Archive | January, 2017

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!

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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.

Weekend theatre extravaganza

24 Jan

Remember how I said I wanted 2017 to be the year I see more than 9 West End shows? I’m off to a good start.

Last Monday I saw BU21, a play about how six people cope with a [fictional] London terrorist attack. While it was heavy and all too realistic, it was also quite funny. Life (and theatre) isn’t often only comedy or tragedy — as my favorite band Over the Rhine often says, it’s a head-on collision between both.

So I started my week with some “tragedy porn” (as one of the actors described it while breaking the fourth wall), and needed to end it with something a little more fun. One of my friends from university has been working in London for a few months, so I asked her if she wanted to go see School of Rock the musical on Friday. When I explained the concept of day seats to her, she was all in, especially since I volunteered to do the queuing for tickets.

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My first day seat queue of 2017! And it consisted solely of …me. The entire time. When I’m the first to arrive in a day seat queue, two thoughts go through my head: 1. Am I in the right place? Is there some secret side door to the box office where everyone else is queuing? And 2. Ah man, I could have slept another 10 to 40 minutes! It was particularly cold on Friday, too, and my touchscreen gloves were not cooperating with my phone, so I had to alternate between being bored & warm and entertained by my phone & cold. I brought my overnight oats and ate that while watching the workmen load an abundance of god-knows-what into a van right in front of the theatre, while I’m sure they watched me wondering what on earth I was waiting for and what on earth I was eating that was pink. (For the record, raspberry overnight oats.)

A taxi driver pulled up and asked if I was waiting for a taxi. I told him no, I was waiting for tickets. He then informed me that the theatre was closed, as if I hadn’t noticed. I told him I was aware that it was currently closed and that I was waiting for it to open at 10am. I’m sure I would have looked a lot less silly if there were other people queuing with me. But considering how London black cab drivers claim to be experts about the city — way more than Uber drivers, of course! — you’d think they’d know about the concept of day seats. If I were a taxi driver my number one tip for tourists would be theatre day seats (though maybe not, I wouldn’t want the queuing competition!). Finally the box office doors opened and I was able to buy my front row tickets. As annoying as waiting in the cold is, when I’m sitting in the front row knowing I only paid £20 or less, it’s always worth it. My friend and I loved the show. I loved the movie as a kid and it transferred well to a live musical. All the kids actually played the instruments, which was amazing!

At the interval my friend told me she was free the next day, Saturday, so we looked up shows we could see. We settled on The Kite Runner, since they offered day seats. I read the book and saw the movie, so I was curious how they’d adapt the story to the stage.

So the next day I got up and did it again — arrived at the day seat queue too early. At least this time there were three people in front of me, but when we went to pay they all went for the matinee. So at least it meant we got the best front row center seats. Even though I knew the plot and what was coming, the show was heavy. Good, but emotionally draining. So naturally we went for gelato afterward to recoup. And while we hacked on the giant shave-your-own block of dark chocolate, we got a crazy idea.

“Should we see another show tomorrow?” my friend asked.

“I’m always down for another show!” I replied.

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Our options were limited for a Sunday performance, but we settled on Peter Pan Goes Wrong. If it was good enough for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, it was good enough for us. Plus, tickets were cheap on TodayTix (hooray for not having to get up early to queue!) and we needed to end our crazy weekend of theatre with a comedy. It was a comedy alright, full of slapstick and humor that bordered on cringey, but it was a good time. I’m glad I went with a friend though, as it seemed like a show best enjoyed with company.

So I saw 4 shows over the course of a week. Not a bad way to start the 2017 theatre season. My friend goes back to the US in a couple weeks, but we’re hoping to fit in a couple more shows before she goes. If only we could have some luck with the Aladdin and Dream Girls ticket lotteries!

Why you shouldn’t text and run

18 Jan

I pride myself on my ability to multitask while on the move. Every day I play Songpop while walking around getting Fitbit steps and am constantly flinging Pokeballs while running. But as I was walking around playing Songpop after dinner tonight, I realized my knees were hurting a little. And then I remembered what happened this morning.

