Spontaneous Scottish train trip

27 Aug

About two weeks ago Stephen came home from work and asked if I wanted to go to Scotland. So last week we went to Scotland. Normally I don’t do well with last-minute trips — I was still working on planning our upcoming Istanbul and Cannes holiday — but I decided to embrace it. We overpaid for the train and hotel thanks to the Fringe, but we made it to Edinburgh. I was apprehensive about visiting in August, when the population of Edinburgh allegedly doubles because of the festivals, but it surprisingly wasn’t bad. There were crowds of people on the Royal Mile where the festival was headquartered, which was to be expected, but elsewhere like the castle we didn’t have to wait in line (I’m sorry, “queue.”). I really enjoyed Edinburgh as a city — even with the festival and people, it had an authentic aura. I was impressed that there wasn’t a souvenir stand on every corner like in some tourist-heavy cities (just the occasional kilt-wearing storm trooper posing for pics). Stephen kept comparing elements of it to Harry Potter, like the stadium adjacent to the castle for the Edinburgh Tattoo (JK Rowling allegedly wrote a lot of Harry Potter while in Edinburgh. The local cafe has capitalized on this). Side note: If there are several different festivals and events going on in Edinburgh during August and one of them is called “Edinburgh Tattoo,” would you also assume it would be full of people with full sleeves and face tats? Nope, it’s a military performance. Apparently I have zero knowledge of military terms.

Does this make you think of Hogwarts and quidditch?

edinburgh castle tattoo

(Click photos to enlarge)

edinburgh castle stadium

Shows for the Fringe were publicized everywhere. I don’t know who this comedian is, but if the pug is part of his act I really should have gone.

edinburgh fringe pug

And now some random photos I took around Edinburgh and hastily edited.

edinburgh treeedinburgh rose edinburgh houseedinburgh cemetery

edinburgh arthurs seat   edinburgh street

We were only there for about 29 hours, and while we saw a lot — and walked a lot, 9 miles each day according to my FitBit — I would not mind going back again. It so happens that the only pandas in the UK are at the Edinburgh Zoo, but the exhibit was closed while we were there because they suspect the panda is pregnant. If a baby panda is not the perfect reason to go back sometime, I don’t know what is.

The past two weeks in pictures and a corgi butt

8 Aug

There is the sprint you do at the finish line of a race, and then the sprint you do when you spot a corgi at the end of the street IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD ASAKSDFJLKADF HOW HAVE I BEEN OUT RUNNING AND WALKING SO MANY TIMES AND NEVER RUN INTO THIS MAJESTIC CREATURE?!

Ahem.

So I ran faster than I have ever run before to catch up to this little guy and slyly took a photo. In typical Renee/British fashion I was too shy to ask the owner if I could pet her corgi or perhaps steal him. The photo came out horrible because it was slyly taken, but here it is zoomed in so you can see the grainy momo and tail. (The fact that this corgi had a tail probably means he’s related to the royal corgis because the queen prefers corgis with tails. Obviously).

crappy corgi pic

And now I will proceed to use my Instagram account to remind myself what I’ve been up to lately and what I wanted to share with you.

hot buttered cherriosI am all about hot buttered Cherrios lately. It’s exactly what it sounds like — Cherrios (or in my case, cheapo Aldi brand honey hoops) cooked in melted butter until lightly toasted and hot. It’s from a 1982 Cheerios magazine ad. Chocolate Cherrios were on sale this week so I hot buttered those too. I can never go back to eating Cherrios out of the box like a normal person now.

Speaking of food, I found this bad boy on sale in the Tesco foreign food aisle:

kraft dinner london

It still cost me the equivalent of $2.50, but it was worth it. Sometimes you just need some neon powdered cheese product.

 

broken fitbit force

About a week ago I woke up in the middle of the night and my Fitbit Force was lying beside me in two pieces. I freaked out because I cannot live without it and and I can’t get a replacement because the Force was recalled, but also because I was not going to get an accurate sleep reading with it lying on top of my laptop beside me. I tried fixing it with Elmer’s glue and tape, which lasted all of seven hours, and then I pulled out the big guns — superglue. It’s been holding for a week now ::knock on wood:: My friend sent me an article David Sedaris wrote about his Fitbit obsession and I could fully relate. I’m either going to be curled up in the corner crying if this superglue doesn’t hold or walking around trying to count my steps manually. Let’s just hope it holds and the new model is released soon.

london shakespeare globe

A couple weeks ago I saw Antony and Cleopatra at the Globe. I’m still not a Shakespeare fan, but I’d rather see it live than read it, and I’d rather watch it sitting down than standing. Three hours standing in direct sunlight, no thank you.

