Tuesday: Another Adventure

With a week of Easter Break left, I set off to see a little more of the English countryside and attend a birthday party of titanic proportions. The voyage would be in two parts: first exploring the southwestern corner of England and then up into the hilly center toward Wales. I've seen a lot of things in the south and especially around London, and it was definitely time to poke through a few more corners of this strange and magical land the Vikings once knew as "A Great Place to Pillage".

I got up Tuesday morning (a little sad to leave a familiar bed again) and tossed my duffel bag over my shoulders, using the hand-straps as shoulder-straps. At first, I was amazed at just how well it worked, almost too well. But, I learned my lesson as I hiked to the train station: the left strap didn't have a pad, so it dug a nice red welt into my flesh. Still, better than dealing with a rolly bag up and down stairs.

I rode from Hatfield down to Finsbury Park (a place I've never been before) and then across the Tube to Paddington Station. They told me to mind the gap. I had a good chuckle.

Paddington is a cool station, even beyond its being the appearance of the infamous Paddington Bear. It's got modern shops as well as an old-timey shell, making for the best of both worlds. One corner even had a Krispy Kreme, which made my heart jump till I saw that doughnuts were 90p each and they didn't even have a doughnut-making machine. I think I'll wait for a free, fresh one back in Norman.

Paddington also had a statue commemorating WWI and WWII. It was the first of many memorials I would see this week.

The train for Penzance soon pulled out, and I rode across the south part of England, watching as industrial centers gave way to Reading, which gave way to green fields and cows and sheep. It seemed as the farther we got away from the density of London, the quainter and more beautiful the landscape became. Maybe it's just that I'm a country boy at heart.

After a long ride and reading the first two parts of Gulliver's Travels, the county of Devon gave way to Cornwall, and soon the sea appeared. The train rolled into the last possible stop, and, there I was, in Penzance, town infamous for pirates and famous for the musical comedy Pirates of Penzance. I felt like a modern Major General already.

Across the bay is St. Michael's Mount, a nice place for a castle and my first view stepping off the train. Not a bad way to introduce your town.

Did you know that Cornwall has its own language called Cornish, which is an offshoot of Celtic? I certainly didn't. Before I heard that, I just half the signs were in crazy talk.

As I had perfected in my marches through Europe, the first task was to find the place I was staying and drop off my gear. Honestly, people require too much stuff, and most of it's clothes. Somebody should invent clothes that won't stink after even a few days' wear so travelers don't need more than a toiletries kit. But, rantings aside, I quickly followed my directions up Market Jew Street (not the most politically correct of names, but okay) and passed four or five pasty shops before getting toward the outskirts. Everything in Penzance was unbelievably charming, such as the babbling brook I passed on the way up the road.

All this green and nature was giving me a big grin. The grin fell a little when I had to cross the A30 and dodge speeding traffic whipping around tiny Cornish roads, but it came back quickly enough when I found myself in the woods.

When I checked in, I asked about how to get to the Isles of Scilly (which was my main goal for the trip). It turned out there was a coupon in The Cornishman (what a name for a newspaper) for the ferry. So, having lightened my load, I dashed back into town looking for a place to buy a paper. Strangely, the whole town seemed to have shut down at 6, meaning there wasn't much available at to me at 7. At last I found one, got the coupon, and then found the place to get my ticket in advance, which would've saved me half. When I finally got there, I saw the office had closed hours before. Thus it turned out as a fool's errand, and I the fool. Ah, no, just some bad luck, but an adventure nonetheless.

One of the adventures was meeting yet another bum asking for money. Really, though, he was a very friendly guy who said hello when he saw me the next day. The Cornish people seemed very different from the others I've seen in England. They were quite friendly (I even got a handful of "good mornings" as I was walking about the next couple of days) and always seem to be joking around with each other. Such a jubliant populous. It's probably all that pirate and Celtic berzerker blood in 'em.

In my escapades, I got to see a good portion of the town, which, again, was so charming it made your dimples hurt. They had a really nice boardwalk that must be packed on sunny summer days.

The beach nearby was totally rocks, which blew my mind. I mean, nothing but pebbles! Where's the sand? I still don't what to make of it.

