Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Room for Rent #10 - Easy Access Plumbing

We're moving house in ten days, and I'm putting my writing habit to good use by drafting a new ad each day until we move to help our landlords advertise some of the unique characteristics of the flat we've grown to love over the past five months.

Are you someone who loves to know how things work? Buttons are for sissies; you'll leave our modern bathroom more satisfied after activating the flush process through our specially designed cistern access portal. With no detail overlooked, we've extended the same vision to your rustic showerhead. Experience water pressure previously unseen outside Africa with our unique layers of plaster assisting your morning wash. Now also featuring decorative foam that serves the dual purpose of holding the showerhead in place while also reinforcing a delightful bohemian atmosphere.

The specially designed cistern access portal.
The decorative foam.

Top 10 Reasons to Move

In 10 days we'll be living in a much larger two bedroom flat with Paul's cousin Zoe and her boyfriend Daniel in Wandsworth.

I've been blogging a lot about our travels, but kept rather quiet on everything that's happened in-between. But that's not for lack of stories to tell! This place has definitely been memorable in it's own kind of gross way. To celebrate some of the colourful experiences we've had living for five months in temporary accommodation with an assortment of eight other Spaniards and Italians, I'm going to count down the next ten days with a mini-post each day on why we're glad to be moving on!

The agent assures me that the sunsets will be just as good at the new place.

Life Lesson #33 - Delayed Off

Navigating the backstreets of a Spanish island in a manual hatchback with no map should be a recipe for disaster.

I was perplexed to rock up at the terminal hours early without so much as a missed turnoff. There was that gnawing feeling that something was about to go wrong.

They put it in red so you can't miss it. I'm already through security, and luckily I had the foresight to swap my sandy jandals and damp togs for fresh clothes in the handicapped loo.

The original flight time was already a stretch. "Will we be ok at work if we get in at 2am?", I remember asking Paul. Then, a month ago easyJet bumped the flight back another hour. "How about 3am?" I said in a slightly high pitched voice when I got the email.

And now this - a delay of almost three further hours. Paul asks when we'll get home. I do the maths, factor in the hourly train from Gatwick and the night bus to our place... "about 5:30am" I realise aloud.

EasyJet give us vouchers for the inconvenience. I get a Whopper Jr meal from BK. The guy thrusts the tray at me and I watch in slow motion as my Large Coke No Ice hurtles off the tray, landing Glee-style square in the centre of my formerly-fresh shirt.

He shrugs and hands me a single napkin.

Everything takes longer than they tell us it's going to. About eight hours, six queues, two airport buses, one shuttle, one train, a London bus, a brisk walk and a patdown later, we arrive home. It's almost six o'clock. The sky is lightening. I can hear birds I've never heard before.

A few short hours later, I arrive in the office before anyone else. Turns out my boss is stuck in New York, after his week long trip was trampled all over by an earthquake and a hurricane. He's in JFK with thousands of other stranded travelers and has no idea when he'll be home.

I decide that my night really wasn't so bad, and head to the coffee machine.

My chest is still sticky.

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Weekend in Majorca

We took our little suitcases with us to work on Friday, and just hours after the long weekend began we were in the air.

Sunset as we approached the coast of France was so vivid it looked like a lava explosion.

Majorca is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. It's a two and a half hour flight from Luton airport which takes you directly over Barcelona.

We're staying in the big smoke: Palma. This is a case of you-don't-know-where-to-stay-until-you've-been. Though our hotel is lovely, with a great pool and friendly staff, the location is a lot more developed than we were hoping for.

Nonetheless, there are still some cool beaches nearby, and the next morning we set out exploring. We catch the #3 bus to the end of the line - Illetes. It's lovely, but very crowded.

Illetes - lovely but crowded.

We spend a good few hours there before heading into the city.

Palma is known for it's enormous Gothic cathedral. It's nothing short of magnificent.

The sky gets all moody at just the right moment.

After a quick but delicious gelato near the cathedral, we head to Es Baluard Museu - the Modern Art Gallery. Unusually for a modern art gallery, the building exudes history. I guess being a 16th century bastion will do that to a place! The exhibitions are well curated, and the space fascinating.

My favourite space is a Boltanski exhibition housed underground in the old water cistern; Signatures. It's the perfect space for it. The room is like half a cylinder, with the floor the only flat surface. It's smoky so you can't see the back of the room. stairs lead down from you, making you feel like you're on a shallow stage. The only light in the room is a series of old fashioned fluorescent light tubes fashioned into impenetrable shapes. You're not sure what you can hear at first - low, repetitive guttural sounds. Eventually you realise that it's a slowed down heartbeat.

