Bags over Boxes

Travel

They say travel changes you. And in many ways it can, opening your mind to new cultures and new perspectives, pulling you out of your comfort zone, feeding you new ideas and cuisines. Oftentimes, I don’t see how much its changed me until I get home and settle in for a bit.

One of the stranger parts of traveling is that it has made me a more of a minimalist. (Yes, my mother would laugh at this based on the amount of stuff I have sitting in my childhood bedroom and the amount of stuff she is helping me haul home from London.) But honestly, when you’re planning to move away in six months time or a year, your mindset changes.

You start to ask yourself a lot of new questions like, If it can’t fit in my carry-on, is it really worth it? or Will I ever really use this? or Can this be squished and smushed and still look alright on the other side?

As the last few weeks have been filled with people moving in for college or around the world, I found myself thinking about how five years ago when I packed for college, everything was in boxes and hard containers. The only limitations to my storage was what could be fit in the car on the drive to orientation. My mother, the queen of car Tetris, could make anything fit. The same was true for my second year of college: boxes rained supreme.

It wasn’t until I hopped a plane to Australia that I realized that boxes do not travel well on twenty-something hour-long flight routes. So I began to favor bags and softer containment units. All of those beauty bags that had been collected over the years suddenly had a use. One was for electronics, the other for medicine, another for makeup, one more for haircare, yet another for jewelry, another for miscellaneous things that you always need but that don’t really fit any sort of categorization system. All these tiny bags could be smushed down to fit into the corner of my suitcase or the front pocket of my carry-on in ways that a box just couldn’t. And with that restriction, less things were brought along.

I kept the preference for bags on my semester in Sweden, as I had similar limitations. My travels around Europe continued this, as the question was always Will this fit Ryannair carry-on restrictions? Instead of a specialized outfit for each day, I had to think about which pieces matched multiple items and wouldn’t look wrinkled upon arrival. Some things just didn’t make the cut.

My senior year of undergrad, I was so used to constantly being on the move that it just stuck. It seemed strange to use a box when a bag would work just perfectly. By the time I moved to London, it was second nature to favor bags over boxes.

As I pack up my bags once more for the move home, it would be hard to ignore the other ways that travel has changed me: I’m more independent, I reflect more, I don’t waste time on things that make me unhappy, I make lists and cross things off only to write a new list, I enjoy sitting back and watching people interact, and at the end of the day, my life could fit into a couple of bags within the weight limit of Icelandair’s checked baggage restrictions (I hope).

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Notting Hill

london, Travel

As my time in London comes to an end, I’ve been running around trying to fit in adventures between library sessions. My window to cross things off my London to do list is getting smaller and smaller, so I took a (well-needed) break from the library on what was meant to be a sunny Saturday to head to Notting Hill for a wander.

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Initially my day was going to be a solo adventure (like my search for Wisteria), but my need for outside motivation meant that previous attempts to make it to Notting Hill had been limited to searches on Pinterest and a snoozed alarm clock. To get me moving, I invited a friend to breakfast at Drake and Morgan in King’s Cross before my walk. The day was dreary enough that I could justify a mocha with breakfast.

After, I managed to convince my friend to join me on my adventure, partly to help me take pictures, but also to have a nice chat. (He’d previously joined me on a walk to Primrose Hill, so I knew he’d be interested.)

We hopped the Circle line from King’s Cross to Ladbroke Grove with the idea being to avoid the massive crowds that seem attracted to Notting Hill Gate station. It worked and we were able to make our way up and down Notting Hill without having to fight for our space on the sidewalk.39871962_1991677651124066_1200271706569048064_n

I kept pointing out cute houses painted in pastels and my friend had no interest, but I loved it. Notting Hill is cute, cute, cute. We walked and we chatted and I pointed towards brightly colored doors and mini gardens tucked into corners and stairwells, dreaming of sneaking a peek inside the homes.

By the time we hit Holland Park Avenue and the Notting Hill Gate tube station, we were looking for some more snacks. Fortunately, Portobello Road and Market were just around the corner.

Because it was Saturday, the streets were packed with people and stalls. Music played from bars and vintage shops and food stalls. My personal favorite part was a man playing Dua Lipa on a steel drum. We wandered up the road, peeking into shops and people watching, snapping photos.

39917129_2135476983439104_9064656317909565440_nBy the time we hit the end of the stalls, we were ready for a nap. So we made our way back towards Ladbroke Grove and struggled not to snooze on the train.

Did this adventure write my dissertation? No. But I have a feeling I’ll look back fondly on our wanders, rather than regret spending a day on an adventure.

