Archive for April, 2011

April 23, 2011

Places I Love to Eat in NYC


As I find I am often asked where to eat in New York, I decided to respond to this when most recently asked with a Google Map, so here it is:

This list is hardly exhaustive. Even as I write this, I find myself thinking of more places to add! (Please feel free to remind me of places I’ve left out!)

It’s a bit of a work in progress that is based on knowledge that may be 3 years out of date, but these are all places I’m always happy to return to when I am back in the City. They’re all places that have consistently served me well over the course of my 13 years as a New Yorker.

I’ve made notes on each restaurant as well, which you can view by clicking on the markers. It may just be easier to visit the map itself, though, where you can see the map and all of the notes at the same time.

April 21, 2011

Practical Driving Exam #1


Little Yaris at the Wood Green Test Center

Months of driving lessons later, I found myself in late December 2010 and all ready to book my practical (road) exam. The closest test center to where I live is in North London, in an area called Wood Green, which is right near White Hart Lane, for all you Spurs fans.

Anyway, I got a test date for April 21, and sparingly took lessons over the last four months to keep up my skills in prep for the big day. I probably should have scheduled more practice sessions/ lessons recently.

See, this post is entitled, “Practical Driving Exam #1”, because yours truly will be pursuing a “Practical Driving Exam #2” in June.

First a bit of background: I had planned 5 hours of lessons/practice time this week, thinking that such would be sufficient to make up for the 5 or so weeks since I had last driven. This might have been so, but this week has been further complicated by my asthma and medicinal side effects, insomnia, in particular. (If you’ve taken Prednisone, you know my pain.)

A view of the parking lot of shame.

Monday’s lesson was the worst one I have *ever* had. I stalled the engine four times, nearly took off someone’s mirror, and really, I just did everything wrong.

Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s lessons near the test center were better, but still, I wasn’t doing well. I felt really out of my element, and the area around Wood Green is full of very aggressive drivers with no sympathy for a car with a learner’s tag. In two days of driving there, I observed a broad variety of hand gestures that I’d not experienced in my own neighborhood. I would have rescheduled the test, but doing so would have been a forfeit, and I thought it best to just experience the exam, as it was already paid for.

Thursday arrived, and I met my instructor at 11 to head up to Wood Green for my 13:03 exam (no, that time isn’t a typo). We did a bit of practice, including a right turn on the Great Cambridge Roundabout, which may not seem like a big deal, but someone even made an instructional video about it and put it on You Tube!

At test time, the first bad news came: my examiner had called in sick. The good news was that they could accommodate me at 14:57 (really!) because an examiner from another center would be coming, or I could just reschedule the test altogether. Initially, the latter seemed a good idea, until they told me that the next date available would likely be August or September. (Note: Wood Green is a small center with a lot of demand, thus the long wait.)

I took what was behind Door #1: 14:57. I felt lucky to at least have the choice!

Two more hours to kill, we took a lunch break (cookies and water) , and reviewed maneuvers. We even did reverse bay parking, one I never mess up. I thought I might as well practice, given that I have the time and I’m paying my instructor.

By the time I returned to the Center, I had already driven for about three hours. (The most I’ve driven in a single go in the last ten years is two hours.)

Anyway, about the Center… Wood Green’s tiny parking lot is anything but welcoming to a new driver. Getting in and out of it isn’t exactly easy, as you’ve got a very short, sloping driveway going into a busy road with a bus stop right where you’d turn left. (You can kind of see it in the picture.) Even the lot isn’t the easiest thing to maneuver. It’s rather small!

After signing in and meeting my examiner, we headed out to the evil lot where the examiner asked me to open Little Yaris’ (yes, that’s what I call her) hood and show him where the coolant goes as well as explain how I ensure that there is an appropriate amount of coolant in the car.

Next, we all got in the car, and I faced my second question on adjusting the headrest. Easy enough.

We began the exam with the maneuver. I was given the easiest maneuver imaginable:

“Please pull out either to the left or to the right and perform a reverse parking maneuver.”

All I had to do was pull out a bit, turn my wheel all the way, drive out of the spot, and then do the exact opposite. It’s the equivalent of putting something down and picking it back up.

Of course, that isn’t quite what I did. For some reason, I decided that was too good to be true.  Surely it wouldn’t count if it was that easy, right?

