Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Wander Day 8 & 9

Day Eight

The Wander


Spirits are on the rise. We took a risk and it worked out for the best. I don’t like relying on chance, I don’t gamble, I don’t usually take stupid risks. Calculated risks are ok. This was a calculated risk; we had a backup plan just in case things didn’t work out. This risk definitely worked out.

We woke up fairly early, just before eight o’clock. The sun was just rising over the town but the air was still cold enough to turn my breath into a billowing icy cloud. The night before we had set up camp; unpacked, showered, and went to the grocery store for supplies. On our way to the store, we passed a patisserie that looked amazing, we managed to find out that they opened at five, so we decided the first thing we needed to do was go there the next morning.

It was a tasty treat if I do say so myself. France is a dangerous place for those trying to stay fit. I would imagine that if I lived here though, the enormous about of bicycle riding I’d be doing would help to offset a croissant in the morning!! I love seeing old men on their road bikes (not motorcycles, just the thinner bicycles) out in the middle of nowhere. We passed this guy on the train while were were going through some mountains; he had to be miles from the nearest town but he looked completely content pedaling away amongst those red rolling hills.

Today did start with the pastry, but it’s been continued by laundry duty. Kate and I found a nice little corner laverie and we’ve been taking turns sitting with the clothes while the other meanders around the city. This serves a dual purpose: One, we getting laundry done that we both desperately needed to do, and Two, it gives us our alone time, time to think, time to wander, time to enjoy all on our own. This place couldn’t have been better to smooth out our increasingly ruffled relations.

I’m really fond of it here and I’ve seen but a fraction of this villa. If I ever have the money, I’d like to be back, and next time, I’d like to be competent enough with French so that I may hold a conversation. For example, we were in a coffee shop last night using it’s free WiFi, when some teenagers, definitely younger than us, came in. They were laughing and smiling, one of them even had a guitar. I wanted desperately to go and say hello, find out more about them, where they’re from, how long she’d been playing guitar, had they ever been to America. But I don’t even know how to say I’m sorry (I think it’s Desole) I don’t know how to ask someone’s name, or where they’re from, and trying to hold a conversation while having my nose in my French Phrase book would be frustrating for me, as well as them I’m sure. Learning from a book is a rubbish way to learn. So, if I could live forever, I would go back to the states and take some French lessons, then come back to Saint Raphael to live for a while, work, make friends, and improve my French. Of that epic dream, the more realistic piece of that I’ve decided to hand onto is the learning French part. I’d like to at least have the ability to speak in French and Spanish fluently enough to hold a conversation.

Moving on, sometimes Kate worries me. I feel like she doesn’t eat. She has like a banana for breakfast and doesn’t eat until late at night. Then again she eats meagerly. It almost seems like she’s starving herself. For instance, I noticed the other day, after eating practically nothing the day before, she was downing bread on the train to Nice. She ate pretty much the entire loaf. She also had this broccoli puree that is meant for babies. It has all of 180 calories in the tub, she devoured it in mere seconds. Scoop after scoop were consumed without even a stop for breath. I’ve told her about my worry, I told her that not eating is not the way. Controlled smaller-meals throughout the day is better for the body. When you starve it, the body tends to store whatever it can instead of efficiently working off any fat it may have. She didn’t want to listen, she didn’t want to hear. I really think it’s a problem.

I bought a rubbish watch today, but at least now I’ll know the time. That reminds me that I’d like to get a better watch when I get to the states, but I’m very picky. I’m thinking I want it to have a thicker leather strap, not flashy, brown leather and simple. As for the watch, I’d like it with silver or bronze for the casing, not gold, that’s too flashy as well. And lastly, for the size, I’d like it a little bigger, with old fashioned numbering, and on the inside I’d like it to say the date as well. I’ve seen some with a barometer and all that. Those things are pretty cool but a bit unnecessary.

After I got the watch, we went for a wander along the beach. The nice lady at the hotel had told us that there was some good hiking just outside of town, and that it was along the beach. So we went! We had to pass a huge marina which was fun, and we also passed a bunch of restaurants that were well over my price range. It was at the end of the marina that the path started.

I mentioned the red cliffs before, but this… this was incredible. These rocks are hard to describe but they’re very jagged, and almost… cubic I guess. They crack on parallel planes, and they form three planes, X, Y, and Z. Just like in geometry. Obviously they don’t form perfect sides, or perfect corners, and they are at the mercy of the sea’s erosion power, but for the most part, they are fairly cubic. Some of them jut out of the see in diagonal angles, some jut out in the opposite direction, some pop straight out, and some lay totally flat. This diversity in rock layout created a very fun place to clamber about.

While there was a path that led us along this beach for nearly 4.8Km, Kate and I went off the path and began rock climbing around, jumping over things, scaling points and taking pictures all the way. We went maybe 1.3km but because of our self generated path, plus time for pictures, it took us nearly an hour. Ha! It was so much fun though. The sun was out and of course my sleeves were rolled up. It was invigorating to go climbing, and such a beautiful day for it.

I had my backpack with me that whole time because I’m paranoid about leaving it anywhere now. So not only were we hiking and climbing, but I was doing it with a laptop on my back plus some books, a water canteen, a jacket, and some other random things. I’d say that all in all, my bag probably added another 40 pounds. I’m not joking. By the time we stopped for a rest and an orange, I was soaked.

We found this little point where we could see the beaches that lay at our disposal, as well as the beach we had just traversed. It was there that we rested and basked in the sun on the red rocks. We talked about many things at that point, though I think movies took the precedence. It was exceedingly relaxing. However, the day was waning and so we decided to go back.

Back in town we contacted the tourism office and set up the coolest excursion to tomorrow! We booked a scuba lesson! Yeah, it could have been horseback riding, it could have been rock climbing, but no, we wanted to scuba, and so we shall! After that, we found a really cheap place to eat then hit up the Magaya coffee shop again for the free wifi. We ended up booking our flight from Glasgow to cork, our train from Bristol to Edinburgh, and booking out accommodation for Rome. Pretty much, the rest of our trip is set in stone. We could still alter Venice and we have a lot of leeway for what we do in Scotland, but for the most part, I know where we’ll be and when we’ll be there. That’s a good feeling, and a big relief for myself.

I’m totally beat and I think I’ll sleep well tonight. Scuba in the morning! Bright and early, nine am!

Day Nine

The Wander


OH MY GOSH! I JUST WENT SCUBA DIVING IN THE MEDITERRANEAN!!! The entire thing is actually kind of a blur come to think of it. I just sat down and there are so many emotions and memories that it’s hard to separate them all. I suppose the one common emotion was excitement.

Last night, I dreamt about scuba diving. All my dreams took place underwater; it was warm, and the water was practically transparent, the sun shone down from the crest of the sea and fish swam in schools around me. Then I woke up and almost all of it came true.

