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30 April 2005

an industrial city concrete straight down

a free breakfast isn't a free breakfast. take it or leave it, you've been charged when you paid for your room. in most cases the hostels serve nothing more than toast and jam and coffee and sometimes cereal. the dublin hostel was not one of the most cases fortunately. eggs, bacon (which more resembles slices of ham than bacony bacon), sausage, hashbrowns (though they must have a different name), fruit, juice, bread. everything. everything and very good everything. i'd eat this free breakfast every morning i stayed at the hostel. filling.

the river liffey runs through dublin. a greenish river i wouldn't want to fall into. i saw a shopping cart lurking just beneath the surface below one of the many bridges. the banks are not grass and not a gentle slope but an industrial city concrete straight down into the murky green.

a misting raining exploration of the capitol of ireland. wandering through the parks and streets with the sky all gray. gray skies are good for museums and i visited two: the national gallery and the museum of natural history, which may be better named the museum of taxidermy. the first floor: one giant chamber filled with stuffed animals from ireland. the second floor: one giant chamber filled with stuff animals from around the world. a third floor balcony gave a better view of the two whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling with cases of mostly sea creatures and a fourth floor balcony was filled with insects and other small creatures. all of the small creature display cases had a leather mat over them which needed to be lifted for viewing. not sure why. maybe the light would fade the color. this would be a very scary place at night with the creaky wooden floors and all of the eyes and skeletons and generally enveloping deadness. the glass cases would come crashing down running from them.

garmin had reversed the locations of the natural gallery and the museum of natural history. will advise them.

back on the street and hungry. when i asked for a turkey and cheese sandwich, a woman used grated cheddar cheese, a first which turned out to be rather delicious. the fresh roll played a large part in the deliciousness. i relaxed in st. steven's green eating my grated cheese and turkey sandwich. try to fade into the bench unnoticed and just absorb the sites and sounds. as has typically been the case on these islands, the morning mist and gray were swept away and a bright blue sky was left behind with still a slight chill. i remembered that i'd considered not packing my hoodie. i remember that often whenever there is a chill.

i found a few market streets. many people here and there and i hate walking with people crowding me all around... quickly over to the side of the street where i stood for about 30 minutes while a dreadlocked man on my left played on a drum. a girl gave him an orange. an orange. i think he'd rather have had the money. i thought about a juicy orange for a bit... where to get one... then out of my mind. further down a group of hare krishnas were chanting using a portable megaphone, accompanied by drums and little cymbals. generally a nice chanting sound. i talked to a man who said he'd lived with them and called one of them, with shaved orange hair wearing a white sarong, a hypocrite for wearing leather sandals. he told me i looked like a musician.

an early night around 10pm and i retreated.

posted by paul at Sat 30 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

29 April 2005

very solid steel

time to leave the united kingdom, a wonderful beginning for my travels. i wondered if there was any type of border station. out of the land of the pound sterling and into the euro. from 1.9 to 1.3 and yes it matters. in belfast i had made contact with david nesbitt, a minister of a church in ballybay, ireland, and the manager of the property where stands the church in which my great grandparents were married on valentine's day in 1898. the research had been done by a distant cousin and i knew the name of the church and the name of the county... david nesbitt's website helped me find the rest. i exchanged a couple of emails with david and we finalized the details on the phone. i'd be taking a bus down to monaghan (the 'g' is silent... 'monna-hen'); he would pick me up, drive me out to the church, and then back to the bus station so i could catch a bus down to dublin. what a nice guy. so nice.

as the bus drove away from belfast, i had a twinge of regret for not taking one of the black taxi tours, apparently the best way to see the religiously and politically charged murals in the areas around the catholic falls road and the protestant shankill road. i'd made a call but as i wasn't with a group, i would have had to pay the private rate of around 25 pounds. a little too pricey. tourism is slow in belfast in april, so it seems... no other groups were going for me to tag along with.

random fact: the titantic was built in belfast in the harland and wolff shipyards. the large yellow h&w cranes can still be seen.

i arrived in monaghan with an hour to spare before i was to meet david. explore and mission: withdraw euros. mission accomplished quickly. monaghan is a very cute little town. a few photos for home and a turkey sandwich with a deliciously crisp baguette. my first euro exchange... and the belfastian turk said _american_ money was like monopoly money? wow. i don't think you can get more monopolian than the euro notes. i'll take this turkey sandwich, a coke... and oh, i'll buy two hotels for boardwalk and park place. there are 2 euro coins and 1 euro coins and 50c, 20c, 10c, 5c, 2c, and 1c coins. the notes are different sizes and colors. non-europeans can check them here.

i met david at the bus station and made the mistake of walking to the wrong side of his car. blah. my very first ride in the other side of a car and on the other side of the road. strange at first. david was an incredible guide... telling me a little bit about the church and the surrounding country as we drove out. absolutely beautiful day with bright sun. cahans church is very large. first observation. the current building, built in 1840 to replace two older buildings, is slowly decaying but funds are being raised for renovations. i took many pictures (see the gallery). HISTORY. my great grandparents... my grandmother's parents... were married in this building more than 100 years ago.

back to the bus station and then down to dublin. in irish gaelic: baile atha cliath. you see it on all of the license plates. i'm always concerned about the initial walk from the bus station to the hostel... how far... through what... will i be able to find it. in this case, not far at all... the hostel was located very near the bus station. very solid steel bunk beds. i met david, an italian, who woke up groggy from his sleep when i entered the room. his friend, nico, was sleeping as well without the wake-up part. i think it was around 6pm or so. the hostel looked solid. i booked an extra night and went out for the new city walk.

posted by paul at Fri 29 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

28 April 2005

almost exploding with want

[aside] it happened... something great, lost... and then recreated, never the same, but i'll try.

we woke up early, but not early enough. gray mist fog. dampness and maybe not the best of days for a scenic drive. an all day pass would be the least expensive option to travel the northern coast, so she told me yesterday...

but today... on this april day... on this day we discovered that the bus from the belfast europa bus station only ran during the summer months and we would need to take the bus from larne, an hour by road longer by rail away, so he told us today. hanmin was right and i doubted him yesterday. the 252 bus which drove up the northern ireland coastal road departed from larne at 10:15 and we would have had to take the 8:15 train to make it in time.

'is there _any_ way to make it up to larne in time?' desperate and guilty for having given hanmin incorrect information which may have cost us this day. and every day is precious on these trips... none should be lost. none _should_. try.

'they are doing some work on the rails right now and so the train company is running buses up to larne in the interim.' ah! a chance.

run to the other end of the terminal where the trains depart.

'last call for [somewhere], [somewhere], larne [LARNE], [somewhere]'

larne! that's us. blast!... a line. er, a queue.

'hello, look at us, we're going to larne.' yes, we're going to larne... while you wait for another destination, those of us who are larne-bound shall defeat your queue. and a gesture around... those queued were defeated. six pound fifty... run... sign to point the direction... to larne... we're the last to step aboard. running and out of breath.

hello business man type. 'is this train going to larne?'

'no.' AH!

'you'll have to get off at central and switch trains.'

'central?'

'three stops.'

three stops to central and we follow the herd out of the bus station and then down in falls comes the rain [a la bruce dickinson in rime of the ancient mariner]. it wasn't that bad, really, but it was drizzling damp the kind that seeps through your clothes. the herd dispersed and hanmin and i were left alone at a random bus stop. something wasn't right.

'sir, does this bus go to larne?'

[three very very nice older irish gentlemen discuss amongst themselves... larne you say? hmm. the nicest ever and almost exploding with want to help us, but they didn't know. we'd walk back inside the bus station and ask. thank you, have a nice day sir.]

'we're trying to get to larne.' [and we're in a gigantic hurry help us help us now and quickly]

'down those stairs... see that... that's your bus.' it was. OUR bus. the bus to larne.

mist and rain. blurry. blurred. sit and wait five and then the bus leaves. the windows useless... wipe... nothing. gps track track track trying.

first stop. [question mark]... do we transfer?

