Blog Archives

Anniversary dinner at Ode


Interior of Ode

One of the highlights of our recent trip to England was celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary at Ode in Shaldon, which has been named UK’s most sustainable restaurant by the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

The food was absolutely amazing, delicious, fresh and exciting from beginning to end. Service was friendly and helpful (owner Tim Bouget was lovely!). And all of this for a great price! Our wedding anniversary fell on a Wednesday and Ode features a reduced price menu on Wednesdays: three courses for 29 pounds! We added a couple of glasses of kir royale to start and a very pleasant French white wine to accompany our main courses.

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Heathrow Express and a bear from Peru

Once we landed, we quickly made our way through security and customs, picked up our luggage and made a beeline for Heathrow Express, the super speedy train that travels to Paddington Station.

I’ve traveled on Heathrow Express so many times that I actually feel like I’ve officially arrived in London when I take it. Something about the smell of the carriage, the lighting and the news segments playing on the TV. It’s just serene and nice! The price, on the other hand, is getting a bit steep! It’s £20 for a single adult ticket, £34 for a return (or round-trip) adult ticket, £10 for a single child’s ticket, £17 for a return (or round-trip) child’s ticket. Kids under 5 are free. We found out later that it is much cheaper, when there are two or more people traveling, to take a mini cab from central London straight to Heathrow. But never mind! There is also something to be said for tradition and I loved the trip. It’s 15 minutes and you’re there! Paddington!

Paddington Bear statue at Paddington Station

I love the little Paddington Bear statue at the station. There’s also a little Paddington Bear shop upstairs, which sells all manner of Paddington items – books, stuffed toys, plates, cups, aprons, tea towels, chocolates – you name it!

Paddington Station also has plenty of options for food. We stopped for lunch at Patisserie Valerie, which had a nice selection of bakery items, sandwiches and desserts. I got a simple ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette and a cappuccino (ah, can anyone explain how Europeans get coffee so very right?!). It was the perfect precursor to our trip to Paris, which was only hours away.

More tomorrow!

Flying to the U.K. with extra leg room

Hello! I am happy to report that we are back from our whirlwind trip to the U.K. and Paris and had a fabulous time!! I have so much to blog about for the next few weeks and lots of photos to share so stay tuned!

First things first! The plane ride! We flew Virgin Atlantic out of San Francisco Airport, which required a morning drive from Sacramento. Best thing we did? We booked long-term parking at Millbrae BART station, which was $6/day! So much cheaper than any park-and-sleep package I could find and a lot cheaper than long-term parking by the airport. My husband dropped me and the kids (and our luggage!) off at the airport first and then parked and took the BART to the airport (so we wouldn’t have to lug all of our luggage and stroller and kids with us on the BART, and we saved money on three BART tickets in the process). Win!

Now about that flight … well, we flew economy and splurged on extra leg room seats, which Virgin offers now for an added $50.

Was it worth it? Well, it was hard for me to tell (but I am 5′ 3″). My husband appreciated the extra legroom.




We haven’t flown internationally in a couple of years now and I was most startled not by the lack of leg room, but by the lack of food! My 3-year-old daughter ate an adult sized portion of pasta and bread, and was starving, as were we all! She refused the Gu mango and passionfruit cheesecake pot that was her dessert and so I quickly ate hers and mine.

Big mistake. Huge.

Within a couple of hours – in the complete serenity of our turbulence-free cabin – I became decidedly unwell. I actually vomited into my empty water glass and had to climb over the poor sleepy stranger victim, who was unlucky to be sitting next to me (and who was none too impressed and looked like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) to get to the bathroom. My husband and son were sitting directly behind us since there weren’t a four-seats-in-a-row available to us in the extra-leg room section.

My husband asked if I had eaten the Gu. He hadn’t touched it since he thought it smelled spoiled. Neither did my son. Thankfully!

There wasn’t any ice cream, or after dinner Bailey’s (which I think of wistfully, when I think of flying Virgin years ago. The water and juice tray came around a couple of times. It actually didn’t matter since I couldn’t stomach anything after the Gu. Not even the skimpy muffin top breakfast that they brought around with coffee and tea. I was sick again.

