Great Halls, Flying Cars, and the Ministry of Magic, London Day 8

After returning to London and finally getting to sleep (our return flight boarded at 10:20pm), we awoke bright and early to visit the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter studio tour.

wpid-img_20150518_144742580

The studio was astounding. I read all of the books (multiple times!), and I watched all the movies when I was younger. It was amazing to be able to see the props and sets that they actually used in production. I’m not a big movie guy, but I love seeing how movies are made and filmed, so to be able to see the Harry Potter production was really cool.

We started with the Great Hall of Hogwarts. We saw costumes from some of the various characters in each of the houses and the professors.

wpid-img_20150518_104259507

We then saw a bunch of other stuff, like the Yule Ball ornaments, wigs, sets, furniture, and the costumes for the women at the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic.

wpid-img_20150518_110213358

Its amazing how the creature shop worked. A lot of the major creatures had animatronic versions as well as using CGI (computer graphic imaging). Buckbeak was a good example of this. We walked through Diagon Alley, and saw the model of Hogwarts.

wpid-img_20150518_134822450

Since we had the evening free (and I was exhausted from the crazy sleep schedule this weekend), I decided tonight would be a good time to do laundry, work, and stay at the hostel. I got a fish and chips from their mini-restaurant. I don’t know why, English fish and chips are super plain…

That evening, I had my first experience with working through time-zones. I had a conference call with coworkers in New York, Duluth, and California, so it was interesting to see what different times it is across the globe.

Paris! Days 5 – 7

Day 1, Friday

Edit: Added pictures of Paris at night. Enjoy!

2:15am, my alarm clock goes off. My bag packed already, its time for Paris! There are 8 of us on this excursion, and only 2 of us speak French. 1 fluently. Megan’s going to be doing a lot of translating. And my translator app too, but I certainly won’t be using it mid-conversation.

Not all of us are as ready to go as me. We have a missing passport, a number of missing people, and another “I need to go back for something” that I didn’t catch and didn’t bother to ask again. Fingers crossed everyone makes it to the airport, on time, with everything they need.

Its a foggy night, nice and cool. My glasses are covered though, so I’m blindly following the others to the train station. No one was hit!

Its amazing how much the city slows down in the early morning. We saw not a single person the entire way to the station, and even in Kings Cross itself we only saw 4 people. The others beat the train to the station, thankfully. (There’s only 1 each hour!)

We board the train, and ride in a half-awake stupor the entire time, laughing at jokes and stories that aren’t really funny and dozing off for seconds or minutes at a time. I really could have used more than an hour or two of sleep last night.

We arrive at our stop, and make our way to the shuttle to get to the airport. Nothing really exciting happened here, at least nothing I was conscious of.

The airport. A bustle of people all trying to not miss their flight. I forget to take my liquids out of my bag. I was too busy wondering why everyone is allowed to keep their shoes on for European flights. My bag gets flagged. I wonder what’s with my traveling that I get stopped, flagged, or selected for a random full check each time?

It’s my shampoo this time. Maybe they can’t see through the black bottle. Maybe its a weird consistency. Maybe they picked it at random?

I’m free to pass through border control, and get on my flight. Hurray for another stamp! I still think they should be more colorful, or have a symbol on it or something. It just says the airport’s name with a box.

The flight is 55 minutes. It feels more like 5, since there is 21.4 minutes of ascent and 21.4 minutes of decent. That would leave 12.2 minutes at cruising height, assuming my numbers are correct (They aren’t).

Nous arrivons à France! (We arrive in France!) Everyone else realizes that they have no idea how to communicate here, and the questions begin. “How do we talk to border control? Where’s the exit? How do I buy a drink?” I’m so exhausted I can’t remember, and I keep quiet while Megan answers most of them.

We approach the border guard, one at a time. The moment of truth. I say, “Bonjour,” and I immediately realize how strong my American mid-west dialect is (as well as how American I look in my plaid button up t-shirts) when he responds with “You can go through,” in English. So much for knowing some French. It probably didn’t help that I was right after the others who knew no French at all.