Things I’ll Miss & Things I Can’t Wait For

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As my time in London comes to an end, I’ve started two lists: Things I’ll Miss and Things I Can’t Wait For. I’m trying to keep it positive; so rather than thinking about how much I won’t miss living in a room with 16 housemates and no air conditioning, I’m thinking about how nice it was to live so centrally, etc.

My list of things I miss about home really surrounds comfort. I’ve missed the ease of walking into a Target or Walmart, or hell even a CVS, and having every strange little thing I might need available to me at every hour. Convenience based stores aren’t quite as popular in London and I miss getting lost in the chaos of American consumerism.

Speaking of convenience and comfort, I’ve missed having a dishwasher (and no, I’m not being snarky. I don’t mean my mother. I’m referring to the actual machine…) and laundry in the same building. No one will be surprised by this, but I miss air conditioning being the norm and I miss sleeping in my big, comfy bed with a fan running. And as much as I’ve loved the public transportation that London and the United Kingdom in general provide, I miss my car and the freedoms it allows me.

Obviously I’ve missed my parents and my friends and being “home,” which is a very particular feeling that I’ll get even once in a while here, but my childhood house is always going to be home. I miss knowing exactly where everything is in my room, in my house, and in my neighborhood. I’ve lived in London for so long and, as much as I love still wandering into new places or finding new spots, I miss the familiar.

The last things I can’t wait for when I get home are all things that the U.K. has tried very hard to replace and just hasn’t quite managed: my favorite foods. I’ve already got my menus planned out for the first few weeks I’m home. I want Popeye’s chicken. I want properly crispy bacon. I want my mom to make me mac and cheese from the box (because mac and cheese always tastes best when your mom makes it for you). I want bagels with cream cheese from Panera. Should I go on?

On the other hand, a lot of what I’ll miss about living in London is about the freedoms afforded to a 20-something living centrally in a major city with next to no responsibilities. I’ll miss late night wanders through the city with no destination in mind and no worries about an alarm clock the next morning. I won’t have that same freedom when I move back to the suburbs and get a job (hopefully).

I know I mentioned it before, but I have absolutely loved the public transportation. Being able to hop on a bus or the tube and get where I need to quickly and efficiently is amazing. Even when I’m not on taking public transportation, being able to walk everything is so nice. Currently, I can walk from the Queen’s house to my school, passing by my former place of employment, through Covent Garden and Leicester Square to the top of Primrose Hill to see all of the city, back through a massive park next to the zoo, and still make it home for dinner. The history tucked behind every corner and the access to it, you can’t get that in the suburbs.

I’ll miss breakfasts at Dishoom and afternoons spent in a pub after class. The people I’ve met here are pretty cool and I can’t wait to see what they do next. I’ll miss having my friends so close by and always being able to convince someone to go on a mini adventure with me.

I’ll miss having a seemingly endless bucket list of things I want to do and places I want to go. I regret not seeing more of the city and the country sooner, but I also know that every time I cross something off my to-do list, I add two more. I’ll just have to come back and see it all.

For now, I’ve got to finish a dissertation. There will be time for plotting my return to the U.K., for creating a bucket list for D.C., and for reminiscing, all in due time.

All the World’s a Stage

london

My first time in London, my parents took me and my brother to see the Lion King. (My parents still talk about seeing Joe Morton in Covent Garden before the show. Unrelated to Lion King, but I think that might have been their favorite part of our trip to London?) If you haven’t already seen it live, go. I’ve seen the Lion King in both New York and London, as a child and a slightly older child, and it’s such an incredible production. The costumes, the songs, the dancing — it’s spectacular. (It’s very tempting to see it again before my time in London comes to an end.) Seeing a favorite film come to life before my eyes was the beginnings of a beautiful journey with stage productions.

My mother introduced my brother and I to Shakespeare at a relatively young age, getting us season tickets to D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre. We would get dressed up on a random Sunday night and make the drive into the city. Some of the plays were frustratingly difficult to follow; others just made sense.

I had my time on stage during high school, but college meant moving away from my mother’s encouragement to see live theatre and to a smaller city with fewer performances on offer. This didn’t stop me from seeing the Butler Ballet‘s incredible productions of the Nutcracker all four of my undergraduate years (yes, I came back to campus and saw it even when I had been abroad all semester). Every few months I would see a performance, just because I was on a small campus where someone was always doing something.38432186_313729982701103_5526808850440650752_n

When I got to London for my Master’s degree, I knew that I had to take advantage of London’s amazing theatre scene. Luckily, I had friends with similar interests. No, I wouldn’t be queueing for last-minute Harry Potter tickets, but I wanted to see what London had to offer. And I haven’t been let down yet.

