brexit: what have we done?

In the end, my vote wouldn’t have mattered. Westminster voted 69% for Remain. But that’s where the good news ended. The rest of the UK, outside of London & the Southeast, Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar), mostly voted to Leave.

brexitmap

It’s the biggest event in the UK for several generations. The bbc map and analysis shows a country divided. The analysis also showed that by and large:

  • young people voted Remain; older people voted Leave with the crossover point at around the mid-40s years old, the same age range as our EU membership
  • people with higher degrees voted Remain; non-graduates voted Leave
  • people who self-identified as English voted Leave

I was watching the live results. It was a big shock as constituency after constituency returned Leave. A little respite when the first of the London results came in for Remain, but it was shortlived.

brexitmarket

Even though the European markets were closed, 24/7 trading meant it was possible to see the moment when the world realised Leave was going to win.

brexitfx

The £ dropped to a 30-year low. I’d bought some last week, when it was around 11.01 against local$, and when I checked my bank it was 10.75. Even as I typed in the online order it dropped to 10.62. Texted sis and mm, mm was able to get some at 10.55.

My FA texted. We were going to sell off one of my GBP accounts anyway, and she wanted to put the order in as soon as the markets open. I said it’s the worst time to sell, since there’d be lots of panic selling and the indices will be sure to fall. It’s not like we were desperate for the money. FA was more pessimistic than us, she thinks the markets will fall further. In the end, we set a line, if the drop is less than a certain % then sell, wait and buy back when it’s still cheap. Otherwise sit tight.

If I weren’t flying to the US next weekend for the conference, I would have dragged mm to London so we can go house-hunting. House prices are expected to drop, even though the top end of the property market will probably go up because of the cheap £.

I sound like one of those detested bankers! Taking advantage of a horrible chaos to try to make money.

markets20160624

And chaos it was. I turned on the tv to bloomberg to watch Cameron resign, and the markets go crazy. Interestingly the FTSE-100 only dropped 4% compared with the CAC and DAX. World markets closed for the weekend with red everywhere. One of my uni friends on our whatsapp group joked:

Brexit to be followed by Grexit, Departugal, Italeave, Fruckoff, Czechout, Oustria, Finish, Slovlong, Latervia, Byegium until the EU reaches the state of Germlonely

And still the recriminations continue. I try to understand where the Leave voters were coming from, which boils down to:

if you’ve got money, you vote in; if you haven’t got money, you vote out

It was all voting from the heart, coming from resentment of a government that has failed the entire country whilst lining the coffers of their one-percenter friends. There is no excuse from the government, but let’s vote them out at the next general election and not use the EU referendum as a temper tantrum.

There was a lot fearmongering about immigration too, that the heart listened to. I get it. I saw my own neighbourhood change when I was back in London after more than a decade away and it wasn’t for the better. It’s true, many people who come to the country didn’t bother to assimilate, but Britain is also the country where a hijab-wearing woman whose parents come from Bangladesh can win the most popular baking competition ever and goes on to bake a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. That’s British identity, not Nigel Farage’s stupid poster.

The heart that voted for Brexit didn’t listen to the head and forgot about consequences. How leaving the EU will affect pensions, mortgages, job opportunities, the economy and, closer to home, making their Costa del Sol holiday even more expensive now.

And we’ll have to be British about this. Apologise to the world about the mess we created. Make the best of the situation. Europe already wants us out. Best case scenario, our politicians (and please do NOT elect Boris Johnson) salvage some of the EU benefits and we become like Switzerland or Norway. Worst case scenario…ugh, that’s a bottomless pit.

What have we done?

EU referendum didn’t vote

euballotpaper

Results are starting to come in for the EU referendum. Despite me being a good citizen and registering to vote, I did not get my chance to vote. Why? Because I didn’t get my ballot paper. I have no idea why or what happened. I received a confirmation from Westminster council, which I duly filed away. Then waited and waited and waited. Most info and articles were geared towards people in the UK. It’s hard for people outside to find instructions. I wonder if I should have registered for a proxy vote, but I don’t know anyone in Westminster.

So that was the tactic then? Not send the ballot papers or send it so we get it after the event. I wonder how many of the millions of overseas voters got their voting card on time and had their vote count.

What’s this about #yourvotematters? Clearly mine didn’t matter.

A bit mad, to be honest.

p.s. for the record, Remain.

paris plans, architecture

par037louvre

Flight is booked. Accommodation in France is booked: hotel in Paris, airbnb in Normandy & Brittany. The hotel and flight is part of a package deal that we think is pretty good value. It’s in the Gare St Lazare area and 3 metro stops (15mins) to the start line of the marathon.

