15 April 2009

England

England:

Country 2 of 3.

Before arriving in England, we were quite surprised that so far everything had been fantastic with our traveling. We had not had any problems, we’d made every train and flight (thanks to Kayleigh!) and, well, everything was great!

Until we tried to get to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

We landed early in London, made it through customs, and looked for an information desk to find out the best way to get to our location: train or bus. They told us a bus for sure, and we could purchase the tickets through them. So we did and we were on the bus 30 minutes later. After almost an hour and a half we arrived in Stratford. Stratford, London. NOT Stratford-UPON-AVON. While it was great to see where the arenas for the 2012 Olympics are being built, we had a Shakespeare play to attend in 6 hours! Our bus driver informed us we were miles and miles and MILES away from where we meant to be! He contacted the bus company, gave us a free ride back to the airport, and he said no worries, we would get it all worked out!

… until the bus company realized we had booked through the agency upstairs instead of them. And so now, basically, we were screwed. So we joke that it won’t be more than 4 hours and we will be fine to arrive in time for our play. The joking ended shortly after we were told that the bus ride is 6 hours and wasn’t leaving until 4. If you do the math- that’s 10 pm. The play was starting at 7:30! The Shakespeare play was the sole reason for going to this tiny town (it’s the birthplace of the playwright). Tears started welling up in our eyes, and that was all it took to get the workers of NATIONALEXPRESS to get to working. So Kayleigh and I went to the “bad” bus desk and we (well, she) complained until FINALLY we got our money back. After much complaining, we finally got them to get us a taxi for 56 pounds each, which would get us there by 6 pm. That seemed to be our only choice- until a woman from NATIONALEXPRESS came running up to me and said they found a train for us, but in order to get there we had to be on a bus in 10 minutes and it would only be 18pounds each. However, we would arrive at the train station at 7:15. 56 pounds… 18 pounds… 6pm… 7:15pm… 18 pounds and 7:15 sounded the best!

We may have had to get all dressed up in a dirty bathroom in a train, and looked ridiculous checking our baggage in to the cloak room at the theater, but thanks to an incredible team with NATIONALEXPRESS doing absolutely everything they could to help us make our show- when it wasn’t even their problem in the first place- we actually made it early enough to the show in order to get a much needed glass of wine.

… and the man who runs the B&B stayed up until after 11 to let us in to our room.

So, if you get the chance, you must stay at this B&B in Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s called, Brooke Lodge” (http://www.brook-lodge.co.uk/) and they were the cutest couple ever. The husband is from Italy and the wife, Scotland. The rooms were clean and we had a home cooked traditional breakfast in the morning, consisting of eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, fried eggs, fried toast, baked beans (for breakfast???) juice, tea, coffee, mushrooms, and Cadbury eggs! (It was Easter, afterall.) The husband even gave us a ride to the bus station in the afternoon after allowing us to leave our bags in the reception area for a few hours so we could explore SUA since we obviously didn’t get the chance to the day before. It was an absolutely amazing experience and maybe one day I will make it back to say hello.

SUA was a cute little town. The only reason it is even on a map is because Shakespeare was born there. Regardless, it was nice and relaxing. Less than a mile outside of town is countryside. Shakespeare things are everywhere- and it made me want to give some more of his books a try. I loved Romeo&Juliet, but it is one of the few plays I have read that I have enjoyed. Maybe I will have time to read some more when I’m done with school… but that’s what everyone says, right?

After we tried to purchase tickets for Oxford twice and were told it’s best to just buy them on the bus, we almost weren’t let on because it was full of people that had already purchased their tickets ahead of time to the ONLY bus heading to Oxford that day. Somehow we managed to make it and we arrived at our hostel.

Hostel. Before two days ago, this word gave me the hebiejeebies. I pictured freaky people, dirty rooms, buildings falling apart, and just all-in-all not a pleasant experience. I mean, how can it be fun in a place like that when you are generally paying close to $20 a night? (In Europe hotels and taxis are on a person-by-person rate). Man, sometimes I am so na├»ve. My first hostel experience was incredible, and it makes me wish we stayed at one in Italy! They have BBQs every Sunday night (we arrived on a Sunday), a kitchen available for use, a TV room (with comfortable chairs/couches!), a lounge area, a terrace outside, and lots of cool people. Sure, sometimes I’m sure there are weird people there. But thankfully we didn’t come across any of them! The hostel was pretty much full of French people and we spoke more French while there than English. Our roomie the first nite is a girl named Juliette- from Nantes, France, which is 40 minutes away from Angers by train. She came to Oxford all alone to get a job to learn English. Apparently you can stay in hostels for an indefinite amount of time at a discounted rate, which is what she was doing. She had arrived just a couple of days before and was already thinking of going back home. However, by the end of the 2 days she had come out of her shell, was hanging out with us, cracking jokes, and meeting a lot of people. She was so much fun- along with everyone else. It just was just a great experience: like living in the dorms to the extreme (in a good way!).

