The London Marathon

Yesterday over 35,000 people took part in the 31st London Marathon, which is the single largest money-raising charity event in the world.  IN THE WORLD! Runners raised millions of pounds for dozens of different charities.

It was an amazing spectacle and the public was out in strong numbers to support all of the runners. The entire 26.2 mile course was lined on both sides with spectators wildly cheering, holding up huge signs, ringing cowbells, bar-b-cuing and, of course, drinking beer. Even with all of the crazyness that was taking place in the crowd, it was the race itself that was the most entertaining.

Of course the most impressive of the runners was my future wife Chrissy, who finished her first ever marathon in 5 hours and 13 minutes and raised over £1300 for the British Heart Foundation. She ran the event in memory of her father, who passed away from heart complications several years ago.

She was a bit disappointed with her time but in the end it was a very hot day and she did exactly what she had trained to do: she finished without walking and had a wonderful time. I was surprised at how good she looked at the end and I think if she had wanted to have a miserable day she could have pushed herself and done it in well under five hours. There are other marathons for that, but the London Marathon is a day of fun and wild characters.

Among the competitors was a group of runners dressed as rhinos, a London Bus manned by two runners, an American Football player, a man running with a washing machine on his back, a man dragging two truck tires, dozens of galloping beer bottles and countless cartoon characters. It was pretty amazing to see the costumes that people were able to carry all of that way, some of them weighing 40 pounds or more.

Many course records were set including Emmanuel Mutai from Kenya who clocked a time of 2:04:39 and another Kenyan, Mary Keitany won the women’s race, finishing in 2:19:17. Jon Morgan set a new record for the fastest cartoon character, running as Fred Flinstone and finishing in 2:46:59.

The race is longer than the longest bus route in London and goes past some pretty amazing historical sites. Including dozens of buildings that were constructed before the signing of the Declaration of Independence and some that were built in the early 1600’s!

At Mile 6 the runners pass the Prime Meridian, which was also the start of the 2007 Tour de France. On the left is Inigo Jones’ Queen’s House built in 1616 for Anne of Denmark, James I’s wife; and on the right is the Royal Naval Hospital, designed by Christopher Wren.

At Mile 10 the route passes within 250 metres of the Mayflower Pub. It was here that the Pilgrim Fathers assembled to set sail for America. However, they ran out of money and the ship was moved to Plymouth to avoid mooring dues.

Around Mile 13 the runners cross Tower Bridge, which was built in 1894 and still has all the original machinery for raising and lowering the drawbridge. It has never once failed to raise the 1,000 ton bascules.

Just after Mile 14 is  St Anne’s Church, designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor and built between 1712 and 1730.  Across the street is the Grapes pub, built in 1720. It is said that a young Charles Dickens was made to stand on the tables and sing to customers here.

At Mile 23 the course goes past Billingsgate Market, which is no longer the fish market of London but still retains three feet of perma frost created after centuries of cold stores on the site.

Runners pass Parliament Square and Big Ben at Mile 25 and finish in front of Buckingham Palace on The Mall.

The race was amazing, and watching it actually made me want to compete in the 2012 event.  It’s a great day that the entire city enjoys. Chrissy’s mom and I negotiated the thousands of spectators and the over loaded but surprisingly beefed up subway network so that we could see Chrissy a few times along the way. We missed her at the start and she snuck past us again at Mile 7, but I was determined to see her once and give her our support so at Mile 17 I climbed a tall brick wall between the train tracks and the road. I found her, jumped down off the wall and ran with her for a half mile or so.

We also caught her at the end and was yelling her name but I wasn’t able to get a picture of her while she was looking at us. She said she heard us but never saw us. Hopefully the official pictures are better than the ones I got.

This is a great event in a wonderful city. Sure there are things about this place that I hate but yesterday I loved London. And what a way to see the city. I can only imagine what it must have been like to run this thing. I hope I get to do it someday!

CONGRATULATIONS CHRISSY!  I AM SO PROUD OF YOU!

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Budget Airlines

Are they worth it?

