Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

Britain’s Finest

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

There I (Matt) am, driving along north of Manchester, England, and I glance in my side mirror to see flashing blue lights. “Oh,” I mumbled, “it looks like we’re being pulled over.” The first time I’ve ever been pulled and it’s just my luck that it’s in my foreign country. Saturday night we slept in Carlisle, where we had parked to sleep in the Lake District.. Sunday morning (May 10th) I took the wheel in the general direction of Coventry, England.
I mentioned that I glanced in my side mirror. We had packed the trunk too full to allow use of the rear-view mirror. Coventry would solve that. It contained a “roof box,” also known as a car carrier, we had purchased the day before on eBay. The plan was to move most of our gear onto the roof to improve vision and smell in the car. Until then, however, I noticed the blue lights out my right window.
I’ve had various brushes with the law but have never been pulled over. It’s especially surreal pulling off the road onto the left-hand-side median. It’s true, I had been speeding, driving over one-hundred. In my defense, I was only driving with the flow of traffic and it was only in kilometers. Still, the long arm of the British law had caught me. I fumbled for my South Carolina and International Drivers’ licenses as one of Britain’s finest approached on the passenger side. I wish I could tell you he frisked me on the hood of our somewhat stunning black Passat, but he didn’t. Instead he took me to his patrol car. I wasn’t being arrested; it was raining and he didn’t want to stand in it outside our window.
He calmly informed me that when he entered our license plate number, it hadn’t registered insurance for the car. Apparently, insurance purchased from the States doesn’t show up on British police records and the only document we had was a printed paper outlining the basic 30-day insurance that came with the car. He politely cautioned us from doing anything to raise suspicion before reaching London and our proof of insurance. “You look like respectable boys,” he said, but warned us that other officers might impound the car without credible insurance documentation. He was always polit and clear, unlike many American officers who seem to feel the need to intimidate. This was not a power trip. Instead, he carefully explained the situation first to me than to the guys. As we drove away, we chalked it up as another example of the friendly people of the British Isles. I was mainly relieved to not face a foreign traffic fine.
Matt

Snowdonia and Stonehenge

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Returning to the road we continued south, arriving at Coventry around 3:00. Brian, the man who sold us the roof box, was incredibly nice, letting the box go for £3 less than the selling price and giving us a foam pad to protect our roof. We will need cross bars to affix it properly, but are making do with a very thorough tie down for the time being. Its very secure, but at high speeds the front of the box uses every tiny bit of slack left in the ropes to rise slightly off the roof. This seems to disconcert our fellow motorists and makes us a bit more tense, even though we know how firmly it is tied. We will add roof bars asap to give everyone more peace of mind.

Intending to show Matt the spectacular Snowdonian countryside we had discovered on our return to Dublin after picking up the car, we spent yet another late night getting to Wales. We parked for the night in the valley that had so awed us the first time. We intended to spend the next morning hiking the magnificent Snowdonian mountains, and head towards Stonehenge that afternoon. The first peak we scaled was so steep that we literally spent as much time resting as we did climbing. We started around 10:00, and finished around 12:15. Upon reaching the summit we decided it would be far easier and only a little slower to walk down the gentle slope on the other side instead of attempting to get back down the way we came.

On the other side we saw a tram crawling towards a mountain on our left, and noticed a lot of people hiking along a trial heading in the same direction. We soon found that everyone was climbing Mt. Snow, the highest point in the UK, not including Scotland. Dan and Matt immediately wanted to climb it as well. I was on the fence and David, probably the most sensible, wanted to head back to the car. In the end we hiked to the top of Mt. Snow. We had only eaten two fruit bars apiece the entire day, limited water supplies, little sleep and a strenuous climb already that morning; in short, it was exactly the kind of thing we had set out to do on this trip. The way was never as steep as our previous climb, but our weary legs howled for rest, and our exhausted bodies still demanded regular breaks. It was a cold day and the wind swept down the valley to our left with a ferocity that numbed our faces and literally blew us sideways as we walked. The hike became an exercise in putting one foot ahead of the other and not thinking about how the peak was still so far away in spite of the effort we had already put into reaching it. We gained the top around 3:00. The satisfaction of achieving our goal was worth it, and the view was a huge bonus. The Welsh countryside spread beneath our feet in every direction, a vast landscape of folded mountains that brushed the sky, with hidden lakes and and wondering streams in the valleys between. We could see all the way to the ocean as it curved around the Welsh coastline. It was as powerful a reminder as any we had received so far of the wonder of God’s creation, stayed in my mind as we hiked back on very empty stomaches and very tired legs. We reached the car around 6:00. Conquering two of Britain’s highest mountains in one day was a tremendously satisfying experience…once we were sitting in the car and could think about something besides lifting our leaden feet.

