Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Where in the World Are My Wellies?

Of course it's going to rain all week, I sent my wellies back home via UPS on Saturday...the real irony is, I didn't wear them once while they were here. 

Soggy in the UK,

The Temporary European

Monday, 27 July 2009

Tostadas in London Rescued by the French!

Now perhaps it is my emotional state due to my nearing departure from the UK, but I swear I was nearly brought to tears by the kindness of a stranger. It happened yesterday at the Whole Foods (yes, I finally found it 8 days before said departure!); I had just toured Kensington Palace (the former home of Princess Diana) and I was starving. After perusing the third floor organic market cafe, I finally decided on Mexican. I approached the counter and was met by a young man who would both take my order and prepare my meal. He was not happy to be a burrito /tostada/ taco man and he let me know it. There were no menus so I was forced to ask questions and he was irritated beyond belief when I asked what came on the tostada. In my weakened state, I could not fight back and I really didnt' care to because I just wanted peace and some food. Project Smile London was on hiatus with this guy, I reasoned that my ability to restrain myself from verbally assaulting him was gift enough. Anyway, in retaliation for me asking questions, he scooped minescule amounts of rice, beans, chicken, guac and cheese into my BIG tostada bowl. For a brief moment I was tempted to question his laddeling technique but then I wondered if I wasn't being paranoid -- lots of mean people in a mean city can make you paranoid after a few months! I tried to be rational about the whole thing. "Come on Jennifer, this is what everyone gets," I told myself. As I walked my meager contents within their big bowl to the cashier, I wondered how this could cost 5.99. But, I wasn't going to make trouble, you know, the stiff upper lip and all. I could do with a few less calories since I wasn't eating live anymore... And then it happened, the nicest thing ever, the young, French man at the till looked at my pathetic tostada fillings and said, "That seems small."
My eyes widened with shock. "Yes, I thought so too. But that guy over there isn't very happy and he took it out on my tostada."
"Well, if he isn't happy, that isn't your problem." The nicest French man on earth said.
"Thanks, but I don't want to make any trouble. I'll just pay." I said (yes, I swear this is true).
"No! If I were you, I'd be angry. Let me take care of this." And he whisked away my paultry tostada.
He returns a few moments later with a tostada flowing with yummy Mexican contents and says, "I put myself in your shoes. You pay. You want the right amount."
I smiled at that nice, French man living in London and I wondered how long he's been living here and if he's originally from the South of France...

Friday, 24 July 2009

An Old Friend of Mine

Yes, this is going to sound a bit ignorant, but I never realized there was an actual Paddington Train Station.  I was so excited when I saw the station on a tub map and I knew I had to a make a trip there before I left England. I'm not sure if you all know Paddington Bear, but if you do, you know how lovable and adorable he is; if you don't know, please go to your nearest book store and find a Paddington book and read it -- it will only take you 5 minutes, just do it!
Paddington Bear is an old friend of mine; we met when I was about eight. I wish I could remember who gave me my Paddington book and mini-bear because I would thank him/her profusely. I took that bear lots of places and I got the biggest kick out of his suitcase, wellies and attached note, "Please look after this bear." Sadly, somewhere along my journey of life, I lost my little friend. I was saddened but I took hope that someone would look after my bear.
I've always secretly wished I'd find someone else's lost Paddington and I'd take care of that bear, but it's never happened. I have taken a trip Paddington station and once I was there the kid in me couldn't help but look around wondering if the infamous bear would turn up around the corner trying to find his way home. They have a bronze statue of Paddington but I couldn't get my picture with him because I was too embarrassed to ask any of the harried travelers to take a photo of a grown woman with a bronze bear statue! But while I was there, I couldn't resist buying a new Paddington to replace the one I lost so long ago. He is larger than the original but he sure is cute and I promise to take care of him.  If during your travles, you come across a small Paddington dating circa 1979, with a slightly torn hat, send him home but please give him a spot of tea first.

The Sentimental Temporary European

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Better to be French than Parisian...

