To understand the significance of this trip for me, you first need to know about a little thing called LJ Idol. LJ Idol has played a major role in my life over the last two years, to bring me to where I am today. Some people see it as a writing competition. Some people think it’s a popularity contest. In reality, it’s a little bit of both, set up like a reality TV show with various twists and turns so that you never know what to expect. Though I came 12th (out of 262) in season 7, which ended in July this year, and around 43rd (out of 243) in season 6, my primary reason for joining the competition in both seasons (which lasted for months, meaning you need both talent and stamina to stay in the game until you’re voted out) was to make new friends rather than see how long I could last.
Given my goal, I more than succeeded. I didn’t form shallow friendships; I formed meaningful ones. Sharing our lives with each other through the competition allowed us to get to know our fellow competitors in ways that I seem to be incapable of doing in the real world. It was a place I felt safe to open up and share The Real Me, so I knew that when I met people who wanted to be my friend, they were accepting me for who I am, including parts of myself that I find harder to talk about to people who already know me. The competition also allowed me to explore other forms of writing, too, and whilst I shared anecdotes and information about my life experiences and who I am, I also wrote screenplays, fictional prose, poetry, and shared videos. Apparently this variety made me seem interesting and stand out, and tended to be what people complimented me on most.
Anyhow, through the course of season 7 in particular, I met a guy called Jeremiah who ended up being one of the biggest supporters of my writing, and he continually encouraged me to explore some fictional characters I created and then revisited every so often. It got to the point where I realised I was writing about those characters essentially for him, and another friend, Sally – whom I first met at a friend’s birthday party in Melbourne in 2009, and re-met through season 6 of LJ Idol, and is worth mentioning now because she’s someone I also planned to meet up with again on this trip. Since the end of season 7 of LJ Idol, Jeremiah’s encouragement of my writing and characters continued, and he has been helping me with the process of trying to turn their story into a novel. Given that he works as a professional editor, and he’s been working with me for nothing, his encouragement and help has meant so much to me. I really wanted the opportunity to meet him in person. It also happened that he lives in the same city as a few of my other friends who participated in LJ Idol. For the hell of it, I also decided I should knock off another US state from my list I haven’t been to now that I knew people from LJ Idol who lived nearby the city I wanted to see there – Philadelphia. So I organised meet ups in Philadelphia, PA; Alexandria, VA; and London in the United Kingdom, since fate allowed me to have a 12 hour stopover there on my way home.
From the time I left home on Friday the 9th until the time I arrived at my final destination in Exton, PA, about 36 hours had passed. I picked up Jeremy and drove to KL Sentral where we could have a final dinner together before I left Malaysia. It was really convenient that my first flight was on Malaysian airlines because that meant I got to check my bag in at the train station, and collect my boarding pass to London there. I took the express train to the airport and was able to go straight through to the security, and then on to my gate.
My flight from KL departed at 11:40pm and arrived into London around 5:40am the next day, London time, a flight that lasted about 13 hours. In between trying to get some sleep, I watched two movies – Midnight in Paris, which featured my favourite comedy actor, Owen Wilson, who played a writer who got to experience life in the 1920s when he waited in a particular spot in Paris at midnight, meeting a lot of famous creative types that helped him on his journey to becoming a better writer; and Jumper, a movie starring Hayden Christensen about a kid who has the power to teleport over the world, and a film I’ve been wanting to see since it was released at the cinema. I also had printed off some of Jeremiah’s writing to read on the plane, since talking about his writing with him was something else I was looking forward to doing in person.
Saturday, September 10th
There was only about two hours between my flights at Heathrow airport. My biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to make the connection. When I arrived, I learned I was even going to have to change terminals, and I still had to organise my boarding pass for my next flight. Despite the fact that Heathrow is an incredibly big airport, they actually make it really easy to change terminals and make connecting flights. If I’d had my children with me, I think the whole process might have been a lot more stressful, but doing it alone was very easy. By the time I got my boarding pass, I only had to wait about 10 minutes before they announced the gate I was leaving from, so I then wandered out that way. I was flying United, which is the airline my frequent flier program is with, and when I first got a glimpse of one of their planes, I got a bit teary. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with America. Sometimes I like to take ownership of the fact I am technically American, even though I’ve never lived there, and so for this trip I guess it got to me emotionally, as if I was going home. Other times I can’t stand what has become of the country and prefer to just mention that I’m Australian, since that’s usually what I identify as the most, and is also technically true. I love being a dual-national. Interestingly, this time, I even used my US passport when checking in in London. Typically in the past, I’ve only used that passport to clear immigration in the US itself.
Probably the coolest thing I saw at the airport was a guy who had what I have no idea how to describe other than metal robot legs. I had no idea that technology had actually advanced in our world this far already that it was possible to give someone a working substitute for missing legs. It just about completely blew my mind that we have come that far.
Anyhow, my next flight lasted around 8 hours and arrived into Washington Dulles airport at 10:50am local time, Saturday. I didn’t do much on this particular flight; just more sleeping, reading, listening to music, and then occasionally chatting to the passenger next to me. I always find it interesting when someone as shy as me actually is the instigator of striking up a conversation with a stranger. I also took some photos from the plane, since I had a window seat, and I kept seeing this amazing rainbow effect in the clouds that I wanted to capture. On the ground, as we were flying over New York State, I noted a lot of muddy looking water and wondered if it was still some of the after effects of Hurricane Irene.
Dulles airport was kind of eerily quiet for the airport that is the international hub for the capital of the country. I started to wonder if the date, September 10th, only one day prior to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US, had anything to do with it. On the other hand, at least it made it a pretty quick process to get through immigration and collect my checked bag, to the extent that I got to catch the Metro bus an hour earlier than I thought I was going to have to. I was very thankful that my friend Katie, who I was also planning to meet on this trip, had helped find out the information I needed in order to use that bus. It was only $6 and dropped me right in the middle of Washington, near the L’Enfant Metro station. I’d intended to take the Metro a couple of stops from there to the stop closest to where I was catching a bus to Philadelphia from, but it turned out to be closed! Then I felt a bit lost. Luckily, an African American couple from Virginia were there and also unable to use the Metro, and the lady was kind enough to use her phone to look up the directions for me so I could figure out how to walk the distance I had to go. I really like encountering kind Americans who disprove the theory that all Americans are only out for themselves and “me, me, me, what’s in it for me?” And she was really helpful.
