Trains, Ferries, and Automobiles

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Yesterday I left Madrid for Ibiza. I'd forgotten to bring a travel alarm clock, which had been one of the things stressing me out the night prior. I had to be at the station by 8:30 AM at the latest and I had been up the night before until about 7 AM. I just set my head and also prayed for a wake up, as well as setting my iPod to play at 7:30 AM and hoping that one of my earphones would stay in overnight. It turns out that I woke up at 6:30 AM and so had nothing to fear. In fact, I'd even had time to shower, except that I'd painfully packed everything the night before and didn't dare risk upsetting the delicate balance now.

So I took the 9:00 train from Madrid to Valencia. I was speeding along the Spanish countryside in a somewhat futuristic looking bullet train, alternatively reading Bradbury's excellent Martian Chronicles and looking out at the very red soil and the resulting (to me) alien landscape of green shrubs, red soil, and reddish-gray mountains. There was one scene in particular out the window where a lone mountain stood in the middle of the plains with little orchards surrounding it and I really regret not takin a picture. Anyway, I quickly pulled out my music notebook and scrawled this. I've been writing a lot lately. Anyway, I kinda like it, hope you do too:

A Place Like Home
Familiar red soil beneath his feet
The first traveller stands regarding
A sky of blue, so pretty too
But reminding him of his parting

Stumbling through the ancient land
Decoding ancient runes
Discovering truths, ages unused
A smile in spite of its weight

Thinking on what he must do
To give to Mars its rebirth
Red carbon skies, the old life dies
And salt water falls to the Earth.

Change it all the way we like
It's fine if it's not ours
Out with the new, in with the old
And make the Earth like Mars

So anyway, back on topic here, I finally got into Valencia, and grabbed a city bus to the bus station. The ferry company provided a free bus down to Denia from Valencia, and it's good they do, because they really rip you off on the ferry rides. So another bus, another hour and a half, en route we passed a little town that did the Hollywood thing and spelled its name in white block letters on a hill, and a few scenic and probably Moorish castles. I've been giving the camera a little rest lately and just taking it all in, as you'll no doubt notice if/when I get my pictures uploaded.

Ibiza City
Then, from Denia, onto the ferry for Ibiza. Another 3 hours. I had finished The Martian Chronicles on the train and started Dan Brown's Digital Fortress on the bus and polished off a good chunk of it by the time we finally got into Ibiza. I'd rather have sat outside and watched the see go by, but that wasn't allowed and the weather was lousy for anything except travelling anyway. I did sit by a window, but it's not the same, so I just read. I did end up finishing the book by the end of the night, incidentally, an interesting novel though thoroughly predictable and I did spot a few mistakes, like the head of a major chip manufacturer thinking he's make a mint producing "VSLI" chips or Greg Hale saying at the end of a certain chapter that "Who will guard the guards" was Tokanama's favourite saying, which cast suspicion on him as a potential murderer since he should not have known Tokanama died, but in the end he was innocent (of that) and that little subtlety was never explained.

Some of the people I asked
Anyway, I got into Ibiza city and then had to catch another bus (after a long hike to the bus station) to San Antonio, the city where I'm staying. THEN I walked around looking for the place and everyone I asked for directions was saying something different. It was actually pretty funny in spite of the 60 pound pack on my back but I eventually had enough and took a cab who DID seem to know where it was (I'd asked two cabbies prior who were among the culprits sending me walking in various directions). Having walked arounds and seen some of the places, I was pretty sure that my €30 had booked me a dive, but I was pleasantly surprised by my hotel. Clean, nice, pool, tennis, ping pong, and a dinner buffet that I probably was more impressed by than I would've been had I not eaten something I really liked in over a week. Which, in my first bit of good luck that day, I JUST managed to catch.

The hotel park
Anyway, I have my own clean room AND bathroom, which is nice, and get this - the maids come in and clean up after me in case I made a mess every morning. What a world! :) I didn't have enough energy to go out last night so I basically laid in my room (there was an awful keyboard duet downstairs so I didn't sit in the lounge) and finished my book. Which was nice. I came here to relax AND to have fun.

The beach I walked along
Today I just walked around (the weather was cool and it even rained, which figures, since I had hot sun the whole trip prior) and I may rent a moped to find some of the nice beaches or explore the island tomorrow, we'll see. It'll probably depend on the weather a bit. Tonight I'll probably go out to a club on the sea about 10 minutes walk away.

