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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Friends and Fears

Each social media post is a window to that person's reality.  The size, slant and tint of the window is influenced by what they want you to see, what they want to hide, where they are, who they are with, what they had for lunch and how they see themselves. 

Many scorn Facebook for its fake nature. Personally, I love that Facebook has nurtured friendships and gifted me with a feeling of closeness to friends that I cannot see often. This is especially true when traveling.  I have met some wonderful people that without social media would have faded away to hazy, fond memories rather than developing into friends.  

Growing up in small town Iowa, I had fewer friends than fingers and most were my cats. I was an outcast because I didn't go to church, didn't wear trendy clothes and didn't have a good Dutch name starting with Van or De (the D & V sections of the Pella phone book comprised 60% of the entire book!) There were a couple fellow misfits who befriended me, but most girls were downright mean. It wasn't until I moved to Kansas that I discovered that I was only a misfit because the town I grew up in was too small to have my kind of misfit. Former classmates could have written this sentence from 30 Days to a Better Vocabulary about me: 

A big concern about following my dream to live in Europe was that I would be lonely and I wouldn't make any friends.  When I voiced this fear to friends, I was humbled at their astonished responses. "Christina, you make friends where ever you go! What are you worried about?" Objectively, I can see that truth, but I haven't convinced my inner 12 year old. So when Stacy said that she would join me on this grand adventure, I was thrilled to have an accomplice to explore with and slay ghosts of pariah past.

Stacy and I have been great friends more than half our lives and have lived together three times so we felt reasonably confident that we had a chance at making this work. Overall it has been wonderful, but it hasn't all been rainbows and unicorns. We post photos of breathtaking scenery and glowing smiles.  We don't photograph the times we 're shooting Mechagodzilla beams out of our eyes at each other or are adrift in our private universes of homesickness, irritation or anxiety. Though we have many similar interests and often speak in unison; our personalities and social needs are quite different. Plus, we're both going through a lot of shit. 

  • We're used to living alone. We miss our private spaces and our own beds. 
  • I am accustomed to spending 5 out of 7 evenings socializing with different friends.
  • Stacy is a solitary person who lets a privileged few visit her outer fortress on her own terms and time. 
  • Stacy has only recently transformed her childhood home into her private oasis.
  • I have no home to return to. I grieve that the place that I poured my time, money and love into is no longer mine and I have no surrogate place to transfer those feelings to. 
  • I have thin eyelids which don't allow me to sleep when the sun creeps in. 
  • Stacy treasures her sleep and has trained her friends and family to not disturb Herself before noon on weekends.
  • I exclaim enthusiastically when I experience something I enjoy and want to share. Stacy prefers stoicism.
  • I am a planner. Stacy prefers to go with the flow.
  • We've both been taught that you don't leave a job before you have a new one.
  • We have no idea when we'll be making money again or what we'll be doing to make it.
  • We miss our pets and friends and family and don't know when we'll see them again.
  • We're both already tired of searching for the next place we'll stay after the current one.
  • There's no avoiding the "What should we do for dinner?" question no matter where you are in the world.  😜

This adds up to a recipe for tension, misdirected feelings, irritation and strife. My instinct was to avoid talking about the tough stuff. Open communication about conflict was nearly nonexistent in my past relationships. In my marriage, I learned that dialogue about disagreements never paid off.  Better to swallow those feelings and thoughts than let them be twisted against me.  Thankfully, at Stacy's insistence, we have had remarkably constructive conversations. Stacy won't let that happen. "Christina, if we can't talk about these things, they're just going to fester." Already, I can see noticeable improvements in the way that we interact.  It's going to take work, but just cracking open the window of free interchange is damn refreshing - even when it's hard. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Edinburgh, beautiful, friendly, wet and chilly

Though it had been February on my first trip to Edinburgh and certainly not warm, it was sunny and only chilly, not blustery cold. I have been spoiled in my past travels and blessed with unseasonably great weather.  So why would I expect anything less when visiting Scotland in April? My British friends knew better and scoffed at my naivety.