To reward ourselves for our accomplishments, and because we were ravenous after eating only two fruit bars in the last eight hours, we decided a cultural experience was in order. We drove east towards Stonehenge, stopping at the Bradford Arms Hotel and Restaurant for a much anticipated meal. We got two tomato peel soups, roast lamb, and spinach ziti. Both main courses came with enormous side dishes. Everything was divided into quarters and devoured. It was one of the most satisfying meals thus far on the trip. We filled up all the water bottles we had drained on our hike and, once again, set off for a long night of driving as we gunned to make Stonehenge before we stopped for the night.

I took over from Dan at 10:30 and drove until we reached Stonehenge around 2:40. As I saw the ancient stones loom out of the darkness to my right, felt an excitement unlike anything I had experienced before. It was a nearly full moon, and Stonehenge had such an air of vast mystery and age it brooded in the darkness that I couldn’t wait until the morning to get a closer look. With the Dan, Matt, and David in tow I hopped a fence (No signs prohibited it!), and made my way across the field. We hopped another barrier (This time there was a sign but it was too dark to read it), and walked close enough that the stones towered above us, when a security guard switched on his flashlight. He politely, but firmly escorted us out the way we had come.

Stonehenge was less impressive the next day, simply because the daylight robbed it of some of the mystery that had so intrigued me the night before and we never got as close on the tour as we had the night before. Even so it was probably the highlight of the trip so far. That people managed to transport such massive stones hundreds of miles, in some cases, and set them so deeply in the earth that they are still standing five thousand years later, is simply mind boggling. It is rare for so much size, age, and mystery to be found in one structure. It truly is one of the wonders of the world, and it was awe inspiring to stand in front of it. Hopefully the trip continues to get better.

Daniel S

Nothern Scotland and the Lake District (Of Scotland)

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Waking up outside Inverness, we made our way back towards Loch Ness. The day was rainy and the wind was pushing white caps the length of the lake. Loch Ness has an air of brooding mystery that is enhanced by the legends surrounding it and the knowledge that its the deepest body of water in the UK, plunging precipitously to 700 feet in depth only 70 feet from the shore. Though its only about half a mile wide, its length is many times that, giving it, as related in an expert’s grim illustration, “enough water to submerge all the people of the world three times over.” These dimensions are reflected in the local legend that the lake was formed by the stroke of a giant’s axe. We drove along the lake until we came to the Loch Ness Center which offered a £6 tour that explained the legend of Nessie from beginning to end, and gave a scientific introduction to the lake itself. We also drove to the ruins of Urquhart Castle, built on the lake’s edge, before heading SouthWest towards the Isle of Skye. We were disappoint to have seen no sign of Nessie, and briefly considered tying our rope around Matt and using him as a lure, but we were anxious to reach the Isle of Skye before nightfall and decided to keep moving.

The Scottish Highlands were absolutely jaw dropping. The highway wound beside lochs that were bordered by rugged mountains, with slopes periodically bisected by tumbling streams, and snowy peaks shrouded in mist. The fog gave an impression of endless wilderness as the steep mountains stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. We spent a few hours at Eilean Donan Castle, widely considered to be the most picturesque in Scotland. It was situated on a small island which was accessed by a stone bridge. Though the current building was a reconstructed replica, dating to the 19th century, the castle’s origins lie in the dark ages when it was a bulwark against Viking invasion. The castle was heavily modified through the centuries until it was destroyed by the British in the 18th century to prevent it from being used by Scottish rebels. It was rebuilt with the guidance of a stone mason who claimed to know from a dream how the castle looked originally. After the reconstruction was complete, the original plans were found and the new castle did indeed match them. Though small, the castle and its walls are built at varying levels up the central hill, giving it the picturesque appearance it is famous for. The interior is filled with nooks and crannies and hall ways and unexpected rooms that make Eilean Donan a delight to explore.

