Posts filed under 'expat'

The princess, the pea, and long haul flights

I have become one of those people who I used to make fun of. In some sort of defense for myself (that perhaps is actually just stupidity) it took a lot of years. I first traveled abroad at 16 and from 22-29 took yearly trips abroad. But in these last 2 and half years I’ve been flying…a lot. And while not every flight is a long haul over night flight, they are becoming more frequently…several times a year. And with that, I’ve become a princess when I fly.

Well maybe not a princess. That assumes some great amount of privilege/wealth/respect/authority that I don’t have at all. So scratch princess…just a particular bag lady of air travel.

I don’t like flying. I love when I encourage someone to come visit or see a part of the world and they tell me they don’t like flying. Honestly? Does anyone like flying? I mean I know we’re supposed to enjoy the journey and all, but I don’t think they literally mean enjoy being crammed into a flying tin can with 1,000 strangers, confined to a foot-by-foot amount of space, being fed shitty food. And while I’m sure those in first class don’t mind traveling as much as us in steerage… I’m pretty sure there’s about a million things they’d rather be doing. Flying sucks. It it’s a means to an end. And I have finally stopped fighting against an unspoken rule I have in my head that there’s no difference in being utterly miserable and just kinda miserable in air travel.

So here are the changes I’ve made that are making my air travel better.

Headphones – really nice headphones. They were a birthday present and they have now made traveling so much better. I admit I was coming from the ear bud world so there was a lot of room for growth. But now I have Bose Bluetooth noise cancelling headphones. THEY ARE AMAZING. First, my ears don’t hurt from wearing them. Second, they really do cancel out ALL the noise. Third, they have Bluetooth and thus can be wireless. They also do have a cord for watching back-of-the-seat movies…. but it’s great to be wireless when I want to just listen to my peaceful piano playlist and try to go to sleep. But really…the noise cancelling is phenomenal! I wouldn’t wear these running, or walking…but for flights (or drowning out a snoring husband) they are amazing.

Eye mask – I’m not picky here. Fancy satin or a cheapie the airline gives you…essential. Because there’s always that one asshole that leaves his window open just sliver on the other side of the plane that lets in a laser beam of sun right into your pupil an hour before you needed to get up. I hate that asshole. Last year E (without eye mask) asked a flight attendant to get said asshole to close his shade, and she came back to say that unfortunately he was sleeping. I wanted to tell her to wake his ass up. Because there were at least 6 other people suffering for his asshole careless slumber…I digress…

Toothbrush – I rarely brush my teeth inside the plane because the tap water is gross and any water I have on hand I think the priority is to drink it. But it’s so nice to be able to brush my teeth right when I get off the plane. Or if it’s a super late one before I get on (extra bonus I’m deterred from eating gummy bears)

Motion Sickness Wristbands – I don’t get “sea sick” in the air very often at all. But when it comes on, it’s terrible. And it’s always the last 10 mins before landing when we’ve needed to circle around the airport before landing. On the plus side, I normally start yawning immensely right before I get nauseous and these are a serious relief. First string of ridiculous yawns they go on and while it doesn’t totally halt feeling crummy, but it really, really prevents it from making me horrendously ill. Bonus – I carry these in my purse at all times because on Scotland roads…. travel sickness sneaks up on you a lot.

Upgraded class – I can’t afford first class…or even business class. But on any flight over 5 hours, I have made the decision I can definitely afford the extra $100-$150 to upgrade to economy plus. A little more legroom goes a long freaking way. And if you are a frequent flier with an airline, you’re more likely to get bumped up to that new level that floats between economy plus and business…where you don’t get to lie down to sleep but you do get champagne. SCORE!

Lounge Access – You’d think we fly enough to be whatever level needed for lounge access right? We don’t because we use so many different airlines. E has a petroleum card for Air France that let’s us cut in line for security and boarding, but he doesn’t get a guest in the lounge with paying extra. Because we always have at least one 4-hour layover in a flight, we have made the decision to get a CC that gives us lounge access. That’s right…we now have the Case Sapphire Preferred. I haven’t been able to utilize this lounge access yet…but I will be very soon. E has though and he loves it.

 

 

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Butt pillow – Not for the every man, but for me. I cracked my tailbone in high school (official x-rays not taken as my parents were away and we didn’t have health insurance and since there’s nothing you can do about a broken tailbone it didn’t really matter) playing soccer. I did sit on a donut at school and I couldn’t play for weeks. Since then my tailbone would act up maybe before a big storm (my butt could tell when it would rain, ha!) but was fine for about 15 years until last year. I know the exact trip home my tailbone started acting up…I’m blaming long flights, hospital chairs, and I’m sure horseback riding doesn’t always help (especially since I really have worked how to sit the canter well or come down lightly over a jump all the time). Anyway, I carry a butt pillow. I don’t care if it’s embarrassing. Ass pain is no joke.

