Doing touristy things in Paris and listening to some Thin Set Jazz

This is installment #4 of our London/Paris trip. Here are parts #1#2, & #3.

I would also like to apologize in advance for not putting accent markers where they belong (or at all). I am too lazy.

Ah. My first morning in Paris.

Our apartment was just around the corner from a dozen adorable cafes so the perfect thing would have been for us to wake up, cascade down the cool wooden spiral staircase in our apartment building, skip out onto the cobblestone street (taking in the spring morning air) and grab a seat at the first cafe we see, and order a big puffy croissant and cafe creme.

Instead, I heated up some water in the kitchen and poured it into my Starbucks Via powder. Stirred. Drank. Opened fridge, pulled out a whey protein milk shake (bought at Costco) and downed that. Ready to go.

How’s that for classy?


The goal for the day was to walk until we could walk no more so I wanted to be energized from the start. My next trip to Paris will be about slowing down. Now that I’ve seen all of the city I’d be happy to spend 80% of my time just puttering around Le Marais. Ah. Next time.

And walk we did. We headed south from our apartment directly towards the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame, then over to the Latin Quarter across the river. Our first goal was to pick up a Paris Street Guide By District. I recommend getting one before you arrive. It was extremely helpful and we couldn’t have gotten around without it. Once we picked up our guide we stopped at Starbucks for an Americano. Yep. We did that. And we walked around the Latin Quarter with our Starbucks in hand. Hey, if Parisians don’t like the idea of coffee to go then they should not allow one million Starbucks in their city. Just saying.

After fetching some Euros from an ATM, goal #1 was to find a little bakery on a tiny, windy road just a few blocks off the river called Patisserie Sud Tunisien. After a few wrong turns we finally found it. I expected it to be bigger. It was really just a small, boxy space and two foreign men stood inside. I’d heard that their Tunisian sandwiches were delish so that’s what we were there for but they had some pretty amazing looking pastries in the window. I asked one of the men if he spoke English.  He said a little. I held up 2 fingers, my forefinger and middle finger (apparently the wrong 2 fingers) and said “2 sandwiches please.” He gestured to the other man and the other man started making the sandwiches. Then to me he said, “8.” I handed him a bill and he returned some coins. The sandwiches were ready almost immediately and we thanked them and headed out. That went fairly well, I’d say!

Out on the street we tried to figure out how to eat our sandwiches. They were big, messy looking, and bready. Not really something that seemed okay to eat while walking around. (Actually, it turns out that while Parisians don’t do coffee to go they are often seen eating baguette sandwiches on the go; this sandwich was a bit similar than a baguette sandwich so it would have been totally appropriate, albeit messy, to eat it as we walked.)  In the end, we found a spot on a bridge along the Seine to consume this lovely (and very bready) sandwich. This thing had spicy sauce and tuna in it. And whole olives. And a WHOLE BOILED EGG. Amazing!

After consuming good food we were ready for some serious walking. We headed towards Luxembourg Gardens, passing from a distance (without really seeing) Shakespeare and Company, Sorbonne, Musee de Cluny, and The Pantheon (which was under renovation and covered with a shroud).

Luxembourg Gardens was, um, how do I say this? Underwhelming? Maybe because it was a kind of cold day there weren’t many people there. And beyond the central fountain, heading west through empty picnic areas, it was a little depressing. That was also where we encountered our first gypsy children. Their trick is to ask you if you speak English and if you say yes, they ask you to sign a petition. While signing this fake petition, they’ll try to pickpocket you while you’re distracted. My trick was to immediately tell them “No!” and shoo them away when they asked me if I spoke English. It worked every time. I’m actually surprised anyone would fall for it but apparently it happens all the time. Anyway, I’ll give Luxembourg Gardens another try and spend more time exploring there when I return. It was really just poor timing and me being in a rush, I’m sure.

We continued heading in the general direction of the Eiffel Tower (which we got our first glimpse of at Luxembourg Gardens). After a quick downpour in the relatively quiet 7th Arrondissement, we came upon Les Invalides and the Musee de l’Armee. We went into the museum and considered paying for admission but then changed our minds because later in the week we planned to buy a museum pass. It didn’t make much sense to spend extra money on an unplanned museum when we could instead spend it on wine and beer. See how we think? That is how we do.

We arrived at the Champ de Mars and I texted The Boy to tell him where to meet us (he had class in the morning but said he’d meet us later near the Eiffel Tower since his apartment which was just across the river in the 16th). More gypsies and many more tourists. Ugly tourists, oh my. I am way too self conscious to travel, I’ve decided. I want to look completely like a local and I try so hard that I end up not really enjoying myself and seeing things. I need to find a happy medium. The Boy found us and we headed to the Eiffel Tower admission line. We planned on climbing the stairs and the line for that entrance (the Pilier Sud entrance) was much shorter than the line for the elevator but still took us about 30 minutes to go through. After going through security we headed up. It was kind of fun to look at the structure up close like that. I’d been reading about the construction of the tower in the book Eiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument and the Extraordinary World’s Fair That Introduced It and I couldn’t help but imagine the men up their manually pounding in the rivets and looking back down at the Champs de Mars and picturing the World’s Fair going on down below with Thomas Edison’s popular phonograph recording exhibit packed with people eager to hear the sound of their own voices. I highly recommend putting the book and your first visit to the Eiffel Tower together. Fun!

We didn’t climb to the top but to the 2nd level (I don’t even know if you can climb to the top). From the 2nd level you can see all of the city and it’s really remarkable. We stayed a bit and took some photos, then headed down.