It actually wasn’t that far of a walk for me to go, and given how much spare time I had, I’m glad I wasn’t able to use the Metro. After close to 24 hours on planes, I could definitely use the walking time. I saw a police vehicle parked outside another entrance to the L’Enfant Metro station and I quietly wondered what that was about, and if it could be terrorist related. I guess the 9/11 anniversary was making a lot of people edgy, too, since I noticed there were a lot of police cars around everywhere after that. The walk to the bus was nice, though, as I got to see some Smithsonian buildings, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. It was nice to get some photos of them without having to go out of my way to do so. By the time I got to my bus, I had about 90 minutes to wait before it was scheduled to leave, so I just did more reading while I waited.
The bus to Philadelphia was a little over two and a half hours long. Conveniently, it included free wifi Internet, which I used on my phone briefly, but I also needed to conserve power on that so I could keep in touch with Dan, the man who was picking me up in Philadelphia.
Dan came third in LJ Idol last season, and is married to another competitor I enjoyed reading, Jess. In the most convenient of circumstances, my bus arrived at pretty much the exact same time Dan did, so he didn’t get in trouble for stopping on the side of the road rather than parking to collect me. I just quickly dumped my bags in the car, and off we went to his place. Jess called while we were en route, and the joys of bluetooth meant she ended up on speaker in the car, so Dan joked about me running off and him having to chase me and so forth. Dan’s humour in his entries in the competition was a big part of what drew me to following them, being excited about reading them, and eventually befriending him. It was awesome to see how that translated to the real world. So Jess ordered some pizza and curly fries, and we picked that up on the way back to their place to have for dinner. I got to meet both of their children, Veronica and Danny, who were absolutely adorable. Veronica seemed completely enamoured by me, sharing some of her toy flowers and just generally showing off and trying to impress me. Danny made excited laugh sounds when dinner came, much in the same way my son Leo has a tendency to do, so it was nice to be reminded of that.
Around the time the kids had to be tucked into bed, I opted to have a much-needed shower after more than 36 hours travelling and thus, without that level of cleanliness. It was fantastic to freshen up like that, and helped keep me going until about 10pm chatting with Jess and Dan. They are just such fun people to talk to and I didn’t want to go to bed, but I got tired. Even if I did wake up a couple of times in the night due to jet lag.
Sunday, September 11th
First thing in the morning, since I’d been unable to sleep well, I was able to have a brief Skype call with Jeremy and the boys, who had gone to Australia for the first week of my trip away. This was a great way to pass some time before the rest of the household got up.
Today was our scheduled day for our Philadelphia LJ Idol meet up, where we had plans to meet Denise, the winner of season 7, and Alyce, a former Idol competitor I met during season 6 but hadn’t competed in season 7, plus Alyce’s husband and son, who was born the week she was voted out in season 6! Jess and Dan didn’t want to worry too much about their kids during the day since we had a lot of plans, so our first stop that morning was to drop them off with Jess’ father and his wife, who both seemed like lovely people.
As GPSes are inclined to do, it confused us trying to get in to Philadelphia, but since they needed petrol, we stopped for that and Jess texted both Alyce and Denise to see how they were doing and to let them know we would be a little late. Well, as seems to be the case with Idol related activities where Denise is concerned, she had gotten into a bit of trouble. Missing her train by 2 minutes, she decided to drive into Philly instead, and ended up with a flat tire, and having to wait for several hours. It wasn’t until we were on our way to lunch around 2pm that we heard about her finally getting on the road again, but the situation being so dire that she decided it would be best for her to go home rather than catching us in the city, and hoping we would be able to meet her at Jess and Dan’s place in the evening instead.
We’d been informed there was meant to be something on in the city for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, yet it didn’t seem very busy at all, and parking was very easy to find. On our way to meeting Alyce and her family, we passed by Ben Franklin’s grave, as well as a lot of steam coming out of the ground, which Dan joked came from underground volcanic activity.
When we got to the street we were meant to find Alyce on, instead of finding her, we saw a group of people dressed entirely in white walk past us. It was rather an odd sight, and I don’t think we were able to figure out why they were dressed like that. After some more communication between Jess and Alyce, I spotted her on the next block over from where we were, and we were united at last! Together we walked down to the Liberty Bell area, stopping for directions, and learning we needed to go to the visitor’s centre for tickets.
Once we got to the visitor’s centre, it turned out we didn’t actually need tickets if all we wanted to see was the Liberty Bell, but while we were there, we picked up tickets for the Philly Phlash trolley, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which I was particularly interested in visiting. Then we walked back across the street to wait in line for about an hour to see the Liberty Bell. Alyce’s son, affectionally nicknamed Kung Fu Panda, or KFP for short, online, loved the red hat I wore and therefore loved trying it on himself, which was simply adorable. But then he became restless, so Alyce had to walk around with him for a while, while the rest of us waited in line.
We had to go through security screening to get to the Liberty Bell, which meant Dan had to wait outside for us, since he’d accidentally brought a pocket knife with him. The Liberty Bell turned out to be smaller than I’d pictured it, but still interesting to look at with its giant crack. We only really stayed long enough to get a few photos, but that’s all we really needed to do.
By the time we left, it was definitely well past time to have lunch, so we headed toward Reading Terminal Market, stopping at K-Mart on the way so that Alyce could pick up some diapers for KFP in case he needed them. The market itself was rather large and we didn’t really have time to look around at everything that was there, but we did find a Philly cheesesteak place that was a necessity to try while I was in town. This place turned out to be where President Obama also had a cheesesteak when he was in town (at some point during his presidency)! There were far too many cheesesteak options to choose from, and so I decided that the best choice for me to order was the original kind. The cashier said I needed to include the incredibly runny cheese whiz, rather than the type of cheese Dan and Jess got on their cheesesteaks. The place was so busy that Alyce and her family had to eat elsewhere, but the rest of us were able to eat there. I enjoyed the cheesesteak, but it was entirely unhealthy, and filled me up incredibly well to the point that I’m sure I ate too much, so it’s certainly not something I’d repeat with any urgency!
By this time, it was already close to 3pm, and the art museum closed at 5pm. We didn’t want to waste the tickets we’d already purchased for that, so we headed out to catch the Philly Phlash trolley all the way there.
Since we only really had a couple of hours to view the museum, which was nowhere near enough time to look at everything, everyone let me decide what to look at first, seeing as I was the visitor. I’m a big fan of modern art, what with Salvador Dali being my favourite artist ever, so that was the wing we visited first. Thankfully, everyone else seemed to enjoy it too. There was a lot of art there in particular by Pablo Picasso, who I also like to note because my dad is a big fan of his work. There were a couple of pieces by Joan Miro, who I usually enjoy. Probably the piece that struck me the most in this section, though, was in room by itself and you had to look through two eye holes to see the actual painting, which made you feel like a Peeping Tom.
