London Thames Architecture Tour

Last Saturday C. and I had tickets to an architecture tour along the Thames.  Even though the warm, sunny weather we’d been having disappeared and our winter coats, hats, and gloves were out again I was still excited. Whole days in London with C. are rare so I really enjoyed sharing his city with him. C. has all the photo credits. My hands stayed in warm gloves the entire time we were on the boat so were not at all photo-ready.

Tour starts near the London Eye.

Sorry about how dark these are. When it’s cloudy in London, it’s really cloudy.

Big Ben.

I learned two more British pronunciations on this tour. Baroque is pronounced “barok” and “quay” is pronounced “key.”

Houses of Parliament. You can't see the gold detail in the photo, but it was nice to see it close up. Quite stunning.

Millbank Tower

View from Altitude 360 in Millbank Tower, December 2010

The night views of the Thames on a clear night are my favorite and most magical moments in the city. I’d discovered Whistler’s Nocturnes in the Freer-Sackler Galleries in D.C. A much different river in his day, but the ethereal quality remains.

One more--I took this in 2009 the first time I came to London. The sunset was gorgeous that night.

St. George's Wharf

The tour guide told us that this series of slick, greenish buildings has many harsh critics.  She also said that the structures have been likened to “three massive owls,” and she really went out on a limb by confessing that she found them “quite jolly, actually.” I have to agree, although I don’t think the word “jolly” has ever come to mind. I’ve often admired the wharf from the train.

St. George's Wharf detail

MI6 Building--British Secret Service.

Where rich people live

The now empty Battersea Power Station, an iconic London site.

Didn't get a name for these but have admired these from the train too.

Battersea Park Buddha

Freezing for architecture

Very cool building but couldn't hear the name of this one. Too windy.

Vauxhall Bridge Detail

Lion protected from all the changes made to the banks during the 1940's London Fair. Everything else was built up around the lion and people protested to save it.

View of Big Ben on return

Royal Festival Hall. Very pretty at night all lit up but not so exciting during the day.

In a nearby building, the Southbank Centre, there are tables with excellent views and the Saison Poetry Centre Library, a huge auditorium with musical shows, readings, talks, etc. The annual T.S. Eliot readings are there–great venue and event if you’d like to get a taste of the current British poetry world. I’ve enjoyed hanging out at Southbank on a number of occasions.

The famous OXO tower and building.

At night the Art Deco tower lights up with a red OXO. Oxo is an English company that makes beef stock cubes and the like. They requested a permit for an Oxo ad but were turned down.  On the Thames, advertising was banned. However, in a “coincidence,” architect Albert Moore created a design that included the letters o, x, and o. They got their ad after all.

Unilever House

Didn't catch the name of this one unfortunately

Cool art deco spot.

The Globe

A guy singing in the water for passersby. Brrrr.

I don't know the name of this building but it's one of my favorites.

Hay's Galleria

Tower Bridge and ship. London Bridge itself is dull and ordinary, missable. Tower Bridge, however, is one of the most iconic of the many bridges of the Thames.

Tower Bridge at night. I took this in 2009 the first time I came to London. C. and I had just met and he took me on a walk along the Thames.

The Shard--soon to be another staple in the London skyline. The glass is treated so that it changes with the weather and light.

Small view of St. Paul's Cathedral. Also gorgeous at night.

HMS Belfast

Tower Bridge

Where the mayor and other civil servants work

The More London area toward the east end of the Thames. An especially modern section.

Tower Bridge detail

Another one of my industrial favorites. Love the glass balconies.

View from Greenwich observatory

Does Greenwich have a Waterstones? Unfortunately for C., the answer is yes. Great way to end the day, in a comfy leather chair with a pile of books on my lap.

Borough Market, Whitstable, a Vineyard. The question of context.

Right now I’m in transition. We don’t know exactly when I’ll head back, but it will probably be in about a month. C. will hopefully follow a few months later. With a ton of things to get done but no definitive deadlines I’m a bit at loose ends.

The visa process (for C.) is another uncertainty. The website seems to be a wonderful source of misinformation, so any time I want to get completely freaked out, I can always go there an find ten reasons why our plans will get messed up.

We’re working with someone at C.’s work though, and fortunately after a brief call to the guy today, I feel so much better. And grateful that we’re not alone in the process.

