Pin It Forward UK.

Pin It Forward UK 2013

I received an e-mail a month ago from Tina over at Pinterest, asking me if I wanted to be part of the new Pinterest United Kingdom campaign. It surprised me because I didn’t think that anyone paid much attention to my Pinterest boards, but it was a pleasant surprise. Since I like Pinterest, and since a little extra blog exposure is also nice, I said “yes” to participating.

I’m often late (on purpose) when it comes to any & all trends, so when I began seeing people talk about Pinterest on different social media websites, I didn’t jump on it straight away. (This is from someone who didn’t join Facebook until 2008 (I think) and ignored Twitter until very late 2009.) But then, I got lots of invitations to join and since my inbox got filled with invitations, I said to myself, “To hell with it. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Lo and behold, I was pleasantly surprised.

Recipes. Do-it-yourself tips. Home decoration. Fashion. Beauty. Health & wellness. Quotes. Food. Food. Food. Did I say food? Travel. Travel. Travel. Did I say travel? Expatriate stuff. Child-free stuff. Whatever you’re looking for, it’s there in living color.

Pinterest is a tool for collecting and organizing the things you love. You can “pin” things from around the web on boards you create, on any topic you’d like. I pin about a few things, but for my blog’s sake, I especially pin things about travelling & expatriation. I have a board devoted to cities or countries I want to visit, interesting sights to see, and anything relating to expatriation.

What’s so great about pins is that I can go back to my boards and, say, find a recipe to try for dinner, or dream about a country or city on my travel/expatriate bucket list. The pins also link back to the source so I can get more details about that recipe I want to try, or that country or city I want to visit.

I’ve used Pinterest for a few months now, and it’s pretty decent. Once you see things you like, you’ll start building up your boards & dreams/wishes/fantasies. Follow me over there, and if you don’t have an account yet, start pinning by clicking on my registration link.

While you’re exploring your newfound addiction checking out Pinterest, check out a Pinterest UK trailblazer – Emma Rose Black of Gohemian Travellers (Pinterest page).

Welcome to Pinterest, inhabitants of the United Kingdom. :-)

Pin It Forward UK 2013

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 1.

04.06.2012

This was the day. I’d been excited about it for a while. I don’t know about any of you, but when a trip is coming up, I don’t get excited about it until the last minute. I might have fleeting moments of excitement in the days or weeks beforehand, but the excitement always grows at the last minute. It’s surreal – I know that I’m going somewhere but it doesn’t feel real until I land in my destination.

I made sure to get enough sleep to manage the trip on public transportation the next morning. I didn’t feel like paying for a cab this time around, at least for the trip to the airport. It went well overall; it took 90 minutes to get there, which isn’t too bad for a major world airport like Heathrow and on a holiday weekend. The only thing that annoyed the hell out of me was the price for the Heathrow Express – £19.00 one way.

I got to the airport before the rest of the group. Oh, I forgot to mention the group…

I joined Meetup about 3 months ago as a way to get out a bit more, as a challenge to myself for 2012 and beyond. (I may write a post or two about how that’s going in the future.) Among other things, I looked for traveler groups and sure enough, I found one that caught my eye: Solo Travelers. As someone who likes traveling solo, this group and its description sounded perfect. This group already planned its 2012 trips, and while I’d love to go on each one of their trips, I’m not rich. But there were a few that appealed to me, and Lisbon caught my eye first – affordable, 2 hour plane ride, long weekend (I hate very short trips). A few days after joining the group, I paid a deposit and secured my spot. While I prefer traveling solo, traveling with other solo travelers made sense to me for a couple of reasons:

1. While we arrived & departed together from each airport, staying together was optional. If we didn’t vibe together, or wanted to do our own things, we could always split up.

2. This was another way to challenge myself to more & make new potential connections.

So there you have it – I traveled with other solo travelers. How did that go, you ask? Stay tuned.

