So, the plane last night didn’t take off until almost two hours late. We made up some time in flight, though, and landed only about an hour late. I had managed to sleep through most of the trip – about five and a half hours. Because I was able to sleep, but not for as long as I wanted, I’m tired today, but not exhausted.

I took full advantage the British Air arrivals lounge1 for their showers and free breakfast. I also got a sim card and set up my phone on the 3 network, and bought an Oyster Card for using the Underground.

I’m really glad I took the tube to my hotel. It was long, and somewhat confusing, and tiring hauling my stuff around, but it really brought home the fact that I’m in a different city, in a different country, in a way that I think the faster trains or a cab wouldn’t have. It also showed me that, intimidating though the tube looks to a barbarian like me, it’s really not that difficult to navigate.

I made it to Liverpool Street, my first destination, because there’s a Lush shop there. I picked up my special soap and cream, and then found a pharmacy, where I bought some toiletries, ibuprofen, and travel sickness pills2. I also got my first chance to stick my head into the actual outside in London. I snapped a couple of pictures, but the photo software on this computer isn’t working right. I’m still going to post them, but once I get things straightened out, I’ll probably come back and update them.

**Edit** I got my picture editor working on my computer, so I have updated the pictures.

So, this is a look at the London skyline from within London. It's taken just outside of Liverpool Street, which is a train and underground station. Also, a mall. You can just see the tip of the Gherkin peeking over the older building in the foreground.
So, this is a look at the London skyline from within London. It’s taken just outside of Liverpool Street, which is a train and underground station. Also, a mall. You can just see the tip of the Gherkin peeking over the older building in the foreground.
This statue is out one of the Liverpool Street Station entries. It's called the Kindertransport Memorial, and shows children being shipped away from London during the second World War.
This statue is out one of the Liverpool Street Station entries. It’s called the Kindertransport Memorial, and shows children being shipped away from London during the second World War.

Then, it was back on the tube, out to Barking. From the Barking station, I walked to my hotel, navigating via Apple Maps on my phone3. I wound up in the parking lot of a huge Tesco superstore, and decided to give up but, after buying and drinking a very lovely bottle of Fanta4, I was refreshed and found where I had gone wrong reading the map.

So, I made it to my hotel around 5:00, and right at the desk they had a deal for pizza and coke, which I ordered and ate. Now, I’m going to rest up for tomorrow, watch a movie or something, and try to stay awake until 10:00 or so, so that I don’t wake up too early.

I made it!

  1. Okay. I knew Heathrow was very, very big, but they have a high-speed transit train to move people from the arrival gates to the actual Arrivals area within the same terminal. That’s big. []
  2. I found in Ireland that some of the tours – especially the rural ones – made me a little nauseous. Not gonna give in to that. []
  3. This is why I get the new sim card first thing. []
  4. For North American readers: Fanta in Europe is awesome. No, really. For European readers: Fanta in North America is made of fail and sadness. No, really. []

Half-Way Point

It’s not really the half-way point. But it’s about half-way through my travel-to-London day.

Had a couple of weird moments on the flight here. The guy I sat beside looked like he resented the fact that I was taking the empty seat beside him. Now, I get that – you can get your hopes up about having an empty seat beside you. But the scowl he gave me was… unwelcoming. Then, half-way through the flight, I started coughing. Part of it was the nuts I was eating1,  part of it was the fact I’m just over a cold, and part of it was my allergies acting up in the dry airplane air. Anyway, the guy kept frowning over at me, as I struggled to drink some water and get it under control.

And then, about fifteen minutes later, he turns around in his seat and says to the guy behind him, “Stop hitting it! Just stop hitting it! It’s very distracting!” I thought the guy might have been kicking my buddy’s seat, and so I started cutting him some slack – that would be really irritating, and would make me grumpy, too.

Things calmed down then but, as we were standing up getting ready to exit the plane, my buddy pushed in front of me ((I was waiting for the aisle behind me to clear enough that I could go get my bags out of the overhead storage a couple of rows back.)) and started berating the guy seated behind him. There followed a typical angry Canadian confrontation, where both people were trying to be the most reasonable while still being angry.

Turns out that the guy beside me was complaining that the guy behind him had been tapping the touch screen on the entertainment screen too hard.

But the guys started trying to out-rank each other based on how far and how often they traveled, but escalated when the guy behind us said, “You’re from Toronto? Well, that explains everything.”2

Now, I’m sort of the third point in the triangle these two goofs are making, and I see all the other folks standing nearby watching avidly. Fortunately, it didn’t escalate any further, but one of the spectators caught up with me on the jetway and said that his money was on the first punch thrown taking me out by accident. I laughed and told him I had an escape route planned, through the galley and into the bathroom.

