Sunday, May 27, 2007

Random notes and observations after a three week road trip

By the numbers:
Miles flown: 11,000 (roughly)
Countries visited: 5
Top speed reached on the German autobahn: 210 Km/h (hey...there was traffic!)
Nights spent in hotels: 19 (so it wasn't quite three weeks.)
Airlines flown: 6 (Delta, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia, Alitalia)
Meals not eaten at home: 57 (or so)

Country notes:
UK (Round 1, London): I've been to the UK before, so no surprises here, except for the fact that the Docklands area of London is freakin' bleak. Well, one other, more pleasant surprise was London City airport. Most people have heard of Heathrow and Gatwick, and a few Yanks may have even heard of Stanstead airport. But right next to the Docklands is London City airport, from where one can fly to any number of destinations in the UK and Europe. It was from there that I continued on to Frankfurt. It's a small airport with a single short runway and NO taxiway. When your plane pushes back from the gate, the pilot taxis the plane (as quickly as possible!) down the runway to the end, then turns around 360 degrees in a turn-about area to
point the plane into the wind. Standing on the brakes, the pilot brings the engines to full throttle. The plane shudders and shakes, straining against the brakes. When the pilot releases the brakes, you're thrown against the back of your seat, and airborne before you know it. Pretty impressive. Needless to say, it's all small commuter planes flying in and out of here.

France (Paris): I've heard it said that Paris would be a great place if it wasn't full of Parisians. There may be something to that sentiment. After deplaning at Charles De Gaulle airport and retrieving my luggage, I set out trying to find either a hotel shuttle or a taxi. Exiting the terminal building to the ground transportation area, I went to a stand that appeared to be a courtesy shuttle area. Of course, this being France, it was silly of me to think they'd have courtesy shuttles. There was a guy standing there and I asked him, politely AND in French, if he spoke English. His reply was a brusque " English." I came real close to saying "I suppose if I said 'fuck you', you'd understand perfectly well.", but I didn't. Oh, and the weather there sucked, too. I may have come away with a better outlook had I actually had time to do some sight-seeing.

Spain (Madrid): I found the Spaniards considerably more friendly than the French. I suppose it doesn't hurt that I can actually stumble along a bit in Spanish. Madrid seemed like a nice city, but I only spent one night there so didn't get a chance to see much of it. Don't go for happy hour after work in Spain. If you do, you won't eat. You'll get 'tapas', little bites of something or other to eat, with each round, and the ones they serve at the Holiday Inn in Madrid are substantial. I figure after three beers, you're not going to be interested in dinner, and after four you just might curl up in the corner and go to sleep.

Italy (Rome): This was, by far, the best leg of the whole trip. Not having ever been to Rome before and having a whole weekend to kill there obviously helped. The Italians I met along the way were (mostly) great, and the weather was spectacular the whole time there. See my earlier posts from Rome for more.

UK (Round 2, Reading): It says much about how crappy the Docklands area of London is that I had a better time in Reading. Actually, that's not fair to Reading, since Reading's not a bad town. There's a large retail complex there called The Oracle, and the entertainment area surrounding it is pretty good. There's a great pub called The Hobgoblin that's great for just hanging out and having a few pints, always with some interesting characters, not the least of whom are the bartenders. The day I got there was typically crappy English weather, but turned absolutely perfect after that. As bad as the weather in Britain is, when it's good, it's stellar.

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