winterbadger: (books)
Recently completed:

Love and War in the Apennines by Eric Newby (1). A charming account of the author's initial captivity as a British officer in an Italian POW "camp" (a repurposed orphanage) and his wanderings in central Italy after the Fascist government surrendered. He recounts several months spent among the rough and poor, but amazingly kindly peasants of the region, who risked a tremendous amount to shelter and support escaped POWs like him. His descriptions of the people, the landscape, the lives of wartime farmers and herders, and his unsparing portrait of himself are fascinating and tremendously readable.

The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor (2). The author of the acclaimed Gordianus the Finder mysteries was begged by hs fans to write prequles, tellign some of the oft-referred to experiences of his protagonist as a young man. This is (chronologically) the first, a series of short mysteries solved by the newly adult Gordianus as he follows his former tutor on a tour of the Seven Wonders of the World, from Greece to Asia Minor to Babylon and finally to Egypt. Bite-sized mysteries tied together with a "road trip" narrative and a little extra meta-story besides. Very enjoyable.

In process:
The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor
With Zeal and Bayonets Only by Matthew Spring
The Philadelphia Campaign: Brandywine and the Fall of Philadelphia by Thomas J. McGuire
Queen Victoria's Book of Spells Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Little, Big by John Crowley
Eastward to Tartary by Robert B. Kaplan
Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine by Anna Reid
winterbadger: (Home Office)
UGlas wrote to ask for info on my undergrad studies in London, wanting to know what kind of visa I entered under at that time (just watch--there will be some sort of tsurrus because I didn't gte a formal student visa...) What I found entertaining was that I *still have* the actual passport I used at the time. The DOS gave it back (as they will do, if you ask) when I got its replacement. Hysterically funny to see what a geek I looked like, back in 1985. :-)

Also, I got an entry and an exit stamp in 1985, but when Chris and I went for our (delayed) honeymoon in 1988, I got an entry but no exit stamp. Can I use that to claim that I've been resident for 25 years? :-)

My second passport has indications of the vagary of the immigration officer that are so distressing to those of us of a slightly OCD variety. Page 8 is the first page for visas; it has entry stamps from the UK for 2002 and 2005 (May), for Canada from 2005 (transit--September), and a re-entry stamp from US DHS from 2006 (apparently we didn't start doing that until that year). The next page has entry stamps from the UK (2005--September), Canada 2006, and US re-entry 2007. Page 10 has my marriage visa from 2008 and its confirming IO stamp, and the facing page, 11, has the US re-entry stamp from 2008 and UK and US stamps from 2010.

If you're counting, you'll notice there's something missing--the UK entry stamp from 2007. Yes, the random bastard skipped pages 12, 13, and 14 (all blank, as were 10 and 11 at the time) and planted it on page 15!

My newest passport is as yet marked only by a DHA re-entry stamp from last October. Apparently Canadian customs and immigration didn't even see fit to give me an entry stamp when I visited the Maritimes last autumn.
winterbadger: (loch tay)
A tale about Cromarty Harbour

As some who follow my travels knows, when I looked for the Cromarty-Nigg ferry, it was absent. At the time, I and my travelling companion were told that the absence was permanent, but it seems that the ferry has been reinstated. There are references in their guestbook from 2011 to "the new ferry", so the cash must have come through after all!
winterbadger: (canada)
I need to find the time to finish sorting through pictures and to write up my notes (mental and pen and ink) into a proper trip report, but  a few observations that I thought I would bung down on on paper (as it were) while I'm thinking of them.

Arriving early for one's plane is better than arriving late. Among my friends and relations there is probably a solid consensus that, for whatever reason, I tend to be late for things most of the time. Friends and family are forgiving (at least mostly, at least so far...); airports are not. I made extraordinary preparations both leaving and returning to ensure I was at the airport by at least the recommended "two hours before your flight for international travel". Both times I was much earlier than that (3-4 hours). I wasn't sorry. I've arrived at the airport late, rushing to check in and hopping from one foot to the other in the security line (appearing anxious and worried <> a good thing under the eyes of trained airport security officers), afraid I was going to miss my flight. It's not a good thing. Better to have time to kill in the departure lounge.

