Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas and beating on Boxing day!

Merry Christmas from abroad once more!

Arrival back in England safely, without any more snowy mishaps blocking the road. The bus took the train back, went right into the train box and rumbled on into the night, under the sea, and back onto the road, this time on the left!



And I planned it right this time, (had to wait quite a bit for the tube train) got off at Marylebone, checked the schedule for the High Wycombe stop on the National train, and rushed and bought a Cornish Pasty before jumping on for the final stop.

Christmas Eve started off at noon with the annual local pub crawl...





Then a quick visit back home to eat a delicious homemade fish pie before heading out again into Wycombe for live music and a taxi ride home... (Fish, prawns and potatoes simmered in a cream sauce with spinach and baked under a layer of mashed potatoes... yum! Btw, ever hear of Jamie Oliver?)



Christmas day was really nice, nothing out of the ordinary (except for the snow! Which I heard was quite unusual for this part of England). Woke up to a houseful of Gaspers, followed a by plenty of food and drink- organic pork from Wales plus all kinds of trimmings, roasted vegies, green beans, red cabbage, what else all I don't remember, but what I do remember is the dessert, which was a bunch of fresh berries, raisins, dried cranberries, soaked in amaretto and poured over with heavy cream, then topped by a dollop of clotted cream... and I thought that was it but I didn't realize that later we were going to have yet another meal- this time more characterized by appetizers and crunchy fried things, melted camembert, Welsh beer, and champagne... Then we got into teams and played a quiz game orchestrated by Phil's mom. (My team got second place by 1 and a half points... So much for having the Yank on your team guys!)

The best present was the Horsey Hoppers game, that Zoe got for her brothers. Quite a success, we cleared out the kitchen and took turns racing across the floor- I need to post some photos!

What else... Oh, right! the next day we went beating! In England it's called Boxing Day, from when the servants were given this day off after spending Christmas Day catering for their employers and then were sent off with boxes of leftovers...

So, what is beating you may ask? Well, this is how it goes.



The gamekeeper raises pheasants and fowl to release them into the wild for subsequent hunting. On the day of the hunt the hunters prepare themselves with guns and camoflauge clothing, and position in the field in strategic locations. Today the hunters are young lads who usually work as beaters during the year, and the beaters are an assorted bunch of volunteers, including this American girl!



Ok so, the beaters spread out surrounding an area where the fowl like to hide, usually in the underbrush and trees. We then follow directions from Andy the gamekeeper as we advance, slowly and steadily through the woods, whacking flags made from feed bags and making lots of noise. (We also spend a lot of time waiting around as everyone else gets into position.)





Andy's dogs are advancing with us, most of them well trained and at attention, minus one, by the name of Tucker, whose name we hear constantly- "Tucker!" "Tucker!" because he doesn't stay behind us and keeps going running off... Tucker is actually Zoe's dog, so in his defense, he's not really trained as a hunting dog. As we reach the end and the birds lose their cover, they start to fly up into the air. Then there is lots of shooting and pellets raining down from the sky, and, as well, birds, falling down, from the sky.

The dogs at this point are running around like crazy, and they rush off and grab birds that have fallen and bring them back.

We went out four times, going back to the barn for tea and cookies (and a nip of brandy) halfway through. It was cold and brisk out, snow on the ground and romping up and down the rolling hills of Wycombe, good fun!

I conked out after that, felled by some combination of cold weather and traveling... All in all, a really nice weekend back in England. Looking forward to seeing Avatar in 3D tonight and homemade potato leek soup!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thanks to the most snow in Holland for many many years, trains haven't been running, so I've been spending my time in Utrecht- really not a bad place to be!



I can walk to the main part of town from Sita's house. There are picturesque canals, and a huge tower, and lots of cute shops.

Her house is also really comfortable, and I've been eating WAAAAY too much!



On Sunday Sita threw out the suggestion of having a snowball fight instead of a capoeira roda... Imagine 20 or so capoeiristas running around in the plaza under the Domtower, snow flying, (and falling from the sky!) and everybody out of breath from laughing and having snow in their face. And of course we had to play a little capoeira in all the winter coats and scarves!



