Posts Tagged ‘Shopping’

US vs. UK (or Card vs. Cash)

I have noticed as of late that I often find myself in the queue at a coffee shop/grocery store/corner market waiting to pay for my goodies, frantically pulling out cash & coinage to pay the attendant. It’s a bit funny to me, because the ‘Life takes Visa‘ commercial frequently runs through my head during this scenario [watch it here]. In the US, cards are commonplace; you use them everywhere, and if you happen to be the token individual that still uses cash (what’s wrong with you?), you throw off everyone’s pattern. No one wants cash anymore, people don’t like to make change (not actually sure if they know how to make change anymore), and cards are quick and easy. In the UK, however, cash is ridiculously common… cards, not so much. The process of using a card here is actually a bit cumbersome as compared to the US. You can’t just swipe, PIN and go; here, you have to insert the card (with the ‘chip’), enter your PIN and wait a good 20 – 30 seconds before anything is actually approved. I swear there’s a little person inside the machine that has to call the bank and get approval before you can walk away with your morning latte. It’s a bit asinine. On top of that, loads of places are cash only [is it still 1995?] and if I do use my card, I feel like everyone behind me is scowling… how dare I use a card instead of good old cash?! Don’t I know that cash is soooo much easier?

I’ve actually become quite accustomed to using cash now. So much so that I can almost count the number of times that I’ve actually used my debit card in store. Most of the time, I use it at the cash machine or for making online purchases in pounds sterling. Definitely an oddity for me… still learning to acclimate, I guess :)

Also weird — 1p & 2p coins. I understand having a £1 and £2 coin, but 1 pence versus 2 pence?? What is the point of a 2p? Long ago, we discovered the uselessness of $2 bills… I can’t imagine a place where we would use a coin that was the equivalent of 2 pennies! I’m sure that material could better be used elsewhere. Jewelry, perhaps.


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Does Food Here Really Suck?

I was perusing the aisles of Sainsbury’s on my way home from class yesterday and starting filling my mini basket up with groceries for the week when I realized that I have fallen into a routine. There are some things that I absolutely love here; my go-to items, if you will. All, in all, I find that aside from produce being a little lackluster, some of the stuff here is actually pretty great! My new favorite things:

1. Cauldron Mushroom Burgers: Pure deliciousness. I was slightly afraid that the British grocery chains wouldn’t be as accommodating for vegetarians, but I discovered quite the opposite! The Cauldron Mushroom Burgers are absolutely ahhh-mazing! I could seriously eat them every day without question. They were out of stock yesterday and I could nearly feel tears welling in my eyes.

VegPot

2. Innocent Veg Pots: I’ve never seen these bad boys in the US, but they’re probably one of my most favorite inventions ever. They’re perfect for students because they take 4 minutes to microwave and I managed to snag two for 5 pounds yesterday! They’re really low-fat and low cal (most are under 300 calories) + they have three servings of veggies and are pure amazement. The Moroccan Giant Cous Cous is one of my faves!

Hot Chocolate3. Options Mint Madness Hot Chocolate: Hot chocolate is the ultimate comfort for me, but real hot chocolate is way too sugary and has too many calories for me to actually enjoy. Swiss Miss has their low-calorie stuff (25 calories per pack), but it just tastes like brown water and splenda. Options Mint Madness hot chocolate is amazing and it’s only 34 calories per serving. They actually sell their stuff in individual packets (the only way you can purchase it at Sainsbury’s) and I think the lady thinks I’m crazy because I purchase between 5 and 7 every single time I’m in. Yes, they’re THAT good.

4. Cauldron Marinated Tofu Pieces: Delish! I’m always wary of marinated tofu because the flavors can be a little off, but these guys have it down pat! A little salty, but they work well in recipes or mixed into stir-fry! Mmmm.

Fruit n Fiber

5. Kellogg’s Fruit n’ Fibre Cereal: It’s really weird seeing the Kellogg’s name on cereals I’ve never heard  of, but this Fruit n’ Fiber cereal is actually legit! I was a bit thrown off the first time I tried it since the fruit part of the equation constitutes dried fruits and raisins, but it’s actually quite delish with a bit of soy milk (which Brits refer to as soya milk…hmmmm.)

