Mar 28, 2015

1 year

One year in Stuttgart down! What a year.

I have traveled a fair amount, or I should say, we have traveled a fair amount, especially since one of the main reasons I came to Germany was to be reunited with my traveling partner.

We went to a wedding in Paris, a day trip to Munich to meet an old professor, a few days back in Munich with Mom and Larry, and a long weekend in London. On business trips, I saw Innsbruck in Austria and Geneva in Switzerland. With Apo and the Mexicans we took a road trip to Venice for the architecture biennale, which was one of the events I've always wanted to attend. Saori and I day tripped through a handful of increasingly adorable southern German towns, and also a spin through Alsace, back and forth across the border to Strausburg in France. After the winter holdiays, I came back to the US for a quick road trip to check in on family in the Midwest (with apologies to mom and others in AZ), Indianapolis, Oklahoma, and Texas.

All in all, its a hell of a lot of travel. Which is good, because I do love to travel.

My German has improved dramatically since I arrived a year ago. When I arrived, I could say "the chicken." I can now say things like "He told me that he thinks the baked chicken is too salty." I have spent approximately $500 on German classes and books, which has taken me now through A2.1. (Standard courses run from A1.1, A1.2, A2.1, A2.2, B1.1 etc with mid B level considered a proficiency for university enrollment.)

Saori and I ran a 5K earlier last year, and Saori goes through cycles of three times a week yoga when she isn't taking German classes. I went on a total of three runs, including the 5k, which is not so good. However, I have been hiking on average once a month through the trails and hills around the city. Plus, we don't have a car so we are walking everywhere.

I proposed to Saori, which is a big deal and I still haven't written about it here yet or publically posted anything about it because that's a longread on its own.

My feelings on German beer changed a lot. I came over incredibly excited to drink the famous German beer, and was frustrated to quickly discover that the only beer I could find was weisen, pils, and lager. Sometimes, you want a beer with a little character. I gave up on German beer and picked up liter bottles of better beer whenever our travels crossed the border, or hit special stores where I could pick up expensive imports now and then. It's really only within the last few months that I have been picking up the quiet trail of good German beers. Ferreting out interesting beers from small towns, secret little microbreweries in the city, and rumors of bars which serve craft beers. It's not that German craft beers don't exist (actually that scene is exploding right now in Berlin), they are just really really hard to find.

However.

There is a lot to drink about here. I write about trips to London and Paris, bitch about access to good beer and Mexican food, and generally come across as a entitled, self-absorbed hipster, but it hasn't all been butterbrezeln und gummibären.

I have been filled with anxieties really since graduation, and they have waxed and waned. In Mexico, I worried about what the hell I was doing with my life, but I wanted to be with Saori so I joined her in Germany. It had been over a year since we last saw each other and we both wondered what was in the other's minds, and how we would fit into each other's lives post-university.

Finding an apartment was a huge cause of anxiety and stress. We worried if we were doing everything we could to find a place, we worried about the costs, and the bureaucratic paperwork. Additionally, it's stressful to spend every day interacting in a foreign language. Thankfully, most Germans do speak some English, but it's always something you have to ask for specially, a handicap. You will always be a tourist in a city unless you can speak its language.

We have been worrying overall about the effect of Stuttgart on our future. Here, we are both earning less money than we would be earning in the US in a major city like Boston. Our cost of living is probably the same for the lifestyle: we pay less for housing and insurance than we probably would be in Boston, but we pay more for everything else. Our employers are not matching contributions or offering a 401(k) and neither of us are currently putting money into retirement accounts. We should be saving money NOW since its going to have a major impact on the future finances, but we are also paying a lot on our student debts.

The accessibility of fantastic European cities is also a huge temptation. Probably, my grandmothers would accuse of living too 'high on the hog' but from my perspective if you are living three hours from Paris, at least one trip a year is too big a temptation to resist. Apart from our travel, we live very cheaply. We go out to eat less than once a month, we never order take out, and most of my lunches I either make at home or buy $2 package salads at the discount grocery store down the street from my office. We don't have a cable TV package (nor cable nor TV) and apart from housing and insurance my biggest monthly expenses are the $70 monthly transit pass and the fees for my German classes. And airfare to Japan and the US is not cheap either.

