Monthly Archives: March 2008

No chance for an Easter Bonnet

This is the sort of Easter weekend weather that would have made my mother crazy when my sister and I were little–totally not appropriate for the holiday at hand. The UK is having gale winds, and it has been alternating between sleet and hail this morning. Not a good weekend to dress up in your spring finest. And certainly no weather for an Easter Parade. My sister and I always had lovely new dresses for Easter Sunday, frilly and home-made most times, and we always wore Easter Bonnets. It was the only day of the year that I can recall wearing a hat. And weren’t we cute!

Easter Bonnets

I can’t quite date the picture just from looking at it but it has to be at least 25 years ago, probably slightly more–27 or 28. My how time flies. I’m not sure I could pull off such a hat any more, I just do not have the level of cuteness required!

Update: Almost a total white-out outside now, big fat snowflakes of a sort I have not seen in ages!

I love opera

Tuesday I got to do something fun (something much better than the other 10 days after Dublin, which involved working ridiculous hours and battling a nasty cold).  I went to see Eugene Onegin at the Royal Opera House in London.  Now aside from my continuing confusion over the English transliteration (my minimal college Russian would make it more like Yevgeniy Onyegin) I really enjoyed the opera, and I really really enjoyed the overall experience.

More unexpected than anything, I had a second-in-my-time-here very unexpected interaction with a lovely English couple.  I arrived early and due to a mobile phone number snafu, had my ticket but no way to meet my friends until showtime.  I thus went to the bar to get a glass of white and people watch.  I was joined by this lovely and extremely friendly couple, probably about my parents’ age, to whom I chatted for the 45 minutes before I needed to go find my seat.   They invited me to come down and have a drink with them during the interval, an extremely kind offer which I had to decline due to my expectation that my friends and I would be catching up.  It was the second such unexpected interaction for me: when I saw Rufus Wainwright in concert a few months back, the lovely couple sitting next to me not only chatted with me like old friends but bought me a drink at the interval.

I really like the English tendency to purchase drinks for each other.  As a stranger here, you have to work hard to understand the rules (or read a lot of Kate Fox) but in the end, my interval beverage was purchased by yet another stranger, a friend of the friend who had invited me to the opera in the first place.  So, for those counting, although I have had plenty to complain about in my time here, this is an unadulterated paragraph of appreciation for the kindness of English strangers, both the chatting at concerts sort and the buying a beverage sort.

Oh yes, the opera.  The Royal Opera House was amazing, I felt as though I was transported  back to the era of Tolstoy (yes, my Russian obsession in college included literature as well as language courses).  The set was unlike anything I had ever seen, there was a lake in the centre of the stage and the lighting was used in combination with the water to great effect.  As I have not ever seen a west-end musical, I guess there is only more amazing-ness where this came from.   Ironically enough, in the second half, the setting with the snow and bare trees reminded me of two things from home, first a fantastic production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters  I saw at my beloved Guthrie in Minneapolis, and  also a little photography project I did a few years back called Tanglewood.  I miss snow.  And I miss ice skating, which featured in the  opera staging as well.

Dublin in a Day

My sister was here this week for a mere 4 days, a very American vacation. She needed a change of scenery and was taking advantage of her spring break; I was delighted to have her around if nothing else than to work alongside each other companionably on our matching MacBook laptops. Of the 4 days she was here, 3 of them were completely consumed on my end by my job, but the fourth day (and a Saturday, the one day I week I try not to work too hard) we had set aside to do something fun.

We went to Dublin for the day.

Taking advantage of my near-London location and cheap tickets on Ryanair, we flew into Dublin first thing in the morning, had a great day, and flew back late last night. The idea had started forming in my mind when I returned from Dublin around this time last year; most of my Saturday morning flight back (after 2 nights staying in Dublin) was full of Arsenal supporters with no luggage. I realised that they were just heading over for the match and then back again in the evening. Sports tourism of sorts. This tidbit of information had been in the back of my head for the last 11 months, and a gift voucher from my parents for my recent birthday sealed the deal. Sis and I were going to see what we could do in Dublin in a day. She had never been to Ireland, I had been that one time but had neglected to bring a camera (shocking for a serious amateur photographer!) We had so much fun, and this morning she got up and left for Heathrow, Irish souvenirs in her bag and grinning from ear to ear (although both of us seem to be coming down with colds, which is unfortunate).

We did tourist things that I had not done on my previous (work-related) visit, like the Guinness brewery tour and tasting, and saw the Book of Kells. We wandered around Temple Bar–made all the more exciting by visiting Welsh rugby fans celebrating their team‘s victory against the Irish that afternoon in the Six Nations–and made sure we had a fair comparison to the Guinness by stopping off in a Murphy’s branded pub for a pint. We saw many, many interesting and fun things, and thought in the end that it really was a great city to wander around in for a day. Downtown is not terribly far from the airport, and the downtown is compact and quite walkable.

For lunch, we headed to Parnell street north of the Liffey to find Korean food. We had scoped this out in advance, realizing that being in a major city we were likely to find Korean cuisine. It was not until we were sitting at lunch that we realized we’re developing a real pattern. Two years ago, Sister had to do a work trip to outstate New York, and we had taken advantage of this trip for “sister time,” having me come along on the road trip and amusing myself during her conference and then spending a single night–less than 24 hours total–in NYC. It’s a real point of pride for me that I drove my own car through the Holland tunnel and into Manhattan–I was once a very timid and frightened thing and my post-divorce bravery has included all sorts of adventures. But I digress.