That evening we explored the Isle of Skye, detouring onto a one lane road that crept along the rocky coast. We found the Isle of Skye Golf Club, closed, and David and Dan resolved to return the next day to play golf in Scotland where the sport had its beginnings. We returned about a mile down the one lane road to a pull off we had spotted earlier. Freezing rain began to fall but, intent on having a hot meal, we made a shelter out of tarp, rope and the left side of the car. Though we were dry as we made supper , it began to rain with a vengeance when we began to eat, and the chilly water used every hole, no matter how small, to permeate our cozy shelter. Even so, we enjoyed our soup and even made some hot chocolate which raised our spirits considerably.

After a fitful night in the car, Dan and David woke early and set off on foot towards the golf course. Matt and I followed about an hour later in the car. It cost them £14 each to use the golf course and an additional £8 each (sharing was not allowed) to rent clubs. When converted to U.S. currency, the total reached about $33 a head. Matt and I planned to watch the first tee-off but it began to hail and we fled to the car, leaving Dan and David to enjoy their genuine Scottish golf in genuine Scottish weather. The golf course manager was nice enough to let Matt and I stay in the warm, dry clubhouse while we waited for our friends. He even let us drink the coffee that he brewed for the club members (Normally 80p) for free, when it became clear that the weather would keep everyone except crazy Americans away. He also let us shower at the clubhouse for free.

We used a pub’s, Saucy Mary’s, free internet (With the owner’s permission) for several hours before leaving the Isle of Skye. While online we bought a roof box on ebay from a man in Coventry. We agreed to pick it up the next day, and drove South late into the night so that we could take some time to see Hadrian’s Wall the next morning. We parked outside Carlisle for the night. The next day we woke early and followed a maze of signs to the wall. Though it has crumbled significantly, Hadrian’s Wall is impressive for how much remains standing eighteen hundred years after it was built. It was fascinating to walk the walls patrolled by the legions in antiquity and to see the holes ground into stone where ancient doorposts had been set. Hadrian’s Wall is an example of both the power and the transience of the human race. Built by one of history’s greatest empires, it is still visible almost two millennia later, but all it does now is pen up sheep; an expression of Rome’s power has been reduced to one side of a pasture, illustrating the futility of making anything of worth in this world.

Daniel S

Yum.

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I don’t remember specific meals as much more significant than any others in my (Matt) life. I like to think I eat to live rather than vice-versa. For the last several days, however, a single meal stands out in my memory. This is new for me. Perhaps it has something to do with our intentions of spending no more than 10 Euros for food. For four young men. A day. That’s about $13.50. In other words, we’ve been adjusting to a diet meager in comparison to most enjoyed by Americans, including ourselves two weeks ago. The guys tease me about how I don’t have much weight to lose.
Anyway, Thursday morning in Edinburg, David and I left the Dans in comfortable hostel beds to sleep off their late night explorations. We followed the cute hostel employee’s directions to a nearby discount grocery store, Lidl, to replenish our supply. While David stayed with the car in our pseudo parking spot, I headed for the store with our money. Before you question David’s sanity in entrusting a hungry me in a grocery store with our limited finances, remember we’re all pretty frugal. I spent 76 pence on two loaves of white bread, £1.26 on six free range chickens’ eggs, and a pound on unsmoked bacon strips. That’s the best three pounds, five pence I’ve ever spent on food. Admittedly, it was the first three pounds, five pence I’ve ever spent on food. Back at the hostel, the shopping spree provided a meal we continue to discuss in hushed, reverent tones. I borrowed some butter out of the hostel fridge and we ate our first hearty brunch. It was delicious. On a related note, Scottish bacon is absolutely magical. Imagine lightly-browned, well-buttered toast complimenting light, scrambled eggs with a hint of salt. The bacon, which we lovingly fried until just crisp enough to retain its tenderness, created a savory celebration of sweetness in our mouths. This was no American, wanna-be bacon; this was Scottish bacon.
We have agreed to splurge on area foods and this was our second such dish. Our first occurred in Gallway of delicious Irish Shepherds’ Pie and traditional Irish Stew. The future looks bright with possible dishes like whiskey in Scotland, fish and chips in England, etc. We’re wondering if you have any suggestions for local dishes to try along our route. We’d appreciate any ideas! Until then, however, the Edinburgh brunch will remain most significant in our taste buds’ memories.