I worry about my career trajectory. I am 30 years old with a lot of wide experience but not so much specialist experience. Without a firm fluency in German it is difficult to run real projects here. I can't even sit down and converse with an engineer about a competition project. It is an understandable position for the office to take- what the hell do you do with a non-german speaker? I am basically a professional intern, a competition manager when required, and a graphics expert. After one year at the office, I see myself taking on some of the duties one of the two associates has. In another year or two, I would probably be working side by side, depending on how my German progresses.

How long do I want to stay here? That's the big question. Money is a big problem. Less immediate term and more long-term. We need to be making more money. This means to me that either I need to get some raises or find a job that pays me more.

Mar 21, 2015

Pot weekend

Thursday afternoon, I made a beer run during my lunch hour. This may seen not so special to those of you who have the good luck to live someplace where you have easy and ready access to a wide variety of good beers, but it was a big deal to me.

I heard through a friend about a small brewery in Stuttgart called Cast. The name comes from the founders, who were supposed to be a Californian and a Stuttgarter (CA-ST). The logo, actually, includes two shields, one with the Californian bear, the other with the Stuttgarter stallion. Anyway, they do small batches, bottle them all in the same brown bottles and slap on a wet-stick label when you go pick them up. There is no tasting room, no bar, not even a shop or a window. You can find the small brewery easily enough off of Schlosserstrasse, and you ring the bell.

The guy who answers the door, likely wearing an apron and galoshes, will then tell you what they have on stock as you look past him into the working brewery. This trip, I just picked up two six packs ('sixers'), one of them for the co-worker who had recommended the place. It was more expensive beer than the typical beer from the big brewers in town, who charge less than a euro a beer (not including the bottle deposit), but it was a lot cheaper than the imported or craft beers I have been finding at the British shop or the small 'sophisticated' beer section at the das Gerber grocery store. So I am excited. Apparently this place regularly brews IPAs and other ales, which are really my preferred brew.

Anyway, the beer I bought was a Roggenweißebier, a rye-wheat beer, unfiltered. Really good, although more like a weiße (wheat) beer with a hint of rye. I'm going to come back after Easter, when they will have some ales for sale.

Friday, Saori and I were going to hit a design fair in the Liederhalle but decided to take a pass since neither one of us really felt like paying $15 for the privilege to buy overpriced felted purses and 3d printed jewelry. Instead, we popped open one of the beers I had been carrying and drank as we walked over to Lumen, a hipstery place in Stuttgart west for some more beer and sweet potato fries.

We wrapped up the evening watching Big Hero 6 which is really quite a phenomenal movie from the technical graphics point of view. The movie story overall was not so good, but the graphics, wow.

This morning I made us hash browns, fried eggs, and ham, which was delicious. When I say, I made hash browns, I mean, I made them from scratch, which turns out to be easier than one might think. You grate 1 potato per person, squeeze out as much water as possible in a cheesecloth or thin and clean kitchen washtowel, and nuke it for two minutes before frying it all up. Turns out really nice. Crispy outside, chewy inside.

After cleaning up a bit, we walked across town towards Olgastrasse. First, we popped into a tiny cafe which we first mistook for an antiques shop of which it is also a part. The bearded eccentric owner had decorated the cafe with victorian-era decor including a wall of tiny deer skull trophies surrounding a silver-gelatin print of his grandmother. And there was a plastic bat hanging from one of the skull antlers. Over to a plant shop where we bought some new pots for our latest plants. It's an expensive shop, but they sell used and old pots in the loading zone behind the store, so we picked up a few cheap ones there.

