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Archive for July, 2004

12 Jul 04

day 8: earl’s court + parliament + cabinet war room + westminster abby

today was my first jo-less day of touristing. i took the opportunity to attempt to sleep in a little (after what was probably my least satisfying night of sleep since i arrived here), and i left my hotel at around 10:30 to explore my hotel’s neighbourhood of earl’s court for the first time. as my guide book suggests, there isn’t exactly a whole lot to see in earl’s court, aside from numerous hostels and, most notably, the troubadour cafe where bob dylan and john lennon used to play. i of course took a photo.

i then took the tube down to westminster station and wandered around parliament in among the throngs of tourists. i took a couple photos, and escaped to the cabinet war room museum, essentially the old bunker where churchill and his staff spent much of world war 2. the complimentary audio tour was pretty fascinating, and i took a bunch of photos – i haven’t checked to see how they turned out yet though, and it may be a bit iffy due to low light conditions and glass enclosed displays.

afterwards i headed back towards parliament and attempted to get a bit closer (opting for the obvious photo ops of big ben and the other parliament buildings), and, while attempting to cross the crazy busy street, remembered that moment in european vacation where the grizwalds got stuck driving around and around parliament (“there’s big ben kids!”). i’d originally thought it might be kinda cool to pay a visit to the house of parliament today ’cause it’s budget day, but the lineup stretched much of the way around the block.

instead of that, i elected to join the smaller (and moving) line to westminster abby. i’d misread my guidebook and thought that admission was free, and only discovered otherwise when i’d already invested some time waiting in line. i did meet a girl from queen’s while waiting, which was kind of cool, and we bonded over the relative crappiness of this year’s first year geography course. the abby itself was worth the admission – it’s pretty awe inspiring. i had no idea how many people were buried there, and found poet’s corner especially cool.

anyway, jo’s waiting patiently while reading a magazine so i think we’re going to head out to a birthday get together for a friend of andrea’s. woo.

UPDATE: and i’m now back from the birthday party. i met some fun people from all over (england, scotland and the US) and had interesting conversations about gambling, bubble sorts and patrick swayze. can’t really go wrong with that. i still have no idea what tomorrow will hold, but i think i’ve established that i will get up for breakfast, unlike today. plans have to start somewhere.

11 Jul 04

day 7: leed’s castle

well, our britrail pass is now officially used up. we’d considered a number of locations for our day trips (including brighton and salisbury) but weather and cost ended up ruling them out. today’s final trip was to leed’s castle, which was pretty fun but turned out to be quite the adventure.

we were to meet at charing cross station this morning (as per the instructions on the leed’s castle website) at 8:30, so i left at around 8:10. unfortunately i hadn’t taken into account the fact that my direct route to charing cross wasn’t available this morning because an entire tube line was shut down for maintenance. once i’d figured this out (which involved reading a really cryptic map) i was away, and ended up arriving 15 minutes late. thankfully, our train wasn’t scheduled to leave until 8:55 so all wasn’t lost.

we couldn’t figure out how to actually GET to leed’s castle from that station, so we asked and were told to change at paddock gate. no problem. 15 stops and an hour and a half later we were there, and we once again couldn’t figure out how to get to the castle. we asked again and were told we had to switch trains AGAIN at maidensomething barracks. that train arrived 8 minutes late, thus causing us to miss the train to bearsted (aka the train to the castle). we wandered around the little town for a half hour or so (and i bought yet more allergy medication) and generally found that it was completely untouristy –
not a bad thing really. finally we arrived at bearsted, and caught a bus to the castle – the whole trip took us about 3 hours, compared with the hour estimated in the guide book. it’s lucky we left at 8:55 rather than the next train at 10:55.
when we actually arrived, we discovered that there’s a direct train back to victoria station. why the website told us to come from charing cross is beyond me – the ride home was much easier. but, as an aside, i’d never have ever considered transferring trains like we have over the last couple days if i were dealing with via. when was the last time a via train arrived on time? the train system here is in a different class.

leed’s castle is quite a bit different than windsor. obviously, it’s no longer a royal residence (although it once was for henry viii), but it also has enormous grounds surrounding it that the leeds castle foundation have converted into some pretty nice touristy stuff. we spent quite a while initially wandering around the grounds – looking at the million ducks and handful of peacocks, admiring the gardens, touring the aviary, getting frustrated in the labyrinth (never actually FINDING the goal before we gave up) – and then finally headed up to the castle. it was a bit of a different experience because it was actually in use up until the early 1900s by someone named lady baillie (who was quite obsessed with birds, as the castle’s decorations demonstrate). a couple of the rooms looked as they might have several hundred years ago, and they proved to be the most interesting to me. others, however, were a bit more modernized, and it turns out that the castle is now bookable for conferences and weddings, so many of the rooms are ready for use for such purposes.

