September 30, 2014

Tanzania: Six Continents Down, One To Go

{ Dubai International Airport }
As my mom and I boarded the Air Emirates flight to Dubai we gazed up the staircase to first class where you could see a water feature and a purple orchid. We then found our regular seats. Even though we didn't have a bed waiting for us, our seats had plenty of leg room. With that, I think a first class upgrade for my sixteen hour return flight from Cape Town to Dallas would be worth every penny.

As we found our seats 55 H and J, I noticed flight attendants were generously scattered around the plane to assist. Before we even took off we were able to start watching movies from their large movie selection and once we took off bassinets were set up for crying babies and warm lemon scented hand towels were passed out. I was already hooked to American Hustle when our dinner menu was delivered. Dinner included an appetizer, a main dish, desert, tea and coffee and wine or any hard alcohol of your choice.

Airplane food might be a dying art but not for Air Emirates. I could have had the lamb with gravy & potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Personally, I have always loved plane food. Remember when dinner was served on a domestic flight? Oh, those were the days.

When we landed in Dubai I was already looking forward to our next Air Emirates flight. I was wondering what was going to be served for lunch on our flight to Tanzania before I even had my airport breakfast. The Other Women and a few naps later we descended into Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

I am not one to count the number of countries I have traveled to but landing in Africa made me scream... six continents down, one to go!

September 29, 2014

England: Hove to Seaford

A few months before leaving for the UK Bing's homepage was a photo of huge chalk cliffs and I was happy to read that they were only an hour outside of London. As it turns out Alice (who I visited in Glasgow) was going to be in Hove the same day I was going to be in Seaford. Hove is 25 miles from Seaford and fortunately Alice's boyfriend had two bikes we could use to cruise along the waterfront past Brighton and other small seaside towns. 

I woke up early and walked down The Mall past Buckingham Palace to Victoria Station where I took Southern Rail from London to Hove. The trip was suppose to take an hour but about thirty minuets in the train stopped and didn't start again for another 1.5 hours, they were having technical issues with the signalling. With no way to communicate to Alice that the train was delayed but I was on my way I stirred in my seat until we finally pulled into Hove station. I was relived to see Alice waiting there with two bikes. She had become best friends with the ticket lady at Hove Station by the time I arrived.

{ Brighton seaside sheds }
 { Biking along the chalk cliffs }
We hopped on our bikes in Hove and and took off along the boardwalk past Brighton. Brighton is famous for colorful seaside sheds where people keep their beach equipment. The beach along the English Channel was so clean, no trash or seaweed. I couldn't believe it. Also, to my surprise the chalk cliffs start just past Brighton and continue to Newhaven before starting again in Seaford. It was great to bike along the chalk cliffs. They cliffs are one of the most unique things I have ever seen, they took my breath away.

{ Beachy Head chalk cliffs }
That afternoon we arrived in Seaford! It is a surreal feeling to finally be in front of something you have been dreaming of seeing for months. After fulling taking in the massive chalk cliffs we went to a beach side restaurant for a late lunch before taking our bikes on the train to Brighton. At this point Alice continued on to Hove and I waited at the Brighton station for a train back to London. I assumed the technical issues that delayed the trains before had been fixed but I was so wrong. I stood in front of the departure reader board as the arrival time for the 4:49 pm and 4:55 pm train to London changed from on time to delayed to cancelled. My heart sank. How do I get to London now? I quickly asked a train conductor about my options to getting to London today and he pointed to another train that was leaving in four minutes. I hopped on the train as the doors closed behind me. After one transfer I was back in London before dark and was so thankful I wasn't stranded in  Brighton. I was also thankful that no one came by to check my train ticket since I didn't have the correct ticket for the train I was on. I was hoping my pity story would get me out of any trouble. 

September 26, 2014

England: London, Part II

{ Changing the Guard }

Since we were in London it only seemed right to join the masses at Buckingham Palace for Changing the Guard. We strolled through Green Park until we hit the crowds and made our way to the front to watch the guards in red with furry tall hats and their instruments march before us. It really was quite a show for changing just two guards. Two guards, that is all who stands outside the front door of the Queens residence and the whole processes takes an hour. You can tell this isn't the police officers first rodeo, either. They know exactly what to tell the public - "watch your bags" and "don't panic the guards will be back for your photo opportunity." We couldn't see the whole parade at once but we could always tell where the action was because the cameras and selfie sticks would pop up and start snapping away. I have never seen so many selfie sticks.

{ The courtyard of Westminster Abby }
To continue our London sightseeing we went back to Westminster Abby. Eighteen pounds later we were in the side door, had the audio tour to our ears and were learning all about the famous church. Half way through the audio tour I over heard a man say "it's more of a cemetery then a church." He was right. There were hundreds of tombs and memorials throughout the whole church, every nook and cranny was taken. Personally I was obsessed with staring at the brochure (leaflet in British English) which had a photo of Prince William and Kate walking down the aisle on their wedding day. Wish I could have taken photos but muggles are not allowed to photograph inside ;).

