Thursday, April 14, 2011

Londublin and Irish need not apply.


 It's been a minute or two since I last felt like putting pen to ink. It's been a blur. In the late summer Steph and I and the girls moved into a much larger house with more space near the ocean. The trade off is that we live in a real live neighborhood with a million kids running up and down the street and consequently, driving our dogs insane. I get my own basement though. I get to make it into my Goth den of solitude. There are a million things to do to the house to make it in our own image. We'll get them done eventually.

In the fall I went on Steph's book tour up and down the West Coast. It was my job to run the slide show. Also, I had never been to Portland before. We ate some tasty donuts and got caught in some rain. So there was that.

In December I became a co-owner of Big Umbrella Studios, a small local gallery on Divisadero St. here in San Francisco. It's a lot of work but we're trying to take it to the next level. I doubt it will ever be able to be my sole "job" but it's been fun. My screen printing business, The Lords of Print, is going well. That stands a better chance of being my sole "job" if the right card playing idiom is used.

 I had another birthday in January. I tried to stop it. It was relentless. I was overpowered.

The Ricky Gervais Show season 2 started. That means more Karl Pilkington for me to listen to. That's a good thing.

 A couple of weeks ago we got to have a sweet vacation. I think my favorite thing to do in the whole world is travel across that same whole world and I'm always ready to go anywhere with bells on. Originally, there was supposed to be a trip involving Egypt, which is on my list of Epic places that I must go. Sadly, it didn't transpire. Actually considering the fact that a semi-violent revolution was occurring right around the planned time of departure it seems rather fortuitous now. Since we weren't going we decided to have a make up trip. There was the idea of Japan being bandied about. Steph was kind of leaning towards this as she wanted to do lot's of shopping. I spent nearly a month in Japan about 13 years ago. I liked it and thought it was good fun. Again, fortune shined upon us for not selecting that destination. Ultimately, we settled on going to London and Dublin. That seemed like a sure thing. Unless Germany decided to launch some V1 rockets across the channel again I figured London was a done deal. Although I haven't been to London in about 20 years, Steph has been more recently. She happened to have some family in London and a visit with them coincided perfectly. Neither of us had been to Dublin, and I really wanted to go to Ireland.

Our 10 day romp through Southern England and Dublin was action packed, or at least packed with food to say the least. We were also gifted with some amazing weather. While it rained for almost the entire time back home, we were confronted with some very mild, sunny, spring weather.

The first day we arrived, we ended up staying right near Victoria station so as to catch the Gatwick Express early the next morning. Usually, when we land somewhere Steph is in no mood to go out for adventures. I on the other hand am always giddy and I need to go walk around. I took a long stroll around Westminster Abby and Big Ben and then over to Buckingham Palace. I had visited all these sites years ago, and even though I didn't need to go inside I still felt excited to be near them. In case I've never mentioned I am quite the history buff. It was always my favorite subject in school and I still get very captivated when standing in the presence of something that has silently seen so much history pass before it. After a good long walk I head back to hotel, random Cornish pasty in hand, to take Steph to dinner. We decided that since it was Sunday, and there wasn't much open late in our hood that we should have Sunday roast at a pub. It was fine and all that. But, what we noticed above all else was a detail that seemed to be a theme that wove itself into almost every facet of our trip. Apparently, English people have vacated their homes. There simply aren't any of them left in London. I think they should rename it New Serbia. The staff of the very traditional looking pub were very Eastern Euro. It seemed just about every customer facing staff member in all of London was a representative of some former Soviet bloc country. Funny story about this. In Wicklow, we wanted to grab a snack. The girl at the counter was heavily Eastern European. I ordered "fries" and she gave me a blank stare. A local had to say "chips" for me. Classic. This brings me to the topic of finding it hard to say "chips" instead of "fries" or "shop" instead of "store" when I know very well what the local colloquialisms are. It's just that I don't want to be perceived as though I'm trying to seem too local. I'm not a Brit, we call them fries here and that's just how it is. We still understand each other in the end. Although, the difference between "pants" and "trousers" was explained to us. I found that to be interesting. Oh, and my favorite. The slight but not so slight difference in the meaning of the word "fanny" is classic. Never say to a British girl "Damn, girl! I'd sure like to smack that fanny of yours!"

