Tag Archives: expat

One year later

18 Sep

Exactly a year ago today I ran 13.1 miles. I remember the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I felt immediately after finishing the half marathon, followed quickly by an overwhelming sense of exhaustion, then — after a big meal and a nap — an overwhelming sense of pain. I thought I’d never be able to walk, run or use the toilet pain-free again, and yet eventually the achiness vanished… along with my long distance running motivation.

Yesterday I struggled through our usual 4 miles. Who knew taking two weeks off running and fueling your body with gelato, gnocchi and truffle oil could be detrimental? I foolishly brought my running gear on holiday too, not even realizing that none of our accommodations had gyms. We did manage to rent bikes one day and cycle around the beautiful walls of Lucca, Italy.

lucca bike rental.pngAnd one day we managed to seemingly walk the entirety of Budapest, logging 21,324 steps and 9.3 miles on my Fitbit. But now it’s time to get back on track. The Cincinnati Thanksgiving 10K is just over 2 months away. It’d be nice to get another PR, but realistically it’d just be nice to actually run 6 miles again without stopping.

Though as I reflect on my experience training for and running the Richmond Half, I wonder if I have another one in me. Should I keep trying to get into the Royal Parks Half, or sign up for a different one in England… or Cincinnati. And even crazier — if I miraculously am allotted a spot in the full London marathon, should I give it a go? For the moment I should probably focus on acing that 10K and running a mile without stopping, wheezing or catching a Pokemon. But the race bug really is contagious!

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That time we were stranded in Italy

15 Sep

gelato siena.pngIs there anything better (or worse) than coming home from vacation? You get to sleep in your own bed again and return to the daily routine. On the other hand, you have to return to the daily routine — no more sailing along the Danube, driving with the top down through Tuscany or eating gelato for both an appetizer and dessert.

We just returned from an epic holiday to Prague, Budapest and Tuscany (as per our tradition, three places that are not really close and have absolutely nothing to do with each other). It was one of our best trips yet — until we tried to get back to London.

We booked a flight out of Florence on CityJet — an airline that previously canceled our Paris flight and made us take the Eurostar train. But that was weather-related, so surely we’d be fine flying out of Florence. It was a bright and sunny day the day we were scheduled to leave. And yet no planes seemed to be doing that — leaving. As we sat in the terminal, slowly we saw each flight on the monitor go from “delayed” to “diverted” to “canceled.” It was a clear day and yet no planes were taking off or landing in Florence. I was tracking our plane on my phone and noticed its landing time kept getting pushed back by 5 minutes before it finally switched to the dreaded “diverted.” It was diverted to Rimini near San Marino, a 2 1/2 hour drive from the Florence Airport.

High winds was the excuse they gave us, though the weather reports were showing only 20mph gusts. Stephen has his own theory about an air traffic control officer who took a long riposo (Italian siesta). Something didn’t add up.

Since no flights were landing at the airport, every airline bused their passengers to nearby cities like Pisa or Rome. CityJet put us on a bus to Pisa. The employee at the gate ensured us that we would be put up in a hotel and that CityJet would text us about our rescheduled flight, which would likely be flying out of Pisa airport the next morning. Another passenger told me this had happened to her before and they rescheduled her flight for 6am. At least we’ll get back to London early and not waste another entire day, I thought. I envisioned us staying in the center of Pisa as we had just a week before, enjoying one last Italian meal and stroll by the leaning tower at night.

Instead the bus pulled up to a hotel 20 minutes outside of Pisa with absolutely nothing nearby besides a gas station. We were stranded. Our room didn’t even have WiFi. CityJet texted me that they were working on sourcing a crew and aircraft for us to fly out of Pisa and would continue to send updates. The next update was that they were rebooking us on alternate airlines and would email us our new itinerary. As we entered the lobby of the hotel, we were greeted by a chorus of CityJet hold music emitting from fellow passengers’ phones. We overheard one woman who had managed to get through to someone.

“You bused me out to Pisa then booked me on a flight leaving tomorrow night from Florence Airport with a layover in Amsterdam? That is unacceptable!”

We hadn’t received our rebooking yet, but I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be on the direct British Airways flight out of Pisa. I was correct.

“Paris,” I told Stephen. “They’ve rebooked us on a flight out of Florence Airport tomorrow with a connection in Paris.”

He immediately got out his phone to call CityJet.

“Are you going to complain?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I’m going to get our money back. We’re not taking that flight. We’re not risking it with Florence Airport again. Look up cheap flights from Pisa or Rome.”

And that’s how we ended up spending the next day taking a taxi to Pisa’s train station, riding a 4-hour train to Rome, riding a 30-min train to Fiumicino airport, sitting at the airport for 3 hours, finding out our flight was delayed 30 minutes and wanting to cry, but finally landing at London Gatwick.

