19 November 2007

Dollar continues near record lows

[copied from the BBC]

The US dollar has remained weak against both the euro and the yen in Monday trading as worries about the strength of the US economy continue.

The dollar fell to $1.4666 against the euro by early afternoon in Europe, and dropped to 110.30 yen.

At the start of November, the dollar hit a record low of $1.4752 against the single European currency.

The strength of the dollar had been undermined further by weak US economic data released on Friday.

Interest rate cuts

As a growing number of US banks reveal their exposure to bad US mortgage debt, data on Friday showed the biggest drop in American industrial production since January.

Taken together, analysts say this suggests further cuts in US interest rates.

"There are no fundamental reasons to buy the dollar," said Tsutomu Soma, senior manager of foreign securities at Okasan Securities.

The US Federal Reserve last cut interest rates in October to 4.5%, in an effort to kick-start the faltering housing and credit markets, as well as making borrowing cheaper to encourage consumer spending in the run-up to the key Christmas shopping period.

Despite signalling that it will adopt a wait-and-see approach to the future direction of interest rates, most economists expect a further cut in rates when Fed officials next meet in December.

"Are there inflation fears in the United states? Yes," said David Watt, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

"But as long as housing remains a downside risk, people will think the Fed is biased to cut rates in the near term."

18 November 2007

Barcelona, Baby!

So we went to Barcelona, Spain from November 8-11. Actually, I was there from November 8-16 but the week of November 12 was spent at our global convention, and Kelly flew back to London on Sunday, November 11. So what is there to say about Spain? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard it from us many times, but it is truly a beautiful city in its own way. Europe is amazing like that. As you’ll note in some of our more recent trips to Prague and York, each city is very unique and is special in a different way.

Spain. Just to fill you in a bit on the geography of Barcelona, it is located in the Northeast part of Spain along the Mediterranean coast. If you think it was warm, you would be wrong. Once the calendar turns to fall, the Mediterranean becomes cold, and Barcelona was no different. It was not freezing, by any means, but when I think of Spain, I think of shorts and t-shirts, bathing suits and frozen cocktails. Instead we wore long pants, long shirts or sweaters and coats and scarves the entire time. So, what did we do while we were there?

Well upon arrival, we took a taxi to the hotel only to find out that we were staying quite a bit away from the city center. We had not really done any research prior to booking the hotel, so we got what we asked for, but the good news was that a metro station was about a 10-minute walk from our hotel. Let me give Barcelona real credit here, as their metro system is exceptionally efficient and easily zips you from one place to the next. I believe it was only a 10-15 minute ride to Las Ramblas, which is a very long boulevard with street performers, vendors, clubs, restaurants and hotels adorning the sidewalks and centre pathway. Well, we actually went to Catalunya, which is the main town square and sits at the top of Las Ramblas. Catalunya was lovely, but it was the least impressive of the town squares we have seen in Europe. In addition, the fountains were turned off, as the high season for tourism had long passed. So, Kelly and I cross the street and begin to peruse down Las Ramblas, admiring the various vendors. What we found amazing was that you would walk through districts where all of the vendors pushed similar goods. We walked through the flower vendors, pet vendors, fruit vendors and book vendors with street performers dotted along the way. Think of New Orleans in terms of the street performers, and you get the gist of it. We passed a huge market on a side street and ventured inside to be amazed by the fresh seafood prominently displayed, the butchers, wine and cheese kiosks, etc. It seemed like it never stopped. Finally, we felt like we had seen enough squid and large mouth fish staring up at us and kept moving down the street. I wish I could say we ate a fantastic lunch that afternoon, but honestly we grabbed a quick slice of pizza and a coke and kept walking. As you wind down towards the southern tip of Las Ramblas you walk up to a statue of Columbus in which he is supposed to be pointing to the US (or the new world). The ironic part of the monument is Columbus has his back to the US in a sign of disrespect and actually points toward Turkey.

