Vilnius, Lithania. 22:27. 14th of July, 2006ish
Okay, so there`s a biiiig gap between the last post and this one in this, which I am loath to call a "blog." But I have just enough beer in the fridge to get through all of this, ...and an emergency bottle of wine on hand just in case that`s not true.
I`m afraid to look at where I left off, so I`m not going to. But in my memory, there was talk, too much talk, of a certain girl. A girl I was going to meet in Cambodia, and with whom I was to travel, and in the course of travel, to whom I would likely have proposed. Well, long story short, she got herself knocked the fuck up by my rival, who, fair game, was her boyfriend at the time. But see, we found this out minutes into our time together, and well, kinda put a damper on things. So, on the heals of THAT I got to go home and live WITH MY PARENTS for five months, which in anyone`s world, is bound to be suffering. But we pulled through it okay, and I got a stupid dope camera out of the deal, as well as business acumen running a small photography studio in Charlotte, NC. And then, my sister gave birth to Samantha, whom will undoubtedly grow up to be a tomboy named "Sam." Unless she decides to rebel by wearing nothing but pink and highheels.
So, that brings us up to MAY. ish. The dates are a little fuzzy, but for posterity, I`ll do a little research... It was the third or fourth apparently. See, my friend Sheila had a gig with her friend at a bar in New Brunswick, NJ. And it coincided with about the time I needed to get my ass outa dodge. So, I bought a ONE WAY TICKET to New Jersey. what would be the first in a long string of one-way trips, that defines this trip... so....
...One Way Journey
Lets let it define. But first a cigarette... Now context. I`m sitting in an apartment In Vilnius, Lithuania belonging to a friend from Japan, Albina, who is currently away leading a tour to Norway. She never actually moved into the flat, but rather, got the key and handed it off to me. This has given me the blessed opportunity to get my head together and vegetate for a couple weeks, freeing me up from myself enough to share with "you" whomever youse are about my experiences thus far. Hence the refrigerator and beer and undistracted late night to stay up and write. Previous days have been spent editing photographs which you can see at the link on the upper left titled "photography." This has been the first time I`ve had the chance to slow down since I left Charlotte.
Shopping for a ticket across the pond, I found the cheapest fare was to fly into Dublin. So, I established that as my starting point for no other reason... okay, price plus having never been to Dublin. The aegis under which I`ve been operating has been "head east to get west." I want to make a life for myself in San Francisco. I want to buy a house there, settle down, get married, make babies, fund my IRA, and from that base buy land, build a meditation/retreat center in the mountains, and hopefully, die a peaceful fulfilled death therein. All on the WEST coast. For obvious reasons. In order to get to that starting point, I opted for the eastern route, across Europe to Siberia, thence to Korea, where one can fly relatively cheaply to the West Coast. Anyone can head west to get west, but you know, I have to be "different." Or "counterintuitve" if you prefer.
So In order to get to NEW YORK to fly to DUBLIN, I first went to New Jersey to see my friend Sheila perform a show. In addition to being an actor, she`s a singer/songwriter, and it was this incarnation that I was to visit. Arriving by GREYHOUND, we met on the street, big hug, and then sidetrack. I helped unload the van from the show she was working with, and then she did a favor for her boss by filling in on the fly for The Diva Project wherein they teach underprivileged middle school kids acting. Naturally, I brought my camera along. In the car, the woman driving, presumably in order to give my presence relevance, asked me to take photos. She had a camera for me to use, which I scorned. But this evolved into my first freelance gig when Daniel later offered to pay me for my work. Amused at the prospect, I accepted the money. But gave it to my dad to replenish some petty cash I`d previously pocketed.
The next couple days in New Jersey I played paparazzi with Sheila, following her and her friends around photographing their every move. The results you can see on the aforementioned link. There was the show. Then there was the after party, then there was the morning after, and then a foray into the city, a late night, then back to New Jersey. Then, I headed up to Conneticut, where my friend Matt had work for us installing AIR CONDITIONERS.
