31 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Thirteen. Is it Tuesday?

Oh, yes it is. Look at that.

This morning I got up, packed, and set off on my Epic Journey. After going in almost-circles in Maastricht for a while, I finally found WAYOUT and headed east. Things were going well; there were a few missteps along the way (I finally learned, after two major ones, that I should just keep heading east no matter what). I stopped in Heerlen for some lunch and continued on the Epic Journey.

There was one point where I was riding along, making really good speed on a downhill, when WHOOSH! This guy that could have been Yoda's grandfather hauls some serious butt past me on Yoda's Grandfather's Schwinn. Yoda's grandfather had some seriously white hair, and was wearing a Mister Roger's sweater, unzipped, which was whipping in the wind as he rode along. I felt pathetic.

About fifty feet past the border, I heard a horrific CruPOP! from the vicinity of my right knee. Yeah, my right knee, which I have been babying along for YEARS in hopes that it would not die on me, totally bit it. Yeah. I did manage to make it to Alsdorf (and took pictures), but I hopped on the train to Cologne from there. I am now ensconced in my hostel and plan to stay here two extra days to a) recover, b) have dinner with my cousin, and c) figure out what to do with my bike.

I think this is a good picture of my situation:

I sort of want to keep it. It's a good bike, and I've sort of gotten attached to it. I think I am going to see how much it would cost to ship it home. I'm not sure I want to schlep it around Germany with me to bring it home.

However, since I am now doing the train thing, I will probably go to Wittenberg this weekend, and then on to Berlin. EasyJet lets me change my flight plans up to two hours prior to the flight, so I will fly back to London early, and then I want to go to Cardiff. Flying back to London early == I can leave the bike at the hotel in which I am staying near Gatwick (I doubt anyone will molest it at a Holiday Inn) while I go to Cardiff, and then I'll just pay the twenty pounds to bring it home on my flight.

Yes, that sounds like a plan.

I -am- going to send home my camping equip, though. If my knee is dead, I do not want to schlep that round at all.

I am now tired, and will post more when I think of what it is.


30 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Eleven. The OMG Dutch Edition.

(Yeah, I forgot to post this, so it's out of order.)

23:14 Belgian Whatever Time; 16:14 CST.

Shortly after my last update, I went to the Travel Centre in Gare Central and hooked myself up with a train ticket to Maastricht for tomorrow. Sixteen Euros (about twenty bucks). Way better than all the time and angst of trying to find a bike shop here, particularly one where someone would not be bitchy (sorry Whit, it's really the only word for it) about my craptastic French of Doom. People here are kind of mean about it, even though I am trying. Both of the agents I visited in the Travel Centres were kind, though, and told me to just speak English as it would make the transaction go faster. I am getting better at thinking of the sentences in my head, though.

“Je voudrais un billet pour Maastricht, s'il vous plait.” (I would like a ticket for Maastricht, please.)

It is really not just me, though. Marah from Brasil is still having issues. It is not her fault, I think that neither of her two languages are French. Luisa continues to feel bad for not speaking better English, when I pointed out to her that the onus is not on her; I bear just as much responsibility for speaking no Italian as she could for not understanding my thorough mangling of the English language (Y'all wanna go have a beer? I try to speak more slowly and without contractions (I don't shout, though; that's ridiculous. She's not deaf; she's just Italian) Am I still inside these parentheses?)

Anyway, Brussels is pretty cool, as long as you aren't on the Metro. Ground level Brussels is really quite nice; there was a guy vacuuming the sidewalk earlier. A few people seem ok about the French thing; I even managed to order my lunch in French without anyone looking like they wanted to kill me.

“Je voudrais le nuggets de poulet et un petit frites, s'il vous plait. Et un jus d'orange.”

And no, I was NOT at Mackers. After lunch, I wandered around some more until I wandered into Le Grand Place, or, in Dutch (people are calling it Flemish; perhaps it's a dialect)

Grote Markt.

For those just tuning in, or those who have never had the misfortune to call something which is icky “Grote” in my presence, it so happens that “Grote” is my mother's maiden name. I, possibly we, had always assumed that it was a Good German Name (TM), on account of my heredity allegedly being as follows:

Mom: Three Quarters German, One Eighth each of Austrian and Wendish (Eastern Sorb)

Dad: Some amalgamation of Scots-Irish and Cherokee.

However, Grote appears to be decidedly Dutch (it also means “great” or “grand”; thus my uncle's names are Donald the Great and Chris the Great. It's great.) It might also explain Mom and Grandpa's dark hair and Uncle Chris' unusual length (Dutch people are taller than Germans). I'm going to look into it some more while I am in Maastricht so that I have someone to read the Dutch for me (the only Dutch I've found with a translation in a language I more or less understand are the train brochures and they do not have a whole lot of historical words in them), but I do not think that Grote is a German surname. I could be wrong. Of course, if I am not, that makes me Amber's cousin. Yeehaw!

I have been completely unable to find Harry Potter at all in any bookshops around here, and I am slightly irritated at that because I did not want to order it off of Amazon, but I feel like it would help me with my French SAT in October. Sigh. Perhaps I will make a trip to Quebec or something.

This evening, Marah the Brasilian and I went and had dinner. I had chicken brochette (brochette means on a skewer. You learn something new every day. It also means that shrimp brochette is not that special) and fries, and then we each ordered dessert.

FABoulOUS!!! (With jazz hands)

I had a waffle with ice cream, hot chocolate syrup, caramel, fresh strawberries and whipped cream. It was BRILLIANT.

