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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

England - Part XII

England 2009 – Part XII

May 18th to May 21th

So much has happened since my last post. Hopefully what has happened has stayed in my head so it can be written now. I have to back track a bit here to wake up the memories. On May 21st, using the train and tube to go from Salisbury to Stanstead Airport in order not to have to get up at 4AM on the 22nd. Most of the days between the 18th and 21st were spent in Salisbury doing the small stuff. Doing small stuff like resting, reading, riding, walking, Skyping, sleeping, and window shopping basically killing time until it was time to head to Austria.

May 20, 2009
Salisbury to London

Today is tourist day! After purchasing a train ticket it’s off to London with my bike in tow. Yesterday I purchased two tickets one for the trip from Salisbury to Gatwick, and one for my trip today. I’ve purchased a reservation for myself and my bike. It seems the train system is getting sticky about just showing up with a bike to board a train. So if you don’t have a reservation the conductor does not have to let you on the train. Now if you have a fold up bike no problem, fold it up, put it in the luggage rack, and your good to go. On this trip I’m hoping to see Parliament which is not far from London Waterloo which is at the end of this trip. I and my bike find our spots and off we go for a ride through London town.

This is one of the few trips that my ears have not be accosted by the screaming of some child. Now don’t get me wrong I like kids, however children here have a pension for screaming at the top of their lungs for no reason, or if their parents use the word “NO” which they seem not to use to often. Any way I’m in a quiet car and many of the older travelers make sure it stays quiet. You are not even allowed to talk on you cell phone. Ahhhh nice and quiet, enjoy the scenery, just a nice relaxing ride to get ready for tonight’s adventure. Tonight is Stonehenge night!

Upon arriving at the London waterloo it’s off to the lift, down to the street, and over the bridge, where’s the bridge, I can’t fine the bridge. Oh there’s a bridge one works just a good as another. Having decided to go to the Tower of London first because it is further away off we go. I have a general idea of where the bridge is so heading it that general direction. After riding about ten minutes there is a bathroom in the middle of the sidewalk, well not in the middle, but the entrance is and you go down stairs to where the bathroom awaits. Now after about another five minutes I stop and think to myself I should be there by now! Oh there it is right across the street.

Now you might ask how one misses the Tower of London? Well the Tower way have been overwhelming at some point in history but now it is quite small compared to the building around us. I feel a bit prissy so I just stand in the road a bit staring at a guy in a Jag who has just beeped at me. It appears he thinks I’m taking far too long crossing the street. After glaring at each other I move out of the way and get my first look at the Castle in which the Tower of London sits. You can’t see the Tower from outside as it has been dwarfed by building added to the castle over the years. I plunk down 14 Quid to get in and stand around waiting for the Yeoman tour to start.

There is quite a lot to see at the Tower so by 5pm I’m rushing through the last few exhibits. I’ve seen the Crown Jewels, the Bloody Tower, where Ann Boyle and Mary Queen of Scotts lost their heads along with quite a few others. Then there are the different rooms that long term visitors to the Tower have need kept in. So when I’m finished it’s time to head back to Salisbury and Stonehenge. On the way, this has happened on most of my trips, I come up on a huge throng of people blocking the road way. I managed to become part of a march against the atrocities happening in Shi Lanka.

Back in Salisbury by 8 pm, have dinner, and will not get the nap I’d hoped for. Ten pm finds me waiting for the bus which will take me to the Stones. The bus does not stop, what the…, next bus come along and whizzes by. Now having read that the buses will stop at all regular stops I’m wondering why they are not stopping. Shortly I’m joined by a young couple as another bus zips by. Finally a bus picks us up, we pay our 9 pounds for a return trip in the morning and off we go. The bus stop is about ½ a mile from the entrance to the Stones which has to be walked.
We are lead across the road and on to a field which is pitch black. The sign points toward the Stone duh! It is almost possible to see the ground so I follow the people ahead of me hoping they know where they are going. On we walk toward the lights that have been set up around the Stones. Many of those lights directly face me they do nothing to light up the path, but do manage to blind me from time to time. Up a hill now down a hill someone hands me a plastic bag when passing through a gate. What am I suppose to do with this pick up cow shit? Almost there, the Stones are surrounded by lights some of which have different color lasers attache which dance on the Stones.