I’m pretty overwhelmed by the strain of trying (and usually being unable) to understand the speech and text around me. I only had an hour of sleep after all. Fortunately, the major signs in the airport are in both French and English. We find the Great Britain ticket attendant person (the one who sells the train tickets to Paris), and we each get a ticket. Maybe we can do this!

We find the train, and we hop on. I promptly fall asleep, but not before I notice that this train is in far worse shape than in London. Probably because there’s no cameras on this train. I doze for a while. I want to see as much of Paris as possible, so I fight it off. Look at all those suburbs… Reminds me of Los Angeles. The Los Angeles of Europe.

We arrive at our hostel. Our rooms aren’t ready yet, so we leave our bags in the locked luggage room and look around. Some of us walk in the bike lane and get yelled at by Parisian cyclists. (Not me, promise!)

We find a cafe, and can’t decide what to get. The cashier mistakes our silence for being completely unable to speak French, and she isn’t terribly happy about it. Megan helps the others order. I order all by myself. They don’t take cards, so we all have to use our 20s, and she nearly runs out of change. I apologize for not having any smaller bills. “Désole…” She seems happy that at least two of our group can speak French. We’re off to a good start!

We return to the hostel and get checked into our room. They don’t have any towels left because its a holiday of some sort this weekend. The toilet asks us to not flush toilet paper down the toilet. Must have old piping. We all collapse in our rooms, and wake up about 4 hours later, at 2pm. (Europeans would say 14:00)

We decide to take the subway to le Tour Eiffel. The ticket machine doesn’t take cash. I’ll have to keep that in mind, but for now I have enough coins for a ticket.

It doesn’t feel like we’re really in Paris until we get out of the underground station and see the Eiffel Tower. There it was, just sitting there. (What was I expecting it to do though, dance around?) We make our way past the street vendors selling “selfie sticks” and miniature Eiffel Towers.

wpid-img_20150515_145918915

We meander through town a while, and find a few other monuments. Eventually we stop to eat at a cafe/restaurant. The waitress is pretty happy talking to Megan. She’s also super helpful to everyone else who’s trying to order in French. Hilarity ensues as new French speaking skills get tried, with phrases like “Me sad because of cheese,” “I am ham,” and “Ongion soup, please” being the highlights.

That evening, we go up the Eiffel Tower. Climbing all 603 stairs to level 1. Then 603 more stairs to level 2. The view was great, though!

wpid-img_20150515_190041353

We stand in line to get to the top of the tower by lift. I meet some nice Canadians behind us, from Ontario. We talk a lot and take pictures a lot and wait a lot.

I’m pushed up against the glass door in the lift up. I sure hope there isn’t a problem and the door opens. It sure is a long way down. I find the easiest handhold to grab, just in case.

We make it to the top without incident. By this time, the sun has set and the tower is lit up. The city sure sparkles at night.

wpid-img_20150515_204844367

We head back down in groups. Luc isn’t in one of them. We must have left him at the top of the tower. After about 30 minutes of searching, we finally see him stepping off the stairs at the bottom. Found him!

We laugh about how he was forgotten at the top of the tower and head back to the hostel. Megan remembers the lack of towels and stops to get one from a touristy store, and Luc, Jake, and I wait outside. An attractive young French woman approaches us and sounds exceptionally flustered, asking us for help. She’s talking too fast for me to make out what she’s asking and she quickly walks off, assumably to find someone who speaks fluent French. I wish I could have helped her. Maybe next time.

Day 2, Saturday

Off to a late start today. We don’t collectively have enough coin to pay for our tickets for the day. I didn’t realize neither of my cards would work. The machines only support cards with the chip in them. Megan goes through the open-air market nearby and buys some bananas so that she could get coins for all of us. They were definitely the best bananas I’ve ever eaten.

There were two groups today that wanted to go to different places, so we decided to split into two groups. I really wanted to avoid the mass of people that would be at the Louvre as well as be with the fluent French speaker.