We left our Florence hotel at 9:30 am on Tuesday, thinking we’d be back in London at 2:30pm. We got back at 11:30pm on Wednesday. That is two entire days of our lives wasted on traveling. Though I suppose I should look on the bright side — we did manage to get home safely, our transportation costs to Rome should be reimbursed by CityJet, and the refund we’ll receive from our original flight should cover the cost of our EasyJet flight from Rome. But, man, talk about putting a damper on an otherwise amazing trip. We’ll certainly be back to Tuscany, but the next time we’ll think twice about flying in and out of Florence.

London salon struggles

29 Aug

I went to a new hair salon for my highlights the other day. In the U.S. I’ve had the same stylist for almost 10 years (and before that I went to her colleague for almost 10 years!), but in London I can’t seem to find one I like. I thought I found one, but her salon is in a sketchy neighborhood (the police came in during my appointment once to talk about the break-in the previous night), and she was a bit flaky with last-minute cancellations and double bookings. So I found another salon near our new flat. The trainee did a great job for a good price, but on my second visit I mistakenly booked just parting highlights, which I understood would be just the roots on top that show. But apparently parting just means only the front of your head, so I had awkward dark roots in the back and was too embarrassed to say anything because I got exactly what I asked for and paid for. So my solution was just to never show my face there again.

So it was back to Treatwell (a Groupon-like site just for beauty services). The other day I found a salon with decent reviews offering 50% off a full head of highlights for new customers (making it even cheaper than I pay in Kentucky!). The place seemed nice and my stylist was friendly without being chatty. I sat and read magazines while he did my foils. And then I sat. And sat. My Kentucky stylist and about half the salons I’ve been to in London put me under the dryer while the bleach works its magic. It seems to be a point of contention among stylists, and this guy was not about it — I don’t think his salon even had a dryer you sit under. He made a big deal about how bad it was for your hair, though I’m not sure I’ve noticed a difference. He seemed to know his stuff, though, so I trusted him. And sat some more. For some reason, my natural dark brown hair takes forever to turn blonde without the help of heat. I had flashbacks of a previous salon trip in which I sat for an hour with the foils on, only to walk out with slightly orange hair. I lamented this to the stylist after he checked on me for the sixth time.

“Don’t worry, I am not letting you walk out of here with orange hair!” he said.

“But am I ever going to walk out of here?” I wanted to reply, because I had been there close to 3 hours and was starting to forget what life outside of that salon chair was like.

He finally removed the foils and applied a toner, which is a purple solution that is supposed to tone down any brassiness (which is probably what the other stylist should have done to remove the orangey look.) I asked him how long to leave a toning shampoo on, because I use one once a week and can’t really tell if it’s making a difference and was wondering if it was because I wasn’t leaving it on long enough — the label warns that it can turn your hair purple. He said 5 minutes, which is definitely longer than I’m used to, and he worked the toner into my hair and let it sit. Then we walked over to the styling chair, and he decided the minute he turned the blow dryer on was the perfect time to ask me my thoughts on Trump. Is that the equivalent of a dentist trying to make conversation with his hands in your mouth? Obamacare is hard to explain on its own — I’ll admit I don’t fully understand it, but it’s nearly impossible to discuss over the roaring sound of a dryer.

He noticed my roots were still a little brassy looking, so he decided to wash it with the toner again, leaving it on even longer this time. Then it was back to blow drying and Trump talk while I wondered if I’d ever be able to eat the emergency protein bar I had packed in my bag — I had not planned on spending my entire afternoon at this place!

He complimented how good the highlights had turned out, and it seemed like they really had — they were not orange or only covering half my head, which is more than I can say from past experiences. I thanked him, took his card, and walked home, tucking into the protein bar like I had never eaten before.

Since I always seem to let my dark roots grow out way longer than I should, it’s always a bit of a shock when my hair is back to completely blonde. It takes a few glances in the mirror to get used to. That night I was washing my hands in the bathroom with the better light when my hair caught my eye. It didn’t look different because it was blonder. It looked different because it was purpler.

Yes, the toner turned my hair purple. A very faint purple, like a lilac or silver that is actually all the rage now, but definitely purple.

I rocked it for a day, then washed my hair with the clarifying shampoo I got in my Birchbox, which I read on Google would help. The purple is much less noticeable now, if at all.

My next highlights will definitely be done in the U.S. though, under the dryer and all, then maybe enough time will have passed and I can show my face at that other salon again, because I’m definitely not going back to a place that makes me sit for 3 1/2 hours to turn my hair purple.

mizore shirayuki purple hair

What’s that smell?

