Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Adirondack Train to Montreal

From New York City, the Adirondack train to Montréal takes about 11 hours. It's not a quick journey, but it's a pretty one! I've always envisioned the Hudson Valley just as Albert Bierstadt painted it, or Thomas Cole. It lives up to those expectations. The train weaves around lakes and follows along the river, goes straight through the Adirondack Mountains. If you can be awake during the sunset or sunrise, it's going to be worth it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Flashback: My dad's 60th

View from Royal Caribbean's Liberty of the Seas
My parents are visiting London in TWO WEEKS. Boy, do we have a lot planned...yikes. Anyhow, in honor of their journey across the pond, I was just looking back on the family cruise we took through the Caribbean to celebrate my dad's big 6-0.
That gives you a pretty good idea about my dear old dad's personality
They don't warn you about how it's going to feel when you're parents start aging...
On one hand, you're stoked about their birthday celebrations and grateful for another year you had together. On the other, you're like stoooooooop. Panic, I need you, stay the same age forever and always or I'll just die. This cruise was the best thing. My dad rode dolphins! Crazy. And we ate way too much yummy cruise ship food. And...

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Warner Bros Studio Tour (AKA Heaven)

Arrived at the ministry by floo powder (just kidding, it was only luck the photo ended up blurry)
For Christmas last year, boyfriend got me tickets to the studio tour here in London. He spared no expense so I walked up with audio tour and free souvenir booklet, plus a coffee for my anxious waiting in the lobby since we got there so much earlier than our tour start time. It's not so easy to get out to the studio from London, but the journey is well worth it.

I have to add in that he was worried the tickets wouldn't quite come in time, so he handmade me a Hogwarts letter with a little printed ticket for the Hogwarts Express. Yeah, I know - totes swoon.

If you know me, you know I'm a really serious, if a bit crah crah, fan. My dog's name is Gryffindor and I've read the series front to back 19 times (yes, 19). OF COURSE I was going to visit this studio tour and it's on my life list sooooo

If only we weren't muggles...

It was everything I wanted it to be. Amazing props and rooms and stories. The making of the world JK dreamt up was beyond anything I imagined. I could easily have hung out there for 4-5 hours. The creativity of the prop designers and wardrobe specialists. The character enhancements made by the actors and directors. The film additions to the story that do nothing but make it better. So much awesome in one place. You'll see a lack of other people in our photos...that's because I shut the place down. Pretty sure a few minutes more and they'd have escorted me off the premises for presuming to stay so long. What can I say? It's Diagon Alley...tell me someplace better to hang out and I'll tell you why you're wrong.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

What no one tells you about races

Yesterday I participated in the JP Morgan Corporate Challenge 5.6km race in Battersea park, London. This was my first time doing an organized race. As expected, tons of my friends sign up for these races - half marathons, marathons, throw color on my faceathons, wear a tutu runningathons, celebrate your countryathons, zombieathons, and even favorite Disney characterathons. It's kind of over the top to an outsider. Although, I would never stand in the way of healthy people (they are scary).

Anyway my firm was paying for it, I got a free shirt and food (and beer!) so I signed up. Plus, why not? Initially, it was like entering a festival: vast lines of people with sour looks on their faces sweltering in the heat while they frantically search the crowd for friends. Once inside, it took a while but I found the area my company had set up for the 20-odd employees who signed up to participate. When you sign up, you have to choose an expected completion time. That time is what sorts you into a start color.

Ok, now that I'm an experienced runner and all, choose this expected finish time carefully. Of course, I had no idea what my expected time was because A. I don't run regularly, B. I haven't run in awhile because well, lazy, and C. even if I had been running, I don't have one of those fancy fitness watches. And most importantly, I've never been that passionate about running so I doubt I'd ever care quite enough to take note of such things. So I just picked the longest slot thinking well I'll just walk if it's horrible. Little did I know that you choose a higher start time always and be the slowest. Otherwise, you have to queue in the largest queue to start the race last.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Guide to Blenheim Palace

The grounds at Blenheim Palace, Historic house in Oxfordshire and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill
Spring 2016

During our weekend exploring the quaint villages of the Cotswolds, we took a day to tour this palace on a friend's recommendation. It comes with vast, beautiful grounds, a secret garden, Churchill museum, a human-sized maze, and, of course, exquisitely manicured gardens with fountains and Roman statues and all.

