Craig Box's journeys, stories and notes...

Archive for September, 2007


Monday, September 17th, 2007

I was promised free wireless internet on the bus to London, but it was rather fleeting; gave up on it after a while and settled down with the iPod. Thankfully Ben, a friend from Hamilton who is now a lawyer in London, rang during this trip, and I arranged to meet him on his way home from work.

Canals at Canada WaterBen lives in Rotherhithe, right on the Thames; this is an area of docklands that Maggie Thatcher renovated (with her bare hands, I hear) in the 80s, and is now a really nice area. There's a Hilton down the road, but there's snotty nosed kids down the road in the other direction. The Thames wiggles around a lot in central London, so it's close to everywhere, but you can't really get to it because the bridges and tunnels aren't where you need them to be.

View from the lounge windowI stayed with Ben, his girlfriend Tania, and his flatmates Mike and Graham. Their apartment was in an old shipping warehouse that had been beautifully converted.

Ben's friend Jeremy was celebrating his birthday the day I arrived, so we went down to Canary Wharf and played some football on a caged court down there. To say I was totally outclassed is an understatement; not only was almost everyone else a social or club player (one of the guys has just moved from NZ to the UK to go professional!) I only had casual shoes.

Canary Wharf skylineThe rest of the evening went fine, but after an hour or so asleep I woke up with pulsating pains in my foot, which needed a day of ice and elevation before I contemplated doing anything more with it.

We went out in Soho the next night; a lively entertainment district, but with a hint of Amsterdam about it. I managed to find a Kwai Teow for dinner! I then promptly got asked to leave the vegetarian kebab store Ben and Tania were waiting in because my dish had meat in it.

As a newcomer I was dared to walk down a particular street, and I was disappointed that I only got asked if I wanted to "go upstairs and see some ladies" once. We went to a huge multi-level club called Tiger Tiger and, around 3am, I decided against going out for the all-night poker at Gutshot.

We had some great meals out in Rotherhithe - the Old Salt Quay was a nice pub on the waterfront; we also had dinner at a beautiful little restaurant called Simplicity, with a small menu consisting entirely of excellent food made from local ingredients, and three staff, alternating between chef, waiter and counter clerk.

A trip around the South Bank is a must if in London, and we went to the Tate Modern, where they had an exhibition about cities, recreating London in biscuits, and a Dali exhibition we decided against paying £11 each to see. There are a bunch of strange statues of men on top of buildings, which seem to be more art, and we found one closer to the ground also.

Monday was a public holiday, and the day of the Notting Hill Carnival. I headed out, along with 2 million of my closest friends, but I can't say I was that impressed. There was a street carnival feeling, with lots of capoeira, tents selling Carribean food and lots of DJ platforms with huge speaker stacks, but other than one troupe of drummers, the part of the parade I saw was "groups of people wearing big feathery things" and "truck with DJ playing 'Trini To The Bone' (sweet sweet T and T)". However, I did also see a guy in an Exponents t-shirt.

Tuesday, I caught up with Sammy again, bode farewell to friends old and new, and departed from Heathrow to Boston.

Return to Cambridge

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

We all drove back to Cambridge for our last night with Cathy, as he headed off to London to start his Contiki trip the next day.

Accommodation this time was the Cambridge YHA, the last planned hostel on my trip. Hostels are very hit-and-miss: some are great, some are crap, you can't tell till you've stayed, and it sometimes comes down to what room you get. Our dorm had odd bag-like sheet things, effectively two sheets sewn together at the bottom. The showers were a bit concerning - the one across the corridor from us didn't lock, which I found out by barging in some guy just-out-of-the-shower.. oops - and water pressure and temperature were generally low. You had to hold down a button to get any water at all.

All this was made up for, though, by the fact the breakfast that was included was cooked, and included hearty bacon and egg options!

Tom shinied up the car a little, we parked it somewhere picturesque, and we put it on Craigslist and Gumtree (an Aus/UK version of Craigslist) to a pleasant result - 8 people called within 24 hours! I sold the car later the next day. It went to a good home - some recently-arrived Australian expats. They had bought a Fiat, which broke down horribly in Scotland, and caused many Scottish mechanics to turn their noses up at its crazy Italian-ness. Offering my nice parts-available British car as a replacement, I was happy to accept their offer of 90% of the purchase price - not bad for a month of ownership.

After our second night at the YHA, Tom headed off also. I stayed another couple of nights at the ex-Casa Jansen, helped Sam and Zoe move the last of their stuff, and then ran away to London on the £4 bus.

Bath and Stonehenge

Saturday, September 1st, 2007

Bath is an ancient Roman city, built on a hot springs, and famous for its namesake. To us, it was a gateway to Stonehenge, somewhere that served bad salads, and a city that looked like it survived on stag and hen nights from London.

We had a guy staying in our hostel who seemed a bit boring, and hung out with us for the evening. Cool story, huh?

Our evening's trip was Bizarre Bath, a great mix of street theatre and comedy with a little bit of history and exploring the central city. Cathy even got drafted in as part of the act and asked to think of a number. (I've got a number written on this blackboard. Have you thought of one? "yes" presents blackboard with the number '1' written on it) We learned that the Sally Lunn was invented in Bath, and were treated to an escape artist stuffed rabbit.

Other cool things about Bath included the architecture of, and along, the river: they have bridges with shops on either side of them, so you're walking down the street and don't even know you've crossed a bridge.

Entry to the baths was £11 so we skipped that in favour of the trip to Stonehenge. It also seemed a little steep to pay £7 for the privilege of walking around some stones, but the atmosphere and enthusiasm of the guided tour made up for it.

The guide was an archeology student who was really excited about the history of the place. It was her first or second tour, so she was a bit nervous, but knew all the answers to the questions - in as much as no-one actually knows what people actually built Stonehenge for. Unfortunately, they didn't promote the tour well, so only us and another couple were on it.


Saturday, September 1st, 2007

One of the things I had hoped to do on this trip was go to the V Festival and the Reading Festival. We decided against it at £150 each on eBay (with three days camping required), in part because the only band I couldn't see elsewhere was James, and I saw them in Edinburgh. The impact of the festival was felt today however, as we battled through a 2 hour traffic jam to get from Manchester to Birmingham.

Once past the right junction, the pull of Edgbaston was great, and we slung-shot around B'ham on the M5 like a Klingon Bird of Prey around the sun in some movie about whales.

Speaking of Wales, that's where we're headed! Tom soothed my tired head with a little driving at this point, so I took the rare opportunity to take some photos from the car.

There is a £5 charge to take the nice bridge that links the correct bits of England and Wales; it's free in the other direction. This tax seems a little unfair, as Cardiff (or Caerdydd as they call it in Cymrick) is cool. The hostel was nice: we eschewed the traditional Welsh dish (cheese on toast) for their second favourite, cowl (lamb stew). I also had some Welsh whiskey.

Entertainment was the pool table, and Cathy had some fun with long exposure shots on his camera.

We wanted to do a tour of the Millennium Stadium, but it turned out the one day we were in town was a Wales vs Argentina rugby game, and there's no tour on match day. Well, why not go to the match? A Kiwi guy who worked at the hostel convinced us.

We went for a very wet wander around Cardiff the next morning - the markets are amazing, but the National Museum was a little boring by comparison to others we'd seen.

The stadium was set up to look good on TV, even though it was half empty - giant flags covered the bottom section, which was where the ball ended up half the time. The game was enjoyable - it had all the of the required elements: a close first half, a villain (an Argentinian who was sent off), some friendly locals to talk to (who suggested that the All Blacks had peaked too early) and a nail-biting last 10 minutes as the Argentinians almost clawed back from 20-27, finishing literally 10 feet from the try line.

Cymru, the Welsh name for Wales, is pronounced "comm-rie". I wondered for ages so you don't have to.