The next morning we were off to begin our Irish adventure. On the train to Gatwick I enjoyed a very British bacon sandwich, a bacon butty if you will, and a little taste of home, a Starbucks latte. The sandwich was delicious. I wanted to eat four of them. Part of the reason for going to Ireland was the fact that we got a good deal from Ryanair, the notorious ala carte airline. They have a reputation for charging for everything possible. We kind of screwed up and ended up bringing luggage that was far too heavy and we were forced to buy an extra duffle bag, which came in handy anyway, and then using my spare bag to repack a second bag. There we were in the middle of the airport on the floor repacking our bags and looking like the tourists we were. To send two extra bags it cost us 140 British Pounds. That was probably more expensive than the two round trip tickets. I found Ireland to be very quaint and I found it fun to just wander the streets. I had always resisted the idea that Guiness was somehow different in Ireland, but it was. I thought it was much smoother and cleaner tasting. I got my historical geekery in by visiting the Book of Kells, a 1200 year old handwritten bible. It fascinates me to imagine that not very may people in the year 800 could read and write and the ones that could spent their lives transcribing the bible by hand. The fan favorite of the trip seems to be the Leprechaun museum. This little farce of a museum turned out to be epic! The intention of the museum was to be first and foremost interactive and a close second was information. You basically wander from room to room steeped in Irish lore. Of course the best room and the one of note was the room of gigantic furniture. Truly insane it was. Imagine a low lit room filled with 10 foot tall chairs and side tables, because that's what it was. You are meant to feel what it must feel like as a Leprechaun in the world of man. If you couldn't climb a fucking chair without looking like an asshole you'd be pissed off all the time and in no mood to share any gold either. I realized just how out of shape I am in attempting to climb one of these fucking chairs. Especially when Steph's cousin Victor is in totally good yoga shape and leaped and bounded atop those fuckers. There I was looking like the aforementioned asshole. Within the span of our three day trip to Dublin, Steph brought up the fact that we really weren't seeing the Ireland as presented to us in Ned Devine. We were in a city, there were no rolling green, sheep filled meadows to speak of. So we said fuck it and rented a car. I needed the practice anyway for our imminent London car rental. We ended up in a lousy little Kia. It was a stick shift. Steph was none too happy as I tried to shift and pay attention to the road at the same time. I think the fact that I was operating completely in reverse of what is now muscle memory made her nervous. For example, everytime I wanted to use the turn signal I ended up turning on the windshield wipers. WTF? We eventually got out onto the motorway and drove south until we ran out of Daylight somewhere near Wicklow. It was pretty but I wish that we would have left sooner and were able to get to Galway and other places farther afield. The great thing about Ireland seems to be that you can get to any part within a couple of hours. On that same day we had dinner reservations at The Pigs Ear which I found while looking for food porn type places in Dublin. We had a reservation at 8 pm. We made it back to Dublin with time to spare. The only problem is that we didn't really know where to park the car. We must have circled our hotel for at least a half hour. I felt like we were the Griswalds in European Vacation, "look kids Big Ben, Parliment. I can't get left!" Pigs Ear was amazing. It was upscale and yet very comfy. The food was a modern Irish menu. The presentation was great. Each dish came in things like mason jars and copper pots etc. I had a crab salad starter and then Salmon for my main. We were super full to say the least. The next morning before we left we went to the Boxty House in Temple Bar and had a very nice Full Irish breakfast, with sausage, bacon, eggs, fried tomato and black pudding. It was perfect and I left Ireland smiling. Also, let me just say this. The Dublin airport is crazy. It has more stores than I've ever seen in an airport. It felt like a shopping mall, that also sold airplane rides.

Back to London, only this time we were super lucky because cousin Victor had extra space in his luggage for all of our extra luggage which meant a ton of shit for him to carry but for us it meant saving 140 British Pounds. Nice! The next leg of our London adventure was at a hotel on Piccadilly near Green park and Piccadilly Circus etc. I'm not one to complain about hotel rooms. All I care about is that the location is good and that it's clean. Other than that I don't care. Steph and cousin Victor thought the bathroom was too old. I guess if you're paying for something then you want it to be a certain way. I'm easy going. It was also very close to one of the most amazing, and uber high end food emporiums I have ever seen, Fortnum and Mason I can't even begin to describe this place. It sort of reminded me of the Disneyland ride "Its a Small World." I wouldn't have thought it weird to have boarded a little boat and listed down some fabled imaginary river through a land of Candy and sweets. The next major food event was a breakfast reservation at the Wolseley where I had the awesome full English breakfast. Have I mentioned how much I love a meal with the word full in front of it? Well I do. The inside of this place is just about as posh as you can get. Apparently it's one of John Cleese's favorite haunts. I didn't see him. Again, more black pudding.  On the subject of pudding, we learned that Brits call dessert, pudding, as in "what's for pudding tonight?" Or, "this restaurant has the best fucking puddings ever!" Yeah, I had no idea. Another restaurant we ended up going to was a two Michelin starred place called Pied a Terre. We had the extensive tasting menu which was very good but my favorite was the wine flight I ordered. It was about a seven course menu and they served me a full glass with each course. That plus the Bellini I had to begin the meal and I was trashed. I kept it professional though. The best part was that the Sommelier made a game out of it by not revealing the wine until I had guessed the region of origin. Intéressant, I did fairly well at this. I certainly nailed the dessert or should I say "pudding" wine by exclaiming confidently "Portugal!" The get the fuck out of here wine of the evening belonged to Brazil though. I have never tasted a Brazilian wine nor really thought of Brazil in that light.They must stump everyone on that one. Sommelier humor, I'll never understand it.