Spotify Premium – In total transparency what I am insisting you have to make your travel more enjoyable, I no longer have. But if you have Spotify premium and can download playlists so you can listen to them without wifi…most importantly, said Peaceful Piano playlist, life is so much more enjoyable. Or maybe it’s a Home Coming playlist that you like to hear to get you in the mood to that beautiful Chicago skyline as you land…I did have premium for 5 months of so…but then I got a horse and E said we needed to cut costs. So my great sacrifice was Spotify Premium…my friends think this is a very funny exchange but shhhh, it seems E hasn’t run the numbers yet.

Neck pillow – I don’t always carry this. To be honest, the ass pillow takes up a lot of space. And if for whatever reason it’s a packed flight and I can’t get a window seat I don’t bring it. And if I am flying with Stella…no way. Because airlines do provide you with a little pillow…but bliss is a neck pillow with the addition of leaning into the little window nook. But to be honest, I brought a neck pillow ONCE last year. Though now I judge less when I see people with them.

So that’s my list of the little things that make a flight that much more enjoyable tolerable. As I stated, I don’t have all the things on the list for every hour flight down to London. It depends on the time I’m traveling, duration of flight, where I’m going, the company I’m with…. but I am over being embarrassed for being a bag lady if that’s what makes god awful air travel more tolerable.

What are your must haves for a long flight?

Behind the Scenes

Wanted to gloss over the bits of life that have taken place in the last 10 months or so (ha!) that won’t make it into a blog post.  Looking back…it seems I really fancy a costume/themed party.

End of June – one of my best friends Merima came to visit.  Expect to see more of Merima on my Croatia recap post.

 

July – We attended a surprise America themed 30th for her husband – hoodie hoo!

July 8 – My cousin and Uncle come to visit.

Have you noticed we take everyone to Dunnottar Castle?

August 28 – We had a Guns n’ Grilling party!  Had a whole mess of us (18?!) go to clay pigeon shooting and then back to our house for a lot of grilling and booze.  Unfortunately, didn’t take any pictures so these I stole from some of our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 4 – Erik and Aaron ran their 2nd Inch by Inch Swim Run in Loch Lomond

November – Whilst home in November I spent some quality time with family and got to meet my new little niece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 10 – Made it to the last Aberdeen Perry’s Christmas Party. (They’re moving this summer.)

 

December – Goodbye Hussars.  Ah the downside of expat life.  This was our first friends we were reaaaaally close to that left.  I cried.  It sucked.

The longest, saddest brunch.

December – Enjoyed our time back in the states for Christmas.Dec 29 – Made the trek back to Scotland.

Dec 31 – NYE watching the fireballs in Stonehaven again (see previous year’s blog post here)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Photo by: http://christinejacksonphotography.squarespace.com/

Jan 27 – Burns night!

2nd year in a row for a monique lhuillier WITH POCKETS!

Some of the girls – we had 2 tables.

 

 

Feb 4 – AWA’s Mardi Gras Party – we were the pajama themed table.

 

March 4 – Our friends Lillian & David hosted an epic 80’s party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 24 – We celebrated our friend Seth’s birthday with Curling and Karaoke

Victory!

The person who fell the most was the Scotsman.

Didn’t fall at all this time!

My sweeping partner cared more about posing than sweeping!

 

March – I really started to learn why grey horses suck.

Spring – Lotta horse time.  Luckily, it’s not all lessons and hard work.  I’ve been super lucky to have some friends trust me with their ponies to go on hacks and enjoy the Scottish countryside.

Spud and I taking a break in the River Dee

 

The Posts Ahead

Even in my blogging hiatus I have thought often about writing, content, etc. And I do have some blog posts already written and ready to go (maybe should take the lapse in time to actually proof read something), as well as quite a few I have wanted to write for some time now. If only I was able to record my thoughts to writing when I was running.

  • A brief overview (mostly in pictures) of what we’ve been up to in the months without blogging.
  • A round up of my favorite cafes’ in Aberdeenshire
  • Carry On Travel Tips
  • Crisp way of life: the UK’s love of potato chips
  • My love-hate relationship with Air BnB
  • 2 Weeks in Croatia
  • Long weekend in Skye
  • A Weekend in Northern Ireland
  • The long horsey road that left me with Hamish
  • The expatriates: expectation vs reality
  • The trailing spouse’s need for an independent life
  • Being an Air BnB host– why not try to make up some of that lost horse money
  • Horsey posts….there’s bound to be loads more horsey posts.

Anyway, I wanted to give a little teaser on the posts that will be coming up in the next few weeks and months. Hopefully this gets you excited and tuned back into Hot Dogs to Haggis, hopefully I start to get some followers back that have forgotten about me, and of course, I hope to get some new followers.

