Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Lakes

Going to the lakes was definitely the best impromptu decision I have made so far. It felt so good just to be outdoors and camping. I was really fortunate to get a camping spot, as it was Bank Holiday weekend in England (meaning everyone and their dog were on holiday/vacation). If the campground I went to had not been two miles uphill from the city center, I would not have had a campsite. The farm I camped at was full, but they saw me walk up the drive and felt bad for me, so as I am just one person with a tiny tent, they allowed me to camp. It was so very nice of them. I was really worried I would have no where to stay... but it worked out perfectly. The campground I stayed at was beautiful. The mountainous hills of the lake district were my surroundings. Perched up on the hill side, I could see such beauty on every horizon. It was very nice and relaxing. 
The day after I arrived, I did a long 10-12 mile walk. It felt so good! I hiked up a mountain and looked over the lake and the valleys in the distance. I met some lovely people on my hike up too. I met a very nice couple working in England from New Zealand and I met an older gentleman who is a professor at Oxford University. They were all very friendly. It was a really swell walk. For the second half of my walk, I went down into a valley that use to be filled with graphite (I think...) mines. It is now a field full of sheep. Mines and factories always make me think of the hardship people face. It is such gruelling and deadly labor- to inhale the dust of the earth all day and be covered in the filth of the minerals, it would be a hard life. The sheep did not know this though. They went on eating the grass where men once tore at the flesh of the earth. It was really interesting to think of as I walked. It was perfect conditions for just thinking. The sun was shining but it was cool enough to where I still wanted to wear a jacket- simply beautiful. After my long hike, I went back to camp and ate cold soup with bread. It felt so good to fill my body with bad camp food. Something about camping just allows me to slow down and makes me feel the joy and beauty all around me. Not that it would be hard to do in an area like the Lake District. After I ate it started to rain, so I crawled in my sleeping bag and read until I was drowned with sleep. The rain fell all night leaving the next day pretty muddy. I had to leave in the evening to get to Manchester so I could catch my flight the next day to Amsterdam, so I decided to lay low and catch up on my writing. I opened up the tent to let everything dry out and opened my books - enjoying the sunshine and my sore legs. 
A truly spectacular time, indeed.
That evening I caught a series of trains that led me to Manchester and the great hospitality of Rodders (a school mate of Dave's who I met in San Francisco last year). I got to try a real Turkish kebab and watch half of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - a movie I must see all of soon... Clint Eastwood is wonderful in the old western! The next morning I woke early to catch a train to the airport. Rodders was so great to wake up early on his Bank Holiday to take me to the train station. It seems like every place I have gone, people have stepped out of their way to show such great kindness. 
Once on the trains, I travelled for a few hours to the airport, flew to Amsterdam, caught another train to Den Haag, and made it to Stuart's flat (the other walker I met last year along with Dave, walking across America). 
Now I am here in The Hague, doing a little of this and a little of that (meaning catching up on e-mails and my blog and figuring out where I am staying in Sweden and Norway-my next stops).
So, all is well and I am once again in Mainland Europe. More adventures to come soon, and to all of you who have started school once again - best of luck. My thoughts are with you guys.

Also, a special shout out to Stef, my cousin. Today is his birthday and he is another year older... hehe. 
Happy birthday Stef!!! I love you and hope you are not working too hard today! 


I think when they say "Sunny England" they mean the people, and not the weather. I rarely saw the sun but every person I stayed with was so incredibly kind and offered so much, it made my entire trip to England spectacular - despite the rain.
In Redditch, I stayed with Pete and Moya, Dave's parents. They were both so kind to allow me to stay in their home and to show me all around the Midlands. The first day I was there we drove all around the country side looking at English-style cottages. It was really neat to see homes that were built before the American colonies had even gained independence. It put a new perspective on "old", the cottages I saw are older than the United States... 
The tour first took us to Stafford, Shakespeare's birthplace. We toured Anne Hathaway's cottage and walked all around town. Anne Hathaway's cottage was beautiful. The front garden was filled with flowers taller than me, with vibrant colors. After we around Stafford for a while, filled with the Royal Shakespeare Company and rich with Shakespeare's history, we went to a town called Chipping Campden and then Broadway. The old-style homes were beautiful. Instead of the white and black of Stafford and many other areas, these homes were a yellow stone that glistened in the sun (which, unfortunately, we did not see much of). They were so beautiful against the green grass and dark sky, it was really a treat to see the sun shine on them. My whole time in Redditch was fairly rainy. 
The next day Pete and Rachel (Dave's sister) and I went to Warwick Castle. It was really fun. I have never seen a real castle, so it was a treat, indeed! It was so neat to see the rooms and stairs and imagine what life would have been like there so long ago. At the castle, they had show-type entertainment every hour somewhere in or around the castle walls. One of the shows we saw was Birds of Prey- there were two types of eagles, an owl, and a vulture in the show. It was fascinating watching the birds fly so elegantly with the wind and struggle to climb upwards to the castle walls. I was very glad we went to Warwick.
The next day I decided to do a day trip to Bath Spa, where the ancient Roman baths are. I had a really super time in Bath. I did not have a lot of time to spend there so I decided to do a bus tour - the kind where you can sit in the open on the top of the bus. It was a really great way to see the city because I got to hear the history of the buildings and I was able to learn and see a lot more than I would have had I just been walking.
The next day is the day I decided my new wardrobe should be more green, and by that I do not mean environmentally friendly. :-) Despite the washing mistake, the day turned out to be spectacular. For those of you who have heard of Old Greg, I was introduced to the British comedy show "The Mighty Boosh" where the five minute clip comes from. It is a fantastic show! Dave told me it would blow my mind away, but I had no idea... Dave, Bob (Dave's house mate), and I watched several episodes of Boosh along with several other British comedy shows. It was a fantastic evening. 
The next day I had breakfast with Dave, packed my things, and then Bob ran with me to the station so I could catch my train to Penrith, the English Lake District.
A swell time in the small town of Redditch.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Change of Plans

