Archive for March, 2011

Churches either side of the pond

I think it’s a lot to do with the fact that I’m used to European churches that I think most of the American ones are really unimpressive.

I’ve strolled around Westminster Abbey, visited Notre Dame and the cathedrals of Florence and Siena.

Granted those are are a hard act to follow but even small local British churches have a great deal of charm. Many of the local US ones aren’t in the same league – in fact they don’t even seem to try. Many of them look as if they were originally designed for a different purpose and then transformed into churches as an afterthought – slapping a dodgy steeple on the roof and adding a porch apparently makes a warehouse a church.

I know it isn’t so much about the building and it’s more about what happens inside, but there’s something about the atmosphere that seems like a good start for religious activities. I’ll admit that I haven’t actually attended a US ceremony but if I wanted to, I’d rather it was in a church not a warehouse. That said, there are many many people who don’t seem to mind in the slightest about the location. Good for them.

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Minimum wage

I was in the office kitchen a little while ago – just waiting for my soup in the microwave to go ping, when this poster caught my eye.

It wasn’t so much the minimum wage of $7.25 that struck me – although I am quite sure I earned more than that when I worked in restaurants over twenty years ago (wow now I feel ancient). The piece that shocked me was that employers of people who get tips, eg waiters,can pay them as little as $2.13!

It’s pretty typical in the US to tip between 15-20% in restaurants. Which is a lot if you are British and used to tipping up to 10% if the service has been amazing.

I think that’s the issue -and why Brits are notoriously bad tippers. I’m used to rewarding people who’ve done a bit more than just plonk approximately what I’ve ordered down in front of me. I’d expect serving staff to at least be nice, possibly even friendly…in the good old US of A, the tips are pretty much ALL THEY GET PAID.

Which makes me wonder why some of the servers are so grumpy…how much does a smile cost? I remember one time, I was planning to pay the meal by credit card but leave a tip in cash. The waiter shouted at me for not leaving a tip…so I didn’t.

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Planes, trains and automobiles

One of the things that stopped me from blogging for a while was my TRULY awful experience getting back from London before Christmas. The plan had been to spend a few days, catch up with family etc then head back.

My return flight was booked for the SUnday before Christmas out of Heathrow. The previous Friday night there was a bit of snow. I do mean a bit of snow – maybe 1.5 inches. On the Saturday some airports were closed for a while, including Heathrow, and the weather reports went into full speed doom-mongering advising all to batten down the hatches and above all STAY INDOORS. Of course I totally ignored all of it. I had my trusty hire car, so I made the most of completely clear but somewhat snowy roads (apparently everyone else listened). I visited a few people in Surrey, then drove up to Surbiton station and took the train into London. I was completely confident that LHR travel would be fully back to normal the next day, not least of all because it was actually reasonably warm and the snow was melting.

Imagine my surprise therefore, on waking on the Sunday, that my 4pm flight had been cancelled. It turns out that those mental giants at Heathrow had pretty much just closed the airport and gone home on Friday. So all the planes parked safely at their gates promptly froze into position. Genius huh? And while the runways were clear on Saturday, none of the taxi routes were, leading to planes getting stuck (have you ever seen an aeroplane with chunky tyres? Exactly). And those that did manage to navigate the taxi ways found that the gates were all blocked by frozen planes. Complete shambles.

Anyway to cut a long story short – I ended up managing to book a seat on the Eurostar to Paris where I caught a United flight home. This was rerouted after much stroppiness on my part with United agents who would otherwise not have been able to offer me anything until after Christmas.

To somewhat complicate matters, the Eurostar service was also having a meltdown. They had stopped service for a few days, then were running a reduced service because of the snow on the lines. *sigh*. They didn’t know what to do with the backlog of people who had Eurostar tickets combined with all those who couldn’t travel by plane. The queue on the Monday was miles long.

Some helpful chap had told me that they were putting people with tickets on trains on a first come, first served basis. Good plan but a lot of people had tickets and I was unhelpfully miles from the bloody station with a car to return (Avis at the station doen’t open until 10am). So here’s what I did:-

Monday pm – took rental car back to LHR, took taxi back to mother’s house $
Tuesday am – 5.15 am taxi from Hampton Court to St Pancras station $$
arrival at station at 6am to find queue out the station and 3 blocks long.
3 hours later I had reached the ticket office- and had been allocated a seat!
2.45 hours later I was on a train!
Change at Gare du Nord towards Charles de Gaul $
Hotel shuttle to nameless awful hotel airport $$
Weds am head to airport – it’s a zoo!

Customs/ security took AGES but I got an upgrade! United presumably pleased to have to arrange one less flight out of London.

The flight was absolutely fine (nice warm nuts) and I eventually got home at close to midnight that night.

What did I do the next day? I got up at 5am and headed off to the airport again of course…

Here’s a vid of the crazy queue at St Pancras:

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I’m sorry it’s been so long…

I’m sorry, it’s been ages. I’ve been wrapped up in all sorts of crazy life stuff and I have totally neglected to update here.
I’ll make a start on the updates but in the meantime, I’ll leave you with a couple of random pictures that amused me.

This is the view from my agency’s office building – I thought it was hilarious. And so New York too:-

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