A Mixed Bag Honeymoon

October 24, 2008

 

Looking from our bed to the balcony to the Med

Looking from our bed to the balcony to the Med

Flying into Malta was a wonderful experience, possibly because EasyJet’s plane was out of commission and they had to bring in a luxury charter airline to fill in and take us to the island nation.  It allowed us to spread out a little bit, which was a real plus as Carly was nearly incapable of rendering speech or thought due to her Xanax experience once we passed through customs.

As descent began and we came underneath the few clouds in the sky, and looked to Sicily to the left and toured the outskirts of Malta to the right with the gorgeous blue Mediterranean between the two.  We landed, deplaned, breezed through customs and headed out to the Hotel.  Surprisingly, all of the cabs for the airport have prearranged pricing so you don’t have nefarious taxis charging foreigners absurd rates and tourists are more likely to return.  It was €20 to the Hotel, and we asked the driver about going to Sicily which we thought would be quite a decent rate being that the two islands are no more than 90 miles apart but the gentleman said we had to take the land tour and the ferry.

A lot of tourist destinations will try and book large tour groups but for the most part these are more frustration than they are worth.  The booking agencies have arrangements with the bus companies,  the bus companies have arrangements with the ferries, and everyone has arrangements with the trinket sellers that greet the bus, and are awaiting you at the tourist sites, and I am sure it isn’t a coincidence that there are trinket sellers in front of the restaurants as well.

The other problem with bus tours is that you will always find two unsettling passengers.  The ultra modern European that is still too good for a daily shower (or decidedly doesn’t purchase deodorant) and those that end up buying all the trinkets they can fit in their American flag backpack.  The restaurants are never original or even decent; it seems to be a chain restaurant with awful food that is full of other American tourists that all got scammed as well.  You get back on the bus to deal with more corny jokes form the tour guide in an Eastern European accent, until you finally arrive back at the port with serious haste to run for the boat and escape the sight of postcards and the permeating smell of a mouldy and faecal ridden bus.

So, needless to say, no tours for us.

La Vallette

We arrive at St. Jullian’s Bay – the luxurious, La Vallette Resort.  I will repeat that one more time RESORT.  Some minor discrepancies on what qualifies as a resort, the list is as follows:

1)      Heated swimming pool

2)      Room Service or available restaurant

3)      Air Conditioning (Fans do not count)

4)      No bunk beds on the property

5)      Shower curtains/fixed shower head

6)      Complimentary shampoo provided

7)      TV must exceed 13” with some form of discernible reception

8 )      One double bed as opposed to two twins

9)      Pest free environment

10)   The ability to get a decent night’s sleep without the pulsing “club” below

Other than that, what a fantastic resort we had!  It was just abhorrent but the one reason we didn’t leave the “hotel” was the amazing view.  We had two glass doors that opened onto our balcony and the view was just stunning each and every day, even when it was raining.

We settled in slightly and recovered from seemingly weeks without a proper night’s sleep.  It was not until the following day that we really got up and explored Malta. 

The food was phenomenal.  Every meal was worth writing about (though we will spare you most) although one was particularly awful.  Some of the pizzas were better than what we would later have in Milan, gelato every night, which ice cream does not compare to, nor does Spumoni. 

Ir-Rokhna, Maletese for effing delicious (actually Maltese for “the corner”)

One of the first days out we found a little spot called Ir-Rokhna.  Malta has two official languages, the first is English – thankfully, and the other Maltese.  Maltese, as best described to us, is originally Lebanese with dabbling in every country that at some point ruled the island, including: French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, English, and even some African languages.  Ir-Rokhna actually means (The Corner) which aptly named the location of the restaurant and hotel.  We ordered outside and had a fantastic Caesar Salad with  a dressing comprised of anchovy, olive oil, salt, pepper, and some Italian herbs, quite different from Caesar dressing in the states.  Wood roasted chicken, some pancetta, iceberg lettuce, fresh shavings of parmesan and fresh croutons made the best salad I have ever had.  We also split a pizza, nearly all of them have world famous Parma ham, which covered the pizza also baked in the wood-fire oven as well as perfect tomato sauce, light and fresh, excellent mozzarella and parmesan and Rucola (a leafy, bitter herb) which nearly blew off the pizza but we were glad it didn’t as it was an amazing introduction and a new favourite.  As anyone on their honeymoon should do, we added dessert, Tiramisu as cake which simply wasn’t to the standard we had come to expect, but we finished it none-the-less.

Disgusting Personal Hygiene and The Beach

Next to the largest building on the island there is a large shopping centre and Hilton Hotel, which opens to a gorgeous yacht harbour and pricey restaurants.  It was in the shopping centre we saw one of the single-most disturbing images of our lives.  A clearly Italian bloke was standing in a store facing a glass wall that looked out onto the hallway in which we were passing by and started digging for gold in his nose.  That happens all the time over here, it’s always nasty, but when he struck gold, examined it, pasted on the tip of his finger, and then put it into his mouth.  We both nearly lost it.