But back to the Things to Do Before Leaving the UK List. Borough Market was at the top.

I also went to a Sussex vineyard (thanks Groupon!), the Yayoi Kusama show at Tate Modern, and to a new seaside town for me—Whitstable—for a walk and to see some short plays.

St. Paul’s from Tate Modern lawn on an unseasonably warm day.

Borough Market loaf. This is bigger than my head. Sad day for the gluten-free visitor.

Nut bread? C’mon. You’re killing me here.

No kitchen should be without goose fat.

Gorgeous views as one’s walking around the markets.

Uber brownies! I would like a badge for not getting one for C. and sneaking a bite with a handful of gluten-ease pills.

Yes!

A bit wilted but still pretty.

Figs.

Still life.

Being a sort of tourist for a year and a half is starting to feel weird.  I’m not quite as excited about the amazing historical thing I’m touring or which fantastic garden or cultural site I visit. Instead I’d like to just have a normal day where I get dressed, go to work, and do something tangible, whether it’s frustrating, exhausting, or productive, and then come home to a place that feels like home. Wanting this makes me feel guilty and dull.

Sometimes there’s the sense of killing time, which can happen anywhere.

Spring in Whitstable.

Whitstable castle, built in 1700’s.

Sun!

Coast.

Last weekend, C.’s two pals and I walked around the town of Hastings after doing the vineyard thing. I expected a big site for the Battle of Hastings (1066! English language changed forever!), but I was told that there’s a town called Battle where they do reenactments, and that’s where the official marker is. Instead there were just some signs basically describing what happened in 1066, who the Normans were, etc.

What was funny was that at the tasting our guide razzed on the French for a while until this lone woman with a classic French accent said “Excuse me Monsieur, but I am French and I do not agree,” about the quality of French wine, and the rest of the afternoon went on in this manner. She was joking and so was he, sort of, but sort of not.

I can’t remember where, but I heard someone say, weeks before, that the closer you get to Hastings the more they hate the French. Well, I wonder if this French woman knew that the wine tasting she was going to was in Hastings.

One of the guide’s jokes about the French even worked the Americans in. (The American in the story was loud.)  Two for one special!

After the tasting we had a walk along the coast and then a nice meal at Pomegranate (killer risotto). Then mini-golf which was fun but freezing.  We chose “Pirate Golf” which involved various water-spirting holes.  It was after dark by the sea. I had clothes for weather about twenty degrees warmer.

“Is getting wet…avoidable?” I asked the ticket guy, in what I thought would be the least likely manner to invite a snarky remark.

“Well you can look at see where the cement is wet and then not stand there,” he replied.

Sheesh.

But back to my point about the outing. I loved being in the vineyard on such a warm sunny day and learning about how they grow their grapes. (The guide was especially interesting and is retired, having previously spent decades working in the lost luggage room at Gatwick airport. I’d say the guy deserves a few free bottles.)

So while I certainly can’t complain about the day, I started getting into a funk during mini-golf which was weird with skulls lighting up and saying pirate-ey things to us about how poor our shots were.

There was this sense of frivolity without the context of work so I kind of felt like it wasn’t deserved or appropriate or something.

Wine in the making.

I know that most people my age would kill to have so few obligations, and so in that regard, I am fortunate. But all told, I would say the hardest thing about being an expat or a trailing spouse is not knowing how long you’re staying or what you’re doing to do next. The problem of context.

Without a clear role and a sense of rootedness and community, context kind of drops out. “Fun” things can feel strange.

And of course there’s a bit too much time for rumination in the middle of a transition. I’m wondering when exploration becomes indulgent. When it is wise? How do we know which “games” are childish and which are childlike?

When is it necessary to leave behind the pursuit of exhilaration, of newness, and fully accept the quotidian, as that too brings a type of joy?  I’m guessing there’s no right answer to any of it.

Hastings coast, dusk.

First Visit to the US

Being back in the US after being gone a year and a half was intense. I was fortunate to get to do so much and see so many friends all at once, coast to coast and all points in between. The AWP conference in Chicago offered a nice meeting point for some Richmond (VA) connections.

I also had a job to do. I needed to scope out possibilities for our recently discussed move back. We’re still gathering information, but we’re headed in the NYC direction. C.’s on his way to finalizing some things on his end for his office transfer. I’ve started looking for work, albeit with a bit of wariness. Hopefully this search will be a bit less frustrating as I won’t have to learn so many new tricks as a relatively old dog.

