Tag Archives: England

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

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