Sunday, October 26, 2008


Due to technical problems of my computer hating the internet, photos coming soon!


Arriving at the bus station with no reservation for a place to stay (no different than usual) I headed to the main train station and attempted to find tourist information. Most things in Berlin and Germany generally seem to be quite well signposted, but in this case I followed the signs for 700 meters, and when I got to where the tourist information should be, there was another batch of signs. The one for tourist information pointed me back 650 meters in the direction I had just come from. Something to work on Berlin, if you want to encourage happy tourists!

I took the u-bahn to the hostel I had stayed at the other two times I was in Berlin, but it was full. And so I spent a very hungry and tired hour on the internet obsessing about hostels, and decided to go with the Mitte backpackers hostel. They had space, it was all good. Dropping my stuff, I tried to wake up, brushed my teeth, went and found food, and for lack of anything else to do, wandered to Ingo's gallery. I hadn't told him that I was stopping by, and when I looked in I saw mostly photos I recognized, but no Ingo. The guy looked at me a bit strangely, and I was going to leave when Ingo came out. It was so nice to see him again. I realized how much I had missed him. I went in, looked around, helped a bit, and got in the way a bit. We took one framed photo and a print to the framer so she could swap out the prints, because the new one was better. We also went to the bindery to pick up the art book that Ingo had made for the exhibition.

After leaving, I wandered about a bit, and when it started pouring went back to the hostel, made some pasta, read some, and then crashed around 10 and slept over 12 hours. Amazing what some sleep can do for you. The next day I wandered about until I was meeting Ingo at 3. We went for amazing sushi and walked through Mitte until we parted ways so he could get ready for the opening at 6. I kept walking, and visited the Maur (wall) park. As you walk through the park on the left side where the wall once was, now there is nothing. It is separeted from the park by a fence, and is clearly still a sort of border area. From one of the plaques I read, perhaps they are keeping it that way as a sort of memorial.

The opening of Ingo's exhibition was the first art opening I had ever been to. When I got there it was still pretty empty, but it seemed that everyone else showed up at once soon after that and Ingo ran around stressed and tryed to talk to everyone. I had a fantastic time. I got to see Thies and Antje, Marko, Jorn and Filiz, as well as meeting Thies and Jorn's cousin, who was a bit crazy, and very funny. He tried to teach me how to say "I love stuffed tigers" in german, as well as other things. After a few hours in the gallery, the celebrations moved to a nearby bar. There was some food, and everyone drank a lot. At the end there was dancing.

The next day I met Thies and Anje for coffee, which turned out to be ice cream. They had just finished their berlin internship, and were leaving for Hamburg to start classes early the next morning. And then I took my things from the hostel to go stay with my lovely couchsurfing host, Buck. He has one of the most amazing, crazy flats that I've been in. As he puts it, it's beautiful, if you like dilapidated beauty, and I do. After talking a bit, we went over to his friends' house, and I stayed while he went to study german. The friends - Adam and Paul took me with them to see a band that some of their other friends play in, called the cowboy killers. It's a banjo guy who also plays kazoo, a guitar and harmonica player, and for that night, a bass. I guess they normally have a washboard player, and a drummer. The guys reminded me of people back in Chapel Hill. A bit funny to go all the way to berlin for american folk. The band was awesome though.

The next day I wandered around Kruzberg, one of the main Turkish neighborhoods in Berlin. I walked into a bakery, and asked for manti in Turkish. The guy looked at me and went off on this long string of german. I tried to explain that I didn't understand, when one of the german turkish guys sitting in the shop, who actually knew Turkish, stepped in, and told me the guy didn't have what I wanted. A little bit further on was a doner shop. So I stopped inside and asked if he spoke Turkish. Of course he said. Every donerci speaks Turkish. So we had a bit of a discussion. He told me he thought obama would be elected and then assasignated. And then he gave me free Baklava.

I finished my wanderings around Kruzberg, and went to the Kruzberg museum, which has a history of all the different groups to live in the area, and of migration to berlin and germany more generally. Returning to the flat I then went off to meet Buck at the karmenoya, where he and his friends were supposed to be having a reading group. Except when I got there I felt a bit out of place because everyone seemed to already know eachother, and I saw no one there that I knew.

Minutes later though, Buck showed up on his bike, with another bike in hand. They had just moved the location of the readinng group to where I had walked from, and so he thought I could ride a bike back. Having not ridden a bike in a city ever, I freaked out a bit, and told him he should go ahead because I would be a bit slow. Once I got on the bike though, it was amazing, although I had a bit of a hard time with the backpeddle breaks. The reading group was fun - much better than any english class I've ever taken.

I left Buck's house on Monday to meet Ingo at Marko's house. Ingo works mostly nights, so after falafel, it was time for him to nap. Later on we visited his friend and got ingredients for a bit of a strange dinner - mashed potatoes, hot dogs, guacamole, and pickles. It was fantastic though. We topped it off by watching the new indiana jones film and sharing a pint of hagan daaz tiramisu ice cream.

