A Weekend Getaway in Iceland

Three weeks ago we decided to go to Iceland for Valentine’s Day weekend. The goal was to do some tours, do some hiking, try out the thermal baths and see the northern lights. We managed to do three out of four.

We landed on Friday afternoon at 4 pm. It was still sunny and we were eager to get to our hotel in order to change before our Northern lights tour.

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IMG_20150213_155425 The view when we flew in.

We used Flybus service to shuttle us to Reykjavik and it took forever. I would not recommend it. Reykjavik is 50 minutes away from the airport. We finally arrived at our hotel at 6 pm! After checking in we received an email from our tour operator saying the weather was changing and the tour was cancelled. Only thing to do was find a place for dinner and regroup. It took forever to find a restaurant that had a table since everyone’s tour had been cancelled. Finally around 8 pm we sat down somewhere to eat. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant since it was in Icelandic but we had a good meal of authentic Icelandic food. Fermented shark, dry seaweed and lamb. Yes, lamb. Icelanders love their lamb. The basic food groups are seafood, fish and lamb. They apparently have a very good “World Famous” hot dog but we never got the chance to have one.

Saturday morning we got up and after breakfast we took our bus service to the Blue Lagoon. The Blue lagoon is a thermal bath based upon a source of geothermal seawater. It’s the largest in Iceland. Think of a water park but all you do is hang out in the hot water, get a mud and algae mask and relax. The morning we went it was raining and there were Gale force winds. Still nothing was going to stop us from enjoying this. We had the supreme package. That meant that on top of getting into the place they made a lunch reservation for us, we received a complimentary drink, an algae mask, some products and the use of a robe, a towel and some flip-flops. Once you get in the water you must grab some clay in one of the boxes and apply it to your face. While you are waiting for the mask to set in, you just relax and try to find the hot spots in the lagoon. After we rinsed our clay mask we headed for the steam room and then the sauna. Upon exiting the sauna, we headed to the pool bar to get our free drink, a shot of green juice (hey, you have to be healthy at the lagoon!). You also pick up your algae mask from the bar. It’s this frozen cube that melts and then you apply and wait for 15 minutes. Our skin was pure and smooth as a baby’s butt. One can only enjoy so much relaxation. We got out at noon and headed for the showers. After changing and feeling quite zen, we headed to the “Lava” restaurant for lunch. There I enjoyed a small salad and some mussels. Peter had the fish. Lovely meal and inexpensive. At 2 pm it was time to leave. Our bus shuttle was waiting to take us back to our hotel. At the hotel we had another message saying the Northern lights tour was cancelled. Bummer! We asked the concierge if she could work her magic and get us a dinner reservation for Valentin’s Day. In the meantime all that relaxation made me tired. I don’t know if I was still jet lagged from coming back from Sedona or just tired, I needed a nap. We received a call from the front desk telling us they had made reservations for us at Kopar in the Harbour for 6 pm. After my nap we walked around Reykjavik in the rain and gale force wind and made our way to the restaurant. Dinner was a 9 course tasting menu and it was out of this world. I have had some of the best fish and seafood I have ever had over this past weekend. And let me tell you, it’s pretty cheap. The exchange rate for our meal was about £100, including gratuity. That’s cheap!

(Disclaimer, these pictures were taken in pouring rain and gale force winds)

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Sunday morning we did the South coast and glacier hike tour. Unfortunately, the glacier hike part was cancelled due to the rain on Saturday but we still got to see the magnificent waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. And we did get to go and walk a little on the Sólheimajökull glacier which is part of the fourth largest glacier in Iceland. We just did not hike on it.  The weather in Iceland changes all the time. In one hour we could get sun, rain, sleet and it was always windy.

We also saw from the distance Iceland’s most famous volcanic glacier Eyjafjallajökull. This is the one that erupted in the summer 2010. We had lunch in the small town of Vik, and afterwards we stopped at a black sandy beach called Reynisfjara. There we saw basaltic rock pillars. The waves were pretty nasty. Still very windy. I am not kidding you, winds and wave size were comparable to a cat 1 hurricane. It was crazy. This tour was great. We learned a lot about volcanoes, geothermal energy and the history of Iceland.

