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Archive for the ‘UK Trip 2003’

Finally!

August 11, 2003 @ 23:21 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

I’ve finally finished the outstanding entries for my trip! Better late than never, eh?

Now all I have to do is get the remaining pictures online….

UK Trip Day 17: July 13, 2003

August 11, 2003 @ 22:44 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

This was the last day of my UK Trip.

I packed my stuff up and we lounged around for a bit before the minicab arrived to take us to Heathrow. It didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would take to get to the airport, probably because we were travelling in excess of Mach 1 on the highway (ok, it was 80 mph, but that’s still quite fast in a minivan).

We headed to the Air Canada counter and I sorted out my ticket, checked my luggage and we went in search of something to eat. Finding that traditional English restaurant, Burger King, Rob and I played BT Tag with someone’s phone in the airport for a bit.

Finally, it was time to make my way to the gate, so we took some pictures and said our goodbyes. It was really nice to see Rob and meet Yuki and I was sad to bid them farewell.

Passing through security was much less of a hassle than I thought it might be. I guess the Brits aren’t as paranoid as the Americans are.

Once through security, I found myself in something that rivals most malls I’ve been in. There were shops everywhere selling everything you could think of from perfume to consumer electronics to books to … well, you get the idea.

I picked up a couple of books and waited for the gate to be listed for the flight.

This was in itself was interesting because one of the computers running the displays kept crashing. It turns out the displays were powered by Windows 95 boxes — probably explains why it kept crashing.

Anyways, the gate was posted so I made my way to it. Talk about a long hike. I think I passed Rob and Yuki’s place on my way to the gate. Judging by the map, there was only one gate that was farther away from the waiting area. I checked in at the gate and waited for the flight to be called.

It was called, we boarded and made the seven to eight hour flight to Dorval. They served us a couple of meals and showed us a couple of movies. No, I don’t remember what was shown.

Arriving at Dorval pretty well on-time, I breezed through immigration and customs and made my way to the Dorval VIA station.

I upgraded my ticket to VIA1 when I arrived at the station. The chap behind the counter said “whoops, it might be too late” but he called someone and they said they would put an extra meal onboard. I called Patti on my cell and she said she’d meet me at the station in Ottawa.

When the train arrived, I hauled my luggage on-board and found a seat. The VIA1 person came by with the meal and said “whoops, there’s no meal for you”.

Well, needless to say, I was unimpressed. She found the train manager and he and I had a chat about the situation. By this point, I really just wanted to get home, so I asked him for a refund on the upgrade. He made a phone call and said he’d accompany me to the ticket counter in Ottawa and sort things out. He offered me a drink.

The people sitting across the aisle from me were travelling from Quebec City to Ottawa. They had been driving from Ottawa to Gaspe, but their car was hit by a truck outside Quebec City, so that ended their trip. The train manager on the train from Quebec City to Montreal was quite rude to them because apparently it was their fault that their reservations on the train were screwed up, regardless of what it said on their tickets.

The train manager on our train talked to them and more than made up for his colleagues behaviour and they went away very happy. (Before he talked to them, it sounded like they would never ride on VIA again.)

We arrived at Ottawa on-time and I met up with Patti after getting my refund.

And thus ended my first trip to the UK. I can’t wait to return!

As a postscript to this: I sent a letter to the president of VIA Rail complimenting the train manager on the train from Montreal. He sent me a letter back saying how happy he was to receive a letter like this and assured me that the train manager would be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty. A gold star from the president of the company has to look good when it comes time for a performance review. ๐Ÿ™‚

UK Trip Day 17: July 13, 2003

August 11, 2003 @ 22:44 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

This was the last day of my UK Trip.

I packed my stuff up and we lounged around for a bit before the minicab arrived to take us to Heathrow. It didn’t take nearly as long as we thought it would take to get to the airport, probably because we were travelling in excess of Mach 1 on the highway (ok, it was 80 mph, but that’s still quite fast in a minivan).

We headed to the Air Canada counter and I sorted out my ticket, checked my luggage and we went in search of something to eat. Finding that traditional English restaurant, Burger King, Rob and I played BT Tag with someone’s phone in the airport for a bit.

Finally, it was time to make my way to the gate, so we took some pictures and said our goodbyes. It was really nice to see Rob and meet Yuki and I was sad to bid them farewell.

Passing through security was much less of a hassle than I thought it might be. I guess the Brits aren’t as paranoid as the Americans are.