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Made in Madrid

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Walking the streets of Madrid in search of a hotel wasnt too unpleasant
I awoke after a surprisingly restful sleep (albeit short) as the train pulled into Madrid. There's something to be said about waking up in a new city, even if the first thing on the agenda is hunting a place to stay. The metro here is great if a little pricey, but I suppose it's worth it because you are NEVER far from a metro station in this city. Ever. It's a combination of good coverage and by virtue of the way the lines are set up, still getting around pretty quickly.

I actually found myself a decent place to stay within about 10 places for €22 a night. For what it was, expensive, but still within budget so I took it. Plus, truth be told, it had a great location just off the Opera station on Calle dos Arenal, which runs between Plaza Oriente and the main square, Sol. Also very handy for a nice walk home at 6:30 AM when leaving the clubs. Or so I'm told. There was a shared bath on the opposite side of the building it felt like, and although all the keys were gone from the drop box, I'm pretty sure I saw maybe two people in the place that weren't receptionists.

Truth be told, most of the 18 kilometers was trying to find my way out of this hedgemaze
I spent the day wandering and, looking at a map later and roughly retracing my route, I estimate that I covered about 18 kms of the city. Which would explain the socks, I figure. I didn't get inside any of the mueseums because they were lined up, but the streets are like another kind of museum here and I didn't mind just walking. This rivals Edinburgh in beauty I think, and is very clean relative to what I was expecting from my stay in Barcelona a few years back, not to mention my stay in Lisbon. Which I loved, don't get me wrong. All I'm saying was I'm quite happy I decided to come here.

I walked much of the day and grabbed some tapas and sangria around 6 as is the local tradition here. Dinner is never before sunset, it seems. I sat and watched a group of young people chatting amongst themselves at another table which is entertaining for awhile but gets old (not to mention I couldn't even eavesdrop effectively because it was all Spanish). I headed out and had some time to kill before supper, so I went to the cinema to see Star Wars (again, I know). I got there late and grabbed my popcorn and coke, which I was quite looking forward to as it was real popcorn and not the sweet crap they have elsewhere. I got into the theatre and sat down as the battle of Coruscant was raging, sitting down, and then as I turned my attention to the screen, realized in horror that the movie was DUBBED!! That's right, you heard me. Dubbed. In Spanish. The horror! I thought about staying and watching anyway, but I don't know the movie well enough to fill in the dialogue on my own yet, and so I got up pretty quickly. It was a bit of a struggle to get my money back in spite of the language barrier, though they were quite understandnig and nice about it.

No relation to the text at all, but I thought another picture would be nice
So I went back to the hotel and rested my feet for a bit and then went out. I walked through about 5 clubs and 15 bars, having an occasional beer here and there, especially where they seemed to be brewing. Spanish beer is not as exotic as I thought it might be, and could esaily have been an English ale or something. Anyway, I found a place where there were a few people my age and found a nice wide window sill where I could sit and watch inside and out of the bar sipping my beer. A couple Spanish girls sat on the patio right outside the window and I moved the table a bit closer under the window, to which I craftily implied they had done so to be closer to me and they could just ask me to sit with them instead of slowly sneaking the table towards me. Anyway, they were quite nice and I did sit wiht them until the bar closed at around 2 AM and then we went to the club which was pretty packed. Which is the way I like it for dancing since it hides me pretty nicely!

We left around 6:30 AM which was strange because the sky was light leaving the dark club with the lasers etc, and we walked home in the crowded streets of other clubbers and people walking to work. Very surreal.

The next day I washed my laundry and met a couple guys from the US that I might meet in Barcelona and a couple girls from Winnipeg (seems to be a lot of 'Peggers travelling this year) who were travelling in the opposite direction of me (i.e. towards Portugal from Barcelona). So I now have fresh albeit somewhat wrinkled clothes once again. Which is almost too bad, I was starting to fit in!

