There’s a learning curve to doing anything with children, especially twins. We were jumping into the great unknown when we decided to travel to upstate New York in early spring with six-month-old twins. We survived, however, even if we did learn some valuable lessons for the next time we travel.
Over the years, I've taken a number of solo trips abroad and closer to home. While I enjoy the freedom that solo travel provides me, I've arrived at the conclusion that I'd much rather travel with friends or my partner. I think everyone who can travel by themselves at one point in their life should; there's nothing quite like having to rely completely on your own wits day after day. But really, if I'm going to spend the money and time on traveling I'm going to do it in the way I enjoy the most: with my friends and loved ones.
I visited two new countries (Croatia and Hungary), four new states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wisconsin), one United States territory (Puerto Rico). quite a few new cities, and visited a bunch of friends. The last time I totaled it, I had taken over twenty flights and went through at least sixteen airports. Here are the thirteen best moments from those travels; they're not in any particular order.
I do not hate children or think they should be kept out of public spaces. I want to breed some day. I can understand that it is hard to manage your children on a plane, especially long haul flights. Babies will scream, toddlers will tantrum, elementary age children will run up and down the aisles, and teens will listen to their music too loudly. That's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about parents who bring their children on long flights and refuse to control them.
In the travel industry, the word "tourist" has become synonymous with the image of the red-faced American traveler wearing a fanny pack and Bermuda shorts wandering cluelessly looking for the closest burger joint. Many travelers in my age range are quick to point out they are not tourists but travelers. They want to distance themselves from the negative connotations of ignorance, lack of adventure, and all around terrible taste in clothing. They claim they get to know the "real" side of a place. Maybe they do, and maybe they don't. Yes, it is good for people to get out of their comfort zones and try things they would not normally experience in their home. Yes, it would be wonderful people to get out of the tourist district and see what everyday life is like for the people living there.
I love me some lists. Color coding, numbers, Excel spreadsheets, bullet points, to-do lists, I love them all. The following is my 2016 list of numbers, best moments, highlights, and challenges from my year of travel and working remotely in 2016. Life changed dramatically from living in San Jose and moving to Ventura. I switched from teaching to working for a tech company. I started working remotely in October and I am still figuring that whole thing out. I wrote an article on sexual harassment in the national parks that I am so very proud of. I traveled more than I ever have before, and I'm hoping 2017 will bring even more adventures.
Paint the Numbers
Miles flown: Approximately 32,000 (counting my upcoming trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Number of Flights: 19
Countries Visited: 4 (Vietnam, Iceland, China, and Sweden)
US States Visited: 2 (Michigan-soon and Nevada)
National Parks Visited: 6 (Pinnacles National Park (2 times), Pt. Reyes National Seashore, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Thingvellir National Park, Vatnajokull National Park, and Phong Nha-ke Bang)
State Parks: 10 (Henry Coe, Henry Cowell, McArthur Burney Falls, Weaverville Joss House, Tomales, McNee Ranch State Park, Mendocino Headlands, New Brighton State Beach, Natural Bridges State Beach, Ventura State Beach)
Glaciers Hiked On: 1 Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland
Times I Saw the Northern Lights: 1 in Iceland
Caves Visited: 2 (Bear Gulch Cave at Pinnacles National Park and Phong Nha Cave in Vietnam)
Waterfalls Visited: 5 (Elephant Falls in Vietnam; Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skogafoss in Iceland; and McArthur-Burney Falls in California)
Museums: 9 (Joss House and Rosicrucian Museum in California; Phallological Museum, Viking World, and Reykjavik 871+/- 2 in Iceland; Vasa Museum and Royal Palace in Sweden; and War Remnants Museum and Vinh Long Museum in Vietnam)
Rivers: (3) Trinity, Mekong, and Sacramento
Camping Trips: 1 (New Brighton State Beach)
Disc Golf Courses: 5
Road Trips: 2
Best of the Best
Best Meal: dumplings on the side of the road with Jeff in HCMC
Best Coffee: Vietnam
Best Road Trip: Northern California
Best View: Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland
Best Hike: Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland
Best Domestic Destination: Trinity National Forest
Best City: Ho Chi Minh City
Best Airport: Las Vegas, Nevada. The design of the Las Vegas airport is light years ahead of most airports I've been to. They have different levels for which type of vehicle you are: one level for cars, another for buses, and another for taxis and Uber. So efficient! Plus, security takes no time at all to get through and the food is cheap compared to other airports.
