Saturday, 30 April 2011

Slightly Long Low-Light Chronicles - Pt. 2

Before I sing the praises of lady Paris let me get these out of the way. Also, for those of you thinking about navigating away from this page after scrolling through this post, please read from the bullet points down. You'll be missing out on some inside jokes by not reading the top, but if it's only partial reading or nothing I'm okay with that.

It started at the airport. What the English have in order (queues and systems) the French have in… well, disorder. When the boarding call for priority travelers was made, every single person waiting to get on the flight pushed themselves up to a giant blob around the gate and then when they called up people traveling with children you had to shove your way to the front of the blob. It was like they thought if they didn’t move, you might just give up and they could get on sooner. After getting through the masses we all had to get on a tram to take us to where the plane was parked, but after standing on the tram for 10 minutes or so they came and took us all off saying that they couldn’t find one of the pilots (who we supposed was on a smoke or wine break somewhere). After some more waiting we had to do the whole fighting through the blob thing again (with people who were now even more frantic to secure their spot) and get back out to the bus and finally to our plane.
The next day’s low point was mid afternoon (after trying to go to Versailles and buying the wrong train tickets). We were all extremely hungry and couldn’t find anywhere to check in our rented bikes after a hour and a half ride across the city ending in a giant hill (they had to be checked back in every 30 minutes or we would be charged extra). Fighting off irritation we found food and decided to picnic in the city cemetery. What we didn’t know was that it only had one entrance and a giant wall. On the 25 minute around the wrong side of the wall our wine fell out of the bag and broke all over the sidewalk. When we finally did arrive we realized our horrible mistake in assuming this was a normal cemetery with grassy areas. It was entirely covered in mausoleums and all the benches already had people at them. We ate quietly and left.
Friday’s low was the entire day. This day our attempt to get out to the Versailles was successful, but after that is was only one disappointment after another. We knew getting into the palace was expensive, but thought maybe we could get student discounts. No. We thought that since it was earlyish there wouldn’t be too long of a wait. No – at least 500 people in line for tickets when we arrived at 10am. We thought we would just go to the gardens instead since they were less crowded and free. No – because of a special fountain show only on that day it was busy and 8 euros a person. The only part that was free and not packed was the north garden which consisted of meadows and sheep fields. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of pretty there and we got to see the grand canal, but after walking along the wall of the main gardens and gazing in through the gates, seeing what could have been, we all agreed to call it Ver-suck the rest of the time we were there.
Before I offer you the crown of low lights, the one that actually made me cry, here are a few worthy mentions:

  • 1. Nathaniel running a fever and crying for a day and a half, which kept us at home the whole time. The plus side was that he had never cuddled before, and him being sick was a constant cuddle. He would cry if we weren’t cuddling him.
  • 2. Riding through busy downtown and seeing a man in broad daylight pooping on the sidewalk with people walking all around him.
  • 3. Having a man come up right next to me in the park to pee in some bushes.
  • 4.  Almost getting run into by a bus while riding with Nathaniel because the car in front of me cut me off.
  • 5. Forgetting our guide book of the city (that we had rented from the library) in the basket of our bike.

