Friday, November 2, 2012

Saying Goodbye to GB

The first major stint of my overseas travel (UK) is winding down. My month is almost over. Tomorrow, I'm heading to Spain, where I'll jump around between locations for a little, starting with the town of Marbella on the Southern coast.

I have mixed feelings about moving on from London. This really is a very cool city, and I feel like I've only scratched the surface of it.

Living outside of the city has surely had its advantages...financially it's made things feasible, I've had a great pool to swim in and a park right outside my door, and I've been able to get in all my bike workouts thanks to the absolute best cycling center in all of London, Cadence Cycling Performance. (No, I'm not going to shut up about that place, I absolutely love it and all the guys who work there, they've become my London friends.) Plus, I've found lots of good and friendly cafes and pubs and my neighborhood feels to me a lot like what living in London would be like.  Replicating that experience was one of the goals of my trip, so that's a success.

And I got to run on this track!

That said. It's a bit of a pain to get into London, so I haven't been as much as I wanted to. I have not been to Buckingham Palace (walked by, though, and I'm not even sure it's open right now). Nor did I head to the Olympic Village (also closed, annoyingly). I didn't go into Parliament to watch the House of Commons. I never made it to the London Eye. I couldn't justify shelling out the money to walk through the Tower of London. I am, basically, a failure as a tourist.

Didn't go in, but at least I took pictures of Westminster Abbey

Which is not to say that I haven't been spending time in actual London. I have....tracking down food. Basically, I've used various Whole Foods locations as my mother ships, paid a small fortune for healthy meals that reminded me a little of home, and then wandered around the surrounding neighborhoods. I've hit up Kensington, Covent Garden, Camden Town, Picadilly Circus (multiple times), Notting Hill, SoHo, Chelsea. I haven't necessarily done a whole lot in these places other than walk, snap a picture or two, duck into a pub or a cafe. Maybe that makes me a bad tourist....but I remember some of my other trips from years ago, and the moments that have stuck with me weren't the cathedrals (those start to run together) or the palaces or the statues, it was the moments in cafes, chatting with locals in very broken Spanish about, hypothetically, whether to use the tu or usted form when addressing the queen. Or when, in hot pursuit of a real, proper breakfast, we asked a local cafe owner, "tiene huevos?" Directly translated, that means, "do you have eggs?" He was, at first, shocked by the question, then started to laugh and laugh and laugh. Five years later, I learned from a Spanish-speaking friend that I was essentially questioning this stranger's manhood, asking him, "do you have balls?" Whoops.

Buckingham Palace

Big Ben

Point being. I've tried to be a tourist, I haven't done a great job, but I think what I'll take away from London more than the pretty pictures is the memories of conversations I've had in the local pubs, or at the best cycling center in the whole entire world, or the funny signs I saw, or the long runs I've done when I've stumbled upon great little neighborhoods, or my rides in the English countryside.

London Eye
The Piccadilly Circus area

In addition, of course, to my memories of living like a poor person. See, I've heretofore lived a pretty spoiled life. Maybe spoiled is not the best word....that implies that someone else was doing the spoiling, and that's not true. My parents, who provided me and my siblings a much more comfortable upbriging than either of them experienced, were always very careful not to spoil us. And as an adult, I've had a habit of dating guys who are significantly more, ummmm.....frugal than myself. So it's not like I've been spoiled in that regard. But I've been very fortunate in my life, first by having awesome parents and then by having some kick-ass jobs that financially left me in a very good place, to not have to worry about money too much.

Those days are gone. Let me show you a picture of the room I'm currently staying in:

This pictures shows ALL of it except one wall

Yes, that's a hostel. Last weekend I moved from my basement apartment to this tiny, tiny room in a hostel. Upside....I actually see light, sometimes. Downside....well, it's as small as any dorm room I ever lived in. Smaller, in fact. There's one thing I will say, and that I never, ever thought at age 33, I'd be living in a hostel.

It's taken some adjustments, this spartan existence. I have to wash my clothes in the shower and dry them with a hairdryer. After my first night, I made Order of Business #1 getting earplugs, because I could hear through the walls every conversation going on in seemingly every room in the building. While I used to complain about only having a microwave, now all I have is a tea kettle, so I eat out for most of my meals (hence the Whole Foods obsession). Fortunately, British restaurant portion sizes are nowhere near as huge as American portions, so eating out all the time's not entirely jeopardizing my athletic goals, just putting a dent in my wallet.

Neighborhood in Notting Hill where they paint all the houses pastel colors

WIth this size car, you can actually pull off that parking disaster

I do like the UK, I really do. There's a lot charming about it that I'll miss....the figures of speech, the senses of humor, the walkability, the pubs (although I have now officially given up drinking for at least a while....if I write it, it'll work, right?). But at the same time, I'm pretty damn homesick. This trip hasn't been the easy adjustment that I thought it would be. I'm struggling without routine, without mental stimulation, without meaningful human contact. I miss my family, my friends, my condo, my city, even my job. Little things upset me more because I have lots of time to dwell on them. I said a long time back that there was a big difference between being alone and being lonely, and as long as I stayed on the "being alone" side of things, I'd be fine. I think it's safe to say that right now, I'm pretty well on the lonely side.

All of this, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. Part of the reason for my trip was to learn about myself, what's important to me, what makes me tick. And I'm figuring those things out. I do better with routine. I do better when I'm busy and mentally stimulated. And, although I'm comfortable being by myself, I'm not, at bottom, a loner.

The next phase of my trip's going to be a little different, and I'm looking forward to it. Most excitingly, I have a friend joining for part! First, I'm going to Marbella for a week. After that, Katie flies in, and we're doing a organized group cycling trip in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Spain. Then, we go over to Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands. She leaves after a few days, and I'll stay a little longer and do a really crazy, 4-day running race. I'm told Lanzarote is a lot like Hawaii....a volcanic island with tropical parts, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Marbella, where I'm going next

And Lanzarote


  1. Thanks for all of your work on this web page. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  2. Make sure you take a day trip to Gran Canaria - sophisticated Spanish city and beach town all in one!

  3. Also for the day trip list: Gibraltar. Monkeys, British people, a fortress in the caves, and you drive in across an's wacky.

  4. amanda
    i also saw spain a million years ago with your grandma and grandpa.
    we traveled around spain and took a hydrofoil to tangiers - thats also an experience. don't know if you read but James Michener wrote a book about a bunch of hippies that traveled spain. can't remember the title but it was a good read