It started with Dreamgirls with some friends, then Wicked. I watched Translation at the National Theatre and A Monster Calls at the Old Vic for some non-musical productions. A last-minute trip to Kinky Boots to celebrate resigning from my job rounded out my theatre trips so far. The production for all of these is incredible, with amazing costumes, great music, and attention to the tiniest of details, bringing every story uniquely to life.

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While I still have a list of shows I would love to see before I go, I’m thinking that wherever I end up after London, I’ll be seeing quite a few shows. (First up: Hamilton in DC with my momma. She’s very excited.)

King’s Cross to Primrose Hill

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In between pretending to write my dissertation and my last few work shifts, I’ve given myself the mission to actually cross all that stuff off my London to-do list. I recently wandered Regent’s Canal for the first time since moving here and realized just how much of this city I’ve been missing my last ten months.

It started off with a long breakfast at my favorite spot in London. If you haven’t been to Dishoom, specifically for breakfast, you are missing out. A couple of friends and I munched on some Naan Rolls and drank copious amounts of Chai at the Dishoom in Granary Square. It was nice enough, despite the current heatwave, to sit outside and get a nice breeze.

Quick Tip: If you want to enjoy Dishoom without waiting in line, visit them for breakfast on a weekday. Especially at the Granary Square location, it’s no problem to get a seat for breakfast before 11 on any given Tuesday. Weekends are another deal and lunch or dinner is a whole new ball game. (Breakfast is best, and cheaper, anyways!).37807650_10214756228113186_3594843788020809728_n

Once hyped up on chai, we wandered through Granary Square, down the stairs to the canal. Our first stop was the precious Word on the Water. A floating bookshop on the canal, Word on the Water has a decent sized collection, though its ceilings are low and may not be suitable for tall folks or weak knees.

After a wander through the stacks, we avoided the swans and started down the canal. As we walked the canal, avoiding tourists and bikers, we keep catching quick breezes and little patches of shade, a nice refreshment in the middle of an endless heatwave. A nice spot for a walk, not so nice on a bike. The architecture from the canal is also worth a look as you wander, getting a different perspective than one might from the road.

37779873_10214756229593223_5733534005878325248_nThe canal path led us straight to Camden Markets, stopping first at KERB, as well as the old Stables Market and the food stalls. I grabbed a donut from Crosstown Donuts, which was yummy, but nothing too exciting. We also had some fish and chips (aka my friend ate the fish and I stole his chips) while we walked the stalls.

Once we’d grabbed some lemonade and orange juice, we made our way away from the canals, which are currently under construction, and up the hill towards Primrose Hill. We lingered for a bit on the top of the hill, soaking up some sun and enjoying the perfect view of London.37803602_10214756230473245_9193812607339855872_n

With plans for the evening, we made our way slowly down the hill, passing all the pups enjoying the park, and down to Regent’s Park. To get back home, we made the walk through Regent’s Park, which is always a lovely end to the day.

Five Favorites: Amplified Voices

Five Favorites

I started this blog to talk about traveling and my experiences abroad, but being an American abroad means never escaping American politics or celebrities. The number of questions I get about my feelings on Trump or the Kardashians negate the ocean between me and the place I was born and raised.

Yes, I have feelings on the current American political system and its visible (but not new) flaws. Yes, I have feelings about the idiots folks donating so that Kylie Jenner can go from having 900 million dollars to a billion dollars as a “self-made” millionaire. I’ve got a lot of feelings, but my words just don’t seem to cover them.

So I’ve stuck to safe topics, like how I pack for trips and my happy walks around London. My tweets have transitioned from funny daily occurrences to retweets of people whose voices I believe need to be amplified. I don’t want to be silent and I don’t want to be just another voice screaming into the void, hoping for recognition for my insight.

Instead of penning my political thoughts in extensive rambling form or spending the rest of my life apologizing for the stupid things I’ve thought and said as I learned about the world around me (No, but really. I’m so sorry if anything I’ve ever said was ignorant or misguided. I’m still learning. I think about my mistakes every single day and am working towards being a better, more informed human being.), I thought I would share some favorites of mine from right now. These are just five of my favorite voices that I am choosing in this moment to amplify.

Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette

Recommended by a friend, Hannah Gadsby’s Netflix comedy special is an hour-long, but worth every second. Hannah speaks her truth, shares her frustrations, and thoroughly entertains, while weaving her personal stories with art history in such a clever way. She brings a new perspective to what it means to be a comedian, especially now. If you have an hour free and access to Netflix, Hannah Gadsby’s special is worth the watch. It’s heartbreaking and honest. I’m not a huge fan of stand up comedy, but I’ll be watching this again so soon.

