Time change

Note to Stateside friends & family: Europe did NOT spring forward yet, so you folks on the East Coast are now only four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The UK springs forward to British Summer Time (BST) at 2am Sunday, March 28.

Londoners: Ready for some football?

Picture 1  Oi!  Here's my annual roundup of known London bars & restaurants that will be showing Super Bowl XLIV this Sunday, 7 February 2010.

Watch the game from the comfort of your flat, as BBC 1 and Sky Sports 1 will both air the Super Bowl live on Sunday night. Coverage begins at 11pm GMT. For more information visit NFLUK.com. Unfortunately, neither network will air the famous/infamous US commercials.

If you want to watch the commercials from overseas, there are a few, questionably-legal websites that carry live streams of the Super Bowl, like here.

Super Bowl Parties in London. Where to Watch the Super Bowl in London.

--The London American Expat Meetup Group (the largest American social club in London) is hosting its 7th annual London Super Bowl party at Zoo Bar, 13-17 Bear Street, Leicester Square, WC2H 7AS, London. This is by far the biggest party in town, with live cheerleaders! Admission £10. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.   (NOTE: This is a change of venue)

--The Sports Cafe in Soho will hold its annual Super Bowl party. And unlike British telecasts of the game, Sports Cafe will be airing a US feed, so you'll even be able to watch the famous (infamous) commercials! Prizes for best "fancy dress" (costumes).

--Planet Hollywood in Haymarket Super bowl Party will host a Super Bowl Party from 10:30pm-5am. Coverage of the game on 15 screens includes cheerleaders performing at half time with a live DJ and Planet Hollywood set menu including the classic PH burger, BBQ Pork Ribs and traditional cheesecake (???) for dessert. Tickets: Bar entry includes a free glass of house wine, bottle of house beer or soft drink: £5.00; Restaurant entry includes a 3 course meal and a drink: £25. For tickets and bookings please call Caroline or Phil in the Planet Hollywood sales department on 020 7287 1000.

--All five London locations of Bodeans BBQ will be screening the Super Bowl. £25 includes late-night nosh with Bodean's famous BBQ ribs, pulled pork, etc.

--The Chicago Rib Shack's party begins at 10pm. Admission £10 gets you a table and one Budweiser. Junk food menu includes hot dogs, ribs, fries & popcorn.

--The Social on Little Portland Street, featuring "fit cheerleaders", live DJ spinning American tunes, drink specials and of course the game. Admission £5.

The Underdog Bar in Clapham at #8-10 Northcote Road will be showing the Super Bowl on 7th Feb live and in HD.

Get all the news and highlights on NFLUK.com.

More TK...

US vs. UK health care


 There's been a lot of debate in the news lately about President Obama's plan to overhaul the American health care system. Democrats say the system is a mess and must be redesigned. Millions of Americans can't afford or aren't eligible for basic health care. Republicans say Obama's plan for universal health care is "socialized medicine" and would destroy the system.

Quite frankly, I don't understand the Republican arguments. The Republican argument is that somehow "universal health care" translates to socialism, or that universal health care somehow means Americans will lose their current insurance company/doctor/health care provider. Hey GOP, get this through your head: You CHOOSE! (We all know 'choice' is a hard word fro GOP to muster). But here's how it works:  If you're happy with your current insurance company, you can keep it. If you want to switch to the government plan, then that's good too. Besides, Republicans conveniently forget that we already have a form of universal health care...it's called Medicare/Medicaid or Veterans Health Administration.

Whether you're Republican or Democrat, I think we can ALL agree that something needs to be done. Americans should NOT be going bankrupt because they need health care, or forced to chose between buying medicine or buying food.

The Two Crabs are American expats who have lived in the UK since 2005. I've written a few posts defending Britain's National Health Service (NHS). Sure it has its problems. It's not perfect. But in the UK, we have a CHOICE. You can either be on NHS, or you can pay out-of-pocket for private health insurance just like Americans do. Contrary to public opinion, NHS is not completely free. The cost comes out of your taxes and National Insurance contributions, but it's still much cheaper than American health insurance.  As a self-employed person, I pay about £150 pounds a year in National Insurance contributions...less than $250 for a full year of unlimited coverage.

