Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Aberdeen, Scotland - My First "Visit"

How weird it is to say that I "visited" Aberdeen. It used to be my home... in ways it still feels like a home to me because I have such amazing friends there! Seriously, those ladies are awesome! The guys are okay, too ;-) Anyway, Luke went to Houston (again) for a conference, so I decided that I should spend my week "alone" in Aberdeen. So many of our Aberdeen friends have been to London since we moved, so I figured it was my time to visit to them. PLUS Nary and Gerald were relocating to Bakersfield, California that week, so I wanted to be there to send them off.
{Gerald and Nary}
FIRST: Thanks to the Mahan's for allowing me to crash their place all week! It was fun!!
I arrived Saturday around lunch time, and Jill so kindly grabbed me from the airport. Straight from there, we went to Union Square (one of the mall's in town). We met up with Falene, browsed some stores, got some lunch, got me my first Pumpkin Spice Latte of the season (I can get them in London, I just don't), and then headed back to Jill's house for the afternoon. It was a beautiful and sunny day for my arrival. I have said this before... a long long time ago... Aberdeen LOVES to show off for its visitors. And Jill's backyard showcases the Scottish countrysides beautifully!
{Jill's backyard}
Saturday night was Nary and Gerald's leaving do (going away party). Jill and I went to Tash's to help finish a scrapbook that they made for Nerald. It was the most amazing scrapbook ever!!! Tash and Jill did such a great job, and Nary and Gerald totally deserved all of the time and effort put into it, though. Nerald is one amazing couple! Anyway, we had a fun and sad night saying our goodbyes. It was really interesting for me to hear their goodbye speech since I was once in that position. They will be missed, but they will bring so much joy to Bakersfield! Read about Nerald's leaving events here and here.
{from Nerald's blog}
On Sunday, Jill and I took Angus for a walk around Craigievar Castle. It was a short walk, and we had high hopes of some pretty fall colors. The leaves weren't as colorful as we expected, but it was still a nice little walk, and we got to see this cute pink castle up close.

{Angus... such a sweet silly pup!}
FYI - I did not do a single thing to any of those pictures... the one with the cow - wowzer, so pretty!

Monday was a super yucky day! Jill and I still went for a jog in the morning and got dumped on (compared to normal Aberdeen rain) the whole time we were out. My shoes were soaked! And then Ryan locked us out of the house which left Jill and I hurrying to get ready for the day. She had to work, so Laine and I decided to meet for lunch. We hadn't seen each other since we moved! It felt like old times, though, as we sat and chatted. Laine is expecting Baby Boy TODAY, and she looks so great! She was so calm and relaxed and looked so happy! I am really excited for them, and know they will be great parents.

I was thrilled to learn that the American Women's Association of Aberdeen had a hike planned during my visit (Jill is the leader and planned it that way, haha - thanks Jill)! Hiking became a new favorite of mine when I moved to Aberdeen. I was NEVER an outdoors person before arriving to the UK, but Scotland turned that around. We drove out to Ballater and did the Seven Bridges Hike which is around 6 miles. I had already done the hike back in late November, but that didn't bother me one bit!
{The sun was in and out throughout the walk. It started to rain right after we got in the car to go home.}

{In warmer days, the ground is covered with bright purple Heather.}

{Highland Coo!! These animals are perfect models - they love to pose for the camera.}
That evening, Tash and Laine came over to Jill's house. We played a few games of mahjong before Laine headed back home to her husband. The last time I played mahjong was early April, so I was nervous I had forgotten how to play, but I actually won a game! Woohoo! Afterward, Tash, Jill and I made our own Spring Rolls and Thai Salad. So easy to make, so healthy, and so very yummy! It would make for a fun family dinner - fyi :-)
{Our Spring Roll set up - it doesn't look that impressive, but it tasted great! Photo courtesy of Jill.}
Wednesday morning was pretty cold - 36F - but Jill and I still went out for a jog. We must have wanted to get it over with as soon as possible because we did our 5 miles in under 42 minutes! Hah! Nary's very very last day in Aberdeen was Wednesday, so Jill and I, along with Vicki, met her for lunch at Blue Mountain. After lunch, we popped in a few stores to run some errands. That evening we all went to book club to discuss Before I Go to Sleep (this was the book I read in one day). It was amazing to see how many new girls have flocked to Aberdeen since I have left. About ten of the attendees were new and most are around my age. Crazy! They were all super nice and seemed super positive about their relocation to the UK... great to see! Finally around 10pm, we said our final goodbye to Nary. :-(
Thursday morning was a relaxing day for me. Jill had to work until about 1pm, so I did a little bit of travel planning for our upcoming Berlin trip. That afternoon, Laine came over and we played a few games of mahjong since... why not? That evening, a co-worker of Ryan's (Jill husband) was in town so we went to dinner with him. I completed my visit in Scotland with eating some Haggis :-) Seriously, its good!

