Sunday, February 26, 2006

I'm sorry I'm so Busy!!

These few weeks have been über full! I’ve not had time to blog for quite a while, there has been travels, parties, planning of the travel next month, the crazyness at work (working from 830a-630p!) and all sorts of other activities! I even saw a show that I never planned on seeing just because I was there at the right time!!

Starting with Monday 13 February when I was bored at home and wanted to make sure not to stay there. I decided after chillin’ for a little while that I would go to Bayswater to blog with Stephanie and watch the Olympics for a while. We wanted to talk a bit about travels too… we failed at both blogging and travelling however and only succeeded at watching the Olympics for the most part. This was the day after we’d come back from Cardiff, but I was not really in the mood for blogging and therefore failed completely at it. Plus there was the Chinese couple who were figure skating and she had a horrible fall and they stopped and skated around for a while and still got the silver… crazy.

Tuesday I had dinner with Meredith (mMMMmmMmm Steak!) we talked about how there really aren’t steaks here like there are at home. I’d never really thought about it. Everyone knows that in the USA they have a lot more choices then they do here, but I other than cereal I’d never seen evidence such as I had with steaks! “In the USA they have every cut you can imagine,” we told this British guy that Meredith lives with, “rump steaks, new york strips, t-bones, everything!” Here they only have two kinds, and I don’t even remember the names. They aren’t very specific they are just cuts of meat basically. From whatever part they can cut from, maybe? Either way it’s crazy how they don’t have any selection. The steaks were really good thanks to Meredith’s cooking though.

After dinner we didn’t really know what to do, so since it was early I suggested going to downtown London (of course to the photo exibit) and she’d never been to St. Paul’s or anything near there really, so we wandered around there for a few hours. I had to show her Earth from the, she liked it (though not like the love that I have for it…), and afterward we wandered around the Tower Bridge area. It was a great time.

Wednesday there was work till late… I had been working late many times and would continue to do so over the next few weeks (silly me thinking it was a one time or few time thing) because we have a Self-Evaluation Document that was due soon and needed to finish it and organize everything (evidence all of the arguments made, et cetera) and it fell to me to organise the evidence coming in from the 150 people in the faculty. This was no small task as that each piece of evidence was connected to a footnote in the document (which was constantly changing) and there were no consistent labels or filenames. It was hell to get these academic’s files organised…

Anyway there was a pub meet after work so I rushed home, showered and then out to Printwork’s over by Holborn and Farringdon for the BUNAC Pub Meet. I couldn’t miss it!! I’d only missed one and that was when I was in France! The pub meet was great (as they all are) because I got to see Amanda and Ross (who had just been to Sweden the weekend before) their stories from their trip were fantastic, and hilarious. I love those guys… they are people that you meet and just hope that you can keep on meeting them forever, and I really hope do (I think we will). I hung out there and the two of them eventually left, but Steph was there along with Alex, Anna, Andy, Katie, and Neil (I love that guy) and we all chilled and Neil and I confirmed our awesome bond we’d made at the last bar we’d gone to (remember the post with the cartoon themes and the bad live band?). We laughed and laughed and I heard one of the best Steven Segal impressions by a British Guy I will ever hear. It was amazing. Afterward, Andy and I walked home talking about our great luck and how much we love our friends. And it’s very true. I thank the sorceress for our friends, old and new. – that rhymed… I am a poet! The Shakespearian talent has rubbed off on me! God be praised!

Thursday was just another work day and afterward I don’t remember what I did… this is why I write things down people! Shit! I hat it when I forget… Dammit, I’m still rhyming… stop that rhyming I mean it! (you already know this part…)

Friday I left work early and headed to Cornwall with Steph and Morgan!! Yay! GO TEAM ALPHA! w00t!

Finish of Wales (a.k.a. Day 2 - The Next Morning)

The two guys that we decided to let join us were called Duncan and Steve and they were from Scotland (we only had to ask their names because they were fully clad in kilts and the Rugby regalia – including a full size Scottish flag). These two were the beginning of a fun night. We got on well, talking and laughing and after we’d finished our pint we were already friends. They had come to Wales that morning on an overnight train, packing only what was on their back and a toothbrush in their tall sock. It was a fabulous idea I thought, but hard-core to be sure. They had been doing it five years and they came with two of their friends as well… we’d meet them later. Duncan got us another pint and mentioned that they’d been drinking since 1030am when they’d arrived (we later found out that this was merely par-for-the- course for the Scots this weekend… wow I didn’t even realise I was making a golf reference when talking about Scotsman! Funny!)
We drank and sat and laughed and talked until later two more kilt-clad Scots arrived and joined us – John and Mark. Mark sat down, introduced himself and pulled out of his little kilt bag, a small wrapped parcel quickly removed something from it and when Steve wasn’t looked in dropped it in his beer and erupted into laughter… it was a chicken kidney… and it was disgusting. He’d wrapped it up to drop in people’s drinks all night… and had apparently been getting a lot of enjoyment out of it. We sat and talked some more, laughing and observing the drunken Scots while attempting to revel with them (and after a couple more pints starting to find it much funnier than before). Eventually we decided on a group photo with Duncan and Steve, who afte the first shot (taken by a couple seated at the table next to us) looked at each other, shrugged, and mooned the camera, complete with nut shot. It was hilarious, and the man and woman who took the picture were –not horrified- but laughing so hard, and commented with quick wit, “You need a haircut!” To which we all erupted again in laughter. What a night. It only got funnier from there.


GRAPHIC PHOTO TO FOLLOW (LOOK AWAY MOM!)