After breakfast the next day (I miss breakfast with Ingo!), Ingo departed for his parents, and I spent the next two days enjoying the solitude of Marko's flat and not going out. Thursday was my last day in Berlin, and I met Filiz, and at a wonderful lunch at her flat that she had cooked for me, before walking along the canal and visiting the swans. I also got to have coffee with Sarah (on a grand to do her dissertation research) and Ben, before heading back to have dinner with Marko, hear about his trip to paris, and then fly to Istanbul.

My flight left at 3am, but for some reason they thought I needed to be there two hours ahead of time. It was the only flight leaving at that time, and we all just sat around in the waiting place. The flight was very empty - I got an entire row to myself. Somehow, the budget airline fed us breakfast, and then I got to lye down for an hours sleep. I woke up for the landing, which made the whole extreme red eye flight seem worth it. It was perfectly clear, and still dark as we flew over Istanbul, and I could see all of the bosphorus, the bridges, Kadikoy harbor, and everything else. I felt like I was looking at a map. What a beautiful sight.

Sadly, it took me two and a half hours on the bus to get from the airport to Kadikoy, just as long as my entire flight from Germany to Turkey. I was back.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tea, scones, and a long bus ride


I woke up late, and Pi the cat showed me to Webster's room. After a bit of waking up time, we took the train to richmond, to the tea house, called the tea box, where webster works. Yes it was his day off, but we went there anyways. It's a really cute place, with a green theme, chandaleers and cool wooden tables. And I had my first proper tea the meal, although perhaps a bit early to really be tea the meal. Green tea, a ham and camembert sandwich, followed by more tea, a blueberry scone with lots of cream, and half a brownie. All of this was eaten very slowly over maybe three hours in a proper tea house like maner.

After concluding we couldn't eat or drink one more thing, we returned to Webster's house, and Webster's dad attempted to solve the puzzle of why my computer wouldn't connect to the internet. It turned out to be an unsolvable puzzle. Later that night I took what should have been two tube trains and ended up as four to liverpool street station to meet nick (another awesome c venues person). Concluding rapidly that there was nowhere to go at liverpool street station, we headed back to the tube to camden town, home to many more pubs, as well as shops, and in my opinion, a much cooler place. Apparently there was a major fire recently, but it was dark and I couldn't really tell. We had some beer, and talked about c venues, life, the universe, everything. It was really great to see him again.

My return to kew only took two trains. The next morning I got up early to see Webster off to work, hung about, packed my bag, printed my ticket, and then once again took everything on the tube, and lugged it to Victoria Coach Station. This time, not for a megabus, but a eurolines bus (gray with no markings) to Berlin.

And so began the 21 hour journey to Berlin. I was sitting next to a german woman with purple hair who spoke very little english. Getting out of london took forever and a half, and then we continued on to dover. There was some confusion about which lane we should be in, and our diver had to back the bus about 500ft, out of the lane he was in. At which point the other driving jumped out, and stood in traffic with his hand out, trying to get all the semi-trucks to stop so that the bus could merge. In Turkish style everyone on the bus stood up to watch and perhaps offer advice, and it was all I could do not to burst out laughing. We then waited in this line for a bit as the boat docked and the other cars drove off. And then we all did burst out laughing, as the woman telling cars to go had to walk up to a van and wake up the driver who had fallen asleep. The woman looked a bit startled, confused, and a bit embarassed. I hope she didn't realize she had an entire bus watching her.

The boat ride took a bit over an hour, and as we were still in the UK, dover was covered in mist. The white cliffs at dover are very impressive though. And standing on the top deck I realized that I had been on the ferry from Dover to Calais once before, and that it had been 10 years ago. 10 years!! It made me feel old. I stood outside on deck most of the time to avoid being sick, and as the boat approached calais reboarded the bus. It was nearly dark by this time, and everyone started trying to sleep. At lille I got my own seat, and sometime later in the night the seat accross from me emptied and I could put my feet on it and lay down more or less. We stopped about two hours outside of berlin so our drivers could have breakfast, and then we were in Berlin. All things considered, I think I slept more than I usually do on buses.

Sunny Wales

Swansea, Wales

I was determined to get to the borough market before I left london, and so Saturday I packed and went with lou, olly, and all my stuff including wheely suitcase to the market. It's a food lovers dream. For lunch I had a wild boar sausage with cranberry sauce, greens and mustard - absolutely amazing. It's like a super gourmet farmer's market with lots of jams, olives, meats, baked goods, fish, vegetables, you know, a market, except that it's in a nice area of london. And suitcase in market - not a good idea.

