Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Day 42: Say Hello and Say Goodbye

The forecast said cloudy and rain. The morning started out with big gloomy grey clouds. As I waited for my bus, the wind was cold, bearable in my t-shirt but still colder than usual. When I arrived at Leicester Square, the day was grey, people wrapped in jackets and coats, umbrellas abounded. But I forged on. It’s my last full day.

I found my way to Charing Cross Road, a place known for it’s book stores. I love book stores, after Borders closed in the US, I have no book stores near me except a second hand chain book store that gets the lower prices because they buy publishers’ overruns, or something like that. They don’t buy your books and re-sell them.

But the books stores on Charing Cross have rare books and old books, leather bound books with gold gilded pages. When you step in, you smell the ‘ancientness’. It’s something akin to an antique store, but a stronger smell. Both old stores were cramped and filled with shelves that rose to the ceiling. Then both had downstairs areas that were the size of closets and twisted into warrens of books. One had more older things, going as far as labeling on self as “medium rare” having just eaten, the pun was lost on me.

But they both had that classic old book smell. I used to love it, but my allergies have overpowered whatever nostalgia I may have left in me. The tightness of the rooms, the closeness of the smells, I could not stay long. I did pick up to massive paper back tomes by Peter F Hamilton, Britain’s Number One Science Fiction Writer (proclaims the book-I’d hazard George Orwell, H.G. Wells, maybe Arthur C. Clarke might have argued that point, but they are dead). It’s ‘hard’ sci fi so I’ll see.

Then I made my way to Abbey Road. I’ve been a Beatles fan since I was a kid. I grew up listening to Sinatra, Streisand and even Mario Lanza because I listened to the music my parents listened to. Then when I discovered rock n roll, it was actually ELO, a British band. Having listened and appreciating the standards (I still do though I don’t know when they became jazz), I appreciate lyrics just as much if not more on a song. The Beatles, as we all know, are masters of the form.

How could I leave England without visiting the famous Abbey Road, I was going to cross that corner, even if I had to walk it barefoot! I wasn’t hard to find at all, it was a quick 20-30min ride from Leicester Square(I include the waiting). I took the Picadilly line westbound to Green Park and transferred to the Jubilee line to Stanmore and got off at the St. John’s Wood station. Every station has multiple ‘way out’ it’s usually on a corner and some have six entrances and exits! I oddly enough, chose correctly, heading out the Finchley Road exit.

They didn’t have any signs pointing to where Abbey Studios was, I had to google it. It seems like a nice quiet residential area so that might be why. But as soon as I got to street level, in the station was a little Beatles coffee shop. Then I simply followed Grove End Road west until it intersected with Abbey Road. It’s a nice walk, not far at all.

There weren’t a lot of people, it was raining. But there were people there. All of us standing around looking at a piece of pavement, standing on a street corner, not quite knowing what to do. But as I looked around, I saw faces of fans, we were all taking pictures of that same piece of cement with the white lines. I would guess, we all also had that famous album cover photo in our heads.

I wondered how I’d go about taking my picture crossing the street. Should I pull out my giant camera, find someplace to put it down and time it? Hand that to a stranger and hope they don’t run away? Or hand my phone, which carries my entire life, to a stranger?

When I finally approached an older woman and asked her to take my photo, I handed her my phone, handing a stranger my life stories. Then I giddily crossed the street to join the other people on the other corner, to make the walk back across the street as John, Paul, George and Ringo had done decades before.

I crossed and joined a group of other people standing around. We somehow decided we would all cross in the same way as the Beatles had. I said I would walk barefoot. But another woman said, she could because she had on flat sandals. So we strangers, took on the role of our rock idols and crossed the street. I had inadvertently become John, since no one wanted to cross first since traffic didn’t seem to want to stop for us even though I KNEW they HAD too since the ball lights were blinking and I was on the walkway. I knew the keen obedience Europe and the UK have for pedestrians, we are priority, all vehicles stop.

