july trip flights & hotel

I talked to Mum and Sis and they both said I should go to the conference in July. So I got my travel agent to check flights. I want to fly to DC, then on the way back stopover at NYC. Very interesting results.

Option 1
The easiest option, book everything through CX: DCA via JFK, with stopover at NYC = $1,872

Option 2
There’s a CX special offer to JFK only, ending today = $960
I have to book JFK to DCA separately myself. I looked through kayak, expedia, trivago and found AA flight = $323 (with one checked luggage)
The flight to JFK arrives at 10.40pm so I’ll have to stay overnight at a hotel in the JFK area, cheapest = $110

Total = $1,393

Definitely cheaper taking option 2 even though travel time is much longer. It’s worth it, I haven’t seen flights to the US cheaper than $1,000 in high season for a long time.

airbnbnyc

Looking at NYC hotel for 6 nights. Wow, anything halfway decent is expensive, even the chains are at $200 a night. Plus tax it works out to be $240. More affordable options on airbnb, although most are over $150 a night in Manhattan. Found this one for $139, including fees works out to be $167. The pics look nice, there are good reviews and it’s a studio which will be fine for me. And yes, I’m a creature of habit, I picked this one because of the location on 88th between 1st and 2nd. It’s been over a decade but it’s still near enough to 96th and 3rd that I feel comfortable with the area.

So even before leaving I’m at almost $3000 for just flights and hotels. Then add on food, transportation, spending money. Sigh, it’d better be a good conference and trip.

29-apr

Had to go to the Treasury department to sort out Papa’s pension and to activate Mum’s pension. The staff there were helpful and sympathetic; who says civil servants are all automations.

Mum was having her hair done so we met up at the small market for a quick dinner. Originally wanted noodles but ended up having dim sum for dinner.

Still trying to keep busy. It’s starting to sink in. I keep thinking Papa’s just gone to the library and he’ll be back later. The hole in my heart grows bigger and deeper.

eggwaffleicecream

Completely random change of topic, here’s something I spotted. The ubiquitious street food, egg waffle, transformed into a hipster dessert. Instead of the usual waffle cone, it’s egg waffle with ice cream. Actually it’s a good idea.

6 syngenta shares

syngentatender

So apparently I hold a grand total of 6 shares of Syngenta AG, the world’s largest crop chemical producer. I’m guessing, since the company was formed as a result of a merger between Novartis and Zeneca Agrochemicals, that somehow I got the shares by way of Astra when Astra merged with one of the former ICI companies to form AstraZeneca.

Why are the 6 shares relevant now? I got a 8-page letter from UBS telling me that this company CNAC Saturn (NL) B.V. has offered to purchase all outstanding registered shares of Syngenta AG, ie this CNAC wants to buy Syngenta.

There’s not a lot of googlable information. The best is on Syngenta‘s own website:

  • cash offer at US$465 per share plus special dividend of CHF5
  • proposed ordinary dividend of CHF11 to be paid in addition
  • offer equivalent to CHF480 per share
  • new shareholder will enable strategic continuity and long-term investment in innovation
  • future IPO intended
  • Syngenta will remain a global company headquartered in Switzerland

Does it mean I’ll get over US$2,000 for just 6 shares? I guess so, right? Wow. I’m not sure if I chose the right option, to take the tender in dollars rather than CHF. The offer is in USD, and since the news was announced, USD-CHF rates have fluctuated significantly, wiping billions off what the Swiss shareholders would receive. Yeah, I think it was best, to receive payment in the currency they are buying at. The question is, how will UBS handle the dollars? IIRC, my bog-standard personal account is not multi-currency. I only kept it so I can claim I have a Swiss bank account, albeit it’s the Switzerland equivalent of having a Lloyds or BoA account. Oh wait, I have those too.

errands for myself

Half day to take care of my own stuff.

Met my FA to sign some more forms. She treated me to peppermint tea and we talked about finances and her upcoming pilgrimage trip to Italy. I gave her some tips on Vatican and Assisi: staying at retreat houses, how to apply for Vatican tickets, what to do in Assisi etc.

bp201604

Routine doc visit to check blood pressure. Ever since she got me started on medication the numbers have been good. Unfortunately I have to continue, I thought it may be possible to stop and only take it when necessary. Anyway, will continue to monitor.