Best Hot Dog: Tunnbrodsrulle from Stockholm, Sweden
Da Lat, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
McArthur-Burney Falls State Park
Traveling to Asia for the first time and hanging out with my cousin Jeff in Ho Chi Minh City. I fell in love hard with Ho Chi Minh City. The sights, sounds, smells completely engulfed me. The food was spectacular, which is not to say we did not have bad meals in Vietnam, but there’s an enormous gulf between the Vietnamese food in Vietnam and the Vietnamese food in the United States. Vietnamese food in Vietnam layers flavors and textures with fresh ingredients; the garnishes, the sauces, the broths, and the interplay of textures within one dish is like nothing you can get in the United States. The variety of street food, it’s quality, and the price made it so much fun to go out and eat our way through the evening. The coffee alone would be enough to get me to move there. Oh, the coffee, I feel nostalgia already...Should I book a ticket?
Getting to explore the caves of Phong Nha-Ke Bang was truly something else, the train ride from Hue had some of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life, and chilling out in Da Lat was a perfect way to end the trip.
Don’t be fooled, Vietnam is not an easy destination by any stretch of the imagination, but the people are friendly if reserved, the tourist infrastructure is getting better than it was before, and it’s quite safe for tourists.
Also, I turned thirty years old, I traveled to mainland Europe for the first time, and I got to eat so many hot dogs. Seeing a rainbow ending at a glacier next to a waterfall with ponies in the foreground. Yeah, that was pretty fucking spectacular.
2016 was the year of challenges and tragedy, as many of us have observed. My father passed away in February, and I am still grieving his loss. America saw the largest mass shooting in its history. The people of America voted in a racist, hateful Krampus Cheeto into the highest office in the land. Countless celebrities died including the extremely talented Prince, Alan Rickman, Leonard Cohen, and David Bowie. And just a week ago, my previous home of Oakland witnessed the largest and most devastating fire in its history.
I experienced my second bout ever of waterborne illnesses in Vietnam; the previous time was over ten years ago on my study abroad trip to Costa Rica. Vietnam was also the trip of the bus breakdown and consequent bumpiest bus drive ever; my boyfriend describes this as the most physically uncomfortable as he’s ever been in his life.
Then, there was traveling through the airport at Guangzhou. Traveling through Guangzhou when sleep deprived, and later suffering from food poisoning (not me, boyfriend), requires a level of patience and pushiness that I’ve never had to deal with at an airport before. Do you like being herded like cattle with thousands of other people into a dimly lit unventilated hallway only to have people in uniforms scream at you in a language you don’t know? Do you like it when they cut randomly into the crowd and separate groups with a rope? Then, Guangzhou airport is for you. This was not the case with Wuhan Airport, so I consider this issue to be a Guangzhou airport thing, not an all Chinese airports thing.
Working remotely! Fuck, I never thought it would be that hard to find wireless internet in Western Europe, even the very much still developing socialist republic of Vietnam has better wireless internet than Sweden. Trying to work on trains in the United States, apparently not possible even with the advanced technology of hot-spotting and tethering. I'm still figuring out this working from home, working on the go, spending hours of my life on a computer instead of teaching children thing; it's definitely going to continue to be a challenge and you will hear more about the challenges in upcoming blog posts.
