Archive | May, 2014

Eggs, avocados, hanger, castles, manshions and blueberries

22 May

Lately I’ve been all about eggs. I still won’t have them for breakfast — breakfast must be sweet — but I’ve been craving them for lunch and dinner. I recently bought 5 avocados for £1 from a nearby fruit and veg stall, which is an amazing deal, considering they usually go for £1 each at the supermarket. Granted the ones I bought are about half the size of a normal £1 avocado, but that just means I can eat an entire one in one sitting instead of trying to preserve a half that always turns brown. Unfortunately it also means they are too small for conventional recipes, like the much-raved about baked egg breakfast cup (which I made for lunch):

avocado egg fail

I also overcooked it. Which is why today’s accomplishment was even more amazing — I made a perfect poached egg, something professional chefs even mess up. OK, maybe it wasn’t perfect, but the white was cooked and the yolk was still runny — not bad for a first attempt! I was craving avocado eggs benedict, so I decided to make it, leaving out everything that makes it benedict. Still, a poached egg over avocado really hit the spot.

I had another post written up about the unseasonably warm weather, but it was 492 words of me complaining about how I can’t stop complaining about the weather, and I realized nobody wants to read that. I’ll just say this — when it gets above 24C/75F, I get hangry — not angry and irritable from being hungry, angry and irritable from being hot. I am not good at summer, especially in a country that does not believe in air conditioning or window screens. I pray these next few months stay below the 24/75 threshold.

Last weekend we had some of that rare blue sky, sunny weather, so we decided to visit Windsor Castle, since Stephen had never been. I went a year ago with my parents and we had the infamous royal corgi sighting of 2013. Unfortunately it did not happen again this time. Still we had a nice time, along with the rest of Britain who thought visiting a castle was a good sunny day activity.

windsor castle

windsor

I asked Stephen to take my photo in front of the courtyard, scene of the 2013 Great Royal Corgi Sighting, but he didn’t want the black bars in the photo. I suggested I jump. This was the result:

windsor castle fail

At least you can’t see the bars!

Since it’s been so nice (read: almost too warm) lately, I’ve been running and walking along Regent’s Canal. How insane are these houses? Knowing London, they are probably all investments or summer homes and are vacant 90% of the year.

regents house

regents canal house

london big house

This house has a little bench out front. I wonder if anyone ever sits out there and watches us normies on the other side of the canal.

london canal house

This art installation is also along the canal. What would you write? I couldn’t come up with anything on the spot. (I’ve already seen the royal corgis and held a baby panda. There’s a chance it could all be downhill from here.)

before i die london

Since this post started with eggs and avocados, I’ll end with blueberries. We found these giant blueberries at Tesco. They were the biggest blueberries I had ever seen. They were also delicious and hard to photography. (Oat for scale.)

atlantic blue blueberries

giant blueberries

 

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A former Chicagoan and current Londoner’s thoughts on New York City

15 May

Over three weeks ago I found myself on a prop plane from Philadelphia to Newark. I generally don’t have a fear of flying, but I do not like looking out the window and seeing this:

prop plane united

It was incredibly loud and vibrated the whole 32-minute flight, but we arrived on time and suddenly it hit me that I had really done it — I had bought a ticket just days before, got on a plane, and now I was a short train ride away from Manhattan where I was going to surprise Stephen who was having a work conference there. He was happy I came, even though he was busy with work most of the time. It gave me time to play tourist. The last time I was in New York was six years ago, so it was high time “the city” and I caught up.

-My first thought upon ascending the escalator at Penn Station: Wow, this city is crowded and dirty. I’ve heard that locals hate when tourists immediately write off the entire city as dirty and crowded when they never go outside a one-mile radius of Times Square, which I can understand — I’ve still never been to the other boroughs, but I couldn’t get over how crowded Midtown Manhattan was. Almost every street felt like walking down London’s Oxford Street and required full concentration not to bump into anyone. This was especially difficult when pulling a suitcase, because when I arrived at Penn Station I got the bright idea to walk a mile to the hotel on 42nd Street, thinking I could take in the sights while also avoiding the cost of a taxi and the hassle of the subway. For the record, walking a mile is a lot easier than dragging luggage a mile, and I do not recommend hauling a suitcase through Times Square. By the time I arrived at the hotel I had calluses on my hand from pulling.

times square suitcase

Hey look another idiot with a suitcase!

