Jolly good time – (2nd) home sweet home.

Last month, I visited England for a wedding. I was there less than a week.

Because of the nature in which I left England 4 years ago, I wasn’t sure what feelings would come up for me. England was my 2nd home. I’d begun building some semblance of a life there – building my career, traveling, visiting my 1st home at least twice yearly, trying to obtain dual citizenship, possibly venturing into the world of (British) dating, slowly growing friendships, etc. – when it was snatched from under me faster than the time it took for me to move there in the first place.

I was left reeling. That shit hurt. It hurt so bad. I had dreams, plans, wishes… and on August 8, 2013, everything fell apart. I cried almost daily. My landlord became a scumbag soon after. Support from work? Yeah… right. On the day I moved out of my flat (I think it was October 2 or 3, 2013), I sobbed the whole time. I left England for good 3 weeks later – October 22, 2013.

To this day, I can’t forget it. And oftentimes, since I left there, the months of August through October are sometimes hard for me because I remember the sequence of events that happened once I got the Home Office letter stating that I was an over-stayer. Time kinda froze.

So with that in mind as I flew to England for the wedding, I expected my emotions to be on the negative side. I got some advice before leaving to go there, from a few people in my small circle, to go with no expectations and cross bridges whenever I got to them. So I tried to do that. And to my surprise, I succeeded.

I had a very nice time.

I recently had medical issues and probably shouldn’t have traveled when I did; therefore, I couldn’t see everyone who wanted to see me, nor could I get around how I wished. But all in all, I truly enjoyed myself. I actually thought about moving back there again… almost. Hell, I won’t even lie… I’m still thinking about it on & off…

Anyway, while there I stocked up on cheese, tea and crumpets.

 

Although I couldn’t see everyone, I saw a few people whom I was meant to see. I won’t show their faces, but I’ll show some of what we ate. 😐

 

I had proper henna done for the first time ever, as part of the wedding.


 

I visited my old neighborhood, twice. The first time, I took a friend there who – believe it or not – just moved to England 2 months ago and wanted to explore a different neighborhood and borough. I took her to the local market I used to frequent.

Vadasz Deli. http://vadaszdeli.co.uk/
Vadasz Deli. http://vadaszdeli.co.uk/

 

And the second time was to visit my old flat. My downstairs neighbors still live there – as a matter-of-fact, they took over my old flat and the home is now fully theirs. After my departure, they didn’t want to risk any troublesome tenants moving in, so they took it for themselves. That humbled me then, and still humbles me now. Anyway, approaching my old door – as well as the street and neighborhood – was emotional.

(That’s a new door, by the way. It used to be a red door.)

 

I ate and conversed with them for a couple hours. Afterwards, I visited my old self-defense class and instructor. I couldn’t participate, but I enjoyed living vicariously through the students. Side note – only 1 of the original students from my class is still there.

 

Urban Krav Maga London. http://urbankravmaga.london/
Urban Krav Maga London. http://urbankravmaga.london/


(I miss class. It’s just not the same over here.)

 

And of course, I attended the wedding. I won’t show faces, but it was a nice one.

I appreciate the family inviting me. They’re like a 2nd family to me; I’ve discussed them here once or twice before.
Looking back, the visit was better than I expected. I saw a few loved ones, nervously returned to my old neighborhood, got my hair done, and brought home some very-missed British cheese, tea and crumpets. I couldn’t handle all of the business I wanted, but the major stuff was done and brought back. I’ll handle the other business (hopefully) next year.

I planned to never return to England again because although most of the time there was alright, the ending was horrible. But now, I’m glad I went, and I plan to return again. To visit or to live? That remains to be seen.

(P.S. By the time you read this, it’ll be 4 years since I left England. I scheduled this post like that on purpose.)

 

Rainbow over London, United Kingdom.
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Back in the air.

It has been a long time. Life happens. More on that another time.

In the meantime, by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way to another country for about 2 weeks. I’m heading to…


with short layovers in Panama City, Panama (my ancestral land) both ways and, during this trip, a stop in… well… let me surprise you with that one too. 😏😏😏

Stay tuned. The blog will be hot with photos. Until later.

 

P.S. Along with Twitter, you can also follow me on Polarsteps and travelstoke (#travelstoke on social media) for this trip.

Montenegro 06.29.2013.

Montenegro is a tiny country situated in southeastern Europe. With a little over 632,000 people, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and it was a day well spent.

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Montenegro is a tiny country in southeastern Europe that’s bordered by Croatia to the west, Bosnia & Herzegovina to the northwest, Serbia to the northeast, Kosovo to the east and Albania to the southeast. With a little over 620,000 citizens, its population is one of the smallest in Europe. During my short trip to Croatia, I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Montenegro, and I had a nice day.