The ferry that was the cause of so much headache
Then, I decided I'd better check on the ferry after having heard that they get booked up. Sure enough, they were. By the time this happened, it was getting to be 6:00 on a Sunday, so I was in panic mode. I'd already booked my train and now I wasn't even going to be able to get a ticket until June 2?! Well, I rushed around, internet, telephones, etc. Everything that could go wrong went wrong this evening. Phones ate all but the last of my change. Then I lost my last change in another phone accidentally calling the fax number (which I had written down instead of the phone number at the internet cafe) of the other major ferry line. And then I ran back there and got the real phone number and then went back to the hotel for my wallet, at which point reception decided it was time for me to pay for my hotel NOW since she wasn't going to be there tomorrow morning, then to the bank for money, back the the hotel, and then to a store for change only to call the real phone number and find they'd closed hteir offices 10 minutes before. Other internet places I'd trekked a long way to closed. Travel agents shut their doors just as I ran up. The ferry had said I could get a ferry from Barcelona, however, so I went all the way to the train station to see if I could get my ticket moved to Barcelona instead of Valencia. Of course, the answer was no. Booked. I did manage to get my ticket to Valencia moved to first thing in the morning so I could have a better chance of catching some other ferry from a city called Denia further south. Then the electronics store was closed as I went to buy a travel alarm clock, though I did succeed in getting a book.

Anyway, that's only a small sample of all the little things. In the book store I calmed a bit and decided I'd find a way and not to let these little things get to me. I'd find a ticket. Then I went back to another internet place and went to the other ferry line. The problem I had with these guys was it was always Spanish despite having a button claiming that you could view the site in English. But I got a worker there to translate and managed to get a much more pricey ticket to Ibiza and a free bus. By now it was late and I was wiped out anyway, plus I had to wake up early, so I went back to the hotel, packed and prepared, and finished All Tomorrow's Parties (a really eery William Gibson novel) before drifting off.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Only some of the many many steps of Bom Jesus
OK, I swear that’s my last pun on a city name. For this post. Anyway, I woke up Tuesday morning and checked out of the hostel. Backpack in tow, I went to Bom de Jesus at the top of a large hill overlooking Braga. My backpack has never been so heavy! There are a LOT of stairs to climb and it was sunny and 32ÂșC, and I was sweating so much that I ducked behind a building and changed into shorts and a light shirt.

The view of Braga from Bom Jesus
Anyway, it was a beautiful church with a great view and a little restaurant perched overlooking the town. So I stopped and had a nice ice cream and beer and sat back in the sun. This particular stop made the trip to Braga worthwhile.

Arriving in Lisbon after dark was fun
I caught the 6:30 train to Lisbon (they call it Lisboa here) but there was something wrong with the train. Thankfully, someone who saw my Canadian flag stopped to tell me what was happening in English since they only announced it in Portugese, and we switched trains in Porto for the rest of the trip. Then, off to Lisbon at a cool 220 km/h, arriving around 11. The same man, an economics professor here in Lisbon, chatted with me a little and made sure I got to where I wanted to on the metro, which wasn’t necessary, but it was definitely nice of him. The people here have all been very nice, really. It reminds me quite a bit of Greece in some ways, they love their cafes and ice cream and go out all hours of the night. Thankfully they don’t sleep during the day, though! Anyway, I got to the youth hostel finally only to find it closed down, so I took the metro to the next cheapest place which was much more conveniently located downtown and stayed there.

Cabo de Roca, the westernmost point in Europe
Wednesday, I stopped by the town’s only Laundromat. Apparently Lisbon has the highest amount of washing machines per capita, and so there are very few of them. The hours didn’t work at all for me, though, so I decided to wait until my next city. I took a train out to Sintra, a UNESCO world heritage site and a beautiful town in the mountains, and after poking around there for a spell, took a bus to Cabo de Roca, the western most point of mainland Europe. The view from the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic were beautiful.

I made it back to Lisbon earlier than expected and was having such a great day, I decided I’d go and have a nice meal. So I stumbled on this restaurant and had some wine and a special sausage appetizer (a local specialty here), lamb chops (well, they weren’t so great, but they were still good) and even had myself some dessert and a glass of Port to finish things off. Then, talking to the host, who was also very helpful, I discovered that Kristen Hersh and 50 Foot Wave were playing tonight in a club.

So I went to the store to buy some more socks (some of mine are falling apart not to mention the smell!) and the hotel to change and then I found my way to the club. My Portugese is getting better too, I should say, which I discovered when I got directions entirely in Portugese (though with hand gestures) and vaguely understood. Directions in this city are complicated because roads turn into other roads and are very rarely straight. Sometimes the same road has 90 degree bends in it which look a lot like other roads.

