Great Britain and Finland 1998

Great Britain

Great Britain
and Finland

June 12
June 13
June 14
June 15
June 16
June 17
June 18
June 19
June 20
June 21
June 22
June 23
June 24
June 25
June 26
June 27
June 28
June 29
June 30
July 1
July 2
July 3



Travelogue: Great Britain and
Finland 1998

by Roger W. Reini

Salisbury & Stonehenge | South Bank Walk | Arriving in Finland
Train to Oulu | Arctic Circle | Helsinki | Bath
Beatle Walk | Library & War Rooms | Airport Hell

Friday June 12

The beginning of the day is an ordinary work day. I get everything at work straightened out as much as possible, and I go home ready to begin my vacation. In the course of getting ready, I split the seam of the pants I'm wearing, so I have to put on a new pair. Lloyd comes over at 5:30, while I'm taking a break by watching a tape. I stop the tape and put the news on while I finish getting ready. At 6:15, we head for the airport. I'm leaving the van at home; there's no reason for me to pile up a large parking bill at the airport (large being around $100) while I'm away. It's beginning to rain. There are severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings in the area, but none directly affect Wayne County. A few miles north of the airport, Wayne County turns to Rain County. It is pouring!! The roads are on the verge of flooding, but the rain subsides.

Northwest has opened up a new check-in area for international passengers, just north of the current departure area. A few people are checking in. Now I have a couple of hours before my flight. Since I'm flying business class, thanks to the dividends from Ford's spinoff of the Associates, I can use the Worldclub lounge at the top of concourse F. Before I go there, I see that one of the gift shops now sells See's candies. The lounge is rather nice, with workstation areas, restrooms, and even a shower. There's also a snack and bar area. The lounge is seeing some heavy use tonight, as is the airport as a whole. Concourse F is packed.

My flight to London originated in L.A. That was late in arriving, possibly due to weather conditions. As a result, we didn't board until after 10 PM. Then we had to wait for some connecting passengers from Cleveland. While we were waiting for them, the main display screen in the business class section wasn't working, so somebody had to work on it. As a result of these delays, we didn't leave the ground until 11:46 PM, 2 1/2 hours late. I'm sitting in seat 1C, the very front row. Great leg room, but terrible for storing things. There's no seat in front of me with a magazine rack; the rack is on the bulkhead and can't be reached without leaving your seat.

Once again, the display system showed our route. I noticed that we were taking a more northerly route than last time. In 1996, we flew along the north shore of Lake Erie; this time, we went up to Port Huron before going more east. We were probably avoiding the storms that had passed through Detroit earlier. At around 45 minutes out, while we were being served drinks, the air got very bumpy. In fact, I'd call it rough. The flight attendants had to stop serving drinks, stow the carts and strap themselves in. I held onto my drink very carefully. Now the DC-10 is a large plane; if we'd been on the DC-9's or 737's I'm accustomed to, it would have been even rougher.

We eventually settled down into a fairly stable flight. The flight attendants were able to serve dinner. I had salmon with spinach and potatoes -- it was pretty good. The personal video systems had as their movie choices As Good As It Gets, The Wedding Singer, and Good Will Hunting. Like before, these were offered in other languages besides English. There was also a channel devoted to business programs and a comedy channel (Friends, Frasier, Simpsons, etc.) I didn't watch any of them, though. I kept the en-route display going (the soundtrack was classical music) and tried to sleep. I might have gotten a couple of hours sleep.

During the flight, several of us were asked to fill out IATA surveys rating the airline and the airports which we were using today. My ratings were of Detroit and Gatwick, naturally. Detroit did not get the best rating.


Saturday June 13

Because we were delayed leaving Detroit, we were late in landing at London. It wasn't until after noon that we landed. The Fast Track lane in Immigration was not open, so everyone had to go through the main lanes. But being one of the first off a plane has its advantages, as that put me near the beginning of the crowd. I didn't have to wait long for clearance through Immigration. I change some money (200 worth) and await my bag in Customs. But my suitcase takes a long time to arrive. This irks me a bit; last time, it was one of the first off the plane. Once I get it, I walk through the Nothing to Declare lane and am not stopped for inspection.

My first destination: the newsstand for a copy of the Times and Time Out (the weekly magazine of what's going on in London). Then I board the Gatwick Express train to Victoria Station. I find myself sitting next to a family of African descent, but I can't tell where they're from. The boy's school notebook was made in Canada, if that means anything.

Victoria Station is usually busy, and today is no exception. I visit the London Transport information center to exchange my Travelcard voucher for the actual Travelcard. Then I go to the W.H. Smith bookstore for a copy of the Radio Times (the oldest "TV Guide"-type publication in the UK). I take a taxi to the Holiday Inn Garden Court - Oxford Circus. The hotel is actually closer to the Bond Street Underground station than it is to Oxford Circus, but both are easily accessible on foot. The trip takes longer than expected due to heavy traffic crossing Oxford Street. There's a soccer game on the radio -- Spain is playing Nigeria in the first round of the World Cup.

I run into a problem at the hotel. I had made a reservation for the previous night, hoping to be able to go right to my room upon arrival without having to wait in the lobby. But my delayed arrival means that my reservation was canceled as a no-show. Fortunately, no one else has grabbed the room, so new reservations are made. I still have to pay for the missed room Friday night, but I was expecting to do this anyway. Unfortunately, the room is not ready, so I have to wait in the lobby. I pass the time by reading the Radio Times and listening to the commentary for the Spain-Nigeria soccer match, which is airing in the nearby bar. The BBC is airing this game; they will alternate broadcasts with ITV. Eurosport also will carry some of the matches.

Eventually, I do get the room. It's on the 3rd floor. The elevators are VERY small -- when I'm in there with my suitcase, there's no room for anyone else. The room is a bit small but functional. The bed is very firm. There's a trouser press in the room; I use it to press two pairs of pants while I unpack. I flip through the TV channels and rest for a bit. The channels here are BBC 1 and 2, ITV, channel 4, the new channel 5, Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3, Eurosport, Sky News, Sky One and Cartoon Network/TNT (TNT is from 9 PM to 5 AM), along with Radio 2, Radio 4, Capitol Radio and Heart Radio.

I walk to the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street near Tottenham Court Road. Since I now own a VCR that can play PAL-format tapes, I can now consider buying videos in Europe. The Megastore has a very large selection; I could go cuckoo here! Today, I get a Dr. Who spinoff called K9 and Company and a box set of the first series of "This Life", about young lawyers in London. I've seen it compared to Ally McBeal, which is why I take a chance on it. I also pick up 2 CD's by the Hollies. Supper comes from a nearby Burger King -- their Big King meal. I stop in Dillon's and Books Etc. (without getting anything) before taking the Tube back to the hotel. I notice that Borders is building a big store on Oxford Street. They bought Books Etc. recently and are set to become a major player.

One commercial airing strikes me as being very funny. The scene is France. A woman is stumbling around with too many packages. A man looks up from his beer, sees her, and offers to help. You shouldn't be doing this, he says. You should do it like this -- and he proceeds to rearrange them on her. She doesn't appreciate the help. "Merci!" she angrily tells him as she walks off, then falls down. It was an ad for Foster's Lager, the Australian beer. I saw another ad for the same beer which went like this: at an Italian villa, the head of the house (businessman -- whether legal or Mafioso is unimportant) talks to one of his assistants, telling him he's his eyes. He then proceeds to kiss him on the eye. To another (his ears), he kisses on the ears. The third guy says he's out of there -- he does his trousers.

According to the Radio Times, Tracey Ullman is to be a guest on the June 18th installment of Fantasy World Cup Live. What a lucky break! I plan to tape it by pointing my video camera at the TV screen, even though this will result in a lot of flicker due to the mismatch in European and US scan rates. But since I don't have a VCR in my hotel room, I have no other choice. The lengths to which I'll go to add to my collection....


Sunday June 14

I awaken at 2 AM to watch the second period of game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals, live from Washington. The Wings are leading, 1-0. Dave Strader and Mickey Redmond are the announcers. But I fall asleep for the 3rd period. When I awaken again, it's morning and time for breakfast. I take advantage of the hotel's breakfast buffet. They have hot dishes and cold dishes. None of the hot dishes appeal to me, so I settle for cereal and muffins and juice. I am still charged 11, though. That's the last time I have breakfast at the hotel. I decide to walk down Oxford Street to Hyde Park. There are few changes from my last visit -- though I see where a bookstore has replaced a Dunkin' Donuts we visited before (Sharon had told me of this), the Marks & Spencer store is being renovated, and the Littlewoods store has closed down. I walk along the north border of Hyde Park, along what has become Bayswater Road. It's a Sunday tradition for artists to sell their wares here, and they are setting up as I pass. Some of the artwork is quite nice. One person was selling black velvet paintings of the Titanic! Another was selling engraved verses of the Qur'an. One of his panels appeared to have the entire Qur'an engraved onto it (in very small writing, of course)!