anyway, we ended up leaving by the 3:10 bus (after wading through about 10 italian tour groups made up of 13 year olds) and made it home by around 5, which was our goal – we wanted to give jo a bit of downtime/prep time for her placement that starts tomorrow. this is the first time i’ve been at my hotel at this time, and i’m enjoying relaxing a little bit before grabbing some food (and heading to an internet cafe to actually post this).

one final question: what is it in this country that i’m allergic to? i was much better while at leed’s castle, but wow is it ever frustrating.

10 Jul 04

day 6: rye

another day, another day out. today, jo and i used up another train pass and visited the south eastern town of rye. it was described in our tour book as “impossibly beautiful”, so i was a bit skeptical. we got off to a slightly later start than normal, and spent some time at charing cross station trying to figure out how to actually GET to rye. it’s a complicated process that involved first taking a train with 15 or 20 stops to a town we’d never heard of, and then change there to the “scenic route” train to rye. it was a long process, and we didn’t arrive in rye until after 1. the train rides were long but less obnoxious than yesterday’s – fewer little kids going to see the impossible beauty i guess.

when we arrived, we wandered around a bit with a map we grabbed from the train station and weren’t super impressed – the buildings were old and stuff, but they were just buildings. so, we went to the tourist information centre and payed 1.50 for an audio tour. i’d never taken one before so i wasn’t sure how that’d turn out, but it turned out to be quite cool, even though it was decidedly low tech – a sony walkman circa 1989 (in my case with slightly dying batteries and a very low volume tape). the tour itself took about 2 hours or so, and it was quite interesting. jo and i took a zillion pictures that i’ll try to post tomorrow at some point (i don’t have the camera’s usb cable at the moment, alas) whether you like it or not.

we didn’t end up finishing the tour til after 3, and we realized we hadn’t eaten yet. unfortunately, most food serving establishments in rye apparently close at 2 on saturdays, so we wandered around for ages before coming across a “cafeteria” that served us some lovely cheeseburgers, complete with freezer burnt buns. mmmm, mediocrity.

a fun bonus of today is that it was serious allergy day #2. the clarityn i bought a few days ago did absolutely nothing, so the pharmacist in rye gave me some zirtek, which may or may not be by prescription only in canada. i haven’t tried it yet (apparently it doesn’t mix so well with clarityn), but i guess i’ll see tomorrow.

i’m currently skipping out on going to a pub with some of andrea’s friends unfortunately. i intended to go, but i didn’t sleep nearly enough last night and going to a pub while blowing your nose every few minutes is the opposite of fun. i’d like to grab some food and head to bed within 1/2 hour or so. that’s the goal.

a couple more random observations about britain that i forgot to mention yesterday:
a) as you may or may not know, i tend to wear a lot of t-shirts with writing on them. often just band names, but sometimes longer things (like yesterday’s “i’m a rocker. i rock out.”) anyway, for whatever reason, i constantly notice people reading my shirts here – it’s unavoidable. andrea calls it a country of gawkers, and i’m inclined to agree. women in low cut tops receive similar treatment.
b) i understand that cars drive on the opposite sides of the road here, but good lord, i never know where cars are gonna come from. the fact that cars park on the wrong side of the road constantly (as jo is fond of pointing out) doesn’t help matters; nor is the fact that i have a lot of trouble telling when i’m on a one way street ’cause the centre line is never yellow. i look both ways repeatedly before crossing though, so i’m still alive.
c) the weather here is insane. it’s not unheard of in canada for it to be sunny in the morning and rainy in the afternoon, or to have a sunshower…but here it alternates: sunny, cloudy, hot, cold, rainy, sunny, etc. i find myself lugging an umbrella everywhere, and usually a jacket (except today when i could’ve used one…oops).

and now, i’m off to find some food and hopefully some sleep.

