Posts Tagged ‘navel gazing’

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 34: Sidetrip to Paris (day 2)

On the morning of lundi, 23 Février 1998, Jessica and I went to the nearest Metro stop where she recommended I buy a book of 10 billets to save money over the next few days. Unfortunately, the cost of the booklet was 48 FF and the smallest note I had left from the Bureau de Change was a 200 FF, which the clerk wouldn’t accept. Instead Jessica went through the turnstile on her own, and then opened an exit gate, pulled me through and said “run!” When we got on the train and I caught my breath I was mortified that I’d just jumped the turnstiles and worried that I’d get busted. Jessica assured me that her friends did this all the time with no trouble. At our destination we were greeted by the controle who busted me for not having a ticket, and after a heated conversation in French with Jessica, forced me to pay a fine of 150 FF. The controle had no problem making change for a 200 FF note. I found it well worth it for an amusing French experience.

Jessica went to school and I went to Jardin du Luxembourg where I saw great statuary, trees, fountains, people doing tai chi, and children riding ponies. I strolled across the Seine to Isle Saint-Louis, where I tried a cone of the delicious local ice cream. On the next island, Île de la Cité, I visited the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris. After visitng so many Anglican cathedrals, it was nice to be somewhere so thoroughly Catholic and I spent a long time there falling in love with my surroundings. The highlight of course was climbing up the tower so I could see the gargoyles up close.

I walked through Jardin du Tullieres, took a break and studied my map. I noticed that a section of the city had streets all with American names including Avenue de New-York and several avenues named for US Presidents. I decided I had to explore this part of the city. There I stumbled upon a replica of the flame from the Statue of Liberty dedicated as a monument to Franco-American friendship, of which I felt very proud at that moment. I was annoyed that the flame was defaced by graffiti, but soon realized that I was standing on top of the overpass where Princess Diana died in a car crash the previous year and these were messages to her. Still, I wanted her to get her own monument and leave Franco-American friendship alone. I finished the day at the Arc de Triomphe followed by a perambulation down the Champs-Élysées.

boats

Children sail boats in a Parisian fountain.

Flame of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty Flame, a monument officially to Franco-American friendship and de facto a memorial to Princess Diana.

Avenue de New-York

Slouching on the Avenue de New-York.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 33: London to Paris

In less than 24-hours, I saw for the first time London & Paris, Big Ben & The Eiffel Tower, and the Thames and the Seine among other things. Due to my late night tourism, I had some very full days, but in the sunny part of the morning of 22 February 1998 I woke up from a nap at Waterloo Station and started again.

I took another walk around London, this time to see the exterior of Westminster Abbey. I thought about going in for the Sunday service but the risk of my falling asleep was too great. Instead I continued on to a quiet Trafalgar Square, and around the windy streets of Westminster.

I boarded the 11:44 am train for Paris. The Eurostar trains are very sleek and feel almost like the interior of an airplane. I enjoyed that on English soil all the announcements were made in English first, then in French. Once through the Channel Tunnel the order of languages switched. The French woman seated next to me rolled her eyes at the English engineers French pronunciation. The Chunnel itself is rather dull, no more an experience than riding a subway in any city around the world. In fact I slept for most of the 20 or so minutes under the Channel (see Extreme Napping).

Sleepy and disoriented I disembarked at Paris’ Gare du Nord and was hit by waves of culture shock and panic. For some reason I had no problem traveling to a new city where I don’t speak the language, but I allowed my phone-phobia to prevent me from confirming ahead of time that I’d have a place to stay. Worse, when I tried to call Jessica from the railway station with my phone card I couldn’t get through to her. Did I have the wrong number, was she not there? I changed my money and tried calling from a coin-op phone and luckily this time I got through.

My worries weren’t over though, because Jessica gave me complex directions to her flat that involved riding the RER commuter train and two Metro lines. From what little I could remember of my high school French, I couldn’t figure out how to buy a ticket from the clerk, so I just wrote down my destination and held it up to the window and gestured for a single ticket. I have no shame. I jumped again on the Metro when a loud siren went off, but it was just the sound that signified the doors were closing. After that, I calmed down a bit and navigated my way to Jessica’s flat. I was even charmed by the busker who came on the train playing an accordion – it was just so … French!

