13 July 2012

England: A Final Post

It's been an amazing three weeks. From 3:30PM on the 21st June when I walked out of work at Trampton, until I arrive back at the airport in Richmond on Saturday evening, it will be an experience that can never be repeated. It's Thursday afternoon, the 12th July as I write this, though it won't post until Friday evening. It's been raining all day, easily the dreariest day since I've arrived, despite all the apologies from everyone I've met, strangers, friends, publicans, shop clerks. So I've been reflecting back on the last three weeks in between sorting and packing, and getting ready to start the 4000 miles journey by train and plane back to the United States of America.

There's so many people that have made this trip such a grand success. I can only hope to thank them a little bit here, they mean so much more to me than I can express in a blog. Mark, you took off from work to shepherd me through the Heathrow labyrinth to the Central Bus Terminal (the place I hoped I'd never see again after 2007's seven hour wait for a bus that I thought would never depart), then spent the weekend and Monday with me, showing me around Cambridge - a truly remarkable city. Jack, you worked all day on Friday, followed  by an overnight shift at job #2, then caught the train to Woking to spend Saturday with us - wow! Thanks for that, my friend, meeting you in person was a highlight of the trip. I met another blogger friend - another highlight - while we were in Woking, making this town blog-central station! Note: If you ever travel to Woking, stay at the Holiday Inn. The Woking/Metro Hotel sucks.

In Cambridge, Martin took the time to ferry me out to the G6UW ham shack so I could operate as a foreign operator - M/N4PAT. There's 60+ new contacts in my logbook because of his generosity, including some new countries! Thanks, too, to the operators that heard my out-of-practice CQ's and came back to me. Martin also took me to Bletchley Park, where I spent a really great day learning about the code breaking teams of the Second World War, and examining the machines that they developed to make the job possible. This single location probably took years off WWII, saving countless lives of Allied soldiers. Worth  the time, for sure.

I managed to find my way from Cambridge to Long Buckby, and was met by Derek on the platform (the station isn't much more than a platform). The next 14 days were filled with new places and new things every day. It wasn't all about hitting each and every pub along the route, but those places were pretty neat - most were first opened in the 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th century - you can feel the history in them as you drink ales made usually within a few miles of the establishment, and eat food produced in many cases on farms nearby. I"ve been to museums and historic fishing villages, walked along ancient pathways and visited prehistoric burial sites. Castles, ruins, and harbours filled with modern yachts and fishing boats. All thanks to Derek and his knowledge of Cornwall. Rodney was nice enough to take me out on his narrowboat. I can definitely see the draw to such a bucolic lifestyle, and I talked a couple of times on the phone with a lady who lives with her hsuband aboard their narrowboat year-round - I follow her blog, so another blogger met, if only in voice.

Everyone I met seemed fascinated that a Yank would patronise their establishment, their bemusement turning to wonder (and perhaps a bit of pique) when they had to deal with my "swipe only" credit card.

I guess if this journal has a purpose beyond holding fond memories, it's to also encourage folks to get out and go! I've heard friends approach the idea of going abroad with great trepidation. What about the language? What about money? How will I cope? Let me tell you this: Even coming to a country where they speak "English", they are speaking a foreign language. I have never heard so many different words for familiar things in my life! Lifts, lorries, HGVs, "Give Way", roundabouts, the list goes on and on. Accents sound strange - but don't forget, you sound strange to them, too! Customs are different, life is different. But it's pretty easy to cope. It doesn't take long when immersed in a culture to pick up on the necessities to avoid looking like a totally moronic tourist. For instance, tipping in England is almost not done. Taxi drivers, if they handle your luggage, perhaps doormen (but I never stayed any place that "proper" so I don't know for sure). But in pubs, and restaurants? Nope, not done, not expected at all. Wait staff is paid at least minimum wage, so it's not like they depend on tips for a living. In pubs, you find a table, find a menu, decide what you want and order and pay for it at the bar. Some places will allow you to run a tab, some of those will ask to keep your card until you pay! But typically, you pay as you go. Prices include taxes, so if it says £4.99, it's £4.99 (that's four pounds, 99 pence, and about $7.80USD). One thing I would strongly encourage - get a smartphone that will operate in the countries you are visiting, and get a SIM card that will allow operation on local carriers without paying the exorbitant international rates that US carriers charge in foreign countries. Being able to communicate is important. Having Internet capabilities makes travel planning much easier. Most of Europe is pretty well covered with 3G at least, but it's all on GSM, not CDMA which is most prevalent in the US. My dual capability phone with its UK SIM card paid for itself time and again in making connections with friends, checking schedules, and generally staying in touch with everyone.  They're also handy to keep a tally of what you spend, what you charge, and to make currency conversions before you purchase that "oh so cute" thingie that only costs £50 ($78USD) in the window!

I think some of the neatest times are when the natives strike up a conversation. We visited a lot of places that really aren't on the tourist radar (perhaps British tourists, but not a lot of foreigners). I enjoyed it when someone would ask where I was from, and we'd wind up in a conversation about one thing or another. Avoid politics at all costs - America is not the most popular country in the world at the moment - just smile and say "I'd rather talk about the weather" and believe me, in Britain at least, they LOVE to talk about the weather!

Finally, take a camera and plenty of batteries, and if you are really smart, your camera and all other electronics will run off AA batteries. You can buy AA batteries EVERYWHERE! Take plenty of memory cards and swap them out frequently so the failure or loss of a single card doesn't cost you your whole trip's cache of pictures. Try to avoid buying lots of souvenirs. That's a personal thought, but I prefer to take pictures of EVERYTHING, and let those be my souvenirs. Plus, pictures take up no more space or weight than the cards you store them on, so you don't have to worry about carrying lots of stuff home with you, jeopardising the airline weight limits for your baggage, or your back when it comes to carry-ons. 

Here are a few more pictures, in no particular order, some of the 100's I shot in the last three weeks!
Cambridge Train Station

Bletchley Park National Code Center

One of the many church towers, visible from miles away.

The Angarrack remains my favorite pub in England.

The 6 meter antenna stack at G6UW.

A rooftop decoration.

Swan butt!

The lounge on Rodney's narrowboar.

Christ Church in Woking.

The River Cam.

A fine pub lunch.

This sign and the one below, are for the same roundabout.
You figure it out!!!

The geometric design on the stern of Rodney's narrowboar.
Many narrowboats have similar designs.

Above and below, the church towers that
dominate the landscape.

A "YIELD" sign in the Queen's English.

CHEERS, MATES! Thanks for coming along on my journey with me!

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