Coming up in 2017
- San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- Berlin, Germany
On the Road
I have no idea if these are the best backpacks out there but I love my Rickshaw backpack. It’s a pretty simple backpack. It has a fifteen-inch laptop sleeve, side zipper, outside pocket, and a sizeable closing flap that does a good job of protecting your valuables. The version I have is not waterproof, but they do have fabric choices that are. This backpack has served me with week long trips to both Iceland and Sweden. When I’m hanging out around town, the size is perfect to carry around. Rickshaw bags are customizable and come in a number of different color combinations.
Cocoon Travel Sheets
I purchased my Cocoon travel sheets for our trip to Vietnam last April. After staying in a hotel that had blood on the walls and the mosquito nets, I was really glad I had these. The material could definitely be softer and it’s easy to get twisted in the sack. They’re relatively inexpensive and keep me pretty cool when I sleep. They’re great for when you’re in a place with dubious hygiene standards.
Cocoon Air-Core Hyperlite Backpacking Pillow
This is not the best travel pillow ever, but it packs down incredibly small, which makes it perfect for backpacking or saving space in your bag. I used it in the aforementioned bloody hotel room instead of the pillows provided. I slide around a little on it and the nylon material socks in the oils from your hair and face which discolors the pillow. I’m thinking of making a pillowcase for mine. You can’t beat the space-saving and weight.
Muji Neck Pillow
A friend of mine who travels often between the United States and Asia recommended this neck pillow. She says this can also be used as a regular pillow in a pinch. It also has a washable cover.
Sea to Summit Big River Dry Bag
I purchased this dry bag primarily for backpacking and kayaking trips, but it’s a regular on overseas trips. It’s perfect for containing all my toiletries including my pesky shampoo bottle which I tossed this last trip after one too many explosions. It was perfect for my hostel shower. It can also be used for personal items like your wallet, keys, and cell phone dry and contained on kayaking, rafting, and other water activities.I’ve used it on kayaking trips to hold my DSLR, and it kept everything perfectly dry. It can clip onto your backpack, but I keep mine inside.
Eagle Creek Original Packing Cube Set
I have two of the large size of these and they are awesome for space saving and organizations. One of them full of clothes fits easily in my backpack along with all my other belongings. The mesh on the side is odor resistance and these are washable.
Travel Smart All-In-One Travel Adapter
This basic travel adapter runs less than fifteen dollars, and it can work with a number of different plugs.
Petzl Tikka Headlamp
This is the new version of the headlamp I own. Petzl is the name in headlamps and I’ve been more than satisfied with mine over the last six years. There’s nothing like dropping your flashlight next to that outdoor latrine. Also great for packing your bags in a hostel and you don’t want to turn on the lights.
Toiletries and Clothing
Lush Shampoo Bars, Dry Shampoo, and Deodorant
Don’t feel like having shampoo explode all over your hands at the airport security line? Then, a shampoo bar or dry shampoo might be the way to go. I would ditch the canister these come in because the bar tends to get stuck in the canister. I packed mine in a plastic bag. This in conjunction with dry shampoo helps keep my hair from getting that I’m traveling and haven’t bathed for a couple days look.
I’m not the biggest deodorant wearer; I admit it. Most of the time I go without it, but when I was traveling in Sweden, sweating a lot from heavy winter clothing, and not shaving my armpits for a month or so, I was getting a little stinky and self-conscious. I would have loved to have one of the deodorant bars from Lush.
Patagonia Active Mesh Boy Shorts
These are my favorite pair of underwear. I purchased them several years ago before a rafting trip when I realized I had forgotten to pack underwear. They are incredibly comfortable, are washable in a sink, and dry quickly. They come in a range of cuts, but I prefer the boy shorts for comfort when traveling. These come in my backpack every trip.
SmartWool Hiking Socks
I love my SmartWool Hiking socks. They’re great for hiking in. They stay warm and dry quickly. They also provide cushioning for long days on concrete when wandering around a new city. They’re expensive for socks but it’s definitely worth it to invest in a couple of pairs.
