Category Archives: Travel

day 14, Switzerland:Last Day and Final Observations

My final (full) day in Switzerland dawned bright and hot.  We didn’t do Milan as planned, but it was nonetheless a fun time.  We returned to the city center, searched for souvenirs, had lunch in a floating house and, through it all, I managed not to rub at the five, yes you read that right, FIVE mosquito bites on my face (I have about eleven or so along my arms and legs right now, and yesterday, in the pool, since they couldn’t get to the rest of me, those little buggers came for my face).

Before I go to bed (we’re leaving for the airport at five, which means waking up around four which is less than three hours away) I want to share with you some wisdom that I’ve learned over these past two weeks:

•The switches (no matter which country your in) are the opposite of the US’s: down is on and up off. (I think I got that right… Whatever it is back home, it’s the opposite here, too tired for thinking in opposite!)

•Jeremy Kyle negates the stereotypes about the Brits being stodgy and conservative.

•The tripple cheek kiss of the Swiss might make your head spin initially.  (I dunno, but something about that extra kiss was really…  intense)

•The turns feel different in British cars (they drive on the right side).

•Swiss chocolate is divine.

•Bidets are kinda cool.

•American culture is everywhere here: from English pop in Italian restaurants, to American programs in the UK (or remade into whatever language).

•Alcohol …

• They smoke regularly, and openly in Switzerland. (Bonus: doesn’t matter what language you speak, you definitely know the word “marijuana”)

I think I had more earlier, and I definitely should’ve written them down.  But I’m sleeping, finished packing and ready for the jet lag when I get back. So there’ll be no more from me. Though, if I’m not sleeping all day (layover time included), perhaps I’ll right a post on the differences in the way Americans vs.  Europeans handle the disabled (or the things I noticed, anyway).

Well, till next time

Ci vediamo dopo

Day 13, Switzerland, I tried the Bidet…

This one’s dedicated to Lizzy, who wanted “all of the details”.

On the first day here, after receiving the house tour, one of the first things that stood out to me was, that, in the bathroom there was a bidet.  From a distance, it looked toilet shaped.  And then, later on, during a admittedly surreptitious inspection, I saw that it was, in fact, shaped like a toilet…  with a faucet instead of a flusher, no toilet seat, and…  soap?

Over the next few days, I didn’t think much of it, except for random moments (in the bathroom).  On one of these random thought days, I decided to ask Zu if she’d tried it out yet.

“No.” Her tone was outraged.  But I understood why, when, a moment or so later, we laughed about having no idea how to go about using it.  So I did what any self-respecting millennial would: Googled it.

First of all, there’s a bidet.org.  Not sure why that surprised me, but it did (the link above is to their page on bidet use).  While reading, I learned that there were different types of faucets, that it was better to sit or crouch facing it (so the reverse of the typical toilet position), and that it was used both right after you used the toilet or just to freshen things up a bit.  Armed with that knowledge, I was going to give it the old college try.  But then, my former boss/surrogate mother suggested we just ask Zulay’s aunt (why we hadn’t thought of it…  no clue).  So we were all for it until I hesitated.  For the story’s sake, I figured (and was encouraged upon suggesting it) that I should give it a try first, before asking.  So that I could give you guys every possible aspect.  And so I did.

***

I brought in my towel (to dry off), took off my pants (they’re not designed for sitting that way) and turned on the faucet.  It wasn’t one that you could adjust, so I just used my hands to wash up.  There was a bottle next to it (that had a pump like hand soap), but, being unsure of 1.  whether or not it was actual soap and 2.  if it was meant for lady part use, I only used it afterward to wash my hands.  I also want to add that I did wipe with toilet paper first for a few reasons.  First, I didn’t know how this would go, so I wanted to make sure I was my normal level of clean.  But also, since I was moving from one spot to the other, I didn’t want any drippage (#Awkward)

The only part that felt weird about that first time was washing up, not in a shower.

Okay, so, that was me hesitantly testing things out on Sunday.  Today (in the US, yesterday here) I tried again, this time with the information from tia on how to use it.  I was right about everything except for the soap.  It was meant for booty cleansing purposes (I’d definitely be grossed out if it were bar soap, so this is probably a good call as far as bidet practices go).

