Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Last long weekend: Brittany

Image courtesy of Flickr from finofilka

Tomorrow, The Irishman and I are off to Brittany for a long weekend to celebrate the much-anticipated nuptuals of my friends Jon et Alix. A bunch of Americans are flying over, and we are taking advantage of Bank Holiday Monday to have a 4.5 day weekend. It's also The Irishman's birthday on Saturday so we have even more to celebrate. So here's to a sunny (okay, I'll settle for a rain-free) weekend to close out a wonderful summer so far. Hope all of you have an amazing Bank Holiday weekend as well! xx

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Irish Rugby Weekend

My latest sojourn in a string of weekends away was back to The Irishman's hometown of Dublin for a weekend of running (natch) and rugby. The new Aviva Stadium opened last year and The Irishman hasn't had a chance to go inside until now. Luckily for him, his dad is a senior member of the IRFU and so walking in the door there isn't exactly difficult for us. So we took advantage of the perk, something we rarely do, and flew over to see his parents and attend a pre-match lunch, the France v Ireland World Cup friendly match, and post-match drinks. You know, as you do. There is something slightly ridiculous about walking into a stadium to watch a sporting event in high heels, but nevermind – it was part of the fun. 

I actually really enjoyed the match, I think possibly because it was a nail biter and you can't really avoid getting swept up in the excitement when a full stadium roars around you. We were pretty close to the pitch and therefore nearly IN the action. I think it's much better when you can see the players' faces from your seat, but The Irishman said he would have preferred to be up higher to see more of the field. Whatever.

At the after match drinks reception, I took the opportunity to introduce myself to my favorite (re: crush) team member who gallantly agreed to a photo with me.

It's a crap picture because the boys were not too keen on actually taking the photo for me, but nonetheless I TOUCHED ROB KEARNEY. Enough said.

Post drinks, we headed into town for dinner and drinks with The Irishman's brother and cousins – with a quick detour to practice our scrums:

And, in addition to all of this excitement, we ran a half marathon route in 2:14:44s. Phew. Note to self: wearing heels for eight hours post run is NOT smart (despite pretty sexy).

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Lakes

So it's Friday, and a week since I told you I was going to The Lakes. Soz guys.

But! I went and it was great. The Lake District, as you might expect, has a lot of lakes in it, as well as a lot of hills. So our activities mostly included walking around little towns at the base of the hills and walking up the big hills, and looking at the lakes. The area is rather touristy, with the feel of a region whose main industries (slate quarrying, mining, wool/textile production) have given way to leisure pursuits and the people who visit for them. So the towns are full of touristy shops and tearooms, and B&Bs line the roads with lots of places to rent boats or go on adventure tours.

Also in the Lake District are the homes of famous people. So Wordsworth's family home is there, as is Beatrix Potter's home. We went to see the latter, and saw the garden that inspired her to write about Peter Rabbit, but didn't go into her home. It's a National Trust site and apparently so popular that you have to have a timed ticket! Here's some photos of her beautiful home though.

One of the regional specialities of the Lake District is something called Kendal mint cake. It seems like the Marmite of Cumbria in that everyone either loved it or hated it but insisted I try it. I went for the chocolate covered version (it also comes in white and brown sugar versions).

Basically, it's like a York Peppermint Patty but with a more granular filling rather than a creamy minty filling. People take it up the mountains for energy and endurance fuel. I wouldn't personally keep a stack of it in my cupboard, but it was interesting to try for sure.

And beyond that, we enjoyed some good food, good wine, and the company of some good friends. All in all, a lovely weekend.

Oh! And we also did our 12 mile run along the undulating main road. It was hard. But we did it. And then walked up a mountain the next day which possibly was not smart as I have been enduring some mighty shin splints. Note to self for next time.

The Lake District:
Virgin Trains run regularly to Oxenholme and you can transfer there to a mini-train that takes you up to Windermere (the largest of the lakes and a good base for exploring the region). There are tons of B&Bs in walking distance of the train station but to explore the area and see some of the further sites a hire car is advised. Weather is changeable, so pack for everything!