We then moved on to the European Art 1850-1900 section, where we saw a lot of paintings by Monet, Cézanne, Renoir, as well as one of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings. I suppose the piece I looked at most in this section of the museum was Edvard Munch’s Mermaid, as well as some Ancient Egyptian themed household antiques that had me wondering if the makers knew what they hieroglyphs meant, or not.
With still some time to spare, and at Dan’s recommendation, we headed upstairs to the arms and armour section of the museum. I admired the intricate carvings on some of the suits of armour, and paid particularly close attention to the flintlock pistols, since those were the weapon of choice for one of the characters I’ve been writing about.
We had initially decided that we were going to leave immediately after that, but then Dan wanted me to see the Japanese teahouse and other architecture they had in the museum, since I’d been happily snapping away at the beautiful Philadelphia architecture earlier in the day. I always find it fascinating to see things like that inside other buildings. And the way they organised the rooms, it really looked like you’d walked outside to see these buildings.
It was pretty much closing time by the time we left the museum, so we headed out to get some photos together on the steps, and Jess telling Dan and I to fake running up them as is apparently the thing to do from the movie Rocky. Once we reached the bottom of the steps, she also took a couple of photos of us with the statue of Rocky. Then we all took the Philly Phlash back to the Liberty Bell, and I shared some caramel Tim Tams with everyone before we said goodbye to Alyce and her family.
Then we collected Dan and Jess’ children on the way back to their place, and got in touch with Denise to see if it was too late for her to come by and meet the rest of us. It wasn’t, so once we got back to their place, and the kids were settled in bed, Denise arrived and we ate corn chips and salsa for dinner, and Denise brought a Philadelphia icy dessert called water ice to share with us – cherry and peach flavours. It was all rather yummy.
After we’d had enough to eat, we headed outside where Dan lit a fire so we could all sit around it and chat… until it started sprinkling with rain and we had to head back inside. Denise stayed until around 10pm or so, and we all marvelled at the luck that she had at least been able to come and meet me. I was utterly exhausted by this point, but glad to have gotten to meet her. She had a lot of nice things to say about New Mexico, and encouraged me to visit specific locations there, since that’s where she’s from. I’d commented about it being a state I’ve yet to visit on my travels, seeing as I have a lifetime goal to get to all 50 US States. Now that I hit Pennsylvania on this trip, I only have 16 to go.
Monday, September 12th
Veronica had a brief appointment with her parents at her new school in the early morning today, so I met Jess’ mother, who came around to look after Danny while they did that, and got some reading done until they came back.
This was also the day I would be meeting Jeremiah, who had been up in New York City for the weekend, and had decided to come down to Philadelphia to meet me rather than wait until we both got back to the Washington, D.C. area. I suppose I should point out here that Jeremiah was able to take some time off from his editing and art work so that he could spend the next several days with me, just so I could have some company, get to know him better, and have someone to help show me around.
Jeremiah’s bus was running late, which he was thankfully able to communicate with me, so that Jess and I left half an hour later than we had initially planned to go meet him. Dan had wanted to come, too, to meet Jeremiah, but he unfortunately had to work. Leaving Jess and Dan’s place a bit later meant that when we did arrive, Jess was able to find parking not too far away, and walk with me to find Jeremiah, who was already waiting, before we headed back to the car. The car park attendant managed to snap a couple of photos for us, and then Jess drove us to the hotel we were going to be staying in that night so we could drop off our bags and see if we could check in early.
Somewhat surprisingly, we could check in early. Then, rather than go out and find something for lunch, we ended up spending a few hours just getting to know each other better by being able to talk and communicate in a way that the Internet doesn’t really allow until we got too hungry to ignore that feeling. At that point, we headed to the hotel restaurant, which was reasonably priced, for a very late lunch/slightly early dinner. I delighted in the quesadillas and got a hot chocolate with far too much whipped cream on it.
Since we had eaten too much, as tends to be the case when you’re given American portion sizes, we decided to walk it off. We headed out into the streets to just wander towards City Hall, taking numerous photos of the architecture along the way. I really was enamoured with how beautiful a city Philadelphia is. We stayed out until a while after the sun went down, when it was too dark to take more photos, but I really do like taking photos at that time of the day. Jeremiah tended to compliment my photography and how I was able to take such good photos with a simple point and click, but I think it really just says a lot about how good the camera on my phone is. And maybe a little to do with my filmmaker mind that likes to think about framing from time to time.
Once we were tired of walking, we headed back to the hotel so we could get some sleep.
Tuesday, September 13th
The first item on the agenda today was breakfast, which Jeremiah and I enjoyed in the same hotel restaurant we ate the previous day. I was most amused when we both decided to order the exact same item on the menu. Perhaps it was because we’d had previous conversations online about how we tend to dislike the same foods (mushrooms, olives, etc) and so it was funny to see just how similar our tastes actually were.
We didn’t have time to do any exploring around Philadelphia after breakfast, because prior to breakfast, Jeremiah needed to talk to his wife, who has been working overseas for the past few months, on the phone. When we checked out of the hotel after breakfast, we headed down to Arch Street, where we would be catching our bus to Washington, D.C. from. This was in the Chinatown district, and having been through there briefly before, and still having a little time on our hands, I decided I wanted to snap a few pictures of dragon statues I hadn’t been able to capture previously. Then I found a bizarre Barbie doll display in the window of a building, and I had to capture that, too.
Our bus, which was scheduled to depart at 11am, arrived a bit late, but that was fine because we didn’t have any specific plans waiting for us when we arrived in Washington. We just had a pretty easygoing day, talking a lot and enjoying each other’s company. I’m not someone who finds it easy to connect with people and build strong friendships with them, so it was pretty amazing how easily Jeremiah and I fell into that kind of friendship.
The bus was about two and a half hours, and we spent some of the trip with Jeremiah going over the notes I made on one of his stories I’d printed to read on my journey. It was really nice to be able to give him back the kind of feedback he had been giving me on the novel I’m working on, and he seemed to really appreciate that, too. There was also one stop, just at a truck stop, on the way to Washington, where people could get food, I guess for the lunch break. I didn’t bother getting off the bus, but Jeremiah did, to feed his coffee addiction.
When we arrived in Washington, since it was well past lunch time, we popped into Nando’s for a meal. I was kind of stunned the chain even existed in the US, and regaled Jeremiah with my stories of my experiences with the restaurant – namely, when I used it to go into labour with my first born, but it didn’t work the second time around.
After our lunch, we caught the metro into Alexandria, Virginia to the station where Jeremiah had left his car for the weekend, and he drove me to the hotel I’d be staying in for the remainder of my time in the US so that I could check in. We stayed around there to just talk more until he had to go home, feed his cats, and assure them that he hadn’t deserted them just because he’d been away for three and a half days.
