Wednesday, 20 May 2009

NY Tips and Advice

Since I’ve been living in the UK, people who are visiting NY often ask me for advice on where to go and what to do. Of course it totally depends on what you’re into and what kind of experience you’re looking for, as NY literally has everything and anything you can think of, and 40 versions of it. I usually try to tailor my advice to the interests of the person asking and how much time they have.

Over time, this has evolved into a pretty decent list of my favorite places to eat, drink, see art, bands and generally hang out in NY. This centers around Manhattan and Brooklyn because those were the areas I lived and worked and where I hung out. Of course there’s tons to do in all the other Boroughs, but I don’t know them well enough to recommend places.

So here's my NY advice. It’s not comprehensive and I’ll probably want to add to this over time, but if you’ve never been to NY and you’re looking for some tips, hope this helps!


In terms of Manhattan neighborhoods, the Lower East Side / Chinatown area is pretty happening. The East Village scene is quieter these days but there is some stuff here & there. Uptown is great for Central Park and museums and shopping.

I mostly hung out in Brooklyn – in Williamsburg and Greenpoint - the last few years I was living there. Williamsburg is super easy to get to on the subway, just take the L train to Bedford Ave. It's only 1 stop into Brooklyn from the 14th St & 1st Ave L train stop in the East Village.

Lower East Side (LES) – An easy way to get to the Lower East Side is the 2nd Avenue stop on the F train. Walk East down Houston until you get to Ludlow St, which you'll know because Katz's Deli is on the corner.

If you haven't eaten there, you should really go to Katz's Deli and get a pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard. They're pricey because it's famous but they're huge and SO GOOD. I was a vegetarian for 8 years and when I started eating meat again pretty much the first thing I did was I went straight to Katz’s and ate a pastrami sandwich. They’re really that good. Everything else at Katz’s is delicious as well, the matzoh balls are huge, the pickles are yummy, and you should definitely get some Dr. Brown’s soda to wash it all down!

Nearby Katz’s on Ludlow is Paladar – they have nice food for reasonable prices and good mojitos and pina coladas.

LES bars / clubs -- I recommend Motor City (at 127 Ludlow St) - This is where I used to have my monthly DJ night, Motor Inn. It's laid back and it's a great little rock n' roll bar. It gets really crowded on weekends and is usually a lot of fun.
Pianos is decent, the people in there can be a snobby and scenester though. I don’t love to hang there, but other people may like it and they do have good shows. Also decent for people watching hipsters in idiotic outfits. Arlene's Grocery has good shows sometimes (although unfortunately no more Punk Rock Karaoke), as does Cake Shop.

Bowery Ballroom is a big venue and always has good bands:

The Annex has a lot of parties: The crowd is a bit young though, but depending on the night, it’s worth checking out.

The Delancey is a cool bar and they often have good DJs and parties. The rooftop bar there is really nice, with trees and wooden benches to lounge on.

If you're out late in the LES and you've been drinking and you want really good greasy snack food, my favorite place to go is San Loco, which is a tex-mex place on Stanton St. between Essex and Ludlow. All the food there is good, from the nachos to the burritos and tacos. Mmmm. I miss San Loco. They have Queso Loco tacos which consist of a regular hardshell taco (filled with the usual fillings) which is then wrapped in a soft tortilla layered in melted cheese. So it’s like a meat - taco –cheese – taco layer effect. It’s pretty awesome. And the nachos are all kinds of melted cheesy fattening happiness. Drunk food score = 100. And they serve margaritas.

If you want a nice sit down style dinner in the area, then you should go to 'inoteca, which is an amazing Italian spot that has tapas-style food and a great wine list. The truffle egg toast is to die for and basically everything there is super yummy. It's at: 98 Rivington Street (between Ludlow St & Orchard St).

Congee Village (on the outskirts of China Town, closer to LES) is great, just go for the basics – all the different variations of congee are delicious.

In China Town - Wo Hop is my favorite Chinese food restaurant. It's super cheap and no frills, and it's really good & filling. Just make sure you go to the one that is downstairs, that's the famous one. My family’s been going there since I was a kid. It’s actually where I learned to use chopsticks! The waiters used to tie rubber bands around the chopsticks and show me how to use them. It still looks exactly the same as it was when I was little and NY was all kinds of crazy.

Meatpacking District - This used to be grungy and cool and full of transvestite hookers but now it's all cleaned up and fancy with a whole bunch of fashion stores and boutique hotels. I wouldn't recommend much here anymore but they do have good shopping, there's an Alexander McQueen store there (he's one of my favorite designers).

East Village – If you want to go see what happened to CBGB's - there's a John Varvatos store there now. It's worth going if you've ever been to CB's (or even if you haven't) just because it's so weird to see it. It's partly a tribute to CBGBs and partly a clothing store. It's filled with gold records and music equipment and pictures and clothing. They still have some of the walls with all the posters and graffiti visible, it’s a strange mix of the old space and new.

Beauty Bar - We used to hang there a lot, usually fun. I’d check to see what music they have there, but it’s usually a punk / rockabilly kind of crowd.

Lit Lounge – It was great for like 2 months when it first opened, then it got really fashionista and cheesy and horrible. I’m not sure what it's like these days. They usually have DJs downstairs, so it might be worth peeking in. They also have a gallery attached to the bar called Fuse Gallery that’s had some cool exhibitions like HR Giger, Paul Booth, Mark Mothersbaugh, Juxtapoz stuff.

Grassroots Tavern - Great dive bar on St. Marks. Perfect place to just chill and have a cold beer and talk shit with your friends. Or just take a break from walking around for an hour.

St. Marks Place is the famous strip where all the punks and rockers used to hang out and the punk club Coney Island High used to be there. A lot of that stuff is gone now but it's still worth going to check out and see where it all used to be.
Trash in Vaudeville is a punk store on St Marks that has been there since the 70s and is very famous:
There's 2 stores, top & bottom.

KGB bar - Cool spot, they have good poetry readings there as well

Manitoba's – Cozy, chill punk bar owned by Dick Manitoba from the Dictators. My friend Chris bartends here.

McSorley's Old Ale House - classic old Irish bar, been around for ages, sawdust on the floor

Mona's - good local dive bar. They used to have cheap Guinness on Wednesdays but I’m not sure if they still do that.

Niagara - Used to be a cool place to hang out and see bands downstairs. Got a bit trendy but still decent (depending on the night I guess). They sometimes have good art exhibits downstairs.

Niagara is right next to Tompkin's Square Park which is where all the punks used to hang out (and me when I was a teenager) It's a famous park and always good for people watching.

Some info here:

There was a punk & skinhead vs. police riot here at some point which is pretty interesting to read about:

Pyramid Club - This place was way cool when I was a kid, but was pretty dead for a long time. Recently I heard that they still have some good nights, mostly a gay crowd.

Meatpacking District - APT had a good scene a few years ago, not sure what it's like now, but worth popping in for a drink.

The Tribeca Grand Hotel in the West Village has a great bar in the lobby and also they often have DJs in the downstairs club area.

Santos Party House on 100 Lafayette St. is a new spot that I haven’t been to but my friends have said its really cool. Every Friday Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest DJs there, so a good night to go.

Happy Ending in the Chinatown area - it's on 302 Broome St. I think their big night is Tuesdays, probably still a fun place to go. I used to go there a lot.

For parties, I would strongly recommend checking out this site: - This is my friend Andy Shaw's promotion company and he reps all the best current parties in the downtown scene.

The ones that he’s currently repping that I know are:

Tiswas - used to be a famous and great NY party, but it's been around a long time and I don't know how good it is these days.

Rated X - is run by Michael T and is a very gay-friendly party and always kind of wild and fun.

Nacotheque - is my good friend Amylu's party and is really great. From their
website: ‘Nacotheque is a dance party in NYC that highlights new and old, popular and obscure music from all over Latin America and Spain of rock n' roll, new wave, indie rock, baile-funk, nouveau-eighties, electropop, disco, cumbia, punk, and some hip-hop. The party happens every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month at Fontana's in the Lower East Side/Chinatown area.

Trash is another classic party that used to be lots of fun, no sure how it is nowadays but probably worth checking out.

Best to check out Andy's site for more details on the exact locations, cover prices, etc.

Also something to note - Thursday is probably the biggest night out in the city and the best night for going out. On Fri & Saturdays the 'bridge & tunnel' crowds come in so the regular scene usually avoids going out as much those nights. Often the best nights to go out are during the weekdays.

I’ve lived in different areas of Brooklyn and they each have their own cool thing going on, but I know the Williamsburg / Greenpoint area the best and I think it’s the best bet for someone to visit because everything is very accessible and there’s always lots of people out.

The best thing to do in Brooklyn is just bar hop and go to like 8 bars in one night, always super fun.

Here a list of my favorite bars - I'll just list the names, but you can get full descriptions and location info here:

Barcade - Has tons of old arcade games you can play, beer + arcade games = awesome

Bushwick Country Club - Rick loves this place. They have drinks like the Frozen Jim Beam and coke slushie, how could you not like it?

The Charleston - Chill place to hang and you get free pizza with every drink!

East River Bar - Kind of a rock bar, they often have bands play - it's hit or miss, could be really fun, could be crap, depends on the night

Enids - Classic local Greenpoint hangout, good food too

The Gutter - Bowling alley in Bklyn - It opened after I left but Rick and some friends have all been and say it's fun

Hope Lounge

Huckleberry Bar - This opened after I left, but heard they have good cocktails

K & M

Larry Lawrence - A bit hidden but if you can find the door it's a fun spot

Duff's - An awesome metal bar. We love this place!

The Levee - This is a really fun place, just a laid back southern-style bar, we used to hang here a lot. They have a pool table and games to play and good music

Knitting Factory – famous club that used to be one of my main hangouts in the city. They always have good shows and my friends worked there. Now they’ve moved to Williamsburg and I haven’t been to the new space and I also heard they replaced all the staff, but if it’s anything like what it used to be, it will be worth checking out

Music Hall of Williamsburg - This used to be a great venue called Northsix. They reopened it since I left and I've heard it's really good - bands play there all the time, so check the listings.

Pete's Candy Store - Fun place to just chill out, they have a nice outside area in the back and good mixed drinks

Radegast Hall & Biergarten - Great new spot - opened last year. It's a big German beer hall in the middle of Brooklyn!