5. Hummous. I love all things chickpea, so the fact that hummous is ridiculously prevalent and inexpensive here pretty much makes my life. I can snag them for 1 pound each at Marks & Spencer (low cal versions, too) or I can get them 2 for 1.50 at Sainsbury’s (no low-cal that I’ve seen as of yet). Absolutely delicious with carrot batons!

Most of the food has actually been pretty good here. Granted the fruit isn’t quite as fresh, ripe or juicy as we’re used to/spoiled with in California, but for the most part, I have found some awesome things to stock my fridge and pantry with!

Anyone have any other amazing British goodies that they’re loving?

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Brick Lane Brouhaha.

I have recently noticed that despite living in London for a little over a month now, my scope of London is very narrow. I live within about a one mile radius of my flat. Since everything is within walking distance from me (think Marks & Spencer, Top Shop, H&M, Zara, Mango, Aldo, cool restaurants, etc. all within 0.5 miles), I have very little need to venture outside of the WC1/WC2/W1/SW1 area. I have literally never been outside of any of those postcodes (except Canterbury) since I’ve moved to London! So, today, my flatmate and I have decided to broaden our horizons and hit up Brick Lane in the East End. Brick Lane is near Spitalfields, and is home to a huge Bangaldeshi community and has some amazing food, jewelry, clothing, art and vintage pieces.

You can feel like you’ve been now; welcome to the pictorial guide of our journey from the West End down to Brick Lane:

West End

1) Me, very excited & getting ready to leave my magnificent, opulent flat in the West End.

Road

High Holborn

2) A snapshot of High Holborn, the road we travel to get down to the Tube Station. Clearly a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Holborn Station

3) Good old High Holborn Tube Station, our nearby hub of love. Much better than Covent Garden’s tube station (which is the same distance from my flat), since CG’s gets overly crowded with tourist action on the weekends!

Liverpool Station

4) Liverpool Street Station — stepping foot on East End soil for the first time and getting ready to head to Brick Lane!

Food Stalls

Sunday Up Market

5) Old Spitalfields Market & the Sunday Up Market contain stall after stall of amazing ethnic foods, clothing, jewelry and arts & crafts.

Food Stalls

We ended up grabbing lunch at Rainforest Creations in Old Spitalfields Market — amazing, super healthy food. For £5 you can grab an overfilled wrap of goodness and snag some seating nearby that’s perfect for people watching. Today’s sunshine-y weather was perfect for enjoying some hummus and lentil action.

Rainforest Creations

We spent time just exploring and checking out vintage-y shops all down Brick Lane. The feel is 100% different from that of the West End/theatre area. It’s much more edgy and a bit seedy, but it adds to the overall appeal of the area. If a picture is worth a thousand words, some of these photos may help illustrate:

Caution Sign

Dirty Dicks

Art?

Street Music

Next on my list of my places to venture? Camden!

Hope everyone’s weekend was fantastic! I’m enjoying the extra hour thanks to Daylight Saving Time. Gonna take a power nap.

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Things I Miss: An Ode to the US.

If I could have snagged a glimpse into the future to see what I should have brought on my trip across the pond, I think that the space in my luggage would have been better allocated. I’ve had to call up the fam to have a few necessary items shipped over. Although the UK is much like the US in terms of grocery stores and offerings, there are a few items that I love (and miss!) that I can only find in the US. If you’re planning a move to Europe, here are a few things that you should consider bringing for a taste of home:

1. Deodorant. I had assumed that I could purchase my Secret solid here, but I searched to no avail. The only thing that Boots seems to carry is the anti-perspirant spray and a couple of old-school Ban roll-ons. No Secret or Degree in sight!

PB

2. Peanut Butter. Once in a while I love an english muffin (another item I can’t find here… such a misnomer!) with peanut butter and banana. Unfortunately, the peanut butter here literally tastes like crushed unsweetened peanuts mixed with butter; no good. If you’re a PB lover (or even a PB liker!) consider bringing a tub of Skippy. Don’t underestimate the power of good peanut butter!