21 Aug

On Friday night Stephen and I decided to drive out to our friends’ house to surprise their son with a birthday cake. But first we had to go to Chinatown to pick up a cake, because everyone knows Chinatown has the best cake (OK, maybe not everyone, but now at least you know). I admittedly don’t go out at night very much in London, partially because I’m slightly afraid of getting mugged or harassed, but mostly because I’m an old soul who’d rather just stay in and watch Netflix. It was interesting seeing Chinatown at night — all the same shops and restaurants were still open and it was as buzzing as ever. In fact, it was so crowded that I wasn’t watching where I was walking and stepped in a puddle, splashing water up on my leg.

The cake shop we intended on visiting was just closing up shop, so we made our way to our second choice. The woman behind the counter was quite curt, refusing to help us until she had rung up everyone in the queue, even those who had come in after us. Finally she boxed up our cake, then made a beeline for the toilet.

“Oh my god I think she crapped herself!” Stephen said. That would explain her grumpy mood and the horrid smell that seemed to be intermingled with the sweet smell of cake and buns in the shop.
“At least she didn’t touch the cake,” I replied, and we walked back to the car.

As we pulled out of the parking spot, I smelled something horrid — could the poo particles really have penetrated the cake? I wondered. I bent down to smell the cake resting between my legs on the floor.

“I think it’s the plastic bag she put the cake box in,” I said, holding it closer to my nose. It was plausible for a plastic bag to just smell like a mix of pee and vomit, right? I removed the cake from the bag and gave the bag a good sniff.

“Wait, I don’t think it’s the bag,” I said. I brought the cake box up to my nose and held it up to Stephen at the stoplight.

“It smells like strawberry cake, it can’t be the cake either,” I said. What could be creating such a vile smell?

And then I remembered. The puddle. My shoes. My leg and jeans. The Chinatown puddle I had stepped in had not been filled with water — it had been filled with “garbage juice,” which was surely tainted with hobo pee and drunk person vomit. It made me want to vomit too.

We pulled into a petrol station to fill up and I ran to the bathroom to try to clean my leg and shoes. The only problem was the petrol station bathroom actually smelled worse than the puddle I stepped in, so I couldn’t really tell if I was making any progress and just wanted to get out of there.

When we arrived at our friends’ house, I quickly removed my shoes by the door, wished their son happy birthday, and made a beeline for the bathroom.

“Renee stepped in vomit!” Stephen proudly declared. Not how I like to make an entrance, but I was not about to correct him with “garbage juice.” I scrubbed the leg of my jeans with hand soap, then sprayed the ever-loving crap out of my leg and foot with the “home fragrance” I found on the shelf. We ended up having a nice night after that and the cake was delicious. I did smell strongly of orange blossom the entire time, but that’s 100 times better than eau du tramp  (or eau de toilette in the most literal sense!).

inbetweeners tramp shoes

My shoes rode in the trunk/boot on the way home, and after a good scrubbing now smell like Tesco Super Concentrated Non Bio Liquid Detergent. I’m just hoping one of these days they’ll fully dry!

Raiding with the people still playing Pokemon Go

11 Aug

Pokemon go raid

When Pokemon Go announced the new “raid” feature a few weeks ago, I was apprehensive. I’m an antisocial introvert who has always played the game alone. Now suddenly I was going to have to work together with other trainers to battle and take down a raid boss. That did not sound appealing. But over the past few weeks, raids have become my favorite part of the game. I went from standing to the side of the group or battling from across the street to actually chatting with other trainers and having some human interaction. And I enjoyed it! The stereotype that Pokemon is for kids or nerds couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in central London. Every time a group gathers for a raid it looks like an advertiser hand-picked us to hit every demo range — I’ve played with middle-aged white women, Asian grandmas, Muslim university students, men so old I was surprised they could work a smartphone, yet alone Pokemon Go, big-wig businessmen who snuck out during their lunch break, tourists from mainland Europe or America, and parents who were clearly way more into the game than their children who introduced it to them. I joined an online Discord group where players chat and organize raid meetups, but I’ve been too shy to participate. But in central London I’ve learned you can just show up and there will always be at least 6 other people ready to battle with you (or cheaters sitting at home and spoofing their GPS location to the raid gym).

A lot of people credit Pokemon Go for making them get off the couch and walk more. Pokemon Go pretty much killed my desire to run faster and farther, but it has helped me actually interact with people in my city, which I guess is important too.