Make sure you plan carefully those things that need to be planned. Trained by [livejournal.com profile] redactrice, I tend to plan vacations in detail. Sometimes it's fine to leave more things to chance; I tried that approach this time. But some things you should really be sure to plan carefully. For various reasons, I planned to fly into and out of Charlottetown Airport on PEI (at some point we can discuss why that wasn't the best idea and, in fact, totally puzzled my hosts at my last stop, who are travel agents as well as B&B owners). The original last stop on my "tour" before that was in northeast New Brunswick. I hate spending the last night right near the airport (though I should probably do that) because it seems as if by doing that I devote the whole of the last day to just positioning, instead of doing something fun with it (we can go into the logic-fail of that later, too). I'm sure that at some point I checked the distance from there to Charlottetown and thought "Oh, that should be OK." But while I was on the trip, I checked again and found that at the best of times it would take me 4 1/2 hours to get to the airport. Plus the two hours before my flight, that would have had me getting up quite early (though somehow I did a math fail and calculated that I would have to leave at 6 am). So I switched final stops to Saint John, in southwest New Brunswick, because that would be "closer". Well, it turns out, only about half an hour closer. And I actually ended up driving what Google predicted would be four hours in about three (both because I was worried about timing and because there was no one on the roads at 7 am on a Sunday in the provinces. :-) All of which is to say: I need to think more clearly and plan more exactly in future. And I should not panic so fast. Though it was swings and roundabouts--I didn't see Acadian NB, which I would have liked to, but I did go to Fundy National Park and Hopetown Rocks, which had not planned on, and which were wonderful.

In Canada, "open through mid-October" doesn't mean what you think it does. I had originally meant to take my trip in late September, but events disrupted that plan. When I got ready to book later dates, I did a quick scan of my guidebooks and they said all the things that I wanted to see that were seasonal were open "through mid-October". I was planning a trip for the 6th to the 14th, so I figured I would still be able to see things. What I found was that most places closed after Thanksgiving, which in Canada is the second Monday in October. The 1st was a Monday, so Thanksgiving fell on the 8th. Of course everything was closed on Thanksgiving, and most things were closed the day before, since it was Sunday (note to self: Canadians still have some serious blue laws). So by the time I could get to them, everything was "fermée pour la saison".

If you're goofy about taking photographs, be sure you have all the stuff you need. In the past I've forgotten to bring my camera, brought it but forgotten to bring extra batteries, or brought batteries but forgot to bring the recharger. This time, I took a set of three camera batteries *and* the recharger. And used all of them every day. What did I not do?I forgot to clear my pre-trip pictures from the camera. And I didn't bring a spare memory card (fortunately the large one was in the camera). So, 90% win this time. :-)

I am totally sold on toe socks. Up until now, I had been buying them and wearing them because they are unusual and the choice allowed me to be eccentric in a small way so as to distract from and mask the utter slavish conventionality of much of the rest of my life. :-) But I did a fair amount of walking and hiking on this trip (more than I do in the normal course of events at any rate, though probably no more than I should be doing normally) and the only day I developed any blisters was the first day, when I wore conventional socks and my slip-on "going through American airport screening" shoes (Canadian airport security measures seem to be not so concerned with my highly dangerous shoes). I wore toe socks the rest of the time (mostly specially purposed hiking toe socks from Sock Dreams), and my feet were happy and blister-free.

OK, more on the actual trip when I have time...
winterbadger: (cracking cheese!)
I had a "business meeting" with some of the lads from the office Saturday morning. A sort of off-site at a small DC convention site.

