What’s Up? (England Day Seven)

One Year
It’s been one year since I got on an airplane, flew over to London, then took a bus to Southampton where I stayed for nine days. I figured one way of celebrating that anniversary was to take another step towards finishing these logs explaining what I did each day. Luckily, none of those days are really lost to bad memory.

Bournemouth
Day Seven was entirely about one thing: going to the beach. My friend had work this day, so I was entirely on my own. I got a cappuccino and a chocolate croissant at the Southampton station, and took the train over to Bournemouth in the afternoon. The first thing that blew my mind about Bournemouth was how tropical it was, not just naturally (hot temperatures, big palms everywhere) but also the man-made aspects… Bournemouth had the tall, hi-rise condos in pastel colors that one would expect of a Floridian city like Daytona, and a long stretch of shops leading up to a bustling boardwalk. I spotted some places to consider for lunch along my way to the beach, and another “Orange Rooms” bar like the one I was at on Day One.

Anyways, once I got to the beach and had a look around, I made up my mind to listen to some music and lie down on the beach for roughly an hour or so. I was relaxed, but I was thinking about how funny it was that I made it here – not just England, but Bournemouth, on my own. Not like it’s difficult to take the train somewhere… but here I was, single American laying down on a beach in a town I knew nothing about, and it was perfect. No goals or plans at the moment but to relax, and get tropical drinks somewhere.

Aruba
After getting thoroughly sunburned on the beach in Bournemouth, I trekked back to the boardwalk to get lunch. Aruba struck me as the type of bar that would be able to serve a tropical drink befitting of the warm weather I was enjoying. Two Singapore Slings; two because I wanted to enjoy myself, but not three, because I wanted to make it back to Southampton after all.

What I would give to remember what music I was listening to at the time. I remember downloading audiobooks for the first time to make the flight go by quicker, but I certainly wasn’t exploring Bournemouth to the sounds of A Song of Ice and Fire being read aloud. I admit, it’s also entirely impossible I wasn’t listening to anything, consciously deciding to take in the sounds of Bournemouth, while at the same time allowing me to be more alert to a country whose traffic laws were not my own.

Still, one of the images that sticks out the most about Bournemouth were these private little… things… made for families to avoid the sun on the beach? Made for families to change into their bathing suits? They were organized by color and were really amazing to photograph. 087

Gimlets and Q.I.
When I arrived back in Southampton I waited in the main Quay for my friend to get off work, and for dinner we had what else, but Burger King. We then picked up some cheap grocery store Gin and lime juice, and proceeded to drink Gimlets, while watching Stephen Fry’s trivia game show, Q.I. which absolutely has to be one of the more British combination of activities I participated in during my nine days in England.

 

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What’s Up? (England Day Six)

Morning Hour
The morning of day six, it was decided between my friend and I that –while going to Cardiff would be nice, Baths Spa was closer and would provide more immediate entertainment than perhaps, seeing a Doctor Who museum would. So it was decided, that we would go to Baths Spa, and with a brief look on trip advisor, I also decided that we would have dinner at the wonderful, four-star, Martini Restaurant.

The adventure started with a big breakfast at Ebb & Flow; scrambled eggs, pancakes with blueberries, and the amazing invention that is fried bread. Seriously, how have I lived in America for 21 years, a land that loves and lives on bread and fried food, and never had fried bread? It is satisfying stuff. Not a shred of nutrition to be had but, satisfying stuff. Ebb & Flow by the way, is this wonderful joint that does breakfast and lunch by day, and booze by night–decorated with retro art, old newspaper comic strips, and graphic designs from the likes of Threadless designers.

Baths Spa
We arrived at the station in Baths Spa and found ourselves in the town square rather quickly. The immediate difference between Baths Spa and any other town in England, is the white stone aesthetic. Everything appears to be made out of this single type of stone, at least in this shopping district. A little further out, the Roman architecture shows its face, mixed in with a Gothic Cathedral, and some cottage-style buildings. Baths is a mix like that–well, nearly everywhere in England appears to be a mix like this–a city that keeps a little bit of every era its survived.