Eventually we left the Old Arcade and headed for an Irish bar that was rumoured to have live music, but didn’t… We walked in, got drinks, I talked with about a half dozen random people, mostly Scots and we all proceeded to drink more and dance to the Irish tunes playing over the speakers. It was a great time, and then, suddenly… there it was… the hard strumming, of the Proclaimers. I don’t have to tell you what happened… but I will. The Scots when berserk; they were jumping and dancing and yelling and singing, it was fantastic, just brilliant! After the song they changed to the themes of the countries in the 6 nations tourney and all of the bar was singing loudly (though we didn’t know the words we went with the 90% how you look and yelled right along)! What a night. Scotsman use their elbows a lot while dancing, and you’d be surprised how many people want to know what’s under their kilt (even in the UK!) Mark, by far the cutest one of the four, had his kilt lifted at least twice by separate people (one older woman in her 40s and one girl probably 17) and both times he laughed (though looked rather uncomfortable with the younger one, due to his girlfriend back home). The night was unforgettable and amazingly fun, merely solidifying the feelings of Steph and myself, that Scots are some of the best people the Earth has to offer… well at least the younger, non-angry ones.

The next morning we got up and were slow to get around due to the night of drinking with Scotsman, but we were still really happy to be up and about. We went down to breakfast at the normal pre-9am time and had a chat with another Kilted Scotsman staying at our B&B. The Full Welsh Breakfast is the same as the Full English, but they ask you how many eggs you want… maybe that was just the place we were staying.

After breakfast we started our trek back into town to see the sights figuring we’ll try and catch the game on at one of the pubs when it started later that afternoon. Our first stop was Cardiff Castle. Wikipedia has it described well:
“Cardiff Castle in Wales was founded by the Normans in 1091, on the site of a Roman fort whose remains can still be seen. The castle's most famous occupant was Robert, Duke of Normandy, who was imprisoned there by his younger brother, King Henry I of England, from 1106 until 1134. In 1158 it was the scene for a daring kidnapping carried out by one Ifor Bach (Ivor the Little). The Welsh took it again in 1404, under Owen Glyndŵr. In 1488, it came into the possession of Jasper Tudor.
During the 19th century, a new mock medieval castle was built to the design of William Burges, architect to the Earl of Bute, as a fairytale residence. The castle was later given to the city of Cardiff by the Bute family. It is now a popular tourist attraction, and houses a regimental museum in addition to the ruins of the old castle and the Victorian reconstruction.”

The castle was even more recently home to a concert by the Rolling Stones. This would have been amazing – there is so much open space in the castle walls and the backdrop for the concert there would have been incredible. What a space. It was beautiful. We entered and had to get a picture with one of the red dragon sculptures that were scattered throughout the grounds, and then headed up to the mound. The mound is where the original castle that (as you now know) was built by the Normans stood. The Norman Keep was really cool and had lots of complete floors and stairs and towers. It was really awesome. I claimed a room on the floor right before the rooftop lookout. What a cool room that would have been. Steph let me claim it but claimed one of the rooms in the main castle.

There was a tour at 1045 so we walked over to where the tour was to begin and hung out with a bunch of Spaniards and others waiting for the tour to start. It was let by this nice woman who took us into a half dozen different rooms designed and built during the Victorian period. Everything had to be extravagant, and it was fantastic. It was too much to believe. There were wall murals that were larger than life sized re-enactments of battles in the huge dining hall, Turkish inspired windows in the smoking room with the devil over the door to scare away the women from trying to listen, a smaller dining room with a left handed spiral staircase – we learned that most all spiral stairs curve anti-clockwise because the knights would carry their sword in their right hand and therefore won’t tear up the walls, will be able to strike coming out of the stairs; but this staircase curved clockwise rather than anti-clockwise which indicated it was built for a left-handed knight, a rarity to be sure! It even had a children’s playroom with the walls painted (by a guy from Ohio) filled with dozens of childhood stories, including one with the invisible man – who wasn’t so invisible – it was an optical illusion, you could see him if you looked closely at the branches of the trees around where he ‘stood.’ It was one of the most amazing castles; I’ve never seen it’s equal. After the castle tour (which was over an hour) we left and walked around the city some more admiring the Welsh and Scots all out in full force.
We decided to wander around and enjoy the mingling of the two teams and get the full effect of the Six Nations Rugby flavour. We walked by a pub called the Prince of Wales, so I took a picture and this Scotsman pulled his pants down… he wasn’t the first as you now know…

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tube-tastic

as kind of an intermission of the last - last - weekend story... here is my Monday Night THIS week... confusing I know... the night of Monday 20 February, 2006...

I had to stay at work until 6... I got on the tube around 6:20 or so i think...

The trip started fine, I got a seat eventually, read my book and was just hanging out all the way to around West Hampstead. Until, between West Hampstead and Kilburn the train grinds to a halt and sits there for a few minutes (like it does sometimes). After about 5 minutes, however, the driver comes on and he says, "Ladies and Gentlemen, just an update on why we've stopped for so long, there has been a signal failure on this section of the Jubilee Line between Baker Street and Wembley Park all the signals are showing Danger, so I am trying to get a hold of the radio operator and find out when I will be able to proceed..." I looked at the girl next to me and asked her (a random stranger on the tube, crazy I know) where she was going, 'Kilburn,' she said, "Almost made it..." I replied smiling at her, she smiled back and we went back to reading.
A minute or so later I gave up and did my best to start a conversation with her, no one else on the tube was talking or anything, and I figured... Why not? We'd be here for a while... she looked nice, and I wanted to know about the book she was reading anyway... We chatted a little about the books we were reading, and talked about Kinky Friedmann (who wrote her book) he is a Jewish comedian from Texas running for governer (which I think is absolutely brilliant) some of his slogans are, 'Why the Hell not?' and the like... We chatted for a while about work and where I was from et cetera, the driver gave us a few updates and eventually said he was going to proceed past the Danger signal and pull into the Kilburn Station enough that we could de-train through the front set of doors.
As it turned out, the train in front of us made it's move at the same moment so we de-trained completely, walked out, and as we were decending the stairs tothe gates I asked the girl's name (Sarah) and the guy walking down the stairs behind us (who was in our tube-car smirking at our converstion -- I'd noticed) put one of his hands on each of our shoulders and with a jolly voice said loudly, "It's Fate!! Exchange Numbers!! No strangers ever talk on the tube!!" and then laughed heartily. I am not going to say I hadn't thought about it, but she turned so red I figured I'd find another way. I knew where she worked (at the Zoological Museum on Gower Road) so I figure I'll just go check it out sometime if I am bored... I told her this and she seemed to be fine with it... who knows.
We parted ways and I started walking home, but went the wrong way... a lot... but eventually I got there... eventually being around 8:00... two hours after I'd left work.
When I'd finally come near home and walked toward my street I noticed something wasn't right... there were an awful lot of helicopters in the air around the heighborhood, and it seemed oddly dark... I realised there were no lights on in any of the houses... a power outage? Strange... I walked down in the murky darkness with the choppers far overhead and figured I'd just go inside and see if anyone knew what was going on. Apparently there was a raid at a house down the street; a couple of the Aussie guys watched a bunch of cops with machine guns going down the street toward some house nearby. Crazy. I had a bowl of cereal, hung out with Jenn and left (I couldn't really cook dinner in the dark).