Well, the "work" turned out to be a small part of the time spent there. See, Matt has bought a house, or rather his wife has bought a house, which he is in the process of remodelling. So we painted parts of the exterior, and took the bathroom forward a few stages, but mostly just jerked around in the workshop a bunch. Oh, and what a workshop. He has ALL the tools, and we played, I, a kid in the proverbial candy store... but kids in candy stores do not get the peace of mind and existential satisfaction that I get from woodshops. So its a pale analogy. But <sic.> let it stand. We have beer to get through tonight.
My biggest personal project was building the walking stick that I designed 20 years ago in boyscouts. It was on my hike to Philmont, or rather, on the bus ride back from philmont. I still remember the notes and the drawings. I remember sneaking out of my parents house at 16 to go play pool at the local poolhalls (it never occurred to me to drink... innocent as I was) where I realized that a poolcue was actually the ideal walking stick... But it wasn`t until Conneticut that I actually had the opportunity to put theory to practice. I modified an existing pool cue into three sections, with a removable compass/cap to a camera mount. This three-sectioned pole would also work with a tarp. The tarp was acquired in Asheville from a local company since it came pretty close to the prototype I`d worked out WAY BACK WHEN. With the tarp and walking stick combo, I was utterly equipped for the coming journey.
While in Conneticut I took a sidetrip back down to the city. There I saw one of my oldest friends, Erik, who has since married and works in the IT sector in The City. I stayed with him, agrevating my sleep-related injury on an air mattress, hence swearing off all airmattress but the God-given Thermarest™ for life. His wife is Polish, and a wonderful woman whom I was very happy to finally meet. Also in NYC were Amelia and Celene. I was delighted and flattered to learn that Amelia, and aspiring screenwriter had written me into her first SCREENPLAY, which for copyright reasons, I won`t link to here. I am not portrayed favorably, but nevertheless accurately. Celene has found herself on the Scholar`s track and it studying at Divinity School. Bless her heart. Of all the people who were "philosophy majors" in college, she was not one; yet in the end, here she is. She`s dating a Brazilian man, and is utterly happy.
New York Surprised me this time. I`ve never really had any love for the city, but this time I changed my impression. Though the eyes of everyone I meet there speak of onerous stress, and all are much the worse for the wear The City affects upon one`s soul, I really could sense that to live in New York is "superior" in the Heideggerian sense of opening up ones being to Being, or actualizing the Spirit of the indiviual that distinguishes one from the mass. Though I still fear living in The City, now, I can at least feel the appeal. Life in NYC is bigger than elseware, and in the end, New York is the only true City in America. After touring the capitals of Europe, NYC gets additional props for being the only place I`ve been where one doesn`t really notice tourists. They`re definately there, but just blend in to the background everywhere they occur moreso than anywhere else I`ve been. I`d imagine London would be much the same. And, well, nobody goes to Milan, so its not really the same thing. But there isn`t a single part of New York that`s completely given over to tourists the way you find most everywhere else. Tourists are given No Quarter (cue Led Zeppelin).
Cut to: Conneticut. I had no idea. Matt lives in Middletown, which is, as the name suggests. In the process of installing Airconditioners, I got to explore the greater central Conneticut area. And it really set the tone for my trip, this trip being a trip where I`m consistently finding myself places nobody goes. The names all slip my mind, but there are beaches in Conneticut. There are the quintessentially New England central parks, the commons, the greens, the green square that defines the center of the community. A place where people actually go for lunch, and lounge in the sun. There`s the statue of a local statesman and the church on the central axis. Its an Urban design copied from Europe, but nowhere in Europe is it so successfully actualized as in New England. The absence of upheaval, the complete lack of significant history, but rather the slow plodding timeline of picayune development renders it so. Conneticut is a hole in American history. Nothing really happened there, but its always been there, and always been a part of it, peripherally. Witness Joe Lieberman. Peripheral, but somehow always there. Conneticut is beautiful; low rolling hills, rolling like the Piedmont of the Appalachia, but more decisively so. The horizon has a character all its own . And there are lakes everywhere. Lakes like other states have strip malls. And in everyone of their strip malls is a pizza place selling slices. Conneticut is eminently liveable. But no place for me. The pace of life is paleolythic. The outlook provincial, the attitude unrelentingly liberal. It is the umbilicus mundi of the American world. All the more so because nobody notices.