1984 london

1984 was more my style (and my 20th show in London!). I did the day seat queue thing, but instead of running back home to eat and change and come back out, I brought my laptop with me, got some work done at the library, checked out the BP Portrait Award winners at the National Portrait Gallery, ate sushi in the park, then went to the show. It was a lovely afternoon, I may have to try it again with another show soon.

A post in which I decide not to complain about the weather then proceed to anyway

25 Jul

Recently someone on Reddit compared getting on the Tube lately to this:

indiana jones melting

And then getting off the Tube:

rhino ace ventura
Sweet, sweet relief.

I’ve only taken the Tube a handful of times since London has reached the temperature of Hell’s waiting room, but I can confirm the accuracy of the gifs. Last weekend I went to see Matilda the Musical with a friend (London show No. 18!). When it was time to go home I had a conundrum — should I walk for over an hour, sweating without sunglasses or headphones, melt on the Tube for 15 minutes (and pay more), or melt on the bus for 30 minutes (and pay less). I opted for the bus because I’m a cheapo, but it was miserable. I ended up getting off early because I was getting nauseous and it was just too stuffy. People occasionally ask me what I miss most about the US. Right now I’d say air conditioning.

But this post wasn’t supposed to be just me complaining about the heat. The other day Stephen asked if we should buy a portable AC, and I actually said no. I don’t even know myself anymore. The first few days the temperature went above 75 degrees (24C) I was irritable and crabby. I tried to go to the library to work, but it was even warm there. Then sometime around the sixth day of muggy hotness I just gave up. There’s a line from Jim Steinman’s play “The Dream Engine” that goes, “You can’t withdraw from reality. Sooner or later you have to succumb to it, sooner or later you have to negotiate with it, you have to work out some sort of peaceful settlement.”

I guess I worked out a peaceful settlement with the heat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a cool weather person who worships at the altar of AC, but the reality is that London has two or three weeks each summer that are unbearably warm, made even worse by the city’s lack of air-con, but the heat wave inevitably passes and we go back to a pleasant 20 degrees. (Side note: every time I quote a temperature in Celsius I can almost feel a bit of my American citizenship being stripped away). So every day for the past week I take a shower, put my wet hair up so it won’t dry, then position myself in front of the fan and get to work. It’s no air-conditioned office, but it also beats melting my face off on the Tube commute every day. Working from home has its perks.

…and I guess this post will be about weather. I’ll save complaining about the tourists at Cambridge for another day. Meanwhile, enjoy this corgi flop:

corgi flop

How I learned the iPhone 5s screen is not indestructible

9 Jul

You know those people who always have a cracked phone screen, or seem to post a “Lost my phone, send me your number!!” status every other week? I used to pride myself on not being one of them. Before I came to the UK I had the same phone for three years — never lost it, never dropped it in the toilet or let it go through the washing machine. I had an iPod Touch for five years — it’s still good as new. And then I got an iPhone. It would occasionally slip out of my hand or fall off a table, but it remained intact. It even got major air during my two recent running wipeouts, but remained unscathed. I started to think it was invincible — combined with my “shockproof” panda case it was unbreakable.

And then I dropped it on the concrete staircase as I was leaving for a run on Sunday. It was only on said run that I noticed a small crack at the top of the screen. It was barely noticeable and didn’t affect the performance, so after googling the astronomical cost of replacing an iPhone 5s screen, I decided to put off the repair. It still worked fine!

And then I put it too close to the edge of the table yesterday and it slid off. This has happened more times than I like to admit, but shockproof panda always saved it. Not this time. The screen, already weakened by the concrete plunge, completely gave up and shattered.

oh no pulverized

“Oh no… pulverized.”

iphone 5s shattered screen
Like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” at first I was dazed and stupidly hopeful.

christmas story shot

I thought maybe it would be OK, but then I tried to swipe my home screen and almost got a glass splinter.