Farther down the beach there's a big '30s swimming pool (still closed since it was cold and windy) and another memorial for the Great War. It's labeled "For God".

Penzance has a good share of parks, which are a collection of local and subtropical plants that make for peaceful, beautiful botanical gardens. And when you add cool architecture in the background, you get something like St. Anthony's Gardens.

As Penzance is a fairly new city (well, new for European standards. It'd be ancient for Oklahoma), there's plenty of cool late 19th and early 20th century buildings to gawk at.

And the coolest postbox ever! Built directly into a brick retaining wall beneath a tree, wrapped in ivy, and with flowers at its feet. Wow.

Eventually the sun started setting and my stomach started growling for my leftover sandwich (which, remarkably, hadn't spoiled and turned to poison), so I headed back to the greener pastures outside the city. Seriously, the hostel was next to pastures with sheep and cattle.

The house across the street had everything: room, a view, gardens, gates... Not a bad place to live, I'd reckon.

Worn out by all the greenery, I soon fell asleep, eager for the next adventure.

Wednesday: Beyond Land's End

I awoke early and headed out just as the others were stirring. The reason for the eagerness was that today I would complete one of the things on my Things to Do in Life list: Visit the Isles of Scilly. I mean a place called "silly", that's awesome! What, you don't think that's a good goal in life? Well, at least I accomplished it, Mr. I-would-do-volunteer-work-but-I'm-always-too-busy.

Enough scilliness. Ack, silliness. Sorry.

I came aboard the Scillonian III, the big ferry that hauls tourists back and forth to the islands.

Despite the freezing wind and cold ocean spray, I was pumped. (Though I did hurry back inside where it was warm after getting a picture.)

The voyage was smooth enough while we were in the Channel. There was lots of pretty, rocky coastline to look at as we sailed by. This is Tater Du lighthouse. That strikes me as a scilly sounding name. Sorry, "silly".

Soon we came to the famous Land's End, the westernmost corner of England. Despite being a rather peculiar claim to fame, it's very touristy. I think I got a good enough look at it from the ferry, personally.

Once we got into the open sea, things got a little bumpier, and I retired to the lowest deck where the ship didn't rock so much. It was just a gentle rocking down there, back and forth, up and down, and I was asleep with a contented smile in about two minutes, dreaming of the wildlife supposedly filling the isles (I didn't see any other than a few sparrows).

I awoke just as we were approaching St. Mary's, the largest of the Isles of Scilly and where I would be spending the afternoon.

Glued to the porthole, I watched the rocky seaside pass by me till we circled around to the harbor in Hughtown.

Once we made landfall, the first order of business was getting a recommendation from the tourism office. The guy recommended walking around the garrison, so walk I did. First I stopped to get a sandwich for a picnic lunch, which was ham and chutney. I don't even know what chutney is, but I likes it. Finding a good bench with a good view, I ate my fill.

Right behind me was Star Castle, now a hotel.

Afterward, I walked around the battlements and into some of the forests and grassy hills that made up this corner of the island. The wind died and the sun came out while I was there, making it practically perfect. It was so exceedingly peaceful that I could've slipped into a coma. I resisted unconciousness, but I did do plenty of chillin'.

And I got a picture I've been waiting more than two years to get: Me Being Silly on the Scillies.

That's a keeper.

But, the landscape was too beautiful and calm for silliness. I did some rock climbing till I found a good perch to do some deep thinking.

With a view like this, how can you not spend the day gazing in thought?

The hours whiled away, and I at last convinced myself that I couldn't just stay on the garrison hill all day. So, climbing back down, I continued around till I got back to the entrance, where there was a small exhibition about fortifications on the Isles of Scilly (although it seemed to be the lack thereof throughout history, despite threats from Spain and France).

From there I wandered down through Hughtown, checking out the shops and the neat houses. I even went down to the beach for some shell-searching. At least it had sand.

I started to climb the hills on the other side of the island, looking back to see from whence I had come. If that isn't quaint, I don't know what is.

There was also a viewing tower refurbished for when the king visited St. Mary's in the early twentieth century. Despite England controlling the Scillies for centuries, it was the first royal inspection. Those kings were missing out.

