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2017 Chicago Marathon – 3:32:28

Chicago Marathon number three and my twelfth marathon overall!

Let me just say off the bat, I have weird mixed feelings about this race. It’s hard to complain about a 3:32 finish and a BQ, but I’m not exactly thrilled with how I got there.

But before I get into the race itself…

Pre-race

Danielle and I got to Chicago in the early afternoon on Thursday and, for the most part, I didn’t want to spend too much time on my feet, but Thursday and Friday ended up being bit more walking around than planned.

We went to the expo late morning on Friday after a short three-mile run around Grant Park and the Lakefront Trail (side note: on this run, we passed Matt Centrowitz, Paula Radcliffe, and Noah Droddy). The expo was busy and crowded already, but nothing like what I’m sure it became later on. Expos for big races are always hell for people like us who don’t like crowds…or even other people.

Look, it wasn’t my best finish, okay? 🙃 #ChicagoMarathon

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After getting my bib and shirt, we did a lap around the whole thing, took a couple pictures, met up with my friend Heather, had a sample of Goose Island Old Man Grumpy—which was delicious—and got the heck outta there. Dinner that night was a big messy burger from RJ Grunts with the always wonderful Parker Molloy and Kayla Pekkala. Sadly, I still have not met Meatball.

Hanging with Heather.

Saturday was a really easy and relaxed day. I did a two-mile shakeout run and not much else. Dinner was the standard never-ending bowl of spaghetti at Dolce Italian. Yum!

Typically, in the week before a non-Disney World marathon, I don’t drink any alcohol, but this time around I had a beer Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I mean…whatever. Beer is good. And carbs.

Good can!

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Flat Amy for #ChicagoMarathon tomorrow. For those cheering, there’s a 50/50 chance I toss the tank by mile three

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Race morning

I woke at around 5:15am for the 7:30 start. This gave me plenty of time to get ready and eat something—a crappy bagel from Starbucks and half an apple—without being rushed. Our hotel was in the Central Loop so we were close to the start which made for a nice quick walk over. I think I headed out around 6:15 and was through security by 6:30. Because I was a bit early, I had a short porta potty line. I was in the corral by 7, I think.

Nice sunrise over Lake Michigan.

Once things started filling up, I looked for the 3:30 pacers so I could start with them. I didn’t necessarily plan on staying with them, but I wanted to start with them. Because my goal was a 3:35 for the day, based on my training, I would have preferred to start with that group, but they were in the D corral, one behind me. The 3:30 pacers wanted to try to wait for the D corral’s 3:30 group so they could run together; they set up shop in the very back of the C corral and I figured I’d hang back there with them.

Pretty empty when I got in.

When the race started, however, things got a little busy and I went without them. Off on my own! Considering my best races recently have been run without any time with pacers, it wasn’t a big deal to me. I was just afraid of starting out too fast.

The first half

Right from the start, I took off too fast and I knew it. I could feel myself running faster than I should have been, but it was a comfortable rhythm and I just couldn’t get myself out of it. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep it, but my legs weren’t slowing down. In hindsight, I should have tried harder to slow down. Mistakes were being made and I knew it. My first mile was a 7:52, which was at least 10 seconds faster than I should have been.

Had my training been faster, this is about where I would have wanted to be. 16 weeks ago, my goal was to be able to average a 7:50-7:45, but my training didn’t end up being for that. Miles two and three were 7:52 and 7:51 so I was really locked in at exactly that pace.

Around the second mile marker, I took off my tank top to run in just my sports bra. It wasn’t super warm yet, but I was already sweating a lot and I knew the temperature would be going up into the mid 70s. I also knew I’d be seeing Danielle around the next turn and I wanted to be able to toss my shirt to her without having to hold it until the next time I saw her at 20k.

Around mile four, I heard a voice screaming over all the others in the crowd, but it took me a few seconds to realize it was my name being yelled. Before I even turned my heard, I knew that loud and obnoxious voice was none other than Lauren Bailey.

As the course continued up into Lincoln Park, I was contemplating what my legs might have for the rest of the day. I knew I wasn’t slowing down so I decided to just embrace the race I started and see what happened. I was lapping my watch manually at each mile marker so I knew my exact pace. Though, I somehow missed the 9th marker which meant I had to wait until 11 for an exact split.

My main concern in the first 10k was that I couldn’t get my glutes or hamstrings to activate. I’ve always been a completely quad-dominant runner, but this was something I’ve been working on all year and was a big focus in my physical therapy sessions. I actually had a lot of success in improving this and, honestly, credit learning to activate my glutes and hamstrings for much of my solid racing through spring and summer. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it this day.

My 5k paces through the first half were 7:52, 7:49, 7:51, and 7:51 with a half time of 1:42:50 (7:56 average). How’s that for consistent? Running an even effort is rarely a problem for me in the marathon and with Chicago being so flat that meant even splits as well.

Blurry Amelia at 20k.

I was taking water at about two-thirds of the water stops and only had one of my gels. I’ve been taking fewer gels during marathons recently than I used to and it seems to work out for me so I just took this one around mile six.

The second half

As we came around Willis Tower and crossed the halfway point, I was still feeling okay physically, but I could tell my body was going to be fatiguing faster than I hoped. Over the next few miles, I passed a few people cheering who yelled my name, but I couldn’t catch who they were. I later found out one of them was my coworker Malicia who was out there to support her fiancé.

By 15 or 16, some fatigue was starting to set in, but I hadn’t slowed yet. I wasn’t feeling a lack of energy, just my legs starting to tire. I popped my second gel and started with the mental tricks to try to preemptively keep myself strong. I focused on getting to Cowbell Corner at mile 17 and then the 30k mark.

30k was right on the money at 7:51 average, again. I was actually impressed with myself that I was running this consistent.

Unfortunately, that’s when the wheels started to fall off. I wasn’t surprised it happened, but I thought I’d have until at least 20 miles before I started falling apart. When it happens at 18.5 miles, it’s a long way to go until that finish line. I’ve done enough marathons now to know how to fight through to the finish, but I also knew to kiss that three-minute PR I was on track for goodbye.

I haven’t really mentioned much about the weather yet, but it was a warm day—low of 57, high in the mid-70s—and sunny with a ~10mph breeze. The breeze felt great in those temps. I’d like to blame the heat for my bonking, but I can’t. It was a non-issue for me. I was taking water and staying hydrated and, for someone who runs about my time, you can find a lot of shade on the course. I spent very little time having to run in the sun. I was worried about the temperature before the race, but it just wasn’t a problem for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think this was the case for a lot of other runners.

My 35k split was an average of 8:20. I had slowed a lot. By mile 20, I was walking through water stops. And once I start having to take walk breaks, I’m screwed. I never recover from that.

I started making deals with myself, “okay, no more walk breaks until the next mile” and things like that. I was struggling. My quads where shot. I still hadn’t been able to activate my glutes or hamstrings and I was paying for it now. At 40k, my splits had slowed to a 9:21 average. I was taking a lot of walk breaks.

It sucked. But I still had a smile on my face. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I love the marathon. I think having races that are tough makes me love it even more.

Knowing the course, I knew what was left and just kept focusing on getting to the finish line. For the last 2.2k, I was able to do fewer walk breaks and pick my pace up a bit from where it was the previous few miles, but I was really ready to be done.

I looked out for the 800m to go sign and felt a little relief when I knew I was in the last half mile. As I climbed that stupid hill just as you’re hitting mile 26, I was so thankful the finish line was around the next turn.

I crossed with a 3:32:28 and was thrilled to be done and ready for my post-race beers.

Salt Face Amy.

Thoughts

While I was nearly four minutes from my PR, I ran a little faster overall than expected. I’m happy with my time—you really can’t complain about a 3:32 and a BQ. But I’m not happy with how I got there. Mistakes were made from the start and I paid for them. I knew I was making them and I’m disappointed in myself for making them anyway. I haven’t made this mistake in a marathon in a long time. I know better than this. And, to be honest, it was only my quads that bonked. My lungs, energy level, hydration, GI, and the rest of my legs were all fine.

Not only did the second half of this race suck, but it breaks a streak of five straight marathon negative splits. That’s probably one of my proudest things about my running, is having negative split five marathons in a row…until this race. But…it happens. I knew I had a decent streak of good marathons and was due for a rough one. They can’t all be winners.

26.2 miles, 2 beers, and nothing but smiles. #ChicagoMarathon

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Despite not being happy with my execution, I wasn’t really the least bit disappointed after the race. I love the marathon and I love this city and Chicago Marathon and I still had a good time (both in terms of finish time and having fun!). I had a smile on my face at the finish and all day after.

Races like this remind me how much I love the marathon.

I got beaned. #ChicagoMarathon

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Beeeeeer.

The obligatory post-race Beaning.

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A quick pre-Chicago Marathon training update

Since it’s sort of the last minute here and I’m planning to go to bed in an hour, I’m going to keep this short…at least for my standards. But I did want to throw up a quick little pre-race post regarding training.

Going into my third Chicago Marathon and twelfth marathon total tomorrow, I can’t remember the last time I felt this out of running shape. It’s hard to describe, but I just feel slow and untrained. However, the thing is, I’m not. I might not be in PR shape, but I’m actually in decent shape. I did the miles in training, more consistently than I’ve done for a marathon in at least two and a half years. I didn’t do any speedwork, but I did the miles. Six or seven weeks ago, I ran the Reykjavik Half Marathon—after two weeks of being on my feet for 15-25 miles every day traveling—just 20 seconds slower than my PR. And my last two miles were in the 6:50s, which is 5k pace for me. A few weeks later, I PRed a 5k after an 18-mile training run. And then just three weeks ago, I finished out the Newport Half Marathon with a 6:55 mile. So, I’ve clearly got a lot in my legs.

The lack of speedwork was mostly just due to having run Grandma’s Marathon exactly 16 weeks ago and me having planned to keep the miles easier effort for the first half of training.

Unfortunately, a big confidence problem for me right now is my right quad, IT band, hip, and adductor. Just that whole damn thing. The hip and adductor pain that started all the way back in March still isn’t 100%. I thought it had gotten there after my Europe trip, but it started coming back just a little. I’d say it’s like 95%. On the outside of my leg, down the length of my IT band, from hip to knee, has been bothering me for the last month or so. This is something I’ve been dealing with for years. It’s just a problem spot for me. I know how to prevent and rehab it, but I got busy for a few weeks and neglected it. It’s not a serious thing, but it is enough right now that I can’t completely ignore it.

Anyway, what it comes down to is that I’m really not sure what I’m capable of for tomorrow…which is the same position I found myself in last year. What I do have going for me, though, is a lack of pressure. I BQed here last year and will be running Boston in April. I no longer have a BQ hanging over my head. And I realized this wouldn’t work out to be a good goal race anymore weeks ago when my heart just wasn’t in the training.

So…I’m not gunning for a PR tomorrow. And that’s okay. I do want to score a BQ, though, just in so I have it in my pocket in case I want to run 2019 too. Still, it’s not a weight on my shoulders and I do think I should be able to run a 3:35 or better.