After we finished walking down Las Ramblas we strolled along the water front and up into the Gothic Quarter surrounded by the old Roman walls. This is also called the medieval area, as much of the buildings are in their original form. Within the centre of the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral. The cathedral was nice, but it was not nearly as beautiful as many of the other churches we have seen. In addition, the cathedral was covered with scaffolding, as they were cleaning the exterior. The one good thing about it was the view from the top it provided after a short elevator ride to the roof. As you can see from the pictures, some turned out quite nice. Outside of the cathedral was a small market we browsed. We used the tour guide to do an hour long walk through the rest of the area. The pictures with the dirty water and the ducks were inside this area, and I believe inside the cathedral. The birds are not to be bothered. They are free birds, but they leave and always return to live here among the fountains in the cathedral.

As we left the Gothic area, we walked down some shopping streets before finally taking the metro to Parc de Montjuic. I’m sure you’re wondering what the significance of this park is, but it famous for the 1992 Summer Olympics and the park they built at the top of it. The Olympic stadium and many of the buildings used to host the numerous events were built specifically for the games. After walking around the buildings and the park we descended the mountain by way of the Placa Espanya where we saw the Magic Fountain and the site of the kickoff to the Olympic games, which is a large square with two towers that look much like the bell tower in the Piazza San Marco in Venice. Nevertheless, it was beautiful, and Kelly had fun running across the fountains when the police were not looking. Look at Kelly living on the edge.

Afterwards we walked up the road to the Poble Espanyol. This place is supposed to be an exact replica of historical Spanish towns prior to sky scrapers. It was really quaint, and we wish we had gone earlier in the day to give us time to enjoy the numerous shops and boutiques there. The city was walled in, and admission was required, but it was full of narrow alleys with two-story buildings complete with a town square. We did not explore it near as much as we would have liked because much of it was closing shortly after we arrived, so we settled for a few beers in the city center and a much needed rest after walking so much of the day. By now, we were some whipped puppies, so we took the metro back to the hotel for a nap.

After waking and freshening ourselves, we headed off to dinner in the port district. I seem to recall dinner being good but not great.

As you can clearly see, I made a mess of myself and, more embarrassingly, the area around me. I was ashamed when the waiter took my napkin, which I was using to hide the stains I created on the white table cloth. Oh, well. It was, nonetheless, hilarious.

The next day brought more adventures, as life always is when you put Kelly and me together. Our first stop was Sagrada Familia. Sagrada Familia is the famous church designed by Antoni Gaudi. As the pictures below show, it looks like it is dripping with wax. It is really neat, but it is incomplete. Antoni Gaudi died before its completion, and it was designed to have two major facades. The most famous façade by Gaudi is charming because of its uniqueness, even though it is eccentric to say the least. The newer façade that is still under construction is heinous.

Kelly and feel that we have been inside enough churches, so we did not venture in this one. The tour book noted the outside was the only really special thing about the building to begin with, so we left after seeing the ugly façade. After leaving the Sagrada Familia, we strolled over to the Ciutadella Parc. The park was really nice and relaxing and it has a famous fountain by Gaudi. His architecture is a large part of Barcelona and it can be stunningly beautiful, but it is very different. I imagine many would believe it to be overbearing. After meandering around the park, we adjourned to lunch around the port district again at a nice little restaurant famous for its generous lunches enjoyed with wine and tending to last quite a long time. We were the last table they let in for the day, as we were unaware they closed around 3pm. I think we walked in the door at 2:55. We were certainly not the last to leave, either. Lunch was fine. I had salted cod, which was their specialty, but I was not impressed. In fact, I disliked it so much Kelly threatens to make it at home when I’m being difficult.

After lunch we walked through the area surrounding Las Ramblas and ended up finding the Picasso Museum. We went in and spent a good bit of time inside it and were quite impressed with the museum and the manner in which it presented his works accompanied by explanations regarding the period in which it was created and the phase in his development he was currently experiencing. By the time we left the museum, it was well after dark, and off we went to dinner. Now here is where Kelly and I continue to make mistakes. You would think after the number of failed Mexican food attempts in London we would accept that Europe can not create good Mexican food but we have not. So off we went to Margarita Blue for Mexican food and drinks. I think you have to understand the clock of Spain to firmly grasp how empty this place was upon our entering for dinner at 8pm. The Spanish go to work at 9am or so, but take two hours off in the afternoon for siesta before working till about 8pm. They usually go to dinner around 10pm and then drink until 3am. Showing up for dinner at 8pm immediately identifies you as a tourist. Nevertheless, there we were. The margaritas were not bad, but they were tiny. I felt like I was taking shots of margarita at €7 per person per round. I have small hands, and look at the size of the drinks in my hands. Needless to say, I switched to beer, so I could get out of there with my shirt. The food wasn’t bad but not memorable.

