Looking back, already

Monday, June 29, 2009

It's Day 14 as I write this, and if my trip will be 50 weeks long, that means it's already 4% over. I was really negligent in recording my thoughts and impressions for those first two weeks, though I'm trying to catch up now with a journal. It seemed that there were far more interesting ways to spend my time than by writing things down. I'm now trying to make a habit of writing a little bit each day, and I'm slowly trying to remember things from those first 14 days too.

London was, in a word, fantastic. I'm sitting here at a bit of a loss for words because I'm not sure where to start, so I'll try Day One:

I am really really glad that I looked up the London Hashers. I thought it might be a bit ambitious to arrive at 8:25am after a trans-Atlantic flight, and then be in any shape to hash the same night, but it turned out to be a great plan. The London Hashers were friendly and fun, and it was a great start to the trip. Rather than being an anonymous tourist in a sea of other tourists (and London is a sea of tourists), I was welcomed as an individual, and learned people's names, and made some real connections. In fact, it was so much fun that I went the next night to run with the City Hash. (There are lots of different Hash groups in London. If I'd wanted to, I could have run on Wednesday in West London. There seems to be quite a bit of overlap between groups, but also some friendly rivalry.) Hashing was great, and if it turns out to be this good in the other places I visit, then that will be a fine thing indeed.

Me at that first London Hash. The guy on the right is another visitor, from Sweden.

Seeing the sights was also quite great. Here's a quick list of the stuff I saw in about 10 days: the British Museum, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, the National Gallery, the British Library, the London Transport Museum, Covent Garden, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the reconstructed Globe Theatre, the Cabinet War Rooms, the Churchill Museum, the Tower of London, the O2, Hyde Park, Speaker's Corner, Kensington Gardens, Regent's Park, Greenwich, blah blah blah... At each place I felt like I could have stayed for 3 days, and each place I visited was only one on a list of hundreds more that I didn't see. I could spend a year in London and not see everything, so it was all a bit overwhelming. At the same time, though, it was almost a relief. I mean it's so impossible to cover it all that you just have to let things go. I also figure that this isn't your average 2-week vacation, wherein one might be expected to cram in every possible attraction in a 50-mile radius. This is not a sprint... it is a marathon, and as such, pacing will be critical. I don't want to make the rookie mistake of starting too fast.

The wall tiles in the tube station a Baker Street. I love these.

And here's a taste of what I missed: either of the Tate Galleries (Modern and British), the Victoria and Albert Museum, St. Paul's Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Natural History Museum, Portobello Road Market, Canary Wharf, the London Eye, the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum, St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Madame Tussaud's, the London Zoo, blah blah blah. And really, I'm not particularly bothered. I just have to be confident that some day I will be back, hopefully sooner rather than later. Perhaps even next weekend.

And here are a few thoughts, somewhat randomly presented, on London, and England, and the trip and whatever:

1. It is absolutely worth the money to pay for a good, knowledgeable guide at major sights rather than bumbling around on your own, not sure of what you're looking at. England has a guild of Blue Badge guides who are highly trained and accredited and are totally brilliant. I'm at the point now where I'm not interested in anything anyone has to say unless they're wearing a blue badge. I hooked up with Blue Badge guides mostly through London Walks - a company that operates about 12 zillion different walking tours throughout London and the surrounding area. Each one starts at a tube station, and troops you around various sights led by a Blue Badge guide. I did London Walks through the National Gallery, around Westminster Abbey, through "Christopher Wren's London" and at the Tower of London. Each time I was totally convinced that it was worth the £7.00 for the commentray, anecdotes and information the guide provided. The National Gallery and Wren tours were quite small, but the Westminster Abbey and Tower of London ones were huge. However, despite the size of the group, I really didn't feel like I was short-changed at all. The trick is to stick close to the guide, and leave to stragglers to their fate. London sight-seeing is not for the weak of body or spirit. Both my big tours were conducted by the same guide - Brian. He was great - loud and funny and had lots of stories, and fielded every question I asked him, including the one about the odd species of trees planted in St. James's Park. I'm not convinced that all his anecdotes were entirely truthful, but they were fun and evocative, so who cares?

Brian gesturing at the multitudes inside the Tower of London.

2. The history here is just ridiculously ever-present. You can't turn a corner without bumping into another bloody 14th century church, or a monument to some grand battle, or a world-class museum, or chunk of Roman wall or something.

I wasn't even looking for this place. I just wanted somewhere to eat my tuna-and-sweetcorn sandwich on the way to the Globe Theatre, and I headed for a nearby patch of green on the map. Southwark Cathedral - 13th century.

