Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bath and Trowbridge

After having difficulty getting to Stonehenge in daylight hours I realized that I would have very little time to get to anywhere during daylight hours. I was here for work, and was usually finishing up somewhere between 4 and 5 o'clock PM. The people I was working with (Tony, Andy, Pete, and Vicki) all recommended that I should go to Bath and so that is exactly what I did the first evening. What a town! Fortunately they have the really neat buildings very well lit. The whole city has some very interesting architecture. There is the Royal Crescent and the Circus. When viewed from overhead they form the shape of a question mark. The Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths are a classic example of buildings having stood the test of time. The only thing I didn't like was that I was seeing all of this at dark!! I made sure to stop at a couple of pubs, including the "Saracen's Head" and the "Rat and Parrot".

On Wednesday, Tony and Andy took me to a local pub during lunch called the Royal Oak. I sampled another bitter and was encouraged to try one of the local ciders. The two have a very sharp contrast in taste!! I actually enjoyed the cider very much, it just wasn't exactly what my taste buds were ready for after having sampled a bitter. Good stuff, though. That evening, I returned to Bath, and being a little more familiar with the city's layout I did a significant amount of walking around. I went down the steps near the Pulteney Bridge and took a walk along the River Anon. I was able to visit a couple more pubs, stopping in at "Grapes" and the "Pig and Fiddle". The signs that are hanging outside the shops and pubs are pretty cool.

For lunch on Thursday Tony and Andy took me to another local establishment called "The Kicking Donkey". I had some fish and chips there along with some more bitters. I just can't get enough of that stuff! There are numerous Indian restaurants all over the UK, and that evening, a colleague of Tony and Andy's was taking a large group out to eat to one such restaurant in Trowbridge called "Tale of Spice". It was a group of about 10 of us. The food, drink, and conversation were all fantastic. I got to meet some other people (who could forget the Welsh, Paul?). There were definitely some characters there. I was "the American" for the evening. We stopped at a local Trowbridge pub called the Courthouse and took in some football (not American, mind you) while sampling some of the local bitters and ales. All in all it was a very good evening. Thanks again to Tony and Andy for asking and to Colin for picking up the tab!

Friday I wrapped things up with my group a little early and I had wanted to make an attempt to see Wells Cathedral, so I drove to Wells. Along the way to Wells I could see in the distance Glastonbury Tor, and the remains of St. Michael's church at the summit of the hill silhouetted against the setting sun. It was a really neat visual of which I wish I could have snapped a picture. I made it to Wells and found the cathedral and grounds. After walking around a little and snapping some pictures I headed in to Bath for the evening again. I managed to check off the last thing I had on my list of things to do while I was in Bath, too, which was to see the new James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace". Awesome movie!! It doesn't get released until November 14th in the U.S., and being a big Bond fan I wanted to see it while in the U.K. I had already made the determination that I would return to Bath Saturday morning before heading home so that I could see some of Bath during daylight hours. That morning I also was able to purchase a ticket to see the Roman Baths. I didn't have a lot of time to spend in Bath though, so I made quick work of the Roman Baths and then began the drive back to Heathrow. No incidents with the vehicle, and I got to Heathrow in plenty of time to catch a bite to eat before the 8+ hour flight back to Chicago. The flight home went well, and overall it was a good trip. I could have done without the car incident from last Saturday, but it was still a good trip.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

On to Trowbridge!

I had a long drive from London to Trowbridge to meet with my customers on Monday. Because of the hotel's location on the far east end of London I had to drive pretty much entirely across London, and on Monday morning it was real busy. Once I was outside of London the drive was pretty easy, and I was definitely getting more comfortable driving on the left side of the road with the driver's seat on the right side of the car.

I got things set up at my customer, Virgin Media, and afterwards I checked in at the hotel I was staying at, the Old Manor Hotel. The Old Manor Hotel is a Bed and Breakfast that also has packages that serve dinner, too. It's a very old converted farmhouse. It was originally built about 500 years ago, and was altered extensively around 1700. It's really neat. There are multiple buildings that have all the rooms, and it has a nice restaurant and small bar with a parlour/waiting room in the main building.

I thought I still had about an hour of light left so I thought I would try to get to Stonehenge and see it since it was only about 40 minutes away. The overcast sky, and the fact that there was less light left in the day than I thought meant that when I drove near to Stonehenge I could only see the large stones as dark silhouettes from the road. I was wiped from all the driving so I went back to the hotel for a late dinner that evening. I was looking forward to getting in to the town of Bath over the next couple of days.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Sun-day in London

After what had happened Friday night and all day Saturday I woke up Sunday morning expecting it to be pouring buckets outside and unable to really enjoy walking around London. I was pleasantly surprised to find it sunny outside. After grabbing an early bite to eat I made my way towards the river and towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Since I was on the far east side of London my plan of seeing the city pretty much involved starting at Tower Bridge on the east side and making my way towards Harrod's on the west end of London.

After getting some nice pictures of Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, and some other nearby buildings (see above), my next stop was St. Paul's Cathedral. On the way I stopped by the Monument that commemorates the Great Fire of 1666. Normally, you can go to the top, and I had done that the last time I was in London, but it was being refurbished and was closed to visitors. I went through Paternoster Square, and the cathedral is just outside that square. With it being Sunday, the cathedral was closed to tours, but you could walk in the back of the cathedral and look around if you weren't disturbing the worship services. Unfortunately, they don't want you taking pictures inside the cathedral, so my only pictures are of the outside and surrounding area.