Then, because I wasn’t getting enough stress, I came through security here at Toronto to find that the cap of my nice pen and the small notebook it was attached to were no longer in my breast pocket after I had reloaded everything from the security routine. The pen itself was there, but the main thing I was concerned about was the notebook – it contained all the addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, bus numbers, tube routes, and train information for my trip. Most of it is up on the itinerary, but I always carry a pocket-sized hard copy on trips because you can’t always guarantee connectivity.

So, after getting a security supervisor to go back through the security line to help me look I, genius that I am, stuck my hand in my pants pocket and found both the pen cap and the notebook.

That story is for all my friends who like to hear stories about how I make an ass of myself. Enjoy.

After security, I made my way up to the British Airways business class lounge. And then left it about ten minutes later, because Elliot got in touch with me via Facebook to say he was not too far away from me, so I went to spend a half-hour or so with him.

That was nice, because I’m missing his homecoming to Winnipeg.

And then it was back to the lounge to read and have a nice dinner. Now, my plane should start boarding right away, so I’m signing off.

  1. Salty bits of nut stuck in the back of my throat. Are you reading this, Chris? []
  2. For non-Canadians – and for some Torontonians – much of the rest of Canada view Torontonians as self-centred and arrogant. Me, I know self-centred and arrogant people from all over, so I don’t judge. But this might help explain things. []

Disaster Averted. Mostly, Anyway.

So, this morning, as every morning, I sit down to check my e-mail while my brain boots up. There was an e-mail from my London hotel, saying they look forward to welcoming me. I was reading through it, thinking, “Only a few more days! Looks like the weather will be fairly nice. Any interesting links to things nearby? Hey, are those dates wrong?”

Sure enough, the e-mail said that I was booked for five nights starting on Sunday night. I had wanted to be booked for five nights starting on Saturday night. I pulled out my previous confirmation1, and found that I had indeed booked five nights starting on Sunday. Obviously, because I had the dumb.

I called the hotel, and they were helpful, but were booked solid on Saturday. Also, because I wanted the lowest rate on the room, I had booked a no-cancellation, no-change reservation, so I was stuck with the extra night. But they gave me some info about another hotel that was2 farther away and3 more expensive, but had rooms available. I’m booked in there for the first night.

It’s not ideal, but at least I found out before arriving. It’ll change the very loose plans I had for my arrival day, and eat up some time on the next day, but nothing too bad. I regret the extra cost, but I’ll get over it.

And I spent an extra half-hour this morning making sure all the rest of my hotel dates are correct.4

  1. I print out all the confirmations and store them so that I can carry them with me as proof of booking and payment, etc. []
  2. Significantly. []
  3. Slightly. []
  4. They are. []

Tapping My Foot Impatiently

Okay, so I thought I was all done with booking stuff for the trip. Then I found out that York is hosting an international Shakespeare festival while I’m there, so I went to take a look at what was playing. I was very pleased to find that there’s a performance of King Lear while I’m in the city1, and I nabbed a ticket for that.

I was really hoping that there would be something fun playing at Stratford-Upon-Avon that I could see, but I’m in the area at a time when there’s nothing that interests me2. I may even skip taking the train out there from Oxford to see the place; it’s going to depend on how I’m feeling and what there I still have left to see in Oxford on the day I have free. We’ll see.

Anyway, I had some free time today, so I started packing. Actually, I’m almost finished packing. And laying out my travel clothes for when I head to the plane. Yes, I realize that it’s still almost two weeks before I leave, but I wanted to start figuring out what I’m taking and how I’m carrying it, so I started fitting things into bags, and one thing led to another…

My trips to Ireland have really encouraged me to pack light. I carried less on my second trip than I did on my first, and I’m carrying less on this trip than I did on either of the first two. Part of that is that I went from an iPad and laptop electronics loadout to a Surface Pro 3. The Surface does everything that I need a laptop for3 in the convenient form-factor of a tablet. So, only one device. Well, two, counting my iPhone.

I’m also only bringing clothes for about a week, expecting to wash things like socks, underwear, and t-shirts in my hotel sink, and get the more cumbersome items – pants, heavier shirts – washed in laundromats or by hotel laundry services.

Everything packs pretty neatly into my trusty Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 and my new(ish) Tom Bihn Pilot. I say new(ish) for the Pilot because I took it down to GenCon last year, but this is its first big trip. Aside from being a convenient personal item size carry on bag, it’ll make a very nice day pack as I wander the streets and byways of the UK. It’ll easily hold my Surface, my camera, a sweatshirt4, my rain shell, a bottle of water, and a few snacks. And the Surface can stay at the hotel most days, so it’ll have a little extra room for picking things up on my rambles.

And now, I sit, waiting to add the last couple of items to my bags on the day I leave.

Tapping my foot impatiently.

