Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Glorious Return To the British Isles

And by "glorious," of course, I mean I flew into London, stayed in a particularly gross hostel around Arsenal, and promptly came down with my customary "welcome to the British Isles, let's bombard you with both an alien climate and alien flu germs!" violent headcold which turned into a violent fever which turned into a hacking, consumptive cough that is still lingering two weeks later.

I really only had one full day to explore London, being as it was too expensive for me to want to stay longer and I was heading off to visit a friend from my university/publishing internship/deadbeat days in Dublin who is now currently living in Bristol.  And as someone who never had much of an interest in London, because my music taste isn't cool enough and the English books of my childhood are mostly set in either the moors or the charming countryside or some alternate fantasy realm that's not England at all, I found it to be very grand and very beautiful and very impressive, but not a place I'd ever want to live.  You can really tell it was designed by a country looking to communicate the fact that at such and such a time it had colonized much of the known world, and for a lone traveler with a practically nonexistent budget who just wanted to explore and maybe find a park to sit in, it was much too big and impersonal to be entirely happy with - a bit like Moscow, actually.

Although I enjoyed eating meat pies and exploring the stalls at Borough Market and riding the Underground and picking out various stations that showed up in Neil Gaiman's book Neverwhere, (Earl's Court!  Islington!) and was especially impressed by Tower Bridge, I still got the same feeling about England as I did the only other time I've ever been to this country, which was a less than stellar weekend in York seven years ago: England is like Ireland - similar buses, buildings, weather, and that omnipresent smell of fish and chips in the air - but with all the life sucked out.  In fact, it's just superficially similar enough to Ireland to make me incredibly homesick.  Sorry, England... if it makes you feel better, you make great TV shows and your reigning monarch is adorable like someone's granny, or a little, white-haired cupcake.

After London I caught a bus to Bristol where I was summarily greeted by Joe, whom I hadn't seen in two years or so, and there was much rejoicing!  We took multiple strolls around Bristol, which reminded me of Galway in that it's a small, quirky, hipsterish university town with plenty of politically charged murals and roughly thirty independent pubs on every street.  I was too sickly to fully appreciate the hundreds and hundreds of microbrewed beers the city had to offer, but I did try a few IPAs and some locally made ginger-pear cider.  At one point Joe, Paula, and I went to visit the Egyptian exhibition, a weirdly hypnotic short film of raptor birds in flight set to a David Bowie score played on steel drums, and a display of taxidermied animals at a museum at the top of a much too tall hill.  We saw a pub that was once frequented by Blackbeard the pirate and quite a few hot air balloons (there's an International Balloon Fiesta every August, apparently), and altogether Bristol was a charming place that looked in many places like the setting of a pop-up Jane Austen novel.

We took the train to Chester, a medieval town that was charming to the nth degree, and in the morning we continued our journey to Holyhead, where we took the ferry to Dublin.  The ferry was much more luxurious than I was expecting, with a bar and a restaurant and an arcade, but it did have a properly blustery deck where you can walk around and gaze longingly at the sea, with your hair all in your face as Ireland appears out of the mist on the horizon.  YES IT DID, IT APPEARED OUT OF THE MIST.  It was the most gorgeous thing in the world.  And I'm in Dublin now and it's more marvelous with every passing day; the past two weeks have been a long, weird haze of Guinness and much too much tea and weirdly summerish weather, for some reason.  Will update more once I've caught up with sleep, which may or may not ever happen...