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The Journal of a Journey,
UK and Ireland 1999

My brother Tom and I spent two weeks touring the UK and Ireland using Britrail + Ireland passes ($540 for ten days travel out of 30 days; part of Eurailpass, these can be purchased only outside Europe; good on all railroads on the two islands) in October, 1999. This is my journal of that journey. —Jon Kennedy

Wednesday, September 29
Chicago to London

I left Los Angeles for Chicago via American Airlines flight 1576 at 11:55 a.m., arriving in Chicago right on time at 5:45 local time. My brother Tom's plane, due in from Atlanta at 5:48, I saw on the American Airlines arrivals monitor, was late and now due in at 6:22, less than a half hour before our scheduled departure for London at 6:45 on flight 66. I made my way to his arrival gate in order to help him find our departure gate without any lost time. His plane did arrive timely on its revised schedule and we hurried to our departure gate at the opposite end of the terminal.

When we got there, no one was boarding the London flight and a large crowd of people were sitting in the nearest waiting area. Assuming that boarding had been delayed, we also took seats. After a few minutes a call came over the public address for "passengers Cavanaugh and Kennedy" to come to boarding. We joked that there must be some more important Kennedy than either of us on the flight. After a few more minutes when still no one was boarding but I noticed that there were two attendants at the gate, I asked one of them if this flight hadn't started boarding yet, to which she replied, "oh, yes, almost everyone is on already." I hurried back to get Tom and we found our way to our seats. Everyone in the waiting area was apparently waiting for another flight to depart! Once more I was almost hoisted on the petard of my false assumptions.

We took flight virtually on schedule, flying parallel to the west coast of Lake Michigan, past Green Bay and into the dark of night to London. Dinner was served after takeoff, Tom and I both opting for the poached salmon, which we thought quite tasty despite the rap commonly given airline food. I slept not at all as we made our way northeast, despite efforts to do so. But after all, 11:30 in Los Angeles, when I'm usually getting ready to tune in Jay Leno, is already 7:30 a.m. in London. My lack of sleep was somewhat compensated for by the fact that I got to watch the aurora borealis ("northern lights") out my window most of the way across northern Canada and Greenland.

Day 1—Thursday, September 30
London

Our hotel, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul's Cathedral, BT Tower, Picadilly Circus, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Big Ben, Westminster AbbeyWe arrived in London on time, and Tom feared that considering the lateness of his arrival in Chicago his main piece of luggage wouldn't arrive with us (I managed to do all carry-on for this trip) but by the time we got through customs and arrived at the luggage carousel, his bag was there. We found the free booking service for hostels, B&B's, and hotels near the Underground station and reserved a double room for 55, or $44.75 each, per night for two nights. We bought all-day tickets on the Underground, knowing that besides getting to our hotel we would need to use it at other times.

Although the room supposedly had en suite toilet and shower, in reality they were outside the room. The room was extremely small, the beds were made up facing away from the little TV which came with no remote control, the toilet was almost impossible to flush, and the shower was a very poor model that sprayed straight down only. However, if it were flexible it would surely have gotten our clothes wet as they had to be hung inside the shower stall. In short, the Hotel Interattica on Nottingham is not recommended.

After freshening up and with determination not to sleep before nightfall, we set out to find a bank teller machine to get some cash, as the only cash machine we had found at the airport was out of cash. We walked toward what I remembered as the direction of Oxford or New Oxford Street and merged into Marylebone High Street, where we found a number of banks and were able to get 100 each. We walked as far as Marble Arch in what turned out to be our only direct encounter with the city.

Failing to find the London Pride on-off tour busses that Bob and I had used and liked in 1996, we returned to the area of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum near our hotel and booked a tour on a more expensive bus-tour service, The Original. One of the things I especially wanted to check out on this third visit to London was the canal boat tour, but unlike London Pride in '86, The Original doesn't go to that part of the city.

The weather was volatile with some sunshine, some drizzle, and a lot of wind, but we managed to get outside views of most of the sights (Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, the Tower of London, the new Shakespeare's Globe Theater [just a glimpse, really], Big Ben, Westminster Abbey) without ever getting off for a closer look at anything. We also glimpsed Buckingham Palace, Downing Street, the New Scotland Yard, and Hyde Park.

That evening we had dinner at a nice looking restaurant on Marylebone, the Globe. Upstairs over the bar, it was certainly adequate, but nothing spectacular. The lad who showed us to our table mentioned that he was from Canada (Nova Scotia), spending a year in London. Ah, youth...I had to envy him despite some less than happy London experiences thus far.

We went to bed by 10 p.m., about 36 hours after beginning our "double" day.

—jon

Next station: Oxford.

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