On the walk back, I took some very nice photos of the cathedral and of some kind of light show that was going on in the Grote Markt. And now we are back. And now I am going to read some more of this book that I am reading for school (I AM, in fact, doing some of my school work), and then I shall go to bed. Hooray!


29 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Twelve.

16:23 Netherlands whatever time. 9:23 CST.

Woo! Free Interwebs in a pub! A pub with a friendly bartender, who, in a minute, shall be bringing me a cheeseburger. In the interim, I am sitting here with a Heineken (and remembering just how much I really, truly LOATHE pilsners, but I have not yet learned how to ask for cider and I'm not sure I want a cocktail just yet.

I appear to have been correct in at least some of my assumptions about Dutch. One of those assumptions was that the language is sort of the love child of German and English.

Wow, that cheeseburger was really good. It had some sort of special sauce upon it, but that did not jack it up. And, I put my great habanero sauce upon it, so it was a good time.

I was saying something. I don't remember. Whatever. The bike shop was closed (I might have guessed, but at least now I know where it is for tomorrow). I'm sort of freaked out by the weather, but I am going to stick with the plan. If it ever starts sucking excessively, I'll hop on a train.

I need to find a bookshop or something that will be able to sell me a map; hopefully the bike shop will be able to point me in the right direction, but I do not want to end up accidentally giving Köln a miss. I did notice immediately upon arrival that the pointy signs which tell you the direction of the various towns have normal signs as well as bike route signs. I still want a map, though I'm sure it would be hard to give Köln a miss.

My hostel is great; the only way they could really improve is if they had wireless Interwebs, but then they would probably charge. I will just come back to this pub tomorrow for lunch and not worry about it. I am also not entirely sure if they have laundry, but I know my hostel in Köln does, so it works out.

Bleah, the Heineken. It's gone now, having been replaced by Irish Coffee with a shot of Bailey's. And whipped cream on top.

I am finding Maastricht to be much more friendly than Brussels. No one has griped me out for speaking English, so Amber, you were right. They speak sort of an odd language and Maastricht is small enough that they appreciate tourists. I have figured out some of the phonology, though, and I think that helps matters.

Three streets here have "Grote" in their names, and I am becoming more convinced that somewhere back in the day, somebody was Dutch on Grandpa's side. Example of why: the guy we all know and love as Charlemagne is Karl der Große in German (ß == ss), and is Karel de Grote in Dutch.

I really am trying to find a phone card but it might have to wait for Köln unless I happen upon one on the way back to the hostel. Brussels photos should be up in a day or two. Hopefully I will also have something more artful to say.


28 July 2007

Trip Blog. What is this, anyway? Day Eleven?

14:39 Belgian whatever time; 7:39 CST

The short version of this post is: Brussels...doesn't suck as much as it did yesterday.

In fact, today it is quite nice. As long as you are above ground. Whitney Drew, I do not EVER want to hear you on about the DC Metro again. There will be an explanation why in a post later, because

My hostel lied and does NOT have the Interweb. And the barman was a bit flippant and told me I'm on vacation; who needs the Interweb? Well, -I- do because I need to make reservations for Koln, find a bike shop, and tell my mother I'm not dead (Mom, I'm not dead. Yet). Fortunately, the Brussels train stations have hotspots, that are hideously expensive, and there's no plugs, so I am limited to my battery life and my willingness to look like I'm waiting for a train.

On the subject of trains, I am taking one to Maastricht on account of the bike shops in Brussels are in the boonies, and the bike shop in Maastricht is about a ping pong ball's throw from my hostel. Also, allegedly, they will have plugs and Interwebs at the Maastricht hostel.

Two of the girls in my hostel room are very nice; one, Marah, is from Brasil, but lived in Memphis of all places and now lives in London, and the other, Luisa, is Italian and I'm afraid I've freaked her out badly with my mangling of the English language; she thinks it's her.

Anyway, I'll update better tomorrow from Maastricht.


27 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Ten.

14:06 BST; 8:06 CST

I am at this time aboard the Eurostar 14:13 (Coach Eleven, Seat Sixty-Eight) to Bruxelles-Midi Station, Bruxelles, Belgium. I do not know whether it is normal (most people seemed a bit surprised) or whether some idiot decided to bomb something or something, but going through security took forever, and then I was frisked and told to empty my pockets (lip balm, compass, French phrase book, two five pound notes and a receipt). Those who know me know just how much I dislike being touched by strangers.

Whatever. I got on. Of course I was not the FIRST onto the train, which is also apparently not a distinctly American issue. I have never understood the virtue of getting onto the plane first because then you are just sitting there for that much longer. After a few slightly haranguing flights wherein I had to put my hand luggage in a bin which was no where near my seat, I no longer attempt to get on at the very last, either, but I am still not going to queue jump to get onto any sort of transport first.

But I digress. Yesterday, I went on a most Heroic Quest for the London Hard Rock Cafe. Nine Days without a cheeseburger and my mood was not improving in the slightest. It would have been quite an ordinary quest, and not Heroic at all, except that yesterday's rain made all of the other rains seem paltry and small. Yesterday's rain was a Horatio Hornblower-style Gale of Doom. It was really just bucketing down and the wind was blowing about forty miles per hour to booth, and I think it was about fifty degrees outside (Twelve Celsius).