Fiber One... *tear*

3. Fiber One Bars. You probably saw the previous post wherein I showcased the six boxes of Fiber One bars that my parents sent from the States — that’s no joke! I love to carry healthy bars to snack on and so far the only ones I’ve been able to find over here are Special K and Atkins. They’re alright, but they’re no FiberOne!

4. Orbit White Peppermint. I chew gum like it’s going out of style and the only gum that I keep handy is Orbit White (Peppermint flavor). The old-school stick gum weirds me out and every other Orbit White knock-off is mediocre. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a place that carries my beloved gum…

Any other Americans have things that wish they would have brought?

PS. If anyone knows where I can find any of the above items, please leave me a comment & let me know!

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

O2, M&S and Laundry — Brilliant Sunday.

I’m sitting in my room, munching on carrot sticks and hummus while re-reading tomorrow’s essay and simultaneously scouring my room for dirty laundry that can get a bath tonight in our laundry room. Today has been fairly productive, despite sleeping in until 10:15A. I hit up O2 this morning and managed to get a real phone plan (yess!) — 12 month contract for £19.58 per month inclusive of 800 texts, 800 minutes and unlimited web. Not too bad. I officially feel re-connected after three weeks of sub-par service.

Seeing as how London sleeps on Sundays (nothing is open and if it is, it doesn’t open until 11A or 12P — caters to hangovers, I suppose), I took a leisurely stroll down the Strand at around 1045A, knowing that O2 likely wouldn’t open until noon anyway and stumbled upon Paperchase, one of my favorite card/gift companies ever (tied with Papyrus), which happened to be open before noon!  Missing my family, I decided to snag a load of cute postcards to send home. It’s also a special someone’s birthday in the next couple of weeks and I am desperately trying to find the most amazing birthday gift ever! With international delivery time, I’ll probably have to throw some goodies in the mail soon to make it before the end of the month <3.

Paperchase Postcards
After my Paperchase/O2 action, I hit up good old Marks & Spencer for some grocery shopping! Now, after finishing some readings and checking over my first essay (due tomorrow!), I need to get some serious laundry done! Looking forward to tomorrow — aside from my classes, I am expected a delivery from Argos: some drawers (to accommodate my clothing), a duvet set and some pillows! Can’t wait!

Everyone else have a great weekend?

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Marks & Spencer > Sainsbury’s, and Other Observations.

Before I get into the amazingness that is Marks & Spencer, I should probably start by re-capping last night’s events. On Sunday evening, whilst fighting off some jet lag and caffeine withdrawals, going out and socializing wasn’t number one on my list. Thusly, Alex and I discussed organizing a little get together to take place last night, wherein we could actually meet all of our facebook friends. As one H. Joe Puentes put it, “What good are facebook friends if you never get to actually meet them?” I think in this case, that point was supremely valid. Our ‘little get-together’ of six or seven people ended up being a good 20+ LSEers who ended up joining the party. We ended up hitting up The Prince of Wales pub on Drury once more and enjoyed every second of it! Meeting everyone that we had been talking with for months was super fun, and the mix of personalities ended up making for an eventful (and hilarious) night. After seeing the close of the Prince of Wales for the evening, we headed across the street to finish up our night.

Prince of Wales PubMia, Alex & I at the Prince of Wales pub!

O'Neills, Drury Lane

Now, if I would have thought things through more clearly, I would have determined that hanging out until 130A and drinking on an empty stomach would not be conducive to waking up at 630A to head to the Sports Centre for an induction. As fate would have it, my alarm didn’t go off at 630A and instead I slept until 845A. Oops. Luckily, they were able to get me in at 1130A and I got a good solid mid-day workout in before heading out for the day.

I topped up my Oyster card (which I’m borderline obsessed with) and hit the tube station to take a ride down to Oxford Street. A friend from my complex and I hit up O2, Primark (to get some basic necessities at a ridiculously amazing price), H&M, Selfridges and Marks & Spencer. First let me say, if you’re ever in the area, Selfridges & Co. is the most amazing, brilliant place ever. If there were a heaven for shoppers, this would be it. It smells like amazing shopping when you walk in — the floors are white marble and the building screams ‘handbags here cost more than your education.’ Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s worth checking out.

