To Always Be This Free

So I can now say that the weirdest thing I’ve ever eaten is sea urchin. It’s fishy (not a shocker) and oddly fruity (more of a surprise).

I flew back into London last night, with much less of a circus than our outbound flight, listening to Africa by Toto, and it’s something I would recommend to everyone. I love flying at night and seeing all the cities lit up – for all my whining about being a country girl and needing my green space, I have always had a slightly child-like fascination with tons of sparkly lights, which you just don’t get in rural Sussex! I intend to fill any future home with more strings of fairy lights than is perhaps acceptable.

Watersports holiday over, and I didn’t get hit by a boom! *bows to raucous applause*. However, I did not come away entirely unscathed. About 25% of my right thigh is a vivid bruise in several shades of ‘Ouch’ Purple, from a supremely ungraceful entry to a Bahia dinghy in which I did not look dissimilar a beached whale – if anyone ever works out an elegant way to get into a dinghy, please let me know. I also have several smaller bruises and patches of friction burn from the Giant SUP Incident (Stand Up Paddleboard, for the uninitiated, as I was) – five people on one large inflatable board is a recipe for disaster, although it was buckets of fun. I did my fair share of ludicrous flailing and staggering around like a child learning to walk. I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time, although such laughter did invite an upsetting amount of seawater into my lungs.

I’ve also done an awful lot of kayaking, swum in a pool so cold that I could barely breathe, crewed a boat in The Slowest Regatta Ever (no wind) and come not-quite-first (second to last, with our eternal gratitude to the gentleman who salvaged the tiniest bit of our pride by coming in behind us), gone on sea safari – which is where I ate the sea urchin – and joined a guided walk to the local castle ruins led by a guide who was not the usual guide, and therefore knew nothing about the castle apart from what he could surreptitiously google. It’s been a superb holiday, apart from the holiday rep who promised me ice cream twice in one day, and failed to deliver twice in one day. Rage.

It was whilst I was sitting on the front of the speedboat for our sea safari, failing slightly to be as beautiful a figurehead as most old ships possess if only because of the awkward patch of sunburn on my knee, that I had a thought. In fact, I’ll go so far as to give it the significant capitalisation of A Thought, because I’ve been slightly preoccupied by it ever since.

It’s two thoughts, really – the first was whilst I was on the boat, watching the shoreline rapidly disappear and the expanse of gorgeous blue ocean and sky increase, and I thought that I would like to always feel as free as I did in that moment. I thought that I didn’t want to go back to work on Monday, that I didn’t want to get back into the 9-5 routine and the office coffee run and the daily commute and the not knowing when I’d next have a break.

And then I had the second thought, which is that actually, I do want those things, because freedom isn’t freedom if it doesn’t offer you an escape from something. I thought that maybe I do want those mundane, everyday things, because they make the other moments all the sweeter. That maybe I’m just complaining about going back to work because that’s what people do.

As is tradition in our family, over dinner on our last night we went round everyone naming our favourite and least favourite moments from the holiday. For four of us, it seemed very easy to come up with negative aspects (positives too, but that’s not my point here), but for my stepsister’s partner Nick, he was so chill about everything that he couldn’t name a negative. Anything that the rest of us would have moaned about, he chalked up to a learning experience, or an adventure, or something that can’t be helped that we just have to make the best of. And I think more of us could do with having that attitude.

I’m conscious of my own tendency to complain, because it’s easy to, especially if someone else is. I think it’s human nature, really – it’s nice to hear sometimes that other people have problems too, because it makes us feel a little less me-against-the-world. It’s an expression of support, of empathy, to chip in with your own issues when someone else is talking about theirs. Human suffering calls out for someone else to say ‘it’s okay, I’m struggling too, let’s struggle together’. But rarely do we answer someone’s happy story with one of our own. It feels like it will come across as an attempt at one-upmanship, to belittle someone else’s achievement with a more impressive one of our own. And I hate that. Shouldn’t we be more ready to share our joy than our misery?

Now, I’m a bit concerned about talking about this, because to be honest, who the hell am I to talk about suffering, or about freedom? I’m a white, middle-class, British female. I am marginally less free because of my gender, but even then I’m freer than most women across the world. I haven’t had a difficult life. I’m not suffering. My biggest complaint at this exact moment in time is that my hair is dry from a week of seawater and chlorine.

That said, this is mine and Kate’s blog,  for our opinions and our feelings and our semi-coherent outpourings of anxiety or fear or joy or pain or whatever else we’re feeling, and on a good day we probably have about seven readers, only one of whom isn’t a family member (hi Ben!). So I’m going to say what I want to say. If you’re offended, I apologise, but I advise you to find a different blog to read.