We’ll have 3 full days in Paris, in addition to arrival day and race day. I have to spend a few hours going to the expo, then the rest of the time is ours to spend as we like. We’ll hit some touristy spots, Mum wants to go to Versailles and then the rest of the time will be hitting as many markets as we can.

paris016tour paris005sacred

I’m debating whether to bring the big camera or just stick to the small camera. Probably just stick to the small camera, seeing that we only have 20kg. It’ll be good to take pictures of things other than the usual Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe. I have those: 2008 | 2012.

There’s an architectural competition for

environmentally friendly urban designs to transform sites such as public spaces and unloved tower blocks

A nice gallery of some of the winning proposals. A few of them look just like blocks with trees and plants sticking out, if the plants are allowed to fall into disrepair the buildings will probably end up looking like it’s from a zombie apocalypse movie.

pershing

My favourite is Pershing in the 13th, by Architects Sou Fujimoto. The site is just a car park now but the result will be a mix of housing, offices and social facilities. Looks like something from the future. Anyway, there’s no chance to photograph these this time, they are all proposals and drawings. Something to look out for in a future trip.

trip pics and writeup

eutrip083trip

I finally got the trip pics sorted and uploaded. From 3267 I whittled them down to just over 2000 in 10 sets:
holland belgium: lily | almere, naarden, oostvaardersplassen, amsterdam | antwerp, brussels, mechelen
italy: florence | siena | assisi | rome
ireland, uk: dublin, cork, ring of kerry | london | cotswolds

 

If I had to pick just one image from each set. First in our friend’s house I’ll pick one of kaocao, her cat, who was instrumental in bringing us close together and a great little cat to boot:
lily053kaocao

Holland will be Oostvaardersplassen nature reserve, it made me want to move to Holland to enjoy the wildlife and running paths:
ams136oosttree

Belgium will be the strangely cosy café at Het Steen, especially after hearing the story of the tyrannical prince who lived there:
ant014steencafe

Florence is difficult, we were there the longest of all stops. So many great memories. I’m going to pick two, the first is hanging out at the retreat house. It was so peaceful and calm that some days, we didn’t want to venture outside: flr061garden

The second is us walking all the way to oltrarno and up the hundreds of steps to piazza michangelo to take in the view of the city:
flr530viewpano

In Siena it’s this strange, rather creepy statue of a semi-naked woman peeping out of a first floor window:

siena122window

In Assisi it’s watching the sunset from our room. There was so much to see and experience in Assisi, it was a blessing to return to our room every night and relax:
asi057sunset

Rome, hands down, seeing the Pope: rom126papa

After the spirituality that was Italy, my memory of Ireland is the breath-taking views in Kerry:
eutrip054valentia

In London it’s cooking at home:

ldn076lambfennel

And not forgetting the picturesque Bibury:
bib182river

We were lucky that we had internet almost every day, so I was able to upload a few pics and post daily reports. Made the writeup so much easier, it was just a matter of grouping by location and fixing some typos. I also added a few more pics. Still came to 6 travel posts: holland belgium | florence siena | assisi | rome | ireland | uk

Quite an epic trip, and memorable too.

#98: visit one of 101 wishlist travel places

eutrip012flrponte eutrip027stfrancis

Task #98 of 101.1001 is to visit one of the 101 wishlist travel places defined in task #27. I managed to check off two from that list: assisi and tuscany on our europe trip.

Not going to repeat the travel reports, linking:
florence: day 06 | day 07 | day 09 | day 10 | day 11
siena: day 08
assisi: day 12 | day 13 | day 14 | day 15

There’s a reason why these places are on so many bucket lists. We spent almost a week in florence and 4 days in assisi and barely scratched the surface of what there was to see and experience. We also were very blessed with the people we met, and got to take part in palm sunday in assisi. We agreed that we could have stayed much, much longer. Weeks, months. Tuscany has everything: beautiful scenery, culture, food, a magical vibe. Assisi has the spirituality, and beautiful scenery too.

europe day 33: 285km 456,000 steps total

Technically today is still a travelling day so I’m calling it europe day 33. Fight was about 20mins early but the gain was completely wiped out by the slow-moving taxi queue. I had a lot with me—big suitcase, check-in backpack, hand luggage backpack, small bag with chocolates, duty free purchases. My major purchases were chocolate & snacks mostly for mum, tons of fridge magnets and 5 bottles of whisky. The heaviest were the whiskies at 6kg, I think I’ve done well to keep the weight manageable. I’m glad of mm’s silver status that gave us an extra 10kg.

