I’m on the plane, headed home after a quite successful UC Metro event. A good time was had by all 🙂
While I was in Reading, I stayed at the Hilton St. Anne’s Manor, Bracknell (which is actually in Wokingham, go figure). It’s an old manor house that has been converted to a hotel, and quite nicely at that. The hotel sits on about 25 acres of land, including both wooded and open spaces. On arrival, the desk clerk upgraded me to a room in the “Buckhurst Club” area of the hotel; apparently that’s where they put HHonors members. My room was quite nice, with a small patio that looked out onto the (grass) tennis courts. When I arrived, there were three fat rabbits outside my patio, munching happily on the lawn. However, the air conditioner didn’t work. Normally this would not have been a problem, except that the kind souls who prepared my room had turned on two halogen lamps, apparently early that morning. Between that and the fact that the room faced south, the room temperature was about 85°. I slept on top of the covers with the door open; after an undistinguished hotel breakfast the next morning, I headed out, asking the clerk to fix the air conditioner during the day. I got back to the hotel about 11pm after visiting the local mall cinema to watch Iron Man (summary: it’s made of win!), but the air conditioner wasn’t fixed. The surly night clerk sent one of the housekeeping staff to look at it, and she concluded that–sure enough– it was broken. As a result, I moved to another room, just as nicely outfitted as the first but with working air (and, thankfully, no halogen lamps). The staff quality varied pretty widely, from ignorant and surly to helpful and pleasant, but the weather and grounds made up for that. In the photo below, if you look closely you can see my laptop on the table under the umbrella… sure a lot nicer than working in some drab office somewhere.
Tuesday was uneventful: I got up, went to work, taught, and went back to the hotel.
Wednesday I repeated the pattern, at least until the class was over. I had intended to stay at the London Temple accomodation center, but they close the doors at 7pm. By the time my class was over, I had to catch the 5:35 train to Gatwick, which put me there right about 7pm. Instead, I booked a room at the Hilton Gatwick: the last-minute rate was cheap, and I hoped that I’d be able to easily get to the terminal in the morning. It turns out to be quite a hike from the terminal to the hotel, but then the same is true of the Sofitel, so no big deal.
The Hilton itself was quite nice– just a basic airport hotel (albeit with terrible, fuzzy TV reception). They upgraded me to the “executive floor” (ha!), with a small lounge with a nice variety of drinks and snacks. I wanted a real dinner, though, so I roamed the airport shopping area, looking for food, and found a place to have a panini while watching the UEFA Cup final. I then discovered that Marks & Spencer had a small “Simply Food” convenience store, where I bought some snacks for the boys and… drum roll… a two-pack of scotch eggs.
Let me describe the joy of scotch eggs. First, you boil an egg. Then you wrap it in minced sausage (spicy is better, of course), bread it, and deep-fry it. Delicious! Unfortunately, the custom is to eat them cold; Simply Food keeps them in the cooler, and I didn’t have any way to heat them up. However, they were still delightful. I’m glad I finally got to try them. (I also had fish and chips while in Reading, but I understand they don’t really taste right unless you eat them out of wax paper at the seashore.)
At lunch on Wednesday, I told the class attendees that this was my first visit to the UK. This sparked a lively conversation about how my expectations matched up to the reality, and what surprised me. So, in no particular order, a few thoughts:
- Everywhere I went, I saw electricity-saving devices like speed-sensitive escalators and individual light fixtures with motion sensors. However, nowhere did I see any water-saving devices like automatic faucets. (And speaking of faucets: for some odd reason, many of the restrooms I saw lacked dividers between urinals, but had floor-to-ceiling walls on the toilet stalls… a little TMI to brighten your day!)
- At the hotels, airports, and shops, I was surprised to see how many jobs were taken by immigrants from Eastern Europe.
- I loved the ubiquity and ease of public transport, although it seemed rather expensive. The office park where I was teaching had a free bus that ran between the offices and the town center (where the train station is), and the train system was easy to figure out and use.
- Shops and businesses close much earlier than I had expected. For example, there’s a large mall near Gatwick (well, it’s in Croydon), but it closes at 5pm. Hard to get much shopping done on that kind of schedule.
- In the mall, on the train, and on the street, women tend to dress better than they do in the US. Not so much for the men, however.
- Over and over I heard how unusual the nice weather was. That’s a bit scary.
- I was very surprised to find out that this is not only legal but widely available in England.