Pin It Forward UK.

Pin It Forward UK 2013

I received an e-mail a month ago from Tina over at Pinterest, asking me if I wanted to be part of the new Pinterest United Kingdom campaign. It surprised me because I didn’t think that anyone paid much attention to my Pinterest boards, but it was a pleasant surprise. Since I like Pinterest, and since a little extra blog exposure is also nice, I said “yes” to participating.

I’m often late (on purpose) when it comes to any & all trends, so when I began seeing people talk about Pinterest on different social media websites, I didn’t jump on it straight away. (This is from someone who didn’t join Facebook until 2008 (I think) and ignored Twitter until very late 2009.) But then, I got lots of invitations to join and since my inbox got filled with invitations, I said to myself, “To hell with it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised.

Recipes. Do-it-yourself tips. Home decoration. Fashion. Beauty. Health & wellness. Quotes. Food. Food. Food. Did I say food? Travel. Travel. Travel. Did I say travel? Expatriate stuff. Child-free stuff. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s there in living color.

Pinterest is a tool for collecting and organizing the things you love. You can “pin” things from around the web on boards you create, on any topic you’d like. I pin about a few things, but for my blog’s sake, I especially pin things about travelling & expatriation. I have a board devoted to cities or countries I want to visit, interesting sights to see, and anything relating to expatriation.

What’s so great about pins is that I can go back to my boards and, say, find a recipe to try for dinner, or dream about a country or city on my travel/expatriate bucket list. The pins also link back to the source so I can get more details about that recipe I want to try, or that country or city I want to visit.

I’ve used Pinterest for a few months now, and it’s pretty decent. Once you see things you like, you’ll start building up your boards & dreams/wishes/fantasies. Follow me over there, and if you don’t have an account yet, start pinning by clicking on my registration link.

While you’re exploring your newfound addiction checking out Pinterest, check out a Pinterest UK trailblazer – Emma Rose Black of Gohemian Travellers (Pinterest page).

Welcome to Pinterest, inhabitants of the United Kingdom. :-)

Pin It Forward UK 2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: My 2012 in Pictures

For more about how the Weekly Photo Challenge started, take a look at this link. For more about this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge, click here.
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This is just a small sample of my photos taken in 2012. Feel free to look at my archived Weekly Photo Challenge posts for more.

Shrove Tuesday.

Shrove Tuesday.

How splendid.

How splendid.

View from a doorway.

View from a doorway.

Chocolate vodka chillies.

Chocolate vodka chillies.

Bubacar playing the xylophone.

Bubacar playing the xylophone.

Tagus River & 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril), one of many views from the castle.

Tagus River & 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril), one of many views from the castle.

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Oh look. First thing in the morning.

Oh look. First thing in the morning.

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Grandma's essence.

Grandma’s essence.

Fruit stand.

Fruit stand.

Rush hour.

Rush hour.

Free (and purchased) goodies.

Free (and purchased) goodies.

Snail.

Snail.

Strata.

Strata.

Food. Glorious gluttonous food.

Food. Glorious gluttonous food.

Finished product.

Finished product.

.

Chocolate Festival 12.09.2012.

Here it is again. I went solo this time. I won’t write much because the Chocolate Festival is pretty much the same every time. Just check out the photos and related links below.

Galeta.

Galeta.

More from Galeta.

More from Galeta.

Naan bread topped with chocolate.

Naan bread topped with chocolate.

Pistachio Rose. Home of the chocolate naan bread.

Pistachio Rose. Home of the chocolate naan bread.

My piece: chocolate & pistachio.

My piece: chocolate & pistachio.

Jaz & Jul's.

Jaz & Jul’s.

Jaz & Jul's chocolate powders.

Jaz & Jul’s chocolate powders.

Making mine.

Making mine.

Finished product.

Finished product.

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My friend's name in chocolate.

My friend’s name in chocolate.

Anna Mae's Texas beef chilli and macaroni & cheese.

Anna Mae’s Texas beef chilli and macaroni & cheese.

Texas beef chilli over macaroni & cheese. The chilli was subtly flavored with cocoa.

Texas beef chilli over macaroni & cheese. The chilli was subtly flavored with cocoa.

Related links:
December 2011 festival http://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2011/12/20/ukchocolate-festival/

April 2012 festival http://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/miym-cf_030412/

My own re-blog: Bonfire Night.