I would never presume to judge an entire country on a visit to one city but damn, those Parisians make it hard! Arrogance runs high and rudeness is not far behind in the beautiful city of Paris. The Parisians are fortunate that they have the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower to offset their hideousness. Hmmm, could we take the symbolism of Quasimodo further and apply it to the beauty of Paris despite the outward ugliness of its people?...
The Parisians should really tone down their arrogance a notch or two because the Eiffel Tower, their greatest tourist attraction (in 2008 13,999,745 people visited the Eiffel Tower), the icon of France, and the most recognizable structure in the world, was really meant to be in Barcelona -- my favorite European city. It was originally designed and planned for the Universal Exposition of 1888 in Barcelona, but the politicians at the time thought it was odd and expensive and refused Eiffel's submission. He shopped the proposal to the Parisians and they accepted and he started building the tower in Paris in 1889. So, as you can see it is pure chance that Paris is home to the Eiffel tower; it is not some homage to their city as the Parisians would like us all to believe. 
It was worth going to gay Paris and seeing the sights and I would recommend it to any European traveler but just prepare yourself for brisk treatment and haughty glances -- heck, I'm a Jersey girl, I can  be brisk and haughty too, I just choose to represent my country to the best of my ability at all times, to all people. I honor George Washington in this way... yes,  you can laugh here. 
Anyway, dear reader, I hear that the French people in general are very nice and welcoming. I never did make it to the South of France but one day I will return to France but Paris will not be on my destination list -- once is enough for this Temporary European.


Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tower Power

I finally saw the soldiers in the red coats and big, furry black hats! I found them at The Tower of London. I guess it only makes sense that they would be at the oldest fortress in Europe. The Tower of London outing was one of the best days during my time in Europe -- the Bronte pilgrimage is still #1 -- despite the rain and the mean Beefeater (I'll get to him in moment...) I reveled in the history on display within the immense grounds. My aunt, mom and I spent nearly four hours at the Tower and we still didn't see everything.
I waited to explore the Tower until I could enjoy it with someone else and I'm glad I did. It is the kind of place that demands turning to a companion and saying, "Wow," or "Can you believe that?," or "Man, that's old!" I had also been told that the best way to see the Tower is with the help of a Beefeater, also known as Yeomen. I prefer to call them Beefeaters because it sounds funny. Beefeaters are retired British Military men who must have served for at least 22 years in the armed services and hold the Long-Service and Good Conduct Medal. They live on the premises with their families and they take their jobs VERY seriously.
I was giddy with excitement as we waited for our tour with one of the serious, old military dudes and I waited patiently for our guide to arrive. He finally appeared in the distance and walked toward us in full regalia -- an impressive black uniform with vibrant red royal insignia and piping. His proper British accent was enthralling and his enthusiasm and booming voice were mesmerizing. Although, under that funny and fancy hat, I sensed a bit of cranky, old man but I figured he hadn't had enough prune juice that morning or something.
As luck would have it the unusually sunny weather I had been experiencing for most of my stay in London was coming to an end and the rain was pushing against the clouds looming in the sky over the Tower grounds. Mr. Beefeater stood on a stone step against the tower wall and told the large crowd that no brollies (translation: umbrellas) were allowed to be opened during the tour because someone could lose an eye -- now let me pause here for a moment, or two and let's ponder this together; 1) London = rain, rain = umbrellas...aren't they used to umbrellas in this city? Which leads to 2) In all my time here, I have yet to see someone lose an eye on a rainy day and I am among the most frenzied, rude, inconsiderate people in London, the hardened commuters. If they can figure out how to avoide gouging out the eyes of strangers I think we could manage at the Tower. Regardless of these musings "thems the rules" of this Beefeater and most of us put our umbrellas in our bags and hoped the rain would hold out.
About ten minutes into the tour, which was really informative and entertaining, the skies opened up and rain began to pelt our large group. In mid-sentence, the Beefeater said, "Get another tour after the rain, folks," and he was gone. It took me a moment to realize that a few tourists had opened their brollies and the Beefeater had stomped away as a result of their violation of his rule. I realize he made a rule and it was broken but what about the rule-followers like me, my mom and my aunt? Not only were we wet but we were guideless in the most historical place in the city! Having been a teacher in the past, I can tell you that to punish the entire class for one student's bad behavior is a big no-no. In addition, he could have considered that the violators may have not spoken English well and may not have understood his brolly rule! Or, maybe those folks who opened their umbrellas joined the group late? I am a firm but fair person and I feel that a second chance is always in order. Mr. Beefy, obviously didn't feel the same way.
We proceeded to buy a guided audio tour and did our best exploring the grounds and garnering all the history we could adsorb. Overall, despite the rain and the mean Beefeater, we had a fabulous time and learned a great deal about the history of England and the history of the Tower itself. It was humbling to think of all the history greats that have passed through those gates; some in good circumstances, but many in less than stellar circumstances. I didn't see or feel any ghosts, which was a disappointment but it was crowded that day and maybe the ghosts needed a break from all the tourists, or maybe the mean Beefeaters have scared them all away!

