Sunday, April 18, 2010

here comes the sun...

First off, some changes need to happen. This blog is too long so it will be cut in half and all the D’s will go: details, douchebags, and dilly-dallying about getting to the point. Right.

Liverpool, England is not only the birthplace of the Beatles, but that of my friend Phil, my host and caretaker for the week. We met in Bolivia, a land and time of absurdity where clothes are covered in llamas and our nocturnal lives were dictated by the bar we worked in. We slept all day to drink all night and life was good for being such shitshows. Meeting in the real world was both weird and surreal. Clean clothes, regular schedules, and a presentable appearance were not things we were used to seeing each other in. Luckily, we had office meetings to attend to.

Office meetings is code for spliffs. Try using it in a sentence. For example, “I was in the office all day doing paperwork.” translates to “I’ve been stoned all day.”. Or “reading these blogs are a lot better with office meetings”. Feel free to spread the word.

Phil lives with his mum, dad, and brother in a small house in Skirmsedale, a half hour train ride to Liverpool. Yet in the first days of my being there we made it into town quite a bit, mostly for early drinking as the train last runs close to midnight. We bar hopped and pub crawled at all times of days consuming tequila and sambuca, but mostly beer. I can remember the majority of it and it was great fun.

The very first pub was touristy and historic but necessary: the Cavern. The Cavern was the underground bar the Beatles first got famous for playing in. The walls are scribbled on, the beer mugs plastic and dingy, and of course, this was during the realm of time my camera wasn’t working. Of course.

On a side note, there was a day I sucked it up and purchased a new camera online sent ahead to meet me in London. While I took my camera to a professional to fix, it was basically the same price as a new one so I opted for new. And yes, this camera was deemed broken by the professional and everyone who saw it. Why it magically started working 15 minutes after I purchased a new one, a week after it “broke”, I’ll never know. But it does function now, although it sounds like a baby lamb when turning on and off.

Before I continue with stories there are other necessary characters to introduce. While I mentioned Phil living with his family, I neglected to say this was one of the greatest families I’ve ever met and I’m near ready to file paperwork to be adopted in. (Not really Mom, please don’t worry or get jealous.) But truly it’s the family that drinks and smokes together that gets along the best, refer to my family at holiday gatherings. But the Norris clan live together everyday, and quite harmoniously I must admit, although it is well lubricated with common hobbies. Which means I fit right in.

Phil’s mum has a laugh and spirit that lights up a room. His dad was helpful and kind. And his brother and I got on from the moment we met as if I knew him as well as Phil. I was at my ultimate comfort level with this family and there are not enough kind words to express how welcomed and joyous I felt around them. That’s why most of my time here was spent indoors, relaxing, and really appreciating a home away from home. And cooking. God how I missed cooking.

One story worth mentioning was that I happened to come the week of the funeral for Phil’s Nan, his father’s mum. Phil neglected to mention this to me prior to my arrival so I wouldn’t be weirded out. Fair enough. When the day came after only a few days past my arrival, I opted to sleep in and relax while the family went to mass for the formalities. By 10:30 am the entire clan was in the bar drinking to the honor of their Irish mother/Nan. Phil was sent to collect me as by mid afternoon everyone was well lubricated and I was ready to begin.

The wake was a joyous occasion filled with food, alcohol, and memories. The party continued back the belated’s house and I felt very lucky to be apart of such a truly sacred cultural event. Luckily, she suffered very little as 6 weeks prior to her death her cancer was diagnosed and not much time was given. Goodbyes were said, family stood close by, and the grieving process already begun. She felt no pain, only the love of those around her. I could only hope to be so lucky and go out as she did, with life being fulfilled and celebrated.

Another worthy anecdote is that of the Grand Nationals, which is much like the Kentucky Derby, crazy hats and all. Oddly enough the country’s largest horse race was in their backyard and because it was insanely expensive and all consuming to attend, we enjoyed it in the comfort of the living room well equipped with “ice cream” from the ice cream truck aka marshmallow fluff on a cone dipped in flavored sugar topped with a Flake candy bar. Both weird and delicious.