Went over to uni to meet mm for tea. There’s a vegetarian place on campus that has a tea set. We’re both under a lot of stress and haven’t been as supportive as the other would like. It was nice to chat and we need to make time for each other.

Home to pick up mail. From the curtain placement, looks like the estate agent has brought people around to view, but no interest yet.

26-apr

Met up with sis to go to the probate registry. Looking at the website there are tons of forms to be completed, with names like A1.1a, B1.2b etc. Not clear on which forms we need. The officer at the enquiries counter was efficient though, she went through a checklist of questions for us, inspected the documents we brought and printed out the necessary forms for us. Return appointment is in July so we have time to gather up all the information. From what I can gather, the probate process may take weeks to months after that.

cannyroastlamb

For lunch we went to the Scottish pub and had the set lunch of salad, roast and ice cream. Roast of the day was lamb. A bit too fatty but came with lots of gravy. We both went through 3 rounds of drinks, sis had wine and I had a Scottish stout.

24-apr

maison075chain

Got to the undertaker’s shop at noon, gave them Papa’s clothes. Sis and G made a treasure box of his favourite things, wrote a few notes. I added a model plane and a miniature bottle of Royal Salute. Sis brought a beautiful bouquet of roses and sunflowers. We didn’t opt for a service or rented a hall so it was just immediate family: us three, R, Papa’s older brother+his helper, Mum’s brother and sister-in-law. Oh, mm came too, bless her. Nine of us piled inside a large coach to follow the van. Very quick ceremony, we all said our own prayers. Then it was time to say goodbye.

Late lunch with everyone at a nice restaurant Mum picked. The coach brought us straight there, the heavens opened up when we arrived so we got soaked. It was a good lunch.

Honestly, I’m still in shock and numb. Going through daily motions. Looking after Mum and the household.

23-apr

rosary

Didn’t do a whole lot. Stayed home. Packed clothes for Papa.

Weather is unpredictable. One minute the sun is out, then suddenly the sky grows completely dark and heavy showers arrive. It’s as if even the weather is feeling sad for us.

Praying the rosary every day. Sometimes at night before bed, sometimes during the day when I’m going other things. Like I was cooking dinner and doing through the decades whilst waiting for the veg to cook.

running20160422

running20160422

5.25km 43.41min 8.19min/km

Small steps. Most of the run was in the rain,;not heavy enough to bother me as I had a hat but heavy enough to make puddles on the path. The last 400m or so I heard incoming thunder so I got out of the park asap. Went inside: market, had my glasses fixed, shuttle bus home.

Chicago marathon application just closed; Brighton and Paris marathon applications are still open. London is this weekend so applications will likely open soon. Sigh. Not sure if I should run one more marathon or give up and switch to halfs.

Get back to running regularly and building base first. Plus I’ve probably lost close to half a stone in a month. It’s a good thing, losing the weight. Now need to build up fitness. Keep healthy. Small steps.

travel insurance claim

triprefund201604

I went to the travel agent to pick up their letter to confirm we cancelled our trip. The flight+hotel package was non-refundable so I have to claim through travel insurance. This was the biggest expenditure on the trip and the largest forfeited amount.

Even though I opted for prepay, which meant I could cancel but needed to pay a £40 admin fee, Avis refunded my entire car rental in full. Airbnb in France refunded less admin fee (which I won’t bother claiming). Airbnb in the UK refunded only 50% so I’ll claim the rest.

Brittany ferries refunded all except £35 deposit. But I couldn’t find any receipt or documentation. Ah well, it’s a small amount.

Lots of paperwork. A 4-page form and they also asked for everything under the sun. Insurance policy, receipts, itinerary, refund paperwork as well as medical certs and proof of relationship. I ended up having to type up a list of document to keep things organised. I’m hoping they approve the claim.

write cheque, post letter

letter

When it rains it pours, right. Add to all the sadness and stress lately, the credit card thing is close to tipping me over the edge. The medical insurance I took out last week didn’t go through cos they couldn’t charge my credit card. Because the card is suspended after someone tried to use it at some US restaurant. The only other method of paying is by cheque. Cheque! Looking at my chequebook, the only cheques I write are for management fee. There are very few uses for cheques nowadays.