Jessica welcomed me warmly and invited me up to the flat where Madame Françoise, the French woman who was hosting her, was chatting on the phone (I don’t think I ever saw her not on the phone). Jessica spoiled me with a dinner of gnocchi, Caesar salad, and lots of wine. At one point I casually looked out the window, and dumbfounded realized that I was looking at La Tour Eiffel! Jessica had a good laugh about that. Reinforced by a good meal, I decided to take a bonsoir walk around the arrondissement.

Excitement and curiosity got the best of me and I ended up walking a long way beneath elevated Metro tracks down to the Seine, and finally to the Eiffel Tower itself. Since I’d come so far I figured I may as well go up, purchasing the most expensive ticket to reach all the observation decks. At the tippy-top, a group of teenagers from North Carolina and their chaperons were taking group photos. One of the mothers asked me if I spoke English, and I responded “Like a native!” After I took their pictures I asked them to take mine, and cheekily invited some of the girls to join me for the photo so I would not be atop the Eiffel Tower alone. After that I rushed back to Jessica’s flat, hoping that she hadn’t already called the police.

tour-eiffel.jpg

La Tour Eiffel from below.

eyefull.jpg

At the top with a pair of North Carolinians.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 32: Bath/Cheddar/Wells/London

I pushed the boundaries of traveling on 21 February 1998 and became a 24-hour tourist.

I checked out of the Bath hostel and went to the bus station to purchase a Day Rambler pass on Badgerline. Then I checked my bags at left luggage only to learn that I’d need to be back by 5:30 pm if I wished to retrieve them. This would make things tight for reaching all three destinations I wished to visit that day: Cheddar Gorge, Wells, and Glastonbury. In retrospect, I should have just asked the hostel to hold my bags.

Cheddar is the biggest gorge in Britain which lends its name to the world’s most popular cheese. This was something of a cheese pilgrimage for me. First I climbed up a set of stairs called Jacob’s Ladder to the to the cliff walk over the gorge. The stairs were marked off with each step representing a geologic era. Humanity only appears on the last step from the top. I walked along the footpath for a bit and took in some lovely views. I chatted with some mountain bikers who were walking their bikes up the hill and making self-deprecating jokes about it.

The village in Cheddar Gorge is full of cheesy attractions (in both senses of the word), but unfortunately the cheese-making facilities were not open this day. The cheese-vending facilities, however, were operational and I bought a wedge of aged blue-veined cheddar. Sadly I missed the bus to Wells by just a few minutes and found myself wandering around this Gatlinburg of England for another hour. It also eliminated any chance of getting to Glastonbury that day.

Wells is a small city with a huge cathedral. The blue skies, dark clouds, the madding pealing of the bells, and the soaring towers of Wells Cathedral combined for a spiritually enlightening experience. The other main site in Wells is Vicar’s Close the oldest intact street in Europe. A line-up of charming houses with their chimneys all in a row. I took a break by the canal of Bishop’s Palace and watched people feed the birds. I was thoroughly charmed by Wells and did not want to leave. Perhaps it was good I didn’t have to rush off to another town.

I returned to Bath, picked up my bags, and boarded a train to Winchester. I planned to stay overnight in Winchester, visit Winchester Cathedral in the morning, and then take the train to London to meet my Eurostar train to Paris the next afternoon. At Winchester station, I decided to call the hostel, and learned that they were not open for individuals, just groups at this time of year. So I boarded the train again, and decided I’d have an adventure and sleep in the train station in London.

At London Waterloo International Station I dropped my big bag off at the high-tech security left luggage station. Then I followed signs out of the station to Westminster Bridge. After walking through a series of confusing “subways,” I walked up a staircase and right before my eyes was the famous tower and clock faces of Palace of Westminster. I crossed over the Thames and spontaneously decided to walk along the riverside path to the Tower Bridge. It was a long walk, but I had a real “wow I’m in London” experience seeing St. Paul’s, the Tower of London, and other sights along the path. After crossing the bridge, I walked back along the south bank and arrived in time to hear Big Ben bong.

Back at Waterloo, sleep wasn’t coming to me. The benches had fixed armrests which made it impossible to lay down. There also was a loud family of Chicagoans who were oblivious that people were trying to sleep, including the young French woman who starred daggers at them. I ended up befriending the college-aged son, partly to save them from the French woman’s wrath (which they deserved) and partly because company is company.

In the wee hours, Glenn and I went for a sightseeing walk around London. I can’t say I’ve ever gone out at 4:30 in the morning in a new city to take pictures before or since. Glenn was one of those charming people who ended every sentence with the words “and shit.” He also mistook several buildings for Buckingham Palace including the Victoria Coach Station. We never did find the actual palace.

