Tag Archives: oxford street

How is it mid-November already?

17 Nov

Is it just me, or does the time between the end of August and Thanksgiving go by in about 10 minutes? I swear we were just getting back from our summer holiday, and now I’m looking at the massive amount of Christmas presents I’ve purchased over the past few weeks and am wondering how I’m going to fit them all in my suitcase when I head back to the U.S. on Tuesday. I’m seriously contemplating not packing any clothing — I have a closet full of sweaters at my parents’, and we already have plans to hit the outlet mall on Black Friday. The only thing I need to bring is running clothes for the Thanksgiving 10K. I keep checking the Thanksgiving Day forecast for Cincinnati hoping for it to warm up. It has changed from snow to rain to sun, so we’re headed in the right direction, but my body is definitely not used to running in freezing temperatures. A PR would be nice, but I’m not sure I’ve trained enough for one, so I may have to settle with just finishing.

I was hoping to fit in one more West End show before my trip back, but I couldn’t manage to score lottery tickets to see Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell from Game of Thrones) in Venus in Fur and didn’t want to see it badly enough to queue for day seats. I only managed 3 day seat queues this year, which is impressive considering I saw 16 shows. I finally got out of the 9 shows a year slump! 16 is a nice even number to go out on, and is setting the bar high for next year. And while I may be done with London shows for 2017, I’m not done with theatre for the year — my friend and I got tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago next month! We’ll see if it lives up to the hype (and believe me, at the insane ticket price and the non-stop “OMG HAMILTON!!” on social media, my expectations are sky high).

As per tradition, I walked around Oxford Street yesterday to take in all the Christmas lights. It’s the same display they had last year (and possibly every year), which is beautiful, but like most things in life, would be even more beautiful if there weren’t so many people everywhere. I was particularly intrigued by the conversation this couple walking next to me was having.

“Look how impressive this is now, just imagine how it will look once they turn the lights on!” the guy said to his girlfriend.

I did not take any photos of the Oxford Street lights, so I’ll post one from Time Out.

oxford st lights

That’s what the street looked like. As the American saying goes, “It was lit up like the 4th of July.” From the stores to the hanging bulbs above the street, the whole area was awash in light. No bulb remained unlit.

What was he talking about?!

He kept repeating it too. “It’s gonna look so cool with all the lights on!”

“All the lights are on, you nitwit!” I wanted to shout.

Perhaps he was confusing Oxford Street with Regent Street. Oxford Street turned their lights on on November 7, while Regent Street waited until yesterday. I walked down Regent Street in the early evening yesterday and the lights weren’t on yet, and it was very obvious to tell. I’m not sure what additional lights he was hoping would be turned on on Oxford Street. He certainly needed to turn on the light in his head.


What do watermelons and guidebooks have in common?

30 Jul

Friends, I think something might be wrong with me. Today I walked to Oxford Street to go shopping (24,000 Fitbit steps and counting today!), as is tradition before I go on holiday. There’s just something about wearing new clothes in a new place. I was gone for five hours (5!) and I came home with a pair of off-brand Chucks (shoes), some socks, and a watermelon. (And a finger that is still somewhat numb from lugging said watermelon over a mile in a cheap Tesco bag). I went into so many stores. I tried on so many things. And yet nothing seemed worth buying. It either didn’t fit right or I realized I have at least three shirts that are too similar. That, and I think I’m getting too old for many stores. Why must all the shirts be crop tops? Why does everything scream “drunken hot mess at an outdoor music festival”? Why do the jeans have so many holes in them? When I was in high school one of my classmates told me my style of dress was “career mom.” I took it as a complement, though I’m sure she meant it as a diss. I like to think I dress better now than I did back then, but I can’t shake the career mom vibe entirely, despite the fact that I work from home in pajamas most days and have no intention of becoming anything other than a dog mama. In short, I have a closet — closets — full of clothing I barely get to wear that will happily journey with me to Portugal and Belgium next week, along with my new blue cheapo Chucks.

