24 January 2014

Spur of the moment day trip

*click on images to enlarge

One of the best things (that I haven't taken much advantage of yet) about living in England is the proximity to mainland Europe and cheap airline or train tickets. A recent Eurostar sale had fares down into budget range for a last minute foray to Paris so it would have been crazy to not go there on a day trip. Yes, a day trip to Paris, France as a very early birthday present......I'm still in a bit of awe that we could do that.  However since we live a little north of London it required a 3:30 am alarm and a drive down to a train station a bit further south than the one we usually use because it didn't have any scheduled for as early as we needed.  It also meant I got to experience the morning "rush hour" commuter crush on Wednesday morning--can they make those seats any narrower???

We made it to London St Pancras in time to enjoy a much needed caffeine break via Costa before joining the queue for security.  Even the trains have airline style security now, all except for having to take your shoes off, something I wasn't expecting and I'd worn a belt and several pieces of jewelry--let the disrobing begin! My partner asked why and when they'd started doing the extra security and it earned him a complimentary baggage search so I wouldn't recommend doing that ;-)

The trip to Paris wasn't that crowded so we were able to sprawl out in the 2+2 seats. I felt sorry for a girl sitting across the aisle from us, she had to share seats with two people traveling for work one of whom was an Australian girl that seemed to be hell bent on talking as loudly as possible on subjects chosen for the shock value.  Fun stuff, eh.  There was also a signal disruption once we entered France which caused our train to be delayed, fortunately the chunnel crossing was uneventful and very fast (I'm a wee bit claustrophobic).

View and reflection from the train window

Our Paris plan was not much of a plan, there were a handful of places that I wanted to see but mostly we just wanted to wander around and "see" whatever crossed our path. Not sure that makes sense but neither of us wanted to be shackled to a must do xyz mindset.  Speaking of seeing, Gare du Nord aesthetically is very underwhelming and the signage could significantly be improved. It doesn't seem to be a very good welcome to Paris in my opinion, very dark and industrial, concrete everywhere. We didn't have any trouble with thieves/pickpockets/panhandlers but we didn't make ourselves out to be easy marks either.  

First things first though, the stop we needed right away was for more coffee (and a loo that wasn't moving!) so off to find a cafe but we ended up at the most American of places. Yep, you got it--Starbucks! Lol, how typical is that? Well it would be except that my partner is thoroughly British :-), it had to be done though if only for the humour value.  Yes, there was also a McDonald's right next to it.

U.S. in Paree

Love the street sweeper against the backdrop of the Academie Nationale De Musique

Being a typical tourist at the Tuileries Garden

very busy pic but so much to look at

Artist sketching The Thinker at Musee-Rodin

The Musee Rodin was the only museum that we opted to go into on this trip and that was because you could opt to only pay for the gardens which is a bargain at 1 Euro. We also decided to stop for coffee and a snack at the cafe on the premises which was not so much a bargain but it was nice to kick back and relax for a few minutes off our feet.  I loved seeing the girl dressed so brightly and furiously sketching out The Thinker. It was after this we decided to start using the Metro instead of walking because we were going to run out of time.  I was thoroughly impressed with the double decker trains and some of the stations--especially the submarine themed one, it would be cool just to plan a trip to see all the stations.

Gazing up

Next to see was the Eiffel Tower as up close and personal as you could get without going up it (budget day trip). While we were standing under it and gazing upwards at all the iconic iron glory that is the symbol of Paris to the rest of the world I had a very "girl" moment and burst into tears. Not a slight eye water but a full on gush of waterworks, it was so embarrassing and funny and apparently endearing........I never believed I would actually be standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower at some point in my life.  After my tears we just stood around watching everyone else and noticed a couple locked in an embrace. Very romantic, eh. Except it kept going and going and going to the point it went from awwwwwww to being pretty sure they were just doing it for the attention.  Or perhaps I'm just a pessimist, lol.  

