Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Even More London

I kept hearing about something called the Notting Hill Carnival, which, according to Wikipedia is "an annual event that has taken place since 1966 on the streets of Notting Hill, and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, London, England, each August over two days (the August bank holiday Monday and the preceding Sunday)." Apparently, it's one of the world's largest street festivals.

So, I was determined to check it out. I located where all of the excitement was supposed to be, and began walking.

As I continued to Carnival, I saw a Wagamama! I first discovered Wagamama when I studied abroad in London in college, and even since then, I have eaten there every time I've been in London (even when I was there on a lay-over during my trip home from Scotland). Wagamama is a noodle bar that serves Asian dishes inspired by Japanese cuisine. Rumor has it, one is set to open to New York (gasp - it might be worth a trip!).

I believe the server heard my American accent because upon me ordering tap water he asked if I wanted ice. It was at that moment, I'm pretty sure I heard trumpets from heaven. I don't think Europeans care for ice in their drinks, and I had been missing ice water since I arrived in Europe. I thanked him profusely.

Mini-feast (and beer!) for one.
Unfortunately, I never quite made it to Carnival as the crowd was way too big for my liking. As I started to near the event, the crowds were so big that I literally had a hard time moving. I'm not a huge fan of crowds, especially when I can barely move. So, I decided to turn around and get a vegan cupcake from Whole Foods (vegan cupcakes are truly the answer to everything, aren't they?).

I also stopped at a couple of spots along the way, like the Victoria and Albert Museum (well, the outside of it, anyway; I planned to spend more time there later in the week), Hyde Park, and Churchill Arms.

So, even though I'm bummed I didn't get to experience Carnival, I still saw quite a bit. And, hey, who can beat stir-fry, cupcakes and ice water!?

Monday, August 29, 2016

More London

This was a holiday weekend in the UK (Bank Holiday), the streets were alive with families and friends looking to relax and grip onto the last bit of summer. I was delighted to find that there were several free street performances being offered in honor of the holiday weekend. I read about one called “Block,” which looked rather intriguing. It was being performed outside, near the Olympic Park, which was not yet constructed the last time I was in London (in 2005). I had heard great things about the park, and I love street performances, so I decided to head over.

But, first, I stopped to buy an umbrella, since, despite laying mine right next to my suitcase, I still managed to forget to pack it.

The performance was really interesting. It was a combination of modern dance, acrobatics, and other movements, and I was impressed by the performers’ athleticism.

Here’s a brief clip:
Unfortunately, it started raining, so they had to cancel the performance. Within a couple minutes, it was absolutely pouring outside. A couple minutes is also the time it took for the wind to completely destroy my new umbrella. So, I sought shelter under an awning and waited for the rain to pass. The entire rest of the day was still dreary, but the hard rains only happened for twenty minutes or so. I took the weather as an opportunity to find myself some lunch, which I did at a cute Mexican street food place called Wahaca. They had a special vegan menu, and despite London’s prices on everything being really expensive, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal (and beer, too).
Mexican food nowhere near Mexico.
I then walked around the outdoor mall near Olympic Park for a bit, where I saw these for the first time. Too bad there was an age limit.

On my way to the bathroom, I was stopped by a sales associate from a skincare company. He gave me some free hand cream and ask if I was from Australia. I’ve never had my accent confused for Australia before; Canada, yes, but never Australia. I guess I took it as a compliment.

Olympic park was impressive, and I loved seeing all of the other people out and about there. And my umbrella-less self got lucky in that it didn’t rain much for the rest of the day. It was pretty windy though: By the time I returned back to my dorm (it’s been so long since I’ve uttered those words), I was really tired. So, again, I turned in early after preparing my day for tomorrow. The party never starts stops with me.

More shots from the park:

And the aftermath of a rainy/windy day:

Sunday, August 28, 2016


I wasn’t terribly sad to leave Brussels. I enjoyed the city, but being surrounding by men with machine guns was something I was happy to leave behind. Also, at the risk of sounding like an ignorant American, I was glad to head to London, where I could communicate in my native language. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love languages, and whenever I travel, I like learning new phrases and studying up. Plus, I believe travelers have a responsibility to at least try to communicate in the language spoken in their destination (so, I'm certainly not one of these people who demands English whenever I'm traveling abroad). I’m also still pursuing my lifelong quest to be more proficient than a toddler at Spanish. But, sometimes it’s nice to be able to ask more than just basic questions or have conversations with nuance.

I was also excited because I love London. When I was in college, I studied abroad there for the summer, and it was one of the best times of my life. It was my first time in Europe, and I pretty much fell in love after stepping off the plane. I loved the architecture and the combination of old and new. One of my favorite things to do while I was studying was to walk everywhere because I got hooked on feeling cobblestone streets under my feet while looking up at tall, modern buildings. It just reminded me that London truly had it all.

So, I was pumped to return.

 I hopped a train to the Brussels Airport, and was surprised that I had to go through security before I entered the airport (passengers were also required to go through security again to enter the gate area). I was in such a rush that I immediately just began stripping off anything that was metal. I didn’t take a mental note of what I left in the bin, and I, sadly, left my favorite watch behind.

It was lovely knowing you.

My flight to London was only about 45 minutes long.

I think I spent more time eating than I did flying. There were very few people on my flight, so I got the entire row to myself. Score!

