It’s an adventure.

I’ve been abroad a handful of times, but there are some variables with this trip that have me a little nervous.

One such variable is my ability/inability to pack 10 days into a single duffel bag. (I did it though and now I deserve a present. But, it has to be something I don’t have to pack.) I’ve never left so much behind.

Next, I’m travelling with three friends, two of whom are zero percent familiar with my travel quirks. The other, Kate, could write a novel on the high level of maintenance I “require.” Her familiarity, however, does not necessarily make her forgiving of my crazy. So, 10 days in close quarters with these girls and I’m sure I’ll be forced to stray from my routine. If I need to get specific, yes, I am concerned I won’t be allowed my usual 15 minutes to diffuse my hair. Or, that I won’t hear the end of when I insist on doing it anyway.

Now, these girls are not without their own necessities, so I’m hoping for a lot of give and take. But what I decided it all comes down to is that we’ll have a great time no matter what.

WE ARE GOING TO HAVE A GOOD TIME EVEN IF IT KILLS US!

Except it won’t kill us.

Because two days ago I thought I lost my favorite/lucky ₤ forever, but then I found it. Then today I woke up with another headache. But then it dissipated in near-record time. And when I turned my iPod on this morning, “Inner Smile” from “Bend it Like Beckham” played first. So, I can only assume, perhaps with a little prayer here and there, that there is no way this trip won’t be spectacular!

But also, this is not a vacation.

It’s an adventure.

At least, it will be. That’s what I keep telling myself. Because cramming four countries into 10 days is no time for layabouts!

First London for a few days, then Stockholm, then Tallinn and Helsinki, then back to London. What? Rick Steves made me do it. If Rick can do it, I can do it. No, that’s wrong. Rick doesn’t travel with two iPods, an iPad and an iPhone. Rick doesn’t need at least an hour to get ready in the morning. Rick will probably eat herring for breakfast.

Rick Steves I am not, but I got this. I think the many, many hours of planning will pay off. We’ve managed a good mix of scheduled/ticketed events, flexible entry type stuff (a la a couple of handy dandy city passes), and a few spots (Just a few – 10 countries, four days, remember?) of not doing much of anything.

So, I’ve got the butterflies I get when I get to travel. The good butterflies. There are even some rare, extra fancy butterflies reserved just for England. And I LOVE that this still happens.

Even if it all goes kerflooey; if every device fails, if none of the adapters or converters work, or if they blow up in the socket like last time, it will be okay. If the weather’s shit or I can’t do my hair or the train line is down, it will be okay. More than okay. Because it’s England. And also an adventure.

~      ~      ~

London 2012. Blerg.

Ugh. Am I allowed to be super non-excited that the Olympics are being held in London? Does that make me a hypocrite? On the face of it, I’m sure it does, because what kind of Anglophile wouldn’t be excited about non-stop media coverage of her home away from home?

Well, this moi. And yes, I’m gonna whine about it.

Reason 1: They’re taking over my city. LocustsTourists. [Even more] commercial entities.

I’m a touch torn, I will say, because on the one hand I desperately hope the nation will be able to recoup the cash they’ve put into the event and then some, but have a feeling a lot of dollars will be spent on McDonald’s and Starbucks and not at the local chippy or coffee shop. (At least, I think it’s safe to say the margin will swing dramatically the one direction, amIright?)

I think a lot of the major historical attractions will see an influx of traffic – the Tower, Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, as well they should – but what about the REST OF ENGLAND? Or, lesser known parts of London, even? Charles Dickens’ house? The Old Vic? Camden Lock? Oooh, Brick Lane. Yeah, don’t take the kids to Brick Lane. (Unless you think they’d fetch a price…) Mixed feelings here as well, because I suspect many of those living outside of London want little to do with the Olympics, but then as it is summer and a peak travel season, there are plenty of tourist establishments in the region that would be well pleased for an increase in revenue, except London’s hoarding it all.