  1. I like King Lear more than I like Romeo and Juliet, which I’m seeing in London at the Globe. What was I really hoping for? The Tempest, or maybe MacbethJulius Caesar would have been good, too, or Much Ado About Nothing. Oh, well. []
  2. A week after I’m gone, the Royal Shakespeare Company puts on Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. I would love to see that. []
  3. Processing and storing pictures, keeping the blog up to date, etc. []
  4. Well, really a long-sleeved, light-weight merino wool pullover. []

The Waiting is the Hardest Part…

Today, I booked the last outstanding tour for my UK trip – the Three Isles Excursion that will let me see Fingal’s Cave on Staffa. I’d been checking their site regularly, but it was only today that they updated things to allow booking for the coming season. So, I booked my tour.

And that’s where it stands. I’ve got all my planned tours booked, all my hotels booked, and my flights booked. I even managed to get an upgrade on the transatlantic flight with reward points, so I’m going business class.

My countdown clock says that I have one month and nine days left before I leave. I’ve got a little bit of organizing to do before the trip1, but all the heavy lifting2 is done, so I’m thinking that month and a bit is just gonna crawl by.

If you want to see my final itinerary, it’s over here.

  1. Mainly, I want to transfer my itinerary into a pocket notebook that I can access without batteries or connectivity, look up the train and bus routes to get me where I want to go, and start sorting out my packing. []
  2. And most of the paying. []

Less Than Four Months

So, it occurred to me earlier this week that there were less than four months left before my trip, and that I had better start finalizing stuff. Over the past several days, I’ve booked a number of tours, made a number of plans, and ordered a rail pass that will let me travel eight days1?

I’ve updated my itinerary page with the details, so check that out if you have any interest. The biggest empty bit is York – I need to do a little more research to see what there is in the area besides the city2 to see. I also need to sort out which of the several ghost tours of London, York, and Edinburgh I want to take. More research.

For those few3 who care about such things, I tried out a new bag for traveling this year – the Tom Bihn Tri-Star, which is a wonderful bag. It’s got great organization, and can hold an immense amount of stuff. But not quite enough for a three-week4 trip. So, I’m sticking with my Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, which saw me so successfully through Ireland twice. I was impressed enough with the Tri-Star, though, that I will continue to use it for shorter trips, like my summer convention trip, or weekends out at the parents’ farm.

For a day bag, I’m going with another Tom Bihn bag – the Pilot. I’ve paired it with the Tri-Star on other trips, and it’s pretty much perfect for what I want. So, yeah, I am becoming an even bigger devotee of Tom Bihn bags than I have been. Make of that what you will.

  1. Looking at my schedule, I will be traveling exactly eight days, from city to city, with a couple of day trips here and there. Perfect. over the three weeks that I’m there, all across Great Britain, including Scotland. First Class, because why not ((It is a little bit more expensive, but not nearly as much as I expected, and I’ve read from UK folks that first class on the long-ish journeys is really worth it. []
  2. Which is pretty awesome, from all accounts. []
  3. Very few, I’m betting. []
  4. Actually, 24 days. []

It’s Really Happening

Things have been kind of quiet here as I’ve slowly been booking stuff for my trip. Now that I’ve got a significant portion of it fleshed out, I’ve updated the itinerary page, and am writing this post so the few people who follow the blog1 can see where things stand.

Now, on the trip, London and Edinburgh were pretty much no-brainers. I wanted to start with London2, and finish up with Edinburgh, winding my way north over the three weeks of my trip. I had originally intended to take in some stuff in Cornwall, but the research I did showed me that it would be pretty time-consuming and expensive, taking me well out of the way, and leaving me less time for a lot of other things.

Side note: the UK is significantly more expensive than Ireland. Like, 50-100% more expensive, at least for accommodations. I thought things would get cheaper outside of London, but that did not turn out to be the case. I’m paying for as much of the accommodations and tours as I can before the trip, so that I don’t need to worry about that part of the trip ON the trip. It’ll give me time to pay off the expense before the actual trip.

Anyway, the days between London and Edinburgh. I kind of wanted to see Oxford – it’s full of neat history3, amazing architecture, and is centrally located so that I can take a couple of day trips to interesting places like Bletchley Park and Stratford-upon-Avon. Maybe even Blenheim Palace.

A little more research convinced me that the next stage of the journey should be York. Again, a lot of very cool history and architecture4. I don’t have a lot of solid ideas of what I want to see there, yet – I need to do some more research. But I’m convinced that a few days there will be well-spent.

Now, the next stop is a little more problematic. I really want to see Fingal’s Cave, which is off the west coast of Scotland. It’s off the beaten path, and it’ll take me pretty much a whole day to get from York to Oban5. Then, the actual boat tour may not land on Staffa6 if the weather is not co-operative. So, I may be taking two days to go out of my way to see something that I may not, in fact, get to see. Sounds a little like my abortive attempt to see the Skelligs, doesn’t it?

