Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Conclusion

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Getting Back Home
I was restless on my transatlantic flight back to the US. I had missed my family and was nervous about my cousin’s health. I also felt bad about leaving the trip early, even though it was only one day early. Everyone was sleeping when I left and only my boyfriend had known of my last-minute decision to leave. On the airplane the remote control for my inflight entertainment was broken. I couldn’t scroll through and the only thing I could watch was a children’s channel or Life of Pi. I had spent an enormous amount of time trying to fix the control. I had even had a flight attendant reset my screen. Unable to settle my mind, I decided to watch Life of Pi. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason that was the only movie I could see. The most important theme I got from the movie is that no matter what we may face in life, once we have the insatiable desire to overcome, we will. Praise God. In that moment, I knew that my cousin would be fine – that she would fight for her healing.

Landing back on US soil felt so good. That was an unexpected emotion for me. Back in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport around noon I was disappointed to find only two US Customs agents to receive US passport holders. Now this is the type of service that, unfortunately, I have come to expect in the Virgin Islands. But I was quite surprised to meet a long line of international travelers returning home and having to wait so long to go through customs because so few agents were available. Nevertheless it felt good to be in familiar territory.

When my cousin finally picked me up, she had some good news. Our cousin was recovering rapidly! I had a layover in Atlanta and cherished the opportunity to spend time with family. It just so happened that my uncle and his family from Chicago and other family from Bermuda were visiting Atlanta. It was a mini reunion of sorts. I was tired bad! But the night in Atlanta was filled with family and fun. I left out for St. Thomas the next day.

I hadn’t even arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport. But hey, I was home. I should be able to find a ride one way or another. I was glad when my dependable cousin was able to pick me up. I can’t explain how good it felt to see my children and mom, even though I had been gone for only eight days. My oldest had baked a welcome home cake for me! Home sweet home!

Conclusion
Travel, travel and travel some more! I like seeing and experiencing new places and cultures. Still, my fear of long flights and limited financial resources made traveling a challenge for me. But like anything else, we can come up with a million excuses of why we “can’t,” or we can simply do it. Now international travel won’t happen instantaneously for most people. It will take planning and saving. But it’s worth it. On my travels through Europe I saw older couples – some looked to be in their 80’s, younger couples – some toting babies in their arms, entire families – with three generations traveling. There were travelers who were wheelchair bound. There is no excuse not to travel and expand your world view. Even though I live on an island, I promised to never limit myself to an island. So get those passports. Renew them if you must, but make it a point to see and experience something new.

Accommodations
Having heard of hotels in France with no air conditioning, no irons or other amenities that we are accustomed to, I was a bit concerned about what to expect. We stayed at Marriott properties throughout our visit and each had met or exceeded our expectations. The Marriott London Arch was the best. Service was great – the concierge spent almost an hour helping us to get the best cab deal on our 4 am departure from London.

Food
There were bakeries everywhere in Europe! I love sweets, and tried out quite a few desserts, but surprised myself with the restraint I used to not eat all desserts in sight. I didn’t notice too many obese people, perhaps because portion sizes in Europe were smaller than those in the US. And in Amsterdam just about everyone rode bikes. I wasn’t totally impressed with the food. Like anywhere else, there were good restaurants, and there were not-too-good restaurants. My best foods were a ravioli dish and the Josephine Baker drink in France, and the waffle and ice cream dessert in Amsterdam. I’m pretty easy to please and like learning about new cultures, so I had an easier time with food than some in the group.

Random
• The Charles de Gaulle Airport in France had, by far, the most sophisticated public bathroom that I’ve ever seen.
• We traveled within Europe on Easy Jet. It was easy and economical.
• Plan for the money conversion. The Euro and Great Britain Pound are stronger than the US Dollar. Do the math early for good budgeting.
• Check the weather of your destination before you arrive. And be sure to pack more than a denim jacket – even though it’s summer!

Now go get those passports and book some travel!
This island girl’s firs European adventure was awesome! Love and blessings!

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Amsterdam

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The “Red Light District” is Real

If I thought London was cold, I was in for a surprise – Amsterdam was colder! When we finally made our way out of Schiphol Airport I wanted so badly to get into a vehicle to escape the cold. My denim jacket wasn’t helping me at all. But the group proceeded to spend the next 20 or so minutes in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign. Then we missed our first bus to the hotel. We decided to take public transportation because the bus took us right in front of the Amsterdam Marriott where we were staying. We were lucky this time to be joined by my boyfriend’s sister who lives in Amsterdam. In addition to being such a warm and fun person, she also spoke the native language.

After checking-in and dropping off our luggage, we decided to head out for something to eat. For me the temperature was so cold that I considered staying in. To make matters worse it started to rain just as we left the hotel. We went to a nearby Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. The wait for a table was long and the food was expensive. But the food was good and we got so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave. Our 3:45 am wakeup call earlier that day probably also had something to do with our sluggish mood.

We finally left to explore the area. A member of our group had been patiently waiting for this leg of our trip to experience the “cafes.” From since we were in Paris he had been waiting for his “medicine.” As we walked around I was startled by the electric trams which seemed to appear out of nowhere and drove through what I thought were pedestrian walkways. We walked in and out of stores in the drizzle. The day was wet, cold and dreary. Four of us headed back to the hotel, while two set out to find the cafes.

I crashed when I hit the bed. After about two hours I woke up and called around to see what the group was doing. They were asleep. Grateful, I went back to sleep again. We woke up a few hours later and headed out. It was night by then. And I wanted to see the Red Light District.