Part of my frustration also comes from the sheer number of first time London tourists that have descended upon the area. I must keep reminding myself that I’m glad I’m not visiting this summer. (Probably one of the only times I will ever say that.) Tourists in large cities are cumbersome in the first place, but that many first timers? Yeesh. Taxi drivers. Underground stewards. All those in the transportation industry. My prayers are with you. And I wish you many large tips!

Reason 2: The media.

These next two weeks are going to be a bit rough. With so much attention focused on London (England, even Great Britain as a whole, let’s be real, because the media won’t be able to keep focus) it will be all the more difficult to distract myself from how much I bloody miss it! What’s worse, I think, is that this attention is so, how can I describe it, commercial? Cheap? I’m not sure if I have the right term, but the feeling I have toward this whole thing is the same feeling I get toward fair-weather fans. Now I understand the Olympics are designed to occur only every so often and now it’s London’s turn in the spotlight. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that London is already such a popular place that I don’t think it needs any more spotlight??? Maybe. I’ve also ALWAYS struggled with those who love London/England/other places, etc. for the obvious and/or popular reasons. I suppose the Olympics are just another thing that make London popular and is now overshadowing so many (more worthy) qualities that make London remarkable.

I have more on the media, but I think I’ll at least let the games begin before I go into the issue of reporting on the athletics of the event versus the location and spectacle…

Reason 3: Then there’s Team GB.

It’s inexcusable that David Beckham has been left out of the Men’s Football squad. Stuart Pearce is such a disgrace that I think the IOC (yes, the international governing body, not just the British governing body) should step in to either fire the guy or order him to include Becks. I don’t care if Becks is only able to play five minutes of every game as a substitute, he brought Games to London (Yeah, so mixed feelings there. You’re on BOTH my lists, David.) and has been its number one champion. He is a living legend and a symbol of Britain and of football. He IS Team GB, but Pearce couldn’t be bothered to include him. He went with Micah Richards instead? Pitiful. Ryan Giggs, I understand; he’s Welsh and a quality player. I will never support a Manchester City player’s presence over David Beckham’s. Probably not even if said Man City player is Joe Hart, and Becks isn’t even a goalkeeper.

Of course the other, most basic piece to this issue is that Becks is still a top performing player!

So, we’re not off to a real good start.

Reason 4: As of today I still can’t access the online shop from my American IP address. I’m re-routed to Team USA’s shop. I’m not sure whose fault that is, but it’s an appalling breach of internet something… I feel like I’m being pressured to support a certain team, and that doesn’t sit right with me. I’m pro-Team USA, sure, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a stylized Union Jack sheet set or nifty Adidas wristband. (And no, the Adidas online shop doesn’t carry them.) If anyone figures out what the eff is going on with this, please let me know. I don’t like it. I suspect Stuart Pearce is in on it somehow.

Reason 5: I’m still bitter England lost out on hosting either the 2018 or 2022 World Cups. THAT they deserved. THAT they wouldn’t have had to spend an exorbitant amount of money on to host! And. The last time football came home on the world stage, England won the damn thing. So.

Reason 6: I prefer the winter Olympics.

I’ll try to keep score with a pros and cons list and report back. Maybe I’ll prove myself wrong. I’m open to that.

Unrelated – Part III

And now I give you, the conclusion…

             When I reached for her in the morning, she was gone. I climbed out of bed, and as I passed the office, saw that Judith had taken the futon. Downstairs, the coffee had been made and a mug left on the counter for me. Even in our most brutal fights, she could remain sweet. This wasn’t one of those fights – this was barely a fight – but it didn’t diminish the gesture. It didn’t take me much longer to realize that Maggie had left the house. I lifted my jumper from the hook in the kitchen, slipped on the nearest pair of trainers, and headed out the back. The garden gate was unlatched. I walked slowly toward the school because I knew what she was after by leaving, but I also felt anxious to talk to her as I do almost every morning.