Then, after a recuperative rest, I took off for the country. The FAR country. I went on a jaunt to the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is, according to the calculations I made with my astrolabe, behind the Sun and beyond the moon. I arrived at my B&B just as a wonderful storm was breaking, made plans with the friend I was meeting to have dinner, and watched while the wind and rain blew away all the heat and humidity we've been feeling. My friend, The Oracle, and I walked down the road to a riverside bistro, where we feasted on crab and good beer, then stepped next door for some of the best ice cream I have ever tasted

The next day I got up and wandered down to the beach and read my book and watched the morning develop. It was a truly lovely day, cool and pleasant. I had a delicious brunch at an inn just down the road from my B&B and met up with the Oracle, who whisked me off into the depths of this strange land to a huge marsh, which is a national wildlife refuge. This was absolutely stunning; even the large number of mosquitos and horse flies could not detract from a goregous blue sky filled with massive, white, puffy clouds, brilliantly shining water, and gobs and gobs of beautiful nature. We wandered about, seeing all sorts of wonderful birds, as well as several turtles and scads of minnows.

Then we got back into her venerable phaeton and sped off to an excellent gastropub nearby for a topping lunch/tea. After our meal, I reluctantly bid the Oracle farewell and headed back to DC. Despite my expectations, the immense and very alarming bridge did not suddenly twist and toss me headlong into the Chesapeake Bay (in fact, coming back it seemed not quite so huge and not nearly as scary). I arrived home, fed some very vociferous cats, and had a snack myself, downloaded my pictures from the weekend and relaxed with a little Brit TV. I had a great time, and I expect that, having found the distance not too great, the dangers not so fearsome, and the natives friendly, I may be going back again soon.

winterbadger: (scotland flag)
I keep getting emails entitled "Oban getaways for only $78!"

*sigh* If only I have more leave...

R I C E

Nov. 5th, 2011 07:37 pm
winterbadger: (bugger!)
Dammit!

I was off to my sister's for the weekend. Late, of course, because I fell asleep in the afternoon when I meant to be doing some pre-trip errands, went off to do them and wasted an hour on one because the shop closes at 1pm on Saturdays (!!??) Hurrying to get my stuff in the car for the 3-hour drive, I trip on the front steps, spill all the presents I was taking my sister and nephews, and wrench my ankle. It hurts, but I get  in the car and try driving anyway. After half an hour, I realise that there's no way I can drive for three hours--it's either a sprain or a bad strain. Turn around, and of course it now takes me nearly an hour to get home because there's some godawful jam on 95. Bloody hell.

The cats are being very solicitous, but every once in a while they insist on stepping on the ankle, which hurts like hell. They look very offended when I shout.

I'm beginning to feel snake-bitten about travel.
winterbadger: (astonishment)
I added a few entries to my "Odd Signage I've Seen" collection.
winterbadger: (bugger!)
So I stayed late at work, then met The Teacher at a party she was attending with lots of her Teacher friends down in bohemian low-rent NW :-). We were telling someone as we left about our travel woes and joking about things that could go wrong with our trip to Ohio tomorrow. Being silly (I think) she was saying "Please let the car be OK, please let the car be OK," as we walked back to where I had parked.

Well, Hermes has a funny sense of humour. We got int he car, drove about a block, and I said, "I don't like that noise." She said, "I don't either." I pulled over in front of a shuttered church, and we got out to inspect. One tire was flatter than a gyrene's haircut. So, since it was the kerb-side tire, and the street didn't look to dodgy, I got out my undersized spare and changed it, the first time I've changed a tire in dunamany years. A DC policeman stopped by and chatted with us, and then another stopped by to see why the first guy had stopped, and The Teacher made small talk with them while I got the nuts tightened down on the spare. We waved goodbye to the nice cops and drove home.

*sigh* So tomorrow will start off with a trip to the tire store. Assuming they're open the Saturday before a holiday...
winterbadger: (astonishment)
At midnight, on Saturday (almost Sunday) we were reunited with one of our lost bags, Emily's.

