Return of the Yanks
by Jeffrey Scott Duly, Age 36
For those of you who enjoyed the last travelogue, here's another one. If you didn't, here it is anyway. The pictures are here. Again I have included hyperlinks to internet sites about some of the places and things I experienced and again most of the cast of characters are the same as the last trip. Me, my father, John, and his wife, Margaret.
Prologue: I took a slightly different sleeping strategy this time. Rather than getting to bed early the night before like prior to the first trip, I was late to bed and early to rise this time. The plan was to be nice and tired because of lack of sleep so I could get some shut eye on the flight. It worked only slightly better that the other strategy. I don't know how it happened, but we got bumped up to business class for the flight. Man, that's the only way to fly. I have fairly long legs and I've never has so much leg room. I could stretch them out full length and still not touch my carry on bag under the seat in front of me. Oh, and there was free champagne! Actually, free drinks period. I didn't watch any in-flight movies on the way over this time. I was reading Inconceivable by Ben Elton. You know, the guy who wrote for television shows The Young Ones and the "Blackadder" series. It's a pretty good book. For dinner, I chose coq au vin. A few hours nap and then breakfast. We got into Gatwick Airport around 7:30 or so, but by the time we got through customs and caught the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station, it was almost 9:30 before we got into London.
Sunday, 9 Sept (Day 1): We met Cathy, Margaret's daughter, who is living and working in London for some reason, at Victoria Station when our train arrived. We hopped on the London Underground to take our luggage back to her flat in Chiswick in West London and then headed out into the city. Our first stop was Leicester Square and a short walk to Piccadilly Circus. There was a bit of a street fair going on at the time with a few carnival rides and stuff like that. Then we headed to the London Eye, the big Ferris wheel type thing they put up on the south bank of the Thames across from Westminster for the millennium. However, the line was very long, so we bought tickets for the next morning and headed back to Chiswick for an early dinner and a relaxing evening after a very long day. We went to a Thai restaurant in Chiswick for dinner. I now have another kind of food to go along with Indian that I do not like. I went for something I figured was safe, a fish salad thing. At least it was one of the few things on the menu that was not pork or shellfish related. It was a mistake. The fish was in some God awful sauce. Oh well, I grabbed a sandwich from a local market later.
Monday, 10 Sept (Day 2): After the morning rush hour subsided, we headed out. Breakfast was an old English favorite: McDonald's. Yep, they pretty much look the same, with a fairly similar menu. Anyway, onto the tube and out to the London Eye. It used to be called the Millennium Wheel, but after the celebration, British Airways took it over and renamed it. If fact they were in the process of putting it up two years ago when we visited. The thing moves one revolution in about 30-40 minutes. It is quite an impressive view, as is evidenced by my photos. After the ride on the giant wheel, we waited for Cathy to join us for the rest of the day. The next stop was the Cabinet War Rooms, which is part of the Imperial War Museum. The war rooms are the fortified basement space in Whitehall where Churchill, his ministers and important military guys ran WWII. Lunch was a second visit to Garfunkel's on Trafalgar Square. Cathy kind of rolled her eyes at that choice, but we were there and since we had eaten there on our last trip, we knew what they had. It wasn't bad. We then went to Covent Garden for some shopping in the stalls and shops and then hopped on the tube to see world famous Harrod's department store. A bit pricey. Dinner at the Packhorse and Talbot pub. They were out of pies. Can you believe it? That's pretty much the only identifiable type of British food and they were out. Oh, well, they has Strongbow on tap, so who cares what they have to eat?
There are a variety of pub games in Britain. Most of them are of the slot machine variety. My father foolishly played these on occasion. I think he was attracted to the bright flashy lights. The trouble was that he had absolutely no idea how to play the damn things. The other type of machine we came across several times on the trip was a trivia game. Actually the machines has different types of trivia games based upon other games like battleship or hangman. These were quite fun. Between my father and me, we did fairly well on occasion. You can actually win money on these things, but we usually didn't. It was kind of hard when some of the questions were obviously geared toward British players.