Anyway, it turned out it was just her solo, which I didn’t discover until after the show, but she was really great to see even if I’ve never really liked her stuff too much on record, and despite the cost, I was glad to have seen her. I met some more nice locals there and they recommended some places that I’ll probably go out to tonight.

Leaving Portugal, the main square
So that’s Lisbon. I think I may be over my initial bout of homesickness, though we’ll see when I get to Spain. Today I’m actually going to look around here a bit and also book myself for the next week or so. I’m off to Madrid tomorrow, for a couple days, then to some Spanish islands (if I haven’t left it too long) for a good few days, then Barcelona, then France. That’s the plan. I’m going to look for some trails to bike or hike in France, too, I need more exercise. Hopefully not as much as my last cycling tour, though!

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Jetting through Europe
I spent my last day in London visiting the science museums in Kensington. I saw the museum of Natural History, which was more geared towards kids and then went to the actual Science musem which I wish I'd gone to from the start. As it was, I had to catch a 6:30 flight to Porto from Stansted airport, which is about 45 mins by train, plus be there early enough to check in, go through security and get to the gate. I'd left my backpack in the hostel as well, so I had to make the tube trip to get it, throw my stuff in, and tube back to Liverpool St Station. All said, I did the math and thought that I should leave my hostel with everything at about 3:30. Well, I didn't even leave the museum 'til then, though not for lack of trying. The emergency exits were well marked enough, but by the time I'd followed my intuition of where I came in, the "exit" signs, and finally asked for directions, I'd wasted a lot of time. So I spent the next hour rushing, running back to the hostel and rushing like a madman. I got there at 4:40, to find that trains only run every 15 minutes until 4, then it's every half hour. So I had to wait until 5. And my plane left at 6:35! I got to the check in booth just as she was closing down and managed to make my plane, which was delayed about 30 mins anyway. Whew.

The view from my room of Aliados square
Regrettably, in my haste to get to the gate, I didn't stop at the money changer, and so I had no Euro at all when I arrived into Porto at 9:30. The bus came at 10 though we were wondering if it would ever come, and I'd been talking with a Scottish girl about splitting a cab. Thankfully, she spotted me the €2.50 for the bus (or I'd either have to cab it or wait another hour for the next bus IF there were an exchange in the airport), and we also met some Canadian girls when we got to the town centre an hour later. Talk about a long bus ride. My hotel is just off the main square, and while small, is actually pretty decent. It's nice to have a little privacy and a TV to boot. I watched a little to wind down before bed. The picture here is a view from my window.

At the market
The next morning, I went to get my money exchanged and stopped by the internet cafe just long enough to find out where I was supposed to meet Rita and family and also answer a few emails. I met them at the Majestic cafe (on Santa Catarina), which really lives up to its name, and then we did a small walking tour. Paulo & Rita design and manufacture small ultra-modern household accessories, like coat racks, CD holders, lamps, and so on. They showed me their catalogue and my first thought was that my mom would love their stuff. Anyway, they took me walking and we strolled through the street market which is always an interesting experience. It was remarkably subdued, though, and apparently they are quickly dieing across Portugal and this is one of the few remaining.

Paulo and Rita and their daughter Maria. Their son Fabio took the photo
We went for lunch on the other side of the river in Vila Nova de Gaia. Lunch was very authentic, which was really good of them, since they knew that as a Canadian, I was probably a wuss when it comes to food. I tried everything, though I asked that they not tell me what it was until after I'd tried it so that I wouldn't be biased. Well, unbiased didn't help, I really couldn't swallow some of it. Particularly the pig's ears (crunchy cartilige) and the chicken innards. The sauce and beens that the chicken stuff was in was tasty though. We also had some salad, beef, beans (a Brazilian dish), and other goodies that were perhaps less exotic but still genuine. The ties this country has with Brazil are quite strong, and there is a lot of music and other stuff imported from there. I snuck in to the washroom but mostly to pay the bill since they'd been so generous to show me around and had also bought me a snack for breakfast under somewhat dubious circumstances. The guy inside wouldn't hear of it which I thought was strange, but according to him, I was a visitor so I can't do that. Anyway, they bought me lunch which was far more than they needed to do, but they're very nice people, as I've found most Portugese to be.

Fishing at the mouth of Rio Duoro
Then we got in their van and they toured me around, which was definitely the highlight of my stop in Porto. They took me to a fishing village at the mouth of the river and near the beach there, though the water is too dirty to swim (and I should think to fish as well, but...). We grabbed a wake-up (big meal, port, and wine = tired) which I DID manage to pay for and hung out in the park after seeing even more of the city. Then they dropped me off back in the square and I made my way back to the hotel.

