UK Trip 2005
Trip Day 1 - 7/22/05
There were some weather problems between Cedar Rapids and Chicago but nothing serious right now (12:43). Luckily we got on an earlier flight to give us some extra leeway in case there were delays.
We made our connection in Chicago easily even though our plane was a little late getting out. The flight was fairly decent however it was hard to sleep because of light and noise. United is a lot worse that way than other airlines where we have flown first/business class.
An uneventful landing in London and getting through customs and immigration was easy. We had to wait about 1/2 hour until our driver showed up. In the meantime we ran into two others of our tour group. After that, a long drive to the hotel and more waiting while they got a room ready for us. I took about 3-4 hours to get a couple hours of sleep but ended up feeling okay (not great).
After our nap we checked out the pub in the hotel and walked a little bit around the area. Another drink and other members of the tour group (a total of 11 people) started to arrive. Six people had a bad drive in from Gatwick due to trouble on the freeway. We had a group dinner and planned the next few days. Keith Kato, our nominal group leader, wants to go to the theater one night - I'm not sure myself. Tomorrow we go on a day-long tour of London and I expect to be tired.
Trip Day 2 - 7/23/05
Today was a long but great day. We started off taking a bus to a central bus station and then off on the Discover London tour. One other member of our group (Rich Camp) accompanied Jan and me on this tour. Our first stop was Westminster Abbey. There was so much to see at Westminster Abbey and we only had a limited time if we wanted to make the changing of the guards on time. We managed to hit the highlights but I wished we had the time to seek out the memorials and burial markers to a number of other famous people. It was very moving to view the graves of people like Newton and Darwin, and even the less famous like Cavendish and Stokes. I must find out it they have a directory of who is buried there.
Next we rushed to the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace which was much different than I had expected and from what is seen in movies. In some ways it was more like "the running of the bulls." Many, many people running along the road to keep up with the marching soldiers and horse back troops. Very colorful and very much an "event" though the government does not officially consider it a tourist attraction.
After that, off to lunch at a pub which was okay but nothing really memorable. It was a good way to get to know a few of the other people on the tour and to rest our feet for a while.
Next the bus took us down to Westminster dock to get on a boat which then took us down the Thames to the Tower of London. Lots of interesting sites along the way.
The Tower of London was probably the highlight of the day, at least for me. We were there for over two hours and I don't think we got to see 1/2 of the place. Still it was fun. Even though it was only about 76 degrees F, the humidity was high and I got really tired out.
The Crown Jewels were something to see. It is amazing how much wealth was put into things that only have symbolic value, and obscure (in modern days) symbols too. I like the history associated with the place and the stories of the background of some events.
That was the last part of the tour for most people but the three of us added the "London Eye", a huge Ferris Wheel sort of thing that offers a great view of London. It sits along the Thames and is 150' tall. The cars are transparent ovoids and each revolution takes 40 minutes. This gives a spectacular view of most of London. Even though we were hot and tired, it was a great end to the day.
After that Jan, Rich Camp and I ate at a little restaurant near "The Eye." It was good food though a little too "trendy" for our taste. Still they had fine service and an acceptable (for a picky eater like me) menu. After dinner we took a cab back to our hotel and spent some time relaxing before turning in for the night.
Trip Day 3 - 7/24/05
Today we slept in a bit and then took a cab to the Tower Pier where we caught the boat to Greenwich. It was overcast and spitting rain as we left but we remembered the umbrella and were mostly prepared. At Greenwich we wandered around a bit before we found a map and then walked up to the Old Royal Observatory. There was something about it, seeing all of the clocks, compasses and astronomical instruments that were part of the development of the sciences. Astronomy, navigation and time keeping all benefited greatly from the work that went on at Greenwich. We took the obligatory photos of each of us standing astride the prime meridian.