3. Something else that strikes me is that the entire island is so thoroughly inhabited. Compared to Canada, it's positively tiny, yet the population is almost 61 million. There are some many people, and they've been here for so long that the entire place has been completely surveyed, mapped, occupied and tromped across for hundreds and hundreds of years. It's completely civilized, and I don't mean that in the "raised pinkie" sense. It's odd compared to Canada where there are vast areas of land where no one has ever set foot. I'm told Scotland is a bit more wild, but here in the south, it's anything but.

4. In North America a road might called "Milk Maid's Lane" so that it will sound charming and historical and hence fetch an extra $10,000 per property lcoated there. Here, a road is called "Milk Maid's Lane" because in the 15th century, that's where actual milkmaids lived or worked. And there are a thousand Milk Maid's Lanes.

Look closely at the street signs, and remember I saw "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" the night before.

And now, from the last entry in the diary of Sir Walter Scott (original of which on display at the British Library):
"It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more."

Parallel Universe

Friday, June 26, 2009

I know it's been a hundred years since I posted; please forgive me. I am at least trying to update the Twitter feed a couple of times a day, since it's quite easy for me to dash off 140 pithy words on my cell phone than it is to find the time to sit and write something as long as a blog post. Please check out the Twitter if you want a more frequent fix of GSRED adventures. In the mean time I'm sure you'd like stories about all the things I've seen and lovely pics of Buckingham Palace and such. Too bad. I will try to upload more pics to Flickr soon, so if it's pictures you want, try there. Instead you get a post with just one largely unrelated picutre, here:

Gratuitous photo of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace.

England is very much like Canada. Or, I suppose it would be more proper to say Canada is a lot like England since, to be fair, they were here first. I feel quite at home, which makes it that much stranger when I'm confronted by the things that are different. It's like I'm in an episode of "Star Trek" and have been transported to a parallel world where only the smallest things betray my alien-ness. Things like this:

"Two countries, divided by a common language". There are a lot of expressions that are unfamiliar, but still make perfect sense. It's not that the worlds are unknown, they're just used with different frequency. We might say "garbage", here they'd say "rubbish". We both know what the other means, but there's a slight twist. Dish soap is washing-up liquid. A store is a shop. A highway is a dual carriageway. Take-out food is take-away. Dessert is pudding (whether or not it is actually pudding, and don't get me started on the meaning of "pudding", which has decidedly little to do with Jell-o). I could go on and on. Having grown up with English relatives, it seems quite homey (homely) to me, but it's still a few degrees off-course.

Of course there's the obvious: they drive on the left here. It's surprisingly hard to get used to. I'm always second-guessing myself about which way to look when crossing the street. It's easy to say "Just look both ways, you idiot". But if I look both ways, I'm still looking with a North-American trained brain, and my eye automatically checks the far lane looking right and the near lane looking left. I can't help it. In lots of parts of London they actually paint "Look Right" in big letters on the pavement at pedestrian crossings. This helps, but it can't completely overcome 40 years of ingrained instinct. It's especially bad when running, and I'm always looking the wrong way up the street when waiting for a bus.

Also, I am constantly walking into doors when attempting to leave buildings. Exterior doors here open in, even on stores (shops) and public buildings. I'm told this is to lessen the chance of a smacking a passer-by with the door if you exit with excessive exuberance. I can't help but think the consequences of that are much less serious than the consequences of being crushed to death between a door that opens in and a mob fleeing a burning building. Obviously the impoliteness of an occasional smack outweighs the fear of burning death here. Generally speaking, the English would rather have their toenails removed with needle-nosed pliers than be perceived to be impolite.

The obviously alien sport here is Cricket, which I won't even attempt to explain. It's vaguely like baseball, except that games can last for up to 5 days and still end in a tie (draw). And even the players stop for a drink every once in a while. Cricket is NOT something that's sorta-different. The sport that I find most intriguing in a parallel universe way is rugby. It's a lot like hockey (ice hockey). It's fast and brutal and exciting. It's played nation-to-nation, and it's played on a recreational level by ordinary guys (blokes). Women even play now, though I'm not sure how recent that innovation is. It reminds me a lot of the rise of women's hockey in Canada, especially since the English Women's rugby team are completely dominating world play right now, just like the Canadian women did when international play for women was first introduce. Rugby's scoring system is bizarre, but not stranger than football (American Football). I'd like to see a game live but (like hockey) it's a winter sport, so there's little chance of that.

I could go on and on, but I've got a life to live here. Suffice it to say that if I was reporting back to the Enterprise, I'd have to say, "It's life Captain, but not as we know it."

Now it's time for a stroll up the High Street, and maybe some sweets and a squosh.

Stalag Russell Square

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Smart Russell Square hostel is my first hostel of the trip, so I have no idea how it stacks up. I'll just lay out some of my impressions:

Here's what my first room looked like. (I had to change rooms a couple days ago because I'd only booked for 3 nights at first. It just seemed simplest to stick here, so I had to move to another room for my second reservation.) The place has rooms with 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, and 24-beds; I have opted for the Cadillac-priced 4-bed version . That means 2 sets of bunk beds, one very tiny sink (not pictured), and one inconveniently located power outlet.

