Friday, November 30, 2012

Borrrrnnn in the U. K? ...A?

I left off with my hitchhiking journey from Belgium to London, yeah?

        Yeah.  So I jumped off the last bus and there was my new host who I was going to meet in Oslo months before.  We never met there but we did stay in contact.  It was kind of strange because I felt like I knew him even though I never met him.  I was so stoked to see his face!  I imagined him as a fiery, funny, witty and creative kind.  I wasn't too far off...  I don't think.  It was now almost 5 am in the middle of no where and I was beyond exhausted.  I dropped my backpack and crashed out.  He was sweet enough to let me stay in his bed and he took the couch.

Pozole: a mexican soup made with pork,
ancho chilis, hominy topped with onion,
cilantro, lettuce and a side of tortillas.

       The next day we chowed down on the soup I had been   racing to England for.  The sweet gesture was beyond delicious and reminded me so much of home.

I also had my first cuppa!  :)

       A couple days later he and I went out with some of his friends for a Friday out in London. We ended up at  "Big Chill House" at Kings Cross.  It was a night of dancing, madness and great times over all!  Without elaborating too much here's some evidence:

The blood came out....

       That Sunday we went for carvery which is basically like our Thanksgiving in the states.... except some do it every Sunday.  :p

Meet Johnny, the carvery master and chef genius!
Let's see... there's mash, bangers, yorkshire pudding, peas, roast, turkey, ham, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots, roasted onion, horseradish sauce, gravy, unknown sauce #1... can you spy anything else? 
       Here are some other photos to help you guess what we were up to:

These were  a great idea but with no ice & enough tequila to kill a goat they were better to look at... I'll take the blame. 
Meet Willay..... The neighbor from the next farm....  Can some one please explain what he's doing?

    The next two weeks were a bit of a blur.  I was tired and confused about my next move.  Was I supposed to spend the next 6 months in the UK and work?  Thanksgiving was just around the corner and I was really beginning to miss home.  Living expenses were quite a lot there and it was colder than I was used to.  I didn't have a plan of where to go next or what to do.  I felt lost and empty.  I couldn't go back to the Schengan union (basically the rest of Europe) yet because my visa needed 90 days to renew.   I spent a lot of time in my room contemplating what to do, thus: 

My yarn projects....... 

       I left my first scarf in a car along with my sunglasses while I was hitchhiking.  Rule #1 of hitchhiking: Always make sure you have EVERY THING before you leave the car!

       So, after a few attempts on my first scarf ever I was finally ready to bust the whole thing out.  I think I finished it in three days.  I also finally made something out of my Norwegian 1 kronor coins.  I thought it was going to end up as a necklace but I was wrong.  I left one in Cologne on the bridge with the love locks and made the other four into the creation above.

       I also started going on daily jogs again to get my blood pumping so I could have a good night's sleep instead of staying up with insomnia every night for no plausible reason.

I think this is part of Willay's farm.  I later found out he was literally the next farm over on the other side of the road. 
My hi vis ultra warm running jacket, thermals/running pants from my friend in Norway and snow reflectors from my "momma" in Sweden.  That should make sure I don't get run over at dusk in England's farm land!
It was just gorgeous at night!  - Day 3

       After a week or so of contemplating and Skyping my mom on Thanksgiving, only to find her crying. I booked my ticket home for a month later so I wouldn't miss Christmas with my mother.  December 12th would be the day.  I would also be able to go home, get my wisdom teeth pulled while I still had insurance, spend some time with my friends for my birthday, get my business going, renew my driver's license and reflect on my journey.  That was the thought anyway.

       A few days later I was supposed to move locations and stay with a CouchSurfer in London.  Instead I got invited to go to the country/island of Jersey just off the coast of France for the weekend.  Why wouldn't I go, right??!!  Yah, so we booked the flight and off we went!

Bye bye Southend Airport.......
Heeeelloooo Jersey!!
Steering wheel on the right, of course.
First stop the War Tunnels.