My group arrives at our station, and find ourselves in a two-hour line to get into the Catacombs. I really don’t like waiting in line. Being with the others and talking the whole time makes it bearable, though, and I get lots of pictures. We each take turns going to grab something to eat. I get a portable pizza and some sort of pastry with chocolate in it.

wpid-img_20150516_104842713_hdr

There are hundreds of thousands of bones in the catacombs, all sitting in nice, organized piles with trails leading through them. Its pretty morbid. They only let 200 people in at a time, and it’s a really long walk, so there were a few times when I didn’t see or hear anyone around me, and it was fairly peaceful.

wpid-img_20150516_114122060

When I got out of the catacombs, there was only one person behind me. We then waited another hour and a half after I got out before we decided we should let the other group know we were running late, as we had decided we would meet the other group at 3 o’clock. It was pushing 2:45.

I was part of the group that went to meet them, and we found them at the Arc de Triumph much more easily than we expected. We then met up with the rest and we went on our merry way.

wpid-img_20150516_150344149_hdr

We then went to Notre Dame

wpid-img_20150516_154438519

Luxembourg Park (where we saw the super-mini Statue of Liberty)

wpid-img_20150516_190153193

the Lock Bridge

wpid-img_20150516_195411391

and walked along the river. I loved walking along the bank. We were the only tourists around (that I could tell—it looked like all locals to me), it was a beautiful evening, and everyone was so happy and content. It felt like something out of a storybook. Everyone was enjoying everyone else’s company, playing games and eating together. After dark, we stopped by the Eiffel Tower again, and walked across another monument to get to an underground station. We stopped to see the Arc de Triomphe at night, and went back to the hostel.

Day 3

We split again, as some wanted to take a train to Versailles, and others (myself included), wanted to stay in the city, see some more sights, and have a more relaxed day. We hopped on a subway and took it all the way to the end, getting off at Dauphine station.

One of the things I had wanted to see was the University of Paris. Ironically, about a block from the stop we got off at was the Dauphine branch of the University of Paris. We discovered that most places don’t open until 10am outside of the more touristy areas. We stop by a wonderful patisserie (pastry shop) and I have the most amazing, delicious, fantastic croissant I’ve ever had. As Luc so well put it, “I can’t ever eat a Pillsbury croissant ever again.”

I want to see the US Embassy, so we take the subway to the Franklin D. Roosevelt station and walk down the Champs-Élysées. Its tucked behind a bunch of trees and mean looking police officers, so I don’t take any pictures. Luc also discourages picture taking from his experiences abroad.

We stop by the Louvre to take more pictures, but we avoid the crowds, since its so crowded. (See what I did there?) We rode the subway to the small Statue of Liberty (not to be confused with the super-mini one in Luxembourg Park. Luc and I walked down to a bridge to get the statue and the Eiffel Tower in the same picture. I didn’t realize it was so far away, and I’m exhausted by the time we get back to the statue.

We walked down a pretty island to get to the Eiffel Tower, as we thought it was fitting to spend our last few hours napping in the sun beneath the tower. We decide to get one last treat before we leave. I successfully order an apricot marmalade crepe completely in French and have the cashier respond entirely in French back. There was full comprehension from both parties.

We head out to the airport, and I’m sad that I’m leaving. Its a little bit funny to say that I’m sad to be going to London, but I definitely wish I could have stayed in Paris longer.

After getting through security and border patrol, I decided I wanted to finish my collection of one type of each coin. I was missing a 1 Euro cent, and a 5 Euro cent, so I approach one of the cashers. I try to ask for change for a 20 cent piece in French, but the cashier doesn’t understand what I’m saying. I try to switch to English, but she doesn’t know English well and still doesn’t understand. I eventually resort to saying (in French) “This is 20. I would like 10, 5, 1 and 1 and 1 and 1 and 1, please.” Success, she understands!

