Archive for April, 2008

Tuesday Night London Blogger Meetup

I finally made it to another one of Andy Bargery‘s blogger meetup — this time at the Coach & Horses — and had a nice evening catching up with Londonist folks, seeing some people I hadn’t seen in a while and meeting a few new ones, too. I worry that since I know some people at the events now, I don’t spend as much time mingling as I should. It’s always nice to catch up with people, but I need to find a balance between meeting new people and spending time with the people who I only really see at events like this.

The best moment of the night was when I was chatting with TikiChris, the food and drink editor for Londonist, and meeting a new Chris, who said, “I just emailed with someone from Londonist… Francine…”! Of course, I told him that it was me and introduced myself. He works for is doing some work for Lactofree, and had found my blog and emailed me about my Lactofree posts, and we’d been exchanging emails just a few days earlier. We had a good chat about lactose and food allergies, and he said some new Lactofree products are in the works.

I was happy to see M@, Dave and TikiChris from Londonist, Siany, Annie Mole, Tim, Peter, Andy Roberts, and Melinda. And it was nice to meet some new people like Chris, Tom and Jaz. I also met Malcolm, who blogs about breakfast, so I had to do a bit of ranting about how I haven’t actually found a very good breakfast here yet. He says Americans just don’t like British breakfasts (I could agree to that). I did get some good recommendations, though, and I’ll be trying some out — top of my list is the Wolesley.

Sorry if I forgot to mention anyone… it was quite a busy night!

Is the Week Already Over?

It’s been another busy week in London. I’m still writing up stories on Sugarscape, only managed to do one blog for Londonist — “London – Bangladesh? Let the Train Take the Strain” — and started posting on the Workology blog.

Other than that, I also made it to another chocolate tasting, this time at Keith Hurdman’s Melt chocolate shop in Notting Hill (I’ll write more about that soon), went to Tuttle Club/Social Media Cafe and started to do some interviews for some upcoming posts on the Workology blog. (Thanks, LJ, for doing my first video interview!)

Weekly Reading: My First Magazine Piece

Well, as you may have been able to tell from my lack of blogging, it’s been a busy week. I’m still busily pumping out the celeb gossip, fashion and music stories over at Sugarscape (finding budding YouTube stars has become a new favorite passtime), I’ve also been busy in the evenings.

Monday I hung out with my friend Jess, who I’ve known since we went to summer camp together when we were 12. We went to a pub, then to Pacifico for a nice Mexican dinner — I really like their fajitas, and my experience was much better this time, going on a quiet Monday night than when we went on a Friday and had to wait for hours in the packed place for a table.

Tuesday, I got to meet up with Charlotte, one of my editors as Entrepreneur, who is actually responsible for this first story in the print magazine, “Talk to Me,” about Joe Badame and Martha de la Torre, who run the LA-area Spanish-language media empire, El Clasificado. Martha was a wonderful woman to talk to, and I only wish the article could have been 1500 words instead of 150. Sorry to digress. Tuesday, Charlotte and I met up at the Red Lion, then went to Imli, an Indian tapas place on Wardour Street, which was great. The only complaint there is that they don’t have one of my favorite Indian staples — naan. But the meal was flavorful, with lots of spicy and sweet notes, and eating tapas-style, it was fun to get to sample a good array of the inexpensive dishes on their menu.

Wednesday and Thursday night, I was at film screenings — Forgetting Sarah Marshall and What Happens in Vegas (which I’m not allowed to write about until the week the movie comes out). I know I didn’t really write about it on here, but last week, I also went to the 21 screening, which wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but didn’t have a very convincing story.

I also managed to meet up with the Londonist folk at a pub on Wednesday, though because of all my activities this week, which kept me out of the house until the late hours, I didn’t write any posts for them. I did also meet Gordon Butler from Fancyapint?, and he was happy to learn that I’d used his site just the day before.

Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Wednesday night I went to a bloggers’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall screening. I loved The 40-Year-Old Virgin, quite liked Knocked Up, and think this is another win for Judd Apatow and crew. The movie got a lot of big laughs, a few cringes and had a pretty shocking amount of male nudity — apparently Jason Segel likes taking off his pants and doesn’t mind showing all his bits to the world.

The story’s premise is simple enough: guy gets dumped by his TV-star girlfriend and goes to Hawaii to try to get her off his mind. As fate would have it, the ex and her new beau are also vacationing at the same resort and all are too proud to leave. This recipe for awkward situations stands up quite well, and watching Jason Segel go from heartbroken slob to something closer to happiness as he makes new Island friends, meets a girl and tries to get over his ex is almost as sweet as it is funny.

Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer and Paul Rudd all show up in funny supporting roles, but Russell Brand, the British comedian who I’m guessing most Americans, like myself, have never heard of, gives the standout performance. He’s smarmy and gross, yet intriguingly fun and likable. A little Jack Sparrow-esque, his too-cool, free-loving rock star character steals all the scenes he’s in, with plenty of exaggerated eye-rolling, hair flipping and suggestive singing and dancing.

The women don’t fare quite as well. I don’t know if it’s because I have typecast Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis as teens in my mind that they just don’t quite work as the adults they’re playing, or if it’s because though they have pretty big roles, they’re really secondary to the male characters. They don’t get as many laughs, and while they have some sincere moments, they seem more like caricatures of women than the real thing. Of course, all the characters in the comedy are  stereotypical, so maybe I’m just being a bit oversensitive.

The film also takes some funny jabs at the Brits, has a Bubba Gump-like bartender who likes to list things like names of fish, and even includes a short but traumatic pig-slaughtering scene. And its gorgeous Hawaiian scenery, which is replete with sappy newlyweds to torture the main character, made me really excited for my trip there this summer.

