Thursday, 28 June 2007

Great food, coffee... and chain stores

We had the best dinner last night. There's this Italian restaurant near our place called Zizzi, and we've eaten there a few times now. They do the best garlic pizza bread - it comes with just a bit of olive oil brushed over the top, and fresh rosemary leaves scattered over it. It is so good. Then I had this brilliant goat's cheese crostini with caremelised onion on top - it was such a strong taste, almost blue-cheese strong, but so good. Admittedly it did come with a lame, overdressed little salad thing, but I can overlook that. All washed down with some yummy Trebbiano, which I've never really had before but which isn't bad. Then for desert, I had vanilla bean and pistachio ice cream (shouldn't that be gelato at an Italian restaurant?). And Mark had an affogatto, although I had to tell them how to make it?! They did do a brilliant job in the end though - I love affogatto...

So that was great. But then when I just looked it up online to put a link to it above, I found out that it's a huge chain... not surprising really, everything that's good in London turns out to be a chain. I don't know why that takes some of the gloss off, but it does. It just seems less authentic and less loved somehow, like the owners don't really give a poo about the food but are just out to make a buck. But I guess if they make good food then nothing changes that - enjoy it for what it is right...

Like this great coffee place I went to yesterday morning near my work, that I'd read about online. It was called Benugo, and they made me a great coffee to start the morning with. Lucky, cos it also made me 15 minutes late to work. But then this evening I saw another one a few blocks away from our place! Bloody chain stores...

One place that kicks bum and that I know is not a chain store is this little place near work called Brill. It's a funny little blend of CD shop and cafe, and it prides itself on being independent. There was this guy who opened up on Monday morning, and he made me, without exaggeration, the best coffee I've had in London ever. So I had another one. The owner, who normally works there, makes an OK coffee but not as good as this other dude. He's good value though - he very clearly absolutely loves his music and talks loudly and enthusiastically to anyone who goes into the shop about whatever CD is playing or whatever type of music they happen to be looking for.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

NoGo Moto

Didn't go up to the MotoGP. Went down the to train station to buy a ticket. 95 pounds return. "Cheers mate. No thanks." That's almost $250 before I'm even in the door. Oh well. Watched it on TV, the start of the race was good. Wet day though. We had a pretty good weekend in London as well. Just doing not that much.

We went to see Oceans 13 at the movies last night. That was pretty good! We are big fans of the previous two movies, and this one was good. We both enjoyed it, although we don't get a lot of the jokes! (I think you have to be American to understand some of them). They've left the door open for a fourth movie, but I don't think it will ever happen.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Bergen, here we come...

We just booked Mark's birthday weekend away - on the west coast of Norway in the midst of the fjords!! It looks absolutely stunning! Here's us when we get there (and die our hair blonde...):

We're going to this little (??) place called Bergen, which has direct flights from London and is apparently a great place to go to check out the fjords. I did also read somewhere that they do these crazy viking tours, where at the end they dress everyone up like a viking and you go out on a viking ship. That just sold it for Mark, so off we go... :)

This is Bergen:

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Land of odd shop signs...

We seem to be in the midst of a whole stack of crazy zany shop signs here. Not only do we have a local BoConcept store, but a local Mr Topper's hair salon, a cryptic farting dog store, and also a local Spearmint Rhino gentleman's club. How have I ever lived without these??

BoConcept store

This one's just for Ray - our local BoConcept store on Tottenham Court Road. Now we've at least got proof for one of our Bo's...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Cloud Gate Dance

We went to see the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre from Taiwan the other night at Sadlers Wells, to see a performance of their Wild Cursive piece. I thought it was stunning. It was based on Chinese calligraphy, so the dancers were representing the calligraphy brushes and the ink, and their costumes and movements were based on this. The dance was the most amazing thing - a kind of alternating between these beautiful fluid movements and quite strong, harsh martial arts-style stances. It was really like tai chi turned into a dance. Here's a picture from one of the reviews of the performance over here, at Sadlers Wells in Islington, which is just up the road from where I'm working. Funnily enough, they were also doing this performance in Sydney at the end of May, which obviously I missed, so I'm really glad I had the chance to see this over here, it was amazing.

We just went for a wander around London today, cos Mark had to watch the Moto-GP thing on this afternoon. I had a good old shop at Covent Garden, got a few cool pits and pieces and a present for someone... you'll have to wait until we get back to find out who though... ;)

We're having a night in tonight, with some cheese and biscuits, red wine and steak and mushroom pie later for dinner, and then I think a nice long hot bath is in order... with some more red wine of course... :)

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Slapstick and carnie boats!

