Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sparks and Brighton


This is the day that we're taking a train from London to Brighton. I've worked for the same company for over 13 years, and throughout my career here I have worked with people from our Brighton office in various departments. I used to fantasize that my employer would find a reason to send me there, but I gave up that fantasy long ago. If I'm going to go to Brighton, it will have to be on my own... and at last I have the opportunity!

As we're getting ready to leave in the morning, I decided to make my hair straight (I had been embracing the humidity and letting my hair go curly up to this point). The hotel room came equipped with an outlet for a standard american plug, but that outlet wasn't working for some reason. Luckily, Julie brought a converter plug for the european outlet. After I dried my hair, I plugged in my flatiron and ***SPARKS*** accompanied with a loud BOOM! All of our power is out. Thank goodness it was just a blown fuse and a simple flick of a switch performed by the maintenance man corrected the problem. Although I'm sad to say, my flatiron is toast. I paid $150 for this flatiron two years ago. Trust me, there is a huge difference between nice flatirons and cheap flatirons. So until I have another chunk of change to spend on a new flatiron, I'll have curly hair.

And now to Brighton!

We visited the office and I was able to meet a bunch of colleagues face to face for the first time... which was awesome! After that, a few of them took us to lunch at the Brighton Yacht Club:

Across the road is the UK version of Wal-Mart, actually owned by Wal-Mart!

[sarcasm]I had to get a picture of that since I love Wal-mart oh so much.[/sarcasm]

Unfortunately, most of the rest of our tour of Brighton was from a car, so the pictures are sketchy, and I didn't get to spend any time at all at the Brighton Pavilion.

Looking down Brighton Beach:

Brighton Pier, which we didn't visit due to the massive crowds:

An old abandoned pier:

The Brighton Bandstand, newly refurbished:

Tour guide Bob (he's a colleague, he gave us a tour of this and some of London via automobile) took us further along the coast, about 20 minutes away, to the Worthing Pier which has less of a fanfare.

Jules and I in Worthing:

Gawd I hate getting my picture taken next to skinny and tan people!

The Worthing Pier:

We walked along the pier, got ice cream cones (It's called a "99"... vanilla ice cream with Flake bars... YUMMY!)

We sat on the pier and talked about life and families and religion and politics and work and well, pretty much everything. Sitting there looking out over the ocean, enjoying ice cream and good company- what an great time! I decided that if I were to ever live there, I would spend at least an hour on that pier every week to meditate.

The town of Worthing:

Looking out into the ocean, directly west. Tour Guide Bob told us that if we swim towards the sun, eventually we'll be back in America:

Luckily we didn't have to, we still had a few days left. Next will be my Wednesday story- my favorite day of the trip!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

You May Call Me Susan

A story I forgot from my previous post:

After our long day of walking walking walking, we wanted to find somewhere close to our hotel for dinner, perhaps a pub or Indian food. So we walk down the street, and all of the cafe's are overflowing with people. One cafe after another, and people out on the sidewalk in front. I leaned in to Julie and said "Is it just me, or are we the only white people around?" "It's not just you, we ARE the only white people around. And the only women." She said. Middle Eastern men surrounded the area. It was dark, we didn't know where we were going, and it was starting to feel uncomfortable. We turned a corner, I put my purse/backpack on the front of me, and I could feel someone walking very close behind me. I step towards Julie and out of the way, hoping the person would just walk right on by.

"Hello Ladies!" A young man from the middle east approached us, along with his friend. "What are you doing tonight? Going to dinner, going clubbing, out for drinks?"

"Just looking for a place to have dinner" I replied.

"Ah, two lovely ladies in London looking to have dinner. Maybe we could join you and the four of us have dinner together?"

"No, but thanks." Again, our accents were noted... "Where are you from?" Julie said "The United States, near California" (the geographic location of California is global common knowledge... unlike Utah, which was mistaken for Canada). "Oh, we're from Kuwait, our countries are very good friends. Tell me miss, did you vote for Obama?" he asked. "Yes, I did" "OH, thank you so very much!" he said, making a bowing motion. At this point I'm trying to walk away, and he keeps right up with us "Please will you reconsider, and have dinner with us tonight?" "No, but again, thank you." "Well why don't you take my number, and call me if you change your mind. Please, please just take my number." "Um, ok...." I said to get him to go away. He watched me record it in my iPhone, and made sure I had it entered correctly. "Tell me your good namew, please?" The first name that came to me... "Susan". and Julie said "Gina" "Alright Susan and Gina, we hope to hear from you later."

Finally they left us alone. And no, we didn't call.