'does this bus go the entire way to larne?'

'no, you need to transfer in whitehead.'

whitehead... outside at a small bus stop stand with wind screaming. screaming and sending the rain sideways and threatening to push over the stand. actual screaming and rain and where the hell is the bus. and it was _that_ bad. hanmin with hood drawn tightly and swaying. i'd only known him a few hours and i grabbed his camera from him without asking and snapped a picture which i wish i had right now. and the time passes... thinking thinking the 252 leaves larne at 10:15...

bus comes... no more stops... straight to larne. windows still covered and tracking tracking. and it's 10:00 and traffic and clouds and blur. and still wind screaming and 10:05. and 10:10 and then 10:15 and then 10:18 and as we pull into the larne bus station we see it... we see IT... through all of the dampness and through the watery windows... the 252... OUR bus... pulling away.

defeated by three minutes. THREE MINUTES of something... anything little. we, who had come this far. WE! and i make excuses like the weather and other things and plan for another day as our bus rolls heavily lumbering through the bus station mazes. and all that rushing feeling gone... all that transferring and here and there for nothing now. but our bus wasn't stopping at the larne bus station... but the train station... and we get off and see:

the 252 bus. rolling in behind the bus we just got off. it. there. right there. right THERE[period]. that instant... right as we get off... the bus we were seeking... THE bus... IT... THERE... FOR US. board. pay. sit... and an hour later like a dream the clouds cleared and the fog unblurred and the sun shined and for the first time that day we could see the ocean to our right. and cliffs and green green fields and sheep and fences. and the ocean.

giant's causeway. wind still overpowering... not screaming but fun. giant columns of rock and a walk along the cliffs. unstable ledges of falling rocks closed and a magic marker used on the wood. some expensive, expected, food. and before the bus came back the best part... another walk and some walking on the rocks and a cave found by hanmin... a great find. seemingly tiny but not once inside. out of a book where those would hide treasure... you could imagine the map almost. fulfilled and tired; fatigue a very important part of the fulfillment, a slow stroll to the bus stop and with the sun shining. i mean the look up and the bright sun squint sun. the RAIN. cold but not the type of cold that's bad... a refreshing cold like spring water on a hot day... not even time for the umbrella to be effective especially with the wind. there -> a rainbow. ha. and so many more on the way home. a RAINBOW. in ireland. one of the many more a complete arc. COMPLETE.

posted by paul at Thu 28 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

27 April 2005

i walked out the other side

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i found a great fare down to brazil on the internet and decided to take a quick three day trip down to see the rainforest.

not really. i woke up early to explore belfast. the city tourist center is always a good first stop and any type of public park is always a fun destination for me... trees, flowers, fountains, people who can watched. the morning weather was beautiful and i relaxed on a bench right outside the park entrance and very near queen's university for about an hour. watching people and listening and feeling the sun. in the botanical gardens, i found tropical plants and tropical humidity and when i walked out the other side of the greenhouse, a light rain was coming down. i stand prepared on these islands with my umbrella... some type of black covert quick and ready umbrella always there and i broke it out and walked over to the ulster museum. nearby. what a great little museum with a bit of everything... paintings, ceramics, rocks and minerals some radioactive and flourescing, dinosaurs some american, irish history, milling machines. a lot packed into a tidy little building with a helpful staff on hand to assist. she asked me to put my umbrella away, but didn't call it an umbrella... more research.

it had stopped raining when i got out of the museum. i had picked up a flyer at the tourist center that outlined several musical happenings in the city... every other wednesday... metal at a local club. my first foreign metal. i was definitely going to attend. what time do the bands go on? half nine. i believe that's 9:30. back at half nine... no bands. back at half ten... preparations for metal, and yes, there was a fog machine. the first band came on and i was pretty happy with the first 10 minutes and then a little sleepy with the last 20 minutes. the singer whipped out a tamborine... that would never fly with an american metal band. iron maiden and black sabbath are english... don't think a tamborine would fly with them either. maybe things were different in northern ireland. the headlining band turned out to be some yngwiesque screamo and i departed quickly after about two songs. did anyone see me leave? the familiar ringing. eeee. excuse me, did you just say 'eeee'? i need to protect my hearing.

the pizza place across the street from the hostel, 'bits and pizza'... love it... was still open. there weren't any customers in there and i chatted with the woman and man working behind the counter. the guy was a turk who had been living in belfast for two years... giant belfastian accent. he was really psyched i was an american... tried to copy the american accent while saying 'yeah, baby. okay, baby.' apparently americans say 'baby' a lot. told him i'd make a point of visiting turkey... said istanbul is beautiful. i showed him some american money. 'wow, looks like monopoly money.' gave him a one dollar bill... so happy... which made me happy. cheers.

in the hostel, a new roommate... hanmin from taiwan milling about and looking through pamphlets and such. told him i was planning to take a bus up along the northern coast to giant's causeway... he the same... we'll wake up early and both go.

posted by paul at Wed 27 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

26 April 2005

admin entry: belfast, northern ireland

i'm in belfast, northern ireland!

i decided not to visit the isle of skye in northern scotland after researching transportation options down to ireland. skye is fairly remote and transportation costs there from inverness and then down to northern ireland were prohibitive. so... £25 later, i'm in belfast. just got in. i'm planning to stay here two nights and am going to try to make it up to the northern coast tomorrow.

here are some random thoughts:

. the lake in the gallery pictures from drumnadrochit, scotland, is none other than loch ness. if you look very closely, you'll be able to see a shadowy beast in one of the pictures. just keep looking... it's there.

. internet access in inverness and here in belfast... hell, everywhere in the uk... is ridiculously expensive. £1 for 20 minutes? i can't even check my email in 20 minutes let alone update the site. i've been coming across mostly locked down systems which take coins like arcade games. no usb access, no ssh access, no admin access... how am i supposed to load the virus with conditions like this? blah.

. the mullet hawk... mulhawk... mollet... not sure what it's called, but it's coming back in a big way in scotland. i'm growing mine out.

. i've seen four boston red sox hats and one pittsburgh steelers shirt in the uk. more popular... nyc gear.

. what happened to the simple 'brrrring' ringtone on cellphones? today i heard the muppets theme song on someone's cellphone.

. in inverness, someone incorrectly guessed my age as 22. yes, i was born in 1983.

. i have never seen more open green fields than i have in scotland. who mows all this grass? apparently the sheep do. i'm talking miles and miles and miles of fields filled with short green grass...

. on the tv behind me, there is a special on the hell's angels... quote from former hell's angel: 'the hell's angels... when i was there... in the 60's and 70's... were ten times worse than your worse nightmare. it was pure evil.' ha. speaking of tv... watched a steven segal movie in the hostel last night. not sure what movie it was... he's in japan... doesn't really matter... but the bad guys kept talking about killing the american. i was the only american in the room filled with about twenty other people.

okay... i have some entries to add from saturday through monday. those will be coming as soon as i have 'real' internet access.

posted by paul at Tue 26 Apr 2005 at 17:46:01 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

new city walk in the dark

i spent almost the entire day in transit... mostly on a bus in scotland... inverness to perth, perth to glasgow, glasgow to stranraer... and then a ferry over to belfast from stranraer. almost an 11 hour journey. i've tried taking pictures while on the bus and occasionally one will come out without window glare... but mostly i'll just keep the scenery to myself. see [digression] below.

the ferry was much larger than i'd expected. onboard burger king, sports bar, lounge, smoker's lounge, quiet room, and 'find nemo' on several tv's. the ride was very smooth... no waves, no turbulence. the ticket i'd purchased from citylink had a final destination at the europa bus station in belfast. upon arrival at the ferry terminal, i bypassed the swarm of taxi drivers and followed a group of people outside the terminal to a stand labeled 'citylink taxi'. after about 15 minutes, a nondescript white bus pulled in and i waited while everyone piled on. still uncertain whether or not this was indeed the citylink shuttle to the bus station, i stepped onto the bus and just as i was about to address the bus driver, a man behind me said 'what are you doing, mate? this is a private coach.' ah, yes sir, i'm an idiot trying to hitch a ride on your private coach. back in the ferry terminal, the information agent told me citylink didn't provide a shuttle down to the bus station and that i'd have to call for a taxi. i'd been deceived. blah! and i'd let the swarm of taxi drivers swarm away. i considered walking, but it was already dark and i wasn't up for a new city walk in the dark to my hostel. i made a quick call using a direct dial taxi line and about 15 minutes (and seven pounds) later i was at the hostel.

the hostel was a bit bland. in my room, i met a couple from uraguay who told me that there's nothing to do in belfast. i would prove them wrong.