The next day we discovered food porn Nirvana in the form of Borough Market It was just epic. So much food. If we hadn't had dinner plans that evening I would have just stayed there all day, eating. The highlight for me was the Raclette cheese stand. It was simply wonderful. They had half wheels of the stuff sitting under specialized Raclette heating elements that melt the top layer of the cheese. It's typically served over potatoes and pickles, which they had. But we opted for the grilled cheese version. Fucking yeah! Another highlight of our food adventures was a trip to a pie shop for a Steak and ale pie with mashed potatoes and mushy peas.

On Saturday, Steph had a book signing at a a little craft shop on Carnaby st. It was nice to see that she drew a nice little crowd and they wanted her to stay and hang out. And hang out she did. It was fine though. I ran all up and down the Carnaby st. area and got to watch a bit of the huge 400,000 strong protest march that was happening. It was also cool to see a little bit of home by wandering into Upper Playground. We also had little excursions to Shoreditch (Mission District London) and Camden town.I wish I would have had the chance to eat some Indian food over on Brick Lane. I'm guessing those are some proper curries.

Apologies, as my recounting of events is chronologically out of sequence. But, only Steph would really know this so it's not a problem. We moved hotels for the last time, over to a neighborhood called Bayswater. It seemed like a cool area, lots of little restaurants in what seemed to be an area where Londoners actually lived. This is also when we rented our car. The most awesome car ever! I usually don't really care about cars. They don't really matter to me. But, we were given a brand new Citroen DS3 It had six miles on it. Again, much to Steph's chagrin it was a manual transmission. But to me it was epic. It was so quick and responsive and I wish we had Citroens at home. Those French peeps sure can make a car. The only weird thing about it was - no cup holders. I got over that though. We took off in the Citroen for a nice little road trip. Ever since I was a kid I have been fascinated by Stonehenge. Again, history nerdiness. I find it amazing that people 5000 years ago made this. I also love that the area it's in is this very, very English looking stretch of green meadow. There are no hotels built up across the street from it and there are no shopping malls etc looming over it. I feel like it looks much the same as it did all those years ago. When I look at things like that I like to imagine myself staring at it during different eras in history. Occasionally I'll ask people if they could travel time would they go forward or back. Most people seem to say forward, but I think I would go back. Anyway, Some people seem put off by the fact that you can't touch the rocks of Stonehenge. I'm of the opinion that you shouldn't touch things of antiquity, or handle them as little as possible. I'd like to think things like this will help the site to last another few thousand years. After a walk around the structure we grabbed a veggie pasty and headed off to Brighton. Steph and I both wanted to check out Brighton. I like the kind of Victorian look of the place and I also love the fight scene from Quadrophenia a great deal. Which reminds me. If I could swap out all of my clothes for a complete Mod makeover I would. Anyway, by the time we got to Brighton it was late, the stores had closed but we got to see the sunset and at least walk around. I have to say I like Brighton. It's a nice change of pace for only being 45 minutes from London. Before we left we walked around the Notting Hill area as it was really close to our hotel. It's a really quaint little area and does look picturesque. We took the Paddington Express to Heathrow and that was that. All in all a very fun way to spend 10 days. It's also nice being able to speak the language. It makes it so much easier, especially when watching TV at night. Speaking of British TV. I got into this horrible show called "Your Face or Mine." Incredible! I am surprised that this show isn't in development over here. It is a show dedicated to superficiality and greed. It's basically a game show. A couple in a relationship is on stage and then for example they will bring another girl on stage and the guy has to say whether he thinks the audience will say the other woman is better looking than his girlfriend. The incentive to do so is that if he's right, the couple wins money. The quandary it puts the people in is classic. If he says he thinks his GF is hotter, he's lying and then he will lose money but if he tells the truth and says "the other girl is hotter" then the GF isn't too thrilled with him. So he's either broke or he's just admitted he thinks his lady is far less hot than some other girl. He can't win. It gets even better when they stop bringing out strangers and start bringing in people the couple actually knows. When the girls BFF sits down is when the magic begins, especially if the BFF is hotter than the GF. Also, I watched a couple of episodes of a show called London 2012. It's a comedy that seems to be about an incompetent London Olympic committee trying to get London ready for the upcoming Olympics. Hilarious.

That's London and Dublin for you now please enjoy a great many out of sequence pics.  P.S. Some of the pics are gigantor, because I like when you can see peoples pores. Anyway, just click on them to see all of their glory. Otherwise it's starting to look like cousin Vic is owning all of these pics. He's totally not. I am.