One bunk in my 4-bed room costs £19.99 for weeknights, and £24.97 for weekends. The real barn-like rooms with 24 beds start as low as £7.99 per night.

You get issued two sheets and a pillowcase when you check in, and you return them when you check out. If you're lucky, you get a pillow that's not coated in vinyl.

As you can see, each bunk also has little privacy curtains that you can draw over the opening, which I like very much. This is the only place I found with this feature, and it's one of the reasons I chose it from among the zillions online.

There are 2 large built-in drawers under each set of bunks; they unlock with the same swipe-card that gets you into the dorms. They're big enough that I can put the whole Aeronaut in one, though most people have to leave their bags sitting out, just putting important or expensive stuff in the drawers. (One more reason why I am so cool for traveling with one small bag. Heh heh.) However, you have to pay an extra £1.50 per night to use a locker drawer. This was a surprise to me, since it doesn't seem to be mentioned anywhere on the website. Still, I'm glad they're there, and use mine to full advantage.

The Common Room has a couple of TVs that are usually tuned to music videos or incomprehensible game shows, a pool table, vending machines, some couches, and a bunch of tables and chairs, mostly used for eating at. Right now I am just out of frame to the left of the pool table pictured below. Also, the room is NEVER as empty as in this picture. Right now I can count about 57 people, so it's kind of loud.

The hostel advertises free breakfast which is, technically, true. There's toast you prepare yourself in one of those neat conveyor-belt kind of industrial toasters. You can have your toast with jam or margarine, or jam and margarine. There's also an industrial-sized bin of corn flakes, and a big urn of hot water with tea bags and instant coffee. It's extremely basic, but it's free. I've been supplementing with fruit bought at a local convenience store, and that helps. There's also a communal kitchen where you could prepare actual meals, but I haven't bothered with that. There are enough cheap eats close by that it just hasn't seemed necessary.

The showers are exactly 5 flights of stairs down from my cell, in a room in the basement. It's a bit of an event getting down there, but the facilities are reasonable. The showers (and the taps in all the sinks) have those buttons you push that turn the water on for a preset period of time. In the shower, this is exactly long enough to let the water go from cold through a brief 1.2 second period of comfort, to a temperature that surely must correlate with a label somewhere reading "parboil". They remain on for an additional 6.3 seconds, and then shut off after a total of about 10 seconds of thermally-challenging bathing time. I'm not kidding - that water is HOT. I'm convinced they're trying to make Backpacker Soup in the sub-basement, in a twist on the Sweeney Todd story... "Worst Soup in London".

The first roommates I had were quite nice and friendly, and the ones in the new room were a trio of 18 year-old Aussie girls just here to party. They departed noisily at 5:30 this morning, and I've just inherited a similarly-minded trio of German girls who were busy applying makeup and spandex when I was up there a few minutes ago. They make me feel old, but also profoundly grateful that I'm doing this trip at 40 and not 20.

And that's a snapshot of life in the hostel. Let's just say that though I'm reluctant to leave London, I'm very excited about getting to Kent next week, where I'll be visiting family and staying in a single room at a real B&B!

Morning, Day Five

Friday, June 19, 2009

Apologies for not posting more, but frankly I am busy DOING, as opposed to writing about what's already done.

I had a great night out last night, though I'd planned to stay in and do laundry and blog. Instead, I got a last-minute ticket to see the new stage adaptation of "Priscilla Queen of the Desert", and it was fantastic. And a complete contrast to Wednesday night's ""Waiting for Godot" (with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan!). If I'd had the choice, I would have liked to see Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan in "Priscilla Queen of the Desert", but even the West End has its limits.

I got back to the hostel (which I tend to think of in my head as either "the barracks" or "Stalag Russell Square"... more on hostel living in another post) at about 10:30 and put in a load of laundry. Like everything here, laundry was ferociously expensive. £4 for a wash and £2 for a dry - about $12 in total! Yikes. Still, it's nice to have everything clean.

Yesterday I decided to try a guided tour of the National Gallery - I chose one by a tour company called London Walks, who come highly recommended by Rick Steves. It turned out the be a great choice. We saw only a few paintings, but each one came with a really great commentary so I appreciated each a lot more.

I saw this:

The Arnolfini Portrait, van Eyck

And this:

The Hay Wain, Constable

And this one too, though it was not on my tour. I eavesdropped on another tour to hear a bit about it.

The Ambassadors, Holbein

I even saw one of Van Gogh's Sunflowers, but it wasn't on my tour either, so it didn't really mean much. The moral of this story is: pay for the guided tour!