This time, it did feel weird.  Perhaps it was because I’m now soaping, and still, not in the shower.  But it did feel if not cleaner (I like to think I can handle my TP), then…  fresher?

As I write this, I’m reminded of a video I saw on the Today I Found Out Youtube channel about bidets, and why Americans don’t use them.  The guy, whose name I can’t remember and will probably be too lazy to add when I find the link later, made a really good point that I’d forgotten till now: if we get poop (in particular, but also pee) on our hands, we wash them, not just wipe it off with a towel; so why should our butts (and other bits) be any different?

I encourage you all to try out a bidet if you’re given the opportunity.  You might love it, or never want to touch one again.  But its definitely an experience, regardless of how you feel.

***

Tomorrow/later we’ll be exploring Milan.  It’s our last day before heading back to London, to then go home.  I’m super excited.  And, as its after 3 AM, also rather tired.  So, until you read again.

Buona notte

Days 11 and 12, Switzerland: Chocolate… and Castles

A castle made of Swiss chocolate sounds like a great souvenir to bring back home.

***

During the Aztec empire, chocolate was used as an offering for the emperor and gods.  It was first brought over to Europe by Hernan Corté, the first Spanish conquistador to make contact with the Aztecs, in the sixteenth century.  When it was first introduced to the Spanish court, the nobles/royals tried to maintain the drink’s authenticity by adding the same spices the Mezoamericans drank it with, but by the late eighteenth century, the practice of sweetening this often bitter drink was gaining popularity.  Each cacao seed contains between 50 and 60 percent of cocoa butter.  In 1930, white chocolate was made for the first time by using cocoa butter, milk and sugar.

(Summarized by one Zulay Daniela Valencia Diaz)

***

Most of my friends would just assume that that was knowledge gathered over the years from the rabbit hole that is Google that I then stored in my brain for later use.  But they would be wrong, as day 11 found us at the chocolate museum.  Gathering that information was a bit of an experience as Tia had to first translate from Italian to Spanish for Zu, who then had to translate it to English for me.  There were a few times when her aunt tried reading the English, but she kept adhering to the rules of Italian pronunciation, and while we enjoyed it, she, likely feeling self-conscious, gave up. After the history, we had samples and, oh boy, was it yummy.  It wasn’t as sweet as American chocolate (noticed that in England too), but that definitely did not take away from the flavor experience.  Even the dark chocolate wasn’t as bitter.

Later, we went to the lake, where we had more gelato…  even their Oreos taste great! Or maybe it was just the tastiness of the ice cream, and then the walnuts in the parts that were in the cone…  If I were to base this vacation on food alone, I would be dropping Michelin Stars like they were Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs.

The next day, we went to the Castles of Bellinzona, three castles, strategically built by the Dukes of Milan in the 1400s to prevent the Swiss Confederates from traveling farther south.  Of the three, we visited Castello Grande (and took photos with the other two in the background).  The museum had glass cases with artifacts from the Stone and Bronze Ages, along with information on common practices (for example, writing history on the ground).

Of all of the places we visited, this was probably my favorite.  Sighted people can get an idea of the size and grandeur of a place through pictures or videos.  Whereas you could show me a picture of a castle and while I might be able to see each of the parts, I wouldn’t truly be able to grasp its splendor.  I could read about it in a book, but I would, at best, conceptualize it as a huge house.  Or just take each section in stride, rather than building an entire mental picture.  And still, perhaps, you might say, what about example a miniature.  That might help, or, again, I might just think mansion.  Not castle.

So, while we didn’t actually tour the place, walking the grounds (they were huge), seeing the heights, touching the stone…  it made it so much more real.

As we were sitting by the lake the day before, I could imagine myself in a different time.  The silence (not counting people talking) was broken only by the occasional plane, and I came to realize why I’m so infatuated with this continent.  I love that, whether its Kotor, Peterborough, or Lugano, there’s this blending of old and new.  And yes, this can be found home, in historical districts, or a building that hasn’t been torn down for some kind of expansion.  But our history only goes back to the 1600s, but what’s four centuries to millennia?

