Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lewes and Brighton

After staying at Baggies Backpackers in Brighton, England, we moved on to another little hostel called The Grapevine which was 20 pounds a night for the two of us as opposed to 35.  (~$30 instead of $50). It was next to the North Lanes which was where all the cafes, secondhand bookstores, and other unique smalls businesses were located. There we met good people from Brazil, Spain, and even England. Several had just moved to Brighton and were looking for work. Others were living there long term as it was cheaper to live in the hostel than in a flat.

Flat means apartment. However, I have seen “apartment for sale,” which I think means condo, but am not sure. The hostel was a great location with wonderful people, but at the same time I hated it. There was little to no hot water and the heater didn’t work in our dorm room. Oh well . . .  it was 20 pounds a night and we accidentally stole their key.  Woops.  Sorry, Grapevine.
When Bryan and I went back to the fish and chips place in Brighton for the second time, we met this lovely British lady who has been living in Brighton for the past 30 years. She suggested we visit a little place called Lewes (pronounced Lewis). Lewes is only three stops on the train from Brighton and was the quintessential small England town. There were no other tourists except for Bryan and me, which was exactly what we were looking for.
The town was filled with old buildings, cafes, breweries, castles, and more. There were a couple steep hills to walk up with a view of green fields. We spent the whole day exploring and Bryan had his favorite English Breakfast meal at a place called “Bills.” Bills was unique because while you were eating a meal you could simultaneously order groceries simply by filling out a grocery card. They would gather all the items and have it ready for you when it was time to pay. The groceries consisted of Bill products only, but it was nothing we had ever seen before.
We don’t know if it’s true or not, but we’ve been told Lewes was the home of the infamous, Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up parliament. The “Guy Fawks mask” recently reappeared on the cultural scene in the movie “V for Vendetta” and has been worn in many real life protests.
One of Bryan’s favorite parts of Lewes was the breweries.  We were told in London that the best “Real Ales” came from the south and southeast of the country (although we suspect the Scots will disagree).   However, “Sussex Ale” is known as one of the best, and some consider Lewes the cultural home of the Sussex ales.
As an example, we found ourselves sneaking into “The Lewes Arms” for a pint later in the day.  We were trying to find the Star Brewery on the tourist map, but when we did, it was just a brewery.  There was not an attached pub or a taproom.  However, the Lewes Arms pub was right across the one-car-wide street.  From inside, we could see the brewery and the “Lewes Lamb” pub right on the other side. Bryan was happy.
We left Brighton and are currently sitting at the Victoria Coach Station in London waiting for our overnight bus to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here’s to being able to sleep tonight.
We love and miss you all. Cheers!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Fish & Chips

There’s a list of a few things that we wanted to accomplish before we’re ready to leave England.  Visit the Crown Jewels… check.  Take a picture from the middle of the Millenium Bridge… check.  Walk across the London Bridge, get a picture in a red telephone booth, visit Arsenal… check, check, check.   Then came the surprisingly difficult task in the form of a British food cliche; fish and chips. 