            The chains holding up the swings were rusted. The slide would have worked just fine, but the wooden planks at the top were weathered and warped. Maggie twisted on one of the seats until the chains could not tighten any more. When she saw me, she let go, spinning out of control. As she slowed, I caught her and held the swing until it steadied. Without saying anything I sat down next to her. My face was unshaven, my hair matted, I looked quite scruffy. Fitting, since I hadn’t gotten much sleep. My Oxford Crew jumper was the only thing that might remind Maggie of the clever bloke she met at Uni, and perhaps I wore it for that very reason.

            “She’s winning.” I said gently.

            “I know. Doesn’t the fact that she’s on my turf mean anything? I am supposed to have at least a little advantage, aren’t I? Home team, all that.” she whined as she fell into my shoulder.

            “I’m not even sure what the game is, but she’s far better at it than you.” I said as a joke that fell flat. We sat in silence then Maggie stood up assertively. I followed and we started back to the house. She took my hand when I offered it to her and spent the two-block walk reminiscing about a time when she and her mother woke up early one day to shovel snow to surprise her father. She was seven years old.

*            *            *

            Judith sat at the dining room table, glasses low, concentrating hard on a crossword puzzle. When Maggie approached her, she seemed surprised.

            “What’s a six-letter word for ‘pride’?” she asked. All of the nonsense seemed to stop as Maggie leaned toward her mother as she took a moment to think of the answer.

            “Arrogant. No, no. That’s eight.” Maggie said, then paused again. “Hubris!” She exclaimed.

            “Hmm. Yes, that fits.” Judith confirmed. The two shared a warm smile.

            I felt a rush of relief, if for only a second. Having returned to her crossword, Judith threw the last twenty seconds of civility out the window with, “It’s nice you know the definition of the word. I was beginning to think-” She stopped abruptly when Maggie left her chair and headed toward the staircase, completely deflated and at a loss for words.

            I turned toward Judith and said, in the most sarcastic tone I could manage, “That was just lovely, Judith. Brilliant!” Judith said nothing. Maggie stopped in her tracks just before the hallway and turned on her heel to respond.

            Cutting her off, I said, “No, babe. She needs to treat you like a person, and I’ve grown very tired of this. I don’t know which one of you needs to grow up – maybe it’s the pair of you – but if you two won’t have the row you very likely need in order to get all of this sorted, then I’m going to take a turn.”  

            I collected myself, shifting my weight from left to right as I stood in the center of the kitchen, and said, “Judith, I love you. As much as a person can love someone they barely know, I love you. But I’m done with all of this. Maggie has tried and gone to great pains to please you but you insist on being miserable. You’ve questioned her every move – my every move, and you don’t know me that well, so I think that’s a little uncalled for. You’ve been judgmental and pressuring, done all the things Mags said you would, and frankly, have been quite mean. I don’t know if you noticed, but you and your daughter could have had a really nice time together just there, and you bloody killed it! I have tried to keep an open mind, to think she was just being dramatic, and I wish I could chock it up to a severe case of jet lag, but you are a piece of work. Mags is great. We might have a few issues, but Mags and I are great. You don’t get to come in here and cast doubt. We don’t have children because we’re happy just us two. There’s plenty of time for that, and not that it’s any of your business, but we have talked about it! Right now, we’re both feeling just a bit too selfish to bring – you know, sod it, we’ll keep you posted, alright! You don’t like our house, then get out. You don’t like London, then leave.”

            I caught my breath and instantly became worried that I had stepped too far, but when I looked over to Mags she was absolutely beaming. Judith didn’t respond this time, I’d like to think, because she knew she had no reason to argue, but as the seconds ticked by, I could tell that the guilt I felt in the pit of my stomach was now evident on my face.

            Judith slowly got up from the table wearing a hard-to-interpret smirk. Her eyes were fixed on me as she approached. I winced, but the hand that reached toward me carried no malice. She was gentle, motherly. Judith rested her hand on my face and kept her eyes on me, but instead spoke directly to Maggie.

            Nodding, she said, “You’ve done well, Maggie.” She emphasized her statement by patting my cheek lightly. Smiling, she dropped her arm and turned away, squeezing her daughter’s shoulder as she passed and coolly walked up the stairs.

