Friday, October 11, 2019

Even if I’m a city girl, I’m an animal lover at heart!

I grew up in a small town in the middle of Nebraska (USA) with various fluffy rabbits, escape-artist hamsters, numerous goldfish, cats, dogs and even a hedgehog at one point. So, it comes as no surprise to my husband when I suggest something wild like, “Hey, do you wanna go to a goat farm?” Or better yet, “How about walking a llama?”

Now, my last suggestion sounded a bit far-fetched at first. But, when I started researching things to do on the Isle of Wight, I found a farm that raises/breeds alpacas and llamas. This family farm just happened to be near the route that we planned to cycle on this English island, located an hour train ride south of London and a short ferry boat ride away.

Apparently, many city folks like ourselves are interested in this fairly new-ish idea of walking an alpaca or llama in the English countryside. There are literally dozens of these farms and bed-and-breakfasts across the U.K. now offering “meet the alpacas” or walking experiences. 
When I called the West Wight Alpacas before our trip, I secured the last two spots for a 20-minute walk around the farm. The farm, started in 2010 by husband and wife team, Neil and Michelle Payne, also offers 40-minute walks and has numerous animals that can be petted or fed before or after your walk. You’ll find more than 60 alpacas and llamas here as well as goats, chickens and two adorable fat pigs!

After we were given a good intro about the farm and its animals, I quickly learned two things about my particular llama.

1.    1.  Llamas can be stubborn AF. Mine certainly was. My llama often wanted to brush up against the hedgerows to have a scratch or start eating the leaves.

2.     2. Llamas do not cooperate very well for photos/selfies. I had many failed attempts with my llama and opted for some other llama photos afterwards that hubby took.

I learned another truth later, but we’ll get to that story in a moment.

Now you may be wondering, what the heck is the difference between an alpaca and a llama?

To be honest, I didn’t really know until we went on this llama walk on the Isle of Wight.

First, llamas and alpacas are both in the camelid (camel) family and originally hail from South America.

Based on physical characteristics, llamas have long, banana-shaped ears while alpacas have straight, smaller ears. Also, llamas are bigger than alpacas, sometimes weighing twice as much.

Another difference between the two is the fur. Alpaca wool is much softer and has a finer fiber than the llama’s double-layered coat.
But the one common trait they both have is that they spit!

After our generally nice walk with our llamas, we bought some animal feed from the farm café so we could feed the other animals. We set out to feed some of the other llamas and alpacas that were out in the pasture. Well, I was feeding one of the llamas, but I thought he/she was being a bit too greedy, so I moved over to feed one of his/her pals. That was enough to piss off the first animal, and the next thing I know I was partially covered in green, grassy-smelling spit – on my face and on my t-shirt!
It was disgusting, but also pretty funny! Of course, this would happen to me! Somehow, I always seem to be the accident-prone person.

Luckily, I had a spare t-shirt in my backpack so I could change. No problem!

Walking a llama was still a cool, farm experience and it’s something I would recommend to any other fellow animal lovers.

Just don’t expect to actually learn how to walk a llama because they do what they want!



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

When it’s not raining this week in London, take a couple moments to wander past some interesting life-size sculptures in Regent’s Park. The free Frieze Sculpture exhibit ends on this Sunday, October 6th.

More than a month ago on one of my weekdays off, I cycled from our home in Battersea to check out this year’s sculpture exhibit, which is set up among the English Gardens in the southeastern corner of the park. There are more than 20 sculptures designed by internationally known contemporary and modern artists. I would say that the designs themselves range from bizarre to blah and interesting to what-the-hell-is this. I may be creative in the kitchen, but I don’t really understand art sometimes.

Below, you’ll find the photos I took of the 2019 Frieze Sculpture exhibit. Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments.