London is incredibly multicultural.  Indian food places are ubiquitious, as are Turkish Donor Kebab stands and as well as Spanish tapas restaurant.  Good fish and chips were harder to find.  When we did find them, they were usually a Fish and Chips/Burger/Donor Kebab place that was hardly the quintessential experience we were looking for. To top it off, Seattle has awesome Fish and Chips places in our own right, so our standards are pretty high.
Two days ago, we were in London looking to satisfy the Fish and Chips portion of our trip, so we turn to the Lonely Planet, which guides us to Albion, a “self-consciously retro” restaurant serving up “top-quality British Classics”.  Now for reference, we’re usually spending about £10, or $16 per dinner.   Albion is rated ££ by the Planet, so is a bit more expensive.  I was hoping for £20.  We’d spent less on the dorm than on the private room the night before so hand some room in the budget.  Plus, we were gonna get some good Fish and Chips!
A ride on the DLR train followed by two transfers on the London Underground later brought us to Old St, and another ten minutes of walking to gets to Albion.  It was a neat little place, if a little hipstery for our tastes.   The hostess shows us to our seat, which is the first sign in we’re in a place that’s too expensive.  The waitress comes and hands us menus, at which point we learn a single order of the battered British bounty is going to run £12.  After some debate about whether or not to eat, we blow the rest of the daily budget on the most expensive meal we’ve had.  £12 Fish and Chips, £9 leek and potato pie and two £2 waters, plus a 12.5% gratiuty added to the bill.   I figured it was okay though, as we were checking a “must do” off the list.
Except the food was terrible.   The potatos in the pie weren’t cooked enough, and the crust was only on the top.  That’s not a pie crust, that’s a crouton!  The fish and chips made me sad.  The fish was dry and the batter was dough-y.  There was no crispyness to the outside, nor was their any flavor.  In short, we paid a bunch of money for a meal from a chef that hadn’t heard of salt.  We were more satisfied with the £1 sandwiches in the grocery store. 
Disappointed, we headed home with the rain retuning as if to mock us. 
Today, we were walking around the North Lanes of Brighton, which are where the old fishing village has turned into colorful vintage stores, cafes and brick-a-brack shops.  Again, a big Fish and Chips sign pops up to taunt me.  I poked my head in and saw the menu filled with fish and chips, but also donor kebab, burgers and every other sort of fry-able food you could think of.  Dejected, we broadened the search for lunch to other foods, right before a sign for “The Grapevine – Budget Accomodations” appeared.  We popped our heads in and met the propietor Steve, who offered dorm beds at £10.  We’ll probably head there tomorrow.  I then asked him if the pub across the way had good food.  “Great pub, bad food.  What type of food are you looking for?” he replied. 
“Fish and Chips!” I say.  “We’ve been looking, but all I’ve found is stuff that looks crappy and really greasy.”
“Well, fish and chips is greasy,” he replies.  “Do you mind old people?” 
Turns out there’s a chain, called Harry Ramsden’s, that’s known for Fish and Chips . . . and WWII era clientelle.  Twenty minutes later, we find the place and walk in the restaurant.  Soon, we’re being  being led past a bevy of British senior citizens to a table by a hostess in black slacks and a white shirt.  Uh oh. 
This was a bit better priced, but £10 for the crispy critters wasn’t what we were hoping for, especially for lunch, but we were going to get good grub, and the fact that this place had ~8 different kinds of Fish and Chips on the menu made me think we were in the right spot.  Eventually, we ordered one “Classic” to share although opted for the baked beans, as I don’t really want to see what “mushy peas” looks like. 
Finally, when the Cod arrived, I felt home.  It was a single filet and quite clearly a whole 1/2 of a fish.  You could see it taper and it even curved up and off the plate towards the tail.  The breading was thin, flavorful and gave a satisfying “snap” when cracked with a fork.  The chips were about 3x the size of a traditional American french fry, yet cooked through thouroughly.  We split the meal, but there have been few times I’ve left a restaurant feeling so satisfied. 
We walked out the front door and took a left to go to Brighton Pier, and immediately noticed another sign.  “Take Away” it read. 
Turns out that ol’Harry had two restaurants side by side, serving the same food. 
First, the sit-down restaurant we ate at with the “Classic” at £10.
Next door, you could get “take-away” with the classic at £5.05. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Later, London

As I write this we’re leaving London on a bus, heading to the southern coastal town of Brighton and Hove. The two cities merged recently so they are a single one now.