Here's something else for a bit of a laugh - a bit of slapstick to bring a grin to your face :) This is a couple of pics from when we went up to Oxford and went for a wander along the river. I loved it - all this hilarious stuff just kept presenting itself, and boating on the river just seemed like a laugh a minute. For starters you've got all these rowers practicing their rowing up and down the river. It's funny enough watching them go by when they've got their instructor sitting way down in the front of the boat talking on a loudspeaker thing to them. But it's hilarious when the instructor is riding a bicycle along the path by the side of the river and yelling out at them as he rides. It just seems inevitable that there's a rock on the path or someone steps out in front of him and he goes head-over-heels into the river!!! :D

And lo and behold, just up from the crazy rowing trainers were these stunning little beauties - carnie boats! What a sight hey? I was just imagining dodgy-looking, squinty people who hadn't bathed in 6 months and who ate kippers for breakfast while their scrawny bratty kids ran round screaming at each other peering through the windows suspiciously at us. Disappointingly we didn't really see anyone around the carnie boats though, except for the bicycling rower trainers, although they did seem to try to get past the carnie boats as fast as they could. Probably scared of being tripped over by one of the screaming kids and being pitched into the river...

London Mk2

It's been different visiting London the second time around.

I've seen all the big tourist attractions, and I haven't been that keen to go back and see them all again. I'm over museums and art galleries. So this trip has a very different feel to the last one.

Last time I'd head out in the morning and see London, all the sights and sounds, and it was great! This time, I'm not really sure what to do with myself. I've been on holiday so far. I haven't started my study for the CISA exam I'll be taking in December. I've just been doing whatever. I had planned to do some Krav Maga and some boxing while I was here, but that's not really worked out. I didn't like the teaching method or sylabus of the Krav Maga, and the boxing is really expensive. Also, with the boxing, I'm so unfit right now due to a few months of drinking, eating and not much else. I'm going to get fit while I'm here. I've gone on a few jogs, and I've joined a gym, which has also given me some things to do. I've also signed up for a rock climbing course, so I can do some indoor rock climbing while Ellie is at work.

Ellie and I have been going to a few pubs which has been good. We have a great local pub which has Fruli (strawberry cider which tastes like daiquiri) and a nice wine on tap for Ellie, and beer for me. Good pub, and they have good food too.

Things coming up: I'm off to Donnington on Friday to watch the MotoGP practice sessions ahead of Sunday's race. Just going up for the day. Then at the start of August I'm going to go to all three days of practice / qualifying / racing of the World Superbike round at Brands Hatch. That will be awesome!

I might also see some movies during the day. I'm keen to see Zodiac, and Ellie isn't, so I'll head down while she's at work.

I will have to start studying soon too!

Pub Walk

What pub walk?

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Greenwich pub "walk"...

On the weekend, we went on a pub "walk". I think this may well just be an attempt to dress up a pub crawl and make it sound mildly legitimate. The theory was that there are a stack of pubs around London that are brilliantly historic and that all kinds of culturally significant things happened in. So if you wander around all day from one pub to the next, and pause every so often to admire the history of the place, then drinking lots and idling away the time is completely justified. So, our pub walk around Greenwich was a roaring success. Here are some of the pubs we "examined" (although I have to admit that the value of admiring the historical significance decreases as the number of pints consumed increases, so I can't really tell you what cool stuff happened in these...):
Wow, now that I've listed them all out like that I'm pretty impressed we managed to stay vertical all day... although Mark did have a couple of "incidents" on the way home and at home. I think he managed to well and truly convince everyone that Aussies are loud and passionate about their sport anyway... Fortunately, we didn't get any pictures from the day so you only have to be subjected to stories rather than images. It was a great day though - we certainly absorbed a lot of history and culture (you get it by osmosis with the drinking, right?).

On the morning before the pub walk, we went back to check out Portobello Rd markets again, which was great - I don't remember the antique-y things being as interesting last time, we checked out all these cool old prints and maps and stuff (original prints of Tintin and Axterix comics, and hundreds-years-old maps), and all this cool old jewellery - hat pins and brooches and stuff as well as necklaces and watches.

