The Scamp Needs to Be Reminded

Storytime: In December I got my dream job at the University of Glasgow….literally, this job is perfect for me. It’s teaching, it’s research, it’s in Scotland. I told a joke in the interview and they never blinked at sponsoring a visa.

Basically, they are the opposite of the office that I currently work in.

I had to expedite the visa process so that I can start work in April. I’m transferring from a student visa to a general visa. The process was fairly straightforward, and the application didn’t as for a lot. Just my bank statements for the last 4 months, proof that I was in school, my first born child (especially if it is a male) and a blood oath to queen and country. When not doing the expedited process, you have to mail all your documents (passport, visa, and all the other requested paperwork) to the fancy office in London and you wait 2-3 months to get a reply. I got to make an appointment to go to a fancy office in Glasgow and do a face-to-face.

I paid extra for a Saturday appointment. I joked with some of my colleagues that I may not be able to fulfil my roles in the group because UKVI may make me disappear during the interview.

I get on a train on Saturday morning with two hours to get myself from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The journey takes about an hour. On the train for 30 min…and the train isn’t going anywhere. Then they announce that the train is busted and that we need to get on the train behind us that is also going to Glasgow. Not a problem. I have an hour and a half to get there. 15 minutes pass and the busted train is still on the track. All trains to Glasgow are cancelled. All trains out of the station are delayed. I panic, as I am known to do. I run to the bus station, which is only about a 6 min walk. Get there in time to see the bus leave. The next bus would put me in Glasgow at 12.30. I am now crying. I can’t find a number for the visa office. I just have a QR code for my appointment. I call my mother sobbing on the street. It is 2 am her time.

She tells me to get in a cab. I’ve cried off all my make-up that hide the bags under my eyes. I hail a cab and freak out the cab driver. He doesn’t really want to take me to Glasgow, and I have to show him the address for the visa office because I can’t speak coherent words. I call three numbers and finally get to the visa office and let them know that I may be late. By the time we get on the motorway, Google Maps tells me that I will be at the office by 11:58. I’m still sobbing. Halfway through the journey and the cab starts slowing down. He pulls to the side of the road, shuts off the engine and it starts smoking. Thank God I carry water with me all the time….too bad it didn’t keep the cab from catching fire. A busted hose caused the engine to overheat. I am back to sobbing. Send a sobbing video to my mom. Text everyone I know (including the nasty ex who has a car) because I just can’t handle my life. It is 11.30.

The cab driver calls his company and gets them to send them a new cab driver. He shows up at 11.50. I’m hiccuping. I am no longer producing tears. I don’t have any water because it was wasted on a dead cab. When we get into Glasgow there is so much road works and one-way streets that the Edinburgh cabbie has no idea how to get to the building. It is now 12.30. $115 later, I get him to drop me off in the middle of the street and curse the fact that I could have spent a tenner on the bus to be there at the same time. Run like the wind (or an out of shape Jew with a bag full of paperwork and a winter coat that weighs more than her). I show up the building and the security guard lets me in and walks me up….tells me that the office is empty and it is no problem.

I die a little on the inside.

The women in the office could not have been nicer. They let me cry and tell the whole tale before they tell me I have to have my photo taken for my new visa. The make-up is long gone. My eyes are red and swollen. My hair looks like it has gone through a wind tunnel. I’m sweaty. I’m still sorta crying (but no tears because there is no more water in my body). They have to take the photo twice because the computer couldn’t make out my eyes the first time.

I’m in the office a grand total of 15 minutes. It took 2 and half hours to get there. I leave the office and call a friend of mine who is in Glasgow and cancel plans. I walked to the train station….it’s the wrong one (think of the two stations there like an international airport and a domestic airport. I went international, I needed domestic). By the time I on a train I fear that I will literally go postal if something goes wrong….but I made it back to the city okay. I walked from the train station to my house and stopped for pizza and chocolate to make myself feel better (but it just made me feel sick).

