Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My English

An American friend thought I sounded South African this week.
I spoke with simple words to a Hungarian woman.
Slowed down and repeated words as I start a new year with third graders, most of whom speak English as a second or third language.
Mississippi husband and in-laws.
Kenyan English for 3 years.
British school.
My English is confused!
Am I American?
Am I Southern?
Do I call it a rubbish bin or a trash can?

Every day I hear 20 different English accents at a school with 60 countries represented.  Sometimes I feel good when people ask if I'm British or ask where I'm from.  America is only their guess half the time.  My girlfriends back home in America have teased me for saying things like "collected" instead of "picked up" or the higher pitch in the middle of my sentence that doesn't sound American at all.  American co-workers think I sound Southern sometimes.  Truth be told, I think my English is a mess!  On the good side, I can understand a lot of accents after my experience abroad and have even translated English to English for people.  I can spell color and colour.  And I know that loo, toilet, WC, restroom, bathroom, and lavatory are all English words that mean the same thing.  Important to know when you live overseas!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Jewish Hungary

Many people don't know that Hungary once had one of the largest populations of Jewish people in Europe.  Until a group of terrorists rounded them up and shipped them to their deaths.  In Budapest I've heard it said that one in every five people killed at Auschwitz was Hungarian.  At one time Hungary was the last place Jewish refugees fled to in Europe until the Nazis invaded this final escape and hope.  Memorials throughout Budapest honor and remind us that these horrors happened.  Synagogues are still hidden throughout the city, part of apartment courtyards, unnoticeable unless you're looking.  The Old Jewish Ghetto still serves kosher food to its community.  The Grand Synagogue gives tours to help us never forget.

Yet sixty years later anti-semitism still plagues Hungary.  Prejudice seems to be a common theme amongst politicians and rioters, co-workers and friends.  The craziest part?  Many of those politicians who align themselves with these openly anti-semantic political parties are discovering they are actually Jewish too.  A mother, a grandfather, a relative who escaped, a grandparent who died in a concentration camp.

A recent article, A Letter From Budapest, reiterated how serious this issue really is.  How seriously people fear and hope and hate and want change.  Read it.  It's really worth it: A Letter From Budapest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Best of Holland

Holland is a cool country for many reasons, but one of my favorite things is the almshouses.  Way back in the 1500 to 1700's rich Dutch people built groups of small homes for the elderly.  Some were for widows only.  Others for old maids.  One we went to recently was for couples, but the women had to move out when their husbands died.  These homes were donated.  Free.  An act of good will or a spiritual investment to the donator's after-life future.  The thing to do in the 17th Century was to build homes for the poor, the widows, the ones without.  

When I think about this, it makes me so happy.  The Dutch showed kindness, love, and good will to men for centuries with a simple little apartment for someone who had less.  What would America or Kenya or Hungary be like if the wealthy left a chunk of their fortune to build homes for the poor and widows?  Any rich people people reading this?  Probably not.  I guess that leaves the rest of us to do it. I'll add "almshouse" to my budget for retirement.

This is the courtyard of one group of almshouses in Leiden, Holland.  Twelve small apartments were built around this garden.

This is a door to the courtyard of a group of almshouses.  Residents entered here to get to their little flats.  This building happens to be in the same area that the Pilgrims lived before sailing to the New World.  Their church is right across the street from this picture, where many Pilgrims are buried and honored.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Packing Advice

Having traveled through Europe quite a bit in the last couple years, I feel like I have finally fine-tuned my packing skills.  Whether it's a week trip, a two week trip, or a two month trip, here is what two years of Europe packing and traveling has taught me.

Let's start with the bag...  No wheels!  Carry-on size!  Back pack straps!  Europe is not filled with handicap accessible, easy to roll your suitcase kind of places.  There are lots of little stairs, cobble stone streets, and narrow passageways.  Often you're getting on and off trains with STEPS, not ramps, and with SMALL luggage spaces that you have to LIFT your bag up onto.  You don't even need a big pack.  We use Timbuktu and Eagle Creek versions like this:
 And believe it or not, ladies, you can totally fit a week's worth of clothes and toiletries and everything else you need in this small bag.  

