24 September 2010

We sometimes forget Americans are real people.

The funny thing about British road trips is how much shorter they are than American road trips. You barely have time to get hungry in between stops. But like all road trips around the world, there is beauty to be found on the way.

The first stop on our Norfolk region road trip was to Bury St. Edmunds, where a certain King Edmund was killed by the Danes in 903. He was also, as the name might suggest, buried there, and supposedly miracles began happening soon after. So then he was made a saint.

More importantly, it's the home of Greene King Brewery, famous label of Old Speckled Hen. We got there too late for the brewery tour, but lucky for us, the "museum" was still open. Oh, it was rather a sad museum, with an entire section devoted to what kind of food people have eaten with beer.

At least Craig got to dress up like a beer-brewing monk.

Then we noticed the cutout behind him, and Lynn and I made him get in that, too!

Look at him in those woolen swim shorts! After checking out the brewery gift shop, we decided to have a pint at the local pub. And here some of our troubles began. First off, most British beers, like the rest of the English-speaking world, are not very flavourful. They might look a nice red or dark brown, but put some in your mouth and you'll find a watery ale. Worse, it seems the British truly love serving beer just about warm. Not in that enjoyable Brick Store way, where everything is just warm enough to taste it. No, in England, it's more like taking a mild beer, warming it just above where it would taste good, and then serving it with no head at all.

It's a little bit disgusting. We soon learned to buy bottles, as those are at least refrigerated. We also went to the Bury St. Edmunds Cathedral, which has an amazing huge garden and old Roman walls, but I forgot to take pictures.

Then we thought we'd hit Southwold for the night, a little seaside town, but when we got there, we couldn't get any accommodation for the night. We called some places in Wells-by-the-Sea also, but no joy. So we decided to just jump onto to Norwich. We did find a place there, and decided to check the town out the next day. Finding dinner wasn't easy, as it was around 10pm, but we ended up at an Indian place that was less-than-mediocre.

Norwich by day, however, was a very different experience. It's an adorable little city, with cobblestone laneways and weavers' windows on lots of buildings. There was a printmakers' fair going on, so we stopped in to see the cool arty stuff.

Then we found some cool arty stuff on the street.

This just weirded us out.

And as we did a little Norwich lanes walking tour, we came across a lovely fat little bird. If we collected Craig's pictures into a book, it might most easily be titled "Birds of the World, with Particular Emphasis on Ducks."

One of the coolest things we saw in Norwich was this bookshop window display. The store is called The Book Hive; can you believe the intricacy of this... I don't know what to call it. Hanging paper castle?

After we'd seen pretty much all Norwich had to offer, we headed to a little town called King's Lynn, mostly because it had the word Lynn in it. It's a really small town, and after putting our stuff down at the B&B, we walked into town, looking for somewhere to eat. But we had no idea what to look for. We wandered for a bit until we saw three girls walking down the street; we asked them where we could find a bite.

"Are you American?" they asked.
Yes, we said.
"Well, there's a McDonald's around the corner," Girl 1 said.
Girl 2 said, "Shut up, they don't want to eat at McDonald's!"
We agreed with her. We did not want to eat at McDonald's.
Then Girl 2, she was very talkative, she said, "But what are you doing here, in King's Lynn?"
Girl 1: We only see Americans on television, so sometimes we forget that you actually exist, that you're like real people."
Girl 2: But what are you doing here? (and you would be right to imagine a sense of loathing in her reference to King's Lynn)
We tried to explain. We were travelling, you see, and we thought seeing some little English villages might be nice. That Lynn and I had already seen London, and Craig and I would be seeing Manchester soon, so for now, we were just going around, seeing what we could. England's full of history, right, so everywhere has something vaguely historically interesting.

Girl 2: (with immense confusion, with an almost willful inability to comprehend) But why are you here?

We found we couldn't really answer her to satisfaction, but Lynn got in a conversation with Girl 1 about Las Vegas and the States in general.
At this point, Girl 3 was quiet and embarrassed by Girl 2 and was nearly tugging her out of the laneway. They directed us down the street and around the corner, where we found a Prezzo, a rather upscale British chain restaurant that served us an excellent meal. Well, Craig's minestrone beans were undercooked and it had no pasta in it, but Lynn and I had a delicious pesto ravioli dish which I wouldn't turn down a second time.

The next morning, we walked around King's Lynn. The water looked cold and dirty and gray.

 But we still had a nice time walking around, seeing the old things. It's a pretty little village.

The old gaol had this outstanding facade of black and white checkered stones. It's beautiful and breathtaking and a little weird to think about people putting this much work into something that's meant to house prisoners.

For the last leg of our trip, we dropped in to Hunstanton, pronounced "Hunstan," of course, a beach-side town with a low-tide so far out, we couldn't even see the water. But we had some beer and a nice lunch at a pub. We walked through a sensory garden, a garden designed for differently-abled people. They had a whole aromatic section, so blind people could enjoy the plants and stones with braille on them. Gentle hills for people in wheelchairs to amble around. You get the idea. It was very pleasant.

Along the beach, we also found a stand that was selling fresh hot donuts. Delicious!

After all that enjoyment, though, it was time to get Lynn back to town. Her flight was early the next morning, so we headed back to Hertford only to find she couldn't possibly get to Heathrow that evening. Ann and Geoff had a plan: wake at 3am, get Lynn to the coach station and on the express to Heathrow-- she would just barely catch her flight.

So that's what we did. It was a bit crazy, and I can't believe it actually went off without a single hitch. But it did. Lynn got on the bus, and we all went back to Ann and Geoff's, to get some more sleep.
I also have updates from Manchester-town for you. First off, pictures of my room!

It's actually a pretty big room, with a huge desk and lots of storage. I like it, except the green carpet. But hey, maybe I'll find a cheap nice-looking rug. At least a big window is over my desk, for what little sunshine I can find. And the duvet cover Craig helped me find has really nice colours.

This tiny thing is apparently a kitchen for four people.

We have an open plan, so the kitchen leads right into the common room. It also has a nice big window, but no couch. That TV is my flatmate Despina's, but it doesn't work.

I have my own bathroom, which is very nice. But it's the tiniest bathroom I've ever had. The shower is right over the toilet, the shower curtain provides the only barrier. There is a floor drain, but the floor doesn't quite slope toward it, so the whole floor gets and stays wet for a very long time.

 But it's only for a year, right? A year in which, hopefully, I'll be studying and making friends and generally too busy to worry about my tiny, wet bathroom.

This week is called Welcome Week, which means apart from a few short inductions and meetings, we don't really have any classes or anything. It's been a long week. I've been trying to fill my time reading and getting errands done, and planning out stuff to do. Example: this weekend, I'm going to the Manchester Farmer's Market, a women's history guided walking tour called "Up then, Brave Women!" and a pub crawl with the Burlington society, which is a society for postgrads and mature students.

One of the errands I had to run was seeing the Alan Turing Memorial. Turing is one of Britain's great scientific minds-- he helped break the Nazi enigma code, he developed early computing machines. A genius. But after all his service to his country, he was persecuted for being gay, or rather for "gross indecency," which is the same thing Oscar Wilde was charged with 50 years prior.

Alan Turing died of cyanide poisoning, with a half-eaten apple by his bed. People reckon it was suicide, and that he'd dosed the apple. But the apple was never tested for cyanide, and his mom forever believed that he had merely been careless with lab chemicals, that he would never intentionally kill himself.

The memorial to him is in Manchester's Gay Village, and it's a really beautiful thing. My new pal Sara took this picture for me. The apple in his hand stands not only for the one that he may have killed himself with, but also for forbidden love, and it's a reference to that hero of scientific heroes-- Newton.

The board beside the memorial said that one of Turing's first computers is buried under the bench, as well. I wish Craig could have seen it with me. Manchester has such an amazing scientific history. Did you know the atom was first split here by Rutherford and that the first computer was built at the University of Manchester itself??! You definitely want to click that link-- an amazing photo awaits you.

I also spent some time up in the Northern Quarter the other day; I enjoyed some tea and a bagel at CUP. And then, as I wandered down Oldham Street to get back into town, I happened upon...

The Grace Kelly is a lemon cake with white chocolate frosting. Perfect for lifting a lonely mood, along with one of my all-time favourite books.


  1. Yes, sob if you must, my face is again as bald and smooth as a (29-year-old) baby's bottom.

    Nerd alert:
    That first picture is one I took of the Cambridgeshire countryside. The white disc just over the treeline is a huge parabolic dish radio antenna, part of a Cambridge University radio telescope array. These imposing things were dotted around the countryside and were really a sight to behold. I learned not to get too excited about this, though, because later that night I was trying to tell folks about it and actually made several people fall asleep. Hey, I'm a sharp guy, I get the picture...radio astronomy doesn't hold the allure of, say, alleged affairs with David Beckham.

    Good post, Nija!