Back in business!

Better late than never, right?

Our return from Europe was uneventful (but I will say: a 10.5 hour flight home is enough to make you really glad you spent a while on the continent instead of going both ways in a week).  But when I got home, I found that my laptop had decided to retire in my absence.  I don’t blame it – I bought it before I moved to Boston more than five years ago.  Luckily I backed up everything before I left.  Unluckily, my new computer had to see more of the world even than I did before it finally made it to my hands this afternoon.  (And no, mom, it unfortunately did not arrive with stickers all over it like some ancient suitcase.)

But now I’m back!  Look for some post-travel reflections, more specifics on what I saw/ate/learned, and how I’m going to make 2015 the best year ever – all coming up soon in this space.

Winning at transportation

If I could bring one thing back from London to Boston, I would bring Kate Middleton (she’s so cool).  And if I could bring two things, I would bring Princess Kate and the 87 bus, which is sitting outside my window right now, waiting to pick up passengers.  The bus route in London is just one part of a magnificent transportation network that the US needs to see and learn from.  Within 45 minutes you can basically get anywhere from anywhere else, and it’s generally a lovely ride.  Padded seats, great notices about when the train or bus is arriving, and then – it actually shows up when you expect!   Plus, you get to see the most phenomenal things in the city – “my” bus goes past Big Ben, Westminster, the London Eye, Horseguards parade, the Supreme Court, Trafalgar Square, and Covent Garden, to name just a few stops.

Today, I went to see where this wonderful system started with a visit to the London Transport Museum.  It already boasts one of my favorite gift shops – I was eager to see how the museum itself would impress me. The museum, located at the corner of Covent Garden, is usually £15 but it was free with the London Pass (more on this awesomeness later).

First impression: noisiest museum EVER.  So many sound effects in the cavernous hall, combined with the shrieks of dozens of children visiting (this is a common occurrence in London which is wonderful for students but painful for the rest of us, especially in a place that echoes like this!).  Still, it contains an awesome history.

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Inside the main hall, which used to be a flower market

The museum covers the full history of transportation in London – from the times when rivers were convenient, if incredibly smelly, highways for all classes of people to the digging of the first underground and the conflicts that rose up as people challenged each other for the rights to drive the buses and trains of the city, to the innovations it propelled – like the first escalator.  You can’t ask people to ride way underground AND demand that they take the stairs once they get off!

It also exposes the controversy around transportation expansion – laying train tracks in London alone displaced more than 100,000 people, and the railway companies had no obligation to repay or rehouse displaced families.  This expansion also literally created the commute – in 1800, nearly all Londoners lived within walking distance of their jobs, but by 1900 most had been pushed out of the city center and now had to rely on transportation to get to work.  So uh… thanks?

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Old subway car – looking even cozier than they do now, with their wooden floors and leather handles!

Looking at the trains and buses through history made me grateful for the relatively smooth ride we enjoy today.  Much better than being pulled by a carriage or being driven by an operator who had tracks to guide his tram until they were removed… the day before. Hey, you have to evolve at some point, right?

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“Ole Bill” the battle bus

This is one of the coolest buses on display -a “battle bus” (B43).  All across the city, London is remembering the 100 years since WWI broke out, and this bus is a part of that memorial.  It saw action on the Western Front, bringing troops and supplies to the front lines.  After the war, it returned to city streets.  The tube also played its part in both wars – people actually had tickets to tube station shelters in WWI and some installed benches that could be turned into triple bunk beds to more comfortably house people at night.

I hope that in the next 100 years, America will have figured out all these tricks for making public transport cool, accessible, and affordable so we can stop wasting energy and more efficiently get where we’re going.  All aboard?

28 = super great

Tomorrow is my 29th birthday (and the four year anniversary of starting this blog!).  As I thought about my plans for the next year, I realized how momentous 28 has been for me.