Yours Always,
The Temporary European

Monday, 20 July 2009

Project Smile London

To commemorate my last 15 days in London, I have begun Project Smile London. As I've mentioned before, the pace here is beyond hectic and the inhabitants can be sullen, sour and pent up. Before I leave, I want to impart a bit of happiness to random strangers and hope that it will be contagious and spread - hey, better to spread cheer than the dreaded swine flu!
Perhaps it is my utter joy at the thought of returning home but as I got off at the Holborn station I couldn't help but smile at all the rushing people around me. No, I was not gloating about the fact that in 16 days I'll be in the solitary, air-conditioned comfort of my own car (ok, maybe a little...) but I really felt bad for all these people scowling so early in the morning. The first man to receive my random act of kindness (hey, he was cute which is another rarity here in London) was shocked -- I cannot emphasize enough the fact that a mere smile can stop people in their tracks here -- but he didn't have time to smile back because I was swept along with the commuting crowd; I think I made a small, positive impact on his day.
Emerging into the sunlight, I continued Project Smile London and was pleased and amused by people's reactions.  Now let me say that it is important to make the distinction between a gaping, goofy smile that will just frighten people and a subtle smile that uplifts the face and makes your eyes friendly and warm. I have perfected the latter and that is the smile I am using on the people in London. Some people reluctantly smile back and others just stare back confused. My smile didn't have any power with my cranky bus driver. I even added a "Good Morning" to the smile but he didn't even look my way. Oh well, I wouldn't let my project be dashed to bits.
I know the power of the random smile because I have been given this gift a few times in London and upon receiving those rare gems, they have made me forget my worries, even if for a moment or two, and temporarily restored my faith in humanity. Come to think of it, I could call my little experiment Project Humanity because that is what I am trying to spread here in London, a little more humanity. Ironically, I got some more insight into the mind of Londoners on a Jack the Ripper Walking Tour; our guide, Philip, a 35 year old London-native, shared with me his views of London and how the city has really spiraled into a complete loss of British-ness (if you will). I felt sad as he told me how the proper London he knew as a youth has slowly slipped away. Apparently, there wasn't always as much spitting on the street, awkward silences on the tube and unwillingness to help lost strangers and tourists. Philip told me that when he was younger, people were friendlier and had more manners and plain old decency. I sighed along with him because the London he had lost was the one I was expecting to find. Please, dear reader, don't be confused, I like London and respect its history, nobility and grace but those things are embedded in the inanimate objects, no longer the people. The true Londoners are defeated and saddened by the evolution of the city's population. I share this sadness because the city does have so much to offer but you really have to cut through the unruly teens, uncontrolled crowds and bad manners. 
I can only hope that Project Smile London takes hold and that the city accepts my  humble offering to try and make things better. For all those Londoners like Philip, I hope the pendulum swings back and London is once again the mecca of manners and kindness it once was.