Tuesday, 11 Sept (Day 3): The day started out well. Dad and Cathy went to pick up the rental car in the morning and we headed west. Wales would be our destination. We didn't get to Wales last time around, so this would be new territory for all of us. The first thing you notice when you cross into Wales is the language. All the road signs are in both English and Welsh. Welsh is a fascinating language that more resembles a bad game of Scrabble than a pronounceable tongue. Apparently the Welsh people are too poor to buy a vowel. Lots of w's, l', and y's. In fact, I'm not sure that "llwywwyl" isn't actually a word. But I digress. We stopped in Swansea and visited the Maritime and Industrial Museum. It is situated near a group of condo-type flats. I'm not sure if they are residential or holiday timeshare units. After the museum, we walked back to the car. There were several businesses probably closed for the season. However, a pub was open and there was a television on visible through the window. It was about 3:30 GMT.
There was no indication in the museum that anything had happened. No one was aware of what was transpiring across the ocean. But the television in the pub was showing the incredible pictures from Manhattan. The ticker at the bottom of the screen told us that planes had hit both towers of the World Trade Center and that one tower had collapsed. While we stood outside in disbelief, the ticker changed to inform us that the second tower had just collapsed. We returned to the car and we listened to the coverage on Radio 2. We then found out about the attack on the Pentagon. We had no accommodations for the evening, but no one really felt like doing much of anything. We drove around Swansea looking for lodging. Then we heard the announcer say a plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. It seemed to me like the world was indeed coming to an end. On our way toward Cardiff on the M4, we passed one of those Welcome Break motorway service area motels near Bridgend, so we just decided to book a room back there. We grabbed dinner at a nearby pub, where there was a big screen television with more coverage of the despicable attack.
Wednesday, 12 Sept (Day 4): Despite the events of the previous day, we were on holiday for two weeks. So we headed on our way, with one eye always looking home. Basically we all reprised our touring roles from the last trip with one addition. Cathy was quite good at planning out next step. Today she pointed us north. First stop was Caerphilly Castle. Now this was a proper castle with a moat and everything, not one of those big estate houses they call castles. It's right in the middle of town, which is kind of neat. We took lunch at a local tea house and headed north to Conwy. Cathy booked a room at a B&B from the car. A nice house on the outskirts of Conwy owned by a mountaineer called Peter Dyer and his wife Cath. Another pub dinner at a nice old place called the Red Lion.
Earlier in the day, Margaret finally got in touch with her son David, who lives in Manhattan with his flight attendant wife, Nina. Both were well, which eased out minds a bit. Not that it was very likely that either of them would have been caught up in the happenings, but the confirmation of that was good to hear.
Thursday, 13 Sept (Day 5): We were up in the morning and headed into the town of Conwy. It is an old medieval walled town defended by Conwy Castle. This was another great fortress dating back to the 13th century. Built by good old Edward I as part of his line of castles throughout Wales, it provides a beautiful overlook of the river. But wait, if you thought the castle was the only point of interest in this town, you'd be wrong. What trip to Wales would be complete without seeing the smallest house In Great Britain? Yep, it's a whopping 6 feet wide x 10 feet deep and a little more than 10 feet high! After a walk through town (there was a honey festival going on), it was back in the car and back into England. We stopped for the afternoon in Liverpool. Did not see much of the city since we were planning to stay for the night further north (we booked ahead in Blackburn from a "big giant i" at the Albert Docks), but we did go to the Beatles Story museum. It was pretty good, but not as many Beatles artifacts as I expected. There were a few items of note though. They had a pretty cool recreation of the Cavern Club, the Eleanor Rigby headstone used in the "Free As A Bird" video, and John Lennon's white piano from his "Imagine" video (now owned by George Michael) and the upright on which he actually wrote the song.
We caught a little rush hour traffic leaving Liverpool (and a lot of rain) and ventured on to the Chimneys Guest House in Blackburn Lancashire. (Didn't see 4000 holes though.) Much to our surprise, the house was located in a noticeably Arab area of town. In fact it was right next door to the bloody Shia Islamic Centre! Ordinarily I would not have given it a second thought, but under the unusual circumstances we did acknowledge the irony. The woman who ran the place seemed to be a Buddhist, so we felt safe there. A short walk toward town yielded a nice dinner at a place called Goodfellas. It wasn't exactly Italian (there wasn't an Italian person in the whole place), but the food was quite good. I found out I like Boddingtons Ale, the Cream of Manchester.
