The Other Side of London

As I bragged about last week, I was offline for part of October on a fantastic vacation to London with my gentleman. I’ve spent a fair share of time in London, having studied abroad there during college, worked there for four months after grad school, and visited a few other times. So, needless to say, I feel quite comfortable there and love any excuse to visit one of my favorite places in the world.

What I discovered on the trip is a really dumb problem: what do you do when you’ve seen all of the things, and are traveling with someone whose preferred method of touristing is skipping most of the museums? London has SO MUCH to do that I feel like we barely did anything this trip – even though we were almost constantly out and about. So, what did we do outside of the guidebook suggestions?

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Stayed in an awesome hotel

Thanks to my work travel and my slavish dedication to one hotel brand, I scraped together enough hotel points to get three free nights in the Sheraton Grand Park Lane (technically, it was only two nights at first, but we loved it so much we bagged our shitty AirBNB and came back for the last night).

The hotel had just gone through a massive multi-year renovation and we were there literally for the grand re-opening (attended by press, C-level British celebrities, and people walking Dalmatians on leashes for a mysterious reason I still don’t understand).

The best part for us was my Platinum-member (YEAH) access to the Club Lounge, which was stocked with a delicious free breakfast, snacks, and alcohol basically every hour of the day. MUCH free food was eaten, and MANY of those baby jam jars shoved into my suitcase. We know how to party.

Ate ourselves silly in the East End

Probably the best thing in the entire trip happened within our first two days: The East End food tour with Eating London Tours. We tasted eight wildly different food and drink items across the East End, including a bacon sammie, bread pudding, curry, and – of course – a beer. We couldn’t stop raving about the food, the street art, and the amazing tour guide. It could only go downhill from there, folks!

Traveled afar for a brewery and ‘za

Something my gentleman in particular enjoys is a good craft brewery experience; we actually did a brewery trail in New Hampshire a few months ago (and learned four breweries is a lot to handle in one afternoon). So, when my friend who lives in London recommended we check out Crate Brewery in Hackney, famed for its brews and its pizza, we jumped at the chance. One long Underground and Overground ride later, we were tucking in to the best cider I’ve ever had, and a Middle Eastern flatbread pizza. Will travel for noms.

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Other fun things? A very long day trip to Paris (less “fun” than “full of wine”)… a pub quiz with a good friend of mine… many walks around London… exploring the exhibits at the Tate Modern… and, of course, all the cream teas.

 

Cheerio for a week!

All right, loyal readers (aka mom): I’m off for a week with ne’er a post in the meantime. My gentleman and I are headed to Europe!

To say am I excited would be an overstatement. (I mean that literally: the week before the flight, I came down with an ugly case of otitis externa – that’s an outer ear infection for non-nerds – in both ears. It’s been an extremely painful, and expensive week, as  I’ve seen numerous doctors to get this sorted. As I draft this, I have my follow-up with the ENT tomorrow, and I am crossing everything on my body that she will tell me I am good to fly. So, I’m not really that excited about the trip AT THIS MOMENT, lest my dreams get dashed by Ann Walters, ENT PA).

(Second update: Just saw Ann Walters, Angel, and even though she kept me waiting for an hour to see her, she gave me the all-clear! Plus I contributed to the long wait time for others by asking her to put in my eardrops for me and then chatting with her while we waited for the suckers to soak in. Now I’m just paranoid something in my body will break – like, is this how throats are supposed to feel? I CAN’T REMEMBER).

All my ear drama aside, we’ve been planning this trip for about six months and I can’t wait to see it finally happen. This is his first time in Europe, and I’m pumped he picked my favorite city in the world to visit: LONDON.

We’re cashing in hotel points to stay 2 nights in a fancy hotel, then finishing the week in an apartment rental in my favorite neighborhood. We’re planning on participating in an East End food tour, seeing a play, hitting up pub trivia, and taking a long day trip to Paris. Basically, we are doing many of the things.

