Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Second Trip To Lisbon

I made it back to Lisbon for the second time. This time I stayed for five days. The first thing I did was go to the DHL office to see if I could get my replacement debit card. There had been a delivery attempt at the hostel's building that was refused. The first time I called DHL, I asked the person I talked to if I could pick up ther package at their office, and they said that was impossible, because the sender did not allow for that possibility. Frustrated, I tried to explain that that there was never anyone at the delivery location, but I hit a brick wall with the idiot I was talking to. I wanted to say, "Isn't it your job to make sure people get their packages?" But, luckily, my Skype call got cut off, so I called back and talked to a second person who told me that it would be no problem to pick up my package at their office in Lisbon. I don't know why some people want to use the rules to interfere with you, and some people try to use the rules to help you.

So, armed with these two contradictory pieces of information, I took a metro to the DHL office immediately after checking into the hostel, not knowing what kind of person I would have to deal with at the DHL office, and not completely certain that I would get my replacement debit card. But, luckily, my debit card was there for me. I then set out to find an ATM, and couldn't find one for a while. But I remembered I had seen one at Sete Rios train station, so I took the metro there. I had been getting seriously low on cash, and most places outside of Lisbon did not take credit cards, so I had been really conserving my money, and was down to my last few euros. I could have done some other stuff to get money if I had needed to, but it didn't come to that.

I spent the remaining time in the day wandering around Lisbon, and I treated myself to dinner in a restaurant since now I had money.  I had pre-reserved a return trip to Coimbra on the train for the next day, so I got up really early to make that journey. It was a pretty long train trip, and was pushing it for a day trip. But I enjoyed my visit to Coimbra, though I was a bit burned out by the end of the day.

After returning to Lisbon late at night, the next day I spent all day unexpectedly backing up the SD card on my phone, as I found it was almost full. It took me all day and waking up several times throughout the night to back up all the data. But I was glad I had a spare day available to do it. I didn't even leave to get food, since I was tethered with my phone to my laptop, backing up the data to both a hard drive and Dropbox. At least it only took a day; when I had done a similar thing in Hanoi, it had taken me three weeks of constant connection to the Internet with my laptop to back up my SD card.

So now my backup had been accomplished, and I had a way to get money. I decided to take a day trip to Sintra, which is a beautiful medieval town bordering forested mountains filled with fairytale castles and whatnot. On the train to Sintra, there was a guy playing accordion, accompanied by a guy playing the tambourine. Why do accordion players always play "Besame Mucho"? I wonder.

I looked up some sites to see, found about nine places that were good candidates to visit, and figured I'd get to about seven of them during the day. Ha, ha. The was no way I would get to that many places, especially since I spent half the day just wandering around. Sintra is not like most other Portuguese towns where everything is in a very compact place; all the sites are very far apart, scattered across forested mountains.

When I  first got to Sintra, one of the first things I saw was a regional bus that went to [Cabo], which is the westernmost point in Portugal and in Continental Europe. My first impulse was to jump on that bus, but then I thought that I could do that later in the day. I didn't get the chance again, because by the time I returned from sightseeing, it was too late to head out in that direction, because I wouldn't have had time to catch the last bus back. Oh, well.

I actually only had time to see two sites of the several I had picked out, which were Castelo dos Mouros, and Palacio da Pena. Both of them were phenomenal places. Castelo dos Mouros was right at the top of the mountain facing Sintra. There were some incredibly heavy winds there, with gusts that I would describe as hurricane-strength, on the way up to the main tower. I was blown over onto a huge pile of rocks on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire by winds that strong, and ended up covered with blood, so I tend to be a leetle bit careful with strong winds on craggy mountain tops. Especially, as was the case here, where there are precipitous drops on both sides of the rocky stairs.

Probably one would have to spend at least three days in Sintra to get a good visit of the attractions and surroundings. It's not really the kind of place that lends itself to a day trip, but in one day, I did manage to get a sense of the way the place feels. Some towns are optimal for day trips, some are not.

On my last day in Lisbon, I visited the Belém area, which is by the waterfront, and is a nice place to visit, though kind of touristy. I tried to get into the Jerónimos Monastery, but the line was really long, so I went into the attached church, which had no line, hoping that the line for the monastery would die down. When I got out of the church, the line was much, much longer, so I abandoned the plan to visit the monastery and just wandered around Belém.

I left the next day on a flight to Barcelona. I would have liked to have planned to see more of Spain, but the fact that the Schengen zone only gives me 90 days out of 180 days to stay there makes it so I can't wander as much as I would like. Maybe the next time I visit Europe I'll be able to see more of Spain.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

One Million Steps

I've now taken one million steps since I left on my journey in March 31 of this year. My shoes are holding up pretty well. I've found in previous travel that I need to change shoes about every six to nine months with heavy ambulation. This time, I bought some pretty good walking shoes for my trip, instead of getting what is on sale at Payless. So maybe they will hold up better than previous shoes.  Eventually, though, I'll possibly have to buy whatever shoes I can find to use. I can't really buy an extra pair, because I just don't have room to store them. Shoes take up a lot of room in a backpack. So I can't really buy another pair until these are ready for the trash bin, or unless I'm living in a semi-permanent location like an apartment, which won't happen for quite a while.

And, let me qualify the million steps. I've actually walked much more than that, because the app on my phone has been shorting me steps for quite some time. When I started out, it was quite accurate, but now it fails to register somewhere between 10% and 30% of my steps, according to my interval testing. From what I've read online, it's probably due to either a system update or another app that creates a conflict. Honestly, I don't care that much, it's just a rough estimate, and maybe there is an x multiplier of 1.3 or something. But some of the people talking about this in online forums act like crack addicts who have just been cut off cold turkey. Fitness obsession is a funny thing.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Circling Around Portugal

I flew from Porto to Lisbon, since I had found a relatively cheap flight, but I wish I had taken the train instead. The flight was only an hour, but airports are always a hassle and you have to get there early and wait (and pack everything in a special fashion beforehand), so I probably spent almost as much time as I would have with the train. Plus, I probably could have stopped in another place in the way.

When I got to Lisbon, it was easy to take the metro in from the airport, but there was a hugely steep hill between the metro station and the hostel. It wasn't too bad, but with my full pack on, it was some pretty heavy exercise. The hostel was very pleasant. My first day there, I took a walk around the area near the hostel, and it wasn't terribly interesting. But in the next few days, I went to much more interesting places in Portugal's capital. The city is VERY hilly, and if you walk around for a few minutes, the chances are that you will be soon climbing up a very steep hill.

The metro system is easy to use, and if you buy a day pass, you will have access to not only the metro system, but also the buses and the trains as well, as well as more esoteric forms of transportation, such as funiculars (called elevadores) and the Santa Justa Elevator (Ascensor de Santa Justa), which is a unique form of public's an elevator that gets you up one of the steep hills. The day pass won't get you on the regional transportation, such as the trains to Sintra or any other regional trains, buses or ferries, but it is great fir getting around the city of Lisbon on days that you will be moving a lot. If you're not using a lot of public transportation on some days, you might want to consider just buying single trips. If you buy a single trip, you have a certain amount of time to change your mode of transportation within the city for no charge. Either way, you'll want a Viva Viagem card which you can load up with either a day pass or money for individual trips. You can also load single trips for some of the regional trains on the card.

I spent three days in Lisbon, just checking out the city. Probably the most interesting neighborhood was Bairro Alto, which is up a very steep hill from the waterfront area. You can either take a series of staircases there, or take the funicular called the Elevador da Glória; I did it both ways over the course of my visit. I had a metro day pass on the day I took the Elevador so it was covered in the day pass. Since Lisbon is so hilly, you can look at Google Maps, and it is hard to tell when you will be climbing very steep hills. Something that is three blocks away on the map might be quite the heady climb. If you're lucky, it might be downhill, but then you eventually have to face the trip back up.

