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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thanksgiving in London (wah?)

So I decided to go rogue for Thanksgiving and spend my long holiday weekend in London, a turkey-loving country.  I'll be honest I've had stopovers in London and never been remotely impressed.  But this trip? I was not disappointed. 

Wednesday Nov 26, 2014
I was shocked at how easy it was to travel through JFK.  My flight was an hour delayed but my handy Delta app alerted me so that I wouldn't get to the airport too early and as usual I didn't check a bag.  The overnight flight felt super short (probably had something to do with the awesome book I was reading) and I arrived to a super short customs line.  Winning!

Thursday Nov 27, 2014
For those of you who are new to London, it is a BITCH to get around.  I've never seen a city so sprawling and I've lived in LA!  You have a couple options coming from Heathrow into the city (I was headed to the Angel stop).  You can take the 15 minute Heathrow Express to Central London for £21 one way or £30ish roundtrip. Trains leave every 15 minutes and the journey takes about 20 minutes. 

That seemed stupidly expensive to me especially because I wasn't in any kind of hurry so I opted for the scenic option, "The Tube" via the Piccadilly line.  It takes about an hour to the main tube station to switch trains but it's only £5.50 one way.  If you are going to be in London for an extended period of time I recommend getting an Oyster Card but I wasn't going to be using the tube outside of airport travel so it wasn't worth it.

Lucky for me a close friend decided to throw a Friendsgiving for his new European friends (he'd just moved there a few months prior) so I arrived at the Angel stop, carted my suitcase down to his apartment and we got down to business of making turkey, spiced rum cider, baked mac n' cheese and more.  For expats, Whole Foods will deliver you a Thanksgiving meal if you feel lazy.

Turns out making Thanksgiving dinner gives you an appetite so we stopped for brunch at the famous, Breakfast Club.  My friend said there's normally a line around the block but since it was a working Thursday for most Londoners we got in without a wait.  Go us!  I headed straight for the Avo Toast (ah Aussie memories) and a cup of extremely delicious cappuccino.  The hipster vibe of the joint is laidback and welcoming and the staff is very attentive.  The only problem with the place I was so stuffed I had no idea how I was going to eat Thanksgiving dinner in a couple hours!
After a delicious Thanksgiving dinner we hopped on the bus to "Shoreditch" to grab cocktails and do a little dancing at Queen of Hoxton.

Photo Credit: Queen of Hoxton

The bar was okay.  I tried to order a cocktail from the handwritten menu on the blackboard only to be told they didn't have the staff to create the cocktails.... uh, isn't that the point of having a menu?  So you can order from it?  The night soon devolved to dancing until 2am when they closed.  This would be my most annoying learning... I wanted to keep going out but London fun dies at 2am.  Yup, carriage back to a pumpkin people.  #ILUVNYC!

Friday November 28, 2014
I'll admit it.  I slept in.  Until 2pm.  So un-touristy of me but I didn't care.  I did feel like I needed to redeem myself before meeting up with my London friends once they were off work so I took myself to the Tate.  I was staying in Herbal Hill so it was a lovely 20-30 minute walk down to the Thames River and over the bridge to the museum.


The Tate Modern houses international modern and contemporary art.  The building itself used to be a famous power station that was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  £12 million later it's now a museum and one of the top three tourist attractions in London.

Headphones in, I spent three hours wandering the floors of the Tate.  Most of the museum is free with a few temporary exhibits that require you to buy a ticket.  There was plenty of amazing art on the free floors so I wouldn't bother with the temporary exhibits unless you are going specifically to see one of them.  There's also an amazing view of the river from the cafe inside or you can up to the top floor restaurant and grab drinks for a higher view although this one is behind glass which is less appealing to me then the patio outside the cafe. 


Three hours was plenty of art for me so I wandered the pop-up Christmas market outside Tate on the south bank until my friends arrived post-work.  Poor Londoners... no day off for them!  We grabbed a few giant beers from the market and then walked Millennium Bridge, passed St. Paul's Cathedral to Madison's Bar to meet up with the rest of our crew.  Madison's reminds me of the fancy hotel bars of Meatpacking in NYC.  Not my usual scene but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Photo Credit: Madison's Bar

This many beers in I forced the guys to find us dinner and we ended up at Wahaca Mexican restaurant (we were at the St Paul's location).  We ordered all sorts of small plates of which 99% were outstanding.  My friends will never believe that London of all places has good Mexican food! 

Photo Credit: Wahaca

We lost the couples after dinner and the rest of us continued with the Mexican tradition and headed to El Camion, a two story members only bar in Soho.  That is one thing that annoys me about London... it's a pain in the ass to get in to places.  You have to know someone or be a member or be on a list or wait in a massive line.  No. Thank. You.  I miss the random democracy of NYC bars... or maybe it's just the sheer number of them.  Anyways, we ended up in the bowels of El Camion and have a few margaritas.  I have to say I wasn't that impressed.  It was dark, fairly empty (especially considering the line of people they were forcing to wait outside) and the people kept fairly to themselves.  BORED.  I will say that it has a lot of potential though... the decorations in the place are amazing and very festive and fun.