The hotel’s surrounding area had blocks and blocks of stores, which were all closed. The city looked like it was asleep. The further away from the hotel we walked, the more the nightlife came alive. There were lots of bakeries and other eateries, which I had grown accustomed to seeing in Europe. Out of the blue our friend who had gotten his “medicine” earlier walked into this eatery. This move was new to us because he was not a fan of sweets like the rest of us were. He ordered a waffle with ice cream and began raving about how good it was. He offered everyone some and they all decided it was great. It was already cold, and the thought of ice cream made me feel even colder, so I passed. But when he went back and purchased a second one, I decided to try it. It was the best dessert I tasted in the whole of Europe! And I had been eating a whole lot of dessert since I landed in France. The waffle was nice and warm – slightly crunchy on the outside, nice and soft on the inside – lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. The ice cream had a smooth caramel, butter pecan, vanilla flavor. It also had a few candied nuts. It was awesome! It was one of those things that you just want to eat slowly, to savor each bite. And I’m not a foodie. But that dessert did it for me. I could have gone back to the hotel and called it a night.

I guess I wanted to see the Red Light District, because in my mind it couldn’t be real – legal prostitution where women are displayed in window fronts selling their bodies! From afar we saw the red lights. We got closer, and I was still in disbelief. The women on display looked like Victoria Secrets’ models. They were slim, beautiful, fully made up and wearing some of the sexiest lingerie. The fact that they were selling their bodies still didn’t seem real to me. The guys in my group asked their price. It was €50.

Then we walked by a set of stairs and saw a man leaving a room zipping up his pants. Wow! It is real. How did these model-type ladies make it seem so easy? Was it easy to have a career as a sex worker? Continuing to walk around we saw more red lights on than off. I guessed that it was a slow night. But for each window where the lights were off and the curtain was drawn, I got this weird feeling.

Beside the sex for sale, the nearby area offered strip joints, live sex shows and the cafes. The night was beautiful. But watching groups of young men stroll the area deciding their pick of women had me thinking conflicting thoughts. First – this is true freedom, when a woman can choose the career that she wants. Second – this is truly sad when a woman must sell something so precious to make a living.

The further away we walked from the main area the women in the windows changed. They were no longer Victoria Secrets’ models look alikes. They looked like the girl next door – panties and bras, cheap wigs and in some cases cellulite. We decided to head back to the hotel. The walk back was especially cold.

At the hotel I used my Magic Jack app to call home. My mom sound worried. One of her nieces had suffered a stroke a few days earlier. While the whole family was praying for her and her recovery seemed miraculous, my mom wasn’t dealing with the situation too well. Mom herself had undergone surgery two weeks ago. I decided to fly back home the next day.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part 2

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Bolt, the Queen and the Marble Arch

Usain Bolt seems to be a really popular guy in London. As we made our way around the city he was featured in quite a few advertisements. Go Bolt! Equipped with our complimentary hotel umbrellas we headed to the famous London Bridge. Apparently the London Tower and the Tower Bridge have replaced the London Bridge in prestige. All this time we had been singing about the London Bridge falling down, I had expected the London Bridge to be a bright, shiny part of the city’s history. Instead the Tower Bridge was the main attraction. We visited both, just for the fun of it.

Our next stop was Borough Market – an open air market that sells everything from fresh Parmesan cheese, to candied nuts. There I had the best honey, cinnamon roasted cashews. The vendor sold trays and trays of candied this, or yogurt covered that – and he allowed me to sample all that I wanted. I had to consciously make myself walk away from the table. We were told that we had seen only a fraction of what the market had to offer, because it came alive on the weekends, not on the Tuesday that we were there.

Catching the “tube” (metro/train) we made a second attempt at the Buckingham Palace. We had a nice stroll through Green Park on the way to the palace. I don’t know what an average day is like at the palace, but to me, the place was packed. Does the Queen really live there? We hung around taking pictures at the palace and the Victoria Memorial.

On the way back to the hotel I was delighted to find a roadside fruit vendor. Back at the hotel we dropped off our day’s purchases, then headed back out to wander around the Marble Arch area.

The group settled on Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner. My boyfriend, whose culinary taste had been hard to please, wanted something more familiar (hint, American franchise food) so we continued along.

It was a nice stroll in downtown Westminster. As we reached the end of one street – we saw it – the Marble Arch. What is it with the Europeans’ fascination with arches? My companion decided to eat at a McDonalds. While he was ordering I noticed veggie burger on the menu. It was part of the deli menu. Veggie burgers at a McDonalds? I had to inquire more. I didn’t feel like eating a sandwich. But I was encouraged to try it to see if I liked it. And I liked it. It was lettuce, cucumber and mayo on a wheat bun, with a chickpea burger. The burger tasted like falafel, which I had earlier at a Middle Eastern restaurant. The mango smoothie was pretty good also. That was my first time eating lunch at a McDonalds since I stopped eating fish at age 19 (I stopped eating meat at 15). I really enjoyed the stroll, as there was no pressure to make it to any particular destination.

Heading back to catch up, with our friends, we encountered a long line in Restaurant. We joined the group, who had finished their meal. All of us were in high spirits and decided to do a group toast. As we sat there sipping on champagne, we were getting mean looks from the people who were waiting in line. This was strange, as everyone we encountered in London was really nice. I asked the server if the restaurant was always so popular on a Tuesday night. He explained that it was Ramadan and the fasting ended at sunset so every evening was packed. We soon ended our celebration and headed back to the hotel.

At the hotel we made arrangements for transportation to the airport. We were leaving out from London Southend Airport, which was more than an hour from the hotel. We had an early flight to Amsterdam.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

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