We went down to the marina about ten minutes before nine and no one was there yet! We were set to go at nine, so it was a bit of a surprise to see no one around. Though, people began to show up shortly thereafter and we were on our way! I know it was stupid, but I only wore a t-shirt. Even the south of France is subject to the seasons, and needless to say, I was a bit cold, however, it was nothing unmanageable. That was my only regret from the whole thing, as I’m still pretty cold right now.

I thought that it being a Sunday morning and all that there wouldn’t be many others who would join up for this Scuba adventure. I was wrong. There was only one other person who signed up through the tourism office. She was a nurse from Paris. I never caught her name but she was a sweet little lady. There was an entire group that showed up as well; apparently they were part of a scuba club in Frejus, a town right next door to Saint Raphael. We met a man named Crylle from that group; he was probably the closest to our age. He was 22, grew up mostly in Paris and moved 4 years ago to Saint Raphael. Though still so young, a little over a year ago her was married to the daughter of the scuba club director. He’s been a manager for a few different restaurants in the South of France but now he’s going back to university to get a bachelors degree. He was basically our main translator and source of conversation throughout the experience.

We left the dock at a little past nine to go to a place called the Pyramid. It was about a half hour boat trip to the dive spot, but it was a beautiful morning, a bit cloudy, but beautiful. There was a stiff breeze coming off the coast which made me dwell momentarily on the Adventuress. A breeze like this one would have let us sail right off the dock, no motor necessary. On a day like this one, the breeze would have had us keeling way over. But I had to bring myself back to the boat, I couldn’t have my mind wandering if I was going to be scuba diving.

When we got to the spot, the group that had come along were all ready to go; they had prepared during the trip. They all jumped in and the boat was ours. This swiss lady now living in St. Raphael was our instructor. She took us through it all step by step, told us the bare bone basics and basically said that she’s be right by us the entire time regulating all our equipment etc. She also told us some underwater signs. Thumbs up means “I want to go up” and thumbs down means “I want to go down”. Simple enough. Rocking your hand from side to side means there’s something wrong, that would get her to come over and check on us. Making an O with your pointer and thumb meant “OK”, and lastly, rubbing your arms meant you were cold, and it was time to go up.

Since we were borrowing equipment, we didn’t have everything to keep us warm. For example, we didn’t have scuba slippers, so it was our bare feet in the fins which was a very cold situation. Also, Crylle was telling us that our suits were a little bit thinner and colder than the ones his scuba club were using. To him, the amount of time they spent down there was nothing and when he surfaced finally, he seemed to be warm and chipper while I was shaking like leaf in a storm.

It was no matter; I might remember the cold in years to come, but I could never forget the sights. Oh my God what an experience it was. After I was suited up, finned up, tanked up, and goggled up, I got to jump off the back of the boat, just like I’ve seen them do in movies a hundred times. “Hold your goggles, look at the horizon, and jump!” So I did. Sinking down into the water with a weight belt on and a heavy tank doesn’t do well on your nerves, and I had a mini panic in my head. It was nothing huge, I just noticed my breathing quickened and my senses went to their extreme setting. I suppose jumping into cold water isn’t something natural for your body.

In my head I kept telling myself, calm down, breathe slowly, in and out, in and out. I pushed through the nervousness fairly quickly, and to help calm my nerves I had a helping hand through my entire journey. I never got his name, but he had a wise and jolly face. His smile was big, his skin was tan, and the wrinkles around his eyes gave the impression that this man loved his life. After clearing my goggles he led me to the front of the boat, there was a line to take us down to The Pyramid.

In Saint Raphael, there are these red jagged rocks all around. They jut out of the sea in rather cubic formations. The cracks are always parallel to each other, and all the breaks seem to be on parallel planes. That description is kind of poor, maybe I’ll rework it later, but it was the cubic properties of these red rocks that created the pyramid; an underwater tower that starts at a point, and spreads down in four directions. I pulled my way down a blue rope to the top of the pyramid and there we began our journey around it. I was only allowed to go something like six metres down unfortunately. After a while, I got the hang of things and wanted to go deeper. However, six metres would do for the first time rather nicely.

I had jumped off the boat first so I had got a head start on Katie. I ended up making an entire trip around the pyramid before meeting up with her. She had her own guide as well of course. But on my first trip, my guide was so caring for me. He was always checking to make sure I was ok, and then he was always searching with his flashlight for something cool to look at! The first thing we came across (besides schools of fish) was an eel. It was tucked back in a crack and when I got close it darted out a bit and snapped his jaw. It was a little startling but SO COOL!

The pyramid was covered in all sorts of plants, ranging from a dull brown colour to vibrant reds and oranges. There were also so different types of fish. There were the schooling fish, and the fish that stayed in an amongst the plant life, there were fish that blended in and fish that stood way out. There was so much to see, and had I been warmer, I would have stayed down there for hours.

I remember when I passed the first corner of the pyramid; I was still adjusting to the environment, and getting a feel for moving myself around. When I went over that first corner though, all that lay in front of me was hazy blue water and a school of fish. I stopped there for a moment and just floated. It felt like I was in outer space, the fish were just hovering in mid water, suspended, it seemed, in time. The sun was behind them, so the rays of light danced and played around them, but at the same time it caused their forms to become silky silhouettes. That moment will stay with me for the rest of my life.

We continued on and, like I said, we stayed pretty close to the surface, but that didn’t stop me from looking further down. As we stayed close to the pyramid I peered out into the vanishing visibility and saw bubbles. The club of divers that had been with us at the beginning had made their way down to the base of the pyramid and I had just come upon them. I looked out and saw maybe twelve different chimneys of bubbles rising up to the surface. The bubbles grew as they ascended and eventually mixed to become one big plum of exhausted air. There were so many divers in one place that it immediately reminded me of Thunderball. Good old Sean Connery.

When I had made my way around the pyramid for the first time, we went to say Hi to Katie. Her woman was showing her that if she scrubbed the rocks that had plant life on them, it was draw in the fish to feed. So I gave it a shot too, and sure enough, the fish came to me. They were so cute I wanted to pet them but that… well that’s just ridiculous!

We ended up passing Katie and her guide and going back around one more time. I saw starfish and more fish, but the crowning achievement of the dive was the octopus. My guide found one and pointed it out to me! I was elated. However, I was surprised when he just reached down and plucked it up! It began to jettison its ink and it had an amazing amount of ink to spill! He held it gently, never squeezing, just sort of cupping it in his hands. I reached in to touch it, it was spongy. It then began an epic struggle with his hands, wrapping around them, trying to pull free, sadly, this also reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, only the tides had been turned on my little eight-legged friend! Eventually he got away. With a kick from all eight legs, he darted off to safety. For some reason, the thought going through my mind just then was, “Wow, people eat you!” Haha. He was so cool. Or maybe it was a she. Either way, it was cool and by far the happiest part of my trip. I want an octopus some day. And a turtle. Wow that’s random.