[digression] in general, it's very hard to capture the magnitude of an experience through photos. well, i'll restate... as an amateur, beginner, photographer, _i_ have a difficult time capturing some moments in pictures. for example, the pictures from arthur's seat next to edinburgh in no way show what a great view of the city that vantage point provided.

now that i think about it ... i'll restate yet again... you can't capture some experiences in photos. there is no way a photograph will ever compare.

posted by paul at Tue 26 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

25 April 2005

that stand by themselves

i wasn't sure whether i was going to try to make it to the isle of skye and didn't have time to research the transportation and accomodation options the day before, so i got up early in order to get to the library and [free: good. 30 minutes max: bad] internet access. sometimes internet research is fun. sometimes it's not... for example, when the clock is ticking down in the lower righthand part of the screen and you're trying to investigate all of the different transportation options between inverness, scotland, and kyleakin on the isle of skye, scotland... trying to factor in cost and trying to keep in mind the next leg of the trip... how to get from skye down to ireland... and then, i found a fare from inverness the entire way down to belfast... ferry cost included... and i found a hostel in belfast... and the time and price were right... and i was finished. to belfast tomorrow.

travel arrangements behind me, i had another day to explore inverness. i'd heard about some islands in the middle of the river ness a short walk from the center of town and i was off to explore. i'm into nature these days... trees with a giant personality and flowers that stand by themselves. there were several trees which had branches which must have been manipulated by some force as the trees were growing... twisting and turning and constraining. the river ness is very quick and crystal clear. round rocks on the river bed.

back at the hostel i ate lots more salad. i can still taste it now. watched some evening television with some other hostelites... some long term russian and polish guests. steven segal movie in english with the english at volume 3, narrated in russian at volume 7, and english subtitles. wow. kill the american.

posted by paul at Mon 25 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

24 April 2005

fog machine inside and lasers

loch ness. the legend. and it was only seven miles or so from where i was staying. i think scotland uses miles and not kilometers... someone please research that for me.

how to get there? the ubiquitous pamphlet stands with a billion tours taking you here and there, and we'll stop for this, and we're the best tour company out there. blah. i took lonely planet's advice and made my own tour for seven quid. urquhart castle, or what remains of it, is right on the loch... a loch ness monster exhibit is in drumnadrochit, about two miles from the castle. it was a sunday and citylink ran two buses out to urquhart castle... planned to take the bus there and then walk back to dromnadrochit. the weather was fantastic... a long stretch of sun. the castle was in ruins and the powers that be wanted six quid to check them out. pass. a great path along the road towards dromnadrochit... the hearty stabbing plants with yellow flowers are spattered throughout scotland. everywhere. rising hills and horses and more sheep.

in the town, i found the loch ness 2000 exhibit. it turned out to be interesting and well done. perhaps not almost six quid of interesting and well done, but there was a fog machine inside and lasers and information and science. i wish sometimes i had some type of head interface and could just plug into the museum computer and download all of the information to my brain... i keep coming across these exhibits which start my mind rolling about similar topics and i want all of the information immediately. now. plug me in. download. i'm trying to keep notes about things i want to research later. two tons of fish in the loch could support only two tons of loch ness monster... the possibility is quite small.

the bus wasn't due back until 8pm and it was only 5pm when i got out of loch ness 2000. the tourist office was closed on sunday [?: seems sundays are good touring days to me] but an information plaque outside the office showed a map of the area with some nature walks. ah, nature. i like walking through the woods on a sunny day... all the way back to loch ness... and then back.

i don't think i could have picked a better time to start my trip. the weather has been cooperating and there aren't many tourists around. i know this will change in about a month. dread that time. the hostels will be filling and i'll need to plan much further in advance.

posted by paul at Sun 24 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

23 April 2005

posturing and police intervention

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from the lowlands to the highlands, the mountains rising. four hours by bus and i was in inverness, a pretty little town in the scottish highlands. out for my walk. i'll leave out the details, but i happened upon a person with an overpowering personality, and i, entangled, could not happen upon a way to delicately extricate myself from the situation. the hostel provided no shelter; the person had the keycode and was staying there as well. but at the end of our journey together one half hour later, i came upon the light at the end of my no taste food tunnel. i found what i have been seeking...

the salad. it was everything i hoped it would be.

two others had arrived in my room: nico and vadim from paris, france. warm friendly guys. i told them about my travels and before i'd uttered the word 'france', vadim was already off about things to do and see in paris. i pulled out my lonely planet guide and both nico and vadim marked up the map of paris with the good and bad of the city. don't go to this area after 11pm... knife stabbings! try this food. check this out. it would be great to have local guides like this for every city.

after some more conversation during which i tried to practice my french, i uncovered that both were in a band and interested in music and we were off to find some live music in inverness. we found a club in which a band was playing traditional scottish music and i bought both nico and vadim a guinness to show my gratitude for all of the paris advice. we learned the bar had an upper level; upstairs, a cover band was playing a cardigans song. whenever i mention to uk randomites that i live in boston, 90% of the time i hear 'ah, the celtics'. the other 10% of the time i hear 'ah, aerosmith.' while watching the band, i met a very nice scottish guy of the aerosmith variety who told me his band covered 'walk this way'.

bars close early in scotland. i think the lights came on shortly after midnight and nico, vadim, and i wandered back to the hostel. stayed up late listening to posturing and police intervention in the parking lot. great night.

posted by paul at Sat 23 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

22 April 2005

too much no taste food

it seems as if the volcano on which edinburgh castle sits has a twin. a twin volcano named arthur's seat... and five of my roommates and i climbed to the top... to 520.5 meters. an amazing view of the city through the haze. so tired when i returned. slept for an hour and then some writing and then some food late. i've been eating too much no taste food. chicken sandwiches and pizza and chips. what i really want is a nice juicy salad with romaine lettuce and ripe red tomatoes and crisp red onions and oil and balsamic vinegar and then that type of salt that you need to grind to get out. that would be great. i'm going to seek it out. a lemon might satisfy in the meantime.

i think i might be meeting more americans than any other nationality on my travels. my roommates, kyle and jenny, matt, john, danielle... and then another kyle and tim... turned out to be a great bunch of people. kyle, jenny, and matt are patriotic canadians. see them in the pictures. the bar at the hostel had a two for one deal on fosters ice at the bar. fosters ice? now capable of 2.5 bottles and while the taste becomes less strong is still not very appealing. stayed up until 3am and had a fun time hanging with travelers in the hostel lounge.

i booked two nights at a hostel in inverness in the scottish highlands very near loch ness. i'm leaving on a bus tomorrow at 1:30pm.

posted by paul at Fri 22 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (2)

21 April 2005

heavy

my day off. my do nothing, write some recon entries, relax in the park nothing day. my trip is now about nothings with a dripping of sights here and there and people. aahh. the weather was beautiful and that was everything. maybe just a stroll through the national gallery of scotland. monet's water lillies series is so mesmerizing... the surface of a pond so... heavy? deep purple with oranges and yellows. i guess everyone likes monet and i do too. i selfishly stood entranced by one of his paintings for a good 15 minutes to the irritation of several other viewers. i spent the rest of the day walking in the gardens near the gallery.

it's chilly here. chilly and windy.

posted by paul at Thu 21 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

20 April 2005

behold!

i'm in edinburgh, scotland!

