Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Ticking over

Happy Tuesday everyone!

Just a quick update as I will be pretty busy for a while!  You see, I'm moving this week.  This was already the plan but this time, it's about a month early!  So, I am going to be packing and getting other things sorted out!  Yup, due to circumstances, my timetable has been moved forward.

Yup, so this is an apology post just to keep you ticking over but I did get to attend a fantastic stag party, and I hope you enjoyed it John!  That's for another week though

To make up for the short post, please enjoy this picture of Ollie.

See you all next week for a proper blog!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Eating my way around London

Ok, so it's travelling time again but this time, it's just me so it's slightly different from writing about Alison and me travelling!  Right?  It probably isn't?!?  Well, I will try and remember that for next time.  However, for today, you will just have to make do.

So!  Where am I off to this week?  Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego Robbie?  Well, I am off to London this week to visit Michael and Cara who have recently moved down.  So, after a rather disappointing lunch at The Streets, I jump on my train and away I go, filling the time with my sorely neglected 3DS and catching up with some anime and blogging...an actually rather enjoyable afternoon travelling.

Once in the big city, and having traversed to where I needed to go, I grabbed a coffee and waited for Michael and Cara to arrive.  After they arrive, and we've caught up for a bit, we began some discussions about what to do for the evening.  Now, whilst this would normally be an easyish discussion, there was a bit of a twist this evening.  You see, Cara had secretly arranged for Martin to fly down to London to surprise Michael and his bus arrived in the area we met, meaning we couldn't go too far.  Eventually, we decided on a small, independent Italian that served a delicious (and filling) chicken risotto and had a spectacular bottle of house red (whilst my opinion of the chicken risotto was just that, mine, the whole table agreed on the wine).

After dinner, it got a bit tricky as Michael wanted to go for a drink to another area but we had to try and stay nearby (made all the more difficult by a distinct lack of pubs nearby).  However, it turned out that Martin's bus would be another hour or so, meaning we had enough time to go to the next area.  

So, off to West Hampstead for an after dinner drink, at a place called 'The Gallery', a cocktail bar that was pretty brilliant actually, with great decor and pretty affordable drinks.  Some particular highlights were:
l  Getting a seat on a balcony, overlooking the bar
l  The hand drawn pictures on the beer tap (I had 'Beaver Creek Neck Oil'...see the picture below)
l  The bartender asking Michael and I to guess which number he was going to roll (we never found out why)
l  Our Smokey Hawker Martinis...made from Laphroig, Vermouth and Gin (which prompted the bartender to call us brave for trying it)

The best bit of the evening though was managing to keep Martin a surprise until he arrived and seeing him sneak up behind Michael and surprise him.  Well done Cara for planning that!!  After we had all caught up, and with Martin having had a drink at the bar, we headed back to Michael and Cara's flat to have some more drinks and play the ever popular Cards against Humanity.  On a side note, something I learned this weekend: London Off-Licences don't have a curfew.  Fantastic.  After a game of CaH, and about 2:30 or so we then headed to bed.

Saturday morning came acalling, and we all got up slowly, and had a nice cooked breakfast (thanks Cara) before heading into the sunshine to explore a bit of London.  Our first stop was the area near the river, with us passing the Millennium Eye (or Coca Cola Eye now, I believe).  This was quite a nice riverside walk with lots of performers and the Udderbelly, of Edinburgh fame.  It is seemingly shipped down before the fringe.

Crossing a bridge, it was off to Downing Street, including some nice gardens, but the big attraction was some police action that revealed a small, 19 man anti-semantic protest that was completely outnumbered by a wonderful amount of counter demonstrators.

After spending some time watching the demonstration, we headed off through some of London's trendy streets and past a lot of the colonial embassies.  Here, we ended up at the original Forbidden Planet which is a sprawling two-floor store of wonder.  I got completely lost in there but loved just wandering around all the memorabilia and comics in the place.  I've never seen so many wonderful things in one place in my life.  

After Forbidden Planet, Michael then led us to a real ale bar with a massive collection of beers and ales, including one I had from Dogfish Head (an American company that you don't really get over here) and one that Michael had, called Vladimir P which was one of the best I've had, period.  Nothing beats a nice beer on a hot day.

Jumping back on 'the tube', we headed to Camden Market, which is one hell of an experience.  Just walking along the street (before you got to market), you are passing a huge number of trendy and Goth shops, filled with everything you can imagine!  Then you hit the market itself, and the smells of all the food stalls hit your and lure you in.  It was here that we decided to have a late lunch, and we ended up splitting up to go our separate ways and explore the different food stalls, before meeting up with our lunch.  Here you got a damn good selection of different foods...from Korean to Malaysian to Moroccan to Mexican, and plenty of it, for cheap.  I ended up with a steamed Chinese bun and a massive beef burrito.  Stuffed!! We then headed further into the market, which was filled with an eclectic range of stores.  I'm talking vintage travel trunks right next to designer coasters right next to opera masks.  I genuinely imagine you could find almost anything you could ever want in the market!  I'm going to have to make a return for a day!