Mopping up the tears

The final stop (since we were running out time) was Notre Dame. This ended up being my only disappointment of the day, not because of the Church itself but because we didn't get a chance to walk up the tower steps so I could see the gargoyles up close and personal.........yep, my reason for wanting to see Notre Dame was not because of the novel or movie or my beliefs but it was for the ugly-beautiful gargoyles. I am so fascinated by them and would love to have one or two of the grotesques on my own house.  

approaching Notre Dame

Statue of Charlemagne with a modern addition

Notre Dame Cathedral 

While impressive (understatement) I think I am slightly jaded after seeing so many gorgeous cathedrals in England and Scotland so I wasn't that interested in the interior of Notre Dame.  Sorry France, but I think my adopted country does fancy churches better but I didn't cry when I saw Big Ben so you win in the emotional response department :-)

At this point we were ready for a meal before making the trek back to Gare du Nord so we decided on a cozy looking cafe amongst the tourist crap shops on Rue Arcole called Le Parvis.  It was a bit pricey but that was to be expected and the waiter was very friendly and informative--much nicer than the guy at the Musee Rodin cafe (however his attitude was much better when I brought the tray back up to the counter rather than leaving it for him to collect after we had eaten).  We both opted for a burger and frites figuring it would be quicker than most everything else and what we were served was amazing, even better than the picture on their website, even the salad was much larger and more varied than shown.  

Hotel de Ville ice rink

On the way to find the nearest Metro station after eating we stumbled upon the Hotel de Ville and had to stop for a few moments to admire it and the ice rink.  This was the best photo of the lot which is terrible--I need to get better about changing the settings--but I wanted to post this anyway because of the Union Jack umbrella :-). The history of the place is quite bloody though, kind of disconcerting reading that the guillotine used to be in the area where the rink is not to mention all the other sorts of public execution.  

Overall this was a wonderful trip, we messed up on our routing a little and missed the Arc de Triomphe and the smaller Statue of Liberty.  No museum trips were planned other than the Rodin garden and I want to tour the Catacombs on the next visit as well as climbing those tower steps at Notre Dame.  Any suggestions as to what is a must see would be appreciated. 

Culture differences

What surprised me about Paris? I experienced very little of the rudeness that you hear about but again we weren't here for very long--most people we dealt with were far more polite than those in similar situations in London actually.  The noise (sirens and horns), atrocious parking, and amount of motorbikes everywhere is just like what you see in the movies.  The only petrol station we saw consisted of 2 pumps (gas and diesel) on a sidewalk next to the road--you simply stopped in the road or drove onto the very wide pavement to fuel up.  There wasn't as much dog poop as I expected, lol.  The men and women do dress more chic than in most other cities I've been to but black is still the color of choice in the winter.  The most surprising thing of all though were the number of armed soldiers on the streets but it shouldn't have been considering what's recently kicked off in Mali.  

New passport stamps

Paris souvenir

20 January 2014

A year ago today

This time last year we were a few days into a road trip from Arkansas to California, for some reason I didn't blog about most of (if any) it at the time.  Oh well, it's giving me some post material for this year :-) 

In Arkansas at our second pitstop 

On our first day we had a late start (waiting on a camera delivery for Wednesday morning) but we still managed to make it to Tucumcari, NM where our first hotel room was reserved--it was too cold to camp in January otherwise we would have saved some money. My partner got to experience the monotony of I40 in the winter and the scarcity of coffee shops through miles and miles of highway but we did make one essential tourist trap stop in Amarillo, Texas, The Big Texan.  To add to the general kitschiness there were several groups of Australians and one group of Brits visiting there at the same time. Better yet, one of the Aussies had squared off against an Englishman in the 72 ounce steak eating "competition", we were about to roll out of our booth from laughing so hard at one particular Aussie who was yelling at his countryman not to let the limey beat him. 

Hard to get a good photo at night with all the blinking lights, Amarillo, TX

"Normal" for California

Visit to the USS Midway museum San Diego, CA

Tour of San Diego with Victor from Victorville 

Would have loved to chatted with her

Santa Monica, CA

Finish line at The Rocket Launch Half Marathon, Santa Monica, CA 
20 January 2013

I have tons more pictures but those are some of the highlights of January up until this date last year and I don't want to overload the post with too many. This year has been more low key but that doesn't mean any less exciting or different since I'm beginning my first full year as an expat in the UK, it just means I need to get more creative with my adventures.  