Then it began, the food fest. First off, hot chocolate with rum to warm up again. Then walking over to a local pub for a tapas appetizer and Christmas ale.



Next stop was next door, a sister store to the restaurant where Richard works in Amsterdam. There were multiple little dishes filled with Indonesian delectables- each one different and more delicious than the last. Walking home was beautiful that night, it was bright as day due to the reflection of the streetlamps off the snow, and it had stopped snowing...





Last night I went to the Monday night capoeira class, but it was really small, because people couldn't get to town with the trains not running and all. It was fun anyways, meeting new capoeiristas is always a good time!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

and more snow...

Big fat snowflakes are falling from the sky, fascinating! Wind is blowing snow off the neighboring roofs in whoofs of blurry white.

Flights have been grounded and Eurostar trains were stuck in the Chunnel Tunnel yesterday.

And we're not going to the Hague today to see the windmills. We'll stay in town and avoid the highways. Even local trains and buses are not running today.

Yesterday we went to the Van Gogh museum, went through the Heineken experience and the red light district, ate Chinese food and met up with Amr for a hot chocolate.

The Van Gogh museum was really interesting- he wrote a lot of letters to his family throughout his lifetime, and exerpts were displayed next to the paintings, which made them make so much more sense. It revealed more of his character and personality and the background behind each iconic painting. It made me want to buy a book of his letters and read them all- biographical information is so interesting to me as I face the challenge of choosing the next step along my life's path.

The Heineken experience was also more interesting than I thought, it was huge and interactive, complete with a tasting and chance to pour your own drink! I think it did taste better here than it does in the states. At any rate, it was a good look at the history of a successful international enterprise- more biographical information!

And meeting up with Amr was a pleasant surprise- he moved out to Amsterdam over a year ago... after Chinese for dinner he took us on a tour of the infamous red light district... The oldest profession. Later we met up with some of his friends at a cozy bar and drank hot chocolate spiked with Stroh... Went home to bed early (just 2am) after a long day of walking in the cold.

This morning we woke up to a light snowfall which gradually thickened, and is still going. It's nice here inside though-

Soon we'll go out to buy chocolate sprinkles and walk around Utrecht.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Snowing!!!

And I'm free!

A lonely traveler once again, stepping in and out of people's lives like bread into a fondue pot.

It was snowing on the day I left Paris, and OuiFM sang me a song in french about how "it's not goodbye, when you're coming back!"



Chocolat, le chat noir, wanted to go out onto the balcony and came back in all snowy white.

The bus ride took 11 hours- I forgot why I never take day bus trips longer than 4 or 5 hours... I think the reasoning this time was that I wanted to see the scenery... I was remembering the 24 hour bus trip from Fortaleza to Salvador in Brasil, where the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and I felt that I was witness to some kind of endless panoramic IMAX vista through the windows of the bus.



This time I thought of the Chronicles of Narnia, I thought of Dersu Usala and Napolean and his army... It was snowing and blowing the whole way through, and we went about 10 miles an hour the entire time.

Sita met me at the bus station and whisked me away to Indonesian dinner followed by a Spanish bar in the basements along the canals in Utrecht. There was live music played by live volunteers from the audience, people who brought in their own instruments, who danced and sang until all hours of the night.



We ate smoked slices of meat from a cow's leg held suspended above the table, it was soooo good!



And to wrap it up we had turkish pizza wraps at a little cafe close to the house. Home to bed at 4 in the morning...

I feel comfortable in Sita's house, as if I've been here before. As if I've already climbed the steep stairway many times and looked out the bathroom window. The open stairwell with no guard rail is oddly familiar, as is the warm yellow of the knotty pine wooden floorboards in the living room.



Tomorrow we plan to storm Amsterdam, hitting up various museums and attractions as listed in the "Holland Pass, size XL"! (I finally got smart and decided to buy a discount pass, trying to save some euros here!")

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

On the road again!

Well...

Here I am, on the road again. Sitting in my usual spot in the internet cafe. This time the ambient language is French...