So this is happening when I happen upon what looks to be an entrance. Two women who were of Northern European extraction (I think they were Danes) walk up and ask me how to get in. I have no idea, as it turns up that the door at which we are standing is locked. So begins the trek around the building to find the entrance. We went counterclockwise when we ought to have gone clockwise because three-quarters the way around the building, we rock up on the entrance.

So I am soaked and the hostess asks how she can help me, and I replied that I want a cheeseburger and a margarita. And so they manifested! With guacamole! It was wonderful, and the fact that it cost forty bucks (twenty pounds) means nothing to me because it was just that good. It's not overpriced if it is worth it.

I am now a much happier me, post cheeseburger, and walk back out into the bucketing rain with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. The song being “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, because that is what was on in the Cafe. Whatever.

After a bit it cleared off somewhat, and I got what I think is going to be a really great panoramic photo of the Horse Guards headquarters on Whitehall, as well as a good panoramic of the square at the intersection of Regents Street and Piccadilly, which bears a striking resemblance to Times Square.

Today was a rather full-on experience as well. It started out innocently enough, awaken, shower, talk to Amber while packing. I go down to turn in my key and my access card to the manager, and he gets all upset because I am leaving, and tells me I have to stay. It is at this point that I realise that I was most assuredly NOT being paranoid and he really WAS trying to get into my pants. My dyke pants (did I mention that they are apparently waterproof? Everything was soaked yesterday, but not them!). I decided that the best way to extract myself from the situation was to tell him that I would have a pint before I left and then slip out the door while he was drawing it, which is precisely what I did. Take that!

I managed, with some difficulty to find the post office on Westminster Bridge Road, which turned up inside a small market. It was not particularly well-marked. I mailed home Harry Potter Seven, a t-shirt for Sarah, a long-sleeved shirt for Amber, and my Hard Rock London t-shirt (two Hard Rocks down, 428324751 to go!).

As I said, the queue for the check-in at the Eurostar was HUGE, but I am at last on, and they have brought me a bottle of wine. Hooray! They also brought by the lunch menu. My choices are a mustard and something chicken salad wither Herb potatoes (because there's a f***ing “H” in it!), roasted seasonal vegetables, and baby spinach, or a caramelised red onion and tomato quiche, with basalmic red apples and mange tout, whatever that is. I think I'm going to go with the salad affair on account of the onions and cooked tomatoes. Dessert is a rhubarb and raspberry cream shortcake. I really want to know what the deal is with this country and strawberries.

We are now headed through southern England, and it is very nice-a. Ooh! Horsey! Sorry, back now. I have not seen animals other than the random dog on the Strand (and my random, I mean seriously random. Belonged to no one and was just chilling with a tennis ball) and the two Golden Retrievers on the Tube day before yesterday.

Forty-five minutes and one bottle of wine...make that an hour and a quarter and two bottles of wine, and one time change (17:01, whatever time zone this is, 16:01 BST, 10:01 CST) later (they started giving us lunch as I was about to blog the rest). We -were- in the Chunnel, and now we are at the stop in Lille, France. It is sort of weird to be in France. It is also weird to realise that I did not, in fact, write down the address or the directions to my hostel. All I know is that it is called the Gite d'Etape, and it is near the Madou stop on the Brussels Metro.


Well, I'm sure I can find the Interwebs somewhere in Brussels. Probably even in the Gare du Midi. My organisation has failed me. I had everything written out for London; I'll need to be sure to write things out for Maastricht and Koln. Tomorrow is my only full day in Brussels, so I am going to set out to find the bicycle shop in the morning. I found one online which sells Trek bikes, so I might be able to get my exact bike, which will be helpful because then the rear rack I am going to get will fit my at-home bike. I am liking the biking the more I consider it, and I am very excited about seeing a new place every day or two. I think that is where I messed up with London. I oughtn't have decided to stay there a full week; I should have gone to Scotland or Wales, or even just the rest of England. Had I missed something, it is not like I will never be back or something.

I am most assuredly going to be back. I very much like this idea of traveling Europe, and I believe I am going to do as much of it by bicycle as I can. Hopefully, I will be able to convince someone to come with me in the future, because all of the excitement of being somewhere else does not stop me missing people.

Right now we are very slowly going along, and we are passing a hayfield. Someone was alseep up against a hay bale. The other half of the field is something short and green with large oval leaves which I do not recognise. I assume it is some sort of root crop. I suppose we are going around the corner because the train has acquired a decided list to my left; the train's right, and a few seconds ago my wine glass overcame the coefficient of friction and began sliding toward the center of the car. I caught it. Now we are full stop and next to a field of mustard. I think it is mustard. If Belgium is like here I will have no problem biking across it. There is a highway nearby, but there is the equivalent to a county road running along here through the fields and under the right-of-way for the rail. It is deserted.

The conductor (who is called something more important that I cannot remember, but who is still the conductor, just came on, said something unintelligible (to me) in French and then repeatedly vaguely that we are awaiting permission to continue. I assume that someone else is on this track. I am not offended. Someone in a white car that looks sort of like someone took the Ghostmobile and stretched it upwards is easing along by the mown hayfield.

Lunch was not bad. I tried the mustard chicken salad – it essentially amounted to minced chicken with a bit of brown mustard as marinade. The raspberry affair was okay; when I get home I want a nice piece of strawberry cheesecake. I think I shall bake one when I am no longer jetlagged.

There are a lot of giant spools behind the warehouse we are passing. College guys should come fetch one or seven. Now we are listing the other way and I wish we would speed up or flatten out because I am acquiring a touch of seasickness. Hey, there is a power plug under my table. Sweet.

