Mercury in the Bath

August, 2017: the sun is shining on the edge of North America, but the foghorn still cries its warning to the clouded sea. Two paired blasts per 60 seconds; a signature to identify location by sound. In the dark, you need to know which horn you’ve heard.

This is Cape Race lighthouse, which holds one of the last remaining hyper-radial Fresnel lenses ever made. Perched on the southern coast of Newfoundland, it offers the first sighting of land for ships crossing the Atlantic. Oh, and it’s got nearly 800 pounds of liquid mercury at the top.

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A Minute in London

I landed in London yesterday morning after a direct flight from Seattle, and despite my best intentions to set myself to the new timezone right away, slept away a good portion of that first day by mistake. Oops.

On the way in, though, I watched a beautiful misty sunrise on the train from Gatwick to Victoria:

2018-01-27 07.34.25

And treated myself to a breakfast sandwich (egg salad and watercress, yum) from Marks and Spencer (aka my most favorite grocery store in the world, because they have approx one million varieties of sandwiches as well as salads and trifle and normal grocery things).

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Grocery notes from the UK

Just a few quick things about groceries…

1) People in the UK are really into tomatoes. I don’t mind — I like tomatoes too — but I don’t require a boiled tomato for breakfast every morning, or tomato sauce (Ketchup) on everything. My favorite evidence of this near-obsession was when I was exploring the large M&S in Inverness. I went down aisle after aisle, and eventually came to the produce section. There was a ‘fruit’ aisle, and a ‘salads’ aisle, and a few general ‘vegetables’ aisle… and a ‘tomatoes’ aisle. Yep, an entire aisle dedicated purely to tomatoes — the only one, as far as I could tell, devoted exclusively to one thing. Impressive!

2) Alternate blog post title: Exploring World Culture Through the Lens of Cool Ranch Doritos.
Dear America, are you aware that no one else in the world recognizes ‘ranch’ as a flavor? It’s true. So last year in Norway I found ‘Cool American’ Doritos, and this year in Scotland I’ve discovered ‘Cool Original’ Doritos. Whatever works, I guess; they all taste pretty much the same.

UPDATE: on the way out in Belgium I discovered another variation: ‘Sweet Paprika’ Doritos, which is probably the most accurate description yet.

3) Can someone please explain to me why the mini grocery store in the Manchester airport stocks refrigerated raw meat? Like, what, I’m going to buy a couple of steaks and fry them up on my camp stove while I’m waiting at the gate?! Even IF it’s there as a convenience for the tired traveler who just wants to pick up some bacon for breakfast on their way home, I still find it questionable.


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London, continued

My bus from the airport (a story in itself, see below) dropped me off at 221b Baker Street.

For real.
Well, not EXACTLY, because there is no 221b, but right directly in front of where it would be. So my arrival into the city of London was to be dropped off at 1am, a woman alone and post-slightly-distraught, at Sherlock Holmes’ address. It COULD NOT BE MORE PERFECT.
About that bus ride from the airport:
I allllllmost started crying at the bus driver. All the other buses were huge coaches, and then mine showed up and it was a shuttle van. I was first in line but the lady at the information desk had told me I didn’t need a ticket, I could just pay the driver… but then the driver said he had to take all the ticketed people first and could only take cash if there was still room, and there was a big line behind me because I’d been waiting for 45 minutes at that point and they all had tickets but I’d been waiting so much longer than them! And so they all filed past me and got on and I was getting a little distraught at the thought of being the only one left behind at the airport to wait another hour for another bus, but then it was ok, there was exactly one seat left(!)
And I got a seat all to myself with no seat next to me, unlike everyone else 🙂
Anyway…. Then I arrived and checked in to the cutest, tidiest, TINIEST hotel room ever. I slept a little, and woke up early-ish to explore the city… in brief, I went to:
•Marks & Spencer (AMAZING grocery/food shop, I’ve now been three times and I’m hooked)
•Picnic on the south bank of the Thames (real nice river you’ve got there, London)
•The Tate Modern (amazing and, shockingly, free! Saw another great Beuys piece called Lightning with Stag in its Glare, among lots of other great stuff)
•The wobbly bridge (I think that’s what it’s called?)
•St Paul’s Cathedral
•Houses of Parliament (see note below)
•Westminster Abbey
•Marylebone High Street
•Another picnic
•Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man (3-hour fantastic promenade performance by the creators of Sleep No More)
•Paddington Station
•Canals (!! Actual legit canals!)
Not too bad for a partial day… I definitely have to come back though. Oh, and my sincere apologies to the entire driving population of London, because there’s a fairly good chance I walked out in front of you at some point today. I just couldn’t get the hang of looking in the appropriate direction for traffic… British people are so polite, though, I only got honked at once!
Here’s what happened with Houses of Parliament…
A few people had suggested it as a place to visit, but I was like “oh, whatever, that’s like going to look at the White House… boooooring….” and had no plans to go.
But I decided on a whim to go to Westminster Abbey — I’d forgotten it existed and then noticed it on a map and got excited. So I went without prior research, and walked out of the Tube on the wrong side of the street. Normally that would be fine, but all the streets were blocked off for some massive bicycle marathon, so I had to go the long way around. I was sort of thinking ‘abbey’ meant ‘modest but cool old building where monks once lived or whatever’ — NOT ‘giant cathedral’ as it turned out to be. So I was distracted by that, and I was coming up on Houses of Parliament from behind without knowing what it was, and talking to myself out loud, as you do at a certain point in a solo journey (which I tend not to realize I’m doing until I notice people staring at me). Anyway, this happened:
“Ooooh, what a pretty church! What is it? It can’t be Westminster, that’s over there… it’s so BIG! And it just keeps GOING! And it’s so ornate, and… oooh, statues!
“Wait a second…
“…where are all the crosses……?
“Oh, WHAT. That’s Houses of Parliament? THAT?!?! Oh fuck you, England. That’s not cool, man. Fuck off. Jesus Christ. Seriously?!? ….assholes.”
Hahahaha but yeah, their state building is waaaaaay cooler than ours. Westminster Abbey was cool too, but it was closed to the public so I couldn’t go inside. Apparently I missed Big Ben, which I’m told is right there… like, I think I may have leaned against the base of it, but I was looking for the graveyard at the time. Sometimes I have a truly zen ability to, as Salinger put it: “[make] sure of the essential, [and forget] the homely details… [to look] at the things [I] ought to look at, and [neglect] those that need not be looked at….”
Calling it a ‘zen ability’ is nicer than calling it ‘tunnel vision’ just as saying I’m ‘focused’ is nicer than calling me ‘single-minded,’ so let’s go with that.
Then I went and had a picnic in a park (the restaurant I’d planned to visit was closed, but I had a rec for a great nearby grocery store, and THERE WAS TRIFLE which is hands-down my new favorite dessert).
Then I saw the show (lots of thoughts and some issues with how they chose to end it, but overall it was super great and I really like what the company is up to). Then I made my way to Victoria Station, and discovered that Victoria Coach Station is NOT the same thing, so I had a nice mile-ish flat-out run with my backpack for the bus to Paris and very very nearly missed it. Caught it though, so hurrah!



Hiya, London!

Yay! I’m in England!

The gentleman at passport control was a little confused by me (I seem to get that a lot at border crossings…). 11pm:
“How long will you be in the UK?”
“Umm, a day. Sort of. But then I’m coming back.”
“Well, tomorrow I’m going to Paris but then I’ll be back in the UK the next day to go to Scotland.”
“Ok…. where did you come from?”
“Berlin just now! But via Oslo. From the US…? Wait, is that the question?”
Poor border guards. I always seem to complicate things for them… Plus I’m usually pretty exhausted at border crossings due to my standard mode of traveling, so I don’t explain things very clearly… Oh well 🙂 He stamped my passport, hurrah! Now it has three stamps (Norway didn’t show any interest in it whatsover; they never even looked at it. Sadness).
I keep trying to get on the wrong escalator, and I’ve been walking into people on the sidewalk… I knew that Brits drive on the other side, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that that would translate over to things like escalators too. And riding in this shuttle bus on the wrong side of the road is super disconcerting 🙂
I’m listening to Bowie for the drive in, because obviously 🙂
And I’ve officially reached that lovely time in a backpacking journey where everything in my pack sort of smells like everything else.

Note on the photo: welcome to the tiniest hotel room I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t close the bathroom door when I brushed my teeth because the sink comes up to about 4″ from the doorway. Super cute 🙂 And super clean!