I’ve had a comparatively relaxing day in Newcastle today, thanks to my overseas American friend Larisa taking such good care of me. I did have a bit of a sleep-deprived comedy this morning as I staggered into my suite’s bathroom in the hotel and in my sleepiness (or just plain silliness) couldn’t figure out how to get the shower to work. They’re really quite different than American showers – there are two main handles, one to control the flow of the water, and one to control the temperature of the water (in Celsius though, so I can’t really read it anyway!) – but then on this one there was a few other buttons and a red cord hanging next to me too. So I’m disrobed, in the bathtub, hot water pouring next to me, and I’m frantically trying to figure out how to get the shower to work before my 11:45 bus to Hadrian’s Wall leaves, prodding the buttons, yanking on the cord, when all of a sudden I hear a sharp rapping at the main door. Fearing that I’ve forgotten to check out at a certain time, I ask what the problem is. I hear a female voice from the other side saying, “you pulled the cord sir; do you need assistance?” I remember I’m in the handicapped room and smack my forehead. See, at the Embassie Hostel, there was a cord like that next to the shower stall, but that turned the shower on and off, so that’s the only experience I had regarding these strange ceiling cords. I call out apologies, and ask for her assistance with helping me get this shower to work too. So a moment later, she sees the door swing open to reveal a disheveled and bewildered American standing in a towel. I’m glad I didn’t have my contacts or glasses so I couldn’t see her expression, but I could tell that she was about my age. I was quite embarrassed when she showed me that the plug needed to be pulled out instead of pushed in.

I finally made it out the hotel and was racing down the avenue to find the bus stop that would take me to Hexham, where I could transfer to Newcastle. I spent the next few hours in the company of a delightful (and free!) guide named David, an older gentleman who was quite exuberant in his description of the various Roman ruins we were seeing on our journey. A funny note here: according to the pamphlet that David gave me, there were familial groups of raiders, (called Rievers by the locales) who in the middle ages would use the relative lawlessness of the Northern regions to pillage and steal from the British estates the area. The pamphlet had a list of family names that the Rievers went by and sure enough: there was Douglas, my great-grandmother’s family name. I told David that my ancestral family was from the Melrose/Selkirk region of Scotland and he agreed with me – there was a good chance that at some point in history, my family had been bloodthirsty raiders. Rather unexpected. The wall itself was of course visually unspectacular, being only 3-4 feet tall in most points, but as we would crest hills and see it stretching off into the distance through the fields, surrounded by sheep, it was easy to imagine how it might have looked in the year 122 AD, as a Roman soldier on duty might have seen it walking across the wall and seeing the symbol of his mighty empire. I felt very sad that I didn’t have time to get off the bus and see the various ruins of baths, fortresses, and castles we were speeding past, but in the interest of time there were such sacrifices to be made.

However, I realised that a new problem would be having Larisa find me! She was expecting me to be arriving at about 18:00 by bus, but instead I was here at 15:45 by train. So I spent the next hour or so wandering pathetically about the streets of Newcastle with luggage in hand (beginning to detect a trend here?) and looking at street signs. Speaking of which, that’s one thing I really miss from home: clearly organised and labeled street signs. Any American knows that if he’s at a junction of streets, he can just look towards any corner and he’ll see a sign post with clearly labeled signs showing the options. However, in England, street names are sometimes (and only sometimes, unfortunately) put on buildings themselves or in tiny hiding spots at intersections. Which makes a poor confused tourist even more confused, even though it was first in Salisbury that I realized this wasn’t Kansas anymore (to use an American cinematography euphemism).

I finally made my wanderings over to Newcastle University partially by luck and partially by more helpful citizens taking pity on me, and begged my way into Robinson Library on campus, where my Wisconsin student ID card got me in where a nice librarian let me use the computers to desperately check Facebook for Larisa’s address.

I had finally made my way to her Terrace when I found that I had no way of getting into the building to let her know that I was there, but a resident found me sitting on the doorstep and (for security purposes) led me through the halls of the residence dorm to her room. She wasn’t there, but I left her a message and as I was making my way back down to wait in the lobby, I heard “Zach!” behind me and she rushed from a kitchen. Apparently she had heard my voice, and certainly wasn’t expecting me for another few hours!

I received a wonderful greeting from her of lots of food and ginger beer (which isn’t actually beer) which I gratefully accepted since brekkers hadn’t been in my schedule that morning. We were soon joined by her friend Caroline, and the three of us had stir fry for dinner (with tea, of course) and went to see “Magicians” at the local cinema. It was funny to listen to all of the American-accented movie advertisements, and to try to put myself from the perspective of a British youth, growing up listening to American accents all the time in culture. I tried to think of what it would be like to listen to British accents all of the time, and then realised that I’d only be listening to Geico Insurance and Revlon Makeup commercials.

After the movie, Larisa and I stopped by her favourite local pub by her place and grabbed a pint of Newcastle’s own “Newcastle Brown,” a very tasty ale while we chatted about home and traveling. She’s already offered the kindness of walking me to the train station to start me on my journey to Scotland tomorrow. I can’t wait to scout out my family’s home country and try some Haggis!