But I really want to try and see Fingal’s Cave, and I’ve got a couple of days to spend. I figure it’s worth a try.

And from Oban, it looks like another full day of travel to bring me to Edinburgh. And from Edinburgh7, I take the train down to spend my last night in a hotel near Heathrow before flying home the next day.

I’ve booked a few tours, etc. already. Here’s what’s officially on the books:

  • The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. This is free, but you need to register in advance to be allowed to see it. I’ve got my certificate of entry, so I’m good!
  • I’m staying in Whitechapel while in London, so of course I need to take a Jack the Ripper tour. I’ve found one that looks pretty good and booked it.
  • I also booked a tour that takes me to Stonehenge, Bath, and Lacock. It’s a bit of a pricey tour, because it gets me8 a private viewing of Stonehenge at sunrise. Inside the inner ring of stones. I’m sure Bath and Lacock are cool and all, but INSIDE STONEHENGE!
  • I found that one of my favourite performers, Derren Brown, has a new show that will be playing in Edinburgh while I’m there. The morning the tickets went on sale, I went online and snagged on in the front centre of the stalls. I’m very excited about this!

There are a number of other things I want to see and do, but haven’t finalized yet9:

  • Avebury. There’s a massive stone circle and a long tomb there. It looks easy enough to get there from London on the train and bus. I should be able to pair it with the next item for a full day trip.
  • Salisbury. Lots of cool history here, including Salisbury Cathedral with it’s Magna Carta.
  • Shakespeare’s Globe. If they’ve got a Shakespearean production on, I pretty much need to get a ticket.
  • Bletchley Park. WWII codebreaking museum! Looks to be an easy day trip out from Oxford. And very, very cool to see.
  • Stratford-upon-Avon. This is all about the Shakespeare, of course. Another easy day trip from Oxford. Maybe I can even combine it with Bletchley Park into one full day.
  • Rosslyn Chapel. Okay. I’m gonna go all conspiracy hipster. I thought Rosslyn Chapel was weird and interesting long before Dan Brown got his mucky fingerprints all over it and Da Vinci Coded it up. So, I’m gonna take the bus out from Edinburgh to see it. Maybe I can even find a tour that will take in the chapel and some other interesting sites in Scotland.
  • The Highlands. I think it’ll be fun to take a bus tour for the day through the Scottish Highlands. Why wouldn’t I? If it stops at Loch Ness, bonus!
  • So. Many. CASTLES! They’re everywhere! And I wanna see them all.
  • Ghost tours. No, I’m not credulous enough to think I’m going to see a ghost10, but you get such cool stories and hidden history on the tours!

There’s probably other stuff. I’ve got more than six months to keep planning and researching. It’ll flesh out.

But this is a decent start.

  1. Hi, Dad! []
  2. After all, I’m landing at Heathrow. []
  3. Not to mention it’s the site of the Inspector Morse mysteries. []
  4. Detecting a theme? []
  5. Via Glasgow []
  6. The island where the cave is. []
  7. After several days in the city, of course. []
  8. And the small group of other people on the tour. []
  9. To be fair, some of the things don’t need to be finalized in advance. But still. []
  10. I do not believe in ghosts. Want to change my mind? Show me proof. []

It Begins Again…

Trip Advisor has been sending me a lot of e-mail lately, telling me how cheap it is to go to Ireland again. Or to lots of other places. These e-mail temptations always seem to show up while I’m trying to concentrate on work, and not on how much I’d like to be traveling. So, to take some of the sting out of them, I decided it was time to start planning the next trip.

I’m thinking spring/summer of 2015 for this one. That gives me about a year and a half to figure out what I want to do. After some thinking, agonizing, and discussing, I’ve decided that I’m not returning to Ireland this trip1, but to move slightly east and see England and Scotland2.

So, with that decision made, I did what I always do when starting a new project: I hit the bookstore for research material. I was sad to see that For Dummies books seems to have stopped making travel books – those were always a good starting point for research. I’ve tracked down and ordered the latest editions of their books for London, England, and Scotland, and grabbed a few Lonely Planet guides to get me going.

It's a good start, I think.
It’s a good start, I think.

So, that’s the plan. I know that there are a few places that I really want to see:

  • London
  • Oxford
  • Edinburgh
  • Tintagel
  • Stonehenge

I’ll have to figure out what’s practical, and how best to do it.

Here we go again!

  1. Though, as I type this, there’s a slideshow of my Ireland pictures showing on my TV, and I begin to second-guess that decision. I love Ireland so much! []
  2. And maybe Wales. I dunno. We’ll see as the planning progresses. []