I thought about making a new “year end” post every year. Even up until today I thought I had only missed on year of these but it looks like the last one was in 2013. Yikes. It’s funny to start this back up again in a year which looked to be my biggest year of travel yet. Until March 2020 I had seven international trips planned—mostly for work. It’s what I had been working toward since I started traveling for business in 2010. In one week in March all of that fell through. I can’t complain though, I’ve been very lucky and even managed to get out of the country three times in 2020 before the US finally figured out what the rest of the world already knew about COVID-19.
January 2020: London, New York City, Mumbai
By January 3rd I was already on a plane to London. I stayed in Shoreditch for the first time, visited the Mary Quant exhibit at the V&A, the Tate Modern (all special exhibits were sold out!), and finally took a stroll through The Barbican where all of my dreams of a brutalists future world came true. Shoreditch is very inconvenient to the museums, but made it easier to catch up with my boyfriend from my days living in Newcastle in the 90s.
My trips to NYC are often short, sometimes only 24 hours. I made it to The Met’s In Pursuit of Fashion and Frank Lloyd Wright Textiles: The Taliesin Line, 1955–60 exhibits and managed to ruin my brand new dress at work while cutting apart foamcore to make a sign.
Toward the end of January I set off to Mumbai with a fancy year-long business visa and an empty suitcase to bring back fabric. The last time I was in Mumbai I stayed at the YMCA, but this time I figured I could do a little better. I flew in a few days before work started and stayed in Cuffe Parade near Colaba so I could walk around to see sights. This business trip was rescheduled so many times that by the time I had a real ticket I only had a week to book a hotel and plan my time and most of the cute places I found were sold out. Hopefully I will get another chance to come here in the coming years. A highlight was fabric shopping in Mangaldas Market and wandering around alone like I used to in my RTW days.
As embarrassing as it to admit on a travel blog where I am known for riding in the back of a cage for 24 hours through bandit country in Africa, when you travel this much for business you become loyal to certain brands. For me, it’s United and Marriott. Once you get to Platinum and Titanium respectfully you get so many perks that it’s worth it to stick with them. However, all of the Marriott properties in Mumbai were an hour in traffic from the sites so I stayed at perfectly fine local hotel.
February 2020: Mumbai, New York City, Paris
My jobs usually last 3-5 days tops so this two week stint was an interesting change for me. Sadly, it was in a suburb called Navi Mumbai so once I checked into the Marriott up here my world became commuting 30 minutes by car, eating thalis in the vegetarian cafeteria, and learning all the differences and similarities in this work from my Indian colleagues.
I was home for a week before heading back out to New York City for five days. Because I go to NYC so much I have had a membership to MOMA for a few years. Obviously my favorite thing to do anywhere is to go to museums, but with the increase in tourism globally they are getting so crowded to be almost unnavigable—and MOMA is one of the worst.
Two days to unpack/repack and off to Paris. So spoiled. Even so, all of us in Paris kept saying “I’ll see it next time” when we felt too tired to go out. We had another trip planned for the summer and we knew we were going to be back for even longer. I had a 3rd trip besides that planned to Paris in June as well. There is plenty of time! Why rush!? This is also when COVID started getting more real—the first time I heard contingency planning come up in a meeting, and when I started hanging back from getting into elevators full of tourists, and when I moved galleries when a woman kept coughing next to me in the Marche et Demarche exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. We all thought COVID wasn’t really going to affect us, but the day after I flew home the Louvre was shut down.
Traveling Through 2020 is continued in Part 2…
Now that I’m in London I’m a little overwhelmed. Not by the city, I’ve been here before and know my way around. It’s the little things like price tags and the fact that the sidewalks have a gentle slope where they meet roads so one doesn’t need to climb up and down high curbs when walking down the street. There’s also an awful lot of white people here, more than I’ve seen in 14 months. It was quite funny to see them sunbathing in Hyde Park today.
People are staring at me and at least one man said “oh my god…” when I walked by today. I had my arms and feet decorated with black henna in Zanzibar and most people in London appear to think it’s tattoos. It’s not just the henna either, I feel like I look like a homeless person. I gave away as much possible clothes in Kenya and am left with a few t-shirts and some ugly pants. I see that the 80’s revival in clothing has continued in my absence and all the girls seem especially “girly.”
When I arrived at Heathrow the other day I realized that the so-called “airbus” that I was instructed to take into town hasn’t existed for years and finally decided to take the tube. There was an express train to Paddington Station that would have saved me about one hour but at 15 pounds it was no bargain and I would still have to transfer twice. Instead, I took the blue line until it’s connection with the line I needed despite having to backtrack a bit. With two large bags, my carryon full of heavy electronics and a mailing tube I decided the least number of transfers the better.
I haven’t been here for seven years and there are a few obvious changes. I have seen no old buses or taxis and the neighborhood I’ve always stayed in seems a little more classy. My hostel room was full of young travelers with limited English abilities. Traveling in the third world necessitates speaking the local language or English and I haven’t met so many poor English-speaking travelers in a very long time.
My main goals here are to see the Tate Modern, built since I was last in London, and re-visit all my favorite museums and neighborhoods in town. Even though I won’t be paying for any big “sights” just eating fish and chips tonight cost me twenty dollars.
Posting before I left Africa turned out to be difficult and despite writing most of my Zanzibar story I was faced with firewalls and a constantly-busy hostel computer. Since it’s not safe to walk around Nairobi after dark I was confined to the hostel because I refused to pay for cab rides just to use the internet. Before I left I did a lot of shopping, filling an extra huge duffel bag with souvenirs and gifts. My sister and mom had specific requests, which I was happy to meet after getting my brother much better presents along the way (he got a sheesha, aka hookah, from Egypt and hand made knives from Kashgar).
Leaving Africa wasn’t hard and I was in the air before I realized I was leaving for good. East Africa was the least interesting culture I visited on my trip, excluding Ethiopia of course. I feel bad saying that and I wish I could compare the over-touristed countries I visited to places like Mozambique, Malawi or Namibia. I suspect that I will eventually visit West Africa and have high hopes for something more fitting my interests.