What did I do? Come join in my shame! (I’m the gray car in the diagrams):

First, I pulled out imprecisely because I… am an idiot, as established. I quickly found I was too close to the cars on my right. What to do? The right thing: readjust my position and then reverse in, or…

The wrong thing: I decided to try to get back in the parking space anyway, only I wasnt quite in there because I had started the maneuver too close:

So, I pulled out again, but I wasn’t far enough from the cars on my right again, so I reversed to give myself a bit more space:

Then, I advanced to almost where I wanted to be in the tiny lot to commence the maneuver (a car’s width from the bay) and I reversed into the spot. This time, I landed on the line because I still was a bit too close. *sigh* I wasn’t panicked or stressed, but UGH: I couldn’t help but think how much I’d really like to just start all over again, but in these cases, you just have to fix the mess you make. I had to reposition the car, something that I normally do effortlessly…

But of course, it only got worse.
As I needed to position the car fully within within the lines, I pulled forward and then reversed to straighten the car. Unfortunately, I was just tired and feeling really stupid at this point. I just lost any sense of bearing and instinct. I reversed the wrong way and completely worsened my position

.It was as though a cardboard box of kittens I was babysitting had popped open, kittens were crawling everywhere, and I couldn’t see any graceful way to collect them all. I ended up needing to advance and reverse TWO more times before getting myself nicely centered in the spot.

When “the longest reverse into a parking spot, ever” was finally over, I put the car in neutral, pulled up the parking brake, and accepted that this test was long and well failed.

We kicked off the rest of the test. The rest of the exam was as expected, only it was easier. My later test time (teamed with my very time consuming maneuver) meant that risking the roundabout traffic on the day before a holiday weekend wasn’t an option, time wise. The independent driving sections went very well. Barring a case where I was asked to drive on after stopping where I did not see a car coming a bit of a way back, despite looking, the rest of the exam went well; i.e. there was no further humiliation. My instructor and I had a good laugh about it on the drive home.

What have I been reminded of through experience today: The most simple of things can become intricate when you make them in to something they aren’t!

Oh, and I’ll be taking my next exam at Hendon! (Not because of the parking lot, but because the wait was shorter for an exam.)

April 20, 2011

About the Practical Driving Exam


What you get after the red "L"

First, I have to stress that the UK driving exams seem much harder than those in the States.

In the US, most people I know learned from their parents in a relatively short amount of time. Once granted a license, you are entitled to drive either a standard or an automatic, regardless of which one you used during your exam.

I sat two driving exams in the US: One in New York State in 1994 (failed) and one in Virginia in 1998 (passed, but I absolutely shouldn’t have… that’s a story for maybe tomorrow). New York required a parallel park and a bit of simple suburban driving. Virginia was just simple, suburban driving. In both cases, I wasn’t prepared for the exam. (My dad let me drive his car once or twice in the Fall of 1994 and my mother just made such an ordeal of my trying to learn, I rarely got any practice with her. I couldn’t afford professional lessons, so I just tried.)

I don't recall roads in the States being this narrow. Buses drive on this too!

In the UK, it seems like everyone takes professional lessons, and often, then take quite a few. I read that most people will need at least 40 hours of instruction to prepare; although women tend to take more lessons than men do. As a learner driver, you are not allowed on motorways, ever.

Admittedly, I think you have to be a more skilled driver here. The roads are much more narrow. Check out the picture of Hampstead High Street from Google Street view, and you’ll see what I mean. This isn’t even the worse! There’s a road going uphill to Hampstead where I find I tend to hold my stomach in while driving, just in case it makes my tiny driving school car, a Toyota Yaris, a little slimmer. I can’t imagine driving a Range Rover on that road, but people do, and they all keep their side mirrors.

My instructor's little Yaris is similar.

A UK road exam is around 40 minutes long, and in many cases, it will include a major roundabout and a bit of driving on a busy A Road, where you’ll need to drive in excess of 40 mph. You are always required to perform one of four maneuvers (3 point turn, reverse around a corner, and reverse park (either parallel or into a parking bay).  You are asked about vehicle safety checks, as you are expected to know how to check tires, power steering, oil levels, coolant levels, etc. in addition to knowing how to operate lights, fog lights, wipers, and so forth. Throughout the test, you are advised where to go, except during the two independent driving sections. During Independent driving, the examiner will give you a brief set of directions and you must then carry them out. In 1/3 or so of tests, the examiner will require you to perform an emergency stop. The full summary of fun  is available on this DVLA site here.

I’ll be taking my exam on a standard, and undoubtedly, any doubts about my driving skills that I still carry because I believe I didn’t really earn the license I got in 1998 will be long gone when I pass.

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April 15, 2011

Paris- Tout Seul!


Spring time near Parc Monceau

In the mighty pursuit of self-improvement, I’ve been taking intensive French courses for the past 4 weeks at the Alliance Française in London. They closed for a two week holiday starting 11 April, and upon learning that there would be no leçons for yours truly, I pinged a friend living there and a trip materialized.

I had lots of plans of my practicing my French, but more importantly, this trip represented four days mostly on my own. I’d do all the stuff I wanted to do for exactly as long as I wanted to do it.

Did I actually do it all? No, not even close.

Monday:

Mondays Wander (click to enlarge)

The first day, I took a 520a Eurostar, arriving Gare du Nord at 850… the things we do when the crazy early tickets are much less expensive! I met Olga at her office near the Champs Elysées to collect the keys and headed up to her digs, right near the Parc Monceau.

