When a (wo)man is tired of London…

19 Apr

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Samuel Johnson

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m tired of London, but it’s certainly grinding on me lately. The crowds of tourists have been giving me a mean case of pedestrian road rage (yes, that’s a thing), and it’s taken everything I’ve got not to body slam a group of Spanish high school students blocking the entire pavement in the park whilst I’m running. Things that used to be a happy coincidence — like just happening to catch the Horseguards changing of the guards when trying to get to St. James Park have become a huge nuisance. There’s always something going on near our flat in central London, whether it be Mary Poppins filming or an alt right protest (and anti-alt right protest and a huge police presence just in case the two protests clashed).

So while those crowds of tourists who walk at a snail’s pace and stop sporadically for selfies couldn’t be more chuffed to be in London, I am so looking forward to heading to America tomorrow. I’m looking forward to driving again, to running in my parent’s subdivision with no chance of getting trapped behind tour groups and slow walkers, and, of course, seeing family and friends. I’m starting in Milwaukee, then heading to Chicago, then finally to Cincinnati via my old pal Megabus (please no explosions this time!).

I just checked in online for my flight and was surprised when Delta informed me the second leg of my trip might be overbooked and asked me if I’d be willing to accept a voucher to go on a different flight. (A new process in light of the recent United fiasco, perhaps?) The kicker is they asked me to bid with the voucher amount I’d be willing to accept — $200, $300, $400, or $500. I opted out since I have a non refundable hotel reservation to make, but I wonder what kind of person bids $300? Whoever bids the least will be the first to be bumped. Presumably someone who for one reason or another doesn’t really want to take the flight will bid $200, but anyone who’s smart would go for the max. Who bids $300 or $400? I’d really love to know.

Here’s hoping for smooth traveling (I’m flying Delta, but wearing leggings) and as mild a case of jetlag as possible!

london pug bus

At least I saw a pug bus today!

An actual post about the weather and getting free tea at Waitrose 

7 Apr

If there’s anything that’s helped London bounce back from last month’s attack, it’s our collective British sun guilt. The weather has been truly amazing lately — sunny and 17 (62) degrees almost every day. The flowers are in full bloom throughout the parks and seemingly everyone — from tourists to office works on lunch break — is outside.

st james park flowers.png

I’ve been running in the late morning as usual, but almost every afternoon I’ve come up with a reason to get out and enjoy the weather more. Usually it’s to go to Tesco to buy one thing (yesterday it was a cantelope, but they were out of cantaloupe so I got a mango). Today I walked unusually far to go to Waitrose to buy yogurt and get a free cup of tea. I’ve been shopping at Waitrose for years now, but I haven’t been taking advantage of their free tea or coffee with your MyWaitrose card offer until recently. Every store seems to do it differently, though. Some give you the cup when you check out, others have a special separate kiosk and you just have to scan your card. And on top of that, they recently changed the policy so that you have to buy something to get the free tea (which I thought was the policy all along. How many free cups of tea did I miss out on every time I walked by a Waitrose?). I had the following exchange at the Waitrose checkout till today:

Cashier: That will be £4.50. Do you have a MyWaitrose card?

Me: Yes ::Begins fishing through wallet::

Me: How do I get the free cup of tea?

Cashier: You have to have a MyWaitrose card, it seems like you don’t.

Inner me: Did I not just say “yes” when you asked and am I not at this moment getting it out of my wallet?

Me: I have one, here it is.

::Awkward silence::

Me: So where do I get the cup?

Cashier: Wait.

::Cashier immediately starts serving the next customer, who practically pushes me aside::

::Other cashier brings over stack of cups, cashier finally hands me one::

Cashier, calling out as I walk away with the cup: You have to have a MyWaitrose card!

It was such a bizarre exchange! Perhaps it was my mistake by phrasing it as a question. Next time I’ll be sure to say “I have a MyWaitrose card and would like my free cup of tea, please,” but if it’s the same cashier, it seems verbally and physically confirming the ownership of a MyWaitrose card is somehow not enough.

We Are Not Afraid

23 Mar

I was watching a matinee performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when it happened. The brilliant Imelda Staunton as Martha was lambasting her husband for not knowing the origin of the phrase “What a dump!”, while less than a mile away pedestrians were being plowed down on Westminster Bridge and a police officer was stabbed to death. I didn’t find out about it until I turned my phone on during the interval. My dad had texted me to see if I was OK.

