Back Home Again (part one)

•April 3, 2017 • Leave a Comment

It took me three and a half years to make it back home. Back to London. There are lots of reasons, or excuses, as to why I never returned. Money was usually the biggest one – I don’t exactly make a killing and rent is half my salary. Another reason I didn’t want to go back to London was because I knew how much it would kill me to have to leave again. I waited so long, I thought the time would never come. I was basically hopeless, thinking that I may never see my friends again. But that’s why I put it off, because I was afraid of coming back again.

And there I was on the plane, halfway back from Heathrow to Newark. Totally miserable. How is it that you wait and wait and then in a blink of an eye it’s over? I was in London 11 days – 4 of which were for work – and I did most of what I set out to do. Yet when my friend asked if it was enough time, the only response I had was that it will never be enough time until it’s forever.

In the 11 day visit, in many ways I feel like I accomplished more than I have in the last 3+ years combined. It’s funny how my some people back home only pencil me in when it’s convenient for them, but my friends over in England all managed to work me into their schedule, even when I had such little room for flexibility. We were able to make it happen.

I took a red eye on a Friday night after work. Of course the sleep was sporadic and the comfort was minimal, but it didn’t matter – I was on my way. Planes are really getting stingy on space – last time I flew Virgin Atlantic, I’d never been more comfortable – this time, I felt like I was spilling into the center seat and aisle.

Anyway, I landed early morning Saturday and went straight to my friend Carman’s in Sunbury, just west of London, past Twickenham. The goal was to power through the jet lag – I didn’t want to waste any time sleeping. We ventured back central and began my journey with some traditional British fare – steak and ale pie with chips doused in vinegar and curry sauce. Oh, and of course I tried some of Carman’s fish and chips. I am still a bottomless pit over here. Then we wandered past the London eye and eventually towards Big Ben. Just before my arrival, a fierce storm Doris had come through, so we felt the wind after effects, which made me need the loo so many times, which is when I remembered you need to pay to pee in public restrooms in London! You would think the toilets would be lined with gold because of this.

After our touristy bit, we headed back to Carman’s – I was pretty smelly at this point and the lack of sleep was taking its toll. A brief cat nap on the tube, drool and all, helped temporarily, but a massive snooze back at the house really did the trick. So much for powering through – I’m too old for this!

Not wanting to waste the night just getting a takeaway, Carman, her brother and I decided Indian food out was in order. We don’t have the best Indian food back in the suburbs of New Jersey, so I put my three year long drought to an end. The spicy curries, creamy lassi and chewy naan, made me question ever leaving London in the first place – as do most things. After dinner, we powered through some telly and then I crashed. For ten hours.

Day two entitled Balham brunch – a flakey croissant waffle with crisp, golden chicken smothered in maple syrup (the real kind) and gravy, made for a sweet and savory treat. I threw in a side of mac and cheese and topped the meal off with a sticky toffee pudding ice cream sundae. Oh, there were also two bloody Mary’s in the mix – this is vacation after all and I’m making up for lost time!

Carman then dropped me at the station so I could make my way to Canary Wharf for work, where my meeting was taking place and so she could venture off to the concert she had that night. It worked out well, giving me plenty of time to settle in, unpack and recover from jet lag. Monday rolled around and I made myself comfy at the office and became familiar with the meeting space.

In the evening, I headed to the Goodge / Charlotte street area, where I used to work for Major League Baseball and BaseballSoftballUK. That was when it really struck me that I was back in London – I felt like I was heading to the office, business as usual, like I had never even left.

It was crazy how many people showed up – Wendy, Jenny, JB, Jason, Patrick, Liz, Tim, Trevor and even the new girl. Although everyone’s lives had changes loads, going from one to two kids, being made redundant, etc, the conversation picked up just where it left off, not skipping a beat. We went to what was formerly Passions, where Wendy and I often ventured for “one glass” aka one bottle of wine. The new place was totally revamped, but I didn’t realize there was no longer food served, so crisps and cocktails had to do for dinner. I could think of worse! I did promptly stuff my face with food when I made my way back to the hotel at midnight, as one would.

Tuesday was more of the same when it came to work – busy, crazy, stressful – the usual. The group had a dinner that night, so I went to kick it off. The following evening, there was going to be another dinner at different venue, so I decided to give it a test drive to see what was in store. The owner, who was from Cyprus, sat and chatted with me throughout the night and and shared his love story with me – how he knew when he saw her in the yellow sundress that she would be his wife. It was sweet – something I feel hardly exists nowadays.

The food measured up to the story telling – scallops to start and fish and chips to follow – tender and not too much batter. And that was that – just a quick journey back to the hotel and straight to bed to prepare for another early wake up call.

