Thursday, April 28, 2011

Destination 5: The Royal Wedding

Yep, I'm in London for the wedding. I'm not actually going to the wedding. I asked Robbie Williams but he decided to take his wife.

Long story.

Anyway, I took a stroll down the Mall and around Buckingham Palace to see how the preparations are going for the big day.



Now I'm gonna find myself a cup of tea.



Tuesday, April 26, 2011

I fell in love...

... with a hotel.

I moved on from Edinburgh to Glasgow to get a little more Scottish action from a little different locale.

It's called Citizen M and every hotel in the world should be like Citizen M.



Confession: I've watched a lot of TV and haven't seen much of Glasgow.

Bad Llama.



Monday, April 25, 2011

Knickerbocker Glory and life's other important lessons

This is a Knickerbocker Glory. A very fancy name for a typical strawberry sundae.
Remember when I said that my timing couldn't be perfect on this trip and that God was just showing off? Well tonight in Edinburgh is yet another example of this.

I met Meghan last week in Paris when she and her mom were on vacation. I sheepishly admit that we met at an English language bookstore in Paris. (This is a clue as to why my French never improved.) I thought they were cool chicks. Later I discovered that Meghan's mom went to the same school as myself, the University of Santa Monica, which explains the cool factor.

Whilst in Paris, we spent time exploring the 5th, talking about food and blogs. Meghan is a student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a foodie, so naturally, we had to dine upon my arrival.

Travel tip: Seek out foodies. They know the best places in town to get good grub.

Turns out, the best place to get grub in this Scottish town is an Italian restaurant. She brought her friend MC along and we three chatted into the evening.
Meghan and MC.
We talked about life and dreams. They are students trying to figure out what to do with their lives. I'm not far off. Except I'm on the other end of the career scale.

Though I've got some ideas.

And so do they.

I tried to tell them what people didn't tell me when I first started out. I told them how and why they should live beneath their means. I told them how they must follow their enthusiasm to figure out what to do in life. I told them that money can't buy happiness but happiness can't buy much so they must learn to balance making a living with making a good life.

I tried not to be preachy... until I told them about the best journal and pen in the world. Then I think I rattled on a bit.

These girls impressed me. They were articulate and wise. They were far more advanced than I was at their age.

When I was a student, plugging away at my essays and trying to balance a higher education with earning street cred, I was much more timid. These girls have moved to other countries to get their education, which alone is a brave thing to do. Meghan from the USA and MC from Italy. They are citizens of the world, hopping on planes and trains without it being a big giant deal.

Meanwhile, me and my country bumpkin self, can't sleep the night before a flight and obsessively research how to get from the train or plane to the hotel or apartment. Forget about what I'll do in the city I visit. Just get me from the safety of the plane to the safety of the hotel. Then I'll figure out the rest. I'm not quite comfortable with transitions yet.

Yet these ladies take it all in stride.

It was a good lesson on how to not freak out whilst traveling. Or in other words...


Near the end of the evening, we realized they had eight minutes to catch their train so we ran in the rain to the station. They leapt gracefully onto the train, and though I couldn't hear them at that point, I'm sure they were giggling the whole time.

Once settled in their seats, they texted me that they were successfully on their way.

Yes. They are.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Having fun storming the castle

I love traipsing around Edinburgh, despite my disappointing hotel.

Edinburgh helps me feel at home in the land of my forefathers.

People here wear kilts all the time and I feel especially Scottish in mine. I also feel especially Scottish when people pronounced my last name correctly AND they don't follow it with, "MacLeod of the clan MacLeod."

Do all guys watch The Highlander? Is it in some global "Must-Watch TV for Males" manual? I don't get it. Even in France, the guys I met who couldn't even speak English said in very clear English, "MacLeod of the clan MacLeod" when I told them my last name. 

I'm never sure if it's a sign of affection or I'm being teased.

Anyway, Edinburgh is a beautiful Scottish city and it's even more beautiful in Spring. I can't believe my timing. Just as the last of the blossoms had trickled down from the trees in Paris, I came up relive them all again in Edinburgh.

I ate breakfast on one of the benches here and gazed out over the castle to plan my attack.
Yep, I'm definitely not in Kansas anymore.

 Now I explore Edinburgh Castle
Every castle needs a manly man to guard the entrance.

Either a warning sign, a family crest or a pharmacy.

This was a room where some guy spent his last nights before being beheaded. Charming. 

Tourists everywhere! Oh wait.

The castle people do a nice job of helping retell the many tales of the castle. Check out this guy. I thought he was feeling remorse for his crimes. Nope. I read the sign. He was sobering up. Ah, the Scottish.

