England: Chapter 2 Rainy Ramblings

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“You should try the whiskey tour, though I suggest doing it after twelve…otherwise it’s a bit weird..” Said the cashier in her heavy English accent.

“Ha, I’ll give that a look. Thanks” I said, knowing that my friends would be all over that if they were going to Edinburgh too.

A few days ago, my host had brought over a vacuum, with the added note that the old upstairs neighbors were moving out, they’d borrowed it and we’re now returning it. He also mentioned new neighbors would be moving in. He neglected to mention the new neighbors were ridiculously noisy, and would be moving in at midnight – 3am the night before my trip to Bath & Stonehenge – then again, I’m sure he didn’t know that part.

So, I think I slept about two hours that night. Not news, of course, that I’d get little sleep. I tried, but every time I was this |-| close to falling asleep someone upstairs would drop something really heavy on the floor or go running up the stairs really loudly, or slam doors like they’re mad. The building I was in was old – that was obvious as most of London has old buildings. You’d think people would be more aware of the fact that the walls are thinner, and floors aren’t as sound proof as they might be elsewhere. Even the restaurant below me had stopped it’s live loud music at 1030, and most places wouldn’t do that if they were open till midnight. Alright, I’m complaining now aren’t I? I’ll move on.

As I’ve mentioned, Saturday was not Paris day. I went to Cambridge randomly, hung out for three hours, walked around, and headed back in the early afternoon. Later I found a vegetarian Italian restaurant that I wish we had back in LA. That place was awesome. Hidden in an alley just half a mile from me. I had delicious sage and zucchini gnocchi, and pretty good wine to go with it. Ya, so, I had some wine. Can’t have beer with gnocchi… I mean you could, but.. I think everyone in Italy would yell at you. Aside from that, and a sign in Cambridge that read “Batman Street” because someone had scratched off the ‘E’ making it no longer “Bateman Street”, Saturday was pretty chill and not that eventful. I summed it up in a paragraph. Now, Sunday – that was busy.

Sunday I ended up leaving later than planned. It was going to take a half hour or so to get to the Victoria Coach station to meet the tour bus for Stonehenge and Bath. I wasn’t too thrilled about another tour group, but it was cheaper and easier than just going on my own by buying train tickets and the tickets into places (believe me I checked). I had tried to wear my boots again, but for some reason they seemed to have shrunk, or maybe my feet weren’t adjusting well to the humidity. TMI? I dunno, either way, I’ll wish I had just worn them instead of the flats, but I’ll get to that.

Swapping boots for flats, and a regular jacket instead of my hoodie (I’ll also wish I had’n’t done that), I grabbed my bag, headed out the door, down the creepy narrow hallway, and out the tiny green door. The streets seemed quiet, but I guess it was 730am on a Sunday. I’ve noticed that what would be the sky brightness at 7am at home is 5am here, so 730am felt like 1030 for me. Which, btw is weird because really at home it’s 1130pm, but I guess since I don’t sleep till 2am that makes sense? Anyone following this logic? No? Of course not.

I walked quickly down left towards the station, bought my day ticket. I felt a day ticket was just easier than dealing with an Oyster card, or trying to buy a ticket for every journey. It might have cost more, but whatever, It worked on all public transportations and I didn’t know what I’d need the rest of the day. I went down the steps to the east side track, and waited. I almost got on the wrong train, but managed to quickly get off before it left. I think it hit my shoulder on the door, so I’ll probably have a bruise later .

My train finally came, and I climbed on and sat down. I guess weekends are off-peak hours, which seems weird to me since at home off peak are during the week, and weekends are always busier. Then again, at home people drive themselves to work, and take public transportation on the weekends so they can get drunk. That’s LA for you???

I was checking my watch a lot, as the tour ticket said they were leaving the VC station at 815. As 8am approached I got nervous, but luckily I arrived at the Victoria station, and it took a 5-6 minute walk down from that station, passed another station, to the coach station, and through a shit-ton of tourists at the coach station to get to gate 15. Ha, when I got there the digital sign said it was leaving at 830. Ya, I should have known they’d have done the whole “tell people earlier than we’d leave so no one’s late and if they are late they’ll still be on time..” – thing. I have friends I do that to, but sometimes I have to quote an hour before and sometimes two hours just because they’re THAT slow. Ya I’m not saying who, but I’m also not going to deny that I do that.