Now those aforementioned are the posts I’ve already written, or are long over due. In addition to those…I have some fun times coming ahead this year and am sure more than a couple blog posts will be coming from them.  So am hoping these adventures on my calendar result in good times and entertaining blog posts if nothing else:

  • A girls long weekend in Porto, Portugal (3 moms + 3 non-breeders = how will our worlds collide)
  • A girls weekend in London (me + 2 single ladies…bound to get into trouble)
  • 2 weeks in Indonesia in August!!
  • My mom’s visit in June with a weekend in Glasgow
  • My father-in-law and brother-in-law visiting in July
  • Wedding in Copenhagen + a uni reunion
  • A weekend on the Isle of Eigg
  • My mom’s return visit in October with a trip to Lisbon
  • A possible weekend up north to Ullapool & John O’Groats
  • 3 Weeks home for Christmas & Megan’s wedding
  • Jumping Hamish – right now we are a LONG way out, but really just looking forward to growing and progressing with Hamish. And I think Jumping him in 2017 is a good, acceptable goal.

And I’m already looking forward to next year’s hols (British slang for holidays). In early chats with some stateside friends about a girls trip- location TBD but there is a lot of Switzerland chat. Along with a possible sailing adventure with other couples around Italy or Greece which is E’s dream. And a frosty trip up to the Shetlands in January for a fire festival. Wanting to come visit us? Time is running out and 2018 is already getting booked.

Anyway, I hope you see more of me and my writing, and I hope I hear from more of you. Let me know if you have an idea for a blog post you’d like to see, if you have any questions, or even some shady hate mail. I do love me some hate mail. Just kidding…well, kinda.

Overweight Baggage Check: Guilt

Wow, a lot can happen in a month. A lot has happened in my last month. My mother in law passed away, I met my new niece, I ran the NYC Marathon, I’ve been to 3 countries, and I bought a horse. In my husband’s last month he probably spent the equivalent of 5 days worth of air travel time. We’re all exhausted. But I wrote this post on my flight back to Scotland the day after my MIL’s funeral (when I was utterly exhausted but couldn’t sleep). I’ll do my best to get fill in the big gap of how the NYC marathon went and how did I think now was a good time to buy my first horse. Spoiler alert: his name is Hamish, he currently has a cut above his eye, and he really fancies a fur trim hood.15259712_10108084046792289_7333331409225187347_o

When looking to title this post, I found this WSJ article that makes me feel a bit better…that I’m not alone in this.

Although it may be difficult for others to understand or agree with our choices, and we expats may feel guilty at times for missing out on important events back home, the decision to return can only be made by us, those living this unique lifestyle. As Ms. Clark says, “Guilt is a natural part of life, a result of making decisions that are best for you but cannot please everyone. As an expat, this guilt may be heightened because we already get a sense from some people that living away from home is in itself a selfish choice. But you can’t please everyone, so I try not to dwell on the guilt.”

It isn’t the long flights (and accompanying jetlag and dry skin), it isn’t the different time zones with late night and early morning calls (and accompanying bags under the eyes), it isn’t the weakness of the dollar compared to the pound (and accompanying credit card bills), and it isn’t saying goodbye to friends at a summer camp rate (and accompanying hangovers, heartbreak, and tears).

By far, the worst part about being an expat is the guilt. The guilt of leaving your family.

I can only speak from my experience. And my experience is that I lived roughly an hour away from my parents for the better part of my (albeit short thus far) adult life. And my experience is that my father passed away leaving my mother living alone. And my experience is that they found a tumor in my mother in law a few months before we were set to move, and the subsequent 2 years or so she fought, and eventually lost a battle with cancer. And my experience is that if I hadn’t had become an expat there’s a possibility that I would be living an hour away from my little niece and nephew. And my experience is that although both E and I have some years, miles, political views, and lifestyle choices between our families… we are very close to them.

And that’s why in my experience, the hardest part of being an expat is the guilt. Whether or not that’s all self imposed or there’s influencing factors, it’s there and it’s hard. It’s hard when someone tells me they could never be abroad because they’re close to their family (as if I’m not.) It’s hard every time we say goodbye (even if I’ll be seeing them in less than a month). It’s hard when we miss important days or can’t be there where someone needs us (it’s not FOMO, it’s wanting to be there for those I love to celebrate the good and comfort in the bad). It’s hard being happy and loving life abroad (because it feels as though it diminishes our longing for and missing of those we love). It’s just hard.

Expat life seems like a dream. The possibilities of great travel, new and interesting friends, changes in finances, sabbaticals from work, finding yourself. But there’s a price to pay. And although I can only speak from my experience…I don’t know anyone that isn’t a little sad when they say goodbye.