There is so much in that gallery I couldn't even begin to see it all. In fact, it's abundantly clear that 10 days in London is woefully inadequate, and I'm here longer than I'll be in any other city on the itinerary. It's kind of sad, but also means that I just need to get over the "must-see-everything" compulsion, because that's patently impossible.

My afternoon was spent at the London Transport Museum, which was hot and cold, and cost £10! Today I'm going to take another London Walk focusing on Westminster Abbey, then hope to attend a free lunchtime concert at the church of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields on Trafalgar Square.

London is great, though. I really like it, and have been here long enough that I now mostly remember to look the wrong way when I'm crossing the street. I'm not taking a lot of pictures, partly because it makes me feel self-conscious and touristy, and partly because almost everything is worth taking a picture of. Everywhere I turn there's great architecture, or famous landmarks, or weird, quirky London stuff.

I did have one non-hashing run this week, and made it from the hostel to Regent's Park and back without a map. As I suspected, it's been really hard to fit running in along with everything else. Wednesday's run was fine, though predictably, I missed the turn to get back to the hostel. This is not surprising since streets here change names about every 3 blocks, so the fact that I missed "Greater Whinging Lane" was probably because where I needed to turn it was called "Whipplesnort Road" or "Smack-yer-bollocks Square" or something like that.

Oh, and here's a shot of me, drawing a Canadian flag in coloured chalk on the pavement at Trafalgar Square. There was a couple there getting people to draw their flags for small donation. The day before they'd ended up with the flags of more than 120 different countries.

It was a Bad Hair Day

My flag

I love this place. Ok, off to Westminster Abbey.

Easing into it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I finally crawled into bed at about midnight after a very nice evening with the London Hash House Harriers. Woke up when Alessandro's alarm went off at 9am, and rolled down for the free breakfast in the hostel common room - toast and cornflakes. They also had cornflakes and toast. Or toast and toast. However, it was free, and enough to get me going.

Went down to Westminster bridge to do a little Rick Steves walking tour from there up to Trafalgar Square, expecting to have a quietish little walk. Of course the place was crawling with tourists, which I was stupidly surprised by. Ironically, I've realized I am really not fond of tourists. They crowd all over the place and take pictures and are loud. Naturally I am NOT a tourist. I am, er, a TRAVELER.

Traveler Pam and the Houses of Parliament

I took a quick video I took of my 360 degree view from Westminster bridge, about which I tweeted this morning, but either Flickr or Firefox does not like me today, so you don't get the video. Instead, here are some more shots of today:

Big Ben!

Horse Guard on Whitehall

Cecil's Court, off Charing Cross Road, full of neat book shops

Greek carvings at the British Museum. Apparently most Greeks of this era had no heads.

So I had a walk, and a picnic lunch, and I took a brief turn through the British Museum, but I will definitely be going back. Like I said, I'm easing into it. Now I'm off for another night of hashing, this time in The City. Tomorrow night, a show.

Kim, Rick and A1C Knox

Monday, June 15, 2009

I'm here! I'm in London! And it's been a really long day - I was up at 4:30am MDT to call Fed Ex about my UK passport, and it's now 12:45 GMT, so that's 26.25 hours so far, and it'll probably be about 36 hours by the time I hit the sack tonight. I slept on the plane more than I expected to, but I'm still in a bit of a fog.

For those of you who weren't following the blow-by-blow on Twitter, (at goseeruneatdrnk, or in the sidebar over there --->) I got word on Friday that my UK passport had FINALLY arrived in Winnipeg, and it was put in a Fed Ex for Saturday delivery to me in Calgary. On Saturday morning I tracked it online and discovered it was scheduled for delivery on Monday, June 15... too late. I phoned Fed Ex and it turns out there was some kind of confusion about whether it had been marked for Saturday delivery or not. It was still in Winnipeg, and not due to arrive in Calgary until about midnight on Saturday; my flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30am on Sunday.

I have to hand it to Fed Ex - I told them the package contained my passport, and I was leaving the country on Sunday, and they made it happen. The service rep I talked to put me in touch with Kim at the Calgary Depot, and Kim got in touch with a manager, and the manager left instructions for the ramp crew. These are the guys who work the overnight shift loading and unloading planes. He asked them to rifle through the Winnipeg container and find my envelope, and then asked that one of them hand-deliver it to me at my sister's house on his way home from work.

And so it was that I met Rick from the night shift, who wasn't even a delivery guy. He knocked quietly on the door at 5:10 am and got a hug and a big thank you in exchange for this:

My UK passport and original citizenship certificate, with appropriate product placement.