Jeremiah popped back after that so we could go out for dinner together. I was staying in the lovely, historical “old town” part of Alexandria, so we walked down to King Street, which seemed to be the main shopping and restaurant strip in the area, and stopped in at a nice Italian restaurant to eat. Since American portion sizes are so ridiculously huge, I was unable to finish my whole plate of delicious ravioli. Indeed, I was so full after that that I suggested we walk it off once we left. So Jeremiah took me down King Street to the dock that overlooked the river there, and it was just beautiful to see in the evening. We sat down on a bench, talking and joking about things for a while, before he walked me back to the hotel.
It was really late by the time I got back to my room, but it had also been a few days since I’d been able to Skype with my family in Australia, so after a bit, I managed to Skype with Jeremy. Doyle, unfortunately, would have none of that, breaking my heart when he told me he thought my being away meant that I didn’t love him any more. At least Leo was more considerate and loved seeing me.
Wednesday, September 14th
I’m such a sucker for the continental breakfast you find at some of the American hotel chains, and I was glad to see this one had my favourite bagel and cream cheese offering, which ended up being my breakfast every day that I ate it whilst I stayed in Alexandria.
Talking to his wife while she’s overseas is a daily ritual for Jeremiah, so I didn’t see him today until he met me at the hotel around lunch time because of that. So I spent much of the morning catching up on a few things online.
There was a burrito/Mexican restaurant on pretty much the opposite corner of the street from where I was staying, so we walked over there for our lunch. I’m a big fan of Mexican food. I ordered one of their burritos, and it was the biggest burrito I had ever seen – as fat as my fist and maybe 2/3rds the length of my lower arm. I grew up with the mindset that I should try and eat everything on my plate, so I tried very hard to do that here… until Jeremiah’s insistence that I didn’t need to eat it all finally got through to me.
Jeremiah then had to run out to the DMV to renew his car’s licence, and I opted to join him and keep him company, which made the half hour wait go so much quicker. Then, since I’d been keen to see a movie while I was there, and it wasn’t too far from the DMV, we headed over there next to see when the movie I wanted to see was playing. It was nearly 3pm by this time, and Crazy Stupid Love started at 4pm, so I decided to go ahead and get tickets. Since we had an hour to spare, though, we walked to a nearby ice cream place, where I ordered a milkshake that was flavoured something like “cake batter,” which surprisingly tasted like cake batter. It was delicious, but far too rich for me to finish.
I really enjoyed the movie, for the most part. The ending with the way the main kid’s storyline was resolved bothered me, but the use of subtle humour throughout was generally done incredibly well. It may have helped that I’m a big fan of Ryan Gosling.
After the movie, Jeremiah dropped me back at the hotel so he could go feed his cats again before dinner. I used that time to Skype with Jeremy and Doyle. Thankfully Doyle was in a much better mood this time, and was very happy to talk to me. I guess he realised I did still love him. I was also most amused when I asked Leo if he missed me, and he shook his head, and then when I asked if he liked seeing me on the computer, he nodded.
Since I’d decided I wasn’t really in a good mood to go out for dinner, Jeremiah just picked up some Chinese food to bring back to the hotel for me. I told him about how what I asked him to pick up for me was the same thing I ate when Jeremy and I first met. Yes, I remember things like that. But it probably helps that it was the thing I most regularly ate at my university refectory.
Thursday, September 15th
Most days pretty much started out the same way as Wednesday, so it’s not really worth repeating that every day. Instead, I’ll move straight on to when Jeremiah comes around after talking to his wife.
Today we didn’t really do too much, again, but Jeremiah wanted to take me down to Falls Church for lunch at a burger place he’s quite fond of. It was a pretty neat restaurant because it’s pretty much a build your own burger, and choose your own ingredients in a milkshake. The milkshake I had was a chocolate base and cherry extra, because I thought it would be fun to make it like a black forest cake. And boy was it delicious!
Then we popped over to a comic book shop Jeremiah wanted to go to, to see if they had some comics he wanted. Unfortunately their shipment had arrived damaged, so most of the books he wanted weren’t there. For my part, I picked up a Christmas present for Doyle, as well as a Doctor Who comic book for Jeremy, and a Sonic the Hedgehog comic book for Doyle.
Once we got back to Alexandria, we spent some time with Jeremiah showing me some of his art in a sketch book, which was something I was particularly interested in doing while I was there, since I’m a big fan of his art – especially when it’s of his characters I enjoy reading about in his writing.
Again I Skyped with Jeremy and my boys while Jeremiah went home to feed his cats, and later he returned so we could walk to the Whole Foods grocery store to get something for dinner. On our way there, we walked down King Street again so that he could point out a shop to me that I wanted to see. Now, this probably seems like an odd thing to want to do, but this particular shop, called “An American in Paris,” featured in one of my favourite entries Jeremiah had written for the LJ Idol competition. The humour in that particular entry had really stood out for me, and, I guess, was one of the reasons I wanted to get to know Jeremiah better through the competition.
Then we picked up some salad from Whole Foods, and took it back to my hotel. We ate our dinner there whilst watching an episode of Doctor Who I needed to see in order to catch up enough before we could watch more Doctor Who with his friends on Saturday.
Friday, September 16th
Today was the day another friend of mine, Katie – who I initially met online through a Harry Potter community in 2009, but had also competed in LJ Idol due to my encouragement – was able to take a day off work to spend some time with me. So that gave Jeremiah a break from me for most of the day.
Katie collected me from my hotel and drove us up to Crystal City, where we caught the metro into Washington. I’d picked up a few flyers from the lobby in my hotel prior to this, and one of them was for the Spy Museum, so I asked Katie if she was cool with going there with me, which she was. We got there around 11am, not really expecting it to take too long to get through, and ended up staying until around 3pm – and that was with us not even seeing most of the bottom floor!
I really enjoyed the museum, though, as it starts out with a kind of role play where you can pretend you’re a spy being briefed on a mission, because they tell you to memorise a bunch of things about one of the identities they provide you with, and then you get tested on it in the next room. For the record, I remembered everything about my false identity, which I thought was excellent. There was a point in my childhood where I had wanted to be a spy and so it just gave me a moment to feel like I could have been had I actually pursued that. So that was part of the first section of the museum, along with other activities and artefacts that real spies had used in the 20th century. The next section upstairs took you through the history of spies from basically ancient times, though more from the 15th century onwards, and there was a lot of information about how spying occurred during the time that America fought for its independence, and how cryptography and so forth was used during World War II.
