Saturday, December 20, 2008

Road Trippin'

I love setting random, meaningless goals for myself, what's even better is when I achieve those goals. The random goal I'm referring to this time is the desire to visit 30 different cities this year. Some cities I visited more than once but there were 30 unique places this year. This goal was achieved with the help of some friends today when they agreed to go on a road trip with me. We got up early this morning (which wasn't an easy task) and drove down to Bath for the day. Now I just need to decide what sort of random goal I'll set for next year. I'm toying with the idea of tracking actual miles flown next year to see if I'll hit 100K miles, considering that by the end of January I will have flown almost 20K miles it may be very possible. I'm open to other suggestions as well, bear in mind I don't have to take the suggestions that are offered.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Photo Friday - Episode 5

Using some photos from the past few years I created this masterpiece. Enjoy!

Please be patient it may take some time to load.

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's a Hard Knock Life

I completed my last business trip of the year yesterday and it was a doozy. Woke up at 3:45 went to Luton airport, flew to Paris. Took 1.5 hours to get to the office due to traffic, had meetings all day then back to the airport to return home. Luton airport doesn't have the IRIS scanners so I had to queue with all the other non-EU passport holders, unfortunately the flight just before mine was filled with a number of people that didn't speak English which made the queue move very slowly as they had to try and find translators, luckily one of the passengers agreed to translate. As we were all patiently waiting this American woman comes walking past everybody and says excuse me but my taxi is waiting for me outside can I go ahead of you. Myself and a couple others responded that we were all in the same situation and no she could not go ahead. She ended up just standing behind me. After traffic on the motorway due to construction I finally got home around 11:30.

This week I decided to treat myself to a little present. In January I'll be heading to Singapore for a week (yes for work) and have booked myself a business class seat on the new A380! I had to pay for the upgrade but from what I've heard it will be worth it.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Making Our Dreams Come True

I just realized my blog has hit another milestone. Friday's post was the 200th post, not sure how I missed that this milestone was approaching.

As you know I set a random goal for myself to visit 30 different cities this year and am currently sitting at 29. No more trips for work are planned so I wasn't sure I would make it. Last night at dinner with friends we decided to take a road trip next weekend so I can hit 30 cities. Not sure where we'll end up maybe the white cliffs of Dover, maybe Bath, maybe somewhere else it doesn't matter. All that matters is the random goal I set for myself will have been achieved.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Photo Friday - Episode 4

OK. This isn't officially a photo but I'm using my creative license here.

Speaking of photos if you haven't checked them out the shots I took in Paris last week have been posted to my photography site.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Things That Make You go Hmmm

  • Hotels that require you to insert your key to select a room number for security in the elevator, but the stairs are right across and have no doors and require no keys.

  • People on a plane that pick up the magazine/book you put down on the seat next to you when you got up to return and find they were reading it.

  • Clubs that put you on the guest list only to be told when you arrive that they're not letting people in off the guest list.

  • Signs like this in hotel bathrooms.:

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Last Time I Saw Paris

While I've been to Paris many times over the last couple of years for work I haven't had a chance to really spend any time in the city until this weekend. My friend Michelle was heading to Paris for work and I decided to tag along for the weekend. At first we were going to stay in a hostel but then I remembered that I have tons of points at Hilton and we might as well splurge a little. I redeemed some points to stay at the Hilton, since I am currently a gold member I was upgraded to a room on the Executive floor. This meant I had a view of the Eiffel Tower from the room and access to the lounge with free breakfast and drinks all day. Not too shabby. I was quite entertained by Michelle's reaction when she saw the view, the amenities in the room like bathrobe and Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries and the fact that we got free food and wine. What I found most interesting about the Hilton was that almost everybody in the executive lounge was American. I guess it's only natural as it is a US chain and most Europeans would stay at a European chain or a boutique hotel instead.

With all the luxury at the hotel I did still manage to wander around the city all day yesterday and most of today. Overall walked over 20 KM over the
past 2 days. Ike made an appearance yesterday as well. To the right you can see Invisible Kangaroo at the Eiffel Tower. I've discovered that the tower is much nicer late at night than during the day. On Friday night after dinner we walked over and there were very few people around, during the day the place is mobbed. I didn't take my camera out on Friday but Michelle did and I was giving her pointers on how to take night shots of the tower by finding something to balance the camera on for support. I really wish I had my camera as she was getting some very strange looks and I would have loved to have captured them. She had found a garbage can to put the camera on but all the cars going by could see was a person crouched behind a garbage can looking up at the tower, no way to tell that there was a camera involved.

Today since we were already living the high life at the Hilton we decided to end our visit to Paris with lunch at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. It was by far one of the best meals I've had in a while. We almost weren't able to have lunch there but we convinced the hostess we could be gone in an hour and she allowed us 2 seats. Here's just a couple of shots of our meal.

Speaking of photos I will be uploading the shots I took over the weekend to my photography site at some point on Monday.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Photo Friday - Episode 3

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Madrid.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

So Close and Yet So Far

I'm gutted that for the second time in less than 7 days I've been less than 30 minutes from a friend was in the same country I was and yet haven't been able to see them. Over the weekend a friend I used to work with flew to the UK to see a rugby game. The tailgate pub was 2 miles from my house but unfortunately I was too busy trying to get Thanksgiving dinner ready that I wasn't able to go.