So, I’m outta here. See you in a week!

 

What I Learned in 2012

Without sounding too overdramatic, this has undoubtedly been one of the most exciting and challenging years of my life. I kicked it off with three weeks in Turkey; I graduated with my Master’s degree and left a city I had called home for six years; I spent a summer bouncing around different cities on the East Coast; and in August, I packed up and moved to London to work for the fall. Now I’m at the other end of it. I can count my number of days left in Europe on one hand. This time next week, I’ll be back in my hometown preparing for Christmas, celebrating birthdays, and barreling forward to the Next Thing.

As I finish my time in London, I’m comforted by the knowledge that this isn’t the end of my relationship with the city. It just can’t be. I’ve been lucky enough to have visited, studied in, and worked in this beautiful city multiple times over the past seven years. Besides, I’ve cultivated a relationship with a waiter at my local Turkish restaurant so strong that he knows my order by heart and feeds me unlimited cups of tea and free dessert. I’ve just got to come back!

I’ve been reflecting a lot over the past week or so about my time in London, and the past year in general. I won’t keep you in suspense – a list of lessons learned!

“Ladies, we sell soap: A lesson about perspective”

This is one of my all-time favorites things that I’ve ever heard, and it kind of became my mantra throughout the past month or so. I haven’t exactly been shy about the difficulties I have had over the past four months, from trying to figure out balance to working through the concerns of living the dream to FOMO. I had a fortuitous visit from one of my former roommates at the beginning of November; as I was talking about my life and (obviously) complaining, I said something off-hand like, “I have to remember I’m not like, holding on to the nuclear launch code, it’s not THAT big a deal.”

She shared with me a story from one of her old jobs at Bath and Body Works (coincidentally, my first foray into being a workin’ gal): Her manager was on a regional-managers call and they were all having a really serious argument about some sale tactic or next step in shower gel or something. The person leading the call kind of interrupted them and said, “Ladies… we sell soap. Let’s keep it in perspective.”

I just LOVED that! I kept repeating it to myself afterwards, and every time I found myself getting frustrated or overwhelmed, I just reminded myself… some things in my life do require legitimate concern and can be serious, but most of it? It’s just soap. Not a big deal.

I am thankful for such an amazing support network of old and new friends 

Hand-in-hand with that, I’ve realized how much I love the people around me, new and old. I had visits from some of my favorite friends in London:

Outside of my personal visits, the number of people who reach out to me in times of need and even just to say hi is heart-warming and incredible. I’ve received random, “thinking of you!” emails. A wonderful email from the wonderful Laura Maas, who is basically a recurring guest star on my blog, telling me how proud she is of me. Even the little things make me so, so happy – like me writing on a best friend’s Facebook wall about a TV show I’ve started to watch that I figured she did too, and another best friend almost immediately commenting on it saying she loved it too. Little things like that that make me realize why these people are my friends. I plan to keep them around.

I don’t need THAT many things…

I moved a lot this year. Like, a lot. In May, I went from DC – a city I had lived in for six years and an apartment I had been in for two – back to Norfolk, VA for a month. In the process, I lost all the furniture I had had and consolidated down to boxes that fit into a closet in my parent’s condo. After being in Norfolk for a month, I moved to Boston for training and the first bits of my job. In mid-August, I went back to Virginia for a week before turning right back around to go to London for the next four months. And now I’m looking at all my crap once again packed and ready to go back to Virginia for the holiday season. And what have I learned? I have TOO MUCH STUFF and don’t need most of it. Convenient lesson to learn as I am about to backpack in SE Asia for a month with a bag I’m fairly confident (and hopeful) will count as a carry-on.

