#50for50 to Ring in a New Decade

A few years ago, a friend of mine had a wonderful plan to visit 50 new places before her 50th birthday. As my milestone birthday is approaching next year, I was inspired by her idea, but with a different twist. Given all the traveling I do as an expat, I know how hard it is to visit 50 new places in a 12 month window, so I decided to expand on her idea by having new experiences not just locations.

If there is one thing making an international move has taught me, it’s that life is so much richer when you are pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. And true to the nature of why I started this blog, you don’t have to have big, grand events to experience change. Sometimes that simple “unexpected” moment can bring about the same result.

So, for the next year, I’m going out on a limb and saying yes to lots of new stuff. I want to try things I’ve always been interested in. I want to make myself uncomfortable by taking a leap of faith into an activity or place that is not in my normal wheelhouse. I want to take advantage of all the wonderful things that are available to me by living in the world’s greatest city.

I’m going to track it all here, so join me as I ring in a new decade with #50for50!

#50for50

  • Evensong at Westminster Abbey: I’ve always heard about these services, but had never been to one. It’s a great way to see the beautiful cathedrals of Europe without the massive crowds. (1 of 50)IMG_9627
  • Bellydancing at a Lebanese restaurant: This one was completely outside of my comfort zone! I promise you, that is laughter in the photo to the right, not tears. But it was a really good reminder so early into this process that sometimes you can have a lot of fun putting yourself out there. (2 of 50)
  • Knitting class: Chunky yarn arm knitting class has been completed and a lovely blue throw blanket is now in my possession. Maybe not a regular activity, but am wondering if I can apply what I learned to regular knitting. Hmmm… (3 of 50)
  • MacGyvering my way through Thanksgiving: When renting a townhouse that doesn’t have a can opener, you need to get creative cooking Thanksgiving dishes. I channeled my inner MacGyver and chiseled open four cans of green beans for Christian’s favorite Thanksgiving dish. Good to know I can be resourceful when I need to be! (4 of 50)
  • Dinner at an igloo along the Thames: The tables are hard to come by, but we managed to secure a table for 8 to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Pretty, cozy and private for lots of loud American laughter by the Thames. (5 of 50)
  • fullsizeoutput_6bc8New Country – Wales: This was a kicker. Had to turn around and go home after only being in the country for 20 minutes, but we got a picture of the welcome sign, set foot on soil and bought a coffee, so in my book in counts! (6 of 50)
  • Morocco: The trip to Morocco was so special on many levels. The warmth and hospitality just enveloped us and I’m finding the more I stretch myself in visiting new places so different to my own, the more fulfilled I feel. This one ticked many new experience boxes, so here we go –
    • New Country (7 of 50)
    • New Continent (8 of 50)
    • Riding a mule up the Atlas Mountains (9 of 50)
    • Hot Air Balloon ride at sunrise (10 of 50)