Oh, no. It was lying. It merely purported to be a power plug. Perhaps I did not upgrade enough; I did upgrade from cattle car on account of it was only twenty bucks, and I do believe it was worth it. The coach which I inhabit is three seats across; two on one side and one on the other and they are about the size of business class seats on an airplane; normal coach was four across. For my flight home, I'm going try to get to Gatwick early enough to negotiate a business class seat; if I have to pay a little extra (by a little, I mean no more than two hundred pounds) that is fine, but I have learned on this trip when an extra expense is worth something (see Hard Rock and the expensive, but wonderful, cheeseburger) and when it is not. For example, I think it is utterly pointless to fly first class from Austin to Houston. But if four hundred bucks will get me another ten inches of legroom and a seat that actually reclines for the ten hour journey home, I am so there.

Yay, farms! I miss farms. Sheep! Yay, sheep! And people working in the fields, personally. We are going at a normal speed again; and passing a lot of Creepy Italian Trees. They must have immigrated. I feel like I am passing any given town in South Texas, except these villages have been around for hundreds of years. And they have grass. As the train goes along, we remain level and the terrain changes around us; this puts me to mind of By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, in which she described the uses of “cuts” and “fills” in track laying, so as to keep the tracks as level as possible.


26 July 2007

Trip Blog. Days Eight and Nine. Exhausted Edition.

11:34 BST, 5:34 CST

Whitney IMed me last night at her version of eight o'clock, which is most everyone else's seven o'clock, but more importantly, one in the morning for me (computer was awake without me) asking me why I was not out seeing Amazing Things. Well, the most immediate reason was that it was one in the morning.

However, I am about full up on Amazing at the moment. I would be really thrilled right now to sit around in my Ordinary living room with Ordinary people who speak Ordinary English and play Ordinary Guitar Hero while drinking an Ordinary margarita and snuggling with an Ordinary ornithologist.

I slept all night and I remain tired. Of course, I had really weird and freaky dreams while I was sleeping, so that was bonus. I am tired. (In German accent) Tired of playing the game; ain't it a crying shame...(/accent)I just need some German soldiers to be back up dancers. Perhaps they will carry my luggage.

Yesterday, I did laundry. My laundry outfit was the bike shorts with the padded butt and my three-quarter length t-shirt. Greatness, but that was all that was clean. I also went back to the Royal Observatory, to actually tour it this time. And to have lunch.

Now, I have been very patient with the British; I feel like people get a bad rap from a few people's limited experiences. However, I have come to the conclusion that they really don't understand about food. The breakfasts I have had have always been quite lovely, but lunch and dinner seem to leave a lot to be desired. There are not a whole lot of vegetables around, and everything has this tendency to be fried or to involve baked beans.

However, they do have this great thing where they put stuff on a baguette and then grill it on a George Foreman sort of affair, which makes it a bit flat and toasty and it's Awesome. So, I ordered a baguette at the Observatory Cafe. And she gave it to me cold. Apparently, they do not grill them at the Observatory Cafe. Boo, that!

Also, the Observatory's main draw appears to be the Meridian Line, which is fine, but if you ask about anything else, the people have little to say. I was personally more interested in John Harrison's naval clocks (no photos; fascists). I've always been fascinated by the Longitude issue and the tied in Metric issue (they both were solved at around the same time), and so the clocks were cool. However, since the Meridian itself is arbitrary, I did not feel excessive excitement about it. And by excessive, I mean that I did not hop madly back and forth from hemisphere to hemisphere like the Boy Scouts from Houston.

They were, one and all, wearing straw hats with big Texas flag patches attached. And they talked more or less like me, so I asked,

"Where y'all from?"

"TEXAS!" one cried jubilantly.

In my brain, I am thinking, yes, dipstick. We know. People in Morocco know, on account of the a) hat, b) patch, c) giant Texas bandanna you are wearing around your neck, and d) your very, very loud accent.

I smile, however, and reply, "Yeah, dude. I caught that part. Which bit of Texas?"

His reply, "Oh, the eastern part."

Rolling my eyes. "Beaumont? Orange?"

"You know about BEAUMONT!?"

It occurs to me, that despite my best efforts, this guy still thinks I'm from not-Texas.

"Yeah, dude. I'm from Austin. Where are you from?"

"An American! Here! Wow!"

(We are surrounded by people from every continent. Literally. There's even a penguin chilling in the corner of the courtyard. There are also fifty Boy Scouts from Houston. But I don't know they are from Houston yet. I decided not to point out that HE is an American, here, so what's the big deal?)

His leader saves me by telling me they are from Houston. I say that's great and move on. I hadn't expected the Spanish Inquisition.

Later, I was sitting in the pub lamenting my lack of food, with vegetables. And it came to me, as if in a vision: The Hard Rock Cafe. The Original. Is Here. In London. It's near Hyde Park Corner Station. Tonight, I dine on Cheeseburger. With Avocado.

I don't know what I'm going to do today. My arms are a bit achy and I do not feel inclined to go out into the cold and damp. I am going to go out this evening, later, and take night pictures of things, and then come back to pack my kit; my train to Brussels leaves at 2:13 tomorrow afternoon. I'm less freaked out by Brussels now. I'm staying there two nights and then staying two nights in Maastricht, Netherlands. Once I get to Maastricht I'll decide how long to stay in Köln (Cologne). I have learned my lesson from being in London for too long, and I'm not going to stay in any given city longer than three days for the rest of the trip. If that means I have to go to Paris, then so be it.


