Tuesday, May 12, 2009

London Calling

After reading Pasta Queen's post mentioning her "travel playlist," I was inspired to go to iTunes and download a few of the songs to my own iPod. Then I was further inspired to do a search for "London," and ended up downloading a whole pile of songs with "London" in the title.* My only criteria was that it sounded like a song I wouldn't mind listening to. So there's a wide variety of genres, including rock, pop, alternative, dance, easy listening, and one ringtone of "Mind the gap."

So here's my London playlist, check it out!

*The only one without "London" in the title is Bach's Air for the G String, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, which I threw in just because it is such a lovely piece.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Picture links

Many of the posts from this last England trip have links to Facebook photo album. I didn't realize, when I was doing this, that the "public" links to Facebook are only good for about a week. So if anyone who happens to be reading one of these posts wants to see those pictures, leave me a comment and I will provide a new public link!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A few pictures from the Bath Half

I splurged and spent mega-pounds on the downloadable picture package from the Bath Half. It truly was a splurge, as in the end there were only a few of the pictures that I could actually stomach (that didn't make me look like I weighed mega-pounds as well). Furthermore I can't quite figure out how to properly download all this content, so it is very possible that in a day or two or few I will lose everything except the ones I have particularly saved!

So here, for posterity, are some gold-plated photos of my run in Bath.

This first one must be near the beginning. I deduce that because it was the first one in the series.
We are still in the city here, as you can see from the buildings in our background.
I must have seen the photographer here... there are several in a row where I am grinning broadly and I can't imagine any reason why except for the photo op! You will notice from these pictures that I, and most of the people around me, have green bibs. The bib color signifies our starting wave, which is based on our estimated finish times. The white bibs are the fastest groups, then the greens, then the oranges. You can see, in the pictures, that most of the bibs around me are green. This is encouraging, because at least I was relatively holding my own! In the second photo I did, however, spot a speedy orange bibber at the left front, as well as, what's this, a white bibber behind me in the the third shot!

I never wrote a real race report for this run because, from a racing standpoint, it was a real disappointment to me. But now, a month later, the scars have pretty much healed—although I still don't like to think about my time—and I can remember it in a more positive light.

There were a few things about this race unique to any run I've ever done (other than the excrutiatingly slow time).

First, and definitely coolest, I got to see the front running racer (and probable winner) go by with all his entourage. This happened because the race was essentially a double loop. About a mile or so after the start in Great Pulteney Street, we did a big loop through town, which took us to about 10K. Then we repeated the town loop, and finally traced our original steps back to the finish line, at the same place as the start. Somewhere during the first town loop, we heard sirens and megaphones directing runners to keep left; then on the right we were passed by a vehicle carrying the time clock, followed shortly by the lead runner. He was quickly on his way, never to be seen again (by me).

The other new experience I had was something I'm sure other people have seen in other races, but which has been uncommon in the rather modest, sedate runs I've done in the past. That is, of course, runners relieving themselves by the side of the road. Mostly men, although I'm sure I also saw a few women ducking off into the bushes. There seemed to be certain spots along the way—all outside the town center—that were magnets for peeing runners. I suspect there is some kind of a tradition relating to this race, and perhaps the regulars take pride in marking the side of the road as they go!

There were, by the way, porta-potties along the route, all of which had some kind of line when I passed them. So not everybody was willing to drop trou in public!*

Unlike the U.S races I have done, the water stops were stocked not with paper cups of water, but small bottles instead (just like the elites). The stations alternated between water and Lucozade, which is a Tang-like orange bottled sports drink. I had actually started the race carrying my own mini-bottle of water, so I bypassed the water stations until after I threw away my empty bottle. I'm not crazy about carrying a bottle—I think it slows me down, although I do it when I'm running at home—but it was a warm day and I was loathe to give up my water. In fact, a while after I ditched my bottle I became quite thirsty, enough that I was desperately awaiting the next station. That happened to be a Lucozade station, which I took happily, hoping not only to quench my thirst but perhaps get a boost from the sugar in the drink! I kept that bottle until I traded it for a new water bottle sometime later. Since they were providing whole bottles, the stations were not as frequent as they might have been if the water was only provided in little cups. In fact, I think the water station where I got my bottle might have been the last one in the race.

It was a sunny, warm day, and since the race didn't start until 11:30—delayed from 11:00 due to difficulty clearing traffic—we were running in the height of the day. What is it they say about mad dogs and Englishmen? I had left the hotel a little past 9:00, wearing a jacket, but by the time we actually started I had taken the jacket off and tied it around my waist. I wished, desperately, that I would see my parents on the route so I could throw it at them and be done with it, but of course, with hundreds of people lining the street, that didn't happen.

