Sunday, June 21, 2009

Back home (for a month or so)

Looking at our pictures from yesterday, I found the urge to blog was still there and thought, "Why not?" Yes, we're home for a bit, but very shortly we'll be back in the UK, so why break the habit.

I was up early yesterday and had some time to work on my drawing class before Tea got up. We decided to continue working on the inventory we'd started the previous evening -- the inventory of our books, music and movies has been done for some time, but now we've finished the furniture, most of the kitchen and some of the electronics. (I still have to take photos of everything too.) Tea dictates and I type; we both feel like we have the easiest job, which works out well.

She's about to have another piece
Then Kae came by for a visit, bearing a gift for our wedding anniversary: a fantastic chocolate cream pie! As you can see from this picture, we're already well into it a day later.

Then the inventory of the kitchen continued, but with the wine flowing now as we looked ahead to our anniversary supper at one of our favourite restaurants, Fiamma, just a short walk away. As you can imagine, our pace diminished -- at some point I started echoing Tea as I typed so she'd realize how far behind I was falling -- 'til Tea gave up entirely and called her sister. The two of them decided to have an interactive opening of the birthday presents Tea'd sent her -- over Skype -- and much hilarity ensued.

Then it was off to Fiamma. Foolishly thinking that the sidewalk was a safe place for a slightly-inebriated person such as myself, in one of those both-zigging-when-one-should-zag situations, I was almost run over by a young man on a barely-coasting bicycle. Thankfully, the rest of the walk was uneventful.

We began the meal with more wine, an anti-pasti tray, and PEI mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce. Yum! Tea had chicken parmesan with fettucine alfredo, and I had linguine pescatore with scallops, squid and more mussels. They really know how to cook pasta at Fiamma, and this time was no exception.

Then it was home for a bit of drunken cribbage. Tea was kickin' my butt all over that half-acre, so I decided to call it a night. At no point did I fall asleep in the middle of a hand -- ah, the advantages of being the blogger/historian.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Map of our London walk

As promised, a map of our walk through London follows, with pictures of us attached to markers along the way. If you'd like to see more pictures of the sights we saw, check out our Days 8 and 9 album.

View Our London walk in a larger map

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day 8: London

As some of you know, Saturday night was a late one for us, making the 1030 coach to Heathrow seem that much earlier. But we made it to the bus station -- walking this time, now that we had the town down -- with plenty of time to spare, and we were in prime tourist form as we arrived at the airport: the hotel hopper wasn't around, so we immediately hailed a taxi to the hotel; we were grabbing the hopper back to Heathrow (and the Underground), having checked in and dropped our bags in the room, as another couple who'd come in from town with us was just getting off it. No moseying for me that day!

Then it was down to the Underground, where we bought day passes -- Heathrow is in Zone 6, so there's no saving money by getting a pass for the core a.k.a. Zone 1 -- grabbed some tube maps and minded the gap as we headed to the city. A little over a half hour later, I had the first of many surreal experiences as we emerged from the Knightsbridge tube station to the sound of a steelpan; combined with the warm weather, I could've sworn we'd just arrived at our first port of call on a Caribbean cruise. It was fantastic!

I'm currently working on a Google map of our walk; I'll embed photos in it, etc. It'll be great. But, as I promised a post within 24 hours of getting home, I'll include a slideshow of our Day 8 and Day 9 photos in the meantime. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Day 7

Well, it was our last full day in Cheltenham. (Note that the posts will be erratic from here on out, as it's our last day of free Wi-Fi too.) We started out right at Gusto, with some fantastic tomato and chickpea soup, followed by anti-pasti trays. We'd bought coffee and a croissant from the shop on the ground floor earlier in the week, but the first floor is a restaurant onto itself -- incidentally, I regularly confuse their use of ground and first to describe first and second floors, even though we often have main and first floors at home; go figure -- with plenty of sunlight pouring in from windows on both sides. Tea particularly enjoyed the Teapigs loose tea bags.

Imperial Gardens
Then it was off to the shopping that Tea had queued up over a week of looking in the windows of closed shops -- Oh, we'll have to come back here on Saturday, she'd say. The town has a different feel on the weekend; particularly on such a sunny Saturday, no doubt: the park in front of the Queen's was full of people, as were the streets and shops.