Part of our own adventure there included lunch in Koreatown, Manhattan before departing the next morning. Jump forward a year, to the first time she came to visit me here in my new UK situation, and we spent a day in central London topped off with a fantastic Korean meal. Counting Dublin, we have now three times in the past three years gone to the central district of a major world city for a very short period of time and spent a large fraction of that time seeking out and then eating Korean food. Now it will be something of a challenge to continue this trend, especially with my European address and her moving to Asia in the fall. Where will we go find Korean food next? I should note that we have ordered bibimbap at the restaurants in each of the three cities we’ve been to, so we will soon be able to make comparisons a la the Michelin guides. I should also note that although I love it, I never go out for Korean food without my sister. It’s become our special thing.

My sister and I kept discussing the fact that we loved the novelty of our day trip, and we realized that this was not as crazy as it originally seemed. People in the Bos-Wash do it all the time, and it’s also quite approachable for those of us within short reach of much of Europe. I suspect the returns start to vanish when the flight is more than an hour–Dublin from London fits this category neatly, as does London to many other places that I might try this for in the future. (Of course, my strict friend does not give a person credit for having been to a country or US state that you have not slept in, so the stakes are high… I disagree with his assessment and believe my sis has now seen Dublin and been to Ireland. The passport stamp supports this idea. A flight layover or driving through a state does not count, but a day spent in the city is clearly more valuable than a night in a generic hotel!)

Notes to travelers considering a day trip of this nature:

  • Spare no expense to maximize your time in the city visited. Take a taxi into town, not the slow bus. You only have a day.
  • Do your homework. Get a good guidebook and maps, know where you will start and what your plan is for moving across the city during the day. (Since the rugby match was at 1 on the east side of town, we started on the west side and worked our way back. All was made easier by the fact that I had been to Dublin once before and had some working knowledge of the local geography.)
  • Don’t feel as though you have to keep moving all day. The hour we spent gabbing in the Murphy’s pub was fantastic and it invigorated us to continue our explorations.
  • Buy silly souvenirs. You’ve earned it. You’re also likely in a certain income bracket if you are flitting about the world on day trips!

Sister has gone home now, unfortunately quite delayed in her return flight due to weather, but at least they did take off and touch wood she will get home happy and satisfied with her latest European adventure.

British News Tidbits

I find that I save miscellaneous news stories of local interest, where for me “local” could be either related to the UK or the midwest of the US.  I keep these open in tabs for a few days without finding myself sufficiently inspired to write a great deal about any one of them.  So in continuing the spirit of a similar post from a few days ago (“Hotdish“) I present a new feature, Local News Tidbits.

Headline in the Telegraph: “I don’t like England much” says Prince Harry.  I would like to point out that even in my darkest moments as an expat in England, I never said anything like that.  As Mary Beard hilariously noted he does not have that option.

This one is best as a direct quote:

Latvia’s president took his interior minister to task today for calling the English a nation of pigs out of anger at British tourists urinating on the Baltic state’s highly symbolic Freedom Monument.

Sad but probably reflecting the beer-guzzling, stag party culture associated with British tourists in central and eastern Europe.  Not to mention a typical Friday or Saturday night right here in the centre of my town.  I can honestly say I had never seen public, outdoor, non-enclosed, 4-stall temporary urinals before they appeared in the middle of my street this summer.  And I saw a guy peeing on the bank on my corner just this weekend, pretty typical for a weekend around here.  I’m pretty sure I never saw this before I moved here, in Minnesota people tend to go discreetly into the bushes or something.  But here it’s apparently okay for men to randomly pee on the street corners in full view.

From the Guardian, “Religious schools show bias for the rich.”  Good reason to cut off this cozy and difficult to comprehend relationship between church and state.  The school system here is a total mystery to the non-local.  When I was growing up in the US, you went to the school that the government said was for everyone in your neighborhood.  The only exceptions were the rare Catholic school kids but in my circles this was unheard of.  Special interest schools existed, but they were merit-based; gifted-talented centers and music immersion programmes.

Those of us in the Bridget Jones demographic are more likely to work lots of unpaid overtime.  She says as she sits at her computer for the 12th consecutive hour.  Yes, I’m taking a break to blog, but I will get back to my work task for the evening shortly.   And then, tomorrow morning, when I am waiting for the arrival of my awesome sister, I will again be at the evil machine.

You may recall, last year my sister arrived on May day, ironically enough.  This year she arrives in March, and we are heading to Dublin for a bit of Murphy’s.  Cheers!

Ode to IKEA

Anyone who has been following the ups and downs of my English life will be glad to hear of my progress this week and the manner in which it drives more up than down feelings. Tuesday I had a new book-case and cabinet delivered to my office. Wednesday I had a massive delivery to my home/flat from IKEA. I have been, for the last few days, in all spare moments doing IKEA assembly. This will, in the end, give me loads of storage space–new wardrobes (3! not quite an American walk-in closet but not bad!), cabinets, drawers, a desk, all the things a girl needs to get organized in a small apartment with lots of miscellany. At the moment, one could only say that I am in the “it is darkest just before dawn” phase since the flat is completely trashed. In order to get the old stuff out and the new stuff assembled, the level of entropy in the flat has increased significantly. However, this is one person who is optimistic and convinced that the project has been well worth it, and things are about to improve significantly. Now, I may have to sleep on the floor tonight if I don’t make enough progress to finish the wardrobes and get the clothes off my bed, but that’s a small price to pay for what will be a significant improvement in everything in very short order.

The staff where I live were quite stunned when I said I wanted to assemble the IKEA pieces myself; they had assumed that I would call them in to assist. Clearly they do not know me well. IKEA furniture is brilliantly designed, and overall the process is like the assembly of my favored Lego models in terms of the utilization of basic engineering principles. I am enjoying the process immensely, and sleeping very well after all the physical exertion although I do have some interesting bruises and blisters to show for it.