Today I found out that a friend of mine from Boston was in Paris, which is where I'm writing this from. Given the short notice and the fact that she didn't have a mobile we weren't able to connect. Facebook is what informed me that both of these people were so close and yet so far. This has gotten me to thinking how Facebook has changed the way things are. In the past I'm sure there have been people I know the next town over or in the same city but I never would have known. With Facebook sharing up to the minute information on where you are and what you're doing you start to realize what you're missing out on. If I didn't know friends were in the same town I was,it wouldn't matter, but knowing people were so close makes me a little homesick. On the plus side only 21 more days until I'm back in the US and able to catch up in person with many friends.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes

I am so happy that November only had 30 days and not 31, as I wasn't able to post yesterday. For those of you who thought I was just taking a break after 30 consecutive posts that unfortunately wasn't the case at all. There are a number of factors that prevented me from blogging yesterday.
  1. I decided to sleep in. After being a tour guide for 2 days, cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday and getting up at 5 AM on Sunday to travel I really needed a few extra hours of sleep.
  2. Once I checked out of my hotel on Monday I was in customer meetings all day and had no access to Internet. Normally I would just get online at the airport but...
  3. My flight was delayed. I took the last possible flight out of Stockholm to Madrid which involved a change in Amsterdam. As the flight was delayed I would have missed the connection. This meant after walking all the way across the terminal to get to KLM, I had to walk all the way to the other end to SAS. I got to the security gate and was told I should go to a different gate. Which was at the furthest end of the terminal and guess where my gate was - that's right all the way at the other end of the terminal. I definitely got my exercise and did manage to make my connection. However I didn't have any time to get online.
  4. I landed in Madrid at around 1130 PM and didn't get to the hotel until after 12. I actually did try to get online at the hotel but...
  5. The Ethernet cable in my room wasn't working so I had to wait until today before I had Internet access once again.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


To quote Dora the Explorer "We did it! We did it!" Yes that is correct today marks the 30th post in 30 days - what a ride it's been. This challenge not only resulted in 30 consecutive posts but marked a couple of firsts:

I also introduced the new feature of Photo Friday. Sorry Amy you were wrong the photo on the 21st was of the Alamo.

While I've enjoyed the challenge the chances of my continuing to blog on a daily basis is slim, especially since my schedule this week is chaotic and I'm not 100% sure if I'll have the time or Internet access throughout the week. I'm currently in Stockholm, tomorrow evening I head to Madrid, Wednesday Paris, and then Sunday back to London. Just in case you've forgotten with the travel this week I hit 29 different places - just 1 more city to hit my self-imposed target for the year.

Thanks for putting up with my random ramblings this month and hearing about some of the rather more mundane aspects of Dawn the expat.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Second Thanksgiving

Today I had my second Thanksgiving dinner of the week. This one I prepared myself and hosted for my fellow expats. I'm now exhausted and have a taxi coming at a very early hour tomorrow to take me on my travels and my guests home. Just needed to post as I now only have 1 post left and I have officially succeeded!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Myra's First Blog Post

Here it is the moment you've all been waiting. Myra, my 4 year old neice is going to tell you about what we've done the last 2 days in London during her visit.

Yestreday we went on the train to the palace. We saw the changing of the guards with horses. After we went to the park and the horses showed us where it was but we didn't walk very fast. We misseded them. At the park was a big ferris wheel, at winter wonderland. We went up really high on the ferris wheel. We saw Santa. Here they call him Father Christmas. Santa knew I was four!

My mommy taught me how to fly like a bird to them (Mommy says they're penguins but they're pigeons). I went on a pig and a reindeer by myself. I went on a Thomas train with Aunt Dawn, mommy, Myra. There were no seatbelts on it, but I wanted to sit on the front. That's all.

Today we went to the muffin man, we didn't see him cause he was sleeping. We saw Big Ben and lions in Trafalgar Square. If they were real I was scared. I got a 3 in 1 puppet of Little Red Ridding Hood, Grandma and the wolf. That's all.

Here's some photos from our trip.

Myra on a Reindeer Ride

Myra and Santa (AKA Father Christmas)

Changing of the Guards

Teaching Pigeons (or Penguins) how to fly.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lazy Day

My sister and niece arrived early this morning for a visit. After a slight hiccup at the airport with the taxi we made it safely to my place. Given the jet lag experienced by both we decided to just hang out today, watch movies, and play games. I love playing games with my 4 year old niece rules are completely irrelevant she wants to play her way this means that when playing cards everybody ends up with a different number of cards and it's always her turn. Tomorrow we're off to Buckingham Palace and Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Will likely have more to post tomorrow and possibly a special treat.

4 more days to go!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I Just Might Make It

I realized yesterday that I had forgotten to add Munich to my list of places I've been this year, so I've already surpassed last years number and it looks like I just might hit 30. Next week includes a trip to Stockholm and Madrid. I just need to squeeze in 1 more trip before Christmas and I'll be at 30 - now that's an achievement to be proud of.

It also looks like I'm going to make the 30 posts in 30 days - only 5 more days!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Oops I did it again

Sometimes I simply amaze myself with my co-ordination, grace and elegance. Yesterday as I was walking down the stairs at the tube station I managed to catch the heel of my boot on something and go tumbling. Luckily I was on the second to last stair so I didn't have far to fall. Also since it was a lazy Sunday afternoon there weren't a lot of people around to witness this graceful act. I thought my knees would be quite bruised today but so far it's only my foot that is hurting, I guess when I fell I twisted my foot. The ibuprofen is helping on that front and I'm hoping to take it easy today and tomorrow so I can run around the city this week with my guests.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Thanksgivings

I will be starting and ending the week by celebrating Thanksgiving. Today I am off to the Queen Mary to celebrate with a couple of hundred other expats. Then on Saturday I am hosting my very own Thanksgiving dinner. Yesterday I went to the supermarket to pick up some essentials like a turkey. The woman at the checkout commented that I was quite prepared to be buying my turkey so early, then all of a sudden she realized I wasn't buying it for Christmas I was buying it for Thanksgiving.

So what I am thankful for - I am thankful that there are only 7 days left in this 30 posts in 30 days challenge.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Luxury in Luxembourg

With all the travel I do I'm still surprised when I have firsts. The trip to Luxembourg on Thursday was not only the first time I went to Luxembourg but the first time I flew out of London City Airport. I think at this point the only London airport I haven't flown out of is Stansted. London City airport is conveniently located in the center of London or it's convenient if you live or work in the city. I figured taking a taxi into the city would be a hassle so I decided to take public transportation there. The way there wasn't too bad only about an hour. The way back took much longer as the trains weren't running quite as frequently or maybe it just seemed longer as all I wanted to do was get home.

The Luxembourg airport is rather small, so small that I had nobody in front of me at security and nobody behind me either. I can't remember that ever happening to me before, there's always at least 1 or 2 people somewhere nearby.