From our base in Dubrovnik, the Croatia-Montenegro border is about an hour away and, therefore, easy to reach by car or tour bus (we used a tour company).

Croatia-Montenegro border.
Croatia-Montenegro border.

Montenegro has a storied history, but those of us familiar with the country’s recent times may know about the turbulence it experienced during the 20th century, especially toward the end of the 20th century. I won’t go into it on this blog, but you can read about it on Wikipedia (more accurate than many Wikipedia links). Montenegro declared its independence from Serbia on 3rd June 2006 and reached European Union candidate status in 2010. Montenegro used German marks for currency at one point – it never had its own currency – but now uses the euro.

Montenegro borders the Adriatic Sea to the southwest, which affords it a nice coastline – 183 miles (295 kilometers) – with temperatures averaging over 80º Fahrenheit (27º Celsius) during summer months. It was hotter than average when I went. Our tour bus drove along the coast, and the photo below shows one of the first towns we stopped in to take photos. I can’t remember the exact name, but it was close to Herceg-Novi, near the Croatia-Montenegro border.

Lots of water.
Lots of water.

We took a short break on the way to a guided tour. Check out the view.

Our guided walking tour was in the old town centre of Kotor, Montenegro, situated on the Gulf of Kotor. It’s recognised as a World Heritage Site and chock full of history. It’s now popular with cruise ships; when we went, there were many ships, boats & yachts docked in port. Since Montenegro shares the Adriatic Sea with Italy (among other countries), visitors interested in history will notice the heavy Venetian influence embedded in Kotor’s architecture and overall atmosphere.

Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.
Sitting at the dock of the bay, wasting time.

And check out the view from the top – an outside restaurant & bar.

After leaving Kotor, we drove along the coast to Budva, which is making a name for itself as a Riviera town. Before we got to Budva city proper, though, we made a quick rest stop to photograph the following beautiful sight on the Riviera – Sveti Stefan town-hotel.

The Budva Riviera is popular during the summer months; there’s plenty of sun, sand & sea mixed in with casinos & vibrant nightlife. Montenegro, in general, is popular with Russians, and this is more so with Budva. There are signs translated into Russian, and Russians finance a sizeable amount of house (and other) construction projects along the Budva Riviera.

I couldn’t get many photos of Budva because my main camera died 😐 but at least I have memories. For you the readers, however, here’s a snapshot of my late lunch in Budva.

I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can't find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.
I know how to pronounce the name of this meat-based dish, but can’t find it anywhere on the internet. Either way, it tastes as good as it looks, in my opinion.

We made our way back to Croatia soon after Budva.

I enjoyed myself, especially in Kotor since I like history and old structures. I’d consider returning to Montenegro on my own, staying for no more than 2-3 days to explore historical sites. If you’re more into sun, sand & sea vacations, consider staying anywhere along the Budva Riviera for longer than that.

10 Beautifully Simple Things You Forget To Do In Your City

It usually amazes me when someone from here tells me that I’ve visited places here that they’ve never visited before… and they’ve lived here all or most of their lives (!!!). Here’s a short & simple guide for those of you who don’t explore your own hometowns. You may think your hometown is boring or worthless or useless, but maybe if you take on these simple suggestions, you’ll re-discover your city in a new light.

Thought Catalog

1. See the classics, the trademarks, the shining emblems of what makes your city yours.

Don’t be afraid to be a tourist now and again. It’s funny how we get so caught up in wanting to prove that we are natives, that we belong, that many of us go our whole lives without ever seeing the statue of liberty when we live only a few minutes away.

2. If you don’t live in the crux of the city, in the middle of the hustle and bustle, pretend you do for a day, and do as the locals do.

Eat like a local. Shop like one too. Consumerism can get the best of us all, so you have to remember that there are always fantastic little spots tucked away in secret if only you take a little time to look. When I was growing up, I used to tell my parents…

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On the road again.

So by the time you read this, I’ll be heading to…

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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’ll see you on the other side.

Take off.
Take off.

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.)

Weekly Writing Challenge: A Few Of My Favorite Things.

For more about the Weekly Writing Challenge, click here. For more about this week’s writing challenge, click here.

(NOTE: This is the challenge from 2 weeks ago. Whatever… I’m still dealing with jet lag from going home. Better late than never.)

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For more about the Weekly Writing Challenge, click here. For more about this week’s writing challenge, click here.

