End game

Mon, 27 May 2002 17:35:05 +0900

The last 4 days in Pretoria weren't really much, just a bit of administrative work: Film developing, mailing, trying to get my airline tickets re-issued. The last two didn't really happen. Postal rates had gone up drastically since Cape Town. It was going to cost > $70 to mail my books and photos home. As for Airline Consolidators (the travel agent), they never budged from their decision to be completely useless.

The final days in Africa came with little excitement and the sense that it had already ended. In a lot of ways, South Africa isn't Africa at all. The Africa that I know is very poor but not fortified. Pretoria is a city of high, electrified fences and razor wire. A place of unimaginable wealth by African standards, nearly over-built infrastructure with a frightening gap between rich and poor. Right next door is Johannesburg, the most Westernised city in sub-saharan Africa and likely the most dangerous.

On the 16th, after an 8 hour flight, I landed far North of the wilds of Africa at London's Heathrow Airport. The Air Canada desk was willing to help where Airline Consolidators was not so my tickets were soon straightened out. It was mid-morning so I took the Underground to Victoria Station, hoping to catch a bus to Salisbury. What I didn't know is that I could have caught the bus from Heathrow and because I went Victoria Station, I missed it. Rather than wait another 4 hours for the next bus, I opted for the train at twice the price.

After so much time in Africa, it was hard not to notice the pale faces that waited for the train at each station. I arrived late in the afternoon and booked for 1 one night at the Salisbury YHA. I would have stayed longer but there was no room. The next day I would have to move on to Bath.

The next day I went out to Stone Henge. I would have liked to have gone inside the circle. Unfortunately, that can only be done on a special "Twilight Tour" requiring 2 weeks advance notice. Still, it was worthwhile. People have told me how it wasn't good because of the crowds or the road that runs nearby. Don't believe it. Yes, it would be better to see the monument alone in silence. But that is not realistic and isn't nearly as bad as the major Egyptian monuments. The road noise is easy to ignore (this is not a freeway). There were no guided tours when I was there and it wasn't all that crowded. Just stop, sit down, and watch. Maybe even listen to the handheld audio tour. It is much less intrusive than a human tour guide.

As I finished up, it started, slowly, to rain. Up to this point, England had been remarkably warm and sunny. Totally out of character so it had to end.

I returned by bus to Salisbury, ate lunch, and then took another bus to Bath.

I spent 3 nights but, really, only 2 days in Bath. The first day I went out to Avesbury Stone Circle. This is monument similar to Stonehenge but about 500 years older. It is much larger but simpler. The stones are not carved. There are no top pieces. They are simply large stones, carried in from a far and set in a pattern. Some claim it is better than Stonehenge. It is less crowded but not by much. Well worth seeing but if you want to see Stonehenge, see Stonehenge.

Next day I visited the Roman baths. This I am tempted to say is skip-able. There really isn't a lot there but it is labeled and organized to extraordinary level of detail. And there always a lot of people on hand to see it. Any sense of wonder is drowned out. I would say it is only worthwhile if you have not and will not see the classical ruins in Italy, Greece, or even Alexandria.

Next day, I set off bright and early for London. After travel, I really only had a half day left. That's not much, not really even enough for an excursion to Winsor Castle. I chose the Tower of London and, nearby, the Tower Bridge. After all, one can't go to Europe and not visit a castle. As far as I can tell, the tower of London is a good one. Medieval fortification, cannons, the Crown Jewels, and a museum of medieval arms and armor. No moat though. I find it a little strange that there seems to be no chain mail in museum. It's all plate.

So now I'm back in Missouri. Tomorrow I head to Kansas City and a week later, it is back to California. But I don't know for how long. The job market still isn't very good. I need to consolidate and re-assess my finances but I might just head back out. I can get a round trip ticket to China for $700.....