Celia, Beth and I are finally back from our 14 day visit to the United Kingdom, specifically Scotland and England. It was a very good trip, we accomplished just about all the things we intended to, made it there and back with all our luggage (and Beth's drum!) intact.
The flight out was 9 1/2 hours on an Airbus 330, straight from Seattle to Amsterdam. While there wasn't as much elbow- or leg-room as I would have liked (I suspect that, in these days of maximizing profit, no one makes/configures a plane with as much leg-room as I'd like), the flight was pleasant. They fed us well and often (2 big meals and 2 snacks). Each seat back had a video monitor on which one can call up games or any of a dozen or more movies. I spent my time with 2 Disney movies (Finding Nemo and Beauty and the Beast), Patton, and I finally got to see Madagascar. They made it a whole lot easier to ignor the screaming baby several rows down from us.
The airport in Amsterdam was interesting, though I can't tell you precisely why. We took a "cityjumper" (small plane) from Ansterdam to Glasgow. One pleasant surprise was discovering that 2 band members (actually, one piper and a father of a drummer) were on the plane with us, and were continuing on to Glasgow the same way we were going.
We re-acquired our luggage successfully in Glasgow and went
out to find a taxi to take us to the hotel. Despite all my
psyching myself to remember that
they drive on the other
side over there, I still started to get into the taxi at the
(UK) driver's position. The driver took it well -- told me I
could drive if I wanted to (not!).
||For the first 4 days, Celia and I were staying at the Glasgow Marriott. (Beth stayed with us the first night, then went to the rooms the band had procured at Glasgow Caledonian University.) Unfortunately, we got there late morning and our room wasn't ready for us yet. We left our luggage with the Concierge, had some brunch, and decided to head over to the Scottish Exhibition & Conference Center (SECC) where the World SF Convention (Interaction) was being held. We spent enough time there to get registered and take a quick look around. It was early for the first day of the Con, too, so the Dealer's Room and the Art Show weren't open yet, but the "Convention Hall" was open with some exhibits and business tables.||
Back at the hotel, we took some naps and met up with friends (Mark Herrup, Irene Harrison, Theresa Ebenhoe, Mary O'Connor and Donna Stump) staying in the same hotel.
Friday, Celia and Theresa took a train to Edinburgh to sight-see, while I stayed in Glasgow to con and help Beth get herself and her stuff over to Glasgow Caledonian Univ. where the band was quartered in one of the University dorms. It was a good thing I decided to help as it took both of us to wrestle bags and drum into the taxi and to the dorm she was going to stay in. It was a good thing as well that I went along because I got an advance peek at where Celia and I would be staying after the Con. We were assigned a pair of single rooms on the third floor (Beth was there, too). There was no way we were going to be able to daily navigate 3 flights of stairs :-( After making sure that Beth was properly settled, I took one of the ubiquitous taxis back to the SECC for the afternoon.
The next day, Celia, I and her friend Theresa bought 2-day tickets for one of the hop-on/hop-off tour buses. We saw a lot of the sights around Glasgow, including Glasgow Green, the big (BIG!) park where the 2005 World Pipe Band competition was going to be held.
We also saw where the "Good Shopping" was :-)
Ending up back at the SECC, we did Con things. I found out who to talk to about getting into the Photographers area for the Masquerade competition that night. [I ended up associated myself with the Mensa Bulletin -- I'll have to submit something to them if I want to retain my personal honor smile -- but in the process met someone (David Stewart) who turned out to be the in-coming Local Secretary for Dublin Mensa (and I've since found out, a fellow Mac guy). The area I got into was in the main auditorium, down in the front row -- great viewing. My video tape last just long enough to film the whole thing.
I don't remember much of what we did Sunday .. more touring, con stuff I'm sure, touring the Dealer's Hall, bidding on Art, visiting "Convention bid" parties, shopping.
Monday, we claimed the Art we'd successfully bid on, and used a Shipping company who had representatives in the Dealer's room to ship our Artwork and a few other items home. [We didn't find out until we reclaimed them back here that the idiots put the two pictures with glass into soft mailing envelopes only, while the wierd stuffed toy I bought came home safely in a mailer inside a box. The glass was totally shattered on both pictures.]
|In the afternoon, Celia and I got ourselves and luggage over to the University. Beth and some friends were up in Edinburgh (using their only free time) so we had to deal with the room assignment issue ourselves (although Beth had tried to lay some groundwork on our behalf). We were lucky -- they had a couple of rooms on the first floor of a neighboring dorm to Beth's that we could use, so we did. Still single rooms, but at least no stairs.||
||During the rest of the week, while Beth was occupied with band practice, Celia and I shopped and toured. One day, we took a train North to Falkirk to see the Falkirk Wheel. This is unique boat elevator that connects two different canal systems which are at different elevations. It's not really a wheel per se, more like a balance scale where the pans can be rotated up and down thru a circle. The pans are precisely balanced at 300 tons each, made up of a mixture of water and boat. "Rest position" is one pan at the top, at the end of one canal, and the other one is 180º directly below it in the lake at the end of the other canal. When the controller pushes the button to start it up, the two pans slowly, gracefully, rotate thru 180º, exchanging places. The amount of power to accomplish this is roughly enough to heat 6 tea kettles.|
Another day, Celia and I took a bus tour up thru the Highlands, visiting Loch Lomand, Loch Ness and Castle Urquhart and Inverness. Interesting, even without a "Nessie" sighting, but we would have like to stop a little more often, for picture taking or shopping in little village stores. The down side of not having a car.
We ate in several pubs during the week. (the joy of not having a car, not having to drive, was that I could indulge beer with relative impunity) I bought myself a geniune Rugby shirt.
Finally, the day of the Worlds, the 2005 World Pipe Band competition. The band (the Elliott Bay Pipe Band) has been working up to this for several years. There were 200+ bands there from all over the world. (we know there were bands there from Pakistan, Oman, and somewhere in S.America, several with very gaudy uniforms) There were almost 60 bands in grade 3 (EBPB's class), enough that they split Grade 3 into 2 competition groupings.
We came in 14th out of 27, a very respectable showing.
The next day, Celia, Beth and I had to take trains, first up to Edinburgh and then a 2nd one from there to London. We had first-class tickets for both segments, and the added comfort involved was very welcome. On the Edinburgh-London leg it also meant that they stowed our baggage for us, a joy as that meant we didn't have to keep up with it all.
Like on the tour bus, the only frustration of the train rides were seeing all these castles and mansions and ruins off in the distance, going by too fast to take pictures of.
With only 2 full days to see London (we got there Sunday evening, and flew home Wedn. morning), we had to cram a lot of sight-seeing into 24 hours of daylight. We took a hop-on/hop-off tour (The Big Bus)the first day, using the feature to stop for a few hours at the Tower of London. Fascinating place, I wish we'd had more time to spend there. It was wonderful seeing some much historic scenery, places and buildings we'd only seen in movies or on TV, or read about.
The 2nd day, we walked from our Hotel down to Westminster Cathedral, then down to the Thames and Westminster Abbey and Parliment. I got lots of footage of Big Ben, including some snippets with it tolling. We also rode the Millenium Wheel a.k.a. the London Eye. We spent a little time in the London Aquarium then headed to the British Muesum. We had only enough time to see one gallery, and chose the "Mid-East" one since it had the Rosetta Stone.
From the Museum, we headed over to Oxford Circus where there was a particular store (French Connection, UK® or "FCUK")that Beth wanted to visit. There was also an Apple® store nearby it, so Celia and I could amuse ourselves.
One of my goals for the trip had been hoping to get to meet or at least talk to several pen-pals I have (2 in England, 1 in Wales), as well as getting to meet with some cousins who live near London. I'd made sure weeks in advance that all parties knew what hotel we'd be staying at and what days. I also tried to make sure they all got the European cell-phone numbers we had acquired for the trip, but apparently I bungled that and accidentally neglected to actually send the numbers.
|Still, to my delight, there was a message waiting for me at the hotel when we first got there from my cousin (one of my Dad's 1st cousins, who's been living in Brighton for 40 years). He came up from Brighton the 2nd night and we had a wonderful, marvelous several hours chatting with him. It turns out that one of his sons lives here in the Seattle area (and has lived here for many years) and they've been out to visit him many times without knowing that we've been here for 15 years. Hopefully, the next time he and his wife come out, we'll be able to get together.|
(It's a pity that my English penpals couldn't get in touch with me the same way as well. I don't know when I will next be able to travel the 7000 miles to their neighborbood, and I vastly disappoionted that we never even got to talk.)
The flight home wasn't nearly as nice as the flight to UK. Smaller, older, more crowded plane. Snacks weren't complimentary, the only meal was piddling, and the in-flight "entertainment" was poor.
We were very happy to finally get home.