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Wow, lots to catch up on. Too much to blog via iPhone, so may fire up the frankenmachine and sit properly at a desk for the first time in weeks.

Church this morning was pretty good – outdoors again. Next week we go back to two services, and this year there will be much more differentiation musically and liturgically. Thanks be to God, I’m a High Church 77 Prayerbook / 82 Hymnal Liberal… I’m tired of singing out of Gather (a Catholic, slightly charismatic songbook) and never knowing which prayer to recite because my vicar loves to pull things out of many countries’ prayerbooks.

But still, some change is good. Just not ALL the time.

Horsies and squirrels and Bears, oh my!

“He who is tired of London is tired of life. ”

We’re not tired of London, and are already plotting a return trip. But it’s time to move on to the Cotswolds for five nights and we won’t miss our cramped little hotel room near Paddington.

On Sunday, I made good on my threat to attend services at St Johns-Hyde Park. Met the Rev. Margaret Legg, who presided while the Vicar preached. Very diverse, forward looking people- they’re looking forward to the Blessing of the Horses Sep 21, where the vicar will don cope and split cassock and bless the cavalcade (I believe there is a pub visit as well). Terrific young female soloist, plus a young man who played classical guitar.

Before church David and I walked in Hyde Park, with all the dogwalkers and riders on horseback. We paid several appendages to eat breakfast at the nearby Hilton. After I returned we headed out and wasted a lot of terrific on the Original Bus tour on a boat to Greenwich; took too long and the museum was closing by the time we got done with lunch and then had a terrible time getting back on the tube.

London Bound

We leave in 2 hours. Yeah, we like to hang around OHare and not run late.

The TSA guy was way too cheerful; what’s in his coffee?

We’re on standby for business class and it’s nice that AA’s gate monitor actually shows our request. I got a courtesy Space-A upgrade put in the record by the sales rep, and it looked good last time I checked. Nothing certain until our asses hit leather AND we’re in the air, but surely 11 years of booking biz class on AA for my corporate clients increases my juju.

I’ve been fighting a cold all week, using the Neti pot and OTC cold remedies. My doc is on vacation but yesterday decided I needed prescription drugs in case the cold upgrades itself to a sinus infection. Teh azmuh was already kicking in. The family tendency toward upper respiratory problems…. Gah!

So I went to the local doc-in-box. And it was better than seeing my own quack. Sad, I don’t think our guy has kept up enough.

People are starting to show up at the gate- we were the first ones here. The sunrise was lovely, weather looks good for arrival too. We have prepaid Heathrow Express tickets straight to Paddington, and the hotel is a short distance from the station; no cab needed.

We’re all set, now hope we get the upgrade.

Sorted! Boarding soon, hard work really does pay off. Met Sylvia, Premium Services, who gave us the good news.

What A To-Do

Here are some of the things I’ve accomplished thus far or need to get done for our impending Big Trip to Great Britain:
Air reservations

  • American (fooey, coach. No agent deals available)

Hotel reservations

  • London
  • Stow-on-the-Wold
  • York
  • Dublin

Rail and transit

  • Purchased Heathrow Express tickets online rather than burn a rail day
  • Ordered Essential London Kit
  • Britrail Flexi-pass
  • Advised Stow hotel our arrival time
  • Need advise London, York, Dublin friends of arrival times
  • Need book York-Dublin in Britain L28 per person at station

Home Front

  • Book petsitter for Riley
  • Stage packing items
  • Need tidy
  • Need make packing list
  • Pack


  • New backpack with laptop sleeve, media pockets
  • New clothes – mix and match
  • Need get some gel shoe inserts for dress shoes
  • Need remember to grab phone USB wire/charger from work

After much wittering and checking websites over and over again, I finally settled on what we’re doing – 3 days in London, 5 days in the Cotswolds, a couple of nights in York, and 4 nights in Dublin, Ireland. We’re repeating some of our previous trip to Britain but adding more time in the Cotswolds, and Ireland is a new adventure picked because David has an acquaintance there that we’ll meet up with.

I decided on a London transit package deal that includes 3 days of unlimited Tube and bus travel, rather than an Oystercard, because it came with admission to several things that we’re planning on seeing (or seeing again because we enjoyed them so much before). In London, we arrive late on Saturday night and although we’re probably going to be wide awake, we’ll try to get some shut-eye to keep the jet lag to a minimum. Yes, it’s a shame to short London a Saturday night, but that’s how the flight schedules worked out. The alternative was to try to leave Chicago on a Friday night AFTER WORK, which is never a good idea, and the arrival time is first thing in the morning, hours before the hotel room will be ready. We did that last time, and the first day was a blur although we did enjoy hanging out at what became our “local,” The Victoria.

