UK: York and London


FSAN met in York, England. Jacky and I visited York in 1998; it will be interesting to see whether I recognize anything. (Answer: not very much.)

Monday, 5 September 2011, departed SFO

Still a bit tired and sore from yesterday’s 25-mile hike from Pescadero creek county park to Big Basin and back. With that and a melatonin tablet, I was able to get a moderate amount of sleep on the plane. Watched about half of the movie Ratatouille in German, understood a considerable amount of it, but certainly not all. It helps that I’ve seen it before, of course. Interesting that they had actually changed the animation; the facial movements were clearly pronouncing German, not English.

Tuesday, 6 September, to York

London was a bit rainy when we arrived a few minutes after 6AM. Long walk through Heathrow, long wait at the slow passport inspection station. The automated ticket machine at the underground wouldn’t read my credit card, and I have none of the coin of the realm. Bought a ticket to King’s Cross at the wicket.

There is a separate express to Paddington station, whence I would have needed to take a shorter Underground route to King’s Cross, but I didn’t quite understand how that worked until later; I just saw the underground map with a direct connection to KC, and took it. Slow and crowded.

At KC, the machine again couldn’t read my card, but the tickets it offered were upward of two hundred pounds. In the ticket office, I got a return ticket for eighty-eight pounds. No idea why the difference.

The train was ready to leave; I ran a bit, got on at the first car and walked back inside the train to the coach class seats. By the time I had ensconced myself, we were rolling. That’s all right. There was an electrical outlet at the seat, so I could power up my laptop without concern for  battery life. That’s all right. There’s wi-fi on board, so theoretically I can connect to the wide world (but it seemed to have difficulty connecting, and anyway, I can and do use my cell phone instead). Spoiled again.

I’m staying at the York Marriott, out on the Tadcaster road. Tadcaster is not far away. Suppose there’s any chance of getting a Samuel Smith’s oatmeal stout? (No.) Most of my colleagues are either at the Hilton conference hotel or at the Monkbar, which is on the other side of town from where I am. I may see less of my colleagues than usual.

It was cool and cloudy in York, but not raining. Small town, population only 180k. Well, a small city, really. Walked to the hotel, which didn’t have a room ready yet; it was about noon. Dropped off my bags and walked back into town to see the sights.

I didn’t really recognize it from 1998, but it looks like many other historic and picturesque towns I’ve seen. Lots of people out enjoying the town, a busy street market. Stopped at an ATM for 40 pounds cash, which makes me a lot more comfortable. And now that I’m not broke, I stopped at a Cornish pasty shop for lunch – the last thing I had to eat was an inadequate breakfast on the plane some time around 4 AM. Much better.

As with all real buildings, York Minster is undergoing renovation. There is a sculptors’ enclosure in the yard, where a mason was busy creating new marble to replace some of the deteriorated statuary of the years.

In the nearby museum gardens, the ruins of possibly an even larger church that didn’t get its continuing maintenance investment.

After checking out the ruins in the museum gardens, I had half an hour before I was supposed to meet some colleagues, so I took a quick trip to the railway museum.

Very quick walk around the place; just as I was ready to head back into town for my rendezvous, my phone rang. My colleagues were also running late, suggested putting the meeting back an hour. Fine with me.

The Mallard (above) holds the world’s speed record for reciprocating steam locomotion, 126 miles per hour.

We had planned to meet at Betty’s tea house, but there was a waiting line and I was tired, hungry, jet-lagged. Around the corner, a pub with coffee for them and a brew and food for me. Then back to the hotel, where I decided I wasn’t hungry enough to eat again, and after a very short evening, fell into bed.

Wednesday, 7 September, York

Cloudy again this morning, but not raining.

Up early enough to get some work done before 6:30 breakfast, then off to the Hilton in town, where the meetings are. It’s thirty minutes walk from my hotel to the Hilton, which faces a Mound upon which we find Clifford’s tower.

The social event of the evening was an open house at the Castle museum, which is just across the way, beyond Clifford’s tower. The Castle museum really has nothing to do with a castle; it’s a museum of daily life in historical times. Some of the daily livers lived pretty well, but they weren’t royalty.

Took the opportunity for a few night photos on the walk back to my hotel.

Thursday, 8 September

This evening I thought to try English cuisine (that is to say: Indian). Found a restaurant called Saffron, which was fine.

Friday, 9 September, to London

I have off-peak rail tickets, so there is no point in getting to the station too early. I asked yesterday; the admin thinks off-peak time starts at 8:30. Ok, I got on a train that departed at 8:29. The guard later told me that off-peak is determined by arrival time in London, any time after 11:15. This train arrives London at 10:45. He didn’t hit me with a surcharge, however, which was nice of him.

London was cloudy but not rainy, 20C or maybe a bit warmer. Very pleasant. Not in any big hurry, so I walked from King’s Cross station over toward Paddington, where my hotel is.

I had the impression that I was staying in the Hilton that is attached to Paddington station, but in fact, it’s the Hilton Metropole on Edgeware road, half a dozen blocks away.

About noon when I got there. Dropped my things in the room and went out. I thought it might be good to check out Paddington station and the Heathrow express before tomorrow, and I was right. Turned left when I departed my hotel, should have turned right, so I ended up looping around toward Paddington station, rather than going directly there.

However, the error was serendipitous. I didn’t know, and otherwise probably never would have known, that there is a little Venice canal area off behind Paddington station. Very pleasant.

Heathrow express tickets cost GBP18, and I have a 20-pound note left from the cash I got in York, along with some coins. If I don’t spend too much today, I can use up my cash on the ticket; else I’ll need to buy the ticket with a credit card. Mostly I just don’t want to end up with a lot of stranded cash at the end of the trip.

