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!!

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