Trapped in Paradise – the DC Edition

Part travel blog, part philosophical musings. All tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness.


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Back to the grind (and the Winter Olympics)

Since it’s been almost a year since I finished grad school, relocated to New England, and started a new job, I figured it’s past time I started writing again. Life has gotten a little slower since school ended, and since I no longer have to dedicate each free moment to finding that elusive post-MBA job, I’ve found that I need to fill my nights and weekends with something other than Netflix and browsing trashy pop culture gossip websites.

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Typical productive Saturday morning

I’m strongly considering making the jump to a self-hosted domain, so I figure I’d better ease back into writing before I start shelling out the cash. And what better occasion to help get me back on the blogging train than the Winter Olympics?

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How about those drones!

I’ve blogged about the Olympics in the past, so this is a good re-starting point. Although I do feel like the Games have lost a little of their magic over the years. Whether that’s from all the doping issues, the massive costs that sends host countries into debt, or just from growing up in general, it seems as though the enthusiasm has dwindled a bit from when I was a kid. But I still love watching athletes from all over the world coming together to compete in sports most of us would never hear about otherwise.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

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Admit it, you only clicked on a blog post about the Olympics just to see the shirtless dude from Tonga. I do hope for his sake that the oil was self-heating!

So I have a soft spot for South Korea since I’d been there several times during my time in the Navy, so I really wish I could have gone to these Olympics in person. I have no doubt that they’ll be great hosts, even with all the drama with their neighbor to the north. But alas, I had to make do with watching on Hulu + Live TV, which may not have been a good decision. I’m still in my 7-days-free trial period, but all this skipping, buffering, and sound issues are making me wonder if I need to explore other options. However, I’m not sure what those would be, since I cut the cord on cable sometime in 2014 and never looked back.

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Hulu’s IT support, probably.

A browse on Hulu’s forums confirms that I’m not alone in experiencing issues. I hope they’ll get fixed over the next few days, but I’m not holding my breath. For now, I’ll have to settle for alternating between the TV and the iPad (it seems to run a little better on the latter; the Roku lags behind and skips more for some reason.)

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Bonus: I got to see the wonderful Yuna Kim light the cauldron twice.

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I also got to watch those poor ladies climb that LONG flight of stadium stairs twice!

I’ve been bingeing all morning on ski jumping, snowboarding, and luge, and will probably continue to do so until the figure skating tonight. Apparently this particular luge track is really difficult? I feel like I’ve seen a lot of people hitting the walls during their runs. And I’ve found my new hero: Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, competing in his 8th Olympics at age 45 (!) and honored with a Polish rap song and at least two rock songs in Finland written about him. (My Finnish friend currently working in Helsinki confirms that Kasai is a legend over there.) I’ve been feeling old since my birthday a couple of weeks ago, so this gives me hope that I can still make it to the Olympics! I just have to learn how to ski jump, fear of heights be damned.

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I’ll settle for being cool enough for a Finnish garage band to write a punk song about me. We should all aspire to be this awesome.

 

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End of an Era

Emotions are sure to run high today, on what’s probably the most unconventional of Inauguration Days we’ve ever had. There will be plenty of time to focus on the incoming administration, but today I want to pay homage to someone I see as being one of the great leaders of our time.

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I first came across Barack Obama during the 2006 midterm election cycle, after listening to the many enigmatic speeches he gave calling for change in the midst of the current administration. I had paid very little attention to politics at that time because for me, there was no point – I was a young military officer, sworn to follow the Commander in Chief no matter who held the title, and if I thought the president at the time was not doing a good job, there was no way I could say it without jeopardizing my career. I was also surrounded by hard-core conservatives who constantly reminded me that I, a woman, didn’t belong in Naval Aviation despite my excellent performance in flight school, and that I should be grateful that we were fighting two wars because otherwise there would be no need for “extras” in the military. Speaking up against these accusations only brought me more trouble, so I kept my mouth shut.

Politics was synonymous with hopelessness, so best not to even pay attention.

