change seats.  We figured it was a little early in our adventure to call out the local Brits on their table manners.

We took the circle line to Notting Hill Gate station, and took in the pricey suburban neighborhood of Notting Hill.  Amazing little neighborhoods, where we quickly realized we were slightly out of a price range.  And by slightly, I mean incredibly out of our price range.  So we bought some postcards, and headed on down the road.  No we did not see Hugh Grant or Julia Roberts, but there were quite a few blue doors.  We hopped on the Central line at Notting Hill Gate to the Bond Street station, where we transferred to Jubilee Line up to St John Wood station.  If we thought we were out of our price range in Notting Hill, then we just getting started.  We found a residence for sale in the St John Wood area for 39 million pounds.  We strolled down High Street, and took in all the ritzy shops and cafes.  Definitely felt like the Rodeo Drive of London so far.  We stopped by the Lord's cricket grounds, to (a) try to figure  just how one plays the sport of cricket, and (b) to figure out what the huge floating egg shaped sky box was all about.  Apparently they hosted the 1999 Cricket World Cup there, and needed more space for the press/diplomats.  We determined St John Wood would be a great lunch destination when we have guests, but again out of the everyday budget.

We started to realize more and more that the Islington/Angel area was probably going to be the best fit for us.  Tons of nightlife (pubs, restaurants, etc.) and it felt like a very safe neighborhood.  We will definitely head back towards that area tomorrow to meet with more estate agents.  Keep your fingers crossed that a great little one bedroom is on the market for less than 350 GBP per week.  

From St John Wood we boarded the Jubilee line and headed south to London Bridge station to meet up with Jake Plumer for the first time.  He gave us a brief tour of the area around our EY office, and we strolled up the River Thames and caught a beautiful view of the Tower Bridge at night.  We caught up over a round of drinks at the Shipwright Arms pub, which is dangerously close to our EY office, and then headed over to the Bermondsey area for dinner.  We ate at a great little pub called Woolpack, and told funny stories about moving across the pond.  It's great to have someone like Jake P. who can relate to our tales.  After dinner we headed down the road to the Barrowboy & Banker pub for one last night cap.  We met a fourth little friend (see shayne's latest post), and made it to last call.  Gotta love that the Pubs shut down on the early side, most closing before 23:00 (11:00pm).  We caught our last tube ride of the day on the Jubilee line from London Bridge Station back to Borough Street, and managed not to get lost on the way home.  It was a jam packed day, or at least it felt jam packed as we really didn't get started until almost 14:00 (2:00pm).  Gotta set the alarm tomorrow, as we head back up to continue the house hunt in Angel/Islington.

Lesson(s) learned:  Definitely need to explore the Oyster Card (all inclusive london transport card) instead of buying a day pass on the tube.  Might be a more economical option.  For those of you counting at home, I think we stopped at 9 different tube stations, on 4 different lines.

The one with the Bar Mouse {Shayne's Post}

So yesterday was another wonderful day!  We tube hopped around the city and checked out a few different areas.  I couple areas were great - of course I loved the 'Del Mar's' of London where we could buy a house for a mere 39,000,000 pounds! - and a few areas were immediately VETOED!  I still love Islington and feel like we will find our new home there.  Last night we got to meet up with Jake P., one of Jake S.'s closest friends from SD Ernst and Young.  We walked around the Tower Bridge area (GORGEOUS at night), saw the EY office (BEAUTIFUL), and went out for some drinks and an amazing dinner (grilled goat cheese - I LOVE you!).  We ended at a little pub called the Barrowboy & Banker Pub.  First off, this was a major deja vu moment.  I swear I was in this part of the city when Chase and I were here a few years ago.  There was a stunning cathedral all smashed between roads and bridges.  I remember trying to find the entrance and attempting to get through all of the roads, cars, and people.  So, we go into the pub and find a table.  Before long Jake says quietly, "You need to turn around, there is a little mouse behind us!"  Sure enough we had a little friend come to visit.  There was the teeny-tiniest little mouse who definitely lived behind the little fire place inside.  He kept running out and running back in.  I kind of figured there was a little mouse world behind that fire place with a tiny bar, tiny pints, and little tiny overstuffed chairs for him to sit it.  I decided to call him Henry and I am sure we will go back and visit soon.