Spinster:

Reblogging my own blog post. Cheesy? Yes. Do I care? Not really. It saves me the energy of writing another post about today, since the same thing happens every year. ;-)

Originally posted on Spinster's Compass:

Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night) is an annual celebration observed on the night of November 5th involving fireworks displays and, of course, bonfires involving Guy Fawkeseffigies (and sometimes Pope effigies) throughout cities & towns in the United Kingdom (and some other countries). (Food is a major bonus.) Guy Fawkes attempted to overthrow King James I on November 5, 1605 in what’s now known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He & his co-conspirators got caught & executed and the king’s subjects, only knowing that an uprising almost happened (they didn’t know the who/what/where/when/why behind the attempted uprising), celebrated their king being saved by having celebratory bonfires.

I bought myself some bangers & crumpets to eat in solidarity. ;-) There have also been fireworks going off throughout the week in my area, as well as other areas through which I travel. When this…

View original 223 more words

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 1.

04.06.2012

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute. I might have fleeting moments of excitement in the days or weeks beforehand, but the excitement always grows at the last minute. It’s surreal – I know that I’m going somewhere but it doesn’t feel real until I land in my destination.

I made sure to get enough sleep to manage the trip on public transportation the next morning. I didn’t feel like paying for a cab this time around, at least for the trip to the airport. It went well overall; it took 90 minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad for a major world airport like Heathrow and on a holiday weekend. The only thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the price for the Heathrow Express – £19.00 one way.

I got to the airport before the rest of the group. Oh, I forgot to mention the group…

I joined Meetup about 3 months ago as a way to get out a bit more, as a challenge to myself for 2012 and beyond. (I may write a post or two about how that’s going in the future.) Among other things, I looked for traveler groups and sure enough, I found one that caught my eye: Solo Travelers. As someone who likes traveling solo, this group and its description sounded perfect. This group already planned its 2012 trips, and while I’d love to go on each one of their trips, I’m not rich. But there were a few that appealed to me, and Lisbon caught my eye first – affordable, 2 hour plane ride, long weekend (I hate very short trips). A few days after joining the group, I paid a deposit and secured my spot. While I prefer traveling solo, traveling with other solo travelers made sense to me for a couple of reasons:

1. While we arrived & departed together from each airport, staying together was optional. If we didn’t vibe together, or wanted to do our own things, we could always split up.

2. This was another way to challenge myself to more & make new potential connections.

So there you have it – I traveled with other solo travelers. How did that go, you ask? Stay tuned.

The group went to the wrong gate because of a mix-up, so the group leader sent a text message on my way to the airport and I met the group at the correct gate instead. They arrived 10 minutes later, and the group leader introduced himself & the other group members. We checked in, got our boarding passes & went through security together, but split up until we got on the plane. While we were split up, I tried getting some cash out of my account, but the ATM declined my card . No sweat, though… I’d try when we arrived, and at least I had enough elsewhere.

I should have sat next to a group member, with whom my intuition sensed good vibes, but she was gracious enough to allow a couple to sit together. That was very nice of her… but not for me because the woman in the couple was so annoying that I wanted to punch her in her jackass face & throat. :-| Lucky for me that I usually fall asleep on flights because I slept for at least half of the flight… which meant that she annoyed me only half as much as she would have if I was awake for the full flight.

When we landed, it was a nice surprise to disembark to nice weather since the weather authority predicted rain in Lisbon for most of the weekend.

Not too bad.

Not too bad.

Before we took our taxis to the hotel, I told the group leader about my ATM issue and he said “No problem, I’ll cover you until you get access to your account. These things happen.” Quite embarrassed – it’s my issue and I take ownership of it – but relieved that it wouldn’t be a huge issue. Our hotel was a short distance from the airport, and the taxi fare was pretty cheap for European standards – well less than €10.00 for each taxi.

We arrived at the hotel, and I was quite impressed. I should have shared a room with an older British woman, but she must have made a good connection with another group member because upon hotel check-in, she said that I was sharing with someone else instead. (That turned out to be a good thing. Stay tuned.) New roommate & I went to our hotel room; were we impressed again. I forgot to take a photo of the outside & our room, but check out the view from our window:

Taken as soon as we got into the room.

Taken as soon as we got into the room.

We settled in, chose our beds, got some help with our TV & internet settings from hotel staff, and relaxed (except for contacting my U.S. bank) until it was time for dinner. For the first night, we all dined together. We weren’t sure where to eat, but at least there were options within walking distance of the hotel. We walked a bit and I spotted an ATM – perfect time to give the group leader his money back. I inserted my card, figuring that there was something wrong with the ATM at Heathrow since the bank didn’t see anything wrong with my card during our phone call.