After that plant shop, Rafa got back to us and asked us if we were still going to Uhlig Kakteen today. He has a car, and so we said 'YES'. We had another cup of coffee at a nearby cafe popular with the Argentines, and then Rafa drove us all over. We bought a few more plants, and a few more pots. It was fun to show Rafa the place too. It's really quite surreal. Massive white tarp covered greenhouses, eeriely quiet except for mysterious droning mechanical noises outside somewhere, endless rows of tables covered with bizarre plants. They sold us clay pots for fifty cents, too.

On the drive home, we passed a large group of people marching, protected or watched by a huge group riot police. They were marching, I believe, against homosexuality.

Anyway, we invited Rafa up for a quick bite after he dropped us off back at our apartment before he headed back out to go serve and cook at Mezcal hoch Zwei. I headed out again too, to do some last minute grocery shopping before coming back home for the night.

Mar 18, 2015

Updates

After about three months of a nearly unusable tablet, Google finally released a cumulative lollipop OS update this week. It's like I downloaded a brand new tablet. No more lag, no more random crashes. I have actually started to download some apps again. Like Facebook.

Also updated: my teeth. I'm paying a lot for my insurance (well, probably less than in the US) but it also covers dental. Considering dental health is a real and vital part of overall health, its another cruel and greedy trick to make people buy additional insurance in the US. Anyway, today I went to the dentist for a checkup. Two small cavities up front, two larger in the back. No co-pays, no visit fees, and if I decide to get metal fillings in the back, then its all covered by insurance. If I go plastic reisin, its €70 a pop, which is probably the same fee schedule in the US for the cotton pads they stick in your cheeks.

Spring is here! Finally! In some ways, it's terrible because you feel so happy and relieved and it makes you realize how much the shitty winter weather gets to you. But you're nearly Disney Musical level of happy so you don't think about it too much. Everyone at my office sits outside soaking up sun on the terrace during our lunches together (and often we all walk to PennyMarkt to buy our lunches) and now people are starting to meet up after work for a drink or an ice cream.

Mar 15, 2015

Uhlig knows his Kakteen

Saturday morning was cold and gray, so I put on some Glenn Miller and made banana pancakes. After breakfast, we say down and wrote a note to our hausmeister asking to what the antenna cable jack in the wall connects. Many German apartment buildings will come with a hausmeister, the person who acts as a landlords representative and takes responsibility for cleaning the stairs and the common spaces. He lets in workers, and accepts packages on our behalf when we are gone, so all in all, a very useful person.

Anyway, after the letter, we Skyped Saori's parents in Japan where Tim and a pregnant Ayumi are visiting with their little Joshua. Joshua is almost two now, and he gets more interactive with Skype every time I see him. It was a bit of a chaotic scene with five adults, one toddler, and the chihuahua, but fun. Saori's mom was particularly exited to have everyone there and chatting.

After Skyping, Saori and I hiked down to the S bahn station and caught a train way out beyond Vaihingen, all the way out to Uhligs Kakteen.

While we were in London, we picked up a book about succulents and cacti. There is surprisingly limited books on this topic- you have a ton of "cute display and flower arranging" type books with cacti and succulents, and, available online, massive multivolume compendia of taxonmetric characteristics of various species. Really there are very few books between the two, which would combine practical advice about propagation and care, along with the different types of plants and the kind of soil, water, and sun they need. We did find one quirky book, which was published in 2004 but all of the photos inside from the author are at least 30 years old. However, at the back of the book was a list of places one can also go to buy cacti and cacti supplies. There are ten listings for Germany alone, one of which was Uhlig Kakteen, which turned out to be very close to Stuttgart.

As Vonnegut said, strange instructions or coincidences are dancing lessons from God, so we headed out. It's a 20 minute train ride from our station, and another ten minutes walk. Rommelshausen is a boring suburb, small, and mostly surrounded by agricultural fields. We found the place easily, marked as it was by a large display of prickly pear outside.

We were Charlie in the Cactus Factory, huge greenhouses of varying temperature all filled with cacti and succulents divided into three sections: stock plants, a nursery, and for sale directly. We spent over an hour wandering though the massive place. In the end, we ended up buying some special cactus soil, some perlite and vermiculite, a few cheap pots, a half dozen baby cacti and succulents, and I splurged on a beautiful agave from Mazatlan, Mexico. Lugged it all back in a few IKEA bags we brought for the purpose except for the agave which was too pointy.