I want to visit as many places as I can: the Caribbean, south America, Asia, Africa, Australia (it was less work listing continents than countries), and perhaps I will fall in love with each place.  Perhaps not.  But I look forward to the depth of history.

Anyway, it’s pretty late here.  And I want to upload my bidet experience before I go to bed.  So I’m going to end this here.  But we shall meet again in the next post.

days 8-10, Switzerland:They triple-cheek kiss here, but at least they drive on the correct side

Day 8 finds us traveling to Switzerland, from Gatwick to Milan and then in a car to Lugano, and Zulay’s aunt is actually driving on the correct side! It felt weird—because I was starting to get used to the English driving—but also refreshing to be back to normal.  Everything else was back to normal as well: regular shower; the hot and cold tap being on the left and right, respectively; one faucet in the sink (in my aunt’s downstairs bathroom, there were two.  But now we did have new customs to get used to: a triple cheeked kiss instead of double, and the alcohol!

I’ve heard stories and read many a a blog about the UK drinking culture, but Zu and I didn’t experience any of it with my aunt (she’s all Christiany and stuff).  At one point, she did start telling me about a wine that was 5% alcohol…  but she never got around to giving us some.  But in Switzerland…

After getting the grand tour, we were offered white wine.  Then, at dinner, we had red.  We tried a shot of grappa, a pear brandy.  And finally, we topped the night off with a shot of espresso.  I’m not sure if those cups actually have a name,  but they’re small, almost teacup like glasses that Europeans seem to like their coffee in.

The next day, day 9, Zulay’s cousins took us out to the city center.  We had ice cream (it tasted like gelato), waded a few steps into a lake for pictures (coming later), walked around some more, and then ended up at a bar.  There, Zu and I had strawberries caipirinhas, Zu had two while I had one and two shots of an unidentified drink.  Somewhere in there, I wanted water and Zu’s cousins remarked that she must’ve gotten the alcohol gene in their family.  The night before, when we had the pre-dinner wine, her aunt thought that I didn’t drink much because I was taking it slow.  After Zu explained that I hadn’t eaten in a while her aunt’s response was: “she doesn’t want to get drunk?”

While that was part of it, it’s my first day with new people, why would I want to get drunk?, responsible drinking rules have been drilled in my head and while you can take the girl out of America, unfortunately, you can’t always get the American out of the girl.  (Disclaimer: I actually really like my country, even with our delightfully juvenile commander-in-chief, but I’m also aware of our stereotypes.)

**TANGENT ALERT! REPEAT: TANGENT ALERT**

You may have noticed that, throughout this piece, I’ve been placing Zulay as the go-between for conversation.  She was the one who told her aunt I hadn’t eaten much, not me.  That’s because they only speak Spanish and Italian.  And I only speak English.  (I used to speak Spanish but then I had an Argentinian professor whom I loved, but who’s accent completely messed me up.)

The time here seems to have been the immersion I need though, as, the more days I listen to them speak, the more things are coming back to me.  And it doesn’t hurt that I’m not under pressure to respond.  I’m just taking it all in.

With that said, her family has been practicing there English.  They’re all pretty good, but no one seems confident in their speaking abilities so it doesn’t last long.  Or they forget I don’t speak Spanish, and so sometimes I understand and respond in English while others I’m so lost, and then they remember.

***

But anyway, back to the main story.  After the bar, Zu’s aunt and uncle took us out to a restaurant where we had pizza…  and it was scrumptious.  I had seafood pizza while Zu had four cheese.  We paired that with white wine (that I enjoyed, tia; I was just focusing all of my energy on the pizza and occasional water sip), followed by strawberry tea.  Yum.

The next day was supposed to be our trip to the chocolate museum, but after a pizza breakfast (the day before it was tiramisu), then a lunch of spaghetti, Zu and I decided to tap into the lazy American stereotype and just chill inside.  We never even went swimming like we were supposed to.  That night, we had pasta salad…  guys, I swear, when I get back, I’m just going to be a bowling ball with arms and legs.

In addition to all of the great food, I’ve also been taught some Italian: formagio = cheese, fragola strawberry, and cazzo voui (who needs “grazie” or “prego” when I can say “what the fuck”?).