We returned to Waterloo where Glenn & family boarded the first train to Paris. I of course hadn’t planned to be in London in the morning, so I had several more hours to try to sleep in the railway station.

Gorge Path

Bounding along the cliffs over Cheddar Gorge.

Cheddar Waterfall

A waterfall in Cheddar Village. In my Willy Wonka vision of Cheddar, this waterfall would be pure cheese.

Wells Cathedral

Wells Cathedral.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 31: Bath/Salisbury/Westbury

On the sober morning of 20 February 1998, I took the train from Oxford to Bath. I’d originally planned on staying in Bath, and since by necessity I’d returned to my original plans I checked into the funky Bath International Backpackers Hostel. From Bath I took the train to Salisbury. I didn’t have the time to make a trip out to Stonehenge as I thought I’d might, but that was low on my priorities. Instead I strolled around Salisbury which had some charming streets but mostly reminded me of my childhood hometown of Stamford, CT (if you’ve never been there think of uninspired suburban corporate architecture).

My main site for the day was Salisbury Cathedral with its soaring spire. I spent the better part of the day exploring this 700-year old edifice. On the return train to Bath, I noticed a giant white horse of chalk on the hillside outside the train. I spontaneously decided to get off at the town of Westbury and check out this White Horse. I wandered through the cute town center and then along some public footpaths that cut right through people’s property and got a somewhat closer glimpse of the White Horse. My act of spontaneity was not too rewarding but I did get some fresh air and exercise.

Back in Bath, I laundered my clothing in the basement and after slipping into some clean, fresh-scented clothing I returned to my dorm room. All the dorms were named for musical genres, my being Rock, with my bed named Pink Floyd. En route I passed the misspelled Heavy Mental room where five American students from Bucknell Universitywere drinking wine from plastic cups and climbing out their window onto their “balcony” (in fact, the roof). They invited me to join them so I climbed out and helped them take many, many pictures.

Since I had a whole day’s advantage on them in Bath, and love playing tour guide, I ended up showing them around. At first I enjoyed the company, but I soon grew to be weary of my American companions who continued to drink wine as the strolled the streets, took innumerable photos in the dark, and were rude to pretty much everyone we encountered. In other words, UA’s pure & simple, and I didn’t want to be associated. So I led them back to the hostel and then went to Schwartz Brothers and stuffed my face with veggie burgers and chips. Not too exciting but it’s what I did.

Salisbury Cloister

In the cloister of Salisbury Cathedral.

White Horse

The White Horse on the hillside.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 30: Oxford/Bath

I’d not intended to visit Oxford at all, but couldn’t turn down the free lodging, so I used it as my base to visit Bath and environs. That was the plan anyhow and on 19 February 1998 I took the train to Bath. Despite a late start, I had plenty of time to take in the sites. The city was a site in of itself with its stone Neoclassical architecture. I found myself slowing down just to take it all in.

I first visited the Roman Baths Museum, a place I wanted to visit ever since I read about it in my grandfather’s Reader’s Digest guide when I was a kid. The baths fulfilled my expectations and then some with it’s great archaeological and architectural wonders. Upstairs in the Victorian splendor of the Pump House I drank a glass of the Bath Spa water. It actually tasted pretty good, basically warm water with a strong mineral flavor. I actually felt quite peppy after imbibing it and headed out to tour the city of Bath.

I visited Bath Abbey with it’s West Front covered with carvings of angels ascending and descending ladders, one angel in a full nose dive. Then I walked by the Georgian architectural marvels of the Circus and the Royal Crescent. At the Bath Museum of Costume I enjoy an exhibit of waistcoats throughout the ages and see some I’d look good in (remember I was working at Colonial Williamsburg at the time), but 99.8% of the clothing on display were women’s garments, so there wasn’t much for me. In the adjacent Assembly Rooms I saw the familiar Allen Ramsay portraits of George III and Charlotte. The most beautiful sight of all in Bath is the Pulteney Bridge which doesn’t seem like a bridge at all when crossing it because it’s lined with shop fronts, but from the river one could see its graceful arches with water pouring through it into cascades.

Returning to Billy’s dorm room, I found a note from him telling me how awful my stuff smells. It was true that I had not had the opportunity to visit a laundromat for some time. Still I felt embarrassed and insulted. In retrospect, I overreacted and packed up all my stinky belongings and checked into Oxford Backpackers Hostel for the night. It was a bum ending to a good stay in Oxford.

