#2- London Bridge is falling Down.

The first thing I notice is that London is dirty. Especially compared to Reykjavik. The woman at the hostile had told me there were several beds available but when I went to make a reservation all 4 hostels were full so I put out couchsurf requests. I woman answered immediatly. They live in Rumford which is 30-40 minutes by train from central London so I learned the train system well and quickly but I must say that riding the underground and the busses at 10 pm is not loads of fun. Before I went on this adventure I never thought I’d say this but I was missing Iceland.

I arrived at their house late and stayed up talking with them-Cash and Stacey. He is from Pakistan and she is from London. They are both in their late 20’s. He like to talk about religion.

I woke up for my full day in London and bussed and trained to the center of town which was packed, even on the off season. I walked toward the houses of Parliment, Scotland Yard, Westminster Abbey and the other main sights I wanted to see. I decided not to get a map because I wanted to just wander but I could see Big Ben and The Eye in the distance so I walked that direction down a main street. Before long the streets started to fill. It was as if people just appeared out of nowhere. In about two minutes it went from a little crowded to shoulder to shoulder and most were Muslim and most looked angry and rushed. I could hear a mans voice shouting over a megaphone and saw speckles of bright yellow vests of the police scattering and lining the streets. The crowd was thick with mostly muslim men and some obvious tourists, all couples or young european looking men with expensive cameras around their necks. I didn’t see any other women alone so I started to turn around because while I might be borderline crazy for traveling around Europe alone, I am not actually crazy for real, but it was like country fair during the sweep or Disneyland on spring break and there was no turning around so I kept going.
There were men holding signs that said “I love Mohammed more than I love my life” and they were shouting “today is the day, the time is now”. All I could think of was get me the fuck out of here, preferably now. The streets and sidewalks were packed with protesters for several blocks but eventually the crowd started to thin and I started to breath again. I’m pretty sure I have never ever wanted to leave a place more.

I saw parliament and the Abbey and walked the Thames river path to London Bridge and saw the Tower and drank bad coffee. I didn’t talk to anyone all day except a little girl who asked me what I was doing as a sat writing on my Ipad.

Back at the house we watched the news coverage of the protest. They said it was 10,000 strong and Stacey said she had never heard of anything like it in London. She said I was lucky to see it. Hmmm? I was glad to be back at the house. You can check it out here. http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/02/08/thousands-of-muslims-protest-downing-street-over-mohammed-cartoons/

London was a big city with a lot to see. I walked the White Chapel neighborhood and by the bar the Jack the Ripper frequented. And Fleet Street and went to the Tate Modern for a few minutes. I saw a lot in my full day of walking but honestly, it’s pretty much like any big city, you know, that has a house of parliament , mad amounts of history, 10,000 person protests in the street and tea and biscuits on every corner.

Cash did make me British pancakes before I left. Basically lemon crepes. They were amazing.

I left Paddington station at 11:00 the next day headed to Wales. I saw a lot of country side and small towns. The station I needed to switch in was small. I was the only person in the deli. I ordered an amazing Brie, bacon and cranberry sandwich and wine. I asked the woman working there where I was. “Oh honey, you’re in a deli in a train station in Wales…if ya don’t know that I’m not sure you should be ordering wine”. She was great. Showed me a map and told me about some of the cities I would pass through on my way to Carmarthen.

It was sunny on the platform and there were only three other people minding their own business so I kicked off my boots and unrolled my yoga mat and did the first yoga I had done since leaving home. After about fifteen minutes a very old man sat on the bench near me and was laughing and smiling and he said…”now I’ve seem everything, a barefoot American doing yoga on a platform.” He kept laughing and saying “yoga, yoga, yoga”.

I asked him how he knew I was American without talking to me and he said “yoga on the platform”. Everyone else however, ignored me completely.

I’m glad I saw London but Wales…… Ahhh….

#1-The land of the midnight sun.

Today I am traveling with what’s left of my Dad, his sister and their parents to Europe beginning in Iceland. Birgir and I will meet in a few hours but I like him already.He seems kind and thoughtful and smart.

I was feeling anxious this morning as I was leaving Seattle, a nagging what-the-fuck-are-you-thinking kind of feeling gnawing at me but the bus driver with a nice smile made me feel so much better. Noting my backpack with a down jacket and a yoga mat strapped to the side he asked where I was adventuring. Not where I was going but where I was adventuring. I told him I was couchsurfing Europe and delivering the ashes of my family to the mother soil. I said it in my best overly-dramatic voice. He laughed at my drama which was good because I can’t take anything to seriously these days. Life is to perfect.

I told him that I would drink scotch with my dad one last time and toss pieces of him into the sea that his relatives sailed between Scotland and Ireland, I will leave bits of him in Wales, Ireland and Scotland. He would love to be here and there, even if in pieces. Everyone in the front of the bus joined the conversation-a woman who is traveling to Belize soon and another who said she would be terrified and an old Greek man who called me sweetie, touched my arm and said “many blessing are coming to you.”

He is right.
The screens aren’t working on the airplane. The woman next to me has been complaining about it incessantly. Seems like such a waste of energy. Is it not enough that we are flying….in the air? Traveling, in only hours, to destinations that before would have taken us weeks by boat? People want more. We have 141 channels and complain that there is nothing to watch. We have a closet full of clothes yet have nothing to wear, we have a beautiful wife or an amazing husband yet we keep looking, we are flying across the ocean at 850 km per hour but are unhappy, or actually angry that we can’t watch the latest Ben Stiller movie. So many people are so angry and petty. She reminds of why I am going away. Why I packed practically nothing and left, alone. I never want to be like her and this is one way to ensure I wont. I am finding peace and calm and remembering to always treat people gently as if they are all family.

In the past I felt anxious during landing and take off. Not now. Now everything just feels good.

I spent yesterday in Iceland and could not understand a word but I drank a beer with a few hundred computer techies at a conference. I learned to say cheers in Icelandic and realized that we are all the same. There are good people and less good people- there are liars and there are truth tellers. We are all just living. Most of us in the best way we can. The others, well, I am no longer concerned with them.

Birgir met me at the bus stop. It was dark and wet and I didn’t mind at all. I knew he would find me. Although we had only met on couchsurfing.com I hugged him because I do that. We stopped at the music hall in Reykjavik so he could pick up his program for A conference later that day. We ran into some of his friends. Birgir introduced me to his master yogi friend whose wife is a yoga teacher. We ate tiny sandwiches and drank coffee. It was by now 1:30 am my time but the day, although still dark was just beginning here.

Sometimes I like the feeling of sleep deprivation. The calm. This was one of those times.

We went to Birgirs apartment where he made me an omelet and told me about Icelandic culture. I was lucky to arrive on the first day of the winter festivals. In Iceland there are festivals to keep the people from pulling out their hair, or the hair of their children during the winter months when it is dark most of the time. And wet. And in the case of today, snowy with winds blowing so hard your eyes can’t help but water.

Birgir was attending an afternoon conference so he dropped me downtown where I walked until my chapped lips hurt and my fingers lost the ability to grip.

In the pub I order a whiskey and sat alone with my computer until a man asked to take a seat at the end of the table. He asked if I was from America. When I go out or travel I wear a ring on my left finger so men will think I am married. A practice I will continue until I might actually have a wedding ring on that finger again. If a man thinks your married he will talk to you like a human, not a potential lover. It is far easier to meet people and have authentic conversations if you remove that element. He looked at my finger and nodded politely so I listened as he told me about Iceland and the elves and the fairies and the forrest girls. This, I realized was why I came to Iceland. Birgir later took me to an elf hill where the elves live underground. I took a picture of us there. We also went to a geiser where the ghost of a woman still “lives” today.

For the winter festival the kindergarteners of Reykjavik drew colorful pictures that were projected onto the entire front of the largest Catholic Church in Iceland. In the freezing darkness the church front was lit with children’s drawings in every color imaginable. It was to cloudy to see the northern lights but I saw inside the minds of the Icelandic five year olds so that works.

Birgirs family ,until last month owned a half block property in downtown. They sold it to avoid family conflict when his father died suddenly. Family is important here. Every Icelander can trace his heritage. It’s wonderful.

At the family house I saw the hidden passageway through a bookshelf to a secret room.

Birgir’s sister, her friend and I talked for an hour about family history. Their grandmother bought the house and was a Taylor. She started with nothing. She had no money and no man. She worked hard and provided financial security for at least three generations. When I slipped through the hidden door in the bookcase I thought again, this is why I am here. She was afraid of nothing. She lost all of her money twice and worked her ass off to rebuild.
She is dead but very, very much alive in her family.

Birgir was kind and quiet. A former cook he made me wonderful food and shared Icelandic culture with me. Here they eat dried fish, lamb, horse, whale, rotten shark and puffin. He made me lamb. He said he has no woman because this way, he has no one to lose. He said it’s easier that way. I understood him when he said that, very much so yet as he spoke I thought to myself that I am so glad I abandoned that idea. His mother asked me if I was afraid to travel alone and I thought “no, I’m afraid to be afraid”.

I am not afraid to travel alone. We attract what we put out. I have made friends in Birgir and his family and I hope one day to repay his kindness.

I am not afraid to love. It is worth the risk. And as I carry my dead dads ashes I know also that although I was, I am not afraid to die.
I am only three days into my travels and know that I needed this to live a full and fearless life.