Only, of course, it was my bag with the tag for E's ticket on it.

When we got the bags checked originally (and that's a whole other subject), the person tagging them said "Oh, does it matter which tag goes on which?" and we said "No." Little thinking that nearly two days later when we finally got it back, it actually would matter.

Is there anything this airline can't manage to get wrong?
winterbadger: (badgerwarning)
So, our bags flew to Albany on Friday morning without us. And they missed flying back first thing in the morning. And all day yesterday. And first thing this morning.

One flew back to Virginia late this evening and was given to the United ground delivery staff. Who supposedly tried to deliver it, but who are now mystified as to where it may be and suggesting that we might want to call the main United baggage claim number (the people who have told us, variously, that our bags were in Virginia and would be returned to us int he next half hour at the airport, or that they were at the airport and would be delivered to our home, or were in Albany but would be returned immediately, or were in Albany and would be returned soon, or were in Virginia and would be delivered to us today. Or... but is there really any point in going on?

One bag is still in Albany. Three or four flights yesterday, three or four flights  today, and they didn't manage to get it on any one of them.

We've dealt with eight or nine United personnel so far, and of that nine, two of them have appeared capable, sympathetic, and able to attempt to carry out their responsibilities without the aid of a brass band, a six-month training scheme, a St Bernard, and a Congressional investigation committee. Ther remainder I would seriously worry about if left with a cell phone in a wet paper bag in the middle of a Manhattan park in August--I fear they might die of exposure and starvation before they were rescued.

United Airlines will get another ticket sale from me should I require to fly to Hell. Because I feel confident that I will be safe from ever reaching my destination if I consign myself to their care again.
winterbadger: (python)
It would seem that our bags have been travelling. Our bags...wait for it, you'll love this... went to Albany this morning. At 0830. On a flight that the United agent wasn't able to get us on last night.

Sweet, neh? Not only do we not get to go where we paid heaps of money, but our bags *do* go, and have to be retrieved. They won't even be back in DC until tomorrow, at this rate.

So did Rajiv, or Anil, or Manmit, who I talked to this morning at 0930, know this and just not tell me? Or, as I somewhat suspect, did he not even have visibility into the United baggage handling system? Something about the way he said he was just going to "leave a note" for "them" to let them know that I wanted my bags back here in DC suggested to me that he wasn't *really* tapped into the United system.
winterbadger: (bugger!)
Our flight was scheduled for 5.30. By the time I booked it, several weeks ago, it had already been shifted, for some reason, to 5.53. It didn't board until 6.25. As we were about the leave the gate, the entire airport went on hold because of thunderstorms. We waited. We waited. We waited. For over two hours. Other flights took off and landed. We sat there. Eventually we were deplaned and given back any luggage we had checked at the gate (but not, crucially, other luggage).

We sat back down in the terminal. Our flight would just be delayed (although on the plane the captain had told us it would probably be cancelled). We were told to wait another hour. Then two. Then we were finally told the flight was cancelled; we had to rebook for the next day, and if we wanted our checked bags back, we had to stand in line for customer service. Which had three reps for, roughly, about 200-300 people (several flights had been treated the same way. Two more hours went by. [livejournal.com profile] astrongteacher  spotted a desk that was not a customer service desk but seemed to be handling some people, so we went over there, hoping we weren't throwing away our two hours of waiting in line. We were not. A very nice man (we thought) tried to rebook us, but the best he could do was a flight the afternoon that got into Philly at 7 and then flew out to Albany at 9, getting in at nearly 11pm. Pointless, since w e would have to turn around and come back on Sunday. We said "Just give us our bags back." He took down the tag numbers and descriptions and promised that if we went back to the main terminal baggage claim, we would get our bags in 30-45 minutes.

