Tuesday, August 19, 2008

We Need More Amsterdam

Hi all. Bret and I are writing to you from the Princess of Norway DFDS cruise ship. It’s pretty cool, with several restaurants, lots of bars, and some not so spectacular entertainment.

The trip from Newcastle to Amsterdam is very long- 15 hours by boat each way! So as you might imagine, the ship tries to keep things as lively as possible. There is a ‘pirate’ for the children, which they love, a few shops, and a movie theatre, in addition to several singers and some dancers that parade around in feathery outfits. The cabins are very bare-bone, just a bunk bed and a small en-suite. I was hoping there would be a tv, but no such luck.

It has been very weird travelling by cruise. Neither Bret nor I had ever been on one, and though it has been a good cheap adventure, I can’t say I’d do it again. The ship sways wildly from side to side on the choppy North Sea, and the hum from the boat makes it feel like you are in a perpetual earthquake. I miss the speed and efficiency of flying. We were supposed to arrive in Amsterdam at 9am and depart at 6 pm, but there were quite a few details that were left out, particularly, that the boat does not actually arrive in Amsterdam, but in the industrial outskirts of the quaint city. Instead, we got off the boat at 9:40 and got on a 45 minute bus ride to city centre. Then, the bus picked us up at 3:30 from city centre. So effectively, we had about 5 hours in Amsterdam. We were not pleased by that…

But we made the best of it…after grabbing some dutch breakfast (delicious with cheeses and fried eggs) and dutch apple pancakes (like crepes) we rented some bicylces so we could go around the city faster. We realised that we would not be able to go to the Van Gogh musuem, but we could still meander around town.

What we did not anticipate was the bicycling skills of the locals. I hadn’t been to Amsterdam in 5 years, so I was quite surprised to see that people not only talk on their mobiles as they are weaving through heavy traffic, but they text as well. The locals are expertly with their bikes, ringing their little bells as they zoom past clueless tourists.

Aside from that, biking is quite easy in Amsterdam. It’s flat and beautiful. There are lots of lush trees, and there are canals everywhere. The city vibe is very informal. There are lots of cafes, coffeeshops (that sell more than coffee), and cosy little hang outs in quiet alleyways. You see many a stoned hippy staggering about happily on the neatly paved streets, but you see just as many people in business suits and doing exercise with their dogs. Amsterdam is the kind of place that invites you to relax and enjoy.

While the Red Light District is a must-see for its sheer shock value (there are literally women in lingerie standing in windows, beckoning men to come in to their brothel rooms), my fave area is the Jordaan. Here, the sleaze disappears, and you can really take in the beautiful Dutch architecture. Homes are tall and narrow, Georgetown style. They are all painted very cleanly and decorated very simply. The most elaborate thing you’d see in a home façade is a vine crawling up the wall. The windows are small, and as far as I could tell, the décor inside is elegant and simple. Not exactly minimalist, but not as boring as ‘contemporary.’ Just elegant and plain.

A big downside about Amsterdam is that, though small, it’s a circular city, so it’s almost certain that you will get lost. It took us a good 45 minutes just to find Vondelparc, the lovely large green space in the city. But riding around there was worth it. It’s not a ‘perfect’ park, more like a simple untamed natural place, kind of like Amsterdam itself. Sadly though, after riding around for a few hours, we realised that it was time to go back on the bus and head back onto the ship…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I like Lon lon lon lon lon don, in the sun!

For those of you who have never heard of Stomp!, it’s a wonderful show where the actors use household items and rubbish to make music. It is very intense because it is essentially a whole lot of drumming. They use brooms, plastic bags, even water to form their sounds. And it’s very funny. There’s one guy who’s the ‘runt’ of the group, and the other actors make fun of him. There’s also another one who’s kind of a maniac, he had this crazy laugh that even made the guys on stage break character! What’s most interesting about the show is that all the emotion is conveyed with body language- no one speaks throughout the whole show.

After our show, we walked around the West End, which was bustling! The area has lots of little streets, so it’s really easy to get completely disoriented. After roaming around for quite some time, we found ourselves in Piccadilly Circus, which is the British equivalent to Times Square in New York.

Following the advice from the tour guide from the morning, we decided to stroll around Fleet Street in Old Town.

