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Over the Channel and Through the Woods

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

Written at 11:00 PM on 10-24-06 in Oxford, England

I woke up the next day, rather reluctantly, and finished getting everything packed up. For a fourth day in a row, I missed the hostel’s breakfast. I preferred the bakery’s food anyway, and I had an extra ten euros to get rid of before I headed back to the UK. After acquiring breakfast (and a baguette for lunch), I headed off for the metro station.

I didn’t have any problem getting to the Gare Nord, Paris’ northern train station from which I’d be leaving. I’d picked up a ticket to London on my way home from the Luvre the previous day. This was an expensive ticket. Even with a eurail discount, it still cost me 75 euros; it might have been cheaper to fly. I preferred trains, though, because they were usually a lot less trouble to get on and off of. Oh, but I was wrong.

I knew I had to arrive half an hour early for check-in, but what I did not realize was the extensive screening process one had to go through to get on a train to London. What made it worse was that about halfway through the process, as I was about to have my passport checked, an alarm went off. Quickly the official who was about to view my passport put on a policeman’s coat and ushered myself and the other passengers back through the ticket gates. Other officers joined the effort and soon there was an announcement that all those on our train were to exit the train station and wait.

Well, if that’s how it was going to be—then I was just going to go get myself a coffee! I did that and by the time I’d sat down and started the drink, things seemed to be moving again. I took my coffee with me and rejoined the line, which had now quadrupled in length. I had no fears about missing the train, however, because if I did, then another fifty passengers would as well. I had also arrived early so by the time I got in line for the second time, I still had a half hour to go.

After having my ticket checked by a human and by a machine, and having my passport checked twice and going through a metal detect, I was in another line waiting to board the train. This line disintegrated utterly, however, just as soon as boarding commenced. I don’t think it was a British thing—so I can only assume it was French—but everyone that had formed into a neat line rushed forward into a blob. Likewise, people who had been sitting perched near the entrance seemed to have no compunctions about cutting in front of about 95% of the people waiting patiently. I’d grown accustomed to this tendency, but it still irked me a bit; I suppose it seems disrespectful and rude, but that’s just me imposing my own cultural views, and perhaps that’s not fair.

The train ride took about three hours and included gaining back the hour I had lost when I left the UK. I spent most of the time reading. When I got to London’s Waterloo station, I had a momentary navigational crisis, but soon I found out that I needed to go to the Paddington train station on the Bakerloo metro line. That was all I had to know. I took the metro (my backpack was beginning to chafe at this point) and arrived at the station only minutes before a train departed for Oxford. I quickly got a ticket from one of the automatic ticket machines and then hurried to board.

The train from London to Oxford took about an hour; again I spent the time reading. When I arrived, I knew my hostel’s address, but I didn’t have directions. Fortunately, there was a map at the train station (and so what if it was a bus-route map) and I was able to navigate the difficult two-minute trek to the hostel. The hostel was relatively cheap, better than I would’ve paid in London. The Oxford Backpackers seemed like a pretty cool place, but I wasn’t really concerned with that by the time I arrived. I was tired, and so after a short bit of reading, I dozed off in my bed until about 7PM. When I awoke, I was hungry and craving something substantial (and not just a baguette). I headed off to a place recommended by the reception—O’Neals—and ordered a burger and beer. An Irish pub, O’Neal’s was a pretty cool place, but once I finish, I decided to head back. I returned, sat down in the common room, and began catching up on my blog, which brings me to this moment.

Three days until I’m back. Cheers.