After dinner Kelly thought it would be fun if we took pictures of us doing stupid things.

How she talked me into climbing 20 feet up a palm tree is beyond me, but I rightly blame it on tequila. It was not hard, so much as it was stupid.

I think the picture of me treating the large round marble as a crystal ball is amusing. After walking around for a bit we stumbled into My Bar where we befriended two couples that were in town from Scotland for the soccer match and another group there for a stag party.

I will conclude this part by saying we stayed out much too late and had too much fun. Consequently, we slept in quite late the next day.

We spent Saturday shaking off the effects of the previous evening and walking around Parc Guell. This was by far my favourite part of the trip, and I have yet to see anything in this world quite like it. Parc Guell is another Gaudi creation. Gaudi purchased the park in the early 1900s and lived there with his family. As a result, he designed and commissioned the construction of almost all but a few buildings in the park, and they are incredibly beautiful. In addition to the buildings, the park boasts some of the best scenic views of Barcelona. If you follow the link above it will take you to the Wikipedia information of the park. If you have time, I suggest you read it and look at the pictures, in addition to ours, as it is very interesting.

After leaving the park we returned to the hotel for a nap. We walked so much the prior two days we were exhausted. The night before did not help much either. After waking I coaxed Kelly into some good ole American food. There is only one place in Europe to get good American food…Hard Rock Café. Oh yes we did. So we dressed down and took the metro back to Catalunya for dinner. I’m not going to lie to you. It was by far the best thing I ate the entire time I was there, and I love trying new food. (As I found out the following week, we did not go to the right places.) Kelly ate macaroni and cheese, and I had fajita nachos that could feed a family of four coupled with Budweiser beers. So good! After waiting to eat for more than an hour and finally finishing, we went straight to the hotel to sleep again.

So that was Barcelona. Kelly and I enjoyed Barcelona but agreed that it would have been better with a group of friends in warm weather while casually strolling the city. We approached the city like Rome or Paris and wore ourselves out, when we should have taken it easy. Oh well, we had fun anyway. We wish you all had been with us. Lots of Love.

07 November 2007

The Ray LaMontagne Fiasco

So recently our good friends the Noris asked a bunch of us if we wanted to go to the Ray LaMontagne concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

"Ray Who?" I asked. I'd never heard of the guy. Andrew, however, replied that we'd love to attend, and Beth and Rino got tickets for us and the Tiensvolds and the Sangers (I think). This was months and months ago. After buying the tickets, Beth burned me a copy of his CD, and he's actually quite good. I still listen to the CD often.

Anyway, so the week before the show, both the Sangers and the quasi-hosts - the Noris - backed out and said they could no longer come! The Tiensvolds were still going, though, and Andrew and I had been looking forward to it, so we rushed over after work.Apparently concerts are done differently here in the UK than they are in States. We arrived early and went to the bar to have a pint before the show. Tim soon met us, and Christi arrived about the time we were moving on to our seats. Then the opening act began. She was TERRIBLE! Before she'd even finished her first song, we got up and headed back to the bar. Then there was an intermission after the opening act. Ray didn't even come on stage until about 9pm! We'd been there since about 7pm! No one stood; no one sang; no one danced. It was really strange, eerily quiet. Andrew and I stayed for a while, but we ended up leaving way early. It just wasn't that fun like it is to go to a concert back Home. Andrew and I both agreed that we may be getting older, but we still have some Rock and Roll left in us!

31 October 2007

28 Is Great!

So this year for my birthday, Andrew took me to my favourite restaurant, The Big Easy. It's an American New Orleans style restaurant (hence the name), where we can get two of my favourite things: margaritas and crab legs. This time, though, Andrew and I split a whole crab,and apparently I made a pirate face at it (no I hadn't yet had too many margaritas).The Triefs joined us for dinner, and Andrew even put a "K" candle in our dessert.
He's such a sweetie. Great birthday, all around.

