Monthly Archives: July 2013

Edinburgh: so beautiful I could just zzzzzzzzzzzz……

I hugged Danielle goodbye at 8am before she stuffed herself into a cab to embark on a week-long business trip. I hugged her boyfriend goodbye two hours later as we were off to take the train to Edinburgh.

The train was completely uneventful which to me now seems a bit boring. You mean everyone was behaved on the train? No one had their foot on my back the entire ride? People quietly murmured about the Bruce Springsteen concert? Pppfffft.

Four hours later we emerged from the train station and then quickly settled into our very cute bed and breakfast. We walked around just to get our bearings and then oh look — we had walked by everything there was to walk by in the city. From then on we didn’t quite need a map which was a nice break from being lost for 6 months.

We took our time, mostly strolling in the drizzle and swearing under our breath about it being June and why am I in a fleece AND a rain jacket. We had passed a milestone: having spent long enough in the UK to see a fleeting moment of glorious weather and then spend the rest of the time annoyed it was cold and drizzly.

we took lots of moody pictures

we took lots of moody pictures

We did a good bit of touristing in Edinburgh, in addition to ambling around looking at REALLY OLD THINGS.

main shopping drag in Edinburgh

main shopping drag in Edinburgh

And passing by places where REALLY OLD PEOPLE WERE BORN.

ring ring

ring ring

We visited the castle (of course) where in line, a Spanish woman interrupted my conversation with Dave (in English) to ask me if I was Spanish (in Spanish). I said no. I am wondering if Dave sewed Spanish flags on the backs of all my shirts because this was the most aggressive “BUT SURELY YOU MUST BE SPANISH” in the face of “BUT CLEARLY I AM TOTALLY NOT” which amuses me the further we are from these incidents. At home no one thinks I am Spanish.  This gives me a sad. Here  I am just another girl with a nasal mid-Atlantic accent who wears brightly colored trousers. ENNUI, it runs deep.

The castle looked just like Hogwarts

hogwarts or edinburgh castle?

hogwarts or edinburgh castle?

which thrilled me until I saw signs all around Edinburgh where a few hip-looking establishments had “JK Rowling not welcome” signs out front where then I decided Hogwarts was stupid and WHATEVER, JK ROWLING.

Dave wanted to put a sign up that said "stop making me take dumb pictures"

Dave wanted to put a sign up that said “stop making me take dumb pictures”

boom

boom

Dave is used to taking direction

Dave is used to taking direction

We of course engaged in the BanhMi&You tradition of walking around and finding a bar and drinking a new beer for Dave to check into on Untapp’d on my ancient iphone 3Gs as his even more ancient iphone 3G would not support the app. A friend of a friend directed us to a bar connected to a church where the bartenders wore shirts of the app and I had to drag DaveKlein out of there to go get some food.

beer nerds, unite!

beer nerds, unite!

We ate well in Edinburgh but not as well as we did in Glasgow. More on that soon.

gorgeous!

gorgeous!

Edinburgh was stunning. Beautiful. Also, a bit of a snoozefest.

one of two moments of sun in edinburgh

one of two moments of sun in edinburgh

It’s just so touristy and everything revolves around tourism that there wasn’t much real life to come up on. No, I am not buying a kilt. No, I am not taking a picture with a dude with bagpipes. No, I am not going to eat haggis out when our bed and breakfast serves it up.

flag

flag

Though I will say the accents of Edinburgh are amazingly beautiful. It was a stark contrast when we got to Glasgow and would look at each other wide-eyed when someone spoke to us and we had to consider pretending to be Spanish it sounded so foreign.

We were in Edinburgh for three nights and then visited the countryside and Glasgow and then came back for one night as we were flying to Marrakech from Edinburgh for our final two weeks of the trip.

This is where we stayed in the shittiest place on the trip. The Edinburgh Film Festival was going on so there was literally NO WHERE to stay and since we would be in town for all of like, 15 hours we went with the cheapest option: a crappy hostel.

