Tag Archives: travel

london calling (the third)

I’m taking my son to London this summer!

Of course I have been to London twice before: once in 2006 when I went and explored it on my own and once in 2010 when Paul and I went on our “honeymoon” (and spent a day at the Tower):

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This is me at the White Tower in 2010.  Paul and I had not yet learned to take selfies.

This is the first time Ben will go to London though.  He’s been to Paris and Verona and Venice, to Basel and Zurich, but the closest he’s been to the British Isles is either visiting Victoria or the British pavilion at Disneyworld (both are equally fake-English – I actually felt quite at home in a fake Tudor cottage sweet shop in EPCOT)

I had been holding off on the UK because it’s easy to visit.  I like my world traveling to be more exploring and challenging.  Visiting Britain (or any of the British Isles) doesn’t require any language or cultural effort.  It’s actually comforting for me to visit Britain because it’s so much like home: growing up with an English parent, in a former colony, in a borough that boasted two separate tea rooms and an invisible “Tweed Curtain” separating it from the rest of Victoria, means that I totally get shows like Very British Problems.  I may have gone all-in on my mother’s family heritage of Brooklyn Jewish, but I also have British citizenship by descent, and I grew up in a country that was still governed by the British constitution until I was four.

But now, we’re going to Eurocamp!  A handful of us will be representing Brooklyn – and the USA based B-PSA groups – at the camp in Newbury.  And on the way back, we’re going to stop in London, see the city, stay at Pax Lodge,  and see two of Ben’s three namesakes: Big Ben and the Tate Museum (Unfortunately, while there is a PAUL chain of patisseries, there is no major “Boothe” attraction to check off Ben’s full name).

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PAUL cubed.

We’ll go swimming at the ponds on Hampstead Heath.  We’ll ride the Eye.  We will go to the Museum of the City of London, and to the Tower and the Bridge; we’ll go to the War Rooms.  I will drag my son with me to shop at Camden Market  (Actually, I may leave him in the hostel room for that.) We will see what we can in the two and a half days we have, from Saturday afternoon to Tuesday morning.  It isn’t a lot of time, but I’m still excited to have it.

So we’re going to London.  And it’s a Mama-Ben adventure, like our trip to Switzerland, because Paul doesn’t have the days off to go with us.  I still look forward to it, even if I have to miss my husband (and Ben has to miss his father).  It will be a great adventure.  And while Ben is not as excited about it as I am, at least, after listening to Neverwhere, and getting over his suspicion of China Mieville to read Un Lun Dun, he’s somewhat interested in visiting the city that has inspired many, many fantasy versions of itself.  Or he could just be interested in riding the London Eye.  Who knows what goes on in the brain of an almost ten year old?

 

 

back to a somewhat less magical existence

And we’re back from Disney World!  That was indeed a world, more than a land.  We were thoroughly Disney Park’d out by the time we got back, although you would never know it by the enthusiasm Ben showed on Friday morning while hanging out with his visiting cousin from Savannah (shown here in Pandora: The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom, floating mountains in background):

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Six days is a LOT of Disney time, but it turned out to be what we needed to cover all four parks.  Two days each in Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, one day in Epcot and a half day in Hollywood Studios was indeed the right mix for our plans.  We were able to hit all the high points on Day One in the parks, and then take it a little more slowly while spending time with my visiting family on Thursday and Friday.  Despite my initial skepticism, this was indeed the right family vacation for us this year, especially since Ben and his second cousin Oliver are JUST the right age to be let loose to complete a pirate quest in Adventureland:

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So now we’re back in Brooklyn, which is still magical to me, even if no one here is going to tell me to “have a magical day” as part of their mandated job scripts.  Ben has also made his list of Top Ten Favorite WDW Attractions:

    1. Star Tours.  We weren’t sure about this, since Ben had a panic attack after riding Flight of the Na’vi in Avatarland, and this was another simulator ride with some drops and a lot of movement.  Ben went on it with great trepidation, but by the end, was grinning broadly from the thrill of flying through the Star Wars universe, and asked to go on it three more times during the day.
    2. Kali River Rapids.  Identical to the Russian River Rapids in California Adventure, only with a different surrounding story of river rafting in India.  We all got drenched on this one, to Ben’s joy and delight.

