Archive | December, 2015

2006 Renee’s thoughts on London and Italy

28 Dec

One of the best parts about being back at my Kentucky home is the treasure trove of nostalgia — from baby photos to my college admission essay to the travel journal I kept on my very first trip abroad in 2006. I have no recollection of it, but apparently I kept a little log of my 8 hours in London and 7 days in Italy. I was in college at the time, but my high school Latin teacher was taking a group of students to Italy and invited me to join them since I had expressed interest in the trip years before. Since it was a classics-centric trip, we took advantage of our 8-hour layover in London and hopped on a bus from Gatwick Airport to the British Museum, saw the Elgin Marbles and other classical pieces, then hopped back on the bus to Gatwick to catch our flight to Naples. This is why when we first moved to London and people asked if I had ever been to London before, my answer was “Yes, but only for 8 hours.”

This is the exact journal entry I wrote on June 7, 2006:

I have transcended time. I no longer know whether I’m tired or wide awake. The line grows thinner by the minute.

Things that make London awesome:
-They have the world’s greatest public restrooms (toilets). Full doors, beautifully scented soap and dryers that literally blow your skin off.
-Very few people wear flip flops. Those who do are probably tourists.

Things I don’t like about London:
-Everything is horribly expensive.
-Food is horrible.

Keep in mind that my only real experience of London was Gatwick and the British Museum, but it cracks me up how accurate my assessment was. In 2006 Dyson Airblade and other high-speed hand dryers weren’t mainstream in the US yet, so the ones in Gatwick may have been my first encounter with them. I’m pretty sure my “Things I don’t like about London” section came solely from my experience of lunch at the airport. I bought some ready-made sandwich which probably cost around £6, but in 2006 the exchange rate was closer to 2 to 1 so it would have been close to $12. I can’t remember what kind of sandwich I got, but my American palate was obviously not used to the gloriousness that is the British ready-made sandwich (or I just chose a bad combination). My memory of what we saw at the British Museum is foggy, but I do remember the horrible weight of jet lag, a feeling that has become all too familiar in recent years.

This is one of the few photos I took in London. My 2006 self found the concept of a 99p store (akin to a dollar store) hilarious:

99p zone.png

My notes from Italy are sporadic and either way too detailed (one night I had pasta with zucchini, breaded fish with lemon and tiramisu for dinner) or vague inside jokes and bits of conversations I don’t remember having, but I obviously thoroughly enjoyed. However, I did compile this list of Things I Learned:

-It’s impossible to eat Italian bread without crumbs
-There’s no such thing as a line
-All road signs are suggestions
-“They’re Italians, they don’t care”
-Sleep is for the weak
-Italian time
-Peeing is a privilege you sometimes have to pay for
-Pope on a rope and popener (pope can opener)
-80s music is cool (didn’t have to tell me that!)
-Don’t remember street names like the computer Dell. They all start with that. (Via del ….)
“Ciao. I’d like a cheeseburger. Grazie.” is perfect Italian
-There is no such thing as too much walking or too many Roman ruins
-Non appoggiarsi does not mean “we are not sorry”*
-Cities are good, but it’s the people you’re with that make it great.

I think I wrote that last line when I was missing Stephen. At the time we had been dating for less than 6 months. When I threw my coin into the Trevi Fountain, I never dreamed I’d be returning to Rome 5 years later with Stephen and my entire family. Or that 4 years and 4 months after eating that dreadful Gatwick sandwich I’d be living in London and happily living off Tesco sandwich meal deals for a full month. Funny how circumstances change and tempus fugit! (That’s Latin for “time flies”)

* “Non appoggiarsi” was written on the doors of the Roman metro. Google translate tells me it means “do not lean,” which makes sense. For some reason the little group I hung out with on the trip thought “non appoggiarsi” was the funniest Italian phrase and pronounced it “non apologarsi,” like an Italianization of “apologize.” After a glass of wine or two we may have bumped into random Italians on the street or on the metro and declared “non apologarsi!” before erupting into a fit of giggles. I like to think I’ve matured over the past 9 1/2 years, but writing “non apologarsi” still made me chuckle a little.