19 January 2014

No run and and a mini rant

This weekend has been a bust for working out, I'd planned a long run meet up for Saturday morning only to wake up about an hour before my alarm went off with a swollen and sore throat, scratchy eyes, feeling achy all over and dizzy spells whenever I tried to move about. No fever thankfully and I think it was one of those times when my body has decided that I've done too much and it was going to shut me down in the quickest way possible. Blech.  First words out of my partner's mouth after he finally woke up was "Wow, you sound terrible".  Yep, no running or working out for the weekend after all, grrrrrrrrr. I am much better today and hope to get back in the groove tomorrow *fingers crossed*.

Today was spent doing some research for an upcoming day trip which meant I got a little lost on youtube chasing after only sort of related videos, a couple of which were from Americans who had recently visited Great Britain and Ireland. One recurring thing I hear a lot is about how terrible the food is and I just don't get it (yes, I've ranted about this before, lol). This one girl just whined on and on about the horrible food and that even the fast food places tasted "different" and "not right", needless to say the comments were disabled for that vid because I'm guessing she had been slammed for it. I'm not sure where they had been eating but it sounds like they never made it past the fish and chips shops or the motorway services.  I might miss certain foods but there is no shortage of deliciousness or variety about to partake of and I'm making it my mission to test out the gammon and egg in as many pubs as possible.

17 January 2014


It has been far too long since I posted an earworm. I'm enjoying this band quite a bit today.

The Graveltones 

16 January 2014

Strolling about

This afternoon I managed to convince the partner to come out with me and the mutts on a short walk--well, there is some dispute over whether it was a short walk or not (2.5 miles give or take). We fed the horses a carrot each and slogged through the mud to reach the canal trail.  While wandering about we ended up chatting with an elderly couple that had a couple of dogs as well. During the course of that conversation it turned out that the man had lived on our street but had moved away in 1964--I felt sort of youngish since that was before either me or my partner was born, lol.  Some older people are like children though, absolutely no filter! My accent was such that it led the woman to ask could I even say "Ben" and here I thought my southern drawl was getting more understandable ;-).

We did take the time to explore a nearby cemetery and churchyard that I'd been meaning to stop at since we moved here. I'm glad I waited until today so I could share it.

pics from the week before

I have fallen off the Janathon blogging wagon but my workouts have continued. Not sure that anyone was enjoying those posts anyway so I will go back to my usual modus operandi. Today is just random pictures from the past week.

Wind turbine progress, all 3 blades are now attached

Nettle bloom

The unseasonably mild English winter means that the trees are already budding out and there are odd bits flora sporting blooms. Of course it's only the middle of January so there's a lot of Old Man Winter left to come. Hopefully it won't do like last March when it was snowing on us nearly every day when we were here looking for a place to lease.  

More of the wind turbine. It looks sort of like a giant bird coming over the trees at us

One of our "neighbors", the big horse will come up to me all the time for carrots but this is the first time the pony has approached me for a treat. Of course Ben wanted to say hello

The start of a short Peak District hike with Elsie and Ben

Shut down brewery--seen on Saturday's run

Top of a hill looking towards the Peak District--another pic from Saturday's 7 mile run. Yes it was a gloriously beautiful day so long as you ignored the wind

12 January 2014

More cross country

Ahhhhhh, cross country racing. I'm not sure if I love or hate you, today was a bit of both. It was cold, muddy, hilly, muddy, did I mention muddy? Nearly lost my left shoe, walked way too much, slid around like I was a drifting extra in Fast and the Furious, flew down the hills like a bowling ball headed for the gutter, and gasped like a fish flopping about just out of reach of the water. Oh did I mention the mud?????

Before the mud and before the sun disappeared

And we are off! 