Some people’s lives are horrendously difficult every single day, and they handle it with astonishing amounts of quiet dignity and grace, so why is it that we feel that we must complain about everything because that’s what everyone else will be doing? Maybe it’s because it’s easier to express ourselves when we talk about our sorrows, because self-deprecating humour is always appreciated, because biting, bitter sarcasm the likes of which I indulge in far too often is well received by people who see it as proof that their lives are no worse than anyone else’s. It’s a habit of mine which I’m trying to monitor, and to reduce a little, although I’ll never fully stop because sarcastic, dry wit is what I’m good at, and it doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly negative to still be entertaining.

So I’m going to try to find the positives in life more than I find the negatives, and I’m going to try go back to work on Monday morning with a smile on my face and tell people about how much fun I had, rather than the whole diverted flight situation. And I urge you, in the pretentious, entitled voice of a privileged millennial, to try to do the same.

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The Detour Debacle

So Athens seems nice, from what little I’ve seen of it. Not that I was intending to see any of it (‘I’ in this case being Lang, although I’m told that there’s such a distinctive tone in both mine and Kate’s writing that such clarification is unnecessary). I’m on holiday with the fam, only two weeks after starting a new job, which I’m aware is perhaps ridiculous. In my defence, the holiday existed before the job did. We’re on the Greek island of Lemnos (I’m still searching for the perfect Lemons pun. I’ll let you know when I find it) for a watersports activity week, so a wee trip to mainland Athens was on the surprising side. I’ll get to an explanation, I promise, I just like to ramble first.

I wasn’t actually intending to blog this holiday, as it feels a bit wrong without Brockface here, but the story of our flight yesterday makes for quite an entertaining tale, I think. As I heard at least five people say in the airport, you couldn’t make it up. Plus, blogging will give me something to do if (when) I take a boom to the face and sack off the beach activities! It’s odd, I usually consider myself a good multitasker, but when I’m focused on pulling the right rope for the right sail when we turn- the jib sheet, for the terminology buffs amongst you – I rarely also remember to duck the massive metal pole swinging for my head…

Anyway, Athens. The unintentional part of this trip. Lemnos is quite small, and this company operates one flight a week out of and back into Heathrow, on a chartered plane specifically for people coming to this resort.

Last weekend, the plane had to divert to Athens, as very strong winds made it impossible for the plane to land safely. The poor passengers on the plane spent a night in Athens, possibly in the airport although I don’t know, and the poor people who were supposed to get on that plane back to London spent a night hopefully back at the resort and very much not at the airport, because Lemnos airport is little more than a shed, and we in England sympathised but smugly congratulated ourselves for having chosen this week instead. And then Karma got involved.

This week, we flew right up to above Lemnos, circled for 45 minutes and were then informed that severe thunderstorms over the island made landing unsafe, so we would be diverting to Athens to await further information. Now. I am personally not a fan of thunderstorms or flying, so I was quite relieved that we were taking the safe option, despite the huge inconvenience. Mostly I felt bad for the people waiting to get on this flight back to London, whose inbound flight had already mucked them about.

Arrival at Athens came with the news that we would be staying there overnight and attempting Lemnos again the following morning. At this point, we all assumed that overnight meant in the airport. I’ve done nights in airports before, so I was prepared for it if not thrilled with the idea, but to our surprise we were all stuck on a fleet of buses and trundled off to an enormous, quite swanky hotel in downtown Athens. We were given dinner, breakfast, and rooms of a much higher quality than I think any of us were expecting on such short notice, and all in all it was quite a decent result in the circumstances.

We all got back on the buses this morning, back to the airport, but if you think the saga ends there then you are wrong, my friend. They managed to check in three people before the computer system crashed and it became a bizarre game of double tagging our luggage and praying to all of the Gods on Mount Olympus that our suitcases would not go back to London (spoiler: they didn’t. I still have my clothes).

We finally arrived in Lemnos 24 hours after leaving Heathrow, and so far all I’ve done is lose a pub quiz and be so intimidated by the buffet that I ate approximately seven different meals in one. Here’s hoping tomorrow brings more delights.

Until next time, remember to DUCK THE BOOM, GENIUS.

‘My Mind Is As Blown As The Glass’

Lang here, lamenting the end of the Great West Coast Trip. I can’t quite believe it’s over. In true travelling fashion, time seems to have both sped by and stretched endlessly; it seems that San Diego was simultaneously just yesterday, and a lifetime ago.