Free soap samples and my first visit to Asda in Sketchyville, UK

4 Aug

There’s this store on New Bond St that gives out little samples of bar soap when you walk by. Except they don’t tell you it’s soap when they hand it to you, they simply say, “Don’t eat it!” It’s obvious many people have tried to eat it — it looks exactly like Turkish delight or a Jolly Rancher, and when people hand out samples on the street, typically they’re edible. But it seems like the whole misunderstanding could be avoided if they just said, “Would you like to try a sample of our soap?” instead of “Try this, don’t eat it!” I don’t get it.

asda old kent road london

I went to Asda for the first time today. Asda is owned by Walmart, and as it turns out, it’s exactly like an American Walmart, sketchy people and all. I was only 3 miles from central London, but it felt like I was in a different world. There was even a drive-thru McDonald’s next door! I was completely overwhelmed and amazed by the selection — there wasn’t just one variety, scent and flavor of everything like at my usual Tesco Metro. I am always lamenting about how there aren’t enough cheap grocery stores in central London and I can’t always find everything I need at Tesco, yet here I was, surrounded by every food (or household) item I could ever want, and I had no idea what to buy. I also knew everything I got I’d have to schlep home on the bus in my giant DSW tote (the best free bag ever).

So naturally I went for tea. I had to try the new Tetley’s Indulgence line — Cookies and Cream and Gingerbread teas? Yes, please! (Even though my tea cupboard is overflowing and I promised myself I would not buy any more tea until my collection fit in one cupboard. But pretty soon we’ll be remodeling the kitchen and getting bigger cupboards, so perhaps that won’t be a problem anymore :-P) I also bought stevia tablets to go with the tea, and Japanese BBQ sauce because it was on clearance. And instant protein porridge packs to take on our upcoming holiday, even though they probably sell instant oatmeal in Italy. I had planned to walk the whole way home, but I was getting sketchy vibes from the neighborhood and didn’t want to risk my phone (or new legendary Pokemon!) to some moped thief, so I hopped back on the bus, only to get off when I spotted a Lidl. Lidl and Aldi are always located in Dodgy McDodgyville, but the bargains are too good to pass up. They had giant cherries less than half the price of Tesco. And Belgian chocolate! And skyr! And sesame oil, coconut oil spray, corn, nuts… Needless to say, my shoulder is killing me. And I wasn’t even done! I had one more stop on my discount shop bus journey — Iceland. Where, of course, today’s special was cherries — 400g for 50p! That’s practically free. (The normal price is 400g for £3. Tesco sells 200g for £2.) People were going nuts adding them to their baskets. I only bought one pack since I already bought cherries at Lidl, but looking back on it I probably should have bought more and froze them for smoothies. Then again adding just 400g more to my tote bag may have caused my shoulder (or the bag itself) to give out.

Breaking records and winning the Friday Forty

3 Jul

It’s funny how people always say “I never win anything.” Because none of us win anything, until of course we do, and then we can never say “I never win anything,” because we have won something, but “I only win things occasionally” just doesn’t sound as good.

When it comes to the theatre ticket lottery, I only win occasionally. When TodayTix first launched I won almost every lottery I entered, but that was likely because there were fewer names in the pot. When it first launched I entered the Book of Mormon in-person ticket lottery 10 times and never got lucky. I’ve entered the Dream Girls, Aladdin, and Harry Potter lotteries more times than I can count and I never won. Until now.

From the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child website:
Every Friday at 1pm we release 40 tickets for every performance the following week, for some of the very best seats in the theatre, at an amazingly low price. These tickets are known as ‘The Friday Forty’.

I have a weekly reminder on my phone to apply for the Friday Forty. Not winning has become such a habit that I almost didn’t enter last week — what’s the point? I thought. But since I was home I clicked on the “Buy tickets” button when it appeared promptly at 1pm, then walked away to get dressed for my run. When I came back I noticed the bar with the little wizard at the bottom of the screen was actually moving — I don’t remember it ever doing that before. Then suddenly I was in — it was asking me which dates I wanted to book! I got front row centre tickets for Wednesday’s shows for £20 each. Unbelievable! Wednesday is going to be a long day of theatre — part I at 2pm then part II at 7:30pm. But I’m sure it will be worth it!

friday forty tickets

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be my 52nd and 53rd shows in London (it counts as two, right?). That’s right, friends, I did it — I hit 50 shows, and of course I did it with Bat Out Of Hell the Musical. Dare I say it was even more amazing the second time around? Partly because Andrew, the main Strat actor, was born to play the role, and partly because I had a cheeky pre-show glass of wine. (That sounded really British, didn’t it?). Then the day after I saw Bat, I saw Rotterdam, an emotional play that was absolutely nothing like Bat and actually made me a little depressed for the rest of the day, but it was an incredibly moving show about relationships and the struggle of being trans. Rotterdam was my 10th show of the year, which means I finally broke my 9 shows a year record! And it’s only July! I hate the central London traffic and crowds so, so much, but being able to witness world-class theatre regularly makes it all worth it.