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  • Discovering new London neighborhoods: Leading the Love London tours for AWBS has me exploring London all the time. Recently it seems as if I’m learning new things about places I’ve already been, so it’s nice to get out on my own and discover some of the new neighborhoods that make London such a great city.
    • Bermondsey and Maltby Street Market (11 of 50)
    • IMG_0941Croydon and Bromley (17 of 50)
    • Bushy Park (29 of 50)
  • Learned to Make Fresh Croissants: Bread Ahead offers an incredible array of baking and patisserie classes at it’s headquarters in Borough Market. I decided I wanted to learn how to make fresh croissants and, oh yum, it did not disappoint. Not difficult to do, it just requires patience and a bit of time. The key ingredient? French butter and lots of it! (12 of 50)
  • Buying a House in Another Country: We decided we are going to be in the UK for the foreseeable future so it was time to purchase property here. It is definitely a new experience buying property in another country. New process, terminology, procedures, financing – all of it! (13 of 50)
  • Portobello Road Market: For all the years I’ve been to/lived in London, I’d never visited Portobello Road Market. On Saturday, I happened to be in that area of town, so I decided to stop by and check it out. Honest answer? I was definitely underwhelmed. The antique shops might be worth a closer look on a less crowded day, but the market stalls were so touristy. If you are looking for a proper English market I’d highly recommend Greenwich on a Saturday or Spitalfields for a great combination of food and stalls. (14 of 50)
  • The Churchill Arms: This iconic pub is always on every Top 20 list for travellers mostly because of its over-the-top outside decorations that catch the eye of anyone on the street. As we were in the Notting Hill area, we decided to pop in and get some lunch. The pub is also know for its Thai menu – not your usual pub grub – and I will say, it is some of the best Thai food I have ever had. The Massaman curry was outstanding. Well worth the visit if you are in the area. (15 of 50)
  • Global pandemic: COVID-19 is a new experience for us all. Hoping for happier and healthier days ahead for everyone. (16 of 50)
  • Three weeks into pandemic lockdown procedures and “normal” definitely has a new meaning. This is not at all how I was expecting my 50 for 50 challenge to go and I’m sad about it. BUT, I originally wrote this blog about finding unexpected travel moments, so let’s go with unexpected pandemic inspired new experiences for now.
    • Cooking every night of the week. We go out to eat a lot. Much of it to socialize, but sometimes it’s just takeout as a break from the busy day. (18 of 50)
    • Discovering that I actually enjoy cooking when I have the time to do it. Right now, planning the family’s dinner every night is a more fulfilling experience than I was expecting. Yes, there are nights I want a break, but I think deep down making sure my family is fed is an act of love and shows how I can care for them. My love language is “acts of service” so this makes a lot of sense. (19 of 50)
    • Buy a sewing machine. (20 of 50) I’ve always liked the idea of being able to sew, but have never really had the inspiration to sit down and take it up. Guess what? Necessity is the mother of invention. Since face masks are so scarce and desperately needed by the medical professionals, I found a pattern online to make cloth ones for our family. I did the first one by hand, and after nearly 2 hours, decided, even with an abundance of time, this was not a good use of time. Now, I’ve made four masks for the four of us and can add another new experience to my list. (21 of 50)
    • Grocery shopping. It’s a new experience going out to buy groceries. So many of the online delivery services are overwhelmed right now. I felt lucky to get one Ocado delivery a week ago, so we stocked up the best we could and got groceries for my 86 year old MIL. I’ve also visited Costco and it was a very easy experience. The store is huge, so there is plenty of room to space people out and they had everything I needed (minus eggs). I was in and out within an hour. I kept a roll of paper towels and some Dettol in my car so I could spray down the packages before I put them in my car. Once I got home, we created clean/dirty spaces and cleaned everything again. Fruits and veg get washed in soapy water for 20 seconds, just like washing our hands. Once everything is clean and dry, it all gets put away. With two young men in the house who pass the time by working out, keeping food in the house is a challenge. The Costco shop paid off as we still have plenty of food nearly a week later. (22 of 50)
    • Watching all 11 Star Wars movies back-to-back over 11 nights. For those who are curious, chronologically starting with Episode 1 and spin-offs included. (23 of 50)
    • Seven Week Wady Movie Marathon: We each put two movie categories into a hat and drew a new category each week. Every night we each had to pick a movie for everyone to watch. We then ranked all the movies over the course of the seven weeks. Needless to say, I held the number one slot for six of the seven weeks! (28 of 50)
  • 99123196_10158406099139382_6567113220169924608_nSeven Sisters Cliffs: As we have had lockdown restrictions eased, we’ve been able to start taking day trips in the car. First visit was to Seven Sisters Cliffs just east of Brighton. A stunning series of white cliffs overlooking the English Channel and deceptively hilly. A beautiful sunny day and a new place to visit made for an excellent mental health day. (24 of 50)
  • Seeing the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge: Despite my love of Outlander, I’ve never been one to get into the mythical nature of the summer and winter solstice. Standing with hundreds of people around a bunch of “magical” stones didn’t quite make it to the top of my to do list. This year, however, was a bit different. Because of the social distancing measures in place, the English Heritage turned the event into a virtual one and I got to see the stones at sunset on the shortest night of the year. With over 90,000 people watching online, it’s safe to say that this was a new experience for many others around the world as well. (25 of 50)IMG_1754
  • West Wittering Beach: Most of the beaches along the southern England coast are made up of pebbles. Really good for a leg workout as you walk along the beach, but not exactly great for sitting in the sun. West Wittering in West Sussex is a lovely sandy beach and on the hottest day of the year we decided to go dip our toes in the water. Unfortunately, thousands of our closest friends also decided that was a good idea and in an age of social distancing, this is what we were stuck in the middle of! (26 of 50)IMG_1813
  • Meditation: My international women’s club held an emotional wellness seminar and the event leader suggested that we all start our day with an empowering morning routine and a powerful mantra to guide our day. I decided that meditating and being still was a good way to honor that request, so I’ve started meditating with the “Insight Timer” app. So far I like the way it centers me each morning and gives me a chance to start the day with a positive internal dialog. (27 of 50)

Love London: Women in Music – Divas, Rebels & Junkies, 1722 – 2019

Wellies, umbrellas and raincoats were definitely in order for today’s Love London tour! Despite the rainy weather, we ventured into SoHo to learn, explore and be inspired by those whom history has forgotten or brushed aside – the women of music in London over the last few centuries.