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The volcano that erupted in 2010 started behind the second house to the left. Went on for 5 weeks. I would have moved.

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By the way, this is an excellent tour company. I highly recommend http://www.igtours.is. They are professional, they respond to phone calls, emails and texts as soon as they can and if one tour gets cancelled due to weather they try to arrange something else for you. Odinn at Iceland Guided Tours is the man!

After 8 hours of touring we came back to our hotel. During the 2 hour drive back to Reykjavik we got rain that turned into snow and by the time we reached the capital, everything was white.

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Of course, you know where I am going with this, with all that snow our last chance at the Northern lights tour was cancelled. It was an early dinner and packing for us.

We were hoping to catch some lights this morning on our way to the airport. It was 5:30 am and we were told there was a possibility but no. We did not see anything! Just more snow. Maybe next time…

The Babes Do Sedona

Babes Do Sedona

Every year my Babes and I get together for a little R&R. A break from the kids and the husbands. This year the meeting place was Sedona. Over the last 5 days we did some yoga, some hiking, a little shopping but most of all some laughing, drinking, catching up and enjoying ourselves.

Without going into too many details (what happens with the Babes stays with the Babes), I will try to the best of my ability to tell you about our getaway.

Friday night we met at the Phoenix airport, picked up our rental and drove off into the darkness to Sedona Siesta, the lovely house we rented for our holiday.

Saturday was getting our bearings day. We bought groceries, found the Red Rock Cafe where we had breakfast/brunch almost every day. We did some shopping and we booked our Pink Jeep tour. After all that we retreated to the house for some catching up and some wine “tasting” in the spa. I think we managed to go out for dinner at some point??…yes, we found a little Mexican dinner on route 89A. Good food! After a quick dinner we went back to the house and decided to call it a day. I was still overcoming jet lag.

Sunday morning we decided to do an early morning hike before breakfast. We set out for Bell Rock. Beautiful morning, great vistas. I met a couple of Weimaraners and was hit by the vortex. After all this, we needed food. Off we went to the Red Rock cafe to visit our favorite waitress Lisa. After some good food we went next door to the IGA. Nicki needed more Prosecco. Her Babes had drunk all her good stuff the day before. In the afternoon we had a Pink Jeep tour scheduled at 3 pm. We did the Broken Arrow and Scenic Rim tour. This was my second Pink Jeep tour and it did not disappoint. If you ever go to Sedona, it’s a must. Don’t use any other outfit but the Pink Jeep tour. Our guide was great, lots of fun, lots of laughs and great pictures.

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After all that driving on boulders and explicit language we decided to grab some prickly pear margaritas at the Cowboy Cafe. We also ordered dinner and of course Nicki had to ask our waiter if he had been in the movie Magic Mike. Poor cowboy John, major laughs and innuendos ensued but I will spare you the graphic details. Great day with the Babes!

Monday morning we had a date with Yogi Blair. You read correctly, Yogi Blair. No, we did not find Booboo and we did all the yogi bear jokes we could think of before we got out of our rental to meet Yogi Blair. We also made a pact not to swear or laugh too hard. Honestly, the morning consisted of a nice hike with Blair. Some yoga and meditation overlooking Sedona and another hike down the mountain at then end of the session. On the way down we made a stop to talk some more and Yogi Blair brought out some essential oils…all I will say is that when we finally left Blair and climbed into our rental car, we couldn’t stop talking about the fact that we smelled like roasted chicken. We all felt a little zen and decided to have lunch at the Chocolate tree, an organic/vegetarian restaurant. We had a good meal and went back to Sedona siesta for more R&R.

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Tuesday was all about hiking. It was our last day in Sedona and we wanted to make the most of it. First thing in the morning we climbed Cathedral Rock. Short but steep hike. Well worth it! The views are breathtaking, especially on a clear day such as ours.

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When we came down the rock we decided to go pay Lisa at the Red Rock Cafe one last visit. After brunch we drove to Devil’s Bridge trail. All I can say, WOW! The hike, the views, the bridge. Fantastic!

