Tuesday, November 24

Thanks; Giving

Happy Thanksgiving Turkey
I won't front, I stole that title from an email a new friend sent to invite everyone over for Thanksgiving.

But I love it. It shined (shone?) a new light on those two words: Thanks. Giving. Thanks-and-giving. Thanks-for-giving. Giving Thanks. Thankful to Give. All kinds of ways to interpret those two words with the addition of that rascal semicolon!

In the spirit of my favorite holiday, I've taken up my second annual #EllenThanks Instagram campaign. Last year I knocked it out of the park, posting something every day from Nov. 1st to 30th (check out #EllenThanks2014).

I am already late out of the gate, but I think it's even more important to complete this year than last year. Last year I felt #EllenThanks helped me appreciate the every-day things I might have been taking for granted. This year, in the calm of finally feeling settled, I find myself hyper-focused on documenting what's different, or what's difficult (or what's downright demoralizing in international news).

This year, I need it to help me refocus on the positive. The amazingness that comes with living in a new city. 

London Eye Parliament Night
Sunshine in Hyde Park

For starters, I'm pumped to have already gathered a solid foundation of friends. And I'm definitely glad to be here with my husband-slash-roommate-slash-financial advisor-slash-technical director. And I'm amazingly thankful to be traveling in a digital age where I can talk to and listen to and look at my favorite people for the low-low price of a latte.

(For the record, I have to buy a latte to feel good about using the Internet at the cafe around the corner. It's just the rule, I didn't make it. What's that? Yes, of course I *have* to go to a cafe. Stop giving me that look. Stop it. Staaaaahp.)

And I'm also thankful for the littlest things, like finding ice — beautiful, crushed, unlimited ice — at Nando's. And leaves changing color. And avocados. All things that have broken through metaphoric and literal grey days.

British Museum Atrium
Autumn leaves on a brick wall

And, I'm thankful for you (my people!) and for this blog at all. I've turned to writing often (albeit sporadically) in life, and I'm thankful to have the opportunity to dedicate the time I've always thought I'd like to dedicate. So far, that's proving to be true.

What are you thankful for?

Holland Park in 10 Photos

If you've been to London, you've probably walked through Hyde Park, watching the paddle boats or riding a bike along Carriage Drive. It's possible you've been to Regent's Park with its large rugby and cricket pitches.

It's possible I'm just bad at researching (or maybe I was a teensy bit preoccupied trying to move two people across an ocean and didn't have a whole lotta time to research random parks) but I think Holland Park is a pretty well-kept secret.

It's unassumingly nestled just far enough away from Hyde Park and Notting Hill, and its wood chip paths cut through dense trees instead of large swaths of grass. There's a rose garden and several play areas for kiddos. If you didn't know it was there, you'd walk right by its entrances. Its footprint is maybe only a quarter of Hyde Park's, but walking along you feel just as secluded, if not more so. (You can learn more about the history of the park over at Londoneer.)

But the best part (IMHO) is the Kyoto Garden.


Several of them, in fact.

Everything about the garden is symbolic, but so far the internet can't tell me whether or not the peacocks are there because "F*ck Yeah Peacocks!" or for another, more legitimate reason. (I would assume the latter...but secretly hoping for the former.)

Also several squirrels. This guy in particular is so fat — and quite cheeky! When I lowered the camera I swear he came over and held out his little paw as if asking for a tip. Apparently Papa's got a family to feed.

Londoners and London tourists must not see too many squirrels because wherever you do see one, you will undoubtedly see someone (in this case, me) taking its photo or trying to feed it. Spot one puffy acorn-muncher and the whole world turns into my sister, taking a gazillion photos and enticing rodents to come live in her house. 

This photo below has *not* been altered/squished vertically. It really looks like it though...

Sunday, November 22

Borough Market in Seven Photos

There's not a lot I can say about Borough Market that the internet doesn't already know. So instead, I'm dropping some photos here and calling it a day.

I did learn that Borough Market has been in operation in roughly the same area in some form or another for *literally* 1,000 years, which convinces me that my history courses were focused on the wrong things if such a glaring omission was permitted year after year.

Anywho, to quickly sum-up, wandering around Borough Market is definitely a fun way to spend an afternoon. If and when I go back, I'll hope to have a recipe ideas at the ready — there is a lot of local produce (here it's called "fruit and veg") and I would love to start buying local again! At the moment I still feel like we're in catch-up mode as we rebuild a pantry and figure out routines. ("Hey what's for dinner?" "I dunno, what have we got?" "Uummmm... yogurt and tomato paste." "Well, f---.")

Okay. No more typing.

Borough Market:

Borough Market Vendor

Scotch Egg from Borough Market

Borough Market

Borough Market Vegetable Basket

The Shard overlooking Borough Market in London

River Thames near Borough Market in London

Friday, November 20

How do I ride the bus in London? With gusto!

London Bus in front of Parliament and Big Ben

The London Underground is the mass transit darling, but I happen to be a big fan of the iconic double-decker red buses. It's my preferred mode of daily transportation.
  • For one, the bus is cheaper than the tube: £1.50 per ride (Daily cap of £4.40, or three rides. Tube caps at about £7).
  • For two, you can see where you are as you ride (versus being in a dark, dank tunnel).
  • For three, it's fun to ride on the top level!
However, riding the bus usually takes longer than the tube to travel the same distance, and it is susceptible to traffic jams and stray pedestrians. Similar to the Tube, rush hour is still a spirit-crushing mass of humanity (and Londoners can be quite cranky if they haven't seen the sun in a few days).

The bus system is very easy to navigate using Google Maps or CityMapper. Plug in where you want to go and either app will offer a route or three, plus tell you which stop to find and how many stops between you and your destination.

You still have some questions about riding a London bus? Start here.

How do I know I'm at the right bus station?
  • Check the letter(s) in a red circle on the sign post. Stations may be named the same, but each station within a few blocks has a different code. Also helpful if you're new and still getting turned-around (or if you still think cars drive on the right...not that I'd know much about that...) Find the station code to know that bus will go in the right direction.
London Bus Station Signs
Ok, *which* Notting Hill Gate Station? Check the red circle codes.
How do I know the bus is going to the right place?
  • Note the direction as "Number ## to Place." For example, "Number 73 to Victoria Bus Station." Each bus displays this on the front. 
How do I know which stop to alight? (Yes. London uses the word "alight".)
  • Remember the name of your destination stop. Once on the bus, it only displays and announces each stop's name, so the lovely station codes mentioned above won't help. Pro tip: memorize the name of the station prior to your final stop it so you can throw elbows er, move toward the door if necessary.
  • Don't rely on counting stops between your origin and destination. If no one needs to get on or off the bus at a certain stop, the bus won't stop at that stop. (Stop.) (Maybe this is why stops are called stations...)
How do I pay for my trip on the bus?
  • Tap in only — DON'T tap out. Tap an Oyster card or contactless debit to the yellow circle as you board the bus. Buses are single-fare (versus the distance-based fare on the tube) so how long you ride doesn't matter. When you're at your destination, simply hop off! 
Oh no! The bus isn't stopping!
  • Be sure to signal the driver to pick you up (like hailing a taxi) or to let you off (push the button labeled "stop"). 
How late do the buses run? Can I get home?
  • Some busses are 24 hours, and it says so on the station sign, above the bus number (check out #94 and #148 in the image above). There are also night busses. For the most part, Google and CityMapper know which buses run and when.
And finally:
  • Don't stick your nose in your phone! Look up, look out, look around! You can check your map, your tweets, your news when you're off the bus again. 

Monday, November 16

Get a postcard from Ellen!

Hey, readers — I'm bringing old-school travel habits back, and you can get in on the fun!

I'm working on building up my email list, so as a thank-you for subscribing now through Dec. 31, 2015, I'll send you a postcard from one of my upcoming destinations!

I'm talking a physical, hand-written, personalized-just-for-you, definitely-not-a-mass-email postcard. Just for giving me your email address and agreeing to hear from me about twice a month. What a deal!

Once you've subscribed, be sure to fill out this quick form so I have your mailing address (a key part to receiving a postcard). If that makes you squirm a little bit, no worries! I will send you a personalized email upon my return instead.

So where am I going next?

Oslo, Norway

A quick two-night trip with an old friend to see what Oslo is all about! Why Oslo? Because I found a round-trip ticket for £15 so why not??

Munich, Germany and surrounding areas

First leg of a holiday with my husband and in-laws. We'll be based in Munich but hopefully taking a few day trips. Any suggestions? Leave me a comment!

Rome-to-Venice, Italy

Second leg of the holiday trip. We're starting in Rome and heading north for about a week. Places in between are still TBD.

Can't wait to write to you about my travels.

PS — I would love to regret this decision. Please tell all of your friends by sharing this post on Facebook, Twitter, or your platform of choice!