Travel and Geography Themed Decor
You can get a moose made out of New York City. I enjoy the melding of two of design aesthetics: woodland creatures and maps. It would look lovely next to my Deliverance poster.
Below the Boat
These bathymetric maps are stunning. A few of my favorites: Chesapeake Bay, Lake Winnipesauke, and Mount Desert Island.
Books and Bags
The Scratch Map Deluxe
When I first saw this, I thought it was an enormous scratch and sniff and got really excited. I thought it would be like that scratch and sniff map of Hampton Court I got (it had a chamber pot to scratch and sniff). But these are also a fun thing for people who like a visual representation of all the places they’ve gone.
Want to challenge yourself or learn about less known destinations? Check out the Atlas Obscura for suggestions and information on some off the beaten track destinations.
Finely crafted geography themed leather goods, mugs, and flasks. The Atlas Series features a number of different city maps. I seriously want to buy every single clutch on this website.
I've taken a lot of road trips in my life. I've mostly had a really awesome people with me on road trips, but once in a while, someone is a dud. Here are six tips I have for being a great road trip buddy.
Taste in Music:
One of my favorite parts of any road trip is music. After hours of endless driving, music is a welcome and necessary cure to the monotony of being in a car. In more isolated areas, radio stations can be limited, so it is important to bring back up. An excellent road trip partner will know how to choose the right music for the moment: no Belle and Sebastian at 3 a.m.
The best road trip partner has researched the route before leaving home. They can read a map, identify basic landmarks, and pay attention to road signs. They keep up to date on the thirty-five pages of directions from Google I printed out and stapled together in order. Most important of all, they know GPS’s fail.
I tire of trying to find one rock station in AM radioland. When we're in between destinations, a good road trip partner will be able to keep conversations going. Whether they are stories about the time one guy ate twinkies for a week and threatened to kill you or the one about eating a raw deer heart, a well-delivered story keeps me from paying too much attention to the fact my road trip partner doesn't know how to drive and my butt has been numb for two hours.
Can Cook, Identify Excellent Food or Bask in the Joy of Motel Six’s Bounteous Vending Machine Selection:
I love finding new and interesting roadside restaurants. While not every place will be a win, a good road trip partner should be able to identify a place which won’t serve me e.coli. Did they discover a bar hidden in the redwoods with an excellent Irish coffee? Can they turn leftover asparagus and gourmet salsa into a delicious dinner over a campfire? Excellent! It doesn’t serve to be picky on the road. Who doesn’t love Mrs. Amos’s cookies while waiting for the drying cycle to finish?
Flexible and Ready for Adventure:
Unexpected events will happen on road trips. I've experienced the range from a one-foot gash in my tire to impaling a bat on my windshield wiper. A good road trip partner will be able to handle challenges and remain calm.
Not only the ability to handle the unexpected is important, but instigating adventure. While there are times I have a specific destination in mind, it is the turn down the random road which brings the best discoveries. If it weren't for suggestions from a friend, I never would have discovered borax mines in Death Valley or an isolated black sand beach on California's Lost Coast.
Tolerate Endless Hours Alone With You:
When I'm on the road for a long time with someone, the lack of space gets stifling. A good road trip partner is someone who I can be around for hours on end without wanting to tear my hair out. And when you really can’t stand it anymore? You’re able to go off alone and it’s okay.
Pho: it is what comes to mind when talking to many Americans about Vietnamese food. Banh mi and fresh spring rolls might also come into the conversation. While these foods are tasty, though personally, I find pho a bit on the boring side, they are just the beginning of a deep culinary tradition. In Vietnam, I felt I only got to Viet Nam Food 101: The Basics. So much food, so little time.
Awe-struck, staring out the window, Ho Chi Minh City grabbed my attention the way a Saturday night drunken cat fight might: you shouldn't be enamored with it, but god is it mighty fun to watch from the sidelines. Reading travel blogs and guide books, HCMC is a polarizing city: you either love the frenetic, do-what-you-want regardless of safety, beep-beep of motorbikes or you want to run away from the sun beats down heat to the mountain coolness of DaLat. Typically, I don't like cities. They're dirty, crowded, and I can never see the sky. Ho Chi Minh City is all of those things. On paper, I shouldn't like it. But for some reason, this place charmed me. I think it can be summed up in one phrase: the randomness of shit.
