Saturday, August 11, 2018

To Be Continued...

Eighteen months have flown by. All the intense and somewhat stressful preparation for my move to China is now a distant memory. Eight years have ticked away since I rebooted my world. Time that would have passed just as fast if I did not, and I'm still standing.

It would have been incredibly easy to settle into China for an extended period of time. My initial plan was for 3 years. The school was great as were the students. I was active socially, the money was good and there were opportunities to travel throughout the year.

In the end two things changed my mind about staying in China. First, it was the brutal air pollution that enveloped Xian from November to March. It was everything you think it was and more. For example when the Air Index in Toronto hits 10 - 12 people are told to stay in doors because of the health hazard. A normal (yes normal) day in Xi'an saw an index reading of 250. To see 300 was not random and there were a few days where the index topped over 800. Those are the pictures you see on the news or online. It is true that you cannot see across the street. Of course all that pollution was drifting in and around the food in the markets and street stalls. The second and more important reason for leaving was that my heart was not really in it. That being said, I never just “went through the motions” and I contributed to my time there to the best of my abilities I really tried to embrace the language, the culture and the social insanity that is China. In the end I felt there was something else, somewhere else that I wanted to be. So off I went.

So, after eleven countries plus Tibet, it has come to this. Sitting pool side at my Cancun hotel trying to recharge my rusty Spanish while I prepare for Mexico 2.0. A few days ago I was drinking pints in Liverpool and yesterday I was swimming with whale sharks in Mexico. I am sipping coffee reflecting on those thoughts, which lead me to this thought.

It has been 8 years to the month since I tossed aside the safety of my routine life with the corporate world for a life less complicated. Sure, it was exciting in theory, most things are. One day you're getting "grin fucked" in a corporate boardroom and then you are waking up in Antigua Guatemala thinking "what the hell am I doing in Guatemala"?

** Grin Fucked - In business when someone smiles and shakes your hand assuring you that they have heard and will act upon your recommendation or concerns when in truth you have already been ignored and dismissed.

When this journey began, I had no clue what I was doing but I absolutely knew I had to do it. I took my baby steps as a volunteer teacher with Global Vision International. This introduced me to the people and cultures of Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. At the end of that contract I found myself wandering the jungles and beaches of Costa Rica for a couple of weeks. My wet ears had dried and my confidence was blooming. "What the fu** am I doing" became "OK, I can do this".

I was offered a permanent and paid position with GVI at their school in Otavalo Ecuador so off I went. After a few months it was not working out the way it was promised and I chose to cut my ties. I had spent a lifetime of working at jobs and in a career putting up with shit just to have a job. That was not going to happen again, EVER.

There I was in South America with a few dollars in my pocket and an open continent in front of me. So off I went. Ecuador, Peru for the second time, and then down the long spine of Chile. My soul was opened to the beauty of Patagonia after hiking to Torres del Paine and then spending 6 hours watching the enormity of the calving of the Perito Moreno Glacier. I found crossing the the Straights of Magellan into Argentina otherworldly and discovered myself in Ushuaia, the city that is the farthest south in the world. It is also the launching of tours into Antarctica so off I went. A week later I was sitting shirtless on a gleaming glacier watching humpbacks play in the bay around our ship.

Back up the continent through Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia. I had my small day pack lifted from me during Mardi Gras in La Paz so good bye passport. I needed a police report before I could get a new passport which could only be described as a very intense "I own you if you do not co-operate and pay me extra" experience. The Bolivians are lovely, the Bolivian police not so much. Instead of waiting the two weeks for a new passport I chose a one page travel document. It was time to go back to Canada and regroup. So off I went.

In Canada I had a brain wave, or brain cramp depending on your point of view. I had a nagging desire to learn to drive transport and a Class 1 license would get my blood flowing. The cost became a bit prohibitive so I trained for my single axle class 3. Looking back I guess I could have found a way for the government to pay for my schooling with a training grant of some type but it never even crossed my mind.

