Friday, January 30, 2015

Whisky and Wind

New Year's Day... I'm not going to say it was pleasant. And frankly, anyone who believes in resolutions immediately has their hopes and dreams quashed with the coming of the light of dawn. It was one of those hangovers that just got progressively worse as the day continued and while I knew eating breakfast was a relatively good idea, I couldn't fathom imbibing anything other than downing Emergen-C with my water. I pretended to be awake circa before noon, but then spent another four hours burrowing beneath the blankets of my bed. In my slight (only really meager defense), the weather outside was horrifying. It was windy, pouring, cold, and dark ALL day. So when it was 4pm and we remembered that we had already paid for a whiskey tasting at 5pm, I mainly wanted to vomit slash cry slash laugh hysterically. But the Hot Blonde Cousins ALWAYS rally, so we showered and tromped out into the deluge to pay our respects to the whiskey gods. It was a difficult time for us, I must say. Hard to focus, tricky to smell the booze, almost impossible to take any in without flashbacks to the night before. But we made it through, promising ourselves a grand feast once the hazing was over. That being said, we quickly wandered past a pub called Deacon Brodie's. There is a bar with the same name in NYC so, after feeling satisfied with the look of the menu, we headed inside. We later discovered that Deacon Brodie is the namesake of so many establishments because he was a notorious deacon of trade guilds who moonlit as a burglar for the fun of it. Sounds like a good man! More importantly, we ordered way too much food, could barely eat any of it, and were warmly nestled in bed at the late ole hour of 9pm.

The good news was that by the following morning, we were much better rested and able to extricate ourselves from sleep early enough to see some sites around town before taking a train back to London. Since we had already been to Edinburgh, we decided to visit Arthur's Seat, which is a main peak resting in Holyrood Park. We had heard it offered incredibly views of the city and was well worth the adventure. The day was fresh and bright, cold but full of fervor, so we began our journey up the hill. As we approached the park, the rain began to fall, and our umbrellas were pretty ineffective in the waterfall that ensued. It eventually slowed down, however, and we began the rather steep climb that, at first glance frankly didn't look nearly as exhausting as the reality we came to know well. The wind became fiercer and more treacherous as we proceeded up the monstrous mountain, and I honestly thought I might be blown right off the side once or twice. Despite the many trials, though, we were not remotely disappointed by the decadent view. The worst (slash some might say best) part, however, was the fact that right before we decided to make our descent, it began to snow... A lot. We chose a different path to head down, much less jagged with rocks and sharp drops, but also much more covered in grass and therefore mud, and more than once I slipped and JUST saved myself from taking a mudslide all the way down to the bottom. And of course, the "safer" path brought us a good 20 minutes  farther away from our new destination... which was basically anywhere dry and warm for us to regain use of our frozen limbs.

In the end, we did manage to hobble through the wet and cold to a local Starbucks, where we bought some warm drinks and took turns standing under the heater. Then we stopped by the hotel to change, grab our bags, and pop into a store or two before heading to the train station. As anticipated, Edinburgh exceeded our pre-conceived expectations and more. The train ride home was long and tiring, but gave us the chance to decompress and compare notes on the past few days. By the time we got back to Cousin's apartment, all we really wanted to do was eat some food and chill out. We ordered some delicious Indian, settled in front of a movie, and bathed in the glory of our New Year's success.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Hogmanay Hysterics

On the road again... Less than 24 hours after landing back in Paris from the States, I was off on my way across the pond to the UK. Not before the evil grasp of jetlag attempted to thwart my merry plans, however. I have taken the Eurostar several times, and always prefer to arrive far earlier than their suggested checkin time of at least 30 minutes. Because of this, I set my alarm for 5:30am so that I could leave the house by 6:30am and get to the station with at least an hour to spare. Apparently my inner clock had very different ideas. At 7am, I woke up in a panic and realized that I must have got up, turned my alarm off, and gone back to sleep when my alarm rang hours previous. Luckily, I had everything packed down to the outfit I was planning to wear on the train. And while my lingering distrust of Uber was still afoot, I knew that the only way I could even have the slightest hope of making it to the train on time would be to give it another whirl. I ordered a cab, brushed my teeth, and ran down the staircase, managing to have arisen, gotten dressed, and be en route to Gare du Nord in less than 10 minutes. I admittedly had very little faith that I would make it on time, particularly because it was New Year's Eve Day and there could be a huge mass of people, so when all was said and done I was frankly handed a bit of a miracle. No traffic across Paris, no line through ticketing or border control, and by the time I was going through security with my bags, the other late stragglers and I were already being assured we would make the train on time. With a whole five minutes to spare, I sat down in my seat and marveled at the fact that I made it from wake up to train in lesson than 40 minutes. Something was already telling me this was going to be a banner New Year's Eve.

