Monday, January 15, 2007

From London to Edinburgh to Dundee

Off on the Right Foot

But off on the Wrong Terminal

Saturday morning dawns a little gray, but not too wet. It is our last day in London. When I turn on the BBC news to see about the weather, it is full of news of the poisoning of a Russian spy in London. Rowan tells me the story about another spy that got poked in the leg with an umbrella and was poisoned.I am glad that we were not on that airline. We scurry about, packing as we get ready. My pants are dry, but I decided to wear my long denim skirt that is a little shorter than my jeans, so that if it starts to rain again I will not get too wet. Skirt and tights and my Converse tennies. I hope that I don't look like a total dork, but part of me would rather look like a dork than be wet.

At breakfast, there are lots of families and we end up perching on the end of a long bench. I worry that I am going to upset the table as I squeeze in. We have a last, nostalgic breakfast downstairs in the dining room. It is busier than it has been since we have been at the Bonnington.

We get a cup of coffee to go at Costas as we walk along, as it is a little cold. I have to say something about most of the coffee that I had in the UK. It was awful. I mean it. Costas looked like a Starbuckian type place, and I am of the opinion that most things are made better with chocolate, so I had a mocha. It was so bad that I had to discreetly toss it. I have seldom met a cup of coffee that I could not force down, but I met it in London.

We finish up breakfast and rush out to the British Museum for a last look before we go to Heathrow Airport. The flight leaves at three thirty and I think that we should be there by two at the latest. The trip takes an hour by Tube, and the plan is to leave by noon just so that we have plenty of time. My husband and I have had to sprint through an airport on more than one occasion, and it is not an experience that I was eager to repeat. For some reason, I was not taking many pictures today. You can tell the good pictures from the website versus my lousy pictures. I only put up pictures of things that we actually saw, though.

We walk over to the museum and get there just as it opens.

We went in the same door as last night and first went into a section on Islam. The tiles are beautiful,
and the edged weapons are scary.

I was reminded of the friezes that I saw last night, where battles were depicted. We see sumptuous, gorgeous carpets, and Rowan is very happy.

She has a good story about Ebay and Persian carpets. I have to get permission before telling it.

We wander past the sarcophagi.

We enter the Great Court. We completely missed this last night. It is brilliantly white and spacious. I don’t even mind the modern architecture.

I go to the info desk to ask about a map, and I am asked by the young woman in charge of maps if we have seen The Reading Room. I tell her that we haven't and she says that we must go and see it.

The reading room is inside of the big, round round building. It is spectacular. Rowan gets all glowy.

Look at the books!

Even the ceiling is gorgeous.

Here is a video that I took.

The lions are cool.

We walk through the museum, looking at some of the exhibits. I am always most interested in the everyday things that people used.

We take a walk through the gift shop and look for souvenirs for our families.

There is a neat book shop and I regretfully do not get a 100 pound book on the history of fashion for my daughter. I do get pens and key rings.

I buy a keyring with a replica of a heavy metal chess piece. The set was found on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. It dates back to 1150 or 1200. I wanted to get my husband a chess set, but they are really heavy. I content myself with the keyring...

... which I have since kiped from him and use on my key ring at work. It has a nice heft and I like the scrolly details on the back. This is the queen from the Lewis chess set.

See the gift shop? You can just make it out at the bottom. It is here that I realize that the British Museum has the Rosetta stone, mostly because I have seen Rosetta stone mugs and mousemats. I just would like to say that again. The British Museum has the Rosetta Stone! Criminey.

This is also just about where I lost Rowan after we split up. She wanted to get a gift for her sister and new niece and I wanted to look around a little more. However, Rowan is hard to keep track of. She is a little drifty.

She had reached her artifact threshold.

Rowan writes:

I can cheerfully point others in the direction of inconceivably vast Phonecian statuaries, and priceless Babylonian friezes, and I genuinely appreciate the wonder and awe engendered by fragments of the Rosetta Stone. It is just that I get hit by this Museum somnolence, which has my blood-sugar drop, and an indolent longing to curl up on a rare Persian rug, roped-off from public access, is at the forefront of my semi-conscious brain. I wander around, trying to look interested, eyelids drooping all the while, while others draw breath and take pictures.* I am wondering how long i need look before I can slope off to the gift shop for a milk chocolate Pharoah. Sigh.

*who could she be talking about?

There needs to be a discreet stack of lurid magazines on the museum rest benches for the likes of me.

It is not that I am a Philistine. I truly appreciate the stuff. I am blaming it on the low lighting and the sense of peace … the quiet footfalls, and the timelessness of the exhibits. Aeons are represented here ... this stuff has slept for generation upon generation. Aphrodite bathing has shivered so long in mid-wash that she is beyond cold, and sleeps her alabaster sleep.