i'm falling behind a wee bit on my entries here and so i put in some administrative time. i found a net cafe that will allow me to upload pictures... so, behold, the global reconnaissance gallery! the gallery link at the top of this page should work now. i have many more pics to upload, but it's going to be slow going.

i'll be filling in old entries with the correct date and this will cause them to fall lower in the page. you'll see a new entry from 16 april 2005 below. i'm planning to put up a discussion board (under the reconboard link above) that i'll use for administrative entries like this so as not to disrupt the flow on the main board.

having a great time... i've been in edinburgh a day and it's amazing. i'm off now to check into my new hostel.

posted by paul at Wed 20 Apr 2005 at 12:32:52 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

with stone walls rising right from

i only booked one night at the hostel and so again i was left with the situation where i'd need to check out and then back in again if i wanted to stay another night. checkout time was at 10am. while the hostel was centrally located, the drain in the shower in my room was severely clogged and there weren't lockers big enough to hold my main pack. i decided at the last minute to book a night at another hostel... ran down to the lounge and jumped onto hostelworld.com and booked a night with a hostel rated highly by other guests. i checked out and took my pack over to the bus station and stashed it in one of the lockers... and again, out to explore... and what better than edinburgh castle.

a daunting castle perched on a mountain of volcanic rock. with stone walls rising right from. and the crown jewels and prisoners trapped deep in the vaults and speakers trying to give you the feel. failing but still trying. a boat built from scraps of wood and memory by those trapped. americans there. carving into the door timbers. one from 1980 and still no protection. more will come. the museums with mannequins with hair glued. why. the one o'clock gun and the queen's birthday is tomorrow with a 21 gun salute. i'm not here tomorrow. i'm here today. a windy day and chilly.

i haven't been keeping up with these entries and i'm not exactly sure how other travelers have been updating blogs on a daily basis. during the day i want to go out an explore the city... at night either i'm so tired that i just want to sleep or i want to hang out and talk with other guests at the hostel. finding time to keep this updated has become a burden that i'm considering abandoning. additionally, i feel that my entries have become almost like an itinerary... i did this... and then i did this... and so on. i'll do that no longer... the castle description above will be my new blueprint. i'm not going to guarantee complete sentences from this point on.

i've been on the road just over two weeks and the charm of traveling has worn off a bit. ha! i'm hoping once i get into a rhythm things will fall into place. today is the first day i've had feelings of homesickness. i keep running into couples traveling together and think about how great it would be if sarah were with me. seeing the sights of a new city has been wonderful. what isn't so wonderful is booking the hostels and arranging transportation. while i'm meeting many new people in hostels, the transitionary setting makes it difficult to do anything more than scratch the surface of a person. where are you from? how long have you been traveling? where have you been? where are you going? if i'm doing this an entire year... or even if i were doing this for just a month... i still need some time to just sit inside and relax... not see any sights... not do anything... just have a 'normal' day. i'm going to take one of those days tomorrow. and i think i'm going to make an effort to write a little each night.

so... i pulled the trigger on the new hostel just a bit too quickly this morning as i was rushing around trying to check out on time. the new hostel was in cramond foreshore, about three miles away as the crow flies... much longer as the paul walks with his heavy backpack through twisting city streets. in an effort to save 50p on the internet this morning, i failed to notice that the hostel runs a bus service from a location near the castle (and very near the hostel i stayed in last night)... but ha... three miles? or five miles? not a problem. easily walkable, even with the pack. i was on my way.

about forty five minutes and several miles later i had an intense piercing sensation at the base of my neck and an interesting 'my toenail is coming off' sensation in my right little toe which resulted from an 'oh shit, i'm about to get hit by this car' mad dash across a street. my walk had begun near the castle... down through a large commercial district... and then into a residential area. a very run down residential area. a very run down residential area with lots of glaring 'what the hell are you doing here?' and 'hey, nice backpack.' looks. right. hmm. it will be dark soon. this isn't good. trust your instincts. i'd passed a grocery store about five minutes before and so i headed back to call the hostel just to make sure i was in the right area and to see how far away i was... and oh, if they had a bus service that possibly ran near my location. no answer. try again... no answer. screw this... i'm walking back. it's amazing how a piercing sensation at the base of your neck and a sharp dislodged toenail pain disappear completely and you're able to walk twice as fast when you're trying to get out of a questionable section of the city before dark. i had a new energy, but wasn't quite sure if the new energy was enough to get me back to unquestionable territory before the sun went down. after 20 minutes of walking, i hailed the first cab that drove by... 5 minutes later i was back at my previous hostel... 1 minute later i had a room for the next three nights. yay. this made me feel better.

posted by paul at Wed 20 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

19 April 2005

u-shaped nails

i got up early as planned and was out the door by 8am [see digression below]. paisley was about 7 miles from the hostel and i knew i'd have to catch some sort of public transportation to get out there and back before 11am. the gps told me that one road, paisley road west, led straight to paisley from glasgow. to get to paisley road west, i first had to cross the river clyde and navigate some cities streets. after walking about 30 minutes, i discovered the bridge i was planning to cross was a highway with no sidewalk. with time wasting i decided to jump into a cab and asked the driver to take me over the river towards paisley. we hadn't gone more than a mile and a half and the cab fare was already more than five pounds, so i asked the driver to drop me off at the next bus stop.

first bus comes.

me: 'how much is the fare?'

bus driver: 'to where?'

me: 'paisley.'

bus driver: [heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'excuse me?

bus driver: [heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'i'm sorry. i don't understand.'

bus driver: 'wrong bus. you want number nine.'

bus number nine comes.

me: 'how much is the fare?'

bus driver: [laughing. heavy accent. incomprehensible.]

me: 'excuse me?'

bus driver: [still laughing. heavy accent. incomprehensible. caught the word 'fare'.]

me: 'excuse me?'

bus driver: 'how much is the fare, eh? to wheeere?'

me: 'paisley.'

bus driver: 'one pound twenty.'

okay, so apparently you need to tell the bus driver where you're going. in boston, on the city buses you pay one fare no matter where you're going.

i got to paisley at around 9am. the sun for the first time in two days was shining and i was happy. i really enjoyed wandering around for the next hour and a half and made sure to take a lot of pictures for my friend back home. i caught a bus back at 10:30am and got to my hostel with about ten minutes to finish packing before check out.

i wanted to check out the museum of modern art before meeting up with mel at 3pm, but i decided to run up to the bus station and purchase my bus ticket over to edinburgh first. at the bus station i discovered citylink ran buses between edinburgh and glasgow every 15 minutes and so i decided to wait until i was ready to leave to purchase my ticket. i packed up THE in a locker in the bus station and was off to the museum.

as with the museums in london, i took my time walking around and really enjoyed the exhibits. one exhibit consisted of six photographs, each depicting a different type of homemade 'weapon' that a child might construct. some examples were a rubber band which when held between the index finger and thumb could be used to fire u-shaped nails, a pen blowgun which shot pushpins, and a pish balloon. yes, pish. the humorous descriptions of each of these weapons were written in the same way a description might be written for a broadsword or spear.

i met mel at 3pm and we walked down to a place she knew and grabbed a drink. it turns out mel is in a band and we had a nice conversation about travel and music... and traveling with music. after a couple of hours she walked me up to the bus station and i hopped on the citylink bus over to edinburgh. an hour and twenty minutes later i was in a new city. i could tell immediately that i was going to like edinburgh.

digression: i was spoiled in the oxford hostel. the breakfast there was comprised of orange juice, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrowns, and toast. all subsequent complementary hostel breakfasts have been comprised of toast and cereal. blick.

posted by paul at Tue 19 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

18 April 2005

storm of the kingdom

just got into glasgow last night. i've written entries for saturday and sunday, but they're on my laptop and the computers at this internet cafe won't accept usb keys, so i'll transfer those entries (and hopefully pictures as well) as soon as i get a chance. with the current gbp/usd exchange rate, i'm going to pick up the pace on my storm of the kingdom. i'll most likely only stay in glasgow for two days... head over to edinburgh... up to inverness... and over to dublin.

here are a few random thoughts:

. my bus stopped in birmingham, england, on the way from oxford to glasgow. in the bus station, europe's 'the final countdown' was blasting. [insert main synth line here]

. european sprite is my new drink of choice. different and better.