Then Sunday we (read Mark) needed to recuperate after the pub walk, so we did nothing. Or tried to - we went to get a cooked English brekkie to combat the hangover, but ended up finding out that the Marylebone festival (which we'd heard about a few weeks back when we were living in Marylebone) was on that day. So we checked it out, but the best thing was this brilliant group of buskers we saw. There was a dude playing a box (literally, a wooden box he was sitting on) and with a shaker tucked into his shoe-laces so it rattled when he tapped his foot, and another dude playing a cello, and then another guy doing, of all things, tap-dancing. It sounds like a pretty unlikely combination right, but it was actually fantastic. They were these 3 young guys (Ray, just picture your idea of a beatnik) who were basically just playing around with all these rhythms and busking while they were doing it, and they were having a ball. I think it's the best busking I've ever seen. And sorry, no pic of them either.

Then for lunch we had a picnic in Regent's park, with some fantastic rosemary bread we bought at the market, some vintage cheddar and beautiful ripe tomatoes. Couldn't be better! This I do have a photo of - here's Mark watching some of the locals play an impromptu game of soccer, and another macro one of our fantastic bread, cheese and tomato, just cos I can. And then, hangover successfully banished, we stumbled on a brilliant little Italian cafe that actually does great coffee, right in the next block to our apartment. Yay! :) It was a very "authentic" cafe though, which means that they had the soccer on the TV and all the Italian guys in the place (including the guys who owned it) were glued to the TV. Despite his supposed hatred of soccer, Mark's love of sport generally was stronger and so he joined in and glued himself to the TV too. Lucky the great coffee made up for it... :)

Phew! How's that for a novel? I think that pretty much brings us up to date, with the exception of a few bits and pieces that will find their way into the blog at some point or other.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Better and better...

Oh yeah baby! We've now moved to a different apartment, that will hopefully be our permanent home for the rest of our stay over here. It is brilliant. For starters, it's got more than 1 room. We do actually have separate living and bedrooms now - woohoo! So when Mark wants to stay up watching Talented Mr Ripley and I want to go to bed, it's not a problem. yay :)

Not to mention, we're in a great area with stacks of good restaurants and cafes, we've already found our local pub, and it's actually quicker to walk to work from where I am now than it was before. Plus, now we've got a dishwasher and clothes dryer, and hopefully won't have any mice peeking their noses around the corners unlike the other place. Here's some dodgy pics of the inside of our place, and here's where it is on the map. Our local's just on the opposite corner to the right of the screen from our place - love it! Actually the most annoying thing about it is that it has NZ sauvingnon blanc on tap, which is absolutely delicious. I've been drinking Chilean or South African wine over here, but they don't have any of these at this place so I gave the draught wine a try, mainly for novelty value, and it turned out to be great. How annoying! lol :) it's OK, I'll get over it...

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Just a couple of punters...

Well OK, only one punter - Mark. I took the easy option and allowed myself to be punted around for a while. That doesn't sound very good does it? We went up to Oxford today, and indulged in the quintessential Oxford passtime (other than drinking in one of the many pubs) of punting along the river. And I should say "river" in diddits, because they're really more like very slowly moving, very long and skinny lakes. They're the most ridiculously manicured, cultured, still rivers you've ever seen, nothing like the Murrumbidgee or the Murray, with snags and high banks and overhanging trees and even a current. Anyway once we got into the punting we were actually pretty glad of this.

After forcing our business and money onto the bored, spoilt little Oxford boy who was obviously suffering the degradation of having to work for his crust on a Sunday morning, Mark had the briefest ever lesson on how to handle a boat, and we were pushed off into the stream. Kind of, except that the bored little Oxford boys couldn't be bothered helping us with that so we really ended up pushing ourselves off into the stream. Having never punted before, and having only had 3 words of guidance from the spoint little Oxford boy, Mark picked up the knack miraculously (albeit after running us through some rose bushes and stinging nettles first). It was a beautifully serene, tranquil ride. For me anyway, I'm sure Mark's got another perspective he can post about. The only hiccup, after gliding smoothly through tunnels and having to duck down under low-lying bridges (there's a pic above - very surfie hey?), was briefly losing our punting pole when it stuck into the bottom of the river. But, some quick paddling by Mark with the back-up oar somehow managed to get us back upstream to the pole and all was well again, not to mention still dry! Here's a pic of the moment of truth just before he lunges for the stranded post.

All up, it was great fun! And yes, I pretty much did nothing the entire hour we had the punt. Except offer moral support and probably incorrect advice on which side to paddle on to make the boat turn left or right. That's important right?