Matt

Ireland to Scotland

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

We spent Monday night in our car in Donnegal, Ireland. It was raining and we decided to not try to put all our luggage on top; instead we kept all the luggage in the trunk and slept in the seats. The Dans slept in the front two seats, while Matt and I (David) slept in the back seat. I woke up at 6:00 with Matt’s head in my lap. I decided that since he still needed to catch up on his sleep from his flight over, I would let him sleep, which he continued to do for several more hours using me as his pillow.

We continued north into Northern Ireland, officially a part of the United Kingdom, and stopped at “Downhill House” which was owned by a bishop who apparently had made enemies with really small people and/or really stupid people. He determined that he needed a moat but it was only about three feet tall and four feet wide. First of all, why does a bishop need a moat, and secondly why make such a puny moat. He did have an incredible library though. He built a cylindrical building right out on the coast with steep cliffs dropping away from about half of the building. The view would have been spectacular if it would not have been so rainy and cloudy, but since it was raining heavily, we could not see much.

We continued on our way, and Matt gave us quite the excitement when, at highway speeds, he hit a curb on the side of the road and several minuites later he did one better: he drove over the curb . In the process we lost a hubcap, thus making our Passat look less stunning.

We then went to the Giant’s Causeway on the northern coast of Ireland, and discovered that humans did not invent steps, they apparently were invented by the giant Finn MacCool many moons ago. The rock formations along the coast formed natural steps and were hexagonal in shape and were very slippery because of the rain. We walked out right to the coast and watched the tide come in. I noticed how harsh the ocean looked with its cold waves crashing into the coast, and thought about how in several months we will be at on the banks much more inviting waters. We then walked along paths on the cliffs and viewed the stunning beauty of the Giant’s Causeway and its surrounding regions. It would have been great to spend a bunch of time there, but the weather was miserable: it was cold, not much above freezing, raining, and had gale-force winds. At one point, up on top of the cliffs, extremely strong winds blew from three directions in a two-minute span. It was enjoyable to look across the cliffs and watch seagulls swoop around below us, using the wind to its full soaring potential. I had to think of how an attraction like this would be handled in the States. They would have luxury hotels, condos, and tourist areas on top of the cliffs, but in Ireland sheep placidly graze right above the stunning vistas. I have to think that the weather has much to do with this. It rains about 200 days out of the year and is severely windy, thus decreasing its tourist appeal.

We made it down to Belfast that evening and drove around town. We drove down Shankill Street, where Bloody Sunday took place. There were quite a few murals supporting the Irish cause, but there were also some British-support murals. When I was in Belfast three years ago I was amazed at the number of cranes dotting the skyline. This trip there were many fewer, probably a combination of completed projects and the slow economy. The city is really trying to get past its violent image and I really enjoyed the city. There was a noticeable improvement in the city from my last trip. At night, we walked along the Lagan River and enjoyed the bridges and lights along the river. Matt brought a big tripod along and he spent most of the walk well behind the rest of us trying to capture the perfect held-exposure shots of the city. After that, we went to City Hall for some more pictures. The building is very stately and beautiful but it had a ferris wheel attached to the side of it. They looked so odd right next to each other, like conjoined twins of different nationalities. The ferris wheel is basically a miniature London Eye that provides views of Belfast, and Matt and I stopped to talk to the night guard, about it. He was fairly young and talked of his dream of moving to Texas and working on a cattle ranch. We have found that the cowboy part of American culture is really stressed abroad, possibly because that is one thing that we didn’t copy from the Europeans.

We left Belfast on a ferry at 3:30 a.m. to save some money. The ferry was very empty so I was able to find a long padded bench to sleep on. I woke up at one point with a TV blaring above me so I quickly turned it off and went back to sleep. I don’t think much else of note happened on the trip, if it did I missed it because I was asleep. We got to Stranrear, Scotland at about 7:00 and drove to Edinburgh.