The lovely woman had taken a series of photographs and they came out well. I was giddy and thanked her profusely then walked back to the train station. There was nothing else left to do, you can’t go on a tour of Abbey Studios after all. Now that I write this, I probably should have asked the woman if she wanted me to take her pictures too, but she was taking to a man who I had assumed she had known and seemed to be taking pictures of her crossing the same intersection. I just hope she knew how happy she made me.

I had to rush back to Green Park and take the Picadilly line back out to Heathrow to return to my hotel. There was an announcement that there was a strike coming later on in the afternoon and the Tube would stop running and would be completely shut down tomorrow. Knowing this and also having an off-peak ticket, I had to get on the train and back before the Tube became a madhouse.

I did take time to visit the Earl’s Court neighborhood, that was my first foray into London and I was treated well and the first four days of my adventures started there, I had to say good bye to the place myself. So I dropped off my final postcards at the post office that was an actual post office(another story for the book), then said good bye to the station that had become my home for a while.
Thus the last full day of my 6 weeks of traveling through Europe came  to an end. As long as it sounds and as I’ve had some long days of travel, frustration and distractions, it has flown by awfully quick.

I had planned to come into London because it’s cheaper to fly in and out of the same city. I chose London because if I was going to have any transitioning into or out of a culture, at least it’s an English speaking location.

But I didn’t realize just now how I am closing a ring. It began here in London, but does it end here as well? The irony is in the details. Before I arrived here, I had pulled a tendon on my left foot on the outside part of my leg, but with feet and legs, any part injured means that the entire system is compromised.

Having already ruptured and needing replacement of my achilles tendon on my right foot, I’ve been concerned about my left foot bearing the burden of my weight. After all these years, it is now that it is showing signs of deterioration.

So when I arrived in London, I was limping and in pain. Today, as I went about some last minute sightseeing, catching some of the things I wanted to do, not just to check off bits of a list, I re-injured my left foot. It has bothered me off and on during my travels, but this time, it really hurts. It’s difficult doing this blog with my leg on the desk being elevated.

Full circle? I don’t know, I don’t want to say yes because a circle is closed. Part of me wants a closed system, coming to a full circle, resolution, answers, etc. But another bigger part of me wants and out, I want an open system, I want wide open with no circle to bind, direct or limit me. I thought I would find answers, I have found some, but not all questions are answered. Maybe, as a friend said, I’m just like the people on “Lost” looking for answers and 6 weeks isn’t enough. But I also don’t want to just be the smoke monster shifting this way and that. I don’t know, the only thing I am truly certain is this is a bittersweet moment. I miss my family and friends, but I love my traveling feet.

“You say good bye and I say hello! Hello hello! I don’t know why you say good bye, I say hello”
- The Beatles

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Day 41: Stonehenge & Bath

It's ironic that when we set out to go to Stonehenge & Bath that the day would start out so grey, threatening and cold. But my cousin's husband assured me that when the rain poured as he drove to Stonehenge, it was actually good news, because when we would arrive in Stonehenge it wouldn't be raining.

As we arrived at Stonehenge, there was a stiff wind and a rather chilly start but no rain. As we walked to the "stones" the dark brooding rain clouds continued to threaten.

But as we walked the perimeter to look at every angel of the stones, the clouds began to disperse and the blue sky and sunlight began to shine. 

The stones are remarkable, how majestic they stand on that hill surrounded by ancient barrows - burial mounds. 

It's important that you actually walk around the stones because depending on the lighting, the angle and point of view, you can see different patterns on the stones.

I don't know that for all the photos I took, I actually got the full effect of the stones. They have to be seen to be experienced. No, you won't be able to touch them hopefully to travel to another time or place. They have roped off the stones to the general public.

Within walking distance, tromping through open fields, you can get some close up views of barrows and other things, but we needed to get to Bath.

Just as we finished looking through the re-enacted straw hut demonstrations and left for Bath, the dark heavily laden rain clouds began to gather again.

The rolling countryside of England has a discipline unlike the almost wild rambling countryside of Scotland. Scotland seems so natural and just unabated, but the English countryside has the sharp corners and well tended fields of corn, barley and lavender covered hillsides.