After about the second and a half time around, I told my guide that I was getting cold. That was a huge understatement. I was freezing before I jumped in, but I didn’t want it to end so I toughed it out. It was when I couldn’t hold my hand out without it shaking uncontrollably that I knew I had to return to the surface. That was the saddest part of the trip. However, what that means to me is that I have to do it again. I have that list of life goals and well, learning to Scuba Dive is on there. While I cannot say that experience counts as learning to scuba dive properly, but I can say that it was a great introduction, and perhaps the beginning of a lifelong passion.

To finish off this post, I'll say that I'd love to start diving with my Daddy Dan, so i'm going to be trying to convince him to get re-certified. And second I'll say that nothing but moseying happened for the rest of the day. A bit of sunday market strolling, and the sunset was increadible. Tomorrow is our last day and we're taking a night train into Roma! Exciting!!

To my family and friends. I'm really enjoying my time but my heart aches for you all. It's hard for me to be so far from my support, those smiling faces, those hugs and kisses, the laughing and crying. I miss you my family back in Seattle, and I miss you my friends in Bristol and Seattle. If anyone is reading this, I miss you and Love you.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Paris, Trains, Stress, and Coffee

Day Six
The Wander


Today started late and thank God for that. By late I mean 9:30. We went pretty much straight up to Sacre Caeur. It was a beautiful church, and I’d like to spend a whole day wandering around it. However, there was a lot to do today and the day was already flying by.

After the church, where I lit a votive candle and stole another one… we went back down to this quaint little place called the Columbus CafĂ©. Lucky for us they had internet. So we were able to answer emails, blog, etc. After that we hopped straight onto the metro and went to Notre Dame. Yes, two massive churches one after the other!

Notre Dame was very neutral in how it struck me. I wasn’t blown away, nor sent to tears or anything like that, but I was far from disappointed. It was a stunning place. I also took a candle from there. They were suggested donations… and the candles said take away candles. I just didn’t have any money on me. I prayed and hoped that God would understand. And think, every time I light it when I’m home it’ll make me think of that great time I had in Notre Dame in his breathtaking cathedral!

It may have been my imagination, but I feel like it was around this time that Katie and I started to become irritated with each other. There were silent undercurrents that were brewing some noxious pot. It was after Notre Dame and in the Louvre that it felt particularly poignant.

Speaking of Natalie, I thought about her today. As I walked along the Seine in the pouring rain, Katie and I did not speak. We often have such silences. My mind wandered to Natalie and how she had told me about her time in France; how she had strolled along the Seine once too. When we came upon the Eiffel Tower, I couldn’t help but wish she was there instead of Kate. Regardless, It was so beautiful.

I forgot to speak about the Louvre. This building is absolutely massive and very cool. Each floor is a bit like a maze and I got really turned around inside of it. This didn’t help my irritation nor my patience with Katie. We ended up splitting up a lot in the Louvre, she gave me her watch and we would meet at a certain time. I saw some cool Egyptian things, some Greek sculptures, some French and Italian paintings (including the Mona Lisa), but overall I was more disoriented and overwhelmed than impressed by the artwork. It is something that needs a day in itself, and the fact that we were on a time limit coupled with the fact that I was already stressed and tired from the previous two sights, well… the Louvre did not sit well with me. I’d like to give it another chance, and more time, at a future date. Although, when we left today I can say it was a great relief.

After walking from the Louvre to the tower in the pouring rain, we stood and gawked at that rising golden glowing mass of iron then hopped on the nearest metro and took the most direct route home. Getting back to the hotel was somewhat of a relief. I put on a movie and Kate went downstairs to check the internet. So we got some time from each other. This alone time I mentioned earlier would be a necessity on our trip if we were going to make it back without killing each other.

I’ve been eating really poorly, that’s probably to do with the fact that we’re traveling. You know you’re on a low budget backpacking expedition across Europe when you shop at the local supermarkets instead of eating out, and when you spread cheese on bread with a leatherman tool. Yeah. My diet has consisted mostly of one coffee in the morning (generally cappuccino because they’re cheaper) and some sort of pastry. During the day I’ll eat one of the many pieces of fruit I’ve carried all day, along with some water. And at dinner time I always overeat on shit food. Tonight, I had water and two carrots, followed by probably 200grams of cashews, five little pieces of bread with brie spread on them, and a can of olives. You thought it was starting out well didn’t you? I did too. I think we’ve had olives every night. I also think that the dinner would be fine minus the nuts, be them peanuts or cashews, I always eat too many then feel overly full afterwards. They’re just SOO GOOD!

Right. Our train is at 8 tomorrow, we’re all packed up and I’d like to be out by 7, just to be sure. I’m… overly cautious one might say. I’ll slip downstairs for a sec to check the internet, then I’m off to sleep!

Day 7
The Wander

Today has started early but not early enough to ease my anxious nature. Our train was leaving the station at 8:04. We left our hostel at 7. Ideally, I would have left at half six. The reason is simple, don’t plan for the minimum amount of time from point A to B, plan for a leisurely travel time with room for error. Had I not acted quickly this morning in the train metro station, we may very well have missed our train, or even worse, gotten on the wrong one.

We got on the metro easily enough, though for some reason Kate’s metro pass that she had bought in advance didn’t work; She had to buy another one. She was looking on the map, and voiced her skepticism about my route, which was good actually because I did make one mistake. (The overall route was fine, it was the colour metro that I had mistaken.) No matter, we get off the metro and we’re meant to take the Green line to Gare De Lyon. Well, we follow the signs to green lines, and we’re standing at the platform but nowhere is there any information about where the trains are going. Time for action!

I stepped near an older couple having a conversation. “Excusez-moi? Parlez-vous anglais?” The older man grinned from ear to ear and gave a chuckle. He held out his hand and rocked it back and forth, “a little” I inferred. It couldn’t have been a more perfect sign because I too am a man who speaks with his hands! I spoke a bit slowly, not so much to sound pretentious, then pointed at the ground and asked, “Does this train go to Gare de Lyon?” To which he relied with a very upbeat tone, “No, not at all!”

He turned to the woman, whom I’m assuming was his wife, and I think he must have asked her if he had time to show us where the proper platform was. She looked at her watched and waved us on. “Come, this way.” He said. He led us back up the stairs and to the other side of the station, where the trains were going the other way. When we got there, a train was waiting with open doors for us.

We hopped on and turned around, he leaned in against the door and told us that there were only two stops until Gare De Lyon, the first one was the city centre and the next was our destination! We beaming smiles and many “merci’s” we were off to the train station.

I have to say that Gare de Lyon is nothing like it’s bigger brother Gare du Nord. Gare du Nord is very clean, and easy to maneuver. Gare de Lyon smells like urine, it’s dirty, and the signs make it quite confusing to traverse. However, we got there on time, with about 20 minutes to spare, which was ample time to get a coffee and a maxi chocolate croissant. Mmm.