Her headless sisters dance on the parapets of a breathtaking proscenium arch. I can admire and applaud, but i also need to get a coffee and walk at a pace that keeps my blood from pooling at my ankles. But am not a Philistine... :)

The Rosetta Stone

Did I mention that the British Museum has the Rosetta stone? The British Museum has the freaking ROSETTA STONE. Just sayin'.

I know that I have to get a picture, because it will blow my husband's mind. I recall that we have had actual conversations wherein he has waxed rhapsodic about it. I got a picture just for him. I look and we are doing well on time, but we should go. I reluctantly leave after getting him a Rosetta Stone t-shirt.

Rowan writes:

We have spent a long time browsing in the museum, amongst the lovely middle-eastern pottery and painted tiles, and need to grab some souvenirs and get back to the hotel, to pack and make it to the airport in time for our flight.

Across the road from the museum, we spy an interesting souvenir shop, which had been closed the night before. It is painted pillar-box red, and has inviting window displays of just the sort of touristy smashables we are keen to load up with. We hop between the oncoming cars and enter the shop.

It is called “Fancy That of London” and is a bit of an Aladdin’s cave, if your heart-rate rises at the sight of terrifically tacky useless decorative items, emblazoned with the name of an unfamiliar city, as mine does. London! All this kitschy stuff has “London” on it, which kinda renders it cool. Gives it a veneer of London chic. Or so I persuade myself. The stuff in here is cheap and cheerful, and the range of mugs is great. Bob spots a super plastic one with an underground map emblazoned upon it, and scoops it up for her son. I settle on two china ones, with names of underground stations on.

There is every unnecessary object you could would hope not to think of in here…fairies, unicorns, piggy-banks with springs for legs as well as all the familiar London things…”Big Ben” keyrings, Tower of London fridge magnets.

I am very tempted by the Tower Bridge teapot and coffee pots, which are actually not kitschy. ‘They are pure class, so they are’ (assumes a Glaswegian accent.) I want one badly. Nevertheless, I have visions of it smashed to a pulp very quickly, and they are quite expensive. I am content to admire them as a piece of fine art, and leave them in situ.

Bob says:

I was able to get my nieces the fairies that I had been looking for. They have a nice weight to them. I was also able to pick up some items for my team in the hospital.

Rowan writes:

Bob buys items for her folks, and we head off back through the streets to the hotel. On the way, we spot a book-case of second-hand books outside of what must be a - da da duuum (anticipatory drum-roll) second-hand bookshop!! Whoo hoo! We cannot pass this by. In we go, and Bob, with her finely-honed book bargain finding skills, has secured a gem of a volume for only a pound and a book for her friend, Kim, that is very neat. Inside, it is just my kind of shop. Cliffs of books, with unexpected titles and affordable prices pencilled in on the flyleaves. Oooh this shop is fab. And we do not have a second to browse. But browse I do, and Bob has to practically drag me out. She is being very self-disciplined, as she loves such shops as this just as much as I do.

She has, however, been saddled with the responsibility of being the person doing all the major organising, and I have been rather guilty of drifting, and leaving all the serious map-reading, underground-navigating, ticket-keeping, and time-management pretty much entirely up to Bob. She has managed this with great aplomb, but I am dawdling in the shop, and time is marching on. We whisk back to the hotel, and Bob rushes up to pack, whilst I go and buy one last souvenir – a very cute smiley china piggy bank with Tower Bridge painted in livid hues on its belly. It has been calling softly to me, every time I’ve passed the shop, and I can’t go home without it.

Bob says:

I think that letting Rowan loose in a bookstore is asking for trouble. She is worse than I am when it comes to browsing. I was waiting somewhat impatiently at the front of the store and finally went back to find her. She was reading, completely oblivious. I snapped the book from her fingers, reshelved it and hustled her out.

I rush up to the hotel room and have to repack, now that we have souvenirs. It is taking a little more time than I would like and I am beginning to sweat, just a little. Our margin of error is starting to shrink. I meet Rowan out in the hallway and hustle her off. We check out and briskly walk down the street.

Rowan writes:

Bob meets me at the hotel door, two heavy suitcases in tow. She graciously gives me the smaller one, and we set off at a smart pace through the crowds, dashing towards the underground. I am keen to slow down, having abdicated all flight-time-angst, expecting that things will all fall into place, and that we will not be late. Bob is determinedly shepherding me along, and we reach the underground station and hop on the escalator down to the platform. It is very crowded, and, near the bottom, I somehow become caught-up in the wheels of my case, which has a habit of turning over. I feel my balance going, and I fall flat on my face on the platform, feeling very silly. I have a slightly painful wrist, but am not hurt. I have given poor Bob the heebie jeebies, though, as she once saw someone genuinely hurt on an escalator. She kindly helps me up, and we sprint for the train.