Friday, August 12, 2011

And, we're off!

Image courtesy of ThundaFunda
Tonight, The Irishman and I are on a 5:30 train up to the Lake District. We're visiting friends of his who live in Australia at their family's vacation home. I mentioned to a colleague that I was going to Mr Darcy's country (you know, where Elizabeth Bennett visit's Mr Darcy's estate after she realizes she loves him in Pride & Prejudice) but I was gently told that is, in fact, the Peak District. I actually have no idea where I'm going, but it's a 3 hour trip on Virgin Trains to Windermere so my iPad is loaded up with several copies of The New Yorker and episodes of The Killing to keep me entertained.

Given all of the craziness that's been taking place in London and the rest of the UK's urban centres, we're both really glad to be getting out of Dodge, as it were, and escaping to someplace more tranquil. However while we're up there, we are supposed to complete a 12 mile run. Eeps! I'll let you know how it goes, and share some of my own photos (they won't be this beautiful) when we get back Monday evening.

Hope you have a lovely weekend yourself, wherever you are, and if you're in a riot-affected area that you as well get a chance to finally truly relax.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Riots calming down

Image via Flickr courtesy of Spinneyhead

I didn't have much to add to the blogosphere on the subject of the riots after my initial post Tuesday morning, and since then London has calmed down considerably. The increase in police presence definitely helped me, personally, feel safer and more secure; though there over 3x more police on the streets each evening, stores and pubs are still boarded up. Tuesday night the police in Islington were from Cumbria; last night they were from Cleveland. On my way home from my run, we saw a bunch of Cleveland cops resting in their van and I thanked them for coming down to help us – they seemed genuinely pleased to be acknowledged.

Meanwhile, the violence has spread north to Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Leeds, Liverpool, and west to Bristol. I feel bad that some of their police are in London keeping the peace while the colleagues left at home are battling the riots in reduced numbers. But it's been made clear that police now have the authority to act against the rioters, rather than watch and contain the violence, and it seems to be making an impact.

No one knows when this senseless lawlessness will end; it's been raining now across the north for the last day and now raining in London which should help keep the criminal element indoors. The Irishman thinks we will have unrest of varying degrees for a few more weeks yet, even if the major rioting stops. What is worst about this situation for me is the heightened sense of suspicion I think all people are feeling. No longer am I apt to just dismiss the kids on bikes with hooded sweatshirts that I see on a daily basis – now, and for some time to come, I will wonder what they are up to and probably judge them. I don't want to be that person. I want to maintain my idealism and faith in humanity... problem is, I fear they're both already gone. Hopefully, I can somehow nurture their return.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots: civil unrest for three days (and counting)

Image from Flickr courtesy of Erik Hartberg

Today is cold and bright, with gorgeous sunshine, and a growing sense of unease. The world is now aware of what is going on in London: thousands of thugs are running the streets, crashing through shops, looting, stealing, committing random acts of violence and arson. It's been going on since Saturday, and it doesn't seem like it will stop any time soon.

It all started as a peaceful demonstration in Tottenham on Saturday to protest the death of a young man who was killed by the London police. It was a peaceful demonstration until a criminal element used it as an excuse to start throwing bottles and petrol bombs at police and ultimately smashing into stores, looting them, and then setting them on fire. It continued Sunday evening, then yesterday evening, spreading from North London throughout the capital and now across the country. Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham are all experiencing gangs rioting in the streets (if you're interested in seeing just where the violence has occurred, here's a helpful/grim map).

Each night I've gone to bed with the sounds sirens racing down the street and helicopters circling overhead. Though the violence is largely far from me, tucked up in safe, bourgeois Islington, I keep expecting to hear glass shattering, shouts, and aggression. Last night we had our first incident, a bike shop that The Irishman and I know and love was broken into and looted. I've never been so happy to live above the ground floor, and I've never been so quite afraid to leave my house. I spoke to some colleagues this morning who cycle to work and we all agreed that the ride home last night felt dangerous – there was something in the air that just wasn't right. The atmosphere was threatening.

