My Summer Vacation
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 34
Okay, so it took a while before I got my pictures developed, scanned and uploaded. But they are here for everyone to see. I did not keep a diary of the trip, so I'm going to make one up three months later. The following is an account of our travels and my impression of the places we visited. I have included hyperlinks to internet site about some of the places and things I experienced. The links will open up a new window for your browser.
Prologue: It was a very long flight. My big plan was to adjust my sleeping habits a few days before the flight. I got to bed early and woke up early so that when we took off from Atlanta at around 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, I would be tired, get eight hours sleep on the flight and be wide awake when we landed at Gatwick Airport on Monday morning. This was a complete mistake. I wasn't as tired as I had hoped. Dinner was served shortly after takeoff. Then there were in-flight movies. I watched Notting Hill and The Madness of King George on the way over. I got about a couple hours sleep tops before breakfast was served (about six hours after dinner). The next thing I know, we're on the ground in England. We just walked right through security at Gatwick. It was unmanned. Of course, it was fairly early in the morning.
After showing my passport to an unhappy looking man at the airport, we picked up our rental car. This is where the real fun begins. We all had our jobs. My father was the driver. He had been reading up on driving in the U.K. I'm sure it must have helped a little, but he was still a little iffy on some of the road markings. My job was as navigator. I had the maps. We did a pretty good job of getting from one place to another. Once we were in a city or town, getting to a particular site was a bit more difficult. We would often loop around or double back a couple few times on occasion. Margaret's (my stepmother) job was much simpler. She was kind of the trip historian. She did a fair amount of videotaping out the backseat window and keeping a detailed journal of our travels. Now that you have met the crew, let's get going.
Monday, 6 Sept (Day 1): The first day was basically a travel day. We were hightailing it to Scotland first thing and would work our way down the island for the next two weeks. So all that really happened was we harassed my father about keeping the car on the road and staying awake. I found that England from the motorway looks a lot like New Jersey. Well, we eventually stopped for the evening in a small Travelodge outside of Newcastle Upon Tyne. It was part of a motorway rest area, like you would find on most of your major turnpikes over here. It was small and clean and a welcome rest. We ate at the Little Chef restaurant in the rest area. Little Chef is a chain of roadside eateries. Simple food at a low price. After dinner, we walked through a small nearby neighborhood Margaret had found after we arrived. There were small rowhouses that reminded me of Onslow and Daisy's house in "Keeping Up Appearances". It was that night I first saw "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" We would watch just about every night on our trip. (Editorial comment: The British version is much better than the American. Chris Tarrant kicks Regis Philbin's ass.) Late that night was a tape delayed broadcast of the Atlanta Falcons-Minnesota Vikings game from the previous Sunday afternoon. It was the actual Fox broadcast, but with occasional cutaways to a British commentary team who would remark on the game. One of the commentators was a black American who looked like he probably played American football at one time, but I did not recognize his name. He was awful. He could barely speak English. His British partner was much easier to understand.
Tuesday, 7 Sept (Day 2): On to Scotland. We stopped in the Scottish border town of Jedburgh. This was a shopping town. As we were getting lost leaving town, we saw some pretty nice neighborhoods. There was one thing I found a little odd. I went into a small shop looking for a bag of crisps and caught a glimpse of the magazine rack. There were adult magazines out in full view of adult and child alike. Now, I'm not against skin magazines, but I don't think kids need to walk into a neighborhood shop and see a magazine cover with a naked (artificially enhanced) woman and a caption that says something like "My pussy's wet and waiting for you!" I don't know, maybe it's just me.