Unpacked very slowly, then showered and did laundry. Another reason for airbnb: we did most of our laundry in London so our suitcases were mostly filled with clean clothes and I really only had 3/4 of a full load when I got home.

eutrip082pics

I’ll be jetlagged for a week or two while I work on post-trip stuff. Immediate concerns are to pay utilities and credit card bills. Trip spreadsheet is a matter of data entry and checking FX charged by credit cards. There are 3,267 images to sort and upload so this will take a while. I’m estimating around 1,500 when I’m done. At least we’ve had wifi throughout the trip so I’ve been able to post reports daily.

eutrip081mifit

The day before we set off, mm’s brother got us a simple fitness band and we have been tracking our steps and sleep all trip. We have to sync it to the mifit app, as there is no display on the tracker itself. According to mifit, I walked 285km at an average of 8.93km for 32 days; 456,276 steps average 14,259 per day. I read that the band may be 25% off, which may account for why mine would show 10,000+ steps while mm’s show 3,000. An average of 6.5km and 10,700 steps average per day seems more reasonable. There were days especially in Netherlands and Italy that we walked a lot; once we got to Ireland we had the car and in London we stayed in quite a lot.

europe day 32: fly home

taliskerdarkstorm

I’m never this inefficient with packing or getting going. We spent the morning lounging around and lunch eating the last of our foods—lamb shoulder, fennel, bagel, rocket, pepper, yogurt. We simply didn’t want the trip to end, and were reluctant to get going, sigh.

But all good trips come to an end. Minicab and train to heathrow, speedy check-in and we had loads of time to browse around the duty-free. Bought a Talisker Dark Storm, which we had the opportunity to try. £42.99 for 1l is good value. I had in mind getting the Balvenie triple cask 16 at the airport, but was more drawn towards the Talisker. It’s also a lot cheaper.

The plane wasn’t full but there was someone sitting in our row which was a bummer. Dinner was chicken with rice (average) and breakfast sausage and eggs (fraction better than chicken). Watched Hobbit 5 armies and Hunger Games Mockingjay part 1. Slept for about 2-3hrs, a little uncomfortably.

europe day 31: london last full day

eutrip075lamb eutrip076lamb

Today is the last full day of our trip. Sad, sad, sad. In a way we are both happy to be going home; but we also don’t want the trip to end.

The plan today was to have not a lot of plan. For lunch I made the lamb shoulder we were going to cook yesterday but were too full. Plus roasted fennel and asparagus. There were salt, pepper and italian seasoning at the flat but the garlic on the shelf was too dry. I used bits of fennel and asparagus to add flavour to the lamb. It worked out very very good, may be needed 2 more minutes of cooking, but we like rare to medium rare. Served on this long wooden board, just like Jamie.

No plans, except to walk around. Walked down Kilburn High Road through Paddington Rec to Little Venice. My home grounds. I can’t help it, I gravitate towards Maida Vale whenever I can. It’s in my bones.

eutrip077beany eutrip078teacake

We skipped the cafés at Warwick Avenue and the canal boat waterside café. It started to drizzle and get cold so we stopped at an aussie café along the canal for tea and cake. Afterwards we headed towards m&s—ended up buying a whole lot of stuff. Bus back towards Kilburn, bought more stuff for dinner and to bring back. We don’t have a huge baggage allowance and we’d been careful about what we packed and bought. There’s still space for important stuff like whisky, cereal, tea bags and even a couple of bags of kale.

europe day 30: london

After dropping off the rental car we ended up sitting at a pub drinking tea and coffee for 2 hours. Mostly I listened while mm talked. We compared our favourite highlights of the trip—I gave short descriptions and she mostly stuck with long speeches.

eu075libanaismezze eu076libanaisfattet

Lunch was at comptoir libanais at St Christopher’s Place. A semi-chain (like Leon and Carlucci’s I suppose) of casual Lebanese food in a colourful and cheerful restaurant. We had grilled halloumi and hummous to start, followed by a lamb tagine and lamb fattet. Originally I wanted to go to (pun intended) Orignal Tagines behind Edgware Road but I found out that it’s closed. We liked this new discovery, yes the tagine wasn’t as original or flavoursome—the lamb was cooked separately then spooned onto couscous—the couscous was still good. It was the first time we tried fattet—a layered dish with minced lamb, pita bread, pomegranate seeds and tahini yogurt. Quite filling.