Simone Giertz’s TedTalk

One of the great disappointments of my life has been my utter inability to do anything sciencey at all. I’ll never understand space, despite my love of stars, nor will I fully understand how the human body works or why some things go boom when others sizzle. But science can still bring joy to even those of us without a science bone in our bodies. Simone Giertz is an example of bringing joy to the experience. Simone creates “shitty robots”. I’m sure you’ve seen a video of the alarm clock that smacks her awake or the robot that spills soup on her instead of feeding her. They’re amusing and wonderfully flawed.

Simone has a YouTube channel worth subscribing to, but she also recently did a TedTalk. Now just like I hate comedy specials, I also hate TedTalks. This one is an exception. TedTalk is marvelous, insightful, clever, and a love story to the best parts of science. While I won’t be learning to program robots anytime soon, I can’t help but be infected by the joy she brings to these shitty inventions (even while dealing with a brain tumor named Brian). Maybe her shitty robots won’t change the planet, but if they inspire someone to try something new — you never know what might happen.

Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls at the Old Vic

I have read two Patrick Ness novels, The Rest of Us Just Live Here and more recently Release. He intertwines the Young Adult genre with a sweet SciFi in easy to read and clever stories. The rest of his novels are on my to-read list, but when I saw that he had a play in London, I gave it a quick look and quickly forgot about it. (I hadn’t read the book that inspired the play, nor had I watched the film that recently was produced.)

It wasn’t until I was doing a search on TodayTix for cheap entertainment that I saw the tickets for A Monster Calls were for sale and within my price range. A Monster Calls tells the story of a teenage boy visited by the yew tree outside his house. As the boy deals with his mother’s breast cancer and her worsening condition, the yew tree monster tells him stories. The yew tree is brought to life beautifully by ropes strung from the ceiling in one of the most stunning productions I have ever seen. The stage is so minimal and yet so expressive; the story is magical, yet honest; the acting is lovely and raw. The music and words from the stage were joined by the sniffles of the entire audience brought to tears by such a wonderful play. (If you’re in London, it is playing at the Old Vic Theatre and even the highest seats are worth the show.)

dodie’s rainbow

I discovered Dodie Clark on YouTube a few months ago. She makes quirky, sweet music that I find very calming, so I’ve added her songs to my Spotify. (Give In the Middle a listen, as well as Would You Be So Kind and Sick of Losing Soulmates.) She has a unique voice and her videos provided me with a lot of joy upon discovery and introduced me to other lovely musicians as well.

Recently, for Pride month, she posted a song titled “rainbow“. In the middle of figuring out who I am and volunteering for Pride in London, dodie’s song was a gem. The words spoke to me in a time of confusion and loneliness. Give it a listen.

Shaun King’s Twitter

I’m exceeding aware of just how white my five voices are so far. Yes, they represent minority voices and new perspectives, but I’m still questioning how much of my media intake is white. This is where Shaun King comes in.

I actually had to unfollow Shaun King on Twitter because it wasn’t a healthy mindset for me to be in. To pretty constantly see everything wrong with American politics flashing by was both frustrating and upsetting. I didn’t want to ignore what was happening but seeing it every time I logged on wasn’t good for me. I’ve since refollowed in my disuse of the platform, so that when I randomly pop back in, I am getting some reliable news. Shaun King is a great source for the constant inequalities that exist in the United States and around the world. He shares his educated opinion, as well as sharing the opinions of others and facts, and he isn’t afraid to tell the truth.

Other Twitter accounts worth a mention: Mari Copeny (Little Miss Flint), The Associated Press, Terry Crews, Gene Weingarten, and WeRateDogs (because we can always use a little joy in our lives, no matter how horrible they may get).

Just because I am choosing to amplify other voices today does not mean I will be silent, but sometimes it is best to just listen. What voices do you want to amplify today?

Heatwaves

london, Travel

Holy guacamole. It is humid in London right now.

For the second time this year, London’s been hit with a heatwave. With highs in the 80s and lows in the (high) 60s, the stories I’ve heard about mild summers in the U.K. are apparently all a lie. The worst part? I have no A/C.

Growing up I’ve survived humidity thanks to D.C.’s swamp summers. I survived a Swedish winter and an Australian summer. I’m not usually this impacted by weather, but when the entire country is utterly unprepared for warm weather, it sucks.

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It finally rained after weeks of heat and cooled the temperatures down, but just like in D.C., rain is followed by even more humidity. The lack of airflow is stifling; my hair is a frizzball. The best part is that it isn’t going anywhere. Our little rain burst was just a tease, not a change in London’s pattern of providing me with no breezes and a need to keep deodorant at work.

Despite having a dissertation to work on, I’m thinking that a trip outside the city and preferably somewhere cool is in the books… Until then, I’ll be sleeping with the windows open, eating ice cream with every meal, and slowly turning into a puddle of sweat.