This term is winding down. I’m done with classes, and I only have to finish one more essay by Friday. I mean, I have to start that essay too, but I also have to finish it.
The last few weeks have been pretty boring, to be honest. Lots of fun, lots of stress, lots of planning, lots of procrastination, and a little bit of work every once in a while. Since my last update, I’ve been back to the Kernel brewery a few times (seriously, it’s amazing), had the best doughnut of my life (St. John’s Bakery, a round job filled with cream so light it must have been fluffed by the wings of angels, flecked with vanilla bean), and went to a barbecue joint with Andrew (not bad for England, but these people really need to learn how to eat things with flavor…). Just this week, I think that spring hit the UK- it’s been above 50 degrees, and the sun is shining for almost ten minutes at a time before being swallowed by clouds again!
I’ve also finalized my traveling plans, so I’ll fill y’alls in on those:
On Sunday, I’m hopping on a plane at dark-thirty in the morning, heading to Malaga. It’s a city in the very south of Spain that is very near some of the best climbing in the world: Syd and I are going with the UCL Mountaineering club (ironic, because everyone knows that the UK doesn’t have mountains!) to climb at the legendary El Chorro gorge. We’ll be staying in a hostel and then being trucked out to go climbing each day, then eating tapas and hanging out with everyone each night. Don’t worry, mom, we’re bringing sunscreen.
That goes until the first of April; syd and I are flying to Barcelona for the day, then taking a bus to Girona, where we have a flight to Pisa the next day. In Italy, we’re heading to a little medieval walled village called Barga, where we’re meeting up with a bunch of Pomonaites (Pomaniacs?) to rent an apartment for a week. Barga is near some pretty nice-looking mountains, and is in the heart of Tuscany, so… I think that touring vinyards, meat curing, cheese making, olive-producing, generally food and drink and fun and amazingness places is going to happen. I guess that sentence didn’t make much sense, but… well, I’m excited about this. Also, evidently I’m in charge of making food for everyone, which should be fun! For me! Bwahahahaha!
We’re leaving Barga on Easter Sunday (provided my parole officer doesn’t find out I left the country before then) and Andrew and I are heading to Milan. We’re going to try to meet up with the family of the foreign exchange student that my family is currently hosting, maybe see some painting that DaVinci did, or something, then fly out to Morocco on the 10th.
We fly into Marrakech, and we’ll have a couple days to explore around there, probably head out to the coast, or in to the mountains. Then, on the 13th, we have a camel/4X4 tour from Marrakech to Fez. Originally, there was another two guys signed up for the trip, but they backed out, so… looks like we have a private tour of Morocco now! Expect some pictures where I look like Indiana Jones when I get back.
After the tour, we’re heading up to Tangier, stowing away on a ferry across the straight (well, we may just pay for it legally), and going to Malaga/Granada for a few days. Finally, on the 19th, I fly back to London for a much needed shower before making myself look presentable, going to Heathrow, and flying to San Diego to present an abstract at a biology conference. Five days after I land, I take off again, heading back to London to start cramming for my exams in mid-May.
So, starting on the 25th, I have one month, five countries, two twelve-hour flights, and sixteen thousand miles of travel.
I’ll update when I can!
Plans hatched on a Friday afternoon led to Trevor and I wandering Borough and Bermondset, south of the river.
We went to The Kernel brewery to visit one of the friends I made in Edinburgh—turns out he went back to New Zealand already. Sad. But, the brewery is located on a small alley that was filled with hipsters, cheese vendors, the best coffee I’ve had in London, and an awesome antiques/vintage mall.
We also went to the Borough market, Tate Modern, and Tower Bridge, before ending up at a restaurant Trevor heard about called Meat Liquor. And oh, it was good. I hadn’t had a good burger since California, so this was a treat. And to have deep-fried pickles too was magical…
The Kernel Brewery. All of it.
I’m tired now…
I also forgot my tophat, monocle, and caviar.
The concert consisted of three Rachmaninov pieces (one a piano concierto) and it was really fun.
Except the vocal soloists. Vibrato just makes you sound like a goat. Seriously. Stop that.
There’s a reason that Charlotte’s Web didn’t take place in Spain. It would have been three paragraphs long; in the first, we would meet the characters, in the second, Charlotte would write “delicioso” or “jamón” over the pigpen, and in the third Wilbur would be tapas.