Bob says:

I had a total case of the screaming willies when poor Rowan was tackled by her suitcase. The only reason that I was not a gibbering mess was that I did not have time to melt down. It was a total miracle that she was not seriously hurt. I was behind her and saw her going down, and then struggling back to her feet. I had visions of the people behind us grinding us under the gaping maw of the escalator, as it was packed. Visions of the headline “Tube Tragedy” floated before my eyes. We managed to get up and off of the bloody thing, without being on the bottom of a massive escalator-dogpile. (The memory is giving me the creepy-crawlies.) After we stopped shaking, she asked if I was going to tell anyone about her tumble. I see that she told the story first, in a pre-emptive strike.

Rowan writes:

The journey seems to take forever, and Bob is becoming concerned about the time. We rush into the Heathrow station, and get on what appears to be the correct terminal train, but is actually not.

Bob says:

If Rowan is brave enough to tell you about her near death experience on the escalator, then I am brave enough to tell you that it was all my fault that we got off on the wrong terminal. Our airlines, British Midway, was not marked, and I kept chanting "Terminal One, Terminal One, Terminal One". However, just before Terminal Two, I checked for my passport and could not find it. I totally panicked, having visions of being barred from the flight. I found it, in the super-safe place that I had put it in. But I got distracted and got off on Terminal Two. By the time I realized what had happened, we had no choice but to schlep to Terminal One. I kid you not, it was like four miles through echoing tunnels, trying to follow signage that was almost as bad as that at Denver International. There is a point at which you cannot walk any faster, and I hit it. Ooooh, I was mad at myself.

Rowan writes:

The signposting is confusing. Although we were technically on time, we are told that we may be too late and have to go get in line to see if we can get on the flight. We wait in line for ten minutes or so before the man behind the counter speaks to us. He looks at his watch and tells us we are five minutes late for the flight closing. We were actually in time for the flight! We had cut things very fine, but we had been officially within the time limit. Bob has a long and polite discussion with the lady at the check-in desk, and another official, who I do not see, as I am waiting behind the barrier, eating the remains of the Thai chilli crisps from the night before and abdicating all negotiating responsibilities. Eventually, we are forced to take a later flight. We have four hours to kill in Heathrow till the next flight, so go and track down something to eat.

There are several cafes in Heathrow, all attempting to look authentically somewhere else. There is a French patisserie café and an Italian café and an olde Englishe traditional pubbe, complete with four-foot plasma-screen television, loudly blaring out ye olde game of boring soccer. The pub atmosphere is appropriately dingy, and there is only one empty table, next to a bucket which is catching drips coming through from the roof. The carpet smells slightly stale, as the drip has clearly gone undiscovered for some time. In spite of these deleterious features (well, unless you like loud tv football) it is quite a passable eatery. The food is acceptable, the service fairly friendly, and there is a nice screen up behind us showing all the flight departures and destinations. Bob investigates the sachets of brown sauce and salad cream, and we settle in and plan out next moves.

Bob says:

We had a very nice lunch. As usual, there are no napkins, and I have to go to the counter and ask. While waiting, I go over to investigate the condiment packets. Not only is there ketchup, but there are other interesting offerings. I take a sampling and go back to get the cultural low-down. Salad cream sounds interesting, and brown sauce sounds … um … unappetizing. Rowan says that brown sauce and salad cream are staples in the British array of chip-sauces. Salad cream tastes kind of like Miracle Whip, and I pass on it. Brown sauce is more interesting – fruity. Rowan says that it has tamarind in it. It is a little vinegary, kind of like A1 sauce but sweeter.

In some way, this was a nice break. We have been so busy seeing things that we have not really had time to just talk. We divested ourselves of all of our layers and settled back for a long chat. I think we were laughing more than anyone else in the pub, despite the fact that we were probably being poisoned by toxic black mold or something.

Rowan writes:

Lunch over, we head off to look at hats and scarves, and generally potter, until it is time for the flight. This seems fairly problem-free (I am less afraid this time) but as we come into Edinburgh, the plane banks steeply, then seems to plummet for a second or two, and warning signs come on ---

Bob says:

-- I get to tell this story. We were sitting quietly on the plane, talking. I was looking a little enviously at the man in front of me. He had what looked like a great trashy newspaper and I wanted it. The flight to Edinburgh is brief. You know how, when you are getting close to your destination that you can feel the plane descending? Well, we went over the Firth of Forth, coming into Edinburgh, and I could feel the plane start to descend. After a couple of minutes, I can hear one of the engines start to make a funny noise. The plane accelerates sharply, and begins to climb. The warning exit lights come on and the plane takes a nose dive. I am not joking. A bona-fide nose dive. I am not the most experienced traveller, but I had never felt anything like this. We were pushed back into our seats and the ride got really rough. I was reminding myself that our seat cushions were flotation devices and that we could land with only one engine. I think that I said, “Oh, this is not good.” Rowan looked at me, a little scared. I felt bad about scaring her, but I felt worse about the fact that we were about to crash. I knew that my husband would take good care of my kids, but I felt bad for leaving Rowan’s children motherless. Needless to say, I was praying up a storm.