Finishing up, it was time to go home but the day wasn't over!  After relaxing a little in the flat, we headed into the local fun fair for a quick wander around.  Here I managed to lose £2.50 on those machines where you drop 10p into the slot and there is a chance to knock coins out and win them...it really reminded me of when I was young and the shows would come round.

We then headed to the 'adult play park', an outside gym for a little bit of light exercise (even though we had been walking about most of the day) and some light spinning!  Then it was my first game of Settlers of Catan!  Now, I was told this was a very slow game of Catan, but I still had a lot of fun playing it.  As such, thank you Michael, Cara and Martin for playing with me and showing me how to play!

And then we come to Sunday morning, which after some delightful lazing around and chatting (thank you Michael for the croissants and expresso), it was time for a rather special event: we got video called by all the adorable children at the South African Orphanage that Michael and Cara befriended, looked after and cared for as family.  Nothing puts a smile on your face quicker than a whole bunch of adorable children who are little bundles of energy and joy all smiling and talking into the camera.  This call then quickly descended into a whole lot of silly faces and stuffed animals but everyone involved had a huge amount of fun.

Sadly we said bye to Cara (who wasn't feeling well) and Michael, Martin and I headed to Spitalfield food market via one of the trendiest markets I've been to.  Seemingly, this is where a lot of designers get discovered.  However, we did not go to Spitalfield for clothes, dammit, we went to eat!  

You see, every Sunday, the biggest ethnic food market I have ever seen arrives and I have never seen anything quite like it.  Just stalls and stalls of every type of food you can think of (and some you couldn't) as far as the eye can see.  Mauritian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Korean, Japanese, Indian, Nepalese and many others were all available.  I ended up with some sort of South American (Michael believed Mexican) corn bun with black bean and spiced pulled pork and some Gyoza as well, plus Michael got us some Korean kebabs to share as well.  We ended up eating on the pavement kerb which was the perfect place for such good food.

Heading through some streets adorned with Indian food and sweet shops, we meandered towards the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, before following the river towards the Bridge of London, where I headed into the murky depths of the Underground were I said goodbye to Michael and Martin.  And that brings me to now, as I type this up on the train back to Edinburgh.  

I just want to say thank you to Michael and Cara for inviting me to London and for showing me some proper sights, and thanks to both and Martin for helping make this a fantastic weekend.  As usual, it was great seeing all three of you and I can't wait to see you all next time!!

Pick of the Week

London Markets - Now, I have only been to two (the ones mentioned above) but both were absolutely spectacular.  I could spend hours in both, just exploring the multitude of stalls and tasting all the different foods.  If you're ever in London, please, please, please make a point of visiting a market, and getting some food there.  You won't regret it at all.  Both markets were particular highlights for me, and I bet they will be for you.

Music of the Week

Time for some country music this week, and from classic!  Oh yes, it's Willie Nelson - City of New Orleans!

See you all next week!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Off to Hogwarts, School of Magic, Oxford

Well, it's time for another Alison and Robbie trip, this time to Oxford to see Derek and check out the University of Oxford!  This was actually a trip for my Birthday, which in itself was fun.  Basically, a day filled with quirky coffee bars that raise money for the homeless; a gigantic museum; the cinema; and Mexican food from one of the best Mexican restaurants (Viva Mexico, by the way)...all on a fairly wounded foot but I survived! 

After an action filled birthday, Alison and I jumped on an early train (after some ticket related drama...there is a slim chance I lost my ticket several times – Idiot ED), and were soon on our way to Oxford.  After five hours or so, we slowly pulled into Oxford Station and grabbed a taxi to our B&B...and what an amazing B&B it was!!  We had a beautiful little room overlooking the garden with a really nice ensuite, and a wonderful bed.  And, in addition to a lovely room, we were soon brought some afternoon tea (with homemade cakes) and the room itself had homemade cookies, a welcome basket of fruit and chocolate and a bottle of wine...lovely!  I barely wanted to leave.

Having enjoyed relaxing in the room for a short while and eventually being able to tear ourselves away, we got changed into our finest suits and evening dresses, and headed off to meet Derek for dinner at his college.  After some catching up, wandering around the gardens (the college has its own river!!!) and after being introduced to Saskia, a friend of Derek's, we headed into the college for a pre-dinner drink (it's the only university I've seen that has had sherry...).  After the aperitif, it was time for the dinner.  I always new Oxford was a fairly prestigious place but this 'formal' was something else.

First of all, you have to wait for the college president to enter and say something in Latin before you can sit down.  Then, it's time for a three course meal complete with selected wine (the dessert was brilliant) followed by cheese, fruit and dessert wines and coffee with chocolate.  Seriously, it was the fanciest meal I've had in a university ever.  Hell, it was fancier than most restaurants! 

However, and more importantly, it was nice to sit down and have a meal with Alison, Derek and Saskia and to eat some good food and have some good conversation.  After dinner, we headed to the student bar to play some table football and have some drinks.  A great night to start off Oxford.

