A visit to Edinburgh Castle convinced us that Game of Thrones is a toned down version of actual Scottish history with less dragons but bloodier entanglements. Despite this history the people of Edinburgh are incredibly nice and welcoming. We absolutely love the city and cannot begin to fathom why anyone, like our neighbor Tony, would ever want to leave.
Scotland becomes more boisterous north of Edinburgh. On the very crowded train from Perth to Kingussie (a small town south of Inverness) we stood some of the way. Backpacks (ours included) clogged the aisle with crowds of teens sitting by the doorway. A tired family of at least five squabled. They were spread out over multiple seats with the bickering carrying out across the train car. A couple spoke next to me with an incomprehensible Scottish brogue. Later I realized they were speaking Swedish. Sitting opposite me was a young man who I understood only a wee bit better. He talked of working his way through Scotland. How his young niece missed him. More than a bit drunk, he also periodically yelled out, “f$_ the English” and then to me add “you know what I mean.” In a crowded train assumedly filled with many English tourists I emphatically disagreed with that statement. Later he took long pulls from a bottle then passed out on the shoulder of the Swedish tourist. Shortly thereafter we climbed over the teenagers to an empty train platform, the only passengers to do so.
Britain boasts an incredibly efficient and user friendly train system. For example, from London there are no less than twenty trains a day heading to Edinburgh. Even on the Friday of our departure, the busiest day to travel from London, and with an “incident” on the track causing massive delays, we still were able to arrive at King’s Crossing with just our Britrail Pass (a sort of automatic standby ticket) and leave for Edinburgh in less than forty minutes. No reservation necessary.
Just a few stops away from central London on the Northern Line is Golders Green. Not quite in the city, it is also not quite a suburb either. Known for its large Jewish Orthodox population, it has, per Wikipedia, the largest concentration of kosher groceries in all of London. For the last seven nights it has been our home with us staying in a hostel like Airbnb filled with both long-term and more transient guest like ourselves.
The Northern Line runs east-west through the heart of London. To the east lie the fantastically named Tooting stops with our favorite being Tooting Broadway (which brings to mind a very gaseous Nathan Lane triumphantly making his way through The Producers). Near us are the more sedate, but still interestingly named Chalk Farm and Morning Crescent.
Besides riding the Tube we took several busses. Our return last night from dinner involved one tube run, a bus and over thirty bus stops. We did not at all mind the near constant stop-and-go pace as it allowed us more time to digest our food while our phones charged from the outlets coveniently placed on the back of each seat.
For our week in London we saw much but not nearly enough. Mostly we walked. And ate. Or had a pint or espresso. Then we walked some more. We also checked out a lot of museums and spent time at Stonehenge and Oxford. But pretty much we walked all over London with only a vague plan. It was all great fun and we miss London already.
The news from home is terrible. Seven dead and a couple more dozen people hospitalized with gun shot wounds. That does not even begin to capture the horror of what occurred on July 4th.
It is weird to follow such tragic events from so far away. You first become aware of what’s going on via an overheard conversation. Not sure exactly what it is you heard, you frantically search out a WiFi signal. After learning the bare details you text your brother who lives near Highland Park and might have taken the family to the parade. You also text a few people you know living in Highland Park. Everyone is safe but worried. Things are still unfolding so you give stupid advice like, “stay safe.”
It is not like nothing bad ever happens in Europe. In Copenhagen two teenagers and a man where recently killed by a lone gunman without a motive. If he had an assault rifle it would have been much, much worse. Reverse that same thought for Highland Park.
We do not want to stay in Europe. We love America and its opportunities. We love driving through our great country and meeting people with different views. But our country feels a little bit less free than the day we left it. We now have less agency of our bodies, less protection from the religious viewpoints of our public school teachers and can never again take watching a parade with our families in a beautiful summer day for granted. It does not have to be or stay that way and we will do whatever we can to make our world a better place. But for now all we do is tell everyone to stay safe.
It only cost twenty pence to use the gents toilet at Regent’s Park. There is an automatic saloon like door and a kiosk that only takes credit card taps. Unfortunately for our bladders, the kiosk does not seem to like American credit cards. This scenario has now played out for us across most of London. What we have learned to do is stand by the saloon doors with a perplexed expression on our face until someone from the inside let’s us in. It is all a bit embarrassing but then again as Americans we are used to a bit of embarrassment.
Another thing we have done a lot of in Europe is watch our clothes dry. This is due to most places we have stayed at having a washing machine but not a dryer. So we dutifully wash our duds then drape them across our room. Over time we have developed a system which involves the gradual rotation of clothes between a series of optimal/less optimal drying locations. Usually it takes a couple days to actually sort all these clothes with a new cycle then beginning the moment the old one is complete.