P.S. If the weather does cooperate, bring some snacks and a picnic blanket. Regent’s Park is perfect for an afternoon picnic!
ONE through ZERO in Cor-ten steel by American artist Robert Indiana, 1980-2002.
It is “a monumental example of the Indiana’s long-held fascination with the power of numbers with One representing birth, ascending through adolescence to maturity, ending with Zero, which stands for death.”
A 4-meter-long, bronze figure entitled When I Sleep, by British artist Tracey Emin, 2018.
“A bronze sculpture portrays a reclining female figure. Curled up in a fetal pose, her vulnerability forms a contrast to the weight and density of the sculpture’s material.”
A full-size reproduction of a 1973 Jaguar E-Type Matchbox toy car (“Mnemonic Vehicle No. 2”) by Brazilian artist Vik Muniz speaks of childhood memories and questions value within art history.
I love rabbits!
Usagi Kannon II by Leiko Ikemura, 2013-2018. 
“This monumental bronze sculpture of a figure with rabbit ears and a human face in tears symbolizes universal mourning, its walk-in bell-shaped skirt evoking a protective shrine or temple sculpture.”
A pure white 3-meter-high rendition of a Japanese cartoon character, My Melody, by New York-based sculptor Tom Sachs, 2008.
Autonomous Morris by British artist Zak Ové, 2018, made from deconstructed car parts.
It is a “motorized ‘macco’ – a person who involves themselves in other people’s business for the purpose of gossip and posterity.”
Tudor Ball by American sculptor Lars Fisk, 2019, made from wood, stucco, thatching and glass.
“In this case, Fisk presents an example of quintessential English vernacular architecture 
as a painstakingly crafted icon.”
Solar Disc III by Emily Young, 2018, made from Onyx stone. 
“The disc conjures the shape of our solar system, our planet, the sun, the moon, the eye, the mother’s breast, and the galaxy.”

Receiver by American-Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha, 2019, bronze and styrofoam.
This “highlights Bhabha’s interest in transforming everyday materials into otherworldly forms, that hover between abstraction and figuration, monumentality and entropy.”

Strange Temporalities by Ghazaleh Avarzamani, 2019,
made from a segmented slide on metal poles.
This one “embodies the failed assurance of safe enjoyment. It exposes the paradoxical reliaties behind educational methodologies, personal aspirations and cultural manuals.”
Composition by Barry Flanagan, 2008, bronze.
“Flanagan’s emblematic Nijinski hare is supported by a trio of elephants, caught during their circus balancing act, demonstrating the artist’s ability to combine wit and gravitas…”

Celloswarm by London-based artist Bill Woodrow, 2002,
made from bronze, steel and gold leaf.
“Celloswarm explores the result of a swarm of bees alighting on and
covering an inanimate object.”
Laura Asia’s Dream by Jaume Plensa, 2018, bronze.
“The artist’s constant use of new materials informs his ongoing search for a universal depiction of a reflective inner world.”
Untitled by Beijing artist Ma Desheng, 2011, bronze. 
“Ma’s stone series comments on the fragile coexistence between people and government – a precarious balancing act that can come crashing down at any moment.”

Friday, September 27, 2019

At first, I thought that moving to London would be easy since we spoke the same language – at least easier than learning to speak Turkish or Polish.

Oh boy, was I wrong about that.  

The same can be said about living in London. It’s not always easy to live here. There are days that I love living here and days that I hate it too. Not to mention, living in London is bloody expensive.

2019 marks the third year of our expat life in the U.K., which is still filled with the challenges of living in a sprawled-out city of 8.8 million people (14 million in the metro area). Now that I’ve had time to settle in, I’ve often told friends that London reminds me of my previous home of NYC, which has a population of 8.6 million (20 million in its metro area). The two cities have a lot of similarities, (but are still quite different) so maybe that’s why I’ve learned to survive living here.

For anyone considering a move to London, I thought I would compile some tips on how I’ve learned to survive living in this fun, but crazy, crowded city for more than three years. 
Read on.
Living in London means you won't always find yourself tiptoeing through the tulips with the Royal family.

15 Tips on How to Survive 2 Years Living in London

Get Anything You Can Delivered
For some reason, I used to be against getting our groceries delivered. I didn’t like the idea that others were picking out my fruits and veggies and who knows if they had the same standards that I possess. But when I started working full-time as well as my husband, I was sold on the idea. Working 10 hours in a restaurant kitchen means I don’t have much time anymore to go to a grocery store or a farmer’s market. We mainly use Ocado for our fort-nightly deliveries, but Asda, Tesco, Waitrose and other stores deliver as well. Heck, Ocado even delivers wine to my front door! If we want a better selection of wine, we use Majestic Wines, which offers monthly mixed case specials.
When I have more time to cook, I order local, fresh farm produce through Farmdrop, an online delivery company that provides farm-to-table ingredients for residents in London, Bristol and Bath areas. Now, I can bring the farmer’s market to my front door!
first Farmdrop shop.

For makeup, I use Birchbox, which started out as an annual birthday gift from my in-laws, but now I find it much easier to replace my moisturizer or eyeliner with the click of a button. For quick at-home food deliveries, there’s Just Eat, Deliveroo, Ubereats or some restaurants use their own delivery service. For everything else, there’s

Use my Birchbox Invite to start saving and trying 
new makeup today.

