Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Back in the land of the English language keyboard! I can finally touch type again! The letters are where they are supposed to be! Most of the punctuation is, too! I can once again type faster than my mother does (sorry, Mom)! Woo hoo!

Last Friday saw us back to the UK. After many, many hours of hard travel (shuttle, plane, 8 trains, yak, and parasail), we arrived in Chirk. The train station in Chirk made us remember wistfully the bustling transportation hub of Tarquinia. The entire thing consisted of two wind shelters, a stairway that spanned the tracks to connect the two platforms, and a sign identifying this collection of objects as the Chirk stop. We found a pay phone just outside of this area, so I called 2 different cab companies and sheepishly asked for transportation to Llangollen, despite the fact that I still had no idea how to pronounce the name of the town (apparently "Fred" isn't quite right). Both operators corrected my pronunciation, but to no avail. Each company had 2 cars in operation, serving a area the size of the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area and with an equivalent population (in sheep). Neither company could get to us for an hour, so we ensconced ourselves in the bus stop adjacent to the train station to wait. This had the advantage of sheltering us from the worst of the Welsh weather (cold wind & rain) and providing an excellent view of the traffic circle that any approaching taxi would have to take. We were also blessed with the enticing aroma of the nearby Cadbury factory. Yum.

Apparently, we were quite an oddity, huddled as we were at the bus stop, because every single person who drove through our traffic circle gawked at us, sometimes slowing their car down so that they could afford themselves a nice long stare. These stares had a distinct element of disapproval... we were clearly up to no good. Some time later, one of these cars paused rather too long for decency, even going so far as to roll down his window to improve his view. After some awkward moments, we came to the realization that this was our cab driver, and we gratefully removed ourselves from public scrutiny by climbing into the back.

We arrived in Llangollen just in time to check into our hotel and discover that every restaurant in the vicinity had already stopped serving food. Fortunately, there was a 24-hour Shell station nearby, so we were able to picnic in our room on egg salad sandwiches and Lunchables.

The next day, we met with considerably more success. We explored the town and river by foot. We took a canal boat ride across the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (which is 200 years old). When the boat dropped us off, we decided to walk back to Llangollen (back across the aqueduct and along the canal) instead of taking the provided bus. For the first hour, this seemed like a really good idea. For the second hour, it seemed like somewhat less of a good idea, especially as we had forgotten all about lunch. (But I'll take a flat walk with no food over a hilly bike ride any day).

We also took in the Dr. Who exhibit in Llangollen. I've never watched the show, so this was largely Dave's thing. It was... interesting. Dave seemed to enjoy the "be a Dalek" exhibit, especially the microphone that made his voice sound mechanical.

Sunday was another interesting travel day. It was interesting largely because we were trying to travel on a Sunday, and all of the schedule information that I had gathered was for a weekday. We finally made it to Edinburgh, although it did take us 4 different trains to get there. Possibly not the most effective travel route.

We spent Monday in Edinburgh castle. The castle is spectacular. It's huge. It's got lots of history. Possibly most importantly, it's got a Pompeii-style audio guide where you dial in numbers printed on a building or attraction to hear an appropriate track of the guide. Dave generally turns this style of guide into a large scale scavenger hunt, and we wander the parapets, looking for whichever range of numbers is eluding us. There were some dicey moments where we worried that we weren't going to be able to find attractions 24-28 before the whole castle shut down for the night, but we prevailed in the end, thanks to some clever detective work on Dave's part.

The thing I like best about this sort of guide is the availability of "additional information" tracks. You'll be standing in front of a case of firearms in the National War Museum of Scotland, and the corresponding audio track will tell you "To learn about the SA80 assault rifle, press 7-3-0. To learn about carbines, press 7-3-2." And so on.

Edinburgh is freezing, by the way. Especially in the castle, which is on the top of a huge outcropping of volcanic rock. It's colder here than it was on the summit of Mount Pilatus in Luzern. Entirely unsuitable weather for July.

Today, Dave and I wandered over to the Edinburgh Dungeon and then over to the Scotch Whiskey Heritage Center. The former was a totally horrible, cheezy, stupid haunted house-type attraction. The latter was a delight. Our experience may have been enhanced by the scotch-tasting we undertook after the actual tour. We are now card carrying members of the Scotch Whiskey Appreciation Society, whose aim is to "encourage the appreciation of Scotch Whiskey to a worldwide membership".

Actually, I'm carrying Dave's card as well as mine, so I suppose I'm a card-carrying member, and he's just a member who can't be bothered to carry his card and so foists his on his wife.

Tomorrow, we're headed back to London to rest up and prepare for the marathon 11-hour flight back to SFO the following day. So my next blog may be from the comfort of my own computer. We've been gone so long now that the idea seems a little weird.
posted by Rebecca 7/09/2002 01:57:00 PM