Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Trials and Tribulations in Edinburgh: An Expat in Reverse

 I've been back in the UK for two years now, so sometimes I can barely remember what it feels like to be an expat. With this in mind, I wondered what it feels like to be the expat in my home country? As a sort of 'expat in reverse', if you will. Andy Hayes obligingly enlightens us with his experience of living in Edinburgh

"I hadn’t heard of the term “expat in reverse” until a conversation with Kate, but life in reverse certainly explains the disorientation I felt on landing in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I was born in the US, but arrived in Edinburgh via several years in Amsterdam.  I loved the Dutch lifestyle and laissez-faire café culture, but due to the European banking crisis, my job moved to Scotland, and thus I moved with it.

When I was offered the opportunity to move to the Scottish capital, the idea of being back in an English-speaking country again certainly piqued my interest. Ironically, language ended up being one of the biggest divides I found in integrating with the local culture.  British English was the language spoke at my old job and many of my friends in Holland were not Dutch, but other European nationals, so even today, a couple of years on, I still find it hard to write “neighbor” without the u, nor can I explain the Americanised version of “aluminium.”

Along with a handful of boxes, I took a heavily Dutch influenced American-Brit English accent with me.  I found most Scots quick to dismiss me as an American tourist (London expats being even worse), and even the people I worked with immediately assumed that because of my accent, my working style would be “American.”

All the accents tomfoolery aside, the UK was a total change.  Am I weird in that the first thing I think about culturally is how the pharmacies and drugstores are organised?  For example, in America the drug stores also sell the unhealthiest food.  In Europe, the pharmacy part is often a separate shop. In Britain, the pharmacies are all about the beauty and cosmetic products.  I can’t help but draw cultural comparisons.

In some ways, I found the UK to be somewhat of one step closer towards moving back to America.  There are the shopping malls and department stores, streets full of working folk and bustling shopping bags.  The working culture seems slightly more aggressive, as well as entrepreneurial.  An obsession with unhealthy eating is also pervasive. 

I don’t want to sound like a hater, because I’m not – Scotland is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I’ve never lived anywhere else on earth where an extinct volcano had a towering medieval castle on top.  Where you could hike up massive crags – and where the cobblestone city streets were just as steep. 

And taking trips up to the Highlands is equally impressive.  Did you know there are still single track roads on the British mainland?  That there are miles of road where you’ll see nary a soul, nor will you be able to Tweet or Facebook about it because your phone won’t work?

It was interesting to see that was so popular during my days in Edinburgh.  I joined a local walking group, one of several different groups just for hiking, and that was one of the best ways I found to meet other folks. The group I joined was a mix of locals and foreigners, but my choice was more on finding the types of walks I wanted to enjoy, and hoping for similar-minded folk in tow.  If you find yourself in a similar predicament, I highly recommend checking out Meetup or whatever’s in your locale.

The highlight of my time in Scotland is without a doubt the Edinburgh Fringe. They say that Edinburgh becomes the UK’s biggest city for the month of August, and I believe it – it seems every street corner or empty lot turns into a theatre/café/open-air bar/restaurant (or combination thereof).    I would spend hours each month watching an array of performances, from comedy to musical.  The fringe is so much fun, it alone was almost worth the price of moving to the UK.

Looking back, I’m not sure if I ever really found my groove in Scotland.   I’m thankful for my time there – I ended up leaving my job and started my own company, which I still have to this day.  The Edinburgh Fringe really launched my career in tourism.  I made many friends and had many experiences, in Edinburgh and beyond, that I’ll never forget.   

But for some reason, things never really came together.  And I’m totally ok with that.  No regrets, just one step on the path I was meant to be on.

Photos all courtesy of the author.

About the Author: Andy Hayes is author of the iPhone app Edinburgh Secrets.  He still runs a blog about Edinburgh, though he spends most of his time now in Portland, Oregon

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Having it large: Eating in Indianapolis

Fish and chips, Sunday roast with all the trimmings, a full English breakfast, a cream tea: traditional English food doesn't exactly warrant the label 'light'. So why is it that whenever you mention dining in America, your average Brit's eyes widen in alarm and they mutter something about the huge portion sizes? Unless they've been to calorie-conscious California, they'll also probably allude to either the grease factor or the sugary sweetness of the cooking on offer. Although 'typical' British grub may not be lean cuisine, healthy eating campaigns have made us all much more aware of what we consume and its origins, while the UK's ethnic diveristy has helped to broaden our palate and open our minds to different tastes.


When I boarded the plane for Indianapolis, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when it came to my first post-flight meal. Would I be faced with a lard-fest of epic proportions? Or sugar-coated goodies guaranteed to send the tooth fairy fluttering my way? As a pescetarian heading to a meat-loving country, I was a little daunted. I was going to be staying with an English expat family, but given that testing out the local cuisine is one of my favourite things to do while on holiday, I hoped there would be enough for me to enjoy over a ten-day stay.

Turns out I needn't have worried. Indy might be in the heart of corn country, but it turns out Midwestern cuisine is heavily influenced by central and northern European cooking. Just as in the UK, meat plus carb-of-choice (veg optional) dishes are standard fare, but thankfully for my pescetarian palate, there's far more on Indy's menu than home-style cooking. From seafood to stonebaked pizza to tapas to hearty American breakfasts, I tried it all in the name of research.  