I’ll probably be going back to the theater to see this again since Evan hasn’t seen it and I know he’ll love it. It’s definitely a movie to see in a theater full of people, whose laughs only add to the hilarious two-hour experience.

Thanks, Annie Mole, for inviting me along!

Leeds Castle Photowalk

Saturday, Evan and I went to Leeds Castle. It all started in a pretty dramatic fashion, when we nearly missed our train. Evan rushed to buy one from an automated kiosk, while I tried my luck standing in line. Of course, we both reached the front of our respective lines at the same time, and while I was being hassled by the Victoria Station ticket agent, who told me I really should just go to Leeds Castle another day since it was already the afternoon and kept hassling me about our travel plans while refusing to let me purchase a ticket, Evan managed to get them.

We ran through the station, rounding a corner where we could see our train beyond some gates, and the large digital clock, which was ticking down about 30 seconds from departure time. We struggled with our tickets to get through the gates, and finally hopped on the train — hoping it was the right one — before the doors shut right behind us. Whew!

The train ride itself was thankfully uneventful, and we had a rather relaxing, hour-long journey to Bearsted, despite the looming clouds which threatened rain. By the time we got to Bearsted it was quite rainy, the coaches had stopped running to the castle and the number outside the coach and car hire office wouldn’t connect us to anyone. So we walked into town and stopped at a pub for a bite to eat and directions. The pub, The Oak on the Green, turned out to have some good food, and our server helped us call a cab to take us to the castle.

Once at the castle, the fun really began. We walked through the duckery, where I got quite close to an albino peacock, which really became the theme of the day — me trying to get close to the birds, that is. And we caught some very nice views of the castle in the distance.

albino peacockalbino peacockLeeds Castle Peacock

We then walked along a winding garden path, and finally approached the castle. We passed black swans, some sort of snake sculpture that emerged from the grass and a whole bunch of very whiny children (they all seemed a bit tired and on their way out of the park). We entered the castle through the gatehouse across the moat, then walked around its outside to a back entrance.

Leeds CastleLeeds Castle

Inside the castle, we got to walk through a large number of rooms, mostly decorated for the castle’s most recent owner, Lady Baillie. There were also some really nice and clear exhibits on royal coats of arms, and the castle had an interesting history — it was used as a hospital during WWII, and Lady Baillie’s daughters served as nurses. And there were lots of bird drawings and sculptures decorating the rooms.

Once we finished the castle tour, we headed to the dog collar museum (sort of interesting, though small), another garden, the aviary and the labyrinth, which were situated along a river.

Leeds Castle Walk

The labyrinth, though it looked small, still took a while to figure out, and we spent a good amount of time wandering its green corridors trying to find our way to the center. Once in the center, we got to climb up to see the top view of the hedge maze, then descended into the cool, watery grotto to make our way out underground.

Leeds Castle LabyrinthLeeds Castle Grotto

Though we could have stayed longer, had a picnic and caught one of the falconry shows or duck feedings, half a day was enough to have a good time at Leeds Castle. We wanted to check out the Go Ape adventure experience, but they seem booked up for a long while, so it wasn’t an option. And our only slight hassle was getting a cab. But once we got the number, they came quite quickly and were pretty inexpensive — £6.80 each way, I believe.

Also, admission was £15 a person, which lets you return anytime for an entire year after purchase.

Check out more photos on Evan’s site.

Weekly Reading: Articles, Blogs, Gossip

Well, it’s been a busy week of writing. Actually I guess things really started getting busy last week with the work I started doing at the new UK teen site Sugarscape. If you’re interested in what I’ve been doing over there, you can see all my posts on my profile there. This week alone, I covered celeb drunk driving, YouTube cover artists, a new band, new movies, Emma Watson and Joss Stone’s fashion, and a whole bunch more.

Expand Your Ad EmpireI also wrote an Entrepreneur.com article about new advertising technologies, called Expand Your Ad Empire. I got to talk to some innovative entrepreneurs — one who I even found through a comment on my blog — and learned a lot about new ways and places people are advertising.

And as usual, I posted for Londonist. I started feeling like their animal correspondent after realizing I’d written about dogs, birds, deer, camels (well, a fake one), and then doing two animal stories this week. The non-animals posts should be interesting, too.

I also need to work on my bio for the Londonist staff page. While the words tend to flow pretty freely when I’m writing about traveling, business, news and everything else I’ve been spouting off about, I seem to be at a block when it comes to myself. I’ve written quite a few drafts, but can’t seem to settle on one. I either worry that I’m not as funny as the other contributors, sound to American/Canadian/not British, or am a just a totally fake Londoner since I’m only here for six months. Anyway, if anyone wants to ghostwrite my bio for me, feel free to send in a version.

Help Plan Our Summer Trip

After Evan and I are finished our stint in London at the end of June, we plan on traveling for a month or two, making our way back to LA heading east. Our tentative itinerary:

  • 1 week in Egypt 
  • 1 week in Jordan
  • 2 weeks in India
  • 2 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia
  • 1 week in Japan
  • 1 week in Maui (to join up with the Kizner family summer vacation)
  • Back to LA

We haven’t booked our ticket yet, but we met with a travel agent on Saturday about it and are going back in a couple of weeks to really sort things out. It looks like we’ll be getting some sort of around-the-world ticket, which is flexible on dates, though less flexible on destinations once we pick them.

So now we need help — we want to know what to see, where to stay, what and where to eat, which guide to get, and all your other travel tips for these destinations. Please post them in the comments or email them directly to me. And if you have friends and family who have been to these places, please ask them to share, too.

Thanks!