            By the afternoon, her two enormous suitcases were waiting in the foyer.

I really needed this…

I haven’t posted in a while. I haven’t commented in a while. Hell, I haven’t done much of anything even remotely creative that wasn’t for my class, and even that feels forced. So, I wandered back to one my favorite, first blog loves, Kid in the Front Row.

Today, this week, next week, and always, I needed this. THIS. And also THIS.

Now I feel better. No, that’s a lie. I don’t feel better, actually I feel kind of shitty. But I do feel different. I got the proverbial kick in the pants that I needed for the time being and now I must get to work.

Yes, I have homework. Yes, I have two stories to workshop for class, two readings, reading responses, and my own 45-page novel excerpt to finish…um, between last Monday and next weekend. But you know what? Screw it. I’m going to see a Broadway musical tonight, then I’m going to write my ass off this weekend.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Hopefully my renewed inspiration will result in a few posts on this baby, tout suite! See what I did there?

Until next time, mes amies!

Day Three

So the bag, was super heavy. Like, wearing a 50 gallon fish tank on ya back, heavy. All it really took was my short walk inside the Chicago airport with that thing and I was ready to chuck it. So after my one hour STANDING train ride to Gloucester Road, then a 30 minute walk in circles to find the hotel, I was in agony.

I bring this up now because by my second day, which was yesterday in our timeline here, however not yesterday as in the day that happened before the one we’re in now – pay attention! –  I decided to suck it up and ship some nonessential items stateside. Items like my fancy-pants outfit for the concert, a couple pairs of shoes, and because I figured the bag would get heavier before it got lighter, I went shopping for souvenirs. At Harrods.  Again, we’re still in yesterday, got it?

Now, back to today – day three today, not actual today – I needed to find a box. A rather large box. I started super early and went to… the post office. Turns out, I had started too early, and the location down the road from my hotel was not open until 10am. Next, I walked to the nearest [non-express] Tesco on West Cromwell. Now, I was already ON W. Cromwell, so I didn’t think it’d be so far. Wrong! I walked and I walked and they were open, but didn’t have a box. Not an apple box, not a shipping box I could purchase. Nothing. So, I went to a stationary shop near Earl’s Court. No dice. They were very friendly and I did find my other essential item: packing tape!

After a few more stops I found a Marks & Spencers Simply Food and lo and behold, in the bakery section – a gorgeous bread box newly devoid of contents! What a feeling of victory! I was on top of the world! I was so grateful to M&S that I decided to purchase the Sunday newspaper. I know, CALM DOWN!

I practically skipped back to my hotel – where I was rapidly running out of time before check out – and began to pack up my findings. Next problem – this box was HUGE! My crinkled newpaper wasn’t cutting it, so I did the only thing a reasonable person could – I went shopping again.

Not thrilled about having to maneuver through Piccadilly Circus, I steeled myself and made it to Lillywhites for rugby and footballs. They’re lightweight and they take up a lot of space!

Fast-forward to check out time… I left the large package and appropriate (we’ll get to this later…) shipping and customs forms (thanks to my good friend Squish via the handy dandy internet) with the front desk staff. I’d like to say right now – the Base2Stay staff were amazing! Multiple people were extremely helpful and went out of their way to look after the box as I made my way to Bristol, then Paris, then back to London – not intending to visit the hotel again during my trip (we’ll get to this later, as well).

By 2:30ish, I collected my still pretty ridiculous bag and took a cab to Paddington Station to meet up with Kate. I think we figured meeting around 4 or 5pm.

I tried to get as much of my wandering/perusing out of the way early, because I knew that once I put my backpack down, it would be an ordeal getting it back on my shoulders. I shoved through the London 2012 giftshop, a couple of souvenir stands, the flower stand, I think I picked up a sandwich from my new favourite store – Marks & Spencers Simply Food – and then found a table where I could set up camp.

