It’s Saturday, September 1, 2018, as I type 7:53am Eastern Time. I’ve been on the road really since Thursday, August 16, when I left Sacramento for the Bay Area. I am beyond ready to be home.
I woke up around 3:30am. It was at least the 2nd time I’d woke after getting to sleep around 10:30pm probably. Realizing that was likely as good as it was going to get, I stayed up and started working on the blog. I wanted to get yesterday’s post up before I left for the airport, and I did, just before 6am.
I’d packed everything except the final few toiletries the night before, so I was pretty ready. I checked the subway path to JFK and – yikes! – an hour and 42 minutes! I am way too tired at this stage of the trip to mess with that. Lyft it is. If I got going right away, I could make it to the lounge perhaps by 7am, which is when the hotel restaurant would be open for my first cup of coffee anyway. I’d operated so far only on water and was in desperate need of something else.
The lounge entrance was just past security and I made it up there by like 6:56am. Score! Free coffee and breakfast in a very comfortable environment beats the hell out of the hotel restaurant. I’m also one of those that, once I’m ready to go – I’m ready to go. And I’d rather sit it out at the airport than hang out at the hotel. The lounge makes it that much easier.
I sat for a few cups of coffee and a little food, I wasn’t actually all that hungry surprisingly. The coffee cured the headache I had at that point so that was the most important part!
I’d never actually seen avocado toast before, but somehow keep hearing about it, and mostly as a joke, probably on Reddit. But it was delicious! Think guacamole, pico de gallo and diced boiled egg on toast. I liked it, and that potato patty was perfect. I had a little bit of oatmeal after this and that was it.
So far this plane has been assigned to 3 different gates. I wonder how many more there will be before I actually board. This is where Heathrow’s plan is clearly smarter: they don’t even bother assigning a gate until about 15-20 minutes before boarding begins.
I found a place to esconce myself for the duration. The lounge wasn’t crowded at at all yet (although that’s changing rapidly as I sit here) so I had great options to pick from.
This really is a nice lounge. I’d had a few hours here on the way back from Europe last year so I knew it would be way more comfortable than the hotel. And free food and drink is never a bad thing.
I always end the blog with some final thoughts about my overall experience for the trip. Where to start?
- Traveling alone: I’d never done a trip this long before by myself. I didn’t think it would be a problem, being the off-the-chart introvert that I am, and it wasn’t. Traveling with others has its benefits, but now I’ve confirmed that I love traveling alone as well. The freedom to make all of my own choices – from planning to on-the-ground execution – in whatever time frame I wanted to was luxurious.
- Unstructured time: I intentionally left decent sized chunks of unstructured time on this trip. Not as much as I thought I would originally, but certainly more than I ever had on any other Europe trip. I believe it made the trip last longer – it feels like I’ve been gone a lot longer than 2 weeks. I correlate it to weekend experiences I’ve been observing recently: when I have a very structured weekend, with several things planned for each day, they seem to go by very fast – like I show up for work on Monday thinking “wow, I was Just Here!” However, when I’ve left them open and just make it up as I go along, even if I end up being more active than a weekend that was structured, somehow times seems to slow down. There’s something about being present and not thinking much about what I’m doing next until I’m done with the current thing that elongates the time. And I show up to work on Monday thinking “wow, seems like it’s been Forever since I was here.” This entire trip was like that. I remember at one point I realized I had been in Cologne just a week earlier and it felt like a month ago. And that experience has been amazing.
- Smokers – some things never change: Europeans in general smoke way more than we do. Del’Esa and I were talking about this last night. She’s experienced that New Yorkers smoke a lot more than Californians. I said – yes, we Californians are very spoiled that way, but since you’re going to London later this year brace yourself: it’s easily twice as bad as this. And Paris probably twice as bad as that, since she’s also planning a side trip there. Germany, too. I don’t know what it is about Europeans – advanced socially in so many ways compared to the US (I speak here of public transportation, healthcare, and education primarily), and yet they haven’t figure out smoking’s going to kill them and it’s just gross (he says as the militant-ex-smoker-from-hell). So if you’re as sensitive to cigarette smoke as I am and have visions of relaxing comfortably at some Parisian sidewalk cafe, you’ll need to give that up. We either have to deal with the smoke or give up the ambiance because it’s impossible to get both. (One other side note about Europeans that may offset the unhealthiness of smoking a bit: they are way more physically fit than the USA is overall; you don’t see the obesity we have at home anywhere here.)
- Self-centeredness – one of the things all humans have in common is the ability to be completely clueless about what’s going on around them, myself of course included. I always seem to be so much more aware of this when I travel, and try to curb my own natural flaws in this area as a result. You see it everywhere, usually it’s annoying when you do. Probably the most annoying example I had was at the top of St. Paul’s cathedral. With lots of people following a one way, single lane path around the outside of the dome, this guy decides it’s appropriate to take his time shooting a complete 360 video from his phone. Granted, it probably only took 1 minute, maybe 1.5, but as the people are backing up and making noise around him like “what’s the problem, why aren’t we moving” you’d think he’d as least notice that even if he couldn’t understand English. (When I heard him speaking with his family later they seemed Scandinavian of some flavor; typically those folks speak English as well but you never know.) That was probably the most blatant display. [Except for the party on the train from Paris to London that I have apparently blocked my memory!] But there are times when self-centeredness works in your favor: there were a couple of different neighborhoods I found myself in on this trip where I suddenly felt very aware of being a tourist and feeling very out of place. But as I just watched the people I noticed: no one is paying any attention to me whatsoever. They were all focused on where they were going, or what they were selling, or who they were talking to. There was absolutely no reason to be concerned because they were looking right through me if they saw me at all. Just like I do.
- The blog – was a different experience this time working from the new platform. In many ways it’s better and I’m very happy with it, but it also takes a little longer. The setup here with photos really encourages you to use Alt Text which enables those using screen readers to access the content more favorably. But that also takes longer to do and, I will admit, I didn’t do it as thoroughly as I could have. But I tried to do it where it counted – in particular for the Louvre and d’Orsay entries – and got positive feedback on that so was glad it worked. (And as an aside: working where I work, the concept of accessibility is on my mind frequently, where prior to 2015 I never gave it a single thought. That said, much of Europe is largely inaccessible. Virtually every bathroom I used in every restaurant was downstairs, with no elevator access.) All that said, I did like having everything in one place, and it was fun to watch the stats in the background, where I could see a few people (I couldn’t tell who) trailing off and reading other blog entries from other trips or from the Living in the Gray side. I also picked up other bloggers as readers and got positive feedback from that group so that was a very unexpected but welcome outcome of moving to this platform that’s built for bloggers.
I board in about 45 minutes. I have a stopover in Phoenix, then will take BART and Amtrak from SFO to get home. If all goes well I should be home between 7-8pm Pacific time. Looking forward to getting there.
This is the first time I’ve finally achieved the goal I have every trip: to finish the blog before I get home! It’s been an amazing trip, made extra special by having all of you come along and engage in such a meaningful way with me as I traveled. Some of you I know have some catching up to do so I look forward to that part continuing once I’m home. In the mean time, have a great Labor Day weekend. I have no idea when the next trip will be, but you can guarantee there will be one. I look forward to seeing you all then if not before.