I made an appointment with the Apple Store Genius Bar and as a backup plan routed directions to iPhone Surgery, an independent repair shop that got good reviews.

You know those people who can’t live without their phones? I also used to pride myself on not being one of them. But then I was without my phone all of yesterday afternoon and evening. I still had my laptop and iPad, so I figured I’d be OK. But then Stephen came home and joked about the obnoxiously large box one of his membership cards came in. “Take a picture of it and send it to your mom,” he said. And then I realized I couldn’t — I didn’t have a functioning phone. And then I walked to the kitchen, swinging my arm, and realized my FitBit wasn’t syncing with my phone. I didn’t even know if I should eat one mini ice cream cone after dinner or two, because I could not register my calories with MyFitnessPal and have it sync with my FitBit. Yes, apparently I’ve become one of those people I hate.

So this morning I headed to the Apple Store, hoping and praying that somehow a shattered screen would be covered under the one-year warranty. Nope. The guy said they wouldn’t even fix it — they’d just take my phone and sell me a new one for the low price of £209. Ouch. I told him I’d think about it, when really I was thinking about the fastest way to walk to iPhone Surgery without the GPS on my phone. iPhone Surgery’s website said they’d fix it for £79.99, which after £209 seemed like a steal.

I made it to Kingsway, but I forgot to write down the address and couldn’t look it up. I knew it was by the Tube station, so when I saw signs saying “phone repair,” I figured that was it. I walked in and asked the guy if he could fix a 5s screen, since Apple said they couldn’t. He was very helpful, but said they were out of white screens and they couldn’t fit a black one. My heart sunk — was I going to have to go on my run tomorrow without my phone? He took my phone number and said he’d call if they got more in later today. As an afterthought I asked him how much it would cost.

“£105,” he said.

“Oh… your website says £79.99,” I replied.

“No, it’s £105.”

£80 was already way more money than I’d like to spend for being clumsy, so I was definitely not going to pay £105. I got my phone out, turned it on, and gently typed in the iPhone Surgery website, and showed it to him triumphantly.

“See! Your website says £79.99 for a 5s screen!”

“That’s not us,” he said.

I paused.

“This isn’t iPhone Surgery?”

“No. This is Timpson. We’re at 82 Kingsway, you’re looking for 88 Kingsway. I think it’s right next to the Tube, but I’ve never seen a sign. Good luck.”

So there was still hope of getting my phone fixed!

I walked over to 88 Kingsway, which was an office building complete with a lobby with tea and a receptionist. It’s no wonder Timpson was out of white screens — they were banking off people who couldn’t find iPhone Surgery because they couldn’t use Google Maps on their phone and would never have guessed it was in an office building.

I told the receptionist I was there for phone repair and he called someone upstairs. A guy met me in the lobby, looked at my phone, then took it away and told me to come back in an hour. I went shopping, returned to the lobby, and the guy came back down with my phone looking brand new. I tested it out then handed over £80, and that was that.

I’m happy to have a fully functioning phone again (even though I had a fully functioning one a week ago and was £80 richer then), but now my phone’s indestructible image has been shattered (literally). I’m wondering if I should buy a different case or cover, or just treat it very gently and buy time until the iPhone 6 and it’s reportedly indestructible sapphire screen comes out.

Wicked queues and buses

22 Jun

There are two things that I am really grateful for:

1. Living in a temperate climate so I don’t have to wake up at the butt crack of dawn to run in order to “beat the heat.”

