Archive for May 24th, 2009

London: Accomplishments

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I’ve been in London before for a few days with Rosedale Bible College’s Celtic Christianity & CS Lewis tour back in 2006. That was a rather quick trip to London, however, so I was glad to return. Cities aren’t my favorite places to hang out, but London isn’t bad as cities go. It has a river (the Thames), lots of history, and generally friendly people.

Two friendly people, Erlis and Gesine Miller are related to David and live in Walthamstowe, a residential area of the city, and they invited us to stay at their house. David had met them a few times, but hadn’t seem them in quite a while. We got an email from them the day before we were supposed to arrive giving us directions and the location of a hidden key and inviting us to make ourselves at home. So, we did.

After enjoying the Millers’ hospitality that evening, we got to bed a bit late after having a great conversation with both of them. They have each had so many experiences from working in the Middle East to camping in an Italian vineyard. They kept us entertained with amazing stories and interesting conversation through our entire stay.

The next day after a full, delicious breakfast with yogurt, muesli, toast, and all the fixings we took the tube downtown to get our applications for Kazakh visas sorted out—we’re planning on visiting Kazakhstan around the beginning of August. Since the consulate doesn’t accept visas on Wednesday so we just filled out all our paperwork and got everything in order. Then we went down to the river and ate lunch at Whitehall park just off the river. What happened then was the highlight of my London experience. We were walking past Westminster Palace (home of the Houses of Parlaiment) where we noticed people walking off the street into the palace. I have always had an interest in parliamentary procedure (a nerdy confession: once in a while while at home I watch The Ohio Channel by Ohio Public broadcasting which broadcasts sessions of Ohio’s congress). Anyway, all that to say that I was thrilled to discover that anyone—even foreigners—can observe parliament while it is in session. Which it was!

Dan and David weren’t thrilled about the idea but Matt was interested in getting some pictures from the inside of the palace, so we decided to see what we could see. Past the expected security check, the palace was exceedingly impressive. The welcome hall was the former hall of St. Steven’s Chapel (although pretty much everything was lost back in 1834 in a fire, still pretty old) and was surrounded by the newer parliamentary buildings.

Matt and I visited the house of Commons—decorated in green—where the elected ministers of parliament (MPs) were discussing the rather dry topic of possibly implementing price limit (defined quarterly or bi-yearly) on crude oil imports. After a bit of discussion, the matter was decided by division. The ministers file into two rooms at either corner of the hall where they are counted for the votes, one room being Nay and the other Aye. The oil proposal was rejected as was the next proposal: that gasoline tax rates be set lower for rural areas of the country.

Matt went off to explore the rest of the city, but I went on to the House of Lords—decorated all in red and with a huge golden throne and dais at one end where the queen sits when she attends (rarely). The Lords (some landed, some not) were discussing the possibility of financing an airport on the island of St. Helena, a remote island off the coast of Africa, where it takes 4 days on a boat to access the mainland. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the issue was decided so that I could get back and help make supper (delicious hamburgers). We spent the evening talking to Erlis and Gesine again about our experiences that day and their work.

Thursday I woke up around 7:15 and headed downtown to the Kazakh consulate to put in the applications for David, Matt, and my visas. I spent the morning waiting in line then, after succeeding in my task, headed to the river to meet up with the other guys for lunch (sandwiches) in Whitehall park again. After the sandwiches, Matt and I headed to the Apple store he had found earlier so that I could see about getting my computer fixed (I had been having some trouble with the MagSafe powerport, quite annoying). That took most of the afternoon, but they took it and told me they would fix it for free! Hooray!

I walked about town a bit after that then headed back to the Millers’ house where we enjoyed having a house and getting our clothes washed and things in order. That evening was another delectable meal with the Millers and we stayed up late into the evening talking. The next day, breakfast was again delicious and, fully satiated, we all set out together to walk the Golden Triangle (after picking up our Kazakh visas (Approved!) and visiting Hyde park, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Albert Memorial). Buckingham palace, the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, and Westminster Abby were quite impressive and well worth seeing, but better described in pictures.

That afternoon I got some cables for my camera and went back to the Millers’ a bit early to make some calls back home and send some emails about our final insurance paperwork for the UK (It all worked out quite well and we were pleased to discover that if we were to pull a semi trailer behind our Passat it too would be covered by our insurance… I’m tempted to try).