“There’s been an attack near Westminster,” someone behind me said.

“Oh dear,” said an older woman. Somehow those two words seemed to convey so much — “I hope everyone is alright. Though I guess it was only a matter of time before we had another terror attack. …I wonder if Martha is really going to cheat on George in the next act?”

Nobody panicked. Some people made calls to loved ones to ensure they were alright, but most people just sat and ate their tiny cups of Häagen-Dazs, waiting for the play to resume.

I admit my first feeling upon hearing of the attack was not that of fear, but of practicality — how was I going to walk home after the show? Would all the roads be closed? I didn’t have any proof of address on me to show the police if my street was barricaded. Would Tesco still be open? I needed to buy some grapes.

When the curtain rose we were once again immersed in the twisted lives of Martha and George and the outside world temporarily didn’t matter. Every once in a while someone’s phone would go off, likely a worried friend or relative trying to check in (who would only grow more worried when the person didn’t respond for two hours). But for the most part, the proverbial show went on.

Afterward I hesitatingly emerged from the theatre, mentally exhausted from essentially watching a couple fight for 3 hours, unsure of what the post-attack atmosphere would be like. The first thing I saw was a couple taking a selfie. As I made my way towards Trafalgar Square, I encountered more tourists cheerily taking photos as if nothing tragic had just happened 3 hours earlier. Past Trafalgar Square all the roads were blocked off by cones, police officers and tape, but pedestrians were allowed through. I popped into Tesco, got my grapes, and went home.

“It’s so quiet out there,” Stephen said when he got home from work. While there was the constant buzz of helicopters overhead, there were no cars, taxis or buses zooming by.

The next morning the streets in Westminster were still closed. I debated whether I wanted to go run — not because I was afraid, but because all the road closures seemed like a hassle — would I be able to get to the park easily? I looked out my window and noticed the police who were previously stopping pedestrians were now letting them through. So I went out. It was eerie seeing major streets without any cars, but aside from the increased police presence, it felt like any other day. The annoying European school groups were out in full force — some of them even mocked me as I ran in place to warm up. I smiled. London was going to be OK.

Rick Steves posted a video from 1990 on his Facebook page that still rings true today.

Europe will always have terrorists. But the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is still statistically tiny. You shouldn’t cancel your European vacation every time there’s an attack, just like you shouldn’t cancel your flight every time there’s a crash. Of course we should mourn and honour those who were injured and killed in the acts, but we also need to keep living our lives. While #prayforLondon has been trending worldwide, the hashtag that’s been trending in London is #WeAreNotAfraid.

we are not afraid

I’m glad I went out for a run today. It was a beautiful day. But as I was going through Green Park, admiring the fields of daffodils, a piece of a tree branch broke off in the wind and struck me in the neck. If the wind had been stronger and the branch piece sharper, I might have been killed or at least seriously injured. And just like that it all came together: pretty much anything out there can kill you — even Mother Nature herself. But that’s no reason to never leave the house. You have to be smart and alert, but not afraid. There’s so much out there worth living for.

A visit to Twinings Tea Store

10 Mar

I’m trying to remember when my love affair with tea started. Perhaps there’s just something in the British air that makes one crave a cuppa. I certainly didn’t come here liking tea. But slowly it’s grown on me.

I think it started a few years ago when I got on a workout kick. I wasn’t running yet, but I was doing Jillian Michaels videos. Either she or a random internet stranger suggested drinking green tea before a workout. If you google “green tea workout” or “green tea health benefits” you can convince yourself that green tea is some cure-all magical elixir of the gods (but then again, if you get deep enough into Google, you can convince yourself that anything is — or isn’t). So I bought some Twinings green tea on sale at Sainsbury’s — mango and pineapple flavours, because I had to ease myself into it. Slowly I went from only drinking it cold loaded with sugar, to drinking it hot with honey, to drinking it hot or cold multiple times a day with stevia or whatever-the-green-tea-equivalent-of-‘black’-is. Soon my two-box collection of tea expanded into 4 boxes, then it spilled out from its designated shelf into its own cupboard, and before I knew it my tea collection was taking up two cupboards in my kitchen.

I had a problem.

When we moved into our new flat with a smaller kitchen, I told myself my collection could only take up one cupboard, so I couldn’t buy any more tea until there was an opening. Even drinking 2-4 cups a day, there was no way I was going to get through it all. Surprisingly I’ve kept to my promise, and I get a little thrill every time I finish a box. Though what follows is always the hard part: what new flavour to get?