The Temporary European

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Inherited Chaos

My cousin-in-law and dear friend, Jackie, calls me "The Debacle Kid." Those of you who know me well can understand why but in my defense, I don't seek debacles they seek me. After spending ten days in Europe with my mom and aunt, I now realize that being prone to debacles is genetic. Yes, genetic; some of us are predispositioned for more debacles than others and my gene comes from my mom's side of the family. I know this because even when they weren't with me, my mom and aunt encountered calamities that I thought only happened to me.
See examples of debacles below:

Debacles with Me
Our 2 1/2 day trip to Ireland was cut short due to Air Lingus' sudden desire to switch us from a 9:05 am flight to a 12:30 pm flight (with no prior notice), as a result we didn't get to our hotel in Cork until well after 3 and most of the day was wasted; so we went to a pub!
Our trips into the center of Cork to catch buses or meals had to be methodically planned as the road to our B&B closed the day before our arrival and buses had no access while taxi access was limited -- did I mention that the B&B was at the top of a very steep hill? It was reminiscent of some hills I've encountered in San Fran, seriously. Please close your eyes for a moment and picture me, my mom and my aunt pulling suitcases up said hill after having traveled since 8 am. As MasterCard says, Priceless!
We missed the Ring of Kerry Tour because a woman at the B&B told us we couldn't make it to the tour bus in time but when we went to Killarney the next day we found out from the elderly tourist information matron that we could have gotten a later bus directly from the tourist information office.
We had to cut our visit to Killarney short because of the limited bus schedules back to Cork and the Cork airport (no castle visit for us there).
We sat in the airport for 4 hours (yes, we could have stayed in Killarney longer!) because our flight was delayed due to massive thunder and lightening in London. Did you know that lightening and thunder are rare in London? Hmmmm. Anyone smell a debacle?

Debacles Without Me
Need I remind you of the Continental plane that turned around...?
They missed their tour to Stonehenge because the new guy at the Original London Tours office wrote down the wrong departure time. No refund.

Random Debacles
Last minute day-trip to Paris results in some disappointment as the Louvre was closed and the Eiffel Tower closed early (due to Bastille Day!). PS Paris is not gluten-free friendly (my mom has celiac's disease and nearly starved!)
After waiting to see the Tower of London for 2 1/2 months, I went on the only day of constant rain and the Beefeater ended the tour after some dumb tourists opened their umbrellas after the strict Beefeater said not to; we paid an additional £3.50 for lame audio tour.

In tribute to my proclivity for fiascos/disasters/calamities, I have decided to embrace that which I cannot change and I have created a new word to celebrate these misfortunes; I am proud to announce debaclicious! I figure I should savor the delicious aspect of my debacles and pay homage to the absurdity they cause in my life.

So, the next time your car runs out of gas on the day you realize you didn't renew your AAA membership, feel honored that you are experiencing a moment so large it is debaclicious. If you find yourself stranded at the corner of a seedy street in a foreign city and finally find a bus but can't get on because your metro card expired -- that is debaclicious! I think you get it, so publish a post and tell me about the debaclicious moments in your life -- they don't only happen in Europe -- if only that were true, I would know that in 23 days I'd be leaving all my debacles behind.

Expanding the Lexicon One Word At A Time,
The Temporary European

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Have Nots

So I have no top sheet, had to purchase wash clothes, I am suffering through a hanger shortage and I must walk up 4 flights to get to my teeny, tiny flat (with no coffee table, dishwasher or air conditioning), yet I have remained positive and optimistic. But when I was stripped of my laptop, it was the last straw and my perfected British stiff upper lip began to quiver. I will not go into the annoying details of the how and why, but I was without a home (flat) computer for four days. As you can imagine, I was not very happy.
In this day and age, you can take a lot away from us modern humans, but computers are sacred and must not be tampered with, especially since I use my computer on nights and weekends to keep in touch with my family and friends so far away and 5 hours behind in time. And let's not forget my commitment to this blog, and my writing in general. Perhaps city living is just grinding on my nerves a bit too much, but I have lost a lot of my patience over the last week or so and the computer debacle put me over the proverbial edge. At any given time I can rattle off the things that make me utterly insane here in jolly old London; the tube is annoyingly hot, the tourists walk too slow on Oxford street, I'm sick of my feet getting filthy when I wear sandals and I miss lemonade. I know these are random thoughts but at the moment these are the things that are on my mind. In another few moments, I will have a completely new list of annoyances just as random. I blame this varied thought process on the city's constant assault on all of my senses. For example, at my flat there is an industrial fan that runs from 10:30am until 11:3opm daily at the restaurant below. Throughout the day or evening, I find myself holding my breath or feeling annoyed and it isn't until that damned hum stops that I realize the tension it unknowingly causes. I am nearing the end of this exchange program and I am thankful. I only hope my sanity holds out; I am fearful of returning home either a jabbering idiot or a complete meanie.
The good news is I have a laptop again. Maybe since I am reconnected with America once again, I will feel calmer, more patient and resilient enough to ward off the forces of this chaotic city.

