As most of you know by now, I have just recently returned from a trip to the United Kingdom, otherwise known as England and sometimes the UK (not to be confused with the University of Kentucky, of course).
Our trip was about equal parts business and pleasure, as the two of principle owners of one of my businesses, along with myself, hail from the UK and operate a close affiliate there. Their father is an old friend of mine from years past, and I have seen neither him nor his sons for about ten years.
This was not my first journey to England, nor will it likely be my last. During the late 1980's and throughout the 1990's I made around four trips to the home country of Shakespeare and Churchill, staying at various times in London, Romsey, and Southampton. For this trip, we were based at an inn known as The White Horse in the city center of Romsey, a small village in the Shire county of Hampshire, just a few miles northwest of Southampton.
My wife Petra had never been to England, although she was born and lived the early part of her life in Ansbach, Germany. During my earlier visits I had seen many of the sights of London, Romsey, Winchester, and a few of the other surrounding areas in Hamphsire and the other nearby counties.
Before I go further, I must compliment my sponsors and business partners, as well as the staff of The White Horse and the people we met generally, for their wonderful fellowship and friendliness. Only once did we encounter a surly or testy person, and that was in the middle of London (Piccadilly Circus, to be exact), but the rest of our encounters were met with unfailing politeness and courtesy, which we did our level best to return. The British never failed to help us with advice about which train to catch or bus to ride, as the maps they produce may as well have been written in Egyptian hieroglyphics for all the value they were to me. I think this is mostly due to the fact that outside the large cities, public transport is poor in the US and I haven't ridden on public transportation in years.
The trip to the UK was uneventful and smooth, and a car was waiting for us at Heathrow Airport in London. It's about an hour by the motorway M3 (we call them "Interstates") to Romsey, and we arrived at nearly 11PM in the evening. Despite the intemperate hour, our driver was pleasant and helpful, and got us to the inn in good spirits, where the staff was alert and helpful as though it were noon rather than midnight.
Our first surprise was when we were taken to our room, which was on the second floor. The White Horse is an ancient inn built at the turn of the 16th century, and due to preservation laws in England, modifications to such buildings are closely monitored by our equivalent of the zoning commission, and adding such things as lifts are generally prohibited. Therefore, we had to scale a winding stair about 6 flights to our room, and since we packed heavily, both the staff and I were huffing and puffing when we reached our level.
The hotel room was, without doubt, the tiniest hotel room I have ever occupied, bar none. In the US, we are used to expansive, modern inns with rooms perhaps as large as 25 or 30 x 15 feet. This room could not have been more than 10 x 12 with a tiny bathroom and a small closet that was not recessed, but built out from the wall. There was no bureau or chest of drawers at all.
Not only that, but the room had no air conditioning whatsoever, and I was alarmed when I discovered this fact. I had stayed at this inn long ago, but it was in the winter, so the question of A/C never arose. Combined with the small space and our huge bags, I was vexed and wondering how we would manage, and how I would sleep, as I tend to sleep poorly in high temperatures.
Now, you may think this was a low moment, but just as we got our bags in the room and could barely navigate around them, Petra in her usual practical way asked if there was any chance for us to get a drink to shake off the long journey. The staff immediately provided us with two pints of bitters from the bar, which is apparently open 24 hours a day. So with a bit of relaxer in our hands, we set about trying to figure out how to deal with the astonishing lack of space.
It turns out the bed was very large and comfortable, and under one side was a space for our bags. So we set about storing things there, and in the closet and lo! After a few minutes of wrangling, found that the room would comfortably accommodate all our things, if not in the way to which we were accustomed. I even found a way to fit my golf bag into a corner where it all but disappeared and did not reduce the living space whatsoever. The desk was small but sufficient, there was a small fan, which combined with open windows and the cool nights made the room quite comfortable, and after drinking our ale, we were off to sleep.
We were on the second floor in the center room by the street, which you can clearly see if you look at the picture in the link provided above. The open windows allowed in quite a lot of outside sounds, even at the wee hours in the morning, mainly street-sweepers and garbage vehicles. But after a couple of nights, our brains filtered out the extra noise and we slept soundly on the very comfortable bed.
The ensuing days saw us tour Romsey, including its ancient abbey and many wonderful pubs, the best of which was called The Old House at Home, a thatched-roof establishment of great age, low ceilings, and wonderful beer and food. We ate there twice, once for lunch and once for dinner, and we indulged in many typically British foods such as shoulder of lamb, pork belly, and fish with chips and mushy peas.
The food at the hotel was simply outstanding, and I enjoyed a couple of fine meals there. The breakfasts were also excellent, and they served their coffee in presses, which, if you don't know, is a great way to enjoy fresh coffee.
The Farnborough Air Show, which alternates with Paris every year, is the largest air show in the world and was ostensibly the reason for my visit. I have been to Farnborough before and it is an exhilarating experience. This show was even larger, and my sister-company had a large booth in the hall where we set home base. We saw many thrilling demonstrations of aircraft, both live and static, and many companies with aviation-related wares. It was, as always, a great day, and since Farnborough is little more than a giant carnival, we ate, drank, and enjoyed the show.
We visited the sights of London over the weekend and traveled up and down the Thames to get to various sites, including the Tower of London (where we saw the Crown Jewels), the Tower Bridge (often mistaken for the London bridge), Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and of course, Harrods.
While I was at work and afternoon golf one day, Petra also traveled to the nearby village of Salisbury, where she went to Stonehenge, Old Sarum, and of course, the cathedral at Salisbury which boasts the tallest spire in England. For me, I was at golf with our host, and it was my first experience with golf in England.
The course was lovely, but English courses typically are not irrigated owing to the amount of rain they get year round. But Hampshire had been experiencing a bit of a drought, so the course was fast and hard, and by US standards, quite rustic. The English, unlike Americans, rarely use golf carts ("buggies," as they are somewhat derisively called there) and even though we rented them in the interest of speeding up our round, one of them gave up the ghost at about #15. But all in all, it was great fun, and I played very well, coming in around 82.
The flight back to the States was marred by a cancellation in Chicago, which resulted in much frustration, angry words, harsh letters to American Airlines and extra expense. But the hotel we stayed at was wonderful, the staff very friendly and sympathetic, and the food quite decent if a bit pricey. We finally made our way home at around 1:30 on Thursday, where I went directly to work.
So that's my somewhat lengthy report of my journey over the pond. We have many pictures which I will figure out a way to share, and I will provide links to that in a later fanpost.
I hope I haven't bored you with all this, as it is not really UK (as in the University of Kentucky, at least) related, but I thought some of you might be interested.