…But sometimes having a fixed life is worth it…

People keep asking if I’d want to do this position again, and I – quite maturely, I might add – usually respond that I need time to mull it over outside of being smack in the middle. Part of me really wants to, for professional and personal reasons. But another part of me yearns for the fixed life. As nice as it is not to have to worry about buying furniture and figuring out apartment rentals and everything, I want to be able to do something like buy mixing bowls and bake more. I want to live somewhere “indefinitely” and work to build a network and a life somewhere. In retrospect, the biggest challenge of living in London for the fall was knowing how short-term it was. Having that knowledge regrettably meant that I didn’t try nearly as hard as I should have to establish an actual life.

…And I will ALWAYS want my onesies.

I don’t care how much I have to throw away as I move from place-to-place, my onesies will be a part of my life FOREVER. Best thing I did in London, end of.

So there you go. A semester, and a year, in retrospect. I’m staring down the barrel of 25 years of life and will be soon thrown into unemployment, confusion, and (hopefully) adventure. Don’t go anywhere – the K10 Travels aren’t anywhere close to being done.

The odds ‘n’ ends of November

So besides going to Ireland and posting an online memorial to my cat, I haven’t really done too much at the end of November (and let’s face it, I didn’t do too terribly much in Ireland ever. Worst traveler award goes to me.). But in deference to my clamoring readership (aka because I’d rather write a blog post than work), I decided to do a little Potpourri Jeopardy Category for what I’ve been doing in the last few weeks of November, besides work (boooooring). Prepare yourselves for a life of adventure, excitement, and danger.

Or a photo montage depicting how I filled my time.

I watched a LOT of holiday-appropriate TV

My former roommate Kathleen made the fortuitous decision to do a tour around Europe in November, which positively impacted me as A) London was the “bookend” and so I only had to deal with jet-laggy Kathleen or worn-out-from-travel Kathleen, which meant we got to just lounge around together and I felt less pathetic than when I do it alone; and B) She was in my life in the beginning of November and right before Thanksgiving, which means we got to celebrate Halloween, Election Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas together.

Allow me to explain (because I will anyway): my holiday traditions dictate that on Halloween, I watch Hocus Pocus and the scary episode of Boy Meets World, originally with my dear friend Sean and then whoever else was around; on Election Day, we watch West Wing episodes (OBVIOUSLY, like a good DC kid would); on Thanksgiving, all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes; and on Christmas, a mish-mash of Christmas movies that last year included a shared calendar of about 15 movies but always requires a viewing of The Santa Clause while decorating.

Clearly we had to stuff as many holidays into as few days as possible (especially since Kathleen is the holder of the WW and Friends DVDs). Thus resulted in a day where we watched about 4 straight hours of Friends while I made a pummple pie (pumpkin and apple), and then we switched to Christmas while I put on the best onesie the world has ever seen and put up the saddest decorations while watching The Santa Clause (a teeny little USB Christmas tree and one sad tinsel streamer). Perfect.


(And did a pilgrimage to Primark to pick up the most comfortable and attractive PJs known to man)

I put on my tour-guide hat and took the Me in Ireland around my city 

To follow up from my wonderful visit to Dublin, my pal Rachel came over to visit London for the first time! While I realized I am a bit of a nervous tour guide (I kept asking if she was having a good time and at one point got so overwhelmed with emotions and nerves that she had to give me an Underground-turnstile hug – EVERYONE COME VISIT!), I like to think we had a grand time that included NITROGEN ICE CREAM (yum!), huge hunks of cheese (and Scottish hunks as well GOT EM), and the Kristen McCarthy Tour of London.

Most importantly: I had an incredible Thanksgiving meal 

While I’m not the biggest fan of Thanksgiving food, I had a pretty awesome Thanksgiving. We took the students out to a restaurant and served them a “British Thanksgiving meal” (aka the Christmas menu of soup, roasted turkey, and special-ordered pumpkin pie). The staff promptly established the “grown up table.”