We first secured a hostle for the night, the Belford Hostel, which had transformed an old church into a hostle. It cost £10 per person and included hot showers and a kitchen area where we were able to use several times. The hostle was very nice and I would recommend it to anyone who stops in Edinburgh. The shower room had four sinks, so we used them to do our laundry. I am sure our mothers would have enjoyed watching us wash all our clothes out in sinks. It took quite a while and we hung up our clothes in our room. Our room looked like the top of Mt. Everest with its Tibetan prayer flags. I have resigned myself to looking like a hobo throughout this trip, but it is necessary when living out of a car and bag for several months.

We then decided to check out the town, so we walked around Edinburgh Castle and down the Golden Mile, the stretch of road between the Castle and the Queen’s residence. It is a nice stretch but has been overrun with tourist shops. There is an incredible number of cathedrals in Edinburgh; it seems as if they needed at least one for every century that it has been in existence. We climbed a hill that gave us a good view of the entire city and also the Firth of Forth, on which Edinburgh was built. (Is there a cooler name than the Firth of Forth?)

At night Matt and I walked back to our hostel from downtown. We didn’t have a map and ended up getting a little lost. We stopped in at an internet cafe and he had a map of the city and was able to help us out. We got back to our hostel in time to watch the second half of the Chelsea-Barcelona “futbol” match. It was the semi-final of the Champion’s League, and Chelsea had a 1-0 lead until Barcelona tied it up in the 92nd minute. It was their first shot on goal all game, so supposedly I could have done just as well in net as the Chelsea goaltender. It turned out that if they tie after 90 minutes, Barcelona advances, so they celebrated their tie while Chelsea was furious because the referee missed several obvious hand ball calls in the last few minutes (which elicited quite an uproar from the English journalists).

Matt and I waited for the Dans to return, but they didn’t come…and didn’t come. Finally I decided to go to bed (and Matt ate their sandwiched he had made for them), and just as I was climbing into bed Dan Shenk walked in the room. He had gotten lost and had spent nearly three hours traipsing through the city. I woke up this morning and Dan Ziegler was in his bed, he also got lost and had trouble finding the hostel. So if anyone takes up my recommendation and stays at the Belford Hostel, make sure you have a map of the city.

We are really enjoying our time so far, but are ready for some a stretch of time without rain (maybe by the time we get to France in a week-and-a-half).
Thanks for staying interested in our travels, and may you find ways in which you have fun and adventure wherever and however you can. Don’t leave it all up to us.

