Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inside, outside, puppy dogs tails

If you measure how extreme an adventure is by how many thongs you go through, then I think my adventure is pretty extreme (except Ash already knew that after our bungee jumping/white water rafting/speed dating adventures in New Zealand...). And to avoid any confusion for any Americans out there reading this, I mean those things you wear on your feet, not any other type of thong (man, that would be scary if I was breaking a lot of those...). I am now up to my fourth pair of thongs. When I am at home, one pair of thongs will last me like five years. Average life span of my thongs on this trip... 63.5 days. And they always seem to break in the most annoying places... like walking in Mykonos when the bitumen road is 100 degrees, or traipsing the streets of Berlin when it's raining (and let me tell you, the ground in the metro there is far from clean). And they were all Havaianas (apart from the ones I bought in Thailand, I think they were fake) which is why I will never be buying Havaianas again. They simply aren't extreme enough to keep up with me.

So anyway, enough about thongs. My mum also says she can't keep up with me, and I can see why, as I have been in five different countries (Spain, England, Wales, Ireland, Germany, for those keeping score) within the space of about two weeks. I touched down in London town a couple of weeks ago to some rather pleasant weather, actually. I was getting pretty sick of the 40 degree days in Spain, so a balmy 20 degrees was okay with me for a while (be careful what you wish for...). I found Beth working in her pub on Goodge Street (funniest street name ever) then did a spot of shopping on Oxford Street. That night Beth and I lazed around her room and watched movies and ate weirdly flavoured "crisps" with a bottle of rose. Before we went to her room, Beth warned me "Ok, well it's a bit ghetto..." It was a shoebox with four beds in it and just enough room to walk between them. She was living the cliche of a starving artist (or bartender) trying to make ends meet in the big city. It was worse than a hostel, but literally two doors down from her pub. And only temporary. The next day we went to the Notting Hill Carnival, which was actually really disappointing. What I expected was colourful Caribbean floats and costumes and music everywhere, with activities etc. What I got was drunken people everywhere, a few crappy DJs, long queues for the toilets and lots and lots of crowds. The highlight of my day was the African food and this old lady juggling:

So then I caught up with my cousin Kate, who also happened to be in London (the Dortmans invasion of Europe... it's beginning to gather momentum). We did the touristy thing cruising around Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, getting corny photos in red phone booths and double decker buses. Then we went to Covent Gardens for a beer or two, which turned into an afternoon drinking session watching street performers below and our group kept growing bigger and bigger. After a bite to eat in Soho, I was home in bed by midnight, the beauty of starting in the afternoon.

I ticked off a few more sights in London, like the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Tate Modern, changing of the guard, then at night I went to see Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors" at the Globe (replica of the original) for five pounds! Only downside being that I had to stand like a peasant for the whole show. But I do think we had the best non-seats in the house, right in amongst the action. The performance was awesome, and actually was hilarious. The next night I rocked up to a West End ticket booth at 6pm, bought a half-price ticket in a great seat to see "Oliver!" (very appropriate for London) and by 7pm was sitting in the Theatre Royal watching a great show. Try doing that in Australia!

After that I spontaneously decided to go to Ireland and hopped on a train and ferry to Dublin. It wasn't quite the quaint old city I'd been led to believe from the books of James Joyce and others, but a lot to see nonetheless. The sun didn't come out for the two days I was there, so I rugged up in my jeans and jacket for the first time in a while and cruised the streets. That night I went out with some Germans to a cool little pub called "The Stag's Head" where a little three piece band were playing old Irish ballads and the intimate crowd was getting right into it, dancing and singing along. I'd had my first taste of traditional Irish music, and disenchanted by the touristy clubs and bars that were taking over Dublin, I decided to head west, the home of trad Irish music. I caught a bus to Galway and was instantly greeted by Irish music pouring from bar doors and buskers on the street trying to earn a euro. I liked it better already. My first night there I met three hilarious Alaskan guys and a fellow Aussie girl doing the same thing as me, and between the five of us we ploughed through seven bottles of wine and laughed about George Bush, Sarah Palin and the weird things that Colombian men do with donkeys. I don't remember much of the rest of that night, except that I am pretty sure I resprained my ankle trying to wrestle someone and got REALLY lost (in Galway! The place is tiny!) after losing the others in a bar. I woke up the next morning pretty sore.

I then joined a tour to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher, which looked like the beautiful magical Ireland you imagine, only crawling with tourists. The cliffs were spectacular and I finished off the day with a hearty Irish stew and a pint of Guinness (yes it does taste better in Ireland... something about the pipes, someone told me) then watched a five piece Irish band at the Spanish Arch, where an old man performed a spontaneous Irish jig on his way out the door, to the joy of all the onlookers. The guy playing the tinwhistle looked like a rockstar, he was very handsome. The tinwhistle is a sexy instrument, don't you think? Then with the accent... well, need I say more.

I would have loved to spend more time exploring the west, however, London was calling, as I had a flight to catch to Berlin in a few days time. I spent one more night in Dublin on my way through and gave it another chance, and this time it came up with the goods. The sun even came out for a while! I tried to walk to the port to buy a ferry ticket and got a bit lost. An old guy called Lawrence took pity on me standing on the street with my map offered to drive me there (it was so far away, glad I didn't walk!). Then he waited for me to buy the ticket and drove me back to where he picked me up! How cool is Irish hospitality? These random acts of kindness always keep me smiling for the rest of the day. That night I walked into a cosy little pub with a three piece band playing American folk music and started talking to a friend of the band who told me that Guinness had so much iron in it, you could live on a diet of 24 pints a day without eating anything else. I think a lot of Irish people live on this diet. So I hung out with these guys for the rest of the night as we went from little alternative bar to little alternative bar and they decided I was "intrepid" and I almost felt like I could be in Melbourne.

Then back to London where I caught up with Beth after her first week of having a real job... teaching! She was exhausted, but we reflected on our weeks over some good Indian food and pints of Guinness. The next day we did the London Dungeon, a kitschy mixture of London history and gore... the only time I genuinely got scared was when Jack the Ripper jumped out with a knife... oh and on the giant drop, of which I bought a priceless photo of the look on my face, which I will treasure forever. Then I said farewell to Beth, not knowing when and where we would see each other again, after randomly bumping into each other all over Europe. Sniff. Then I hopped on a plane to Berlin. Three days until Oktoberfest, bring it on Dortos!

Love Megan
Intrepid traveller

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