Some of the shopping highlights included: House of Fraser -- which reminded me of Macy's -- with its £600 suits (no, I didn't buy, or even touch, one); Tea got a fabulous pink handbag (my approximation of what I think she'd write); and Waterstone's, where I got a copy of Seth's It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken; in one of those strange coincidences, I'd read a review of it in The Walrus a few weeks ago, and then, just the other day, I read that very line in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. (I didn't realize that that's where the title came from.) Anyway, that was all the excuse I needed to pick it up.

Inside St Georges Vault
Tea also picked up some shoes at Jones Bootmaker, and admired the dresses in Primark. I ogled a beautiful Davley flask with collapsible shot glass, and then it was time for a break. We ended up at St Georges Vault, which, I have to say, was one of my favourite spots of the trip: the bartenders were really friendly, the locals were entertaining; it was the perfect spot to kick back with a couple of bitters -- we weren't surprised by them being at room temperature thanks to Holly :-) -- and play some cribbage. I won both games and was very reserved in victory, as the photo to the right indicates.

Shon Thong
They don't serve food at St Georges, so we headed out for some sustenance after our second game and round of pints. One of the few recommendations that we hadn't tried up to that point was the Thai restaurant, Shon Thong. We tracked it down without too much difficulty, and enjoyed a great meal that included both hot and sour soup, and green curry (again). Tea preferred the soup, curry and ambiance at Thai Emerald, and I would second two of those: I actually preferred the green curry at Shon Thong, by a nose.

Packing for the trip back to London was looming large in our minds at that point, so we started heading back to the apartment. On the way back to High Street, this terrific amount of yelling and squealing assailed our ears; we turned a corner to see a mob of pink and black undulating in the distance. I immediately started wandering in that direction, at which point Tea said, "Wrong way, Jae;" I was uncharacteristically witty with my, "No, I think this is the way," as I took a last look at the 'stagette' party moving toward us. We passed a group of lads and heard one of them muttering, "Scheisser," as he caught sight of what blocked his path. Godspeed, man.

One final note: it actually brought a lump to my throat to see flowers laid at the foot of the World War I memorial in front of the municipal buildings. It's one thing to see such a display in November, and quite another to see it in June. I really like this town. (If you are interested in looking at more photos from the day, check out our album.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Day 6, Part 3

We settled on a walk through the Pittville Park area of town to build up an appetite for a another night at Everest. It's a beautiful part of town, and the Pittville Pump Room in particular was absolutely spectacular.

We ordered off the menu at Everest this time; Tea ordered the butter chicken, I ordered the balti chicken, and we started with some tandoori chicken. I didn't think I was much of a fan of butter chicken, but their fantastic naan dipped in the butter chicken sauce was a slice of heaven on Earth.

Now, if only I could find a way to stream Game 7 here, I'd be all set.

Day 6, Part 2

And it's a wrap! Everything's been approved and signed. Big relief (for me, anyway; Tea's been a cucumber throughout). Tea then spent the next few hours in shops with cute or trendy names like Frankie Doodle and Pod.

We came back to the apartment for a fry-up of our leftovers from Golden Mountain -- dee-lish -- and we're now planning our evening. Three random facts we exchanged while doing so that might be of interest:
  1. The emergency phone number here is 999;
  2. Clinics are called surgeries here -- and that's a valid definition in the dictionary, believe it or not -- which makes for funny names like Crescent Bakery Surgery (no joke!);
  3. The ingredients list for Maynards Wine Gums includes stinging nettles! Cripes, I didn't even eat those as a kid, and I ate some bizarre stuff from lawns and fields in my day.

Day 6, Part 1: Good news!

We just got word that everything's been approved back home! We're going to the sign the papers shortly. Stay tuned for that "new address" e-mail!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Day 5

Pretty quiet day so far. We had an appointment at the bank this morning, and spent much of the rest of the day anticipating news regarding the approval of the tenancy agreement. Unfortunately, the business day is over here now, and it's just been confirmed that there's still no news. Tomorrow's our last business day here, so we're really hoping for good news in the morning.

High Street
After the bank appointment we went to the Suffolk Arms for a bit of lunch, and then wandered along Bath Street to High Street (and yet more shopping). We spent some time in Marks & Spencer -- which was so much bigger than the shop they had in St. John's for a bit, when I was a kid -- before descending upon what will surely be a favourite haunt of mine: Moss Books.

