Transitional Tourist

It’s funny, the way you know that you really belong somewhere is that you never go and see the things that make that place famous.

If you live in New York City, you just don’t go to the Empire State Building, for example. My best friend lived in NYC for years, and I think the only time she went to the Statue of Liberty or any of that stuff was when a starry-eyed friend like me came to visit.

I never understood that about her, until I moved to London. That first year, man, I went EVERYWHERE! Any chance to pass by Big Ben, hop on a train and go to Oxford, wander around the Tower of London, I took it. Fast-forward a couple years, and I barely ventured out of Camberwell, the neighborhood where I lived. I spent 98% of my going-out time in local pubs just sitting around with friends. When people came to visit, I sent them on their own to the Tower.

We’re in the transitional phase now, in Silicon Valley. Before I get all comfy and this tech / beach / California thing gets normal, I’m going to get out there and have some adventures.

Top five so far:

1. Google campus

2. Santa Cruz boardwalk

3. Big Sur

4. L.A.

5. Wine country

Someday, when I’m blogging about life on a sustainable urban windfarm in San Francisco, I’ll look back on these first several months with a chuckle.

Well, if you’re reading this, Future Me, don’t get too smug. You were a tourist once, too.

 

 

Advertisements

it’s true what they say about Ireland

The Guinness does taste different!  Had a pint of the good brown stuff in the Guinness Storehouse’s Gravity Bar, looking out over Dublin.  You get a free pint on the tour, in which I learned how tall hops grows and that there are actually three different types of Guinness: draft, extra stout, and foreign extra.

For good measure, I had another half pint in Dublin’s tiniest pub: The Dawson Lounge (check out Timeout’s review here).

SAM_1451

The pub was just my size.

SAM_1461

It was so nice – I felt like I really fit in.

A pillow mounted on the ceiling in the ladies' - to protect your head when you stand up! They really thought of everything!

A pillow mounted on the ceiling in the ladies’ – to protect your head when you stand up! They really thought of everything!

The owner, Conner, let me hop behind the bar and pour my own pint.

SAM_1455

In this intimate setting, conversations among strangers are easy and natural.  We chatted with some dudes from Wisconsin about the beer industry and its tendency to squeeze out microbreweries.

A little economics chatter in a tiny pub with a half pint of *real* Guinness.

Can’t beat that!

 

 

 

 

 

FUSION POWER WEDNESDAY

I went with some friends to a fusion power plant tour at Culham Science Centre to see some particle colliders last Wednesday and feel I must express the experience in verse.

 

tubes and spirals of magnetic ghost traces and flashing brilliance of

plasma burning

shooting electrons from a pea gun in

frozen Helium pellets

tubes and spirals of metal feeding electrons in, neutrons out

metal diamond signs

with bold, stern letters

tritium caution tape

eager robot hands work as we watch

in yellow hard hats.

IMAG0005

I have never wanted caution tape so badly in my life!!

 

Inappropriate Shoes

January….that dark void of London winter.  I’ve taken to the usual hibernation habits — social withdraw, sleeping in to the last possible second on workdays, 14 cups of tea daily, marathon reading sessions of Tudor era mysteries in my pj’s.   I know it’s unhealthy, all these carbs and lounging, letting my brain rust.  So I let Sal talk me into adventuring to Canary Warf for the London Ice Sculpting Festival, to get the blood stirring again.

Five minutes out of the tube station and we’re nearly blown over by wind from the river.  Teeth chattering, we lean in, weaving through the crowds and snapping photos of some amazing ice sculptures.

Ten minutes in and I literally cannot feel my toes.  Sal’s forgotten his gloves.  Maybe we will freeze here, at the Ice Festival.

I look down at my Converse.  They are about a million years old and the tread is nearly gone.  What was I thinking?   I chide myself, miffed at my inappropriate footwear.  I live here!  I know  better!!

I look up to see a woman in a knee-length dress, high heels digging into the soggy mess of grass as she passes.  Nonchalantly, casually.

I look around- some people aren’t even wearing scarves, some with light jackets, chattering away happily, pointing at the ice art.  Totally oblivious to the bone-chilling cold, the breath-stealing wind.  Having a great time.

England!

IMAG1015

Ice princess on stilts!
*Photo courtesy of Sal

The entry from 'Merica

The entry from ‘Merica
*Photo courtesy of Sal

underground concert

There’s no better way to ring in cold and flu season than spending a late Autumn evening in a dark, dank underground concrete shaft.  That’s right, we went back to Rotherhithe (Rotherhithe!) to check out the Brunel’s Museum’s autumn underground concerts series inside the Thames Tunnel Grand Hall.

Photo courtesy of Sal

Seated on a metal folding chair inside the dome, it’s hard to imagine anything filling the hollow, deep space but damp air or (shudder) torrents of water.  But from the first peal of the violin string, I’m convinced nothing can fill it so well as music.  Kosmos Ensemble underground is an ethereal experience.  Technically brilliant trio – 2 violins and 1 accordion – Kosmos is  creative and unafraid.  A dutch tango gets a boost from Jewish folk, then glides into a melancholy Polish piece called the ‘suicide tango’, onto a Romanian tango (there were lots of tangos).

Just as a tango is really lighting up to a feverish crescendo, a train rumbles in a low thunder under our feet.  Magic, timing, or happenstance?  On a night like this, I’d go with magic.

It’s not too late to catch the last of the Brunel Museum’s enigmatic underground concerts – there’s a Welch band playing next week, with a (!!!) harp.  While you’re there, grab a pint at The Mayflower pub.  So close to the river, it had flooded a little just hours before our visit.  The atmosphere is just right – quirky / nautical, with quotes from people like Ghandi written in your booth.  And the food – 2 steps above standard pub fare, at standard prices.

You know you’re going to get a cold anyway.  Might as well have a story to tell about it!

Mud, Sweat, and Tears

It’s pitch black, cold, and wet.  You’re crawling on your hands and knees through the muddy water.  Then your back scrapes the top of the tunnel and you’re forced down onto your belly.  Grit and rock grind into your knees and hands.  The smallness and darkness begin to close in, twinges of panic ripple through you, but you force it down, force yourself to keep crawling.  There’s no other way out.

“This is a nightmare, right?”  you ask yourself.  “Wake up! Oh, God! WHY CAN’T I WAKE UP?!?”

No, you fool.  You signed up for the Royal Marines 10k Commando Challenge.  That’s why you’re stuck in this frigid, Godforsaken mud tunnel.  Oh, and by the way, you ran like 3km (up hills!) before you even got to that first horrible tunnel, so you’re already exhausted and want to die.  And you’ve waded through waist-high (chest high if you’re short) freezing water to get here.  I forgot to mention that it’s early October in England.  And guess what?  There are going to be, like, 29 more cold, dark tunnels to crawl through.

Right about now, you’re wondering how it is you got here.  You get a little metaphysical.  “Why?” You ask the mud-drenched back of a team-mate.  “Why did we drive like 3.5 hours to camp on the hard, cold ground (in October!!), wake up, and run and crawl through a 10km Marine assault course? I’m not a Marine. I work in an office. Why didn’t I sign up for pilates? That’s what office people do, right?”

Your team-mate isn’t listening to you.  Their face is a mud-streaked mask of horror.  You’ve reached the Sheep Dip.

You lower yourself into shoulder-high frigid water.  Two dark holes are flanked by Marines, who are coaching your team-mates on what to do.  You hear them, but it doesn’t really clock because you are so cold, your thoughts are freezing to the sides of your skull.  You numbly follow, then the Marine tells you to — wait, that can’t be right.

They want you to duck your head under water, float through a concrete tunnel of 7 feet, where someone will pull you out by your arms.

“WHAT?”  There are no time for questions.  You’re pushed through, all senses are gone, time is meaningless, you’re submerged in concrete underwater hell.  “This is it,”  you think. “This is the end.”

Then someone does pull you out, you’re breathing panicked gulps of sweet air, and jump back down onto the ground to run through a few more tunnels.

Then back over all those hills again.

1 hour and 34 minutes later, you find yourself shivering in a makeshift tent, clutching a plastic cup full of lager, surrounded by dirty, jolly team-mates.

You may not be a Royal Marine.  But for just a moment, you feel like one.

And for some of us, just a moment is good enough!

Photo courtesy of Laura

Birthplace of the Tubes

1. Are you an architecture or history nerd?

2. Do you like the words ‘free’ and ‘adventure’?

Yeah?  Then check out Open House London – a magical weekend of free entrance to old, quirky, significant, or artsy buildings around Londontown.  If you hurry, you can catch the tail end of this year’s tour, which ends today.

Sal and I went to the Thames Tunnel  near Rotherhithe Station.  (Rotherhithe.  I like saying it.  Rotherhithe!)  They’ve opened the Grand Hall as part of the Brunel Museum, which was worth waiting in the 40 minute queue to see.

One by one, we duck inside a hobbit door and wind around a narrow metal stair into the belly of the earth.  It’s cold, damp and echo-y, and a bit eerie, with black scorch marks on the rounded walls.

 

“Six men died in here,” the tour man’s voice echoes.  He draws our attention to a ‘light and sound’ art installation commemorating the miners that died in a flood while digging the tunnel.  Shouts and industrial noises emanate from illuminated bodies of buried miners.

The structure, he tells us, was built above ground and sunk into the earth – a technique pioneered in the Victorian era with the construction of this very dome.   It once lead directly to the Thames Tunnel, where aristocrats had posh banquets, Victorian city folk walked under the river, and browsed underground shops.

And if that ain’t enough history for you, it’s also the birthplace of the tubes.  Every so often, the cement floor rumbles with a passing train below our feet.

The Midnight Apothecary

 

We’re coming back to for an evening underground concert and perhaps a mint julep or blackberry martini in the pop-up fairy garden bar, the Midnight Apothecary.