And the final and most important first is this is the first time I stayed in a hotel that was right next door to two adult entertainment centres - before you ask no I did not go in. As I was leaving to go to dinner I looked around the hotel to get my bearings to make sure I could find my way back and had to chuckle as I saw the big neon signs advertising the clubs.

Unfortunately I had less than 24 hours in Luxembourg and wasn't able to get around town and see anything all that means is that I'll have to go back sometime.

Finally I would like to sincerely thank my outsourcer for helping me post and keep the 30 posts in 30 days going. When I found out the wifi was down in the hotel I figured I would try and access blogger from my blackberry - no luck. I then remembered that there is a mobile blogging option where you can send posts in via email or mms - that however wasn't supported with the mobile carrier I was on. When all technology failed I had to enlist help.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Photo Friday

The second installment of photo Friday. This one from the archives can you guess where

this is?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just made it!

Trying to post every day presents a lot of challenges.  One encountered today is travelling to a hotel that doesn't offer internet service.  To resolve this issue, today's post has been outsourced.  

Other things that present challenges is trying to complete home renovations from abroad.  Now normally in the course of these things you should expect to have some previously unforeseen obstacles come up.   This picture is an example of such unforeseen obstacles.  

This is a picture of termite damage that was discovered after the bathtub and walls were removed.  Hopefully, the work will be finished before Christmas.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Now That's What I Call Service

I'm sitting on a Virgin train right now headed back to London after a day spent up north, no the train doesn't have wifi I'll post when I return home. I just figured if I have 90 minutes to kill I might as well make myself useful and write my post for the day. Too bad I don't get air miles on my Virgin Atlantic Flying Club account for trips on Virgin trains.

Before you get confused the title of this post doesn't refer to the service on Virgin although I have no complaints there, the service was at the customer I was visiting today. There's a woman (possibly more than one I'm not entirely sure) that regularly goes around the office picking up empty coffee cups and taking orders for tea and coffee. Not sure if this is seen as a perk or a way to stop people from gossiping around the coffee machine and be more productive. It was new to me although I hate to say I didn't actually take advantage of the service, I'm trying to limit myself to one cup of tea a day and I had a cup when I first arrived - oh well maybe next time.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quality Versus Quantity

This blogging every day is certainly a challenge. I find that even though I am managing a post a day the quality of the posts may be suffering a bit. It's relatively easy to post something every day even if it is only a sentence or two but is it more important to post frequently with more interesting and thought provoking content or to write every day.

What makes this challenge even harder is that I also maintain a blog for work. I try to post there on work days only so between the two blogs I've written 27 posts this month. To make matters just a little more interesting my schedule is about to get hectic. I was telling a coworker this week that I am out of the office until the second week of December between customer meetings and holiday at the end of the month, it's about to get crazy. Maybe to offload some of this blogging I'll have my guests write some posts when they're here next week. It may just be the first time a 4 year old blogs.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas Comes Early

It's always shocking to go into the shops and see the Christmas displays. It always seems that it comes earlier and earlier. Back in October they started putting the Christmas displays in the stores and they've already started doing the Christmas lighting ceremonies on the various streets of London. I guess I'm just used to waiting until after Thanksgiving to start seeing all the lights on and the massive Christmas advertisements but here there is no Thanksgiving to mark when the start of the Christmas season actually is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


This year I'm hosting a Thanksgiving open house in London, since Thursday won't be a holiday here we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday. I went down to the supermarket today to order a Turkey as they aren't normally stocked. When I asked about ordering, I was surprised to be told "Oh are you looking for turkey for Thanksgiving we'll be ordering loads that week no need to pre-order." I guess I'm not the only crazy expat American that wants a little taste of home. I'm wondering if they'll also be stocking all the other traditional items like pumpkin pie, pecan pie and cranberry sauce. I guess I'll be surprised when I go and do my shopping.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lease Renewal

Earlier this month I received the paperwork to renew the lease on my flat, I thought about moving into a smaller place but I can't be bothered with packing and moving so I renewed. Instead of moving I decided to rearrange the furniture in my bedroom and am contemplating the purchase of a new sofa. For those of you who have been to my flat know that the sofa is the most uncomfortable thing in the world. Tomorrow I will go out and see how much a new sofa will cost, the one thing that is good about the sofa is the fact that it's a sofa bed so there is a place for visitors to sleep. Of course I am graciously giving up my bed at the end of the month when my next round of visitors come since one of the guests goes to bed at a very early hour (Can you guess who?). The problem with a new sofa is that I have to call the property management company to remove the existing one and I'm not sure if that will actually happen. I probably should call them first before I actually go out and look for a replacement but that would be logical. I wonder if I tell them that I am happy to leave the new sofa when I depart if that would make a difference?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Photo Friday

I've decided to start a new tradition and post a new photo every Friday. It may be a photo I've taken during the week or it may be from the archives. For this week a shot I took last Friday at the Air Force Memorial in Runnymede

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Surreal Experience

I'm sure security guards have heard it all when people try to explain that they didn't understand the rules or how what they have in their bag doesn't apply. Yesterday when I was going through security they took my bags aside, this happens periodically so I didn't think anything of it. As the agent was going through my coat he took out a bottle of water. I didn't even know it was in there as the heavy winter coat had just come out of the closet for the first time that morning. The conversation went something like this:

Agent: "Liquids aren't allowed"
Me: "I know, I wasn't aware it was in my coat as this is the first time I've worn it since last winter."
Agent: "I have to throw it out."
Me: "That's fine."
Agent: "Would you like to take a sip before I throw it out."
Me: "No - it's at least 6 months old!"

It was almost as if he was reading from a script and wasn't listening at all to what the answer was instead was just moving on to the next line in the script.