Still plenty of cows and sheep, but as we neared Bath, the rolling fields took greater slopes and deeper troughs.

Bath was a much bigger city than any of us imagined. The traffic was tight with some street construction, but mostly because the streets were still narrow.

There didn't seem to be a "new" part of town, all the buildings seem to reflect the dignity of a dowager queen.

The Roman baths are missing some of their structure but after the incredible span of time they have stood, they are allowed a few missing roofs.

But I was delighted by the statues standing over the terrace overlooking the main pool, they included Julius Caesar, Vespatian, were who I remembered.

I did learn something new, that the baths were actually a part of a compound that included a pagan temple in the worship of the goddess Minerva. 

I didn't even notice a lot of mention in Rome about Roman paganism. Perhaps because Rome is the center of the Catholic religion, the pagan traditions are hidden away. So this was even more exciting to me.

Imagine a religion that allows you to write curses on your enemies and submit them to your goddess!

I also got a chance to eat at Nando's chicken, specifically Nando's Bath Vaults. The decor was made up to look like part of the Roman baths. 

Nando's the restaurant was unlike any restaurant I was familiar with. But then again, it could be because there is a strong resemblance to how people order in pubs.

If you've read my previous posts on England, I mentioned how in an English pub you have to go up to the bar, place your order and pay then someone brings out your food. Nando's is similar yet different.

When you walk into a Nando's, you have to be seated and they give you a menu, then you decide what you want, bring the menu back up to the bar, place your order and they bring it out to you. 

As you wait for your food, you help yourself to the drink fountain, the actual silverware, napkins and pick what your condiments will be. From salad dressing to the malt vinegar for your chips, to the sauce to use with the chickens.

Now in my opinion, it's just grilled chicken with the skin on it. It's not breaded nor deep fried so it's not comparable to a KFC or Popeyes. But since it is Portuguese chicken, the dessert includes pastel natas, Portuguese egg tart. But we didn't order any since I already had the best pastel natas ever made at Pasteis de Belem.

England can have their peri peri chicken at Nando's, I'm looking forward to Chipotle and a barbacoa bowl! Both have their loyal fans in each country. Glad to know as their is a Chipotle's in London just off Leicester Square and a Nando's in DC.

As we drove back, the sun gently sliding across the sky, I was lulled to an almost zen reverie of simply enjoying the countryside.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Day 40: Seaside Stories

I took another long train trip from the grey, sad skies of Loch Lomond to the frenetic skies over London. Of course I missed the early train, but I listen to the PA and got to ride not just in the right train but on coach on the line. Sometimes they split the rear coaches from the front couches and go in different direction.

But before I know it, I was on the train on my way out to Sussex. I'm a fan of Squeeze so when I saw the station "Clapham Junction" I finally knew I was England.

Because seeing Westminster Abbey, Big Ben or Buckingham palace didn't seem real until I saw "Clapham Junction". Go figure.
As the train is a commuter train, the other passengers were more concerned with shop talk or their smart phones, but I spent the time looking out the window and almost jumped out of my skin when I saw this through my train window.
He's called the "Long Man of Wilmington"and his beginnings are still clouded in mystery and myth. There are theories that it was made between the 11th & 15th centuries since many Roman coins from those times bear a similar figure.

But it's the ocean side that explains why Sussex is such a tourist spot, the waiting room for Jesus. There's a heavy geriatric population, thus the moniker.

But it's a beautiful seaside city. Not too big not too small. My cousins have lived here for over 10 years and have made it their home. I can see why. The ocean front is lined with elegant old homes that has been converted to hotels.
Their beach front is actually man made with rocks and stones of various sizes. But they made an area where restaurants and cafes line the beach making it a popular hangout for both visitors and locals.

There is even an old lighthouse that has been converted to a small hotel. It looks cozy enough in the daylight, but I wonder what it must be light at night when dark skies envelope the cliffs?