The Roman Baths would be a remarkable attraction for anyone to visit, but having completed a course in Roman Civilization just a few weeks prior to visiting amplified the experience. I wasn’t just in awe of Roman engineering, but often I was recognizing details from class notes, and remembering facts before our audio tour guide could recite them. I think one of the chilling realizations about the Baths is how, as a partially subterranean attraction,  you are reminded again and again how it was street-level back in the Roman Empire. A few hundred years go by, and underneath these British streets, you find entire Roman buildings, and the natural spring water still flows through the Roman architecture. And that spring water, is warm, and heavy with irons. “Tastes like blood.”

One of the funnier historical finds were these curses written by Romans and thrown into the pools of the temple. The punishments the Romans would ask for were completely out of proportion to the crime. Did you steal a bath tows mind. The curses weren’t just physically violent, they were oftentimes mentally cruel.

In any case, after a solid hour or two in the Baths, we walked over to David’s Ice Cream and Fudge, a tiny, tiny little shop that could maybe hold six or seven patrons? I do forget which flavor of ice cream my friend ordered, but I strongly recall ordering a lemon flavored ice cream, in a waffle cone. We ate ice cream on these benches in the Kingston Parade, in the shadow of the Abbey Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. We made fun of pigeons walking around, and couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves for doing so. And we were beyond puzzled when two men carrying a refrigerator one way across the square, were spotted carrying the same refrigerator back the other way.

Martini Restaurant
We then navigated ourselves through Baths Spa, up Stall, through Burton, and up Milson Street, which was just lined with shops. We ran into a man who, well, put pigeons on people and took pictures of them. So of course we stopped, let the man put pigeons on us, had him take a few pictures of us, gave him a few pounds, and went on our way. And at the end of that road we were on George Street, and we made our way to the Martini Restaurant, a fancy little Italian restaurant that claimed it was “The Italian restaurant, run by real Italians!” Our waiter was a lovely man named Nikolaj who was smiley, polite, and frequented our table to check in on us. An older man, Giordano, occasionally popped by too, once commenting on my friends’ hella-stylish Bugs Bunny patterned button-up shirt. We had a bottle of Pinot Grigio Rosé, 19.95 Pound or 31 USD, which lasted us through the meal and was an absolute treat. Speaking of meals, my order of the Manicotti Roma was perfection; the Manicotti is like a cannoli-sized pasta tube, stuffed with ricotta and spinach, and no part of the pasta was overcooked or burnt. My friend ordered a pasta dish that included crab, Ling Granseola, and like myself, could not stop to talk about how good it was every four bites. Two excellent meals and a nice sweet wine to drink it down with would have made a good time, but it’s what we ordered next that made it a great time.

See, by this point we were a little tipsy, and saying things like “I can’t believe you’re here,” and “I can’t believe what a good time it’s been,” and “you are easily the coolest person I know,” or “I can’t believe I’m going home in three days.” And since we were enjoying ourselves I guess I thought, “why stop enjoying ourselves?” So we ordered two espresso martinis to close out the night, and that decision couldn’t have been wiser. Those martinis completely took the night to the next level. We ventured out back into Baths Spa in that kind of drunken bliss where we could laugh at just about anything, and everything about Baths just felt that much more amazing. We walked to the River Avon to see the Pulteney Bridge, which looked unlike any other bridge I’d ever seen before. The design was such that, it was like you weren’t crossing a bridge at all–the sidewalk kept going, and the shops did not come to a halt. And yet, in our mood, we were all about taking photos of the River Avon and its many seagull occupants. Like we had with the pigeons before, all we could do was crack jokes and laugh at ourselves.

We stumbled on over to Bath’s train station, cracked more jokes at the expense of seagulls, and went home to Southampton. What a day.

What’s Up? (England Day Five)

Weymouth
Visiting West Bay was the number one thing I wanted to do in England, but to get there we had to take the train from Southamtpon to Weymouth. Now, the immediate area around Weymouth was nothing special. A roundabout, some pubs, the classic brick architecture I’ve seen everywhere else in England. It’s not until we walked towards this clock tower at the end of King Street and discovered the beach, that Weymouth really shined and became a beautiful memory in its own right.

