Just like our Taiwan, Germany and France trips, Jennifer spent a great amount of time planning this. Despite help from the Rick Steve's book, it was still a lot of effort.|
A lot of the UK is not that easily accessible by public transport (unlike let's say Japan), so we made good use of our car. We drove 1300 miles (all the way to Edinburgh), and then were able to take trains to York and London for the way back. We lucked out with the rental car by getting a Vauxhall Astra turbo 1.4l, which had 150HP, making it quite swift when I had to pass (it wasn't mclaren fast of course, but for a rental car, it did well).
So, here are some random thoughts:
It starts with Motorways, the good roads. Sadly not nearly enough of them. Then, it goes to A roads, the more digits they have, the worse they get on average. A1 = good, A2345 = bad. And then it goes to B roads. By the time you're on B369, you are totally screwed :)
I realize we did go in the countryside to see some small villages, but England definitely had more crappy roads that often weren't wide enough for 2 cars and where I'd worry about scrapping the car on the left, or getting my right mirror taken out by an oncoming car every time one showed up
Roundabouts everywhere: those did not bother me, they are known to increase traffic flow. It's a shame the US doesn't use them (they did freak Jennifer out a little bit, they take some getting used to when they're 2-3 lanes wide and have 5 or more entrances and exits).
speed limits: they were not unreasonably slow, actually some country roads took rally driving skills to drive at their posted limit, especially in the rain, of which we got plenty.
there were plenty of radars that picture your plate and send you a ticket if you speed. I used android apps to get warnings of where most of them were, but they also put signs to tell you about them. However, there are also plenty of fake signs that warn you of radars that don't exist
overall people were nice, if not a bit rigid at times, which was not a surprise since I was ready for it. It's also worth noting that there is an incredible amount of variety in people and customs within GB, especially if you consider that Wales, Scotland and Ireland are virtually different countries within GB.
While we saw a comic who made fun of Americans for being fat, we felt that many british were not really in a position to make fun.
Could that be the reason that they still use stones as a unit of weight, something I thought they had gotten rid of. Dear brits, if you think it's cute, it's not, it really feels dumb, sorry.
As a cross between people and cars: let's talk about walking on sideways. What the hell is going on here? You drive left, most people seem to agree with that, which is good for overall life expectancy of motorists, but once you get on a sidewalk, it becomes a total clusterfuck. Most brits actually seem to walk on the right for no good reason that I could find. Some subways even tell you to do so. But in other places, they walk left, just so that you have on idea what's going to happen in a given city or location, and you'll end up being wrong most of the time. Seriously people, fix this.
it sucked about as much as I was ready for. We got rain every day (although thankfully not all day every day) of our first 14 consecutive days. It was just a question of how much and what time.
we did often get 3 seasons' worth of weather in a single day, thankfully no snow in August, but it was damn cold on many days
only by the time we got back to london was I able to stop carrying a wind/cold/rain jacket with me
I was kind of prepared for the worst, but it was actually ok. Breakfast was pretty much the same eggs, tomato, beans, bacon that isn't US like, and sausage which was to be avoided in many places. It wasn't bad, but after 21 days of mostly the same thing, it got old.
Dinner were actually ok, but we carefully avoided fish and chips and pubs (setting the bar at gastro-pubs).
Like other trips, no time for lunch, that gets in the way of visiting stuff, and with the limited opening hours, we used every one of them.
After doing trains in Japan, nothing really compares. The signaling in Japan is big and colorful, and trains run on time. In the UK neither was true, but oh well we got to our destinations anyway.
Our 2nd train left and arrived on time, but the carriage numbers written outside did not match the markings on the floor, and worse, once we got in, the number inside did not match the one marked outside, so we had to walk the entire train inside with our luggage, along with everyone else who also ended up in the wrong carriages. And just to make things more "fun", the numbers are not consecutive either, so you don't even know if you're walking in the right direction.
On the plus side, they at least had power for laptops once inside.
I feel that French and even Italian trains were better, but we got to where we needed to go, which is what matters ultimately
The subways in London definitely look dated by now, but on the plus side they run with a very high frequency
The one thing with the london subways is that they ring a tone to tell you the doors are closing at the same time. What's the point of that? I literally got in a train and heard the sound while I was going through the door that closed on my bag, trying to crush it, and leaving Jennifer stuck on the platform. This is just stupid, every other subway system I know rings a tone first, gives you a few seconds and then closes the door.
Another minus is while in Japan or Paris you have cell phone signal throughout the subway system (which is no small feat), in London, you do not. You might get signal here and there if you're lucky, but it's very inconsistent. This is mostly an issue if you're using data to look up destinations or even doing routing with google maps.
London has a mix of world class free museums that worked on donations, and other locations that were very overpriced (like the churches that effectively charge a hefty admission price of more than $30 per person), or the tower of london. It evened out in the end, the contrast was weird.
Jennifer had a sample of Georgian and Victonrian houses to visit. Honestly, maybe seeing one is worth it, at best.
All in all, we got quite lucky with avoiding long lines in London (although it wasn't luck, we planned for that, but we're lucky it worked out).
We could have spent more time in Liverpool and Edinburgh
Some of the Cotswold was skipable for someone with more limited time
Wales was nice though, especially its castles (which unfortunately were actually built by the british to control the local population)
I also quite enjoyed seeing about and visiting the Hadrian Wall
York was also worth a stop at least for the very good city museum and learning about how the Vikings invaded, but was worth 1.5 days, not 2.
Last Impressions, Conclusions
While there were some neat things to see, and London alone is a reason to go to great britain, I wouldn't put it ahead of France, Germany, or Italy (in random order). They did have some very impressive cathedrals size-wise, not as well decorated as in Italy or Germany.
As for the british people, I actually learned that they did have a republic for a short while (10-ish years) after killing their Monarch, ahead of the French doing the same later, but they somehow asked that dead monarch's son to rule the country again, which seemed like a mistake to me :)