As I related this story to my coworkers over dinner we were laughing about people trying to sneak things through security or not realizing that the rules applied to them. I honestly had no idea this bottle was in my coat. However at the Dublin airport today a couple of gentlemen ahead of us were a trying to take through a full bottle of champagne and whiskey and were arguing with the security staff over their inability to do so.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Twelve days into this posting every day and I'm still going strong. I don't know about you but I'm impressed with myself so far. I even ran upstairs at the hotel to write this post as I'm not sure when I'll be back from dinner and didn't want to miss a day. Am in Dublin today and tomorrow, had an interesting lunch talking about all sorts of American politics - not surprising as there were 2 Americans there and the US politics is still on everyone's minds. Both of my taxi drivers today asked me almost immediately what I thought of the new president-elect. I wonder how long it's going to take for people to stop being interested?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Queen Elizabeth II Retires

No not THE queen the QE2 the flagship of the Cunard cruise line has officially retired today. She has decided to spend her retirement in a warm location as many people do and is going to be permanently docked in Dubai and turned into a luxury hotel. Of course she had to go out in style running aground before docking and having a million poppies dropped on her.

Monday, November 10, 2008

My New Keyboard

Over the summer I got a new laptop for work, mine was 3 years old so it was time for an upgrade. The problem with the new laptop is it is a UK keyboard, I asked if the keyboard from my old laptop could be put in the new laptop but unfortunately they were different sizes. You might think there aren't that many differences as we do have the same alphabet but you would be wrong. The letters are all in the same spot the problem is the symbols are in different locations. The new keyboard requires me to think a little bit longer when typing. I've been using the same type of keyboard for over 20 years so trying to learn the new position of keys isn't all that easy.

I could go on and tell you about the differences but I figured it's time for a game of "Spot The Difference." There's only 1 rule to the game - how many differences can you see in the screenshots below.

US Keyboard

UK Keyboard

Sunday, November 9, 2008

American to English Translation

There are many words and sayings that are different, not knowing the right word can sometimes get you into trouble. I mostly just get laughed at or corrected when I use the "wrong" word. Here are just a few of the differences:

Wallet (ladies)Purse
Knock on woodTouch wood
Take a napHave a lie down

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Invisible Kangaroo Update

I realize I've been rather lax in providing updates on Ike's travels. Back in September Ike took his first flight across the pond to meet my family. While there he had many typical American experiences.
Ike's 1st Road Trip (don't worry I wasn't driving)

Ike's 1st Football Game

And what football game isn't complete without a tailgate party.

Friday, November 7, 2008

A Word of Advice

Doing home remodels is never an easy thing, try adding to that living in another country while the remodel is occurring and things get even more complicated. When my tenants moved out over the summer I decided it would be a good time to remodel the bathroom in my house as it was sorely in need of a makeover since I moved in. I spent a couple of days of my vacation this summer running around meeting with contractors and trying to get everything decided in 2 days.

Once all the decisions were made now came all the paperwork, I was emailed 50 or so pages of drawings and plans that I needed to sign and/or initial and then email back. So far so good. The next hurdle was the signing of the permit. It took the designer and contractor about a week to determine that this was a document that was a carbon copy and needed to be signed in person. My dear sweet sister drove to the store to sign the permit only to find that it wasn't filled out. I don't know about you but I would never sign a blank document. I think the contractor has since brought her a new version to sign and hopefully work will begin next week. I was originally hoping everything would be completed by Thanksgiving now it looks like it will be closer to Christmas. I hope all the delays will be worth it when it is completed.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

American's Abroad

Last night I went to a post-election party for Americans at the Texas Embassy in Trafalgar Square. I haven't see so many fellow expats in one place since I moved. I found myself faced with a couple of questions that I didn't have the answer to. While I do follow politics I guess I don't follow them as closely as some.

The questions I was not prepared for were:
  1. What percentage of the vote did Obama get in MA? According to CNN it's 63% I guessed it was around 60 so I wasn't too far off.
  2. How many votes does MA have? I honestly had no idea but I thought it was the low double digits and in fact it is 12.

I was also in the minority as most of the people had stayed up all night watching the results come in. Not me I went to bed and just caught the news first thing in the morning. After staying up to the wee hours of the morning the last 2 elections and not having a clear winner determined I decided I didn't need to see the state by state announcements.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beggars Can't be Choosers

I got the details this morning on my flight home for Christmas and it's not pretty and yes I know I shouldn't complain as the entire flight is only costing me $239 the rest is paid by work. There are lots of direct flights from London to Boston but since I am doing a multi-city trip I'm stuck making connections (either that or I pay for it which I would rather not do). Only Star Alliance carriers serve all the cities I am flying to/from Boston, Vancouver and London so this means I have the following itinerary:

25 December depart London 12 pm arrive Toronto 3 pm. Spend 3 hours at the Toronto airport before a 6 pm flight to Boston arriving at 7:35. It appears that coach was sold out so I'm in first class for this short flight - if coach is sold out why can't it be on the long haul flight not the short one.

I am then in town until 6 January when I head to Whistler. I will do my best to see everybody while I'm stateside.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Happy Election Day

Watching the events of this years presidential election from abroad has been great. It's wonderful to be able to watch television at night without being bombarded by thousands of ads. The news is able to sum up the main highlights in about 2 minutes and then move on to other stories.

What is the most interesting is that everybody seems interested in the outcome of the election and can tell you exactly who is running - I doubt many Americans could tell you who ran in the 2007 French election or the 2008 Zimbabwean election. Of course depending on what country I'm in I can't always tell what the news is saying but just seeing the faces of John McCain and Barack Obama on the television in France or England or Germany or wherever I am shows the global interest and concern over the next US president. I even had somebody tell me that the right to vote should be opened to non-US citizens given the impact it will have on the whole world.

By far my favorite quote from the election this year didn't even come from the presidential candidates or vice-presidential candidates instead it came from Mike Huckabee during the Republican National Convention:
'Barack Obama's excellent adventure to Europe took his campaign for change to
hundreds of thousands of people who don't even vote or pay taxes here.'
It seems the former governor is unaware that there are millions of Americans that live outside the US and still maintain the right to vote and pay taxes. Trying to find the actual number of Americans living in Europe though isn't the easiest thing. Turns out Americans living abroad are not counted in the census as it would not be cost-effective. The only Americans that are counted during the census are members of the military or government employees which are likely only a small fraction of all expats. The only metrics I could find are from 1999.

