Posts by Country

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Bristol was probably the most unexpectedly interesting part of the whole trip through the South of England. Steve and I decided to go there as our last stop simply because neither of us had ever been. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Bristol is actually a very cool city. Not only is it the birthplace of the famous graffiti artist, Banksy, but it's also loaded with unusual history, unique street food and just a ton of cool things to see. Needless to say, our expectations were blown out of the water.

Speaking of water, that's where our visit began - on the Kennet and Avon Canal. It turns out you can actually take this canal from Bristol to London via Bath. We got on a boat tour that took us around the city using this waterway. Right at the start we saw a funny looking bridge which we later learned is called Pero's Bridge. Opened in 1999, this bridge has two funnel shaped sculptures on the sides that look like Shrek's ears. As it turns out, these "ears" are actually counterweights which provide balance and stability - who knew!

During the tour we also saw lots of colorful buildings, similar to one's I've seen in Scandinavia, and a number of really cool boats ranging from historic sailing ships to modern designer houseboats. After the tour came to an end, we grabbed a snack from one of the many tables selling homemade sweets, and stopped in at the tourism office for some information. From there we began what's referred to as the Curiosities Trail. One of our first stops was St Mary Redcliffe Church - referred to by Queen Elizabeth I as "the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church". She was far less kind to the women of Bristol, saying to the mayor "Good Lord Master Mayor, how plain the women of Bristol be!"

The next landmark was the Temple Church tower which leans at a precarious angle and has done so since the 14th century. The army, clearing WW2 bomb damage wanted to pull the tower down thinking that a bomb had caused the lean. Only the entreaties of citizens saved this famous landmark.

We then passed through Castle Park and arrived at St Nicholas Church - the only public clock in England with a second hand. Behind the church we found a huge variety of tasty street food at the food market. After having something to eat, we stopped in front of the Bristol Exchange where four brass 'Nails' mark another 'curiosity'. Back in the day, merchants used to strike these nails when a deal was completed; hence the expression, "pay on the nail".

Next, we came to a neat little thoroughfare, which dates back to 1669, and followed it up to the top of the Christmas Steps. Near the top of the steps, we came across the Foster's Almshouses. Rebuilt in the present French style in the 19th century, the Foster's Almshouses were originally constructed as charitable housing with spaces for thirteen men and thirteen women. According to Steve, many of these houses are supported by trusts set up centuries ago and, if you belong to that trade or can prove your ancestors belonged to it, you may be able to live in one when you get old.

At this point, we had pretty much reached the end of the list, save for the burial place of the supposed inventor of the blanket. So, we pulled out the other list which directed us to a few 'Banksys' around town - little known fact: Banksy was born in Bristol. I guess that explains why there seems to be so many copycat graffiti artists running around.

At the end of the day, before heading back to London so I could catch my flight to Madrid the following day, we had a cup of tea and some cheesecake from the food stands. Then we sat at the edge of the canal for a bit while a historic sailing ship and some SUP boarders went by.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Jurassic Coast

As I mentioned before, the Jurassic Coast is really aptly named. Most places along the way have that cool Land of the Lost feel that you get when you see something preserved from another era. Some things are from ancient cultures and other things are simply prehistoric. The village we stayed at the night before itself was pretty old school. Most of the homes there have those really cool, and very expensive, thatched roofs.

We exited the town onto a path that lead from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door. The name 'Durdle' comes from the Anglo Saxon 'thirl', meaning a pierced hole or opening, which is exactly what Durdle Door is. The hike there was about 30 minutes or so up a hill and down the other side. It was a perfect morning for taking photos and the temperature was ideal. Steve had been there a month before when it was a bit warmer and had decided to go swimming through Durdle Door to cool off. This, unfortunately, hadn't gone too well. It seems he had swum a little too hard in water that was a little too cold and lost all motivation to swim back - he almost drowned. Luckily, I think he said the current helped a bit so he was able to make it back; a little shook up perhaps but alive nonetheless!

We had a good look around before heading back to the village. From there we drove until we found a little farm shop where we could grab some breakfast. Steve got the last breakfast roll so I ended up having a Scotch egg - a hard-boiled quail's egg wrapped in sausage meat, coated in bread crumbs and baked, or possibly deep-fried. Scotch eggs are served cold, but I couldn't help thinking that it would have been better warm. Still, not bad.

Our next stop was West Bay. This was a really cool place; the cliffs definitely had some serious stratification going on - reminded me a lot of something by Antonio Gaudí in Park Güell in Barcelona. This makes a lot of sense actually when you consider that his work is largely inspired by nature. As we walked along the cliffs, we also found lots of large broken-off chunks with tons of fossils visible on the surfaces. I even found a large coprolite... also known as fossilized dino poo.

We continued on from there to our quirky hostel in Moretonhampstead on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor. The owner there was a funny cat lady who clearly wasn't too concerned about running a business. Not only did she allow her animals to roam around in the guest quarters but, the next morning, she was nowhere to be found. Lucky for her we had every intention of paying and would be mailing her the money later. I can imagine that some guests are occasionally a little less forthcoming though.