Rick steves ebooksThat’s right, next week we begin our August holiday, which in typical Renee and Stephen fashion is to two countries that are not geographically close and have absolutely nothing to do with each other other than the fact that they’re both places we want to visit. For some reason we procrastinated and struggled to decide on a destination this year (#firstworldproblems, I know). There are so many places to go and see, but it also turns out a lot of the world is hell’s-waiting-room hot and muggy in August, so we had to narrow our choices. I’ve been reading and writing about Lisbon a bit for one of my jobs and we’ve never been to Portugal, and Stephen’s never been to Belgium. I went with my parents to Brussels and Bruges two years ago, but I told him I would happily return to the land of chocolate, waffles, frites and lambic (aka fruit beer that actually tastes like fruit and not beer. Take note, Bud Light Lime!). I’m still working on a tentative itinerary with the help of my homeboy, Rick Steves. Is there anything that screams “American in Europe” more than toting around a Rick Steves book? Maybe wearing an NFL jersey with white socks and trainers, but I tote my Rick Steves with pride. Frommers and Lonely Planet just don’t compare. This time I’ll just be toting my Rick a little more discretely on my iPad, but not because I’m not proud to be an American, but because guide books are freaking heavy (and my finger may never heal from lugging that watermelon).

Regent Street Christmas Lights and How Jessie J Made Me an Amoeba

20 Nov

Yesterday I ran around Christmas shopping. I mean that in the most literal sense — I laced up my running shoes and ran three miles to Oxford Street, then on to Regent Street and Piccadilly, awkwardly hugging my shopping bags as I weaved in and out of crowds of pedestrians, all of whom gave me rightful odd looks for being the crazy person who dared to run on what have to be three of London’s most congested sidewalks (what they call “pavement.”)  I like to think it was practice for my big race on Thanksgiving where I may have to weave around walkers and fellow runners. My run to the first store was purely exercise and training, but running between stores was more out of necessity because I was freezing. In fact, I stopped at Lillywhites to buy some thermal base layer shirts because it’s getting a little too cold to just layer on another T-shirt, and it’s not exactly easy to move when you look like this:


Since I often head back to the US for Thanksgiving and stay through Christmas, I don’t have any problem with London getting into the Christmas spirit in early November. (There’s no Thanksgiving to get in the way of Christmas magic!) The other day my friend asked me if I’ve been taking any photos lately, and it dawned on me — that used to be what I enjoyed and blogged about before my life was consumed by looking for a flat, moving, unpacking, and lately, working. So last Tuesday, the first day it wasn’t raining, my camera and I went down to Oxford Street to do a little shopping and take in the lights.

I came out of a store around 4:30 pm and was surprised that the lights were not on yet. Then as I made my way to Selfridge’s, I noticed more and more people gathering on the sidewalks and the street had been blocked off. When I came out of Selfridge’s, I could barely move. I crossed the street to try to avoid the crowds, but they absorbed me. We moved like a giant amoeba as police officers guided us around the block, denying us access to the stage in front of Selfridges because of the crowds. Thanks to the rubberneckers and inquisitive onlookers, we moved slower than a snail’s pace, but I learned that that night — the night I chose to leisurely walk around and take photos and shop — was in fact the night that Jessie J was to perform and officially switch on the Oxford Street lights. I just wanted to get to the other end of the street! Eventually the bottleneck broke and I was free to take back roads to Regent Street, where the lights had been turned on days earlier.

regent street lights

The lights were similar, if not the same, as last year, showcasing the 12 Days of Christmas.

regent street christmas

I like the above photo because you get the effect of almost getting run over by a double decker bus, which happens all too often.

london christmas lightsMy next stop was Carnaby Street, a tucked away pedestrian street that always has an impressive Christmas display.

carnaby street 2013

They also have some quirky shops, like the place that sells this panda getup that even I wouldn’t wear:

crazy panda outfit

And then my hands got too cold so I took the bus home. From the window of the bus I saw the hordes of people trying to get into the Oxford Circus Tube Station after the performance was over — it had to have been at least 20 people thick on all sides, just trying to get INTO the station, never mind onto a train. The Evening Standard said queues were up to 30 minutes! Score one for the bus wankers!