So I got on the plane in Calgary, and I spent a long layover in Chicago killing time and Skyping. The London flight left on time, and I ended up sitting next to a young woman in the American Air Force. We chatted a bit over dinner and it turns out that her day was just as exciting and momentous as mine. Airman First Class Knox, 18 years old, was on her way to her first duty assignment since completing basic and technical training. She was heading for a 2-year deployment at Lakenheath. And, it was her first trip out of the country. I said, "And I thought I was having a big day!"

I slept more than I expected to on the plane, which was good. And then as we began our approach to London I finally started to get excited about this whole thing. So A1C Knox and I looked out the window and said things like, "It's so green!", and "The cars look like they're going backwards", and generally enjoyed the moment. It was nice to have someone to share with.

Customs in London was a complete non-event with the precious EU passport. Instead of waiting in the line of about 50 people in one of those cattle-pen kind of set-ups, I waited in a line of... oh wait, there was NO LINE. I breezed up to a waiting customs official, handed over my shiny new passport, and was through in about 20 seconds. I think I will really like this dual-citizenship thing.

There will be more later, but for now I think I'll post this so everyone knows I'm here, safe and content. The hostel is, not surprisingly, somewhat dingier than pictured, and my room is an absolute sauna. However, I'm about two blocks from the British Museum so can I really complain? Perhaps I'll stroll over there now.

Rosetta Stone, anyone?

Final thoughts upon embarking

Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Nothing's lost forever. In this world, there's a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we've left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that's so."

Harper Pitt, Angels in America Part II, Perestroika

The final 48 hours

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Here are Rick Steves' suggestions on how to minimize the effects of jet lag by arriving well-rested and ready to start your big trip:

Plan from the start as if you're leaving two days before you really are. Keep that last 48-hour period sacred (apart from your normal work schedule), even if it means being hectic before your false departure date. Then you have two orderly, peaceful days after you've packed so that you are physically ready to fly. Mentally, you'll be comfortable about leaving home and starting this adventure. You'll fly away well-rested and 100 percent capable of enjoying the bombardment of your senses that will follow.

- "Europe Through the Back Door, The Travel Skills Handbook 2009"
Here are my last 48 hours:

T minus 48 hours:

Go out for big breakfast with friend in Calgary who will be coming to meet me for Jordan, Egypt and India. French Toast and Bottomless Hashbrowns!

T minus 46 hours: Get phone call that UK passport has arrived in Winnipeg! Request that Winnipeg connection Fed-Ex passport for Saturday delivery in Calgary. Rejoice that all seems to be falling into place.

T minus 46 hours: Spend the rest of the day in the sun building the Taj MaShed in my sister's back yard.

Dad and the shed at the end of building Day Two

T minus 40 hours: Shower, beer, excellent supper of salmon with family.

T minus 38 hours: Coffee and dessert with another friend, who's kind of the one who got me into this in the first place, but that's definitely another post.

T minus 34 hours: Lie in bed trying to get to sleep. Realize annoying shed-building error and attempt to devise coping strategy. Finally fall asleep.

T minus 25 hours: Wake up and check online Fed-Ex tracking to ensure passport will arrive in the next 90 minutes.

T minus 24.999999 hours: Notice that package is not scheduled for delivery until Monday, June 15th.

T minus 24.999998 hours: *** HEAD EXPLODES***

T minus 24. 5 hours: talk to nice people at Fed Ex who are sympathetic, but may not be able to help.

T minus 22.5 hours: Attend niece's under-4 soccer game, Yellow Banana vs. Purple Chickens.

Go Bananas!

T minus 21.5 hours: Trip downtown to MEC for a few last-minute things, including luggage locks and new, slightly more packable water bottle.

T minus 20 hours: Get message from Kim at Fed Ex in Calgary, who has moved Heaven and Earth to get my package delivered to the door at 5:00 am tomorrow morning. Nominate Kim for sainthood, vow to name first-born children after the night shift ramp crew of the Calgary Fed Ex Depot.

T minus 19.5 hours: Laundry, load #1

T minus 20 hours: More shed-building in tropical temperature and scorching sunshine, including fixing annoying error of previous day, and aerial skilsaw ballet. Consider staying at a different B&B for next visit to Calgary. This one has good wireless internet access and an excellent menu, but the work detail is grueling.

T minus 19 hours: Break from shed-building and attempt to glue recalcitrant silicone earpiece onto Skype headset.

T minus 18.5 hours: Fail utterly in above attempt.

T minus 16 hours: Knock off shed-building, clean up and enjoy beer #1.

T minus 15.5 hours: Excellent farewall supper of BBQ ribs (Good ribbance!). Beer #2.

T minus 14.5 hours: Playing with niece, Laundry, load #2

T minus 15.5 hours: Blog.

Future plans:

Finnish laundry, label small pot of Sport Suds so it doesn't look like a container of unidentified white powder, pack all the stuff that's staying behind, PACK THE AERONAUT, relax, bed.

