Monday, 24 June 2013

Week 52

Week 52 - Up at the O2

I really hate the O2. It's a soulless, corporate shithole of a venue, and having worked there in the coldest, most miserable winter in the history of the universe a couple of years back, I have only the worse feelings towards it. Buuut I'm a pretty fickle person so when I found out you could walk over the top of it, I booked in straight away!

As the person who "didn't think I'd make it past week 8", I took my friend Chris along for my final blog activity. Chris suggested taking the Emirates Air Line cable car across the river, which in itself is an experience. A pretty terrifying one. There was a sense of uneasiness as the wind and rain rocked us from side to side and the planes from City Airport flew uncomfortably close to the cables and we pretended to not be crying on the inside... Still, it didn't stop us from riding it back and forth across the river three times.
 
We got off when we realised we were going to be late, checked in at the cringingly named "Base Camp" and changed into a slightly superfluous yet completely badass jumpsuit and pair of hiking boots. But not me; I went to the toilet at the wrong time and to save a few minutes, our guide pretty much had to dress me, which was good because, well, who doesn't wish someone else would dress them, plus I most definitely zoned out during the instructional video five minutes earlier.

And so after being suited up, you're harnessed up and attached to a wire, which at first seemed a bit unnecessary but the ascent is actually a lot steeper than you think. You don't fully appreciate a 30° gradient until you're walking up it on a wet trampoline-like surface, which is the point at which you realise that 30° is steep. But it eases off as you get to the top, when you're treated to a beautiful panoramic view of the city, a whole... 52 metres above ground! Okay, it's not that high really, but it is pretty stunning. Windy, cold and stunning!

After a fifteen minute stop-off at the top, you've obviously got to get down.
The descent is trickier than the ascent, and is easiest going backwards rather than forwards. Or in Chris' case, sideways. Watching Chris crabbing his way back down was more hilarious than I could possibly put into words, which meant I took about twice as long to get down to the bottom as most people, holding up the five or so people behind me. So it was nice to have Chris reassure me with, "don't worry Almas, there's only a good 50 feet between you and the next person". Thanks Chris.

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And that's it. 52 weeks doth a year make, so my one year of trying new things is officially complete. Without turning this into a total cheese-fest, I'd like to thank to my family and friends for the time they spent with me on these activities - hopefully you enjoyed them as much as I did. And I'm eternally grateful to anyone who bothered to read my ramblings, even if you did just stumble across this page via a porn site - true story, a handful did, I'll take it as a compliment.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Week 51

Week 51 - Coding

After covering 18,597 miles across the US and Central America in the last 3 months, I've decided I can't stay in a place where storing cheese in the freezer is acceptable, so I've come crawling back to London. To no job. And not really anywhere to live. Hm. By a stroke of luck, the unemployment situation lasted less than half a day after stepping off the plane, as I managed to secure a job with an excitingly burgeoning company that has a shitload of potential. The role isn't exactly what I want to be doing in the long run, but I think that with a little bit of extra training and edumacation, I can turn it into something pretty good.

And what do I want to turn it into? Well, I have something kind of up my sleeve. Is that ambiguous enough? Hang on, wait no, it's nothing that big, please lower all expectations.

But anyway, after spending a lot of time around techy and creative people in the States, it's something I'd like to combine, because apparently the Internet ain't going away any time soon, so I need to keep up with it.

So to this end, I went to an Introduction to Coding class in Farringdon this week, run by the General Assembly. It was technical and complicated and computery and everything I know nothing about, as you can probably tell from my use of the word 'computery'. So it's an exciting new phase of learning, upskilling and general transition for me in a field that is growing at an insane rate. And hopefully that will get me to my thoroughly unimpressive goal... just managing your expectations and trying to offload this pressure I seemed to have piled onto myself in the last 12 minutes.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Week 50

Week 50 - A Run In Central Park

Not just any old run – the all-female Oakley Mini 10k in Central Park, New York City. I'm not going to say how long my last 10k two years ago in London took, but it was longer than this one. That makes it sound like I took hooours, which I didn't, but I don't want to talk about it, okay?! Gosh.

