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The heatwave that never ends

26 Jul

When does a heatwave stop being a heatwave and just become the weather? This is the fifth week of this heatwave. Is this oppressive heat just what English summer is now?

English summer used to be 2 or 3 days — it didn’t even have to occur during the proper summer, it could happen in April, July, or October. The sun would come out, the temperatures would soar into the 80s, half of the population would flock to the park or beach to sunbathe, and the other half of us closed the curtains, cranked up the fan, and got on social media to complain about their face melting. Then it went back to 60s or low 70s and overcast and all was well.

I miss that summer! I do not like this new summer one bit. It is 96 out there right now. 96! That’s 36C. Someone posted this on Reddit:

london summer heatwave

Yesterday I went to see a matinee solely because I wanted to sit in an air conditioned theatre for two hours. But I got so sweaty walking to and from the theatre that it all felt in vain (except, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the show, Fun Home). This weather is taking a toll on me both mentally and physically. I hate everyone and everything and have no energy to do anything. After weeks of suffering in my unairconditioned flat, I have come up with a solution: water. Not drinking it or swimming it, but covering myself with it. The minute my hair starts to dry after I take a shower, I wet it again. Whenever I wash my hands, I splash water on my arms and neck. I look ridiculous, but working from home has its perks. Then I sit 6 inches from the fan and wait for this whole heatwave to blow over.

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Except it’s not, because this isn’t a heatwave, this is summer now, and deargodimgoingtodiecanistartsummeringiniceland?sdajfksdja kldsfjaksldfjaklsd

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Cincinnati to London Wow Air review

16 Jul

I remember when they first announced that Wow Air was going to offer low-cost flights from Cincinnati to Europe. According to my mom, everyone was talking about it.

“Do you think all the American riff-raff will go to Europe now that it’s cheap?” my mom asked.

“Have you been to Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Street?” I replied. “The American riff-raff is already here.”

Wow Air describes itself as low-cost, which we all know means no-frills and this:

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“It’ll be like riding Easyjet or Ryanair long-haul!” I said. “Do I really want to fly for six hours with no food or movies?”

The answer, I soon found out, was “maybe… when I have no other options.” Because last month I had no other options.

I had planned to fly to London using United miles, but it turns out Saver awards are hard to come by in the summer, especially when you wait until the last minute. BA and Virgin also had no mileage flights, so I decided to give Wow Air a go.

wow air cincinnati to london

These prices are for another date, I just wanted to show the different ticket categories

My one-way ticket from Cincinnati to London Gatwick cost $378. I opted for the Wow Plus ticket because it came with a personal item, carry on bag, and checked bag, plus I got to select my seat. Had I chosen Wow Basic I think I would have paid something like $269, which is stupidly cheap, but it comes with only an under-the-seat personal item. So if you’re one of those people who backpack around Europe with an actual school backpack that fits under an airplane seat, you can really get a deal with Wow!

The Wow Air flight from Cincinnati to Reykjavik leaves at 12:50am, which is tricky, because it means you have to head to the airport the date before your flight. Wow sends multiple text messages and emails to remind you of this. CVG airport is an eerie place at 11 at night — everything is shut down except McDonalds. I mean everything — even the machines that whisk your luggage away at check-in, so they were just stacking the bags up and a guy was loading them onto a cart to take them to the plane.

Even though the airport was dead, Wow check-in was busy. They only have one flight a day, so we were all on the same flight. I read online that they weigh your carry-on and hand luggage, which made packing a stressful experience for me. My carry-on was exactly at the allowed 12kg/26lb and my checked bag was really riding the line of the 20kg/44lb limit. They did not ask me to weigh my wheeled carry on, but they did make me put it in the size gauge, which made me nervous, because I knew it was a half inch off the 22x18x10in limit. It fit, but barely — it actually got stuck and I knocked the entire gauge guide over when I tried to remove it. I placed my checked bag on the scale and it weighed in at 20.8kg. Perhaps because she was nice, or because the queue was so long she wanted to get me through, or because it’s not technically overweight until it hits 21kg, the check-in lady didn’t say anything and merely slapped a tag on it. Wow Air’s policy is to charge an extra $19 per kilo that your bag is overweight, which is better than United’s flat $100 for an overweight bag, but I’m still happy I didn’t have to pay it.

I got to the gate only to find the flight was delayed. This was not a surprise to me, as I had checked flightradar24.com before I left and saw that the flight had not left on time all week. I had a 4-hour layover in Reykjavik so I was in no rush. The plane finally arrived, we boarded relatively quickly, and were off the ground about an hour after they said we would be.

wow air cincinnati to reykjavik seating.png

The seating arrangement is three by three with no TV screens

Normally I can’t sleep sitting up, especially on planes, but because it was two hours past my bedtime already, I immediately passed out and faded in and out of consciousness the entire 6-hour flight. It was by no means good sleep — I kept waking up because my neck hurt or because I could feel my mouth drooping open, but it made the time go by quickly, which was great considering there are no TV screens or free food or beverages.  I didn’t even hear the cart come by with food for purchase or duty free items. When I did get up to go to the bathroom, all the flight attendants were in the back giggling amongst themselves and speaking Icelandic. The red-eye must be an easy flight for them!

When we touched down at Keflavik Airport, the signs pointing towards passport control weren’t very clear, so I ended up queuing at a gate and almost boarded a flight to Edinburgh, but other than that, the arrival process was easy. I got an Iceland stamp in my passport even though I was only there for 4 hours.

That is one of the downsides of taking Wow Air from Cincinnati to London — you have to kill 4 hours at Keflavik Airport. Though as far as airports go, it’s one of the nicest I’ve ever been to. The whole place has a Nordic vibe like it was designed by IKEA (which of course means most of the seating looks nice but isn’t very comfortable). I got a vegan sandwich from Mathus along with a cup of skyr Icelandic yogurt. As much as I’m trying to reduce my dairy consumption, I couldn’t come to Iceland and not try authentic skyr! And I’m so glad I did, it was 10 times better than the Arla brand skyr I used to buy in the UK. I grabbed a table and used the free WiFi to get some work done.

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Keflavik airport skyr.png

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I wish I had bought this candy!

Another perk of Keflavik Airport — the best-tasting tap water I’ve ever had!

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The time actually went by pretty quickly and before I knew it, it was time to board my flight to London Gatwick. The flight from Reykjavik to London Gatwick takes about 3 hours, and goes by quickly if you pass out, listen to good music, and play on your iPad. I did a combination of the three. We landed around 8pm, but by the time I got through immigration, took the Gatwick Express to Victoria, then took a bus to my flat, I got home around 10pm London time.

Now that I wrote entirely way too much, I’ll try to sum it up with some pros and cons:

Pros:
-It’s the cheapest way to fly to Europe
-You arrive in London in the evening so you can immediately pass out. Most other airlines’ flights arrive early in the morning so you have to struggle the whole day to stay awake (or take a 4-hour nap like I usually do and be jetlagged for a week)
-The Icelandic flight crew are very friendly and begin every announcement with “Dear guests,” which while proper English, always sounds funny. They’re also good looking, or at least they were on my flights, if that kind of thing is important to you
-If you have to have a layover, Keflavik Airport is a nice airport to spend time in, with free WiFi and lots of healthy food options
-My flight from Cincinnati to Reykjavik had a power outlet so I could charge my phone (though there wasn’t one on the flight to London)
-The tap water at Keflavik Airport comes from a glacier and is the best tasting water you’ll ever have
-Wow Air has a sense of humor!
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Cons:
-No free food — you have to pay for everything, even drinks
-No movies or entertainment. This may not be a problem with the Cincinnati to Reykjavik red-eye, but could be on the return trip, which leaves London at 11:40am
-Your flight is probably going to be delayed
-The seats barely recline and you don’t have much leg room
-Bags cost extra, only an under-seat bag is free
-Checked bag weight limit is 20kg/44lb, while every other airline is 23kg/50lb
-You have to kill 4 hours at the airport if you’re traveling on to London
-The flight might be cheap, but Iceland is one of the most expensive countries to visit
-You waste an entire day of traveling, though that’s hard to avoid since there are no direct trans-Atlantic flights out of Cincinnati

Now the important question: would I take it again?

Maybe. While I had a good experience, the bag weight limit could be a deal breaker. I did not go crazy shopping this visit and thought I did not have much stuff, but I was still slightly over the limit. In the winter when I have heavier clothing and am carrying Christmas presents, getting my bag under 44 lbs would be nearly impossible. I’m glad Wow Air is an option, though, and I really would like to actually see Reykjavik beyond its airport sometime!

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Seen in the in-flight magazine. All the reason to visit Iceland!

3 things that are surprisingly more expensive in the US than in London

30 May

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London is expensive. That’s often the first thing people mention when I tell them I live there. Things like housing, petrol/gas, and movie theatre tickets cost way more than they do in Chicago or New York, yet alone suburban Kentucky. But on this recent visit back to the states, I’ve realized there are three things that are surprisingly expensive in America compared to London.

Groceries, especially produce

I first went to Aldi in the UK a few years ago. Produce is generally cheap at Tesco (a major supermarket chain), but produce at Aldi is a whole ‘nother level of cheap. I raved about Aldi so much I inspired my mom to check out the Aldi in northern Kentucky. She agreed that the produce deals couldn’t be beat. But it was only when I went to the Kentucky Aldi that I realized we had different definitions of “cheap produce.” For example, a stalk of broccoli at Aldi UK costs 39p, approximately 50 cents. At Aldi KY it’s $1.99. At Tesco I can get organic mushrooms for £1 ($1.33). At Kroger that would be $3.99. At Tesco a red bell pepper is 55p (73 cents). At Kroger it’s $1.50. The U.S. prices don’t even include sales tax, so they’re actually even higher! I’m comparing the most expensive city in the UK to one of the cheaper cities in the U.S., too. I recently read an article on Business Insider comparing London supermarkets with New York.  London’s Tesco Express won by a landslide! Who would have thought Tesco would be one thing I’d miss when I’m back in the U.S.?

Toilet paper

I never realized I was a toilet paper snob until now. In London there aren’t many options, so I just buy Tesco Luxury Soft Toilet Tissue, which always seems to be on sale 2 for £6 (that’s two nine-roll packs for £6, so 18 rolls for $8). It’s generic for Andrex, which is British for Cottonelle. But it turns out that even though they both use cute puppies in their ads, British Cottonelle is very different from American Cottonelle, which I recently discovered is the worst toilet paper ever created. My mom bought it because it was on sale and she had coupons, and even then it wasn’t that cheap. Without any coupons, a 6-roll pack of Cottonelle costs $8! In the UK, I get 3 times as much TP for that, and it is not the worst toilet paper ever created. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to buy my own toilet paper when I’m visiting my parents, which is probably why I forgot how much American toilet paper costs, but I hated the Cottonelle so much I decided to buy my own 4-pack of a different brand, thinking it’d be like $2, since a 4-pack in London is £1.75. A 6-pack of Charmin still set me back $5 (it was on sale too and I had a $1 off coupon – normally that 6-pack would be $9.49!) and it’s only marginally better than the Cottonelle. I’d still prefer the generic Tesco tissue. Considering Americans are known for their horrible eating habits which inevitably leads to horrible bowel issues, you’d think they’d have the toilet paper game down. Or maybe that’s exactly why it costs so much. All I know is I’m tempted to throw a 9-pack of Tesco TP in my suitcase for my next visit!

Theatre tickets

I’m going to New York next week to meet up with Stephen. While he’s in meetings, I figured I’d take in a Broadway show. So I started looking at shows on the TodayTix app to decide which one I wanted to see, and I realized something: Broadway shows are freaking expensive! That should seem obvious (it’s Broadway!) but I’m so used to seeing West End shows for so cheap. Thanks to day seats and the TodayTix app, I rarely pay more than £25 ($33) for a ticket. TodayTix seems to function differently in New York and has way less lotteries and rush tickets than they do in London. They mostly just give 30 to 50% off, which means the tickets usually still cost more than $100. I’d really like to see Come From Away, a musical about the small Newfoundland town that took in 7,000 stranded passengers on 9/11, but a matinee ticket on TodayTix is $227. I could try the TKTS booth when I get there, which is what every tourist seems to do, but there’s a chance they won’t have that show, and even if they do, a ticket will likely still set me back more than $100. It’s not just Broadway shows that are pricy, either. Part of the reason I think I wasn’t enamored with Hamilton when I saw it in Chicago last year was because I kept thinking about how expensive it was (and we got the cheapest seats possible!). Even seeing the Nutcracker in Milwaukee set me back more than a West End show. London theatre scene, you’ve truly spoiled me!

Despite my papercuts (cheeky Hello Internet reference there!), I’m having a lovely time visiting friends and family back home. It’s oppressively hot which has made running and basically everything else outdoors miserable, but I’m trying to keep my weather-related complaints to a minimum of 8 times a day.

Love at first ink dip

4 Apr

Remember how I said I’d like to focus on lettering and calligraphy in 2018?

I have been. Perhaps even a little too much.

I started with basic brush lettering. I didn’t really know what I was doing and my work was pretty sloppy, but I made an Instagram account and started posting photos of my work. I was inspired by all the great stuff posted by other hand lettering artists and calligraphers, and tried to copy some of their styles.

Then this idea popped into my head: I should take a class. As an anti-social introvert, this was a big deal. I always wanted to learn pointed pen calligraphy, so I signed up for a class at Quill London, a little modern calligraphy shop near Angel. I was nervous —  more about the social aspect of the class than the calligraphy — but the instructor and fellow students were all welcoming and lovely. And the minute I dipped my nib into the ink for the first time, I fell in love. Pointed pen was what was missing from my life. I was able to achieve those distinct thin and thick lines I had been trying for with brush pens. The class consisted of a little instruction, but mostly it was just dedicated practice time. The instructor walked around and corrected our form and answered our questions. Honestly, I should have taken advantage of her more, but I was entranced. I wrote out the alphabet repeatedly, then tried a few words. By the end of the three hours my hand was cramping and sore, but I was riding an inexplicable high.

It’s hard to explain the thrill I get from what is essentially fancified handwriting. There’s something calming about the repetitive movements and the sound of the nib scratching on paper. And of course there’s the Instagram likes. I try not to do it just for that, but when the likes and follows start to flow in from Internet strangers, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. For now it’s just a hobby, and I’ve told myself I’ll keep doing it as long as it brings me joy. The minute I feel like I “have to” create and post something instead of I “get to” or “want to,” then I know it’s time to stop.

reneedezvous

It snowed in London!

28 Feb

It started with wimpy flurries on Monday. I went for a walk and didn’t even need my snow boots. Yesterday our builder said he needed the day off, so I took the opportunity to go for a daytime run. When I left it was sunny with the wimpiest of flurries — the kind that are so small and sporadic you’re not even sure if it’s really snowing. The pavement wasn’t even wet. I checked the forecast and there were no pictures of snowflakes for the next few hours, so I figured I was safe.

In fact, in Hyde Park I even took this photo to mock the Great Snowpocalypse 2018.

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Haha, look at all the snow London got! Some “Beast from the East” polar vortex storm!

And then exactly 5 minutes later I took this photo:

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And this one:

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Suddenly I was running in a blizzard. In the nearly 5 years I’ve been running, I’m not sure I’ve ever ran in snow before. I’ve ran days later once the sidewalks had been cleared, but not while the snow was coming down. Of course my first thought was “It’s the perfect texture for running!” because it really was, it was nice and crunchy under my feet.

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But it was coming down so hard I couldn’t see two feet in front of me, so I had to stop and walk lest I end up on my butt. My face was burning and I was losing feeling in my fingers despite wearing two layers of gloves.

snow running

I actually laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. Green Park was empty and eerily beautiful covered in a blanket of white. It almost felt wrong to desecrate it with my footsteps. Except, of course, I really needed to get home before the frostbite kicked in.

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The snow stopped 15 minutes after it started. And if the evidence wasn’t still lying on the ground, you’d never know the mini blizzard had happened — the sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was shining. Tourists just emerging from hotels and museums gawked at my snow-covered clothing, like I was that car you see on road trips that has snow on its roof even though it never snowed on the highway you’re driving on. That’s what I get for believing the no-snow weather forecast!

It snowed more overnight, which wreaked havoc on public transport. Our builder texted me this morning that he wouldn’t be able to come because all the trains were canceled. And it looks like there’s snow in the forecast for tomorrow and Friday, so who knows if he’ll be able to come at all this week. Our little “two-week” project really might just turn into a two-month one!

Adult snow day

12 Feb

At 8 this morning our doorbell didn’t ring. Chris, one of our builders, is never late. I’m convinced he comes 10 minutes early and smokes outside so he can be upstairs at exactly 8 am. One time he even rang at 7:59 am. But not this morning. At 8:13am our contractor called. He hurt his back, Andy the other builder has a prior commitment, so none of the guys were going to come in today.

And just like that I have an adult snow day.

And just like a childhood snow day, it would have been nice to know the night prior so I could sleep in, but I still have a whole free day ahead of me.

It could be just like old times! I can run in the afternoon daylight instead of at dusk! I can work from my bed instead of from the home office desk! I could see a play, or maybe go shopping, and not have to be back at 4 pm when the builders leave. I could even go back to sleep!

But what did I do? I made myself a cup of tea, as I have been every morning since the builders started a month ago, and took it into the home office. Because I’m a creature of habit, and as much as I don’t like to admit it, I’m a lot more productive at this desk than I am in bed.

The guys have been making progress and our living room is looking more and more majestic. On Friday I asked them how much longer they thought everything would take.

Their response?

Two weeks.

money pit yelling

Two weeks

27 Jan

Two weeks ago when I told my mom our builders would be working on our reception room renovations for two weeks she sent me a compilation video from The Money Pit.

“Haha,” I replied.

But I knew our situation would be different. It really would only take 2 weeks — heck, judging by the speed with which they removed the old cornice, frieze and fireplace, it could take even less!

And then the cornice and ceiling decorations actually arrived. And it turns out getting an ornately patterned cornice to match up in a room that’s not a complete square, or even a proper rectangle (apparently one wall is 3 cm longer than the other (?!), is really difficult. So that one-day job turned into a four-day job, because we had to order an extra piece.

Then it was time to tackle the decorative ceiling.

“We’ll get the whole ceiling done on Friday!” one of the builders told me. And then they unwrapped the plaster mouldings and realized the pattern didn’t match up. So I had to call the manufacturer, who insisted it was not a problem, but they finally agreed to send one of their installers on Monday to help our builders.

Once the ceiling is done, they have to do the decorative molding on the walls. And install the new fireplace. And paint everything. And then we decided, hey, let’s get some floor tiles and do that too!

“Two weeks.” Haha! Two weeks! I’ll honestly be happy if we get all this done in two months.

I wasn’t sure what it would be like having strangers working in my home all day. I thought the noise would be the most troublesome part, but it hasn’t been bad at all. The worst part is having to wake up early and adjust my whole routine. Since my bedroom is right off the living room where they’re working, I spend the whole day on the other side of the flat in our office/guest room. I can’t walk around the flat to get Fitbit steps because there’s hardly an inch of space not covered in decorations, furniture or equipment. I have to do my work at Stephen’s desk like an actual working person, because the guest bed is covered in a giant slab of decorative plaster. I can’t run during the day like I usually do, I have to wait until the guys leave, which is always when it’s dark. Running in the dark is the worst. I have to eat all my meals earlier than I normally would, because I have to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier.

I keep telling myself it’ll all be worth it when we have a majestic reception room. But having space and a flexible schedule is like being healthy — you take it for granted until suddenly you’re sick, or everything in your flat is covered in a thin layer of plaster dust and you can’t walk two feet without bumping into a decoration.