I was stupid.

The tube seemed to be OK again. I got back on.

I sat in the Willesden Green stop for 20 minutes... my mom called. I talked to her... the train moved to the space in between WG and Kilburn. Kristen called just after my mother, I talked to her for 20 minutes. The train moved from Kilburn to the station to the space between Kilburn and West Hampstead. I talked to Jenn (who'd decided to leave the pitch blackness of the house and join with me) for another 20 minutes and then we'd moved nearly to swiss cottage, and then baker street, where Jenn and I de-trained at a bit of a jog.
I then boarded the Hammersmith & City Line bound for Paddington, excited to be off the Jubilee Line wrought with delays, when suddenly, 2 minutes outside of Baker Street... in the tunnel between Baker Street and Edgware Road the train stopped again! "Ladies and Gentlemen, a fellow passenger has left a few personal items in the station at Paddington so all of the trains are backed up to here, the Edgeware road is full of Circle line trains so we are just waiting to get in there," the driver commented dubiously. "Surely not," I thought, "damn my luck today."

Needless to say as soon as we got to Edgware road Jenn and I de-tubed for good and started walking from Edgware to Bayswater. We laughed about how we can never hang out because something always happens like this (readers can look back to the first time Jenn and I hung out in the December archives for the tale) We arrived in Bayswater 10. I'd left home at 8:30. What a trip. Amanda, Ross, Jenn and I went to a pub around the corner and laughed and talked and had a couple of bitters until it closed, then I tubed it home (uneventfully thank god because I had to pee!!) and went to bed. I really love those two... amanda and ross... they are like... the best.
whew.

if you don't want to read all that... I got stuck on the tube for about 3 hours, met a girl named Sarah, and walked from both Kilburn to Willesden Green and then later Edgware to Bayswater (getting a bit confused and going the wrong way both times) and finally got a beer and headed back home. What an uneventfully eventful evening eh?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

V-Day, The Sheperds Bush Party & Wales Day 1

So, it’s Valentine’s Day. What a stupid holiday. It was historically a day where people were supposed to exchange gifts of caring with others, and if you are pre-pubescent that seems to still be the case, but as soon as people start caring about the other sex… *sigh* look what happens. I’ve been kicked out of apartments on the 14th in the past because one of the girls just couldn’t handle having a MALE around. It reminded her that she didn’t have her ex-boyfriend anymore, and she got into a fit. Brilliant, what better way to make a holiday bright then by taking Valentine’s Day and twisting it into something horrible; a reminder of old flames and loneliness. Thanks ladies, you’ve created a monster; now enjoy it.

Last weekend I was in Wales; the land of atharine Zeta Jones, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Tom Jones to name a few. I was going to go to Cornwall, but now that’s been moved to next weekend. Wales is a small country that is attached to the west coast of England. It seems beautiful, the people are friendly, and the scenery seemed amazing from the pictures I saw of North Wales. We went to the South of Wales (also beautiful) to the capital, Cardiff. Amanda and Ross loved Cardiff (they’d visited weeks before) and I thought it was pretty great.

We were supposed to leave for Cornwall on Friday, but that fell through, so we decided Saturday morning we’d leave @ 9am from Paddington station (yes, the same as the bear, there is a statue of him in the station) to head for Cardiff, Wales. So Friday night I went to a party at Meredith and Heidi’s temporary place. Before the party Steph, Meredith and I were going to get some dinner and shop for a while; so we met at Whiteley’s in Bayswater. We shopped around, Steph bought a bunch of stuff, and then we went to Tapa Tapa and had some pretty good food and conversation.

Afterward, Meredith and I headed to Shepard’s Bush; stopping at an off-license for alcohol. The party had been going a while when we got there, so we jumped right in. I knew no one so I just stood there next to Meredith not knowing what to do or who to talk to until this friendly Aussie chap jumped in and we started a conversation. He asked the obligatory questions about nationality (‘American! Neva’ been thea’), the “What are you doing here,” question and we talked for quite a while. Apparently this particular Aussie has an obsession with the NBA, and one of his lifelong dreams has been to go to a San Antonio Spurs game; this was quite impressive and he and Mer spouted off about basketball for a while… I wandered eventually to get another drink.

Andy arrived a short while later and I introduced him around. I started talking with another Aussie named Mike, he was much quieter than the first guy and we had more of a 2-way conversation. We chatted for a while about the people around and the usual pleasantries and chatted for sometime. I was getting drinks occasionally, talking with Meredith, at midnight or so we had a birthday sing-time for Tegin and had some cake (in little slices because there was a lot of us, and then around 130 Heidi arrived.

Around 3am I had been laughing and talking with most everyone in the dimly lit kitchen, talking about music, singing along to the CDs playing and having just a genrally goot time. There is a girl in this story named Kat, we’d chatted only briefly and laughed together a couple of times, but as I stood in the middle of the kitchen she grabbed me and suddenly I found myself in the middle of a kiss.