Jan and I both considered the observatory as the height of the day's sights. After we walked back down the hill from the observatory we found a "pub" for lunch and to get out of the rain which was growing heavier. Not a traditional pub but a rather avant-garde, artsy place called the Greenwich Park Bar. A very nice respite from the rain and we stayed for two glasses of wine hoping it would dry off a bit. No such luck!
Next we went to the National Maritime Museum and wandered around for a long time. Unfortunately, like the observatory, they did not allow photography in most of the building. It was also a rather labyrinthine layout which made it hard to cover everything without doubling back. We finally gave up trying to find some exhibits and left. We then went to what amounted to a large, indoor flea market. It was very different than such things in the US. Had booths selling pastries, cakes, meat, cheese and a wide array of stuff I would not have expected at a flea market.
From there we found an Internet café where I could check email and report to friends that all was well with our trip. The price was very low and I wish we could find one in the area of our hotel. I have had no luck with Wi-Fi connections in any place so far. Anyway, got quick messages off to everyone and will try to find another place tomorrow.
Last we went to see the Cutty Sark - a famous sailing ship that was in the tea and wool trade before steamship were common. It was a great thing to see and photos were not prohibited.
We missed the next returning ferry by just minutes - if we had wanted to run on wet cobblestones we might have made it. Instead we stopped and had some soft drinks while waiting for the next boat. That took us back to the Tower Of London where we caught a cab to our hotel. We ate in the hotel Pub that evening and struck up a conversation with a woman from Texas. She was staying over in London before returning home. She had been traveling all over Europe and had great stories to tell about what she had seen and done.
All-in-all, a great day except the sun waited until we got back before coming out.
Trip Day 4 - 7/25/05
We headed for the British Museum early enough to get there when it opened. Actually arrived quite a bit before so we were able to browse some shops in the area. Went in at 10:00 and covered most of the first floor before we were to meet my friend Liz Holliday.
Liz was a bit late but we met up as planned. Then the three of us headed for Coventry Gardens to shop a bit more and look for a place for lunch. We found a nice pub and had a good meal. Next we took a cab to continue our whirlwind museum tour; the Natural History Museum followed by Science Museum and finally The Victoria & Albert Museum. Before we knew it, it was dinner time so Liz led us to a place she knew on the edge of China Town. After a great dinner we went to Liecester Square and capped off the day with Haagen-Dazs. Finally we walked Liz to her bus stop and headed back to our hotel for some wine in the hotel pub before packing for our departure on Tuesday.
Trip Day 5 7/26/05
A slightly late start from the Jurys Inn London and rush hour traffic made us a bit late into Stratford-on-Avon. Didn't help that our driver had never been there before. But we got there in time to meet the tour guide, Ian, who was very good. Knowledgeable, funny and helpful - all we could have asked.
First we went to Shakespeare's birthplace, quite an old house, even for England. The place was very busy but, thanks to Ian, we got good descriptions of everything from the docents there. Next we had lunch in an out-of-the-way little "bar" associated with a department store. Looked like it was the place for the locals.
After that, some wandering around in the area of the Shakespeare house, then on the bus to Anne Hathaway's cottage which turned out to be an even older farmhouse.
From there to Warwick Castle which was very busy. We climbed up to the battlements and up one tower (total 530 steps) but wimped out at climbing the other tower.
Our hotel that night was a 400 year old building in Salford - now a Best Western! It was very nice. The whole group (11) got together for an elegant dinner there. In the morning we'll have a "full English breakfast" before leaving for Stonehenge.
Trip Day 6 - 7/27/05
A bit of a problem this morning regarding the vouchers for the hotel. We had to wait until after 9AM in order to get things straight and be able to start out. Our first stop was supposed to be Stonehenge which turned out to take a lot longer than expected. The next stop was Glastonbury Tor which was also supposed to be the lunch stop. Unfortunately, we arrived at nearly 2:30 PM and most places were already closed for lunch! Ended up with a glass of wine and a bag of potato chips for lunch.