A little further down the road was Thirlestane Castle. It was a big house with a lot of old stuff in it. The tour ended in a gift shop. We had a small lunch at the castle and it was on to Edinburgh. Now since we were pretty much making this trip up on the fly, we had no set accommodations in any town (at least not at this point). We found a room in a pretty nice Holiday Inn in Edinburgh. We toured a nearby Sainsbury's supermarket. It was along the lines of a large Publix or Albertsons with not just food, but books, cookware and automotive goods among other items. This is the kind of stuff I wanted to take in on the trip. I like to see the differences in cultural aspects. How is their media (television, radio, newspaper) different? What about the everyday stuff like food, transit and sport? I'll touch on many of these subjects in this travelogue. Anyway, we ate at a nice little French restaurant in the downtown district. We watched a documentary on the BBC about Hitler and pornography.
Wednesday, 8 Sept (Day 3): We continue north. It was cold and rainy when we drove into Dunkeld. We knew that my father's grandfather was born in Little Dunkeld. When first seeing Dunkeld, it is hard to imagine how small Little Dunkeld must be. We checked out the old St. Andrew's Cathedral in Dunkeld. There are several photos on the pictures pages. We found Little Dunkeld on the outskirts of town. If we had blinked, we would have driven right through it. The photo of the chapel in Little Dunkeld is where my great-grandfather was allegedly christened. On our way to through Scotland, we occasionally veered onto some small country roads barely wide enough for two lanes. These little diversions were a pleasant change from the major motorways. We arrived in Inverness in the late afternoon. Of course we had no reservations anywhere for the night. We tried a couple of hotels, but were turned away. Driving through a residential area of town, we found the Braehead Bed & Breakfast. We had a nice room at the top of the stair. We decided to stay for a few nights. I got to listen to the England-Poland Euro 2000 qualifying match on the radio that night. (It was a 0-0 draw.) The Scotland-Estonia match the same night was also a 0-0 draw.
You know, the banks over there print their own money, like we used to do a long time ago. Depending on which bank's ATM you visit, you could end up with currency with the names of different banks printed on them. The £15 I brought back with me was from the Bank of England. I also had notes from Barclays, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland (and probably some others).
Thursday, 9 Sept (Day 4): Neither the English nor the Scottish press were very happy with Euro 2000 results from the previous night. The tabloid papers in the U.K. devote a good eight pages or so to the national and club football teams. There a few pages or so for rugby, cricket and horse racing and all other sporting events. The tabloids also have a lot of giveaways and lotteries. There seem to be more regional and national newspapers in Britain, unlike all of the local papers we have. There is a lot of competition for readers over there, hence the big money giveaways.
Anyway, we took a tour of the Loch Ness area. It started with a brief stop at the James Pringle Weavers. We got to walk around in the small factory area with all the weaving and cleaning machines. I doubt that this is the only place they make things. The place is kind of small and the machines weren't exactly running at maximum capacity. It might have been mostly for show and for sales at the outlet store at the end of the tour. Next stop was the Urquhart Castle. It's old. It's ruined. It's in a lot of old photos you might see of Loch Ness. We spent some time at a Loch Ness tourist trap and museum. We had tea. Later in the day, Dad bought a kilt. His second kilt. I'm so proud. Well, my father and Margaret do set up a table at a Scottish festival or two in Georgia. They represent the MacIntosh clan. (Margaret's family is kin to the clan.) So a kilt can come in handy for that kind of thing. It's just when he wears it to the Publix to buy lemonade that it can be embarrassing.
We made the first use of the "big giant i" that day. The "big giant i's" (not their actual name) were a chain of information centers where you could book accommodations in that town or just about anywhere in Britain. So we booked a room in Pitlochry at the Arrandale House for Friday night and a B&B called Cannobie Lea in Edinburgh for Saturday night.
Friday, 10 Sept (Day 5): We started by visiting the Culloden Battlefield. Not much there. There was a visitors center, a film and, of course, a gift shop. For the most part it's a big empty field with several flags that mark where certain clans and English forces were situated at the time of the battle. After Culloden, we headed south. Margaret wanted to visit Moy and give the MacIntoshes a call. (Not just any old MacIntoshes, mind you, but the Chief and Mrs. Chief of the clan.) They were busy or something at the time, but they would be available the next day for a visit. This kind of sucked for me, because I was hoping to take in a football game in Edinburgh on Saturday. Would I make the match? Would the MacIntoshes have their visitors? Stay tuned...