Royal Oak - We used to hang here all the time, but I'm not sure what the crowd is like these days, probably still fun

Savalas - Great on the weekends, good music. They have fab frozen margaritas in the summer

Spuyten Duyvil - Great beer selection and snacks

Studio B - Lots of big parties and club stuff going on here, I'd check their website

Sweet Ups - Another local hang. This is where Rick and I first met - while both very drunk :)

Supreme Trading - We used to hang here all the time. Our friends used to bartend here but don't know anyone there anymore. Probably still fun though, the space is huge and they have bands play sometimes. They used to have the Warriors party there on Halloween, if they still do it and you’re in NY over Halloween, definitely check it out.

Trash bar - hang out here a lot, great dirty rock bar. This used to be Luxx where Larry T had Berliniamsburg

Turkey's Nest - Great dive bar, lots of the real Brooklyn locals hang out here and they can be a bit ornery so don't get in a fight with anyone here. Really cheap beer and pool.

Union Pool - One of the best bars in Brooklyn, used to hang out there all the time. Great on weekends. Usually packed – good crowd, great music. They also have cool events like the Kustom Kills & Hot-Rod Thrills Rumblers Car Show.

Other things to do outside Manhattan

These are a bit outside the city but if you're up for it, both of these are really great: the Bronx Zoo ( and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (

Museums –

The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) is amazing and huge and has tons of good art. Leave at least a few hours to see it because it's a massive museum.
The MOMA ( is the Museum of Modern Art and was just completely re-designed. They usually have good new exhibits and the permanent collection alone is worth seeing.

The Museum of Natural History ( is my favorite museum and is really fun. The Rose Center / Hayden Planetarium is attached to the museum and they have really cool IMAX movies and movies about how the universe began and stuff like that in this giant domed planetarium. It's just basically super cool. Kids will love it.

Sightseeing / shopping:

If you want to go check out the Empire State Building, you could either just go to it and look around, or if the wait isn't too long, I think it is worth it to go to the top, just see how long the wait is 'cause you also don't want to waste half a day there.

Statue of Liberty – SO NOT worth going to the actual Island and going to the top. It takes forever, it's crowded and lame and when you get to the top, all you can see is this little dirty window that you have about 30 seconds to look out because everyone behind is pushing you. Huge waste of time and money. However. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty, the best way to do it, and this is especially cool at sunset, is to take the Staten Island ferry round-trip. The ferry is a commuter ferry and it's free ( It goes past the Statue of Liberty, and you get a really great view of both the Statue and the city skyline. It's very romantic and fun and you can go round-trip in about an hour. Totally better than doing the Statue tourist thing.

You can either go to Staten Island and walk around for a bit, or you could just turn around and go right back on the next ferry. Staten Island is mostly residential though so there's not a lot to see, but Rick said there's a cool Irish pub that when you get out of the ferry exit, you just keep walking straight up the road, and take the 1st left and you'll see the pub.

Ground Zero -- I think it's really kind of weird and fucked up that now it's a tourist attraction. I wouldn't recommend wasting time going to see it, as there's not much else down there to see and it's honestly pretty depressing. There's so much better stuff to do in NY.

But if you decide to go down there, make sure to check out Century 21, which is an amazing store right next to Ground Zero. It's on 22 Cortlandt St between Church & Broadway). They offer all kinds of designer stuff at really discounted rates and the deals there are amazing. The downside is you have to brave a lot of insane pushy NY shoppers but if you can deal with it, it's worth a visit.

Central Park – Always worth a walk through Central Park. A stroll through the park in the late afternoon / evening is just a classic NY thing to do. It's not dangerous but I wouldn't go there too late because then it gets sketchy. Probably best to go between 5 – 7pm. The light is nice and the park is quiet and pretty. People take the coach rides on horses through the Park sometimes, which is nice but it's a little expensive. Stuff to look at in the Park (you might want to look at a Park map for where these are because the park is big):

Strawberry Fields - this is a tribute to John Lennon and it's on the West side of the Park. It's a cool little spot, it has a mosaic in the floor that says IMAGINE. There's also an awesome bronze Alice in Wonderland statue of Alice sitting on a giant mushroom surrounded by all the animals from the book. It's so big you can climb up and sit in Alice's lap.

There's two lakes in the park (one is by the SouthEast entrance near the big uptown Apple store, which is on 767 5th Avenue) and they're both nice to go sit by. The Apple store itself is actually a cool thing to check out, it is a big glass cube coming out of the sidewalk, and you take a clear glass elevator down underground into the store. It's just kind of futuristic and cool looking.

Saks 5th Avenue (611 5th Avenue) / Macy's / Bloomingdale's (59th Street & Lexington Avenue) / Bergdorf Goodman's (754 5th Ave & 57th St) / Henri Bendel (712 5th Avenue near 56th Street) – We have some amazing department stores in NY. All of these are totally worth a visit, but just know that they are SUPER expensive, even with the exchange rate. Macy's is the most affordable of them all, and it is the largest store in the world, so always fun to go check out. I love spending hours on the weekends just window shopping at these stores, they are beautiful and have such yummy looking clothes and shoes and bags. Really anything on 5th Avenue is great for shopping.

St. Patrick's Cathedral (14 East 51st Street) – probably not as impressive after you've seen cathedrals in Europe, but it's a gorgeous church and it's very famous. It's free to go in and although I've seen even bigger ones since I've been to Europe, it's still my favourite church.

Rockefeller Center (between 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues) – during Christmas, this is where they put the giant Xmas tree and they turn the open area below it into a skating rink. Just a classic tourist spot.

FAO Schwarz (767 5th Ave & 58th St) – Really cool and fun toy store with giant stuffed animals and just tons of awesome stuff. If you ever saw the movie Big, but the scene with Tom Hanks on a giant piano keyboard was filmed at this store.

Times Square – Just go and see it. It's a crazy big place with lots of neon. Other than that, it's a crowded, loud tourist trap, so just check it out and leave. Don't eat or drink anything there, the food is gross and the prices are so inflated it's insane. But definitely go and look at it.

Soho – The best place to actually go shopping. Soho is awesome, there's tons and tons of great stores, both chains and little boutiques, and there's also always a lot of people selling stuff on the streets, some of which is good quality for cheap prices.

If you get out at the Prince St. subway stop on the N/R or the Spring St. stop on the C/E train, those are both pretty much right in Soho and then you can walk around from there. There's a downtown Bloomingdale's there which is cool, and Sephora, and just tons of stores. On Broadway there's lots of shops where you can get great sneakers very cheap. They have every possible brand and colour you could ever want.
There's also so many nice shoe stores and clothing stores. Something to note that's a bit confusing though - there's two different streets down there called Broadway.

One is the main avenue, just called Broadway, which runs through the whole city. This is the one where there are a lot of sneaker stores in Soho. The other is a smaller street that only exists down in Soho called West Broadway. That also has a lot of good shopping, but just thought I'd mention that they are two different streets, which gets a lot of people confused. They aren't linked in any way, they just have similar names.


Here's some of my favorite places to eat. They range in price, but they're all worth it!

In Manhattan:

Katz's Deli - 205 E. Houston St at Ludlow - - Pastrami sandwiches!

S'Mac - 345 E. 12th St. between 1st & 2nd Ave. in the East Village. Specialises in Mac n' cheese - that's all they do, and they are so good at it!

San Loco - There's a couple locations, but the best one by far is on the LES at 111 Stanton St between Essex & Ludlow. The Williamsburg location is pretty good too.

Veselka - 2nd Avenue & 9th St in the East Village. Ukranian food - really good pierogies & blintzes, potato pancakes, goulash and kielbasa. Total comfort food and filling and not expensive either.

Sushi Samba - There's two locations, but the one I like better is on: 245 Park Ave South b/w 19th & 20th St. This is more on the pricey side, but it's a nice place for an evening meal. They mix sushi with Latin dishes like ceviche, or with mango and calamari and they have really good drinks. It gets super crowded on the weekends and sometimes you have to wait, so I would get there a bit early in the evening and maybe go on a weeknight.

Otto - Located at One Fifth Avenue, near 8th st. Otto is a cool mid-priced Italian food spot. It's owned by a famous chef called Mario Batali and they have really good pizzas there. My friends used to work there, so I spent a lot of time there and the food is generally pretty good. They also have a lot of good wines.

Casa Mono - 52 Irving Place - This is also a Mario Batali restaurant, but this one is more fancy and expensive. Rick and I ate there once though and it was SO good.

Momofuku Ssam - 207 2nd Ave. & 13th St - There's a couple of Momofuku restaurants, but the one called Momofuku Ssam is our favourite. They have these pork buns that are to die for. But really all the food there is good. I would go for lunch because it's a small place and it gets super crowded for dinner and can be uncomfortable. Better to relax for lunch.

Ben's - 209 W. 38th Street - Super classic NY Jewish deli food. The portions are huge and the food is great. Not too expensive, either, although it's way pricier than when I was a kid, but I guess everything is!

'inoteca - The Italian place on the LES I mentioned earlier - 98 Rivington St at Ludlow

Blue Ribbon - There's a bunch of Blue Ribbon restaurants and they're all supposed to be good, but we went to the Blue Ribbon Brasserie once and it was amazing. It is pretty expensive, but the food is incredible. It's in Soho at 97 Sullivan Street (bet. Spring and Prince streets)

Taisha - - 5 St. Marks Place b/w 2nd & 3rd Aves. A really good Japanese food joint in the East Village, on St. Marks Place. This place doesn't do sushi really, more yakitori style - like breaded & fried Japanese food on skewers.

I would definitely recommend going to Little Italy to walk around and have a cannoli. But I would never eat a meal in Little Italy – the food is gross, it's a total tourist trap. There's so much good Italian food in NY and none of it is actually in Little Italy! But they do have good desserts and also a good place for Irish coffee, or really any coffee with liquor in it, most places have a lot of spiked coffee options.

You should of course also eat as much NY pizza & bagels as you can! For bagels I would say H&H is the best, but really any place that is just a bagel place is probably good. Look for places that specialise in bagels, not just like a deli that also has bagels. Good pizza is pretty easy to find around the city, maybe just ask locally where you're staying for what's a good pizza spot in the neighbourhood. There's a new pizza place on 14th St. between 1st & 2nd Avenue called Artichoke that everyone was raving about when we were home. Rick got the Sicilian slice and said that was really good, and the Spinach one is also good.

In Williamsburg:

I'll list our favorite restaurants here and you can check out descriptions & location info at this site:

Teddy's - a pub with good brunch and hearty sandwiches and burgers.

