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A real pauper’s portions …

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Soooo… after shopping last night my better half and I were feeling the familiar pang of hunger. Seeing we were close to several restaurants we decided to eat at Jack Astor’s.

Yah, this is the place….

It’s “okay“. My ideal time to go there would be if all the other restaurants in a 400 mile radius burned down and it was the only one left standing. That being said, it has been probably 2 years since I’d last eaten there and who knows, maybe it improved.

I was wrong.

The bubbly waitress comes over and is so over-the-top in excitement that I’m in sensory overload. She’s super loud in welcoming us. “And how are we todaaaaaay? I’m (whatever her name was) and I’ll be your server toniiiiiight. We have new menu items and they are super dooper delicioussss! So I’ll give you a few minutes to look all this over and can I get you anything to drink while you do thaaaaaat???”  She was really nice, and so sweet she made my teeth hurt. I just couldnt’ stop staring at her big teeth. But anyway, enough about her. Nothing on the menu really appealed to me, which is strange because A) I love food, B) I never have a problem finding something to eat no matter where I go, and C) I was really really hungry. I mean, with the right amount of ketchup, the brown paper that they put on the table was looking really good at this point.

I ordered the nachos and my boyfriend ordered the hamburger platter. I ordered the nachos because so far in life, I’ve discovered that like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, it’s pretty hard to screw up nachos.

I was wrong.

The nachos arrive on a huge round cookie-sheet sized pan, probably 18 inches in diameter and about 4 layers of chips deep. So far, I love the portion size. What I don’t get is that there is probably about 90 nachos in front of me and one teeny tiny bowl of salsa in addition to yet a second teeny tiny bowl of sour cream. Are they serious? The little bowl had about a tablespoon of salsa. That’s it. Like what??? Where the hell’s the rest of the salsa?

Looks good and all, but is that all the salsa I get???

The waitress saunters by and says loudly, “And how’s everything going heeeeeere?” I smiled and said, “I could have some more salsa please? I’m gonna need way more than this.” She smiles and says, “Oh for suuuuuure!” She disappears and a minute or two later a different waitress comes over with a teeny tiny silver bowl of salsa on a plate and puts it down in front of me. “Here you go!” she says proudly as if she’d just placed her olympic gold medal in front of me and I’m supposed to be impressed. I pull the plate closer and looked in the little dish. This second portion has even less than the original one — it’s only half full.  At this point, I suddenly realize that the cost of salsa must come out of the staff’s wages and hence the pauper’s portions in front of me.

It doesn’t look that small until you compare it to my fork right beside it.

I now wished my mother was with me simply because there would be a good chance she’d have a spare insulin syringe in her purse and I was obviously going to need it to ration out the salsa for all the chips I had, either that or I should go buy an eye dropper so as to apply a drop to each chip. This was ridiculous.  When I eat nachos I usually have a tablespoon of salsa per chip, not per platter. With what I had, I was obviously going to have to be very frugal with my condiment consumption…. no putting salsa AND sour cream on each chip… no way… I couldn’t spare it. I had to choose… either a pinhead size drop of salsa, or a pinhead size drop of sour cream. Suddenly, this meal was going to have to take some serious planning and honestly, I was far too hungry and too tired to work out the mathematical equation necessary to ensure I had enough for the whole meal.

Suddenly I feel like the idiot of a man on last year’s Royal Caribbean cruise who sat with his wife in the buffet restaurant and while sampling the ENORMOUS plate of food in front of him, had something bad to say about each thing. I should mention that this man looked like an ornery Santa Claus… weighed a considerable amount and didn’t look like too much of a fussy eater at any time in his life. He’d take a bite of something on his plate and then tell his wife, “This bread is too dry”, followed by, “These sausages are tasteless”, then “This beef is too salty”, then “This rice is far to bland”, followed by, “These patties are overcooked.” He did this for all 20 or so items he managed to fit on his plate. And then finally he got to some item on his plate and said, “Well this is the only thing with any taste on here.”  He ate everything on his plate, pushed it away from him and after reflecting for a moment he said, “This music is making my ears bleed.” He got up from the table, and when he returned he announced to his wife, “I told them to change this music, it was giving me a headache.” Suddenly as we sat there, sure enough, the music went from the bouncy tunes of the Top 40 to a lull-you-to-sleep-on-your-plate type of elevator music. We thereafter referred to him as the Food Critic whenever we saw him. Must be nice to have the world revolve around you… but then again… he could very well have had his own gravitational pull… so there you go.

