Moved from the United States to the United Kingdom… and back to the United States. Currently in long-term limbo. My good, bad & ugly experiences as an expatriate and possible permanent repatriate (who'll continue traveling no matter what).
People fuck up opportunities to have great experiences all the time. I want you not to do that.
I’m a road trip fiend and I think I finally cracked the code.
We have a romantic idea of road trips. The wide open road and all your worries behind and having those life experiences that you need to have before you’re old. We ruin these romantic ideas by acting unromantically (trying too hard).
These were my rules for my most recent cross-country road trip and they made it a life-changing experience. For the first time, I had a road trip that was everything it was cracked up to be.
1. Plan extra time
If you feel pressed for time then the whole thing won’t work. The wide-open road becomes another check on your to-do list. What could be a freeing experience becomes a practice in practicality.
“Travel is never a matter of money but of courage. I spent a large part of my youth traveling the world as a hippie. And what money did I have then? None. I barely had enough to pay for my fare. But I still consider those to have been the best years of my youth.The great lessons I learned has been precisely those that my journeys had taught me.”
I know you. You look through countless of travel blogs, browse through the travel section of the bookstore, read Lonely Planet guidebooks, and National Geographic magazines. You’re in love with city maps, atlases, and globes. You get shivers down your spine when you run your fingers down the tiny blood veins on a map as if it was breathing and coming alive. And it says to you, “Buy a god damn ticket and explore me.” But you don’t, because you…
It has been a while since I’ve taken a proper trip anywhere. Don’t get me wrong… going home is always great, but it isn’t a vacation. The last time I went anywhere besides home was a little over a year ago, when I went up north to the Lake District for a short weekend. (I still need to write about that trip. *hanging head in shame*) Oh yeah, there was also that day trip to Bristol that didn’t turn out quite the right way.
Despite my current financial challenges, I knew that it was well past time for me to go somewhere. So just like with Portugal, I paid for this trip little by little, and I’m going with the same travel Meetup group. (For now, it’s easier that way because the group founder made the arrangements – flights, accommodation, side trips [included or optional], etc. – and due to being so busy, I didn’t feel like doing tons of research for deals like I normally do.) This is a trip I would’ve taken last year but unfortunately, finances held me back worse than they do now. I’m glad that I got a 2nd chance.
So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to Dubrovnik, Croatia (Wikipedia link) for a few days, with a side (day) trip to Montenegro. Since I don’t have the best track record with writing up my trips (*hanging head in shame again*), I’m considering blogging about this trip with photos – a few words about each photo, while hopefully the photos will speak for themselves. Photo-blogging isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s easier, if you understand what I mean.
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. :-)
After a good night’s sleep, we woke up to seize the day. My roommate was already up & out of the room by the time I awake. I got myself ready in time to meet the rest of the group for the day trip.
When I got to the lobby, I noticed that we were missing a couple of people. I asked my roommate if she knew where they were. One of them was still getting ready – he owns a fancy camera that took time to assemble – but she didn’t know what happened with the other person. What a coincidence… Uzi was the other person’s roommate. She walked over to where we were and heard us talking and wouldn’t you know it…
The other person who stayed at the bar last night was so hung over that she couldn’t be bothered with getting out of bed. She decided to stay in the hotel & refused to go anywhere. She also made a mess in the room – a hot vomiting ass mess. (She cleaned up the nastiness while we were gone for the day.) A couple of the others who stayed out drinking didn’t look too hot either, but I assume that since we were leaving Lisbon the next day, they forced themselves out of bed for the trip.
So much for tanning & drinking.
We walked to Lisbon’s underground and caught the train to another train that’d take us to our destination, Sintra.
Sintra is a quick train ride (less than an hour) away from metropolitan-area Lisbon; upon arrival, there are shuttle buses that take sightseers up the hills & mountains to see Portugal’s colorful history & architecture embodied in castles. Sintra’s history dates back hundreds of years and, at one point, was a major Moorish stronghold, as was all the Iberian Peninsula. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean.
