Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bucket list trip - Day Two and beyond

Day 2 (February 21st) began with a ray of optimism. My youngest daughter (the one who has ignored my plans and pleas for her to elope, but who will make a dent in my savings with a more ‘traditional’ marriage next year) had sent me instructions on how to get my cell phone to work. Yeehah! A few clicks and I was back in textopolis! Muchos gracias, Rebecca!

The next few days were spent traipsing around various stores in Guildford and Aldershot where I was like a kid in a candy-shop gawking at ‘goodies’ not readily (or in some cases, not at all) available in the US. Such things included ‘Scotch eggs, sausage rolls, Cornish pasties, ‘Digestives’, pork-pies and a host of other memory-evoking food products. The weather during this time was dry, cloudy and cool – hovering within 2 or 3 degrees of freezing point.

The highlights of these few days included the subtle rediscovery of some (possibly unique) British ways of life. First, there was the trip to the Post Office to dispatch outgoing mail – no pick-up at the bottom of the driveway here! Then there were the wall-mounted electrical outlets, guarded by a flip on/off switch, unlike ours (in US) which are mostly ‘always hot’. No wonder that cell phone would not charge – I hadn’t had hit the ‘on’ switch built in to the outlet. Yes, I had brought my plug adaptor and power converter; more on that later. [Note: UK runs on 220/240 volts whereas we have 110/120 systems and the outlets receive different shaped ‘pins’.]  Of course, they drive on the wrong, er . . . , I mean, ‘not on the right’side of the road over there (or is that ‘here’, whilst I am here . . .  or do I mean ‘there’?) so though I was not driving, I still had to be wary when crossing the road. Nobody knows why the British chicken crossed the road either, but it presumably it knew which way to look first – that would be ‘to the right’ – else he may not make it. Oh, did I mention that gas – make that ‘petrol’ – costs the equivalent of $7.75 a gallon - after all applicable conversions? But, a pint of beer (and NO, not all British beer is ‘warm’ (in fact, none of it is) provides 20 fluid ounces - not the measly 16 ounces in a US-pint. However, if bought in a can or bottle, the container will not indicate ‘1 pint’, but rather, ‘580 ml’. I'll address the relative costs of beer at some later date. 

On Saturday, from the comfort of my brother’s sofa, I was able to watch Wales beat Italy in a Six-Nations Rugby match – courtesy of BBC TV who had to relay on ‘feed’ provided by a clueless Italian TV-network producer who seemed incapable of  keeping the ball in view of the camera, but delighted in showing ‘skin-blemish-detectable’ close up views of burly, sweaty behemoths! But Wales won - and that was the important thing!

Sunday had the promise of viewing a more alluring sports event; one I would not be able to see in the US. It was the Capitol One Cup Final between Bradford City and my home-town team, Swansea City. TV coverage of this ‘big’ football (soccer to those in the US) match was being provided by SkySportsTV. Arghh!  My brother’s TV doesn’t receive that channel. But all was not lost; we drove 5 minutes to his Golf Club, Merrist Wood.

We got there early – to ‘commandeer’ a place in front of the TV there before anyone could select some other channel – and watched ‘my team’ had out a 5-0 thrashing to the brave, but outclassed,  team from Yorkshire. It was great to be back in ‘Merry Olde England’ – especially for a happy Welshman!

During that 5-day stint in my brother’s home in England, I was not able to use my laptop as he does not have WiFi, but having brought a jump-stick with various files and URLs installed, I was able to use his ‘desktop’ computer to check on my email, Facebook goings-on, etc.  With bags packed, ready for the 3-hour train journey to Wales on Tuesday (February 26th), I was anxious to be able to use my laptop – once I would get to the Travelodge motel in Wales, and to the homes of my hosts there.

To be continued . . .

The Bucket goes to Wales – all change, please!

After a 30 minute train ride to Reading, I got on another train to take me to Swansea - about 150 miles further west. I had purchased the one-way ticket on-line 6 weeks ago for about $19; a check on prices a few days before my travel date showed it at more than $40. Sometimes, it pays to book in advance! However, I found myself bewildered with the pricing of various modes and segments of transportation. Did I mention that the 45-minute coach trip from Heathrow Airport to Woking on the prior Thursday had cost $16? It gets stranger!

