Almost home, but not. Quite. The English Language. But different. Summer. But raining intermittently.
The hip hotels here make me feel like my ordinary self on vacation at home, but for some reason I want to call it "holiday" and there are different toilet flush buttons, odd power outlets, and 0 is the ground floor.
To start our British adventure, we spent a beautifully stereotypical British Night and Day with two of my college roommates.
First, E and I missed our Eurostar train from Paris. This should say something about how laissez-faire Europe had made us. And, in fairness, we didn't really miss it, but we didn't arrive before they closed boarding, so we stared at our train from the platform above for 10 minutes before it departed. They wouldn't let us even try to board. Eventually, they gave us seat assignments on the next train. They did not seem to think the hour between trains should matter. And, since we were on Holiday, they were right.
Note to self, while much has not changed in the decade I've been gone, the Eurostar between France and the UK is much more complex, process-oriented, strict-like-TSA, and takes much more time to manage. If time is of the essence, be sure to arrive with at least an hour to spare for security, customs, etc.
We left the rainy overcast skies of Paris, and after passing through the chunnel were surprised to find London to welcome us with sunshine and an arch covered with Olympic rings that seemed to proclaim the great discovery we quickly made: St. Pancras has free wireless! Ahhh... the sweet sensation of sliding towards home -- the Internet is necessary and ubiquitous here, unlike at Gare du Nord, where we couldn't even pay for access.
After an email to our hosts explaining our delay, we took a quick tube ride to V's house, we walked a Kilometer or so and there we were: Guests in a beautiful Northern London home with dinner reservations for N's birthday at Veeraswamy.
Veeraswamy was easily one of the best meals of the trip, and definitely the finest Indian dining experience of my life. Yummmmm! Thanks to N's friend in LA who sent the recommendation!
Sunday, we slept in, had a big breakfast of toast, coffee, fruit, ham, and cheese. Except the ham was turkey, because our hosts were Jewish. But their kids still called it ham, because they are British and have hefty British accents (despite a German-American-English accented mother and American-English speaking father).
At around 11:30 AM, we finally motivated to move the entire group quickly through one of the breaks in the rain -- we walked through a local park, enjoying a zoo with ring-tailed lemurs, a secret garden, a pergola, a pond, and, in a surprise to all of us, a street fair in Hampstead.
A friend came out to join us for a pint at a good old-fashioned English pub (The Duke of Hamilton), followed by a late lunch at the oh-so-British chain of Pizza Express, then more walking, a Pimm's (although it was overcast and rainy), a relaxing afternoon of catching up and take-out sushi dinner, and a tube ride to our hotel.
Today, we did lunch while enjoying the river views with W (a friend and client) from the restaurant on top of the Tate Modern. We toured W's company's offices in Bankside, did a bit of work, enjoyed the displays of the Tate, took a leisurely walk through St. James Park, Green Park, and Hyde Park (despite the intermittent rain), and treated ourselves to a delicious Moroccan dinner on Edgeware Road.
Tomorrow promises to be more clients, a trip to the science museum, a good-bye dinner with one last college friend (and client), and then it will be time to return to the U.S.
This trip has been one of the best two week periods of my life. I'm the most relaxed I've been in at least 5 years, perhaps longer.
It's as if the return to Europe after a decade of absence was a reset button on my stress levels allowing me to return to a life before law school, before my father died, before my brother was injured, before much of the major stresses in my life. Somehow, my aged self, when put in the face of these slightly foreign cultures that are reminiscent of habits and approaches I freely experienced in my younger days allowed me to let go of my current life and reconsider it in a way I haven't done in quite some time.
I have learned, that at its most basic, I love my life. I love my husband, my family, my friends, and that I've structured my life such that I can travel, because it is extremely important to me.
Here, in these cultures, I've found myself thinking regularly about how important it is that things be done well. Since becoming a lawyer, and likely before, I've always tried to do things both quickly and well, despite the inherent conflict.
Europe seems to understand that conflict, and, if I may be so bold as to generalize, appears to have erred on the side of doing things well. If I lived here full-time, I suspect I would rant like many of my friends have done to us, extolling the virtues of the American end-product-based analysis and service-based economy (when you are a consumer). But, this vacation has allowed me to see and enjoy the benefits of a non-service oriented economy (e.g. a process-based commitment to quality).
Here, my brain feasts on languages I can understand but that are not native, my nose and mouth feast on quality local specialty foods and smells that could make anyone swoon in delight, and my eyes feast on the colors, light, and beauty of Europe's gardens, architecture, and art. How could I not feel blessed? I am happy to say that I took the time to pause, meditate, light a candle and/or say thanks in no less than three of the most beautiful places of worship in the world.
Of course, this rose-colored view of Europe is unfair. Unlike most of my EU friends, I have a big refrigerator and freezer at home. Our gas is cheap and highway tolls are essentially non-existent. When I sit in a restaurant, I don't have to wait 15 minutes wondering if I will be served at all. And, the dollar goes *much* further at home.
But, on balance, this trip was just too much tipped in favor of Europe. In addition to all of the linguistic fun and positive different world-view experiences that gave me things to think about, emotionally, I was able to fit in several visits to friends I hadn't seen in a long time.
And, I was able to share the entire experience with my husband and best friend. At times I wanted to pinch myself with joy. He waited uncountable times while I took just "one more picture." And, even better, he patiently listened and joined me in the verbal rehash of each day as I savored the wonderful remnants of its experiences.
I'm already planning our European return...