Kiddo78

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Spring 2009 Trip to England (a new beginning)...

I spontaneously went back to England last month...since I'm laid-off and have nothing better to do (hence, no worries about vacation time). I have since come up with documentation of the trip :

I had a trip back to England booked several months prior thinking I'd just charge it...plus, I had some frequent flyer miles and a little $$ socked away. Then I got layed-off and intended on cancelling it altogether, but kept putting that off (maybe in the hopes that I'd win the lottery or find a grant....??).

Anyway, I finally called the requisite 24 hours before departure intending to cancel. The lady told me there were now MUCH cheaper flights available since it was last-minute....So, I decided to go. Again, departure is next day....so I had a little while to pack/get ready. Yet, had absolutely no plans or agenda after my arrival to London Heathrow.

Luckily, my friend Steph has a friend in England whom I've met before, Robin. He came to Minneapolis for a visit last fall...Steph knows him due to her study abroad experiences to Alnwick, Northumberland, England...(which, by the way, is the same place I was supposed to do a study abroad during the spring/summer of 1998, but had to cancel due to financial aid complications). Also, it's pronounced Annick.

ANYWAY...Danny gave me a ride to the airport and I took Air Canada to Toronto. Then proceeded to make my obligatory "I'll be away for a while" text messages and phone calls...and responded to the "What the hell???" responses from everyone. Next, the flight to Heathrow....I watched Changeling (and some other movie...don't remember) during the long flight across the Atlantic Ocean (7 hours). I can very rarely sleep on planes.

I arrived in London with only the expectation that Steph would call/e-mail Robin that I'd travel to Northern England a couple days later....no reservations were had for my stay in London.

Landed, then customs was a nightmare b/c I didn't have an actual ticket (my booking was all done electronically), nor a specific address of where I'd be staying in England. Let's just say she was not a native English person and I suspect she doesn't like Americans. Anyway, I finally got thru...was the LAST on my flight to do so...

I have been to London before, in 1999, so their subway (The Tube) was not foreign to me...I knew there was some train that went directly from Heathrow to Paddington Station, so I found that pretty easily and off I went. Arrived there and it hadn't changed a bit. Took another line to Picadilly Circus and realized that I can't just wander around looking for accomodation, so went back down into the station and found a help area. She directed me to a British Tourist Authority and I lugged my stupidly-large suitcase through those busy streets of London a while before I located that office. There, a nice guy named John helped me find a 3-star hotel at a very discounted, last-minute rate at The Best Western Burns Hotel in Kensington, which is the same area of London I stayed at in 1999. I had to take the tube to Earl's Court Station (again, same as 1999) and found the place quite easily. The last time there, I was 21, so stayed at a Hostel (sharing a room with Canadians and Australians), so this time, my own room was a novelty....although it was about the size of an American walk-in closet....But, no worries, since I only intended to sleep there anyway....

Slept for a while, then went to the hotel's little pub (it was night by this time) and had a typical English sandwich and a pint. Then decided to see what was around the neighborhood. Ran across some girl who asked, "Have you a fag, love??" I knew that meant cigarette. So I gave her one and then she, in Cockney accent, asked if I was there for business or pleasure. I said I was there on vacation and she said she had business if I was interested....I did a dumb American look and realized what she meant by "business" and promptly went on my merry way. John said he thought that area of London might be a little on the gay side...but I only found one "club" (pubs only stay open until about 11:00...clubs stay open later), which was just Mediterranean in theme. It was BORING...the only others there were a college-aged American couple from Michigan. Tried to find a bus to Soho (or is it SoHo?), then wound up taking a red taxi. He dropped me at a place that he said was between 2 different main gay streets. Well, nothing seemed open except this downstairs place called The Arts. Went down there and had a couple drinks. It was apparently '80s night and a few drunks were dancing. Then, a guy in a suit started flirting. He was drunk. But, about 40 and good looking, named Martin. His friend, a girl, asked me to dance and I declined (not in the mood yet). She called me pathetic and I could hear that she was American...later, I found out Seattle (duh). Martin thought I looked to be in the CIA since I was just sitting there, not talking to anyone. Then a guy named Ian, an ex-pat from Canada, came up to me and encouraged me to go with Martin, claiming that Martin is a rich business man. I still declined and Martin finally quit trying (he was really drunk). Ian and his friend (a little guy of Asian decent) and I got a Mercedes car service to find another club. Instead, our driver found an off-sale, so I just went back to my hotel....even though Ian and friend wanted a different outcome.

Next day was Tuesday in good ol' London. Slept a little late and found a SuperCuts on Earl's Court for a desperately needed haircut. Then took the tube to Picadilly Circus and then walked thru Central London to Westminster Abbey (very nice to be on the tube without the stupid suitcase). Decided to spend the L12 (12 pounds) to tour that since I never did in '99. Saw where Queen Elizabeth II was coronated (and I stood there a moment for dramatic's sake). The same altar area where Princess Diana's funeral was held. Then saw where Queen Elizabeth I (and Catherine of Aragon and Mary, Queen of Scots), as well as many ancient Kings, were entombed. In the same chapel, there is still a small hole in the wall (glassed-in)...left as a remnant of those damn German bomb attacks (Blitzkrieg) during World War II.

