When I left the U.K. in mid-January, I was unsure when I would return. Of course, I wanted to return as soon as I had departed – but it was just a matter of whether circumstances would allow me to make a quick return.
Fortunately, they did – and in time for me to attend my graduation. I officially finished my course at Leeds Beckett last October but the graduation would take place this summer (The school spreads its graduation throughout a week in July and each day features several ceremonies). Several of my coursemates mentioned they were planning on attending, so that was the perfect motivation to book a U.K. holiday.
As for the actual ceremony, it was short but sweet. American graduation ceremonies tend to be marked by one dominant speaker who blabbers stuff no one will remember. But a couple of speakers did drop some important nuggets: “Make glorious mistakes” and “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll get.” More importantly though, walking across the stage was exciting and better yet: my name was pronounced correctly 🙂
Aside from walking across the stage (and the sun deciding not to take a nap afterwards) the most super part of the day was the reunion aspect. Not surprisingly, I hadn’t seen most of my coursemates in several months so graduation presented a great chance to meet up. Five of us were present and my post-walking across the stage day included a copious amount of picture-taking and fun chatter over beer.
But my U.K. trip was far from limited to walking across a stage. Over my five days in West Yorkshire’s finest city, I met up with as many people as I could. The Leeds portion of my stay really didn’t take me to any new sights – but beers, hot chocolate and chatter with friends is always better than sightseeing.
But Leeds’ favorite and coolest green locale would be the scene for plenty of Saturday fun – the weekly and the annual. Saturday was a normal and abnormal parkrun day. Abnormal because… I’ll touch on that in more detail later. But I was given a shout out at the start by one of the race organizers because I was “coming home.”
As for the race, after 30-45 seconds, I usually have a good feeling about how the day will turn out. Well early on, I was very much in the front pack and starting the third loop, the race was mine for the taking. And I won 🙂
Okay… why was it an abnormal parkrun Saturday? Well because the course was modified to accommodate Hyde Park Unity Day – the annual celebration of the LS6 postal code. A day full of musical performances, stands selling secondhand books and groovy clothes as well as organizations promoting their services. Being a day to celebrate the youthfulness of Hyde Park, the scent of Mary Jane not surprisingly fills the air.
But a full day in Hyde Park was not in the calling – a 1:45 bus to the capital was. My flight from Heathrow left early the next morning so a Saturday night in Leeds was impractical.
After a bus ride that filled my ears non-stop with “My Humps” for 30-45 minutes, I made a beeline for the Arsenal Backpackers’ Tavern – a place I’ve stayed at before and in area of town that comes alive when Arsenal Football Club is playing at home.
Which was the case on Saturday. The Finsbury Park and Arsenal Tube stations were crammed with jubliant Gunners fans. I’m not sure how really jubilant they should have been – after all, they only won a friendly (6-0 against Olympique Lyonnais). But it’s a spectacle to see the red half of North London congregating (or dispersing) on match day (although it does cause a hassle for Tube staff to direct the crowds).
Although I was a bit disappointed to be leaving Leeds, my disappointment further evaporated when after checking into my hostel, a fellow guest amazingly recognized me. A dude named Ela – whom I met at a CouchSurfing gathering in Leeds – mentioned that I looked familiar when he saw my Leeds Beckett University bag. Interestingly enough, he and his friend Moses were in town to attend the Arsenal Football Club. It was quite fun catching up.
And another reason why I should be happy about spending a night in the capital came up. My bud Yassin texted me and said he’d be willing to hang in North London. A bit surprising because I didn’t think there was anything worth seeing near my hostel other than the Emirates Stadium.
But Yassin took me on a tour of Kingsland High Street, which he described as being full of “hipsters, cool people and real Londoners.” As well as interestingly attired people 🙂 The street is also a focal point of the capital’s Turkish community, boasting Turkish restaurants, baths, barbers and travel agencies. Yassin told me that Kingsland High Street is livelier than much of the city center.
Pretty fun place to spend a last night in the U.K.
In a blog entry I posted earlier yesterday (Saturday, January 17), I listed five of my top ten moments during my sixteen months in the UK. Actually, I would have like to put all of my top ten moments in that blog entry but my it was already big enough. So now, here are the rest of my top ten moments during my stay in the United Kingdom.