My choice of major has been a source of confusion to the Swiss.  In England, studying English, perfectly normal.  In Switzerland, Zulay’s cousin was outraged: “why you study English when you speak English?”

I’m going to end my rambles here, I just wanted to catch you up on the things.  And while you’re reading, I’ll be working on my final catch-up post: the chocolate museum.

Till next time

Ciao

days 4-7, England: bones and church and prison camps… oh my

So…  I had so many things to write…  I just never wrote them.  But instead of apologizing and such, I’m just going to get right into it.

On day 4, we headed “into town”, which is the main part of Peterborough.  It was very quiet, but just like London, I loved the feel of the place.  We walked through a shopping mall, to get to the town square, so it was an interesting juxtaposition: modern clothing store a few streets away from super old cathedral.

We checked out the Peterborough Museum, which documented the development of Peterborough from the world’s first prisoner of war camp, Norman Cross prison camp, to the bustling town that it is today.  I loved how interactive the experience was: there were recreated prison beds (disgustingly thin mattresses and blankets included), as well as other bits and baubles, like a objects from an early 1900s kitchen, an old diesel engine, Victorian bed linens covered in blood from ill-informed doctors, who didn’t care much for the comfort of the poor. In addition to all that, there were many written pieces along the walls explaining the history of everything.

On the ground floor, they had a braille floor map.  Now, I completely forgot the layout immediately after I stopped touching it, but it was still quite cool.  It made me wonder if the written sections had braille counterparts, but I didn’t think to ask about it until the writing of this post…  about a week later.

We had McDonald’s afterward, because my aunt was starving.  And guys.  WordPress.  World.  Let me tell you: It was delicious! The burger tasted like a burger, the chips were delicious (see day 1), and the drink sizes were small.  I got orange juice (which tasted pretty fresh for something bottled), but Zu had a Coke, and first, it tasted just a bit different, but it was also not an undrinkably large size.  That may also be because, in the US, we like our drinks iced with a side of liquid.  (Ice isn’t a thing they do here.  Water either.  The prisoners only drank ale because the water was unclean, which I’m pretty sure was a problem faced by all, so the tradition of not drinking water just continued.)

That night, we had shepherd pie, homemade.  And it.  Was.  Scrumptious! Afterward, I continued my research.  I found a potential way to apply for British citizenship (the various visa options were getting too complicated) but…  it costs money.  Like, a lot of it.  So I think I’m going to stick ! studying abroad first before I go making thousand pound commitments.

***

Day 5 was church.  If you don’t already know, I’m not a huge fan of church.  They always insist on praying for me.  I know, complete a holes, all of them.  My thing is this: by asking God to “give me my sight back” your questioning His wisdom.  If He does everything for a reason, then why are you trying to change it?

But, it ended up not being so bad.  They were overly polite (so basically, very English): offering “cheers” and “blessings” left and right.  Some people came up to us, introduced themselves, and didn’t really seem to care about our names (after they found out that we were there with my aunt, “such a lovely woman”).  I even joked with our assigned babysitter, a woman, who, in the spirit of British culture, I could totally imagine drunk, not enjoying church.

The church was a Pentecostal one, so I was extremely interested in seeing how the Brits handled such high energy.  And it was definitely something.  The choir was upbeat, as was the clapping and the pastor made his sermon delightfully interactive (having his son be the David to another church member’s Goliath) yet, though they were definitely invested, the congregation remained subdued.  It was like when Zu and I watched Jeremy Kyle, all of the flare and drama were there, with the audience reacting appropriately, but they didn’t have t…  gusto, that I find in America.  The energy level was just different.

The rest of the day was quite chill, with Zulay and I on our respective devices as my uncle watched TV, my aunt bustled about the house and my cousin popped in every now and then to spice up the conversation with his entertaining insights.

***

To conclude my English adventures, I skip to day 7, as on day 6 Zu had a headache and there was another one of those intense thunderstorm showers, so we opted to stay inside, catching up on correspondence and doing laundry.  But on day 7, we took a trip to Leicester, to visit the Leicester Cathedral where Richard Iii, of York’s bones are on display.