25 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Seven. Also Belated.

Short post because I am not feeling poetic, but here is a photo which is mostly done. It's six megs, so if you are in a hurry, you probably oughtn't click on the thumbnail. I like it, though. I still have to put on the top, but I need to do laundry at some point. Like now.

(16:26 BST, 10:26 CST Edit: Now it is done. Top and all. There will be more pictures up in an hour or so.)

St. Paul's Square, London. 24 July 2007

Feed the Birds! As I said, the tower on the left still needs putting on and I have not yet blended the skies. Too bad.


24 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Six. Belated.

I was absolutely exhausted last night when I rolled back into the hostel at about ten or so. Yesterday was cold, windy and raining, but that did not keep me from venturing into town to look at the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, and the Monument to the fire of doom in 1666. I also saw a maritime memorial for WWI and WWII. What else happened to me...? At about five or so, I got tired of Freezing and set off for a pair of pants. This quest, combined with rush hour on the tube, caused me to be about fifteen minutes late meeting Kez, but meet her I did and we spent about three hours in a pub drinking, eating dinner and talking about everything. I had not seen her in four years.

I also hit upon the perfect solution to the problem of my camera battery passing out. I have an extra, but the first did not last as long as I had hoped. However, all I have to do is find a charger at a Canon store here; then the adapter will work for Europe as well since Britain and Europe both have the same voltage. Brilliant! And saves me the trouble of carrying around a stupid, heavy, giant converter. Hooray!

I found shaving cream and Listerine yesterday at Charing Cross, so my life is considerably improved. The local pharmacies in Deptford do not have a lot of selection, and apparently women do not really use shaving cream here because all I could find was boy Gillette shaving cream, so now I'm going to smell like man all the time, but I suppose it is better than looking like one.

Kez told me that the way around the one-hand-luggage rule on British Airways is to buy these really lightweight bags that fold up on themselves in the airport and then you stuff both of your bags into the one. So, like the Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM) law, it appears to be a good way for someone to make more money off of me.

I am ok, Mom; I was just tired last night so I did not blog.


22 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Five.

16:18 BST (not GMT, as I had previously thought); 10:18 CST

I am in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London. Twenty feet behind me me is the house in which lived Virginia Woolf and the others of the Bloomsbury Group (similar to the Austin Java Writing Company, but more incestuous and more widely known). I am not quite so much in awe as I was at Westminster Abbey, but I am not entirely certain that any other experience I could ever have could match that. I am quite close, however. I got off at Tottenham Court Road with the intention of going to the British Museum, but there are too many tourists and I shall return early tomorrow.

I walked up here along Bloomsbury Road, noticing along the way the various blue seals that serve as historical markers in London. I realised that it was necessary to buy a map of London's streets when I suddenly found myself no longer on Bloomsbury Road. Fortunately, what is apparently the largest academic bookstore in Europe, a Waterstone's, manifested itself directly in front of me. Looking at the map I realised that I was not far off my mark but purchased it anyway since in a day or two I will be seeking out Abbey Road and the home of C.S. Lewis.

I checked my neat Girl Scout compass to make sure I was actually headed in the correct direction because the sun is too far south here to be reliable as an indicator and the streets are not at right angles.

I happened upon Gordon Square quite suddenly and was taken about to be in the place; I walked three quarters around before I found number Forty-Six. This place is really beautiful; the Square has a park in the middle with lots of flowers and lined with trees. There are a few families around, and some people sitting in pairs or along, reading or writing. On the far corner from where I sit, there are some prepubescent boys destroying a shopping trolley. The trolley is putting up a good fight, lying on its side like a sort of wounded creature, the sides all bent in, but not taking any more damage. I am rooting for it.

It means a great deal to me to be sitting in front of the place where one of my literary heroines lived; this whole trip has inspired me to put further effort into my studies, and I also feel that I am certainly going to have to come back here often. I am slightly lonely for people at home, though not for general company; I have been recruited by the manager of my hostel to re-tile one of the bathrooms. Apparently I will either be paid or will receive a discount in my lodging for the rest of the week as well as free beer.

There are some very nice birds here, and I find it unfortunate that no one is here to tell me what sort they are.


21 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Four.

OMG Harry Potter! No, I did not go queue with all of the crazy people, but today when I went into town, I found a Waterstone's (Barnes and Nobleish) at Trafalgar Square. So I am now the owner of ALL seven Harry Potter books, adult UK edition. Six of them will be shipped to the United States on Monday, to get there by Friday (which I find ridiculous on account of that's now long it takes for mail to get from Baytown to Austin). The seventh I have with me. I'm on chapter two.

I have found my new hostel and these people are brilliant. At this hostel the bar is actually part of the hostel and is mostly inhabited by hostel people. It is really quite excellent. I liked the Antigallican a lot, but this one is in Zone Two and the people are more lively, and there's a ton of people in the bar all the time. It is slightly more expensive, but the fact that it is in Zone Two makes up for the expense because now it's not three dollars each way to get to Greenwich Station, which has been the last two days. Also, apparently HostelWorld was lying when they said that this one is booked up after tomorrow, so I am going to see if I can hook up with a room for the rest of the time I'm here instead of moving again.

