E-mail Update - 2008-06-13

Ancient History and Current Events in England

Hey Everyone,

The trip so far has been great, both relaxing and interesting!! I have been able to see so many friends from trips past all while seeing the sites. It was just what I needed after a long year at University....although no one is going to give me much sympathy I bet :) I have a lot to talk about so this is going to be one of those novel updates I sometimes (usually) write!

However before I start I should mention that I am now in Romania...seriously :) I have been here for 5 days now and plan to spend another week or so here, before I go to Bulgaria and possibly some other Eastern European countries. Eastern europe is much easier on my budget which is the main reason for the change. I still will spend my last few weeks seeing friends in the Netherlands & Germany before flying back to London on Friday, August 15. I will spend my last weekend there before flying home Tuesday, August 19.

It was tough to say goodbye to mom at the bus station in Madison as it always is :( The bus ride to the airport was pretty non-eventful as was the wait at O'Hare before the flight. It was nice to have my laptop with me for both :) As for the plane ride that was quite sweet because I was able to get whole set of 4 seats. So I put up the dividers and stretched out sleeping for most of the overnight flight, even sleeping for like 3 hours straight at one point! England is 6 hours ahead of Wisconsin so it was morning when I got there, which after the sleep on the plane was not too much of a problem to adjust to.

As the plan was to go I spent the first week seeing and experiencing London with Ash & Cally, friends who I met while I was in Koh Phi Phi. It all started with Cally meeting me at the airport which was sweet because the tube would have been quite nasty to negotiate without some help, especially after a night on the plane. It was also good because Cally had me buy an "Oyster Card" for zones 1 and 2 which is where I spent most of my time. This capped what I would spend and since I went sightseeing every day in London, this ended up being a good amount of money. I spent the whole 1.5 hour train ride talking to Cally and it was just like no time had passed since we left Thailand in 2005. Cally explained Art Therapy which is the career she eventually hopes to get into. Right now she works with people who need help for certain tasks, some due to disabilities. After getting back to her and Ash's place in East London (near the Bow station) I was able to get a shower and she made me some food. You feel like a new person after the post-flight feed and clean. Later on in the afternoon Ash was back and it was awesome to see him again. Just like with Cally it felt like we had just said our goodbyes from Koh Phi Phi a week ago. I attached a picture of Ash and Cally in front of their apartment, which is the door behind them on the right (see - Cally & Ash at Their Apartment).

They took me out to Brick Lane, which is locally famous for its curry dishes, and we had a great meal. While walking around Brick Lane I saw my first traditional Root master double decker bus. It made me quite excited which I think gave my hosts a laugh :) Afterwards we went to "The Gun" a local bar to watch a European championship football (soccer) game between Chelsea and Manchester United (ManU). Ash grew up in Manchester and is a huge ManU fan so I was pulling for his team as well. After taking a few sips of our drink we could obviously tell the beer was quite watered down. Cally went up and asked for new beers for us, but the owner got his pants in a bunch and kicked us out. He made a huge scene but kept saying we needed to leave because he didn't want a scene..anyone else confused?? Cally wasn't even able to finish her lemonade drink. There is no other way to say it, he was an a$$ about it. If you are ever in London don't go to "The Gun" unless you want watered down drinks and a rude owner. Our next stop was a much more upscale pub and when we got the same beer we had much better results. It was much darker and it had much more flavor. Either way it actually worked out well because we got a table right up by TV for the match which was nice since it ended up being a long game.