Cecil Court is a lovely pedestrian street about halfway between Leicester Square tube station and Trafalgar Square. Hidden amongst the antique book shops and map stores sits a blue plaque commemorating the residence of W.A. Mozart and family. Surely the name rings a bell, but true to the nature of this tour, we did not focus on the famous younger brother. Instead, we learned that Mozart’s sister, Anna Maria, was the first musical prodigy in the family, but due to the customs of the era, her musical talent was surpressed in favor of her younger brother. Rumor even has it that she may have been responsible for Mozart’s first symphony.

Noël_Coward_Theatre_2 Just around the corner we came to the Noel Coward theatre which housed the very first production of Oliver! One of the most famous songs from the show – As Long As He Needs Me – was beautifully performed in the 1960s by Georgia Brown. The song, at its core, is about staying with a problematic partner in a relationship that might not be a healthy one. It is in stark contrast to today’s feminist sensibilities, but important to remember it in the context of the 19th century. At that time, a woman would rather be in a bad relationship than be on her own as a single woman who society presumed to be a prostitute.

IMG_9417Moving into Leicester Square, we admired the Grade 2* facade of the Empire theatre. In recent years it’s housed a cinema and casino, but back in the 1880s it was the performing home to Marie Lloyd, London’s most powerful music hall entertainer. She commanded a salary of £100 per week, unheard of by the day’s salary standards and for a woman, in particular. Despite being a bit tawdry for the times, Marie Lloyd was immensely popular. Even with this popularity, she, too, was not immune to the idea that a woman of such a profession must be of ill repute and had to continually justify to the police that this was a reputable entertainment venue.

Just around the corner we learned about the factions of fighting fans for a pair of 18th century opera singers, Cuzzoni and Bordoni, who were George Frideric Handel’s leading ladies on stage. But as can only happen in London, we also happened to be standing next to the site of where Patti Boyd met George Harrison and John Lennon met his first wife, Cynthia, in a drug filled evening back in the 1960s. Just to make it more interesting, right next door was a French Roman Catholic Church where both the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees performed in the heart of London’s punk scene. #onlyinLondon

 

IMG_9422A short stroll away is the famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz venue. Ronnie brought in the biggest names of American jazz to entertain British audiences. The bar is thought to be a favorite of Ella Fitzgerald, who prefered the intimacy of the Ronnie Scott’s over the bigger arenas she could easily fill. She did not, however, like the all male facilities at the club, so you can find the Ella Fitzegerald commemorative loo in the back. So named after she made a generous donation to Ronnie to fix the problem.

IMG_94232i’s Coffee Bar is no longer in existence, but thanks to the green musical plaque in front of a fish and chip shop, we were able to stop and learn a bit about skiffle music. Inspired by early American rock’n’roll (which has its roots in jazz and blues), and originating in America in the early 20th century, it became extremely popular in the UK in the 1950s. As true to our theme of hidden musical female heros, we learned about Nancy Whiskey who was a prominent skiffle musician, but rarely heard about today. I guess that is what happens when the Beatles take inspiration from your musical genre and kind of take over the world.

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Our guide, Adam Scott, standing in front of the former site of the Bag O Nails Pub where Paul and Linda McCartney first met

The stories of the forgotten, or perhaps distorted is a better way to phrase it, women of music continued on for our next few stops. Peggy Seegar is a successful muse, activitst musician and songwriter in her own right, but very often gets tagged as being Pete Seegar’s sister. Marianne Faithfull has had a successful career spanning over 50 years, but always gets mentioned as being Mick Jagger’s girlfriend, despite not having had that role for decades. While her own celebrity shone bright as a photographer, animal rights activisist and breast cancer awareness crusader, Linda McCartney is still first thought of by many as Paul’s wife. The bar pictured to the right is where Linda and Paul first met. She wasn’t there as a groupie, but rather as a photographer working on the night they met. It was refreshing to hear the stories of these women for their own roles and credentials and not just as a subtext to the men they were famous for being related to or romantically involved with.

Our last stop was at the London Palladium and we appropriately closed the curtain with a story about Judy Garland (very timely given the movie coming out about her life this week). In 1964, Judy performed at the Palladium for the TV broadcast of the Night of a 100 Stars. Just days earlier she had attempted suicide for the second time and despite being in a fragile state, she brought the crowd to their feet with a rendition of one of her most famous songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. This archived article from the New York Times describes the evening as it was 55 years ago. A very fitting end to our tour.

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Photo credit: J Langfitt

Many thanks to Adam Scott from London Music Tours who entertained us and shared many delightful stories throughout the tour. You can find him on Facebook or his website https://www.londonmusictours.co.uk/.