What struck me last night while I watched hours of coverage of the flames and fear was that nearly all of the places targeted were places The Irishman and I considered moving to just a few weeks ago: Hackney, Peckham, Brixton, even Clapham suffered at the hands of merciless people out to get revenge for something. Many are saying its due to frustration at a lack of economic opportunity; many others are saying it's race; many others are saying it was simply a criminal mindset taking over. Despite the causes of all the violence, what made me well up with tears was the realization that the people who are and will continue to suffer are the hardworking innocent people trying to build a life in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Watching people jump out of burning buildings, watching fires spread from shops to homes, watching grown men and women in anguish over their lives in ruin made me shake with anger. The lack of respect these rioters have not only for the police but for the people in their communities is so appalling that it defies logic.

I do also feel for the police. They haven't had a good time of it over the last couple of years, between the G20 protests when a man was hit by a riot policeman and died from his injuries to the student protests earlier this year during which Prince Charles's motorcade was attacked. But they are damned if they do, and damned if they don't. At the moment, citizens are outraged that the police aren't doing more to protect them; however if the police were to go in heavy-handed, there would be hell to pay for their brutality. The fact is that they are underresourced, budget cuts are looming, and I don't envy them having to stand up to kids with knives. According to the BBC, there were 5,000 police on the streets last night; tonight there will be 16,000. But the increase in security doesn't replace the millions of pounds worth of stolen goods, repair the damage to property, or restore the confidence of the public.

There is some hope, though. A North London artist quickly organized Riot Cleanup last night for people to take back control of the high streets across the capital. Currently trending on Twitter is #riotcleanup, #PrayforLondon as residents of the city stand up for their neighborhoods and their city. But it's easy to be brave and confident in the daylight; what happens when dusk falls again tonight will bely the truth of the situation. Hopefully, Boris, Dave, Theresa, and Ed returning from their summer holidays will help get a handle on this situation, and we can all start rebuilding the London we know and love.

Thanks to everyone who has expressed their concern for me and The Irishman on Facebook, Twitter, and email. We're okay, and we'll let you know ASAP if that changes.

Monday, August 8, 2011


Hi all! Please be patient with me as I make some big changes to Bloody Brilliant. If you visit my actual page, you'll see a new look and soon some new sub-pages. I'll also be making a few shifts in the type of posts I'll be writing. It's all very exciting for me, so stay tuned!

Blitz London

Image via Blitz London's Facebook page - I hope you guys don't mind, I was too overwhelmed to take my own shots!

Saturday was supposed to be my day outside, in the sun, loving the weather and reading my book; I'm currently in the middle of The Shadow of the Wind, which took me a little while to get into but I'm now 100 pages from the end and can't tear myself away. I couldn't wait to take my book and my blanket to the park and bask in the sun and the end of the novel. Instead, Saturday was changeable at best, chilly and cloudy with intermittent bursts of sun and showers. So how did I spend my time? I called up my friend Maya and we met in Brick Lane to make our first visits to East London's newest – and best – vintage temple. 

Blitz London is by far one of the most enjoyable vintage experiences I've ever had. Calling itself a Vintage Department Store and housed in an old warehouse, it boasts spacious rooms, high ceilings, artful displays and QUALITY CLOTHES. Nothing is falling apart, everything is clean and EVERYTHING passes the sniff test. There is nothing worst than having a fabulous vintage find that reeks of old despite many washes. We found Vivienne Westwood, Comme des Garçons, Yoshi Yamamoto, an entire vitrine of 90s Swatch watches (Maya swears they had one she rocked for several years), racks of Converse, and tons of great furniture and home decor. Maya snagged a late 50s silk dress suit with a velvet collar (hello, Joan) and I picked up a brilliant blue mid-century wool blanket probably from the French Navy, with an anchor woven into each corner. I was trying to be good otherwise I'd have probably bought about 25 more things.

Blitz will soon have a coffee shop inside as well, and has an excellent selection of bargain paperbacks. Perfect place to escape the hubbub of Brick Lane for a browse and a brew. I will definitely be taking my next book obsession there - and my credit card. Read more about Blitz here, here, and here.

