Posted by Rainer Brockerhoff (away):
Well, here we are in London on the first leg of our Europe trip. Time pressures have precluded an update until now; I’m posting this from a 1 GBP/hour Internet Cafe’ near our hotel.

We flew in over Heathrow, a tiring but uneventful flight with a stop in Amsterdam. It was my first time on the new Boeing 777-SR200. The chairs and bathrooms are incrementally more comfortable and the big novelty is video/audio by demand on all seats. There are perhaps a hundred movies available. Since I’m unable to sleep on a plane anyway, I seized the occasion to see all 3 Matrix movies consecutively (I’d only seen the first one previously). I fast-forwarded over some slow scenes and found the special effects well-done but the rationale behind the whole thing remained completely obscure.

London is a large, confusing, and fascinating city. Today was our fourth day and we’ve managed to see lots of sights and museums but I suspect several months would be needed to really see all that’s worthwhile. As usual, we concentrated mostly on free stuff like the Science Museum and the Albert&Victoria Museum. We also managed to find the small Freud museum, where Sigmund Freud spent the last year of his life, and where his daughter Anna lived for 44 years; very interesting.

London beat out Vienna in being perhaps the most expensive city we’ve ever visited. The pound (GBP) is currently valued at around R$5.40, but prices do not scale proportionally. Food is extremely expensive, and the modest Mowbray Court Hotel, where we’ve stayed the last 3 days, also charges the most we’ve ever paid for a double room with bath anywhere in the world: 60 GBP, somewhat over US$110.

Nevertheless we’re upbeat. After a cold and blustery first day, the last few days have been sunny and not too cold. The people are friendly, if often unintelligible. A favorite game has been guessing, on buses and underground trains, what language the people next to us are speaking. So far we’ve been stumped by several Asiatic families, by people speaking Slav languages such as Serbian and Croatian, and yesterday by a couple from Uzbekistan.

Early tomorrow we’re off by bus (or coach, as they call it here) to Dover, where we’ll board the Norwegian Dream cruise ship for the 12-day cruise to St. Petersburg and the Scandinavian capitals. I’ll probably be unwilling to spring for the extremely expensive on-board Internet service, so any further updates will have to wait for after June 6th (my birthday!), when we’ll be back in England. Or perhaps I’ll find a convenient place during a shore excursion, but don’t count on it.

On our first day we conveniently stumbled into a Scotland tourism bureau, where we loaded up on brochures about Scotland; they’ve been so convincing that we’ll probably go by rail straight up to Scotland, pehaps only pausing for a quick visit to Stonehenge and Salisbury, and the Yorkshire region. Our BritRail ticket doesn’t extend to the Hebride Islands but we’ll try to find if there’s some local package when we get to Skye.

On our downward trip we plan to swing by Glasgow around June 15th or a little later. Matt Gemmell the Irate Scotsman will hopefully be available for a quick meeting; we’ve iChatted quite a lot recently. It’s always nice to meet Internet friends in the flesh… Matt, e-mail me if you’re reading this 😉

Speaking of e-mail, if you feel the need to e-mail me before June 24th or so, please try to have a clear, non-spam-looking subject line; searching through all the spam over web mail is tedious and error-prone. I may not be able to reply until I get back. My apologies.

More as soon as possible…