Two hours later, after spending 5 or 6 minutes beneath the Severn Estuary, the train entered the hallowed grounds of Wales! As if by some Divine intervention, for the first time in 6 days, the sun came out to greet me – in, of all places, Port Talbot! [You’ll have to ask about the joke behind that line.] A late change of plans had necessitated that I not ‘overnight’ in Swansea that night, but go on to Llanelli – only 12 miles further. That short trip cost about $8 – even though it was only 7% of the distance that had cost just $19 – go figure! Half an hour after arriving in Swansea, I was headed off to Llanelli and was there 45 minutes later. The final leg of the day’s travel was by taxi to the Travelodge right in the middle of Llanelli. The price for the ¾ mile trip was $6 – before tip!

A brief description of UK currency is needed here. At the time of writing, the exchange rate was approximately $1.55 to the GBP (Pound Sterling). The UK’s paper currency, unlike that in the US, comes in different sizes and colors. Yes, I know there have been some minor insertions of colors on the once ‘green-only’ US bills. In the UK, paper money is called ‘notes’, not ‘bills’. Regarding coinage: Whereas the US has a $1 bill, the smallest ‘paper money’ in the UK is the 5-pound ($7.75) note!  This frequently means that you can end up with a bunch of ‘heavy coinage’ in your pocket. The UK has a 2-pound ($3.10) coin (top left) which is a large as half-dollar, a 1-pound ($1.55) coin (top center) which is the diameter of a nickel, but two times as heavy. The 50p ($0.77) coin (top right) is half-dollar size and the 20p ($0.31) (2nd row - left) and 10p ($0.16) coins (2nd row - right) are nickel sized. There are also 5p (3rd row), 2p (bottom - left) and 1p (bottom - right) coins. You may find yourself needing a strong belt if you have a lot of heavy pocket change!



After becoming familiarized with the currency, a traveler from the US may need to make a few more adjustments. Check-in at the Travelodge was no problem and my credit card was accepted for payment of the very affordable price of only $30 for a nice clean, heated room with double bed and flat-screen TV. OK – so a shower stall, not a tub, no face-cloths, no phone in the room and no ice to be found anywhere in the motel. What’s a guy to do? Off to the adjacent ASDA store (UK’s Walmart) for some beer. We’ve addressed the currency issue, now to deal with unfamiliar can and bottle sizes. None of the standard 12 oz cans, but their equivalent in metric terms – 350 ml. I also saw a lot of 440 ml cans (about 15 oz) and a 660 ml (22 oz) bottle of Stella Artois. Prices were comparable, maybe a tad higher, but the biggest problem was – none of the nectar was chilled; every can and bottle was at shelf temperature – and remember, no ice in the motel. I was about to ask the approaching couple, ‘Ysgi sydwch fi, siarad Saesneg?’ [Welsh for ‘Excuse me, do you speak English’] to inquire into the whereabouts of COLD beer! Furtive glances, shrugged shoulders and the discovery that they were not Welsh, but Polish, left me teeth-gnashing. Oh well, after a Jenkins Bakery’s rolled fruited-pancake and a Welsh pasty, it was time to head back to the motel to blog!

But first, I found an Aldi's grocery store; maybe they'll have cold beer! No, they didn't; but I did pick up a couple of bottled European brews, a small container of milk, a chocolate bar and some cookies. Now I could settle in at the motel, in style - with my provisions cooling in front of the open window.

Finally, I get to dig out the as yet (on this trip) unused laptop. Oops!  I find not only can I not connect to the WIFI, but I have only 5% power left. No problem! I next dig out and install the wall-plug adapter, then the voltage converter (have to step down from 220/240 volts to 110/120 volts). All I needed to do then, was to plug my laptop’s power charger into the converter and I’d be in business. Hello, my converter has two straight-slot holes and my power charger has two straight prongs, but also has a round ‘grounding’ pin. Wait! Three-into-two does ‘not go’! What did I do with that damned beer – to hell that it is not chilled, I‘m fuming and it may cool me down.

To be continued.

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