Reaching a check point I’m asked if I have any sharp objects on me or grass bottles. After indicated I do not I’m told to have a good time. The path to the Stones is lined with food booths offering a wide variety including vegetarian. It has the atmosphere of a carnival. I get closer to the Stones and pass through police officers who have formed a ring around the outside of the stones. I am now among the Stones, well almost. There are people everywhere who have picked out a spot of grass, thrown down their blankets and in the dark are almost impossible to see. Stepping gingerly through them I reach an opening which allows passage in to the courtyard between the Stones.

It is packed with humanity! Squeezing through until I can move forward no I’m in the center of the Stones. To my left and right are groups attempting to dance to the beat of drums which are all around me. The stones in the courtyard are covered with people some precariously perched on rounded edges. I’m holding claustrophobia at bay just barely. The fumes of marijuana float in the air as joints are passed from lip to eager lip. This is not what I had expected at all. It appears that the job tonight is to get as high or drunk as one can possibility get. Shouts go up now and then when the drums have reached some climatic pounding finally only to start a new.
I escape from through a narrow entrance in time to see someone who has managed to climb to the top of a set of Stones which is not allowed. The crowed is cheering him on has he dances to the drums and makes daring jumps from stone to stone. The police arrive and order him down and they are booed, he attempts to find a way down and the crowed begins to chant “Jump, jump.” As he inches down his legs are grabbed by the police and he is pulled to the ground which is the cause for more booing. I walk around to the other side and attempted to get into the courtyard again on that side. There are more people pushing to get in and I think that it is amazing no one has been crushed yet.

Surprisingly I find a free spot under one the Saracens put down my plastic bag and sit with my back to the stone. I meet Hanna and friends who are well on their way to a great high. I now look around me and find that I am very close to the Alter stone which is covered with people hanging on to each other so as not to fall off into the crowd. People are swaying to the beat of drums plastic bottles of cider and other mixes are passed to friends. People stumble by who are in so credibly intoxicated I have to wonder how they can still walk. There are the young, middle aged, and very old pushing to get in to the center if only for a short stay.

These people are dressed in a variety of outfits. Long black robes, long white robes, summer flowery dresses, shoes have long disappeared, and jeans, and dress pants, business suits for both men and women, some just shorts. A few have baby buggies with babies in the pushing through to get to the center of the courtyard. The children stare open mouthed at the pulsating course of humanity that surrounds them. A woman lies across me then gets up and tells me how we are all as blades of grass. I wonder what grass she is talking about. She sits on my lap awhile looking for a specific paper to roll her joint in. After achieving her goal of rolling the best joint ever she sucks it down in about three minutes.

She is off in search of her mate who has the rest of her stash. A woman sits across from me protecting something wrapped in a blanket. After awhile her son of about five wakes up and wants to go home so they pack and leave. Guards wander through the throngs to protect the stones, the there is not much they can do. Another man has climbed to the top of a stone to sway to the beat of the drums. Some stand on stones and dive in to the crowd who catch them and float them across to the other side. The noise of people shouting is continuous as is the beating of the drums. From time to time the area I’m sitting in becomes packet with people attempting to enter the courtyard and leave it.

Now a young man in a military or school marching band outfit stands about me rap-a-tapping on his snare drum. He beats out something from a football game and the people are aroused by it. Another girl sits on the ground by my legs them falls backward over the snoring contently. Her legs stick out into the “path” and people are tripping and stepping on her. I attempt to pull her out of the way, but she is a dead weight. Guards come by and ask me if she belongs to me? I tell them she does not and they drag her upright then guide her away. Time and time again she attempts to sink to the ground to sleep. The sky is becoming lighter to the cheers of the masses. Sunrise cannot be far off the reason we are all here to see the Summer Solstice, the rays of the sun aliening with the great stones on the longest day of the year.

May 21, 2009
Salisbury to Stansted Airport

After packing what I’d be taking with me in one pannier and dropping off the rest of my stuff with Wendy and Nigel it was off to the train station. My bike was chained to the post next to Mark’s prior to climbing aboard for a pleasant ride to good old Clampton Junction the busiest station in England. From there, after switching trains, it was off to a station I had never been to before called Vauxhall where I was to catch the “tube” to Tottenham, then back on the train to Stansted. The whole trip went off without one problem which was amazing. For those of you in Phoenix think old terminal one, New York think McArthur, California think Ontario in the 80’s that is Stansted Airport. At Stansted it took a bit of doing to find the shuttle bus for the Holiday Inn Express where I’d spend the night. It was a pleasant enough place, nice rooms, free WiFi, free breakfast, and a good, but rather pricey dinner.

Off to the airport to board Ryan Air to Graz, Austria. Confronted with a long line makes me glad I’ve arrived early. Check in was easy this is too good to be true. Then things got interesting! I was quickly reminded of flying Southwest Airlines in the early days and why I don’t use them any longer. I had paid 6 pounds to be one of the first on board, no assigned seating, my first clue that this was to be a bare bones trip. The gate opened and the “Priority” passengers were check in and sent down the galley way, which I thought would lead to a waiting plane, it did not. I led to a closed door behind which we waited for the aircraft to arrive. There was no air-conditioner and very little moving air, but I’d be the third person on the plane.

We are allowed out to cross the tarmac, then climb up a rolling stairway to get on the plane. The plane is full the weather in Austria is not good so we sit. When the plane takes off it is about an hour and a half late, but we are on the way. Now if you have flown Southwest Airlines, it has been quite a while for me, and understands what “no frills airline” means. Let me tell you that they have nothing on Ryan Air. Everything is extra, oh yes they offer cheap fares, but make up for it in charging you for anything extra. I asked for a coke and paid about $2.00 for a 4oz can that was just north of warm. I glanced at the “in flight menu” gagged at the prices which were right up there with upscale restaurants. We landed in Graz, Austria, well bounced into the airport would be more like it. Down the stairs, across the tarmac, then on to customs which consists of a 8 x 8 booth with two men inside.

I step up to the window and hand over my passport to a young man who says nothing. He looked at my passport swiped, looked typed, looked swiped, then finally smiled and said “Welcome to Austria.” Now there is a line behind me as I reach for my passport he says to me “Do you know how to search for relatives in the U.S.?” He seems not to care that there are half a plane of people behind me, but I became quite aware of their presents. I answered affirmatively and told him to start with the Latter Day Saints website, then He did not understand so I hurriedly wrote them down on a piece of paper handed it to him and move on to collect my bag. While waiting for the bag I thought there was more I could give him why didn’t him one of my cards. I pull out one of my cards, walked back to the booth, walked in front of the next person and handed him my card. “Email me and I help you find your family.” When back and collected my bag, entered the Airport proper to wandering back and forth for a bit trying to figure out where the railroad was.

I knew there was a rail station very near the airport just not how far or where. As I wandered who should I run into but the customs person. We talked and he wrote down his email address and asked what I was going to do in Graz’s. I explained that my trip to Austria was to find family which I had located, somewhat, through internet searches. Then explained that Graz was a starting off place, but would be heading further west. “A place to stay” he asked? “No, looking for a hostel which is supposed to be in Graz or to pitch a tent.” He walked me to the information booth, they spoke a while, she typed on a keyboard, out popped a paper which she handed to him. He pulled out is cell and began to call a number on the sheet. They had spoken in Austrian so I had no idea what he was doing.

What he was doing was make me a reservation at the hostel which was not far from the train station in Graz. He writes on the paper, hands it to me and explains that I have a reservation at the hostel and how to get there from the train station. He then says I’ll take you to the train station. We talk some more and I discover he is actually a Police Office and was currently stationed at the airport. We walk to a garage get in his car and drive to the train station. He takes my bags out of the car and carries them up the stairs to the platform. Then he buys my ticket to get from the airport to Graz and we stand a chat until the train arrives. He tells me that the next time I am welcome to stay with him and his family so he can show me around Graz. He asks when I’m returning and I tell him Friday, “Ah I don’t work Friday so I will not be able to see you.”

There have been many times in my life that during something I’m experiencing I must step out of myself and look as if a camera recording the action. This was one of those times! I am amazed to watch myself in a foreign country befriended by a policeman who has just gone amazingly out of his way for me. I have been off the plane for less than an hour and I have a new friend who talks to me as if he’s known me all his life. Safely on the train, headed to a safe place to sleep and eat do to the unselfish act of this man. It feels as if this was some fantasy, daydream and I’ll soon wake up as this just does not happen. I’m happy and know that this trip was the right choice at this point in time.

I exit the Bahnhof, train station, and find myself in a plaza filled with buses and trolley cars. I knew there was a bike rental shop in the train station but decided to bus instead. A short bus ride later I was checked into the hostel, private room, and had met my third Hanna of the trip. Before leaving the train station I’d been given a print out of bus service to Gussing the town of my grandparents. In the morning I’d bus to the town and see what could be found. All in all a good day, and great start for this adventure. The hostel has free WiFi so I hook up talk to a few people, write for my blog then head to bed, Oh but first a sample of Austrian beer.