Hiking up a little farther, I came to Harry's Wall, which was a sixteenth century fortification only half-built. Tsk tsk, what slackers.

Before I was ready, time ran out and I had to get back to the ferry. My daytrip was done, and I carried away a piece of the island lifestyle with me. I don't know it's the peaceful atmosphere, the sea air, or the fact that everything costs so much the only thing people can afford is sitting completely still, but I'd be hard pressed to name a more relaxing place for a daytrip.

Thursday: "Gloust... Glouches... Gloos... Gloucestershire. Right?"

Still feeling the leisure of the day before, I slept as late as I could till having to check out. With a while before my train left, I got a walking tour guide from the tourist office and went to see what Penzance had to offer. I checked over the harbor and beach (where I had been before) and then got up into the middle of the town with the church and the Admiral Benbow pub (there's a scilly statue of a guy with a gun on the roof).

That's the last "scilly" joke, I promise. Actually, I didn't see a single overt reference to the obvious pun at all. All the tourist shirts seemed to be about pirates, rowing, or island wildlife. Oh well.

I even got to see a thatched roof house up close. I've been told that thatch can last for a century if properly installed. Still, I don't like the idea of my roof being a haven for crawly things.

I also passed St. John's Hall, which supposedly contains one of the largest single slabs of granite ever cut. (Now that's trivia.) They were having a charity sale that day, so I paused to look around for a while.

And Penzance was the birthplace of Sir Humphry Davy, inventor of the miner's safety lamp. Not impressed? How about discovering the elements of potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium? He's so cool.

The walk also took me through the other parks in Penzance, Pendlee Park and Morrab Gardens, which was packed with flora from across the world.

I spent the rest of the morning trying Cornish ice cream (which was good enough, fairly subtle, but, sadly, just not gelato) and then having some Cornish pasties. Man, I can't get enough of pasties. They're just so good, what with the fillings and crusts and, mm, crust! I also stopped back in the tourist office and flipped through a book of old Cornish customs, each stranger than the last (such as cutting a baby's fingernails before the age of two is bad luck as he might become a thief and Wednesday being the best day for doing laundry).

For the next hour or so, I read a little of Gulliver's Travels and watched the Cornish landscape go by. I don't know what I liked better, the green rolling hills or the rocky shores giving way to very blue sea. It's the first part of England I've seen that seems a tempting place to live. Maybe it's the plenty of open space for a writer's imagination to rove.

There were a couple of hours between the time I arrived in Plymouth and the next train left for Gloucester, so I texted Mary to ask what's good to see in town. (Heh, I used 'text' as a verb. I'm so modern.) It turned out she was going on the same train, and she graciously invited me to come by for lunch with the family. It's so interesting to see people functioning in the family unit, which generally shows a different side to what we see in our student functions.

After cream teas (and a long discussion about whether it's proper to have cream over jam or jam over cream, during which I remained mostly confused), we caught the train and watched more English countryside in places like Dover and Gloucestershire. It was a peaceful ride and the sun set over the western hills. Just after switching trains at somewhere with a name I can't pronounce (I'm still working on how something spelled "quay" sounds like "key"), Alec picked us up at the station and drove us out to his grandfather's, where a big gang was gathered around the fire, swapping jokes and stories.

After being more or less by myself for three weeks, it was great to see everyone again, even if we were half-choked by the smoke. We had a nice evening and then retired back to Alec's house to sleep. There was plenty of floor space, but only two couches, one of which was too short for anyone liking to stretch out. The lack of beds caused a heated debate, but I was so tired I didn't care much where I slept. I'm not exactly how it happened, but the argument switched from who wanted the sofa to who didn't want it, and I found myself on it. I guess the moral of the story is: Keep your mouth shut and you get the couch. It was plenty comfy.

Friday: Happy Birthday, Alec

The next day we gradually crawled out of bed in preparation for a hike through the Cotswolds, which is the exceptionally beautiful wooded hills in that part of the country. For breakfast, some people had a bizarre oaty brick that reminded me of "Delicious Breakfast Chunk" from Invader Zim. And the milk on the table was labelled, "pasteurised, homogenised, sterilised English milk", which I found a hysterical rhyme, so everyone else thought I was a mook.