09 Jul 04

day 5: windsor

today was windsor day. jo and i used up day trip #2 of 4 and took a train, expecting it to be much like yesterday’s. in fact, it turned out to be more like a train in calcutta, in jo’s words. picture having to slide the window down and reach out to open the door while seated inside – pure class. to make things more fun, we were on the same train as about 15 kids who were absolutely out of control. we deduced from their incessant chanting of “legoland legoLAND LEGOLAND” that they were, in fact, heading to windsor’s legoland. regardless, their presence (read: “screaming”) was especially difficult on account of the tired this morning. (when i met jo today she greeted me with “yes, i’m tired.” that says it all).

windsor castle was pretty okay. we took a 45 minute guided tour which was essentially a brief history of england as related to windsor castle. it was interesting, although more rehearsed than the tourguide we had in cambridge yesterday.

we spent some time inside the castle as well. queen mary’s dollhouse is absolutely insane – it’s enormous and just goes to show that some people shouldn’t be in possession of enormous wealth. the rest of the public area is filled with stuff that was stolen from other places in wars (blah) and stuff that has been otherwise accumulated by spending insane amounts of money. i guess i wasn’t as impressed as many – mostly annoyed, especially when we were confronted with no less than 5 gift shops on the grounds, after paying 10 pounds for admission.

an interesting highlight of the day happened when jo was looking for a garbage bin before walking into the castle. the security guard explained that they all have to be manned for fear of bombings and the like. fair enough. before letting us go though, he asked where we were from. when we corrected his guess of “the united states”, he said that the queen is also our queen, and that she would arrive at around 4 to the castle (where evidently she spends her weekends). he also said that since we’d come so far, maybe we’d be invited to tea. we unfortunately weren’t sure how much, if any, of that was serious. as it turns out, she DID arrive at windsor while we were there, but she snuck in the back way. boo.

we also took a quick peek at eton at the end of the day, and took a few pictures. it was less than impressive and i’m not sure it was worth the walk to see. alas, they can’t all be gems.

we met up with andrea tonight and went to ciao bella piano bar for dinner, and had a pint at the lamb while awaiting a table. it was a fun and pretty late night, and i arrived home too late to use my normal internet cafes. on a whim, i tried out the random wireless signal that i can get in my hotel room, and it’s the strongest it’s ever been. i’m typing this literally in my window sill, and will have to post this asap so as not to lose it.

a couple more random observations about england thus far:
a) i really wish people would pick one side of the sidewalk to walk on. i blame this mostly on tourists who can’t adapt to walking on the left side, but christ, it’s really annoying.
b) i’m not certain, but i think i’ve run into as many people who aren’t british as those who are. and i thought kingston was bad for tourists.
c) what on earth am i gonna do with a pocket full of these enormous stupid 2p coins?

the tentative plan for tomorrow is rye. should be fun.

08 Jul 04

day 4: cambridge

after a day’s delay, we had our first day out of london today. jo and i took the train to cambridge to explore the university town that i apparently knew nothing about. we were initially unsure about the weather – the forecast was bleak for much of the south once again with another big storm set to roll through, but cambridge’s looked the most promising.

we set out from king’s cross station and discovered platform 9 3/4 from the first harry potter movie (a photo featuring jo will be added to the photo gallery sometime tomorrow). the train only took about 55 mins, so we were there by around 11 – lots of time to explore. the weather was gorgeous, so we walked the 20 minutes from the station to hte centre of town, and explored the market and area for an hour or so before lunch. after lunch we went on a 2 hour walking tour of the city (which turned out to be a 2 hour walking tour of cambridge university, more specifically king’s and trinity colleges). apparently there are a bunch of colleges that make up the university, and they are scattered throughout the city. as a result, there is no “campus” per se – it’s everywhere.

the bulk of the tour was spent in king’s college chapel, which is incredible. it’s extremely long and narrow with some pretty amazing architecture and engineering. it still has the original stained glass miraculously, and the stone and wood carvins inside are pretty much indescribable (not to mention enormous). unfortunately, i couldn’t take photos inside so i had to settle for buying a postcard instead. oh, and the highlight of jo’s day occurred on our way into the chapel: we were told ahead of time to spit out any gum, etc. before going inside, and that cameras weren’t allowed. i was at the end of our tour group’s queue, and the clergyman at the door stopped me and pointed at my shirt, asking what it was (i was wearing my weakerthans long sleeved t-shirt that features the image of what appears to be a devil). he asked if it was a band and what kind of band it was – i was expecting him to tell me that i couldn’t wear it inside, but he just nodded and asked me if they were any good as i was readying myself to remove it. ironically, the t-shirt i had on underneath was a by divine right t-shirt – that may have been slightly more appropriate.

we also spent quite a while at trinity college, former home to isaac newton, prince charles and john harvard (and probably a few others). the wren library (also soon to be in the photo gallery) is apparently the location of newton’s speed of sound experiements, in which he shot a pistol through one of the corridors.

i can’t quite figure out why you can’t walk on the grass pretty much anywhere at cambridge, but this led to another highlight – watching an odd american father and son pair (who resembled penguins in both their shape and walking style) walk on the grass while the tour guide yelled at them to get off before security came over (they responded by running towards us – on the grass).