Today I was going to leave for Scotland; but, I decided against it. I could not find a cheap place to stay and was a bit worried about getting there and not even having a place to sleep - then I realized I did not have to go to Edinburgh, I could go somewhere else. So, today I leave for the Lake District of England. It is said to be one of the most beautiful areas in all of England... I am excited. I will be camping there and going on walks and just exploring. Delightful.
More to come on all the fun I have been having here in Redditch soon. :-)

An added note: my day yesterday was a good day despite the morning chaos.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Sad Day

Today I made a really big mistake. A part of me is really sad, but all I can do is laugh - which is more appropriate any way.
And so it begins this way:
All of my clothes were in a bad need of being laundered, and today I had the time to wash them (except what I am wearing). Of course, all of my favorite things were what needed washed the most, because I wear them the most. So it is my favorite clothe items which this story is regarding (which is why it is funny...).
Well, yesterday I splurged a little and bought two new scarfs, a black one and an orangish yellow one. They went in the wash with all my other clothes... My yellow shirt and scarf that were my favorite color of yellow and that I wore every day, are no more. They dyed today along with countless other clothes. The casualties are still being counted as this was discovered only moments ago. So far we know my prized scarf is now a yellow/grey/green along with my once yellow shirt. My favorite pants that were once a light tan, are now a dark green. My favorite green sweater is now a dark grey/green and the new orangish yellow scarf I just bought, is that color no more. All my socks are blue, but my new black scarf is happy.
As the casualties are still being counted, the rest of the clothes that have dyed will be discovered as I move them from the washer to the dryer.
My heart goes out to all my clothes I used to love, and to all you readers out there, you will begin to see me wear darker clothes, but fear not - my lack of bright colors is not because I have turned to the dark side, rather it is because the black scarf bandit has struck again.

It is now mid-afternoon here in Redditch and I am feeling much better about the situation. None of my clothes are nasty colors, so that is good. I now have a nice brown scarf too, which is also nice. The only thing I am still a bit bummed about is my pants. They are green now... and I really liked the light color they use to be - but it is all good and I am in high spirits.
A good laugh and a lesson well learned.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Click on the slide show to see them close up.

Brighton and Sonny's Jamboree

On the morning of the 14th I caught a train to Brighton and was southbound to more rainy weather. At the station I was joyfully greeted by Dave (one of the cross-continental walkers I met last summer) and his friend, Jim. Marvelous! We took my bag to the car and began the mini tour of Brighton - starting with a full english breakfast, a most delectable breakfast of eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, beans, tomatoes, and hash browns... FULL english breakfast. Once my belly was completely filled up we walked all around the city. We saw the hipster shopping area (not mainstream) and an area called The Lanes, where the streets are to narrow for cars and so it is for walking only. After wondering through the maze-like lanes, we arrived at the coast line. The pier had rides on it like a fair!!! It was great! It made me want to skip around and eat ice cream... but I remained composed, with a grin on my face. The coast was really neat - not as beautiful as the part of the coast I saw with Duffy, but really great for people watching. After wondering around for a bit more, we went back to the car and decided it was sunny enough to explore the Sussex countryside. We started our tour at a farm that is well known by the locals for its wonderful cider. I tried a tiny taste of Dave's favorite cider, but just didn't really like it. I also tried the apple juice they make, and it was the best ever! So I bought a pint and quickly drank it all. Then we went to a place called the Seven Sisters, where there were white cliffs (it was on the coast) - like the White Cliffs of Dover. It was wonderful. Once we finished with our beautiful walk, we headed back into town and got some fish and chips, which were good. The chips were just like a type of french fry, which I didn't expect, but it was all very good. Accomodations at Jim's house were running quite low as he was hosting a few other people as well. Because of this, Jim, Dave, and I decided to camp at the place where we would be camping for the weekend (because we were going to be camping for the weekend). So we did, and it was lovely. It felt so good to be warmed by a camp fire and sleep outside. Really great.
So, here is the deal (I say 'so' a whole lot...), over the weekend some of Dave's friends were having a party to celebrate their son and their love for each other - basically a non-wedding wedding. A name changing party, if you will. The party was held in a huge field just outside of Brighton and was a wonderful time. It was called Sonny's Jamboree because their 6 month old son's name is Sonny. There were 150 people that attended but at any given time probably just under 100 were there. On Friday I wandered around Brighton while Dave and Jim helped Calvin (the main man) load stuff and take it to the field. In the evening we headed to the festival for a fine evening of campfires and setting up tents and what nots for the next day. Saturday was the main day and I met so many wonderfully nice people. It was really great to hang out and enjoy the sunshine. Super duper!
Sunday we helped load up, said our goodbyes, and drove to Redditch - where I am now.
More to come soon...