2. My flexible freelance schedule that allows me to sleep in and run in the early afternoon.

Yesterday I was on the tube around 8 a.m. and learned that there are actual people who get up and go places at 8 a.m. on a Saturday. There is this whole other London full of early risers that I will never be a part of, unless, of course, there’s a show I want to see. On Saturday it was Wicked. I have already seen Wicked three times back in Chicago, but it’s been a while, and as the girl at the front of the day seat queue who has seen the show 18 times could attest, one can never see Wicked too many times. I was a little worried about the day seat queue, as the Theatre Monkey called it “The most notorious day seat line in London. Battle the obsessive fans and you could get lucky.” But I also heard the demand is not as high now that the show has been there a while, so I decided to take my chances and arrive at 8:40. An hour and 20 minutes is about as long as I’m willing to wait for theatre tickets. There were about 15 people ahead of me and since there were two performances on Saturday, I knew I was in. The guy in front of me did not seem like a chatter, so I put on my headphones and played games on my phone. At around 9 a.m. the guy’s friend arrived and for a second I almost accused her of pulling Larry David’s infamous “chat and cut.” But before I went all Will from The Inbetweeners at Thorpe Park, I thought about it.

will inbetweeners pushed in
Every person in the queue is allowed to buy up to two tickets. So it didn’t matter whether the guy was by himself and bought two tickets, or he and his friend each bought one. So I let it slide. They ended up being entertaining Germans who would randomly break into a Book of Mormon song and then go back to speaking in Deutsch. Never a dull moment in a day seat queue.

wicked london day seats

10 a.m. finally rolled around, the box office opened, and I scored two front row center seats for the Wicked matinee, reminding me why I torture myself by waking up early to stand against a wall for over an hour — sweet, sweet cheap front row seats. It was my 17th West End show (I know my last post said I’ve seen 15, but I forgot about Charlie And The Chocolate Factory The Musical I saw in June last year). The performance was brilliant and I think my friend really enjoyed it, even though her bus got stuck in traffic. She arrived one whole minute late and the usher made her watch the beginning of the show on a tiny TV before seating her 25 minutes in. 2014 is the year of the bus in London, and while buses are cheaper than the tube and often more direct, they’re completely unreliable when you need to be somewhere by a specific time. That’s why I walked the three miles to the theatre. It took me an hour and I sweated out my nice dress, but I’ve been burned by buses too many times. (I also successfully ran home after buying the tickets without wiping out, a great victory!)

It’s Too Hot Out and The Siren Call of The Little Baker Frogs

13 Jun

One of the few things I miss about living in St. John’s Wood is being close to Camden Town. I used to walk there every other week or so to check out the 99p Store and Lidl, Aldi’s fellow cheapo German supermarket. Every time I would pass by The Little Baker and stop to gaze at the frogs in the window.

camden little baker(Image courtesy Google)

frog treats(Image courtesy CamdenPeople)

But over four years I never caved and went inside the bakery… until today. Now that Lidl is 2.5 miles away, going there is a big production. There are no direct bus or tube routes and walking there takes too long, so I usually run there (with a reusable tote bag stuffed in my back pocket, as Lidl charges for bags), then walk back with my bag full of chocolate, fruit and nuts (the necessities, of course). Today I made the mistake of leaving too late, so by the time I ran to Lidl and made my purchases, it was past lunchtime and I was hungry.

Pro tip: don’t walk by a bakery when you’re hungry and 2.5 miles from home. The frogs were staring back at me cross-eyed.

frog cakes(Image courtesy Yelp)

I needed to know if they tasted as good as they looked — for science. It would also be nice to support a local business, right? So I marched in and ordered a frog. The Little Baker offers a variety of cakes and pastries baked on site for ridiculously low prices, but since I am a child at heart who eats with her eyes, I needed to have the bright green thing with eyeballs.

little baker frog

I think frogs might actually be like sorority girls who look more attractive in a group — this is one sorry-looking amphibian cake. His “It’s not easy being green” looks more like “Eat me now and put me out of my misery!”

Or maybe he was just overheated (I really should stop personifying something I devoured). It was ridiculously hot today. I don’t know why 75 degrees (24 C) in London feels heat stroke-inducing, but it does. I was really struggling on my run, which may be partly why I thought I deserved a frog treat. (Because when you run 2.5 miles to get cake, then eat the cake as you walk 2.5 miles home, you break even, right?) When I finally made it back, the porter and I chatted about the weather, as you do in England.

“Do you like this warm weather?” He asked.

“No!” I replied. “It’s too hot and miserable inside without air conditioning.”

“I know!” he said. It felt good to finally hear someone share my sentiment — I’m tired of the “This weather is amazing!” camp. He said he actually hoped it would rain so it would cool off. I agreed. I’d like to have a proper English summer with highs of 20 C (68 F), please.