The group went to the wrong gate because of a mix-up, so the group leader sent a text message on my way to the airport and I met the group at the correct gate instead. They arrived 10 minutes later, and the group leader introduced himself & the other group members. We checked in, got our boarding passes & went through security together, but split up until we got on the plane. While we were split up, I tried getting some cash out of my account, but the ATM declined my card . No sweat, though… I’d try when we arrived, and at least I had enough elsewhere.

I should have sat next to a group member, with whom my intuition sensed good vibes, but she was gracious enough to allow a couple to sit together. That was very nice of her… but not for me because the woman in the couple was so annoying that I wanted to punch her in her jackass face & throat. :-| Lucky for me that I usually fall asleep on flights because I slept for at least half of the flight… which meant that she annoyed me only half as much as she would have if I was awake for the full flight.

When we landed, it was a nice surprise to disembark to nice weather since the weather authority predicted rain in Lisbon for most of the weekend.

Not too bad.

Not too bad.

Before we took our taxis to the hotel, I told the group leader about my ATM issue and he said “No problem, I’ll cover you until you get access to your account. These things happen.” Quite embarrassed – it’s my issue and I take ownership of it – but relieved that it wouldn’t be a huge issue. Our hotel was a short distance from the airport, and the taxi fare was pretty cheap for European standards – well less than €10.00 for each taxi.

We arrived at the hotel, and I was quite impressed. I should have shared a room with an older British woman, but she must have made a good connection with another group member because upon hotel check-in, she said that I was sharing with someone else instead. (That turned out to be a good thing. Stay tuned.) New roommate & I went to our hotel room; were we impressed again. I forgot to take a photo of the outside & our room, but check out the view from our window:

Taken as soon as we got into the room.

Taken as soon as we got into the room.

We settled in, chose our beds, got some help with our TV & internet settings from hotel staff, and relaxed (except for contacting my U.S. bank) until it was time for dinner. For the first night, we all dined together. We weren’t sure where to eat, but at least there were options within walking distance of the hotel. We walked a bit and I spotted an ATM – perfect time to give the group leader his money back. I inserted my card, figuring that there was something wrong with the ATM at Heathrow since the bank didn’t see anything wrong with my card during our phone call.

Of course it was my card. Cash machines in Portugal are pretty damn good because unlike at Heathrow, the ATM flashed the following words on the screen:

Your ATM card has expired.

FUUUUUUCK. :-|

Sure enough, I checked the card and it’d expired 6 days before the trip. I was even more embarrassed. I told the group leader and he was fine with it. He asked if I was alright for dinner and I assured him that I was. Unlike a few years ago, I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or cry or hide away in my room for the night. I just kept calm and thought about what to do next.

We decided on a restaurant across the street from the hotel; unlike a few of the other restaurants in the vicinity, this one was more affordable and there were locals eating there, which signaled to us that the food was probably decent.

Sete Mares.

Sete Mares.

Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

Cheese omelet with chips (French fries) & salad.

It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.

Yes, they're live.

Yes, they're live.

Some of the group members liked their food, while others could have taken or left it. The main complaint for those who could have taken or left it – the food was too oily. Thank goodness that mine was good.

We stayed for 2-3 hours, and some of us were tired so we went back to the hotel afterwards to get some rest for the next day. I called my family to tell them about the money situation, and my aunt said that she’d wire money the next afternoon. That was fine with me, as I wouldn’t be spending much money anyway, even after getting her money. It was quite annoying to know that I had money that was inaccessible, but it wasn’t worth turning the trip into doom & gloom. Thank goodness for age, wisdom, growth, and back-up plans. New roommate & I chatted a bit, then watched some TV and settled in for the night.

Stay tuned, everyone.

Boa noite.

Boa noite.

Day 2 ahead…

Come on over (part II).

(If you missed the 1st part, just click here for it.)

J arrived with niece & daughter in tow and I got in the car. It was already dark, so I didn’t see what anyone looked like until we got to the house. J’s daughter asked where I was from, and as soon as those 3 words came out of my mouth, I regretted them.

Me: “New York City.”

Here we go…..