You should go to Ho Chi Minh City. You might love it or you might hate it. It is hot. The noise is relentless. And the backpacker district is full of women offering to jerk your boyfriend off. But how different from San Francisco is that? At least, there wasn't someone covered in blood and pus reeking of urine in the bus terminal.
Hands down the best item of food that I ate was in Ho Chi Minh: side of the road dumplings introduced to us by my cousin Jeff, who lives and teaches in Ho Chi Minh City. Food is abundant and cheap everywhere in Viet Nam. Mark Wiens at Migrationology has an excellent guide to the 25 foods to try in Ho Chi Minh City. Bookmark it before you leave or download the free e-book version.
With its lack of people dressed up in colorful costumes decorated with pink stuffed animals, you might come to the conclusion that HCMC lacks good people watching, but one of my favorite things to do was grab an iced coffee (more about that later) and watch people. I watched people exercising at night, processing chicken transactions, making out in parks, playing hackysack with a shuttlecock. It was fantastic. HCMC never lacked for a scene of people doing things that I found absolutely fascinating in its simultaneous mundanity and otherness.
Architecture and Green Spaces
With a blend of French colonial villas, modern steel towers, and manicured green spaces, Ho Chi Minh City's architecture displays the mixed heritage of the largest city in Viet Nam. While Ho Chi Minh City might lack in specific architectural wonders, it's the overall appeal of the 68 floor Bitexco tower next to a decrepit colonial villa and three blocks away a green oasis replete with benches, neon water fixtures, and pagodas.
Specific buildings to check out: Bitexco Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Central Post Office, and Ho Chi Minh City Hall.
I have no pictures to represent one of the best reasons to go to Viet Nam: coffee. There's either a cafe or a woman in a matching floral patterned pant suit selling coffee. My drink of choice Cà phê sữa đá, high octane, coarsely ground coffee iced with a large portion of condensed milk. Oh, and a straw. Always with the straw. If you're not a coffee drinker, Viet Nam is full of delicious juices: watermelon, passion fruit, sugarcane. But really, relax in an air conditioned cafe with wifi and a cup of what might be the best damn coffee of your life.
The motorbike. A vehicle which blazes a exhaust filled line in the sand for travelers and travel bloggers alike. Read any travel guide or blog and you will hear about the horrendous traffic in HCMC. Understandable. Rush hour, crossing a roundabout for the first time and you make it across without an accident, you feel like you should get a gold medal. The trick my cousin taught me: put your hand up, walk slowly and diagonally, don't speed up and only stop if there's a car not a motorbike.
My favorite moments in the city were riding on the back of my cousin's motorbike. I loved threading through traffic, the musical horn notes blasting over the unbiquitous electronic store EDM, and taking in the sight of a guy with his entire family on his bike plus several dogs and possibly a mattress. There is no end to what you can fit on a motorbike.
My Cousin Jeff
Okay. Not everyone is going to want to visit my cousin Jeff, but he's a really awesome guy! After almost five years of not seeing him, this trip was a great time to reconnect. Plus, he was able to show us around a bit. It helps to have someone a bit in the know. Get your own cousin Jeff!
The Randomness of Shit
Asking my boyfriend what I should I include in this post, he said, "experiencing the randomness of shit you see between points a and b." I could not put this more eloquently. Choose a direction, go and see what you find. This really brought some of our best moments in Ho Chi Minh City. Sit down at a random bar or cafe and watch events unfold.
Random moments: coming across this food photo shoot near Ben Thanh Market, people exiting Catholic mass en masse on motorbike, massages at bars, people exercising in parks at 9 pm. It was wonderful to watch it unfold.