I should probably set up the location: the coach station was pretty big, and felt like a maze. The right side as I went left & right through people, had mostly ticket booths and food stops The left side was glass, with doorways all looking onto what was mostly large double decker buses all lined up parallel to the glass walls, at least until you go to gates 11-20, when the from of the buses looked right at you like fish with giant eyes.I stood in a jumbled line, crowded with some very American people and some very NOT American people. Some people had suitcases that you could fit two of me in, which is just ridiculously too big – I mean, what could you possibly have to bring with you that you couldn’t get anywhere else in the UK?? I mean I guess If you’re moving…you’d need that stuff but at that point, wouldn’t you just get a moving van or something??

Everyone was questioning what tour to stand at, what time they were leaving and where they were all going. I got pushed and shoved a lot, and stepped on. The curse of shortness. I just ignored everyone I could and hoped they tour would just move to the bus soon. Eventually it did, and I followed the line straight through the door straight towards a bus that had a digital sign listening tour 8. According the wall sign, that was mine. When I made it to the front, all I really had to do was give my name to the tour guide. No tickets actually required. Everyone ahead of me was going upstairs to the second level of the bus, so of course I went to the first level, which only had about 20 seats, compared to upstairs that had 40 or so. Naturally I proceeded to the back. As people filled the bus, I noticed there were still about 9 seats on the first level that weren’t filled. Sweet, peace and quiet….right?

Nooooooope. A family of four with a 3 year old and a 5 year old jumped on and headed towards the back. There were three seats behind me, one next to me and one in front of me. The dad and kids sat in the 3-seats, and mom sat next to me. Greeeeat. I mean, at least they weren’t 19 year old girls? I can handle kids. They were pretty loud on the ride to Stonehenge. I mean.. Their dad was getting so mad, you could hear the anger and frustration in his voice like he just did not know how to quiet them down. I really don’t mind kids, I pretty much ignored them whole way and felt mostly bad for the parents. Later, when we would be headed out from Stonehenge I’d move to the empty group in front of my current seat so they could have more space and separate the kids because they kept hitting each other, and if there’s one thing I know how do handle, it’s kids 3-8 who hit each other. Thanks, Mom…

Alright, so the family’s on the bus next to me, and the tour guide, an older man, English accent and all, shy-ish with bad jokes walked through the bus about 5 times counting. Soon we were off and headed out through the streets of London, near Buckingham Palace. No I didn’t actually see it or probably some other parts I should have while being here, but as we’ve discussed – I travel differently than most people. I did see a vintage Ferrari shop on the drive through – now that’s what I’m talking about. I also saw a 67 Shelby… Black, silver racing stripes. Yeeeeesss please.

As we drove through the own towards the freeway…highway..whatever-way, the guide gave some info on various buildings and people in its history. The kids were doing the kid-thing, being loud, not listening, hit each other. The dad was super annoyed, and eventually Mom just pulled out her leopard print- cased iPad and started reading, leaving all the work to him. Ha…He had a military hair cut, and they were definitely not from Europe.

It took about an hour to get to Stonehenge. It didn’t seem that far away. The bus passed a lot of tall buildings and a lot of grassy areas. Lots of sheep. There were a lot of sheep in New Zealand and Ireland too. Sheep everywhere, and cows, I can’t forget the cows or a friend of mine who seems to love cows would get mad at me. He’s a bit odd. Apparently cows are cute?? Eh.

There are roundabouts everywhere, btw. I’m starting to like them. Why don’t we have more at home? They make more sense than subjecting our car brakes to stopping even more than they already have to on the freeway and let’s be honest here: There’s a reason why people make jokes about the “California- Roll.”

The roads were narrow on the way up to Stonehenge after we got off the freeway-highway, etc. As we approached the giant set of rocks, our guide had everyone prepare cameras, since we could see it from the road. We had another ten minutes around some fields before entering the visitor center – which btw was way too modern for the area, but I guess it had to stand out? The bus pulled up to the bus Parking – lot and let us off. We waited as the guide handed out tickets for the shuttle up to the very touristy-location of boulders. There were a lot of people. I will say this for tours such as the one I was on – you get your tickets right away, and get to skip most regular-person lines. If I had come by myself I’d have had to wait in a 45 minute line just for my ticket and another 20 minute line for the shuttle because groups got to cut the regular line. So that’s a win?