For the most part, my running exploits were confined to Leeds, which was perfectly fine. But just as there are always more fun and interesting places to visit, there are always more interesting races to participate in.
And one of them is the Great North Run, the world’s largest half-marathon in terms of participants. I’m fairly certain I had heard of it before coming to the UK – but it’s a race I never thought I would run in. And because I was uncertain if I would be in the country for the 2014 edition, I didn’t register.
But lo and behold, Nishant told me a buddy of his that registered was unable to partake in the fun and if I wanted to, I could take his place. So several days after handing Nishant £25, I was on the starting line in the centre of Newcastle with 57,000 others. Or maybe it was Mark Symmonds on the starting line ;(.
In any case, running 13.1 miles through Tyneside was quite relaxing – well, other than the fact I had to zigzag around so many slowpokes in the beginning of the race. I ran quite well and I was never leapfrogged by any other competitors. Although 272th place may not sound impressive, that was out of roughly 57,000 runners and I never came close to hitting the wall – despite not being in my desired half marathon shape.
And better yet, I learned that (a) the Great North Run could be a day at the beach 🙂 (b) there are good beaches in the UK and (c) fun times can be had outdoors without the threat of rain.
4. London Calling
For the longest time, my UK was pretty much limited to the classrooms and libraries of the Leeds Met/Beckett campus(es) and some other places in Leeds. I was perfectly content with my Leedscentric UK life as I obviously came to the country to study.
But in late summer/early autumn, a fellow Responsible Tourism Management student at Leeds Beckett (she’s actually a distance learner) arranged a work placement at Four Communications, a PR firm in London with a large number of clients in the travel industry. I was quite excited about the opportunity as I viewed it as (a) something good to put on my CV/resume (b) an opportunity to make contacts and (c) maybe a future employer if (of course, that’s a big if) I enjoy my time there and put in productive work.
While the latter unfortunately will not turn out to be true (I’ve been thinking that if certain things had happened, I could have landed a job at Four Communications), I enjoyed writing press releases, composing pitches for the company’s clients, researching fun activities in locations such as the Barbados, the Netherlands, and London, etc. Of course, there were moments when I was clumsy but working in the Four Communications office was fun.
But quite possibly, the most appealing aspect of conducting the work placement was the setting itself. While I can’t say I’ve always dreamed of living in London, the major, iconic large cities like London, Paris, New York and Tokyo do carry a special appeal for me and my brief London life was quite fun (Well, it helps that I didn’t have to worry about finding a flat although I had no luck in finding a CouchSurfing host). I enjoyed commuting on the Tube to/from my hostel, discovering Borough Market (and its delicious vegetarian options) and playing tourist on my last full day in the capital, wandering around the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge.
Despite living in France, I had never experienced the Tour de France in person due to not spending a summer in the country (Four days spent in the south of France during July 2001 definitely doesn’t classify as spending the summer). But thanks to the persistence of several corporate big wigs in West Yorkshire, the start of the world’s largest annual bicycle ride came to Leeds in July 2014.
For a long time, I never thought the Tour de France would be an exciting sporting event to view in person because the cyclists seem to zoom in and out of your view quickly. But as it isn’t everyday the Tour de France comes to Yorkshire, the organizers did a magnificent job of making le grand départ a major event. A parade was held two days prior to the start of the race (which I attended with my coursemate Trish) and numerous other events (such as a bicycle show in the Leeds City Hall) were organized to commemorate the arrival of the race.
As for the actual le grand départ, like roughly 230,000 others, I was in the streets of Leeds to see the cyclists take their first steps to victory. Which was great – except that I couldn’t see any of the Leeds portion of the race because I had taken up a spot on the Headrow that only gave me a view of the back of other people’s heads 😦 But fortunately, le grand départ fun was not limited to the streets of Leeds. Immediately, after the start of the race, all of the city hopped on the train to Harrogate to catch the end of the first stage (I actually didn’t have to wait too long to board a train). The Harrogate portion seemed like a rock festival as most of the spectators watched the race off a jumbotron surrounded by stalls selling overpriced food. But the Tour de France certainly deserved the rock star treatment.
2. Seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a long time
One thing I was looking forward to in the U.K. was seeing folks I first met in either Japan or France. Prior to arriving in Leeds in September 2013, I hadn’t been in the UK since May 2006. So I once got settled and found some free time around my studies, I was sure to have some ça fait longtemps/久しぶりですね moments.
If only it were that simple. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet up with everyone I would like to have seen for various reasons or didn’t seem them enough 😦 But I am thrilled to have meet up with Genba (I don’t think I would have seen a documentary named ハーフ if he hadn’t told me about the screening), Sian (it was so fun touring the Natural History Museum and the British Museum with her), Yassin (I dined with him the evening after I learned about a personal tragedy and I needed people to talk to) and Clare (I finally got to meet her cute kids). I certainly hope to see them and others the next time I am in the U.K.
This is a bittersweet top moment of my UK stay. My father’s visit to the UK to see me was somewhat unexpected in that I wasn’t exactly sure that he was coming until three days prior to his arrival at Manchester Airport (I knew he wanted to come. I just didn’t know when he was coming until he told me).
But anyway, he came at the perfect time as I had a blast showing him around Leeds (including a couple of museums and Light Night) and York (I think he enjoyed the National Railway Museum). His visit was the first time either of my parents had visited me abroad and I’m so glad I could show him my world. And he showed me his world (of sorts) when we attended a trial and explained to me what was going on (My father worked as a defense lawyer for a long time).
Unfortunately, those who read this blog regularly will know he passed away shortly after his visit. But I will always treasure the memory of him coming to see me.
VERY IMPORTANT: I will probably retire this blog after this entry. I created Getting Pounded to document my life in the UK. While I certainly wish my life in the UK was still continuing, I greatly enjoyed my journey there and I hope you enjoyed the ride I took you on.
I meant to post this blog entry immediately upon returning to the U.S. (Tuesday, January 13). Actually, I wanted to do that prior to leaving Leeds – but in a weekend that saw me complete my final ParkRun (the Hollywood-like script which featured me winning didn’t take place), pack, discard travel brochures, etc., there was no time to complete another blog entry.
This will likely be one of my final blog entries as I’m unsure if my life will be interesting enough to warrant a blog devoted to it (When it is, I will definitely launch another blog). But as Getting Pounded was created to document my life in the UK and I am not in land of fish of chips (I really should find a better nickname than “the land of fish and chips” since I’ve stopped eating fish) anymore, I might as well retire this blog. But it’s only fitting that I devote one of my two final blog entries to my 10 most memorable moments in the UK.
As enjoyable as doing the ParkRun was every Saturday, there came a point when I thought… I could use some variety to spice up my running life. Fortunately, I learned that Leeds hosts a 10km race every November named the Abbey Dash that starts in the city centre and takes runners past Kirkstall Abbey. Always worried about the price of seemingly fun activities (a necessity being a broke university student), I figured why not register when I read it cost £20.
As for the actual race, it served as a precursor of sorts as it was the first time I saw a large crowd gather in the Leeds City Centre for a sporting event. And it happened to be a good race for me as I was quite pleased with my chip time – 34:01 – on a very pleasant day for running.
While the above mentioned race took place on a pleasant day for running despite being relatively close to Christmas, the Leeds 10km race might as well have been contested in a sauna. I probably shouldn’t complain about that – considering the summer saw me wear sweatshirts and trousers more often than shorts. However, due to the heat that day, the 10km race on July 20 didn’t seem enjoyable…
But it was memorable. Usually, I have a feeling early in a race if I’m going to run well or not. I didn’t blast out from the start, opting to conserve energy – which actually allowed me to gradually leapfrog runners. I can’t say I had a clear idea what place I was at any point of the race but runners weren’t overlapping me once I passed them. Well, except one in the last 100 meters. Anyway, I finished twelfth out of roughly 7,000 competitors. Or more precisely, 12th out of 7,215 runners (3,821 were male).
To many around the world, the United Kingdom (or England, for that matter) is quite simply London. Not surprisingly, the first place in the country I ever visited was London, where I spent two-and-a half days in September 2004. But I hadn’t returned to the capital until November 2013 (not counting being in Heathrow in transit two months prior), when I attended the World Travel Market…
Which is absolutely heaven for travel industry professionals and others passionate about travel (Unfortunately, unlike the New York Times Travel Show, the World Travel Market seems solely reserved for travel industry professionals. However, there is a way of attending the extravaganza if you aren’t part of that elusive group 🙂 ). The World Travel Market is a major networking event (A Responsible Tourism Networking reception is part of the fun) and a great setting to learn about trends in the travel industry. The event also features numerous panel discussions that delve further into those major trends.