Friday was my last day in Aberdeen. The AWA's mahjong group meets every Friday over lunch, so I planned my flight to depart after that. While at the activity group, I met a lady who had only been in Aberdeen a few months and she actually graduated from the same high school as me. Pretty cool, huh?! Small small world!
I really really enjoyed my visit! Everyone kept asking if I miss Aberdeen. I really do love London, but Aberdeen has something that London doesn't - great friends and a FABULOUS women's association. Okay it has more than that, but those are most important. Pretty soon though, all of my friends will be all around the globe (actually three of them will be moving to Houston in the next few months). Hopefully, I can make another visit to Aberdeen soon, hopefully this time with Luke, and hopefully by that time Baby Boy Perry will have arrived :-)

The word on the street is Scotland will have an extremely terrible winter this next year.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

PopUp Painting in London

When I lived in Covington (Louisiana) back in 2010, one of the new, fun things to do was social painting. I gathered a few friends and went to two different painting classes. The first time was just a few weeks before the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, so quite a few classes had football themed paintings. The second class I went to was another Fleur de Lis, but a much prettier one.
The location in the New Orleans area had their own venue, so classes were available every day (sometimes twice a day) and they had a separate room for private events. The range of pictures to paint was huge - not one picture would be repeated in a months time, unless it was an extremely popular piece. They also allowed you to bring your own bottle of wine for no extra fee. That right there was the draw! Painting and drinking? Yes, please! In no way am I an artist, so I was really nervous the first time I went. After I saw how patient and slow with directions the instructor was, I quickly calmed down. Or maybe that was the wine talking? Either way, it was a blast! 

Three and a half years later, London has caught on to this fabulous social activity! My friend, Rachel, approached me a few weeks ago about going with her to PopUp Painting. Currently, the company does events once a month as the company is still very new. The cost for the event is £29 and includes all of the art supplies needed and a complimentary glass of Prosecco.
Rachel and I (along with two other friends of Rachel's) decided to attend the event at Babycakes in Richmond last Thursday at 8pm to paint Lichtenstein's A Retrospective. 
As each future artist arrived at Babycakes, we were greeted with a warm welcome and our glass of Prosecco. Everyone socialized for a few minutes while waiting for all attendees to arrive.
Once everyone arrived, we took our seats and were given a few instructions regarding the class. We were encouraged to make the painting how we wanted such as changing the colors.
{notice that there are differences in this painting and the actual painting by Lichtenstein}
The instructor had a finished picture of A Retrospective at the top of her easel to help us get a sense of what we were aiming for. She also had a blank canvas to show us step by step on how to create our masterpiece. Finally, we received paint, and began.
After a few directions, she would stop and wait for us to catch up. During these little breaks, we socialized and painted at the same time while listening to some fun music. The whole purpose after all is the socializing, not so much the painting. The instructor walked around the room and checked on everyone. She helped where needed and gave loads of encouragement! We were like children - we needed positive reinforcement... and more Prosecco!
{this girl has got some serious eyebrows... but who am I to talk?}
We only received red, yellow, blue, black and white paint, so for quite a bit of the picture, we needed to mix colors. The hardest color to make was the flesh for the skin. It is really fun to look at everyone else's paintings! The instructor was extremely kind to all of us. It really takes a special person to teach a painting class! 
{my finished painting}
Finally, we were given the final instructions. Everyone did what they could to make it perfect! We took a group picture while allowing the paint to dry on the canvas. Before leaving, we were given a bag to protect our work during our journey home. 
{our little group of four that Rachel gathered together for the event}
The experience was very similar to the ones I had previously - loads of fun! It may seem like a stressful activity to do for an evening if you are not an artist, but the event is casual, relaxing, and fun! I am convinced that the instructor makes her painting look a little bit funky to make the rest of us feel better. No matter what, someone else's work will look worse than yours - trust me! - so there is no need to worry about what yours looks like.

Have you done a social painting class? What was your experience like? Did you enjoy it?

Friday, October 11, 2013

True or False?