We built catapult and trebouche`s in Matt`s back yard. We played like the kids we`d always hoped we`d grow up to be. That, my friend, was a real vacation.
But all vacations must come to an end, then it was back to work. Time to fly to DUBLIN. Back "on the road" proper.
Dublin. What can I say about Dublin except that I had no idea why I was there. This is partly because I had no intention to go there other than a cheap flight. But as an adamant fan of Joyce, I always assumed it would have a stronger pull for me. But I have not come into my inner Irishman yet. I guess I`m not READY for Dublin in some way. And I have a very peculiar outlook this trip, anyway. This is my "Victory Lap." What is a victory lap? A victory lap is once more around the track after the race is won. A victory lap is idle show and basking in glory. This is the ironic tagline in my mind for this trip. This trip is not about places or doing or exploring even; this trip is mere travel. I am, pardon the expression, but dwelling in the "zen" of travel. This trip I travel just to travel. Simply to be; on the road. Nobody has understood this point of anyone I`ve talked to, and I guess its just because this is my fourth trip around the world. And what is in a fourth? Three`s the charm, but what is four? Nothing really. But in tarot, four is power, in alchemy, the four is the square, and the square is the foundation of the tower. But in itself the fourth point establishes nothing new. The plane has been defined, and the fourth point merely gives it symetry and enclosure. What is a fourth trip around the world. For me its a filling in of the gaps. I`d never done Eastern Europe, and as I`ve come to find out, Central Europe, for that matter. For, Czech and Poland, and even Lithuania all are adamant that they are central. In fact, the Geographical Center of Europe is IN Lithuania. So much of what we call East is in fact the middle. Is that why I`m here? No. I`m not here, properly speaking. I`m "travelling."
Its hard for people to understand what I mean by this, and this is my outlet for explaining myself, so skip this paragraph if you would rather not hear my PHILOSOPHICAL RAMBLINGS ON TRAVEL QUA TRAVEL. So what is Travel, in and of itself? Travel is movement. Is travel going places? Seeing things? Meeting people? No, travel is just travel. Travel is battling against the elements of human and elemental nature. Travel is its own thing. Meeting people is meeting people. Going places is arriving. But travel is velocity. Human beings have very basic needs. To pee. To eat. A dry place to sleep. Shelter from the storm, protection from the elements of heat and cold, wet and hunger. Accomodating bowel movements and fatigue. Travel imposes a simple addition to this, movement. And one can move by plane or boat or bus or car or by foot... ox-cart, rickshaw, etc. But in and of it self, the act of moving is travel. And taking as one`s starting point this act of moving, discarding all the rest, one finds Travel.
(Skip this paragraph, too). Travel is waking up in the morning in one bed and sleeping next in another. Travel is the daily grind of providing for the morning`s toilet, then coffee, then breaking the fast, then GOING, then arriving somewhere, finding a secure haven in which to pass the unconscious hours. Dodging the raindrops, escaping the heat of midday, discovering an incremental route between where one woke up and where one would hope to find oneself in the distant future. This trip, my fourth around the world, has been dedicated to bringing it down to these basics. And by any means necessary. I have slept in hostels, on people`s sofas, beside rivers, at the ocean, atop mountains, under and atop picnic tables, beneith overpasses. I`ve bathed in rivers and lakes and oceans. I`ve slept in city parks amidst fields of flowers. But the primary concern is staying alive through the dark hours of the night unmolested. Paradise is populated by midges and mosquitos. Cities add the challenge of avoiding dogs on their morning walks and drunkards looking for a place to relieve themselves. Eastern Europe adds the challenge of an uncertain rule of law, and Asia adds its own health-and-safety issues. But travel is transcendant of all of this. To travel is just to travel. To awake, and make one`s way through the day to another safe haven for the evening`s slumber. To abide and to travel are subtle variations on the same need. And what I have learned is that shelter is the most undervalued thing in normal life.