The Boy took us across the river so that we could see his Chambre de Bonne and grab a few things to bring back to our apartment (laundry, mainly, since his local laundromat was temporarily closed). Originally, The Boy wasn’t going to stay with us in our apartment but due to the laundromat situation and his room’s fridge having died while he was away it was the sensible thing to do. After a quick tour (the building he lived in was very nice with a private courtyard and an amazing backyard view of the Eiffel Tower; his room faced the opposite direction from the tower, unfortunately, but still he had peek-a-boo views of quaint apartment balconies and rooftops), The Boy escorted us to the Passy subway stop and we made our way back towards Le Marais. That is where we got to witness our first packed subway. It’s interesting to see how people deal with being packed in tightly on mass transit. In Taiwan they really packed themselves in and no one really seemed to show any expression about the situation. In Paris, they were equally packed in but the attitude was a bit different. People paid just enough attention to each other to move a bit as needed, offer a seat if necessary (and if possible to move) etc. It was pleasant chaos. Also, sweaty. I couldn’t wait to get off.

Once back in Le Marais I was anxious to go “home.” I used to think of myself as super adventurous but I need a mixture of excitement and routine these days. Before heading to our apartment we stopped at the local grocery store (thank god it was opened on a Monday) to picked up dinner-y things and wine. I really came to love that stupid little market during our week in Paris. It was just a mini-Monoprix (called Monop’). To The Boy’s delight they stocked Dr. Pepper (the Monoprix in the 16th where he normally shopped didn’t). My exciting purchases included duck liver pate, smoked meats, soft French cheese, mini baguettes, bottles of Bordeaux, tabouli salad, salmon lox, blinis, etc. Yum! And crazily affordable (in particular, the wine and cheese was way cheaper than I was used to).

Upon returning to the apartment, I slipped off my walking shoes, made myself a huge plate of yum, poured a big glass of red wine and we all watched Elf in French (because it was there) followed by more wine and listening to TSF Jazz*.

*Give TSF Jazz an “écouter” and tell me you don’t hear the lady between songs say “Thin Set Jazz” rather than TSF Jazz.

Next up: A romantic walk along the banks of the Seine (with accordion music even!) plus “Project Get Good Beer” continues and a visit to a cool old train station. Bonus: A mom cooks hot food for The Boy. This makes mom and boy happy.


Arriving in Paris

This is installment #3 of our London/Paris trip. Here are parts #1 & #2.

As I mentioned in my trip planning post, I’d purchased Eurostar tickets to get us to Paris from London. The train was scheduled to depart at 11:30am so I wanted to be sure to check out of our hotel no later than 10am. Robert and I rose early-ish and fetched breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was a very nice spread of hot food (including more delicious black pudding!)

After breakfast and hotel checkout we stopped at the market in Paddington station to pickup picnic food to eat on our train ride. My plan was to get cheese, sausage, various other tapas, and wine. I started loading items in my basket when an employee approached me to inform me that the town of Paddington does not allow the purchase of alcoholic beverages before 10am on a Sunday. Oh. La-ti-da. Like I’m in Utah or something. Okay. I purchased the other items and crossed my fingers that I could pick up a bottle of wine at St Pancras station.

I’d researched ahead of time info on getting to St Pancras station from Paddington. It was a 2 step process but didn’t sound complicated. 1) take the Circle line to King Cross (usually 10-15 minutes) 2) walk 5 minutes to St Pancras.

What really happened:

Approaching the circle line we were directed toward the “H&C platform.” Signage was vague but apparently train 1 would take us to St Pancras. Train 2 would take us to some god awful Mordor place so by all means, do not take! Also, the trains didn’t appear to be marked. Also, announcements kept coming through the nearly indecipherable PA about a line being closed and for passengers to walk to a bus. A train was there when we arrived at platform 1, however I was too panicked to get on it so we just stood there and let it pass through. It turns out that was our train.

So we waited. For quite a while! I kept questioning whether or not we were even in the right place. I tried to relax. Nope. My heart rate was at VO2max! This would have been a good time to just ask for help from someone else standing there, right? No. Too chicken.

The next train finally came and we were fairly sure it was the correct train so we crossed ourselves and stepped on. After only a few stops we were directed to make a change in order to get to St Pancras. Robert appeared cool and collected as usual. Sid, also. Me? Eyes bulging. We followed the pack of people who casually hopped off the train and headed up the stairs. They all immediately got on another train that was about to leave. We shuffled on as well. I looked around quickly having no idea what train we are on. I yelled, “Let’s get off!” So we got off.

And, yes. It WAS the correct train. *sigh*

At this point I told Robert that he was now in charge. We caught the next train and arrived safely and with plenty of time to fetch a precious bottle of wine and to go through security at St Pancras and get to our seats on the train.

I expected our Eurostar trip to be really cool but it really wasn’t. The train speeds up pretty quickly and goes through a series of short tunnels as it makes its way towards the English Channel. As the train exited each tunnel our ears popped. Looking around, everyone was grabbing their ears. It was a little unsettling and slightly painful! I set up our “picnic” a short time after we departed. Wine for each of us plus some delicious Jamon Iberico that The Boy had brought with him from Spain (he says he purchased it in a vending machine at the train station!), salami, crackers, manchego cheese (hm, not a very English picnic), mangos, and a few other various items. The family adjacent to us had obviously planned poorly because they didn’t have anything and kept staring at our spread enviously. Eventually the father got up (it was a family consisting of mom, dad, and 2 younger daughters) and returned with cheap mini bottles of wine for him and his wife. I was really digging that The Boy was able to share some wine with us. Oh, I also got a few bottles of beer for Robert when I picked up the wine. He continued to be underwhelmed by the beer available in the UK (but drank them nonetheless).

Eventually we were in the dark and we knew we were in the Channel Tunnel. No announcement or anything. 20 minutes later we popped out. We were in France!!! The countryside looked very French. (Oh, who am I kidding. The English countryside looked exactly the same.)

Quicker than I expected we were pulling into Gare du Nord station in Paris. This is where The Boy kicked into gear. We grabbed our bags and he motioned that we should follow him. He zipped off the train and easily made his way to the subway area (he still walks fast like a New Yorker; ridiculous). We dashed after him and he brought us to a ticket machine where we each bought 10 subway tickets (by now Robert had learned that he should leave his card IN THE MACHINE until the transaction was complete instead of immediately pulling it out like he accidentally did at Heathrow about 8 million times).