Since we were getting really hungry by the time we got to the bottom floor (the museum starts at the top floor), we skipped most of it, but for the last section on the present, which could’ve been interpreted as a fear campaign targeting Internet hackers, suggesting that’s where they need to fight now, since one small move by someone could take out a lot of public infrastructure for months. There were statistics on how many roads and so forth in America really need to be fixed up, and it makes me sad that America is spending money on other things rather than those necessities.
We popped by the museum shop on the way out and, whilst I hadn’t intended to buy anything, I ended up trying on a hat in a style that I’ve been wanting to buy for a long time, and finally found one that suited me! It also came with a bonus t-shirt, so I ended up buying that.
Then we finally went somewhere for lunch. A family chain restaurant across the street called Gordon Biersch. I ordered their cajun pasta, which was absolutely delicious. I can’t recommend it enough.
From there, we decided to just wander toward the National Mall, down the same street I had walked when I caught the bus the previous weekend. This meant I had the opportunity to stop in and see the sculpture garden I had walked past that day and wanted to see, without worrying about my bags this time. I really liked the art they had in there, and in particular, the metal tree and the crouching rabbit.
After that we walked through the National Mall toward the Washington Monument, without any specific plans in mind. I started exchanging texts with Jeremiah to find out where and when we’d be meeting up afterwards, and he offered to collect me from Crystal City after he fed his cats, and we’d aim to be there at 7pm. So, once Katie and I knew what that plan was and how much time we had left, I suggested we walk all the way up to the Lincoln Memorial. My memory of the layout of this part of Washington, despite the fact I had not been there since 1998 when I was fourteen, started rushing back to me, and I knew the directions. Everything was as clear as my mind as if I was still there, then. That’s when I started thinking about how much I needed to be there for the memory of having visited with my mum, and how lucky I was to have that memory. I took a number of photos throughout the walk, which felt right.
As we passed the Washington Monument, there were a few differences from my memory. For example, the WWII Memorial did not exist in 1998. The large body of water in front of the Lincoln Memorial was also under restoration, and looked horrible. But the Korean War Memorial I remembered vividly, just as I had the Lincoln Memorial. And it was just so important for me to be back there. Interestingly, when Katie and I were leaving the Lincoln Memorial, I noticed there was a small museum beneath it, which I did not remember from a past trip and hadn’t even known existed. I didn’t have a lot of time to look around there, but it was cool to see and learn a bit about Lincoln’s involvement in the Civil War. I may have heard of him as being one of the most famous presidents in American history, but seeing as I never actually studied American history, I didn’t know why. So I enjoyed learning about that.
Then it was time for us to head back to the metro so we could get it back to Crystal City and meet Jeremiah. Due to my late lunch, I hadn’t needed to worry about dinner, but it was good to be able to have somewhere to talk with Jeremiah for a few hours about how the day had affected me, and that I had someone I could talk to about my Mum. The day had led to me recalling enough memories that I asked if it would be okay if we went to the Air and Space Museum sometime before I went home, since I remembered that that had been the museum Mum had been most excited about for her own personal interest when we visited Washington in 1995.
I was also able to Skype with Jeremy and the boys again while Jeremiah went out to get dinner for himself.
Saturday, September 17th
Whenever I’m in the general Washington/Virginia area, I like to be able to catch up with my Mum’s cousin Judy, who lives in Fredericksberg. I’d informed her I was going to be in the area well in advance, and since she lives only about 45 minutes away from where I was staying, she was able to come up and see me. We had organised to meet for brunch today because that was the day and time that suited her best, and Jeremiah recommended a place called Carlyle in Shirlington, which was even a bit closer to Judy than where I was staying in Alexandria. Jeremiah collected me a bit earlier than normal this time, due to the time we were meeting Judy, and this meant he had to talk to his wife on the phone rather than Skype with her. Their call started before Judy arrived, so I waited inside for her while he used his phone.
When Judy arrived, Jeremiah told us to go ahead and get a table while he finished up his phone call. I didn’t mind waiting for him because it was nice to have the opportunity to catch up with Judy on my own. Although I was somewhat amused when Judy asked me whether my husband was actually okay with me spending so much time alone with another man. I supposed that some men could be jealous about things like that, but Jeremy and I are secure in our marriage and tend not to worry about such things. Besides… Jeremy had met Jeremiah only a couple of weeks earlier when he had been in the area. Jeremiah had picked him up in from his hotel in Baltimore, took him to lunch, shopping, and then dropped him off at Dulles airport all in the same day. Anyway, I mention this in case anyone else might be wondering the same thing.
When Jeremiah finally joined us, he apologised for taking so long, but I honestly didn’t mind. We ordered our brunch and I was again amused by the fact that Jeremiah and I wanted to order the exact same thing again. There just must be something about our taste in breakfast type foods. So we had the french toast with eggs, bacon and potatoes, and it was absolutely delicious. Yet, unfortunately too much for me to finish again!
After saying goodbye to Judy and our all too brief time with her, Jeremiah and I headed back to Alexandria’s old town and walked around, taking photos of the beautiful buildings for a while, with our goal destination being Gadsby’s Tavern, a place significant in history since George Washington occasionally frequented it. It was really interesting to see what taverns were like in the late 18th century, and I learned a lot like how the inn part of the tavern was actually a dorm like situation with several men staying in the same room, rather than having private rooms. And did you know they had toothbrushes back then? It was fascinating, and for only $5 entry, I really enjoyed our tour.
Following on from that, we wandered around more of old town, taking photos, and after stopping at the visitor’s centre to see what else we could do, we headed back down to the dock area to find the archaeology museum. On our way there we stopped to watch a man play Ode to Joy on a series of glasses filled with water, which was just so incredible to watch that I had to film some of it and Jeremiah left some money for him. Then we popped in to a souvenir shop and I picked up a pirate themed spyglass and compass, which I thought were apt for the pirate character I’ve been working on, and would be walking around Washington as on Monday.
The archaeology museum was in an old torpedo factory, which also housed hundreds of artworks in various small stalls. I was able to briefly admire the art on our way to the small but still interesting museum. It was a good thing it was small, though, because we didn’t have a lot of time to go through it before we had to go on to our next thing.
We walked back to my hotel, where Jeremiah’s car was parked, stopping in at a couple of other shops along the way. Then Jeremiah drove me to a coffee shop called Panera, where I drank a chai latte and started reading a novel Jeremiah had previously written with one of my favourite characters he often wrote about for the LJ Idol competition. This was so I’d have something interesting to do while he fed his cats, before we were scheduled to have dinner and watch Doctor Who with his friends.