Once I had my ticket, I went down, back towards the center, at the shuttle line. They shoved as many people on a shuttle as they could. I mean, I was standing in a luggage space so they could fit as many people as possible. As soon as I got off, I did my short-person quick walk – maneuvering technique passed the slow and ignorant people who think they’re the only ones who exist in the world and take up the whole sidewalk. So many people. I’m sure I have some sort of complex with large groups, I mean, it’s pretty obvious I hate large groups of people – no one thinks of the rest of the people and they all stop in the middle of the walkway, and they spread out like spilled sugar and the ants that come for it. I found a few empty spaces between the hordes of people taking photos. I’m going to sound extremely racist right now, but I don’t think I saw one Asian group of people who didn’t each all their own selfie-stick. And why do people always stop right at the beginning and now continue to move around the giant walkway around the landmark??

I snapped my photos in each of the two empty sections of the walkway and got the hell out of there. I headed back towards the shuttle stop, and got on the first one I could. For some reason there was a group of 5 in front of me just standing at the front of the line and just would not get on the shuttle so I ducked under the rope-line and hopped on. A few girls before me had insisted the shuttle was full – but they were just being difficult, there were 6 seats in the back of the shuttle that were empty and there were only four of them. I hate people.

Once we got back to the overly – shiny and metal visitor’s center. I purchased a few random and small souvenirs. I headed out towards the cafe to get some tea and ginger cookies before heading back up towards the bus lot. I found ours, and got on into the seats in front of where I was before (remember I wanted to give the parents some more space with their out of control kids).

I looked at my watch. I was an hour early to the scheduled departure time. Of course right? I’m always early, but I really appreciate the quiet breaks between noisy groups. It helps me deal with them better. The rest of the group was starting to filter back, but of course there was a group that was late. We didn’t actually leave Stonehenge until after 1230, but the drive to Bath was only about 45 minutes. It appeared we would have about 3 hours there.

“Does anyone need tickets for the Roman baths??” The tour guide, Nick was his name, came around the bus. I didn’t really feel like going in, I mean… There was an entire city to see, not just some baths.. Or something. I shook my head no thanks to him as he passed me.

At this point the parents had separated their kids and it had worked out much better for them. They probably thought I was annoyed, but I wasn’t. They were reading independently. I have to say, the 5 year old was pretty advanced in reading. I would know, right?

As we arrived at Bath, I was impressed with how the driver could manage to take such a large vehicle along such narrow pathways, and tight curves. There were definitely a a lot of narrow roads that looked like they would only be meant for one direction. There were also about six buses that were disembarking from the city center. The tour guide made many comments about how easily one could get lost in Bath because everything looks the same. Ya… I disagree. I got lost on purpose but I was never officially lost and the buildings may have been the same color, but they were different. Remember, not all those who wander are lost.

As soon as I was off the bus, I had tuned out everything the guide had said. It was starting to rain and I was not in my boots or hoodie as I had planned on earlier. I practically flew across the street and had a movie moment that could be described as disappearing into the crowds of guests, tourists and other visitors.

Somehow the rain made everything better and the experience more fun. Then again, I do love rain so that’s probably why. It wasn’t cold but I was definitely soaked as I walked down the cobble streets, passed the Roman buildings of modern shops and everyone with ice cream. Student groups gathered in a square by the baths. The lines for individuals and families was rounding the corner of the bath building – so that’s a definite no for me, thanks. I went up into some sort of traffic alley full of people, and ducked again under a bridge area to go down another street. I kept the compass direction of the bus drop off / pick up point in my head.

I found a quiet cafe with one empty table and ran in. The rain was coming down pretty well by now, and I needed to dry off for a bit before continuing. I wondered if my shoes would make it through the day or if I’d need to stop at the H&M here, but something about shopping for shoes at an H&M in Bath seemed really stupid to me. Also, for some reason my shoes expanded and became softer with the water soaking into the material. Go figure. 10$ target flats.. Just saying.