Our Moss Books purchases
At times I feared for my safety under those precarious precipices of tomes, but, truly, had anything happened, I would've died a happy man. I barely scratched the surface of their collection, and the combination of awe and walks down memory lane -- they have the largest collection of old TSR-era paperbacks that I've seen outside my parents' basement -- still has me shaking my head. I picked up a fantastic copy of Crime and Punishment, and Tea got Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food; the latter is a collection of simple, tasty recipes, and she's particularly excited about the wide range of curries therein.

I'm not sure when my allergies finally forced us out on the road again, but at that point we decided to head across to the street to Frankie & Benny's again, for a proper meal this time. (Tea was intrigued by the menu yesterday.) Tea had the Margherita pizza and I had the sausage and mash.

On the way back to the apartment, we stumbled upon a market of sorts in an alley. We'd been attracted by yelling that put me in the mind of some eastern European auction; sitting here now, I'm still not sure what that guy was selling -- no, Dubya, it wasn't sacks of random meat ;-) -- because the table across the way from him had all these bowls of random fruit, each for a pound! Tea got a bowl of cherries, looking very pleased with herself.

There's a smaller album associated with this day, and I'm gonna try something new: embedding a slideshow on this page. Let me know what you think.

UPDATE: We ordered Chinese food from Golden Mountain and played games -- Fluxx and Ticket To Ride -- 'til 1 a.m. this time. Definitely a pattern emerging.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Day 4

We got an early start of sorts today: board games and wine 'til 2 a.m. (local) -- you'd think we were protesting the time change, with 9 p.m. EST being a perfectly reasonable time for such things.

On O'Neill's patio
I had time to finish The Cider House Rules before Tea was ready to begin Day 4 proper. First up was lunch at O'Neill's: Tea had the two-cheese burger -- with some sort of blue cheese that she really enjoyed -- and I had Guinness fish 'n' chips with mushy peas -- I can see I'm gonna be a big fan of the mushy peas!

The library
Then it was off to a bookstore Tea had heard about called Cooking: The Books; as you might expect, it was packed to the rafters with all manner of cookbooks, and books about food and drink in general. The printed-word trend continued with a stop at the library; not a big branch, per se, but laid out very well, with a good mix of old and new titles (including movies, CDs and comic books -- a.k.a. graphic novels). The facade is under construction right now, and I loved the smell of freshly-cut wood as you entered and left the building.

We then made our way to High Street, and decided to pop in to Starbucks for a pick-me-up as the rain began. (I love the way they assume you're staying in there; nice, big, ceramic mugs too.) A bit of grocery shopping at Tesco and Wilkinson followed, and since the rain was still fairly heavy once we'd finished, we decided to see a movie.

The subtle differences continued when the lady behind the cash asked us whether we'd prefer to sit in the front or the back of the theatre: they assign seats at their cinema! We had an hour to kill before the show -- Last Chance Harvey -- so we headed across the way to Frankie & Benny's for a pint.

Inside the cinema
Our return to the theatre brought new surprises: they serve liquor, for one; and they asked Tea whether she'd like her popcorn sweet or salty. (The latter, of course, silly woman; my girl is nothing if not a salt lova.) The ratings are also very prominent, on both the trailers and the feature. I think they should've had them in front of the ads too: they played one for the Royal Marines that left me thunderstruck -- I think I muttered something along the lines of "f***in' hell..." following it.

An interesting consequence of assigned seating was that hardly anyone showed up before the feature began. Prior to the trailers, it looked like we'd share the theatre with half a dozen couples at most. Halfway through the trailers, the theatre was still half-empty. Then they just started spilling in, and it was about five minutes into the feature before it trickled off, leaving only the first two rows free for the most part. It was refreshing, actually, compared to the line-ups at our multiplexes.

Thai Emerald
We were feeling a bit peckish after the show -- excellent movie, incidentally, as you'd expect of anything that would interest both Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman -- so off we went to Thai Emerald. What an impressive restaurant! Big, banquet-size tables that still manage to feel warm and welcoming; and the food! Oh, the green curry was amazing! Everything was, really. Even the Thai beer, Singha, managed to surprise me, tasting more like a bitter than a lager, and, honest to goodness, reminiscent of Fuller's ESB (which I love). A great cap on the evening, to say the least.

Finally, here's some comic relief from the morning. If you're interested in looking at more photos from the day, check out our Day 4 album -- note that we've had a request for supermarket photos; this isn't some sort of fetish of mine. :-)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 3

From Day 3

We both woke up around 3 a.m. this morning, for no apparent reason. Tea says the time change is kicking our butts. I took some photos just before sunrise -– which is well before 5 a.m. these days, incredibly -– and then went back to sleep with an abandon born of accomplishment; ah, a fine hunt it was.

