December 8, 2012

Skipping ahead: ENGLAND!!

I'm skipping Croatia and all the shorter trips around Germany, Christmas Markets, Oktoberfest...I want to get to England...then I'll go back when I have time.

The journey began on the 2 hour drive to Munich airport.  It's not a bad drive and since I wanted to fly Lufthansa, it was worth it.  I got to the airport and breezed through security and customs.  Customs used to terrify me, but I'm used to it now.  It wasn't bad and the people are nice.

Tip: If you are Military related stationed in Europe and traveling outside of your base country, take both your tourist passport (A MUST, even for "open borders"), and your no-fee or "official" passport.  Also, your Military ID.  They will ask you where you live, you will say Germany...they will look at your blue passport and hear your American accent and ask why or how.  Showing your no-fee and Mil ID will get you through the line quickly and with little to no hassle.

I boarded my flight and was lucky enough to be sitting in a row of 3 seats with no one between me and the man at the window.  We used the middle seat to hold our reading materials and such.  They brought us a snack even though it was 9ish in the morning, a half of a vegetarian sandwich and a half of a turkey one.  Both delicious but the vegetarian one was the best.  The first time around I asked for water with gas, they also have water without.  The next time they came around I ordered a beer.  Sounds weird, but beer and wine are free on the Lufthansa flights.  And I needed to relax.  The flight took a total of 1 hour and 40 minutes.  When I reached Heathrow...WOW.  Big airport.  I found my way to luggage and then made it through customs very easily, got my stamp and headed towards the area where you declare items if you have them.  I do not...ever.  I exited that area and almost immediately found Shannon!! Her Dad was there too.  He took my bag (which was great cause it was heavy and I was in a bit of pain).  We went out to the parking structure and Terry loaded my bag into the back of the British specs red car.  I can't remember if it was a Saab or a Volvo.  I'm thinking Saab though.  Either way, Terry commenced to drive on the "wrong" side of the car and the "wrong side" of the road.  It took about 2 hours to head to N'hants, where we were headed.  N'hants is short for Northamtonshire.  Best I could figure is that's like the state? Or maybe county? It's hard to figure these things out in foreign lands.

Upon arrival at Shannon's beautiful home, I was greeted by Apollo!! And her Mom, of course.  Apollo is their chocolate Lab and immediately he sensed "doggy sucker, I can get anything I want from this lady!".  It's like something I wear or something.  They just know.  Give me puppy dog eyes and I melt.  Throw in the fact that he's a Lab? And I'm done.

Shannon and I ate some Thanksgiving leftovers and talked like our normal insane selves.  I was so glad to learn that her parents are silly like us because I was really afraid that our insanity would scare them and I'd get banned from Shannon.  When Shanny and I get together we become ridiculous giggling machines.  And we laugh at the most juvenile things...but more on that later.

After all of that we began to get ready for the party.  The whole point of my trip was that I had been invited to Terry and Sandra's joint 50th Birthday party! It was a 60's theme and I was totally prepared.  I wore some crazy bellbottom pants, a flowy shirt, a faux leather vest, the headband...the whole 9.  After we were all good and ready, we piled into the Land Rover (yes, Land Rover...I am still jealous) and headed to the old beautiful Inn that the party was being held at.  Oh the heavens were with me, we had an open bar!! I drank two beers, I was so exhausted from getting up at 4am that had I drank anymore I'd have passed out right there.  The first portion of the party was mingling in the bar area.  There was another party at the Inn that night, but those people were dressed very classically, almost like ball wear.  It was their Christmas party.  Every time I went out to smoke I made a new friend from that party.  The first was an English man and an Irish man, they were impressed that I knew that the Irish man was indeed Irish.  C'mon now, I'm not a complete stupid girl, I've been to Scotland and England...I know a different accent when I hear it.  Not to mention, I love me some accents.  Another time we went out, I struck up a conversation with an older woman who had been stationed in Berlin with the RAF way back in the day.  We discussed a lot about that.  When she went back in the man that was out smoking said, "Was that a man?" And we kind of looked at him.  "It's a part of my party...but I'm pretty sure it was a man in a dress..." he said.  Shannon and I started giggling, as horrible as it was.  The accent made it funny.  I enjoyed talking to him so much! When he told me he was gay, it clicked.  Duh, of course.  Silly me.  Then he invited me to live in his flat with him because I mentioned how much I loved it there, he said he was in the market for a new hag.  I loved that.  Often being called a hag would make me pretty mad...but when it's said lovingly by a gay man, it's a pretty good compliment.