Covering an area of 368 square miles (954 sq km), Dartmoor contains the largest area of open country in the south of England. As one of several high moors in the area, including Exmoor and Bodminmoor, Dartmoor is known for its tors - hills topped with outcrops of bedrock.  As we passed through, we saw lots of these tors as well as some cool looking red cows. At one point we decided to stop and climb one of the hills in order to visit the tors. I was surprised at how much colder it was up in the moors. The freezing wind blasting us with an icy mist made it seem as if we had stumbled into a whole other climate. The whole hike was probably about 30-45 minutes, including our visit to the bronze age settlements on the adjacent hill, but in my memory it easily could have been twice that. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating environment littered with relics from prehistoric societies dating as far back as the Neolithic.

Later on I had a pretty amazing British scone with fresh cream spread. Then, that evening, we had chicken pie with chips at a local pub. This was also really good. Though, that's unfortunately more than either of us could say for the local cider... yuck!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The English Countryside

The English countryside has really earned its reputation. I never really gave it much thought even when I was there back in 2010... and, unfortunately, you can really tell that by my lack of exposition. Well, I'm happy to say that my most recent visit has given me more appreciation for the this part of the world. I think it definitely helps when you have a good local friend to share the experience with. Also, as Steve once suggested, being more descriptive definitely makes a big difference as well.

I arrived at Gatwick, a cheaper airport outside of London, on Thursday, September 21st. Steve was there waiting with a rental car ready to start our journey. We didn't waste any time getting to our first stop - Beachy Head.

Beachy Head is located at the easternmost end of the South Downs in the South of England. It's a lot like the White Cliffs of Dover but, in my opinion, way better. This is because it's less touristy and, as Steve explained, you actually get to see more of the cliffs! I suppose for some the only downside of it being less touristy is that perhaps it has less security. Apparently, it's been a pretty popular spot for driving one's car off the edge. I don't know if that's still the case today but still it seems strange that they haven't done anything about it.

The cliffs themselves are really interesting as they're made of chalk, and the chalk itself comes from seashells. The story goes that the chalk was formed 65 million years ago (Cretaceous Period) when dinosaurs roamed the land. Although, I guess the actual dinosaur fossils themselves are a bit older as this stop is just 140 miles shy of the beginning of what they call the Jurassic Coast (80-130 mya). But I digress.

A few miles down from Beachy Head is a place called Birling Gap. Here we were able to take a large metal staircase down to the pebbly beach below the cliffs. The pebbles themselves are notable as they change consistently as you get further down the coast. In fact, thanks to this consistency, sailors of old were able to figure out their geographic location simply by looking at the pebbles on the beach! Steve and I stopped here for a pot of proper English tea and a cake. Maybe I was just hungry, but I thought it was all pretty exceptional.

Our next stop along the way was about 25 miles away, in Brighton. There, we took a walk down to the pier to visit with my friend Robert who I met back in 2010 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and again in Australia two years later.

Robert joined us for the next leg of our journey as we stopped to see Arundel castle. We didn't really manage to get all that close to the castle, but we did have a little walk around the town which was nice.

A little further down the way, we dropped Robert off so he could catch a bus back to Brighton. We then continued to Poole in order to catch the ferry there. The ferry was actually a bit different than any I'd ever seen before - this one was pulled across by a massive chain! It seems the tides are a bit strong for controlling the boat manually and, because it's such a short distance, the chain's weight doesn't create much of a problem. Once on the other side, we drove through Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve to a small village called Swanage - famous for it's fish 'n' chips.

After enjoying our generous portions of the coastal delicacy, we made our way to Corfe Castle. Two things that really stood out there were, of course, the castle up on the hill over the village with its seemingly precarious Jenga-style build, and the ubiquitous stone slate roofing on all the buildings. This stone slate roofing is actually rather unique as it requires traditional materials and techniques to maintain.

We walked around this beautiful village (I highly recommend it) for a bit before finally calling it a day. And what an amazing day it had been! We definitely didn't expect the weather to cooperate so well and, as I mentioned at the start, the quality of this experience was well beyond what I had ever hoped for. A few miles down the road, we pulled up to our youth hostel in Lulworth - the first stop on our next day's journey down the aforementioned Jurassic Coast.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Auf Wiedersehen

The last month before my big move to Europe was pretty nice. I spent a lot of time with friends and family, beefed up my bank account a bit more, and caught the eclipse. I actually made quite a bit of money helping my friend Jason sell eclipse glasses - the ones that make eclipse viewing safe. I then wore one pair and put another on my camera so I could get some footage... this didn't really work very well though. Still, the shadows on the streets looked pretty interesting, so I took some photos of that.

Another fun experience was going to Northwest Trek with my mom for some zip-lining. We had been talking about it for probably over a year so it was about time. My friends Austen and LeAnn got us a discount because they worked there. It was still like $30 each for probably 30 minutes once you're actually allowed up on the course, but I'd say it's worth it to do it at least once. It was also just a good excuse to go on a nice motorcycle ride - yes, my mom also rides.

In the last couple weeks we went out to eat a couple times and even made it over to the Puyallup fair. I spilled the jam from my elephant ear all over my legs but, otherwise, it was a fun day.

That's pretty much it! I spent probably a whole day digitizing a documents, as I often do before a big trip, because I hate traveling with paper stuff - I actually don't like having paper anything if I can help it. On Tuesday, September 19th, I did my final big packing ceremony. Then, the next day, I boarded my eight-hour direct flight to London that I had found a few months prior for only $200. The next journey, a year in the making, had finally begun.