Vegas Rocks my British sensibilities!

Four days in Vegas

Let’s be honest, I am a bit of a party girl. No doubt about that. I totally loved Nashville and New Orleans and they are party towns, but they are also steeped in culture and history and that gives tourists like me a welcome respite from the bars and the partying.

Anyhoo, Vegas. All together a different kettle of fish. #1, not a lot of history going on there, and whilst I was keen to hear the mob and Mormon history of Vegas, it’s not widely referenced. Wonder why that is! #2, people are not there for the culture. Fact. ūüėČ

Folks go to Vegas to party hard, drink hard, watch a few shows, see some nudey shenanigans, and, of course, gamble. And Vegas had me in a conundrum. Before our return to the UK (two weeks today!) we wanted to experience something so very, very unBritish and totally non-Cotswolds town. Vegas it was. I had no real expectations. Just bring it on.

Bring it on!

Bring it on!

And my mind was blown. As I write this on the plane leaving Las Vegas (had to get that in!)¬†to return to¬†Maryland for the final time¬†I realize that I actually struggled with the overt opulence and decadence of Vegas. There are golden hotels that are the size of small countries and they¬†offer everything from massages to sex shows to breakfast Black Jack to travelators so you don’t have to (God forbid!) walk etc. The list goes on. I found it overwhelming. I found it selfish and greedy. I was uncomfortable witnessing people flash their money and showcase¬†their wealth and to hear¬†stories of people losing it and not giving a damn, cos ‘there’s more¬†where that came from’. And alongside all this,¬†I struggled with the juxtaposition of wealth against the¬†amount of people begging outside the casinos.

But, and herein lies the conundrum,¬†I¬†still appreciated and enjoyed¬†the bright¬†lights and the stunning architecture of the hotels¬†and the choice and the food and the people watching and the shows and the¬†craziness of it all. It wanted to swallow me up¬†with its¬†own unique escapism, but I¬†chose to remain slightly¬†on the outside, just observing and touching a small fragment of Vegas, lest it take my soul and never let me go! I feel a bit dirty coming away from it, like I needed a good week cleansing and detoxing my mind and my soul in¬†the Tibetan mountains¬†with nothing but one set of clothes and¬† a cup of rice and a book whilst¬†helping communities and educating small children. I’m no martyr, but anything that is completely the other end of the spectrum from Vegas sounds appealing after our time there.

Might need some of this!

Might need some of this!

But don’t get me wrong, it was an experience. And Blackpool¬†in the UK will pale in comparison (not that I EVER intend going there again after a God-awful time back in 2000!). I love experience, so in that respect I loved my time in Vegas because it truly was an experience and¬†experiences are what make up¬†so much of my USA journey. It also made me think and¬†reflect about¬†my next journey in life and what shape that will take.

I do think, however, that right now a large dose of the English countryside is in order to reset my senses after Vegas!

The Canyon vs Red Rock

Controversial tourist observation follows: I enjoyed visiting Red Rock far more that the Grand Canyon. OMG! What?! Really!?

Yes, really.

We bussed it to the Canyon (5 hours there and five hours back, with two hours in the Canyon only!) and¬†I’m sure if we had taken the helicopter ride (and therefore not been able to eat again for the rest of our time here in the USA because¬†it is¬†so flipping expensive) we’d have had a different perspective. We only¬†touched a small part of the Canyon (cos it’s massive innit?!), but I didn’t feel it enveloped me like I wanted it to. Oh gosh, it’s magnificent, but it didn’t reach into my soul for the short time we were exposed to it. Next time, maybe we can fly…?! ūüėČ Or camp or walk in the heart of that great big Canyon. Then I will feel it’s reached me and I didn’t just look.

At the Canyon

At the Canyon

Red Rock, on the other hand, oozed personality. If rocks can have character, then these rocks have it in abundance and we saw this because we were able to get into the heart of Red Rock. I loved this place, and we needed exposure to something like this, and Bonnie Springs Ranch nearby, to bring us back to the glorious reality of nature after the nutty Las Vegas strip. I am so glad I saw Red Rock. It is truly beautiful and will stay with me for a long, long time.

Loved Red Rock

Loved Red Rock

Kettles at the ready!

Englishers, the time is nearly upon us! So, fill up those kettles and stick a cosy on the teapot, we’re coming back soon!