Watching a football match in England is quite an experience. I have to say they are even more crazy about it than people are about the real football (NFL, of course)!! As matches go this was quite entertaining...seriously ;) ManU scored the first goal, which was a work of art, but Chelsea was able to tie it when on the same play both a ManU defender and the goalkeeper slipped. After overtime it was still tied so they went to penalty kicks. Both teams made their first 2, but ManU missed their third chance. Chelsea missed their forth chance, so it was 3-3 with one round remaining. ManU made their last attempt and the captain of Chelsea missed his attempt (it went off the goal post) which gave ManU the win!! I have never seen a place erupt like that. I got hugs from people I didn't even know. In fact one of the guys had a choke hold on me...yikes! Either way it was like a 5 minute long crazy celebration, it was so much fun, and an experience I will never forget :) If every football match was like that one I could become a fan. It was quite the first night in London, I felt like I had been to quite the cultural event.

The next day day Cally had to work so Ash and I went on sight seeing. He took me to locations near the Thames river and beyond. We had things timed perfectly which was cool because I was able to hear the bells ring at St. Paul's at noon and the clock at Big Ben at 2pm (see - Big Ben (Westminster)). We even saw this changing of the guard at 3pm as we walked by a random guarded building. It was quite intricate with the people getting off and on horses and sword inspections. In fact the only real disappointment occurred at Buckingham Palace because there was no changing of the guard when we were there. Even more disappointingly they were not wearing the huge black fluffy hats...I mean come on, this is London right? Either way I got over it and was able to have a great day!!

On the walk we were even able to get a birds eye view from the Oxo tower. The sites we saw included the ones already discussed plus the Millennium Bridge, London Eye, Westminster, Trafalgar Square and so many other interesting buildings/sites. It was a great day and nice to be able to talk with Ash, I learned so much about London, he is quite the guide! As an added bonus the day was cool because I wore around a ManU shirt (which Ash has actually lent me for the remainder of the tour) and I had so many people congratulate me. I almost felt as if I won something. It gave Ash a chuckle each time, a few times it was quite subtle and he would have to say that was something they said for me :) The funniest reaction came from an unlikely source. While I had been walking I had commented to Ash a few times on how I liked the uniforms the cops wore, especially the hats. Well eventually when we were by the London Eye I saw 2 cops in uniform (one male / one female). So I decided to ask if it was ok that I took a picture. The reaction from the male officer was "Since you are wearing that jersey you can do anything you want!" We got a laugh out of that and I took the picture which is attached (see - Cops Uniforms).

There were several other interesting things I noticed from the walk. One is that no matter where you are at you see cranes everywhere on the skyline, and it is not just one, it is usually more like 8-10. The city is undergoing a huge building boom from the looks of things, which is a trend I would also see in Bristol and Cardiff. I also really liked the bridges in London. They are all quite unique, with each having a different color scheme. Even the small ones were quite nice to look at. When we were near Westminster (which is were the parliament is) there were campers across the way on the park's lawn. From what Ash said they had been there since the start of the Iraq war protesting and the laws in London kept the police from being able to kick them out. Lets hope that soon there is no longer a reason for them to be there, go Obama! Here was another interesting thing for me. At the end of the day Ash said he wanted to stop by the Carhartt store. To me Carhartt is the work clothes my brother and dad wear. But in London it has been re-branded into this fashionable clothing line and in fact is Ash's favorite clothing store. The clothes they had in the store did look quite different from what I was used to seeing Thad and Dad wear. After a long, day of walking and sightseeing we met Cally for supper and went back to their house where we watched the movie "Layer Cake" before calling it a night. It is quite a good movie and cool because it had some scenes in it from where we were going to visit the next day in Greenwich.

The jet lag and everything set in so we got a bit of a late start on Friday. Ash and Cally both had off from work which was really nice. First we went to the Borough market for some lunch. On the walk there we saw a really beautiful cathedral. Beautiful churches and cathedrals are everywhere in England, but they didn't get old for me. After eating quite a lot of food bought from different vendors we were walking away when this lady came up to us. She wanted to interview Cally about burlesque dancing. It was cool to watch them questioning Cally and recording it although it was for some project and nothing for TV. After our time at the market we went to Greenwich. It is a college area with some beautiful buildings and has hill with a nice view showing the whole area. The view also shows a large part of the rest of the city (see picture - Ash & Brock at Greenwich). After sitting for a while talking and admiring the view we went to see the official greenwich mean time, which we are pretty sure was off by an hour...oops :) Either way it is one of those "take a picture and check it off the list before walking away" tourist attractions.