Snowy Nova Scotia (?) from the plane on a bright sunny day

Only 18 seats taken on our flight over! The benefits of flying on a Tuesday afternoon. Everyone had a whole row to him or herself--ahhh....

We lucked out that the New York office needed C. to come in in early Feb., so I tagged along and visited possible places for us to live when we move.  In between studying train lines, doing a million Google distance searches to train stations and rejoicing in my reunion with Kombucha tea, I managed to score a free ticket to the David Letterman show.

I got in trouble for this actually. We were in line but technically inside the Ed Sullivan Theater. "No Photography!" the girl said and pointed to the sign.

It was sweeps week, so there were all sorts of antics like going to a new savory pie shop in the neighborhood. The big guest was Denzel Washington. I spent the entirety of the show (fourth row, dead center!) terrified that my loaner phone would go off. I felt like I’d turned it off but my phone in London took me forever to get used to. I sometimes thought it would be off but it wasn’t. And the loaner phone was new and unfamiliar. Thankfully nothing happened and Dave didn’t make fun of me on live television. With an unfortunate haircut. Whew.  I sat next to a woman from Wisconsin who was traveling alone in business and we clapped loudly as we were instructed to do, and avoided making the “Whoooo!” sound. (Seriously, no “Whooing!” allowed. Just enthusiastic clapping and cheering. There were about ten interns standing in front of us before the show providing examples of good clapping.)

In our New York hotel home virtually scouting out commuter towns. My dogs were barking after hours of pounding the no-so-metaphorical pavement.

The High Line, NYC. Old railway tracks now outdoor gallery, hang out zone, and architecture tour.

Great, even on a cold day in Feb.

Can't wait to go back in summertime.

C. and I want to live outside the city as he’s always done, so we’ve been researching Jersey. A friend of a friend took me on a driving tour of towns around New Brunswick, and then I took a bunch of trips out with C. and without, meeting real estate agents. (They all seem to rent through agents there, I don’t know why.)  One agent was so hyper that she flew to one appointment while I waited in the office and then the other agent had to leave. They locked me in for about 45 minutes which was not fun! Needless to say we’re not going with them. The next two agents we met were much nicer.

One apartment in a nearby Jersey town has a view of Manhattan from the living room window.

Gorgeous light in this one but a teeny kitchen, creaky floors and someone above.

Our new North Jersey main street...?

A lot of attic apartments in big Victorians. Have lived in a bunch of these over the years.

Neither C. nor I are excited about small apartment living, but we hope to be able to get a little house in Jersey after a while. I’m freaking out about the closets more than anything.  We’ve finally got the standing wardrobe situation here down to a manageable system, and most things have homes.  Going back to two tiny closets for the whole place is going to be a challenge. Plus tiny kitchen.

C. then went back to London for two weeks while I continued on my way, heading to California for a week to see my dear friend M. and her family, thanks to a crazy cheap CHI>SFO ticket.

But first I went to the Chicago ‘burbs to see my most excellent pal Chris and her crew of two kids and senior kitty, who, I’m sure, was fully sick of me by the time I left:

Gene! Love affair spanning 10+ years.

Getting to meet my friend’s 15 mo. old daughter, N., was a highlight of the trip and I already can’t wait to see her again. I’d met Chris’ son when he was 9 months old but now he’s 2 and a half and calls me “Taro.”  He’s really fun and outgoing. When I arrived I got out the little toys I’d been gathering for a few months, and we first tried out some glow sticks. These were too fun. When you bent them, they turned from clear to bright neon, and you could snap them together to make huge multi-colored hoops that we spun on our arms in the dark. We danced like maniacs to music on their porch with the new toys. I gave Gene a pink glow-stick necklace and he trudged around with it on for a while. I am the cat whisperer.

Then to my friend’s in CA.  I’d never been to Monterey Bay. Insanely gorgeous.

Point Lobos, Monterey Bay. One of those places in California that doesn't quite seem real, it's so perfectly beautiful.

When not to take a photo, that is the question.

My friend from IL, B., also happened to be in CA, so we did a little thrift shopping in Monterey. I found a killer Nikita camo jacket for four bucks. B & I used to thrift shop hard in Chicago and other spots way back in the eighties, so it was kinda funny to find ourselves rummaging around again so many years later.