I walk through Kensington Gardens. I sit for a bit and order a Sprite, but the flavor tastes a bit off. Did the vendor get the mix wrong, or is there a difference between US and UK Sprite? I don't know. I walk across the Gardens and along the south side of the park, eventually heading back to Speaker's Corner. I see several groups playing football (soccer). Sunday is the busiest time at Speaker's Corner, and that's the case today. Among the speakers I see is one from the Nation of Islam. He's surrounded by several bodyguards, all dressed in suits and bowties, and many of them have shaved their heads. They are a very intimidating presence. I don't stay long. And I don't point my video camera at them for very long. Elsewhere, I see that a parade saluting the Filipino community is about to get under way. This explains the rather large police presence. I record some of the parade on my video camera. During this time, my film is being developed. I've finished a roll of film that I had started in California. I have lunch at KFC, go back to the park for a bit, then return when the film is ready. The pictures turned out pretty well. I also buy some Dr. Scholl's toe pads, as I've developed a heck of a blister on one of my toes.

By this time, I'm dead on my feet, so I go back to the hotel and rest. I return to Victoria Station (by Tube) and pick up a copy of the British Rail timetables for use in planning any rail journeys. I would have bought the Thomas Cook European timetable (for use in the UK and Finland), but they were sold out). I also get some large mailing envelopes, as I plan to mail yesterday's video and CD purchases back to the US. This way, I don't have to carry them around everywhere. I buy a banana milkshake drink at the Whistle Stop convenience store and drink it, as I'm quite thirsty. I'm back in my hotel room before 6:30, which is important because that's when a 48-hour Tube strike is supposed to start.

Dinner consists of room service pizza and Pepsi. I eat it while watching the Jamaica-Croatia game. Earlier, I'd watched the Simpsons -- it was an episode I'd missed back home. It was good, as usual. I fall asleep while listening to the Dutch radio station "Radio Ding-Gold" or perhaps "Radio 10 Gold" (675 AM), which I first thought was "Radio Ding-Dong". They play a variety of old and new music.


Monday June 15

I get a slow start today -- and why shouldn't I? Aren't I on vacation? Anyway, I head out after 9 to look for a post office so that I can mail my package. I find the one I'm looking for a block or so north of Selfridges. This post office is fairly small, and it's different from American ones. Here, the staff is behind glass partitions, and you weigh the package and put the stamps on yourself. This package costs 11 or thereabouts to mail. I hope the stamps remain stuck to the package [they will]. Then I go to the Books Etc. store across the street from Selfridges and look around for a bit. Then I go to Selfridges and look around there for a bit. The store was undergoing some renovations, but nothing terribly major.

Then I decide to look for one of the cybercafes I found in the phonebook, as I want to access my e-mail. I choose one on Marylebone High Street. It proves to be quite a walk away, and when I get there, I find that my trip has been in vain. The cafe has closed. My next choice: Dillon's CyberStation on Gower Street. I walk in the general direction of Gower Street, but I find myself becoming tired. I stop for lunch at a McDonald's on Regent Street. Was it a Quarter Pounder meal or a Big Mac meal that I had? Does it really matter? Anyway, I have my burger, use the restroom in the basement, and head back out. Suddenly, I encounter the Intercafe on Great Portland Street at Margaret Street (a couple of blocks NE of the Oxford Circus Tube station) and decide that this is where I'll check my e-mail. My feet are grateful.

Due to server problems, only some machines are working, so I have to wait for a bit. But I eventually get on and am able to access Hotmail, which is set up to access my regular mail account. I send out some messages and read others. I'm able to keep in touch with Marie and Bill during the trip, so they know something about what I've been doing. After I'm done there, I go to the W.H. Smith bookstore at the Plaza shopping center, then to the HMV superstore where I get 3 more videos -- the first season of Game On (a fairly adult BBC sitcom) and Dr. Who - Lust In Space (a docudrama analyzing whether the Doctor Who series has been sexist over the years).

I make it back to the hotel in time for the start of the England-Tunisia match. Earlier, I'd seen some guys parading an English flag (not the Union Jack, but a red cross on a white field) down the sidewalk near W. H. Smith. Around the country, work came to a near standstill. Traffic dwindled to nothing. Everyone was watching the game. And I watch, for a while. I see England score two goals, but I fall asleep during the second half. It turns out that that's how the game ended: England 2, Tunisia 0. It's a cause for celebration. But there are fears that English hooligans in France will stir up trouble again, as they did Sunday night. Indeed, there are reports of fights between English and Tunisian fans in a beach area that had been set up with large screens for the games.

I don't do much tonight -- basically, I do some reading and watch the telly. I have supper at a nearby Garfunkel's restaurant on Duke Street. It was either go there or to the Pizza Hut next door. The appetizer is stuffed mushrooms. I've forgotten what I had for supper, though I believe it was some sort of fish. It couldn't have been very memorable, then. The restaurant wasn't very crowded -- one of the waitresses asked if she could leave early, and she was allowed to. Whenever I see Garfunkel's, I always say to myself "There should be a Simon's nearby."


Tuesday June 16

I wake up in the middle of the night. Not able to get back to sleep right away, I put on the radio. While listening to BBC Radio 2, I notice that the DJ is Katrina. Is she by any chance the Katrina of Katrina and the Waves ("Walking on Sunshine")? I don't know, but this Katrina is American, and so is the other one. I eventually go back to sleep. After I wake up for good, I skip breakfast (the hotel's is overpriced, and I really don't feel like any). I try calling Finnair to reconfirm my reservation. I could not get through. Perhaps I was calling too early (before 9). But as I was being charged by the minute (25p or 40 cents), I hang up and vow to try again later, possibly tomorrow. I doubt I'll have time today, because I'm going to go to see Salisbury and Stonehenge.

The tour, organized by the Original London Walks, departs from Waterloo Station at 10:15. Getting there by the Tube was not a problem, even though there was a strike by some of the workers. I get there a bit early and pay for the tour, which includes all admissions fees. Since I have a BritRail pass, I don't need to pay for a train ticket. The guide is Richard, who guided my visit to Greenwich in 1996. He's a good guide. While waiting, I notice lots of men and women in fancy dress. They are heading to the races at Royal Ascot, and you need to be dressed to the nines to go there. For men, it's top hat and tails. For women, it includes hats -- the fancier, the better. But fancy can't be used to describe their train -- it seems to be made of older and shabbier equipment. Apparently, the quality of train is inversely proportional to the level of the passengers' dress.

There were 30 people in all taking the trip. Three of us had railpasses, so we were able to ride in first class. The others were a couple from Massachusetts. The journey takes about 90 minutes. Salisbury is southwest of London. The weather today is variable -- periods of sun followed by clouds. At times, rain threatens -- and we will eventually be caught in a downpour. The first walk consists of the sights of Salisbury, including Salisbury Cathedral. We are able to go inside the cathedral and even take pictures and video. While we're there, noon prayers are held, and our tour pauses. A choir is singing today -- and it's from Austin! One of the exhibits at the cathedral is one of 4 original copies of the Magna Carta (2 of the others are at the British Library, and the other is at Lincoln).

I have lunch at the cafe at the cathedral. It's nothing fancy -- tomato soup, a piece of good multigrain bread, salt & vinegar flavor chips (or crisps), some Dr Pepper and some Oreos from Spain. Afterwards, I visit the gift shop, where I get some postcards, a video on the cathedral, and a picture of Comet Hale-Bopp over Stonehenge, among other things. Now we're going to board a bus for our trip to Stonehenge. This is when we're caught in the downpour. Since it's rained at some point every day so far, I'm prepared. I've got my umbrella. While we're waiting for our bus, a local youth comes by and proceeds to heckle our tour guide. But he's not fazed by it; it seems this is a regular occurrence. What a shame. I'm thinking to myself, when did this guy get back from Marseilles (where the English hooligans were at it yesterday)? He wasn't one of England's finest, that's for sure. But he's only a momentary distraction, and we board the bus without further incident. The rain stops.