My father wanted to stop off at a local distillery, so we went to the Tomatin Distillery outside of Inverness and took the short tour, which ended in a gift shop where they gave visitors a free shot. I don't know how people drink that stuff. It is lethal. Then it was on to Pitlochry. We did some shopping. Much of what they sell in Scotland is Scottish souvenirs. I found out that a train left Pitlochry on Saturday morning headed for Edinburgh. I could make the football game and the old folks could visit the MacIntoshes back at Moy and we would meet up at the house on Saturday afternoon. Yeah!
Saturday, 11 Sept (Day 6): I bought a newspaper and caught the train for Edinburgh in the morning. I was lucky to be in the same car as the winners of the 1999 Loudest Family in Scotland contest. Loud kids and parents that wouldn't tell them to shut the hell up. Fortunately, I had brought earplugs with me. (I brought them on the trip because my father snores with the force of 15 chain saws.) The train pulled into the station in downtown Edinburgh and I had to find the house where we had booked a room. I hopped aboard a bus and headed toward Corstorphine Road. A nice old lady told me which stop would be close to where I needed to go, so I hopped off, walked a couple of blocks and found the place fairly easily. The house we had booked was fairly close to Tynecastle Stadium, home of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club. I had a general idea of where the stadium was, so I headed out for a walk to the stadium. I had bought a Hearts jersey on our first stop in town, so I looked the part.
The stadium was not easy to find. In America, a decent sized stadium would stick out like a sore thumb. There would be parking lots around it and you could probably see it from a distance. Not Tynecastle. It is not a large stadium with tall stands. It is short and tucked away in the neighborhoods. It took me a little longer to get there than it would have for someone who knew where they were going. My plan was to find some other Hearts fans and follow them to the stadium. I did and I found myself on Gorgie Street. I knew the stadium was on Gorgie, but I walked right past it the first time. Once I got there, it was great. I wish the soccer atmosphere in America was this cool. I got there an hour early because I wasn't sure about the tickets or the crowd. But once the crowd arrived and the game kicked off, the environment was exciting. The chanting and yelling between the small group from Dundee and the Hearts supporters was great. (Apparently, "fucking bastard" is quite a common term of derision in Scotland.) Hearts beat Dundee 4-0. I thought I had figured out a quicker way back to the house, but I got lost and it took me even longer to get back. Oh, well, I had gotten to do the one thing I really wanted to do in Britain. The rest of the trip would be gravy. The old folks had arrived a couple of hours earlier and we wound up the day with pizza from a takeaway down the street and "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?"
Sunday, 12 Sept (Day 7): We left Scotland and were back in England by the afternoon. But not after we switched cars at the Edinburgh airport. My father was noticing some trouble shifting the old Vauxhall, so we traded it in at the National car rental place at the airport for a Toyota. Some crazy Austrian rear ended us in the car lot, but there was no damage to our car. Anyway, this was basically another travel day. We stopped for the evening at another motel at a roadside rest, the Red Crest Inn in Staffordshire. That evening we ate dinner at a pub in a nearby town. The pub was situated on a narrow canal, where longboats passed by. Patrons of the pub opened and closed the locks of the canal to let the boats pass.
On the way down, we listened to BBC Radio 2. Radio in the U.K. is a bit different than in the States. There are 5 BBC networks that can be heard anywhere in the country. The frequency varies (for example, 88 - 91FM for Radio 2), so as you travel down the road and one signal fades, you can pick up the broadcast from the next transmitter. Radio 1 plays pop music. Pop music in Britain these days is almost exclusively techno club music. They also have an obsession with old American disco and funk. Radio 2 plays an eclectic mix of music, from classical to rock, big band to rhythm and blues, Frank Sinatra to Simon & Garfunkel. This is my favorite. Radio 3 is the home of classical music. Radio 4 features informational programs, such as news, interviews, radio plays and quiz shows. Radio 5 covers news and sport, with a splash of interviews and debate. There are also independent local stations in the larger towns and regional BBC stations in different counties and regions. (FYI, the above BBC Radio links have live Real Audio broadcasts you can listen to.)