With my class 3 in my pocket I loaded up my Ford Escape and  headed to Red Deer, Alberta to begin life  in the Oil Fields. On day 2 my reliable truck broke down between Sault Ste Marie and Wawa. I remember the spot that my truck sat smoking was a spectacular lookout into Lake Superior. There was a huge plaque dedicated to the Edmund Fitzgerald mentioning that Whitefish Point was straight ahead in distance. That gave me incredible perspective as I waited for my tow so I ate my lunch without a worry. Well no worries except that nightfall was coming, I was in bear and wolf territory, CAA was still an hour away and I had no idea how much my repair bill was going to be. As an aside, the drive from Sault Ste. Marie to Thunder Bay is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever taken.

Two years later with stops in Red Deer,  Lloydminster, Grand Prairie, Fort St. John BC and various small towns and work camps in between my itch was scratched. I met interesting people from a world that was completely foreign to me. Hard working but with the need to perpetually try to be the toughest guy on site. I also challenged myself in ways I could never have imagined. It was a profitable venture and I accomplished what I had set out to do. Now, it was time to get back to teaching.

Nicaragua had captivated me. I have said many times before that the universe (you can insert your god of choice here) shows you the way. I found and immediately signed up for the TEFL course with the International TEFL Academy in Leon Nicaragua so off I went.

With a brutal 30 days of training and learning how to teach I happily graduated. I instantly started working as a "certified teacher" in Leon at ANS, The American Nicaraguan School. It was part-time and gave me a kick start to the real world of ESL teaching. I will say that my first paycheck of about $150.00 US dollars was more satisfying than any one of the larger corporate paychecks I had ever received. Then the reality of needing to pay my rent made me ponder whether that larger corporate paycheck would be quite beneficial right about now.

I had quite a bit of spare time while in Leon and I got to know the manager of Quetzel Trekkers after signing up for one of their tours. He said he was looking for volunteers to guide. I thought, "I can do that" so I off went to be a Trekking and Volcano guide for four months. Forty two treks on six different volcanoes, leading 250 people from a variety of countries was the highlight of my journey to date.  I wrote about that experience and you can read it here. Nicaragua captured my heart but it was time to go. I had a contract for a teaching job in Tehucan Mexico, so again, off I went.

While planning my trip from Leon Nicaragua to Tehuacan Mexico I wanted to take advantage of my time and location. I took a rickety boat across the Gulf of Fonseca to La Union, El Salvador. I had toured El Salvador along the way and really adored the country. I was just passing through on my way to Guatemala but it gave me the chance to revisit the capital and gorge on pupusas until I was ready to explode. I also took the time to revisit Church of the Divine Providence where Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered, which was a driving force behind sending El Salvador into a full scale civil war in 1980. To this day the square in front of the church has a massive police and military presence as the issue is still "open sore raw" with so many citizens.

I toured up into lovely Guatemala where I hiked up Volcan Acatenango and Tajemulco. Northern Guatemala brought with it the ruins of Tikal. After Tikal, the clear waters of Belize beckoned followed by the slow traverse up through Mexico. I used San Cristóbal de las Casas as a launch to the ruins of Palenque. It also gave way to the ruins of Ken. I endured the worst possible case of food poisoning imaginable that lasted almost two weeks. It had to have been bordering on dysentery because nothing stayed in, even water. I rested for 10 days in Oaxaca, not straying to far from my room and the comfort of the toilet. Finally, enough was enough and following the advice of my new school, I devoured medication when I arrived in Tehuacán .Within a few days that cleared up the final remnants of whatever was eating my insides. I had lost quite a bit of weight and it was time to eat. Fortunately, I was in beans and rice country so putting the weight back on would be no problem.

I spent two semesters at the Heslington language institute and enjoyed my time there, and in Tehuacan. . I was living in the teachers residence and Scott, one of the teachers there had just recently come from a tour of teaching in Xi'an China. After a few emails, a skype call and a signed agreement, I had a job in China, so off I went.