Once arrived in London, I made my way from the holiest of sites, King's Cross, to my Hot Blonde Cousin's apartment. She was working from home for the day, so I was able to drop my bags and take a quick run to Primark, my European store of stores. I was very happy to get my hands on a super cute rain jacket and umbrella, both desperately needed. Once back in the flat, I hopped in the shower before we took the Tube back to King's Cross and settled in for the 4 hour train ride to Edinburgh! This was around the point when travel was starting to take its pretty little toll, but I knew I had to rally for the evening about town. We got into Edinburgh at around 7pm, picked up our tickets for the street fair, and checked in at the hotel. This gave us a good hour to primp and pump up for what we knew was going to be a long night.

Now, just a bit of explanation first... Hogmanay is a famous New Year's festival that takes place in Edinburgh every year. We had found it on a list of NYE experiences worth having, and since Cousin and I both loved Scotland so much the last time around, it seemed like a perfect choice for our festive wanderings. From what we knew in advance, it is basically a giant street fair right through the heart of the city, culminating in fireworks over Edinburgh Castle. Several stages and screens are placed in different areas, home to DJ's, music, and live footage of the action. There are also a couple of smaller private concert areas that you need an additional ticket to enter. One of these houses more traditional Scottish music, which we would have been happy to take part in, but unfortunately it was sold out before we got our tickets. Even so, the streets were alive with partiers from around the globe. Cousin told me en route that this would be the first year in which alcohol would actually be sold at the fair, only beer and wine. Apparently in past people have always been encouraged to bring their own, something many still did, ourselves included. I can't pretend that this was the best idea in the world, however. Filling a flask full of whiskey rarely bodes well when you have no idea how to keep track of the volume you've consumed. Along with some wine bought from the stalls, and various other concoctions we ran into via fellow merrymakers, the evening was far from a sober one.

Now onto the juicy stuff... The first gaggle of guys we met was a young crew from Glasgow. They were already outlandishly wasted at the very early hour of pre-midnight, making for some fascinating antics. For the most part, we really couldn't understand a word they said, their thick brogues cloaking any semblance of comprehension. We did, however, get many hugs and cheek kisses, a multitude of high fives, and several comments alluding to us being the coolest Americans they'd ever met. At some point we extricated ourselves from their grasp, quite amused with their behaviour, but also rather certain we were destined for some other company that evening. 

After wandering around a bit longer, we started to think about where we might want to situate ourselves for the fireworks. We had entered the fair at the top of a hill where there was a DJ but also where it was so crowded I feared for a moment we were mirroring Times Square. Toward the bottom of the hill, where we spent most of our time, there was much more leg room, but certain areas were tainted with an obstructed view of the grand display. There was a nice little corner, however, where we comfortably settled in and, as luck would have it, were standing right next to a pack of Irishmen. Or Irishpeople, to be more accurate and politically correct. They seemed a cheerful bunch, so we shared libations and tales, feeling much more like an amiable group of travelers, bonding over their beer as they did in the days of yore... Whenever that was. But in all seriousness, there is something so special about the connections you make when traveling, however brief or fleeting. The best thing, of course, was the fact that one particular Irishman was very cute and charming and full of conversation directed specifically at me. As we all cozied up to see the fireworks commence, I felt I could perhaps see a New Year's kiss on the horizon. When the bell struck midnight, the light was ablaze with color, and we spread many happy wishes to our new friends. No kisses yet, but come on, give a girl a few minutes!

After the fireworks were finished, it was time to hit some pubs. Cousin, who remains to this day the best navigatrix I have ever had the privilege of traveling with, was the one who found us a sufficient watering hole. Once we got settled, the cute Irishman offered to buy me a drink and I felt appropriately flattered. But of course, this is where the plot becomes rife with twist! Irishman went to the bar while Cousin happened to be chatting with one of the Irish ladies in our party. Amidst their conversation, the Irishwoman casually dropped in that she was dating the Irishguy I had been consorting with all evening. Cousin, who was appropriately thrown, demanded that the girl repeat her claim. She even asked her point blank what she thought of the fact that her man had been flirting with me all night. The girl's response? "Well, he's going to do what he's going to do." Wow. While Cousin immediately came to share the news with me, I noticed Irishlass and Irishlad having what I would consider their first real interaction all evening. No kisses at midnight, no exchanges beforehand. She looked mildly upset, and he looked as if trying to convince her of something. When they finally returned, he went to sit down further away from me, not having returned with a drink as promised. Cousin jumped on the opportunity to ask him if he was dating the Irishgal, and his response? "Oh yeah, massively," Cut to moments later when I saluted a goodbye, and we left the pub without further explanation.

