As I write this, I am sitting with my son in a coffee shop at the Newcastle Central Train Station, waiting for a train to Edinburgh, Scotland. We are in the last few days of a two week trip that started with four nights in London. Since then, we have been to Brighton, Cardiff, Nottingham, and Newcastle. After three nights in Edinburgh, we will depart for the U.S. on Saturday. At this point, we are interested in seeing the historic city of Edinburgh, but just as anxious to return home to the U.S.
This is only my second extended trip outside the U.S. The first was a trip to China in October, 2003. Both trips have been enriching experiences. My primary observation from this trip, my trip to China, as wells as travel around the U.S. through the years is this: people are people. No matter where they live, they have jobs and families. They have friends they enjoy. And, with a few exceptions, people everywhere are generally kind and willing to help out a confused traveler.
Here are some specific observations from our trip:
- London is crowded, busy and fast paced. It matches New York for the congestion, both on the streets and the subway. We were there in the days leading up to New Year’s Day. Since schools were out, many families were in the city at the museums and other tourist areas. We stopped to have lunch in Piccadilly Circus on December 30th, and it was a madhouse. After lunch, we could not wait to get on the subway to return to our hotel.
- Pubs are everywhere in every town. While each has its own unique flair, they are all similar. Beer and pub food are prominent. For the locals, the pub is the center of interactions with friends. Our favorite pub was the Old Arcade in Cardiff. This is a renowned rugby pub in the heart of downtown Cardiff, not far from Millennium Stadium, the largest indoor stadium in Great Britain.
- Most of the buildings in Great Britain are old. There are some newer buildings sprinkled in with the old ones, but not many. The buildings that housed hotels we stayed in, and other buildings we visited, were often hundreds of years old. The old castle we stayed in while in Nottingham dated back to the 1400s. It reminded us of the hotel in the movie, “The Shining.” Both nights we stayed there, we made sure our door was double-locked to keep Jack Nicholson out of our room.
- The economy in the U.K. is growing slowly. Headlines on the financial news indicated that home ownership among first-time buyers was finally increasing after years of decline. The oil price decline is a mixed bag for the U.K. Since the country is an oil producer, lower oil prices mean less revenue for the nation. On the other hand, lower oil prices also mean more disposable income for the average person. Overall, the economy here is okay, growing more slowly, but growing.
- On the flip side, there is a lot of concern about the Eurozone. Fears are that the Greek elections will result in a government that spurns the bailout package and austerity measures agreed to a couple of years ago. If a new government is elected, Greece may pull out of the Euro which could cause defaults on Greek debt and push Europe into a recession. Deflation is a very real fear over here and commentators are calling for Germany to add liquidity, like the U.S. Fed did, to the Euro economy. These fears are likely what is causing the U.S. stock market to drop sharply since the beginning of the year.
- We rented a car for six days. What an experience! Without the GPS, we never would have gotten out of London. Driving on the wrong side of the road and surviving roundabouts of all shapes and sizes was a harrowing experience. Advice to all: if not absolutely necessary, don’t rent a car in the U.K.
- National healthcare is in the news here with regard to numerous stories about the inability to get timely services. An example on the news last night was the cancellation of kidney surgery for a patient who has been waiting for months. Now she has no idea of when or if she will get the needed surgery. When Obamacare is fully implemented in the U.S., we will get to experience these kinds of delays, long after Obama is in an undeserved retirement.
I am finishing this on Friday evening as we are now packed and scheduled to go to the airport in the morning in Edinburgh to travel back to the U.S. Here are some additional observations from the Edinburgh part of our trip.
- Edinburgh is a beautiful city. Old mixed with the new. Multi-leveled as many buildings have entrances at various levels to accommodate the hilliness of the city. The culture and history of the city are rich, and one senses the centuries while walking on the cobblestone streets and walkways.
- In the ultimate unscientific poll, a shopkeeper we met today asked if we preferred Obama or Romney. When we replied Romney, she noted that most American visitors now favor Romney instead of Obama. She noted that this is a total reversal from four years ago.
- We took a train from Newcastle to Edinburgh. A wonderful experience. Relaxing, on time, wireless internet available, friendly service. What a shame the U.S. can’t run a quality and on-time passenger railroad system.
- If you travel to the U.K., take trains, use the subways, and walk. We walked about five miles today on a shopping and sightseeing excursion. And take taxis, if need be. You can buy a lot of train tickets and take a lot of taxi rides for the cost of a rental car. And save your nerves!
- Pubs are everywhere. So are ice cream places. But there are more coffee shops than you can imagine. Often 3-5 on the same street.
- We saw very few people here who are overweight. It could be related to the amount of walking they do.
- Wireless was available and free at all hotels. Wireless is also available for free in many public areas.
- Wash cloths were provided at only two of our six hotels.
- Food here is basic, but good, if you like meat and chips (a.k.a. French fries). Meat is served in pies, hamburgers, meat plates, etc. Most places also have chicken and fish alternatives. Potatoes are part of most meals if you don’t get chips. Vegetables and salads are available but limited. Food everywhere is of good quality but very lightly seasoned. There are some Italian and other ethnic restaurants that offer a break from pub food.
- Ice must be on the national scarce resource list. If you ask for ice, you get two to three cubes max. Forget iced tea. A few requests for it got blank stares. Beer is by far the drink of choice. Soft drinks are available but not popular. Water is served either flat or with bubbles. If you don’t ask for ice, it will be served warm.
- By far, the best aspect of the trip and the country is the history. We saw things in the British Museum that were over 2,000 years old. Many buildings are hundreds of years old. Castles and older sections of towns date back to the Middle Ages.
- People are friendly and willing to help. When I was lost in Nottingham for over two hours, I received wonderful help from four different people. Each gave me excellent directions which I could not fully follow due to the pace of the traffic and the quick decisions needed at the roundabouts.
We are off to Edinburgh airport in the morning. Hopefully winds will die down and we will be able to get to London, then to Chicago and St. Louis. It will be great to return to the U.S. I can’t wait for an ice cold glass of iced tea. Even if it is winter in St. Louis!