As we get in line to board the plane, two of my companions realize their phone is about to die. Their boarding passes are both on their phone. Fortunately, I’m an Eagle Scout so I’m always prepared. I let them use my mobile charger (which I haven’t needed to use yet, thankfully). They were pretty funny looking, joined together by the charger.

I already miss Paris, and I will definitely be making another trip back.

Rain, Shakespeare, an Iron Dragon, a Birthday, and the 39 Steps, London Days 3 and 4

Shakespeare, an Iron Dragon, Birthday’s, and Rain. London, days 3 and 4.

Day 3

I will be brief. There have been technical issues with uploading entries from my phone (my last ones have all been with my laptop, which I did not have access to for a few days). It decides to erase my work as I try to upload it. Computers–I tell you.

On the morn of day three, we journeyed across the city with a guide telling us about all the different places Shakespeare lived, worked, and hung out at. He even showed us a few other places of interest relating to him. (Relating to Shakespeare that is, not to the tour guide.)

We started near a bank, where he pointed out a statue of Shakespeare next to one of Bacon and Sir Issac Newton.

We went by a monument of the 7 Stages of Life, where he recited a speech given by Jaques in As You Like It.

wpid-img_20150513_113750590_hdr

We also toured three places where Shakespeare used to live. Not one of them was still standing. Only one had a plaque showing that it was Shakespeare’s residence. He isn’t well received in London, apparently.

Our guide told us that Shakespeare was actually a very rich man, contrary to my belief about him. I assumed he had been a “starving artist” who barely made anything off his plays. Technically, I was right about not making money off his plays. He was a brilliant businessman and he made his money by owning the theaters in the city, not by writing his plays.

After the tour, we walked to the Tower of London. Inside was the most organized army gear, weapons, and armor I had ever seen in one place. There were some gifts given to the British by the Japanese, Native Americans, and Germans, to name a few. There was also this handsome fellow:

wpid-img_20150513_161032455

After the Tower, I made my way back to the hostel. I was exhausted. After mucking about the hostel for a while, I decided to get something to eat from a place down the street titled “The King of Falafel.”

I spoke with the owner for a little while, where I just asked for “his most popular dish.” He then asked me if I wanted something on it that I didn’t quite catch, but I agreed anyway. I was feeling adventurous. A woman wandered by the store and asked if she could come in if she didn’t smoke. This is a silly thing to ask, as there really isn’t any reason to prevent someone from entering a store while not smoking. The shopkeeper agreed. She walked in, promptly started to smoke, and was asked to leave.

Outside, I heard her ask how to leave. She called Luc a Yankee, then proceeded to bother the other patrons, who shooed her away.

My wrap was pretty good.

Day 4

On day 4, it rained. But I have a jacket, so I was just fine. I’m prepared! We toured the Globe Theater, had a workshop with one of the actors, had a waiter point us toward the site of the Leaky Cauldron entrance in Harry Potter, stopped by the site of the original Rose Theater, found an open-air market, celebrated Ronnie’s birthday (her first, according to the cake), and watched a hilarious show titled 39 Steps.

London, Land of the Church! Day Two

There are a lot of churches in London.

No, seriously, there are a LOT of churches in London.

First, a disclaimer: this posting is dated about 24 hours, as jet lag finally caught up to me and I crashed in the evening, unable to do anything except stare blankly into the brightly colored walls of my room, drink water, and try to rest. But now back to you previously scheduled programming:

Eleanor, our guide for the day, told us that there were over 80 churches that she knew about in the Old London Area, which doesn’t include many of the suburbs, or even most of the area that feel like it should be London. (Why draw city borders in a random intersection?)

Our day started with an interesting breakfast: coffee (which I didn’t drink, as I’m caffeine-averse), juice, or milk, accompanied by ham and cheese sandwiches, corn flakes cereal, mixed fruit (the canned, school stuff), and some stuff that no-one was quite sure whether it was gravy or oatmeal by looking at it. Fortunately, my guess of oatmeal wasn’t terribly far off, as I had already smothered it with granola before someone said they thought it was gravy.

Turns out it was grits of some sort–at least that’s the conclusion we decided after we ate it.