The expat struggle

17 Dec

Last night I was flipping through photos on my phone, reliving the most awesome 6 days I just had in Chicago and Milwaukee. This visit home has been excellent so far — I’ve had such quality time with friends and family that my mouth sometimes hurts from smiling and laughing so much. Which is why it was so unexpected that I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of homesickness last night — while at “home.” I came to a short video on my phone of Stephen and I driving down Bond St and suddenly I wanted to be back in London, cruising around on our usual Saturday afternoon roast duck run. And yet I wanted to be in Kentucky just as much.

This may be the hardest part about being an expat. Sure, dealing with long plane rides, foreign currencies and different voltage sucks, but it’s really hard to have two homes that are so far apart. No matter where I am, a bit of my heart is always across the ocean. When I’m in Kentucky I miss eating healthily, running in the park, queuing for day seats and walking everywhere. When I’m in London I miss high fructose corn syrup and other bad-for-me foods, driving at night with the perfect song on an empty highway, and shopping at the mall. Going back and forth between my two homes can be rough, but it also always gives me something to look forward to. To paraphrase Thoreau, I need to “suck the marrow” out of my American home while I can (which mostly means having fun with family and friends and eating and drinking all the bad things), before I get back to London and healthy eating, half marathon training, and fast, loud rides down Bond St. in Stephen’s new car.

And now here are some pandas who also wish they could be in two places at the same time:

panda fight

American vs. British Sour Patch Kids

6 Dec

It’s time for another American vs. British sweets taste test! On the table this time: Sour Patch Kids.

us uk sour patch.pngSour Patch Kids were just launched in the UK in 2012. They are marketed by Maynards (which was sold to Cadbury, which was acquired by Kraft, which goes by the name Mondelēz International, Inc. — have you gone cross-eyed yet?). Maynards is also behind the popular wine gums, which are firm gumdrops that contain neither wine nor gum.

Besides the giant “Maynards” there’s another packaging difference — the American bag is 226g and the UK one is 160g (does this surprise anyone that the American one would be bigger?). I got the US one for $2 (£1.32) and the UK one for £1 ($1.51), which is roughly the same price per gram (the US one is a slightly better value).
us uk sour patch kids.pngThe other main difference is in the list of ingredients. Here’s what’s in the US version:

us sour patch kids ingredients.pngMmm…. corn syrup and yellow 5.

Did you happen to catch the little guy on the front of the UK package saying “We are made with natural colours”? Check out the UK Sour Patch Kids ingredients:

uk sour patch kids ingredients.png

Mmm… Paprika, spinach, stinging nettle  and turmeric extract!

Here’s what the kids themselves look like. The colors, Duke, the colors!

sour patch kids countries.png

See that purple UK Sour Patch Kid on the far right that looks like a naturally dyed blue raspberry? It’s not. It’s blackcurrant.

“What the heck is blackcurrant?” my dad asked.

I showed him this photo:


“That looks weird,” he said. Then he popped a blackcurrant Sour Patch Kid in his mouth.

“That’s $%&@!” he declared.

Blackcurrant is not an American flavor whatsoever, but the Brits love it. According to Wikipedia, “in Britain, 95% of the blackcurrants grown end up in Ribena and similar fruit syrups and juices.” During our very first trip to Tesco after we moved to London we bought a bottle of Ribena because it was on sale and we thought it was grape juice. I think we drank almost half the bottle before realizing it was concentrate. Tip: Ribena tastes much better diluted with water.

Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz are only available in the UK, New Zealand and Australia. So naturally I had to walk an hour to Morrison’s (the only place that seems to sell them) to get some.

sour patch soda popz.png

They too are made with natural colours and come in cola, orangeade, cherryade, tropical and apple fizz flavours. Judging by that list, I’m not entirely sure the folks at Maynards/Kraft/Mondelēz International have ever had soda pop. The cola one is especially tasty (and very soda popz), orange can pass for a soda flavour (but it’s also included in the regular pack), but the others do not belong. Why not make cherry cola? Or Dr. Pepper? Or root beer? Basically all the flavors in the Jelly Belly Soda Pop Shoppe collection. And why aren’t Sour Patch Kids Soda Popz available in the US, the world capital of soda consumption? Because they know we would see through their questionable flavor selection?

sour patch kids soda.png

Here are all the kids in a group family photo.

sour patch kids different flavors.png

Now for the important questions I know you’re wondering: how did they taste? Which one is the best?

Like with my Cadbury Egg experiment, the US Sour Patch Kids tasted like what my brain thinks Sour Patch Kids should taste like — like childhood and sweet, sweet corn syrup. They got a natural advantage. The UK ones had a slightly different texture — they were a bit more chewier and dense, almost like Rowntree’s Fruit Pastilles. If I had to rank my favorite flavors I think I’d pick American cherry, British cola then American raspberry. British cherry just didn’t have that punch that the American one did, however eating the British bag made me feel like I was somehow being healthy by not consuming handfuls of corn syrup and artificial colors with my buckets of sugar. As for the blackcurrant one, I have come to enjoy blackcurrant as a fruit and flavor — it’s one of my favorite Fruit Pastilles, but it just doesn’t go right with the sour coating. I’ll take a corn syrupy blue raspberry Sour Patch Kid over a blackcurrant one any day.

Thanksgiving Day Race Recap with pugs and corgis

3 Dec

I did it! After months of sprinting on the track, huffing it up Primrose Hill, and crapping out on 4-mile weekend runs, prompting Stephen to say, “There’s no way you’ll finish that 10K in under an hour,” I did it — I ran the Thanksgiving Day Race in 58 minutes and 49 seconds — a whole minute and 11 seconds faster than my goal.

It was really the perfect race in all aspects — the weather was ideal (50 F instead of the usual 25 F), my playlist was killer, and I saw a pug at the starting line and two corgis along the course. Years ago I declared that a pug sighting automatically improved the quality of my day, so it was a good omen to start the race with one. I also declared that races should have corgis along the way to make me run faster, and there they were — two corgis — on the side of the course cheering us on! However they didn’t make me run faster because I briefly slowed down to take their photo. I decided this race nothing was going to slow me down — I had various mantras I kept repeating in my head, from Shaun T’s “Dig deeper!” and “Never sacrifice form” to Enrico Pollini from Rat Race:

its a race gif.gif

I also really wanted to prove to myself (and Stephen, who runs with me the most) that I am capable of digging deeper and reaching my goal. But when there is a corgi along the race course you cannot not take a photo. (Pics or it didn’t happen, right?) So I got this blurry pic and took off again:

thanksgiving day race corgis.png

As I ran my family was texting me from the finish line, letting me know a guy won the race in 30:39 (how??) and that the very pug from the starting line was standing near them.

cincinnati pug.png

Not only that, but there was a corgi puppy nearby too!

race corgi.png

I wasn’t able to find my family or the pug and corgi after I finished since I was on a mission to get to the snacks by the stadium, but the thought of the pug and corgi (and OK, my family too) waiting for me helped me to push through on the hills.

I was elated that I finally reached my goal, but now there’s that “what now?”. Each year I shaved about 3 min off my 10K time — do I try for 55 min next year? But this race was so good I’m not sure I want to run it again next year (or if I’ll even be in town). When I brought up my “what now?” conundrum to my runner friend, she replied immediately: “You gotta run a half!” It’s always been in the back of my head that I want to tackle a half marathon before I turn 30. So many runners of varying sizes and abilities have done it — why not me? The London Half is in October, so I’ve got 310 days to decide and prepare. In the meantime I’ve “registered my interest” and have been carboloading as only Americans during the holidays know how.