After Jeremiah collected me from Panera, we immediately left for his friends’ place, having already collected the pizza he was bringing for our dinner. I really enjoyed meeting Steve and Meredith and thought they seemed like cool, fun people. Plus, they were very clearly geeks, and that’s pretty much never a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. After our pizza, I shared the black forest Tim Tams I brought on the trip, and Steve and Meredith introduced us to the hilarity of Ask a Ninja. Then we ate some cake Meredith had baked, before settling in to watch Doctor Who. I… made a bit of an embarrassment of myself when Jeremiah fell off his folding chair when he went to sit down. How? Well, after realising he was perfectly okay, and had somehow magically caught the tea that was in his hand so it didn’t go everywhere, I started laughing at him so hard that I couldn’t stop. Schadenfreude.
The episodes of Doctor Who that we watched were both the episode that aired the previous week, and the episode that aired that night. I was utterly exhausted by the end, though, and started to fall asleep on the couch. So, although I enjoyed the company, Jeremiah took me back to the hotel pretty soon after we finished watching Doctor Who.
Sunday, September 18th
Still utterly exhausted, I spent a good portion of the morning napping. But that’s okay. I was also still incredibly full from the previous day that I didn’t even bother to have breakfast. Nor did we bother with lunch since we knew we’d be eating at our next meet up with other folks from the LJ Idol competition.
When Jeremiah collected me, we headed out to the Whole Foods Market to pick up some food for the “cook out” which I was essentially expecting to be the same as an Aussie BBQ. I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce my friends to Australian sausage rolls, so we got as many of the ingredients as I needed for that as I could find. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any plain puff pastry – just chocolate flavoured. So I got filo pastry instead, hoping that would be a decent substitute.
We then drove to Crystal’s house, who was a fellow season 7 competitor, and got to meet her husband, also named Dom, as well as a few kids who happened to be there (they weren’t all related). As I started to make the sausage rolls, I opened the filo pastry box and realised that it really, really wasn’t right. Luckily by that point, Dom had headed out to the grocery store himself and Crystal called him to ask him to pick me up some puff pastry while he was there.
The only other Idol person who joined us was Brian, who was actually the guy who introduced Jeremiah to the game. Brian had participated in a couple of seasons prior to the one I joined, took season 6 off, and then I met him through season 7. Katie had also been intending on joining us, but she ended up deciding to stay home to recover from a cold.
Some of the highlights from the afternoon involved meeting Dom and Crystal’s gorgeous but giant dogs, hearing about Crystal’s experiences at the recent Dragon*Con convention in Atlanta, Dom’s hilarious storytelling, and sharing yet more Tim Tams. The sausage rolls, once I’d been able to make them with the puff pastry, ended up being a huge hit, which I was quite excited about. Jeremiah watched me make them well enough that I suspect he’ll attempt them himself sometime. They are pretty easy to make.
Jeremiah had had to duck home to feed his cats again in the middle, but I stuck around, and it was after he got back that we finally had the barbecued meat; also delicious. But I may have pigged out far too much on the snack food earlier in the day because I was definitely stuffed by the end!
We ended up having so much fun with just the general conversations that it wasn’t until about 10:30pm that we left and Jeremiah took me back to the hotel. I was again so exhausted that I passed out almost immediately.
Monday, September 19th
Since Jeremy and Jeremiah had already met, and Jeremiah often tells me about how awesome his wife is, I had wanted to be able to meet her, too. So this morning we Skyped with her together when he dropped in to my hotel. It may not have been the best of circumstances given that I was dressed like a pirate, but it still went well.
Now, I’ve previously alluded to the pirate character stuff, so I suppose this would be the time to explain that a bit further. My pirate, Jaclyn, started out as a character I wrote in a stand alone short film screenplay I wrote a) as an entry for one topic in LJ Idol and b) as something I hoped I could film with one of my friends in Hawaii who I had shot the music video with last year. The screenplay ended up being so popular with readers that I had several people ask for more, so I wrote another screenplay in a future week, at which point along with the requests for more, Jeremiah had said he wanted to know about her back story. In future weeks still, I wrote two more pieces in the actual competition, switching from screenplay format to prose, and from the present (the screenplays were set in 2011) to Jaclyn’s past… in the 17th century. It was the first screenplay that had revealed she had travelled through a crack in time. After I was voted out of the competition, I continued to write about Jaclyn with every week that remained until the competition ended. So by that point I knew quite a lot about her as a character, and also started finishing off an actual outfit with clothes and accessories I was able to buy in Malaysia.
As I mentioned in my introduction to this entry, I’ve been developing these pieces further, with Jeremiah’s help. So it just made sense to me to become Jaclyn for a day and see Washington, and the Air and Space Museum in particular (since air and space travel would be science-fiction to her, in the 17th century) to get into her mind and help me as extra research for the novel I’m writing about her.
The extra bonus about doing this on this particular day was that it turned out to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and, though Jaclyn doesn’t actually sound like we perceive pirates to sound, I figured it was the best day to get away with it.
I guess one of the things that excited me most about the day was that I had somehow also wrapped Jeremiah up in the fun so much so that he decided to roleplay as Max, the main character from his aforementioned novel. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to get him to do something so weird and bizarre along with me when he kept telling me it’s not the kind of thing he would ever do normally.
So, after meeting Jeremiah’s wife on Skype, we walked to the nearest metro station, which was only a few blocks away from where I was staying, and caught the train into Washington. Jeremiah and I were both keen to have him document the experience with both photographs and video, so he started taking photos of me whilst on the metro.
We got off the metro at L’Enfant, which was the closest stop to the Air and Space museum, but it was lunch time, so we first walked several blocks, snapping pictures of Jaclyn holding a traffic light post, as well as in front of the Capitol and the Washington Monument en route to finding somewhere to eat. The first block that had restaurants on it happened to have a “Sports Tavern” and, since Jaclyn would’ve been familiar with the word “tavern,” I figured it was the perfect place for us to eat. So we headed in to the upstairs part, ordered our meal, and snapped a few more pictures. I took advantage of the fact I could access free wifi there and posted a picture on Facebook.
After our meal, we walked to a navy monument where Jeremiah wanted to get some photos of Jaclyn and took advantage of the spyglass and compass I had bought a couple of days earlier. Then we headed back down to the Air and Space Museum and saw a long line of people in wheelchairs protesting benefits cuts Medicaid and Medicare along the way. I remained in character for much of this time, only breaking out of character if there was something I wanted to say as an observation of what was happening.
When entering the museum, you have to go through security, which was fine, though it did end with a security guard asking us about what we were doing, considering the way I was dressed. If I remember correctly, he thought it was for some acting thing, but I let him know it was “novel research.” I liked how friendly he was about it. I jumped back into character after that, and Jeremiah captured a number of photos of me looking around at all of the models in the main entrance room full of complete awe.