This was another fun museum experience.  There were stone re-workings of objects like books, a scale, etc, that all held some relevance to Richard’s life.  So that in itself made it exciting, interactive and, most important, blind friendly.  There were also videos sprinkled through out the exhibit—as in the Peterborough museum—that added to the experience along with the scrolls of text along the wall (I forgot to ask about braille versions again) that my aunt read to us.

After the museum, we asked around for a good Indian restaurant.  We were directed to Mem Sab in the Highcross Shopping Center.  I highly recommend that place to English and tourists alike.  I had chicken tika marsala, mushroom pilaf that I shared with my aunt’s friend who’d driven us there, some divinely good garlic naan—it was buttery and soft, and a criminally small (but tasty) duck samosa.  The flavors were blended well, the sauce was creamy and slightly spicy.  It was just delicious.  People complain about English food (yes, I’m aware that I’m talking about Indian), but I enjoyed all of the things I had.

It was interesting to experience a restaurant setting.  I mentioned earlier that the europeans don’t use much ice. (Ice was something the rich used, but it fell out of fashion, and was too expensive a habit initially. You can read more about it here.)  So we were given ice in our drinks while we waited for a table, but not once we were actually seated.  Also, portion size, it was enough to fill me up (I was stuffed, actually) but there were no leftovers.

Looking back on this week, I really enjoyed myself.  Checking out the tube, finding braille in unexpected places, getting used to the backwardness (a light switch being up meaning off, rather than on)…  or is America the background one, since we’re younger? Huh.  Things to ponder.  But I will definitely be returning next year, if I’m approved for study abroad to see if I could really envision myself living there.

Stay tuned for the rest of the saga, when our European adventures continue in Switzerland (working on those posts now)

 

Cheers

Day 3, England: London weather and tourist attractions

WE went into London today.

We took pictures of Big Ben, in front of Buckingham Palace, walked through Westminster Square where we also took pictures in front of a Mandela statue (as well as catching the tube at Westminster station), walked through Covent Market, passed by the street/area where the Jack the Ripper shmit went down (don’t remember the name), and, finally, stood across from the Thames.  We also passed by parliament buildings, and maybe one or two other stops that I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting right now.

I really enjoyed it, though you may not be able to tell from the pictures (which I’ll post eventually).  I think the jet lag finally caught up with me: three hours of sleep on the plane, five or so the first night, two hour nap yesterday, followed by three hours of sleep last night may also be the culprit.  Or a combination of both.  So in a few of the photos I’m pretty sure I look dead.  It also didn’t help that about half the day was grey with rain—experiencing London weather to the fullest!—so I was also bundled into my sweater (hoodie up and everything) in some of those.

There were like three or four rainstorm showers, followed either by the warmth   of cloud-covered sunshine or the sun actually coming out, but with a frame of ominous dark cloud cover never too far behind.  I used “rainstorm shower” because each time it rained, it lasted no more than ten or so minutes, but it really came down each time, sometimes with minatory rolls of thunder punctuating the downpour.  It reminded me of the flash storms in the southern states (well, from what I’ve experienced in GA and FL, as I guess I can’t really speak for all of them).

Anyway, my impressions:

Despite the rain and chill (which I’ll get back to), I really liked this place.

When I went to Chicago, I was enamored by the talking buses and the feel of the place.  It’s got a smaller population than New York, and, I’m pretty sure, more square mileage (or that could just be how it feels because of the population) and an openness that I never really associated with cities.  (I’m pretty sure the wind helped with that impression of openness.)

I felt similarly about London (immediately categorizing things that made it different to New York, that also made me like it).  It felt more populated than Chicago, but less crowded than New York.  At one point, when the rain came down out of nowhere, we went into a Pret (because everywhere else was either packed or didn’t look tasty), and the quiet bustle of the place reminded me of home.  There was a low hum of conversation, that let you know you were in a city, but everything was quieter overall (not just in Pret) than I was used to.

The streets were narrower, and the sidewalks felt wider, or at least, wide enough that we weren’t held up by tourists, or slow-moving people, etc.  I think London has a slightly bigger populace, but they also have more room.  And, like Chicago, I could feel it. I can’t recognize a city just from a feeling, but I always know when I’m not in New York. However, with both Chicago and London, I was able to feel… something about them.