Next, it was off to Trafalgar Square. I hadn't been to the National Gallery before, so I thought I would visit there and take in some of the paintings they have there. The Gallery is separated by time periods, and it was very interesting to see how artists in general changed the overall appearance of people in their paintings as it got nearer to our time. Some of the artwork dated back to the 1200's, and let me tell you, when artists painted people back then people ended up looking creepy. Anyway, lots of good stuff there, but once again, you cannot take pictures inside the Gallery.

After taking in the Gallery, I headed towards Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. I was able to get some nice pictures there. From there I headed towards Harrod's and the Hard Rock Cafe. I've been to the Hard Rock in London before, but it's the original, so I had to go back. After eating there, I made one more trip over to King's Cross Train Station to get a picture of "Platform 9 3/4". If you've seen the Harry Potter movies then you'll know that's the platform that the students use to board the Hogwarts Express. I thought my niece would appreciate seeing that pic. Finally, I headed back towards Piccadilly Circus and then back to the hotel. I was pretty satisfied with all I got done today, especially since I lost a day because of the car incident on Saturday. I did walk near the Thames to get a nice evening picture of Tower Bridge, too. Then it was time to get some rest for the 2 1/2 hour drive to Trowbridge Monday morning.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Tale of Two Days (in London)

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. OK, it wasn't either of those, but it certainly wasn't fun. I had a work trip planned that was taking me to the United Kingdom, and I was leaving on Halloween. The flight from O'Hare airport to London Heathrow was just over 7 1/2 hours long. That flight was actually the best part of the two days. I landed, picked up my luggage, and started to make my way to the hotel that was supposed to be connected to the airport. I managed to discover that it was located near a different terminal so I headed to the train and took that towards Terminal 4. As I was getting off the train someone knocked my laptop bag off of my suitcase, and as I made an effort to save it from hitting the ground something happened to two of the wheels on the suitcase that basically made the suitcase un-wheelable. So now I had to carry/drag this bag to the hotel. The hotel, where it is connected to Terminal 4, really isn't all that close. They have a long walkway that connects the two together. Anyway, eventually I was able to get to the hotel, check in, and get up to my room.

Once I arrived in my room I discovered that I didn't have any mobile phone service. To be real honest I wasn't too worried about this except for the fact that I had to contact the customer (ironically, a mobile phone provider) on Monday via phone, and I also had a 2 1/2 hour drive to Trowbridge where who knows what could happen. I called my cell phone service provider to see if they could help and of course they couldn't. Oh well, time to pick up a mobile "pay-as-you-go" phone for the week. Not a problem. I wish that had been the end of the issues, since it really wasn't too bad so far. Not great, but not absoultely horrible, either.

The next morning I went to pick up my car at the car rental. Lucky for me, they still had an automatic available. Most vehicles in the UK are manual transmission, and with the steering wheel on the right, I don't think I would've gotten comfortable trying to shift with my left hand. Unfortunately for me, Heathrow is west of London, and my hotel was on the far east side of London near Tower Bridge so I had to drive across all of London to get there. The driving was going OK, even though it felt awkward to be on the left side of the road. The real problem I was having driving in London was all the scooters and motorcycles weaving in and out of traffic. It was this that caused my next dilemma. As I was making a right turn near Piccadilly Circus, a scooter was weaving between me and another vehicle in the lane next to me when he suddenly cut over in front of me. I thought I was going to hit him so I swerved to my left, striking the curb hard and bursting the front left tire. Because I was on one of the busier streets in London, I turned as soon as I could and just parked where I could find a spot for the vehicle.

This vehicle didn't come with a spare, it only came with a repair kit, which wasn't going to fix the blown sidewall I had (see picture). Without a working cell phone I was going to be forced to leave the car and find a way to get assistance. I used one of the phone booths (Thank goodness for those old red booths!!) and was able to get a hold of the rental agency's road assistance personnel, who said they'd send somebody out and that they'd be there within the hour. I waited at the nearest intersection per their instructions, and once I saw their vehicle I flagged him down and pointed out where my vehicle was parked. As I approached the vehicle I found another person staring at it. I didn't recognize the person at first, but it turns out it was a police officer that was writing out a ticket for my vehicle! Are you kidding me!?! I tried to convince the officer about my issue, but he informed me there was nothing he could do because the ticket was "written" out in his hand-held computer thing already. Awesome!!

...and now the piano falls out of the sky and lands on me...

Just kidding, but you can probably see how I felt. Just one thing after another. The road assistance gentleman tells me he can't do anything about the tire and will need to call for a tow, and because Budget's only rental facilities near London are at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the vehicle will need to be towed back to the rental agency, which is completely the wrong direction for me. The tow eventually shows up about 3 hours later, and after the 1 hour tow ride back to Heathrow and filling out new paperwork for a new vehicle, I was able to do the drive all over again, now only it's dark and raining out, too!

...and now I get in accident number two, right?

Nope, no incidents on the second drive through London, but it was pretty much a wasted day for me. Instead of getting out in London for all day Saturday I didn't even get checked in until almost 8pm. My body was still getting adjusted to the 5-hour time difference, too. I took a short walk near Tower Bridge, found a nice pub nearby the hotel, sat down for some bitters and some fish & chips, and just called it a night. Not a fun day, but I planned to be well rested for spending all of Sunday out and about in London!

It's all OK now, the trip got better on Sunday, and I've still got the week in Trowbridge and Bath to go. More pictures to come...