I must admit that I was rather perturbed by this turn of events, at least momentarily. I am constantly confounded by the behaviour of men who act as if completely free whilst in a committed relationship. Have a blast, boys,  but at the end of the day, I am far more impressed by a man who can't help but brag about his lady love than one who tucks all proof of romantic entanglement in a nice little locked up layer. Still, there are no regrets when destiny takes wing! About three seconds after leaving the bar, Cousin noticed another pub with a minimal cover. At first I wanted to say no, I was over the drama of the evening. But I rallied and sallied forth because that is what true Ladies of the Scottish Highlands do!  Happily, within moments of obtaining beers and a high top table, Cousin mentioned that she saw two young men checking us out from across the way. She then proclaimed that they were heading our direction, she assumed to come and introduce themselves. Instead, they walked right passed us and stopped at another high top to look back again. Negative, ghost rider. This was my cue to turn on the tipsy sass and take destiny into my own hands. I caught the eye of one of them, gestured that they should immediately appear by our side, then reprimanded them for not having the courage to come and do so on their own. Oh yes, very well aware of how special I had become. Needless to say, we spent the rest of the evening with these two fellows, absolutely spearheaded by myself. I believe I spent a good while convinced that my companion hated me, but then spending another good long while making out with him a lot in public. Such is life.

From this point, I will not go into the level of ridiculousness these two gentlemen brought along with them, mainly because I make it a habit of only incriminating myself at the heart of my ramblings. Yes, it was a late night. Yes, it was absurd. And yes, the following morning slash entire day was not without its consequences. But all in all, the night was a rousing success and I would absolutely recommend Hogmanay for anyone craving a fantastic NYE in a beautiful city in a cold weather but warm-hearted country in Europe.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kindergarten Tears

My last couple of days in the States were filled with lots of tears and quick goodbyes. The plan was to spend Sunday morning in Connecticut before having my friend bring me to the train station so we could hang a bit more and I would spend the night in NYC before flying back to Paris on Monday evening. My mother and I went shopping in the morning so she could spoil me just a bit more before I left and once we got back I had just enough time to pack my bags before heading out. Unfortunately, I was becoming so emotional about leaving my Mommy and not having time to see my Daddy again before leaving, that I canceled plans with my friend so that I could have lunch with my father and stepmother and have them bring me to the train station. I was sad to not be able to see my friend again, and even sadder when I realized how little time I got to spend with all of my friends. But since I was effectively behaving like a 5 year old dropped off at kindergarten for the first time, it seemed best to let my parents pamper their beautiful blonde baby just a little bit longer.

When I finally made it into the City (for those who aren't aware, the only city in the universe is in fact New York City), I was exhausted and famished and thrilled to spend the night in with my brother, sister-in-law and Baby Booooo. The best part was that the second I entered the apartment, Nephew asked his Auntie La if I would play with him and I was just happy as a clam to do so. We ordered some Mexican food, hunkered down in front of the television, and I was frankly dozing off with my gin and whatever weird mixer I had procured while reading a book circa 9pm. The only negative was the fact that at around 7am when I was awoken the next morning for goodbyes, Baby was not in the mood for any emotional other than painful chagrin at the thought of having to go back to daycare post-holidays. I wasn't remotely upset by his toddler mind, but once again tearful that I had to say goodbye at all.

I spent the day running a few errands around Manhattan, and meeting up with one of the friends I wasn't able to see my first time romping about NYC before Christmas. She was actually an English student of mine for almost a year before I moved to Paris and we became much more girly gossiping friends by the end. We met downtown closer to Wall Street and the Seaport, an area of town I never got to on a daily basis but also love visiting when I have a reason. She suggested a wonderfully spacious bar with massive windows facing out to the water and we enjoyed a lovely catch up session. Much too soon, I had to head back to Brooklyn so that I could prep my bags for our cab ride to JFK and my flight home. Regrettably, I made the mistake of reading an article about the Malaysian Airline crash that had just happened the day before, which is probably why my flight home was much more anxiety-ridden than my flight to New York. Even so, it was more the beginning pangs of separation and nostalgia that were the hardest things to swallow. Being home for the holidays was amazing and fulfilling, but never ever long enough to be thoroughly satisfying. Happily, I had another adventure looming quickly on the horizon, spending only one day in Paris before I would be off to the UK for New Year's Eve.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Siblings, My Heart

The following day was fully fun-filled and family-oriented. We managed to pack it all in, seeing my parents, both of their families, as well as some friends in the evening. The morning consisted of a quick (and very early for a lady who had had several cocktails the night before) breakfast with my Father's relations. There is a diner a town away from us that we have frequented for a few years now. It offers a very cheap menu with fantastically sized portions, and is always served by an amazingly sassy old Irish woman who takes no crap from anyone but is actually super motherly and kind at heart. A perfect and wonderful stereotype brought to life. We had our fill of victuals and said our see you soon's, always wishing we could see each other more than once or twice a year, but thoroughly embracing the times that we do.

Very little time elapsed before we had to head straight to our Mother's family festivities. Now, just as with any family, we all have our quirky relations and tricky relationships. As my mother was one of 9 children, there are always different personalities and opinions flying about. The Christmas celebration in recent years has been taking place at my Aunt's house which has a massive backyard and a deck adjoining their garage, so several of us more sordid folk often take to the deck for our afternoon refreshment. That is to say, an older Uncle or Cousin usually has various forms of libation to offer, and we hilariously create our little cocktail club outside. This year was particularly perfect because the sun was out, warming us during our merriment, and almost everyone indoor and out remained in relatively good humor throughout the day. A couple of quick cliffsnotes: One of my sisters and I had a race to the fence separating our Aunt and Uncle's yard from the neighbors, resulting in me winning (with my superior Santa 10k running skills) and my poor little baby sissy soo wiping out entirely in the mud. The goods news is that she really didn't get that muddy all things considered, the bad news is that she was sort of achey for a couple of days and tragically, no one witnessed the incident other than myself. There was also another hysterical situation involving my nephew and young cousin continually trying to take my boots off of me while I was standing in them. This may have had to do with the fact that I coveted my cousin's boots and had already stolen them first. Details, details. The final big moment, however, was when my Mother insisted that we finally get a group photo of my siblings slash nephew, something that we really haven't accomplished in a few years. 

Now, a bit of a preface regarding my siblings is that they really are the heart and soul of my being. We are not the type of brothers and sisters that talk every day or hang out every night, but we are the type that would walk through fire for each other and when we are together, that 6th sense sort of ridiculousness ensues. I actually recall one of my first great crushes in college coming to see me and/or my brother in a play. After watching the show and meeting my fam, he admitted that he finally understood me a whole lot better. It's certainly a spectacle in and of itself when we are ensemble, as witnessed in the chronology of pictures below. As we bring up young Nephew as part of the herd, he is clearly raised to the height of célébrité, almost Simba-style in his reverence. 

Which of course made it difficult to leave them for my evening antics, but since I was off to meet two of my oldest friends from childhood, I knew I was in good hands. The quartet of friends I am a part of from growing up includes myself and the three girls I ran around in Ireland with last year. Two are married and live in the States while one is Dancer friend in Ireland and of course myself here in Paris. Unfortunately, only three of us could get together this particular night, though happily I was able to see the 4th for a quick coffee the previous afternoon. Regardless, we have developed a tradition of going to "The Cheesecake Factory" when we can. This place is basically the mecca of all American cuisine presented in obscenely large portions and filled with absurd amounts of fat. That of course means it is the hottest spot in town, and on a Saturday night meant we had about an hour and half wait at the bar. We had anticipated this, however, and had zero problem settling in for a cocktail or two before sitting down. It also gave us ample time to catch up and laugh hysterically as we pretty much always do. 

I have long since come to learn that there is no word in French for "sibling", or at least not one that is commonly used in any way. Many languages refer to brothers or sisters, but not the collective idea of both. In some ways, I find this not only cumbersome linguistically, but sadly disappointing because there is a special bond that comes with siblings as a unit. Siblings are the people that know you better than anyone, whether they extend from the same gene pool or not. My blood related siblings (Nephew absolutely included) are amongst the people I would easily drop anything for. But I also have a wide network of friends and family, all of whom I share a similar bond to, loving each other, accepting each other, and knowing each other without explanation. I have to say, it was a pretty good day.