Flying has been a big part of my life the last few years. I flew back and forth from Thailand to the US three times in the three years that I worked there, all by different routes; and I obviously didn’t take a boat to London. You would think that by now I’d of learned how to find reasonably priced airfare without having to sacrifice, well, everything. To a certain extent I have, but things seem to change quickly now and the changes are not good for the traveller.

Air Asia is a new budget airline that services most of Asia. They have revolutionized air travel over there, bringing prices down so low that middle class citizens can fly. There have always been cheap airlines, but Air Asia conforms to European safety standards, meaning that you should expect the flight to proceed without incident. This is not always the case with air travel in the third world. In South America the travelers applaud every time a plane lands without crashing – and that’s on the expensive airlines.

But you don’t get safety and cheap tickets without making sacrafices. You must pay for things like food and blankets, and there are no business class or first class options. Just a bunch of coach level seats crammed into the cabin, with noticeably less legroom than usual. And then there is the free seating thing. When you check in you are not given a seating assignment – everyone just sits where they want. You might be picturing an orderly line of passengers taking seats as they get on the plane; unless you’ve actually been to Asia. Then you know that nothing in Asia is orderly.

When the time comes to board the plane, you just go for it. Open seating in Asia is a free for all – every man for himself. People push and shove there way to the check in counter and then it is literally a sprint to the plane. And not a sprint down the usual jetway, but a mad dash across the runway right to the plane. Sometimes I wonder if we’re even running to the right plane. It’s not like there are any signs or airline employees guiding us – we’re in the middle of a runway. It probably looks pretty funny from afar – a bunch of 5 foot 6  middle aged Thais stampeding down the blacktop with a few tall white tourists towering over the crowd, desperately looking around for something to help them come to terms with the fact that this really is how air travel works in Asia. They are obviously lost, scared, and wondering if they are about to board a plane to a country that they have never heard of. Imagine a herd of zebras running across the plains with a few giraffes stuck in the middle wandering what the hell is going on.

Now most Air Asia flights are pretty short so I can handle not having a good seat. Basically what this means is that I don’t have to be first in the race… I just can’t be last. You see they often oversell the flight, so if you do end up last, you’re probably not getting on the plane.

I did take the risk of hopping on a new route offered by Air Asia once – from London to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. I had to go to KL anyway to get a visa for Thailand, and the flight was literally about half the price as other airlines. So i figured I could deal with the bare bones service to save a few hundred dollars. I’m not sure I’ll do it again.

The weight allowance was an issue, and after sweet talking the check in attendant I still ended up spending an extra 70 dollars or something just getting all of my stuff on the plane. Oh well, that’s life. I’m on the plane now and it’s time to relax… right? Think again.

There was a broken speaker somewhere near me that played about a 10 second loop of some bad classical music for the entire 11 hour flight. My guess is that about 15 different people asked the flight attendants to try and get it turned off and they were either too dumb to figure it out or they didn’t care. Since we were on a budget flight, there was no entertainment system so unless you had an iPod (which I did not), then you were stuck listening to the same 10 seconds of violin for hours. It drove me insane and I ended up spending a lot of time standing in the back of the plane.

Enough about Asia. I don’t live there anymore and even though the flights have nothing to do with it, they are representative of the reasons that Chrissy and I decided no to sink any money into a business there. After working in Thailand for so long and loving every minute of it, we decided that we wanted to spend some time in a more stable part of the world and in a place where decisions are made with some forethought. We chose London… but I’m not sure it’s any better.

So here I am in Europe, again trying to decide how much I want to sacrifice to get cheap airfare. Is a good deal really a deal at all if it means you have to give up all of the amenities? It depends on what you’re willing to sacrafice to save a few bucks.

When Chrissy and I flew to Ireland, we got a great deal on Ryan Air, an Irish airline known for having extremely cheap tickets to destinations all over Europe. But it’s only cheap if you remember to check in and print your boarding passes in advance. Getting boarding passes printed at the airport costs £60!  I wonder how many people end up paying that fee?

Also, Ryan Air only flies out of Gatwick, which is outside of London. We could have taken a train, but there is a cheap bus run by Easy Bus, apparently a part of Easy Jet, another budget airline.  After a sprint to the bus stop, we got on our scheduled van and had a non-eventful trip to the airport.