4:30 am tomorrow: Phone the friendly boys at Fed Ex to see if they are bringing my passport. Shower, breakfast, last minute packing, ride to airport, tearful goodbyes, check in, pass security, board plane. Phew.

Maybe Rick Steves has a point...

The Western Canadian Farewell Tour, last stop

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Rosetown, Saskatchewan, en route to Calgary. One of the last grain elevators I'll see in a long time.

I've arrived in Calgary for the last leg of the Go See Run Eat Drink Western Canadian Farewell Tour. I've got a few days here staying with my sister, brother-in-law and niece before the big flight out on Sunday morning. On the agenda: seeing a couple of friends, attending my niece's daycare wind-up, last-minute trip-related shopping, oh, and building a 6' x 14' shed for my sister's back yard. No sense in hanging about doing nothing for 3 days, eh? I think once I get to London all I'll want to do is sleep for a week. Then again with the transit strike it may take me a week just to get from the airport to my hostel.

I'm still feeling completely unprepared. The list is shorter, but it's still there: establish secure online document storage, attach earpiece to Skype headset, print approximate itinerary for non-techno relatives without blog access, get two more small luggage locks, get a smaller water bottle, slice up Rick Steves guide books to eliminate unnecessary sections, and print a few things that need to be carried as hard copies.

As for being mentally prepared, despite the fact that the countdown clock says something ridiculous like 3 days, I still really can't believe it's actually happening, and I can't shake the "What have I done?" feeling. I really hope some excitement starts very very soon.

Packing the Aeronaut for the jaunt to Calgary was as discouraging this time as it was the first time. It seems that my list of stuff has surreptitiously ballooned since the last attempt. The final pack on Saturday night will require some extremely hard-nosed decision about things I thought were non-negotiable. I really need to embrace the "If in doubt, throw it out" theory. Things that have already fallen prey to this rule: long underwear, light gloves, buff, the folding Orikaso cup and the plastic sleeve the Orikaso stuff came in. Things on the chopping block: hand sanitizer, one t-shirt (there are 2 others, plus one for running), some first aid kit stuff, the retracta-safe cable lock, the Rick Steves shower caddy, the small travel towel, the Absolute Shoulder Strap... and so on. If absolutely necessary, I'll divide stuff between the Aeronaut and the daypack, and carry two bags, but that would really be admitting defeat.

I have NOT received my UK passport yet, and my hopes of having it in time to enter the UK without having to provide proof of onward travel are fading fast. I paid 3 USD per minute to phone the "What's Going On With My Passport Application Information Line" last week. I spoke (as quickly as possible) to a woman with a very thick Scottish accent who confirmed that my application was received, and that my payment had been processed, which means my application has been accepted and they will be issuing me a passport. However she said there was a "significant backlog" in applications, so I shouldn't expect to receive the passport until 20 working days after they processed my payment. That was on May 6th, so 20 working days from then is approximately last Thursday. Thank you Miss Scotland. I'm now relying on the receipt and confirmation of my Russian Tour and my Eurail pass to prove that I won't be staying forever to go on the dole and watch "Coronation Street". I've also got a colour printout of a scan of my UK citizenship certificate (of course the passport people have the original...) so really they should just shut up, let me in, and give me a cup of tea and a nice biscuit.

(Aside: One reason it's so important to be certain they'll let me in to the country is that United Airlines won't even let me on the plane if they think I'll be turned back. If I get all the way to London and the British border officials refuse me entry then United Airlines has to pay to return me. So if the United folks at the Calgary airport look askance at my Russian tour documents and my copied citizenship certificate, I'll be going nowhere on Sunday.)

It looks like I may need to have the passport sent to an obliging English relative for me, in the hope that it will arrive before I leave that country on about July 5th. Even if it can't ease my entry to England, at least it can get me into the short "We're all Europeans Here" line-up at all future EU borders.

Ok, this has been a bit of a downer post, eh? At least it's actually summer here in Alberta, instead of that lingering chilly spring that's been going on in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Also, I just got off my first real Skype call, and after a bit of technical difficulty, it worked, with video and everything! Nice to see you, Steve.

Off to bed.

Racing to the Starting Line

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

At first I was going to title this post "Racing to the Finish", but then I realized that everything I've done up to this point is really all about getting me to the starting line on Sunday morning! It's a whole shift in thought that I really need to get used to. I feel like the To Do list is still haunting me, and I worry that I'll arrive in London, find a wireless hotspot, and continue to get ready for the trip, even though I'll actually be on it! I've been preparing for so long I think it will be hard to realize when I need to start DOING.

That said, the last few days in Saskatoon have been kind of like my last few days in Winnipeg - much busier than I expected (though with lots more home-cooked meals!). Because I've been perpetually swamped since about January, I put off some things that I knew I could leave until now, so I've been trying to get through that.

