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Today’s Vocabulary: Sunday 8 April 2007

8 Apr


Regent’s Park

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

meat and veg: one of the British terms Liz often uses
top drawer: great, top notch, Neumann’s favorite British expression
great tits: a bird–and when I say “bird,” I don’t mean in the British sense of “a woman,” I mean in the flying feathered critter sense

Since I ate all the Hot Cross Buns I bought at the Borough Market (they would have gone stale anyway), Liz and I bought more at the farmers market near Notting Hill Gate on Saturday. It’s a cute farmers’ market: two cheese vendors, two bread vendors, yummy fresh apple juice blends (Liz bought the apple and beetroot, which was delicious and a bright pink color), meat, etc. We picked up some pork tenderloin, kale, and parsnips for Easter dinner (Liz wanted a “meat and two veg” meal).

To digress briefly, I don’t see where London gets a bad rap for food. There are plenty of places that serve healthy food on the streets and in the airports. Liz buys mostly organic stuff, which is fairly easy the farmers markets everywhere. That should serve as a reminder to me that I need to go to the Noe Valley Farmers Market more often.

Easter morning–er, midday–we took the Tube to Regent’s Park, which was “absolutely…top drawer,” as Neumann would say. We walked around the park for a while, and checked out St. John’s Wood (which felt like a really traditional English garden), and all the people who were out doing exactly what we were doing: enjoying the sunny day.

The streams there have so many ducks, swans, and other birds, including according to one sign, Great Tits. I’m not sure who did the Beavis and Butthead laugh at that point, but I’m sure someone did, or at least thought it.

We walked back through Marylebone, got some falafel, stopped briefly at a small museum there (the Wallace Museum?) for the last fifteen minutes it was open, then walked back through Hyde Park. Liz made pork tenderloin with prosciutto in dough, kale, and roasted parsnips. Then for dessert, we cracked open the Easter egg from Michel Chaudun chocolatiers in Paris and ate Liz’s strawberry rhubarb crumble. Two good bottles of wine (with screw caps–the Brits don’t have issues with that, they’re so darn practical). It was the best Easter ever (in London).

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Today’s vocabulary: Saturday 7 April 2007

7 Apr



Portobello Market

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

Cambridge Relays: annual boat race between Cambridge and Oxford, an excuse to drink outside on a spring day
WWII: a great opportunity for Germans and Americans (and presumably, British, Russians, Italians, etc.) to come together in the mutual goal of mocking the French military

Neumann and I walked down Portobello to check out the Portobello Market, made famous in Notting Hill as the market Hugh Grant walks through as the seasons are changing. They had some amazing teacups, made in England, for very, very reasonable prices. Other than that, it was a madhouse.

In fact, everything was a madhouse that day, including the Thames near the Hammersmith Tube stop, which is where I went to meet up with Neumann and Liz to catch the Cambridge Relays. We went to a place called the Dove, and met a guy who looked a bit like James Mason in Lolita and told Neumann he was Dutch. His friend then said that he was just taking the piss, because he was actually German and the Germans hate the Dutch. To which Neumann wondered, who is he taking the piss out of, since Americans aren’t going to get that joke?




Cambridge Relays

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

We met more Germans and after proving that the Americans are superior militarily to them (“By my count, we’re 6 to 1,” Neumann said. I followed up by asking when was the last time Germany won a war. We realized it was two wars in the 1800s against the French, which we then decided don’t count.), we focused on WWII. Gonst (there should be an umlaut over the o), who actually went to Cambridge and was wearing a Harris tweed jacket, offered us some Doublemint gum and told us, “That’s what the GIs gave us.”

WWII is funny.

Today’s vocabulary: Friday 6 April 2007

6 Apr



Cheese Vendor, Borough Market

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

Take the piss: to tease
With all the bits: with everything

One benefit to visiting your temporarily expat friends almost a year into their time abroad is that you benefit from all the visitors who have come before you. Liz recommended a walk near the Tower of London, across Tower Bridge, and up to the Tate Modern, which was the main museum I wanted to visit to help me complete my international hat trick of modern art museums: SFMoMA, Centre Pompidou, and the Tate Modern.