C. and I met up again in Chicago and he roamed the streets while I conferenced.

Downtown Chicago. C. took this.

After another stop at Chris’ where C. got to hang with the kids (and read Dr. Seuss to them in a very stiff accent, which was hilarious), we had a week to kill since we didn’t need to scout towns in Jersey again.  We spent a few days in Galena, IL, a cool little town near the Mississippi preserved, nearly, from the 1800’s steamboat days. Off season, it was cheap and we practically had the place to ourselves.

Then off to central IL to visit relatives. Hadn’t seen some in over five years so it was great to get down there!  Got to meet my uncle’s new dog Bruiser and C. took part in one of his favorite pastimes: target shooting. I think he and my uncle will get along just fine.

So, what’s the verdict then?  All my friends had the same question for C.: Are you excited? Meaning the prospect of moving to the US and working in NY. At first his answer was uncertain, but as we traveled around he seemed to get a bit used to the idea. He’s threatening to do a BPRB version of his own called Dull Gray Long Underwear from our new New Jersey haunt.

I’ll leave you, for now, with C.’s Zoolander imitation.

Is there more to life than being really, really ridiculously good-looking?

Cologne & Dusseldorf Architecture

Post II on the Germany trip.

Besides the Christmas markets, which were incredible, Cologne and Dusseldorf are legendary for their architecture.  Having only a few days in each city, we stayed out of museums and I took a million pictures, stopping only when my fingers became frozen from the cold.  We especially enjoyed a glass of wine in the Belgian Quarter, which had tons of lovely restaurants, bars, and shops.

Lovely old city section of town

Lucked out with a bit of sun.

Think this is a Kathe Kollwitz sculpture on fountain.

Cool church

So many roof gardens in Cologne. Love it.

Local choo-choo that stops at all Christmas markets


Can't get enough of this shot

Dusk requires a whole new set.

Love that Dutch influence--Stepped Gables

Lights in the chic & magical Belgian Quarter


Rathaus, or City Hall--oldest functioning building of its kind in Germany

Art museum and back of cathedral

Art Museum at Dusk

Would take a lot of this to kill me.

Cathedral

View of a Christmas market from top of cathedral--long climb to top was well worth it!

View from top of cathedral

Gerhard Richter's pixellated window. Love the merging of medieval and modern.

Gorgeous window display

Art Deco Detail

And finally, a bit of fun:

Costume shop took up an entire block.

Truly something for everyone.

If you still can't find what you're looking for, there's always the Sex & Gay Center.

Dusseldorf

We weren’t as taken with Dusseldorf perhaps because it seemed to have a large seasonal area with cafés, restaurants and shops near the river that were all closed.  So it sort of felt, in some neighborhoods, like we were there off-season.  The Christmas markets were also nicer in Cologne.  Dusseldorf did seem to have more nightlife, so if one was college-age this town might be more fun at night, esp in the summer months.

We did find a gorgeous church though–St. Lambertus, or the “church with a crooked steeple.”   Inside we found objects from a number of eras:

St. Lambertus

Vintage Confessional

Gorgeous windows--20th cent

Tons of whole trees brought in for Nativity-in-progress

More Stepped Gables in the Old City

I seem to have a thing for ironwork.

Bed in Dusseldorf equipped with rubber duckies.

Scary. But I wanted to keep it. Are Christmas rubber duckies like the minibar...tempting but to be avoided?

Is it just me or does this duckie look like he's in the middle of a hold-up?

Two random notes about this Germany trip–we noticed that few locals had their cell phones glued to their ears as they do in most other cities.  Anyone know why this is?   No one walking down the street gabbing away.

Second, we flipped through the TV and indulged in a few American shows in true German form.  One was Extreme Home Makeover, and the German attempt at the crack-hyper Ty Pennington was outrageous and just wrong.  “Hoarders” was called “Der Messy-Chaos,” which is my new nickname.  (Am not a hoarder but do tend towards stacks of books and notebooks everywhere.)   Last–Lord of the Rings and Malcolm in the Middle.  The mom in MitM, in German, is equally as terrifying as an Orc in German.  Not advised right before bedtime!  Thank goodness for the rubber duckies. I’m sure they protect against German-Speaking Orcs.