Moving right along…

We walked along the northern coast of St. Jullian’s Bay into Spinola Bay and found a huge area of restaurants and seaside shops.  There were swimming outlets along the way, most of them were essentially smoothed coral and metal railings leading into the sea where there was a sudden drop off.  We were looking forward to sandy beaches and this was a bit disappointing at first, but came to grow on us.  We set up shop on the coast and rolled out our paper thin “Malta” beach towels and tried to grab some sun.  The waves were crashing against the natural coral seawall and the smell of salt water drifted over us.  For a moment, we were relaxed and calm.  Then a menacing pigeon started approaching us.  Lying down with a pigeon at eye level coming toward me made me very uncomfortable, of course Carly was a champ, we shooed him (could have been a ‘her’ for all I know) and things were okay again… until his friends showed up, and then I simply couldn’t relax.  It’s not that I am fearful of a pigeon; it’s just that they are so dirty, and stupid.  They will fly their soot filled wings attached to their pathogen filled bodies right into you.  I’m not into that.

We left the beach and got some gelato. (KS)

Pictures soon to follow…

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Waffles, Chocolate, Beer

July 26, 2009

So here we are.
We’ve been living in Manchester for nearly ten months. In those ten months we have seen and done some pretty fantastic things.
A few adventures that come to mind are the first few months. Most of those first few expeditions have already been recorded and you may remember them as each excursion usually has an unexpected quirk (meeting a couple from Omaha while honeymooning in Malta) , or something brilliant and unforgettable (quattro formaggio bread in Milan!)
Since we made our move in September there have also been holidays that have come and gone and let’s blame it on the hussle and bussle, but a few have gone unblogged.. Oops!
I will try to come back and tell of these missed ventures and recollect all the memories.
Let me tell you where I am today.
At this very moment I am sitting across from two complete strangers who are strangers to each other. The bell is ringing and the woman has just notified everyone that the next stop is approaching. I can’t understand a word she said. As the doors open to the next stop I can hear Gloria Estefan playing, I know the song. De Brouckere is the stop right after (no Gloria here). Just a few more stops and we’ll be to Beerkkant, our stop.
When we get off we will see Mini Europe and Antomium. I’m excited.
We arrived here late last night. It was another on time Ryanair flight! (actually we landed early.) It was only about an hour flight from Manchester. Of course because it was a Ryanair flight it didn’t bring us directly into our destination, but just a forty five minute bus ride outside. I was more scared during the bus ride than I was during the flight. The flight was “easy-peasy,” the bus was “life or death.” Lucky for us we made it in one piece. We boarded our bus from the Charleroi Airport. I decided to hop on and grab seats while Kyle finished his cigarette. I started to sit towards the front of the bus thinking it be a quicker exit once we reached the City Centre, but as my indecisiveness kicked in I found my self debating the front and the back. I thought the back would be quiet, relaxing more peaceful for the eleven p.m. transport.
Already today we had a much needed ly-in, followed by a pretty impressive breakfast buffet. We had eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, Dutch pancakes, potatoes and waffles top with butter and maple syrup. There was an array of different breads, pastries, cereals meats and cheeses in addition to what we selected. There was also a drink station with espresso machines, juices, waters and champagne. We enjoyed most of the beverages as well.
After breakfast we left the hotel and headed to the metro station. We bought day passes and hopped on our first train. We had pretty much mapped out everything we wanted to do. The first train took us to the stop Arts-Loi, here we hopped out to see Belgium’s version of the Arc d’ triumph. We were told there was a way to stand atop the Arc and view all of Belgium above the city. We’ ll come back to that in a moment…
When we hopped off the train at our stop we were face to face with the Arc. As we approached it we noticed it was linked to two Museums. The War Museum to our right and Autoworld to our left. We didn’t have much interest in either. Until… We got so close that Kyle noticed a massive airplane through the window of The War Museum. We headed into the museum free of charge and went directly to the aviation exhibit. We spent an hour in there looking at all the planes, getting in some of the planes, and for Kyle, dreaming about owning a few. I was a pretty good sport through most if it, but after a while I wad ready to move on. The museum was one of the most unorganized as far as floor plans go. It seemed to span out and up as though it were a few building linked together to form a labrynth. More than a few attempts to escape and the frustrations, sweat, and chlosterphobia were in full force.

We did eventually make our way victoriously back to the front and quickly exited. Now I was ready to conqour the Arc. We kept trying to figure out how to get up to the top. We walked to every which side before we stopped and asked someone. Just to our luck the man told us the way to get to the top was through The War Museum. As we walked back towards the museum we agreed to do it no matter the amount of stairs (after a long hike up the Arc in Paris) and possibly the price to go up. It turned out to be free of charge and lift accessible. (We call that two birds, one stone!) Also the exit was much easier to reach from this part of the museum. Finally, atop the Arc we took a few moments and enjoyed the gorgeous weather, the views and our surroundings. There was another couple on the Arc enjoying it as well, over a quaint picnic of sandwiches and wine. We tried to discreetly photograph these romantic Europeans but I don’t think we were succesful.
We were ready to move on to the next destination in Brussels, The European Commission. There wasn’t much else to see in this part of the city, but even on a Sunday with no one at work, it was quite amazing to see the head of the EU up close and personal! This stop was much quicker, a few snapshots and a quick walkabout and it brings me to where I am now.
Beerkkant, here we are. We are actually just switching here. We sit and wait, Shakira is playing over the speakers. Our train arrives. From here we will go out to Heysel, and at Heysel is where we will see mini Europe and Atomium.
There was a small walk to Mini Europe and Atomium. Atomium was in sight from the top of the Arc, once you see the pictures you’ll understand why. Now it was even closer. As we kept walking towards our two points of interest we noticed there were other small amusements similar to the Mini Euroupe. There were pictures of mini Europe and I started to reconsider whether or not it was going to be worth the hype I was on about it. It looked a bit more “mini” than I expected.