We approached our first Paris subway train. The doors were open and an alarm was beeping. The Boy told us to get on. “Get on fast! The alarm means the doors are closing and you’re not supposed to get on!!! So get on!” We got on. I later read an article about how a few subway lines in Paris are driverless and tourists have been crushed in their doors. Thanks Boy!!!

Little did I know that this would be our one and only uncrowded subway ride in Paris. Our stop was Les Halles, just a few short blocks from our apartment. There are stop announcements on the subway. A man’s recorded voice first says, “Les Halles?” as if asking if you would like to get off at Les Halles and then train arrives he says “Les Halles” as if to say “here we are!” Oh, just listen to it. For some reason the announcements continued to amuse us the entire trip.

Les Halles was originally a market and was later turned into an underground mall. It is now undergoing renovations to pretty it up and there was construction everywhere. However, I didn’t really pay much attention to the station itself. It was what I saw as we came out onto street level. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly but it definitely wasn’t The Church of Saint-Eustache towering over my head. There she was, like a miniature Nortre Dame, right freaking in front of me. Welcome to Paris! Wow!

We again had to dash after The Boy who didn’t seem to take much notice to the wonderment around him. He later said it was really cool and he was a bit jealous that his chambre de bonne was in such a drab neighborhood (the 16th). We made our way towards the 3rd arrondissement, passing Rue Saint-Denis (without seeing a single prostitute) and Boulevard de Sebastapol. Honestly, at the time I didn’t even notice these streets. I was trying to open my notes on my phone so I could get the code to buzz up to the apartment (the manager was at the apartment waiting to let us in). One block from Sebastapol was Rue Quincampoix a pedestrian-only street with a rich and interesting history. Also, the location of our apartment.

As we approached the big black doors I tried again and again to get my notes to pull up to no avail. Shit!!! My phone was not getting data and Evernote (my note app) required internet to open notes for some stupid reason. I could not believe it. I had a huge temper tantrum. Fortunately, I had the phone # of our contact in the first line of my notes and that appeared without internet so I had Robert call her on his phone. Thank God that worked. She answered and immediately came down to let us in. How many times had I had a panic attack so far that day? I began to wonder if traveling just wasn’t worth it. How did I ever manage to live in Asia all those years ago?

After a quick intro regarding the apartment and handing off the keys, the manager left and we were on our own. Our apartment was very cool and fairly large. I loved it! (The only thing I didn’t love was the single wifi connection we had available and one had to be about 4 feet from the wifi router to get that connection). The Boy took off to get settled back in his room after his long trip to Spain and to get a little homework done. I peeked out our window and could see the busy cross-street, Rue Rambuteau, packed with people, enjoying their Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get out there.

Our first stop was a little beer shop in Le Marais called La Moustache Blanche. I had about 6 beer places I wanted to check out while we were there and this was not only not far from our apartment but opened on Sunday (the other beer shop was actually on our street but not opened until Tuesday). We meandered through the tiny streets of Le Marais (and at one point I though we’d stumbled upon Place des Vosges but it seemed so tiny and then I eventually realized it was the Archives Nationales. D’oh!). Robert was very excited to find a lot of very nice beers there and the owner was really helpful with selections. None of the beer is refrigerated and it definitely reminded me more of a wine shop than a beer shop. My favorite tips from the owner regarding the beers we purchased were “this is a strong beer and should be drunk with friends” and “this should be opened VERY SLOWLY, be very careful”. The 1st one was unnecessary since Robert can hold his own with strong beer and the 2nd tip ended up being REALLY IMPORTANT!

We lugged our box of several bottles of beer back to the apartment (with a pass through the REAL Place des Vosges) and sat down to plan out the rest of our evening. I was getting pretty hungry and since I didn’t know of anything particular opened on Sunday in our area I picked the sure thing. That sure thing was La Fine Mousse. It was a bit of a walk to get there (I believe it was in the 11th arrondissement, just a few blocks from the Pere Lachaise Cemetery) but completely worth it. It was REALLY crowded and we wedged ourselves into a spot at the bar. I was getting panicky (again!) about how to order things so when the bartender approached I blurted out “Do you speak English?!!!” He smiled and said, “of course.” Phew!

You’d think at that point I’d calm down but I never really did. The entire time we were in Paris I was nervous about sounding and looking like an idiot.

So that night we drank amazing sour beers, eventually found ourselves a seat, and ate a delicious tray of cheese, cured meats, pate, rillettes, pickled onions, and baguette.

On our walk back the apartment I picked up a bottle of Bordeaux in a wine shop and was approached on the street by a stranger who asked me in French for directions. My response, “Je ne parles Francais.” So I got it a little bit wrong but I did it (and hey, she thought I was French!!!!)

Next up: Tunisian sandwiches on The Seine, Luxembourg Gardens, and La Tour Eiffel. Plus Elf in French!




Seattle RocknRoll 2014 Recap

Good grief. I am really complainy and full of whiney excuses in this post. Here we go!!

I woke before my 5:15am alarm, completely awake and ready to rocknroll. I made myself a cup of coffee and forced down a bagel w/ pb&j and banana. I was SO NOT hungry but knew I needed it. I was ready to head out the door by 6am but Robert was running a little slow. Marathon dude has to tape his nipples, apply Body Glide in all the proper areas, etc.

We parked on the top of Queen Anne hill just like last year (before Robert’s half marathon) but I think we must have arrived later this time because we had a difficult time finding a spot. In the end we found a perfect spot on Ward & 4th (up a steep set of stairs which we weren’t so sure we would make it back up after the race but we’d worry about that later) with 20 minutes to spare. It was a gorgeous day. Not a cloud in the sky but not hot either.

The plan was to drop off our bag and to say our good-byes so that Robert could get in corral 4 and I could use the port-a-potty. Everything went as planned except that I had no idea it would take over 30 minutes to use the stupid port-a-potty. I didn’t really have to go THAT BAD but I didn’t want it to be an issue. I kept looking at my watch as I stood in line. Before I knew it 7am came and went. I knew Robert had already started his race. Tick tock, tick tock. 7:15. 7:20. Eventually half the port-a-potties ran out of toilet paper and only the men would use those. I finally got to the front of my line and looked back to see only about 5 people behind me. Everyone had cleared out. It was 7:30 by then and my corral had already taken off. I wasn’t super concerned but in hindsight I wish I’d just skipped the potty all together and taken off on time.