We’ll see how it goes! The weather is going to be a bit warm tomorrow so that could also be a factor.

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2017 Newport Liberty Half Marathon – 1:48:45

This post probably should have gone up two weeks ago, rather than today, but I’ve fallen a bit behind.

I love the Newport Liberty Half Marathon. Not really because it’s a particularly amazing race, in fact, large chunks of the the course are on roads and paths that aren’t in the best of conditions. But the race is in my home of Jersey City and parts of the course are along my daily running routes in Liberty State Park and the Jersey City Waterfront. I can walk or run to the start from my house. And I get to enjoy some of my favorite views of Manhattan during the race.

An unfortunate part of the race is it being in mid-September means it can still be hot and humid, as was the case this year. The temperature was warm and the humidity was high.

Being in mid-September also means it’s three weeks before the Chicago Marathon. Last year, I made the mistake of going out hard and PRing and then not respecting my body’s need to recover in the week following. That week was, of course, my peak week for training. This messed me up going into Chicago last year and I felt like I was flirting a little too closely to injury.

This year, with me running Chicago again, I didn’t want to make the same mistake. Additionally, my IT band on my right leg has been bothering me a bit recently. The pain I’m having is fairly common for me late in a training cycle, but I’ve been bad about dealing with it. Typically, as long as I’m on top of it, it’s a non-issue.

So this year, Danielle and I decided to run the race together and take it nice and easy. Between the heat, legs not being in ideal shape, and a marathon coming up, there was nothing to gain by pushing it.

I had 21 miles on the calendar for the day, but because of my IT band, I wanted to ease it up on my body for the weekend and decided to scrap most of my pre-race miles. We ran just over a mile to the start of the race and left it at that.

We met up with friends Dori and Theodora before the race and chatted a bit. When walked over to the start, we saw Mayor Fulop getting ready to run. Danielle and I lined up between the 8:00/mile and 9:00/mile signs and waited for the start.

Once we got going, we did a pretty decent job of keeping ourselves held back and under control. Things were crowded, but runnable. We clocked in at around an 8:40 for our first mile, right where we had wanted to be.

Approaching the second mile, things started spreading out a bit and we grabbed water. Our second mile was around an 8:20.

We continued through Newport and towards Paulus Hook while keeping steady and having fun. Eventually, by mile four and a half, we were passing Liberty Science Center and entering into Liberty State Park. Here, Danielle started to leave me behind a bit. The path narrows for much of the park so it was hard to me to weave through other runners to catch up with her.

Just after getting into to the park, I saw our friend Allison—one of our dedicated cat feeders when we travel—sneak onto the path and start running next to Danielle. Allison wasn’t running the race and was hoping to just do a training run in the park. Bad idea. After minute or so, I was able to catch up and join the conversation before the race turned right down Freedom Way and Allison continued straight.

Danielle and I were running together again as we followed the path along Freedom Way to the south side of the park and around by the Statue of Liberty and the seventh mile marker.

Our splits were reasonably steady in the 8:10-8:25 range, but it was hot and steamy out. A major yuck situation.

Most of the park was fairly uneventful as we did a couple loops through the middle of the before heading along the marina and past the 10th mile marker. By mile 10.5, as we were exiting the park, I lost Danielle behind me. I tried to slow down to let her catch up, but I didn’t know where she was. A quarter mile up, I turned back to look for her as we came around a turn and she threw her arm up to let me know where she was. She was back far enough that it didn’t seem like she’d catch up, so I decided to run my own race for the last couple of miles.

My twelfth and thirteenth miles, along the waterfront, clocked in at 7:40 and 6:40. I didn’t feel like I was running that fast at all, I mostly just felt good. I passed a bunch of other runners, but it wasn’t something I was thinking about.

As I neared the finish, I didn’t kick for it. I just kept the quick pace from mile 13 all the way in.

I downed a few cups of water and then waited for Danielle to cross so we could go grab our shirts and bagels before heading off to brunch.

All-in-all, it was another fun Newport Half. Last year was a PR race, this year was a more leisurely fun race. I’ll take ‘em both.

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Europe 2017 – Reykjavík

And now, finally, the last stop on my trip, Reykjavik. This was my first time in Iceland and it seems like it’s been all the rage in the last few years for people I know, so I was pretty jazzed for it.

The basics

My flight from Berlin didn’t land until nearly midnight on a Thursday night so it had been a long day, but the trip from the airport to Reykjavik itself takes another 45ish minutes so it wasn’t over yet. That, of course, is after you get your bags and get on a bus. By the time I arrived at my Airbnb, it was nearly 2am and I was beeeeeeeaaaaaat 😴😴😴😴😴😴. Luckily, it was easy to find from where the bus dropped me off and the key to get in was in a lockbox outside so there was no issue getting in. I crashed immediately.

The Airbnb was super centrally located in downtown Reykjavik, within 5-10 minutes walking distance from almost everything I did while there. And my window gave a beautiful, though partially obstructed, view to the north. The room was very tiny, but it was more than adequate for my needs.

Not a terrible view.

One of the first things I noticed was the hot water smelled strongly of sulfur. I didn’t know this ahead of time, but this is because the it’s naturally heated in Reykjavik—though, some other parts of Iceland heat the cold water instead. The cold water is very crisp and clean, though! Still, the sulfur-smelling hot water is very safe to use for showering and such.

Downtown Reykjavik is pretty small so getting around on foot is very easy and most of the things to see in the city are right there for you. Anything outside of the city requires renting a car or taking a bus tour.

Running

Thanks to nice, cool weather, in the 40s and 50s, running in Iceland was great. I felt strong and fast, despite how exhausted my body was.

My first run was 10k-ish based on a couple routes I had found on sites dedicated to running in Iceland. I ran along the water on the northern part of the city and up to Harpa, then up through part of the city and around Hljómskálagarður and its lake, Tjörnin, and Reykjavik City Hall. From there, I ran up to the domestic airport and did a loop entirely around it, running along the beaches there and by one of the hot springs. There were so many amazing views from here! Finally, I looped back towards Hljómskálagarður and finished up there.

This was such a fun route to run!

A quick photo op with Sun Voyager on my run.

On the other side of the airport, this was the view.

A little beach with a hot spring.

My second run was the Reykjavik Half Marathon. Since I already wrote about that separately, I won’t go into much detail, but it was a great race and a ton of fun! I can’t wait to go back one day for the full marathon.

Before the half marathon, I did a four mile warm up to make sure I’d hit my 17 scheduled miles for the day. This run was mostly along the northern shore of the city. I ran east first, and up along part of the course, and then turned around to head back to the west and around Harpa again before turning up to the start of the race.

The half marathon!

And my four mile warm up.

In general, Reykjavik felt like an amazing place to run. Though, I can imagine it gets pretty tough in the winter.

I love this little medal for the Reykjavik Half Marathon! I'm a fan of smaller medals.

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Let’s race!

The food

I had SOOO many places on my list to check out for meals. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hit them all up, but I wanted to do my best.

I’ll note right off the bat, eating in Iceland is expensive. You probably have heard this before, but this is coming from someone who lives in Jersey City / NYC. Meals were quite not cheap!

First up was The Laundromat Café for a late breakfast / early lunch. This place was super yummy with a great atmosphere and friendly staff. I followed it up with my first of two trips to Valdís for ice cream. Did I mention that I ate ice cream every day of my trip? Well, I did!

So many photos of laundromats on the walls!

Ice cream!

Late lunch / early dinner that day was at Lemon, a juice bar and healthy style sandwich place. Their menu had so many great options and I wanted to try them all! I ended up going with the Pescado (tomato, mozzarella, avocado, and pesto) and a Good Times juice. Holy shit that sandwich was amazing! It was so simple, but so fucking good!

This sandwich had no business being that good.

After Lemon, I met up with my brewery “tour” to go to Ölgerðin Egill Skallagrímsson ehf. I put tour in quotes because this was less a tour and more a drowning in beer. The tour part was very short, about ten minutes. The rest was sitting in a bar at the brewery while learning about the history of beer in Iceland—it was illegal until 1989!! Ölgerðin is Iceland’s oldest brewery and actually opened 1913, two years before prohibition went into effect. They survived by producing soft drinks and such.

Icelandic beer.

Just a couple of the brews we tried.

The moment we walked into the brewery, we were handed pints of beer and told those pints would be endless. They weren’t kidding! As soon as you’d finish, they’d fill it back up. We also tried a number of their other beers, including their Pride beer which they were very proud of, and a brew that was a collaboration with Cigar City brewery in Florida. Each beer we tried was about 6oz each. Considering I was running a half marathon the next morning, this was not the smartest way to spend my night, but it certainly was delicious!

Gay pride beer

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After the tasting, I went to Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur for hot dogs with some of the people I’d been chatting with at the brewery. Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur was recommended to me as pretty much the best place for hot dogs in the city, which is already known for its hot dogs. Their menu is basically…hot dogs and a few topping options. That’s all they do. And they were fantastic!

The next morning, after the half marathon, I got a danish from Köku Kompaníið and then hit up Kaffitár for coffee. From there, I was off to the Secret Lagoon where I enjoyed a fish and chips after my wonderful soak.

Dinner was at Sushi Social. Sushi Social used to be called Sushi Samba until Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes went there and led to them being sued by an American restaurant of the same name. The atmosphere was like a fancy lounge kinda vibe and it was quite busy still, even though I was rolling up around 11pm. I ordered a chef’s special prix fix option from the menu to try a few different things. The menu didn’t say what would be included, just that it would be chef’s selections. However, the menu did include minke whale and whale was not something I wanted to eat.

When the first course came, the server told me what it was, but I couldn’t hear her. It looked and tasted like beef, but what she said didn’t sound anything like it could have been “beef” or “steak.” Still, I didn’t think anything of it until two courses later when what I was served was definitely beef (which I clearly heard her say). Now, I don’t know what whale tastes like, but it is a mammal so I’d expect it to taste similar to land-based mammalian meat. And it’s unlikely that two of the courses would have been beef. Though, I guess it’s also possible it was horse meat, but I don’t remember seeing horse on the menu and I also really don’t want to eat horse. Sooooooo yeah, I think I ate 🐋 and I’m kinda not too happy about it.

My next meal was at the Black Beach Cafe while on a Southern Iceland tour. This was mostly like a tourist kinda stop, but the soup and sandwich I had were both pretty good.

For dinner, I hit up Noodle Station for a GIGANTIC spicy noodle bowl with a couple of people from the tour. It was delicious! And then we followed that up with my second trip to Valdís for ice cream.

On my last morning in Iceland, I stopped at Brauð & Co for a delicious cinnamon roll to nom down while on my way to the airport.

Activities

I packed my first day in Reykjavik with a bunch of things and really had to hustle to see them all. First up was Whales of Iceland. This is a museum exhibit thing dedicated to all the types of whales found around Iceland. It was a nice learning opportunity, but if you don’t know what it is ahead of time, it could be easy to be disappointed. Because I knew it was mostly plastic (I guess?) molds of whales hanging from the ceiling with displays telling you all about the species, I was properly whelmed with what I expected. The molds are all life size so it really does give you a good sense of scale.