Once through security, I found myself in something that rivals most malls I’ve been in. There were shops everywhere selling everything you could think of from perfume to consumer electronics to books to … well, you get the idea.

I picked up a couple of books and waited for the gate to be listed for the flight.

This was in itself was interesting because one of the computers running the displays kept crashing. It turns out the displays were powered by Windows 95 boxes — probably explains why it kept crashing.

Anyways, the gate was posted so I made my way to it. Talk about a long hike. I think I passed Rob and Yuki’s place on my way to the gate. Judging by the map, there was only one gate that was farther away from the waiting area. I checked in at the gate and waited for the flight to be called.

It was called, we boarded and made the seven to eight hour flight to Dorval. They served us a couple of meals and showed us a couple of movies. No, I don’t remember what was shown.

Arriving at Dorval pretty well on-time, I breezed through immigration and customs and made my way to the Dorval VIA station.

I upgraded my ticket to VIA1 when I arrived at the station. The chap behind the counter said “whoops, it might be too late” but he called someone and they said they would put an extra meal onboard. I called Patti on my cell and she said she’d meet me at the station in Ottawa.

When the train arrived, I hauled my luggage on-board and found a seat. The VIA1 person came by with the meal and said “whoops, there’s no meal for you”.

Well, needless to say, I was unimpressed. She found the train manager and he and I had a chat about the situation. By this point, I really just wanted to get home, so I asked him for a refund on the upgrade. He made a phone call and said he’d accompany me to the ticket counter in Ottawa and sort things out. He offered me a drink.

The people sitting across the aisle from me were travelling from Quebec City to Ottawa. They had been driving from Ottawa to Gaspe, but their car was hit by a truck outside Quebec City, so that ended their trip. The train manager on the train from Quebec City to Montreal was quite rude to them because apparently it was their fault that their reservations on the train were screwed up, regardless of what it said on their tickets.

The train manager on our train talked to them and more than made up for his colleagues behaviour and they went away very happy. (Before he talked to them, it sounded like they would never ride on VIA again.)

We arrived at Ottawa on-time and I met up with Patti after getting my refund.

And thus ended my first trip to the UK. I can’t wait to return!

As a postscript to this: I sent a letter to the president of VIA Rail complimenting the train manager on the train from Montreal. He sent me a letter back saying how happy he was to receive a letter like this and assured me that the train manager would be recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty. A gold star from the president of the company has to look good when it comes time for a performance review. ๐Ÿ™‚

UK Trip Day 16: July 12, 2003

August 11, 2003 @ 22:03 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

I got up and packed my stuff up and left it in the luggage room at the hotel so I could do some last minute shopping before I caught the train to London. Fortunately, I didn’t have too far to go before I found a shop with lots of tartan, sweaters and whisky. After buying some souvenirs, I retrieved my luggage and made my way to the train station. Of course, I missed the train by a couple of minutes, but another train was along a short while later.

I stashed my luggage and took a seat on the right (inland) side of the train. Of course, most of the things I was looking at were on the right side of the train. As we were going by Holy Island where Cuthbert had a keep of some sort, a lady sitting across the aisle starting pointing things out to me. I switched seats and we talked most of the way to London. She pointed out the remains of Hadrian’s Wall in Newcastle and even identified some of the accents of the people who passed by. This made for a very enjoyable trip back.

Rob met me at the train station and we made our way to his place by surface rail — there was no way I was going to try to drag my luggage on the Underground!

After we got back to Rob and Yuki’s, we headed off to a pub gathering in Wimbledon with a bunch of Yuki’s classmates at her English school. At the bar I thought “Great! I’ll order a Black & Tan.”

It never crossed my mind that the bar tendette would say “What’s a Black & Tan?”

(A Black & Tan is made up of Guiness floating on Smithwicks. Differences in the densities of the two beers means that a well-poured B&T has a sharp edge between the two beers. Takes the edge off the Guiness and looks cool. Enough beer geeking…)

I described it to her and we looked at the selection of beers on tap and I selected something to use in the place of Smithwicks (!). She found a spoon and with a helping hand she did her best to pour one. (There were technical difficulties because they serve Guiness chilled in England and that changes the density so the two layers mixed.) Apologizing for the beer that ran down her arm to her elbow, I paid with a couple of Scottish notes. Apparently, she hadn’t seen one before. I left her a pound tip on the bar for being such a good sport about it.

We headed out back and met up with the rest of her classmates.