Of course it was my card. Cash machines in Portugal are pretty damn good because unlike at Heathrow, the ATM flashed the following words on the screen:

Your ATM card has expired.

FUUUUUUCK. :-|

Sure enough, I checked the card and it’d expired 6 days before the trip. I was even more embarrassed. I told the group leader and he was fine with it. He asked if I was alright for dinner and I assured him that I was. Unlike a few years ago, I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or cry or hide away in my room for the night. I just kept calm and thought about what to do next.

We decided on a restaurant across the street from the hotel; unlike a few of the other restaurants in the vicinity, this one was more affordable and there were locals eating there, which signaled to us that the food was probably decent.

Sete Mares.

Sete Mares.

Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.

Yes, they're live.

Yes, they're live.

Some of the group members liked their food, while others could have taken or left it. The main complaint for those who could have taken or left it – the food was too oily. Thank goodness that mine was good.

We stayed for 2-3 hours, and some of us were tired so we went back to the hotel afterwards to get some rest for the next day. I called my family to tell them about the money situation, and my aunt said that she’d wire money the next afternoon. That was fine with me, as I wouldn’t be spending much money anyway, even after getting her money. It was quite annoying to know that I had money that was inaccessible, but it wasn’t worth turning the trip into doom & gloom. Thank goodness for age, wisdom, growth, and back-up plans. New roommate & I chatted a bit, then watched some TV and settled in for the night.

Stay tuned, everyone.

Boa noite.

Boa noite.

Day 2 ahead…

Melts in your mouth (again).

I wrote a post about the Chocolate Festival a few months ago. Well, it’s back in a few towns again and unlike the last time, I went with a friend & met up with 3 people from Meetup. I also got to buy myself a couple of treats this time (no laughing ATM for now). Rather than write the same things that I wrote in the last festival post, take a look at a few new photos instead. In the meantime, I’ll have a bite of my brownie with white chocolate chips & a bite of my piece of red velvet cake, please & thank you.

Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).

Churros sprinkled with cinnamon & sugar (R) with melted chocolate (L).

Chocolate vodka chillies.

Chocolate vodka chillies.

Black River (Jamaica single origin).

Black River (Jamaica single origin).

Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).

Rabot Estate (Saint Lucia).

Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.

Hotel Chocolat quail eggs.

Chocolate porter (beer).

Chocolate porter (beer).

Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)

Chocolate liqueur. (One can easily get drunk from this, it tastes that good.)

Demarquette.

Demarquette.

Seashell.

Seashell.

The Pancake Bar.

The Pancake Bar.

Easter eggs (Philip Maes).

Easter eggs (Philip Maes).

More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).

More Easter eggs (Philip Maes).

Philip Maes chocolatier.

Philip Maes chocolatiers.

As an added bonus, here’s some beef chilli flavored with dark cocoa and topped with pico de gallo & shredded cheese. It was surprisingly good.

Beef chilli.

Beef chilli.

And these are for me. Sorry, no sharing. :-|

Brownie with white chocolate chips.

Brownie with white chocolate chips.

Red velvet cake.

Red velvet cake.

Customer service.

One of the best inventions known to man is online grocery shopping. As someone who has a hectic job, no car (yet) or energy sometimes, this is a (lazy/tired/exhausted/working) woman’s dream come true. So once I got settled into my own flat, I took full advantage. I pick up items from the big-box versions of (online & non-online) stores when basic items run out or I need something quick, but most is online.

Most people in the United Kingdom get paid only once per month, so we’re careful with grocery shopping. While I don’t have a family to feed, I make sure that I have enough cash to buy food along with paying annoying bills. So I was quite annoyed a few months ago when I missed my grocery delivery from a certain store because of its terrible customer service.

I’d just been paid and, as usual, placed my grocery order. I thought that everything was fine until I received a text message from the grocery store (something to the effect of)

Please contact customer service as soon as possible at (phone number), otherwise today’s order is canceled.

Again, I don’t have a family to feed, but I have to eat just like everyone else. So even though I was on public transportation and hate talking on the phone in public, food is important so I called back. The customer service representation, a woman, said “We’re having trouble getting your payment for your order.” I said

Alright. I’m on my way to work, so I’ll go to the bank and see what’s going on because I know that the money is there. I’ll call back afterwards; maybe there’s an issue at the bank.

So instead of going to the office, I went to the bank first. After waiting in the queue for a few minutes (rare), the bank teller (known as “cashier” in the United Kingdom) was ready for me. I explained the situation, she checked my account and said

Everything’s fine. You have more than enough to cover the order.