While this three day event prompts endless betting on horses with truly bizarre names, I placed only one bet on the final and biggest race of all. With approximately 40 horses to choose from, I was handed the list and told to choose one and the bet would be placed for me. Considering my streak of bad luck lately, two pounds was placed on “Don’t Push It”. The near five minute long race was led strongly by a couple of horses, when out of nowhere, mine came up from behind and stole the show with mere seconds to spare. An incredible finish no matter who you were rooting for, but for me a true victory. Was the Universe finally ready to return some of the karma I had hoped was built up?

That evening we celebrated by buying pizza and wine with the 14 pounds the winnings yielded.

That Sunday Phil and I needed to escape and have a real adventure. We got on several trains, left civilization, and headed for unadulterated nature in the Great Lakes region. A series of small lakes, mountains, and proper English country cottages filled out the sprawling green hills bursting with sheep. The lambs were the best part.

We aimed for a campground in a small village but when they didn’t allow campfires it became clear campsites were not worth the 30 pounds we were prepared to spend. So we went for a walk outside of town and up and into the forest nearby. Neither of us had wild camped before, meaning without a campground, which sounds easy enough but scary when thinking about for the first time. Also, I knew the likelihood of us two fuckups setting a whole forest on fire was unnaturally high. Yet finding the perfect spot was the most difficult part but soon enough we had made a home complete with two tables, a bench, and even a dishwasher. (aka a river that you could leave dishes in all day and when you come back, they’re clean!) We even had a spot to literally hang your hat.

Two nights and three days were spent making fires, hiking everywhere we could, and finding all the small pubs and local breweries our map luckily showed us. We tried our best to buy only wine and beer and had brought our own sandwich makings and “tinner”, aka things wrapped in foil and stuck in the fire to cook. It was here I discovered home isn’t only where the heart is, but also where you cook your can of beans by the fire. And nature is a great place to call home.

Time away from the computer, television, and general noises of society always yields constructive thinking time. While Phil and I shared seemingly endless conversations (and office meetings), there was still time and space for us to each sort out our own heads. Phil was planning on starting his own salon(ps he’s a hairstylist), but is now ready to leave that project in order to live and work in New Zealand. I had my post wedding in May plans to sort through.

Honestly, I was ready to quit for awhile and move to New York to live that life for a year or so starting this summer. I was even checking out apartments online. But being outdoors in the sunshine and natural beauty the world had to offer I couldn’t help but change my thinking. I needed the exhilaration of adventure and exploring and I’m not quite ready to give that up. At least not without seeing Southeast Asia first. And truly if I watched every penny I could very easily get to Asia with some cash to spend on getting around. And so it was decided. I will fly to South Korea in June and then backpack Vietnam and Thailand with some good friends and live up the crazy life as much as I can before my inevitable return home.

With the decision made I felt settled and rejuvenated. Yet not quite ready to leave the Norris clan. Luckily the Universe sorted out plans and a bus ticket for me three days after the one I originally purchased. Turns out the Norris’ weren’t ready for me to leave either. A few more relaxing days later filled with wine, cooking, and office meetings and I’m now currently on a bus bound for London. I’ve been there before but only as a tourist. The next few weeks I will settle in with Charlotte and sort out plane tickets and official plans.

Who is Charlotte you ask? The short answer is my hetero-life partner who is full of wisdom, inspiration, and shit. The long answer is you will have to read my next blog to discover more about the crazy and beautiful Brit. Trust me, you’ll want to.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

the adventure continues

Make a list of everything vital to you while traveling. A top five list perhaps. Now cross three of those items off your list. Life will suck for awhile, but you can survive. As long as you have your health, everything else is survivable. I’m learning this right now.

When I last left off I was in Galway; a beautiful town nestled on the western beaches of Ireland. It’s surrounded by green rolling hills and endless good views. I happened to be visiting my friend Laura at a busy and inconvenient time but she was still lovely enough to insist I still come and visit. She was working, taking exams, moving house, and also hosting other guests right before and after I left. Somewhere in between this we had some quality talk time covering everything we had been through in the last couple of years and what we were planning on doing with the future. As well as head out to the bars for some much needed drinks.