I made my way into what I thought was the next corral to go, corral 24. Looking around I saw a lot of bibs with higher numbers in the 30s and even 40s. There didn’t appear to be anyone monitoring corral assignments, and again, in hindsight, that should have worried me. In any case, I realized that I was way too far back. Last year the start line seemed like it was right around the EMP but this time it was further south so I popped out of corral 24 and headed up to corral 23. Again, lots of 30s and 40s on bibs. Grrrr!!

I popped in my headphones as they started the countdown and in a panic hit “shuffle songs”on my ipod instead of picking my carefully crafted “seattle rnr playlist.” D’oh! And we were off. I decided to start off at a 9:50 pace to see how I felt and I felt fine but I also felt like everyone around me intended to run much more slowly and I had to weave in and out of people for the first 6 miles! Just as I’d get around one group of speed walkers I’d run into a couple holding hands walking. I was SUPER irritated.

Anywho, physically, I was feeling good. My pace was on track (I actually pulled off an 8:52 on mile 2 as we careened steadily downhill; maybe that was stupid). I took quick breaks at each water station to carefully drink Gatorade Endurance without spilling it all over myself and downed a Gu at mile 5.

1 mi: 09:52
2 mi: 08:52
3 mi: 10:11
4 mi: 09:50
5 mi: 09:52
6 mi: 10:06

I had misremembered that I’d need only run faster than 10:18 min/mi to beat my PR. It turns out that was way off and I should have been shooting for 10:05 or faster. Dang it!

For whatever reason, I started to slow down. I didn’t really feel tired but I also didn’t feel like pushing it. I guess I figured I had it in the bag and as long as I got a PR, even if by just a minute or two, I would be happy. Along Lake Washington the course narrowed and I found myself having an even more difficult time getting through people. I have no idea why because it’s not like I’m a faster runner now, but I don’t recall having to pass so many people in my previous two RnR events. At the start of mile 9 all the runners are funneled into a narrow, super steep path that leads into the I-90 tunnel. What a clusterf***! I was ready to dash up it but it was completely impossible. There was no way to get around anyone. Once we got in the tunnel my Garmin lost its satellite connection and I was on my own. I continued to pass people in the tunnels and really felt like I was keeping a decent pace but I really had no idea. I took another Gu (salted watermelon) mid-tunnel and saw the lead marathoner pass me to the right. He made us all look like sloths.

Coming out of the tunnel my Garmin kicked in again but I decided not to look at it anymore because I didn’t know how accurate my stats would be with the connection loss. During the 2011 half I started having issues with my Morton’s Neuroma in the tunnel and this time it hit right as we exited the tunnel. I haven’t had any issues with my foot during my Sunriver halfs or my Portland half (or the 14 miler I did a few weeks ago) so I kind of wonder if there’s something that triggers it in the tunnel. I don’t know. Anyway, ouch. For a mile I tried to not think about the shocking sensation, knowing that eventually it’d turn into a general ache (much better than the electric shocks). The thing is, I hate it. And when it finally dissipated I was very relieved only to discover that I was getting a side stitch at mile 11. Hey, this is just like a repeat of my 2011 half! The only thing missing would be a calf cramp at mile 12! Woo-hoo!

Mile 12 was actually one of my favorites. The view from the top of the Alaska Way viaduct was amazing. The big wheel and a cruise ship plus beautiful Elliot Bay and the Olympics beyond was really breathtaking.

I’m happy to say that I never got a calf cramp. I did, however, finally check my Garmin and was horrified to see that coming towards the end of mile 13, my running time was 2 hours 12 minutes. What? How could this be? I was sure I was at 2:07 at the most. So much for getting a 2:10. I kind of knew at that point there was no way I could PR. Especially since there was one last brutal hill to endure.  I tried to mentally will myself to finish super strong but it was a failed effort. This is the first half I’ve done where I didn’t feel like speeding up at the end. I guess it could be that last hill. What a beast!

Screen Shot 2014-06-25 at 11.01.08 AM

7 mi: 10:08
8 mi: 10:10
9 mi: 12:08 (this was in the tunnel and I’m sure I didn’t run this slow…or did I?)
10 mi: 10:02
11 mi: 10:21
12 mi: 10:28
13 mi: 10:08
13.3 mi: 2:41 (9:54 min/mi)

That’s the most weaving I’ve done in a half, I think. I’m not sure I want to do another RnR event if it’s going to be so full of corral cheaters. Better yet, I’m putting myself in corral 6 next time!

Blah, blah, blah. Whine, whine, whine.

Meanwhile, Robert ran a 3:26 marathon. He missed qualifying for Boston by just over a minute!!! So fast!

Wyatt, Stacey, and their little girls Q and K, along with The Dot and The Boy cheered us on at the finish line. Afterward, we hung out on the lawn at the Seattle Center and listened to The Presidents of the United States of America and Sir Mix-a-lot. And Robert and I enjoyed a free Michelob Ultra beer (sponsors of the race and so hilarious in a beer snob city like Seattle). It tasted like water, if you’re curious.

We climbed up the steps to the car with very little effort and by evening were fully rested, hanging out with our friends on their boat celebrating the Solstice, and talking about training for new races (me: Sunriver labor day weekend, Robert: Portland marathon in October).