A blue whale.

After the whales, I went down into the Icelandic PUNK Museum. This was an interesting but cool experience. The guy who runs it (or at least the one that was there when I went) is this old crusty punk rock guy who clearly hasn’t changed his aesthetic in 40 years. He was super friendly though! The museum walks you through the history of punk bands and the scene in Iceland in the 70s, 80s, and 90s and was much like reading books like Our Band Could Be Your Life and The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting. It was also really interesting to see, in addition to the stuff that was internal, the influences from US and English punk scenes that affected their scene. And I should also mention the museum itself is in an old public restroom and…well, yeah, it’s obvious because the toilets are still there. The whole place is crusty and dirty and punk af. I was into it!

The Icelandic Punk Museum is literally an old public toilet.

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ACAB.

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The entrance to the PUNK Museum.

Headphones in a toilet?

Next I hit up the expo for the race and then went to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. Yes, this is what it sounds like. It’s a penis museum. This was weird, but really cool at the same time. Basically, you walk in and there are dicks all over. The cocks are a mix of actual animal penises in jars (hundreds of them), molds of penises, penis art, and penis paraphernalia. There are a lot of dicks here, including molds of the penises of the entire national handball team.

Taking selfies with a narwhal penis, as you do

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Penises.

More penises.

Handball player penis, anyone?

The next day, after the half marathon, I rented a car and drove part of the Golden Circle, mostly hitting up the highlights.

I started off with about an hour and a half just soaking and enjoying the Secret Lagoon and getting my hot spring on. After 17 miles, this was a nice bit of recovery. That is, after I actually got into the water. I was completely unaware that the locker room and changing area was just one big open space without any private changing rooms. At gyms, I always go into a private space to change because, as a transgender woman, changing out in the open is terrifying. The reality of it wasn’t that bad, though, as I changed quickly and just sort of kept to myself. Anyway, the lagoon itself was relaxing and everything I wanted it to be.

Ahhhh so relaxing!

From there, I hit up Strokkur and Geysir. I was able to see Strokkur erupt 4 or 5 times while walking around the geyser park here. From there, I went on to the magnificent Gullfoss waterfall.

Errrruuuuuppppptttion!

Hole.

This waterfall is crazy!

Following up Gullfoss was Thingvellir National Park. In the park, I hiked around for a good couple of hours and checked out Öxarárfoss waterfall and Almannagjá, where the North American and European tectonic plates meet. Coming out of Thingvellir, I nearly hit a herd of while sheep on the road!

Just, you know, the edge of the North American tectonic plate. NBD.

Walking between two tectonic plates. Normal stuff.

So many waterfalls to see!

Last up on my self-guided tour was Kerið, a volcanic crater lake. I really only just made it before the sun started going down, but I’m glad I did. I did a lap around the top of the crater and then went down into it for a lap around the lake.

The lighting here was *really* starting to wind down, must more so than the photo makes evident.

On my last day in Iceland, I took a guided tour of South Iceland. This tour picked us up in Reykjavik and drove us down through Selfoss and to the southern coast. Along the way, we stopped and made friends with some Icelandic horses and laid on the mattress-like moss covering old lava fields. I would have never guessed that moss could be so soft and comfy!

Bed made of moss.

I made a horse friend

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The first of two waterfalls we saw on this tour was Seljalandsfoss. This is the waterfall you can walk behind and see THE BACKSIDE OF WATER! While really neat, it was also cold and wet. The second waterfall was Skógafoss, which is another beautiful waterfall and typically has a double rainbow in front of it.

Ladies and gentlemen, the eighth wonder of the world, THE BACKSIDE OF WATER!!!

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Seljalandsfoss.

Yeah, uh, this guy was in his underwear.

Gay.

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At Skógafoss.

Next up on the tour was Reynisfjara, the black sand beach. Now, here, what was most important to me was to see some fucking puffins. I was ready to throw a fit if I didn’t see any puffins while in Iceland, but luckily for everyone, no fit was needed! There were hundreds and hundreds of puffins flying around. I didn’t get to see any up close, but it was still pretty cool to see so many of them.

You can't tell, but there are hundreds of puffins in this photo

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Look at all the puffins!!

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Black sand beach and puffins. The best place on Earth?

The last bit of the tour was a hike on Solheimsjokill Glacier. This was a guided tour walking around on the ice and seeing some of the features of it while also learning about the glaciers themselves.

Hanging on a glacier

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I’mma hike the hell out of that glacier back there.

After the tour, I grabbed dinner with a couple of the other people from the tour and we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights! Typically, August is too early so I didn’t expect to see them on my trip, but apparently they were out a bit early. Now, here’s the thing, when you see photos of the Northern Lights they look super saturated or you see time lapses where they’re moving and such. In reality, that’s not quite what they look like. I fully expect they look more intense later in the season, but mostly it was just a light glowing in the sky. It was still awesome to see, but it wasn’t life-changing or anything like that.

Northern Lights! TBH, this photo is a fairly accurate representation of what we saw. There was some light pollution where we were, but it wasn’t much more than this.

Other bits

Iceland is great! I’d love to go back and see more. There are so many different things to see and the time of year you go can really change the experience of those things. All the people I interacted with were incredibly nice.

I made a new friend today

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Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at or walked by. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom. And some, I checked in multiple times as I passed them more than once.

  

4

I found a job and now summer vacation is ending

After nearly three months since being laid off from Tumblr, I’ll be starting my new job this week. I’m pretty excited about it, but before I go into that, I thought I’d write a bit about what my time off and job hunt have been like. I’ve been pretty quiet about this whole thing on social media compared to the way I am about most things, so there’s a bit to catch up on here.

The plan

My plan for my unemployed time was to take at least a few weeks, but probably closer to a month, before doing anything at all. I was going to decompress and relax. Maybe even, I don’t know, enjoy the time off????? I haven’t had more than two weeks off from working in about 14 years so I felt like I deserved to enjoy just a little bit of time.

After a few weeks, I was going to start applying for jobs and asking around for who might be working somewhere that’s hiring. But with six months of severance, I was going to take my time with things.

The reality

The reality was much different than planned. I actually wrote a 3,000 word blog post going into a lot of detail about it, but I decided to scrap it for something a bit different.

While I wanted to take the time off before doing anything, I also wanted to at least deal with my inbox first. The layoffs at Yahoo (who owned Tumblr prior to being acquired by Verizon) weren’t exactly a secret, even before they officially happened. So a lot of recruiters blasted out emails to people they found on Linkedin with Tumblr/Yahoo listed as their employer.

At minimum, I wanted to reply to a few of the non-gross sounding recruiters so their messages weren’t just sitting there forever. In addition to this, I had one recruiter I had been working with for a little bit before I was laid off. I wasn’t looking to get out of Tumblr ASAP, but I had started looking. I just didn’t have a strong motivation to get out because I loved Tumblr.

From here, things ramped up immediately. Before I even caught my breath, my schedule was filled with phone calls and tech screens at companies. This was in addition to trying to schedule plans with both friends I hadn’t seen in a while and former coworkers for catching up.

My schedule quickly became busier than when I was employed. I was on the go non-stop from waking up until late evening. It was exhausting, but also good. Any free time between scheduled stuff, I spent doing practice coding exercises online so I could be prepared for interviews.

Trying to schedule things was a whole new level of hell. Each company/recruiter would ask for 3-4 times I was available so they could schedule on their end, but there were points where I had a ton of things scheduled already and then had two or three companies I was waiting to hear back about, but had to hold multiple spots for until one was confirmed. A couple companies did make this easier, though, by using system that allows you to just pick a time from what they have available. This was super helpful! If your job entails scheduling with people, you should do this!

Trying to deal scheduling things when your calendar looks like this is hell.

My first five weeks of unemployment were the exact opposite of what I had planned for them to be. I could have decided to put all of this on hold, but I was interviewing with a few companies I wanted to work for, so I didn’t want to hold up those processes. Additionally, Tumblr/Yahoo wasn’t the only NYC tech company that had layoffs this summer. Etsy and SoundCloud, among others, also had layoffs. Typically, there are way more jobs in development than there are developers to fill them, but I knew there might be a bit more competition for the jobs I was looking for.

What are tech interviews like?

If you work in tech, you can skip this section, but for those who don’t, I figured I’d give a quick little overview of what it’s like to interview as a developer. Note that none of this is an endorsement of the process; I think the tech interview process is incredibly flawed.

Things start off probably the way they do for a lot of other jobs. You’ll have a call with a recruiter (or someone performing the role of a recruiter). This is just a quick screen where they ask a little about your work history and what you’re looking for, as well as tell you a bit about the role and the company. On one level, they’re just trying to get a quick feel for whether you might be a fit for their company and the role, but they’re also trying to sell you on working at their company. At a really small company, this might actually be with an engineer, but it’s separate from any of the technical interviewing.

And this is, of course, after any email or Linkedin correspondence you might have before. If you’re working with a third party recruiter, that conversation would also be before this call.

The second step could be one of two options, both are designed to suss out if you actually know how to code at all and to get a quick sense for whether or not you’re worth the time to bring in. This step could either be a take home coding exercise or a phone-based one. Some companies will give you a choice between the two, but most will just give you one or the other.

The phone-based exercise is typically you and an engineer on their end. The call might start out with a quick chat about their role, the role you’re interviewing for, and/or your past, but this is brief. Some interviews just get right into it. Your call is either via video chat or the phone, but will (almost) always have a shared screen for coding. The interviewer will ask you one or two questions and you’ll work through how to solve them. Sometimes, you’re expected to write code that will run and produce the desired results. Other, you’ll be writing actual code, but won’t have to actually run it. These calls are typically 45-60 minutes so it can be hard to solve the problem and produce bug-free code. Generally, you’re being evaluated on your approach to solving the problem and the efficiency of your solution. At the end, there is typically some time to ask questions about the company and the role.

Take home exercises are similar in idea, but a little different. Here, you’re given a problem or two to solve on your own time. You usually have a few days to a week. Then you submit your solution afterwards. In my experience, these are expected to take three or four hours, but I’ve done some that take longer. You’ll be expected to produce an actual working solution that is (relatively) bug-free. And because you have more time, you’re usually expected to write higher quality code than on a phone-based screen.

Between the two, I prefer the take home exercise and would opt for that when given the choice. They’re a little more involved and take longer, but I always feel like I can better show off my ability when someone isn’t actively watching me write code and I have a little bit of time to think. They’re also just wayyyyy less stressful, I think.

The final stage of a tech interview is the onsite portion. This can be between three and six hours and may or may not include lunch. Basically, it’s a long ass thing.

The onsite interview will consist of a number of different sessions. Anywhere from three to six, in my experience, but usually four. Each will be 45-60 minutes and with one or two interviewers (most of mine were with one). These sessions will include any mix of coding on an actual computer, writing code on a whiteboard, solving system architecture problems, having a sample of code you brought with you reviewed, reviewing a sample of code given to you, figuring out and fixing a breaking issue or code with a bug in it, and a more values-based subjective type of interview (what most non-technical interviews typically are). It’s common for multiple sessions to be of the coding on a whiteboard type. Here you’re typically evaluated on your approach to the problem and the efficiency of your solution.