After leaving there, we headed into a section about the history of flight, and Jaclyn was particularly intrigued by a model of a ship that had a balloon above it. Then we headed in to the area that focused on an aircraft carrier navy ship, which allowed Jaclyn to see both planes and how ships had progressed since her time. Following that, we had a look at the cockpit of a plane, and then it was back downstairs to see some space stuff.
When I had first mentioned to Jeremiah about wanting to go to the museum because it would remind me of my time there with Mum, it was the space section that I had most vividly remembered the displays of and, in particular, where the moon rock was in relation to that. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine, the displays had changed a lot in the last 16 years, so it didn’t have the same effect on me that walking to the Lincoln Memorial on Friday did. It was either that or me being so immersed in the character that Jaclyn didn’t have time to let me think about my mother.
Still, we got a number of good photos, and some video footage, of Jaclyn being more in awe of what she saw. I was amused when Jaclyn asked Max if the astronaut space suits were like knights’ armour.
Before we headed back to the metro and thus Alexandria, we stopped for ice cream, which was being sold just outside the museum.
We got back to the hotel so I could get changed, and then Jeremiah took us to feed his cats (though I stayed in the car), and then to a different metro station so we could get back in to Washington where we were scheduled to go on a ghost walking tour.
We were the last people to show up for the tour, but thankfully we were only about two minutes late. We met right by Lafayette Park, which is the park right in front of the White House, and the tour essentially took us right around the park. Our guide was brilliant; I can’t praise her enough. I really enjoyed her storytelling at each location, and the way she explained that each of the stories had been heavily researched. There was a story about a woman ghost on a rocking chair at our first stop (where the tour started).
Our second stop was by St John’s Church, also known as “The Church of the Presidents” because every president for hundreds of years has attended there at least once during their tenure as president. This was one of the best stories we were told because apparently there have been countless witnesses corroborating that whenever a former (or current) president dies, the church’s bells ring, and four cloaked figures enter the church out of respect, then disappear.
After hearing that story, our guide told us about the building across the street, the now Hay-Adams Hotel, which used to be the site of two buildings, belonging to John Hay and Henry Adams. We were told about how the sixth floor is haunted by Adams’ wife, affectionately nicknamed “Clover,” who apparently committed suicide there in 1885. Yet, she also told us that there had been speculation at the time that Clover had been murdered by Henry due to his suspicious behaviour after she died. Such as that he did not want her grave to have any kind of marker, and he only gave in and got one for her due to public pressure. When he did, though, he had a sculpture commissioned and then disappeared overseas for a year. When he returned, the statue was erected, but Henry still refused to have it marked with her name. Our guide made a point of letting us know that the statue remained in the cemetery today, in the event that we wanted to go see how creepy it looked for ourselves. This was another favourite story of mine.
The next few stories, I don’t really remember the names of all the historical persons involved, but they were still interesting to hear about. Such as the man who was famous for his role in the war of 1812 who superseded a general who had made the wrong choice when he encountered the British, and died when the two of them duelled. Apparently his ghost haunted the room where he died so much that passers by complained. The window was bricked up, and still his image could be seen in the brick. The only solution was to have the shutters forever closed.
Then there was a story about a woman who had a revenge affair, and her husband killed her lover. Their love story was really rather sweet. And a story about a man who was with President Lincoln when he was assassinated. Around this location, Jeremiah started having problems with his camera, and later found out that another person on the tour had the same thing happen, and it seemed to be concluded that the camera had been affected by some sort of spookiness.
Our next stop on the tour was the White House, and there were a lot of stories told about White House hauntings. My favourite was when a British Prime Minister was staying there and met the ghost of Abraham Lincoln. I won’t recount all of these stories, but they were truly all fun to hear about.
Our final stop and story was another one that related to Lincoln’s assassination. Again, not having learned much about American History in my life, I really enjoyed learning more about the Civil War and Lincoln’s involvement.
Since we hadn’t had time for dinner before the tour, we were really hungry and wanted somewhere to eat, but late as it was, we had no idea where would be open. Our guide suggested the Capital Brewery, which was only a few blocks away, so that’s where we headed. I splurged on unhealthy American food by ordering mini corn dogs and onion rings. The food was good, but the service wasn’t.
By this time it was very late, so we went back to Alexandria on the metro, and Jeremiah dropped me back at the hotel so I could get some sleep.
Tuesday, September 20th
Since we had packed so much into the previous day, Jeremiah and I decided to take it easy today. We didn’t get moving until lunch time because it was raining a bit before then. When the rain let up, we just walked around old town for a while until I found an Asian place I decided I’d like to eat at. What I liked about this place was that it had a huge range of Asian food choices. Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese… even Malaysian! So I ordered curry puffs to share with Jeremiah, and a bento box with sushi and teriyaki chicken and rice.
After lunch, Jeremiah took me on a walk to see some of his favourite places, like a comic book shop, where he knows the guy who runs it – I bought a book and since I was a friend of Jeremiah’s and opted to pay cash, he gave me a nice discount! There were also a couple of stops that jeremiah figures most people miss. Like the 150 year old bridge that is still in use by cars, but not so obvious as a bridge. There were a few signs posted up near there that explain some of the archaeology and history of the area, so that was cool.
Then we crossed the street and walked around the old cemetery for a bit, before sitting down on a bench inside the grounds and talked. Since I’d opened up to him about my Mum a few days previously, Jeremiah told me a lot about his past, and I mostly listened, only really saying things when I wanted him to know what I could relate to. It was a really good conversation.
From there we headed on to a coffee shop that Jeremiah likes to frequent so he could show me more of his artwork. I got another chai latte, just savouring the fact that I could! The coffee shop was pretty full so we sat at a communal table. At one point, Jeremiah told me he had been admiring this ring another woman at the table had been wearing, and wanted to tell her as much before she got up to leave, so he did. What started out as a simple compliment ended up being an incredibly long conversation with the woman, who turned out to be a screenwriter/director who lives in California, and had recently been offered a deal to write a screenplay for Hollywood. With every detail she mentioned about her work, the more I wanted to know about her, because it just felt like we were interested in a lot of the same things. I guess it was one of those bizarre serendipitous moments that happen in my life sometimes. I ended up getting her email address because I figured she might be able to offer me some good advice about my own interest in screenwriting. We probably would’ve ended up talking a lot longer if it weren’t for the fact I wanted to get back to the hotel so I could Skype with Jeremy and my kids, since it would be my last chance to do that before heading home.
After Skyping, and Doyle’s refusal to actually talk to me, I settled in to watch the season 3 premiere of Glee. Then Jeremiah returned from feeding his cats to bring me some salad from Whole Foods for dinner.
