Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

Leaving Morocco

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

On June 24th we left Morocco. Our ferry trip was much calmer and nicer than the trip down, because we were allowed to wait to have our passports stamped until we got to Spain. We made it through customs after a nice drug-sniffing dog checked our car. Nice to know we didn’t accidentally pick up any drugs. Then we were back in Spain… for a few hours.

We stopped that late afternoon in Gibralter. Driving through the streets was a bit challenging, but I had been there before so at least we didn’t get horribly lost. We stopped at Europa point, a rather boring lighthouse, but the view is pretty neat. You can see the coast of Spain across the gulf and there, across the strait, the mountains of Morocco, garbed in mist, rising up in the fading sunlight.

At the point there was what must be the only open space in Gibralter (the entire area is mainly just a small mountain). In that area was a game of cricket! We were a bit excited because we had hoped to see some cricket in the British Isles, but had failed. So, we watched the game, were utterly confused, and after something undecipherable happened the game ended and we wandered away feeling as though we had witnessed an amazing event but had no idea what it was. Like looking at a piece of modern art and knowing that it means something, but you have no way of knowing what that is.

We headed up The Rock to try to find some Apes (Barbary Macaques, actually, but they’re called The Gibralter Apes). We did. About three quarters of the way up, we came around a sharp corner and there on the rock retaining wall were two Apes, sitting there looking mysterious. Just a bit further down the road was a pull-off point where even more Apes were cavorting about, eating the food the other tourists (there were about 5 of them) were feeding them illegally. We did not feed them illegally, although at one point I opened up the back of the car to get my hat out and a large, female Ape swung around the corner of our car, grabbed a black plastic bag and ripped it open. She seemed quite disappointed to find laundry detergent inside and was not hard to chase off with my flip-flop.

After hanging out with the Apes for a while, we descended the mountain. I spent the rest of my British Pounds (four of them) and we departed heading toward Granada.

We arrived at Granada late that evening, after having a bit of difficulty finding the right part of town using a map and a bit of dead-reckoning navigation on my part. Our time in Granada was short, but very nice. We hiked the second highest point in continental Spain with Kevin and Evan (who did quite well at a long and arduous hike). It was a lot of fun with spectacular views the entire way up.

Our second day, we visited the Alhambra (made better for me by the fact that I had been reading Washington Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra on the trip) which was quite worth the visit, pictures will portray it better than I can, but if you ever get the chance, you must visit it and leave yourself plenty of time. If you can, have a picnic in the Generalife gardens. We didn’t, instead we had spectacular paella prepared by Wendy.

The entire time was flavored by our interaction with the Mayers who made us feel so welcomed and whose company we enjoyed greatly.

On Food

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

When we were making the budget for the trip, we decided that we would aim for €10 a day for food. We thought it might be a bit ambitious, but we figured we would try it. After all, the more we saved on food, the more we could spend on experiences like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the London Underground, Stonehenge, Norway, etc. It started on our first day with our ramen noodle hobo meal in the Dublin ferry terminal. Then when we were in Cannock we went to Aldi and we’ve been on a roll since then. Our first meal was rather bland. American cheese, white bread, and extremely cheap meat. Then after a day or two we realized we were way under budget so we bought some mustard and it’s been uphill ever since.

These days we’ve been living high on the hog. Scotts Porridge with raisins, apples, and sugar every few mornings; Real meat, cheese, and vegetables in our lunchtime sandwiches; and soups, stews and pasta dishes for suppers; have become commonplace, though certainly not unappreciated. Another thing we’ve been able to do has been experience more of the local flavors of the nations we’ve visited by spending a bit more to get something locally produced instead of mass produced and imported. These local delicacies have included: shepherds pie and Irish stew in Ireland; lamb roast and fish and chips in the UK; baguettes and Laughing Cow cheese in France; waffles and beer in Belgium; Apfelschorle and local ice-cream in Germany; and knäkebrödsskolan and swedish meatballs in Sweden.

I brought along a little camp stove and camp fuel so we’ve been able to buy foods that need a bit of cooking. Our facilities (and abilities) are limited, but stews, rice, couscous, porridge, and hot chocolate add a nice variety whenever we have time to set up the stove. One really amazing experience happened a few days ago. We had decided that the small camping pot we had was really a bit too small for four hungry guys, so we went into a Swedish grocery store to see what we could see and, lo and behold, there on the bottom shelf underneath a number of largeish pots for 139 krona was a largeish pot without a handle. “Well,” I said to David, “I wonder if we can get some money off for that.” So, we went and asked the manager and, after a bit of discussion in Swedish and broken English, he said we could have it for 100 krona! What a glorious day! Ok… so… not as exciting, perhaps, for normal people, but I hope you will exult with us. That pot has been wonderful and has allowed us such delicacies as fusilli with spaghetti sauce; pasta, potato, and tomato stew; and, best of all, popcorn.