I'd no sooner got in then the Julia (Scottish girl) rung me and we went for a bite and met some of HER local friends. They were a fun bunch, but man do they stay out late. They met us around 11 at a dead bar (we thought it was unusually quiet and that SOME people should be out). They then took us to a much better lounge and then another and then a really crowded club. REALLY crowded. As in, shut down in Canada crowded. We got in past the line because they knew the bouncer and we hung out there until about 5:30. At which point, it was as crowded as ever. Yikes! They charge you cover when you leave, apparently, which is a great scam if you know nothing about it, €10! It apparently goes down depending on how much you drink. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good way of doing it IF the people know that it works this way. I didn't. :)

A small boat similar to the ones that carry port down the river from the vineyards
The next day, I strolled around Portugal taking in the life and scenery and getting a little frustrated because I always ended up at the wrong altitude to cross the river. I was at the top of one that was closed, at the bottom of another with NO apparent way to get up for miles, and so I wound up climbing the rocks and slope to get up.

The crowd in Aliados square celebrating the soccer match

As I walked around the city, it became very apparent that there was a BIG soccer game on. I could hear yells and cheers from the cafes all across the city. Apparently, it was the finals for the Portugese championship, and Porto was playing their bitter rivals, Lisbon. The game was a draw at the end and so because Lisbon went in higher, they won. You'd never know it from the amount of people honking and yelling after the game, though. In fact, I grabbed a cab back to the main square since my feet were dead and there were no safe ways back up the hill (just small dark sidestreets of which I've heard some stories) for a long distance, and the square was closed because a tonne of people were there. It turned out to be quite the gathering and the police were on hand in force. They were chanting their team's name and cheering, and even when I finally left for the night I could still hear them in my room blocks away.

Today, it's already getting to be three and I've no idea where I'm going. I figure I'll just walk to the bus station and try to find out when a bus leaves or if I'll be able to get to a park in the north at all today. If not, I'll head to Lisbon. I saw some photos of the park in central Portugal and wasn't really interested in seeing it. Plus, with my limited Portugese, this country can be tough at times. Like, I ate lasagna twice in a row without meaning to, though the second time I didn't eat much because the hamburger in the inside was undercooked. But try to tell them that. :)

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Yesterday and today, I'm just basically kicking around London. I strolled through Covent Garden, Chinatown, Soho, Oxford, and that general area yesterday, which was kind of nice. Just walking around without any real itinerary. Today, I'm off to see some of the museums and touristy stuff and then I'll probably go out to a club tonight.

I haven't taken a single photo since last time because, well, I already took most of the photos I wanted to here a few years ago. It's familiar here which means that things like the "Look Left" painted at crosswalks aren't quite so picture-worthy. Not that I'm complaining, but I AM looking forward to seeing some new things.

I've discovered that instead of giving discounts for filling seats on empty trains/planes/etc, they like to call it "last minute" and charge extra. So I've started trying to book ahead a little. I was looking at the cost of getting to Paris from London, but it's quite expensive. In fact, it was so expensive that I took another look and, bearing in mind that I want to see new things as well, found a cheap flight to Porto,Portugal instead. So that's my next stop. I also booked a cheap hotel for €20 there since the hostels I called were booked. I may look around and see if there's something cheaper, but I get in at 10 PM, so probably not.

Anyway, what else? Well, aside from walking yesterday, I had my first restaurant meal in a while, since I wasn't really feeling that great. It was basically mini ravioli in a clear chicken-based (I think) soup, but actually tasted better than it sounds, and it was only £3. Which may or may not be sarcastic, I'm not sure. I booked a spot at Les Miserables as well from a discount vendor, which was, really, a terrific seat in what they call "dress circle" here, or grand circle back home. And it was a fantastic performance worth every penny. I sat by an old couple from Denver who were very friendly and I met a guy and his girlfriend from Kalamata in the row ahead of me, who told me to look them up when I visit.

While I was waiting for the show, I sat in a pub and had a Guiness and some fish & chips. It was quite tasty, and I have to say that brown sauce and fries = yum. Anyway, I'm off to continue exploring London, I'll probably report back after Revenge of the Sith tomorrow night. Hope you guys enjoy it over there. I've got the soundtrack on my iPod and am loving every minute of it.