We are driving along a back road, with lots of thatched cottages. Off in the distance is the site of Old Sarum, the predecessor town to Salisbury. A castle and cathedral used to be here, but the cathedral was abandoned and a new one (the current one) built in order to get away from the soldiers. Also, Sarum was located on a hill, meaning it was an exposed location. We pass by one of Sting's homes; it's very elaborate, as you might expect. The road is rather narrow, and there are times when we have to pull over a bit so oncoming traffic can get by.

Stonehenge is located in between two major roadways. But it is on a rise, so it still appears to come from nowhere. It is an impressive sight -- 4000 or so years old. The monument is roped off so people can't damage it. Back in the 1800's, there was a man who made a living by selling souvenir pickaxes to people who would go up and chip pieces of the monument off. That doesn't happen anymore. But there is a piece of one of the stones that looks like it's made of concrete. That's because it is -- it was a repair. I get at least one nice picture of Stonehenge and a few decent ones, and of course I'm taking video. Rain threatens but never arrives. Then we get back on the bus to return to Salisbury. I would have visited the gift shop, except I had left my bag -- and my wallet -- on the bus. This time we return on the main highway, so we see a different view of the area between Stonehenge and Salisbury. We have 45 minutes or so on our own before the train to London. I wander around a bit, pop in a Waterstone's bookstore, take some more video, etc.

By the time I return to London, the Tube strike is over. I visit the Wendy's on Oxford Street and have a spicy chicken sandwich, which wasn't really very spicy. Later that night, I finish the video tape with some experimental recording of the TV. I see some of the Brazil-Morocco game. There's quite a bit of flicker, which is expected.


Wednesday June 17

I try to stay awake to see game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals. I fail in my quest, but I do pop awake to see part of the second period. But the game will be repeated at 9:30 am. I stay inside until past 11, watching the edited game (the breaks have been removed, but none of the play). Detroit wins, 4-1. They win the Stanley Cup for the second year in a row! I see some of the victory celebration, where Steve Yzerman hands the Cup to Vladimir Konstantinov. I should see more of the celebration when I get home, for I'd asked Lloyd to tape the Cup-winning game [unfortunately for me, the tape cut off before the Cup was presented to Yzerman].

Once I leave, I set out for the South Bank of the Thames. I get off the Tube at Westminster station, which is undergoing renovation; a new line is going in there. Actually, it's an extension of the Jubilee Line, which will extend to North Greenwich and the Millennium Dome now under construction. As the name implies, Westminster Tube station is very close to Parliament. I cross the Thames on Westminster Bridge and take some pictures and video. I walk south for a time, then head back north and cross under the bridge. I record the chimes for noon. Then I head east -- past the South Bank theater complex; past the Oxo Tower; past the Golden Hind, which Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world; past the reconstructed Globe Theater of Shakespeare; past the London Dungeon and Britain at War tourist traps; past HMS Belfast; and ultimately to Tower Bridge. That was a fairly lengthy walk, and I decide to return to my hotel. I'm tired. So I walk across Tower Bridge to Tower Hill station. I drop off my film at a store near the Bond Street station (on South Molton Street, actually) and return to the hotel to drop off my bags and cameras.

I walk to Hamley's toy store. This is the store that's the UK equivalent to FAO Schwarz. There's nothing there that I'm particularly interested in, so I go down the street to the Warner Brothers store. It's just like the ones in the US. But one thing different here is the programs they sell on tape. For instance, the first 3 seasons and part of the 4th season of Friends are on sale in the UK. Not in the US. The same's true of Babylon 5 (only sold through Columbia House in the US) and Star Trek DS9 and Voyager (more DS9 episodes are available in the UK, and episodes from the middle of this season of Voyager are available there). I don't get anything there, as most of the merchandise is no different from what's available back home.

I wander around a bit and find myself at the British Airways Travel Centre, which contains a Stanford's travel bookstore. There, I find the Thomas Cook timetable I've been looking for. I go to Picadilly Circus and Tower Records. They have several Sunday editions of US papers (including a News and Free Press from June 7). But all I buy is a Radio Times. I could have done that anywhere, really. Then it's back to the photo shop to pick up the pictures. They turn out OK. Then I backtrack to the Deep Pan Pizza restaurant for a combination lunch and supper (that's correct, I hadn't eaten all day). I have the pizza buffet. The food is all right but the service is a bit brusque. Almost too efficient, in my opinion. I go to the Tesco Metro supermarket but don't get anything. I was looking for something to drink for later on, but nothing struck me.

The rain has started again. By this time, I'm tired and feeling very disgusted. My mood isn't helped by what I saw earlier: when going to the pizza place, some teens tossed what appeared to be a glass of water (they tossed the water, not the glass) at a woman walking past. Most of it hits her umbrella. She turns around, startled by this, looking to see where it came from. I saw everything but was too far back to do anything about it. What could I have done, anyway? This incident, combined with the yahoo in Salisbury and the soccer violence, has not left a good impression on me about some of the English. Obviously, these jerks are not representative of the entire population. Not everyone over there is an a-hole. But the ones who are do tend to spoil things. Fortunately, this feeling doesn't last. It was born more of fatigue than anything else. Besides, any nation that can give us the Beatles, Monty Python and Tracey Ullman can't be all bad.


Thursday June 18

I'm up around 7:30. I decide to take the train to Cardiff, so that I can say I've been to Wales. The train leaves from Paddington Station, which is currently being renovated. I have another reason to see Paddington today: I want to see the setup for the Heathrow Express trains, which I plan to use on Saturday. The train ride to Cardiff takes about two hours. Other than countryside, there's not much to see. I notice that the tracks pass through the towns of Slough and Burnham, both of which I've seen mentioned as where Tracey was born (they're next to each other).

Once in Wales, I'm greeted by a steady drizzle. It's too cruddy to consider using a tour bus. I almost have lunch at a Wimpy restaurant but can't figure out if they have table service or not. I do have lunch at Burger King then walk around for a bit. The drizzle doesn't let up. I can't really use a camera under these conditions. I see the outside of Cardiff Castle, but that's all. I walk around downtown for a bit before deciding to cut my losses and head "home" only 90 minutes after I arrive. This part of the day ends up being a bit of a waste. But now I can say that I've been in Wales.

Back to my room after 2:30 -- housekeeping hasn't arrived yet! But they'll arrive soon, so I can't dawdle. I change clothes and head for the Dillon's bookstore on Gower Street (Goodge Street Tube). The store has a CyberStation where they sell Net access. I buy 2 hours worth for 10 and immediately use 40 minutes worth checking my e-mail. The connection is slower than the Intercafe, but I manage. Having access to my e-mail is very helpful, as I won't have to wade through a ton of it after I get home. Last time, I had 75 messages waiting for me upon my return. If I hadn't been checking e-mail during the trip, I would have had 3 times that many waiting for me, I'm sure of it.

Afterwards, I walk down Tottenham Court Road, looking at the electronics and computer stores along the street. Past Oxford Street, the street becomes Charing Cross Road. I decide to visit some of the music stores in the area. The largest, Rose-Morris, has no decent guitars, decent meaning Rickenbacker. Andy's Vintage Guitar Shop has a few, including a 1964 1998 -- a model made for the Rose-Morris store, in fact. No prices are shown, which irks me a bit. Since there's no way I'm going to buy anything, I don't think it would be right for me to play any.

I visit Foyle's bookstore but get nothing. I walk down to Leicester Square, which I had never visited before. This is the center of the theater district, with many theaters and cinemas nearby. There are many restaurants here, too. There's a Mexican place; there's the Capital Radio Cafe, which is locate at the studios of, what else, Capital Radio. There are also a few street entertainers. I must spend more time here, I say to myself.

It's time for supper. I decide to eat at the Planet Hollywood at Piccadilly. I don't have to wait to go in, which is nice. Among the memorabilia here is a mini-copter from a James Bond film ("You Only Live Twice", I think) and some props from "Blake's 7." I have the beef and chicken fajitas. But there's no room on my plate to make them properly, so I just eat the fixings as they are and roll the tortillas up and eat them that way. It's still quite good. And for dessert, I choose an Oreo Mousse Pie. Yum! I am quite full, as you can imagine. The cost: 20.90. Ouch! At the merchandise shop, I get two beanies for the girls. Then it's back to the hotel. You could say the day started out rotten but ended up OK.

Back at the hotel, I watch France-Saudi Arabia at 8 PM. One of the Frenchmen is ejected for stomping on a Saudi player. He is suspended for two games but will later become the hero of the eventual champions as he scores two goals in the final against Brazil. But I digress.... Afterwards comes the national and the local news.