In amongst all of the hundreds-of-years-old sandstone architecture, which was all very beautiful and historic, we also saw some hilarious statue heads that we concluded must have been the rough draft for The Simpsons. Either that, or there were some stone-masons carving statues that had a great little joke on whoever was employing them, as they're not exactly the most dignified-looking statues you've ever seen. Here's a pic.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Smoked salmon bagel!

Yummo! I just got a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel for lunch from the little market downstairs, with fresh black pepper and lemon - so good! I can see myself getting addicted to these things... and to top it off I've got one of their famous brownies for dessert too, if I've got room for it...

Heathrow injection, here I come!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Fight Club

I'm reading Fight Club. I went to a cafe this afternoon - a restaurant actually - to sit down and read for a while. I got the impression when I ordered that they don't usually get people coming in and ordering just coffee.

I sat outside in the "sun". It was Illy coffee, and really pretty good. We've found a few places with good coffee here in London, with a few more to try yet. So I've got good coffee at a nice restaurant. But something is missing. There's just something not quite right about drinking coffee in London. It's like drinking beer in Italy. You have all the right ingredients, but it just doesn't feel right.

We've been out for Spanish the last two nights, and we had Spanish last week with some of Ellie's friends. None of it has been as good as we had in Spain, or Legends in Canberra. As Ellie mentioned, I had some local ale on the weekend. That was the first and last time I'll be doing that. We have had some good food here though - you can get some great pies and pasties.

Might head down to Bath on the weekend, or perhaps Plymouth. Really looking forward to seeing some of the English country-side.

People and grass

Here's some more trippy stuff we saw on the wkend - there's this crazy installation art thing set up around Southbank in London at the moment, where the artist has made heaps of life-size casts of himself and they've been put on buildings all around London. So you'll just be walking around and see out of the corner of your eye this silhouette of a person standing on the corner of a roof on a sky-scraper - it's a bit disturbing! You can just see 4 of them on the tops of the buildings in this pic - it's around the Haywood Gallery building, which is where the rest of the exhibition is being held.

The other disturbing thing is what seems to be becoming London fascination with grass. A few weeks ago it was the grass that they'd laid on Trafalgar Square, and now it seems to be that they've covered an entire building with grass!! The crazy grass building is also over on Southbank (funnily enough same as the kooky Tate Modern, home of glasses-of-water-that-are-really-oak-trees). Mark saw them watering the building the other day - imagine being paid to do that?! The best thing about it is that they've put one of the person-statues on top of the crazy-grass-building, so there's this surreal enormous cube of grass topped by a person standing on the top corner looking like he's about to fall off. Love it! Here's a pic - you should be able to click on these to enlarge them and see the people.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007


Went down to Basingtoke for work today - here's a map of whereabouts it is compared to London. It was about 45 mins on the train, and reasonably uneventful - just a biggish town in the countryside. I don't think I'm too keen to spend 5 hrs on the train going down to Plymouth, it's kind of nice to sit there and watch the world go by, but there's not that much variance in what does go by, so I think it'd be heaps more fun to get a car and drive ourselves. Not to mention cheaper - it's about £70 each for a train ride return - that's over $330 for the two of us!!

Here's some more pics from the wkend - we went into a Wether- spoon's (chain of pubs - everything in London is a chain!) to get a pear cider, which I got hooked on last time over here. Mark tried some bodgy local beer - Seahawk ale or something or other - and it was so warm and watery he could barely finish it. And for Mark, that's gotta be pretty bad. hehe :) Anyway, here are our respective verdicts for our beverages.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Reality TV in the family!

I nearly forgot! I spoke to Dad today and told him that the TV show "The Lost Tribes" currently showing in Aus, with a family called the Poveys, which has a father called Tony who's about 50, whose eyes look remarkably like Dad's eyes, and who's from Western Sydney, could in fact be featuring his son from his first marriage. That makes him my half-brother. He said that he had been a fireman in Sydney, and, at least from the few bits and pieces that you get about them on the TV show's website, Tony Povey is also a firefighter. So I'd say given there are only a handful of Poveys around in Australia, it's pretty certain that my half-brother and his wife and 2 kids are on reality TV... how bizarre hey? In the website above, he's the dude with little black marks on his face gazing off into the distance on the main title banner. Crazy!

