As I mentioned before, I’m back from my 17-day holiday with my friend Sandy in Great Britain, and let me tell you, I didn’t want to come back! We had such a wonderful time, and really wanted to buy a house there and demand that our husbands pack up our places in the States and move out. Sadly, neither of them have passports, so that wasn’t an option. Our trip started in Bath, then went through York and Edinburgh, spending 2-3 days in each of those locations, before ending in London for 6 days, and here’s how it went, from the point of view of a Doctor Who fan (I still hate the term “Whovian”).
Your first question is probably why we didn’t visit Cardiff, the location of the BBC studios where Doctor Who is filmed, since we started off so close to it (we landed in Bristol, and Bath isn’t that far away). Well, the original intent was to tour Cardiff and Wales for that very reason, but about a month after we made the plane reservations, the Doctor Who Experience announced that it would be closed for the entire month of September, removing a very big target for visiting Cardiff. It would have cost $1000 per ticket to change the plane reservations to October, so we decided instead to visit Scotland instead of Wales. We’ll visit Cardiff on our next trip.
The very first thing we noticed when we arrived in England is that British drivers are crazy, and that doesn’t even count the side of the road they’re on. I think this was partially the fault of being in Bath, where real estate is extremely limited and so the roads are very narrow, to the point where the drivers will drive into oncoming traffic to get around things; it wasn’t quite as crazy in the other cities we visited. I think the worst part was watching cars on two-way streets crossing over oncoming traffic to street-park on the opposite side of the street (yes, facing the wrong direction). Similarly, motorcycles and bicycles will go wherever they want. Of course, when we mentioned to a native that we thought driving in England is insane, he was surprised, saying that the stereotype is that British streets are far saner than the rest of the world.
But beyond that, Britain was simply splendid. Bath, York, Edinburgh, London, and Cambridge (which we visited on a day trip) were all beautiful, though each with very distinct personalities. Bath, with its bathstone buildings, has a very unified look, with an air of Regency England. York feels very medieval within its city walls; outside of that, it’s modern. Edinburgh has very comfortable, small city atmosphere without being far from the rugged nature that Scotland is so famous for. London, of course, is a huge city, but incredibly simple to get around in due to its great Underground and bus system. Cambridge, interestingly, doesn’t have that university town feel. Its campus is spread out among the houses and town, rather than being centralized like American universities, probably due to the fact that it’s been developing for hundreds of years, and so you don’t have that concentration of students in specific places. It’s hard to describe: it feels like an old residential town with something more.
In all of these places, and in the places in between as we rode the train, you simply encounter ancient buildings and huge cathedrals, which is something completely unheard of in the states. There’s just nothing that old and historic, because the United States’ history doesn’t stretch back that far. It was an amazing feeling walking among buildings that had been there for hundreds, and in some cases, over a thousand years. One of the most impressive was the York Minster, a cathedral that was begun in 1220, to replace the old minster that had been standing there since 1065. This probably doesn’t matter to people who grew up in Europe and live among such history every day, but to me, you could actually feel the time in Britain.
The people also felt very different in Britain. First, in all of the places we visited, they were far more polite and helpful than Americans. Yes, that’s a stereotype, but it fit well. Strangers helped us carry our suitcases up and down stairs in the railway stations. They helped us decode the Tube map, gave us directions, gave us advice on etiquette (it took us the entire time to figure out that you have to ask for the bill in restaurants, not just wait for the waiter to bring it to you automatically). British people also on average dress better than Americans. There were very few people wearing t-shirts of any kind, even on weekends when out shopping or relaxing in the park, where they’d wear collared shirts and jumpers, and lots of plain black. Lots of people wore full suits, wool coats, and scarves, which was interesting because we thought it was rather warm and were walking around in shorts.
I found the t-shirt thing very interesting: there was very little display of fandom anywhere. I never once saw anyone wear anything with a Doctor Who logo or image, and very little of any other brand, maybe one Game of Thrones shirt, one Superman logo shirt, and one Big Bang Theory shirt. There was one group of teenagers walking along the Tower Bridge who had a number of what looked like band t-shirts among them (I didn’t recognize a single one), but they might have been foreign tourists, as all other groups of students we saw wore uniforms. In the US, brands and logos are everywhere: superheroes, TV shows, movies, athletic brands, etc.
One of the coolest events was that we were in Edinburgh on the day of the Scottish Referendum, in which the Scots voted on whether or not Scotland should become an independent nation. It was wonderful being there during such a historic event. Each side was lobbying for itself, of course, but on the whole, the debate was civil, and people on opposites sides of the debate stood next to each other and stated their views without haranguing each other. And after the votes were counted (85% voter participation!) and the results were announced, both sides went back to their lives and their work without animosity. It was beautiful to witness.
(On the other hand, two days later in London, I handed a Scottish bank note, 20 pounds sterling, to a cashier, and she turned to her coworker and asked, “Do we still take these?”)
One of the activities I enjoyed the most was touring minsters. I love architecture and history, and there is so much of both to see. We visited the Bath Abbey, St. Michael’s in Bath, the York Minster, St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Westminster Abbey, Southwark Cathedral, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. It just amazed me how people hundreds of years ago designed and built these structures, and that they’ve survived this long. Southwark Cathedral is of particular interest to Doctor Who fans, since it’s supposed to be where Dr. Lazarus fled to in “The Lazarus Experiment,” though, of course, the episode was actually filmed in Wells Cathedral in Somerset. I found Southwark Cathedral prettier on the outside than the other cathedrals because it’s constructed of two types of stone, instead of only one, so that its walls are black/gray outlined by beige, giving it a unique look.
I did have to do some geekery while in the UK, so we visited the Forbidden Planet megastore in London (after getting quite lost in Soho – we found that getting lost is even more fun than following the beaten path), and I was not disappointed. On the ground floor, one whole wall was dedicated to Doctor Who merchandise, and then another wall had DW t-shirts. But the real treasure was in the basement, where they have the media. In addition to all of the DW DVDs and blu-rays (and I mean all of them, classic and modern), they had the novels, comic books, non-fiction reference books, and – be still my beating heart – the Big Finish audios. If it weren’t so much easier to buy them at home and download them, I would have bought stack of them. Sadly, the one thing that I was looking for that I can’t download, the Gallifrey series, was out of stock.
There’s plenty more I could say about the trip, but if I said everything, it would take days of writing and all the space that WordPress allows on its servers. I had a wonderful time and didn’t want to come home, and I really love Great Britain. Oh, another thing that makes Britain great: David Tennant everywhere! (Ok, we happened to be there just before the premiere of his new movie, but it made us both pretty happy to see buses with his picture appear out of nowhere.) Anyway, I’m looking forward to visiting again sometime soon (next couple of years), and this time, Cardiff better be ready. I’m thinking Wales, England, and Ireland next time, and after that, branching out to the rest of Europe. I just have to put my nose back to the grindstone to afford the next trip. Sigh.