Author Archives: mrsbanhmi

The long slog home

So, after giving Casablanca (and if you are DaveKlein, Morocco in general) a big old middle finger, we were ready to come home. We were ready to assume that a dryer would always be at our disposal. We were ready to sleep in our own bed (albeit, in my little brother’s old room at my parents’ house). We were ready to speak English all the time. We were ready to see more friends. We were done.

We bid adieu to our second to last Starwood stay of our trip and hopped in a cab. I spent the whole cab ride looking out the window at the Casablanca traffic as 220 days sped through my mind. There was the time I got lost on a motortaxi in Mandalay. There was the time we made friends in Bangkok and felt a little normal. There were all the noodle soups. There were laughs on friends couches and beers and a few burgers. My pink hair was gone. Our beach times in Bali were gone. I felt like sand was pouring through my hands and I couldn’t catch it all. Why didn’t i keep up my sentence a day journal? How come I only took 3,500 pictures? Why didn’t we go to India? What will life be like when we return? I gave into travel ennui. I got cranky.

Which was good because that’s exactly what the Casablanca airport greeted us with. There were about 10,000 people dressed in white about to make the Hajj who clearly had never been on airplanes before and were standing in non-line-lines while talking animatedly. For a minute, I was jealous. These people were just embarking on the most important journey of their lives. Ours was over. Then, as you do, either a celebration or a protest broke out in the airport as we were checking in. Unclear. Throngs of men were chanting, dancing and holding up pictures of a dude. With a beard? The King? The not-King? Unclear if they were happy about him, sad about him, avenging him, or protesting him. But they had drums. And were screaming in Arabic. No one appeared to want them to stop. And then with all the people in white. Chaotic lack of lines. No one could hear announcements. I felt dizzy. Airline logos began to bleed together. The departures level swirling around me. I walked to the front of the TAP Portugal line and demanded to check in. turns out the “line” wasn’t for TAP but a fragment of the Egyptian Airways line at the next counter over. Hooray American brashness!

Then we got to security. Dave went through first and as usual had a short conversation about his passport case and the agent’s preferred soccer team based on his Chelsea passport case. They had a pleasant, final Moroccan interaction. Then the agent looked at my Domo passport case and was like, SERIOUSLY LADY? And starts pointing back at Dave and then pointing to my child’s passport case and laughing and shaking his head. The crankiness broke.

I laughed.

Then I focused on being exceptionally nervous. For weeks I had been scared of this specific part of the journey. After all my flying for work, and all our flying on the trip I had one last hurdle to face.

A 18 seater Beech 1900.

eeeeeeeeep

eeeeeeeeep

I don’t love little planes.  It’s just too much science per square foot for me to deal with. It requires a lot of hyper-vigilance from me to keep airplanes  IN THE SKY. A small one somehow requires more.

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A box with a sandwich, a bottle of water, and earplugs lay at our seats. There was no flight attendant.

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

claustrophobic. We were in the back-middle of the plane

There was no door between us and the pilots.

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

handsome pilot who did the driving not the magazine reading

I started to dry heave. I was about to lose it. Luckily the Portuguese pilots were EXCEEDINGLY handsome and I didn’t want to look like a baby in the presence of such hotness so I just kept wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans and making my bi-annual plea to the baby Jesus. ( I think the last time I did was when we were on that open water crossing to Gilli Air. )

Hilariously enough, the flight was very smooth. Do you know what co-pilots do? They look up from their magazine every now and again to adjust a knob a little. The end.  It was a beautiful day to fly. It was brief. Watching landing out of the windshield of the plane over beautiful Lisbon was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget. My time on the Beech 1900 is now a fond memory of the closest I’ll ever get to flying private.

As we disembarked I noticed our plane had a name– Esquilo! I thought this was cute! We later googled it and found out it means “squirrel” in Portuguese.  This was something good to know after the fact.

After a sagres beer in the Lisbon airport to kill the last of our Euros and the high of our tiny plane journey behind us, the rest of the day was an airport blur. We weren’t bound by time.  We flew to Frankfurt and landed very late at 10pm and checked into the airport Sheraton.

We slept in a bit too late (weee! not bound by time!) and make our flight the next morning by a margin that was a bit too close for comfort. We missed breakfast in the process too and had sailed passed “hangry” and were firmly in “HITCHY”. The Frankfurt airport is so big that the employees bike around. After 3 weeks in Morocco prices in Euros were so staggering we were too stubborn to buy food. We waited in grumpy silence. We ate all the food on the plane (thanks to my new favorite trick of being an ovo/lacto – vegetarian on planes, I got served first). I also had three glasses of wine on the Air Canada Flight. I got flight attendant side-eye. How could I explain to her what we had just been through? I quit before she cut me off and watched the Katy Perry documentary in a red wine haze suddenly missing the sequins and energy of my old job. I always felt a little like a showgirl for equality. Now I wasn’t a traveler anymore. I didn’t have the identity of my job. I didn’t live in DC anymore. I didn’t have pink hair. I wasn’t anything. I was on my way to unemployment and living with my parents.  I felt empty.

We connected in Ottowa before our flight to Philadelphia. Yes, you read that right. We flew (thank you, miles!) Casablanca –> Lisbon –> Frankfurt (Overnight on points!) –> Ottowa –> Philadelphia.

We went through Canadian customs with sudden smiles on our faces. NORTH! AMERICAN! ENGLISH! The kindly agent had told us to go get our bags since leaving Frankfurt we were told they’d be checked through to the US. They wouldn’t be. If it weren’t for him we’d have had some other adventures!

When we went through US Customs in Ottowa (since we were on a shuttle flight to Philadelphia) I started to get tense. I hadn’t seen my family in 8 months. Would they be the same? Would I be the same? I hadn’t seen most of my friends. What were they like? I suddenly felt the huge divide of time from when we left and that moment. People had announced pregnancies and had the babies! So much had changed. I’d changed. But also not? I felt like I had been away not for 8 months but 8 years.

And like that, we were home. My parents jumped up and down (well, my mother. My father was on one of those knee scooter things after having serious ankle surgery in March) outside the F terminal at PHL. And like that it was over. I think my mom double checked that I had 10 fingers and 10 toes.

We were home.

I had tomato pie. I took the world’s longest shower. I slept for precisely 400 hours.

It felt like waking up from a dream.

In a lot of ways,  it still does.

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Marrakech: it’s not you, it’s us.

I had been to Morocco before. It was 2003 and I was studying abroad in Spain and a few friends and I stayed up one night talking about where we could go that would be DIFFERENT. At this point I was dreaming in Spanish, devouring lady mags with my handy dictionary, and was T-9 texting with friends making plans to drink copious amounts of red wine mixed with Coca-Cola before shaking my tailfeather at an outdoor disco. It was my first time out of the country and I wanted to see as much as I could and go somewhere as far away as I could imagine.

That place was Morocco.

omnipresent mint tea

omnipresent mint tea

So with a backpack, three changes of clothes, I set out to explore Morocco and it sounds like the beginning of an ERASMUS joke. “So a Pakistani woman, three Americans (one African-American) and a Finn take the ferry from Malaga to Tangier” and off we were for two weeks in Morocco. DURING RAMADAN.

I cried over the beauty of Chefchaouen. I bought a ton of crap in the souks in Marrakech. A guy kicked me in the souks in Fez. I still have a bump on my shin from it. I figured I’d never go back.

But after a rainy month in the UK, Dave and I wanted to return home tan at least since returning tan AND skinny wasn’t in the cards after the BEER-AND-CHEESE FEST that was visiting all of Europe and with just two precious weeks left in June, Northern Africa was bang for our buck in terms of sun, money, and an air of the exotic. We had met lovely Tunisians just the week before and had we known we might have headed there instead but Morocco was it and we were off.

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We flew from Edinburgh to Marrakech and the second we stepped off the plane the deep, pulsating desert heat hit us. Being ridiculous, grizzled backpackers by this point we took the local bus to our five star Starwood hotel (booked on points) and it wasn’t even funny anymore. We had done this how many times? We didn’t blink at the bellhop eyeing our dusty bags as we checked in and then were upgraded. We immediately did laundry in the hotel bathtub which we proceeded to do daily because the heat dried everything in about 20 minutes.

We stayed at the Le Meridien N’Fis on an excellent use of points at 3,000 per night which included breakfast which was a DEAL. Situated right between the “cosmopolitan” ville nouveau and the medina (the old, walled city) we figured this would be an ideal spot to work on our tans during the heat of the day and explore during the mornings and evenings.

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Our first afternoon we took a cab to the medina and walked around. We miscalculated when the “heat of the day” was over and started out around 4pm which meant that by 5pm we were absolutely soaked with sweat and sought comfort in a small cafe where we both drank 5 L of water and had some hot mint tea (which was oddly helpful). The heat of the day in Marrakech in June was stifling. 110 F. 113 F. The dry heat made it tricky — upon walking out of the hotel we’d remark “oh this isn’t bad!”. But then, it was bad. And we were stuck. We ate a nondescript dinner of tagine (our first of about 400 while there) and slept the deep yet unfulfilling sleep of the dehydrated.