This, as we discovered, was a terrible idea. Apparently come nightfall, Old Town becomes Ghost Town. We were the only people around, aside from a drunken youth heaving his stomach contents by a tree. The streets were dark and the buildings were, as you might have guessed, old. Basically, we jumped right on the next tube stop, and went back to the hotel for an evening cocktail.

For our last day, we were planning on watching Batman in Imax, but the show was too late, so instead we decided to check out Camden Town and Regent’s Park. Oh, I loved it there!! It's so hippy and cool. And the homes are bautiful, too, with excellent gardens. I got myself a cute little dress at the Market, had a fresh juice, and then relaxed with Bret in the glorious, expansive Park.

But after some time, we were suffocating, so we decided to head over to the Science Museum where there would be A/C. Still feeling the need for a massive 3-D screen, we decided to watch the Deep Sea Imax show. It was amazing, aside from the Italian teenage boys talking next to us throughout the entire movie: “La barracuda es bellisima!” “que cretino!”

Exhausted from a fun-filled weekend, we made our way back to King’s Cross for Newcastle.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Well, I'll be damned! London Bridge fell down!

After having lived the urban life in Newcastle for several months now, I’ve become especially aware of public transportation. And as far as I can tell, The famed Tube is amazing. Walk anywhere for 6 minutes, and a tube station will pop up. Better yet, the trains come every 2-4 minutes, so there’s virtually no waiting. And there are loads of connections, so you can get anywhere in just a few minutes.

Our hotel, called Kensington Rooms was located just 2 blocks from the Gloucester (pronounced ‘gloster’) Road stop on the Picadilly Line. The area of Kensington is super nice, with huge, well-kept homes, frequently painted white with shiny black doors. Our hotel was very nice and simple- modern, stylish, and a very good deal. The room was very small, but clean and neat, so for 90 quid a night, we were quite pleased.

After Harrod’s and checking out a few shops in Covent Garden (Paul and Joe was my fave), I made my way back home to meet my Bret and get ready for a night on the town.

A work colleague of mine who used to live in London recommended a Russian restaurant in Kensington called Nikita’s. It was lovely, and the food was AMAZING! To start, we ordered flavoured vodkas and caviar with hot, fat blinis, sour cream, egg, and onion. YUM!! Then for our main course, I had a juicy tender duck with mushrooms and Bret had the most delicate filet of steak, cooked medium rare. Oh, so juicy!! To finish, we ordered a hot, honey vodka . To end our night, we strolled around the neighbourhood and made our way to the gorgeous Kensington Gardens.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early to get tickets for The Lion King. However, as we found out, the cheapest tickets were going for £50 per person!! So we opted for Stomp! Instead. The show would be at 8, so we had plenty of time to enjoy ourselves.

First on our list was the Thames (pronounced temms) River, where we hopped on a tour boat. We saw the lovely bridges, the Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben. The tour guide recommended that we amble along Old Town and Fleet Street to get a feel for Old London. So we decided we would do that in the evening after the show.

After wandering around a bit, grabbing some sushi, and making our way closer to the hotel, we decided to check out the Victoria and Albert Museum. I had heard marvels about this place, so I thought surely it would be worth going. Even though the fashion section was cool, I have to say, the rest of it was too…knick-knacky. There were all sorts of little things, little rings, little plates, little saucers…I can’t cope with all the tiny old stuff. I like big modern paintings and museums with action and adventure, so this wasn’t my kinda thing. Exhausted from a day’s walking, we went back to the hotel, to recharge for Stomp!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pass the Oxygen Shot to the left hand side

Hello Friends. Braudia, despite wading aimlessly through the treacherous seas of poverty, has gone on a fun-filled adventure once again. This time to London, the fab capital of England (and arguably the world). I hadn’t been to London since 2003, so coming back was a wonderful surprise. I couldn’t believe how many people were swarming the streets- it was exhilarating!! And wonderfully multicultural. So many Arabs, Indians, and South Americans. I was in heaven.

But that’s not all. Get this: it was hot. Not warm- HOT! I actually sweat!

I arrived to the steamy capital at 10am on Friday. Bret was still in Cambridge for his conference, so I took advantage and went off to do girly things, namely comb through the floors of Harrods!! What a display of conspicuous consumption! Everywhere you turn there are signs for Dubai Properties, opulent weddings, and glittering displays of Tiffany, Cartier, and Dior Jewellery.