Star Wars Fantasy Camp

Monday, May 16, 2005

Today was basically every Star Wars geeks dream. Almost. I woke up this morning and didn't bother showering. Hey, I'm in London. Plus, with the sleep I got or didn't get last night, well, I didn't want to. Sue me. I went off to Leicester Square around 9:30, picking up a fruit salad for breakfast, a duck wrap for lunch, and a few other things to snack on during the day. This is when I realized just how much more expensive London is than Scotland. Groceries (admittedly, from M&S [it tastes of nothing]) were almost £10. So much for not spending too much money here.

The Odeon where the premiere was held
Anyway, I hopped the tube to Leicester Square (£18 for a week-long pass) and checked out the square. There are a LOT of theatres (or rather, cinemas, although there are also a lot of theatres) here. All of them showing Star Wars movies. I checked out the square and was nearly arrested by a stormtrooper who didn't like being called "short". Since the orchestra didn't start until 1:00, I went and checked out Empire Strikes Back on one of their big screens. It was pretty huge. Additionally, they were giving away two tickets to the Revenge of the Sith premiere at every show! The odds were pretty great, I thought. At Empire, probably a 1 in 40 chance. I saw Phantom Menace later in the day and my odds increased to 1 in 20. Suffice it to say, I didn't win in either instance. I thought about buying other tickets and just coming in at the end, but with the cost of that and my usual not-winning streak, it didn't make much sense. Too bad, 'cause that would've been quite the thing. But I get to see it here on Thursday anyway (on opening night) and that's already more than I could hope for given how fast those tickets sold out.

The London Philharmonic doing Star Wars
Anyway, I watched Empire and went into the square for the London Philharmonic. They had their pieces set to film scenes, and it was really well performed as great as I'd hoped it would be. The only thing that could've made it better would be for John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra. Or playing The Imperial March. After that, there were some interviews with Star Wars stars Jeremy "Boba Fett" Bulloch, Chistopher "Count Dooku/Saruman/..." Lee, and Anthony "C3P0" Daniels <click for video>. Since I'd already worked my way to the front during the symphony, I stayed there and had the chance to ask them a question but I couldn't think of anything clever or insightful.

Storming the red carpet
After that, it was either go sit by the red carpet or go see another show while waiting for things to kick off. I went and saw, as I said before, Phantom Menace. I don't understand how people like this less than Attack of the Clones, but what do I know? I got out and was NOT going to get in any position to see the parade clearly, but that was already the case when I went in. It had just gotten worse. So I snuck around to the other side and in a pub, and actually found a place behind the press where there were relatively few people. I bought a pint of Stella and waited by a window with a nice Scottish couple, who were very nice and made the time pass quickly. Since we were standing by the press, we got to see pretty much every star but it was hard to get pictures that turned out behind the glass and low light and constantly moving umbrellas. George Lucas, Rick McCallum, Anthony Daniels (who admitted that he has the first and last lines in the set of movies - hmmm), Kenny Baker, Christopher Lee, Ian MacDiarmid, Ewan MacGregor, and then some other people like Orlando Bloom and so on.

Stars arrive
Some people got driven right to the door in three minivans and didn't go on the red carpet, no idea who, but my guess is that maybe it was a royal or two? And then I found this little cafe just off the square where I can upload my photos and resize and do whatever else I need to, so I thought, might as well. And that's why these last two blog entries are longer than a night in my hostel room. The photos are slowly uploading now.

Anyway, I should mention again since a few people I've managed to figure out were sending to a bad address that if you want to email me, it's just the name of this website (AKA my last name) at Some of you were clicking the link maybe? I had to do this to avoid spambots. They're everywhere.

Look forward to hearing from you, and I'm sure I'll be in touch much too soon.


London Ho!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

No, this isn't about some woman in London. Or even a bunch of them. Rather, I've left Inverness and took the train to London. It was about four hours to Edinburgh and another four to London, and the time flew by. A lot of the rail ride was literally at the very edge of the coast and there were too many beautiful views to bother with pictures. I did try on a few occasions, but it wasn't pretty. I got to reading my Lonely Planet a bit, and also my Star Wars novel that I brought it along. A new one by Timothy Zahn. The sooner I finish it, the sooner my backpack is a little less crammed. I'm thinking of sending some stuff home, but we'll see. I have too much, that is clear. Packing to get out is a big headache. I really haven't found use for the sleeping bag yet, for example.

