London: Happy birthday Alex!

It was nice to be back for a little longer after my time in Amsterdam had come to an end. But it was busy. Alex’ 8th birthday, Champions league final, DIY job at Alex house (terrace done … yeah) and lots of tutoring in Russian, Spanish & Dutch and history classes (first up the Saxon’s history in England between 5AD and 9AD). So I managed just a few catch-ups with the local Maida Vale crowd and some friends. Now it’s time for Berlin, Barcelona, Ibiza and St. Petersburg before London has me back early July. 

Happy birthday Alexander: He was counting down the days to this important day and would tell me every morning how many days were left (literally the first thing he said when he woke up). He was also not shy to remind me how much he wanted to have a Nintendo Switch including writing messages into my language class book (just to make sure ;o). Well, he got one and was mega happy (less so the case for his mum). It’s a cool device and very practical for travelling and playing at home / via TV alike. An app lets you further control how much he plays. I also got him a life vest ahead of my Elbe river tour in summer, for which Alex would like to join for a few days. In the evening of his day I fulfilled another of his wishes – racket with mum & dad. He has truly become a racket lover. The party with his friends took place later, but was megacool. We visited the trampoline park Flip Out in Brent CrossFlip Out in Brent Cross with  13 other kids and let it bounce. Pizza & an excellent birthday cake as well as the mandatory party bags made for a great event. Thanks go to Rob for hosting us free of charge! 

DIY – terrace done: I left it a little late to order all the material I needed for the job and delays came on top. Still, I managed to build the new terrace in just two days and think it looks really neat. Alex loved to help out here and there and is really glad to have his outside playing area back. Same goes for his dog Charlie – who did’t hold off to baptise it with a good pee. Sadly, the plastering job inside has to wait for the special plaster to arrive … useless company, but then restoration plaster to avoid damp issues in the future is not so easy to come by here in England. Well, they can do it while i am away and then painting is next. 

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London: DIY & The Hero of Maida

The 5 day stint in London went past in a heartbeat. The summer had also arrived in the UK with a record warm bank holiday weekend at 28/29 degrees. I was mainly busy with DIY at Alex house, but also bumped into some old friends (keen Chelsea supporters), had a sunny sit down with  my neighbors Jane & Dom and enjoyed a beer with Hubert in the finally reopened Truscott Arms … wait, ‘The Hero of Maida” as they christened it this time ;o) 

DIY @ Alex’ house: Good weather to do some DIY. I was in Alex and his mum’s flat where some plaster & the terrace needed looking after. Pretty dirty work, but also fun to get your hands dirty and teach your son a few basics. He was a great help, but also liked to spend time with the neighbour. Anyway, good old work with a beer and some really interesting conversations with neighbor Ahmed (from Cairo) and a chap with insomnia living above. He is Palestinian and studied in Russia. We spoke Russian for a while before some conspiracy chats required english skills for both of us (funny that this chat came after a pretty devastating Russian class on Sunday … keep fighting!). 

The Hero of Maida – my local is back open! The story with my local pub is like a never-ending love story. Loads of ups & downs on both sides. When I moved to Maida Vale in summer 2006, the pub was actually closed. It was called Truscott Arms at the time and had a bit of a history as a rough football pub. It reopened as IDLEWILD and had a really good vibe about it, often thanks to an Italian Rasta man. In 2013 ownership changed again and the pub was reopened with its original name Truscott. That went to summer 2016 when to lease for the pub was hiked from £75k to £250k. The owners gave up and the new owner refurbished the place. After almost two years, now it’s back. The new name THE HERO OF MAIDA pays tribute to General Sir John Stuart, whose triumph at the Battle of Maida was said to restore British morale. Hubert joined me for a quick drink on the fine Monday bank holiday. Good to gossip a little bit about what’s happening in the city.