55-59 Hanbury Street, E1 5JP 
020 7377 0730

Friday, August 5, 2011

Thoughts of Angel

Image courtesy of Thoughts of Angel

If any of you spend time in Angel, Islington – or at least use the tube station – you may have seen the witty, often ridiculous words of wisdom that someone in the station writes on the updates board inside the vestibule. Well, The Irishman found out that those clever TFL employees now chronicle their sayings on a blog called Thoughts of Angel. Now, even those of you who never quite make it up to Islington can have a daily chuckle courtesy of Angel tube station staff.

Happy Friday, everyone! Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Thoughts on marathon training - 1/3rd of the way through

Image courtesy of Flickr, by Daniele Sartori 

Six weeks into my Hal Higdon marathon training schedule and I'm finding my life slowly consumed by either the actual ACT of running or the planning for the act of running. So I thought I'd give you my initial thoughts on the pros and cons of training for completing a 26.2 mile race, in case you ever thought you'd want to give it a go yourself.


1. My arms look amazing.
You'd think running was all about the legs but you'd be wrong. A lot of it is upper body, and your arms help propel you forward as you lag in energy. As a result, my arms are nearly as toned as when I was religiously practicing yoga x2 a week.

2. My abs are starting to look amazing.
See above, same thing - your core holds you up and you naturally tone your abs as you run, stabilizing your body and linking the top and bottom. But it's slower than the arms so I'm hoping I see more soon!

3. All of the cellulite I never admitted to having is gone.
No joke. The backs of my thighs are smooth and sleek all the way up to my bum. Now I don't have to admit it to myself at all, at least until post marathon when I stop running and the cottage cheese returns.

4. I have so much more energy.
I am much more alert at work these days, and no longer have sluggish slumps. And if I manage to drag myself out of bed to run before work, the energy levels are even higher. I may need to just permanently become a morning running person (... or not).

5. I am hungry all of the time.
As a foodie, there is nothing worse than not being hungry. Or feeling so full you might burst. Or, the worst situation, having to decline something delicious to fit into a dress (corollary: eat lots of delicious things and then NOT fit into a dress). Anyway, when you run 4x a week, you need to eat. A lot. I've noticed that if I eat just a salad for lunch, my run that evening will be harder than if I eat meat. I find I wake up ravenous. Don't get me wrong, cake does not help - nor do you lose weight if you keep on the desserts (I still have a little roll because I refuse to cut out ice cream) but running a lot really forces you into shifting your eating to fueling.


1. My feet are disgusting.
For real. Peeling, blisters, callouses... apparently, your feet build up callouses to protect fragile skin, so I shouldn't even get a pedicure because it will expose sensitive skin to trauma. I am going to treat myself to one in a few weeks, before I go to France for my friend's wedding, and then no more until post-race.

2. I sweat more.
It's a fact that the better your fitness level, the more readily you sweat. So the more I run, the more quickly my body starts sweating when I'm warm. So this past week when temperatures were around 30°C (86ish in F), I was sweaty all of the time. Ew.

3. We do a lot more clothes washes.

I only have 1 sports bra, and only a handful of running tops and shorts. And because of #2, they start to smell pretty quickly. So we have to wash them nearly every day, which means our washing machine is constantly running. This must be what it is like to have a child.

4. My skin is not so great.
#2 also means my face is sweaty a lot and i noticed I am getting a lot more little breakouts. My clay mask of choice isn't up to the job, I fear, and so I think I might have to look into something a bit stronger. Until then, I'm reminded of my 13 year old self.

5. Training is boring.
This is probably the worst. When you run 4 times a week, your 3 days off (and as Hal says, it's not 3 days off because 1 of those days is cross training so really you only have 2 days of rest) are spent enjoying not running. But you can't drink too much because you're always about to go running again. So Friday nights are dry, because first thing Saturday you're up and running your long run. Evening drinks during the week aren't much better because even short distances are hampered if you've had a few pints. And everyone knows that going to the pub and not drinking is lame. If you do, you end up talking about running the whole time. Boring. So I've become that person who is holier than thou and doesn't go out. It's really miserable when the days are long and nights are warm and all you want to do is sit in the garden of a pub and drink rosé. Sigh. We have a lot of plans on the weekends throughout August, traveling and seeing friends, and then September and October will be hibernating/running/detox months. Boring.

