Nov 06 2009

Sami’s UK Travel Tips/Photo of the Day

Category: photos,travel,unsolicited adviceSami @ 6:46 am

1) If driving, get a GPS.

Unless you’re going for a very short stay, buy it; hiring them appears to cost ten pounds a day, and if you buy it, you can get used to it and put in principal destinations in advance.

Some Brits will make snarky comments about how they just use maps, but they’re used to this country and its sodding awful road design. The reasons you want a GPS if you’re not from here are as follows:

i) The road signs here are bloody awful. With a GPS you will STILL sometimes go astray, because you’ll find that you have five metres warning that the lane you’re in approaching a roundabout is right-turn-only, or left-turn-only, or go-straight-only – and there are an absolutely stupid number of roundabouts, and their design has zero consistency. The Magic Roundabout in Swindon is no longer even in my top ten Most Horrible British Roundabouts.

i,a) Don’t even try to work out what they were thinking. Only a sadist or someone who had never, in fact, driven a car would think that combining a roundabout with traffic lights, or having two roundabouts in immediate succession, with traffic lights between them, could possibly be anything other than a terrible idea. Welcome to Britain.

2) You don’t know what time it is. Wear a watch.

When I arrived at the farmhouse in which I’m staying for the next several nights, it was dusk. Naturally, this makes it late evening… except it was a quarter to five. That’s late afternoon. Your subconscious calculations of light levels and ambient conditions to tell you what time it is are wrong.

3) The papers are as bad as their stereotypes say they are.

An example is clear in today’s headlines.

The Times: “A bloody betrayal”
The Daily Star: “FIND THE BASTARD AND KILL HIM”

I only wish I were kidding.

The Daily Mail’s entire front page is dedicated to two headlines. A smaller panel: “Why yesterday was a sorry day for Britain, democracy and the Tories”. The bigger panel has a photo and: “THis is the bloodied flak jacket of one of the five British soldiers murdered in Helmand. Their killer? An Afghan policeman they trained and trusted. What kind of war IS this?”

I couldn’t bring myself to buy the Daily Star or the Sun, and I can’t remember the Sun’s headline, but it was pretty histrionic. The Afghanistan deaths were the front page of all but one paper – that one was about MPs.

4) Irn Bru tastes better in Scotland.

I don’t know why. It just does.

5) Some of the best places you will see are the ones no-one told you about.

Today, on my way south from Edinburgh, I stopped in Coldstream. The museum was closed, but I needed to pee so I stopped by the Town Hall/Library, then, on the purest of whims, I wandered down to Walk the Walk, a government/military surplus and memorabilia shop.

Which, it turns out, is also the building where some of the Coldstream Guards officers were billeted during World War 2, and down a narrow flight of stairs, there’s a miniature WW2 museum that surprises you as you come around the corner. At which point the sound system starts rotating through WW2-era songs and radio broadcasts, like Churchill’s speeches.

I bought three things there. One of them was not, originally, for sale, but he invited me to make an offer on it, and accepted my offer. The reason? We’d been chatting about my grandmother, and it turns out he had a framed set of maps and army print releases from the time and place where she was stationed.

Had. Now I have them.

Today’s photo:

This is a small bridge over the Leithen Water, in the town of Coldstream.

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Oct 25 2009

Scotland Photos: Western Highlands and Isle of Skye

Category: photos,travelSami @ 7:54 am

So, the Highlands to the west are really quite phenomenally beautiful.

An interesting thing about this following one: The road tunnel is all of one lane through.

This is taken from the inner courtyard of Eileen Donan Castle:

Bogland on the Isle of Skye:

An inlet I thought was beautiful:

Sunset on the Isle of Skye:

And finally, at dusk, the Skye sky eats the mountains:

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Oct 09 2009

England, day 3: Hungerford and Portsmouth

Category: adventure,photos,travelSami @ 3:19 am

Full photo set for today is here.

This morning I trotted off to Hungerford, after a leisurely chat with my uncle, to go to a bank before I headed on for my day’s main adventures.

In Hungerford I discovered that Barclay’s Bank didn’t open until 9:30am, Lloyd’s TSB didn’t open until 10am, and Natwest got my custom because it was actually open at quarter past nine, when my wandering down the high street got me that far.

Dear England,

What the hell.

Love,
Sami.

A local I chatted to commented that he supposed they were lucky to have a branch in such a small town; I feel this is not quite the attitude.

Still, Hungerford is a very pretty place, and in addition to getting hold of some actual cash, I got some snacks for the day’s travels, too: strawberries, blueberries, and some gluten-free chips. I also bought copies of the Times and the Guardian, though I’ve not yet had time to read them.