Anyway, train to London, arrived King's Cross about 10:30 Sunday night, and found that some of the lines were already shut down for the night. It wasn't too big a deal to catch another one to my hostel in Earl's Court, but it would be nice if there were something other than word of mouth posted about this. I made a passing joke about it to a girl standing beside me and got completely ignored. I felt like telling her that I certainly wasn't talking to her because I thought she was attractive in any way. If there were any ulterior motive, it might've been pity. But really, I was just being friendly. So she can be the London ho, I guess.
For now at any rate.

Train to London
I got to the hostel and checked in no problems. I'm in a room four flights up, which is how I will maintain my robust physique. That and little chocolate muffins. I'm rooming with four guys from Australia (sorry, that should be 'stralia). Four quite loud guys. Two of whom I interrupted on their last night with some Canadian women by sheer virtue of being in the room when they came in from the bar. I offered to leave for a little bit but once they came in, there really was no way to extricate myself. So I'm sure they love me. Though they certainly seem nice enough and probably a lot of fun, too. They just don't sleep is all. I had to plug in my iPod. Oh, and I'm pretty sure that one of the guys did sound effects for Jurassic Park. You should hear this man snore. It's unlike anything you've ever heard. Sporadic and then roaring. But that's it for today. Tomorrow... the Star Wars premiere.

In Search of Nessie

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Inverness is a quiet town
Another change in plans, I stayed in Inverness today and skipped over Glasgow, because my bus got here too late yesterday for me to even get to the Loch. It's a small city, 40,000 people or so, and not much to see, so yesterday, I just kind of walked around and looked at stuff. I checked into a phone (because it'd be nice for calling home and booking hostels) but apparently there's no reasonably priced way to do that.

Last night we went out to a pub called Hootenany's with Celtic music downstairs (a really good time) and some decent though not good rock bands (put it this way, they had piano but also a wah-wah pedal). We didn't stay for the headliners, Girl Said No, but saw their soundcheck and weren't really impressed anyway. We wandered out of there and into a pub that was in a tiny close (what they call alleys here). There was a 50-something year old guy was playing Dylan, Cash, and other covers, and he did a really good job of interacting with everyone too. People there were in good spirits. And man, oh man, you should've seen this Spanish girl dancing.

Loch Ness from above
Anyway, today I was up early (6AM) because I had a jet-lag fuelled four hour nap the night before, and then I went biking up to Loch Ness to see Ogopogo's cousin. I'm rooming here at the Eastgate hostel (pretty nice, £10/night) with a couple of Germans and so the three of us undertook this undertaking. It was a 29-mile bike up into the mountains, which gave some amazing scenery and a nice look at the smaller communities in Scotland which reminded me of Greek villages a little.

Urquhart Castle
Needless to say, I was NOT in shape for this largely uphill venture, and I felt bad because I was behind my German counterparts for most of the ride. My legs will be nice and sore tomorrow. It took us about four hours to get to Drumnadrochit where Urquhart Castle is, and while it is easily the most pain I've experienced in a long time, it was worth it for the views. I hope the pictures do it justice. However, with it having taken so long, and mostly with the three of us being so tired, we knew we'd never make it back before nightfall, ESPECIALLY with the crazy highway that we had to ride on for awhile. No shoulder at all, and the cop/various drivers got rather ticked at us riding into traffic, though the cop did understand the point that we could at least see who was coming at us. Nonetheless, he made us switch sides. So, without digressing further, we were very lucky to run across a nice bus driver who stowed our bikes in the luggage area against policy. Largely because the bus was empty.

Tomorrow, I'm taking a train down to London, 1:30 to 9:30 or something to that effect. The plane is £40 more expensive and I'm in London for five days already, so I'm not in a particular rush, plus then I get to see some of the countryside. And it beats the 14 hour bus ride, thank-you.

I'll be in London for five days, and maybe I can upload some pics there. See you then!