There were several factors that meant the last didn't go as well as I would've liked it to;
  1. During training, I would typically run for 7 or 8 minutes then walk for 30 seconds. On race day, the adrenaline meant I felt I didn't need a break so carried on for 35 minutes, which then meant that I burnt out at 36 minutes and struggled until the end.
  2. I drank too much water during the race which just slowed me down and was totally unnecessary; 10k isn't that long, but the water was there and free. Yes, you heard right, free water! Only a fool would turn that down!
  3. I didn't listen to any music during the race, so had nothing to focus on or to regulate my pace to.

This time around I took a more sensible approach. Despite operating on only 3 hours sleep, I woke up extra early to have a big breakfast (any excuse) and drank half a bottle of Gatorade and half a litre of water 30 minutes before the race. I loaded my iPhone with songs I hadn't really heard before so I could concentrate on that rather than the running, and of course included part of the soundtrack to Real Steel, a Hugh Jackman film about boxing robots which I wish I didn't love, but I do.

The race started on the south west corner of Central Park at 8am and pretty much went in a loop around the entire park. Again, the adrenaline kicked in and the temptation to go over my 8 minute limit before slowing down for a short walk was intense. After a brief internal battle, me and my brain compromised on a ten-minute limit, and a 15-20 second walk, which seemed to work well. It was a fairly hilly course so going uphill burnt a bit, but this was counterbalanced by the downhill slopes which were a good opportunity to pick up speed and reduce the time a little.

It was hot, uncomfortable and painful as I felt new blisters set in, but overall, SO enjoyable. In the end, it took me 59 minutes and 25 seconds to complete the race, coming 2398th out of 5595.

While I don't appreciate this being called a 'mini 10k' (what does that even mean?! Can you have a big 10k?! 10K is fucking 10k, don't take this away from me!), this was a much better organised event than the London 10k. Firstly, they didn't run out of medals for approximately half of the runners like they did back in 2011. There's nothing more anti-climactic than not getting your medal until a week later in the post.

Also, on the finish line they also give you a banana, bagel, and, wait for it, a flower! Plus I preferred the women-only aspect of this run; there was something nice about the female solidarity of the race, with just a hint of “bitch, don't get in my way!”. Just like being back at my all-girls secondary school.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Week 49

Week 49 – A Little Trip To Costa Rica

I popped down to Costa Rica for the week, popping over meaning two 2.5 hour flights, a 30 minute taxi ride and a four-and-a-half hour bus to get to my destination. But still, it's Costa Rica and most definitely worth it.

It's a much more touristy place than I thought it would be, with people peddling local experiences wherever you go, and I fell for their sales pitch a few times, but I don't mind because I'm on holiday and I'm pretty sure there isn't an opportunity to fly over the rainforest in London. Which is essentially what zip-lining is. After paying $45, I was strapped into some safety gear over my sexy poncho (it's a rain forest, so unsurprisingly it rains. A lot). For someone who feels a little queasy driving over an unexpected speed bump, this was a big deal. One by one, you're hooked up to the zip lines which run a couple of hundred metres above the forest and vary in length, getting longer and longer. In total you go down about 10 with the final zip being a crazy 1.5km one lying down on your front, called the “Superman”. Not only is it the longest but the one where you have no control to stop yourself, so you leave your life in the hands of the instructors. It goes on for about a minute-and-a-half and once I stopped my sweary-screaming thing coupled with thoughts of the wire snapping and me plunging to my death, and I actually opened my eyes, it was such a breathtakingly beautiful experience and not all that terrifying. Until you approach the end, when you pray that the instructors haven't been distracted by their iPhones or something, and don't let you go smashing into a tree. Clearly that didn't happen, but they do pull hard on the pulleys which really digs into your lady parts in particular, but apart from that it was all good fun.

