Saturday, September 30, 2006

Oh, and I swear I haven't forgotten about the candy and chocolate. It's all here, separated by recipient and packed nicely in a box, but due to the insane pricing scale of the British postal service it's not getting shipped out anytime soon. Instead, I'm leaving some clothes and bringing it all home in my suitcase.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Yes, I realize that there's a double post. I deleted it, but it refuses to go away. So I figured I'd mention it here, as then it will definitely go away so that everyone can comment going, "I don't see anything; what the hell are you talking about?"

General Travelogue - A Long Weekend In Aberdeen - Friday and Saturday


So, the train from York to Aberdeen (with a changeover in Edinburgh) takes roughly six hours. I'm good with long trips (the 550 mile run to Willow Hill on a yearly or bi-yearly basis has been good for that) but I'm still getting used to this train travel thing. I haven't gotten my head around everything, though; I still have the urge to bolt madly across to the next platform despite being reassured that seven minutes (or ten, or four) is enough time to get there. I still think that ten minutes or less is *not* a good amount of time, it's being practically late. Anyway, the trip was good, and there was a lot of cool scenery, especially when the train got nearer to the coast. There were a lot of cool horse farms, which of course got my immediate notice, and lots of dairy and sheep farms as well. I saw a seal hauled out on a rock just off the coast, and we both saw a four-point roe buck in a meadow, but I didn't get a picture of either of them, sorry.
I mentioned being good on long trips, right? Well, long trips in a car, certainly. Long trips in a train, however, are new, and having to stand for roughly an hour and a half of it didn't help. Apparently I can manage about five hours on a train before I start feeling off, and that extra hour did some interesting things. Luckily I'm not prone to bouts of tossing my cookies, but I did feel extremely hung over by the time we got to Aberdeen, which the resulting few minutes' walk to the hotel didn't quite banish. The hotel itself was very nice, and our room was large and faced the street, which was both interesting and kind of loud. It was still light enough that we theoretically could of done some sightseeing, but I was fairly dopey and not tracking at all. So we checked in, ate some dinner in the hotel restauraunt, and curled up to watch a couple hours' worth of the Simpsons before calling it a day.


Felt much better after a long sleep, so we grabbed breakfast at the hotel (cereal, toast [in a toast rack! #laughs#] and tea) and headed out to see the city. Aberdeen is a pretty big place, and most of the buildings in the center of town are tall and imposing and either made of granite or faced with it, which gives it a very distinctive look. We were lucky enough to have gorgeous weather that day, so we could see the mica in the granite sparkling in the sunshine, which made it look even prettier. The main drag is called Union Street, and it cuts right through town down to the coast, so we were able to follow it the whole way down to the beach, noting on the way places that we wanted to visit later. This included a few pubs, and a random German Fish Festival right in the middle of town, complete with sausages, mead, and a giant fake pirate ship that served as a bar. No, I don't know either, but it did look cool #grins#
The first beach we came to was closed, as they are apparently trying to rebuild the coastline by putting in large chevron-shaped breakers to help reduce the loss of sand. We stood and watched giant backhoes moving four-ton rocks around in the sand- I bet they had to run a raffle to decide who got that job, as it looked way fun. We walked down further and found an open beach and spent some time taking pictures and trying to avoid getting splashed by the tide (I wasn't too good at that; my jeans got soaked to the knees #grins#) Apparently people surf in Scotland; who knew? It seemed abit cold for that, but they had dry suits on, so they were probably pretty cozy. Far less understandable were the half-dozen college kids who showed up and went swimming; I admit to being tempted but I don't think even I could have put up with that much cold for that long.
We walked back up to the center of town for lunch and tried out the first pub, a historical one called "Old Blackfriars." They had a big page of traditional Scottish fare, and on the recommendations of our waiter (nice guy, but so new he hadn't had the shiny rubbed off yet) I had something called "stovies, " which turned out to be a sort of mix of ground beef, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. It was extremely excellent, and just the sort of thing for cold winter nights, so I've looked up the recipe for later usage. The waiter seemed a bit surprised that I ordered it, actually; I got the feeling that most tourists weren't brave enough to try something they were unfamiliar with. But they're in another country, for the gods' sake; you don't go to another country in order to have everything the same as it is at home. Well, I don't, anyway. I suppose there are a certain amount of people who do, and fairly often too if Eddie Izzard has gotten around to writing a bit about it. But I digress.
At any rate, we dropped into the hotel briefly so I could get some socks (I've been wandering around the UK in my Crocs) and headed back down the street to the local ice rink for the afternoon public skating session. We rented skates and joined the throng and had a great time. We ended up with hockey skates, as I didn't think to request figure skates for myself, but I had skated a bit in hockey skates before so I got the hang of it again after a while. I did almost fall a couple of times digging for a toe pick that wasn't there, though. And Austin can skate! Both of us were a little shaky at first, but we soon warmed up and were zooming around quite respectably, although of course being left far behind by several small children who raced around with alarming speed. There were no major spills or crashes, though, and we didn't fall even once, which surprised us a bit. The skate stewards were nice; I talked to one for a bit. I mentioned that it must be a pretty cool job, and he said that he was just glad when it was quiet like this ("this" being about fifty or sixty people crammed into one hockey arena) and not busy as when it was busy it tended to involve fighting and blood. I was horrified, but he said it could be fairly common when things got crowded. A boy turned up during the conversation and obviously he and the steward knew each other quite well; when the steward mentioned fighting he grinning and grabbed the steward by the collar and did some fake punches. The steward laughed and chased him halfway around the arena kicking ice at him, I think mainly to be a bit of a show-off #grins# I still can't skate backwards, but I was managing to almost get back to my old trim and did a little showoff-ing myself, with a few sharp turns and skating on one foot (which is less showing off and more giving my ankles a break #grins#) We managed to skate the whole hour and a half with only a few rests, which is not bad considering neither of us had been on the ice for at least six years. And it was nice ice, too; I've been skating on lakes and ponds my whole life, so even as chewed up as this stuff got with fifty people of varying skill levels skating on it, it was still miles more slick and responsive than anything I'd ever skated on before.
Tired now, we gave our skates back and watched the zamboni for a bit before hiking back up the long road to the hotel for some tea and a bit of a rest before dinner at a teriffic curry place. We then went back to the hotel and watched the last half of Kubrick's version of the Shining, which is skillfully done but differs from the book in several respects. And I still can't be bothered by Jack Nicholson. Worth the watch, though. I can't believe I hadn't seen it before now.
We had originally planned to leave on Sunday, but we decided to stay another day, which I'll get to in the next entry.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Just got back from Scotland (literally; got off the train at York about two hours ago) and although I was going to immediately blog about it I'm pretty tired, so I'll try for it tomorrow. Right now, tea and Big Train are sounding pretty good, and possibly a couple of the chocolate ginger biscuits we brought back, if there are any left. At any rate, the short form is that Scotland is cool. More tomorrow.