I carried the heavy stuff back to the apartment and Saori bought us lunch from the kebab place down the street and we wolfed it all down before I ran out the door to meet up with some coworkers for a drink. It was Benni's birthday the week before and he invited a bunch of us to his place. Great location, nice apartment. I was jealous of how easily it all fell into place for him, considering the stress and months of searching it took for us. (Although I can't complain about the end result- we have an amazing place for an amazing price in a good location).

I drank with my coworkers for about two hours before excusing myself early to head out to the Long Night at the Museum. Not the terrible Ben Stiller film, but a night once a year where many of the museums and institutions stay open until midnight or 2am, the bus system is reconfigured to serve particular cultural "tours" or loops, and many of the places run special programs. The prices of the tickets were a little expensive at 17 euros, but they did include transportation on the entire network from noon until 4am and all the museum entrance fees. It's a very popular event. Nearly all the museums in Stuttgart participate, and the city becomes packed.

Saori and I joined a long line at the Alte Schloss for a "through and up" tour. We were in line between an hour and 90 minutes in the castle courtyard. There was at least beer and bratwurst sold. The tour ended up being well worth the wait- the Alte Schloss mostly contains a historical museum of the region with artifacts from prehistory through contemporary times. This tour took us in the back way through the ancient and original cellers, and threaded us between ruins, working spaces, outdoor plazas, backrooms, and polished exhibitions halls by way of a series of tunnels and doors marked 'do not enter', 'emergency exit', and 'authorized personnel'. It was great. It was like jumping through portals since one minute you're in a vast ruined hall with the floor torn up to expose the old city wall foundation excavations, and you pass through a door and you're suddenly on the public street.

After this tour, we headed over to the other big item on our list- the old bunker hotel. I had heard rumors when I moved of a massive bunker under the train station , but I couldn't find anyone or anything to corroborate it. I did hear from a local tour guide about the bunker under the market platz. Only open on special occasions. Like tonight.

There was a line, but it moved a lot faster. We only waited half an hour to get in. Before WWII, or during, a large bunker was constructed under the plaza in front of the city hall. After the war, the bunker was converted into what must have been a quirky and cheap hotel. How you can get away with a hotel with no windows in a place like Germany is beyond me, but one cannot beat the location. One enters and exits by way of two openings in the pavement which are normally hidden. There is a large lobby with a bar and a reception desk, and then three long corridors with rooms off both sides. The rooms are exceptionally small- the size of a walk-in closet in many American homes. No bathroom, no window. Just a bed and a desk (in the rooms which were furnished for example). The place was filled with layers of ripped original wallpaper, mold, and decay. Alone, it would have been eerie and terrifying. Filled with excited people, it was surreal and still a little eerie. We didn't stay under too long.

Afterwards, we popped in an out of the music museum, and the big contemporary art gallery, and I realized that I was utterly exhausted. We left shortly after, about half past midnight.

Mar 8, 2015

al Pastor

At the edge of the Stuttgart city center, still in the pedestrianized zone, a  small mall was opened which is filled with such insignificant, trashy stores that it is anchored by Urban Outfitters. Das Gerber, as it is called, does actually have some partially redeeming features apart from the Urban Outfitters and the fact it offers new housing above the mall. In the basement, there are not one but two grocery stores.

Everyone knows I love density and downtowns, but the problem is that to live downtown, you really need to offer grocery stores downtown. So I was pleased to see there were two offered in the lower level of the mall. Aldi, the discount store, and Edeka. This Edeka is actually quite impressive. They have a really decent selection for German grocery stores, especially 'inner city' branches, and they sell different kinds of beer. In a country where the beer offerings are typically limited to what is brewed in a 30 mile radius, they sell IPAs, pale ales, American craft brews, and some Belgians. All wildly overpriced: an American made IPA, for example, can run about $4 a bottle.