English food is incredibly bland.

After breakfast, we were lead on a tour of London. During the tour, in fact, Eleanor stated that we don’t really need to mention the food to any English people because they all already know–which is why there’s so many other nationalities’ food available in England.

We passed a number of sights, including the British Library,

St. Paul’s Cathedral – did I mention that there are a lot of churches in London?

wpid-img_20150512_103217905_hdr

The remains of a Roman church, containing both a public garden and a private residence that was purchased a few years ago for 10 million pounds, if my memory serves me correctly (where the city rejected the buyer’s build permit to put an elevator in for the 6 stories up to the residence)

wpid-img_20150512_1044437021

Postman’s Park, the location where a memorial to the “everyday heroes,” civilians who passed away doing a great service to someone, such as saving a life, is

wpid-img_20150512_105349909

wpid-img_20150512_105245790

The London Bridge while it is allowing passage for a ship to sail through

wpid-img_20150512_111742136_hdr

The infamous OXO headquarters, who built their company name directly into the window panes of their building to circumvent the “no advertising” law

wpid-img_20150512_113542387

Westminster Abbey, where Kenzie and I walked around one of the smaller churches nearby (the Abbey itself was closed at the time)

wpid-img_20150512_122212661

James Park

wpid-img_20150512_125219513_hdr

and Buckingham Palace.

wpid-img_20150512_125743892_hdr

Afterwards, we parted company with Eleanor, and Kenzie, Hannah, Rachael, and I headed for the National Gallery.

The National Gallery. Lo and behold, every painting was related somehow to the Christian church: whether as a scene from the Bible or a parable or story relating to Mary, Jesus, or any of the other individuals in the Bible. I get the feeling that churches might be kind of a big deal in London…

After visiting the gallery (and taking photos, to the irk of the other visitors there), the four of us split into two groups, and Kenzie and I took our first successful subway ride (Which Eleanor said is pronounced the “tch-ube” instead of “tube” by Londoners. We gave our patronage to a local pub for a late lunch, where I had an excellent turkey burger and chips. (Remember, chips in England are french fries, not Doritos!) We then proceeded to walk in the opposite direction we intended to and found ourselves lost in the city.

Fortunately, after walking another block we spotted a landmark we recognized: a little park. Thus, we made it back in time to get ready to see Les Miserables.

As luck would have it, this evening was when jet lag finally caught up to me. I had been so busy up to this point that now that I had a free moment, I was utterly exhausted for the performance. Drowsy from lack of sleep (its hard to sleep in a different bed when you’re so used to the ones at home!), exhaustion from walking all day, and the realization that I would go about five hours without eating finally demanded my attention.

Thus, the moment the music made its first crescendo, I had a splitting headache. And forgot to bring an ibuprofen. Awesome. I was really looking forward to enjoying the performance, as I have somehow managed to go my entire life not seeing Les Mis. Not the movie nor the play, not reading the book nor the script. My opinion of the play, thus, was resting completely on this performance. Likely due to the headache, I had a difficult time hearing the lyrics of the first three songs (which also didn’t bode well, so I asked someone nearby to explain what had happened in the first act during intermission – I must be fearless!).

NOTE: Now that I’ve fought off the jet lag, I can say with certainty that it was a brilliant performance. Five out of five, would recommend to friends. Its obvious that a ton of work went into it, and the acting was, in my humble opinion, impeccable.

The Adventure Begins! London, Day Zero (and One)

3 o’clock, arrive at the Duluth International Airport. (Why is it an international airport? There’s only 2 terminals–I suppose its because one flight a week goes to Canada.) Say my goodbyes to my family. No one in line for security, and the TSA agent seems genuinely happy to be working today. The day’s off to a good start!

I’m informed I’ve been randomly selected to be searched. I’m asked to stand off to the side. I wonder what algorithm they use to determine it? I know someone who look like he’s from the middle east who says he’s “randomly selected” every time he flies. Regardless, its a quick and painless procedure, as only 2 minutes pass before I’m cleared to go through.

