I get to go across the pond

About every year or so I get a really cool trip. One that would be fun to go as a family but prohibitively expensive. This was the year for the fun trip.

I get sniffs of great trips every few months. Typically a sales director will want pricing for live training and query my boss, who then will ask – When do you want to go someplace cool like to Hawaii or Copenhagen? More often than not after all the excitement, I never hear about it again. No doubt it’s the price. The “Pat Show” live isn’t inexpensive. I have half a ton of gear that has to arrive first.

But sometimes things gel and coolness happens. This time it’s to the UK.

Last time I went I was pretty much on my own getting there and returning so the learning curve was a lot less steep this time. Last time I had a car, but then at the last minute decided it would be a hassle and canceled it. It’s far easier to use trains and buses there than here.

So I got to the ever cool “D” terminal at DFW and bought dinner. My flight would be leaving in the evening, and I’d get there around 11AM, London time. I’ll sleep on the plane. Hell, I have Bose headphones and I can sleep anywhere. This turned out to be the first big mistake of the trip. As I sat there in Blue Mesa, eating a brisket taco and having a Sam Adams, a thought hit me… this probably isn’t what I should be eating before a trip like this. Turns out, it most assuredly wasn’t.

This time I figured a direct flight would be the way to go. Another stupid mistake. 8 hours on a plane sucks enough. Eight hours on a 767 in a bad seat is hell on earth. In this case, I picked what was, I thought, a bulkhead-exit aisle. Save my points, who needs business class? I should have plenty of space.

My first reaction seeing the seat was “they have to be )@!($!$ shittin’ me.” My row mate assured me that my eyes weren’t lying, and indeed, they bolted half his chair to the door. Dark clouds surrounded my head, and hate filled in my heart. The seat had no more room than steerage. And for those of you that fly American a bunch like me, the stewardesses are about the worst. In this case, they gave the mic to one of there number that didn’t speak English all that well. Not that I listen to them much. As an aside, I work on speech enabled computers. Why not feed text to the computer and have it make the announcements in a cheerful pleasant voice?

The night was filled with endless attempts at getting comfortable. Just when I’d nod off, a gas attack would hit thanks to my previous lack of judgment at Blue Mesa. Ah, those poor cabin mates. I arrived at Heathrow – another hell on earth, strung out and exhausted.

That’s when the coolness kicked in. Our business manager in charge of this engagement had greased every skid in sight. As I left customs, there’s a cabby with my name on a sign. Awesome. Straight to the hotel in St. Albans. Which in this case was a Thistle. Not a bad place. Very poorly configured, they had some party after-hours going on and us commoners had to find our way to the side entrance. The first time, I went into ugly American mode, and simply walked through the dance floor. No one noticed. Noticing this, I had half a mind to join the festivities and hit the open bar.

My last foray to the UK I found that everyone and their mother was standing there with their fist out – everything costs. Internet, Tea Time, meals, everything. So this time I was prepared. Got a weeks Internet from BT – 29 pounds – $60. Bad move – it ran out before I got back and the city where my class was held didn’t have it. DOH! Had to buy another account at the hotel, and then again at Heathrow on the way back.

I love English breakfasts – eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, toasts, and the high octane tea. At the breakfast the next morning they had blood sausage. I’d seen this on the food network, with various hosts exclaiming how great it is. I’m one that believes that when you travel to a foreign land, you should try the local cuisine. I demurred on the blood sausgage. It looked even more horrible live than on TV. Black slabs with white fat globs embedded. Thanks, no, I’ll stick with the more mild variety.

Our business manager picked me up the next day to hit the southern coast where my class was to be. All week, my impulse was to head towards the right side of the car to ride shotgun and had to catch myself. Doh! there’s a steering wheel there. We got to the hotel, checked in, and hit the customer site to set up. Now I thought I did enough due diligence and checked all my gear. All was compatible with UK power (which is different than ours, by twice the voltage). And indeed it was, everything except the power strips. These made a very unsatisfying “Pffft” sound complete with sparks when I plugged them in. Whoops. so that had to be overcome.

Lovely view from my room

We stayed at a Premier Inn all week. Premier is sort of a UK version of Marriott Courtyard. Not a bad place, and the restaurant wasn’t bad at all for a Hotel. Great breakfast. They also had a decent bar, which we hit about every night. When you interact with the locals, you have to take some things with a grain of salt. The language, though english, is a bit different. And they have different expressions based on where in the UK they’re from. So when a guy at the bar said “You’re cute”, I didn’t automatically assume what I’d have assumed when I’ve heard that comment in the US. Turns out, he was merely commenting on an argument I was having with some of my new friends. Cute in this case meant more “smart-ass”. It was the first salvo of a night of trash talking.

Usually I make every effort to blend in when I travel. And in the UK it was no different. Matter of fact one of my hosts noticed how I was eating and commented how I wasn’t such a barbarian like most of the Americans he’d met. I appeared to have manners. However, my new pal at the bar was treated to the full wit American trash talk. I maneuvered him perfectly to deliver the blow – “HEY! If is wasn’t for us, you’d be goose stepping and eating weiner schnitzel!” It looks worse in print than it was. It got the gut busting laughter from everyone else I was looking for. I was soon joined by a dude that said (to both of us) “I’m welsh, I agree with you!”. More laughter.

Guess what the little bags are for.

It was a lot of fun hanging with the locals. They know all the good places to eat. I didn’t find the food there all that bad. The indian places have great food, as do the chinese. At one point I told one of the guys about the blood sausage at the Thistle. “You ate that! Hell, we don’t touch it, it’s gross”. Must be put out for appearance. At one point I was asked if I was going to London since I was there. This was the second time I’ve avoided it. “What for?” I said. “All the trouble to get there, spend a ton more money, for what? See some old buildings? I know I’d get there and be bored with it”. Two or three of the guys said they wouldn’t go there either, I was probably right.

The milkman still delivers?

Besides, I spent a week hanging with the locals on a level that a normal tourist would never be able to do. I’m certain I learned more, had more fun, and met more cool people than I otherwise would in tourist mode.

Also, keep in mind, that at some point if I extend a trip like that, I’m on my own dime.

So I left in the same basic manner I got there. Back to the Thistle for the night, then the same cabby took me straight into Heathrow where I ate lunch at a Friday’s. Something I’d never do in the US. Friday’s is on my blacklist. I won’t go there unless there isn’t any other option. It wasn’t bad. Why are the hamburgers better at a Friday’s in the UK? Weird.

Although I switched seats, the trip back on American sucked ever bit as much as the trip out. Never again.


These idiotic warning signs were everywhere – Hot water comes out here, Duh.

My schedules cranking up so I’ll have much more to write about in the coming months. Next: Portland Oregon.