For the next three weeks or so, I will write about the trip my wife, two youngest daughters, and I have taken to Europe. People who know us and others can keep up this way. It will also stand as a sort of diary or journal. You might find it interesting.
I write this in an area of the UK, called the Cotswolds, in the countryside around Cirencester. It's 5:55am, and I noticed my tablet says 9:56pm, California time. This is the first time I've been overseas and the time difference does wreak havoc with sleep. Keep that in mind. It's just the way it is. I slept from 11pm to about 3:30am, UK time, and woke very awake. The body just doesn't cooperate. I ran into my youngest daughter in the hall way here at our airbnb and she couldn't sleep either, so maybe it isn't age.
Our church scheduled an early evening service like we often do this time of the year -- from 2:15pm to 3:20pm after a church potluck. We were packed, but we quickly changed at home and left there at 4pm, arriving at SFO at about 5pm. Our flight was supposed to leave at 7:35pm.
We traveled light for the first time of any trip in my memory. We put nothing underneath. This prepares us for two other short flights in Europe and some train rides: four very small suitcases for overhead and then a little under seat bag each.
After entering the airport, we walked straight to security. If you haven't done it before, it's worse than domestic. They look at your passport and they opened three of our suitcases to check what was in them. It took us at least an hour even with skipping the check-in process. Check-in online is more involved, because the airline asks passport related questions.
When you walk into a British plane, and we flew Virgin Atlantic, it is like you have already entered the UK. The flight attendants are British, the instructions are British, a lot of the people are British, the language is British, and the food is British. The pilot is British. I envisioned former RAF.
I'm just reporting, but Britain is diverse in ethnicity. A lot of them on the plane were Indian, some kind of Middle Eastern, and African. British colonies were all over the world. It's white people are different. We're all human beings, but they're not the same as Americans.
My family and I, all four of us, sat in a middle row about 3/4 back. We were next to two bathrooms either side, which is not a good seating situation, I'm telling you, for an overnight flight. People use the bathroom and the door opens and closes and the toilet flushes a lot. The good news is you can get right there if you need it and I was so tired that it didn't affect that much.
I'd never taken a ten hour flight. The most was cross country many times. It is a significant time difference. You feel like you missed a day. I watched The Darkest Hour, the film on Churchill. It's not something I would normally mention, but it was free on the backseat entertainment screen with Virgin Atlantic. It was very well done and a representative British film. I teared up a few times with his speeches during the darkest hours of World War II.
When we landed, we walked quite a ways at Heathrow to the passport area. It's a huge area, gigantic room, split between the UK and EU travelers and everyone else. Everyone else is a lot slower. It's like waiting for a popular ride at an amusement park, moving through a maze. In Britain, you have to fill out a card with your passport with even more info, that perhaps helps the process. I thought we got through fast. What is actually customs is nothing. You can walk right through that area and then you are on to whatever transportation.
For us, transportation was the underground. That's what they call it there. Some call it the tube. It's not the subway. The underground around London is very complex. In addition, you have a giant train scene there. There are options at Heathrow, but we bought four oyster cards with 30 pounds apiece on it, and took the Picadelly line to the Circle line to the Central line, which got us to where we got a rental car at a shopping center.
Getting around, you have the police in a kind of traditional British outfit with the unique hat. Everyone who talks to you is entertaining because it's coming in brand new accents and unique personalities. When we left the underground, I stopped at a bank and used an atm to get British pounds. I have a bank account for the trip with no foreign transaction fees. The pound is worth more than a dollar, something like 10 to 8 or so, and the money looks a lot different.
We rented a car nearer to our airbnb in London in order to drive out to the Cotswolds and Bath before returning on Wednesday. Getting the car wasn't a problem. I have a credit card that has no foreign fees.
One of the major issues is driving. The cars are different. You drive on the right of the car and on the left of the road. I had a manual transmission, so the stick was on the left too. I happen to drive on the left for the first time in a busy area with narrow roads and an amazing number of turnabouts. I don't think there is anything that you can do to get yourself ready for this right away.
Before we left, I downloaded on my phone an offline map, and that was a lifesaver, because our phone gps doesn't work there without cell phone. We've planned to get a sim card, and didn't because the store, a Tesco, closed early on what was a bank holiday, something British.
It is freaky to drive on the left. You can't get out of your mind that you are not going to run into ongoing traffic. You've got to tell yourself you are OK. The tendency is to drift left away from the middle line. Don't do that. You are next to the line on the right as a driver and just stay close to it. Numbers of times my left tire was hitting curbs on these narrow country roads.
The drivers are unhappy in England. The do not suffer bad driving. They honk and they give you gestures. Since you travel on the left, if you've got multiple lanes, the right lane is fast, just the opposite than the U. S. Many times I found myself stopping the speedy traffic in the slow lane that was really the fast lane. Don't do that either. Keep that right lane open for speed.
I can't tell what the speed limit is in the UK. It's not posted, at least not on M4, which I found they call the motorway. Rental places are car hires. The toilet is the lou, or something like that.
The roads in the countryside off the main road are narrow, not for two cars. We left the motorway for supper at about 6:30pm. In these villages, there are a lot of little quaint local restaurants. I had fish and chips at one, and it was amazing. Fantastic. We talked to locals. One older lady had just visited London for the first time in her life the previous week.
In these little places to eat, the people are very friendly and some are talkative. Others just stare. We told the owner that it was the best English fish and chips ever in our lives, which isn't much of a compliment, because it was the only in our lives. That got laughs from customers. They laugh.
We got to our airbnb and it is a cottage in the country. Perhaps I'll have more to say about these airbnb later. This is a first for me, and I do like it so far. It's staying with people you don't know with more for your buck. You also get local flavor. These people a really, really British.
Today we're going out into the Cotswolds, and I'll tell you what that's like, Lord willing.