Then and now.

Who forces time is pushed back by time; who yields to time finds time on his side. –The Talmud

(NOTE: this is a long one, with a bit of cursing, disclosure, no punches pulled, and vulnerability. Don’t like any of that? Don’t bother reading any further.)

Picture it: October 2013.

Aside from a few pieces of luggage filled to the brim with whatever I could carry, I returned home with almost nothing. The life I was trying to build in the United Kingdom was snatched from me.

I’d been placed on unpaid leave on August 9, 2013 – in contemplation of dismissal – by a shady employer that misinformed me about my work visa, among other things. Because of the employer, I accidentally overstayed my work visa by about 2 months by the time I received notification from the Home Office on August 8, 2013. I then had to report to the local immigration office like a criminal – once per week initially, then once every 2 weeks. I was evicted from my beautiful apartment in October by what turned out to be a shady landlord (I’ll never forget, Gary Sheppard of southeast London). I’d been his tenant for over 3 years and even offered him my security deposit, but money over everything, right? For 3 weeks before leaving the United Kingdom, I stayed with someone who insisted that I stay with her after my eviction. (I won’t mention her name here, but can’t thank her enough.)

I asked the male DNA contributor to please help me get a ticket home; there was no real response. Things were so bad that an American colleague took the male DNA contributor’s number from my phone to call and explain how bad things were. (Even though I knew it was a waste of time, she insisted.) Male DNA contributor begrudgingly bought a ticket, didn’t accept my thank yous, and treated me like shit. After almost 3 months of no contact (didn’t even check to make sure of my safe arrival to the U.S.), the male DNA contributor e-mailed me – not to say “hello” or “how are you?”, but to tell me that “you owe me (insert U.S. dollar amount here)”. No exaggeration – that’s what the e-mail said. When I responded that I was living from couch to couch, the male DNA contributor stated that I was exaggerating and need to look for work to pay back the money, along with some other really fucked up things that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Male DNA contributor would’ve known that I was looking all day every day, including weekends, at employment opportunities, had there been any effort to check on me. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye.
Bye.

The female DNA contributor isn’t much better. (Boy… if there’s a higher power, he or she sure knows how to pick the people whom they want to create new human beings. 😐 ) Complete narcissistic waste of time & energy. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good a while ago. At least I don’t discriminate, right?

Another person from England, whom I’d known for 10 years, insisted that I pay her back $50.00 I owed her in spite of full knowledge of my situation. Yes… $50.00. I was so stunned that she had the nerve to ask me for money she knew I didn’t have, that I just responded with “not a problem”. I gave her the bit of money (and boy, was it just a bit) I got from the former employer about 5 weeks later and after that… *crickets* –  no “hello” or “how are you?” or even “f*** you” after that. I waited 1 year for her to say something to me on any form of social media or technology… still *crickets*. I was there for her during some really difficult times (including an abusive relationship), before and after my move to England, and she threw everything away for 50 U.S. dollars. Don’t worry… I washed my hands for good.

Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)
Bye. (Or, in British speak, off you go.)

At one point, I don’t think that even my aunt & uncle – who are like real parents to me – realized the gravity of my situation. And I’ll admit, I was angry at & frustrated with them for a bit before my return home. But once they realized how bad things were, that was it. I began staying with them before Xmas 2013.

I forgot to mention that since I accidentally overstayed my visa because of the former employer, along with reporting to the local immigration office, I was banned from returning to the United Kingdom for 1 year. Once I gave up all chances of returning after being shafted by recruitment agencies, I gave up trying to get back to the country and sat out my 1 year ban.

And so many other painful stories of betrayal and outright dismissal, from so-called colleagues, friends & relatives, that I could recount since I hit my rock bottom. (I’m not sure if those people deserve my energy, though.)