Oh my goodness! I’ve always wanted to go there. What’s it like? What part are you from? I just wanna go there and shop! How much does it cost to go there? What was it like growing up there? Oh, this is great! I can’t wait to go there one day. What’s their fashion like? (Sidenote: I, Spinster, am the wrong person to ask about any kind of fashion.) I’m sure there’s tons of stuff to do there! And I gotta try the make-up there too! There are probably so many things there that we don’t have here!

And on and on for most of the ride back to the home. :-| I only answered 1 or 2 of her questions before J told her to calm down a bit. Thank goodness. The anxiety was in full swing.

We got back to the home and J’s husband, a Frenchman (non-English-speaking except a few basic words), greeted me while a couple of female family members put the finishing touches on dinner. The rest of the kids were upstairs until J beckoned them to come downstairs and greet me. (The boys, who are the oldest and in their 20s, didn’t come down; that didn’t surprise me one bit.) She told them to give me hugs & kisses, which was adorable, and they did. Nice warm family. It calmed me down a bit. And wouldn’t you know it? All of the girls who were teens & adults were wearing skinny jeans along with their hijab! They didn’t think I was a whore after all! :-|

I took off my coat & sat down, staring into space whilst waiting for dinner. I felt like an exotic animal because the kids stared at me. The older ones asked me more questions while offering me food & drink. Since I was late, they’d already eaten so the food was just for me. It was strange eating alone while they talked, but at least they were talking instead of staring at me. The food was good & filling. (sampling of typical Mauritian cuisine)

After I finished, I sat back on the couch & twiddled my thumbs. One of J’s older daughters (the one in the car) asked me some more questions that made me groan inside, and then she asked me something I considered strange:

Do you like make-up?

Again, wrong person to ask.

I said

I own some but I’m not into it like most women. I keep it pretty simple when I wear it, if at all.

She asked about different make-up brands and their possible existence back home. I told her about Sephora (my usual go-to for make-up) & offered to show her the website. We wound up looking at the site for a while. This excited her because, unbeknownst to me, she studies cosmetology in college. See, J’s ancestors are from India. Mauritius (detailed Wikipedia entry – Mauritius) has a sizeable Indian-origin population, and so does the United Kingdom. In general, when Indian women get married (or have other milestone events), they sometimes require intricate make-up application, which can only be done by someone who knows their stuff. Since J’s daughter is learning, the Sephora website is perfect for her. It was as if I found some hidden pot o’ gold and gave it to her.

Although her question was strange to me, it did something to me: it decreased the anxiety, relaxing me little by little. I don’t know what it was – maybe having the focus on make-up instead of me? Whatever it was, I felt a little more at ease. I asked them questions about Mauritius, how J met her husband, their religion (born or converted), etc. As an aside, the younger children are at different levels of learning the Qur’an (online version here – Qur’an), and the younger ones had to wake up early the next morning to learn their next sura. Although I’m agnostic, I can appreciate, to a small extent, the positive role that religion can have on people. I think the family is a little relaxed when it comes to Islam (detailed Wikipedia entry – Islam) despite being orthodox; as mentioned earlier, the girls/women in the home wore skinny jeans and watched different TV shows & etc. (Please pardon me if this seems like major generalizing; this isn’t what my intent is, nor should it be taken as such.) Basically, American media doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Time flew by. We didn’t know it was so late, so I decided to get going. I got up, put on my coat, and held out my hand for a handshake. J’s daughter said

No, we don’t do that here. Give me a hug.

I gladly obliged. Younger daughter also gave me a big warm hug. My world lacks hugs, so I appreciate the few that I can get. They said “Don’t be a stranger, come back soon.”

J & her husband put on their coats and readied themselves to drop me to the overground train station. This time they used the family van. As we drove though, I noticed that we drove past the station, and that’s when J asked me for my address. It kinda caught me off guard.

Me: “Wait, you’re not taking me all the way home, are you?”

Yes. We can’t let you go home this late by yourself on the train. We’re taking you home.

Caught off guard again. Me: “Oh wow, thank you so much. You really don’t have to do this. I really appreciate it.”