After a while we'd ended up enjoying each others company a little more, but being that this was a new thing to me, I was drunk, and she was a little more forward than I am willing to admit... I eventually ended up (per the original plan) sleeping in Meredith and Heidi's room with Andy and the other two...

It was a good thing I did too because Heidi (who was f-wasted) ended up coming in,and needed someone to take care of her when she got sick later. I ended up sitting in the bathroom with her till around 5 or 6 am... who knows what time... until I cleaned her up a bit and put her to bed.

The next day the train to Cardiff left at 9am. Steph called at 730, and my alarm went off at 8, but I slept on, and then at 845 I sprinted out the door leaving my toothbrush and scarf behind. Luckily I bought one at the station (that I did not make it to at 9am) and it wasn’t cold enough to need a scarf. Steph could have made the train, but only just… she ended up waiting for me by the Paddington Bear statue near the train platforms. I felt bad, but I was only a few minutes late and there was a train every hour so I didn’t feel as bad walking in at 9:07am… We bought tickets for Cardiff, Wales and chatted about the nights events. I slept a lot on the train ride and listened to my iPod… I am so glad I have that thing (even though it’s been a pain in the ass keeping it going).

We took the 10am train so we arrived in Cardiff at 130p. We’d noticed something odd both in Paddington station, and on the train; there were a lot of Kilts around… something was going on. Upon arrival we finally got the hint, there was a rugby game!! One of the biggest events in UK Rugby is the Six Nations Tournament; the Six Nations being: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, and Italy. They all play each other with usually one or two games being played each weekend in Feb and March. Let me just say that it was amazing. We arrived and it was like Scotland Lite! There were Kilted men everywhere wearing rugby shirts, talking and laughing with their mates, it was fabulous. Scots are so funny! I think our Welsh experience was a bit tainted by it, but it was still lots of fun. Our first priority (as always) was to find a place to stay… We used the map we’d obtained earlier to find our way from the train station to the tourist information area and finally got a list of places to stay, however it being game weekend we knew we’d be having a tough time finding anything. We looked at a few places, but the only thing we found was a £60/person/night w/ b-fast – place with one family sized room left.

We kept looking, and finally found a little B&B just outside of town for £50/person/night w/ b-fast and took it. The room had a large bed and was en-suite (with bathroom for those of you who don’t know) and was a short walk from downtown. We hoofed it the 15 minutes from our present spot and checked in. The room was nice the bathroom clean and I took a nice 30 minute nap before we headed back out into the city. Cardiff is very beautiful, with nice shopping and touristy areas, a really beautiful town centre and a lovely looking castle. We wandered the town enjoying the people watching of all the Scots, had a Cornish pasty for lunch and walked through the streets of its ‘old town’ while talking, munching and taking in the UK Culture.
I say UK culture because it wasn’t really Welsh Culture. There were so many Socts around that it was too diverse to really tell them apart! We decided to leave the castle for the next day and were fine with enjoying the city itself. We went to the Wales Centre looking for our obligatory national flag patch for our backpacks, finding it easily (now were pro’s) and shopped around. In the Wales centre we learned that Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Anglesey, Wales was only 190 miles away; the name translates to ‘St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave,’ and is not only the longest town name in Britain, but also probably the longest domain name on the internet. Check it out if you dare. As darkness was falling we decided to walk to the Bay area (recommended to us earlier) and figured we could grab dinner or something down that way. We walked all the way there alone (as that no one was interested in walking, but consuming alcohol was very popular this evening). We got to the bay area and found a very modern shopping area, similar to something you’d find in a severely sprawled city suburb, complete with a 1950s American Food diner…

It was a little disappointing, but on the way we’d gotten to see a Roald Dahl monument (he was from Cardiff –wrote books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and many more) and the new Civic centre (which was incredible). The centre is called the Wales Millenium Centre and was opened in November 2004, and has won numerous awards for it’s amazing façade. The structure is dominated by a huge metal dome which houses the main theatre. Inscribed into the front of this dome, above the main entrance, are two poetic lines, written by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh version is Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen, which means "Creating truth like glass from a furnace of inspiration". The English is "In these stones, horizons sing". The letters are formed by windows into the centre's bar and at night are illuminated. We were there in the dusk and later so we got to see it in all it’s beauty.

Roald Dahl Monument - sad because it reminded me of a Stargate SG1 Episode...

After we’d walked around for a while downtown we decided to head back up and get a pint before we headed home. It was only around 8 or 9 but we were tired (I’d had a long day already). We stopped into a pub we thought looked good called Kitty O’something-or-others, and Steph said it was going to have live music later so we would come back. Instead we went to the high street and found a bar called The Old Arcade. It was local and looked cool so we entered and found a table in the back section. The place was quite large and featured some local brewery named Brains (not Brians).

After a half pint for testing we bought a full pint and talked for a while slowly enjoying ourselves. There were still lots of Scots around boozing and laughing loudly and just as we reached the halfway point of our pints a couple of them asked if we would accommodate them at our table. This being normal to us now that we’d been used to the ‘shared space’ in Europe we let them and started another crazy night…

Monday, February 13, 2006

The last week or so since I went to Liverpool has been crazy at work. If you haven’t noticed I’ve stopped writing (somewhat reluctantly) about the every day labours of London. I love London, but I only have a few short weeks left and it’s starting to weigh on me. I’ve met a girl named Heidi as you’ve gathered, who I definitely have a crush on, but she’s not interested. I’ve been out to the pubs, to bars and hanging out with everyone all the time.

Earlier this week the most memorable evening was when I went out with Anna, Alex, Neil, Katie, and Kim… it was a Thursday.

The night started out kind of boring, until I headed to the Churchill (the hostel where the girls all live). I hung out there for quite some time, Andy showed up shortly after I got there and he and I hung out with Katie and Alex until we decided to head to Angel and go to a cheap Indian food place. What is it about places named Angel? They are never nice! Los Angeles is not a great place to visit in terms of how beautiful and nice it is, or at least it’s not what it’s known for. Angel is nice, but it’s not exactly the nicest part of London, et cetera; moving on.