The ocean in Weymouth was a beautiful, tropical blue, like turquoise. The sands, a khaki tan, and covered in crows. In the sky a storm seemed to approach, as grey clouds above us were being chased by darker, black clouds. For a while we took refuge from the rain in a bus stop, waiting to take the x53 or Jurassic Coaster to West Bay. During a pause in the rain, we committed to finding a nice cafe and having a lunch before heading to West Bay. We chose The Good Life, a small cafe ran by very kind women, who prepared our drinks of choice–Cappuccinos and Americanos–and two ham sandwiches. The staff took an interest in my being American, and they were the first to ask in all of the cafes I had been too, what I was doing in Weymouth. I took such delight in explaining that I was here to visit my friend, and that I was here in Weymouth to visit the Jurassic Coast, specifically West Bay.

From our window seat in The Good Life, we could see the beautiful ocean, some white cliffs off in the distance, palm trees, and a statue of King George III. The woman running the cafe said to us that the storm out in the distance, the menacing black clouds, would completely miss us. According to her, the storms always break on the cliffs, the formations in the other towns, Weymouth never gets the worst of it. And sure enough, she was right. The worst storm never reached Weymouth and in fact, the weather became magnificent, bright and sunny–fitting for a beach town. With that, we boarded our bus, and headed towards West Bay.

Coastal Bus
This was an extraordinary bus. The route it took was just, so diverse. Steep uphill through heavily-wooded areas, where sun showers fell, and branches slapped against the second floor of the bus. Open, high-altitude farm areas, where the ocean could be seen in the distance, and massive cliffs filled the thin space between farm and beach. The road swooped downhill through small brick towns, with cottages, beds and breakfasts, and historical tea shoppes and schoolhouses. A small church on a high hill was the tallest thing in the area, overlooking all the towns and farms as far as the eye could see.

West Bay
Finally, West Bay. The town was as small and precious as I could have imagined. A small, humble church, a beach side arcade advertising “Family Entertainment,” no towering corporate hotels, no corporate anything–just six fish’n’chips shacks lined up in a row to do friendly small-town competition. As cute as it was, I wasn’t here for the town of West Bay, not entirely.

The cliffs were powerful, and awe-inspiring…

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Here, we spent close to two hours. Walking along the entire first chunk of cliff. Digging our feet into the pebbly beach. Admiring the giants, passing by courteous strangers, and many of their curious dogs. The experience was nothing short of spiritual. Just you, your friend, and nature. A wondrous, ancient cliff, whose sediments tells a story about the Earth you don’t understand, but you listen anyways. The layers of the Earth formed such flat rocks that they just called out for you to rest on them. And at a low point in the cliff, where the threat of falling rocks was low, we rested on the flat rock of West Bay. We rested, and looked out into the ocean–where not a single man made thing tainted the horizon. No ships. No buildings. No airplanes cut across the sky. I really mean it when I say this was a natural experience. Besides the cameras in our hands, I think we really were there, carefree and happy.

The Ships Galley
We ended the day in West Bay with some choice fish’n’chips from one of the town’s small seafood stands. The food was a bit tastier than what was had at the Crown & Anchor the night before, I think partially because you just get better food–or assume you get better food–from small town, small business people. We took our fish over to a little marina, and sat on a public bench where we met just the friendliest people. A group of Starlings surrounded me and my friend as we tried to eat our fish in peace, a couple with a dog came by to scare off the buggers, and we thanked the pup for his heroic deed.

This, this was probably the best day in the entire trip.

What’s Up? (England Day Four)

Mettricks
Monday started off with two hours in the wonderful Mettricks cafe. Their egg and bacon sandwich was one of the best tasting things in all of England. Thick round bacon on a buttery slice of toast served on a black chalk slab. Mettricks was incredibly stylish, a cafe complete with couches, sofas, loveseats, etc, with board games and magazine choices like “Barista.” I mean this sincerely, Barista Magazine was actually a good read, I cared about the articles, and its coffee product advertisements were appealing. So me and my friend had one of many ‘real talks’ that were in store for us this Monday, while we knocked back our coffees of choice. A Cappuccino for me, an Americano for her.