London visit: Russian class with grandma

While living in Amsterdam I visit London and Alex more frequently. Just one hour flight and not too expensive either. Alex had a few days left of his Easter half-term holidays and his grandmother Larisa from St Petersburg was in town for her annual visit while mum was on holidays of her own. As usual, he was very glad to see his daddy. As was his dog Charlie, who seemed a bit lunatic at times (and Saturday caused grandma even a heart attack when he ran off).

The weather was pretty mixed. Thursday looked really promising after a great flight together with two Dutch women & one of the more interesting conversations (sadly the flight was only 45mins that day …). Friday wasn’t bad either, but come Saturday the poor weather had the upper hand again. 

But we managed to enjoy ourselves anyway. We thoroughly enjoyed watching the new Peter Rabbit movie at Westfield’s, a fair dose of home cinema at mine in the evenings and quality time over lunches/dinners (of course, Raclette was again on the menu as per Alex’ request). I was really pleased how well the conversations nowadays go with Larisa … certainly not possible a year ago. Despite a pretty intense couple of days speaking more or less just Russian with her, it is not causing me any headaches anymore (though I still don’t catch everything). See you in St. Petersburg in June for the next lesson!

The time I had for myself I used to catch up with friends, including my new flat mate Ross and my Katya, Hadley and Max who were also over from St.Pete (thanks for bringing that wireless headset along). Thank god I also found some spare moments to prepare for my motorcycle theory test. I passed and now aim on doing the practical exercise and test in May/June. Can’t wait to get this done! 

Time to head back to Amsterdam … well in time for Man City vs. Liverpool tonight! That should be some game …

London: Crazy weather, busy schedule …

I hadn’t been in my flat since I left for Colombia and time back in London turned out pretty busy. Time with Alex, language lessons, first steps towards my motorcycle licence, catching up with friends & neighbours, preparing for Amsterdam … the list was long and time was flying. Overall, I was in good spirits as i worked down my list. Next stop Amsterdam! 

Weather chaos: Arriving back in London from Portugal felt like arriving on winter holidays. Snow everywhere as the ‘beast from  the east’ brought a proper cold front to the island. It was fun to see how kids dealt with it as snowmen appeared (a rare sight in central London) and kids took off the wheels from their skateboards to ride down small hills as if on snowboards. Naturally, London sunk into chaos – trains, metro etc all struggled to run proper services. School was cancelled for three days, as not enough teachers could make it to work. An advantage for Alex mum, as I could take him on all days leaving her on her usual schedule. After a few freezing days the weather swung pretty abruptly and now looks more like spring with temperatures of 10 degrees or more. That’s more like London should be in March! 

Alex back at home: Alex was so happy to move back into his ‘headquarters’ and spending time with daddy. His dog Charlie, which he only got in January, didn’t turn out to be a problem. I expected him to ask to see him rather often – he didn’t ask once to my surprise. Instead we run through the routine of school runs, homework (more Russian!), after school clubs, Russian school & concert, Sunday church, playdates and a lot of time to relax together – especially as he had three days off school due to the weather. I was proud to see him perform at the Russian concert the saturday preceding mothering sunday – well done big man! Ahh … it was also nice to cook a little in my own kitchen including Alex’ favorite – lasagne.

Language craze enters another level: I started Russian Skype lessons after I returned from Colombia, as I felt I was forgetting all i learned which would be a waste. Since then I enjoyed weekly classes with Daria and feel much more comfortable now though the grammar still does my head in and new vocab is tricky. I keep trying. The same goes for Spanish, though the language is generally easier for me. I now have weekly classes with two teachers to improve understanding and flow of speech – Edu from Venezuela & Laura from Colombia. Downside of it all is loads of homework to improve vocabulary, grammar etc. As if that wasn’t enough I also started to train Dutch  a little bit ahead of my Amsterdam trip and the two weeks language school. Thank god that my German and English gives me a little head-start. Let’s see how it goes on the ground and how I will manage to keep up doing all three. 

