Jeff's Mid-Life Crisis goes Round the World (RTW)
About Me (1)
HONG KONG (2)
* ST. ANDREWS
* FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
* HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO HONG KONG
* BANGKOK TO PHUKET
* PHNOM PENH
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #2
* ANGKOR AND SIEM REAP #1
* CHANGES IN LATITUDE CHANGES IN ATTITUDE
* VANG VIENE
* LUANG PRABANG #2
* LUANG PRABANG #1
March 18, 2005
FROM TRAVELER TO TOURIST?
Hello everyone! Today is Friday afternoon, March 18th and I am still in St. Andrews, Scotland. God's Country and the Home of Golf!
Alas, I will be leaving Scotland tomorrow and head to London after playing some of the best golf of my life, but more on that later!
I titled this blog entry "From Traveler to Tourist?" with a question mark to highlight a chance in my traveling habits as I left Asia and headed into the western world.
I'm not sure if I have made the switch from traveler to tourist or, really, what it means, if anything. In a prior blog entry I did discuss this difference and really never came to a conclusion whether or not there is a distinction and if there is, whether a traveler is a better than a tourist.
It is easier to be a traveler in Asia, at least for me. Asia is more exotic than the U.K. (duh) and has an infrastructure designed for people traveling the road. London (and Hong Kong) are designed for business people and tourists and while it is relatively easy to figure things out you do so with hordes of other people on the same tourist trail. Things are obviously more expensive and the accomodations can be great, good or marginal but not as condusive to meeting other travelers.
It just feels different, not better, not worse, just different. It may be that I spent most of my time researching Asia and not so much Europe and the U.K. so I am not as familiar with the traveler infrastructure here. Who knows... these are just random thoughts that have gone through my mind as this trip matures and transitions into areas and places for which I did not plan.
I purposely left open my itinerary so I could and would make quick decisions on where to go next so some uncertainty is always with me as I go from place to place.
Anyway, am I just a tourist now or am I still a traveler?
I flew from Hong Kong to London on a whim. When I was in Hong Kong I was trying to decide where to go next and nothing hit me or turned me on. Of course I had many, many choices but I had nothing prepared mentally to hit some of the more exotic places I still want to visit so I said "what the heck", get out of Asia, go to London and from there figure out the next move. London is very central and people from the U.K. are big time travelers so there is are many resources here to help me plan.
The Hong Kong to London flight was not too exciting. It took just over 24 hours in total as it stopped for an hour in Bangkok and I changed planes in Bahrain and had a layover of about 4 hours. I flew Gulf Air which is owned by the country of Bahrain. It is an interesting airline, all the flight attendants wore Arab-type clothing, there were many Arabs on the flight, they served traditional Arabic food (along with more western fare) and on the movie screens they had a image pointing in the direction of Mecca so that the Muslim faithful would know which direction in which to pray. Very interesting and different.
The best part was being upgraded to first class on the Bangkok to Bahrain leg. They asked me and my seat-mate (a Brit) on the stopover in Bangkok if we wanted to move to first class as we were the only people left on the plane after the short hop from Hong Kong. It was nice up there but the seats didn't quite fully recline. First class had its own chef on board who came out and designed meals personally for each passenger - a nice touch for sure! It was also nice using the first class lounge in Bahrain for the 4 hour layover. I got to use a computer, took a nice hot shower and relaxed with some good food.
The Brit I sat next to was a cool guy. We got to talking about sports and the 6-nation rugby tournament currently going on (England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, France and Italy). I knew nothing about rugby so he explained the game and the rules and after a while it made much more sense to me. That would be important as I watched alot of rugby over the next couple of weeks as the tournament progressed.
I tried to get him to explain to me how Cricket works but he wouldn't and apologized to me that England had propogated such a stupid game onto the world - I agree with him in that I could never figure out what they do, how they score and why they play that dumb game!
I landed in London at about 8:00 AM local time and took a train to the station near my hotel. I was staying in the Paddington area which seemed kinda dicey when I got there, kinda on the edge of a bad neighborhood but it turned out okay. Fortunately I was able to check in early and took a shower. To beat jet lag you have to quickly assimilate to your current time zone which means waking and sleeping at your normal times. This being 9:00 AM I couldn't take a nap so I had to get out and explore.
It was COLD!! The first few days I was in London the temperatures were anywhere from 28 to 38 degrees with wind and snow. Having just come from Asia with a limited supply of clothes in my backpack I was not prepared for cold weather, all my stuff was for warm and hot weather like the 100 degree days on the beach in Phuket.... Sorry , I was day dreaming and remembering Kacey's comment, something about me being stupid going from the hot beach to cold London :-).
I did have one long sleeve shirt, a fleece jacket and a rain coat and wearing all three I was still freezing. The first thing I bought was a ski hat and some gloves and a long sleeve t-shirt. After that I was pretty much okay except for the cold wind blowing on my face.
London is a great tourist town. Many of the things to see are concentrated on the west side of town in the central district and are easily accessible on foot, the bus or the Tube. The Tube is way cool. It is the subway, it has dozens of different lines and is easy to use. Not as clean and efficient as the Hong Kong subway but I doubt any subway anywhere is as nice.
Of course to enjoy London and the U.K. you have to put up with the Brits and their strange ways, some of which I've mentioned previously. They drive on the wrong side of the road, they walk all over the sidewalks, their toilets are in very inconvenient places - generally down or up lots of steps, roundabouts on the roads and they talk funny. But there are many, many thing about the U.K. and the people that make it appealing to. The people are unfailingly polite and orderly, London is very diverse, the signage is easy to understand and logical (Give Way instead of Yield, Tube instead of Subway, Way Out instead of Exit and Toilet instead of Bathroom) and there is a pub on almost every corner - really.
