The Andrew Turnbull Network

Travels to the United Kingdom and Beyond

The First Week

Day 1 (Monday, 17 July)

Ah yes, the big day at last. I'll be taking daily notes as I go along this trip. The composition book I was handed for that very task, I just happened to notice, is marked "©2004...Made in China." The last one I had, otherwise identical in appearance, said "©1994...Made in U.S.A." Frustrating, isn't it...can I count on nothing being made here any more?

I didn't attend the trip to worry about economics or infrastucture, though. It didn't take long for me to pack and be prepared. Transportation was by Concord College (oops, University) van, and our group all left town around 11:00 a.m. or so. The trip down was mostly uneventful, although at one point I was modestly delighted to hear "Heavy" by Collective Soul come on the radio.

I'm riding aboard U.S. Airways flight 94, on an Airbus A330 aircraft (for you flight buffs). We departed from Charlotte, North Carolina; a city with the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of "Billy" Graham. That fact sticks in my mind only because we nearly got lost on a road named after that self-righteous fool on our way to the airport. That incident aside, we got to our initial destination without problems...although for a fleeting moment my sensations brought to mind the scene from Home Alone 2 where Kevin gets separated from his family and boards the wrong flight by mistake. This was the first airplane flight I had been on in close to twenty years, so in many ways these experiences were new to me.

I resisted the "temptation" of spending money on overpriced refreshments at the airport terminal, and boarded our jet around 7:00. I have a window seat. It's great to look out and see the scenery below...particularly at night, when the street layouts light themselves up in grids.

I wasn't expecting much in airline service, especially from an airline as pedestrian as U.S. Airways (née USAir), but I've been reasonably satisfied so far. There's even passenger-selectable in-flight entertainment built into the armrest and facing seatback, although the seemingly monophonic headphone jack works in only one ear. There are a number of video and music-related diversions available if you don't mind the quality. In fact, I'm listening to What Now, My Love by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass right now through these very means.

I also had my first taste of airline food today. It was edible but definitely not worth writing home about. P.S.: Death to the "spork!"

Day 2 (Tuesday, 18 July)

After a "night" of relatively little sleep, we lost six hours and arrived at Gatwick Airport the next morning. Upon commencing with a very long walk through the terminal, we boarded a coach to take us the rest of the way to London, where we were staying for the majority of our time.

My initial sensations were quite positive: In terms of landscape, architecture, and culture, I have yet to find a thing about England that I don't consider better than the equivalent characteristic of the U.S.! The dampers to my enthusiasm were 1) the very high cost of everything, especially around the London area, and 2) the words "ClearChannel" emblazed upon the bases of several large advertising billboards I passed by. WTF is that stupid corporation doing here?

One thing that striked me was how many models of cars on the roads aren't exported to the United States, and what variety there was: I saw everything from a three-wheeled Reliant Robin to Smart cars to the inevitable London taxi to a LHD Lincoln limousine!

Number plates in Great Britain are coded to include a reference to the age of the car. On the way from Gatwick, I saw very few plates with age-identifier suffixes (1963 to 1983), and only once did I see the black plates used prior to 1973 (on an ancient car being driven down the road).

Traffic signals in the U.K. are coordinated so that a combination red-yellow signal appears before green. This makes it easier to prepare to move when driving with a manual transmission, as I prefer to do.

[The view outside]
The view outside my door.

Given how crowded and convoluted the London street layouts are, it's no wonder why there are so many bicycles, motorbikes, and small cars. It's impossible to imagine someone slinging a Suburban or the equivalent around here...goodness knows how the lorry drivers survive.

Our residence for much of the next three weeks would be Schiller International University, a private institution whose London "campus" was localized within a single building on the South Bank. We spent most of the afternoon being taken on an extended tour around town by resident madman Dr. White, who rarely slowed down or even paused for breath. I got a few photos out of that, though.

[The Thames] [The Thames]
Left: The view of familiar landmarks along the Thames near where we were staying. Right: Sorry, I couldn't resist!