Serenity Now...

The (Frazzled) Temporary European

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Flight Status

So, my aunt and mother have come to visit me in London. For both, it is a first-time visit and a chance to spend some quality time with me and one another. But this is not a sappy little story about three female family members exploring Europe; this is a saga about how my mother and aunt were able to get a Continental 727 to return from the tarmac to pick up said aunt. Yes, you read correctly, an entire plane full of people on a direct flight to London was turned around to pick up my Auntie Ann.
I am proud to come from a family of strong women, on both sides, but this event has taken our many stories to new levels. It all started at 7am London time (11pm Los Angeles time) with text messages from my aunt saying she was delayed due to bad weather and she was concerned she wouldn't make the connecting 9am (NJ time) flight that my mother would be on. I was worried too when I checked her flight status and she would only have 5 minutes from the time she landed to get onto the London flight. I tried to remain optimistic and not alarm my mother who is afraid to fly and could only make the trip with the company of her sister. At 10am London time, I got the following text from my mother, "Can you track Ann's flight for me. I’m in the car on the way to the airport." What to do? To lie to mom or not to lie to mom?
I text back, "She was a bit delayed but she'll get there on time." Technically, that was not a lie... Upon arriving at the airport, my mom inquired about her sister's flight and the whole truth was revealed in all its glory. Next text, "She isn't landing until 8:55 and my flight leaves at 9! She'll never make it." How does one calm a frazzled mom from 3000 miles away? More lying.
"Don't worry. They'll wait." As the boarding time neared my mom's texts became more abundant and frenzied. I told her to put off getting on that plane as long as she could. Our one saving grace was that my aunt's gate was directly adjacent to my mother's gate -- a miracle, but the real miracle was yet to occur. At 8:57 they made my mom get on the plane. They assured her they would wait for her sister so my mom begrudgingly got on and set next to the empty seat meant for her sister. Back in London, I got a text from my aunt at 8:57. "We landed they are waiting for me!"
I typed back feverishly, "I know. The gate is next to yours. Just run for that plane and text me when you get on it." Then, silence. No mom. No aunt. I was out of my head. What was going on? "Mom, is Auntie A with you?" Silence... "Auntie A? Where are you?" Silence...
Then a text from my aunt, "I missed it. I was here and the plane was not at the gate. "
I texted back numerous expletives and swore out loud for added emphasis. Several minutes passed as my aunt and I tried to figure out what her next step should be. As I started the process of calling Continental, I simultaneously began tracking my mother's flight. Suddenly, my blackberry starting vibrating on my desk, the time was 9:17. "I'm on the plane. They came back for me. Gotta go."And sure enough, there on the screen was the flight status for Continental Flight 18 --Status: In Flight. 20 minutes late. Had to return to gate. I had to wait 8 hours to find out how these two women, both measuring less than 5 feet one inches, had the power to turn the flight back.
This is how it went down: On the plane, my mother had sobbed so sadly for her sister that the flight attendants came to comfort her. They assured her that my aunt would get on the next flight and they would be reunited in London. But my mom kept saying, "I can't do this without her. I can't get to Paddington Station."
Even the man next to my mother was moved by her sobs. "I'm sorry about your sister," he said. She cried even more. Finally the flight attendant asked my mom, "If you could get off the plane and be with your sister would you?"
"Yes," sobbed my mother.
"Let me see what I can do." The attendant said and went toward the cockpit door. She then proceeded to knock on the door -- now let me remind you that the plane is sitting in the middle of the runway, waiting for its turn to take off -- and she tells the captain the saga.
He says, "Get her off the plane if she is hysterical!"
The nice flight attendant explains, "She isn't hysterical. She just wants her sister. If we would go back to let her off, why can't we just go back and let her sister on?"
"Fine." The captain said and he turned the plane around to get my Auntie A.
And they flew together happily ever after. When they were getting off the plane in London, the captain said to them, "No you ladies stay together." They giggled and walked off the plane hand in hand.
I met the dynamic duo at Paddington Station at 11:45pm London time. We were exhausted but excited to be together and laughed untl we cried about the whole event. We are now the 3 Temporary Europeans and we know that we will be alright because between the three of us, we can make anything happen!