After not much time in the market, I had to say goodbye to lou and olly, and headed off to victoria coach station once again to catch the megabus to cardiff, and from there walked accross the center to get a bus to Swansea. I guess the bus area is not in the nicest part of town, and it was a bit empty when I walked out in search of charlie. I soon found her and we did that running to each other thing that happens in the movies. And then we walked to her house, and up the hill, or as I am told, mountain.

After being fed and meeting her sister, we headed out to meet some of Charlie's friends and go to a ska/punk/regee gig. I hadn't really been properly out to a show in a long time. Yes there was music at the fringe, but somehow that seems a bit different. The second ska band and the american guy playing regee were the best. Beer was served in plastic cups, which was confusing, as when you squeezed the cup, the beer spilt, and by the end everyone was dancing. I felt like I fit in fairly well with my blue hair. After the music finished we went to another bar with lots of girls in very short skirts trying to get the attention of guys that didn't look so impressive, and then went home. We were all hungry, and so Charlie's roommate Mali, who works as a chef at TGIfridays all day, made us pasta with cheese and egg. Never has pasta been so good.

Sunday Charlie had to work, and so Tiffany, the other roommate, photographer, and girlfriend of Mali and I went to the three cliffs on the gower peninsula. Tiffany is french, and has a french car, and so while it seemed much more normal not to be sitting in what is usually the drivers seat, it meant that she was sitting on the outside of the road as she drove and not the inside. She warned me that it had been a while since she had driven on the left, but there were no issues, and we arrived safely.

I was really excited to see the gower peninsula, because Rich's story from "Driving Helicopter Syle" was about going to the gower peninsula with his family. Granted he went to rosili and the worms head, but it was still the gower peninsula, and the weather was amazing - not a cloud in the sky. I remember one line from his story distincly - "and if it was a sunny day, and i'm told that there are sometimes sunny days in southern wales..."

The walk to the three cliffs was nice, and once we got there it was absolutely beautiful. We sat on the beach to eat lunch and watched the rock climbers, and
then walked to the end of the beach. The tide was coming in by this point, and we had to walk through a gap in the rock as the water was getting deeper and deeper. By the time we got through the water was past my knees.

On the way back to the car we picked brambles, not enough for a pie, but enough for a brambly apple crumble. We got back just before charlie, and hung about in the house. Adam, Charle's boyfriend and another friend showed up and we had dinner and my first attempt at a crumble. The top was good and everyone liked it, but for some reason the fruit didn't cook.

The plan was to have a bondfire on the beach, and so eventually we drug ourselves out of the house (okay, so I may have pushed a little). After finding firewood on the beach, and Adam dragging up an entire tree trunk, we attempted to make a fire. And attempted. And attempted. And used up all of the newspaper, then all of the scraps of paper we could glean from our bags and wallets, and then finally the lighter died. The answer from the welsh was firestarters for next time. On the way back Charlie gave me a tour of the rest of swansea by night, visiting the bar where she works on the way.

My last day in Wales I visited Charlie on her lunch hour, and we had the amazing brittish version of the baked potato in memory of the kupir we shared in istanbul. This potato had beans, butter, and loads of cheese. Welsh cheese. We sat in castle square, and then charlie got me welsh cakes. Fresh welsh cakes with sugar. I will dream about them for months to come. Returning to get my stuff I took the bus back to cardiff and then the megabus back to london, arriving at 7. Then there was the tube to hammersmith, where I found Webster and his friend Jake.

And this was the reason I had returned to London - to help Webster celebrate his birthday (part I). We went to an indian resturant, I met lots of his friends, was offered a civil partnership so I could get a visa to stay in the country and had amazing food. This was followed by a bar and then with my suitcase to webster's family's fold out couch.

Friday, October 24, 2008



Olly and Lou's spare room reminds me of a cave. The bed is in a nook, and it's incredibly dark with the curtains shut, which means it's an incredible place for sleeping. Saturday morning I slept really late, and then lou and olly made a traditional english breakfast, complete with the baked beans. Yum! I spent most of the day sitting in their living room, learning how to use the program picassa and downloading my photos. In the evening Olly went out to meet Tammy, Lou went to see a possible show for next year at C Venues with Andrea, and I wandered the south bank, walked accross the thames twice, and distracted in a book store. The amazing thing about the UK, is that the books are all in English, meaning that I can read whatever I want when I go into a book store.

After their show was finished I met Lou and Andrea in the bar of the BFI, or Brittish Film Institute. It's a pretty happening place, with velvet arm chairs and lots of well dressed people. John soon joined us, and we had a great remeniss about C Venues. Later we met Tammy and Olly, and just got to this amazing Japanese resturant before they stopped serving. It's the only japanese resturant that I've been to that doesn't have sushi. I put my ordering power with the others, and we shared everything, including really good rice, quail, chicken, lamb chops, amazing egg plant, bacon and asparagus, and lots of edame. It was an absolutely amazing meal, and the food was also incredibly cute. It's a good thing that the trains to clapham junction run later than that tube, because we didn't get back to their flat until after 1.