Then at 10:40, I watch (and record) Fantasy World Cup Live. It's a comedy series presented by two British comedians (naturally), David Baddiel and Frank Skinner. They comment on the action in recent World Cup matches. One of the bits they do is called "the Albert Steptoe watch," where they look for pictures of people who look like the character Albert Steptoe from the famous British sitcom "Steptoe and Son." I had seen a couple of episodes before, so I was able to get the joke [Info: the actor who portrayed Steptoe was Wilfred Brambell, who was in "A Hard Day's Night"). Another bit they do is "Phoenix From The Flames," where they would recreate great moments in World Cup history, along with one of the original participants. Tonight, they would recreate the worst foul ever committed in the tournament, where the goalie rammed a player to keep him from scoring a goal.

I'd seen other episodes and had enjoyed them, so I was sure I was going to enjoy tonight's episode. But the main reason I'm watching, and the only reason I'm recording it, is Tracey Ullman. I wasn't sure she was going to appear, for some of the previously advertised guests didn't appear. That happened tonight too; the other guest was to be John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten. But instead, Hugo Speer ("The Full Monty") was the other guest (Lydon did appear on another installment). And I do enjoy the program. Tracey talks about her experience at the England-Tunisia game, which was the first soccer match she'd ever attended.


Friday June 19

I awake around 5 AM. I must have conked out, for I never bothered to turn down the sheets. I turn on Radio 2 -- it IS the Katrina of Katrina and the Waves. She was doing the 3 AM to 6 AM shift for a week. I head out after 9 for the post office, where I mail another package to myself -- the videos I'd bought earlier this week. Then I go to the Museum of the Moving Image in the South Bank Centre. I spend a couple of hours here looking at the development of moving images and motion pictures, including television. There is a display area dedicated to Charlie Chaplin memorabilia and another devoted to Dr. Who props (K9, a Dalek, a Cyberman). Many of the references in the television area are foreign to me, because they're specific to Britain. But there were many things I was familiar with or at least had heard of. I recall seeing the puppet Sooty, which was a popular children's program. Afterwards, I head back to the hotel for a rest. En route, I buy a Sprite from a vending machine. When I open it, it bursts out of the top and gets all over my hands. So I have sticky hands all the way "home."

In the late afternoon, I visit the Covent Garden area and see several street entertainers. I take video there, in Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. I'm not sure if the street entertainers, whom I believe are professional, care for having video taken of them. The weather's nice today; the sun is out, and rain is not an option. It's also kinda warm, so I see a few people playing in the fountains at Trafalgar Square. Some young ladies are having a very good time in the fountain -- no, not that good. The water looks to be very clean. But nobody's in the other fountain.

I have supper at the Texas Embassy cantina. It's a Mexican restaurant. It looks "authentic" enough inside. The food's pretty good, too. It's not the best I've ever had, but it will do. I'd be willing to go back there. After I'm finished, I walk back to Leicester Square and take the tube back to the hotel. There's a McDonald's in the shopping center near the Bond Street station, and I get a milkshake there. It's good; it hits the spot. Then it's back to the hotel to pack.


Saturday June 20

I awaken early to finish packing. Since I'm a bit low on cash for my comfort, I visit a nearby NatWest money machine and pull 50. After I make sure I've got everything, I check out. There's a car waiting for me when I leave the hotel. No, it's not waiting for me at all but for somebody else. But there's a taxi right behind. I ask him to take me to Paddington Station. He figures, correctly, that I'm going there for the Heathrow Express train and tries to convince me to ride with him all the way out there. The fare would be 35 or so, so I decline. He then gripes about how the train is going to be late or break down and all the passengers will be looking for taxis to take them to the airport. He must be concerned about how it'll affect his business.

The Heathrow train is very nice. It should be, as it's brand new. The design of the train exterior and interior is supposed to evoke an airliner, and it does. Officially, the express service does not open until next Tuesday, so this is only a fast train to Heathrow. However, it no longer stops at a station near the airport and makes everyone transfer to a bus. It goes through the new tunnels directly to the airport station.

When I arrive at the airport, I find I'm 40 minutes too early. Finnair/British Airways does not permit passengers to check in until 2 hours prior to a flight. So I have to sit until 8:25. Once I check in, I proceed past passport control and the security checks to the duty free shops and waiting area. HMV has a store there, as does Harrod's (they're selling Wimbledon clothing, among other things). But I don't buy anything there. Instead, I head to British Airway's Club Europe lounge to wait for my flight. Inside, I have some snacks, read a paper and check my e-mail at their business center, which has complimentary Net access.

The flight is delayed about a half-hour due to problems with the air conditioning, but those are resolved in short order. Business class travelers board last, which is unusual to me. Northwest usually boards them first. I'm sitting in the very front row of the aircraft, an MD-82 (modern version of the DC-9). I noticed that the plane is very quiet as it takes off; I can barely hear the engines at all. This is not my experience with Northwest. The flight is uneventful. We fly over the North Sea, where I can easily spot the oil tankers and barges. Then we're over Denmark and Sweden. All this time, there's barely a cloud in the sky. But when we arrive in Finland, it's cloudy and raining. The airport is in Vantaa, which is north of Helsinki. We arrive a little after 4; we were supposed to arrive at 3:15.

After passing through Customs and Immigration, I'm in the arrivals area. I notice that all the announcements are in Finnish, Swedish and English. The announcements on the plane were in Finnish and English. As someone who knows English but not Finnish or Swedish, I find that very comforting. I take a taxi to the Cumulus Airport Hotel; the driver has no problems understanding English. When I arrive at the airport, I learn that Sharon and family have been in their room for a couple of hours. I knew they were going to arrive ahead of me, but I was concerned they might have to wait for me to arrive, as the reservations were in my name. Fortunately for them, they were in all our names. I get my key and head up to the 7th floor, room 713. I have a hard time figuring out how to open the door, as there doesn't appear to be any door handle. Sharon must have heard me fumbling at the door, for she opens it (our rooms are adjoining). It turns out that the key serves as the door handle. It's unusual, but you get used to it.

Candice and Heather are very glad to see me. They show me the coloring book they've been working on. They have grown a bit since I'd last seen them in March 1997. Both of them know how to read now. Candice has started reading the Pippi Longstocking books. Heather read me a poem she wrote. Then it's time for gifts. For birthday presents, I get two sets of babushkas or nesting dolls -- one set has a Star Trek theme, and the other one is of the Beatles. I also get a gift from Vessi and Ivo, their former nanny and her husband -- a model of some musical instrument.

After resting for a bit, we head down to the restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, the service is VERY SLOW. The food is not bad (I have a seafood platter and some salmon soup), but it took forever for us to be served. There were other customers, too, and they seemed to have a similar experience. One large group near us appears to have been a rock band and support team; two of them came in with guitars. There are some kids running wild, straying from the play area.

Randall has a complaint about the TV: there are some pay-TV channels that have explicit adult content, and it's too easy to encounter them accidentally when scanning the dial. He found this out the hard way (I don't know if the girls noticed anything). When I scan the dial later, I see his point.


Sunday June 21

The breakfast buffet at the hotel is complimentary, so we avail ourselves of it. We leave the hotel and take a taxi (minivan-sized) to the main railway station in Helsinki, about a 20-minute ride. Our plan is to take the 9:58 train to Oulu, which should arrive after 5 PM. Before we can travel, we need to validate our railpasses. That's where we run into a problem: the windows which validate railpasses don't open on weekends until 10. And, to the best of my knowledge, we can't get on the train with railpasses that haven't been validated, and I don't believe they validate them on the train. What to do? Waiting until 1 PM for the next train is not an option, so I act quickly. I buy 4 one-way tickets to Oulu (Heather doesn't need one). It turns out they are in second class. I should have explicitly asked for 1st class tickets, but I didn't think to do this. But there is a baggage car, so we're able to check our large bags.

The rail cars appear to be a few years old. But they are in good condition. The seats are fairly comfortable, in my opinion. The train ride to Oulu is a long one, seven hours. But the countryside looks clean and picturesque. It reminds me a bit of the Upper Peninsula. Two hours north of Helsinki is Tampere, where there is a small amusement park. There's an observation tower that looks very much like the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls, Ontario.

At last we arrive in Oulu. We take a taxi the short distance to the Hotel Arina. Our rooms are adjoining once again, this time on the 4th floor. We have to make sure not to close the doors between our rooms, for they have no handles. They have to be opened by a key, which only the front desk has. The furnishings are spare but functional. Our rooms have two twin beds; mine are separate, while theirs are pushed together. That makes sense, given that there are four of them and one of me.