And here’s my music fail (which ended up turning out okay with only a few clunkers):

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Half marathon tomorrow morning! final checklist of to-dos:

  • make a running playlist and charge my ipod – CHECK
  • charge my Garmin – CHECK
  • get a new pair of thorlo experia socks in Maui mango – CHECK!
  • go to expo – CHECK
  • eat more carbs – CHECK (my last 3 dinners: baked potatoes, spaghetti, cheese pizza)
  • ease back on the booze – CHECK (I haven’t had wine since Tuesday. Pout.)
  • lay out running gear – CHECK
  • stick timing chip on shoe – CHECK
  • pin on bib – CHECK
  • shave legs – YIKES!
  • drink loads of water –  IN PROGRESS
  • 5:30am wake-up – UGH
  • caffeinate – OBVIOUSLY
  • eat (bagel w/ bp&j & banana + glass of gatorade)
  • 6:10am departure (find parking, check bag, say good-bye to Robert (marathon dude is in corral 4), get in line at the port-a-potty, jog over to corral 18)
  • GO!

20 miles in London

With only one full day in London, the smart thing would have been to wake as early as possible and hit the road but we all slept in. Robert and I had a long run on the agenda but I wasn’t wanting to head out without catching up a little on sleep (and to sleep off all that beer). I think Robert and I finally headed out around 10am (just late enough that we missed breakfast in the hotel). We walked to Hyde Park (this time, finding our way was a cinch). When we arrived at the park we both headed off in the same direction but at different paces (buh-bye speedy Robert). I settled in for my slow run.

Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined are about 4 miles around and I was hoping to get in 7 miles. There are paths leading in all directions but I planned on sticking to the outermost paths. I’m sure I would have gotten lost a few times but there were running clubs out that morning and I ended up following them for the most part. That’s how I ended up right at Kensington Palace (I followed the group through a small gate; Robert skipped it thinking it was off limits but it’s open to the public; I just think they’d prefer runners keep away from it).  Anyway, it was a cool run. At one point I found myself running right next to the Queen’s Cavalry on Rotten Row. Maybe it was just jetlag but I was kind of transported into another era — yes, so dorky. After I’d completed one lap and started over again everything looked unfamiliar and I thought I’d gotten lost. Nope. There was just too much for me to take in the first time around. Anyway, I did another quarter lap and turned around. When I left the park to return to the hotel I got lost again after I was distracted by a few French tourists who asked me first if I spoke French (non) and how paying for parking worked (dude, I’m from Seattle). After that conversation (I walked away feeling like a jerk) I took a wrong turn. I eventually found my way back to the hotel. Robert arrived a little while later, having run 13 miles around the park.

The Boy (the only one without jetlag) slept in while we went running. We cleaned up quickly and dragged him out of the hotel. I was famished and without a clue where to eat we ended up back at The Victoria for lunch. It was quite empty this time. We drank pints (The Boy had a coke) and ordered fish & chips. Yum! A huge fillet (with the skin still on), super crispy breading, chips (obviously) and an adorable serving of petite peas. Delicious!!! We were so full when we left the restaurant I wasn’t sure we could walk anymore but we ended up walking about 13 miles so it ended up getting burned off in no time.

Our day’s adventure took us to:

I only took 2 photos the entire day. Walking and photographing in crowds is not my thing. Bleh.

By the time we got back to the hotel we were exhausted. So Robert and I went back down to Paddington Station for a pint.

Next up: Panic in The Tube, ear popping fun, “Les Halles? Les Halles (Les Wow!), panic on Rue Quincampoix, insanely deliciously beer in a cave. And more general panic.

Lost in London

Our London/Paris adventure began when we walked out our front door. In order to avoid parking fees we decided to commute via bus and light rail. I’d like to say it was a breeze but it really wasn’t. Dragging a suitcase (even a good rolling suitcase) several blocks to the bus stop is slow going and then once you get on the bus you have to find a spot to stash the huge thing so it doesn’t get in the way of other passengers. Our flight was originally set to depart at 4 in the afternoon but was delayed 2 hours (due to an Icelandair strike) so we ended up being on Seattle public transportation at the beginning of rush hour. Once we got downtown we headed for the bus tunnel. DON’T take the elevator across the street from Westlake unless you love the smell of urine. DO go into Westlake and take the escalators down. We caught the light rail to the airport which, while convenient, is slow going and was pretty crowded (I think Robert stood up the whole way). I suppose it was worth it in cost savings but not the ideal way to start a 12+ hour journey. Once we made it through airport security we relaxed with wine and beer (which pretty much cost about as much as airport parking)!!

We arrived in London around 3pm in the afternoon (after a short layover in Iceland*). By the time we caught the Heathrow Connect and arrived at Paddington Station and checked into the hotel it was close to 5pm. I was definitely feeling jetlaggy but way too excited to rest so we decided to check out a nearby pub called The Victoria and see how long we’d last (we were also awaiting the arrival of The Boy who wouldn’t be getting to Paddington until after 11pm). On our way out of the hotel, Robert asked the staff if they could bring us a cot for The Boy. None of them were native English speakers and they didn’t understand “a cot” but said they’d figure something out. We hoped for the best.

*The airport in Iceland was eerily dead when we arrived around 9am. It turns out they were just ending their morning strike and the employees were just arriving. I was really hungry and a bit concerned about not finding food during our layover but they finally opened up their cafeteria and I bought a delicious smoked lamb thingy.

We stepped out of the hotel and headed to The Victoria (per my handwritten directions that said something like “Leave hotel, head towards the park about 5 blocks down Sussex; The Victoria is one block before Hyde Park.” Sounds easy. Only we got lost because we started off one block over from where we should have on Spring St. which dead ends on Sussex (Gardens) and ended up on some kind of windy street hell that kept sending us off in weird directions, away from Sussex (Place), the street we should have been looking for.

Tip: Buy a street map the very second you arrive in a big city. Even if you’ll only be there a day. I had purchased one for London back in 2001 but stupidly left it in the hotel room. Also, make meticulous notes from Google maps when you do have wifi available.