(and again...) Tonight, its raining, and I feel joyous that I have a roof over my head and a powerpoint to plug in my laptop. And that I have means for obtaining hot water for coffee in the morning is glorious. You cannot just sleep anywhere, and this is probably one of the greatest causes of human suffering. One must provide for one`s slumber. When one is hitchhiking, it is critically important that one stops before sunset so that one can scout out a safe place to sleep. If one can afford any hotel, this is simple, but that`s not been the case for me. Instead, its a matter of scoping out the social demographic, divining the weather, assessing the political situation, and then securing a bed accordingly. And I`ve been incredibly lucky. So lets get back to it...
Dublin. The night before I left, I opted to find a hostel, someplace to aim for when I arrived. I would be flying through the night and arriving somewhat delerious, a stranger in a strange land. Its best to have something in mind rather than to try to make up one`s mind under those conditions. So I found a hostel that was central, and was once a recording studio for Van Morrison and U2. Sounded good. So, from the Airport to a bus, sorted out the bus, and into the center of town and then dead reckoning to the hostel. The desk clerk greeted me with a smile, so it was a done deal. I spent the rest of the day exploring the old town, and quickly realized that it was a tourist trap. But, if one`s to see a city, one must also see this. But the next day I started venturing further out, to the parks at the extremities, and so on. After two days I realized that Dublin, proper, has been given over to tourists, so I sought to make my escape. looking at a map of the world, I saw Paris was Here, and Dublin was Here, and... huh. Stonehenge was on the way. Cool. So, to find the ferry.
Turns out the ferry would sail into Wales. I never knew exactly where Wales was in the world. Turns out it was on the way. But first, to get information on the ferry. Sailing times, prices, alternatives and so forth. A day of marginally successful research led me to finally walk to the ferry port and get the news from the horses mouth. Well, that was like 5 kilometers through industrial hell. But at least there were no tourists. From the ferry I was able to find out the bus information to GET there the next time, and as I was leaving for the long walk back, I was blessed by a nice man in a BMW who stopped to ask if I wanted a lift back into town. I was shocked, and, well, pleased. He took me most of the way, and gave me a huge bud that would carry me through the next week. It was the last I`ve had in my possession since, sadly. Anyway, he deposited me in a very local area. No tourists. A boon. I spent the afternoon in the park, watching immigrants play football (soccer), and at local pubs, wandering back to Tourist Hell. About halfway, I stopped at The Sunset House. The third question out of the person sitting beside me`s mouth was, "what are you doing here!?" I felt vindicated. But he persisted. No, he insisted, this is a really bad area. It was the worst part of Dublin, and (coincidentally?) was the Catholic side of town. This gave me pause. I had actually forgotten that there were places in the world where catholics and protestants didn`t get along. Silly me. It seems like such an asinine distinction. But it was, after all, Ireland. And those things matter. My impression was that its not so much a religious distinction as an economic one, which would make sense. Judging by the dress and decorum, it certainly seemed a socioeconomic distinction above all else. The most interesting cultural experience was with regard to the smoking ban in pubs (short for Public House, incidentally). Everyone went outside to smoke except for the middle aged and older women. I pointed this out, and he said something to the effect of, "You tell her..." So Older Women are above the law in Ireland. Just like Russian Babushkas. Hmm... And Japanese Okachan.... Anyway, I went back to the same bar later, and each time, everyone I talked to warned me explicitly that I`d be lucky to make it back to the center of town alive, or at least with all my possessions. I reminded them that I was American, and, really, it didn`t look all that bad compared to, like, South Central Chicago, or East L.A, or Kashmir, which I`d previously survived, but they were emphatic. So, for the record, don`t go there.