We board the plane, and I introduce myself to my seat buddy, who I’ll call Janet. She’s a nice lady, traveling to Los Vegas on a business trip. I find out she works in Indian Affairs as a financial manager.

The captain tells us there’s weather in the Twin Cities (of course there’s weather, I’d be concerned if there was no weather at all), and that the airport was completely closed: no inbound nor outbound flights at all. The pilot wants to keep the delay as short as possible, and so because its expected to clear up in about 20 minutes, we are to wait patiently on the plane.

The man sitting behind Janet and I doesn’t handle delays well. He’s on his cell phone with Delta Airlines, trying to rebook his connecting flight for tomorrow. I’m pretty sure I overhear him saying that the airport is closed for the day and won’t start again until tomorrow. He asks the flight attendant to let him off the flight and help rebook his flight.

The 20 minutes pass, and then another 20. The man behind us is still restless and concerned. The flight attendant tries to soothe his worries, telling him that the plane he’s supposed to be flying out of the cities on is grounded in Milwaukee, just like we’re grounded in Duluth. Janet’s concerned she’ll miss her flight too, as her phone says her flight is still “on time.” I’m glad I had a 3-hour layover.

After an hour and a half, the weather finally clears and we’re cleared for take off. The flight itself is fairly uneventful, and we land safely, albeit not without some difficulties for some passengers. Janet’s plane is already boarding by the time we reach the gate, and Mr. Cell Phone Man pushes his way out of the plane, telling everyone that he’s “only got a minute before his plane takes off.” Janet nicely reminds him that everyone else on the plane is in the same situation.

I hope Janet and Mr. Cell Phone Man both make it to their flights.

The Twin Cities’ Airport is fairly quiet today. Maybe because its getting late on a Sunday night? We find our next gate and most everyone is cuddled around the charging station with their phones. I begrudgingly join them, deciding I should “top off” the battery on my phone, even though it still has 89% battery remaining.

A few minutes pass, and I start talking to the woman seated in the terminal next to me. She works for Pearson–a company I’ve heard about before! They make textbooks, and do other education-related stuff. She’s traveling to the United Kingdom because Pearson is trying to standardize the system they use between countries. She tells me each branch of the company has an Oracle database set-up slightly differently, and they want to make it all one system for compatibility reasons. I can’t believe I ran into another person who’s in the technology field on the trip!

They start boarding the plane, but one of the flight attendants is overtly concerned that passengers aren’t boarding fast enough. She joins the other attendants by snatching tickets and passports from passengers to check them on the flight. I make sure to be nice to her, but move quickly, as she looks like she’s had a rough day.

The plane itself was nicer (and larger!) than the Duluth to the Twin Cities plane. When the plane was preparing for departure, we were greeted with a hilarious video covering the safety protocols that included cake, 1920s film noir characters, a doll with an oxygen mask, a crazy cat lady, and six individuals performing synchronous reading of the inflight literature. The rest of the flight occurred fairly uneventfully. Finally in London!

Wait, apparently not yet. There’s a big sign that says “UK Border” ahead, so we must be in some sort of Limbo or something. The customs officer is suspicious of my alleged reasoning in England—I told him I was on vacation for three weeks (which is true), and he begins questioning me. Doesn’t three weeks seem to be a long vacation? No, I’m grateful that I’m able to spend so much time here. Do you have family in England? Yes. (I have a great uncle who lives here.) Will you be meeting up with him? Well, maybe, I’m not sure yet. (Looking back, it was definitely this answer that confused him.) I’m traveling with a group of my friends. Are they all here now? Yeah, they’re all going through customs right now. Eventually, he lets me through, after asking how to pronounce “Duluth” correctly. Now we’re finally in London!

image

We go out to eat at a quaint little pub, and I discover my first language-barrier difficulty. I want to order a soda, so I ask for a soda. The bartender doesn’t understand. I try “soft drink” instead. Still no go. I ask her what they have that doesn’t have alcohol in it. Success! I order a Pepsi (I didn’t really want a Pepsi, I was hoping for a Sprite or a Sierra Mist or something, but I’ll take whatever I can get at this point that isn’t alcohol or juice). Fortunately, I’m not much of a soda drinker, so I’ll be perfectly happy with water from here on out. I just need to make sure I specify plain water, not carbonated water. Who knew that two individuals who seemingly speak the same language could have such difficulty communicating!

