horizontal at last

That was some long-ass travelin’.

Our trip to Barcelona took us through Amsterdam, on KLM. The flight was surprisingly efficient – we departed ten minutes early, and landed almost an hour early. Ed managed to snag a couple of seats across the row from me, so we each had a luxurious 42″ or so of room to wiggle around in. I probably only slept for an hour total throughout the 9-hour flight, but by the time we landed in Amsterdam I felt much more alive than usual (even when taking the Nokia-shaped bruise I have in my right ass thanks to an armrest that was bolted down).  Still, the layover in Amsterdam was difficult because:

  • The non-UK part of Europe has Coke Light instead of Diet Coke and it’s not the same
  • The chairs were hard as fuck
  • We were tired
  • So tired
  • Zzzzz

A 4-hour layover isn’t enough time to leave the airport and explore, so we had to stay put. Eventually our flight to Barcelona was called, and two hours later we were in the enormous shiny futuristic and apocalyptically deserted mega mall they call the Barcelona Airport. There were men with guns but no customs to go through, which was weird. We gathered our bags, Ed grabbed his conference badge (I am hella jealous that he’s attending the Mobile World Conference and I’m not – I’M the mobile nerd in the family, damnit), and by 5pm local time we were in our hotel room.

Okay, poll time – have any of you ever stayed at a hotel at which you needed to insert your room key into the wall to activate the light switches?

We collapsed into our (nice but only partially furnished) room. I had to pee, so I went looking for the bathroom .. but the lights weren’t working. I tried a few other switches, and nothing – our room had no power. This was disconcerting, because I really enjoy the luxury of electricity and sort of take it for granted. After Ed confirmed my wtf, he went downstairs and said we had no power. Front desk was confused, and said they’d send someone up. They did, and an unamused lady schooled Ed in the apparently-common-knowledge-to-everyone-but-us world of room key in wall slot equals power. The lady seemed to think Ed was somehow mentally deficient for not knowing this, but we both agreed that in all our travels (we so worldly) we’d NEVER encountered a system like this. And it’s not just us – Ed met a coworker on his way back from a water run who had the same issue with the not knowing. What gives? Is this a common thing that people know about but I somehow went like 85 years without ever encountering?

I need to sleep now. Tomorrow is my first full day in Spain, and I plan to figure out the deal with the bidet. Oh, and our flight sadly did NOT have USB available, so please enjoy this letter I wrote on parchment using my own blood as ink.

i have misgivings about this journey, but our george donner claims he knows a shortcut. what's the harm in trying?

i have misgivings about this journey, but george donner claims he knows a shortcut through the mountains

baggage, wine, and beer

We leave for Barcelona in 7 days, and I’ve barely started packing. This is unusual for me, but frankly I’m a little daunted to be packing for a place I’ve never been before. How exactly does one Spain? Heck. It is giving me anxious.

I looked online for advice on what to pack for a ten day trip, and found a lot of articles with helpful tips. However, they’re all written from the POV of a normal person with absolutely no brain issues whatsoever – “just do this and this and add an extra t-shirt – we like this designer laser-cut leather tank from Fancy Store ($495), it pairs well with the underprivileged children we use instead of carrying a handbag – and voila, ten days in the sun looking like a goddess!” That .. isn’t helpful. Neither was the article that breezily suggested bringing along 5 bras, three bottoms, five tops, three sweaters, one fancy dress, ten panties, and 2 pairs of shoes all in one carry-on. How? How is this humanly possible? I am panicking trying to figure out how to bring 3 bras, let alone 5. Clearly the people who write these articles have tiny small titties and wear puny bras made of tissue paper and string. Do you have any idea how much room 5 of my bras take up? A FUCKING LOT, OKAY. Throw in some fat girl underwear, and I need a steamer trunk just for my unmentionables.