I thought it would be fun to play a little game today!
Below is a list of random things. Which are true and which are false?
{That's my cursive/script/joined up (British term) writing. Not so pretty.}
A.) I haven't groomed my eyebrows in five months.
B.) I will still use milk if it is past its expiration date.
C.) I go jogging in the morning without brushing my teeth first.
D.) Sometimes, I forget that bathroom light switches are on the outside of the room.
E.) My morning routine is: jog, shower, grocery store.
F.) I have to think about how to say the word advertisement before I actually say it.
G.) I try to spell words the British way to assimilate to the culture.
H.) I have never taken a trip on an airplane by myself.

Do you know which are true and which are false?  

Let's see how you did...
A.) True. The last time I even touched my eyebrows was May 1, and I remember that day because it was the day before we went back to the States. Since then, I honestly have not cared what they look like. It's such a pain to manage, and it's a pain to find someone you trust to do them without waxing off half of your eyebrow --> it happened to me. 
B.) False. If a food item has expired, I don't touch it. It drives Luke crazy! He says spoiled food only makes you stronger. 
C.) True and False. Sometimes I do this. If I go jog before I drink my coffee, then yeah, what's the point of brushing my teeth? Plus, I think it keeps the snatchers away. I mean, who wants to snatch a girl who hasn't brushed her teeth? 
D.) True. You would think that after a year, I would remember where light switches are. I blame it on the fact that I lose practice when we travel. 
E.) False. My routine does consist of jogging and showering and grocery storing, but that's not the order in which I do them. I have to get the jogging out of the way in the morning or else I won't go. And there is no point in me showering just yet because I have to walk to the grocery store. I always end up getting stinky again, so I always shower after the grocery store. Sadly, I am still not the smelliest person in the grocery store. 
F.) True. Ad-VERT-iss-ment. This is the only word that trips me up when it comes to the American-English vs. British-English. I think it actually started when I heard Obama say it that way years ago, and now that the British say it that way, I can't get it out of my head. 
G.) False. I try to continue spelling things the American way, unless it is a name. If I ever spell things the British way, it was a mistake. Words like centre and theatre always get me! 
H.) True. That will change this weekend! I am leaving for Aberdeen tomorrow morning... alone... and flying... alone... to go visit my friends that I miss dearly. Yay!

What random truth would you like share with the blogoworld?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Up and Coming

Since Italy, I haven't done much travel planning, so I have pretty much taken off the past two weeks. We have Berlin coming up, but we have the main stuff booked, so it will just take the week of to figure out the details.
{Luke heard the Brandenburg gate is covered in scaffolding. Can anyone confirm? source of photo}
We also have Amsterdam coming up, but we are going with my friends Kelly and Billy who live in Stuttgart, Germany. That is a group effort, and won't take too much planning.
{source of photo}
We also, just this week, decided to take a trip to the German Christmas Markets with Jill and Ryan and will be staying in Rothenburg. Sleeping arrangements have been made, flight is about to be booked (after I finish writing this), and the rest is a piece of cake (oooh, pumpkin cake)!
{Doesn't this just make you want to go???! source of photo}
It has been nice to relax (as if my life is hard...)! I read two books last week! I haven't read since March! I finished one of the books in a day... I have never done that before! Now, that day was pretty worthless, but hey, that's a pretty big accomplishment! And... the book was only 260 pages, but it's still a book!

Anyway, this past Monday rolled around, and I got extremely paranoid. Paranoid that our time here in London will be ending soon, and that we won't get to see and do everything we want. Luke says that I am crazy, and there is absolutely no reason for me to think this. Luke and I have lived in London for 6 months now. Our 6 month anniversary came and went just two days ago - somehow, I missed it. When we lived in Aberdeen, it was around the 6 month mark that we announced to our friends that we would be moving to London. I think I am paranoid because of our short life in Aberdeen... but mainly because I took two weeks off from travel planning. That came back to haunt me... actually it has probably haunted Luke more than me.

I sat down earlier this week and sorted out our calendar for 2014. Can y'all believe 2014 is less than three months away!?!? Anyway, first up on the agenda is a ski trip, and I would love to go to Austria. I have heard Austria is a great place to ski... but mainly because it is in the lower price range. There are so many resorts in The Alps, so many sets of mountain peaks, and I don't even know where to begin with planning!
{Look at all of that mountain! source of photo}
So I am asking for some help... if you have any...
Have you been skiing in Austria? Where did you go skiing? Did you enjoy it? Where would you recommend we go that isn't too expensive? Thanks in advance!