The London underground was also a pretty nifty place: the oyster (the equivalent of metro) cards that you have to touch to the machine before going through the turnstiles (is that what they’re called here?) rather than swiping, and then you also have to tap the card on your way back out (like in D.C.).  The doors of the trains stayed open for a good amount of time (so there didn’t seem to be a big rush to get on) and the announcements were generally clear.  The “mind the gap please” even sounded extra polite here with the accent.  And their “crowded” didn’t feel crowded to me.  They say that it can get worse, so perhaps it has to do with timing. But, except for what I’ve heard of Tokyo and Hong Kong, I struggle to believe that another city can feel as crowded as, or surpass New York.

The buses also speak (I think this is a thing in every city but New York), though getting onto them was definitely an experience.  You enter from the left side, touch your card, and then have to turn right to get to the seats.  So basically, the reverse of what we do in the States.

Everything’s done on the reverse here, it seems, and its definitely disconcerting.  (Seriously, even the water’s opposite: hot on the right, and cold on the left.) America’s younger, yes, but the Brits are definitely doing it wrong.

In my last post, I talked about my desire to move here.  After having gotten out, and actually visited parts of the city, my resolve has only strengthened.  So I’m going to work toward studying abroad here in the fall of next year, so that I can see if this is really something I would do.  Or if its just the honeymoon phase of being in a new place, and one that I’d been dying to visit for so long.

Whenever I read about the weather, they talk about how mild it is.  Today, with temperatures in the 60s, my aunt said it was fairly warm.  I thought it was pretty cold, but I’m also coming from 90+ degree weather so…  that’s probably relative.  But it would definitely be another adjustment, having a perpetual chill in the air.  Some transplants say it seeps into your bones…  sounds kind of ominous.  But I do also like the idea of relatively mild temperatures year round.  I tell my friends often that my ideal temperature range is around 60-80.  London will help me see if I really mean that.

With that said, I also can’t imagine myself not living in New York.  Its my city.  Perhaps I’ll get to know London (or some other English city, or an area just outside of it) as well, but it may never really be the same.

Ah well, I’ve only been here two days.  I’ve a got more yet to see.  I know this is something I will continue to obsess over in the back of my mind, but nothing can be done now, at least until next year.

I would’ve uploaded this on actual day three, but my laptop’s dead, and I’m way too lazy to get the charger.  I don’t think day 4 will consist of anything too special so I’ll be back eventually.  Perhaps to tell you all about Paris — our goal’s to visit there on Monday.

Okay, till next time

PS.  I slept for like, eight hours.  I feel like a brand new person!

PPS.  Since I took so long to upload this, my aunt just told me we’d be heading “into town” today, so I’ll be back with more observations about that.

Day 2, England: Observations from The House

I woke up yesterday, or today, since I think this will upload on the 9 (probably because of where my original WordPress location is), at about seven.  I didn’t actually get out of bed, for two hours but jet lag, coupled with sleep issues made for an interesting.

Breakfast was warm cereal (my friends tell me its an immigrant thing, but as the child of one, and with Zu being from Colombia, we definitely appreciated it), saltfish cakes, toast and tea.  I tell you about this to set the scene.  While we’re eating, we’re also listening to the Jeremy Kyle show.  For those of you who think of the Brits as genteel…  you’ve never watched this show he is the British Steve Wilcose.  Except, one difference I did note was the audience.  We Americans are as animated as the people on stage.  But the people here, though they reacted, didn’t do it with the same enthusiasm I’m accustomed too.  Regardless, it was still extremely entertaining.

It also rained all day, which is more in keeping with my English stereotypes (unlike sunfilled yesterday).  So Zu, my family and I hung around inside, watching TV, using our various devices, and debating.  And it was great.

The atmosphere: though its warm, there’ seems always to be a breeze or something to keep you from overheating.  As well as the programming, it was so weird seeing the US talked about from an outside perspective.

That comment leads me to something else I noticed: TV.  I don’t know if this is just this family, or an east vs.  west thing, but when we arrived, I noticed immediately that my aunt was watching TV.  And Zulay noted that in Colombia the TV is running 24/7.  Where in Montenegro, if we watched TV.  it was Netflix.  But, that’s also the case for many places in the US: TV’s becoming obsolete in the face of Netflix, Prime (and whatever other) subscriptions right from your device.