In a fit of hopefulness that is utterly unlike me, I looked online and decided to buy a bra storage case for traveling. I didn’t think I’d be able to fit the 5+ bras it claims to fit, but thought maybe I could get a couple in there. It arrived today:

this may be the single daintiest thing i own

this may be the single daintiest thing i own

Cute, right? It seems fairly well constructed, with moulded insides for the boobie parts and a little pocket to tuck things into. Maybe this would work!

so .. no, then

so .. no, then

My naive optimism is just adorable. I can’t fit one bra in there, let alone multiples. If I squished the bras up real good, I MIGHT get two in there .. but I run the risk of ruining them and losing out on prime luggage real estate. Still, I had to try. For science. Also, does anyone with small boobs need a bra case? If not, I’m gonna use it for snacks. And Lego. Mostly Lego.

Back to the articles, then. Unfortunately, none of them address how to pack for a 10-day vacation if you wear plus-sized clothing. Any 4-5 shirts I decide to bring would take up more room than the 4-5 shirts a skinny girl might pack. It’s just plain science – even at my sluttiest, my clothes have more volume than those of my smaller brethren. Luggage allowances don’t increase just because I like cheesecake.

Complicating matters even more is the fact that I am hideously, horrendously uncomfortable in pants. I wouldn’t be caught dead in jeans and a tshirt, even halfway around the world. That means I pack dresses, which again take up more room than I’m told I need. If I decide to spend the entire trip rotating between two outfits, I might be able to get away without a checked bag .. but I don’t wanna. I want to be cute, not convenient.

I preliminarily packed last night, just to see what I’m dealing with. In the largest packing cube, I managed to squeeze in 6 dresses and two cardigans. I still need a couple more cardis and the aforementioned unmentionables, which I thought might all fit within a second large cube. Now that it’s written down, 6 dresses seems like too many –  I could probably do 4, plus whatever I wear on the plane. Oh but wait, I won’t have access to laundry. I can hand wash delicates, but dresses are another matter. Damnit!

This is a ridiculous problem to have, I know this. And while I don’t often envy those who can throw on whatever the fuck and be cute yet comfortable, right now I have a mad jealous boner of people who haven’t dressed themselves into an anxious (but oh-so-stylish) corner. I made a list last night, numbered each article of clothing I want to pack, cross-referenced each dress with the items it could be worn with, then eliminated the items that had the fewest number of matches. This is how normal people pack, right? With databases and algorithms and strategic planning sessions?

 

so about those things

In spite of the rage in the previous post, my boredom and self-pity won out and I ended up purchasing the game at full price. Since then, I’ve been basically glued to the couch with a controller in hand – turns out, I really like Assassin’s Creed. And London. Probably mostly London. I’m halfway through the game, and determined to finish it before I crack open Fallout 4 (my copy isn’t arriving until Thursday, so as long as I avoid the entire internet, I’ll be fine). This is the first Assassin’s Creed game I’ve ever played, and I’ve been having a lot of fun, mostly because it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to being able to crawl around my favourite London monuments without being thrown in jail/falling to my death. Also, I’ve gotten SO GOOD at assassinating people! This will undoubtedly come in handy the next time I have to go to the mall.

So, um, I’m going to Barcelona in February. Does anyone know how to Spain? I do not know how to Spain. Any pointers you could give me on how to Spain would be greatly appreciated, because I am out of my element here (my element being restricted to anything that is requirement based, London, or assassinating people for fun).

I am excited to see additional parts of Europe! At last, “International Kimli of Mystery” will be more than just Western Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and 20 square blocks of London!

artist's rendition of me in barcelona, totally to scale.

artist’s rendition of me in barcelona, totally to scale.

highlights

Everything about my trip was great, but obviously some things were super ultra great and stood out above the rest. Here, then, are the absolute highlights of my trip to the UK:

Shoreditch

I really liked Shoreditch. Being from Vancouver, gentrification is comforting and familiar to me. Also, one of my favourite things to do is wander around with my camera and see what I can find, especially when there’s awesome graffiti about. Shoreditch had this in spades, and I wish I had spent more time there taking it all in. It’s a major art destination in London, so there’s a really cool vibe about the place that was only slightly intimidating – but mostly, there was lots to see. The picture below was taken on my first full day in London, and is probably one of my favourite shots from my trip.

o most holy patron saints of urban culture

Secret Cinema

I’m trying really hard to branch out of my shell and do new things, so when my friend asked if I wanted to go to Secret Cinema, I said “okay!” before stopping to find out what exactly I was agreeing to. This is a good thing, because I probably would have balked hard at the price tag (£70 holy shit). That being said – it was totally worth it. It was a crazy experience, and I loved every minute of it. No cameras or phones were allowed, so I have nothing to share .. but if you ever get a chance, go to a Secret Cinema production. Especially if you love the movie being shown. You won’t regret it.