I ordered some tea at the counter, and sat down in the center small round table. The cafe wasn’t too large, and there was more seating upstairs, but I wanted to people watch. I took out my Field Notes, mini book and jotted down some things to remember. I looked at the stores across the street. One was an antique map shop – I was definitely hitting that up after I dried off. A woman came in, she had another one of those arm crutches and leaned strongly to her right side. Her accent was very heavy so I wasn’t sure what she was saying a lot of the time, she kept looking to sit down somewhere, and shared about two tables before some girls left and she got her own little square table. The cafe employees served her at the table and seemed to know her, so I gathered she’d been there before.

The rain was off and on while I sat and watched people outside go up and down the street. There was a lot of construction around the city. I finished up and went outside. I could almost hop across the street it was so narrow. I went into the very tiny antique map shop. I spent some time browsing at the maps. There were a few of Italy that I liked but they didnt’ have Sicily in them, and that was annoying. They all listed how old they were, and most were over 100 years old. Pretty cool.

I left and went back out, down to the right. I followed the streets and went up and down many alleys, still keeping my own map in my head of where things were. I took a lot more photos of Bath than I have of other places on this trip. Mom has said it was her favorite place to visit when she was here years ago with my grandparents. I can see why. I’ve been trying to find things to bring back for people, but not much has struck me as “OH THIS!” That’s the reaction I have to have in order to bring gifts back to people. It’s my rule, and I think it works well; at least it’s proven to be successful in the past.

I kept wandering and eventually went back South, and found my way to a Riverwalk. I heard a band playing in the distance. No one was in this pathway I’d found. Of course, I’d find the only place probably in the city that was empty. I walked along the river – no real clue where I was, thankfully. No one wants that. It was dark from the clouds and the trees that lined the bank. There were a lot of bridges that went over the river. If I haven’t mentioned. Yet, almost everything is a yellow stone color – shades faded from over the years; Hundreds of years, actually.

Along the riverbank, there were a few old boats. They were mostly all white and blue and definitely were out of service. I didn’t see to many areas to get to the bridges to cross. I walked the full length of the river to the street, passed several houses and under a few tunnels. I’ve see a lot of graffiti this trip. Almost more than I see at home. There’s a lot at home, but the city tends to clean it up pretty quickly these days, or so it looks like.

At the end of the river was a busy street, with a few shops across it that looked closed. A pale green bridge was to the right and it looked like I could cross it. At this point, not going to lie, I really had to pee. I remembered a similar situation in New Zealand, trying to run around and find a place, and finally giving into the bus toilets in the middle of the divider and bus stop by the theater where I watched the second Hobbit movie (twice). Here, while they still did have access to them, they weren’t all over the place like in NZ. I made my way to the train station where the tour guide had mentioned we could catch a train home if we missed the bus back. I considered purposely missing the bus back but I didn’t really want to spend another 50 pounds just to stay in Bath an extra hour.

Just FYI,no bathrooms in the train station in Bath, in case you’re ever there and have to pee. However, you can go through a busy shopping center, to a cafe and ask the nice woman at the counter where the nearest one is. She’ll tell you to go right, straight and right up passed a shop that starts with a D, and they’ll be there. It’ll be crowded and kind of gross, but it’s there. Also, trash cans are never where you think they’ll be, and there are seriously no paper towels anywhere because the country seems to only use the blowers. Couldn’t even find paper towels in the markets.

Bathroom trip successful, and now I had more wandering to do. I still had about an hour and a half left before I had to meet the bus. The tour guide was sure we’d all get lost or something, but he’s really over doing it because after I came out of the bathroom, it took a left turn and another right turn and I was right back at the city center. It was basically a large balcony area that overlooked the river I’d walked along was on the left, next to a bank with a large garden area. There were a lot of lounge beach chairs along the grass, and the band I’d heard while walking on the riverbank was playing in a gazebo below the center where I stood. The stone walls along the balcony area were somewhat high – but only in comparison to a short person. Ahem.

I went back up through some alleys that led away from the location, and found myself in a different shopping area. I went into a couple, and eventually found a glass shop. There’s a store I used to go to in Cambria where my grandma used to also buy me glass ornaments for Christmas. I bought two icicles the last time I was there, but I can’t find them now with all my stuff in boxes from the move. I’m sure I’ll find them soon. Anyway, into the glass shop I went, or at least, tried to go. I had to wait on the steps for a good minute because there were some girls, again, blocking my way and having a conversation in the middle of the doorway. No ‘excuse me’ worked. Sigh.