The cliffs in the area are magnificent and awe inspiring. They build up a large park for walking, jogging or biking. Many people come up to have a picnic and stare at the sea.

I can't say enough of this pretty little town, it's slow relaxed pace, to be able to see the coast of France on a clear day, and walk the miles of coast line.

However, beauty in nature has its price. When I went, it was low tide, you can walk down there and wander. I was told that there was an elderly couple who went down there and was taken by surprise by the quickly rising tide and succumbed to its watery welcome.

The top of the cliff is also notorious for the jumpers. I was told that it is such a popular stop that as many as 300 possible jumpers were persuaded otherwise by a chaplain who is normally stands watch. But that number doesn't include those who succeeded.
There summer hasn't come yet, it is still yet to come closer to the end of July and August. But the sun rises at 4am and goes down around 10-11pm. But in their winters, the sky rarely lightens, staying dark with incessant rains, an environment that exacerbates the morbidity rates of those who jump.

Yet despite the sad stories, the area is beautiful, this is the English countryside I was looking for. As we drove past a new field of barley, Sting's "Fields of Gold" came on and my spirits were lifted.

I don't know the name of this river, but - here's the Scots in me rising - I imagine Robert Burns' "Sweet Afton" flowing just as gently.

Perhaps in my frantic life of deadlines, priorities and urgency, I have forget what peace and calm look like. Today I was reminded and my heart aches, will I ever know such peace and calm?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Day 39: A Slice of Scottish Life

I woke up this morning with the clouds grey and threatening, but since it's my last full day in Scotland, my friend, Laura took me out to the farmers market that takes place on the banks of Loch Lomond every Sunday. For the time I've spent here in Scotland, I've had the song repeating in my head, the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!”

They have slowly been building up a presence to renovated aspects of Loch Lomond to create a more inviting tourist experience. The biggest work is on the steam paddle boat “The Maid of the Loch” it was built in 1952 on the Firth of Clyde and sits anchored in the very place it was first christened, Balloch Pier.It plied the 26miles length of Loch Lomond as transportation to the very many islands that exist in the lake.

It is being restored now, while volunteers work with loving passion to restore the ship back to ply Loch Lomond once more, it is open to the public to see the restored engine room, and coffee, tea and cake can be bought and eaten then on …the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!

 Lomond Shores is what the call the new complex that is a place to shop, eat and play. There was child dancers putting on an exhibition as we arrived. 

There were also the farmers selling their Aberdeen Angus beef(did you know that it's a different type of cow thus a different type of beef?), steak pies, meringue, Scottish tablets(best tooth decay candy ever). There were produce, meats, there was even a woman who sold hand made doggie treats.
These are Scottish eggs, basically eggs wrapped in sausage, how awesome! They had samples and I tried them out.

There were also standing cafes and retail shops that aligned with with Loch. My friend, Laura and her mom(who came along for the day) and I went to get some coffee at the Maid of the Loch. Margaret told Laura and I stories of how the ship used to be, her memories of the ship when she was a child and the adventures she had when my friend was younger when they went for excursions out to the islands in the loch.

It's a much stories Loch, which escaping bears from zoos and escaping wallabies who swam across the loch and took up residence on one of the islands. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park in Scotland and covers 1,

At the Loch Lomond Shores, you can rent segways to take you up the twisting trails along the edge of the shore. You can rent kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and there is a service that will take you out and show you how to water ski. There were also several boats that would take for a tour around the Loch.

 But as with all summer afternoons by Loch Lomond, clouds can suddenly climb over the mountains and the rain becomes a slight drizzle into a full on shower. We stood underneath a tree knowing the rain wasn't going to stay. Sure enough, the rains subsided and I got the best, most succinct strawberries I've ever had. Laura and her mom bought some meat from the butchers wife. I had to control myself since they were selling so many other sweets! Coconut fudge!!!

We left to take Laura’s dog, Jessie, for a walk. Balloch Castle once had actual people living in the castle as it was their historical home. But it's empty now an in the process of being renovated and thus not accessible to the public. But the grounds was turned over to the public as free space. The graceful hills, the green grass, and the stately tree explained why Scotland was always known a beautiful country, it's the rain that turns this into an Emerald Isle.