Sunday, in typical brittish fasion, was a rainy day, perfect for hanging about and going to museums. We had breakfast together again (of the less cooked variety), and after some a pep talk about the need to get out into the world, I headed out into the world. I went to the free museums near prince albert hall, spending most of my time in the science museum, although I did pop into the natural history museum. As one who reads every bit of every exhibit (something that really annoys some people), it took me a long time to get through two exhibits. The main one I looked at was a history of steam power and the steam engine. They had collected old steam engines, bits of old machines, and each stage also had a computer terminal with animations of the workings of the engines and information about the key players. It was absolutely facinating! The other exhibit I visited was a history of plastic, which was also pretty darn cool. Further proof that I am a true nerd. That evening I helped Lou make curry, and rediscovered how fantastic a vegitable the parsnip is.

I woke up in the morning to sunshine! and remembering William's photos of Kew gardens, thought I would try to see them. With a week travel card (an amazing deal if you are going to be in london for a week!!) that was only good for zones 1 and 2, and not realizing i could top it up to go to zone 3 (you can top it up) I got off at the last stop in zone 2, and started in my way. I walked through the center of Chiswick, and then through a very boring stretch, before I crossed the river, and entered Kew. I think the best word that can possibly describe Kew is cute. It's extremely cute. The tracks for the underground, which at this point goes overground sort of splits the small center into two.

I did find the gardens, but at 13 pounds for entrance, with only two hours remaining, and no flowers at this time of year, I decided it wasn't worth it, and being the daughter of a historian, did what any logical person would do, I decided to check out the national archives. When I got there I was given a packet about how to go about conducting research if I wanted to. Instead, I checked out their museum. I found it really interesting - the importance of the archives and documents. Especially interesting were the exhibits on who gets to see what documents and how that changes politics, society, etc. In addition, the museum hosts the doomsday book, a land survey from the 10th century. I think it's the oldest book found from the UK. Just shows the importance of geography - the oldest book from brittian is about place.

Leaving the national archives I took the thames path along the south bank of the river. It runs through the forst, making it seem really hard to believe you are in a major world city. It seems as if you are in the middle of nowhere. I walked all the way to hammersmith, crossed the bridge, and took the tube home to have Olly's pasta and sauce for dinner, followed by watching stardust. Or maybe we watched that sunday. Things run together when you're having fun.

Tuesday I decided to return to the science and natural history museums. I went on a guided tour of the botany bits of the museum, which included behind a the scenes look at where they press and store all of the plant samples that come in. Back in the science museum, I visited some other exhibits. In the evening I ended up once again
meeting Lou, Andrea and John for the Royal National Opera's production of Swan Lake. We were in the upper stalls at the side on the top, which meant that we couldn't see the back drops or a bit of the action on stage left, but it was still a fantastic performance, and the music was wonderful. It's such a good show for the oboe.

Wednesday was the most beautiful day so far, and I walked the south bank, and basically went nuts with my camera. The clouds were perfect, the sky was amazing, the views were fantastic, there were lots of art students out working on projects, and two guys were making living rooms out of sand on the beach. One was just finishing as I got there, and he was sitting on his sand couch watching his sand tv, and hoping that people would toss some money down to him.

I walked all the way to St. Pauls, but I got there just as it was closing for mass, so didn't go inside. Instead, I went to the nearby tourist information, and asked likely one of the wierder questions that they get - do you know where I could buy corn tortillas? The guys had no idea, but said that there were some latino stores in the elephant and castle shopping center, so I headed there to have a look.

There were no corn tortillas in the elephant and castle shopping center. The shopping center is a mall that has fallen from popularity. The top floor is bingo. On the ground floor is Tesco, Iceland (a very discount supermarket) and Boots. There are lots of other random stores, and one latin american deli sort of place. The area outside is full of stalls selling clothing and random other stuff, with a few food stalls as well.

Giving up, I went home to make enchiladas with flour tortillas. Webster came over for dinner as well, and much fun was had by all. The four of us managed to finish off two trays of enchiladas and four avicados worth of guacamole. I also had my first amaretto, which unlike most alcohol tastes just as it smells.

Thursday I decided was my day to visit Greenwich. After attempting to do some cleaning in the kitchen, which was a bit of a disaster from my cooking the night before, I headed out late. I also wanted to visit the docklands, as they are supposed to have canals, and also have changed a huge amount in the past 10 or 20 years. So I took the Docklands Light Rail (DLR) for a tour of the docklands on my way to Greenwich. They had a reputation for being run down, but now it's all tall buildings, posh stores and offices. The canals are pretty, but it may be the area of London that is most changed. Not interested enough to stop I headed all the way to Greenwich. The area is cute, and after a bit of walking I found the park where the observatory is.

I went first into one side, but really wanted to visit the side with the prime meridian, and so went back to the center, at which point I was told it was 4:31, and that we had past last enterance time. They wouldn't let be back into the area from which I had just come either, which was very annoying. And so I did not get to see the prime meridian as it goes through the royal observatory. But the park was really nice, and the view from the top of the hill was fantastic.

I walked a bit more in Greenwich, took the pedestrian tunnel under the Thames, and then headed to north london for dinner with Rashmi and Subir. They live on the same road as they did when I visited them nearly four years ago, but in a different flat, which they own. Apparently the view is fantastic during the day, but it was night. Subir had made a chicken dish and a vegetable dish, the names of which I have forgotten, but they were both amazing. We talked about chapel hill, and politics, and watched some BBC, which was my first TV news in a long time. They said they were thinking about getting online booking for their spare room, as it was in such high demand. I told them next time I was back I would go to their site and book a few days. Going back to south london I learned how to top up my oyster card, before begining the long journey back.

For my last day at Lou and Olly's I actually woke up at a decent hour, so that I could go with lou to the c venues office to help for the day. My job for the day was to read through all of the duty logs, and to see which companies overran their time slots, and by how much. Not the most exciting of things, but it was nice to do some work, and be back in the c venues world for a day. And that evening lou and olly went out, and I visited the fresh and wild store - really whole foods, where you can get corn tortillas, refried beans, and north carolina salsa. I got a frozen burrito and some ben and jerry's, and ate it while watching Dirty Dancing and Singing in the Rain. Fantastic.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Going south

Glasgow and Manchester

From St. Andrews I headed back to Glasgow. Daniel was packing to return to the US and Sandra was off on holiday. Highlights included the glasgow green, the lighthouse, fajitas and more sucessful brownies with Graeme. And walking and walking down by the river on my own.

I left Glasgow Wednesday for Manchester with the lovely MegaBus. If you haven't heard of megabus, it works similarly to the budget airlines. The first ticket is one pound, and after that they go up from there depending on demand. So, especially if you can plan a bit ahead, it's a great way to travel cheap. And I hear it's already begun in the US. I arrived in Manchester around 4, and wasn't meeting Sarah, a friend from the festival until 10, so I had a lot of time to do something with. None of the guys from the bus station dressed in their neon yellow high vis could actually were from manchester, but they did tell me that there was no left luggage in this bus station. So I followed the signs to tourist information. They told me that there was supposedly left luggage at the train station, and that there was a free bus to get there. They also did what tourist information does best and gave me a free map. The woman proceeded to circle almost everything on it as a point of interest, especially cicling the northern quarter - known for it's artsy nature. Perhaps it was the blue hair.

The bus to the train station was packed, and I kept having to get off with my bag to let people out. The first time, the driver didn't seem to realize that I wanted to get back on and almost drove off without me. I did find the left luggage, and was thrilled to be rid of my bag, although I was still carrying my pack with laptop. Following the advice of the tourist information lady, I headed to the northern quarter, which was very cool, but sadly, it also started to rain. I went to a cafe, had tea, and hid for a couple of hours. By the time I left the cafe it had stoped raining, but I still had a few more hours. I walked in the direction with the most people, and soon found a tesco. Buying a bagel, I proceeded back into the street, and, feeling rather homeless I squatted next to a building and made myself a cheese sandwhich bagel. Just when I had finished a woman came up to me and asked me where I had gotten it as it looked good and she wanted one. Should go into business.

My wanderings led me to the nightlife area, a very disnified passage, and a large wheel. Apparently an IRA bomb went off in this area, destroying buildings, but injuring no one, and so they have been able to redesign the area. I met up with Sarah a bit later, and we took the bus to her flat. She had been at the greyhound races, and had won 10 pounds. We had time for a short reminiss about c venues, and then it was time for sleep. In the morning she went off to work and I went back to the center of Manchester feeling just a tad worried about my complete lack of plan.

I had been hoping to stay with a friend of Tom's on her canal boat, but it seems that this was not to work out. I visited the library where I did the large amount of paperwork necessary to secure my absentee ballot (as north carolina is now a swing state!) and then visited a rather old and famous library, which looked exactly how a proper library should look in my mind. Or, at least definetly how I expect the library at hogwarts looked. And it's still in use for the university. I bought a bus ticket to london, wandered around more, and called Olly who told me it would be fine if I stayed with them tonight, at the very last minute. Returning to the train station I got my luggage exactly 24 hours after I put it in, returned to the bus, or rather coach station, and took my second megabus in two days.