Brompton Cemetery

I had planned to try to go to Highgate Cemetery, but a friend suggested I check out the cemetery along Old Brompton Road. It was really close to my home base, so I went for a walk on a gorgeous fall afternoon. I find cemeteries to be peaceful, reflective places, so as I walked I admired the crumbling headstones and mausoleums, thinking about the lives of those contained within. I didn’t catch the name of the old lady ghost who yelled at me, because she was sitting on her tomb and I didn’t want to get too close what with the danger of ectoplasm transfer and all, but she (and her forbidden fox) did add a lot to my experience.

not shown: ghosts, mean old ladies who may or may not be ghosts, foxes

Tate Modern/Bankside

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really “get” modern art – but my love of the Tate Modern has little to do with the art within, and more to do with the location. There’s a cafe on Level 3 with two balconies that overlook the river, and there are some great views of St. Paul’s and the Millennium Bridge. On this particular day, I was feeling pretty homesick and sorry for myself .. until I got to the Tate. There’s a busker in the picture below who was just awesome, and if I didn’t have to pee so badly I could have stayed outside for hours listening to his rock n’ roll stylings. I looked at art, tried to find penises (there weren’t any – last June the Tate Modern had some Mapplethorpe prints, but not this time), and went to the cafe to hang out on the balconies, where I instantly fell in love with everything all over again.

rock n’ rooooooll

*happy sigh*

Sky Garden

I’ve already written about the Sky Garden and why it was amazing, but it was truly one of the highlights (no pun intended) of my trip. I had no idea this place existed, and literally found it on a Buzzfeed list or something the day before I went. It was pretty incredible, and something I would drag people to over and over again. I actually tried to go again before the end of my trip, but I specifically wanted an evening visit and none were available.

so fancy!

The Shard’s Bathroom

Yes, the Shard was very nice and pretty and technological, but the epic bathroom view was a sheer delight to stumble upon and utterly made my evening because I have a dumb sense of humour.

IMG_4098

an exciting place to pee!

bridge! hi bridge!

Bath

The Roman Baths were cool and all, but it was the town itself that really wowed me. I had no idea the extent of the buildings until we were on the bus and driving away – next time, I’m going to explore the hell out of those hills. I’m truly sorry I only got three hours in Bath (and 2 of those were spent looking at old water), because I loved it there.

the hills are alive with old houses and shit

Portobello Market

I’m still not thrilled about the guy who stroked my face and I was grumpy as all hell when I got there, but once I settled into the swing of things I had a really good time at Portobello (and surrounding) Markets.

hey it’s that place that it is

Savile Row

I’m a little sheepish about this one, because I am way too cool to fangirl – but I love love love the Kingsman: The Secret Service movie (mostly because it’s so very British but also for many reasons: the male stars are lovely to look at, the female lead isn’t just a love interest, and it’s just so very British), and one day in London I wandered down Savile Row to find the tailor shop that stood in for the Kingsman in the film. I took many pictures of the place, ignoring how dumb I felt – and was totally rewarded for my nerd ways when I saw the Kingsman logo on the windows of the shop as a nod to fans. SQUEEE! I actually watched the movie on the plane home, and was giggling at all the places I had just been. Totally fun.

fangirl squee!

manners maketh man

Gladstone’s Owls

OWLS! I held owls. They were awesome. More owls please!

cawwww…..?

Edinburgh

Loved it, as I was fairly sure I would. Still, my new goal is to get Ed to Scotland and explore it some more. Two days was not enough.

so pretty!

and OLD!

