A Slice of Fried Gold

European Adventures 2009: England

Sunday, June 14, 2009

This is going to be a pain in the ass. I think that's why I keep putting it off. There is just so much content to cover and it's so time consuming to do so, but here goes nothing.

From April 10th to May 3rd, I went on a grand European adventure to England, France, Austria, and Italy (with a cup of coffee in Germany as well). It was quite possibly the best three weeks (ish) of my life. I saw an absolutely ridiculous amount of cool and historic things, met amazing amounts of wonderful people, ate delicious food, drank delectable things, and had new experiences up the wazoo (the wazoo!!! that's when you know you are running thing on ways to express yourself, when that nugget comes out).

I don't really think it is fair of me to just do one post covering everywhere (nor would it be fair to you as a reader, given that it would likely me 10,000 + words), so I am going to break it down country by country, with some countries getting more than one post. I was thinking of doing it day by day, but I would probably shoot myself and/or quit in the middle if I did it that way.

So without further ado, my adventures in England from April 10th to April 15th, 2009.

Myself in front of Big Ben and the Parliament

Cities/areas visited: London (and surrounding areas, like Virginia Water and Windsor), Bath, Dover, Canterbury, Stonehenge.

Soundtrack: Loney, Dear's Loney, Noir, Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun, the Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Arctic Monkeys' Favourite Worst Nightmare, plus additional random songs throughout

Mike Sobolik, Debra Sobolik, and myself at Windsor Castle

MVP's of England: Mike and Debra Sobolik

Rumor has it that England is the most expensive part of the average European adventure, as the cost of living in hostels and hotels is as magnificent as the country itself, and the food and random knick knacks the average tourist picks up are also quite spendy indeed. I didn't really notice to be honest. Why?

Mike and Debra's place in Virginia Water

Mike and Debra, who are one of my best friends' dad and step-mom respectively, were the best hosts that could ever possibly exist. From the very get go, when Mike picked me up at Heathrow and then took me to the train station to get a walkthrough on how to get to Central London, I knew it was going to be the perfect situation. They provided me with a wonderful place to stay, with their borderline mansion in London suburb Virginia Water (complete with my own ridiculously comfortable bed) being the base of operations for my whole England adventure. Not only that, but they even traveled with me as they had been so busy since arriving in England that they had no chance to travel anywhere themselves, so I had travel partners for Bath, Dover, Stonehenge, and Canterbury, plus people to spend Easter with as we went to Windsor Castle for the afternoon.

It wasn't just how much easier they made my experience in England, it's the fact I knew these people for about a decade and never realized how awesome of people they were. You can't get much more ideal in terms of travel partners than Mike and Debra, and I greatly appreciated everything they did for me.

A "road" in England

Most hysterically treacherous aspect of journey: Driving

Given that before I left, I had planned on just taking trains everywhere. However, after I got there I found out that Mike and Debra really wanted to go everywhere I wanted to go, my train journeys turned into far more inexpensive car rides. While I could have guessed that driving would be weird at the very least (within minutes I realized this, as not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but stoplights are almost non-existent and roundabouts appear near constantly), I didn't really expect the crazy treacherous sections where you could barely call the roads one lane roads.

Look above at the picture: we were off trying to find a castle inbetween Stonehenge and Bath when a car started coming down our ridiculously narrow one way road towards us. This led to a situation where we had to back up hundreds of feet as this woman looked at us like we were crazy people. Note to you lady: we didn't make the insane roads!

However, just because they were particularly crazy does not mean I did not enjoy them. Quite the opposite in fact. The one lane roads were perpetually entertaining, and it made me realize that I really, strongly believe every city should incorporate the roundabout into roads more frequently. There would be long sections of road in which we would hardly even slow down, let alone stop. It was an invigorating way to travel, and I loved it maybe too much.

Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and Thomas Hardy all buried next to each other

Favorite part of any historical site: Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey

While overall I found Westminster Abbey to be overly commercialized and less impressive than Canterbury Cathedral (now that's how you do it!), the single coolest thing I saw within any site in England was Poet's Corner, which resides within Westminster. Here you can find the burial sites of many famous writers or, at the very least, monuments to these writers. Most sought after is the monument for Shakespeare (who is actually buried in Stratford-upon-Avon), but I found the Chaucer memorial (he's actually buried there as well) and the trifecta of Dickens, Kipling and Hardy far more impressive.

I mean come on, Dickens, Kipling and Hardy are all buried right next to each other! How freaking cool is that! I was completely blown away by it, and found it quite inspirational. Is there anything in the world that could be more indicative of the fact you are a great writer than being buried in Poet's Corner? Near both Brontes, near Chaucer, near Dickens, Kipling and Hardy, near Milton...it's awe inspiring.