After settling in, I headed North and West and wandered around Montmartre with my camera, taking in the Cemetery and Sacré Coeur before heading to my planned lunch destination: Café Burq, on Rue Burq, at Darren’s suggestion. Unfortunately, the café was closed, but I managed to get my Croque Monsieur fix in around the corner at a local spot.

More evidence of Spring

I wandered back home for a bit, attempted a nap and then headed out to meet Pinar near Etienne Marcel. We had a nice walk and a drink along Rue Montorgueil and enjoyed the sunshine next to St Eustache.  I was back home by 10, awaiting the return of a late working Olga and watched Law & Order SVU en Français. I suspected I was coming down with a cold and wanted to ensure I caught up on sleep.

Even on this first day, I couldn’t help but notice how much I felt that living in London has changed me. For starters,  I kept walking on the left. I was initially a bit taken aback by the number of people who spoke to me, either asking for directions or for the sake of conversation, as I think I could easily spend a week walking around London without being spoken to by anyone. Even in shops, you are always greeted, which really is nice, even if it felt a bit alien. I think one makes a lot of observations when alone that normally go missed when in company.

Tuesday:

Musée DOrsay

Day II I set my sights on an ice cream cone and got to it via a scenic route. I left the camera home, deciding that I’d rather have my books.

Tuesdays Wander

I kicked off my walk by heading to the Musée D’Orsay, which I ended up skipping because it had a huge queue in front of it. I ended up writing off most of my museum plans for this trip, as I couldn’t justify being inside during  good weather. I can see fine art in January, after all.

After wandering by lots of galleries in St. Germain, I stopped into a café, right across from la Durée. This seemed like a good turn of events, yet the epic fail of the day continued when, as a settled my bill, a mob of 30-40 students came and completely surrounded the palace of macarons. I decided to come back later and contined my walk all around St. Germain, including to see the chuch that it is named for and walking along the namesake blvd.

My Andouillette

Heading towards the Quartier Latin, I chose a restaurant from my guidebook as my lunch destination. Christophe is a little spot on Rue Descartes, right next to L’ecole polytéchnique. The service was charming, and even my impressive French was tolerated. I ordered the special, an andouilette. The waiter asked if I knew what I was ordering and gestured to his gut, and I said yes, as I recalled reading that  Andouillette was a sausage encased in the pig’s intestine. What I didn’t realize is that it also contains a lot of pig intestine. The dish arrived, and well, I made it through about half, which was my plan given that I’m out and eating quite a bit! The flavor was extremely strong, and it is a bit hard to shake the smell, but I’m happy I tried it. While it was probably the only andouilette I’ll ever order, I’d definitely eat at Christophe again.

The prize.

Still on track for ice cream, I headed over to Île St Louis to Maison Berthillion, which was closed through 22 April. WTF? Fortunately, Île St Louis really should be called  Île Berthillion, as quite a few places sell it, even when the mothership is unavailable. I became the happy consumer of two scoops of some very tasty ice cream. I went with vanilla and praliné au citron et coriandre. The latter was possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever had.

Over the bridge I went and back home after nearly 10 miles. I was feeling really tired, which furthered my suspicions that I was developing a cold. I ignored them, and watched Wheel of Fortune on TF1. Le Roue is a bit different in France. The host has a dog with him, or at least did for the two episodes I saw. Incentivized by an opportuinty to practice speaking,I  eventually relented with a pharmacy trip.  The trip was a success, and I returned home with this head stuff and this throat stuff.  Then, I dropped into the cafe on the corner, Millesimes,  for dinner. I had an excellent tatin de tomate, and really the whole experience was lovely barring the wanker from LA who wouldn’t stop talking at his newly found Aussie companions. I don’t know if it’s that Americans speak much more loudly than the French or that my ear was quick to cling to the words of English speakers. I fear the former is true.

Wednesday:

Wednesdays Wander

Happiness is a Trip to Stohrer.

Wednesday, I woke up feeling solidly miserable, and after I failed to squeeze in a bot more sleep, I wandered out into the city, heading down Boulevard Hausmann to Le Printemps in search of some lovely La Durée macarons for my lovely host. Choosing macarons is hard work, in that one really wants two of each, as if preparing to survive a great flood. Shopped up, I continued down the Boulevard as it changed names, dropping in for a slice of quiche at Le Brébant, right near the Grandes Boulevards métro stop.

After that, sick or not, i knew i had to achieve my goal of a pastry at Pâtisserie Stohrer, Paris’ oldest patiserrie. (Stohrer was the pastry chef at Versailles before opening this shop in 1730). I opted for a pain aux raisins, which i blissfully consumed outside of Église St Eustache before a trip to Centre Pompidou.