david miller

The Long Way Back to Dublin

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

April 29: After picking up our car in Cannock, stocking our larder at Aldi and wrapping up official and personal correspondences at the Cannock public library, we began our trip back to Dublin to pick up Matt when he flew in on Saturday. Because Matt was bringing a large atlas of Europe, we did not buy any road maps of the Welsh countryside we would be driving through, relying instead on a hand scribbled copy of the directions provided by Googlemaps.
Daniel Ziegler drove for the first part of the trip because he was the first to drive the car when we picked it up. Once outside of Cannock I took over. It takes some time to get comfortable driving a right hand car on left hand roads. We all experienced a strong tendency to drive on the left side of our lane, causing the passengers, especially the one navigating in the front passenger seat, to continually call out warnings about getting too close to the curb. This instinct was exacerbated by the the roads which are generally more narrow than in the United States. I did my best to follow the advice Rick Steves offers in his book, Europe Through the Back Door; when in Europe, drive like a european.” This involved such things as side swiping an orange cone because the car waiting to turn left was too close to the curb, and weaving around on coming traffic in crowded alleys with vehicles parked on both sides of the street. Of course, I did my best to exercise as much caution and discretion as possible.
On the way to Conwy, I made a wrong turn on route A55 which took about an hour and a half to sort out on these european roads with their confusing signs. The error did have a happy side-effect because by the time we reached Conwy it was late enough that we decided to try to find a place to park by the roadside and spend the night. In the course of this we went out into back country roads, many of them only one lane and with tall hedges on both sides, which we guessed were probably hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. Having found some promising spots on our first trip through the countryside, we headed into Conwy where we stopped at a Tesco to get some additional supplies. We did not find everything we were looking for but managed to pick up Cod Liver Oil which would supply all of our necessary vitamins and an off-brand hazelnut spread that we termed “Fauxtella.” Following our shopping/bathroom break in Tesco we drove back into the Welsh countryside in search of a place to pull over and spend the night. Eventually we found a pull-off where we could spend the night in relative seclusion. Piling all our luggage on the right side of the car we folded over the left half of the rear seat, giving David space to stretch out while Daniel Ziegler and I leaned back in the front seats.
In the next day’s morning light we could see the spectacular Welsh countryside laid out on either side of us including a very tall hill to the right of us which we spontaneously decided to climb. Daniel and David both having learned that walking on private property is not a cultural taboo in Wales so long as you close all gates and assure that no animals escape. We set out across the sheep pastures by the road. The grass was wet from the night’s rain, and I was happy that I had brought water resistant boots. The climb took quite a while as it involved hopping over many fences and crawling through dense bushes of a prickly plant that we decided was most likely Swedish Ivy. We have pictures of this on our Flickr site and if any of you can give us a more certain identification for this yellow-blossomed bush we would be grateful. At the top of the hill, we could see even more of the rolling Welsh countryside, divided by fences and hedges and even thought we could see the ocean in the distance. We walked back down the hill and, reaching the bottom, were happy to have Daniel and David’s hunches confirmed in having the only man around wave at us pleasantly when we emerged from what we believed was his pasture.
Returning to the car, we headed back northwest toward Holyhead where we would meet the ferry. Because we were not following the directions on Google Maps, we drove through Snowdonia which had the most stunning landscape we had seen so far. On the right side, there was a lake and rugged hills jutted up on either side of the road. We parked, took pictures and decided, on a whim, for the second time to climb the hills to our right. It was constantly misting and the extremely rocky hillside was very slick so the way was slow. But, once we climbed as far as we felt comfortable, we got an even better view of the Welsh countryside which I would diminish if I tried to describe in detail. We will be posting pictures if you want a better idea of what we saw than I can express in words.
Returning to the car, we ate a quick lunch of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and set off again toward Holyhead. On our arrival at the port, we purchased tickets for a vehicle and three people and drove our car to the waiting line to board the ferry. Because the gates would not open for another hour, we decided to explore an interesting monument and fort we had seen on a nearby hill. Working our way around the port’s system of fences and roads, we found a stairway leading up the hill. The monument was to the commander of the mail boats in the bay and was quite impressive. What we had throught to be a fort was actually a fancy playhouse which had taken a turn for the worse at the hands of the locals.
As we were sitting at the base of the monument, we realized that all the other cars in the waiting line were beginning to turn on their engines. Hoping to keep our place in line, I took the keys and ran down the hill, around fences, down a road, and back down the line of cars. Arriving just in time, I managed to get the car going and Daniel and David joined me shortly.
Except for the process of driving on and off a boat, which was new to me, the ferry ride was uneventful. Once in Dublin we drove back through, in much greater comfort, the streets through which we had walked the first day in Ireland. After finding an internet cafe and restocking our larders in Tesco, we drove south out of Dublin into the Irish countryside.
Pulling over for the night at Devil’s Glen, which is just outside Wicklow Mountains National Park, we continued the next day to Glendalough which is in the park. There we saw an early Christian monastic community dating to the 6th century AD which included a chapel and an impressive 70-foot tower. In the same compound were the ruins of a 10th century church, which were also impressive. In search of St. Kevin’s Bed, we came upon a vista as grand in its own way as Snowdonia had been the day before. It was much greener, though, and, in many places, just as rugged. The rocky hillsides on either side were divided in the middle by a blue lake which was fed by a waterfall that we could see winding down the mountains at the far end of the valley. We hiked all the way to the base of the waterfall and explored the ruins of an 18th century mining village. That night we drove into the northern countryside outside of Dublin trying to find a place to sleep that was close enough to the airport to pick up Matt the next day in a timely fashion. Passing through Swords, we found an empty game reserve where we pulled in to spend the night. Because the forecast did not have any rain, David and I stayed in a tent while Dan slept in a car. We woke up early the next day and headed back into Dublin to pick up Matt at the airport.
Hoping to still be able to sleep in the car with four people, we experimented with tying our large suitcase full of miscellaneous items (which we have dubbed “The Beast”) to the top of the car for the trip to the airport.
David ran in to search Matt out while Daniel and I searched in vain to find the arrivals gate of the airport which was difficult with heavy construction. Driving through the dropoff terminal for outgoing passengers, we met up with Matt and David by sheer luck.
We’re excited to finally have Matt with us and looking forward to the new flavor Matt will bring to the trip. Keep us in your prayers as we continue on.
Daniel Shenk