I didn't get to see a whole lot in the three days I was in Lisbon, but I'll be heading back there again soon. I did make it to the top of the Amoreiras Tower, which is supposed to be the highest place in Lisbon, to see the views of the city. It looked from there that there might have been higher mountains surrounding the city, though. I also managed to take the iconic Tram 28. There was a huge crowd lined up for the tram, and people kept cutting in line, so it took a long time to shorten. This antique tram would be difficult to replace with a newer model, because the tracks are very narrow, and it goes up very narrow, winding streets with sharp turns and steep inclines. The tram was packed, and only had small rows of single seats and standing room only in the aisle. It sounded like metal was grinding on metal at times.

On my last day, I took the metro to Sete Rios train station to catch a train to Faro, in the Algarve region at the south tip of Portugal. When I was taking the train from Lisbon to Faro, I accidentally missed my scheduled connection by jumping on the wrong train. The train before mine was late, and showed up a minute before mine, so I thought it was my train. I found it it wasn't the right train just as the doors snapped shut and the train took off, so it was just a second or two too late to get back off. I was bummed. My ticket was reserved on a specific train and was non-refundable, and now there was no way I would make that train. And that was the first specific travel reservation that I've missed in either the last world journey I was on or this one! Which is pretty amazing, considering all the travel I've done in the fast few years. I got off at the next station, asked which train to take to get back to Sete Rios Station in Lisbon, and took the train back.

I went to the ticket window at Sete Rios, sheepishly explained that I had missed my train because I got on the wrong one (it was now about forty minutes after my train had left), and asked what I could do. The ticket seller was very helpful and sold me a ticket for the next train for the difference between the original cheap non-refundable fare and the regular fare, but unfortunately, the next (and only) train to Faro for the day was four hours later. And I definitely couldn't miss that train. Not a huge deal, I just had to wait at the station, but I used that time to plan out some future travel and make reservations, so it was put to good use. And I'd still make it to my hostel in Faro that night.

It was a lot hotter in Faro than it had been in Porto or Lisbon, which were coolish in temperature. Faro is in the Algarve region on the southern edge of Portugal, and the climate is definitely warmer in the Algarve. Faro is kind of a mellow little sleepy town with a small town center.

I took a day trip to Albufeira, which was VERY touristy. But it had some beautiful beaches with magnificent cliffs, so I mostly spent my time walking in the beaches, wading in the water (there were signs saying swimming was prohibited ir discouraged, probably because of dangerous tides). Wish I had spent more time in Faro, because I could have checked out the Algarve area more, as there were buses and trains running throughout the region.

I took the train from Faro to Évora, and it changed at Pinhal Novo, a few miles southeast of Lisbon. But the first train was running late due to some delay along the way. It was a very fast train, running over 200 kms. per hour, but for some reason it only ran about 20 kilometers per hour for about half an hour. It was supposed to arrive at 5:22 pm, and I was supposed to catch my connection at 5:48 pm at Pinhal Novo. But 5:22 came, and then 5:30, and we still hadn't arrived. I was getting a little nervous about whether we were going to arrive on time. When one of the train ticket checkers came by, I asked him what time we were going to arrive at Pinhal Novo; he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know, but it was the next stop. It didn't help that Google Maps was completely malfunctioning for me, and showing that our location was hundreds of kilometers from where we actually were. About 5:42 we hadn't gotten there, and there was no announcement, so I was afraid I was going to miss my connection. I gathered my backpack and put it on so I could dash out the door when we got there. Finally, there was an announcement. We stopped at 5:46; I had two minutes to spare. I just jumped off the train, full of adrenaline, and started running as fast as I could with my full backpack on. Luckily, I passed a screen saying that the train I needed to be on was arriving at track 2, so I sprinted to track 2, running and puffing up the stairs. I got to the train that I needed to change to with about twenty seconds to spare. All that leisure time; I guess you could say I ran too fast. Of course, I wasn't on the right car, but at least I had made it on the train. I found my car and my seat and sighed a breath of relief.

I arrived in Évora, and it smelled like rain, so I put the rain fly on my backpack. Sure enough, it started pouring like crazy. I took out my umbrella, and it was about a half hour walk in the rain to the hostel, mostly uphill. Not crazy steep uphill like it had been in Lisbon, though.

Évora is a beautiful, small, sleepy town, and the town center is completely encircled by an outer wall, and an inner wall that is mostly gone now, but there are still some remnants of it. The town center encircled by the wall is very compact and small, and there are a lot of narrow, snaking alleys thst are barely big enough to allow a medium sized car; some even won't fit car traffic. There is an ancient aqueduct that passes into the town.  It seems like it has more buildings built into its arches than most of the aqueducts I've seen. It also gets lower and lower in the town until it disappears.

In the town square in the center of Évora, there is a Roman Temple constructed in the first century to commemorate the Emperor Augustus. It is called the Temple of Diana, though it really has no known connection to the goddess Diana. Across the street, the Garden of Diana offers some beautiful views of the town from atop a hill. And right around the corner, bordering the same square, are the Cathedral of Évora, on which construction started in 1280, and the town museum, with many interesting archaeological remnants.

One of the highlights of my visit to Évora was an archaeological tour I took just outside the city to three megalithic stone sites. Mario was our guide, and he was supremely knowledgeable about not only the archeology of the area, but also about much of the geography and biology of the area. The first site was the Cromleque dos Almendres site. It is near the village of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe. This megalithic stone formation is built in a symmetrical ellipse, but has many stones missing. It predates Stonehenge by about two millenia. The line that bisects the site leads due east to where the sun rises during the equinoxes, and there are two marker stones some distance from the site that indicate where the sun rises on the summer and winter solstices.

Next, I went out to one of the standing stones of Almendres (Menir dos Almendres). This single stone is several kilometers away from the ellipse of stones that make up the Almendres Cromlech, and is the marker stone that signifies where the sun rises on the summer solstice, as viewed from the main site.

And, finally, I went to the Zambujeiro Dolmen site. This was a burial mound for Neolithic people of high status, constructed around the time Stonehenge was built. It has been shored up and supported due to problems with structural integrity. There are bricks and wooden structures supporting the stones, and a metal shelter covering the site. The site is close to collapse, and these were meant to be temporary support measures constructed in the 80s, but have stayed there since.

I took a train back to Lisbon after four days in Évora. I have had some anxiety for about a week and a half due to the fact that my debit card was apparently cloned, and somebody tried to use it in Houston to take money out of an ATM. Fortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful, so I didn't lose any money. But the bank cancelled my debit card, and is sending me a new one. I had just taken out some money before the card was cancelled, but now my reserves are dwindling. I checked the tracking on the web, and apparently an attempt was made to deliver the card to the hostel in Lisbon, which I will soon return to, but the delivery was refused. I'm pretty sure that the delivery person rang a bell at the site (there are several bells there and the hostel is on the third floor), and some person from another floor unrelated to the hostel answered the door and refused it. Also, there is rarely someone on site at the hostel; it's not one that is staffed full-time, just when needed to greet new arrivals. So I contacted the carrier, and hopefully I'll be able to pick it up at their delivery warehouse when I get back to Lisbon. I still have butterflies about it a bit, though.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Some Future Plans

I've been making my plans kind of in a piecemeal fashion. Usually I will plan one thing far ahead of time, and then I will fill in the gaps of what to do until I get there.  My last big thing was the flight from Edinburgh to Porto. I was just kind of bouncing around, looking at flight calendars. Most days, this flight was around €150, but I found one day when it fell to a little over €30, so I pounced on that day. Of course, it ended up being a little more expensive than that, because it was with Ryan Air, and that price does not allow a checked bag. So I ponied up about €20 more to bring my big backpack, and carried on my little one. My REI Grand Tour 85 pack has a detachable little bag which I usually use as a carry on. So all I had to do is fill in the gaps in the UK until the flight.