We found out a couple of days later, from the man who is in charge of the security of the shipment of our company's product for all of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, that the middle eastern culture simply doesn't have women walking on the streets alone at night. He said it has nothing to do with us, the way we carried ourselves or the way we were dressed- and not to disparage these men- but we were mistaken for prostitutes. Harrods is owned by Al Fayed, who is the father of Dodi Fayed (Princess Diana's boyfriend who died with her in the crash). Therefore, a the area surrounding Harrods has a heavy middle east influence. I will talk about this more in a later post.

***On to the next day***

When I was a kid I loved the movie "Bedknobs and Broomsticks". In the movie there is a song about "Portabello Road", so I absolutely wanted to visit the Portabello Road Market:

The streets were charming and the houses were well maintained, painted different colors, and each had an interesting door and entry way. I was particularly impressed with this pale blue house and red door:

And even more impressed when I looked up at the building to discover that this was once George Orwell's house:

A view down the market road:

We stopped at a gellato shop where I got a single scoop lemon gellato- it minds me of the "Zitrone Eis" I used to get from the icecream trucks in Germany. The look on my face right here said "Julie, will you stop pointing that camera in my face and let me enjoy my gellato in peace?!?!":

After this we went to Notting Hill Gate, also influenced by a movie, but didn't do much other than browse in some cool record shops that specialise in rare, out of print albums. No pictures to share. Then we found an Indian Restaurant in Soho, which was not satisfying, to say the least. I expected of all places to get really great Indian, it would be there. The Bombay House in SLC is still the best.

After this we were strolling around the Theater District close to the Adelphi Theatre. We saw this arch that went into an alley, and we were intrigued. We were very happy to stumble up on the Nell Gwynne Pub... there's no way we would have found it otherwise. The Nell Gwynne is a 350 year old pub, and there was a very cute Irish bartender inside, who was very impressed that I could distinguish his accent. We stayed longer than we would have, and drank more beers than normal, because he was just so darn arorable. Pictures from the pub

The arch of the alley that intrigued us:

The ouside of the pub:

Not trying to be a narcissist, but Julie took this shot of me when I was looking out the window, and I like how it turned out:

The bartender offered to take a picture of us together, so here we are looking at him with slightly buzzed but starry eyes:

A cool shot of Covent Gardens:

After this we returned to our hotel room and poured ourselves into bed. Another full day with a ton of walking... loving and soaking up every single moment of our trip.

Tomorrow? We go to work. Tune in next time for the for the joy.....

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

London Loves Christy

Or so I was told... more on that later.

So, Julie and I wake up later than we planned. While we're getting ready, we get out the map and Frommer's guide to London and make plans. We'll take the tube up to Notting Hill Gate, walk over to the Portabello Road market, over to the Marble Arch and do whatever until the end of the day where we wanted to end up in Covent Gardens for dinner and night life.

As explained in my previous post, all tube lines were closed except for Piccadelly, which was the direction we wanted to go the day after and had loosely planned. We coulda done the bus system, sure, but we didn't want to. No problem, let's go to Piccadelly, Trafalgar Square, and Buckingham Palace.

Here I am at Piccadelly Circus:

Under the statue of Eros:

Okay, so I haven't been to London in 21 years, but this was NOT the Picadelly Circus I remembered! (I later came to realize that what I remembered was NOT Picadelly Circus). This part of London has been made famous by several films. Pretty much any movie that is takes place in London has a scene here, it reminds me of the central point of Times Square in NYC. After some souvenir shopping, we walked down the road towards Leicester Square. There was some kind of Fright attraction, seemed like a haunted house with actors, with people outside trying to get us to go in. We ended up talking to this cute bloke who looked a lot like Prince William... he was adorable, and oh so young, but we had to keep talking to him. He asked where we were from, and after telling him Salt Lake City, he asked us if that was in Canada. D'oh! So much for my ethnocentrism! We told him that we were there for the U2 concert, and he got all excited saying that he was going to go too, but his buddies backed out and now he has to go alone, and wanted to go with us. Awwww, he was cute... but no. We took his brochure for the Fright attraction, and continued on.

Leicester Square is the Theater District, or London's version of Hollywood. There a gorgeous park in the middle, and surrounded by several theaters that premier new films.

Further down the road we go, and ultimately end up in Trafalgar Square. A-HA! THIS is what I thought was Piccadelly Circus 21 years ago. It's such a huge place, it seems much more like a circus than Piccadelly Circus does! (Uh, yeah.... so the "Circus" part of the name refers to the circle that surrounds. The things you learn when you get old...)