We ate dinner then out came the (late) DJ.  Around that time Shannon, her brother Chris and I were about done.  We were exhausted and felt SO lame.  All of these people, most of them nearly double our age, were still going strong!! It was barely midnight and we were ready to call it a night.  Had it not been raining, me in flipflops of course, and then that pesky pain, we'd have walked home.  One of Terry and Sandra's friends overheard us and offered to drive us home.  He had just gotten a new Challenger and was keen to drive it any chance he got.  I must admit, that Hemi...very nice.  It was a fast, short trip to the house where I loved on Apollo a lot, drank some water...changed into PJ's and we headed to Shannon's room.  We were laying in bed, near time to fall asleep, when Sandra came in to check on us.  She let us know that she was heading back out, Terry was already at a neighbors in the hot tub.  STILL PARTYING!! And there we were completely lame and absolutely ridiculous.  We didn't mind, we went to sleep.

The next morning was spent sleeping in.  Really late.  I don't think we got up until after noon.  Which was okay.  We had plans but they were plans to stay in the area.  We were going to RAF (Royal Airforce, by the way) Alconbury.  That is where Shannon attended middle/high school and where many of her fondest memories are.  At the last minute, Terry decided that I could drive us to base as long as I could drive manual and thought I could master that whole wrong side of the road thing.  WHOA.  I can drive manual, no issues there.  And once Shannon told me the trick (the driver is always nearest the dividing line on the road) it was not so hard.  Except for one thing.  The shifter was on the wrong side! I kept going to shift and I'd knock my right hand on the door like a dummy, then remember it was on the right.  The little red car was cute and fun to drive but the gears were a bit tricky without even the oddity of it being on the right.  Shannon was so cute.  "You're doing fine, you're doing great...look at you! Oh, uhm, you are a bit close to this side of the road..." haha.  We made it to the base and I signed her an ID holder I had that power.  YAY POWER!

 We spent a bit of time wandering around, I got some excellent pictures of her in front of her school.  After that we headed to the bowling alley.  Shannon had grown up in the bowling alley, her parents bowl and so does she, plus she worked there.  When I drug Shannon to Salt Lake with me, we went to Area 51.  Where it was like being a local celebrity, everyone knew me.  Well that's what the bowling alley was like for Shanny.  Just walking in the door she knew everyone there and was being bombarded with hugs and "OMG SHANNON!!!"s.  It was really fun to watch.  We went and talked to the men that did the cooking, she had known them her whole life.  The one guy was very nice, a bit of a smart ass but I enjoy that.  The other was a dirty old English perverse but completely hilarious.  I love that too.

 Then we were off to do what we had originally set out to do.  But Shannon's friend Pete.

Now, those of you that know me...even a little bit...know about my obsession with gingers (although apparently they're not fond of being called that, I think it is a pretty description but I am testing out others).  I don't want to call it a fetish...but the moment I see someone with natural copper/ginger/strawberry blond/titian hair <--- sticking with titian...I go a bit...wobbly in the knees.  I don't know.  It's just pretty.  It's something that I'm fond of.  There are people that only date blonds or brunettes or definitely prefer them.  I prefer those with titian hair.  I have two tattoos that are unfortunately in black and grey but I was drawn to the pinups because of their titian hair.  I just love it.   Prince Harry, the Weasleys, Shaun White...even women with titian hair (though it's less sexual and more envy with them).  So there is the background.

Well Pete.  This lovely tall gentleman...he has titian hair.  All I wanted to do was stare at him and listen to him talk (English accent AND titian hair? Double score).  So that's mostly what I did.  It was good cause it gave he and Shannon to catch up some and for me to figure out how to talk to this mentioned, Shannon and I are totally ridiculous and I didn't want to scare one of her more important friends.  Turned out it was a silly worry because he was pretty good at keeping up with our ridiculousness.  We spent a good...6 hours or more at the bowling alley.  One of the most amusing parts was that we got evacuated.  There was a kind of gasoline like smell coming from somewhere so Pete called the fire department and they made us evacuate.  It was league night so there were some non-happy bowlers.  It was fine for me, I was super outgoing on this trip and managed to make friends while we were evicted!! I made a wonderful friend named Garry, we had some great discussions.  I also met two of his sons, one of which is Taylor's age.