The onsite portion of tech interviewing is exhausting and stressful.

Interviews

I went on a total of six onsite interviews since being laid off. The shortest was 3.5 hours and the longest was 6 hours. Two were 5.5 hours. 😴😴😴 And the first five of them were within a three week period. For the most part, I thought they all went pretty well on my end. There was one company I was really excited for and thought I would love working at until the interview which made me lose all interest in wanting to work there.

If I’m remembering correctly, I did eight take home and phone screen evaluations with seven different companies (one company wanted me to do two 🙄). Of those seven companies, all of them invited me in for onsite interviews. The seventh one, I canceled after accepting an offer, hence having done six and not seven.

Three of those eight were take home style evaluations. There was also a fourth that I started, but didn’t submit because of accepting an offer. For the most part, I actually sort of enjoyed working on these. They were fun little projects and they also gave me an opportunity to get more practice writing Go (the programming language I was teaching myself at the beginning of summer).

There were a few additional companies I talked to without actually having anything go anywhere. One didn’t seem to have any interest in pursuing things with me, which was fine by me because the person I talked to there sounded like a massive douche…


(I didn’t literally hang up, but mentally, I was done with that)

The rest of the companies I spoke to seemed interested, but got caught up with scheduling and timing issues or ended up filling the role before I would have gone in anyway.

In addition to all of the above, I had one onsite interview with one company and a take home evaluation with another before being laid off. The onsite interview did not go well at all. I was totally out of practice and rusty on interview-type stuff (which is usually nothing like what a developer actually does day-to-day). It was my first technical interview in three years. I also had gotten a bad vibe from the company beforehand and wasn’t super excited for the interview so that may have played into my performance as well.

Offers

In total, I got two offers. Because of the timing of the second one, I had about 3.5 hours to make a decision between the two. Company A had come the week before and was expiring. Company B, I was expecting immediately following the interview (I knew I nailed it), but the timing made things really close.

Choosing between the two was agonizing. Even though I had three and a half hours to make the decision, I did find out the night before (a few hours after the interview) that I would be getting an offer from Company B. I just didn’t know how much it would be for. This started my decision-making process, but it was hard to really make a decision without having the offer in front of me.

Between the two companies, I was really excited about them both and knew I couldn’t go wrong with either. Company A is a very stable, but smaller company that is profitable. Company B is a small startup that hasn’t yet launched (they’re targeting later this year), but has funding and should be good with money for a while. Their product was something that looked great and I knew I would be very excited and passionate about working on.

Both companies offered me working in languages I wanted to work in. Both are Go, the language I most was hoping to work with, and Company A is also Python, which I’d like to finally learn anyway. I felt like I could make a big impact at either company, but Company B would allow me to really own what I was working on and drive a lot of it. It would likely be much more challenging. Both companies came across as having awesome people that I’d love to work with.

So choosing suuuuuuucked. I was really back and forth on it. Luckily, they both were through the same third party recruiter so I was able to talk things through with her without her being biased over which direction I went. Danielle definitely made clear where she wanted me to go.

Company A was offering me more money, better healthcare that’s also trans-inclusive and 100% covered premiums, 401k (with employer match), commuter benefits and a better commute (literally one block from Tumblr HQ 🤣🤣🤣), a dog-friendly office (not that we have a dog, but I want to hang out with other people’s doggos!), and a few other small perks. Because Company B is a small startup, they couldn’t offer most of that and the offer was lower.

In the 3.5 hours I had, I asked Company B for more in the base salary, but they could only offer me a signing bonus making up the difference between the two offers. Of course, that only makes up the difference for my first year there. Between the two, Company A also offers a better work/life balance and no on-call rotation, while Company B isn’t at a stage to be able to offer that.

In the end, I had to make an actual adult decision. At 34, things like a 401k matter. If I was in my early 20s still, I would probably approach things differently and even be disappointed in myself for approaching this how I did, but 🤷‍♀️. Even though I only had a little bit of time, I decided to at least rough estimate the true difference between the two offers. I estimated what it would cost me out of pocket to make up for the 401k, the health and commuter benefits, the commute itself, and the other differences. In the end, I would be coming out about even with what I was pocketing at Tumblr, at best—a salary I felt was no longer where I should be.

After agonizing, I made a decision. Despite the above, I chose Company B and went with the role that would be more challenging and the product I would get to have the most impact on. That was at 2:52pm, with 8 minutes until my call with Company A to tell them my decision.

At 2:55pm, Danielle asked me “are you happy with your decision?” And, honestly, I couldn’t say yes. Something felt off. I wanted to be happy, but I wasn’t. I think in that moment, it really hit me the difference in what the work/life balance would be between the two and how much the benefits really mattered. I could have been fine with the work/life balance if it was only lower salary or worse benefits, but I couldn’t do it with both.

At 2:58pm, I messaged Danielle and said “I’m going with Company A. I think that’s the right decision.” Two minutes later, it was official!

So that was that!

Company A is Bitly!

Yup, Bitly! The link shortening company. I’m pretty excited for it! I got a really good vibe from everyone there and it’ll be nice to work for a company that is profitable. Plus, it’s the same short and easy commute as I had at Tumblr and just a block away so I can meet my favorite old coworkers for lunch.

I’m really excited to work at a company whose mascot is Chauncey McPufferson!

The company is small enough that I think I’ll get to have a pretty solid impact, but also stable. While I am in a place in my career and financially that I could have taken a risky position at a startup without too much worry, I think it’ll be nice to have have some stability in my workplace. As much as I loved Tumblr, it wasn’t really the most stable company to work for in the last two years because of Yahoo being up for sale and, eventually, selling to Verizon. And before Tumblr, I was at a company that made money, but had been acquired by a larger company and had been slowly but consistently changing with processes and such in flux for years.

I’m also excited to work in Go and Python. I’ve really been loving Go and I’m surprised I’ve gone this long without needing to learn Python. I think it’ll be a good skill to have for my career.

Additionally, I’ve been starting to realize just how bad it was the way I let Tumblr invade my whole life. I’ve always been a very big proponent of keeping a good work/life balance and had never let myself stray from that. It’s one thing to have friends from work whom you hang out with after hours and on the weekends, for sure. It’s another thing when you let your life start to revolve around that whole world and you’re constantly checking Slack all the time. Your job shouldn’t be your life. I made that mistake with Tumblr. It became everything and sucked up so much of my life. I don’t want to do that again. I want to work at a place that I really enjoy being at, but that is only part of my life, not the entire thing. While working after hours wasn’t a thing I did at Tumblr, I think Company B had a strong potential to try to suck me into doing stuff well beyond 40 hours/week.

Some other interviewing bits

In the end, both of my offers came from companies I got in the door at because of the recruiter I was working with before being laid off. She’s, honestly, fantastic. She was super nice and really made me feel like she cared about finding me the right fit. If anyone is looking for a job in tech in NYC, let me connect you with her!

Not everyone I worked with was like this, though. I worked with one recruiter who did just about everything he could to annoy me. I talked to a few companies through him and did one phone tech screen. That company wanted me to come in for an onsite interview, but that was the interview I canceled.

This recruiter constantly texted me about opportunities, which just like…no. Don’t do text me unless it’s urgent. And his texts were always like “do you have a few minutes to hop on a call?” Then the call would just be him telling me real quick about the company and asking me to email him some times I was free to schedule. Like, dude, just email me. Don’t text me. Don’t make me talk on the damn phone for something that’s better emailed. Eventually, I had to ask him to stop texting me. In addition to those two strikes, he also didn’t really listen to me with the companies he was trying to set me up with. One of the companies, in particular, I told him wasn’t interesting to me. They seemed cool, but it wasn’t a product I had any interest in working on. He set up a call anyway. And then, it turned out the role wasn’t even a senior level even though I told him I was only looking for senior roles. Still, he kept pushing me to interview there anyway. He was clearly more interested in filling roles than he was with fitting the right people with the right roles.

I know recruiters make money by filling openings, but he made me feel like nothing more than a product he was trying to move. He was otherwise a nice guy and we talked about cats a bunch, but when it came to business, it felt totally cold and impersonal.

I had two companies I expected to offers from give me the same reasoning for not moving forward. They both said they liked me a lot and thought I might be a good fit, but not for the roles they were currently hiring for. They each said they wanted me to connected back with them in a few months. The first company really irked me with this. It should have been super obvious from the beginning that I wasn’t going to be a fit for the role they were hiring for. Nothing in the recruiter call or technical phone screen should have indicated my background was right for that role. They shouldn’t have even brought me in for an onsite interview. Instead, they wasted 5.5 hours of my time. During the process, they made no indication to me that they weren’t hiring for a role I thought I’d be a fit for.

One last thing to sort of mention here, it’s weird to be interviewing for a new job when you’re, for lack of a better term, notable. By notable, I mean, if you Google me, not only am I the only Amelia Gapin, but the results aren’t just like my blog and Twitter or the typical things you get when you search most people. Because of the magazine, there’s all this other stuff that comes up when you search me. If you go beyond the first couple pages of search results, you’ll find a few other articles about me that aren’t related to the magazine. Some are other articles about me as a vocal trans athlete and some are about the startup I co-founded. Still, they’re things that likely stand out.

I always hate bringing up the magazine or doing anything that might come across as humble bragging or whatever it sounds like when you read this, but it was a thing. I expect companies and interviewers to Google people before interviewing them, but it’s weird when there’s actually something for them to find and all of it is just out there.

It came up in one interview when the CEO of the company mentioned he Googled me. He didn’t say it to particularly talk about the magazine, but instead to talk about what all of the results he found for me, in addition to the way I talk about things on my blog, say about me to him (it was a good thing). Still, it was weird. It’s one thing whe people read my blog or Twitter beforehand—at this point, everyone has some public-facing internet presence that can precede them. It’s another thing when there’s stuff about you.

And besides the magazine itself, I’m also walking into a interview with someone who likely already knows I’m trans before I get there. This would be the case anyway thanks to my openness on my blog and my Twitter, but it’s definitely a thing to consider. It means I might basically be “the trans one” to them. Not necessarily in those words, but that’s the thing about me that sticks out. I guess the good thing about this, however, is I likely have to worry less about getting a job offer and finding out my transness is going to be a thing there after starting. This would, in theory, have already played out.

ANYWAY, I’ll stop throwing words at you now and wrap this up here. I start at Bitly on Wednesday and I’m excited for it. I’m not really ready for my summer vacation to end and I absolutely hit a point where I no longer want to ever work again, but I’m excited for my new job!

1

Europe 2017 – Berlin

Berlin is, by far, one of my favorite cities on the planet. It’s just so damn good in so many ways. I’ve been saying for years I want to move to Berlin and when shit goes to shit in the US, Berlin is where I want to go to.

Hello Mr TV Tower!