On the train, we found out seats without too much difficulty, and now we’re streaming across the French countryside, literally going from the northern most part of France, to its southern most. The train ride, though incredibly long, is a welcome one, as we’ve been walking for days.

We have accommodation for Nice, and tonight we’re going to book out train to either Florence or Siena, and book out accommodation there as well. I’m going to push for booking the train to Rome from there, as well as booking a bungalow in Villa Camping Roma again. That place was amazing.

When we get to Nice I’m going to shave my beard first thing, and continue to monitor my eating vigorously. It’s hard to do because we walk around all day and don’t eat much, so at the end of the day I’m starving and I gorge. My hypothesis is that my body is actually converting as much food as possible to fat to be able to endure the long periods without sustenance. I just need to carry more food, preferably fruits and veg, with me, so I can continue to stay fit. I’m walking a lot, but not running, and we do some exercises in the morning, (Kate’s better at that then I am)

I pretty much only drink water and coffee; One coffee in the morning, water the rest of the day. Yet I still feel… like i'm regressing. That's possibly to do with my constant paranoia that i'm getting unfit again. I never want to go back to where I came from, and that mindset is reflected in my self image unfortunately. So I suppose to keep my mind at bay i'll just eat my vegetables I suppose, and less cheese, peanuts, and bread. I had a good system in Bristol. It worked quite well, coffee in the morning, and a mixture of bread, veg, and protein at night. That system is out the window now. I just have to keep working on it is all.

So I wrote all that on the train to Nice. I did not end up at Nice.

We woke up this morning at that special time when the blazing sun just broke the earths crest. Fully loaded with our proper hiking backpacks slung over our shoulders, and our smaller backpacks put backwards onto our chests, we stomped down the steps to the Metro station nearest us (that is the subway), it's called Anvers. We made our way through the maze of different coloured metro lines until we breached the earth again at Gare de Lyon, our train station.

This all happened before 8:00 in the morning.

We got on our train without too much trouble and we were off. From Gare de Lyon to Nice Villa was about a 4 and a half hour train ride. It gave us time to relax from the epic amount of walking we'd done in the days previous. On our journey south, we basically made our way from the North of France, to it's Southern most point, crossing unknown acres of green feilds, rolling hills, and vineyards. It was close to the conclusion of our journey that our train started following the coast of southern France; That's when we were awed by it's fantastic beauty.

Some of the hills rolled with yellow earth, some hills of vibrant red seemed to erupt from the ground, and some rocks lay surrounded by the sea being helplessly eroded away. We passed this place in complete silence, though i could feel the electricity of excitement. In our dreams, Nice would be something like this; it had to be.

Upon our arrival to Nice Villa, the central train depot in Nice, we were... sorely disappointed. Instead of beautiful rolling hills and the sea lapping on white sand, there were dirty high rise appartments, graffitti covering everything, and the sea wasn't even within view. I suggested, rather off handedly, that we go back.

The idea stuck.

So we hopped on the first train back to Saint Raphael; It was the only stop near all the beautiful places we had seen and that is where we are now. We were lucky to find cheap accommodation, right near a bunch of quaint shops which i'll photograph and post, and we are but mere minutes from the ocean and the train station. Things couldn't have worked out better in our wildest imaginings!!

I'm in a coffee shop now abusing their free wireless.The Cafe is called Migaya and it is well worth a visit if you're ever in Saint Raphael (which you should do as soon as is humanly possible!!!) For now, i should go, there are many things to do and only a bit of time to do it. But before I go, i'll mention that our entire trip has been rearranged around this place. We've cut out Tuscany so we can spend another day here and add another day onto Roma. It is just that amazing!!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Wander

Day Three

The Wander


The last few days have been a smoldering cauldron of irretainable emotions, projectile sick, a dash of blood, fountains of sweat, a trickle of tears, insatiable urges, mild stonage, and awe struck gazes. Each of those ingredients may need some explaining.

Friday the 18th of January was supposed to be a memorable day. I had finished up all my courses, turned in all my papers, almost packed all my things, and all was ready for an absolutely unforgettable night ahead. Somehow, I managed to forget it.

The plan was to go out, drink moderately, stay up all night chatting with my friends, perhaps making some confessions, and having an overall amazing night. To start things off, we went to the Coronation Tap. They sell hard cider in half pints because it’s so strong. It’s been my favourite place in all of Bristol to drink. We got there and it wasn’t too crowded, which was great! However, two unavoidable things began to happen: Courtesy drinks and God Save the Queen.

Courtesy drinks are exactly what they sound like; people were buying me drinks by their own generosity because I was leaving. The latter of the two, that one is the real wolf in sheep’s clothing. God Save the Queen is a drinking came involving a penny. All pennies have the queens head on them, and once a penny is dropped into your drink, you can’t very well let her sit there drowning! So you must imbibe in the quickest manner possible so as to rescue the beloved queen. This dedication to the Queen has led to the rapid inebriation of many a sturdy man. Friday night, I was counted amongst the ranks of men who made such a sacrifice for Queen and country, to no one else’s detriment but my own.

What I remember from that night abruptly ends sometime in the Cori Tap and doesn’t begin again until I woke up in my bed, confused as to where my trousers had gone. Apparently some interesting things happened that night. The Bouncer at the Cori Tap told me I couldn’t imbibe any more ciders (Thank God for him), I don’t remember going to a drug store and taking pictures of flowers because they were “like the ones I wanted to get for Natalie,” and I definitely don’t remember most of the third floor ladies coming down and piling on top of me while I was passed out in bed.

What I remember up until the blackout was very good fun, but I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much in those hours now forever lost.

Saturday was rough in every sense of the word. My body was exhausted. I had been tactically sick upon my arrival back to Queens Road to avoid an extreme hangover however, this only slightly helped. In the morning I was dehydrated, achy, and my head was splitting. But there were things that needed to be done, like finishing up my packing.

It wasn’t too long before a vast majority of Queens Road showed up on my doorstep. Kudos to them for getting up so early after a night of hard drinking, and just to see the likes of me off in good form. It was absolutely breathtaking and, had I any water in my body to spare, it would have come welling out of me like a Roman fountain. I gave everyone a hug and said my final words to many. I guess the full effect wasn’t felt because in the back of all our minds we know I’ll be back again fairly soon, if only for a day. Still, it was a brilliant morning, one that I’ll never forget until my life has reached its end. Experiences like the ones I’ve had at Queens Road are what give dreams such potency; it is the best moments which create the even stronger wish to have them again.

I forgot to mention that I came trotting back for one last giant group hug. That was amazing.

The rest of that day was awful. I was feeling rough in Dom’s car all the way to the airport, but I managed to keep it in until we finally stopped in the parking lot. That took a lot of self control. The plane ride wasn’t very fun either, I couldn’t get comfortable. But at least Amsterdam was good. The airport in Amsterdam is… crisp. It’s new and everything is laid out well. It’s easy to navigate and it’s open and bright. I thought it was very cool.