After our few drinks we dropped the sport coat bars and headed for something a little more... grimy?  Mahiki Tiki Bar as apparently once a very trendy club but it's heydays have come and gone.  I was with three guys and for whatever reason we walked right pass the major line and straight in the door (for a small fee of course).  The bartender was from the East Village which earned us a round of free $$$ drinks and then the guys ran straight in a 40+ year old hens party and we spent the rest of the night drinking their cocktails and getting into dance-offs.  RANDOM.  I loved the place.  The waiters were all wearing straw fedoras and one of the guys managed to land me one which I took to immediately.  Unfortunately, when I tried to make a run for the exit with the hat at the end of the night a VERY large bouncer politely removed it from my head.  Ugh, I was so close!  Regardless, I highly recommend this place for a shit-show dance party but be ready to drop some serious change on those drinks.

Photo Credit: Mahiki Facebook

Saturday, November 29, 2014
I won't lie... I was definitely hurting this morning which did not make the train to Twickenham Stadium for the rugby very pleasant.  After crushing waters on the ride over, I did what any desperate hungover person does before a sporting event... I order the biggest beer at the rowdiest bar I could find.  For those arriving early to sporting events at Twickenham, once you disembark from the train go left over the river and walk down London Road for your choice of bars crowded with fans.  The weather was amazing - blue skies and sun so each of the bars had an outdoor area filled with people. And what do you know.  The beer at The Cabbage Patch worked!  Hungover gone just in time for the game.  The match was a QBE Internationals game between England and Australia.  How fitting.  An American girl watching an England/Aussie match with two Australians in England.  Bases covered.

To get to the stadium from "Bar Row" just cross back over the bridge and walk down Whitton Road which runs right into it.  Whitton is an adorable little street lined with homes and food stands.  You could feel the energy of the crowd as we walked up and found our seats.


Unfortunately, Australia was clobbered but the game was still a ton of fun.  The locals around us gave the guys a health dose of sass but all in good fun which was nice and I was able to cross "English rugby match" off my travel list and enjoy the company of my Aussie guys.

After the match, we returned to The Cabbage Patch to drink "our sorrows" away.  One of my friends had a dinner party back downtown to attend and I realized that one of my girlfriends, whose British, was having her birthday that night... IN TWICKENHAM.  I checked my phone and discovered that the address was 5 minutes walking from the bar.  So my other friend and I wandered over to the bday.  Turns out we were the only non-relatives and her family was FUCKING COOL.  We ended up partying all night with them before busing back into the city.

All-in-all a nice way to end my Thanksgiving weekend.  I was happy that I saw all of the people I wanted to see, some of whom I haven't seen in years, manage to still have Friendsgiving complete with turkey and spiced rum cider AND take in some new sights in London.  The warm, sunny weather definitely blindsided me and allowed for me to admit that... okay London is pretty cool.  My only qualms with the place now are the early bar hours and how damn spread out it is!!  But, this trip definitely opened me up to returning to visit again... but not until summer :-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Memories of Burning Man 2014 - Black Rock City, Nevada

Time has made writing this somewhat less painful, though no less poignant. The sand and wind may have erased the evidence, but the Playa remembers our footsteps and our stories.  This was my first burn and it's taken over a month for my feelings and perspectives to properly soak in so that I could share them with you.  Enjoy it.  Judge it.  But please at least read it.

I had no idea what to expect. Well, I had some idea that I’d conjured up in my head - a desert of campers half naked, half stoned, sharing the earth for a week.  I'd purposely refused to watch the trailers or read more than I had to to come prepared.  What I wasn't expecting was the openness, the acceptance and the placing aside of the real world's bullshit for a week.

Burning Man came at a time in my life when I needed to cleanse my soul. Ironic in a place where the closest thing to a shower is a foam party.  Sure, what you’ve heard is true…some of the best parts were the drinking and partying and dancing until dawn.  It was a shitload of fun.  But it was the people, the music and the creative abandon of this transient place that truly captured me.

Within hours of arrival, I found myself sitting on a couch next to a guy who must have been growing his wildly colored dreads for a decade.  Every surface covered in tattoos and piercings. He was the guy my mom would've told me never to sit by on the subway.  But Burning Man encouraged me to hug that man and hear his story and walk away thinking he was the most interesting man on Earth.