Suffering, attempting to sprint for the finish line

stats are a bit meh

yep, muddy. Soaked through my shoes and socks

Water hose and newspaper:  xc runner's necessities 

Unfortunately we were one female short of fielding a team for today but the men were well represented and I think they all had great races. Having that camaraderie and support is AWESOME, especially when you are struggling to keep trying to go UP what amounted to be a slide made of mud (thanks again guys!) . The coffee provided by one of the members afterwards was soooooooo good as were the biscuits (the cake was almost gone by the time I finished and I was heaving too much to grab a piece of it). Today was also the other lady's first ever cross country race and she did fantastic, think she's hooked as well now :-).  

Run Britain had a great article this evening about cross country racing. I had to chuckle about the "event" style races and how much they cost. Loving the fact that I get to do what is essentially the same thing several times a year for the £20 annual club membership fee, I'm not much of a medal or t-shirt collector anyways so not getting them isn't a big deal for me. 

10 January 2014

2013 Races and Events

Yes, it's that time (past time actually) to do my yearly running recap.  Since I now live in the UK I will start trying to do my dates in the day/month format which is opposite the US way of month/day

20/01/2013 The Rocket Launch 1/2 Marathon. Santa Monica, CA 1:46:09
24/02/2013 34th Annual Sentara Colonial 1/2 Marathon. Williamsburg, VA 1:53:44
17/03/2013 Stafford Half Marathon, Stafford, UK 1:52:54
06/04/2013 Capital City Classic 10k. Little Rock, AR 50:43
14/04/2013 Hogeye 1/2 Marathon. Fayetteville, AR 2:08:43
27/04/2013 Beyond Boundaries Boot Scootin' 5k Dash. Ward, AR 23:22
11/05/2013 Women Run Arkansas 5k. Conway, AR 23:51
12/05/2013 Westminster Women's Classic 10 Miler Virtual Race 1:51:51
31/08/2013 ARK 5k Classic. N. Little Rock, AR 26:46
07/09/2013 Sara Low Memorial 5k. Batesville, AR 25:04
01/12/2013 BDL XC Trent Meadows 41:05
27/12/2013 Notts AC Christmas Relays 19:14

Total miles ran: 1348
Total miles cycled: 496 (mostly trainer)

Notable for the year:
*I placed 3rd overall in the Rocket Launch 1/2 marathon which is also my current pb (small races rock!)
*The Capital City 10k is my 2nd fastest 10k ever but it should have been my fastest, darn stomach didn't cooperate
*I won female overall in the Beyond Boundaries 5k (gotta love small races!)
*Placed 3rd overall in the Women Run Arkansas 5k clinic division for the 2nd year in a row
*paced someone for the first time ever in a 5k
*joined a running club in the UK

This year I also had a couple of non-injury DNS races due to the massive amount of traveling in the first four months of the year (was worth it though)

Got rice? Yes, I won what seemed like half my body weight in rice and rice products :-)

09 January 2014

Today's google doodle

Today's google doodle is of Simone de Beauvoir, a woman I really should know more about since I don't mind the feminist label and I am an avid reader.  What really struck me though was seeing the images of her, it instantly reminded me of my paternal grandmother who was part French--something that I probably should not mention since there is a sort of friendly animosity between the English and that country across the Channel ;-).   Unfortunately I didn't inherit much of the inherent French chic from her nor did I get any of the tall, blonde, gorgeousness from the Scandinavian side of my Dad's family.

My Grandmother and me

08 January 2014

Day 8

Janathon day 8. Super easy 4.5 mile run in 42:13 with Elsie the Miniature Schnauzer Menace who was well pleased to finally head out on the canal trail with me. Right after was a kettlebell interval workout (swings, low windmills, one arm swings, swing punches, and russian twists), 30 seconds work, 10 seconds rest for 20 minutes. Finished up with the bicycle crunches and foam rolling.  Surprisingly I am not the least bit sore after last night's handicap run (official time of 23:06) despite the hellacious hill on the return portion. The first time I did the handicap I could barely walk for 2 days after, I'm attributing the improvement to the kettlebells. Love seeing some improvement.