We hopped on a train and made our way to the Amsterdam Central, which was on its own man-made island. That was also very cool. Our hostel was but a small walk, and it turned out that we were staying in the dead middle of the famous Red Light District, not something Kate or I knew before hand. Oh well, when in Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdamians do! Or Amsterdamtonians. Who knows.

The night, we walked all around just strolling the city at night. We found this majestic old theatre and decided that we wanted to see a film. So we bought some tickets for the upper balcony and there watched the Kite Runner. It was a good film, and it was fun to have Dutch subtitles throughout the film.

We wandered around afterward some more, saw a statue of Rembrandt. Some crazy cool buildings, and on our way back to the hostel, we strolled through the Red Lights.

Kate and I were glad to get out of Amsterdam, albeit for different reasons. Her reason was a distaste for the ever-present cloud of cigarette and weed smoke that hung low to the ground and enveloped the streets in its drugged haze. Mine was some of that, but mostly the chaos and the raging battle it creates within my moral character. I feel that if I were to spend an extended about of time in Amsterdam, it would basically open the door to self induced destruction, destruction of the person I’ve strived so hard to become.

The day before out last day in Amsterdam, we were helped by a wonderful woman at the Train Station. She helped us figure out some large gaping holes in out plans, as well as got us the Eurail Pass which we had thought was unattainable as we were no longer in the United States. She was so incredibly helpful, and had a funny personality. She told us that she was planning on going to the West Coast of America a couple summers from now. So we helped her plan some of her trip! Haha, what a role reversal. With her help, things have been going swimmingly.

I’m now in Paris and it is so sweet! We’re in this area up near Sacred Heart, and it’s quaint. We got this hotel, which usually goes for something like 49 per night, for 25. Paris seems to me majorly composed of beautiful little side streets, intermittent with gigantic people moving streets. The big streets connect all the major sights, but step off them and you’re back in that small, homey, feel. Our first day there was a day to unpack, settle in, see the surrounding areas, shop for food, plan our journey, and relax. So we did.

Day Four

The Wander


Today has already contained an immense amount of walking as I’m cheap and would much rather walk Paris than move around under it. We woke up at 8, worked out a bit and got ready for the day. Around 9 we had to visit a local BNP Parabias Bank because their machine took Katie’s card the day before. Then we went to the Train Station to book our train out of Paris to Nice. From there we walked down this very long street called Rue La Feyette, sent off some post cards, and stumbled upon the Opera Garnier which is a huge and gorgeous old building. Now I’m typing in Starbucks. We ended up doing to the Louvre that day but it was closed, and ended by going down the Avenue De Champs to the Arc De Triomphe. Then we moseyed back to out accommodation to sleep of the immense walking we'd done.

Day Five

The Wander


To use an old phrase yet again, today was an emotional rollercoaster. We got up, not terribly early, but managed to get down to the proper train station on the other side of town in time for our train to Bayeux, which is incredibly close to the D-Day beaches. This is all in the greater region of Calvados (like the apple brandy) which falls under the even greater region of Normandy. The train ride was leisurely and beautiful. And upon our arrival to Bayeux, we started to search for a way to see the D-Day beaches.

I knew today was going to hurt. I knew it was going to be painful up and down. I knew it, but I walked head first into it. When we got off the train in Bayeux, we had no idea how we were going to get to the actual beaches. We knew the city was close, but it wasn’t walking close. Luckily, there was this smart looking chap standing by a big sign that said “Normandy Tours”. His name was Samuel and he was very cool. We ended up paying the big bucks to go on this like 3 hour tour with him. It was well worth the money.

Samuel was very knowledgeable in everything to do with the WWII invasion, and also very knowledgeable pertaining to all my other random questions. You can imagine the sort of bizarre questions I can muster. Well anyway, Mr. Samuel was a delightful guide and the very first place he took us was to the German fortified 152millimeter guns. The place was called Longues sur mer. The guns could shoot about 12 miles, and where they were places meant they could bombard most of the D-Day beaches, including Omaha and Utah, as well as shoot upon battleships waiting at sea. It was quite the sight but there was something oddly familiar about it. Then I remembered, I’d been seeing WWII bunkers all my life at Fort Casey on my island; they were almost identical in their construction. Still, these bunkers were on the far side of the world, and unlike the one’s I’ve seen all my life, these ones actually saw some fighting. I stomped around them, climbing upon them, slipping into the darkness of the bunkers and out again into the muddy fields beyond. I felt invigorated, almost boyish, imagining what it would have been like for the soldiers, wondering what it would have felt like… it was like being a kid again and playing army games. That sort of high would be dampened, in an acceptable way, not long after.

He next took us the American Cemetery and I knew going in that this was going to be the roughest part of the day. First we went into a free museum place, I wish I could have stayed longer, but we were on a time limit. They had information pertaining to all aspects of the invasion, from personnel equipment, to tactics, and a complete timeline of the war from the pre-invasion planning, to V-Day. Out a pair of glass doors we crested a small hill and on the other side lay the beautiful sunny beach forever known as “Bloody Omaha”.

We were going to Omaha later; now was time for the cemetery. I made my way along the path and came upon the entrance. There surrounded by a half circle of columns was a statue of a man reaching into the air as if ascending into heaven, or grasping for something that’s just within reach. It had a bit of Greek style to it, with a modern flair. But if you let your eyes wander just past the statue, they are filled with rows of white, seemingly endless rows of white. I walked towards them but before I ever stepped amongst them I was in tears.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I was thinking at the time, nor could I tell you why I was so overwhelmed. I’m not sure any of my family died in that place, I’m not sure any of my family died in the war. But I felt for these men that gave their lives. They were so gallant, so noble, so brave. They made the world a better place by standing up for something they believe in. As cheesy as it sounds, it made me so proud of my country, it made me so proud to be from America.

The next sight was Omaha beach itself. I went all the way to the water and ran the 100yards to the beach head. The sand was hard that day, packed and wet. The skies were overcast and the wind was fierce. These conditions would have been similar to those seen on D-Day, only worse. I ran up the beach with my backpack on and I tried to imagine how many men had made the same journey, only to never make it to the top. How the German fortresses were laying out what must have looked like walls of glowing red-hot bullets, the barbed wire, the mines, the anti-tank walls and armaments. These men weren’t just brave, they optimized brave.

The last place on our trip was called Le Hoc. In French, Le is pronounced ler and Hoc is pronounced ock. Together they almost sound like le rock and that’s exactly what it means: rocky, jagged, rock. It was a place where the army rangers had to scale the cliffs to reach the German fortresses. What’s really cool is that they left it exactly how it was, bomb craters, destroyed bunkers, the works. I was taken back up again from my emotional slump by playing soldier once more. I ran in and out of craters and dove into the darkness of the concrete bunker.