I also tried some horse-riding, which I've always wanted to do in England but it's so insanely expensive. Here you can have a two-and-a-half hour lesson with a volcano tour for $52 – pricey by Central American standards, but I was lucky enough to be the only person signed up(it was 7.30 on a Saturday morning), so I had a private lesson with a nice young Costa Rican man called Alonso, which was not bad at all. After signing a waiver which worryingly said, “I understand that in the case of an emergency, it may not be possible to access medical help”, I had to pick out a horse. I had a choice of two, with Alonso saying, “this one's faster, and this one is slower, but he's a little out of control, which one do you want?” ERR, NEITHER THANKS! But Alonso insisted I took the faster one, called Pinto, and who was I to refuse Alonso? It was a lot of fun when we were just trotting through the flat plains, but once we got into the forest with far too much uphill terrain for my liking, it got quite scary. To build momentum, horses have to run up hills. I asked Alonso if they could just walk up, and he said no because that works them too hard. I insisted that Pinto didn't mind the challenge, but Alonso wasn't having any of it. There were a few moments where I was convinced I was going to go flying off, and again (apologies if this is too much information) this is an activity that really does take it out of your nether regions. But it was OK, and I managed to get through the 14km ride almost injury free; almost, because in the last 30 seconds as we approached the stables, I half walked Pinto into a tree and cut my arm a little so I should probably have a tetanus shot or something. But tetanus shmetanus. Despite my slight injury and mega saddle-sore the next morning, it was amazing.

If I wasn't barren before coming to Costa Rica, I sure as hell am now!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Week 48

Week 48 - A Gig... With People I'd Never Met Before

Despite being in the US for nearly 3 months now, I've not had a lot of opportunities to meet that many people here in New York where I've been based for the majority of the time. With friends from London visiting me and periods of travelling in between, I've managed to avoid having to be actively sociable here... until now. So I went down the meetup.com route. There is an element of feeling like a bit of a loner if you're resorting to a website to meet new people, which is my case was probably a little bit true - no sympathy please though! I quite like the anonymity of big cities, but even I need a bit of company from time to time.

Meetup.com is a little bit like a dating site, without the dating. It was actually set up in New York in the aftermath of 9/11 to help people connect with others in their community after the trauma they'd suffered, so if you were planning on looking down on it, you should feel really bad right about now! So you sign up, find groups aimed at specific interests (sports, food, museums, books etc.) or just general socialising, and meet up at a pre-arranged event. I was glad to see there was an indie music one which was meeting up in a couple of days for a gig, which sounded like a good idea because even if I wasn't particularly feeling the other people in the group, I could just watch some music and be on my way. 

We planned to meet at a bar in Brooklyn near the venue, and as I approached the place, I thought, "shit shit shit, who am even I looking out for?!" So I slowly went in and, by the grace of jeebus someone recognised me (I don't think there are many brown girls signed up for an indie music meet-up group). Over the course of the next hour, another 5 people showed up, we all had a couple of drinks, a good little chat, then headed over to Glasslands Gallery to see a guy called oOoOO (pronounced "oh"... yup). His music is apparently defined as a combination of witch house, shoegaze and dark wave, which means fucking nothing to me, but he was actually pretty good. And luckily I was feeling the group (not literally, it's not that kind of meet-up), so it was fun times all round.

However, with a little bit more travelling in the pipeline before returning to the UK in a couple of weeks, it's unlikely I'll ever see those people again sadly. But it was a nice way to spend the evening nonetheless; good company and good music, what more could you want from a Thursday night? As a system of meeting new people, I'd definitely recommend biting the bullet and trying it out. You know what they say; there are no strangers, just friends you haven't met yet. Which, by the way, is total bullshit because I've met plenty of batshit nutters out here that I would very much rather just stayed complete strangers. Not to put you off or anything.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Week 47

Week 47 - Uzbek Food? Uzbekistani Food? Uzbeki Food? Whatever.