But then here comes this charismatic young senator from Illinois, with messages of unity and change for the better. His speeches seemed to focus not so much on dragging the opposition down, but uniting for a common good in order to change our country for the better. I remember reading the transcript of one of his speeches and feeling both jaded from my experiences, while hopeful for the future he spoke of. Was this guy too idealistic? Yeah, probably. But I’m idealistic too, and I know the pain of holding on to that spark of hope even while the rest of the world seems to be telling you to knock it off. Perhaps idealism is what we needed.

Still skeptical, I continued to follow his career with interest, and was thrilled to see that a year later, he had thrown his name into the ring to become President of the United States. His message of hope resonated so strongly with me, and even though I couldn’t openly support him, I did as much as I could behind the scenes: I donated, and I spread the word about him to my family so that they could openly support him. During my squadron’s deployment to Iraq in 2008, I stood up to one of my coworkers who’d made a show of opening up others’ absentee ballots for the primary elections, and harassing those who’d requested a Democratic ballot. And on Election Day, still in Iraq, I very nearly cried tears of joy when I heard that Obama had won, even while my coworkers were making racist “Obama bin Laden” jokes and criticizing the “stupid young people” who had voted for him. There may have been people saying horrible things in our country, many of them serving in the military alongside me, but on that day, the good people won.

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Eight years later, while I know that President Obama’s tenure was far from perfect, and while there were many decisions he made that I didn’t agree with, I still have nothing but the utmost respect for him. For he is one of those rarest of politicians: one who still cares first and foremost about his people, even while serving in the most powerful office in the world. Whatever missteps he took, I feel that he never lost sight of his end goal, which was taking care of all of us. And when he did hit a home run, it was huge – marriage equality, saving the US auto industry, bringing us back after the recession, all the work he did to fight climate change, just to name a few. Sure, maybe his presidency didn’t accomplish all of the changes we had hoped for. But I believed in his vision for America, and I believe in it still.

So, to President Barack Obama, I want to say thank you. Throughout the years I’ve found you to be such an inspiration, to continue to do good no matter what obstacles others put in your way, to stay focused on helping those who need you, and to never stop fighting.

This country isn’t perfect, but it’s ours. It belongs to all of its citizens, regardless of gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. This is one of the places where a person born into poverty can succeed, provided that they have access to the right tools and the knowledge of how to use them. In spite of what others say, our individual differences make us stronger, not weaker. Is America already great? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But this is our home, and if home isn’t worth fighting for, what is?

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It is with pride that I return home to participate in the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow, before I head back to Tel Aviv to finish my semester abroad. The expenses and the weekend suffering from jet lag will be worth it. Twelve years ago when I joined the military, I swore an oath to defend against enemies foreign and domestic, and I still hold onto that oath even though I’m no longer a naval officer. Lending my voice to the thousands of others who will also be marching will be something I know I can be proud of, doing my small part to ensure that hope and equality don’t go by the wayside again.


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Study abroad, week 1: School, food, Cubs

What a way to start off the day! I declined to watch the World Series final since it started at 2am here in Israel, and had hoped to wake up to news that the Chicago Cubs had prevailed. However, when my alarm went off at 6:00 this morning, I discovered that the game was still going on with a 10th inning and a rain delay! Needless to say, I postponed my morning run to watch the stunning conclusion.

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Obviously it was destiny!

I’m not even a baseball fan. I guess you could say that I get to be a Cubs fan by marriage since Chuck had spent several years in Chicago and loves his team, but even that’s a stretch. However, everyone loves a good story, and who out there was not rooting for the Cubs to win it all? (Other than Cleveland, of course.) Congratulations to the team and to their fans, this truly was a game for the ages!

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Today, Bill Murray is all of us.

Anyway, classes started this week and I have to say, any reservations I had about studying abroad have gone out the window. The quality of instructors here at TAU is quite high, and the classes are interesting. Plus, this school seems to be strong in areas where my home university is a little bit lacking, so I’m thrilled that I’ll be able to fill in some of the gaps in my education.

Plus, we get to do cool things like open the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

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“All I see is signs, all I see is dollar signs…”

Many of my international classmates didn’t think this was a big deal, but I’d seen plenty of famous figures, celebrities, and sports stars open the NYSE in past years. You’d better believe that I elbowed my way to the front of the group so that I could have my hand on the button!