one final note about cambridge: it’s possible to pay to take a “punt” (a small boat piloted with a large rod – also soon to be in the image gallery) down the cam river behind trinity college. apparently this works because there’s an actual road beneath the water to push off from…kinda cool.

anyway, after the tour wrapped up, jo and i wandered around town a little more to try to see a couple more colleges that our guide skipped over, and then headed back to the train station with very sore feet. we got lucky throughout most of the day and the weather was pretty nice overal – a few spots of drizzle interspersed with sun. on our walk back though, it started to pour rain and hail, and jo forgot her umbrella this morning. we got pretty wet, but were luckily safely in the station by the time the insane rain and thunder started.

it’s now arond 8 pm and i’m at home trying to stretch out my legs. i’m supposed to be hearing from andrea in the near future about going out for dinner and drinks, so that’s what my evening has in store.

update: it’s now almost midnight and i’m rushing to finish this post (and i apologize for the typos – i’m having to retype it very very hurriedly). i had a lovely dinner at a chinese/japanese place with andrea and jo, after some communication problems. jo called me and asked for room 12A, so they connected her to 21A. she then called back and asked for me and they said i wasn’t registered. nice. when i asked, he of course denied it (“she asked me for a different name” “well, she DOES know my name…”) anyway, it worked out. on my way back i met a girl in the tube from vancouver who just finished working as an au pair in germany. apparently she hated every minute.

and now i’m getting kicked out of here, and i’m exhausted anyway. until tomorrow (or soon thereafter)…

07 Jul 04

day 3: “november in july”

whew, my legs are exhausted. today was supposed to be day #1 of trips outside of london, but the weather forecast (just described on the news as “freak july weather” and “a july shocker”) didn’t so much agree. we were intending to go to brighton (on the southern coast), but it was apparently hit with gale force winds. london was gorgeous this morning, but luckily i’d seen the forecast and brought a raincoat and sweater with me – and prevented jo and i from travelling into the craziness. it did rain quite a bit in london later on today, and the wind was present all day, but we made the best of it.

my morning didn’t get off to the best start. after a restless night sleep of not being able to breathe (allergies + extreme dryness), i woke up groggily at 8 and showered. i headed down for breakfast around 8:30 and discovered a big lineup waiting to sit at the 8 tables. i ate quickly and headed out to the tube station, and discovered that my trek wasn’t going to be as straightforward as i thought – the subway line i wanted splits at my stop. i got on the train i thought was the right one, only to be told by a woman that the next train over was in fact the one i wanted. i hopped off in time to watch it drive away. after asking a station’s staff member, i discovered i was right in the first place and had to wait about 10 more minutes for my train. of course, i was to meet jo at 9:45 so i knew i was going to cut it close, and i ended up being 5 minutes late because i took the opposite exit at the station as i had planned on taking. oopsie. anyway, i found her and all was well.

we spent this morning in and around buckingham palace and st. james’s park. the wind was so intense that you could see the pollen being blown from the trees (not to mention the sandstorm on the “mall”), which wreaked havoc on my allergies. we got to watch the horse guards parade and the changing of the guard (me through puffy red eyes and in between sneezes) and wandered around trafalgar square and area. apparently the plan was to stage a performance of la boheme in the square this evening, but it’s been cancelled ’cause of the storm.

after a quick stop back at my hotel (so jo could see the closet i am living in, and so i could pay my bill as i had forgotten to do earlier), we headed back to trafalgar and visited st. martin-in-the-fields where we had lunch in the “cafe in the crypt” (which is exactly what it sounds like). we perused the church itself afterwards, and then spent several hours in the national gallery next door, where we saw approximately ten million paintings of jesus. we also discovered that 1600-1700 resulted in a whole lot of paintings that kinda sucked, with a few exceptions. we had to leave around 6 or so after perusing 3 of the 4 galleries ’cause our legs couldn’t take it anymore, so i headed back here to relax for a bit. i’ve magically avoided actually getting wet so far, but it just did start pouring once again so i’ll no doubt have to face it at some point.

oh, and a correction from yesterday: apparently they closed piccadilly circle so they could drive F1 cars down it. good call.

and now i’m gonna go give jo a call to see if we feel like getting together for dinner. i suspect weather may be a deciding factor.

update: it’s now a couple hours later (9:30) and i just got back from a dinner in soho at ed’s diner with jo. for future reference, they make good burgers for reasonably cheap. i’m now in an internet cafe where i made friends with the guy who works there – he knows nothing about computers so i’m trying to fix a driver for him…and he lets me use my laptop rather than the shitty computers that are in here. good deal. also, i just realized how wet i am from walking to the cafe. alas. and now, to post.

