Monthly Archive: November 2015

Weekend in Paris, post attacks

My tickets were booked for a girl’s weekend trip to Paris months ago. When exactly a week before I was set to depart, Paris fell victim to terrorists attacks happening across the city killing 130 people, there were a lot of concerns on if I should continue with my trip as planned. My mother called me late Friday night (the night of the attacks) pleading with me not to go, and continued to ask me to cancel until the night before. Other family members and friends voiced concerned. Even some of the most worldly travelers I know expressed that they would have a little hesitation about going, but most of them saying something along the lines of, “I’m sure you’ll be fine, I just would hate if something were to happen to you.”

But wouldn’t we all hate to have something happen to a loved one, regardless of the exact situation. Get in a car accident or be a victim of a gutless terrorist act? It sucks either way. And I honestly was a little worried, I thought about going on the trip vs. staying home. And decided to go forward with my trip. After my trip earlier this year centered around running 26.2 miles, I was owed a lot of wine and champagne.

The city was (obviously) on edge. Armed guards in groups of 2-5 were patrolling everywhere. EVERYWHERE. On the streets, at metro stops, outside big attractions/museums. At two different times I witnessed trucks of police and guards roll up on the Champs and tape off an area of stores. Who knows why, what was called in, or what they found. One of the girls flew in from Frankfurt and before take off someone came through the airplane and matched tickets to people to ensure everyone who was supposed to be on the flight was. There was also two members of the French military on the flight with metal suitcases as their feet. Another girl who arrived (in Paris for her first time) at a different time had a frightening experience when everyone at the metro stop she was waiting at started running and jumped into the train cars on the other side. She followed the crowd not knowing what to do and was naturally pretty terrified. But she didn’t speak French and never got to the bottom of why everyone was running. You also couldn’t enter a building (aside from small restaurants) with having your bags gone through and your coat opened. Purses, shopping bags, suitcase- didn’t matter. And you had to literally unzip/unbutton your coat and show the main trunk of your body as well.

When I first landed I headed to get a manicure (obviously) and though the technician knew barely any English, asked me if I was scared having just arrived. I told her, “not more than normal.” And that’s true, but it also sucks. Because my overall normal level of fear (specifically that of the terrorist nature) is higher in general, higher than it ever has been. I’m an expatriate. I travel a lot. I fly a lot. I’m in big cities a lot. It’s no fun that there is a fear of terrorism in my head.

But I know the probability of being involved in a terrorism attack is slim. And more so, that it can happen anywhere. I actually feel as though Paris would be safer that following week than it had been the week prior. But otherwise, it could be Paris, or I could just as likely (or more so) get shot up in a Northwest Indiana Target next month when I’m home for Christmas. (Truth be told. My only nagging fear is actually in the plane. Not only from terrorism but my perception that more and more flights are crashing or going MIA.)But the whole thing just sucks. It sucks that there is any level of concern. It sucks that people won’t be able to travel, not because of money or time off, but because of safety (perceived or otherwise). Because really, really, everyone should get to have at least a weekend in Paris.

Christmas display in the center of the Galleries Lafayette

Christmas display in the center of the Galleries Lafayette

It may seem that we're all American girls with our starbucks in hand, but actually only 2 of us are American

It may seem that we’re all American girls with our starbucks in hand, but actually only 2 of us are American

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Wine Tasting at O Chateau Paris

Wine Tasting at O Chateau Paris

Reason for the trip: 30th birthday celebration for Kristin.

Reason for the trip: 30th birthday celebration for Kristin.

Know Your Scottish Round 3

IMG_1290It’s that time again! A new bundle of words I’ve encountered. Some of which were easy to define (especially in social context but even on a list), but was noted if it was something that I a) probably have never said in my life and b) actually hear the unspoken word several times a month here in Scotland.

As always, I’ll note these actually aren’t Scottish specific, but most often UK specific.   Although there are some you’d only hear in this country, and possibly even only here in this shire. Good ole’ Aberdeen.

 

Corn Flour – Corn Starch

Cracking – the best. “This roast is cracking.”

Dummy – Pacifier

Spit Your Dummy – throw a hissy-fit

Casting – shedding (as in Stella is casting all over the house!)

Hack/Hacking – Trail Ride (on horseback)

Whist – a card game

Blether – like “blather”, but used without negative connotation. Like, “Haven’t seen you for a while, let’s get together and have a blether.” The google tells me a Scot uses it to mean “a chat, often a long chat with a good deal of juicy gossip thrown in.”

Clampett – White Trash – from the Beverly Hillbillies.

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Gilet – an outerwear vest. Think of a poufy vest or faux fur vest…along that line.

Home-bakes – kind of self-explanatory. But you’ll see home-bakes sale or be asked if you’d like any cakes or home-bakes at a café.

Niggle – an ache or pain, or annoyance.

Stramash – a disorderly gathering….and then became the name of a Scottish game.

Trump – Fart

Doon – how Aberdonians say “down”

Ooot – can you guess what Aberdonian pronunciation this is?