The home time also gave me a chance to notice, or really consider food differences.  Here, though the portions are not small, my aunt always ensures there’s some kind of fruit or vegetable with the meal.  I’m not sure if it’s just her being a former nurse and health-conscious, or specifically a non-American thing.  I think we almost always had fruit and/or veggies in Montenegro, and Zu said that that was normal practice in Colombia.

I also began considering moving here.  Wait, hold the judgment and hear me out:

No, I have not yet explored the city (which we should be doing later/tomorrow if the weather allows), but I was already drawn in.  The lack of AC’s (because of that coolness I mentioned, though even if its burning, I think your just SOL unless you can get a breeze), the food thing (which yes, I’m already working on at home with my own meals), and while the TV stuff wasn’t too big a deal, since I don’t really watch TV, I still enjoyed the “programs” and “adverts”.

I’m not spontaneous enough to just pick up and move somewhere, especially to a new country (which I can’t do anyway without a visa), but I’d always been torn between Madrid and London for my study abroad, and after one day I’m already considering here.  If we get in a day trip to España, that should help me narrow things down some, as well as actually traveling into London today.  But for right now, I’m enamored with this place.  I’ve been doing Visa research, as well as double-checking my school’s study abroad requirements.  So don’t be surprised if (when) you hear I’m moving in two years.

Along with Zu’s standard, three or four mininaps (okay, I’m exaggerating…  two/three), she and I both slept for about two hours (an hour and a half longer than expected).  Now, its 1:30 (8:30 back home), and we’re both pretty wide awake.  (Well, I’m confident Zu can get back to sleep in a flash.) But I’m not so sure about myself.

I was so certain I’d circumvented the jet lag monster…  when I started nodding off.  But we have to be up in about 7 hours for my first foray into London proper (I’m beyond excited), so I’m about to attempt the shower again, and let you all go.

I just wanted to give a calmer update (since there were no English oddities to marvel over today).  But in the meantime, you should check out this video I made some years ago about blind people traveling (in case you were wondering about the process).

***

Addendum: Milica said that her family’s a bit of an oddity (she probably didn’t say oddity), but that in general, TV is pretty big in Montenegrin households).

Day 1, England: This place is weird

Yesterday was my first day in England.

I’ve been dying to visit this place since I was somewhere between the ages of 5 and 7, and was introduced to my aunt and her nifty English accent.  There were already Briticisms that I would have grown up with since my mom’s from the English-speaking Caribbean, but that love of England fostered by my aunt only served to intensify my obsession with British culture.  (Okay, honestly, it wasn’t that bad, but imitating the accent was definitely a point of pride for me.) So, after years of tentative talks and failed attempts (when I was hoping to get to England before or after Montenegro in 2016 but my aunt was busy), I made it.

No, I did not find my left eye tearing up when we landed, or my blood pumping in anticipation.  I also did not squeeze Zulay multiple times to express the aforementioned excitement.  And I certainly did not mentally fawn over each delightfully crisp accent as I heard them, while mentally filtering out anything “other”: Indian accents? I get those at home.  (Though, with that said, if it was an English/Indian blend, that’s slightly more interesting to puzzle over.) American/Canadian? Not even registering.  UK of any flavor? Here’s a link to the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah in case you’re unfamiliar with it.  (I would have accepted other European flavored English too, but they didn’t really come up.)

Okay, so, now that all that’s done with, lets get into the things.  This place is weird:

  • In the US, the driver is on the left side of the car, here they’re on the right.  That also means that the radio speakers are located on the left (almost directly in front of the passenger side).  It was kind of trippy knowing that Ken (my cousin), was driving but hearing him from the opposite side of where he should be and having the radio in front of me.
  • Units of measure: This was something I experienced on my way to Montenegro, the person in the Serbian airport telling me that something was a few meters (rather than feet) ahead.  But here, it came (and is still happening) in the form of temperature.  In Montenegro, I always just checked the weather on my phone.  Here, I’ve watched some news and listened to the radio and each time they’d say “twenty-one degrees” (or something), and I’d think “that can’t be right, it feels so warm, how can it actually be that cold?” Then I remember…  Celsius.  Not Fahrenheit.
  • The bathroom…  My God, I need a whole new line to get into that experience.