Robertas - Our friends own this place and it's a little off the beaten path, but totally worth it, it's amazing. Great Italian food & brick oven pizza. Even the NY Times raves about it!

Anytime - good for really late night food - mac n' cheese, stuff like that.

Aurora - Really nice Italian food. Good for a date.

Black Betty - Good Mediterranean and not too expensive. Also a cool bar that has some good local bands on weekends.

Bonita - Good Mexican

Bozu - Japanese tapas, always nice and good drinks

DOC wine bar - nice for wine and little bites, really cozy

Diner - Good brunch, often super crowded with long lines but good people watching and food

Relish - Good diner food, good brunch, big portions

Egg - Great classic American-style breakfasts

Dokebi - Korean BBQ

Dumont - Good food, but lately it's gotten really expensive so might not be worth it

Le Barricou - French bistro - really nice food. We actually had our wedding reception here!

Marlow & Sons - Hard to describe, but good food

N. 6 - Good Italian

Roebling Tea Room - Cool spot, good teas and drinks

Samurai - Decent sushi for cheap

So that's all my NY advice for now. It's good to plot things on a map before you go, but NY is on a grid system so once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to get around. If you need to know how to get somewhere on the subway, I always use this site: It's really helpful for which train to take.

Some general advice - cops are pretty mean so just try not to get involved with them or piss them off. There's laws against drinking in the street or public transportation, so you can't drink alcohol outside at all, unless it's in the garden of a restaurant. In Manhattan always take yellow cabs. Those are the only cabs that are legit. Use the cab stands at the airport and wait for the yellow cabs- don't go with the random people who might approach you and say they're cheaper - they're pretty shady.

In Brooklyn you can use a car service, there's not as many yellow cabs there. But you should use services where they have a stand or someone has a number of a service they trust. Northside car service is the best one in Williamsburg and there's a stand right on Bedford Ave, which is the main street.

The subway is pretty safe and really easy to use, so I would suggest using the subway as much as you can, but cabs are also relatively affordable, so it's more up to your budget. Also, be warned that cabdrivers drive like maniacs! You can buy a Metrocard for the subway (which is just like an Oystercard in London), but you only swipe once - when you enter. It charges you the same flat rate no matter where you go. You don't need to swipe on exit.

I would recommend as much walking around and eating as possible! We have great museums, great food and great nightlife, but the best thing in NY to do is literally just walk around and people watch! People in NY are crazy and fun. Sometimes a bit rough (and always crazy) but that’s the best part! :)

Monday, 23 March 2009

Margo Gets Hitched

Well it’s been ages since I updated this blog. Things just got so busy that I could barely process experiencing it all, let alone sit back and reflect! I’ve been in London 1 year & 9 months and my life has certainly changed a lot in that time. Differently than I might have guessed!

Quite a lot has happened, so I’ll hit some of the highlights. Rick came over here to stay with me for awhile and in April we went to Istanbul to meet up with my brother Adam and his wife Goli. They rented an apartment there for a month so Adam could wind down a bit after his 2nd deployment in Iraq. We were there for about 6 days. We had an amazing time seeing all the sights, haggling in the bazaars, eating delicious Turkish food, smoking shisha and drinking apple tea.

Goli was an excellent tour guide, she speaks the language and has spent a lot of time there. She grew up in Iran and she and her family used to spend holidays in Turkey, where some of her extended family live. She showed us the local hang-outs and Adam gave us fascinating history lessons about Istanbul and all the incredible mosques and museums and palaces we went to. Rick and I loved it there. I’ll have to write a post about that trip soon.

In June, Rick proposed and I said yes (of course!) and we got engaged. We were super happy and excited. A few days later we went on a bit of a whirlwind trip to Brussels, Amsterdam, Munich, Cesky Krumlov and Prague. I really don’t like to fly so I was particularly excited about this trip because it only involved 1 flight – from Prague to London. We took the Eurostar to Brussels and then the Eurail the rest of the way. I much prefer traveling on trains, even though it takes longer. It’s more relaxing and it’s great to see the scenery and really get the feel of traveling from one place to another.

That trip was definitely an adventure – traversing 5 countries in 8 days is not something I would recommend or repeat! We mis-judged the amount of time it took to get to each place, waiting for connections, and there were also changes that we couldn’t have foreseen. We’re both relaxed about traveling so that was a big help, but we spent a lot more time en route then we wanted and not enough time in each place. Lesson learned.

We were able to see some incredible things though and we had a great time overall. The biggest problem was that we got stuck in the rain in Amsterdam and Rick, being gentlemanly, gave me his coat because I wasn't wearing one, and he ended up getting bronchitis. He was pretty sick most of the trip.

I had to take him to the hospital in Prague, which we were apprehensive about, but we actually received faster and better care there than we ever have in London! I’ll write a longer post on that trip at some point, but some of the highlights were – Taking the train over the Alps - the scenery was truly breathtaking (poor Rick slept through it). We went to an old beer garden in Germany and drank beer in big steins and ate lots of delicious sausages and schnitzel and pretzels. In Amsterdam we had waffles and all kinds of good food and went to the van Gogh museum. We ate hearty comfort-style food in Prague – potatoes and meat and soup and dumplings. I walked around the Jewish quarter there and saw the amazing old Jewish cemetery.

We also toured several castles during the trip, which is one of my favorite things to do. There's a beautiful one in Cesky Krumlov and in Prague we went to the castle and the St. Vitus Cathedral. Prague is so beautiful. We really want to go back, especially since Rick had never been there before and he had to spend a good part of his time there in bed.

After we got back from the trip things got REALLY hectic, because Rick and I had to start planning our wedding! We had to organize it very quickly so it was stressful, especially organizing it from another country.

My workmates and friends in London threw me a hen night (what they call a bachelorette party in England - the bachelor is called a ‘stag’) and it was really sweet – we ate sushi and cakes and they gave me big sparkly fairy wings and a feather boa and feather flapper-style headband to wear. We went dancing on Brick Lane and had a great time.

The wedding was in NY in September, and it was amazing, we had such an incredible time. I had never met Rick’s family before, because they live in Santa Fe and they didn't have a chance to visit while I was living in NY. Rick had met my Dad and brothers but not my Mom & Stepdad. Rick’s family came in a few days before the wedding and we went out with them and showed them around NY a bit. They were so wonderful and welcoming to me, the nicest new family I could have ever hoped for! They even got me a birthday present, which is really sweet because my birthday was right after my wedding and with all the other stuff going on I didn’t really expect any presents or for anyone to really remember it! Rick’s sister also made us a beautiful photo book that had pictures of me & Rick from when we were kids up until now.

The Sunday before the wedding, Annick and Mary threw a really fun bachelorette party for me, themed as a lingerie shower. We had Italian food and a cake and played some games and I got lots of amazing lingerie, which is always appreciated (by both me & Rick)! I was even lucky enough to get a set from Agent Provocateur! Afterwards we went out bar-hopping in Williamsburg and then I retrieved my fiancée while he was still somewhat functional after his bachelor party. Rick had his bachelor party at Roberta’s and it’ll just suffice to say that he had a fun time and that I was lucky to get him back in one piece. My brother Craig came in from Miami a week early to hang with us and I asked him to be my representation at the party and look after Rick. I don’t think I’ll ask Craig to be a chaperone again, in the end Craig probably drank more than Rick! They had a great time though, so as long as they survived, it’s all good.

My Mom came to town a few days early as well and we took Rick’s Mom & sister to Katz’s Deli for some yummy NY-style deli sandwiches, and we met up with some of my girlfriends and had our nails done.

The night before the wedding we hosted a big dinner with the two families so everyone could get to know each other. We had it at Roberta’s (our friends’ restaurant in Brooklyn) and they really turned it out for us. There was lots of delicious food and wine and everyone got along fantastically. It was an amazing feeling to be in a room with all of my family, some of Rick’s family (and some of our friends). This never happens because my family is so spread apart geographically and it’s such a pleasure when I get to see everyone. Also when your parents are divorced it’s rare to have both sides of the family in one place.

But that was really just a pre-cursor to the actual wedding, where we had almost all of the people we really love in the world in one place!

We stayed at the Chelsea Hotel for the day of the wedding and a few days afterwards. On the day of wedding, Adam hung out with me and chauffeured me around, which was great because we got to spend more time together. I had my hair done in the morning and then a few of my girlfriends came to the hotel to help me get ready. We drank some champagne and had fun getting all dolled up.

The ceremony was in Prospect Park in the afternoon with about 20 people, just immediate family and a handful of our closest friends. Rick and I said traditional vows and then vows we wrote ourselves. My youngest brother Max (who's 6 years old) was the ring bearer and he did a great job. He’s a riot - he has such an impish sense of humor. He kept moving the box away from me when I went to get the rings – little whippersnapper! Everyone was cracking up.

I didn’t have any Bridesmaids but I asked my best friend Mary to be my un-official Maid of Honor, and she did a reading for the blessing at the end of the ceremony. The reading was partially from Rilke and then she wrote the rest, it was beautiful.

Our friend Ian played a violin serenade as I walked down the aisle (which wasn’t quite an aisle but a trail of rose petals in the park) and both of my parents escorted me, which was really nice. I wore a 50s-style white dress with beautiful white heels that my Aunt Pam bought me as a present, and a vintage white beaded bag that she lent me. I had my hair swept up and wore a Swarovski crystal tiara that's a replica of the tiara that Audrey Hepburn wore in Roman Holiday. It was hand-made by this amazing jeweler, Count Alexander, who is an actual Austrian Count! We bought it in London at his gorgeous little shop in Angel from his mother, who is a Baroness. She was beautiful and charming and so sweet helping us choose the tiara. I also wore a vintage 40s white fur stole that we bought in London. Rick wore an exquisite Vivienne Westwood grey suit and looked super sexy. One of us had to get married in Westwood!

Afterwards we all went to the reception at a French bistro in Williamsburg. We had about 90 people there and although a few close friends couldn’t make it, and because of space constraints there were some family and friends we couldn’t invite, it was definitely still the only time I’ve had the experience of having almost all my loved ones together! That was so amazing. Everyone just looked so gorgeous and seemed really happy and it made the evening so special. We really couldn’t have had a better time.