But then there are people such as:

  • my (ex-)stepfather who, in spite of us not speaking for 1 year because of an issue, picked me up at the airport upon my arrival home even though he lives in another state and carried my luggage – no questions asked – and gave me money for public transportation to get to interviews without me asking.
  • Joana, who insisted that I stay with her upon my return home, free of charge and refused any of my offers to help otherwise. I didn’t stay long due to other reasons, but for that and her I’m eternally grateful.
  • my aunt & uncle, who’ve housed me, which has helped me rebuild my life slowly but surely. Among countless other things, aunt bought me a coat and interview clothing also.
  • Dashima, who supported my fundraiser and sent me flowers when I finally got a job after almost 8 months of no luck.
  • Juma, who gave me his old coat until I got a new one, and provided other support.
  • those who gave me emotional and/or financial and/or other support and didn’t have to – Ellen & her husband storing my stuff in England, Sherri helping me pack, Sherri (again) & her husband cooking for me, Nadine helping me pack, Dacia, Gary, Johanna, Uzma, Twana, Sharon S., Natalie & Emmon, Ruth, Atiba, my 2 main Facebook group members, and so many others I wouldn’t expect.
  • the many people who sent me job postings.
  • the people who don’t know me in real life or online but believed me and believed in me more than enough to help, no questions asked.

I know I’ve forgotten some names, but I hope those people know my heart.

I think things are beginning to look up.

  • I’ve worked since March 2014, after almost 8 months of unemployment with no benefits of any kind.
  • I’ve paid down some debt.
  • I joined a gym to return to healthier living.
  • I’m studying for my next highest credential (or qualification, for those of you overseas).
  • My aunt, uncle and I get along very well overall, which is definitely a challenge for an introvert like me.
  • I have travels coming up within the next 2 months; my travel bug is finally back. (I’ll leave the travels as a surprise for now.)
  • And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been able to help others with no strings attached. It warms my heart to help those who can never pay it back (nor do they have to try). I’m just grateful to be able to do it. (I’m very selective, however.)
Finally (little by little).
Finally (little by little).

I sit here, typing this with tears in my eyes. (A few of ’em even fell.) Some feel like sad tears, but more feel like grateful tears. For those who left me when I needed it most, farewell. For the rest of you, I’m eternally grateful. I thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

Little by little, step by step, day by day.

The world returning to my fingertips.
The world returning to my fingertips.

Staying put.

In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

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In the words of the Prophet, “It is finished.”

Everything they've done since August has led up to this.
Everything they’ve done since August has led up to this.

(PLEASE NOTE: I’m using the picture to make my point, not for any religious purposes.)

After giving this some thought recently, and after reviewing the requirements for a work visa application, I’ve decided to stop looking for employment opportunities in the United Kingdom.

The visa application website requires potential applicants to qualify for a certain amount of points before moving forward. I hadn’t looked at it since 2010, so I didn’t remember what the requirements were. I took the preliminary test to see if I could go ahead with the application, and I met each requirement… except the sponsorship part. Therefore, I couldn’t go ahead with the application.

I don’t think it’s too difficult to get sponsorship in my profession from employers over there. What is difficult, however, is finding a reputable recruiter/recruiting agency to find a decent employer willing to offer sponsorship. Unfortunately, my experiences over the past few months led me to believe that most recruiters/recruiting agencies over there are shady. They’ve shat on me from the start, making shoddy promises and displaying a major lack of professionalism. Here are 2 examples of their “professionalism”:

Hi (Spinster),

I am looking to see if i can find a worksponser for you in London, will keep you posted ASAP

Regards

Recruiter Name

(P.S. I copied/pasted the e-mail exactly how the recruiter sent it to me.)

(P.P.S. The e-mail subject was “.” Yes… a period – that thing with which we end sentences.

)

Another one never spelled my government name correctly and used smiley faces in e-mail correspondence. (And no, it wasn’t a woman.)

I got so fed up with recruiting agencies over there, I decided to change the settings on 1 employment website such that recruiters can no longer contact me. I also changed the settings on another employment website such that neither my former employer nor another shady employer – which flaked out on me 3 times – can ever contact me again. If I work over there again, it’ll be on my terms and to hell with recruiters/recruiting agencies overall.

I’m also still experiencing the negative effects of what the former employer did to me. Now don’t get me wrong… overall, my time living in the United Kingdom was alright, but the last few months of my time there – along with my current challenges – left a really bad taste in my mouth. I try not to let those months color my whole view of the country, but I admit that it’s very difficult.

Will I live/work there – or any other country outside of the United States – ever again? I don’t know. After this experience, I don’t think I want to expatriate again. (I’ll always love travelling, though – that’ll never change.) But I’m not 100% certain about this, so who knows what the future holds. I’ve applied & looked for jobs all over so I’ll go wherever the money is. And if that means leaving the country again to get back on my feet, then so be it… even if – since I know that expatriation isn’t all cupcakes & roses – I go kicking & screaming for 1-3 years. However, I’d prefer getting my life back on track here, not in another country.

