Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chester & Liverpool: Part II

You just lost The Game. Sorry. If it's any consolation, so did I and all those in Liverpool who saw this graffiti. After escaping Barnacre Farm, Hayley and I couchsurfed in Liverpool for three nights with a guy named Julian who offered to take us in in the middle of the week with only 24 hours notice. Not only did he give us space on his couch, he gave us an entire room, blankets, shampoo, tours around Liverpool and a plethora of gnome stories. When I realized I left my phone charger at the farm (and thus lost it forever), he also offered me a manual phone charger (think those flashlights that you wind up to get light), but after some 15 minutes of cranking, I gave up. Being without a phone my last 2 weeks of traveling won't kill me, I suppose.

Julian, our host, gave us a tour of the football clubs in Liverpool. I know literally nothing about football, or any sports really, unless rock climbing and my brief stint on a softball team in the 4th grade count, so I'm afraid most of it was lost on me, but it was interesting nonetheless. This is at the Everton Football Club, walking distance from where Julian lived. It's a memorial to about 100 fathers and sons who got trampled to death during a game, leading to all the stadium rooms phasing out all standing room seats in favor of actual sitting down seats only.

My friend Hayley's cousin really likes football, so she made them a sign to take a picture with in front of the Liverpool Football Club. This sort of turned into an experiment to see how many places we could get pictures with this sign. This is me on the left and our host on the right. I've never met you Patty and Kiz, but I hope you're having a great time in Australia.

Our best one though was convincing the guy at the chip shop to let us take his picture with the sign. Salt and vinegar? What a good sport.

I was bad at taking photos in Liverpool. We met up with Holly and her friends at some point, spent a lot of time at the Egg Cafe, catching up on internet and eating delicious veg food and going to bed at 9:00 pm. Then it was off back to Chester! On our first day back, we walked along the medieval walls and were given a bit of a tour of the city. Here is what I'm assuming is one of the guard towers built into the walls.

Here's the front of the Designated Pidgeon Feeding Area. Possibly the biggest birdhouse I've ever seen. We could also call this the designated pidgeon shitting area perhaps, which was the plan, as Chester was tired of them going everywhere and thus attempted to lure them to this one specific location.

Chester Cathedral. I always have the same problem photographing cathedrals: You can never get the whole thing in the photo from where you're standing and you can never get far back enough to fix that.

The main street in Chester. It's apparently somewhat unique in that in some places it has two floors of stores. This is especially handy when it rains, so you can walk around the second floor uninhibited by the drizzly grossness.

During our tour, Ollie led us into a Spud-U-Like jacket potato makin' chain to our surprise. As none of us had mentioned wanted to order a potato, I was a bit confused. Lo and behold, in the downstairs seating area was an ancient Roman Hypocaust, which is an ancient Roman system of central heating. As it was not advertised as such from above, it was an exciting surprise. Above you typical brightly colored and plastic-y chain fast food scheme, below....ancient ruins!

Here's a better picture of the Hypocaust.

We took a short trip to Habitat so Gulli could buy some silicone cupcake containers with his tax refund. Okay, I lied, it wasn't short. We love home decorating stores and pretty kitchen appliances. Hayley found a tipi. Now that we're tipi experts we had to check it out. Our verdict? The decorating scheme was much better, but you REALLY wouldn't fit 12 people in here. I also found a really badass fort bed. Want.

Chester has a river and it is pretty. View from one side of the bridge.

View from the other side.

Walking through the park, which has a TINY TRAIN YOU CAN RIDE ON!! I would have taken a whirl if it had cost less than 50p, but alas, it cost 80. I'm currently very, very cheap.

A tomb built into the structure of these ruins up high! Uhhh whaaaat?!

No, f'realz. Crazy shit.

Ollie gazing longingly into the window space. Everyone was abnormally attracted to this area.

Example A: We Love Small Spaces. And taking pictures in them.

More of the ruins. There are lots of them in Chester.

Gulli says, "I want to have a party right here!" Let's do it. Only really small-footed people so we can all fit on the stone.

So there you go, a proper touristy post about Chester. I would have done it last time, but it was way too cold and rainy so I chose sitting inside, eating vegan custard doughnuts instead.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HelpX on Barnace Farm

There is so much to say about my experience here. It started with singing in the kitchen, learning green building and sleeping in a tipi, while it ended with spewing outside in the cold, an accidental chicken massacre and an escape. You can catch me in person for the gruesomer details, but for now we'll start from the top.

I left Gulli and Ollie's on April 3rd and caught the Wirrel line to Bidston, where I was greeted at the station by Russell, one of my hosts. We arrived at the farm where I was instructed to deposit my bags in "The Build". I walked into the kitchen to Helen and her kids singing to a Scouting for Girls song, before being sat down with the only other helper there at the moment, Hayley, from Australia whom I had tea with while Russell explained a bit about their property.

A really shitty picture of "The Build". That is, the house we helped build. It's the one on the right behind the trees. To the left is their pool, also used for guests and their kitchen, living room and laundry area.