So everything will be done the old fashioned way. I’ll write a cheque and post it to my FA. Postage rates have gone up and I don’t have the right stamps so I put 2 of the old rate. Then I had to figure out where the nearest postbox is. I remember postal collection used to take place 3-4 times a day, now it’s only once a day. Just to show how much things have changed.

no credit card

creditcardlock

I was trying to pay all the Rates bills (parents’ flat, my flat, grandparents’ shops) that have accumulated online and got an error. Argh. Called card centre and found out there’d been some suspicious activity on my credit card. The bank had wisely rejected those but now the card is suspended. The customer service rep was helpful but a tad inexperienced / robotic, so it was tough to talk to her. Anyway, I’ll have to go to the bank tomorrow to change my address then have them send a new card.

In the meantime, no credit card. I only have one credit card per country, may be I should apply for a spare one.

maison eight restaurant

R is an investor in a new restaurant called maison eight that is a three-in-one food & beverage destination: a huge bar space called the Ballroom including a cocktail bar opened by a celebrity bartender, an intimate French fine dining restaurant and a private function room. Soft opening this week, so we went off to try.

maison002space maison003bar

The bar is definitely huge and swanky, to the point of gaudy. Apparently it can hold 300 people and also has an outdoor terrace with harbour view. Large selection of drinks and specially created cocktails by Salvatore, the celebrity bartender from London. R had a couple of their cocktails, Sis had lychee martini and I had an old fashioned. Nice drinks. The bartender even made a raspberry mocktail for my niece.

maison036duck maison037croquette

The restaurant is small and intimate. Largely French with 4 steaks as mains. I had lamb, sis had lobster, my niece had salmon soufflé and they made a risotto for R. Oh, they started us with 2 amuse bouches: duck and potato & cheese croquettes. We all loved the croquettes.

maison042lamb maison043salmon

My lamb rack was small–must have been a very, very young lamb. Suitably pink with braised vegetables. The salmon soufflé looked good too. The lobster according to sis was nice and suitably puffy when served. R ordered a bottle of wine, but they couldn’t find it, nor the second bottle he ordered. They served us a glass of house wine to tide us over.

maison061baba maison062panna

I had rum baba for dessert, it’s been a while. The other desserts–pannacotta, almond cake–were all good.

I can’t imagine what the bill came to, even with investor discount. Must have been astronomical. Definitely a special occasion place.

#68 new whisky arras cask strength

ldnwhiskyex012casks

Tasks #64-68 of 101.1001 are to try 5 new whiskies. This is the last one.

I finished both the Laphroaig PX and Bunnahabhain Cruach-Mhona. Wanted something to fill my flask that I keep with me on my desk. Decided to open this one that I bought at TWE from their “fill your own bottle” casks.

arraswhisky

It’s a blended whisky called Arras. Cask strength at 54.2%. I can’t find much info on it online, the only pages point to TWE’s own promotion. No tasting notes anywhere I can find either.

Pleasant on the nose, slight sherry sweetness. Not smoky or peaty at all. Since it’s cask strength, I find the first sip fairly strong. Once it settles down, I taste fruitiness: pineapple and citrus primarily. Add a drop of water and the aroma spreads. Reasonably smooth, with more citrus aftertaste. Medium tail.

IIRC it was £40 for 500ml, which puts it in the expensive range, especially for a blend. Worth it, though. TWE obviously select their casks carefully. I may not get this one next time, but I’ll definitely think about their other “fill your own bottle” options.

reading, telling time

My great-aunt in Toronto emailed me to say

take care your MOM and go on with the daily life

so that’s what I will try to do. The overnight beef stew went down a treat, comfort food at its best.

bookwithtime

We both stayed in all day. Mum watching videos on her ipad and me reading. I have plenty of unread books but right now I want to go back to favourites that make me smile. For the first time in a long, long while I grabbed one of the books on my bookshelf instead of reading on the ipad.