The evening was spent out on the town seeing the lights of the city over the river. Westminster Palace, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge were well worth the time. We slept well that night and, after enjoying a hearty breakfast, fetching my computer, and devouring a great lunch, we left London on our way to Dover.

Daniel Z

London: the Diverse City

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I (Matt) am sure the other guys have described in graphic detail our travels around London. It was a wonderful city, there were so many things to see. I enjoyed many of those things. I also enjoyed exploring a major city where I understood the language. Thursday afternoon, after watching a few minutes of Parliament in session at Westminster Hall with Ziegler, I struck out on my own to people-watch. By-the-way, their government looks appeared much more comfortable, lounging in well-cushioned benches and heartily laughing with each other. We visited many significant sites Wednesday and Friday (see the guys’ posts), so I decided to watch London’s inhabitants until our designated return time at 7 that evening.
I found the nearest Underground station and boarded the first subway I saw. I repeated this every second station. Upon exiting the subway train, I would start toward the exit until I saw or heard a subway enter the station. I watched the other passengers all the while. We had discussed this as a group but cities appeal to me more than to the other three. Admittedly, I would probably tire of them after living in a city for long, but cities’ huge variety of everything fascinate me. This diversity includes people; I saw some characters in London. One was a single Indian mother, haggard from trying to contain a young, rambunctious boy who asked me about my camera. Another was an old man frazzled and tired, clutching a bottle of beer like it was a life preserver. Others included a well-dressed black man playing a game on his iPod Touch, a woman in a mini skirt and fishnet who probably was attractive fifteen years ago, and an old Asian woman clutching shopping bags. A dozen stations later, I left the Tube’s microcosm of diversity at the Oxford Circus Station to find the fabled Apple Store. It was so pretty; so many pretty things. Naturally, I checked Facebook, drooled over some new laptops, and researched other London attractions. (In that order.)
I followed more interesting people to the Underground and then the London Bridge Station. My walk to the Design Museum was slow; I had to stop to take many pictures. The Museum itself was a waste of money because I spent more time in the gift shop than in the two exhibits. One such exhibit contained the work of some deranged fashion designer. Aren’t they all? We’re talking dresses with lasers and motorized necklines. Nevertheless, I contentedly sat in a corner of the gift shop and read design books for almost an hour. More diversity. I read some really interesting stuff (with lots of even more interesting pictures). I got back on the subway and explored the city around a few more stations before finding a barber that I deemed trustworthy.
Back in the States I had asked my regular barber (she’s really quite good; I love her, in fact) for a haircut before leaving but had run out of time in the last few weeks. Surprisingly, after sleeping in the backseat of the car only once, I determined backpacking with longer hair would not help my already-weak case for sanity. I entered the barbershop with full intentions of leaving with a fauxhawk, a shorter haircut with the length tapered to a peak down the middle. It was not to be. The barber and I agreed my hair is too straight for such a style without generous helpings of Crisco. It opted out; I refuse to gel my hair. Instead I let the man give me a short version of my normal style. I use the term “man” loosely. He wore some of the tightest black jeans I have ever had the misfortune to see, a cap-sleeve, v-neck t-shirt, and an outrageous belt buckle. The way he played with my hair made me uncomfortable.
Upon leaving the shop, my lighter head realized I had fifteen minutes to cross the city. I hadn’t bought a watch yet. Like a true, adventuring man, I disembarked at the subway station nearest Erlis and Gesine’s home and strove off in the direction that seemed most correct. 45 minutes later I found their home. Along the way, I spoke with a schoolboy on a bicycle, a friendly Indian man visiting his daughter, and three, helpful customers at a corner Kabob restaurant. All very diverse and very interesting. Oh, and we also saw famous stuff, too. I’m sure the others related all that.

London: Sight-seeing and Hospitality

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I was sleeping when we drove into London, and when I woke we were in the suburbs searching for Erlis and Gesine’s home. I was considerably underwhelmed by my first experience of one of the world’s most famous cities. Happily, my perception would change radically in the next few days. We found Erlis and Gesine’s house after asking about four cabbies and reinterpreting their and Erlis’ directions multiple times. Both our hosts were at work when we arrived, but Erlis left a welcome note and a snack of fruit, nuts and chocolate. We piled their living room high with all the bags we thought we would need during our stay, after which Matt and Dan began to search for a parking spot while David and I followed Erlis’ directions; David called to let him know we would be glad to eat supper with them, while I made myself at home.

