Tuesday, July 13, 2004

More Details

Well, I'm a little less sleepy today, although I did have trouble actually getting to sleep last night. But I woke up about the normal time and then finished reading "Gone With The Wind." It's hard to believe that Scarlett's only 28 at the end of the book. Every time I read it (this was reading 5 or 6 at least), I see each of the characters differently. Before, I'd like Ashley less and Rhett more with each reading, then would be a hopeless flirt for weeks thereafter. This time, I realized much more how similar Rhett and Ashley are to each other, and how similar I am to Scarlett. I've been far from the "belle of the county" most of my life, but I'm very similar to her in the way that she idealized Ashley and loved a dream instead of a reality, and in her habit of saying "I'll think of that tomorrow." Granted, she's usually avoiding her conscience when she says it, while I'm usually just letting things attain a proper perspective, but I still often don't let myself think about things in the moment because there's usually work to be done. This time I also found myself identifying with Ashley as he thought back on how the past had a "beauty and grace" instead of facing the realities at hand.

I have no idea what I'm babbling about or if I ever had a point to this. I'm supposed to be telling you about my trip!

Because Paul Bremer was expecting to leave Iraq on the 30th, they shut down the airport, so I flew out on the 29th...which ended up being kinda silly since he actually left on the 28th, but I guess the airport didn't know that in advance. But it gave me a day in Amman to hang out with some friends there. That was actually a very encouraging day for me as we discussed Company things and policies. I left early on the 1st to go to London.

I got to London a day before my parents and sister, so I went into town, walked around a bit, ate dinner, saw Les Mis, then went back to the hotel. By the time I was up and about the next day, my family was in the lobby! After a tearful hello, we did the "gift exchange." They were giving me birthday stuff and other stuff (including, hilariously, the junk mail I got from Planned Parenthood offering me a free membership!!), and I was just giving them Iraqi stuff. I gave my dad an Iraqi jogging suit, which turned out to be a very good thing as his luggage was left at the London hotel and didn't catch up to us for a couple of days, so he was stuck in shorts and a t-shirt in the lovely July weather of England and Scotland (I think the warmest it got our whole time there was like 17 deg C which is in the low 60s F).

After that, we had our normal "Turner adventure" of the trip. I was transporting a friend's bike back to the States and planned on just leaving it at the hotel while we were on our tour, but the hotel didn't do that, so they suggested taking it to Victoria Station and leaving it there for the week. So the whole fam went to Victoria Sta., found the excess baggage place, and realized that they charged by the hour. It would have been a pretty hefty fee to leave it there for 10 days, so the guy suggested that we go to one of their other locations who kept stuff by the week. This other location was only a few blocks away from our hotel, so back we went. After getting the bike taken care of, we ate lunch then went back into town for the hop-on, hop-off bus tour of the city. We saw, but didn't go into, Westminster Abbey (loooooong line). Daddy enjoyed seeing "Nelson's Column" in Trafalgar Square, then took off for his next favorite thing - the Prime Meridian and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. He now has a picture of him standing with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and one in the Western Hemisphere. During that time, Mommy, Beth, and I saw the National Gallery of Art, then finished the bus tour by crossing over London Bridge, then the Tower Bridge (after seeing it open, which is apparently a very rare sight nowadays), past the Tower of London. We also stopped by St. Paul's Cathedral of Mary Poppins "Feed the Birds" fame. Sadly, it was undergoing renovation and only a very few pigeons were about, but I did get a picture of some folks sitting on the steps and feeding them. If I were one of the many beggars in London, I'd sell pigeon food for twopence a bag on the steps of St. Paul's. I'm sure I'd be sent away by the powers that be, but I'd probably make a mint in the process.

The rest of the trip kinda blurs together. We stopped by Stratford-on-Avon the first day. Come to think of it, it was a very literary trip. Shakespeare in Stratford; Robert Burns in all of Scotland; lots of hymn writers for Daddy all along the way; Wordsworth, Beatrix Potter, and somebody else that I forget in the Lake Country of England (Coleridge?); not to mention C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein in Oxford (that we didn't get to visit).

