Get lost.

Everyday

In the 14 days I’ve been in Houston I’ve probably gotten lost about twenty-eight times (if not more). I consider it a rarity if I haven’t gotten lost at least twice in one day. Normally this would frustrate me. I hate being lost. I hate not knowing where I am or being in an unfamiliar part of town.

Having lived in Dallas my whole life, I rarely got truly lost; I could always find a reference point (a major highway, a recognizable restaurant) to help guide me back to where I was supposed to go. Now I’m in a new city with new roads and new landmarks to learn. I’ve driven to the wrong location several times because there are multiple streets with the same names. I’ve made a ridiculous amount of U-turns. I’ve pulled into many a parking lot to re-configure the GPS on my iPhone only to discover I’m right where I was supposed to be all along.

Strangely enough, I’ve come to welcome the feeling of being lost. It’s through these times that I have been able to explore my new home, stumbling across random one-way streets and discovering hidden retail strips. It’s forced me to explore, not out of luxury, but out of necessity. It has made me embrace the fact that I’m not in Dallas anymore and the hundreds of new opportunities that allows me.

And it has helped me understand that everyone needs to get lost every once in a while, because if we are never lost, how can we know when we’re found?

Eurotrip 2012 – London (Day 8)

Everyday, Travel

I am writing this last London blog post while watching “The Queen” in our swanky new hotel room at The Megaro directly across from King’s Cross Station. On the eve of both our last night in London and Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, I couldn’t imagine a movie better fit for the occasion.

Today we woke up early and cleaned up the flat at Claire Court, then walked our luggage up the street and around the corner to The Megaro where we put our bags in a holding room because we couldn’t check in until 2pm (we had to check out of our flat by 11am). Luggage free, we set of on last London excursions. Snigdha set off for The Tower of London on her own, since Ali and I have already seen it. We felt it was really important that she went, even if it was alone. So, Ali and I set off on a wild excursion through the city, visiting various random locations and putting a few final miles on our Oyster Subway Pass. One of the stops we made was to Baker Street where I got a photo with a statue of Sherlock Holmes. I’m currently hooked on the British TV series “Sherlock” so this was of a particular interest to me. We also took a stroll around the Bloomsbury neighborhood and paid our respects to the bust of Virginia Woolfe.

After our little adventure, we met up with Snigdha for lunch. We chose to have Indian food for our last lunch and ordered takeaway from a family-owned bistro and ate our meal in the courtyard of our apartment complex. With lunch over, we whisked ourselves away to St. John’s Wood and walked to the infamous Abbey Road. Ten years ago when my family first came to London, we took a photo of us walking across the road like the Beatles do on their album cover, only to discover when we returned to the States that we had walked the wrong way. Well, after all those years, we have finally made amends. I am proud to say that we were able to get a photo of us walking the CORRECT way, thanks to a very nice woman who was kind enough to pause her lunch break and act as our personal camera woman. After Abbey Road, we road the Tube for the last time and turned in our Oysters, receiving our £5 deposits back–we were banking!

The final thing on our London itinerary was a visit to The British Museum–yes, another museum. But this one was actually really interesting, not to mention super famous in name and song (Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé anyone?). I got to see Cleopatra’s mummy and the Rossetta Stone. Well, I am sure I saw the stone somewhere; I walked all over the Egyptian rooms and couldn’t seem to find it.

Museum’d out, we made our way back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. My Nana had arranged for us to have dinner at the hotel’s restaurant and we dined on duck, quail, salmon, and mackerel. I ordered the mackerel, and I was pleased to discover that I received a whole one, head and all, to which I exclaimed, “wholly mackerel!” (pun intended) For dessert we got chocolate soufflé and garden mint ice cream, English strawberries with balsamic ice cream and shortbread, and chocolate fraiche with cream. It was a fabulous and fancy way to end our time in London! Thanks, Nana!

All in all, our time abroad has been an amazing experience and I am so thankful to everyone that helped make it possible. I can’t believe how many awesome things I’ve gotten to see and do! Whether it was getting the chance to visit my dream country (Scotland), seeing a play at The Globe, having tea at the foot of Kensington Gardens, or running frantically through Heathrow, it has been a great 12 days!

At 8am tomorrow morning, a car will arrive to take us back to Heathrow, where we will have more time to explore the airport than our quick 25 minute run-through at the beginning of our trip. Our flight leaves at 11:45am London time and we are expected to arrive at DFW around 3:35pm. Although I’ve enjoyed my time here, this Texas gal is ready to go home and start an adventure of her own. Four days after I get back I’m moving to Houston to begin a whole new chapter of my life. Can’t wait!