Speaking of, in the bowling alley there was this adorable girl...turned out her name was Willow.  She had a bit of a crush on Pete -it was fairly obvious- and I was trying to distract her.  It turned into a 30minute conversation in which I learned her entire life story.  She told me so much, and so many sad things, I couldn't just stop talking to her.  She was Taylor's age as well.  It came in handy because at least I know how to talk to an 11 year old girl.  Easy-peasy.  And it wasn't hard to understand some of her concerns about her father deploying in the future.  I like to think that I helped her, even if it was just by allowing her to verbalize some of the stuff she was thinking about.

We went back to hanging out with Pete after that, but we needed to let him get back to work (he was working while we were bothering him, but it was closing time and he had things to do).  I had made the mistake of mentioning things about my "ginger" I said...apparently offensive term.  It doesn't help that I insinuated (unintentionally) that all English gingers must know each other by asking him if he knew where I could find Prince Harry or any of the Weasleys.  "Do you think there is a club or something?" he asked.  "I certainly hope so! If there is can you give me directions so I can show up wearing nothing but a bow?" That one kind of took the edge off I hope, cause I felt horrible.  Then I asked him how to achieve catching myself a titian gentleman to which he replied, "Promise him you won't give him any ginger children." My reply was a very excited, "I CAN MAKE THAT PROMISE!! SCORE!!" uterus...can't make babies...therefore they can't have pretty hair.

Right before we left I was taking pictures of Shannon and Pete (hilarious by the way because he is like 6'4" or taller and she is about 5'4"...or shorter)...and I finally asked for a picture...since I didn't suppose I'd be finding Prince Harry, he would be my English titian.  I know, I'm absurd.

So we drive back to the house with zero incidents...except for almost sideswiping a parked car less than 1/2 a mile from Shannon's was on the right side and it was hard for me to judge.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  As soon as we got in the house we settled in with some left over birthday cake.  Let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS.  And I'm pretty sure it was filled with laughing gas or something because Shannon and I laughed so hard our lungs hurt and we were in excruciating pain, couldn't breathe...but were still laughing.  Part of it was that Shannon, at the bowling alley, had said "Like the boss".  Well for those of you hip to the terms of these days, it's actually "Like A boss".  So I could not stop making fun of her and posting videos to her FB wall...while lying in the same bed as her.  We woke her Dad up with our insane giggling but he didn't come to yell at us so it was okay haha.

The next morning...LONDON!! Now let me tell you.  I have dreamed of going to London for MANY years.  It has always been in the top 3 places I've wanted to visit outside of the US (London, Paris, and anywhere in Australia).  We got up fairly early and got on a train to take into St. Pancras station.  St. Pancras happens to be literally across the street from Kings Cross I was DYING to have my Harry Potter moment.  We went there directly and found Platform 9 3/4 and took pictures...AMAZING.  After that we headed to the Underground and went directly to Piccadilly Circus.  Don't let the name mislead you, there is no circus.  There are, however, a lot of shops and restaurants.  We went to an Italian restaurant where I ordered an Americano Burger.  I know, ridiculous of me.  But it was on a Ciabata bun and tasted like no other burger I've ever had.  Delicious.  I had bought souvenirs we got on a hop-on-hop-off double decker bus.  HIGHLY recommended.  It is 26pounds for the bus, but you have 2 days to use it.  You can take it anywhere in the city and it stops at all of the major sites, then you just wait for the next one to come by and "hop" back on.  The first place we hit was Buckingham Palace.  Completely awe inspiring.  Beautiful beyond belief and to pretend I was that near royalty (pretend because I have no clue where they actually were at the moment) was so cool.  We got some great pictures there.  We hopped back on a bus and then decided perhaps we should attempt to find the theater.  We were going to see Mamma Mia! at the Novello theater.  We saw/drove over London Bridge - it did not fall down - and then saw the London Eye as well as Big Ben.  We got a bit lost looking for the theater, but we did find it in time.  We settled into our great seats and truly enjoyed the show.  There was this titian haired gentleman in the play that I obviously wanted to marry.  The actress that played Rosie stole the show.  She was AMAZING.  And I decided right then and there, I am going to be Tanya when I grow up (partially because she hooked up with said titian, Pepper).