Last Day in Edinburgh

Thursday, May 12, 2005

I decided sometime this afternoon, between breakfast which featured, well, a bag of chips, a Red Bull, and a double scoop of ice cream, and lunch, which was a slightly more healthy honey maple ham sandwich, that today was my last day here. I might have the chance to see more of England later, but I probably won't be coming back up here. So tomorrow, I'm heading to Inverness and the infamous Loch Ness, possibly hitting some other small town too. I'm taking the bus, because it's miles cheaper. Edinburgh->Inverness->Glasgow costs me £10 (they have a pound sign on the keyboard!) whereas the train is £42. After my day in Glasgow, I'll take either a train or plane back to London. Oddly enough, planes are cheaper here, so even though I'd like to travel through the countryside, I'd rather not pay £85 to do so. I've seen plane tickets for £35. Weird.

Arthur's Seat
Anyway, today was mostly hiking. I'll update this with pictures when I get to a computer where I can do that, but I took a hike up the Salisbury Craig and then to Arthur's Seat. It was quite a long journey, all said, and my knees in particular are weak as kittens. Malnourished kittens. Who've just run some sort of kitty obstacle course. After a big meal and some wine. With turkey. And an overdose of sleeping pills. Yeah.

View of Edinburgh
But, it was still well worth it. It gives a spectacular view of the city and I got some nice pictures from there and met some locals. Who, I should say, are a lot more attractive and less red-headed than previously thought. There are quite a few nice looking girls just walking by on the streets all the time. I hate to say this for fear of Scottish reprisals (tarifffs, trade interference, etc), but I am shocked.

I came back and met one Mr. Andrew MacGregor for a couple pints and some Scotch scotch. An extremely fun guy to hang around and pretty knowledgable about the town, too. He was rattling on facts as we walked from pub to pub, starting at Cloisters, and apparently, his dad, Stuart, started the whole folk music revival (i.e. Celtic music) here in Edinburgh and had more than one bar named for songs he wrote. We stopped at one of them called Sandy Bells and they had the sheet music on the wall as well as pictures and newspaper clippings, Andrew looks like his dad so much that customers were insisting that he was, in fact, Stuart.

After I departed from Andrew, I went out clubbing, but sadly none of these young women whom I'd been noticing on the streets the past two days was at any of the places I went. Or was there but with some other guy. But it was fun, I saw some (poor) live music, a bar with five stories and a different theme for each. And bouncers who don't bounce.

That's my story tonight and I'm sticking to it. G'night over there.

Day 1/2/3: Arrived

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The plane to Toronto
Well, it's really day one, but it started yesterday. Yesterday at 8 AM. It's now today at 1 PM. And I really didn't get any sleep the night before. So three days. I thought for sure I'd sleep on the plane, but nope, I sat there with my eyes closed, and that was as close as it got. I must be congested badly because it felt like the blood vessels in my eye were going to explode on each landing.

The family at the airport
Anyway, it's only noon here (5:30 AM back home I think) and I've got a day of exploring Edinburgh ahead of me. I'm not sure yet what I'm doing tomorrow. After seeing how beautiful Scotland looked from the air, I've pretty much decided that I want to see the north before I go down to London, but I'm probably meeting Andy (from FB.Net) tomorrow for a pint, so we'll see...
Edinburgh, incidentally, is beautiful, really a gem. Castles and mountains and old stone buildings, immaculately clean, it's one of the nicest European cities I've been to. We'll see if that holds up once I start exploring a little more.

Well, I'm off. It still hasn't sunk in that I'm here and not going to be home for sometime, and I'm starting to get scared that it might never really sink in. Or it might take a few more days to get used to the idea. And some sleep. Speaking of which, I'm at Brodies' on High Street for anyone wanting to keep tabs. 9 pounds/night, seems pretty nice even if I do room with 12 people. :)

OK, now I'm REALLY off. I'll have pictures and stuff when I have more than just a few to upload, probably I'll do that from London.


Site Update

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Well, the site has gone under some hasty changes to get it usable (for me at least) whilst I'm in Europe. This past month has been busy and full of preparation, so much so that I've had little time for anything non-work related, and so this blog has been left alone. It won't be staying that way once I cross the pond. Incidentally, the date which that happens is actually May 10 (you can check it out on my nifty new calendar that I just finished writing).

So check here for what's going on. I'm going to use this instead of mass emails, but if you'd like to drop me a line, please do! I'll definitely get back to you.

NOTE: I will *only* be using my (intentional misspelling).

Alternatively, you can easily leave a comment after any one of my sure-to-be-verbose posts.

Anyway, tonight I'm going to be at the old Speckled Belly at around 9:00, so if you happen on by for a visit before I go, I'd certainly love to see you. Otherwise, I'll catch you on the other side.