Kate and I agreed to meet at the bear. What bear? WHY THE PADDINGTON BEAR! The statue. Trouble was, people kept congregating all over that thing! It was really unsettling how many inconsiderate groups of people decided it would be a good idea to ruin such a lovely photo op with their luggage, etc. I soon became frusterated and decided I needed to do something passive agressive about it! I started taking pictures of that loveable bear statue right through everyone’s luggage and whatnot. Of course, everyone looked at me like I was being rude. Hah! Um, excuse me sir, you’re the dumbass who decided to sit in Paddington’s lap. I’m taking a picture of Paddington. Not you.

Anyway, the hours ticked by. And they ticked by. After about four of them, I started to wonder what would happen if I couldn’t find Kate. What if she missed her flight? What if something happened? There really wouldn’t be a way to hear from her.

Is that not the Hogwarts Express?

A couple of months back I asked Kate for her synopsis of the day. In her words:

~ Hellish travel day, a plane – delayed to tube from Heathrow – had to get off once to wait for a new train then had to get off tube to take another line. Then that line ended before Paddington so I have to get out of tube station and walk to a bus to the bus to the Paddington stop to finally meet you near a bear I thought would be huge only to see you aren’t there. Luckily seconds later you happened to turn around and I happened to look in your direction and we found each other (aww…) many hours after we had scheduled. By the time we got to Bristol I was already tired of carrying my bag (see, it wasn’t just me!)  and knew we had to figure out how to get to our hotel. Pleasantly surprised when a cheap, short cab ride later we arrived at a very posh hotel that suited us very well. We had a little snack and decided to get some rest. I passed out immediately. ~

Okay, back to me now… it’s sweet that she thinks the hotel I booked for us was posh. It was quite nice, actually, I just would have liked it a little closer to city centre, as it rained the entire time, that was a lot of trekking around soaked with drippy spectacles.

I don’t recall the snack Kate is referring to – I recall starving. Anyway, we unpacked then went to bed. Or, I went to bed. Kate woke me up some time in the middle of the night because she was feeling jetlagged and chatty.

I think we talked for a few hours before returning to sleep. I really missed my friend.

Day Two

As Kate departs for London (yes, again), I find it fitting that I’m finally getting around to posting this…

~  ~  ~

October 7, Base2Stay, Kensington

Although it pained me to even consider sleeping in the night before, I’m glad I did. After about 10 hours of much needed sleep, I headed out to do some exploring in “my” part of London. I also thought it would help if I re-acclimated myself to the Underground before meeting up with Kate. She can be so bossy, even though I am nowhere near navigationally challenged.

I began by hightailing it to High Street Kensington via Earl’s Court. I was on a mission to find the local Whole Foods, in search of a specific brand of whey protein. The protein was a no-go, but I did find the store the most gorgeous Whole Foods ever! Being harvest season, the store was decked in all its autumnal glory with Hollywood-ready pumpkins and assorted gourds and beautiful bakery fare. And that was after only making it about 15 feet inside the store!

My next stop was Zara as I was on a mission to find a trench coat. This mission was successful.

Harrods Pie Case

I think I wandered the halls of Harrods for a couple of hours before making it down to the Food Halls for some groceries… pies and pasties, prosciutto and olive galette.

I can’t tell you everything I ended up buying, but about half of it was left in my hotel mini-fridge. Shame.

England match. Montenegro 2 – England 2. Yeah, that also happened. Wayne Rooney was a bit of a disgrace, to be sure, but the Three Lions should have pulled that one out, anyway. No matter, my room did not get the necessary SkySports channel, so I just followed the game online while I settled in with my delicious galette and a night of quality British telly.

The end. Good night.

Well that was distracting…

So, Happy New Year and all of that… I was hoping to finish my posts on my October trip to Old Blighty, but I’ll get to that later…

About a month ago my mom called wanting to know the Royal Family’s last name. A bit of panic washed over me as I could not for the life of me come up with an answer. I was at first inclined simply to say “Why, it’s Windsor, of course!” However, I’m pretty sure this is wrong.