A little while later after consuming the first attempt at a Black & Tan we had figured out what was wrong so we headed back in to try another type of beer on the bottom. By this point, the one of the other bartenders had been talking to an Irish chap at the end of the bar and gotten some tips on how to pour a Black & Tan. He grabbed a spoon and bent it and this time we tried Heiniken for the beer on the bottom.

(Note to self: Heiniken does not belong in a Half & Half (a B&T made without Smithwicks). In fact, Heiniken really shouldn’t be drunk at all.)

This time, the two beers had separated nicely and the end result looked much more like a Half & Half. (Even though one of them was Heiniken.)

One of Yuki’s classmates came back from the bar a little while later and said “I’ve ended up with your weird money”.

“Huh?”

And she pulled out the Scottish banknotes I had paid with that she’d gotten back as change.

“Oh! That’s not weird money. This is weird money…” and I showed her a couple of Canadian bills I had in my wallet.

We finished our drinks and food and said our fairwells and returned home.

UK Trip Day 15: July 11, 2003

July 11, 2003 @ 22:03 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Today, I took another hop-on hop-off bus tour. This tour took us around Edinburgh, past the botanic gardens and finally to the Royal Motor Yacht Britannia.

The RMY Britannia was decommissioned in the late 1990’s after more than 40 years service to the royal family. Since decommissioning, it has been put in a heritage trust and on display to the general public. Doing the proper tour of the Britannia takes a couple of hours, especially if you use the self-guided audio tour thingy, which I did.

Though it was a royal yacht, it wasn’t overly posh, it was comfortable. There were a lot of furnishings on loan from the royal family and former crew. The various messes still had the pictures, trophies and what not from when the ship was in service. There was even a Rolls Royce on-board that used to travel with the royal family. (When it wasn’t on-board, the space was used to store beer.)

The engine room was incredible. Brass fittings, gleaming white paint and nothing out of place. And it looked like that all the time.

After hopping back on the bus tour, I headed to the train station and bought a cheap day return ticket to North Queensferry. North Queensferry is the town at the northern end of the Forth rail bridge, a massive bridge designed by Brunel in the 1800’s. It allows trains to cross the Firth of Forth and proceed on their way into the Kingdom of Fife. (Say that three times quickly!)

North Queensferry is a small town on the shore of the Firth. It is named after Queen Margaret who first visited the village about 900 years ago. She established the first ferry link between North and South Queensferry.

Going from the train station to the water’s edge involved walking down an extremely steep road with a couple of hairpin turns in it. Downtown North Queensferry has a couple of inns, restaurants and other touristy places. I couldn’t stay too long, though, because my return train to Edinburgh was going to be one of the last trains until Monday. The rail bridge was undergoing maintenance that weekend and the works possession meant that no trains would be crossing the bridge until late Sunday night or Monday morning.

Climbing back up the hill to the station, I noticed a spring in the side of the hill. A stone on it was dated 1783, but there was a plaque on it that indicated the cistern around it was built in celebration of sixty years of the reign of Queen Victoria. The train arrived in short order and I returned to Edinburgh.

I’d like to go back to North Queensferry and spend a day or two prowling around the town. There’s a legend that there’s a tunnel that runs from one of the pubs to an island in the firth.

UK Trip Day 14: July 10, 2003

July 10, 2003 @ 16:19 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

This morning, I thought it might be nice to head off to somewhere else for a day excursion, so I packed my backpack and headed to the train station. Once there, I asked the GNER chap for suggestions for a day excursion that would be along a scenic route. He suggested Pitlochry, which is a few stops past Sterling, another place I was considering. The route he suggested would pass over the Forth Bridge, a massive rail bridge built in the 1800’s over the Firth of Forth.

The weather in Edinburgh was kind of grey and wet so I thought a train trip would be great. However, the next train wasn’t for over an hour, and I didn’t feel like waiting around that long in the train station.

So, I decided to climb Arthur’s Seat, a massive volcanic structure overlooking Holyrood Palace and much of Edinburgh.

Arthur’s Seat is inside Holyrood Park and has several paths leading to the top. I walked with three Canadians from Kamloops, BC, for a while, but the decided to walk around it, rather than continue to the top.

The weather was starting to look threatening again, but there was nothing in the TAF (Terminal Area Forecast) for Edinburgh airport when I checked. So, I continued to the top.

On the way up, I took a lot of pictures (see my gallery) and saw a small rabbit part ways up.