I love researching, planning and packing for a trip. Unpacking and doing laundry afterwards, not so much.
What I Brought
- Sandals (Tevas not flip-flops)
- Four pairs of socks
- Two bras (one sports bra and one regular)
- One swimsuit top
- 13 pairs of underwear
- One pair of light weight pants
- Ten shirts (mostly tank tops)
- Two pairs of shorts
- A jumper
- Two dresses
- A light hooded sweatshirt
Toiletries and Personal Items
- Three packages of tissues
- Three packages of wet wipes
- Make-up bag with cover up, one lip gloss, bronzer, blush, mascara, and chap stick.
- Travel sized toothpaste
- Travel toothbrush
- Travel sized shampoo
- Hand sanitizer
- Sun screen (50 spf)
- Bug spray
- Sony RX100 digital camera
- Gorilla pod
- Cell phone
- Cell phone charger
- Camera charger
- Viet Nam Rough Guide
- Caribbean history book
- Vietnamese phrase book
- Notebook and pen
- Day bag
- Dry bag
- Two packing cubes
- First aid kit with band aids, Dramamine, pain spray, Advil, anti-diarrhea pills, and condoms.
- Sleep sheet
- Inflatable travel pillow
- Microfiber Towel
- Money Pouch
What I Didn't Need and Why
- Sneakers. I never once wore my sneakers. I thought I would need them for hiking or the cave, but it was ridiculously hot (typically around 35 degrees Celsius) in Viet Nam and I never ended up needing them. They took up considerable space and weight in my bag.
- Jumper (or as the boyfriend calls it, "Cocktail Snuggie"). Who knew that onesies would be incredibly difficult to take off in a pocket sized bathroom with a squat toilet? I should have figured. In an attempt to use the toilet in my hotel room, I ripped an enormous hole in the back. It got ditched in our hotel room trash can.
- Four pairs of socks. Let me give you this important detail: I tend to only wear novelty socks and I only packed novelty socks. I hate socks. They feel like they're strangling my feet. As I never I wore my sneakers, I never wore my socks. The constant stepping in gutters, exhaust fumes, non-stop construction, and bug bites did leave my feet not looking their foot model prettiest.
- Scarf. The temperature barely dropped below 22 degrees Celsius and the blankets provided on sleeper buses were perfectly adequate if a little scratchy.
- Hat. My awesomely enormous old lady gardener hat would have been useful if I wore it. Instead, Tyler ended up wearing it most of the time and I came to the realization that I hate wearing hats.
- Packages of Wet Wipes. They were always giving us wet wipes. EVERYWHERE. Hotels, hostels, restaurants, tour buses, sleeper buses, airplanes. SO MANY WET WIPES.
- Hand Sanitizer. I just never bothered using it. Maybe I'm unsanitary.
- Gorilla Pod. Sure, my gorilla pod would have come in handy in a few places; I would have gotten better shots at the waterfalls and caves. While I wanted to document the trip and be a good travel blogger, I also wanted to enjoy my trip through my own eyes and not the lens of a camera.
- Swimsuit Top. The water in Viet Nam was delightfully warm and not full of jellyfish. My friends had a great time swimming in it. As we were going to be getting on a train not much later, I was not particularly interested in getting wet or having to change my clothes. I would recommend bringing a swimsuit if you're going to coastal towns.
- Money Pouch/Belt. This wasn't necessary for me. Viet Nam is a relatively safe country and I kept most of my money locked up in my hostel. When I went out, I kept my money in my wallet inside my purse.
What I Should Have Brought
- More Underwear. No mater how much I try to convince myself that the inside-out trick is acceptable, I don't really like wearing underwear multiple days in a row.
- Nicer Clothes. Business casual is my daily grind. Vacation=wearing cut offs and sandals. However, people in Ho Chi Minh City dress very fashionably and people take great care in their appearance across social strata. Grungy tourist was how I felt.