We had to walk through a row of themed restaurants and eateries much alike to what you would see in an amusment park. There was Greek, Italian, Oriental, and American. They smelled fantastic, but we knew the price for value would be ridiculous. After a bit of debate over mini Europe we decided if it was a decent price we’d do it… Guess what? It wasn’t, and we didn’t. On our way back through all the food shops we decided to split a Pannini. It was so worth every euro. (A delicious Parma and mozzarella pannini that was crisp and warm and oozing with fresh melty mozz.)
From here we went on to Atomium. After Kyle got us in for €12 as students we waited in what seemed to be the longest queue ever. Because we had gotten there close to closing time, they were making everyone wait in the same queue to take the lift all the way up to the highest point on Atomium so that they could close that ball up first and work there way down the structure.  When it came to our turn we got on the lift and it sped is straight up to the top. The views atop the Atomium were fantastic, this is how I imagine the Empire State Building but enclosed into a ball. We wandered around the top for a bit, snapping pictures and again looking at Brussels from an overlooking view. As we went from window to window we spotted many different things, one that was good in particular was Mini Europe, we were so relieved we didnt waste twenty euro on bite sized fun. From Atomium we identified as many of the familiar European statues, moumens and other famous sites as we could.  After about 10 minutes, we decided to head back down and venture out to some of the other balls in Atomium. These balls had different exhibits inside them, mostly explaining the History of Atomium, we didnt spend too much time soaking to much of that in.. after a few balls, we’d had enough and were just trying to figure out how to get out of there, after all it was a gorgeous day outside and getting quite hot inside Atomiums balls!

Just to give you a brief sum on what exactly Atomium is, it was originally intended to be an exhibition ro represent Belgium at the Universal Exhibition in 1958. it was designed by engineer Adre Waterkeyn and it symbolizes an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. There are nine large speres connected by 20 tubes and are standing on three enormous bipods and dominate with the height of 102 meters. The nine large spheres which are joined by tubes to comprise the Atomium, are arranged in the configuration of of a central cubic stystem. The World Fair of Brussels in 1958 (only 3 days long) recieved more than 42 million visitors. It was the first large world fair of the post-war period. This fair, generally called EXPO 58, was undoubtedly one of the most represtative international events of the fifties.  The Atomium was not inteded to survive the Exhibition of 1958. Its popularity and success is what has made it a major landmark on the Burssels skyline. (All of this info was taken from the leaflet I picked up while visiting Atomium.)

Our last destination for this quick weekend trip was Grand Place. This was the City Centre of Brussels, and here we would have some food, see some more amazing European architect, and hopefully find Belgian chocolates and Belgian beer! A friend of mine who has been to Brussels reccommended we stop at a pub in this area called Delirium which has over 2500 beers. We made our way back to the metro and to our last stop for the day De Brouckere. After a bit of debate on which way to go to make it to the Grand Place, we were in no time there. There were several little alley ways with shops and pubs and restaurants all that lead into and out of this massive central area. It was almost like a huge square completely surrounded by gorgeous buildings such as Place des Martyrs, The Grand-Place (Town Hall) and a few others as well. It was quite a happening spot, people were just hanging out, sitting and talking or taking pictures, mostly just enjoying their Sunday as were we. It was here that we walked by a window full of Chocolates, a place called Pralines Leonida, we slid in and for a few moments just admired the little chocolatey creations, trying to do our best to read about what yummy goodness they were all packed with. Some with caramel, some vanilla, cherries, liquers, but some much more than that we would soon find out. When decided on which chocolates to try, there was simply no way we could pick, so we asked for a small box of a mix. Apparently a lot of people do that because there was a box already packed up! For just under five euros we enjoyed milk chocolate with truffle and grand marnier, dark chocolate with praline and cream, and our favorite white chocolate tiramisu, among many others.

We were extremely hungry with only half a pannini and a few decadent chocolates to tie us over so we went to find food. After a bit of wandering and checking out all of the options we landed in a row of Greek restaurants. It has been a long time since I have had a delicious gyro, and those who know me know I love gyros. I can’t seem to find a lot of my favorite foods in Manchester, England (crab rangoons, mexican food, gyros) they do have donner kebabs but its just not the same! We decided on a little shop with seats out front called Plaka Place. I ordered a gyro with lamb meat, feta and tazitki sauce, which is exactly how I would have a gyro anywhere! It was so fantastic I actual caught myself saying “mmm” after every bite, actually just writing about it now makes my mouth water. You will be surprised to know there is no picture of this gyro!