Friday, 14 Sept (Day 6): The next town we visited was Lancaster in Lancashire. We visited the Lancaster Priory, which is only around 1000 years old. There was a single candle in the chapel burning for the victims of the terrorist attack in the U.S., one of the many signs of sympathy and solidarity we experienced from the British people. Then we wandered down a path to a small ruins of a Roman bath. All of this was to kill a little time before Lancaster Castle opened. The castle is actually a working jail, complete with courtrooms. This trip was certainly more of a castle tour than the last. There would be more to come. We would be in Scotland before long. We wandered off the motorway east of Carlisle to find Hadrian's wall. This thing was built in the second century C.E., almost 2000 years ago, and it's still there! Well most of it, anyway. In addition to the historic landmark, we were in the picturesque hills of Northern England. The scenery itself is reason enough for tourists to come. We then looked to stay in Dumfries in the southwest of Scotland for the night, but to our dismay there was a car rally in town that weekend that had booked up pretty much the whole town. Actually this was a blessing in disguise, because at the Dumfries "big giant i" we got rooms in a small village to the east called Torthorwald. That alone isn't saying much, but we ended up staying at Branetrigg Farm, an actual working dairy farm. How cool is that? Another highlight of the evening for me was seeing an episode of the new series of Absolutely Fabulous.
When we stopped for lunch at a rest area earlier that day, we encountered a couple who must have heard us speaking at the next table and figured we were Americans. They told us how disgusted they were with the BBC for the spectacle on a rather contentious Question Time earlier that week. Question Time is panel show where audience members get to question politicians and other important type people. There apparently were several British Muslims trashing the U.S. and basically saying that we got what we deserved. That program created quite an uproar, so much so that the Beeb publicly apologized for the controversy. Anyway, the woman was practically in tears as the couple told us how sorry they were about the whole terrorist episode. And I have to say I am now a Tony Blair fan. I always took him for an English version of Bill Clinton, but this guy has big league bollocks. He talked tough, backed Bush 110% and pretty much rallied the British people to the fight against the perpetrators of this heinous attack.
Saturday, 15 Sept (Day 7): Cathy was only going to be with us for the first week, so we had to be in Glasgow by Sunday morning. She had an unused return ticket to London that would take her back. So it was on to Glasgow in the morning. We quickly found the "big giant i" and booked a room at the downtown Travellodge. The street were crowded with shoppers that day, at least on the many pedestrian thoroughfares. We had lunch in the Willow Tearoom, which was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and is supposed to be some kind of architectural landmark or something. I don't know about that, but we had a nice lunch. After walking around town a bit more (I bought a couple of tartan ties and shortbread), we returned to the hotel for the evening. On the telly, I watched a program that featured guys walking on their hands across a kind of obstacle course. Also that evening was the Last Night of the Proms, a traditionally patriotic British concert program that usually ends with songs such as Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory. This year they took a more somber mood with more reflective pieces and music from some American composers. Ya gotta love those Brits! On the down side, our rooms were right across the street from a club called Bourbon Street. The club let out at around 3:00 a.m. How do I know? I heard them.
Sunday, 16 Sept (Day 8): The first order of business was to get Cathy to the airport. Her flight didn't leave until the afternoon, but with the increased security and such, getting there early was probably going to be a good idea. But we still had some time to kill, so we wandered around the town of Paisley for a bit. Then we wasted a little time at the Glasgow Airport before Cathy checked in. We would see her again later in the week, but before she left she planned one more thing for us. We were to head up the western coast to a fishing village called Oban. So that we did. On the way we stopped off to see the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. You know, like in the song. Anyway, we arrived in Oban that afternoon and found the i, which was in a building that was a church in a former life. We booked a room in the old Alexandra Hotel. The rooms were okay (my single room was a u-shaped space), but the view of Oban Bay was spectacular. The whole town center was, yes you guessed it, quaint. For dinner I had a delicious specialty of the house, a salmon and broccoli lasagna. Mmm, mmm, good. There was a Star Trek special on the telly that night.
Monday, 17 Sept (Day 9): Without our planner, we were on our own again. So we headed up the coast to a town called Fort William. We didn't see the fort, but we walked up and down the pedestrian road flanked by shops. At the Fort William "i" we booked a room in an old familiar place, the Arrandale House in Pitlochry. Also we reacquainted ourselves with another old favorite when we got there, the game show Countdown. We ate a nice dinner in town and pretty much took it easy that day.