We took it easy for most of the afternoon as well. The approval process for the tenancy agreement seems to be going well: a few clauses have been modified upon request, and there are no red flags. Should that trend continue, this will all be tied up neatly by Thursday. Tea also spoke with our future landlady, who seems very nice and extremely accommodating.

Then it was time to venture out. We'd learned that Everest Tandoori and Balti House -– an Indian restaurant that came highly recommended –- has a buffet on every Tuesday and Thursday, and so made our way down there. Along the way, Tea decided that we should have a photo contest of sorts. Check out our albums and comment on your favourites:
Day 3 - Tea

Day 3 - Jae

There was still a good ten minutes to opening when we arrived at Everest, and there were a number of couples waiting out front. What followed was a superb meal; the best Indian food we've had. Kingfisher on tap, naan to the table, and the most incredible tandoori chicken. We'll definitely be eating there again before this trip is through.

UPDATE: Just got back from pints at The Bayshill with some friends, and then chatted with family on Skype for an hour. Great fun!

Monday, June 8, 2009


Tea wanted me to post some pictures of the beautiful roses around the town for Nancy -- happy birthday! -- they sure take care of their gardens here!



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Day 2: Success!

A few of our appointments fell through this morning, but we looked at two places. The first place, on Montpellier Spa Road, was a beautiful location, but unfurnished. The second, on Montpellier Terrace, was also an excellent location – tennis courts across the street, no less – and seemingly a better fit for us.

We had lunch at a fabulous sandwich shop called Hot Pepper Jelly. Tea had a mozzarella and prosciutto sandwich with avocado and tomato salsa; pesto and balsamic dip on the side. I had a smoky and spicy BLT.

On the way back to the apartment, I took Tea past the Lypiatt House, where I'd stayed almost five years ago. Turns out it's even closer than I thought to Willoughby House; we'll get the lay of the land yet.

The afternoon was incredible! We found the perfect spot in the St. Mark's area! Pictures of the front and kitchen area -- note the fabulous skylights -- follow; fingers crossed, the paper-work will be finalized tomorrow.

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Sunday, June 7, 2009

Day 1, Part 2

Well, that was probably a bit long for a cat-nap. Tea was completely out of it when I went to check on her. I heard, "Who's bed is this?" coming from the bedroom, and before I was even out of my seat in the living room, she followed with a mournful, "I - don't - know." And she remembers none of it.

Then it was off to the Co-operative for some essentials, like semi-skimmed milk, and wine; oh, and bread and jam. (Tea's just reminded me about her Nutella -- in the glass jar -- as well; a breakfast of champions awaits us, to be sure.) It was pouring by this time, but I'd bet the soles of our shoes were almost dry by the time we made it up to our apartment; Tea said she felt like Rapunzel as she crested the 65th step.

Outside our apartment

Then it was back out in the elements in search of supper. Boy, if crossing the road involves some presence of mind normally, it's downright scary from the depths of a hood in the pouring rain! But we made it to Zizzi in one piece. (Well, two pieces, I guess.)

At Zizzi; that's the kitchen behind me

Outside the apartments with our take-away

The view outside our kitchen window
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Day 1, Part 1

Central Bus Station, Heathrow
We've arrived! The flight was uneventful, save for some bumpy circling over our destination. An espresso for me and a smoothie for Tea fixed us up as we waited for the coach to Cheltenham.

Despite barely sleeping on the flight -- we made up some time in the air, so they served breakfast early -- I was craning my neck this way and that as the coach pulled out on to the M4 motorway, drinking in the sites. Tea didn't get many winks either, between the cramped seats and my pointing out sheep to her -- I wasn't brave enough to suggest she count them. I must've closed my eyes at one point, though, because I woke to the driver announcing that we'd reached our first stop on the route: Swindon.

The second stop was Cirencester; quite a bit a road work going on there, providing opportunities for many snaps.

Outside Cheltenham
Finally, we're just outside Cheltenham. No idea what this little building was for, but it reminded me of the reading I've done on Mongolian yurts; totally out of place in the English countryside by my reckoning, and awesome for that very reason.

Time for a little cat-nap at Willoughby House, then it's out for some groceries before an early night. Big day tomorrow: five appointments! Wish us luck!

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