Cork [Ireland] was more or less uneventful. A pretty town, I spent my time wandering around both it and other villages in the area. Sometimes I would go on my own, other times with people that I met in the hostel.
The person that I hung out with most was from Argentina. Again it gave me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, but it was difficult, as accents vary quite a bit across South America. One of the hardest parts is how people pronounce two consecutive l's. For instance, the word in Spanish for arriving is llegar. In Spain, this is pronounced like yegar. In Argentina, it's said more like jegar, where the j sound is quite soft. In Uruguay, it sounds more like chegar. Since the two l's occur in many words, it's very difficult to understand, especially when people speak quickly. Plus, my level of Spanish is shaky at best.
After Cork, I made my way towards England. The ferry that I caught went to Penbroke, a small village in Wales. During the trip, I met a guy from Waterford, a small Irish town in the south east. He was going to London to take part in a reality television show, similar to Big Brother. What made him even more interesting was his accent. He sounded exactly like the character Brad Pitt played in Snatch. Complete with the bouncy hand gestures and grins. Apparently Pitt didn't event the accent after all.
We had a three hour wait after getting off the ship before the train left to go farther east, and went to a pub to play some pool. Despite it only being two in the afternoon, several of the locals were already hammered, and looking to fight anyone that would give them attention. I guess that there's not much else to do in such places besides get drunk every chance you get.
My next stop was Cardiff, the capital of Wales. Like in Ireland, the Welsh also post all signs in both English and Welsh, which is amazing considering how much the language was suppressed for the last thousand years. It's very different from any other language that I've seen, looking nothing like any of the forms of Gaelic.
Unfortunately I arrived in the city just as a big football [or soccer] game was ending. The fans were extremely rowdy, as the match was between Cardiff and a nearby town where the rivalry goes back quite some time. Everyone was wearing the colors of their team, be it red and white for Cardiff, or black and white for their opponents. Many of them were completely shit faced, one guy even pissing in his pants on the sidewalk. The train station was completely swamped, and the police were dividing people according to which team's colors they were wearing. The one type of fan was sent to the front of the station, and the other to the back. Trains were also divided. Apparently this is necessary to avoid brawls breaking out. Such problems erupting over a sports game goes beyond being sad. At such times, the reputation of football fans in Britain being hooligans seems well deserved.
From Cardiff I spent a night in Bristol, a bit farther east. The town was a little bland, as it had been the site of several munitions factories in the Second World War, and hence was heavily bombed by the Germans. Still, I had a good time in the hostel where I was staying, as there was a very diverse crowd there. Some of the long term guests were from Spain, and were holding a language exchange conference that night. This means that they would spend an hour teaching the English speaking people some Spanish, and then would ask for some English lessons in return. It's strange, but it feels like I've been learning more Spanish in the month since I left Spain than in the last couple of weeks I spent there.
My next stop was Oxford, a town between Bristol and London. Ania, a friend whom I took classes with in Montreal, is doing her doctorate in applied mathematics at the university there, focusing on biological modeling. Although originally from Moscow, she spent some time in America and Canada before doing her undergraduate degree at McGill. I wrote her saying that I'd be passing through, and she invited me to stay with for a couple of days. Unfortunately, she had a cold while I was there, but still showed me around town and gave me a tour of the university. We even went to a lecture, on suicide in Judaism. It was interesting being back in an academic environment, but I also realized that it's really not where I belong, at least not for now. It's hard to explain, really. The best way I can describe it is that it's a bit too structured. Right now I think it's better that I be either working or studying in a less formal way, such as what I've been doing for the last year and a half. Perhaps in a few years I'll feel more able to do some sort of graduate work.
My next stop, and my last in Europe, was London. Will, a friend that I met in France in 2002, invited me to stay with him, and as always, gave me some great tours, showing me all the best of what London has to offer. The first night was a little pub crawl, and the next morning was the National Gallery, probably the most famous museum in the U.K. We were also joined by Michael, a friend of mine from Halifax who, by coincidence, was passing through London at that time. Michael and I go way back, having gone to school together from about the age of six all the way through high school.
In the afternoon, Will had to leave us for a little while to go pick up his wife, Lucy from the airport. She was in China for a week setting up a teacher's exchange program the British government runs in Shanghai. Michael and I spent the day walking around the Soho district, which is probably one of the most culturally diverse in the whole city. We were hoping to be joined by Mish, a friend of mine that I met in Spain, but who is originally from Kuwait. He's been going to University in Nottingham, and offered to come meet me in London while I was there. Unfortunately, he had several problems that day, culminating in his train breaking down, and was unable to join us. Still, we had a great time, as Will and Lucy joined us in the evening for a dinner of Sushi and other traditional cuisine at one of the best Japanese restaurants in town. Afterwards, the four of us wandered around a bit more, before ending up in an Italian cafe. It was a very enjoyable evening, and a great way to round out my time in Europe.
The next morning, Will drove me to the Gatwick airport, which even though being dubbed as a London terminal, is halfway to Brighton. It takes an hour to get there by car, and Will's offering to drive me there again shows how nice he is.
Now I'm back in Halifax, where I'll probably stay for about a week and half.
It's hard to believe that after a year and a half of wandering around europe, my time there is over. Also, after so many adventures, it feels strange to be back in the city where I grew up. One of the things that strikes me the most is the amount of open space here. I understand why so many tourists love it here, as the people are very friendly. I'd forgotten what it's like to go into a shop and have the clerk come up to you and start a conversation, just to make you feel welcome. Still, I don't think that I would ever want to live here again. I'm not entirely sure why. And I'm even less sure how to explain it. I guess it's mostly a matter of moving on, leaving the past behind.