 

  1. Haunted Mansion.  THAT’S MY BABY.
  2. Mission Space (Orange).  Again, it was the right level of movement and simulator for Ben’s anxiety and dislike of thrill rides.  Also, it is awesome.
  3. Soarin’.  I disagree with this and think it should be first since Soarin’ over California was my favorite thing at California Adventure and Soarin’ Over the World is an upgraded version, but I suppose my nine year old son is prioritizing the space rides as he should.
  4. Pirates of the Caribbean.  The movies are literal nightmare fuel, leading to a BEN WHY ARE YOU IN OUR ROOM IT’S 2AM incident the night before we left, but the ride remains a classic.
  5. Toy Story Midway Mania.  It combined the joy of fairground skill games with a movie Ben loved – of course it was a favorite.
  6. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blasters.  No surprise here either.
  7. Big Thunder Railway.  This was a surprise since Ben was extremely nervous about riding a roller coaster.  However, after riding Flight of the Na’vi, he decided it was actually awesome in that it was well balanced in its thrills.
  8. Kilimanjaro Safaris.  This is basically a big zoo, so we had to balance our appreciation for seeing the animals with our innate dislike of keeping animals in captivity.  It was a well done experience – a Jeep ride through recreated habitats for African animals – but still, not a Disney unique ride.

Ben’s top 5 WDW experiences:

  1. Rampaging Adventureland with his cousin on A Pirate’s Adventure
  2. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, which combined Magic: The Gathering with a Disney scavenger hunt
  3. Dinner at Sanaa in Animal Kingdom Lodge, where we ate gluten free naan while watching giraffes outside
  4. The Jeweled Dragon Acrobats at the EPCOT China pavilion.
  5. The Big Thunder Railroad Shutdown, when we got to evacuate the train when the ride stopped with us on it  – and got to see the inside of the cave with the lights on (it’s apparently the one part of Disney World that isn’t cleaned, ever)

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I think we can call this another Successful Family Vacation.  It was a much more exhausting experience than Disneyland, but totally worth the energy, money and time to make that many happy family memories.

more help for the working, travelling mom

With all the travel I do for work, I accumulate a lot of kinds of points. I get airmiles from four separate programs, and hotel points from just about every chain out there. I then try to recycle those into free travel to pay for all the family trips Paul and I take in a year, to visit our friends and family back East, and in the Northwest. It’s a complicated process that takes a certain amount of effort and time. Not only do I have to track the points to be sure they’re credited correctly (you think I trust USAir, United and Continental to not “lose” my flying credit?), but I have to figure out how to use them most efficiently.

This actually pays off. We are usually able to score several free flights a year. Last year, we picked up half the airfare for the three of us to fly to Pennsylvania for Easter using points, as well as half the airfare for my sister and her husband to come visit us at Christmas. And then there was the big one: the trip to London that Paul and I took, where I paid for all the airfare and hotel using points. That was estimated at three thousand dollars worth of travel we didn’t have to pay for…which was why we felt justified going out to very nice restaurants.

This year, I started using AwardWallet.com to track everything. I use Mint for finances, and this is a similar concept. I put all the account information in, and let the site pull the information. Not only can I now see all my rewards programs at once, but I also don’t forget that I have, say, five thousand Hilton points lying around.

AwardWallet Screenshot

Everything in one place!

Not only does it tell me the balances of the accounts, but it also lists the last “deposit” to those accounts. See? One glance checking to be sure USAir isn’t trying to get out of crediting my account! (Plus, sometimes our travel coordinator doesn’t put my frequent flyer number on the ticket).

There is also a section for travel plans, which are similarly downloaded from the issuing airline or hotel. For example, here’s one for a business trip I’m going on next week:

Upcoming Plans screen

Just in case I forget where I'm going...

By the time I get through my actual work day, and finish being a mom, there is not a lot of energy or brainpower left to track everything else. Having a reliable site to do it for me seriously helps. And for the travelers who are just choosing which plans to participate in, there is also a section for reviews and comments for airlines and their programs. These also show up in star ratings on the main balance page…which is how I know I’m not totally irrational in my general dislike of USAir.
USAir review

in the land of lincoln

I’m in Illinois today. I’m about 40 minutes west of downtown Chicago, in Schaumburg, at a Staybridge Suites. It’s so quiet here – there’s no freeway nearby – and the complex actually has a sort of timeless family vacation quality to it. Right now, in summer, seeing families on vacation coming through here, it’s actually kind of heartwarming, and makes me look forward to when I’ll be doing this with my own family.