The Basics

I arrived in Berlin to Schonenfeld Airport in the early afternoon. I remember when I was in Berlin in 2012, the new airport was supposed to be open, but it was delayed and still isn’t open yet. Anyway, I hopped on the train to the city and got off at Alexanderplatz. Google told me to transfer to another train to get to my Airbnb, but I decided it was a nice day out and I’d walk the mile or so instead, even with my heavy backpack.

👋👋👋

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When I arrived at my Airbnb, my host’s cleaning lady let me in. The apartment was on the 21st floor and provided an amazing view of the city from both the kitchen and my room. My room was absolutely huge, much more than I needed for just myself. Since I was feeling pretty gross thanks to not showering before leaving Edinburgh, I took a quick shower before heading out for the afternoon.

The view of the TV Tower from my Airbnb.

I didn’t actually end up meeting my host until the next morning after my run, but she turned out to be a sweet old German woman who had lived in East Berlin during the Cold War. She was very friendly and offered me breakfast every day and was eager to sit and talk with me. She also insisted on doing my laundry for me after I asked her how to work her washing machine—it was entirely in German and I can’t make heads or tails of it.

My Airbnb was very conveniently located in Mitte, within a reasonable walk from most things I wanted to do. It couldn’t have been much better. However, next time I’m in Berlin, I might stay in the more northern section of Mitte, closer to more of the nightlife.

Getting around Berlin, well at least Mitte, was pretty easy from memory so that was helpful. And the U-Bahn and S-Bahn are easy to navigate with Google Maps to tell you where to get on and off.

Running

I did three runs while in Berlin. When Danielle and I were in Berlin in 2012, we had plans to run in Tiergarten, but never ended up doing it because we were exhausted. I wasn’t going to let that happen this time.

❤️🏃‍♀️🇩🇪

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My first run was five miles along the river. A lot of cities have paths along their rivers, but the section of the Spree I was running along didn’t have one so I was running on the sidewalk next to the river. This left me with a lot of street crossings to contend with, but for the most part they were small enough to cross without having to stop. I ran just into the northern section of Tiergarten near the Reichstag and then turned around to head back. My legs were pretty exhausted for this run, but it was still an enjoyable. Mostly, I was just happy to be in Berlin and going for a run!

First Berlin run!

My second run was supposed to be a morning nine-miler. Unfortunately, my clothes were…MIA. My host had taken them to wash as she said she would, but I guess they weren’t dry yet and I had no idea where they were. She also either wasn’t home or wasn’t awake when I woke up. So I just went about the rest of my day with hopes of fitting my run in later. And if not, I had a little flexibility to move things around for the next few days.

A quick mid-run selfie in Tiergarten

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I ended up squeezing it in later that evening. I was debating if I’d have time to do it before it got dark and how safe it’d be if I didn’t finish before the sun was down. My tour guide from a tour earlier that day said it would still be very safe for me to run even if it was dark so I decided to go for it. I quickly changed and took off towards Tiergarten. Once I got there, I felt right at home along its paths. It was the perfect place to run. Despite being dusk, there were tons of other runners out. It was glorious and my legs were feeling amazing. I was crushing mile after mile and looping all over the park. I was feeling so good I decided to throw a tenth mile in before finishing up. This run literally couldn’t have been better and I finished up before it was completely dark out. Wins all around!

So much Tiergarten! Look at that blobby mess of my just running little loops and stuff in the middle there.

The next morning, less than twelve hours later, I woke up and knocked out my third Berlin run. This was a simple four-miler that just looped a bit into Tiergarten and then back to my Airbnb.

More Tiergarten goodness!

Food

Food is one of my favorite things in Berlin. There’s just so much good stuff to eat!

One of my main goals was making sure I had currywurst. The best I had was at Dom Curry, but I also had it a couple of other times while walking around the city. Yum yum!

Currywurst!

The fanciest meal I had in Berlin was at Lebensmittel in Mitte. This is a delicious German restaurant with a 9.2 rating on Foursquare. This wasn’t on my list before going to the city, but I had trouble finding the place I was trying to find one night and ended up picking another one on Foursquare nearby. Unfortunately, Foursquare didn’t tell me you need to have a reservation here, but they were nice enough to sit me at a table outside anyway. The menu was all in German, but I was able to make enough sense of it to order my meal and a beer. It was fantastic! Highly recommended. I followed this up with ice cream from Bandy Brooks on my walk back to the Airbnb.

Ice cream from Bandy Brooks.

The morning that I couldn’t run because of my MIA clothes, I decided to take a long walk to find Bonanza Roastery. It’s a coffee roastery and is most excellent!. I stayed for a couple cappuccinos and a pastry for breakfast. Bonanza has a great atmosphere and they require people sitting with laptops to only be at certain tables so as to make sure there are still tables for other people.

Bonanza flat white and pastry that looks like poo, but tasted like awesome.

Check these mini cupcakes from Tigertötchen.

A repeat restaurant I hit up from when I was in Berlin in 2012 was Chipps. This was our favorite place on that trip so I wanted to come back for breakfast one day. It was as good as I remember! And it’s in a convenient location to start off your sightseeing day.

Breakfast from Chipps.

On my last day in Berlin, I went a bit overboard trying to hit up some places before leaving. I had lunch at Shiso Burger and ordered the bulgogi burger. It was 👌👏. From there, I went around the corner to The Barn for a coffee and then continued walking around. I walked over to Zeitgeist für Brot for a coffee cake with pie filling. It was so fucking good! And then from there I grabbed another coffee from Five Elephant because it looked cool when I walked by, but it turned out to not be that great in reality. Can’t win them all, I guess. My last stop before heading off to the airport was at Rausch Schokoladenhaus for some chocolate.

Bulgogi burger from Shiso Burger.

Chocolate Reichstag from Rausch Schokoladenhaus.

Some chocolate from Rausch Schokoladenhaus.

My pastry from Zeit für Brot.

Going back to my first night in Berlin for a second, I went on a beer tasting tour. Unlike the pub crawl in Edinburgh, this was much more about actually tasting beer and learning about the history of beer in Germany. We started at Weihenstephaner Berlin which is a restaurant run by the world’s oldest brewery still in existence. We sampled a few different brews there before moving on to Brauhaus Lemke. Part of the tour also included buying some beers to walk around the streets with, as that’s legal in Germany 🍻🚶‍♀️🤤. We ended at Kaschk, a fantastic craft beer bar which was had also been recommended to me before my trip.

During the tour, I made friends with an Australian couple who was in the middle of a four week European trip. They were great company to have while drinking.

Some beer tasting glasses at Weihenstephaner Berlin.

Tasting that beer!

Fantastic German pretzels for the beer to wash down.

A map of all the different types of beer.

Beer bottle chandelier

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Activities

Like the rest of my trip, I packed my time in Berlin.

In 2012, we took an amazing free walking tour from SANDEMANs that we loved. Our tour guide, Sam Noble, was incredibly passionate and knowledgeable and you could tell he just straight-up lived for giving tours and sharing history. At the time, he was working on his PhD at Humboldt University in Berlin. Fast forward to a couple weeks before this trip and I found out he was still giving tours and listed his Instagram on his bio on the SANDEMANs site. I decided to be a little creepy and send him a message asking him if I could request to be in his tour group. He was kind enough to send me his schedule and I made sure to book for when he was doing the tour.

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To my delight, he was as great as he was five years ago. His tour had evolved a little, but it was still superb. He was no longer pursuing his PhD and is now giving tours full time so he really puts his all into it. It was such a great time! This tour included Pariser Platz and Brandenburg Gate, the outside portion of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Führerbunker, Bundersministerium dear Finanzen (the old Luftwaffe HQ), the Berlin Wall Monument, Checkpoint Charlie, Konzerthaus Berlin, Französischer Dom, Bebelplatz, and The Memorial to the Book Burning of 1933. And, of course, more history than you could possibly hope to remember.

This was the Luftwaffe HQ during WWII. Now it’s the tax office.

Konzerthaus Berlin.

I also did the SANDEMANs Third Reich tour with Theo. This tour was an interesting deeper dive into some of the WWII portions of the free tour. Theo was good, but not as good as Sam. This tour included some of the same stops as the free tour, but also Tiergarten, the outside of the Reichstag, the Memorial to the Sinti and Roma Victims of National Socialism, Soviet War Memorial, Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism, Potsdamer Platz, Stiftung Neue Synagoge Berlin, and Jüdischer Friedhof Berlin-Mitte.

The final guided tour I did while in Berlin was a tour to Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg. This was, obviously, a somber and heavy tour, but it felt necessary to squeeze it into my trip. Our guide, Rob McCracken, took us on the train to Oranienburg and then on the same walk from the train station the prisoners of Sachsenhausen would have been forced on.

The main watch tower at Sachsenhausen.

The tour was extremely well done and Rob did a great job of telling the history—a lot of which I had zero idea about—and also going deep into the societal, political, mental, and emotional aspects of what happened at the concentration camp and in the town around it. He constantly posed the question of what the German people really knew about what was happening at the time. And he repeatedly urged us to think hard about what each of us would have truly done at the time. It’s easy to look back on something like this and say what you’d have done, but it takes a lot to think critically about yourself and what you would have actually done when faced with that same situation. This should hit any American who takes this tour hard right now.

Some of what’s remaining still at Sachsenhausen. The tower memorial in the back was actually built by the Soviets when they took over the concentration camp after liberating it from the nazis.

Despite being emotionally intense, I’m glad I went and I’m even more glad I did so as part of a tour. The tour added a lot more than I would have gotten doing this on my own. I learned more and got a much greater sense of context in which all of the atrocities here happened. At the same time, the tour also allowed me to experience everything with other people and to have a little reprieve from the gravity of it all. On the tour, I made friends with woman from DC whom I chatted with the entire time. I don’t want to say this dulled impact at all, but it helped to give frequent and well needed emotional breaks.

The remains of the crematory ovens.

I took a lot of photos while at Sachsenhausen, which is something I felt a bit weird about. It’s one of those things where you want be respectful and you don’t want to make light of anything. But on the other hand, it’s something you need to remember. It’s something no one should ever be able to forget. For me, it felt important to have those photos in my phone’s camera roll. Not because I’d purposely go back and look for them, but because they should be there when I scroll back looking at other photos. They should be there to be stumbled upon as a reminder. For me, taking photos was a way to take it all with me.

Prisoners of Sachsenhausen would have to sleep three across in each of those little beds.

Aside from my tours, I did a lot of exploration on my own. I spent some time walking around Mitte and enjoying the street art and walking through Haus Schwarzenberg and Hackenscher Markt. I also walked around Michaelkirchplatz and Kreuzberg on my way back from Bonanza Roastery.

Good street art at Haus Schwarzenberg

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Leave it to me to always find a Doctor Who reference.

After the free walking tour, I went back to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and actually went down into the memorial. I didn’t even know about this part of it when we were in Berlin in 2012. This was, by far, the most emotional part of my trip. This memorial focused very closely on the Jews who were murdered. One room had parts of letters and postcards sent doing the Holocaust. Most of them were little more than recovered fragments. Few were full letters. I cried while reading many of them. This room in particular, to me, was the most real of everything in Berlin. It was the most personal and put more of a human face on Holocaust then even Sachsenhausen did. It was more than a gut punch. It was a pummeling.

