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London Escapades and the Penswe's of Scotland

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

For some inexplicable reason, I awoke at 05:45 this morning, though it did have some benefit as I was able to watch the live stream of the Artemis I rocket by NASA. I had been following the delayed launch plans throughout my travels this year; each time a launch was scheduled I would try to be somewhere that I could watch it online. I find space and our exploration of it to be fascinating. Watching the launch this morning was quite exciting!

I met Lotta and Patrik outside their hotel at 08:00 and we caught the Tube into town. We exited at St Pauls and ducked into a nearby Pret a Manger for breakfast. The bakery had a festive holiday gingerbread cookie with a “melted” marshmallow snowman... and it was called the Melvin cookie! I was, of course, reminded of Melvin from the Camino and our joking about how he was my future husband... so I bought a Melvin cookie as well. It was actually quite good!


The three of us then crossed the Millennium Bridge, walking around outside of the Globe Theatre. We grabbed another cup of coffee while we waited for the Tate Museum to open. Visiting the Tate is one of the few things I do each time I come to London. The rotating installations in the main hall are usually so interesting to see, with many of them being interactive.


We went to the Tate shortly after it opened at 10:00, but were disappointed in the main hall installation. It was just a series of long drapes of fabric hanging from a large circle on the ceiling; it was not interactive at all, being more bizarre than anything.

We spent the next hour or so exploring the various galleries throughout the museum. There were some pieces that spoke to me more than others. One gallery had art inspired by pop culture, including a large painting in the style of Communist propaganda posters. In another wing there were some sculptures that looked like burned wood; Lotta joked that it looked like Spain after I jokingly burned it to the ground after the Camino.


Up next was a walk through the Soho part of town. I wanted to check out a few of the stores in the neighborhood and Lotta knew of a good bar there as well. I didn't end up buying anything, so we headed directly to the bar. It was very British in style: small with wood paneling around it, simple décor, and a complete “sausage fest” of clientele (all men). There were a lot of business people there having some midday drinks, including a group at the bar who appeared to be giving a Nazi salute (they saw our strange looks when they did the salute and one of the men told us they were talking about the pose that Usain Bolt does at races... but their hand gestures looked nothing like Bolt's). We had a couple rounds of drinks at the bar, which was very nice.


We were all somewhat hungry after our drinks and went out to find somewhere to grab lunch. Lotta wanted to have some fish & chips, but we couldn't find a decent chippy nearby, so we settled on Indian again. We just ordered some of the lunch specials, which turned out to be rather small portions, but it was still tasty.

After eating, we walked over to Whitehall area and then by the Palace of St James. I was meeting another friend of mine at 16:00, so we didn't have time to do much. We went into another small pub; Lotta and Patrik grabbed a drink and I soon set off to meet up with my buddy. I walked to the nearby horse parade grounds in Whitehall. It was raining again as I walked, though it was not a complete downpour.

I met up with Alan at the horse parade grounds after he finished work and we then walked over to Chinatown to get some dinner. I met Al back in October 2011 when I did some traveling in Asia; we've kept in touch throughout the years and have met up as often as possible. I've seen him several times in London, as well as in Washington DC, Belfast, Edinburgh, and Durham in north England. Al is one of the more well-educated and intelligent people that I've ever met. I thoroughly enjoy chatting with him because we can really delve into deep topics.


We went to a Chinese buffet and spent the next couple hours catching up while we ate. The food was surprisingly good for a tiny buffet restaurant. Al and I always have more to talk about than we have time to spend talking. It's a madcap of changing topics as we race to cover everything we possibly can. Sadly, we couldn't spend too long hanging out because he had to head out to the airport. I joined him on the Tube for a little while so we could talk a bit more. He's every bit a sci-fi nerd as me, so we spent some time talking about various TV shows (specifically Star Wars) and books. When it was time for me to change trains, we said goodbye and planned to meet up again somewhere in the world (hopefully in Vietnam!).

I took the Tube back to Soho to meet up with Lotta and Patrik, who were at a pub called Toucan. It was another small pub and they were sitting at the basement bar. The place was packed with customers when I arrived and it was quite hot inside, so we didn't stay too long. We stopped in at a nearby Cafe Nero for some coffee as I was feeling somewhat sleepy after the long day. After that, we took the Tube back to Notting Hill, where our hostel and hotel are located.

Before calling it a night, we returned to the pub we met up at last night to have a few more drinks. It was the perfect way to unwind and relax at the end of the day. We only had a couple rounds of drinks before leaving – it was incredibly hot inside the pub and I was relieved when it was time to go because I could get out into the cold weather. We walked back to our places and made plans for meeting up again in the morning.

