The last week was July 7-13: Return to London
On Wednesday we planned on going to museums in the morning, and Tricky at night. The reason we were still in London was because he was playing tonight, so we were all pretty excited about the show. In the morning, I went for an early walk in Notting Hill to shop for a present for my sister Jane. I bought her a Pooh-bear T-shirt and furry Top Hat. Just kidding. When I got back to the hostel, Tara looked frazzled: She had realized that her credit card was missing, and she was doing her best to not panic. After an hour of searching, she called the global Visa hotline and set the recovery process in motion. She was going to get another card, but it was going to take a few phone calls. We went to the post office to ship gifts and kill time until the U.S. Visa offices opened up. Eric had stayed up all night talking to a girl from Seattle, so I assumed he was still in bed and went ahead to the Imperial War museum on my own. The museum was incredible; the first floor had tanks, anti-aircraft guns, V1 and V2 rockets. There were a few fighter planes hanging from the ceiling, too. Coincidentally enough, there was an exhibit about the British special police (SKS) rescuing hostages from that Iranian Embassy I had walked by the previous day. I really liked the section on Victoria's cross recipients, but unfortunately, I didn't discover the main display of war artifacts in the basement until about 10 minutes before the museum closed. I was kicking myself. When I got back to the room, Tara and Eric were waiting for me, and we left for Tricky right away.
It was a sold out show, packed fuller than any U.S. show I had ever been to. We arrived early, so we stood right up front. We met a Scottish guy who recommended two up-and-coming bands to us, Betaband and Spiritualized. It was lively, and at one point I got knocked in the chin and bit my front lip. The show was great. Other than the fact that one could smoke inside the theatre, it was pretty much like a show in the states. When we got out, it was the perfect time to go to a club, except I was sopping wet. Tara and Eric went into a club called "The Tube" and I went home.
Tara's credit card concerns were multiplied because we didn't know exactly where we would be staying in Edinburgh, Scotland. Luckily, Visa was able to just send a new card to a particular bank in Scotland, where we could go to pick it up.
On Thursday morning Tara realized something else was missing, one of her plugs for her ear piercing. Because her ears are stretched, she needs to keep something in them or they will shrink back shut in no time. I was sure we could find something the right size to use if we kept our eyes open. We checked out of the Hyde Park Hostel and went straight to the Victoria bus station. Before we had even arrived, we found some green drinking straws that fit Tara's ears perfectly. It turned out that the only bus leaving for Edinburgh was leaving at 10 PM, so we had all day to wait. We lockered our packs and went to the Science and Technology museum.
I got a picture of myself with Robert Goddard, for-runner of rocket-car technology, and of other space exhibits. I got to see a mock up of the Apollo 11 moon lander. It looked like it required about 4 rolls of aluminum foil to cover the whole thing. There hasn't been enough time to see everything in the museums so far, I doubt that will change. It closed at 6, and we went back to Soho to get some real plugs for Tara.
We caught our bus at 10 p.m., due in at Edinburgh at 7am. I only got a little sleep on the bus, so the next day folded into this one, but let me end the day with 2 observations: The road signs are much larger in Great Britain, imagine our San Jose...60 roadside signs just as wide, but 3 times as tall. They are large and blue. Sometimes they even have a little map on them. Also, the gasoline signs we were passing averaged about 75.9p/liter. That is $1.21/liter, or $4.57 per gallon. That is the cheapest unleaded. The "four star" is a little more, and the diesel is a little less.
Ok, as I said, we only got a little sleep on the bus. It was a comfy bus, with a little bathroom, and they sold refreshments. Tara and I had earplugs, and they helped shut out the babies that cried from about 1am to about 4am. At 2am, they stopped for 20 minutes at a little pit stop called Welcome Break. We bought snacks and met Ishka, a young woman from Poland.
Back on the bus, it got light very early in the morning, 3am, I guess because we were so far north. We had to change busses at about 5am, and after almost getting on the wrong bus, we were on our way. Eventually we made it to Edinburgh.
We found breakfast and COFFEE (thanks to an extremely friendly window-washer), and were approached by an older guy aggressively selling space at his "hostel". He had photos and a little guest book that showed that he was actually selling rooms in his house. He offered to drive us over, and we could decide from there. Of course we were nervous, but the price was right, and he DID have two girls from Japan in the car already.
We didn't stay there. It was his house, and we were not going for the hard sell. We broke the news to him right after we got in the door. Luckily he had a friend with something that resembled a hostel, and he drove us right over.
It was too early to check in, so we set our main backpacks in a storage room and went out on the town. It was about 8 am.
We came upon a firehouse, and as Tara is collecting photos of Ambulances and Firetrucks, we asked the firemen if we could see the trucks. They were very proud of the new "machines", so they pulled them out of the station so we could get good pictures.
Next it was off to the Bank of Edinburgh, to pick up Tara's new Visa! It had arrived just minutes before we got there. The transfer took about an hour, but we were all happy to have it resolved without any bloodshed. Tara tells the story best about squeezing the Visa people for what she needed, so I will just say that she used ALL her phone skills to get it replaced so soon. We were back in business!