Monday, 13 Sept (Day 8): We continued south and headed to Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a very picturesque little town with one giant selling point for the tourists, William Shakespeare. The visit to Bill's hometown began when we parked at the Stratford Leisure and Visitor Center. We figured this would have some information for tourists like the "big giant i", but it was basically a health and fitness center. This is where Shakespeare used to go and work out on the Nautilus equipment and swim a few laps. We toured the Shakespeare Birthplace. This was interesting. The tour ended, or course, in another gift shop. There was an Oxford University Campus Store in town, so I got an Oxford sweatshirt for my collection. (This was a bonus for me. I kind of wanted to get a sweatshirt from some school on the trip for my collection, but I didn't like my chances.) Then it was down to Bath in the southwest of England. We found the "big giant i" and booked a room for a couple of nights in the Lansdown Grove Hotel. This place would make a great setting for a movie about an old haunted hotel.
Tuesday, 14 Sept (Day 9): We visited the ancient Roman Baths. They had self tours where you got a hand held receiver and listened to recorded messages at certain spots around the grounds. It was pretty cool. You could move at your own pace, listen or not listen to what you want and not have to worry about not being able to hear a tour guide. Not only was there the great bath, but there were a lot of excavated ruins from the ancient temple. The tour ended at, you guessed it, a gift shop. We also looked in the Bath Abbey. The organist was practicing. There were several graves in the floor. Just like your everyday, average church. We grabbed some of Sally Lunn's buns. (Insert butt joke here.) Then we visited the American Museum in Claverton Manor. Apparently, it used to be someone's large house. Now it houses a museum of old American stuff. Much of the place was devoted to George Washington. There was a little old English lady who liked to ask me questions about America and some of the stuff in the museum. She wanted to know how far Connecticut was from Texas. She had no idea it was so far. I guess when you live in a country that small, it is hard to comprehend the size of the U.S. We wrapped up the day with the final episode of the series for "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" This was a sad evening.
Wednesday, 15 Sept (Day 10): Time to head east toward the Salisbury Plain. We drove in the general direction of Stonehenge and found ourselves travelling through training areas for the British military. The road had many tank crossing signs and the scream of RAF jets overhead was deafening. All of the sudden on the horizon rose the mysterious stone formation of Stonehenge. This was another recorded tour-at-your-own-pace thing. There are different theories about this place. Was it built by the Druids as a giant astrological calendar? Was it built by ancient extraterrestrials? Was it the world's first Travelodge? Nobody knows. They have the stones roped off from the public. Apparently some idiots like to leave their marks on the ancient monoliths of the structure. There was a young woman walking around the circle smoking a marijuana cigarette. No one seemed to care.
Then it was on to London town. At the "big giant i" in Bath, we booked a room in a house in Capel, Surrey called the White House. We wanted to stay on the south side of London, close to Gatwick and a train ride into the city. I wasn't feeling like dinner at another pub, so my father and Margaret went out and I stayed in the room. On the telly that night was a lot of soccer. This week was a big one for English and Scottish clubs playing in the Champions League and UEFA Cup competitions. Soccer is on television all over the place over there. It is soccer nirvana. If you miss a televised match (and if you have a dish, there are many to choose from), the sports roundup on the news will bring you up to date on everything.
Television in Britain is somewhat limited. If you do not have a satellite dish, you are basically restricted to BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 (assuming you can pick up all of them where you are). With a dish, there are several more options such as several Sky, Carlton and Granada channels as well as many American cable networks. The programming on the British networks not only includes domestic programs, but a lot of American shows and movies. Every show starts at different times. It's damn near impossible to plan your evening's viewing. One show might start at 6:40 and end at 7:10. Meanwhile, another show you want to watch comes on at 7:00. It's not very conducive to channel flipping. The quiz shows are great. There are documentaries on broadcast television, something that the American broadcast networks other than PBS tend to avoid. Overall, it pales in comparison to American television, but there are a few gems in the bunch.