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After all this hiking we had to go back to our adobe and finish off our wine. One last afternoon basking in the sun and drinking wine in the spa. For our last evening we decided to go to Cafe Elote for dinner. OMG! Best Mexican food I have ever had. If there were Michelin stars in the US this would have to be a one star Michelin restaurant. If you ever go to Sedona, go, get your name on the list, it may take over an hour to get in but it’s well worth the wait. Grab a cucumber margarita a bowl of popcorn and wait on the patio while chilling. Order the Elote as an appetizer, and whatever else you feel like for your main course. The food is amazing and you won’t regret it.

I spent the day yesterday making my way back to the UK.

I am presently doing some laundry. Have to pack tonight. Heading to see the northern lights this weekend with Peter. Happy Valentine’s Day!

My Best Restaurants Around the South Ken Tube Station

The results are in. After months of scavenging and eating in our area of South Ken, these are some of my favorites.

1. Best Breakfast – Café Floris: The food is good, cheap and they are open early even on the weekends. Perfect after an early long run.

Cafe Floris

2. Best place for a quick sandwich and a great salad: Corner Café. Their salads are really good.

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3. Best French Bistro: When Peter and I want a little French food and some nice French people, we head to La Bouchée. Unlike Bouchée in Bermuda, this place serves really good French food. No wonder they have been there for over 25 years.

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4. Best Rôtisserie Chicken: Bute Street Rôtisserie. I know you are going to say “What? Who cares about rôtisserie chicken?” To all my fellow Canadians, we all know rôtisserie chicken is important. We don’t like fried chicken but we love our rôtisserie chicken. This place is our “Swiss Chalet” of South Ken.

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5. Best Polish food: Café Daquise. We were totally taken aback by this restaurant. We went in there thinking it was a French place. WRONG!!!!! After a quick glance at the menu of pierogis, meat balls and stews, we discovered it was a Polish restaurant. Great food, friendly service. I highly recommend this place on a cold night, it will warm you up.

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6. Best Chinese – Dim Sum – DIM SUM JIA: This place is awesome. Yummy Dim Sum. Every time we go, we enjoy some great Chinese food.

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7. Best Italian – Pierino: This place has great pizzas, homemade pasta, etc…I go gaga for their lobster pasta special. They are also very nice and friendly. Small place, if you don’t have a reservation, you may wait a long time.

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8. Best Tapas – Casa Brindisa: By far, the best tapas I have ever had. The cooks and staff are all from Spain, this place is authentic and it’s our go to place for something different. LOVE  CASA BRINDISA!

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Aside from all these restaurant you will find the usual chains, Thai Square, Paul, Comptoir Libanais, Muriel’s Kitchen etc….all good. The only type of food left for us to find is a good curry and a good gastro pub. The pubs around here look mainstream, we have to find a small one that has a good kitchen.

My Picks for The Oscars

Now that the Super Bowl is over, the next big event on our radar is the Oscars.

Peter and I love going to the movies. Every year we try to view as much as we can from many genres. By the way, yesterday afternoon we saw “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and I am happy to report it was actually quite good. Another movie based on a comic book but in this one, no one has special powers, just pure grit. It was also pretty cool to recognize our old neighborhood of Fulham in the movie and some scenes take place around Imperial College, our backyard. And let’s face it, the bonus for me was Colin Firth in a perfectly tailored suit….nothing better to watch than a man in a great suit.

Anyways, back to the Oscars and my pick and what I think will actually win.

Best Motion Picture of the Year: The only movies I have yet to see in this category are “Selma” and “The Theory of Everything”. I feel like both movies have subject matter that have been done to death and I will wait to view them on an upcoming BA flight.

My pick: Birdman. Actual win: Boyhood. I think Boyhood will win it simply because it was filmed over a 12 year period and that in itself is quite a feat. I thought the movie was good and acting was good but I have to admit I got a little bored in the middle. All in all a good movie but “Birdman” and even Whiplash for that matter were also very well acted and entertaining. Still, I think the academy will play it safe and pick Boyhood.