Sucking the marrow, theatre and waffles out of London

16 Nov

I believe it was Thoreau who wrote that he wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” I decided I needed to suck out all the marrow of London in my last week here in 2012 – particularly the theatre marrow. How did I accomplish that? Queuing for day seats. Two days in a row.  Insanity, I know. But the theatre marrow is quite succulent (taking the metaphor too far yet?) and I got some good Black Friday practice in. (If only the people of Walmart lined up as nicely as folks outside the National Theatre.)

Normally I wouldn’t dream of waking up early, taking the Tube at rush hour and standing outside in the cold for an hour two days in a row, but there were two shows I was itching to see, and they close before I return to London in January. Lately I’ve been choosing my shows based on actors. “A Chorus of Disapproval” stars Rob Brydon, also known as Bryn on “Gavin and Stacey.” I had to see him work his magic in real life (and from the front row!). And then while waiting for a ticket for “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” last month, I saw a poster for “Scenes from an Execution,” starring Fiona Shaw. She was brilliant as Marnie the witch in “True Blood,” and I had to see her on the stage as well. The two shows couldn’t have been more different, but each was brilliant and well worth the day seat hassle. It’s always worth it to see a good live show from the front row for less than the price of a movie ticket in London. I’m glad I got to sleep in today though.

Whenever I’m back in the US, people always ask me what I like and miss about being in London or America. The problem with moving around is that there are always people, things and experiences you miss in each place. When I’m back “home” in Kentucky I miss walking everywhere. I get used to walking through the beautiful Regent’s Park on a regular basis and every once in a while have to remind myself to really take it in. But then when I’m in London and we’re circling the block trying to find a parking space (which isn’t putting it right – there are no blocks in London, so returning to the same street to hawk a spot takes a good 15 minutes), I miss the giant free parking lots of suburban America.

In an effort to suck out all the marrow of London Christmas, I decided to do a little Christmas lights tour down Regent, Carnaby and Oxford Streets as I walked to the bus stop after Wednesday’s show. In my mind it was going to be magical – that Christmas spirit in the air, choirs singing, children laughing, people passing (meeting smile after smile)… but in reality, it was cold. And crowded. And I was really, really hungry. They say there’s a correlation between lack of sleep and hunger, and I believe it now. In the air there was a feeling of Christmas, but there was also the smell of waffles. Oxford Street always smells like waffles, which is torture when you’re famished but trying to exercise self-control. So instead of taking in all the beautiful lights and store displays, all I could think about was waffles. The hunger really ruined my happy Christmas mood. Since I couldn’t eat waffles, I imagined myself throwing waffles at all the tourists who clogged the sidewalk up trying to take photos of the lights. I really wanted to make a much more elegant post about Christmas in London and the lights, complete with many photos, but I was so irritated by those tourists that I couldn’t bare to turn into one and get my camera out. And did I mention the evil waffles? And the cold and hunger?

Here is the one photo I took of Rolling Stones Christmas on Carnaby Street.

What’s with London selling out all its decorations? I guess the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary is better than Marmite Gold yeast extract spread, but still…