As for Schiller itself: The college is in an old hospital building, and accomodations were about as non-frilly as I expected. The food there was not great, to put it mildly. The server spoke in broken English (I'm still wondering what she meant by referring to a juice beverage as "squash" of all things), and served us the same beef/potato/rice glop for dinner as for lunch.

[The Lyceum]
The Lyceum, one of many features Dr. White hurried us past this day.

Speaking of beverages, I find this wording from the Schiller literature interesting: "We do not advise you to drink water from the taps." Funny, I thought in a modern industrialized city like London the water would be safe to drink. I'm tempted to down a fifth of water just to spite them.

Have I really been here for less than one day? It seems like a week already.

Day 3 (Wednesday, 19 July)

After a few absent-minded moments in the early morning hours in which I misinterpreted the hourly chime on my watch for a wake-up signal, the day went pretty well. The food was better as well this time, especially breakfast and lunch.

In terms of activities, today we went on an extended, guided trip primarily through the east end of London, calling upon the Underground and light-rail systems for transportation on more than one occasion. One of the favorite things I saw was the Spitalfields Market, where several vendors were selling off used records and CDs. I found three: Joe Jackson's Blaze of Glory, a really old copy of Dire Straits' Communiqué, and a rare and obscure album by a band called Oasis that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Gallagher brothers. I can only wonder what would have happened if I had had more time and money.

One of the stranger things I saw was a mosque with a large, beautifully ornimented, and centralized door labeled "Men's Entrance" (or something along those lines) and a smaller door off to the side that was the "Women's Entrance." No wonder I'm not a religious person.

I spent an hour of time walking to and along Regent Street for a while (without finding the infamous Apple store, if you're wondering) and also visited the reconstructed Globe Theatre for a lively performance of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. We were on the standing room (where of course the stewards did their best to make sure none of the plebians in front sat down!), and my feet and legs were killing me by the time it was through. They probably wouldn't have if I hadn't gone on my Regent Street walk in addition to everything else, however.

Day 4 (Thursday, 20 July)

Today was quite the eventful day. The temperature was less roasting than it had been the days before, although it was still quite hot. Events began with a boat tour down the Thames, punctuated by the guide's witty and often-humorous remarks about the surrounding features. We stopped in Greenwich, where I walked around a bit before going into a late-minute panic trying to find the train station, and saw and learned about the Thames Barrier. I even found a vending machine that had an option for Pepsi Max (the favorite beverage of Greg Mitchell, an online acquaintance of mine), although I accidentally chose the option for Pepsi Max Lime and Lemon Twist instead. That drink wasn't bad, but tasted weird.

The powers that be at Schiller University had packed a lunch for me and everyone else, which I examined with skepticism. The sandwich was terrible: Thin slices of ham with gelatinous cheese and what appeared to be margarine of all things, although thankfully they provided enough other food on the side to keep me satiated.

After another boat ride home, our group got splintered up. I followed a familiar handful of students around, which I eventually found out were intending to go to the Hard Rock Cafe. The small group eventually boiled down to just my trip roommate and I after a split over transportation means, and he eventually led me past Westminster Palace and much of the ritzy west end before I concluded that neither of us had any idea where we were going. I took the Underground from there to "home," where I got a bit to eat at Burger King and walked around. I seem to have averted an evening theater "option" through my late-afternoon mishaps, but so be it.

Day 5 (Friday, 21 July)

Breakfast at Schiller is getting monotonous: It's always the same old toast, juice, and corn flakes. I turned down coffee today since it kept me up in bed last night. Other nitpicks about our accomodations: The pillow is very clammy in the record-hot weather, the bed is too short for my 6'4" dimensions, and last night I found that I could no longer lock the room door from the inside.

That said, today was a very good day. The only organized activity was a lecture at the Globe Theatre; otherwise, I virtually had the day to myself.