I said

Would you mind if I called (grocery store) in front of you to see what happens? For some reason, my order isn’t going through.

There were very few people in the bank (rare) so she let me go ahead.

I called customer service & spoke with a different representative. I explained the situation, requesting that he attempt the order again. He tried it and the order didn’t go through. He said (something to the effect of)

It’s isn’t going through. You don’t have enough money, so you need to go to your bank and see what’s going on.

I said

Sir, I’m in the bank now standing in front of a cashier who already checked my account, and there’s more than enough to cover the order. Please try again.

He tried again and said

It’s not going through. You don’t have enough money. It’s not a problem on (grocery store’s) end.

I repeated myself again and added

It has to be on your end. I’m telling you, the cashier is showing me the computer screen with my account information as we speak and there is more than enough to cover it. You can even speak to her if you’d like.

(By this time, she was speaking loud enough for him to hear that the account is fine and that it has to be on [grocery store's] end and not the bank’s end.)

He stated that it wasn’t necessary because it was the bank’s fault and “the bank needs to fix the problem, not (grocery store).” I asked to speak with a manager or supervisor, and he said that no one was available (liar).

By this time I was late for work, annoyed & hungry since I didn’t have breakfast, and pissed that I wouldn’t have groceries because my refrigerator was close to bare. I also had a strict exercise schedule after work so if I had to go to the store myself, it threw a wrench into my after-work plans. So I let him have it nice & loud. (That’s also the day that I realized the strength of my New York City accent and boy, did it come out that day.) I can’t remember every word, but it went something like this:

I’ve lived here for a year. I’ve ordered groceries from this store ever since I moved here. I’ve given you my business each month without fail, and this is how you wanna treat me? I told you for the hundredth time that I’m in the bank in front of a cashier and the money is there, I asked you to let me speak with a supervisor and you said no, and you refuse to bend. You refuse to consider that (grocery store) have the issue, not me. So you know what? Cancel my order and my account. I’ve had it. You’ve lost another customer.

He said “Okay.” and I hung up on him. Friggin’ jerk.

I thanked the teller, apologized for being loud in the bank (she understood), and went to work. I told my co-workers what happened and while they found it amusing, they also found it annoying. I didn’t know that customer service in this country was so… lacking.

Coming from the United States, I’m used to better customer service overall; some representatives even brown-nose when it’s unnecessary. I salute good customer service representatives because I know the nonsense they have to deal with – rude & downright disgusting customers, terrible pay, sometimes no health or vacation benefits & terrible bosses/employers. I’ve worked in customer service as a teller & in other capacities and know how bad it is. I’ve walked away from a few customers in the past – didn’t wanna catch a case. :-|

So, I “get” it. Customer service isn’t the best job to work in. Been there, done that, the customer is not always right. I also understand, having been to European countries, that Europe’s overall culture isn’t into customer service that brown-noses like the U.S. But no matter the country, representatives should offer a level of service such that the customer is helped as much as possible. That level of service is lacking here overall; even native Britons complain about it. (I’ve heard that France is worse.)

I doubt that it’ll ever change and that’s fine. I don’t have to like it but I’m used to it. I’ve written this rant for wanna-be expatriates and/or travelers: no country is perfect, including so-called First World countries. You’ll run into annoyances like this sometimes. You don’t have to totally assimilate into the adopted country’s culture, but understand that some things are standard & may never change. Figure out ways to deal or return to your home country.

Epilogue: I e-mailed a complaint to the store. A woman e-mailed me and her response was utter garbage – no apology for her colleague, no request to stay with the store, no offers to make me reconsider leaving the store – nothing. That evening, I skipped the gym and went food shopping at another store. I order online from the new store instead & haven’t had any issues since. I also found out that the former store is a Wal-Mart affiliate. Now it all makes sense. :-|

Does anyone have any annoying customer service stories? What’s customer service like in your adopted country? Do you prefer customer service in your home country, or is it better in your adopted country?

Melts in your mouth.

What does chocolate remind you of? Does it bring back childhood memories? Does it bring back adult memories? (*evil grin*)

When I think of chocolate, I reminisce about being a kid and drinking Nestle Quick chocolate milk. I remember learning how to make S’mores in home economics class. I reminisce about the different varieties of chocolate chip cookies that my mother would bring home – Chips Ahoy, Keebler, Pepperidge Farm, Mrs. Fields, Sean’s cookies, local grocery store bakeries. I think of my all-time favorite ice cream cake, Carvel, with the layer of chocolate ice cream and chocolate cookie crumble. Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes aren’t too bad either.