Best Actor:

My pick: Michael Keaton in “Birdman”. Actual win: Eddie Redmayne. I really hope Michael gets it. Great performance from him in “Birdman” but again, academy will play it safe and pick the British actor who overcomes terrible illness while falling in love and figuring out the Big Bang Theory.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

My pick: J.K. Simmons in “Whiplash” Actual win: J.K. Simmons. If he doesn’t win it I will be upset. Great performance.

Best Actress:

My pick and the actual win: Julianne Moore. She won the Golden Globe and this is her 5th Oscar nominations without winning. She is due. The other ladies in the category, Marion Cottillard, already won it, Reese Witherspoon, already won it, Rosemund Pike and Felicity Jones are both young, they will be back, the will have other chances to win it.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

My pick and actual win: Patricia Arquette: This is a tough category. Laura Dern was excellent in “Wild” and so were Kiera Knightley in “The Imitation Game” and Emma Stone in “Birdman” but I think Patricia’s rendition of the mom in Boyhood was the best. Little upset they put Merryl Streep in this category, really? “Into the Woods” wasn’t that good. They could have picked Naomi Watts from “Birdman” instead. I realize she is a great actress but I don’t think that everything she plays deserves a nomination.

Best Animated Feature Film:

My pick and the actual win: “How to Train your Dragon 2”. Little disappointed that “The Lego Movie” is not in this category. What the heck?

The rest of the categories are MY PICKS only. I have no idea what the Academy will pick. These are my picks according to what I have seen, read about and heard of.

Achievement in Cinematography: “Birdman”. (Mr. Turner is a close second).

Achievement in Costume Design: “Into the Woods”. 

Achievement in Directing: Richard Linklater “Boyhood”. If he doesn’t win it, I hope Alejandro G. Inarritu wins it for “Birdman”. The camera work walking around that old theater on Broadway was pretty cool.

Best Documentary Feature: “Citizenfour” by Laura Poitras, Mathilde Bonnefoy and Dirk Wilutzky.

Best Documentary Short Subject: “Crisis Hotline:Veterans Press 1”. I have no idea I randomly picked one.

Achievement in Film Editing: “Boyhood”.  Think about it, 12 years of film roll to go through.

Best Foreign Language of the Year: “Leviathan” (Russia). With what is happening in Russia I think the subject matter of the film is very a propos and will win it. Also, it won the Golden Globe…

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling: “Guardians of the Galaxy”.

Original Score: “The Theory of Everything”.

Original Song: Glory from “Selma”.

Achievement in Production Design: “Interstellar”. 

Best Animated Short Film: “Feast”. I have no idea!

Best Live Action Short Film: “The Phone Call”. Again No Clue!

Achievement in Sound Editing: “American Sniper”.

Achievement Visual Effects: “Interstellar”. 

Adapted Screenplay: “The theory of Everything”.

Original Screenplay: “Birdman”.

I Blame the Bounce Balls

During the last year Peter and I have been doing more hiking. When packing for a hike I always look for new snack ideas to take on the trail. Jerky, protein bars, dry fruit etc… Last fall while I was rummaging through Whole Foods I discovered Bounce protein balls. Handy little bars packed with protein, low in calories and almost no carbs. They are small, taste good and are easy to pack. My favorite flavor is cacao mint. Yummy! Peter’s favorite, peanut butter.

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My only beef about them is they are expensive. £2 for a little ball. This got me thinking I could find a recipe and make them myself.

Poor Peter

Every new year I seem to get in the “New Year, New You” mode. I am trying to find a new way to cook and eat better for ourselves. Last year I tried to go gluten-free. We lasted till about mid February. We may not have lasted but I will say this, we became more conscious about what we eat, especially in terms of gluten.

After the gluten-free period we purchased a vitamix blender and we often just have kale juice for breakfast or with our steaks at dinner time. We rarely have any starch anymore.

