Away on vacation – might not be back

When I was a kid, our family used to travel extensively during school holidays.  I saw almost all of Europe.  Nowadays, I don’t travel much anymore, but I try to fly to the UK once a year.  A few days in the UK is pretty much all it takes to make me happy.
These are usually 3 – 4 day trips, so I need to get as much shopping done as possible in that time.   The last few years, I’ve been to Manchester quite often, so if you were to go there and got lost during a shopping spree, you could call me and I’d be your shopping GPS :-).  This year it’s back to Birmingham, where I spent a few days shopping two years ago.  I happen to have a friend who I also work with, and she’s an event manager.  So I pay for my airfare and can share her hotel room for free.  Which leaves me with so much more spending money…
Pity about the luggage restrictions, though.   On the flight over, my suitcase contains only the bare necessities, whereas on the return flight… let’s just say not everything I bring back is strictly necessary.  Every trip before the flight home, I can’t go directly to my airline’s check-in desk in case my luggage is seriously overweight.  My routine is to go to another airline’s desk, ask them nicely to have my luggage weighed, and then either relax because it’s within the limits, or start repacking frantically.  If you’re lucky, they don’t weigh your hand luggage at check-in.  Just carry it over your shoulder like a handbag and pretend it doesn’t weigh anything at all… it’s worth the pain!
So why do I  need to travel to the UK to go shopping, you might ask.  I live in Stuttgart, Germany, so it’s not like I live in a countryside village with no proper shopping opportunities.  But I’m a total anglophile, so I love to just be in the UK, no matter if it’s for business or pleasure.  But if there’s any shopping to be done while I’m there – hey, even better!
So many things are just a tad prettier over there, starting with food packaging in supermarkets to the print of a tea towel to one of my favourite things to buy (in the UK or anywhere else) – shoes.  They also have quite a lot of kitchen stuff you won’t find over here.  Useful stuff, pretty stuff, and unfortunately a lot of stuff that is too heavy to take home on the plane.  I hope I’ll be able to take some nice pictures this time, so you’ll see what I mean.
Another benefit is being able to spend the day in a bookshop.  I always take a long list when I go, but the thing is, a stack of books really puts a dent in your luggage allowance.  What I especially regret is that cook books are often really large and heavy;  but at least I can take a look inside to make a buying decision.  Because, thankfully, there’s Amazon, so you can check out the heavy cook books in the shop and then order online, even though it’s so much nicer to browse in a “real” store.  The really large bookshops in Stuttgart still carry only a very small selection of foreign language books.  So I guess my 10 kg hand luggage allowance will yet again be taken up mostly by books.
And then there’s the food.  People who have never been to Britain tell me how awful the food is – or so they’ve heard.  When I traveled to England for the first time, I was 14.  I went for 3 weeks with a friend to visit her grandparents in Nottingham.  And I do admit that way back then we were a bit bewildered by what we were served.  For breakfast it was usually spaghetti out of a tin, I saw potatoes in a jar for the first time in my life, and got goat steak for dinner.  After that we stuck to hamburgers, chips, and peanut butter sandwiches.
But as many of us know, British cuisine has changed dramatically over the years, and every time I go back I discover something else that’s great.  At some point in my life I had a 7 year vegetarian phase, and during that time, Britain was paradise for me.  You could get vegetarian food in every supermarket while in Germany people looked at you like you had a mental illness when you asked for something vegetarian in a supermarket or restaurant.  Around the same time I discovered Indian food, and again Britain was the place to get the best (well, I guess there’s India, of course, but I haven’t been there ;-)).  There is a world of a difference between Indian food in the UK and that  in Germany, at least where I live.  Both in Manchester and Birmingham we love to go to “Shimla Pinks” for Indian – the food is to die for.  I’ve already studied their menu online just to be able to make up my mind and not be overwhelmed with the choice once I’m there.
I mustn’t forget to mention sandwiches, of course.  I could happily spend my days alternating between a British bookstore and Marks & Spencer food hall, or Prêt-à-manger.  Not to forget having afternoon tea in a hotel lounge, or a nice G&T sometime after 5 pm…
Oh dear, I seem to have waffled on quite a bit here, more than I intended.  But as you can see, I’ll be very busy for the next few days – so much to buy and so much to eat.  While I’m away, why not enjoy a cup of Earl Grey and a packet of salt & vinegar crisps yourself…
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