That’s probably partly to do with us being back in LAX whilst we wait for our overnight flight to London, having flown down from Seattle this morning. I write this sitting in Departures debating what to spend my remaining few dollars on. Food is, of course, the priority. Then maybe something ridiculous and unnecessary from Duty Free…

Just as I saw San Diego as a good place to start this trip, I think Seattle was a good place to end it. Apart from one disastrous moment where our waitress interpreted an order for two of the same pizza as one pizza between both of us, I really liked the city. (Being too British to complain, we split the pizza and spent the money we’d saved on pie for dessert, so every cloud and all that).

I say Seattle was a good city to end on because in terms of tourist stuff, there’s not masses and masses of must-see things, or at least none that take forever to get through. If you were strict with economy of time, I reckon the crucial bits could all be done in a day.

With what I suspect were the last vestiges of energy that either of us possessed, we headed out on our first day to attempt to get through the Space Needle, Chihuly Glass, and Pike Place Market, including a trip to the original Starbucks. Having booked a slot to go up the Space Needle at sunset (which turned out to be a cracking idea) we headed into Chihuly Glass, a breathtakingly, jaw-droppingly amazing glass-blowing exhibition which caused Kate to utter the phrase which has become title of this blog. Good job too, since working titles included Requiem For A Murdered Cat, named after the horrifying screeching noise produced by a busker in Chinatown. I don’t know what instrument he was attempting to play but he certainly hasn’t mastered it.

On our way into Downtown, we were accosted by a French guy who asked if we would dance with him for a ten second section of a YouTube video he’s making – keep an eye out for that showing up in September. It promises to be entertaining, as I definitely did it wrong! We then headed to Pike Place Market, which was busy, but fun, although the famous Gum Wall really is quite gross, and the over-hyped Original Starbucks is just another Starbucks. And here is where, at the end of our trip, I must take a moment to air my greatest grievance with the USA.

American friends, pals, lads: what on earth is coffee creamer, which heathen came up with it and why aren’t they in jail? Who decided that people would prefer to put fake milk powder in their coffee, rather than actual milk? I’ve never been so horrified, and all I will say further is that I’m delighted to be going home to proper milk in my coffee!

Our remaining two days were spent slowly wandering around Downtown, going up to the highest viewing deck on the West Coast, in the Columbia Center tower, and enjoying one last hurrah with a tour of a chocolate factory just by our hostel, which mercifully included so many free samples that we didn’t need to find dinner.

It’s been a truly fantastic month and I’ve had some amazing experiences. I’d recommend pretty much everywhere we went and everything we did to all, which I’m glad of, because we spent so long planning this trip that I’d have been devastated had it proven anything less than stellar! Unfortunately neither of us can put off the real world indefinitely, so it’s time to head home and prepare for full-blown adulting *cries*. That said, I expect we’ll both be travelling again as soon as we can, since this trip has done nothing to curb our wanderlust – the opposite, in fact!

Until next time, remember to find a travel companion who makes you laugh until you’re silently shaking, with tears streaming down your face as you emit the occasional wheeze. I love you, Brockface.

“Each player must putt with their eyes closed”.

Portland, it has been a fun ride. When we arrived, fresh off our 18-hour train from San Francisco, I have to say I was displeased with the heat you threw our way. Dishevelled does not even begin to describe how I looked when we checked into the hostel that first day. Little did I know I was falling for you already, you little hipster you.

As usual we found ourselves a map and marked upon it the important places over a bagel breakfast. Energized we set forth into the day, ready for our next food item: doughnuts from the marvellous Voodoo Doughnuts, then to the Smallest Park in the World to satisfy our curiosity. For all I know we sat by the fountain on Salmon St for days, mesmerised by the water and dreaming of an alternate universe in which we had worn swimwear that day and I had my bright orange Crocs (a fun, comfortable shoe choice I refuse to be ashamed of) to allow for childish splashing.

If tempted, as we then were, to ride the cable car for the views, don’t allow yourself to be swept up in the rush of people entering the double doors at the top, for these lead into the hospital and, surprisingly, it is quite awkward wandering those halls when you have absolutely no reason to be there.

Day two began with the foolish notion that our map was entirely to scale. To enter Washington Park it might actually have been helpful to have been led by Lewis and Clark. The Rose Test garden when we found it was really lovely and smelled superb. Despite the fact that ‘Kate’ was named Rose Queen in 2012, I am actually rather an uneducated rose-looker-at-er so felt there were a lot of rose repeats. I am not worthy.