This year it’s protein! We came back from Xmas, I bought myself a protein cookbook and I have been testing out recipes every other day. Banana protein muffins, protein blondies, almond protein bars, protein donuts…you name it, I am trying to put some whey protein powder into it. Problem is, everything taste the same. As soon as you put some whey protein powder or casein powder you get the same results. A bit of a chewy muffin with a banana or vanilla after taste. I have even tried to reproduce the cacao mint bounce ball and I just had to throw everything out. YUCK! Just not the same as the Bounce ball. Maybe it’s because I didn’t put any grape juice, brown rice malt syrup, some kind of gum and sunflower lecithin….all this time and money wasted on reading and thinking about protein. I blame the Bounce ball.

AND, we didn’t even get through the month of January and my ALL PROTEIN cookbook has been stowed safely on the shelf with its cousin the Gluten-Free cookbook.

I will now go back to making the flax-seed/oatmeal raisin cookies and the peanut butter bran cookies that actually taste good and I will look for sales of cacao mint Bounce balls, (I am hooked and I just can’t reproduce the taste).

Side note and a little rant: Why can’t I get ground turkey in this country? By country I mean UK. In trying to make my own turkey chili for dinner I have to buy turkey breast and cut it in tiny pieces myself. Frustrating! I don’t like lamb and pork as much as turkey. I want ground turkey! Peter if you are reading this before coming home, tonight’s dinner is turkey chili with gluten-free corn bread. YUM!

Think Madmen Offices but in the Future

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Every once in a while, such as tonight, Peter works late. I meet him for dinner, we eat a quick chow close to his office and I come back home.

Tonight was the first time I was meeting him at his new office. He was able to get me in the building in order to see the new digs. One word to describe the building, WOW! or should I say Gorgeous?

The offices on the 18th and 19th floor of the brand new Walkie-Talkie building are amazing. For those of you who watch Madmen, envision the open concept of Madmen but with the 360 degree views of the City of London. It is very cool. The other cool thing is the open staircase in the middle of the floor to go back and forth between the 18th and 19th floor. Let me show you some pictures I managed to take.

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First, after getting your authorized entry card from the front desk security you have access to a computerized panel to select your floor. As soon as you select your floor you get this panel in the “lift” indicating what will be your next stop.

Once we arrived on the 19th floor Peter showed me the different areas.

walkie-talkie Bermuda conference room

Each conference rooms is named after a part of the world where Allied World has an office. This is the Bermuda conference room. There’s one for Singapore, Dublin, Farmington, NYC, Toronto etc… I will be working on getting one that says “Montreal!”

All the desks are open concept like in Madmen but you have little areas such as this break room.

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And this little area for the brokers to meet. Notice the bar…

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And this pretty cool area where underwriters bring clients.

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I am told there’s a full-time barista behind that bar….I would never leave work!

Then you find these little cubes all over the place where you and your friends can go do some office gossip.

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As you can see, someone was wrapping Xmas gifts before the break.

In the London conference room you will also find the video conference set up. Pretty impressive. Can’t imagine seeing Peter on a 50″ TV. Let’s hope they never see him in his Bruce Banner to Hulk phase…(tearing his shirt, turning green…I only get to see that!)

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Most importantly, especially at night, the views you see from this office.

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I never got to see the inside of the office at the Gherkin. All I ever heard about it was that it was tight, too many people. I can honestly say, in this one, they are not on top of each other and it’s pretty amazing.

Moving to London – UK Sizes – What I Was Up to Last Week

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View from a Penthouse in Canary Wharf

Peter has a colleague who lives in N.J. and works in London from Monday to Thursday. You read correctly. Ed, that’s his name, flies in every Monday morning goes straight to work, works in London until Thursday night and flies back to N.J. on Thursday night. Then he works out of the N.J. office on Friday, spends the weekend with his family and starts all over again on Sunday night. CRAZY!!!

Ed is tired of the corporate apartment and has decided to look for a place to call home. Ed’s family, his wife and three kids, will also come to visit more often, Spring break, Summer break etc….this way, Ed won’t have to travel as much and his family can get to know London.