The memories. *drool*

While I’m far from a chocoholic, based on my nostalgia I can understand how millions of people worldwide have such unconditional & undying love for chocolate. So when I found out that the annual Chocolate Festival was coming back to town 12.09-11.2011, I decided that unlike last year – when I was more lazy & colder than I am now – I’d definitely attend to see what the big deal is. I wanted to go with at least 1 person, but life doesn’t work out the way that I want it to so I went solo. And as usual, it was nice.

(Well… except when the cash machine laughed at me when I tried getting cash to buy some chocolate. Maybe that’s a good thing for my health.)

The Festival was held for a full weekend and took place on 2 levels – street level and inside a venue. I didn’t feel like going into the venue so I stayed on the street.

Street level.

Street level.

For someone who isn’t a die-hard chocoholic, that was enough for me. Check out these photos to see why:

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Red velvet & chocolate cakes.

Santa Claus.

Santa Claus.

Pretzels.

Pretzels.

Along with buying ready-made chocolate products, one vendor sold kits for people to make their own chocolate and has a program specifically for 16-24 year olds to make & sell their own chocolate – entrepreneurship at its best. One of the partners, Kieran, said that he & his business partner are available to visit schools to showcase the business. In this terrible economy, I applaud them for giving others the opportunity to make a little legal change.

Click me & make your own.

Click me & make your own.

Although I couldn’t buy anything, I took many samples and collected many business cards. I plan to give 1 or 2 of them my business in the future.

Chocolate sesame.

Chocolate sesame.

Chocolate with raisins & etc.  I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside.  That's how good it was.

Chocolate with raisins & etc. I HATE raisins but didn't know until afterwards that there were raisins inside. That's how good it was.

Did you miss the Festival? Don’t worry… it’ll be back and it might be in your area when it returns. In the meantime, check out the long history of chocolate (Wikipedia).

Thanks for coming.

Thanks for coming.

Aside

Bonfire Night (also known as Guy Fawkes Night) is an annual celebration observed on the night of November 5th involving fireworks displays and, of course, bonfires involving Guy Fawkes effigies (and sometimes Pope effigies) throughout cities & towns in the United Kingdom (and some other countries). (Food is a major bonus.) Guy Fawkes attempted to overthrow King James I on November 5, 1605 in what’s now known as the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He & his co-conspirators got caught & executed and the king’s subjects, only knowing that an uprising almost happened (they didn’t know the who/what/where/when/why behind the attempted uprising), celebrated their king being saved by having celebratory bonfires.

I bought myself some bangers & crumpets to eat in solidarity. ;-) There have also been fireworks going off throughout the week in my area, as well as other areas through which I travel. When this occurred last year, I didn’t know much about the celebrations and thought that the fireworks were gunshots. (I grew up in a rough neighborhood so I can’t always tell the difference between the two.) Now that I’m settled in here, I not only know what the noises are, I’ve also taken on a few British customs – Bonfire Night being one of them. One of my co-workers also gave me some history about it because a few months ago, there were rumors that a certain council wasn’t going to celebrate this year (those rumors were later confirmed to be false), and since I only knew the basics about the celebrations she was kind enough to send me some information about the full history.

‘Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!’

A children’s song for Bonfire Night

Toffee apple bangers.

Toffee apple bangers.

Local fireworks.

Local fireworks.

Wanna learn more about this festive celebration and its history? Take a look at the links below.

Guy Fawkes http://www.guyfawkes.me.uk/

Bonfire Night http://www.bonfirenight.net/

Guy Fawkes Night (Wikipedia) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes_Night

Bonfire Night recipes (BBC Good Food) http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/content/recipes/occasions/bonfire-night/

Gunpowder Plot of 1605 http://www.gunpowder-plot.org/

What if the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded? (The Telegraph) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8870255/What-if-Guy-Fawkess-Gunpowder-Plot-had-succeeded-in-1605.html

Guy Fawkes mask inspires Occupy protests worldwide (CNN) http://articles.cnn.com/2011-11-04/world/world_europe_guy-fawkes-mask_1_mask-protests-wikileaks-founder-julian-assange?_s=PM:EUROPE

Guy Fawkes Day: Remembering the straw man, bonfires, and treacle toffee http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/10799095-guy-fawkes-day-remembering-the-straw-man-bonfires-and-treacle-toffee

Bonfire Night.