Twinings tea store to the rescue!

Whenever I need to bring tea back to friends or family in the U.S., I go to Whittards or Fortnum & Mason — fancy pants shops that scream (or rather suggest in a polite, but posh way) “London.” I’ve never been to Twinings’ store because you can buy Twinings tea in all the supermarkets and they even sell it in some U.S. supermarkets. But then I discovered the Twinings Tea Shop on the Strand had something all the other fancy pants shops didn’t — pick ‘n mix tea. (Translation: individual bags.) I didn’t have to commit to a full box of tea that would take up valuable shelf space and may not even taste good (like the M&S Christmas tea I bought last year. There’s a reason it was less than £2 for 40 bags. Luckily I found a far superior Christmas tea at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which may just be one of the most random places to find quality Christmas tea. But I digress.) The individual Twinings bags were 15p each with a minimum purchase of 15. I bought 20 for £3, which is slightly more expensive than a full 20-bag box at the supermarket, but the variety makes it worth it.

twinings pick n mix

Twinings’ shop is also worth a visit just because, according to Wikipedia, it’s London’s longest-standing rate-payer, having occupied the same premises on the Strand since 1706. Another fun fact: Twinings holds the world’s oldest continually-used company logo. ::the more you know::

They had some expensive fancy-pants loose leaf teas, but also a lot of the same tea you can find in the supermarkets cheaper. I saw a guy buying just two boxes of the new fruit infusions and I wanted to tell him, “You know those are half price at Tesco right now,” but maybe he was buying them at the store for the experience, and the coveted fancy shopping bag (which I totally got too — 20 little tea bags could easily fit in my purse, but the shopping bag had gold ribbon handles!).

twinings strand bag

Which brings me to my last question: Do actual real live Londoners ever shop at Twinings, Whittards or Fortnum & Mason? Every time I go into those stores they’re just full of tourists loading up on “authentic London” presents to bring home. Am I not a true English teaphile because I like the flavoured stuff? Are Yorkshire Tea, Tetley, Typhoo or PG Tips the only types of tea you’d find in a British person’s tea cupboard? Inquiring minds must know.

A random post about nothing, grocery shopping and a cute panda video

2 Mar

Hello, friends, family and internet strangers (especially those of you who found me through my Priceline refund post, I’m so happy it’s been helping people!).

I feel like it’s been too long since I last posted, yet I don’t really have anything to post about. I’m not sure one can use the word “boring” about living in central London, but no matter where you live you tend to fall into a routine — work, run, somehow get caught up in the changing of the guard while trying to cut through Horseguards no matter what time it is, eat, more work. The usual.

Our new place is finally starting to feel like home, even though we still haven’t painted or made the cosmetic changes we’ve been talking about for months. (Finding a reputable, reasonably priced builder is surprisingly hard.) But I’ve gotten used to the location and know all the best shortcuts to get around the tourist-infested streets. I can’t seem to break my once a week grocery shopping habit though. At our old place we lived over a mile from all the best stores, so every Monday I would lug my little trolley to Aldi, Iceland, Sainsbury’s and sometimes other stores to stock up for the week. But now we live reasonably close to a Tesco so I could go every day if I wanted to. I don’t need to buy vegetables on Monday for Friday and worry if they’ll still be fresh. And yet I still find myself doing a big shop on Monday, just because Monday has been grocery shopping day for so long. I can’t even wean myself off my Aldi habit. Not only are their prices so much better than Tesco, they sell things Tesco doesn’t have, like frozen cherries and blueberries. So now about once a month my trolley and I take the Tube up to Aldi and I wipe out their supply of thousand island salad dressing, frozen fruit, and dark chocolate (at least that’s what I go in intending to buy — I always leave with a trolley so full I have to bring my giant tote bag for overflow). It’s such a hassle and I keep telling myself I should stop — I can deal with the subpar, more expensive dressing at Tesco and can use other fruits in my smoothies, but the Aldi lure is just too strong. I’m looking forward to checking out Aldi in the U.S. on my upcoming visit, they just built a nice new one by my parents’ house.

Hey, I just made a post about grocery shopping, just like in the good old days of the blog!

I’ll end with this amazing baby panda video. I know they say when you work with pandas you mostly just clean up poo and prepare bamboo, but I totally wouldn’t mind doing that with this little guy in tow!