The Great Eastern was a good first “real” hostel experience. The first place was nice, but there were only a few beds, and private rooms. This time, we shared a room with 9 other people a night. They ranged from a ~60 year old Hungarian professor of anatomy to a Japanese guy with a guitar to a pair of traveling Australians, both named Matt. They were going on a two-week tour of Europe than were planning on looking for work in London.
There were two large common rooms in the first floor of the hostel. The bar served pizza and wraps. The lounge had a bunch of sitting spaces with couches and tables, which is were we ended up hanging out with the Matts last night. The Matt’s started looking at us oddly after about an hour. Eventually, we figured out that it was the bell peppers that we had purchased earlier that were drawing the questioning looks.
“Do you normally eat capsicums?” asked Matt. It took us a couple seconds to figure out they were talking about the peppers. After determining that we called black pepper “pepper” as well I tried to explain that peppers referred to all types of that style of “fruit” as they called the green bell-shaped food-product.
“Like jalapeno’s,” I said. “Do you know jalapeno’s?”
“Or habanero peppers? Do you know those?”
“After figuring out that no Mexican food related references were going to work I went for Thai.
“How about Thai chili pepper’s? What do you call those?”
“Chilis.” This whole thing made me happy that I live in a place that has a plethora of the spicy fruit.
“So do you use capsicums at all?” I asked.
“They come on the top of pizza for color, but you take them off before eating them.”
After arriving at the Great Eastern Hostel we turned around and headed to the Tower of London, which is the only admission fee we paid for an attraction. The highlight for me was getting to see the Crown Jewels. They had jewelry used for coronation ceremonies dating back to the 1600s. No pics allowed. Other pics above.
The next day we made the obligatory visit to Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. They all paled in comparison to the Emirates. For those of you not fluent in football, the Emirates is the home-stadium of Arsenal, the biggest football club in London. They played a piddling little club named Chelsea on the day.
Unlike going to sports in the USA, there were almost no team colors. Jerseys were only worn by teenagers and youth. On top of it, the crowd was overwhelmingly male. We walked around the stadium until we found the statue of the greatest player to ever play in the premier league, Thierry Henry and I copied the pose from the time he scored a goal against that other piddling little London club known as Tottenham.
We then settled down in a pub called “The Herbert Chapman” to watch. Leslie had a great people-watching spot at the window while I made friends with some of the locals.
Our last full day in London was dominated by the London Marathon. I woke up a bit before Leslie, so was writing some code in the common room with the marathon on in the background, which is where we learned that they were really close. We walked out the front door and maybe five blocks when we ran into the race. Maybe three minutes later the male front runners ran by. (unfortunately, we’d missed the women, who ran first).
My favorite part was the costumes. One guy was dressed up like Superman, and another as a banana, but it was Dracula that was the front-running costume of the day.
After that, we went over to Greenich Village (of Greenich Mean Time fame) and found The Lost Hour for breakfast. We got the full English Breakfast while watching Everton come from behind to tie Manchester United 4-4.
We then made our way back to the hostel, picking up some “capsicums” on the way. The mission for the afternoon was laundry, but the nearby laundromat was closed. Instead, we went back to the hostel and hung out with other travelers while figuring out where to go next.
The train seems to be the most pleasant way to travel through Britain, but it’s much more expensive than the bus, so we found ourselves hustling past the National Rails signs towards Victoria Coach Station. The bus is nice though. Comfortable seats, outlets and some funny little old English ladies.
But no capsicums. . . .

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Modern Art or a Floor Vent? You decide.

Millenium Walk
Bryan and I accidentally slept in until 11:00, but apparently it was needed. Once we were ready for the day, we found a neat little cafe around the block and had breakfast before making our way from the Brixton area in the South of London to the millenium bridge via the underground train. The millenium bridge is a relatively new walking bridge which crosses the River Thames and is near the London Bridge.  All of a sudden the rain stopped and a bit of blue sky presented itself. This was a blissful moment for the both of us, but as soon as we were about to cross the bridge it started pouring rain. Emphasis on the word pouring. It was crazy. By the time we made it to the other side my pants were absolutely soaked. Thank goodness for my long rain coat. This is where we noticed the Tate Modern Art Museum and decided to enter since it was free and was a place to hide from the hideous weather. :)
So, the modern art museum. Hmmmm….it was very interesting. Overall, we saw a chair that had balls…
Chair with balls
a mirror…
A mirror in the Tate Modern
a pile of clothes, a piece of white paper shaped like an octagon and many other odd pieces. 
Bryan vs. the Gladiators and Spiders
At one point, Bryan was trying to stop me from stepping on art that looked like a floor vent. I  started laughing and pointed to another one across the room…. sometimes a floor vent is just a floor vent, if you know what I’m saying. 
Art or floor vent?
Yes, art is a form of expression and we all define it differently, but most of it was really bizzare and something I would never want in my house.
This is our last day in Brixton. Tomorrow we will be heading to East London and our first dorm room of the journey.
Adios, and may your chairs remain balls free (Bryan told me to put that). :)