. me at a cafe last night:

clerk: "aye mate, do you want that for here or take away?"

me: [what the hell did he just say?] "excuse me?"

clerk: "here or take away?"

me: [i'll take a stab at this...] "yes?"

. the computer keyboards i've been encountering lately have the double quotes, |, and @ signs on different keys.

. i'm being relocated to another room in the hostel where i'm staying and so i had to check out of my room at 11am and i can't get into my new room until 3pm. the hostel has a luggage check room, but there are no locks and there is no attendant... so, i'll be traveling with THE pack for the next several hours. i'm going to be huge by the time i get home.

posted by paul at Mon 18 Apr 2005 at 06:29:26 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

unlocked unattended

still raining... and bob's still on about the freaking ticket. man. he finally took both tickets and left without a goodbye.

i'd only booked one night in the hostel and when i went down to the front desk to inform the staff i'd be staying an extra night, i was told that i'd be moving rooms and i'd have to check out by 11am and then check back in at 3pm. perfect.

'you can put your pack in the luggage room.'

the luggage room was nothing more than an unlocked unattended closet. it looked like the door could be locked based on the giant electronic keypad to the right of the door, but the lock certainly wasn't being employed. i took a quick look inside the closet and saw about 20 packs sitting on shelves. i didn't want to chance it... especially given the impersonal nature of this hostel... so i buckled on THE and went out to explore.

my first impression of the city from the night before didn't really change after a few hours of exploration. again... could have been the rain or THE pulling me down, but i just wasn't feeling glasgow. based on a multitude of flyers all over the city, it looked like glasgow had a very kicking music scene but i didn't see anything that appealed to me that night. i made the decision fairly early in the day to take off for edinburgh the following day. i felt in a way that i wasn't giving the city a chance, but i still had a lot of ground to cover and i didn't want to second guess myself.

it rained off and on (mostly on) for the rest of the day. i was back at the hostel right at 3pm to check into my new room... a full 14 bed room on the fifth floor. the other guys in the room were in and out and i didn't really get a chance to meet anyone. i ran out to the grocery store for some more spaghetti and meatballs and came back and ate while watching some tv.

my friend jesse, who i first met my sophomore year at the university of vermont, has lived in boston the entire time i was in boston. for one reason or another, we never hooked up until my girlfriend and i ran into him and his wife keira at the movies one day. we managed to squeeze in a dinner about a week before i left. jesse studied abroad for a year in aberdeen, scotland, years ago and knew that a girl he'd met there was living in glasgow. he gave me her email address and i exchanged a couple emails with her before i came to glasgow... she told me to give her a call when i got into the city. as i was dialing the number, i really hoped she wasn't going to have a strong glaswegian accent... i'd already had numerous problems throughout the day which made me feel like a complete idiot. luckily, i could understand mel just fine and we made plans to meet up the following afternoon at 3pm.

an old friend from pennsylvania, jodi, traces her family roots back to an area in scotland called renfrewshire, not far from glasgow. i planned to wake up early the next morning to go explore the administrative city of renfrewshire, paisley, and then return to the hostel before 11am when i had to check out.

posted by paul at Mon 18 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

17 April 2005

more industrial, if you will

i checked out of the hostel this morning around 9am in order to get to the bus station as soon as they opened at 9:30am. the evening before i'd checked at the train station and it was going to be much less expensive for me to take the bus from oxford to glasgow. i purchased my ticket for 48 pound 99 and was on the road about an hour later. spent most of the day in transit trying not to fall asleep for fear that i'd miss some of the scenery. it started raining lightly about four hours into the eight hour journey and by the time we got into glasgow it was pouring steadily.

the hostel was very similar to a giant hotel. it had ten or so floors and i was staying in a 14 bed room on the ninth floor. i got the impression immediately that this hostel was much more of an assembly line for backpackers... get them in... get them out. the hostel lacked character... the staff wasn't quite as friendly as the staff in oxford... the room not quite as clean. as it turned out, i was the only one staying in the 14 bed room. not bad, i thought... i get the lower rate and still get an entire room to myself.

when i arrive at a new destination i generally like to take a long walk about town to get my bearings, but it was still raining and so i decided to grab a sandwich and call it a night. i'm not sure if it was the rain or the long bus ride, but based on a 20 minute walk from the bus station down to the hostel and a quick half hour walk to get some food, i really wasn't feeling glasgow. to be fair, i just think it's a very different type of city than london or oxford... less tourist friendly... a little grittier... more industrial, if you will. typically that would suit me fine, but at this point in my trip i'm still looking for very picturesque places with very accessible attractions. that may change in the future as i begin to look for more than museums, galleries, and castles.

back at the hostel, two other guests had arrived... one from iowa and one from ireland. the irish gentleman, as it turned out, had missed a train and was only staying for a few hours before the next train left at 5am. the three of us talked for a while and when i mentioned that i was planning to head over to edinburgh and then up to inverness, the irish fellow... i'll call him bob... told me he had an extra ticket up to aberdeen and that he'd sell it to me for far less than he'd paid for it. i told him i wasn't planning to hit aberdeen and he was insistent that i could get the destination changed to edinburgh and then get a giant refund.

me: 'no thank you.'

bob: 'but i can't use this ticket and you'll be saving a lot of money.'

me: 'if i were confident that i could transfer the ticket over, then i'd consider it... if you're sure you can get a refund, why not just get the refund yourself?'

bob: 'because i'm not going to use this ticket.'

me: 'no thanks.'

bob: 'but you'll be saving a lot of money.'

this went on for between five and ten minutes... to the point where i was getting very frustrated and almost raised my voice to tell him to stop... and then i remembered i'd be sleeping in the same room with him. after i finally managed to change the topic to something else, bob mumbled something and handed me the ticket. it wasn't clear whether or not he was just giving it to me or whether he wanted me to think about it some more. i said thank you and just laid the ticket on the floor by my bed and quickly shifted the topic of conversation again before heading to bed.

posted by paul at Sun 17 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

16 April 2005

they were looking for some action

location: oxford, england.

my first morning in a hostel started with a false fire alarm at 8am. fine with me... got me up and moving. a complimentary breakfast was included with the room and it turned out to be great... scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hashbrown, and orange juice. any free food is good food... good free food is a bonus.

there are 39 autonomous colleges in oxford and a total of approximately 17,000 students. my plan for the day was pretty much to just walk around oxford and check out a few of the college campuses. one of the colleges, the christ church college, is the setting for hogwarts hall in the harry potter movies. the chris church college also served as an inspiration to cs lewis, who taught mathematics at the college and who authored the alice in wonderland stories. i paid three pounds to take a walk around the christ church campus... unfortunately, with school in session, the great hall made famous in the movies was closed. still, as could be expected, the grounds were beautiful. after the walking tour, i took an extended walk along a stream on a path behind the campus.

after another long day of walking, i bought some pasta and meatballs from a local grocery store for 88p and took it back to the hostel to eat. i ran into joel, a fellow american from minnesota with whom i'd spent the prior evening. japan's heavy metal monster wasn't playing until the following night, but i found some other bands that were playing that night and we decided to check them out. on the way down to the club, we ran into three aussies: ben, scott, and richard... or they ran into us... i'm not quite sure which, but they were looking for a place to go... they were looking for some action, if you will, and joel and i apparently looked like we knew where the action was [?]... and so they decided to check out the bands with us.

after a quick navigational error on my part, the gps (see 'digression' below) steered us right to our destination. the club was completely empty and the bar staff told us there weren't any bands playing that night, despite a sign stating the contrary hanging right outside the club door. we ended up hitting some random bar where i continued my beer taste acquisition mission. unfortunately, the bar wasn't serving kronenbourg and so i ordered up a fosters in honor of my new acquaintances. australians don't drink fosters.