I like me a good diorama. A lot of Exacto knife blades went into the creation of this elaborate scene.

The castle has many buildings to visit. It's bigger than you think.
...so you'll want to take a rest once in awhile.

I'm not sure why this entire family is walking like they are in a strong wind.

Storytelling as you stroll. Headphones and an audio tour for 3 pounds.
The castle makes for a great backdrop for my tree blossom photos.

... and fountain photos.

So that's the castle. Touristy. Interesting. Chocked full of history. Glad I went. Got snapshots.

Seeing the castle made me want to know more of the history, but not to actually read more about it. It just made me want to go back to watch Braveheart and those Elizabeth movies starring Cate Blanchett where she offs Mary Queen of Scots.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dear Asshole Hotel in Edinburgh

To whom it may concern:

When I was looking for a hotel in your fair city of Edinburgh, I had certain requirements. I was looking for something centrally located. Your hotel is certainly in the city center. I was looking for internet access, which you provide at a pirate's rate of USD$20 per day. And I was looking for clean. I admit, though the place is kinda run down and in need of a face lift, it's clean.

I didn't think that Toilets That Work should have been added to the list of amenities I was looking for in a hotel. The first room I had was equipped with a faulty toilet. Fine. These things happen. How would you know it was broken if a guest didn't report it? And you were kind to give me another room.

But when I flushed in my new room, it didn't work either. 

I mean, c'mon.

I'd flush and get a trickle for my efforts. I'd flush again. Trickle again. Then I became like a Pavlovian rat flushing the toilet again and again, hoping the incessant pushing of the handle would culminate in one successful flush.

At one point, I shut the lid, opened a magazine and read two full articles while I flushed repeatedly with the other hand. Eventually, and this is probably on flush 30, I had success.

30 flushes doth not a working toilet make.

And just so you know, I'm talking about "Number 1" here. For me, the moons have to be aligned for a successful "Number 2" on the first day in a new place. But when faced with a defective toilet? Forget it. Scared like a turtle.

I will never go to your hotel again and I look forward to writing scathing reviews on hotel sites.

Your hotel sucks. You suck.

Sincerely,
Janice MacLeod

The clincher came when I checked out of this hotel and mentioned the toilet issue yet again to the receptionist.

"Yes, we have many complaints about the toilets."

Stunned.

Then. Do. Something. About. It. Fer. Eff. Sakes.

"Yes, yes. Sometimes we have to send a porter up to help people with the toilets."

Before or after they "drop the kids at the pool?"

I can just imagine if by some miracle I managed to "drop my kids at the pool" in a defective toilet, and when it didn't flush, a porter would come up and assist me with the delicate toileting system, both of us likely hovering over the "issue."

No no no. Not winning. 

Don't go to this hotel, unless you don't give a shit about taking a shit. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Destination 4: Edinburgh, Scotland

"I have nothing to declare but my genius."
--Oscar Wilde

I couldn't stay in Paris forever.


So I high-tailed it out of there and left all this behind.

And I left this sweet being behind, too, but not before plans, promises and proposals were declared... but we both know that time can null and void any ticket to ride off into the sunset together.


A man's love. I get it. I really get it. And I really get what I haven't been getting until this beautiful creature showed me.

Sigh.

I can't help but think of my favorite ABBA song, Our Last Summer. We walked along the Seine, we laughed in the rain. We made our way along the river and sat down in the grass by the Eiffel Tower. And we had a drink in each café, too. Just like in the song. That was us.

But the tour continues.

And time will tell with that one.

Stay tuned.

Still, it's good to have space to process Paris.

I hopped a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, to hang out in the land of MacLeod.

I thought I'd score me a kilt. I'm sorry to say that the MacLeod tartan is a very loud Bumblebee yellow and I refuse to traipse around the world with a yellow arse.

I considered getting a getup like this guy...

But I settled on a gray and black little number with pink stripes that went well with the rest of my wardrobe, which is Catholic school girl in nature.

I'm kidding.

My wardrobe is actually rock star in nature.

Now I just need a Ramone's t-shirt and I'll be all set. 

Anyway, Edinburgh.

Today I get the gear. Tomorrow I charge the castle.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sometimes I think God is just showing off

Seriously.

I think God is just showing off on my "vacation."

First, a few months back when I started this trip, my first flight was with Aine, with whom I've traveled to Japan, Ireland, France, Italy and Canada. And it was completely coincidental. She was in Santa Barbara on business. Score.
Maple Leaf lounging with Aine. We are too experienced to not get lounge access.

Second, again by complete coincidence, my friend Alexis and her husband Sebastian were in Paris on vacation while I was here so we got French grub together.
French people eat French food every single day. We couldn't get over it.