Wednesday was a disaster for work. The room was too tight, we had to flip it upside-down right as everyone was arriving because our guest list slightly grew. Eventually, we got everything in order and were back on track, so I was able to return to my desk to tackle my never-ending emails. I went to kick off the dinner in the evening and this time I stayed. It’s nice to join sometimes to have conversations that extend beyond printing name badges or determining whether or not people speak English in England.

My day….

•March 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Let me tell you about my day.

It started with a massive headache due to the one beer I consumed in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day last night. It’s sad when your Friday night out consists of one drink and a 10pm bed time. I also woke to green highlighter all over my sheets and blanket – fell asleep doing my March Madness bracket.

Anyway, I made my way to the laundromat and for the first time in over two years none of the following occurred 1) money getting stolen by machine 2) machine being broken 3) machine saying there was one minute left but taking seven. I considered this my lucky day until I decided to go get my gel manicure removed.

I never get these, but because I was away for 11 days, it seemed most practical. I hate gels because they ruin my nails and it’s always so hard to find the time to get them removed. But three weeks later, there I was ready to be rid of them. I went when my clothes were in the dryer at the laundromat, so time was limited. I repeatedly said I just wanted the color off but no new manicure, yet they filed and buffed. But because I had given clear instructions, I was under the impression that all this fancy work was part of getting the color removed. I was in a rush and cut everything short and was charged for the full manicure AND polish remover. I guess my communication skills fell short and since I was paying for it anyway, I figured I’d get the full manicure. I had to rush to get my clothes out of the dryer and then headed back to get the nail salon. What a struggle.

And then another patron started telling me about the divorce she is going through and to never get married and it’s just an institution for men to maintain their power over women and that I can have babies without being married. And of course, that’s when yet another chimed in – don’t listen to her, I have been happily married for 25 years, your time will come (my favorite phrase).

I finally returned to my apartment and a lady waiting outside started grilling me about parking. I told her the limited spots around the building are first come first serve, but metered and otherwise you have to find a lot and pay monthly for a space because the town has absolutely horrendous parking options. Then another lady came, clearly a real estate agent, who the parking inquisitor apparently mistook me for. I think I may have lost the sale for the agent since I didn’t have glowing remarks about the parking situation and I also may have shed light into the lack of laundry facilities. I guess the potential renter would have found out sooner or later. The apartments are otherwise lovely.

All I wanted to do today was laundry and remove my gel manicure so I could be back in my apartment in time to watch March Madness. Instead, I got a manicure, a therapy session / lecture about marriage and men, and realized a new potential career path in real estate. And was five minutes late to the West Virginia / Notre Dame game.

Go West Virginia!

Football

•January 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Football playoffs fulfill many roles in my life – distraction from the cold weather, excuse to eat junk food, opportunity to actually enjoy a Sunday. This year, most of my picks have not done so well – probably because I didn’t want to see the same old teams move on. Let’s shake things up!

In the wildcard games, my only win came when the Texans topped the Raiders. Otherwise, the Packers victory over the Cowboys was the one call I got right this past weekend. Good thing I didn’t put money on it!

I think I will root for the Packers to win it all. Which means that the Patriots will somehow win in a blowout with Brady throwing four touchdown passes and going for 350 yards. Maybe if I root for New England upfront, they will follow the pattern of my other picks and lose. Hmm, something to consider.

Not only have the majority of my teams lost, but most of the games have been pretty lackluster. The most exciting headliner game was the Green Bay / Cowboys game. Obviously, it was the only game I wasn’t able to watch in its entirety, so it naturally was the most entertaining. Hopefully it was such a good classic the rerun will play sooner rather than later so that I can see how the Cowboys managed to tie it at 28.

I’m not too bitter that I missed the middle of the game – I was eating pizza topped with cheese, tomatoes and prosciutto, followed by a Nutella calzone, so I was obviously still enjoying myself.

But the moral of the story is – DON’T LEAVE THE HOUSE DURING FOOTBALL!

Or – if you want everyone else to enjoy an exciting, riveting game – make plans!

Counting down to Sunday!

London

•January 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There’s a 75% chance I am going to London for work next month, but I refuse to accept that it’s happening until my bum is in the seat on the plane.

It’s been 1307 days since I lived across the pond, working of Major League Baseball EMEA and BaseballSoftballUK, backpacking all over Europe and enjoying the London Olympics. It seems like a dream really, almost completely unfathomable. When I tell people of my London adventures, I feel like I am speaking about an entirely different person. I went from adventurous to someone who has come to terms with the fact that going out to dinner is more or less the only activity people in my current world are interested in or aware of. It’s not their fault, they don’t know of any other way.