Ugly American and UK Customer Service

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In America, I find my behavior acceptably, slightly a bit pushy, American. But I knew going into expat-ing, that that behavior is not acceptable. You don’t yell at the cable company when you don’t have Internet for 3 months. You don’t freak out on your rental company when you don’t have a fridge for 2 months. You don’t write angry emails when you order something online and they let you know two weeks later that they actually don’t have that in stock. You don’t complain when you come at your exact appointed time for a click & collect grocery order and they make you wait 25 mins in the parking lot. You either don’t order changes to your sandwich (no mayo, with avo, just a little bit of beet root, easy on the cheese, and please no weird tangy jams and/or chutneys that come out of nowhere) or if you do, you don’t send it back when they get it wrong and just bring you out white toast.

The ugly American is entitled and demanding…mostly in regards to customer service. But customer service isn’t a priority in the UK the way it is the states. It’s not as if the slap you across the face with your sandwich, but they don’t hustle for tips in the food service industry, and in all other industries, they don’t care to go above and beyond for a customer. They can take you and your business, or leave you. As mentioned with the cable company…for the first time I had a cable company tell me if I wasn’t happy that I could take my business elsewhere. That would never happen with Comcast.

I am happy to say, I turn off the entitled American 99% of the time in interactions with the outside world in Scotland. In my personal life of friends and family relationships, I am however, still probably an ugly American. There have been just 3 times I have gone off the deep end and became the ugly American here. 3 times in 2 years, I think that’s a pretty great track record… The first time was going insane at the aforementioned cable company where the man on the phone told me he would report me for verbal abuse (I seriously wasn’t even Lauren at peak craziness…I had toned it down, honestly, I just have a mouth like a sailor, and I don’t call names…. ever…. so don’t think I’m calling some man on the phone an idiot or anything worse!)screen-shot-2014-08-29-at-8-46-36-amThe second time, is a long complicated story, which did have me go absolutely ballistic at the inefficiency, miscommunication, and complacency of a company…. and I did go absolutely ballistic. I demanded to speak to managers, I exaggerated the outcome of their terrible work ethic, I was enraged. But I am not totally embarrassed to say that it got the job done.   And if I hadn’t had gone ballistic…. it wouldn’t have happened.

This weekend came my third bout of ugly American. Though it was a very tempered version of it…I’m actually not embarrassed, though E is a little. Maybe it’s because I was face to face with someone, maybe it’s because I was in a crowded location. Either way, I didn’t go absolutely nuts….but at the same time, I didn’t get the outcome I wanted. So maybe if I had gone ballistic I would have…something to think about. But I’m sure to this man I just fulfilled every idea he had about demanding ugly Americans.

What happened?

In August when we went to Edinburgh I forgot my running shoes, but had to get training runs in. So Friday night we swung by Scotland’s running shoe store-chain: Run 4 It. I had called to say I was coming, could they have a pair of UK size 7 Asics Gel Nimbuses for me. They did, great. I ran 6 miles the next day and my feet burned. I ran Sunday, feet still hurt, a little less.   I then spent the next 3 weeks wearing them a fair bit, on up to 10 mile runs, only to have my feet hurt, burn, and get blisters. These were not working.

I asked a FB women’s running group I belong to how long do they give a new pair of shoes to break in and comfortable and work? Maybe I needed longer than a month? Maybe I was being picky and demanding on my shoes? The response was no, I had given them plenty of time to break in, these weren’t working, I should return them. It was then that I was looking at my old pair vs. my new pair, and I realized I don’t wear Asics Nimbuses…I were Cumulus’s (for the love of Christ could they not find names that didn’t sound so similar?). Whoops. Had got the wrong shoes. I reach out to the store and explain that I bought the wrong shoes and these aren’t working. That I didn’t have the receipt, but I have the CC statement, and I know which day I went and who I bought them from, etc. I get a phone call from the manager saying to go into my local store and they’ll sort it out, that I shouldn’t be getting blisters. Excellent.

So I went to my local store and explained the situation, they should have received an email, that I was here to switch out the shoes. But they would not let me return the shoes, or do a 1 for 1 switch out (even though the shoes I want are £40 cheaper)…they could only give me a discounted rate on another pair. I went a little ugly American. The manager on the phone wasn’t clear at all…I assumed I was trading in the non-working shoes for another pair. And when explaining this, the man at the shop just kept looking at me and saying, “But you’ve worn them!!” Which was obvious. I had worn the shoes at least 50-60 miles running on paths, trails, and country roads. I said as much. He couldn’t grasp returning something that had been worn and thought I was being ridiculous for implying they would. He kept implying that I was being an absolute nutter for thinking that would take the shoes back.

I had said I didn’t think I was being ridiculous, because this is the first time I bought shoes in the UK, all my other running shoe purchases were in the United States, and EVERY. SINGLE. RUNNING. STORE. I had ever been to and bought from offered any where between a 30-day to 90-day return policy on worn running shoes. How else would you know if they work for you or don’t? They only way to test running shoes is to actually run in them! screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-3-05-35-pm

 

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I was pretty annoyed but I thought hiding it well…until he said, “Well if that’s the case I’m going to move to America.” Which I think was quite sassy and further implying I was lying and making this crazy excellent return policy up. My response was, “Well pack your bags then buddy.” At this point I knew I wasn’t going to get to exchange the shoes….and I wasn’t fighting for that anymore. I am stubborn and felt insulted and at this point I really just wanted this man to: a) acknowledge that I’m not lying or crazy in thinking that I could return running shoes, b) That I’m not insane for thinking they would return a pair of used running shoes, and c) that in comparison to American running shoes their return policy sucks (ugly American wanting foreigners to succumb and admit America is the best).

yes!

yes!