Now, normally after a night like this, we would head to bed and have a bit of a lie-in but we suddenly found ourselves getting up at 4:30am.  Why, I hear you gasp?!  Well, it turns out that the May Day weekend is pretty important in England, and in Oxford, it's especially huge.  People get up early (or in many cases, stay up all night drinking) to go listen to one of the university choirs singing from the roof of a church.  Deciding that it was worth seeing, Alison and I found ourself meeting everyone in town at silly O'clock in the morning to see them sing and it certainly was a great experience, to be part of a massive crowd (it's quite popular) listening to the Latin songs flowing from the church roof.  After the show and having passed more Morris dancers than I've seen in my lifetime, we grabbed a coffee with everyone then headed back to the B&B for breakfast and a nap.

After waking and heading back into town, we headed to the oldest church in Oxford (Saint Michael at North Gate) for a birds eye view of the city (well, a bird sitting in a church tower view of the city) which allowed us to get our bearings slightly and to see the multitude of old buildings in the area.  

As there is only so much one can do on top of a church tower (and I certainly don't have a good enough singing voice to sing), we headed to the 'covered market' nearby which holds a selection of local shops and cafes to have a look around, and get some lunch.  Now is probably a good time to apologise to Alison, as I may have took a ridiculously long time to choose what I was having for my lunch.  I just can't help it: I'm indecisive enough but add in a situation where I can have lots of different foods and I'll just melt down.

After spending a few hours deciding what to eat, Alison and I took our food to the Christ Church Park to sit and eat our lunches and enjoy the sun...until we were soon surrounded by a school trip out for their lunch as well.  Finishing quickly , we headed towards the History of Science Museum to see one of Einstein's original formulas on the chalk board it was originally written on (actually stolen by a group of lab attendees after he wrote it, with the noble intention of preserving it).

Having been caught in a rather unusual discussion with a museum curator who decided to talk to me about Scottish football (You know nothing, Jon Snow), we headed to the most packed museum I have ever seen: the Pitt's River Museum.  It was seriously packed with so many different cabinets, I actually thought it was the store room of the museum (which actually turned out to be a second museum).  It was also the most eclectic mixture as well, and the only museum that had actual shrunken heads in it.  Great wandering around but my biggest complaint was that there was too much in too little a space...it was quite claustrophobic and hard to know what to look at.  Finally, we took some time to view the first half of the museum (which was actually a second museum): the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.  What can I say?  It was filled with insects (boo cockroaches), dinosaurs and rocks: it was fantastic!  Just a shame that it was near closing and we got kicked out quite early.

The very, very, very long day was finished with a drink at a bar that smelled of sick; dinner at Jamie Oliver's Italian (this did not smell of sick, and was delicious); and a whisky with Derek at a local pub he suggested. 

Saturday was a well deserved lie-in with breakfast, before we headed to Oxford Castle for a quick look (we didn't have time to go in), before meeting up with Derek and some of his friends to experience a first for me: a vintage clothes sale.  Oh yes, I was living it up and being cool with all the retro fashion! #sorethumb.  Not quite but it was for charity, and was fun seeing some clothes from yesteryear.

Despite not buying any clothes, and having shared out all our cookies, we then headed back to Christ Church College where some of Harry Potter films were filmed (getting in free, thanks to knowing some lovely students :p) and it was certainly magical!  I can only imagine what it would be like if I was studying there and actually got to live in the place!  Sadly, we couldn't get into the actual hall itself but the grounds were magical enough.  This was then followed by some wandering around more of Oxford's magical architecture during the afternoon.

After a trip to Hogwarts, it was back to reality for us but it was worth returning as we got to visit a museum exhibit we wouldn't have known about if we didn't know people at the university.  Held in one of  the libraries, it was basically a bunch of old books.  But what a collection!  Original Shakespeare; Galileo; and Newton and a huge number of other books that have helped shape our literary world.

Then, the remaining night was a blur of food, pub and a rooftop bar, all intermingled with good company and good chat.

The next morning rushed up behind us, and knocked us on the head: it was our final day.  Heading into town, Alison and I met up with Derek and Saskia for a visit to one final museum before we left: the Ashmolean.  A nice collection of everything, ranging from Minoan culture to Egyptian artefacts to Chinese artwork.  Great for a wander around but be warned: it is massive...you need several visits or a day to enjoy it completely.  Finally, after enjoying (some of) the museum and wandering around some more, we headed to lunch in the oldest coffee shop in Oxford.  Which, as it turns out, was across the street from the oldest coffee shop in Oxford.  Talk about rivalry!

And so, it was time to leave Oxford, and what can I say?  Oxford is a lovely place to visit but it was nothing more than a bonus as it was great to catch-up with Derek and meet some new friends as well!  Before I go, I just wanted to say thank you to Derek, Saskia and everyone else for helping make it a great visit!

Pick of the Week

River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze - What would you do if you ended up living in a remote city on a Chinese River for two years?  Well, that's what happened to Peter Hessler when he started teaching English over there.  This is his story, of his difficulties of living in a small city like Fuling and his triumphs.  This is a great book looking at what life was like in China before Hong Kong returned, and after as well.  A great read, if you're interest in travel.

Music of the Week

Ok, I featured Sixx: Am last week so I thought it was only fair that I feature the original: Motley Crue!!  One of their latest songs, it's Saints of Los Angeles.

See you all next week!