Auf Wiederschen, and Germany I hope to see you again soon!


German Christmas Markets

In lieu of birthday and Christmas presents for each other (both of our b-days are in December), C. & I took a short trip to Germany.

The Rhine

Cologne Aldstadt or Old City

On the way to the markets

A bit of ironwork

Christmas tree as sentinel.

In Cologne, it's Christmas on top of cranes too. Lights as well? But of course!

Tree waiting for DeCaprio? Fortunately, there was no Celine Dion soundtrack.

Arrival at markets with sausage in hand.

Old timey music man

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. No, really. A lot. It's Über-Christmas.

Potato fritters with cranberry & applesauce. Paradise.

Best gingerbread house ever.

So many Santas. So little time.

Day two:

Lunch on a stick.

A gluten-intolerant girl can dream.

The best dish ever. Potato dumplings, arugula, parmesan and sun dried tomatoes.

The Massive Kölner Dom

And around town…in between markets, a bit of window shopping.  Impressive displays everywhere.

As I have a million other pics I’d love to share, I’ll add a post in a bit just on Cologne to share some of the splendid architecture and add a few musings about the city itself.

Thanks, people (and trees) of Cologne for such a wonderful time!

Oxford and Falconry Visit

C. got a Groupon owl/falconry experience for our anniversary months ago, and we decided to combine it with a weekend visit to Oxford with anniversary gift $$ from my mother.  We found a bargain room at the Holiday Inn Express, which was OK except that I had to sleep on the pull-out couch and C. got a horrible kink in his neck (super soft mattresses).  The weather was cold and blustery most of the time (minus the twenty minutes where we managed to get a few great pics of St. Mary’s), so now we have horrible colds, but I enjoyed the architecture of the colleges, and of course, the BIRDS.

St. Mary's

 

There’s a wonderful place to sit by this college, with old vaults and a natural foods café.  Tons of students gathered for pictures in their gowns, tossing up their graduation caps.  I wondered what it would be like to study here, rushing to an exam while tourists swarmed with their cameras.  I heard a story about Oxford banning students from taking money from tourists, since students wear their capes for exams–excellent photo op and easy money for students.

Tower, St. Mary's

A sign at the bottom of the tower warned us about the number of steps–something like 127. There’s only one set, so those going up have to squeeze by those going down.  The view was worth it, but as I pulled myself up the many narrow, twisty-turny flights, “I’m getting too old for stuff like this” went through my head more than once.

Radcliffe Camera from the tower

All Souls College from tower

On a little street near St. Mary's. Dream life: that I use this door every day to go to work in an office full of books.

Green Man.

A store in the covered market. Think I'll go back for another degree...minor in truffles?

Garden store at covered market.

Christ Church near meadow

FALCONRY & OWLS

Falconry at Fallowfields, Oxfordshire (No long 'i.' Say "Oxfordshurr")

Huge garden on premises. Sorry, but this is so Peter Rabbit....

Some of the raptors here (hunter birds) are rescues, but many are bred in captivity and the falconry centre buys them. This would be the case for birds actually used in falconry.  All the birds seemed extremely well-cared for and loved.

Snowy owl. It's sleepy time.

Not sure what kind of owl this is, but he's clearly in REM sleep. Geez, people, it's not even noon yet!

Me with the UK Barn Owl--one of five kinds of owls in the UK

The other kinds are the little owl, the tawny owl, the long-eared owl and the short-eared owl.  The first lesson in holding an owl  is to choose a tree.  Then, become that tree.  Keeping an owl up on a “branch”–the highest point–keeps the bird from climbing to your head.  (Fun fact: how much does this owl weigh?  8 oz!  Owl bones are hollow and their bodies are super light so that they can fly swiftly and quietly to  their prey.)

C. has a turn

Anthony and trainee.

Two faces of falconry: the blue blood Oxford guy and the rugged country guy.

I want one of these hats (the bird's)

Rewards were strips of meat. Anthony came by and placed them on our gloves and the birds would then land there.

 You know how people look like their pets…?

I think Anthony would take this as a compliment. I know I would.