Check in was easy too, but getting on the plane was a different story. They had three employees routing us through various checkpoints, just so that we could sit in a glass box and wait for the plane. One of these checkpoints was to make sure that we weren’t carrying on bags that were oversize. This is another mini-scam.

Ryan Air charges an ungodly amount to check even one bag, so everyone tries to carry all of their luggage onto the plane.  The airline knows this, and has made their limits a few inches smaller than other airlines. This means that even the black “carry-on” suitcases that are made for taking on the plane are too big! So we stand in line forever, watching people try to smash their bags in the metal frame provided by the airline to show customers how tiny there bags must be. I even saw one lady sit on her bag to get it in; but then she couldn’t get it out!

Ryan Air also mandates that you can only take ONE bag. I don’t mean one carry-on and one personal item like all the other airlines; I mean ONE BAG. So once the lady got her bag out of the frame and picked up her purse off the ground, one of the airline employees came over and told her that she had to cram her purse into her suitcase and THEN cram her suitcase back into the metal thing. This is not an efficient way to get people on an airplane.

There is free seating in Europe but to my surprise, it actually works. We still have to walk out onto the runway but the key word is walk. No racing to the plane and no wondering if I’m getting on the right one. Still no inflight service though. Nothing. Unless you pay a premium price for it – like £5 for a bottle of water.

Easy Bus. A budget bus company run by a budget airline. They were great on the way to Gatwick but getting back to London after our trip was mad. The buses don’t show up on time, and when they do show up they are full. The drivers either can’t speak english or just ignore your inquiries. This means dozens of people standing around being pissed and fighting for spots in line every time an orange vehicle rolls up. I ended up hearing that morning that Easy Bus isn’t even affiliated the Easy Jet, the airline, but they just plastered their vans with Easy Jet’s colors and fonts to make themselves look reputable.

So the question is, what are you willing to give up? It is starting to seem like we will be in this part of the world for a few years and we will certainly want to travel. If we have to fly on the budget airlines and use the budget bus companies to get out of London then we will; but if we can afford to go the more expensive route… WE WILL!

 

 


Ireland!

Some of you may have been wondering where I’ve been. Then again most of you probably didn’t even notice I was gone. Either way, I’ve just returned from a great trip to visit with Chrissy’s family in Ireland.

Just one more interesting fact about my British wife that sounds American and looks Asian… her dozens of Filipino family members all live in Ireland. Apparently Ireland had an open immigration policy at one point and, as many Filipino citizens do, Chrissy’s family took the chance to work abroad. They have since taken over the small town of Carrickmacross in the Republic of Ireland.

For those of you that have had your heads in the sand for the last a two decades, the Republic of Ireland is independent of the United Kingdom, and takes up about 90 percent of the “island” of Ireland. The other 10 percent is Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK. You may remember hearing about Belfast in the late 90’s? Ethno-political conflict, IRA, lots of bombs, etc. I went there in 2000 and the streets were still pretty empty for fear of more attacks. It was, and still is a very interesting and important story so you should all read up.

We flew into Dublin and spent the afternoon in the city. Chrissy is having her wedding dress made by a shop there so she went to do all that with her mom and I did what any respectable man would do… I went to the pub and drank lots of Guinness while Bangladesh and Ireland played cricket on the tube.

Dublin is a bit different than London. It’s smaller and a bit slower. The people seem to be in less of a rush and more inclined to smile. There is also a giant spike in the middle of this city. What’s that about?

The small market town of Carrickmacross is a few hours north of Dublin and is surrounded by beautiful farm lands. It was a nice break from London simply for the fact that the air was fresh and the streets were quiet. We spent most of our time sitting around talking about life and eating lumpia, pancit and longganisa (Filipino food). Chrissy’s Aunt Chris and I discussed a new internet dating service that will match up all of my American friends with her beautiful Filipina friends that have taken over another small European village – this one is in Hungary, where Aunt Chris lives. Chrissy’s cousins taught me about the British Premier League (football), 3D TV (I thought that was an 80’s thing?) and Carlsberg, which is the Euro equivalent of Budweiser. Actually, that doesn’t make sense, now that Budweiser is now owned by Europeans.

