Category Archives: travel

it was all a dream: postscript

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Did I ever tell you the story about this fortune?

Hi.

I didn’t want you to think our plane from London had gotten sucked up by the Bermuda Triangle en route to the US two weeks ago, and we had been living a dual life on a mysterious island run by the Dharma Initiative ever since.

That didn’t happen. The flight home (“home”) to Virginia was fine. Uneventful, really. Actually, eventful. For some reason Bryan tended to the kids the entire eight hours and I watched two movies, got hooked on some newish tv and read my book. That’s kind of like a Bermuda Triangle-thing to happen. Eerie but maybe exciting.

I’m checking in now because I finally have five seconds to do so, and because I want to make sure you know that I have read each and every one of your recent comments over the last few weeks and all the emails that have been sent to me personally.

I feel you.

And thank you.

I feel humbled by your support of this blog. (I feel uncomfortable too. Self-deprecation intermixed with random bouts of self-fandom (but only self) is more my steez.)

That said, I have my big girl pants (is it pants pants or trousers?) on and I am taking everything into consideration. I guess as they would say in the country from whence I just came: Watch This Space.

Our last few weeks in London were exhausting in a good way. So many goodbyes. So many things to try to see and do one last time. And the weather was so profoundly bad, it ripped at least 50% of the life force out of all of us. Can you believe I put weather on the list of things I would miss? I meant to say “narrower possible range of temperatures” but instead I said “weather” and now I have to spend my whole (hopefully very long but also quality) life living with that error. We had a last-minute pub night, dinner with friends at Mr. Chow, received many beautiful gifts that are incredibly meaningful to me and all very coincidentally feature something London or Britain-themed, and then for our very last weekend we were in a hotel which kind of befitted the surreal element to leaving a place bittersweetly. Nothing was cinematic about that very last weekend. No flat to look at longingly one last time. It was raining too hard to indulge in one last walk through Regent’s Park. Instead we managed to spontaneously make plans with four different friend sets and their kids on our last full day and so Jonah had at least four opportunities to faux-spear someone with a toy sword. And we ate unremarkable room service. Not bangers & mash or fish & chips, but just something generic and hotel-y. It’s like the gods knew I would want an easy transition.

But this next part is like a movie. You see, separately Matt & Trish and Melissa & Nick had requested to see us off at the airport on Sunday. And I said No multiple times. Why would someone want to say goodbye that way? It seems like so much trouble and a waste of their Sunday. What if they were just offering to be nice? Bryan – because he is normal and has a normal brain and normal self-esteem – told everyone they could come if they wanted to. And it was a good thing he/they did. 1. Because ultimately they were there for our kids, and our kids loved having them there. 2. Trish wrote out like 15 luggage ID tags for me. 3. Everyone helped with the luggage and Bryan couldn’t have his normal luggage-related outbursts. 4. I totally cried and cried and cried in the line at security looking back at our friends. Because no matter what I write or photograph or say, Jonah and Simon will never know how much they were loved by these people in the very beginning of them.

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I pulled myself together after Security. I mean, is anyone ever still crying after Security? Can you imagine a Hollywood blockbuster where the heroine has to take off her shoes, then her coat, then check her pockets for loose change, then remind herself what earrings she’s wearing, then take her laptop out of her bag, then ask someone if a Kindle counts but everyone in line is glaring at her, then – because everyone in line is glaring at her and it’s making her nervous – fumbles through her purse and realizes she has no fewer than five little pots of lip balms and glosses and she forgot to grab one of those little plastic bags from the beginning of the Security line and now she has to withstand the fiery death stares of all the people who knew to grab the bag at the outset because THERE WERE HUGE SIGNS TELLING EVERYONE TO GRAB A BAG and it’s especially stressful because no one ever even knows if lip balm is a liquid or a solid and it’s such a grey area about lip balm really, then wait like an a-hole at the end of the conveyor belt seeing the first tray of her stuff come within reach but then stop while the Security person viewing the video screen stares and stares and stares and rewinds the conveyor belt and stares and then forwards it and the whole time even though there is nothing even remotely exciting inside and it’s obvious that even if there was, no one would catch it. Oh and then the part where it takes another hour just to get dressed again and re-pack everything and do it awkwardly while holding on to the end of the conveyor belt for balance. There’s no cinematic crying after that.

One thing I was reminded of that I love about Not-America is communal space airport seating. You wait in the middle of a huge atrium of shops and duty-free offerings and food and drink and you only go to your gate at the very last possible minute once the gate is announced. It’s like flight as train travel. I like it. Anyway, so there we were in communal waiting mode in Heathrow’s Terminal I-Can’t-Remember. And all of a sudden a little traditional Irish music duo sets up on chairs in the middle of it all and begins to play staggeringly perfect melodies as soundtrack to The Leaving. Violin, guitar, I think, I don’t know exactly. I only knew that I was dancing with my kids and thinking wait, maybe I can conjure up some tears again! Then Bryan hands me a book he had been secretly making for three months of photos of our entire five years. Dayenu.