Appalled by how badly the house was beginning to smell, we moved the rancid bag of dirty clothes out side and put our shoes in bags. We tried to dissipate the pungent miasma wafting about the front room by opening the front door and a back window. Alas, British windows work differently than American windows and I broke a flower pot trying to open one. What an excellent introduction. Realizing that our dirty clothes and wet shoes were not the only things that smelled like rot, we all showered before Erlis and Gesine returned.

That evening Gesine made us a meal of salad and spaghetti. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten. We stayed at the table for hours as our hosts learned about us and we about them, and all the while, fruit and ice cream and tea and chocolate and more tea were brought out for us to consume. Both Erlis and Gesinehave travelled extensively and are remarkably well read and educated. Erlis was born in the U.S., Gesine in Germany; they met in the middle east and were married in Jerusalem. Both are extremely interesting and kind, to say the very least.

We set out the next morning for Victoria Station after a wonderful breakfast with Erlis. We bought day passes for the subway and used them to find Real Russia where the others applied for Kazakhstan visas while I scanned headlines and solved sudoku puzzles in the local papers. After the applications had been completed and printed out, we ate a packed lunch and set out for an introductory exploration of the city. We walked along the Themes, passing famous land marks like the London Eye (On the far bank), Big Ben and the magnificent parliament building, and Westminster Abbey. Dan and Matt sat in on a session of parliament while David and I continued down the river. I was impressed by the age and magnificence of so many of the city’s buildings, which set London apart from cities in the U.S., while its staggering size set it apart from the cities we had visited thus far in Europe.

David and I crossed the Themes at the next bridge, and wondered along the Queen’s Walk on the far bank, revisiting places David had seen on his last visit. We passed London Bridge (Which was no more impressive than any of the other myriad of bridges that span the Themes), walked under the London Eye, past the replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater where the Bard’s works are regularly performed, and recrossed the river at Tower Bridge. We passed many musicians and performers, as well as street venders on the way. I resolved to return at some point to an open air book market we saw under Waterloo Bridge.
Tower Bridge was very impressive, as was the Tower of London, which we decided to tour the next day. Erlis and Gesine were gone for the evening so we cooked ourselves delicious burgers, bacon and fries for supper. In the process we broke a seal on their kitchen faucet and had to call Erlis to find out how to turn the water off. Fortunately, it had happened before, and it took Erlis only about half an hour to fix.

We slept in the next day, except for Dan who dropped off the visa applications at the Kazakhstan embassy. David and I toured the Tower of London for a staggering £17, while Dan and Matt explored the city. We spent several hours in the Tower. I was impressed by all the history surrounding a single building as well as the exhibit on Henry VIII, which included many items from his personal belongings. We split up at 5:30, David heading back to the house while I walked across Tower Bridge and spent several hours searching out the book market we had seen the day before. That night we ate another amazing supper prepared by Gesine, and spent along time going over maps of London with Erlis, plotting out what we wanted to see the next day and how best to go about it.

The next day we picked up the Kazakhstan visas together and saw the Albert Victoria Museum, Prince Albert’s memorial, Buckingham Palace (Which was very underwhelming compared to other buildings in London), the National Gallery (Which had some sketches by Da Vinci as well as paintings by Monet and Michelangelo), and Westminster Abbey which dwarfed all the cathedrals we had seen thus far. After Westminster we split up once more. I took the subway to the British museum which was jaw dropping. I could have spent an entire day walking its exhibits. Highlights included the Rosetta Stone, base reliefs and sphinxes from Assyria, friezes from the Parthenon, and countless other ancient artifacts. When the museum closed, I went to St. Paul’s cathedral, which was, in its own way, as impressive as Westminster.

At 8:00 we got back together to find some fish and chips, and to see the London skyline at night. Our hunt for a cultural experience was thwarted by early closing times and we had to settle for Subway instead. The nighttime walk along the Themes was beautiful. The city’s magnificent buildings were reflected in the river, and lit by countless lights. We spent our last night enjoying the unique view of a city that we had failed to fully experience, even after three days. Hopefully other cities along the way prove to be as full of experiences and things to see. Erlis and Gesine’s hospitality was a tremendous blessing and inspiration and helped make our experience of London so satisfying. Someday I hope I can bless others in the same way.