       The island of Jersey was occupied by the Germans from July 1940 to May 8th 1945.  The exhibit was definitely interesting.   It pointed out how strange life must have been on Jersey during this time.  Here a three second run down:

    -  Food shortages.

    -  New strange laws passed every day, each equally ridiculous.

    -  No confronting the Germans even though they were living on the island.

    -  Smuggling food from France with the chance of being caught.

-  Telephone calls were rationed to save electricity.

       After those 5 years of terror the UK finally got their island and their people back.

Johnny's 7 quid parking job kiss on the wall @ Stop #2

Willay, Johnny and..... ? 
........Vin Diesel!    I just loved him in XXX. 
It was just fabulous! Blue waters, not too cold and great company!
I believe this is looking toward France.
My best boy band pose at La Corbiere lighthouse
A fresh seafood joint that must've closed down 5 minutes before we got there.
They were nice enough to made a hot cuppa' to go though.  :)
We tried one more place for seafood.
...and found it!  We were really looking for prepared meals though.  Haha!!

         We combed the streets for 20 minutes trying to find the hotel room. Some thing about the sign "turn and yield" kept throwing us for a loop.  Eventually we dropped all of our stuff off.  I took a "disco nap" in the room since I only had 45 minutes of sleep the night before and we were off!!

        I think Jersey knew the "A team" was out that night! While walking into town there was some punk kid.  All I saw was the cop and his knuckles make contact with the cop. They just threw him into the back of their station wagon, let him settle down and read him his rights.  WELCOME TO JERSEY!!

        We continued down the block, got cash from the ATM and headed to our destination. Long story short it was another successful night on the town.  Everyone had a FANTASTIC time and no one got hurt.

      On the walk home we made friends with two nice Polish boys who worked at a pizza place. 

      The next thing I knew, Johnny and I were swimming like champs in the English Channel.  That was fun..... and that's how the night ended.  One dip in the channel to make the trip epic and we all went back to our rooms and passed out! 

      More to come soon!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Can I Gent some action?

    From Cologne, Germany I was headed toward the UK via Belgium and France.  I decided to go back to a little town and the only place I had already visited prior.  I was off to Gent, Belgium.

      One of the cool things about Belgium is they have three official languages: Dutch, French and German.  On top of that most all of them speak English.  So there are actually three or maybe four names in different languages for this little town.

      I ended up taking four different trains to get there.  When I finally arrived I was quite happy to be in a place I recognized.  My phone was dead and I needed to find wifi to get a hold of my new host.  Luckily, both were very easy to find in this country unlike some other countries.

      My new host arrived just three minutes after I called.  He and a friend scooped me up in their car. We went for a fine Belgian beer at this cool litte pub with this quaint, woodsy, fairy/troll home feel. It was really cool. I was so jazzed to be there!!!

      After this place and one other I was showed to my room.  It was on the top floor which meant it was in the pitch of a roof.  My absolute favorite!!!  I had a cozy place to sleep with cute flannel sheep sheets and a ceiling with a bright blue sky and clouds painted on it.  I felt like a little child finally getting a good night sleep.  On top of all that my host was super cool, calm, collected and amazing to be around.  

Waking up with pink, sheep and bear flannel sheets!

the street from my bedroom window

The view out the window from by bed.  How cool is this chimney?

       That afternoon my host went out and bought some amazing rolls unlike any I had seen yet.  They were flaky but not made with butter like a croissant.  We added brei and some dry sausage to complete our "continental" breakfast of champions.  Fresh oranges and waffel cookies dipped in chocolate were for dessert!  My gosh were those cookies delicious!

        That evening we went out to a free concert in town.  These guys were quite amazing, actually.  They did mention they were going to play Pitchfork festival in Paris just after Belgium. :p

"Francois and the Atlas Mountains" live
        The following evening was a Saturday. I found a CS meeting in town and decided to join them in town since I would be on my own that night. There were about nine of us when all was said and done. 

In order to get this gigantic, tasty beverage you must give them your shoe as collateral.
They then put your shoe in a basket and pull the basket into the rafters.