When you leave the room, an assistant offers you the chance to become part of the exhibit by recording your own heartbeat. I did.

The cathedral in the distance as seen from the roof of Es Baluard.

We found a great Thai place for dinner. My dish was served in a pineapple!

Sunday we did very little, reading by the pool and planning the following day. Monday was to be special. We realised that we couldn't see Majorca properly from our accommodation and decided that the only way to get the side of the island we were hoping for was to hire a car and drive there. So, on Monday we did.

Compared to Palma, Es Trenc is deserted. We spend the entire day there, swimming, relaxing in the sun and reading. The water is the warmest I've ever felt. 

We did learn the hard way that the oldest, most overweight Spaniards enjoy swimming nude, but obstacles aside it was an incredible day.

About halfway along the 3km beach is a little hut where you can buy toasted sandwiches, paella and, most importantly, sangria.

At the end of the beach are a few abandoned luxury houses. It's the only sign of life here, and refreshing to see on an island so crammed with holiday resorts. I couldn't shake the feeling that somehow Es Trenc managed to beat capitalism.

When Paul climbed the decrepit old concrete staircase I was worried he'd fall through the ceiling. But he soon gasped at the view. It may have smelt like urine, but the view was undeniably incredible.

We used the last of the daylight reading together on homemade chairs someone had put together out of bricks and large pieces of wood, then drove back to the airport to come home.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life Lesson #32- The Trip to Nowhere

I've been looking forward to this weekend for ages. Like any self respecting theatre freak, I find myself drawn to the the Edinburgh Fringe Festival like a mozzie to one of those lights that zaps them.

If only I had made it.

I planned the weekend to a degree of precision I believe they call obsessive compulsive. There were spreadsheets.

I settled on Last 5 Years, Margaret Cho and Spring Awakening. Two shows and a comedian that I have adored for years and never had the chance to see.


Last night I couldn't sleep for excitement at seeing my very first Jason Robert Brown.

If only I had remembered my passport.

By the time it crossed my mind, our easyBus was 10 minutes away from Stansted, and all I could do was hope that my drivers licence would suffice - given that it's a domestic flight.

Not so. While most other airlines follow the government guidelines accepting photo ID for domestic flights, Ryanair's stingy policies don't stretch.

So, after trying as hard as possible, I find myself glumly heading back on the Stansted Express while txting Paul instructions for how to pick up tickets when he arrives in Scotland without me.

He ends up convincing me to shell out a bomb for another flight, and I locate one leaving Heathrow in two hours.

The express is not so express. Luckily, it arrives to Liverpool St Station, which has three direct underground lines to our nearest station.

Guess which three underground lines are closed for maintenance today?

Two tubes, a bus, and 40 minutes layer I sprint in our front door, grab my passport (and a few of the lollies we nicked from the waiting room of our hotel six weeks ago in Germany), then run back to catch the tube to the Heathrow Express - which leaves from Paddington.

I arrive in the nick of time to sprint through the closing doors.

When I arrive at Heathrow, I race straight to the British Airways 'help' desk. (Yes, I put fear quotes around the word 'help' on purpose).

A bored looking man with a comb-over and glasses like my dad had in 1991 sluggishly informs me that check-in has closed.

"But I have no luggage!" I exclaim.

"The flight doesn't leave for nearly 40 minutes!"

"I busted a gut to get here!"

"I only booked it an hour ago!"

"I paid top dollar for it!"

"I've already missed one flight today!"

He glares.

"It's for a funeral!!"

Heartless man just stares into me with his beady little eyes. I can't stop staring at his sweaty forehead.

He brushes me off and tells me to go to customer service.

I'm greeted by an 18 year old with a loose mousy ponytail who looks like she's trying not to smile.

By now I've given up on all hope of making my flight, so I use another tactic: lies.

"I've missed my flight and they told me to come hear for my refund".

Her eyes widen. She starts laughing. She calls her manager over. He's about 4"8. I repeat my desperate plea.

His eyebrows raise. He starts laughing too. They glance at each other and laugh together.

After five minutes of groveling, they send me on my way with a "good luck at getting a refund online" and knowing looks exchanged.

I get back on the train again and head back into town to see The Inbetweeners movie with our new friends.

I'm not sure if I should feel happy or sad that Paul ended up stuck on the bus so long that he missed the first show too. And Zoe was in the right place but unable to do anything without the tickets.

