Day 1: London, England - Edinburgh, Scotland
06:45: Up and at 'em! Research discussions with the 'rents regarding my uncle, the NSF ITR project, and the NSF FIBR project.
07:15: Downstairs for breakfast. The Globetrotter Inn provides free orange juice, milk (from a leaky dispenser that has turned into a fountain), toast, cornflakes, and blocks of formed granola. (Edit, 12:35 CST Wed 10 Aug 2005 - mrowe informs me that this was Weetabix.) I start reenacting a Talkie Toaster scene from an episode of Red Dwarf, but stop before I get any funny looks. Blackcurrant jam is yummy! I also like apricot jam, but I can get that anywhere.
07:55: Back up to the room. I take some photographs in a pale imitation of jereeza and yodge's handiwork. Clearly, I need a lot more practice.
08:15 - 09:50: Roaming Hammersmith as it comes to life on Monday morning, we see restaurants, books, shops, and lots of churches. I wonder whether He Who Carries Many Pharmaceuticals notices that pharmacies are called "chemists'".
- banazir: So the 'w' in Chiswick, Warwick, and Norwich is silent.
Banamum: OK. Oh, look, there's "Sandich King".
- I spot an office of the HSBC, where we were directed to go for currency exchange, but it's closed until 09:30. Here's an hour to go wandering about, then! Just be careful on the underground, eh?
- Restaurants galore! Asian ones: authentic Asian ones even. Certification of authenticity is quite important to the Brits, apparently, though I'm not sure how authentic these are. We walk past a Japanese place, three Indian ones, a Thai one, and a Chinese one.
- At Ravenscourt Park, a little place in Hammersmith, people can be seen walking alone or with their dogs.
- The Banafolks' Urge to Naturalize Currency can no longer be denied - travel with us and you'll see it in action. They dodge into a random Best Western and my mild observation that the exchange rate of $2.21 per pound is about 15% worse than the bank rate is ignored. ("We have to pay for cabs!") Ah, well. Consider it a photography tariff.
- Four blocks further, the Bank of Scotland's rate is $1.89 and Barclays' is $1.8666 with a £4.10 service fee regardless of the amount exchanged. I resolve to listen to cavlec and use my credit card for big items.
- Methodist and Lutheran churches line the streets. Before a couple of them I am able to do a more passable, though still hardly adequate, impression of jereeza.
- I stop to snap my first obligatory photo of one of London's world-famous double-decker buses:
- We pass by King's Cab taxi service, where the rate to go to Gatwick airport is £39. Banamum insists that I ask for a pickup six blocks away at the Globetrotter Inn, though, and guy behind the desk tilts his head, remarks, "you aren't London residents," and tells us that we can only get the £45 rate. Yeah, I don't like playing Ye Olde Tourist Dorke.
09:55: Hurry back to the room - checkout is at 10:00!
10:05: Check out; turn in some guest surveys in order to get three Globetrotter Inn knit caps. I figure they will come in handy in Edinburgh. (Edit, 15:30 CST Tue 09 Aug 2005 - boy, was I right.) Call the taxi.
10:30: Cab arrives; pay 45, and promptly forget to pick up a receipt. D'oh. Driver gives us tips on procuring a hired car as the parentals and I discuss plans to see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, and Buckingham Palace. (Edit, 15:30 CST Tue 09 Aug 2005 - eventually these plans fell through, but jereeza assures me these were rather some of the more touristy targets.) Traffic is heavy.
12:00: Arrive at LGW (Gatwick South).
12:20 - 12:40: The currency-seeking gene EXCH is again expressed and up-regulates GBP. Travelex's rate: 1.909 + £2; Bureau de Change / Wechsel / Cambio: 1.899 + £2, so we cash in $500 in American Express traveler's checks for £262. It is then that I discover that Banamum took my remark that she "didn't have to sign them now (in front of the cashier on 23 Jul 2005)" to mean that she didn't have to sign the checks at all until she cashed them. Yikes! Rather defeats the purpose of traveler's checks, it does.