Nelson's Column:

Awesome view from Tafalgar Square:

The Admirality Arch:

This is where the Royalty enters The Mall. The middle gate opens only for the Queen.

It didn't open for me. Fer rude!

Approaching Buckingham Palace:

I *DESPISE* this picture of me, but it is the best picture I have of the Palace.

After walking the grounds around the palace, we realized we had been walking all day and hadn't eaten a thing and we were starving, and oh so thirsty! The original Hard Rock Cafe is not too far from here, and I've been there the other two times I've gone to London, so let's go!

The original Hard Rock Cafe, in the same location for 38 years:

I had to get a picture of the John Lennon duds:

Julie and I inside:

I sat at this exact same booth with my dad, back in 1987:

The ladies thought I was weird and wondering WTH I would be taking their pictures for.

The waitress at the HRC spent some time talking to us, and she summed the vibe of London up perfectly: London is a place where anything goes. Everyone is welcome, everyone is accepted. No one cares who you are or what you wear, just enjoy the city and all that it has to offer. At St. James Park by Buckingham Palace there was an opera singer in a pavilion, and people brought chairs and blankets and they were all lying around talking, reading, listening to the singer, playing with their kids, walking their dogs, riding their bikes, relaxing... that spot is the epitome of London, and if there IS a heaven, this is what I want it to be like.

After eating at the Hard Rock Cafe, we went across the street to the Hard Rock shop. It was full and so we had to wait behind the velvet rope in the "VIP Line" outside. We were talking to the "Bouncer", who asked us where we were from. At this point it's apparently clear that our accents are in no way British... not that we tried. After we told him he said, "How do you like London?" I replied "I LOVE London!"

"London loves YOU." he said, smiling and full of sincerity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

First coupla days in London

By the time our plane arrives at the London Heathrow Airport, It's 7:05AM London time. If you count time at the aiports and flight time, we're talking17 hours of travel time. Both of us are exhausted, and rather than take public transportation (The Tube) into London, we hire a cap which is hella expensive. ($110 total for a 30 minute ride). We get to our hotel, and we weren't able to check in yet. Yet, we were able to use their bathroom to freshen up and check back in a couple of hours

Julie and I laughed at the politeness of the sign "Mind Your Head" in the narrow stairwell

In our exhausted state, we decided to walk around the 'hood and see where we were at. We were staying in the Brompton Quarters, down the road from Harrod's, and apparently a very posh neighborhood considering the lowest end cars that we saw were BMW's and Mercedes.

Across the street from us, the Brompton Oratory:

We find some convenience stores nearby with cheap sodas and crisps (potato chips). Also, all the cadbury I can fantasize about. I immediately discovered Steak and Onion crisps, as well as worcestersire crisps and tomato ketchup crisps. Delicious! Don't forget about Cadbury Flake and Twirl bars- I couldn't eat enough of either and they were a staple for my breakfast for the days ahead.

We walked around where we were at, and slummed around Harrod's. Both of us were too tired and trashy feeling to take pics at this point. We're finally able to check in to our hotel, where we have twin beds right next to each other:

We were cool with this, because at least we weren't in the same bed. So after a nice long nap and shower, decide to go out and hit a pub. We find one around the corner from Harrods, and can't figure out how it works. Do we wait to be seated? Do we wait for a waiter to approach our table or do we head to the bar? Do we pay at the table? How much do we tip? How seriously do we take the sign that says "There are known thieves in this area. Take Care of your Belongings."??

We muddle our ways through, and crawl into bed that night, with the intention of waking up early in the morning and hitting the pavement. We were shocked to find out everything in London City shut down by 11pm on a saturday night.... who can make fun of Salt Lake City??

Sunday Morning:
"Christy, It's after 11:30!" I hear Julie say. Sure enough, it's 11:48 AM London time, which is 2:46 AM Utah time. Both of us are pissed that we overslept, and get up and get ready.

While Julie is finishing her hair and makeup, I pull out the London City Street map and talk about what we want to do that day. Since it was later than we wanted that day, we decided to go to Notting Hill (for the sake of the chick flick), and then to the Portabello Road market which was right next to it. We'd take the day from there. We asked the hotel concierge where the nearest tube stop was. "South Kensington Station. Go down this road, and take a left at the light. The station will be immediate to your left. Bear in mind, only the Picadelly line is open today." It was sunday, the rest of the lines were down for renovation.

Okay, scratch the plans for Sunday, fast forward to the plans for Monday.

Crap. We were going to take the Picadelly line the next day. Fast forward, switch around. Okay, it's cool. Let's see where our adventures lead us today!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Christy + London = Love

(Yes, this is two blog posts in one day. Deal with it.)

