Wednesday, November 5, 2008

UK Recap

I'm still sick, but have braved morning commuter traffic to come into work, tentatively until the meds wear off. I'm working off a combination of tasty cough syrup (which has most likely already worn off), Halls lozenges (not as bad as I had expected them to be), inhaler (whaddaya know, asthma is triggered by colds, too!), black balsams (a bit with my morning tea, no more, I swear) and good old-fashioned Tylenol Cold and Sinus.

All of which is mostly doing jack all. All that I really want is to go home, stuff Kleenex balls into my nostrils and sleep until I can't sleep anymore.

UK Recap
Saturday the 25th
Ilze, Davids and I arrive at London Stanstead and are greeted by a friend of Davids, who accompanied us to our hostel and then led us willy-nilly around the city. Mikelis, the friend, has been living in London for only six weeks, so this is marginally forgivable. We sit outside at a pub along the river front for a few hours then head back to the hostel, where we are the only three people in a six-bed room (for the time being).

Sunday the 26th
We wake up and realise two things: 1) there are now 3 slightly hung-over Scots in the room with us and 2) there has been a time change. The Scots confirm this. Mikelis meets up with us in the morning. We go off in search of breakfast. We find: Star. Buck's.
Oh. Yes.
One giant mug of soy caramel macchiato and one ginger muffin later, I am in corporate heaven.
After we buy train tickets to Wales, we spend the day walking around, window shopping, actually shopping (H&M and Borders were hit by us the hardest - I bought these wonderfully sarcastic and cynical children's books starring a horrid old grump by the name of Mr. Gum), and being dumbfounded by the number of people that could fit in one store. I really wanted to look at the sales at Top Shop, but the amount of people immediately killed the desire to peruse. We realize that London is a butt-load bigger than Riga.
Back at the hostel we find the three Scots have been exchanged for two beds with suitcases on them and one bed with a very drunk English girl in it. She asks us where we are from. We say North America. She asks if we saw an American guy and a French guy. We say no. She asks if we are with the guy, the one from California. We say no. She asks from where, then. Ilze tells her she's from New York. The girl giggles drunkenly and asks if J-Lo isn't from there, from the Bronx. I tell her that, according to the song, yes, she is. The girl finds this hilarious and attempts to have some kind of conversation with Davids before half-passing out and giggling continuously to herself. We are concerned - more so for us than for her. That night I have a nightmare that she attacks me.

Monday the 27th

We wake up to find drunk girl very out of sorts (Davids said she had alternated between whimpering and sobbing throughout the night), the French guy kind of off, but still coherent, and the American guy, who turned out to be completely normal and from Cleveland, Ohio. Not California.
Ilze, Davids and I get to the train station and on our train to Holyhead, Wales, with a stopover in Crewe. The Crewe train station is cold, boring, and hasn't a single waste bin in sight. I looked everywhere, too. We get to Holyhead around 7.30 p.m., call the hotel to let them know we're on our way. The man says he has to pop out for a bit to the store, but will leave the key under the plant on the front step and we can just let ourselves in. We learn everyone in Wales is incredibly helpful and friendly. A bit after 8 we are in the hotel room in a small, steep-staired bed and breakfast when our host knocks on the door. Not only does he own the B&B, but he is also a coast guard. He is the epitome of friendliness. We set our time for eating breakfast and he leaves us to explore the town a bit. We end up at one of maybe four town pubs and enjoy a quiet hour or so before the locals show up. They don't approach us until we've got our jackets on to leave. Then one man asks us from where we are, we tell him Canada, New Jersey, Midwest (respectively), and he tells us he has a friend who lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I mentally crap myself. We tell him that we have all spent a good amount of time in that area of the states.

Tuesday the 28th

We wake up, have our Welsh breakfast (which doesn't differ too much from English breakfast, save that the beans taste a bit better and there aren't as many of them) and walk a bit around the town and see it in its rainy, windy daytime mode. We attempt to walk along the coast but quickly give up. We learn that the early morning ferry was canceled with good reason -- we can see huge waves crashing over the breakers off the coast. We hit up an off license store, buy a few puzzle books and head out to the ferry. The ferry does rock considerably, but none of us gets sick. We get to Dublin later that afternoon. We learn/realise that Ireland is on the euro. We are lucky that I had euro in my passport purse stored up from previous trips. We are able to pay for bus tickets to the city. We drop out stuff off at our hotel and stroll through the centre to a bar on one of the main streets. The bar has an absolutely gorgeous mahogany wood interior. We all decide we would not mind hijacking the building and living there. I am astonished to learn that, in Ireland of all places, a pint of Guinness costs me €4.50. For that amount of money one can get at least two large glasses of beer in Latvia. I get over it quickly and am simply excited to be drinking a Guinness in its homeland. Davids and Ilze are less enthused about the "dirt beer". We get back to the hotel and are asleep probably by 10.30 p.m., 11 the latest. We have become wimps.