(NOTE: This is the challenge from 2 weeks ago. Whatever… I’m still dealing with jet lag from going home. Better late than never.)
________________________________

My maternal grandmother died over 17 years ago. Although it has gotten easier with time and the pain isn’t as sharp as it used to be, the longing, the memories, the love… even the pain, no matter how dull… never go away. She was a major part of my life. We (her grandkids) saw her almost every day, as she lived down the block from us and watched us after school sometimes while our parents worked and made their way home in the evenings. We’d play in front of her building, not too far from her sight of course. Our old neighborhood is far from savory, so after calling us to get in before the street lights came on, we were inside with her and/or down the hall at my god-sister’s house and/or upstairs at my play cousin’s house (her god-daughter).

Before I moved over here, my aunt J surprised me & gave me one of my grandmother’s possessions as a parting gift. It pained her to do it (she shed a few tears), but she wanted me – the oldest grandchild & only granddaughter – to have it. I was, and still am, humbled by it and keep it on my dresser. I’ve even used it once or twice. What is it, you ask?

Her old school powder puff. (I have other items from her, but this one sticks out the most.)

Grandma used this powder all the time, whether she was making a quick run to the store, or going on a weekend trip to Atlantic City, New Jersey (Wikipedia link) with her sisters (my great-aunts), or visiting Panama (Wikipedia link) or Barbados (Wikipedia link) or (insert anywhere here). I vaguely remember her putting it on, standing in front of her mirror as she finished getting dressed. I loved hugging & kissing her after she dabbed the powder on her neck & chest because she smelled so sweet! She’d fuss at me a little – “Don’t mess up my face (make-up) & clothes!” – but she knew full well that she loved her granddaughter’s hugs & kisses.

I still think about her, miss her, and love her beyond infinity. I wonder how our relationship would be if she were still alive. Grandma liked travelling a bit, so I’m sure that she’d visit me over here for a while and, later, fuss at me for making such a fuss over her.

(Panamanian accent) “You don’t worry about me! I’m not that old, I know where I’m going. I want to explore this place, it’s so big, my goodness!… Yes, I know it’s like back home but still, it’s big!… Just give me the spare keys so I can find my way around… Yes I’m sure, dammit! You’re not too grown for a pop in the mouth. Your mouth fresh!… Yes, I’ll be fine… Yes, I’ll call you… No, I won’t lose the spare phone… Alright alright! Ay yi yi, dios mio, yes I’ll behave!… I love you too, babes.”

If any of you are from the Caribbean or Central America or South America (hell, almost anywhere worldwide) and you have grandparents or older parents who visit you when you’re an expatriate, they stay long time! My grandmother would surely stay at least a month.

I laugh just thinking about it… but that’s how I picture things in my mind if she were still alive. I’d prefer her to be here in body & mind, but at least I carry her spirit with me everywhere. And it only takes one whiff of her powder to reminisce and treasure the memories.

You are forever missed & loved. Que en paz descanse pa’siempre, Grandma. And thank you, aunt J.

The crack in the cover tells a story.
The crack in the cover tells a story.
Grandma's essence.
Grandma’s essence.

Tell me about your favorite things in the comments section.

Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2012.

I went to Bristol, United Kindgom for the first time with a photography Meetup group to see the Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

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08.11.2012

Well, we didn’t see any balloons. 😐

I went to Bristol (Wikipedia link), United Kingdom for the first time with a photography Meetup group to see the Bristol Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. There were 6 of us – 5 of us went in the group leader’s car, while another member drove there on his own. Group leader let me sit in the front because of my injury, and on the way there, all of us (except group leader of course) fell asleep. It was a nice day as far as the weather & temperature – nice, sunny, blue sky, pretty warm. There were thousands of people, plenty of amusement park rides, and lots of food trucks & vendors all over the grounds.

Unfortunately, the wind was an issue. The Royal Air Force (RAF) did a group skydive, and it was obvious that the wind was quite strong. As a result, the organisers decided to cancel the hot air balloon part of the fiesta. We were very disappointed, and since none of us wanted to get on rides since we specifically came to photograph the hot air balloon evening/night programme, we decided to leave early.

So unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the fiesta or Bristol proper. I did, however, get a few shots of the RAF parachuting down. Check ’em out.

2 of the balloons that never were.
2 of the balloons that never were.

Time off & out.

I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home.

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I’ve not been home since Xmas and I’m well overdue for a visit home. I miss my close family members, friends, hugs & kisses. So by the time you read this, I’ll be on my way home. I’ll have a post or two scheduled for you during my time off; otherwise, I’ll be back to blogging later this month. Until later.

Take off.
Take off.

Related post: 2nd home sweet home.

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…