(My apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien for swiping part of the title to this blog post)
I spent most of this past week over in the UK for an inspection for work. It was quite an interesting experience, although not exactly what I had in mind (as you'll see if you keep reading). Rather than tie everything up in a big wordy entry, I thought I'd keep my trip history short and sweet (too late), with a few pretty pictures sprinkled in between where possible.
The Airport, or a Cozy Home Away From Home
The Flight, a Journey Not Without Its Rewards
- If you can ever get someone to pay for you to fly business class on an international flight, I highly recommend it.
- Although I declined the offer for champagne or a mimosa, I did have a glass of merlot with my lightly-seared tuna with a side salad.
- Soon after, I bundled up in my seat underneath a nice blanket and caught about 4 hours sleep.
- I awoke to the sounds of people around me having breakfast, and sat up in time to flag down a flight attendant to bring me the same. Two cups of coffee, a bowl of yogurt and fruit, and some chocolates later, I was sated, awake, and ready to take on the world. Or at least, ready to take on immigration and customs.
The Car, the Roads, and the Longview Hotel, or the First of My Trials
- The rental car (or "car hire", as they say over in the UK) was reasonably easy to get settled in to, once I was able to find it. The guy behind the counter really needs to learn his right from his left, and had I not already been 3 floors away from his desk, I might have gone back to tell him so.
- I found the hardest part of driving in the UK was NOT driving on the opposite side of the road, OR dealing with the roundabouts, OR even finding out if the speed limits on those signs were referring to miles or kilometers per hour. Instead, the hardest part was staying in my lane, as I was not the best judge of where the left side of my car was actually located at when I was all the way over on the right. It took me a couple of close brushes of my tires against the curb before I got things straightened out and felt comfortable enough to chance the passing lane.
- I arrived, a little shaky but otherwise undamaged, at my lodgings for the week, AKA the Longview Hotel. After checking in and checking out my room, I decided to hit the town for a quick tour and lunch, as it was getting to be about that time of day.
Knutsford, A Charming Community (With Excellent Sandwich Shops)
- "Downtown" Knutsford is full of one-way streets lined with a mixture of shops, offices, and restaurants. For the moment, I was just interested in walking off some of the restless energy I had picked up on my drive, so I just took it all in while I walked on past. A light rain fell for a little while, but soon the sun came out and I had to take off the rain jacket I had been wearing or risk breaking a sweat in the cool 70-degree weather.
- In the end, I circled around to where I had started and stopped in at a small sandwich shop that had quite a line coming out the door. I had an excellent cajun chicken and swiss cheese panini sandwich, and carried it over to a nearby field/park where I sat on a bench in the shade of a large oak tree.
- On finishing, I noticed the placard embedded in the oak tree, and thought it was a cool reminder of the past century, so I captured it for posterity.
- I went back to my room, caught up on some emails, did some work, and then went out to dinner.
- I ate at a Thai restaurant that had decent food, but not-so-decent service. I probably wouldn't eat there again, but I enjoyed my meal and the two pints of Stella I had with it.
Disaster Strikes, or My Biggest Challenge Yet
- Around 1 in the morning, I awoke with a gut feeling that something was wrong. Or rather, that something was wrong in my gut. Over the course of the next twelve hours, I came to know the contour of the bathroom floor quite well as I knelt in front of the porcelain throne ensconced therein. I had some sort of stomach bug, and could NOT keep anything down. I had a high fever and would stumble back into bed and pull the comforter up over me in between bouts with my stomach which, while empty, did not wish to remain quiescent in the late-night hours.
- BBC 2 shows "Arrested Development" and "How I Met Your Mother" between 1:30ish and 2:30ish AM, in case some of you Yankees are missing your American comedies.
- Around 1:00 the next afternoon, when I finally felt I could keep down a few sips of water, I had a taxi take me back into the downtown area, where an angelic pharmacist patiently worked out with me through my fever-induced haze what exactly I needed to buy to get rid of my headache, muscle pains, and fever. I also picked up a pack of water crackers and a couple bottles of water.
- By dinnertime, I was able to eat the broth from a bowl of minestrone soup, and a couple bites of a piece of toast.
- By the next morning, due to carefully measured doses of Benylin's 4Flu medicine, I was able to have scrambled eggs and toast, and make it to the inspection. I was not recovered, but recuperating.
- It wasn't until I got home that I realized that Europe calls Acetaminophen by another name – Paracetamol. Now I understand why that pharmacist was giving me funny looks when I was asking for it.
The Drudge of Work, Work, Work
- Okay, work wasn't all that bad, although I think there was one point in time when my eyes glazed over during one of the technical explanations to a question I had asked. We managed to finish up by the end of the day, and I was able to reschedule my flight back for the following day. I was pretty happy with how things had gone at the site, overall.
- The flight back was pretty standard – caught a couple movies, chatted with the woman next to me, chugged bottles of water like it was going out of style.
- The Philly airport was a madhouse, and I got to the gate only to find that the flight was delayed indefinitely while they worked to fix the air conditioning on the plane.
- Arriving back in my hometown about an hour later than I expected, I booked it on home, hoping to make it there before my daughter went to bed. I was successful, and she nearly galloped around the room in her giddiness to see her "Dada". As I hugged her and my wife, I finally felt like things were back where they should be.
The UK was a neat place, and I wish I had been able to see more of it (and that I had been healthy for more of the time I was there). Still, it wasn't home, and nothing made that more clear than falling asleep in my own bed last night, sleeping peacefully through the night, and through my alarm the next morning.
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