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Motorcycle licence – first step taken: I started to do my licence already in 2010, but sadly never got around to finish it. Given i have a few dreams of motorcycle tours on my bucket list, it was time to get going. There are three parts to the license. First, a general skills test called CBT (compulsory basic training), then a theory test and finally the practical training & test on a big bike (600ccm+). Hope to get it all sorted before summer though I don’t have immediate trips planned. Big dream is to ride the panamericana one day – just as Daniel who I met in Colombia half way on his tour from Alaska. Let’s take it step by step.

Getting ready for Amsterdam: As usual when I am back home, there is a long list of things to sort out. First on the list was a major washing session. While I regularly wash my clothes when travelling, keeping it in the same bags eventually requires an all-round session cleaning everything. There were many other things like seeing dentist, doctor, sorting the flat and loads of admin stuff. I didn’t get boring. Then there was stuff to sort for Amsterdam. First language school (just two weeks though) and a place to stay. Being there for about two month doesn’t make it easier. Places to stay are in high demand. If you stay only a short while then airbnb is a decent option, but for two month its too pricey. Likewise, you normally don’t get into the mid/long term rental market as tenancies even for rooms start typically from 6 month. I was lucky to get hold of a studio in Amsterdam’s Jordaan district not far from the centre. That was after a video call with the landlady. They do take it serious as to who will live in their place. 

Catching up with friends & neighbours: This time I was better prepared to meet my typically very busy friends in London and booked time with them early on for a few good evenings out to catch-up on life. Here it came handy that I didn’t have Alex all the time as i did previously and could conveniently schedule meetings on my evenings off. Hope to get as much planning security for future stints back home. Very enjoyable was the catch-up with the old UBS lads (to my surprise the former office building in Liverpool street is gone), dinner at Tom & Marta’s, catching up with Sara & Paul and the lunch with my neighbours Dom & Jane over a good Swiss raclette – a new favourite meal for Alex who loves to melt the cheese and fry meat by himself. 

The boys are back in town: Chamonix calling

Alex’ christmas holidays started pretty early this year leaving a whole week before x-mas eve would arrive. Given my apartment is rented out anyway I figured time (&money) is much better spent on the slopes than trying to kill time in London cinema’s or Museums. Alex loves Chamonix anyway – the place of his first time outdoor rock climbing & canyoning (see here) and home of Mt Blanc. Many happy memories for him.

The trip was arguably at the cost of my first year almost without a x-mas lunch had it not been for my good friends Sara & Paul who I visited on the one night i had between Colombia and Chamonix. Both kids including my godson Bobby were thrilled and we had a great time together. In the morning the kids could even reunite with Alex … the only small disappointment when i rocked up alone the night before.

The way to Chamonix wasn’t too bad though with some delays and heavy bags given i carried my snowboard on top of winter clothing and presents. No one was happier than my little prince when we finally got to our destination … temperatures well below zero and loads of snow. Alex wasted no time getting his gloves wet (although he had an entirely different perspective on this). Thankfully the girls from ‘Chalet le Chatelle’ picked us up quickly and soon we hit the bed. I was devastated having had my last full nights’ sleep in a bed 4 days prior in Colombia!

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The next days were simply great fun as usual. After 15cm on Monday (read: no sun), we were blessed with great conditions and few other skiers. 3,5 days of good snow action! Alex on ski’s (we’ll try snowboard in Austria in Feb’18) and me on snowboard. His first red run (le cornu in Brevent) still caused some tears, but I know his level and by day two the piste had become his favourite). No issues after that one run, as he rediscovered his confidence. We spent time mostly in nearby Brevent and la Flegere, but also Grand Montets – dominated by red pistes and with a great run all the way down into the valley.

Evenings were usually dedicated to a Tartiflette at ‘elevation 1904’ (tasty & good value at eur11) or the odd raclette in town, the chalet’s hot tub (his russian soul coming to the fore big time ;o) and movie time. Quality boys time!