Since I just went to this process recently, Ed asked if I minded going around with the relo agent and his wife Rebecca. He was interested in our neighborhood. This is why I spent the last week with Rebecca visiting flats/houses in the Sloane Square/South Ken/Gloucester Rd area. I also gave her some of my experience on dealing with a relo agent here in UK. In short, the relo business is not really big and the agents don’t seem to care. You have to be very proactive. Research online, give the listings you are interested in to the agent and have her/him book the viewings. There are no lock boxes in UK. The agents have to go get the keys from the listing agent or ask the listing agent to be present if you want to see a place. Sometimes it’s really hard to get into a place. Another interesting factor is Foxtons. Foxtons is a realty company. They are big and according to the other realty companies they don’t play nice, they are too arrogant. If you want to see something listed with Foxtons you have to call them directly. Once you are on Foxtons radar guess what, they do something that us North Americans are used to, they give you client service! Remember this little tidbit.

Day 1: Monday I met Rebecca and we walked around South Ken/ Sloane Square to see some of the properties we had seen on-line but just the exterior. We looked at how long from Tube station to house, what shops are around etc…we walked almost 11 miles.

Day 2: We meet an agent at one of the properties on Cornwall Gardens. Nice, furnished but old, dated, and £975 a week. Then we go see a Mews. It was a dump! £975 a week. At that point I asked Rebecca what her budget was again because she had told me £1300 a week. I was wondering why the agent was making us waste time with these dumps. The agent said she had no idea that Rebecca’s budget was £1300, she was told by HR around £1100. Finally, she showed us the third and last property of the day, a nice house 3 minutes from Gloucester Rd tube. It ticked off a lot of the boxes but it was only the third property, we wanted to see more. The agent told us that’s all she had for the day and that now that she knew the real budget, she was going to go back to the office and look at listings. Rebecca was very disappointed that she only had 3 properties to view. She told the agent that she was only here for one week and she needs to see more than 3 a day.

When we left the relo agent I told Rebecca that we were going back to my place to regroup and take matters into our hands. We looked on-line and included Foxtons listings. We sent an email, using my email, to get information on one of them and within the hour we had a call from them. This listing was in Canary Wharf . Nice 3 bedrooms (double bedrooms) penthouse apartment with separate washer and dryer, etc…She could go view the flat and others in that building at 6 pm that night.

Day 3: Wednesday morning, by the time I came back from my morning run around 8:40, I had 3 emails from 3 different Foxtons agents. Almost at the same time, Rebecca called me, Knight Frank had heard she and Ed went to see a listing in Canary Wharf and guess what, they had 4 more listings to show her in my neighborhood. We spent the early afternoon with the relo agent to view these and then the next couple of hours, we cheated on the relo agent with the Foxtons agent. On our way to Foxtons Rebecca asked me, “Can we go to Starbucks and get a coffee?” I told her not to worry, we’ll get to Foxtons 15 minutes early, they will offer us a cappuccino, some water, etc… Of course, that’s exactly what happened, we sat there for 15 minutes while the agent was making last-minute calls about the keys and we enjoyed a really nice cappuccino, and before we left in the Foxtons Mini Cooper we were offered a flat/sparkling water. Now that’s service! I think English people call this arrogant and pushy, I call this pretty cool. We saw 5 different properties, 2 were good contenders.

Day 4: Ed met us on Thursday morning to see two more properties and I asked to see the house that we saw the first day. The house was a good contender but in the end Ed and Rebecca decided to go back to Canary Wharf to see the penthouse apartment again and after dinner I received a text saying they had signed the Canary Wharf and could she take me for lunch on Friday.

Day 5: I met Rebecca for lunch and celebrated her next visit. I can’t wait to be invited for the BBQ!

UK Sizes

The reason I bring up UK sizes is Rebecca was looking for a furnished flat or one with at least some furniture. Most of the ones we saw had beds. At one point Rebecca asked me, if this is a King what is a Queen? I had to set her straight. I replied “If you move to UK they don’t have Queen beds. This is how the sizes for sheets go. The single is a single, the double is a double, the Queen is a King and the King is a Super King and don’t ever think you will see a California King, they don’t exist here!” She just laughed and asked me to go with her buy sheets once she moves here. Ikea here I come.

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