I am liking it a lot better here; I think a lot of it has to do with actually sleeping in the night for once. Also, while I was in Westminster earlier, I had lunch at a very crowded pub, and this couple (fifties? I think they were older than that) came and asked if they could sit with me since I was alone and I ended up talking to them for a bit and that was nice.

It started out bright and pretty, and then RAINED and then stopped and now it is bright and pretty again. The weather is schizophrenic. I hope I can stay here the whole of the week, and I also hope that the Interweb gets fixed so that I can actually post this at some point in the near future.


Trip Blog. Day Three and a Half.

When we left Christopher Robin and Pooh Bear (oh, somewhere else I need to go. I had forgotten about Milne), they were very exhausted after their tramp through the Hundred Acre Wood in the rather unpleasant cold and rain.

I came back to the hostel and jumped straight onto my bed while having a conversation about the insanity of the weather with Luciana from Brazil; apparently London is worst than Texas. Turns up that she was correct. Apparently, just as soon as I went to sleep, at around one o'clock, the skies cleared and remained so for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. I discovered this when I awoke at around eight for dinner and sunlight was coming in through the window. The late evening sun was very beautiful, and I have pictures.

Tangent: Civil twilight begins here at about four in the morning and the sun rises at five and sets at nine. Compare that to our latitude where the sunrise is at half six and set is at quarter past eight. I'm imagining how miserable I would be here in the winter when there is only five hours of sunlight. Boo that.

At any rate, it turns up the pub was shorthanded and closed their kitchen prior to the advertised hour of nine o'clock, so I went up to the "second kebab shop" at the top of Charlton Church street and ordered a cheeseburger.

Someone needs to tell these people about cheeseburgers. I improved it by putting on some of my habanero salsa from my Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM). The chips were good, at any rate. No more cheeseburgers while I am here. Allegedly, Belgium makes them well. We will find out. I will go on a quest for a good cheeseburger in Europe.

I and the two Bostonians I picked up (Another tangent. Every time I tell an American I am from Austin (six so far) they somehow translate it as Boston. I do not know how to enunciate the not-Boston any better) took our second-kebab-shop food back into the pub to eat and await the beginning of the karaoke. They were Lindsay and Sue, and Sue told me that Lindsay has a really good singing voice; Lindsay demurred. Well, either Lindsay just sounded really good on account of the other singers who were smashed (at nine in the evening), or she really does have a pretty brilliant voice.

While I was writing my other blog, the karaoke lost its electrics and there was no more. Unfortunate. I stayed around and had a couple of more pints of Strongbow before I grew tired of the pub (while I was there, a guy sitting at the bar told me to not go to Edinburgh as it is "rubbish;" Melbourne people said the same thing of Sydney, so I think I'll go anyway). Post-that I went and hung out in the common room hoping that some people would be available for conversation, but it was a Friday night and people have lives so it worked out. I ended up watching Star Trek on the BBC with a Japanese dude and an Australian chick till three in the morning. And then I slept, and now it is now, and I am going to have a shower.

Photeaux are at Webshots, and I will organise them better later.


20 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Three.

I took about 6984393844 pictures today, a figure which is disputed by James, but too bad. My jet lag is still lagging rather badly, and as a result I was on the 5:55 train into London this morning, which deposited me there shortly before seven. I took a billion pictures just on the way in; I took the DLR (Docklands Light Rail) from Greenwich into Canary Wharf, where I took photos of buildings disappearing into the fog (photos on Webshots as soon as they finish uploading. They have not been edited or stitched yet, so be patient). I took the Jubilee line into Westminster Station. You have a choice of six exits out of Westminster Station; I took exit six out onto Whitehall.

At this point I looked around, trying to find my bearings, and then I turned the corner around the building. And Oh, My God, there was Big Ben. Words cannot describe the situation. For one thing, I didn't realise how freakin BIG everything was going to be. I'm not sure the photos can describe how big it all is. Parliament is HUGE. HUGE. HUGE does not even begin to describe it. I was walking along Whitehall here, next to Parliament, gaping like a big ole stupid tourist and wondering how in the world anyone LIVES here. Because they are all walking past this stuff like it's normal or something.

So I'm walking alongside Parliament, on what I thought was the sidewalk, when these white vans come barreling along and try to murder me. I have a photo of the murderous van as well. I leaped (and I am so not exaggerating) over the nice dividing chain onto what apparently actually is the sidewalk.

After my minor brush with almost-death, I walked around into the park that is next to Parliament, and found a cool statue. Then I walked over to Westminster Abbey. It was about half past seven and the Abbey does not open till half past nine, so I walked around it and took photos from outside the barriers. I have some good ones, I think, but I've not analysed them just yet, so it will be a bit. They're all up on Webshots.

After that, I sort of wandered around looking for breakfast since I'd only eaten some green grapes in the past twenty-four hours. I finally found this place just off of Victoria Street and had eggs benedict (yes, with ham) on what was allegedly a muffin, but the dude took the whole thing and toasted it like a panini and it was BRILLIANT. I jumped onto the nearest bus to escape the weather (did I mention ever that it was about fifty degrees and raining with moderate wind?) and ate my breakfast and then jumped off.

It turned out that I was in Chelsea. Nice. I am really glad I bought a compass and that I had it in my special dyke pants. I found my way back to Sloane Square Station and took the tube back to Victoria Station. It was still early, so I set out on my quest for Buckingham Palace.