And now, we are post-London. A tour through it:

My mom was standing there outside baggage claim with a Thomas the Train balloon. I knew she would have a balloon. A seven word sentence that encapsulates so very much.

I walked to the wrong side of our rental car to get in the front passenger seat.

I ate bacon the very next morning. The American kind.

Servers at restaurants keep giving me ice in my drinks and refilling them before I can ask or be asked. Mind blown.

We bought a car. I’m still not used to the idea.

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The NCAA Tournament started and I honestly and truly was confused for a second. For five years Bryan had been deprived of live sports-viewing and it was awesome (for me). And now it’s not awesome (for me).

We started to clean out some of the 9,000 boxes we keep at my parents’. I’m a reformed hoarder but I can’t part yet with every note I ever took in law school. It’s sort of like as long as I hold on to my Criminal Procedure II final exam outline, the reality of my $100+K student loan debt and unemployed status will remain only a light-hearted and whimsical cocktail party anecdote. Should we ever be invited to a cocktail party.

We keep getting to see Amurrican friends, and our friends’ kids. Thanks for having us back, guys.

The sun keeps shining. Every day it shines and I think “what luck!” Eventually I will take it for granted but for now, it is so exciting!

I’ll be in Virginia for another month with the kids before our Brooklyn palace/shanty is ready. My parents/step-parents are loving on us and taking care of us and it feels good. They didn’t want us to live far away but we came back and now they never have to worry or feel sorry for themselves again! Except sometimes Bryan mentions job offers in Hong Kong for fun.

As our Between Countries And Moves vacation, we spent five days in Charleston, South Carolina visiting my younger brother and sister-in-law.

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If you’ve never been, you are crazy. Go see why Conde Nast readers just voted Charleston the #1 top city to visit in the United States. When I hear all the upwardly-mobile British people yammer on about San Francisco and all the cab drivers recounting their last five trips to Orlando, I want to grab and shake them and say CHARLESTON! GO TO CHARLESTON! It’s beautiful and Southern charming and has beaches and is a foodie haven and people are so ridiculously friendly and they really do say y’all and it’s actually American enough to have started the Civil War. What was San Francisco doing while the rest of the country was fighting over slavery and someotherstuff?? Probably boring crap like prospering on the Gold Rush and legalizing gay marriage. Lame.

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Also, in the South they do things like drive pick-up trucks and wear visors even when not golfing and eat grits and drink sweet tea and run for office using actual nicknames like “Teddy” and play Cornhole.

Micah and Janelle were like the best hosts on Earth. Micah wanted the kids so badly to himself, he got Bryan and me a night in a hotel downtown. His Uncle Energy is 24-7. They had toys and books for the kids and Janelle had organized an art project and baking and had – wait for it – made tater tots from scratch.

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Then we got back to Virginia and explored the new Air & Space museum at Dulles with my dad and step-mom.

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Then my mom had a Passover Seder and there was great company and legendary brisket.

For some reason this is the only picture I took that came out.

For some reason this is the only picture I took that came out.

Then the kids did an Easter Egg Roll in my mom’s neighborhood. I kept almost dying of preciousness.

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Then we came down to my dad and step-mom’s for a few days. And they had a million family members over for Easter. And it was lovely. And my dad put a Peep in every single dish. And as I have mentioned before, the Brits do not have Peeps. Which says so very much about the vast divide between our two cultures.

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And now

well, now this blog has officially gone off-topic.

Maybe we’ll meet again soon.

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top things i will miss #5

Before boarding a plane with a bunch of suitcases to move to London, I had spent a grand total of like 5 days here six years before coming back. I don’t even think on that trip I thought London was one of the greatest cities on Earth. I just remember I liked our hotel room and I actually had fun at Madame Tussaud’s.

London is one of the greatest cities on Earth, but what made me first want to move here was its

#5 proximity to Europe (and really, “the rest of the world”).

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I was wanderlusting before we even moved. And then we got here and traveled more in our first year than maybe I had in the ten years of my life prior. The humane amount of time off work helps. The multitude of bare-bones budget European airlines helps. The more pro-travel cultural attitude certainly helps. The proximity though, the proximity is everything. It can be jarring I think for the people you have left to see our collective status updates on social media, blog posts, or just hear the destinations in conversation. Most expats I know here recognize how much like a-holes we must sound all the time when mentioning the places we go. And yet, Spain, France, Italy etc… are the same distances away as me living in New York and going to visit friends in Chicago or Atlanta. It’s just that Tuscany or Barcelona sound more exotic to some people than Indianapolis or Charlotte. But doing the trips is equally as easy.

I love being from a big country and I love living in a small one. Even if just for one more day.