I was asked if I’m ready. I’m not quite in the zone yet, because there is so much to do here still and so many people to spend time with and things to enjoy. I’ll get there, though, I’m sure. Reverse culture shock, I’m ready for ya!

A return to London

As the months whizz by here in the USA and we’re on countdown to return to the UK, I become more curious about what it will feel like.

Small. I think it will feel small.

Old. I think I will notice the ‘oldness’ of England.

Strange. I think my life will feel strange as I try to settle back in.

I’ve asked a few people who’ve returned to the UK this year to share their impressions of spending time back there.

This is my American friend Jenny’s story about her visit to the UK, having been a student there a few years back (1980s).

Return to London

One of my fondest memories from college is the semester I spent studying in London.  I was on a humanities program through what was then called Beaver College (they’ve since changed their name for obvious reasons).  We studied literature, theater, history, art history, and architecture, but what we really studied was London.  We went to plays and art museums; we walked neighborhoods and chatted up locals in pubs; we travelled to Cornwall, Salisbury, Bristol and Bath, and we even spent a week in West Berlin.  We were housed in a gorgeous rooming house in Bloomsbury, and I imagined I was walking in Virginia Woolf’s very footsteps.

Poppies at the Tower

Poppies at the Tower

As college students we had no money ‚Äď but we did have Underground passes ‚Äď so a regular activity was riding the tube to random remote locations and getting out to explore; my friend Stacy and I often entertained (or annoyed) other passengers with improv games or songs.¬† I loved being in London ‚Äď eating Weetabix every morning, drinking tea with warm milk from the college canteen, snacking on digestive biscuits and Cadbury’s, and, of course, fish and chips ‚Äď although, to be honest, we generally could only afford the chips.

Needless to say, when my husband needed to go to London for work last month, I jumped at the chance to go with him.¬† I do agree with Thomas Wolf that ‚Äúyou can‚Äôt go home, again‚ÄĚ but I‚Äôm here to tell you that you can go back to the city abroad where you studied in college ‚Äď and it might just be even better!

Oxford St lights

Oxford St lights

London is a gorgeous city ‚Äď teeming with tourists from all over the world.¬† I was there for Remembrance Day (we call it Veteran‚Äôs Day) and got to see the amazing installation of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London ‚Äď more than 880,000 poppies, filling the moat and spilling out of the windows ‚Äď one for every British life lost in the 1st World War. It was amazing!¬† The crowds were enormous and constant for the entire week, but everyone remained calm and patient as they waited their turn for a view and stopped to take photos.¬† I‚Äôve never been in a crowd like that here.

The London Underground is still one of the most efficient subways I‚Äôve ever been on, and while I didn‚Äôt just ride around for entertainment, I did enjoy my rides, and I also appreciated the beauty of some of the stations.¬† There‚Äôs been restoration work done on a number of them, and they‚Äôre just gorgeous.¬† When I was a student in London I desperately wanted to fit in and not appear to be a tourist.¬† I avoided anything that seemed touristy ‚Äď but now I‚Äôm in my forties, and who cares?!¬† I downloaded Rick Steeves’ podcasts and walked all over the city gawking away and learning fun facts that only Steeves can make amusing.¬† I explored parts of the city I‚Äôd never really seen before ‚Äď like the financial district, full of new and quirky high rises, the East End, now a hipster haven with loads of street markets selling lots of used vinyl and leather jackets as well as some of the best South Asian food I‚Äôve ever had, and the South Bank now home to the beautifully rebuilt Globe Theatre and the Tate Modern and restaurants galore.¬† Speaking of restaurants, it‚Äôs great going back to London now that I can actually afford to go to restaurants and now that there are so many choices. Sad to say, I had no fish and chips, but I did have amazing Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, Spanish, Italian, and more!¬† And, while the tea in London is still outstanding ‚Äď of course, I was thrilled to discover that coffee has moved in as well ‚Äď really good coffee.

It really was a bit like a mini-return to my semester abroad ‚Äď I saw plays, visited art museums, walked neighborhoods, and chatted up locals, but this time with the eyes (and budget) of an adult.

Ah, London! Oh yes, when I read this, Jenny, I know I’ll be ready to return, even though I won’t be based in London. I have to remember, after living in the USA, travel is the way forward. #lovelondon