Third, I wondered why the heck I managed to rent an apartment off Rue Mouffetard in Paris because, to me, it was in the boondocks and far away from everything cool... but it turns out I was close to this hot number, whom I was meant to meet.
You can't see it but he's holding my hand. He never lets go.
Even without speaking the same language, we figure it out.

And fourth, MY UNCLE AND AUNT ARE IN PARIS ON VACATION AT THE SAME TIME AS ME!!!! Originally, I was going to head on my merry way a few days before their arrival, but heck no, not when there is exploring, giggling and talking to be had all over Paris. A quick call to the airline and I was back on the streets of Paris. (That doesn't sound right.)

Voila! Presenting THE Aunt Mary and Uncle Brad.

My uncle, aunt and I never finish any conversations. We start, of course, and we talk non-stop but we get sidetracked, like when we were talking about our experiences at the Musée D'Orsey but then came across all these pretty little horses:
And it was her idea to go for a ride. How great is that?
We also have a similar cadence with which to explore museums. One is ahead, one is behind, one is in the gift shop. But somehow we all manage to enjoy the art together.

You don't think it's important to have a good museum-going relationship with someone until the person you are with is bored or hungry or not as into the art as you are. Luckily, my aunt and uncle like the same museums as moi and explore said museums with a similar gait as moi. Here we are at the Musée de l'Orangerie, where we gazed at the murals of Monet's waterlilies:



When traveling with others, it's also very important to have the same needs at the same time... like when we three needed a caffeine fix and sugar fix at an outdoor café in St. Germain de Prés.
"That chocolate shop was one of the highlights of my life." -Aunt Mary

Happily sipping legal addictive stimulants with family is good times.
After that, it was church hopping.
Notre Dame just had a face lift. It looks 500 years younger.
While God was showing off by bringing many of my favorite people to Paris, the Catholic church was showing off, too. The best example of this—by far—is Sainte-Chapelle church, a stained glass masterpiece of a church right in the heart of picturesque Paris.
How about a glass church? Why yes. That would be divine.
These days they have classical music concerts here every night. The Parisians know how to live.
I think someone was definitely showing off to God with this rose window.

My uncle and aunt are here in Paris for three weeks to celebrate my aunt's retirement. My uncle already retired a few years ago. Then there is me, who is acting like she's retired.

Am I full time tourist? Retired? Lost soul? Nomadic blogger?

Yes and no to all of it.

I could think more about the definition of self, but right now, I've got a man next to me watching Dawson's Creek with French voice over. Gotta go.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Versailles Schmersailles

Everyone who has been to Paris tells you to go to Versailles.

They don't tell you why.

"Just go," they say.

So I went. And let me tell you what they won't tell you:

IT'S BIG AND KINDA BORING.

The place is huge so you need to wear good shoes. I was even wearing good shoes but they were NO MATCH for Versailles.

For a background, Versailles is where a bunch of the Kings of the Louis variety lived until merde went down during the French Revolution. Now it's a tourist attraction. The palace is ornate as all get out... to the point of ridiculous. I mean, do you need a red room, yellow room, blue room, green room and teal room? Not to mention a salon for the moon, Mars, the sun, Jupiter and Saturn? Non.

But hey, when you're a king and into being fancy, maybe this stuff is up your alley. I dunno.

The palace is on grounds that are so big that one should rent a bike or bus because to trek on foot (which I did) is just bad planning.

But Versailles is not so bad. The Hall of Mirrors was rad (see below) as was my new friend Aram, a student from Korea, who was as lost as I was on the ginormous grounds.

But in the end, if you come to Paris, you should see Versailles. It's true. Just make sure you wear good shoes.
Just your average ceiling at Versailles. No biggie. Geezus.

Seen one throne, seen them all.

I have angels holding up my chandeliers. Doesn't everyone?

Someone liked flowers.

I thought this was it. Then I turned around and saw acres of gardens. ACRES.

"Hey honey, let's hang out in the yellow room tonight."

"Nah, I'm feeling for the red room."

Getting over it.

This was after I met Aram and became completely amused by her equal lack of enthusiasm for Versailles.

So we decided to amuse each other. We were lost anyway.

We came across this village created for Marie Antoinette and her musing.

Complete with thatched roofs and gardeners.

And it's all not real. It's like Disney. Amazing.

The farm animals are real.

I wonder what these cows did in a past life to get this sweet gig.

After the grounds, I gave the palace another gander. It was just as ridiculously ornate as the first time around.
The Hall of Mirrors is quite lovely. It's right outside Louis' bedroom.

But never again. I will never go to Versailles again.

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