Camden Market/Canal Boat Ride

Another first. Loved it, except for the annoying and loud hen party happening at the rear of the boat. Still, would definitely do this again – total highlight.

words

Platform 9 3/4

This was fun, if weirdly commercial. In 2011, King’s Cross was under some heavy pre-Olympic construction, and Platform 9.75 was relocated. It was tucked away in a random corner, and much less of everything:

2011: no owl, no queue, no professional photographer, no nearby store to sell you all the things

2015. not shown: me

Museum Night

Look at this shit right here:

It was a good, good trip.

that time i was in scotland

Edinburgh was amazing. People had been telling me that since I planned to make the side trip, and now I know why.

When I arrived, the weather was beyond gross. This worked out rather well for me, as I was absolutely destroyed by the lack of sleep and the horrible experience of getting to the train. My room was ready early, so I gladly went upstairs to my delightful room to dry out and recoup from the morning’s travel (I am a delicate flower who can’t handle much; shut up).

I stayed at the Regent House Hotel, which was just a few blocks from the train station. If you’re ever traveling to Edinburgh, I highly recommend Regent – the room was small but adorable, the bathroom cavernously large, it was warm and dry and cozy, the staff were great, and there’s a very tasty continental breakfast available in the morning. Oh, and free wi-fi which is very important. My two-night stay was £100, which is crazy reasonable for a hotel in Europe. There are tons of food options nearby, including a Tesco Express and every kind of restaurant imaginable, so .. was pretty much perfect.

After I recharged, I went wandering. The weather was still awful, so I didn’t go very far – just enough to get some provisions from Tesco, and to find a place to eat (a small fish n’ chip joint that had cheap, delicious, and plentiful food). Since it was dark and wet and the aforementioned delicate flower-ness, I decided to go back to the hotel and crashed pretty early because I had a lot to get done the next day.

The rain blew over in the night, and I awoke to crispy blue skies. After quickly showering (okay that’s a lie – I took a very, very long shower because it was the first time I had any kind of water pressure since I left home) and dressing, I went downstairs for some food before packing up my daily necessities and leaving for the train station, which is where the bus tours leave from. I had purchased a 48-hour tour ticket, which meant I could hop on and off buses at any number of touristy stops, to my heart’s content. I ran into a fellow Canadian (he recognized my RBC Visa), then got on a random bus for the first of many, many bus tours I took. I absolutely love seeing new cities on these open-topped double decker buses, because it’s a comfortable, informative, and easy way to get around. There were four different tours running, and I think I took them all but one – I didn’t really care where I went, I just wanted to see stuff. I rode around for a couple hours to get my bearings, then got off on the Royal Mile to do some exploring on foot.

But first, owls! There’s a place right next to the tour stop called Gladstone’s Land, which is a restored 17th century home you can go in and visit. Right outside Gladstone’s was a group of people with birds – three owls and a falcon – that you could photograph for a donation, or actually hold for £3. All the money goes towards further conservation of birds in Scotland, so I quickly emptied my wallet of coins into their coffers just so I could hang out with birds for a while. I took a zillion pictures (which will all be uploaded somewhere later; there are just too many to post here), and held a barn owl with a name I forgot and a small owl named Amish. They were awesome. I love birds. I would like to hold more birds.

Castle time! I took my time walking up the road to the castle, looking at everything along the way. It was definitely worth the visit, because the location of the castle offers up amazing views of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. I explored the grounds, took another zillion pictures (I ran through 2.5 camera batteries on Thursday alone), ate a scone with clotted cream and jam in the cafe, and had myself a great ol’ time. The castle was very rugged and old as balls – very different than exploring the more contemporary castles in the UK like Windsor or Buckingham Palace.

When I had worn myself out in the castle, I wandered back down the hill to find another tour bus to get on. This one was a different tour than I had started on, so I sat back as we traveled through various parts of Edinburgh. I rode the bus until the tours stopped for the evening, then made my way back to the hotel to drop stuff off and find some dinner.

My food spending on this trip has largely been groceries, so I treated myself to a relatively expensive dinner at a place called Treacle, which was right around the corner from my hotel. I had an awesome meal with a delicious and surprisingly strong drink, which knocked me on my ass. Thoroughly drunk, I went back to my room to warm (and sober) up before falling into a happy sleep.