We had a great time. It’s nice to know that we have such a wonderful (and large) family just a short flight away. I’m also happy to see that Chrissy’s mom is enjoying time with her brothers and sisters… not many people get to spend so much time with their family.

On Sunday Chrissy and I went to church. Ireland is pretty much all Catholic – except for Northern Ireland, which is pretty much all Protestant. That’s kinda why the division was created. The Philippines also happens to be about 90 percent Catholic, so it makes sense that Chrissy’s family immigrated here.

I grew up in a few different churches and have always said that I’m just a Christian, seeing no reason to define it any more than that. I still feel that way, and believe that one should worship, or not worship, wherever they feel comfortable doing so. Fighting over it just defeats the purpose.

Attending Catholic services with Chrissy has been a change for me… a good one. It’s refreshing actually, and I am enjoying it very much. The service at St. Joseph’s in Carrickmacross was especially memorable and I’m sure it will show up on these pages at some point in the future.

Anyways, we had a great time and made some important decisions about our future. I think that spending time with Chrissy’s family helped us relax a bit about our situation and realize how lucky we are to be together. It was also nice to be around people that we are connected to in some way, instead of people that we just see or talk to by chance.

It’s healthy to get away every once in a while; healthy for your mind and soul. Don’t get stuck wherever you are… just take a few days to do something different and you’ll come back recharged, ready to take on life.


Sainsbury’s basics

British people are known to fancy the drink. I always thought it was because there is no sun in this country, but spend a bit of time here and you’ll see a much more obvious reason.

A few of our housemates are headed out on the town tonight and normally Chrissy and I would go but we are getting up early tomorrow to run and climb, go to church, and other Sunday activities. We are also trying to put money in a savings account rather than into a barman’s pocket so that we can see a bit of Europe this summer.

For the second night in a row I’ve been force-fed shots by someone who doesn’t make enough money to be handing out shots to people that aren’t even partying with them. Or at least you wouldn’t think that they make enough money to be getting other people drunk… until you take a stroll through the local supermarket.

The blue laws are different everywhere.  Here it’s simple; they can sell everything at the supermarket. This includes store brand alcohol that could take the hair off a cat. Gin, vodka, wine, cider and other stuff that I’ve never even heard of – all sold under a brand name that basically equates to your local Piggly Wiggly.  Imagine driving to the store to prepare for a big night out and coming home with a bottle of bourbon that says “I’m stickin’ with the Pig!”

Yea, so the reason that we see frozen puke on the streets on Sunday mornings is, among other things, because you can walk into Sainsbury’s and buy a fifth of gin for £4, a litre of wine for £2, or TWO LITRES OF CIDER for £1.32. Yep, you can get a half gallon of beer for less than it costs to take a ride on the tube. And of course it comes in the classic Pepsi style torpedo bottle that we are all so familiar with. It’s like 40 on steroids except it tastes better, and comes in an unbreakable plastic bottle that can double as a pillow for the people who have enjoyed so much of it that they either forgot where they live or forgot to get a job.

So tomorrow when Chrissy is out running, hopping over puddles of half digested McDonald’s (and don’t forget the dog shit), and when I have to dodge the hungover norms who are wondering around trying to figure out where they left their cars, we’ll have Sainsbury’s to thank.

 

“Stay busy, get plenty of exercise, and don’t drink too much. Then again, don’t drink too little.” ~Herman “Jackrabbit” Smith-Johannsen


A date with dog doo

Isn’t it illegal to let your puppy poo in public? Do we even need a law for such a thing? Apparently so.

London’s lanes are full of feces. When one walks the streets of this smelly city, they are bound to be bombarded with a bunch of brown bombs. Millions in this massive metropolis must walk to work, stroll to school or bike to the bazaar every day and the last thing anyone wants to see is shit on the streets.

New York City seems set with strict statutes to keep turds off the trail and London has legislation to fine citizens up to £1000 for not cleaning up their canines’ crap. So why, every time I venture out in this city, do I have to dodge doggy sausage like I’m playing Dance Dance Revolution?

These kids seem go get it… dog logs are disgusting.  Leaving loafs on the lawn is ludicrous and Londoners need to take care of their tail-waggers!


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