Last weekend, I also got to experience a bit of culture in the form of my first Shabbat dinner with a local family. One of my roommate’s parents had a work colleague living in Tel Aviv, and they were kind enough to invite us over for a traditional Jewish dinner last Friday night.

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SO MUCH DELICIOUS FOOD OMG

This was such a cool experience, and not just because this was my first time being exposed to Jewish culture. Despite our Catholic upbringing my own family is skimpy on traditions, and the family get-together is unfortunately becoming more sparse in a lot of American households. Truthfully, the only real formal dinner we ever have is on Thanksgiving (and even then, it’s hard to get all the adult children under one roof) so it’s wonderful that these families manage to do this at least once a week!

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Where I come from, family gatherings are little less relaxing.

I do have a tiny confession, though – before the meal, when the challah bread was dipped in the salt (which I learned is a tradition of its own) my initial thought was, “oh good, now I have guest right and I don’t have to worry about being killed tonight.” Clearly I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones.

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No Red Weddings here!

In all seriousness, the dinner was wonderful, and the family who hosted us was so kind and generous. The hospitality of the Israelis I’ve met so far has been unparalleled. It’s only been two weeks! I can’t wait to see what else is in store.


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120 days in Tel Aviv

I’ve been in Israel for about two weeks now, so I suppose it’s time I blogged about it.

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Here at last! A view of Tel Aviv during one of my morning jogs.

Getting here was an adventure involving many stops in other continents, stories I’ll get to in due time. But since I’ll be starting my study abroad program tomorrow (finally!) I feel like I need to catch up on what’s been going on in since I arrived in Tel Aviv.

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A bit of visiting all the touristy places, such as the old city of Jaffa.

I got here well before the start of the school year so that I could find a place to live. Thanks to my contacts here, I had learned that apartment hunting in Israel is not like apartment hunting in other cities I’d lived in. Sure, they have Craigslist and Airbnb and a few of the other normal sites if you’re looking to rent or sublet, but that’s basically setting yourself up to get ripped off. Everything is done in person at the last minute, where someone might wake up and decide to rent out a room in their place, so they tell their friends, and by word of mouth (or via one of the many online groups) you might find out about it.

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“Hey, did you guys here about the new apartment on Bograshov Street? Don’t let those exchange students anywhere near it!”

For someone who likes to have plans worked out well in advance, this idea of just showing up with no idea of where to live was not sitting well. At least I was more prepared than many of my fellow exchange students, who decided not to arrive until days before our orientation started.

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Group projects are going to be interesting.

But in the end it worked out well for everyone, including the late-comers. No one ended up homeless in a cardboard box, and thanks to a realtor who randomly showed up in our class Facebook group with a bunch of apartments for rent, I wound up renting a flat with two other students that’s just two blocks from the beach. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to let go of my need for structure and just embrace the Israeli attitude of doing stuff on the fly.

'I joined a relaxation program, to help me overcome my type A behavior. Damit! I'm going to be the best, most relaxed, one in the group.'

Yeah right, this is not going to happen overnight, if at all. Get back to me in February.

Aside from that stress test, adjusting to life in a foreign country has been interesting (in a good way, of course.) I’m reminded of the adjustment I went through when I’d moved to Japan back in 2010, since there were many similarities: non-Indo-European language, completely different writing system, unfamiliar customs and mannerisms, physically sticking out like a sore thumb.

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At least I’m not this guy.

However, in Japan I’d had the built-in support network of the military that had helped me navigate everything from living arrangements to riding the train. Other than the handful of contacts I’d made during my trip here over spring break, I was kind of on my own. Especially since my school had decided to cancel the annual short-term study abroad trip to Israel, citing security concerns. (Apparently letting a group of students come here for ten days was too risky, but sending me to live on my own for four months is totally fine.)

It’s been a fun adventure, though. Overall, I’ve found the locals to be quite friendly and helpful, and even though I had arrived right in the middle of the Jewish holiday season (meaning the city shut down practically every other day, which made shopping for groceries difficult) I haven’t had too bad of a time exploring and getting to know my new home. Plus, the food here is quite amazing (and healthy!)