Le Peep

Its tagline claims that it serves 'the best breakfast food in the world'. A bold statement maybe, but there's no denying that Le Peep is an Indy institution, as the weekend queues stretching into the street at its downtown branch attest. With 6 locations in and around the city, you're never too far from Le Peep's perfectly prepared dishes to start your day. Open until 2pm, they focus primarily on that so-called most important meal of the day. Even those who claim not to 'do breakfast' would find something to tempt them here, as the menu offers everything from the light (granola) to the indulgent (pancakes or French toast). Egg dishes feature strongly: there's a wide choice of omelettes (egg-white and normal), plus 'pampered egg' dishes (scrambled eggs combined with a variety of ingredients as opposed to spoiled hard-boileds) and Le Peep's panhandled skillet dishes, which consist of their peasant potatoes mixed with various combinations of meat, cheese and veggies, topped with two basted eggs.

Egg white omelettes are healthy, right?

On my first visit, I opted for the Blizzard: an egg-white omelette with Monterey jack and cheddar cheeses plus mixed vegetables topped with baked cheese, tomato and chives. Throw in Le Peep's peasant potatoes and a round of toast, and watch a dieter's dream turn into a hearty meal: light wasn't quite the word for this egg-white number. Delicious and filling were more accurate descriptions, and on visit number 2 I chose another vegetarian variation on Le Peep's egg-white omelettes, this time with avocado and sun-dried tomatoes. Visit number 3 (their 'best breakfast' claim was looking more accurate than bold at this point) saw me polish off two blueberry pancakes, which were huge yet so good they managed to be moreish.


A sophisticated pizza parlour with multiple branches around the city, Bazbeaux is another must-visit in Indy. We opted for a take-away, and between 4 of us demolished two large thin-crust pizzas, a Garden (with the Bazbeaux mix of provolone, mozzarella and pecorino plus artichoke hearts, spinach, green pepper, red onion, olives and ricotta) and a Greek (with spinach, red onion, olives and feta). With a lengthy menu of both meat and vegetarian choices and the option to create your own recipe from an extensive list of ingredients, Bazbeaux has something for all tastes.

Rick's Cafe Boatyard

Sitting on the deck of Rick's, savouring a glass of wine as the sun sets over the beautiful Eagle Creek: it doesn't get much better than this. Throw in some delicious seafood dishes and good service, and you can understand why I had to return. Rick's was a touch pricier than many Indy restaurants I visited, with most mains on the dinner menu priced $20 or more, but like elsewhere the portions were huge, and the quality of the cooking and presentation definitely warranted the extra outlay.


On our first visit, I tried the Rainforest Tilapia & Shrimp, a white fish in lemon and parmesan bread crumbs and lightly pan-fried. It was served with a few tempura shrimp, plus sun-dried tomato rice and vegetables with a mango and jalapeno glaze. Despite the portion being almost double what I'd expect at home, I devoured the lot. Next time, I tried the Cedar Planked Whitefish (the name deriving from the plank of wood the dish is served on), another light-yet-huge number, this time with a pistachio crust and tomato butter and accompanied by creamy mashed potato and vegetables. The desserts were also delicious, although the presentation of our 'death by chocolate' gave us a bit of a surprise. A declaration of love through dessert is certainly different, but I must confess we were more taken with the pudding itself.

Apparently the chef had a crush on the waitress... not us.

If you don't fancy an extravagant dinner, Rick's also serves pizzas all day and sandwiches at lunch time. Despite the high-end dishes on offer (steak also features heavily on the menu), the atmosphere is fairly casual, with waitresses sporting T-shirts declaring 'Cougar in Training' and waiters advertising themselves as 'Cougar Bait'. Odd given the classy setting, but it's easy to overlook given the friendliness of the staff. If you're in the mood for a drink, there's also an outdoor bar area serving cocktails in addition to beer and wine.

Creation Cafe

Despite its downtown location, the setting of Creation Cafe still managed to be scenic. Perched above Indy's tree-lined canal with a vista of the city's few skyscrapers in the distance, this vegetarian haven's terrace is perfect for lunch on a summer's day. Its menu is packed with options both meat-eaters and veggies will love; from creative sandwiches on a variety of breads to hearty salads to burgers. Vicki opted for a sandwich and salad combo, while I went for a black bean burger. Amazing value for $9.50, it was no real surprise to be faced with a massive portion. No complaints from me: the avocado and cheese topped burger was delicious.

It was at Creation Cafe that I finally grasped the concept of free refills. Until my visit there, I hadn't really understood the look of puzzlement that crossed a waitress's face every time I declined another drink. Fair enough: why would I turn down something that I had effectively paid for? Once I'd worked this out, it's fair to say my liquid consumption went up. It's just a shame the refill concept doesn't extend to glasses of wine...

These are just four of the best places I dined at during ten days in Indy. I was pleasantly surprised to find   that there was a real variety of different cuisines on offer, all at reasonable prices. Although I embraced the availability of free refills, I never really got used to the idea of taking food home with you: I'd see plenty of people leave restaurants with 'to go' boxes, and even used one myself when a waitress insisted, so overfaced were we by the lard-fest in front of us (this particular restaurant didn't make it into my top ten!). The food ultimately ended up in the bin, however. Fried fish was not going to reheat well. Personally, I'd rather have a smaller portion that didn't take a gargantuan effort to finish, so that I wasn't faced with a choice between stuffing myself to the point where an elasticated waistband becomes a dining essential, or taking half my dinner home with me. Portion concerns aside though, I enjoyed my experience of dining in Indy. Even if I did have to wear elasticated waistbands for the following week.

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