By the time Laura returned from school Friday night I had slept in, went for an exhilarating run on the beach, and had a long hot shower. I was ready to go out as was she after an all day essay writing session which involved a computer crash. Pre-gaming at the house brought us to the Rosin, the best of all bars in Galway. For my Chico friends, relate it to the Bear with the various levels and opportunities to change scene, all with good craic (fun). There was a band competition that night which meant amazing music and hot lead singers. I enjoyed them both equally.

The accomplishment of the night would have to be me finally scoring seeing foreskin in its natural state. Now I know this sounds really weird but all my gay European friends can vouch for the fact that I’ve always requested to see their manhood because I’ve never seen one with a hoodie. Unfortunately, my friends are prude or insist that there’s no reason to get it out unless there is gratification in it for them. Selfish bastards. Now I know some of your might argue I have in fact seen one before, err, several times. But to that I say I wasn’t really looking at it, and in the state I see it there’s no real difference, if you get my drift. So I must say thank you to the kind (straight) boy who was open enough to unzip trow and give me a gander in the middle of the upstairs crowded smoking lounge. Something else to cross off my list. Check.

In case you were wondering, I wasn’t interested but he did in fact hit on me for the rest of the night. I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

Saturday day involved hangover and moving houses so the night involved water bottle bong and Zombieland. I needed a night like that. Sunday we went for a coastal drive and did the proper Irish afternoon with a Guiness and soup in a pub on the water. Gorgeous. We went out that night again at the Roisin, because why go anywhere else. I met my first Irish boy who I deemed not a douche and actually a great person to talk to and get to know. Plus he was appreciative of me talking about monkeys so much. But it was my last night and he had just recently started to see someone. Timing is everything. It’s just good to know there’s at least one you can find.

I managed to catch the bus back to Dublin in time to have an entire day with Dee out in the country. She had just started her two week spring vacation and had just a few days before she was leaving for her own trip to Tenerife, a vacation hot spot in the Canary Islands. We spent a lovely, although rainy, afternoon in a beautiful wooded area that boasted Ireland’s oldest mill. Really, it was a just an overpriced shopping store and restaurant, but the meal was an abundance of healthy and delicious goodness and it was great to get out of the gloomy city.

That night her boyfriend and company were watching hours of UFC so the two of us headed out for a walk. Then maybe a pint. Or two. Or a pitcher. Or three. This is the night I lost my wallet.

After a long lock in and hours of ridiculous stories with Joe the barman, we stumbled home a block away and called it a night. (Note, a lock in is when the bar closes so no one is allowed in and no more alcohol is sold but you are allowed to finish in peace. Or in our case, have the barman pour a pitcher of beer on the house and throw some peanuts at us so we won’t leave for food.) Once home, a hit near killed me so I passed out quickly on the coach unchanged, shoed, and in a seemingly uncomfortable position. The morning came and went and the alarm to wake at 8 am never rang.

Why set an alarm? Obviously not natural for me, which meant this morning was important. Because of the immigration officer story I already told, I now had a detrimental stamp I wished to cancel before I left. I was now attempting another try to get this sorted, being that I was not allowed to phone or email them without getting a response via snail mail. Inconvenient bastards.

Needless to say I didn’t sort out my stamp so I had to leave the country by the end of the day to remain within the legal status with Ireland. After a long hangover morning, it wasn’t until I went to get some food I discovered my wallet was missing. I knew I paid for a pitcher at the last bar and had only come home to pass out. I figured all I had to do was wait until the bar opened and went back to ask for wallet, only arriving a few hours later than I expected into Belfast. But nothing is ever that simple when you’re testing Murphy’s Law.

The two afternoon barmen couldn’t find it and even called barman Joe and he claimed he had never seen it as well. Fuck me. I was now officially stuck without any cash, cards, and had to leave the country within a few hours. Fuck me hard.

I quickly had to cancel all my cards and of course, call Mom. I’d lost my wallet before in Egypt but I had a team of friends to lend me money and help control me and my emotions. This occasion was different. Time was of essence and I needed to quickly form a plan. Wiring myself money was both expensive and overly time consuming, but I had no other option. I had pulled out just enough to get me through a week or so while I mailed my debit card onto my future host in Liverpool.