But the World Travel Market does include fun and games. A few of the DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) in attendance organize musical performances (like Taiwan pictured above). And better yet, most – if not all – of the DMOs present bring travel brochures to promote their product(s). Amazingly enticing travel brochures.
I was really looking forward to spending a summer in England – in large part because it would be exciting to be in a country passionate about the sport during the World Cup. Well, unsurprisingly (because they weren’t expected to do much), England was eliminated after two matches, which seemed to kill a lot of the enthusiasm for the tournament in the country.
But not at a bar named the Faversham. One morning, when I was walking in Headingley, I saw a poster advertising some sort of party there to celebrate the kickoff of the World Cup. I figured “Why Not?” since it might be a more enjoyable setting to watch the match than my room.
And boy, was it ever! I went to watch a football match – only to attend a party. Just prior to Brazil and Croatia kicking off, Samba dancers took the stage and started shaking it (Well, the posters certainly weren’t lying when they said a party would kick off the World Cup). Brazil won 3-1 and afterwards, the Faversham transformed into a club. Subsequent Brazilian victories brought out similar scenes of jubilation.
I actually wasn’t a fan of that Brazilian team and I only wanted them to advance so I could have more fun at the Faversham (As pictured above, a samba drumming troupe performed during the match against Chile). But the thought of a World Cup final party was tantalizing. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Brazil to defend against Germany. But at least, I have the memories of samba heating up Leeds for a bit.
I attended several gigs during my time in the UK. Some could be described as hits – such as the Jimmy Cliff show in August. Others – if not exactly misses (Public Enemy, I’m talking to you!) – left a little something to be desired. Anyway, there are no shortage of gigs in Leeds and just down the road in Manchester. While super huge performers don’t frequently come to Leeds (Springsteen and Pearl Jam have performed in West Yorkshire’s finest city), major American acts touring the UK might hit up Manchester.
And one of those acts was my favourites, Michael Franti and Spearhead (I’m not sure how major they are but they have a decent-sized following). They just so happened to perform in Manchester just after all of my lectures and seminars had finished. Better yet, a ticket was only £19.
The setting – one of the Manchester Academy concert venues – felt as big as a phone booth, which made it a very comfortable venue for live music. So comfortable in fact that Mr. Franti once jumped off stage and performed one song standing among audience members. The set included a mix of old and relatively recent songs, which good for me because I’m not too familiar with the latter. Anyway, I love going to MFSH shows because they bring out such a friendly atmosphere. And because the Manchester gig was rather low key and attracted a small audience (I don’t mean that in a negative way at all), fans could comfortably approach band members for autographs and pictures. I even got my picture with Michael Franti 🙂
As I’m currently typing this, I probably should be packing since it’s the morning of my departure. I will be later. But I will take you through a quick photo tour of my last weekend in Leeds. Unfortunately, I don’t have my bicycle with me but I went on a nice little walkabout and did quite a bit of picture snapping.
My first and third residences in Leeds are a short walk from the Burley Park Railway Station. Of course, it’s awesome to live near a train station but I only passed it once (by train) as my trains were much more likely to stop at Leeds Railway Station. And I just happened to be living near the Coach Station the one train I was on stopped at Burley Park. In any case, a decent number of commuters would seem to be on the platforms of the Burley Park Railway Station every morning. Even though I only once saw commuters once on the platforms and never saw huge crowds leaving the station. But it is cool living near a railway station.
Many of my lectures and seminars were held in the Carnegie Pavillon, which I would often pass by en route to the Headingley campus. The best part of having lectures and seminars at the Carnegie Pavillon? It was a short walk from my first residence. Actually, now that I remember, organizations occasionally held fundraisers in the lobby of the Carnegie Pavillon. Fundraisers complete with cupcakes and other junk food 🙂
I spent too much time in the library on the Headingley Campus – but I love the place as it’s spacious and houses copies of several newspapers – such as The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Yorkshire Post. In addition, copies of Athletics Weekly (one of the few weekly magazines in the world devoted to track and field) could be found inside.