12:40 - 13:00: Lunch at that famous British establishment... McDonald's. I pay £3.39 for each of two Filet-o-Fish meals and £2.99 for Banamum's chicken tikka meal. (Edit, 15:30 CST Tue 09 Aug 2005 - I am later to discover that chicken tikka masala is really popular here in Inkland.) I notice that the money is very cool-looking and part unwillingly with my ten-pound note featuring Charles Darwin on the back.
13:00 - 13:15: At a Boots' (think Eckerd or Walgreens if you're American) in the airport, I pick up some hand soap (60p), shampoo and conditioner (£2.50 total).
13:15 - 13:55: Step into a very long but fast check-in queue for EasyJet. All's that ends well with respect to my error with the Banafolks' names.
13:55 - 15:00: Wait to board, coming up on an other long queue. While we are in the terminal, I watch a BBC news brief about a hydroelectric plant that is going to run Windsor castle. Meanwhile, Banadad expounds on how run-down London airports seem to be, comparing Heathrow and Gatwick with BWI, Washington National (the new remodeled version, not the old dilapidated version), and even Kansas City International! Now, I have to grant that O'Hare is much nicer than Heathrow, and Washington National grows on you in time; but you can't get much more boring than Kansas City's airport is, IMHO.
15:00 - 15:57: A short wait at the departure lounge, followed by boarding and a long wait at the gate.
15:57 - 17:00: EasyJet flight from LGW (London Gatwick Airport) to EDI (Edinburgh International Airport). The flight to Edinburgh is quick; I get through only another three chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and drowse a bit.
17:00 - 17:20: Baggage claim. I spend 70 pence on two calls to EuroHostels in Glasgow (30p) and Edinburgh (40p) and wonder how long-distance charges work here before I remember that Glasgow isn't that far from Edinburgh. There's a faint loamy scent about Auld Reekie that I can detect for about half a day before my sense of smell habituates.
17:20 - 18:00: A return (round-trip) bus ride from Edinburgh's airport to the city center costs just five quid a head. It's quite a nice ride, too. We met a Swansea CS grad student from Beijing who is on holiday with her mother.
18:00 - 20:30: The G8 summit was held in Gleneagles, Scotland, between Edinburgh and Perth, just a few weeks ago. Wandering around town, I notice something curious that I dub the G8 Effect: the younger the average age of residents in a district, the more G8-unfriendly it seems to be. "A better world is possible," signs in the posh downtown districts read. "Say No to the G8" and "Stop the G8" read the signs approaching the Cowgate, and near the youth hostels, it's just "#£*% the G8".
- 19:00: Reach EuroHostels; met a northwestern Spanish girl who was talking to someone I couldn't see from the queue. I hear the words "decision theory" and "games" and silently bet myself ten to one that it's a UAI attendee. Sure enough, it's Itai Ashlagi, a student of Moshe Tennenholtz at the Technion.
- 19:45: book a couple of rooms (two twin beds in one room and a single in another) at 11 New Arthur Place, flat 5, rooms 2 and 3.
- 20:15: Get to New Arthur Place and into the rooms. Not bad: beds are narrow but not too hard; there are desks, shelves and cabinets; it's clean and there is a nice view from my single room. Lots of gulls circle the hills. There is a kitchen with a stove and oven, a fridge, a sink, an eat-in area, and enough chairs for eight people.
20:30 - 21:50: Take showers and inspect the rooms, trying to decide whether to stay here tomorrow, when a couple of students are expected to take the other two rooms on the floor.
21:50 - 23:00: Go to get take-away dinners from an Italian place: two garlic bruschettas, a chicken alfredo, an egg and prawn dish, and a crab and egg salad. And about half a pound of lemon twists, double dark chocolate brownies, cherry tarts, and sugar tortoises. 15 quid, the lot, and it tastes heavenly (except for the egg and prawn, but I had to try it once).
23:00 - 23:30: Scribble down some notes.
23:30 - 23:50: Brush my teeth and get dressed for sleep, prepare my bed, and drift slowly to sleep. A long day.