Our phone conversation on the matter lasted all of 90 seconds, but the black hole of research I fell into immediately following the call lasted well over an hour. And I was at work, mind you.

What I’d like to share with you now is the email I sent my mother after I managed to claw my way out of the murky, muddy pit…

~    ~    ~

To: My mum’s email address

Subject: Well that was distracting…

I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t answer your questions outright… so I did some research… =)

I don’t think Windsor has anything to do with anyone’s LAST NAME. It’s just the HOUSE the bloodline comes from.

The House of Windsor began in 1917 by George V by royal proclamation. He changed it from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha because of the anti-German sentiment in the UK during WWI. Also, probably because that was a dumb name.

Now, how to explain this without jumping around…you’re not just talking about the royal line of succession, you’re talking about what it looked like before any of these people got married or were crowned! Oy.

Before Queen Elizabeth II was coronated, she was Princess Elizabeth, Duchess of Edinburgh (yes, both a princess AND a duchess). She gained the duchess part when she married.

  • Elizabeth and Philip were granted Duke/Duchess of Edinburgh upon their marriage, by Elizabeth’s father, George VI. (Oh, and Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip are second cousins, once removed.)
  • Phillip’s full name before marriage was Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, but he renounced his Greek and Danish titles and adopted the British surname.

Prince William recently gained the duke part, as did his wife gain the duchess. The King/Queen grants them their duke/duchess “locale.” I think William specifically requested Cambridge because he didn’t want Canterbury…it was bad luck or something. Anyway, I believe that Prince William, while still a prince, of course, will never again be referred to as a Prince of Wales. (If his father abdicates, or dies, Wills will become King William [roman numeral] of England…and the realm.)

Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay m. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall…NOW, Camilla isn’t “known” as the Duchess of Rothesay because DIANA was more commonly referred to as the Duchess of Rothesay (even though she was also Duchess of Cornwall).

  • The other thing is, Camilla isn’t a princess even though her husband is a prince… neither is Kate Middleton…she’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and will be until her husband is crowned king, then she will become the Queen Consort.
  • Prince Philip is a prince to his wife’s queen only because he was ALREADY a prince before he married. Kate was a commoner…I don’t think she’ll ever TECHNICALLY become princess OR queen.

Coronation and marriage seem to do strange things to the naming scheme… hard to figure out and I think they’re still making it up as they go along.

Prince William, the newly named Duke of Cambridge was Prince William of Wales until he married. Harry will remain Prince Harry of Wales until he’s married and is given Duke of London or Bristol or Manchester United, or whatever. Both are still princes, no matter what, but what they’re formally referred to is different now.

NOW, if the current queen should die AND Prince Charles doesn’t abdicate, Prince William’s title may change again because he will officially become NEXT IN LINE for the throne. But I really don’t know because the “of Wales” part in Charles’ title doesn’t seem as random when you look at the line of succession… his grandfather was HRH Prince George of Wales before he was crowned King, and his great-grandfather, Edward VII was HRH Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales before HE was crowned king upon his mother, Queen Victoria’s death.

  • But, AHA! QueenVictoria was HRH Princess Alexandrina Victoria of KENT before she was crowned queen. WTF!? Now I know why there are so many royal historians!

So, Charles will become [King] Charles (insert roman numeral here), and Wills MIGHT become Prince of [BRITISH PLACE], Duke of Cambridge. Or he might go back to HRH Prince William of Wales. Get it? No? Well, me either.

I think on Prince William’s birth certificate, it would have only said: HRH (His Royal Highness) William Arthur Phillip Louis.

Now, one of the only things that makes sense based on all of the above, Prince Harry is unmarried, so he’s not the Duke of anything yet… is HRH Prince Harry of Wales, taken from his father still. When he marries, he’ll be given a Duke of SOME PLACE WITHIN THE REALM name.

So…what did we learn? Nothing, really. It seems one of the perks of being a royal is that you can do whatever you damn well please. =) 

I love you!

~    ~    ~