the bars over here close at 11pm and the australians had to catch a train back to london that night. we said our goodbyes and joel and i headed back to the hostel. i had a great time with all of them... thanks guys... keep in touch.

i'm off to glasgow, scotland, tomorrow.

digression: picture the scene... it's just starting to get dark and the streets are beginning to fill up with people going out for the night. i'm using a gps (which i'm trying to nonchalantly play off as a gigantic cell phone) to lead four guys down the street. ha! say what you will... the geek gear came through in a big way and took us right where we wanted to go.

posted by paul at Sat 16 Apr 2005 at 00:00:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

15 April 2005

rock the grey

my laundry took much longer than i expected. home: 25 minute wash. 45 minute dry. here: 60 minute wash. 60 minute dry. what's up with those settings, sam? i'd originally planned to be on my way by around 9:30am. alas, like many times before, the 'original plan' became the 'new plan' after i realized my laundry was going to take much longer than i'd expected. i figured i'd wash everything, whites and colors, in one load to expedite the process. bollocks. i failed to remember that many of these items hadn't been washed before and i'm now left with four grey t-shirts and four grey pairs of socks. i'm going to rock the grey until i can find replacements.

since my arrival in england last tuesday, this is the first time i've walked with THE pack. rather than clipping the day pack onto the back of the main pack (which due to its weight caused me to walk with a forward lean), i'm now hanging it over my shoulder and resting it on my chest. this balances my load fairly well and i didn't have any problem on my 15 minute walk down to the tube station. i didn't make it to the national express bus station until around 1pm. fortunately, oxford is a fairly popular destination and the buses leave every half hour or so. i was on my way to oxford by 1:20pm and arrived at about 3pm.

the hostel in which i'm staying is in a great location right behind the train station and is very clean... a good starting hostel, if you will. after locking up my backpack, i was out to explore the town (city?). i noticed right off that the hustle and bustle of london was nonexistent in oxford. despite the small town feel, there really seems like a lot going on here with all of the students walking around. i'm planning to stay tonight and tomorrow night and take off for glasgow on monday morning, although i saw on a flyer hanging up in the hostel that a band calling themselves 'japan's heavy metal monster' is playing on sunday night. might have to stick around for that one.

so, how am i doing with money? i'm tracking my expenses diligently on my treo. so far i've spent a total of 307 pounds, but this includes a 60 pound sleeping bag expenditure. without this 60 pound purchase, i've spent 247 pounds at an average of 24.70 pounds/day ($45.95 us/day). pretty much what i expected in the uk, although the fact that i spent nothing for accomodation in london tells me that i need to watch my expenditures (the 5 pound chocolate chip cookie splurge today, for example). i hit the grocery store tonight for a cheap meal of pasta and meatballs and breat. as long as i'm careful, i should do all right.

i've taken a bunch of pictures and i'm slowly getting the gallery ready... taking far longer than i'd expected. with so much going on, it's hard to find time to get on the computer, and now that i'm not staying with sam i'm paying for internet service. a pound for 15 minutes. blah!

hit another pub last night with two guys in my hostel and had about 3/4 of a pint of kronenbourg. not bad at all. i'm going to rock the kronenbourg again. met a very nice australian woman who invited me to stay with her when i get to oz. very cool.

happy birthday to me.

posted by paul at Fri 15 Apr 2005 at 11:26:21 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

14 April 2005

from which all other

20050413004.jpg


greenwich, england. 0 degrees longitude. the greenwich prime meridian. the line from which all other lines of longitude are measured. the origin of greenwich mean time.

i took a train out to greenwich today to check out the maritime museum and the royal observatory. the day started out with a little rain, but by early afternoon the sun was shining. spent most of the day out in greenwich and then hit the zombie rush hour tube back to london.

i've yet to find an alcohol that i enjoy. it's time. my difficult mission: to acquire the taste for beer. oh yes, it shall be done. let the reveling and merrymaking commence. i took sam and sean out to the local pub to thank them both for letting me rock the couch for the past ten days. sean recommended a larger shandy, which he described as a cross between 7-up and beer. i finished about half a pint and could do no more... yet the mission continues. i shall return to the states a raving alcoholic.

posted by paul at Thu 14 Apr 2005 at 23:36:28 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

13 April 2005

anxious to get back

i decided i was going to take it easy today after making the resolution on monday to insert more relaxation time in my days. i planned to check out the national gallery and the national portait gallery in the morning and then head over into one of the parks to enjoy the scenery in the afternoon. similar to my visit to the tate modern however, my visit to the national gallery turned into an all day affair (which was just as well because it rained lightly throughout the day). as i said before, i haven't kicked the art museums much in the past and while i was in boston i never once visited the museum of fine arts. really a shame. after visiting the national gallery in london, i realized what i've been missing. i spent the entire day in the national gallery viewing paintings by van gogh, monet, seurat, michelangelo, da vinci... absolutely amazing. what's incredible is that the galleries are free to the public... if i lived in london i could definitely see myself visiting them regularly.

the national gallery is open late on wednesday, but the national portrait gallery (located on the opposite side of the same building and which features portraits of important british figures from the early 16th century through modern day) was closing at 6pm. i lost track of time and only got to spend about an hour and a half in the national portrait gallery. i was a bit rushed and i think i missed a few things, but i was fairly anxious to get back in the national gallery which was open for another three hours. i spent another couple hours in the national gallery until my back couldn't take the stress any longer.

back in the flat, i made reservations at a hostel in oxford, england, where i plan to spend friday and saturday. after that, i'll head north either to manchester, england, or the entire way up to glasgow, scotland. friday night will mark my first hostel stay since arriving in england... i'll miss the cushy accomodations at sam's.

posted by paul at Wed 13 Apr 2005 at 19:54:56 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

12 April 2005

the scars of years

i've been in london a week now and i'm really enjoying the city. here are some random thoughts:

. the full windsor is the knot of choice for 99% of london businessmen. pinstripe suits are very popular.

. i've found several websites claiming the thames is one of the cleanest metropolitan rivers in the world. right. i don't think the sunlight penetrates more than a foot, er... more than a third of a meter... into the murky brown water.

. i'm still looking the wrong way when crossing the street. although these signs appear at almost every intersection, they really don't help me. for some reason, i find myself looking at the upside down writing on the far side of the intersection which tells me to look the _wrong_ direction. it's really throwing me off.

. i'm not over the taste of coke here. it's almost like diet coke. and skittles... they don't taste the same either. black currant? twix... same story. not that i've been sustaining myself on coke and candy bars or anything, but... worth a mention.

. my gps has _really_ come in handy with navigation. with all of the london detail maps loaded, the gps identifies all points of interest.

end of random thoughts...

today i visited westminster abbey and the tate modern. the abbey, founded in the 10th century, has been the site of coronation for every monarach since the coronation of william i in 1066. it also houses the coronation chair that has been used at every coronation since 1308 as well as the tombs of approximately 3300 people, including kings, queens, important political leaders, and famous poets, musicians, and scientists. the history here is staggering. similar to that in the tower of london, even the graffiti is interesting. for a long while the coronation chair was accessible to the public and as such bears the scars of years of graffiti; i noted some carvings with dates in the early 1700's. i sought out two tombs in the abbey... that of sir isaac newton (1642-1727) and that of charles darwin (1809-1882). rip, gentlemen.

had a great time at the tate modern. i've never been into visiting art museums, but i really enjoyed the tate modern and spent a considerable amount of time there checking out all of the exhibits. in turbine hall on the bottom floor of the tate modern, bruce nauman's auditory exhibit called raw materials creates a collage of sound using a series of speakers hung on the walls. the sound samples are spoken word excerpts from existing texts set over an eery drone. the speakers are hung in pairs, creating 'bands of sound' and as you walk up and down the hall, you're able to pick out different sounds and conversations. great introduction to the museum.