Bludgy London day

After canning our plans for Plymouth this weekend because the weather looked like it was going to be nasty, we wound up with the most stunning summer day on Saturday (although apparently it was still horrible down in the south-west where Plymouth is so it's all good). Mark and I basically drank our way around London. We started with the most miraculous of all things - good coffee in London. Kudos to Mark for finding the place - this great tiny little place at Neal's Yard near Covent Garden. There were only 3 booths up the back of the place, but it had the best vibe - coffee sacks and pastries everywhere, and funnily enough it seemed to be run by Aussies! Don't you love that - the only good coffee we can find over here is made by Aussies... Here's a pic of me pretending to drink coffee and not laugh while Mark takes a photo of the place. :)

Then we kept on wandering, and after getting our first pastie this London trip (so amazingly good, although still not as good as yours Mum. Although the chain you buy them from is called "The Cornish Bakehouse", which Dad would be disgusted at.), we did a quick visit to Temple Church. This was the church they visited in The Da Vinci Code, when they were looking for "a knight interred" (it was a red herring - they should actually have been at Westminster Abbey). It was kind of funny - there were these amazing stained glass windows at one end, but the stone effigies that they look at in the Da Vinci Code are at the other end, so all of the tourists go to the other end and take photos of them. Here's a pic of what I thought was actually worth seeing - one of the windows. You can't see it properly because the camera (and potentially my photography) aren't good enough, but most windows seem to have quite big chunks of glass, whereas this one has so many little pieces it's almost a mosaic - the effect when you're there is amazing.

Then we wandered along the Thames and went to the Waterloo Bridge second-hand book market (I can't stay away from books - it's useless to try), and then went into a couple of the big old boats moored along the river, which are now restaurants and bars. We sat around and drank wine for a while floating up and down on the tide, then pub-crawled our way home - 'twas great! Edie, you'd be proud of us ;) And then just to top it off we went out for more drinks with some friends in Islington that night - that's a lot of drinking for one day!

Friday, 1 June 2007

Round up for the week

That's week #3 out of the way now - only 11 to go then it's back to the Sydney bumming life :)

We also went to see Pirates of the Caribbean #3 this week. It was a surprisingly crap movie experience, but a better than expected movie somehow. I have to admit I wasn't expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised by this at-times-random, very light-hearted, romp-y kind of movie. It looked like they were all having an absolute ball making the movie, and there were some great special effects. However, the cinemas here at crappo. For starters, you have your seat allocated when you buy your ticket (figure that out, especially when there are no seats allocated on plane flights so you have to race to get a good seat there - they've sure got their priorities sorted out there...). There are also "extra special good" seats, in the middle of the cinema, which cost a few pounds more each just so you don't have to turn your head that extra degree or two. Then apparently it's necessary to have an intermission between the ads/trailers and the actual movie!! So in reality you can turn up a half hr after the movie start time, and you could walk in during the "intermission", with the lights bright enough to find your pre-allocated seat, and sit down for the actual movie. All very wierd... So seeing this one movie ended up costing us about Au$50!! What a joke hey...

Anyway that's enough whinging for now, on to something nice - Chilean wine (that's wine from Chile). It's surprisingly good! In a desparate bid to try some wine over here that's not Australian (which has got to make up at least half of the supermarket wine stocks, not to mention restaurants wine lists...), we're trying all these wierd and wonderful locations. Chile's been the best so far, for sauvignon blanc and also some good merlot and cab sav, and I had some good South African red too surprisingly. Argentinian white has been no good when we tried it. The first bottle I bought over here was just some M&S-brand bottle, which I realised when I got home was good old South Australian red!!

I just booked tickets to see Damien Rice in Brighton in July. It's on a Saturday night so we'll take the train down there and spend the weekend there and check it out - it's only an hour on the train apparently.

Since we're not going down south for the weekend, we're going to pack a lot into the weekend - Mark's got a plan for tomorrow to go drinking on a boat on the Thames and check out some other stuff, then on Sunday we'll catch a train up to Oxford or somewhere and check it out just for the day.

Oh, and it's now officially summer - yay! Now if only someone would tell the weather to improve...


Well we were going to go to Plymouth this weekend, but it looks like it's going to be crap weather so we think now we'll wait for a better weekend later down the track.

For Mum to check that we're going to the right place (the house we lived in until we came out to Australia), here's a link to a satellite map of the street. There should be an arrow pointing out the front of the house. Leave me a comment if it's the right spot! You can zoom the map in or out and also move around by dragging the mouse on the map - it's pretty good actually, I love google maps. Once you've zoomed out a bit, you can also get it to overlay the street names on the satellite map - use the little 'Hybrid' button at the top right.