So there you go. Now you know the benefits and risks of taking the marathon plunge. I'll let you know if there are any new ones when I'm 2/3rds of the way through around the middle of September.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Spotted: Apt aft

Lunchtime on Regent's Canal, across from the Ice Wharf
August 3, 2011

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My 7 Links

Eeps! Over a week ago, Ashley from A Hope, Skip & Jump Over the Pond tagged me in a little web trend that is probably over (this is so me, I jump on the train as it's pretty much come to a halt). Started by Tripbase, the whole point is to review the body of posts on your blog and republish 7 links buried in the archives of your blog so that new readers can find them (and you, blogger, can celebrate them). Then you get to tag some of your other travel bloggers and get them to do it too.

So without further ado or delaying on my part, here are my 7 links to posts I think were pretty darn great. I've sought out the original topics, out of curiosity for how this whole meme started.

1. The post where I almost died: Swimming in the Irish Sea

Physically or metaphorically? I chose physically but I'm sure I had a few mental breakdown posts along the way. Anyway, swimming in the Irish Sea on Christmas Day last year was one of the more ridiculous, and death defying, things I've ever done. SHEESH. I shiver just thinking about it.

2. The post where I accidentally ran a marathon: TBD.

Oh wait. I am running a marathon. So this round up is missing a post that I will write on November 1st, after I run my first 26.2 mile race. Until then, you can reminisce about my half marathon last year.

3. The “live in the moment” post: This is Hard

This is an oldie but goodie, my third ever post, written as I packed up my bedroom in Brooklyn and tried to get myself through the overwhelming doubt and sadness that hit me. I think it's one of my best ever posts, frankly.

4. The post I really enjoyed writing: My 30th Birthday

I didn't think I would enjoy it, but I did. I loved turning 30. It was a great weekend, full of great people and great times and great food and therefore it was perfect. It wasn't what I thought it would be when I turned 25 (or even when I turned 29) but in the end, the day was exactly what I wanted and I loved sharing it with you all.

5. The fabulous food post: The Fat Duck.

I had so many choices here - besides The Fat Duck, there was Chateaubriand, The Sportsman, pinxtos in San Sebastian, Mercado San Miguel in Madrid, all of the glorious meals in Italy and all of our other travels. But at the end of the day, The Fat Duck wins because it was a special event, our second anniversary and such a treat. I highly recommend that anyone who is a foodie go there IMMEDIATELY.

6. The post where I found my voice: Bridges in Japan

A year and a bit into my life in the UK, a young colleague of mine quit her job to move to Japan and teach English for a year (that's us earlier this year with our friend Sarah's baby). I wrote her a little ode about what to expect from her life abroad. Upon re-reading it, I think it's all still true and relevant to a person living abroad for 3+ years.

To be honest though? I still haven't found my voice. I think this may be an on-going project.

7. The “vacation I wish I was still on” post(s): Cro-Italy (Dubrovnik, Korcula, Hvar, Bologna, Florence, Lucca)

Hands down, best vacation: 2 weeks of sun and eating. In fact, I'd just do Croatia again, but definitely on a boat. Our vacation was planned around the ferry schedules, so we took boats everywhere but next time I'd love to rent a boat and lazily sail from island to cove to town. The Irishman chided me for our travel plans this year; when I moved jobs, I didn't negotiate very well (kicking myself still) and wound up with only 16.5 days of holiday. So we are only doing long weekends this year, which really blows. It just means that next year we can look forward to a 2 or 3 weeks of relaxation.

Tradition has it that I'm supposed to tag 7 more people, but because I'm joining this party so late I'm not going to... everyone I would have tagged has already done this post! If you want to be tagged, or think I should tag someone, let me know.