So yeah…I didn’t win the battle. But I also feel that while being an ugly American, I was a pretty toned down, well-mannered ugly American. It’s funny because generally I am the first person to air grievances on why America sucks. There’s a big joke here that I’m a wanna-be Canadian (it’s true!) but yet in these certain situations I am left longing for my homeland. Where the customers are always right, and customer service is second to none (you think returning used running shoes is revolutionary, one of my clients is a medical marijuana dispensary and we return and exchange WEED for the love of god).

So I wasted £145 on running shoes that hurt my feet. And now am praying these newly ordered shoes work (because it’s a new model of course and that changes everything). I let the ladies on my online running group know that the UK return policy is not as generous as the American one. And have wised up and added “running shoes” back to the list of things I only buy in American…. along with any electronics (Apple, Garmin, Bose), Mexican food items, and pumpkin scented everything.

Edinburgh in August

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

Another option in Edinburgh (August or otherwise) is a free walking tour with Sandeman! Highly recommend it.

When we moved to Scotland just over 2 years ago, I had heard something about the “Royal Tattoo” and how it was this crazy big show of bagpipers and performers that only takes place in August at the Edinburgh castle and I realllly wanted to go. But there was about 2 weeks left of the show and the mark up on tickets/available dates were sure to make that impossible.

To top it off, when my mother was going through my dad’s office after he passed away, she found a file on Scotland that he had started for a trip they had been planning to take. On a sheet of yellow legal paper (typical Ray fashion) was the word TATTOO. Obviously, it had to be done. So we had planned my mother and her friend Pat were coming to visit in August and we would start the journey in Edinburgh. (It helps that in the summer there is a direct Chicago to Edinburgh flight). But when my mom came last year I never blogged about her trip. I was a bit overrun with things (also never blogged about my 2 weeks in Croatia…it’s coming I swear!): mainly visitors and vacations. And despite the fact that I’ve been a less than stellar blogger lately…I’m attempting to make up for it. So here’s a little combo post about why you should totally visit Edinburgh in August.

When my mom and friend came, the 3 of us had the place (a really fabulous and ridiculously expensive Air bnb) to ourselves for Friday and E came down on Saturday for Tattoo. This past weekend, E and I went down to Edinburgh for my birthday weekend getaway and stayed at The Carlton Hotel. Both really nice…but you should know, ridiculously expensive in August. Why?

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

Just a little wine spill in our Air Bnb

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

We got to enjoy a beautiful fireworks display with our wine at night.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Aka The Fringe.

The Fringe is the world’s largest art’s festival. It spans for the entire month of August. In 2015, there were over 50,000 performances of over 3,300 shows at 313 different venues. They say the city doubles in size during this month not only with tourists (to see the shows, but also to try and see summer in Scotland) but with all those performers as well.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city...reason enough to visit.

And Edinburgh is a beautiful city…reason enough to visit.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Edinburgh Castle in the middle of the city.

Last year, I didn’t try to tackle any Fringe shows with my mother and her friend. I’m sure I could have, but there was a lot of the city to see, catching up, etc. It would have made it all a bit more rushed. And in hindsight, I agree with that decision since I knew nothing about Fringe. Now I’ve come back from 6 shows over the course of <48 hours and I think I have my wits about me and would be able to lead the charge for a weekend excursion back. (Which I totally am going to plan for my birthday again next year with some friends). So here are my tips for Fringe.