So, the next day I was off to Wales. Boarded the ferry, then realized, Wales was actually a big place, and I`d need a new destination. Looking at the map, I saw a big green spot called "Snowdonia." It was a no-brainer. How could you resist a place called Snowdonia? A beautiful couple from Burmingham I met on the ferry sent me to Canarfon, and after cross-referencing with a senior citizen, (who didn`t concur) I decided that would be just the place to start. Well, I had a couple of hours to kill till the train connection to the ferry port left, so I went to the Tourist Information Office (god bless the European Tourist Information offices!). There I met one of the most effective and informative people I have EVER met (may she live to a ripe and joyous old age!). So I started out taunting her. "So, I have a few difficult quesitons... let`s see how you do." And she rose to the challenge. "I`m looking for a hostel in Canarfon." "Just a minute..." "well, there`s this one outside of town... where are you headed?" "I`m going to Snowdonia." "Where in Snowdonia?" "..." "Snowdonia`s a National Park." "...uhh..." "were you thinking to do some hiking?" "Right, yah, I want to climb mount Snowdon." "Oh right, then you want to go to cllllrrreeennnbbrrrihhggihgs" "`scuse me?" "gggglllcccclliiinbeerrrggiisssss" "cranberries?" "No, cccllleeenbbeerrgrgisss." "clenbaries?" "no, cllleenbergrgis" So this went on for a while, we, smiling and laughing at eachother, and she explained the double-L in Welsh is like a rolling "R" out of the side of the mouth, and I parrotted her for about five minutes until I got the names of whereall I was hoping to go passable. In the end, "Cranberries," rolling the "r" is close enough to "Llynberis" to pass muster.
But this was my first foray into Welsh pronunciation. I asked her about camping. "Well, you could camp in Snowdonia, but I wouldn`t let the warden catch you." It was at this point that I fell in love with her. And this turned out to be the tune throughout Wales. It is a place off the map. Nobody goes there, except to climb Snowdon, and so, its virgin terrain for people of my ilk. No crime to speak of (apart from bar brawls) and locals mostly distrustful of foreigners, cause they rarely ever see them. In Canarf(v)on there were several people who didn`t even really speak English. Go figure. And this is in Britain. But I found a hostel (borrowed a Lonely Planet from an American) in the center of Canarvon, spent a night there, then set out into the hinterland. LLynberis was idylic. Set along two natural lakes, a park surrounding it, and an abandoned slate mine and museum, and a perfect little main street with no nightlife or pseudo-historical references, but with a general store selling half pet food, half human food, and in the human half, organic, fair trade, french roast coffee (SCORE!). And in the camping supply store they only sold like actual camping gear that you would actually use to go camping! I picked up what would become my favorite luxury item to date, fuel tablets, two of which could warm water enough to make coffee (forget boiling, though). I didn`t pick up tent stakes, the perfect sized ones. Neither of which I have been able to find since across Europe where all the camping stores sell the OTHER kind of camping gear; for car-campers and dilettantes.
So, I went to a "hostel" or so the sign said, but they`d stopped offering dormatories. But the girl at the front desk was sweet as could be; I asked her about camping, and she said, Oh Sure, you can camp pretty much anywhere... at which point I knew I was home. The weather was immaculate, but she cautioned about the midges. And they did indeed prove to be a pestilence for my stay in Wales, and one a design solution must be worked out for. In the short term a cigarette keeps them at bay, but you can`t smoke in your sleep. And they do wake you up early. I`ve sworn off insect repellant except for in malarial zones, but this called me to task. In Brno, I ended up sleeping with my shirt over my face, because there was no breeze, and it didn`t get cold enough at night to send them to bed, too. So paradise is infested with midges, thus proving yet again, that life is suffering.