Wednesday the 29th

Our first full day in Dublin. First things first, we take the Guinness storehouse tour. It is not as completely exciting as we had hoped it would be (it was a museum and we expected a tour of the actual facility). Nonetheless, we get a free sample of fresh from the kegs Guinness and later can comp our tickets for a free drink at the dead freezing "cafe" at the top of the storehouse. Beverage options are: Guinness or soda. Although it is 10.30 a.m., I recall how much yesterday's Guinness cost and opt for a pint o' black. Davids follows suit and is relieved to find that the first half of the pint does not taste as bad as yesterdays. Not so much for the second half. Ilze sticks to a sprite. Other tour-takers have been smart and have taken crisps or other salty along with them. The rest of the day is spent ambling around Dublin city centre. We don't do anything else exciting except for go in and out of random shops and walk up and down more or less every major and non-major street. At the end of the day we are tired, tired, tired. We drag ourselves to another yet expensive pub in the bar district and have a feast of fish and chips. Inside jokes are born. After dinner we drag back to the hotel and sleep.

Thursday the 30th

I forgot to mention Irish breaky. Irish breaky, though extremely similar to English and Welsh breakfasts, is somehow even more fantastic than anything out there. Irish breaky has the same fried mushrooms, broiled tomato, breakfast sausages, egg and toast as the other breakfasts, but the beans have been replaced with a wonder called "black pudding". Black pudding is a food that tastes like meatloaf, but has more grains in it, and is probably better left unexplained until several hours after you've eaten. It struck me as one of those foods that shepherds would have eaten: mash everything you need for the day, meat, grains, etc., into a patty, fry it and you're good to go. They won't crumble in your bag and could probably double as small, projectile weapons if left to harden.

Thursday we dragged ourselves around the city once more, went to the city gallery (not exciting) and the writers' museum (we only went to the gift shop to laugh at witty Irish writer quotes -- the museum itself we found was too expensive). Since our back-ferry had been an up-in-the-air as far as being canceled or not, we had switched our reservations to the evening trip, which left Ireland at 8:50 p.m. and arrived in Wales just past midnight. True, we were forced to squeeze every ounce of will out of our bodies to find something to pass the time, but after seeing what our original ferry looked like (take the Titanic, then put a rowboat next to it. the Swift ferry is the rowboat) we were more than fine with the change. We were to stay at the same hotel in Holyhead and they were to use the same "key under plant" system. We got back and promptly fell asleep.

Friday the 31st

We get to breaky and find we are less amused with our host when he is in casual clothes than when he's in coast guard wear. After breaky we slowly make our way to the train station, but not before stopping at the grocery store for provisions. We are now very aware that any UK breakfast can keep you going for hours and hours - you eat at 8.30 and aren't hungry again until 3 p.m. While last time I guarded the bags and was asked by a woman working at the store if I was leaving home, this time Ilze guarded and was asked if she was going on a trip. Apparently we either look like locals or like people from neighbouring towns (I assume Holyhead is one of the biggest towns in the area with the biggest or only train station in the direct area/island). The train ride back to London is boring, but we do get to see the Welsh country side a bit. In London we drop our bags off at the Daugavas Vanagu house and do some last minute shopping before meeting once more with Mikelis for dinner. Dinner is real Chinese food from real Chinese. In London's China town. Excellence. Since it is Halloween we avoid any confrontation or decorations and find a "chain pub" to sit in and chat. We are there for a few hours and meet one guy who has a self-diagnosed "obsession" with the 2008 US elections.

Saturday the 1st

After a slightly "blah" breakfast at the DV house (no juice... I'm still trying to get over that one), we meet with Mikelis at the closest Starbuck's for one last "good coffee" hurrah. As we are finishing up Davids says he has a great idea for our last hour in London. Ilze and I are immediately skeptical. Davids announces that we must go to Hyde Park and feed the squirrels. The rest of us immediately concur. We go to a convenience store, buy nuts and head to the park. Things are great until I am bitten by a squirrel, at which point things just become hilarious. I wash up, we head back to the DV house, we get our bags and go to the train station. We realise that we have been on vacation just long enough to want to be back home. The flight back is a little harrying - I almost experience my second-ever panic attack as we hit some turbulence and the flight (RyanAir) starts to play some very odd techno-ish and very epileptic music. It was some promotional song whose lyrics went something like "Gotta gotta RyanAir ooh yeah RyanAir" (repeat). The combination of the music, the lack of knowing or understanding why the @(*#@& they were even playing it (I have never heard music on any other RyanAir flight) and the turbulence and I almost snapped. It was soon over and we finally got back in Riga. My taxi driver got me back to the apartment in what was, in all seriousness, probably under five minutes. I gave him a generous tip.

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