London was another five hours, and then it was two stops on the local train to clapham junction. It was fantastic to see lou and olly again. It was going to be my first time having a bed in a room to myself in weeks, to have some space. And Lou and Olly are amazing. I got there at the end of a dinner party, and after giving them my bottle of wine with the prettiest label, I sat down, was given risotto, and was so happy that I wanted to cry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Pi(e) and dumplings

St. Andrews

After all the excitement in Glasgow, I headed back to Edinburgh for a day to return the camping gear that I now think of as mine, and to be reunited with my computer and suitcase. It was great to see Rich again as well. I put all my photos on the computer, which caused my camera battery to die twice, and got to sleep in a proper bed in a room to myself, a rare occurance.

The next evening I took the bus to St. Andrews and was met at the bus station by Tom and his friend Vikash. As I have hosted two guys named Tom on couchsurfing, let me clarify. This is not the cycling Tom currently in Iran, but the one who is now back from Iran and studying Iranian history at St. Andrews. Not only is he studying, he is an RA, or as they call themselves, assistant warden. Which means that he and five others take turns being on duty and dealing with fire alarms and drunk first years in the dorm. But instead of having to live in a dorm room, they get flats in the dorms. As he visited me twice in Istanbul, I thought it was only fair that I called on him in St. Andrews. St. Andrews is known for two things - the university, and GOLF. Golf being the more important of the two. In the middle ages they had to ban golf as it was getting in the way of the far more important archery practice. In addition to many golf courses, there is a ruined castle and a ruined cathedral.

I spent five nights in St. Andrews, all of which was amazing. I think the most amazing bit was the last day, where Tom and I went out in search of wild blackberries, or brambles, as it is scotland. We walked to the trailer park, and after hopping over the fence found many. We had not thought beyond finding the brambles however, and hadn't brought a sack. So in a feat of amazing engineering which has not been repeated since, I managed to take off the bottom of four layers without exposing myself. The bottom layer was black so I was hoping it wouldn't stain. With my shirt tied up as a sack, we proceeded to completely fill it with brambles in a short time, and only a few scratches. My hands, however, had turned completely purple.

Tom had to return home, but I wandered around town, and then had the most scary tesco (a grocery store) experience of my life. Back in Tom's flat I stressed about finding a circular pan to make my bramble pie, before realizing that this could be a square, and therefore very nerdy pie. Instead of making the traditional lattice I wrote, perhaps at Tom's suggestion, Pi(character) r squared(character) on the top. Because as we all know after taking geometry, pies are no longer round, pies are square.

After finishing the pie I helped Tom's flatmate Yaning finish making the 200 or so dumplings that she was making. The other assistant wardens came over and we sat on pillows (bits of my bed really) on the floor of Yaning's room and ate dumplings until we couldn't move. And then we ate more. Sometime later the pie was done, and Katy and I decided that it needed cream. So we walked to Tesco for a much less scary tesco experience to get cream and custard. And it was a really good pie.

Other highlights include yet another freshers week. Because I was hanging out with all postgrads, they are a little bit more classy than freshers, and so I went to several receptions with free wine, which was exciting. I also went to Katy's birthday party, where she had a giant fudge doughnut we had picked up earlier as a birthday cake. It was amazing. St. Andrews in general is a quite foody town. There is an amazing cheese shop, several delis and bakeries, a butcher, and did I mention the amazing cheese shop? The brittish do make some amazing cheeses.

Then there was the night when Tom, Vikash and I went to the beach with a mostly full bottle of whisky. Let me share this advice - never drink (accidentally or on purpose) more than a brittish male, especially a former rugby player. It did end up that a guy from northern cyprus came along the beach with two friends, and we had a very strange conversation in Turkish.

Most of what I did in St. Andrews looking back was talk, discuss politics, eat good food, drink wine, walk, and hang out. A very good life indeed.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Return to Civilization


The next morning I woke up absurdly early, found myself once again on the school bus, spent an hour in a coffee shop in portree eating a breakfast scone, and then boarded the 7 hour bus back to Glasgow. Part of the trip followed the way, and it was a bit depressing to drive a bit that had taken me a day to walk in half an hour. And a guy sat down next to me, and it took me a few minutes to recognize him as someone who had stayed in my hostel in Fort William. It's a very small world.

Back in Glasgow, I met up with Daniel, the guy from Tenessee that I had met on the walk. He had returned a few hours earlier from Inverness. I got a real shower with a real towel and real shampoo and it was amazing. We had the rest of my cheese and salsa, and then Daniel's roommates showed up - Graeme and Sandra. Graeme is from Scotland and is studying audio visual engineering at Glasgow Uni. Sandra is from Germany and is an architect. Later some of their friends showed up and it turned into a party. I spent the night on my first couch since the end of the festival - very comfy, in a lovely red nook behind the table in the kitchen. It was a bit on the short side though.

I hung out there all the next day, enjoying being inside and having electricity. That evening I walked accross Kelvingrove park to stay with Karen, whom I know through the festival. It was the end of freshers week at Glasgow, and so Stag (Student Theatre at Glasgow) was putting on a showcase to entice first year students. A note on this freshers week thing - in the UK, when people go to uni, at least 95% of them are 18 or over, meaning that they can legally drink. And so there is a week before classes begin where first years (freshers) move into the halls and then have lots of university sponsored orientation events, and get horribly drunk. Something we US freshman completely missed out on due to stupid alcohol rules.

Anyways, the showcase was fantastic and I got to see more people from the festival and got invited to the party they were having the next night. And people tried to talk me into staying to perform in the first show of the season.

Saturday, I visited the Kelvingrove museum in the morning. The building is amazing - it looks like a cathedral - but apparently was built for an event like the worlds fair. I focused mainly on the exhibits relating to scotland. The most interesting was about Charles Rene Mackintosh, who designed a huge number of buildings in Glasgow, specializing in tea rooms. I think he is most remembered for his distinctive chairs. Then I met up with Karen and I walked to Byers road - one of the shopping streets of the west end. I continued a wander into town while she returned home to do work. The party that night was great - with a theme of 1999 and lots of decorations to match. Theatre parties everywhere seem to be fairly similar. Perhaps a bit drunk, I discovered the wonder that is chips and korma sauce.

Discovering once again that a lot of cheap wine isn't good for one's head I was a bit slow in the morning, then walked into town and to the cathedral. The cathedral was nothing spectacular, but the cathedral museum, St. Mungo's had an absolutely fantastic photography exhibition on of iraqui refugees in Syria and then in Glasgow. I stood there at the end in tears, and really wished they had a catologue of the exhibition.

Having heard about the huge cemetary called the necropolis, I walked up to the gate as a large group of people were standing there. A woman asked me if I wanted a tour and so I said yes. 2 hours later I had walked all over the cemetary, and knew more about the people burried there and the symbolism of different head stones than I would have thought possible. The guides, with their very dry glaswegian humor, were great.

I returned to Karen's and then crossed Kelvingrove park again to stay with Graeme. Both Daniel and Sandra had gone to Germany. We visited an amazing tea shop just behind their flat and then wandered the west end. And I concluded that I really like Glasgow.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Adventures in Skye

Portree, Uig, Dunvegan

When I woke up the next morning, the rain had stopped and the cow was still mooing. I packed up my stuff, headed back to the road, and watched the bus to portree drive past me as I walked to the bus stop. Turns out that if I had stuck my hand out the bus would likely have stopped because it's a rural road, but I didn't know that. So I walked to the visitors center for the castle I had passed the day before, asked the guy in the garden shop lots of questions, and sat out front waiting for the bus.

I took the bus to broadford, with the intention of exploring. It had not yet sunk in how tiny all of the places in Skye are. I was dropped off in front of the co-operative grocery store, and bought supplies. And then I had a quick walk around, and realized there was nothing to see here, and that I would be best continuing to Portree. So I got on the next bus, but didn't have enough money. I was going to wait for the next bus, but the driver took all the change I had and told me to get on. Then, when I got off the bus he handed me a ticket and change. I gave him a funny look and he said he had just put me into the system as getting onto the bus at a later point on the route. And so he was giving me change! It was one of those moments that reaffirmed for me the kindness of strangers.

Portree is nice enough, although their main square has been turned into the island bus station. The town is very cute, and full of cute shops and resturants. I visited the Skye Batik store, where they told me to put my pack down and handed me coffee. Reading the information sheet, skye batiks had originally been produced in skye, but because it took so long for things to dry, people were buying their batiked items wet and taking them home to dry. So they moved the opperation to Sri Lanka. Being a good world citizen, I wanted to make sure they treated their workers okay. I asked, and the guy told me it was his wife and her family working. "I wanted to exploit them" he joked, "but my wife wouldn't let me." Probably makes for happier workers if they get to sit in the sun, than working with fabric that refuses to dry in skye.

I wandered down to the harbor, where one couple was fishing, and wandered around the rest of the place. And then got on the 3:30 bus to Uig (apparently pronounced ooig). The first stop was the Portree High School, where I discovered that although this bus was public transport on the surface, it was actually a school bus. It was soon filled with uniformed kids aged 12 to 16 or 17, and, sitting there with my big backpack, my now green hair tied up in a scarf, I was something to be ignored. Evesdropping on their conversations, it made me glad to have finished high school.

I ended up getting off the bus at the Quaraing. The lady at the batik shop told me it had an amazing view, so once again I found myself hiking up a large hill with my heavy pack. The view was indeed amazing, although it would have been better if it was less misty. I thought that scotland in general was a green place, but Skye can make there rest of scotland look practically brown. As I was standing at the top pondering the walk down, an older man walked down from the ridge to where I was standing, and asked me if I'd like a lift down to the road. The same woman in the batik store had told me that hitchhiking was an acceptable method of transit on skye, especially on roads where buses did not run, so I accepted his offer. He told me that he had walked to the Quaraing. Apparently it's actually a rock formation, inside of which is absolutely flat. I couldn't have walked it that day, however, because by the time I was on the ridge, it had been covered in fog. He and his wife were English, but came up to Skye every year for holiday. He also told me that the cattle auction had started the day before, and most calves were being sold. The reason for the all night mooing suddenly became very clear - this mother had lost her child.