During the last 365 days, I:

  • Rode in the front of a plane
  • Flew a plane (yes, this finally happened!  Full report later this fall…)
  • Watched a Red Sox game from the Green Monster
  • Learned to shoot a gun
  • Celebrated my best friend (aka my sister) and her husband as they got married
  • Hosted bachelorette parties for Kat and Prithu
  • Taught a crafting class at my grandma’s retirement home
  • Took a French class
  • Kissed a lot of frogs
  • Flew through the air on a flying trapeze
  • Hosted a high school reunion
  • Joined a feminist book club
  • Captained my softball team
  • Started playing volleyball again
  • Saw some amazing live theater
  • Went to Europe by myself

WOW, 28.  You really outdid yourself.  And all that is on top of the work adventures, the hikes and kayak rides and delicious meals, the friends and family who I got closer to or met this year and celebrated life with.

It’s been a good – no, great – year, and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.  Onward to 29!

Things I forgot I knew about London

In the last seven years, some things about London have changed.  They hosted the Olympics and adjusted the traffic pattern on Oxford Street. They closed some tube stops and opened new ones.  Harry Potter ended and Sherlock started, and the fan zones adjusted accordingly.

But some surprising things stayed the same – small but important things I totally forgot about until I got back into the hustle and bustle of this city:

  1. English isn’t the most common language.  Everywhere I go, and I’ll admit that I tend toward touristy spots, people are speaking languages other than English.  French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, dozens of other languages I can’t even recognize specifically enough to name, fill the air.  And the people speaking them aren’t just tourists – they live here, in the melting pot of the UK.  It’s fascinating, and adds to the international vibe of the city, as well as making my American accent stand out a little bit less.
  2. Food is super cheap.  Sandwiches at local grocery stores are around £2.10 (less than $3.50) and way too many sweet treats cost less than a pound.  Obviously this balances out because city restaurants are quite expensive, but it’s still nice to see that you can get a solid meal for a reasonable price at a grocery store.
  3. Escalator rides are a form of entertainment.  They have these posters and video boards on the side with all sorts of coordinated ads that play off each other. I seriously used to use them as my newspaper when I was here before, and the memory came back like a flash when I got back on the tube at Heathrow and saw them again.  Also, EVERYONE KNOWS TO WALK LEFT AND STAND RIGHT. Which is ironic, because that’s not even the way traffic moves here, and yet people are better about it than in most cities.
  4. The bus system is AMAZING.  I can get basically anywhere in London within 40 minutes thanks to a combination of the bus and tube, and since I bought a monthly pass, it’s super cheap.  Plus, the routes are so scenic – my ride home goes straight past Parliament and is worth the entire trip in and of itself.
  5. Cars are confusing.  It will never not freak me out to see someone stopped at a light just hop out of what I think of as the driver’s side door.  I can’t rewire my brain quickly enough, so it just seems like all cars are being driven by ghosts.
  6. Gambling is everywhere.  Seriously, everywhere.  There are betting shops on every corner, and ads all over the place.  What could possibly be worth spending your money on like that?  I’m glad we don’t gambling and mini casinos in the US like they have them here, they add nothing of value.

Now I’m off for a morning of adventure and planning a fun long (birthday!) weekend.  More later!

Top 10 reasons I would lose at Survivor

My name is Sally and I’m addicted to Survivor.  It started when I was training for my half marathon and always did my long runs on Wednesday nights at the gym. Watching their crazy challenges inspired me to keep running because my workout wasn’t nearly as strenuous as what those contestants were going through. (Ironic, no, because I was training this race as a cancer survivor?)

The 29th season, “Blood vs. Water” starts tonight.  To prepare/fill the immunity idol-shaped hole in my heart during the off season, I’ve been watching lots of old episodes.  As I did so, I’ve realized that I would be TERRIBLE at Survivor.  Here are the top ten reasons why I should never go on Survivor:

  1. hate snakes.  I can’t even look when they’re on the screen, and they’re a required accessory for every Survivor island.
  2. I get really grumpy when I’m cold.
  3. I’m a leader and since I’m a woman, people would probably label me “bossy” and vote me out quickly.
  4. I have the world’s WORST poker face. Don’t ever play poker with me. Or do, but make sure we’re not on the same team.  I wouldn’t be able to lie to anyone.  (This alone immediately disqualifies me from being on Big Brother.)
  5. Did I mention how much I hate snakes?
  6. I also hate spiders. And scorpions (but does anyone like them?).
  7. I would immediately get a headache from all that sun (and I believe sunglasses are banned for cinematic reasons).
  8. I would burn to a crisp on day 1, and never stop worrying about it.
  9. I am the worst at slide puzzles. If my life depended on it, I would probably keep working on it until I died with it still unfinished.
  10. I would quit the game over a jar of peanut butter.  I’m in love with peanut butter here, where there are unlimited quantities to be had.  Put me on an island and I’ll sell you my buff in return for a spoonful.