another cool exhibit in the tate modern centered around a cabinet which held various artifacts recovered in an archaeological dig from each bank of the thames. in 1999, mark dion and a team of vounteers found all sorts of items including animal bones, pottery, nails, dolls, shells... you can imagine what might be recovered from a river next to a two thousand year old city. all of these items are on display in the drawers and on the shelves of the cabinet, all meticulously sorted into various categories. very interesting stuff.

posted by paul at Tue 12 Apr 2005 at 22:30:11 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

11 April 2005

already gone

the weather in london was amazing today and i had a kicking day. started with a tour around the city courtesy of big bus tours. big bus tours runs three different bus routes around the city and riders can get off and back on at any of the stops for a full 24 hours after purchasing a ticket. i'd originally planned to hit either the tate modern or the national gallery today, but the weather was so nice i wanted to stay outside for most of the day... i kicked back in a seat on the open-air top deck of the doubledecker bus and took in the sites.

after one complete loop around the city which took about two hours i got off at the london bridge stop and decided to check out the 'london dungeon' attraction. i knew that to some extent this attraction was just a glorified haunted house, but i was hoping there would be some museum-like exhibits inside which would provide more information about the horrors of london's past (the torture and prisons, the bubonic plague of 1665, the great fire of 1666, jack the ripper, etc.). there were very few exhibits as it turned out and in retrospect i should have asked some more questions before buying the fairly expensive ticket. fun, but it really wasn't worth the ticket price.

a slight digression on prices and exchange rates: things are expensive in london. as of my first atm withdrawl last tuesday, 1 british pound = 1.86 us dollars... almost double. unfortunately, the price tags on most things in london could just as well be in us dollars. i've read that it's best to stop doubling all of the prices in your head to determine the cost of an item in usd and to just think of pounds as dollars while in the uk. i haven't been able to do that yet. the tower of london ticket was £14 ($26.04 us). the big bus tour ticket was £18 ($33.48 us). pricey. i've been really fortunate to have a place to stay while i'm here. sam's generosity has saved me a lot of money. thanks again sam! -the lodger

the big bus tour ticket included a one-way river cruise down the thames, so i made my way over to the tower of london pier. while we waited for the boat to depart, the captain announced that the tower bridge spans would be opening up to allow a ship into the 'pool of london', the expanse of the thames directly in front of the tower of london. the river cruise, like the bus tour, turned out to be relaxing and it was great to be outside while the weather was so nice.

back on land by the westminster bridge, i decided to take a walk through green park and up to buckingham palace. what a great day... i feel like i've been hitting so many of the tourist attractions that i haven't really had a chance to just relax and enjoy the day. i got some ice cream which tasted like... not really the ice cream i'm used to but more like... coolwhip, i suppose. yum. i really enjoyed my time in the park and resolved to insert more relaxation time in my days. while it's tough right now because there's so much to do and see in london, i think it will gradually become easier as the trip progresses.

i ended the day with a walking tour (also included with my big bus tour ticket). by the time i got back to the flat, my back was aching. my back has been holding up surprisingly well for the amount of walking i've been doing over the past week. i've only been carrying my small daypack however; i think things will change once i'm on the road with THE pack. i anticipate throwing out a few things before the trip is over... toothbrush container: already gone. all underwear: already gone. no, not really.

posted by paul at Mon 11 Apr 2005 at 22:19:00 EST (-05:00) | comments (1)

10 April 2005

the british museum

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i checked out the british museum today. admission: free. the museum's collection is incredibly extensive... i spent most of my time in the egyptian, greek, and roman exhibits and also hit an exhibit on all types of money from past to present.

the british museum has an entire hall filled with marble from the parthenon in athens, greece. these sculptures have apparently been the source of an intense debate between the uk and greece as greece has requested they be returned to a new acropolis museum being built in athens. the spin on the informational panel at the museum states "The Parthenon and its sculptures remained largely intact until the temple was converted into a church, perhaps around AD 500, when half of the east pediment was removed and most of the metopes were defaced. In 1687 the building was reduced to ruins by an explosion of gunpowder stored there by the Turkish garrison. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Lord Elgin's agents removed a number of sculptures to England. Acquired by Parliament for The British Museum in 1816, they are now displayed in the gallery endowed by the late Lord Duveen." the british museum has a site up at http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/gr/debate.html where you can read more about the debate.

one exhibit i was especially excited to see was the rosetta stone. discovered in egypt in a town called rashid (rosetta) in 1799, the rosetta stone carries an inscription of one decree written three separate times each in a different language: egyptian hieroglyphs, egypian demotic, and greek. this stone was the key to decrypting the ancient egyptian hieroglyphs.

back in november, i attended a conference on supercomputing in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, and one of the exhibitors at the conference demonstrated a computer with largescale data processing capabilities using cat scan data of egyptian mummies. during the demo, a computer operator virtually explored the inner sarcophagus, the various levels of wrappings, and the human remains beneath... all in realtime. the mummy image could be manipulated in any direction, cross sections could be shown, and different layers of the mummy could be accentuated by filtering the cat scan data. the presentation was amazing. when i discovered that the british museum was playing a 3d feature called 'mummy: the inside story' which boasted the same cat scan imagery, i knew i had to check it out. unfortunately, the presentation was just a bit disappointing for me... after seeing the mummy cat scan image being manipulated in realtime, the movie fell a bit short.

on my way out, i stumbled upon an exhibit entitled Cradle to Grave, which displays two lengths of fabric, each of which contains over 14,000 drugs, "the estimated average prescribed to every person in Britain in their lifetime" according to the informational panel. the cloth illustrating a typical British man's story shows immunizational drugs early on in life, antibiotic drugs at various times, and drugs to treat asthma and heart infection later in life. the cloth illustrating a typical British woman's story shows the same immunizational and antibiotic drugs but also shows her taking contraceptive pills as well as drugs to treat breast cancer later in life. very neat exhibit... included here for the benefit of my former coworkers. :)

i saw my pal sherlock holmes at the museum today... no kidding... same sherlock hat and all. i fear he's trailing me after the disparaging remarks i made about him yesterday. just my opinion, mr. holmes.

posted by paul at Sun 10 Apr 2005 at 18:53:31 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

09 April 2005

the tower of london

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a combination of factors conspired to keep me in bed yesterday until well past noon. in addition to combating a cold that i caught about a week before i left (for which i've been downing vitamin c tablets like candy), the five hour time shift has really messed with my nocturnal schedule. for much of march i lived my life between 2pm and 5am boston time (7pm - 10am london time), researching destinations and buying gear online late at night. while i'm no longer living life on a schedule, most of the rest of the world certainly is and historical sites and museums are open during typical 9am - 5pm business hours. i'm trying desperately to force myself back into a daytime life.

i made my way to st. paul's cathedral yesterday. designed by christopher wren and built between 1675 and 1701 after the great fire of 1666, the cathedral boasts the second largest church dome in the world, second only to that of st. peter's in rome. i serendipitously arrived just as a service was beginning. the female members of the choir were singing softly and the reverberation of the voices inside the obe (order of the british empire) chapel at the far end of the cathedral was absolutely beautiful. the choir and organ kept me entranced throughout the entire service. the cathedral administration is in the process of cleaning and restoring both the inside and outside of the great monument and as such certain areas are off limits, including the whispering gallery, a walkway within the cathedral dome, where even slight sounds carry to the opposite side 32 meters away.

today i managed an early rising and made my way to the tower of london by 10:30am. william i began construction on the white tower at the center of the fortress in 1078 (!) and successive kings (including william ii and henry iii) have added to the defensive capabilities of the tower, digging a moat and building an outer wall and additional towers. the tower of london has served as a royal residence, a treasury, a mint, and an arsenal, although it may be best known as a prison. famous prisoners include queens anne boleyn and catherine howard, both of whom were beheaded within the tower walls.