And they dropped me all the way home, straight to my front door. I walked in the house, satisfied with the evening’s events. I felt the fear and did it anyway, which is 1 step forward for me. It’s hard to push past uneasy feelings, very hard, but it’s possible.

I was, and still am, overwhelmed by the unconditional acceptance given to me by certain people since being here. Sadly, it’s not something that I’m used to. Or maybe I’m looking into this too deeply, I don’t know. But in a world where one has to have certain qualities & characteristics to “fit in”, where everything about a person gets questioned, picked apart even….. Usually in a negative way, as if one isn’t good enough just the way one is….. it’s overwhelming (but nice) being welcomed with open arms.

I’ll be visiting them again, and they even offered for me to spend the night (I’ll likely accept the invitation). It’s nice to escape every once in a while, even if it’s just to another part of town, and just relax, knowing that all you have to do is just be.

Come on over (part I).

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner.

Might as well start from the beginning…..

After working together one evening, J invited me to have dinner at her family’s home. J is a translator/interpreter, and I acquired her services through my job to communicate with a family whose 1st language is French. We worked together before & after my Christmas vacation, and she seems like a nice woman outside of work. I don’t know her age but since she has 5 children, one of whom is in his 20s, I assume that she’s a little older than me. Therefore, I’d not think that she’d invite me to dinner. After all, I’m younger than she is….. Maybe less mature?….. unabashedly American (whether I like it or not)….. not Muslim….. Why have me over for dinner?

So it was surprising that after one of our last visits with the family, she invited me over. We left the home & walked together quietly as usual until we split to head to our respective buses, and before I got a chance to walk off, she said “Would you like to come over for dinner one day?” I was kinda taken aback because it came out of nowhere, but I managed to say something to the effect of

“Wow. Thank you. Sure I’ll come over. Just let me know what your schedule is and let’s take it from there.”

Even though I accepted, the suddenness of it still left my mind boggled. What did she want from me? :-|

2 weeks passed and we set up for me to come over on 03.11.2011. I was looking forward to it….. at first. She’s from Mauritius which, to me, means learning about a new culture and (most important) trying new food. But that good old social anxiety crept up on me as it usually does. (While I’m a private person, I don’t mind sharing my “flaws”, like the social anxiety, with others if it helps others who experience the same things.) I had at least 1 week to mentally prepare myself, but mind over matter doesn’t always work for me. My mind was racing:

What should I wear? They’re Muslim; I don’t want them to think I’m a whore (whatever that means). What if I do or say something wrong? I don’t know these people. What’s their culture like? What if I don’t like the food? Would it be rude to say something about the food if I don’t like it? Okay, I’ll stay for no more than 2 hours and then I’m going home.

“What the hell did I get myself into?” I wondered aloud while preparing to go to J’s house for dinner. Nothing seemed to fit right. I forgot to look up directions to get there. Then I felt hot and changed clothes. Then I felt cold and changed clothes. Then I felt fat and changed clothes. Then I put on make-up and hated it. Then I took off the make-up and hated it. And these damn pimples! I’m too damn old to still be getting pimples! And why does my face have to look like this? And dear god, I’ve gained more weight than I thought. What if my breath stinks? My life is a complete fail. What was I thinking, accepting this invitation? I bet I’ll regret this.

I drove myself bonkers. And made myself late.

Since I was late & didn’t feel like ironing clothes, I decided on a new pair of skinny jeans even though I didn’t want to wear them. I forced myself to re-apply the make-up, checked my breath, put on my new coat & sneakers, and left the house. It was a cold but clear evening and, despite the anxiety, it was nice to get out of the house & see a different part of town. One of my unofficial resolutions for the year is to go out more now that I’m more settled into life in a new country, and anxious or not, I needed to do this. You can’t move forward if you don’t take the 1st step. Since I was running a little late, I high-tailed it to the bus to get to the train station. It was a pretty easy route despite weekend service disruptions. When I got to my destination, I called J to pick me up as planned; since she doesn’t drive, her niece drove while she & her oldest (I think) daughter went along for the ride. I anxiously awaited and wished myself luck.

To be continued…..

My sentiments exactly.

My sentiments exactly.