Only when we showed up we realized that our hostel room was part of the University of Edinburgh dorms. So we stayed in a “private double” that was essentially good enough for one student. We almost slept head to toe on our tiny twin+ bed. The staff were all Americans studying at the university and when I decided to puff out my American chest and be like WTF about the tiny bed they tried to play some “well have you thought about cultural differences about what a double bed might be” and that’s when no one might consider I was Spanish because I gave them some good old, American attitude.

Which of course got me nowhere but deep down inside, it felt a little awesome to be a pushy American just brushing up on the line of being a jerk to someone who would understand my restraint in not being full out jerk.

USA! USA! USA!

the second moment of sun in edinburgh

the second moment of sun in edinburgh

 

 

 

 

 

Taking the air in Brighton

We were ready for a beach day after spending time in the UK and the Netherlands so when Danielle suggested that we take a day trip to Brighton, I was all for it. She (knowingly) persuaded me by reminding me that Brighton wasn’t just the beach, but was the Rehoboth Beach of Southwest London and if we were very lucky we might spot a Banksy. And get some sun. And eat fried things.

So, twist my arm why don’t you.

Danielle and I were so excited the morning we woke up! We both wore summery outfits! We brought things so we could sun ourselves by the pier! We smugly put on sunscreen before leaving the house, proud of ourselves for being so responsible. We took a very early bus to Blackfriars station and hopped the hour-long train ride to the seaside, READY FOR THE BEACH. A Jersey girl and a Philly girl love us a beach. DaveKlein just trailed behind us for the morning journey while we giddily talked about boardwalks! Fried things! Tan lines! He was so smug in his hoodie and was waiting for the moment that did not occur to me and I think Danielle was trying to ignore:

That the weather was going to be total crap.

I froze. It was so cold. But so cool! We had a great time walking around!

We left the train station in search of coffee and immediately found an original Banksy which excited me way more than it should have.

Exit through the Gift Shop

Exit through the Gift Shop

There is great street art in Brighton (here’s my other favorites).

Audrey Hepburn in a surgical mask?

Audrey Hepburn in a surgical mask?

"Scream"-era Michael Jackson

“Scream”-era Michael Jackson

We had a lovely coffee to warm up (#BritishSummer) and then went straight to the pier.

CAFFEINE!

CAFFEINE! (mis-spelled? British-spelled?)

We rode a roller coaster for 8-year-olds which scared the crap out of me because I am a HUGE BABY.

Brighton! (And the sun trying to come out!)

Brighton! (And the sun trying to come out!)

Dave and I mugging for the camera

Dave and I mugging for the camera

We ate fish and chips to console ourselves about the sun and to calm my fried nerves from the baby coaster.

FRIED! (it was only OK)

FRIED! (it was only OK)

We stubbornly sat on the VERY rocky beach determined to see a peak of sun. We saw about one silver of sun. Everyone else was in long pants and shirts. CLOSED TOED SHOES, EVEN. We shivered in the breeze and stubbornly ignored everyone else’s sensible (GERMANS! DAMN IT!) attire.

BOOOOOOO

BOOOOOOO

The sun came out for about 6 minutes.

The sun came out for about 6 minutes.

notice all the sunbathers...

notice all the sunbathers…

 

posing, as usual

posing, as usual

Danielle then said the magical sentence that turned the day around for me.

“In the gay part of town there’s a tea house I’ve been wanting to go to — wanna try and find it?”

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YES, my sister.

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YES.

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IT

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WAS

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GLORIOUS.

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Then we unexpectedly ran into the “Brighton Naked Bikeride” and learned WAY MORE about our fellow man than I ever had before. The Naked Bikeride was about 98% male and to summarize: I saw things that I can’t un-see.  And this is coming from me who after three years at HRC not much makes me blush. Ok everything still makes me blush but I’m not surprised by much. AND I AM AN ALLY IN THE BLUSHING.

Then the sun came out for real and after a bit of window shopping

(that is a pillow)

(that is a pillow)

we tried to erase our memories in rosé wine on the train home because while the UK isn’t the sunniest country, it’s not a police state.

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(as you can sense, we are at home and enjoying ourselves except for Pennsylvania’s ridiculous liquor laws. Oh and the “unemployed” part.)