Find a Flat and Neighborhood You Love or (at least) Like
This tip should probably be at the top of my list on how to survive in London because you’ll spend a lot of time where you live. When house-hunting, make sure your flat is close to public transport and in a neighborhood that you like. For our first month here, we stayed in an Airbnb shared flat so we could get a feel for the local neighborhood. 

After much searching, we found that we really liked the Clapham Junction/Battersea area, which is definitely becoming more popular with the ongoing developments at the Battersea Power Station. There are tons of coffeeshops, cafés, restaurants and shops nearby. We live in an area with 10 bus routes, a 10-minute walk to trains and the Overground at Clapham Junction and a 15 to 20-minute bus ride to the nearest Tube station. Generally, the closer you live to a Tube station, the higher the rent.
Here at the Battersea Power Station area you'll find several new restaurants as well as a Thames ferry dock.
Also, once you find a flat and sign a lease, be sure to get renter’s insurance. For around £100 per year, we are able to protect our belongings. As with any big city, break-ins aren’t uncommon, so make sure you are comfortable with leaving your valuables there all day.

(Check out Money Supermarket to compare insurance rates.)

Get Some Outdoor Space
I think I would go crazy without the lil bit of green space that we have in London. We are fortunate to live a in a row of Victorian rowhouses that open up to a shared community garden behind our flats. On our small patio, we have enough space for a table, four chairs, a Weber charcoal grill, a garden bench and several potted herbs. But the modern high-rise flats in our neighborhood barely offer enough space for an outdoor table and two chairs. If you can afford it, try to find a place with a lil bit of green space too.
I love our lil patio in Battersea! 
Commuting To and From Work
According to a survey by Instant Offices, Londoners have the longest commute in the U.K. at 74 minutes – nearly twice the worldwide average of 40 minutes. Many of my colleagues at work and my hubby average about an hour-long commute. I’m very lucky because if I cycle to work, my commute only takes 10-12 minutes versus about 30 minutes by bus.            

If I can, I avoid using the uber-crowded Tube and often rely on the Overground or buses for my daily commute. If I must use the Tube, I try to stick with the District and Circle lines. Avoid the Jubilee, Central and Northern lines during hot weather because the ride is simply dreadful and you will end up as a hot, sweaty mess! Use the Citymapper app to calculate your best transport journey to work. There’s also a new Travel Time app that tells commuters how far they can travel in London in 30 minutes.
If you intend to be a daily user of public transport, it makes sense to buy a weekly or monthly pass for the zones that you use, which could save you lots of money. For example, my husband buys a monthly zone 1-2 pass which costs £134.80 – so your daily cost is about £4.50. Using a pay-as-you-go Oyster card (bought at most stations or off-license shops) is the next best option.

Thirdly, traveling around London by bus is the cheapest option because there aren’t any zones to worry about. When you use your Oyster card or a contactless card, there is a daily cap of £4.50 if you take 3 or more bus trips that day. 

Go Contactless
For purchases under £30 (at most shops), you can just wave your contactless credit or debit card in front of the machine and viola – make a purchase. I love this concept and use my contactless credit card for EVERYTHING so I can accumulate points, which I can redeem for free hotel stays (our most popular redemption.) You also can use your contactless card on London’s public transport which makes travelling around London so much faster. In fact, contactless has proved so popular in London that there are several coffeeshops and stores that only accept cards – no cash allowed! I barely even carry cash on me most of the time.

Travel as Often as Possible
After year two, hubby started to get the “let’s-move-again” expat itch. I said, hell, no. Actually, my language was much more colorful, but you get the point. One of the main reasons, we’ve decided to stay in London is, so we can travel as much as possible in Europe. London has six airports – yes, six! It’s so easy to hop on a plane on Friday, travel to somewhere in Europe (many places in two hours or less) and return Sunday night. We’ve visited Bulgaria, Czech Republic, France, Italy, Scotland, Norway, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Romania since we’ve lived in London. Sign up for every airlines’ email newsletter to snap up the best airfare deals. Our best deals so far were a £20 flight to Oslo and around a £100 Eurostar return ticket to Paris.