China gave me the opportunity to see and walk the Great Wall from where it begins in the East at Jiayu Pass and experience a real Oasis in the Gobi Desert at Dunhuang. One of many that helped traders survive along the old silk road. There was the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, Pandas in Chengdu and the glory that was Mt. Everest in Tibet. Learning to speak and understand day to day Mandarin was a daily quest and life in China was excellent. Which takes me back to the start of this post as to why I left. As with South America a few years before, I was now in Asia with time to spare. So, as I had done many times before - off I went.

Many of these experiences, with the exception of life in the Oil Patch, are in this blog. I do have small regrets about not writing about working and driving in the patch because there were interesting and bizarre stories that unfolded every day.

None of this would have happened if I chosen the easy path and accepted new position within Bell Canada when every other member of my team, who put their hearts and souls into our projects, lost their jobs. No, I am not being magnanimous because I seriously did consider it. In the end, much like China, my heart was not in it any more seeing years of work being tossed aside like it never happened. I went to work every day and witnessed what that does to a person. I watched so many good people on that slow downhill slide to "just putting in my time".  I was not going to be a part of it.

None of this would have happened without the people I have met along the way. Most have been incredible and interesting and others, well not so much. It also is vanilla bland without you. Friends, family, readers and contributors who have sent me encouraging comments and kinds words. Some of you have been dicks but that is the world we now live in.

Finally, if you noticed that the spelling and grammar have improved over the last month or so, that is a big thank you to Jennifer Allan Cummings. A long time friend and supporter from Collingwood, Ontario who stopped commenting on the fact my grammar and spelling is horrendous for an English teacher and started to happily help edit my posts..

Now I sit poolside in Cancun, Mexico. Yesterday I went swimming with whale sharks and it was as insane as you might think it would be. You can watch the RAW video on YouTube. I do not know where my road is going to take me and I sure as shit do not have a "five year plan". That is exactly why my plans constantly change or I appear to be flighty and in a constant state of flux. I have completely opened my mind to any possibility that presents itself, no matter how abstract it may seem to be.

I am going to keep "putting in my time", but its going to be my "best time possible".

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Siege of York and Robin Hood

Today I walked along the walls of York that still partially surround the old town. The gates are filled with wooden doors dating back to the 14th Century, stone gates and ramparts and information plaques to give you a bit of knowledge as to where you are standing. I was not overwhelmed but I did stand on the wall facing York Minster, the behemoth cathedral that captures the skyline of the old town and let my mind wander and my imagination flow back to the time of William Wallace.

The Siege of York was the first battle in William Wallace's invasion of England which came into our modern consciousness with the movie Braveheart. A good article about his invasion of Northern England can be found here if you feel like a bit of a history lesson.

There is Fort York, York University, York Region, North York, East York and The Royal York all in and around Toronto which was called York at one time. None of this happens without York, England. Yes there is the whole invasion of Upper Canada and the cruelty that was inflicted upon its indigenous peoples but, that's just a bit of history right?

York was jumping when I arrived and it was only 10:30 in the morning. I had to stay in a 10 bed dorm because any single room was about $200 a night. Anything cheaper was already booked including the University. Off I went to wander and find a coffee so I could get my bearings and relax from the bus trip. Beside the coffee shop of choice was a pub and the patio was jam packed with a few merry makers well on their way. I get that it was a Saturday but it was also before 11:00 (Says the guy who was day drinking not so long ago in Liverpool). The lady who owned the coffee shop told me that today was the monthly pay for most people. Plus, York is very popular for Hen and Stag parties on most weekends and also for 21st birthday parties. It was all happening and it was a recipe for a massive  and possibly turbulent night. So much for an uneventful nerdy history day.

I walked the wall, admired the gates and took in historical information that was available on wall plaques everywhere. I sauntered, yes I just said sauntered, around the town finding great little alleyways and paths. As the afternoon stretched into the early evening you could feel the mood of the town change. Young girls/women had gotten dolled up and were roving in packs. Every single one of them wearing extra long fake eyelashes. They were hunted and hounded by loud and obnoxious steroid pumped frat boys. Tossed into this bubbling mess were the local lads. They had spent most of the day in the The Micklegate at 127 where the pints were the cheapest in town.They were looking for trouble hidden behind overly friendly banter. I had stuck my head in the 127 around 4:00 thinking a pint was in order. I never even crossed the threshold of the screaming drunken sausage party that was happening. 

The desk clerk of the hostel gave me the 411. He explained that the main street should become a bit of a war zone come midnight. Most pubs closed at 11:00, and the few night clubs in town were scattered along the street around the hostel. Grab a beer and sit on the patio upstairs, it should make for good entertainment. What an excellent idea.

By 9:30 as I headed to the relative safety of my bunker, I had already seen a few drunk girls crying while sitting on a curb, their friends doing what they could to console them. A few locals were sporting black eyes and had begun screaming at each other. One girl in her early 20's was a knockout. She had sparkles all over her face as the Hen parties tended to have. Her sparkles were enhanced by her purple and blue closed right eye that was tearing it was so fresh. She did not miss a beat as she walked past me chatting and laughing with her wobbling and stumbling posse.

Three of us from the hostel grabbed a few cans of beer and sat on the rooftop patio come midnight.
We were waiting for the action to unfold and were well stocked for a couple of hours of observation. In the end all we got for a show was some screaming and shouting between various groups and one guy falling off the curb backwards trying to take a selfie. That was kind of funny really.

Sunday came and the town emptied out, as did the hostel. By dinner time most of the shops were closed and the place was a ghost town. I made my way to a very different 127 pub and had a good laugh with the bartender as she told me stories about the night before. That was York and I am glad I took the time. 

After the madness of York, I welcomed the wide, modern and quiet streets of Nottingham. I came here for a couple of reasons. The first being Sherwood Forest, yes it is a real place. Second are the recently discovered/uncovered tunnels and grottos of Nottingham called the City of Caves. The largest and most extensive in all of Europe, and that is saying something. Then there is Nottingham Castle and Wollorton Hall. After Nottingham I have a couple of challenging travel days so I just wanted to rest and get myself sorted.

The tales of Robin Hood have made him an enduring folk hero. Although his name has been mentioned throughout history and sung in folklore ballads, no concrete evidence has ever been found to verify he actually existed. Who cares? The notion of a brave rebel who lives on the outskirts of society, fighting injustice and oppression with his band of companions, has universal appeal.

Now that being said, Sherwood Forest is very real. It is an hour bus ride on the aptly named "Sherwood Arrow". The journey takes you out of Nottingham and through pristine farmland and quaint villages. The bus drops you off at the main entrance and off you go. The visitor centre is being renovated but there are trail maps and information markers that are well laid out.

The big draw is the Major Oak. Estimated to be over 1200 years old it is one of the last of the old Oaks that grace the forest. At one time Sherwood Forest was massive, covering most of Nottinghamshire, but over time so much of the trees were felled for the construction of boats, churches and towns. I wandered the paths and trails for a couple of hours. There were some families enjoying the day but the park was quiet.

There was a woman who was selling coffee and snacks near the entrance of the park. Her radio was playing "The Clash" which I commented on. It turns out she is Canadian, formerly of Calgary. We both smiled at being Canadian and at that exact moment the song on the radio changed to Bryan Adams summer of '69. That made us both laugh and with that she gave me my coffee and apple cake for free. It was a nice moment.

when I first arrived but when we started chatting and discovered that we were both Canadian the next song to come on was by Bryan Adams. A bit of a "holy shit" funny moment. She gave me my coffee and a piece of apple cake for free because of that moment.

The main village near Sherwood Forest is Edwinstone and they have taken advantage of their location for tourist purposes. It is subtle but all the signs are there. I left the park and the 10 minute walk to town was nice. It was a bit overcast so the air was cool. I stumbled onto St Marys Church Edwinstone which is rumored to be the locations where Robin Hood and Maid Marian were married. We don't even know if this guy existed but we do know where he was supposedly married. I love folklore.

My flight to Mexico leaves at 8:10 am on the 10th. Heathrow is an incredibly busy airport and Antonia advised me to get there no less than 2 hours before, and that would be cutting it close. I figured that to get to the airport for 6:00 am I would have to leave where ever I was by 5:00, which is when the underground opens. It made no sense to spend the money on a room since I would be waking up at 4:30 AM. I am taking the 6:00 PM bus from Nottingham that gets me into Heathrow Terminal 2 around 10:30 pm. I can sit or snooze until 5:30 AM no problem.

 Cancun, you are on the clock.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

A Magical Mystery Tour

When heading to Liverpool I could not get past the thought that it was a hard and sketchy port town. If this was 1968 then sure that would be the case. Happily this is 2018 and Liverpool is amazing in every sense of the word.  

With a history that is long and diverse there is one thing that comes to mind when you approach Liverpool, The Cavern Club and The Beatles. Well that's two things but who cares. Let's roll up for the Magical Mystery Tour that is Liverpool
Liverpool was the most heavily bombed area of the country, outside London during WWII. The Liverpool Blitz completely destroyed the city. There are many monuments and memorials but one stands out, the Church of St Luke. The church was bombed out and was never repaired. Much like many of the buildings at Hiroshima ground zero, St. Lukes stands as a reminder of a darker time. An important statue on the grounds commemorates the Christmas Peace of WWI when German and English soldiers left their trenches to play football and exchange gifts of chocolates and cigarettes.

I wandered through the World Museum, The Merseyside Maritime Museum, The International Slave Museum and The British Music Experience all in one day. There were incredible exhibits in each including a very detailed account of Liverpool in WWII. However my mind expanded when I discovered that England and particularly Liverpool played a huge part in the African Slave Trade with the Americas.

When slaves were transported from Africa the ships did not cross to the Americas immediately. They sailed up to England to rest and regroup before setting sail to the ports of the USA, the Caribbean and Brazil with their human cargo. Incredible stories and the International Slave Museum must not be missed. To learn, absolutely, but to keep a bit of perspective while happily wandering the pubs and galleries of Liverpool.

I stepped into the Cavern Club expecting a "Cheers type of experience". I am happy to report I could not have been more wrong. As I walked down the winding stairs with the camera clicking masses I stepped into the long cavern club/bar that is how you would expect to find it. In color of course because all the other videos were black and white. If I stepped into the club and everything was in black and white well whatever I had for breakfast I was going to have it every day from now until, well forever.

At the end of the long brick main bar was "the stage". On the stage was a very good acoustic musician cranking out classic Beatles songs and everyone was sipping beer and singing along. It was 11:30 in the morning. So I said to myself, "Self, what should I do? Here I was in the Cavern Club, I had a pint of cold Guinness in my happy hands at 11:30 in the morning and I was listening to Beatles songs from the stage that they are famous for. What else was I going to do?

The place is larger than you would think. As you walk through the main stage area you wind your way back to a secondary stage. This is the stage thaat Paul McCartney played exactly a week ago, so I was told by anyone and everyone and this seemed to make everyone even happier. The entire place is underground and made of solid brick so the soundproofing was exceptional. You could not hear anything from the other room. The same situation as the main stage. A great musician playing Beatles tunes and he had a large video screen behind him showing various clips of the members of the band. Each guy performed for 2 hours straight on each stage, there was a 15 minute break and the next guy got up and did it all again. I ping ponged back and forth all afternoon, but my heart was in the main room.

Conversation was easy as the beer flowed with the music. There were loads of tourists as to be expected but there were quite a few locals and Brits who came in just to spend the day here. I had tremendous conversations with men and woman of that generation. They were teens in 1961 to 1964 when the band played over 275 times here and most had been there many times during those years. I kept prodding with questions and anyone I spoke with were happy to tell their tale.

The Cavern Club, Beatles tunes,happy singing revelers (myself included) and stories from people who were there at the beginning of it all, is one of the best travel experiences I have ever had. Then I stepped into the sunlight after spending my allotted time underground, realized it was past 6:00 and all I had to eat all day was, well Guinness. It was the best meal I could have possibly had given the circumstance. I was hungry so I turned around and went back below ground to have one more for dinner.

I did get on board the Magic Bus, oops, wrong band sorry. I did get on a Magical Mystery Tour which is a 2 hour bus trip through the city showing us all things Beatles. We toured the neighborhoods of where each band member grew up and saw their childhood homes. We were shown the locations of the churches and parking lots of their first shows. The guide gave us insight and had great stories about each member of the band while growing up in Liverpool. Our guide and driver were at McCartney's house when Paul showed up the James Cordon a few weeks ago. He proudly showed us his pictures on his phone.

Around the corner where we were getting back on the bus I notice all the various drivers and guides going up to a home to chat with an old woman who seemed to be enjoying all the attention. It turns out that she helped raise Paul as a mother figure after his mother died when he was 14. Living history right in front of me. One of the unsung hero's of the life of Paul McCartney

Penny Lane is a real street that Paul McCartney wrote about. I saw all the places mentioned in the song that include:

The Barbers Shop (there is a barber showing photographs, of every head he's had the pleasure to know)
The Shelter on the Roundabout (Behind the shelter in the middle of the roundabout)
The Firehouse (there is a fireman with an hourglass, and in his pocket is a portrait of the Queen)
The Bank (On the corner is a banker with a motorcar)
The Fish Shop (A four of fish and finger pies)
The Chemist (The pretty nurse is selling poppies from a tray)

Strawberry Fields is a real place. It was a Salvation Army home for wayward woman and children and John lived behind it. He would scale the walls and watch garden parties or jump the wall and play with some of the children that lived there. Both songs were released at the same time as a Double A single.

During our tour after a story and insight, the song of the moment would be played as we drove off to experience more Beatles history. Naturally everyone in the bus started singing, quietly and to ourselves at first. It did not take much coaxing until we were all anxiously waiting for the next song to be played, looking around at each other eagerly. On the first note we would not hold back,  belting out the lyrics, laughing, smiling and having a great time. Fifty would-be vocalists of all ages, on a multicolored tourist bus singing songs, while driving around the area where the "Four Young Lads From Liverpool" became the Beatles. My heart was full.

Liverpool/Merseyside have had more musicians witha #1 single than any other city in the world, 71. Many of them were the Beatles but the list of groups and singers that have come from here is impressive. Click here to see the list. With Manchester only an hour away the list of musical talent rivals that of Merseyside. Click here to see that list. So much incredible talent from such a specific area of England.

Liverpool and Manchester have an insane rivalry about everything. Much like Toronto/Montreal, Sydney/Melbourne, NY/LA and so on. Football is the biggest driver along with so much more, including music. I can not say much about football, but musically Liverpool rises to the challenge. Sure there is London, but as the good people of Liverpool say,  Foook London.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thar She Blows

Wales, get it, "Thar she blows...Wales"? Get it? Get it?

After a shortish bus trip from Bath I stepped of the bus into a cold, drizzly and dark Welsh day. It was an odd rain that started as a walk-able drizzle. The drizzle intensified but the drops remained the intense drizzle if that makes any sense. As I posted on FB, sometimes the travel gods see your plight and throw you a bone. Today they had mercy on me as I was getting more and more soaked. I stumbled along the downtown walking mall and as I wobbled through a bend it appeared before me like a beacon of civility, Tim Hortons. What the F**? It was not a Chinese knock off or an English clone. It was a fully branded Timmies right there in Cardiff in the middle of a drizzle storm. I went to it like a moth to a zapper light, but without the horrifying death. I must have been a bit starry eyed because as I went to the counter to order my coffee, the smiling server calmly said to me "Canadian sir?" "I asked is it that obvious?". "Oh yes, we can see you Canadians coming from a mile away". So began my stay in Cardiff, Wales. Thar she blows!

The jewel in the crown for Cardiff is the Cardiff Castle. On the day I was there a large yellow banner hung over the entrance. It was a congratulations for Geraint Thomas for winning the 2018 Tour De France. My English castle experience is not huge so my comparisons are limited. The Cardiff Castle was impressive but it did not overwhelm me. Historically interesting and aesthetically eerily beautiful as these types of places usually are. The stained glass was exquisite and colorful.  Considering this place was built in 55AD and is 1963 years old who am I to judge? It deserves all the praise it gets.

Ancient history aside, it was the tribute/remembrance to the WWII that put me into focus. As I said, Cardiff was hammered by the Nazi's during the Cardiff Blitz of WWII. The old walls and tunnels were used to protect the citizens of Cardiff from the Blitz. Incredible real posters of the time hung on the walls bringing attention to gas masks, black outs, water usage, food waste and supporting the home front. There were also real examples of living quarters during the time. As I trudge around England and see firsthand reminders of the various bombing and blitzes on English cities from over 70 years ago I tell myself to be kinder to that generation. Those who I may see on a bus, in a market or crossing the street even if they are a bit grumpy, they have deserved the right to be whatever they want. We have no real idea regardless of how many museums we visit and historical sites we explore.

Not so long ago Cardiff, being a port town, was considerably rougher than it is today. Downtown the walking malls are filled with happy crowds that are shopping, drinking coffee and going to Timmies (Obviously!!). The streets are clean and everyone I encountered was friendly and helpful.

When I arrived, I walked to my guest house which took about 40 minutes with my packs. Using the GPS on my phone, I left the downtown and entered classic Welsh residential districts. Streets lined on both sides with terrace housing that were actually quite pretty. They were designed for a medium density population and would be considered town houses in Canada, without the small front lawn. I walked through various neighborhoods and it was obvious that some were safer than others. I never once felt any fear as the streets were crowded with people from all walks of life. I did have a gut feeling that a few places were not "tourist walking friendly" after sundown.

I was at the Willows Guest House and it was fantastic. Without my bags downtown was a 25 minute walk or bus number 61 came by every 15 minutes. However the main street leading into the street I needed to turn onto was called Splott Street, a perfect name really. It was obvious that this street had some history. The landlady regaled me with stories of its more colorful past. There were pubs on every corner and with that came drugs and prostitutes. The speed bumps were put into place to slow down that cars that were stolen and the thieves would speed up and down Splott Street. There wasn't a police presence at all. That changed about 25 years ago and now there are only 4 pubs in the entire neighborhood. The drugs are mostly gone and gentrification has begun. It was a highlight to sit in a Costas coffee shop and just watch the colorful people who lived in the neighborhood go about their business. Colorful is the perfect word because I have never seen so many kids with hair that has been dyed every colour of the rainbow heading off to school.

I took a boat ride to the Cardiff Docks that have gone through a bit of revitalization. There is some brilliant history here based on coal and at one time these docklands were the largest and busiest in the world. This was one of the primary reasons that the Nazi's focused bombing attacks here which became known at the Cardiff Blitz. The coal industry in Cardiff has collapsed to nothing and these docklands were very dangerous not so long ago. It was quite a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

With the revitalization effort there are some interesting museums and historical buildings. There is a walking trail that follows the harbor. The tide was low but it still provided nice views out into Cardiff Bay. There was a silly carnival, I guess it's there for the kid factor, but it was lame and empty. There were many bored and glassy eyed carnies hanging about sipping from aluminum canteens. I would suspect the coffee had a bit of a bite to it.

I had an early bus to Liverpool and that meant up extra early to have one more Timmies to savor. It's really odd because Tim Hortons coffee really is not that good. However it's Canada and sometimes a little reminder of home is good for the spirit. Now all I can hope to do is stumble across the English Moosehead Brewery