After lunch in an Irish pub it was time to enter Powell’s City of Books. Picture, if you will, your own paradise. This book store is what Lang and I will now see when we close our eyes. The lists of books we wish we owned is now longer than ever before and neither of us have either the money or storage space to sustain it.

Tuesday night is open mic night at our hostel and despite some great voices and tunes, what really made the evening was first being reunited with Hayden (musical British traveller from Worthing with a nice backpack and the first person I have heard use the word ‘chinwag’ in a very long time. Thank you) and the three of us coming 3rd from last at a pub quiz called ‘Geeks who Drink’, fuelled by Reese’s cups, under the moniker ‘The tea-drinking Shakespearians’.

In the Jordan days we had a friend called Mackenzie (activist, climber and provider of the best hugs in the universe) and before we came to the States we let him know we’d be in Seattle (near where he lives) and that we had to see him. By some fluke we ended up crossing paths in Portland yesterday instead for a catch-up, more doughnuts, a trip to a park, the question ‘how would you break into a truck’, a game of Scattegories, back to Powell’s (twice) and finally glow-in-the-dark mini golf.

Yes, you heard me right. Glow in the dark mini golf. Essentially 18 holes of laughter in a pirate-themed, blacklit course. Each hole had its own rule: ‘putt with your non-dominant arm’, ‘use your feet’, ‘distract the other players as best you can’, ‘play with your eyes closed’. Frustrating yet hilarious, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Portland, thank you for being weird, walkable, delicious and somewhere I want to come back to in the future.

In the meantime, anybody looking for a different television programme should probably try and locate ‘Mr Smith’: a 1983 American sitcom about an orangutan that bafflingly only ran for one season.

Karl Is Ruining Everything

I (Lang) felt quite sorry for San Francisco at the start of our time here, as it was carrying the weight of a lot of expectations from me. I’m not really sure why, but San Francisco (or SF, as the locals call it – call it San Fran at your peril) has been on my travel bucket list for a really long time. It might be because pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge cry out for you to visit it. It very likely has something to do with tv shows that I’ve seen which are set here, including my number one true love show, Charmed. Whatever the underlying reasons, I have been wanting to come to SF for ages, and I’ve spent the past few months, as we’ve been planning this trip, incredibly excited for this section of it – excitement which partially manifested itself in us staying here for nine days instead of the four we’re spending in every other city. With this much hype built up in my head, surely there was no way poor San Francisco was going to be able to live up to my probably unreasonable expectations, right? Wrong. It’s smashed it.

I. Love. San Francisco. I feel very at ease here, I’ve loved every place we’ve been and everything we’ve seen and done, from cycling across the Golden Gate Bridge, cruising beneath it, watching sea lions on the jetty at the obscenely touristy Pier 39, riding the cable car, going to a very weird but fun gig played by our walking tour guide, attending a baseball game with zero knowledge of the workings of baseball, and walking the 11-mile round trip to Golden Gate Park just to look at some improbably located bison and a life-size remote control Canada goose. I’d probably consider moving here if it weren’t for the fact that the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3500. I even have a fondness for Karl the Fog (yep, they’ve named the fog) whose insistent presence meant we didn’t even see the Golden Gate Bridge until five days into our trip, and even then it was partially obscured!

Now, we all know I’m not generally one to gush like this, and my blogs from my time in France are testament to the fact that negativity comes quite easily to me in writing, but I’m finding it quite difficult to come up with the problematic side to San Francisco. Yes, the homeless population here is large and certain streets would feel a little unsafe if you were alone, but it’s not hard to avoid those areas if you don’t feel comfortable. Yes, the cable car is an enormous rip-off, and Pier 39 is the biggest tourist trap I’ve ever seen. Do them anyway, it’s the best way I’ve ever wasted my money. Yes, baseball is a little bit boring. I recommend choosing a favourite player based on nothing but their name and firmly supporting their every move throughout, even if they turn out to be the absolute worst hitter ever (looking at you, Conor Gillaspie). Yes, San Francisco is very, very, very hilly. I thought living in Durham had prepared me. I was wrong. Nevertheless, streets so steep that the pavements have steps cut into them are a fun experience. Once.

The only thing I would say has been less than wonderful is the hostel, which is easily remedied by not staying here if you come to San Francisco. With a name like Amsterdam Hostel, we were expecting somewhere with a fun atmosphere, but the vibe leans more towards hotel-with-dorm-rooms. There’s no real communal area beyond quite a small kitchen, no evening events, nothing encouraging the guests to interact with one another. The staff are polite, and helpful to the minimum amount required, but not ever so friendly. It all just feels a bit weird, so whilst it’s quite well-located and the washing machine only costs $2 a load, Kate and I are in agreement that this is the first hostel either of us have been to that we wouldn’t come back to.