Robert asked someone for directions and they made absolutely no sense and we continued to wander around aimlessly. Eventually I decided to pull out my phone. I had pre-purchased 120MB of international data but I was kind of afraid to use it to pull up maps because The Boy also had an international data plan during his trip to Spain and he managed to use up all 120MB in the first 2 days (I don’t want to talk about how many times he let it roll over during that trip but there was a high pitched scream at some point when I checked my bill). Plenty of things went wrong with this idea. 1) I am really useless at trying to type in stuff on my phone while I’m walking, 2) I have to yell at Robert to STOP WALKING so I can type stuff in and then I get grumpy, 3) It was raining and my phone was getting wet, 4) Did I mention that we also debated and decided against bringing our rain coats and/or umbrellas out of the hotel even though people were running into the hotel with plastic bags on? 5) When one types in “Victoria” in a map search while in London a whole lot of shit comes up that is not the pub you are looking for and you panic, thinking your data plan is maxed out because the iPhone’s map app sucks and you quickly close the map app, pout, and just continue walking aimlessly in circles.

What eventually saved us was a bike trail map with a “you are here” sign on it. I knew the street where The Victoria was on (Straethearn Place) so it was as easy as back tracking a little bit and going down a little side street. We’d basically been circling it for 30 minutes. Can you blame us? Here’s an example of the street names in the area: Sussex Gardens, Sussex Square, Sussex Place. None of them run parallel. Oh, and Sussex Place becomes London St. as you get closer to Paddington. The moral of the story is don’t put me in charge of writing down directions. (Only, I did continue to be our direction person during the rest of the trip and also learned to make better notes and we didn’t get lost again, I don’t think.)

When we walked into The Victoria we were greeted with rosy cheeked beer drinkers packed in tight (mostly men in suits – it was 6pm on a Friday). Normally that kind of crowd is too intimidating for me but I was determined to stick with it. We squished in and up to the friendly bartender who told us the draft list and calmly (despite the crowd) made recommendations. The beer was unremarkable but the setting was unforgettable. We also lucked out on finding bar seats soon after we got our pints and that’s when the crazy Scotsman stopped by to tell Robert he liked his “hot.”

His what?

His “hot.”


Oh, “HAT.”

Robert was wearing his favorite blue and black plaid hat. So apparently all Scotsmen like plaid? Maybe just this one Scotsman? This one drunk Scotsman? Anyway, he offered to buy it off Robert to which Robert said no several times. He walked away defeated and we thought that was the end of it. We settled in and ended up ordering a bit of bar food (small link sausages in a teriyaki type sauce and two Scottish eggs — yum). With beer in hand, a seat to sit in and warm, fatty food in front of us, we were in no hurry to leave. That’s when the Scotsman returned with his son.

The son, a 19 year old smooth talker, wanted to make a wager for the hat. He’d buy Robert a pint AND pay him 10 quid. Deal? The wagering went on and when they realized they were never going to obtain the “hot” they settled for a group “coddle” (cuddle). Robert obtained the elder Scotsman’s home address in Dundee and said if he came upon a similar hat he might just send it to him.

One can obtain this hat, made in China, from Amazon.

We then chatted with an older woman (whose accent became more and more Southern drawl, the more she drank; it turns out she grew up in South Carolina) and an odd younger French man who lives in Portugal, spoke little English, and gave me the contact info of his friend who lives in Montmartre. I had already decided that I didn’t want to meet his friend in Montmartre based upon the weirdness of this dude. He had an odd vibe. Maybe it was just me.

Later, we heard singing and sure enough, there were the Scotsmen (several of them including the 2 we’d already met) belting out some Scottish bar song. After a few more drinks we sadly had to leave. I was getting tipsy and we needed to fetch some real food and make sure the bed situation was solved back at the hotel.

We stocked up on drinks, sandwiches and breakfast food (breakfast was included with the hotel for 2 of us but not The Boy and we kind of suspected we might sleep too late to even make it ourselves) and headed back to our room (where we happily found a nicely made twin-sized bed on the floor next to our bed). We devoured our sandwiches and realized we still had some time to kill before The Boy’s arrival. Sleeping would have been stupid so we immediately headed back down into the station to check out The Beer House* for another pint. That’s how we roll.

*A cute little place inside Paddington station, The Beer House boasts craft beer from around the world. Upon entering we found 2 British brews and a Brooklyn beer on tap (and no food to speak of ; quite different from their youtube video but still a nice place). Inside a glass display case were Sierra Nevada 12oz bottles. I believe they were priced at £4. Per bottle!

After our pint we headed back to the hotel. I honestly don’t remember anything else that happened that night due to jetlag and alcohol. Oh yeah, The Boy showed up right on time. I was very impressed with his ability to catch the Gatwick Express to Victoria and transfer via the tube to Paddington on his first trip to London. He was a pro at travel after 2 weeks in Spain, I suppose.

So that was day 1. We all dropped onto our pillows and slept and slept and slept. Little did I know that I’d get to run with the Queen’s Cavalry the next day.


Half Marathon Training

Oopsies. No marathon for me. At least not this year.

Training was going just fine for me but on a particularly rainy day in late March I decided to jump over a puddle on my walk to work and something weird happened to my knee. For about 2 weeks it hurt. A lot! And I cut back the distance on several runs (one run was less than half a mile due to the pain). Then I went on vacation and ran 7 miles without a knee brace for the first time since I hurt it and felt fantastic. I was optimistic that a good rest was all it needed. However,  I’d already made up my mind that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a marathon training schedule after cutting back so much (including 9 non-running days while on vacation). In the end, that was a smart decision. My knee still hurts (mainly when it needs warming up and on inclines) and I’ll probably have it looked at after Seattle RnR.

I’ve kept up my half marathon training schedule since I got back from vacation and while things are fine (last week I ran 22 miles) my knee is still not right. It doesn’t really hurt anymore but it feels wrong and it makes a crunching sound which makes me queasy. I’m also afraid of making it worse so I’ve had a hard time doing any speed work. My average “fast” runs are maybe 10 minute miles and my slow runs are often about 11:30 pace.

Half Marathon training progress

So, to sum things up, this is my slowest year yet. But I will make it to the finish line of the half marathon on June 21st.  And I’m still going to attempt a 14 miler this summer.


London/Paris Vacation planning

Robert and I celebrated our 25th Anniversary in January with a simple dinner at a bar. The REAL celebration happened last month when we visited London and Paris. Wheee!

