crystal's capers

one girl's international adventures

Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's the whine flu, nothing more

Yeah, I've been carrying on about my flu for about a week now. Woe is me and all that. Now that Riccardo's home from his business trip in India, though, I can shut up about it because I get my sympathy from him. He's good at taking care of me. :D

Flu-time discoveries: being ill is great for the bank account, and the waistline.

So there's not a lot to report, since I haven't really been out of the house in a week. I did try to go back to work on Thursday, but had to high-tail it outta there at precisely 3:00 with blurry vision. Went home and straight to bed. Friday I was worse than when I started.

Have tried to amuse myself by researching travel on the internet. My healthy self is getting the itch. Haven't been anywhere new in like 9 months! (What a spoiled whiner I am!) I found this really cool cruise called the 3 Continents cruise. It departs from Athens and ports at Istanbul, Limassol, Mykonos, Cairo, Alexandria and Crete. Would be amazing. I've always wanted to do the Greek islands, and always wanted to see the pyramids... best of both worlds? Anyway, the timings don't seem to work out with my holidays... not to mention the expense. Ho-hum.

I started reading the 'Twilight' series again. Also out of boredom. But I was thinking about it because of the release of the second film, 'New Moon'. So much talk, I think I might actually have to go out and rent the first one.

Guess that's all. Ciao! xx

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Problem with Miles

Riccardo loads up tons of frequent flyer miles for work. I also collect all the Airmiles I can on things like petrol and groceries and insurances. We like to think we will eventually spend the miles on travel - like fun travel, or money-saving on required travel... so far this is not the case.

After over 3 years of saving up miles, we've yet to use any. Don't get me wrong, we have well enough to buy flights. But the more I investigate our options, the more irritated I become with the whole idea. It's such a scam!

Airlines want you to collect their miles, because once you start you might become more loyal in order to watch your balance grow. But there are few glitches in the system:

Lufthansa, which partners with AirCanada, Northwest and many more, sure allows you to clock up the miles, but they never offer international flights for you to spend them on. I've tried booking 6 months in advance, I've tried booking 16 months in advance (in fact, they only let you book 12 months in advance, and apparently only offer about 2 seat for the whole 12 month period) - no dice. Not to mention, if you do find a flight (which guarateed is on dates entirely wrong from what you needed), you will pay upwards of $800 in taxes and charges. I mean, this is a reduction from the full fare, but come on!

KLM, which partners with AirFrance and others, offer tons more flights and charges less for taxes and charges (still a weighty $500 average), but up until recently, wouldn't let you buy additional miles, so even if you were 30 miles short for a flight that required 60,000, you were screwed. What's more annoying with this though, is that for short-haul flights, like the ones I was looking into for Athens, for example, the taxes and charges are pretty much the same cost as simply booking a full fare. Honestly. Not to mention that it costs tens of thousands of miles to go anywhere. Why would I use 30,000 miles, plus spend 200 euros on a flight that would cost me 250 euros outright on Expedia?

Then there's the expiry dates. Nice one.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Gearing Up

Even though we only had people visiting for 3 days and just one additional social event, I still don't feel like half-term break was extremely restful. It's hard work getting a house in order, and keeping it in order for a whole week! We've vacuumed more times this week than we usually do in a month!

Nonetheless, both of us are back to work tomorrow. I'm bracing myself for a long 7-week half-term run to Christmas. Though I suspect that the work part will be less stressful than the holiday that will follow! Admittedly, the Christmas holiday will be stressful in a good, family-fun sort of way. I do not, however, envy Riki, who will start back to work with a Bang: he leaves the house at about 4:30am tomorrow to fly to Paris, and will come home around midnight on the same day. Then back to his regular work week for the next two week, then India. Poor boy.