Selfridge & Co.{This picture doesn’t do Selfridges justice!}

The Marks & Spencer hub is on Oxford Street as well and it has helped my official transformation to London life. I thought I was going to have to live on pre-packaged Sainsbury’s/mediocre 3 bean salad for life. Instead, we found the most amazing grocery shopping at Marks & Spencer and realized that we could actually stock a kitchen and cook! I’m planning on making another trip down there for some basics later in the week. Fortunately, M&S has a branch in Covent Garden, about five minutes from my place.

Lessons from the last 24 hours:

1. Marks & Spencer is 23498294 times better than Sainsbury’s
2. Multiple pints of apple cider + jet lag + lack of food & caffeine = a bad combination
3. Hanging out with people definitely moves the acclimation process along a thousand times faster than normal
4. Dressing in layers is key. The tube is about a million degrees when everyone and their mom is riding it during rush hour. Uncomfortably hot.
5. Sitting at Hyde Park with a pre-packaged M&S lunch and intelligent conversation is actually an enjoyable way to pass time.

6. Pret a Manger (a cafe-ish joint in London) is not pronounced ‘Prett a Man-jer.’ It’s pronounced ‘Pret a Man-zsay’ (with a French accent.) Pret a Manger is French for “ready to eat” … who knew?

I definitely need to pack for Germany tomorrow — I’ll be leaving for Oktoberfest Thursday afternoon! Craziness!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

On the Hunt!

As of yesterday, I have pretty much all my necessities sorted out: clothing’s in order, luggage is in place and my cell phone & bank accounts are ready to rock. The last order of business: shoes that will be my friend whilst exploring London on foot. As anyone that knows me can attest: my closet knows not what a “flat” looks like. Heels are the only thing in my closet, with the occasional boot or wedge thrown in (for seasonality). The closest thing I have to flats are the tennis shoes that are relegated to my gym bag and the Uggs that I use while lounging in the cold. That being said, I am starting to face the reality that heels are not going to enjoy weathering the long walks and cobblestone abroad, so I must start looking for comfort (mildly overrated) & rain-proofness (proofability?)

I actually tried on a pair of flats yesterday (gasp!) in an effort to expand my horizons, but to no avail. My preconceptions were just solidified — they look gross because they make my feet look long, plus they’re uncomfortable! I mean  really, who enjoys feeling like they are walking on the concrete? I like feeling like I’m actually wearing some foot covering, not a barely-there foot cloth. I tried. Really, I did. After the first pair sucked, I attempted two other, slightly more fashion-forward versions which (no surprise here!) tanked, as well. I’ve given up on flats. Uggs will be my friend and I will purchase a pair of low wedges for the coming year. I think that a low (one to two inch wedge) will be enough to feel like I’m lifted off the ground without being so high that I risk plunging face-first into the cobblestone, or — worse yet — breaking the rubber off my heel tip. Here’s what I found that I think may work:

ColeHaanWedgeThese wedgy flats, courtesy of Cole Haan via DSW are about $129, but they look comfy and they’re pretty cute… for flats.

SteveMaddenWedgeThese guys are a similar style, but much (much!) less. Steve Madden via DSW for $39.95.

SeychellesThese have a tid more of a lift (which I like) and they’re a rugged brown color, which could be cute with jeans. I’m 50/50 on the buckle accent. Seychelles via DSW for $59.99.

SteveMaddenBootThis Steve Madden boot (via DSW) has a slight wedge (1″) so I won’t feel like I’m walking on the ground quite as much. There’s something odd to me about owning a boot that doesn’t have a 4+ inch heel, but I guess it’s doable… In the boot’s defense, I like the cognac color quite a bit!

The alternative to the flat boot would be a an awesome high boot with a decent sized hidden platform that wouldn’t make the angle feel so extreme. I did find one pair that fit this criteria, but I wasn’t willing to drop the $250 at the time!

What do you guys think about the wedg-y flats? Still comf? Cute at all?

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon