And a good evening to you from across the Pond after an AMAZING WEEKEND in the south of the Mother Country. The Isle of Wight - WOW - we had SO much fun that I don't even know where to start. Not every story was the picture of happiness, but sometimes those make for the best blog material. In fact, as I sit here preparing to type, I have so many anecdotes running through my head that I don't know where to start. But, given all that we saw, I guess I'll just start at the beginning...
Friday: Another shot at European "Tex-Mex" and proof you can sleep on a bed with no mattress...
So we caught the train down to Portsmouth, and it was GREAT. We had a table, I got to do plenty of reading, and we arrived in Portsmouth Harbor JUST in time to catch the Wightlink Ferry to IoW AN HOUR AHEAD OF SCHEDULE! We just scampered off the train platform and right onto the boat. This is the part where I confess I am AMAZED at how easy travel has become and Jeny rolls her eyes like (but is SO cute doing it).
It was raining on the crossing, but you could still see the big Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth (looks just like the top of the Burj al-Arab Hotel in Dubai). The crossing itself is VERY quick - about 20 minutes on a fast catamaran, carrying you across a narrow channel called the Solent.
We arrived at the town of Ryde (where our hotel was for the weekend) and stepped onto the Pierhead (second largest in Britain) to find a downpour of monsoon proportions. However, by the time we'd pulled out the umbrellas, it has already slackened considerably. As we stepped out, we realized that the ENTIRE SKY was blue (complete with sunlight STREAMING THROUGH THE HEAVENS) except for the JET BLACK CLOUD directly above us (Charlie Brown style).
All the same, we made the ~20 minute walk through the town (WAY bigger than I expected), climbing the hill and finally arriving at the Abingdon Lodge. There, our man Dennis gave us the tour and showed us to our room, which was SO CUTE until I laid on the bed. Seriously, how do i say this - THERE WAS NO MATTRESS. WE were sleeping on SPRINGS with basically an egg crate above them. We're not talking Futon-style here. We are talking "bed of nails with a sweaty Indian dude walking over you" style - NOT cool. Luckily there wasn't a sweaty Indian there - that would have made it awkward...
We got out and about shortly thereafter, wandering down the high street and looking for food. Our wanderings took us to the water, where we beheld a GORGEOUS sunset. Our ramblings ALSO took us down to the hovercraft pier, where I lived out every kid's G.I.Joe fantasy and watched these GINORMOUS hovercraft blast off and skid across the water. DUDE - it was EXTRA AWESOME - even the part where they threw about 90 tons of brine salt and sand in our faces. I thought of that as a souvenir...
After that, both starving we considered options for dinner. We'd made the stroll down the entire high street and the esplanade, but nothing had truly caught our eye. But then, in tune as only soul mates are, we immediately decided on the place to eat - DOS AMIGOS TEX-MEX, BABY!!!!!
So seriously - this was HILARIOUS. Billed as a "taste of Mexico right in the Isle of Wight," it featured such truly authentic dishes as:
1. BBQ pork ribs....what?
2. Jambalaya - really?
3. Surf & Turf - okay...
4. Fish & chips - SERIOUSLY ARE YOU SERIOUS
Ultimately, howevr, the pull of the ribs was too strong, and I picked that. Jenny actually did get a Mexican dish (quesadillas), but when the server brought out the food, she walked up and said," Who had the kwazzies?" I'M NOT KIDDING. SHE CALLED IT A KWAZZIE!!!!! She followed up with "Someone ordered Kwazziedilahs, right?" Luckily JT and I combined brain power and figured out what she was talking about. But hey, regardless they were good!
Oh, and did I mention that we had a bucket of...wait for it...wait for it...CORONA, BABY!!!! Check us out - MILES away from ordinary- literally.
After that, we rolled over to another "truly British" joint - Kasbah, billing itself as "a taste of the Med in the Isle of Wight." Not sure how "Med" it was, especially given that there were statues of BUDDHA evrywhere. But hey, we sat there, had a bottle of wine, and watched this couple make out and fuss at each other for an hour straight. And did I mention we were the only folks not doing shots?
After that, we went home and got in bed, only to have me make the mistake of turning on the TV. What was on? RANSOM, baby! It was Jimmy Shaker Day! Consequently, Muffin Puffin and I were up until 1, watching the movie and trying to avoid the springs digging into my back. Needless to say, it was a LATE night but a GREAT first day.
Saturday: Beauty, Buses, Brawls, and Beers
So we popped up this morning around 8:15 and made our way down for brekkie about 8:30. There, we had a quick Full English before being out and about at 9:05 - good job us!
The first stop on the tour was the bus stations, where we caught the #9 to Newport and then the #7 to Alum Bay and the top tourist attraction on the island - a formation of jagged chalk cliffs called The Needles.
So a little bit about getting around on IoW. THE INFRASTRUCTURE IS BRUTAL. However, there are all of these convenient double-decker buses that can take you around, saving you the stress of driving or biking (aka SUICIDE). But either way you cut it, there is NO denying the fact that is is TWO HOURS from Ryde to Alum Bay, and all the while all these low hanging branches are practically SMASHING IN the top of the bus. It was like a scene out of movie, where the aliens are trying to claw their way in from the top. I actually lost 42% of my hearing on the drive over.
The drive was worth it, however, as the Needles and surrounding area were BEAUTIFUL. Needles Park, however, was less than stellar. Before you get to the cliffs and the sands there, you have to pass through this GOAT RODEO of an amusement park, complete with:
1. A Glass-blowing demonstration
2. A Rock candy making demonstration
3. A 9 hole "Jurassic golf" course (putt-putt, obviously)
4. A Carousel that Churchill probably rode on as a kid
We elected to NOT go down the "thrilling chair lift" but walked to the beach instead (it took about 35 seconds). And once we got there, I was THRILLED we'd made the journey. The Needles were gorgeous, but the highlight was really the sand cliffs, as there were 22 different colors of sand along the cliffs, comprising 90 million years of earth's history. And so we hopped a boat (the Needles Pleasure Cruise) to sail out to the Chalk rocks and then get some GREAT views of the sand on the way back in. We also walked around the area, climbing on the chalk rocks and getting some GREAT photos.
We left the Needles and got back on a bus bound for Newport. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is where the first "adventure" of the day took place...
So, we climb to the top level and notice 2 seats near the back. Behind us are 2 other cats, looking a little rough, but whatever. In front of us are about 20 kids, all French, who are (to be fair) rather loud. But again, I thought nothing of this. First mistake.
No sooner have we started driving then the guy behind me yells to the kids, "COULD YOU SHUT UP!" He then says under his breath (but we can hear) "This does my head in. I have a gun in my pocket, and I'm going to shoot everyone on here."
Well, he didn't have a gun (thankfully), but he did stand up, yell at the students, yell at the teacher, and then crash into me on the way back to his seat. No sooner had he sat down before his buddy pulled Jenny's hair (yes, that's right - PULLED HER HAIR) and FLIPPED MY EAR. I mean really? REALLY? The last time my ear was flipped was THIRD GRADE. But rather than fight two strung out dudes on the second floor of a bus in a foreign country. Jenny and I got up and moved to the front. We thought about going downstairs, but wanted to stay up. SECOND mistake.
TWO MINUTES LATER, the French teacher runs downstairs. Thirty seconds later - the bus stops. Thirty seconds later, the bus driver comes up and orders the thugs off the bus. And just when the first thug gets up to leave, the French teacher goes BAT SHIT CRAZY and starts kicking and swinging at the thug. Chaos ensues, but finally the first guy leaves. The second guy is so strung out that he just passes out and CRASHES on the floor. He is summarily drug off the bus, basically face first. Good times at the goat rodeo. But the rest of the trip was uneventful!
We connected in Newport and caught another bus to the TRUE highlight of the day - THE ISLE OF WIGHT ANNUAL GARLIC FESTIVAL. That's right - I can't make this stuff up. We are talking a festival devoted to ALL things garlic. In truth, there was more than garlic there, but let me paint the scene:
2. Sam and Jenny splitting a Garlic Beer -that's right - GARLIC BEER (it was guuuuuuuuud)
3. Consuming block after block of cheese for samples, including Marmite Cheese, Blueberry Cheese, Whiskey Cheese, and roughly 10,000 others
4. Sitting in the grass listening to CRAZY ASS English folk music, drinking beer from the Island Brewery (Wight Gold, Wight Knight, and Yachtsman's Ale - all VERY good).
We spent about 2 hours there, and it was a BLAST - totally random, but a BLAST. And best of all - we bought 5 cheeses for the return home. Oh, and we bought pickled chili garlic (SO GUUUUUUUUUUUD). Let's just say I ain't worried about Edward Cullen attacking me anytime soon.
After that, my perfect puffin figured out the best bus for us to jump, and we caught the open top Island Breezer. The ride was great, even after the driver said, "If you're up top, please watch out, especially if you're sitting on the left side (where we were). 10 seconds later, a tree that looked like an Ent came sweeping over the seats. Jenny put it best: "that was like a scene from Harry Potter!"
After that, it was to The Crown Bar to watch Chelsea DEMOLISH WBA. Welcome to the big league, boys. To quote Brother Morgan: "Fret not, WBA - your season starts next week."
After that, we strolled back down to Kasbah, where we had a few tapas and ANOTHER pint, enjoying some GREAT people watching and good food. And then, we went to the final highlight of the evening: King Lud for 80's ROCK!
So this place was GREAT. We rolled in about 8:45, got a table, and 15 minutes later the music kicked off. We then spent the next THREE AND A HALF HOURS singing hits like, "Don't Stop Believin'", "You Give Love a Bad Name," and even "SWEET HOME ALABAMA!!!!!"
There were 2 gals beside us, Carol and Karen, and they were GREAT. They couldn't believe we knew all the words, but we told them this was basically the sound track to every single wedding in America. Also, these ladies were being hit on ALL night. I mean, the boys on IoW DO NOT stop (give 'em credit for persistence). Of course, some of this persistence led to the SECOND FIGHT OF THE DAY in front of us, which rocked our table. At this point, I was just happy to still be alive.
After that, we passed out at 1 (AGAIN), but this time I slept like a log - bed of nails or not.
Sunday: Royalty, Ryde Castle, and Relaxation
Suffice it to say, the Taylors missed English Breakfast this morning. However, we did get up about 9:30 and out the door around 10:15. We strolled down the high street to Joe's cafe, where we CRUSHED an omelet, Eggs Benedict, and a Sausage sandwich. This place was guuuuuuuuuuuuud. And the craziest part? Our server was American? She had fallen in love with an Englishman back in '01 and had moved to the Mother Country 8 years ago. Staci - she's from Brooklyn, which probably makes her (more or less) a Bombers fan - but I didn't offer her the t-shirt because, well, I'm going to use it as a rag for CLEANING SEWERS. Just kidding, puppy paws...
After a great brekkie, we caught the bus to Osborne House, the vacation home of Victoria and Albert. I gotta tell ya, we had NO IDEA what we were getting into, but this place turned out to be GREAT! We spent about 2.5 hours in the house and on the grounds, which were GORGEOUS and had a TERRIFIC view of the Solent. It was really an unexpected treat!
After that, it was back to Ryde, where we had a pint and a snack at Ryde Castle after watching the CONSUMMATE ENGLISH SPORT - LAWN BOWLING. Seriously - I had never seen it in action, and it was CLASSIC. It's really bowling meets shuffleboard meets bacci ball, and it was GREAT people watching.
We then hopped the catamaran, crossed the water, hopped the train, and rolled home, skipping dinner (since we were already at 30,000 calories for the weekend) and passing out around 9:30.
All in all, it was a crazy but GREAT weekend, and I wouldn't have changed a second of it.
Okay, that's (mercifully) all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Sam and Jenny