Let me give you a basic, black & white example of UK vs. US health care systems:

Mr. Crab takes cholesterol-lowering statins (Zocor, aka Simvastatin). Today, I went to the doctor to get a check-up and results of a recent blood test. I got a same-day appointment, waited 5 minutes in the waiting room before I saw the doctor. I was in and out of the office in 15 minutes. When I left the office, I walked straight out the front door, bypassing the receptionist. That's because in the UK, if you have NHS health care, you DO NOT PAY anything to see a doctor. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

Next, I walked down the street to the Boots pharmacy to fill a 90-day supply of 10mg Simvastatin. I waited 15 minutes for the refill, then paid £7.20, or about $11.97 (low-income NHS patients pay nothing).  When I got home, I went online to Drugstore.com to compare US prices. If I had no insurance, the same supply of Zocor would cost $249.99!  The generic version of the drug is much cheaper at $49.97, but that's still about $38 more than we pay in the UK for the exact same drug. 

Quite frankly, I'm gobsmacked. There is NO excuse or argument for why Americans should have to pay 3x or 20x more than Brits for life-saving drugs.

Sure NHS isn't perfect. It's great for everyday stuff like physicals, prescription drugs, and minor ailments like cold or swine flu. But as some of my friends can attest, NHS has much to be desired if you need a specialist doctor or non-emergency surgery; the wait-time for surgery can be months, a year or longer. 

NHS is not perfect. But choosing NO health care over universal health care, I'll take the universal health care any day. 

In praise of: London Festivals

One of the best things about living in London are the festivals. On any given weekend, you can find at least one, if not a dozen festivals around town ranging from the small neighborhood events like our local Angel Canal Festival to the big city-wide events. Many of our favorites take place in September including the Mayor's Thames Festival, a celebration of London's river. Our newest favorite took place on Sunday: The Mayor's Skyride, a bicycle festival to encourage people to cycle. Several major roads in the city were closed, allowing bikers free reign of the roads from Tower Bridge to St. Paul's Cathedral to Buckingham Palace!  Here's a few photos from this month's festivals! 

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Well it was bound to happen eventually: Yesterday, I (Mr. Crab) was robbed.

Walking back from the gym yesterday, I stopped by a travel agency near Highbury & Islington Tube station, about 1 mile north of our flat. We're planning a trip to Australia for next year, so I occasionally stop by travel agents for brochures and check airfare prices.   The shop was not very busy, so I sat down at the counter and placed my gym bag on the vacant chair next to mine whilst I chatted with the agent. During our conversation, several customers came and went, but it never really phased me.  After about 15 minutes or so, I got up to leave, reached out to grab my bag and...nothing. The chair was empty.

I just stood there dumbfounded. The agent apologized profusely and called the police for me. In hindsight, he remembered that somebody had walked into the shop, grabbed some brochures next to my chair and walked out.  Looks like he got more than just my brochures.

My ratty old Timberland backpack contained my beloved iPod (a sentimental leaving gift I received from my former colleagues), my mobile phone and my house keys attached to my favorite carabiner keyring (purchased about 15 years ago from Britches Great Outdoors store in Georgetown, Washington D.C, a clothing chain that no longer exists). They also nicked my sweaty stinky gym clothes.  It could have been worse.

I was gobsmacked. It's one thing to get robbed in a pub, nightclub, crowded street or metro train, but a travel agency??  In broad daylight!?!  The police frankly told me I'll never see the bag again, but they kindly took a report and called me back later that night to go over the details.  I wasted the rest of the day canceling my phone and arranging for the locks to be changed, just in case.

I'm guilty of having become complacent.  It just goes to show you that you cannot let your guard down for one minute. Mrs. Crab gave several tips on protecting your stuff, like always staying vigilant event in your own neighborhood, keeping physical contact with your bag even in a secure location, placing your bags between your legs, etc.

That's life in the big city.

1468707174_078313a2ceOn a completely different subject, The Two Crabs, Blushing Whale and Miss San Fran spent the weekend in Liverpool. It was mainly a Beatles pilgrimage tour and we hit all the sites including the Beatles Story museum, the Cavern Club, and took the Magical Mystery Bus Tour to Penny Lane, Strawberry Field and the childhood homes of John, Paul, George and Ringo.  We also toured the new International Slavery Museum (very emotional and fascinating) and the wonderful Albert Dock, which reminded us of Baltimore's Inner Harbor with its posh restaurants, shops and pubs. Click on the Flickr icon to see more trip photos.