So, after I awoke, I found the last truly excellent breakfast cafe I`d find for this trip, a cafe that would be at home in Eugene, Oregon or Arcata, California. I had a stunning breakfast, and then stocked up on supplies, and decided to set out to climb Snowdon. I could have hitched or taken the bus to the pass, but opted for the longer route, hiking from town. After all, the mountain`s only a thousand meters. But a thousand meter`s 3200feet, which no matter how you slice it is a bitch of a climb. And, note to all those who would follow in my footsteps. If you`re going to sleep at the top of a mountain, and you`re going to make coffee in the morning, and you`re going to climb a thousand meters, you`Re going to need TWO count them TWO liters of water, when you GET to the top. This is assuming you drink all you can at the last spring, which will be 500 meters from the top at least. Oh well, they sold beer at the top of the mountain, seeing as how the train goes that far, so I could rehydrate the dirty way.
So, my plan was to hike up to the top, sleep, and hike down the backside the following day. And it was a stunningly beautiful plan. I was amazingly lucky in that the weather was unseasonably clear and sunny the whole time I was in Wales. The third quesiton I was asked everywhere I went was "why on earth did you come here?" followed by the fourth comment that, "the weather isn`t normally like this, you`re very lucky." So. Don`t do what I did. It will rain on your ass.
The next day I hiked down the mountain, and lacking iodine tablets (dumbass that I am) I got a bit dehydrated and had to drink questionable water from a river in sheep pastures. Note: all of Wales is one big sheep pasture. Don`t kid yourself. Even the National Parks are sheep pasture land. They`re trying to reintroduce cattle grazing to "protect the environment." Anyway, after India, sheep dung has nothing on me. And I had an amazingly refreshing dip in a ice-cold river on a blisteringly hot, sunny day in Wales. Sunburn in Wales is an oxymoron. I was very lucky to get one. But I did pitch my tarp as a sunscreen for the worst of the afternoon sun... Note the ingenious setup. Aren`t I a genius?
Hitting the main road, my mind was on food. Shelter wasn`t proving to be a problem, but being new to Britain, I wasn`t sure how the food thing woud work, and I had forgotten to provide myself with pounds for the trek into the wilderness (genius tag rescinded). Luckily, I found my way to Bedegellert, and the local pub (Prince Clluwelyn) took credit cards, for purchases over 10 pound, so that just meant I had to eat and drink and be merry. So meat pie for supper, and a couple pints, and (ack. 20 dollars for a meal!!! try not to think about it.). So, hiking over hill and through dale (cause we`re in Britain, they have dales here...) to the local pub, and further down the dale, I found a nice place along a river (with a good resultant breeze to keep the midges at bay) to sleep for the night near the crossroads where I would begin hitchhiking in the morning. A beautiful river it was, clear to the bottom without too much of that "river smell" that defeats the purpose of bathing therein.
And the next morning, breaking my fast from my provisions, and making coffee over my fuel tablets, bathing in the mountain stream, and then off on the road. My first ride, a HAM radio geek/insurance salesman, took me to a supermarket where I could stock up against the uncertainty of where I`d find myself in the evening, I made my lunch on the side of the road, experimenting for the last time with beef tongue lunchmeat. (don`t do it. Liver is preferable). My second ride was a stonemason and landscaper who took me to his favorite pub on the way to the quary where he was to pick through the leavings, and my third and final ride for the day was a quarryman who gave me a full rundown of the local history. He told me about Bede Gelert. Gelert was a dog. Bede means grave. One day a farmer went out to his fields and for some reason left Gelert alone with the baby. When he came back, Gelert was all covered in blood and the baby was gone. Horrified at the worst, the farmer summarily shot and killed poor Gelert. Thereafter, they found the babe in the brush near the body of a dead wolf. The farmer was understandibly desolate at killing the heroic pup. Thus Bedegelert got its name. Also, vulture`s peak. During the age of the vikings, the ocean used to come all the way up this certain valley. But the "ocean gave this land back" (note: you may be dealing with real coastal people if they refer to the ocean as a personality... and did he really refer to the Vikings in casual conversation?) and the Cormerants stayed and nested on Vultures Peak. Its the farhest inland nesting point for cormorants in the world. See. This is why one hitchhikes. Guidbooks don`t stand a chance. After all, at this point I was in a place in Wales where there were only Welsh tourists and retirees. I ended the day in Tywynn or something like that. Made my way to the coast in one of the most remote corners of Wales, and watched the sunset over the Cardigan Bay. I hiked down the beach from the trailer park (caravan park in the local dialect) and had the forethought to climb over the stone breakwater to see what was behind to find the sewage treatment plant... so I hiked another half a mile down the beach before finding the ideal natural campsite far far from where anyone would be coming until well into the morning.