I've had a long time love affair with England. The first time I ever step foot in the country it was dark, I had been on a ferry boat all day, I had the flu, and had a skin treatment on my face for some kind of rash. I was almost 12 years old, and it was 1987. That moment, I couldn't be happier. For the first time in 2 years, I felt like I belonged somewhere. The connection I had with the United Kingdom was unexpected, and it was instant. It was as if I was home... good golly, this is sounding like a traditional affair, isn't it?

I visited the country again when I was 13, and the chemistry was still there. Sadly, I moved away from the European continent soon after, and haven't returned in 21 years. To be precise... because I can be... it was exactly 21 years, 1 month, and 14 days since I had been in Europe.

As explained in my previous post, I was given an incredible opportunity to visit London this summer, made possible by some very kind and generous friends, of whom I feel unworthy. There was months of anticipation and planning. The primary reason for going was to see U2 at Wembley Stadium, but I also wanted to catch as many sites as I could, as well as spend some time visiting colleagues and making connections.

Unfortunately, the only way to get to London that won't take several weeks if not months, is to fly. I'm terrified of flying, and was filled with dread. I had a flight from SLC to JFK, a very brief layover, and then on to London Heathrow (famous airport in various scenes of Love Actually, Bend it Like Beckam, the video for "Beautiful Day" by U2, among others). I was delighted to discover that my fear of flying has mostly vanished, though I still had a little trouble remembering to breathe during turbulence. I confess to self medicating a bit with a glass of wine to calm my nerves, which seemed to help.

On the flight between JFK and LHR, two business men sat across the isle from Julie and me. When almost everyone else on the plane was sound asleep, they started with the alcohol. The flight attendant kept bringing them alcohol and didn't charge them for it, and they kept drinking and laughing. Eventually I fell asleep, but when I woke up, I noticed Julie's face looking over at them and smiling big. One of them had completely passed out, and the other was taking all of his garbage which included wrappers, used tissues, banana peels, etc., and was placing them all over his friends body, who was too drunk and passed out to notice. Then he borrowed Julie's eyeliner and started drawing on his neck and bald head. Then he took his phone out, and took some video. It was getting close to landing time, so the flight attendant had to wake the sleeping guy up. He woke up to see Julie and I smiling at him and thought we were hitting on him. It took him 5 long mintues to realize he was covered in crap. His friend took pity and didn't want him to have to go through customs with writing all over his head, so he helped him wipe it off. When we were waiting in the very long customs line, Julie and the perpetrator had to go to the bathroom, while I stayed behind in line with the victim, who promised me revenge would be sweet. If only I could see the outcome of that!

No lost luggage, no delayed flights, nothing scary. So far, so good... and here I am, making my triumphant return to London. As I sat at the airport waiting for the cute little black taxi to pick me up, I was exhausted, worn out, and unaware of the week that's to come. What if Julie and I don't get along? What if I run out of money? What if I get robbed, or worse? What if I get lost? what if things fall apart at home... either with the kids or with work? What if the hotel loses our reservation?

Luckily all of these fears were unfounded. Stay tuned for future installments that will answer the following questions, and more!

What is it like to be mistaken for a prostitute by men from Kuwait? What did I do when I got lost? How did I get suckered in to doing work? Why did a woman bark at me (like a dog) on the tube? At what point did I find out I was staying right around the block from the mormon temple? Did I really meet a guy with eyes as dreamy as Jude Law's?

I'm Back! (I think?)

I stepped away from blogging nearly a year ago. I really miss having this as an outlet, although at this point I'm not sure how long or how often I'll keep it up. At the time that I stopped, I couldn't continue to blog while I felt so un-authentic.

In the days ahead, I plan on blogging about my trip to London. To give you an idea of how this all happened:

One day, a former co-worker who knows how much I love U2 sent me an email with U2's announcement of tour dates. No announcement was made for Salt Lake City... although I looked at the list longingly when I noticed that they were going to be in Wembley Stadium on August 14th.

Wembley Stadium is special to me. When I was 13, I stayed at a house across the street for a week. My dad had business to do in England, and had a colleague who lived across the street from the Stadium, and offered to let us stay in his house. (Picture the houses that Harry Potter's aunt and uncle lived in... very similar!) During the days, my dad would go take care of his work stuff while my mom, sister and I explored London. We would hop on the tube at Wembley Park Station, and just go and go and go and see as much as we could until our feet and legs couldn't take it anymore. One night as we were returning home and exiting the tube, there were people standing out there asking us if we had any AC/DC tickets to buy or sell. Apparently, AC/DC was in town. My sister and I could hear the concert, as well as some of the rif raff on the streets after the show, and we thought that it would be SO COOL to see a concert there one day.