Lesson Learned - Don't leave home without a pea coat! It gets cold here.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The one from the first 48 hours in the UK

After 3 days in Phoenix and 3 in Georgia we boarded our British Airways flight to London!  Our 8 hours in the air was filled with On-Demand movies (so cool!) where we got to choose between HP 7, Love and Other Drugs, The King's Speech, Black Swan, True Grit, and 127 Hours - what a line up!!!  Through customs we went and instead of saying, "We will be here for a week," we had to say, "Well, we are moving"  Our driver (thank you Ernst and Young) took us through a scenic drive of the city and we quickly marveled at Big Ben, Westmister, and Buckingham Palace (and the changing of the guard), through the window of our car.

We arrived at our temporary accommodations in Southwark (Flat 43, MyBase1, 130 Webber Street, London, SE1 0JN) and began the settling in process.  This consisted of an email home, a warm shower, and a 4 hour nap!  We woke in time to head down to 'the cut' (yes, that's the name of one of the main streets) and found a delicious Italian restaurant for our first culinary adventure of the trip.  Luckily we happened to stumble into a beautiful white table cloth establishment, with some amazing true Italian cuisine.  We met our first 'british friend' - a middle aged 40 something from Wales (you have to love how close they seat you next to your fellow diners in Europe).  He informed us of the many ins and outs of the area, and wished us well on our adventures.  After dinner, we headed down the road to our local pub - the Stage Door - where we had a few pints, and read our first English newspaper.  Believe it or not, Britney Spears still makes headlines here as well.  We stopped at our local market on the way home for some 'home supplies', which included a couple of Newcastle beers, Haribo gummy bears (yay!), and Shayne's new love...butterkist popcorn.  We also attempted to get some coffee creamer for our morning coffee, but ended up with something that closely resembles a cross between sour cream & churned butter.  Hey, you live you learn.  More experimenting needed.  We ended our day with a lovely viewing of a great american classic film - Waterworld!  Who doesn't love a good Costner flick.

We arose on Tuesday at the brisk morning hour of 13:00.  For those of you following at home, that's one in the afternoon.  Jake kept waking up, and smiling as Shayne was still a sleeping beauty!  It's not often that she stays in bed past 7:00am.  The day started with a lovely medley of Coffee & Butter cream (note: cup of coffee not finished by either party), a french baguette, apricot jam & some delicious cheese.  After  'brunch' we headed to the local hardware store for our first electrical adapter purchases (more to come we're sure).  We headed back to the flat to square away our finances, and wrote down some google map directions for the jaunt to the bank.  Sure we got lost, but we ended up on the right street eventually, it just might not have been the 'most efficient route'.  We got our UK bank accounts set up (thank you Lisa from NatWest bank!) and boarded the Tube (MIND THE GAP!) for a trip to one of our neighborhood's of interest - Islington/Angel.

Shayne would like to add (in reference to Islington - AMAZING!!!! - We're doing it!!!)

The Islington/Angel area was fantastic.  We walked up and down Upper Street & Liverpool Road, and found some amazing pubs, restaurants, shopping & culture.  We stopped in The Angelic pub for a round, and Shayne found Bulmers Cider on tap!  This is definitely our first choice so far for future living scenarios.  Granted, we've only visited one neighborhood...but trust was a hell of a neighborhood.

Favorite London Moment #1:  Flash Mob opera at the King's Head Pub (Islington, Upper Street, 19:00)  Let us describe further... Sitting in a quaint little pub just off upper street.  Two beers ordered (London Pride & Staropramen).  Pub is packed like a can of sardines.  All of a sudden, a man begins to sing.  Next, a nice young lady (who had just propositioned us to buy used CDs & looked homeless) joined in.  We soon realize, that the majority of patrons who had been drinking around us, were all joining in the musical performance one by one.  We asked ourselves, are we the only ones in here that aren't a part of this performance?!?  Yes, we decided.  Well us, and the drunk homeless man who snuck in for the viewing.  We are in the middle of a Flash Mob Opera.  Unforgettable indeed.

We headed back towards the tube, and caught the northern line to London Bridge station, with a quick transfer to the Jubilee line back home to Southwark.  We headed down 'the cut' to a local place our 'british friend' told us about.  The Culture Grub chinese restaurant.  We are talking, a massive plate of incredible chinese food for all of 5 pounds.  When you come visit, we will probably be taking you here.  Granted again, we have eaten at all of 2 restaurants to date, but both have been fabulous, and this one was an amazing deal.

We are now back in our flat enjoying a Newcastle, a Bulmers, and round two of Butterkist popcorn.  Who knows, maybe Field of Dreams is showing tonight.

Day 2 lesson learned:  Coffee creamer = Coffee Whitener.  No butter coffee tomorrow!