London: Like coming home, but with a queen.

So after fun biking around a park, drinking beer, drinking beer, and drinking beer, we left Neil for something very exciting: the English Language. Also, my sister from another mister: Danielle! We were off to the UK! We were VERY EXCITED because:

1.)    London is AWESOME

2.)    Time with Danielle and JP!

3.)    We could ask for things without worrying about vocabulary (other than the standard lorry: truck, etc)

4.)    We could understand things around us. We’d been calling conversation “ambient noise” because seriously, no matter where you are, if it ain’t a romance language, it all sounds Korean to us.

5.)    We could read all signs

6.)    LONDON IS AWESOME

Neil suggested in weeks prior that we try flying out of “Dusseldorf” instead of Amsterdam purely as a lower-cost option and also the fun of going to Germany just to go to the airport. Schipol airport in Amsterdam is 2 trains and an hour and forty-five minutes from where he lives. Weeze (pronounced: Veeyyyytzaahh)  a small, regional, low-cost carrier airport in very suburban “Dusseldorf” was a 45 minute shared taxi ride. Off we flew from “Weezey”(airport code: WZE)  as we affectionately called it.

Only…. The UK wanted to make it difficult for us. To be fair — we had little to offer. Having no plans when you enter the European Union as an American was no big deal. We had no onward travel plans when we flew to Spain but I’m sure they figured we’d be someone else’s problem.

The UK was not amused. To be fair—it sounded way worse than it was. I’m also sure if we had not been American we would have been denied entry. The Home Officer who talked with us for nearly an hour made us sound VERY menacing.

Summary of questions and comments from the immigration officer:

“You mean to tell me you don’t have the full address of the friends you are staying with, neither of whom are British citizens… You have no onward travel plans… You cannot tell us where exactly once you book said travel plans where you might be going… You have no idea how long you’ll be here but it will be three weeks to one month… You have no proof of means to exist here in the UK and we cannot exactly trust that you won’t try to find work… You have been gone from your home country for many months and we cannot presume you are employed and will LEAVE the UK to return to those jobs…”

Gulp.

Needless to say, after an hour of pleading, politely sharing more information, swearing up and down we wouldn’t overstay our visa and we had no interest in staying, they begrudgingly let us in with a cautionary warning stamp. And a serious talking to. Needless to say,  we booked our onward travel and took screenshots of bank information and learned Danielle’s full post code.

That’ll be fun when we return to the UK to visit them next. Also for a country who was mainly concerned with us trying to work and for us to RETURN to the US to work, they never outright asked us if we were currently employed….

#oops.

So Danielle is my BFF who went to Syracuse (holler to SU – the GW of the north) from whose illustrious alumni have cobbled together an oddly large number of friends. D and I met while being ladies who plan things for a mutual friend’s wedding and we’ve been comparing family recipes, the Way Our Mothers Do The Same Things, how we were raised, food we ate,books to read,  music we like and gossip ever since.  She moved away to London a few years ago and though we don’t see each other as often as we used to, she has an excellent incentive for us to visit in London: a guest room in an awesome house that she and her man-partner just bought in North London. So yes, she wins.

By way of this backstory is why, you see, we didn’t do like, ALL! THE! THINGS! In London. I lived there as a student for 5 months. We’ve been to visit her numerous times. Gone are the days tromping around dying to see the Tower of London. Hello us rolling our eyes at tourists who think “London Bridge” is what they see when they look at Tower Bridge. For us it’s like going to New York City—the fun is a few museums, eating strolling, getting lost, and then finding your way. It’s familiar, we generally don’t need a map, and if you squint it’s like being home only home has gotten crazy person expensive.

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We did take a few detours which we will share later, but here are some fun things we did that may not be fun things to you but MAN OH MAN are they fun when you have been living out a suitcase.