It’s not that I don’t want to do the things I used to, but I can’t find anyone to do them with. Sometimes, doing everything alone gets old and tired. I feel old and tired. And although New York City is “close”, is it really? It takes two trains and a subway ride to get anywhere worthwhile (and at least an hour and a half) – and that’s where I would find my museums, activities and adventures.

Needless to say, I am overwhelmed with the thought of going back to London. It’s all I’ve wanted for the last three and a half years, but I also know that I will be flooded with memories, emotions and longing, when I return. Most of the people who I associate with the city no longer live there, since London is so transient. On the flip side, my colleague asked me if I have thought of what I would do when I get there and it took me about five seconds to respond with my tentative agenda:

  • chicken pot pie soup at eat
  • Nandos
  • Science Museum
  • Tower Bridge
  • visit the places I lived (Wood Green, Acton Central, Kilburn, Wimbledon)
  • Go to stores we don’t have here (Oasis, Boots, Tesco)
  • Say hi to my former colleagues
  • Primrose hill
  • Camden Markets
  • Indian food at Brick Lane

OK you get the point! I can name ten things to do in London in two days quicker than I can think of ten things I have done in New Jersey in two years.

I miss the hustle and bustle of city living. I mean a real, 8+ million person, massive city. I miss being a local, always having plans, brunch hopping, wandering aimlessly in parks, wearing shorts in 50 degree weather because it may not get any warmer.

Going back to London will be bittersweet. Sweet while I am there and bitter when I have to say goodbye again.

Thrifty Travels

•August 30, 2016 • Leave a Comment

When I moved to London, I was on a mission to see as much of Europe as possible, on an student’s lack of salary. In the year before my big move, I worked odd jobs and long hours to build up my travel funds. I knew student loans would cover the cost of my tuition at London Metropolitan University, as well as my basic living expenses, but I wasn’t flying across the pond solely to study. I needed to embark on some adventures, too.

It takes a lot of dedication, research and coffee (Alli runs on Dunkin!) to plan a trip on a budget. Sites like Ryanair made $8 flights a reality. Flexibility is also key. For me, it didn’t really matter where I was going or in what order, I just wanted to backpack through Europe. Being a minimalist also helped since only one bag was allowed on each flight complimentary. Four outfits for three weeks. Sure, why not?

Eventually, after crunching the numbers and considering every flight combination possible, our itinerary was laid out: Spain -> Portugal -> Spain (again!) -> Malta -> Italy -> Germany. That’s right, it was actually cheaper to leave Spain, go to Portugal and then go back to Spain so that we could visit both Barcelona and Madrid, than it was to travel within the country to both destinations. Along the way, we crashed in a variety of accommodations. From hostels to hotels, bed and breakfasts to airport benches, we called a many places home over the course of our three week journey.

I truly believe some of the best experiences I have ever had have been some of the least expensive. Access to the rooftop in our Barcelona hostel allowed for cheese, meat, bread and wine dinners with total strangers. Making friends with a bunch of guys from Bratislava led to a hiking adventure the next day to the top of Montjuic. Somehow from just one night of chatter and story telling, we felt safe and comfortable enough to go traipsing through the woods together!

In Portugal, a traditional four course meal cost just five euros and came with a half a liter of wine. I can’t even buy a four pack of toilet paper in the USA that cheap, let alone a delicious meal. Needless to say, we became regulars and I even tried tripe! And then there was Madrid, where you could get a meat and cheese sandwich for a euro and a glass of wine or a beer for just one as well. Not only was it a steal price wise, but quality wise too, far superior to the dollar menu at McDonald’s or a six inch sammy from Subway. Access to the botanical gardens came at no cost and reveled the charming, romantic rose gardens the city had to offer.

Because Malta was not exactly a tourist hub when I went about five years ago, it too was affordable. Twenty-five euros a night bought us a two bedroom apartment with a full kitchen and bathroom. Our balcony offered a view of the ocean, along with its crisp summer breeze. Fresh seafood was plentiful, keeping us well fed, and transportation from the main island to Gozo led us to the Blue Lagoon, with some of the most sparkling, clear water I have ever seen.

Similarly, Germany and Sicily offered endless cultural and foodie opportunities. From climbing to the top of the cathedral in Cologne to eating my weight in pizza, pasta and gelato, we were always on the go or in a food coma. We went by foot to many areas to save on taxi and bus fares. Such a simple, cost effective way to stumble upon unique treasures that are literally so scenic they are featured on postcards.