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The next day we ate a huge breakfast, idled by the pool and then at 5:30pm walked the mile or so into the medina. Still yet, we didn’t learn our lesson and it was impossibly hot but we were stubborn so there’s really no lesson at all then when faced with our pale, western resolve. We got lost in the souks and I noted that things looked a bit fresher than when I was there last. Also, there were about eight million more people there. All of them were puffy and English. A few were lithe and Spanish. We found a great cafe on the main square to people watch and then at an early hour for Moroccans and their European neighbors but late for us since we were starving we set off to eat at the touristy (but quite fun, actually) Jemaa el Fna market place. Dozens of white tents pop up and you can eat street food (though sanitized for tourism) and people watch some more.

our "friend" who spoke a bit of English, French, Portuguese, German, etc...

our “friend” who spoke a bit of English, French, Portuguese, German, etc…

After dark, we walked home along Mohammed V and were struck by the number of Moroccans who were out enjoying the cool breeze. Families having picnics. Kids on bikes. It was really pleasant to walk through “real” Morocco amid the tourist craziness of the Medina. The city came alive with locals.

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The next day we set out a bit earlier to visit Ben Youssef Madrasa — the ancient Islamic college in the center of town. We enjoyed the architecture very much — I am a HUGE sucker for modern (or as it were, ancient!) Moroccan decor so I ate it up. After sightseeing before lunch, we lazed at our (really nice, actually) hotel pool before getting dressed up for a “nice dinner” in the ville nouveau.

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Unfortunately, the restaurant we wanted to visit was closed on this particular day of the week and while we looked around for some of the cosmopolitan ville noveau, we mostly saw other lost tourists looking for the same thing, rich people in very nice cars and then the very poor selling trinkets. By this point Marrakech had drained DaveKlein and he was OVER. IT. I sort of see how he felt — Moroccans are a friendly people in certain situations. We sort of longed for the innate friendliness of the Thais, the Turks… Moroccans were tougher, more grizzled by tourism in addition to their almost ingrained business sense and language abilities. I don’t begrudge them this (after seeing what the puffy English and the lithe Spanish were wearing ) but it did make things seem oddly more difficult. It was the one Muslim country we had visited where tourists aren’t allowed in most mosques.

Kat

Kat

DK

DK

After being lost and very hot while dressed “nicely” we just gave up the next day and sat by the pool almost exclusively. We went to a neighborhood coffee shop for lunch and then did the least backpacker-y thing we could think of for dinner: room service.

It was glorious.

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Marrakech is smokey. Hot. Beguiling. Dirty. European yet Not. Oldey timey but not. It was just not what Dave wanted. I had been there before and I think that had sort of jaded my view. My first memories of Marrakech were SO out there and crazy and I was open to the experience. This time around we were a ticking time bomb of Ennui. We wanted out, but just not yet. We talked so much in Morocco about dying to be home and now that we’ve been home for two months I will share with you this:

we were snotty, ungrateful jerks. We wanted a dryer. I wanted to see my father walk after a surgery put him out of commission for months while we were gone. We wanted to see Dave’s grandmother. We wanted a dryer. We didn’t want the constant negotiations. We just wanted home.

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Marrakech: I’m sorry we mistreated you. There was a pool and room service had burgers and we were lousy guests.

 

Do you like old people, open water and rolling green hills? Go to Loch Lomand!(?)

Before we jaunted to Glasgow to eat well, generally feel puffy yet attractive and look at some amazing art we took a wee (HAR HAR) trip to Balloch from Edinburgh. The hour train ride flew by and in no time we made it to Balloch where we’d set out to explore Loch Lomand.

ahh the scottish countryside

ahh the scottish countryside

Here’s where we were grizzled travelers who were a bit over it. And were actually appropriately researched. We know Balloch was a tiny town, but the internets did not prepare us for how REALLY TINY a town it was. We had scheduled to have 20 hours in Balloch and for ONCE, the bed wasn’t too small, or too big, it was JUST RIGHT.

Though it was big enough for a confluence of many of my favorite types of humans

Though it was big enough for a confluence of many of my favorite types of humans

Our B&B was billed as being across the street from the train station, but for some reason it was still a bit of a SHOCK that it was in fact, through a small chain link fence and across a narrow road from the train station. It was a VERY small B&B — three rooms in a kindly couple’s house who I think were in their 50’s? The room was immaculate and Ikea chic, but like Hemnes chic, not Malm chic for all my budget-minded Ikea catalogers. The price was right at 30 pounds a person which included a really terrific breakfast but sadly for DK, no haggis.

We dropped our bags and immediately set out to find the local tourist office. It was precisely two blocks away.

The gateway to the loch

The gateway to the loch

We saw “the main drag” which extended exactly one block each way from the tourist office. We walked along and waved the locals, most of which were just killing time in their wheelchairs waiting for the blue light specials for dinner at the seven restaurants (which were all in the aforementioned two block strip).

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The thing to do in Balloch is take a Loch Lomand (as it was pointed out to us, it’s Lah-MOND, not LOW-mond) boat cruise. We sprung for the two hour version (considering we had nothing else to do and we had already SEEN WHAT THERE WAS TO SEE in the previous 13 minutes).