Wandered down to and through Hyde park, avoided the crowds near Buckingham palace, through Green park, through St James park, and past St James’ palace. Lots of police around, lots of sirens. My guess is that they’re just showing off, not responding to real emergencies, making themselves highly visible for the 9/11 anniversary that’s coming up.

I pass so many streets whose names are known around the world: Baker street this morning; now Great Scotland Yard (with a Sherlock Holmes restaurant just across the way), Whitehall, where I visited the pleasant park between the buildings and the riverside road.

I had rather thought to cross the river, so I had been wending my way thither. I don’t know the population of London, but I’m sure the entire population and half the tourists in the world were out today. Nice day, nice town, and everyone busy enjoying it. Including myself. Upper photo: Whitehall from the bridge; lower photo: parliament, also from the bridge.

Wandered along the south bank for a while. Tried going inshore a few blocks, but it loses interest right away. Getting really hungry, so I used some of my coins to buy a tuna sandwich in a little deli kind of a place. That helps.

Over the past twenty years or so, a number of pedestrian bridges have been thrown across the river, attractive in their own right, and instrumental in revitalizing the south bank. This one takes us from the Tate gallery to the foot of St Paul’s.

View from St Paul’s, back across the river to the Tate.

I didn’t go into St Paul’s; more interested in walking and wandering.

For the first time since I have been coming to London, the entrance to the Temple was open, so I wandered around in the Temple close for fifteen or twenty minutes. I’m not sure whether the residents are necessarily in the legal business, but certainly the street-front businesses along Temple Lane all seemed to be in the law business.

Not far from the Temple, of course, we find the Old Bailey. I met a character along the steet who looked almost as disreputable as Horace Rumpole. Almost – no one could be as shabby as Rumpole.

Most of the buildings here are white stone, but the occasional red brick, or even better, red sandstone, makes for very nice contrasts.

Stopped for a moment at Covent garden, crowded and busy. A busker here was encouraging the bystanders to move in close, to create an atmosphere of intimacy for his performance, and of course to make it more difficult for people to slip away without tossing coins in his bucket.

Tired, sore, hungry. Time to head back toward my hotel. Zigged and zagged in what I thought was generally the right direction for Edgeware road. I have a map, but it’s in my backpack, and I’d rather not go to the trouble of digging it out. There are frequent bicycle hire stands, each of which has a little map of the area, a five-minute walk radius. So I check these to get some idea what’s nearby, but of course the maps only show Edgeware road when you’re almost there, which was a long time, a long way.

I was half inclined to stop and eat somewhere along the way, but the pubs were crowded to the curbs and even into the streets, and most of the restaurants didn’t display credit card decals anyway. When finally I reached Edgeware road, I entered a different world, mid-Eastern. First restaurant I considered said Halal, which was fine, but I wandered on to the next restaurant, which advertised Damascene cuisine – probably identical. At the next table was a family in which the woman was covered in black except for eye slits. I sat next her, rather than opposite, so I didn’t get a chance to see how she managed to eat under all that gear, but obviously she had figured it out.

I decided to try their lamb special, but they only brewed it up on weekends. However, the waiter recommended a close cousin, something like the bamieh we get at Kan Zeman in Palo Alto, and along with lentil soup as a starter, it was pretty good. Not surprisingly, they had no beer, so I had a mango juice.

They accepted credit cards, but their card reader couldn’t connect via Bluetooth. They knew nothing about the technology, thought it was a problem with the credit card; they had no idea what Bluetooth was or what kind of a problem that could be. Eventually I had to pay with cash.

The upside is that now I have some change and don’t feel that I need to conserve it. Stopped at a Waitrose grocery store and bought an Erdinger Weissbier to take back to the room while I look at the day’s photos and update the diary.

Spoiled again.

Saturday, 10 September, home

My flight to SFO was overbooked, and my name bubbled to the top of United’s list because I had only carry-on luggage. So they paged me at the Star Alliance lounge and offered me an alternate itinerary, business class from London to Chicago, then first class to San Francisco. Sounds good to me. First time I have ever had an upgrade on an international flight, and the first time I have had a first-class upgrade domestically.

Someone from United came over with new boarding passes; I asked for an itinerary so I could send Jacky revised arrival information. The agent went into the little office nearby to print out the information.

United was of course re-routing a few other passengers as well, and I happened to glance at the boarding passes he had given me: wrong name. Good thing I noticed; I caught him before he went away, and got the correct ones. As it happened, however, he gave me the other bloke’s itinerary, which had a different flight out of Chicago. So when I sent a message to Jacky, it had the wrong arrival information.

From the itinerary, it seemed to me that I had a long layover in Chicago. Went to the Red Carpet club there, set up my laptop, checked the email. Time zone changes are hopeless; I was not prepared to rely on my wristwatch, but when I changed the time zone on my computer, I realized they were going to board my flight in five minutes. Oh, all right – maybe the long passport and security lines had used up more time than I had thought.

Got myself ensconced on the plane, still uncomfortable at the timing. It just didn’t seem right. For the first time, I actually compared my boarding pass with the itinerary printout, and realized they were inconsistent. They had already announced the shutoff of cell phones, ready for pushback, but I fired mine up, phoned home and left a voicemail for Jacky. Will I end up sitting at SFO for two hours?

No headwind coming across the US; we arrived forty minutes early. My phone rang as I was walking the last hundred meters to the secure zone exit; Jacky had just arrived. So it worked out perfectly.

Good to be home.

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