Back to my lack of salsa situation…. I got about 80% of the way through the massive platter when my boyfriend decided to help me out. He takes some chips and I say to him, “Put some salsa on them.” He shakes his head and doesn’t say anything so I said it again, “Here, put some salsa on them.” He shakes his head and says, “No, I’m too scared to use any of your salsa.” I couldnt’ help but laugh. He could clearly see how this whole situation was taking a toll on me. I must’ve looked frazzled as I dipped each chip and if it had too much salsa, I’d shake it off so as to only have a mere hint of the condiment before eating it. I couldn’t waste any of it. I suppose I could have asked the waitress for a more reasonable size dish of it, but I didn’t want to hear her bubbly voice draw out the last syllable from everything she said even once more. It was bad enough she was going to come back with the bill soooooooon.

I wish I were a professional restaurant critic because this experience alone would get the restaurant a big fat fail. A big fat zero on my satisfactory scale. Zero. Zero as in the same amount of salsa I was served. Zero.

There. That’s my rant. I feel better now and might just go indulge myself in a whole punch bowl full of salsa right now.

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Beating the rush in London…

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When taking my second trip to Paris, I decided to take the leap and hook in a couple days to jolly ole’ England and hit London. I hadn’t been there and with all the hype of the (then) Royal nuptuals taking place in only a few months, I thought it would be the perfect time to swindle a side trip to this great city.

With the itinerary already set in place for activities in Paris, it left me and Erin a short amount of time for London. After deciding our best option was to fly there we realized we’d be hitting the ground running since it worked out to be that we would have less than 48 hours in London. That’s not much time to see anything, but we were glad to take the option.

Now, not being familiar with European airlines, we booked Easy Jet, a discount airline with incredibly reasonable rates. And that’s just what we were looking for…  a cheap flight for a rediculously quick trip. This is where the motto “You get what you pay for” comes into play.

Yah, there’s a reason these people are running to the plane…

We hopped the train in Paris to the airport, checked in, and were seated in the lounge area waiting for the boarding call. The announcement comes, and immediately about 80 people started lining up. We thought they were nuts.

The people who line up for any flight as soon as the gate agent calls for pre-boarding always baffled me. Suuuure, get the in the lineup so you are the first one on the plane and you can sit down for 30 minutes while the rest of us get on. It’s not like the first ones on the plane get better food (or any food in most cases), a better seat or get to the destination any faster, right?

Erin looked at me and said, “What seat are you?”

I looked at my ticket, ” Hmmmm… oh… 35 I think. I guess each seat is numbered individually, not the row itself.”

The people in the line start moving and after the majority were gone, we joined the last of the passengers and went to the plane. Imagine the shock when we got there and realized it was sheer chaos. I wasn’t in seat number 35…. that must’ve been my ticket number. The seats on this plane had no numbers, they were on a first come, first served basis. It was a freakin’ free-for-all. People were pushing and shoving and getting angry with one another, it was like we were all kids and someone had broken a pinata full of airplane seats and everyone was scrambling trying to get one. It was nuts. No damn wonder people were lining up inside the airport. Erin and I somehow managed to find two seats together and sat down. My nerves were shot and I was frazzled. How on earth did this whole rediculous  no-assigned-seat idea come together? All my life we’ve heard how refined, how well mannered, how socially proper the English were, so what the hell was this???

We arrived to a foggy day in London, took another train and were on way to the city centre. We were smart enough to book the London Pass which gave us admittance to many London attractions for one low price – that is, for as many as we could squeeze in during our stay. We also bought tickets for the London double decker bus hop on – hop off tour. I couldn’t very well go to London and not get on the double decker bus.

I made it to London!

Travelling with Erin is like travelling with Rand McNally in human version. She maps out cities in her mind weeks, if not months, before we ever arrive. It helped that Erin had previously been to London once already and she never forgot a detail. Nope. Not one.