Insert tangent here: London is seriously diverse. Seriously. So diverse that if you see more than three or four people together that all look like they are the same ethnicity, they are a tour group. Texas is incredibly homogenised, and anyone who wants to complain about the prevalence of black people and/or Mexicans can seriously sod off, because they would have a heart attack on the London tube.

Right, so Buckingham Palace. It was cool. There was gold. There was also the Victoria Fountain. I have a picture of myself standing in front of Buckingham Palace, but not a whole lot of other pictures from that area on account of I was eating my SECOND breakfast, of bacon, egg and cheese on a baguette while I was looking around there. I was starting to get a bit overwhelmed by everything, as well as starting to be a bit tired from carrying around my pack. Also, I was freezing. Did I mention the weather.

At some point, it came to be nine o'clock and I migrated back to Westminster to get in, where I found out that it would be ten pounds' admission. I decided to bite the bullet.

Oh, my Lord, and that is a completely appropriate exclamation. We weren't allowed photos inside (I sort of pirated a couple; I don't know how well they'll work), but that is just was well because there is no way that photos could capture that awesome awesomeness of the interior of Westminster Abbey. Words cannot even begin to describe. For a start, there are people buried under your feet just everywhere, and if you go, you have to make sure to go at the very beginning of the morning before all the tourists get there; it's much more peaceful. There are little chapels all around with beautiful stained glass and more burials. A lot of the elevated crypts have effigies of the deceased on the top of the caskets. I am usually creeped out by cemeteries, but not at this point. I was very mindful of walking over people's graves, however.

I was also slightly annoyed/upset by the people who did not seem to be mindful of either the Abbey's status as church/cemetery, or even by their lack of awe for the fact that this affair has been around for NINE HUNDRED years. The interior architecture is also completely awesome. I was in there for three hours being completely awestruck and absorbing the experience. It definitely committed me to my love affair with European history. Nine HUNDRED years. There were people buried there in the twelve hundreds. And there was Elizabeth, and Newton; Chaucer and George Eliot and Michael Faraday. I could take hours and it would not adequately describe the experience. On outside of the Great West Door, which is the entrance into the nave, are statues of twentieth century martyrs; among them are Doctors King and Bonhoeffer.

I was emotionally and physically exhausted at that point, and hied myself back to my hostel for a nap. I am now being summoned to the other end of the pub, and so shall finish later.


19 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day Two and a Half.

0:44 GMT; 18:44 CST

Important things:

1) Bars in London close at midnight on weeknights.

2) Petrol stations have fresh fruit.

Some of us slept all evening and woke up at around ten to the noise of an extensive bar argument out the window. I did not notice my hunger until about eleven and discovered rather belatedly that I've misplaced about thirty pounds. It's in my stuff somewhere, but in the interim I had to find an ATM to get more cash and then to the local kebab shop...which also closes at midnight. Hence the box of green grapes for dinner. That's alright because the bar downstairs serves breakfast at ten.

Today I walked over to Greenwich Park, which was a less than pleasant experience due to my exhaustion, but it was really pretty. I took some photos, but most of them are panoramic and I have not yet stitched them together. I didn't use a tripod or stitch assist, so I might have to redo them. I'm going back to the observatory probably tomorrow on account of the billions of schoolchildren who were impeding my progress today. The walk up to the top of the hill upon which the Observatory is built makes San Marcos look like a gently rolling plain.

I've also booked my hostel for my last four nights here and I am about to book my hostel for Brussels. I think I'll stay there for two days before starting on my Germany journey. My friend Jenny has written me back regarding getting together so I imagine that will be happening this weekend.

It feels like October; the day was pleasantly warm, and when I went walking tonight looking for food, it put me to mind of walking on the UT campus in the middle of the night in the fall. It's really quite romantic.

People in London, while polite, do not hold back when they get angry and they tend to shout at each other a lot. This morning on the Tube coming here, some men were shouting at each other for reasons still unknown to me, and this evening the people were shouting at each other for a good half hour outside the pub. Tonight when I went to the petrol station, people were shouting at the guy inside about the diesel being out, and instead of just taking it like American service type people, he shouted right back. I was proud.


Trip Blog. Day One and a half/Two.

10:48 GMT; 04:48 CST

I really was not sure whether or not I was going to actually make it, but I am now sitting in the common room of the Antigallican Hotel (which is brilliant, by the way), after a thirteen hour flight and about two and a half hours of transit. I really, really, really want to sleep, but my bed will not be remade until about noon. That's ok because I at least have a place to a) relax, and b) drink some water.

I have rediscovered my impatience with flying and my inability to sleep well (or at all, really) on airplanes, and I am very seriously considering upgrading to business class for the flight back if I have the money, because I completely felt like death (not just normal traveling drained; I was really quite unwell) when I got here and have not fully recovered from the feeling. A lot of it is nerves, I think, but now that I am here, I'm good. Business class has seats that actually recline, of which I am a fan because I really do not want to feel like death when I get home.

Anyway, I got off the plane and through Passport Control in about five minutes, and saw the nice little kiosk to buy my train ticket into London (Gatwick is about twenty-five miles south of London). I rocked up to the guy and asked for a ticket, and he tells me my card is declined. The Hell you say! I briefly panicked before deciding that a) it might just be the credit function or something and b) there's a reason why I packed forty bucks, so it is not like I can't just go to the money changer or something. That turned up to not be an issue because I found a cashpoint downstairs and got out a hundred pounds. So, no worries. Also, the automatic ticket selling kiosk at Victoria Station took my card, so the guy at Gatwick can just...sit there and keep selling tickets to everyone but me, I guess.

