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Monday, July 18, 2011

There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home...

Going home was a bit strange for me ... I know this is my new home and that going back to Colorado was just a holiday but it felt quite the opposite.  I felt like I was going home and now I'm back in England on my extended holiday.  I wondered on my flight back when that would change?  Will the day come when on my flight back to London, I will feel like I'm coming 'home'?

I think I have changed since I have moved, I may not have realised how much until I went back home.  In many ways it seems as if I have just left and in other ways it seems like I have been gone quite a long time.  It was interesting that in many ways it was so easy to go home and slip right back into my old life and old routines.  Before I left it was that routine that was driving me crazy but now that I have completely changed my life, it seems like a nice break from my life here.  Funny how perspective can change the way you see things.

Speaking of perspective... It was funny seeing things back home now that I have had to change my lifestyle to adjust to European living standards.  There is so much SPACE back in Colorado!  I suppose because I do live near the city now, I have become accustomed to the rows of buildings and houses, narrow streets and lots of pedestrians.  In London, it can take an hour or more to travel 10 miles but when I'm back home in Colorado I can typically travel that distance in 15 minutes or less in my car.  There aren't many pedestrians on the streets back home either because most people own or travel by car.  I was also blown away by the big retail stores and the variety of products that we have at our disposal in the US.  I was shopping with my mother one day in Target and had to stop and marvel at the fact that there was an entire aisle dedicated to toilet paper!  How many toilet paper options do we really need?  Apparently there is a vast difference of opinion amongst American consumers which toilet paper they prefer to purchase.

I did do quite a bit of shopping when I returned home because London is quite expensive so I do think you get better prices and better quality products back in the States.  I guess I'm specifically speaking of clothing in this instance.  I also have been plagued my entire life with the horrible affliction of having ginormous feet (I would like to say that this is an exaggeration but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't won a 'big foot' contest when I was in 5th grade - very proud moment for me I'm sure you understand).  In my defense I am quite tall so large feet are needed to keep me upright but I digress.    I rarely find shoes my size in the UK (size 11 US, size 9 UK), so when I returned home I did pick up a few pairs of shoes as well as a pair of my favourite Silver jeans as well.  Luckily I had gone to the pub the night before I returned home which caused me to pack 'light' the morning of my flight when I awoke on only two hours of sleep to pack my luggage.  I guess that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

Seeing my family and friends did make me home sick.  Going home and hanging out with them made me feel like I was slipping back into my own skin.  So many times in the UK I feel a bit out of place or out of sorts working to figure things out.  I know it will get better with time but I would say I'm just now getting past the culture shock of my initial move.  I understand that it was a very big move so I take it in stride.  It was funny that all my friends thought that I would come home with an accent.  I know that some Americans do pick up the accent as I have heard it when I have met up with other American expats living in London.  I really don't see myself picking it up to be honest.  I have a hard time even faking the accent so I'm guessing it won't ever come naturally to me but I guess only time will tell that as well.  I do feel out of touch with what is going on back home and it has prompted me to start reading the US news more this week.  I need to stay abreast of what is going on in my own country and ensure I don't fall out of touch.   This was a tip that was offered to me by another American living here and I see now how right he was that it is important to stay informed about what goes on in your home country.

I do believe that living abroad has expanded my view of the world.  There is so much to see and people are so different every place you go.  I want to experience as much of it as I can in my short lifetime and maybe in the end I will better understand my place in this world.  I think the only way to truly get to know yourself is to push your limits, take yourself outside of your comfort zone and see the ways that others live so that you can learn to appreciate the life that you have.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Stepping back in time ...

Time is passing me by here people!! I really gotta step up my game, get down to business, kick butt and take names, insert additional cliche phrase of your choice here ...

I have now been in London for five months today!  I've travelled to quite a few cities around England as well as Holland, Belgium, and this past weekend to the Czech Republic.  I'm well on my way to hitting my goal of five countries by the end of 2011.  I really am getting a great appreciation for the history that all of these European cities have that is so different from my own countries beginnings.  I think Prague is probably one of the most picturesque cities I have visited.  It was one of the only cities that survived the war relatively unscathed and the buildings definitely reflect that.  Many of the streets are the original cobblestone, complete with narrow passageways and sculptures on every corner. 

I've decided that I'm always going to at  least try to take public transport whenever I visit a new city.  Granted it's not always easy when you're trying to read signs that are in a foreign language but I think its worth giving it a shot.  It's far less expensive then trying to take cabs everywhere and if you can master it you can really widen the scope of your visit because its so much easier to get around to all the sites.  I easily navigated from the airport to my hotel via the 119 bus and a few changes on the Metro.  I stayed on a boat hotel on the river, the Boat Hotel Matylda.  The room was small but very modern and the hotel staff was really helpful and friendly.  Breakfast was served on the other boat and was great each morning to get me started and then a LONG day of walking until it was time to go - BACK TO THE BOTEL (not sure if anyone else has the song I have in my head when I say that! ha ha).

I thought that I might have run into more issues not speaking the language in Prague but as in most tourist centers of major cities pretty much every one I came into contact with did speak at least enough English to communicate.  Almost makes me feel guilty being in their country and not having mastered at least the basic phrases but the Czech language is not exactly the easiest to master.  I did try a word here and there but I think I only succeeded in completely butchering their language (my apologies to the Czech people by the way).

I spent most of my time wondering around, although on my second day I did join one of the many free tours that you can pick up off the main square in Old Town.  They basically work for tips and the one I joined was a three hour walking tour mostly around the sites in Old Town and then ending at Prague Castle.  I'm not sure how accurate all the historic facts were but the guide was great and I loved the way she told the cities stories and legends.  One Czech tradition that she seemed to love telling is of "defenestration" or throwing people from high windows to their deaths.   The incidences that have been recorded throughout history were instances of revolt but it is interesting how it does repeat itself in the history of the city.  From my tour I learned two lessons: 1.  Stay away from windows on high floors when in Prague and 2.  Anything was possible in the 1400s which was the time of magical happenings.

I spent the last day in Prague visiting the sites around the Jewish quarter.  I paid 200 Czech Crowns to get a pass to visit several of the sites around the area.  The first was a memorial center where the names of all the Jewish people that died written on the high walls of three rooms.  A voice is on the speaker reading through each of the names and the recording takes three days to read off all the names.  There was also a room of children's drawings, some that depicted typical scenes of any childhood artwork and others showed scenes that were unique to the Jewish ghetto from the time period- it was very touching.  I also visited the Jewish Cemetery that was also a very interesting site, with tombstones stacked one on top of the other.  Since they were only allowed the small plot of land for all their burials, the bodies were stacked many high to make room. 

With each city I visit I feel like I learn more about the world but also a better understanding of my place in it.  It makes you realise how different people are and how we each come from our unique place and time in history.  I'm very lucky for the opportunities I have been given in life and even though I have loved taking every step of my journey I am so fortunate to take, I also know there's a lot to be said for going home.  And where is my next holiday you may ask --- well there is NO PLACE LIKE HOME! Happy Independence Day!