After the play we headed to the tubes and found some food in Kings Cross (at the Boots...kind of like a Walgreens) and headed to catch our train.  It was a long ride back to our stop, but we talked and talked.  When we got home we were cold and exhausted so we ate some more giggle cake and went to bed.  The next morning we had planned on getting up early and going back into London since our bus tickets were still valid...but I was in quite a bit of pain and we were just so tired.  We had to take the train back into town anyways, to get me on the plane.  It was my last day :( So I repacked a couple of times, weighed my suitcase a few times - all those souvenirs not to mention the developer Shanny had brought me! Then we headed off.  We were still in good spirits...only...well we knew what was coming.  We got to Heathrow and checked in my baggage, then went to eat at a cute little coffee shop.  As soon as we ate it was time for me to head through customs/security.  I hugged Shannon and told her to have fun for the rest of her time there, then we parted ways before either of us could get super weepy.  I made it back to the terminal before I let myself get really sad.  Then I promptly fell asleep on the plane.  I slept through the food, through the potential beer...I slept the entire flight.  I was just sad and in pain.  So sleeping was the best option.

It was a great trip.  One I plan on making again.  Taylor and I will be going this spring or summer, depending on prices.  It was only $150 to fly from Munich to Heathrow, which is less that I've paid to fly from Colorado Springs to Salt Lake City!

Here are some tips I figured out on this trip:

*Don't be afraid of the Underground/trains.  Even if you don't quite figure them out and miss your stop, there is another train going the other way shortly.  It is also not necessary to giggle loudly every time they say "next stop, Cockfosters".  Although Shannon and I were NOT able to master that.

*The pound is STRONG.  I thought the euro was painful conversion.  Ouch.  So what I did for this trip was decide I wanted 50pounds a day for spending money and 100pounds for souvenirs.  That meant I needed 300pounds.  I converted that ONCE and put that money into my savings account and didn't think about it again.  It turned out being about $500.  But if you think about it and let it get inside your head, you'll overthink it and possibly not have as much fun.  Just set an amount, and go with it.

*Go to a show.  There are SO many and it's such an experience.  The show across from us was called Our Boys and one of the main characters was played by Matthew Lewis AKA Neville Longbottom.  I was across the street from Neville! But seriously, there is something for everyone.

*Driving is not scary.  It's very similar to driving in Germany only the speedlimits posted are in MPH, not KmPH.  The round-abouts are the same, the laws are about the same.  And you get used to passing on the left and the right being the slow lane.

*I recommend the hop-on-hop-off tour.  You get to see all the sites but don't have to walk all over the city.  You can get off at any stop, then get back on.  It's absolutely amazing.

*All titians do not know each other, and there is no club - unless it's so secret he just couldn't tell me.  Hmmmmm.

If anyone is planning a trip to England, please feel free to ask questions.  There are so many things I didn't cover and so much advice on things to see (even things I didn't see) and things to do.

I hope everyone enjoyed the trip with me, I know it's not quite as exciting as being there yourself but I tried to be as descriptive as possible.

                                                     ^^ Representing BEES KNEES POMADE

Much love to all my readers,


December 2, 2012

Scotland pt II

Is anyone surprised it took me this long to get to the last part of the Scotland trip? I'm a bit ridiculous.  Other things have been happening.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  But now I have several things to write about, I went to Croatia in April, my Mom and Michael came for Oktoberfest this September and I just got back from London.  So I need to finish this one up and get current.  Ready? Here goes!

We had a free day after that first day that included SO much walking.  We got up and ate breakfast in the hotel then began wandering around.  One of the first things we did was go to the museum across the street.  There were a lot of really interesting paintings in there and a LOT of religious paintings.  My favorite artist in the collection was Peter Paul Rubens.  He is known for painting many wonderful things, but one of the better known aspects of his work was his love for painting full-figured women.  Hence the term "Rubenesque" that is still at times used to described larger women.  The museum itself was gorgeous as well.