We strolled through the park, wandered down to to the loch’s edge so the dog could jump in and enjoy herself. After her romp in the surf and her catching and fetching, she was worn out.

I also find that I like the weather here, it cold and rainy, but I like the rain, I sleep better with the window opening.

So far I've eating tradition Scottish culinary dishes. I had eaten proper fish  and chips! Last night I ate haggis, mashed potato and mashed turnip with IrnBru a proper Scottish fizzy drink.

If you don't a so, it tastes like a dried meatloaf, that turnips were lovely and also the size if a meatloaf.

Then today for dinner I ate steak pie, potatoes and  turnips. I've turned into a right proper Scott's I have I really got to tell you. I should dye my hair red.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Day 38: Scottish Countryside

One of the best things about train rides is the opportunity to see a part of the land that you will not see when you are flying in. Sometimes trains go through places that even cars can't get through.

I arrived in Scotland at the best time, I've been told that Scotland has maybe three weeks of summer and the rest of the time is cold and wet. But it's that moisture that makes Scotland so beautiful.
The trees are of different shades of green, sometimes even on the same tree. The crops come in varieties of green that go from a deep green to a bright almost neon bright.
And I've been lucky the last few days because some of it has had beautiful sunshine and big fluffy clouds.

I was easily distracted from my hot, sometimes crowded train rides. But there were times when I felt privileged to see the passing landscapes of Scotland.
And on the trips, I would find myself singing inside of my head " the Bonnie Bonnie banks of Loch Lomond!"

I'm sure the other riders don't see the things I see because they see them every day, but therein lies the problem. Maybe if on or commute, regardless where we are, we should chance a glance out the window more often to see a bit of the scenery, because the internet isn't going anywhere but the scenery is flying past you.

Extra Memories: All England Tennis and Croquet Club

As I sat in Scotland watching BBC’s live showing of the Andy Murray vs Andreas Seppi and I thought I'd share my experience at Wimbledon when I visited and took a tour. It was back in May when I took the tour. The day had started out very rainy but since my tour was in the afternoon, by the time I reached the grounds, most of the courts had dried.

As was often the case with me, I got out of the train station and proceeded to read the signs incorrectly. I had gotten off at the Southfields station because it's closer to the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club. I ended taking a turn I shouldn't have and worse still, it was all uphill. I finally asked a woman who was leaving her house. She was so nice to me, she walked me back to the main road and told me to walk straight ahead and when I come to a “Y” on the road, I should stay to the left. She assured me it was only 10 minutes or so.

This was at the start of my trip and I'll admit, I was not in the best shape, so there was a lot of huffing, puffing and sweating. But as I walked along the road, I passed some very nice houses with beautiful gardens. It was a lovely consolation prize for having to walk all the way to the club. I learned later that the area of Wimbledon is actually considered "posh". I can understand why.

As I watched the game on center court, I saw the damage to the grass court that only one week has done to it. Six weeks before Wimbledon, the grass was bright green and they hadn't even put the lines on center court yet.

The care that they take on the grass is immense. I watched how the edges were absolutely perfect. Only the best can tend to the grounds.

But any tennis fan must take the tour if they are in London. They took us behind the scenes, for instance we were taken to the players entrance and to their lounge. 

We also toured the media center where the players have to go for their post-match interviews. We were allowed to sit in the player’s seat to get a feel of what they see when they are being interviewed.

I was fascinated by the press room where different of news services are given a cubicle where they can watch the inside feeds around the club so they can report from the comforts of an air conditioned room instead of running from court to court.
This desk is assigned to Sports Illustrated.

After the tour of the grounds you must go to the museum which is on the lower level of the gift shop. But you can see the actual trophies that the men's and women's champions raise above their heads. And in both trophies, the names of each champion is etched into them and I read the names and tried to remember their matches. 

When the championship matches will be played and I'll be back in Chicago watching them with a smile on my face with strawberries and cream.