My next big move will be a cheap flight from Lisbon to Barcelona in about two weeks. I'm in Lisbon now, so I'll circle around Portugal and come back again for the flight. I think the next time I come back to Lisbon, I'll mostly devote that time to day trips to other places in the region, and I'll devote this time to exploring the city of Lisbon.  I already scheduled one day trip for when I come back to Lisbon, to Coimbra. This will be pushing it, because Coimbra is almost three hours away. But I'll leave really early in the morning, and come back very late at night (and hope that I don't feel like crap that day and am up for a marathon). I had to finesse this journey,  because there were a couple of discounted tickets on the day I'm going, but I had to get them at the train station, because they weren't available online. I'm pretty sure any of the other day trips I'll take can just be arranged cheaply in the day I want to take them; this one to Coimbra was an exception.

I made the reservation for the flight to Barcelona quite a while ago. Now I'm starting to realize that the French rail strike is really going to fuck my lunch along the way. I mean, the workers deserve more, as workers always do. But I need to be really careful, or I'll get stranded, which could turn out to be a real problem. The strike is affecting trains across France, a pretty good deal of trains in Spain, a fair amount of trains in Italy, and probably other countries as well, because the French trains are not only in France, they go internationally as well. So, to be on the safe side, and also to not cross a strike line, it looks like I will take buses from Barcelona through France, maybe into northern Italy if I go that way. I'm not sure yet.  The upside is that buses are cheaper; the downside is that they are slower.

But I did plan my next big move. It's a combo. I found a cheap flight from Berlin, Germany to Vilnius, Lithuania about a month and a half after I arrive in Barcelona, so I'll have to figure out what to do in that time between Barcelona and Berlin. My original plan was to go to Northern Africa after Barcelona, and then come back into Europe through Sicily or Sardinia, but then I found the cheap flight originating in Berlin, and decided to pivot.

Then a few days later, I'll fly a round trip from Vilnius to Minsk, Belarus and back. The reason for this is that Belarus recently started allowing US citizens to visit for five days without a visa, but only if they fly in and out of the airport in Minsk, and only if they are not going to or coming from Russia. So, Belarus, which had previously been relatively off the table, is now on the table, but only if I do it this way. Then, by the time I get back to Vilnius, I'll have about a week left in the Schengen Zone. Actually, I'll have a bit more time, but I was to reserve about a week for any unplanned transit back through Schengen to somewhere else.

Let me explain about Schengen. Europe allows US tourists 90 days out of every 180 (the 180 days counts backwards from whatever day today is) to be in the Schengen Zone. The Schengen Zone roughly corresponds to the EU, but not quite. Some countries in the EU have opted out of Schengen, and some countries outside of the EU have opted in. So once you have used up your 90 days, you can't come back to the Schengen Zone for another three months, or you risk being fined, deported, and banned (possibly for five years, but the fact that you were banned stays on your record permanently). If it weren't for this restriction, I'd just kind of merrily saunter across Europe without much attention to the time. But I only have 90 days, or really, about 80-85 because I want to save a few days in case I need to return back through Schengen for transit to somewhere else.  Also, I may do a three or four day excursion briefly back into Schengen later. So I can still haphazardly wander, just not in Schengen until three months after each three month period there. So the French Rail  strike and the Schengen restrictions are kind of shaping things that I wouldn't do otherwise, but reality always seems to intervene somehow. Honestly, I'd love to spend more time wandering through Spain, France, Germany, and in other countries in the vicinity right now, but that may have to wait until the next time or the time after that. I don't think I can afford to dip up into England and Ireland for three months because they are too expensive, and I want to head towards Russia to use my Russian visa while I still have it. I have to plan things so expensive countries are balanced with cheaper countries. And it would be nice at some point to have a little more comfort than what is provided by rooms full of bunk beds, with bathrooms and kitchens (if the place has a kitchen at all) you might have to wait your turn to use. I lived in a tent for six months in Austin before making this trip, so obviously cushy comfort is not a huge priority, but nice to have when available.

There are a lot of European countries, and countries close by, that are not in Schengen. England and Ireland are not in Schengen. Bulgaria, Romania, and most of the former Yugoslavia are also not in Schengen. The Middle East and Northern Africa are also places I could go in my three months of Schengen exile, as well as Turkey and most of the rest of Asia.

My plan right now is to go into Russia from the Baltic States; ideally, I'd like to be in Russia by July-ish. Russia will give me more time; I can stay for 180 days at a time, and my Russian visa is good for almost another year. I probably won't stay that long, but I could go in and out of Russia from Central Asia for a while. I think I want to be out of Russia before the winter comes, and maybe go someplace warmer.  So we'll see where the path takes me; all of these plans are subject to change and/or disruption that could alter their course.

One shitty thing that just happened is that my debit card got canceled because somebody tried to fraudulently use a cloned copy of it in Houston. Luckily, the transaction was not allowed. This is the debut card that has been my primary ATM card throughout my trip. So my bank is sending me a new one. I hope it gets to Lisbon before I leave.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

My Last Days In And Around Porto

I finally managed to get some walking socks in Porto, at a place called CampingShop. And I managed to conduct the whole transaction in Portuguese, which I was proud of. The guy there convinced me that their merino wool socks would be too hot for my feet, so I compromised and bought one pair of synthetic socks for warm weather, and one merino wool blend for cold weather. But the one pair of merino wool socks I already had haven't been overheating my feet; they've been just fine.  I've been using the new warm weather pair, and they are OK, but they don't seem as cushioned as the nice pair I brought with me.

I took a bunch of day trips my last few days in Porto.  Porto is pretty awesome, but I wanted to see some of the surrounding area too. On Sunday, I went to Matosinhos, which is a little bit northwest of Porto, right on the Atlantic Ocean coast, and it has an awesome beach. It is in the Porto municipality; in Portugal, municipalities are sort of like counties.  Then, later that day, I visited Vila Nova de Gaia (sometimes just called Gaia), which is right across the Douro River from Porto. It was lightly raining in the afternoon, and I found a little Italian restaurant down an alley in Gaia where I had one of the best calzones I've ever had in my life. I mostly wandered in the park, snd then by the Douro River.

The next day, I went to Guimarães, which is a little bit farther. It's pretty easy to take day trips in the trains in Portugal, for the most part, and you can just buy tickets in the station that day for most. There are some destinations where it is a little more involved; you might have to buy advance tickets. But if a destination is on an urban or intercity line, the tickets will be cheap and simple. I might write another blog post on the subject of Portugal's trains because I have their whole system figured out pretty well. But, anyway, I went to Guimarães for a little over €3 each way, and just bought the tickets at the São Bento train station in Porto. When I got to Guimarães, the weather was completely schizo. It would pour rain for about fifteen minutes, and then get completely sunny, like, not a cloud in the sky, and then stay pouring again. I was really getting tired of this, though I toughed it out for a good portion of the day. I visited Guimarães Castle and Paso dos Duques, and walked around the town a good deal.  Guimarães is known as the "birthplace of Portugal" because Portugal's first king, King Afonso I, was born there in 1110 in the castle, and the first county of Portugal (not a county in the American sense, but one overseen by a count) was centered around that area. 

But in the late afternoon, the next rainstorm came in with a ton of thunder and lightning, and I thought, OK, that's it, I'm heading back.  I headed to the Guimarães train station, but the next train wasn't coming for quite a while, so I walked around some more, and the thunder and lightning had dissipated. Nevertheless, I took the next train back to Porto.

The next day, I went to Vila do Conde, just north of Porto, early in the morning, which was one of the most fantastic places I've been to in Portugal. The first thing I saw when I got off the train was miles of ancient Roman aqueduct. Sometimes it would break up for a while and then start up again. The aqueduct passed a really cool cemetery, and ended into a medieval monastery. There were other great sights around the town, and the walk along the Ave River was amazing. I came back to Porto in the late afternoon, and then decided to go to Aveiro, about an hour south of Porto, thinking "I can't believe I'm going to another destination today. " But Aveiro was another amazing place, loaded with multiple canals filled with tourist boats, and beautiful parks.  Aveiro is famous as a bird haven, and it is a good place for bird watchers. I wanted around there for several hours, and got back to Porto fairly late at night.