06 Jul 04

day 2: a day of random meetings

today was a pretty bizarre and awesome day.

first the sad news: buck 65 and feist are totally sold out tonight and tomorrow night. i’m supposed to be there now, and probably would be if i wasn’t so tired (not to mention jo and andrea)…i was intending to try to scrounge up a ticket, but maybe i’ll do that tomorrow night instead. alas.

anyway, this morning got off to a chaotic start. breakfast at my hotel is a madhouse – 40 people and maybe 8 tables, with a little bit of food scattered around. i managed to eat some cereal and fruit and stole some more fruit. woo. then, i was told i had to switch rooms today to my “permanent room”. fine. but, i had to wait around til 11 or so for my new room to be ready. i half watched some tony blair news conference and flipped between my other 3 channels. i learned that there was an unveiling of a new princess diana memorial in hyde park. i made a mental note.

i attempted to call the number jo gave me for andrea, and there was no answer – turns out it’s the wrong number. i then called the place where jo was to be staying, and wasted some money when the pay phone refused to let me speak after i inserted 20p. i finally used the front desk phone and discovered she wasn’t to check in til noon. i decided to venture outside and call again around noon – it was after 11:30 by this point.

the first person i ran into when i left my hotel took one look at my canucks cap and said “nice hat mate. canucks rule!” he was wearing a canucks hat, and was a brit. i thought it was going to be a good day.

jo still wasn’t there so i ventured into the subway to see if i could figure it out. it seemed pretty straightforward, so i took the picadilly line to hyde park. i took a leisurely stroll through the park, and ran into a couple old women who were also looking for the new memorial. there were no signs anywhere, so a bunch of us banded together and asked: our directions were “go straight here for a while, turn left, then turn right”. i decided to wing it, and ended up walking through the rose gardens for a while – quite serene. i then decided to turn left at the water and found a tiny sign that told me i was indeed heading in the right direction. in about 5 minutes i came across an enormous tv monitor showing the queen – i thought i was in time to see the ceremony. alas, when i headed over to the memorial itself, she was long gone. i took a few pictures (which i’ve posted in my gallery) and then wandered a bit…oh, and i ran into jo and andrea among the several thousand people there. what the hell? so awesome! i had no idea they were there. oh, but it didn’t end there – after we hung out for a while and did some people watching, we decided to head to andrea’s. on our way out of hyde park, we ran into rick and judy (rick works at ITS; judy played on my softball team last year). of course, i didnt know they were there either. i’ve now run into everyone i know in england. nice.

anyway, we headed to andrea’s for a bit, and then decided it was too gorgeous to spend inside, so we went to regent’s park next. i was wishing i’d worn shorts today – while the sun was out it was sweltery. regent’s park was nice and relaxing, with a whole lot of roses – a crazy amount. we ate on the grass, and then perused the flowers…good for the allergies too.

we then wandered to the subway in hopes of getting jo some sheets for her bed, and when we got off we discovered that picadilly circus had been closed for the queen’s tea party with 7000 people. the crowd was absolutely insane – we couldn’t walk up the street at all. i wish i’d gotten a picture…words can’t do the crowd justice. we finally made it to the department store, and then walked to jo’s where we collapsed for a couple hours. jo’d only had 3 hours of sleep, and i think i got about 5 so we were wiped. no buck 65 for us. andrea led us to a pizza place around 8, where we hung out for quite a while before departing. on our way to the pizza place we walked past christian slater, and on our way from it jo saw sofia coppola (although i only saw her from the back)! no shit. what a crazy day.

and now i’m back on earl’s court, and i just befriended the internet cafe guy by trying to repair his driver problem. i told him i’d come back tomorrow to finish. as a bonus, that place lets me use my own laptop so i’m able to easily upload photos. woo.

and now, i’ll go finish with my photo gallery.

05 Jul 04

hey, i’m here

04 Jul 04

and i’m off

after what feels like a whirlwind of a week, i’m off to london tomorrow at 9 am for a couple of weeks (via my sister’s, where i’ll be heading in a few minutes). my goal is to blog the trip, but i’ve just found out that the website for my hotel lied when it said my room had internet access, so i guess i’ll see how feasible that is. regardless, i’ll be posting when i can, including a photo or two.

Pronunciation: 'ch&mp
Function: noun
Etymology: perhaps blend of chunk and lump
Date: 1883

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