Thursday, 16 Sept (Day 11): Drove up to Dorking to catch the train into London. We bought London Transport Travelpasses, which covered all of our fares on the trains, the tube and the busses. We pulled into Victoria Station and stopped by Buckingham Palace. There was quite a crowd gathered outside the gate. I would imagine there usually is. Then we walked up Birdcage Walk past St. James' Park to Parliament Square. Then it was on the tube to the Tower Hill Station and the Tower of London. This was a very interesting tour. I mean there is so much over there that is so damn old. The Tower of London is where the crown jewels are kept. That was amazing. There were crowns and scepters and orbs from English royalty all the way back to Edward the Confessor in the 11th century. They all glittered of gold, silver and encrusted jewels. Wow! It was all inside protective cases with security stuff all around, as you might imagine it would be. To keep people from milling around, there was a moving sidewalk on each side of the cases. Unfortunately, we were pretty whipped by the afternoon, so after we grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at a nearby restaurant with pictures of dead royalty on the walls, we caught the train back to Dorking.
Here was another little oddity I found in the U.K. Actually, I only noticed this in London. We passed by a row of glass phone boxes and plastered all over the inside of them were ads for phone sex numbers, complete with pictures of nekkid women. Just like the ads in the backs of men's magazines. (Not that I've seen a lot of men's...aw hell.) First, like the magazine rack in Jedburgh, I was surprised to see this kind of thing in full view of anyone. But there is a deeper question that begs to be asked. Who the hell is going to call a phone sex line from a public phone booth on a busy street corner?
Friday, 17 Sept (Day 12): I found London to be a lot like New York City. The streets were noisy, crowded and full of taxis. The underground was packed. There were plenty of tourists walking the sidewalks. And like NYC, after a day in the city, I wanted to leave. That's not to say I didn't like it. I like to visit Manhattan and I liked visiting London. But after spending so long amongst the hustle and bustle, I need to get away. But it was back to the Dorking station to get on the Dorking train and back into London. It was museum day. We started at the British Museum. Man, you want to talk old, this stuff was old. The 8000 year old mummies were probably the oldest things in there. There were lots of coins and broken pottery from prehistoric civilizations. There were pieces of giant statues from ancient dynasties. But the piece of resistance (sorry, I don't speak French) was the Rosetta Stone. The actual Rosetta Stone. Unfortunately, they do not allow photography in that exhibit, so I could not take a picture. (So in my travels over the previous year or so, I have seen the Rosetta Stone, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and an original copy of the Magna Carta. Cool.) After the British Museum, we hit the Museum of London. This was much smaller than the British Museum, but it was a lot more visitor friendly. This museum had stuff like the Lord Mayor's carriage, Charles Dickens' chair (the one he was always photographed in) and an exhibit about the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the museums, it was around town for a few last photos, dinner at some restaurant chain called Garfunkel's off of Trafalgar Square (English version of good old American cuisine, whatever the hell that is) and back to Victoria Station.
Saturday, 18 Sept (Day 13): We had to get up fairly early to drive out to Ashford, Kent to catch the Eurostar to Paris. It was a new modern station, probably built (or refurbished) for the additional traffic to the continent. We had bought first class return tickets in Victoria Station on Thursday. It was a nice train. The food (breakfast on the way to Paris and dinner on the way back) was on par with the decent airline food we got on British Airways. The time spent beneath the English Channel was relatively small. Most of the couple hour trip was spent speeding across southeast England and the Picardie region of France.