I barely caught the last bus into Belfast and sent a text to my friend Amanda picking me up that said, “Will be there around 11:15 pm. Must go to police station right away. Will explain later. x”. Because you see, if I didn’t get a stamp from a police station proving I was in Northern Ireland and out of the Republic of Ireland by the appointed date, I would receive illegal status and probably not be allowed back in the country. Not that I’m planning a return visit anytime soon, but I wouldn’t want to cross it out at any point in the future.

So with 30 minutes on the clock I was nervous they would be uncooperative or make this more difficult than it needed to be. Honestly, I was also worried about the bus crashing on the way up because Murphy’s Law seemed to me testing me that day, particularly when trying to pick up the wired money. To top it all off, it was snowing and this area is not entirely used to snow storms so the bus was abnormally shaky and I spent the journey figuring out the future BBC headline. Fortunately, I arrived safely and the policeman was more than happy to help calling immigration officers “wankers who try to run the world”. Agreed.

When safe and warm back at Amanda’s house I was able to drink cider by the fire and chat with her family for awhile. Things were already better. The following cold and snowy day we spent shopping and going to the cinema, always a great experience in another country. Only I hate that they only had only sweet popcorn, salty wasn’t even available. Bullocks.

Thursday was my favorite day because we set out early for a short road trip that included a tour of Bushmill’s whiskey distillery, the Giant’s Causeway natural wonder, and Carrick-a-Rede the rope bridge. Although I don’t like whiskey I had to respect the oldest maker of it in all of Ireland and arguably the best. Turns out a Hot Toddy is quite delicious which is warmed whiskey, water, clove, and sugar. Warms the soul.

The Giant’s Causeway is one of the natural wonders of the world and a beautiful and amazing sight to see. A stroll down to the beach brings you to an interesting phenomenon where there are hundreds of hexagonally shaped stones at varying heights that makes you wonder how structures on Earth are actually made. Sure the scientists claim something about volcanic activity, but the varying myths about a fight between an Irish giant and a Scottish giant provides much more entertainment. Hopefully, I’ll get pictures of this place up soon; you have to see it to understand its interest and beauty.

The rope bridge was unfortunately closed but the drive through the rolling Irish countryside spotted with sheep and cottages was more than enough to thrill me. We made it back in time for a proper Irish college student dinner of potatoes and beans. Then it was onto Amanda’s friend’s house for a drink and chill session. Of course her friend managed to convince us for a night out in town, one filled with karaoke and dancing.

Amanda and I met in Malta 4 years ago which means there is a special unbreakable bond, regardless of the fact that we hadn’t spoken in ages. This also meant we were both capable of entering a room with no one dancing and soberly get the party started. I love that girl.

Our Friday started strong with a run through the gorgeous back roads of her house and then immediately getting ready to go out drinking in Belfast. Now this happened to be Good Friday which meant bars all shut early, hence our effort to get a start on mid afternoon. We managed to drink an entire bottle of wine each before we even got to the bar in town. We had dinner and then met our mutual friend Steve from Malta. A Malta reunion, no matter how small, always means loads of fun and alcohol. And that we had.

While dancing during the later part of the night is when it all began to go horribly wrong. Steve innocently dropped my camera thusly breaking it, never to be recovered. On the way back to Steve’s place someone threw an egg at me, hit me, but thank goodness didn’t break. At this point I was pretty drunk and unfortunately PMS-ing so this is when I started to gripe about the Universe. Back at Steve’s we took some hits before getting a ride back to Amanda’s house, about a half an hour outside the city. It was in the car I discovered my phone was missing and that’s really when I got too loud and ridiculous. Amanda was good enough to make tea and toast when home but at this point I was already well into a mental breakdown.

I was crying my eyes out surrendering myself to the Universe, begging not to be challenged anymore. First my wallet, then camera, and finally my phone, all within a matter of days. Could have done without the egging, PMS-ing, and immigration officer problems on my first day as well, but alas, the pile had grown overwhelmingly large and I was finally ready to admit the burden in full. And I needed to call my Mom, desperately. I’m sure every mom loves receiving phone calls from their drunken daughters crying and saying everything has gone horribly wrong, but my Mom dealt particularly well with it. Truly I just needed to know she was still alive and then I figured everything else was okay. Eventually my computer died, I crawled into bed, and did my best to sleep off the negative energy.

Luckily Amanda’s mom loves to bake and had already made fresh homemade scones before I awoke. That alongside a great cup of tea is already a better start to the day. A lazy day was much deserved and needed and I finally put my photos on my computer, knowing full well I might be inviting a new disaster to unfold. Eventually I sorted myself out and we managed to go out and start collecting people to go out drinking in town for the night.

Our first drink at the bar was short lived as everything was closing early and the evil ex-boyfriend made an appearance. This situation was both frustrating and dangerous and so we left for the Catholic dance club down the street. Side note, Amanda and most of her friends are Protestant and while no animosity sits on the surface, beneath it brews a history of war, prejudice, and family honor.

Most of my questions about Northern Ireland had to do with this line between religions, a line that is deep and fresh yet something I knew very little about. And quickly for those at home completely out of the loop, England long ago invaded Ireland and converted much of the north to Protestants while some adamantly remained Catholic. Over time the island was eventually divided into two separate countries creating seemingly more conflict. The Catholic IRA formed and fought ferociously against British rule whose supporters tended to be Protestant. The war was about more than religion although the sides decided by it; it was about who had control over Northern Ireland. Luckily, in our lifetime the war has slowed to a halt and while car bombs are rare the animosity is still felt more often than not. But back to the evening.

We escaped to the dance club having loads of fun dancing to great music with lots of smoke and lights. The talent was not strong this night but the hottest douchebag was more than interested in me. Luckily I could spot a douche a mile away but was bored enough to tease him a bit. This is how the conversation started:
“You’re gorgeous.”
“But I’m American.”
“You’re gorgeous.”
“You’re going to have to do better than that.”
“Can I buy you a drink?”
“Now you’re talking!”

This guy was already too grab happy on the dance floor, but alas, he was tall, had blue eyes, and was quite fit actually. So naturally being the slag that I am I brought him to the slightly abandoned couches in the back for a proper snog. I’m pretty sure I was decently cruel when talking to him and teasing him but deemed it necessary as one of the first things out of him mouth was his insisting I come back to his place. I repeatedly told him I wasn’t interested in that and he maintained we’d only watch a DVD. I’m sure. Really though, why do guys keep trying when they are so clearly not getting anywhere?

So I decided to make matters worse, entice him for awhile, only to jump up and run off to the dance floor because a good song was on. Once out there, I kept telling him to go away and tried to get his friend to take him away. But then teased him again. It felt quite good really, playing this game I knew I had entirely too much control over. A little while later I took him back to the couch only to run off soon after again, this time prompted by Amanda’s exit. While this might seem unusually cruel for me, I really do take pleasure in fucking with obvious douchebags and causing them what must be little pain compared to the damage I’m sure they’ve done. That and I don’t want an STD.

After we left the club we joined some friends back at a house party well under way. A drink and several smokes later I was gone for the night, but enjoying every minute. Another boy took interest in me and I again refused to do anything but still managed to lead him on a bit. When we made it home at half five I was very amused with my immature and cruel behavior yet felt no remorse. Only a desire to eat much needed drunk munchies.

Easter Sunday was something that concerned me a week prior; I had no desire to impede anyone’s family gatherings and knew nothing of their cultural activities this day. I only knew bars closed early all weekend long and in the Republic of Ireland the weekend was dead. It was interesting to find out the day had no real special value; it was Easter Monday that was celebrated more. Yes, Easter Monday is the day after Easter which was given as bank holiday meaning no one would work meaning people would be curing themselves of their Sunday hangover. Or more precisely, drinking all day Monday. But I was due in Liverpool Monday morning and only had Easter Sunday.

Nothing special during the day, a short visit with Amanda’s friend and we made it home in time to feast a large dinner, but it was nothing out of the ordinary for this traditionally large Irish family. Every Sunday afternoon brought the entire family around culminating in lots of food eaten at no particular time, simply presented as a buffet table you could partake in whenever you so choose. The day was decidedly different though for me based on the chocolate egg I received from Amanda’s family. It was the mini-egg one too, which for anyone who knows me, knows that is like crack cocaine for me. Truly I felt welcomed.

Easter Sunday night meant plenty of bars being closed so we somehow turned up at the very local bar in Randalstown, the country bumpkin town Amanda actually lives in but never goes out in. Unexpectedly this place was cracking and the music had a decent number of people rocking out on the dance floor. I was assured by Amanda and her friend that an American accent was very rare in these parts and I was going to attract much attention, apparently in a good way. I hadn’t even spoken before some drunken man was kissing my hand and telling the bartender things I couldn’t begin to hear, accent and noise level considered.

We began imbibing rounds quickly, preparing to make our debuts on the dance floor. A Rihanna request was put in and before I knew it a call for the Californian girl was made on the microphone and apparently I needed to make an appearance on the dance floor. Nice. I later got asked if I was the one from California. Can’t escape it I suppose. And another bloke started talking to me about Canada even though my friend was shouting “she’s from California, not Canada, you dumb cunt!”.

As for the talent in the room, it was mediocre at best. The best option was of course, the bartender. Shocking for me, I know. He was the only one with a good looking face and lacking the cocky attitude. I needed help sparking up the conversation but once it got going it became clear he was a traveler. Nice. But a 21 year old traveler working a bar in the sticks. And he was a bit gap toothed and hairy cheated. Now I know you’re thinking there is no way for this guy to possibly be attractive but I must say his overall face was excellent and I loved his causal attitude. That and I had spent the last three weeks constantly stretching the truth when looking for hot men. Obviously my mark has gone slightly off kilter.

No matter, I left wishing I had more time and while I had already convinced him to take me to the airport in the morning, I ran out leaving him with a kiss on the check and wondering what that crazy American girl really wanted from him. Once home and still wired from the evening, Amanda and I sat with scones and tea sharing our final quality conversation regarding ex-boyfriends, traveling, and the good old days of Malta. I went to bed with three hours to sleep until I needed to be awake and still I couldn’t stop my head from swirling.

A short nap and car ride later, I made my plane to Liverpool, England and was ready to embark on a whole new series of adventure. While a detox was badly needed, I was staying with Phil, my bartending squat-crashing friend from Bolivia and knew no such thing existed near him. Plus that day was Easter Monday, that glorious drinking day I mentioned earlier. And I knew my meager two hours of sleep would not deter either of us from heading out. But that’s another country and of course another blog. I’ll leave you knowing one key piece of information: we went to bar with tequila for one pound a shot. My favorite was coconut flavored.

The final count in the whole of Ireland was three weeks; two in the Republic and one in Northern Ireland. My last encounter here was a week in total. This time I stayed sober for only two days and it’s no real wonder I lost my wallet, broke my camera, and near lost my phone. It’s alarming my liver and lungs are still functioning, as far as I’m aware. Update on the phone situation. I soberly found it a day later in my coat pocket. How unexpected. As for the wallet, barman Joe did find it but only after everything was cancelled and I was long gone. It’s due to be sent to England next week. The camera is being taken to a shop in a couple of days and with any luck it will be sorted. If not, I’m prepared to burn another $100 or more on a new one; cost of traveling.

With all the frustration and mental breakdown behind me, I’ve realized all you really need when traveling is a pair of legs and knowing your friends and family are behind you. Sure my computer can still crash and ipod can quit, the last two items on my most necessary items list. And I’m probably jinxing myself right now but alas, challenges are due to arrive and generally in full force. But I am still physically capable of adventures and my Mom is safe and happy at home so in the end I can’t ask for anything else.

I am beyond fortunate when I think of all the amazing friends who have taken me in and taken extraordinarily good care of me. Abbie in New York opens her home to me whenever I decide to stride by. Dee went above and beyond being helpful when it came to both the immigration and wallet situation. Laura made a huge effort to be there for me and accommodating regardless of her frantic schedule. Amanda made me feel on true vacation not allowing me to lift a finger to help and knew exactly what to do while I had an emotional breakdown at three in the morning. And now I’m with Phil, whom from the moment I was picked up at the airport I’ve felt at home with. A proper breakfast of pancakes with bananas, coffee, and a spliff told me I have the best friends in the world. And nothing can take that away. And those friends have proven all I need when I’m backpacking around Europe. Friends, and a strong liver.