I also have my talents.  I know the basics of building a shelter, I’m a good swimmer, I can start a fire (though I’d need to learn how to use flint).  But I think those other items will keep me from sending Jeff Probst my application.  Instead, I’m content to have civilized adventures and see how this drama unfolds from my couch.

Do you think you could win the title of Sole Survivor?

A love so strong…

It’s worth becoming a zombie for rather than give it up.

That’s the gist I got from this poem by Tim Pratt that was read at my friend/coworker Theresa’s wedding this weekend as she married her nerdy partner in crime, Matt.  It’s the first time I’ve been to a wedding where zombies were referenced and court rulings were read as part of the ceremony (Goodrich vs. Dept of Public Health, specifically) and it was magically dorky. 

The entire celebration was great – the sunny courtyard at the Liberty Hotel (formerly the Charles Street Jail), the delicious oysters and Italian-inspired dishes (hello veal!), the energetic dancing skills of young nieces and nephews, and the friendly folks all around who were glad to be there to share in the live music, the endless amounts of chocolate, and the overall love that filled the room.  Not to mention the fact that there were 4 Sallys in the room – an all-time high for me, and a joy to dance “Mustang Sally” alongside.

Congrats, Matt and Theresa!  I hope you never have to find out what you’d actually do if you were lost in the multiverse, but even in that eventuality, I know you two will be great together.

Read Tim Pratt’s poem “Scientific Romance Redux” here (I didn’t want to copy it and thus risk it being shared without proper credit!).

Time after time: GHS 10 years later

Cross one more grand item off the list: I have succeeded, along with class president Jimmy and some enthusiastic classmates, in throwing a blast of a 10 year high school reunion.

GHS reunion group

My goals for this reunion were simple, and we accomplished them all:

  1. DO NOT go into debt.  We had leftover class money to spend if we needed to, but I’d heard that the organizers for the prior year had paid a pretty penny for their party, and I wanted to avoid having the people who spent the time planning the celebrations from paying the cost, as well.  Conclusion: we ended up 90 cents short of breaking even, including decorations and promotions.   
  2. DO make sure people outside our usual network hear about reunion and have enough notice to attend. Conclusion: we got a sign up a local marquee, shared the event with hundreds of people on Facebook, and a good mix of people attended (about 36 total)!
  3.  DO set ourselves up to have a lot of fun, and not stress out.  Once we realized that it was going to be a small party, Jim and I decided that if it was us and the DJ (a classmate), we would have the time of our lives, and the rest wouldn’t matter.  We decided not to put a ton of extra work into things like decorations, and just enjoy ourselves before and during the party.  Conclusion: setup was finished in 10 minutes and we all had a blast.

In short, it was a huge success.  It had everything a high school reunion should – gossip about who wanted to go to the semi-formal dance with whom, shots of Fireball at extremely low NH prices, old yearbooks, a 2000′s-tastic playlist, amazingly friendly chats with people I haven’t talked to in years (and now want to be best friends with again!).  The DJ, our classmate Tim, really killed the night with some key choices – “Time after time” at my request, “Stairway to Heaven” so we could slow dance as though it was our last chance of the night, “A little help from our friends” to remind us where we came from, and then “My heart will go on” to really set back the clock.  Later, as the general public filtered in, we danced to “Summer Lovin” and “Footloose” in an homage to our high school productions.  People stayed until the end, then took the afterparty to the one bar in our actual hometown and kept the party alive until well after midnight (for the uninitiated, midnight in NH is like 4 AM in NYC).

The whole experience left me incredibly grateful for my great childhood, my loving community, my smart and kind classmates.  For every person not there, I imagined the wonderful adventures they were up to instead, and all the amazing places we’re going together and apart.  But they know who they are and that they better be there next time (AHEM AHEM).  Until then, I’ll pack my band uniform away, hold my friends close, and remember all the good times behind and ahead.

Onward to the next adventure!  Check out the other items on my five year plan here >>