I drink, on average, between three to five beers a week. Mostly during the weekend, and mostly German beer, with perhaps one exotic thrown in. If I'm drinking something brewed outside of lager and pils and hefe territory, I am going to relish it.

For example, right now, I am drinking a Warsteiner Herb, which is basically a Heineken. It is entirely unremarkable, but I was lured in by the misleading pictures of hops on the bottle.

Anyway, I am getting sidetracked here. I really wanted to talk about Mexican food. Back to the basement of Das Gerber....

...where we find a new fresh-Mex style of counter fast food called Bugan. The shop is so new, the website on the brochure isn't online yet. Normally, I skip places billing themselves as Mexican. Even in the US, I approach Mexican restaurants with extreme skepticism north of Arizona and east of Texas. This one, however, was trumpeting its al pastor.

Constant reader, you will know my feelings on al pastor since I have written about it a lot in Mexico City. A cultural adaptation from Lebanese-Mexicans, marinated pork cooked with pineapple on a vertical spit, it is the taco of Mexico City. Bugan, does in fact, correctly point out in its glossy brochure that al pastor originates there. But they get everything else wrong. For one, they are roasting chicken on a spit, not pork, and narry a pineapple in sight. Additionally, they serve it as a burrito, which is totally alien to Mexico City. It wasn't bad, to be honest, just more like a Mexican themed doner kebab. What was bad was their spelling of quesadilla as 'casadia'. That was painful.  It was like poking a wound of the distance to Mexico.

The whole experience resolved me to make more Mexican food, so I straightaway went to the Edeka and bought ingrediants to make sopa de lima, a limey chicken soup from the yucatan.

mein kleiner, greuner, kaktus

So begins a rather silly song which was popularized by the German group 'The Comedian Harmonists' who were apparently one of the most popular musical groups in Europe before the outbreak of WWII.

The song, which begins: My small, green cactus sits on my balcony, was very popular, and even at the early time suggests to me the popularity of cacti in Germany. One has to admit this is a little strange on the face of it.

Cacti and other succulents, which are also very popular here, are much more at home in drought-prone, warm, sunny places with rocky and sandy soils.  Most of Germany has warm summers, but freezing winters, dense treecover, and lots of overcast skies and rain.  However, here in Southern Germany, one can see them gracing many balconies and sold in many stores. So what's the appeal to Germans?

Two theories- I have noticed that Germans love exotica in general, but only in carefully controlled form. There is a fascination with 'wild' tribes, especially north American, and 'savage' craftwork of African peoples. Cactus and succulents conjure up images of the exotic, sunny lands far from the gray and tidy set of blocks which are most German cities.

There is also the history- the earliest, best, and most thorough scholarship of succulents has been by German authors. German botanists traveled through Africa and South and Central America, making careful notes and drawings documenting the strange plant forms they saw. Perhaps, by bringing attention to the results of their works (which were naturally in German), they captured the imagination of their countrymen and made cacti popular in Germany before the rest of the world took notice.

While one can find plenty of Opuntia and other cacti native to Mexico here, we have had difficulty finding succulents from the Americas here. Most of the succulents come from South America. I bought a small prickly pear cactus which reminds me of Arizona and Mexico, but I would really like to find some agaves. Most of the agave-type plants here are actually aloes, native to southern Africa.

Mar 4, 2015

London calling

After a particularly onerous weekend at work and several long weeks of competitions, we decided we needed to get the scheiße out of Stuttgart. By a rather fortuitous coincidence, Stuttgart is located very close to vastly more interesting and exciting cities. Like London.

We caught a 9am flight out of Stuttgart to Frankfurt, and thence on to London. It's awkward. The flight time to Frankfurt is a scant 25 minutes: it took us double that to run the labyrinth between terminals and immigration and security checkpoints to board the flight to Heathrow. The UK's awkward part-of-the-EU, not-part-of-the-EU makes it awkward for tourists coming from the continent.