He took us back to Bayeux and we hopped back onto the train which took us back to Paris! Bayeux was very nice and quaint, but I have to admit I was excited to get back to the city of love. We’re resting well tonight so we can have a big day tomorrow! Big plans. The Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower!!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

*SPOILER WARNING* The contents of this post reveal details pertaining to the plot and conclusion of Charlie Wilson's War.

I can only remember walking out of a cinema, stunned to the point of silence, twice in my life. Once was from this movie.

I can't tell you why this movie affected me so. No, it might not be the greatest movie ever made, it's not be the most action packed, nor even focused on the most pressing poignant issues. But I left it muted none-the-less.

I think it's because it was about a man that made a difference, and that's all I want to do. I don't know how I'm going to do it, I don't know what form it will manifest, I just know that I want to make a difference. Not for recognition, not for glory; simply because it feels right.

The film resonated with me, it got my mind thinking, it set my soul afire. From seemingly nowhere, this senator for Texas helped cripple the Soviet army. Being practically unknown, he raised One Billion Dollars to liberate an oppressed people. He got the Pakistanis, Afghans, Israelis, Saudis, and Egyptians, to work together for his cause; he brought together those who, it was said, would never cooperate.

The saddest part of the film is the end, where this man has done a supposed impossible, yet is tormented when he couldn't do more. He raised one billion for the war, but found it impossible to raise one percent of that, just one million, to build a school in post-war Afghanistan. That made me feel insignificant; I don't know how to describe it. It's as though, despite all his accomplishments, the crown jewel wasn't reached, the one really effective piece of support never came. In the end, when there was so much more that could have been done to help, the war was over and "Nobody gives a fuck about a school in Pakistan."

"It's Afghanistan" breathed Charlie Wilson.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Out of Order

My essays are done, and though I expected to be released of a horrible burden when those papers were finally submitted, the shadowy gloom that hung over me during their creation has not gone. I can only surmise that one gloom seamlessly replaced the next, for now it is not the pressures of the institution that encumber me, but rather the realization of leaving.

What a time I’ve had here, and still more time I have to spend. Yet, I cannot help but be overcome with a furrowed brow and an upset soul. It truth, I’m in the final stretch, my time here is waning, but in my heart I feel as though my journey has just begun. I dread the time when I won’t be able to walk up the stairs of Queens Road to find someone who might quell my boredom. I fear the time when I’ll no longer be able to shout along the halls to see which of my favourite Brits reside in their rooms. It is unfathomable to think of a time when I cannot misuse Natalie’s generosity and invade her room to take comfort in the cozy atmosphere she creates. There is so much to part with, there are so many to leave, while at the same time there is still so much to see and do; there is not enough time to say all my goodbyes while still saying so many new hellos.

Traveling seems a part of me,

Not in the normal way.

I could not go from place to place

and stay for but a lone few days.

It lacks the ample time I need,

To see all there is to see,

To meet the folks,

To see the sights,

To take in and reflect.

Traveling seems a part of me,

Not in the normal way.

I must go down my own long road,

The long and winding way.

It seems to be the only path,

That makes most sense to me,

By going hence and coming home,

But taking time to stay.

Traveling seems a part of me,

Not in the normal way,

To see the world and feel its life,

But in my special way.

I suppose that poem, which is rather rubbish, adequately describes my feelings towards traveling. I’ve gain far more in Bristol than I have on my brief excursions hither or thither (such a cool expression I just had to use it!). I’ve been saying it as long as I can remember: “I need to live here for a while.” Even back when I was still in middle school and we went on a family vacation to Hawaii. I was walking the beaches on Maui one night with my Daddy Dan. The moon was out and there was a warm sprinkling rain falling on us as we strolled along the sand. I remember saying to him, “I think I should live here for a while.” But why have I always said that?

I’ve never understood tourism. Even as I study it in my sociology course, it defies my grasp. People travel to escape the droning repetitiveness of their daily lives, but most places tourists go are shrouded by a facade; a world built for them, by them, so they can enjoy their trip in safety and in luxury without a worried thought. Every major tourist destination has the trademark stores, the complimentary map, the fake smiles, the forced Kodak moments, etc! Every time I’ve traveled I’ve wanted something different, something real. I’ve got a taste of something real over here in Bristol, and I am longing for some more.

I want to live and work, for working is part of the real experience; that means no blowing cash all over the place with disregard for the repercussions. I want to live and work in Barcelona, I want to live and work in London, I want to live and work in San Francisco, Maui, New Zealand, Australia, and Scotland. I want to build a school for a village in the middle of nowhere. I want to teach English as a second language. I want to sail around the world helping students experience life, sailing, and the world. I want to road trip across America and stop in the little towns with little homey diners. I want to vote in the next election… my list of things to do is infinite, but my amount of time is ever trickling away through the hourglass of life. I want to do all these things, but leaving is such sweet sorrow, and I also want to stay.

Carpe Diem. Go with the flow. I have hopes and dreams, postulates and plans, but there is not time like the present. Soak it up, squeeze out every last drop; the time of my departure is a week away and I can’t believe it.


The Night (New Years)

Written 01/01/2008

Like almost everything about this European excursion, things last night were a whirlwind – and even whirlwind is, I deem, woefully inadequate as a description; it cannot emphasize enough the fun, the adventure, the confusion, the excitement, the fear, and the drunkenness that ensued.

Grace and I spent the day having a casual wander around Barcelona. We decided to end our day a little early, five-ish, and head back to the hostel for siesta. Grace decided to nap and I took that opportunity to use the internet, and to meet new people. There’s a good place to start. People. I do love them after all…

I met a lot of people, however, those who are familiar with my fantastic ability to forget almost everything will not even raise a brow when I say I remember only a handful of names. What I do remember is where people are from; I associate them to their country. The following ‘people’ are in order that I met them.

The smoking room was a very popular place; the amount of smokers in Rome and Barcelona is astonishing compared to Bristol and Seattle. Recognizing that fact, I spent a good amount of time there and to blend in I went out and got some mini Cuban cigars which were… so very good. Though I’m not big into smoking, a nice cigar occasionally is a nice little cancer causing treat.

It was in the smoking room that I met Luigi, he was born in Spain, lived in Italy, his father was German, so naturally, he spoke all those languages. As if that wasn’t enough, he also spoke English and French! I was amazed. He would often help me speak to the French guy I met in there, or the German gal that spoke German, French, and English (a little). She helped me talk to two German guys that showed up, then a gal from LA showed up and Grace and she had a little party. Continuing, I met more people from LA and his posse, we met a guy from Miami, two Canadians from Toronto, a guy from Vancouver Canada named Ali who’s 30 and started his own business that has something to do with oil imports to Canada, or maybe distribution.

I also met a couple from Australia who are living in Edinburgh together but were here for the holidays. Kim was her name, Jez was his I believe. But it was the French that inundated the hostel. There must have been 30 of them, not kidding. They were the ones I spoke with the most and the ones that we eventually went out with on New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember all their names, many I couldn’t pronounce, but I do remember Chip, Beuh, Jeleela, and Helen. Helen was incredibly cute and I have a sneaking suspicion that Chip was gay and trying to hit on me.