Imagine my delight when while strolling through Picadilly Circus I stumbled upon one of the greatest places on earth — Whittard of Chelsea. A freakin’ tea/coffee/hot chocolate store. I’d hit my hot-choco-holic shangrila. This place was too good to be true. Tins of hot chocolate in all sorts of heavenly flavours… cinnamon, rocky road, coconut, orange, and others. It was unreal. I loaded up with three cannisters, one each of Luxury Dark, Cinnamon and of course the Coconut. After all, I had no idea if the rest of our tour of the city would bring us to another one of these amazing stores. Turned out, Whittard of Chelsea is to London what Tim Horton’s is to Canada. They were just about on every street corner.

My Hot Chocolate Shangrila….

We made our way through the city on our double decker bus, wind in our hair, fog in our eyes, and we blew past famous landmarks and highlights…. Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and the Parliament buildings.

We took a ride on the London Eye (that did wonders for my fear of heights anxiety), the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels, and of course Covent Garden. Erin waited all day to get to Covent Garden. While I was in heaven over my hot chocolate purchases, she was eagerly awaiting her arrival at the Thornton’s store – a popular chocolatier. No damn wonder. It was unreal. Somewhere around £45 later, we were armed with sufficient confectionaries for the night (yes, that’s right, she loves chocolate like I do…).

It was getting late and we still had to hit Harrod’s. There was no way I was going to London and not going to Harrod’s. It was just as I’d dreamed…. it was over the top in every way, but over the top in a really really good way. I loaded up on Harrod’s memoriabilia… loving every bit of it… bags, keychains, passport holders, chocolate bars, coasters, jams, mugs, etc.

We awoke in our hotel the next day and made our way back to the airport for the return flight on “cattle airlines”. It was then, as we stood in the line for boarding that we realized we could only take ONE carry-on onto the plane. One. We had three each. If we had more than one, we’d have to return to the check-in counter at the front of the aiport, pay the fee for checked baggage, then check the surplus bags, and potentially miss the entire flight. So we had a really big problem.

We’d already positioned ourselves to be near the head of the line when they opened the gates and allowed everyone out to the mad scramble to the plane, so now we just had to figure a way to combine our three bags into one each. It was no easy feat. I’d be prepared to leave behind clothes, but there was no way I was leaving behind my new London stuff. No way. I already felt a loyal committment to my purchases and if they couldn’t go, then neither could I. We could hear the gate agents as they approached people with more than one bag, advising them to return to check-in. They were getting closer to us… we were getting panicky… could we do it? Could we stuff things so much as to get down to the limit? The guy in front of us was told to go back to the check-in.

The lady looked at me and Erin. Then I too, looked at Erin. She looked “puffy”. Little wonder, she was wearing all her clothes, all at once. I wanted to laugh, but didn’t dare as we were being given the “once over” by the lady. I’d managed to stuff most of my contents into the large Harrod’s bag I’d bought the night before. It wasn’t easy to do. I was wearing everything else… my jacket pockets were stuffed with individually wrapped truffles and packets of fudge, I’d also managed to put on two sweaters, and if I had access to a couple of paperclips I would have transformed two of my big hot chocolate cannisters into a pair of earrings. I was desperate, what can I say. We passed the inspection and got ready for the “running of the bulls” to the plane. I wondered if the airport authority knew the charades that happened with this airline, I mean, people nearly being trampled to death to get a seat.. surely there must be liability issues here. And hey, I was willing to do the trampling if it was necessary… come hell or high water, we were getting seats together.

It’s surprising how quickly Erin and I moved despite being weighed down with clothes, Harrod’s items and chocolate. We managed to get two seats together…. and our third seat-mate appeared to be a young British businessman who sucked back quite a few drinks during the short flight. Hey, can’t blame him, if it was his first time on this airline his nerves were likely shot like mine were.

Regardless of the whole airline escapade, the trip to London was spectacular. Can’t wait to go back… and maybe have more than 48 hours the next time.

Okay fellow readers… my enquiring mind wants to know….What’s YOUR favorite thing about London?