Wednesday, September 21st
For my last day in America on this trip, Jeremiah and I packed in a lot. Our first item on the agenda was walking from the hotel to the Lyceum, a small museum with local history. The pieces that interested me most were basically how early things like telephones and transport were in use in Alexandria. Then I popped into their shop and found a book about a guy from Alexandria who Long John Silver from Treasure Island may have been based off of. Since I’m working on a story about a pirate, I thought this could be a really interesting read.
We walked back to Jeremiah’s car after that and headed over to a place called Busboys and Poets, which Jeremiah had been raving about wanting to take me to, so I kind of insisted that he actually do that. Busboys and Poets is a restaurant/coffee shop. So that’s where we had our lunch, with me ordering quesadillas again. They were yummy. We stayed there long enough to finish going through Jeremiah’s art books, which I really enjoyed. He has very varied and enjoyable techniques, and I particularly like the way he captures emotion on the faces of his characters.
The major destination we wanted to visit today was next. I’d previously asked Jeremiah if he was interested in actually seeing the creepy statue at Clover Adams’ grave, which we had heard about on the ghost tour. He said yes, so I researched where the cemetery was, and we headed out there, to Rock Creek Cemetery. When we arrived, there wasn’t really any easy way to find the section we were looking for, so we just drove slowly through the roads, stopping occasionally to take photos of angel statues that reminded us of the weeping angels from Doctor Who. Then we found section E, which we knew is where Clover’s statue could be found. Jeremiah stopped his car and we both walked off in separate directions to take photos and look for the statue. The sounds of insects and walking around seemingly alone gave me such an eery feeling. Then Jeremiah and I found each other again, and he directed me over to some hedges, where he said he thought we’d find the statue. He remained on his side taking photos, while I walked around to find the entrance.
As I walked in through the gap and turned to look at the statue, I stopped dead in my tracks and had to turn away. Jeremiah started laughing at me for the way I reacted, until he walked in through a second gap in the hedges, saw the statue, and yelped while backing out again. Eventually we both got enough strength to walk inside and get a closer look at the statues, and photos, but words can’t even really express how we felt inside that closed off section of the cemetery. I couldn’t look at the statue for very long periods. And when I walked around it, it looked like the eyes were watching me. Eventually I got to a point when I decided I wanted to film the experience, so I did, but I couldn’t even look the whole time I was filming.
After leaving the hedges, I took a few more photos, but then hurried back to the car while Jeremiah took more pictures because I couldn’t stand being around there much longer, I was just too creeped out.
By this point, we had about two hours before I wanted to be at Dulles airport to check in, and Jeremiah wasn’t sure what the traffic was going to be like on the way. He did opt to avoid the interstate, though, which took us instead on a nice scenic drive along the river. With a bit of extra time to spare, and noticing a sort of park along this route, we stopped in there for a while just to talk, figuring it would be a better place to chat than the arriving at the airport early. When we popped in there, we were the only car there, but then soon other cars followed, looking more and more suspicious. So we remained in the car while we talked… until one such car creeped us out too much by looking like it wanted to drive into us. We thought perhaps us being there was interrupting a drug deal or something. Who knows? All I know is that the car that tried to run into us left immediately before we did, and we had started to fret for our lives. Or at least I did. We headed straight for Dulles after that.
I was able to check in at the airport as soon as I got there, but given I have a tendency to check in three hours before my scheduled departure, I still had a lot of time to kill. Jeremiah and I found some chairs to sit on to chat for a while, then found a place for a light dinner. Then it was time for us to part so I could go through security, so we said our goodbyes, and I went through.
By the time I got to my gate, there wasn’t much time for me to kill before boarding, so I basically just listened to music. I started drifting off to sleep pretty quickly on the plane, so much so that I slightly missed the first meal, and had to ask a flight attendant to bring me one. I don’t like missing out on airplane food if it was covered in the cost of the flight. After I finished that, I went back to sleep, and slept for a good portion of the remainder of the flight.
Thursday, September 22nd
Initially I was excited about having a 12 hour stopover in London because it would mean that I’d get to meet up with a couple of other friends at the end of my trip. It turned out to be needed also in terms of it being great to get out of the cramped plane and stretch my legs.
Getting through immigration and customs was pretty easy, especially since I didn’t need to worry about my checked bag. And having been to London several times before, I was glad to be familiar with the Underground already, so I headed straight there and caught it to Covent Garden, where I was due to meet Sally and Meg. I already wrote about Sally in my introduction, so I’ll just explain who Meg is. I originally met Meg also through the same aforementioned Harry Potter community, but after she had watched me and another friend participate in LJ Idol during 6, she decided to compete in season 7, and ended up being voted out just after I was. Sally came second place in season 7, and 6th in season 6.
I got to Covent Garden about an hour before our arranged time, so I just wandered around the area taking photos and looking at the markets. I found Drury Lane, so I took a photo of that and posted it to Facebook and made a joke about looking for the Muffin Man. I looked for various places we could have lunch, and eventually settled on a cheap Mexican place to suggest. Then I headed back to the Marks & Spencer to wait. Both Sally and Meg found me at pretty much the exact same time, which was brilliant. I had them follow me into the M&S so I could change $20 and pay for my food, and then we headed to the Mexican restaurant.
We probably spent at least two hours there, even though we finished our meal well before that. We were all just really wrapped up in our conversations… despite the fact my ear was terrible and I couldn’t hear properly because it didn’t want to pop from the plane. This tends to only happen to me when I have a cold, and I had developed a cold. I was in a lot of pain as the plane was landing/the last 20-30 mins of the flight.
Figuring we had probably stayed well longer than the restaurant might have liked, we headed on to a coffee shop I had also found while I had been wandering, and I ordered yet another chai latte. We spent another couple of hours chatting and asked a random stranger to take our photo until I decided I should probably get back on the Underground and back to the airport.
Though my ear was still bothering me at the airport, by the time the plane took me into the air, the problem was fixed. Brilliant! And I slept for most of the 14 hour flight back to KL.
Immigration at KLIA was an absolute joke. I first queued up in the foreign passport line, until Jeremy said I should take the first class queue since I was an expat and the foreign passport line was so slow moving. Well, the first class queue was just as bad, so I ended up just saying screw it and went to the Malaysian passport queue. They accepted me due to my expat visa, and the best part was… there wasn’t actually a queue. I went straight through!
And that’s pretty much my trip in as much detail as I can manage. I met some pretty damn amazing people, some of which do plan to compete in the next season of LJ Idol. I mention this because, though I won’t be competing myself due to it being a very big time commitment and I want to focus on other writing endeavours right now, season 8 will be starting sometime this month.