Another excellent day in London, done and dusted!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Once again, I met up with Lotta and Patrik at 08:00 outside their hotel. Before we went out for the day, we went up to their room so I could use their shower to assist with changing the dressing on my toenail. I needed to soak it and have a clean area to change the bandage, which I wasn't entirely comfortable doing at my hostel. When I removed the old bandage after getting it wet in the shower, I was surprised at how good it looked – there was no bleeding and the swelling was gone. The new bandage was put on and we set out for the day.

The first stop was at Boots, the pharmacy chain, so I could get some more of the bandages for my toe. Unfortunately, they did not carry exactly what I needed, so we had to head over to a private pharmacy nearby. En route, we stumbled upon a tiny cafe serving breakfast, so we ducked inside to get a bite to eat. The poor woman running the place was doing everything: taking orders, cooking food, serving, etc. She was very friendly and bubbly though. I ordered a full English breakfast, which was tasty and filling.

Patrik's breakfast took longer to prepare and arrived after both Lotta and I had finished our meals. To save us time for the rest of the day, I paid and ran to the private pharmacy while Patrik finished eating. This shop had the bandages that I needed – huzzah! I then ran back to my hostel so I could get my bags fully packed and ready to go for my departure tomorrow. I then regrouped with Lotta and Patrik at 10:15, ready for more adventures!

Lotta made the suggestion that we visit the Science Museum, which was a relatively short walk from their hotel. To get there, we had to walk through Kensington Gardens, passing by the palace along the way. It was a very pleasant walk through the park, with fall leaves strewn everywhere – autumn is my favorite season.

The museum was gigantic, with exhibits covering everything from space exploration to flight to mathematics. I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the space section, which was extensive and included the Apollo 10 capsule. It also had some models of the lunar lander and a satellite that has been sent to Mercury. This area of the museum was packed with school groups, so it became slightly overwhelming to deal with.

Lotta was interested in visiting the exhibit about flight, where dozens are airplanes were on display. It was cool to see so many unique planes, especially some of the older models from when inventors were trying to design the most effective aircraft. I particularly enjoyed an airplane-helicopter combo craft.

I wanted to visit the mathematics section, but it proved to be rather disappointing, so we skipped it and left the museum. It was a good visit, but now we needed to get something to eat for lunch. We had settled on having Vietnamese food at a restaurant I'd found years ago, but had never had the opportunity to visit; it served northern-style Viet food, which is what attracted me to the place. Before heading out to the restaurant, we stopped at Pret a Manger to have some coffee.


The Tube took nearly 40 minutes to get us from the museum over to the restaurant, which was located in the Haggerston area of Hackney. There were several Viet places located in this area and I was reminded of Little Vietnam in Chicago. We went to a place called Hanoi Cafe, which had an all Viet staff. I tried to order my ice coffee in Vietnamese (using both northern and southern dialects), but the waiter did not understand what I was trying to say. For food, I ordered my favorite Viet food: bun cha. It was every bit as delicious as I had hoped! Lotta and Patrik both ordered vegetarian pho, which they also enjoyed (it was their first experience eating Vietnamese food).


It was late afternoon by this point and we had a few hours until our West End play in the evening, so we took the Tube back over to Soho. We took the new Elizabeth Line, which had opened recently. The trains and stations were incredible: very modern, state of the art, and spacious. I was quite impressed.

The next few hours were spent having some drinks at an Irish pub that our Camino buddy Sean had recommended: Waxy O'Connor's. Sean, who lives in Ireland, couldn't make it to London for the reunion, but he was definitely there with us in spirit! The pub was one of the most unique bars that I've visited. There were several floors, with smaller seating areas tucked away all over the bar; everything was decorated with wood paneling, and there were some fun sections as well (including a mock confessional).


Before heading to the theatre this evening, we stopped in at Cafe Nero to get some coffee. The cafe was filled with some questionable customers, and the people walking around outside were not... the best. I was surprised at how many people were already drunk and stumbling down the sidewalk.

Tonight we were seeing MARY POPPINS on the West End! It is such a fun and cheerful show; I've seen it a few times and I wanted to see it again now because it is closing early next year. We had great seats and we quickly settled in for the show. As with the previous times that I'd seen the show, it was magical and the cast was outstanding! Lotta and Patrik both enjoyed the show as well.


When we took the Tube back to Notting Hill, it was time for us to say our goodbyes. We were both leaving early in the morning (me for the train station, they were going to the airport), so we wouldn't have the opportunity to see one another after tonight. It had been a wonderful few days with Lotta and Patrik – it truly made my time in London much more special! I am so glad and thankful that they could come and spend the time with me. I'm looking forward to our next reunion, whenever and wherever that may be!

Friday, November 18, 2022

Today began bright and early at 07:30 so I could finish getting ready. I was taking the 09:30 train from King's Cross Station to Edinburgh, so I needed time to catch the Tube over to the station and find the train. I arrived at King's Cross with plenty of time to spare and soon it was time to board the train. I had a reserved window seat and no one sat next to me for the first part of the trip.

The train was quite enjoyable – I was able to read, do some blogging, and watch Netflix throughout the ride. I had bought some food for breakfast at the station, so I ate that shortly after the train departed. The entire ride was supposed to take just under five hours. After the second or third stop, someone took the seat next to me (damn it!).

As we sped across England, an announcement was made that our train would be terminating service at Newcastle due to extensive flooding further north along the line. We were told that one track had been cleared and limited the number of trains being allowed to run, but we could hop on the train directly behind us as it was given permission to run through to Edinburgh. While that was an unexpected change to plans, the delay at having to switch to the train 30 minutes behind us wasn't too much of an inconvenience.

The situation took another turn when, just as we were pulling into Newcastle, another announcement was made that the flooding situation had deteriorated and now all trains to/from Newcastle and Edinburgh were canceled! We were told that there would be busses to continue service north to Edinburgh. I frantically tried to book a bus ticket on my phone, but everything was sold out. When we arrived at the station, the line for the busses that the train company was bringing in was wrapped around the block. I began to search for any other options to get to Edinburgh and managed to find a roundabout way to still get there:
1. Train from Newcastle to Haltwhistle at 14:25
2. Bus from Haltwhistle to Carlisle at 15:40
3. Train from Carlisle to Edinburgh at 17:05

The train to Haltwhistle was made up of only two small cars and it was delayed nearly 40 minutes while we waited for the conductor to arrive (he was apparently stuck in traffic). This delay meant that I would miss my connecting bus to Carlisle, but I held out hope that they would hold the bus for the train since they were joined services.

Haltwhistle is a tiny village, with just a small train station; it looked charming, but I had no time to really take it all in as I was rushing to the bus. We arrived at 15:45, but luckily they had held the bus until the train arrived! We were packed into the bus and I was stuck standing at the rear of the bus for the 45 minute ride to Carlisle. The bus was ridiculously hot and I was sweating the entire ride. I kept a constant watch on Google Maps, hoping that we would arrive in time for me to make the train to Edinburgh; I was happy that the bus ride was predicted to be shorter than the schedule stated.

After sitting through some traffic in the center of Carlisle, we were dropped off at the train station with about a half hour to spare before my next train. The train to Edinburgh was delayed by 20 minutes and was apparently sold out, including the standing room spaces. I had a reservation, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get to the seat if the train was so full. Fortunately, I got my seat on the train and the final hour to Edinburgh passed quickly.

I arrived into town at 18:30, over four hours later than originally planned. I had nothing planned for this afternoon in town, so I hadn't missed anything important, but I would have enjoyed the extra time to walk around town. Edinburgh is my favorite city in the UK and I always enjoy wandering around town (even if I have been everywhere multiple times before).

I walked over to my hostel, where I have stayed on previous visits. This hostel is located on the Royal Mile, directly across from St Giles Cathedral. There are pod dorm rooms, which I prefer to the normal bunk bed setup; plus the staff are all very friendly. I got checked in, put my bags away in the room, and settled in for the rest of the evening. It had been a long, stressful day; I didn't want to do much of anything for the rest of the night.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I managed to sleep in somewhat this morning and I was delighted with the slower paced morning. I showered, changed bandages on my toe, and then went out to get coffee. I took my tablet computer and worked on my blog while enjoying my coffee; I also spent some time reading a new book. It was a good way to just unwind after the stresses of yesterday.


At 14:00, I met my friend Kevin “Penswe” and his girlfriend Steph outside the National Museum of Scotland. We drove down to the borderlands, where we would be spending the afternoon. Penswe and Steph have a 19-month old toddler and this was only the second time they've gone out without the kiddo (the first time was last year when I came to visit!). Needless to say, they were excited to have an evening out.

We drove down to the village of Peebles, which was a quaint and beautiful little town. A small river runs through the center of the village, with a main street parallel to it, and dozens of small shops and pubs all around. We hunted for a pub to have a quick drink in, but it proved more difficult than expected. Some of the pups were quite full, while others were not as inviting as expected. We finally settled on a local pub that was quite dated in the décor, but there were seats and cold beer to be had, so we were happy.


We spent the next hour or so at the pub and catching up over the events of the past year. Penswe and I have been friends since 2007 and each time we meet up is incredible – he is definitely one of my best friends. His girlfriend Steph is equally amazing and I really enjoy hanging out with her. The three of us can spend hours just chatting away.

We left Peebles proper at 16:00 and drove slightly north to a restaurant named The Horseshoe Inn, where Penswe had made reservations for dinner. The Inn was very nice and truly felt like an old-school pub. Our table was in the rear of the restaurant and we soon ordered a round of drinks and our dinner. We shared a nachos appetizer with haggis, my main was a steak meat pie, and we also shared side orders of onion rings and sweet potato fries. All of the food was delicious and we were all very full at the end of the meal.

It was nice to spend a few hours at the restaurant and hang out with both Penswe and Steph. The time we have together always flies by, which is a sure sign that we're having fun. I wish that I was able to see them more than once a year, but having even that time together is better than nothing. Penswe is every bit the nerd that I am and we can just geek out, being as strange as we want. It's hysterical spending time with him. We forgot to take any photos together this evening, but Steph said I could post the picture below that was taken several months ago at a wedding; the photo is just... perfect Penswe.


Before we knew it, we had to leave to head back to Edinburgh so they could get back to their son. We planned to meet up again tomorrow afternoon, this time they'd bring their son so I could see him again. When we reached the Edinburgh city center, they dropped me off near to my hostel, where I spent the remainder of the evening.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

My final day in the UK (and overseas from the States) was another epic day. It began with some morning reading over coffee at Starbucks. I was meeting up with Penswe later in the afternoon, so I went out to lunch beforehand. One of my favorite places to eat in Edinburgh is called Oink: a small shop that sells the most delicious pulled pork sandwiches, complete with haggis. The shop had a pig in the window and pulls the pork from it as orders are placed. Some people think it is gross, but I think it is awesome – and so yummy! Today's lunch did not disappoint.


Penswe had planned to pick me up at the museum again this afternoon, but his car had other plans. He was running late and he soon told me why: his car was having some problems, so they returned home and were taking the bus into town instead. To pass the time, I walked along the Royal Mile and up to the castle. I'd toured the castle years ago, but I never tire of the view from the courtyard in front of the castle.


I then walked through town to meet Penswe and Steph close to where the bus would drop them off. Rather than going out of town together, we'd just spend the afternoon at a nearby restaurant. I was particularly excited for today because their son Atlas was joining us. I met Atlas last year, but he was only six months old at the time; now that he's older, we can interact a lot more.

Penswe was already at the restaurant when I arrived and Atlas was in his stroller playing with some toys. Luckily he's not a shy toddler and started showing me his toys, including one that spun around which he let me spin. He is such a happy and curious kid. I sat next to Penswe, while Steph sat across from us with Atlas; she got him out of the stroller and let him walk around on the bench seat, which he absolutely loved!

We ordered a round of drinks and a chicken nuggets “hoppy meal” for Atlas. The chicken nuggets were surprisingly delicious and we managed to order an adult-sized portion of them even though it wasn't on the menu. It was a great time getting to hang out with everyone and play with Atlas. At one point, he started to slap his hands down on the table and I pretended that it knocked me back into my seat, so we repeated it over and over. Atlas was laughing hysterically and loving it.

Happily, Atlas went down for a nap in his stroller, allowing Penswe, Steph and me to continue drinking and hanging out. We spent a few hours there together, having a grand time. They are such a great couple and I am so happy that Penswe met Steph. They are the rare couple that I can hang out with and not feel like a third wheel. Steph and I agreed that we would definitely have been friends if we'd just met on our own, without Penswe.

Steph has also fully embraced the Penswe name, which I think is awesome! Penswe isn't Kevin's real surname, but it's been a long-running joke with us for 14 years now (it's a long story). Steph now calls him Penswe at times too – and Atlas is the wee Penswe.

When Atlas awoke from his nap,he was feeling a bit fussy, so we decided it was time to head out. I walked with them over to Princes Street, where they caught their bus back home. During the walk, I got to carry Atlas for a bit. I let him press the button for the walk sign over and over, which delighted him. Steph kept remarking how good I am with kids, which I'm not entirely sure about, but she said the games I had played with Atlas gave her some new ideas. When finally it was time for them to board the bus, it was sad to say goodbye to them all. One of the main reasons I come to the UK so often is to see Penswe and I hate having to leave each time, but we'll see each other again sometime soon!


I then walked back to the hostel, where I finished getting my things packed and ready for leaving tomorrow morning. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and watching Netflix before bed.


My six months of travel was at an and and I was, sadly, heading back to the States in the morning. It is always bittersweet each time a trip ends: I am so accustomed to the non-strop travel life and I don't want it to end, but I am also ready to have some time to just relax and do nothing. However, the trip isn't entirely over quite yet though because I am flying to NYC to spend Thanksgiving there with my parents...

Posted by Glichez 22:57 Archived in United Kingdom

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