(Though I really want to tell iPanda it should be “Nanny, you can’t resist my cuteness!” Do you think they’ll accept my editing services in exchange for baby panda playtime?)

Running and Pokemon updates

17 Feb

Just for kicks, I threw my name into the proverbial hat again for a spot in the Royal Parks Half Marathon in October. Last year I was really counting on it and was gutted when I didn’t get a spot. This year I’m not even sure I want to run another half. And it turns out I won’t be, because once again I was not allotted a spot. Alas. I do feel like I need to work towards some running goal besides catching Pokemon. A half marathon is a big undertaking though, so I think I’ll just work on improving my 5K time. There’s a race in Kentucky I’m hoping I can do in May. If I hadn’t aged up into the next group I may have had a chance at a top 3 age group award, but those darn 30- to 39-year-old Kentucky women are fast! …I’m talking like I can actually run 5K quickly now, I’m not even sure I could do it without stopping. I haven’t in awhile. It’s been cold out, but mostly I’ve been lazy. Now that I have some goal to work towards, that should change. Then again, they just added 80 new Pokemon to Pokemon Go yesterday, so we’ll see how that goes.

pokemon running.gif

Speaking of Pokemon, yes, I’m a 30-year-old who’s still playing. The other day there was an AskReddit thread about trends that died out as quickly as they started and Pokemon Go was one of the top answers. But everyone reminisced fondly of the first few weeks it was out when everyone was out and about exploring their neighborhoods and interacting with people of all ages and backgrounds towards a common goal. I experienced a bit of that hanging out with my brother and our cousins in July. But I never really felt it in London… until the other day. I was battling at the Buckingham Palace Pokemon Gym, surely photobombing countless tourist photos, when I heard a little voice pipe up behind me, “Whoa, she’s got a Jolteon!” Jolteon isn’t even a good Pokemon, I’m not even sure why I was using him. The little boy had climbed on the statue behind me to get a bird’s eye view of my iPhone screen. His friends quickly joined him. When I went back to the main Pokemon screen and they saw my army of Gyrados, their minds were blown. “Oh my god, she has 6 Gyrados! 6! She must be really good!” They were talking about me as if I couldn’t hear them, maybe because I was wearing headphones. I turned and smiled at them, then jogged off victorious. I probably should have stayed to chat, but I’m already a fully grown woman who battles animated monsters, I don’t need to be the stranger who talks to little kids about them. Still, it was nice to hear someone appreciates my collection!

Cold running and power struggles

26 Jan

Can you get frostbite through gloves? I genuinely wondered this during my run this morning. It was just above freezing, but it was certainly the coldest it’s been in London all year. I’ve definitely run in colder weather — like my first two Thanksgiving Day Races in Cincinnati — but I’m not sure running in extreme weather is ever something you get used to. I also think the body is quick to forget how miserable extreme temperatures are. Facebook memories recently showed a photo I took of myself bundled up, ready to walk to work in the -30 windchill. Good thing I wasn’t a runner back then!

perfect texture for running.gif

running snow fall.gif

I only made it 3 miles before I had to call it quits and come home to warm up. I plugged my phone in so it could charge a little while I showered, but the charging icon didn’t come on. I flipped the outlet switch, but nothing happened. Then I noticed my computer wasn’t charging. And the lamp wouldn’t turn on. And …oh crap we lost power.

Back when we frequently had our water turned off at our old flat, I liked to play a little “would you rather” with myself — would you rather be without power or water? Now that I’ve experienced both, I’d definitely say water. Being without water is inconvenient — you can’t shower, flush the toilet or fill up the Brita pitcher, but as I realized this afternoon, without power I can’t do anything. I couldn’t shower because it was dark in the bathroom. I thought I’d eat first, but realized I couldn’t make my traditional lunch of a smoothie and warm Quest bar because the blender and microwave wouldn’t work. I thought maybe I’d do some work since my laptop was fully charged, but then I remembered the Internet requires power. So I just sat there and stretched while listening to podcasts on my phone, nervous that it was already at 40% battery. The porter assured me the power would be back in a half hour, and it was the longest half hour ever. I couldn’t stand being in my sweaty running clothes anymore, so I took a shower in the dark with the door slightly ajar. Thankfully right after I caved and ate my Quest bar at room temperature, the power came back. I never really realized how reliant my entire day is on electricity and how grossly unprepared I am for a disaster. We really should invest in a flashlight (or torch as they call them here) that’s not connected to an iPhone.