It's been a big week for me on a personal level. I've re-evaluated my priorities and have decided my life's main ambition is now to learn the dance to this video. I also discovered blueberry toaster waffles! Good times. On top of these crazy developments, I tried Uzbek food for the first time. Not gonna lie, I wouldn't be able to pinpoint Uzbekistan on a map (whatever, neither would you!) but I went for dinner at an Uzbekistani restaurant with a ragtag group of randoms in Queens, one of New York's two forgotten boroughs. Since being here I've gauged that people only care about Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Bronx only gets a partial look-in because of J.Lo, and no one's really aware of Staten Island or Queens.

We went to a place called Cheburechnaya and I didn't get a choice in ordering because I was a bit late so someone just ordered for the whole table, which I was happy with as I can be annoyingly indecisive. That is, I was happy until I realised someone had ordered sheep's testicles, cow brain and veal heart... mmm, delish.

Couldn't really tell you what the testicles or brain tasted like; they were mushy enough to just swallow without having to really keep them in your mouth for too long - I'm trying very hard to keep this as least innuendo-laced as possible, but it's practically impossible when you're talking about balls. And I'm not sure why, but when eating the testicles, every part of me was totally clenched up... perhaps I was sympathising with my non-existent testicles? Anyway, I guess I half-cheated with those and the brain, but I still think it counts as me having tried them. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess they tasted like chicken, because everything tastes like chicken. It was more difficult to escape really experiencing the veal heart, because it was similar to very overcooked steak so I told myself that's what it was as I chewed through it for what felt like hours, but it was slightly less traumatising than the rest of the food. I was just relieved when someone brought the chicken wings out.

Overall, Uzbeki food is (and yes, I'll judge solely based on that one experience which I'm sure reflects the entire country's cuisine) just like bland, generic Mediterranean food. And I don't even like good Mediterranean food so it was a bit of a disappointment. But the most important lesson learnt was this; one adventurous evening spent eating weird animal parts = one difficult night trying not to barf at the thought of eating weird animal parts.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Week 46

Week 46 - Local Louisiana Lunch!

Can't tell you how proud I am of that alliteration and I'm not joking when I say I did actually spend half the day thinking "what word beginning with 'L' could I use to describe that meal I had in the middle of the day...?"

Anyway, I've stopped patting myself on the back so I'll carry on - I spent a couple of nights in New Orleans, which is a crazy and wonderful city, but due to torrential storms during the day I couldn't actually do any of the culturally important things like plantation visits... so naturally I just ate instead. 

I walked past a bar which had a three-legged dog wandering in and out of it which I found a little hilarious (sorry!), so it had my vote for a lunchtime stop-off. Their speciality, like every other place in Nawlins, was crawfish, or "cheap greyish prawns" as I now like to call them. Cheap and delicious and hilarious! (I mean, when you have a three-legged dog hopping about the place, all meals are much more entertaining.)
And this is what you get for just $7, which was described as a "small portion". Having never tried them before, I would've been utterly clueless as to how to eat them had I not overheard a woman at the bar telling someone else that you crack the shells open in a savage-like fashion and just eat the tail. Luckily I remembered all by myself that like with prawns, you have to take out the black veiny poopy bit, but I'm trying to convince myself that I didn't just remember that after I'd eaten my first one, and that I didn't really eat a little bit of crawfish kack...

Potential fish-shit consumption aside, it was great! But I have an anecdote from my journey home afterwards too; as I walked down the road, there were these adorable little girls selling cookies in the street (yes, that really happens here!) for 50 cents each, but I gave them a dollar, partly because I would have felt like a bit of a dick asking them for change, but mainly because I have no idea if seven-year-olds can count. For a brief millisecond, the whole "not taking taking sweets from strangers" thing did cross my mind, and I did bizarrely think "what if this cookie's been roofied?" But then as I walked down the road after my purchase and turned the corner, I came across a homeless man taking a dump in the street in broad daylight, and I realised there are much more concerning things in the world than little girls and their (probably) non-roofied cookies.