Sunday, June 26, 2005

Europe 2005 - Living in Britain

TV- we did watch some TV in England and there is a choice of 4 channels. BBC 1 through 4. There seem to be 3 types of programs, PBS type shows complete with the dry British narration, sports (tennis right now) and American shows or British versions of them. While getting my haircut the barber told me the most popular programs right now are Desperate Housewives and the British version of Big Brother.

Newspapers- while waiting I picked up a newspaper and was quite surprised to see a topless woman on page 2. All the newspapers are more in tabloid form and content it seems.

Radio- In Britain its mainly BBC radio so the same types as TV. They do not have people calling in though. To give your opinion or win a prize you "text in from you mobile". Both of our cars in Ireland and Britain had radios that said what the name of the station was when you turned to it. It has been very helpful and I think that it is one of the reasons satellite radio is taking over in the USA. BBC classical is the only station that we could get even in the remotest areas and I think that since it is government funded that they are trying to force culture. The music the radio plays is exactly the same as the USA with the exception of having most radio stations play a wider time range of music (50's to present).

Money-It is very strange for me to have the banks print their own money. depending on what ATM we pull our money out of determines what is printed on the bill. This also means its hard to use money from a different region for north Ireland to Scotland to England. The coins everywhere are the same though, all with a picture of the queen. It is funny since at least one of the coins has to get redesigned every year it seems. In my pocket at any one time I can tell how the queen has aged over the last 20 years.

Internet- I was originally thinking that there would be oodles of unprotected wireless signals that I could make post from like in the USA. And there are but they mainly come up while we are driving when we can’t use them. It has gotten annoying when we leave it on and it covers the GPS screen with asking if we want to connect to a network. I have a feeling that since most of the old buildings we stay in are stone it makes it hard for the signal to travel far. The original plan for this web site was for 2 reasons. To back up my pictures from the camera and my personal journal posts from this phone.

Budget- we budgeted $100 a day knowing that we would go over in Ireland and Britain as they are islands and more expensive. The exchange rate is killing us here in with the pound being twice as much as the dollar. We have tried to make up for it as much as possible by eating food from grocery stores which means lots of strawberries as it turns out they are still in season here.

Restaurants-you have to order water as still water here, which gets you mineral water(which as far as I can tell tastes exactly the same as the bottles of water I’m used to. The only difference is they add calcium). There is no water for free and ordering water will get you sparkling water which is seltzer water. I did not realize how much tipping is ingrained in my brain. Here food is eat in and take away. If you eat there pubs will tack on 15% to the bill automatically. The traditional English breakfast varies by region but they all call it that on the menu. It consists of sausage (large and with the consistency of pate) bacon (English bacon is more like ham) an egg, fried tomato, and baked beans (which seem to taste pretty good and has the right flavor for breakfast) It is pretty greasy as is most of the British food we have had but it will give you enough energy for the day. A lot of people said that English food is disgusting but I make it a habit to try everything new possible and I have not found anything that was bad. (and I even tried the black pudding)

The facilities- the water pressure here is low (old pipes) so there are still toilets with the pull chain. Showers have tankless water heaters too (it is really weird having electricity in the shower with you. ( a small box heats the water right before the shower head.)

Hostels- Neither L. nor I had ever stayed in a hostel before this trip. I do see a few people in the halls that are older then us but everyone that has stayed in our room has been our age or a few years younger. There has only been 1 other group from the USA with most of the rest from different parts of Europe. We go to bed sooner then most since they go out clubbing but we get up while they are still asleep so it all works out in the noise department. I am a very light sleeper and I was not sure how it would work out but either I’m tired from all the walking or something but L. is the only one I have heard snoring.(and her hearing me so I don't try to sound high and mighty.) most remind me of dorm rooms is attitude but they have all been in cool old buildings so far. We booked hostels in Ireland and Britain because they charge hotels by the person. When we get to the rest of Europe it should be cheaper just to get hotels. Even at the hostels it has been sometimes only a few dollars more to get a private room so that is what we did about half the time.

Summer Solstice- especially in Scotland we are high enough that the sun comes up at around 4AM and sunset is at 10:30. Being a light sleeper used to getting up with the sun I have had to train myself to go back to bed. I am so glad by the sounds of the radio that we were not at Stonehenge for summer solstice. They built what stonehenge was supposed to look like new out of Styrofoam but it was gone by the time we got there.

Culture- there was a store in London called real California that sold fruit smoothies and wheat grass drinks. (yes we got one since we were both craving fruit.) it is funny what culture slides out of the USA. Like I have said before I have not seen any non-US movies here. Upon finding out I was from California the barber wanted to know if Orange county was really like "the O.C." (I had to tell him that I had never watched the show.) The comedy show we went to, upon finding out there were Americans in the crowd starting cracking Simpson jokes.
Their culture-growing up in the USA means you are indoctrinated with the idea that you can do anything if you work hard enough. While visiting all the the royal places I really got the message the royals are different, there is no chance you can be that, and they really are different classes of people depending to how close you are to the queen. (we also visited governors mansions that got the job through nepotism.) At the comedy show the comedian's joke fell flat because there were enough Americans in the audience that did not understand the class system. (he could not believe that it was only about how much money you have.) In Ireland there were 2 little girls that asked us if their Irish accents sounded too common. They could not believe that we could not tell a difference. (I guess the closest thing to this would be being thought of as dumber for having a Southern accent.

Allergies- So far I have only known that I was allergic to cats. I have gotten hit hard by something here. Hard enough that I am up here in the room typing this while Leslie is downstairs washing clothes. The allergy medicine here is stronger but it reduced my immune system so now I caught something else. I was less allergic to Ireland so I figure that I have to have some Irish blood in me. Leslie thinks that it is the trees with the spiky little balls.

Security-There are cameras everywhere. I thought they were just in London but they are in every city, watching everything. All the private security cameras are hooked into the system too. It started as a way to catch who was responsible for IRA bombing but they put in so many cameras that now instead of toll roads they have toll areas of the city. I’m just afraid that the USA is headed in this direction in the name of "security". I guess the thing that I am scared of is that all the cameras are run by computer, and I know all to well how many mistakes computers can make. While driving there were plenty of times that my driving favored smoother driving over driving laws. (next time you are driving try driving strictly by the rules and you will get in an accident.) so now any human cop would not think anything of it but now will I get a bunch of tickets charged to my credit card by the rental company? I guess I'll find out.

Tourism-It is really amusing watching the tour groups being led about by someone waving a flag or umbrella. It looks like a giant sized moth to flame or lemming run or something. We are both so glad as of yet to not be on a tour group. Luckily we have not hit any huge groups or crowded tourist areas yet.

Politics- I know that Britain is one of the more conservative countries in Europe but even they have commercials about the environment (about noticeable changes in the climate and to do your part.)

Royals- While here the queen released her annual budget. Apparently it cost every British person 62 pence to have the royal family. Most people on the radio seemed to see it as a necessary evil or that they were paying that much for a year of entertainment. What I don't get is that only one of them has a job- the queen. No wonder they get into trouble so much- to many idle hands or something. I know that the is the indoctrination speaking but it seems like no one liked footing the bill and everyone agreed it was an antiquated system. I do think it would be interesting if we had the same split in duties in the USA. In Britain the Prime Minister takes care of political business and the queen takes care of parties and visiting dignitaries. Now no matter your political leanings just imagine Cheaney having to be the life of the party and leaving Bush with all the political decisions. I think politics would change if part of the platform was how good a party coordinator the VP was.

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