The next stop was supposed to be the Roman Baths in Bath. We should have had a guide but s/he never showed up! Consequently we had to guide ourselves which turned out to be pretty easy though probably not as informative as it would have been with a guide. After this people were late getting back to the bus and it was after 7pm when we got into our rooms.
Jan and I had a quick meal in the bar and then I went trying to find an internet café. No luck on that front so back to the room for a shower and to finish off our wine.
Tomorrow the plan is 7:30 departure for the train station though the chances of problems there are also high. If we make it to Edinburgh - then we will at least be a little closer to getting things working.
Trip Day 7 - 7/28/05
A good, if uncertain start this morning. We got to the Bristol train station after a minor bit of delay but with plenty of time to get tickets and figure out what we were supposed to do. There is some trouble with the luggage as the space on the train for bags is very limited. I hope the next train is not even worse.
As I type, we are on the train heading roughly north and should be in Carlisle in about 4 hours where we switch trains. The trains have a strange mixture of reserved and non-reserved seats which caused some confusion. At Carlisle the transfer to the Edinburgh train went fairly well though places for luggage was a problem.
When we got to Edinburgh we were amazed to find the guide waiting for us. This was the first time on the trip where things happened exactly as expected. We got to our hotel in fine time and then Jan and I went looking for an Internet café to report back to everyone. Once the emails were sent and received we wandered around exploring that part of Edinburgh and looking for a restaurant for dinner. We found a nice place overlooking the harbor here. We had dinner while watching the tugboats bring in a freighter.
Tomorrow - off to the Scottish highlands at Aviemore and we will be there for two days.
Trip Day 8 - 7/29/05
The bus took us to the highlands where it was rainy and cool. We stopped at Sterling Castle and spent quite a while there. I managed to damage myself by banging my head on a low doorway. Even with my hat on I ended up a bloody lump my forehead.
Next we lunched with Hamish - a highland bull. Unfortunately the place was not my sort - had potato chips for lunch again.
Then on to the hotel in Aviemore - which seems to be a vacation town which exists only for tourists.
Dinner at the hotel was rushed - seems like the dining room runs on a strict schedule. Turned out to be the same for breakfast.
Trip Day 9 - 7/30/05
Out from the hotel at 9AM to go to Loch Ness for a boat cruise. At least we were staying at the same place tonight so we didn't have to pack and load luggage.
The cruise was fun though wet and we ended at the ruined Urquhart castle. Lunch in the café there was much improved over the previous day.
From there we went to Cawdor Castle. This castle was more modern than the previous few and is actually inhabited in the winter months.
Another rushed dinner at the hotel and to bed for an early start tomorrow.
Trip Day 10 - 7/31/05
We left Aviemore for our return to Edinburgh. Along the way we stopped at Blair Castle, one of the most beautiful of the castles we have seen. It is unusual as it is white rather than the color of natural stone. It also had the most beautiful gardens with every imaginable flower plus herbs, fruits and vegetables. After Blair Castle we went to The Queen's View overlooking Loch Tummel. It was thought to have been visited by Queen Victoria but probably named for the wife of Robert The Bruce, Queen Isabella. Just as we were leaving our bus had a problem with it's brakes - not a good thing on the winding and steep road back down! The plan had been to go to the town of Pitlochry for lunch but the bus problem meant that would not be possible. While our driver dealt with the brakes, we had lunch at the little "tea room" at Queen's View. Pleasant surroundings but not exactly my preference for lunch. Once on our way again we continued back, across the Firth of Forth and into Edinburgh. That night Jan and I ate at a pub called "The Arthur Conan Doyle" with a nearby the statue of Sherlock Holmes.
Trip Day 11 - 08/01/05
The next morning we got back on the bus for a tour of Edinburgh. We started at Edinburgh Castle to see, among other things, the Scottish Crown Jewels. Both Jan and I thought they seemed somehow more impressive than the English Crown Jewels we saw in the Tower of London. I am not sure why this was - more feeling than any specific detail. Edinburgh Castle also affords a great view of the rest of the city and the Firth of Forth.