General Travelogue - Week Two

Wednesday - Took a train to Bradford, but did not see Suz anywhere #grins# We did see the National Museum of Film, Photography, and Television, however, and despite the unwieldy name it's quite an awesome place. We were mainly there to see the Ray Harryhausen exhibit before it moved on, and it was pretty amazing. They had resin castings of a lot of his most famous props (Talos the iron man, the Kraken, the Ymir) and the original models of one of the skeletons from the Seventh Voyage of Sindbad and Medusa from Clash of the Titans. There were also other fun things to see and do in the permanent collections, including taking in a 3-D shark movie at the IMAX, but the absolute best bit for me was getting my picture taken next to a Dalek- I'll get that one posted here at some point.

After the museum we went around the corner to check public skating times at the ice rink, but it was closed for the day, so, having apparently exhausted the things to do in Bradford, we headed back for York. I made the case for getting tickets for Scotland and just finding somewhere to stay when we got there, but seeing that we didn't have much in the way of snacks, jackets, spare clothes, or cash on us, I was reluctantly disuaded of the plan, at least for that day. We instead decided to return home and look up a destination and hotels on the 'net, and take off the next day or day after once we had something specific in mind.
After pouring over the atlas a bit we decided on Aberdeen, as it sounded nice in the guidebook, was on the coast, and was much further into Scotland than Edinburgh, which meant we'd get to see more of the countryside. A reasonable hotel was found and booked for Friday night and Saturday night, and Thursday was spent wandering about York in search of a backpack and some snacks (and making plans of what spiked railings to photograph for the Anti-Ninja Defense Page I'm planning...)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Culture Shock

(forgot to put this one in this morning)

There must be a major crisis in England with people climbing onto things. I have never seen so much barbed wire, solid spikes, razor wire, and rotating spikes in my life. My best guess is that at night, hordes of ninjas swoop down into the streets and begin climbing over walls and onto roofs in order to carry out their evil schemes, and This Must Be Stopped. It's the only explanation for why every possible wall, railing, and unused set of steps are built up defensively enough to put WWI trenches to shame. It's not just Victorian-style iron fences, either; I've seen rows of revolving black iron spikes on top of an otherwise innocuous stone wall, and a set of unused garden steps wreathed in coils of razor wire. Chain link fences are routinely topped with four or five strands of barbed wire, and most cement railings have at least one row of iron spear heads along them. It's like they're still expecting the Vikings to invade or something.

General Travelogue - Week One

Monday - Arrived in Manchester at roughly ten in the morning UK time, fairly tired but I got some sleep on the plane for the first time ever. Although I slept through dinner, which kind of sucks. Our plane was early but the one at the gate ahead of us had mechanical problems, so we couldn't get there for quite a while, and when we did there weren't any customs people. Apparently they were on break or something, and they did turn up after twenty minutes or so. The train from Manchester to York was interesting, as I've never been on public transport before. Spent most of the day curled up drinking tea and dozing.

Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday - There's a lot of neat things in York, but I didn't have much time to look at them, as I was wandering confusedly through clothing shops trying to find something to wear to Jeff and Johanna's wedding. I spent a lot of time wishing for Mom/Suz/Megs to help me, as my version of clothes shopping involves haunting thrift stores for jeans and t-shirts. Finally, I found a decent outfit, and shoes, and an awesome pagan-y necklace in this neat little jewelry store. Met Jeff and Johanna on Wednesday night for dinner (curry), but didn't get much time to chat with them as they were really busy, not surprisingly.

Friday - Went back in the morning to jewelry store for earrings to match the necklace, and we bumped into Jeff who was picking up his suit. And people say it's not that small a country #grins# Took the train to Liverpool in the afternoon in a party of eight, and checked into the hotel. Had a reasonably quiet evening to rest up for Saturday.

Saturday - Got all cleaned up and went off to the wedding, which was held in the registry office of a museum. Everyone was happy, Johanna's dress was simple and very pretty and she looked lovely, Jeff looked snappy and fairly grown-up in his suit, and the rest of us cleaned up pretty nice as well, if I do say so myself. Pictures will be forthcoming. And yes, I did wear a skirt; although it wasn't a church wedding it was still fairly formal; suits and ties/dresses or skirts etc. There were a fair few people present, family mostly, and some close friends. The ceremony was reasonably short and went off without any problems, and we all adjourned to a local pub for dinner and speeches etc. Then we all went to the local football club's function room for the reception and a massive amount of people turned up, so it ended up being quite a party. There was some live singing and guitar playing by a friend of Johanna's family, and he was quite good, and I got Austin to dance (Jeff owes me five bucks #grins#) We closed the place down at about one-thirty, and shared a taxi with J&J, so they got to their hotel safely, and we got back to ours to crash.

Sunday - The rest of our party went straight back on the closest train, but Austin and I wandered Liverpool a little between trains, and had a good lunch in a pub and looked at some old buildings and statuary before catching our train. There was some confusion as the times were ten minutes faster than the timetable said, so we ended up running for it, and they had another train on the back to test the electrics, but they didn't tell anyone that, so we got chased out of two cars before we found the right ones. Rested up Sunday evening and watched a lot of Big Train.

Culture Shock

England is small. Really, really small, and everything in it is small, too, and crowded together. Appliances are small, food comes in small packages, hot water tanks are small, and space of any sort is severely limisted. Houses are small and smashed up against each other, but this is normal for them, so they think that having a backyard that is twelve feet by twelve feet is really something. You can't throw a stick without hitting a house, but you'd probably get in trouble so you probably shouldn't try it. Since there's a lot of people and very very little space, property is a huge concern. People are massively concerned about their neighbors, as they may drive property values down, so new neighbors are considered a kind of potentially destructive commodity rather than people you might like to meet and hang out with. Being local is almost necessary to get along in a lot of places.

All the forest land was cut down ages ago to build ships, so there's almost no standing timber anywhere. All open land appears to be used for fields, mostly for livestock, and what trees there are are mostly young or in small patches here and there. Wild country is almost nonexistant, and seems to be only found in Scotland.

I am convinced that I'm the only person in England above the age of fifteen who doesn't drink alcohol. In the States there's enough people around who don't drink that I don't get commented on much, even in bars, but as far as I can tell drinking a lot and often here is both the most common hobby and a social obligation. If I'm offered a drink and I politely refuse, I tend to get weird looks and perplexed questioning. I'm considering making up a medical issue rather than trying to explain that I just don't like the smell, as people really don't seem to be able to relate to that one.

In the States, we basically have a flat class system. Sure, we have rich people and poor people, but people can go from being one to the other without too much in the way of eyebrow raising. We're mostly all a bunch of mutts and we like it that way. Here, they still have royalty and hereditary titles and family standing, and it can be disconcerting for someone who was raised in a country dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (thanks, Mr. Lincoln) to grasp the concept that some people are afforded respect and courtesy based on the circumstance of their birth rather than anything they might have done themselves. I feel more and more barbaric all the time, but I'm fine with that #grins#

More as events warrant.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

While watching Hellboy I was reminded about something Dad and I had discussed ages ago about bulletproof villains in movies. We had noticed that the people who shoot them repeatedly invariably remain within striking distance and get taken out. Dad said that anyone who walks calmly towards you when you have a gun either A) is crazy or B) knows something you don't. Either way you should pay attention. We decided that you should try two shots, and if you see that they're good but they don't do any sort of damage, then you get the hell out of Dodge immediately.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I had a dream about my pony last night. We were going foxhunting with Tara at Bummy and Pappap's, and we were late, and we were cantering across the field to catch up. He was excited and happy to canter, but he was listening, and I brought him back to walk by stretching my spine upwards and taking a deep breath, and it worked just like it was supposed to.

It's not the first time I've dreamt about him, and I'm never sure whether to be happy about these dreams or not.

Friday, September 01, 2006

I didn't get too much accomplished this week due to an allergy attack that lasted pretty much from Tuesday onward, regardless of the (large) doses of meds that I was taking, but I did manage to get the aforemmentioned bobbins and the Paladin Anderson t-shirt V.2 done, which is at least something. I haven't managed to get around to getting pics of either yet, but I'm going to make the attempt tomorrow.