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Breakfast of champions! Where has shakshuka been all my life?!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to my time here, and am excited to be able to write about it.


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End of summer recap

Now that the busy summer is over, I’ve decided to take a look at my list of goals from a few months ago and see how I did. This should be hilarious.

  1. Find a place to do volunteer work on the weekends.
  2. Keep up with the blog. Maybe start a travel-specific blog.
  3. Sign up for a summer class, such as programming or something tech-related.

So these first three were a colossal failure. When I wrote this, I hadn’t picked up my second internship yet, so I had at least half of every workday to play around with. The second job took up the rest of that time (which I didn’t mind, because it was more experience for the resume) so that’s a resounding NO on the volunteer work this year.

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Yeah, yeah – rub in the guilt, why don’t you. GFY, random inspirational quote generator!

 

The blog – I really, really wanted to launch a new blog before the summer was done, especially since I’ll be living abroad during the next few months. I almost did it today, but then discovered that the WordPress hosting sites (at least the few that I looked at) were a little pricey after the initial “beginner” discounts ran out. Oh, to be rich. I admit that I haven’t looked around much yet, so the research continues.

4. Attempt to learn Hebrew in preparation for studying abroad.

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Learning by osmosis.

Let’s just say… this is a work in progress. “תהיה בריא” or something like that.

5. Consider freelance writing to earn extra cash.

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YES!! I can actually eat three meals today!

See #1-3. Again with wanting to start an official travel blog; I still have this dream of writing for a living, although I have yet to figure out how on earth to incorporate that into a business career. I wanted to use the not-yet-existing blog to get my name out there to start freelancing, but that may also have to wait.

6. Work on writing something for fun, taking one of the many novels I have mulling around in my head and actually putting it on paper.

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My attempt at being a novelist – 13 measly pages to show for it.

I tried! I started off so well, setting a goal at the beginning of the summer to write at least three pages a day (my pace during that one time I participated in NaNoWriMo.) But the two internships got the best of me, and what free time I had went toward the Hebrew studies. Oof. I’m really not doing very well at prioritizing my personal goals, am I?

7. Get my health back on track (which took a serious backseat in May, between finals and my health scare in China.)

 

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Yeah, this happened.

Okay, this one I accomplished! I started following a plant-based diet during the week (being very careful not to say “vegan,” lest I anger the hard-core vegans and end up with angry comments on my blog) and cutting out alcohol except during the weekends. This actually went a long way with helping me get healthy again. It’s not that I want to give up meat and dairy completely (hence the break on the weekends) but I wanted to eat more vegetables and experiment with healthier recipes. By the time Friday rolls around each week, I feel awesome! (I also really, really want an egg and cheese breakfast quesadilla with a bloody mary.) Between the new-and-improved diet and getting back into a workout routine, I found myself a few pounds lighter by summer’s end. Yes! Health was my priority, but if I don’t look like a complete cow by the time I go to Israel, I’m happy with that too.

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Those morning runs in the heat and humidity of Washington DC were tough, but the view made it a little more tolerable.

 

So what’s next (besides figuring out how to finally start a travel blog)? Well, school started for everyone but me. Since the school year at Tel Aviv University, where I’m doing my semester abroad, doesn’t start until late October, I’ve got some extra time on my hands. I’m taking advantage of it as best I can (especially since I won’t get a winter break – the Israelis only take off one day for Hanukkah!) so it’s off to the west coast to visit friends and family. And then… back to Asia!

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Glorious Hong Kong!

Yes, I’m taking the very scenic route to Israel. Two of my classmates are studying abroad In Hong Kong, so I’m going to visit them for a few days. I’m excited – Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities, and it’s been years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit. Also, I should probably a custom suit made (since I’m supposed to be a serious business professional now, so I should at least attempt to look the part.)


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Happy Olympics Day!

I’ve written before about how much I love the Olympics, though I have to admit it’s a little harder to get excited this time around thanks to the doping scandals, deadly viruses, and well, everything else going on in Brazil. That being said, the long-awaited event is finally here, the Opening Ceremony is tonight, and the athletes who have been training their whole lives for the Olympics (well, the ones who decided to risk infection) are going to show the world what they’re made of. Come on, who can’t get excited about that?

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Gold medals won by feats of strength, or by pure chance… eh, who cares. Get it, Australia!

Thanks to a brief interlude between the end of my summer internship and the first day of school, this is the first time in many years that I’ll actually have time to watch the Olympics for more than a passing moment, so I’m extra excited. The only thing is, my roommate and I don’t have cable so I was anticipating spending a lot of time at the sports bar down the street to get Olympics my fix. Not like that’s a bad thing, but sometimes I just want to watch the morning’s volleyball match in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, you know?

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Or water polo. Everyone loves water polo in HD.

However, something I just discovered yesterday is that NBC is offering free streaming of the games to U.S. military members and their families. Great news for people like me who are too cheap for cable!
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If you’re affiliated with the military, all you have to do is go to the military exchange’s website and create an account, then go to the NBC Olympics site and choose “Exchange” as your provider. Voila! Now you can watch the games from the comfort of your home, and shop for ugly clothes and Motrin the cure-all drug (which, according to your corpsman, can treat everything from back pain to amputations.)

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You might be a veteran if…

I also heard that the Olympics will be streamed on YouTube via a bunch of internet stars, including a guy who got famous by playing frisbee. (Clearly I’ve been doing this whole “being an adult” thing all wrong.) Either way, there should be plenty of ways to watch all the events, so let the games begin!

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And let’s hope that they turn out better than everyone is expecting them to.


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Aloha from London!

Since I’ve ditched cable television and am mostly avoiding Facebook like the plague, I’ve been getting most of my news from business-related podcasts. The beauty of it is that they’re blissfully devoid of all the negativity plaguing U.S. news networks lately. The flip side? Business journalists are still talking about Brexit.

Come on, guys. Even this guy is over it.

Come on now. Even this dude is over it.

BBC Business Daily is one of my go-to podcasts, and I admit I was worried when it took them four days to upload a new podcast after the Brexit vote happened. (“Those poor guys, they must all still be at the pub,” I had thought sadly.) Although I got a good laugh this morning while listening to NPR on the way into work – it seems the Brits have finally stopped worrying so much about the economy, and are back to focusing on the important things, like what’s going to happen to David Cameron’s cat.

How can you leave this little fella behind?!

How can you leave this little fella behind?!

I must have been British in a past life, because this is the first thing I would be worried about.

Anyway, my mind is still a little bit blown that such an issue was put up to a popular vote. I mean, this isn’t like electing your next leader, this is an economic issue that (ideally) you had already elected your leaders to handle in the best way possible. The average joe knows little-to-nothing about international trade. I mean, you wouldn’t ask U.S. citizens to vote on whether or not to stay in NAFTA, would you? Because we all know what would happen: certain presidential hopefuls would be talking all sorts of xenophobic rhetoric along the lines of, “we don’t want them Mexicans taking our jobs!'” and the next thing you know, we’ve no longer got barrier-free trade with Mexico or Canada.

Besides, we already saw what happens when you ask the masses for their opinion. This is how you end up with Boaty McBoatface

Besides, we already saw what happens when you ask the masses for their opinion. This is how you end up with Boaty McBoatface.

But I digress. I was inspired to dig up a halfway-finished blog post from a couple of years ago, when I was lucky enough to fly to the UK for a friend’s wedding. It was my first time visiting, and I loved it! I wasn’t even too upset that I’d had to deal with an 11-hour time change since I had been living in Hawaii at the time. The people were great, the beer was warm but quite good, and both the city and the countryside were wonderful. I’d love to live in London someday.

Big Ben says cheerio!

Big Ben says cheerio!

Chuck and I had decided to make a trip of it and show up a week before the wedding. As it turned out, April was a fantastic time to visit since the weather was pretty much perfect – mild and sunny during the day, a little chilly at night but nothing a light jacket couldn’t solve. We spent our first couple of days doing the typical touristy stuff like walking tours and checking out the famous landmarks. I admit to being disappointed that I couldn’t take a picture making faces at a stoic Buckingham Palace guard like they do in the movies, but the awesome tour of Westminster Abbey made up for it. (It turns out I actually learned a lot of British history from reading all those silly historical romance novels as a teen!)

 

Alas, there were no sightings of Fabio-lookalikes dressed in kilts. Those historical romance books lied!

Alas, there were no sightings of Fabio-lookalikes dressed in kilts. Those historical romance books lied!

The outside of Westminster Abbey - this was one of the walking tours we went on. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take photos inside the church, because it was pretty spectacular and full of famous dead people (mostly kings and queens, dating back to the 1000's)

The outside of Westminster Abbey – this was one of the walking tours we went on. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church, because it was pretty spectacular and full of famous dead people (mostly kings and queens, dating back to the 1000’s)

One of the stars of the British Museum: the Rosetta Stone! My inner language nerd was quite happy.

One of the stars of the British Museum: the Rosetta Stone! My inner language nerd was quite happy.

Of course you can't leave London without a walking tour of all the "haunted" places in the city. Sadly, the only ghost we saw was later in the pub.

Of course you can’t leave London without a walking tour of all the “haunted” places in the city. Sadly, the only ghost we saw was in the pub, trying to escape from Chuck’s beer.

It was incredible being in a city with a wide variety of events going on, the lack of which was one of my biggest complaints about living in Hawaii. I loved that it was easy to get tickets to a good show and that nice museums were plentiful. And I definitely loved that you can find just about any cuisine you fancied thanks to the huge mix of cultures there. We had some of the best Peking duck outside of Asia in Chinatown, Indian curry for lunch, and of course great British pub food right before going to see Spamalot. Which reminds me of a funny story – when we went to Leicester Square to buy tickets, we stumbled upon the London premiere of that new movie Noah. I finally got to see a celebrity! Well, sort of. I had to raise my camera above the crowd and blindly take photos, but I got a glimpse and a very blurry picture of the back of Russell Crowe’s head (along with some other actor.)

The crowd was huge so this blurry picture was the best one I could get of the back of Russell Crowe's head and some other guy who's apparently in the movie as well. (I think he plays Noah's son? Whatever, he's not important enough for anyone to remember his name.)

I think he plays Noah’s son? Whatever, he’s not important enough for anyone to remember his name.

We didn’t see the movie until about a year later when it came out on Netflix, and were sorely disappointed that it wasn’t just two hours of Mr. Crowe beating people up and yelling “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!!” at animals as they boarded the ark. Or maybe it was… we wouldn’t know, because we had turned it off after an hour and started watching Gladiator instead.

After a week in London, we headed up to Cambridge for the wedding. What a treat that was! I can only imagine what it must be like going to school there. “Oh, I’ve got my 12:30 economics class in a building from the Plantagenet era, NBD.”

One of our side trips: we stopped by the Blue Bell Inn, which was built in 1257 and has been a favorite RAF hangout over the years. Many pilots have signed their names on the ceiling, including one Prince William (underneath Paul Mac XIII).

One of our side trips: we stopped by the Blue Bell Inn, which was built in 1257 and has been a favorite RAF hangout over the years. Many pilots have signed their names on the ceiling, including one Prince William (underneath Paul Mac XIII).

Cambridge, home of 31 colleges and universities, many of which are older than anything in the U.S.

Cambridge, home of 31 colleges and universities, many of which are older than anything in the U.S.

Campus fines - it costs more to play with a fire extinguisher than it does to punch your professor in the face, apparently.

Campus fines – it costs more to play with a fire extinguisher than it does to punch your professor in the face, apparently.

Hey, look who we found!

Hey, look who we found!

Inside the famed Kings College chapel. The stained glass windows are from the 16th century and depict different scenes from the bible, and were taken down during WWII so they wouldn't get damaged by the air raids.

Inside the famed Kings College chapel. The stained glass windows are from the 16th century and depict different scenes from the bible, and were taken down during WWII so they wouldn’t get damaged by the air raids.

Downtown Cambridge

Downtown Cambridge