The path we needed to walk on to get from The Build to the tipi and caravan. Misstep and you're headed for some big mud puddles that never seem to dry up. Even the goat got the hang of it, though I still needed to work on my balance by the time I left...

The short story is that Russell, Helen and their four children have lived on this site for 8 years. Originally in a run-down house that they eventually demolished, they've built two cottages (also with helpers like myself from HelpX) that they rent out to guests and have been living in caravans for 2 and a half years while waiting to finish their house. Thus, most of my time at Barnacre Farm was dedicated to helping build their house, using all green materials.

We were there during Easter, so as we were building the kids were on an epic Easter Egg Hunt around the property. Here's one of 'em on the 2nd floor beams in search of a clue. Basically an unfinished house is the best playground ever. Screw that modern plastic shit, a playground is only good if you can fall and break your head open. You know I'm right.

Oh yeah, we made beer and wine. It was easier than I expected. In fact, the hardest part for me was staying sterile. I had to wash my hands with special sterilization stuff 5 billion times because I kept petting the dog or something, forgetting I was supposed to be, well, sterile. I could never be a surgeon.

They had a windmill! It was broken while I was there, but once it works they'll be completely self-sufficient as far as energy is concerned.

I had barely rammed a nail with a hammer before this, negating vague remnants of TV-shaped "piggy" banks made in my 8th grade Technology class, so the fact that Russell can take all of us amateurs and convert us into green builders was a pretty impressive feat, even if I grew tired of being covered in recycled class shards and harecliff by the end of it. At the point of the project we were there for, we were mostly installing insulation to the indoor walls and roof to prepare for lime plastering. I also learned how to wire electrical sockets and lights, which was pretty cool (and useful!). I came at the end of the house building process and for that I am greatful, I feel bad for the poor suckers who were there during the winter with no heat and no insulation installed whatsoever.

Suited up and ready for Death Bunny!

After wiring all the electrical sockets for the house and beginning on the lights, I basically wanted to do anything but wire shit. So clearly it was time for a photo shoot! When my host almost walked in on me I had to very quickly pretend I wasn't a freak that takes pictures of herself with light fixtures. Urm. Yeah.

My days were spent putting up and climbing on scaffolding, hoping not to fall to my death, almost falling to my death a few times, eating biscuits, trying to be warm, inhaling glass shards and sometimes putting them into the walls. The insulation, which I termed "Death Bunny" because it looked fluffy and warm like a bunny, but was really made from recycled glass shards, definitely took a toll on me. I couldn't wear contacts the entire time because it just ripped them to shreds in a day while they were in my eyes and it took a couple days after I left to stop feeling itchy. Oops! It was novel for awhile though.

Laura got stuck in the harecliff! The buildin' life is tough!

Screwin'. Yeah, you got it. But really, I was screwing the harecliff into batons that were nailed into the beams, covering up the insulation.

Did I mention the tipi? Oh yeah, we slept in a tipi. It was massive and apparently from Germany (because Germans are really excited about Native American things, according to my host...I'm a bit skeptical). Inside there was a stove that we were dependent on for warm, with a wood fire we were eternally trying to keep going without smoking us to our deaths, and a platform covered in blankets and pillows where we all slept. Our host told us 12 people fit in there comfortably once, but I don't buy it. Four was very warm and cosy, but when we hit 7 it got a bit cramped. Luckily there was a caravan for the helpers where we ate breakfast and room for 3 people to sleep there. Hayley, Laura (another helper from NY) and I moved to the caravan the night we started spewing everywhere and stayed there. Though much colder than the tipi, with lots of warm blankets it wasn't so bad.

The tipi! Spewing aside, at least this experience has given me the chance to say I've slept in a tipi.

Inside where we slept. Sort of opium den-ish? Perhaps. Sadly, there was no opium.

Demonstrating how to sleep in the tipi. Lesson One: Steal all the blankets before anyone else so you don't freeze.

I just have to talk about the spewing for a minute. Imagine three girls in a caravan with no bathroom. The night went as follows: I lay in bed as long as I can trying to convince myself I'm not going to puke again. This is always too long, so I bust out of my room like an animal, trampling anything in my way to get outside so I don't vomit on anything important. On my right is a giant spew pile from Hayley, but Hayley has given up on trying to make it outside and has resorted to the small metal kitchen sink while whispering "Heeeelppp Meeee!" to herself. When I'm done and heading back inside, Laura starts puking in a bag so I hand her a saucepan to vom in. While it was traumatic that night, it sure is a ridiculous scene to look back on.

At the highest point there were 7 of us. Myself, Hayley (Australia), Laura (America), Dustin (Germany), Kadri (Estonia) and Mette (Denmark) and Keren (Israel). Quite a diverse group, I must say, so not only was that cool, but I got to learn how to say "I want to bang your body like a bongo" in Hebrew. If you're reading this Kt Green, I hope you appreciate the throw back.

When cleaning one of the cottages we found some leftover toffee syrup (thanks guests). Why not combine it with shortcake? Laura at tea time with this concoction.

Dustin working his savvy Deutsch culinary skillzz.

Hayley trying not to faceplant in the mud and get pooped on by a goat. This is how we spent a large part of the day. I like to think my balance has improved.