Daniel Shenk

An Interlude: The Giant’s Causeway

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Since I was young I have longed to see the Giant’s Causeway, not simply because it is a wonder of the natural world, but also because the story of the giant Finn McCool was one of my favorite stories growing up. You may have heard it, but I wanted to retell it for anyone who hasn’t. Next time you see the Giant’s Causeway, remember, it’s not a natural wonder, but rather the work giants. So, the story.

The Giant Finn McCool was not particularly large for a giant. He only drank one or two barrels of mead in the evenings and ate only a few roasted cows for lunch, but yet all the citizens in his kingdom in northern Ireland loved him. While some giants stormed around all day laying waste to the countryside, scaring the livestock, and playing ninepins with peoples houses, Finn McCool preferred kinder pursuits. With his height, he would help farmers find their missing sheep, and with his strength he would help build bridges, houses, and fences from large rocks. Finn McCool wasn’t always in a good mood, though. He had an enemy who lived in Scotland across the sea and his name was Benandonner. He was another giant, but a mean one. His favorite activity was tearing the roofs off of peoples houses while they slept and laughing as they screamed and yelled.

One day, Benandonner saw Finn McCool far away across the sea and shouted “Oye! Finn McCool! I hear ye aren’t giant enough to even throw the puniest of cabers!” Well, Finn McCool got mad and went storming home to his castle. When he came in, he smashed the huge door so loudly that an earthquake rumbled through the countryside knocking over several of the fences he had helped to build. His wife, Oonagh, looked up from sewing a new kilt for herself and exclaimed “Why, Finn McCool, what are you doing causing such a ruckus around the countryside, you’ve certainly woken up our son Angus!” Just as she said that they heard a crying from the other room. It sounded like 20 cows lowing loudly.

“I’ve had enough of Benandonner’s abuse!” Shouted Finn in a voice that echoed through the vales and lochs collapsing several of the bridges he had helped to build. “I’m going to teach him that a McCool isn’t to be trifled with!”

“Now, Finn,” said Oonagh in a soothing tone, “why do you let that wretched Scot get your goat? You are loved by your people and all his people are horribly afraid of him because he treats them so cruelly.”

Finn, however, would have none of her soothing and declared in a voice that made all of the people cower in their huts “Today I will build a bridge to Scotland and settle the matter with that cur Benandonner once and for all!”

So, Finn built a bridge. It took him a long time to collect stones of just the right size and fit them all together. Several days later after working day and night he finally reached the shores of Scotland just before nightfall and crept up to Benandonner’s castle. Looking through the window, however, he caught a glimpse of the sleeping giant and was astounded by his size up close. His snores were like thunder and shook the castle walls. Finn was seized by fear and ran as quickly as he could back to the bridge, but he accidentally knocked over a peasant’s house on the way, waking up the sleeping giant with the noise.

Benandonner leapt from his bed and to the window spying the fleeing Finn in the distance on his way back to the bridge. “BLARGH!!!” he shouted in surprise, toppling several small mountains from the sheer volume of the yell. Then, in his nightgown still, he grabbed up his sword and charged after Finn, shouting the whole time at the top of his lungs.

Finn reached his castle well before Benandonner and slammed the door, much to Oonagh’s surprise. “What’s wrong with you, your face is as white as a sheep!” she said. “Benandonner’s coming to kill me!” squealed Finn in a very ungiantlike way. “Shhh,” whispered Oonagh, “I have a plan.”

Then, taking their baby and giving him to one of their servants to care for, she shoved Finn into the baby’s cradle, put a bonnet on his head and a pacifier in his mouth and went to the door where Benandonner was raging and carrying on and threatening to tear the castle down stone by stone. “What do you want,” said Oonagh rather disapprovingly, “You’ve woken up my baby.” And she pointed to the cradle where Finn sat curled up in a bunch of blankets looking like a very large baby.

“I’m very sorry, ma’am,” said Benandonner politely, rather taken aback by the size of the baby. “I’m here because your husband trespassed on my land yesterday and I have challenged him to fight.”

“Well,” said Oonagh, “you’ll just have to wait, Finn is out moving an inconvenient mountain so that he people have more pastureland. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll get you some supper.”

She left the room and Finn sat with eyes the size of dinner plates staring at his mortal enemy who was just across the room, but who didn’t know that the baby was actually Finn!

