British Holiday

Between 7 and 16 October, I did a bit of traveling around Great Britain, and, once again, missed my flight out.

Yesterday I finally made it back home to Aarhus!  I haven’t even been to the grocery store yet; as soon as I got in and had a shower, I headed off to an academic group meeting and then an Arabic lesson, and after laying down to nap at about 17:30 I woke up this morning at around 09:30.  So far this feels like one of those times when I need a vacation for my vacation, but I had a blast.  I spent a couple (non-consecutive) days in London, a few days in Swansea, an afternoon and night in Cardiff, an evening in Bristol, and a short hike on the Gower’s southern coastal path.

7 October: departure. I had not been to the Aarhus airport before, but basically it makes the Greensboro/PTI airport back home look like Washington-Dullas.  The flight was uneventful, other than I was so excited I could not sleep (usually I pass right out on airplanes, cars, ferries, etc.).

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Managed to make it to a friend of a friend’s house to drop my bag before heading into the city.  Being ravenous I made a beeline for Herman ze German, a tasty little German restaurant right next to Charing Cross Station that I have always made a point to eat at when in London.  The currywurst was even better than I remembered.

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I was able to meet with my English friend I’d met while in school in Wilmington, NC, and hadn’t seen in over a year.  He’s currently based out of Prague, so it was awesome that we were able to catch up.  We took the Tube over to Camden Town; despite all my previous trips to London, I had never been.  The weather wasn’t great and it was later on in the day, so most of the street food stands were beginning to close, but we managed to grab some ginger coffee from the Ethiopian stand and Iain grabbed a plate from the Peruvian stand.

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My host met with us at a nearby bar, where we sat for ages taking advantage of the two-hour half-price happy hour and talking about everything from gaming to politics to being challenged at debate.  We stopped by another bar near the Tube station to have a couple of beers that had something to do with Metallica before heading back to my host’s house for the night (obviously stopping for some kebabs on the way).

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8 October: to Swansea I spent the whole morning and early afternoon chatting with my Wilmington friend and host, so I had to really hoof it to Victoria Coach Station only to find that my bus was late.  At least I had time to grab a Cornish pasty before boarding the ride to Swansea (note: European and American notions of roadtrips are EXTREMELY different, and I feel the need to write on them soon). Pulling into the Quadrant, Swansea’s bus station/ shopping centre, was strange.  I met up with a friend of mine I’d met while in Swansea before, and we had a really nice dinner at the Grape and Olive, the restaurant at the top of The Tower at Meridian Quay (I have no idea why I thought it was called ‘Millennium’ Tower) before heading to his house and going out for a pint with his roommates.

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9-10 October: Swansea I spent most of these two days wandering around Swansea: the Quadrant & city centre, the bay area, and the university.  Acquiring a British SIM card, I felt a little more like a person and was able to more easily make plans with some other friends in the area.  Thursday night (with some assistance) I cooked chicken pot pies for my host and his roommates, which earned me the moniker “Wendy” from one of them — as in Wendy from Peter Pan and the Lost Boys — and the “Can we keep her?” would continue until I left.  No joke, I thought it was great.

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I was amazed at how much the main university campus has changed, in particular Fulton House!  Fulton House is home to a few classrooms, the cafeteria, post office, a few takeaways, a bar, a cafe, and other things.  When I attended Swansea it was a dingy, unimpressive sort of building.  But it is incredibly nice now, and I’m a bit jealous of those getting to experience it at the university next year!

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Friday afternoon and evening I met up with another friend from my time at Swansea, at a little joint known as The Pub on the Pond.  The Pond is, well, a pond on the corner of the university’s campus, where in warmer seasons and better weather you can rent peddle boats and play mini-golf.  Buying a beer here, I was carded for the first time in years, YEARS, and I could not get over how funny it was (I spent my 21st birthday in Swansea, and was never carded the whole of my stay). Friday night was intentionally uneventful, as a few of us were getting pumped for Saturday’s shenanigans.

11 October: Cardiff, Bristol & The Lawrence Arms Catching an afternoon bus to Cardiff, my host and one of his roommates met with his longtime friend for a few pints and some food in the city.  I had a most excellent bbq & bacon burger, and got to have my first IPA in ages (thank you, BrewDog).  The longtime friend and his girlfriend drove us a little ways away to Bristol, England, to catch a show at The Fleece by the Lawrence Arms. I had never been to Bristol before, and though I didn’t see much of it, it seems like a lovely city.  A river runs through it and alongside it, so it already had me there (I strongly dislike living away from water).  Speaking with some friends later on, apparently there are several breweries and cider works places in the vicinity.  So I will definitely be trying to visit there again. There were a couple of opening acts before TLA played; the first being a punk rock band called the Bangers, the second being a hard acoustic set by a guy called Sam Russo.  I loved Russo’s music, really did.

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The long-awaited Lawrence Arms came on after, and played a STELLAR set.  I hadn’t had that much fun at a show since I saw the Dropkick Murphys play in Raleigh last summer.  I don’t really have any photos from it, just a couple blurry phone shots from when they first got on stage; I was (1) having too much fun and (2) trying not to die on the fringes of the pit.  I managed to only get knocked in the head once, as having your feet trod on and ribs elbowed is just a fact of life at these gigs. We kipped on the Cardiff friend’s floor for the night, and caught a bus home to Swansea the next morning.