We walk around the city center area, much of which has been turned into a pedestrian zone. In the center of this area is a water globe, a large rock resting on a stream of water. You can actually push the rock and it'll spin! We eat supper at McDonald's. Heather gets a wristwatch, and she's quite happy with it. Afterwards, we walk around some more, all the way down to the harbor area. We see a statue of what appears to be a military officer. It looks kinda Bulgarian or Russian, says Sharon.

What's on TV here? Four Finnish stations (YLE1, YLE2, MTV3, and Nelonen), a Swedish channel (SVE2), Eurosport, Deutche Welle, NBC (yes, a channel owned by the American network), Euro News (the European equivalent of CNN Headline News), MTV Scandinavia and TV5 (a French network). So we can watch parts of the Today show and all of the Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O'Brien. But not for long, for there are periodic announcements that the station is either turning into the National Geographic Channel or going off altogether, depending on what country you're in. One notable feature of Finnish TV (and of the movies): they are never dubbed but are always shown in their original language. They are subtitled in Finnish and sometimes Swedish. That means we can enjoy the Flintstones or any other American programs (such as "Spy Game", which aired briefly last season on ABC).

Want to watch a World Cup game? You have your pick of one of the Finnish stations (YLE1 or 2), the Swedish station, and Eurosport (in Finnish). Sometimes, the networks will all show the same game, but sometimes they'll show different games.


Monday June 22

It never really got dark last night. Even though Oulu is below the Arctic Circle, meaning the sun did officially set, it never got darker than a cloudy day. And the clouds were beginning to go, as I could see a patch of blue sky. This is unusual to someone who's never been so far north before.

After getting out of bed, we head for the breakfast buffet. They have a mixture of hot and cold dishes. I have oatmeal topped with cocoa and milk. The cocoa was an accident; I thought I was putting brown sugar on it. The skim milk was very skim -- downright watery, even. So I didn't put much on it. I also prepare myself a mini ham sandwich.

After breakfast, we go back to our room to get our stuff, then head for the train station. There's a breeze blowing. All of us are wearing a jacket, but Sharon thinks the girls need something heavier. Not having any heavier jackets, we stop at a children's clothing store where she buys them hooded pullovers and caps. The sun is out, but it's not helping the temperature. Not yet, anyway.

Validating the railpasses is not a problem today. We board the train to Rovaniemi. Once again, we sit in second class. This time, we have no choice for there is no first class car. The trip takes 2 1/2 hours, and the weather's improving all the way. The scenery still reminds me of the UP. Our train goes through Kemi, which is very close to the border with Sweden.

At last we arrive in Rovaniemi. We take a taxi to the Santa Claus Village. As we drive through the town and get on the E75 freeway, I am struck by how modern and clean the city appears to be. The modern can be explained by the town's being rebuilt after World War II, when the retreating Germans had leveled it. In a few minutes, we are 9 km north of the city and are at the Santa Claus Village. In arriving at the front door, we've crossed the Arctic Circle. Soon after heading inside, we get certificates confirming our crossing (20 marks each). I buy some postcards and a "Finnish Army Knife" (actually a Swiss Army knife). There are some tables for writing out the postcards, so I decide to write some. I can mail them from there, and they'll receive a special Arctic Circle postmark.

There are several little shops inside the main building, and we split up to visit them. In one gift shop, I see lots of hand-crafted knives. I think about getting one but ultimately pass. I didn't want to carry one around in my luggage. That might give the wrong idea. But I do see some kuksas, or Lapp wooden cups. I get four of them (for Lloyd, Vivian and Eshy, Marie and Bill, and myself). The ones I get are 170 marks each. The girls each get a toy reindeer. Later, they pose with a stuffed reindeer in the courtyard. Now we look for a place to have lunch. There are 3 or 4 eating establishments here. The fanciest one has very slow service; in fact, we're never waited on at all. The other places don't strike us as very appealing. So we take the bus back into town, still hungry. Our plan is to eat at the McDonald's -- which happens to be the world's northernmost McDonald's. The bus takes us through some nice suburbs before returning us to the train station. But the McDonald's is not that close to the station, so we take a cab back there. The driver has a bit of difficulty understanding us, but we do get there eventually.

After McDonald's, we take another taxi back to the train station. The distance is walkable in reasonable time by adults, but it might be a bit much for young children. By 9:30, we're back in Oulu. As we return to our hotel, the sun is still high in the northwest, blinding us. This is also unusual.


Tuesday June 23

Today we spend the day in Oulu. After waking up, I turn on the TV. YLE1 has the news (in Finnish, of course). I can't understand a thing they're saying, but at least the weather maps are intelligible. The newsreader is named Marjo Rein (any relation?), and I swear that one of the hosts looks like Dad, but with a bit more hair. We have breakfast again; no more cocoa in the oatmeal for me, thank you.

We head out. Randall needs to exchange some money, so he visits a bank to do so. It takes him quite a while to do this, unlike in London or at the airport where the transaction takes place in a minute. Once this is straightened out, we take a trolley ride through the city. It starts downtown, passes through a market square, then heads to a park area. At the park, we get out for 15 minutes. Heather plays on the swings, while Candice (who's still not feeling the best) stays with her mommy. Then it's back on the trolley for the ride downtown.

We go to the market square and end up getting some souvenirs. I get some "Tervetuloa" (Welcome) plaques for Marie and Grandma and a "WC" (toilet) one for myself. After visiting some of the other stores, we sit down and have ice cream cones. The girls are glad we didn't have to ride the train today.

Earlier, we had seen a pony pulling a cart with two small children. We proceed to look for that cart, as the girls might enjoy the ride. We find the cart. Heather wants to ride, but Candice doesn't. So Randall rides with her, and the Swedish owner leads the horse down the sidewalk and back. We take pictures of them enjoying themselves. Afterwards, we look for a pharmacy. It seems Randall is getting sick. The medicines are unfamiliar. I'm not sure what he gets besides a box of tissues. I head for the train station to make seat reservations for tomorrow.

Back at the hotel, the men rest. Heather stays here while Sharon and Candice go out. They return with new backpacks for the girls (their old ones were wearing out). Dinner is at Rosso restaurant downtown. I get a pepper steak, but I have to send it back as it's woefully undercooked. Perhaps the waitress misunderstood medium-well as medium-rare. It returns well done, and it's pretty good. The girls get spaghetti, which has wider noodles than the standard. There are also onions in it, so I don't think they care for it that much. Back to the hotel to finish packing.


Wednesday June 24

I wake up at 3 AM feeling icky. It's still very light outside but the sun is down. I eventually go back to sleep. By 6, we're all up and packed. I no longer feel icky. Our train leaves at 7:15, so there's no time for breakfast. We take a taxi to the train station -- actually, they take a taxi. It's too small to handle all of our luggage, so I end up walking to the train station. This time, we do have first class seats. The train cars are newer, too. It's still a long train ride, but because this is an Intercity train, it's a bit faster than the other trains we've taken. The girls have room to stretch out and play. We eat breakfast on the train -- ham and cheese croissants and Coke. During the trip, we could hear a Finnish radio station being played. I don't know which one, but I am sure it's a national one. I can recall hearing "Bad To Me" and "Things We Said Today" being performed in Finnish. It's weird to hear songs that you're very familiar with performed in other languages. The weather is sunny at the start but clouds up near Helsinki.

By 2 PM, we are in Helsinki. There's no need for a taxi for the hotel; it's right across the street. The hotel is one of the oldest in town. This time, our rooms are not adjoining. They are also NOT non-smoking rooms, as the tobacco smell is strong. We air out the rooms, but the relief is short-lived. There's also an unusual smell in the hallway.

The elevator here (and in the hotel in Oulu) is somewhat unusual. You have to open and close the door yourself in order to use the elevator. It's not an open pull-gate, which you see in the movies, but a regular heavy door.

After unpacking, I decide to head out for a bit, mainly for a newspaper; there are English-language papers at the railway station. I get an International Herald Tribune. I could have bought a day-old Guardian or other British newspaper, or I could have picked up an international edition of USA Today. I could also have bought a Finnish newspaper, but why would I do that? Afterwards, I visit a record store and supermarket. I'm gone a bit longer than planned, for when I get back, there's no answer from Sharon's room. They'd left a note at my room saying they were looking for me but have gone out on their own, be back at 5. It's only 3:30, so I have 90 minutes.