All busses should be at least two stories high. Or at least that it what we though while riding high across a stalled London traffic pattern. It is really an incredible experience to be able to see over the cars while stuck in traffic. Even more amazing is how efficient public transportation is in London. Rarely have we waited more than ten minutes for a bus or train. And to be able to experience it all from a low flying bird’s perspective? Amazing.
We took an early train to London and were a little disappointed with the underwater. No fish or mermaids or any other nautical site spied out the window. Just twenty or so minutes through a dark tunnel. Afterwards the announcements though were given first in English and then French.
They speak a very specific type of English here. It is more concise and assertive. For example, in the bathroom a sign read “Catch in. Bin it. Kill it” which, as best we can tell, means “wash your hands after blowing your nose.” On the train we frequently hear “See it. Say it. Sort it.” In Chicago it would be “If you see something suspicious, please report it right away.” I feel better though just having someone sort it right away.
We do not like crossing the street in London as cars seem to come at you from the most random of directions. Walking on the sidewalk is no bed of roses either; Americans walk on the right side with the English then politely moving out of the way. And they are polite. We seem to earn a friendly tap of the horn each time we attempt to cross the street.
Covid squeezes life like an accordion. At home and during the first scary months of the pandemic it shrunk my work, home and life to a one mile radius. Then the tight ever present fear would loosen it’s grip and we would escape before eventually returning to that same tight squeeze.
As Corey said we have Covid. Despite being fully vaccinated, taking reasonable precautions (like telling everyone on this blog we wouldn’t be talking about Covid) and not wanting to get it we still got it. So far it has been a mild ride and for that we are extremely grateful. Others we know whom are equally vaccinated have seen this illness turn to pneumonia or have it linger for weeks. Hopefully this will not be us.
We are grateful as well for family. Our niece Kristine and her boyfriend Francois have been incredibly patient with us. Together they have fixed toilets (they are a lot trickier here), unlocked doors (you have to turn the key exactly three and a quarter times) and defused tricky dining out situations (people don’t work on tips here so you have to be extra nice if you want to be seated near closing time). Francois by the way is French and, maybe this is the Covid talking, is like a son to me. A son whom I will never tire of badgering for favors.
It’s a great time in Europe to be traveling with Covid. There are no restrictions. There is no mandatory quarantine. In-between naps we have actually seen a lot of Rouen but only within an approximate one mile walking radius (and not the beaches of Normandy and not by kayaking the Seine as was previously planned). Our apartment here in Rouen is both lovely and cheap so we will stay one extra day/one less night in Paris to rest. And we of course wear masks whenever we are near another person. Life could be worse. A lot lot worse.
The land of cheese, wine, windy streets, and unfortunately for us-COVID. Yes, we have covid. When planning this trip, we knew it was a risk. We chose to roll the dice and take that gamble. And in the 3rd day of the trip I (Corey here) was presented with that double positive line on a covid test.
We are hoping to rally, and have this all behind us before we head to London. But next stop is Paris, and when we told our next air bnb host of our predicament, she was not phased saying, “no worries from me, I have all three vaccines, that’s a part of life”. Obviously the motto is alive alive and well here. C’est le vie.
We are all feeling ok. Some stuffiness, congestion and aches. But all in all- OK. We are nestled in a cozy air bnb in Rouen France, where my niece lives. Plans have been rerouted, and things are not going as planned but C’est le vie. That’s life. You move on.
We entered this trip I suppose with that same view point. It didn’t seem like the best time to be traveling abroad-but who knows, maybe next year would be worse. Why wait? Nothing good comes from waiting. Life moves fast, one must move with it, throw some caution to the wind and enjoy.
Well, I suppose that’s what we did. In time, I hope we are all healthy, strong and ready to move on with this adventure.
C’est le vie after all. Life happens. You move on.
The typical Icelander, per random articles pulled from the net, is a published author, excels at chess and believes wholeheartedly in Elves. Find that last factoid a bit difficult to swallow which pushed me to ask Icelanders whether or not they believe in Elves. First lesson I learned; it is very awkward asking people if they believe in Elves.
I did though manage one such conversation with a very patient National Park ranger. His take was that Icelanders embrace Elves due to their place in folklore. Believing in Elves then is like believing in the Spirit of Christmas.
Really though what it comes down to is that there is so much in this Universe we just don’t understand. Why not just blame it on the Elves?