Then, the next day, I said goodbye to Porto and headed to Lisbon.  More adventures ahead, hopefully.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Porto And Surrounding Villages In Northern Portugal

I arrived in Porto on Tuesday. I had purchased a rental car when I made my flight arrangements with Ryan Air, and they had offered me a rental car at too-good-to-be-true rates, about three Euros a day. So I had paid about 21 Euros to rent a car for a week. But I had been nervous about it for a while.  I had Googled info about cheap car rentals in Portugal, and found it there were all kinds of hidden fees in these too-good-to-be-true deals. Plus, I found that parking in Porto was extremely difficult and cars get towed all the time.  And, gasoline in Europe is expensive. I had been struggling for some time as to whether I was going to just abandon the car rental, but left the decision to the last moment. When I  got to Porto, I finally decided to ditch the rental car. I mean, it would be nice to have a car for a week for exploration, but it just didn't seem worth the hassle. So I saw the guy from my car rental company standing around with a sign, waiting for me, and I told him I wasn't going to pick up the car after all. I'm out 21 Euros, but I'm ok with that decision. I'm staying in Porto for a week, and part of the reason for that was that I had gotten this cheap, week-long car rental. Part of the reason is also that Portugal is much cheaper than the UK, and I need to save some money, so I'm willing to sit still for a little longer, though surely there are some interesting day trips in the area.

The metro was pretty easy to take to the hostel. The hostel is on a walking street, and there is no reliable parking anywhere near (and they don't offer parking), so it's probably a good thing I didn't get saddled with a car for a week. I got settled in after dark, and promptly explored the city. The next day, I went on a walking tour and a boat tour. It seems like those tour guides make pretty good money. The walking tour had about 40 people on it, and it was booked as a pay-what-you-want tour, but almost everybody paid 20 Euros, and some paid more. So that's 800 Euros for two hours' work, and the tour company probably takes a cut for finding customers, but the guides are basically working for themselves and taking in a lot of untraceable cash. I had talked to a bus tour guy in Scotland, a personable guy named George who was just a fountain of densely packed historical info and dark jokes about all the stuff we saw, and he really liked the gig, said it paid great, and he could work as much or as little as he wanted. He said he used to be a civil servant, but leading tours gave him more freedom. It's probably a better deal in these European socialist countries that offer benefits like health care not tied to jobs.

When I got to my room in the hostel, there was an older guy there, who joked, "Finally, I'm not the oldest guy in the room!" I answered with,  "Yay, I win!" A good laugh was had.

Total fuckup guy shows up at the hostel on my second day here. He comes in late at night and gets in the wrong bed...somebody else's bed (someone who had been in that bed for two days already and was pretty irate when they arrived and found someone in their bed, but total fuckup guy was asleep and not wanting to wake up when original guy and the hostel person yelled at him, so original guy took another bed, having to move his stuff from the bed's locker...hmmm, stuff in that locker should have been a clue that the bed was taken)  Some of my food in the hostel fridge had gotten eaten, too (first time EVER that had happened); I suspect it was total fuckup guy. Then the next morning they have to wake him up to check out about 2 hours after the check out time. Of course he takes an hour to wake up, while the irate hostel person waited for him to get his shit together, which is scattered far and wide.  Then as he's leaving he can't find his key, and looking for it all over the room with the frustrated hostel worker. And he's acting like the aggrieved party. Good riddance.

Then we got guy who never leaves the room.   I mean, I don't view that negatively or anything, but the guy never gets out of bed, as far as I can tell, except to use the bathroom. I think he's watching TV online most of the time. I'm not judging, though, just reporting. Maybe he has a disability or something.  Who knows. He doesn't seem to speak much English or Portuguese, so I haven't had much contact with him, except to exchange pleasantries.

Wow, almost nobody has been using the hostel kitchen here. It's a great kitchen, too. Some hostels don't even have kitchens. Some have kitchens that are so packed and busy all the time that you can't find room to store your food or prepare a meal. But this one is nice, and, so far, underutilized. But I've been using it a lot. There's plenty of storage room in the fridge, and also lots of room for dry goods.

Wednesday, I took an impulsive day trip to Braga. I was walking by the São Bento train station, which I had visited previously to check out the impressive tile mosaics depicting historical scenes, and saw there were several day trips available. So I bought a return ticket to Braga from one of the ticket machines for just a little over six euros, and hopped on the train. Braga is a nice, peaceful place with a small-town feel. It's Portugal's fourth-largest city, but doesn't seem that big. It's really not huge or anything; there are a little over a hundred thousand people there. But it's a nice wander, and there is an interesting cathedral in town with lots of archaeologically interesting stuff and some ancient relics...a lot of these old cathedrals have body parts of religiously significant people. A few kilometers outside the city, near the village of Tenões, there is an amazing religious retreat on a mountain called Bom Jesus do Monte, which is an elaborate, multi-layered monument with spectacular views of the surrounding area. I kept climbing higher and encountering more amazing and meticulously constructed pieces of landscape, architecture, and art. Then I hired up a dirt road leading farther up the mountain, and found another elaborate religious monument called Santuário do Sameiro.  I managed to get inside the church at Santuário do Sameiro, even though the hours posted indicated it was closed. I had tried the main door, which was locked, so I thought I wouldn't be able to get in. But then I saw a tourist slip out of a side door, and it was unlocked, so I went in. There was nobody in there but a nun praying, and she seemed to be giving me the stink eye for being there. And my shoes were squeaking loudly on the floor and echoing throughout the whole church, even though I was trying to walk as softly as possible. On the lower level, I was surprised to find a hypermodern motif. The gardens surrounding the sanctuary were elaborate, and, once again, the was a great view. I was able to catch the bus back to town from there, and then take the return train back, but I decided to stop in a random town cathed Trofa for a bit. It wasn't terribly spectacular and just seemed like a bedroom community for the bigger cities in the vicinity. But it was a nice walk. I missed the first train I tried to catch out of Trofa, as I  got back thi the train station a few minutes late, but caught the next train, and arrived in Porto fairly late. It was about midnight when I got back to the hostel.

I'm trying to speak Portuguese as much as possible. And by Portuguese, I mean Spanish with as many Portuguese words as I know thrown in, probably pronounced like they would be in Spanish. But I do know how to pronounce a few Portuguese words. Amazingly enough, this strategy seems to be working enough to communicate fairly well. And the more I do it, and the more I hear the responses to the things I say, I weed out the Spanish words and mispronounced Portuguese words, so it gets better and better. I have very little knowledge of Portuguese verb conjugation, so I keep it simple. And I use my general rules for speaking languages I don't speak very well...things like, use helping verbs so you can just use the infinitives, ask questions that solicit yes or no answers whenever possible, etc.

Friday, I went out on an unsuccessful journey to find some merino wool socks, and maybe sock liners as well. My feet are doing better, patially becsuse all the raw stuff is getting calloused up, and partially because I've been wearing a new pair of comfortable merino wool socks. Unfortunately, I mostly packed the old merino socks that I wore on my last trip for a year and a half of walking. But, though they look fine, they are pretty worn out, and their usefulness to protect my feet has somewhat diminished. When I finally washed the new pair, I discovered, to my horror, that I had apparently culled out all my other pairs of brand-new merino wool socks when I was winnowing down the stuff I was taking with me, and this one is the only pair I have. So I've got to get some new ones soon, and it's a very high priority. Merino wool takes a long time to dry, so I had to wear an old pair today, and they are definitely not as comfortable. Note to self: on future trips, bring brand-new socks. Seriously.  I looked online for where I could buy merino wool socks in Porto, and some forum mentioned that somebody had bought some at a place called Berg's, an outdoor supply place. So I Googled Berg's, and it was quite a walk across Porto, but I was up for a good walk. Unfortunately, when I got there, it turned out it was an online company, and the only thing there was an office suite filled with coders and corporate types. Shit. Finding brick and mortar places is a big problem on Google. Whenever I Google "where to buy product X in city Y", all I usually ever get are mountains of results from online mail order places. And it's much worse overseas, just forget about it. And the sad thing is, the brick and mortar places are out there, their results are just buried in a haystack of online crap. When traveling, it's much easier for me to buy things from an actual place if I can find it, because if I have to buy things by mail, I have to coordinate when it's going to get where I'm going to be, and give that place a heads up that a package will come for me. That's if the online place will even let me ship stuff at all to a place that's not my verified home address, or will take an order at all from some foreign guy who they can't necessarily even verify as real. Hassle city, but this is important enough that if I can't find a street retailer, I'll have to dance the online ordering ballet. Tomorrow I'll try to remember to ask the hostel folks if they know a good hiking clothes store, though that's kind of a specialty thing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Cranking Into The Crunchsmush In Glasgow, A Series Of Misfires, Blundering Through Northern Scotland Towards Portugal

I have been walking a lot. And it has taken its toll on my feet. After walking a long way the other day, my feet were sore and painful, and I took off my shoes to take a look, and my right little toe was just one huge blister.  It even reached under my toenail. I had blisters in other places as well, but the one on my little toe was the worst. I remember this kind of stuff happening to my feet on the last trip I was on; when I was walking through Australia, I had similar problems.