It should be said that a language barrier could assist in flirtation, as long as both people trust each other. The way that correlates to Chip and Me has to do with the Metro (that’s the subway in Europe). He was telling me about his jacket; it was covered in some white spots. I thought he was telling me to touch the white spots... but it seemed like an odd thing to do so I kept asking to make sure I understood him correctly. So after a while I touched the white spots on upper back. “No, no, no!” he said in that stereotypical French accent that we all hear in our heads. He then tried to get me to touch the white spots lower on his coat… then it kind of clicked, I laughed… we all laughed, then I went over to Grace just to make sure he got the idea. Later that night he asked me if I like girls, I said yes. But he was an upstanding guy, he even helped inquire whether Helen has a boyfriend, which she did. Unless Chip was just telling me that so I wouldn’t go for her… haha oh well.

The point is: we met a lot of people.

So then we went out. I’ll separate our group into three groups: Crazy French, LA, and our French. The Crazy French are crazy because they started drinking at 7 at night. Actually, we all started drinking around that time, nearer to 8 though. Lots of talking followed, I had some really great conversations, and we finally left at about 10. That began the craziness. We got on the Metro but no one seemed to know where we were going. Some people wanted food, others wanted to get to Las Ramblas, the main street in Barcelona. We found this plaza with a fountain and some bars, it was just off the street but it was great there! We went into the bar and found ourselves some drinks with about 10 minutes till the new year. We went outside, bells tolled, people shouted, and kisses were had. I had no specific kiss sadly, but as we were with some French people, I got a kiss per cheek from everyone there, so lots of kisses, ladies and gents alike! The rest of the night is a haze. That last drink threw me over the top, I wasn’t sick I just didn’t bother to ask where we were going anymore. I was just enjoying the people, the sights, the sounds, it was so much fun!

It was around two that we got lost. We spent a lot of time getting on and off the metro, looking at maps, and having a nice joy ride around the underground of Barcelona. It was on the metro that we lost Chip and Beuh; they got off randomly. Then Grace and I got separated from the rest of our group, so about three we went home. It’s not the ideal way to end the night, but I don’t mind because we had a great time.

Now our entire hostel has vacated and filled up again with a different group of people! So I get to do it all over again tonight!



To Be Continued...


To Be Continued...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire... Near London

Preface; A Bringing Up to Date
I have decided that I'm going to call this, my inaugural trip into Europe,
The Jaunt, as it was merely a little trip compared to its upcoming big brother, which will be named The Wander. From here on I will reference my explorations of Europe as The Jaunt & Wander. The following entries will pertain to The Jaunt and they will be extensive. So, for the sake of my mental and physical health, I will create three separate entries; one for each place I traveled on my previous trip. If this proves to be a good system, I may continue it for The Wander.

The tale begins with London...

It was on December 22nd just before noon that Grace, my seductively beautiful traveling partner, and I began our journey to London. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee we shuffled sleepily down to our local Boarders bookstore; our Coach was to meet us there.

It's hard to miss these buses. Besides being enormous, they look like gigantic bugs. After stowing our bags, we were off. There was nothing very notable about the coach journey, I believe I slept most of the time. It took a couple of hours, maybe.

Often I was very pleased to have Grace with me; She proved her metal many times over. The first time I saw her in action was upon our arrival to London. I had no idea how to use the metro (the British/European word for subway), albeit, it's a horribly simple system and I probably could have figured it out provided some time and a metro map. However, we were on a schedule and Grace got us there with time. Rickmansworth was our destination of choice, it's in section 7 on the Metropolitan Line if you're looking. That is where Natalie was raised, and that was where her family was kind enough to let us stay for Christmas.

I'll get to that later, but our first night in London deserves it's own special attention.

Getting off the Metro at Rickmansworth, I was full of a torrent of different thoughts and emotions vying for precedence in my mind;
I hope it's not too imposing to be with this family for Christmas. I hope I can make a good impression. I want them to like me. How am I going to get my guitar home? Are the going to be like Natalie? God I hope I don't screw anything up! Can Natalie really take 4 whole days of Grace and I?

Worries are only worries, and many of mine were put to rest when Natalie met us at the station with hugs and a smile. She brought along a friend too! Vicky met us there too in her smart mini cooper! She's another Queen's Road dweller and a wonderfully vivacious woman. So, after hellos and hugs, the four of us, and the luggage, crammed into her tiny car. I would very much enjoy having a mini cooper, but the sad truth is that it is far too small for me. Our destination was
Natalie's aunt's house, where we'd be sleeping. It was very close to the station, and even closer to Natalie's house.

I don't remember if Penny was there when we dropped off our things, but she's Natalie's Aunt. Err, I believe she's Natalie's aunt, perhaps it's just one of those relationships where you call her aunt but she's not actually. No matter, Penny is a wonderful lady! She's very fun and, rather suiting to her demeanor, she is a teacher at a nearby school. Her house was incredibly cozy; I wish I could have lived there myself. It was a terrace home, a rather skinny building with two stories. It had 4 bedrooms upstairs, and a large open living room downstairs. I wish now I had taken pictures of it, for a picture is worth a thousand words after all!

We dropped our things at Penny's and then went back to the station. After all that traveling to get to Rickmansworth, we got back on the metro and flew into London. This may be a time where some would complain, but hell! I was in London!! Not to mention surrounding by phenomenal company.

I was sort of out of it during our journey back into London, perhaps the slightest bit of travel weariness had crept over my consciousness. Before I knew it, I emerged from a the metro hole into a conglomeration of sights and sounds known more formally as the famous Piccadilly Circus. I was immediately invigorated; as if, by being enveloped in such a sheer mass of culture, I was instilled with life's energy. That pump up was exactly what I needed. After meeting up with some more Queen's Roaders, we were off to Benihanas. I had no idea what was in store for me there.

I've heard of Benihanas; I've been told of its wonders and its expense. There is one in Seattle but I'd never gone because I just didn't have the money. What was different about London? Well, I was in London for the first time with friends from Bristol for the beginning of an epic night! Plus, Vicky told us that Benihanas had a group rate. Superb.

That Benihanas will go down in my memory forever, for it was the place I enjoyed my very first Vodka Martini shaken not stirred. I could barely utter the words when the bartend asked for my order; I was trembling with what can only be described as childish glee. Was it worth the price? No. Will I make them when I return to Seattle? Without a doubt. We took our glasses to a nice table by the window and sat down to order. The Gods of Finance had it in store for me that night, and they dealt us all quite a surprise.

I wish this is where I could say some rich guy paid for our dinner, or that a movie star sat down at the table next to us. But instead, I have to say that our waiter declared that Benihanas only does the group rates before and after the winter season. In a nutshell, he took part of my soul, part of my youthful optimism, and I don't think I shall ever see it again!