Cambridge (12-13 of August)

I left my wonderful, couch-surfing host Kwame early in the morning and set out for the short train ride to Cambridge. When I arrived I was picked up at the station by James Duffy, a friend I met in San Francisco. It was really happy to see a familiar face and have a warm welcome. After my arrival, we went to his flat to drop off my pack and decide what to do for the day. So, we went on a wonderful walking tour of the town. We started at the outskirts of the city and walked all along the river. It was so nice to do so much walking; it was a perfect day for walking, not hot and not raining. The trails are marvelous, it did not feel at all like we were close to a town- it was all fields and river. We also had a lovely lunch picnic along side the river. It was really very nice. Once we followed the river into town, we started to see people punting up and down the river. It was very entertaining (even though we didn't see anyone fall in...). The whole town is such a beautiful and amazingly clean place. In the evening we went to see an outdoors performance of Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost". It was a really fun show - I had never read the comedy or heard the story even, so it was really great. A very good day, indeed.
The next day was just as good. We rode bicycles all along the river in the other direction. There were so many fishing, barge type boats. They added so much character to the riverside because many of them were very antique-y looking. It felt really good to ride so much on a bicycle and do so much outdoors exercise. After riding along the river for some time (which really made me want to go fishing...) we rode back into town and explored one of the many colleges of Cambridge University. We went and saw King's College. It was so impressive! The chapel for the college was massive - it was hard to believe it was a chapel for a University. Then, we drove to the east coast of England near a town called Lowestoft and saw the beach there. By this time it was a bit rainy outside and the temperature had dropped a bit, but it was lovely. It made me wish I had a kite to fly, as it was extremely windy. The beach was sandy and was lined with colorful little beach huts. We did not stay there for very long because of the rain, but it was really nice to see and feel the ocean. I really enjoyed my time in Cambridge and had such a fabulous host.
Off to Brighton...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Brussels / France (take two)

Hokay, so.
I arrived in Brussels and made my way to Taz and Paolo's flat. I was not really sure who to expect to be there, as I had not met them before (a friend of a friend sort of thing), but I was sure it would be great. Unfortunately, I was terribly wrong. Just kidding! They greeted me with smiles and warmth, it was wonderful. They were taking an extended weekend to go to Fontainebleau to do some climbing and hanging out (hanging... ha!). Along with Taz, the American, Paolo, the Italian, and myself came a family actually from Belgium: Hans, Alex, and Freia. We were a wonderfully odd bunch and had a swell time together. From climbing (when it wasn't raining...) to exploring the Chateau (when it was raining...) it was a swell time. Also while camping in France, we met a family from Wales: Grant, Cathrine, Naomi, Noah, and Hannah. The latter three were ages 11, 9, and 4 - so a fun bunch to be around. We ended up climbing with them for a day and thoroughly enjoyed their company. It was a great weekend with fantastic company. I am going to go back to Brussels, I left some belongings at the flat to ensure it...

Freia: sorry for the misspelling of your name... If it makes you feel any better, I generally spell names (and most other words, for that matter) incorrectly.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Brussels and France

I am kind of skipping Pisa... where I had a lovely time and met some wonderful people. I saw the tower and all that jazz too. Good times.
Brussels / France
Wonderful! (more to come later)

I am now in Cambridge, England and am getting ready to go see a Shakespeare show...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Answering a few questions

These are just a few questions different people had, so here are the answers. Also, the next week or so I will figure out the photos...

I have a question, though, about the money. What is the little symbol before the money amount called? It that a pound or a euro? Also what is the exchange rate?