Before the trip started I had threw together a reunion with friends who are from London. Although since I didn't know London I didn't have a location or plan for the reunion. After getting to London Ash helped me confirm the details which I sent out only 1 night before the event. Even with this lack of a plan there were several people who were able to attend the event. It was great to see everyone from trips past. We ending up meeting in the Soho area of town & ate a meal at Pizza Express. After that we went for several drinks at 2 different pubs. Eventually everyone went home from the group but Ash, Cally, Ash's friend (whose name escapes me at the moment) and I. Per Ash's suggesting we went to his favorite club which is called Fabric. It is one of the biggest and best clubs in London. It is a huge 3 room club which has different DJs in each room. It was quite a crazy place with people literally everywhere, I enjoyed the time there. I actually hadn't been in a proper club since the last trip.

After sleeping in on Saturday Ash, Cally and I all went sight seeing. Our first stop was the new London Bridge, the original one is in Arizona! It is ok but nothing special really. However, from the London Bridge we could see the Tower Bridge (which a lot of people wrongly think is called London Bridge). It is the most beautiful bridge I have ever seen, it is so ornate and colorful. I spent so much time just studying the detail of it (see - Tower Bridge). Next on the walking tour we walked by the Tower of London where the crown jewels are kept. It is just after walking off the Tower Bridge and is an immense castle. After spending our time walking the perimeter we went to meet Cally's sister, Terry, in the Camden market area. Camden market is quite a mix with food, craft, clothing and other vendors. Eventually we went to our final destination for the night which was the new Indiana Jones movie. I had never seen the first 3 Indiana Jones movies and thought this one was pretty good. I should also mention what I found out on the walk to the movie. It turns out Ash had been offered a free ticket to see Chris Rock from one of his friends for Saturday night before I had arrived in London. However, he turned it down so we could hang out!! What a guy, much love my brother ;)

Sunday it was Cally and I since Ash had to work. We went to the British museum which had loads to see, if fact we spent the whole day there. There are different sections from all over the world, it was quite amazing to see it all. While there we watched this video about the stone carvings at the top of Greek Parthenon. While it looks like all the horses are together they are meant to be looked at stretched out and with depth. When you do that is shows as a complete battle which was pretty cool to see done graphically. You can even tell where a certain section of soldiers stops and start by where the soldier is looking. There were so many other things we read about, but that stuck with me and made seeing the original stone work from the Parthenon, which is actually housed in part at the British Museum, even that much more impressive. Later in the afternoon we tubed it to Brick Lane where we met Terry for some food. After eating we met 3 other of Cally's friends and went out for some drinks and eventually dancing. We had a great night the only problem was that Cally and I missed the last tube back to Bow road so we had to walk the 20 minutes to the nearest bus stop to get back home.

Monday was a public holiday, but the British Museum was still open so Ash and I went back for my second round. There is just so much interesting to see there, even with the second day I would not see it all (yeah it is that huge). After the museum we got some lunch at this little Thai place. It was the first time I have had Thai food since I left Thailand in 2005, so it was quite exciting for me and the Pad Thai was delicious :) Next we went to Tate Modern, which is a renowned contemporary art museum in London. To be honest there were only a few things I found interesting there and several parts of it cost money to see so we didn't spend that long there. I am more of a traditional art person :)

Tuesday it was again just the boys. The biggest traveling development was that in the morning before we left my ATM card arrived! When I had left for the trip I had copied all my documents so I could have a copy in my big pack if my small pack got stolen. Problem was that I left the ATM card in the copier...oops! So mom had sent it when she got back from taking me to the bus station. With Monday being a holiday it took until Tuesday for it to arrive. I was later on able to try it after it was activated and I had money, which was quite a nice feeling :) Ash also helped me book my dorm for the next night in Salisbury and get my train ticket bought really cheaply for the next day. After that we started the day's sightseeing.