Traveling on a dime actually allowed us to become more culturally immersed, make friends from around the world and eat foods indigenous to the local area. For circa $1000, I took seven flights, visited five countries and embarked on a 22 day adventure. I can’t even go to Disney World for three days on that budget.

Maine, St. Louis, and all the states in between!

•August 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

We drove to Maine. It would have been a quick four hours but we all have bladders the size of peas, so it was closer to five. The trip was uneventful until the very end when I almost wet my pants. Jen asked if I would be ok until we made it to the outlet malls 10 minutes away prompting my “I’m fine!” bark. The site of a public restroom never seemed so appealing. What’s better than a peed on seat and a flickering light bulb?

We poked around some of the shops and ventured to our hotel or inn, can’t quite describe it. It was basically a mini apartment for us to call home a couple of days. Each day of our trip, there was a crisp breeze making the awkward sweatshirts and shorts attire appropriate. Like most of our trips, we ate too much, walked a lot and needed our daily afternoon naps. Each day was filled with trips to quaint towns, taste testing of lobster rolls, which are better at Cape Cod by the way, and we even threw in a walk on the beach and a run (my first and last in about three years). Ogunquit, Wells and York were our three major stops. We walked along the water, crossed the wobbly bridge, listened to Jen’s narration on the trails.

For me, the highlight of the trip was stumbling upon a cow print car. It was red with white spots, had a massive bull horn and most importantly mooed when the horn was honked. Oh, the little things in life! It made us all giggly, and we needed that.

The hardest part of the trip for me was not hearing from Joe as often as I had hoped. In my head, I tried to convince myself that he knew I was busy and didn’t want to bother me on my girly vacation, but in my heart I knew something was off. Since Joe and I would be on our way to his friend’s wedding in St. Louis the day after Maine, I let it go. There was nothing that could possibly bring me down from that excitement. I had been giddy and nervous from the moment he asked me.

I was working from home the day Joe and I were meant to fly to St. Louis. It just made more sense since we had to leave for the airport at 5:30pm and it cut down on the stress and mayhem. At about 2:30, we were updated via text message that our flight was cancelled, which was a bummer but at least we hadn’t left for the airport yet. The next best option was to fly at 5:00am the next morning from Newark and only face one connection in Charlotte. The layover was only a brief hour, but it didn’t really phase us.

I set my alarm for 1:00am so that I could catch a few hours of sleep before being picked up at 2:00am. In a groggy daze, I showered, dressed and was about ready to go when I somehow managed to get my finger stuck in my fan. There was a lot of blood followed by a massive headache, but nothing a bandaid and some ibuprofen couldn’t fix. There was no way I was going to hold us up and miss another flight.

Upon arrival to the airport, our first flight had already been delayed 38 minutes. With only an hour layover, we tried to switch our flight but were told by the ever so accommodating American Airlines employee “you’ll be fine”. Obviously, we were then delayed another 30 some odd minutes. It was like a scene out of a movie – we landed in Charlotte and our connection hadn’t taken off yet. We ran to our gate (which no joke was on the other side of the airport) and by the time we made it to the counter, our flight was airborne. Bye bye.

Trying to stay calm, after all, it was our first trip together and it was not the best time crack under pressure, we swallowed the news that we had been rebooked to St. Louis via Dallas and since our boarding group was last, needed to check our bags since the overhead bins would be full. That meant his tux and my dress had to survive two connections – not stressful at all. Oh, and they couldn’t get us seats next to each other on flights two and three. No biggie. Again, despite the inconveniences, we were on our way and that’s all I could ask for!

Our flight to Dallas was uneventful, but the connection from there to St. Louis was then delayed. At this point, it was almost comical, but we still had hope of making it to the wedding rehearsal on time. We arrived at our hotel and needed to be ready in 40 minutes. Mind you, we had hardly slept, been Newark to Charlotte to Dallas to St. Louis and both had to shower. Our 14 hour journey halfway across the country was grueling, but we made it on time – victory! We google mapped it and could have driven faster. But it was our first trip together and if we could make it through that, it could only get easier, right?

We went to the rehearsal and the dinner to follow and Joe introduced me to his friends. By my first name, not as his girlfriend. It had been such a long day that I shrugged the misstep off. After the festivities, we crash and burned pretty quickly and hard, getting over 10 hours of much needed sleep.

The wedding was simple, yet romantic. Joey looked so handsome in his tux. I felt so special being his date! Nobody ever treated me like this. It was such a monumental step in our relationship. He wanted to show me off to his friends and for once I didn’t shy away from the attention. He was mine and I was his. We slow danced, embraced, laughed, held each other and I felt calm, at ease and content for the first time in ages. We looked like an honest to goodness couple. And we were.