At the top, I found two cairns, one with a metal disk on the top with a compass rose and arrows pointing to many of the landmarks visible from the top of Arthur’s Seat. The other cairn was an Ordnance Survey Benchmark.

The wind at the top was incredible as was the scenary. In the distance could be seen rain falling on other parts of Scotland, but none over Edinburgh. That changed, soon enough as a wall of rain proceeded along the Firth of Forth out over the ocean. The rain was blowing almost horizontally, meaning that my whole left side was soaked. I sought shelter in the lee of some bushes along with a couple of ther people.

Once the wind and rain had died down, I continued exploring the other peaks and eventually worked my way back down. The trip down was rather exciting because I was basically making my own path, rather than following some of the more established paths. At one point, I slipped on the wet grass and slip for a few feet. That was rather exciting.

When I finally reached the bottom, my shoes were squishing with every step and my jeans were soaked at the bottoms the legs and along the left side.

I walked around the perimeter of Holyrood Palace and headed up the Royal Mile, pausing only for an ice cream cone along the way.

Back at the hotel, I hung my wet clothes up, dried my shoes with the hair drier and then found something dry to wear and headed to the World Famous Maggie Dicksons Pub in Grassmarket.

Maggie Dickson had a rather grim life, up to the day she was hanged for breaking the 1690 law against concealing a pregnancy.

After being hanged, her friends took her coffin on its way to the graveyard and stopped for a meal while en route. They heard noises coming from the coffin and upon opening it, they discovered that she was in fact still alive.

Having been declared dead, The Powers That Be at the time decided that this must have been the result of an Act of God and who were they to second guess him? So, she spent another forty years living in Edinburgh and ran a pub.

I had a great steak and a fine pint of McEwan’s 80/- Ale, which is locally made.

The picture will be available when I can get them uploaded. The Internet cafe I’m using seems to be having problems uploading my pictures tonight.

Update: The pictures are now finally online.

UK Trip Day 13: July 9, 2003

July 09, 2003 @ 15:50 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Today I toured around Edinburgh. I bought a ticket for a hop on-hop off bus tour. It was
very interesting, though at one point the sky got quite dark and there were a few rain drops.
The tour guide yelled at the rain and it went away, though.

I hopped off once along the Royal Mile and prowled around there for a bit. I hopped on the
next bus that came along and rejoined the tour.

The buses are open-top double decker buses, so the view is quite impressive.

Among the sights we saw was a statue to commemorate the visit of George IV to Scotland in 1822.
It flatters him, though, because in real life he was close to 400 pounds, while in bronze form
he’s much more svelt looking.

We also saw the Scott Monument, which is just a couple of minutes away from my hotel. Scott
re-found the Scottish Honours (the crown, sceptre and sword) after they’d been locked away
for over one hundred years.

After finishing the tour, I walked along the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. Along the way,
I visited the Edinburgh Old Town Weaving Company. This is one of the few places where they still
weave tartans. The process to go from sheep to tartan is quite involved. Some of the looms
being used are over a hundred years old.

Next stop was Edinburgh Castle.

The castle is quite large and quite old. Perched on an old volcanic plug of rock, parts of the
castle date back to the 1200’s. There’s evidence that shows the site was used as far back as
850 BC by pre-historic hunters.

I rented an audio commentary widget. This is a nifty device about the size of a cell phone. You
can use either the built-in speaker or headphones. Scattered around the castle were signs with
a number on them. Punch in the number and you get a detailed narrative, including music, about
whatever you’re looking at. Neat.

Shortly after arriving at the castle, it started to rain. Fortunately, I had an umbrella in my
backpack so I was able to continue wandering around looking at things until it finished raining.
You can see the rain and the umbrella in some of the pictures.

Stored at the Edinburgh Castle are the Scottish Honours. These are the crown, sceptre and sword
that have been used since the 1200’s or so. They haven’t left the castle except on extremely
rare occasions over the years. They have, however, been broken in two and smuggled away to safety,
buried two or three times and locked in a chest that was walled in a room for over a century.

During World War II, they were hidden in the ruins underneath one of the buildings at the
castle. Only four people were entrusted with maps: the king, two other people and the Governor
General of Canada. It was thought that if the first three people were lost before the Honours
were retrieved, chances are that the Governor General of Canada would still be around.

I explored the castle some more, in fact until closing time, and then walked around the base
of the castle, crossing through Princes Street Gardens before making my way back to the hotel.

I may write some more later on this evening, but you can click here to see the pictures I took today.