Once upon a time in Mexico...

From Mr. Crab:

Mexico_flag_large Just when I was about to give up my fledgling freelance writing career, this week I landed a lucrative contract from a major travel guide publisher.  The assignment: to backpack across Mexico. It's a tough job but somebody has to do it!  Actually, it's not as glamorous as it sounds. I'll be responsible for visiting, exploring, researching and writing a 45-page chapter covering a 250-mile long stretch of Mexico's West Coast, including Acapulco and a city I've always wanted to visit -- Zihuatanejo!  I'm actually quite nervous about the job because I've got a lot of ground to cover in only a few short weeks.

Speaking of Mexico, a new Mexican restaurant has just opened in our neighborhood. It's called "Mucho Mas" on Upper Street in Angel Islington. They serve up quite tasty burritos, tacos and salads. Another blogger described it as akin to Chipotle. That's a favorable comparison. The steak tacos are especially nice. It's good, but not great. Of course, being Mexican, I have much higher standards than most. I judge all Mexican food on my mother's cooking.

Img_0144_2 Overall, London's Mexican food scene sucks. You simply cannot find REAL Mexican food scene in this town. Most of what passes for Mexican cuisine in London -- and much of Europe -- is absolutely rubbish. We've been to some dumps that make Taco Bell look like a 3-star Michelin rated restaurant. And the majority of "Mexican" food in London is actually Tex-Mex, which is NOT the same thing. Some are just dreadful (i.e. Desperado's on Upper Street).  Helpful hint: If you walk into a Mexican restaurant and you see sombreros and maracas hanging from the ceiling, paintings of banditos and Pancho Villa on the wall or waitresses wearing frilly white dresses with bandoleers, RUN AWAY.

821439 Bottom line: If you want good Mexican food in London, you've got to make it yourself. Which is why the only Mexican place I can recommend in London is www.coolchile.co.uk. They are a vendor in London's famous foodie Borough Market, selling Mexican cooking supplies like dried chilies, tortillas, and best of all, ingredients for making mole.  Mole (pronounced MOHL-eh) is Mexico's quintessential dish, though unheard of by most Brits, or even most Americans outside of the Southwest USA. It varies by region, but it's basically a thick rich sauce made of chocolate, chilies and spices and poured over turkey or chicken. Yum!  If mole is not on the menu, it ain't a traditional Mexican restaurant!

Viva Mexico!

Putting your money where your mouth is

LONDON - Thinking of a night out in London? Don't forget your wallet.                                                 

London is the most expensive dining capital in the world, restaurant rating company Zagat said Tuesday.

The average meal in London costs just over $79, beating out Paris, at nearly $72 and Tokyo, at just over $71, according to the company's survey of 5,300 Londoners.

That makes eating out in the British capital more than twice as expensive as New York, where the average meal costs $39.

The prices include drinks and tips.

Time Out's London food editor Guy Dimond said the Zagat survey was likely skewed toward high-end restaurants, but said the city's booming economy has pushed prices up across the board.

London is already the world's second-costliest city, according to a survey published by Mercer Human Resource in June. Moscow was rated as the world's most expensive, while New York, which served as the survey's base, ranked 15th.

--Associated Press

London's Scottish festival


The Two Crabs attended The London Gathering, an annual festival celebrating all things Scottish including bagpipers, kilts and haggis. The headline act was Sandi Thom, best known for her hit single, "I wish I was a punk rock girl (with flowers in my hair)". 

Unlike most London festivals, The London Gathering actually charged an admission. A very EXPENSIVE admission: £35 per person, or about $70!  But luckily we didn't pay a penny because I WON tickets on the Scotland Tourism Bureau website!  Probably because of the cost, the festival was practically empty, attended by only a few hundred people at most. But for us, it was great because we had the run of the place, and could stand right up against the stage.

The best act of the day, by far, was Clan Wallace, a band combining traditional bagpipes and Scottish customes with rock music.  The festival was held inside London's beautiful Temple Gardens, familiar to "Da Vinci Code" fans as the site of the Temple Church built by the Knights of the Templar. 

I used the day to play with my Canon 30D and the new 300mm zoom lens, mainly focusing on shooting people pictures and candids rather than the usual festival photos. Click on the Flickr icon for more photos!

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