Walked around Oxford Street a little, mainly at John Lewis. Admired the new routemasters that had a door at the back. When there is a conductor they remained open like the old style, but with only the driver the doors closed like a regular bus.

Went to Borough Market for a stroll to discover the layout had changed. Seemed larger with more corridor and walking space. The real destination was whisky exchange to buy that bottle of Ardbeg Supernova I saw the other day. Apparently it’s a committee release which supposedly made it even more special. We also discovered that a bottle of Mortlach 16, which I bought for £45 in Edinburgh 3 years ago, is now retailing for £95. And I was thinking of opening my bottle. I’m now going to put in safely back on the shelves.

europe day 05: antwerp, brussels, mechelen

eutrip007antwerpsteen

Our 5-country trip will become 6-country. The great thing about living in Central Europe is proximity and ease of travel to other countries.

We started the day at a cash-and-carry supermarket, like costco. Had to be very restrained not to buy anything. We ended up getting ingredients for a picnic lunch of herring, smoked eel, smoked salmon and bread rolls. Herring was fatty and fresh, the eel was the star of the meal, could have just had it on its own.

Driving into Belgium was like driving into another state, there was a sign and here we are. We headed first to Antwerp, to Het Steen, a medieval castle where a tyrannical rich man ruled. He charged toll for people and boats passing by and if they didn’t pay, he’d cut their hands off. Such was the life then. Walked to the central square with the cathedral and cobblestoned streets. Stopped for coffee at a nearby coffee shop.

Next stop Brussels. Our friends go there very often and even know where to park without needing to pay. Yes, it’s a 15min walk, which actually was great after sitting in the car for a couple of hours. Brussels was busy, full of locals and tourists. We quickly took in the sights—main square, manneken pis and the all-important chocolate shops.

Dinner was at Mechelen, a town between Brussels and Antwerp. Hadn’t heard of it before and it was a revelation. So pretty! Again the central square with an imposing church and beautiful architecture. It’s off the tourist trail and looks like a place we will like to revisit.

We shared a white asparagus starter made apparaently in the flemish way—with what tasted like hot egg mayonnaise sauce. It’s similar to hollandaise with poached egg. For mains we both opted for the horse steak. Ordered rare, came medium rare. Very, very lean and tasty. There’s a stigma with meat other than beef, lamb, pork—our thinking is that if the locals eat it, it’s good enough for us.

europe trip day 01: travel

Travelling day. I set the alarm for 5.15am, showered, last minute packing, I was out at 6.30am to catch the bus to the airport express station. Check-in and everything was straightforward. The flight wasn’t full; the seat between us was empty (I deliberately picked the 2 aisle seats in the middle column).

It was a day flight so I couldn’t really sleep. Watched Imitation Game, Grand Budapest Hotel and Robocop. Enjoyed all of them, especially Imitation Game and Grand Budapest Hotel. There is a Japanese anime cartoon feel to GBH, it was atmospheric and funny.

Food was mainly forgettable airplane food. Decent quality, I only had about an inch of their cab with dinner, sticking with coke zero and soda water at other times.

The route was almost 1 hr longer than it used to be, to avoid Ukraine. Most of the flight was over Russia. We laughed when the map showed that we were almost directly over Amsterdam, and then we carried on to London. Going from T3 to T5 was okay, then it was a long queue at security. Definitely security theatre, they swiped my small flight toiletries ziploc—the same bag and contents have flown with me thousands of miles around the world, so why would T5 need to swipe it today? Hahaha.

heathrowtea

There was enough time to sit for a while. We shared a hummous wrap from eat and I had a much needed large cup of tea. Ahhhhh.

The flight to AMS was very short. BA gave us snacks (crisps and biscuits) and drinks (the other businessmen all opted for something alcoholic, I had diet coke). We spent about 15mins around the duty free shop, retrieved our luggage and our friends L&P picked us up. They live in the suburbs, and we picked up chinese takeaway on the way back for dinner.

A long travelling day, the sense of excitement is building. Getting a good night’s sleep then we’re ready for the trip proper.

30.30 #17: keep calm and…plan your holiday

keepcalmholiday

I set a task in 30.30 that was a play on the keep calm and carry on posters that were a hit once upon a time. The idea was to take some time during our holiday to get into a peaceful state of mind.