The euro (€) is used in most of Europe and the EU (European Union), the UK, however, decides to still use the pound (£). One euro is just over 1.5 US dollars and one British pound is about 2 US dollars.

Have you drank out of that water fountain yet? / Did you drink from the public fountains?

Jeremiah: Do you mean the water fountains in Rome or a different one?
I drank out of any public fountain I walked past. The water coming out of them was always so good and cool, and they all looked so neat that I couldn't help but stop to fill up my bottle.

How did you like the stylishly dressed Italian women on their motorcylces?

I actually did not see very many stylishly dressed Italian women motorcycles. I have seen a lot of motorcycles everywhere I have gone, but I have not been paying enough attention to notice the dress of the riders.

Did you throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain?

I did throw a coin in the Trevi Fountain, ensuring that I will return to Rome. :-)

Romania. Isn't Count Dracula from there?

Count Dracula is from Romania. I didn't go to his city, but I did pass by it on train.

Now that I am home from China I am glued to the Olympic coverage in China. Is all of Europe excited or ignoring it?

I have not been staying with anyone who has paid any attention to the Olympic coverage. I had even forgotten that the Olympics were on... I am so out of it when it comes to news. I have not been able to read the news for some time, unfortunately. So, I am not sure about all of Europe but I have not seen or heard about the Olympics since I have been here.

The Rest of Romania - a short excerpt on a few other things I did...

All of my time in Romania was wonderful. Every member of Andreea's family greeted me with such great hospitality and kindness, even though we could not understand each other. One day we went to a street market in the city and just had a city day. It was really nice, we walked all around town and saw some beautiful churches. Another day we went to this botany garden that was so big and beautiful. People in Romania love flowers, it seems. There are so many floral designs and many people have beautiful flower gardens infront of their house. It adds so much color to everything.
I had a really good time in Romania and every person I met there was completely wonderful. Romania is a beautiful country with beautiful cultures.

Baptized in Romanian Water (figuratively, that is)

Day one in Romania (after the very long and scary train ride):
Once I was with Andreea, a great weight was lifted off my shoulders - it felt so good to speak with a friend. As soon as we arrived at her grandparents house, her grandmother came out to great us and feed us. The whole week I was fed nonstop... it was great!
Most of the meals are meat based and have bread with them. I ate several different peoples homemade sausage, which was a lot better than I expected - I liked it and I don't like the sausage from back home. The week before I came they had slaughtered a pig, so nearly all the meat we ate was from the pig. There is also fruit everywhere, it was amazing! If I wanted a pear or plum or apple or blackberries while I was out walking, I would simply turn to my side and pick one or ten. It was the best ever...
So, after we ate dinner, I wanted to take a shower. (This was one of my favorite things in Romania) The shower is heated by a wood stove, so if you want to take one, it takes near an hour for the water to heat up. The water for the shower comes from a reserve that runs down a mountain (hill) near by. The water is not perfectly clear, you can see a bit of discoloration in it from its journey down the hill towards the house. It was really neat. Also, the shower and bathroom are not in the house, they are in the barn, which is connected to the house, there is just not a door between the two. So, I was baptized in Romanian water and had a most proper welcoming.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Very Long Day on Very Little Sleep

7-28-08 / 7-29-08
Okay, so... I am typing on a crazy french keyboard. I had no idea, the letters are all mixed up.
My trip to Romania was a hard one. My trains didn't work out, meaning I had to wait at the Bucaresti train station over night for nine hours... scary. To top that off, my phone died so I could not contact my friend Andreea if I needed help. Luckily I survived, I just couldn't sleep or speak. If I slept all my stuff would be gone when I woke; if I spoke, people would know I was not Romanian and American, creating more trouble. It was very stressful, but very good (in a strange way). It pushed me to think practically and to think past my fears. It was not something I would want to do again, but it worked out.
The Romanian train rides were very beautiful. The country side is so beautiful and everything is such a mixture of old and new, it is so interesting. It gives every place such character when a horse drawn carriage is being pulled down the highway next to a brand new Logan car (Logan is the Lexus of the states, it is a very popular car) or when the cows are brought home, through the main street of town, by the gypsys at promptly 8:30 every night. It is such an interesting and wonderful place.
Anyway, after traveling for 26 hours by train I arrived in Cluj where Andreea picked me up and we went back to her grandparents house. I was imediately treated with such great hospitality, it was phanominal.
more to come soon. it is 1 am here in belguim (where i currently am) and i am waking early to go to Fontaine Bleau (a lovely climbing area) in the morning with some friends I am staying with here in Brussels.
I promise I will finish Romania and get totally caught up this weekend so you all can know what is happening instead of what happened last week.
Until sooner than later,