The next day, we cuddled until the bitter end when we had to get ready for the airport. He held me so tight I almost couldn’t breathe. It was like he never intended to let go.

We came back to reality and in the days following the wedding, I didn’t hear from Joe much. I thought little of it, because who would bring someone to a wedding that they didn’t want to be with?

By the end of the week, he broke up with me.

He brought me 14+ hours, 3 flights and a wedding halfway across the country knowing our relationship was over.

I’ve replayed how the best and worst nights of my life were less than a week apart, and still haven’t wrapped my head around it.

I thought he was holding on to me tight forever, but he was doing it because he knew he’d soon be letting go.

My heart may hurt, but I will travel on. Just maybe not to St. Louis.

San Diego

•May 4, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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I don’t understand why the entire world doesn’t live in San Diego. To put this into perspective, it was a couple of weeks ago that I went, but given my 60+ hour work weeks the last two in a row, I haven’t had time to write about my adventure.

My job brought me on the trek across the country from New Jersey to California and I took it upon myself to turn it into a workation, going out three days early to explore, relax and wander. I have always been an odd bird, but relaxation to me hardly comes in the form of sitting still. I get antsy and anxious when I am not out and about, so this trip allowed me to unwind Alli style. Of course there was a lot of food involved and even some sports!

When I arrived midday, I was initially flustered from a deluge of work emails that had accumulated over the course of my five hour flight. Because there is no such thing as a true day off in the society we live in today, I tackled the emails upon arrival to my hotel and then after an hour allowed myself to truly disconnect for the next two and a half days. I was staying right on the bay and even caught a glimpse of it from my hotel window. I started my journey in the Gaslamp area, noshing on tacos and blood orange cocktails, stopping in CVS for sunscreen because I had forgotten that the sun still shines in some parts of the country, and twisting and turning through unfamiliar streets until stumbling upon areas unfit for a single, touristy female.

Early Saturday morning, I walked along the bay with no destination in mind. I had been given tips from locals on where to go, but it was too early in the morning for anything to be open. I ended up in Seaport Village and realized I needed to rejig my agenda in order to fit this stop back in later in the day. It proved to be an ideal location to buy souvenirs! I ubered my way around town to Ocean Beach (AKA OB) which was a little more hippie than I had expected. The novelty wore off after a few hours, probably after a store owner pulled his gun out at me to show me the holster he had made for it out of illegal animal skin. Somehow I always manage to find myself in these silly situations!

In the evening, I ventured to the Padres game – what’s better than a 5:40pm start time (we don’t have that on the east coast!) and 75 degree weather. I thought, “perfect timing, this will be over early before the jet lag kicks in”. Little did I know it would go to the 14th inning and be the Padres first home win of the season! It was worth it though – I had great company in the people sitting on either side of me and continued the eating extravaganza with Mr. Softee in a plastic Padres baseball cap – which is now in my cubicle upside-down holding paper clips.

I rounded my trip out on Sunday with a brunch run to Hash House A Go Go. They weren’t kidding when they said only order one item because the portions are huge! Even I couldn’t finish it and I am a human garbage disposal! Entirely too full, I made my way to the San Diego Zoo where I made friends with some giraffes, elephants, polar bears and pandas. Not that I care to admit it but I took far to many selfies where the animals turned around mid snap and I got me with their bums in the background. Classy.

The one blip in my trip came after the zoo when I made my way to Balboa Park. It was the only time I could fit it into my schedule and the locals got me all pumped up because there were Earth Day celebrations underway. Word of advice – don’t go to festivals with 50,000 people (half of which are high and trying to get you to sign petitions to legalize pot) when you are alone in unfamiliar territory. Don’t get me wrong, the park was beautiful and I even bough handmade jewlery from a Peruvian artist (including an awesome ring that looks and feels like a Brillo pad), but it took my uber driver an hour to find me and my phone almost died. I had my charger but there was nowhere to juice up. The cops were terribly unhelpful in giving me advice as to where to tell my driver to meet me or if there were any areas with taxis in case I couldn’t find my driver. Rest assured, it all was straightened out, but it was a tense hour there!

After recovering from my unplanned mayhem in the park, I rounded out my workaction with a stop in La Jolla to see the seals and sea lions. Although the scenery was tranquil and inviting, the smell not so much. I then went for more tacos – all trips must start and end with them after all. That’s when I had guacamole covered in chunks of parmesan cheese. At that moment, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

And then just like that it was over. Back to grind. Like after every trip, I was left wondering – why do I only visit beautiful places but not actually live in one? If other people can live there, why can’t I?