The next day, following my idiom, I made coffee over my fuel tablets, and ate my breakfast from my provisions of bread and cheese and whatnot, and made my way to the trainstation. My pace was getting a bit slow. Looking at the map I realized I`d covered about a tenth of the distance to Paris in six days. At that rate, Britain would drain my funds before I would even reach the continent. Its depressing to realize that while one is bathing in the ocean and sleeping under the stars one is still rapidly burning through ones capital for the journey. But this would be the case through England. Just in beer and food and the occasional hostel and train and bus I spent nearly a thousand dollars in two weeks. I think. I don`t really do budgets. I just keep track of what`s left, not what`s spent. Its easier on the brain that way.
So, off to the train station, without a real plan, I first stocked up on provisions again, food comes first after all, and then waited at the train station for the next train elseware. There was no ticket office at the station, just a platform, so I waited on the platform for the next train. The time for the train came, and my Japanese mentality seeped through. Five minutes passed and I began to panic. How could the train be FIVE MINUTES late??? and then ten, fifteen minutes... I was getting really nervous. Unreasonably so. I began to contemplate hitchhiking again. But twenty minutes late, the train arrived, and I got on. Followed it to the end of the line, then found a ticket office. Enquired about where trains went from there, and found out they went to Burmingham. Looking at my map, I found "Bath." Which for some reason I couldn`t recall was on The List of places to go. So I asked about the price. 45 pounds. Jesus, 60 bucks. I swallowed hard. Opted for the ticket to Burmingham, figuring I could do better from there. But in the end, I tried to play the game, hoping I could bum a free ride, to no avail. Studying the map of Burmingham I realized it was a real city, and hence, not a safe place to arrive in the evening hoping to find a safe place to squat for the evening. Bristol seemed more reasonable, so I swallowed the extortionary trainfare, and followed through.
I arrived in Bristol, now in England, around sunset. Not ideal. So intensively studying the maps, I started to explore. Did concentric circles around town, found the bus station, and identified some promising city parks. Well into dusk I wandered into a park on the outskirts and found the most ideal meadow imaginable. The grass was neck-high, and it was well away from where unsavoury elements would be lurking. Having identified a reasonable squat, and under clear skies, mission number two was to find a pub, have a beer or two until it was late enough to go crash in the park. I found myself walking down Charlotte street, which suited my sense of irony, and found a nice college pub. Now I was in England. This was normal civilization. Everyone dressed posh, the girls were in short skirts, and in this part of town, apparently everyone was college students. Safe. I sat down at a table and the (dork) beside me struck up conversation. After some preamble, he proposed that we go chat up this beautiful girl sitting across the bar from us with her friend. He would be from Norway, and I could be from America. Well, my half was true, so I went along with it, half-heartedly. Anyway, the girl in question was definitely worth the game. She turned out to be Iranian, and I was able to steal the show with the truth of my story. Neither of us got anywhere, but we had a good time. I left to go sleep in my park, the girls left to go clubbing, and my friend went on to another pub with his mates. Before I left, I met a dreadlocked african from Nigeria, and we had a decent conversation. But in the end, I went "home" alone, too proud to ask for a sofa to crash on.
