Saturday, May 27, 2006



This could be the last post for a while... you can probably tell I'm running out of things to say! I came down to Southampton on Thursday to see friends from uni and am just here for the weekend. Going to the CU last night was very cool - even though a lot of people weren't there (something called "studying" apparently!) it almost felt as if I'd not been away.

I've been stocking up on Christian stuff that I've been meaning to buy for a while - Grudem's Biblical Doctrine (cut down systematic theology) from the CU bookstall, and then Chris Tomlin, Caedmon's Call and Jars of Clay music, and Sproul, MacArthur and Lutzer literature this morning from Wesley Owen.

When I get back to Reading tonight I'll have the house to myself for a while! My parents obviously couldn't see me for too long at once... they're away on holiday. Oh well. Signing off.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006



Well, I made it home! Not entirely without incident, of course...

My hosts in Toronto, the Roughs, were all out on Saturday in one place or another, so I was left to my own devices. After a late morning (naturally) I made my way downtown - delayed somewhat by catching the Finch bus in the wrong direction - and had a last wander around. The city is looking very vibrant, and down by the lakeside is a lot warmer than my first Saturday there in January!

On Sunday I went with the Roughs to their new church, an English service at a Mandarin church! It's interesting to be a minority; although there are something like 400,000 Chinese people in Toronto. Enough for plenty of churches! In the afternoon I gave Nick a call, and he gave me a ride to GFC for a final farewell service, to Paul's chagrin. After the service, he asked me "what are you doing tonight?" and then suggested we go and witness to Muslims. Not the first activity I would have thought of, I must admit...

It turns out he goes out often with another guy called Andrew to a Somali neighbourhood nearby. We went to eat at a rather suspect restaurant where the rule of thumb is use your right hand; then we headed to a coffee shop where a lot of Somalis were hanging out. They seemed shocked when handed cards saying "Somali Christian Ministries", as if that were an oxymoron. We got into several... heated debates and met with very hard hearts and stubborn minds. The men we met were very proud of their nation, religion, and being in Canada.

So that was my last evening in Toronto - suitably ethnic I feel. I spent Monday morning repacking my bags to get them both exactly 50lbs (the limit) and amazingly fitted all my stuff in! I then sat around for about 13 hours in various airports and planes. Despite the aid of a pint of Sam Adams and two glasses of wine in the evening, I couldn't sleep at all, and arrived in Heathrow with a headache :(

But never mind! My parents were there to record the occasion and take me home. It's very nice to be home, although until I've unpacked it still feels a bit transient. Reading is much the same as I left it in January; I go to Southampton tomorrow for the weekend and to see my uni friends. Sweet.

Thanks for reading! I will continue to update the blog irregularly and probably infrequently, but you know it'll be worthwhile visiting. Toodle-pip :)

Saturday, May 20, 2006



This is my last weekend in North America! I got back to Toronto last night after a bus-train combo with frantic transfer in Detroit. I'm staying with friends here and then flying home on Monday evening. It felt rather strange coming back to Canada after a month in the States, so it will be very weird going back to England after over four months away - nothing that a cooked breakfast and a copy of the Telegraph can't sort out, though. Toodle pip!



Sorry about the title. You’ll have noticed that I use bad puns prodigiously, but I’ll try not to sink lower than that again.

Sorry also that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. Last weekend was a bit of a glut, what with nothing to do and free internet access! This week I added three states to my US total (now 38), visited two more friends and saw how the other half lives...

After my $1 megabus trip to Minneapolis, anything would have seemed expensive, but to drop $100 on three Greyhound tickets seemed even worse. In my time in the US to date, I’d avoided using Greyhound because of the reputation I’d heard they had – and I now feel totally vindicated in that decision! It would be hard to describe the Greyhound experience, but I was able to play “spot the white person” again (for the first time since Brooklyn); and one of the questions on the customer satisfaction survey I was given asked me to rate from 1 to 5 how well the driver “controlled the passengers”!

In any case, the upside of using Ghettohound was that I was able to visit Amy and her family in Toledo (Ohio), and then Tyler and his family in Indiana. Both were keen to show me around where they lived, and I think a highlight from Ohio was visiting Grand Rapids (not the Michigan one) and having ice-cream. Not in just any ice-cream shop, you know, but a traditional old-fashioned one with doilies in the windows and iron furniture inside… and that now also served Mexican food! You’ve gotta love immigration. Actually, there was a karaoke machine as well, which provided ample opportunities to embarrass ourselves.

Later in the week I took the bus to Fort Wayne (Indiana) where Tyler and his fiancée Carissa picked me up. I’m glad I fitted into their schedule: a month where they graduated, have rented an apartment and moving stuff into it, and then getting married! Tyler lives next to a lake (who knew Indiana had lakes?) and they have a sweet boat and lots of watery stuff. Unfortunately, the lake was freezing (well, 50º or so) which limited our in-water activity to jumping in and out really fast! Tyler went water-skiing, and I would have done too, except that you spend a lot of time sitting in the water on your first time. On Thursday we took a drive up to Michigan - the lake and the state - to see some huge sand dunes that have built up over time, and go to a funky little beach town called St Joseph for lunch. On the way back to Webster we passed through an Amish area, and saw men with huge beards, houses with no power or phone lines, horse traps and bicycles. Would you believe it, they even hang their washing out to dry! (Who'd have thought it.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Lotsa pictures

Café with free wireless internet, Chicago

I've uploaded lots of new pictures from the last few weeks. Check them out here.

Blues Brothers


It must be something to do with cheap accommodation. Last week, I stayed for a night in the HI Chicago hostel. When I arrived in the city and rang them, they said they had no vacancies that night. Uh oh – I didn’t have anywhere else to go! I started walking from the station to find an internet café or tourist information point, and eventually found an open Starbucks, where I found on the web that there is only one hostel in downtown Chicago. Uh oh indeed! Carrying on walking, I actually came upon the HI hostel. I thought I may as well ask the front desk whether they had room, and he phoned up to reception: “do we have a male bed for tonight? Uh huh… right… OK. I’ll send him up”! I took the LAST BED in the hostel, as someone had cancelled.

Anyway, once I got to the room on the third floor, I noticed a shadowy structure outside – it was the “L”, the elevated train. Most cities took the initiative to bury these relic transit systems underground, but in Chicago this never happened. So all that was missing was for me to be wearing a suit, cover my face with a bowler hat, and be woken up by the smell of toast.

In the spirit of déja-vu, I’m staying at the Chicago International Hostel this weekend, which is halfway back to Wisconsin in the suburbs. Lo and behold, as soon as I got to the room, what did I see? An elevated train line, taunting me! Great. On the plus side, it has a kitchen (a bugbear of mine regarding most hostels) and, even better, free wireless internet!


en route to Chicago

From here on it’s homeward bound all the way. I’m writing this entry on my megabus from Minneapolis to Chicago. Megabus has been in the UK for a couple of years – I’ve never used it – and when I saw that it was starting up in the USA as well, it was a simple choice to book a round trip to see my Minnesotan friends for $2.50, rather than $120 on Greyhound!

Although I was in the Minneapolis area for a week, I actually ended up staying in three different places: Jess picked me up last Friday night and showed me around her hometown of Hudson on Saturday – a really nice little town just over the Wisconsin border with a high street (!), riverside bars and, of all places, a glass factory. We spent about 45 minutes watching a guy blow a glass vase, which in Italy we’d have had to queue up for ages to see. He seemed glad to have the company; we both immediately abandoned all other career plans.

I would have liked to go to Bethlehem Baptist church on my continuing church-tourism, but as John Piper is currently on sabbatical (in Cambridge) I went with Jess to Eaglebrook church out in the northern suburbs for one of their Saturday afternoon services. (Yes, it’s a big church.)

On Saturday evening we headed up to backcountry Wisconsin where the cheese curds are fresh and the rednecks are out in force. Jess’ sister lives in the one-pickup town of Clayton (pop. 507) where there is little to do except drink and smoke. Don’t worry – I didn’t smoke any cigarettes...

We had a real Camp Arka reunion on Monday night when Jess and I drove over to Sandy’s house and were joined by Lucy – four native speakers back together again. Thankfully, there were no potatoes, kiubasa or loaves of bread in sight, but it was a lot of fun to meet each other again. I ended up staying at Sandy’s for the rest of the week, because Jess goes to work at “stupid o’ clock” and lives out in Hudson. I got the guided tour on Tuesday, and then on Wednesday and Thursday spent some time exploring St. Paul and Minneapolis’ downtowns and getting thoroughly lost in their Skyway system of elevated walkways. What with those and covered parking garages, you could spend all day inside even though you commute to the city!

The other element of déja-vu in this entry comes from looking out of the window of this bus and seeing yet more cornfields. The scenery has not changed at all for the last 5 hours.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Ivory Towers


Well, time has rather flown by recently. When I wrote the last entry, on Friday, I thought "hold on, where did the week go? I'm sure it was Monday yesterday!" It's now Monday once again, and high time to update you on what I got up to last weekend in California.

I was out there primarily to see Aimee and Lauren, two fellow native-speakers from the camps in Poland I've worked at for the last two summers. I was able to tack on going to Los Angeles and driving around as well, which I've already written about. I returned the hire-car to downtown San Francisco on Friday evening, and then lugged my luggage [very apt] to the train station to head down to Palo Alto, home of Stanford University. I stayed with Aimee's boyfriend Brice, who shares a roomy room with his rheumy roomie [how long can I keep this up?].

Let me say this much: Stanford is amazing. For a uni that's only 115 years old, it has the cachet (and the cash) of somewhere like Cambridge. The campus is pristine, every building is named after someone. The weather was great too, which of course helps your impression...

As members of the gymnastics team, the girls had access to some golf carts which injured team-members can use to get around campus - everyone has a car, naturally, but they're not practical for getting around locally. I got the grand tour through the quad, past the church, under the colonnades, down the main steps, up the Herbert Hoover Tower (great views of the whole place and beyond), round the Oval, down Palm Drive and back to the frat houses. To get out of their hair (it's exam season) I went for a walk up to the hills behind the university, and then back through into Palo Alto which also qualifies as "swank".

On Saturday night there was a frat party at Brice's house. Free beer and loose women - just my idea of fun! (I'm joking, by the way.) Still, for the ten minutes I was there it was pretty interesting - as "interesting" as the state of the house the morning after! Yowser.

Sunday was a chilling-out day, enjoying the sunshine for the most part, and then going to church in the evening. After that, we popped along to a choral recital at the Stanford church (as you do). Fantastic acoustics + fantastic singing + candle-lit church = nice atmosphere.

I popped up to the city (San Francisco) on Monday - it's my third trip there, and as is traditional I didn't visit Alcatraz, instead wandering around Chinatown and watching Mexicans march against the Immigration hoohah on Market Street. "Un dia sin imigrantes" apparently, although that might not be a great idea, seeing as I haven't seen a single white person working in a fast-food restaurant around here...

In flashback style, you already know what happened next: my ridiculously long train ride across the country. On Friday afternoon, I cashed in a hefty $1 investment in a bus ticket to Minneapolis, home of Jess, Sandy and Lucy - three troopers from Poland 2004. I spent the weekend with Jess, also visiting her family in rural redneck Wisconsin, and today, after three traumatic hours at the Mall of America, I'm staying at Sandy's house, probably for the next few days. Apparently there's plenty to do in the Twin Cities area (Minneapolis and St. Paul, if you were wondering) so that should keep me busy.

Hasta la vista!

Friday, May 05, 2006

You know you're taking a long train journey when...

  • You go to Walgreen's first to pick up some groceries
  • You unpack when you get on
  • You put your watch forward an hour
  • You take photos of scenery every so often, and end up with over 70
  • You pass over two mountain ranges
  • You add five states to your USA total
  • You pur your watch forward an hour, again
  • You arrive five hours late, and that's less than 10% of the total
  • You get accustomed to paying $2 for a Snickers bar
  • You spend three days and two nights on the train
  • You have to take a shower and wash your hair twice when you arrive (eew!)

Yes folks, I took a train from San Francisco to Chicago. 2438 miles in 57 hours (59 if you count timezone changes). It was a remarkable journey, hence this post...

  • The first day was spectacular - climbing from sea-level at Oakland/Sacramento up to 7000ft over the Sierra Nevada. The train paralleled I-80 which I drove along last Friday for the whole day, but not driving, I could see a lot more of the scenery. Stunning stuff! I went to sleep somewhere in eastern Nevada.
  • The second day was also spectacular. I woke up in eastern Utah, having passed through Salt Lake City at 4am. We spent most of the day alongside the Colorado river, passing through nine canyons and climbing to over 9000ft at the Moffat Tunnel (before this tunnel was built, the train climbed a 4% grade to 11000ft - yikes!) and then descended to Denver. Mercifully, I slept through Nebraska.
  • The third day was just cornfields. Oh, and waiting in one spot for over two hours waiting for freight trains to pass over a single-track bridge over the Missouri. Fun.
I'm off to Minneapolis later on. I'll blog about my weekend in Stanford this weekend! Now, where did this week go...