I went upstairs and put the remaining half of my frog in the refrigerator since he was starting to melt. The verdict is still out on the frog cake — it was good, especially for 90 pence (apparently the price has gone up since the photos above). But it’s been a while since I’ve had sweets other than chocolate and it tasted almost too sweet. It was better cold. I’m glad I can put the mystery of the bakery frog taste behind me, but I’m not sure I’d buy another one. It’s a sad realization when your healthy eating makes the bad food you used to enjoy not taste as good and even gives you a minor sugar headache, but I guess it’s for the best. I’ll stick to my Lidl dark chocolate.

Let the Right One Queue

1 Jun

Just for kicks, I made a list of every theatre production I’ve seen in London so far:

2012
One Man Two Guvnors (starring James Corden)*
Sunshine Boys (starring Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths)*
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time*
A Chorus of Disapproval (starring Rob Brydon)*
Scenes from an Execution (starring Fiona Shaw)*

2013
Old Times (starring Kristin Scott Thomas)*
Quartermaine’s Terms (starring Rowan Atkinson/Mr. Bean)
Once
Jersey Boys
The Tempest (at The Globe)
The Taming of the Shrew (at The Globe)
Viva Forever*
Chimerica*

2014
The Book of Mormon
Let the Right One In*

Of those 15 shows, I got up early to queue for day seats for nine of them (indicated by an asterisk). 2013 was a good theatre year for me, so obviously I have some catching up to do this year. Whenever my alarm goes off on day seat queue day I question why I do it, and then when my butt is sitting in the front row of a world class production that cost me less than a cinema ticket, I remember, and start planning the next quest.

Yesterday I took the Tube bright and early to queue for Blithe Spirit starring Angela Lansbury. It got good reviews, and as you can see above, I enjoy watching well-known screen actors on the stage. I simply knew of “that lady from ‘Murder She Wrote’,” but I clearly underestimated others’ devotion to her. The people at the front of the queue had been there since 6 a.m. — four hours before the box office opened. Another woman flew in from Spain just for the performance. I began to realize for the first time in my day seat queuing history I may not get tickets. As I waited I surveyed my options. I had planned a fun show and dinner day with a friend and was looking forward to it. I also got up early and came down to the West End. Thus, I was determined to get tickets to something. I pulled up my list of shows I want to see (yes, I have a running list), and noticed the Apollo Theatre (the one whose ceiling collapsed last year), playing Let the Right One In, was just next door. That would be my plan B. Finally the box office opened and the queue slowly snaked inside. When there were only four people ahead of me I heard the box office person say the only seats left were £64 or they had standing tickets for £10. I hated that I wasted an hour of my life in that queue, but I also was not going to spend £64 or stand for two and a half hours (and it’s a good thing too, because SPOILER ALERT I massively wipe out again on my run home from the box office.) So I made the tough decision to abandon my spot in the queue and scurried over to the Apollo, praying they didn’t have a queue of their own.

I walked right in and got two front row center seats for the matinee performance. Could not have been easier. I excitedly texted my friend our change of plans, then started to jog back home to shower and eat lunch before coming back out for the show. I made it all of five minutes before it happened — another massive wipe out. This one may have been even more majestic than my last. I could feel it happening and desperately tried to correct myself, but I was stumbling forward with too much momentum.

scooby running

Suddenly I was on my stomach in the middle of an intersection, iPhone and water bottle flung five feet away. I think I audibly muttered “Crap! Again?!” as passersby averted eye contact (as you do in the UK). I stood up to assess the damage. Luckily I was wearing long pants so there was no visible blood. I once again managed to wipe out in the most elaborate way possible with minimal injury. As much as I enjoy running with my phone in one hand, water in the other, I’m starting to think it’s throwing off my balance, so I may have to consider using an arm or waist band. I may also need to learn how to do the worm:

running fall worm

Wipe outs aside, Let the Right One In was an exquisite bit of theatre down to every last drop of fake blood and was worth spending an hour in the wrong queue. I came home and immediately watched the Swedish film on Netflix, also beautifully haunting, and I’m planning to watch the US version, “Let Me In,” tonight. Then I think I’ll be done with child vampires for a while.

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