Election Day from far away

7 Nov

It’s odd experiencing an election outside the US. I am forever grateful I was spared the onslaught of political ads and signs, but I also felt disconnected. If it weren’t for all my friends going on about it on Facebook and the occasional BBC “U.S. President Barack Obama and this bloke named Mitt Romney had a debate. Now on to weather!” blips, I wouldn’t have known it was happening. Being five hours ahead on Election Night certainly didn’t help. The BBC had in-depth coverage about the election, but most polls didn’t even begin to close until after midnight GMT. I was torn. They say the average person only sees 18 election in their lifetime. Seems like something worth staying up for, even more so than the Super Bowl. So I plopped myself in front of BBC’s coverage, which as usual was entertaining. I think my favorite comment came from some important British guy: “Over two hours to vote? I think most of us Brits would go home after 10 minutes of waiting.” Even I’m amazed that some Americans waited that long to vote. They had various BBC corespondents reporting in from bars across the US, including Ohio and Florida. Random people kept popping up behind the reporter and shouting “Obama!” A little after midnight some of the numbers started coming in. “This is exciting!” I thought. But then my eyes started to get heavy. They started talking about the same things over and over again because no new states were reporting. I realized this was not an election that was going to be called at a reasonable hour for me. So I went to bed. Around 5 a.m. (midnight EST) I woke up and saw the breaking news alert on my iTouch from USA Today: “Barack Obama re-elected president of the United States.” In 2008 I heard fireworks and cheers all night, just blocks away from Obama’s party in Grant Park. In 2012 I found out who won by checking my iPod half-asleep. Who knows where I’ll be or how I’ll find out in 2016!

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend near Oxford Circus. As we were leaving we stumbled upon an aggressive fish and chips peddler who insisted we take one of his flyers. When we refused, fibbing that we didn’t like fish and chips, he asked if we were American. It being election day, I expected him to ask us about Obama or Romney. Instead he said, “Oh, that explains it. Americans like, what, steak sandwiches? Oh, and hot dogs!” And then he preceded to give us unsolicited recommendations on hot dog joints in London, including a place with “massive” ones. It seemed like an odd business tactic — get customers to eat at your fish and chips shop. If they try to ignore you and hope you go away, recommend hot dog places.

After the guy finally left us alone, I did a little Christmas shopping along London’s most popular shopping street. The stores and street were fully decked out, and it would have been truly magical were it not raining. I’ll leave you with this photo I took of the street lights, brought to you by … Marmite Gold.

I’m not sure if “You either love it or hate it” refers to the yeast extract spread itself or the fact that London sold out and turned its Christmas decorations into an advertising campaign.

Forever 21 opens in London

27 Jul

Why do I feel a desire to punch this girl?

Today Forever 21 opened in London. I’ve been shopping there on and off since 2004. Back then it was only on State Street in Chicago — not in the Florence, Kentucky mall — so it was a big deal to shop there. I also remember their clothing being more “normal” then (and by “normal” I mean, well, not this (I wish I had created that blog.)) I bought relatively conservative sweaters and skirts there when I used to dress like a career mom. Then all of a sudden they started selling clothing that even the ’80s would have shunned. But they still had the best and cheapest camis — I have an entire drawer full of them. And they occasionally have panda shirts. I currently have five panda shirts, two of which are from Forever 21. You can never have too many panda shirts.

So even though Forever 21 isn’t my absolute favorite store, I felt compelled to go to their opening. I guess I thought there would be freebies of some sort. And I love freebies. When I went to the opening of Victoria’s Secret in Chicago (by accident) they gave me a $10 gift card.

All I got from Forever 21 in London was a 10% off a purchase of £35 or more coupon from a girl on roller skates. And claustrophobia. It seems everyone else in London thought it’d be cool to go to the store’s opening too, so it was packed to the max. People were shopping like mad. I just couldn’t get into it. Partly because of the crowds, but also because I find Forever 21 stores so hard to navigate. I have this habit of looking on their website and finding clothes I like, but then I’m never able to find them in the store. The store sells an obscene amount of clothing and it’s everywhere. Since this store is new it was relatively organized, but back in the US I always seem to find lone items of clothing and the correct size I need is either missing or on the other end of the store. The employees never seem to know either since they redo the store so often. But I think the biggest reason I didn’t buy anything in London was because of the prices. Yes, they were cheap, but not US-cheap. A skirt that costs $5.50 in the US is priced £5.50 here, which is really almost $9. Rip off. If I were a native Londoner I’d probably be jumping at the chance to get a £5.50 skirt, but not when I know I’ll be back in the US eventually and can get it there. So I left Forever 21 and went next store to H&M, where I bought a dress that I could probably get in the US cheaper. … Wait…