Whether it was this tattooed man, the bartender who raised llamas or the British lawyer dressed in harem pants...everyone had an amazing story and a different reason for being there.  And the care these people put into celebrating what they have and each other was astonishing.  I don’t care what you've heard, 68,000 people living together without significant crime, no form of currency and very little trace of waste is impressive.  Hats off to us, damnit.  Imagine if every person in the world put that much effort into the world we live in the other 51 weeks of the year.  Fuck the world would be great!

Most of my time was spent mesmerized by the imagination of people.  In the real world you run into brilliance and knowledge and intellect a lot, but you run into less and less creativity.  The real world is tired, sold out, and bored.  Burning Man?  Picture Peter Pan's Neverland... But better. Because the grownups haven't forgotten how to believe in fairies and magic; they've turned a scrap of dirt into a real life Neverland where you could board a plane to Pandora, ride inside a giant glowing fish blaring disco music or dance in homage to the rising sun among monkeys, unicorns and purple dragons.

People who talk about Burning Man reference the movie-themed Thunderdome, the orgy camps and the wasteful, rich camper vans that are "ruining the neighborhood."  

People overlook the smaller theme camps where imagination is living and breeding and spreading.  I walked down the street one day wistfully wishing I’d brought more costumes only to be accosted by a leprechaun who asked me to be in a fashion show. Without question I said “yes” (the favored word of Burning Man) and was led into a room filled with crazy clothes to select an outfit and parade it down a handmade runway.  And after that final twirl, I stepped off the runway and continued down the street ecstatic in my new do that was magically mine to keep! 

And then there’s the Playa, where the million dollar art cars and sound camps and Temple get a lot of the love.  And please believe... I loved them too.


Open your eyes and ears to the random smattering of art structures that appear out of nowhere or the DJ that took his four-wheel van and turned it into a narwhal that played the best beats I heard all week.  Move over Skrillex; meet DJ Little John.

Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

Which brings me to my favorite part: the music. As a rabid music connoisseur, I read through the Burning Man booklet of "DJs and bands" that would be playing throughout the week and of hundreds of artists, I recognized one.  Problem?  Hell no! I was so stoked to see what new tracks I’d uncover.

I've often wish for a "soundtrack to my life” and this was the first time I encountered one. From dawn ‘til dusk ‘til dawn again there was music. Drum lines, acoustic guitar, dance, and deep deep house. 

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell

Walk a block; hear something different. And it wasn't just the sound.  It was the feel and visuals of the music…Lasers, lights, smoke and hypnotic soul-soaked bass.  At night, Burning Man became a world of music made physical for us all to share and revel in.  Headphones not included, only music that could be experienced together.


The magic hour was near sunrise when the music lured the faithful out to the deep Playa. I’d look around and see nameless faces on bikes cycling silently towards an unseen destination with only music to light the way.  As the sky turned to pink, the music would change its tempo, its volume, its mood and the crescendo would come to pops of champagne and cheers as the sun crested the flat horizon.   Each dark night leading to another dazzling day.  I’d snatch at that moment like a child chasing glow bugs, hoping to capture the feeling and internalize it deep down inside me where I could turn to it and remember long after this fleeting world was gone.


Some of us came to Burning Man to temporarily run away (I know I did) but I think we can all agree that we found ourselves running TOWARDS something instead - understanding, friendship, love, peace.  At least those are the things I walked away with. An understanding of a world outside of my NYC bubble. Friendship and love for a group of people I’d known for days and will cherish for decades. And an inner peace that I return to on rainy days when work or love or friendship sucks. A peace that reminds me that each day is what I make of it. Whether it's having the balls to make a friend of a subway stranger or be open to love from an unexpected place, I left with my eyes and heart open.  And I count the days until I can cleanse this soul in fire on the sands of the Playa.


The media, the rich, and even the original hippies are all responsible for diluting the meaning of Burning Man.  The media portrays it as a pagan sex camp, the rich introduce campers and showers and waste, and the original hippies bitch about “how it used to be.”  I challenge anyone to say that Burning Man is going to shit.  Maybe for you.  But that doesn’t mean that others can’t experience it and feel something about it for themselves.  For those of you who might only experience it through word of mouth or blogs or YouTube, I implore you to ponder these final thoughts before forming an opinion and maybe, just maybe, try it.  I was scared shitless and I'm SO glad I did it.
  1. We can be whatever community we want to be; we just have to try.
  2. The person you least expect is probably the most interesting one. We all judge. Yes, even you.
  3. You never know when and where love and friendship will find you. Leave yourself open to be surprised.
  4. Spend less time worried about other people’s motives and bullshit. Focus on your own and leave it all on the table.
I'll end with a special shout-out to the artists, musicians and people that I met throughout my week at Burning Man.  Be sure that you each left your unique mark on me and you won't be forgotten.  From family dinners to clumsy bike rides to early mornings dancing to the music of the Narwhal... "Happy New Year."  I look forward to seeing you all again next burn.

 Photo Credit: Matt McConnell