Saturday I was a mess, but now I can laugh until I cry when I tell the story. I found out on Monday that the visa got approved. I’m no longer a student in Scotland. I am now a member of the full-time workforce.

But the lesson here: Do not make fun of the UKVI process before you’ve actually completed it. If you do though, ask your friends to send you photos to cheer you up. My friends and family came through in a major way and made me feel better.

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The Scamp in Montenegro

Greetings from Kotor!

I wish. I have been stress eating my way through the week so far (and it is only Wednesday) and miss the warm sunshine of Montenegro eating ice cream and trying to find one of the many cats that have taken up residence in the old town. According to the Visit Montenegro website:

Located along one of Wold’s most beautiful bays is Kotor, a city of traders and famous sailors, with many stories to tell.

The Old City of Kotor is a well preserved urbanization typical of the middle Ages, built between the 12th and 14th century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage have made Kotor a UNESCO listed “World Natural and Historical Heritage Site”.

Through the entire city the buildings are criss-crossed with narrow streets and squares. One of these squares contains the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (Sveti Tripun), a monument of Roman culture and one of the most recognisable symbols of the city.

The old town was amazing. Smooth stones, beautiful mountain views, and the windy streets with little treasures everywhere made the first couple of days getting used to the tour group manageable.

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What I really liked about Kotor was how peaceful it was. We stayed in a funky hostel that was completely impractical for people who had more than a backpack. We went up some steep stairs to get to the rooms and then ended up going up three more flights to get to an 8 person room. I was really lucky and the people that I ended up sharing a room with were amazing. They were okay with my grandma like curmudgeon ways, and were not the type that wanted to get drunk and sleep their way through this trip.

*photos of the hostel courtesy of bookings.com

While in Montenegro we also went to the town of Budva. I’m not sure I could tell you much about being there though. I had crazy bad heartburn thanks to my anti depressant, so I spent most of our time there trying to find a chemist and some antacids. The lifemate and I were finally able to find a place, and although the chemist spoke no English, rubbing my throat and stomach and led her to saying stomach burn and giving me some pills that made me feel better pretty quickly. I still have no idea what I took, but I’m still alive, so I would say that whatever she gave me worked.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived, but I loved the historic feel of the place. What I noticed about Montenegro, besides how beautiful it was, was how friendly the people were. The chemist spoke no English, but did her best to help me, waiters and bar tenders were patient and kind, and the people at the hostel put together breakfast, dinner, and their version of a pub crawl (I passed on that, so I have no idea how it was). I would like to go back there one day and spend a little more time relaxing there and visit their national treasure, the cat museum.

I can get behind any place that worships cats.

This was stop number 1 on the trip, and after two days in Montenegro, it was time to make the long long long drive to Tirana, Albania.

 

 

The Scamp in Paris

Bonjour de Paris! J’ai pris une semaine de congé et rencontré mes parents dans la ville de l’amour pour jouer au touriste et cracher au sommet de la Tour Eiffel.

And that took me a long time to figure out in French, so I am going to switch back to English. I’ve spent the last six days in France hanging out with the parental units and soaking up a little culture. While the parental units usually go for the guided tours, this trip we decided to do it on our own. My mom found a hotel, we made a list of things we wanted to see and then we dragged my dad around the city. It was a much needed trip, and a good chance to see my parents. It was the start of a beautiful tradition of traveling for Thanksgiving.

Paris. The capital, and most populated city in France and is home to the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa and amazing wine and cheese. My mom and I had never been, but my dad spent a weekend there 40 years ago while he was in the Army and stationed in Germany. Armed with a Lonely Planet guide book, the GPS on my phone and my sense of adventure, we made the most of the 6 days we had together.