-This may be my biggest bit of advice for NYC as well as London (and I almost don’t want to give away my secret!) — Half price ticket booths are a rip off! The queues are always ridiculous and the tickets are not cheap. If it’s simply cheap Broadway (or West End) tickets you’re after, go to the theatre’s box office. If you go early you can get same-day rush tickets (NYC) or day seats (London), or even just a cheap balcony or restricted view seat. The half price ticket booths will sell you a good seat, but it won’t be cheap — If the seat originally cost $200, you’ll still end up paying over $100. While Stephen was in meetings on Wednesday I had my heart set on seeing a Broadway matinee. I planned to go to the Kinky Boots ticket lottery, but really wanted to see James Franco, Chris O’Dowd and Leighton Meester in Of Mice and Men. Kinky Boots will come to London eventually, but I’ll never have a chance to see all those A-listers in a show again. So I walked up to the box office three hours before the show, expecting it to be sold out, but was pleasantly surprised that they had a restricted view balcony seat available for $37 — my kind of price. I was smack-dab in the midst of an “OMG turn your phone on, I wanna text you!” group of high schoolers whom I had to resist smacking for 10 minutes before the show, but once it began my view wasn’t bad and the show was enjoyable. And afterwards I got to see James Franco sign Playbills for people who didn’t go the bathroom right after the show and end up across the street instead of outside the stage door:

james franco of mice and men

-No sales tax on clothing is the greatest thing. I think my wallet was thankful my luggage was carry-on-only, because I could have done so much more damage at the New York & Company flagship store.

-Where do people who live in Manhattan buy groceries? Do they all use delivery services? All I wanted was yogurt and bananas for breakfast but could not find a supermarket. I ended up at Whole Foods, with — by the likes of the queues — all of Midtown and the Upper East Side. If I ever moved to NYC this would be a big problem for me. (Not the outrageous cost of everything or the crime rate, the lack of grocery stores would be the deterring factor in my move to the Big Apple.)

-I’ve lived in London and Chicago — two cities well-connected by public transport, and I pride myself in my ability to easily get around. But New York City’s subway disgusts and confuses me. I had extra time the morning before my flight and wanted to head downtown to see the 9/11 Memorial and ride the Staten Island Ferry. My entire trip so far I had gotten around on foot — walking upwards of 6 miles every day, according to my FitBit, but downtown is too far from Midtown so I had to take the subway. Google maps on my phone told me I had to take the 4 or 5 train and get off at Wall Street. Seemed easy. So I went down into the grungy station and waited for whatever train arrived first. A 5 train came, but it said “express.” A little part of me panicked — did I want express? There were no signs or maps (as far as I could tell) in the station, so I let the train go by. Another one soon arrived and I realized all the trains were running express, so I got on. The map inside the train car was for the wrong line, rendering it utterly useless. I had no idea how many more stops there were until Wall Street or whether the express train even stopped there. Then I heard the announcement “Next stop, Brooklyn Bridge.” I panicked again — I don’t want to go to Brooklyn! So I got off at Union Square and waited for the 4 train, thinking maybe it wouldn’t be running express. Of course it was. I got on anyway, and heard “Next stop, Brooklyn Bridge” again. Instead of panicking once more, this train at least had a map and I saw that the Wall Street stop was in fact after Brooklyn Bridge. I eventually was able to get off at Wall Street and walk to the 9/11 Memorial, but I was mad at myself for letting the NYC subway get the best of me. I should have been more prepared and gotten a map on my phone. At least I never went full tourist and asked for directions. (Although I was stopped on the street and asked for directions, which is the highest honor a tourist can receive. Of course the bubble burst when I had to tell her I wasn’t local.) In short, I will never again take London’s Tube for granted. It’s so clean and easy to navigate. (And you can giggle at “This train terminates at Cockfosters.”)

-The last time I was in NYC was in 2006, almost exactly five years after 9/11. Ground Zero was still relatively a mess. I saw the 9/11 Memorial dedication on TV in 2011, but I wanted to see the memorial in person. I knew it was outside so I thought I could just walk up to it — nope. You need a ticket, preferably booked ahead of time. Luckily Thursday morning is not a peak time, so I was able to join the queue and only wait 10 minutes. We snaked through rails like we were waiting for a roller coaster, then went through airport-style security with X-ray machines and metal detectors. Three different employees checked my free ticket before I was finally released into the memorial area. I wandered slowly through the grounds, trying to get myself into the proper mindset. The memorial is very well done and looked like it did on TV, but being there didn’t feel at all the same. Watching people kiss or place a flower on their loved ones’ names during the dedication ceremony was heartbreaking, but there was none of that when I was there. There were just tourists upon tourists taking photos of themselves posing in front of the fountains — smiling — like it was any other NYC must-see sight. I have no personal connection to the Sept. 11 attacks, but their behavior still made me sick. And then I realized the teenagers goofing around were either too young to remember Sept. 11, 2001 or weren’t alive. No history book or Youtube video can instill that collective fear we felt as a nation on that day, even from as far away as Cincinnati. I left in a hurry so I could catch the Staten Island ferry, and was a little upset at myself for spending my whole time at the memorial judging my fellow tourists instead of reflecting or memorializing.