Winchester
Winchester was our first destination in our week of travel. It was a quaint city that the London Airport Bus drove through on the way to Southampton, so I had an interest in visiting the city before my friend even brough it up. So, Winchester was this very historical, brick-heavy city, with a shopping street that reminded me of Diagon Alley. At the Whittard’s in Winchester I got fifty 1886 Blend black tea bags, which brewed a nice malty black tea (I like my tea black! And smokey lapsang was a treat to drink while I was England).

After the shopping, we headed in the direction of the Roman Viaduct, an artificial river/canal-type thing. We were only slightly sidetracked by the Winchester Cathedral and a lovely garden designed to be experienced by senses other than sight. Flowers and other plants were grown for the way they felt, and smelled, so we were invited to smell and feel everything in the garden. It’s interesting, I feel like most gardens and parks are designed to be looked at–this felt much more special.

The Roman Viaduct was by far the standout feature of Winchester though. The water flowed beautifully from underneath buildings, through alleys, under bridges, and then released into a natural river full of flora and ducks. The ducks, oh my gosh me and my friend might have actually spent a full hour just walking along the Viaduct looking at and photographing ducks. It was easy to be filled with happiness in this place. We found a bench with a fitting inscription: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Crown and Anchor
In Winchester we were on a mission for a Fish and Chips dinner. We walked into a seafood restaurant that was open, The Fish Tale yet completely deserted: no customers, no waiters, no welcomers–we saw the bad omen and got the hell out of dodge. Instead we ended up the Crown and Anchor, a nice pub that was kind enough to serve us Fish and Chips even though the kitchens were to stop taking orders in five or so minutes. I had a cider from my friend’s hometown, we endulged in our massive fried cod, and dived head first into ‘real talk’ matters. The Crown and Anchor was obviously a place filled with characters, a place where the gruffiest toughest-sounding Englishmen were ordering Coors Light, oddly enough. Here too, Winchester made me happy, comfortable. At this hour, from our window seat we could see many schoolchildren walking up and down the street, busses, (yes, even the double-decker variety), and the magnificent, mysterious statue at the end of Winchester’s High Street. A man (?) holding a sword upside down, like a sign of peace, or compromise–like “I am armed, but not aggressive.”

What’s Up? (England Day Two)

Saints.
As I come to consciousness Saturday morning, I can hear two distinct types of shouting. I could hear children playing Football in the courtyard right outside of my window. I couldn’t possibly be angry if they woke me up with shouts of fun, it was so cute. The second type of shouting was less immediate and loud, it was more like a wind that was sweeping through the area. It was the sound of screams and songs of joy coming from St.Mary’s Stadium. I could tell Southampton was winning, but when I checked Sky News it turned out to be more than just an ordinary victory. The Saints had shut down Aston Villa 6 to 1 and just claimed the new record for fastest Hat Trick in Premier League history.

Oxford Street.
My friend had to work this Saturday, so I had Southampton to myself. One of the things I have to mention early on here is just how interesting every little detail of the city was to me, details that are probably mundane to the city’s citizens. I stopped to look at this punk-rock venue that was located underneath a brick bridge–it looked like something out of a fantasy game like Skyrim. A tavern/musical venue built under–no, inside the bridge. I found Oxford Street incredibly welcoming and pleasant. A cobblestone sidewalk, historical buildings, bars and restaurants everywhere, and it was so close to my temporary home. I only ate in one Oxford Street establishment, but the street is a fond memory, a place I saw flooded with the peppermint-striped kits of Southampton Saints fans drinking to an amazing victory.

A Drunk City.
Perhaps because of that amazing victory, I got to see Southampton particularly drunk that Saturday night. The drunkest I got was probably at lunch, drinking Rosé and eating pizza–and it seemed like the average citizen out on the sidewalk was about twice as drunk as that. I’ll go ahead and say there were two standout characters, though everyone was impressive in their own ways. So the first amazing person we run into is super drunk, and super gay. I think he maybe came from the gay bar on Oxford Street, but who can say? All I know for sure is that he liked to sing and dance, and accuse people of hating him.