From the castle we walked the Royal Mile of the "old town." The weather was great and we took a lot of pictures of the architecture and sights. We stooped at St. Giles Cathedral and had lunch in their little basement restaurant. While there we heard a choir from the US performing. From St. Giles we continued, stopping at a small church cemetery to look at the grave of economist Adam Smith. Finally we ended at Holyrood Palace, the official residence of the Queen while in Scotland. From there the bus dropped people off at various places around the town and we had time to explore on our own.
Trip Day 12 - 08/02/05
Today we started out with a visit to the Royal Yacht Britannia. It is a literal floating palace with every comfort for the royal family and their guests. Built in 1953, it has not been used since 1997 (we were told due to the cost of operation.) After visiting the Britannia we went to the Leith Woolen Mill - really a large department store. We had lunch there and then went out into the countryside to the Glenkinchie whisky distillery to see how Scotch Whiskey is made and to have a tasting after the tour.
Trip Day 13 - 08/03/05
This was the last day of the pre-convention tour and the bus took us to Glasgow and dropped the trip members at their various hotels. We were staying at the Marriott and turned out to be the last of the group to be dropped off. As a result we got a brief tour of Glasgow while the others were taken to their hotels. Even though it was early, we were pleased to find our room was ready. We were even more pleased to find that we had a king-sized bed - the first time in the entire trip. Once we got settled in we walked to the convention to pick up our registration materials. The as-the-crow-flies distance was only about 1/2 mile but we didn't discover the direct route for several days. This time we took the route along the river Clyde but construction at various places made us double back and take detours. It seemed like Glasgow was undergoing construction all over.
We picked up our badges and explored the convention center for a while, then we walked back to out hotel via a different route. We had lunch at the hotel pub and then went looking for an internet cafe. That took us into central Glasgow and gave us a chance to scope out that part of town. On our way back we bumped into Keith Stokes and made plans to have dinner with him on Saturday evening. That night we ate in the hotel restaurant and spent the evening planning our time at the convention.
Trip Day 14 - 08/04/05
This was the official opening day of the convention though not a lot was planned. I decided to attend the reading by Joe Haldeman at noon. On our way there we met Elizabeth Moon and she also thought Joe's reading would be a great way to start the convention. Unfortunately the room designated for the reading was way too small to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend. Rather than fighting the crowd we decided on lunch at the Moat House bar. After lunch we explored the dealers room and met a number of friends.
Opening ceremonies was at 3:30PM and was in typical Scottish fashion with bagpipes and a greeting from the Lord Provost of Glasgow. The guests of honor were introduced and there was a reception after. Brief and to the point - a good way to start the con.
Then we just wandered around the SECC for a while, meeting more friends and finding out where the various function rooms were located. We met some of the people from the tour and they recommended a place to eat - a pub called The Drum & Monkey. We were particularly interested as it was non-smoking - something we had not found in a lot of the places in the UK. Later we went to the Hilton (next to our hotel) for some of the parties - particularly those for Denver in 2008 and DC in 2011.
Trip Day 15 - 08/05/05
I wanted to get to the SECC in time to make the 10AM panel on Hardware Hacking with Cory Doctorow and others. It turned out to be even more interesting than I had expected. After that I had a full schedule of sessions ("Blogging Science", "What's New in Astronomy", and another that turned out to be not what I expected.) to attend until taking a break at 1PM to meet Jan for lunch. After lunch we went through the dealers room and art show. By then my feet were starting to complain so we took a cab back to the hotel. That evening we ate at The Thai Orchid, a Thai restaurant about 8 blocks from our hotel. They had exceptional service, a nice atmosphere and very good food. Definitely a place I would go back to and recommend to friends. More parties that evening at the Hilton - bids for Chicago, Kansas City, and Australia. Plus some other groups just wanting to have a party. One thing that was a little different at this convention was that the parties were held in hotel function space rather than suites or rooms. This had it's plusses and minuses - good in terms of space and moving between parties. Less good because of a less 'cozy' atmosphere and smoke infiltrating from smoking areas nearby.