We arrived at the Indian food place, and waited for Neil, but he wasn’t showing up, Anna was on her way and even Kim showed up after a while. The food was really great, the company was even better. After we’d eaten Neil and then Anna arrived so we sat around and talked for a long while until deciding to go down the street to a cheap bar where they had 1.50 mixed drinks and 1.50 Stella’s (a crappy beer). Neil’s friends were all British (of course) and had just come from their football playoff match (which they won) so they were all in a great mood.

They were boozing and laughing while a live band was setting up on the ‘stage’ at one end of the bar. The place was really clean and had a number of couches and booths to sit in so we found a couch and a couple of chairs by the door. The band was a cover band, playing Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Franz Ferdiand, Keiser Chiefs, Green Day, more Green Day, Blink 182, Eminem, Sublime, and a number of others. They were really funny and entertaining. We all did a lot of drinking and signing along, Neil and I bonded over old cartoon themes (one of my fortes) and we had a great time. I got into a conversation with one of Neil’s friends about the USA and politics, and then another one of his friends was really proud that he thought he could name all 50 states in alphabetical order… “There’s 50 right?” I had been drinking and lost count, but we figured he missed 2… but that was still really good.

We left around 23:40 and I literally ran from Alex and Anna’s to the tube and barely made it back in time to catch the train to be able to transfer from the Central to the Jubilee line, what a great night… too bad I had to work in the morning…

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Liverpool & The Beatles Experience

The next weekend Steph, Ross, Amanda and I went on a full blown weekend trip to Liverpool (with a plan to go to the Lake District). However, I think the fates were stacked against us from the moment I rolled out of bed. I got up with plenty of time to spare (after coming home late the night before enjoying my time out on the town) showered, packed a spare pair of underwear and socks, my camera and nearly recovered iPod and charger and rushed out the door after trying to add just a few more songs on to the iPod before I left and getting out the door too late…

The train I was to catch left Euston at 0903. I would have made it… but the Hammersmith and City Line, the Circle Line, and the Metropolitain line were all closed that weeknd for engineering works… so I had to go two more stops on the Bakerloo like to Oxford Circus and then back up to Euston. It was crazy and took altogether to long. I arrived at the station at 0907. I went to get in line for a ticket feeling dejected and realised all to late that my Youth Rail Card (that gets me 33% off all rail travel in Britain) was back in my closet. I was just angry then. My anger faded faster than a Norwegian tan when I walked into the ticket area and there was Amanda, Ross and Steph. They’d also just arrived. We swapped stories while waiting, and then went to the extremely un-helpful ticket man. I was pretty frustrated to the point of just staying home, and finally said, “If it’s more than £50 to get a ticket without the card I’ll just stay home.” It was, and I almost did. I bought a ticket from the automated machines for the next train telling it that I had my card and figured I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

The ride was 3 hours, and the guy who checked tickets did ask for my card, but let me off the hook because I was cordial and polite unlike the other guy who didn’t even have the right ticket (and had already chugged two Guinness’s by 11am). He said he should be charging me, but to pay for the difference in the return ticket. I promised him I would. We arrived in Liverpool; I bought an advance One-way ticket for the next evening for £12.50 (and therefore saved money overall and stayed under £50). Unfortunately we enquired about the trains to the Lake District [National Park] but due to engineering works there were no trains that would work. We began our downward spiral there…

We started looking for the Tourist Information centre, which was quite an adventure, we really ended up walking right by it, but we were so hungry we were all distracted by the pub across the street! We ended up down by the docks, not exactly the best part of town… the Mersey was really smelly and one of the many cement ‘docks,’ a box area where the boats could park right next to the buildings, was empty and that smelled putrid. We finally headed back into town with a thoroughly disappointed view of the city.

Finally, we found the Info centre, and got a hold on some rooms for £25 and walked to the Hotel/B&B, dropped our packs in our really nice rooms and felt instantly better. After that the trip was on the up and up. Once we’d come to terms with the lack of the Lake District we decided to enjoy Liverpool as best as we could…

We started by just wandering the city to look for food. We found a place called the Irish-American Pub, looked in to the dirty windows, laughed and moved on, found another place called JR’s which boasted American food, complete with a star spangled menu… We ended up at O’Neills (a chain pub). We ate among the crowd of rugby watchers, getting into the game a little, but not enough to freak out like the captive audience.

We decided after we’d filled up to go shopping (of course). I feel like a true Brit these days, one of Steph’s co-workers flew to Philidelphia (that’s right Pennsylvania) for the day to go shopping… it’s so… British to go somewhere to go shopping, they even have adverts for it.. We wandered the streets of Liverpool shopping in the coming darkness talking about what we wanted to do, Steph bought fresh doughnuts, and we all enjoyed them. We went to a number of different shops and eventually decided to find a movie to entertain us so we didn’t get tired and go to bed early like losers. There was a Odeon back by the rail station and Fun with Dick and Jane was playing at 550. It was cheap, and we thought it might be funny, so we got tickets, I bought some excellent gummies and we sat in the theatre joking about the Fun With Dick insinuatingly printed on the bright orange ticket. We laughed like we were teens again.

The movie was really good, and after we left laughing still (and occasionally making Snakes on a Plane comments) we headed for a bar we’d seen earlier. We got distracted by a large fountain in the main square, took a bunch of pictures, and finally headed for a Wetherspoon’s. We enjoyed a few beers, some nachos, and I even got a triple layer fudge cake with melted white and dark chocolate in between the layers a la mode. It was excellent. We sat and talked until around 1030 or 11 and headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. I stayed up for a while watching The Pianist and Interview with a Vampire through the static on the TV and eventually went to sleep.