When I returned to the States, the ticket was round-trip because it was cheaper than a one-way ticket, and I scheduled to return sometime in Spring 2014. I plan on changing the ticket date to later this year. (Hopefully my life will be drastically different by then.) If I still feel a certain way about the country (and it is possible that I may feel the same way in the future), I’ll cancel the ticket altogether. But I think it’d be good to see a few of my old colleagues and a couple of friends, so I’ll likely just change the date instead of cancelling altogether.

There’s a lot more, but I’m going to end here. I don’t want to pass on my doom & gloom to anyone reading this, and many things are better left unsaid (until later?). It ain’t over until the fat lady sings. I’m fat, but I’m not singing… yet.

(WARNING: the following song has curses and derogatory words)

I will not lose…

Related posts:
Home (bitter)sweet home.
https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/home-bittersweet-home/

Hard knock life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/06/hard-knock-life/

This sounds familiar. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/this-sounds-familiar/

Reset my life. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/reset-my-life/

Jobseeker(s). https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/04/jobseekers/

Some things change… https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2013/12/19/some-things-change/

Limbo. https://spinsterscompass.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/limbo/

Rock the vote.

Are you a U.S. expatriate who wants to vote in this year’s elections? If so, check out the following information sent to me about voting via absentee ballot.

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In transit.
In transit.

Are you a U.S. expatriate who wants to vote in this year’s elections? If so, check out the following information sent to me about voting via absentee ballot. For best accuracy, I’d suggest checking with your home state and your local embassy in your resident country for details, as it’s possible (I’m not sure, don’t wanna give out incorrect information) that different embassies in different countries have different instructions.
_______________________

Absentee ballots already delivered to overseas voters: Every U.S. citizen who requested an absentee ballot and selected the fax or email delivery option should have received it by now. Please cast your vote and take steps to return your completed ballot promptly so that your vote will count. See instructions below.

Returning your ballot by mail: Place your completed ballot in a U.S. postage-paid envelope containing the address of your local election officials. Place the completed ballot in a sealed envelope and take it to (my local embassy). We will send it back to the U.S. for you without the need to pay international postage. If it’s easier for you to use the (resident country) postal system, be sure to affix sufficient international postage, and allow adequate time for international mail delivery. If time is tight, you may want to use a private courier service (e.g., FedEx, UPS, or DHL) to meet your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

U.S. citizens can submit their completed ballots to the (resident country) Embassy’s Consular Section between the hours of (check yours locally), Monday through Friday, with the exception of (resident country) and U.S. holidays. No appointment is necessary. Please bring your ballot in a sealed envelope, and your U.S. passport. Your ballot will be sent to the United States via pouch, which takes approximately 10 working days.

Returning your ballot by email, fax, or upload: Some states allow these options, but may also require you to mail in the signed paper ballot. To find out more about your state’s specific requirements, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at www.FVAP.gov.

Haven’t received your ballot yet? Use the emergency write-in ballot: U.S. citizens who requested an absentee ballot but haven’t received it should go to www.FVAP.gov to complete a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot. Follow the above guidance for returning your ballot. If you later receive your regular absentee ballot, vote and return it immediately. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if received by your state’s ballot receipt deadline.

Forgot to register or request an absentee ballot? Act immediately! There are three options:

Option #1: Register and request a ballot today using the Federal Post Card Application form at www.FVAP.gov. Select the electronic ballot delivery option, include your email address (and fax number, if applicable) and send it to local election officials in your state. Almost every state lets you submit a ballot by email or fax. Once your application is processed they will send you your ballot via fax or email depending on your state. Vote as soon as you receive the blank ballot. Registration deadlines vary and some are as early as October 7, so check your state’s requirements carefully.

Option #2: Follow the instructions in Option #1, but also complete and send in a Federal Write-in Ballot at the same time to make sure your vote is counted. This option may be the best one for first-time voters if your state requires you to submit your Federal Post Card Application by mail. Vote and submit your regular absentee ballot if/when it arrives. Local election officials will count just one ballot per voter, and will use the regular ballot if it’s received by the ballot receipt deadline.

Option #3: Voters from the following states can use the Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot as a combined voter registration form, absentee ballot request, and absentee ballot: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington. (NOTE: This form must reach your local election officials by your state’s absentee ballot request deadline or voter registration deadline, whichever is first.)