First days

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

At 10:30 Monday, April 27 Anno Domini 2009 we departed Rosedale for Chicago in the Ziegler’s van. We stopped at a CVS to get some all purpose soap, but as exciting as that sounds, those who didn’t come in the store had even more excitement. Pippi, the Ziegler’s miniature dachshund escaped from the confines of the van and ran across the parking lot and several lanes of traffic before Elizabeth could grab her. Next, we stopped at a Dick’s Sporting Goods where we tried to locate some small camp towels. Then did not have what we were looking for, but Jerry, the store’s manager, helped us immensely by calling to other Dick’s in Indianapolis and having them hold several towels for us. So Jerry if for some reason you stumbled upon this blog, thank you and don’t read the next sentence. We ended up finding the towels at the other Dick’s and didn’t buy the ones set aside for us. We also stopped at KFC and all 11 of us (excluding Pippi) got a free grilled chicken leg. If Colonel Sanders is reading this and worried that we won’t thank him while heaping praise on Jerry, Colonel Sanders…Thank you. If you would have started out grilling instead of frying your chicken you could be several billion dollars richer.

We arrived at O’Hare with Rebekah, the Ziegler’s two year old, excitedly reporting every time she saw an airplane and one time exclaimed, “That one is even bigger than me!” We got our send off with some cheese fries, our last bit of truly American food in several months. We made it through customs without incident which surprised me considering I have a metal plate and 5 screws in my leg which did not set off the metal detector. We traveled via Aer Lingus in an Airbus 330. It was a nice airplane complete with personal touch screen screens on which you could watch TV shows, movies, play games, or check out our flight status (We traveled at 40,000 feet where the air temperature was -75 degrees with 100 mile-per-hour winds.

We landed at 7:30 a.m. local time Tuesday and got through customs no problems. After we got our luggage we discovered that the bus drivers of Dublin were on a limited service strike. The ladies at the tourist information center were able to look at a chart and see which routes were not available, which operated infrequently, and which ran as normal. It is nice that the bus drivers at least schedule their strikes carefully and let others know their plans. We took a bus into Dublin and discovered that the Dublin port was about 2 kilometers from the bus station. We decided that it was not worth the money for us to take a taxi or wait a long time for a bus, so we walked to the port with all of our luggage. We had two big bags (Dan Shenk’s and a communal miscelaneous bag), two camping packs, two small backpacks, and an additional very small bag. (We packed in accordance with having a car to carry our things, not having to carry them ourselves. We started out and I quickly determined that it was much more comfortable to carry my small backpack on my chest and my large camping pack on my back. Dan Ziegler did the same, so we both looked rediculous but at least we were more comfortable. It became increasingly important to be comfortable because we kept walking and walking. We decided that it must have been 2 km’s to the entrance to the port and several more after that point. All in all, we walked loaded down for an hour and a half before arriving at the Irish Ferries port. Throughout the walk we noticed that there are quite a few Guinness trucks driving around. The only surprising thing about this is that they looked exactly like the trucks that in the US that transport oil. So do these trucks drive around and pump huge amounts of Guinness into tanks that are buried below pubs. If anyone knows the answer to this question, please let us know. Also, at the end of our trek, one of the wheels blew out on one of our pull-behind bags. Therefore, Dan Shenk drug the bag along the ground creating a wonderful scraping noise. We laughed at ourselves: Dan Ziegler and I had two backpacks each, one on front and one on back while Dan Shenk drug his bag along the ground. We decided we looked like a group of vagabonds.

At the ferry station they had a special room for early arrivals, so since we arrived at 12:30 for a 2:30 ferry, we made use of it. We were ravenously hungry but didn’t know what to do. Suddenly we remembered that we were carrying a hotpot, some ramen, and a power converter. We got some water out of the restroom sink and boiled up some ramen noodles. While eating, I looked around the room and burst out laughing. There were nine chairs in the room and every one of them had something on them, either ourselves or one of our possessions. Also, our bags were open and stuff was strewn about the floor. We no longer look like a group of vagabonds; instead, we were nothing short of a group of hobos.