We went back. We waited. And waited. And waited. Another hour and three quarters went by. Some bags came by, but not ours or those of other people on the affected United flights. Eventually, E started tracking down people, first baggage handlers and then a supervisor, who assured us she had told everyone that there would be no more bags tonight. We said "No, you didn't; you didn't tell us, or the people sitting near us, who are all waiting for bags we were promised nearly two hours ago would arrive in half an hour." Well, she said, she had told lots of people. And the baggage handlers had all left, so there was no one to get our bags now. "What about all the handlers walking around the area?" we asked. Oh, they work for a different division of United, so they can't handle your bags. !!!????!!! Here is a phone number to call tomorrow, we were told, and then you can "claim" your bags and get them delivered to you.

So here we are back home (at 4 am, almost 12 hours after we got to the airport). There's no practical way we can get up to Williamstown that won't take pretty much all day tomorrow, and we can't go anywhere any way until our bags come back. So I'm out the money I paid the alumni association for room and board and so on. I'm probably out the money for the rental car, and I'm sure United is going to try and find a way to hold onto my money for the plane fares. I'm out the leave that I specifically took so as to spend a long weekend in the Berkshires. And, most importantly, I'm out that weekend itself, including seeing friends I haven't seen in years and showing E where I went to school and where I spent my summers as a kid.

So say we are enraged is putting it mildly. There are so many ways that, given the storms that were no one's fault, United could have handled this honestly and decently, and they missed every single chance. Fuck them.

winterbadger: (orkney)
The Teacher and I are starting to plan a joint summer vacation. The first stop will be Iceland, a country neither of us have visited before. What would people recommend we do or see? I've already tried skyr and didn't like it, so don't suggest that. ;-)

Herself wants to cross two long-held desires off her list and (1) ride an Icelandic horse and (2) visit some of their hot spring pools. I'm guessing we could do a few more of her "must some day"s and see a glacier and/or a volcano, possibly even some whales. Me, I'd like to see birds, do some hiking, and maybe see a museum.
winterbadger: (cracking cheese!)
I sent off to replace my passport since, if I go overseas this autumn, it would need replacing right about this time next year, which would be messy if I had a visa in it &c. I wasn't sure if I could renew it when the expiration date was more than a year off, but I tried anyway, just to see.

And today the lovely new (probably horribly hackable) electronically endowed passport showed up. Huzzah! :-) I promptly signed it, so it's all official and usable. It's funky and hard-sided and filled with new and curious pages--no more state seals; it's all drawings of different places and events in US history.

I can't wait to try it out! I love having a passport!
winterbadger: (UK)
Advice I posted on a wargaming board when a European said he was thinking of doing an academic internship in the UK and wanted suggestions for places to go.

******************************************

Just remember that they don't use the Euro in the UK, but their own beloved British pound.

A pound is made up of 20 shillings, each of 12 pennies (or "pence" often abbreviated "d" because each is worth a very plain and basic dinner). If you have 21 shillings, you can trade them in for a guinea--a live guinea fowl, a bird--but most people don't do this, as the birds flap a lot and don't fit in your wallet.

You can also find coins called crowns (worth 5 shillings, or 6 if you place it carefully on your head before paying), half-crowns (worth 2.5 shillings, or 3 on the special days called "half-holidays"), and florins, which are worth 2 shillings, 3 if you are Italian and from the city of Florence (they will check, so bring ID).

Because the British pound is very strong, even pennies are valuable and are therefore often broken into pieces. A quarter penny is a farthing and a half penny is called a ha'penny (HAY-penny) because it's just enough for a cab ride (in the old days, it was enough to buy hay for the cab horse). Thrupenny bits are worth 3 pence, groats 4 (from the Dutch word for "great" because although they are worth 4 pennies they are the largest coin in circulation, about 3cm in diameter).

People who have traded in their shillings for a guinea and regretted it (guinea fowl do all the other tiresome things birds do...) can go to the fleshmarket (open-air butcher's market) and "lose" them (trade them in) for money again, but at a big discount, usually only whatever change the butcher finds in his pockets--hence the expression that someone unhappy "looks as if he's 'lost' a guinea and 'found' a groat".