Before I tell you about our amazing trip I’ll attend to the boring pre-trip considerations and planning (actually, for me, trip planning is loads of fun and jotting my notes down here will hopefully help others (and myself) when I comes time to plan a similar trip).

Finances. My original budget was $5K (equal to the amount we didn’t have to use to pay for The Boy’s tuition and housing after he received extra scholarship funds for study abroad). In the end we spent a little over $4K for airfare, hotel, apartment, and transportation. Plus we earned back travel points from our credit card.

Passports. When I first met Robert in 1988 he’d recently received his first passport (and Taiwan visa). He was 22 and his passport photo was HOT (I believe he took the photo himself; old school selfie)! He filled that passport book with stamps from South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan over the next few years and then, after returning to the States, never used it again. I had received a new passport a few years ago before a trip to Victoria so I was good, but Robert obviously needed a new one and finally got around to it in February (about the time we booked our airline tickets). I was a little worried that he’d waited too long but it arrived in about 2 weeks. Oh, and yes, his new passport photo is also HOT.  Handsome white hair, rugged crows feet. Very mature.

Airfare. I wanted to go as cheap as possible on the airfare and Icelandair seemed to be our best bet. Originally we were going to go mid-May and fly home the same time as The Boy but ticket prices shot up before I could verify a few details. Instead, I used Kayak to find the cheapest dates and in the end we paid $900/ticket (via Expedia) and left a few weeks earlier. Not bad. Icelandair is pretty bare-bones but I was happy with our flight out despite a 2 hour delay (they notified us 12 hours in advance) due to a strike. Our flight home was a little aggravating (stuck in a very long line at CDG for over an hour just to check-in) but still worth the savings (I say that now after the anger has subsided).

London Hotel. My “boss lady” (she’s my boss and she’s a lady; not sure why I call her that but I do) at work travels like crazy so when I started looking at hotels in London she was a huge help. Most places were really expensive (over $300/night) but I ended up finding a great deal on (with her help) for the Paddington Hilton which was $235/night* and included a hot breakfast. Super convenient because both the Heathrow Express ($$$) and Heathrow Connect ($$) take you directly to Paddington Station and Paddington is very close to Hyde Park (good for running). We opted for the Heathrow Connect which is half the cost of the Express and only about 12 minutes slower.

*The only downside was we didn’t have free wifi at our hotel. £14.99 for 24 hours of wifi. Ridiculous.

Eurostar Train. Originally we were just going to fly to Paris but since we were so close to London we figured why not fly there first and have a quick look around and then take a Eurostar train to Paris. Flying is a little faster but airports are a pain and taking a train is kind of fun, in my opinion. I checked the prices in early January and tickets were about $70/person. Not super cheap but not more expensive than flying. I didn’t buy our tickets until I knew our flight dates for sure (early February) and by that time the ticket prices had shot up to $156/person. I sucked it up and bought 3 tickets (The Boy would be traveling with us at that point). I looked at the prices a month later and they were more than $250. It definitely pays to book as early as possible.

I referred to Not Martha’s blog to help me a little with the train. She was disappointed to find that her seats were on the “wrong side” so I made sure we got seats on the “right side” and quite a ways away from the cafe. I booked us a table with 2 of us facing forward and one facing back. No one ended sitting in the 4th seat (that was something that I’d worried about a little since I wanted to do a picnic lunch and make fun of other passengers during the 2.5 hour ride).

Paris Apartment. I started favorite-ing apartments on VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey, and Airbnb about 4 months ahead of time. Boss lady was again helpful because she’d been to Paris a few times and recommended a few neighborhoods. I also asked The Boy for his opinion and in the end we decided on Le Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissement on the Right Bank). Because we didn’t end up getting our plane tickets until mid-February, I had to watch sadly as many of my favorites started getting booked up. One of my favorites, fortunately, remained untouched and I became a little concerned that it wasn’t as nice as the others or that there was a problem with the owner. The calendar was a bit empty and the photos were a bit grainy but it was in the exact location I wanted it to be in, it was roomy (600sqft), and unique (rather than traditional Parisian decor it has Moroccan decor). We ended up booking it and now that we’ve stayed there I can say it was the perfect place for us. I hope that I get the opportunity to book it again!! We paid $1343 for 8 nights plus a $100 cleaning fee and $50 for credit card transactions (which could have been avoided if I’d chosen to wire her the money instead). We easily saved $100-$200/night plus a ton more because we were able to cook and eat many of our meals at the apartment.

Itineraries. All that was left was to come up with an itinerary for our time in each city. I’d been to London once before but Robert and The Boy hadn’t so I kind of left it up to them and we all agreed that we’d skip the museums and just walk as much as possible. I researched a few pubs, running routes, etc. but that was about it for London. More time was spent making sure we knew how to get from Paddington Station to St. Pancras to catch the Eurostar (and even with all the planning it didn’t go smoothly and I had a minor panic attack on the way there thank you very much).

As for Paris, planning our time there was more difficult because I hadn’t been there before,  the weather forecast was iffy, running routes were nearly impossible to find and many of the restaurants I *wanted* to eat at were just too expensive or closed on Sunday/Monday. On top of that, there was a major holiday on May 1st, where everything was closed, and The Boy wanted to fit in a lot of things with us but he had class on 5 of our 8 days there. In the end I made a list of about 15 things I wanted to try to do and see with the hope that I’d get to at least half of them. I also researched and planned out all of our beer excursions (it’s what I do; I find the beer for Bob). I will tell you this: 8 days is not enough time to take in Paris. Next time, 2 weeks minimum. Or a year.


So that summarizes the planning I put into the trip. It took many, many hours of research. I can’t even describe the anticipation I felt before stepping on that airplane with Robert. So exciting!!

Marathon training

I officially started training for my upcoming marathon* a few weeks ago.