Eurotrip 2012 – London (Day 7)

Everyday, Travel

Today we took a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and ventured out, by bus, to the lovely town of Oxford. It was about an hour and a half ride from Victoria Station to the city centre. Initially, some issues with online ticketing made me wary of the excursion, but we met a very nice and helpful bus driver who not only informed us on all the details the website failed to provide, but also a partial refund because we were overcharged. It was third-best display of customer service I’ve experienced in the UK, the first being our quick-footed guide at Heathrow upon our arrival; the second being the friendly associate of the owner of our flat in Edinburgh. Unfortunately, customer service doesn’t seem to be a top priority in jolly old England.

When we arrived in Oxford, we set off for Christ Church, one of the largest colleges in Oxford. Apparently a whole host of famous people attended the school, namely John Wesley (I guess we paid our dues as alumni from Southern Methodist University). However, we were there for another reason–it hosts the inspiration for the Great Hall of Hogwart’s in the Harry Potter movies as well as the main staircase where Professor McGonagall greets Harry and his friends upon their arrival. Pictures will be posted soon!

We had lunch at a sandwich shop in the covered market, a collection of pop-up shops that became permanent over the years. The shops sold a wide range of things from clothing to fresh meat. It wasn’t super impressive, but it was a quaint place to stop for a bite to eat.

Next on our list was the Ashmolean Museum. I know what you’re thinking: I thought she said she was done with museums. Well, so did I. Funny enough, Ali and I actually enjoyed this museum more than Snigdha, and, for the first time, we found ourselves slowing HER down. I liked it because it was more of a natural history museum rather than one full of art. Side note: one of the attendants asked me if we were from North America and then if I had heard of Pocahontas. Turns out they had Chief Powhatan’s mantle which was actually really cool. I found it funny though because the attendant thought I could possibly be Canadian (“North American”) and that she later confessed to me that she had always thought Pocahontas was just a story and had been surprised to discover she was a real person. Silly Brits! Clearly they don’t teach American history in schools.

Then, we ventured to a pub called The Eagle and Child– the locals call it The Bird and Baby (it took me a while, but I finally put two and two together…). This pub is important because it was where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien, along with other members of The Inklings, would meet to discuss the books they were writing. It was cool to imagine those two grabbing a pint and having theological discussions which would later serve as material for their literary classics.

Our final stop was the Bodleian Library, the location of more scenes from Harry Potter: the Hogwarts infirmary and library. Unfortunately, it seems that the folks at Bodleian have caught wise and have raised the entry fee considerably, considering that it originally was free. Unwilling to fork over the admission fee for the tour of the library, we settled for a £1 self-guided tour of the Divinity School (where the infirmary scenes were). My favorite part of this part of our day was that we kept seeing college students walking out of the adjacent classrooms wearing mortarboard caps and gowns. Before we went into the Divinity School we ran into an old acquaintance from SMU who has spent the last year studying abroad in Oxford, which was an awesome random happenstance. She informed us that the students have to wear the caps and gowns during examinations. Silly Brits and their insistence on archaic traditions. Although, I’ll admit, it’s kind of cool. However, I think I’d find it a tidbit distracting.

Our country excursion nearing it’s end, we decided to head back to the bus station to catch a ride back home. Good thing we decided to head back when we did, too, because about three minutes from the station, we got caught in a tremendous downpour and had to walk the rest of the way in the pouring rain. Thankfully, Ali and I lived up to my Dad’s personal motto, and, in “anticipating” the coming showers, we had worn boots and brought along umbrellas and rain slickers–all came in handy. We rode the bus back to King’s Cross Station and ended our Harry Potter Day with a stop at Platform 9 3/4 (a display setup in the station in honor of the film). Once again, photos are pending.

Tonight we made our last homemade meal in our flat, a delicious mix-mash of ingredients because we had to get rid of our extra food. And now we are all hanging out in the flat watching Pride & Prejudice. Tomorrow is our last day in the UK. Tonight is our last night in this particular flat. In the morning we have to check into a hotel because we failed to book the correct amount of days with the flat owners. But, don’t feel bad for us. My Nana has blessed us with a room in a swanky concept hotel a few minutes walk away from our current location. We shall sleep and eat well, indeed.