Highlights of the trip:

The Louvre

Perhaps the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre is now housed in what was once a fortress turned palace. The museum opened in 1793 and features works of art from Egypt, Greece, France, the Middle East, Britain and America. Highlights include Winged Victory (190 BC)

The Mona Lisa, which according to Wikipedia:

The painting, thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, is in oil on a white Lombardy poplar panel, and is believed to have been painted between 1503 and 1506. Leonardo may have continued working on it as late as 1517. It was acquired by King Francis I of France and is now the property of the French Republic, on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797.

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Liberty Leading the People

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and the Venus de Milo

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We spent Monday climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Arc de Triomphe and strolling down the famous The Avenue des Champs-Élysées. We wandered through a Christmas market, and I had the chance to catch up with an old friend from UC Merced. There was a lot of walking involved, but, I enjoyed every minute of it.

After a bit of touring on our own we joined a walking tour that focused on WWII and the Jewish quarter of Paris. Religion is a tricky thing in Paris, and WWII was not a shining moment for the French. According to the guide, France is deeply embarrassed by bits of their history, but it became clear walking around that they really have taken the time to honour the dead with beautiful monuments and tributes throughout the city. I enjoyed all of the smells of fresh bread and kebabs while on the walk, and we had the chance to meet some really great Americans who also wanted to enjoy a bit of history. I was able to find a really nice mezuzah from a shop in the quarter, and sampled a very tasty bagel with my mom. According to the Art of Living Guide:

“The city’s most famous Jewish neighborhood is in the Marais and is known as the Pletzl – Yiddish for little Place. This 4th arrondissment district (Metro: St. Paul) has been home to Jews on and off since the thirteenth century. Today, though gentrification has made this one of the city’s most fashionable quarters, it is still heavily Jewish and has been for nearly one hundred years.”

If you are ever in Paris, I highly recommend the tour with Localers. The guide that we had made three hours breeze by and gave us a mix of history and current secrets and hidden gems in the city. Ask for Edward. Here is his bio:

Edward is a Franco-British guide and a proper local – born and bred in Paris – a French soul trapped in the body of an Englishman! After working several years in hospitality and hotel management in Normandy, he decided to embark his clients along with him on an adventure. Totally bicultural, he shares a breadth of information on Paris. Whether outdoors or in a museum, he knows his turf like the back of his hand and still, Paris never ceases to amaze him. Like in magic, there’s always something there that you never saw. Promoting Paris in a fun and eclectic way, Edward often goes that extra mile to provide a well-rounded Parisian experience. In his spare time he likes treading the cobblestones, exploring lesser known parts of Paris. And when he isn’t in the city, you’ll find him hiking in the Pyrenees.

Wednesday was an early day filled of rain, a large double decker tour bus and trip out of the city to the beaches of Normandy. My dad is a huge WWII buff and he, my uncle, and my grandad all served in the Army, so this was his one request of the trip. We set off in the pouring rain, but at the end of the three hour bus ride we were met with clouds, but no rain. We started at the Memorial de Caen dedicated to WWII and the Battle of Normandy. This was one of the most beautiful museums I have ever been to. It was well presented, very detailed, and very respectful of all sides. What struck me most was the treatment of Jews, the severity of the battle, and the propaganda on display at the time.

After the museum, we went to Omaha beach where the Americans landed. The beach was beautiful and tragic, and it was overwhelming to think about what it might have been like on that fateful day. After the war, France gave every one of the allied countries a plot of land to be used as a memorial and cemetery for those who died in battle. We went to the American cemetery. It looks a lot like Arlington, and the government has done a great job to make sure the land is beautiful and a great tribute to the soldiers.  Many of the men buried there were not even out of their teens. The magnitude of that, being 19 and dying for your country, is something that I cannot even imagine. These men died for a cause, died so that I could say that I am embarrassed to be an American right now, died so that I can be a practicing Jew without being afraid of what people would do.

This was the trip I didn’t know that I needed to go on. It was nice to get out of the city, but it was also nice to put some things in perspective. I’ve heard and read about all the protests and people feeling like they are getting shafted. People are being petty and hateful and not focusing on real issues like Standing Rock, and terror threats. I can protest, complain, celebrate the system because these men stormed a beach willing to die for America. It makes the grief counseling, safe spaces and colouring books seem a bit daft, but hopefully people remember what these men did for our freedom and will think about fixing a long broken system.