On Friday morning, I checked out of my room and took a cab to the train station with my bags so I could store them with the luggage service. Then it was right back onto the buses for more touring, this time on the Majestic Tour which hilariously took me through industrial Edinburgh (which isn’t really that exciting, let alone majestic). I’ve come to discover that I much prefer the recorded tour audio, for two reasons: 1) there was a large group of Swedish? dudes on my tour bus who, whenever the audio broke out into a lively Scottish tune, would all bob and sway in unison and it was fantastic, and 2) the tour guides on the bus did not. stop. talking. at. any. point. during the ride. I don’t think they even stopped to breathe. The woman was by far the worst, she talked so much I actually recorded a couple minutes of audio to share with Ed. There was no way to drown out her non-stop talking, and it was actually pretty irritating.

I got off the bus at the National Museum of Scotland, and spent a couple hours exploring the country’s history. I had some lunch at a pub, then did some shopping for myself and Ed’s mom. Visited the Museum of Childhood, saw the owls again, bought all the things (but not really – Scotland is big on whiskey and wool, both of which I am allergic to), and basically crammed as much Scotland as I possibly could in the few hours I had remaining.

I got back to London just after midnight Saturday morning. Edinburgh was awesome – I’ve already told Ed that we need to visit that part of the UK together, and check out Glasgow while we’re at it. I’m almost (but not really at all) sorry that I’ve focused so much of my time (ten weeks in total) in London, because there’s so much more to see. Hopefully I’ll get to see it all, and hopefully with Ed. Traveling solo is great, but I want someone to share my excitement with. Next time, Gadget.

Six more full days in London. Time to make it all count.

amish the little owl

amish the little owl

edinburgh from the castle

edinburgh from the castle

getting high in london

Places that are not Vancouver are all weird and flat, so if you get up really high you can see for miles. There are a number of places you can go for a great view, and seeing as I am now an expert in great views (having seen three in as many days), I thought I’d share my findings with y’all.

One New Change Place

Perfect if you:

  • Are mildly afraid of heights
  • Hate queues
  • Don’t trust x-ray machines
  • Are on a budget
  • Can work an elevator yourself, thank you very much
  • Really like St. Paul’s Cathedral and want to admire it from different angles

One New Change Place is free and self-service all the way. It’s also the lowest rooftop terrace I went to, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a visit. Located directly behind St. Paul’s Cathedral, people are free to take the elevator up to the roof and have a look around. There are a couple of cocktail bars up there if you’re fixing for a sky drink, but you aren’t obligated to purchase anything. Great views of the Tower of London and St. Paul’s can be had here, and if you’re as lucky as I was, you’ll encounter a class of ESL high school students on a field trip to read their essays on London’s notable sights aloud.

Sample views from One New Change Place:

P1040955 P1040962

The Sky Garden

Perfect if you:

  • Are FANCY AS FUCK
  • Love greenery
  • Want to try some fancy cocktails
  • Love waiting in line
  • Could walk through full body scanners all day long
  • Prefer to spend your pounds on the aforementioned fancy cocktails instead of admission

The Sky Garden is another free viewing platform, and a much fancier one than One New Change Place. It does require booking a ticket online in advance, as it gets very busy during the tourist season – I arrived well before my 2pm entry time, but still had to queue up with the masses. There is a security checkpoint to go through with an x-ray scanner for bags, but once you’re through that, you take a fancy elevator some 36 floors up and walk into – wait for it – a garden in the sky. There’s a couple of restaurants and a bar serving snacks, drinks, and fancy (aka expensive) cocktails. Again, you’re not obligated to spend any money while visiting the Sky Garden, but it’s really tempting to get a glass of wine and admire the view while daydreaming up a fabulous backstory for yourself. I highly recommend visiting the Sky Garden if you’re in London, because just look at this place:

look at this majestic shit right here

this is some majestic shit right here

I am tempted to return to the Sky Garden in the evening before the end of my trip. It was really cool.

The Shard!