Eurotrip 2012 – London (Days 5 & 6)

Everyday, Travel

For those of you who anxiously await my daily posts because you just can’t sleep until you hear of our continued adventures in the UK, I apologize for not writing yesterday. Actually, yesterday was a pretty chill day, we went to The National Gallery with Snigdha and then Ali and I left to go on a mini adventure of our own–shopping. There was a pair of shoes at H&M that Ali wanted that apparently they don’t sell in America and there was only one store in the area that had them so we went there. Then we went vintage window-shopping and discovered that contrary to popular belief (and by popular, I mean, MY belief) London does not have a fantastic selection of vintage attire. I forget that they get our styles like a decade later, which means that it’s was mostly ugly 80s stuff like overpriced and oversized sweaters. Oh well, that saved me money. The vintage shop in Edinburgh was way better and I have something to show for it too…The random train hopping and bus riding we had to do took up the rest of the afternoon, so we met up with Snigdha at the entrance to another museum she had wanted to see that we didn’t and headed back to the apartment together. Day done.

Today was far more jam-packed with awesomeness. (By the way, what’s with the phrase “jam-packed”? What kind of jam is it? And why not marmalade? Personally I prefer preserves, but I digress.) We started out the day bright and early so that we could find an Internet cafe to print out our tickets to Oxford for tomorrow. Printouts secured, we made our way to Westminster Station where we said a quick “hullo” to Big Ben and the glorious Parliament building. Gazing upon it I found myself thinking only of the scene from “V for Vendetta” where it’s gets blown up (click here to watch it). But it’s still a really pretty building.

Then, we walked passed a bunch of schmancy important financial buildings, like the Royal Treasury, and into Churchill’s War Rooms. Sir Winston Churchill is one of my favorite people ever. I had to memorize one of his wartime speeches in middle school and it got me hooked. The War Rooms are a series of underground bunkers that served as the headquarters for the Prime Minister and his officers when London was under air raids. Some of the most important decisions of WWII were made there. The rooms were sealed and kept in secret until the 70s when they were reopened to the public. Most of the rooms look just like they did in 1945. Overall, it we definitely my favorite museums we’ve visited last year. It was really neat to walk around the rooms and imagine what it would have been like to be there in the thick of it all.

After saying goodbye to Mr. Churchill, we walked a bit and stumbled upon the National Household Calvary Museum. What is that? It’s basically the British form of the Mounties, except they have much fancier uniforms and super furry saddles. We didn’t go inside the museum, but we did get to watch the changing of the guards–so Snigdha got to see the ceremony after all, even if it was for a different sort of guards. Then we had takeaway lunch in our flat and took a small break.

After lunch, we visited the Tate Britain museum of art. After that museum, I feel like I’ve seen almost every type of art possible. I’d totally be okay if I don’t see another portrait of a redcoat again. Just saying. Then, we walked back up to Parliament Square and into Westminster Abbey–and just in time too, we barely made the last admission time! Thankfully we did. Actually, I’m rather glad we got there so close to closing time because it allowed us to get good seats for the Evensong, an evening weekday ceremony held inside the Abbey. And when I say good seats, I mean good seats. We got to sit with the choir! Only a handful of people got to sit where we were since the rest was reserved for special guests and the men’s and boy’s choirs. We got to listen to beautiful music while inside the cathedral where kings and queens are buried and where they are crowned (not to mention the location of several scenes from “The King’s Speech”). It was pretty dang cool.

Exhausted and hungry, we decided to have a dinner out instead of cooking in our flat, so we popped into a pub on the corner and ordered some grub. Snigdha got to have her first every “fish and chips” and I even tried a bit of her cider, although, I’ll admit, I still prefer ice tea or soda to alcoholic beverages. All in all, today was a great day full of many unique experiences.

Tomorrow we will spend the day exploring the country outside of London–Oxford. Can’t wait!

Eurotrip 2012 – London (Day 4)

Everyday, Travel

Before I begin, I apologize if this post is short, but I’m super exhausted. Today has been a long, albeit awesome, day.

First, we made the trip to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guards. However, when we got there we discovered that for some reason today they didn’t have a guard-changing ceremony. I like to think it’s because the Queen was there or maybe the Guards wanting to go on Holiday… So, we walked around a bit and discovered the bus station where we are going to depart for Oxford on Wednesday. We are still having issues with our tickets some decided to stop and ask the people at the bus ticket counter for help. They weren’t helpful. However, we did find an awesome Greek fast-food place where we grabbed a light lunch for “takeaway” (which is British for “to-go”). I found it funny that they had a chips and pita sandwich on the menu, which is basically french fries in a pita pocket. Then, we walked to Hyde Park and had lunch in the Rose Garden. Sitting on a bench in the shade of vine-covered arches with a view of the royal gardens made it an unbelievably delightful lunch.

After lunch we walked through the rest of Hyde Park. We passed by a charity walk for cancer research which was kind of cool to watch. We saw paddle boats on The Serpentine, people in fancy lawn chairs on the grass, The Italian Gardens, and even got witnessed to by an old Chinese lady from a church group who were making their rounds.