By 4 o’clock, i was wiped out and went back to the flat to crash. I ended up staying in for the night, and sadly, I cancelled my dinner plans with Pinar. Not exciting, i know.  The highlight was watching a Lifetime movie dubbed into French, Le Pacte de Grossesse, aka: The Pregnancy Pact. I can’t help but think that Lifetime movies should stay in the States where they belong.

Thursday:

Thursdays Wander

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

Thursday, I was feeling much better, and ventured out with every intention of making the most of my last day. I started out (after a pain au chocolat, of course) by taking the Métro to Bastille for a wander around le Marais and through le Place des Vosges.

Heading south from there, I found myself at Pont Marie: a gateway to the now renamed, “Île Berthillion”. Naturally, I had to go over that bridge and have more ice cream. This time, I complemented the praliné au citron et coriandre with a bit of le pistache.

Inside the Cathedral

Next stop was Île de la Cité, where I visited le Cathédrale Notre Dame. It’s free to enter, which is nice, but it’s a bit overwhelming to take it all in amidst numerous tourists and a lot of advisory signage. It is extraordinary to see.

Suffering at Pierre Hermé

From there I headed across Pont St Michel to head back to St. Germain in search of more macarons, this time at Pierre Hermé.  I think I may have to add, “maracon picking” to my list of hobbies, as it really is fun. I very unFrenchly tried a few of the macarons in a nearby park before heading west along Rue Grenelle, past the Musée des Armées, to le Parc du Champ des Mars and of course, the Eiffel Tower.

Le Tour Eiffel

I’d never seen the Eiffel Tower up close, as every time I’ve been to Paris, it has always  been with people who have already done it. So, I walked right underneath it. I’m not sure if I would have bothered going to the top if I had sufficient time to do so. I think I like walking around too much.

So, from there, I began my journey back to my home for the week, as there was a possibility that my host would be out of work in time for an early supper. Unfortunately, such wasn’t meant to be, so I dropped in for another quick bite at Millesimes before heading to catch my Eurostar home.

April 9, 2011

Health and Safety Truly Gone Awry


As seen outside of the Kensington Homebase last weekend:

April 8, 2011

Seed Stitch Cowl


The Finished Product

Here’s my latest knitted thing: another cowl sort of thingy. You wrap it around twice when you wear it.

The cowl in action!

I realize my knitting isn’t exactly a thrilling topic, but it is something I’ve come to find pretty enjoyable, and I find that with each thing I make I really do push myself to pick up new skills.

I found the pattern (free!) on Ravelry, and it was my first attempt at ribbing, moss (seed) stitch, and knitting in the round, which is where you actually knit a seamless tube.

The biggest lesson from this one? When knitting in the round, make sure the stitches are straight when you do the second row, as I had to rip out the first 12 rows (2400 or so stitches) and start over when I found I was knitting a möbius strip instead of a column.

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April 7, 2011

Dual Citizenship


If only it were this simple. (Thanks to Ben Hayes of http://www.thesheep.co.uk)

So, when asked about dual citizenship, I’ve been pretty vague in saying that the US seems to only really care about my US citizenship.

The US State Department offers a bit of guidance here, which I found a bit surprising and even more vague, specificially:

However, a person who acquires a foreign citizenship by applying for it may lose U.S. citizenship. In order to lose U.S. citizenship, the law requires that the person must apply for the foreign citizenship voluntarily, by free choice, and with the intention to give up U.S. citizenship.

Intent can be shown by the person’s statements or conduct.The U.S. Government recognizes that dual nationality exists but does not encourage it as a matter of policy because of the problems it may cause

So, I read more and I asked around… and here’s what I gather:

The only rule the US has on dual citizenship is that you must always enter and exit the US on your US passport.  You must carry both when travelling and use the fast line for citizens upon arrival in each respective country.

You must always take both passports because the US Government fines airlines around $3,000 if they board an American citizen traveling on a foreign passport. I expect this must happen quite frequently.

Also, when renewing  my US Passport, I must include a very brief  letter along with the application stating something along the lines of:  “I Francoise, chose to naturalize as a UK citizen in 2011.  At no time did I intend to relinquish my American citizenship, nor do I intend to do so in the future.”  The reason for this, is that taking on a foreign nationality is a potentially expatriating act (as mentioned in the text above), but the Supreme Court has ruled that you only lose your American citizenship if you expressly intended to do so when taking on the other nationality.  It seems that as long as one makes it clear that that one wanted both, and not simply to take on UK citizenship while rejecting US citizenship, all is fine.  While the idea is implicit in the sense one would be renewing a US Passport, you still need to state it explicitly.

Interesting, eh?
That said, the rules are always subject to change, and you shouldn’t bet the farm on the advice of a stranger, so here are some other links (in addition to the Dual Citizenship guidance page, referenced above) for fun reading: