Eurotrip Day 2 recap: London Calling

Days 2 and 3 of my trip to London were action-packed from the get go. With only 48 hours to hurry through the city and see as much as I could, I woke up early on Thursday morning and got things underway at about 6 a.m.

My last post described in short detail how bad the hotel I stayed at on the first night was. If the Russ Hill Hotel pops up on any of your recommendations, disregard it and move along. That place is awful. The building was in serious need of upgrades, plane noise was constant (I’m a light sleeper) Wi-Fi was spotty and the worst part of all was that it was about 8 kilometres from Gatwick — if you didn’t have a car you had to rely on an Uber. It was only 9 pounds one way instead of 16, but still for the information on their website to say they had a 5-pound shuttle and then to be told it was discontinued…maddening.

But things got better in a hurry as soon as I left.

I had to go BACK to Gatwick and board the train to East Croydon, the closest stop to my next hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Croydon. At major rail terminals such as Gatwick, they have information boards above the turnstiles that display what platform you need to be on, all stops that train will serve, and what time the next train is due. It’s a bit of sensory overload, but I was able to buy a visitor Oyster card that is good for various forms of transport in and around London. It came with 33 pounds pre-applied and cost around $50 or so. Once I bought my card, off I was — touch the card to the RFID reader on the turnstile, it displays how much you have left and lets you through.

The train was nifty and got me to East Croydon in about 25 minutes. Croydon itself is about 15 miles south of the London city center, so the location was ideal. It was a 1 km walk from the train station to the hotel, and I got there about 4 hours prior to check-in, so I grabbed my camera and checked my backpack in with reception. Off to London I went via the Southern train to London Victoria station, one of the bigger terminals in the city.

From London Victoria I decided to walk to Hyde Park, where there were some beautiful autumn colors on display. I really wanted to see nature first before walking around to try to find the awesome architecture of town, so Hyde Park was the best place to find it. It reminded me of a giant Lake Sacajawea but a bit more regal for obvious reasons.

Once I was done at Hyde Park, I went on to Buckingham Palace.

Way too crowded so I stayed only a second, put my hand over my heart while reciting a famous line from Cool Runnings, grabbed a photo and aimlessly wandered on to St James Park and all the way over to Westminster Abbey.

Now the Abbey was pretty cool, but like a cheap chump I decided not to pay 20 GBP to go inside. (That’s the only stupid thing I did during my visit, but I think I made up for it the next day. More on that soon.) The place is absolutely stunning, and to think it’s been around for years and years and years is mind-blowing.

I went around the Westminster area a bit more and snapped some photos of Elizabeth Tower (wrongly known by many as Big Ben) and many other sites before I became fatigued at 4 p.m. as serious jet lag hit me. But I had to get a photo!

I made my way back to Victoria Station and rode the train back to Croydon before slipping in and out of consciousness and various states of sleep all evening and night. Day 2 was a bit more adventurous, but you’ll have to wait to hear about it.

Full-quality photos from Day 1 are here on my Smugmug site. Please buy a couple and support the Brewer Mission Trip Fund, you know, the trip I’m currently on.

Eurotrip Day 1 recap: Nothing too eventful yet

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Earlier this year, I scored a plane ticket from Seattle to London and back via Reykjavik, Iceland for less than $500. It meant traveling in November, but I was game for anything, and quite honestly it would be great to get out of America during one of the craziest political seasons I’ve seen in my lifetime.

So here I sit in a hotel that really isn’t all that great typing this out on a Surface Pro 3 and a hiking backpack full of my stuff sitting behind me while I charge my phone. Here’s a quick synopsis of how everything has gone so far.

Took off from Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Read an entire book, watched six episodes of The Office, landed at Keflavik International in Iceland, ate, sat around for an hour, got back on the plane, plane had mechanical trouble, switched to a different plane, flew out, I fell asleep, we landed at London Gatwick and there’s where things got really fun.

I had been more or less awake for about 21 hours, but I was fairly confident I’d be able to get to the hotel I had booked using their shuttle. Come to find out, I called the hotel to find out they don’t do a shuttle but rather a taxi service, which works I guess, only thing was I’d be out an extra 10 pounds (about 16 bucks or so). Oh well.

Then I actually got to the hotel. The building looked cool from the outside but the room was total crap. Small, stuffy, constant airplane noise despite being five miles away from the airport. In fact I’m prolonging my stay here by continuing to type this, so since I hate this place I’m off to Croydon to check into a different hotel before I go sightseeing.

TL;DR version, I’m doing great and I’m ready to go explore London. See you all soon.

Dear Jesus, please delay your return so we can enjoy Sonic for awhile

I have not typed words on this blog in many months, but I am back today and there is no better occasion than a Sonic Drive-In opening in my local community for me to return.

I jokingly told a friend a few years ago that the Second Coming of Christ would take place before the Twin Cities of Lewis County gained a Sonic Drive-In. I now look like a fool, but that’s okay.

Sonic, an institution in places further east, only started making their presence known in the Pacific Northwest about a decade ago. On Monday, a brand-new one on a brand-new road in Chehalis opened to much fanfare and shouts of praise to God above (and a request for Jesus to delay said return so we can enjoy it for awhile).

Why is Sonic so popular? Make sure you nearly drown in a 44-ounce cherry limeade that you bought for half price between the hours of 2 and 4 p.m. and take multiple trips to the nearest restroom to rid yourself of all the liquid you imbibed in, then you will understand.

Sonic is an institution in places like Springfield, Missouri, where I called home off and on for four years. Where there were four in about a 5-mile radius of Springfield, there are four in a 100-mile radius here (Vancouver, Chehalis, Lacey, Tacoma). Now that Sonic has arrived in Chehalis, people have arrived in droves to see what it’s all about.

When I went there yesterday for the first time, there was a really tired guy directing traffic into two lanes. Pick the left to go to any one of about 20 stalls, or pick the right to go to the drive-thru. For some inane reason, most people opted to go to the right and wait for a long period of time — one friend told me he waited for 40 minutes — but I chose the left and promptly found a stall. I ordered a chili cheese coney dog and my food was delivered in five minutes. The Lincoln Navigator that entered the drive-thru behind me was about ten cars deep in line still in the drive-thru.

I cannot stress enough to USE THE STALLS. Sonic hired 120 people (more on this in a second) and most of them will not have anything to do if you opt for the drive-thru. USE THE STALLS.

The food tastes just like the Sonic Drive-Ins I remember in the Midwest. This is a good thing. The hot dogs are smaller than I remember them. This is not a good thing.

If you USE THE STALLS, people deliver your food to you on roller skates. People 75 and over will be transported to the days of yore when people respected each other, and we had presidential candidates that acted in the best interests of the people. For those my age, it’s all about efficiency — rolling takes less energy than walking.

Visit Sonic enough times and you’ll experiment with some gnarly drink combos. Want a Coca-Cola with a bit of vanilla, chocolate and cherry? They can do it. Want a Powerade slush? They can do it. Want a ton of ice in your cup? That comes by default.

The food is good, the drinks flow like water from the rock, and the ice cream products will fatten us all up sufficiently.

I see it as a coming of age for our community. The fact that a company that still only has a few locations in Washington compared to its reach elsewhere, and a franchisee chose Chehalis, says something about the way people see our region as econommically viable.

I have heard from people who frown on Sonic’s arrival, as we have had many local establishments offering similar fare for years. Yes, we have places like Harold’s and Dairy Dan and Dairy Bar and they will still have a good customer base. Locals love ’em and I count myself there. Sonic is just a good addition to it. Plus they hired ONE HUNDRED TWENTY PEOPLE and are another conduit through which cash can flow into our community. I support local establishments, and I also support local people who work at regionally and nationally-known chain establishments that make a presence locally.

Sonic is here, folks. Partake.

And remember, USE THE STALLS.

Travelogue: North Oregon Coast, 160220

Took a trip to the coast yesterday. Second time I’ve been there this month.

This time, had to check out Hug Point south of Cannon Beach. It didn’t disappoint.

Now for the visual evidence.

I haven't climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

I haven’t climbed the Astoria Column since I was a child and had my fingers smashed in the door at the top. But it is cool to get a shot looking up at a place that folks normally look down.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Youngs River Falls, about 8 miles west of Astoria, Oregon, is seen in this long exposure.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

Hug Point just south of Cannon Beach was apparently named because pioneers had to pretty much hug the rocks to avoid the waves that would come in. This area is only accessible in low tide.

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Godspeed to a friend and mentor

My friend Rich, standing in the back center in the blue shirt, passed away last night. He was a friend to many and a mentor to me during my time in Missouri.

A friend and mentor from my time in Missouri passed away last night, and the news hit me hard this morning.

Tonight I was searching for some photos of my friend Rich and found this gem from 2008 when I just started getting into flag football back in Missouri. Rich, in the back middle wearing the blue shirt, joined us one Sunday after church just because he wanted to have some fun.

His straight-arm technique would put someone flat on their back. I would know. And I also know he didn’t mean it intentionally.

Those were some fun days, and I’m grateful to have this reminder of what a good guy Rich Schultz was. A great spiritual mentor during my first stint in Missouri and a tremendous blessing to my family.

I remember one time that I was even more critical of faith-related matters than I am now. I was at a true spiritual crossroads, and shared this with Rich over coffee as we waited for our church service to start. He simply told me, “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.”

When my friends Brandon and Robin were married in Florida in August 2014, it happened to be in the same town in which Rich and Anita were living. I had the chance to meet up with them for lunch, and it was a tremendous blessing. They both told me they were proud of the person I was becoming and that they loved and treasured my parents’ friendship. That last part was special to me, and now especially so because it was the last words I ever heard Rich say in person.

When I received word this morning that Rich passed away, I couldn’t help but remember his words: “Follow the Lord and everything else will fall into place.” I wish he could see that they are starting to, even if it is seven years after he said it. The Lord spoke a word through him that now resonates even stronger today.

I miss you, my friend, and I am thankful for the chance to have crossed paths and shared in life for a time. The promise of meeting back up with you in heaven someday is further incentive to continue serving Jesus Christ and sharing His Gospel with others.

Snapshot: Angel Falls near Randle, Washington

Angel Falls is one of two waterfalls accessed on a three-mile loop hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.

Angel Falls is one of two waterfalls accessed on a three-mile loop hike in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Randle, Washington.

We have a pretty vast collection of waterfalls in Lewis County. One of my personal favorites is one that isn’t dramatic or even really spectacular, but rather it kind of hides behind some of the canopy of the forest and falls from rock to rock until it reaches the creek below.

I shot this photo on a hike last Saturday with a couple friends. It was raining as it usually does in the Northwest this time of year, but a pair of water-resistant pants, a raincoat and a hat provided enough cover to stay relatively dry during the hike. The cooler temperatures made for a great trip too.

To get to Angel Falls, take the Covel Creek Trail across the road from the Cispus Learning Center and follow the signage. It’s about a mile and a half back in the forest, and there is a bit of elevation involved in the hike.