I also signed up for the Ramathon half marathon which sold out in under 8 hours. Who else managed to get in?


Homesickness has hit hard this week......well, really it's friendsickness because it's not necessarily the location I miss, it's being able to chat with my friends while running/cycling/walking with them.  I miss having someone to run with within an hour of asking, being able to chat about how horrible the red dragon cramps are, what is for sale on the dead bread rack at Kroger, how much we want a cup of coffee or a piece of cake, grumble or say loving things about our partners, point out the beautiful sunrise or sunset, how hot or cold, or perfect the day is, wonder what's up with the asshole driver swerving at us or thanking the nice one who gave extra room, what bargain was found at Dillards/Target/Goodwill, was this or that book/movie/music worth the time.........I've missed being able to talk about the recent senseless death of another running acquaintance or that it was the 2 year anniversary of my mother's death on the second of this month. I didn't realize how much I'd come to rely on being able to hash things out with my girlfriends while running next to them.

social media and customer service

A curious exchange on twitter has led to this post, we all take to the interwebs to complain about and to corporations but how often do we receive service that is just as it should be and we never say anything about it? Here in the UK I've had multiple dealings with one particular shipping company that has rarely been good, ie not showing up multiple days in a row yet the site shows attempted deliveries when there has been someone here to answer the door.  Yes, I went on twitter and facebook to complain--in a polite but emphatic way but today's experience with a different company had me on the former to say thank you.

They send an email (or text if you choose) the day before saying that they will be delivering a package the next day and you can choose to re-schedule or have it left with a neighbor/neighbour.  Then the day of, you receive another notification of the hour window time of when they will be there. How brilliant is that???? The driver was here within 15 minutes of the time frame beginning.  Exceptional and handy!  So I then went on twitter and said thank you and within 1.5 hours received two tweets back from a disgruntled lady saying that I must be the only happy customer. Yes, from her experience she earned the right to complain and SHOULD do so. How else can a  business know when there is a failing if people don't do as much? But by the same token, if there is excellent service then kudos should be handed out as well. Can you imagine being in customer service and only getting "yelled" at all day?

A quick read-through of the woman's twitter feed who chose to include me in her complaint revealed a lot about her grasp of social media though. Basically she rarely interacts with anyone personally, using the service only to flog her business, and the majority of her posts are in ALL CAPS. Yes she "shouts" a lot, clearly she doesn't have a grasp of how to use what can be a powerful tool.  Her loss.

Ok, my rant is over :-)

07 January 2014

January club handicap run

Tonight was our monthly club handicap run and due to a dust and allergy induced sinus pressure headache (we're changing rooms for our office and main bedroom) I was expecting the end result to be less than stellar. I've pretty much been laid out on the couch the majority of the day stubbornly refusing to take anything for the pain, then when I capitulated it turned out that we had absolutely nothing in the house for allergy relief. Paracetamol did absolutely nothing to relieve the pressure but at least it made me drowsy enough to take a nap for a bit.

Anyway back to the run. It was miserable, it felt like the wind was at my face for the majority of the 3 miles pressing against the bridge of my nose and eyes just out of spite. Other than that, a car backing out of a drive in front of me, and a group of unruly hooligans that tried to plow directly into the runners, it went well :-). Per my garmin I managed to better my time from the December handicap run by at least 9 seconds but will have to wait for the official results on the club site.

In addition to having a better time, my legs are not sore so I'm definitely seeing results from the weight workouts already. My partner had mentioned the day before that I was looking skinnier and my jeans are fitting looser yet my weight has not changed so that's another good sign.  I might have undone that with the after run meal of fancy mac and cheese and chocolate cake though ;-)

Splits from tonight

Janathon Day 7: 3 mile run, .28 mile warmup slog, 100 bicycle crunches, and lots of foam rolling. I even managed to blog about it on the proper day, yay me!

UK versus US difference for today: Clarityn/Claritin. However it's spelled, it equals relief.