In the morning I woke up at 915 after planning on 845 and headed down to breakfast. It was not the best B of the B&B’s I’ve been to, but it wasn’t the worst either. After B we packed up our stuff, left our bags in the bar area with permission and left to walk the streets again. We were a little overly excited for our day and laughed at a bike sign for a guy named Stan…
Our first stop was back on the side of town we’d been on the day before in our first hour in Liverpool the smell was still there by the non-dock, and the Mersey, but our spirits were higher so we laughed rather than grumbled. We headed for the Albert Dock, one of the oldest in the dock system, and went right to The Beatles Experience. It was fabulously only £5 and had an audio tour voiced by John Lennon’s daughter, Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney, Brian Epstien, and others that knew them personally. The museum/story was lacking in a large amount of memorabilia, but I did see replicas of the Quarrymen’s drums (Lennon’s first band when he was 15) and George’s first guitar (bought at a pawn shop that he broke on accident), and even a pair of John Lennon’s glasses. They had a full size representation of the Yellow Submarine in one room, a giant photo of strawberry fields, a part of the Magical Mystery Bus, a full size replica of the Cavern Club where they played 292 times and even the real-life sized Sergeant Pepper’s Album Cover. It was an amazing few hours and I learned a lot about them, some that I already knew and some that I didn’t.

After we left the Beatles Experience we were all in a silly mood so we took some pictures in front of the façade and then headed down into the dock and split up. Steph and I went to the Maritime Museum and learned about Slavery in Europe and North America, and Shipping/Smuggling throughout the history of Liverpool; while Ross and Amanda went to the Tate Liverpool. In the end we all enjoyed our respective museums and ended up meeting a while later to head to lunch. Before lunch we walked over to Matthews Street (birthplace of the Beatles) and went into the actual Cavern Club (actually it was a reconstruction of 50% of the original). We hung out and marvelled at the space that was closed in the 70s but reopened later because the train that was going to go through changed its path. Afterward we headed to the B&B and picked up our bags before going back to Matthews Street and eating lunch at The Grapes. We walked into a back room and saw a picture of the Beatles eating at the same table where we were sitting… it was weird. They even kept the wallpaper… I was having a pint and fish and chips right where John Lennon used to do the same… crazy. After the lunch, we headed to the rail station, and headed back to London. The night ended late, but it was a trip that left a smile on my face.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Brighton Trip... a much better representation...


I haven’t written in forever. I blame work, I am getting out of the habit because I never want to type on the computer when I type all day at work. Ugh. But as of today I only have 30 days left in England and things are really coming together for our backpacking trip through Europe! I’ve already booked my Egypt trip, my Ireland trip, and today I am book the flights to Cairo and to Ireland… that means the last flight (Cairo to Amsterdam) is it and then I can just sit back and coast the rest of the way until I leave… at least in terms of these two trips.

Two weekends ago was Brighton. Located on the southern coast of Britain Brighton is a beach town, a costal town – not a dock town, or a shipping town, but more of a beach-party town. It would be a place you go for spring break if you lived in Britain… do they even have spring break? We left on Saturday morning (early) from Victoria station, Steph, Michelle, Alissa and I all headed onto the 2 hour train ride talking mostly the whole way. We got there and walked out of the station into the main part of the town. We’d planned on only doing a day trip, and I had read in the Let’s Go book that Brighton was known for it’s night clubs and debauchery. We were not staying for the wanton sexual frustrations of the club scene so we got moving to see the ‘sights.’

Brighton has a coastline, you’ve probably seen it on TV, especially if you live in Britain, I just saw it in a music video today actually. It’s famous for the coast, the Royal Pavilion and the Pier. First we headed to the Pier and the Coast. There actually was what looked to be an old pier that was just sitting in the ocean falling apart. It looked strangely beautiful in a post-apocalyptic kind of way. I snapped a photo and walked down the beach while the girls tried to play chicken with the waves. I kept having flashbacks to Nice when the Mediterranean attacked me so I kept my distance.

There was a newer pier, covered in stalls selling all sorts of tasty treats: doughnuts, ice cream, and the like, but even permanent rides and bars out on the pier. A couple of roller coasters and even a Lighthouse slide (just like in Rollercoaster Tycoon)! We walked around and eventually (of course) ended up in the bar. We each had a drink at 1130am and sat there enjoying the sea view and talking. Alissa was affected a bit by the Pimm’s and Lemonade (Sprite) so she was funnier then before and we all hoofed it back to the main part of town to go to the Royal Pavilion.

The pavilion was brilliant! It looked amazing from the outside and I could only imagine how beautiful the gardens must be in the summer. We paid our entrance fee and were astounded by the innards of this amazing structure. It had onion shaped domes and a turret from the outside; but inside it was a full-out Oriental motif. There were statuettes, paper lanterns, bold colours, amazing carpet and it just went on and on. The dining room had hand painted wallpaper depicting oriental characters donning samurai uniforms, complete with a gilded dragon right near the 2 story high ceiling, holding the top of the 2 ton chandelier in it’s claws under a palm leaves (some were sculpted and actually in the room, others painted). The kitchens were even decorated, with the poles supporting the high ceilings and windowed skylights covered to look like tall thin palms.

The best room was the Music room, with low hanging chandeliers shaped like groups of multicoloured leaves and tall windows reaching to bold blue drapes (contrasting with the deep red walls) nearly touching the gilded dome of the ceiling. It was breathtaking. Built by George the IV as a vacation house on the coast and a place to entertain royal guests and listen to music (as well as play some himself). This guy had taste. To bad the oriental motif was completely fabricated from stories and others drawings… none of the designers had ever themselves been to the Orient; funny how these things work out sometimes.

I can't show you pictures of the inside, so you'll just have to take my word for it... or you could go to www.royalpavilion.org.uk.