Whilst I might not go quite as far as Tony Bennett in leaving my heart in San Francisco, I’m grateful to the city for somehow managing to meet my outrageous expectations and not making me regret booking nine days here. I’d love to come back one day, and I would encourage everyone to try and come here at some point in your life. Just maybe not a point in your life where you’re broke, because it’s not cheap!

Until next time, remember to always take the free walking tour of whatever city you’re staying in. This one included free chocolate!

 

Not seeking Fame or Fortune.

Brocklesby here.

Los Angeles was not what I expected. It was not dripping in the glamour and I-could-stay-here-forever-ness that I had assumed made it such a magnet. Our first stop on Monday afternoon: the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though great fun to scour for names you recognise, is an enormous tourist trap. Souvenir shops line each side and people busk intrusively on the pavements. Of course, this was just one area, and it had been a long day learning a new transport system, so after a mango margarita the size of my face, I was definitely a lot more willing to see what the city had to offer.

During our first full day we viewed the Hollywood sign (from afar, as I know from personal experience not to go hiking in heat like this), found out what we would weigh on all the planets in our Solar System, and narrowly avoided joining the Church of Scientology. Though if Katie changes her mind they thankfully have a church in East Grinstead near where she lives…

Our biggest problem in LA was failing to pace ourselves. We continually found that we saw everything we wanted to see far quicker than expected, partly due to some things (Venice Beach and Santa Monica) being an age away from the city so really not worth visiting. Luckily the Arts District and Downtown LA are home to plentiful murals on the sides of buildings and places like the Grand Central market and the Last Bookstore which makes them superb for wandering relatively aimlessly.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art provided us with the perfect way to become the cultured young women we dream of being (and somewhere to store the bags we had to pack up this morning while we wandered around). Note to artists the world over: even if you too cannot fathom what it is you have just drawn/painted/sculpted, leaving it ‘Untitled’ seems a bit lazy. But thank you for giving Lang and me the perfect opportunity to come up with our own: ‘The Passions of a Half-Dead Squirrel’ and ‘What the Millennium Stadium will look like after The Apocalypse’ were just two of many such exercises in art interpretation.

Soon we are to board the Greyhound bus once again, this time overnight, as we head to San Francisco and the first hostel of our trip. This will be welcome after the rather bizarre Airbnb experience we have just had: our sofa bed separated by temporary room dividers from the living room and main walkway of a fairly small house that seemed to have at least 12 different people living there, none of whom said more than a few words to us.

Until next time I need to remember that my appetite shrinks in the heat so I should stop trying to eat my weight in anything but ice cream.

 

‘Is that Steven Moffat?’

Lang here. I write this lying two feet from a very powerful fan. I intend to stay here for a while. San Diego is very warm. It has also proven a cracking start to our trip, with such joys as bike racks attached to the front of buses, unnaturally blue fountain water and an airbnb host whose innocent question of ‘do you know how to use this water heater thingy?’  had us both trying very hard not to laugh. You mean the kettle? I think we’ll probably manage. America, you have many wonderful conveniences, but microwaving water to make tea is obscene. I don’t even drink tea, but the Brit in me is inherently outraged.

Our trip thus far has consisted of hovering around Comic-Con despite having failed to acquire tickets, hoping to spot a celebrity. Well, a celebrity other than Steven Moffat, who walked past us on the harbour boardwalk at 8am on our first day. We hadn’t really slept in about 40 hours, and as such were not particularly quick off the mark at recognizing him. Further celebrity sightings have proven elusive, apart from a brief glimpse of Cole Sprouse, but we have seen some epic cosplay.

We’ve also taken a very wet jet boat ride, meandered around Balboa park, a nice (shady) respite from the main city with an absurdly large squirrel population, dipped our toes in the pleasantly not freezing Pacific ocean up at La Jolla, eaten a lot of Mexican food, tried root beer floats (would recommend despite the very odd hint of Listerine flavour) and gone up in the elevator of a hotel we are not staying in to try to get a good view of the city. Tragically, we only got a good view of a car park. They did have a very swanky bathroom though. Top tip – always try to get into a posh hotel and investigate their bathroom. They’re nearly always unnecessarily swish.

All that remains for us in San Diego is to head downtown tonight in search of some fancy rooftop cocktails, before our morning bus to find mega stardom in LA.

Until next time, remember that men as Disney Princesses will always be the best cosplay.