Coupla Parks & a Priory

After almost a year here, I’ve learned two things:  in England, the weather can rotate through all four seasons in one day, so you’d better bring layers galore, and two, the countryside does bring a little bit a heaven to go with the little bit of hell you might have to endure with the weather, etc.  I can’t drive on the motorway yet so haven’t been able to go to the gajillion nearby gardens I’ve been dying to visit, but today, I’m afraid for C., he was cornered.

Now that the house is pretty much done, C. and I can have time together on weekends to do things as he’s not so busy with DIY, which = significantly less fantasizing about fleeing to South Carolina.  Last weekend we got to go see the X-Men movie (great, definitely worth paying the $ to see in the theater), and we visited a Priory close by.

Today we went to Groombridge Gardens in Tunbridge Wells (pics in separate post).   Last week I walked through two parks in London–Regent Park & Green Park–on my way back to Victoria Station.  It’s been a nice, green week despite the rain.  Or, maybe because of it.

Regent Park, Queen Mary’s Gardens

Green Park, London

Aylesford Priory, Kent

Aylesford Priory is just about a half hour from us, and it’s a great opportunity to see a thirteenth century site with some gorgeous grounds.  If you’re into quiet contemplative places, they have spots for folks to find a little peace, quiet and solitude.  Aylesford Priory was also a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Canterbury, which is about a 45 minute car ride away.


Friar. And me.

Your Name in Arabic, Tunisian Post-Revolution Graffiti, and of course, the requisite social anxiety

Sunday night I returned from my first family holiday as an honorary Brit.  From what I can tell, the Brits are serious about their holidays.   The whole US/UK/European vacation/holiday thing is something I’d like to post about separately, as it’s a loaded issue, but for now I’ll just say that I was a bit nervous about going since I’ve only been on a few vacations in my time that are “proper” holidays.  I’ve gone to other parts of the world for a bit of study, or to visit, but have only done the whole “beach” holiday thing twice, and both of these trips involved activities like snorkeling or Disneyworld so there wasn’t a whole lot of sitting around.

Let me just say this right off the bat:  I am terrible at “relaxing.”   My first reaction to the word is to get nervous and to feel kind of claustrophobic, as what many people find relaxing I find annoying.  I enjoy going to the beach to swim, to have a walk and to hang out for a few hours, but I can’t do it all day.  I get antsy, both physically and mentally.  I once had a huge argument with an ex who swore he’d never go to the beach with me again since I was so bad at sitting there.

The other thing that made me nervous was the whole issue of being around C.’s family for a week.   They’re kind and lovely people, but I’m always worried that I’ll say or do the wrong thing, both as an in-law and as an expat.  I’m usually kind of the odd person out in most groups, unless they’re of my making–a hodge-podge of quirky idealists whose lives don’t happen in a linear fashion.  Like English majors.

C.’s family, and like C. himself, are very task-oriented. Conversely, half the time I don’t even know what planet I’m on.  It’s the classic INFP thing.  (For more on life as an INFP–Meyer’s Briggs type–check out the basic description here and Corin’s blog about being an INFP here.)

But back to Tunisia.  Isn’t that why you’re here?

Being in Northern Africa was fascinating.  I’ve always wanted to go there, especially after reading Paul Bowles books  and the translation of Isabelle Eberhardt‘s bizarre and reckless life.  I loved the call to prayer that started around 4:30 in the morning and happened four other times during the day and evening.  I love the sound of Arabic, especially when sung by the guy walking down the beach I heard on my last day.  Gorgeous and full of longing.  I love the elegance of written Arabic, and Islamic architecture:

Mosque courtyard and steps to prayer tower

Great mosque in Kairouan

Doorway in Sousse near medina

Sorbet-colored building in Sousse 

All the hotels were surrounded by palm trees, and the flora was fun to admire:

I think this is some kind of mimosa.

Two salutes to the sunset

Am dying to know what kind of tree this is.  Was like a rat-tail cactus crossed with a pine.

mystery tree

Loved the combination of modern and ancient:

And weird signage:

This is a Russian pub. Lots of Russians come to Tunisia in the winter months.

Looks like one very long amusement park ride.  Millions of years long.

And of course signs of the recent revolution:

Tunisian flags everywhere

Various young men often approached us as the locals are very friendly and want to know if visitors are enjoying their country, especially after the drop in tourism this winter.  “Tunisia!  You like?”  wasn’t uncommon to hear from while walking down the beach.  It was great to see such pride in one’s country, and the sense of optimism. However, Tunisians do need the tourists to return as it’s their primary source of income.

