The state of things in France

Internet connections: lacking.

Baguette consumption: never been higher.

Wine drinking: see above.

Castle satisfaction: through the roof.

In short, we’re having such a good time out and about in France that I haven’t had a chance to update this blog in a bit – and the posts I’ve tried to write on the go haven’t come through.  Blame the lack of French internet infrastructure… Sara (who is going to cooking school here) told us that it was bad but it’s even worse than expected.  I’d almost prefer the sweet, old-school sound of dial-up some days when it comes to trying to check my email.

Still, we haven’t let that rain on our parade, only our posting frequency.  We have been zipping all through France.  First, three nights in Paris, then two in Montpellier, then here in Toulouse.  Along the way we’ve dealt with train delays, menu indecision, and weather that changes from street to street – it’s exactly the travel adventure I imagined.

More about the individual aspects later – we just finished a home cooked dinner made by our chef in training (salad and french onion soup!), now, onward to see what this city has to offer for nightlife!

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!

Cheers from London!

Ahoy from the other side of the pond!

I made it here all in one (sleepy) piece, including all my luggage.  My flights were easy and somewhat boring – Icelandair is not a fan of free things and hence only had paid food both times, though I was riding for more than 8 hours.  (A little rude if you ask me!)  Here’s hoping that Turkish Airlines has a better deal on the way home, but I’m not really worried about that yet.

Mostly because I’m having a BLAST here.  In the second half of day one, I unpacked every so slightly, then decided to prove to myself that I was really here by seeing a local (no, national… no, international) landmark with my two eyes, so I walked all the way to Big Ben.  It was even better than I remembered – this tower is quickly becoming my favorite thing in the city, now that I’ve seen it in all weather (helloooo London fall!).
IMG_5472I also wandered around Westminster a bit, trying not to get hit by a car.  More on that later…

Today, I did even more.  I started my day with the local tapas bar’s version of a vegetarian English breakfast – all for £4.10, including the coffee (and the required British side dish of secondhand smoke – coughcoughcough).  Still, it was delicious, though I don’t think I need to eat mushrooms for breakfast every single day.
IMG_5509Then I walked around my ‘hood a bit to see what was up. I discovered that Oval “park” is a cricket pitch, not a place I can sit and read a book.  Good thing there are enough other places that meet that criteria!

In the afternoon, I explored Covent Garden, Charing Cross, etc. taking in the sights and trying to stay out of the rain when possible.  No matter where I went, it was just so good to be back in this weird and wonderful land.  And then the ride home was incredible, as it took me past Big Ben.  I don’t know if I’ll ever take the Underground if I can help it, the bus is so great!IMG_5510Finally, because it was Mountain Day, I met up with some MoHos for ice cream and college reminiscing.  Perfection!

So far, everything is great, but there are definitely challenges ahead:

  1. Not walking too much – I logged 16,000 steps today aka 7.5 miles!  Great, but also could be extremely exhausting on days when I actually have to do something, so I need to find some activities that don’t all involve walking or standing.
  2. Remembering to eat – I got so excited today that I kind of forgot to eat for way too long, which doesn’t go well with #1 and resulted in getting a bit lost.  Snacks all the way, and just generally eating good food when I find it.
  3. Not spending all my money - I WANT EVERYTHING!  Seriously, everything.  I didn’t even stop walking at Jubilee Hall because I knew if I did, I would spend all my money.  I have a while to be here, so I have to remember to pace myself.
  4. Not getting hit by a car – this one is non-negotiable, and it’s slowing me down but I’m never crossing without a light because the traffic here is making my head spin.  Sidewalk – sorry, pavement – traffic is rough enough, but the streets are out of control.  I saw a grown man almost get hit by a bus but his friends pulled him out of the way by his backpack just in time.  Not I – I would rather be the silly person waiting at every light while others run just to be on the safe side (literally).

I think if I can do those four things (and maybe also remember to sleep), this adventure will be top notch.  It’s certainly off to a smashing start! Stay tuned for a few more updates this week!

(All photos are my own)

One week more

One week – 168 hours, or 10,080 minutes – is all that separates me from adventures across the pond.

In this last week, people keep asking: are you ready?

The answer: as ready as I’ll ever be.

I’ve already packed my bag twice “just to see if stuff fits”.  My list has been made for months.  I have my passport next to my bed, my peanut butter stowed away in my suitcase (American > British), my itinerary printed and confirmed with my hosts.  I’ve joined my alumnae organization’s London network on Facebook and confirmed that the exchange rate is where I budgeted for it to be.

I’m trying to be realistic while keeping my usual optimism about – sure, I’ll be tired when I get off the plane at Heathrow.  Sure, I’m going to miss being around my Boston friends on my birthday. Yes, I’m positive I will get sick of these clothes.  But all this planning and dreaming has put me in a place where I’m so ready for this adventure, no matter what shape it takes.

Keep following my blog to see what happens next – I’ll be posting at least every few days while I’m in London!

Sally in another city

Two months from today, I will be up in the air, on my way to London for 5 weeks of adventure.  It’s been seven years since I was there last, but I can still picture the winding roads and crowded markets like it was yesterday, and I’m aching to be a part of it again.

Earlier this year, three things happened at once that put this plan into action.

  1. My best friend Sara quit her job to follow her dream of going to a cooking school in France.
  2. I was busy planning bachelorette parties, showers, and wedding festivities for two of my favorite people in the world – my sister, Kat, and my college bff, Priti.  We were having a great time, but it highlighted how long it had been since I planned something incredible for myself.
  3. I got my annual bonus and realized that I never got around to spending last year’s bonus, not really.

I thought back to this amazing book I read last year – Happy Money, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton.  It talked about investing in experiences, and not conforming to society’s expectations for what makes people happy or successful.  Looking at my bank account, I felt like I had a few choices: a) keep saving… forever. b) buy an apartment – but as soon as I said this out loud, I realized how little I’m ready for this long-term commitment and responsibility, and how unlikely it was to make me happier (I love my sweet apartment, amazing location, and awesome roommate!) or c) put it all on the table and have a trip of a lifetime.

I opted for c and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  My trip starts in London, where I’ve rented two different Airbnb places for different parts of the trip – in totally different parts of town – during which time my parents are coming to visit (yay!).  Then the last 10 days, Katie (the aforementioned amazing roommate and high school bff) is coming over and we’re heading down toward France together to visit chef-in-training Sara, have seaside adventures, and then head to Barcelona.  We’ll also have 22 hours in Istanbul on the way home, because if you’re going to have a layover, why not go somewhere incredible?

Now, the countdown is on – I’m figuring out what I need to pack, making a list of what I actually want to do abroad, and buying tickets for the last leg of the trip.  As an added bonus, getting ready for being a tourist again has pushed me to look at my current city in a new way, running down roads I’ve never been on and making the most of this lovely summer.

Look for reports from Sally in another city – Londontown – this fall.  And until then – enjoy the sunshine!

Tips for flying in a small plane

Over Labor Day weekend, I took to the skies in the smallest plane I’ve ever been in thanks to the lovely folks at Cape Air.  It was a leap of faith for this slightly-nervous, greatly-afraid-of-heights gal, but it was either try this out or ride a bus for about 7-8 hours all the way from Boston to Bar Harbor so it seemed worth the adventure.

Boy, was I surprised at how it went.

Not only was it easy – it was FUN.  Awesome, actually.  We got the best view of Boston (seen above right out the pilot’s window), we hardly hit any turbulence though we did whip through some rain, and we got there in record time.  I was a little nervous when I realized we might end up landing in the dark with just a t teeny-tiny headlight to light the way, but we got there just before sunset and all was well.  The landing was better than my last JetBlue flight and we all applauded the pilot.

I would definitely do this again – but I would do some things differently.  Here are my top five tips for flying in a small plane:

  1. Be prepared.  First we waited in the terminal.  Then we waited on the stairs.  Then, all of the sudden, we were out next to the plane, being sized up by the baggage carrier.  He looked at me and one other woman and then said “Do you want to ride up front next to the pilot?”  I kind of sputtered “Who, me?” and then nodded my assent.  But MAN was I ill-prepared.  I had to text my family “planeislatebutwe’releavingnowridingnexttothepilot!”, grab my sunglasses, grab my camera, turn off my iPod, turn off my phone, find my sweater, grab my book… and in the time that took, he gave away my seat to someone else.  I ended up sitting right in back of the pilot, which was fun, but not nearly as fun as sitting next to him.  She had her own (deactivated) steering wheel!!  I would have been sitting there if only I’d been prepared to hop onto the plane rather than thinking there would be room to stow my whole carry-on, somehow (not a thing on a plane this tiny).  Live and learn: whatever you’re bringing on the plane should fit into two hands or be worn on your body – especially if you care where you sit.
  2. Bring sunglasses.  As you can see above, there’s no tinting in these windows and definitely no optional shade.  Small planes have a ton of windows and man, does it get bright.
  3. Bring a sweater.  You know how planes (and buses and trains) can fluctuate between hot and frigid at the worst times?  It’s even worse in a tiny plane.  On the runway, we were steaming – once we got far up into the sky, I was almost shivering.  Dress in layers!
  4. Plan like you’re getting into a small car.  No toilet.  No trash can.  No water or snacks, other than what they offer you in the terminal.  Take everything you equate with plane travel and dumb it down to car-sized expeditions and that’s the kind of experience you get on a small plane.  Still worth it, though.
  5. Look at a map before you hop on board.  You get such a great view in a small plane, you might as well know what you’re looking at!  That’s Bar Harbor, below.

 

I am over my small-plane jitters and ready to take to the sky next time my schedule permits, with more prep and less worrying this time.  Lesson learned: a little risk might unlock a fun adventure after all.

Come together… for cheesy pictures

I love being a tourist.  Posing for silly pictures, stopping to read every little historic plaque, eating vaguely exotic food (within my personal limits on strange meat…), and generally soaking in every little cheesy touristy thing wherever I visit.  To me, this silliness is one of the best parts of travel in my twenties (and hopefully beyond!).

That’s why I am in love with this live video feed from Abbey Road. This is where the Beatles shot the cover of their album of the same name back in 1969.  Now, you can watch silly people risk their lives for a good photo op 24/7, all the way from the comfort of your laptop!  While I’m sure the traffic was not a consideration for the Beatles (they were the Beatles, for god’s sake!), this is now a major roadway so people are constantly running into traffic, trying to make cars and trucks slow down with sheer willpower, and gleefully risking their lives for one shot of themselves on that crosswalk.

I’m not going to lie – I want a picture like that one of these days.  Also, one of me at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Fun fact: crosswalks, called “zebra crossings” in England, are one of the few times the Brits use the letter Z in everyday language.  In general, Z is replaced with Z whenever possible.  Realize = realise, publicize = publicise, etc.  As someone proud of the two Zs in my last name, I am glad that the zebra crossing (pronounced like it rhymes with “Debra”), maintains its Z allegiance.

[Link and photo courtesy of PassiveAggressiveNotes.com, one of my other favorite websites.]