But it didn’t matter. After ten hours or so, we touched down in London and I wasn’t going to let any Gu stop me from enjoying my holiday!

More tomorrow!

Horsing around

AP Photo/Scott Heppell

Findus Beef Lasagne now with 100 percent more horse. AP Photo/Scott Heppell

Imagine tucking into a frozen lasagne, only to discover later that the 100 percent beef you were eating had trace amounts of horse meat.

And then imagine finding out even later that the so-called trace amount was actually more like 100 percent horse meat.

Such is the scandal that is rocking the U.K. in a country of horse lovers, and it doesn’t stop there. The horse meat that was labelled as beef has also appeared on other products made by Findus and Comigel, which have also been pulled from shelves across France. Investigations into the supply chain have found that the horse meat originated in Romania.

Here’s what I’ve learned since this story broke:

1. This is what horse meat looks like.
2. This is what horse meat tastes like.
3. These are the countries who like horse meat.
4. These are the health risks of eating horse meat.

I don’t know about you, but this story has really put me off lasagne. 🙂

The happiness survey

How happy are Brits as a nation?

Well, the Office of National Statistics have measured this (as well as other measurements on national well-being of the country!) for the first time – and here are a few findings:

* Just over three-quarters (75.9%) of people aged 16 and over in the UK rated their overall life satisfaction as medium or high in 2011/12 and four-fifths (80.0%) felt that the things they do in their life are worthwhile.

* When asked to reflect on their feelings during the preceding day, over 7 out of 10 (71.1%) people in the UK rated their happiness as medium/ high. In terms of anxiety people felt the day before, 4 out of 10 (40%) reported high anxiety.

* Younger people aged 16 to 19 and older people aged 65 to 79 rated their life satisfaction highest between 7.7 and 7.8 out of 10 and felt that the things that they do were worthwhile (between 7.7 and 8.0 out of 10). Those in middle age (aged 40 to 59) were least satisfied with their lives, reporting a score of 7.1 to 7.2 out of 10 and also reporting the highest anxiety levels; 3.4 to 3.5 out of 10.

Check out the report!

U.K.’s ugliest buildings

Top row, left to right: Titanic Museum, Mann Island, Cutty Sark
Second row, left to right: Shard End Library, Firepool Lock Housing, ArcellorMittal Orbit

The Carbuncle Cup shortlist was announced a couple of days ago and the following are their latest picks for the Worst Architectural Eyesores in the U.K.

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When it rains, it pours …

This London skyline brolly (translation: umbrella) becomes colorful when it’s wet. Photo courtesy of Squid London.

It’s rain, rain and more rain for most of the United Kingdom this week – with fears of flooding in parts of Northern England and Scotland.

This comes after the wettest April the country has seen since 1910!

Let’s all send some sunshine and warm weather their way – puleeze!

Britain’s best-selling album?

The answer is not Adele.

This might be one for Trivial Pursuit (if anyone still plays Trivial Pursuit?!) …

Question: What is the best-selling album of the past 50 years in Britain?

Go on … take a guess … Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”? Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? The Beatles’ “White Album”?

Click for the answer!

Best budget stays in Britain

Charlie Brown's in Colchester is included in Rough Guides' "Best Budget Places to Stay in Britain."

Let’s face it. We all don’t have the coinage to spend a mini-break at Babington House or Stoke Park. But £50 a room at Charlie Brown’s in Colchester? Well, sure! I think this is something we could do.

Rough Guides has just released its “Best Budget Places to Stay in Britain,” which details plenty of lovely staycation locales for Brits on a budget.

Check out some of their picks!

Pain at the pump

The next time you start to whinge about the rising prices of gas at your local gas station, think for a moment of the Brits.

Fuel prices are currently running £1.50 per litre of petrol (translation: gas) as fuel shortages are hitting the U.K. hard in the run up to Easter.

£1.50 per litre? What’s that in real money?

Well, one litre is equal to .26 U.S. gallons so we’re talking about roughly £6 per gallon. At the current exchange rate, that is an exchange of $9.50 a gallon. To fill a mid-size car with a 16-gallon tank, that’s $152!

By comparison, gas prices in the U.S. are averaging about $3.92 per gallon.

I guess the message is that gas prices here are bad, but not that bad.