When the overwhelming madness of an English breakfast was over, we marched out into the woods for an hours-long hike.

It was a bit brisk in the morning, but the sun was shining, and I was amazed at the natural beauty. The views and peaceful nature even rivaled that of Cornwall (Mary squeaked disapproval when I mentioned that). We got pretty muddy...

Actually, I came out with only my shoes and one toe dirty (I'm still not sure how that happened). When asked how I stayed so clean, my response was, "'Cause I'm a country boy, and I've learned if you come home muddy, your mom yells at you." A lesson I learned the hard way, let me tell ya.

...climbed trees...

...and saw lots of great stuff, such as Cooper's Hill, where the festival of chasing cheese off a cliff is held (seriously).

It's a very steep cliff, and they usually have lots of broken limbs. A couple of guys on our hike went down, but they were okay since they weren't chasing cheese and half-drunk. It must be strange, strange entertainment. (Actually, over time, the tradition of the race has changed from the one to catch the cheese to the first one to the pub. Now that's British.)

The view is incredible.

Ah, it was such a great day. Peaceful, a little adventurous, and plenty of joking and growth. Not to mention getting to see fields and ruins. I likes ruins.

By the end, some people were getting pretty tired, so piggyback rides were offered.

Also on the hike, they did some filming for a mock-documentary about a girl named Alice who disappeared a year ago. There were plenty of memorable moments and quotes, such as "He was like the Taj Mahal, with legs!" spoken by the animal hunter who was convinced a giant panther had captured her. I played the Fox news reporter who couldn't pronounce "Gloucestershire" and had some qualms about England. "That's what happens when you have a monarchy."

That night the real party started, with lots of trampolining, music, and puzzle-doing. We also played cards with a particularly violent round of spoons and a game called something like "Chasing Demons", which was like solitare with multiple people and, again, quite violent. The climax of the party was the showing of the film, which was hastily and expertly edited by Jono and his crack team of guys who'd slip in and out whenever bored. After half an hour of side-tearing laughter and deep, dramatic laughter, we all congratulated the film crew and gradually went to sleep.

Saturday: Never a Dull Moment

After a breakfast of "bacon butties" (which is an English breakfast of bread and butter made with bacon into a sandwich; Ow, my arteries!), most people headed back to school to do work or whatever. As I was catching the megabus back with the others later, I helped out straightening up from the night before and finding Waldo in every point in history. At last we had to go, and I took one last gaze at the English countryside.

But the adventures weren't over yet. Instead of being sensible and going to bed early, a gang of us had dinner at Alec's and hung out as people dropped by and headed off. We also had to deal with the powerful stench of a freezer unplugged for weeks on end.

With dinner, I tried a northern British delicacy, mushy peas. Yup, the food is just like the name sounds: peas cooked till they're mushy. They're still peas, despite a potentially unappetizing guise, so you'd like 'em if you like peas.

I also tried iron brew, which is a fizzy drink (meaning: soda) that outsells Coke in Scotland. My tastebuds were immediately blown away in a tattoo of Scotland the Brave and William Wallace doing a sword-dance. I don't know if it was Scottish heritage or what, but it is some good, good stuff. Looking over the ingredients, it's understandable why it's so good what with being so full of sugar and caffiene it's practically over-the-counter. For flavoring, it also has a lot of quinine, which is a drug used in the treatment of malaria. Quinine is, according to Rachel, addictive and makes you go crazy and, according to wikipedia, "is also considered a Category X teratogen by the FDA, meaning that it can cause birth defects, especially deafness, if taken by a woman during pregnancy". No wonder it tastes so great!

Man, that is one goofy grin. I think I better tone it down on the iron brew.

To round out the evening, we watched Team America: World Police (ugh, that movie), during which everyone but me fell asleep (it was probably all that iron brew). After that, we had one more adventure of Andy driving his car across the sidewalk and up a grassy hill, then it was on to bed.

So, as I slipped into an iron-brew-induced coma back in the bed I had left four weeks before when I went to Norwich, Easter Break was done.

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