We spent most of our free day wandering up and down Princes street.  We stumbled upon a Build-A-Bear where Taylor got her kitty Daniel a classic Scottish "uniform" including the top, hat, kilt, and shoes.  And a little kitty sized bagpipe.  We also went to a Disney Store and got a few things.  Then we stopped in every souvenir shop we came across.  We bought a lot of things for loved ones, but we also bought a ton of stuff for ourselves, of course.  Taylor got a beautiful peridot ring (that I am currently wearing) as well as several other goodies.  Danny got a few things including a beanie.  I got books!! A lot of books!! Books about hauntings in Scotland, books about royalty, some about the Roma culture...and some about crimes in Scotland.  Cause I'm weird.

You know what was also weird? How hard it was to find Harry Potter books!! We looked in SEVERAL different stores and couldn't find them.  I was starting to get frantic but then I gave up all together.  I wanted to get some HP books in Scotland since that's where J.K. wrote a good portion of her work...but I had to give I thought.  More on that later.

We spent our entire free day shopping and site seeing right around the hotel.  It was FREEZING and we were exhausted from our first day.  We went to a mall which was fun, everything was in English (imagine that!) and it was glorious.  We also managed to stumble upon "Occupy Edinburgh" which was interesting at the time since all of the "Occupy" everywhere going on.  We had dinner that evening at the hotel - it was included in the price so we ate breakfast and dinner there every day.  Each meal we had this little old Irish man would come up and talk to us, ask us how we were enjoying our "holiday".  He was from Northern Ireland.  He was so friendly and so adorable, he was by far the most amazing person I met on the trip.  He even knew about Utah and had even been! He went for the genealogy aspect of things, "If there is one thing Mormons do right, it's keep track of history!" he said.  It was cute.  I wanted to fold him up in my pocket and bring him home with me...or just to stow-away in his luggage and go back to Ireland with him!

The next morning we went back to the bookstore next to the hotel and scoured the shelves once more for HP books.  They still didn't have any.  We were running VERY short on time so I finally had Danny ask if there was another bookstore nearby.  We were directed about 1/2 mile down Princes Street.  A huge bookstore!! I could have spent all day there and wished we had found it the day before.  We were able to find Harry Potter books!! It was amazing.  I got the Philosopher's Stone and The Deathly Hallows.  So now I have HP books from Czech and Scotland.  Right after we found the books we had to rush to get to the bus and get going to head back to New Castle for our trip back on the ferry.

The ferry ride on the way home was INSANE.  The water was so choppy!! I was lucky, I had taken the dramamine before it hit me.  Danny and Taylor were not so lucky.  Taylor went to breakfast with me and managed to eat some toast...Danny didn't eat.  He was green, I swear.  Once we docked near Amsterdam we were running behind (again).  We basically had time to eat and then get back on the bus.  It was fine, I was exhausted and didn't feel like wandering much.  I had hoped to find a HP book there but there just wasn't time.  We ate at the same Doner place we had on the way up and it was DELICIOUS.  I was glad that we had gotten souvenirs the last time we had been there cause there was certainly no time.  We got back on the bus and settled in for the long ride.  We kept hitting traffic which wouldn't normally be a big deal, but there were 3 guys on the bus that were supposed to be heading to the field that evening.  Including Danny.  We were pushing it...Danny made it with about five minutes to spare, seriously.  It was nuts...but at least he made it.

Some of the things I learned on my first overnight MWR trip were that it is best to have your own water and snacks on the bus portion of the trip...and if you're going on a ferry.  Things were so expensive that if we hadn't brought our own stuff we'd have been very very broke.  The pound is VERY strong.  Especially compared to the USD.  Compared to the Euro it's strong.  So if you plan a trip to the British Isles it is best to plan how much you want to spend every day on food and site seeing, then how much you'd like to spend on souvenirs...convert the amount...and try to stick to it.  On my trip to England I decided I wants 50pounds a day and 100pounds for souvenirs.  It ended up converting to around $500, so that's how much I set aside.  So $300...yeah.  Ouch.  But since I planned, it was easy.  I didn't spend my daily allotted money each day so I had more for souvenirs and to pay for lunch while in London.  Better to have more than not enough!!

In closing, I highly recommend that if you get a chance, visit Scotland!! So far it is still my favorite place that I have visited.  I still have a few places to knock out before I head out of Europe, but there is just something about Scotland that was really amazing to me.  Edinburgh has my heart.