The next day was Chinese New Year; welcome to the Year of the Dog! I was going to get up early, but I was out really late partying it up so I ended up awake at 11 or so. Coincidentally, that was when the parade was starting in Trafalgar Square, so instead of seeing the Chinese Gold Dancers I saw the inside of the shower… nothing gold there… I headed over to the New Year Celebrations and it was CRAZY busy. We took pictures and enjoyed the crackers, and popping of the firecrackers in Leicester Square, wandered the streets for a while, and then went to the Walkabout for Lunch. Alissa, Kim, Andy, and I (who I would guess were looking a bit rough) were eating with Steph and one of Kim’s friends (forgive me I don’t remember her name). We enjoyed our lunch and then Steph and I broke off and went to Harrods (she’d never been) and shopped for quite a while. Afterward Steph went home and I went back to Chinatown to enjoy some Chinese food with Shawna (and her boy?), Alex, Andy, Anna, Katie, and Neil. It was a blast. It had been way to long since I spent time with them. We had a lot of fun. After the huge plates of food we all called it a night, but overall it was great.

During the week I spent most of my time either working or hanging out with Heidi; she even stayed over on Monday night after we watched Anchorman because neither Andy or I wanted her to take the night buses all the way back to Great Portland Street. That Wednesday

was another BUNAC pub meet at The World’s End in Camden Town. It was a huge place, and I ended up spending most of my time with Brooke and her friends, Alissa, and Andy. We even did Irish Car Bombs, but we couldn’t order them like that for obviousm reasons. Instead we ordered (to the barkeeps eye rolling disappointment) a half-pint of Guinness and a shot of Baileys. I love those. After the World’s End I took the tube down to Parson’s Green to see Heidi at work. It was a cool place and it turns out that I knew one of her co-workers, we’d eaten fish and chips months before with Amanda, back when it was warm enough to eat outside…

I couldn’t accompany her onto the night bus because they were having pizza and beer, so i went home still feeling satisfied that I had gone at all.

Brighton - a boring costal town...

Last weekend was Brighton, perhaps the least interesting British town I’ve been to. Not because it wasn’t pretty, it was on the south coast so the beach was nice although it was cold, but because there wasn’t a lot to do. We took the train with Michelle and Alissa down there on Saturday. Upon arrival we headed right for the Royal Pavilion. The Pavilion was built as kind of a hang out for King George IV who liked entertaining guests and listening/playing music. It was magnificent; an oriental masterpiece. The ceilings were high, the chandeliers ornate. I wasn’t allowed pictures inside (which was good because it would have taken me a month to get in and out).

This week has been fairly calm. I’ve been out late almost every night, spending more time with Heidi then ever, and enjoying it immensely. I called Amy Bergenwall and talked to her for 30 minutes just about Scotland and Jacqui got jealous and emailed me. I met Kim (a girl Andy is now interested in) and I told Heidi I had a huge crush on her when I visited her after the pub meet on Wednesday. I saw King Kong this week on Tuesday and watched a movie with Heidi at our place on Monday night (Anchorman, again) while consuming mulled wine that I had left over from Christmas. Work has even been pretty good... in general a good week. I'll post a better post later...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Deutchsland

Germany, a land of mountains and valleys, education, efficiency, and of course, most importantly, Nina & Kara!! Andy and I left work and met at Liverpool station to catch the Stansted Express to the airport on Thursday. I had left a bit early from work (where I had been storing my backpack all day right by my desk) and was very ready to leave. Andy arrived shortly after I did, and went to buy a ticket. I was feeling lucky… I had an old ticket from the time I went to Scotland with Kara and Steph so I went to the worker at the gate and showed it to him, and miraculously, I was let through! HAH!

One free ride for Trace. I rock. I was pretty damn happy because a return ticket just for the train was £25… the same as the damn flight to Scotland had been, and (if you remember) I actually bought the return ticket on accident, because I wasn’t flying back through Stansted from Scotland! So, it would seem that it all worked out even better than I could have guessed. We boarded the train, and 45 minutes later were in the strange Stansted Airport North East of London. I say the airport is strange because it is so quiet, and yet it is almost like a huge metal tent. Supported by gigantic white poles, the whole airport is one fantastically large room filled with divider walls to create smaller spaces. It is by far the oddest airport I’ve ever heard of.

After a time in the airport we finally got on the plane, laughing and joking as we normally do. Andy and I are such a good pair, sometimes we need to be separate, but we almost always get along really well. The flight was uneventful, I bought Memoirs of a Geisha at the Books Etc. in Stansted (a subsidiary of Borders) and had to finish Plot against America first, so I worked heard on it. It was an excellent book and I was ready to start reading the first chapter of Memoirs before the end of the flight, but waited just for my own sake.

We arrived in Germany 20 minutes early in Baden-Baden, Germany (near the border of France) and as we were walking out of the plane we were met by the strangest bus I’ve seen yet. It was really wide! Its whole purpose was to transport us from the tarmac to the terminal. The walk would have been 10 minutes because you had to go around a section of fence. We commented that this was the most foreign country we’d been yet because we couldn’t understand anything at all. At least in France we could read the signs, but German was so different there was no way.

We walked into the airport and found the crowd at passport control, probably over 100 people waiting for the two guys in the booth to stamp their passport. There are always two lines, one for EU Nationals, and one for Non-EU Nationals. We squeezed by everyone else in the mass of bodies speaking a combination of German and sporadic English and headed for the Non-EU booth… it was empty. Not one person was over there. No waiting, but also no passport officers. I stood all alone in front of the booth, while Andy laughed at me from the mass by the EU booth. I pretended to be lost and looked at the ceiling and read all the little signs with an exaggeratedly close inspection and when no one came over after 5 minutes of laughing about it I shrugged and headed back to the mass.

Nina was waiting for us with her large boyfriend Andy. He was big, but he’s really cool, and funny too as it turned out. We got big hugs and headed out into the cold chatting and laughing about old times on the drive back to Tübingen. We got to her flat around 11 and said, “So what are we doing? Since the pubs are closed…” They laughed at us, as we said this and realised that we were no longer in England and the bars and pubs stay open much later here. We went to a pub called Hades and Nina and Andy ordered after we picked out what we wanted (because we couldn’t speak the language – so crazy) and sat in the mostly empty pub (enjoying our German beer) and Most (Mosht) which is kind of a strange wine-like drink that is popular in the region.

Before we’d gone to the pub we went to McDonalds (yes we were that hungry) and I had a Royal with Cheese (just like in that movie). After we’d finished eating we went back to her flat for sleep.