And now, drum roll please… yesterday:
We headed to the train station on luggage laden bikes. That went surprisingly well. The train is where things started going down. The high point was a man offering me his seat, but then as we progressed down the line, at every stop no one got off and there were hoards of people waiting to get on. At one point I was sweating and hot to the point of nausea and a very large woman backed into me with the backs of her knees squishing into my seated ones and her palm tree print bottom in my face. The feeling of her knees mushing into mine is still making my stomach turn at this moment. Even though she repositioned relatively quickly, the hot body odor humid ride took about 40 minutes. We arrived at the airport to find out that our plane was delayed by an hour (the amount of time we had between arriving in London and catching the bus back to Oxford). We hoped. The screen said go to gate 28, the security point people said go to gate 29, gate 29 said go to gate 31, who then told us to go back to gate 29 and that’s where we sat for more than an hour waiting for our plane. When we boarded we almost forgot our sadness because of the pilot’s recounting of his day and why the flight was late “It really started out as a bugger of a day for me.” He said “The first plane I had today had something wrong with it so we had to go search around for a spare one, then we found something wrong with that plane at the next stop. We could have been discouraged, but we’re good British folk so we soldered on and now we are late because we had to do a thorough mechanical check of this plane before we could leave again. But now we’re on our way and we hope you have a great flight.” His determination and wit raised our hopes of getting home that night on the bus that was scheduled to leave 5 minutes before we would get off the plane. No. We missed it by a long shot, the station saying the next Oxford bus didn’t come until the next morning. The current time was 11:00pm. Other options? Bus to London Victoria station and train from there… after asking some questions, the grand total of that trip would be around 40 pounds a person. Not an option. Now to ask a favor from a friend. Would Jon Mcnally (a housemate) drive the 2 hours from Oxford to come pick us up in the middle of the night? Text, no reply. Call, no answer. Text again later, nothing. It was at this point that I cried. Another night in the airport is was, and this time there weren't any seats to make beds on, or even any carpet to sit on. Just a tile floor in the front of the airport with the automatic doors letting in the cool English air and us being sunburned from being weeks in the warmer continental Europe. Cold and aching and wishing for the sun to hurry it’s arrival so this night could be over, Jon checked the bus stop again. The next Oxford bus came at 2:05am and it was 12:30 right now! The joy we felt warmed and waked us. We passed the time snacking and taking turns trying to beat the first level of Winter Angry Birds and failing. Now the next hurdle – we still didn’t have any money, and since we missed our bus, it was almost assured that our tickets weren’t worth anything. We presented our sad story to the bus driver and he told us to wait while he called in. We stood our three shivering bodies outside the bus listening to the operator “What’s the ticket number?” “No, those kinds of tickets are unchangeable.” “No, they’d have to pay full price.” “Wait, is there a child with them? Yes? Oh, then let them on for free.” Thank you boyo! We rode home on the full bus driven by a slightly crazy man who pulled over at one point to come into the back to find out who’s music was too loud and tell them to turn it down. I got carsick and was so tired I almost dropped the sleeping Nathaniel so many times I had to ask Jon to hold him. Jon Mcnally came to pick us up from the bus station at 4:30am when we arrived but was long enough in coming that we were teeth chattering disasters by the time he got there. We could barely even answer his questions because of tiredness and cold. The cherry on top of this miserable travelling experience was that half way home we we got pulled over. I was holding Nathaniel wrapped in blankets and jackets in the backseat and not wearing my seat belt so I could snuggle close to Jon for warmth. The cops had pulled him over because Jon M. forgot to turn his lights on in the well lit downtown. While checking the plates, the back up cop was looking at all of us, points at me and says “Miss, you’re not wearing your seat belt.” I said sorry and pulled the belt over my mass of child and blankets, they told us goodnight and we went home and slept. The End.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Foto Ft. - Day 108

Everywhere around me I've been seeing "featuring"s; On blogs, in music, books, podcasts and film. Since it seems to be the hip new thing, I decided to do a "featuring" on my blog in hopes up upping the hippness. Enjoy!

Some views of Continental Europe, ft. the photos of Joelle Church.

The artist herself.
There were many great shots, these were just my favorite ones... and I couldn't steal all of her pictures for my blog!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Two Weeks in 3 Posts - Days 93 thru 106 - Pt. 1

The story that follows may shock, it may inspire; Laughing and crying are both possibilities. It was one of the grandest adventures I’ve been on yet, and one of the many parts of my life that would make it into the book adapted to film of my life.
Waking up in Gatwick Airport from a groggy sleep interrupted by the “Americans freaking out about airport security” blaring news story we found our way through what would eventually be termed Easy “to get anything through security” Jet check in and after a 1.5 hour flight landed in Geneva Switzerland (which is eternally engrained in my mind as the spy capitol of the world for a reason I can’t place). Emile picked us up bearing bags of croissants, which Joelle and I devoured quietly with crazed eyes in the back seat and quickly fell back asleep. When our bodies drew our eye curtains back again, they revealed the main street of  what looked like the children hating city in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it ended up being the children loving twin of that city. It was a small village named Viques in the north of the country (it is pronounced Vic. A French friend was telling us that they add extra silent letters because it seems more intelligent to have long words). Emile’s house was above his parent’s Duvet and Game Shop which was currently closed for renovation. Jon, Joelle and I stayed three houses down the road with his Grandparents. I have never met such a helpful, talkative lady as Grandma. If she wasn’t offering us food, she was playing with Nathaniel, holding his hand walking around, and above all else, she was talking. Not only talking, but talking in French at a very rapid pace; and not only talking in French, but asking us questions repeatedly that we could not understand or even begin to answer. After settling in we went over to Emile’s house and was there offered more food by his mother. I’ve decided that a vacation not involving a mother or grandmother of some kind is severely crippled in it’s ability to be called relaxing.
Switzerland was the crown of our holiday. Emile created the perfect combination of go time and down time. Let me break down some of my favorite points for you:
1.     Playing sports in the back yard with the other visiting Black Friar’s students.
2.     Eating more cheese and chocolate than I thought humanly possible (the top three being Raclette, toasted bits of cheese served with cured meats and potatoes; Garlic and Gruyere fondu with wholemeal bread; and a melt in your mouth chocolate bar that was almost foamy inside and made little bubbles on your tongue as it melted.
3.     Hiking to the top of a small mountain to find a giant farm/restaurant and drinking lemonade while looking at the gorgeous relaxed countryside.
4.     Sitting with Jon, Joelle, and Emile in the boy scout fort all afternoon.
5.     Talking with Emile’s parents one night when he was out using the iPad’s iTranslate app.
6.     Playing Cluedo (Clue) in broken French late into the night followed by a fierce game of SlapJack (same as Blackjack but the loser gets slapped).
And lastly, something I didn’t know if I would ever get to do in my life
7.     The 5 hour road trip through the Swiss Alps, including a car on train ride through the heart of a mountain and picnic by two ancient castles.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

