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.

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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? (6/2/15)

LaGuardia Airport. A Tale.
Something changed at the airport. When I sat down at the bar, I felt like I was retreating from chaos. That was an hour ago. Back then, announcements had to be made so that the impatient folk trying to get on the plane would get out of the way for 85 passengers trying to get off the plane. People seemed stressed out, me included.

I arrived at the airport around 3:30 PM, and my 5:55 PM flight was delayed to 8:00PM, then canceled, and I was rebooked for a 8:30PM flight, which was delayed until 9:20.

The time is, right now, 7:53PM. I have no idea whether or not I’ll be on an airplane at 9:20 PM. I have little faith in US Airways, who have canceled two flights on me today.

Still, either the hour has become so late, or the rich alcohol has soothed me so much that LaGuardia has become, tolerable, peaceful even! There has to be, I guess, 80% fewer people. LaGuardia feels empty, and quiet, and I love it. At this level of peace and quiet, I could tell that there were regulars at the airport bar. Regulars at the airport bar. People who fly so often the bartender knows them. Frequent flyers, and frequent drinkers. My type of people.

Myself? I ordered a French 75, a hot pretzel, a Black Russian, and a Negroni, in that order. It was a hefty price for three drinks, but if it buys this type of serenity, then it has no price. I’ve heard of drinking in airports gone wrong, leading to missed flights, or miserable flights, but this is peaceful, this is wonderful, and I feel like I have not been at the airport for five hours.

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.