Upon our arrival in Paris at around 11:00 a.m. local time, we got transit tickets and were on our way to the Eiffel Tower. We relied on the Paris subway and our feet to get around town. Somewhere on the train to the tower, my father had his pipe stolen. (Don't worry, he bought another one at a French drug store that makes Eckerds look like an old street corner apothecary.) The Eiffel Tower was the most touristy place we went on the whole trip, but for crying out loud, you have to see the Eiffel Tower if you go to Paris. It was impressive. You have to buy a ticket to the top. The tickets to the second level were cheaper than to the top, but hey, who's going to only go the second level and not all the way? It's quite a view. All around the base of the tower were French souvenir hucksters selling stupid stuff like little Eiffel Tower models and these weird little dancing Disney character things (I'm pretty sure they were not officially licensed Disney merchandise) that bounced up and down to the sound of loud Arabian pop music blaring from their sellers' boom boxes. Actually, I'm not sure how they stayed up and danced without falling down (the little Disney characters, not the Arab salesmen).
After the tower, we walked (slowly, my father was starting to wear down from all the walking on the trip) over to the Arc de Triomphe. We drank $2.00 Cokes in a cafe on the Champs-Elysées and watch the traffic and pedestrians go by. It is interesting to think that just 50+ years ago the Allied Forces were marching up the same wide thoroughfare when they recaptured Paris during World War II. Across the street, "South Park, Le Film" was playing at a theatre a block up from a McDonalds. Ah, glorious American culture! We wanted to be sure we got back to the train station in plenty of time, so we took the Metro back to the train station. We grabbed a quick bite in the station and it was back on the train and back to England. We didn't get to spend a lot of time in Paris (only about seven hours total), but we just had to go. It was there. When is the next time I'll be anywhere close to Paris, France?
Sunday, 19 Sept (Day 14): We made an early start to Gatwick for the flight back. The airport was considerably more active than our previous visit. I picked up the requisite last minute purchases in the airport shops. Besides, I had to get rid of my British currency. (As it was, I still came back with fifteen quid.) We had to get on a little bus transport to take us out to the 777 jet, which was parked out on the tarmac with a lot of others planes. The flight back was much the same as the flight over. Food and movies. I saw Yellow Submarine (which I had somehow not seen until then) and A Midsummer Night's Dream (and something else I can't remember) on the way back. On British Airways overseas flights, they have little screens on the back of all the seats, where they show the in-flight movies. In addition to the movies, you can get flight info (such as estimated flight time remaining, altitude, temperature and stuff like that) and a representation of where you are at the moment, with a little plane superimposed over a map. I must say, that was pretty cool. Then we were back on the ground in Atlanta.
Epilogue: After visiting two other industrialized western countries (albeit briefly), all I can say is GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.! I really enjoyed the trip and having seen the difference in cultures between the U.S. and the U.K., basically everything is better over here. Well, except for all the soccer on television. I wish we had that. Oh, and I sort of became fond of the £1 coins. They are quite handy. Nothing like the giant silver dollars we used to have. (And those Susan B. Anthony dollar pieces were worthless. Well, actually they're worth a dollar.) And actually, I like that you can get cider on tap at the pubs over there. There aren't very many pubs over here that have it. I usually have to go to certain package stores to get cider in this town. Also, it's kind of nice that they don't have billboards on the major motorways. Okay, maybe not everything is better over here, and maybe after time I could get used to living over there, but it's still better on this side of the pond.
Addendum to the Epilogue #1: The U.S. Mint has since come out with new golden dollars. Use them, people. They're great. I just have not seen them in circulation much.
Addendum to the Epilogue #2: I have found some pubs in Nashville that have cider on tap. (Strongbow is not available in the States.) The Sherlock Holmes Pub is a pretty good recreation of a small English pub. There's also an Irish pub downtown on Second Avenue, but I can't think of what it's called.
Addendum to the Epilogue #3: Strongbow is now in the U.S.! Hip hip hooray! Nice nice! Yah boo. Phillips is a German and he have my pen. Six packs of bottles can be found at Frugal MacDougals. You can even get it on tap at a pub in Lebanon called Lady Godiva. That's a bit of a drive just for a pint though.
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