We met a lovely family from Wisconsin during the tour. They were fantastic. Funny, curious, and educated. They were open to discussion and I enjoyed sitting with them when usually I hate interacting with other people in tour groups.

My last day in Paris was Thanksgiving. Personally, I haven’t celebrated Thanksgiving in awhile. I cooked a meal for my friends and family here last year, but for the last few years I have been traveling. My mom and I spent the day hunting out the home of Gertrude Stein and Shakespeare and Company. Armed with a map and the Lonely Planet book, my mom and I wandered outside the bounds of tourists and had a good time wandering around laughing at each other, and trying not to get lost. Gertrude Stein is my favourite poet, so seeing where she wrote some of her best work was amazing. We then spent Thanksgiving in an Irish pub drinking beer, eating fish and chips and lox and bagels and enjoying both a Scottish bartender and a guy from New York. My mother has a tendency to lose her gloves wherever we go, and we had ourselves in a fit of giggles when she left them on the table and then dropped them in the bathroom. I went back to get them and then my mom and I laughed all the way back to the hotel….of course, we were the only ones laughing.

I made it home feeling like I got a very good feel for the city of Paris and an urge to see other parts of France. I came home with art, a little more culture and feeling boosted by being with my parents. I’m grateful for everything I have, and every day that I get to go on adventures. I’m hoping that feeling keeps me warm for the next couple of weeks so I can finish some reports, complete the draft of my paper, and finish the draft of my methodology chapter.

I’m happiest when I am traveling and France gave me the chance to reconnect with an old friend, see my parents, and take in some really great sights. I cannot wait for my next trip in a month. Budapest, get ready for me.

 

The Scamp and Thanksgiving

Last year at this time I was in Scotland receiving my MSc in Education. I spent Thanksgiving showing my sister my favorite parts of the city, and really feeling good about being back in Edinburgh. I was extremely homesick for my life there, and I had not yet processed and mourned the loss of my life there. I didn’t eat turkey. I didn’t eat mash potatoes. I didn’t have to watch football. I dragged my mom and sister to my favorite pub and made them watch karaoke with the cast of regulars I used to watch every Thursday. It was magical.

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To continue my tradition of being overseas for Thanksgiving, I came to Estonia. I have had a very rough few months in the doctorate program, and the only thing I wanted to do was put as much space as I could between me and the United States. I spent yesterday being a tourist and wandering around the old part of the city and enjoying the snow flurries.

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I had a home cooked meal of turkey burgers, mashed potatoes, and a pear and parmigiana salad. Susanne cooked the entire meal, and she filled me with wine, filled me with good food, and we chatted all night. It was one of the best days I have had in a long time. There was no drama, no one calling me a racist, and no stress. I was able to end the day with a Skype call to my mom, and some yummy dessert.

This year, I am thankful for Estonia. I know that I should say I am thankful for my friends and family, and trust me, I am, but I am thankful for them every day, and not just on one of my favorite holidays. This year though, I am thankful for not being in the US, and have some much needed distance between me and the source of my stress and anxiety. I came here to get some clarity on whether or not I want to continue in the program, and whether or not the degree is worth the program breaking my spirit.

I have been to three different countries in 5 days, walked so many miles I lost count, and have successfully battled the language barrier here. Not once was I depressed, anxious, or stressed. I was a bit lonely on my trip to Finland, but that is to be expected when traveling alone.

This year, I am thankful for my little break from reality, from an adventure to curb my wanderlust for a bit, and for a chance to heal a little. The 365 days since last Thanksgiving have been a roller coaster of good and bad, and I am hoping that because I survived them mostly in tact, that in another 365 days I will be in a better place.

If Brittany Spears can survive 2007, I can survive this.