I know I made fun of the music they listen to over there last time and I'm going to do it again. Utter rubbish! Nothing but obnoxious Eurobeat disco house music or wafer-thin pop. Total crap. Thank God for Radio 2! If not for the terrorist attack, the front page of the tabloid newspapers would have been the battle between Kylie Minougue and Victoria Beckham, formerly known as Posh Spice, who were both releasing albums and singles around the same time. As it was they were somewhere in the first ten pages. The consensus was that Kylie beat Victoria, as if it really matters. Also, guess what song topped the charts on Top of the Pops? "Mambo No. 5". Not the version by Lou Bega, but a rendition by Bob the Builder, the character from the animated children's show of the same name. And here's the kicker: it was his second #1 song!
Tuesday, 18 Sept (Day 10): We knew we had to start heading south, so we jumped on the road to Dundee. We visited the RRS Discovery, Capt. Robert Scott's Antarctic expedition ship, which was built in the shipyards of Dundee. After visiting the exhibits and going on the ship itself, we walked up into the center city to book a room somewhere and lunch. Since it was a beautiful day, we got some good sandwiches at a sandwich shop and ate on a bench in yet another pedestrian mall. (Pedestrian areas are really big over there.) Anyway, we got rooms in a house in Perth. After dinner at a local family-style pub (more Strongbow!), I watched the Celtic v. Juventus UEFA Champion's League match. Celtic dropped a tough match on a 90th minute penalty converted by Juventus. Oh well, I'm not a Celtic fan anyway. This was the first night of about three in a row that featured Champion's League or UEFA Cup matches on television. Yes! I didn't get to watch all the games, but I caught a couple.
Wednesday, 19 Sept (Day 11): We decided that since we didn't really see much of Edinburgh the first time (despite spending two nights there), we were going to stay for a couple of days. But Perth is not too far away from Edinburgh, so we weren't pressed for time. The attraction of the morning was Stirling Castle, where the kings and queens of Scotland once sat on their thrones. Pretty good place for a castle too. You can see a lot from up there. From Stirling we headed south to Edinburgh. Rather than to try to find accommodations, we decided to stay a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn on Queensferry Road we stayed at last time. There are some advantages to hotels over B&B's or guest houses. Cable television in the room, housekeeping, etc. And with three in a room, the price was right. Also, we were across the street from that Sainsbury's we went to before, so that was convenient.
Anyway, once we put our stuff in the room, we hopped in the car and went into town. Dad suggested seeing the Royal Mile, so we parked near the Holyrood Palace and walked most of it. There really isn't much on the Royal Mile except lots of shops, although we did stop in the Scottish Parliament Visitor Center in the Committee Chambers building and St. Giles Cathedral. It rained off and on that afternoon, so after an early dinner we headed back to the hotel for the night.
Thursday, 20 Sept (Day 12): Since we were at a hotel, we would not be getting our full English (or Scottish) breakfast served to us like in the B&B's, so it was across to the canteen at Sainsbury's for the morning meal. Edinburgh Castle was the attraction for this day. This was probably the best castle we visited on the trip, with Stirling Castle coming up second. This place was amazing. First of all, it's on top of a giant rock in the middle of town, so the views of the surrounding city are spectacular. Then there's the history. St. Margaret's Chapel, a small little building within the castle walls, has survived intact for over 900 years. Also visitors can enter the room where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI of Scotland, who was also to become James I of England. Then there are the Crown Jewels of Scotland and the Stone of Destiny on display. Throw in a couple of museums and you've got several hours worth of stuff to see.
In the afternoon we drove to the Port of Leith on the Firth of Forth to see the Royal Yacht Britannia. It was decommissioned in 1997 because basically the monarchy was running short of money and this thing cost bundles to keep. But it did allow the Royal Yacht Britannia Trust to buy the vessel and open it to visitors. Quite nice digs. It basically a small private cruise ship. It's good to be the queen. We planned to eat dinner at the little French restaurant where we ate on the first trip, but it was no longer there and had been turned into a pub called Bad Ass. (I'm not kidding.) So we settled for a nice little bistro on Rose Street that served quite good steaks.