You know how sometimes you’re out in a restaurant and you see a table of people having the best time? That was us. It was one of those nights where everything just crackled, everyone was hysterical, and we made everyone else super jealous with how much fun we were having. We did the whole go around the table and say what you’re thankful for, and our British colleague (who was very nervous about this tradition and made us all go before she did) NAILED that tradition so hard with the best little speech that we gave her a round of applause.

Most importantly, I had the best. pumpkin pie. ever. In between the mains and dessert we were taking pictures with our students. When we caught a glimpse of the pie being placed on our table, we literally shoved the students aside to leap back to the table and devour.

Aaaaand that’s about it for November. Besides sharing how on the way over to the restaurant, I said very seriously, “I really want there to be ice cream on the pie. A. LOT.” Imagine my delight when there was! I dug in quickly and didn’t even breathe in between bites – until someone idly said, “This ice cream is good!” I clasped the spoon in my fist, rammed it into the plate, and said passionately, “That’s what I’m TALKING about!!!”

The epitome of November to me — our genial British coworker and friend experiencing turkey belly after her first Thanksgiving meal.

London as a Tour Guide

After an incredible amount of persuasion (i.e. saying Hey, you should come to London and hang out with me!) I was lucky enough to be graced by the presence of one of my favorite people on the planet: Missy Moxie.

Us when we were young and naive and both had bangs… OH HOW THINGS CHANGE!

She’s one of my favorite people on the planet for several reasons:

1) She introduced me to Cry-Baby, a movie which I frankly can’t BELIEVE I never watched before because it is precisely up my ally.

2) She’s the best house guest because she is so low-maintenance and still super fun (I should do PR for her).

3) We spent the entire week talking about a huge dog we saw on the Tube

4) We also spent the entire week talking about these amazingly ugly leggings we saw in Primark and ended up going to purchase them on her last day. It was a lot of really serious discussions.

As I do with all visitors (or at least I did this when my parents visited a few years ago), as soon as she landed and we had tucked into a delicious breakfast I dragged her out for a long walk around London. I stubbornly insist that this is the best way to keep a jet-lagged visitor awake and help them get a feel for the city while taking in the major landmark, and is NOT in fact a death march as my mother claims to this day.

Luckily the weather absolutely cooperated, putting the city in its best light. I plan things that way because I am the master tour guide. I am also amazing at being a tour guide because most of my landmarks are described as such: “So I think that like three centuries ago a really famous person did something here, but I can’t remember what. I CAN tell you about Christopher Wren, his architecture in London, his impact at the College of William & Mary, and the name of the library at WM, but that’s it.”

Go ahead and hire me. I benevolently accept.

I did act as an amazing tour guide because the second the clock hit noon I decreed it to be Pimms O’Clock. It was a Sunday, after all. Must respect the Lord’s day.

Even though this day was about keeping my best friend awake and making sure I was the most interesting person ever so the seven hour flight would be worth it (and yes we did end the day by watching Bridget Jones’ Diary), it was a nice treat for me to get to see the city I love and to show it off to others. Sometimes I just stand by the Thames and get a crazy feeling about how my life actually ended up with me here. You just never know, you know?

Philosophical musings aside, best part of the entire day: creamy pumpkin and goat cheese soup. Please and thank you.

Kristen’s Exercise Series: Dover

I’m no stranger to traipsing around Europe and seeking the highest points by climbing every tower possible. It’s always a kick in the butt, but a fantastic way to see the best views on the cheap and tone up those glutes.

The tower of Europe have absolutely NOTHING on Dover. Three days later, I’m STILL sore. To allow you to have the best possible experience ever, I now present my own version of a work-out tape: how to be completely unprepared for Dover.

First, definitely dress like you are going sledding in Alaska in January. I wore a tank top, sweater, jacket, rain jacket, scarf, jeans, AND knee socks for good measure. That was about 2 layers too many; at one point I almost stripped down to my tank top – in 50 degree weather – just to get some relief.

