Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Free Art (London Trip #2)

Last Saturday we went to London for a day trip, the plan was to go visit some museums that have free admission.  Hit up the National Gallery, find some lunch (not free...), then swing by Tate Modern.   Deep down, I wanted to get some sort of art head rush by looking at the old oil paintings in the National Gallery and then shock the system with some new age modern exhibits.  Like how one might jump from a hot tub to an ice bath to stimulate blood flow to tired and aching muscles; I was hoping this would be refreshing for my creative side, or something.  Of course I didn't tell Kerry any of this.

Since the last trip to London I asked a lot of friends and coworkers for advice on proper travel to get there.  We settled on driving to the Highgate underground tube station (Northern Line) in Zone 3.  It has the triple advantage of being close to the M1, cheap parking, and proximity to the city (lower tube fare).  In fact, it is the last exit before you hit the congestion charging zone.  I'll admit I was feeling pretty savvy about this plan.

There were a few minor hiccups. First of all, we took to long too long to leave in the morning.  I was enjoying some eggs and coffee and realized it was nearly 9 am, and we have a 2 hour drive ahead of us.  Secondly, I had no exact change.  Gah!  This gets me every time.  Those parking pay stations require exact change in coins, and they don't accept 1, 2, or 5p.  I stopped for some [more] coffee at what I would call a truck stop, but it has a different name here, only to get change that was not exact.  I believe my total in parking overpayment is 4 pounds  so far.  Sting!  That's a pint's worth.  I promised not to gripe about it anymore, so I appreciate this public outlet.

Since we had a late start, and because a section of the underground was closed, we got to the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square around 11:30, so 2.5 hours doorstep to doorstep.  Funny, because back in Indianapolis I was constantly correcting people who thought I was moving to London.  Yep, and you all live in Chicago!

So we decided to eat first at our favorite British chain restaurant we've found so far:  Wagamama.  We kept the tradition of being the only patrons in the restaurant with a very American 11:30 lunch.

Wagamama cafeteria-style seating

Of course you can't take pictures of National Gallery art; we saw quite a few people get scolded.  There were some great paintings, though.  We agreed that our favorite collection was the impressionist style.  I can just imagine an an artist conversation from the 16th century:  "Oh, you call this 'Virgin with Child'?  That's so 1553..."

Reminiscing about my favorite NG art
We walked through Piccadilly Circus and hopped on a train to the Borough Market at the London Bridge.

Who cares about oil paintings when these places exist?
I'll admit to being a bit of a foodie, and honestly the "art" on display in these markets win over half the paintings I saw earlier.

 Roughly $5000 worth of Parmigiano Reggiano (by my guess)... Stunning

A very artistic meringue treat

So we figured it out - for us, food is art.  It beats most of the BS in the Tate Modern.  No offense, but to say this was not a letdown would be a lie.  The giveaway?  They allow pictures.

Flooring art - I swear I saw this at the home improvement store.

I wish I could say more positive things about the art here but I can't.  The redeeming quality is the building itself - a renovated power station.  Very cool, spacious design.  We walked to the top for a nice view of London along the south bank.

I don't think I gave Kerry enough warning on this one
Before we headed home, I found one last bit of free art, the party hat building!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sexy Barcelona

I'm going to start this one a bit out of order.

We got home from our Barcelona trip at 3 am on Tuesday Sept 18, and now it's the evening on Sunday Sept 23.  Yes work is busy, and after the daily routine it's hard to find the energy to write.  But I'm feeling rested now, so there should be multiple posts in short succession to get us caught up.

Heading to work at 6:45 am, as proven by this beautiful sunrise, instead of writing blog posts

On a technical note, I found out Kerry was uploading the full size, high-res images to Picasa (1 GB limit).  After only 4 weekends worth of pictures, I had to delete all of them only to reupload the compressed versions (800 pixels, 1/60th the digital size); a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Since all the photos here are linked to Picasa, it will take some time to get the links working again with the correct captions.  Or I may just recaption everything differently for my own entertainment.  Anyway, the current lack of pictures from past posts should only be temporary.

Before I talk about Sexy Barcelona, I want to give a big shoutout to our friend Big Sexy from Crossfit Indy North who came to visit during his work trip.  We were totally bummed we couldn't spend more time with him over the weekend since we had to catch our plane on Saturday.  However we made the most of our short visit by stopping for some Indian food, then we goofed around in Sainsburys.  We made it back to the house for some conversation and beers.  It was a memorable 5 year anniversary for Kerry and I!

I'm all about the London Pride, but leave that marmite on the shelf!

Big Sexy is fun to hang out with

We left at 4:30 am on Saturday morning to head to Stansted airport, a 2+ hour drive.  We booked this trip before we really understood how far away the airport was - lesson learned, as this was a miserable drive for me (Kerry slept).  We caught our cheap flight on Ryan Air -I somehow sat in the row that had no window, which was weird.  Hey at least we got two seats together near the front - I passed out immediately anyway.