I went a little crazy Saturday and bought a new “road warrior” backpack with a very organized interior – three compartments, with a very well-constructed laptop sleeve and a clever little side pocket that your laptop charger goes into: you can charge the laptop in the bag if you’re at an airport or a train station or school. My previous laptop back is a heavy leather satchel that David got from work, and I’ve never really liked lugging it around on trips. I had considered not taking the laptop, but will want to work on photos a lot in the evenings and this time, we’ll have wireless access in all the hotels (if not right in the room in one place). Also Saturday, I decided I wanted some new solid-color T’s and tops and perhaps a new pair of travel-appropriate slacks for wearing “out” of an evening.

That was the plan, anyway, until I hit Coldwater Creek and not only were they having a sale, the “no-iron slacks” were a perfect and flattering fit and were on sale for $10 off. Well, I did get some good deals on a variety of colored knit tops (I briefly considered a no-iron cotton shirt but ultimately rejected it) and my one extravagance is a really need ikat-weave jacket in greens, browns, mustard, and blues that goes with virtually everything. It’ll be my “evening out” jacket for a number of years to come. I’m really happy with it. Managed to get out of there without falling for chunky bead necklaces or other accessories. Felt sorry for the gentleman who was sitting in the Husband’s Waiting Area when I arrived, and was still there when I left. It was a pretty torrid hour of trying on, combining, and rejecting, and at one point I had a swarm of shop ladies all bringing me things. One of them actually said “I was walking past this rack with a new item and I thought of you…” Oy! I didn’t buy that, but I did drop a few hundred ducats. As one lady pointed out, the four pairs of slacks were “core pieces” and I know from the cut and way they’re made that I can easily wear them for years. Probably 10, as I don’t give a half-hearted goddamn about trends.

Then she tried to sell me some shoes and earrings, and I managed to get out of there with my life, my half-melted credit card, and my well-packed and heavy shopping bag. I won’t be taking all the slacks, though – just 2 pair, navy blue and black, along with some brownish ones I already have that are great for traveling in. I’ll leave the things I’m taking packed in the tissue, too. I’m going to look halfway decent and not quite as shlubby as usual. I’m taking at least one pair of hiking pants (zippy convertables) and I’m seriously considering not taking jeans. Wow, how un-American of me.

The camera will travel in a small older case I have rather than in the bulky new case, but I’ll be taking the telephoto, too. Have to think seriously about whether I want to mess with the tripod; may make do with the hiking staff that converts to a monopod. However, it would all go in a wheeled bag (the rolly-bag, we call it) so it can be dragged behind me most of the time.

As for the yet-missing pieces of the puzzle, we’ve got a 4 day rail pass that will be used to get us to the Cotswolds, and from there to York. I’m hoping to use the remaining 2 days for a couple of day trips, one from London possibly, but more likely from the Cotswolds. I wish we had more time in London, but it didn’t work out that way. The rail fare from York all the way to downtown Dublin is a special one-way fare, and we’ll either buy that outright to save a rail-day on the pass, or pay a supplemental fare of some kind – will work that out at the station (probably Paddington, while we’re still in London).

So that’s mostly sorted. More to remember later.

Review: Tube Status

Next up, a free application shows the status of the London tube lines in a slightly different way… clean, simple, but there’s not a lot to it:

Pretty straightforward – when you click the blue i for more information, you get:

And that’s it – no maps, no routefinder, but more updates are promised in future versions – iTunes still shows version 1.0

Review: Tewks London Tube iPhone App

This little app won’t be that useful on our upcoming trip to Britain, but we should be able to access it via hotel wifi. It’s called “Tewks London Tube.”

The first screenshot shows our closest station as the crow flies. A Londoner might find this feature useful, especially when deciding between several nearby stations. For us, it’s just a little frustrating, as it’s several thousand miles away at the moment.

Note bus stop numbers

Note bus stop numbers

The next screenshot is a close-up of the London Bus map, which shows plenty of detail as to routes and gives an idea of where to catch one of the big red buses. The other maps are the standard rote map and a handy tourist version that shows major attractions and points of interest. Quite handy, if the garden variety tourist can get access, perhaps via wi-fi if not full-on cell service via some sort of “jailbreak” measure.

The next shot shows the loading screen with all the pretty colors. Basically, after it loads, all the line names come up on the appropriate line colors with service updates, or “Good Service” if no problems are reported.

Here’s what it looks like after the status is updated:

And that’s about it. No route planner, no schematics of large stations showing exits, services, or accesibility options. This is a paid app and some reviews mentioned a free one, which will be reviewed later. It looks pretty, and all the stations appear on one screen if all you need is the status of your chosen line. It costs 0.99USD – about 50 new pence, or half a quid if I’ve got my Britspeak right. Pretty good, but there are a couple more applications to check.

iPhone on the go: Britain

Can I use my iPhone in England? – Apple – Wireless Forums from AT&T

Yes it will work there.

Make sure you call ATT and have international provisioning add the international roaming feature if you don’t already have it. Its free but you have to ask them to have it added, it comes turned off by default.

Warning – data is EXTREMELY expensive over in Europe — you can ask ATT to turn off your data while you are overseas and turn it back on when you return (They will balk at the request, ask for a supervisor).