We were enjoying the nice breeze so much that we realized we were running out of time to get to our next destination and we needed to move quickly.That’s when we made the amazing discovery that our Oyster Passes (or subway swipe cards) also work on the London Overground (or the big red double decker buses). This provided us with a much faster mode of transport outside of the Tube, because it has more stops and we can just jump on and off. So, we whisked away to our destination: The Royal Garden Hotel, where we had reservations for Afternoon Tea. Little did I know that Snigdha had never before enjoyed a set tea, and had thought the entire time that we were paying big bucks to simply drink a cup of brew. She was pleasantly surprised! Basically it was one of the best experiences we’ve had so far. We got to sit in a fancy hotel with a view of Kensington Gardens and indulge in scones and sweets and unlimited tea (I had Pear Caramel). Although our original reservation was for an hour, we stayed for nearly two. As the Brits say, it was smashing!

Completely stuffed and mellowed out on tea, we decided to explore the area instead of returning to our flat like we usually do around 5ish. And low and behold, we stumbled upon Harrod’s, or, as I will now forever refer to it, Neiman Marcus On Speed or The Five Levels of Shopping Hell. It was crazy! Five floors of luxury goods from perfume and handbags to cheese and men’s cologne. We walked around it for a while, pretending like the £500 price tags were chump change to us and then shuffled out the heavily guarded doors (but not before getting lost a few times). Finally, we dragged ourselves back to The Tube and took a direct train to our flat where I am now contently laying on our Murphy bed with no desire to move whatsoever. It was a good day!

Eurotrip 2012 – London (Day 3)

Everyday, Travel

Today was our earliest day thus far. We wanted to get an early start so we could best the crowds to the Portobello Market, a farmers/flea market on the outskirts of London. It was really a cool place, kind of like First Mondays at Canton, but more hipster and cool (because it’s in London, duh!). There were a lot of vintage clothing booths, tables with trinkets, and people trying to get us to buy things. Ali and I eventually settled on a table selling vintage scarves for £1 each, which was legit. We each got two, and they are adorable and versatile–I plan on use one as a table clothe for a bedside table in my future apartment. We weren’t able to check out the food section because it wasn’t open yet and we needed to get back on track. We had a very structured schedule today that had to be adhered to.

So, after the market, we zipped to the Wallace Collection to see a painting that Snigdha wanted to see or her fellow Art Majors would shame her. The collection was inside an old mansion owned my Mr. Wallace, whom I assume was either royalty or royally rich, but I can’t confirm either because I skipped that part of the exhibit. It was a really fancy house, though, and left me wondering how people could ever manage to visit every one of their multitude of rooms on a regular basis. I feel like they’d have to hire people to merely meander through their house to keep dust from settling on the very expensive decor. If that position exists and needs filling, you can find my resume on this site. I’m available at your earliest convenience…

Lunch was had at a Mediterranean cafe on the corner near our flat. That meal is now ranked on the Top 3 Best Meals I’ve Had In London list. I had a delicious sandwich with Lebanese bread, grilled veggies, humus, and more yumminess inside. We had a bit of time to spare, so we walked a few blocks from our flat to Gordon Square to visit the homes of the famous Bloomsbury Group, including Virginia and Leonard Wolfe, Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey, and, by visit, I mean walk by. This may not seem that cool, but Ali and I studied Bloomsbury last fall (in a course entitled The Social and Intellectual History of Europe from 1780-Today) and I’ve been fascinated by it. Basically, a bunch of rockin’ intellectuals all lived in the same area and hung out together and theorized and relished in their own creative self expressions–and slept with each other, too.

Then, we took to The Tube and headed toward The Globe to get in line for the matinee of Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra (we were able to nab tickets in the standing yard yesterday, which was lucky because every other show was sold out). Thank goodness we got there early! The line outside ended up winding around the circular walls, but we were some of the firsts. That’s how we ended up watching the show front row, which here means with my elbows perched on the planks of the stage. The show was performed in Turkish by a Turkish theater company as part of their current series “Globe Around The Globe”, which features a different play by a different company in a different language every night. Although it was in a foreign language, it was wonderful (Old English is basically a foreign language anyway)! And, I got to pretend I was a peasant watching a show back in the renaissance…and see Shakespeare performed at The Globe for goodness sake! All in all, it was a great experience.

After the bows, we crossed back over the Millennium Bridge and headed back to the flat where we made an unbelievable meal of fried rice and vegetables. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the meals we’ve been able to produce at home. They have been both delicious and fun to make. We all piled in to our 3×1.5 kitchen and cooked our little hearts out. It’s been a lot of fun cooking each other dinner, we feel so domestic. Plus, we like pretending that we live here…