Castelo dos Mouros is on the top of the Sintra Mountains – 1378 ft. (420 m.) in the air. My roommate, Uzi & I visited Castelo dos Mouros first, exploring on our own without the rest of the group (they visited another castle first; photos coming after Castelo dos Mouros). Along with walking & climbing around the castle, we got to the top (1378 ft./420 m. is a hell of a lot of walking & climbing) and the overall view was indescribable.
And here’s the top.
After conquering this castle, we headed over to Palacio Nacional da Pena (Wikipedia link), which is a separate castle but in the same area. Initially the site of a monastery in 1493, it was later rebuilt as a summer home for the Portuguese royal family.
Taking photos in the castle isn’t allowed, but I can say that the inside of the castle is quite lavish, gaudy, and almost untouched since the last time any royals lived in it. I got a shot of a sundial away from the inside, though.
And another indescribable view:
We ate at the palace too.
After a nice, long, productive, unintended-exercise day, we headed back to the hotel. I don’t remember who returned first – us or the rest of the group – because I laid down on my bed and don’t remember much else. :-| After that nap, though, we (me, roommate, Uzi) ate late dinner in the hotel restaurant.
We’re outta here tomorrow. Too bad… I don’t really wanna leave.
I couldn’t get the money. (Here’s why if you didn’t catch the first part.) It was already late afternoon, so I asked the lady about Western Union’s hours and she said that closing time was 19:00 (7 p.m.). Since I didn’t have any cash, I’d have to find a way to the hotel (long walk), get the passport, figure out how to return to the plaza (probably another long walk again) and get the cash… if the office wasn’t closed by the time I returned. I was so annoyed that I decided to leave well enough alone. I thanked the lady for her help and, frustrated & dejected, left the building.
I called the group organizer, told him what happened, and he told me to get a taxi to the next place. It didn’t take long and upon arriving, he paid for the taxi, adding it to my ongoing tab. :-| Some of the members seemed quite amused at my expense (2 middle fingers forever reserved for them) and I stayed away from them instead of saying something that I’d regret. They weren’t worth my time or energy anyway. A couple of others were sympathetic, offering help until I got things sorted out.
A few members who only traveled to get drunk & a tanhad the nerve to be amused by my situation were tired decided to return to the hotel. The rest of us walked to the top of Edward VII Park. That was one hell of a walk, as it’s situated on a hill.
Afterwards, we walked to the metro station and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Dinner was at a restaurant in a nearby neighborhood, a 10-15 minute taxi ride from the hotel. I forgot the name of the restaurant, but here’s my food.
The sausages – my appetizer – had the texture of black pudding, so it put me off. The apples were good though.
Now that was delicious.
When the bill came, I planned to use one of my credit cards since I couldn’t get my cash. But a few group members suggested that I use my card so that they could give me cash – enough to hold me until I returned to Western Union. I was hesitant at first but decided to try, and sure enough, my card worked. Having the cash took a huge load off of my shoulders. I felt better, like less of a burden on everyone, especially the group leader, who’d been helping me out since my arrival.
We left the restaurant and most of us didn’t feel like heading home just yet (one member didn’t even eat with us; he explored Lisbon on his own). We happened upon a small bar around the corner from the restaurant, and even though there were only 5 or 6 people inside as the night was still young, we decided to go inside. Some of us sat down, while the members who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others went straight to the counter for drinks. Then, those of us who were sitting down smelled heavy cigarette smoke. I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes so that, coupled with a few of us getting a strange vibe from the bar, led us to decide that it was time to leave. 4 of us (including my roommate) left, while the group leader and the members who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others stayed behind.
We caught a taxi back to the hotel and, on the way there, decided that we wanted to wind down for the night by heading to the hotel rooftop. But since it was a bit chilly that night, we went to the hotel bar inside instead. Here’s my drink.
Roommate & another young lady – who I’ll refer to as Uzi from now on – also had hot chocolate, while the Italian (male) had a beer. We relaxed & chatted a bit, then took exhausted bodies to our respective rooms. The others clearly enjoyed themselves because they still hadn’t returned by the time we finished. Tomorrow was a new day and a new trip, and a few of those who stayed out drinking would regret it the next morning.