Before I headed out, I stopped at the Orange store to see if I could top off my SIM card, but I had to buy a new one. Still, the SIM card was free, and I just put 10 pounds on it. Not bad.

Today’s a bank holiday, plus, it appears that a bunch of European countries have holy week off, so everything was packed with tourists like me.

I walked along the Thames, decided that cities with rivers running through them are much cooler than cities without rivers running through them, took a photo of City Hall (which, according to my guide book, a London mayor refers to it as “the testicle”), and wandered down to Borough Market for lunch.

Tucked away under what feel almost like overpasses, the Borough Market is your typical farmers market, but with cheese from all over Europe, fresh-baked bread and pastries, fish and meats, and even, presumably for Easter, freshly killed rabbits that you can de-fur yourself at home. I bought Boeren Stelutelleidsekaas (a cumin-flavored Dutch farmhouse cheese made with skim milk) from Boerenkass and a Northern Italian cheese made from sheep’s and goat’s milk from some guy who didn’t ID his business at his stall.

At the unidentified stall, I pointed to one cheese with a really pretty rind, and the guy said, “That? That’s poisonous. I just have that to take the piss out of guys when they want to try stronger and stronger cheeses.”




Sausage sandwich

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

For lunch, I decided to continue my pattern of ordering something I’ve never had before. The woman in line before me asked about the wild boar sausage. “Is it like pork?” “It is, but it’s quite gamey,” the woman said. I’ve realized gamey isn’t a negative here. I ordered one, too. “Would you like all the bits?” she asked–all the bits being a slathering of cranberry sauce, a bed of rocket, and cooked onions on top. Delicious.

Off to the Bramah’s Tea and Cofee Museum, which is well worth the 3 pounds when you factor in the big souvenir book they give you (and the opportunity to see the biggest teapot in the world), then to the Tate Modern, where you can get free tickets to go down a slide from the second, third, fourth, or fifth floors. They were booked up when I was there, but it looked like fun.

Today’s vocabulary: Thursday 5 April 2007

5 Apr



Buckingham Palace

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

Baggage reclaim: baggage claim
sorry: excuse me, pardon
sorry: I’m sorry, I’d like to get by, I’m British, etc.
Gof: “Goth” from someone with a thick accent

George Bernard Shaw was right, the Americans and British are two cultures divided by a common language. Coming through Luton, I realized that it’s easy to get confused when you think of British and American English as the same language. You let down your guard a bit because you think it will be easy. But then you realize that the reason it feels like you’re walking right through a crowd is because you are. British people walk to the left on sidewalks, in queues, etc. Even the escaltors are switched around (the one arriving is on the right, the one departing is on the left).

On the train, I eavesdropped on a group of four people talking about one guy’s daughter’s fascination with My Chemical Romance, her recent adoption of “gof” clothing, and, of course, football (soccer). It’s nice to be able to understand people again.

Wednesday night, my friends Brian and Liz took me to the Chiswick Arms (Chesterfield Arms? Something arms), a very traditional British pub in Notting Hill with a very traditional Thai restaurant in the back. There are more cultural juxtapositions like that here than I might have thought. But the Brits are so easygoing, I suppose it makes sense.

Liz got the No. 16 there, which confused me because it’s the No. 17 at King of Thai. The other thing I liked about the place is that all the dishes were numbered, but they weren’t listed in anything resembling numerical order.




Carter and her scooter

Originally uploaded by commamommas.

Today, Prentice’s friend Carter met me for lunch, then took me on a scooter ride around the city. It was perfect. A gorgeous, sunny day (the weather’s been AMAZING here), and a great way to see sights that I want to see, but don’t really want to spend a lot of time seeing.

We went to Hyde Park and saw the Diana memorial, a cool installation with water flowing like a river through it. People were wading in the stream, which varies in width as it moves along and has what looks like plastic perforated plates at various points to give the flowing water different sounds.