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by mail: Follow the guidance above for returning your ballot by mail.

Returning your Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot by email or fax: The following states allow voters to email or fax their signed, voted Federal Write-in Absentee Ballots back to local election officials: Arizona, California (fax only), Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. (NOTE: see instructions at http://www.FVAP.gov for faxing or emailing your voted ballot.)

Confirm your registration and ballot delivery online: Learn more at the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s (FVAP) website at www.FVAP.gov.

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 3.

After a restful night’s sleep, we woke up to seize the day. My roommate, as usual, was already up & out of the room by the time I woke up. I got myself ready in enough time to meet the rest of the group for the day trip.

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(If you haven’t already, check out day 1, day 2, & day 2 cont’d before reading further.)

04.08.2012

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.

All aboard.
All aboard.

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.

The castle's current archaeological digs.
The castle’s current archaeological digs.
One of many of the castle's granaries.
One of many of the castle’s granaries.
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle).
Castelo dos Mouros (Moorish Castle).
Moorish flag.
Moorish flag.

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.

Traitor's door.
Traitor’s door.
Traitor's door. (Read the sign for more details.)
Traitor’s door. (Read the sign for more details.)

And here’s the top.

These people agree with me.
These people agree with me.

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.

Sundial (which, by the way, is still correct down to the second).
Sundial (which, by the way, is still accurate down to the second).

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.

(Finally… the last day.)

Fashionably late.

I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

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09.22.2012

I actually was “fashionably late” due to missing the train. I’d say that my style reflects New York City, but… well… suffice it to say that no one asks me for fashion tips.

Pardon, I’m rambling.

Anyway, I attended my first ever, bona fide fashion show with 3 women. (Meetup is the best.) But before you see the photos, I’ll briefly open a window (just a bit) into a small part of my life.

Before moving here, I was small. Throughout my life I was either teased for being too skinny, or told “I wish my body was like yours” (or some variation thereof). I could eat almost anything I wanted, in any amount, when I wanted. Freshman 15? Never happened to me. I was never overweight. In spite of this, I didn’t like myself.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve gained weight since moving here – never been overweight in my life until now. You never miss what you had until it’s gone and in my case, I wish that I appreciated my health & body more. I’m not used to it and it affects me a lot, negatively. (NOTE: This is not about looking down on overweight or obese people, so don’t pen any hate mail.) Being unable to fit most of my old clothing, yet not knowing where to find affordable & fitting clothing, made me look & feel slovenly (along with any other negative feelings). This was especially so in 2011.

Toward the end of 2011, I re-evaluated many things in my life and decided that working just to pay bills wasn’t worth it – mentally, financially, physically or emotionally. I resolved to make myself more of a priority in 2012 and beyond, and I’ve done alright so far. However, figuring out clothing sizes & cuts & colours & etc. was/is still a bit of a challenge. I also sustained an injury that has made it hard for me to work out & lose weight. (Getting older isn’t much help with weight loss either.) I found out about a stylist’s Meetup workshop and got a free ticket. Her tips gave me some ideas about where to start, as fashion has never really been my forté.

Little by little, the tips are helping, along with attending the show. Not only did I see women of different shapes & sizes (dressed better than me, no exaggeration), races & ethnicities, I also got a look into some of the latest trends. I know that I’ll never be a true fashionista (mostly because I generally hate shopping), and I may never dress like a true European (of any race or ethnicity), but I’m developing my style and now have an idea of what’s classic, current & fitting for me. I’m trying to work with what I have, no matter my size.

Alright… enough about me. I and the 3 women had a nice time; we wandered around for a few hours & each got something to bring home for ourselves. One even scored a great DKNY denim jacket for a decent price. Check out a small sample of the show’s offerings.

Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
Kat & Bee. http://www.katandbee.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
The Branch. http://www.the-branch.co.uk/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
MariaFrancescaPepe. http://www.mfpepe.com/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
Vivienne Westwood. http://www.viviennewestwood.co.uk/shop/womens-accessories/shoes/
American vintage. www.cashmerebytania.com
American vintage. http://www.cashmerebytania.com
Free (and purchased) goodies.
Free (and purchased) goodies.

The following photos are from the ALICE by Temperley catwalk show. ALICE by Temperley is a collection under the Temperley London line.

Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.
Caroline Flack, host for ALICE by Temperley catwalk show.

And here’s one of my small purchases from Kat & Bee.

If you’re a fellow expatriate, have you experienced body changes? How did they affect you (if at all)? How did you adjust to the changes? Are you pleased with the changes, or are you learning to work with what you have?

Re-blog: Cleaning Out The Clutter In Our Homes And In Our Minds.

I’m agnostic, but can definitely identify with the overall theme.

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I’m agnostic, but can definitely identify with the overall theme. I have an injury which has kept me from doing lots of things (including extensive blogging – about 20 drafts still waiting for me) and as a result, my house isn’t in the best shape. Well, last night I finally folded all the clean laundry that’d been sitting on one of my couches for months, and I felt accomplished. Now I just have to put them away, which will be easy, and iron a few items.

It’s also very important to declutter one’s heart & mind; carrying around so much emotional & mental clutter (outside of genuine mental health challenges) is harmful to one’s overall health. As an expatriate, this can mean the difference between some resilience by adjusting to one’s new country and returning to one’s home country. Just take a look at the tags on this post to see what I mean, then read the original post.

Expatriates! File your taxes with Derren Joseph, CPA.

It’s annoying enough to file taxes in the United States. State taxes, federal taxes, city taxes, oh my. But moving to another country as a U.S. citizen makes filing taxes even more annoying. So when I happened upon someone’s profile on Meetup in February, offering help to U.S. expatriates who need to navigate the murky sea of tax filing, I contacted him via e-mail as soon as possible to enquire further.

Derren Joseph responded immediately and worked with me every step of the way, even when I asked stupid questions & forgot deadlines. He was even patient with me when, in the midst of life happening, I forgot to keep him posted with my progress; he’d often contact me to see how I was doing with the paperwork. His patience, work ethic & gift of deciphering numbers are such that I wanted to share the wealth (pun intended) with other expatriates, and this blog is a good way to get the word out.

Mr. Joseph is a certified public accountant in the United States & the United Kingdom – a bonus for those of us who can’t understand either system. I highly recommend him and hope that you benefit from his services as much as I have. Contact him (see below).

Derren Joseph
E-mail
: Derren@htjosephcpa.com
Phone: United Kingdom 07554905143, U.S. 305-651-5580 (international dialling codes)
Web: http://www.htjosephcpa.com

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 2 cont’d.

It was already late afternoon, so I asked about Western Union’s hours and the lady said that closing time was 19:00 (7 p.m.). I was so annoyed that I decided to leave well enough alone.

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04.07.2012 cont’d

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 tan had 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.

At the top: Parque Eduardo VII.
At the top: Parque Eduardo VII.
At the top: fountain.
At the top: fountain.

One hell of a walk, up & down.
One hell of a walk, up & down.

Afterwards, we walked to the metro station and headed back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Underground.
Underground.

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.

Portuguese roasted sausages with apples.
Portuguese roasted sausages with apples.

The sausages – my appetizer – had the texture of black pudding, so it put me off. The apples were good though.

Chicken breast with apples & curry rice.
Chicken breast with apples & curry rice.

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.

Hot chocolate.  Because it was late and I'm an old lady.
Hot chocolate. Because it was late and I’m an old lady.

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.

Day 3…

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 2.

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 was supposed to be my roommate… wasn’t.

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(If you haven’t already, check out Lisbon day 1 before reading further.)

04.07.2012

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.

Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa.
Santa Maria Maior de Lisboa.
English: Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major.
English: Patriarchal Cathedral of St. Mary Major.

We then walked to a castle. Before we walked in to wait on line, we happened upon a street musician named Bubacar.

This is Bubacar, playing the xylophone.
This is Bubacar, playing the xylophone.

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.

1 section of Castelo de São Jorge.
1 section of Castelo de São Jorge.
King Afonso Henriques.
King Afonso Henriques.
Cannon.  One of many around the castle for protection.
Cannon. One of many around the castle for protection.
Tagus River & 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril), one of many views from the castle.
Tagus River & 25 de Abril Bridge (Ponte 25 de Abril), one of many views from the castle.

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

Peacock.
Peacock.

and

Peahens.
Peahens.

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.

Come on, say it with me now… FUUUUUUCK. 😐

To be continued…

Bom dia: Lisbon, Portugal – day 1.

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.

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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…