29 October 2007

The All-American Weekend

So this weekend, Andrew and I celebrated Halloween and had an All-American Weekend. Our annual visitors Kip and Erica Copeland were in Birmingham (England) for training sessions before they head back to Bosnia for their missionary work. Friday night, Andrew and I had really been looking forward to taking it very low-key – renting movies, carving pumpkins, and having dinner delivered – we were happy to hear that the Copelands were quite tired from all their training courses and were happy to do the same. We decided on Chinese and finally found a take-out place with which we’re happy (in the past our Chinese delivery places have been fair at best). Andrew, Erica, and I went to Blockbuster and, finding no movies that we wanted to rent, bought eight off the cheap racks. We bought 13 Going on 30, The Goonies, Billy Madison, Almost Famous, Casino, The Godfather, and Donnie Brasko. That night we watched Monster House while we carved pumpkins and then followed it up with Donnie Brasko because Erica and I had never seen it. We ended the night by finding the giant octopus scene in The Goonies and watching the Cindy Lauper video that went with the movie (“Good Enough”).

Saturday morning we got up and went down to Clapham to a Halloween costume shop there. We were trying to find costumes for the four of us because we were planning on going to the Texas Exes (the University of Texas Alumni Association) Annual Halloween Party later that night. The costume shops were insane, though. There were so many people piled in there that we could hardly find anything. Erica bought a mask, and Kip decided to just wear his Cowboys football jersey and put the black football makeup underneath his eyes. Andrew and I had decided the night before that we would go as Brittany Spears and Kevin Federline. I went as Crazy-Shaved-Headed-Brittany-Bashing-the-SUV-with-an-Umbrella, and Andrew was K-Fed-to-the-Max.Our costumes got some laughs at the party, as you can imagine; we looked ridiculous. We met lots of nice new people and had a great time at the party. It was great actually being around all American accents for a while!

I’m going to pass the buck to Andrew now, and let him tell you about our experiences on Sunday…On Sunday, Andrew had gotten us tickets to the first American NFL game to be played on international soil – the New York Giants battling the Miami Dolphins at Wembley Stadium here in London. Andrew was so excited! We went early to beat the tube traffic there and to “tailgate” with our friends before the game.
(Tailgating here consists of meeting at pub for ciders.) Several of Andrew’s friends from PwC had managed to get tickets, as well, and so we met them at a pub near the stadium.
Our seats were really good as they were in the end zone in the upper deck but on the front row. It was terribly cold and rainy (shocking!) for the game and the players on the field were kicking up huge chunks of sod every time they hit the ground.
England still hasn’t gotten over the damage done to the pitch. The game itself might have been one of the most boring games we have ever watched.The final was 13-10 but it was 13-0 when we left at the conclusion of the third quarter. The highlight of the game was the streaker that acted as though he was about to kick-off the second half with both teams ready to start before settling for push-ups at midfield.In addition we saw John Cusack walking around the field and waiving to fans. I’m a big fan of his so that was pretty cool. As I noted, we left at the end of the third quarter. We decided that we did not want to fight the crowd to get home so we went ahead and made to commute early. We were very glad we did as they were closing the tube station at the moment we entered. I have no idea how so many others got home that evening. I talked to one of my colleagues and he told me it took over an hour and a half to get home. It took us 40 minutes. As soon as we got in we cooked tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. That seemed a perfect way to thaw out from the cold, rainy weather and it was. In all we were really glad we got to experience the event but I hope the NFL sends a better team than the Dolphins next time. The Dolphins are embarrassing to the NFL and an even worse representative of one of our favourite sports.

22 October 2007

The Humphries!

A while back, my dear friend Leah called me to tell me that she and her husband were taking a European vacation with her parents and would be staying in London for several days. Unfortunately, when we figured out the dates they were going to be here, it coincided with the weekend that Andrew and I would be in Florence with my parents, so we decided to meet for dinner on Monday night after we returned, which was also their last night in London before heading on to Paris. Andrew had to leave for Amsterdam Monday morning, so I left work Monday evening to head to Tottenham Court Road to meet them. We wandered around and dipped into a little Japanese restaurant in the area and had a fabulous meal and wine. After dinner I brought them back to our flat where we sat around and chatted for such a long time.