It was really windy during our visit and cold..and muddy from previous rains. I mean, what am I saying? It was England. Anyway, we wandered about with our hands crossed to our chest. It's baffling how horrible it can feel but how bright and beautiful it still looks. Seeing the photo above, you might think it was 70 degrees or warmer. Not so much.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Weekend in the Cotswolds

Bibury, Cotswolds
I feel like a lot of people see travel as something that has to take place at a far distance. I really really don’t think that’s true. Everywhere I live, there are weekend trip possibilities – more than I can even get to in a year or two. Needless to say, I’ve never moved from a place feeling like I’ve exhausted all exploring. After moving to London, I was beyond excited to see England. So many people visit London, maybe Stonehenge, then they’re done. England is so lovely and old! There are great things to see here. A local favorite is the Cotswolds. Cotswold stone is a warm buttery limestone – Jurassic and full of fossils usually –  that is native to England. It ranges from a sort of honey color to almost white (like in Bath and Bristol area).

I had been dying to go on a road trip and see these notorious little villages with funny names filled with pretty stone cottages. First thing, convince boyfriend (check). Second, see if the pup can join (check). Not surprisingly, the English countryside is very fond of dogs. They are even allowed in fancy restaurants! My. Kind. Of. People. Gryffindor is so good in the car too, all bundled up in his cable knit sweater. Next up, I had to formulate a little road map. I booked an inn (yeah, I know, an inn…so cute) in Charlbury. I wanted to see the infamous Bibury, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper Slaughter, and Bourton-on-the-Water with its ducks and stone bridges. I made a map and off we went.
All the excitement really hit when we went to get in...on the wrong side of the car. Then, drove on the wrong side of the road. I might look happy in this photo but every time boyfriend would round a corner on the narrow country roads right next to a stone fence – yeah, I backseat drove in the front seat and held onto Gryf for dear life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Granger & Co., London

The prettiest little restaurant with an Aussie twist

Being silly with a spoon -- Granger
& Co, London
Boyfriend and I went for the perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs, but I’ll be back for the ricotta pancakes. Serving drip coffee with jeans and white tees, the staff are far more courteous than the average London brekkie spot. It’s light and airy and perfect for a lazy Sunday morning. Offering the classic long sit-up bar for those dining with a book instead of friends, there are also round benches that sink in a bit more than you might prefer but are comfy nonetheless.

Plus the design is stunning and the sun pours in. Easy to find and easy to book ahead. Don’t miss it. Being right across the street from our Kings Cross flat, this is an again and again for me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Soap box

In Amsterdam...where the red light district is safe and the
biggest news of the day is people being human canvases,
having fun painting each other.
I want to break from my usual travel stories and photos and such to talk about politics. And, just how sad it's making me today.

There's been more than usual turmoil recently in politics, government, people rising up all around the world. There always is somewhere, but the forces are gathering these days everywhere. With the UK and America charging ahead. Brexit happened. Trump is happening (even though I'm still trying to pretend it isn't so). Everyone is so anti-immigration these days and I'm just over here...expatting (sorrynotsorry).

For me, as a die hard American, the real truth of these matters is the heart to heart I'm having with my country. Growing up I heard what they teach us in school, then research in college, adulting with friends, occasional international friends who still seem to tip toe around American politics...all of that still summed up to a pretty narrow view. But now. Now, things are different. I see America from outside the house, peeking in the window and hearing the neighbors whispers. I hear what they say about our coveted freedom. I hear the accusatory tone with regards to ISIS and our involvement (or sometimes lack thereof) when it comes to refugees and human rights activity. The praise for our stability even if it comes with slow progress. The rampant racism and profiling that exists. It's unsafe for Muslims to

Don't get me wrong, I still love my country and always will. I just have a much healthier view I think.