Finally, the coin that is very prized but rarely seen is the sovereign. It is a gold coin worth 20 shillings (or one pound). They are called sovereigns because they are distributed once a year by the sovereign her (or, eventually him) self. They are rarely used in trade, however, because if you get one, you can present it at Buckingham Palace and get one free wish from the Queen (or at some point in the far-distant future, the King). So you can see that someone wouldn't just hand it over in exchange for a night's lodging or three-course dinner.

OK, I've got lots more helpful tips on expenses, travel, the British university system, and the zany old customs of those crazy Brits, but I'll have to save those for later. It's getting cold here, and I need to go through another shovelful of wooden nickels on the fire...
winterbadger: (pooh tao)
Because I'm in this extended limbo/transition, I spend a lot of time thinking about where I'd like to end up living, or just generally places I'd like to be instead of going through the motions where I am (padding endlessly up a quiet staircase of sand in the dark--or at least it feels that way).

And that puts me in mind of the places I've traveled to, and the places I look forward to seeing. I've been snorkeling and sailing in the Caribbean with my good buddies the Vagabonds. I've wandered through ruined castles with the PoliSci Diva and restored ones with La Redactrice, the SoccerFox, and with my own versions of Aramis and Porthos. I've hiked and kayaked around Cape Breton by myself and wandered through an architectural marvel in the Sonoroan Desert. I've seen the Continental Divide and watched sea otters doing the backstroke in Monterrey Bay. I've been to Portland (Oregon) and Penobscot Bay (Maine). At one time or another I've traveled the length of Vermont. I've been given (admittedly indirectly) the Freedom of the City of Montreal and tromped at night through the closes and catacombs of Edinburgh. I've lived in Notting Hill and rowed across Grasmere, marveled at the cathedrals of Ely, Westminster, Winchester, Guildford, Kirkwall, Glasgow, St Giles, and--of course--St Paul's. I've seen moose in the Rockies and the Maritimes. I've sailed in the Bahamas and among the Small Isles and past the Old Man of Hoy. I've climbed Arthur's Seat with one love and walked down from Stone Arthur Fell with another. I've swum with pelicans in Florida and sledded down snowy hillsides in Wisconsin. I've seen forts and farmhouses, museums and monasteries, and emptied pints in pubs from the Pacific Ocean to the North Sea.

There's still far more than half a world I've yet to see, and there are so many places I want to see--for the first time or the twenty-first. I have trips planned to the Netherlands and Newfoundland that I have yet to take. There's so much of Europe I'd like to see, so much of the US and Canada I've still to explore, so many places I'd like to visit, at least to see them once (Chile or Argentina or Peru, New Zealand, Australia, China). Some day I'd like to retrace my dad's footsteps and visit India and Pakistan; I'd like to travel through Iran and and Turkey, though who knows when or if that can ever happen.

But I've been very fortunate so far. Some people who would like to travel never get to go more than a few miles from home. Some people who hate traveling never get to settle down. I have a home (have had many of them) and I get to travel (*almost* as often as I would like). I've seen some wonderful things and been some amazing places. And I'm very grateful for that.
winterbadger: (scotland flag)
Well, here I am in lovely Newark Airport, waiting for my connecting flight to home and kitties. Some of my friends in Edinburgh shared a nice couple of drinks and dinner with me, and the kindly Antiquarian ferried [livejournal.com profile] pisica home and me to my hotel.

I had a lovely holiday, which I'm now mourning (I've gotten through denial, anger, and depression and am somewhere between bargainingmand acceptance :-). I did a load of laundry in Kirkwall, so at least I don't have that chore when I get in. Time to scan my jammed mailbox, I suppose.
winterbadger: (sailing)
My feet are getting itchy, so I'm thinking about vacations. Thus, ineluctably, a poll:

Read more... )

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