I honestly can't remember how many times I rode the Tube today, but it was a lot! Free from the constraints of organized activities and time limits, I went on some walks and deviations of my own. As the first point of order, I ate my packed lunch at Leicester Square, where most of the grass was so trampled upon that only dirt remained. I did actually find and step inside the infamous Regent Street Apple Store, though I had no intention of buying anything there. It was a very inconspicuous building that I had passed by earlier without knowing. I was surprised at how busy the store was and by how worn the floorboards already looked.

[Piccadilly Circus]

I stopped at the Virgin Megastore at Piccadilly Circus and bought Peter Gabriel's Deutsches Album there. I also made a rudimentary visit to the gigantic British Museum, although some of the more interesting-sounding exhibits (such as those on money) were closed.

I found many of today's experiences to be memorable. I had a more satisfying experience being independent rather than being stuck with the other friends (and enemies) I have from Concord.

Day 6 (Saturday, 22 July)

[Bath] [The entrance to the Roman baths]
Left: Bath. Right: The entrance to the Roman baths.

Today, the potential monotony of spending day after day in London was at last alleviated with a day-long side trip to points further west. I first stopped at Bath and had a brief look around there. The second stop was Stonehenge...of course, you can't walk right up to the rocks any more, and the rocks themselves appeared to have been noticeably touched up with concrete, presumably to cover up the carvings and graffiti that resulted from people walking right up to the rocks a time too many!

[No Splashing] [Stonehenge]
Left: No splashing at Bath! Right: Stonehenge. The little sign in the corner warns visitors not to cross the rope barrier just barely out of the frame.

Finally, we visited Salisbury, England (not to be confused with the inedible Salisbury Steak that WVU Dining Services love to serve), a charming city punctuated by a giant gothic cathedral. While in the area, we did come relatively close to Wells Cathedral as well (which I did a report on for an art-history class a year ago), but I didn't see it.

[Salisbury Cathedral]

I was supplied a packed meal by the kindly if illiterate folks at Schiller. Only later on did I discover that, for some unfathomable reason, the contents of the bag included:

I segregated the contents discriminately for lunch, while for dinner I forwent the sack for a visit to a local hamburger joint I stumbled across in Salisbury, which wasn't a vast improvement. In fact, it's a wonder I haven't gotten a stomachache or Mad Cow Disease by now.

Day 7 (Sunday, 23 July)

About halfway through the day today, I began to experience a headache and slightly sore throat, on the eve of my trip to Scotland no less. Whether this was provoked by my dinner the previous evening or a member of our party who was a-hackin' and a-coughin' himself is indeterminate...and although I'm not in my best of moods today, I'll try not to let that spoil things.

We rode a train to Henry VIII's architecturally fascinating but laughably unnecessary Hampton Court...think of it as the "Millennium Dome" of the sixteenth century. I liked the kitchen exhibits with mock and real food on display, and my favorite bit was the hedge maze in the gardens. I spent a few hours in and around there and ultimately rode a boat part of the way home, transferring to yet another train for the remaining journey. If I could count the number of times I've been in and out of Waterloo Station now, I'd go nuts.

On a whim, I decided to try out Schiller University's alleged computer lab this evening. The computers themselves were standard form-factor cases in the boxy desktop case designs that were popular 15 years ago. When coupled with Dr. White's sarcastic statement that they were "state-of-the art 386s," I was half-expecting the Windows 3.1 logo to appear when I turned one on. Not so...the computers were running Windows XP (and not at instantaneous speeds either, I might add!) Worse, although the computers were allegedly Internet-connected, Internet Explorer was the only browser provided (and if they think I'm going to use that for online communications, they'll have another think coming!) and the computer was so locked down and unadorned that the only other thing you could go was run one of the five other measly applications that they bothered installing, all of which were under the Microsoft Office banner. (No text editors, no graphics programs, no FTP programs, nothing capable of playing an audio CD, no accessories...) Yet, what kind of "security" are they asking for with the user name "Niagara" and password "Falls?" I didn't expect the computers to be of much use to me, but this is ridiculous.

P.S.: What compels the idiots at Schiller to pack ham-and-butter sandwiches five times in a row?

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