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Posts Tagged ‘Hostel’

We landed. England surrounded us from all four sides.

It was a great landing, and an exciting moment, doubly so for the thought of being done with an eight hour flight. It was a long walk through the airport. The first thing I got to notice that was different between England and the U.S. was the universal signs for men and women for the public toilets (at least at the airport). The woman has a puffy dress instead of a straight diagonal dress. Unfortunately I have not seen a woman here with a puffy dress, but I’ll be on the lookout.

Going through customs wasn’t too bad other than it being a long line. We filled out a little form. Who we were, our address, how long we’d be staying. The man that did our passport stamping was a good natured British man, who (after finding out we were brothers) started to sing a line from a song “He’s not heavy, he’s my brother.”

While going through the airport we got instructions of how to get places from several other people with lovely accents. Though the currency exchange guy tried to up-sell me to do another $500 for a .02 conversion difference. I said no, but after getting only 540 pounds for $1,000, and spending 300 pounds for the first day (unlimited use for two oyster cards for a week and the hostel balance paid) I’m thinking we are going to need more cash than originally expected. I’m sure there is going to be more underestimations of costs still to come. Haha.

We got on the Underground, as it is titled (I also heard it was The Tube), and we more or less went as efficiently as we could to our hostel from the airport. Okay, so, maybe I directed us to use the wrong train, but it didn’t take long to fix my error. Which I am now thinking the unlimited use of the oyster cards is going to come in handy.

By the end of the day I had misdirected us three times on unnecessary trains, but fortunately they have all been quick fixes, and I think I am getting the hang of how to navigate them.

Video – The Underground London Train Car: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxiwEB8dPFw

So we got to the hostel, and they said the room wasn’t ready yet. We’d need to come back after 2pm. It was 10ish at the time. We were able to leave our bags and I pulled out my camera and we set off to go to Westminster Abbey. I found it helpful for orientating myself that the streets around the hostel looked a lot like the streetview option from Google.

I would highly recommend using streetview before going to a new city. It was nice to be able to see and mentally map out our home base ahead of time.

Getting off at Westminster station, and climbing those steps from the underground to the street corner by the Thames and Big Ben was nothing short of awesome. It’s like someone splashing you with a big bucket of London imagery all at once, especially from the minimalism of London we had seen up to that point. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and all those equally impressive (yet less well known) buildings in that area are really beautiful to see in person. They stood out in a way I didn’t imagine. Mesmerizing to me, like the time a child sees his first laser hologram. Gazing at it, shifting back and forth to see how it moves and commenting “It looks so real!”

Yes, I am proud to confirm, Big Ben and Westminster Abbey look very realistic.

The Thames definitely looks dirty, but other than the color, it fits in very aesthetically with all the great buildings wrapping along with it at each bend. The London Eye still just looks like a big Ferris Wheel. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about the Eye though as we are scheduled to ride on it at the end of our all day tour tomorrow.

Walking from the Tube station to Westminster Abbey was interesting. It was very busy and crowded, but that also made it easier to figure out the crosswalks and traffic. A lady came up to me and was trying to put a flower in my shirt somehow (I think she was going for my collar, or perhaps she was just trying to stake my vampiric paleness with a flower stem and protect Queen and country). She was evidently giving me a flower if I would give her a donation “for the children”. I was quick to say no, having been hassled already too much in my life in big cities to give money to the overly insistent on the street. I’m not against giving to charity, or even to street performers. But if it is supposed to be for charity, I want to be more assured about the majority of the donation actually going to the intended targets. So I backed away from the lady and she retracted her flower (or was simply disappointed on unsuccessfully staking me).

I looked back and saw another lady offering plastic flowers and gypsy blessings in exchange for donations to Johnathon. I was interested to see in how he handled it and I sat back and watched. Johnathon stood there listening to her with a polite and slightly embarrassed smile on his face. It took over a minute for her to lose steam and his apologies of not being able to help before she backed off from him. This is not before the vampire slaying gypsy went over to team up on my brother, however.

We got away from them though, Johnathon being sincere about not being able to help as he wasn’t holding any of our money, and then we pressed on to the Abbey.

I very much enjoyed looking at the exterior and sitting on the grass on the grounds surrounding it. So were a hundred other people too, but it was a big lawn. Even on an unimportant day in mid May, on an unassuming day of the week, there was still a river of tourists like me and Johnathon flooding the area. It was amazing to glimpse just how big the tourism industry is for London.