The crowd support was fantastic. The papers said hundreds of viewers (and 15,000+ runners), but I felt like there were thousands stretched along the miles. In the more central town parts of the race, the crowd was packed many deep. Only in the most remote stretches were there few observers, and even there we would be cheered by a handful of people every few feet or so. Many of our supporters were children, and every time one stuck out his or her hand I slapped it as I passed. I figure that I was slow enough that the fractions of seconds it would take to high five someone (or a lot of someones) would not make a major difference to me!

Despite the huge number of runners I never felt sardine packed. I was able to run at my own pace easily (unfortunately that happened to be a slow pace). The sardine situation happened only after we crossed the finish line and were ushered into the exit area to pick up our goody bags and make our way to the street. The goody bags included our medals, t-shirts (size large for everyone, very efficient), and some snacks and drinks. I was not the only person ripping open a granola bar as we shuffled along!

That was pretty much the end of it all. I finally got to the street, met my parents over by the Abbey, got an ice-cream cone then walked back up the hill to the hotel. I was feeling a little mopey and depressed over my performance, so I'm afraid I wasn't very good company. It was after that that I decided not to run Whidbey two weeks later, and take some time before doing another race.

In the end it didn't take much time. One month after Bath I signed up for Bloomsday, which is coming in just a little more than two weeks. So, we shall see... I am optimistic!

*I maintained my streak of never needing to stop for a bathroom in a race—although this one was a close call because I had mild cramps throughout, but never amounting to anything urgent enough to stop.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One more thing before I go

Or two. I have a couple more posts in me before the travel blog goes into hiatus. Don't know when I'll get them together... but soon.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Penzance, Newlyn, Mousehole, and the train back to London

I wrote about today in my running blog, click here to read it. More pictures here. Tomorrow we head home.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

As I was going to St. Ives

This morning started out foggy and windy (you would think the two would be mutually exclusive, but they were not), so I shelved my original plans to walk the coast path to St. Ives and instead rode along on the train with my parents. It's a 30-40 minute trip on the train, including a change in St. Erth. The trains are little three-car commuter trains, a far cry from the big train that travels to and from London!

In St. Erth we hopped off the train from Penzance—this one was going on to Plymouth—and crossed over to the St. Ives platform, Platform 3.* We had about ten minutes wait for the connecting train. The ride to St. Ives, though, took just another fifteen minutes.

The St. Ives station is about a quarter mile or so outside of town, and you can walk into town on a footpath that follows the coastline. This is the same footpath that turns into the coast path going away from St. Ives.

St. Ives, known as an artists' colony, looks like a painting itself, all pale shades of gold and grey and white. It has a little bit of the exotic—palm trees—and a good dose of tourist attractions, as it is a popular holiday spot, especially in the summer months. In the late winter it has an out-of-season charm, although on this sunny day the streets and sidewalks were hardly deserted.

We wandered along the waterside street, location of numerous restaurants and pubs, pasty and ice cream shops, and probably an arcade or two. I was trying to walk by the bed and breakfast we had stayed in before, but couldn't quite remember where it was. It is always strange when you come back to a place that had been so familiar years ago, and you feel like you should know where things are but can't quite sort it out!

My wanderings led us to the other side of St. Ives, which also looked familiar but slightly confusing. Then we walked right by Bumbles Tea Room, where my mother and I had once had a lovely cream tea. (Of course, that didn't set me straight but it was nice to see it again!) What did help was a sign pointing to “Fore Street.” I wasn't sure what Fore Street was but I suspected it was somewhere we might want to be. We walked in the direction of the arrow, and walked right into a Cath Kidston shop! Cath Kidston is sort of a Laura Ashley for the 21st century—purveyor of lovely patterned fabrics (many of them in candy-coloured stripes and florals) made into all kinds of accessories for the home and kitchen. I went in “just to look” and emerged with a few things...a pair of pajamas, a large stripey “laundry bag” which may very well find a role as an airplane carry-on, and a few other smaller bags which may or may not turn into gifts.

We had now entered shopping nirvana. Strolling up and down the surrounding street, I popped into a couple of clothing stores (yellow floral cotton sundress) and several of the child and baby stores that seemed to be rampant in St. Ives. Shopped out—or at least restrained by some sense of reason—we considered stopping for a Cornish pasty at one of the many pasty shops lining the streets. But my father wasn't interested, so I pulled the plug on St. Ives and hustled them back toward the railway station.

Leaving my parents (with the shopping bags) on the platform waiting for the train, I returned to the coast path and started in the direction of Lelant Saltings, about four miles away. I figured it couldn't be too hard to get to, as the coast path follows the cliff's edge above the seaside, and also tracks the route of the train. But while the train's track is level and mostly straight or gently curving, the coast path undulates up and down hills, and zigs and zags across the landscape. In some spots I could look down onto the golden beaches and sparkling surf; at other times I was surrounded by trees and greenery. The final stretch, shortly before I turned into Lelant, was almost dune-like, with beach grass and sand even high above the water.

