Saturday, July 1, 2017

Europe 2017: Parks and Rails

It was kind of an odd day. What I mean to say, is it wasn't a normal "get out and see everything" kind of day. I was married to my schedule, but fortunately it allowed for a lot of flexibility.

Here were my required times:

9:00 Breakfast at the Moat End

10:30 Check-out from the Moat End 

13:00 Train from Kingham to London Paddington Station

Follow Underground schedule to get to Stratford International

17:00 Meet with Sergei at his AirBNB flat

18:30 Doctor Who finale on BBC1

Okay, that last one wasn't a big deal, but it was in the back of my mind the whole day.

As I went to bed last night, I heard a lot of doors opening and shutting in the upper level. I was under the impression that I was the only one staying overnight, but apparently I was incorrect.

I had three choices for breakfast time the next day, and I chose the late one because I needed a sleep-in day. I slept till 8:15, which felt great. When I came downstairs, I heard German being spoken! Three people were sitting around the table, and as I sat down we got to talking.

They were very nice, from Frankfurt. One father had just collected his daughter from her au pair job in London, and the other father was collecting his daughter from her schooling in Kingham. Sadly, our conversation was so nice and long that we had to rush the end of the meal, and by the time I'd come downstairs to check out they were already gone!

When they found out I was from the States, one of the men immediately asked me my opinion on Donald Trump. I said I didn't like him, and then I asked them their opinion. They feel he's bad for the world, and I'm inclined to agree. We had quite the discussion of American, British, and German politics. I never thought I'd see the day when I had a quality political discussion!

Another question they asked me - and a few people have asked me this on my trip - was why in the world I was in Kingham, of all places. I guess I just wanted a nice, quiet, non-touristy location to gather my wits and relax. It also happened to be on the rail line and I was able to find a nice bed and breakfast that was inexpensive. (By the way, that breakfast was extraordinary!)

I paid Gwym and Mike and was on my way...sort of. Check-out at the Moat End was 10:30, but I didn't need to be at the rail station until 1, when my train to Paddington arrived. And I didn't read the bus schedule correctly yesterday; turns out on weekends the bus I was hoping to take doesn't run! It meant I'd have to do the 30 minute walk.

Well, I sure had time to do it! As I walked down the nice road I decided to stop at a neighborhood park and chill. I grabbed my copy of The Big Issue that I'd purchased from a man and his dog in Oxford yesterday and read it from cover to cover. (Don't know the story of The Big Issue? Read here or just read A Street Cat Named Bob for a brief glimpse.) It happened to be a Harry Potter cover, so it was a good read.

Then I picked up my things and walked down the way. I passed St. Andrew's Church, where there was a sign saying that the church was open! So I decided to stop in.

There wasn't any one else inside, so I got a look at the place all by myself - I'm not used to that! Even though it's not as famous as Westminster Abbey or Christ Church, it still has all the makings of a church in Britain.

I passed the Mill House, where I ate last night, and just kept walking. I admired the adorable names of houses - Montana Cottage, The Rose, The Orchard, etc - as I passed. I looked at the rolling hills around me (and I'm glad I did - getting back to London made me realize how beautiful those hills are!). And in no time at all, I was back at the rail way station.

The train came on time, and because it's Kingham, there were only a handful of people getting on the train and a handful of people on the train. Because of that, I got a prime window seat facing forward.

We were back in London in an hour and a half, and I was a bit surprised at how small Paddington station was. I unfortunately didn't see a memorial to the writer of Paddington Bear - Michael Bond - who just passed away this week, but I did see that the shop was selling little stuffed Paddingtons.

In the station a men's choir was singing little ditties as people passed, and that was a nice break from the norm.

And here's where my story gets kind of weird. I could have just taken the Tube from Paddington to Stratford. It would have been easy! But my correspondence with my Air BNB host said to exit out of Stratford International DLR, and I was a little confused about the "International" and the "DLR" parts.

As I looked at the map, I saw that one of the stations said that you could change to the DLR line. When I looked at the map of the DLR (light rail, by the way), it said it went all the way to Stratford International! So I got off and got on a light rail.

Well, this particular DLR train stopped at all sorts of places, and it was going to take a while to get to my changing point. So when I heard that another DLR train made a shortcut to Stratford, I hopped off and hopped on that one.

Unfortunately, many Tube and rail stations close sections on weekends for work, and I didn't realize that the one I'd just gotten on didn't go to Stratford this weekend because of work. I asked a worker how to get to Stratford International, and he told me to get back on this one and follow it till it got to Canning Town and then change. So I got off and got back on because it was going in the opposite direction, so I'd just retrace my steps.