After dinner, we break off into groups and my group ends up wandering through London for a few hours. We saw a really cool crypt, Big Ben, the London Eye, and a whole bunch of other places I took pictures of but either didn’t catch the name of or don’t remember—I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see them again and get all their names.

image

The Power of Saying More

You never know who might be interested in what you have to say.

Part of my preparation for traveling to England was to add an international plan to my phone. (I admit it’s by no means necessary, but my family was adamant I needed it.) So after calling my phone carrier, they told me my phone was too old and I wouldn’t be able to use it abroad. Go figure, that’s what I get for not replacing my 6-year-old phone that’s worked perfectly fine for me so far.

Either way, the moral to this story isn’t that you should replace your phone (no point replacing what isn’t broken, in my opinion). It’s in what occurred when I went into the store.

Let’s say the representative who helped me was named Paul. Now Paul seemed like a nice enough guy, helpful, knowledgeable, all the stuff you hope the rep who’s helping you is. He compared a few phones with me, showed me which ones had the best battery life, and I picked my phone.

What’s noteworthy about this trip in particular is that instead of thanking him and then walking out of the store (what I did the other three times Paul helped me–I swear, he’s not the only employee, but it sure feels like it there), I said I was an app developer. Now I’m not really, not yet at least (I specifically picked out an android phone because I happen to know Java and wanted to learn how to develop). I didn’t have any real reason to say it, and I said it more to myself than anything, but Paul asked me who I was working for; it turns out he was a computer science guy too! Then we went on and talked for at least another hour (turned out him and I are both in school for computer science), until the manager came over and gently let Paul know that he had other customers to help. Paul gave me his business card, and I intend to let him know the next time I have some buddies over to play Pathfinder.

A second story. On one of my connecting flights to London, I sat next to a nice lady who I’ll call Janet. We sat there, waiting for our flight to take off. The pilot tells us our flight will be delayed because the airport we were flying to is experiencing weather. It’ll be about 20 minutes before we can take off. I introduce myself to Janet, and I find out she’s traveling to Las Vegas on a business trip.

We ended up sitting on the plane for an hour and a half before we could go, but it certainly didn’t feel long as she and I ended up talking about our relatives in Florida almost the entire time. Who knew?

These experiences really opened my eyes about how easy it is to connect to other people—just say “Hi, my name is Matt, what’s yours?” (Well, maybe you should use your own name when you say it.) Ask what they do, where they grew up, what kinds of activities they like to do, or mention something about you that you think is interesting. I’ve found people are more receptive to conversation than I thought.

CHANGING THE WORLD. ONE SMALL STEP AT A TIME.

Deep down, we all want to make a difference. Some people want to have their names written in history books and have statues made in their honor. Others want to be the helper that no-one knows their name. But we all want to help in our own way. Maybe just by helping their children, or their neighbors, or maybe they don’t like any of those people and they just want to help their mother and father, or a child that doesn’t have any blood relatives.  As such, this will be an ever-changing chronicle of your story and mine, how we grow as individuals, and how we help those around us grow as well.

“The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With a Single Step”

Where does one begin when there are literally thousands of worthwhile causes? What should I strive to accomplish?

My answer: Me. Before we can be our most effective in our endeavors to help one another, we must first help ourselves. “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” Not only this, but we must also first have a level of physical fitness, mental prowess, and a strong moral compass to guide us. This isn’t to say we must first have a level of perfection before we begin, we simply cannot ignore the fact that oftentimes we are our own greatest challenge, and if we take even a single step to better ourselves, it will make everything we do just that much easier.