Also, did I mention that its quiet? I forget, in L.A., how much I miss sheer quiet, without cars, without freeways. My last trip out of L.A. was to NYC last week – even noisier and more crowded – and the trip before that, I was staying at a Holiday Inn practically ON THE FREEWAY in North Carolina. Stepping outside and having just that early morning quiet…it’s blissful. Despite the far-suburban sprawl surrounding this area (miles of malls, chain restaurants, inexpensive hotels and office parks), it feels almost isolated, like it is in the middle of America.

I’m also wondering about the historical context of this area. I can only imagine that it was farms before the sprawl covered it – what I call “rural sprawl”. But for how long was it farms, and is there some sort of original settlement around here? I always wonder why these places exist where they do – now, it’s as bedroom communities, but why are these small towns where they are? And it’s different on the East Coast, where each small town was clearly a farming community. Like in North Carolina two weeks ago, I know that this used to be frontier, so what was it like before the farms became sprawl?

Sprawl or no sprawl, the soft quiet outside this morning was a gift. The clean air is a miracle to me. It does remind me how exhausted I am, living in a big city like L.A. I remember early June mornings like this in Oak Bay, how it is full daylight outside by seven in the morning, how the ocean, at low tide, is dead flat, how even one boat, miles away, is the only man-made noise. Solstice is my favorite time of year, and summer mornings, in sunshine, in that early day quiet, bring me so much joy and reverence. It makes me think, I need to go home sooner during this season. I will need to show the wonder of early summer mornings to Ben.

the trials of getting home from NYC

I came home last night from NYC. Usually, this is easy – I marvel at the way L.A. and NYC are so interconnected. Nonstop flights, all these personal business ties between the citizens of both cities, constant influxes of people going both ways…it’s amazing. Which is why, on most of the trips I’ve taken back from our Manhattan office, I’ve had no problem getting home.

But there was WEATHER in New York yesterday. I woke up at 2am Monday morning to a lightning storm in Manhattan. I had my glasses off, so I could only see the flash of the lightning, and the crash of the thunder a second or two later. I’m not sure if it was the sound or the light that woke me, because the lightning was that close, and so encompassing of the sky that it took up the entire window of my hotel room. This was followed by a day of rain, mostly of the Instant Downpour variety. The rain yesterday in New York City was the kind it takes an hour for the Pacific Northwest to build up to, and it was sweeping over the boroughs in sheets.

The weather still hadn’t subsided by last night, although it was no longer raining as much. I think that’s why American Airlines canceled all the flights back to L.A. from JFK, two hours before departure. Our in-office travel coordinator re-booked my group (three of us total) on a Virgin America flight. I actually *heart* Virgin America, for their wi-fi on all planes, power outlets, and on-board TV. But no amount of on-board amusement could distract me from being afraid. After the Air France disaster two weeks ago, I’m a little edgy about flying in extreme weather.

Despite my fear though, I still knew the odds of a plane crash were extremely low, and not enough to keep me from getting home to Mr. Ben last night. I didn’t want one more morning without Mommy to go by. I wanted to get home to my baby, dammit. So I checked in, ate pizza for dinner, and waited for my flight until it boarded – an hour late. And then I fell asleep while the plane waited patiently in line to fly out of JFK. Despite cancellations, air traffic was backed up for departures, and the plane didn’t take off until two hours later than scheduled.

It was about half an hour into the flight when the turbulence started. And kept going. And kept going. And this wasn’t a little shaking. It was side to side and up and down and it didn’t stop for half an hour. It wasn’t extreme turbulence to the point where things start flying around the cabin, but it was enough for the flight attendants to have to buckle themselves in. And after thirty minutes, my body couldn’t take it anymore. Thankfully, I was in the very back row, and the turbulence had subsided a bit, because I had to run for a restroom and expel the contents of my stomach quickly. I’ve had an upset stomach for days – a physical consequence of work stress and misery at being separated from Ben – and the turbulence was just too much for it. Especially since I don’t usually eat things like pizza, and it wasn’t sitting right, and let’s just say it was ugly. Add in the plane continuing to shake through the whole process, and it was messy to boot.

We had a few more extended bad patches throughout the flight. I hoped once we got over the Midwest it would calm down, but it didn’t. By then though, I was able to drink a couple glasses of ginger ale, and nibble on the items in a “Food Cube” snack pack, and watch cable TV reality shows on my in-seat TV…and doze off for the last hour and change.