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The meaning of the design is meant to be open to interpretation and the number of blocks is not representative of anything, it’s just what fit there. For reference, it’s okay to sit on them, as approved by the Jewish architect of this memorial. It is not, however, okay to stand on them.

The next room told the story of more than a dozen families. Each family had a section talking about where they were from, the members of the family, what they did, and other personal stories. It then went on to detail what happened to each member of the family during the Holocaust. This was another really tough section to get through.

From there, I decided to keep things heavy for a bit and went over to the Topography of Terror. In 2012, this was one of our favorite parts of Berlin. By favorite, I mean it’s very well done and we learned a lot from it. It’s obviously not fun, but it’s a really great museum to spend some time at.

The largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, sitting between the Topography of Terror and the Bundesministerium der Finanzen.

Some of the Berlin Wall.

Other bits

As I’ve mentioned, I really love Berlin. There is a lot of great food to eat, a lot to see, and a lot to experience. It’s the kind of city I could come back to every year. My only real complaint about Berlin is that Germans don’t serve tap water. It’s harder to get water than it is beer in Berlin. When you go out to eat, you have to order bottled water and if you ask for tap water, they won’t give it to you.

I like this guy

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Good bear

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Not ready to leave this city yet, but the time has come

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My time in Berlin was incredibly surreal, as this was during the height of what was happening in Charlottesville. Being in Germany and visiting the places I did while white nationalists and nazis were holding rallies in America was a strange experience. But the thing about Germany is they’ve dealt with their past. They don’t pretend it wasn’t a problem and they learn from it. Learning from it is a deeply ingrained part of their culture and education. Rather than try to forget it, they keep reminders of it out in the open. This is something America still has not done with racism and slavery. We need to deal with our past the way Germany has. Everything happening in our country now is because we haven’t dealt with it and refuse to.

An important quote from the Topography of Terror that all Americans should think about.

Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at or walked by. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom. And some, I checked in multiple times as I passed them more than once.

    

I don’t know how this happened, but apparently two checkins at the Führerbunker is enough to make you mayor. I guess no one wants to check in there. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

1

Europe 2017 – Edinburgh

Unlike London, this was my first time in Edinburgh. I didn’t know a lot about the city before this trip, but I’d always heard amazing things about it.

One thing I definitely didn’t know was that during August there is a huge (like really huge) arts festival called Fringe. I had never even heard of it before my trip and only found out what it was the day before leaving London to head up to Edinburgh. What I found out after getting there was that Fringe is absolutely wild and intense. There are constantly dozens and dozens of shows happening at any moment and in all kinds of venues, many of which are makeshift venues like coffee shop basements and restaurants. And the shows are all over the map, they are musicals, improv, standup, poetry, comedy, one-person shows. All kinds of stuff! Fucking wild, I tell you!

Basics

I arrived by train after 10pm and was exhausted. I had made the most of the day in London before getting on the train and was ready to go to bed. Unfortunately, it took me a little while to find my Airbnb. It was very conveniently located in Old Town, but it was just down a weird two level street that I totally didn’t understand at all.

The streets were quite busy when I got in thanks to Fringe!

When I got to my Airbnb, my host was hanging out in the kitchen with one of the other guests, a German woman from Berlin named Claudia. She really wanted to go out and see some live music and have a beer. The two of them convinced me to go with them and off we went. I didn’t want to stay out long, but I figured it’d be a nice way to experience nightlife stuff, especially since my time in Edinburgh was limited.

We hit up a music venue with a Scottish ska band playing (yeah, ska) and grabbed some beers. From there, we went over to a standup show around the corner. This was a man and a woman each doing sets. The woman, Megan Shandley, was very funny. The guy was also funny until he made a transphobic joke and then I over him.

The ska band playing at Stramash the night I got in.

Getting around Edinburgh was very easy on foot. Everything I wanted to do was walking distance from my Airbnb. And it’s a very beautiful and old city to walk around so it was perfect.

I only had two full days in Edinburgh (aside from the unplanned late night my first night there). Had I known about Fringe, I would have probably wanted to stay a full week. At least. There were dozens of shows I wanted to see, but I could only do so many in my limited time there.

My Airbnb was kinda not amazing. I mean, it was located in a very good location for seeing stuff and the host was really nice, but it felt a bit dirty and the apartment reeked of a place where smokers lived for years and years. It served its purpose though.

Arthur's Seat from my Airbnb

My Airbnb did have this *amazing* view of Arthur’s Seat from the window in my room, though.

Running

I had two runs planned for Edinburgh, but thanks to being out late the night before, I missed the first one. Luckily, that was just a four-miler so it wasn’t too big of a deal. And this was pretty much the only planned run I entirely missed without making up throughout my whole trip.

The second planned run for Edinburgh was the one I was most worried about during the trip because it was a long run of 15 miles. I knew I had to get it done, though, so I made sure nothing stopped me. The day before, I went on Strava and joined an Edinburgh running group for women and asked if anyone would be interested in making a new friend and running with me. To my delight, someone actually did! I was really excited for this!

We met up for an afternoon long run. Edite and I ran about 11 of my 15 miles together. We started around Holyrood Park and ran around Arthur’s Seat while climbing the tough hill there. Then we made our way down to the beach, where I would have never thought to go on my own. It was a nice mix of scenery. After heading back from the beach, we made our way around another park before we split ways. I finished up with a couple laps around the park to round out my 15 while trying really hard not to shit my pants because my body decided it HAD to 💩 and this was going to be non-negotiable.

Edite and me at the end of our 11 miles together.

Overall, it was a really nice run besides the poop stuff and I was so happy to have a made a new friend for it!

Edinburgh running route

It was a great route!

Food

I think out of all the places on my trip, I had the most places to eat saved in Foursquare for Edinburgh. There were so many restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops I wanted to try.

My breakfast at Hemma.

My first real meal was breakfast at Hemma. It was superb and just what I needed after my hike of Arthur’s Seat. The food was great and so was the atmosphere. For an afternoon snack, I stopped at Shakeaway and got an amazing milkshake to enjoy while walking around the city. I followed that up with tea and a sandwich and scone from Forsythe’s Tea Room. The tea was good, but the food was pretty meh. To be honest, the experience was a little too kitschy old Scottish grandma for me. For dinner, I had a burger and fries from The Holyrood 9A and washed it down with a delicious beer.

This yummy burger from Holyrood 9A.

How cute is this afternoon tea?!

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The next morning, I started my day off with coffee and avocado toast from Brew Lab Coffee.

That evening I did a pub crawl and mostly just had a random sampling of bits of food throughout. The pub crawl was fun, though. I made some new friends and drank a ton of beer. I think we went to six pubs and nightclubs. Each one gave us a free shot and then had drink specials. By the end of the night, I was quite drunk. So much so that I was still drunk when I woke up the next morning for my flight to Berlin. Awesome. LOL.

The crawl started at The Inn on the Mile and then we went to Pilgram Bar, The Whistle Stop Barber Shop, Frankenstein, Sneaky Pete’s, and The Hive. Frankenstein was a bit more wild and crazy than I’m into these days, but the karaoke was at least entertaining to watch. The Hive and Sneaky Pete’s were more like nightclubs which is definitely not my thing, but I still had a good time dancing with my new friends and having some really interesting political conversations with people from all over there place. The Pilgrim Bar and Whistle Stop were both more my speed, though. I’d definitely go back to those places.

My avocado toast from Brew Lab.

A bit drunk at Frankenstein.

Activities

As I mentioned above, hit up a standup show my first night. The show was at Just the Tonic in one of their smaller rooms in the back. It honestly was just a cave, hence its name, The Cave. It was kinda neat though! The ska band I saw right before was at Stramash which is basically next door.

The morning of my first full day in Edinburgh, I slept in much later than planned. This was thanks to my late night. I had planned to run up Arthur’s Seat. However, that plan was made before I actually knew what Arthur’s Seat really was. It’s a very old dormant volcano! I ended up hiking up it instead and, to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t try to run. I don’t think I would have made it. There were some people I saw who did run up, but it was wet from the rain the night before and extremely slippery. Definitely didn’t feel like running would have been safe. Just hiking it felt super sketchy. On my way done, I chatted it up with an older couple. The woman lived in the UK for the last 30 years, but was originally from the US. She ended up being great company for the hike back down. The view from the top was truly beautiful, though! And I was also lucky enough to get up and down just before the crowds started coming out.

While I missed my run, the hike absolutely felt like it more than made up for the four miles I had planned.

Looking up at Arthur’s Seat from the beginning of the hike.

Check this view from the top of Arthur’s Seat.

Given my luck with banana peels, I'm going to avoid this one being that I'm at the top of a volcano.

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There's a castle back there, I promise

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Next up for the day was the free SANDEMANs walking tour. This was a fantastic tour of mostly Old Town, including Grassmarket, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Flodden Wall, and a bunch of other stops. I learned a ton about the history of Scotland and Edinburgh. The tour guide also pointed out some of the graves in Greyfriars Kirkyard that JK Rowling used as inspiration for Harry Potter. He pointed out the inspirations for Hogwarts as well. One thing the tour guides had been asked to stop doing was taking people to the grave of Tom Riddell, but he had no problem telling us where to find it after the tour.

The view of Edinburgh Castle from Grayfriars Kickyard.

Yeah, I rubbed David Hume’s toe. It was weird, but apparently it’s a thing?

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This owl!!

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This is Greyfriars Bobby. You should read about him. What a good boy!

The grave of Tom Riddell.

From the end of the tour, I made my way down to New Town to explore on my own. On my walk over that way, I walked around Edinburgh Castle and stopped for a few minutes to watch a street performer playing songs for a small crowd. He asked where I was from and I replied that I was from New York (easier than saying Jersey City). From there, he went into two great anti-Trump ballads for me. This was a recurring theme from my every city of my trip, Trump and the USA are a terrifying af joke.

I walked around West End and Multrees Walk. I also went up into the Scott Monument. This was really rad, but also a little scary because of how tight and steep the spiral staircases were. There was only one way up and down and it got a bit crowded at points where it was hard to pass people without being afraid you’d slip and tumble all the way down. Still, the views were great and every time I thought I was all the way up, there was another staircase to discover to go up even higher.

You wouldn't know from the outside, but the climb to the top of Scott's Monument is kinda wild

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Squishing castles

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After this, I was handed a flier for a small improv show happening nearby. I decided to check it out since I had some extra time. And I’ll just say this, it was bad! It was three dudes who were not good at improv at all, but it was at least entertainingly bad until they made three transphobic jokes in rapid succession.

Last up for the day was the SANDEMANs Dark Side Tour. This was a exploration of Edinburgh’s more gruesome past including murder, people being buried alive and coming back from the dead, grave robbing, torture, witches, hangings, body stealing, people being crushed to death by falling coffins, and all kinds of other morbid stuff. Personally, I loved the tour and thought our guide, Sarah, was amazing. She was animated and passionate and an amazing storyteller. This tour also made for a great companion to the free tour earlier in the day as it went into more detail for a few things that were only briefly mentioned.