Also, one note: Westminster Abbey's English speaking audioguide is spoken by Jeremy Irons, keeper of one of the coolest voices on the planet. Worth the trip just for that.

Myself in front of Stonehenge

Most unimpressive major historical site: Stonehenge

Given that you can't go anywhere near Stonehenge (no closer than 10 meters really), I am not sure if it's really even worth the trip to go see it. It's cool thinking about the history and the "how did they do that?" while standing next to it, but really it's not all that. I really wanted to love it and disagree with travel writers who said it's impressively unimpressive, but I really couldn't do that. Inarguably the best part of it was the rather odd audioguide, which included a section on some of the more bizarre theories on the creation of Stonehenge, including one gem which involved Merlin effectively sub-contracting Satan to bring the stones from all across the United Kingdom so Merlin could properly place them himself.

Because that makes sense.

Loney, Dear

Coolest event: Seeing Loney, Dear at La Scalza in London

Given that I am kind of obsessed with concerts, I felt it was my responsibility to see at least one show while on my trip. London was pretty intense with their concerts, as they had Bloc Party, AC/DC, David Byrne, Frightened Rabbit, and many others playing while I was there. Sadly though, all of those shows were sold out, so I decided to see a show featuring three smaller artists I really was not familiar with. The headliner was Loney, Dear, who I had listened to a bit and liked, but had never really gotten into, so I figured why not? It may surprise me.

Sure enough, I was completely blown away for a number of reasons. Here they are below:

Venue: La Scalza was an incredibly cool, multi-tiered joint that had great sound, a solid light crew, and were relaxed enough that I spent a good portion of both Snowbird and Loney, Dear actually sitting on stage.

Crowd: Very attractive, hilarious, and perfect for people watching. Plus, it turns out that they also knew the artists' music really, really well, as singalong sections were, not to be cheesy, quite magical indeed.

Bands: All three bands were excellent. The Leisure Society led off, and I had never heard them but was completely blown away. They had about eight people on stage playing all kinds of instruments, including a stand up bass, a flute, a violin, and more. Their sound was kind of a more folky, Britishized Decemberists with more traditional vocals. It was great.

Snowbird was up next, and this was a combination of a young southern chantreuse who just sang (beautifully), acted spacey inbetween songs (charmingly so), and moved her hands like she was some sort of blind magician, and a bald man who laid beats down and twinkles on the piano. They had written their music over the previous week and a half, had never practiced together, and that was their first performance, but you really couldn't tell. They were cute and definitely have a lot of upside, for sure.

Loney, Dear was just freaking wonderful. Great banter with the crowd, wonderful moments of interacting with the audience, tight sound, and just a complete delight. They never did their thing in a cheesy fashion, even though artists who rely on interaction so much can easily spillover into th cheese, and that alone is to be commended. Definitely worth seeing if they ever come near you, as they are a stellar band who have a big future.

I just completely loved this experience, and was so glad I could have a British concert experience.

England Wrap Up: So what about the rest of the trip? What was my overall England experience like?

Well, I do have to say that London is officially my second favorite city after the trip. It's just an absolute joy to experience, with culture streaming from its pores and a burgeoning sense of history on every corner. It was also a complete melting pot, surprisingly. The Indian influence was quite prevalent, as one Englander argued that the national food was no longer fish and chips, but chicken tikka masala (to which I say an emphatic "hell yes!").

I experienced what the news called inordiantely good weather for the time of year, with almost every day being over 70 degrees. I managed to sneak into Easter evensong at St. George's Chapel in Windsor Castle with Mike and Debra, which was actually broadcast on BBC2 (totally awesome). I saw castles, cathedrals, amazing landscapes, and incredibly wonderful things nearly everywhere.

Really, I couldn't have asked for a better first experience in England, as I targeted a bunch of things I wanted to see and experience and I managed to see and experience every single one of them. As you'll see in later posts, that will exist in juxtaposition to every other stop I have, and it was the perfect way to start my grand journey.

See below for some additional pictures from my trip.

Bath, which was a beautiful and unique city in southwest England

Platform 9 3/4 in Kings Cross - so ridiculous, so awesome

The keep at Windsor Castle

Definitely the funniest piece of art I saw - a Unicorn and a Lion Kid 'n Play dancing

Myself at the gates of Buckingham Palace

Sweet castle between Stonehenge and Bath - as seen in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

This guy looked super sad and envious of the people spending $80 on the London Eye


Erik said...

Looks awesome. I talked to Mike the other day while visiting Sobo and he was totally stoked off your visit. Loney, Dear opened for Andrew Bird when I saw him, I was blown away.

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