Next, only have a vague understanding of Dover Castle. This was the first stop in our itinerary and I GUESS I knew in the back of my mind that it was at the top of a hill, but I didn’t really stop to think about it.

Not only is it at the top of a hill, it has grabbed ALL the hills in England and carried them over to the Castle grounds to ensure you somehow always have another hill to climb up.

Then, despite having already had PTSD flashbacks to that time I decided to climb up the side of a steep hill and fell down INTO a marathon, go up any flight of stairs you find. Don’t worry about what’s at the top. You have a mission to complete! 
Mission accomplished. 
After utterly exhausting yourself at the Castle, go seek out those famous White Clifs you’ve heard so much about. But don’t bring a map or anything – it will be much more fun to wander down to the beach and assume if you keep walking west you’ll find it! 
Clearly, that is a terrible plan. Backtrack. Find a little sign that says “Gateway to the White Cliffs.” That’s GOTTA be it. 
Gird your loins for the most intense and inclined walk the world has ever seen. 
It starts out fine. You can see an old woman carrying a BACKPACK in front of you so if she can do it with that extra weight you can do it hopping on one leg! 
Okay. Flight of stairs. It’s all good.
The final stretch and OH MY GOD. I know this picture doesn’t really capture it, but I’m not even exaggerating when I say it was basically a 90 degree incline. This mother was STEEP! 
Finally – FINALLY – reach the top. It starts to become flatter…
You start to catch some glimpses of the Channel….
And suddenly, it was all worth it.
Go ahead and treat yo’self to a scone after. You earned it. 

Old London Through New Eyes

I thought that I had seen all the “typical” London things, in the various times that I have been here: Westminster, Parliament, Big Ben, St. Pauls, the Tower of London… all wonderful experiences, but a little played out for me.

One beautiful autumn afternoon, I decided to swing back in to my favorite museum in London… the Museum of London (cleverly named, I know). Since it was conveniently located near some shops I wanted to explore, via one of my favorite walks (down Fleet Street to the Strand and up to Covent Garden), I would be bound to see some of those oldies but goodies. Sure, I’ll take my camera, but just in case.

It was while on my wander that I realized something: no matter how many times you see something, there’s always a different angle (sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively). And the best part about London? There’s always something new to discover.

It started simply: while on my walk to the grocery store, I decided to swing down a mews for a shortcut. (My borough in London has a LOT of streets that are mewses – former stables converted into houses). What I discovered was a colorful, flower-filled, narrow oasis.

After my weekly shop, it was time to head to the City of London.* 
As I departed from the St. Paul’s stop, I figured since I was right there I might as well go check out the old lady. (Man, I guess?). 
Coming up from a strange side angle I realized… in all my time in London, I’ve only ever seen one of its iconic landmarks from the same boring angles! Never before have I seen this: 
Or this:
And I had literally no clue that there was a beautiful garden to one side, and a pleasant seating area to the other: 

Following these revelations, it was time to head to my favorite museum and check out the new Our Londinium 2012 (Roman London) exhibit. This is where I saw the greatest museum display of all: a sly shout-out to Monty Python:
The best part about being in London in 2012 is that I get to experience their slogan: “This is GREAT Britain.” I’ve alluded to it before, but they are proud as anything about their year of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. Pride is everywhere, from museum displays to random phone booths:

As I finished my walk, I came across a wall of London 2012 through the eyes of visitors. I certainly know something about that, don’t I?
And while I was doing my massive walk, this was happening:
*What’s that, you ask?! And I know you were asking! WELL allow me to educate. The City of London is different from London; in fact, it is just a little square mile area with approximately 10,000 people living there! It is the original London – this is where the Romans set up camp, and now where the financial district is focused. It also has its very own mayor, with the fancy title of Lord Mayor of London, not to be confused with the Mayor of London. The Lord Mayor has an awesome outfit, but the Mayor got to be on Jon Stewart a few months ago, so it’s a toss-up.