Sunday, October 16, 2011

Just One Day

London in one day.  The highlights:

Walked through the city at night.
- Slept a total of six hours because I was busy working and updating my blog.
- Walked again in the morning.
- Strolled through Russell Square and poked head in at British Museum to see the Assyrian lion hunt and the Rosetta Stone.  Walked through the Enlightenment room before leaving.
- Stopped in front of the IES building and thought about the classes I took.
- Hopped across the street to Sticklers, only to find it closed with a "Store for Sale" sign!
- Walked down to Hummus Bros and saw that it is closed on the weekends.  Got a sandwich from Pret outside of the Holborn station.
- Walked through Covent Garden and took a left at Leicester Square to get to Trafalgar Square.
- Spent an hour in the National Gallery visiting old favourites.
- Walked next door and spent the next hour in the National Portrait Gallery.
- Left the gallery and walked along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace.
- Looped back around to get to Westminster Abbey.
- Attended Evensong and Service, which allowed me to listen to the choir sing inside the cathedral (for free!).
- Hopped on the Metropolitan line to South Kensington Station.
- Grabbed two Ben's Cookies and ate one (lemon) while walking to King's Road.  It was even better than I remember.
- Looked fondly at the residence hall before hanging a left and booking it down King's Road.
- Ducked into Waitrose five minutes before closing (5pm on Sundays).  Danced quickly among the familiar grocery store aisles and picked up a few items.
- Strolled leisurely along King's Road back to the residence hall.
- Headed into My Old Dutch for dinner.  The pancakes were bigger than I remembered!  Only finished 2/3rds of it.
- Hopped down the street to Tesco to look around.
- Crossed the street for a cider at the Cadogan Arms.
- Took my time walking back to South Ken station.  Glanced at Hugh Grant's house.
- Rode the Piccadilly line to Piccadilly Circus.
- Stepped into a tourist shop to get Royal Wedding memorabilia.
- Strolled down to Trafalgar Square to see Whitehall at night.
- Hobbled back to Leicester Square station.
- Rode back to Kings Cross and back to the hotel.

My feet are killing me, and I have real work to do.  So, I'm finishing off the day with Vodka Blue and the last Ben's Cookie.

Today was wonderful.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

London Town

I walked.  It was amazing.  Felt like home and like a dream all at once.  The funny thing is, it made my semester here feel like a dream too.  

Here's the route I took.  Google said I walked for 8 miles.  I'm not sure if I believe that, but my feet sure do.  Currently drinking some WKD Original Alcoholic Blue to numb my feet.  Should sleep soon.

And here are some pictures.  I'm still learning and practicing the long exposure settings on my camera, but I think these turned out rather nice:
Westminster Abbey
More Abbey
I never managed to get a picture of the entire thing last time.  I think it's because I never thought to cross the street.
It's leaning, don't you know?
Words cannot express how much I love this building
The Eye is watching
Thames, London Eye, Parliament
St. Paul's from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul's


Thoughts

I'm spending the next 30 hours in London.  When I tell others this, I get polite to mild excitement about it.  I don't think they understand.  A few do.  A few have been there and experienced it such that I have experienced it.  We lived there.  We weren't just visitors or tourists.  We didn't live out of a hotel or walk around with fanny packs.  We didn't talk loudly on the Tube or go for the stereotypical London photoshoots.

We took classes.  We learned.  We grew.  We spent our time reading Shakespeare and Bronte and Austen.  We explored the depths of the city.  We shopped at Waitrose and Sainsburys.  We had multiple month-long Oyster cards and went to the theatre at least once a week.  We found those cute, cozy restaurants, and we saw the inside of the great cathedrals and museums.  We visited the Tate often enough to notice when paintings would leave and others would appear.  We spent afternoons in the librarys and treasure rooms.  We did research in the Imperial War Museum vault.  We attended bonfires on Guy Fawkes Day and pantomimes at Christmas.  We saw Prince William and Prince Harry in the flesh.