Perfect if you are:

  • Rich
  • Proposing to your girlfriend
  • An annoying Italian tourist having a very important, very loud conversation
  • A rude woman who refused to stop taking pictures of the sunset (on a piece of shit camera, with the fucking flash on) for even half a second so I could get in and grab a shot for myself, even though her husband asked her 4 times to move for me
  • In love with heights
  • Really into amazing views

The View from the Shard is expensive – £25.95 per adult ticket. However, it’s also the tallest building in Europe, and offers a one-of-a-kind view of London. There are three levels to view from – the 68th, 69th, and 72nd floors – a couple of standard bars offering snacks and champagne, and no limit to how long you spend gazing out the window. The Shard is something I’d always wanted to do on previous trips, but it can be prohibitively expensive if you’re in a group and/or have to choose which things to skip due to time or money. It was the perfect (if a little lonely-panged, especially during the surprise proposal with all of her friends in attendance) thing to do by myself, and I timed my visit so I’d arrive with plenty of pre, during, and post sunset viewing. The views were amazing, the exhibit and audio tour were cool, and the staff was very friendly (one of them brought me a chair when I plopped myself down on the floor so I could stare at the Tower Bridge without being jostled) – but don’t go to the Shard for any of these reasons. Instead, go because of this:

IMG_4098

All the bathrooms are on the 68th floor, and along the exterior of the building. They’re each a self-contained unit with toilet, sink, dryer, etc.

FullSizeRender

I literally took this photo WHILE PEEING.

IT WAS THE GREATEST THING IN THE WORLD.

There are blinds you can draw, of course, but WHY WOULD YOU. WATCH ME PEE, WORLD! I AM LITERALLY ON THE EDGE!

That bathroom was worth the price of admission alone. I highly recommend it.

There are some good views to be had outside the bathroom, too:

just after the sun set (which I did not get a picture of because that woman sucked so hard)

basically the entire reason I went to the shard: tower bridge at night

That bathroom, though. So good.

If you prefer your city views to have a little more history behind them, there are two others I know of: you can climb the Monument to the Great Fire of London (£4), or climb the various domes in St. Paul’s (£18). I have not done these – note the use of the word climb; these attractions are stairs-only and I have a heart condition (and also have walked an average of 8 hours a day for the past week and my blisters have blisters), so I’m skipping these. Plus, I’m kind of all viewed out at the moment. You should see the other pictures.

Do you know of any other must-see vantage points in London I should check out while I’m here? And if you ever find yourself at one of these places because of my recommendation, please let me know – I’d love to know what you thought.

Okay, I need to sleep. Tomorrow: museums! Yay!

0 DAYS LEFT

IT’S ADVENTURE TIME!

200

I leave in 5 hours. EXCITE!

This’ll be my first trip to the UK wearing pants. After six 9+ hour flights, I finally realized that it’s good to be comfortable on the plane and that generally means not worrying about your various lady parts falling out of whatever ridiculous getup you decided to wear to fly. I’m wearing jeans on the plane, then crumpling them up in the bottom of my bag for the remainder of my trip because I did not pack any shirts. The pants won’t be worn again unless a) I want to be arrested for indecent exposure, b) hypothermia sets in and Mountain Madness takes over, or c) 1996 calls and says “you should totally wear those jeans under a dress, it’ll look great”. My money’s on c).

I tried really hard this time ’round to pack only necessities. I didn’t go overboard when packing clothing, and almost everything I brought can be worn with each other. My one space splurge (not to be confused with a splurge in space, which will likely happen Sunday) was bringing two pairs of boots, because sometimes you want black boots but many other times you want burgundy boots and it’s best to be prepared for both situations.

That being said, I am a creature of ridiculous habits. The following things are in my suitcase that, were I to be honest with myself, could *probably* be left behind:

  • Several of the 9 or so iPhone charging cables I’ve brought
  • Nobody really needs that much lip gloss
  • The push-up bra that takes up half the space in my underpants bag
  • There’s a handful of Lego minifigs in my backpack, because I am an excellent adult
  • Sex wipes. Why are these in my bag? Why didn’t I take them out? I’m not going to America (where they are good at the sex) and have no plans whatsoever to hump anyone on this trip. Still, I better hang onto them. Just in case. You Never Know <tm Mom>.

.. that’s actually about it. I packed very wisely, and have room leftover for whatever I may purchase while gone. I even have room for a cape, but I will not bring it (even though I can think of at least a dozen reasons I might need a cape in London).

This time tomorrow I will be in the future! See you from there!