For instance, here's a shot of me taking part in the traditional Sewing of the Flag onto the Backpack:

(Ok, this makes me look a bit like The Joker. What can I say? I'm tired, and I'm 40...)

I've also "pimped my daypack" so that the zipper tabs have little hooks on them that snap onto metal rings thus preventing the zippers from being surreptitiously opened by nefarious evil-doers while I'm distracted by, oh, The World.

I finally decided on which travel insurance I'm going with. I chose World Nomads over Bon Voyage (a product designed for Travelcuts) though it was a tough choice. What tipped the scales for me is that World Nomads offers $2,500 of coverage for lost or stolen baggage, whereas Bon Voyage coverage is only $800. On the other hand, Bon Voyage offeres $50,000 for death and dismemberment vs. World Nomad's $10,000. I guess I just figured the odds of me losing some important bit of kit are greater than the odds of me being dismembered. Or perhaps I'd just like to believe that, so all you actuaries out there can just keep your contradictory information to yourselves, 'cause it's too late.

I've also insured my car for storage, replaced the battery in my watch, scanned some more important stuff, bought a better second pair of running/sleeping shorts, informed my credit card companies that I'm leaving the country, got some earplugs, printed out stuff that has to be in hard copy, got a folder to carry stuff that has to be in hard copy, tested my Citizen's Bank ATM card, fixed the mic volume problem with my Skype headset and bought Skypeout credit for calling regular phones with Skype (for just 3 cents/minute!).

And I nailed down a lot of my itinerary for England, booked a lovely B&B for a couple of nights outside of London, and bought my Great Britain guide book. Most importantly, though, I've been in touch with the London Hash House Harriers! They're running on the evening I arrive, so what better way will there be to cap off a long long long day of traveling and jetlag than with a Hash run and a pint of Real Ale.

It's almost time!

Blog Housekeeping

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ok, now that I'm (semi-) underway, I've made a couple of subtle changes to the blog, and am contemplating a larger one.

1. Astute GSRED readers may already have noticed a new heading in the sidebar to the right, titled "Last Known Location". As you might expect, this lists my last known location on the globe. Or, to be more accurate, the last place I was when I remembered to update the was place I was.

2. Particularly astute GSRED readers may have noticed that the map in the sidebar is now showing a sporty new RED line, AND it's centred on my Last Known Location, instead of being stuck hovering over Winnipeg. I decided to leave the original blue line, because it was kind of a pain to build in the first place, and because I thought it might be nice to see what I thought would happen, compared to the red line which, of course, represents what has actually happened.

3. Astoundingly astute GSRED readers may even have noticed that the countdown clock skipped beat a little while ago, since I revised it to reflect my actual departure time from the Calgary airport, en route to Chicago, and then connecting to London Heathrow! I've left it in local time, because I couldn't be bothered to figure out what it would be in GMT.

4. Finally, once I actually arrive in London and have a chance to get online, I'll adjust the countdown clock so it will start counting up, adding up the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds I've been traveling.

Now for the other possible change I'm considering: Twitter. Those of you on Facebook may have noticed that I haven't updated my status since, er... January... so maybe I shouldn't be adding to my online To Do list, but it seems like Twitter may be a Useful Thing. A few people have commented that one of the good things about the blog will be that when they see new post, they'll know that I'm ok. However, there may be long stretches of time when I'm not able to post anything new (23-day overland tour through Africa, anyone?). However, I can update Twitter with a text message on my cell phone, which I plan to keep active by buying local SIM cards as I travel.

I think I can add a Twitter window to the sidebar of the blog so that even if there isn't a new post, there might be a quick 140 character update to satiate the addicts in the crowd, if only briefly. The trick will be in finding a gadget for the blog that doesn't ruin the lovely asthetic we've got going on here, and that I can implement without Phonella standing over my shoulder coaching me through it.

I've gone ahead and created a Twitter account, called "goseeruneatdrnk". Note at the "i" in "drink" is missing, because Twitter will not allow a 16-character account name. That was almost enough to make me scrap the whole plan...

So what do you think? Should I tweet, or should I just go have fun and let you guys stew between posts? Comments, please.

Random thoughts on the last week

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Has anyone ever started an Around-The-World trip with the first stop in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan?

Well I'm here now, in the loving embrace of family and wireless high speed internet access. I'm taking this chance to plan the England leg of my trip, which looks like it will involve visiting quite a few relatives, some of whom I've never met, and some of whom I met perhaps 20 years ago. I am, however, assured that they will all be thrilled to see me, and may even consent to picking me up at train stations and supplying me with pull-out couches and other amenities.


I booked my hostel for the first few nights in London, and am quite keen about it. Smart Russell Square gets good reviews, is centrally located, and claims to be quite new. I like it because it's got little curtains around all the bunks, so there's a semblance of privacy even though I'll be in a 4 bed dorm. Also, the price is quite remarkably cheap - about $35 CDN per night!