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Friday the 13th Faves

Did you notice I slid an informative expat blog post in there Wednesday? After being MIA for a week and a half? Whoops. It’s been a mix. A mix of being super busy and getting enraged at the UK.  Both things I’ll touch on next week…

But lets focus on the good and share some tidbits on what’s going on in my life in Scotland with my favorite bits of the last week.

SHEEP, SHEEP! They’ve moved the sheep into the field next to our house. It’s a big field so depending on where they are, I get to see sheep when I wake up. And sheep when I come home. And be super creeped out when I don’t realize they’ve moved to the bottom of the field and I take Stella out at night with a head torch on…and see 50 glowing eyes staring at me from 10 yards away.

View from the family room.

View from the family room.

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American shopping!! Pre and soon to be post thanksgiving sales for me to enjoy! I still can’t order to my American hearts content (not in the 30 day window for returns yet) but Nordstrom’s always accepts returns and getting a sweater I already have in a new color is a sure bet. So stoked about a good sale on some new flats and my favorite sweater in black (pictured in red)._10979162 cn9971178

Scotland’s Weather! Still on my list of faves. I know Chicago had mid-70’s last week. But I’m loving mid-50’s and all the gorgeous leaves. When my mom was last ere I told her how fall isn’t anything remarkable here, but this year has proven me wrong. It’s not just me, a lot of ‘Donians are agreeing this is an epically beautiful fall. There are tons of leaves on the ground, but still a lot on the trees. And I guess without wind or heavy storms the leaves just had time to stay on tress and actually change colors for once. It’s gorgeous. So gorgeous, E & I ate outside in November.

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Finding my bumper! So I started taking a college course once a week that meet’s kind of far away- about a 50 minute drive, 30 miles away, into the Cairngorms National Park. My first class I wasn’t really sure where to go, I’m out in the middle of nowhere, trying to find the building…. I realized I took a wrong turn and hastily did a 3 point turn. But it was pitch black and as I pulled forward I didn’t have the clearance I thought I did and kind of hit…something? I thought maybe it was a low rock wall in a ditch…who knows. I got to my class and looked at the front of the car and thought everything looked cool. The next day at the gym my friend asks, “Lauren, what happened to your car?” Apparently, that big bang was half of the front of my car being ripped off. 4 days later we drove back to where executed the 3 point turn and there was my chunk of bumper! Took it home and popped it back on. Okay, the bottom of the car is still a little messed up, but I can live with that. As for what I hit? We can’t figure it out. There wasn’t even a mound of dirt or a rock. Chalk it up to Scottish driving.

Lastly, two songs I’m listening to on repeat. Of course Adele’s “Hello” (and kind of Lionel’s) and “All My Friends”. Not LCD Soundsystem but someone or something by the name of Snakehips with Chance the Rapper who’s from my ole’ and favorite city of Chicago.

 

 

 

Driving in the UK: Quick Tips

This will be my last post on getting your UK license/overall driving in the UK (until I discover yet another weird caveat to driving here). E doesn’t understand how there’s MORE to say about driving here…but I reminded him of our parking ticket, traffic ticket, missing side mirrors, general confusion, and multiple month long process of obtaining a license.  And I just wanted to compile a little list of oddities I’ve encountered, things I think you should know about, or just humorous little tidbits.

Driving test related quick tips

Look, signal, and maneuver – This may not seem that difficult to grasp or seem that important…but it is. In the states we are generally taught to signal, look, then move. Here (to pass your test) you have to look in every single direction, check for bikers, and blind spots before you even think about touching that turn signal.

Speed Bumps – the are quite large and can be placed differently across the road- but you’re supposed to straddle them. Even if that means (that due to parking) that means going into the complete wrong side of the road if that’s the only place you can straddle the bump- because the goal is to make the person testing you as comfortable as possible.

Four Maneuvers – During your driving test you’ll be asked to perform one of four maneuvers. You won’t know which until your asked. You can make errors on the maneuver and still pass- unless you drive over a kerb. That’s an automatic fail. But you can hit the kerb, then pull forward and straighten out. During every maneuver you must look every direction 1,000 times. It makes actually completing the maneuver distracting.

  • Back In – Backing into a bay parking spot. Easy enough but make sure you practice it.
  • Parallel Park – also, not difficult. But you need to be a full car length behind the car in front of you (see road behind the tires of the car in front of you) and between 8-12 inches from the car. This is not Chicago squeeze in as close as possible parallel parking. Learning this should explain all your rage when trying to find a parking spot and freaking out because everyone could move up 6 more inches and create 10 more parking spots.
  • Three-point turn– don’t forget to swivel your head 100x more than actually necessary.
  • Back around the corner – yes, this is a maneuver. I have never in life encountered a situation where I would need to do this. But I actually have seen it down and if you mock it, the Scots will tell you all about how this is a maneuver they use all the time. It just seems illogical to me to encourage people to reverse down the road. But yeah, backing down a road- totally normally here.