A few young men offered C. to trade me in for some camels.  It’s a joke, a friendly exchange, one which the men seemed to feel absolutely no self-consciousness in offering.  It seemed like my role in the game was to be flattered, and feigned as much when one man offered a “trillion” camels.    On another evening, though, a different man’s grandmother was offered, to which C. replied, “Well, is she a good cook?”

Very reassuring.

Couldn’t care less who I’m traded for as long as no one’s riding me.  

One of the highlights of the holiday was the morning visit to the Sousse Medina, or marketplace.

C.’s mom, after a number of visits, has gotten good at bantering with the locals.  “I’ve already got some!”  she’d say to the men calling at her about buying some shoes.  She’d shake her bag, indicating the shoes inside.

“How much?” the vendors would instantly reply.

“Ten dinar,” she’d say, and the men would all moan and tell her she’d paid way too much.

C.s mom mid-barter and me

It’s fun to banter but the tour guides instructed us on the latest scams to watch out for.

For example, the hotel where we stayed, Hotel Tour Khalef, was all inclusive.  Upon arrival, one is issued a pink plastic bracelet, like one might get at a fair, or in a hospital.   (Many jokes about having “escaped” ensued.)    Down at Port El Kantoui, men sat by the entrance to the port, and on spying the pink bracelet, would call “Hotel Tour Khalef!  Do you remember me?   I was your waiter last night!”   The hotel is so huge that not remembering one’s waiter is possible.   The men would then lead the clueless off to a “discount” camel ride, or another activity that would cost a lot of money.   You gotta hand it to these guys–in a country where work can be scarce, this is not the typical pickpocket scheme.  In fact, I rarely felt at risk for pickpocketing–less so than Barcelona, or maybe even New York.  In Tunisia, it’s taboo to prey on tourists as they’re so crucial to the economy.

I didn’t get any photos, as I was usually too busy choosing treats, but many markets were full of pistachio nougat, sesame sticks, praline peanuts, Turkish delight, and almonds.  YUM.

I met a woman at the hotel who had been coming to Tunisia for 26 years.  Apparently, one gets bit and keeps coming back.  It’s so inexpensive to visit, especially with a package trip, that some retired folks stay for months.  It’s actually cheaper, food and heat wise, to stay there in the winter months rather than heat one’s home in England.

So will I be back?  If I can help it, oh, yes, please.

The married for almost one year couple. Awww….

Sousse beach at sunset

*Thanks a million, katrillion camels to A.M., C.’s mum, for treating us on this trip.

May you have many more days of sun in Tunisia!*

It’s Midnight at Gatwick: Do You Know Where Your Husband Is?

Two pieces of advice for all those moving to another country:  1) memorize contact numbers like your life depended on it, because it kinda sorta does, and 2) always be clear on where you’re meeting if you’re ever separated in an airport.

Why am I dispensing such sage advice?  Because last night I lost my husband.   At midnight.  At Gatwick airport in London.  Just call him on your cell phone?   Of course, cell phones.  I do have one!  And I’ve managed to finally memorize my own new cell phone number, after making a song and dance out of it.   (No one will ever see, or hear, this dance.  Don’t worry.)   But I’d yet to manage memorizing my husband’s cell phone number.  It was on my list of things to do–a very long list with a lot of exclamation points.

But back to the phone.  The phone had died after two days of our long weekend away on my husband’s off-site work trip, and he had the charger in his conference room.   The last day of the trip was a bit crazy as we checked out in the morning, were in different places all day, and our luggage was moved around by staff.   Packing was haphazard, and we were rearranging all of our liquids/not-allowed stuff into check-in bags and carry-ons on the airport floor minutes before check-in closed.  Needless to say my phone didn’t get charged.  It actually stayed into my weekend bag which got shoved into my check-in stuff.

All this should have been fine, right?   I was with my husband on the flight home.  But we got into separate customs lines since I have a non-EU passport*, and when he got through first, he waved from the other side, which I took to mean that he would head towards baggage claim.  Usually I get through the line first and get the bags, but it was at least twenty minutes before I got through.  I assumed he would have the bags and would be waiting for me, then we would go, both of us tired and we still had to find the shuttle to our parking lot and then drive an hour home.