Trip Day 16 - 08/06/05
Today I didn't have a session to attend when things opened so I instead got some coffee and logged onto the Wi-Fi network at the SECC. It was ridiculously expensive, at relative to my experience in the US where free wireless is available almost everywhere. In any case I got my internet duties finished in time start an almost nonstop attendance in panel discussions.
This evening we had dinner with Keith Stokes at restaurant called "78 St. Vincent Street." A very nice place with a limited but high quality menu. We enjoyed the meal and the conversation. Saturday was also the evening of the Masquerade so we took a cab directly to the SECC. We were still late enough that Jan and I ended up in the second balcony. It was gave us a good view but not very good for photography. Jan and I didn't stay for the awards but left right after the last contestants presentation. Again we went to the Hilton for parties but didn't stay too late.
Trip Day 17 - 08/07/05
Today was almost a duplicate of Saturday. Again I had my morning pretty fully scheduled with panel discussions including a very fascinating discussion of the Creative Commons License by Cory Doctorow. In the afternoon I had wanted to attend a session on techno-nostalga but there was a last minute change of the room and by the time I caught up there was standing room only. At that point it was time to adjourn to the bar! Sunday night was the Hugo award ceremony and also our planned dinner with Elizabeth Moon. Besides Elizabeth, Jan and I were joined by Canadian fan Bill Seney and Elizabeth's friend Yvonne Hewett. We went to the Cafe Gandolfi, a well known place in Glasgow. It was another very enjoyable meal with good food and great conversation. I had a dish called Finnan Haddock and Jan had Smoked Venison and we were both pleased.
This evening we were true to type and went to the Hilton for the parties. Since this was the night of the Hugo Awards, parties would be starting a bit later than usual. This was just as well as we had been invited to Keith Kato's traditional Chili party and, after our previous meal, we needed a little time before indulging any more. I think our ages are showing as instead of staying up late partying, we returned to our hotel before midnight.
Trip Day 18 - 08/08/05
This morning we planned to visit the tall ship exhibit along the River Clyde, near the SECC. Bill Seney and Elizabeth Moon planned to meet us for this. When we arrived Elizabeth was already there so we looked over the ship and took photos. The ship was the Glenlee (built in 1896) somewhat newer than The Cutty Sark which we say in Greenwich.
After that we went back to the SECC and attended two panels where Elizabeth was a participant. Then we had lunch with Bill in the Bistro at the SECC. After we decided to make a final check on the dealers room and then return to our hotel to pack for tomorrows departure.
Trip Day 19 - 08/09/05
This is purely a travel day. Caught a cab to the Glasgow airport early - actually a little too early. The wouldn't let us check our bags until 9AM so we found a coffee shop to wait. Once we got checked in we found the departure lounge to hang out until our flight left.
The Glasgow-London leg of the trip went pretty much as expected. Then our flight from London to Chicago was delayed for more than an hour. Since we had to clear customs and immigration in Chicago we missed our scheduled (7:40PM) flight to Cedar Rapids and had to get on the 10PM flight. Since there were numerous flight problems in Chicago it took over an hour of frustrating line standing to get our boarding passes and find the gate. Then that flight was delayed for last minute passengers. Finally we taxied out and before we could take off a severe thunderstorm hit. It took 20 minutes for that to pass and then we had to taxi to a different runway where we waited for the backlog of planes ahead of us to clear. Finally got into the air at 11:38PM (CDT). It was a rough but rapid (38 minutes) flight and then the long wait for baggage. Son Steev was frazzled after waiting for hours in the CR airport but he got us home without incident.
Overall it was a great trip but the return was just a little too long and hectic.
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