The Cost of the English

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

9:54 AM, 8/23/06

Yesterday was one of those crazy, do-everything days. I found myself up at 6:30 AM again, which allowed me to get some reading and riding done—and more importantly, have the showers to myself. It’s a lot easier to relax in the early hours of the morning without other people running all over and getting ready for the day. The Canadian siblings, Matt and Nickala joined me over breakfast, and it turned out that they wanted to do some of the same stuff as Jacob and me. So I went upstairs and roused Jacob from his semi-comatosed state and we took to the streets of London, heading for the Camden Market. One of the Aussie girls had suggested it to us and Nickala also wanted to check it out. It took about half an hour to walk the distance to Camden and there were some cool stores along the way. Unfortunately, when we got there, the whole market was closed. Now we’d left early and arrived about 10:30, yet it turned out that the market didn’t even open until around 11:30. Feeling a bit put-off, we walked back toward the hostel and decided to do the “tourist thing” and take a double-decker bus tour around London. The tour took us around to all the major sights, albeit at a sometimes slow pace (traffic in central London is not very conducive to speedy travel. The bus tour was set up so you could hop on and off at the various sights. We popped off at Westminster Abbey, which cost ℑ10 to get into. Seriously. Everything in London seems reasonably priced until you remember it’s two times the cost in U.S. dollars. Thus $10.00 would be reasonable—ℑ10, unreasonable. In the British Museum, a 20 oz. bottle of coke was ℑ2. Let’s consider, $2.00….reasonable—ℑ2, bloody insane! Anyway, we explored around the abbey instead of going in and then we hopped back on the bus…only to get the wrong bus and end up heading back in the direction we’d come from. Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to switch back to the correct path and we soon arrived at Hyde Park. The park was not nearly so impressive as Sydney’s Royal Botanical Garden, but it was quite nice. We thought they had free lawn chairs sitting out in front of the pond and so the four of us all took a seat to relax. Well guess what, they weren’t free. This sneaky-looking guy slid over to where we were sitting and before he could even say anything we were just like, “these aren’t free, are they?” To which he replied “pound-fifty.” Disgruntled, we wandered off toward the rest of the park. I persuaded everyone to throw around a Frisbee for a while, but that was fairly short-lived. We returned to a bus stop and hopped back on the tour bus, only this time we got off at the wrong stop. This posed for a slight delay, but soon we were back near our hostel. The four of us had dinner at a nearby restaurant called Mables. Contrary to reputation, the British food was actually pretty good. The lager I had was even better! It definitely beat eating a pre-cooked grocery store chicken and an apple for dinner (see previous post). Our group kind of dissolved after we returned to the hostel. Matt disappeared upstairs, having slated his monstrous appetite. (He was a big guy, 6’5” or so.) And Jacob headed upstairs to shower and subsequently pass out. Nickala and I went to a nearby Internet café where we split half an hour of internet time. After returning, she went up to find Matt and I met up with Jacob and we both got pints at the Generator’s bar. We’d walked quite a few miles over the course of the day so we decided to call it an early night at around 10:30.

We awoke early the next morning for our day of departure from London. I was hoping to catch Matt and Nickala before they left for their flight to the European mainland, but they had apparently already done. Jacob and I did some planning over breakfast, trying to figure out the best way to get to Ireland. We wanted to get as far west into Ireland as possible. We headed to King’s Cross train station, only to find out we needed the Paddington station. Now let me tell you, the train stations here in Britain are really something. They’re like some kind of living, breathing organism, and if you’re not careful, you’ll get swallowed up and caught in the appendix or something. And no one likes to be caught in an appendix. In the train stations here, you’re surrounded by people, all moving, and it’s almost as if each person has some kind of innate “queuing” sixth sense that allows them to intuitively know where everything is and where all people are in relation to them. (Not that this stops people from cutting in front of you.) People move in and out of lines better than the finest road systems. The only thing that would make things go any smoother would be if each person had blinkers on their ears. We found our way around with quite a bit of ease and are now on our train heading to Cardiff. It’s my first time on a train going any long distance and I can verily say—says are neither special nor extraordinary. They’re useful, but otherwise they’re just spacious airplanes…without wings…or a jet engine….except those ones in Japan, I think they have jet engines. Anyway, I’m rambling. Time to take a nap.

Dinner of Kings

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006
1:30 AM, 8/22/06 A relatively uneventful first day, but certainly an interesting second night. The room is saturated in smoke; it’s like one of those old westerns where a “thick layer of smoke hangs heavy in the room.” I suppose I’ve ... [Continue reading this entry]

London Update

Monday, August 21st, 2006
9:15 AM, 8/21/06 After my first night at The Generator hostel, I can safely say that I appear to have escaped the fiend known as jetlag. Now mind you, I woke up at 6:30AM, a feat I’ve not managed in quite ... [Continue reading this entry]

Declarations of Intent

Monday, August 21st, 2006
12:30 AM, 8/21/06 After what felt like 24 hours of travel but in reality was only about 16, I arrived at The Generator hostel in London. I felt as though I’d been on the move for 24 hours because of the ... [Continue reading this entry]