But he wasn’t anywhere in baggage claim.  All the others from the trip were gone, and I saw a few lone pieces of luggage riding the conveyor belt.   The status for our luggage on the board read “ARRIVED.”   There were only three different carousels, and I was definitely at the right one.  Still, I waited a few minutes thinking he may have just stepped away to the facilities.  After about 5-10 minutes, I decided to head out as we’d met before at a coffee shop right outside.  I figured that I must have misunderstood where we were to meet and as I am absentminded, he probably said something about the coffee shop earlier but I’d forgotten.

But he wasn’t there either, and after I waited about ten more minutes I started to panic.

I realized that without my cell phone, I had no way to get home that night, that I didn’t know where the car was parked since he had the ticket and I had no way to contact my husband and no other memorized numbers of people in this country.  The crowd at the airport was becoming thin, as one would expect for past midnight on a Monday.

No problem.  I’ll find someone on airport staff and see if he or she can announce a page.  “Mr. M., please meet your party at the Costa Coffee Shop.  Paging Mr. M….”   We’d have a little laugh and then be on our way, luggage in tow.   Ha, drama, hee.  Hee.

But I couldn’t find anyone and the Airport Information office was closed.

Finally I asked the Costa workers if they knew where I might find someone to help me with a page.  At this point it had been about an hour since I saw C. wave at me from my line at Customs.  There was no way that he was still in there.   I’d checked the missing luggage office to see if he was there dealing with any missing luggage, but he wasn’t.

Instead of picking up the Magic Airport Phone that I’d imagined, the Costa guys, who looked like they were about twelve and had never had that pre-cell phone feeling of sheer terror when losing someone in a ginormous mall or parking lot, just looked at me like I’d requested their livers.  They waved me in the general direction of Departures, which was completely deserted.  Not one staff person anywhere.  I was afraid to wander too far from the Costa in case C. went there looking for me.   The rational thing to do seemed to stay put, but that was becoming difficult as I imagined that perhaps something bad had happened to C.  Of course I’d read the recent, vague terrorist warnings so immediately began mentally flipping through various possibilities.

This is the point at which having an active imagination is not fun.  Especially if your brain moves very quickly.   About ten really scary scenarios flashed through my mind in less than a minute, and soon I’d convinced myself that my husband had vanished.   Add a little adrenaline habit and you’ve got yourself a film starring Jodie Foster or Franka Potente.

I started planning for the worst.  I would just have to spend the night in the airport, and eventually get in touch with my mother via her cell phone to get my husband’s cell phone number (I was envisioning a collect call, but later realized this was probably impossible due to the lack of pay phones).  The next day I’d take the Gatwick Express train to London and from there go back home to Kent.  At least I had some cash, and I had a key to the house.

Finally I found a maintenance worker who directed me to some secret supply of airport staff all safely hidden behind door #3.  There were about twenty of them all huddled behind a small desk.  Maybe they were having a meeting?   Maybe they were hiding from freaked out expats who couldn’t find their husbands and didn’t have cell phones?  Too bad.  I’d found them.  I explained the situation to a woman who seemed nice, asked about a page, and edged toward the Costa again so I might avoid missing C.

She asked me to tell the story again, in what seemed like an attempt to buy some time. What was the deal with pages?   Was it like declaring a person missing–did you have to wait 24 hours?   Why wasn’t the Queen notified that I COULD NOT FIND THE ONLY PERSON I REALLY KNOW IN THE UK?

After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only about 20 minutes, lo and behold, off in the distance (rapture!  little pink flowers!  bunnies!), there was C., talking to another airport staff person!   He’d put his jacket on so was in beige, while I’d been looking for a blue plaid shirt.   Duh.  And he said he’d thought that I got held up in customs, so had gone back to find out if I was still in there.   It seemed like we were both at baggage claim at the same time and never figured out how we still missed each other.

Oh.

Long moment of appreciation, relief, etc., followed by the inevitable Whaaa??  How could we really have not seen each other?   Then the trek to find the right parking bus stop which took about another hour.

I recited C.’s cell # all the way home, wrote it down before bed, and vowed to keep a list of contact numbers in ten different bags.   No song or dance required.

*Word to the wise:  we just found out that spousal visa couples can legally stand in the non-EU line together.  They allow this to prevent fellow travelers from getting separated.  Great idea….

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