Despite the fact that there was a 70% off sale, I still couldn’t afford anything. The beluga caviar in the food halls started at a hundred quid for a little vial (the most expensive being escargot caviar for about 400 quid). The food halls are glorious, with fresh exotic fruits, delicately prepared seafood, and decadent desserts. I got some loose mango tea for Bret (ok, so I could afford something) and then grabbed some cute canapés and a prawn pancake for myself. After I wolfed my food down, I went back for a bit of relaxation. Though I contemplated taking a bit of aloe vera juice, I opted instead for a healthy high of oxygen. No, not outdoor air, literally a tank of oxygen. I had seen oxygen cafes become all the rage in LA a few years back, and for 5 quid, I couldn’t say no to 15 minutes of lightheadedness at Harrods.

The spa woman disinfected the nose piece and started the machine of pure, unadulterated O2. I breathed in the fresh air, hoping to get a bit woozy, but nothing happened. After the 15 minute session, I realized I would get a better high checking out more merchandise, so I paid my bill and headed up to the ladies clothes. It was lovely. Diane von Furstenberg and Chloe have the best collections right now. But, as is often the case, the clothes I liked was not the clothes on sale…

While it was getting late and I was getting shopper’s fatigue, I knew I had to check out one more floor: the pet section upstairs. I had read that Harrods carried hypo-allergenic cats, and my desire to interact with fuzzy felines once again was strong. I made my way through the rows of doggie leather jackets, kitty ballet tutus, and delicacies from the Pet Patisserie, complete with ‘mutt-fins’ ‘e-claws’ and ‘pawfitterols’. When I arrived to the pet section, I learned the cats are called Siberian Forest Cats, and they are hypoallergenic because they lack the protein in saliva that makes people allergic. They were going for a mere £1200. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pet them because they were behind the glass. This was rather lame, as was the fact that they were sleeping. In the room next to them were the Papillion pups going for £1500. They were cute, but I think actually Andre is way cuter and more pure bred.

After hours of this mayhem, I decided it was time to leave Mr Fayed’s little shop and head over to Covent Garden…

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Hi all,
For those of you that have been missing our little updates, rest assured that this weekend, Braudia will be partying in London Town!

So details to follow...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Day at the Races

Despite our aweful colds, Bret and I got gussied up yesterday morning (actually, Bret just put on a tie) and met up with a few of our friends to enjoy Northumberland Plate Day, the biggest race day in Newcastle.

I was surprised by how many people were at the races! The place was insane. There were groups of burly men eager to place their bets, crazy young 'hens' enjoying a day out with their girls, and groups of older ladies with far too much wrinkly cleavage spilling out of their chiffon floral dresses (as I took note yesterday, there is indeed an expiration date on breasts. and arms, and stomach for that matter).

Anyway, while I had on my very stylish coral bolero, I was very chilly because, despite being almost July, it was 60, windy, and cloudy. I shivered my way through the crowds and over to the bookies. I learned that there would be 6 races, and I had already decided that I would spend no more than 20 pounds on bets, so I was in no rush to place my bet. For the first race, most of us just watched to see if our horse predictions came true. At about 2:00, the horses came parading through the track. They were gorgeous- lean, muscular, and shiny. At 2:10, the first race began, and the horses sped along the track. From a distance, we could only see a mass moving steadily towards us. The crowds around us cheered fiercely. As the horses came closer, we noticed they were moving at about 30 miles per hour and being whipped strongly by the jockeys. It was exhilarating, so for the next race, we decided to begin betting.

I placed my bets on a horse that had good odds, I think his name was Joseph Henry. I put down 5 pounds each way, so that if he placed, I would get a bit of money back. Bret chose to bet on a horse called 'Burning Incence' because he liked the name. We decided to go right up to the track for this second race. Finally, the horses came parading through. My horse was running with his tongue hanging out and was foaming in the mouth. I took this to be a bad sign. Bret's horse looked good, despite his poor odds. When the gates opened, the horses shot out towards the track. We shouted for our horses, but sadly, neither of us won. We didn't even place! But there were 4 more chances, and I for one, had quite a bit more 'poundage' to spend.

