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My First Trip to London Town

Along the Thames

The London Eye + the Thames

As you’ve already heard, I took my first trip to London ever a few weeks ago.  And no surprise, I loved it!  The city has an undeniable palpable energy, which is also what made New York so near and dear to my heart.  Perhaps that’s why I felt so at home in London during my visit? I rented an airbnb studio apartment near the British Museum in the center of the city.  From there I was close to my workshop location, able to walk all along the Thames, and was only a couple of tube stops away from the theaters in Piccadilly Circus.  It couldn’t have been more perfect!

Big Ben

Big Ben

Westminster Station

Westminster Station

Near Westminster Palace

Near Westminster Palace

Like I mentioned,  instead of packing in all the sights, I mostly focused on food (check out my street food tour) and theater (Book of Mormon and Relative Values — both fabulous!).  But I still carved out time on Saturday to simply wander along the Thames and admire the London Eye,  Big Ben, Westminster Palace, St. James’ Park, and Buckingham Palace.  

St. James's Park

St. James’s Park

Buckingham Palace Gate

Buckingham Palace Gate

On the spur of the moment, I also visited Westminster Abbey – burial place to many of the great monarchs and important figures of England (including Queen Elizabeth I, Queen Mary, Queen Anne, Charles Darwin, and Isaac Newton), sight of many royal weddings (from King Henry I in 1100 to William & Kate in 2011), and nearly every royal coronation for the last thousand years.  The architecture is amazing and the Abbey is full of a millennium’s worth of history.  It’s definitely worth the steep £18.00 entrance fee, in my opinion, even if you’re not allowed to take photos inside.

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

I wish I could have spent more time in the city, but I know I’ll be back again to visit!  Since the price of a round trip ticket can hover around 50 Euros from Germany, there is really no excuse.  In fact, I already have a few ideas for next time…  The Vayable tour I took added just the right personal and contemporary balance to my visit, so on my next visit I may try another (I have my eye on this one).  And rather than stay in the center, I might try to find an airbnb apartment in one of the East London neighborhoods I explored and loved. Do you love London too?  What would you go see on your next visit?

Stolpersteine in Bremen: Hier wohnte…

Parkallee 44: After

Parkalle 44, Bremen: Julius, Anni, and Egon Bamberger fled to Switzerland in 1935, to France in 1937, and finally to the USA in 1941. Friedel Bamberger was humiliated and disenfranchised and took her own life in 1940.

When you’re in the final phases of writing your doctoral dissertation, it’s pretty easy to become totally absorbed in your own work and lose perspective on everything else.  These past few months, all of my energy has really been focused on finishing my PhD.  Sure, I use running as an emotional and physical outlet, but it is ultimately also a very self-absorbed sport.  I found myself wanting to devote time to something bigger than myself.

Ein Stein. Ein Name. Ein Mensch.

When I read about the Serve the City week happening here in Bremen, I immediately signed up to participate.   Thursday morning, a teams of us hit the streets of Bremen to polish Stolpersteine (literally, stumbling stones or blocks).  The Stolpersteine  are an art project by Gunter Demnig commemorating the victims of National Socialism (the Nazis) across Europe.  Gunter lays small brass plaques in the sidewalks in front  of victims’ former homes, beginning with “Here lived…” and then listing their name, birthday, and what became of them.  Over 43,000 Stolpersteine have been laid so far across Europe.

If you live in Germany, you have certainly gestolpert across a few of these plaques.  We had several in front of my apartment building in Hamburg, they are everywhere in Berlin, and I pass many on my walk to the train in the morning here in Bremen.  They offer a very concrete connection to those that suffered during this terrible period in history — a family lived in this very house, perhaps the same house where you now live, and here is their story.  Suddenly it doesn’t seem so abstract anymore, does it?

My volunteer partner and I spent about 4 hours polishing 12 Stolpersteine in Bremen.  You can tell in the before-and-after photos below that some of the plaques were hardly readable anymore and required some extra time and attention.  But it was extremely gratifying to see them gleaming afterwards — once again attracting attention as you pass by.

Parkstrasse 5: Before and After

Parkstrasse 5, Bremen: Sophie, Ida, Hermann, and Henrietta Ginsberg were deported in 1941 and murdered in Minsk.

Parkallee 31: Before and After

Parkallee 31, Bremen: Moritz Gompertz was deported in 1942 to the Theresianstadt Ghetto and died in 1943.

Parkstrasse 60

Parkstrasse 60, Bremen: Martha Schragenheim, and Simon and Minna Horowitz were deported in 1942 to the Theresianstadt Ghetto and died in 1943.

Get involved

If you’re willing to put a little research and time into it, you can also request to have Stolpersteine installed to commemorate victims of the Holocaust who lived at your address — check this website for more information.  There are also many local organizations involved in installing and taking care of the Stolpersteine — you can find a list here of their contact information.  And finally, at least in Bremen, you can “adopt” Stolpersteine and volunteer to polish and take care of them every so often — click here for more information.

P.S. The blog andBerlin has a really wonderful series devoted to the Stolpersteine in Berlin. I highly recommend popping on over there for a look.

Race Report | Bonn Half Marathon

Bonn's Münsterplatz

Bonn’s Münsterplatz (photo taken in 2008)

Don’t you love those moments when everything comes together exactly when you need it to?  That’s what Sunday’s half marathon in Bonn felt like for me.  Although I aimed to beat my fastest time (2:13:06 at the NYC Half Marathon in 2007), I had no idea just how much faster I would be able to run.  But I did know that I wanted to run my heart out and devote every last ounce of energy to the race.  And guess what?  I improved my personal half marathon record by almost 5 minutes!