When we arrived on April 3, 2018 it was dreary, raining and 37.  Lucky for us, we had the thrill of beginning our adventure to keep us warm! We were greeted to our lovely hotel, the Principal on George Street, by the very friendly, kilted concierge who introduced himself in a wonderful Scottish accent as Marchin.  We actually didn't understand him the first 4 times so he finally said, "You know, like Marching to War" and pantomimed marching with raised knees and swinging arms.  We didn't find out until the end of our stay that he was actually Polish but had lived in Scotland and learned English there for 14 years. His Scottish accent was convincing enough to our American ears. 
I've got to admit... the first night when we were sitting at dinner in silence (I wasn't sure if it was companionable, exhausted, or stony silence), the shadows of doubts swirled in the space between us and haunted me when I tried to sleep.

The second day in Edinburgh it snowed!  We only left the hotel briefly for food and haircuts and some quick photos.  It was actually quite pretty seeing the town get a light blanket of snow. The realization that we have a full year to explore also helped stave away feelings of missing out and we were able to relax at the hotel and enjoy a quiet day inside.
By dinner time the snow had let up and we bundled up and headed to a cute pub we had passed earlier called the Queens Arms.  It was "meat night" where they serve the meat of the day on a board with enough to split for two along with two glasses of wine thrown into the deal.  It's like they knew I was coming! Meat and wine are two of my favorite things!  Add a good friend and traveling and stellar cocktails to boot and I was pretty much in heaven.

Doubts, rain and cold had not made their last appearance, but I was quite happy to discard them for another day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

English Food and Haggis get a Bad Rap

Steak and Onion pie at the Oban Inn
I first visited Edinburgh in February of 2015 with Marcie.  Here's a link to an album of that trip.  We absolutely loved it. We were captivated by the ornate architecture with wonderful sculptural details everywhere you look.  Even the air vents are pretty. You can find live music any night of the week. People are friendly and have awesome accents. And despite popular opinion, I enjoy the food in the UK.  Sure I've had some bland meals, but many of them are exceptional.  You can find any style of restaurant from cozy pub to elegant eatery and you can find any nationality of food.  Of course there's plenty of pub grub like fish & chips or chicken and mushroom pies (my favorite!). You can also find everything including Mexican, Thai, French, and of course Indian. 

A former coworker asked me if I knew what the national food of England was.  "Fish and Chips," I replied.  "No! It's curry!" he exclaimed.  In fact, if you're in England late, looking for food, pretty much all you can find is Indian; even in London on a Friday night. Oh, strike that, there's always fast food available. On my first trip to London, my coworkers and I sadly opted for McDonald's for lack of being able to find food anywhere else after 9pm. That said, there aren't fast food chains on every corner like you'd see in the US.  They are sprinkled here and there, often disguised in local architecture, primarily the restaurants are locally owned.

Stacy ordering from the kiosk at McDonalds in London

Haggis (center) with Neeps and Tatties
Scotland's most well known food is haggis.  Haggis is minced sheep or calf "offal" (heart,
liver and lungs) with oatmeal, onions, suet, seasoning and spices traditionally cooked in the animal’s stomach.  Sounds awful right?  Hell, "offal" is pronounced as awful. I was leery of trying it but a big part of travel for me is experiencing it through food. the photo to the left is from the first time I tried it in 2015.  Marcie and I stopped in to a place called The Last Drop.  the pub got its name from the fact that it was located just steps away from where criminals and people persecuted for  religious beliefs were hung in Grassmarket gallows.  The story goes that the condemned were allowed one last drink of alcohol before being hung.

The Last Drop is now a warm, cheery, bustling, traditional Scottish pub. Marcie & I were pleasantly surprised by our first haggis experience there. It's hard to describe how it tastes. This one had the texture of browned hamburger and had a mild taste kind of like sausage.  There was no trace of the strong, disgusting flavors that I remember from liver.  We tried it again two more times that trip and found that it varies wildly.  It is traditionally served with "Neeps and Tatties" - mashed turnips and mashed potatoes.  At the beautiful upscale restaurant Angels and Bagpipes on the Royal Mile, the haggis was cooked in an eggroll wrapper with fancy sauces. At the Contrast Brasserie in Inverness, a haggis bonbon was one of the sides. You'd never have guessed either contained haggis.
Chicken with chestnut mushroom sauce and a haggis bonbon
I was kind of surprised that Stacy tried it after her first response of "Oh hell no!" when hearing what it actually was. Our breakfast buffet at our hotel included haggis.  It wasn't the best example of the dish and it's hard to muster up stomach courage early in the morning, but we did it!