So I did the same thing I did then; I looked online for solutions. The problem is that then, as now, none of the listed solutions really worked for me. If I cushion my foot where it is hurting, then my feet are even more packed in my shoes, rubbing against them worse. And my feet swell as I walk, so they get to really rubbing against the edges of the shoes. I also tried compression socks, but then my feet are squeezed in different ways, and I start getting more problems between the toes as they rub against each other.

No, the only solution seems to be just to crank into the crunchsmush. Just take all that raw, painful, soft sore stuff, and keep walking on it, working the crap out of it, painfully, until the soft, raw stuff turns into hard, calloused protected stuff. There just doesn't seem to be any way around that.

But, for now, I did sort of tape up a few of the worst spots with toilet paper covered with adhesive tape, even though it is not the greatest solution. And I also changed to new merino wool socks. I had been wearing my old, worn merino wool socks, and changing to the newer ones seemed to help a bit. But this will probably be a fairly chronic, recurring problem as long as I'm walking as much as I am.

I had one day with just a series of misfires in Glasgow. I went online to try to find an all-inclusive bus pass for the day. I had seen the First Bus buses running by the hostel, so I went to their site to buy a day pass. And I did, with relative ease, though I had to download their app. But what I didn't know at the time, and didn't find out until later (with fairly mortifying consequences), is that there is not just one bus company in Glasgow operating the city buses, there are several. And each company runs buses with similar numbering patterns, but the buses are split between these different companies. And if you buy a day pass for one company, you can't use it with the other companies, which makes it near useless, because if you take three buses somewhere, they are probably going to be with three different bus companies. Fuck privatization, goddamnit. So that was my first misfire, though I didn't find this out until later, when I tried to board my second bus, after using the pass on the first bus. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I tried to go to Seven Lochs Wetland Park. It sounded like a cool place to visit, and their site said though it's outside the city, it's easy to reach by public transportation, BUT IT DOESN'T SAY HOW! So I went to Google Maps, and it gave me the way there. Or so I thought. I took my first bus there using my day pass, and then I was to take a second bus. There was a nice little wilderness area to hike around in nearby, called Todds Well, so I wandered there for a while since I had some time before the next bus. But, when I got back to take the next bus, a lady at the bus stop told me (wrongly) that I was at the stop going the wrong way. I believed her, because the Google map of the bus route was weird and improbable, and the route went in a strange loop going in an imponderable direction that didn't involve streets, so I didn't know what to think. It made it look like I had to catch the bus on the wrong side of the street, and then it would turn around and go the other way. So she said I had to go down the street to the stop on the other side of the street. So I did that, only to see the bus I was supposed to catch arrive across the street while I missed it. There was my first misfire. And this particular bus only came once an hour, so I was screwed. I decided to walk out into the country to where Google Maps said the park was, rather than wait for the next bus, which I couldn't take anyway with my day pass (though I didn't yet know that), because the bus belonged to a different company.

So I walked down this narrow country road with no sidewalks, having to jump out of the way into the bushes when cars came, but there was no entrance to the park along the road I was on. I think the park may have bordered that road, but there was no path to get in.

Anyway, I kept down that road for a really long tone, until I had long passed where Google told me Seven Lochs Wetland Park was, and it was apparent that it wasn't happening. So I Googled some more about the park, and found someone's blog where they talked about going to the park, and found what I thought was the location they were talking about on the map, and mapped out the way there on Google Maps. I would have to take the bus I missed (the next one arriving) farther out, and then change buses to get to the new location. I waited for the bus, and when it arrived, my day pass didn't work. I tried to scan it several times, but it wouldn't accept it. The bus driver put his glasses on and looked at my pass, and he told me that it was a First Bus pass, but his bus was McGraw's. So I added him how much the fare was; it was a little more than a couple of pounds.

I pulled out my change to pay the bus fare, and that's when the next misfire happened. I was about thirty cents short. I had been trying to use up all my change, because I was leaving Britain soon, and I didn't want to have a lot of change left over. But I certainly didn't foresee this situation at all, where I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, thinking I have a bus pass that is, in fact, worthless for this bus, and not enough money to take the bus.

I was mortified and chagrined, and faced with having to disembark from the bus far from the city. But a woman who was the only other passenger on the bus offered to pay my bus fare.  I accepted, embarrassed that I had enough to pay, just not on me. I offered her my change that was a little short, but she wouldn't take it.

Anyway, I had to transfer to another bus, and, luckily, it was a First Bus, which was covered by my nearly worthless day pass. But I did manage to cover two bus fares with it, so I just about got my money's worth. But, the park was nowhere to be found in this second location either, so I just took the next bus into town, luckily on the First Bus route. And when I got into town, that's when I noticed many different bus companies listed at every stop. Damn it.

My whole morning had been taken up by this series of misfires, so I decided to try to go to Glasgow Tower. But none of the buses that went there were First Bus, and I didn't have enough change (and didn't want to get money out of an ATM just for bus fare), so I walked there for about an hour and a half across town. Yet another misfire. But I saw a sign at one of the bus stops (of course, when I was almost there) that said you can pay by contactless card. In Europe, they have contactless cards all over the place; they don't seem to be very prevalent in the States. But they work the same as phone payment apps, which means I probably could have used the Samsung Pay app on my phone to pay for the bus rather than have a stranger bail me out. Aauugghh, misfire again. That one was a double backward misfire that would have canceled out the earlier one.

Well, anyway, I had decided to pay forward the good deed that the woman did for me when she paid my bus fare. Later, at the hostel, I met a guy from Montana who was going to London, and I still had my Oyster card for the London Metro with a little money on it, so I gave it to him, and rooks him when he was done with it, he could either cash it in for the five pound deposit, or pass it on to someone else. So I was able to pass on the good deed. Does that cancel out a misfire? Probably not. Not that I won't do any good deeds in the future if the opportunity for one comes up; hopefully there will be more. But at least I paid one forward.

There was just that one day in Glasgow that was filled with misfires.  The rest of the time was just smooth sailing. Then I moved on to Edinburgh. This time, I took the Megabus instead of the train. I did take one bus before, from London to Bath, but it was a National Express bus. The Megabus from Glasgow to Edinburgh was the cheapest way I found on that particular route. It was only £3.75, and the trains were much more, as was the National Express bus. But the strange thing was, it didn't even end up being a Megabus. It was a Citylink, and though I paid for Megabus online, they had apparently made some deal to carry their passengers on the Citylink bus, even though the fare was much cheaper. I'm not was strange though, because I saw other Megabus coaches leaving from that station.

I arrived in Edinburgh, which was absolutely one of the most beautiful European cities I've been in, beating out even Kazan, Russia, and Prague, Czechia, though I have to say that Venice, Italy, is in its own class.  It's like everywhere I look in Edinburgh, the city is posing for me for pictures. But not in a contrived way, in a very natural way.  Edinburgh has one of the most unique city centers I've ever seen. There is a huge, craggy, cliffy mountain right smack dab in the middle of the city,  which has Edinburgh Castle at its peak, and The Royal Mile leading down from the castle to Holyrood. The huge hill has deep valleys on either side of it. And this unnaturally strange thing is right in the middle of what is basically downtown, though they don't call it that. The whole city on the hill is the Old City. It's not very big at all and was the city surrounded by walls prior to the eighteenth century, when the New City was built just on the north side of the Old City, flanking the Northern Valley, which now contains Princes Street Gardens, though in olden times, it just collected the sewage that people poured their windows in the Old City. Supposedly they took decades to dredge out the nasty old sewage that had gathered there for centuries when they decided to turn the valley into a beautiful garden. And it's one reason why it's so fertile.

I spent three days in Edinburgh, and on the fourth day, I took a bus tour across the Scottish Highlands, heading to Loch Ness, but stopping in a few towns along the way to sightsee a bit.   The longest stop on the way up was Dalwhinnie, and the longest stop on the way back was Pitlochry. There are three lochs in a row...Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, and then Loch Ness, and the bus traced the path of the first two before arriving at Loch Ness at Fort Augustus. We also saw some of Loch Linnhe near Fort William, which is a salt water loch leading to the Atlantic Ocean on the west side of Scotland; the others were fresh water lochs. There was an option to take a boat around Loch Ness, but I chose to walk around the town of Fort Augustus instead. I'm glad I did because the boat ride was not very long and didn't go much farther than I could see anyway. The day trip into the Highlands was a very long day trip; we left around eight in the morning and got back at around eight at night. I had to re-pack my backpack for a flight to Porto, Portugal the next day, which is where I am now.  When I pack for a flight, I have to put my pocket knife and nail clippers in my checked bag, take my electronics on my cabin bag, and empty out my water container. But I forgot that I had left a jar of Marmite on my carry-on, which got confiscated at the Edinburgh Airport, because who knows what nefarious deeds I could have committed with that Marmite. I might have actually eaten it.  But, alas, no, it was seized unopened, and probably even gone to waste. At least they could have fed the hungry or something (assuming the poor would eat Marmite).

I had an uneventful and peaceful flight to Porto, and took the metro easily to the hostel. I always look forward to arriving in a new country, even as I miss the old one.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Manchester And Liverpool

I really didn't make enough time for either of these cities, Manchester and Liverpool, but I wanted to try to visit both of them, so I arranged for two nights in each, rather than just stay in one for four nights. It was enough time to see a bunch of stuff in both cities, though. But my friend Dave also messaged me and told me he had a friend in Leeds and there was no way I could make that, even though I'd like to, and it's not far away from Manchester. But my plans are pretty much set for the rest of the time I'm in the UK. I have to make plans ahead of time, because otherwise train and bus tickets go up, hostels become more scarce and possibly more expensive, and I don't subject myself to the stress of last-minute hectic scurrying. Sometimes I've been able to meet with people that friends have suggested, sometimes not.

It's funny, because I don't have a lot of constraints on my travel, seemingly (except for money), but constraints seem to appear anyway. Speaking of money, the UK is eating my lunch. I've already doesn't more that my monthly travel budget, and it's only the middle of the month. The combination of the weak dollar and the strong pound is just pummeling me. I'll be OK, just have to dip into reserves more than I'd like, and I'll probably have to eventually sit somewhere cheap to live for a while. I did have a few extraordinary, one-time expenses that added to that total, and some of it is for plans ahead that are pre-paid. But I need to keep expenses down for a while.

Manchester is really a party town in the central district. There are a ton of clubs, and a bunch of young partiers wandering in the streets. The hostel I stayed at was probably the most partying hostel I've stayed at yet. There were eight guys traveling together who all stayed in my room; they were all from London, and all got in very late and baked. I don't really club much any more. I especially don't want to go in the places that have watchdogs at the entrances. That just gives me the creeps.

I appreciated staying in the central district after the hostel in Cardiff that was weirdly located (I wouldn't say it was badly located, just weirdly located). I like to just step outside and find stuff, though there is something to be said for a hostel that is away from it all too, especially if it's near a beautiful natural area. But Manchester is a busy city, and it was good to be near the centre.

I packed in a lot of viewing in Manchester in the short time I was there, then I took of on a train for Liverpool. Liverpool is pretty much centered around The Beatles. Beatles stuff is everywhere. I didn't take in any of the myriad of Beatles tours...I used to be a huge Beatle freak in high school, but now I've about had my fill, though they made nice tunes. Though, I did meet a guy in the vast connected to my hostel who said he lives a few houses down from where Brian Epstein lived. That was Beatles enough for me.

The first day I was there, I took a beautiful stroll along the River Mersey, and wandered around Albert Dock, then meandered through other parts of the city.  Today, on the second day, I didn't feel so great. I didn't feel sick, just drained. I've been walking more than most humans probably should every day, it's pretty unreal the territory I've covered on foot. And I always start out thinking I won't walk that much today, but then I get caught up in seeing stuff and more stuff, and before I know it, I've just walked 30,000 steps. And that's the way it should be. When you're having a good time, and not even noticing the effort you're making, that is the goal.

Today I would go out and walk, and just feel labo(u)red and lethargic, and it seemed like an effort just to get back to the hostel from a short distance. So I came back and slept most of the day, and drank a lot of water.  Probably all of the walking I've been doing is catching up with me.  Or maybe I'm getting yellow-ish fever from the live yellow fever vaccine I had last week (doubtful, but it was a risk...though I probably would have gotten it before now). If it's not enjoyable, there's no point. I remember meeting a Filipino traveler, I think his name was Daniel, and I think it was in Beijing. He told me that his philosophy was that when you travel, you don't have to do anything. Right on. You do what you want to do. You don't push it just because you're there. Maybe that book you'll read, or the person you meet because you didn't go anywhere, will change your life. You don't have to see stuff just because stuff is there; stuff is everywhere.

Here in Liverpool I'm basically by myself in the hostel room. The people at the desk said it was packed full the night before, but now it's fairly quiet and sedate. The first night, some guy bounded in at about 3 in the morning, and left early. He didn't even have shoes. I just greeted him when he got here, and wished him a good day when he left. I suspect he was just a local guy who partied too hard to make it home, and he has a friend working at the hostel. No worries. Maybe someone will come in late tonight, but I doubt it, because my bed is the only one that has blankets on it. But being alone has given me an opportunity to spread out and re-pack my stuff, and to do my laundry in the sink and hang it all over the room to dry. I had some perishable food left over from the last hostel; they had a fridge and a kitchen to use, but this one doesn't. They were kind enough to let me put my veggie burgers and other stuff in the bar fridge, and I prepared meals over the sink in the room's adjoining bathroom out of uncooked veggie burgers and other stuff.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Castles In Swansea And Bridgend, And Losing My Bag

I had been thinking about taking a day trip somewhere from Cardiff. I had missed the organized bus tours. There don't seem to be many from Cardiff, and the ones I looked into were already full.  The only ones I was interested in were the tour to castles and Roman ruins, and the tour to the beautiful beaches on the Gower Peninsula. Since the tours were all fully booked, if I was going to do any kind of journey, I'd have to do it on my own, either by public bus or train.

I met a woman named Eva at the hostel. She was in Cardiff for a TV shot at the BBC studio. She worked on the support crew, but in the course of the shooting,  she had gotten cast as an extra, as a patient. She showed me a picture of herself as a patient on the show. Cool. Anyway, we ended up taking at the bar; I told her I was thinking about gong to Swansea the next day, and she suggested I visit Bridgend.

The next day, I set off on my day trip.  Eva texted me as said she had talked to someone from the area, and they knew of a bus, but I told her I had just bought a train ticket online. So I went to the train station, and took the train from Cardiff to Swansea in Wales, and spent the day wandering around the centre of Swansea. Swansea is renowned as the home of Dylan Thomas, and of Pete Ham of Badfinger.

Then I decided to take a bus to The Mumbles to wander around there, and also to check out Oystermouth Castle. So I found out that I could take the 2B bus from the center of town to The Mumbles. I rode the bus, checked out the beautiful beaches and hills, and wandered through the castle. After I had left the castle and I was heading down the hill, I noticed that a bag I had full of snacks was missing. I thought I might have left it in a room in the castle where they showed a short video about the castle and its history. So I headed back to the castle and looked around that room, but no luck.

It wasn't the biggest deal to be missing the bag. It was only a few items of food, and the bag itself was not very expensive. But it was a really cool bag to have for travel. It was just a durable woven plastic sack with two drawstrings on either side, and the drawstring cords were connected to eyelets at the bottom of the bag, so they could be used as straps to be worn as a backpack or a frontpack. The whole bag folded down to take up almost no room at all, and I could keep it in my pocket or fanny pack.

So I must have left it on the 2B bus. And I did remember taking it off my back so I could sit on the bus without squishing my food. There was another 2B bus coming in just a few minutes, so maybe it would be the same bus, and by some miracle, maybe it would be on that bus. But I got on the bus, and it was a different bus driver, who had no idea about anything regarding my missing little bag.

But then an elderly couple on the bus were waving at me, trying to get my attention. They said that they had been on the previous bus, and a lady tried to wave me down as I was getting off the bus to let me know that I had left my bag behind, but I didn't see her, and she had turned it in to the bus driver. They said my bag would be at the station's lost and found!

They took me to take the bus to the station with them and they would show me where the lost and found office was. So I walked with them, they showed me where to go, and I went to an office that said to ring the bell for service. I rang the bell several times, but got no answer. I waited outside the office for a bit, and kept ringing occasionally. Finally a voice came over the intercom briefly, saying that they were dealing with an emergency, and I'd have to call back later. I said I was right outside the office waiting, and was leaving Swansea soon. They said to try again in ten minutes.

So I tried again in ten minutes, several times, and got no response. I decided to try the information counter, and the lady there said that all she could do was call them; I told her I couldn't do that because all I had was a US number. So she tried a few times, and didn't get an answer either. I walked around the town a bit, and came back, and tried a few times more, and somebody answered the phone. I inquired about my little bag, and they checked on it. They came back and said that it wasn't at the station, but it was still on the bus, which would be arriving at the station in an hour.

So it looked like all I had to do was wander around Swansea a bit more, and maybe I'd be reunited with my bag. Oh, well, there are certainly worse fates than having to sightsee some more while waiting. I checked out some more sights, and then returned to the bus bay and waited for the bus. Finally, the 2B bus arrived. This was the moment of truth. 2B, or not 2B? (sorry, I just had to throw that in). I boarded the bus, and there was a different driver, so my hopes were dashed. But then she asked me if I was the one looking for the bag, and I responded gleefully,  "Yes!" Then she handed it to me. Yay! Reunited with my little bag of snacks, and a story to tell about it to boot.

I took the train back to Cardiff, but thought to ask one of the station officers if it was OK to stop in between. She said, "Yes, wander, explore!" I looked it up online and after you validate your ticket, you have three hours to complete your journey, but after the three hours, they'll still let you complete your journey; you just have to do it through a person rather than an automated ticket reader. So I stopped at Bridgend, about halfway back to Cardiff, on the way, and wandered for a couple of hours.  There was a castle there, Newcastle, which was closed for the day, but at least I managed to get a picture. Then I headed back to Cardiff.

I spent the night at the hostel, went for my last walk to explore Cardiff, and now I'm on a train heading to Manchester, England, to seek my next adventure. I'll miss Wales, though. For some reason, I find it oddly soothing and comforting to see these weirdly foreign words all over the place, and to hear people speaking a vastly alien Celtic gutteral language where almost nothing is understandable, but every once in a while a vaguely familiar word slips through. If I were to stay in Wales for a while, I would surely study this fascinating language. Goodbye, Cymru.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Vaccinations In Cardiff And Other Sundry Items

I was wandering around in the centre of Cardiff, Wales, when I saw a sign at a outdoor goods store (A place sort of like REI in the US, it was called Cotswolds Outdoor) for a travel clinic. So I went in to check it out since I probably need some travel inoculations.

I inquired into the Japanese encephalitis vaccination, but they didn't have it as there is currently a scarcity. But when they have it, it is £75 a shot, and it is a two-shot course. That is a tremendous savings over what it costs in the US. In the States, it is about $400 a shot, but you might be able to find it for as low as $350.  Last time I traveled around the world, I just went without most of the vaccines I should have gotten, primarily because of their expense. But this time I will try to find places in Europe where I can get vaccinated, because it is much cheaper.

I wasn't able to get the Japanese encephalitis vaccine, but I did get inoculated for tick-borne encephalitis, which is a three-course shot (though two courses will give you most of the protection), and a yellow fever vaccine, which is only one shot. And I got a yellow fever vaccine certificate. In the States, the yellow fever vaccine is at a shortage, and the pharmacist who gave me the shot told me that they are giving shots that are one-fifth the potency in the US because of the scarcity. Here, I got the full vaccine, which confers lifelong immunity.  Not bad for just wandering by.

The pharmacist at the travel clinic gave me the names of a couple of other places, Boots and Superdrug, where there were travel clinics that might have the Japanese encephalitis vaccine. But I checked those places out, and they did not seem very user-friendly. Superdrug was just a locked door that said you had to make appointments online, and Boots only had eye and dental clinics, as far as I could tell.

So I'll eventually have to find places to get the rest of these shots. They are not terribly cheap, but are still a fraction of the price they would be in the US. I bet they are cheaper in some places in Eastern Europe.

After getting vaccinated, I came back outside, and it was cold and rainy again. I just didn't have the appetite at the time for walking around in cold rain (though I've done that a lot lately), so I ducked into a mall for a while. I'm not proud of that. But you can walk around without getting rained on, and they have places to hang out, drink coffee, and get wi-fi. So I sat in a coffee shop for a while, and, lo and behold, when I entered, the sky was completely blue with not a cloud in sight! But I came out and walked around for a few and then suddenly realized it was completely overcast again, and I hadn't even noticed that happening.

Most of the day I just spent aimlessly ambling, without even looking at a map. Then I saw the walls of Castle Cardiff and decided to check it out. So I wandered around in there for a while.

I headed back to the hostel before the sun went down. I had bought a falafel wrap, and I brought it with me and saved it for later. The hostel is kind of out of the way. It's not terribly far from the center of town, maybe about a half hour's walk, but it's location is just kinda weird. It's right near a major intersection that is difficult for passengers to cross. As a matter of fact, there is only one way to cross to get to the hostel, and I had to beg a local to show me were it was after several unsuccessful attempts that led to dead ends or shunted me down long corridors going the wrong way (but, to be fair, if I had walked another 100 yards or so, I probably would have found the crossing on my own). So there is only one way out of the hostel, as it is fenced in and/or surrounded by impassable traffic. One of the cross streets it is on has no pedestrian traffic on it, so you can't go in two directions at all. Once you get out the one way you can go, you can go in two directions when you get to the street: toward town or away from town. And away from town is pretty uninteresting for as long as I've taken the time to walk it, with the exception that there is a Lidl grocery store just a few minutes away in that direction. But most of the stuff is the other way. This means you can't just take a short walk to go anywhere (except for the Lidl); you really have to commit to going to town or through town.

Ugh, pictures are loading slowly again on FB. Have to sleep soon and still don't have a lot of pics loaded from the day yet.

Monday, April 9, 2018

From Bath To Cardiff, With Lots Of Stops On The Way

I woke up the day after checking out the Roman Baths, and took a bus to Stonehenge and Avebury Henge, stopping at some little villages on the way. Both of the henges were really interesting. The people who built the sites had to bring in the stones from long distances, and this was in the times before the wheel was invented. Very little is known about both sites because there were no records kept. At the Avebury Henge, the village of Avebury popped up at some point right in the middle of the stones. And the villagers tore down and chopped up some of the stones, and used them for building materials in the town. In some cases, stone markers have been placed where there are missing stones.

One interesting stone at Avebury is the barber surgeon stone. Apparently, one stone fell down and crushed a guy, whose bones were later found when archaeologists lifted up the stone to place it in its original position. He had barber surgeon tools on him, so the stone was called the barber surgeon stone.  They kept his bones in a museum that was bombed in World War II, and the bones were obliterated.

The bus stopped to look at some other artifacts, such as Silbury Hill, a huge man-made object from prehistoric times, and some of the White Horses, which were carved on the sides of hills. Then the bus went to the villages of Lacock and Castle Combe. Lacock is a village that is mostly owned by Britain's National Trust so it will stay unspoiled and will be immune to gentrification. Many of the residents are tenants of the National Trust, which leaves the rent fairly low. Castle Combe is a traditional Cotswolds village, with spectacular scenery and ancient buildings. It is also where the original Dr. Doolittle movie was filmed in the 60s.

The next day, I took a day trip to Bristol. Bristol is supposed to be a prime city for the English to choose as a vacation spot, but it didn't much do it for me. Maybe after spectacular Bath with its beautiful baths and prominent Roman ruins, a nice English city just wasn't enough for me at that point. But there were some nice sights in Bristol, especially the view from the top of the Cabot Tower, which was built to commemorate John Cabot's exploratory voyage to Canada in the fifteenth century. But getting up to the top of the tower was a chore. It was packed with people, and you could barely squeeze by the people coming down for party of the narrow spiral staircase, and the rest of the staircase (past the first viewing level) only allowed one person to pass in one direction, so if one person was going up and one was going down, someone would have to back up, and if there were others following, they would have to back up too. It was a crowded mess in a tight, difficult space, and I definitely wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is claustrophobic.

I returned to Bath that night, and spent the next morning relaxing at the Thermae Bath Spa, which has access to the waters from the Bath hot spring, and since the Roman Baths site is contaminated, this is a good spot to experience the hot mineral waters. There is a ground level hot pool, and then on a middle floor, there are several steam and sauna rooms of different flavors. There is also a mentholated ice chamber to take in between hot rooms (which somehow is also filled with steam even though it is cold; it feels like cold's weird). And there is a "relaxation chamber" where you can lie on heated stone chairs shaped to your body, sort of like a chaise lounge. And then, on the roof there is an open hot pool. It was great because it was cold and drizzling, though the pool was very warm, so you could cool of in the cold drizzle. They also had whirlpools, agitated water, and pressurized waterfalls that would massage your back. It was incredibly relaxing and I didn't want to leave, but I had to catch a bus to Cardiff, Wales, so leave I did.

I checked out of the hostel and boarded the bus to Cardiff. It was cold and rainy,  and fir a while was fairly uneventful, until the bus broke down in Newport, Wales. When the bus driver tried to start the bus up after dropping some people off, it sounded like it just died.  He made several attempts, and people started whispering nervously, but he didn't really tell us anything for a while. We were stopped for about a half hour. Then the driver came back and counted all the passengers, and got on the phone telling someone he had to get all these people to their destinations.  So we knew something was up by then; we should have been in Cardiff by then. But shortly after that, another bus came and took those of us who were going to Cardiff. I don't know what happened to the rest of the people, but hopefully they got bailed out shortly thereafter.

I arrived in Cardiff and it was pouring rain. We didn't get dropped off at a station, but just at a bus stop on the street, so I didn't really have a shelter to put the rain fly on my backpack, and decided just to head to the hostel trying to cover my pack with my umbrella, holding it farther back so the pack would be under it. It was about a half hour walk to the hostel, and it rained the while time. I was afraid my stuff would get wet, but it didn't turn out too bad. I was already late, and didn't expect the walk in the rain to the hostel. And I was starving as I hadn't eaten all day. Luckily, the hostel had a decent kitchen, so I got a falafel wrap, which tided me over. By that time, I didn't feel like exploring Cardiff, so I washed some clothes in the sink, hung them to dry, and just relaxed in the room. I think I lost a piece of thermal underwear when I washed it in London and somehow didn't retrieve it after it dried; oh, well, I have all the other clothes I washed. Tomorrow I'll guess I'll check out the city of Cardiff.

I have been walking a huge amount lately. It's the 8th of April today, and since the first, I have walked over 200,000 steps, according to my Samsung Health phone app. And, I entered some challenge thingie through the app to walk 200,000 steps in a month...well, I've already walked that far this month. But I'm not quite that far in the challenge, because I didn't join until the 3rd of April. But I'm at about 180,000 since the 3rd, and should go over 200,000 soon. Yesterday, a walked a little over 35,000 steps, which was the most I have yet done in one day on this journey, but today, I barely cracked 11,000. There are almost a million people participating in this challenge, and I've gone from placing in the high six figures to around 9000th place, but I've dropped back down to about 12000th today because I didn't walk as much. The leaders in the thing are all probably seriously cheating, because I dont think anyone can walk that much, but I don't much care, I'm mostly just doing it for the exercise.

Friday, April 6, 2018

From London To Bath

On my way out of London, I took the Tube for the last time. Since I had lost my all-you can-ride Oyster card and now had one that was pay-as-you-go, I asked the stationmaster if I had enough money on the card to complete my journey to Victoria Station, and I did, with 20 pence to spare.

If I hadn't taken a coach from Gatwick Airport, I might not know that Victoria Coach Station was in a different place from Victoria Station. Not too far, but about a ten minute walk. I got on the first train, which was fairly empty. Then I had to change trains, and followed the signs to the next train on the Tube I had to catch. There was a train pulling up, and it was so packed I couldn't get on. The next train came, and it was equally packed, but I pushed my way on. Some guy who came on right after me bitched me out for having a backpack on the crowded train. Serenity now. I thought it best not to engage with him. Then I heard them announcing all the sane stops as the train I had just gotten off of. Oh crap, I was on the wrong train. Serenity now. How did I do that? I ended up at Borough Station, which I had left from, and started over. Luckily I never had to pass through a pay station until my final destination, because I only had barely enough money on my card to make the trip.

I went back to the station where I had originally changed trains, and found that I had followed the signs correctly, but you have to go THROUGH the stop for the Northern line to get to stop for the Victoria line, which is unusual. Groan. This time I did it right. I was delayed by about a half hour due to my little mishap, but luckily I had left plenty early. I guess it pays to always be paranoid about getting there on time, and factoring in time for some unexpected contingency.

I walked from Victoria Station to Victoria Coach Station, and took the coach from London to Bath. There was some sort of road construction delay that ended up delaying our arrival in Bath by about an hour, but we got there a little after two in the afternoon. I checked into the hostel, got settled with my stuff, and set off to explore the town.

Bath is a beautiful little town with rolling hills and marvelous views in just about any direction you turn. I walked around for a while through the centre of the town, and then decided to wander the periphery some. I wandered along the River Avon, which is sometimes referred to as the Bristol Avon to distinguish it from all the other Rivers Avon in Great Britain. Apparently there are several of them, because Avon means river in Old Welsh, so River Avon literally means River River.

Then I came back into the center of town and checked out the Roman Baths, which are fed by natural hot springs. You can't bathe in the springs there any more, partially because of the lead piping the Romans used that contaminated the water, but also because there is bacterial contamination (some girl died of meningitis from bathing there in the 70s and they closed it down afterward). But there is a nearby place with an outlet to the hot spring that is available for use now that I might check out while I'm here.

The Roman Baths site was first a worship site for the Celts to the goddess Sulis, and then the present site, which was unearthed by archeologists, was built by the Romans in the first century AD, with various embellishments added later.

I feel asleep really early, about 6 pm, and slept until about midnight. Probably all the walking I've been doing and the jetlag are catching up with me, also I've been sleeping maybe about four hours a night. Now I'm laying in bed awake really hungry, but the hostel kitchen is closed, and all my food is in there. Oh well. I'll probably fall back asleep for a few hours in a bit.