We forgot to print our Barcelona subway vouchers so I did it at the airport - 1 pound for 10 min of internet + 1 pound per printed page, oops.

Once in the subway on our way toward some sangria, the extra 3 pounds didn't hurt so much
Since we arrived around noon on Saturday, we had plenty of time to explore.  Being the ignorant American that I am, I found out quickly that the version of Spanish I am comfortable with is not spoken here.  Most people do speak Spanish (the Castillian version, which uses the "you all" verb conjugation), but the main language is Catalan.  It's no big deal, everyone also speaks English, making me feel somewhat spoiled.

Our first stop was to a touristy area called the Ramblas with an open air market where Kerry got some amazingly colorful pictures.
Tiny flower bouquets

Jamon Iberico - an amazing flavor, hard to find in the USA and ridiculously expensive, here it goes for 59 euros/kilo.

Who can take a rainbow, and wrap it in a sigh?  Soak it in the sun and make strawberry lemon pie?

Forget Whole Foods, we're in Spain!

Dragonfruit snack

We ate our first dinner at a restaurant hiding in a small sidestreet in the Barri Gothic area of Barcelona.  After winding through some narrow alleys, we showed up 15 minutes late for our 8 pm reservation, and were still the first people in the restaurant.

We had no 3G google maps, just had to trust my tourist map and sense of direction, which failed me numerous times

We wrapped dinner up before 10, just as the restaurant was starting to fill up - I never understood coffee after a late dinner; we stopped at the beach on the way home.

The better part of Sunday was spent at the beach, ordering 1.50 euro Estrella beers from guys who go to the corner market and get shopping bags full of them for 1 euro, and then walk around the beach selling them.  I was happy to oblige with the markup.  I took no pictures at the beach, for good reasons ;).  

After we had enough sun, Kerry pulled me away from the beach and we got some paella from a bar, and went back into the city for a cable car ride to catch some good views.

Spotted a parrot!
The cable car goes up to a castle with some vistas of the city and the sea; I experimented with the camera zoom on some famous Barcelona builidings.

Rockin' the tanktop while using public transportation?  Check.
Sagrada Familia

Torre Agbar
Watching the cruise ships leave the harbor

Views from the castle
Gaudi's Casa Batllo at night - on the way to dinner

For dinner we hit up a seafood place - we were smarter this time, making our reservation at 9 pm, so we were the 4th party to arrive (all Americans) instead of the first.  At 10:30, I asked for the check with the intention of hitting up some beachside lounges and clubs.  However, things started to spiral downhill on the way.  The metro ride to the hip part of the beach got us both drowsy, so we decided to turn around at 11:45, as all the young people, fresh as daises, headed toward the club.  Now I understand why everyone drinks coffee at night!

I did manage to buy a bottle of wine to go from a restaurant that was just wrapping up its dinner service; the kind waiter provided two styrofoam cups as well, to keep us classy - his suggestion was to head to the beach.   However, I got turned around on the way back to the hotel, setting off in the completely wrong direction which caused us to miss the last train (midnight).  The exhaustion from the walk home - I was out of euros for a cab - coupled with our drowsiness led to us crashing instead of drinking the wine (I managed a few sips).  Yeah we admitted defeat to the Spaniards, well played.  

On Monday we visited the Sagrada Familia basilica.  I went on and on about the York Minster a while back, and the Sagrada Familia has a similar jaw-dropping effect when you first go inside.  However, it is for a completely different reason.  Where the York Minster was completed in the 1400's, after maybe 400 years of construction, and is the tombsite for royalty and priests; the Sagrada Familia only started the groundwork in the late 1800's, and the exterior is not yet complete.  During our visit, it was another busy day of construction.  They were also working on something inside, so the entire time inside the sound of grinding stone reverberated through the chambers, masking the organ melodies.  Some might think it to be unpleasant (it is a church after all), but I think it speaks to the unfinished nature of the project.  I think Gaudi would be proud of me.

I held the camera the wrong way for this, but the irony of "a space for silence and meditation" did not go unnoticed.

The Sagrada will be done in only 18 more years thanks to stone cutting machine technology, although the original plan had it all done by hand.  I'm just going to throw a bunch of amazing pictures at you, although they do not do it justice.  You should visit this place before you die.

A forest of stone pillars

After lunch it was time for even more Gaudi at the park Guell.  Lunch is always harder to find than one would think -  we stopped off the metro in the most expensive part of the city (Eixample) looking for some cheap streetfood, oops.  Nothing under 15 euros, but eventually we made do at a decent mid-class pizza place.  We were the first customer at 12:30 pm.  Sometimes this is how things work out when you don't have a plan ahead of time.  Afterward, to get to the park we rode an outdoor escalator.