I decide to visit the Stockmann department store. On the 5th floor is a big area with souvenirs from Finland. I get some books and a owl-like creature; these are for Marie and Bill and Grandma. But I won't bring them home with me; instead, I'll get the store to send them directly via their export service. After I return to the hotel, we all decide to return there. Sharon and Randall get some things for themselves as well as gifts for others. One of the things they get is a souvenir knife for Lloyd. They'll send these via the export service. Afterwards, we look for a new backpack for Randall, as his is wearing out.

Supper is at Planet Hollywood. It's very similar to the others I've seen, though this one is a bit smaller. One of the pieces of memorabilia is a gremlin from "Gremlins". That movie was on Finnish TV earlier in the week. We have a hard time finding one of Heather's shoes that's fallen under the table. The kids have burgers; I have a bacon cheeseburger; I can't remember what Sharon has; and Randall has the beef and chicken fajitas. When we're finished, we visit the memorabilia shop, where Randall and I get caps that say "Planet Hollywood Helsinki"

The TV here is virtually the same as in Oulu, except we don't have Euro News. But we do have some radio stations, including Radio Mafia (?) and Capitol Radio, which broadcasts a lot of news programs from overseas, including the BBC, VOA and NPR.


Thursday June 25

The breakfast buffet is too crowded; there's no place to sit. So we head to McDonald's for breakfast. Since I don't feel like any, I wait outside while they eat. Afterwards, we look for a taxi stand so we can go to the Olympia Terminal. That's where a sightseeing bus tour will originate. We have a VERY hard time getting one to stop; in retrospect, we were hailing them in zones where they're legally barred from stopping. Blame unfamiliar Finnish road signs for that. Eventually, one does stop and take us there. It's at one of the stations for the big ferries that run between Helsinki and Stockholm. These ships are BIG!

The bus tour is about 90 minutes long, taking us throughout the city. The guide gives the tour in Swedish and English. We see where the US embassy is located; we visit a church carved out of bedrock; we see a new cruise ship under construction for the Carnival line; we see the monument to Finland's greatest composer, Jean Sibelius; we see the Olympic stadium (from 1952) and a statue of famous runner Paavo Nurmi, the Flying Finn; we pass by the Lutheran and Orthodox cathedrals as well as Senate Square, and we end at the market square. I'm taking video the whole way. After the tour, we visit a shop specializing in Russian art (babushkas, boxes, eggs, etc.) then return to the market area. While there, we notice a sign for tours of the harbor. I want to take the tour, but the others don't. So we separate and promise to meet back at the hotel.

The harbor tour is also 90 minutes long, taking us travelers out to the Suomenlinna island fortress, past the docks of several ice breakers, and near the zoo. The commentary is in Finnish, Swedish, English and German. I could have bought lunch to go along with the tour, but I passed. It was rather chilly on the water. Few people braved the upper deck. In fact, I go down to the middle deck for a while in order to warm up. At one point, I see a ferry heading for Tallinn, Estonia.

After I return to the hotel, we figure out what to do for supper. Our first choice is a nearby Mexican restaurant, Restaurant Santa Fe. When we get there, we find that it's an outdoor facility. Since it's a bit chilly, we decide to go elsewhere. There appears to be a Mexican place across the street, but it looks busy. After a long walk to a taxi stand, we take a cab to the Ostrobothnian Grill, which specializes in Finnish cuisine. But we're not impressed with the menu and take a cab to the Forum shopping center, where we eat at the Rax buffet restaurant (salad and pizza). It's not bad. Not quite Finnish cuisine, but not bad.

Then it's time to pack. Randall's bag is beginning to split, but a safety pin and tape will hold it together for the trip home. My suitcase is also showing signs of wear and tear -- one of the legs on the bottom has broken off, and the cover of the upper section is beginning to break. Perhaps the time has come to retire the suitcase.


Friday June 26

Once again, we take a taxi ride to the airport. Our flights leave at the same time (8 AM) but are going to different places. They are going to Zurich for the flight to the US, but I am returning to Heathrow. We have breakfast at the airport (croissants and pop). Then it's time for us to head our separate ways -- gate 33 for them, gate 23 for me. My flight is uneventful, though it is cloudy over England. We are in a brief holding pattern before being cleared to land. Our landing path gives us a great view of central London. There's no FastTrack through Immigration at Heathrow, either. But the line is not long. Clearing Customs is not a problem at all, as I get to use the "arriving from an EC country" line, meaning you just walk through. Afterwards, I redeem the voucher for my second London Visitor Travelcard, buy a paper, and get a ticket for the inbound Heathrow Express. Now that the system is officially in operation, the fare has increased to 10. I take a cab to my apartment at 2 Hyde Park Square. The cabby is incredulous that I'd take one for so short a distance, but I've got heavy bags. He gets a nice tip.

The apartment is not ready for me, nor will it be for several hours. I leave my main suitcase but take the carryon with me (no way to lock it, and I've got my cameras in there). I look for the Lancaster Gate Tube station. It's a bit farther away than I thought. It's located close to the Royal Lancaster Hotel. Right away I notice that the other people using the station seem to all be tourists. It's clear to me they're not that familiar with the Tube system. I'm a tourist, too, but I consider myself to be familiar enough with the operation of the system that I don't see myself as a tourist in this instance. I'm sure that the regulars can be annoyed by the tourists and others who aren't regular users and who don't act in the expected ways.

But enough of this. I take the Tube to Oxford Circus and the Intercafe. I was unable to reliably check e-mail in Finland, so I spend 90 minutes here doing so. I also take advantage of the time to review the Detroit News and Free Press sites, looking for information about the post-Cup celebrations. After I'm done there, I go to the nearby W.H. Smith store for the latest Time Out and Radio Times. Then I spend some time at the HMV superstore. All this time, the bag is getting heavier and heavier. And I'm getting more and more tired. Finally, I head back to the apartment. As I walk back from the Tube station, I notice one of the houses on Hyde Park Street has a blue plaque. It used to be the home of bookseller and statesman W. H. Smith. Yes, the same W. H. Smith of the bookstore chain. Later, I will look at the A-Z and figure out a more direct route to the station.

The apartment is a studio apartment on the 5th floor (#52), and it's nicely finished and furnished. There is a kitchenette, with emphasis on the "-ette." There's a small refrigerator, a microwave, and a stove. There are plenty of dishes and glasses. It's time for me to fill that refrigerator up, so I head out for the grocery store. Whenever I leave the apartment, I have to leave the key at the front desk, which is always staffed. Supposedly there is a store nearby, but I don't see it. I eventually walk across Edgware Road (which has a lot of Middle Eastern stores) and shop at the Whistle Stop store near the Cumberland Hotel. We'd used this store before on our last visit. I get some pop, cereal, a ham sandwich and a yogurt drink. When I go back to the apartment, I see the store I was looking for -- it was on a side street, not easy to see heading east. My supper is half of that ham sandwich and the yogurt drink, along with some salt-and-vinegar flavor Pringle's.

I watch the first half of the England-Colombia game but fall asleep for the second half. No matter, for all the scoring was in the first half. England won, 2-0. I wake up and watch the first half of Fantasy World Cup Live, but once again I fall asleep. It has been a long day. Remember, I made a two timezone change today.

What's on TV? BBC1 and 2, ITV, channel 4, channel 5, Sky One, Sky News, CNN International, Sky Sports 1, 2 and 3, Cartoon Network/TNT, TV Dubai, RAI Uno (Italy), TV5, NHK (Japan), and MTV UK.


Saturday June 27

I have a choice of things to do today. I am going to take one of the London Walks, but which one? I could take the Beatles "In My Life" walk, or I could go on an Explorer Day to Bath. The answer would depend on the weather. It had rained overnight, but today's forecast looks promising. Also, the Beatle walk would be available on Tuesday. So I'm off to Bath. I have my breakfast then head off to Paddington Station. On the way there, I pass by St. Mary's Hospital. It was there that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. The room is a museum, I understand. When I get there, there's a crowd there. Clearly, many people want to take the tour. The tour guide is Richard, the same man who did the Salisbury and Stonehenge tour. He remembered me from that trip. Later on, he'll ask me if I'm working in England. No, I'm just on a long vacation, I tell him.

Our tour is late in departing. Later on, the train will be stopped between Swindon and Didcot Parkway for several minutes due to points problems. Compounding this is a strike by rail maintenance workers. All of this means that we arrive in Bath about an hour late. This results in the first walk being compressed. We don't miss anything, and we're done by 1:15. But would we have noticed if we missed anything?