The toilet (I’m referring specifically to the bowl, not the room in which its located) has two buttons on top of the tank that serves as the flusher (is that what its called?).  That part wasn’t unusual because I’ve encountered flushers like that back home (though according to some articles/blogs this completely trips some people up).  It’s really quite easy to use though: just press the buttons, hold for a second or two, then let go.  In the articles I found, they made a point of telling you not to use excess toilet paper.  In case you are one who just takes the whole roll and wipes, or uses unnecessarily large reams of paper, this may be an important tip to note: while the UK’s pipes can handle toilet paper, it sounds like they can easily be overwhelmed.  So take care. And don’t flush things like tampons, that will definitely clog the drains (but do people actually do this intentionally?).

Okay, now, for the real culture shock…  the shower.  (Not only does it deserve a new line, but a whole new bullet point).

•British showers.  Completely blew my mind.

After giving Zu and I the grand tour, my aunt started taking out towels and washcloths for us.  That’s normal, right? Even her later saying: “Oh, let me show you how to work the shower” wasn’t too unusual.  Sometimes faucets, whether they be the one-knob turners or two-handled, have their quirks.  This, was beyond a quirk.  This, was a process.  This was, as I later learned, an electric shower.

First, you pull a string outside of the tub that activates it or something.  Outlets here have on/off switches, and since this is electrical, perhaps its how you “turn it on”, for lack of a better word.

Then you step into the tub (which was like knee height, so pretty high) and go to the box thingy beside the adjustable showerhead.  On the box are two dials and a button.  The topmost dial adjusts heat, the second water pressure and the button turns it all on.

Sound confusing? Because it was.  I took all of the necessary steps but forgot to pull the string.  So I had to get my aunt who walked me through it.  I’m going to shower once I’m done with the post, so wish me luck that I get it right the next time.  Here’s a link on electrical showers if my description was completely confusing, or you just want more information/visual examples.

•Locks.  In the articles I mentioned looking up (I wanted to find out why the showers were so weird), I learned that in many home bathrooms don’t have locks.  Its just understood that the door will be shut fully if someone is inside, and if you’re uncertain, you knock and ask.  My aunt’s bathroom does have a lock (though its like a bolt some inches above the knob, rather than the twist/button locks we usually see on the doorknob).  With that said, I don’t know if they (my family) use it as the door’s usually left ajar when no one’s in there.

After the bathroom discoveries, Zu and I hung around our room for a bit before being called down to dinner.  We had fish and chips and it.  Was.  Amazing.

The batter was crunchy, the fish fluffy, and the taste was scrumptious.  The chips (cough cough, they’re fries) were very potatoey.  As in, they tasted like potato.  And were kind of thick.  Even the “tomato ketchup” was a grand experience.  It was slightly spiced and just…  it was delicious!

After dinner, we sat around the table discussing everything from politics (American and English) to Star Wars and fantasy novels.  It was all punctuated by my aunt giving us a little square of mint chocolate.  Yum.

Zulay was dozing long before the conversation ended (I’m not sure if it was jet lag or just her natural sleeping talents).  I fell asleep around midnight (7 pm back home), woke up two or three times in the night, before getting up for good around seven.

The ride from the airport (since they live in Cambridge), took about two hours and while Zu dozed (it was an all day affair), I tried to power through.  I was trying to do all of the get over jet lag things: soak in the sunlight (of which there was much) and stay up to try to get to bed at a decent hour.  (Fun fact: jet lag is worse when you travel east because you lose hours and sunlight, which makes it harder for your body to adjust.) It all seemed to work until I took my two hour nap today.

But all in all, day one was a good day.  I’ll be posting about day 2 shortly) (i.e., as soon as I finish writing that post).  So stay tuned.

First day PS (I made sure to jot this down before going to bed last night): Their Netflix has Fresh Prince.  I’m never leaving.

PPS, I was hoping to upload this on Aug.  9, but its now after midnight here, so though this is about day 1, its actually day 3.

Kay, see you soon