When Oonagh came back she carried a large plate of scones and two buckets of tea. “I’ve got supper on but here are some scones and tea for now,” she said putting down some scones into which she had slipped iron plates and a bucket of scalding hot tea in front of Benandonner then some normal scones and warm tea in front of Finn, then she left the room.

Benandonner picked up a delicious-looking scone and bit down on it then shrieked! The scone was as hard as iron and had broken several of his teeth! He picked up the bucket hoping to sooth his mouth but, taking a mouthfull found it to be scalding hot and he shrieked again spitting hot water and scone out of his mouth.

Oonagh came back into the room saying “What’s the matter?” to Benandonner. “The scones, they broke my tooth!” he stammered, his eyes wide with shock. “Well, that’s the way, Finn likes them,” she replied, “he eats several dozen of those at teatime every day.” Benandonner’s eyes got even wider and his sore jaw dropped. Then he noticed that the baby in the corner was happily chewing on a scone, with no problem at all. That’s when he decided that if the baby was that huge and could eat such horrible scones, he was sure the father must be even larger and more formidable. His face went white with fear and he began to shake. “I have to go” he said to Oonagh.

“But you haven’t had your supper yet!” she replied.

“I have to go!” he said, and ran for the door, slamming it behind him and as fast as he could charged for the bridge, looking behind him to make sure that Finn wasn’t following him. He thudded his way across the bridge tearing it up behind him so that Finn couldn’t follow him and, when he arrived at his castle he spent the next two days in the most protected part of his castle peering out of the windows looking for Finn who he was sure would be coming after him.

Meanwhile, Finn and Oonagh stayed in their castle laughing uproariously and since that time they were never bothered by the cruel giant anymore. Finn went on to fix the things he had damaged in his fear, but he never fixed the bridge And that is the story of why the giant’s causeway exists but doesn’t go all the way across the sea.

Daniel Z

Short thoughts on London

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Erlis Miller and his wife Gesine opened their house to us during our stay in London, and we were very grateful for their hospitality. We have been living out of our car for several weeks now—even sleeping in it—and it was a great break just to have a house where we could make ourselves at home. And we did make ourselves at home. It seemed as if we ate them out of house and home, but they kept bringing more and more food for us. We are very grateful for everything they did for us while we were in London.

In London we took the subway system, called the Tube by locals, wherever we wanted to go. I really enjoy taking the subway. You descend into a hole and get on a train that races off like a horse in full gallop before being reigned in at each stop. Then, the iron horse shoots off for the next stop but you really don’t have a good idea as to where you exactly are because you follow your progress on a sign that shows the stops in a straight line. You then pop up aboveground in a completely different part of town. I had to think about what all things I missed seeing while buried deep in the ground, but it is so convenient to get around and handy to use.

Wednesday night Erlis and Gesine were both away from the house with other commitments so we decided to use their kitchen to fry up some hamburgers, bacon, and french fries. While cleaning up our frying pans, we accidentally pushed their sink’s handle past parallel and broke the washer in the hot water faucet. We couldn’t turn the water off all the way. After about 15 minutes of looking for the emergency water shut-off, we called Erlis and he told us it was in a box accessible through the sidewalk, and we were able to get the water turned off. We then enjoyed our supper, even if it was a bit cooler than we were first expecting. Erlis and Gesine took the news that we had broken their faucet very well and Erlis was able to fix it by putting a new washer in it.

Thursday afternoon Dan Shenk and I went to the Tower of London. They had a special exhibit of Henry VIII, who as it turns out enjoyed attaching guns to anything he could. He had a giant mace with a gun barrel attached to it, pointed the opposite direction of the mace head. I don’t know how he fired it, but I doubt he put it up to his shoulder. He also experimented by mounting small pistol barrels on shields. What is better than a normal shield? Obviously one that can also kill someone.

I had a wonderful time in London, and I really enjoyed staying at Erlis and Gesine’s house. It was great to get to know another of my relatives and experience their graciousness and hospitality. One night we stayed up late and talked over popcorn Erlis made for us, then at 11:30 he took us down to a shop and we got some juices. We were a major deviation from their normal routines, but they seemed to enjoy having us around and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and help us plan our journeys around the city. Their hospitality reminded us of how we want to help out others when we have the opportunity.

David Miller