The next morning we woke up a little later and went to the store to get food for breakfast. We had decided the night before that I was going to make french toast! After a tasty breakfast we left the house and went to wander Tübingen with our German tour guides. But before we got to see the town we got in the car to go to a castle. It was about a 40 minute drive to the castle which was perched right at the exact top of this sleep mountain. The view from the highway was spectacular so I could only imagine the view from the castle.

After parking in a cark park full of Audi’s and VW’s we started our hike. It took about 20 minutes to walk all the way up the mountain by road to the castle’s massive outer gate. Walking inside and through gate after gate you could tell these guys were worried about security. We arrived at the top and enjoyed the free parts of the castle before Nina bought us tickets to the tour. While we waited for the tour I made a snow angel and we all admired the amazing view from the top of this mountain.

The tour was great; however it was in German so I didn’t really understand most of it. I saw most because at this point we’d been exposed to German for about a day so I was getting used to hearing it and could start to pick out words. I picked up from the tour guide that we were in the Music room with Italian marble floors and that it was used for entertaining guests and something else. There was a lot of other information but I was really proud I got that much since I speak almost no German.

After the tour of the beautiful castle we were left in a room full of relics including the Crown Jewels of Germany (this was apparently the King’s castle for a while and the Keizer’s used to chill there too) and right next to them was a letter in English. I read who it was from first (like ya do) and was shocked that it was from George Washington!!! A letter from Washington! Right there on the wall of this German castle in Swabia! It was incredible. I read through it at least twice and found that it was the last letter he ever wrote as President of the United States. One of the generals that volunteered to help train the American forces during the War of Independence had lived in this castle! Washington was writing him to thank him. He even mentioned that it was the last letter he would be writing as President and that at 12 noon that day he would no longer be in office, and if he could have he would have come to the General and bowed to him to express his thanks for a debt that he could never repay. It was amazing.

After walking back town, driving back to Tübingen, and getting back to Nina’s flat we called Kara (courtesy Nina’s mobile) and the four of us wandered the town looking for some fun. We found a restaurant and had traditional Swabish food (which is really great) and sat for a long time while Kara and Nina talked in German (with spurts of Engish) making plans for the weekend. Somehow at the end of the meal it turned out we’d be going to Stuttgart the next day. So after dinner we walked around the city a little stopped for a beer at this really modern German hang out. We were going to try and see a live band, but there weren’t any. Kara went to a show with Amanda and Andy, Nina and I found another place and played a board game (abalone) and waited. After thair show we went to this über modern part of the same pub (I had to get that word in there). The downstairs was a bumpin’ German relaxation area, with a bumping repetitive beat and after a long while there enjoying each other’s company we eventually went home for sleeping.

The next day we got on a Train for Stuttgart and Kara brought a friend named Amanda. The train was two stories and quite fast. We passed the time talking and trying to decide what to do in Stuttgart. We had to go shopping which we did for a long time that day and I am not even going to get into it… but we wanted to see the Old and New Castles, and maybe see a few other things while there. We thought about a movie (but they were all in German) so that fell through and after we went to the two castles we spent most of the day shopping. Andy bought two pair of trousers, a coat and a hat, I bought a scarf, a wallet and a pair of new shoes. It was a fun day wandering the city. We even had a REAL bratwurst in the city square (where they had a HUGE football in honour of the World Cup, complete with digital Countdown to the Cup).

The train back was uneventful, but we decided to have wine while Nina cooked dinner when we got back. We bought three bottles and Nina bought some food. The 5 of us ate and drank and drank, and before we knew it we’d had a salad, some Swabish food that Nina had made and even drank two one liters of wine and two 75cl bottles… we were all really happy and having a great time. Kara and Amanda went home around 330 and we all passed out.

Sunday was the day to see Tübingen. We got up later in the morning and had agreed to meet Kara and Amanda for the walk around the city at a breakfast place. Germany is not well known for breakfast so most everything was closed, but Nina knew a place. At this place you ordered food in pieces (like a certain type of meat, bread, nutella, etc) and then built it yourself. Andy ordered like 5 plates of food without realising it, and I had a few things including black forest ham and even a nutella sandwich. It was really scrumptious.

Post-Breakfast the 5 of us wandered the city taking in the sites and talking. We went to the town hall and town square, and then up a huge hill to Tübingen castle (spectacular views) where there was even an archery club practicing up by the castle. It felt very medieval. Back down in town we decided to go to the church and look around inside after services ended. It was small, but nice, and then they had an idea and asked the curator if we could all go into the tower.. to my surprise he opened the door and the left. We were free to rome the inner workings of this ancient structure. I found out as I ventured into the back areas that this was not a touristy area. The stairs were old, wooden and rickety; we walked right by the clock mechanism in the tower and even right past the GINORMOUS bells that were set to ring within 15 minutes… we went out onto the tower and marvelled at the view for 10 minutes took pictures and enjoyed the cold bustley day, but we didn’t linger because we wanted to get away before the bells rang.

After the church we went down into the city and saw the colourful house-fronts that are the most photographed part of the city, and walked down the island in the middle of the river that the ‘lovers’ go down in the summer. Nina told us about a University game day when all of the boys in the Uni make teams and get these boats to go down the river around a bend and right back again (called ‘threading the needle’ that took a long time to explain without knowing the term). The loser has to eat this gross mixture of things and they always vomit all over. She thought it was funny, as did the other German in attendance (her boy Andy) but I thought it was gross… ‘it would be fun to watch the game though,’ I thought.

Eventually our day had to be over so Andy and Nina could accompany us back to the plane. We walked up to Nina and Kara’s university (but only to Nina’s building) and saw where she spent all of her time. We got a group photo, I stole a poster, and then we headed back home to burn some German CDs and get to the airport. American Andy had a nap and then we left. All in all it was a great time and a fun trip. It was fun to see Nina again, and Memoirs of a Geisha (which as of writing this I have actually finished) was a really great book.