Edinburgh was the next day or so, with a stop in St. Andrews (and the aforementioned running of the North Sea, as in Chariots of Fire). We stayed in Edinburgh more than one night, but the first night went to "Scottish Night." If you can imagine a Scottish-themed Vegas show (except with the dancers in tartans), that's what we got - along with a "wee taste" of Haggis. And I now have a new clip to add to my "I Saw Pastor Dancing" video as my dad was one of the ones chosen to dance with one of the girls in the show. It was fun though, and Daddy had a blast on the way home when our slightly tipsy tour director (but not bus driver) wanted us to sing. When no one else claimed any vocal talents, Daddy took the mike and charmed the crowd with a story about Minnie Pearle and his version of the "Tennessee Waltz" (which a surprising number of Aussies knew the words to). We also learned to yodel from an Aussie lady ("who-diddled-the-old-la-a-dy?").

Then we went up to the Lochs and the Highlands. I didn't see Nessie that I know of, but I also haven't scanned my pictures thoroughly yet. We did come to a startling revalation though. If Nessie is from Loch Ness, and Chessie is from the Chesapeake Bay, then would a sea monster in the Mediterranean be called "Messie?" And does that mean that my brother Jesse is really a sea monster from a large body of water starting with a "J?" These are serious points to ponder.

At some point in there we went to Blair Castle which is the only privately-owned castle that does something. I don't know if it's just the only privately-owned castle or if it's the only one that allows visitors or what, but it's the only privately-owned castle....something.... Beth enjoyed seeing all of the "sharp, pointy things" (i.e., swords). The Duke whose family owns the estate also has the only private army in Europe.

Then we spent the night in Glasgow at a hotel where at one point Roy Rodgers and his horse, Trigger stayed. For those of you who know my mom, you know that this was one of the highlights of the trip for her.

From there we went to the Lake Country in the north of England to see Wordsworth's tomb. Then we went to Chester (which was, sadly, the closest we ever came to Wales) where a very nice camera store guy recharged my digital camera battery. I think that was the day that we went to the Wedgewood factory. My mom could have spent at least all day there.

On the next-to-last night, Daddy had the hotel make a birthday cake for me. That was one night where the dinner was included, so everyone from the tour group was there. After everyone had had their desserts, they brought out the cake and that's when each nationality on the tour had their turn singing their version of "Happy Birthday" to me. It really was a lot of fun for everyone, I think. I even managed to blow out all of my candles! I won't tell you what I wished for though. ;p

The next day or later that day or something, we went to Bath where I bought some soap as souveniers for friends and took a bath (although not in that order). We also saw the Roman Baths there and the Costume Museum which included costumes used in the recent productions of several Jane Austin books (she had lived in Bath for a time and mentions it in a couple of books - incidentally, there's another writer for you). We also realized in Bath that, according to their brochure, the place where we'd stored the bike wouldn't be open by the time we returned to London, so we called and found out that their brochure was wrong and that they would still be open, if I hurried when we got back into town.

From there we went to Stonehenge which probably had the largest crowd ever there, but it was still pretty cool.

We got back to the hotel around 4 which gave me an hour to go get the bike. Then we walked around the neighborhood for a while before having dinner at an Italian restaurant run by real Italians. That was really cool - and some _really_ good pizza. :)

My parents and sister left early the next morning while I went back to London to get the waypoint on my GPS that I'd forgotten to get before, in addition to my bagel and Krispy Kreme pigrimages. :) I also got my film developed. I was hoping to tour the Tower of London, but didn't really think I'd have time for it and was pretty tired by that point, so instead I went back to the neighborhood around the hotel a little early and checked my email at a little internet cafe. It's a good thing that I ended up coming back early though because my luggage was pretty heavy and I had quite a time getting it to the tube stop near the hotel, then to the train at Paddington Station (sadly, I didn't find any lost bears) which took me to Heathrow. Fortunately, I could get a cart at that point, but I definitely got my exercise between the bike and my luggage. It's a good thing I've been doing those push-ups or I might not have made it! :)

So then there was the uneventful flight back to Amman, followed by the uneventful flight back into Baghdad and now I'm back home!

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