What else can I say? Oh, the chickens. Our hosts left us to house-sit for 2 days and one night on our days off. At the time, they had about 35 chickens and 5 ducks. There is a chicken house and a duck house and they both had to be closed at night. Unfortunately, due to some miscommunication the chicken house was left open overnight and roughly 15 of the chickens got killed by foxes. We realized something was wrong when some chickens were wandering around in the morning before we'd let them out. Oh, and the chicken corpse on the ground without a head was a big clue that something went awry. To our credit, we were a bunch of amateurs left to manage a big, relatively unfamiliar farm, but we still felt really freaking guilty about it and basically shat ourselves all day before our hosts' return, until Laura had the balls to call our host to let him in on the news.

The chicken bonfire. Is it inappropriate to take photos of a kid's dead chicken fire when you've helped cause the death? Maybe. But f'realz it was an experience.

The worst part was that the chickens were basically the son, Sam's chickens, who was about 10. The first thing he did upon arriving home, to Hayley and my's horror, was find the beheaded chicken and light it on fire before feeding it to the other chickens. I usually just buried my dead hamsters and such in my backyard, but that works too! Anyway, mostly you're here for the animal pictures, so here you go:

Which came first? The chocolate Easter egg or the chicken?

The goat wanted to come in the caravan and play. He was very persistent.

In case you ever wanted to know what ducksex looks like...basically the guy duck chased the girl duck around, pinned her down, bit her head, then finished up in approximately 10 seconds. Sounds about right. I should work for effing National Geographic for this action shot.

Same dude, different lady. What a balla'. This was basically my sole entertainment. I wish I got a picture when this happened in the water.

But even better than ducks (perhaps my favorite animal) are...DUCKLINGS! They were always covered in poop, and thus got me covered in poop, but I loved them.

It was peeing. I am mature.

Needless to say, after the chicken massacre by foxes and the horrible spewing virus, Hayley and I never quite recovered. Especially because we were supposed to work 8 hours a day and still didn't feel quite well a few days after getting sick, we hastily planned our escape and left on April 15th to go couchsurf in Liverpool for a few nights before heading back to Chester for a bit.

As Hayley and I were leaving, "You know, someone should get a picture of me now because this is really what I spend most of my time doing while traveling..." To which Hayley replies, "Lugging your bags across a rough trail?"

That about sums it up.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chester & Liverpool: Part I

I really don't like taking planes. So I took a 7-hour ferry from Dublin to Liverpool, which basically flew by because I made a friend to play cards with, hangout and have some afternoon beers with. Here's the thing, when you take a plane it ends up not actually being much shorter. Why? Because you always have to get to the airport (+1 hour), you have to get there early (+2 hours for within the EU), take the flight (+1 hour in this case) and then you have to get from the airport to town (+1 hour). That's a total of 5 hours and my ferry was only 7 and a lot less trouble. Plus it was only 45 euro as a foot passenger with unlimited baggage. If you're ever going from Dublin to Liverpool, I recommend the Norfolk Line Ferries (http://www.norfolkline.com). P&O Ferries goes the same route, but you can only go with a car.

The funny part is, the first thing I thought when I saw this play area was "nap". But apparently enough people had the same idea that they actually had to make that sign. Oops.

After an epic walk to the Hamilton Square train station with a random drunk man, I finally got on the train to Chester and was greeted by Gulli at the station. Once there I was fed well and treated to wine and some sweet home style dining. This is Ollie, Laura and Gulli bein' all cute at the dinner table. Gulli's interpretation of cute is a bit different from theirs, it seems.

Of course, Gulli and Ollie force fed us lots of wine. Here is Laura being a "victim". Thus, the whole time I was there I mostly just giggled and drunk Skyped. And ate more.

This is the face he makes when he likes you.

Chester is pretty! The canal we walked along to get to the train station.

Chester apparently has the only fully intact medieval walls in England. But it also has a designated pidgeon feeding area.

Our trip to Liverpool was right before Easter and I found this sign particularly hilarious. Easter EGGsperience. Bwahahaha.

There's all these really interesting/kinda cute messages around Liverpool about being close to your neighbors and stuff that I really like. This one says, "6.8 million people live alone in England. Do you feel lonely?"

And this one, "There are 3951 people for every km2 in this city. Do you like your neighbors?"

While the China Town of Liverpool is not very impressive, this gate is. I did go into a pretty epic Asian food store though where I became obsessed with peanut mochi and further fed into my instant noodles habit. That's literally what I'm been living on (and hummus) since I'm getting really low on that money thing. I really like instant noodles though, so I guess it's okay.

Action shot! I'm really good at taking attractive photos of people.

Liverpool! Near the Tate Modern, which was free! My favorite was the 2nd floor where they gave you headphones blasting techno and you got to dance while looking at the art. Art is SO MUCH MORE INTERESTING while dancing.

At the very top you can sort of see the Liva bird. This tower has two of them facing away from each other that are both chained to the building. The story is that if the chains are released they'll turn around, fall in love and fly away and then Liverpool will cease to exist. Aww.