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It was cloudy, cold and drizzly (British weather for sure) but it was stunningly beautiful. I bet the guidebooks will hype this place more as time goes by — it’s really an afterthought of a tourist attraction.

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After our river cruise we walked precisely 6 minutes to the “docks” and then walked back to the 2 block main street and gave up and had a beer.

"the docks"

“the docks”

blustery

blustery

 

windswept

windswept

Doing that Kate Winslet thing

Doing that Kate Winslet thing

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Then we ate an early and sensible dinner (minus the sticky toffee pudding dessert) and spent the rest of the evening with headphones on watching separate netflix features because oddly, for a tiny town the internet was whip-fast and the ikea bed felt oddly like our ikea bedroom and we were just so tired from a few days of hustle and bustle. Maybe the folks in the wheelchairs knew what was up? I feel like Loch Lomand is where you go when you are taking your granny out for some fresh air before you take her to tea. Anyway, the effect was soothing. The lady of the house reminded me of a Scottish version of my tough but very elegant great Aunt and it immediately put me at ease. And we snoozed. Our. Faces. Off.

The next morning we ate our breakfast expertly cooked by the wife of the husband and wife duo and left our bags to go walk around the old Loch Lomand Castle.

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Unfortunately, they were spraying the surrounding grounds with some pesticide? but you could still walk around the park. We waved at lots of dog walkers and remarked to ourselves how weird it was to be the only tourists around. Edinburgh was teaming with them — here we felt like we were the only ones passing through.  We had the park largely to ourselves which was picturesque.

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I felt like every Jane Austen heroine tromping through the moor, taking the air, or whatever one in a petticoat who felt so many FEELINGS (including so much vexation and being cross!) was supposed to do. Dave enjoyed the walk but was ready to go and after looking at my Mr. Darcy(stein? berg?) it was a “RIGHT- let us to Glasgow” where we were in for a few days of scotch tasting, accent deciphering, and general readiness to trade up from British weather in hopes of some Moroccan sunshine.

 

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.

 

 

 

We saw, we rode bikes, we sang Ginuwine’s “Pony”

To counterbalance all of the snacking in the Netherlands, beer drinking in Germany, and eating of very large pastries, we decided to not be huge fatties and do something healthy.

At Neil’s delightful suggestion, we took a short train ride and then a decently long bus ride to De Hoge Veluwe.

Neil was prepared for any occasion — with baby food.

Neil and his sauce

Neil and his sauce

It is apparently “world famous” which means “Just famous in Holland” for its 1700 white bicycles. Bike rental is included in your entry ticket and they are cruisers where you break by pedaling backwards. Like straight up child bike styles.

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The bikes were hilarious to ride.

1.)    Most of them had child carriers on the back. Which was particularly hilarious given my company.

Neil chillaxing

Neil chillaxing

Dave constantly making sense of maps in languages he does not speak

Dave constantly making sense of maps in languages he does not speak

2.)    They were VERY uncomfortable seats. VERY. We sometimes had to ride standing up a bit just to give our… errr… undercarriages a break.

VERY NECESSARY UNDER CARRIAGE BREAK FOR THE MENFOLK

VERY NECESSARY UNDER CARRIAGE BREAK FOR THE MENFOLK

3.)    They were cruisers and the Netherlands is incredibly flat so you could go really fast. And then make the mistake I did which was yell, “WWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE” and then swallow a bug and cough for a while.

COUGHING FROM BUG SWALLOWING / ARTSY MIDDLE SCHOOL PHOTO BREAK

COUGHING FROM BUG SWALLOWING / ARTSY MIDDLE SCHOOL PHOTO BREAK

However, this was maybe the most fun thing we did in the Netherlands, aside from sit on Neil’s couch and sing “Maaad Men, Maaaad Men, Maaaad Men, Maaad men” to the tune of the Mad Men themesong. Neil was an excellent host and pointed us in the right direction often, but this felt very fun, very not tourist hustle and bustle.

We spent the whole afternoon biking around, enjoying the sun, and trying not to swallow more bugs. Then we came home and cooked a healthy dinner and for about five minutes forgot about our unhealthy previous 6 months.

Our chariots (note the child holder whatever)

Our chariots (note the child holder whatever)

Poor Dave suffered a bit during this ride — Neil and I had been particularly cruel about his understanding of pop culture during the 90’s. Dave has suddenly realized that there was some awesome 90’s music that WASN’T stupid pop-punk, ska nonsense that he stuck to as a (gulp) high-schooler. All of a sudden he is super into awesome 90’s R’n’B. As he biked– since we were more or less alone– he would sing Ginuwine’s “Pony” or Salt N Pepa’s “None of your business”.

For reference:

For reference:

For reference:

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YEAH.