Eventually they left, almost knocking me off the steps. Seriously people… I hate you. 1…2…3… Okay. I’m good. Into the store, I went.

There were a lot of ornaments, some animals (no bears though, lame), mostly birds. Birds seem to be a thing – I guess “put a bird on it” isn’t just specific to Portland. As I wandered through, I picked up a couple things, and went to the counter. The woman at the counter was very nice, and we had some conversation about how long I’d be around, and where I was headed. She gave some suggestions for Scotland, so we’ll see about those. I thanked her and headed back out the way I came in.

I went out and headed back towards the center. I ran into another cafe and got some more tea and some food for later. I still had about a half hour till the bus would come back. I casually made my way around the area – trying to avoid the crowds of people. Although, it was pretty impossible. There we’re still tons of tourist groups, and student groups roaming around. Most people didn’t speak English and I’d get stepped on again a few times, just for standing next to a wall when people weren’t paying attention to where they were going. Just…why?

I saw a couple of groups from my bus wandering around as well, they probably didn’t want to get lost. One big black bus came up to the stop, and some of the security guards told him to go back and wait around the corner – he was too early. I guess there was a schedule to the bus area with all the tour buses. That’s pretty smart. At home the buses just show up when they want to – or at least that’s the impression one gets.

I had forgotten my phone cable at home since I was in a rush to leave in the morning. My phone at this point was at 40%, and I really hadn’t even used it that much. Even in airplane mode while also on low power, the battery was draining itself some how. Though, I can tell you that as I’m writing this on a train, I’m currently using my phone to listen to music and it’s been about 3.5 hours of that. I’m at 80%. Basically, while I’m using it, it’s draining slower than when I don’t. WTF Apple… WTF.

I kept looking for my bus, and as soon as I found it, I followed it with my eyes to where it stopped just on the other side of the center. I headed over, with a shortcut through a crowd, and again was the first on. I plopped down in my seat and didn’t move from it for the next 2.5 hours. People wandered back on, and after the driver made ten – and I’m not exaggerating – ten trips passed us, counting everyone, we were finally on our way back to London.

I brought up the charger because I felt I’d need a distraction for the long ride back. I started to put my headset on, and was going to listen to whatever random music I had on my phone until… I heard it. A song that is unmistakable if you’re me, or my friend J. You’d have to be a fan of British spy movies, and Sean Connery to understand. The soundtrack to Goldfinger is pretty recognizable for us. The entire mix that our tour guide played on the way back was pretty sweet. I was probably the only one on the bus enjoying it, given the crowd I’d seen get on. I’m fairly certain, that my stereotypical assumption that the family that was clearly from Texas was not a fan of Singing in the Rain, or Ella Fitzgerald. All in all, pretty great ride with accompanying music. I was sold.

During the ride, I also listened to the family behind me. They’d separated the brother and sister again shortly after the first 20 minutes into the ride since they had started to hit each other again. After that, the dad read with his son. Seriously, it was pretty advanced reading for a five year old. My mom’s had kids who couldn’t read their own name and this kid was reading words like “pierced” and “struggled”. I think it was a pirate book?

As we entered the city area again, the tour guide pointed out the vintage Ferrari shop again. Good man, that Nick, good man. We made one drop off stop before mine, and majority of people got off there. I was one of four people heading back to Victoria Station, but I was the only person on the first level of the bus. The bus went across the street from the main station, which worked out better because at least we weren’t all the way back at the Coach station. This station, that station, – if never see another station it’ll be too soon. I would have to, of course, given I still had to get to the one back by the flat I was in, and also again the following day to get to Edinburgh. Still though, you get what I’m saying.

Well from Victoria to Barbican and back to the flat I went. It wasn’t too bad, though I did get on the district line instead of the circle line, but it’s okay because I could switch at Tower and get on the circle that was probably right behind the train I was on anyway. Easy. I’m a pro now.

Once I arrive back, I was pondering going out for dinner again, but I still had that sandwich from earlier, and figured with as little as I eat, that’d be good. It was. Then that’s pretty much the end of London. It was really just a few days, and some pretty standard traveling.

On to Scotland.

Alicia Schepis