I'll end today with the following public service announcement: For those of you in the US please go out and vote after reading this if you haven't already done so.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Self Assessment

I struggle to figure out the tax filing system here in the UK. The tax year runs until April 5th, if you file a paper return the deadline is October 31st, if you file a self assessment on-line the deadline is January 31st. To further complicate matters not everybody needs to file a tax return, if your taxes are deducted directly from your paycheck (PAYE - pay as you earn) then you don't need to file, if you want to claim tax relief or credit you can ask to file a tax return. Typically the only people filing taxes are those with complicated tax affairs or those that have credits to claim. Lucky me I have complicated taxes. I am currently in the process of deciding whether I want to attempt and file on my own or use an agency. I signed up for the online self assessment and will be getting access to the site later this week I'll have a look and see how difficult it seems. If I can't figure it out I'll send the info off to the agency I used last year.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cooped Up

I've spent the entire weekend indoors and am starting to go stir crazy. For those of you that don't know I had an allergic reaction to something (no idea what) and broke out in hives on Thursday night. The doctor has me on steroids and it seems to be doing the trick the itchiness has subsided but I am still get random break outs may need to extend the steroid treatment another couple of days.

I've learned the NHS has advantages and disadvantages. I called the doctor on Thursday night to make an appointment for Friday but I wasn't able to. The only appointments that can be made in advance are for physicals or check-ups if you are sick you have to call the day of to get an appointment. Calling Friday morning I was able to get an appointment for a few hours later. I barely had to wait once I arrived and a few moments later I was handed a prescription. I walked out without having to make any co-payment and was on my way to the pharmacy where I paid £7.10 for the prescription. this is a flat rate all prescriptions are the same price doesn't matter what the type or quantity - 60 days worth of generic allergy tablets £7.10, 3 days of steroids £7.10. Of course it looks like I may have to go back on Monday to get more steroids as I still keep getting a few breakouts which means paying £7.10 again. Overall it is still cheaper than in the US - no monthly premium and no office visit copay.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

National Blog Posting Month

I'm always up for a challenge so when I heard about National Blog Posting Month I decided to go for it. This entails making a post every day during the month of November. It may be difficult to come up with something to say every day but I'll do my best.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's a Tie

As I was updated the places I've been section I decided to see if I'm been more places this year or last year. At the moment it's a dead heat. 24 different locations last year and this year. Of course there are 2 months left to go this year so this can potentially change. At the moment all the trips I have planned are to places I've already been this year. Maybe I'll sneak in a quick trip to somewhere new just to break the tie. Let's see what has for cheap fares this weekend - Prague or Madrid are the only 2 I haven't been to this year but the flights leave tonight. Since I've been gone for 2 weeks maybe I should just stay put this weekend.

UPDATE: Thanks to a keen observer it was pointed out that I had accidentally left my trip to The Berkshires off my list. The tie is broken 25 locations this year! And since the original posting 2 potential work trips have arisen - Madrid and Scotland . I just may hit 30 places this year.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Winning Streak

Winning Ways#1

Last week at our sales conference I received this award for achieving my targets during our last fiscal year. The company commissioned an artist to create these sculptures for the people that made the 'Achievers Club.' Of this group a percentage were chosen for the 'Circle of Excellence' which is an all expense paid trip to Whistler in January and I received that as well. This means that I will not be in the US for Christmas but will be there for New Years before I head to Whistler.

Winning Ways #2
I entered a photo competition sponsored by Pikeo & Lonely Planet in August. Lonely Planet is looking for a new cover photo for some of their travel guides. As I was in Barcelona over the summer I figured I would enter a few. As I was digging through my stacks of emails that accumulated over the 2 weeks I was away I received a notification that one of my photos was short-listed for the jury selection. This means I am one step closer to winning. What do I win you ask - in addition to my photo being on the cover I can choose one of four holidays from Intrepid Travel Russia, India, Morocco or Serengeti. It also means that my photograph will be displayed in a gallery in March . Even if I don't win I think getting a photo shown in a gallery and being selected is very cool. The photo that was selected is here (I think you may need to register with Pikeo to actually see it).

Winning Ways #3
Speaking of winning, I mailed my ballot for the presidential election today. Since normal mail takes 5 working days I had to send it special delivery to ensure that it arrives in the states by next Tuesday. Here's hoping I picked the winner there.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back to the Grindstone

I have returned to a plugged in society again and will now endeavour to update you on my photographic training holiday earlier this month.

Sunday October 12 8:50 PM EST (My body thinks it's Monday morning).

This is a first for me I'm writing the blog post by hand to be transcribed when I return. For the 1st time in ages I am away and completely unplugged - no laptop, no blackberry, no nothing. OK to be completely honest I do have my blackberry but I get no data connection. The reason I have opted to write by hand is I am afraid I won't be able to remember everything when I am back in front of a computer.

The day started with a taxi pick up at 6 AM for a 9:45 flight. If this was me travelling alone it would have been 7 or 7:15 however since this was a group package we were told to be there three hours before the flight left. This left a lot of time to kill at the airport. As I'm not big into terminal duty-free shopping I decided to just walk from 1 end of the terminal to the other. I figured 9.5 hours on a plane I should do something to get the blood flowing.

The flight was just the way I like them - uneventful. I cleared immigration without a problem. I was asked a couple of questions in Spanish which I was able to understand & answer (those Spanish lessons I took earlier in the year seem to have paid off). Speaking to my travel companions they weren't asked questions. It must have been the silly American passport. Once immigration is cleared there is a security check just like you go through when boarding - all bags are scanned and you walk through a metal detector.

The next hurdle is collecting checked luggage. There were 2 baggage belts next to each other & it just so happened that bags from our flight were appearing on both! Luckily my bag appeared on the belt I was standing near.

On the drive to the hotel we passed a wide range of vehicles on the road. Motorcycles with side cars, 1950s autos, coaches and modern SUVs. What I find more intriguing are the license plates. I've seen 4 different colors so far. Not sure if this is significant or not - I'll find out. Here's a sampling of the different types of transportation I saw:

It has been quite entertaining to hear the Brits I am travelling with warn people not to expect to much from the food. Yes that's the right the British that are known for their gastronomical fare are critiquing others. The dinner at the resort tonight was roughly what I expected, lots of rice, chicken & pork, not a lot of fresh vegetables the hurricane has impacted a lot of the local produce.

One interesting thing about the resort is that you have to pay 2 pesos a day for use of the in-room safe. In all my travels I've never encountered this. The safe has a card reader which is programmed and accessed with the room key.

Signing off Sun 9:15 PM (These take much longer to write by hand than by keyboard.

Monday October 13 8:10 PM EST

I only have a few minutes before I have to meet the group for dinner so this will be short - more tomorrow. Of course since this is all being written off-line you have no concept of tomorrow this will flow seamlessly to the next entry.

Obligatory bathroom post:

The toilet in the hotel lobby has 3 stalls but only 1 toilet paper dispenser. The dispenser is located outside the stalls so it is very possible that if you're not paying attention you'll end up in a stall and not have any TP. Many public restrooms actually have somebody sitting outside handing you TP - of course you're expected to tip them. Many of the stalls don't even have locks.

Today we spent the afternoon wandering around Old Havana - the town is pretty much what I expected lots of old buildings, lots of people trying to get money from tourists either offering tours or posing for pictures. There are a couple of famous people that hang out in the same place every day to pose for photos - cost 1 peso. I imagine they make 100s a day.

Police are very visible on the streets nearly every couple of blocks. Our Cuban guide kept getting stopped and had to show papers. The police are very concerned with locals fraternizing with tourists.

After wandering around for 2 hours a drink was in order. We stopped at The Floridita famous for Daiquiris and being a bar Hemingway used to frequent.

It's now 8:25 need to run - dinner at a Paladar tonight.

Tuesday October 14 8:25 AM
A good night's reset and I'm ready to go again. Right now I am sitting outside listening to the waves crash and eating breakfast - rough life I know.

Last night wasn't at all what I expected. To start out we were told the paladar was a 10 minute walk from the hotel - 25 minutes later we actually arrived. Luckily I was in the front of the group those in the back got lost, we weren't give the name or address of the place we were just blindly following the leader, luckily everybody showed up.

We were told that paladars are located in family homes and are not restaurants that are run by the government. Most of us were expecting to be in a house however the paladar looked an felt just like a restaurant - 2 fully stocked bars, lots of tables and a professional kitchen.

The food however was very tasty, I had rabbit but for the price I paid I was a little disappointed in the whole experience, it really seemed like just another giant tourist trap.

Of course milking tourists is the way everybody makes money here. Everyone no matter what profession makes the same amount of money each month. In order to survive side endeavours are taken - some legal some not - and it is all strictly cash, even the restaurant in the hotel wouldn't take credit cards

The photography workshops start today hopefully I'll learn some stuff.

Wednesday October 15 5:40 PM

Dinner at last night's paladar was much more along the lines of what I was expecting - a small room with only 4 tables and tasty food. This was a nice day to what was a mediocre day.

We were broken into 2 groups - beginners and advanced. The advanced group had 10 people while the beginner group had 5. With a group of 10 people all trying to photograph the same thing you don't get much instruction or time. We had a model and were shooting on location - as this we my first time photographing a model I was a little unsure about what to do. Overall I don't think my shots came out that bad although it's not really my cup of tree. I am much happier with the subjects I am more comfortable with like trees.
After the photo shoot we were off to the marina - yachts, boutiques, views of the city it sounded great. Unfortunately this isn't where we ended up. It was pretty apparent that we were dropped off in the wrong spot but we had no idea since no organizers were around so we just stayed there and figured we would leave when the taxi returned in 3 hours. About an hour later the organizers appeared and we were told we were in the wrong place - there was another marina they were thinking of however it has recently started charging $25 for entry so we were sent here instead. I felt this was a complete waste of an afternoon I would have much rather have gone back into town.

After this a group of us decided to go off on our own into town in the morning. Since we were getting up early, I decided to pass on the nightclub after dinner.

This morning we drove around some non-tourist areas, unfortunately we didn't stop and take photos. It felt we would be a bit intrusive and some people in the group didn't quite feel comfortable. I did ask to stop near the capital - it was fascinating, all sorts of local shops loads of people walking around. I easily could have spent all day here, however we only spent about 10 minutes before we headed back into the town centre. As there was so much to photograph I rolled down my window and started shooting from the car. I was rather surprised that some of the shots came out ok.

We wandered down to the markets and Ike was itching to get out. He has a thing for markets as he was raised in Spitalfields market. So here it is Invisible Kangaroo in Havana:

The owner of the stall then tried to convince me that Ike should stay in Havana he'd be happier there. I thoroughly disagreed and Ike remains with me. I was actually a little surprised that he didn't charge me for taking the photo. So far I haven't paid for a single photo I've taken (not counting the coast of the trip).

This woman didn't take too kindly to being jilted after her photograph was taken. She grabbed her badge (I can only assume it was a license or some other official document stating she was licensed to operated in the square) and ran after the tourist. I didn't catch if the fee was paid or not.

I've been writing for 30 minutes non-stop and my hands about to fall off so I'll sign off for now. Tomorrow we have a 2 hour bus ride to Varadaro should be able to write more then.

Thursday October 16 - sometime past my bedtime (actually 11:15 PM)

Let's see where did I leave off or more precisely where should I begin ...

Last night was the last night in Havana. We went into town to a Flamenco restaurant just a little past the cathedral square where I have spent most of my time. IT seemed quite different than the rest of the city cobblestone streets, lots of restaurants and shops a very quaint little section of town - at least at night it was. Looking back I wish I had spent the whole day in Havana yesterday instead of going back to do the glamour photography sessions that were part of the course. The main reason I returned was I felt I had paid for the training and should be taking advantage of it. From my perspective I didn't learn a whole lot & mostly just felt uncomfortable. It seems like the photographic world users the word glamour to describe topless somewhat erotic photography.