After our belly’s were full, we went on to find Delirium. The conceirge at our hotel had told us it was a bit off the path, so we knew to expect a bit of a wander. It wasn’t long after we found the pub, which actually reminded us a lot of the coffee shops in Amsterdam. We went in and went straight to the bar. Knowing the place has over 2500 beers, Kyle asked for a beer menu and with a smile he was handed a book full of beers. A few flips through the pages and we decided just to tell the bartender what we liked and have him surprise us with something of the sort. We were both happy with the end result.  We sat down and just relaxed enjoying our Belgian beers that I can’t even name or pronounce. There was something great about this place, the relaxing vibe (bob marley playing) the laid back atmosphere (people just hanging out) and the bar’s bar of decor (beer bottles, mugs, trays, signs hanging EVERYWHERE.) We noticed a beer tray above us hanging on the ceiling that read “New Belgium Brewery Colorado” I immediately got overly excited. I know I’m in Belgium and should enjoy that I am having an actual Belgian beer, but when you become and ex-pat and go without, things you miss are just as exciting. I would have loved to enjoy and New Belgium Skinny Dip, my favorite beer for the summer season, thanks to good ol’ Beer and Loathing in Dundee! They didn’t have any, but they did advise Kyle that in their lower bar they had all the bottle beer and there they had some American beers. We decided to go down and check it out. They had a few such as Left Hand, Flying Dog, and Budweiser of course, but no nothing we missed or couldn’t live without.

We headed back to our hotel to just unwind for a bit and with intentions of possibly going out again later. After laying down and watching some CNN we decided to just stay in and watch a movie. We got up the next morning enjoyed the breakfast buffet one more time and then it was soon time to catch a bus back to Charleroi Airport. The bus ride was much better at one in the afternoon.

All in all, Brussels was fantastic. A much needed city break for us. It was so relaxing and easy going, the weather was a big factor and I’m so thankful it was as beautiful out as it was. We saw everything we wanted to see in pretty much one day and only spent about forty euros, but the trip was about two days and two nights and lots of rest and relaxation.  Not bad and all food, fun, flights and hotel for about $250.00

Next up, PARIS!

See you soon!

Comfort Food

February 5, 2009

When moving anywhere, I would imagine, there are certain things you wouldn’t think you’d miss but do. It may a favorite radio station (106.9 The City – when I went away to UNL), or particular conveniences (The Dodge Experssway). When moving continents, those disparities can be much larger.

For us, it has been food.

In the early days it was Velveeta that we missed the most, then various flavors of Pop Tarts, I like “Brown Sugar Cinnamon”. Then maple syrup which can get here but in much smaller bottles with poorer quality and a price tag about seven times as high. Hot dogs come in cans and bottles, and there is no Bud Light or Mountain Dew to be found. When co-workers would go back to the states some people wanted Ugg boots, others perfume- we wanted shells and cheese.

When we came home from the states we had half a suitcase devoted to Captain Crunch, Mrs.Butterworth and Catalina dressing. We became the expatriates we didn’t want to be. We wanted to have a full assimilation but it just wasn’t in the cards.

When we were back in the Heartland, those old haunts we used to take for granted and craved so dearly became our highest priority. One for me in particular, was the Milwaukee Weiner House in Sioux City, Iowa.

Growing up, this was my grandfather’s favorite place to eat. Truly the best hot dogs west of Chicago. It was more than just the double dogs loaded with coney chili, mustard, onion, and shredded cheese, or the milkshakes served in thick tall glasses that are rediscent of a time before mine. The shop is a long classic cafe serving only hot dogs, chilli, and loosemeat sandwiches but they pack the house everyday. It’s a classic midwestern treat, the kind of place presidential candidates stop during the primaries to better connect with the common man.

While I was home my father and my brother and I took the two hour trip to Sioux City to pick up my grandmother and it couldn’t have been complete without a stop. We stood in line for about ten minutes and we were lucky as it soon wrapped around the building.

The dogs are cooked on two flat grills near the windows at the front of the store. There are then at least one of two men and usually both that have become very familiar faces. They look strikingly like their fathers who opened the place together in the 50s and now its their shop. Gus and Tom knew my grandfather as he was so regular a visitor and were always very kind to us.

When it was our turn in line, we ordered each with our own preferences that started when our grandparents would take us there in the summer, and amazingly still they held true today. We found a table and ate our lunch, just the three of us. Those hot dogs are worth four hours roundtrip. But more than that was my 90 year old grandmother that we brought home for Christmas.

And after all the amazing foods that you miss, sometimes what you miss the most isn’t the cafe or the milkshake spilling over the tin and onto the table. It’s seeing your family more than it ever was before as your wife gives you grandmother a kiss on the cheek.

A Whole New England

February 3, 2009

When we left Manchester the last time we had Omaha on our minds. It was less like leaving home and more like going there. Especially for myself. Carly had been back in the states for nearly three weeks already, sending pictures of people I wanted to see, eating all the comfort foods I salivated for back in our quiet dark flat eating cereal for dinner and a diet coke for breakfast.

In all my travels, this was the first time I would ever take myself to the airport. I got myself up early and turned everything off in the flat and it left it dark and silent. I rolled my bags down to the train station, boarded, found myself a chair with a table and opened the Metro for the last time for awhile.

More on the flight home, our trip, Christmas and Chicago to come later.