Early that day my mom, aunt and I bought three half price tickets to see Evita which was a musical about Argentina's first lady. No lack in the word musical. They didn't stop singing until the final curtain closed. At this point we were hooked on London plays so the following night we went to see Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, the longest running play in London, going on 62 years. It was a simple mystery but they built up the suspense so well I was on the edge of my seat by the end.

{ Underground stops are just too good }
{ The streets of Notting Hill }
{ The many colorful doors of Notting Hill }

Since arriving in London I was looking forward to visiting Notting Hill and Portobello Market (I was on a search for the Notting Hill Shopping Bag). Notting Hill felt like a little oasis from the city. I loved it from the second we hopped off the tube (Charing Cross to Notting Hill Gates - £4.70) and walked down the colorful streets. Wish I was back there now sipping a coffee at a local shop. If I lived in London this would be my neighborhood.

{ Round Pond at Hyde Park }

{ Street side flower shops }
After picking out our house in Notting Hill we walked across London through Hyde Park to join a London Walks tour of Piccadilly and Green Park. It was a two hour historical walking tour that left from the Green Park Underground. Our guide was a theatrical British man who made everything entertaining even the gas street lamps. Even though joining the walking tour wasn't my idea of fun I ended up having a great time and learned so much as our guide pointed out small details I would have never noticed otherwise. I wish we had done more walking tours :). I loved learning about the gentleman clubs, the gas streets lamps and exploring the secret side alleys that opened up to courtyards. 

September 24, 2014

England: London, Part I

{ My mom and Aunt Carol overlooking the River Thames }
{ Over the River Thames }
I took the train from Edinburgh down to London King's Cross and just four hours later I was still in Great Britain but a much larger city. From King's Cross Station I found the Underground and after a few currency issues at the ticket office I was on the tube and headed to Leicester Square (pronounced Lester, it's a tricky one). With all the luck in the world I popped up from the Underground at the correct intersection and using Google map screenshots I made my way to the Civil Service Club where I was meeting my mom and aunt.

{ Big Ben }
{ Westminster Abby }

Queen Elizabeth and Baby George, we have arrived! My four days in London would be extra special if I had a chance to take a selfie with Queen Elizabeth. Queen B step aside we are in England now! I want to Google all the photos from Prince William and Kate's wedding now that I am in the neighborhood. Buckingham Palace was only an evening stroll from our hotel which we went to see after arriving. We also saw Big Ben and Westminster Abby. Ooolala. 

{ Queens Walk }
{ Installation about Rwanda and peace along the Queens Walk - "Take a selfie with Jeanne" - done }
{ Tate Modern // Pollock }
We were able to walk along the Thames on the Queens Walk to Tate Modern, a museum I had been eyeing since I booked my flight to the UK. I have never been to museum that was so "modern." White walls and cement floors, it would have felt cold but the layout made the art pop. Picasso, Diego Rivera, Braque, Pollock, Rothko, the whole gang was there and we had a lovely morning exploring each floor.

{ Shakespeare's Globe }

We continued down the Queens Walk to Shakespeare's Globe and to just our luck a play was starting in twenty minutes. At the Globe there are floor tickets available for five pounds. With our tickets purchased we joined the other groundlings and watched a well performed laugh out loud play. Just like Shakespeare would have wanted it including the language barrier.

{ Tower Bridge }
The Tower Bridge was our next stop on the Queens Walk and we weren't the only ones their either. Thousands of our closest international friends joined us. I don't think I have heard British English since I have arrived in England. London is filled with tourists, I have seen crowds I didn't know existed past the Superbowl.

{ Hey, I'm  a tourist }
To wrap up day one and to get off the dirty streets of London (where are all the street cleaners?) we took a night tour on an open top double-decker bus. London at night was just gorgeous! All lit up and dazzling, especially Harrods. 1.5 hours later we were dropped off near Piccadilly Circus, a little chilly and full of London knowledge including some useless knowledge, like where to buy a Ferrari or Aston Martin. I think our tour guide was obsessed with cars.

P.S. I am quickly discovering the Underground is expensive. I might as well pay for a private double-decker bus to escort me around the city, it's probably the same price as public transportation. I thought I would be on the tube hopping from one tourist attraction to the next but instead I make my mom and aunt walk everywhere. It has definitely saved pounds and I am talking about both kinds of pounds ;). 

September 22, 2014

Sip & Savor: Scotland

Cottiers, Glasgow
This seems to be a running trend in Scotland, churches repurposed as restaurants and I am not complaining. It is the perfect atmosphere to reflect on the days adventure. Cottiers was apparently dog friendly as well, in case you can't separate from your pup and they joined you on your travels. Above is their Warm Goat Cheese Salad, with no lack of goat cheese, might I add. They also have a BBQ with corn on the cob, hamburgers and wine. Everything goes with wine, in my opinion. 

Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Biscuits
While in Scotland a tasty dessert (or morning snack, you are on holiday) is Tunnock's Caramel Wafer Biscuits. I couldn't just have one and might I add, they pair with wine nicely. 

Zebra Coffee Co., Edinburgh
After wondering along the Royal Mile we turned off to head down The Mound to Princes St. and bumped into these cranberry, apple and brie sandwiches. Their prettiness stopped us, I mean they are tied together with rope. You can't beat that and since we always judge a book by its cover we walked away from Zebra Coffee Co. with two. Oh, and they tasted just as good as they looked. 

Project Coffee, Edinburgh 
I want to become a regular here, it was just too good and the atmosphere was divine. Their coffee was delicious and their scones with butter and jam were finger lickin' good. 

Rocket Cafe, Edinburgh
I can smell a breakfast sandwich from a mile away and Rocket Cafe did not disappoint. I ordered their bagel sandwich with streaky bacon, a fried egg, rocket and chili jam. Yum, yum. I wonder if they serve breakfast all day? There were actually two breakfast bagel sandwiches on the menu. The other one came with black pudding which is blood sausage. I'm sorry, did you say blood? Don't get me wrong I want to try the Scottish cuisine just not for breakfast before I've had a cup of coffee. 

Ting Thai Caravan, Edinburgh 
Take me to Thai food any day and if it comes with an entire shrimp I'll be even more excited. Ting Thai Caravan is a new Thai restaurant that always has a line out the door. Although I ordered the most predictable meal ever, I was craving it and it was on the menu. Every bite of pad thai was better then the next. I could have gone for seconds but I would have had to change from jeans to sweatpants, stat. My only complaint was their meals came in to go boxes. I'll admit I have been caught throwing paper into the trash instead of the recycling but for a restaurant to not use reusable bowls? I mean come on, can't you find another way to be a hipster.

The Bon Vivant, Edinburgh
The night at the pub started off with a toast to Kim and Ian on their engagement and then things got wild when we started ordering haggis bonbons and black pudding. The haggis was surprisingly good, granted it was fried which makes anything taste delicious but it really was. Before long I was onto my third haggis bonbon and really getting into the broom sauce. The black pudding was a completely different texture then I was expecting and it was a pleasant surprise. More blood black pudding, please. 

Falko Konditormeister, Gullane
You mean I can have a slice of chocolate cake mid-afternoon and no one will judge me? Sign me up and make it a big one. 

September 20, 2014

Scotland: Edinburgh, Part II

{ Passport, fully loaded with pages }
I had a bit of business to take care of one morning and therefore now know where the US Consulate is in Edinburgh. I added 48 visa pages to my passport which is actually easier to do aboard then in the US. I learned my lesson in Vietnam when I tried to fly to Indonesia without any visa pages. Whoops. Being turned down at the airport for a Christmas beach holiday was something I do not want happening again. My passport is now ready for any international adventure that comes my way. 

{ NBC News on the left and Athens of the North in the center }
{ View from Calton Hill, could use some sun }
{ Yes campaign and No Campaign }
Conveniently located near the U.S. Consulate was Calton Hill which has a wonderful view of Edinburgh. Unexpectedly, NBC News was also on the hill ready to cover the Scottish Referendum. We then noticed that every street corner of Edinburgh had news reporters on it as Scotland built up to voting day (September 18, 2014). It was the talk of the town and naturally so. The Yes campaign was in full force but it was the No Thanks campaign that took home the win! 

{ National Gallery of Scotland } 
Since, I can't visit a city without seeing their collection of Impressionists, Kim and I made our way to the National Gallery of Scotland. Although their collection of Impressionist was small it was free and you can't get much better then free when you are unemployed.

{ North Berwick }
{ North Berwick }
{ North Berwick }
For a change of pace from the city we took an afternoon road trip to North Berwick and Gullane, two coastal towns East of Edinburgh. Although it was quite cloudy that day the towns were stunning with green golf courses, castles and sailboats dotting the shoreline. If anyone has a summer home that needs a house sitter, you know who to call.

{ Bye Scotland and your tiny cars }

September 19, 2014

Backpack Packing: What to Wear, Scotland in the Fall

I checked the iPhone weather app before packing but what does 64 degrees really feel like (and we all know you can't trust the iPhone weather app)? Since I didn't bring a suitcase and I wasn't only traveling for a week before returning home I needed to pack layers that could work for multiple occasions and climates. AND it all had to fit into my backpack that had actual important things in it like medicine to keep me alive if I were to get sick. You know that sort of important stuff. 

When I backpack I wear the same thing over and over again. This was going to be no different in Scotland even though it is a first world country with a lot of people who have the chance to do laundry. No worries, I have been wearing the same sweatshirt for five days now. Ain't no thang. 

Above is a visual list of what I wore during my week visiting Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

P.S. I also think three pairs of pants is excessive but the jeans will be flying home with my mom after Tanzania and probably the tartan scarf I picked up in Scotland too. Who needs wool on the beaches of Zanzibar.