I started my second day off with a nice long walk to Summerhall. On the way, a guy was out front of a cafe handing out fliers for his poetry reading, and because I wanted to take as best advantage of Fringe as I could, I stopped in to check it out. Unlike the improv show the day before, this was really good. The reading was in the basement of the cafe with just a handful of people, nice and intimate. The poet’s name was Ben Ray and not only was his poetry good, but his reading of it was light and entertaining.

From the poetry reading, I made my way to the start of another guided tour. This was a tour of Edinburgh Castle. The tour included the obvious history and a nice overview of things at the castle. I absolutely got more out of my time in the castle than I would have without a guided tour. Afterwards, I hung around a bit to explore before heading out to go meet my running partner for our run.

The inside of Edinburgh Castle.

After my run, but before the pub crawl, I stopped in for one more show. This was again at The Caves at Just the Tonic. This show was called Tracey Tracey and was a one woman tragi-comedy by Nicola Cross. This show was super weird, but highly entertaining with just a bit of crowd interaction. I enjoyed it a lot.

Final bits

For just two days in the city, I feel like I really packed a lot in. I was non-stop running from thing to thing and on the go without much rest. I really wish I had had more time to go to more Fringe shows. I ended the weekend there with probably three dozen fliers for shows, a good half of which I’d have liked to have seen.

I will absolutely have to go back for longer some tine in the future.

Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at or walked by. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom. And some, I checked in multiple times as I passed them more than once.

 

 

4

Europe 2017 – London

When I first went to London in 2009, I really loved it. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since so it was at the top of my list of destinations for this trip.

Basics

I stayed in London for two full days and two half days (one was like 3/4 of a day, tbh). It was three nights in my Airbnb in Pimlico. The Airbnb was a really nice place, definitely the nicest of my whole trip. The owner lived there and rented out three rooms on Airbnb.

Upon entering for the first time, I was immediately greeted by an incredibly friendly cat named Nala (not sure on the spelling). She came right up to me and immediately started rubbing on me and crying for attention. I knew this would be a good place to stay based solely on this cat. There was also a second cat that was a little less outgoing and needy. Nala, though, oh boy did Nala crave attention. She’d run up in front of you and block you from walking through the house until you pet her.

I already made a new friend! This little cutie came right up to me! 😻

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My room was a small one that was actually under the sidewalk. Though, this was the same level with the kitchen and the walk out to the backyard so it wasn’t really a basement room. The room was more than fine for my needs, though.

Also staying at the Airbnb was an Australian woman named Greta. She was there my entire stay and we had a few really nice conversations over tea while relaxing at the end of the day. Incidentally, we also overlapped time while in Reykjavik, but we didn’t end up meeting up—though, we did connect on Facebook.

The location of the Airbnb was pretty decent and relatively central to a lot of things in London, but did require taking the London Underground to get to a lot of places. Though, that really was a non-issue as the Underground is fantastic and makes NYC’s MTA look like ameteur hour. The Underground is clean, efficient, and runs frequently.

Running

While in London, I did two runs, which is what I had on the schedule, but they were for 7 and 5 miles and I, instead, did two 10k runs and shifted the days. It worked out in the end, but not exactly as planned.

The first run was along the River Thames from Pimlico up to Millenium Bridge, across the bridge, and then back. It was great weather for a run and there were a ton of other runners out. Many runners were out with backpacks while I was in London. It seems like run commuting is very popular there!

Running route along River Thames.

Nice easy route.

View from my run this morning

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My second run was a bit more of a sloppier route. I had mapped something out, but it was a bit hard to follow based on memory so I just when with the gist of the idea. This run was through St James Park, around the lake, past Buckingham Palace, over to Hyde Park, around the lake there, and then back. This run was a little earlier in the AM so it was a nice peaceful route without many tourists out.

Running route in St James Park and Hyde Park.

A little sloppy, but it worked.

Food

While the England isn’t exactly known for its food, I do love me some fish and chips. So right after I dropped my bag off at my Airbnb, I set out for fish and chips. I ended up at The Sherlock Holmes which was near the touristy area in Westminster, but it seemed like there were a few locals there and it wasn’t a complete tourist trap of a place. The fish and chips were good and so was the beer!

My second day, I had lunch at Itsu, which is like a sushi and noodle chain “fast food” type place. My soup was very flavorful! For dinner, I had curry at the Brick Lane Brasserie. There was no way I wasn’t going to get curry on Brick Lane! Because I had idea which of the many places there to pick and they all had similar ratings, I just picked one at random. It also helped that a tour guide I had earlier in the day said “it doesn’t matter, they’re all good. You can’t go wrong.” My food was spicy and delicious! I finished it off with hot chocolate from Dark Sugars, right up the block.

Delicious chicken phal!

Delicious chicken phal!

This got chocolate!

This got chocolate!

Breakfast the next day was a pulled pork and mac and cheese amazingness from Borough Market. I followed that up with a doughnut from another stand and then a late morning beer at the Southwark Tavern. The best part of this morning was spending some time with my friend and former Tumblr coworker, Malika!

Borough Market yummies

Fresh watermelon at Borough Market

Turnips!

For dinner, I had a delicious burger and fries from CASK Pub and Kitchen.

On my last morning in London, I had one goal and that was to make sure I didn’t leave the city without having a proper pie. Another former Tumblr coworker (who is English) had been stressing to me how good the pies are so I had to do it. I went back to Borough Market and hit up Pieminister for a steak pie. It was out of this world good. I mean, fuck, that thing was good. Pies are good.

This pie was SO good! I should have taken a photo of the inside too.

Lunch was at The Fence with Malika and one of her friends from when she studied abroad in London. We ate in this cute little shed in the backyard there. It was pretty neat!

For dinner, I just had a burrito from Benito’s Hat in King’s Cross Station. I was worried about not making it to the station in time for my train so I made that my first priority and then just got food from there.

Throughout my time in London, I drank a whole mess of flat whites. Regular coffee isn’t really a big thing there, everyone drinks espresso drinks. I love cappuccinos and lattes, but I decided I’d change things up a bit with some flat whites.

Activities

As you’ll see from these posts, I’m a big fan of taking walking tours to learn more about cities. They’re a great way to see a lot and learn a lot about the history and cutlure of a city. They tend to give you a lot of highlights and then you can go back later to explore more, if you want. Plus, I just like walking a lot.

In front of St Paul’s Cathedral

Out front of Westminster Abbey.

My first day there, I did the SANDEMANs free walking tour with John. He was very British in his sense of humor, which I enjoy a lot. This was a great and fun tour that took us all over Westminster and all of the things to see there.

That evening, I did a Jack the Ripper tour from London Walks. This was utterly fascinating. I learned so much about Jack the Ripper that I had no idea about before. This tour took us around to all of the places of importance to the Jack the Ripper story and provided a lot of context for each. When I was in London in 2009, I did a self-guided Jack the Ripper tour following a guide I had found online, but compared to this, that was a waste of time.

The following day, I did SANDEMANs Alternative Tour with Trevor. This tour was based almost entirely around exploring the street art in Shoreditch. It’s everywhere and there is so much of it! Trevor told us about some of the artists and told us about the culture. He also showed us an original Banksy. This tour ended at Brick Lane which went nicely into my dinner that night.

A Stik original.

Hands up don’t shoot

One other tour I did while in London was a Doctor Who walking tour! This was so good! We toured a bunch of filming locations and things from the show, mostly from new Who, but a little bit from classic Who as well. Our guide was Craig and he was fantastic and super nerdy about Doctor Who. I loved it! After the tour, I rushed on over to the police box in Earls Court before catching my train to round out my Doctor Who experience for the day.

Doctor Who walking tour guide

Craig was such a good tour guide!

Craig alerted us that this was actually used as a Dalek urinal during the filming of a Doctor Who episode! The actors would roll over it and pee into it because they were being kept on set too long without being able to use the bathroom.

I found the TARDIS!

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Aside from the guided tours, I did a lot on my own as well. I didn’t do Westminster Abbey or a few of the other more obvious tourist things since I’ve done them before. I mostly tried to stick with things I hadn’t done before. I walked through Old Spitalfields Market, explored the Churchill War Rooms, did one floor of the Imperial War Museum (I had limited time 😕), walked through a little bit of Tate Modern (I’d been there before so I just did a few rooms), found Hodge the Cat because cat, closed out the London Transport Museum, and walked through Piccadilly Circus.

At the London Transport Museum.

An old women’s only train car.

I found @malika.gif

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I got really excited by Hodge

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Overall, I really packed my time in London. I didn’t do much in the way of nightlife type stuff, but I did hit a few pubs and that’s what matters!

Below are my check-ins on Swarm. Some of them aren’t places I went into, but instead were just places I was at. Some places I was just stealing wifi or using a bathroom.

Transgender symbol walk sign.

I like this walk sign! (I don’t know why this photo is showing sideways. The image file is properly rotated, but it’s not showing right in the post. Oh well.)

1

Europe 2017 – planning

As anyone who follows me on social media has been able to tell, I took a little trip recently. After I was laid off from my job, I knew I needed to take advantage of having a little bit of time and having received a generous severance package. So, enter a two-week solo trip to Europe!

My itinerary was London, Edinburgh, Berlin, and Reykjavik, in that order. Two cities I’ve been to, two I haven’t. And my first backpacking trip. I was super excited!

Planning

Planning was highly stressful and a lot of work. Normally, my wife and I travel together which means we can split some of the planning. She typically handles figuring out where we’ll eat. I typically handle travel and accommodations. Activities are a joint effort. Doing a solo trip meant it was all on me to figure out. Not only was it all on me, but I only planned the trip about five weeks ahead of time. And, of course, most of my time in those five weeks was taken up with job interviews and such. So there was a lot to plan with not much time to do it.

The first thing I did was pull up every list of half marathons in Europe in late-July and August. Because of course I’d be running a race on this trip. Of course! Because it’s summer, there weren’t many in the major cities.

I had a rough list of cities I was considering for this trip so was able to match up the races I found with the cities I wanted to travel to. This left me with either Berlin or Reykjavik, both on the same weekend. If I could have done both, I would have, but without at least a full day between them, it wouldn’t have been possible pull off without race day packet pick up.

I ended up going with the Reykjavik Half Marathon between the two. I enter the Berlin Marathon lottery every year so sooner or later, I’ll be running a race in Berlin anyway. (Spoiler: after the trip, I feel like I need to go back to Reykjavik to run the full marathon some time.)

With that decided, I knew Reykjavik would be the last leg of my trip. Given geography, it had to be either first or last and with the race being August 19th ending there was the only real option.

At this point, I opened up Kayak and Google Flights and just started trying out different flight options and moving cities and dates around to see what happened. Given that train travel costs don’t vary the way flights do, I knew it would be the flights that would decide things. This is how I ended up with my exact cities, dates, and order.