I think that college is about learning, not only about your chosen fields, but about life itself.  There has to be a point where you grow up, when you realize that you can be a functioning adult, that you can and will make it on your own.  London was that time for me.  Yes, it was still somewhat sheltered.  We lived in a dorm and were asked to submit travel reports so that the leaders knew where we went on the weekends.  But it was the first time I was expected to cook for myself.  It was the first time I flew on my own.  It was the first time I was in charge of making travel plans and bookings.  I turned 21 in London.  I may have screwed up a couple of times.  I was robbed at one point.  I might have eaten more candy than necessary.

My semester in London is the reason I can travel now.  It's the reason my boss can send me around the world, and I can willingly accept travel assignments.  It gave me the confidence to get around on my own.  So when I tell people I'm going to London this weekend, there is so much more to it.  I once heard it described as, "You love London like you love a child."  And I'm willing to believe that is true.

So, once more with feeling: London.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Bydgoszcz

A few observations:

- The hotel room temp was set to 21 degrees Celsius when I got here.  That's the same temperature that the temp in my hotel room in Shenzhen was set.  It requires a heater to maintain that temperature here.  The hotel in Shenzhen needed an air conditioner.

- I'm confusing my limited knowledge of other languages.  When the waiter placed my dinner in front of me and said something incomprehensible in Polish, I responded automatically with "Shi shi" (Chinese for "Thank you").

- Shopping in Poland looks like a lot more fun than in Seattle.  All the fashionable stores were full of sweaters, jackets, and thick winter coats.  My idea of great clothing!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Poland

Walking to dinner.  It's much colder here than in China.  It's wonderful.


In Transit

This is quickly becoming a traveling blog, as I am becoming more and more of an on-the-road employee.  The latest trip?  Bydgoszcz, Poland.  (Sounds like "bid gosch").  And getting here was just as complicated as figuring out a language with minimal vowels.  Here's the itinerary:

5:45am (PST): Leave apartment for airport, making sure to empty garbage, unplug most electronics/appliances, and lock up
6:15am (PST): Check in and get through security.  Seattle loves its Starbucks, and I love SeaTac for a coffee spot in every terminal.
7:15am (PST): Visit a Hudson News stand to buy Kleenex, cough drops, and water.  The cashier hands me some Emergen-C when I pay.  Also, I have a Chinese cold.  It's like a regular cold, except I caught it on the way home from China last week.
8:00am (PST): Board my first flight to Chicago.  It's a completely full flight, and I trade my last-row-aisle seat for the last-row-middle-seat so that my Professional Rolling Briefcase (PRB) can fit under the seat in front of me.  Have I mentioned that you should always carry-on?  I have four flights (five airport visits) planned, and the last thing I want is to lose luggage.
10:00am (PST): Midflight.  My nose stops running.  It's a nice break from a constant leaky faucet.
1:45pm (CST): Land in Chicago.  Leave my ears up in the air.  Or take some clouds down with me.  Either way, my ears refuse to acknowledge the new altitude.
2:00pm (CST): Change terminals.  Experience unpleasant flashbacks of the night I spent in O'Hare on the way home from London.  Be mildly impressed that O'Hare has ice cream (that's how I judge airports, you see.  It's surprising the number that don't offer ice cream).  Go through security again.  Discover that there is no food or ice cream on the other side.  Buy Gardettos and water and DayQuil (did I mention that I have a cold?).
4:30pm (CST): Board my long flight to London Heathrow.  It too is a completely full flight.  I have a window seat, which is nice, but it means bugging not one but two people when nature calls.
7:00pm (CST): Food is served.  I break my boycott on airplane food to nibble at lasagna, a roll, salad, and banana cake.  My nose is constantly running (unlike me, who is definitely out of shape).
9:00pm (CST): I overcome my inability to sleep on a plane, only to wake up feeling crappy.  Yes, actually crappy.  My stomach is rolling and I'm not sure which end is going to lose it.  I manage to calm my stomach down and doze off again.
6:20am (BST): Land in London Heathrow.  It's still dark outside.  My ears are still floating somewhere over Chicago.
7:00am (BST): Get through customs and discover that my next flight is not out of Terminal 5.  Also discover that transit between terminals is extremely slow.  You have to catch the express train into Paddington (which only leaves every 15 minutes) and take it to Terminals 1-3.  If you want to get to Terminal 4, that's another train from London Heathrow Central.
8:15am (BST): Find the check-in counter for LOT Polish Airlines.  It's tucked in an annex called K.  Change middle seat for an aisle seat.  Go through security for the third time with both bags.
8:30am (BST): Walk around mini-London while waiting for the gate number to be announced.  Poke head into Pret, Harrods, Hamley's, and a cheap touristy souvenirs store.  Find the restrooms, as the stomach is starting to complain again.
9:00am (BST): Decide that it might be a good idea to eat some soup.
9:10am (BST): Decide that the soup was a bad idea.
9:30am (BST): Visit restroom again.  Empty stomach contents.  Decide never to eat again.
10:10am (BST): Gate is finally announced.  Join the throng to Gate 20 and wait some more.  Ears are still over Chicago.  Nose is still running like crazy.  Trying to minimize my symptoms so not to freak out fellow passengers.  Even though I'm sure I'm going to die some unpleasant death in the middle of Europe.  Alone.
10:30am (BST): Take off for Warsaw.  Actually fall asleep on plane.  Wake up to my ears making the most wonderful popping noise.  My noise is clear and dry.  I'm having a mental party while simultaneously refusing snacks.
2:00pm (CEST): Land in Warsaw.  The ears decide to stay behind again.  Damn them.
2:15pm (CEST): Make my way through security for the fourth time.  My PRB sets off alarms and security wants to hand search it.  After careful examination, my never-been-used set of allen wrenches is deemed "dangerous," confiscated, and thrown away.  This is the seventh airport on three continents that I've taken them through, and this is the very first time they've caused any sort of alarm.  I wonder how the Poles put together Ikea furniture.
3:45pm (CEST): Board a tiny prop plane to Bydgoszcz.  Both bags are too big to carry on and are gate-checked.  I sit in seat 5B.  There are three seats per row, and probably no more than 10 rows.
4:45pm (CEST): Land in Bydgosxcz.  Find taxi.
5:15pm (CEST): Arrive in hotel and revel in free wifi, something that hasn't been available since I left Seattle.

Okay, math problem: who can tell me how long my journey was?  That's right.  From door to door, it was 27.5 hours.  And I got to my destination feeling like I was never going to get out of bed.

But you know what?  Sleep is amazing.  It has healing powers like you wouldn't believe.  My ears came back overnight, my nose has stopped running, and I feel like a normal person again.  Let's hope this continues.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Puzzled

I finished it!  All 1999 pieces of it.  It only took 7 weeks (4 of which I spent in China).


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Going Home


I'm well-aware of how lucky I am to get the chance to have work-paid trips to far away lands, like Holland and China, but it's hard not to think of it as punishment sometimes.  Like detention.  Detaining me from my regular life, with my routines and habits.  I didn't ask to be sent away, and I wasn't excited to have my return postponed.  I was only given 3 days notice of my month-long trip.  Not nearly enough time to research and plan, to look up sites to visit and to learn useful phrases, to build up some anticipation and excitement at the opportunities.  It's not that I don't like to travel to other countries; it's that I prefer to travel on my own terms.  To create my own schedule and lists of attractions to see, food to taste, and experiences to have.  

Working while traveling isn't all it's cracked up to be.  It reminds me of working on my research project remotely in college.  What was supposed to be a day job became a summer-long homework assignment.  I constantly felt like I should be working on it.  If I didn't make any progress one day, I felt compelled to keep working on it in the evenings.  

Now, as I'm at the end of my sojourn in China, I look forward to returning to the familiar: my car, my apartment, eating fresh produce, working in the office, having a set schedule.  I even look forward to running.  I was detained from several things this trip: watching the seasons change, my birthday, sending time with friends, the start of the TV season.  Sure, I got to visit new places and experience new things and improve my chopsticking, but I look forward to going home.  So much.
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