So the third race was the big 2 miler. I eagerly placed my bets on another horse with great odds. We met up with our party and sat in the bleachers. Each of us bet on a different horse, so we figured one of us was bound to win something. But there were 22 horses and only 6 of us, so really, this was really just wishful thinking. As it turns out, my horse 'Desert Sea' which I had been tipped about on the bus came in third to last place. I began to feel like the bookies were riggging the races.

But what Norris told me was that in 'handicap' races, they handicap the best horse by adding weights so that it's a more even playing field. Confused by this whole process I decided to take a different approach. I would bet on the least likely horse. That way, if it won, I would get a huge return.

However, my horse, once again, was one of the lazy ones in the back. By this point, Bret had a terrible headache, I was still dazed from all my cold medicine, and we were losing miserably. Rather than brave the cold for another hour, we decided to say farewell to our friends and call it a day. It was exciting, the Pimms and Lemonade was delicious, but we needed our rest. We hopped into a cab and nappped it out back in Breamish Street.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Rain, rain, go away!

Hello all,
It’s been raining all day today and Bret and I have minor colds. So instead of going on our Jesmond Dene bike ride like we had planned, we decided to have a day of library, shopping, and staying in.

Newcastle has many different regional libraries. But there are none really close to our house. Instead, we’ve gotta walk for about 15 minutes to get to the Byker Library, which interestingly also has a gym and pool. It’s quite a vibrant public place, and today we went crazy checking out books and cds! Some highlights include Lightspeed Champion and The Essential Simon & Garfunkel. I also got several books on gardening, including The City Gardener’s Bible, which I have already started; a very unusual graphic novel called Woman’s World; and a novel called Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living. However, I am a bit concerned because I have to make time to read for my book club, which has been going swimmingly, if you must know. For July, we’ll be going to Crook Hall to discuss Brideshead Revisited.

Anyway, so after our maniacal library spree, Bret and I parted ways, as he went to do a bit of grocery shopping and I went to do more clothes shopping. Plate Day is next Saturday, and I needed to get several accessories to go with my gorgeous new Adolfo Dominguez floral dress. I spent hours going from shop to shop, taking a quick sushi break in between. The worst was the shoes, because I only liked the ones that cost circa one hundred pounds. But luckily, I found some cute and affordable white wedges at Dorothy Perkins. Exhausted after an afternoon spent engaging in good ole fashioned British consumerism, I went home.

As I walked in, I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful smell in the house. Last week I bought some huge pink lilies, and they are very aromatic! Actually, a few weeks ago I was strolling down Gray Street, and the art galleries were having an evening event to promote Newcastle culture. I walk in to a gallery and notice that it smells absolutely divine! I ask the curator, and she tells me that she got the lilies at Grainger Market for just 5 pounds. So the next day, I rush over to Grainger Market during my lunch break to snap up these horticultural delights! For those of you unfamiliar with Grainger Market, it is a geriatric haven. I was the only person there under 75. I even witnessed an old man have a heart attack (this is not a joke: I really saw an old man have a heart attack. He collapsed, then awoke, was breathing horribly, and then started vomiting. Several people helped him, but no one was in the least bit fazed by the incident).

As I was saying, I walk into our flat and I realize that it’s time to prepare dinner. We have recently invested in a grocery box scheme. We used to do a ‘veggie box’ in State College, which would provide an array of seasonal locally grown veggies every week for a set price. But the one here is even better. We use G & S Organics, which provides not just veggies, but meat, milk, fresh-baked bread, and fruit, all organic for just 40 pounds a week. So tonight, I made the most delicious meal with ingredients from our box. First, of course, salad, with fresh lettuce, tomato, cucumber and radishes. Then I cooked up the rest of the lettuce with some frozen peas and some spring onions for a side dish. For the other side, I boiled up some broad beans and mixed in Parmesan and parsley with poached egg. For our main course, I made the absolute most wonderful pork chops ever. I don’t know why these pork chops were so tender- all I know is that I’ve never eaten any as soft. I put a soy sauce, orange, sugar marinade on them, and they came out lovely!

Anyway, so for the rest of the night, I think we’ll just nurse our colds and watch a movie or something. Hope you’re all doing well!