Make sure you set your e-mail to manual check, not automatic, and make sure any alerts you get (i.e. weather texts, sports scores, etc) are turned off before you go.

Also – add the International Discount plan for the month you go – it’s 5.95 and gives you a substantial discount for making calls. You can also cancel it when you return.

You will still be able to use WiFi anywhere you can find it — if people want to see it, show it off where you have wifi, otherwise you are going to run up a huge bill.

Rule of thumb for data — a one MB web site download (about ANY regular website, like the Yahoo home page) will cost you about 20.00 on data in England — about 2 cents per KB.

If you leave your data connected – checking your e-mail manually twice per day and replying to 2 or 3, checking the weather once per day, checking a map each day, and checking a website each day (very very minimal data use) will run you about 90 – 100 dollars per week in addition to your phone and text charges.

Text messages are charged at 50 cents per message incoming or outgoing and are not included in your iPlan allotment while in Europe.

This is very helpful… but now to find out if it’s possible to get a better deal somehow. There may be a way… but we may have to settle for enabling a cheap throwaway phone with an O2 simcard.

If you’re not already with O2 or aren’t eligible for the above options, you can use the iPhone on a Pay & Go basis. You just need to get a Pay & Go iPhone SIM card from any O2 store. The iPhone SIM card is set to the Favourite Place tariff, so gives you unlimited calls to any UK landline or O2 mobile from your chosen postcode when you top-up £30 or more a month. If you don’t like the sound of this tariff, you’ll be able to switch to one of our other Pay & Go tariffs.

With the above service, there’s a “web bolt-on” that’s about 15.00USD a month.

Also, there’s this.

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Caveat Lector » Trafalgar and Westminster

Caveat Lector » Trafalgar and Westminster

Despite my mother’s enthusiastic recommendation, I found Westminster Abbey a difficult place to visit, and should I return to London, I don’t believe I will return there. The church itself is well-built and handsome, but its graceful old bones are impossible to see for all the plaques and busts and sculptures and coats-of-arms and regimental flags and inscriptions and decorated tombs and every other imaginable memorial created by the hand of man tumbling all over each other and fighting for attention.

Many of them would be quite beautiful, were there enough negative space around them to let them breathe. As it is, their tawdry overcrowding combined with the sad tombstones effaced by years of being trodden underfoot crushes the spirit with insistent reminders of not only death, but insignificance. Many interred there led thoroughly uninteresting and undistinguished lives, landing in Westminster Abbey by virtue of exalted birth or exalted wealth. Saddest of all to me are the many women whose tombs only remarked on their husbands or sons.

Dampening the experience further are the Abbey staff, who are clearly caught in a deeply unpleasant dilemma: tourists are their bread-and-butter, but they hate tourists, hate the hundreds of profane feet defiling sacred ground. Not a good mental space to be forced into, and they don’t hesitate to make their distaste known.

The Abbey is definitely an overwhelming pile of plaques, memorials, tombs, gravestones, and historical bric-a-brac, applied slapdash in layers and sometimes right over those of political enemies.  Our experience on entering was a similarly overwhelming sense of visual overload; it would best be expressed by muttering "gah!" and heading for the exits. However, we were lucky in that we signed up for the last tour of the day, with a decent docent who knew his stuff, and he took us from royal tomb to royal tomb in chrono order, and by then end we'd gotten not just a tour, but a 90-minute crash course in English history. 

If we hadn't taken the tour, and hadn't been lucky in getting a good guide, we would have left a lot more quickly and would have missed some interesting experiences. I'll never forget the sensation I felt when the organist "cleared the Abbey's throat" so to speak and played a few practice chords on the organ. I didn't so much hear the low notes as act as a resonating chamber for them as they quivered in my chest. Whew. I wish we could have stayed for the choir practice and service, but that would have been another couple of hours, and we were already pretty wiped out.

Dorothea's right about the annoyance the Abbey staff can exhibit about the tourists in a house of worship; also the hourly prayer meant to remind everyone that "it's a church, after all" sounds just like a departure announcement at the bus terminal. 

Jon Ronson on TAL

I just heard Jon Ronson on This American Life, in a piece about Lord Clarendon, his resting place at Westiminster Abbey, and the legal concept of Habeas Corpus, which is relevant to the issue of Guantanamo prisoners held indefinitely, without access to lawyers, information, or with any hope of a fair trial or release. It was amazing, because the conversation he had with a guide at the Abbey about Clarendon and the Puritans, who were the theocratic-dominionist Religious Right of their day put a lot of historical perspective on current events. And I could swear that David, his guide, could possibly have been David, the verger who led the tour we took of the Abbey on our own visit there.

Jon’s site: about jon ronson | jonronson.com

Jon’s book: Them: Adventures With Extremists looks like a good and even funny read.

The rest of this TAL entry sounds like an important one that I’ll want to come back to and link – like the one about Katrina, it’ll be revisited.