Enough, more pictures!

A view of the castle from the previous day

A Gaudi aquaduct

I'm the guy with the maps.  We did see a Crossfitter from NorCal here, so we shook hands and laughed at our tshirts. 

Gingerbread houses?

As you can tell by now, Barcelona is a great place to take pictures (except the beach we were at).  And I know that the pictures of this stuff has been taken billions of times by tourists, and will be taken a billion times more.  But hey, there's a good reason for that - people know beauty when they see it.  Barcelona is a sexy town; the architecture, the people, and the food.    It's gonna attract cameras.

It was a rude return home after a blissful 3 days.  Late flight, long line through immigration, and a 2 hour drive.   I had to pull out all my night driving tricks to get us home - pinching my inner thighs, rolling the windows down, squeezing the back of my neck.  Made it home safely though, and I even made it to work before 9 am the next day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Leicester is a two-syllable word

Running late on an update, but we have not been idle.  I was admittedly lazy last Sunday night, but had some long work days so far this week.  The highlights since the last post include moving into a bungalow and getting our own Wifi. This means we have a shipping address and are able to order things online so I could finally buy that 2L bucket of virgin coconut oil on at a reasonable price.

Other amazon purchases included:  a laser pointer to entertain the cats, an HDMI cable to hook up the laptop to the TV for streaming 'Merican Netflix and Hulu, 4 pints of fish oil because it makes me feel awesome, and believe it or not, a meat grinder.  One cool thing about UK amazon is that express shipping is super cheap, but I guess that makes sense considering the the surface area of the UK relative to the US.

If you were curious about why in the hell I bought a 220V 50Hz meat grinder when I'm only living here for 11 more months, it's because I make our cats their own food.  Yes, we did this back in Indy, and yes we're crazy cat people.  But our cats do not do well on the dry UK food, and won't even touch the wet food.  So, I have a recipe from a veterinarian that involves ground chicken and rabbit (with bone) and supplemented with heart, liver, kidney, and additional vitamins and minerals.  It's always a slow transition to get the cats to eat it, but once they do the health benefits are obvious.  I also use the grinder to make my own hamburger and sausage.  I may even try to make some UK style bangers for fun.  We'll see.

I did make an exotic stirfry of aubergine, mange tout, and courgette for our first meal at the bungalow.

Aubergine, mangetout, and courgette.  Can you label them correctly?

Last Saturday we watched the Leicester (les-ter, not lay-ses-ter you silly american) Tigers home game opener against the Worcester (wus-ter) Warriors.  I am talking about rugby, a sport I knew precious little about.  We went to the game with some families of work colleagues - it was quite nice to get to know some of my coworkers outside of the office.

Leicester is a 30 min drive from Derby, and full of history of course.  I was told that King Richard was exhumed and chopped up into tiny pieces and scattered in the local river here from a bridge - the actual story behind "Humpty Dumpty" rhyme (he was a hunchback?).  I remain dubious, even as Wikipedia is at my fingertips.  There were some legit Roman ruins however, it was no coliseum, but a 1000 year old wall is still impressive.

We all met at one of my coworker's houses (free parking!), and it was a short walk from there to the stadium.  The most humorous architecture on the way was the prison, which I could have mistaken for a castle or minster if I didn't have the guidance from a local.

A prison in City Center.

The Tigers are the premier team when it comes to rugby, and they did not disappoint.  I stand by my opinion that as a sport, rugby is just barely less violent than MMA.  American football is brutal, but these guys have minimal padding and safety equipment.   The fun part is that after the guy gets tackled, and you think the play is over (if you have an American football background), he rolls a lateral pass to his teammate at the action keeps going!  Pretty exciting stuff in the middle of it all.

Getting ready for the scrum

In addition to referees, there were many first-aiders on hand, ready with water, bandages, and who knows what else.  (These guys are tough.)

Hammie envy

Caterpillar is the main sponsor, and their logo is 10x larger than the team name on the jersey.
Leicester Caterpillars?

As crazy as I hear football games are in the UK, and as violent as rugby is, the crowd was ironically reserved.  A respectful hush goes through the crowd during penalty kicks, and everyone is super positive to the visiting team.  Refreshing, really.

After the game, we grabbed a pint, then made our way to an Indian pub for dinner.  The best part about Indian pubs are that the food is the same without the fancypants experience, so the prices end up being about 60% less!  By the way, the name of the Indian pub was named "Martin Pub" and has been featured by Jamie Oliver.  Awesome place!  I cleaned up everyone's leftovers.