When we came back, it took a bit of adjusting, but it was different. England was bit more like home. Still wide eyed and bushy tailed to take in all of the experiences but now with a bit more savvy and understanding of what things should cost and what to expect. There are things we now accept as simply the “British Way” and other areas wherenwe know they were taking us for a bit of a ride. No longer tourists, Manchester feels a bit more comfortable now and we’re simply not bothered with the distractions on the street and the regulars flogging their services we were formerly too polite to shun.

The tram still shreiks as it comes around the corner from Victoria Station to Market Street. Something is different though now. I found myself missing chips while I was gone and crumpets for breakfast. The TV that we once loathed was now something longer for. And while it was wonderful spending time with friends and family, I missed cooking with my wife and Saturday mornings in the market.

As opposed to just flying out from England to see everywhere else in Europe now we want to see Brighton, Glasgow and the Isle of Man.

It was nice to go travelin’… but it’s so much nicer to come home.

Business Class

February 3, 2009

The ride to the airport was quiet and relaxed, still. It was an uneventful train ride out of the city and to the airport. As a form of habit I always wear a sport coat when I am flying for two reasons. One, it is easier to keep me travel documents at hand and secondly, it saves me having to pack it is my bags and undoubtedly wrinkled upon arrival. Today was no exception.

I stood in line at check-in for a solid 45 minutes and found myself third from last in line. The days ahead of my flight I discovered that coach, where my ticket was purchased for was “at least 100% full” meaning it was likely overbooked.

I made small talk in line with an architectural engineer from Kansas that was as eager to get home as I was.

I made my way to the front and noticed a sign offering a “special deal on business class today”. When I asked Anita about this and gave her my frequent flier number she said that it was only £515 or about $765 to upgrade to the front of the plane. I considered using some miles but in the end I told her no, it was too steep, but I would put myself at the top if the list for a bump and a voucher or a reroute through London. I was considering the possability of taking a couple of hundred pounds in American Airlines vouchers and going home just to fly out the next day.

I put my bags on the conveyer and she put the hand tags on but this time they were orange instead of white with the label “priority”. I asked her why they were different and she handed me my boarding pass and let me know she upgraded me to Business Class free of charge.

I was elated. I have never flown in Business Class or First Class in my life.

I thanked her and headed towards security and noticed there were two lanes, one for “preferred” and airline crews and the other for everyone else. I selected the shorter line naturally.

After breezing through secuirty I took my time getting to the gate, stopping off to pick up some items from Duty Free and then heading to the gate. When I approached the gate they announced business class was free to board and I walked right up to the ticket takers and onto the plane.

On this particular aircraft business and first classes are the same. A stewardess came by and collected my coat and offered me a glass of champaigne which I gladly accepted. I removed the douvet from my lay-flat seat and made myself comfortable. The gentleman seated next to me was friendly and a regular traveller. He went to change in the restroom into more comfortable clothes and left his receipt on an adjoining armrest. He paid nearly $5000 for the same seat.

Once airborne, I reclined my automatic seat into the first position, kicking out a foot rest, reclining me 30 degrees.

Airplane Food

Usually food on an airplane is disgusting and considered in the culinary world to be just above death warmed up. But not in business class.

The apertíf was fresh buffalo mozzerella dollops and spicy Italian peppers.

The starter consisted of fish three ways, haddock in a light lemon sauce, a filet of salmon, and a mesquite grilled prawn served with warm ciabatta, olive oil and a tarter sauce on the side.

There was an optional house or caeser salad which I declined.

The choice was varied, but I chose a British classic for my entrée. A minced beef pie. It was lovely and filling.

I hardly had room when the dessert cart came around, but Ben and Jerry’s and choice of sundae toppings was irresistable. I chose hot fudge over caramel or fresh fruit compote. Of course a Baileys nightcap concluded things before nodding off during the eight and a half hour journey home.

I watched The Dark Night and I Am Legend in between naps and snacks. I also tried reclining the seat into a lay flat bed which was not truly lay flat as it stayed at about a 10 degree slope but it was still plenty of room to stretch out and just put in the provided Bose noise cancelling headphones.

My snack before landing was the best BBQ beef sandwich I have ever had. Perhaps that’s because I simply have not yet had truly amazing BBQ (doubtful for a Nebraska boy) or it could have simply been superior; I choose to believe the latter. Warm oatmeal cookies and milk followed this and quick couple Zzzs before we touched down a bit late in Chicago.

If you’re wondering whether it is worth it to upgrade on a flight like this, the answer is no – not at $750. But this goes to show that if you don’t ask for it you won’t get it and sometimes it’s just as simple as asking.

FLAT 29 Our New Home

November 20, 2008

Hey all!

Just wanted to post up the pictures of our flat so you can see how we are living 🙂

If you read Kyle’s post “Homeless, Illegal Immigrants” you will see that The Lighthouse, was one of the developments we were looking at from the start. For those of you who don’t already know we did land a flat in The Lighthouse. We are on the 5th Floor (Technically the 6th, The Brits count 0) in Flat 29. (Amanda’s favorite number!)

Here are some pictures…ENJOY 

CJ

 

La Vallete Resort- A luxurious experience.