12 October: The Gower, and American Biscuits Getting a bit of a late start, the long hiked I’d been planning for only lasted about 3-3.5 hours, but was still awesome.  It was surreal seeing Oxwich Bay, Pennard Castle and cliffs, the Three Cliffs, and the grounds in between; I have so often looked at the photos I’d taken before, that I was actually able to find and retake almost the exact shots I took before.  That might seem boring to some, but it was a sort of circular thing that I appreciate. (Those can be seen in another post here.) Cutting out the sea walk around Oxwich Castle and the last stretch from Pennard, we still managed to hike from Oxwich Bay to the Pennard bus stop to not miss the last bus back to town (thanks, Sunday bus schedules).  I rediscovered my affinity for sitting on the edges of cliffs or just generally looking over precipices, wading across water, and entering low-tide rock face caves.

The bus ride back to Swansea was long, but we managed to make it to the store and back home to start cooking dinner around 8PM that night.  We cooked American biscuits, Southern sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, and British bacon.  (Breakfast for dinner is basically the best sort of dinner.)  The biscuits didn’t turn out quite right, but everything tasted fine.

13 October: Last (full) Day in Swansea I took one last swing around campus to turn in a library book and spent most of the day in and around Swansea Bay, with a trip to the Swansea MP Constituency Office in between.  I had tried to visit on Friday, only to discover that the office moved from High Street to Princess Way, an upgrade from the “cave” of an office I had interned in before.  Though there have been complaints that this has removed the MP and his staff from easy public access, it is definitely a safer environment, and it’s always nice to actually have a window.

That night my host and one of his roommates prepared a real British roast dinner for the rest of us, and alas I have no photos!  It was so good.  The roast itself was a chicken, along with spiced apple red cabbage, vegetables, stuffing, yorkshire puddings, and a few other tasty things.  It felt like Thanksgiving. I met up with my Welsh friend from Friday and several of his friends at a joint around the corner for jazz night, before we all headed over to a pool hall called Whitez for a few more hours of drinking and billiards (where I was, once again, accused of being a shark).

14 October: Swansea to London Caught Megabus again Tuesday morning before spending some more time in London near Westminster, including one last currywurst from Herman ze German.  I met my London friend at a Spanish bar down off Oxford Street, where we had a few pints, watched Ireland draw with Germany, heard of Denmark’s demise against Portugal, and he convinced me not to sleep in the airport that night, instead crashing at his place again.

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15-16 October: Trying to Leave London, Getting Home Getting a horribly late start Wednesday morning and getting held up in security in every way possible, I managed to miss my flight by a measly five minutes.  Five minutes.  I was sweaty, exhausted, irritated, and my phone was dead, and all I could do was laugh at the situation.  It was ridiculous.  At least I got to ride a motorcycle for the first time that morning. Thanks to my savings habit, I was able to re-book my flight, with a missed departure fee, for the next morning. It took about an hour, but I finally found an airport employee who was willing to let me use his charger to put some life back into my phone, and after some electronic cajoling by a few friends, decided to spent most of the day back in town. Forgoing Westminster and the Thames, I went straight back to Camden Town for an awesome burrito recommended by a friend back in Aarhus, and took a nap in a tea shop I’d found with my English friend the week before.  The rain was pouring by the time I came back out into the streets, so after grabbing dinner and spending some quality time with the Starbucks WiFi, I returned again to Victoria Coach Station, and got back to the airport a little after 23.

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I was not the only person who had the plan to sleep in the airport, and it was difficult at first to find a stretch of chairs on which to camp out for the night.  A family eventually got up, and I managed to claim three for myself. Until around 2AM when a mother and daughter (who looked to be my age) woke me up, and told me I had to move.  Having been in the middle of some unknown dream and not having my glasses or contacts on, I was extremely disoriented and made to sit up so I could hear them better.  They took this to mean I was moving, and started to sit.  I tried to explain to them that I was sorry, but I was sleeping here and there were certainly other places for them to sit in the airport (the whole, wide airport).  They argued with me for a while, explaining that they would be there until they could go through security, and that they just wanted to sit.  I felt terrible, but thank God I was so deliriously sleepy or I probably would have been extremely rude to them.  I basically had to just lay back down with my scarf wrapped around my head so I couldn’t hear what they were saying to me, before the mother sat down and basically drummed near my head for however long until I fell asleep, and when I woke up they were gone. I woke up around 4AM to get changed, get through security, and grab breakfast before catching my flight a little after 6.  The rest of my journey was entirely uneventful; I got into Aarhus Thursday afternoon in time for an academic meeting and an Arabic lesson before coming home after 17 with the intention of taking a short nap, and instead waking up at half 9 this morning.

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Overall it was a good trip, and I’m glad I got to get away for a few days.  I miss Asheville’s mountains terribly, and the Gower is probably as close as I’m going to get to Appalachia for a while.  I’ll be playing some serious games of catch-up in every aspect of my life here for a couple weeks, but at least my wanderlust is sated for now.

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