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

Gear

  • 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.

BBC ON THIS DAY | 7 | 2005: Bomb attacks on London

BBC ON THIS DAY | 7 | 2005: Bomb attacks on London

2005: Bomb attacks on London
A series of bomb attacks on London’s transport network has killed more than 30 people and injured about 700 others.

Three explosions on the Underground left 35 dead and two died in a blast on a double decker bus.

It was two years ago today that London suffered the devastating suicide bomber attacks on the Underground and on a bus. I was horrified, and set up a quick photo of a funny little mug that I bought on a trip to London many years ago that said it all for me and uploaded it to Flickr:

London

Flickr became very important to me then, because participating in the “London Bomb Blasts Community” after this picture was uploaded allowed me to show my support for Londoners in a direct and personal way. It was humbling watching the photostream for the group because so many people were out in the crowds, uploading pictures as fast as they could. Some photos got picked up by news services, and once again Flickr became part of the news reporting process – a raw stream of images, maybe, but there were a lot of effective pictures that came out of 7/7/2005 and its aftermath that really told the story.
[tags]Flickr, London, 7/7, bomb blasts[/tags]

BBC NEWS | UK | Two car bombs found in West End

BBC NEWS | UK | Two car bombs found in West End

londoncarbombs.gif

Police have confirmed they are now investigating the discovery of two car bombs in the West End of London.Police said the second device had been found in a Mercedes hours after the car was given a parking ticket in Cockspur Street and towed to Park Lane.

Another Mercedes, with a bomb made up of 60 litres of petrol, gas cylinders and nails, had been found outside a nightclub in Haymarket at 0130 BST.

Both bombs were similar, potentially viable and clearly linked, police said.

This gave me the cold chills this morning. I know Haymarket faily well – it was “my London neighborhood” on my first trip to Britain with Mom 20 years ago or so. We were just a couple of streets over, at the Thistle Trafalgar Square, and we often went up and down Haymarket to get somewhere. Ended up spending time in a pub there one night and got the “tourist lowdown” on the history of the Haymarket area.

London is a wonderful, surprisingly intimate city, and although today’s news is unsettling, I know that London I know and love is not afraid.

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. 

Shit shit shit shit SHIT!

CNN.com – London Tube stations evacuated – Jul 21, 2005

Ivan McCracken told Sky News: “I was in a middle carriage and the train was not far short of Warren Street station when suddenly the door between my carriage and the next one burst open and dozens of people started rushing through. Some were falling, there was mass panic.

“It was difficult to get the story from any of them what had happened but when I got to ground level there was an Italian young man comforting an Italian girl who told me he had seen what had happened.

“He said a man was carrying a rucksack and the rucksack suddenly exploded. It was a minor explosion but enough to blow open the rucksack.

“The man then made an exclamation as if something had gone wrong. At that point everyone rushed from the carriage.”

The reports came two weeks to the day since bombs on three Underground trains in London and a double-decker bus killed 56 people including four bombers.

top.shepbush.spycam.jpg

CNN.com already has links to CCTV images up. Shit! And Flickr’s bomb group is already scrambling for information. No new photos have been posted as yet but you can bet that they’ll be pounced on quickly.

The BBC is asking for conmentary and photos on their “breaking news” story – they’ve updated it to say they were “minor blasts” apparently using detonators only. Reports of injuries are sketchy, so far only one reported hurt.

Transport for London’s home page for the Underground has a live news crawl with updates. Three lines are suspended thus far: Victoria, Hammersmith & City, and Northern.

Meanwhile, the London Bombings Relief Charitable Fund is still taking donations.

Updates will probably be continuous from Going Underground:

[ Update 13:50]

Ok, they’re saying “not as serious” as two weeks ago, but the WHOLE tube system has just been suspended. No tubes people! Incident also on a no. 26 bus in Hackney now being reported.

There’s definetely been some sort of explosion on a train somewhere.

[ Update 13:55]

‘Explosions’ appear to be dummy detonators. No casualties reported. It’s NOT a major incident, but windows WERE blown out on the No. 26 bus.

I’m guessing it’s someone proving that detonators (with no explosives) still get past the sniffer dogs, and they’re doing it to show that panic and disruption can still be caused.

Arseholes. Whoever you are.

detonator map.gif

I’ll be watching via CBSnews.com at work for the rest of today. For now here’s a map and again, it appears to be on the level of a prank, with fireworks or detonators that aren’t detectable by the recently deployed bomb-sniffing dogs.

And since that’s so easy to pull off, it’s really only a matter of time before something happens on US public transportation, too.

UPDATE 950am CDT:

Sky News reported that staff at University College Hospital (UCH) had been passed an internal memo asking them to look out for a black, possibly Asian man, around 6ft 2ins tall, with wires protruding from a hole in his blue top.

PM Tony Blair seems to be in Australia at the moment, he’s just given a statement (and looking pretty relieved that it’s not worse than it is). He’s giving a live press conference. Video and sound isn’t great on BBC, but CBS isn’t covering the whole thing live, just selected important bits they can preload with commercials. :-{

Blair and the Australian PM are answering questions from the press, very calmly and without resorting to obvious “talking points” phrases.

BBC News’s “London Blasts Latest” is being continuously updated:

1547: Prime Minister Tony Blair says incidents such as Thursday’s are designed to frighten people, adding: “We’ve just got to react calmly and continue with our business – as much as possible – as normal.”

1545: Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair says the situation is “fully under control”. He says there is no indication of chemical or other attack, and that there has been only one casualty – not a fatality.

1525: Armed police arrest a man outside the gates of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s 10 Downing Street offices.

(UPDATE: 17:46 London) Further developments: there’s about to be another press conference with Mayor “Red Ken” Livingston (who may or may not be regretting some of his comments from the other day) and also with Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.

Woopsie, train drivers refusing to work the Piccadilly and Bakerloo lines.

Inadvertently funny: “People are also advised to stagger their journeys home due to the disruption on many lines.” This does NOT mean “consume many cans of Carlings to aid in your staggering journey home.”