Fringe for Virgins

  • You can buy tickets the day of, 5 minutes before a show starts (or even possibly be given them for free), but I recommend doing some research and seeking out shows you want to see, and buying those tickets in advance- that you can do online.
  • Shows are split into categories: Cabaret and Variety, Children’s Shows, Comedy, Dance/Physical Theater/Circus, Events, Exhibitions, Music, Musicals and Operas, Spoken Word, and Theater…though one show might be in several categories. They all have a suggested age and a blurb about them.
  • Sometimes you read a blurb and are really interested in it, and then you go to the show and it is nothing what you expected.
  • At the Fringe website, you can sort by date, narrow by time of day, and by category. It’s really very handy in planning a weekend.
  • Unless it’s something very highly recommended and publicized, you can buy tickets the week of. There was one (small) show I had wanted to see that was sold out 3 days in advance. And then there was one larger one that was written up in a few publications as the Best of Fringe 2016 that was sold out at least a week in advance.
  • You can’t print tickets at home, but you just pop into one of the many ticket-printing centers, swipe your credit card, and all the tickets you’ve purchased come out at once.
  • If you’re planning on seeing quite a few shows, definitely pull up the venues on a map. Edinburgh is very walkable, but if you only have 30 mins to get from one show in the Meadows to another show on the North Side of the city…you’re not going to make it without a taxi.
  • Speaking of, there is Uber in Edinburgh. Not a big deal for Americans…a very big deal coming from Aberdeen.
  • There is no assigned seating. And even though we were never early to queue, and actually dead last a couple times, there are really no bad seats.
  • There are no bad seats because the venues are TINY. You will be sitting arm pressed against hot fleshy arm at every venue.   It’s Scotland so it’s never warm out, but underneath your sweater or jacket, have something cool on because the venues are hot. And take off your outer layer as you sit down because you won’t have the room to do it mid-show.
  • Shows are generally an hour. We went to one that was 90 minutes. I really wish it ended at 60 minutes. Make sure you really are keen on it if you see it’s 90 minutes.
  • Some shows really might not let you in if you’re late…generally shows start 2-3 mins late, so a small buffer window. But if you arrive RIGHT on time, you’ll be fine. And no one looks down upon you if you’re clearly late because you stopped at the bar first.
  • There are bars at every venue (pretty much) and you can always bring drinks in. I actually didn’t think the drinks were overpriced compared to something like Taste of Chicago.
  • At one show, the comedian (that I really enjoyed), asked for money at the end. But she referred to some people buying tickets. Which led me to believe a lot of people got in for free. But then I felt weird not giving money because I loved her…but also had paid about £13 per ticket. Just know this can happen, but in 6 shows, only one asked for tips at the end.
  • For dining: unless you’re planning on going to places that are strictly no reservation (El Cartel, Ting Thai Caravan), you need to make reservations. Our plans got slightly shuffled around and were originally going to do El Cartel for dinner, but did them for lunch instead. So for dinner Saturday night we went with the only place we could walk into, which was less than good tapas. Thankfully, it wasn’t our last meal on earth.
  • If you’re going to eat at the aforementioned no-reservation places, pad in lots of time to wait. Or better yet, go at an off time. For lunch at El Cartel, they open at noon and we were there at 12:15, which is early for lunch. But we had gotten up and ran 6 miles that morning so it was a late breakfast for us and we beat the crows and were seated right away. The next day, the same thing where we showed up for a late breakfast (11:30) and managed to get seated right away and beat the lunch rush.
Only at Fringe...Smut while you wait.

Only at Fringe…Smut while you wait.

The crowds are madness in August

The crowds are madness in August

My tops 3 (of 6) performances that I saw at Fringe this year was:

2nd runner up: Amelia Ryan: Lady Liberty (Cabaret and Variety/Comedy)

1st runner up: Andrea Hubert: Week (Stand-Up/Story Telling)

1st place: Love, Lies and Taxidermy (new writing/comedy)

If I had more days I would go see the other performances in the same venues as Love, Lies & Taxidermy – most of which have the same cast. Really cool venue, really liked what they did. Had actually wanted to see Every Brilliant Thing (done by them as well) but it was sold out! Alas…

Beyond Fringe

As previously mentioned, in conjunction with Fringe Festival is the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Also only taking place in August, dubbed as the “World’s Greatest Show.” And I have to say…. it’s pretty great. With the magnificent background of the Edinburgh castle, more bagpipes than you can shake a stick at, a supremely choreographed routine that has a different theme each year, representations of many different nations, as well as different kinds of musicians, dancers, and performers, topped off with a stunning fireworks display…. it’s incredible.IMG_1415 IMG_1399
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So if you’re questioning if Tattoo is worth it? The answer is definitely yes! My advice would be to buy tickets as soon as humanly possible to get good seats at a fair price. Though there aren’t any truly bad seats…if you’re not in the Royal Gallery or Premier Seats (we weren’t) you just don’t want to be tucked in a corner, or too low so that you can’t see the whole scope of the arena. Even though we bought tickets months out, a lot of the good seats were sold out the night we wanted to go. I compared scalper-like sites but I found that if I bought directly through the Tattoo, paying a little extra for the ceilidh package, I actually got a better seat for less money than buying a normal ticket from Tattoo or a ticket from a third party. Bonus, we went to the ceilidh afterward, which provided one drink and quite a lot of food included, and my mother and her friend got to watch and learn some traditional dances. It was definitely worth is.

 

 

 

For the love of the ‘Deen

I’ve said this before, but I really love Aberdeen….most specifically, Aberdeenshire, and really, all of Scotland. It’s charming and quaint, rural and majestical. In fact, last month a job opportunity opened up for E in Brussels. It’s always been the goal that eventually we would get transferred to Belgium, but when E mentioned it to me, I started to cry. I don’t want to leave Scotland! At least not yet….and to be honest, even though I know it will have to eventually happen, and I’m excited about the prospect of what the next expat assignment will bring, you’ll probably read about the fact that E has moved me kicking and screaming.