November 11, 2008

 

So maybe this isn’t exactly how I pictured I’d be writing about Malta. I assumed that if I was going to write about this beautiful escape I would do so while I was there. This is not the case. I suppose I could say I didn’t have much motivation to write much while in Malta. Although I did keep saying that I wanted to write all about what we saw. Luckily we took loads of pictures.

 

So here I am almost 10 p.m. sitting in our bed this Tuesday almost two months after our trip to Malta. I am over due for some major blogging. I guess you could say I have been having some difficulty working up this kind of motivation. Sad really. Anyway you’ll hear all about that later. For now, let me take you to a beautiful island getaway.  A holiday, our honeymoon, and a place I am so eager to get back to. Malta….

We arrived safely in Malta on Wednesday. I was so nervous about the flight. I guess it was because it was a longer one and I had been feeling scattered because of our bags and the chaos with living in the Sachas Hotel prior. When we touched down in Malta I remember exhaling. Excited about this adventure and time to relax in the sun on this oasis together. I didn’t know much about this Island really, other than its geographical location on a map. And even its geographical location I was unaware of until we were picking a spot to honeymoon.

From the airport we had to find a taxi stand. This was not a hard feat. The feat itself was figuring out where our hotel was and what it was called. Can you believe that? My husband, Kyle Stewart himself, Mr. Organized Dossier did not print off the itinerary ( I understand I am just as guilty, but these things aren’t really expected of me anyway.) I’ll say it again no itinerary, no laminations or bound book of our tickets and lodging accommodations… nothing. However, after piecing together some words we remembered from the booking and a slight knowledge of which side of the island we were staying on we eventually made it to our destination.

Ah! La Vallette Resort! Doesn’t that sound plush and expensive? I thought so, as I’m sure many other fooled guests did. I can’t believe they are legally allowed to call themselves a resort. Let’s think about his a minute…

 

Re*sort n 1.  A place that is popular for recreation and vacations and provides accommodations and entertainment.

 

Popular? By whom, I wonder, theses standards are set. The location was popular, and the “resort” was located in a great spot. I will give it that. The sight from our balcony was absolutely priceless and for that reason alone we stayed. As for accommodations that is disputable. We did have beds, (four to be exact) two singles separated by a nightstand and a set of bunk beds. We did have a kitchenette which we did not request and really at times was handy to store our liters of coca cola. But other than that, the water at this hotel was not potable, so the sink was of no use to us and potentially made us sick. Lastly there was a bathroom, equipped with a toilet that would flush on about every other visit. A sink with harmful water and a bar of soap, and a tub with a hand held showering device and huge water heater in tact but no shower curtain or shampoo and a small colony of ants.  Now this was just our room…which was the most deluxe room you can have at La Vallete. Believe me, we tried switching and the other options were far worse. As for accommodating at the check in counter that is a subject Kyle would be perfect at telling. He loves bad customer service stories. The reception workers were so annoyed any time you approached the counter. It so rudely interrupted them from the intense FIFA games (soccer) they had going on their Play Station 2. When they weren’t playing video games they were not giving us wake up calls that we had set. Not just once but multiple times. It was an art they had developed, The Art of NOT calling to wake up room  7070.  I can’t explain how horrible the service was, I will tell you this it was even worse than the English Breakfast Buffet they offered in their sister resort next door. Which brings me to the end of the argument, the entertainment to be a resort. Well, our “resort” didn’t even have a restaurant, room service a place to hold breakfast, no bar, no events or happenings offered here… Oh wait, the pool? We did try the pool once until we realized they must fill it with ice overnight to get it to the point of frigid it is at. The pool was unsuccessful but I guess if we have no other standards that could be considered entertainment. Or maybe we could consider the outdoor club that was directly below our room seven stories down that played their horrible American disco/easy listening music as loud as possible from dinnertime until about 2 a.m. Even if there was nobody there. And believe me we always looked over our balcony to discoverno one was there. I guess that’s my argument for “resort.” When I see “Resort” I expect ratings of at least five stars, a friendly staff, services, events, people who actually enjoy staying in the hotel as much as wandering off outside the hotel. Oh.. Hotel? Could La Vallette be a hotel?

Lets see…

Ho*tel  n  1.  A building or commercial establishment where people pay for lodging, and where meals and other facilities such as conference rooms are often available.

 

Well it was in fact a building and we did pay for the room we stayed in. there was a meal provided but it was not in our hotel and it was only enjoyable if you pretended you were a prisoner who was made to eat such awful food. The other facility I suppose would be the pool and there were definitely no other rooms such as conference rooms available. However, this is much closer.

La Vallette Hotel. But let’s just try one more

 

Hos*tel   n  1.  See youth hostel

2.    an inexpensive inn or place of lodging.

Yep, that’s it!

La Vallette Hostel. Now I must say it was more expensive than most hostels but this would probably be because they do have private rooms and personal bathrooms (most hostels have numerous beds in a room and you could be with strangers and usually have bathrooms/ showers on the floor but again more “locker room” type. Not a bad way to save money especially on Euro trips that involve lots of sight seeing and minimal sleeping.) However, had we known La Vallete would be more of a “hostel” instead of a “resort” we probably would have picked somewhere else for our honeymoon.