Flight to London was about an hour. The cloudy skies over the continent stopped at the edge, and we had an amazing view to look out over the English channel. In one view, the long shoreline and beaches of France and the white cliffs of Dover and England, with tiny cargo ships plying the channel. From above, the sediment laden water from the Thames is easy to spot as it flows into the sea. Our route took us up the Thames, and we landed in London a little after 11AM.

Breezed through customs, and picked up an oyster card at the tube station. The harried ticket sellers explained that we pay £5 for the card, refundable on return, and load up the card to tap our way through turnstile's on tubes or busses.

Piccadilly line runs to the center of London, but it's a long haul. 50 minutes from station to station. It was so exciting to be back in London, although tinged with the sadness that we wouldn't be returning to the hospitality and countryside of The Pines in Milford.

London was bright and chilly. We had pricelined a hotel near Euston station in Camden, and dropped off the luggage before hunting down some food. We were able to grab bar seats at a trendy ramen restaurant, Ippudo. When we walked in the staff shouted greetings at us. We toasted not being at work with pints of cold Asahi and tucked into our delicious steaming bowls of ramen with fried pork.

The rest of the day saw us make a stroll along Oxford st where I stocked up on (what else?) Oxford shirts at Japanese Gap meets American Apparel store UNIQLO. For dinner we headed over to Kensington, to the Natural History Museum.

It was one of their late nights, where they are open until 10pm and serve food and beer. It was surprisingly popular. Tons of people, mostly hip late 20s to late 30s Londoners kicking off the night. I've always loved this museums architecture much more than the exhibitions, which are kooky and surreal at the best of times and simply dated and disgustingly decomposed at worst. It is, I must say, a fantastic place to have a drink. The beer was served from a makeshift bar in front of a massive glass case housing a giant bird, presumably extinct, stuffed with a quizzical expression.

They was also something about the sight of dozens of empty bottles (many of which were obviously brought from outside) sitting on a table in front of a directional sign MAMMALS. One could almost read it like an exasperated exclamation of dismay over the effect of the bottles' contents on mammalian brains.

We lingered through the venerable halls with our beers until everyone was asked to leave by the harried staff anxious to close before ten. We went back to the hotel directly, since we were also really tired from the early day and travel.

The game is afoot

Saturday morning, I caffeinated Saori and we went across town to the Broadway market in East London. East London is apparently the hip new place to those people "in the know" and it was, actually, swimming with hipsters and other young urbanites. The New York Timesactually published a "36 Hours in East London" a year or two ago, which I relied on heavily to create the day's itinerary.

No Tube stop near the market so we got to figure out the buses which turned out to be my new favorite way across London. When I'm using the Tube, the feeling I get is like a fish fighting it's way upstream to spawn through the tunnels of a massive hydroelectric dam. When I use the iconic double decker bus, it's like we getting a free city tour, floating between buildings and watching the city stitch itself together.

The market was fun. Fresh baked breads, craft jewelry and pottery, felted hot water bottle covers, way-to-cute woven socks with foxes on then, screen prints, Vietnamese food trucks, organic free trade coffee shops with poppy accent colors and weathered wood tables, and even some shops which were around before gentrification. In short: the accoutrements of the good, instagramable, life.

We bought some delicious baked thing with nuts which was something between a croissant and a muffin from an old table at the entry to a warehouse, behind which was the actual independent bakery. We also bought a small ceramic hanging planter for our apartment.

After wandering through the market we waked along Regent's canal, a waterway with a pedestrian path alongside filled with runners. It's a cool area. Old, industrial, blue collar, but filling in with artists and bohemian creatives, the harbingers of gentrification.

We went to a recommended Bangladeshi restaurant near Spitalfields market, another market, this one specializing in handmade, boutique, and vintage clothing. The area, incidentally, is a huge immigrant center, with a historic Bangladeshi community. We were the first customers of the day at Monsoon, but the food was good. Ordered garlic naan, mushroom rice, a lamb bindi, and a prawn curry of some kind. Not so obviously spicy at first bite, but builds to a deep, slow kick.

The the street is actually overflowing with Bangladesh restaurants: part of the challenge was getting the attention of our waiter who would fairly leap out of the restaurant at anyone who as much as slowed down in order to entice them in.