Now, here’s the princess complaint: when we got to LAX, it was two hours later than the flight was originally scheduled for, and the driver who was supposed to pick up my group had gone to bed. I called him, and he was at home, 30 minutes from LAX. I found a taxi quickly enough, so it didn’t make much difference in getting me home before 1am, PST…it was just one last thing in a very long trip.

manhattan madness

I’m in NYC again today, comfortably ensconced in the Sheraton Midtown. I’m here for all of two days again, flying out tomorrow. I miss Mr Ben already, and I still woke up at 5:30, local time, without the sound of him trying to walk in his crib (it thumps against the wall between the bedrooms).

Last night, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t do much more than procure dinner and go to bed. The Theater District is notoriously overcrowded and overpriced, due to the high concentration of tourists. Yelp recommended the halal cart on 53rd and 6th. Yes, that is the first street vendor I’ve ever known to have their own website while still running a cart. I took my chicken, rice and lettuce to go, picked up some Tasti-d-Lite for dessert, and returned to my hotel room.

In the process though, I was thinking about why New York City feels, weirdly, familiar to me. It shouldn’t. I’m from as far away from here as you can get in terms of North American cities (and right now, Victoria does seem half a world away). The reason this city feels to me like someplace I visited in childhood, is because of all those children’s books that are set in the city, whose titles I totally can’t remember the names of. But they’re out there, dozens of them, books about children living in apartments in Manhattan, about children living in houses in Brooklyn, about Central Park, all these books that describe the city. And because of that, when I get to New York, it’s that lifetime of cultural references, starting with those books, that makes it feel more familiar than it should.

Also, sometimes, when I’m walking through Midtown, it reminds me of downtown Vancouver: the same density, the glass buildings, the thousands of people. The difference is, of course, that Vancouver backs onto the mountains and the rest of British Columbia. Manhattan flows out in all directions to suburbs across the rivers, millions of people, and no end in sight. Like Los Angeles, but with more parks and green space instead of all the roads and cement, which is KIND OF RIDICULOUS.

I think I have enough time to scoot up for a quick walk to Central Park and back down – it’s seven of the short blocks from here (streets?) I’d better get on that.

in san francisco

I’m hanging out in the Westin St Francis lobby right now, killing a few more minutes before I go down to SFO to catch my plane back to LAX. Being all resourceful & eco-friendly, I’m actually planning to take BART from the Powell St station down to the airport. It’s there, it’s just as fast as a cab in rush hour traffic, and I know how to get around on it.

The St Francis is the sort of hotel I’d never normally stay in. It’s gorgeous and historic and high class, but it’s also expensive. And if I, personally, am spending that kind of money with a Starwood brand, I’m a W type of girl. I like the boutique-y, newer hotels, where there are spa-type bath products and trendy decor and downtempo playing in the lobby. But this was the LAST ROOM IN SAN FRANCISCO, apparently, due to the multiple tradeshows happening this week. And the travel coordinator at work still picked it up at a reasonable price, so, here I am, gazing at all the gilded trim and marble floors and crystal chandeliers in the lobby.

AD:Tech has been a couple days of a lot of walking. I have been working the floor – or just plain working – all day today. I walked around to look for and talk to new technology providers and vendors, and then I took a couple hours to sit at the back of the Moscone Center West and catch up on email and deliverables. I’ve had meetings and meals with vendors constantly since I got here yesterday morning, and by now, I’m almost talked out. Last night, we went for dinner with a vendor, and then hit a couple of parties at hotels. A small group of us stopped by a small party thrown by another vendor at the Palace Hotel, had a couple open-bar drinks, and then went down to the W to listen to the fairly decent DJ there and see the hotel lobby fill up with trendy tradeshow goers. I got back to the hotel around 11pm, and, since I hadn’t slept at all Monday night, I barely managed to take out my contacts before passing out from exhaustion.

And it was tough being inside working all day when it was freaking GORGEOUS in San Francisco today! I walked outside this morning into a perfect, soft, 70F day, and wanted to just go walk around in the park or by the Bay or something. I settled for a quick walk through Union Square on my way to Moscone Center this morning instead. Yesterday, it was 85F outside IN THE CITY. It was L.A. hot! It was ridiculous! I shudder to think how hot it would have been in L.A…or, for that matter, in East Bay. Now, it’s back to normal: slightly cloudy, cold wind off the Pacific. April in the City.

It’s probably time for me to head back to L.A., back to my chunk of a baby, and my husband, and work tomorrow. I miss my men – especially my tiny one. I actually like travelling, except for the whole being away from my baby thing. I will get home, and Mr. Ben will be fast asleep, and I will have to wait to see him in the morning for his usual feeding & cuddle time in bed. But I’m still so glad to be going back to my tiny family. Time to head for BART.