Back down at the bottom I waited for the last bus of the day. While I waited I went down to the sea side, and was passed by a group of cattle. Back on the road, I watched as this group of cattle ran up and down the road, followed by guys in small farm vehicles. After about the fourth time, I asked one guy if this was cow exercise day. No, he told me. We're separating out the mothers from the young. They had already put one calf in a separate pen, and it's running mother kept trying to escape the group to go to her calf.

It turns out the bus I was waiting for was only going to go half of the remaining distance to uig before it stopped for the night, but the driver did let me on, and then I stood by the road and watched as he parked his bus and went home. With no good camping area nearby, I did something that will frighten my mother, and stuck out my thumb. After about 20 minutes a car stopped. The guy told me eventually he would be going to uig, but he was taking the long way. A minute later another car stopped. It was a german couple, also going to uig. They rearranged their stuff, and managed to fit me into the car.

I asked the guy if he had trouble driving on the left, and he said now. Not that it was a problem on this particular road, as it was a single track road. His wife was on sheep spotting duty though, and kept yelling sheep, sheep. She was a doctor and he was an engineer, and they had hired a car to explore scotland for a couple weeks. As we came to the west side of the island, the sunset was absolutely spectacular, and so they pulled over to take photos. They drove me all the way to the camping site at uig, I thanked them, and then they sped off to find a B and B.

The camp site wasn't exciting. Uig wasn't exciting. It was getting dark, and I set up my tent, made dinner, and then visited the pub, which like the pub the day before, was empty. Determined to find some life I walked past the pier where the ferries to the outer hebridies depart from, and back toward the main road to portree. The only sign of life I found was two boy playing with a ball in the middle of the road. I turned around, went back to my tent, and slept.

Waking up to another cloudy but dry day, I visited the Skye brewery, tried this drink called kyte, which is microbrewed ginger beer with 1% alcohol. Mine was also made with tayberries, so it was tayberry kyte. And then I caught the bus back to Portree. My plan was to go to Dunvegan, but there wasn't a bus for three hours, which would have put me in Dunvegan too late to see anything. And so I tried the hitchhiking thing. Walking to the edge of town, standing next to the post office, I waited. But everyone kept pointing to the post office. I found out later that I could have gotten a lift with a postman if I had asked. But I didn't know.

And so I started walking. Half an hour later, a car with two old men stopped and offered me a lift. They had seen me walking when they drove into town as well. The guy who was driving, told me that he is a crofter with 80 cattle and 200 sheep. His friend works as the gardener for a hotel out in the middle of nowhere, and so the guy takes his friend into town once a week so he can buy groceries. He told me how there used to be grocery vans. One company would come by on a monday, another on a wednesday and another on a friday. Nowdays, he doesn't even bother to milk his cows anymore, he just buys milk at the grocery store. And people don't want to live in the country anymore. They are going to build lots of new council houses up at portree. People want to live in town.

He let me off on the road to Dunvegan, and I tried my luck one last time. 20 minutes later a car came toward me and stopped. I was a bit confused, until they explained to me that they were going to Dunvegan, but there had been a police car behind them and they couldn't stop. So they had turned around to come back and get me. I got to sit in the back with my pack and their very friendly black lab named Jake. They were surprised to see me hitchhiking, saying that when they were young they had done it all the time but now things were different. I said that I had been told it was okay on Skye, but wouldn't do it anywhere else. The woman had been in the brittish equivalent of the peace corps, and they both had some good stories. They gave me a ride all the way to Dunvegan, showed me the campsite, and then let me off in the center of town.

At tourist information the woman advised me not to wild camp, and so I walked back the direction I had just been, to the campsite, put up my tent in the wind, and walked back into town to have a look at the castle. The castle at Dunvegan is the McLeod clan's. It looks impressive from the outside, but sadly, they redecorated at the end of the 18th century, and the inside is a bit too frilly for my taste. The history bit was interesting, and the gardens were very nice. And it was my first castle of this journey, so it seemed about time, as I had been in scotland over two months. And I had a camera epifany in the gardens.

Checking in both pubs, I came to the conclusion that perhaps bars are alive during weekends on Skye, but every pub is empty during weekdays. I returned to my tent, cooked my emergency ramen noodles, chatted to the guy running the campsite, who turned out to be a postman. He told me there used to be postbuses on Skye, but they had decomissioned the last one this summer. And then I spent my last night in the tent.