Video – Exterior of Westminster Abbey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EH8K1yhz5Xs

I’ve decided on a goal for this trip, I’m going to try and take at least fifty pictures of other tourists that are in the middle of taking a picture. I’ve had a nice start already.

I almost forgot, Johnathon got accosted by another flower & luck selling gypsy wanting donations for the children. (Who they might mean by “the children” is entirely debatable, as they offered no details on organization or even a name of their supposed charity.) It took about the same amount of time for Johnathon’s polite patience to tire another gypsy. While I don’t know if they are real gypsies or not, the one that bounced from me to Johnathon called herself a gypsy saying “It isn’t good saying ‘no’ to a gypsy.”

I guess they take his smiling patience as a chance to test their guilt inducing persuasion. But I just watch, laughing a little as another gypsy succumbs to Johnathon’s patience.

We decided to go into the Abbey after a while, paying sixteen pounds per person, and a three dollar discount being offered for my international student ID card I picked up before the trip. We got inside and it was overwhelming. So many classically styled sculptures, statues, and beyond intricate details fit into every available corner. I pull out my camera, take a picture backwards and up, showing the stained glass above, getting things squared behind me before taking on the task of photographing the overwhelming room in front of me.

I wished I had taken a picture forward, showing the big expanse of the room, the crowd of people and the greeting statues, but at this point I am approached by an old gentlemen in a green priestly garment and speaking with a fantastically polite and regal British tone, that he is sorry, but photography is not permitted inside the Abbey. I was powerless to defy his politeness. Though I still wish I snuck one or two pictures.

Westminster Abbey is overwhelming. It is more to me like a museum of tombs and monuments than it is a church. It is very segmented and each segment boasts an incredibly rich history of monarchy and religion represented by sculpture and architecture. You’re given this handheld phone looking thing to hang on your neck from a lanyard. As you walk around you see a section with a sign displaying a number, you put that number into the device and hit play. It gives you recordings of an audio guide giving tidbits of information about  the names and events that surround the artwork and tombs. It is an amazing place.

While out in the cloisters photography was allowed and I took pictures there.

Video – Example of Westminster Abbey Tour: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ce0D5YEVzA

After the Abbey we went in search of bottles of water. Both I and especially Johnathon were feeling the effects of fatigue and aching from subsisting on such a small amount of uncomfortable sleep on the plane. We sat with our water for awhile. Then went off in search of Trafalgar square.

Before getting to Trafalgar square, me and Johnathon walked by a little restaurant that advertised traditional British food. The place was called Geronimo (isn’t that originally a Native American name?) We went in and ordered The Ploughman’s Bread from a tiny waitress with a thick British accent. (I’m still digging the accent.) I then stole one of the paper menus (because it’s cool) and I did the horribly embarrassing tourist thing, I took a picture of the meal when it was brought out to us.

It was an assembly of sandwich stuff but not put together. At least I think it was sandwich stuff (it was listed on the menu in the sandwich section) I tried to assemble it into a sandwich but gave up and ate the assortment individually. It was an odd meal, which was perfect in my eye, I wanted an unfamiliar meal. Half of it was alright, fairly simple, kind of bland, and the other half was… odd and made me laugh after trying it.

Some basic stuff like a couple hunks of bread, ham, a boiled egg, celery, apple slices, cheese (I liked the cheese a lot). Also these little things that look like olive sized onions, and soaked in some sort of vinegar(?). They were amazingly tart and… weird tasting. Johnathon made a fantastic face when he tried one. Then this sort of mashed fruit thing in a cup. It was maybe some sort of combination with figs and apricots, I’m not sure. It looked like it had little chunks of diced onion in it. I got ham with my Ploughman’s Bread, while Johnathon got a small pork pie. I tried some of the pork pie, it was a thick bland bread with a chunk of very dry pork inside. This definitely needed some sauce, something for more flavor and ease back the dryness. Johnathon didn’t finish it.

Yet, it was great. I ate my meal smiling, loving the novelty of the experience.

Then we went to Trafalgar square. It is a good sized square with lots of people. Huge lion sculptures that people draped themselves over while their friends or family took pictures of them. I of course got several pictures of the people taking pictures.

