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.

At least we can laugh about it now…

Today, during a long work meeting, I began a mini-conversation with my long, lost bestie over email. Whilst traveling the Underground today, she thought it necessary to make contact.
Now hold up, I’m making it sound like I haven’t heard from her in ages. Really, we talked on the phone yesterday. And a couple days before that. So.

Anywhozit, our conversation went a little like (exactly like) this:

Kate sent this. I should know, but I can’t tell which station this was taken in.

K: I’m in the underground so you won’t get these for a while, but strangely enough this is where I am reminded of you most… Weird. Also can you email me from your work email so you will get my emails right away? We can talk pretend work stuff if we have to. Plus it will keep you busy at work. 🙂

M: Is it because that’s where you yell at me the most? 🙂

K: I was actually thinking the same thing! Email me from work. Then emails work like texts! They r more immediate.

M: I’m at a large work summit ….no access to work email til Monday. Have to deliver presentation.

K: Oh snap, ok, well we can use both and you can tell me which one to use by responding in the email that works best for you. Have fun! Good luck. Keep calm and carry on. Love ya bud!

~

Aaaaaand, then I had to actually go and do work. Unreasonable! Srsly, tho. She for reals is constantly bitching at me on trains.

When I answer/acknowledge a question directed at me by a stranger (because they have mistaken me for an actual British person, a.k.a. paid me the best compliment ever): “Why’d you talk to that person!?”

Maneuvering through a crowd: “Where are you?”/”Just GO!!!”

Arguing over which line goes where: “Ugh! If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times! The Jubilee line doesn’t stop at Bond Street! (She’s never told me this, and it does.) What is wrong with you!?”

And, my favorite: “…” (just walks away)

Ahahahahaha… good times.

 

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.

We’re gonna call this “Day One”

Errright, so now I’m going to take you back, day by day, through my trip to the UK (and Paris, but we’ll get to that/why it’s more of a sidenote).

Day One – October 6, 2011 – Base2Stay, Kensington

View from my hotel window. I know, right?

Just thought I’d start you off with that little glimpse of heaven… for t’was not sunshine and roses for a few minutes at the start.

Why, you ask? Because genius that I am, decided to use my spidey sense to navigate from the Underground station to my hotel with the world’s largest backpack on my back.

I should’ve gotten off at Earl’s Court, but instead went one stop too far to Gloucester Road. So, I was immediately heading in the wrong direction. I think I did a couple of circles around the block at one point.

But, I sucked it up and got out my map and pretty much hoped I remembered correctly where my hotel was because I didn’t write down the damn address (genius, remember) nor did I have a super-detailed map on which a little “X” marked the spot.

Eventually I found it. The staff were super-friendly – more on that around day three – and my room was perfect. Even when I zapped the shit out of my hairdryer/diffuser, it was perfect. For more on that little adventure, Imma refer you back to my October 6 post…

Mother England…

And awaaaaaaay I go! Tomorrow Idina Menzel, then who knows what magical adventures await me! I’ll be meeting up with Kate in two days time and all I gots to say is it’s been too damn long.

I will try to post whilst I’m in the UK, but I really don’t know the internet sitch. I know the internet existed the last time I was over there, but I really don’t recall ever using it… so we shall see.

Ta,

JK