What clothes to pack?  
Well, it definitely depends on the season.  Winter clothes require a bit more space, but you don't sweat and stink them up as quickly, so you can take fewer.  But since most people travel in the summer, or if you're smart, travel in the Fall or Spring, I won't talk winter packing this time.  For the most part, this is what I pack on average:
* 1 or 2 pairs of long pants.  (The last trip I packed a pair of jeans and a pair of black jeans - can dress up or down with either of those.)
* 1 or 2 pairs of shorts.
* 5 tank tops / T-shirts.
* 1 sweater / hoodie.
* 1 or 2 long sleeve shirts.
* Optional: cotton dress, skirt, scarf.
* Raincoat (not optional).

Notice: That's only about 10 articles of clothing.  You will find that when you travel, you end up wearing the same few items again and again.  You really won't need more than this.  I promise.

And don't forget...
* 1 swimming suit: You never know.  Once we ended up at a hotel that had a hot tub on the balcony overlooking the entire city.  Forgetting our swimming suits that time was a bit disappointing.

MOST IMPORTANT: Make sure all 10 of your clothing items can mix and match.  When all of them can mostly be worn together, you end up with a lot more outfit options.  This is a definite must and makes you feel like you always have the right outfit for all occasions, as well as a variety that gives the appearance you brought much more than 10 clothing items.  Layering is key!

Shoes!  I take three pairs: 
1. Good walking sandals.  The best (in my opinion) are Chacos.
2. Comfortable closed-toes shoes / trainers / tennis-shoes.  I prefer Toms classic style for the warmer months.  No socks needed and super comfortable to walk all over cobble stone streets.  They also look good with skinny jeans and shorts.

3. Flip flops.  Sometimes your feet just want a break.  And always needed at a pool or beach.

And now the hardest part for all women out there...
I have gotten my bathroom products all in one small make-up bag, about the size of a zip-lock bag.  Shampoo, make-up, lotions, all of it.  It's possible ladies.  Let me show you how:

* Make-up: I take my normal products, but I narrow it down to face powder, eye shadow, and mascara.  Choose the three products you think you can't go without and add it to your bag.  Small versions if possible.  I also throw in lip balm.

* Shower supplies: My husband actually introduced me to Lush products.  They have very few stores in the US, but they're all over Europe and you can order online.  Lush has two products I love... 
1. Shampoo & conditioning bar.  It's actually a solid bar that suds up so easily and can be used for hair and body.  I love it because it makes brushing my hair easy after a shower, it lasts for a LOT of showers, and it's a solid, so I can go through airport security with it in my bag.  No liquids!  They have a great little case that is the exact shape and size for it too.  
 2. Stick perfume.  They have a "Gorilla Perfume" stick that is small, lasts forever, and has a great variety of scents.  Fits so easy in my small toiletry bag.  It's my splurge item that gives me that oh-so-fresh girly feeling while traveling.
* Lotions: I always want MY body lotion and face moisturizer.  But they don't make little versions of my usual products, or not little enough.  So I just bought some toiletry bottles and put my big products in smaller bottles.
* Other stuff: Of course, add your hair bands, pins, and those other small things that will still fit in the bag.  And don't forget your deodorant.

A note about the make-up bag: I use a clear bag because it works the same as a "zip lock for your liquids" that airport security requires.  I don't have to put anything in a separate bag.  Super easy!

I will admit that my hair brush doesn't fit in my toiletry bag.  I just throw that in my back pack.  

About hair dryers and curling irons... You don't need to take them because MOST European hotels and hostels have hair dryers for you to use.  If not in the room, then just request one from the front desk.  Curling irons... Let it go ladies.  You're traveling, walking around all day, sweating, outside.  Your hair is not going to stay curled the way you want it.  Just put it up in a hair band and enjoy the sites.  (USA girls, your plugs don't work in Europe anyway - too much hassle!)

That's it!
Take a small purse for walking the cities and sites you visit.  Something that can just swing across your shoulder, fits your camera, wallet, passport, guidebook.  (Big enough to fit your raincoat too is a good idea.)  And GO.