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big gay english country leaving do

Did I mention we’re leaving London? Like, for good? Mid-March. Back to Brooklyn. It’s bittersweet. It’s terrible. It’s exciting. It’s terrible. It’s okay. It’s

a lot of things.

But enough about that. In hono(u)r of the Long Goodbye, we had a leaving do (going-away) weekend in the Cotswolds with some of our most favo(u)rite London friends. 22 adults + 9 kids. Specifically:

11 Americans
6 Brits
2 Italians
2 Aussies
1 Gibraltarian
9 children of varying passport nationalities.

We stayed in a gorgeous 12-bedroom manor house on ten acres in Wotton-under-Edge with a breathtaking view over the Cotswolds. Although we lodged like Winston Churchill apparently once did, my guess is he didn’t play as exciting drinking games. We scored sunny, clear skies and we were so hono(u)red some of our dearest London friends would make the trip and all that’s entailed – and so many of them cooked and baked incredible food. On Saturday night at dinner they gave Bryan and I a book of photos and made speeches/toasts that made us both cry. And so the crying begins.

Flip Cup is even more epic with an international crew. We won the first round. Bryan’s team cheated though and ultimately “won”, but look how happy he is! He’s like the pre-Oprah Lance Armstrong of Flip Cup.

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Views from the house

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The kids were all totally well-behaved. And lots of people did the child-entertaining, even of my kids, so I didn’t have to.

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Pub lunch

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“Special” fancy dress dinner night

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There were champagne shots, beer pong, singalongs, pianoalongs, pub quiz, mustaches, vomiting… so many things. But the most important were the tattoo sleeves.

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It was exactly what we hoped for.

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reims, france

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No better way to go into a weekend than to talk about last weekend.

We went to Reims, France! Faye, David, Isaac, Matt, Trish and our family were looking for a great Christmas market to visit this festive season, and Reims ticked a lot of boxes- not the least of which was that we didn’t have to fly. Although, I am not sure it makes a difference if you have little kids on a plane or on a train. They can’t handle it either way.

IMG_1638But no matter. We had a great time. Reims is the capital of the Champagne region. We had to switch train stations in Paris so it was fun to be there for two blocks as well. I bought some delicious quiche.

In Reims we enjoyed mulled wine, spiced cider, champagne, Belgian beers, a frightening amount of cheese and saucisson and foods involving bacon, lots of cookies and crepes and other deliciousness, ponies, a weird carousel, a weird animatronic puppet show, gorgeous Cathedral views, a mini-train ride, and hotel room parties which involved 3 guys and 3 bottles of Four Roses bourbon. Also a lot of time on trains.

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And I know this picture is blurry, but it’s a man walking a raccoon on a leash/lead. French people!

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A portrait of the stars aligning.

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ireland

Hi, blog. How are you? Oh, neglected? Join the club.

Soooooo, two weekends ago we were in IRELAND for a WEDDING. I just wanted to all-capitalize both those words. Maybe because IRELAND was our last stop on our World Tour 2012 and also probably the last WEDDING we will attend for the year. I am so happy Ireland was the capper. For a million years and a day we have wanted to see the world-famous Irish countryside and Isabelle and Tim getting married was our very good excuse.

First we stayed in the charming village of Adare to witness the nearby nuptials, with a ceremony in a billion-year old village church (where they gave out popcorn after – SQUEAL) and the reception at Isabelle’s childhood home in the country. One can get used to these kinds of weddings. The kind you can’t have in a new country. Isabelle works with Bryan and at one point her best friend/bridesmaid/caterer demanded to know if I was “the boss’s wife”. I said I didn’t think so. She said, “Is your husband the hot guy with the beard?” Guilty as charged. Hey oh!  Then made a mental note to myself to try to remember we were around lots of his colleagues at all levels and to stop referring to my heels as hooker shoes.

     

The kids really, really, really enjoyed the “ping pong” table.

Jonah has always carried a real flame for Isabelle. He was talking about her wedding for weeks and then was kind of stalking her on the actual day. Tim was a total gentleman about it.

 

The wedding included lots of speeches (what people in these parts call toasts, which always makes me smile) by hilarious Irish and British people. We had the best time we could with a 1 and 3 year-old in tow. And now Isabelle and Tim are moving to Singapore. As you do. Yay for them!

Then we went and stayed outside the town of Killarney for a couple of days so we could drive the famous Ring of Kerry and see Killarney National Park. And this was the view from our hotel room:

And then I never wanted to leave, ever.

But the Ring of Kerry was worth it. Beyond. (Even when Simon resumed his World Tour of Car Sickness 2012.)

Oh and this happened.

There are so many millions of Americans who visit Ireland every year, you see billboards and signs inside rental cars begging you to please drive on the left-hand side of the road. Five years in England, and I have never seen that before. God bless the potato famine emigration-descended third and fourth generation Irish-Americans who want to visit their true homeland but try to drive on the right.