Wish us luck! xx

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Happy Hallowe'en

Hallowe'en is still my favourite non-holiday holiday. This Hallowe'en is the first in 3 years that Riccardo and I have been able to celebrate together (last year he was in Germany, and the year before, Japan, both for work) so we decided to have a little shindig. I even carved a little Hello Kitty jack-o-lantern! Since we bought masks when we were in Venice, we decided to use them and be masquerading Venetians. We even rented Riccardo a hooded cloak. Very scary! But, boy are those masks annoying to wear! - mine lasted about half an hour!

Wholly against British tradition, I made the dinner pot-luck. Who wants to cook all day, geez!? Well, actually, I still did cook all day, because I tried a new recipe (rice, mushroom and cheese filo pie - mmmmm!), made 160 wontons (most of which we froze for Christmas), and baked camembert with walnuts. Riccardo tried to make his famous pizza, mini style, but they all stuck to the pizza stones - disaster! Nonetheless, the great thing about pot-luck is that you get to try different dishes, and I didn't have to do the dessert, which I suck at.

So, as I said, we provided pie, cheese, wontons and mini-pizzas. Mike and Liz came and brought more mini pizzas (this time on puff pastry) and oatmeal cookies. Beata and Martin brought a veggie salad and a lemon cake. Mari brought Chinese pudding. And Kate and Rob brought beef curry. Delicious - all of it! After our extensive 3-course meal, the gang proceeded to play board games. Laughs were had by all. Remember, N.B.M.A stands for, National Bank of Mexico, Actually. Thanks for that one, Liz!

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New Camera!

It's a long story, but we had some credit vouchers for an electronics store that had to be used. As I've been having issues with my 6-year-old and very well used camera, we decided to put those vouchers toward a new camera. It's our Christmas present to ourselves, I guess you could say. Anyway, I'm superexcited to have a great little Sony Cyber-shot for day-to-day photo ops.

It also does video, which is why I have to show you these:


video

And hear Riccardo and Kim, but mostly Riccardo, butcher our favourite Celine Dion song!

video

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Canadians on the loose!

Not only have I been off work for the past week, but since he had holidays he had to use, Riccardo opted to take the week off with me. And what better excuse, but because the lovely Kimberly and Corey came to visit from Canada!

Having started
their trip in Edinburgh - which they highly recommend - the two made their way to Birmingham on Monday afternoon. They were greeted by a raclette dinner and copious amounts of booze, which I'm sure didn't help Corey's on-coming cold. We were quick to learn that the two are huge fans of Rock Band; we are ALL Guitar Heroes! After that, we sang karaoke into the wee hours, and I didn't even have to pressure people - they wanted to!

Tuesday Riccardo whisked Corey off to Wales to climb S
nowdon. The two barely made it back in one piece after their 13 hour day. Kimberly and I toured Bicester - a ritzy outlet village boasting such names as Prada and Gucci, and offering deals like 50% off high street prices. Well, 50% off WAAAAY too expensive, is still too expensive for us! But we did hit up the Mac store - and Stratford, where we had lunch and a walk.

Then in was back home to put together another raclette dinner (they liked it so much, they asked for more! Hey, that's easy!) and board-game playing.


Wednesday I took Kim and Corey to the Jewellery Quarter here in Birmingham and we all perused the small-
and-shinies. We managed to keep the purchases under 100GBP, which was good.

Later, Riccardo and I drove our touring pals to Warwick, where they toured Warwick castle and we did some Christmas shopping in good ole Leamington Spa (seeming very run-down since our last visit).


As it was Corey's 30th birthday on Wednesday, we treated the newlyweds to dinner at what was supposed to be a posh gastro-pub in the country. Unfortunately the service was terrible, and they screwed up our order in several instances - no tip there. We won't be going back. Plans were meant to take us into Birmingham city centre for a bit of a pub crawl after dinner, however, Corey's cold was full-on at this point, and so we kept it quiet and low-key.


Finally, Corey and Kimberly set off for the final leg of their vacation, to London, on Thursday morning. We were sad to see them go, but have promises of grandeur for our visit at theirs this coming April!

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