My friend Jay DJ’d and there was an open bar with beer and wine and cocktails. The food was delicious – cheese plates, salmon tarts, marinated chicken skewers, calamari, sautéed escargot (they were so good!), fresh snapper, homemade spinach and goat cheese ravioli, coq au vin, garlic mashed potatoes... We had 100 pink and white chocolate and vanilla French-style butter cupcakes for dessert and set them up in two tiers. They were a big hit! They were huge and delicious. It was fun to cut a cupcake instead of an actual cake. I shoved a bunch of it in Rick’s face :)

The staff at the restaurant were so friendly and attentive, I was really indebted to one waitress who went out of her way to make sure I always had a drink and made me a plate of food and forced me to sit down and eat! If she hadn’t done that, I know I would never have had any food all night, I was too distracted talking to everyone.

The best part of the wedding reception for Rick and I was the toasts. Mary and Adam started them off and then after that it just kept going – in the end, so many people got up to speak. Our parents, siblings, a lot of our friends... people were so sweet and had the most beautiful things to say and best wishes for us. Some of the speeches were just all-out hysterical. It was a really fun part of the night and we definitely felt really loved. Afterwards, Rick and I had our first dance as a married couple and then I danced with my Dad and Rick danced with his Mom.

People came from all over - my cousin Roya came all the way out from LA! My cousin Jeanmarie came from Philly, Rick's family and some friends came out from Santa Fe. My neighbors from when I was growing up, the Gigliotti's, came out and I was so happy to see them. Unfortunately their daughter Maria couldn't make it but it was so great to see Michele and Frank. My Mom & Stepdad came out from Texas, Craig from Miami, Adam & Goli and Goli's Mom traveled from DC, it was just so wonderful. My friend Shannon came who I really miss and I never get to see enough. My Aunt & Uncle & cousins from Connecticut. And of course all our friends and family from NY.

The party lasted until about 2am, and then we went back to the hotel. When we got back there was an amazing gift box that Mary & Erika had sent for us with all kinds of sweets and toiletries and a bottle of champagne. It was such a great touch to end the evening with and I’ll always remember how amazing and generous everyone was during the whole experience.

My girlfriends really helped me immensely throughout everything. Planning the wedding from overseas and in such a short time period was not an easy task, but they made it all so much easier. Mary designed the wedding invitations and the cocktail menu for us and did a gorgeous job. She also helped us find the venue. Our friend Tiffany (who’s a professional photographer) did the photography for the wedding along with my friend Jenna who photo-assisted. The photos came out amazing! Tiffany also printed up all the cocktail menus for us. Annick helped in so many ways, she let us stay with her for part of the time we were in NY and one night she stayed home and filled out all the place cards! Anjalie came dress shopping with me in London and was a huge help.

Erika was amazing – not only did she and her husband Ian host us for most of our trip, she helped me so much with everything – including co-ordinating with the restaurant and helping plan everything. She dealt with the florist to order the bouquet and boutonnieres and then she hand-made all the beautiful flower arrangements for the tables as a present for us! She also got my veil for me, dropped off all the flowers at the venue and helped arrange the tables, etc. and just gave us so much advice and support. She and Ian bought us our guest book and just generally did tons of things for us, I couldn’t even list them all. Loads of other people also helped us out in different ways and we were just really overwhelmed with the generosity and love from all of our friends and family! It had been a rough few months leading up to the wedding, so it was really amazing to come home and get such a big dose of happiness and positivity. It made it so difficult to leave everyone again!

The next day we had some family & friends over to our suite at the Chelsea for a NY-style brunch - bagels and lox, muffins, whitefish salad, cookies, so much good stuff. Rick's family brought delicious homemade snacks from New Mexico. We spent the rest of the day showing Rick's Mom and Sister and Uncle around NY and hanging with his friend Ricky. I took them all over Manhattan, and then we ate at my favorite resturant in Chinatown, Wo Hop. My family had left earlier that day and Rick's family left the next morning. It was so sad when we had to say goodbye to our families.

We stayed in the Chelsea for 2 days after the wedding, which was pretty much all we had in the way of a honeymoon so far. We’d like to take a honeymoon trip at some point, but I didn’t have any vacation time left at my job after the wedding. I have more vacation now that it’s the new year, but with the economy as it is, it’ll probably be some time before we can go away.

Rick stayed behind in NY after the wedding to get his Visa sorted out but all went well and he was approved to live and work in England. We moved to our own place a few months ago. We love our new flat, it's great to live by ourselves and we live right near a beautiful park.

Rick and I have so much fun together and although being married is definitely an adjustment, it's one we've happily made. He is a great partner and takes care of me so well (and hopefully I do the same for him!) He's a gifted artist and a mean cook and just an all-around fantastic guy. I have so much respect and admiration for who he is and how he interacts with the world. He approaches life in a different way from me, and unapologetically so, which I really enjoy. I think we both have strengths that compliment each other. He's already taught me so much and I know that I'll continue to learn by being around him and having his input and advice. He's really been such a positive, happy element in my life and I'm so glad to have found someone so amazing. :)

Since the wedding, we’ve both pretty much just been busy working and trying to save money to do some more traveling. We did get over to Paris again for a few days for Rick’s birthday and stayed with our friend Jon. I finally saw the Louvre on that trip!

I want to take as much advantage as possible being so close to mainland Europe while we’re here - there’s so many places we’d like to go next it’s hard to decide. I’ve still never been to Santa Fe though. Rick’s family wants to do a party for us so we could celebrate the wedding with all his friends and family that couldn’t make it to NY, so we’re hoping to visit Santa Fe as soon as we can. I can’t wait to see it, I’ve heard so much about it! And I know Rick really misses everyone.

Well that’s all for now. I’m working on a post with advice for people who are visiting NY. I get asked about where to go in NY pretty often lately so I figured it would be a good idea to put together all my favorite places and recommendations and just send people a link when they ask.

So that should be up soon if you’re interested. As always, hope everyone is well and please keep in touch. For everyone who helped us with or came to the wedding – we hope you had a blast and thank you so much for everything!!

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Fall / Winter

I've been really remiss in keeping this blog up as much as I'd like. I'm on the computer all day at work, so when I get home I don't always feel like sitting down at my desk again. I'm sure a lot of people feel that way. But unfortunately it means I haven't kept up as much as I want with my writing. I do have an idea for a new book though, so I'm hoping to take time to work on it in the next year. Mary said she'd do the artwork for it, so that would be a fun collaboration for us.

The last few months have really been non-stop hectic. My cat Lint passed away back in September and that was really hard, I still miss him. He was my buddy for 10 years so it's been an adjustment not to have him by my side. I still think he might be there sometimes when I wake up but then I remember. When I think about him I don't really get sad, I just laugh remembering what a brat he was, and what a sweetheart.

I've had a lot of visitors in the last few months, and gotten to travel some more, so that's all been great. Becca & Jake came on their honeymoon and we went to the markets, and ate fish & chips and went to the park, and just had a really fun time. They're so cute together, it was great to have them here and to show them around. I miss my Beccer.

Then Celine and her boyfriend Dustin came to visit in October. Celine is a really good friend of mine from college, she lives out in LA now. She works on reality TV shows, which she's been doing for years - ever since she randomly ended up helping cast the first Big Brother. Celine's awesome and even though we live far away, we've always kept in touch. I used to stay with her in Venice Beach whenever I went to LA.

Celine and Dustin went on an ambitious 5 week trip through Europe for her 30th birthday, and came to London for a few days at the end of it. Dustin is really into Banksy, a famous London street artist. There's tons of Banksy pieces around where I live, so we walked around and looked at some of them. I took them the Lazarides gallery in Soho, which is the only gallery that directly represents Banksy. There weren't any Banksy pieces but we got to see a really cool exhibit by Space Invader. He'd created huge pixellated mosaic tile portraits of famous characters - Bonnie & Clyde, Scarface, Travis Bickle. The mosaics were all made out of Rubix cubes. I was impressed both by the art and by the sheer amount of time it must have taken to make some of the pieces. I don't think I have that kind of patience.

I took them to Denmark St to see the music shops and Dustin bought Celine a guitar for her birthday. What a good boyfriend! I'd heard about a burlesque night they were doing at Lounge Lover, a beautiful cocktail bar down the road from my flat, and I thought they might enjoy it. I made reservations and Dustin & Celine & Miguel & Nuno and I went. But the burlesque was pretty shoddy. There were one or two attractive girls and one who could really sing, but other than that it was awkward. They tried to do some theatrical burlesque, but two women covered in opaque black gauze lurching around on massive stilts is not only ridiculously unsexy, it's fucking boring.

One of the better sets was a girl who did a piece as Little Bo Peep and she came over and hooked Dustin with her pink cane and dragged him up onto the stage. Celine and I were crying laughing. Celine & Dustin were super sweet and treated me & the boys to champagne and drinks. We really had a blast, even though the burlesque turned out to be some sort of amateur night gone wrong.

In November, Rick came and we had a fabulous two weeks together. The day after Rick arrived in London was Guy Fawkes Day, which is a British holiday. This dude Guy Fawkes was a Roman Catholic revolutionary who tried to blow up Parliament in the 1600s. He was caught, tortured, and killed (along with all the other people involved). But although he's a British traitor, there's some people who see him as a hero. He's actually the inspiration for the comic & movie V for Vendetta.

So Guy Fawkes Day (also called Bonfire Night) is a holiday celebrating the fact that he didn't succeed. They burn big bonfires with effigies of Guy Fawkes, and shoot off fireworks. In the week leading up to the holiday all these little fireworks stores started popping up all over my neighborhood. All night long there would be bangs in the distance from kids setting fireworks off. It sounded like gunshots, which reminded me of Brooklyn. Aah, Brooklyn.

But I now realize where we got the idea for how we celebrate the 4th of July. And it also hit me that 4th of July is an even bigger "fuck you" to the British than I knew. We basically took a British celebration of a failed rebellion and used the same trappings for our celebration of a successful rebellion. Take that, Red Coats!

By the way, in case you didn't know this - many Brits still call us 'Yanks' and sometimes refer to the US as 'the colonies'. It always makes me giggle. Also something I learned, which I admit that I was totally ignorant about before, is that Canada is still part of the British monarchy and under the domain of the Queen. How did this piece of knowledge escape me? I don't know, but I'm really starting to think less of the NY educational system than I even did before. Maybe I wasn't paying attention in class but I don't think we ever learned much about Canada other than that Canadian mounties ride horses and wear funny hats, and they have some good bacon & maple syrup up there.

But yeah, so Canada never really fully separated itself from England and now they have free healthcare and free education and aren't hated by the rest of the world. So, uh, it's a good thing we revolted against all those high taxes and the government intruding in our lives and telling us what to do! We really showed them, eh? USA! USA!

On that topic, a quick note on another thing I've learned about how people perceive Americans in the rest of the world (besides thinking we're fat, ignorant warmongers), there is also a prevailing opinion that we love to chant USA! USA! USA! in a really loud, obnoxious voice any chance we get. Especially after uttering some ridiculous ignorant statement in a southern accent. That, my friends, is our caricature around the world. I've seen this rendition of 'an average American' so many times in lots of different countries, as I'm sure any of you who have traveled outside the US can attest to.

It's obviously about as annoying as going up to an Irishman and miming being insanely drunk and talking about four leaf clovers and pots of gold in an accent reminiscent of the Lucky Charms dude. And about as accurate. But I take it with a grain of salt, because there's not much I can do about it other than prove them wrong just by sake of being an intelligent, friendly American, and also, every country and race has it's own demonized caricature to live down.

But whenever someone does the USA! thing, I can never help but think - and maybe it's because I'm from the Northeast - that I don't think I've ever actually heard anyone do that before in real life. I've probably seen it on TV in sporting events or something, but before I started traveling, I'd never actually seen anyone do it in the States. Now I hear it all the time.

So anyway, I digress. So back to Guy Fawkes... Joao and Anjalie invited Rick & I to go to Alexandra Palace (which everyone calls Ali Pali) to see the fireworks. Ali Pali is a Palace that was built to be used as a recreation center, and they have ice skating and events and stuff. It's really high up and overlooks the city so it's a perfect spot to watch the fireworks. It reminded me of going to Bald Hill, which is the highest point in Long Island, to watch the fireworks on 4th of July when I was a kid.

There were hundreds of people there of all ages. We found a grassy spot on the hill to sit and watch the fireworks and it was really really cool. I told Rick I had arranged it all to welcome him to London. He said I'd done a good job.

Then we went back to Joao and Anj's place and Anj cooked us a delicious dinner and we spent the rest of the night watching all 20-something chapters of R. Kelly's Trapped in the Closet. Which is the dumbest, most insanely brilliant thing ever. That man is an idiot savant. If you haven't seen it, I strongly recommend it. You will really never be the same again. You can't help but be horrified that anyone spent time and money making this garbage, but at the same time, you're utterly transfixed. Aah, the human brain, such a fickle instrument.

I had to work the first week that Rick was here, but while I worked he kept busy. He went to a lot of museums and walked all over London. In the evenings we met up with friends and went out to Vietnamese and Mexican and Brazilian food and to pubs. I took Rick to dinner at Bacchus one night and he was in heaven. I was so glad he finally got a chance to eat there, after I've been telling him about it for a year. Rick is definitely a man who can truly appreciate a fabulous meal. And Nuno is definitely a man who can cook one!

Rick and I had planned to travel while he was here, and so we left on Friday after I got off work for our adventure. Work had been really hectic and I was completely stressed out, so it really couldn't have been a better time for a break. We took the train from London to Dover and stayed overnight in a B&B. We saw the white cliffs of Dover, which are really beautiful, and took the ferry across to Calais.

The ferry only takes about an hour or so and the ride is really fun, although it was pretty rocky and I got a little nauseous. I really love boats, but I don't know how much they love me. The first time I stayed on my aunt's boat I got really sick. She wasn't very happy with me. But now I know to take dramamine and wear these pressure point wrist bands that keep you from being nauseous. I wear them when I fly too and they help a lot.

We got to Calais, which although it sounds nice, it's kind of a shithole. It's just a grey place with a ferry terminal and a parking lot. We ate some prison-style slop in the ferry terminal while we waited for our friend Jon. Jon picked us up in a rental car and we headed to Dunkirk. We wanted to see the WWII stuff around Normandy, but it was pouring rain and we didn't really know where stuff was. We met people at a cafe in Dunkirk and they told us to go to the Museum of Dunkirk.

The Museum told the story of the town and had lots of models of ships and these fabulously detailed dioramas. The guy who'd made them was some unsung diorama-making rock star. I've never seen dioramas so cleverly done, his grasp of perspective was so superb that you could walk around the diorama and the scenes would shift. My inner diorama-making 4th grader was in awe.

Jon's friends had recommended that we check out this town in Belgium called Brugge. It was only a few hours drive, so we headed up there. We parked the car just outside of town and took the bus into the town center. We weren't sure where to get off so I asked this guy on the bus where we could get drinks & food. His name was Brian and he turned out to be really cool and he said he'd show us where to go.

He took us to his favorite bar and a group of his friends were drinking there. They were all actually in a fraternity together, even the women. It was kind of a social fraternity that basically seemed to involve getting drunk, singing songs, and wearing big sashes. They were pretty awesome, I totally wanted to be in their frat. The bartender poured us some of Belgium's famous beers - Duvel & Jupiler for the boys and Cherry Lambic for me, and we were all grinning from ear to ear.

After we were a bit soused (as my Grandma Anita would say), we went outside to the town square and Brian showed us this food stand where they had the most incredible frites ever. American french fries are like limp sticks of greasy potato next to these fabulously salted, thick, crunchy Belgian frites. And they pour a huge dollop of mayo over the top. It's a heart attack waiting to happen, but man it tasted fantastic. We loved it so much we tried half the rest of the food they offered. We got huge bratwurst sausages with mustard and chunks of meat on a stick. Everything was amazing. You just really can't go wrong with meat on a stick.

The beer there is over 8% alcohol, so it's super strong. The Belgians warned the boys not to drink more than 3 Duvel but of course they didn't listen. I was a bit more conservative and I was the only one spared a splitting hangover the next morning. But we had a fantastic time hanging with the locals and eating lots of frites and Belgian chocolate and checking out the bars. Brian gave us some suggestions for places to go, but he said not to go to this biker bar that was in the "bad" part of town.

We wandered down there later to check it out, because we were curious as to what the "bad" part of this beautiful town was. It seemed really nice to us. We were puzzled at first, but we then realized what he meant about 'bad' was actually that it was the locals-only area of town, and being tourists, we weren't really welcome. Especially, we were told by some people, because Rick is "brown" (he's hispanic).

We came upon the biker bar at some point and it actually reminded me of Motor City bar in NY. It looked like a cool little punk rock hangout. We went inside to check it out and everyone there ended up being really friendly and cool and we stayed for a few hours and made some new friends. The guys that hung out there were all in a biker club. This girl I was talking to told me that her husband was in the club and that he was away in the Army and everyone looked out for her while he was away, which was nice.

I told her how people said we shouldn't go to that bar and she said it was probably because of Rick. But she said that it wasn't a problem because 'he isn't dark enough'. Which spoke volumes. She said if someone looked Turkish or similar they wouldn't have been welcome. She said she wasn't racist and she didn't support it but she was honest and told me there was a lot of it around and that some of the guys in the biker club were racist. They were all very cool to us, but we didn't stay very long after that.

Later that night we went back to the bar that Brian had taken us to earlier. It was way more crowded at this point. People were dancing to house music and a lot of the patrons looked like they didn't get the memo that the 80s were over. A bunch of guys were staring at me and I thought it was because I looked foreign. But the group closest to me were giving me really weird vibes and I couldn't figure out if it was positive or negative. I started feeling tension from them. They were dressed somewhat like skinheads and I had a sudden realization that they were Nazi skinheads and they were probably looking at me because I'm white and blonde and I was with a brown guy.

I told Jon and Rick and they didn't believe me at first but then this guy walked by with a Swastika and other racist patches on his coat and we figured that was our cue to leave. Outside there were people fighting and on the way back to the hostel we saw a big group of Nazi skinheads walk past. I really loved Belgium and so many of the people we met were stellar and totally welcoming, but that kind of put a damper on the trip.

It turned out the reason all the racist skins were in town was because the next day was Armistice / Remembrance Day, which is a national holiday in Belgium, France, Canada and other places. It marks the end of WWI, and there are big celebrations in Flander's Field in Belgium. We celebrate it as Veteran's Day. The skins are very nationalist, so they turn out for celebrations like that. They were all in Brugge because Flander's Field wasn't far from where we were.

Jon, who's Canadian, especially wanted to go to see the ceremonies. We did too, but we had reservations at a Champagne cellar tour in France in the afternoon. The traffic on the way to Flander's Fields would have taken up over half the day.

We had Belgian waffles with ice cream and warm chocolate for breakfast and it was as good as you could imagine. Then we headed off to Reims, which is in the Champagne region in France to drink some Champagne in Champagne.

Rick & Jon had stayed up really late at the hostel getting hustled at pool by two 14-year old girls and then falling up the stairs and jumping all over the room until 4am. They were so hungover they could barely function. Rick passed out in the backseat and I kept Jon company and navigated through the beautiful rolling French countryside. We passed countless farms and quaint little towns, which all had a steeple near the center and little white houses with chimneys. It was just like I imagined.

We went to Taittinger, a famous champagne vineyard, for a cellar tour. We saw the chalk caves where the monks made and stored all the champagne for centuries. It was really amazing to go in these huge cool caves and see thousands of bottles of champagne stacked everywhere. They showed us how the champagne was made and afterwards we each got a glass to try.

Then we went into Reims and saw the exquisite cathedral where they used to crown the Kings of France. We had an amazing steak dinner in town and then drove to Jon's apartment in Paris.

My whole life I have wanted to go to Paris. I studied French for 4 years in anticipation of visiting Paris one day. I've had many plans through the years to go, but for different reasons, was never able to. I couldn't have possibly been more excited about finally getting to see Paris. And I don't care what anyone else's experience has been or what they have told me, Paris absolutely exceeded my expectations. I loved it.

Jon was studying at La Sorbonne and he was living in a tiny little apartment in a really beautiful area of town. It used to be servants quarters and it was actually two servants rooms attached, which I couldn't imagine because they were both so small. The shower was in the kitchen and the bathroom was in the hall, shared with the other apartments. The servants must have been really pissed off back then because Jon said the apartments downstairs were huge and then they had to live in these little rooms.

Jon was really gracious and gave Rick and I his bed and he slept on the kitchen floor in front of the stove. Jon is a really fantastic guy and we had such a great time with him. He was so accommodating and awesome about having us there.

My friend Jesse and his boyfriend Mike were in town too so the next day we met up with them at this cool boutique hotel where they were staying, called Hotel Amour. Each room is decorated with a different theme, and their room was this really pretty leafy green color with cute little sayings and sketches stencilled on the walls. Jesse is in grad school at Harvard and Mike lives in NY, so they try to see each other when they can. Mike works for Google and was in Europe on a business trip, and he extended his stay so he & Jesse could meet up for a romantic weekend in Paris. We crashed their party a bit and we all had breakfast together before they headed home.

Jon & Rick & I walked around to galleries and ate croque monsieur and drank wine and had fondue for dinner. We ate so much cheese in Paris. We developed a habit of shouting 'Ou Et La Fromage?' to each other. When we got some cheese we'd exclaim 'Ici La Fromage!' Rick and I briefly considered getting tattoos in homage to fromage, but fortunately decided against it.

We walked all over with Jon as our tour guide and I practiced my incredibly bad and rusty French. Jon took us to this great wine bar that's also a library / book store. He read us a children's book about a little rabbit named Caca Boudin, which means shit sausage. I don't pretend to understand French quirkiness. I just admire.

We thought people were being nice to us just because we were with Jon and he looks like a GQ model and speaks fluent French but actually when Rick and I spent a day by ourselves and had to survive with Franglish, we found everyone we met to be really open and friendly.

People were totally cool about giving us directions and advice. They treated us really well and they were curious and asked us about ourselves. I'd heard from so many people how nasty the French are and how rude they are to Americans. But I have to say, I didn't experience that once the whole time I was there.

Truth be told, and I don't care if you don't believe me, the absolute truth is that when Becca & I were not with our Irish friends in Dublin, people were mean and nasty to us, which was the last thing I expected from the Irish. However, when we were with our Irish friends, people were nice and friendly. In Paris, people were super nice to us whether we were with French speaking people or not, which was also totally unexpected. And there ends another lesson about bullshit stereotypes.

We saw as much of Paris as we could in the few days we were there. We went to a famous cafe called Les Deux Magots where all the writers and artists used to hang out, and had quiche and croque madame. We ate lots of creme brulee (my favorite) and went to cool bars in the Marais. We went to the Luxembourg Palace & gardens and the Place des Vosges. We went to the Musee d'Orsay and saw so many masterpieces my head was spinning. Paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, van Gogh, Monet, Degas, it was unreal. The French are totally hogging all the good art. Bastards.

We hung out at this cool bar called Le 10 Bar in the Saint-Germain one night and Jon filled the jukebox up with Velvet Underground songs and we relaxed and drank wine and talked all night. Then we got crepes at 5am and chatted with the cops who were hanging out at the crepes place.

One of the reasons we'd planned the trip is because it was Rick's birthday that week. On his birthday, we spent most of the day walking around the Centre Pompidou, which is the big Modern Art Museum. We absolutely loved it, it was so huge and crazy and had tons and tons of fantastic art. It was sensory overload. Matisse, Duchamp, Dali, Basquiat. So. much. art.

There's a beautiful modern restaurant on the roof of the Pompidou called Restaurant Georges. We sat up there and looked out the huge windows of the restaurant onto stunning views of Paris. The Eiffel Tower was sparkling like a disco ball. Jon said they do that, they light it different colors and make it shimmer and sparkle, it looked really cool.

We ate escargot (snails) and Rick had never had them. It sounds gross but they are actually really good, they taste kind of like seafood and they were in a pesto-style sauce. After the Pompidou we met up with my friend Kat who lives in Paris. Kat is a photographer and I know her through Annick, they went to college together at Parsons.

We all went to dinner at a Tunisian place that Celine had recommended and ate merguez sausage and salads and sole and cous cous. It was delicious. Afterwards we walked around and saw the Arc de Triomphe and I finally got to see the Champs Elysees. It was night and all the stores were closed, but that's ok because I couldn't afford anything anyway.

We stayed out drinking late into the night with Kat. Jon and Rick drank 'Lion's Drink', which is a drink Jon learned in Trenchtown, Jamaica. They take Guinness and mix it with Red Bull (or in this case, French energy drink). It's called 'Lion's Drink' because it's supposed to make you be able to *bleep* all night. I can't confirm the validity of that because obviously we were staying with Jon in close quarters and that wouldn't have been respectful, but I think Rick had a really great birthday anyway.

The next day Jon took us for this amazing breakfast of steak and creme brulee at a cafe near his apartment. It wasn't something you'd normally eat for breakfast but it was our last few hours there and we wanted to try it. It was delicious. Then we bought some bread & cheese & sausage for our trip home and said goodbye to Jon. We were sad to leave him but I'm sure we'll see him again very soon.

It was the 2nd day the Eurostar high speed train was going into the newly refurbished St. Pancras station, and it was really fun to take the train. It's only like 2 hours from Paris to London on the train, it's amazing. We had breakfast in Paris, lunch on the train, and dinner in London. Very glamourous :)

That night was Jorge's birthday party so we pretty much went straight out to dinner with 20 or so friends, and then we rested the last day Rick was in London. He headed back to NY and we were sad to part, we'd had such an amazing time.

A few days after Rick left, Mary and her boyfriend Kramer came to visit me over Thanksgiving. Mary stayed with me & Kramer stayed with his friend Maartje. We had Thanksgiving dinner at my place and Kevin came over, and a friend of Mary's who was in town. Our kitchen is pretty small, so we couldn't have lots of people, but we had a fun & cozy dinner. I actually cooked, shockingly enough. I made a Hungarian dip called Kurizit and Seven-layer cookies, both from my Mom's recipes. The cookies didn't turn out the way I wanted because the base is supposed to be graham cracker and they don't have that here. I tried to substitute with ginger cookies but it wasn't the same.

Mary & I didn't have tons of time together, as it was a short trip. I was also sick part of the time they were here, but we managed to get to the markets and walk around and I took Mary to Indian food on Brick Lane. We stayed up late talking one night. I miss late night talks with Mary. She really loved it here, which is great because I'm trying to get her to move to London. I don't think she needs much convincing though!

After Mary & Kramer left, the Slackers came to town again. My friend Tiffany, who is Marcus from the Slackers' wife, came to stay with me for a few days before they got into town. Tiff's a photographer and she works for the NY Post. We walked around a lot and I showed her all the good spots in East London. She took lots of pictures and when she got back to NY she was able to syndicate some of them.

We went to a bunch of art galleries and saw this fantastic street art exhibit at Open Studio Space gallery with Pure Evil, Eine, and a bunch of other artists. We met Pure Evil and he was really nice. I showed her the pubs near Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper used to meet his victims. Then on Tiffany's birthday, the Slackers came and played and me & Tiff & Jorge went and I brought my friends Anne & Roy to the show. We all went out afterwards in Soho and it was good to see all the boys.

That weekend Tiffany and I went to Amsterdam for 3 days. We walked around as much as we could in the frigid cold. It was really freezing but also good because it was the off-season for tourists and there was a lot of room everywhere we went. Tiff said in the summer it's super packed.

I got to see all the canals and all the ladies in the windows in the Red Light district. We went to the coffee shops and visited the Anne Frank House. It was really crazy to actually see the house where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis; to see the tiny rooms that these two families were forced to hide in and think that they could never go outside or leave. And that when they did leave, it was to go to their deaths in the camps.

One night we met up with Chenoa & Amber, who are friends with the Slackers. All the other girls were traveling on to see the Slackers play at this club called Ernestos in Sittard, which is one of the Slacker's favorite places to play, they've even recorded an album there. I had to go back to London though, so I wasn't able to see them play in Sittard. One day I'll go and see this place that I've heard so much about.

After Amsterdam, I just worked until the holidays. Work was supposed to be slow, but the last week before Christmas ended up to be insanely busy. I had originally planned to go to Portugal with the boys, but I decided to stay in London. Annick and her whole family were coming for the week, to stay with their close friends who live in Notting Hill.

I spent most of the week hanging out with Annick, we went to the Tate Modern and just caught up. I really miss seeing her all the time. Annick's family friends who live in London - Janet and her daughters Alex & Gina - are really sweet. Gina is an Opera singer and she's studying at the Guildhall. She's still a teenager but she's really mature for her age, and has an incredible voice and presence.

The two families put together a beautiful church service in honor of Annick's Grandmother, who was in town with them. Annick's Dad and some other people did readings and Gina and one of her friends sang and they were amazing. I'm sure one day Gina will be a very well known Opera singer, she's an amazing talent.

Annick & her family and I all went up to Oxford with Anya to check out the University. We had tea & scones in town and then took a walk around Anya's college in the dark, which was very creepy. There were almost no electric lights and we were just walking around these old quiet stone buildings with nothing but moonlight to illuminate our path. We felt our way around in the dark and Anya told us we were stepping on the gravestones of people who were buried in the floors, which when we shone the light from our cell phones on the floor, we could see was true.

We walked around the grounds and Anya took us to this big mound and told us that they say all the people who died from the plague, which hit Oxford very hard, are buried in a mass grave there. There were huge skeletal trees with bats flying out of them and we were surrounded by stone walls with sculptures of grotesques carved in them and with the full moon, and the mound of dead bodies, I don't think it could have possibly been any more of a horror-movie scene. Annick's family happily clambered up the wooded mound, but Tyler (Annick's sister Jojo's boyfriend) and I refused. Although we both agreed that it's always the ones who stay behind out of caution that get killed first in the movies.

Afterwards we went to the Eagle & Child pub - where J.R.R Tolkien & C.S. Lewis used to hang out and talk about their books and get drunk with all their writer friends. We had some pints there and I walked around and looked at all the 1st edition Narnia book covers they have framed there. Very cool.

Annick and I stayed over at Oxford and the next day we headed back to London, while Anya flew back to Maine for the holidays. Bacchus was closed for the holiday so we decided to do Xmas Eve dinner there, much nicer than at our flat! Nuno cooked an insane meal of salmon & pork belly & goose & prawns. Miguel's Mom was in town and she Nuno cooked up a storm together. She brought this amazing salted fish all the way from Portugal, which her parents had driven like 100 miles or something to get for us. It was incredible. Even Annick liked it and she doesn't like fish. Miguel's sister came with her boyfriend and for a small group of people, we had enough food to feed an army. We had cheese and salads and amazing chocolate mousse dessert and basically stuffed ourselves silly.

After the holidays, I tried to take it easy and rest up for my trip back to NY for Erika's wedding. I went to NY in January for 10 days and got to see everyone, which was awesome. I stayed with Rick in Brooklyn and one night we went to my friends Brandon & Gabe's new restaurant, called Roberta's. They do really delicious Italian food - pizzas mostly, made in a huge oven they imported from Italy. The food is really good there, if you get a chance you should go check it out, it's in Brooklyn off the Marcy stop I think.

One night we went to one of the readings Mary curates for a series called Readings between A & B. Then Rick & I went to dinner with my cousins Matt and Amanda at Momofuku in the Village, it was really great to see them. I hung out with my Dad one day, but didn't get to see Max unfortunately because he was sick.

I did a lot of shopping because everything is so much cheaper for me to buy in NY. My friend Karen who owns a punk rock clothing store called Lawanna's in Brooklyn opened a new, bigger store so we went down to check it out and visit Karen & Stella. I got to hang out with Minor a bunch, and that was good.

We had Erika's bachelorette party, which we did a fancy hotel lounge bar crawl for, and it was so good to see all my girlfriends. I tried to see everyone as much as I could, 10 days just didn't seem like enough time, but it was a great trip. I went out to dinner one night with Annick & Walter & the old Boston crew - Anne & Hiro & Becca & Mary & Kramer. I was bridesmaid in Erika's wedding and so we did the whole wedding party stuff - rehearsal dinner with the family, getting nails done with the bride & bridesmaids, it was a lot of fun.

Robyn came to town for the wedding and she did Erika's makeup and was kind enough to do mine as well. Erika looked absolutely gorgeous, her dress was beautiful and had a really cool touch of black lace trim at the bottom that gave it a kind of Spanish flair. She and Ian were beaming the whole time, and the wedding was so fun.

At the wedding I got to hang out with so many friends who I really miss - Megan & Heather & Rachel & Erin & Jordan & Danielle & Grant & Kate & Annick & Jesse & Katie. Everyone was looking beautiful and Kate gave a really good speech, and the Slackers played, and we ate good food and danced all night and it was just really a fabulous time. Tiffany was the wedding photographer and I can't wait to see all the pictures, I'm sure they're amazing. It was really good to have Rick there and see Robyn, especially since she just moved to Hawaii, so who knows how long it'll be before we see each other in person again!

I couldn't have wished anything more for Erika. Ian is such a great guy, and I was so happy for them, and all their friends and family were there wishing them the best. I was sad to go back to London and leave everyone, but my life is here now, so back to London I flew.

Towards the end of my trip, I'd gotten a sore throat and when I came back to London it got worse. I ended up having a really bad chest infection that turned into some kind of virus. I heard a lot of people were getting this really bad illness that lasted weeks. I don't know what the deal is, but I was sick for almost 3 weeks straight and I didn't get better until I finally got a doctor's appointment and I got antibiotics.

It's cool the health system is free here (you pay with your taxes but there's not much cost on top of that), but it was really hard for me to figure out how it works. I was able to get looked at right away at a clinic, but there's not much they can do for you but check your vitals and make sure it's nothing super serious and tell you to rest. To get a prescription or have tests taken, you need to go to a doctor. But you have to register with a doctor first, and you can only go to a doctor who is in your neighborhood.

You have to go on the NHS website and they tell you which doctors you're eligible to go to. Then you have to see if those doctors are taking new patients. I found that getting a hold of them is very difficult, and then you have to get an appointment to register which can take weeks, even if you are very sick.

Then you go register, but you can't see a doctor. You have to make another appointment. So really not a good situation when you're ill. I was feeling good about the British healthcare system after watching Sicko, and it really is amazing that everyone here can get care and that prescriptions are only 6 pounds and stuff, but my experience in actually trying to navigate through it and get care when I was sick was pretty stressful.

And it made it even harder to be that sick and feel so far away from everyone. So I was getting a bit sad for awhile lying in bed all day for weeks not really being able to do anything and feeling pretty awful with no one to take care of me. The boys were mostly gone traveling and at work but they would check in on me now and then. My Mom received quite a few phone calls from me, she's always good at making me feel better!

But I finally saw the doctor and got antibiotics and I felt better immediately. Thank you Alexander Fleming! Excellent work. I've been taking it easy since then so I don't get sick again.

I spent last weekend in Oxford hanging out with Anya and relaxing. We had a lovely night with her friends eating homecooked food and drinking wine, and talking until late in the night. You really can't ask for a better group of conversationalists than Oxford grad students from Scotland, Brazil, Russia and Taiwan. Anya's friends there are all really fascinating and accomplished, and they're sweet, lovely people to boot.

On Sunday we went to a grad student brunch at her college, and then some of the girls took me on a walk around the colleges. Oxford is made up of over 30 different colleges, each with their own campus and traditions. The college doesn't determine your program, you do your degree and classes with people from all the colleges, but your college determines your social life and where you live, stuff like that.

It's a bit confusing but I'm starting to understand it. Anya is in one of the most prestigious and elite colleges there, the New College, or College of St Mary. Although it's called the 'New' College, it's actually one of Oxford's oldest, and was established in 1379. We walked around the chapel and cloisters there, which last time I had only seen at night and were much less creepy and very beautiful during the day.

We also went to Christ Church, and saw the dining hall where Harry Potter was filmed, and to Magdalen, Merton, and some other colleges. They all have their own atmosphere and culture. Some are very formal and strict, others are more relaxed and less traditional. All the colleges are very beautiful. You can only really go on the grounds if you are with an Oxford student, and some colleges you can only go in with a student who is a member of that college.

It was so nice to be out of London for awhile in the fresh air and old stone buildings and see trees and meadows and little rivers. I adored all the libraries stuffed with books and the architecture - massive stone facades, carved with creatures and gleaming with exquisite stained glass everywhere. Oxford is definitely my kind of place. Everyone I met there was warm and friendly and had fascinating stories to tell. I want to spend a lot more time there.

In other news, I finally found a new flat, and I'll be moving into it in a few weeks. My friend Stella, who I know through Jorge & Joao, found a really great flat down the street from where I live now. She and her boyfriend Neil are taking one of the bedrooms and a woman named Rosanna is taking the other. They had one last room to fill, and I went down to check it out. The flat is beautiful, it's a warehouse conversion. There's an art gallery on the ground floor, and the flat itself has been outfitted similarly to a gallery as well. It has huge ceilings, wood floors and white walls with new fixtures and track lighting.

The room I'm taking is nice and big, so I can have one side that's a living area, and the other part for my bed & desk. It has built in closets and an ensuite bathroom with a separate bath and shower, so it's pretty much heavenly. I'm super excited about it and I hope it all works out.

My company is also moving offices the week after I move my flat, so that'll be pretty hectic. But the new offices are going to be brand new and modern and clean and beautiful so I'm looking forward to upgrading my surroundings on all fronts.

My Aunt Sandy, Uncle Jeff and cousin Amanda are coming to visit soon, on their way over to Barcelona where my cousin Stefanie has been doing a semester abroad. I'm looking forward to seeing them and taking them out in London a bit. I've also been talking to Steffie about her coming over here & me going over there to visit.

The last few, and best, pieces of news are that Rick is going to be coming here to stay with me. We decided to get back together and he's going to come and hang out in London for awhile and see if he wants to move here for good. I can't wait until he comes, I really didn't think it was possible for me to miss someone so much.

And the other exciting news is that Adam is coming home from Iraq soon! His unit in the Maryland National Guard is getting replaced there and they are coming home. Adam was also just awarded a second bronze star, which is amazing. I am so proud of him. I know Goli has been counting the days to when they can be together again, and I'm sure Adam has been too. It makes me so happy to think that Adam will be going home to Goli right around the same time that Rick will be coming back to me.

Adam and Goli will be traveling to Turkey in late March / April to spend a month there relaxing and hanging with Goli's family. Rick and I really want to go over there to see them and spend time in Istanbul with them, so I'm working on sorting out the details for that trip.

As always, thinking of all of you back home and sending my love. Please email me or call or comment, however you like, but it would be great to hear from everyone about what you've all been up to.

Much love.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Birthday celebrations and musings...

I’ve been writing a post about my birthday trip to Barcelona, but I want to post some pics with it so when I get some from Anya I’ll post that later... Overall, though, the trip was amazing.

When we got back last Monday, Anya stayed overnight and then headed to Oxford, where she’s going to grad school. On Tuesday my friend Jon called to say he was in town. Jon is from Canada, and he's been going to law school in Toronto. I met him a few years ago through a mutual friend in NY and we usually hang out when he’s visiting NY, he's there off and on. Last year he took a year off school to work at a law firm in Tokyo. I planned to visit him and a few of my other friends who live there, but unfortunately it was just too expensive. Hopefully now that I'm closer it will be easier to get over to Asia.

Jon's doing a semester now in Paris at La Sorbonne, so before he started classes he came over to London for two days. He was heading to Barcelona afterwards, so we were doing opposite trips. I met up with Jon after work for a drink and then we went to see New Young Pony Club at the Astoria. I didn't know much about the band before the show, but it was really great. There's 3 girls and two guys. The girls are all really sexy in different ways, the singer is a pretty black girl with a hip, kind of quirky style. The keyboardist is blonde and vixen-y, she was wearing a black dress with these huge black feather fringes on the shoulders. I was stoked to see they have a girl drummer, and she played quite well. The guys in the band are kind of dorky and awkward looking, which is nice in a way because they sort of fade into the background and let the girls do their thing. They basically play dance-rock, and the show was really high energy. We danced and got all sweaty and had a fun time.

The next night we went to Nuno's restaurant, Bacchus. Anya and her brother Dennis had plans to meet up there with their cousin Carl. Carl lives in the States and he was in town on a business trip with a colleague. Jon wanted to check out Bacchus as well, so we basically crashed their dinner but they were really cool about us joining them. Jon lived in Russia for awhile so he and Dennis were able to chat a bit in Russian.

We all decided to try the 9 course tasting menu. It was a brand new menu, so although I've been there two times already I hadn't had any of those dishes. We started dinner around 8 and didn't finish until after 12. The meal was amazing. It was definitely the best meal I've had there yet. It's really coming together fabulously. Everything we had was really delicious and interesting and flavourful, and different to anything I've ever tasted before. I think Nuno's really hitting his stride with the menu, which is exciting because they've haven't even been open a full year. I can only imagine where he'll go with things next!

It was really a lovely dinner and in the end Carl was so sweet and treated all of us, which was very generous. It was so nice to relax and eat yummy food and have drinks and by the end of the night we were all feeling nice and warm, even though it was rainy and cold outside. Jorge and Miguel came to meet up with us for drinks and afterwards we all headed back to the flat and hung out for awhile.