So last Thursday I took a trip to the Iberian peninsula. A 5AM cab ride, followed by a bus ride, followed by a RyanAir flight found me in Madrid after nearly four full hours of sleep!
I had planned the trip out with Courtney a few weeks before, so that I could surprise Cati (I decided that of all of my friends studying in Europe right now, she’d have the funniest reaction) so when I got to Madrid, I knew that Court had classes and meetings until nearly 9 at night, so I got to do some wandering around. I went to El Prado to look at some art, went to a cafeteria for coffee and a sandwich (porkcount:1), a place called El Museo de Jamón (The Ham Museum, porkcount:2), and most importantly went to a large park and fell asleep in the sun. Seriously, though, it was gorgeous; nearly 80 degrees and perfectly sunny. I hadn’t seen the sun in a few months, so getting a sunburn was amazing.
I met up with Court around 830, then we went to find Cati to go out to sushi. Taking the metro, we were so excited to catch up that we didn’t realize how loud we were talking in English, so we had to stop a guy from taking Court’s wallet; turns out that homeboy “accidently” grabbed it, then tried to tell us that “it’s the life!” I neither opened a can of whoop-ass, nor ran away screaming like a 12-year-old girl, so I feel that it was a successful crisis aversion.
After that, we met up with Cati, who reacted almost exactly as I would have guessed (see video below) and went to sushi, then for churros (dipped in a bowl of chocolate sauce), then I went back to Court’s for the night.
From then on, everything was very Spanish. We woke up around 11, left the house at 12:30 (to get stuff to make omelettes from the market across the street) and fresh orange juice. I realized just how well Court was integrating into the culture when she asked if we should put bacon, jamón, ham, or all three in the omelettes without realizing anything until I pointed out that those are all three types of pork… (porkcount:6)
After breakfast, we met up with Cati and went to the large Casa de Campo park to wander around in the sun— we ended up hiring a rowboat and paddling around for a while (mostly going in circles, those things suck. We should have gotten the one with an outboard motor), then walking back to the Palace (it’s okay, I didn’t know that Spain had one either) and getting gelatto. We eventually wandered back to Court’s place, where I fell asleep for a while, before we started making dinner.
As it turns out, the Spanish use the word levadura to mean “leavening” for both yeast and baking powder, so our pizza crust turned out more like tortillas. Or biscuits. But it was really really good nonetheless with jamón and chorizo on it (porkcount:8, +1 for snacking on more sausage Court had laying around:9). We finished dinner around 11:30 (chalking that one up to “Spain”), then decided that we weren’t too bloated to go out—we tried to get into a salsa club, but ended up going to a jazz bar for the end of a set, before heading back to bed.
On saturday we got up early (10:30) and made chocolate-nutella pancakes (my first meal that didn’t include ham, as far as I could tell), then wandered around the city. We found a place with a balcony so we could sit in the sun, drink tinto de verano, and eat tapas (porkcount:10) in view of the cathedral… not too shabby. We also went to a place on the tapas-hopping street (porkcount:6, and paella as well!), and to an awesome market there.
Cati and Court had to get some work done at that point, so I wandered around for a while on my own, and ended up going to a little wine bar for some more tapas (porkcount:11). After reuniting with Cati, we met Court and company (a smattering of Middlebury & Pomona kids—really nice to see familiar faces) at El Tigre, a famous tapas bar. We each got a drink, and they brought out easily 300 pounds of tapas. (Porkcount:???) We ate so much, talked, drank, laughed, ate some more, and finally went back around midnight, as we were all beat from walking around all day.
So I got a couple of hours of sleep, woke up at 4, said goodbye, and wandered to the bus stop through throngs of reverlers still out partying it up (yes, at 4 in the morning—evidently they have to keep going until the metro opens up at 6…), and made my way to the airport. Two passport stamps later, I was back in my room. A very successful weekend, I would say.
I think that the biggest thing that I realized is that Spain is just like any other country, except with about a four-hour delay. You wake up between noon and two, eat dinner at ten thirty, and heading back at six in the morning is just fine…
Well, that’s more than enough anthropology for tonight, I’m gonna go make dinner now… I think I’m gonna have some vegetables…
More on Spain to come.
So there Andrew and I were, sitting on a train hurtling down the Scottish coast, toasting the sunset and watching waves crash against the rugged shore amidst pastures and the ruins of seaside cottages.