We Queen's Roaders are troopers, we bit the bullet and paid the price. I understand why it's expensive; I don't understand why it's that expensive, I just don't think food should cost that much. However, to defend Benihanas from my own tirade, you're not just paying for food in Benihanas, you're paying for an experience. It is a wonderfully practiced show, much like theatre or the ballet. The Chefs are truly masters of the culinary arts as well as the most professional showman. They wield tools of the sharpest caliber and tempt the fates by dousing their workplace with fire. They fling sizzling comestibles into their tall white hats and create fiery onion volcanoes. The best part about the show is that at the end you get to eat it! So in the end, was I disappointed to have spent as much as I did? I must admit only a little. Unfortunately for our chef, I don't think a single one of us tipped him properly due to our student status and shallow pockets.

After Benihanas was when Queens Road split again and it was back to the fantastic four; Natalie, Grace, Vicky, and I. The night was only beginning for us! Very much prior to that night we had ordered tickets (upon my suggestion I may boast) to the Nutcracker! We saw it at a theatre called the Colosseum and it was put on by the English Nation Ballet. It was an interesting production to say the least. As I am used to seeing the very traditional versions of the Nutcracker put on by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, this was quite an interesting change. The costumes, the colors, and the stage were all different! Though most of the visual parts of the ballet were different, the music remained unchanged, the performers told the same story, and it was good! The Sugar Plum Fairy was absolutely breathtaking in this performance. I was transfixed; absolutely set adrift from all my worldly distractions and totally enveloped by her performance. What I learned from this Ballet is that I want to continue to go to Ballets, Operas, Plays, Museums, Concerts, etc! They are all expressions of humanity and I've enjoyed every single one I've ever been to.

However, the best part of that night may have been after the ballet, and after they did their final bows about 17 times!! We went for a wander and oh the places it took us. Conveniently, Trafalgar Square was right next to the theatre, so we went there. On the way the ladies almost got run over by a bus! That was due to Natalie's indifference to the traffic!! I often admire it when she sticks out her palm and forces a multi ton vehicle to stop while she moves with purpose across the street... it just didn't work for this bus. Well, with a minuet screech of fear and a leap, the gals were back on the sidewalk and we were back on track.

Trafalgar was all lit up, Lord Nelson stood on his Column looking down upon London with a loving fatherly gaze. The large metal lions rested at his feet, ready to protect their Lord if any danger arose, and some fountains sprayed and sputtered water into the surrounding pool. It was a very relaxing place but other famous monuments longed for our appreciative gaze.

Our curiosity led us down a very straight and comparatively deserted street. At the end of said street was a very famous Palace known as Buckingham. It was also beautiful; lit up from every angle for maximum effect. There was even a Christmas tree to show off, and it was all worth the walk. It took quite some time to get there, and quite some time to get back into the thick of London, but when we did, we emerged close to Big Ben and the Parliament. Of course I had to take the picture with Big Ben in the background, and yes I got in the red phone booths to make a call. I just had to!

That pretty well finished off our trip. We walked along the river Thames until we got to a Metro station. There we made our way back to Rickmansworth, haggard to say the least. We stayed up for a little longer but when sleep beckoned, I crawled into an incredibly comfy bed and slept more deeply than any night in my entire stay in Bristol. The perfect end to a perfect day. And I hadn't even met the family properly yet!

Day Two started late; late is quite the understatement. We didn't get up until 11, well, when I say we, I mean Grace and I; Natalie was up at half 9. It was foggy in Rickmansworth, foggy like they'd never seen so said Mr. Parker. We went to the local Nero's coffeehouse and near two we hopped back on the Metro and made our way to Tate Modern. We got off at the Embankment stop, right on the Thames then walked across a bridge towards Tate Modern. The fog was so thick we couldn't see the other bank of the Thames. As we leisurely strolled along the river, Tate Modern revealed itself from the fog.

It's quite an imposing building. It's tower rose up and disappeared into the fog. Outside is a giant iron spider thing. The red brick building itself must be 5 stories high, not including the tower, and had a basement as well. Inside Tate it's open and mammoth. We were there mostly for Grace's sake; she wanted to see some modernist and cubist artwork. It was interesting, but not really my thing. I did manage to commandeer a tea spoon from the Tate Cafe, though I wish I had got a mug from there, but I simply couldn't be bothered to pay the money for it.

When we left hours later, the fog hadn't lifted an inch. We trekked forth and arrived at Shakespeare's reconstructed theatre shortly thereafter. Sadly, it wasn't open. We crossed the Thames by the millennium bridge and Natalie thought that St. Pauls should be right in front of us. Looking at a map, the bridge lead directly to St. Paul's cathedral, but looking forward, it was as if the massive church had vanished. Absolutely no trace of it could be seen until we were about 100 metres away from it. Then its white form seemed to materialize out of the white mist.
From St. Paul's we made out way to the nearest metro station and went back to Rickmansworth around 7. Much to my surprise, Natalie's family waited for our return until they had dinner. I don't know why the simple gesture stunned me slightly, I wanted to be as non-imposing as possible, but they didn't seem to mind in the slightest. I suppose that was one of the major things about the entire family; they were all so incredibly accommodating when I was literally asking for little or nothing. I felt showered in generosity and caring with no expectation of reciprocation. I wish that I could have given equally back, created an experience for them that was equal to the heart-filling experience they created for me. I don't think I can ever say Thank you to them enough, though Natalie my grow tired of hearing it, so I'll be sure to ton it down! Haha

I have to say that Natalie's mother is an Amazing cook. The food at every meal was different and equally scrumptious! Not only that, but on Christmas day, she cooked for 20 people and there was still food left over. Surely, she is a Kitchen Goddess.

That night, after dinner, we watched a movie called Hot Fuzz. I'd never seen it but it was really good. Natalie's parents didn't join us, but her Grandmother did. Her Grandmother is a sweet lady and has a very interesting story. I suppose the place to being is with her inability to hear; she's been deaf all her life. It's really no problem for her because she lip reads and mouths words back to communicate. When she was growing up, she went to a school that frowned upon sign-language. So they taught her to lip read and speak as a way to reintegrate into society to lessen any differences that might set her apart. It was the societal view at the time I guess. Well, she is just the sweetest lady, often smiling at me then asking me how I was or what I was doing. Sometimes I'd need one of the family to help me understand, but for the most part, it was surprisingly easy to communicate with her. She has the most gentle eyes and a bright smile. With her family all around her, you can tell that she is proud of them and loves them all very dearly. She's had a great life and it shows every time she smiles.

(talk about Dad, Kathryn, Charlie and Archie)

Not long after the movie was over we went back to Penny's and fell to sleep again. The next day was Christmas Eve! There were many things happening on Christmas Eve and I was very excited to experience them all.

To Be Continued... (I have 5 days to write two essays so this may go on hiatus)