The crew!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Four trips to Nottingham

We did not make any weekend travel plans because we were supposed to move into our furnished place this weekend.  On Friday afternoon I found out that there was some paperwork issue and now I'll get the keys on Monday instead.   So, we decided to keep it simple this weekend - our 5th in the Derby hotel apartment - and save our cash for our 5th anniversary trip to Barcelona in 2 weeks. 
Someone must have read my comment last week about Kerry and I running out of things to talk about at the London bar, because we were invited out Friday with some work friends -   a huge thank you goes out to them!   Since this was a more seasoned group who has spent many-a-weekend in Derby, the plan was to mix it up a bit and experience the Nottingham nightlife.

Nottingham is famous in the USA for Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves in Sherwood forest.

For most of my life, this was my perception of Nottingham
Now, to be clear, we've been to Nottingham numerous times a week since we moved here because that is the location of the nearest CrossFit gym.  CF Nottingham has a great group of hardworking athletes that we're honored to train with - we're grateful they've adopted us!  It is typically a 35 minute drive from our current residence, so we are very excited to move which will shave about 12 minutes off the commute.  We have not had a proper Nottingham experience however, and that was about to change.

Our first trip to Nottingham was to the gym on Friday.  It was a challenging workout of heavy squat snatches and sprints, so it demanded mental focus to perform a technical lift under stress induced by the run.   Really enjoyed it!

We had originally planned to take a bus out for the 2nd trip to Nottingham with the group, but we were running late, and while the buses are great options when you are not in any type of rush, I made the decision to drive.   Luckily there were inexpensive parking options available downtown.  This forced me to be responsible enough to drive us home, which was a good thing, since we were planning on heading back to the gym in the morning.

We met up at the Pit & Pendulum, a dungeon bar, where we broke the ice with some drinking games.

(Taken the next day)

A photographer was out taking pictures for 1 pound.  While we did not buy one, a few members of our group did.  Then, since Kerry had the biggest purse, she held onto them.  Of course we forgot to give them back at the end of the night.  No worries,  I'll make sure they get their pictures on Monday.

Then we hit da club!  I'm a horrible dancer, feeling way to self conscious most of the time.  It doesn't help that I wasn't drinking.  I'll light up for the camera if the opportunity presents itself.

A picture of a group picture.  (I have no scanner)
Chandeliers-Delicate, sparkling, and bursting with class!

Kerry preferred the disco light up floor.

We got back home at 3 am Saturday, and were back at the gym by 11 am.  This was our 3rd trip to Nottingham.  Kerry and I did a partner workout, where we completed (as a team) 250 double-unders with a jump rope, 10 rope climbs, 20 overhead squats (70kg/50kg), and a 1000 meter row, then repeat in reverse order.  Very happy I kept the drinking to a minimum the previous night!

We got in our street clothes and hit the town, starting with a great lunch at Wagamama for some very tasty stir-frys.  We then walked around the town with no goal.  The town was bustling with shoppers and there was plenty to see without having to pay for any admission. A nice surprise was our random visit to contemporary artist Pete Spowage's gallery in an old house.  Kerry and I may have to think seriously about shipping some UK art back home to outfit our bare house, would make for some nice memories.

Speaking of outfitting our old 1950's house, I wish there was a John Lewis department store in the States.  We walked through the living room displays and the furniture would have been perfect - small and simple.  Everything in Indy is huge and overstuffed, and just won't fit in our living space.

We also got a kick out of the fitness section in the dept store:
A luxury model water-resistance rower.  (Not Concept2)

You'd have to be a crossfitter to find the humor in this.

We did find an American Apparel as well, so we took this opportunity to compare differences in UK vs. USA fashion.  I got a laugh after finding XXS size in the Men's section.  This may relate back to my previous post about the noticeable lack of obesity here.

No joke, this is not the kidswear.

My favorite part of the mall was that it had a butcher, fish monger, and bulk nuts/spice store, with prices that were way better than the supermarket.  I'm the kind of person who would get a kick out of getting my protein for the week from the mall - I'll have to buy some insulated bags.

To keep it simple, we went home for dinner that evening - I made some lamb chops with ground coriander and chiles, and a roasted butternut squash drizzled with a balsamic vinegarette.  Winded down by watching a movie on Netflix.

Our 4th trip to Nottingham was on Sunday, back to the gym!  An hour of excellent mobility and stretching followed by some skill work with a barbell and socializing.

Kerry shouldered the 50kg (110lb) atlas stone!

Sunday night is supposed to be our last night within walking distance from downtown Derby, so we're hitting up the Spice House - an Indian restaurant that is supposed to be pretty hip.  

There you go, not the most exciting weekend - oriented around CrossFit training - but it resembled how we'd spend an average weekend in Indy.  Nottingham is a fun town that offers a bit of variety from Derby.   Our location for the next 11 months will be in a small village between the two cities, so we'll reap the benefits from both - with maybe some added cost of parking due to the distance from city centers, which should be offset by the savings from not buying pints since I'll be the driver - a good thing since excessive pints tend to have a detrimental effect on my training ;).