A short bicycle ride away from the Headingley campus lies the Natural Food Store on North Lane, where I would usually pick up my tofu. The Natural Food Store also boasts organic and other very vegetarian-friendly meals (I bought some vegetarian sausage here). I just wish organic food was cheaper.
I would often pass by the Leeds City Hall on bicyle or on foot. Actually, it’s a lot more than a site for boring administrative stuff. Several fun events are held here – such as screenings for films during the Leeds Film Festival and happenings like the Chinese New Year festival.
I’m not sure if I mentioned this in the blog but Leeds Beckett University boasts two campuses – the very lovely and spacious one in Headingley and the more condensed one in the city centre. I really don’t love the city campus but I had my share of fun there. Interesting speakers and panel discussions often came to the Rose Bowl, one of the buildings on the city campus. Actually, Leeds Beckett University’s black history month events were usually held in the Rose Bowl.
I have frequently mentioned the Hyde Park Harriers in this blog but I was a part of a couple of other running groups. One of which met up every Wednesday at six p.m. at the Adidas store on Albion Street. Usually, the runs on Wednesdays were quite relaxed five or seven km strolls. But an awesome part of the Adidas runs is that all participants receive a members card – your card is stamped after each run and following the fourth stamp, you’re treated to free socks. After eight stamps, you get a free bag. And twelve stamps get you 50% off running shoes 🙂 I completed more than thirty runs with the Adidas group 🙂 That said, I really should’ve been treated to free shoes.
For their One Hot Minute album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded a song titled “Walkabout.”
I think I’ll go on a walkabout
Find out what it’s all about
Just me and my own two feet
In the heat I’ve got myself to meet
Use your legs to rock it wide
Take a ride to the other side
The absolutely perfect walking song and one that makes me think about exploring new terrain on my feet. That song popped up into my head when I was thinking about new landscape to explore – and crazily snap photos of.
Except that Leeds is not condensed like Rouen (my French home from October 2005 to May 2006) and walking long distances bores me. As unfortunately Leeds isn’t blessed with a tramway (plenty of buses run in the city but not super frequently on Sunday), the most convenient way to explore the city is on bicycle.
There is much of the city I haven’t seen and time is rapidly winding down. So I gave myself a mission: find Elland Road, the home of Leeds United Football Club.
Leeds United – a club that has a rich history. I won’t bore you with a rundown of their accomplishments but I do remember the Gary Speed and Eric Cantona-led squad edging Manchester United to win the 1992 league crown (just before the formation of the Premier League). But the club has fallen on hard times, stuck in the second tier of English football and pretty much an afterthought in my mind.
However, as I’ve seen Upton Park, the Emirates and Stamford Bridge (well, all from the outside) recently, I figured I might as well see the nearest major football ground to my house with my own unobstructed eyes (and not from the inside of a vehicle). So I printed out directions, got on my bicycle, took a ride to the other side, and…
Well, the route from the train station to Elland Road isn’t the most aesthetically beautiful as the bicycle/pedestrian path runs adjacent to a major road that takes you through a rather unattractive area of town full of warehouses and car dealerships (A Leeds Volkswagen dealership is visible from one of the entrances). My first impression of Elland Road was that the ground was a bit isolated from its surrounding neighborhood due to it being flanked by a bunch of major roads. I may have mentioned that I like how some stadiums I’ve seen in this country (such as the Emirates and the Headingley Cricket Ground) fit nicely into their residential surroundings. I didn’t get that feel from Elland Road.
As expected – or maybe mandated – there is a souvenir shop on the premises. Actually, on the fourth day of 2015 (as I’m typing this), the Boxing Day sales haven’t concluded so most of the products are still on sale. I never entered the shop though as bicycle parking at Elland Road is nonexistent – as well as any railing against which I could lock my bicycle. Another interesting tidbit about the place is there are no mention of tours – if they are even available. Then again, with Leeds United being rather mediocre, it’s not like folks are dying to visit Elland Road.