Strange feeling, reading a physical book. It’s a grotty day and whenever it starts to rain and gets dark I have to turn on the light as opposed to turning up the brightness. And then I kept glancing up at to the top of the page to check the time and am disappointed to see a blank spot. Of course there is no clock at the top of a page in a paperback. Except if I have some fun with photoshop.

my finances

I’ve been worrying about money. What will Mum and I live on? Do I need to go back to work (ugh)? Do I have to liquidate some assets? First order of business, get my flat on the rental market. The agent says nowadays tenants tend to negotiate hard and there are many time wasters. Sigh, see how it goes.

Saw my FA to sort out medical insurance and to make some tweaks so I’m more comfortable with my position.

finances201604

I haven’t done a total finance calculation for a while so it was time to do one. I’m less worried. I still need to create an income stream so I’m not dipping into my savings and investments constantly.

11-apr

There’s paperwork to be done. Lots of form filling and waiting at government office counters.

Back to hospital to make identification and to arrange transportation to undertaker’s.

To banks to sort out finances. It will be tough in the next few months, as soon as we start the probate process.

08-apr

Supposed to be transferring today but origin hospital not cooperating. Stonewalling and bureaucracy. Harrowing wait all morning and afternoon. Finally Professor T had to call himself. Transfer finally going ahead, I had to sign AMA. Mum and I went by train and taxi to new hospital to get registered. Sis went with ambulance.

Still very precarious. Lots of things wrong and we’re desperate.

Spent the night at hospital waiting room, sleeping on the sofa. We made the right decision.

barkley marathons

This weekend is the barkley marathons. And no, there is no typo, it’s marathons. Barkley is one of the toughest and secretive ultramarathons in the world. 100 miles in the Tennessee wildnerness. Registration, course and even start time are secretive and all up to the organiser Laz. The course is a 20-mile unmarked route,

with no aid stations except water at two points along the route and the runner’s parked car at the beginning of the loop

plus an elevation of over 50,000 accumulated climb. There is a “fun run” at 60 miles, with a time limit of 40hrs. The race itself has a time limit of 60hrs, or 12hrs per loop.

Since its inauguration in 1986 only 15 winners have won. The race mystique was increased this year with the release of a documentary.

rhonda

This year’s race is covered widely on twitter via #bm100. One of the most remarkable runners is Rhonda-Marie Avery, a blind runner who will run with a guide. This is her arriving after completing one loop in 32hrs. She tapped out at one loop but what an achievement.

Edit: the race was won by Jared Campbell, his third finish. What an achievement.

day of paris marathon

pm0k

I’m been switching between local and Paris time occasionally during the day. I was in the last coral, scheduled to depart at 10.35am CET. I was looking at the clock around 20mins before, and felt a small pang of sadness. Then we went to the hospital and there was again an improvement, which immediately took the sadness away.

When we left at the end of visiting hour, it was around 2pm CET, so I was imagining where I would have been. I got home, showered and it was nearing 3.30pm CET. If I were aiming at 5.30, I would have been around 5k from the finish. Realistically, I was probably at around 35-37k. Slowness, tiredness and definitely stopping to take pictures.

pm30k

The official fb page has been posting pics. This is a nice one at 30k, can see part of the Eiffel Tower. They have a nice set showing the glorious day (may be too sunny) and the magnificent city the route takes.

Found a google earth route. I’ve been wondering about what it would be like at the 2 borses. I guess it’s difficult unless you’re there in person.

The women’s race was won by Visiline Jepkesho (Ken) at 2.25.53 and the men’s race by Cybrian Kotut (Ken) at 2.07.11.

ZERO regrets about missing the race.

01-apr

Had to go to the doctor myself today. Almost 1hr wait in a completely full waiting room. It’s good to see how everyone shifted and tried to accommodate everyone else so all of us had a seat. Doc said cough and allergy, gave me scads and scads of medicine. Plus cleared my ears for good measure.

Was at hospital on my own. Tough. We were trying to make sure everyone gets rest. But I think I’ll suggest at least 2 people, or staggered timing.