     Needless to say it was a fun, interesting night.  I ended up finding out that one of the CSers was in a fencing club.  I was feeling a bit spicy by that point so I asked if I could join.  With no hesitation I was invited! The next meet was on Monday!

     If there is one thing that makes Belgium unique it's their stairs!  I went down stairs from my little loft earlier that morning with my socks on.  I guess I was a bit excited and lost my grip.  Down the stairs I sledded on my derrière. Luckily they were so steep that I didn't get hurt.  I was very shocked though! 

These are the stairs you must maneuver in order to get up to the bathroom at the pub we were at.
Try doing that while missing one shoe to the basket!

    Later that night I decided to go grab some food.  I had no idea what I was ordering so I went for this:

This is what you get when you order a "taco" in Belgium.

     The following night I was off to switch hosts.  The two hosts joined me for dinner then it was a relaxing night in.

      The following night I was off to switch hosts yet again, have some spectacular home made pasta and then go to the historic Belfry for some fencing action!

That's right! I was going inside this building to watch people play with swords!
How cool, right?!?!
Here's the evidence!
The view from inside toward St. Nicholas' Church!

      I couldn't believe that I had the opportunity to take part of such a cool, traditional, cultural thing in the five days I was there!   My first host joined me.  He was telling me that he was at an arching meeting the week before.  Apparently there are four guilds in the area!

    He, the CouchSurfer who invited me and I went across the street to chat a bit.  Then, I headed back to my new home.  The host there was this amazingly, kind, trusting, adventurous guy who had traveled quite a bit.  Unfortunately he was feeling under the weather and couldn't join us that night!

    The next day I was trying to figure out my escape route to the UK.  Just then I saw that my new host who had ordered all of these special ingredients to make me mexican food was already cooking!!!! We didn't have confirmed plans so I was under the impression he was expecting me the next day!  The bus tickets were sold out for the next couple days and the train to London was 200 euro!

     This was an affirmation that I should hitchhike! It was already becoming dark! I quickly packed up my things and found my way to a bus stop close to the highway!  I HAD to get a Belgium waffle before I left.  I still hadn't had one and I was hungry.

It was every amount of heaven it was supposed to be.
Even though I was eating it and walking!

      I walked a couple small blocks and found the freeway entrance. I set Walley down.  Before I could even hold my sign up I had a ride! I was dumbfounded!  This guy took me about 30 kilometers in the right direction.  It had started raining and the sun went down just after he picked me up.

      He dropped me off at a petrol station which appeared to have NO TRAFFIC and NO LIGHTS! I was about to panic. I reminded myself it wasn't a big deal and it would all work out.  Just then, I walked around the store and it was well lit and there were cars!  Thank goodness!!!!

       Now, the part I hate!  To ask people for rides! I much prefer thumbing.  I was already pretty close to the French border so there were license plates from France.  If there is one thing I learned about communicating with people in other countries, its that they will respond much more pleasantly if you at least try to speak their language.  Good thing I took ONE semester in French!  :P   Vous allez a Calais? Non?  Merci beaucoup!

       I think the fourth person I asked was actually heading to Calais which is where the ferry goes to London.  They were two cool cats who had a meeting there.  Luckily their meeting was right down the street from the ferry loading place.  They dropped me off at a petrol station.  It was still raining and this was a small petrol station with poor lighting all around.  I decided I would get a lift sooner if I was standing in the slight rain with my sign to London.  Boom! Two minutes later I had a lift.

       This was from a cute little Polish lady who didn't speak much English. She offered me an apple crumble (which is kind of like a little apple pie) and took me to the ferry area.  She went on to explain that her ferry wasn't for another two hours and maybe I could get a lift sooner.  I went in the lobby to see how much the tickets cost.  They were 33 euro for a pedestrian.  I decided I wanted to save the money and try thumbing outside the entrance of the ferry.  It was still slightly raining and not many cars were coming.  Plus, I was a hitchhiker and we were about to cross customs.  No one stopped.  I kept my hopes high, no one stopped.  I kept telling myself, "all I need is one lucky car".  I decided that I was going to walk back to the ticket lobby.  Still I told my self, "one lucky car".  Boom!!! A car stopped on the way to the lobby!  It was the same lady!  She was SO UPSET that no one picked me up!  She kept saying something in Polish that sounded like "that's not normal" norrmmalllla.  Who knows what she was really saying.  Anyway, we passed customs just fine and I got my free ride. She was so sweet!