I understand I went on about the unattractive lodging situation we were in (still other than our view!) but it is quite imperative you know.

As we dropped our bags in our room and assessed the living quarters, I sat down at the edge of one of our four beds and started to cry. This was not the scene I had pictured for our honeymoon. After Kyle calmed me down and told me we would look at other rooms we headed out for a meal. We were both quite jet lagged and hungry.

We started to walk the streets of Malta and discover as much as we could for the rest of the day. It was a beautiful island. The beaches are not sand they are solid rock. The houses were built up in buildings and high on the streets. The water was clear and perfect. If you are unaware Malta is on the Medeterranian Sea. We discovered small brightly colored fisherman boats and huge million dollar yachts. It was amazing to take all of this in, and quite a relief away from the hotel. We discovered back streets and side streets that looked like small Italian Villas on every side. It was old city meets new city. I instantly loved it. That first night we ate close to our hotel in Pace Ville (Pa-Chey-Ville) a highly popular area, lots of dining, clubs, shopping, bars…everything right there. We ate at a lovely spot called Estillo. There were many parts to this place, we ate outside, which was a very large area that was enclosed by three bars and the indoor facility, on the patio there were waterfalls, lots of lush green plants and lights that would change colors. It was beautiful. Estillo had many parts to it, the bars, upstairs area, the restaurant and a Hotel, or probably closer to a Resort. I ate the swordfish fillets, salad, and jacket (potato), and Kyle had the Bolognese. The food was quite good, but just wait it gets so much better!

After our long dinner and a bottle of wine, we retired back to our four-bed room and slept some much needed jet lag sleep.

This was Malta Wednesday.

I promise I wont be as long with Malta Thursday! (Not as much to dispute)

Thanks for reading

Love

CJ

 

A quick night out in Deansgate

September 22, 2008

The Locks

Just a quick post with some pictures of our night out in Deansgate.  Deansgate Locks are kind of an upscale group of bars built right on top of the canal and the bars are a little more chic than what you might find in Omaha, but the same types of people go there that you’d find in the states.  We try and avoid “chin straps” so we may have to avoid the Locks, but it was a fun new experience regardless.  Here are just a couple of pictures from our night out.  

 

The Bar was called Pitcher and Piano

The Bar was called Pitcher and Piano

Procrastination, Something some of us have a true art for.

September 22, 2008

And this one is called:

Procrastination, Something some of us have a true art for.

 

As we lie around our room in the Sachas Hotel Tuesday night, wandering through pictures, checking Facebook and milling through ads for flats in superior locations, I glance up to notice the time. It’s almost midnight Manchester time. As I look around our room and assess the damage that most of our friends on Skype got a glimpse of, I think to myself that this could all be easily picked up and packed away in a measly thirty minutes, tops. Right? I think this is a good time to let you know that Kyle and I are notorious procrastinators. Now I must add we intended to pick up and pack up Monday and store our bags at InfoUK Tuesday morning when Ky had his meet and greet with some of his new co-workers. Conveniently the Sachas agreed to store our bags while we were away for our honeymoon and would have them waiting for us upon our arrival back to Manchester. If we did that the only headache we would have would be packing and hauling all 9 bags down six flights of stairs. Unless of course in one more 24hour period of time in some miraculous manner our ultra not so modern inn would have the lifts up and working like new. (Probably not). Of course as you can imagine Kyle and I were more than please to be able to put the packing off as long as possible. So still as of midnight Tuesday with about four hours to departing our hotel, we still thought we had “loads of time.” 

            After Kyle and I ordered some pizzas, chicken nuggets and a kebab, we really started to think about how we needed to pack soon. This was still the thinking phase though. We definitely had a few hours and probably only needed about one of those to pack. When our hunger is satisfied and we can’t force the last of the bad take out into our mouths, we clean our work areas and decide to start the packing madness. Of the 9 bags they mostly consist of all of our clothes, which have been packed into vacuum sealed “Space Bags.”  Those were handy when we were forcing all of our belongings into bags in the states.  They work a lot better with a vacuum. Had we not procrastinated packing for our big Move and maybe not have had the madness of Wedding planning and participating, we may have been more organized in our “Space Bag” packing prior. For instance, maybe we would have left things out for our honeymoon, or better yet put things into the same bag that we’d like to have to wear when we arrive to Manchester. Or how about clothes to wear on the plane just that following day…

 

(To Be Continued…)

Homeless, Illeagal Immigrants

September 20, 2008

Right from under our noses

 

As most of you know we have had some problems securing a flat.  There are two major factors that are really causing us problems in securing a flat in a large city with plenty of apartments.  The first is the “credit crunch”.  Much like in the United States, although on about a year and a half delay, ridiculous mortgages that were sold at a variable rate are causing foreclosures now that those rates have increased.  This forces residents who would typically own a home into renting as well as those who are looking to buy a home now into a tougher time in securing an acceptable rate and monthly payment also forcing them into flats.  The other factor is that Manchester is home to the flats for the upcoming terms.  The market is cut rate and fierce, some are paying over list most universities and university students who are just about in session and now looking for when typically you would be able to pay considerably less than list for a flat. 

 

That being said…

 

Here are some pictures and tales of places we have viewed and would have like to have secured but failed to.

 

China House, asking price £1000/pcm (per calendar month) furnished

 

Set just two blocks from Piccadilly Station (highly central location), this unique property was a little smaller than we’d like.  We felt very crowded in this two bed, two bath unit, but some of the highlights are as follows.  High ceilings, big windows, and an obscure storage loft (no taller than three feet) that overlooks the living room would have been a nice spot for little nieces and nephews.  The problems were lack of closet space, lack of space in general, and the price was prohibitive at £1000/month.  We were told when we viewed it that 20 minutes before an offer had been placed, and as this was the first place we had looked, it was too expensive, and we weren’t comfortable getting into a bidding war when it was already out of our budget.  The streets leading to the property were fine, but not well lit and would have been uncomfortable for both Carly and myself to walk home alone at night.  We did, however, later find out that the offer made was only £875, we would have maxed out at £850 for this property but the offer was denied anyway as the landlord is holding out for £950 and in this market he can.  This property is still available.

http://www.kingsturge.co.uk/property/china-house_harter-street_manchester_080908044517.htm

 

Market Building, asking price £750pcm furnished

 

A conversion, this one sits in the heart of the Northern Quarter.  It is just outside of the city center but offers a cool environment of niche restaurants and bars, the top four in the entire city are within two blocks, and another two blocks and you are in Piccadilly Gardens or Deansgate.  It looked over a communal gated courtyard that used to be the old fish market and was a conversion with an older exterior, a quiet single entrance from the street, and had great views of stained copper rooftops of buildings older than America.  This flat was beautiful, it just came onto the market that day and it was available immediately.  We both said we liked it when we looked at it at 3pm but wanted to see the other properties we had lined up (four viewings that afternoon).  By 5:30 (closing time for the estate company) it had been taken.  Still our overall favorite so much so, that the next morning at open, we called to bid £50/month over asking price to try and steal it away.  We failed.

 

Lighthouse, asking price £750pcm unfurnished, £800 furnished

 

We originally tried to get this flat because it was right across the street from our current hotel that is less than a half block away from Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street.  We called them on Sunday, they returned our call on Wednesday when we got to Malta.  By that time we had actually viewed it with one of our many estate agents and we found it to be small, but a competitive choice.  After several had fallen through we finally came back to this one money in hand, only to find that the landlord decided she wanted to let it unfurnished only.  We looked at a number of alternatives but at the end of the day, furnishing a flat at £3000 was our only option so we were reduced to gravelling.  We are still waiting to hear back on it.  It is a great location, and the price is right.  It is a two bed one bath flat with an entirely separate room for the kitchen that we both really liked.  The balcony doesn’t have the greatest view and is uncovered, but a sturdy umbrella would fix that problem.  In the end, without being able to view any other flats this is our leading offer right now, if she changes her mind back to the original plan and chooses to furnish the flat. 

 

Vulcan Mill, asking price £675 furnished

 

This was an interesting experience.  We went to view this at 7pm when one of our estate agents, Wesley, had gotten off of work since he actually lived in this property.  We walked up to find Wesley with two other couples and a single female.  By the time we all got up to the flat, Wesley gave a courtesy knock as he put in the key.  The door opened and a startled, burly man answered the door.  He said it was not ready to be viewed and that he knew of no such appointment.  By the time he finished this sentence, we were the only ones standing there with Wesley.  He agreed to let us in but only after “ten minutes” of light cleaning. 

 

We made small talk with Wesley and 30 minutes later, out pops the man who mentions he’d like to “have a word” with Wesley.  We walk in to find a really attractive flat with high ceilings, original brickwork, and plenty of space.  The apartment was in such terrible disarray that we didn’t bother taking pictures. 

 

The way we had arrived from Piccadilly Gardens, “a ten minute walk” took us a brisk 25.  We tried an alternative route home that Wesley ensured us was five minutes from the first pub and only ten to the city center.  Neither were accurate and at the end of the day, it was just further out from the city than we wanted to be.  If nothing else works out this is a last ditch effort, as it is not so far out that it could be considered suburbs, but only if all else fails.

 

Islington Warf, asking price £850 furnished

 

Across the street from Vulcan Mills is a very modern and attractive high rise with floor to ceiling windows, two beds and two baths.  We didn’t bother to visit this one as it was just to far away from where we wanted to be and for much less money we could be across the street in a conversion with similar space and specs. 

 

113 Newton Street AKA “Dirty Needles”, asking price £675 furnished

 

This flat could have been promising.  The neighborhood was Northern Quarter, just a couple of blocks from Piccadilly Gardens again, and really close to Sunshine Studios, a dance studio Carly might want work with once she has a visa.  Two bed, one bath, wood floors throughout, no balcony, secured access from the ground.  It had just come available and had not been cleaned yet so we wanted to see it right away even though we knew it would be messy.  We walked through and it was a disaster.  It’s crazy to think people actually live like that.  The covering on the couch had been ripped off and when we asked if that would be replaced he said he’d have to talk to the landlord.  The rest of the flat looked like we would come across dirty needles at any point.  We decided that we would rather leave England with a question mark in the flat situation rather than try and make that our home.  I’m certain Carly will have interesting remarks regarding Newton Street.