Dazzled – All over your written test you will see/read the word ‘dazzled’ in regards to driving. You must avoid dazzling other drivers at all costs! Fog lights dazzle drivers. Reverse lights dazzle drivers. Hazard lights dazzle drivers. High beams (or brights) dazzle people. People are just easily dazzled in Scotland.

Emergency Stop – this may or may not happen during your driving test. E got one, but I didn’t. You literally just slam on the breaks as hard as you possibly can. No messing around.  Make sure your back seats and locked so they don’t flip down. Make sure you don’t have a soccer ball in your backseat that will fly forward and break your mirror or anything. Seriously.

Pull Over Anywhere – literally you can (and will be encouraged to) pull over anywhere. As long as there aren’t 2 yellow lines. But you will be asked to stop and pull over on busy country roads with no kerb and a straight drop off to a ditch…totally inconveniencing everyone around you- but it doesn’t matter. I got asked no less than 10 times to randomly pull over during my test.

No Hazard Lights – hazard lights are like a dirty word here. I don’t know when you’re supposed to use them other than never. They might dazzle a driver. Also you’ll have to drop your automatic into neutral with a parking brake instead of park…because to get to park you go through reverse which having your reverse lights flick on for a second might either dazzle the driver behind you or confuse them…as if they aren’t already confused what the hell you’re doing pulling over at such a stupid place on the road blocking all traffic.

Parking Brake – they don’t care if you have an automatic, every time you come to stop you must put the parking brake on.

BYOML – Bring your own mirror and L-plates. I have no idea why the test administrator doesn’t have his/her own since they do the job all day every day. But nope. You need to bring “L” learner’s tags for the front and back of your car and your own suction cup mirror for the test administrator to use.

Passport Date Fear – Your driving instructor may put the fear in you that you can’t drive yourself to your test, especially if you technically aren’t supposed to be driving. But I can say they didn’t check E or I’s visa/passport date to see when we entered the country. So I wouldn’t worry about it.

General driving in the UK tips

 Parking ALL directions – You might turn down a road and see cars facing you parked on both sides of the road and suddenly freak out that you’ve turned the wrong way down a one way. Fear not. Most times you haven’t. You’re just allowed to park any direction you please.

Must be a one way road – See above. And in addition, you turn down a road, and there’s cars parked on each side, and you see a car coming at you, and this road CAN’T POSSIBLY BE A TWO WAY ROAD BECAUSE YOU SIMPLY CAN NOT FIT TWO CARS PASSING EACH OTHER ON IT. But, it is actually a two-way road. And furthermore, this is almost every neighborhood road in Scotland. You really practice your patience waiting for an oncoming car to pass through.

Parking Garages – they have them and they didn’t design them well. Sometimes you go wind up at a dead end in the parking garage and have to do a 42-point turn to get out. A lot of the time you won’t be able to make it up around the next floor’s corner without a reverse involved.

Unnamed Roads – Quite common. Not in any downtown, but I live under 5 miles from the city centre of Aberdeen, and you have to turn onto two unnamed roads to get to my house. Do you know how hard that makes giving directions?

Disappearing Lane Markings – you might be driving down the road, clearly seeing the dividing line between your lane and the other. And all of a sudden that lane marking disappears, only to reappear 10 yards later. When the lane divider disappears, suck it in! That means that out of nowhere on that wee bit of road it’s not actually two lanes anymore. As in, there isn’t room for two proper lanes.

Handmade Road Signs – You learn those are the ones you should listen to the most.

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Dual Carriageway – A proper American highway! Two lanes of traffic going each way and a median!

Stop Signs – There aren’t any! Okay, I’ve seen about 7 since I moved here over a year ago. Yield. Always a yield. Generally just the triangle painted on the pavement. Be careful not to miss it or you could end up blowing through an intersection and getting sideswiped.

Tire Pressure – Apparently Scots are really stressed to an extreme level the importance of tire pressure awareness. There is always a line 3 deep to fill up your tires.

Gas Station Etiquette – Gas stations are one way. One way in, one way out. But it’s not marked as such. You’ll just realize it when everyone is glaring at you. To that end, all the gas pump hoses are extra long so you can almost always fill up regardless of what side your tank actually is.

Winter/Snow Tires – extremely overused in this country. Possibly another fear mongering tactic. Although I might eat my words now that I live in the country…But we drive through some pretty rough snow and conditions in the Midwest and I don’t know anyone who swaps out their tires in the winter.

Set Speed Limits – you won’t find many speed limit signs in Scotland. More than anything you’ll see this sign.040924_cb_mp_comm_sign_001

That sign means national speed limits apply. And 90% of the time, all speed limits and signs are just national speed limits. Here are the rules:

  1. Dual Carriageway: 70
  2. Residential Areas w. Street Lights : 30
  3. Anywhere else: 60

The only time when it’s different than that is in some residential areas where they speed limit will be posted as 20. Those are your options: 70, 60, 30, and 20 mph. That means that on crazy ass absolute pitch black windy unmarked narrow roads with sheep jumping across….it’s 60 mph.