Some observations:
You don't have to scoop your dog's poop on the sidewalk in France. Watch your step though!
J'ai frois! The cold is like another entity here, nudging with persistence into your fingers and toes.
French keyboards are all screwy: a is where q should be, w and z are switched, m is where ; should be and you have to press shift to get numbers or you end up with "Iùll be there qt &è:"à in the ,orning" My normal speed of -( words per minute is waaaay waaay down.
Baguettes really are better here!
Everybody drinks wine at lunch. In cute little tiny wine glasses, out of really cool ceramic pitchers.

I've spent the past day or so reorganizing my trip due to the interesting turn of events in which I find out that I have been laid off from my safe, steady, secure (albeit claustrophobic) job and have been SET FREE! in Europe! Wow! It's almost like a book, this story, my life. What excuse do I have now NOT to take advantage of the situation and continue forth on this European Adventure? Of course, pending friends to stay with, and the always entertaining process of booking future travel in the middle of the holiday season in a foreign language...

So it's worked out like this, for all those who are interested: I've cancelled the return flight and can reschedule it (for a nominal fee, of course) for some later date but I have to keep the same airports, so at some point I still have to fly to LAX from CDG (Paris). (I could also just give up that ticket and get a new one- from ANYWHERE in the world! The possibilities are endless.) I just don't have the date planned quite yet...

I'm going to Amsterdam on Thursday, where I will stay with Sita in Utrecht for about a week. Then I return to England for Christmas to spend it with Phil and the Gasper clan... (I said I'd be back, didn't I? How did I know?!) And then off to Ireland to see Emma Jane again, and then back to Paris for the return flight, mid-Jan sometime... All rights reserved, all plans subject to change.

Special thanks to CB Paris... especially OuiFM! My official french tour guide and partner in crime. And to Serali, for letting me stay at his house while he goes gallivanting off to ski in the Swiss Alps... And to Chocolat, le chat noir, who meows with high intensity all night long to let you know he exists...

Backing up:

Being in England was like a dream, finally being there...



In the fabled land of The Secret Garden and A Little Princess... The Smiths, the Cure, and everybody speaking with that fabluously sexy English accent! Driving on the left! (I got to drive!)



It was especially difficult to remember not to hit anything with the left side of the car... (Thanks Phil!) Went to Great Missendon to see the Roald Dahl museum but it was closed on Monday- I really hope they will be open when I go back! In the village where I stayed, the houses had names instead of numbers.





Ate bangers and mash.



We went to the pub and ate pies and drank ale.



Wandered to the next pub and drank more. Went to see the Wycombe Wanderers football game- did not get beat up!



It rained tons! Went to the Sherlock Holmes museum on Baker Street and Alice in Wonderland's house in Oxford. I perfected my English accent. Went to Harrod's...



And went to the Tower of London, went ice skating and continued my education in world art and history at various museums.



It has not snowed.

And here in Paris... Le Tour Eiffel, Le Champs Elysees, Le Louvre, Montmartre. And today, after internet, Le Musee D'Orsay. Then more capoeira. Last night I went to Pimpolho's class, where everyone tried to buy with me in the roda like it was my birthday- awesome! It felt really good to get active again.



And the food! I ate crepes! Fondue! Foie gras! Pain au chocolat! Tartes de pommes! Baguettes with salami and butter, mmmmm! Chocolate filled breakfast cereal! Lebanese sandwiches! J'ai faim!





D'accord, I will leave you now and continue in the future- you know, it really feels so good to be back traveling again with that semi-insecure feeling of not knowing the exact path I will be following, but just knowing that I have time...

A six week trip is about right. Two weeks is just too much of a whirlwind, not enough time to actually BE somewhere. Although there are always those brief moments of sadness, loneliness and insecurity when I don't know where I am going or why. It's usually when I am waiting for something, late for something, or don't know what I am going to do next. (Or if I've been laid off!) And if I am hungry or cold, it's even worse. Those are the times I paranoidedly think it would be better to be home, on a steady, readily-understandable-to-the-outside-observer schedule, on a path to a comfortable future... (That's when I feel sorry for myself and start to cry...) Then I have to remember to stand up for my choices and remind myself that nobody really lives an easy, predictable life, it just looks that way.

So, voila! Welcome to my life!