In the morning I awoke among fields of flowers and made my way to Bath. Took the bus. boring. And Bath was everything I feared it would be. A tourist circus, almost impossible to make contact with locals. I watched the football match, England playing somebody I can`t recall. I think England lost, unfortunately. It was an early game, and after scoping out the town all day I could find no reason to stay. I couldn`t even stomach the "tourist attraction" of the Roman Baths. See, to go to Bath and not be able to take a bath... I mean what the fuck is the point of having a hotsprings town, the only one in England, if you can`t get in? I was morally outraged. So, back on the road, I hitched a ride as far as Frome. My ride was going to a wedding. He was a Shakesperean actor who picked me up for the anarchonism of seeing a hitchhiker these days... Anyway, the wedding he was attending was going to be a minor celebrity affair. George Michael would be there or something. So he was off to a five-star hotel, and not too thrilled about it. He dropped me off at a pub, where I struck up conversation with a local boy. I sat with his friends while they discussed various drug-related affairs, and I got a sense for the place. Apparently Frome has the highest pub-to-resident ratio in England or something, and Van Morrison has a studio there. Connection? I donno. I ended up trying to find the river and missing, and by the time dusk got really dusk, settled on a no-mans-land between a pasture and the road. A ditch, really, but well out of sight, but the least scenic campsight for this trip. I made my bed in the ivy, and in the morning, woke early, made my coffee, and then made my way to...
Stonehenge. I had to walk a fair ways until I got to the main roads. I started a bit too early for good hitching, but my first ride took me to the crossroads, he worked maintanence at a tourist park, and picked me up despite running late to work. My second ride took me several kilometers out of his way... he was an interesting fellow. Had the hunted look of someone whose done some serious time with some hard drugs. Looked like he`d "successfully" kicked heroin. He had the eyes of one who`d scene a bit too much of the world. Anyway, he`d gone away from England to school in rural Wales mostly to get away from the scene he`d been a part of . He stopped driving for a time because of whatever he`d been involved in rendered him, in his opinion, unfit to drive. No matter what he said, you knew you weren`t getting the full story. Anyway, several people had done as much for him, so he was paying it forward by taking me out of his way right to the front door of Stonehenge.
Wishing to economize, and to add a bit of adventure to a already pretty straightforward day, I decided to break in to Stonehenge. I walked down a ways and jumped the fence, leaving my pack under a shrubbery. I unloaded my camera and circled the park from a distance checking for security. Curiously, there was none. Nobody`s allowed to walk among the stones, but nobody`s there to enforce this rule. This is England. Maybe I would have "violated" the sanctum had I paid admission, but I didn`t want to try my luck any further. Stonehenge is thoroughly cordoned and sterilized. But, you can`t slag stonehenge. Its older than dirt. Its a preconcieved judgement that viewing will not alter. I was lucky enough to arrive before the bus tours, so I had a chance to explore and shoot before it was utterly mobbed with tourists. I was gone by noon. Back on the road, and hitched my last ride for the day to Salisbury.
My dad`s from Salisbury, NC, so I kinda felt the need to visit its namesake. Salisbury Cathedral has the highest steeple in England. The city itself survived the war intact, more or less. Its a "nice" town. Ridiculously old pubs and the like. I found a sheep pasture on the edge of town to camp in and had to pitch my tarp in the morning as a small shower passed overhead. After the shower passed, I packed up and took the bus to Portsmouth, cause it was the most direct route to Paris. The local busses in England are rather cheap. You can buy a day-rate pass, and it can get you some pretty good distance compared to the train. Portsmouth is a hole, but a hole with a Very Cheap ferry service to Le Havre, France. It was ten pounds to cross the channel. I can`t remember the company off hand but it wasn`t the other one... what Euroferries or something. Anyway, next thing I knew, I was on the boat to France. Velocity won over tourism. I saw little, I did nothing, but I got from A to B without incident, and isn`t that what "travel" is all about?