We were just pushing away from the harbor.
I was now leaving the Schengen union and I wouldn't be allowed back for 3 months.
It was a very bitter sweet feeling.

     Now it was time to find a ride to London. There were no cars on this ferry.  It was all truck drivers.  I found my way into the truck driver's lounge.  I think it was supposed to be just for them but I snuck in.  Golly gee!  Now I was going to have approach truck drivers sleeping for a ride.  Great!  I was trying to build up the courage to do so.  Man, I can be so shy!!

    I went on the deck for a bit to get some fresh air.  Then I went back inside, sat down, stood up, walked around and sat down.  I then decided if I wanted a ride I was GOING to HAVE to do this.  I put my backpack on and went to the far side of the room.  Just then an Englishman who worked on the ship approached me.  He said, "Where are you off to" or something like that.  I didn't understand him because I was still in the mode of no one speaking English around me.  I looked at him a bit funny.  Then he said, "You're on holiday, right?  Where are you off to?"  I said, "London."  Just then he shouted across the room to all the truck drivers, "Anyone going to Lon-don?".  Long story short, he scored me a ride with two awesome, young Romanian truck drivers!

     These guys were the coolest!! They were all full of laughs and work seemed to be just another day the two of them enjoyed with each other on the road.  They offered me some bread with this home made eggplant spread much like the one the Armenians do.  It was so tasty!  They also offered me beverages and played some awesome tunes.  It was more like riding in some one's living room or in a limo then being in a truck.  It was a full blown awesome time!

 These two guys really made my evening! 

          They ended up dropping me off in Hayes which is on the outskirts of London.  I knew from here I could take public transportation to get where ever I needed to be.  Now I had three things to figure out with no one around at 1:00 am. A) Which way was toward town?  B) Which bus would take me there?  C) How am I going to pay for it without any British Pounds?

          I jumped on the first bus I saw that I thought was heading the right direction.  I was still a bit in shock as if I didn't speak the same language as everyone else.  I hadn't been able to communicate with a bus driver in 3 months!!!  I must've had my mouth wide open and was a bit speechless.  I just said, "hi" and sort of walked in the bus.  Boom! Free!

          I then asked a couple people to try to figure out how to get to town.  My instinct had told me to get off at this one stop but I didn't. It turns out that was the stop I needed.  Now, I had to go back about four stops and score another free bus!  The next bus came.  I tried asking the bus driver if they took credit card.  He looked at me as if I was a complete moron.  I then explained that I had just arrived to the UK and didn't have any British pounds but I would gladly give him the 5 euro I had. I even told him, "well I guess I can walk".  He was upset but let me on the bus. Boom! Two!

        At the third bus stop I asked a girl if she knew if that bus went to town. She said it did.  Then I asked her about how they regulate the buses and told her I didn't have any pounds.  She said there was no way they would let me on without paying.  So, my plan was to hide and sneak into the back of the bus like I did in Germany all the time.  This time this didn't work because no one exited the bus.  I came  running to the front with my big backpack.  The doors were just about to shut but she stopped them for me.  I said thank you and smiled at the bus driver then jumped in!  Boom!  Three!

       The girl and I sat together.  She had just moved to town and was just getting off work.  We figured out that this bus would in fact take me to central London.  From there I could get a hold of my friend and figure out where to go.

Central London from the top of a double decker!  Notice the Christmas decorations?

       I got off the bus and grabbed some British pounds out of the ATM.  I figured it wasn't fair to get four free rides when I could easily use the ATM and pay.  I then found out the underground was closed.  This meant another bus all the way to the other side of town.

      I found my way around London and to the next bus stop.