But I didn't look at the map closely enough, because the train never went to Canning Town - it went south! I was supposed to change earlier at Poplar but I didn't realize it. I was now going all the way south, past Canary Wharf and far away from my changeover point!

By this point I was very frustrated. If I had just stayed on that Tube line, I'd be there by now! So I asked someone else for help, and he said to change at Canary Wharf for the Tube line.

UGH. Okay. So I got back on and went north. Right before Canary Wharf it said to exit for the Jubilee Tube line, so I just listened to the person and got off.

I had to walk a ways to get to Canary Wharf, and even though the area is newly rebuilt and gorgeous, I couldn't enjoy it too much. I was wondering why in the world God would make me go through all these hoops!

Well, I went down the escalator to the Canary Wharf station, and I immediately knew the answer: there before me was the station that Gareth Edwards had used to film a section of Rogue One! I immediately recognized it and was in complete awe. It was so amazing to see it in person.



So the Tube line dumped me at Stratford, and there I got back on the DLR to get to Stratford International. And I was finally there!

I guess it was okay that it happened - I'd told Sergei I wouldn't get there until 5, and with all of my train-hopping I got to the area right at 5!

His directions were very good. I got out of the station and followed the signs to Victory Park, which is surrounded by buildings formerly used as the Olympic Athletes' Village. I went to the building and rang the bell, and my host, Sergei, buzzed me in.

You can tell it was former "dorm" housing - the hallways are very small but the lifts are very big. I went up to the proper level and Sergei welcomed me at the door. Turns out he worked at not only London 2012, but also Sochi 2014! He worked with the Czech Republic teams, so we got to talking about that country for a bit.

He showed me to my room - a very nice room with a big bed and a great bathroom right there in the room. I had fresh towels and even shampoo and conditioner that wasn't in a tiny bottle! He told me I could use the dishes in the kitchen and the refrigerator, and said I could use the balcony if I wanted.
The balcony was actually a middle section that had openings on either side, but it was still cool.

I sat for a bit and then got out. Sergei had directed me to the nearest Boris Bike station, and I used my card to rent out a bike for 2 pounds for 24-hour access. I had seen these all over London, but I knew I wouldn't be comfortable using it on the regular London streets. I had to wait for a big park to do that.

I was now at that park. I was at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I was at the site of the 2012 London Olympics!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've seen national stadiums from afar (one just as recently as Wednesday!) but this was the first time I could stop and admire one up close. It's now the base of the West Ham football team, but it's hosting the World Track & Field Championships in August and is now prepping for that.

The entire park is open space for biking, running, and playing. There are two playgrounds for kids, and I saw a lot of them enjoying it. I do wish I'd seen more people at the park - it seemed kind of bare. Fortunately, a lot of building construction is currently taking place to the west of the park, so it only means more people are going to have access to this place.

There is a canal area that also goes next to the stadium and where bikes can ride, so I rode around the canal and all over the park. I found the Aquatic Center, the Copper Box (handball and modern pentathlon in 2012) and the Velodrome, as well as the Olympic rings! I was thrilled. I hope for the day when I'll be able to see these things during the Olympic weeks!

I had dinner at an East Village restaurant called Village Vanguard, and I had a spectacular avacado burger and chips. It was exactly the kind of meal I was looking for! The restaurant was nice, and on the big screens they were showing YouTube videos of concerts by Oasis and Florence and the Machine.

I went to Sainsbury's (a grocery store) for a few items and then strolled back to my flat. And by strolled, I mean strolled. I did not rush it at all - I just enjoyed the area around me. There were tons of singles, couples, families, friends, old, young, and it was simply great. If they offered me a flat in the East Village, I would accept immediately.

I sat in Victory Park enjoying a Magnum ice cream bar and watching some kids play football in the grass. Another family was enjoying a mirror sculpture and another was playing around a statue of a gorilla. I stayed out there for 45 minutes just people watching.

Eventually it got chilly and I turned in. Actually, I was just enjoying more of the tourist attraction, since my flat is part of the attraction!

Unfortunately, my host doesn't have television, but I was able to watch Doctor Who's finale on the BBC iPlayer, so I still consider it a win.

I am sad to conclude this part of my journey, but I am also really excited to travel across a few countries to get to Germany tomorrow! Germany! Now I can use my favorite phrase in context with German people when they talk to me: "Ich habe keine Ahnung!"

Pray I make all my train connections!

Read about my train trip to Hannover HERE!

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