This was a bit much for me to jump into and not something I am all that interested in oh well this is a learning experience all around. I've learned that for the rest of the holiday I will be skipping a number of the training sessions and just relax. As I'll be kicking back in hindsight I wished I harder to do things I wanted in town instead of following a set program. This doesn't mean I won't do another photo training holiday I've spoken to people in the group that have done other programs and speak very highly of them.

I know I said I would wrte on the bus to Varadero but I lied I spent the time chatting to others and looking at the sceneriy - go figure. The transfer was great we got to make a pit stop in a small town called Matanzas. This city is nothing like Havana - not many tourists, nobody harassing you for money and a much slower pace to the town. While walking around I did manage to ask the guide about the colours of the license plates, here's what I found out:

Blue - Government vehicle
Orange - Personal
White - Ministry
Burgundy - Tourist

There is a 5th colour that I haven't seen and don't remember what he said but that is for foreign diplomats

After the brief stop in Matanzas we headed to our luxury 5star all inclusive resort. The original plan for Varadero was that this is where all the tourists would stay. As I stated previously the government really doesn't like the locals mixing with tourists so they didn't want tourists staying in Havana. To keep locals out of Varadero there is a charge to enter the town.

At the resort you are given a bracelet to wear throughout your stay to identify you as a guest. Not sure why it matters as the place seems fairly empty, many of the bars and restaurants are closed or under construction.

I am quite looking forward to the workshop tomorrow - travel photography. I am hoping to learn some new tips and tricks. Signing off 1150 PM (Phew it's not tomorrow yet).

Sunday October 19 9:00 AM

Bored out of my mind at the airport. My flight leaves at 11:20 but for some unknown reason the holiday rep booked my taxi for 5:50. Varadero is 2 hours from the airport so I was anticipating a 6:30 or 7:00 AM pick up which would put me at the airport by 9 still plenty of time to check-in and pay my departure tax. That's right you need to pay to leave the country - the final way to milk the tourist.

As I am at the airport that means my holiday is sadly coming to a close. I spent most of the last 2 days just resting. I did manage to fire off a couple of shots on the beach for our travel brochure assignment. Do these photos make you want to come here?

There was supposed to be a group critique and slide show tonight however times got reshuffled and it was unfortunately dropped. I did manage to get a critique from both of the instructors. What was interesting was there perspective - one looked at things from a purely commercial perspective. I found that over the course that was the main focus of most people - how to make money from your photography. I seemed to be in the minority in that I wasn't looking on how to turn photography into a profession.

But I digress back to the critique. One of the things that kept being stressed during the workshops was about changing the angle of the shot or perspective, not to shoot straight on, tilt the camera, etc. In some of my shots where I did this one of the instructors commented that it needed to be straightened along the horizon (kind of defeats the purpose of shooting from a different angle). The other instructor liked the angle. It just goes to show that it pays to get multiple opinions as everybody is looking for different things.
The best compliment I received from the critique was that I have a very creative eye. My photographs pick up things that many people may miss. I was told it's easy to teach the technique but you can't teach creativity. My macro work also received very high praises.

Overall I am happy with the trip although the courses weren't for me . If I do another one I will likely look for one that focuses less on the commercial aspect of studio/staged shots and more on technique or travel.

It's not 9:40 only 1 more hour to kill before the flight starts boarding and I can sit down in my comfy airplane seat( I upgraded!)

Sunday continued 11:50
Am now en-route to Jamaica and I saw the strangest thing on the plane. Two passengers were allowed to take pictures of the cockpit. They just strolled right in without a care in the world and the pilots let them take a photo.

This concludes my holiday wrap-up. I'll get the 100 or so photos that turned out well onto my photography site tonight or tomorrow we'll see if the jet lag gets the better of me

Friday, October 10, 2008

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

I know I haven't posted in a while, well at least on this blog - yes that's right I now have 2 blogs. Earlier this year I started a blog for work and have recently been focused on blogging there. I also haven't been up to anything that exciting locally. The excitement starts on Sunday when my vacation starts. I plan on completely disconnecting from everything for a week, not bringing my laptop and my blackberry will be turned off. Just a week in the sun learning about photography. After my vacation I head straight to our annual sales conference, that's always a crazy week so chances are I won't have time to blog. If I can manage a moment or 2 of downtime I will try and post if not I'll be back on the 28th and you can look forward to a nice long blog posting then.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


It was bound to happen one of these days, BA finally gave me an upgrade. I know I shouldn't complain with an upgrade but I will. I have a window seat and not an aisle and I was only upgraded to world traveller plus not club. I know poor me.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Allergic to the US

All these years I thought I had allergies to pollen and animals and all other stuff. Turns out I'm just allergic to the United States. My allergies haven't bothered me at all since I moved to London, I'm back in the US for a week and they're going crazy. I'm sneezing left and right my sinuses are all congested, my eyes are itchy - I feel just swell. Luckily I was able to snag some allergy medicine - problem is it's not the non-drowsy kind so I'm very, very sleepy right now zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oops I fell asleep on the keyboard I'm awake now and going back to work.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Invisibile Kangaroo on a Plane

Apologies for the delay in getting this photo posted. Ike had his first ever plane trip last week when I went to Norway. I was very lucky that the flight was empty and Ike was able to get his own seat (more importantly I didn't get strange looks while taking this photo).

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I Get Around

Three times this week I've had somebody say to me something along the lines of "you really get around." All 3 of them men and as soon as they said it they have suddenly looked a little embarrassed or commented on their poor choice of words. I'm the first person to admit that I do travel a bit more than the average person. So far this year I've been to 19 different cities some more than once, 10 countries, and 3 continents. It looks like I will break last years record of 24 different cities. Coming up later this month I'm going to see how many states I can visit in a 7 day period, it will be at least 4 possibly more stay tuned.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Phone Lines are Now Closed

The name the bear competition is officially closed and I am pleased to announce we have a winner. Introducing... Ike (short for Invisible Kangaroo). Ike is heading on his first plane ride this evening- we're off to Norway for the day.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

My New Travel Companion

I get very lonely when I travel sometimes so I bought a friend today that can keep me company on the road and pose in my photos. The problem is I now need to come up with a name for my travel companion so I am launching a competition to come up with a name. The winner gets the satisfaction of knowing they are more creative than I am.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Where Am I?