I stayed in London for 4 nights on this visit and packed in the tourist stuff. There is so much to see and 4 days is really not enough to take it all in properly. Generally the attractions and the Central London area are very crowded with tourists. The fortunate part of the bad weather is that things were generally uncrowded for these 4 days - great for me as I acclimated to the poor weather quickly.
The first thing I did after checking out the guidebook and the map was take the Tube to the Westminster station (on the River Thames) and took a ride on the BA London Eye. This is a huge Ferris Wheel on the opposite side of the Thames that give a great view of the whole area. Even with the rain and clouds it gave me a great acclimation to the area and showed me where places I wanted to visit were in relation to the Eye. The best way to start out!
I saw Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, St Margarets Cathedral and Westmister Abbey - all four of these places are close. Then an afternoon at the National Gallery which is a huge art museum and I was pooped. Back to the hotel on the Tube, a couple of pints of ale and asleep by 8:30 PM. The jet lag had definitely kicked in!.
The next morning I was feeling good as I watched it snow outside my window. Snow might be a pain in the ass but it sure is beautiful, It coats the streets, the sidewalks and the buildings and seeing London under a small blanket of snow was breathtaking. Luckily the snow melted by noon and while it was still cold all it did was rain/snow mix for the next few days, no ice.
Another great thing about the Brits (and Scots too!) is their love of breakfast. The English breakfast is a meal! If no one is cooking for me I will generally settle for a brekfast bar or donut or bowl of cereal and some coffee. Not here! They serve up a huge breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, toast, tomato, mushrooms and coffee. A great way to start a day, especially when it's cold and you are heading out for a long day of being a tourist! I have started out each day while here in England and Scotland with a huge, delicious and filling breakfast, maybe not good for the diet but it sure tastes good.
My other three days in London consisted of Piccadilly Circus, The Tower of London (which was awesome), the British Museum (the largest museum in the world and worth a couple days of exploring rather than the 1/2 day I spent there), London Bridge, Trafalgar Square and the River Thames to name just a few. I also figured out how to walk as much as possible for the exercise. Oh - I forgot to mention street signs, when I first started walking I couldn't find any! I was pissed, how could such an orderly society not have good street signs? Then after a few hours (okay, I'm kinda slow) I noticed them up on the sides of building, mostly way above eye level. Once I figured out their system I was okay but I like traditional street signs (sign posts on the street!!) better. Also, I saw the play Phantom of the Opera which was awesome, theater in London is quite an experience and maybe I was wrong about Seth and Linda singing those duets as Seth adamantly denies his part while Linda is curiously quiet...
I didn't hit Greenwich, Buckingham Palace or St. James Cathedral letting those places wait until another visit.
Once again there is so much to see in London but you need to pace yourself and not try to see everything at once or you will just see the surface and get get burned out.
I don't know how one would do this as a budget traveler as this is a tourist town and it costs alot of money to see and do things here. The darn Dollar to Pound exchange rate is about $1.92 meaning that if something costs 1 Pound it translates to $1.92 for my money, almost 2 to 1. In all practicality things here cost double what they would cost in the USA as the price in Pounds that you pay for something here would be roughly equivalent to the price in Dollars you would pay for something in the States. Also, coming from Asia where things are often less than 1/4 what they would cost in the States, the prices and costs here were quite a shock.
The culture shock coming from Asia back to the western world was strange for me. Just like coming back home (except for the oddities of the Brits). Set pricing of goods and services, no feeling that you were being set up or looked on as a mark and you could drink the water out of the tap! No more brushing my teeth using bottled water - it's the little stuff that sometimes makes the most difference. Of course London is not as exciting or exotic as places in Asia and there is no real "edge" here that I felt all over Southeast Asia. No real danger and a real lack of despair here. I know there is poverty and danger here but it is certainly more well hidden then in Asia where it is always prevalent. Ah, I miss Southeast Asia and the real life drama and humanity there.
After 4 days in London I got an itch to head north to Scotland, Edinburgh in particular. Scotland has always been in my heart and is a place I love. Being so close to it I couldn't not visit God's Country so I got on a train and headed north.
Back to the title "From Traveler to Tourist?" I think I've always kinda straddled the line between the two. I am not a hard core traveler staying in hostel dorms everynight and wandering from place to place with no idea where I would spend the night trying to get by on $10-20 a day. I generally knew where I would spend each night and have stayed in the upper end of the cheap places. I've traveled by airplane as much as by bus and train. I do enjoy some comforts while traveling and that may be due to my age, those comforts mostly include a quiet and somewhat clean room and bed, a glass of red wine on occasion and most of all some certainty of what I'm doing and where I'm going. I enjoy the touristy areas as they are where you can see the history and architecture of a city, country or region. Not hard core but certainly not packaged tourist life.
Anyway, I love it here in the U.K., particularly in Scotland and my time in St. Andrews was clearly a highlight of this trip (including 7 rounds of golf and shooting a 77 on the Old Course) - more on that in a future blog entry.
Sorry for no pictures, I do have some to share about London but this Internet place does not allow uploading off my camera, UGH!
Thank you for reading this. I hope to make this blog both interesting and entertaining. Please post a comment and let me know your thoughts, observations or counsel. Hearing from readers and knowing I have an audience is a great motivator and will be a great morale booster during down times on the road. Don’t forget to bookmark this site and tell a friend! Please feel free to e-mail me at “JeffMichie at Yahoo Dot Com”
Posted by Jeff on March 18, 2005 09:35 AM
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