  • Went for runs
  • Did laundry
  • Cooked dinner. In a kitchen
  • Did dishes
  • Ran errands for friends who are real grown-ups with day jobs that keep them long hours
  • Food shop
  • Watch daytime TV
  • Tear up a little when Ina Garten reruns show up
  • Sleep in
  • Yoga
  • Use their INSANELY fast internets before Google Reader bit the dust (RIP GOOGLE READER)
  • Drink NECTAR OF THE GODS—SWEET, SWEET AMERICAN FILTER COFFEE.
  • Get my hair cut (Sayonara, pinky)
Cropped!

Cropped!

 

Here are the fun things we did with friends:

  • Go out to eat
  • Chat
  • Tease the menfolk
  • Have the menfolk be none-too-pleased with our teasing
  • Drink rose wine
  • Drink beers
  • Perv on other people’s awesome dogs together
  • Stroll
  • Window shop
  • Visit a craft brewing festival
  • Visit them for lunch at their awesome office
  • GET SOME AWESOME NAIL ART
yesssssss!

yesssssss!

  • Wander around the canals and find some 20-somethings rafting and drinking

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  • Shudder at the thought of what might be in those canals

Here are the fun touristy things we did in London proper:

  • See the David Bowie retrospective at the V & A
  • Visit the Tate Modern where we got engaged lo these many years ago (Danielle had offered lots of advice/help to Dave and the event was coined “Operation Penguin)
  • Visit the Portrait Gallery
  • Visit the British Museum
  • Walked along the Thames, Parliament and Westminster Abbey
  • Had coffee in a coffee shop that used to be men’s’ public toilets

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  • Take 100 pictures of awesome street art

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  • Had pie and mash from the oldest pie shop in the city

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  • Visit Borough Market
  • If you are Dave, have a great time riding the Emirates Air Line

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  • If you are me, pretend you are having a great time riding the Emirates Air Line (TERRIFIED)

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So thanks heaps to DZ and JP and their awesome house in Stokey. It was also really fun to not tourist too hard, and just BE. WITH. FRIENDS. Acting normally! I will forever know your gate code so please don’t change it before we come back! Also let it be publicly known, that Danielle and JP are on THE LIST.

THE.LIST.OF.PEOPLE.WE.OWE.BIGTIME

Also on this list:

  • Neil
  • Brock & Josh

Everyone likes a house guest until they announce they are staying for over two weeks.

Naturally, due to Danielle’s upbringing, she had fresh flowers in the guest room, lent us a subway card, and would report back on all the good dogs she saw that day while we were apart.

 

 

 

Antwerp – Belgian Schizophrenia, Waffles, Beer, Beer, Beer

Say what you want about the tenants of the Dutch, at least it’s an ethos. That is more than can be said for Belgium which only can be called a nation in the most technical of senses. It’s got borders and (sort of) a government, but generally, like lots of Africa, it was created by taking groups of people who don’t belong together and forcing them into a tight space. As far as I can tell, it means nothing to be Belgian. These people can’t even agree upon a language – French is spoken in the south (Wallonia) and Dutch in the north (Flanders).

So when Americans think of Belgium, what crosses our minds? Waffles, obviously. Beer, for sure. Maybe chocolate? MAYBE French fries (The Dutch and Belgians have a longstanding rivalry over who first invented the concept of dunking sliced potatoes in boiling oil. I argue that just PERHAPS it’s not so innovative a concept that possibly they both come up with the idea concurrently.)

In yet another attempt to escape the infuriating blandness of the Netherlands, Kat and I boarded several trains on our way to Antwerp, a city in the Dutch speaking part of the “country.” Antwerp is a visually interesting city. First off, the train station is unbelievably gorgeous. A modern edifice built entirely around the grand old 19th century station. Truly one of the most stunning train stations in all of Europe. The city’s architecture is also somewhat interesting – basically imagine French shopfronts shaped in the tall, narrow Amsterdam style, clearly demonstrating Belgium’s Dutch-French schizophrenia.

A stunning sight that greets you as you come up the escalators (trains leave from one of FOUR different levels!)

A stunning sight that greets you as you come up the escalators (trains leave from one of FOUR different levels!)

French meets Dutch. Frutch? Yes, Frutch. So it shall be known from this day forward.