About a mile or so from the station I approached Carbis Bay. I have memories (somewhat fond) of Carbis Bay, because five years ago my mother and I walked from St. Ives to Carbis Bay, then rode the train back to St. Ives. There is a long, steep hill from the footpath up to the station, and we only had a few minutes to get up it before the train arrived. My mother would happily have waited for the next train, but trains are few and far between, so I threatened and cajoled her up the hill as fast as we could go. When we did get to the top, we almost could not figure out how to get onto the platform, but the train operator told us to take our time, and we made it on without a problem. In retrospect, we could have just stopped at the Carbis Bay Hotel and had tea, but we didn't think of that until later.

On a couple of occasions I did worry whether I was going the right way. Once the path split and I truly did not know which was the right way. I think I actually chose the wrong way, a pathway that accessed waterfront residences rather than the actual coast path, but after a somewhat panicked enquiry to a man in a garden (after the path seemed to end at a rail crossing), I crossed the train tracks and rejoined the actual footpath.

In Lelant the path ended, for my purposes anyway, and I walked through town toward the Lelant Saltings Station. There is a Lelant Station, but the train only stops there a couple of times a day, and then only by request, and this wasn't one of those times. At Lelant Station I asked a man in the car park if I just kept on the same road to Lelant Saltings Station, and he said yes, but warned me it was much further than it seemed!

It was about 3:15 at that time, and the train I wanted arrived at 3:35; after that there wouldn't be another train for an hour. I picked up my pace to a brisk walk, hoping that the station wasn't much more than half a mile away, thinking that 3:25 would be a reasonable time to get there.

I walked, and I walked, and I walked. 3:25 arrived, and I was approaching the intersection with a major road. That worried me a bit, as it didn't seem consistent with my map. But at the road I saw the railroad symbol on a street sign, so I knew I was still on the right track, though quickly running out of time. I followed the signs into another road, then into a housing estate, wondering if this could really be right. Spotting a couple of women ahead with a baby carriage, I shouted to them, “where does the train stop?” They pointed in the direction I was going, so I kept on.

Finally I reached the parking lot, crossed it, and climbed up to the platform. I got there at 3:32, with three minutes to spare! Enough time to sit on a bench and take pictures of the train when it approached.

From there it was just a couple of minutes ride to St. Erth, then a ten minute wait for the Penzance train. By a little past 4:00 I was back at the hotel, just over two hours after I left the St. Ives station.

Tomorrow morning we head back to London, on the 10 a.m. train to Paddington.

To see more pictures of St. Ives and the coast path, click here.

*Five years ago we had the hardest time figuring out which platform was for the train to St. Ives. Now it seems ridiculously well marked. I don't know if we were just blind and stupid back then, or whether they've improved the signage!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Sunny Day in Penzance

After I finished breakfast this morning and while I was still sitting in the dining room using my laptop, Ben (assistant manager and breakfast cook) mentioned the sunny day we were having, saying “it is hot out there!” I had already been out running, and though it was bright and sunny and pleasant for running, I hadn't especially noticed it was what I would call “hot.” (And I'm from a part of the U.S. where people break out their shorts—cargo shorts of course—when the temperature breaks 50ยบ!)

But I took note of his comment and my own observations, and when my mother and I headed out around 11:00, instead of a warm coat I put on a khaki jacket. And brought my sunglasses, of course.

The sunglasses came into use almost immediately, for it was quite bright out. We followed the streets around the hotel (into a very uninteresting area that my mother called “a total waste of time,” primarily because it required walking up a longish hill to get back to the main streets). We did emerge into one of the primary town streets, however, the politically incorrectly named Market Jew Street, and walked up it into Causeway Head, another main shopping street. We weren't shopping, really, so instead of stopping we just strolled along, taking special interest in the windows of various bakeries, all of which exuded the tantalizing smell of freshly baked Cornish pasties and other savoury treats (as well as your typical bakery goods, including a plethora of hot cross buns and other yeast buns).

On the way back down we succumbed to one such shop, and decided to get Cornish pasties* for our lunch (it was noon by then). Cornish pasties, if anyone is not already familiar with them, are essentially turnovers, filled either with a traditional steak and potato filling, or variations such as chicken, cheese and onion, etc. There were a number of different options at this shop (as well as other pastry wrapped goodies, like sausage rolls), but I didn't look much further than the steak pasty. We each got a “cocktail-sized” pasty, which is not nearly as tiny as it sounds (I would consider cocktail-size to be the size of a potsticker). This is what I would call “small,” about four inches wide, I would guess. The “small” size is at least medium in my book, “medium” is quite large, and “large” would probably feed a family of four.**

We sat on a sunny bench to eat our pasties (after standing around for a few minutes glaring at the couple who had dared to sit on the bench before we got to it). Eventually they had to leave. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable being stared at....