Every driver thinks they can text and drive — until they get into an accident. I thought I could text and run. Until today. I was running along the Thames, having just caught a rare Lapras in Victoria Embankment Gardens, and was heading up to Green Park where another Lapras had spawned. I don’t normally run south on Victoria Embankment, though I obviously knew what direction I was going. So when I got a text from Stephen, I didn’t look up before replying — I could sense there were no people in front of me, just a guy running right behind me. However, I could not see that there was a bridge support column right in my path, and so I ran into it. Literally. At 6 miles an hour.
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Luckily I hit the lower part of the column pictured below, so I bent at the waist and only my knees crashed into the concrete.
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The whole experience was so completely disorienting and shocking that all I could do was laugh. I’m dying to know what the guy running right behind me was thinking. Probably “Stupid kids and their phones! I bet she was playing Pokemon!” (For the record I was, but not at that instant.) My knees hurt initially, but not enough to make me call it quits and walk home (I had another Lapras to catch, after all!). I’m really lucky I was not seriously injured. There’s a lesson to be learned here — probably “don’t text or play Pokemon while running and always stay aware of your surroundings,” but I’ll just stick with “only text and play Pokemon while running if you’re absolutely sure there are no obstacles ahead.” (Baby steps!)

Our ancestral journey to Västervik Sweden

12 Jan

When I was in elementary school my classmates and I went through an ancestral heritage phase. It may have been because we were studying it in school, but all I remember is that it suddenly became cool to say “I’m a quarter Irish” or “I’m half German” or “I’m 1/18 Cherokee” (because every elementary school class has that one kid who claims she’s related to a Cherokee princess, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing as a Cherokee princess). My parents may have told me my full heritage — a mix of Czech, Swedish, German, Polish and probably a couple others — but I clung to Czech and Swedish. I may have even said I was half each. I liked that my surname was Czechoslovakian, because nobody can pronounce it (“it” being both my surname and “Czechoslovakian”).  At that time Czechoslovakia may have still been a country, but I knew absolutely nothing about it. It was some mystical, magical, far away land. In true beauty pageant fashion I’m not sure I could have found it on a map. My last name was the only bit of my Czech heritage I had. That, and a Valentine written in Czech my great-great-aunt in Cleveland once sent me, and a glass vase given to me by my great-great-aunt’s Czech pen pal who came to visit her (and my entire extended family) in Cleveland when I was young. This lovely old Czech woman’s first (and I believe only) experience of America was suburban Cleveland. I remember my grandparents showed her a right good time though, and stayed in touch with her even after my great-great-aunt passed.

My Swedish heritage, however, my family embraced. My great-grandmother, my mother’s grandmother, emigrated from Sweden to Pennsylvania in 1914. I never met her, but she passed on some traditions to my grandmother, who passed them on to my mother, who tried to keep them up with our family. These traditions mostly came out at Christmastime. We made Swedish ginger cookies (which we Americanized by slathering them in pounds of frosting), Swedish red velvet cake, Swedish meatballs and meat cakes, and proudly displayed our Swedish candelabra, Dala horses and straw goats. My grandmother kept a very detailed photo album of the family history, and even had photos of my great-grandmother’s house built by her father (my great-great-grandfather) in Västervik, Sweden.

Based on this photo alone and an outdated address, my grandparents went looking for the house 30 years ago. The library in Västervik helped them find the new address, so they drove their rental car over and knocked on the door. I would love to have heard how that conversation went down — “Hello, do you speak English? We are from America. My grandfather built your house. Can we come in?”

But whatever they said worked, because Marianne, the new owner, let them in and gave them a grand tour (all while 8 months pregnant and renovating the place!).

This year my parents and I decided to do a little ancestral tour of Europe, visiting Prague, Stockholm and Västervik. On a whim my dad looked up Marianne on Facebook and saw that she was still living in the house. So he messaged her, and just like that we had an invite for lunch and a house tour in Västervik .

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After looking at train schedules, we decided to rent a car. My dad drove while I navigated and spent 30 minutes trying to get the car’s language into English. (I’m not exaggerating, it really did take that long. Thankfully my phone, and Google Translate in particular, worked in Sweden). But eventually we pulled up to a small yellow house on a quiet street in Västervik. Marianne and Benny came out and greeted us like were long lost relatives. And in a way it felt like we were — throughout the day I had to keep reminding myself that Marianne was not my great-aunt or second cousin once removed. She was just some stranger who happened to buy the house from a guy who bought the house from my great-great-grandfather. Yet she showed us the warmest of hospitality, first giving us the grand tour of the house, pointing out which elements were original from 1903, then led us into the kitchen where a traditional Swedish lunch spread was waiting for us.

swedish lunch.pngWe ate Christmas bread, ham, and even drank Swedish Christmas soda. Over lunch we took the opportunity to drill Marianne and Benny with all our Swedish questions. We asked them about meatballs, ginger cookies and Dala horses, all of which they confirmed were in fact Swedish.

What about straw goats? I asked.

Maryann looked at Benny, puzzled.

“Goat?” she asked. “What is goat?”

I quickly googled Swedish straw goat and showed her a photo.

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“Ah, yes!” she said. “Yulegoat! This is Swedish.” She then told us about the giant straw yulegoat they erect in Gävle every year and how every year somebody tries to burn it down. I quickly googled Gävle goat and found its Wikipedia page.

“Yep, this year’s goat has already been burned down,” I announced. Apparently even Sweden can’t have nice things.

My mom then asked her about red velvet cake, something we usually bake for my birthday or Christmas. The recipe card from my grandmother says “Swedish red cake.”

“Red welwit?” Marianne asked, struggling to pronounce it.

“Yes, it’s red cake,” my mom said. I pulled up a photo on my phone.

“It’s red?” Marianne asked. “Is it strawberry flavored?”

“No,” we said. “It’s just loaded with artificial coloring. Or beet juice.”

“Sorry, I have never heard of this red velvet,” Marianne said. A quick google search shows red velvet cake was likely invented in America in order to sell more red food coloring. Figures. Oh well, it’s still tasty even if it’s not Swedish.

After lunch we walked around town. I tried to imagine my great-grandmother walking these streets as a girl. What would there have been in place of the McDonald’s and H&M? We strolled along the waterfront, passed the house being constructed by Björn of ABBA, who, fun fact, grew up in Västervik.

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We saw the ruins of the Stegeholm Castle and walked up to Gränsö slotts ljusstöperi, an old-school candlestick maker (so famous in the country their website is actually http://www.swedishcandles.com/ and we saw them for sale in gift shops in Stockholm).

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After loading up on souvenirs to take home, we walked back to the house, took some more photos, then said our goodbyes. We told them they were welcome to visit us in the U.S. anytime, though it’s hard to imagine someone as well-traveled as Marianne coming to Kentucky (but hey, if Vera from the Czech Republic can enjoy suburban Cleveland, maybe Marianne from Västervik would like Florence, Kentucky!). I told Marianne I would email her the photos I took and my dad said he would keep in touch via Facebook, and we hopped in our rental car and made the 3-hour journey back to Stockholm. (With a quick pit stop at IKEA, because you cannot go all the way to Sweden and not check out an authentic Swedish IKEA. For the record, it looks like an American or British IKEA, only slightly bigger and better designed. And their giant hot dog poster doesn’t have to say “not actual size.”)

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We also had a nice time in Prague, strolling Charles Bridge, gazing up at the castle and visiting the impressive Old Town Christmas market. But I’m pretty sure my ancestors didn’t live in Prague’s Old Town (or even Prague for that matter), so it didn’t have the same effect as traveling to Västervik. A lot of Americans can’t even narrow down their ancestors to a city, yet alone an exact address, so it was such an incredible experience to be able to step back in time for a day.

A look back on 2016

1 Jan

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Ah, 2016. Celebrities die every year, but the year that took away David Bowie, Prince and George Michael seemed particularly cruel. Then there was that little Brexit debacle and American election. But on a personal level, 2016 wasn’t all that bad. Dare I say it was actually quite good.

 

Here’s a little reflection of what went down over the past year:

-Stephen and I celebrated 10 years together
-I went to the Cadbury Creme Egg cafe
-I completed the Great Walk of London, which involved walking 16.35 miles around London solely for the Fitbit steps
-I got to be maid of hono[u]r in my best friend’s wedding in Milwaukee
-I spent Fourth of July in Chicago with good friends
-All the cousins on my dad’s side of the family were reunited for the first time in 9 years
-I started playing Pokemon Go, let it take over my life, completed my Pokedex and for some reason still continue to play
-I did gymnastics for the first time in 16 years with my other best friend and survived with only minor aches and injuries
-I traveled to China with Stephen — twice
-I complete my first half marathon
-I went to my first Cincinnati Bengals game, which happened to be in London
-I got to meet Meat Loaf, my musical idol since high school
-We bought a flat
-I saw 9 West End shows, somehow tying my record from 2015, 2014 and 2013 (maybe my 2017 resolution should be to see 10 shows!)
-I traveled to Denmark, Sweden and the Czech Republic with my parents and got to visit the house my great great grandfather built in Sweden in 1903 (link missing because I still need to make a blog post about this!)
-I spent Christmas and New Year’s Eve in London for the first time. We watched the NYE fireworks from the roof of our building and it was beyond spectacular (the most spectacular part being we got to avoid the massive crowds)
-I got to eat at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Versailles for my 30th birthday. We had an amazing little last minute getaway, until we almost got stuck in Paris because all flights to London were grounded. Thank god for the Eurostar train!

Here’s to 2017! I haven’t made any resolutions, but I hope it is filled with good travel, theatre, food, running, friends and family.