Video – Trafalgar Square & Lions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyX243mlBQo

There were some Busckers (street entertainers) break dancing right outside of The National Gallery, as well as a living statue guy (painted as a gun wearing soldier/pirate in gold), and a musician playing the violin.

The National Gallery is free and holds an amazing amount of artwork that culturally goes over our collective heads. But there was no picture taking. I recognized a few pieces from my intro to art class. We didn’t stop at any picture, just kept a steady pace. We didn’t have much time and we were feeling majorly jet lagged and hurting by this point. The place is huge, the size and scope of the gallery is incredible. I’d need to get a degree in art history to begin to appreciate most of it. It was sort of like watching a video that shows you several different amazing and historical pieces of art every second. After ten minutes of that you are just flooded with images that seem to blur together and loose identity.

We crawled back to the hostel and spoke with a very friendly man who gave us our key. The room is small but sufficient. It doesn’t have AC but the window was left open and it is a pleasantly cool day. There don’t seem to be any bugs yet, even 8 hours of having the window open. The bathrooms are small and not very inviting, but that doesn’t really bother me. We have a great location, and there seems to be a good energy here.

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We packed up and left the cottage this morning. It was sad, it was a great little place and I would highly recommend to anyone going to Ireland to rent that little cottage just outside of Kilchreest.

Here is their website: http://www.traditionalirishstonecottage.com/

We drove to Newgrange. You have to park your car in the car park (they don’t call them parking lots here) and go to the visitor center. From the visitor center you pay a small admission fee, I think it was about 5 Euros. Then you get on a bus and they drive up to the site of the megalithic tomb. It was more commercial and professional than a lot of the other attractions we visited. Though Cliffs of Moher had a nice visitor center too.

Newgrange had a museum like display while you waited for your bus. Some of the artifacts behind glass cases. Some drawings of the stone aged culture that built Newgrange, an artificial hut and living conditions set up to observe it. Miniatures of the tomb and surrounding landscape. Also an “audio visual experience” but we didn’t have time to see that.

After the little bus ride you are dropped off at the base of the small hill that the tomb rests upon. It is a big nicely tended field.

Video – Newgrange: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJVCcFdWq3E

 

The tomb is actually more than a tomb. Too little is known about the society of the people who built it to know with any certainty about the exact purposes of it or the artwork carved into the stone (primarily consisting of concentric circles). The monument was a tomb, but also had another clearly obvious design. During the winter solstice light would enter into the monument from the secondary passage way, “the light box” which is just above the entrance, and illuminate the inner chamber for 17 minutes at dawn. There was a lot of precision work that went into making this above ground passage tomb slash celestially aligned construction. With two other impressive facts about the place, one being that over the course of multiple generations these people brought over 40 thousand tons of rock without the invention of the wheel and axel (they had logs they rolled stones on top of), and constructed this building without any adhesive, simply the careful application of loose rock piled on top of each other. The other notable thing is that it was built 1,000 years before Stonehenge and 500 years before the great pyramids of Eygpt, and that loose pile of 40 thousand tons of rock is still standing. The site had been obscured for a long time, being discovered 400 years ago by a man wanting to dig and build a quarry into a random looking hill with cows grazing on top. Luckily they didn’t dig through the tomb, they dug right down in front of it and stopped when they saw what it was. There were drawings made of it at that time, but it was closed off or something during that time, and a real excavation of rediscovery of the tomb didn’t happen until later in the 1960’s (I think, or around that time).

Okay, school lesson over, it was a cool place. We went inside but there was no photography allowed. The guide had to split up the group as it wasn’t very big inside and only 15 people are allowed in at a time. It was sort of frightening to me being inside and seeing how haphazardly looking the construction was. Like a little hut made out of stone by teenagers, but I kept reminding myself that it had lasted 5,000 years, so It would probably last another 10 minutes before the thousands of ton of rock fell down. There were little alcoves were the externally cremated remains of the ancient people were placed.