I find, though, that I needed to remind myself to keep calm and not get too stressed out the past few days. The reason I’m stressed out? I’m doing all the bookings and planning for our trip.

To give a scale of the amount of work done:

  • 7 flights on 4 different airlines — interesting to note the difference between carriers like BA/CX who behave normally and EI/EZ (Aer Lingus, easyjet) who nickel and dime everything, £16 for luggage, £5 to select seats, admin fee, online fee…but are still cheaper than the regular airlines — it’s something that has been around for a while in US domestic airlines and budget European airlines, I guess I’ve just been shielded from the madness
  • 1 long distance train journey + seat reservation — top tip, use italiarail rather than the official trenitalia because a) english; b) ease of navigation
  • 2 regional train journeys that I have not booked, but have gotten times and details
  • 1 car rental — as usual, go to the UK site, avis UK gave me a 15% discount
  • heathrow express — duo express return saves £20 for 2 people if booked online
  • 3 convent stays — monastery stays booked everything and sent a comprehensive package that included an introductory letter in italian for each convent, list of amenties and travel directions; very impressed with the service and promptness (I booked on saturday, got everything on tuesday which basically meant a 24-hr turnaround)
  • 4 hotel bookings — top tip: browse on hotels.com or bookings.com but check out individual hotel websites for offers like free wifi or further discount if booked on their site, I also paid attention to reviews and took posted pictures with a grain of salt
  • 1 airbnb booking (another one was unexpectedly unavailable so had to switch to hotel) — we specifically didn’t want Central London and went through around 10 potential choices, the flat we booked is 2 stops away from where I used to live, quite happy about our choice
  • 1 restaurant booking — for our birthday dinner I chose butcher grill, I visited in 2012 and said it’s worth returning, they have a special offer of côte de bœuf for two at €45 on mondays and tuesdays
  • maps and directions for airports, train stations and accommodation
  • 8 notes in evernote for each city / region we plan to visit with research on sights, transportation, food & drink – I’m quietly amassing lots of EN notes on travelling
  • expenses spreadsheet — because there will always be a spreadsheet, especially for a trip this long and this complicated

 

I haven’t even started the packing list. There is still stuff to do, like get EUR, arrange travel insurance, take passport photos, book appointment at passport office, get haircut, pay/pre-pay bills.

europe trip mar-apr 2015

eutrip2015

We had been planning our long trip for a while, and because of external factors, had to push the timing up. We went to the travel agent earlier in the week to finalise our in- and outbound flights but there’s a lot of other stuff in between to research and book. We fly in and out of London, then we get extremely ambitious:

 

  • Amsterdam — will be staying with our friends L&P, whom I haven’t seen for something like 20 years (mm has seen L more recently, L is more her friend really) — a bit too early for tulips unfortunately but can’t be helped, there’s still a lot to see and do and catch up
  • Florence — have to figure out the best/cheap way to get there, currently looks like easyjet to Rome then train. We are looking into staying at monasteries and convents; which are fairly abundant in italy, offering peaceful and safe b&b accommodation. Of course not 4- or 5-star hotels but a special experience, and at €75-100 per night with en suite bathroom, good value. We’ll spend a few days in Florence, then take day trips out to Tuscany, probably Siena and hopefully Lucca and the Chianti region
  • Assisi — train from florence; this is the sort of pilgrimage part of the trip, another monastery stay, we found a convent directly opposite St Francis’ basilica
  • Rome — more monastery stay near the Vatican, we’ll get tickets for general audience or mass with the Pope. I’ve been to Rome twice in the last 2 years so it’ll be repeat visits to the main sites. Interesting, despite visiting Rome for so many times, I’ve never been to the Vatican museum and Sistine Chapel, will try to brave the crowds this time
  • London — markets, food places, Bicester and may be a musical or even a day trip if we have time. No convenient monastery stays, may have to do airbnb if regular hotels are too expensive. We keep saying we don’t need to stay in zone 1 or 2 but I keep gravitating to W9 and NW3. I saw a garden flat in little venice that got me excited, until I noticed it’s a sofa bed. We’re frugal, but not that frugal. While we are in London, we may as well renew our passports so need to call for appointment
  • UK / Ireland side trip — we debated between Ireland, Scotland and the Lake District and tentatively decided to look into Dublin then driving around southern Ireland. That doesn’t leave us much time in London, perhaps we are being too ambitious

There’s all the flights and trains to book; car rental; all accommodation except amstersdam to find. And then to build research notes on every destination. Lots to do, not a lot of time.