Some other pics:
A moment when it was not pouring:
It wasn't raining
It's clear
The Victoria Line at Rush Hour
Victoria Line at Rush Hour

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Street Sign in London

We landed in Heathrow Airport this afternoon and then spent about an hour on the tube getting to Brixton, which is a southern district in London.  We headed south out of the tube station towards the little side-street called Rushcroft Road, and the My Place Inn.   Dad had actually looked up the hostel on Google Maps streetview when we were in Bellingham, but we just saw repeating townhouses like these . . . no hostel, no sign.

I figured there was a newer sign that we’d see when we got here as the photo from Google was probably a bit dated.  That said, as we got to the end of Rushcroft Road, there was still no sign.
Then I hear, “Bryan!” yelled out of a third story window.  I turn around and the woman I’ve been emailing is hanging her head out of the window.   I guess that’s the sign. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Last Post from the Emerald City!

We’ve said goodbye to the Belliston side of the family in Tri-Cities this morning and have traveled back to western Washington. As I type this, we’re in the Sorento hotel in Seattle, which is WAY nicer than anything we’re expecting to stay at in the near future. For example, there’s a bellhop. I’m expecting this is the last we’ve seen of them for awhile.

A couple other lasts . . .
  1. We stopped by Bob’s Burgers in Tri-Cities . . . last time we can be confident of a decent burger
  2. I just parked outside. . . last time driving a vehicle for awhile
  3. Leslie’s jettisoning the luxury bag . . . last time for the hair straightener.
  4. We stayed with Leslie’s sister Lindsay and her husband Adrian last night. They made Chicken Alfredo . . . last home-cooked family meal.
  5. Tomorrow, we will cancel our phones. Last bill to cancel, last phone call cometh.
  6. In about 45 minutes, we’ll be meeting friends and family in Seattle for our goodbye-dinner. Last evening out Seattle.
  7. Last night in the USA.
Also a first . . . we’ve paid down our dollars, which is a term we use for getting rid of all local currency before heading onto the next country. Our last couple bucks went to the bellhop
Next stop, London

Friday, April 6, 2012

Our new apartment!

It took us a bit longer than we expected, but we’ve officially moved into our new apartment . . . okay. . .  all our stuff is in a storage bin except for our backpacks and a “luxury” suitcase that is the last few non-necessities for our last few weeks in Bellingham and Tri-Cities.   Notice the massive wine stain on the box-spring for extra credit!

I’ve spent a surprising amount of time on the phone cancelling Comcast bills, finalizing travel insurance and eliminating the remaining monthly bills that we had.  As you can imagine, much of this was annoying, but I’m am proud to award the Most Useless Service Award to . . . . the ORCA Card (Seattle’s public transportation card).  We lost our card, so cancelled and tried to get them to reissue the card.  Instead, they sent us new cards, so we now have 4 cards.  One of the lost cards has $17.25 on it.  Unfortunately, I can’t transfer it onto a non-lost card.   My only option is to order a replacement card (which we tried to do once) at $5, then pay the $10 refund fee so we can get a check for $2.25.  Grumble . . .
On a positive note, our Eurail pass has shown up.  This is a train pass that’s going to be good for travel throughout 23 European countries for three months.  I almost wrote “Free travel throughout 23 countries,” but trust me. . . it wasn’t free.  We did get a 15% discount by traveling together at all times though :)   We also got a 1st class pass!   . . . because if you’re over 26 they don’t give you a choice.  It’s litterally a letter-sized strip of paper and will be activated once we write our first date on it.  It willbe good for most trains in the member countries with extra fees applying for night-coaches  or the 200mph trains.  It’s good in 23 will have details if you want more details. 
Anyway, we’re in Bellingham celebrating Merry East-birth-giving, because we’re going to miss all familial holidays next year and want to spend time with the family before we go.  We’re going to be in Bellingham with Bryan’s side of the family until Sunday and then will be traveling to the Eastern side of the state to visit Leslie’s side of the family.  
Then we’re off.   T-minus 11 days. . .