We visited the castle. It has a storied history. The Scottish war-memorial was there and featured the best sculpture I have seen yet in Europe. It was awesome, but out of respect for the dead, I didn't take any pictures. Edinburgh was gearing up for its upcoming military festival; setting up stadium seating and portable toilets, etc. Around 3pm, we finally checked into the hostel and took a nap.
We woke up around 7pm and went out in search of beer and Internet access. We found Internet access at a place that set up their billing scheme this way: There was a timer on the monitor that was coin-operated, so when your time was up, the monitor shut down. Unfortunately, there was no indication of how much time you had left on your dime, so you could end up having things shut down in the middle of composing an email. It sucked.
We went first to a pub called Tron and made a toast to Visa, then to a little underground place called The Vault. We met Catherine and Moe. Moe was a woman...she had crimped hair. She loved Scotland. We left around 3 and had late-night pizza with everyone else that got out of the clubs. As we made our way home, it was getting light outside.
This was the longest day of the trip so far, but at last we went to bed.
We made it out of our room at three in the afternoon. We ordered burritos at a tiny Mexican place, but we got tacos instead. We did our laundry at a little place that had a large barrel-like machine called the Extractor that spun the crap out of your clothes and saved you time and money on drying. It was crude, but effective. We caught a city bus back to the bus depot and arranged for travel to nearby Glasgow. We wandered back along Princes Street as shops were closing. We missed most of them, but we made it into a little store called Lush that got Tara really excited. It was an outlet for handmade soaps and beauty supply. They had soap by the pound and solid shampoo and a bunch of other girly stuff. It was like a little deli, where the emphasis was on the product rather than the packaging. Then again, maybe THAT was the packaging.
We checked email as the sun set, got some hot sandwiches and a few beers for dinner, and headed home. We actually left Eric at the pub, as he was interested in checking out the Saturday nightlife. Tara and I found an ice cream shop on the way home and got some cones. We tried the malt whiskey, but we avoided the blood orange and cracked black pepper & strawberry.
On Sunday we woke up and checked out right at 10. Tara spit half of her tongue jewelry out of her mouth at breakfast to show us the part she hadn't swallowed. We finished breakfast just in time to miss the 11:00 bus to Glasgow. Eric and I spotted the Sir Conan Doyle memorial and took a look while Tara looked after the packs.
The trip to Glasgow was only about an hour. We left our bags at the station and went in search of lodging or passage to Ireland. The best way to put it is to say that Glasgow rubbed us the wrong way. As it was Sunday, there were not a lot of options to get out of town, but we figured it was better to arrive in a strange town in Ireland at midnight than it was to stay here. We bought train tickets and tried to stay out of trouble until it left at 8. We ordered a pizza and ate it in the Town Square.
Our train traveled for almost an hour before it reached the ocean. We waited on the dock for our catamaran-style ferry SEA-CAT to arrive. I lost a pound on the phone before Tara got through and reserved beds for us in Belfast. The sea-cat was awesome, with tons and tons of seating. I think it seated 700. We talked to a guy painting faces in the children’s lounge and got some advice about where an ATM was and what to see in Belfast.
He was very good at painting the tiger face, but most kids wanted Darth Maul.
We took a taxi to our hostel around 1:30, and got to bed.
Belfast is small. Like Davis, CA, I guess would describe it best, with much more barbed wire. Belfast does have white mochas however, from a little American cafe called Gloria Jean. We bought plane tickets to Amsterdam that were leaving from Belfast, thus committing ourselves to stay nearly a week. We walked up to the city hall and then Belfast Castle, which were nice, but on the way back we spotted a real treasure, an over-grown and deserted church. The doors had been barred shut, then pried open, allowing us to slip inside. It was covered with graffiti. Pigeons flew among the rafters, in and out of ironwork that once held stained glass. There was a collapsed stairway to the bell-tower and two dark and narrow passageways out of the main chamber. It was right out of a movie.
When we caught the bus back into downtown, I didn't even recognize it. Every doorway and shop was closed up and had a security door on it, the town was closed down, and it was only 6:30 p.m. I was worried about how we were going to amuse ourselves for the next 5 days.
We found an Internet cafe and logged on for about an hour, then we found a pub and were invited to join some other travelers for a beer. A young woman was celebrating her 18th birthday there. It was a strange sight to me. The other travelers turned out to be staying at the same hostel as us, so we walked home together around 1.
In the morning we said goodbye to Jessica and Ann, and mailed some things home from the post office.
The big trip for the day was to the beach at Crawfordsburn, about 20 minutes Northeast from Belfast. We went by Ulsterbus, the Irish version of Greyhound. There was a forest area we walked through first to get there, and then there was a lawn area, sand and beach. There were nice tidepools too.
Unfortunately for us, we had to wait for an hour and a half on bare cement for the return bus.