[Ha! Starting in medias res, I see what you’re doing, you sneaky narrator!, you’re saying…]
It all started with the train tickets to Edinburgh we bought back in January. We arrived at Waverly station after dark, and immediately got lost (Andrew got distracted by a shiny light, so we ended up going the wrong way…), before getting… found again? Anyways, we made our way to Glenis’ flat, the CouchHost we stayed with for a few days.
[Ah, but what’s a CouchHost, you say? Calm down, dear reader, and you shall see.]
Andrew and I, being young and foolish, decided that couchsurfing would be the best way to travel. This is where you (over the interwebs) ask strangers for a place to stay for a few days. The couchsurfing community is very close, filled with interesting people who really like, well, meeting people. I suppose that’s what drives someone to surf—I know that’s what motivated us. And as it turns out, it’s not a foolish thing to do at all, it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had.
So we got to Glenis’ and met her and her flatmate Victoria. They are wonderful people, very fun, entertaining, and full of information about the city. That night, we all went out to a New-Orleansesque blues bar called the Voodoo Rooms for music, drinks, and conversation, all of which were superb.
The next morning, Andrew and I woke up early to catch a train to Pitlochry, a small town in the Scottish highlands. We chose this place because of its history, isolation, yadda yadda, it’s the home to two distilleries. We toured the Blair Athol distillery first (pretty cool, but very corporate—98% of its production is bought by Bells and blended into boring, mass-market whisky), then wandered up into the highlands on the way to the smallest distillery in Scotland, Edradour (its annual output is the same as a large distillery’s weekly…). This one had a much smaller feel, we got to walk along the barrels as they matured, taste some leaking whisky, and smell the giant vats of fermenting grain; this was all lead by an old Scotsman who talked with a hell of an accent and consistently made fun of us Americans—a great guide.
During the tour, we realized that because we hiked 2.5 miles just to get to this distillery… we’d have to hike back… so we instead made friends with some of the other guys on the tour, and hitched a ride back with them. As it turns out, they were all brewers as well, one worked for The Kernel in London, one for Black Isle Organic in the north of Scotland, and one worked for BrewDog… really really cool guys. Once we got back to Edinburgh, we met up with them at the BrewDog pub and talked beer for a while, before heading back for the night.
The next day, we did all the touristy stuff; wandered the royal mile (overrated), laughed at the Scottish accents (what we could understand…), and ate—Oink had roast pork (they barbecue a pig, stick it in the window, and sell it until it’s gone, then go home for the day) and Milk was like being back in Portland, with great pork (I’m seeing a pattern) and a really good coffee. After this we got lost trying to find Jonathan’s flat, our next Host. He lives with a couple other guys who go to Uni in Edinburgh right at the edge of a beautiful park—that turns out, doubles as a golf course. Interesting for sunbathing. After finding the flat, we hung out with the guys for a while, had dinner, then went to a pub where there was actually a band playing traditional Scottish tunes (and an impressive whisky selection…), which was really fun.
On Saturday we woke up, had English Breakfast (it’s kinda just a breakfast, but with baked beans) at a café, then hiked Arthur’s Seat, the mountain (hill) to the south of town. It seemed like a beautiful day as we hiked up, but as soon as we hit the west side, we were hit by a ridiculous wind. We staggered to the top, leaning sideways and trying not to become human kites, took some epic-looking pictures, then headed down. Just in time, too, ‘cause as soon as we hit level ground the sun went away and it started to snow. And while I’m no stranger to snow, this snow came sideways and actually hurt. Welcome to Scotland, suckafish!
Anyways, we dried off at a café called Spoon (Hmm, more monosyllabic eateries) and wandered around the National Gallery. I had to stop Andrew from declaring siege on the Castle after that—I would have gladly tried to scale the walls with him, but I’m not sure the cannons were purely decorative, and I think I saw some boiling oil. Our plans thwarted, we went back to Jonathans for dinner, then headed out to a tour of Edinburgh’s Underground.
I’ll be honest, I was completely humoring Andrew when we went on the tour; it’s marketed as a ghost tour, and I thought it was going to be lame and cheesy. Well, it was cheesy, but it was also pretty informative about local history, from the way that sanitation basically didn’t exist to the way that poor people lived in what used to be underpasses of the bridge, until buildings were built on either side, creating lightless vaults… Our guide took us down into several of these and told us about how when the city would burn down (which happened quite often. Evidently they hadn’t invented the fire engine back then. Or fire extinguishers.) everyone would flood into these vaults to escape the flames, figuring that the stone couldn’t burn down. Unfortunately, it got so hot in there that everyone died anyway. Gross.
So long story short, they took us through several of these vaults, telling awful stories, and it was actually really really cool. I hate to say it, but I really enjoyed it…
After having our pants scared off, we went back to BrewDog for a nightcap; on the way back to Jonathan’s we happened upon The Jazz Bar (which is a disco club—I’m kidding, it really is aptly named), where we watched the end of a really good set by a local combo. Then, Andrew got a hankering for KFC (I know, right? Who does that?), so we met Glenis (who was in the area) for some late-night American fast food… Mmm…
Sunday morning saw us go to the Original Mosque Kitchen (story time: we were recommended to “the one by the mosque”. We saw a Mosque Kitchen on the main road, and figured we were in the right area, until we saw a little sign on a back alley for the origian Mosque Kitchen—as it turns out, the Mosque is hidden back a bit, and some enterprising middle eastern chef capitalized on the exact same name in a much better location) for some really good curry and… something that I can’t begin to pronounce, but was delicious. I think it had chicken in it. It was also ridiculously cheap… score!
After this, we wandered through the National Museum, seeing things like Dolly the Sheep (the first cloned animal—no verdict on whether she had a soul, as she was behind glass. Also, stuffed.), a bunch of Scottish swords, and one of the old copper stills from the Glenfiddich distillery. This one was easily one of my favorite museums; better than any I’ve been to in England so far. (Scotland:1, England:0). The rooftop terrace also had some really good views of the city, even though it was about 5 Kelvin up there…
So then we got our stuff from Jonathan’s, bid them farewell, and got on the train back to England. A train that went along the Scottish coast at sunset. Which leads us to my opening paragraph! Huzzah for a circular narrative!
All in all, I really enjoyed the trip; not only is Scotland super cool (I mean… haggis and Irn Bru—which, by the way, is an addictively unnatural soda that is fluorescent orange, super carbonated, stains everything, and tastes of bubblegum. And everyone loves it.) but the people are much friendlier up there, and have a lot of national pride, and it was really nice to be able to travel with Andrew. And as a bonus, Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to yet.
Wow, that was a hell of a post. Sorry for the wall of text, but I honestly don’t know how to break it up with pictures…
Woah, this blog is still here! Exciting news!
Anyways, coming from the Lame Excuses Department, I’ve got a memo here about heaps and heaps of homework, essays, lab reports, and other un-fun things that are currently ruining Nick’s life—and it’s true, I’ve been swamped the last week (and will be for the next week) with all the things I need to turn in. And it’s less that I haven’t had time to update this, it’s mostly that I haven’t had anything of interest to report.
So today, I decided to change that. I went out to Putney Bridge with some of my Tufts friends today to watch Fulham play Stoke City. For those who don’t obsessively follow the Premier League (MLS), they’re football (soccer) clubs (teams). Evidently, Fulham is the oldest team in the league (their stadium looks it…), but the placement is prime (literally on the banks of the Thames) and the hooligans were hooligan-y (well, they were actually surprisingly tame, we all agreed). It was actually really fun to sit and listen to the crowd chant, thousands of voices all blending together in a cacophony of Carlsberg and testosterone to support the home team and decry the refs. When there was a small break in the noise after a bad tackle (from behind; who does that?), we even heard the voice of a 5-year old cry out “give ‘im a yellow!” British kids crack me up.
It’s also interesting to note that our seats were right in front of the main Fulham supporters, goalside and about five rows back. We were almost level with the pitch, which made for a really really cool view.
Anyways, I’m going to leave y’alls with the pictures I took, and get back to writing. And by that, I mean watching Indiana Jones. I probably won’t update until next Sunday, as I’m going to be furiously writing for the next few days, then on Wednesday I’m hopping on a train to Edinburgh (pronounced Eddin-bruh, I’m told. Which is odd, because given what Hooked on Phonics taught me… but so I digress) with Andrew, and we’re gonna go take on Scotland. By that I mean we’re going into the highlands for a day, hiking around until we’re nothing more than a pair of icicles, then thawing at a distillery with an unpronouncable name. We’re also going to see the city, castle, jazz clubs, etc. Should be fun, or whatever.
So for now I’ll leave you with the eloquent words of the gentlemen behind us:
"YEAHHHHHHGHHHHHH, BLEAGHHHHH, REF, YER A WANKA’ YEAGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!"