After getting through customs at Heathrow (which took a while), I boarded the subway and set out to find my digs for the next four days: Imperial College. The college rents out its dorms to adult tourists during the summer. Not only did I get to stay in a dorm with its own bathroom and balcony (which, may I add was nicer than any dorm room I had in college), but I was also given a meal card to eat in the dorm cafeteria. It was just like college…except this time around the “students” had mortgages and weren't familiar with tinder.
My balcony.

Since I would be staying for four days, I unpacked and got comfy in my new room. I also set out to explore the neighborhood a bit. Imperial College is located on a square that reminded me a lot of Washington Square Park, where my alma mater, New York University, is located.

Imperial College is also located in a museum district, and it is close Notting Hill (no Hugh Grant sightings though, sorry). Much like when I was in Oslo, I immediately envisioned myself living there. However, when I stumbled upon a real estate office and saw posters in the windows declaring the average price of a 2 bedroom condo to be 1 million pounds, I figured I would only be living there in my mind.

So, instead, I focused on a more affordable priority: finding food. There was a cute little grocery store right on Imperial College’s campus. There I found many vegan options, including curry ramen noodles and avocado hummus.

Whoever invented this = genius in my book.

I ate some of my food in the park, people-watched, and listened to the trees swaying while I reminisced about doing the same thing in New York when I lived there. There’s something about sounds of nature overlapping with car horns and sounds of the city that seems so comforting to me. I think it’s the juxtaposition of the two, in that I feel so grounded by nature, but I also love how exciting cities can be. It’s like knowing there are endless possibilities, but also feeling that you’re so connected to the earth that anything is within your reach.

I headed back inside and had a quiet night. Between the train trip and flight and also having a whirlwind trip to Brussels, I was pretty pooped. So, I cozied up to my curry noodles, put on some Stranger Things, and planned out my day tomorrow.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


I had a 2 AM wake-up call to leave Budapest. Keith flies home today, so I'm on my own for the next week of the trip.

I was a bit worried I might not make it to the airport since if my cab didn't show up, there weren't a lot of other options (mass transit would have required at least two transfers, and the buses didn't seem to be operating at that hour anyway). But, like clockwork, my cab showed up. Phew!

I flew to Brussels with Wizz Air, which is the Eastern European equivalent of Spirit. I felt like I was being corralled through a warehouse before getting on the plane.

Oh, and good to know sexism is alive and well at the Budapest Airport.

My flight to Brussels was uneventful. I flew into the southern airport, so I had to take a bus for an hour and a half to the main train station. Since the station was so big and at a huge crossroads, I had to ask four people how to get to where I was going (my hotel, which was a mile walk). I got a bunch of "just go that direction" sort of gestures, but nobody could locate where we were on my map.

Finally, I just started walking, and ducked into a pastry shop to ask for directions again. Somehow the handyman there, who spoke no English (only French), communicated that he was going the same direction as my hotel. So I decided to risk a ride with a stranger, piled my luggage into his cargo van, and he dropped me off...speaking to me and giving me directions in French. Again, phew! It's amazing how much of a conversation one can actually carry on even without speaking the same language.

I checked into my hotel and napped like it was my job since I only slept two hours the night before.

The view from my hotel:

When I woke up, I set off to see the Grand Market. Wow, was it ever impressive! Like much of what I've seen on my trip, pictures don't do it justice at all. But, here's an attempt:

After Grand Market, I set out to find some food. I found a place called Moon Food, and it was fantastic! It was an all-vegan buffet, and I even got free chocolate. The server told me they were giving away samples, but that she didn't know the different names of the chocolates in English. So, I just told her to give me her favorite. And she certainly delivered! The chocolate I had tasted like it had raspberries in it, and it was delicious!

I then walked to the cathedral (Cathedrale des Saints Michel and Gudule). Much like the Grand Market, it was absolutely breath-taking.

I walked around the city quite a bit, getting a flavor for downtown.

One of the things I noticed pretty quickly was how many armed guards were standing at public places and on street corners. I would be lying if I said it didn't make me feel edgy. It's just such a weird feeling to see guys wearing full-on camouflage, carrying machine guns. And they were everywhere! I understand that Brussels has been attacked, but, still, seeing all of the weapons was quite disconcerting. It just made me feel as if an attack was about to happen at any moment.

Brussels was a pretty city. I liked all of the architecture, and the people were quite nice. Although it's a big city, it still felt rather small, and I'm glad I only planned 24 hours here. I felt like that was plenty of time to both explore and stuff my face with vegan chocolate.

I slept well in my hotel and got up to head to London (the final stop in my trip).

Friday, August 26, 2016

More Budapest

We started our last full day in Budapest by walking to Parliament. To say I was an awe was a complete understatement.

Unfortunately, when I asked if we could go in, we were told "no," so instead, we sat in the grass and listened to a military marching band.

We then went on a boat cruise around the Danube. The bar area of the boat was air conditioned (a rarity in Budapest), so we may or may not have spent the majority of the cruise in there.


We ended the day by heading to the Great Market Hall (a huge market selling everything from fruits and veggies to Minions t-shirts) where we stocked up on souvenirs for our people at home.

On our way home, we discovered that signs in Budapest are very graphic.
Nothing left to the imagination here.
We also discovered a cool wine festival happening outside of St. Stephen's Basilica. So we spent our evening people-watching and having our last tastes of gelato.