After that tour, I went to a cafe for fish-n-chips at a place called Churchill Cafe...it was okay. I never had fish-n-chips during my 1999 trip, so thought I better this time (Note to self...next time, get it from a street vendor).

Walked thru the Royal Parks (or is it Gardens?), past the WWII headquarter buildings and then past Buckingham Palace (btw, the Queen was in residence)....then finally back to the hotel. Wrote a couple postcards at the Blackbird Inn near my hotel and went back to change clothes. Walked down to a place with a rainbow flag, which I saw the night before...a sign said they opened at 8:00, so went to some random pub across the street for a pint of Carling. Went back to rainbow flag place and discovered they had recently closed down. So, took another cab (their back seats are huge...like an American limo) to SoHo. Went to a place called Comptons, where I had a couple pints and nobody talked to me. So went to some other random place, where they were also pre-occupied with their own groups (understandable...we are also like that in Minneapolis). HOWEVER....when in Minneapolis, if I see someone standing alone, I will usually ask them what's up...But, whatever...London is a lot bigger. Took a rickshaw taxi to the 2:00 Club (or is 3:00 Club). VERY 21-ish type-place...a little like The Saloon in Minneapolis, or Roscoe's in Chicago. All the guys were wearing "FITCH" or "Abercrombie" or "A&F" shirts...kinda like we did from 1999-2004. I was actually a little surprised, b/c, seriously...anyone under 30 was wearing that. Some dudes, while I was out smoking, guessed that I am American and we all talked for a few minutes. Saw them a little bit later and was ignored. Apparently my non-FITCH attire was a problem. Took a cab back to hotel.

On Wednesday, took the tube to Kings Cross station, where I knew my train to Northern England would be. Called Robin (again, my friend Steph's friend who was in Minneapolis last fall) to confirm my trip there and took a train to Newcastle. Went thru several towns...most typical, some rather "English cute," but mostly noticed they actually have scarecrows in the countryside! Also, people park near railroad bridges and seem to just be sitting there...some with binoculars. I couldn't figure out what they are looking at....maybe Trainspotting?? Also, there was a weird guy on the train who kept walking up/down the aisle and smiling at me. Freaks love me.

Got to Newcastle (about 3-hour train trip) and thank God Robin was there (even though we had never actually spoken about my going there)! We had a pint at the train station pub and then walked thru Newcastle, which is a lot bigger than I thought...I'm guessing it must be about the size of St. Paul. They have a lite rail and we took that to Robin's car (he was already in Newcastle for work anyway). Then the 30-mile trip to Alnwick in his little blue Vauxhall (I think that's the make -- popular in England, anyway). We got to Robin's and watched Paul O'Grady (popular talk show there) while Robin got his friends rounded up for the evening.

We walked down, thru a "gate," to a pub/club called Penny Black, where Katie was waiting for us. She's a tall, cute, funny blonde. Then Donna and her boyfriend, Ben (a member of the Royal Air Force), met us...she is also very cute and fun! Then their friend Michael, who manages the BP in Alnwick, met us....as did Katie's boyfriend, Luke (also an RAF member). We just had a rather mellow night. Discovered that Michael was BORN while my sister, Kristen, was studying in Alnwick! Then Robin and I walked back to his house...about 10 minutes, or so, from the main area of Alnwick.

THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 2009 (MY 31st BIRTHDAY)

Robin went to work in a nearby town called Ashington and then I got up and went to explore Alnwick. The castle was closed and I didn't want to spend L12 to see the Duchess Gardens, so I just walked all over the town taking pictures....Stopped by Oddfellows and Ye Olde Cross (The Bottles) for a pint while waiting for Robin...which was fun! The Bottles is considered by locals to be a trashy place, but I thought it was very quaint....very "Olde English" with exposed beams...very English pub'ish.

Also went to Bailiff Gate Museum, which is all about Alnwick and surrounding area. Then called Robin from an agreed-upon location (a restaurant where his friend works) and then walked back to his place to meet him. On the way, some little boy was walking home and he didn't realize I was behind him...he was singing in his little high-pitched English accent and it was very cute! I chuckled and carried along. Anyway, Robin & Katie returned and wanted to go to the beach. I, thinking "the beach" may be a pub, asked Katie what that was...She looked at me like an invalid and replied, "Ummm....the seashore??" DUH -- Remember, we don't have 'seashore' in Minnesota! Anyway, we drove to a quaint village called Alnmouth (I still don't know how to pronounce it...ALN-mouth, I think). We walked along the shore and I pocketed a couple English coast rocks. Robin told us how the Germans used to drop their bombs around that area during WWII in order to get rid of weight after attacking London....one house in Alnmouth got hit. It is a very cute little village...We stopped at a quaint pub called The Sun Inn, where there's a fireplace lit, several small tables and locals quietly chatting...and someone brought their dog in. Again, exposed beams and very "English...."
(I am stopping for now b/c this is getting very long....and not even finished....!!) Pictures later...

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