The City of London is one of the smallest cities in the world. It lies within the metropolis of Greater London and is just a little over 1 sq mi. About 80% of the City of London was destroyed by the Great Fire in 1666.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Travel Essentials - The Not-So-Obvious

I have seen quite a few blog posts recently that give a list of the traveling essentials. All are usually pretty helpful to those who are fairly new to traveling. Traveling Essentials lists usually consist of the obvious -headphones, a scarf, an umbrella, etc. These items were on my list the first time I traveled in Europe (which is really the only place I have ever traveled), but there are other essentials that I learned about the hard way that you rarely see on any list. Maybe my list is really only helpful to those whose travel style is similar to mine? Not sure.
So what's my travel style?
1.) I try to save money as much as possible. All those little extras add up to a fairly large lump sum of money in the end. I'd rather save that money for our next adventure!
2.) I try to save space since I travel with a rucksack (33L or 8.7gal) and a small backpack purse. Think about the size of trash bags that you buy and that will give you a somewhat good idea of the size of my backpack. I like that I can walk anywhere and everywhere with my luggage. I don't have to worry about stairs or cobblestone streets or checking it on a flight. It can sit on my lap during public transport where I know for a fact it is safe.
3.) On long trips, I don't bring enough clothes for each day we are traveling. I hand wash or machine wash (if possible) my clothes and wear things more than once.
4.) During our travel days, we usually leave our place of stay in the late morning and don't arrive back until we are done for the day after dinner. That means we have to be prepared for all day and bring everything with us that we need for the day.

After quite a few adventures, I have come up with a list of essentials that aren't as "pretty" as the normal list but they are definitely useful!
1.) Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel - Yes, this one is an obvious one, but I feel it has to stay on the list  because you can never have too many reminders when it comes to this one. Probably one in ten bathrooms I enter while traveling have hand soap. It is pretty disgusting at the end of the day to think about how little I have actually washed my hands, but at least I have used anti-bacterial gel.
2.) Wash Rag - Europeans aren't the biggest fans of wash rags or wash cloths from what I have experienced. Occasionally, we will come across a hotel or apartment that provides them, but usually not. One time when we first began traveling, we asked the front desk if they could bring us wash rags and they had absolutely no clue what we were talking about. Finally they acted as if they did, then brought us big hand towels... yeah, that didn't work. Now, we always bring our own.
3.) Tissues or Napkins - Just like very few bathrooms have hand soap, so many of them don't have toilet paper either. I always stick a few napkins from a coffee shop in my bag to make sure I am not stuck in that super awkward position that us ladies avoid at all times.
4.) Laundry Detergent - Even if you don't plan on doing any laundry while you travel, it is not a bad idea to have some detergent just in case an item that you expected to wear a few times (jeans, a jacket, a bra, etc) needs to be cleaned. Rome was so hot that we could not wear some items more than twice like we usually do.
5.) Floss - This recently became an essential for me. I always have floss in my toiletries bag, but twice in the past two months, I have needed floss in my purse. Now, I keep some in my purse :-)
6.) Water Bottle - Remember, I like to save money. I am a big fan of reusing water bottles rather than buying new ones. If I have room in my bag, I bring an empty one with me to the airport or I buy a bottle after security. Then, we use that bottle during our whole trip. Plus, those small cups in hotel rooms just don't cut it for my middle-of-the-night-thirsts.
7.) Medicine (Ibuprofen, Band-Aids, and Neosporin especially) - Really you should not travel without some type of medical kit, but I specifically always need those three things. I keep band-aids in my purse because I never know when I will get a blister. The neosporin is a pain killer in itself, plus I get infected ears quite easily and neosporin zaps that over night.
8.) Plastic Baggies of all sizes - Luke and I usually pack sandwiches for lunch to help cut back on cost and it prevents us from gorging on food every meal. Without baggies, we would have no place to put our sandwiches. Plus, they come in handy at the most random times, like if a necklace or bracelet breaks - where are you going to put it? Oh, in a sandwich baggie! Or you can't find a trashcan for your gelato cup that you just finished and you're not going to litter and you don't want to hold it - where are you going to put it? Oh, in a gallon baggie then in my purse until I find a trash can!
9.) Plastic Grocery Bag - Many European countries are moving toward charging customers for grocery bags. I always bring my tiny fold away grocery bag to avoid any extra few cents that may increase the cost of our travels.
10.) Snacks - When that hungry monster inside starts to eat a hole in my tummy, a granola bar or some peanuts or gummy bears (that are in one of my sandwiches baggies) does the trick for the time being.

Again, obviously there are other essentials, but most of these are things that no one really told me about. I had to learn the hard way or from experience. Now in no way do I feel I am an experienced traveler, but I have learned how we like to travel and have learned what works for us.