Our ferry ride was fairly uneventful, except that we had to block out the Dumbo: The Elephant movie blaring behind us. We landed in Holyhead, Wales (Cymru in Welsh) and were greeted by the wonderful Welsh script. As I read once: “Welsh writing looks like the alphabet threw up.” One example phrase: “Ewchimewn I’w borth a chalan lan.” We had several hours in Holyhead and explored the town which had a new age bridge connecting rustic buildings on both sides of the river. It seemed to be completely out of place but looked impressive. We noticed that all the young teenage boys wore sweat pants and prefered to use one vulgar word as much as is humanly possible while still getting ones point across. They seemed to think they were pretty cool and who could think that they might have failed?

We went back to the train station and made supper (more ramen noodles) and waited for our train at station 2. Right when the train was suppost to leave we decided to go up to the platform and check it out. It turns out that platform 2 was approximately a third of a mile long and the train had arrived at the far end and departed before we knew it. Since I had previously never ridden a train before, I missed my first train before I had ever ridden a train. How many other people can say that? We were able to catch another train an hour later and only got to Cannock an hour later than normal. Big bushes of yellow flowers, stately stone fences, some odd rock formations, a lot of sheep with their young lambs, and fog covered mountains created wonderful vistas and made for a beautiful train ride.

Since we were arriving at midnight, we decided to sleep in the Cannock train station. We stepped off our train at our stop, felt the cold air, and looked for the building that would house us for the night…and we looked some more. There was no building at this train station. We carried our luggage off of the platform and contimplated our options. We determined that if Cannock’s train station doen’t have a building, it is probably a tiny town without a hostel or anything of that sort. We thought our best option was to pitch our tents… then we decided that our best option was to pitch our tent because it was COLD. Dan Ziegler started setting up our tent while Dan Shenk and I went in opposite directions to search for the town and to see if any place had internet access. We needed to get in contact with Jim, the man who sold us our VW Passat to know when we could meeet him to get the car. We failed in our scouting mission, but Dan Shenk did discover where the actual town of Cannock actually was. We all climbed into the tent which is approximately 4 feet wide and tried to get to sleep. We all had a hard time positioning our arms so that we were not either hurting those next to us or making them uncomfortable with where they were placed. We were able to fall asleep though, in no small part due to the fact that we had just a couple hours of sleep on the plane the night before and spent the whole day traveling from Ireland to England.

We got up this morning and found a library where we could access the internet and contacted Jim and arranged a rendezvous and vehicle transfer. We also were able to walk through the town and eperience how the English live in an area that isn’t a tourist area. Men were at the pub by 10:00, women wheeled their babies around town, and all sorts of people stood outside of their bank waiting for it to open like pre-teens the night before a new Jonas Brothers CD comes out. There was also an odd statue outside of the library. The man is wearing only a loin cloth but has to transport a mass of some unidentified substance without it touching his hands. Therefore, he has to hold it in his loincloth which means he has to hold his loincloth vertically…. Don’t you love art.

Jim picked us up and took us back to his “compound” where we laid our eyes upon our “Stunning Jet Black 1998 VW Passat Estate SE Tdi.” The paperwork isn’t very complicated and within half an hour we left Jim behind and were experiencing life in the left lane, driving on the right side, and clockwise roundabouts. We are currently driving in Wales (most of our blogs will be written in the car) and haven’t had any really close calls. It is a nice, tight car to drive and gets over 40 miles per gallon. There are a few problems such as the back right door currently doesn’t open and the back left window won’t open, but other than that it is a very comfortable and has quite a few nice creature comforts.

This afternoon we also went grocery shopping. We found an Aldi’s (yes, in England you have to put a Pound in the mechanism to get the cart unlocked) and were able to buy a lot of cheap food that should also be nutritious. We were most humored when we came to the World Foods section and saw hot dogs sitting in buns and packaged in sets of two. The other prepackaged American foods in the World Foods section were chicken patty sandwiches and cheeseburgers. Aren’t we proud of what foods we have given the world. What does Italy have on us?

We are planning on spending the night near Conwy, Wales and will catch a ferry back to Ireland tomorrow.

We have a couple of pictures at our Flickr site that correspond with my post and will have more for you before long.
Thanks to those of you who read all the way through this ridiculously long post.

Cheers,
david (with help from the Dans)