A Quick Traveler’s Guide

Today’s post is a little random, for two reasons: a) I’ve been sick for two days and therefore have been massively unproductive and couldn’t think of anything else to write, and b) it’s the last few days of NaNoWriMo and I’m frantically trying to pound out a few hundred more words (I’m embarrassingly far away from the 50k word goal, but that’s a different topic).

One of my dreams/day-dreams is to be a travel writer. The first key to that is, of course, being a traveler. I’ve been to a handful of US states and three foreign countries, but I doubt that’s enough to qualify me as an “experienced” traveler, or worthy of writing a book about traveling.

I think it does qualify me, however, to write a blog entry about some of the places I’ve been. So here’s my quick-and-easy guide to getting by in select international venues:

Costa Rica (specifically San Jose, and a Pacific-coast resort that I can’t remember the name of):

Tip #1: It’s always temperate weather. Houses and public buildings are built open-air or with windows that cannot be closed.  Very odd for someone who comes from a place that requires A/C in the summer and heating in the winter, as well as protection against hurricanes and ice storms. Nothing but sunshine (and humidity) in Costa Rica!

Tip #2: Black sand beaches are cool, but they’re surprisingly similar to white sand beaches. It’s a beach with sand. Only it’s black. It was my first view of the Pacific Ocean, though!

Tip #3: Not very many people speak fluent English. Conceited American here, who expects everyone to speak their language. No, I did not go there actually expecting everyone to speak English (although my friend who I was visiting spoke English). I attempted to brush up (that is, learn from scratch) some Spanish, but I don’t think I ever managed more than “please” and “thank you.”

Beautiful black sand beach

Beautiful black sand beach

 

England (specifically, London—and only some parts of London. It’s a really big city):

Tip #1: When they say “Mind the gap” when you’re loading or unloading at a tube station (underground rail), they’re not kidding. At some stations, the gap between the train car and the platform is large enough to lose a Rottweiler in. Heed the warnings of the nice British lady’s recorded voice when you’re on the subway, folks.

Tip #2: If you want to shop for a few days in a row, go to Portobello Road. It’s closed off to traffic on the weekends (I think that’s when we went), and it’s miles (or kilometers) of shops, street vendors, street musicians and performers, and more shops. Lots to see and do and buy, and as a bonus, you’ll get that song “Portobello Road” from that old Disney movie stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Tip #3: Not very many people speak fluent English. London is the melting pot of the world, and I heard more languages on a daily basis on the streets of London that I’ve heard collectively my entire life. And those people who do speak fluent English speak British English, which might as well be a foreign language to my American ears.

Much shopping to be had on Portobello Road

Much shopping to be had on Portobello Road

 

Norway (specifically Bergen, and a scenic fjord about 45 minutes outside the city):

Tip #1: The flora and fauna of Norway are beautiful, especially out by the fjords. For someone who comes from the east coast of the USA, where we think that Afton Mountain in Virginia is a tall mountain, the mountains of southern Norway totally blew me away. There are also these little neon-green birds that live out in the wilds—they looked almost fake they were so brightly-colored, but I was assured that they were quite real. The birds like to snack on the giant black slugs that come out after it rains (which is does about eight days a week in the Bergen area), so watch where you step.

Tip #2: The currency is a tad confusing for us simple-minded Americans. You feel all rich marching out the door with 2,000 kroner in your pocket, until you realize that equates to less than 400 US dollars and a bowl of soup is going to cost you about a bazillion kroner.

Tip #3: A lot of people speak fluent English. Thanks goodness, because I went to Norway knowing less Norwegian than I did Spanish when I went to Costa Rica. Again, I had a friend with me who was bi-lingual, but it was nice that most people there were bi-lingual as well. I always had to ask people to say it in English, though—because of my pale looks and my lack of tourist-y fanny pack and camera, everyone assumed I was Norwegian. While this was flattering, it was also embarrassing, since the only word I mastered while there was “takk.”

Horses grazing by a fjord. Beautifully scenic.

Horses grazing by a fjord. Beautifully scenic.

 

So there’s my first foray into travel writing. No offense is meant, of course, to any of those countries or the people in them. I loved all of those trips, and met friendly people and had great experiences. Anybody else have a humorous or useful travel tip about a place you enjoyed visiting?

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Olympics, London, and Other Stories

I’m not really into sports at all, but I love watching the Olympics. I especially love the stories of the Olympics—athletes overcoming odd to get to the games, last-minute surprises and underdog victories, picking up and moving on when defeat hits.

Watching these past games in London brought to my memory the trip I took last year to visit London. The trip had nothing to do with the Olympics (I was just visiting a friend) and I was in a different part of the city, so the only evidence of the upcoming games that I saw was an Olympic count-down clock in Trafalgar Square.

But just like the Olympics, my personal experiences in London were full of stories. I might blog about it in more detail in the future—I could do an entire blog post alone on just the ancient Egypt exhibit at the British Museum, but for now I’ll just post one picture:

Part of an ancient Egyptian wall relief. Still pretty colors, after thousands of years!

There were plenty of little memorable moments that I could easily turn into a blog post, or even use as a prompt for a fictionalized story—like our mad dash through King’s Cross Station asking anybody we could where Platform 9 ¾ was, or my attempt at eating so-called B-B-Q chicken at an Italian restaurant that was run by Pakistanis.

I also made a quick detour by Norway on my way home from London. More stories could come from that short trip—like me accidently dropping a bottle of Pepsi at the grocery store and frantically wondering how to apologize in Norwegian when the thing exploded all over the aisle, or getting up at 3am to go catch the plane home and seeing that the sun had already risen.

So below I’m including a few more pictures of some of these random little moments. Each picture could be a story in itself, or I might use some of my adventures as prompts or fodder for future fiction stories. And if any of these pictures prompt an idea for a story in your mind, please go ahead and follow that prompting and write! Inspiration can be found anywhere!

London:

Anybody want a sewing machine? There’s got to be a story behind this one.

Old winding steps. Every foot that ever walked on these steps had a story to tell.

Bergen, Norway:

Another intriguing potential story–what’s up with all the doors opening into the air? Gotta watch that first step…

There be trolls in the forests of Norway!

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Has anyone else felt prompted or inspired by one little glimpse of something, or one picture or one incident? What stories do these pictures make you want to tell?