Watch out England and Ireland!

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Double vs Bendy

Here in the big city life, I am an expert commuter; I take a tube for three stops where I walk one block to catch a bus which travels 15 minutes and takes me almost to the front door of my office building. Who would have thought this Great Meadows Gal would be adept at not only city life but foreign city life? I get a little thrill every time I think about it. Cue "If they could see me now!" La La La.
Now, where was I? Oh, yeah, commuting: after 2 months of living in London, I finally experienced a ride on "the bendy bus." These buses are super long and they bend around tight street corners and strike fear in the hearts of cyclists and pedestrians alike. Londoners dislike the bendy buses as they've been the culprits in a quite a few accidents and really don't fit (literally or figuratively) in this super old city with its super narrow streets. It's not that I've been avoiding the bendy bus as much as I've just lucked out because my route doesn't have a lot of the beasts running. My ignorance of the etiquette for riding a bendy bus was evident about two seconds after I got on the bus; I sat in the seat right next to the slinky-like connector and the undulating and shifting that ensued for my 15 minute ride made me wonder if 1) I had gotten on an amusement park ride rather than a bus and 2) if I would make it to the office without throwing up. The only thing worse than throwing up is throwing up in public in a foreign city. I am happy to report that the stiff upper lip also helps with a weak stomach. To make the ride even more interesting, it seemed that at points where the stretch of road between lights was extremely limited, half the bendy bus was at a red light and the other at a green light. What the bloody hell?
After my thrill ride on said bendy bus, I began to wonder if the double-deckers would get put to pasture in favor of its bendy cousin, which holds twice as many commuters. I feared another London icon may be going the way of the dinosaurs...(need I remind you of the guards at Buckingham State House???). Well my friends, we can all sigh with relief! My research has yielded some promising news. Due to its dangerous (and undulating?) nature, Sir Bendy may be phased out soon in London:

Calls for the removal of the bendy bus escalated this summer [2008] after a series of accidents, including one in which Lee Beckwith, 21, was killed when he was trapped by a bus door in Essex and dragged for a mile.

TfL figures suggest bendy buses are more likely to be involved in an accident. It is estimated that they cause 5.6 pedestrian injuries per million miles operated, compared with 0.97 per million for all other buses.

Bendy buses, manufactured by Mercedes-Benz, are also involved in 2.62 collisions with cyclists per million miles, compared with 0.97 for other buses, and have 153 accidents per million miles, compared with 87 per million on non-bendy routes. Critics say that because passengers don't have to board at the front, many avoid paying.

"Many Londoners, particularly cyclists, see the awkward elongated bulk of the bendy bus as unsuitable for the city's streets," Mr Johnson said. "I am making sure the buses are removed in the most cost-effective way and today's new contract marks the beginning of the end for bendy buses in London."

Bendy buses make up 5 per cent of the London bus fleet but the 350 vehicles are responsible for about 20 per cent of bus-related deaths. They were introduced by the former mayor Ken Livingstone, who decommissioned the Routemasters.

Yeah for the new mayor of London! For now, the bendy buses still plow through the streets but I will make it a point to avoid them, both as a passenger and a pedestrian, and I will only ride the double-decker or single platform bus. Hey, I do what I can to support the aspects of London that make it a great city.

Doing My Part,

The Temporary European