Make the most of all your weekends, especially long bank/public holidays.
How about a summer trip to Prague in the Czech Republic?
Or a mid-winter trip to romantic Venice?
Talk About the Weather
Brits seem to LOVE talking about the weather! I often hear: “It’s too hot. It’s too cold. It’s too rainy.” Not once have I ever heard someone say: “Oh today’s weather is just delightful.” Even when London’s weather was 26C (80F) and perfectly sunny, I heard people complaining. Then in the middle of August, during a cold spell, my colleague kept saying, winter was coming. I was angry. Even though talking about the weather is like a national pastime in London, I try not to complain about the weather too much.

Oh, and the BBC weather forecaster will recommend carrying your extra sturdy brolly on super rainy days. Who knew I would need more than one “brolly” in London?

Have a Pint After Work
If your British friend asks you to join him at the pub after work, basically plan on having beer for your dinner. I’ve been out several times with my husband’s friends, and beer ended up being our dinner. Or I would finally have to order some chips/fries. Or as last resort, eat a manic dinner at home cobbled together from leftovers and stale tortilla chips after 10 p.m. I love the British pubs, but I also like eating food with my pint.
Search Out Greenspaces
When you live in a small flat in a sprawling, over-populated, concrete city, you desperately need to seek out some green. Fortunately, London has some wonderful parks such as Richmond Park, Hyde Park and Battersea Park, which I’ve mentioned before here. Just like in NYC’s Central Park, you’ll find people sunbathing or sprawled out on blankets/towels soaking up the (rare) sunshine.
Explore the English Countryside
Within 60-90 minutes via train from London, you can explore some beautiful green spaces in the British countryside. If you have a partner or good friend, buy a Two Together Railcard, which costs only £30 per year, but saves you up to 33 percent off train tickets purchased together. For slightly longer journeys out of London, we’ve even purchased first-class tickets with our railcard because the price was about the same or even less than the standard fare.
During the summer months, you'll find several lavender fields just outside of London.
Take a Day Trip to the Seaside Town of Whitstable

Support an Annual Art or Cultural Membership
Since we have more disposable income than we did in our 20s, we’ve decided to take advantage of some more cultural activities in London. Love gardening? Get an annual membership at Kew Gardens. We signed up for ours when we visited the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh because it was cheaper and still allows us into Kew for free.
Love art or historical buildings? London has so many museums that feature special exhibits and it’s difficult to see many of them. Last year, we joined the English Heritage, an organization that protects more than 400 prehistoric sites, medieval castles and beautiful country houses, and have explored many places in the U.K. that we might not have seen otherwise. Then, we joined the V&A Museum, with a membership that allows us both to take a guest. I’ve already used my V&A membership three times this past month to see the Gingerbread City and a fashion exhibit with an American friend who was visiting from Washington D.C. Most couple memberships cost a lil over £100, but so far, we feel like we’re supporting a good cause with ample benefits.
Search Out Free Events
Although London is an expensive city to live in, it does offer tons of free events and festivals. To find out what’s happening, pick up the free TimeOut magazine, which is distributed at most tube stations on Tuesdays. This magazine has been a fantastic way to keep up-to-date with the current restaurants’ openings, museum exhibitions and concerts. You could literally attend a free event every night – if you didn’t have to work.  

Get Registered for the NHS
As soon as you get your NI (National Insurance) number, find a local doctor’s office in your neighborhood that is accepting new patients and register for the NHS. Many people like to complain about the NHS here, but I’ve had nothing but good services so far for general health issues. Hey, it’s free!

Get Organized
Living in a smaller space, means trying to be as organized as possible. I use tons of these large vacuum bags to store our puffy ski clothes, extra sheets, sweaters and any other fabrics/clothes that take up space. In our small kitchen, I bought extra shelves so coffee cups, plates and bowls could be stored better. Do what you must to stay organized!
Buy a Granny Cart
Now, I inherited my granny cart from when we lived in Poland, but it’s been a back saver when carting around a ton of groceries or a bag of garden compost.
Living in a big city like London may not be suitable for everyone, but I love cities like this and we’ve found plenty of ways to enjoy it and even survive living in London.

Cheers to a few more years of living in long as the Brexit saga doesn't stop us!


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Day Trip from London

Have you ever visited some place that everyone seemed to rave about, but once you saw it, you didn’t get it?