So for this Friday faves, I’m going to share 5 links that help me prove just how grand life in the ‘shire is.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to come visit (next year, fully booked this summer already) or make you a little more excited for your upcoming trip to the North.

  1. Aberdeen is Scotland’s “kindest city” and the third kindest in all of the UK. This was based on a study which “measured the average number of good deeds carried out by residents.” This is no surprise to me. There are so many stories of people helping each other out , from lost dogs to kindly neighbors. In my own time here I’ve been free to go after forgetting my wallet at eateries, given gifts by my neighbors, and had my house called up by another neighbor when there was a bad storm.   The people here are nice. See the article HERE.
  2. Aberdeen is the second cleanest city in the UK in terms of air pollution. Well done ‘Donians! See the article HERE.
  3. There are more castles per acre in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK. I personally fancy the very gothic castles (Fyvie) or the ruins (Dunnotar)…but there’s a castle here that will take your breath away, no matter what you fancy. See the article HERE.

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    Dunnottar Castle….always breathtaking just 15 mins south of Aberdeen

  4. But somehow Aberdeen still has a bad rap. At least people have fun with it. Check out this Buzzfeed list: 32 Reasons You Should Never, Ever Visit Aberdeen. It’s more than adequate in summarizing why I love it here. Check it out HERE.
  5. And where else can I force my husband to take m on Sunday drives, pulling over and stopping suddenly everytime I see a baby sheep or Highland Coo? As I did a 7 days of Sheep on Instagram recently, I’ll just treat you to some Coo pictures now. 🙂DSC_1032 DSC_1060 IMG_3820 DSC_0104 DSC_0335

Stella in the Country

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I love country living. Even when its flaw (being far from city-centre) becomes more and more abundant (as our social life gets fuller and fuller). I was a little worried initially about feeling alone and closed off- especially when it came to just having contact with people on a day that E is out of town and I have no reason to go into town. I remember one weekend when we moved to San Diego- E had been sent to New Jersey to work and I didn’t leave my apartment from Friday when I got home from work until Monday morning. Hadn’t unlocked the front door! Man, I kinda dream of a weekend like that now with sweet, sweet hibernation.

Anyway. With Stella-dog that’s never going to happen again. But I still was a little worried about actually interacting with people even though I knew I’d be outside. As it turns out- it’s rare that I take a walk with Stella through the woods or down the road and don’t run into anyone. And a lot of time, they want to talk. Everyone is friendly and engaging. Just yesterday I met a 5 year old girl (and her grandpa) who told me all about her new baby brother that’s coming next week, that she wants to be a veterinarian, that there’s a boy in her class that squeezes her hand too hard, and then she likes to feed Disney and Spirit (the horses down the lane) carrots whenever anyone will take her to them. It was pretty delightful other than my worry that maybe Disney and Spirit are getting way too many carrots as I feed them quite often as well and I know of at least one other neighbor that does as well.

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In some ways taking Stella out here is the exact same as taking Stella out in Chicago. Of course we don’t encounter our regular local homeless people or stop in to the same high end shops to get free dog treats (shout out to Lululemon, Barbour, Burton, Brioni, Ugg, Ted Baker, Sprinkles and Ugg), but we do meet and talk with our neighbors, get pets from strangers (more Stella than me), and sniff some dog butts (more Stella than me). There’s just the added bonus of not ever being on a leash, drinking water fresh from the burn, and chasing the occasional deer.

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How stella hydrates: Chicago vs. Scotland

The biggest difference in our typical “go outside” in Chicago vs. Aberdeenshire isn’t the scenery, it’s everything else!

CHICAGO DOG WALKS

ABERDEENSHIRE DOG WALKS

Leash Carrots (for horses)
Standard Collar Light Up Collar or Vibrating Collar (depending on the season)
Poo Bags Head Torch
Money (it always seemed like a good idea to stop at the Sprinkles cupcake ATM) Reflective Vest or Rain Coat
Tennis Ball & Racket Wellies or Hiking Boots
Trainers, snow boots, or flip flops

 

 

I still am loving country living and fear more a re-adjustment to a big city rather than something more rural (I just may eat my words some day). I’m pretty sure Stella has so qualms about her change in scenery either!

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Sheepdog in training.

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Wah-bulance

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Quickly becoming the worst blogger out there. In my defense…I’ve had my usual busyness, with a bunch of extra nuts on top: a trip to NYC for my brother’s wedding, entertaining our first 2016 visitors, trip planning, and a last minute trip home. I’ve also spent a fair amount of time searching for a horse to loan (which only resulted in bruises, no horse to call my own), going to doctors, and trying to sorta kinda start marathon training.