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istanbul

Last weekend the kids and I went to Istanbul to meet my mom, step-dad, two brothers and their better halves where they started their travels around Turkey. I couldn’t imagine much of Turkey was super toddler-friendly, so we joined them at the part we thought would be best. It turned out great. Simon loves lamb koftas and Jonah loves stray street cats. Everybody wins! (Except the Muslims who had to see me inappropriately dressed) Three days were not nearly long enough, but it was enough to be reminded how much fun it is to be around my family and how magical a city Istanbul is. I could go back many times. Even this trip was the second for most of us. We went in 2006 after my mom and half-Turkish step-dad married on the Greek Island of Rhodes. Then this past weekend we stayed at the same Istanbul hotel 6 years later because: look at the view from the roof terrace during breakfast and sunset! It’s like CGI in person.

Josh dropping knowledge in Sultanahmet about Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque and my bros singing a song Jonah loved with only the following lyrics: “Mosque and a minaret Mosque and a minaret Mosque and a minaret…”

Grand Bazaar and Spice Market

A night out at 5.Kat and walking Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue

Outside the Spice Market: Famous fish sandwiches -balik ekmek-, fisherman and the Galata Bridge

Mom and her babies

Dinner out in Ortakoy

Basilica Cistern

At Suleymaniye Mosque

Mom and I took the kids out on the Bosphorus

A theme of the weekend was trying to procure a stroller for Jonah. Victory!

I have never, ever been anywhere else in the world where people freaked out so much at our kids. I don’t know if it’s the blond hair or blue eyes or just generally that Turkish people adore children, but it was kind of amazing. We could never walk one block without random cafe workers and passerby pinching their cheeks and making a fuss. I do love the people there.

Traveling alone with the two kids was more manageable than I anticipated. Jonah watched the iPad constantly and Simon punched the backs of people’s seats in coach and there was always the kindness of strangers to fall back on. Swiss Air is an impeccably clean airline with friendly staff and gives toys to the kids and serves a hot meal even on an hour-long flight. What what?! Most importantly, both the Zurich and Geneva airports have children’s play areas that we used during the layovers. In Geneva it had a full, enclosed nursery. Switzerland is officially my new favorite place on Earth.

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california part 2: everything else

Before and after the wedding in Carmel, we spent time with our favorite people in the Bay Area. We hearted it.

After the longest flight of my life, I met Kara (used to live in London) for dinner on the Embarcadero since she was in town for work. Just as I was using her phone to call my friend Tosha, it turns out Tosha had just walked out of the same restaurant. But we didn’t know it yet. How small is SF anyway? Is there like one restaurant? It’s an amazing city that almost all visitors agree is one of the coolest cities on Earth with lots of eye candy (well, I can at least vouch for the houses). I love all the times I get to visit. But man I forget how freakishly cold it is in the summer. It felt like a winter blizzard without any of the beautiful snow.

Wait, can you tell how cold it is?

We finally found the sun over the Bay in Oakland with Tosha and Cristina. W-L Class of ’94 representing the East Bay! We saw Tosh’s newish pad, went to Fairyland with the kids, ate Mexican food (praise be) and hit a playground along the beautiful Lake Merritt before going back to the San Francisco winter.

   

Jud and Kate had us over for a barbecue and I was digging the classic hilly SF street they live on. Did you know you get parking tickets there if you don’t curb your wheels? Anyway, we always love good American food and got to meet them again for a great American brunch (my theme of the week was bacon) and a Giants game in the great AT&T Park stadium on the water with our other friends. We somehow missed the wintry and foggy microclimates that day.

   

Then Heather, Mark, sweet baby Jasper and their two dogs hosted us our final weekend with a yums barbecue at their place in the city and then an incredible trip up to Inverness in a stunning guest house for a couple of nights. Bryan and I fell completely in love with this part of Marin County and the little towns nestled in the hills by Tomales Bay and the Point Reyes National Seashore. Also, Jonah has an inexplicable terror of dogs now so that was fun for everyone.

        

Before hitting the airport for an overnighter and the impending jet lag, we enjoyed some time in Golden Gate Park. The sun shined down on San Francisco that day and proved that if you wait long enough, the wintry climes and fog will part momentarily and show you double why it’s such a beloved city.

   

Also, we ate In-N-Out Burger. Thank you for that, America.

This also happened once. For like ten minutes.

And now I take the kids to Istanbul for a long weekend. I am aware of how that sentence may come across. My mother is generously flying me and the kids to see her and my brothers etc since they will all be traveling in Turkey together. I am pretty sure taking two toddlers on connecting flights by myself round-trip will more than balance out the gratitude I feel for this insane summer of travel. But I am so excited to see some of my family. It’s been way too long.

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