Oh, and I went to completely the wrong station for the movie and arrived 15 minutes after it started - on the other side of town. By the time I got back to our home station it was two and a half hours since I'd got on the train at Heathrow, and my ticket had expired so I had to pay a £10 penalty fee.

Murphy's Law, I guess.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Review: Betrayal

There's nothing better than a sturdy relationship drama. Add a a sizzling performance from the effortlessly talented Kristin Scott Thomas, and you've got a winner.

The theatre was packed full. We had awful seats despite booking weeks earlier. At least a dozen poor folk were squinting from the standing-room-only area, clearly having lucked out on getting seats.

Harold Pinter's story is set over nine years, following three main characters over a seven year affair and the two years afterwards. What makes it special is that it's written mostly in reverse.

Scott Thomas plays Emma, the central character. She's married to one of the characters, but the play's core relationship is the one she shares with her husband's best friend.

Over the course of an hour and a half you watch all three of them evolve backwards from jaded individuals to enthusiastic lovers. It must be draining to perform, but it's absolutely mesmerising to watch.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Weekend in Wales

Wales is the closest thing I've seen to New Zealand green since moving to Europe.

We were invited to come and spend the weekend with Emily at her boyfriend Corin's family home in Lampeter, along with their friends Tom and Laura.

After narrowly making it onto the train at Paddington Station at an ungodly hour of the morning (why do all these stories start like that!?) we tripped for four hours from London to Camarthen, Wales.

The awesome foursome picked us up, and we drove around the countryside to Cardigan, where they have the most amazing candy shop. We spent far too long buying far too much, as always!

Next stop, up the coast in the beach-side town of Aberaeron. The weather didn't exactly play ball, but the brightly coloured houses were still beautiful.

Welsh is the only language I can think of where I can read the characters but haven't the faintest idea how to sound them out. It's like someone got a logical word and popped it in the blender. Speaking of kitchen appliances, the best Welsh word I learned over the weekend was microwave, which is apparently pronounced "poppity-ping". I have no idea who invented the word, given the microwave's not exactly ancient, but I think it's awesome.

Another butchered word.
After grabbing a delicious dinner at the local pub, we went back to Corin's amazing country house and made Pimms with fresh fruit in big bowls.

All the character of a cottage, all the space of a mansion!
(and they have a full size grand piano!)

Emily had bought some Chinese lanterns in Cardigan, and in a moment of deepness, we all decided to write our worries on them and let them go outside. I wrote "grandfathers" on my lantern, because both of mine have had major health issues while I've been away.

While the photos are average, there was something really peaceful about watching our troubles literally fly away! Well, until we watched them come down to land in the next farm over. Poor cows. Emily and Corin's one got stuck in a tree. They had to climb up and pull it down so it wouldn't set the whole countryside on fire! In the end we took it inside and used it as an excuse to roast marshmallows on the open fire.

On Sunday morning, the sun came out again.

The bridge right next to the house.
Before driving back to England, we headed up to a nearby lookout point that Corin knew of. It was stunning.

We didn't get home till almost midnight, because we spent a few hours relaxing at Emily and Corin's over pasta and wine.

Great way to spend a weekend, if you ask me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Riot Time

Lots of people are checking in to make sure we're ok following all the news footage of the riots in London.

Last night I went for a walk near Regents Park and could hear shouting and car alarms as gangs of people ran amok. Before long I heard sirens and everyone dispersed.

Besides a few closed tube stations, our routine has been relatively unaffected, though security has been stepped up at my building because other government departments including the Ministry of Justice are also headquartered here.

Lots of sirens all morning too, but we're both fine and haven't been up close to any of the carnage.

I'll be sure to upload photos if we do get caught up in it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Review: Blood Brothers

I really want to be able to say that I loved Blood Brothers. The show is full of heart, and you do care for the characters.

But, I just can't. Like Les Mis (actually, even more) this show feels every bit of it's 21 years. If I couldn't see the orchestra I never would have believed that the music was live. It was all synth pads and MIDI piano.

For the most part I enjoyed the acting, but the guy playing Mickey looked about 45 and Mrs Johnston was pitchy on the high notes (she lost my vote when she chickened out of her only big note in the whole show - right at the emotional peak of her character arc).

Afterwards I found myself thinking that Blood Brothers would have been more enjoyable if they'd closed the original production after five years, then opened a modernized revival that addressed the musical flaws, toned down the many overstatements, and updated the staging.

I didn't hate the show. I was just disappointed because it didn't come close to it's potential.

At least dinner was delicious, and it was great to catch up with our friend Simon who's in town for a week.