From there, past Harrod’s, Buckingham Palace, to Big Ben and Parliament (Carter said that Big Ben is actually the name of the bell inside the tower, not the clock), past 10 Downing St. (the prime minister’s residence, made famous in “Love, Actually” starring Hugh Grant), past MI-5 (home to real-life James Bonds), past the Battersea Power Plant (where a Pink Floyd cover was shot), and back home to Notting Hill. It was great, and helped me get the lay of London.

At a red light, one Brit on a motorcycle commented to us that he was impressed to see two girls on a scooter, compared MPG (or whatever the metric equivalent is), and offered Carter some friendly advice on helmets. Those Brits. They’re nice.

Tonight we’re going to a place called Trailer Happiness on Portobello for Brian’s birthday dinner.

The two books that have made my trip so much easier

31 Mar

1) Plan de Paris: This book has an index with 6,000 streets, cross-referenced with the section of the arrondissement map that the street appears on. I just bought it today, and already it’s been indispensable. Besides Chez Marianne’s falafel and Pelligrino, it may be the best 6.50 euro I’ve spent so far.
2) Berlitz French Phrase Book & Dictionary: I hemmed and hawed at Luton over whether to buy this, but I knew it would come in handy helping me fill in the gigantic gaps in my useful vocabulary.

Ray’s recommendation: London

22 Mar

My coworker Ray’s recommendation was that I shouldn’t trust any directions English people give me. “Apparently it’s not cricket to not know where something is,” he said, and his wife, Dana, nodded emphatically. Then they offered me their maps.

Cell phones and SIM cards

17 Mar

To get ready for my trip, I subscribed to Frommer’s podcasts. I was particularly interested in one on tech tools, because I want to be able to blog, upload photos, send email, etc. from my trip. I was disappointed when the podcast was actually about using your cell phone abroad, until, that is, I realized that my cheapo Motorola V551 is a quad-band phone, meaning I can use it anywhere in the world (except maybe Japan–I think they’re on a different frequency). AND, when I switch to another carrier (which I’m going to do when my contract is up), I can keep this phone and just buy SIM cards to use it in different countries. Perfecto.

So if you’re looking to use your cell phone in Europe (or another country), here’s how to do it:
1. What’s the frequency? First off, check to make sure your phone is compatible with the cell system of the country you’re going to. You can use GSM phones in 205 countries (all Cingular phones are GSM). Most foreign countries use 900/1900 frequencies, but the US uses 850/1800. Quad-band phones work on all four frequencies. So how do you know if your phone will work? Log into your cell phone account online and check the specs for your phone. Alternately, go to the manufacturer’s site.
The little quad-band phone that could.

So you have a quad-band phone. Awesome. That’ll save you from buying an unlocked phone on eBay or through Telestial or some other service. BUT, make sure your charger is multi-voltage. Mine says 110-240 v, 50-60 Hz on it, which means I shouldn’t have any problems in Paris or London. Knock wood.

2. Unlock your phone. Call your cell-phone provider to unlock your phone. For Cingular, you want a subsidy unlock code. It’ll take 5-7 days for them to get you the code, which they’ll send either by text or email.
3. Get a SIM card. Telestial.com is a great source of information and foreign SIM cards. As explained on the podcast, their cards all come with English language instructions, and they offer English-language support. You can also buy SIM cards from eBay or at a tobacco shop (are they still called that?) in the country you’re going to. I want to use one card in both France and England, so I needed international roaming, which Telestial’s UK card doesn’t offer. So I went with the French card, through Orange, for $59. C’est un peu cher. Fortunately, I found a promo code for 10% off (SLOWTRAV, if you want to use it) AND they gave me a discount on an international power adapter, so I’m saving $10 off the Brookstone price. Not so bad.
4. Set it up. Since I haven’t actually done this part yet, I can’t really offer much advice. But the instructions on Telestial’s site seem pretty straightforward. I’ll update this post later once I get the information.