*That’s not a typo. I’m training for a marathon. I signed up for the half but I keep telling myself that I might as well train for the full while I have it in me. I’ve been running double digit weeks for 3 months straight, I’m not injured, I have all the free time in the world, and let’s be honest. I’m not getting any younger. I figure I’ll stick with the marathon training plan as long as I can but I won’t force it. If I feel like my body breaking down or I’m just generally miserable I’ll move back to half marathon training. I’ll admit that running a marathon sounds pretty horrible and I’m mortified that I’ll end up pooping my pants at the finish line.

So yeah. Marathon training. Here’s my training schedule:

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 4.13.39 PMI’ll keep you posted on my status. If I can at least get to (and complete) that 14 miler I’ll count it as a success.


The Boy is in Paris, aka Everything you need to know about financing study abroad

Oh to be young and living abroad. I did it and I highly encourage it. No worries in the world. That is, except for figuring out how to pay for everything.

The Boy is studying at NYU Paris this semester and because we’re on a budget I didn’t want to send him over with any old credit card and a wad of euros but rather research and approach everything as frugally and thoughtfully as possible. This is what I learned (and I’d say that this information would be useful to others but as you’ll see, things change so often that what I learned may no longer apply in 6 months).

1. Avoiding credit card transaction fees
Most credit card companies charge a foreign transaction fee. There are cards that don’t charge a fee but you have to search for them and some of them charge annual fees. I ended up getting the Bank of America Travel Rewards card. No annual fee, no foreign transaction fee, 1.5 points for every dollar spent (points can be used towards any travel expenses), and as a bonus it has the fancy chip and pin technology. The Boy uses this for his Paris Navigo metro pass, his groceries, and pretty much any expenses except for his rent. We’ve already been reimbursed over $400 for travel expenses  using our rewards. Thumbs way up for Bank of America Travel Rewards.

2. Avoiding ATM transaction fees
I’d read on several travel and finance sites that Bank of America was in an alliance with several banks in Europe (including BNP Paribas in France) and if you used any of their ATMs you’d avoid paying a fee. The Boy already had a checking account with a credit union but I figured it couldn’t hurt to set him up with a Bank of America checking account in order to take advantage of the alliance. For students under 23, Bank of America waives their $12/month maintenance fee, so I sent him in to set up an account. He mentioned that he’d be traveling abroad when he set up the account and the account manager even gave him a business card with foreign numbers to call if he had any issues with his debit card. We loaded up his account with enough money to cover a couple months’ rent and security deposit and sent him on his way. After he made a withdrawal for rent money at a BNP Paribas ATM, a 3% charge showed up. It turns out Bank of America started charging a fee for foreign conversions, even when using alliance ATMs*, starting on November 8, 2013. It would have been nice if the account manager had mentioned this to The Boy (perhaps he did; I wasn’t there). So now, after more than $25 in fees incurred, we’re thinking The Boy would be better off using his credit union debit card (which only charges $1.50/transaction). Thumbs way down for Bank of America ATM foreign conversion fees.

*Bank of America does continue to waive their sky-high $5 transaction fee if you use one of their alliance ATMs.

3. Cell phone usage
The Boy is going phone-less while in Paris. We talked to AT&T about getting him on an international plan but it was $60 and he’d still have to keep his domestic plan as well. He also has the option of getting a France phone while he’s there but The Boy isn’t a big time cell phone talker so it doesn’t seem worth it. He has wifi at the school and at his apartment so we text, Skype, and FaceTime quite often. He uses old school maps to find his way around the city (love!). We still need to look into suspending his data plan for the next 4 months (right now we pay about $35 for his monthly unlimited talk/text/data plan so it’s not a big deal to keep it I guess). Thumbs up for FaceTime!

4. Tuition and fees
This is specific to us so not useful information but perhaps of interest. We are saving LOADS of money by having The Boy study abroad. In Manhattan, The Boy lived in the cheapest dorm available (2nd Street, tiny studio w/ bunk beds; 2 students/per room) and it averaged out to around $1200/month. In Paris he’s living solo in a Chambre de bonne and he’s paying 450 euros/month (around $615). In addition, on top of his regular scholarship, NYU gave him an additional $5000 to assist in study/travel abroad. A portion of that was to make up for the loss of his work study money and the remainder was need based and given out to students who applied for it. So in the end we’ve saved about $7500. Super huge thumbs up.

5. Airfare
Have you heard of Student Universe? Neither had I. The Boy purchased a roundtrip ticket from them (IcelandAir) for just over $800. We then got almost $300 reimbursed with our travel rewards so he paid about $500 for his roundtrip ticket. A big thumbs up for Student Universe.

6. Travel Abroad
I’m leaving this to The Boy. He has a bit of money in savings that he can use towards traveling while he’s there. He has a really long spring break (April 12-27) so the bulk of his travels will happen then. The school has given the students a few tips: Easyjet is super cheap; train tickets get more expensive the longer you wait to purchase them; travel in groups to save money on transportation/boarding. I guess we’ll just wait and see where he ends up going. He’s really enjoying Paris and part of me worries that he won’t take advantage of the easy travel opportunities, choosing instead to hang out in museums (the students all have free museum passes) or hide out in his private room to read Star Wars paperbacks. Sigh. Thumbs waiting to see how it all turns out.

7. Learning from our mistakes
The Boy and I have learned quite a bit in this process.

  • The Boy has learned there’s a price to pay for accidentally withdrawing 500 euros from an ATM using his credit card instead of his debit card (um, 24% cash advance fee?!!!).
  • The Boy has also learned to listen better when his mom is “blah blah blahing… make sure they don’t charge a fee… blah blah blah blah blah.”
  • I’ve learned that even if the internet says that something is free, it may no longer be free and you need to verify and verify and verify with the banks to get the real, up-to-date info and keep on top of fee schedules/changes on a monthly basis.
  • I’ve learned that there’s something called popmoney. I used it (after mistakenly trying to do an external transfer that backfired on me and made me cry on the phone with my bank’s customer service) to transfer funds to The Boy’s checking account. Super easy and fast.

Thumbs up for learning.

The Boy's view from his Chambre de bonne in the 16th arrondissment
The Boy’s view from his Chambre de bonne in the 16th arrondissment