Now, for the first time, I can find myself in front of a computer on which I can type! As some of you know, this trip exists as an experiment in very-light-packing. I have a single 18L backpack, into which I have crammed all my worldly possessions, with some degree of success.
Additionally, my friend T lent me a stuffed cassowary called Bragg to take with me, and whom I'm attempting to photograph in front of every monument of significance between Ankara and Cadiz. So stay tuned. I'm pleased to report that Bragg is far more photogenic than I.
I flew from LAX to Heathrow via JFK. Highlights of the trip included the antiquated 767 across the USA with a hole in the rear bulkhead through which I could see the interior of the pressure hull. I also met half a dozen med students from Leeds on their way back from South America with a variety of interesting stories. Also on that flight were more than a few dogs sleeping curled up in the exit row!!
London greeted me with late-morning fog. I hired a car (Vauxhall Insignia), and proceeded to remember how to drive as I drove the A40 into town. I even managed to find Bloomsbury Square without using the GPS, parked, and spent 3 hours walking down Monopoly named streets to St Pauls and the Thames and back. Curiously, the church of St Vedant alias Foster (quite close to St Pauls) had a very similar lay out to the chapel in St Paul's College in Sydney University. Like most of central London it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren!
Heading back towards Euston Road tube station and UCL I met my friend N. N and I had corresponded ever since I stalked her in connection to an upcoming interview for the Fulbright Scholarship, which she had won the year before. Despite thus knowing each other for about two years, we had never previously met. N was, I'm happy to say, much crazier in person! Despite her initial disappointment that we wouldn't start drinking at 5pm, we spent about 4 hours shooting the breeze in one of the most interesting and charged series of arguments I've ever had!
I decided to get out of London while the going was good, and made it onto the M1 before, at about 11:30pm, I started to experience... fatigue. I checked into a road-side hotel, accepting a steep discount for a defected room, and had 5 glorious hours of sleep before sitting bolt upright at 5am. No idea why - jetlag would put that at about 9pm LA time... I jumped in my car and set off, making it back to the highway after a road-works skirting diversion just as the sun rose over quaint rolling hills with dry stone walls and organic looking cottages. By breakfast time I was in Kendal, and spent most of the day negotiating narrow roads in the Lake District. I even revisited the Lodore Cascades at Derwent, and shot about 15 minutes of them, for unspecified later use. :)
I ate some lunch and got back on the road. Now accustomed to controls and the feel of the car, I felt more comfortable keeping up with the traffic, as it averaged 80mph down the road. Soon enough, however, the lunch kicked in and I ended up pulling over in the town of Lockerbie for a 30 minute siesta. As far as the town goes, there is little sign of the terrible crash that occured there a few decades ago, though it continues to make international news. By 6pm that day I was in Edinburgh, met B, found some cruddy Indian food for dinner, and had plenty of interesting chats.
Next morning we got up earlyish and set out into the Scottish countryside. We stopped first at Loch Leven, site of an aristocratic house and garden, and a few island-bound castles, one of which had imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots back in the day. We ate a loaf of bread for breakfast, and continued on perilously narrow roads to the town of Dollar, where we visited Castle Campbell, the lowlands stronghold of the Campbell clan. It was on the small side, as far as castles go, but surrounded by beautiful mountains, streams, and country side. Only part of it was ruined. Returning to the car park we found one of the tires had gone flat! After changing it, a screw hole was found. We cut out part of our trip and returned to Edinburgh, just in time for B's show for Out of the Blue, which was EXCELLENT! Amazing stuff. Later that afternoon, a tire change guy come out and changed the tire. At that point I found a screw in the rear tire on the same side - so I guess we got lucky. With that repaired, I felt more confident about an 8 hour marathon to Oxford the next day! We still had enough daylight left for a quick jaunt up Arthur's Seat, where we saw the Firth of Forth, a sunset, and the roofs of a rather quaint, lowrise and traditionally architectured town. In short, it was excellent.
When I previously climbed Arther's Seat with my brother M during December 2007, I found the way down quite icy and slippery. This time, however, it was so lovely I did part of it barefoot. We returned to the house for a barbeque with the group and friends, spent a few minutes trying to melt the grill with various kinds of alcohol as accelerants, and eventually went to bed.
The next morning I got on the road at 7am, and to my pleasant surprise found the vibrations at 70mph had all but vanished since I removed the screws from the car tires! The way was fast, and after listening to the latest Out of the Blue CD 7 times (it's that good!), I arrived at the house of my Oxford CSer, L. L was a retired mechanical engineer with a very interesting house. We went for a bike ride around the river and into the town. I saw a playbill for a piano recital that evening by Jack Gibbons, and resolved to see it. He's one of the greatest pianists currently alive, who specialises in Alkan and Gershwin, of all things! Back at L's house, we had pasta for dinner before I jogged 2.6 miles back into town. Unfortunately the show was sold out :(, but then D, a friend from Science Revue turned up, so we went to the Turf (a low-ceilinged pub dating from pre-Roman days, apparently) instead. D, his friend A, and later old Pauline's T and his brother P turned up, so there were Australians EVERYWHERE! It was very fine and jolly. At 10pm I spontaneously passed out, so said my goodbyes and returned to L's place, where not long after I fell asleep.
Up the next morning at 6:30am, drove back to Heathrow. But for a short delay on the M25 (impossible to avoid!), I strode into the rather shiny terminal 5, had a quick breakfast of Okinomiyaki, and boarded a flight to Istanbul. Before long The Island receded behind me and it was time for the next adventure - Istanbul!
Photos will be uploaded eventually. I promise.
EDIT: Photos are uploaded. https://picasaweb.google.com/105494084231616659850/UK2011