The weekend after was pretty hectic. My company has been doing really well, so as a thank you to their employees this year they decided to do their annual Summer party as a big event. I'm not sure why they were having the Summer party at the end of Sept, but whatever. They treated everyone to go for the day and stay overnight at a golf club / spa / resort in Essex County. I roomed with my boss which I guess is kind of weird but Martha and I get along and we spent really minimal time in the room, so it wasn't that bad.

The trip itself was definitely an experience. There's about 90 people in the London offices and most people went. They took us in a coach bus from the office in the morning which felt like some strange grown up field trip, we played quiz games and they handed out juice. Martha and I grabbed the backseat of the bus (obviously) and I listened to my ipod most of the time so it wasn't that bad. The place was spread over 300 acres in the English countryside and the grounds were very beautiful. But most of it was a golf course, there weren't really gardens or anything to walk around. They had planned lots of outdoor games but it was pouring so we couldn't do any of them. They'd split us into teams and I heard the events were supposed to include climbing big inflatable walls and stuff so I was pretty relieved it was raining. I'm not really into climbing inflatable walls with my co-workers although a surprising amount of people I work with were very disappointed.

The people who planned the event worked really hard so I felt bad but it just seemed ridiculous to expect that in a country where it probably rains over 80% of the time that we would have a nice clear day to do outdoor activities. But apparently they banked on it, because there was no contingency plan. The spa was booked until 5 and was overly expensive anyway. They had a room with two snooker tables and a room with table tennis, but they said we couldn't play table tennis because it was next to the massage room and it made too much noise. Which was ridiculous design on their part. There were also squash courts and a pool, but I didn't bring a bathing suit and I didn't really feel like getting into a swimsuit in front of my colleagues.

We all ate lunch and basically wandered around the complex for awhile. I watched people play squash for it a bit, it's really popular here, they have it at my gym as well. It looks fun and like a pretty intense workout, I'd like to try it. Martha went up to the room and slept until dinner and I just walked around and hung out with different people. I ended up going with some of the guys in marketing & sales to play poker in a hotel room. I don't know how to play that well but I helped my friend Richard play and we won, so I'm either decent at poker or have good luck, but either way it was fun, especially since I was the only girl playing with like 7 guys.

After the poker game I went to change and we all went down to dinner. The dinner was a 3 course meal in a big event hall, and they had a couple bars and a DJ. Everything was free, and everyone I work with proceeded to get wasted. My Australian friend Jordan and I were like, ok we’re not getting drunk and we’re not dancing. Jordan’s 21 and this is his first real job, so he’s not even used to working at a corporation, let alone partying with co-workers. And I’m just way too American to feel comfortable getting very drunk around people I work with. But in Britain, not only is it totally not a big deal, it’s completely expected. I had a few beers and then switched to water about halfway through the night. Jordan and I spent the night cracking up at how drunk and crazy everyone was, taking pictures of people dancing, and generally marvelling at the Brits. I won’t go into details, but half the stuff that happened that night would have been seriously frowned upon in the States.

There’s something I really enjoy about the work environment in the UK. People are much more themselves at work, they feel free to say what they think, people curse and tease each other, basically they act how they would be around their friends. A lot of people are good friends with their work mates, hang out with them on the weekends, everyone goes to the pub together on Fridays. They don’t take themselves too seriously at work, which I really like. If you have a stressful day or problems with someone, everyone just kind of has a beer together after and everything’s cool. People can separate stuff that happens at work from who you are as a person. I love that part of it, the fact that you don’t always have to try to be super positive about every little thing and watch everything you say and do at work. I think the American corporate environment in incredibly stifling, and I think the Brits are just as productive and work as hard, but it’s a much better work environment.

I also definitely have reservations about the drinking culture here in general, especially as it relates to work. Some people at the party were so out of control as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t even get that drunk with my friends. And it didn’t phase anyone. At work on Monday, everyone was just laughing about it, it seemed like there was absolutely no judgement or repercussions. And as much as that makes me feel comfortable that no one would think the worse of you if you partied a little too much, I also know that I would never act that way around my colleagues. And I think that in a way it is kind of sad. In the morning we all went to breakfast and I said to one of the guys I work with, I just don’t understand why people would get that drunk at a work party. I mean, my boss and I had to carry a guy back to his room, another guy fell over and knocked over a table full of glasses. And he said, well some people don’t get to go out much, and it’s free to drink, so they enjoy themselves.

I guess that’s the main thing I’m learning about British culture. To me, just because it’s free doesn’t mean you have to drink like you’re a 16 year old at your first party. But that’s the mentality here. People who during the day are quiet and reserved get a couple drinks in them and it’s their excuse to ‘let loose’, and do the things they want to do but don’t have the courage to do when they’re sober. And that’s something I can’t relate to. I shoot my mouth off and I’m louder when I’m drunk, but I’m always still myself. I still say what I think when I’m sober as much as I do when I’m drunk, probably just less belligerently. With the Brits it’s like Jekyll and Hyde. They’re all nice and proper, but put a few drinks in ‘em and they can get quite intense. They really do drink to get drunk. It’s not like they’re out with friends and they have some drinks, and if they get drunk, whatever. It’s like their whole night revolves around getting wasted, and if they don’t get super falling down drunk, they feel it was a let down. Of course I’m generalizing here, I know a lot of Brits who aren’t like that, but on the whole, that’s the social culture here. It definitely takes getting used to.

And at the party I think in a way people were taken aback by the fact that I wasn’t indulging with them. I’m sure they chalk it up to me being American, but I could tell it bothered them like, what was my problem? Everyone kept saying, why aren’t you drunk? Drink more! I’m sure it’s also a bit disconcerting when you’re wasted and someone you’re hanging out with is sober because you know they’ll remember every detail in the morning and you probably won’t. I tried to go to bed around 2, but people knew it'd been my birthday so the Managing Director (the British title for company President) bought me and another guy whose birthday it was a bottle of champagne. I had some champagne and sang Pogues songs with one of my bosses and went to bed.

The next day I came back home and slept all day because my birthday party was that night. We started with dinner at this pub called El Paso where Jorge & Nuno are friends with the owners. For a pub in London, they have good tex mex food, and it’s a fun atmosphere and cheap, so it worked out well. They set a big table for us in the back room. We have a new flatmate, Miguel, who is a close friend of Joao’s from Portugal. Miguel just moved to London to start university, and he was planning to move in with us when we got a new flat. Since we decided to stay where we are for another few months, Miguel is staying in Jorge’s room for awhile, same as I did. It worked out alright for him because he just got here, so it gives him some time to get settled and save money before we move. He got a part time job at El Paso for now, and my birthday was his first night working there. So he still got to hang out with us, but from the other side of the bar.

My good friend Kevin just moved here from NY to go to grad school for journalism, so he came and met everyone. It seemed weird to see him in London because I’m so used to hanging out with him in NY. It’s going to be really good to have him here, makes it seem more like home. I’ve only been here a little while so I wasn’t expecting to have many people at my birthday, but a bunch of people came out and it was really fun. Anya and her brother Dennis came, some of Dennis’ friends, Jorge & Joao, Gabriela, Paul (who works at the drum shop with Jorge), IR who is an old friend of Jorge & Joao’s, Hans & some of his friends, Rory and lil’ Rachel. Hans brought these confetti poppers and in the middle of dinner everyone sang happy birthday and popped the confetti poppers at me, it was cute. Afterwards we went to this club called Catch to watch the Fabulous Penetrators play and met up with some more people there. Joao’s friend Joe (who I met in Boston like 8 years ago) came with his sister, Jorge’s friend Sam came, Anjalie, some other peeps. We all got drunk and danced and it was really fun, and the Penetrators were sweet and dedicated a song to me for my birthday.

So all in all I think I definitely celebrated my 30th well. If I had to turn 30, spending it in Barcelona and then with friends in London made it really seem more of a positive milestone than something depressing. Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time has gone by. Other times I look back on my life and think that I understand the paths I’ve taken and that I’ve done the best with what I have in my life. Always tried to be a good person to the people around me, be a positive factor in people’s lives instead of a burden. In the time I’ve been alive so far I think that I’ve always tried to explore the world as much as I’ve had the ability to. Tried to have as many new and varied experiences as I can, encounter different ways to live and different ways of thinking, make new friends and learn from people I meet. I’m happy with how I spent my 20s, the experiences I’ve had, and although things were rough at times I wouldn’t say I have any real regrets.

I also think that in the last few years in NY I started to feel like there were a lot of things I wanted to do that I still hadn’t done. And there’s never any guarantee in this life how long you have. And although I feel like I don’t have any regrets so far, I knew I was going to start to if I didn’t make changes in my life. The one major thing I’ve always wanted to do more is travel. For a lot of reasons - money, work, personal situations - I just never had the ability to take the time off and travel as much as I wanted. I also realized that I’ve spent my entire life living on the East Coast of the US. And as much as it seemed like I’d lived different places because I lived in a major city like NY and I’d lived in Boston and Pennsylvania, I also realized that my world view was going to be really limited.

So as hard as it has been to make this transition, one of my goals was that my 30th birthday would be a step towards a new life, a celebration of all the things I’ve done up to that point, but also an entrée to a new phase in my life. I really despise that idea that if you’re a woman and you’re not married with kids at 30 you’re somehow a failure. I look back on my life and I know I made the right decisions for myself when I needed to, and I think I am where I need to be right now. I think I really took advantage of my 20s, both socially and also building my career and figuring out the life I wanted, and I’m kind of looking forward to moving into a new phase. I really couldn’t imagine that there was anything else new I was going to learn from the NY nightlife scene. And while DJing and doing the magazine and going out all the time to shows and events and gallery openings and whatever else was really fulfilling to me for the last 10 years or so, I really wasn’t feeling that into it in the last two years, or at least the scene that was going on in NY.

Even just a change in scenery like coming to London though I think has done a lot of good for me. I still do some of the same stuff here, go to shows and clubs and whatnot, but it’s a different scene and a whole different vibe, I just like it better. You feel much more a part of the rest of the world in London, everyone I meet is from a different country. Just in the group of friends at my birthday party were people from Portugal, Russia, Japan, Norway, England, US. I like that aspect of living here, you’re always learning from the people around you and everyone has interesting stories to tell.

A lot of women say their 30s are a good decade because they spent their 20s figuring out who they were and what they wanted, and in their 30s they were able to relax and enjoy themselves. I’m looking forward to getting older, I don’t feel like I’m losing something. I’m open to having a different kind of life here. What kind of life, time will tell, but hopefully it will a good one. Give me a chance to explore the world and gain a broader perspective, and of course learn more about myself and what I want to do in the process.