I’ve been training and racing consistently since January in Bremen’s winter running series (a 10K, 15K, and 20K), focusing on speed work and gradually increasing the distance of my long runs.  I’m sure this long build-up over the winter helped me avoid the overuse injuries which usually put a damper on my training.  During my last full week of training before Bonn, I nailed my speed and tempo runs and had a very comfortable 12-mile long run.  So there was every reason to be confident in my abilities, and I definitely felt positive in the days leading up to the race.

The play-by-play

Knowing all of these things, I put together a simple pacing plan (hold steady at 10:08 /mile to come in just under my best time) — and promptly threw it out the window after the first couple of miles.  When I noticed I was running faster than planned, I thought it was just typical race day nerves and tried to slow myself down a bit.  But as the first miles ticked by, I realized that this faster-than-planned pace felt comfortable and like something I could hold onto for awhile (rather than something that would cause me to crash and burn later).  So I hung on and made sure to keep checking in with myself to maintain a comfortable effort (9:44, 9:52, 9:52, 9:43).

KM 42 (und 21)

Running towards the finish. Photo by Photocapy.

During the next few miles, the pace required a bit more work and I slowed down, but mostly felt like I could still maintain my effort (10:04, 9:51, 10:04, 9:57, 9:57).  I knew even this slightly slower pace would still lead to a personal best, so I promised myself to keep the effort steady  – and if I still had something left to give in the last few miles, then I would.

And I did.   For the last four miles, I made the pace uncomfortable.  I just let my legs run as fast as they could carry me and tried not to let my mind get in the way.  It hurt, but in the very best possible way (9:41, 9:21, 9:23, 9:08).  There was even a point around the 10th mile where I became quite emotional and I had to swallow back happy tears!  Since I spent my first couple of months in Germany in Bonn, it was pretty wonderful to run by certain landmarks and places, bringing back a whole lot of fantastic memories.

A nice, shiny medal! Via Instagram.

In the end, I finished the half marathon in 2:08:13 and was kind of shocked by my time!  In those last few miles, I really didn’t have the energy to pay too much attention to my overall time — I just ran.  And I couldn’t be happier with the result.

What I learned from this race

The Bonn Half Marathon was yet another reminder, to be confident in my running abilities and put more faith in what I can accomplish with solid training.  Like they say, you have to run faster to run faster.  It might not always be comfortable, but it does work.  And now I’m 5 minutes closer to my BIG GOAL of someday running a half marathon in under 2 hours.  Suddenly, it doesn’t seem so far off anymore!

Next on board

After several solid months of training, I’m giving myself a bit of a break and focusing on strength training in April.  I’ll keep my running mileage up, but need to run “just for fun” for awhile to avoid burn out.  Then in May, I’ll train for a 4.5 km relay race that I’ll run at the end of the month with a team from work.  Beyond that, we’ll just have to wait and see.  For now, I’m going to bask in the glow of my new PR!

East London Street Food Tour

One of the absolute highlights of my few days in London was a tour of the street food scene in the East End, which I booked through Vayable.com — a website where locals can offer their expertise and share their favorite places with visitors.  I kind of detest the mainstream tour companies and aimed to avoid the hordes of tourists swarming other areas of the city. Along with one other woman visiting from Boston, our “local insider” Matthew spent several hours showing us around London’s East End — one of the most diverse and storied areas of the city, which has seen a lot of change since the 2012 Olympics.

33a S. Schwartz

33a S. Schwartz

Fournier Street

Fournier Street

We started our tour in Whitechapel and slowly made our way north, walking through Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Hackney, and ending in London Fields.  The focus was mostly on the street food stalls that have popped up in the last several years (with a similar ethos as Portland’s food trucks), but we did check out one or two shops too. Our first taste of food came near Brick Lane with a yummy Bangladeshi pastry filled with eggs, greens and onions and covered in a hot sauce. Next came London’s famous flat white coffee (actually from Australia and New Zealand) at a trendy coffee shop (not a part of the tour, but we all felt the need to caffeinate). After a bit of wandering, we also sampled falafel, Persian stew, and Italian quesadilla — and sat ourselves down at some outdoor tables to chat, talk politics, and enjoy our food.

Gourmeh Sabzi: Persian herb stew

Gourmeh Sabzi: Persian herb stew

Outdoor tables

Taking a seat

Afterwards we tested out the pulled pork sandwiches from The Rib Man, a real London street food original, whose Holy Fuck Hot Sauce has made it’s way into some of London’s restaurants as well.  (His Christ on a Bike and Holy Mother of God Hot Sauces are pretty popular too.)

Pork rib sandwich from the Rib Man

Pork rib sandwich from the Rib Man

By this point I was starting to get pretty full, but we gave ourselves time to digest with a short picnic in a nearby park. We then continued our walk while munching on Poutine — a Quebec invention of french fries, gravy, and cheese. Our last food stop was for Bunny Chow at Box Park in Shoreditch — a specialty from Durban of meatball stew inside of a hollowed out loaf of bread.

Poutine Menu

Poutine Menu

Bunny Chow from Durban

Bunny Chow from Durban

To close out the tour, we made our way through the Hackney flower market and towards London Fields, where our little group drank a locally brewed beer together.

Canal in Hackney

Canal + houseboats in Hackney

London Fields Brewery

London Fields Brewery

The entire afternoon was super pleasant and felt more like a friend showing off his favorite neighborhood spots than an “official tour” —  exactly what I was hoping for. Matthew was super knowledgeable, fun to talk to, and able to comment on the authenticity of much of the food based on his own personal adventures around the world (he’s a  journalist by trade).  We wandered down side streets and over canals and in and out of markets and made the most of the sunny, blue skies.  It was a perfect taste of the city and offered a peek into everyday London life.  I loved it!

What’s your opinion about the street food scene? Either in London or elsewhere?

For more posts on London, check these out:

Traveling. Running. Photographing. Living.