By the way, Leah, my monogrammed tea towel looks so cute hung up in our kitchen – it matches the sepia-toned picture of the trees hanging up on the right when you walk in. Also, I love the cookbook you sent; I haven’t cooked anything out of it, yet, because I’ve been too busy laughing over the anecdotes alongside the recipes! It was so nice to have a bit of home here in London, and I had forgotten how much I missed you both! I hope you had a lovely time in Paris and Rome, and I’ll call you soon to see how it was and whether you were able to go to Da Pietro (Andrew’s and my favourite restaurant in the world).

21 October 2007


This weekend we travelled to Florence, Italy, again, but to meet my parents this time (last time we were there we met Andrew’s parents). Andrew and I took a different approach to Florence this time, and instead of staying in a hotel, Andrew found a flat for us to rent for the weekend. For the same price as it would have been for us to stay in a hotel, we got a small one-bedroom flat with a full living room, little kitchen, bathroom, and even a little balcony. It was a beautiful little place with huge windows that opened up to let in the fresh Florentine air.

We arrived in Florence late Thursday night (we’re talking midnight) and went straight to bed. Friday morning we slept late because Mom and Dad’s schedule had been changed so that they weren’t getting into Florence until Friday afternoon, and then they were supposed to go on an excursion with their group and then to dinner. Andrew and I bummed around Florence and shopped. I got a new pair of leather gloves and two new wool hats, one grey and one red (in preparation for the impending London winter). We also bought birthday presents for my parents.
Later that night we went to dinner at a little place that our tour book said was great, but we were a little overwhelmed at the menu, which was all in Italian. (I had given my Italian dictionary to my parents!) After getting the waitress to point out some entrees that weren’t intestines, stomach or liver, we ended up having a great meal and met some Auburn and Alabama fans who were celebrating their 50-year anniversary! After dinner, we met my parents at the Duomo and dipped into a little restaurant to share a bottle of wine with them.

For our birthdays, my parents had arranged for us to join their tour group for a day trip to Sienna, which Andrew and I had missed during our last visit to Florence. We met them at the crack of dawn at their hotel for breakfast and then piled into the bus for the drive to Sienna. The drive to Sienna (what parts of it we didn’t sleep through!) was beautiful: rows upon rows of olive trees and grapevines line the countryside for a breathtaking view of the wine country. We arrived in Sienna to freezing weather; apparently the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees overnight, and none of us had really come fully prepared for temperatures that low. We went to a cathedral and saw the skull of Saint Catherine of Sienna, which was a little creepy (we saw her thumb, too, but the rest of her is in Rome).
Then we went up to San Gimignano, an adorable little town with lots of towers. We had lunch there, and Andrew picked out and bought me a much-needed black and brown purse so that I never have to change purses again! Later we met back up with the group and went to Tenuta Torciano for a wine tasting with a crazy little man named Pierre Luigi, which was really fun.

After tasting several wines, olive oils, and such, we loaded back onto the bus and headed back to Florence.
It had been a great day in Sienna, and, Mom and Dad, we can’t thank you enough for making that day so special for us.

When we returned to Florence, Andrew and I had made dinner reservations for the six of us – my parents, their friends the Nassettas, and us – at a place called Il Latini, which was such a popular venue that they turn their phones off during peak hours. We were running late getting back from Sienna, so we were rushing to try and get there and couldn’t call to tell them we were running late. We took two taxis, and my parents and Mr. Nassetta ended up getting there first. Apparently, they told my dad and Pete that we were too late, but when Andrew and I walked in with Mrs. Nassetta and saw Mom, the waitress told my mom to follow her to our table. We think the waitress got confused as to who we were and gave us someone else’s table! We followed her, sat down, and were informed that there were no menus. They began bringing out plate after plate and course after course, everything to be passed around and shared. The food was outstanding, and the atmosphere was amazing. By the time we finished several bottles of the house wine and coffees and dessert, we were stuffed!

After such a long day, we all parted ways after dinner, but I have to say that it was so nice seeing my parents even for a single day. I’m so glad that they had such a great time, and I hope that they have as much fun next year when they come visit us in London!