The one disadvantage to the cocktail-sized pasty is that there was a plethora of potato in the filling and only a couple bits of steak. Well, nobody ever called Cornish pasties—or English food in general—low carb!

After our snack—er, lunch—I wanted to take my mother down to the Promenade where I had run earlier, to walk along the seaside. On the way, however, we spotted a sign saying “to the gardens.” I had to follow, and it led us to Morrab Gardens, described as a “subtropical garden”—whatever subtropical means. There were palm trees, but also rhododendrons and camellias growing happily. We walked around the outside path and then into the inside path, stopping at least once to sit on a bench in the sun.

We were not the only people flocking to the park on a sunny day. We passed several occupied benches before we found ours, and in the inner garden there were mothers and children playing, and even a few brave souls sitting on the grass—which still had to be a bit cold and damp at this time of day! I did not, however, see anyone wearing shorts.

Leaving the park, we continued onward to the Promenade. Despite the sun, it was not hot out, and in the shade it was rather cool. In the wind it was downright chilly! And there were some decent wind gusts out on the Promenade. Still, we walked the length of the Promenade to the end of town, then turned back. As we turned, we noted that the wind had been at our backs on the way out, and now we were walking right into it on the return. Not great for hairstyles.***

One of the views from the Promenade was back toward the Jubilee Pool, a public saltwater bathing pool in Penzance. I loved its Art Deco gate and the old fashioned name "bathing pool." In this long distance picture, you can also see St. Michael's Mount at the right, a small island now owned by the National Trust, home to a medieval castle and gardens.

Back in Chapel Street I pointed my mother down Abbey Road toward the hotel and continued back into the center of town to shop for our next meal. Yes, soon it would be tea time and treats would be called for. I had noticed in our early shopping that yeast buns were prolific and scones were scarce around Penzance, which seems odd as Cornwall is famous for clotted cream. The bakery we had stopped in earlier had packaged scones, which would have to do. They also had... Battenburg Cake.

I popped into a Co-op Food store to procure clotted cream. It was a beautiful sight, stacks of Rodda clotted cream, in several sizes. It was enough to inspire all kinds of gluttony. But I did, as a cautionary measure, study the nutrition information before I went truly crazy. About 500 calories per 100 grams.**** A generous serving for tea is about 50 grams. You could definitely use less, but I was being realistic. It's definitely not diet food, and a better person than me would shun it by a mile.

(I'm not that person.)

So I brought back the goodies, made a pot of tea, and my mother and I had a homey tea party in our sitting room, while watching Murder She Wrote (my mother's choice) on TV. Just another afternoon in England.

My father was out on the train and didn't make it back for tea. We had expected him early, so this caused a bit of alarm, but he finally appeared at 5:30 and said that he had gone to the loo. No, wait, he had gone to Looe on the train. This required a change of trains so took longer than a simple out and back journey.

Instead of trying to go out to dinner—none of were interested in that—I went back out and up the street to pick up takeaway fish and chips. A mountain of chips topped by a whale of a deep fried fish filet—just what I need. Back into the running shoes....*****

Incidentally, I only realized it was St. Patrick's Day today when I logged into Google and saw their shamrock-strewn logo. Throughout the day, I barely saw another reminder. In contrast, five years ago we happened to be in Penzance on St. Patrick's Day, and although it was hardly a wild scene, we did see people walking around the streets wearing tall Guinness hats that looked like the Cat in the Hat's hat, except Guinness colours. They got them by purchasing a certain number of Guinnesses in the pubs. Drinking the Guinness was not required, but I'm sure most did not throw it away! This year is much more toned down. There is an effort to curb binge-drinking in England, and that probably has put a perhaps much-needed damper on St. Paddy's Day celebrations.

For more of today's pictures, you can click here.

*Pronounced with a short “a,” like the crust.
**I may exaggerate just a bit... it's probably growing in my mind by the minute. But definitely big enough for two or three people.
***Hairstyle? I have used that curling iron I bought at Boots exactly one time, and that time was not today.
****Equivalent to a 4.5 mile run. Nice.
*****That was just for effect, as I'm not planning to run tomorrow. I'm hoping to walk the coastal path near St. Ives, if all goes well. Right now the wind is whipping around like a—um—really strong, noisy wind. But the guy in the fish shop said it is supposed to be nice the rest of the week until the weekend. So we shall see.