(If you haven’t already, check out Lisbon day 1 before reading further.)
I woke up in the morning and my roommate was already gone. I’m glad that we switched roommates because she was quiet as a mouse, while I found out later that the woman who would’ve been my roommate… wasn’t. The group leader told everyone last night that the group founder’s friend, a Lisbon native, would be at the hotel at 10:00 a.m. to take us around for city tour. It was optional of course, but I wanted to go. Roommate went early for breakfast; I woke up with enough time to wash up & get dressed.
Along with waking up with a headache, I was still kinda down because of the money issue but my aunt was wiring me the money in a few hours so deep down, I knew that everything would be alright. Group leader said not to worry about money, just come with the group. I went into the bathroom and began getting ready. I did a quick wash up and brushed my teeth. I took a step and
somehow or another, slipped and busted my ass.
Thank goodness I didn’t hit my head or spine, but it wasn’t a pleasant fall. Marble bathroom floor + a bit of accidentally splashed water = disaster. I felt pain in the muscles between my left shoulder and neck.
I was thoroughly annoyed and, as a result, decided to meet the group for lunch instead. (Maybe I’ll laugh at the fall one day, who knows.) I sent the group leader a few texts and told him I’d see everyone later. I was already dressed, so I only had to put on my sneakers and leave when they were ready to eat. I turned on the TV, glad for a couple of extra hours to myself, and laid back down on the bed.
I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until close to 14:00 (2 p.m.).:-|
I checked my phone and saw that the group leader sent me a text at around noon to let me know about lunch. Quite annoying & embarrassing again. I sent him a text apologizing because I didn’t expect to fall asleep. He returned to the hotel in a cab & met me in front of the hotel, then we went to the city center to meet the rest of the group. Some of them were sitting outside of the city’s cathedral, Lisbon Cathedral, while others were taking photos nearby. I did a quick walk through the cathedral, taking some photos.
We then walked to a castle. Before we walked in to wait on line, we happened upon a street musician named Bubacar.
As we walked away from him, the woman who would’ve been my roommate said
You should have gotten his number. He’s a nice looking man. Wouldn’t it be great to make a love connection on this trip? *wink*
Yeah… No. While I didn’t disagree with her about him being a nice looking man, I think that she just wanted to play matchmaker because Bubacar has dreads like me and because he initially thought that I was Rasta. Sorry lady… 2 dread-heads don’t = instant love connection. I politely declined her bootleg matchmaking offer.
Only a few of us from the group wanted to see & go inside the castle, so we left the pansies who only traveled to get drunk & a tan the others outside waiting for us while we explored the grounds.
The rest of the group (except for 1 other member) finished a few minutes ahead of me while I took photo after photo. As I made my way out to meet the rest of them, I happened upon
I found out that there’s an extensive garden further back on the castle grounds, where peacocks & peahens & other feathered friends – ducks & geese – wander around freely. I wish that I knew about it before leaving the castle, but at least I got a few priceless photos & video for memories’ sake.
We headed back to Lisbon city centre, where I asked around for the nearest Western Union to get my cash. I found one… but of course the computer was down because it’s just my luck for some reason, so the representative directed me across the city plaza to the next one, which was bigger and had working computers & multilingual representatives. I made the quick walk over & waited on line, happy to finally get some money. I spoke in Spanish, showed the representative my driver’s license and she said in Spanish
Sorry, but we don’t accept this. I’ll need your passport.
I didn’t have my passport. Why, you ask? It was in the hotel room safe; a few people told us that we didn’t need to carry our passports around.
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 Heathrowand 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.
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:
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.
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.
Since my money was funny, I ate within my budget.
It was very good – no need for condiments or seasonings, it tasted good as shown in the photo. The restaurant specializes in seafood, though.
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.
Well… it’s supposed to be. But England’s weather – a topic of countless conversations in this country – changes as much as certain celebrities change romantic partners, so I’m not sure when there will be true spring weather. In the meantime, I took a few photos of what’s blooming for the season.