We have an hour for lunch -- I visit Evans restaurant for lunch. It is actually three restaurants in one -- a takeout or "takeaway" counter, a cafeteria-style section, and a full restaurant upstairs. I try the upstairs restaurant, but it's rather busy, so I go down to the cafeteria section. The fish and chips are very good. That must explain why it's so busy. If the locals eat there and pack the place, it must be good. Forget Long John Silver's! This is the real thing! Afterwards, I go back to the tourist center in Abbey Square. They sell some souvenirs there, and I pick up a souvenir video and a souvenir book or two.

The second walk of the day starts at Bath Abbey then proceeds north to the Georgian era Circle and Crescent areas. I'm capturing all of this on video. At the conclusion of the tour, most of us decide to visit the Roman baths. Here, we use electronic guides, personal handsets which offer pre-recorded commentary. But using them makes it hard to take pictures or video. Due to time constraints, I end up going fairly quickly through the exhibits, which are actually pretty remarkable. But I do take some video of the main bath area and make a wish at the cool pool. After the tour, our group meets again near the Abbey and then heads en masse to the train station, where we catch the train for Paddington. Once again, we encounter some delays, which include the boarding or unboarding of a large group of schoolchildren. Our tour guide is conducting another walk tonight, and he is concerned that the delays will make him late.

Bath Abbey closed early today; after the visit to the baths, we see why. A wedding is taking place there. The main doors are open to allow the bride to walk down the aisle. After she starts, the doors close, prompting a moan of disappointment from the crowd.


Sunday June 28

I'm still trying to adjust back to London time (Finland was two hours ahead). This must explain why I have a difficult time sleeping. I think I went to bed early on Saturday night after the day in Bath. I'm up for good at 8 -- sort of. I decide to take my sweet time getting up. Since there is no housekeeping service on the weekends, I have nobody pressuring me to leave the apartment. I am in need of rest, and I'm getting it. I flip the TV channels around, eventually landing on motorcycle racing on Sky Sports 1. I think I fall asleep a couple of times in the middle of it.

Finally, I decide to get up and head out. I'm going to the Movenpick Marche for lunch. It's located near Victoria Station. I've never been to this one before, but I have visited other ones in Toronto. This one is located in the basement of an office building. The food is still good -- I have a baked potato (or "jacketed", as the English call it) and sirloin steak. For dessert, I have two scoops of ice cream. Yum, Yum! The cost is 14.15 -- a bit higher than I would prefer.

Then I take the Tube to Tottenham Court Road and visit the Virgin Megastore again. I get some soccer-related CD's (more on that later) and two videos, The Goodies (a mid-70's show) and Buddy (a musical about Buddy Holly that's played in the West End for 9 years). As I'm nearing the end of the tapes I've brought from the US, I get a 90-minute tape for the camcorder. It might actually have less recording time under the US format. Back to the soccer CD's -- it's not uncommon for several songs to be written praising soccer teams. One CD has songs from all over the world, including two from England -- "Three Lions" and "Vindaloo". The latter is dumb but catchy ("vindaloo -- vindaloo -- we're going to score one more than you -- ENGLAND!").

At nearby bookstores, I look for the latest Catherine Cookson hardback for Grandma -- no luck. I stop at the Marks & Spencer on east Oxford Street -- specifically, the food hall, where I get some TV dinners, Dreamsicle-type treats and drinks for the apartment. By 4:30, I'm back at the apartment. Unfortunately, the popsicles began to melt on the way home, and they don't seem to be freezing back up now that they're in the freezer. There's a lot of frost buildup inside the freezer, so I take an ice pick and chip away at it. That helps.

Later that night, I'm flipping through the channels. I see that TV Dubai is airing a 1960's vintage Candid Camera, and it's not subtitled or dubbed in any way. This strikes me as unusual, for most of the programming is in Arabic. I turn on the Yankees-Mets game (Sky Sports is picking up the ESPN telecast) and fall asleep to it. In a sense, even though I'm in a foreign country, I'm not really that far from home.


Monday June 29

Today, I plan to visit the London Transport Museum. It's located near Covent Garden. I leave the apartment around 9:30 and get to the museum after 10, which means that it's just opened. I spend a couple of hours at the museum and its associated gift shop, looking at the old stagecoaches and trams, the double-decker buses and Tube cars. I try one of the Tube simulators. How well can I operate an Underground train? Not that well -- I run a couple of red lights. At the gift shop, I see many things I am interested in, but I eventually get a magazine and two videos. One video is devoted to the Eurostar and the Channel Tunnel project. Its highlight is a time-compression of the London-Paris run -- 3 hours condensed into 10 minutes. When I watch the tape at home, it'll bring back some memories of my trip to Paris on the Eurostar in October 1996. The other video is a driver's eye view of the Central line on the Underground. It was recorded in 1992, before they installed the new cars on the line -- the cars I've used.

After I leave the museum, it's after noon. I visit the Haagen Daz restaurant and have a butterscotch sundae. It is good. I walk to Leicester Square by a different route. At times, I question if I'm going in the right direction, but I have the general sense that I am. And indeed, I eventually find a familiar sight, the Tube station. And it's a good thing, too, for the rain has started. Again. I head up to Dillon's on Gower Street to check my e-mail. Connections were rather slow today, which played some havoc with my checking the mail. But I eventually read it all. One note catches my eye: a guy in Australia says he has some episodes of "Three Of A Kind" (an early 80's comedy show from Britain starring Tracey) which I don't have. We'll need to arrange a trade.

I visit the Books Etc. across from Selfridges and pick up the latest Catherine Cookson hardcover for Grandma, along with a paperback biography of her. Interestingly, today's paper reported that her husband passed away yesterday, a scant three weeks after she died. Then I head to the Europa Foods store near the apartment for some pop, cookies and other snack food. I also get some Chinese noodles as well for a snack. Housekeeping did clean up today. I take some pictures of the apartment to finish the roll. Then it's off to Bliss Pharmacy to have them developed. To pass the time away, I travel to Victoria Station. My main purpose is to visit the W.H. Smith store and get more envelopes for mailing things back home. Since this was rush hour, the station was very busy. I get 4 envelopes, thinking I'd be sending back more stuff than I actually did. Back to Marble Arch -- it's still too early for the pictures, so I go to McDonald's and get a milkshake. I drink it on the sidewalk. While I'm out there, I see a large group of young women walk past -- late teens, I think. Must be part of a tour group. When I go for my pictures, they are being printed as I arrive. The pictures turn out OK. Then it's back to the apartment for supper, which is a TV dinner of Indian food -- chicken curry, basmati rice, spiced potatoes and some sort of tomato dish. It's not bad, not bad at all. While I'm eating dinner, I'm listening to Capitol Radio Gold. The music is replaced by the pregame for Holland-Yugoslavia, which I will watch later on BBC 1.


Tuesday June 30

It's 4 AM, and I'm awake. I'd fallen asleep with the TV on, and I awaken to CNN Showbiz Today. Off goes the TV, and back to sleep I go. By 8, I'm awake for good. After some Special K for breakfast, I go to the post office to mail a package home to myself. In the package are 3 videos and 2 CD's. This package will arrive in Michigan in one week, on July 7. I visit the Virgin Marble Arch store for a bit then head to Baker Street.

Today is the day for the Beatles "In My Life" tour. The guide is the same one who did the other tour in 1996. Indeed, this tour is the companion to that tour. Other than the final stop at Abbey Road Studios, the tours do not duplicate each other. We visit Marylebone Station, where several scenes were filmed for "A Hard Day's Night." We see the former offices of EMI in Manchester Square. This is where the cover photo for the "Please Please Me" LP was taken. But the building is vacant and will soon be demolished. We see a former apartment of Ringo's. We see where Paul lived for a couple of years; in the basement of this house, he and John wrote "I Want To Hold Your Hand." A note: on this date 30 years ago, "Hey Jude" was performed for the first time in public. We see the site of the ill-fated Apple Boutique; it's now a respectable business. And then we journey to St. John's Wood and Abbey Road Studios. I take a video of this year's graffiti. One statement appears to be from Beach Boy Bruce Johnston.

The next item on my agenda is to visit the grave of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian of the Baha'i Faith. I had done this twice in my previous visit. But first, I stop for lunch at a McDonald's near King's Cross railway station. The journey to the shrine is a familiar one to me, having done it twice before. This time, I take a video camera to show the neighborhood. One thing I plan to do is to look for a shortcut, one that doesn't force me to walk all the way to the front gate of the cemetery. I see a boy taking a path into a wooded area and decide to follow this path. I get the sense that I'm going in the right direction, but I have doubts until I see a gate. It opens into the cemetery, and it happens to be very near to the shrine. The gates to the shrine are closed but not chained, but I see no way to easily open them. So I content myself with approaching alongside, as close as I can get. For several minutes, I pray and meditate. There's a faucet which has a slow drip. I cup my hands underneath the drip to gather some water to cool myself off and to perform ablutions for prayer. I spend my time communing with nature and enjoying the peace until the sound of a leaf blower becomes too loud to ignore. I take that as my signal to leave.