“You hate me! Oh I’m sorry. You think I’m weird. I’m just lost.”

Well anyway, this guy danced his way to a bar called Isis and in hilarious but classy fashion, the bouncer gave him a cigarette and a light, but would not let the drunk man in. What kind of conversation they had, I don’t know, but it was great fun to watch.

In the middle of this drunken tale, my friend and I hit up a place called The Orange Rooms, which is filled with good throwback music, sexually aggressive couples doing lots of spanking, an AT-AT in a fishtank, televisions playing He-Man, and urinals with video games in them that you play with your pee.

On the walk home, wouldn’t you know it, we run into more drunk characters. This time it’s a man called Parkour Jacob. See, at first we don’t see Jacob. We see his friends staring at three stories of scaffolding shouting “Get down from there! Jacob! Stop!” Well, Jacob listened to reason and got down from the scaffolding, only to tell his friends that “I know a shortcut home.”

Those were Jacob’s words.
“I know a shortcut.”
And then Jacob went over a nine-foot stone walk, and walked along it until I couldn’t see him anymore.
“Somebody’s played a little too much Assassin’s Creed” was the best quip I could come up with.

What’s Up? (England Day One)

The Flight
To describe what it was like to be in England, and to finally meet a lifelong friend, I have to start at the start. I had never flown Virgin airlines before, and I heard a great many things about their services–so when I took my window seat and saw that I had free movies to choose from, a blanket, pillow, sleepmask, earplugs, and even a toothbrush and toothpaste, I thought “this is going to be an awesome flight.” I imagined myself taking off from New York around 8PM, immediately falling asleep, and waking up in London at 8AM. This was not the case. I did not sleep for a minute of my eight-hour flight. Still, I thought the flight was alright; I enjoyed complimentary cheap red wine, dinner, breakfast, and I listened to a lot of George R.R. Martin on audiobook.

The Bus
When I landed in London, I was exhausted, but too excited to slow down. I made my way to the central bus station, grabbed a ticket to Southampton, waited all of thirty minutes, boarded my bus, and got underway. (I noted that the air outside of London Heathrow smelled clean, felt cold, like ionized air). I looked out of the bus window, looking for some iconic London landmark. Would I see Big Ben? The London Eye? I saw nothing. (I think this must be what it feels like to land in America for your first time, stepping outside at LaGuardia Airport, and feasting your eyes on Queens). But I wasn’t here for London, London was just a means to an ends, I was here for my friend.

Still, feeling antsy, I took notes to pass the hours. I noted every roundabout, the types of cars we passed, the traffic signs, (how accurate Euro Truck Simulator surprisingly is), the beautiful yellow rapeseed fields, the farm animals. Then the bus drove through our first city, Winchester. I noted the “canal-river” which turned out to be a Roman Viaduct, the many bars and restaurants, the historical brick aesthetic. (I don’t think I imagined I would be here four days later, eating and drinking with one of my best friends).

I feared falling asleep on the bus. It was far more comfortable than the airplane. I put on another chapter of A Song of Ice and Fire on Audible and tried to focus on the landscape. “Stay awake.”

The Arrival
When the bus pulled through Southampton, it was funny. I had seen some of these streets before, on Google Maps, back when I was thinking about the trip. I saw the West Quay, I knew what it was. I kept looking at the sidewalks. Was she somewhere around here? Where’s the bus station? Where? Where?!

Seeing her in the bus station was crazy. Just that type of moment where you don’t care how dorky you look to all these strangers, you’re just so happy you’ll let yourself get a little out there. Scream, hug, laugh, just say “Oh my God” over and over again. And, keep in mind, at this point I had been awake for over 24 hours, so the lunacy of sleep deprivation was stacking on top of the lunacy of happiness.

The notes slowed down here, because well, I was just experiencing things. I was wheeling my small luggage through a new town with an old friend. I needed desperately to sleep. So I slept in what would be my modest little bedroom for nine days. I slept a small, good little sleep, then had some breakfast sandwiches and drinks at the Maritimo Lounge, and more drinks back at my friend’s place. My long day ended like that. Familiar vibes of watching YouTube videos over some cider and beer, and a longer, much more needed sleep.