I'm in Ireland this week but you wouldn't think that based on the following pictures.

Not exactly sure why Google thought I was in Germany could be the ISP at the hotel is routing from Belfast to Germany - that makes perfect sense to me.

Spent the day in Dublin on Monday and took one of those hop-on hop-off buses around town, as we were rounding a corner the American flag caught my eye it was only a few seconds later that I saw the BC flag. I told my co-worker that we had to get off so I could get a picture. It's not often you encounter a flag from your alma mater in a foreign country.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Greenwich Mean Time

Yesterday I went to Greenwich for the day with my photography group. For those of you that don't know Greenwich is known for being the home of the prime meridian. Tourists actually queue for long periods of time to have the picture taken standing on the line, personally I didn't. Instead I just wandered around the park at the Royal Observatory. It was very peaceful and relaxing even though I didn't take too many photographs.

The day started out with a boat ride to the Thames Barrier. These were built about 20 years ago not to prevent the Thames from flooding but to slow it down given people more time to evacuate. I managed to get some decent shots of Canary Wharf and the Millenium Dome from the river.

The most exciting part of the day for me though was the walk home - I walked under the Thames! A tunnel was built from Greenwich (Cutty Sark) to Island Gardens which is open to pedestrian trafrfic. Now I've driven under the ocean many times but this was the first time I had walked under a river. I'm not sure why they decided a pedestrian tunnel under the river was better than a bridge over - but it does make for a cool experience.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sweet Weekend

Being overrun with blackberries from my allotment (that's a garden plot) I decided to make some jam this weekend. Didn't feel like just doing pure blackberry so I did a blackberry/apple jam. I have to say I am quite proud of myself as it seems to have turned out relatively well. I haven't officially tried the finished cooled product but the tastes I had while cooking were quite good. I plan on having a PB&J sandwich for dinner - yum.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Difficult Question

I bet you wouldn't think it would be difficult to answer the question "Where are you from?" but for me it is. During my travels I am frequently asked this question. If I answer America I get the surprised response that you travelled from America for only a couple of days, or that must have been a long flight. If I answer that I'm from London there is surprise that I'm not speaking with a British accent.

There is a definite difference between where are you from and where do you live. For many people the answers to these questions are the same, but to expats like myself the answers are very different. In speaking with other expats they have encountered similar dilemmas when posed with the question.

It has gotten to the point that my answer usually is something along the lines of "I'm from the US, but I live in London."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Week In Review

I am back in the UK after 2 weeks in Barcelona. The Spanish classes went well and I hope to be able to continue them we'll see how that works out.

Highlights from the last week in Barcelona include:

Finally having a proper Paella. I got a recommendation from one of my teachers for a restaurant off the tourist path that specialized in Paella. I spent last Sunday drinking Sangria and eating Paella - fabulous.

Visiting Plaza Espana and the Magic Fountain. Over the weekends during the evening they do a music and light show at the fountain. The place is packed with tourists but I still managed to get some good photos. All along the sidewalk on the way to the fountain there are people selling all kinds of stuff. This is not legal and every so often you see them pick up their blankets and run off. The vendors really have it down to science many of them have strings attached to the blankets with their wares with one end of the string in their hands. If the police come it is a quick pull of the string and everything is packed up and they're off.

Seeing a Flamenco. Loved the music and the dance.

On a sad note my G6, my point and shoot camera, died while I was in Barcelona. Not sure what exactly happened but the lens is dislodged which means that the photos are all out of focus. To repair it will cost between £150-175 I think that means a new camera is in order.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

Remind me never again to complain about the cold weather in London. The weather in Barcelona this week has been more than hot, by the time I walk to my flat from the metro stop (only about 5 minutes) I am dripping with sweat.

Since Thursday I have been going out and about enjoying all that Barcelona and the surrounding area has to offer. Thursday evening I went out to Park Guell (pronounced whey) which was desinged by Gaudi.

It was intended to be a garden community but nobody ever bought any houses there so now it is just a large park. Going with the school I was able to learn a bit about the history of the park that many people wouldn't normally know. As this was supposed to be a private community a lot of the constuctions were designed to trap water, there were supposed to be a number of underground tunnels that all emptied out into the central area so residents could escape from their houses if needed. During the trip I was quite proud of myself as I could understand a lot of what the guide was saying when he spoke in Spanish - now I know that he was speaking slower than he normally would but it's a start.

Friday was a night tour of Barcelona with stops at La Sagrada Familia and some other structure that I keep forgetting the name of. Here I spent more time taking pictures than listening to the guide. What I do know about the structure that after 100 years it is still not completed as you can tell by all the cranes around the building, estimates are that it will take another 30-40 years to complete. It is an absolutely amazing structure with all sorts of symbolism 3 different doors one representing the birth of christ, one his death and one his resurrection. In total there will be 12 towers 1 for each apostle.

Look closely at the towers you can see the names of the apostles written. Guess which photo represents his birth and which his death.

After getting in late on Friday I had an early start to go to Montserrat, probably one of the more beautiful, tranquil places I've been in a while. I could have spent days walking around, enjoying the scenery and taking photos. As it was we were only there for a couple of hours as there was a second stop at the beach. I know I've said it before but I'll say it again - I hate organized bus tours as you are on somebody else's timetable. I didn't feel like I had much of an option here if I wanted to see Montserrat the only way to do it was with the school.

Walked around the cathedral a little bit primarily to see the black madonna then it was a tram ride up to the top to get a birds eye view of the place. From here there are a lot of hikes you can do however with the limited time I wasn't able to do too many. I only walked down from the top. There were a couple of side paths off the main path down which I think the guide led the group down however I got separated from the group.

I had walked down a path to get a shot from the top and happened to stumble across some butterflies and birds eating at some flowers. I got rather engrossed in taking photos of them (surprise, surprise) and missed the meeting time by a few minutes. I quickly caught up with a few other people that were taking their time walking down so I wasn't too far behind and probably could have caught up with the whole group but instead enjoyed a peaceful walk down the mountain at my own pace with many stops to take photographs. And now for the photos that delayed my return to the group: