Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cardiff and Bristol

The next day I thanked Julia and Jürgen for their incredible hospitality and for all the fun we had had. I packed, we said our goodbyes and promised to meet up again sometime during the rest of my trip. I was off again. Next destination: Cardiff. One of my friends from university has been doing his postgraduate studies there for the last few years. Friend, actually is an understatement. When I started university, he and another two physics student, who were all about to graduate, adopted me like a little sister, so to be figuratively correct, I was going to see my big brother. I got there a little later than planned, but all good. Javier was there waiting for me and after a hug and our many remarks of how different we looked, we walked to his place. After we had caught up on our lives and plans and reminiscing about the old times when I would spend my afternoons at his place in Merida watching movies and eating pizza, I convinced him to watch my favorite 'terror' movie:

The Conjuring. After the movie and a feeble attempt at trying to scare him a bit to no real effect, I was pooped and it was time to get off to sleep. The next day Javier took me out for a traditional English breakfast which was huge, and I actually liked it. I love eggs for breakfast. After that he had to work a bit so I ventured through the city. First the cemetery, then downtown, past the castle, into a park and I found myself a boat ride that would take me to Cardiff Bay. The ride was nice and quiet, and once in the bay I was presented with an assortment of modern and old fashion buildings. I had no idea that Roald Dahl was from Cardiff, but here was a 'Plass' in his name. I walked through it and went to the Wales Millennium Center where there was a performance of professional dancers accompanied by dancers with down syndrome.

It was very well done with choreography and improvisations. Then I headed for the Pierhead where they have a paint gallery on the last floor. After a few pictures, I started to walk down the Wales Coast Path passing by the Y Senedd, the Norwegian Church where Dahl was baptized and finally reaching the Doctor Who Experience building and the Tardis. I headed back downtown passing through The Red Dragon Center that, to be honest, was a rather empty and semi-dead shopping mall. I arrived at Javier's and after I caught my breath from the walk, we were off for a pub crawl. I think we did four pubs. Three, where we drank beer and one of wine, since I already had drank my obligatory Guinness as there weren't any other options in dark beers. Just to clarify, nothing against Guinness, on the contrary, I love the stuff, however I had expected England to offer a wide variety of dark beers, but to my disappointment when I asked, people would look a bit perplexed and would say "we have an amber ale". To which I would shake my head and say "just give me a Guinness". There is a limit to how many Guinnesses one can drink and continue to walk decently, so I opted for wine. Downtown Cardiff at night was a bit empty except for the occasional group of bare-legged university girls and their male friends. I would freeze in their skin! After out fair share of drinking we went back to his place. Next morning after oatmeal and tea, I asked him for some paper and pens and did my best effort to draw Bristol's famous Bridge. I was going to try to hitchhike on my own this time. I thanked him and after saying our goodbyes I left with a heavy heart. I hadn't seen him in so long! It had been great getting to hang out again like in the old times. Thanks for everything Javier! And for putting my clothes out to dry while I was exploring the city. You're a sweetheart! So there I was trying to figure out where the hell to get a ride. It wasn't easy, after asking around and walking quite a bit I finally got to one of the exits. I pulled out my mini-poster and an upturned thumb to the traffic. After like a 15 minute wait, a man in his early 40's asked me, "Are you crazy?". "A bit" I replied. "Hitchhiking, aren't you afraid something could happen to you?"  he asked.  I replied, "Not really, I just need to choose my rides wisely" he looked at me with a quizzical eye and said "I can't take you to Bristol, but I can take you more than half the way in that direction and leave you at a station where lots of cars stop." We chatted all the way switching through a variety of topics: his background, my background, about how crazy I was, and about parenting. Finally reaching my destination, he wished me the best and again gave me one of those quizzical looks before shaking his head and driving off.

The next ride did take me about an hours wait. I finally got picked up by two men in a work van. Turned out they were going to Bristol to buy a fishing boat and bring it back that same day to Wales. As we crossed some huge bridges they gave me some history about them and explained how it was to travel from England to Wales a few years back. They were very nice and interesting to talk to. Once in Bristol they left me in a very strategical point which was a Shopping Plaza called Cabot Circus. Every kind of shop was there assorted in a beautifully modern manner. I called my host and arranged to meet him at a certain point downtown around 5:00pm., I had time. I walked slowly through the city, got myself some food and reached the meeting point. I waited, and waited, and waited. Nothing. I was starting to worry and tried to find WiFi spot so I could communicate. I guess I had a bit of a desperate face because a very nice man approached me and asked if I was lost. I explained what was going on, and very sweetly he offered me his cellphone to call my host. No answer. The man suggested I go into a pub a few steps down the road and get connected to the WiFi there. I thanked him for his help, walked in and got a beer. The internet wasn't working well either but after a while a man came in looking around the pub and after looking at my backpack he said "Grace?" and I was like "Sameer? How did you know I was here?". " I called back the number you had called me from and the guy who answered said you were here. Sorry about my delay, I got caught up at work." Relief, and a new wave of gratitude for the man with the cellphone flooded over me. We headed to his flat which was only two blocks away. After settling in and resting from carrying my backpack, we headed out for some drinks. Well, my drinks, he didn't drink. We pub crawled and chatted away. We had some kebab and then went dancing to a small club. It was a great first night and lot's of fun. Exhausted and sleepy we headed back to his flat and I crashed on his couch.

 Hitchhiking and clubbing on the same day was a bit too much for my system, so the next day I took it much slower. Sameer went to work and I did sightseeing: St Mary Redcliffe Parish Church , Clifton Suspension Bridge, which is celebrating it's 150th anniversary, and a stop at Nero Cafe took up most of my day. I had walked a lot and decided to head back to Sameer's. I was too tired to club or pub crawl but was willing to go for a beer somewhere. We ended up in a cute and stereotypical German Pub and were entertained by a very drunk group who took the stage to dance. After our share of entertainment, we headed back to the flat. Next morning I thanked Sameer for hosting me and taking me out despite his busy schedule. I was off again to hitchhike my way to London.This time it took a bit longer but I finally got picked up by a man in his 60's who took me to a petrol station halfway to London. The whole way there we talked about, plays, musicals and ballets. He gave me many recommendations and told me about his favorites, it was great info. Once at the petrol station, the real challenge began. It took me a full hour and as I was just about to give up, I looked up at a small empty trailer, pointed at my little sign that said 'London' and he nodded. Thank goodness! We talked all the way about places around the world, around England, but mostly about food. He recommended to me lots of things from Scotland and I made mental notes to try them all. As we were entering London he asked me where I needed to go. I told him I needed to get to Leicester Square (I had an appointment to meet Alejo there but doubted I would make it on time) but that at any point was fine with me. He said he would take me there because he had to go through anyway. He was going to Great Ormond Street Hospital. I thanked him for the ride and got there 15 minutes before the agreed time to meet up with Alejo. Hitchhiking proved to be an excellent experience!        

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