But surely this foray into South Leeds had more to offer than a football ground and a short bicycle ride up a hill took me further into Beeston (the home neighborhood of Elland Road). It’s a rather residential part of town with typically British brick houses. At first glance, Beeston didn’t seem upscale but I wouldn’t describe it as being working class – many houses actually had backyards (not the case in my part of town). However, other parts of Beeston resemble those in Burley (where I live) as they’re home to lots of terraced houses possibly inhabited by renters.
Today was quite a lovely day to cycle but I spent some of my time in Beeston indoors – at the local public library. Leeds’ biggest public library is located inside the Art Gallery but some of the outlying areas have their own public libraries – I’ve visited the ones in Headingley, Chapeltown and Burley. Unfortunately, the latter is rarely ever open but the library in Beeston is open on Sundays. While not an atypical public library (and relatively small), it did house some books on Leeds United – appropriate reading for the day 🙂
There’s a lot more for me to see in Leeds – whether I have enough time is another issue.
Obviously, 2014 is no longer with us. And actually, Leeds will no longer be my present soon.
I will be leaving the UK on Tuesday, January 13. But I have plenty to do before then – such as cleaning out my room, taking care of issues with my bank, job hunting and meeting up with friends in Leeds (it may be difficult to meet up with buds living elsewhere in the UK).
Anyway, since the clock is ticking down fast on my time in Leeds, New Year’s Eve was an opportunity to have fun that wouldn’t be wasted. At the very least, the arrival of 2015 should be celebrated somewhere other than the Wharf Chambers…
(I love the place – but I wasn’t digging the music they were playing on New Year’s Eve 2013)
Which might have been the case before Nishant invited me over to his flat for New Year’s Eve. Where there are no shortage of bars and clubs in the city centre to ring in the new year, a party with friends would seemingly represent a much more fun way to end 2014. Except when my stomach choose a not-so-pretty way of disposing food (It’s weird that I threw up in that scenario. Normally, when I throw up, it’s due to too much beer. But I really hadn’t had that much beer up to that point. Now what I think of it, I had only consumed wine before throwing up).
Back to the party: A couple of the attendees were folks I had met at previous ParkRuns but it appeared it was going to be a small, casual gathering. Until a new bunch of partygoers arrived.
One of them was a sixty-something named Barbara, whom I struck up a conversation with. Barbara seems to be an interesting character – well, it’s not every day a sixty-something attends a party with her sons. But that wasn’t the most interesting thing about her. She has an uncle (I think I got the right relative) who has been a New York-based actor (mostly in theatre in addition to providing his voice in commercials) for quite a while (Barbara said she has visited him on a couple of occasions). In addition, she has worked as a Samaritan in York (in fact, she was hired by the police department), usually speaking to people in distress. Difficult job.
On a much lighter note, when it came time for midnight to arrive, much of the flat gathered on the roof to count down the last ten seconds of the year. The roof was supposed to be the setting to view a fireworks display.
Which turned out to be rather nonexistent – I counted less than seven instances of fireworks going off and I barely heard any of them (Of course, being New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, plenty of beer and wine were brought up onto the roof. And it was a lovely picture-taking setting). None of those fireworks went off close to us. But as always, the top of Nishant’s flat provides lovely views of the city.
One thing that did surprise me was… the streets of Leeds were actually relatively calm on New Year’s Eve. At least, the city centre was calm when I was going to/from Nishant’s flat. Normally, the Leeds city centre is populated with insane, stumbling drunks on Friday and Saturday nights. And probably any night other than Sunday night. But New Year’s Eve seemed to resemble most other nights.
After the underwhelming fireworks displays, we hit up a nearby pub for round two. Which was a quickie because I had two ParkRuns in the morning (While I’m at it, Leeds seems rather dead on New Year’s Day after all the celebratory drinks have been consumed).
(Unfortunately, there are no pictures)
A Leeds ParkRun tradition (if something can be considered “a tradition” after existing for at most seven years. Maybe even less) is for runners to do a double on New Year’s Day – one starting at Hyde Park at nine a.m. and the other at Temple Newsam, a fancy estate surrounded by a cross-country like-course.
I won the Hyde Park edition of the doubleheader – but expended so much energy doing so I was spent for the Temple Newsam half of the doubleheader. I finished 16th. I actually don’t like the course at Temple Newsam so that’s one place I won’t miss.