What not-so-obvious items do you make sure to pack when you travel?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

ET 3.05 - Pisa, Italy

Actual date of this event: 14 September

What else is there in Pisa besides the Leaning Tower? Well, there is a few other things and most of it is all in the same location - in Piazza del Duomo.
The Duomo, entitled to St. Mary of Assumption, was the first building to be built in Piazza del Duomo. A fire in 1595 caused the church to be reconstructed. The cathedral, along with other buildings in Pisa, has tilted slightly since its construction.
The Battistero is located on the east end of Piazza del Duomo. It is possible to climb the dome which will give you a view of the Leaning Tower. It is the largest Baptistery in Italy.
 Campo Santo, the monumental cemetery, is located on the north end of Piazza del Duomo. It is said to be the most beautiful cemetery in the world and was built with sacred soil.
The Bell Tower is located on the west end of Piazza del Duomo. It was built to hold seven bells. In 1990, the tower was at a 5.5 degree tilt, which is the most it has ever been, but it is now at a 4 degree tilt.
Ospedale Nuovo di Santo Spirito, or New Hospital of Holy Spirit, is located on the south side of the Piazza del Duomo. It is now partly a museum as well as a hospital. (Sorry, no picture for this one.)

The best train station for Piazza del Duomo is Pisa S. Rossore rather than Pisa Centrale. Along the walk, we saw men setting up their stations with souvenirs to annoy tourists who walk along the street to the piazza. Eventually, we entered through the old city walls. The site was pretty jam packed with people, but we were in no rush.
Before leaving for Italy (which was thirteen days before we visited Pisa), I attempted to purchase tickets into all of the attractions, but it was booked up for three weeks. I thought that was crazy! But it was no big deal - we could just walk around and see everything and just relax as it was our last day in Italy since we were flying back to London that evening. We had been told by some people we chatted with in Cinque Terre that we could buy tickets on sight, but we decided against it since we had our backpacks and we didn't feel like carrying them into everything. We made a loop around everything.

We watched some folks do their funny poses in front of the Leaning Tower. Giggled as one guy tried to do some sort of flip and totally busted his butt.
Then, obviously, we had to do our own poses.

Usually Luke is an awesome photographer, but he was TERRIBLE at taking pictures of the Leaning Tower. You make the call - look at the ground to see which picture is more level.
Walking up closer to the base, I could see the tilt in the actual ground. The tower was closed to the public until the end of 2001, when it was declared stable for at least 300 years.

The sun was really burning down on us and our backpacks were beginning to drench our backs. We stopped for lunch where we had internet access for the first time since Florence! We took full advantage of that.
After a liter of beer, we went back to the piazza to people watch.

And make silly faces in front of the tower... I blame the liter of beer!
Then we found shade, and laid down for a bit in the grass with everyone else. My luggage makes a pretty good pillow.

Finally, we got up and walked toward the river. And then stopped again for a few drinks and some free wifi.

The afternoon was coming to a close, so we crossed the river and walked passed a market along the major shopping street in Pisa (Corso Italia).
Once we reached the train station, we decided that we would just walk to the airport rather than take the train since it was only a mile away. Now, I can say that I have walked to airport! How many people get to say they have done that? (How many people want to do that??? haha)
So... Pisa is very very touristy, but its expected. There isn't much to do there but see Piazza del Duomo. I was asked recently, "Would you say it is worth it?" Well, if it is on your way somewhere, yeah it is pretty cool, but no it is not something that I would say is a "must see" in your lifetime. It was exactly as I expected, except the tower was leaning more than I thought it would be. We had fun being goofy on our last day in Italy, though.

One last note: The Pisa Airport is the biggest mad house ever! If you ever fly out of Pisa and are leaving the Schengen, do not, I repeat, DO NOT, go through the passport check which is upstairs until it is time for your flight. The place was packed, and there was barely even anywhere to sit on the floor. It was crazy!

The Duomo's Bell Tower is not the only leaning tower in Pisa - two other towers lean due to marshy lands.

Note: If you want to make a comment below, you might notice that I have changed my commenting format. To comment on this post, 1.) write your comment, 2.) sign-in by clicking one of the circles (choose between Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, and Google - I always use Google), and 3.) click the grey "Post as ..." in the bottom right corner of the comment box. Disqus is great because when I comment back to you, you will get my reply without having to come back to this post. I love it! If you are having trouble, send me an email at buissonfamilyblog at gmail dot com.

Today, I have linked up with Bonnie at A Compass Rose for Travel Tuesday.
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