- Headphones. Noise, noise, constant noise. Viet Nam is cacaphonic. After a week of sleep deprivation, my friend offered me her headphones and I was finally able to sleep through the night. Plus, Viet Nam pop music is not my personal taste.
- Kindle. I'm definitely investing in a kindle after this trip. Lugging around multiple 500 page books, that's for travel noobs.
- Extra Memory Cards. Imagine this: second to last day on the trip and we're at Crazy House in DaLat. NO MORE ROOM ON MEMORY CARD. I have to spend a good thirty minutes selecting photos for deletion. On my cracked and scratched LCD screen.
- Laptop. Now, I would have brought a laptop if I actually had one that could work without being plugged in.
Advice: bring multiple layers and options. You may have access to a laundry machine in your hostel or hotel. You will be sweating a lot and pollution, while not China level, is bad. It feels nice to put on clean clothes when you've been sweaty and dirty all day. Make sure you have a day bag or a smaller satchel to carry items on day trips. It's nice to have a place to put your sun screen, guide book, camera, etc.
In December, my boyfriend and I went to London. Boyfriend was on a work trip and we stayed at Eccleston Square Hotel, a swanky establishment in close proximity to Victoria Station. Our exorbitantly priced boutique hotel room was like being stuck in a poorly designed iPad app: slick looking with a plethora of gadgets that did not work consistently or at all. Sometimes the light switches turned on the bathroom lights, sometimes they turned on the towel warmer, and sometimes I couldn't figure out if our door was locked or not.
The bed was completely adjustable and vibrated, which was relaxing after a day of sightseeing or in the case of boyfriend, working. The continental breakfast provided by the hotel was delicious: a selection of cheeses, soft-boiled eggs, croissants (butter or chocolate), cereal, yogurt pots with fresh fruit, and other breads for making toast. Plus coffee or tea or juice. The coffee was fantastic. In fact, I would say that coffee was one of the best damn things about London: not a drip brew in sight, all espresso.
Oh, and the elevators are extremely closed in and have about twenty television sets.
Enough about our Big Brother hotel. I want to talk about my absolute favorite place in London: the British Museum.
I have many mixed feelings about the British Museum, and museums in general: awe at the history, panic at the number of people and exhibits, and guilt, angry guilt mixed with overwhelming passion for all things old. I went three separate times on my week long trip and I want to go back again. A junkie, wanting to relive the first overwhelming awe of staring at thousands of years of history in the face.
Let me get back to the guilt. The British Museum is an ode to British Imperialism and Colonialism. It screams: look at all the places we conquered and subsequently stole from. Cultures reduced to reproductions of architecture, post-it note summaries, and exhibits to be gawked at by thousands of tourists. Cultural voyeurism. At times I felt like I should be wearing a pith helmet and bringing out my smelling salts.
White, western guilt aside, I loved the British Museum. A free museum, it is very crowded especially during the holiday season and on a Sunday. It was filled with tourists from all over Europe, particularly Russians, Italians, and Spaniards. While English culture is not far removed from my own American (particularly Californian) culture, my experience as a tourist in Europe was a lesson in cultural differences regarding personal space and public niceties. A few things I encountered in the British Museum and London in general: people get very close to you, such as almost on you; people do not hold open doors and if you hold the door open for them they do not thank you or acknowledge you; and people never seem to say excuse me if they ram into you, cut in front of you, or open a door into your face (all things which happened to me). I suppose one could argue this is big city behavior, but this is not what I experienced in Vancouver, New York City, or Edinburgh. Just London.
I could tell you about everything that I saw in the Museum, but you could get that from a guide book. And really it's worth more to see it yourself. These were my favorite parts of the museum. I apologize for the poor photo quality; I took these with an unfamiliar tablet camera app.
I also loved the Ghana coffin, African textiles, and Buddhist statuary exhibits. The Japanese history exhibit was also greatly enjoyable. But seriously, how can you beat a tablet that's about how to read other tablets? Did I mention I went here three different times during a week trip?