In Tents - Day 79

A long time ago there was a group of people who set out on a journey. They were chasing their dreams, the dreams that had been dreamed by their great grandparents. It finally seemed like everything came together. Everything just seemed right. Here they were doing the thing that they had only ever imagined, and never knew how it could be a reality. Joy flooded every atom of their beings. The best part was that it was God himself who had set them up for this dream to come true. They hadn't done anything other than to ask him. "Wow!" they said to each other "He must really love us! He must really think we're great to do something like this for us!" "Well after all," the other would reply "He did choose us out of everyone."
So they set out. They were going to finally have their very own farms and towns and they would get to choose how THEY wanted to get stuff done. No more of this staying in someone else's house thing. They were already planning on how they wanted to decorate their living rooms. Then about twenty minutes into the trip the road was closed. Since God was the instigator of this whole hoopla, it must have been his fault that this happened! "How could he have overlooked such an important detail?" one would say. "He obviously doesn't care as much for us as we thought he did! We'll just die here I guess." the other would reply. Well, God heard them talking so he cleared the road for them, then and there! With his own hand while they were all watching! They set out again immediately. "Wow! Did you see that?" one would say. "Yeah! God's own hand! I've never seen him do that for anyone else! We must be the greatest followers of all time!" the other would reply.
Well they walked and walked. God loved them and they really liked him, but he wanted them to learn how to love him more. Constantly he would put another road block in the way so he could show off his power to them and so they would say "Aren't you the greatest God there ever was?! I'm so glad you chose us!" but instead they would just get mad at him, thinking that yet again he had missed this detail. They even decided that he wasn't the greatest God after all (since he was such a flake with the travel arrangements). They built a giant golden iPhone with wifi so they could always keep tabs on the road conditions via google maps. That made God really upset because he and Steve Jobs didn't really see eye to eye on how to run the world. Plus, then he couldn't take credit for all the great stuff he did for them! They would just say "Oh this golden iPhone found a great desert shortcut." instead of thanking God. He was so pissed he threw the golden iPhone on the ground and the screen shattered. They tried ordering a new one, but the silver Blackberry wouldn't connect to the internet so far into the wilderness.
"I know what I'll do." God said one day "I'll make them a bunch of rules that are really hard to keep! Then they'll think 'well since he made them, we should ask him to teach us how to keep them.' and I'll get to hang out with them more!" He gave them the rules, but that just made them more annoyed at him. They were still mad about not being able to play Angry Birds anymore. "Just give them some time." God thought "They'll come around." He let them walk around for years, constantly doing them favors to show his love. Eventually their food ran out because they didn't plan for such a long walk. He had angels take them pots of beans and rice every morning. Think of it! Food from angels! But all they did was complain "If we still had our golden iPhone, we could look up recipes to make this better." one would say. "Yeah. I have type O blood, and I really need more protein than this." the other would reply.
On and on it went. God would show love, they would respond with how he could have done it better. They never could get it. Eventually they all did die. God couldn't let someone with an attitude like that into his promised land. They'd say "We made this all ourselves, despite all the times God messed it up." and then how was he to get more people to love him? Thankfully, some of the sons learned that trusting God was much more enjoyable than exerting independence and they got to go build their own houses. They decorated them differently than their parents had imagined though.