      I was sad because it was already 3 am and I wanted to make it for dinner.  I was happy too.  Long story short,  I made it from Belgium to London outskirts on £2.60 for the last bus.

      I was so exhausted but I had made it!!!  Mission accomplished!!

Here is a map of the three and a half hour night bus journey I took across London. 

            Stories from the UK coming soon!  Stay tuned!


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tuffi the Jumping Elephant

     From Essen I was off to Wuppertal, Germany.
The legend of Wuppertal is that Tuffi the elephant escaped of the zoo and hopped into the Schwebebahn because it's convenient and, perhaps the fastest way home. Tuffi gets scared and jumps into the river below. (What really happened was the circus made an ad with Tuffi jumping out. It never happened.) ... BOOOOORRRRRRIIING! 

     When the train arrived I was greeted with big hugs from my new roomie who I had met through my friend in Essen and her brother.  It was Monday which meant pizza was on special in town.  Off we went!

For some reason they split our toppings into sections instead of putting it all an the whole pizza.  It was delish!
     Somehow when we got home I had already conned her brother into signing up for facebook which he had been resisting forever.  I guess this is the face you make when you're about to discover the world of facebook and ultimately spotify.

The mannequin is wearing ALL handmade garments from Poland.  (This is his sis' place.)
    The next day  we went to Cologne/Köln.  I had asked many people prior what there was to do there.  The only thing they could really come up with was the cathedral/dom. It was pretty spectacular.
The main entrance.
Yep. Every one was a bit off guard. That's why there was giggling. (Movie!)

Just when we thought we were at the top.  Nope! More stairs to come!

These were just the stairs from the bell tower to the top. Don't bother turning off your music. (Movie!)
Look at how worn and narrow they are. I had to keep my eye on the gum so I wouldn't get vertigo.

We finally made it to the top!
     We worked up quite an appetite! So, we decided to go to the official Früh Kölsch house just a few steps from the Cathedral.  There we had a Schweinekotelett dinner (pork chops with an herb butter sauce) and the official drink of Köln.

You bet that was amazing! - We split it to be cost effective.

After that we walked around, enjoyed the Rhine River at night then headed to this bridge.

Lovers have attached locks on the fence of this bridge for decades. Do you see the cathedral in the background?
 I realized as we were looking at all the locks that, I too, had a lock! It was in my little travel purse! Awesome!!!

Mine is the little black travel lock with a combo.  Of course I would have a spare TRAVEL lock! haha!
    It had been a fun adventurous day but it was time to head home.... AND QUICK! We ran across the bridge past the cathedral, to the train station and waited one minute for our train.

    (I think that is my favorite part about being in Europe in general.  Making it to trains and buses.  Anna in Sweden was famous for this.  She lived half a block from the bus stop but it seemed like no matter how much warning there was we were always running two minutes before the bus came.  Some times with no shoes on! ... but we always made it!!!  ... and we got some extra exercise. Hehe! As you may be able to imagine that is very different from my lifestyle in Los Angeles.)

    Most of the rest of my time in Wuppertal was filled with hanging out with my two new friends,  jogging, listening to music and hanging out like if I was in middle school (before I could drive).  

Seeing the sights in Wuppertal! Good thing my eyes were open.
Fall was magical there! We went on a walk to a near by forest.  That day was a bit colder than the last so we sat there, in the middle of the forest and just watched the leaves fall like rain drops.  The sun was shining through the tree tops creating a natural mosaic stained glass looking window and leaves, leaves falling so delicately almost like little butterflies. 
 There are no proper words to describe sitting there soaking up nature being so magical.

    One night we went to Dusseldorf to hang out with my roomie's friend who had just come back from Scotland that day. She had made this incredible spread of food to munch on. It included fresh tomato, basil, mozzarella tray, an exotic cheese tray, fresh bread and a fresh meat tray. She was beyond hospitable. (If you're reading... thank you so much!!!) We spent that evening at her place talking and playing poker.  I had never played before and I had no idea what beat what so she printed me out a paper.