Last night we tried Indian food. Did you know Curry is the national food of England? If not, now you do! There are Indian restaurants everywhere so of course we had to check one out. It was fantastic. I’m so glad I am opening up my taste buds and trying new things. I’ve been holding back for so long- dad, you were right! I’ve been missing out on great food!!

Anways, check out an Indian restaurant the next time you are in England. I think you will be happy.

Yesterday evening I was able to meet up with a friend from KU, who now lives in Oxford. She was actually studying abroad when I met her so it is fun to be in the opposite boat. She had another KU friend with here, and Piper’s friend studying abroad in England also met up with us, so there were 6 KU students meeting up! Haha. It was great to catch up, and her friend, Cody, has experimented with couchsurfing many times. While I have never been nervous about it, some family and friends are nervous for me to experiment with it this summer. But let me tell you- he can assure you there is nothing to worry about! There is a link where the negative comments are all put together. Not bad, huh? Also, he made a good point. He said it takes a lot to open up your home to complete strangers, and agree to show them around and entertain them. So, if they are willing and able to do that, then it can’t be a bad thing. Sure, there are those weird older men on there who say they will only host girls, but obviously I’m not stupid enough to stay there. Plus, you can search for certain ages, and of course there are profiles listed to try to match up personalities. He also gave me some tricks and tips for requesting couches, such as making the request silly and exciting instead of just saying, “hey, I’ll be here this date for this many days… can I stay with you?” He has a point- that’s boring. I don’t think I would host me either if I received a message like that!

We also went through Christ Church University in Oxford. While hesitant at first to pay the 4.50 pound entry fee, I am so glad that I did. Part of Harry Potter was filmed there, and I don’t have that love of HP that my friends do, so needless to say I wasn’t too exciting about paying to tour a campus. However, CCU (I have no idea if that is the acronym, but it works for now!) is way more than just a set for HP. It is where the story of Alice in Wonderland began. Louis Carroll was a student there, and Alice was the dean’s daughter. In the dining room where HP was filmed, there are stained glass windows with pictures of Alice and some of the other characters. There is a small door on the stage where the faculty would eat and go through after meals, which is where the idea for Alice falling through the hole came from. There are old men throughout the whole campus just waiting to make eye contact with you so they can being telling stories. The man in what I will just call the “Alice room” was black with BLUE eyes, and he was from the Caribbean. The man in the church had eyebrows about 2 ½ inches long, of which one was sticking straight out. He sometimes would trail off in his stories, for example, he began talking about the wars he has fought in and how usually people are against civilians being killed, but when they are the ones making the ammunition and weapons, it’s ok. I’m really not sure how he go to that when we began talking about evolution, but well. He was incredibly nice, and it was interesting to see his point of view on that. What I liked best about the church was the stained glass. Instead of it telling stories from the Bible- like every other church/cathedral I’ve seen so far- it told stories of the history of England, or of the campus. It was just a great experience overall, and I’m so happy I gave in and decided to do it!

Again, we lucked out on weather. Like Italy, we had an afternoon siesta in the sun- just without the daily gelato. I’m not quite sure how we’ve lucked out so well, but our luck is supposed to change for Liverpool (which is where we are going right now).

Just a note to you fellow travelers- be prepared to pay a LOT for train travel in England. France now seems so cheap! A one-way ticket from Oxford to Liverpool, with a change inbetween, was 50ponds. AHH break the wallet! Just kidding. Kind of.

My memory card reader broke, so unless I find one in Liverpool or Dublin it may be while to upload pics. I’ve only gotten through day 1 of Rome—so be prepared. I’m about 2500 photos in… it’s funny, though, because while I was taking photos left and right in Italy, I have slowed down quite a bit in England. It’s still pretty an interesting, but I’ve just become more selective I think.

As a side note- it is really bizarre being in an English speaking country after 2 ½ months of being away from it. If we had been in Italy, we never would have made it to our play due to the language barrier. For that reason it’s really nice, but at the same time, it’s a bit odd and kind of hard to transition. I see why people have such a culture shock when they get back to the states. After Sunday it will be 4 months before I will be back in another one… woah bip.

Ok, time to change trains. Thanks for listening… er… reading!

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