Tag Archives: 99p store

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.

When life gives you lemons, find some pugs

31 Jan

Today was one of those deceiving UK weather days that I should be better at predicting. It was sunny with a blue sky, then it rained, then the sun came out again. That was when I made my break and headed to the 99p Store to stock up on candles, drain cleaner and other items that only seem attractive because they’re cheap. The walk there is always easiest. It’s the walk back when I have to carry my purchases that I question my life choices. Today especially I felt like I was never going to get home. My fingers were starting to lose circulation and I wasn’t even to Primrose Hill yet. And then the wind came, followed by the rain. I thought the end had come — that I was going to come to my final demise on the sidewalk outside the park, surrounded by a variety of items that only cost 99p. I needed something to keep me going — a sign that everything was going to be alright. I needed to see pugs.

I trudged into the park, my headphones blowing out of my ears, my hood blowing off of my head, when I saw them — not one, not two, but three pugs. They were on a different path going a different direction, but still, I saw them. I knew I could make it home.

running pugs

Switching gears here, I could never be a smoker. Not just because cigarettes smell horrible and I don’t want to die of lung cancer, but because I am incapable of using disposable lighters. You see, I’ve been into candles lately, but my restaurant match collection is dwindling, so I intended to buy a grill lighter at the 99p Store. But since it’s the middle of winter, they don’t sell barbecue lighters, so I was forced to buy disposable cigarette lighters. I just spent the last 10 minutes trying to flick it on. I even googled “How to use a lighter” and watched Youtube videos of people doing it, but I couldn’t get a solid flame, just sparks. When I finally did manage a solid flame, I tried to bend the lighter into the candle and almost burned my thumb. Apparently you’re supposed to angle the candle into the flame, not the other way around.

Needless to say I’ll be taking this to my next rock concert instead:

bic concert lighter


Price check at the 99p Store

2 Aug

I’ve been scouring the Internet for some new healthy recipes lately. You know why more people don’t eat healthily? Because it’s expensive. And requires ingredients that people like me who throw barbecue sauce and chicken into a slow cooker and call it dinner don’t have — things like tahini, couscous and nutritional yeast. Yes, I said nutritional yeast. So yesterday morning I set off in search of yeast, knowing full well I would have to go to the store I’ve managed to avoid since I arrived in London: Whole Foods.

I have a lot of friends who swear by Whole Foods. When I was in college it was the only grocery store within walking distance. I think the store took advantage of that fact and jacked their prices up even more. While I wish I could buy all the natural, organic and exotic delicacies “Wholes” has to offer, there’s a reason my friends used to call it “Whole Paycheck.”

I walked into the store and immediately found the first item on my list — almond butter! Like peanut butter, only almonds, which is supposedly healthier. It was £11. ELEVEN POUNDS. That’s $17, American friends. Granted, it was a rather large jar (for British standards) and organic, but there was no way I was going to pay that. I eventually found a smaller jar for £3, which is still a lot of money when peanut butter costs £1, but I couldn’t suppress my desire to try almond butter, so I grabbed it. I then went in search of nutritional yeast. This tahini salad dressing recipe I found called for it and the vegan Internet raves about it, saying it tastes like cheese and you can put it on popcorn and it’s amazing. I finally broke down and asked an employee. “Brewer’s yeast?” she asked me, and handed me a large bottle. I politely thanked her and pretended to read the label when I was really looking for the price sticker. It was really tiny but it looked like £14. FOURTEEN POUNDS. Almost $22. For some deactivated yeast to put in a salad dressing made with tahini and I don’t even know if I like tahini. But then I was in that awkward position where you ask a sales associate where something is and they find it for you and then you realize you don’t want it but can’t put it back in front of them. So I carried the bottle of gold yeast around for a little bit until I abandoned it on the Japanese shelf when no one was looking. I was about to abandon the dressing recipe too despite already purchasing tahini, but decided to try one more health food store. Their brewer’s yeast was £4 something, which seemed like pennies, so I bought it. And then I got home and discovered that brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast are not the same thing. This is after I opened the box and stuck my finger in. Crap. I’m still determined to use it in my recipe and hopefully it doesn’t taste like £7 down the drain (for the yeast and tahini).

All this healthy cooking requires a lot of steaming vegetables and straining couscous and I don’t have a strainer. So my next stop was the 99p Store, where everything is 99p. I found a lone little mesh strainer sitting amongst the kitchenware section, like it was waiting for me. It was the only one and it didn’t have a tag, but considering this was the 99p Store, where everything is 99p, I didn’t think that’d be a problem. I placed it down at the till and the cashier looked at me with panic. “It was the only one,” I told her. She looked nervously at her colleague and called him over. They whispered for awhile. “There wasn’t any other ones?” she asked again. I couldn’t figure out why this was a problem. I remember in the early days the Dollar Store would count how many items you had and that’s how many dollars you owed — there was no scanning or price checks. Eventually the cashier left and came back with a Pepsi Max. Because obviously a Pepsi Max is the closest thing in shape and utility to a mesh strainer. At this point the people behind me were getting antsy. I just wanted to buy this one item, I even had my £1 coin in my hand, ready. “59p,” the cashier said.

They did a price check at the 99p Store, and the price they came up with was 59p.

That boggles me. As far as I know, the only things at the 99p Store that don’t cost 99p are the candy bars and pop, which are usually 2 or 3 for 99p. Nothing in the kitchenware section costs less than 99p. Was my strainer part of a set? Is that why it was tagless? Do strainers come in sets? I decided not to question it and happily accepted 41p back from my £1 coin instead of the expected penny. I’m sure that strainer would have cost at least £15 at Whole Foods, which makes me feel better about the yeast fiasco.

…And for the record — almond butter tastes like almonds. Ground up almonds that cost £3. I don’t think I’ll be going to Wholes again anytime soon.

99p store knees up

27 Apr

Yesterday I made a well-overdue trip to the 99p store. It’s like a dollar store, except at the current exchange rate it’s more of a $1.646 store (why isn’t it $1.55 anymore?!). I love the dollar store in the US, so it’s only natural I love the 99p store. And like the dollar store, you never know what you’re going to find, and you have to navigate your way through the crowds and narrow aisles to find the gold. I went in only intending to buy a dishwashing brush, a six-pack of paper towels (6! for 99p! Yeah they’re thin and small, but you get 6! For 99p!) and a claw hair clip, because the one I bought at Walmart in 2007 finally bit the dust. I found those things (even the hair clips came in a six pack, which is nice, but I really only wanted one, maybe two. I got home and used one and immediately realized why there were six — one broke when I opened it and one was broken in the packaging and I didn’t notice at the store. So now I have four clips), but like anyone who’s ever been to a dollar/99p store, you can’t go in and buy just what you need. Yesterday markers caught my eye. I haven’t been in school for years, but I’m always drawn to the school supply section of the dollar store. The 99p store had a set of 15 brilliantly colored markers for 99p. I have a set of markers that I don’t use at home, but I had to have these. They were so pretty — and only 99p! So I bought what I needed, plus the markers and some Cadbury Eggs, which I was saddened to find weren’t on sale. Tesco still had their Cadbury Eggs full price the day after Easter, too. Someone needs to bring England up to speed on post-holiday candy sales.

Besides candy and school supplies, the store had a nice selection of royal wedding memorabilia. I think these two are my favorite:

I bet Will and Kate are used to the paparazzi now, but I wonder if they are used to seeing their faces on everything. It creeps me out and it’s not even me.

Speaking of the royal wedding, I saw a sign in front of a pub on my walk to the store that was obviously in English but completely incomprehensible to my American mind. I cursed myself for not having a pen and paper handy, because sure enough I forgot it when I got home. I remember the phrase “royal knees up” was used, which according to Google means a party or lively gathering. Google also told me Will and Kate are building a nightclub in Buckingham Palace for a royal knees up after the wedding. That’s the thing about Britain, their tabloids are so good it’s hard to distinguish them from the legit news sources, so I have no idea if that’s true or not.

One more royal wedding note — someone please tell me the Queen’s corgis will be involved in the ceremony in one form or another. That would make my day.


And in case you were wondering, I pulled out my sketchbook and have been using the markers everyday since I bought them. I can’t believe the quality for 99p, usually dollar store markers are dried up, but these work great. Well done, 99p store, well done.