i really expected my visit to the tower to last only a couple of hours, but i soon realized that there was a lot to see within the outer walls. one of the most interesting things for me was the prisoner "graffiti" carved into the tower walls, most carvings bearing dates from the 16th century. pics here and here and a very ornate one here. so very cool. the carvings really serve to "humanize" the prisoners... i can't imagine what it must have been like to be locked up in a tower for tens of years... i can however imagine an entrapment of sorts: one of the tourguides led me and about twenty other tourists into a rather cramped space at the base of one of the towers and proceeded to give a 15 minute lecture about the history of queen elizabeth i and the conflict between protestants and catholics during her reign. after a few minutes, the tourguide had already used the word "however" seven times (yes, i was counting) and i tuned her out and glanced around for the exit. with the crowd of people behind me, there was no way i was getting out of there before the 42nd "however". i dug through my pockets looking for some sort of carving tool... "here i standeth trapped, driven mad by a word." pavl 2005.

i'm still working on the gallery and hope to have something up soon. i'm spurred on because i really want to share the picture i took of an american gentleman wearing a sherlock holmes style hat and a sweatshirt with a giant "england" emblazoned on the front. i think it's an unwritten rule that one not wear souvenir garments within the city (or in this case country) of purchase.

posted by paul at Sat 09 Apr 2005 at 20:45:59 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)

07 April 2005

wandering

what an amazing city. i woke up at about 9am gmt, took a shower, charged my camera and gps batteries, and was on the street by 10:30am gmt (nice and early for me). i spent the entire day walking the city and returned around 6:30pm gmt. note to self: bring umbrella tomorrow. the weather was absolutely bizarre... one moment the sun would be shining brightly; the next moment rain would be pouring. i didn't hit any of the museums or major attractions today; my plan was to just wander around and get a sense of how the city is laid out. tomorrow i'll most likely check out the tower of london and i might make it over to one of the museums.

i spent several hours tonight getting the gallery section set up. i think it's pretty close, but i need to streamline the downsizing and uploading process. i'll definitely have pics up tomorrow evening.

if anyone has suggestions for places i should check out, please post on the site. also, if you haven't already notified your friends and family about this site and think they might be interested, please pass on the website address.

posted by paul at Thu 07 Apr 2005 at 23:14:58 EST (-05:00) | comments (4)

06 April 2005

nin ticket

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i forgot to mention... my nine inch nails ticket for the show on 15 june 2005 arrived in my post office box the day before i left!

posted by paul at Wed 06 Apr 2005 at 20:57:25 EST (-05:00) | comments (0)

what the hell was i thinking?

the full impact of my decision to travel the world for a year finally hit me yesterday as sarah and i were driving to the airport. i liken the feeling to riding a roller coaster that is just moments away from plunging down the first hill. i don't think i had time to consider the implications of my decision before that moment because i was too busy running around trying to get everything ready and tie up all of the loose ends. what the hell was i thinking? what have i gotten myself into? i just quit my job, moved out of my apartment, left my car... and most importantly left my sweet girlfriend behind for an entire year... what caused this radical change? i couldn't get these thoughts out of my head.

and then the roller coaster plunged over the top of the first hill and i'm heading full speed ahead... and i'm trying to soak in everything. i want to notice every little bit of difference that this trip brings... the metric label on the coke can and the way the coke tasted slightly more like fruit than american coke... my first siting of cars driving on the opposite sides of the road and my first siting of european electrical outlets... all tiny inconsequential things, but they're all firsts and differents. as the plane took off from boston, i had a feeling i was onto something big. i'm excited.

i wasn't able to get a final weight for my pack because we'd already packed the scale, but i'm positive the pack is over 25 pounds. i'd guess it's closer to 40 pounds. i'll try to get a determinative weight as soon as the opportunity presents itself. as it turned out, aer lingus (the airline on which i was flying) has very different restrictions than jetblue about sizes of carry-on bags... my pack far exceeded their limitations and i was forced to check it.

my flights were fairly uneventful... well, fairly, i had a layover in shannon, ireland, for a few hours early this morning and arrived in london, england, at approximately 10:40am gmt. my pack unfortunately didn't arrive with me... in fact, it stayed aboard the first plane in shannon and decided it would like to see dublin for an hour or two. bad pack! after taking a ride to dublin, my pack arrived when it was good and ready when that first plane made its way to heathrow airport. thank you packie.

i had been concerned about arriving in the uk with a one-way ticket, but as i stated in my previous post, i didn't have to pass through uk customs/immigration and so didn't have a problem at all. it was fairly strange... i kept waiting for the customs checkpoint as i walked through the corridors leading away from the arrival gate. the corridors eventually just led to heathrow's main lobby... i went as far as asking a woman at an airport information booth about the lack of an immigration checkpoint. she said it's not uncommon for passengers coming from ireland to pass right into england without being questioned by customs officials. okay.

i'll be staying with my girlfriend's sister's brother-in-law, sam, in london. sam had sent me a very detailed and helpful document outlining the best ways to travel from the airport to his flat (that's right, i wrote 'flat'... i can hang) as well as some other key tips for getting around in london... i was very grateful to have this information. the cheapeast alternative was london's subway system (er, 'the tube'... maybe i can't hang). after withdrawing 100 pounds sterling (quid, if you will... yep, hang) from an atm in heathrow, i purchased a one-way train ticket for 3.80 pounds (not slick enough yet to get the pounds character in there... nope, can't hang) and was on my way to london bridge station, the closest tube stop to my destination. i arrived at sam's at about 4:40pm gmt.

everything has been going great so far. i'm still incredibly tired and have only slept an hour, but i hope to be back to full speed tomorrow and am going to take a long walk around the city. sam and his roommate (er, flatmate, right?) have been extremely hospitable... so glad this was my first stop.

coming up... exchange rates, stuff i packed, and hopefully lots of london pictures with my stupid head in them!

posted by paul at Wed 06 Apr 2005 at 19:15:17 EST (-05:00) | comments (5)

arrival in london!

i made it! i'm in london right now... heathrow airport. customs was a breeze... i had a layover in shannon, ireland, where i told irish customs officials that i was just passing through to london. after arriving in london, i didn't have to go through customs at all... no questions, no stamp, nothing. haven't slept at all and need to figure out how to get to sam's place. note to self: make sure to transfer funds from savings into checking before trying to withdrawl money from an atm. i now have 100 pounds sterling. i drank 150 ml of coke on the plane. i'm very tired.

posted by paul at Wed 06 Apr 2005 at 08:22:43 EST (-05:00) | comments (10)

04 April 2005

imminent

wow. so, two days to go. it's going to come down to the wire with many of my outstanding tasks. my flight doesn't leave until 7:00pm est on tuesday, so i'll have some time to take care of a few things in the morning and early afternoon. where has the time gone? as expected, these last few weeks have been a blur of visiting friends and family and taking care of trip preparations.

i stopped in at bob smith's wilderness house, ems, and rei today to pick up some last minute items. if i have some time tomorrow or tuesday morning, i'll write up a complete list of everything i'm packing. with everything i bought today and earlier this week, i think my pack is going to be closer to 30 pounds than 20 pounds. reed at the wilderness house gave me a refresher course on my pack... what each of the straps does, how to distribute the weight in the pack, how to program the internal pack computer to automatically create a list of the pack contents. (no, not really). as i said before, i can't say enough good things about the staff at the wilderness house... great people.

i've been warned that my standard uniform black bdu pants along with combat boots might not go over so well in some countries. i think the boots are here to stay, so i've been looking for a pants alternative in an attempt to tone down the military look. who's the genius who designed "travel pants" without back pockets and without zippers on the pockets? if i were to design travel pants, i'd have pockets all over the place... all with zippers... wth detachable legs so the pants could be converted to shorts. i ended up buying a pair of non-black pants from rei that convert into shorts... the closest thing i could find to what i was looking for. still, no zippers. wonder how difficult it would be to install those myself.

i'm planning to get up early tomorrow... yikes, 3:47am right now. i'll rephrase. i'm planning to take a nap this morning and then take my last trip up to the storage space at around 9am. then i need to run some errands... need to photocopy my passport and other id and send that off to my parents. need to go through my gear... the list goes on.

i'm excited. i'm very excited. it's getting close.

posted by paul at Mon 04 Apr 2005 at 03:39:25 EST (-05:00) | comments (3)