At the moment, we have a variety of condiments (in a variety of languages), some snacks and fruit, some vegetables and soups, and rice, couscous, and pasta. When I first told people that we were aiming for €10 a day, some people doubted us but we’ve proven it can be done, it just takes a bit of willingness to experiment and learn how to cook, especially for 4 bachelors.

Daniel Z

London to Paris (With Canturbury Between)

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

We left London around 5:30, pulling ourselves painfully away from the sumptuous going away snack Erlis had prepared for us. Our plans to cross the Channel through the Chunnel were scraped when we found ferry tickets out of Dover for almost £100 less. The catch was that the ferry left at 7:00 AM. We drove towards the white cliffs, aiming to pass through Canterbury on our way. To get ourselves in the mood, we had David read a few selections from Canterbury Tales. We arrived before the sun set, and began searching for a way to get to the cathedral. After retracing the same roads several times with no success and with no apparent means of driving any closer, we determined to walk. Our extensive driving did show, to our surprise, that Canterbury is quite a college town, and that everyone was out partying this Saturday evening.

We finally found free parking and walked towards the cathedral’s spires where they poked above the roof tops. Along the way, Dan, Matt and I picked up the fish & chips that had proved so elusive during our last night in London. David preferred not to spend his money on fish, and had to watch as we devoured our cultural experience. The chips (Fries) were quite delicious, though our decision to get rock instead of cod resulted in a more fishy (Though tolerable) taste than we would have preferred. We enjoyed talking to the Turkish employees at the fish & chips shop. The manager had immigrated seven years ago, while the cashier had lived in the UK for only eleven months.

The cashier proved the most talkative, explaining racial issues involved in being a Turkish immigrant and pointing to an emphatic sign that declared, “No racism in this restaurant!” He worked 11 hour days, six days a week, yet had scarcely enough to get by between £500 a month for rent, and what he sent back to his family in Turkey. He confessed that he was considering moving back home, finding many aspects of being an immigrant in the UK to be too much.

After the enjoyable interlude at the restaurant, we continued our quest for the elusive cathedral. It remained out of reach, the towers still taunting us. The problem was that the walls that had surrounded medieval Canterbury are extant, for the most part, and the cathedral was inside them, behind gates that were closed for the night. Matt asked some students at an open air diner what the best way was to sneak in. They told him they had no idea, and that it would make more sense break into a bank than a cathedral, because we would get some money out of it. Another prime specimen of British wit piped up with a warning that Canterbury Cathedral is guarded by ninjas who would swoop down upon us if we tried anything.

We ignored his warning, exploring the possibility of scaling several fences, but all was for naught. We finally approached a security guard and asked if we could get in, just to take some pictures. The guard explained that the walls now held a boarding school for rich Brits, and he couldn’t let us in. We asked him about his job, and he spoke with very little affection for his pampered charges. He was extremely nice (In a gruff way), and gave us directions to a high spot where we could take pictures of the cathedral. We followed his directions and our own instincts to a hill where the old town stretched out, twinkling in the night, beneath us, with the elusive cathedral finally in full view. We began taking pictures, but the cathedral get the last laugh after all, switching off its illuminating lights midway through. We decided we had experienced all we wanted of Canterbury and headed for Dover.

We arrived after midnight, driving into the port immediately. We had to present our passports at the entrance, and noticed right hand drive cars, both reminding us that we were entering new territory. I was very excited to be going to the mainland, especially France. It seemed so exotic and different compared to boring old, english speaking Britain. We boarded the ferry around 6:00AM. It had signs in both French and English, and French outlets. I stayed up long enough to watch as we sailed into the Channel, watching as the white cliffs of Dover slid back and away.
In less than three hours, we were in France. I had the distinct sense of being in a completely new and strange place, where language and values and culture were in many ways quite different from my own. Our first goal was to fill the car, but we had problems distinguishing between gasoline and diesel in French. We finally found “diesel,” in our phrase book and at a station. With a full tank, we headed to Pontiose, a northwest suburb of Paris, intending to train into the city instead of attempting to brave Parisian traffic and paying an exorbitant fee to park nearer the downtown. The French lady behind the information counter was very nice. She broke with the French stereotype from the start, listening patiently to Dan’s attempts to speak french, instead of acting offended that he dare even try, and helping us choose the best way to get into Paris and back. It was with great anticipation that we left Pontiose behind, the train sweeping us towards one of Europe’s greatest cities and the next step in our trek. It is a blessing to be part of a trip that lets you see two of the world’s greatest cities within twenty-four hours of each other. Keep us in your prayers as we journey on.

Daniel Shenk

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

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