I walk back to the Tube station and take it to Picadilly and Tower Records. I believe I get a book there, on the Beatles' appearances on BBC radio. I almost get another book there, one about the Beatles' early career in Hamburg. However, I am dissuaded by the price (35) and the size (large and heavy). Also, I can order it at home from a catalog. Then I head back to the apartment, but not before stopping at the store for more drinks. My legs are very tired!

Tonight is the second round game between England and Argentina. Once again, the country will come to a virtual standstill. It's a very close game, made closer by England having to play one man short for most of the game. One of their players was ejected for kicking an opponent. The game comes down to penalty kicks, and England misses its last chance. Argentina wins. The press will put a lot of the blame on David Beckham, the player who was ejected.


Wednesday July 1

When I wake up, I notice that my legs are still tired. Yesterday must have taken more out of me than I thought. But eating breakfast and taking a shower helps to perk me up. Down in reception, I reserve a car for tomorrow morning. Then I head for St. Pancras and the nearby British Library. It takes me a little while to find it, but I do find it. It's a brand new building; in fact, it had just been dedicated by the Queen on June 25. Most of the library is off-limits to the public; you need to apply for reading privileges. But the exhibition areas are open. There's an area on the history of printing and book production (I hesitate to call it "bookmaking" because that's what bookies do). The main exhibition areas are devoted to rare and important books. There are illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages; there are first editions of the works of Newton and Darwin; there's an area devoted to the history of the book that inspired the movie "Babe"; there's an area devoted to Shakespeare, naturally. One display case of particular interest to me contains the original lyrics to "I Want To Hold Your Hand", "A Hard Day's Night" (written on the back of a children's greeting card, a boy riding on a train), "Help!", "In My Life" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" (written on some Lufthansa stationery).

After I leave here, I decide to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe. This is the original location on Old Park Lane near Hyde Park Corner. I do have to wait for a bit, but the food is good, the portions pretty large. I'd never eaten at a Hard Rock Cafe before, and now I've eaten at the original. There is a lot of rock memorabilia here -- several signed guitars, one of Ringo Starr's drum sets, some of the master tapes for the album "Tommy", etc. I top off my cheeseburger and fries with a hot fudge sundae.

When I finish, I sit in the park at Hyde Park Corner and finish reading the paper I'm carrying -- an International Herald Tribune. Then I decide to walk off my lunch by going through Green Park. Before long, I'm at Buckingham Palace. It's nowhere near as crowded as it would be during the Changing of the Guard. There's a fountain here, too, but the water inside of it is dirty -- not like at Trafalgar Square. Then I walk through St. James's Park towards Whitehall. Next, I visit the Cabinet War Rooms, the headquarters of the British government during World War II. We see Churchill's office and bedroom, the Map Room, the room with the hotline to Washington, etc. The tour is conducted by an electronic guide, which makes it impossible to take pictures or video. But I have a souvenir book. Afterwards, I walk to Trafalgar Square and take the Tube back to Marble Arch. What's for supper? More Chinese noodles. It's time to pack, for I'm heading home tomorrow.

On RAI Uno, I see "Dr. Quinn" dubbed into Italian. I don't watch it in English, so why should I watch it in Italian? Elsewhere, I see an add for Vanish laundry additive (a stain remover). When I think of Vanish, I think of the American toilet bowl cleaner, and I wouldn't want to put that on my laundry! That reminds me -- there's also a detergent or a dish soap called Fairy.


Thursday July 2

Today's the day I leave London and return home. I get up around 6 and finish packing, along with some last-minute tidying up. My car to Victoria Station is waiting for me at 7:30; it gets me there in time for the 7:45 Gatwick Express. I arrive at the airport at 8:15.

That's when the "fun" starts.

Northwest flight 47 to Detroit has been canceled. It seems the inbound plane never arrived. So I am forced to wait in line for over 90 minutes for new tickets. I'm put on Northwest flight 45 to Minneapolis with a connection to Detroit. This flight is scheduled to leave at noon. I check my bags and head for the GHI lounge. It turns out this flight has been delayed for an hour for some reason. But a little afternoon, there's a boarding call. I head through Security and proceed to the gate. But the flight is not boarding. Instead, it is delayed until at least 2:30 PM. I'm upset at this point. So is a guy who works for Visteon (a Ford subsidiary). We discover the business class lounge in the gate area and head there. We end up spending 5 hours down there as the flight is delayed again and again. It seems there are hydraulic problems. The first repair attempt is unsuccessful, but a later attempt succeeds. I try calling Lloyd to let him know I'll be delayed. There's no answer. I assume he must have stepped out [actually, his phone was out of order then]. I call Bill and Marie, and Grandma Reini answers the phone. We don't talk long, for all I want to say is I'll be delayed.

At 6, we are told that boarding should begin soon. It does begin within 10 minutes. We take off at 7:13 PM, 7 hours later than scheduled. Our original connection to Detroit is out, and it's questionable if we'll arrive in time for the last flight out. We sail over Cornwall and near the town of Plymouth and then out over the Atlantic. The flight is uneventful, but we learn that we'll have to stop in Boston for a crew change; the original crew can't fly to Minneapolis as its maximum on-duty time will have elapsed. But we won't clear customs until we get to MSP. I settle in for some sleep.

As we approach Boston, there is a general announcement: Customs wants us to clear Immigration and Customs in Boston. This cheers me up, along with the Visteon engineer. Perhaps we can catch a flight from Boston to Detroit. But no, Northwest's last flight will have left an hour before we arrive. Still, I'm glad to see Boston underneath us as we head to Logan Airport. We're not far from Plymouth, Mass., which seems kinda appropriate -- from Old England to New England. But I don't think the plane was named the Mayflower.

I'm very glad to be back on American soil. I go through Immigration without any problem (naturally; I'm a US citizen, after all). The guard wanted to know why we were entering the country here, so I tell him of our plight. While waiting for my suitcase to arrive, I call my aunt Marie and tell her what's happened to me. I clear Customs and head out the door. I'm officially back in the US.

At the transfer point, we're directed to put our bags on the conveyor for loading on the plane. What about other options? They're not giving us any, other than to get back on the plane to MSP. I decide that that's a terrible idea. I don't give them my bag; instead, I head for the main terminal. First, I go to the bathroom. Second, I make a hotel reservation for the Ramada at the airport. Once there, I make a flight reservation for tomorrow morning, Boston-Detroit. The flight leaves at 7:35 AM. The cost is around $490, which I charge to my credit card. Right now, I don't care about anything except getting some rest. By rights, Northwest should cover some of my expenses.

I can see downtown Boston from my room on the 5th floor, and I can also see the Harborfest fireworks. This room isn't a bad vantage point for them. But it's not so good of a viewing location that the hotel is sold out, like the hotels in Detroit and Windsor are for their fireworks. There is something fitting about being in Boston on or near the 4th of July. I must return to Boston sometime under better conditions, I say to myself.


Friday July 3

I wake up around 5, have breakfast at 5:30 and head to the airport at 6. The airport bus is rather full, so it takes me a while to actually get to my terminal. But there's no rush; the flight is fairly empty, and wonder of wonders, it takes off on time and lands early. And the airport's not that crowded, and neither is the baggage claim area. Now if Northwest would be like this all the time....

Since I'd left my car at home, I need to take a taxi. I'm home by 10:15 AM. I get my mail (several piles worth) and start to make my phone calls to tell everyone I’ve arrived. Just then, the phone rings. It's Marie. She's glad to hear that I'm home. Then I call everyone else.

My mailbox is very full, as you would expect. All of my mail from June 6 until yesterday was held and then delivered to me upon my return. But out of the three packages I sent from London, only one is there. I would not learn until later that the second had been left on my doorstep, and that the neighbor took it up and held it for me.  The third would arrive a few days later.

Other than the last day, I had a good trip. If/when I return to the UK, I would very much like to visit Cornwall and York. If/when I go back to Scandinavia, I'd like to head up to Nordkapp in Norway, the northernmost point in Europe. Naturally, it would be for the midnight sun. It would be nice to have a car to visit our ancestral towns in Finland, and it would be great to see some of the rest of the country.


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1996, 1998 R. W. Reini.    All rights reserved.

Written by Roger Reini
Revised April 20, 2008