That was me on a recent cycling-train adventure to the southeast coastline of Kent. The day was supposed to be sunny, but since this is England, dark, rain clouds filled the sky once I arrived in Margate, about 2 hours southeast from London Victoria. I had packed my Turkish beach towel, camera and book, but not an umbrella. Silly me!
The seaside town of Margate has been called “Shoreditch-on-Sea” and “Mar-Great” by London media because of the influx of creative types from London, so it sounded like a cool place to visit. But as I tried to cycle past the shuffling tourists on the faded promenade, I saw two cows and the Hare Krishna clanging bells. I thought, WTF?
Then, there were all the old amusement park rides and tacky arcade games with garish lights that seem to feature in other downtrodden seaside towns like Southend-on-Sea and Herne Bay that I’ve visited. Maybe it’s something you grow up with if you’re English, but I don’t get it. Is it part nostalgia?

Coffee and Art in Margate
Well, I wandered past the pastel-colored buildings and Margate Main Sands (the town’s sandy beach) and headed to Mala Kaffe at the end of the pier. I ordered a lovely flat white and sat inside at the small bar, avoiding the fine mist outside.
It was low tide during my visit and a not so nice odor wafting off the seabed outside. I wrinkled my nose as I cycled past and decided to pop into the Turner Contemporary Gallery. I had a quick mosey past some bizarre, modern art pieces and decided to find a place for lunch.
Outside the gallery is an Antony Gormley sculpture, which has been placed on the chalk bed in the sea and can be seen from the gallery windows.

Margate’s Old Town section seemed to have some interesting, refurbished shops and cafés that looked inviting. I stopped at the Old Town Deli as it was advertising homemade food and local Kent produce. I had a delicious salami sandwich, a small salad and a half a pint of Kentish cider. (Can you see a theme to my day trips from London?) This part of town looks like it could be explored more, but I was interested in cycling onto the next beaches.
Near the Old Town in Margate, the Tudor House, dating from the 1500s, is a small museum with period costumes on display.

A Bounty of Beaches
Following Northdown Road and later a paved cycle path, I headed out of town about 3 miles and stopped at Botany Bay. This long stretch of sandy beach, surrounded by towering chalk cliffs, was quite nice, but the sea was filled with green seaweed. Yuck! On the positive side, the sun had returned which made the white cliffs look brilliant.
Just around the curving coast is Kingsgate Bay, home to some interesting features such as Neptune’s Tower, Kingsgate Bay Sea Arch and Kingsgate Castle. At first I thought, Neptune’s Tower was the remains of some king’s castle or fort, but it is a folly. Lord Holland, who built nearby Kingsgate Castle in 1760, also built the tower to resemble a fort designed during the reign of King Henry VIII. The nearby castle is perched up on the chalk clifftops and sits behind a tall, gated fence with a sign saying it is divided up into private residences now. Fancy that!

Here, I was content to sit on the beach for awhile and read my book. There was no way I was treading into that water unless I had some wellies on. I found the invasion of seaweed to be so strange because online photos of the area hadn’t depicted that feature.

Next stop on my cycling adventure was Stone Bay, a pretty, sandy beach that is lined with dozens of cute, rainbow-hued beach huts just like in Melbourne. The high chalk cliffs cast a shadow over part of the beach in the late afternoon. Now, this is a beach where I could see myself sunbathing!

Beautiful Broadstairs
Finally, I stopped in Broadstairs, which was a much more attractive town compared to Margate, just a couple miles away. The town stands on top of the cliff overlooking the golden arc of Viking Bay and its beach below. Broadstairs seemed to have prettier Victorian buildings, perhaps because of its connection to writer Charles Dickens, who stayed here at various hotels from 1837-1859.
After cycling in the midafternoon sun, I treated myself to a refreshing ice cream cone at Morelli’s, a 1950s, Italian ice-cream parlour that made me feel like I was back home in New York.
Even though there is a train station in Broadstairs, I had to cycle 4.2 miles back to Margate since I had bought a return ticket. The British National Rail system is quite frustrating because you can’t buy inexpensive single tickets. A return ticket always seems to be the cheapest way to go. So when I plan my cycling adventures, I always must pay attention to the return options as well as the train times.

I probably shouldn’t complain too much because if I were back in the United States, I wouldn’t be having these type of cycling adventures in the first place.
Of course, the sun was out once I returned to Margate late in the afternoon.

What is your favorite beach in the U.K.?

Note: If you are a more experienced cyclist, there is a wonderful route called the Viking Coastal Trail that covers 32 miles (51.4 km) along the coast from Margate to Broadstairs and Ramsgate.
Unfortunately, this map doesn't cover my entire cycling trip, but at least it gives you a rough idea of the return trek from Margate to Broadstairs.


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