French meets Dutch. Frutch? Yes, Frutch. So it shall be known from this day forward.

I had been to Antwerp a few years before and I remembered enjoying my time there. It’s the easiest Belgian city to get to from Nijmegen, so that is why we chose it. I’d have loved to visit Medieval Brugges, but it would have taken, like, 5 hours to get there – too far for a day trip.

So what does one DO in Antwerp? There’s some museums, I guess? We’re not huge museum fans generally, so we just walked around all day. Antwerp is a major center for Europe’s diamond trade, and where there are diamonds you’ll find Hasidic Jews. So every so often we’d see a Hasid and Kat would poke me and whisper through clenched teeth “Look! There’s one!” There’s a river in the city and you can walk in a pedestrian-only tunnel underneath it. Now, there’s nothing of note on the other side. It’s just….a thing to do. The tunnel is quite old – the escalators were made of wood! The tunnel is actually sort of neat. Imagine a hallway that is completely and totally straight that goes on for about a kilometer. Kat and I took turns closing our eyes and trying to walk in perfectly straight lines. We didn’t make it far before getting off course and slamming our faces into the walls. So we walked down this tunnel, poked our heads at the other side (there’s a tiny park and a traffic circle) and then walked back.

Of course, we did eat waffles as well. The place we went to is, allegedly, quite famous. Their gimmick is that they’ve been using the same waffle irons for, like, a century or something. The irons DID look old. The waffles were, to be fair, really tasty. Light, crunchy, fluffy. But, you know, it’s a waffle. Hard to lose your mind over.

We had lunch at a sandwich shop cafeteria sort of deal. It was cheap (relatively) and the food was decidedly mediocre. What made it noteworthy was the fact that even though we were paying customers, we STILL had to pay 50 eurocents to use the bathroom. Even the cheap, cheap Dutch aren’t THAT cheap. For this, Belgium, you can suck it.

I know I’ve been pretty harsh on Belgium so far, but it is impossible to deny that the country (specifically the Trappist Monks) make some of the best beers in the world. If you like beer, even a little bit, and you come to Antwerp, you MUST go to De Kulminator. This is, without exaggeration, one of the best beer bars in the entire world. This is not just my opinion. Go ahead and Google it and see what beer nerds the world over have to say about it. For me, De Kulminator is THE reason to visit Antwerp. The entire bar can seat maybe 15 people total. It looks like you’ve walked into your grandfather’s living room. There’s a table that takes up most of the room piled high with junk. The whole damn room is cluttered with junk, in fact. Old magazines, bills, papers, some books. The old man that owns the bar is typically there — he always wears a cardigan and has long scraggly white hair and a permanent scowl on his face. You really feel as if you HAVE stumbled accidently into his parlor and he’s tolerating your presence, but barely. Both times I have been there he’s been doing a crossword puzzle. His wife, meanwhile, scurries around taking orders and delivering drinks.

Now – why is this place so special? De Kulminator specializes in aged beers. Now, I won’t bore you with beer science stuff, but let’s just say that an aged bottle of Chimay will, like wine, take on different characteristics as it ages (whereas a can of Miller Lite will not). I ordered a Wesvleteren 12, a difficult enough beer to find as it is (they don’t distribute it – you literally have to GO to the monastery to get it) – except that this bottle was bottled in 1979. This beer was bottled when Jimmy Carter was President, Iran still had a Shah, and a full THREE YEARS before I was born. It came covered in cobwebs and dust, the bottlecap oxidized. I have no words for the velvety complexity of this beer. I dream about it to this day. Truly, without a doubt, the most amazing beer I have ever had. And, somehow, it only cost 9 euro (about $13). It would have been a bargain at twice the price and I even felt a bit guilty as if they didn’t know they should be charging much, much more.

It might not ever be this good again...

My eyes are glazed over due to existential bliss

We sat in the warm, cluttered but comfortable confines of De Kulminator, had a couple of other beers (A 15 year old Chimay Blue for Kat, a 10 year old Rochefort for me), killing time with idle chatter until it was time to catch our train back to Nijmegen. Maybe Belgium isn’t so bad after all.