I cried last night....watching a comedian. Why are comedians always providing the most honest news? Something isn't right there.

Jim Jefferies, an Aussie comedian who lives in America and carries some pretty heavy views on many things, explained how America isn't as free as people think. I knew that was true but hearing it spoken so plainly and simply brought my mind directly to the wall that is our system. And the fact that the simple betterment of laws is essentially impossible. And we can't even change our system because of checks and balances. It's all so hopeless. So I teared up.

I don't want us to be behind the world. Why can't we just legalize prostitution so people who are doing it anyway are safe and people participating aren't spreading disease? It's already legal now except someone has to be video taping that makes any sense at all. Why can't we decriminalize marijuana? Prison creates criminals. Marijuana creates happiness. It's not that hard to figure out. Why can't we get MORE political parties? These old ones are tired. They are inconsistent and confusing. Let's shorten the terms of people in government. It should be an honor to serve, not a guaranteed bonus and tenure. Weapon regulation and control. Everyone else has it! Cops don't even have guns in England and I haven't heard one. single. news. story. about anyone who was blaming the law for their inability to protect themselves against violence. If everyone has guns, everyone has guns. More people with guns, more guns. More guns, more violence. Why is it so scary to some people to put in laws that help keep weapons from criminals? It's so simple to me. Why can't we have coed bathrooms everywhere? I don't understand what everyone is so afraid of. If a person feels like a man but looks like a woman, what does that have to do with you? Think of how single dads have been feeling all these years...where are they supposed to change their babies? Coed - simple fix for many problems. Why can't we legalize abortion and medical assisted suicide? Someone else's life is not your life so you shouldn't get to make decisions for it. Speaking of medical, health care. BASIC health care. This should be given to all people. What kind of a country won't stitch your wound because you're poor, won't provide a flu shot without an insurance card? It's embarrassing. 

And to top off all these problems, we have a pompous fool running around calling for registering Muslims on a list. Didn't anyone read Harry Potter? Muggle-born registration...the pink doily devil fed them to the dementors. What do you guys think build-a-trillion-dollar-wall Trump will do if he gets 2-4 justices and a Republican senate? Hate breeds hate like a disease. We should be lifting up our Muslim citizens and learning from them...not alienating them further. 

America, home of the free. All I can do is cry. I'm a global citizen now and I have no answers. There's nothing to be done.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

That time I almost got robbed

Walking near Buckingham palace
with my now infamous handbag
Photo cred: Mandy
A couple of weeks ago I had a medical procedure - nothing serious. The result is a bit of cramping and discomfort after the main event. I had already prepped the flat for the things I'd need: popcorn, wine, tea, nerds (important stuff). After I left the hospital, I took an Uber. The walk to the tube station was too much to deal with under such circumstances. Of course I chose Uberpool because who doesn't want to save a few pounds on the off chance you pick up a second passenger which isn't a big deal anyway? We are pulling up to St Pancras station - about a 5 minute walk from my flat - when a second passenger calls. The driver says we'll have to turn back to pick them up cause it makes more sense for the route. Well...5 minutes, yeah, I'll just get out there. I'm walking to the flat with my handbag and a bag of dog food...uncomfortable, but I'll make it...when I see two elderly women walking in front of me as we are passing the McDonalds across from the station.

Luckily I was watching where I was going since I saw the elderlier of the two trip on a shifted bit of concrete, do a scary but quite lovely pirouette, then land hard. First on the ground, then her head bam against the exhaust of a motorcycle parked on the side street. It scared the shit out of me. I immediate ran the few paces forward in a futile effort to catch her before the fall. Instead, her friend and I just grabbed her hands after the impact and lightly pulled her to a sitting position. She was obviously dazed. 

Now, I want to stop here to explain to you that this whole affair is happening across the street from Kings Cross and St Pancras station - likely one of the busiest spots in London. Not one single person stopped to help. Instead, the whole of London was rushing past chatting away or looking at their phones. Yeah, I know.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Kraków in photographs

Famed statue of Matejko near the Barbican