Video – Newgrange Info part 1 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JOJLY0ACgww

Video – Newgrange Info part 2 of 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkWNz6OdYCw

 

Once we were all in, the guide turned off the electric lights that were placed inside, and slowly turned on another light that was meant to simulate that of the rising sun on the winter solstice. It was a neat effect. He said that during the solstice the inner chamber lights up very profoundly. Color of clothing of the people inside is easily discernable (we didn’t get much of that effect with the electric light), and the stone of the chamber seems to illuminate as if glowing from within… supposedly. If an individual wanted to see Newgrange during the solstice, or the two days before or after that light still enters, then there are applications to fill out. They get a huge number of applications each year. The number that is in my head is 27,000? And they only have enough accommodations for 100 people a year. The applicants are drawn at random. It is a lottery. They also make it very clear that even if you are picked, you might travel thousands of miles to come to Newgrange only to see the morning fog rolling into the chamber, and no light. He says it insures a very focused group of people that see the inner chamber light up by the sun.

We left, and were off to Dublin.

There was a little hitch with getting to Dublin. I finally decided I felt comfortable enough with the tolls that we could just go to the coin only lane instead of the staff attended lane. But then it turned out this toll for the tunnel into Dublin’s center costed more than every toll we had encountered up to that point… and we didn’t have enough. So I awkwardly got out of the car and jumped over barriers, fought off several motorists, reached in and hit the release button myself after I knocked out the attendant, jumped and slide over the car hood to get back to the driver’s side and peeled out making a run for it.

Yep, that’s how it happened.

… Okay, so maybe it got a bit fanciful there and that some of it was embellished. I did have to jump over barriers though, but it was just to get to the window of an attendant and get the correct change from the cranky lady.

This was a huge tunnel and I was very thankful to bypass the hundred roundabouts that I probably would have had to navigate through above ground.

We dropped of the car alright, and walked to our Hostel. It took about ten minutes to walk, which was nice to have it be so close. I have a vague memory of me planning the car drop off being near the Hostel. The Hostel that we went to, “Oliver St. John Gogarty’s Hostel” is a colorful little corner building. It has flags from several different countries hanging from the outside walls.

Inside on the ground floor is a very popular (it would seem) bar. When me and Johnathon entered they were screaming a song(?) in unison with some colorful curse words. It was awesome. On the next floor they had a nice restaurant. Averaging 20 Euros a plate, which is kind of pricey. We had trouble finding the Hostel portion of the building. A group of kilt wearing Irishmen (about 3 of the 6 were wearing kilts anyway) on the second floor were boisterously trying to figure out an answer to our question of “where is the Hostel portion”. One said head down to the bar to ask, another said go around this small door a ways behind him in the corner, a third was saying  not to listen to the second, and a fourth was trying to say the back door was good because then you didn’t have to go back and around (or something). I hesitantly went for the door behind them in the corner. It worked, it is a complicated inner structure inside this building, but we got to the front desk for the Hostel portion and even the staff girl asked us where did we come from as she gazed back up the steps.

We got our room and a little bag of goodies, including 5 different menu’s to the different food and bar areas of Gogarty’s and the different meals of the day, as well as a DVD and CD of live music at Gogarty. Oh yeah, we also got a voucher for a free drink. I am going to use it to get a Guinness (I’ll probably only have a sip, because I typically hate the taste of beer, but I have to try the Guinness).

The Hostel room is nice, it has its own bathroom, a closet, a chair, a counter. It’s amazing compared to the place in London, but nothing compared to the cottage of course.

Johnathon crashed for a bit while I took a walk around the area. I came back, my energy level had dropped a bit too so I just laid down for awhile. After a little bit, not too far off from sunset, we went out again to see more of the city.

Video – Temple Bar Area: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXhOebgcX60

We went to go check out a park nearby. It is much smaller than Hyde Park but was still nice.

St. Stephens Green.

Video – St. Stephens Green Park: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhEv7CtN6rg

Twilight came and a man said the park was closing so we went back home. We went down a street with four different live performers playing for money, each with very different music it was actually sort of awesome. I gabbed philosophically about the beauty of music and the difference between recorded music and live music, being there in the moment of creation, and so forth.

We stopped by the grocery store right near the Hostel, got some dinner and went back for the night. Turns out it gets really loud outside our window. We are on the 3rd floor (they call it the 2nd floor over here) and our window faces inward toward the building. It is sky above, but a floor below is the bar area of the restaurant on the 2nd floor. Sort of an odd set up. So we get to fall asleep with the gentle lulling of the rowdy bar scene. Haha. Johnathon is already asleep, and I don’t suspect it will be much problem for me. I tend to prefer noise to silence when I sleep, maybe not quite like this, but I still think I’ll be alright.

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