This was all I needed.... .... to WIN!!!!      .. proper.....      the next day.....
My roomie wasn't very good a playing along for the photo. They were all supposed to act like they were asleep. 
I guess it was sooooo funny! She was laughing in all of them.  Haha! :p
The next day I cleaned them out at home! I won all and triumphed with my Swedish horse! (That's how we do it in Sweden.) If you notice, my hand is NOTHING! but I won all! Nicely done, Nicole! Nicely done!
This might be what a home made meal in Germany looks like.
     One of the most important thing about my stay in Wuppertal was that I had two huge epiphanies while I was there. Two HUGE self awakenings. One I was partially aware of but it was completely confirmed. The other I wouldn't have realized until I fully excepted and understood the first.  It's strange how being alone traveling allows this to happen.  I guess there is always time to think and always a new hurdle to cross with yourself.  In any case I enjoy it.

    Yes. So after a couple weeks of nonsense (and other) in Wuppertal it was time to head on.

     It was Halloween and a pretty cool band from the states, M83 or as we decided in German "M Drei Achtzig", was playing in Cologne for 32 Euro, about $50. I was to go with some other CouchSurfers.  It's always a sad day leaving each place but I always cheer myself up knowing I'm going to another amazing place. 

      Here is a photo and video from the concert:
We all had mustaches.
   It was really fun coat checking Wally!  You should have seen the look on that girl's face! Mwahaha!


       As you can see the concert was amazing! 

       After the concert we found my CS host's place which was only a few blocks from the venue.  We chatted a bit then went to bed.  He was a pilot and had to leave for work at 7 am even though it was a national holiday. Ultimately I only had 3 hours of sleep.

     I went back to the train station to sort my hair and face out.  I took a small nap at the HBF or main station in some lounge they had.  My friend from Wuppertal was supposed to meet me around noon.  That didn't happen. By the time she got in touch with me I would have been able to hang out for one hour and hit the road. 

     I decided to walk around and see a little more of Cologne with Wally despite the rain.  I walked and walked looking for some Schnitzel to fulfill a friend's request.  Everything was closed or would be awkward with Wally.  Eventually I found a cute and extremely expensive cafe right across the street from the cathedral.  I was willing to pay a bit extra to enjoy my coffee while I took in the greatness of the cathedral's size.  This monstrosity started being constructed in 1248 and wasn't finished until 1880. Yep! That's 632 years!  It's towers are 515ft tall.  That number doesn't even do it justice. Maybe this does it justice! 

The view from almost the highest pedestrian point of the cathedral.

Cologne's skyline of almost the highest pedestrian point.
     You know, I don't think these even do it justice.  There was still more physical tower above us.  When I was up here almost felt like I was in the Dusseldorf TV tower which was constructed in 1981 over 700 years after the Cathedral was started.  The TV tower is 572ft tall which is only 70 ft taller than the Cathedral. How did they do that?!  Anyway, I guess you get my point. 

    So here's my posh coffee:

I was sitting there feeling like a toddler with a 7 ft adult peering over me: small. Well, not peering over me; watching over.
     I decided I wanted to go back into the cathedral and relax there.  I wish there was a sermon going on.  After all, it was All Saint's Day.  Unfortunately none of that happened. 

    I would have been overjoyed!  I walked around a bit, took some photos and videos and then sat down and listened.  Listened and took it all in.

Prayer candles
    I had a lot on my mind.  A lot to think about. Some how here I found serenity.

    It's what they designed this masterpiece for right?
The main entrance was behind me and the alter where I was hoping for a service in front.
Wally and me hanging out.
     After a while of sitting I felt a sudden chill.  I thought that was strange in such a large open place.

     Maybe it was just in my imagination?

Dang it! I brought my eye balls this time but forgot my teeth!  'Twas quite cold!
     Nope! When I finally got up and walked outside it was raining pretty hard.  So much for hitchhiking! I opted to jump on the next train and try to see where I could get without a ticket. Long story short I saved 10 euro out of 40 euro.

     Where was I off to?  Stay tuned!  The next place is pretty magical.