9 11 memorial

One World Trade Center from the memorial

One World Trade Center from the memorial

-My final thought/piece of NYC tourism advice: Take the Staten Island ferry. You get a great view of the Manhattan skyline and Statue of Liberty, and it’s free! And you don’t even have to stay in Staten Island — once docked, you can get off and immediately board the next ferry to Manhattan, as about 90% of my fellow passengers (and I) did. Just know that if you stay outside for the best views, it is insanely windy — so windy I didn’t take many photos because I was afraid my phone would blow out of my hand.

manhattan staten island ferry

statue of liberty staten island ferry

And now the photos that wouldn’t fit into the narrative.

This minion's expression embodies my feelings on Times Square

This minion’s expression embodies my feelings on Times Square

Easter eggs at Rockefeller Plaza:

30 rock

rockefeller eggs

I think the Today Show was wrapping up by the time I arrived.

today show audience

I wandered into the free exhibit at the New York Public Library, “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter,” and it was amazing. Best use of killing time while waiting for housekeeping to make up my hotel room. Baby Renee loved “The Poky Little Puppy.”

poky puppy museum

Overcoming Jet Lag and Extreme Wipeout: Regent’s Park Edition

6 May

Whenever I arrive back in London, two things always immediately go out the window: my plans for the day, like grocery shopping, unpacking, working and cleaning; and every bit of advice I’ve ever heard about beating jet lag, like stay up until a normal bed time, go out in the sun, exercise and DON’T TAKE A 5-HOUR NAP!

I got in at the crack of dawn on Friday, had to struggle with my suitcases on the Tube because the Heathrow Express and Connect trains were broken, but still managed to catch Stephen before he left for work in the morning. I briefly struggled with the old long-distance travel priority battle — shower, sleep or eat? — before taking a 5-hour nap, the one thing I was not supposed to do. When I woke up I was in no state to do my full weekly Aldi-Iceland-Sainsbury’s-Tesco run; it took everything I had to put on shoes and walk down the street to buy bananas and yogurt. I struggled to stay up until dinner, then afterwards dozed off a couple times with my laptop on my lap while trying to get some work done. That night I got nine hours of sleep and woke up feeling like jet lag, shmetlag, I’m back! …but I forgot that the worst night of recovering from jet lag is not the first, when you’re exhausted from traveling in general and not sleeping a wink on the plane, it’s the second… and third… and DEAR GOD WHAT IF I CAN NEVER GO TO SLEEP AT A REASONABLE HOUR EVER AGAIN?!

If you can’t tell, I’ve had three straight nights of struggling to fall asleep before 3 a.m. Working from home and setting my own hours is a blessing and a curse.

In an effort to battle my jet lag and just enjoy this beautiful if-it-were-anywhere-else-it’d-be-mild, but-since-it’s-the-UK-we-treat-it-like-summer 60-degree weather, Stephen and I went for a run Sunday and Monday morning (since yesterday was a bank holiday and everyone was off). My lungs felt better than when I did the 5K race last weekend and I was trying to push myself a little bit yesterday, thanks to Stephen’s “You can do it!” encouragement, as well as that of a random guy parking his car nearby who heard Stephen shout it and chimed in. I was feeling pretty good as we ran along the path that cuts through the football pitches (soccer fields) in Regent’s Park. One minute we were laughing and quoting lines from “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the next I was eating pavement, fully sprawled out on my stomach in what had to be one of my most majestic wipeouts yet.

falling-mascot-gif
After Stephen made sure I was OK, he burst out laughing. Once I shoved down the “this hurts and I kind of want to cry” feeling, I did too. Because I have no idea how I managed to trip on absolutely nothing or how I ended up landing face-down with my left hip bone taking most of the brunt.

dog running slips

It’s probably because my hands were full with my phone and water bottle so I only half caught myself, skinning my left palm and thumb and right wrist and elbow. Luckily it was not as bloody or painful as my fall last fall — after walking it off I was able to jog back home, mostly because I was anxious to get home to the Neosporin and bandaids which were a mile away. I’m glad I was not hurt too badly and that everyone playing football had a good laugh. It’s also a testament to the iPhone 5s’ and my cheap panda case’s durability — that thing went flying across the pavement and didn’t receive a scratch. I wish I could say the same about myself.