After finding a few flight itineraries that felt reasonable, it was time to pull up Airbnb. I didn’t want to do straight up hotels, but I also don’t feel comfortable with staying in hostels as a trans women. Having been to London and Berlin before, I already knew roughly where I wanted to stay in the city so it was easy to find a few options there. A few Google searches helped me figure out what parts of Edinburgh and Reykjavik to stay in. Edinburgh Airbnbs were surprisingly expensive, but I later found out why (look for my Edinburgh post for that).

Eventually, I found the right combo of everything that fit a reasonable amount of money to spend and started booking stuff. Once I started, I flew through the bookings and did it as quickly as possible to make sure nothing filled up while I was in the process of booking (which did happen for one of the Airbnbs I had picked).

With flights and accommodations done, I just had to add train travel from London to Edinburgh, but that was quick and easy. I now had four flights, one train ticket, and four Airbnbs booked.

Next, I focused on the whole backpacking thing. I’d never done this before, I’d always taken a regular suitcase traveling with me so I wanted to spend some time reading tips and advice for doing this successfully. The Savvy Backpacker was great for this!

With some research done, I started making purchases—many of which I agonized over which options to go with. I bought a new backpack that was just a bit bigger than the largest one I had. I also got a ton of packing cubes—holy shit, why have I never actually used these before, they’re a game changer! I also got a bunch of little things like a travel umbrella, a packable day backpack (I already had packable bags, but not a backpack), TSA locks (I usually don’t bother locking my suitcases because if someone wants in, they’ll get in, but the locks were more for when I’d be walking around with my bag on my back), and a travel towel (just in case, since I wouldn’t be in hotels). We travel a few times a year, but this was the first time I had to really think about each and every thing I was bringing with me.

I later figured out a much better way to pack things than this.

Finally, I started actually looking at what I’d be doing in each place. I’m terrible with this part of planning trips and always leave it to a few days before I go. In London and Berlin, there were some things I already knew I wanted to do, either because I liked them a lot previously or because I didn’t get to do them when I was there last. Still, I Googled for a lot of articles about traveling to all four cities and asked on Twitter and Facebook for recommendations. And I heavily scoured my friend Ashlea’s blog A Globe Well Traveled.

With lists of stuff to see, places to eat, and things to do, I got to work plotting where things were on the map and figuring out what I could logistically fit in. I booked all my tours ahead of time, and there were a lot of them), and added everything else to both Google saved places and Foursquare lists. I downloaded each city for offline use on Google Maps and Google Trips even though I knew I’d have data on my phone thanks to a T-Mobile plan that includes (very) slow international data for free.

I made rough itineraries for each day in my Google Calendar, but I didn’t want to get too serious about them because things never go according to plan and you don’t usually know how long most things will take. Tours and things that were booked in advance were easy to put on my calendar and I just filled in spaces between them with the things that seemed most interesting to me while keeping everything else on my list easily accessible while on the go.

Packing

Lastly, I had to make a meticulous packing list. I’m always a last-minute packer, but I make up for it with detailed packing lists so I can just grab stuff and throw it in a bag. Needing to pack as light as possible meant having to really think about every single item. I only brought stuff I knew I would need or wouldn’t make sense to buy while on go. I looked at weather forecasts and packed as much versatile clothing as possible. Layers that could be reused and combined (especially necessary for Iceland) were a big key. With the exception of one dress and one romper, all of my clothes were picked out so that anything would match with anything.

This part actually wouldn’t have been hard at all if not for needing my dilators, needing warmer layers and hiking shoes for Iceland, and being a runner. I knew I’d be able to do laundry in every Airbnb I booked so I packed with that in mind. I really only packed five-ish days of clothes (with extra underwear and socks). Running stuff, I packed the bare minimum with the plan of being able to wear each of my two pairs of shorts and two sports bras twice before washing. Still, needing walking, running, and hiking shoes is what killed me the most. The running shoes were obviously non-negotiable, considering I had 10 runs planned during my trip. And the glacier tour in Iceland required hiking shoes so those were non-negotiable as well. As for my walking shoes, I like to explore places on foot and it’s not abnormal for me to walk 10-15 miles a day while traveling. Good shoes are a must.

I did, in fact, run Mitte

I debated bringing my DSLR at all and, if so, which lens/lenses to bring. I have a Canon 6D which is more on the professional end of things and weighs a ton compared to smaller DSLRs that are more common. I decided I’d really hate myself if I didn’t bring it, but compromised by only bringing a 50mm lens, the smallest and lightest lens I own. Of course, the focus ring on my lens got jammed on the first leg of my trip and I couldn’t fix while on the go so I spent most of my trip lugging around a heavy camera that I couldn’t use.

I think that about covers planning stuff. I’ll be, hopefully, writing up posts recapping each city for next week!

4

2017 Reykjavik Half Marathon – 1:40:01

I’m still working on a series of blog posts about my recent trip to Europe, but I wanted to do a separate race recap for the Reykjavik half marathon, soooooo here we go!

This race entered my world when I was planning my Europe trip and it fell within the dates I was traveling. I knew I wanted to do a half marathon while abroad, but wasn’t sure which city I’d end up doing it in. In the end, it came down to Reykjavik or Berlin. Since I hope to eventually get into the Berlin Marathon lottery, I figured I should opt for a city with fewer chances for me to race in.

Somehow, this was also my first ever international race which added a nice extra bit of excitement.

Pre-race

The race started Saturday morning at 8:40am and I landed in Iceland at nearly midnight on Thursday night. By the time I got to my Airbnb and to bed, it was just about 2am. This was on top of having been traveling for a week and a half at this point and logging between 15-25 miles on my feet every day between running and sightseeing. My legs were going to be exhausted and there wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I registered for the race.

After doing a couple of stops on my sightseeing list for Reykjavik city on Friday, I made my way over to the race expo. The expo was like pretty much any other race expo; a lot of people and a bunch of brands giving out the same kind of stuff as any other expo. The only difference was it was mostly different brands than I’m used to.

I got my bib and timing chip (yes, a separate timing chip to tie on your shoe), grabbed my shirt, and then did a lap around. I took a bunch of the beverage samples and then made my way for the exit. I’m not a big race expo person. I like to do a lap and see what’s there, but I don’t typically buy things or like to stay long.

The timing chip was one of the plastic reusable ones you tie onto you shoe like we used to use in the US before B-tags became the standard.

I threw my stuff in my backpack and then continued with my sightseeing. I also had booked a beer tasting for that night. 🙃 I wanted to do it after the race, rather than the night before, but the scheduling didn’t really work out with some of the other things I wanted to do. So, yeah, I did a 🍺 tasting the night before.

The tasting was at Ölgerðin Egils Skallagrímsson, Iceland’s oldest brewery. I expected it to be like normal tastings where you get little samples of a few beers and that’s it. No, this was different. As soon as you walk in, they hand you a pint and that glass is never empty, they just keep refilling it every time you get to the bottom. And then you get to try a ton of their other beers. This was the most beer I’ve ever had on a “beer tasting” / “brewery tour” before. It was good, but not ideal the night before a half marathon

After the tasting, I got a couple of Iceland’s famous hot dogs from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsu and hit the bed. I didn’t even set anything out before going to bed. I just crashed.

In the morning, I woke up, threw on my running clothes and made for the door as quickly as possible. I didn’t have to worry about not setting out my clothes the night before because I really didn’t have a lot of options with me.

I had 17 miles on my schedule for the day so I did an easy 4-mile warmup along the water and part of the course and then ended right at the start.

The race

The race started right on time and without a lot of fanfare. The 10k, half marathon, and marathon all started at the same time which made for some crowding, but it wasn’t too bad. There were people standing on the corrals holding up pace signs, but they were in minutes/kilometers and none of the Americans knew how to translate that. Luckily, I have an app on my phone that does all kinds of pace related calculations so it was easy for me to find where to be.

There was no national anthem before the race which made the start all the more unassuming for those of us used to it. They frequently gave warnings for how much time was left, but when the start gun went off, there was no immediate countdown or anything. Not that it matters for anyone not right in the front.

I had lined up to run around a 1:50 finish. I knew I had tired legs and I’d be doing a glacier hike the next day so I didn’t want to push myself. The start was crowded, but I stayed with the pacers for about a mile.

Then, I got antsy.

My legs wanted to gooooooooooo. I started weaving my way up through the crowd. My first mile was an 8:25, but it was my only one over 8 minutes. I was surprised how much my legs were wanting to go, I was feeling good.

Through the first few miles, I just tried not to get too ahead of myself and to enjoy the scenery of such a beautiful city. For the most part, each mile was quicker than the last, but still comfortable.

The weather was cool, about 47º, and sunny with a light breeze, great running weather. I was sweating, but not dripping. I know my body well enough to know I didn’t need to take any water during the race under those conditions. So, I didn’t bother with any of the stops.

The course was pretty flat until the final third of the race. By this point, I had let my body go with whatever pace felt right and I started dropping into the 7:30s for the middle third. By the last third, I was even faster. I was surprised I had it in me, but I went with it.

The hills in the last third were of no concern for my legs. If anything, I sped up on them. Mile 11 was a 7:15 and then 12 and 13 dropped into the 6:50s. I hadn’t run miles that fast in…I don’t even know. That’s nearly PR 5k for me these days, but these miles felt great on my legs. I wasn’t even breathing hard until the final 2/3 of a mile.

From my run the day before and my warm up, I had a pretty good idea of the course in second half so I was able to mentally keep my game on for them and know what was coming up.

As we got to the final few turns, I was finally feeling it. I knew 6:50s weren’t really a sustainable pace for me late in a half marathon, but I did know my legs would just about be able to outlast the course so decided to hang on instead of easing back off a little.

Finally, I came around the final turn and saw the finish. I out-kicked a woman on my left and then a man just in front of her saw me coming and kicked much harder than I had left in me. I cruised across the finish line at 1:40:01. Very happy with my time, but annoyed I didn’t sneak in under 1:40. Still, this was only 21 seconds slower than my PR and it was sort of…easy? I can’t complain!

Post race

I grabbed my medal and smiled at my first international medal. It was a small and unassuming medal, which I actually like. I don’t need big giant medals. I grabbed some Powerade and water and then looked for food and heat sheets. There were neither. This was a bit surprising to me. By now, the temperature was still only 54º so heat sheets were necessary, but there were non. Boo! There was also no food to be had which seemed to be not a good idea considering there was also a marathon running as well. But, the finish is down a main street in downtown Reykjavik so it was easy to pop into a place and get some food.

I love this little medal for the Reykjavik Half Marathon! I'm a fan of smaller medals.

A post shared by Amelia Gapin (@entirelyamelia) on

My fresh danish was probably better than anything they would have given out anyway.

I didn’t hang around long because I needed to go shower, rent a car, and get on with my day. I had booked time at the Secret Lagoon, one of Iceland’s hot springs. It was just the thing for after 17 total miles of running!

All-in-all, I really enjoyed this race! It was fun and the city is beautiful. I’m hoping to go back for the marathon some time in the next few years.