Okay – Rowan can finish.

Rowan writes:

All is well though, and we make it out of the terminal, on to the airport bus and out into the bright lights of Princes Street, the skyline bright from the glow of Christmas lights.

We nip into the Marks and Spencer’s food hall and get sandwiches.

Bob says:

Marks and Spencer’s is neat. There all kinds of sandwiches that I have never heard of, things with duck meat and watercress. My choices include Aromatic Duck, British Ham and Cheddar, Chicken and Sweetcorn, Poached Salmon, Prawn Mayonnaise, Red Salmon and Cucumber, Roast Beef and Horseradish, Sausage and Ketchup, and Turkey, Bacon, and Stuffing. I have Tuna Mayonnaise with Sweetcorn. I think that Rowan has a cheese sandwich. Yum.
There are rows of chips that I do not recognize and drinks that sound appealingly foreign. We figure out what platform we are leaving from and get on the train. It is packed with people. As usual, I am asked where I am from, as I apparently have an accent. I enjoy the sound of Scots voices after being in London. Near the end of our trip, a group of drunken, rowdy young men board the train. Rowan gives me one of her expressive eye rolls. She is not amused by their antics. I think they are funnier than I would if I was in California.

Rowan writes:

We have had a long day, and are glad to board the train back to Dundee. En route, we are entertained by a couple of tiddly women sitting next to us, who have been to an office party. They are interested in chatting, and discuss the merits of possessing various different accents. Bob refutes their claims that their Scots accents are heavy and unappealing. They get off at Kirkcaldy, and we have more elbow room to break out our filled-rolls, crisps and drinks. Dundee hoves on the horizon. We have made it back.

Bob says:

We catch a cab back to Rowan’s house and let ourselves in. Rowan turned off the boiler before she left and is having trouble getting it back on. It is FREEEEZING. You know the kind of cold where you are making little grunts of distress because you are shivering so hard and your teeth are not chattering, but are clacking together? We were doing that. She manages to get it going, just before I am ready to call the local hotel. The house warms up really fast, and we go to bed.


A mom in the 'burbs said...

Sorry-first post had a typo! *grin*

What a bummer about the coffee! I bet the tea was great though. Not saying it is comparable in ANY WAY, just saying.

Ohhh! The reading room absolutely took my breath away! Wow! I want one!!

The Rosetta Stone, eh? :)

Bob said what?? At the end of your on, sister!

Dr. Bob said...

Glad you stopped by! Wasn't the reading room great? Sorry you caught me in mid-edit. The story does continue...

Rowan said...

Hi guys! On the subject of coffee, I have to admit to not really appreciating the difference beween Costas and Starbuck's. Placed side by side in a blind taste test, maybe I could make a stab at it, but with days in between, no dice. My palate is hopelessly unattuned. My cupboard contains a jar of instant Nescafe Mild Blend, which is not even granules but (sharp intake of breath...) powder! Amongst instant coffee drinkers, powder is definitely at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Yep, the Rosetta stone is fab, as are all the cool artefacts we as a nation have cheerfully swiped from other countries over the last century or so, treasures we are never keen to hand back without a fight. :)

Rowan said...

Meant to mention the Lewis chessmen - the sculptor was clearly a comic genius with a well-honed sense of irony. The expressions of profound and studied boredom on the faces of the court figures, and the little character studies of the knights, are just delightful. I had a knight facsimile on my desk for years, until his head was sadly knocked off. What a great thing to find in a sand-dune on the beach, as someone did...

The Lass said...

Oh, I love your pictures! You make me laugh and sniffle for your experiences..sniffling in sympathy with the cold=runny nose. Did you know that it doesn't actually run unless it is warm enough to actually not freeze your nares together? In that case it doesn't start running until you go inside and the nares defrost. sigh, this is from recent knowledge...

Dr. Bob said...

Oh!!! You have had frozen nares! I am torn between sympathy and hilarity.

love you, oh arctic lass...

Rowan said...

Loved the video of the reading room. Wowzers! Want one of my own. maybe I could hire it to camp out in one evening. In the morning, all the books would be back in the wrong place, and I would be summarily deported back to the land of the purple heather...

A mom in the 'burbs said...

Rowen--I am truly saddened by the state of coffee in your life. I think the American coffee vs. British tea thing goes back to that little event in Boston Harbor. Just a guess... :)

The lass--must know the emergency procedure for frozen nares...