A brief digression on my accent: Apparently, my tendency to absorb accents has not abated. Around my uncle’s house I find myself using occasional South African-isms; amongst the English, I’ve had an odd progression in people commenting on my accent. The first was a woman in the bank, who heard it from their back offices and came out to ask me what time it would be in Sydney. The second was a woman in the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, who detected no Australian in my accent but picked up the American touch I don’t seem to be able to lose.

The third was another gentleman in another part of the museum, a couple of hours later, who thought I sounded entirely English.

Anyway, after I left Hungerford I headed for Portsmouth. Quite a long drive, but Radio 4 continues to be highly entertaining and the English countryside continues to be beautiful – and their’s something heart-stoppingly wonderful about seeing castles perched on hillsides in the distance.

Finally I reached Portsmouth, and I even found my way to the Historic Dockyards carpark, and then to the Historic Dockyards themselves. My booking on the tour of the HMS Victory was fairly soon, but on the way to it I had the chance to stop in one of the musuem galleries and see the honest-to-goodness actual, genuine Enigma Machine.

As a history buff of the period I follow, I assure you, this was terribly exciting.

After that, I took the tour of the Victory. Note: The Royal Navy still owns the Victory, and forbids photography, so I have no pictures of this. But I do have a picture of me, standing in front of the great ship, taken by the best photographer ever.

Apparently the best estimate is that about 25% Trafalgar materials remain in the Victory; in addition to the extremely heavy damage she took in the battle itself, it’s been an awfully long time, and since she’s now being kept in dry-dock, a number of the original cannons have been removed because she can’t take the weight, and replaced with fibreglass replicas.

That said, I saw, and touched, one of the cannon she carried at the Battle of Trafalgar. (As historic artifacts go, several tons of painted cast iron are on the list of those I do not feel it inappropriate to touch. I’m not sure I could damage it with a hammer beyond maaaybe chipping the paint.)

Walking on the lower deck where the original boards remain, I felt almost light-headed, thinking that my twenty-first century boots were tramping the same decks trodden by the crew – that I was walking where Admiral Nelson once walked.

We stopped in the area of the lower decks where the wounded were taken, and where Nelson himself died. The famous painting of Nelson’s deathbed scene is woefully inaccurate; it features people standing around, instead of hunching, because the ceiling is about five feet high there, and one of the men pictured standing tall with space above his head to spare was in fact six foot seven.

The low beams and the dim, windowless area give the deck a very claustrophobic feel, and the footsteps of people walking on the deck above are loud. It’s hard to imagine what the scene must have been like at the time he lay dying, with the cries of the other wounded, the battle still raging above, the thunder of footsteps amid the deafening blasts of the cannon fire.

After the Victory tour, I went to the museum, and saw the Battle of Trafalgar Experience, and checked out the display of figureheads and the miniature exhibition on the Royal Navy’s role in the ending of the slave trade; I noted that they do, at least, also acknowledge the Royal Navy’s role in the establishment of the slave trade.

*cough*:

After that, it was time to hustle down to the waterfront to board the ferry for the harbour tour. My photos from the tour are limited, as what I mostly did was video the whole thing – at some points the picture from the video gets terrible, because I was taking pictures with my still camera, but the tour speech from the driver was really good and I didn’t want to miss it.

Some highlights -

The white cliffs of Portchester Downs:

Roman fort turned English castle, Portchester Castle:

I disembarked from the ferry at the Gunwharf Quays, and went up the Spinnaker Tower. I’m not sure it would be at all worth it on a day with less clear skies, because for all that you can see for 27 miles, the tower is not that well-designed for good viewing. Nonetheless:

Finally, I wended my weary way back to my car, and drove back to Wiltshire. My plan was originally to have a nice bath and rest a bit before going out this evening to get petrol and do some shopping for winter clothes, but apparently I’m not quite over jet lag yet, because I’ve found myself feeling very, very tired and completely unfit to drive.

So, though it’s only a quarter past eight here in England, it is bedtime for Samis.

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Sep 24 2009

D minus 12 days

Category: if only you have your health,photos,travelSami @ 10:13 am

So, on the 10th of September (so says the file dating), Chas and I were passing through town when I spotted an odd sight. As I exclaimed to Chas: “There are mans on the building!”

So I pulled out my camera, and then my telephoto lens, to take pictures of the mans.

In case anyone’s wondering at the tendency for my pictures to have the slightly odd dimensions of 475 pixels in one direction and 713 in another: that’s a 15% resizing/resampling from the base image size my camera takes.

Travel preparations of late have been… well, pretty much nonexistent, for the most part, but the last week’s been occupied by an aggravating dose of acute vertigo triggered by a severe adverse reaction to medication. Fortunately that’s finally passing, because I do still have a couple of things to get done before I leave.

Primary items:

1) Acquire International Driver’s Licence
2) Buy some relevant foreign currency
3) Buy some warm socks

No, really. I own no warm socks, this is a problem. I barely own any socks that are longer than ankle-height, at that. I have a warm climate approach to sockdom.

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