Friday, 21 Sept (Day 13): Travel day. Not much to say. Stopped at a Travellodge on the M1 north of Doncaster. Watched Countdown and a weird British version of The Price Is Right. Dinner at the Little Chef. You know what they have for dessert in the fast food restaurants? Little doughnuts. They come in boxes of five and they are small and warm and come with your choice of dipping sauce. We got some at the Burger King right next to the Little Chef for dessert to bring back to the room. I had the strawberry jam and my father had the chocolate. I think the chocolate probably would have been better. What a strange and wonderful delicacy from a foreign land. Little dessert doughnuts. How different their culture is from ours.
Saturday, 22 Sept (Day 14): We had decided that it would not be a bad idea to get back to London a little early even though we had the car hired until Sunday morning. We were back at Cathy's flat by 1:00. Dad and I returned the car to the Hertz place in Fulham. Like New York City, there is no way I would own a car if I lived in London. Traffic is ridiculous. The taxi ride back to Chiswick was somewhat harrowing. I know the driver knew what he was doing, but it was a nail-biter in the backseat. Anyway, since it was the weekend, there is nothing better to do than to go to a football match. I checked to see if any of the local London clubs were at home and I found that second division Brentford were home as well as Chelsea on Sunday. Well, the Chelsea match was bound to be a madhouse, so I opted for little old Brentford, which was not too far from the flat. Cathy chose to go with me and she said we could catch the bus down the High Road to get to the grounds. Unfortunately she does not ride the bus, so we ended up missing the stop. It took as long to walk to the stadium from where we got off the bus as it would have taken to walk from the flat. We got there at the half, which was a little disappointing, but we did get in for half price. Oldham Athletic was up 1-0, but most of the goals were in the second 45:00 and the match ended in a 2-2 draw. Despite missing half the match, it was fun. Cathy had not been to a soccer match in the time she's lived over there and I think she enjoyed it. I know if I lived there, I'd have season tickets. Hell, I might have tickets for several clubs. Dinner again at the Packhorse and Talbot. This time there were pies. That evening we watched a much publicized Parkinson program, where he interviewed David Beckham, his wife Victoria, George Best and Elton John. Elton was bloody hilarious.
Sunday, 23 Sept (Day 15): I had the idea of going out to Greenwich and seeing the prime meridian. (How can you see an imaginary line?) We took the tube to Westminster and got tickets on a boat that traveled down the Thames to Greenwich. In addition to the scenic advantage of the boat, there really is no other good way to get out there. Anyway, the first place we went to in Greenwich was the National Maritime Museum. Quite interesting. Then we trekked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. The touristy thing to do is have your picture taken standing in both the eastern and western hemispheres astride the prime meridian. This is safer than having your picture taken astride the prime minister. From the hill can be seen the great white elephant Millennium Dome. We grabbed a late lunch/early dinner at a Tex/Mex restaurant. Yes, an English Tex/Mex restaurant. My chicken sandwich was good, but Cathy's quesadilla had peas in it. I'm not making this up. Just like the Mexicans make it, with peas. We all got a good laugh out of that. Before catching the boat back to Westminster, I took a quick visit on the Cutty Sark. On the telly that night was a good documentary on sharks. You ain't seen nothin 'til you've seen sharks eat baby albatross.
Monday, 24 Sept (Day 16): Knowing that security would be increased at Gatwick, we got an early start to the airport. My carryon bag was thoroughly searched and we were actually patted down before we got to the terminal. I watched Bridget Jones's Diary (good) and Shrek (okay) on the return flight. I had to settle for some sort of oriental chicken dish for dinner because Margaret got the last of the lamb medallions. Nine hours later we were back in the U.S.A. I don't know why, but the flight east is shorter than the flight west by about a half hour.
Epilogue: It was a little difficult trying to carry on with a two week holiday after the despicable attacks of September 11. But I must say that the British people are a bunch of stand-up characters. I mean, during a service in St. Paul's for the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attack (and there were many British citizens who were victims) they played the U.S. National Anthem and I think the Queen actually sang!
I brought back a few souvenirs. Five tartan ties, six pairs of argyle socks, a mug from the Cabinet War Rooms, two cd's and the September 12 edition of the Daily Mail. I would have liked to have brought back a Brentford jersey, but the line was way too long to their shop because they were giving away tickets for an upcoming match against Peterborough. But I can always buy one on the internet.
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