All of London's museums are free which is quite nice considering how well they are done. The science museum seemed quite interesting to me so that was our stop for the day. My favorite part was the retrieved capsule from one of the space missions, the old cars and the exhibit on the history of diving. After finishing there we met Ash's friend Rokko (who is from the Czech Republic) for lunch at a little pub near the museum which did nice Thai food. Here is the thing, Rokko is quite an interesting guy to chat with so we ended up sitting at the same pub talking from 2pm until 11pm! We even had Thai food again for supper that night.

On Wednesday morning I was meant to leave London for Salisbury. The only problem was that when Ash had left for work he had accidentally locked me in! I called him and he came back from work with his partner in their cop car to pick me up, since I could not have otherwise made the train. I am proud to say that was the first time I have been in the back of a cop's car :) They got me to the train station in time for me to catch the tube train I needed before I caught the Salisbury bound train. The train ride to Salisbury was quite nice, the seats were comfortable and there is even a nice table which I used to work on my laptop. However, once I got their it wasn't so nice as it was "pissing down" as they say in England, which basically means it was really raining. I opened my umbrella for the first time and walked the 20+ minutes to the hostel. This is the first trip I have ever carried an umbrella for! I was happy to be there and actually with the help of the umbrella and a backpack cover my stuff was not wet...the same couldn't be said for me though. Anyway after getting checked in I explorer the town a little and did my best to find an internet connection for my laptop, which took some work. After spending the rest of the day running errands I back at the hostel talking to the front desk attendant when I met Emily, who is from England. After talking for like 2 minutes I found out that her and another friend (Charlotte) were going to Stonehenge and Avebury the following day and that they were ok with me riding along :) I spent some time getting to know them before calling it a day. It is so cool to be able to talk to someone for 2 minutes before deciding to travel together for a day, I just love that about backpackers :)

The weather treated us quite well the next day and since we left early (and only took a few wrong turns) we were able to get to Stonehenge before the rush. Before I left on the trip I was telling people about how excited I was to go to Stonehenge thinking that everyone knew what it was. However, I was mistaken and in fact there were lots of people who had never heard of it. Basically it is this series of huge stone circles (and I mean huge some of the stones weight 50 tons) which was built starting somewhere around 5000 BC, not only that these huge stones were brought from Wales over 240 miles away! The final thing to know is that the stones are not only stood up, some are piled on top of each other, no wonder it is one the wonders of the world (see - Stonehenge picture). The only real disappointment is that you are fenced off from the stones and can't get very close. Either way it was quite exciting because it has this mythical feel about it and is something I had always wanted to see, even from when I was a kid. We finished walking around the stones and listening to the audio tour they gave us just before heaps of tourists showed up and poured into the sight. After the time at Stonehenge we walked to Woodhenge which actually now just has cement markers for where the wood once stood. On the way we walked through the curcus which is this huge ditch they had made near Stonehenge. The curcus has a meaning, but it is not completely understood. The coolest thing about the walk was that we saw a fox with a rabbit in its mouth although to be honest it was a ways away and we could only tell it was a rabbit by using the super 12x zoom on my camera! Either way next on the list was Avebury. This is a site that was similar to Stonehenge, but it was 15 times bigger! It is quite different though because only part of some rocks are still there and you can walk around and even touch the rocks, which is quite nice. I was actually more impressed with Avebury in the sense of its massive size. Plus it leaves so much to the imagination, you could spend hours trying to figure out how it all looked. It was a great day and it worked out so well meeting Emily and Charlotte, it would have not been nearly as much fun going on my own, plus it was much cheaper!

On Friday I went to Bristol to see my old friend Tash and Grant, which is where this email update is to be continued...

Love & Peace!