At any rate, I got to experience the Tube at rush hour. Apparently, the Circle Line is the most crowded, and me and this very kind businessman were mashed up against the doors ("Mind the Doors, Please") for the duration of my trip, which was fortunately only two stops; I changed to the Jubilee line at Westminster Station and took that to London Bridge station. At that point I moved to the overland line and got off here in Charlton, right across the street from my hotel.

Despite the fact that it is too early for my bed, the desk chick (Eastern European? I was not sure) showed me where my bed is, rented me a locker, gave me a towel and pointed out the common room with its very nice free Interwebs.

I believe that in a bit I shall go have a shower with my unlabeled bath products and nice fluffy towel, and then possibly have a nap. And then I shall Fire Zee Missiles. I perhaps ought to have lunch at some point as well; I did not eat much of the breakfast on the plane on account of my feeling icky at that point. If I do anything touristy today (which I probably will; it's still early), it's going to be Greenwich Observatory. I need to e-mail my friends and tell them I am here. And call my mom at two o'clock.


18 July 2007

Trip Blog. Day One.

14:09 17 July 2007

The wireless network which is allegedly available to me in Terminal D, Gate Nine is not connecting to itself. They're losing money by not loading up, but whatever thrills them the most. At any rate, this might not get posted until tomorrow morning, which I know is a great disappointment to those of you waiting with baited breath to hear of my exploits.

I have not yet really actually exploited that much, so perhaps it is immaterial. Highlights so far: chastised by irritated TSA lady because I did not take out my Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM) which caused both of my bags to be searched. Things I -did- take out of my bags:

-- Computer
-- Camera
-- GPS
-- PDA
-- Phone

And I remembered to take off my shoes without asking and managed to get my (aluminum) wallet into the tray at the very last second. Therefore I think that my lack of getting my Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM) is really not something about which she should be mystified. Her other issue with me is that I had the temerity to use Nalgene bottles for all of my stuff and that they are not labeled. Her exact words were thus:

“We have no idea what could be in there. You can buy travel-size.”

1.I KNEW it! It is a conspiracy with the travel-size product industry! I -told- you, Amber, you with the “Oh, yes. Because they have such a strong lobby.” Clearly they do, because TSA lady was clearly advertising for them.

2.Because I clearly could not empty the travel size and put a liquid or gel of my own choosing (say, habanero salsa) into said travel size bottle, naturally if I would just conform or whatever, they would completely know what is in my less-than-three-ounce bottles. We will ignore that most shampoo bottles are opaque.

Whatever. That whole exchange took like thirty seconds, and I do not believe that the TSA lady suspected that the object wrapped in my windpants was my bunny. Which reminds me that I completely forgot to get Bob the Stormtrooper off of the shelf. This is unfortunate because he would have been perfect for photographs.

This morning, Amber very kindly took me to Kerbey Lane, where I had NOT a baked potato omelet, but pancakes, eggs and watermelon, and then kindly went with me to Target for the watch I forgot to buy yesterday, and thence to Texas State Optical for the contacts that I bribed them into selling to me despite my “expired” prescription.

HOLY cow. Those of you who went to Lee College, Mister Britt's doppelganger just walked into the gate. I am going to take a picture to prove it. Ok, I will as soon as he walks away from the pay phone which is about four feet from me. I swear, y'all. He looks like him, he walks like him, he's even wearing one of those shirts that look like they have a pattern of weed on them. It's crazy.


Right. Amber, Kerbey Lane. I was expressing my anxiety that I would not be able to fit my small bottle of habanero salsa into my Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM), and Amber was telling me that I had to make a choice between bathing on the first day or having salsa for a month. I replied, “You don't understand how much bathing means to me!” and the lady at the table next to us pipes up, “I hear you, sister!” and she and Amber proceeded to gang up on me on the subject of my body wash and its relative importance compared to the salsa. The upshot of this is, I managed to fit both the body wash and the salsa into the Quart Size Zip-Top Bag of Liquids or Gels(TM). The salsa comes from Freebird's World Burrito and the guy who made mine yesterday was nice enough to fill my bottle for me.


So, I am here now, after finding my gate completely without assistance from anyone except for someone who kindly confirmed to me that Mickey Leland Terminal (D) is still, in fact, the International Terminal. My gate was not assigned at the time I left Austin (and actually, Amber, it turns out that my whole itinerary is via Continental, but the service is British Airways. Who knew?) so I sort of wandered around until I found a bank of screens that actually acknowledged the existence of my flight.

It's now twenty to three and boarding starts at quarter past. The flight is at 3:55 and we will be landing at 7:05 GMT tomorrow morning. That's 1:05 to you people. I should probably go check in now.


WOO! Exit Row! Go British Airways! I also have an aisle seat; I sort of wanted a window on account of having something against which to sleep, but this is NOT going to be the flight to Honolulu with the giant smelly men and being in the very middle of the middle section. Rocktastic! The Interweb still does not seem thrilled with my existence, which I find rather upsetting. I am feeling a lot less freaked out than I was earlier. I am not really sure what changed. Perhaps it was the actual goodbye that I was dreading.

Ah ha. My computer has detected another network which is apparently the Lufthansa lounge. Whatever. Two euros == three and a half bucks. Hello, Interwebs. Wow. Blogger is in German.

02 July 2007

Just Another Reason why I Like Dwayne:

I'll write something deep later. In the interim:

Cap tip to Dwayne for finding it first.