Getting out of the house was a lot of work and emotionally tough. I remember sitting among the remains of my possessions trying to figure out what to do next... pack this? No, call this person. No, wait, check that website... no, really pack something, for God's sake, anything. JUST PICK UP SOMETHING AND PUT IT IN A BOX... And then I stopped and tried to figure out how I got to this point. Really, I had a great job, a beautiful house, better friends than I realized, and a really damned good life. Exactly what was wrong with that?

Then I snapped out of it, and got on with it. Oh, and after all my whining about downsizing, I can report that in the end I did get rid of my couch. A quick sketch of the outline of the couch inside a 5' x 10' storage space, along with the general tendency to purge that comes from selling most of what you own, made it a relatively easy decision.

In fact, it turns out that 5' x 10' was ample. Look at all that empty space!


It was a tough finally leaving Winnipeg this morning, there was more running around and there were, of course, more goodbyes. I've said good bye to a LOT of people in the last week. My recommendation to anyone else planning something like this is: either sneak out of town without telling anyone and then send them an email when you're gone, or carry a backpack full of kleenex at all times. It was hard.

Universally, though, people are happy for me. Everyone gave me a hug and told me a variation of the following three things:
  1. Have fun.
  2. Stay safe.
  3. Tell us all about it.
To which my standard response is:
  1. I hope so.
  2. I'll try.
  3. That's the plan.
Ok, when I say "everyone", what I meant is "everyone except Steve", who said:
  1. Have fun.
  2. Stay safe.
  3. Eat something weird in every country you go to. (And then he grabbed my ass... ah, I will miss you hasher boys...)
If you ever want to learn how many friends you have, I'd advise you to make plans to leave town on a big adventure and never return. That's when you'll find out how many people whose lives you've been a part of. It's humbling and fantastic.

The 400th Running of the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers

First of all, apologies for not posting in a while, but the last week has been hectic and something had to give. In retrospect I could have planned things a bit better, starting on Wednesday, when I was still working full time, and trying to pack everything in my house, and had dental surgery as well. Thursday was my last day in the office, and more packing. Friday was all pack, pack, packing, followed by loading almost everything out of the house and into my storage space, and my last night in my first house. Saturday was the scramble to get everything else out of the house, and the big Hash event. Sunday was my first chance to come up for air... and blogging just wasn't at the top of the list. I'm sorry, but also: get used to it. My life has absolutely no structure anymore, so while I will certainly continue to blog, the happy Tuesday-Friday schedule of posts that most of you probably never noticed anyways is officially a thing of the past. Just enjoy 'em when you get 'em.

So on to today's topic: The 400th running of the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers. The event was a photo scavenger hunt, which was a LOT of fun. To quote the illustrious organizers (also my generous hosts for my last days in Winnipeg):

To celebrate the 400th run of the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers we organized a photo scavenger hunt. The group was divided into four teams and sent on a 3 hour odyssey around Winnipeg. The list was extensive and included four categories: basic tasks, locations or things; random acts of silliness; interpretation of common sayings and interpretation of movie quotes.

All team members had to be in every photo. The teams were allowed to run, walk or take transit. No biking and no cars allowed.
I was on a team with 4 others, and we had a blast running around Winnipeg for 3 hours, getting sunburned and accosting strangers to get them to take our picture (and I learned how to use the self-timer on my camera, which should prove to be a useful skill).

Here are a few of the shots of my team, with accompanying captions:

Everyone jumping (no feet touching the ground)

In a shopping cart

"Few and far between"


I am proud to report that my team completely smoked the other three teams and won the event by a significant margin (what were the rest of you guys doing all day anyways?). We claimed the grand prize of frozen margarita mix and tequila, and then there was beer and chips and hotdogs and cake.

Most surprising though, was when the Winnipeg Hash House Harriers presented me with an uncharacteristically generous going away present. Keep in mind that this is a group of individuals who often can't cough up the $5 fee to cover beer costs for the weekly run, so imagine my surprise when then presented me with an envelope of cash and strict instructions for its use. I'm supposed to wait until the worst day of the trip when things are crappiest and I just want out, and use the money to check in to the fanciest hotel I can find and have one night of luxury, courtesy of the hashers. Thanks guys; you are the best. I will definitely write a post from my posh hotel room, hopefully while wearing a complimentary bathrobe and enjoying a bit of room service.

There's more to write about the previous week - lots of emotions about finishing work, and leaving my beautiful little house, and the seemingly endless rounds of goodbye lunches and dinners. But I figured I'd have some fun today and bash out a post about the hashers, so everyone can see some of the great folks I'm leaving behind, and so I can focus on the good stuff.