Roman Baths

Newport the Otter prepares for a soak at the Roman Baths.

Bath Abbey

Angels go up and down on the West Front of Bath Abbey.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 29: Liverpool/Oxford

I found the bloom falling off the blossom of the Embassie Hostel and the city of Liverpool on 18 February 1998. In the morning I couldn’t find a sink available to brush my teeth at, found the toaster eternally-in-use, and Argyle rambling on in an annoying fashion. So I just took off.

I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum, one of the many great attractions on Liverpool’s Albert Dock. I enjoyed the exhibits of maritime history, customs agents, and art of the sea. Unfortunately, it was Half-Term (the British equivalent of Winter Break) and the museum was crowded with a gazillion children. This wasn’t bad in itself but between the kids and their children there was a lot of screaming, pushing, and downright obnoxious behavior. Out on the Dock itself I enjoyed a couple of buskers playing Beatles tunes on banjos.

I found more frustration in the crowded Lime Street Station where my train to Oxford departed an hour late. I went to Oxford on invitation from Billy, the American student I met in Kilkenny. I met Billy outside the porter’s gate of Magdalen College and he walked me through the quads and cloisters dating back to the 13th-century, then through a deer park, along a riverside path and finally to a door in a wall. Billy unlocked the door and on the other side it we were still outdoors. Billy was actually living in a modern residence hall set away from the main college.

Billy showed me a path to get in and out of the college without keys and went to work on a paper. I snuck out an found an Irish pub called The Elm Tree. I didn’t know it at the time but this would be the last pub I’d visit on my holiday even though I would travel for 12 more days. It was a good one with an Irish trad session. The musicians often stopped playing to allow an individual to sing unaccompanied. I was impressed that everyone in the pub would stop talking and give their attention to the singer during these solos. I was also impressed by the group of men who took a double whiskey, poured it in a bowl of peanuts, set fire to it, and then ate the flaming peanuts. They offered me one but I was too pyrophobic to reach in and get one myself, so I settled for an extinguished one offered by one of the men.

After that I went out dancing all on my own at The Zodiac where an enthusiastic crowd enjoyed a 70’s/80’s night. I’d actually meant to go to the reggae club downstairs, but hey I was having a good time and feeling good about myself. I skipped back to Magdalen and conked out on Billy’s air matress. Not bad for my first night in town.

Banjo Beatles

Rockin’ to the Beatles on Banjo at Albert Dock.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 28: Liverpool

On only four hours of sleep, I packed in a lot of tourism in Liverpool on 17 February 1998. First I visited the two cathedrals: Liverpool Cathedral for the Church of England which is the largest in Britain, and the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, an exercise in modern architecture so audaciously ugly that it’s awesome. I also paid a quick visit to The Museum of Liverpool Life which contained surprisingly honest exhibits about labor struggles and racial tensions. I also enjoyed the exhibit about sport in Liverpool where I learned more about Everton, my new favorite football club.

With such fine attractions to see I felt guilty about dedicating the better part of the afternoon to The Magical Mystery Tour, a cheezy 2-hour coach tour of Beatles lore, but I could not resist riding the polychromatic bus. It turned out to be an interesting sociological and anthropological adventure. My fellow tourees devotedly, almost obsessively photographed every single landmark. I found myself more interested in watching them than looking at the rather nondescript buildings that once upon a time were associated with a Beatle or some Beatle’s relative. I was also charmed by the Liverpudlians who would great us at each stop. My favorite part of the tour was seeing local children kicking a football around in the street, blissfully indifferent to the fact that George Harrison once lived at the end of the cul-de-sac. After my trouble getting around the day before, I was relieved that that coach driver Les got lost on the journey back to the city centre.

Back at the hostel I joined some people watching the video Backbeat, a movie about The Beatles before they became famous which includes scenes filmed in and around the hostel. Sadly, I was unable to find Tanya but Kevin, Sr. told me about a pub called Guinan’s where he believed that other hostel guests were hanging out at. I didn’t see anyone I recognized and wasn’t enjoying the vibe, so I returned to the hostel and inadvertently to bed, which is what I should have done in the first place after a long day.

Magical Mystery Tour

Beatles fanatics at Strawberry Field.

Blue Suburban Skies

Children play on a street where a Beatle used to live.

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