After lunch we stopped at a pub and I got my first cask British pint of the trip. The pub was modern, bright, airy, with a carefully constructed weathered industrial look. I started calling it the Anthropologie Pub. Outside, a young architect was intently measuring the front entry. We were curious about what he was doing so I asked him.

Between scribbling measurements, he told me. Many bars and pubs lack back entry's and loading zones. Beer comes in giant metal or wood kegs, which are quickly dropped off on the porch of the entry . Then, the walk-off mat flips up revealing a chute in the floor to the basement. The problem is that the kegs bang up the porch floor when they hit. It was true: many of the tiles were missing or broken. He was going to replace it, he said, with rubberized athletic gym flooring.

After our pint, we bussed back to central London by way of the financial district, and from there, walked over the bridge to the Southbank center. We ended up browsing through the bookstores, perusing the food market and finally split some curry. After dark, we followed the exited stream of people back to Waterloo station. Waterloo made me miss dad and Tay particularly, since this was always the way I entered the city coming from the Surrey countryside.

We went back to our neighborhood, and walked from the Baker Street apartment and museum of Sherlock Holmes, to nearby North Gower, where they shoot the TV series. In the dark and rain, we stopped in front of Speedy's cafe, and the apartment which is the stand in for 221b.

We had a few pints more at the nearby pub, the Anchor, which was mercifully free of Sherlock tie-ins. No Eggs Benedict Cumberbatch, Morijitos, or Moffat Fries. For me, just beer and some STP.

London sunday

Sunday morning was a delight. The night before, I had made a reservation for the Sunday Coffee concert at Wigmore hall. These are concerts featuring up-and-coming classical virtuosos and small groups, an hour long performance followed by complimentary coffee or sherry. A steal at 12 pounds a ticket.

Saori picked out a breakfast place, the Riding House Cafe (21 on Zagat) which happened to be along the way in Fitzrovia. We showed up at 9:40, nervous about making the 11:30 concert, and with good reason. The place was bustling with activity, and the hostess asked if we had made a reservation for brunch. She put our name down and told us to wander around the neighborhood for 20 minutes.

We did, and when we came back, we were promptly seated. I was worried about the speed of service, but it was lighting. We were seated at 10:00 and had paid the bill by 10:30. It sounds fast, but it was actually quite perfect. We both ordered the big British breakfast: toast, poached eggs, breakfast beans, black pudding, and sausage. Everything was delicious. Clearly, they had taken great pains in the sourcing of their ingredients and meats. The coffee was fantastic.

From there, we had enough time to stroll through the posh neighborhoods to Wigmore hall, a turn of the century chamber music hall. Our seats were unfortunately at the back, but I was happy to have secured seats to the sold-out performance. The artist this morning was a young woman named Beatrice Rana, who played intense selections from Bach, Chopin, and Ravel on piano, including the famous Funeral March. She was very, very good. Lots of thunder from a piano, actually. After, we enjoyed our glass of sherry, and made our way to the exit and another swing through UNIQLO to pick up another few work shirts for me. Relatively cheap, good quality, good cut.

We caught the bus from Oxford street across the Thames and hopped out at the Southbank centre where we walked over to the Tate modern. They were building a new addition, also by H+dM but it wasn't very promising to me. The installation in the main hall was also disappointing, a fabric and wood piece by an American artist, which looked like the designers of the Beatles yellow submarine had tried their hand at aircraft and gave up halfway. We poked through the bookstores (we spent a lot of time in bookstores this trip) and headed across the Millenium bridge towards St. Pauls. We were starving by the time we got across so we poked into a few pubs, and resigned ourselves to a mediocre tourist trap near the church.

We knew it was a mediocre tourist trap going in. But one of the best rules of travel is to eat when you are hungry. The experience was exactly as expected. The food was mediocre, the service sucked, and they blared contemporary radio hits. At least it wasn't ungodly expensive. It will be quickly forgotten from our collective memory.

We took another bus back to Soho, where we wandered around

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...