I know I’m a shite blogger…and I’d love to be a better one. But honestly, a lot of the time I just don’t feel like blogging. Why? Because there’s a lot of other shite going down that takes up my time, emotions, and energy. But because of that, I wanted to take a quick moment to dispel the idea that twitter, facebook, instagram, and many blog posts might suggest: that life is a rose garden. I’m not looking for sympathy, and I’m not out to share all my grievances (no one has time for that list). I just don’t like feeding into the hype that everyone is having these kick ass lives that you see online, leaving you feeling inadequate and sad. We all know social media only highlights (or exaggerates) the good in everyone’s life. No one is out there bragging about washing their running tights with gum in the pocket, their favorite, most expensive dress not fitting, all of a sudden having a complexion that resembles a 13 year-old, being over budget for the month, feeling like their college education was a bit of a waste and not knowing what the eff to do with their professional life, and their husband coming home at 2am drunk as a skunk. It makes sense though, people either don’t want to be brought down by the Debbie Downer side of life or they don’t want to have to call the wah-mublance for someone who can’t suck it up and move on. But at the risk of seeming like I’m digging for some sort of attention… life isn’t all sunshine and sheep over here.

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My mother in law has been ill for quite some time now. Which makes being thousands of miles away all the more difficult. There’s a lot of stress, worry, guilt, last minute flights, and overall sadness.

We’ve had a very tragic, untimely death of a family member. Death is never easy, but when it’s someone so young, kind, promising, admirable…. it’s really unbearable. Emotionally, I’m exhausted.

I need two surgeries. They aren’t huge, but they both need me to go under, experience immense pain, and continue with pain and hard work for 6 months of 3x a week PT and rehab. As if that doesn’t suck enough…I can’t get them done at the same time, and each surgery would remove me from everything that makes me happy in my life for 6 months.

Aberdeen is an oil city, and oil prices are in the shitter right now. There’s also the whole Brexit thing. Most things are uncertain in North Sea oil and even more uncertain in the UK, and the things that are certain are a lot of my friends are leaving Scotland.

Gun violence is running rampant in my home country, and as is the case every summer, especially abundant in my favorite city: Chicago.

Trump is the republican nominee. People from my home country agree with the hatred he spews.  Enough said.

Those are my qualms.  So I’m sorry for going MIA, lame content, and a huge lack of specific blog posts I’ve been meaning to write because lately…it’s been hard. My heart’s heavy right now, and that’s okay, that’s life. I am fully aware that I haven’t exactly drawn the short end of the stick and there are thousands (millions?) of people going through much worse. But now you know it’s not all drinking cocktails on a beach/brilliant sunshine hikes/fabulous vacations…that’s just what I choose to share on social media. Because even though you wouldn’t feel any jealousy reading about my hurdles, I’m sure you’d get over reading about my pity-party too.

American TV Hack

It’s been about 18 months since I gave my tips and tricks to watching American TV in the UK. See the original post: HERE. Seems about time for an update, don’t ya think.

I have grown slightly accustomed to UK TV. They have pretty great game shows- the Chase and Pointless, some fun UK spins on shows like Bargain Hunters and House Hunters, still loads of reruns of the Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, and my new favorite show: This Farming Life which follows, “the struggle and triumphs of five very different farming families in some of Scotland’s most beautiful and remote landscapes.” I mean, hello…. my new reality TV dream is to be on that series.Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 7.05.44 PMAnd if you can get cable TV (we can’t because we live in the middle of nowhere) you can get better (read American) channels, and Sky Atlantic is basically HBO a day later…. but you can find all that on your own. This is a tip of those Americans craving our biased morning news programs, over-the-top juicy dramas and weight loss challenges featuring the most cringe-worthy Americaners.

So my first post was all about a VPN and either watching your TV programs on an ipad/computer and/or using an Apple TV airstream to watch them on your TV. Which is all right but not always the best quality because you’re VPN lessons your quality, and then air streaming lessons that a step further.   My new find is Unlocator. Another VPN service that you can use on your tablets or computers, but even better, is designed to be used with your Apple TV.Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 9.01.02 PM

There’s a free week trial, but after that it is about $50 for a year of VPN service. You are given a DSN number to manually input in your Apple TV settings, and then as long as you have an American Cable TV login (Comcast, Direct TV, etc.) can now unlock all the American TV apps on your Apple TV. I will admit the apps are a little limited. But E gets to watch Pardon the Interruption and Sports Center, I start my day with the day prior’ Good Morning America, and we both love having HBO Go.IMG_3334

As with most bootleg ways to beat the system and pretend you’re still in America…. there can be frustrating flaws and hiccups you have to work around. Most notably, HBO Go is really picky and if the weather is not perfect, doesn’t work for some reason. I don’t get it because ALLLL the other apps work, but c’est la vie. How else would I get to maintain a front row seat to the demise of America politics with Donald Trump leading the march?Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 8.57.10 AM