At the same time I received the email with the tour dates, I was reading the book "The Secret". While I don't buy into the concept of The Secret entirely, some of it made sense. The Secret is that you have to ask for what you want. Put it out into the universe, and trust that it will be returned. So, in the spirit of "The Secret", I posted on my Facebook status update that I was accepting contributions, donations, or sponsorships to go see U2 at Wembley Stadium on August 14th. I did it half-joking. I didn't really think anything would come from it, but I wouldn't have turned the opportunity down.

Well, a friend of mine (we dated briefly in 2007. I refer to him as #3 in my past relationship series) responded saying "If you can get the concert tickets, I'll give you the skymiles to get there". Then another friend (and a Royal friend at that) said that he had a pre-sale passcode for me to use so that I could buy tickets before they went on sale to the general public. Also, my friend Equality essentially told me that I have to do this, because U2 made history at Wembley Stadium when they almost broke up after their Live-Aid performance.

All of this is going in my favor... the last thing to figure out was if I was going to do this alone, or if I could get someone to go with me. Who would be willing to go all the way to London with me to see U2? Unfortunately, none of my friends are die-hard U2 fans to the point of traveling across the globe with me, at their own expense....

....except... I work with this gal named Julie. She's close to my age, and also single. She makes good money, her car is paid off, she lives with her parents and she doesn't have kids, so very little in the way of financial responsibility. She loves to travel and in the past 4 years that I've known her, has been to England at least 3 times, on top of other global and local travel. All I had to do was ask, and she readily agreed.

So, I had a plane ticket, concert tickets, a travel mate, and a booked hotel room. Our adventures will follow shortly.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Toast

Yesterday, my best friend Eric got married to his lovely wife Jill. I was honored to be asked to stand with him as he was married. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to serve as "Best Man". I would say "Best Woman", but he married his best woman. I get the pleasure of sitting on the sidelines and hoping that he wins... yesterday, he really did!!

Eric and I met when we were both married a few years ago. I soon realized that the more I got to know him, the more I liked him and valued what he had to say. I told his wife about that. Soon, they split (around the same time that Jer and I split), and he and I needed each other, and we clinged to each other. We came from different paths and our situations were certainly different, but we were THERE for each other. We helped each other through some very dark, unhappy moments. I saw him in some relationships that weren't so healthy for him, and saw him in the depths of despair. This favor was returned to me tenfold. It didn't take him long for us to acknowledge the fact that we were "Best Friends".

Eric and Jill met a year and a half ago... yesterday, on January 22nd, they tied the knot! I got to stand next to Eric as he watched Jill descended the stairs and down the aisle. I saw the look of excitement and exhiliration, combined with a tad bit of nervousness in his face... all complimented with a look of contentment and peace. Eric isn't a man to show his emotions on his face, but I could still see it. I know him.

When Jill finished her final descent down the stairs, she took a deep breath, and looked directly at Eric. Jill loves Eric, all of him. While I like many things about Jill, this is my favorite part. She *really* LOVES Eric. God, it's an amazing thing to see. I'm so incredibly happy for them.

Part of my duties of being a groomsperson or "Best (Wo)man", were to make a speech. Due to the confusiong of traditional weddings and mormon weddings and a combination of both, I missed my opportunity. I was told that I should do it during the reception (by a never-mo co-worker), when the pre-wedding dinner would have been the perfect opportunity.

Eric and Jill, I'm sorry I didn't toast you. I really wanted to! Here is what I would have said:

Eric, you and I became best of friends in the most unlikely of circumstances. In the short time I've known you, I've been priveledged to get to know you well. Eric: when you care, you care completely. When you love, you love with your whole heart; that is without condition. You are abosultely what I consider to be "Understated Brilliance". To know you is to love you.

Jill: You and I both know that because of a joke at my expense on your first date with Eric, I didn't refer to you kindly. I've apologized before, and will apologize again. The first time I met you, I witnessed first hand how in love you were with Eric. I was able to see how deeply and truly you cared about him. It was easy to tell that you also care completely, and you love unconditionally. You are a worthy and perfect match for Eric.

Jill, your family is so friendly, warm and welcoming. Please express my appreciation to them! Eric, I truly loved spending time with your family. We had a blast talking about Utah culture vs. the rest of the country, and totally jived on the chicken salad sandwiches with grapes together. Please give them my best; I'd love to see them next time they are in town. Your children were perfect angels during the ceremony and reception. They're such gorgeous Palmatiers!