2019 UK Holiday

Date: 2019-09-12 · Word Count: 1134 · Reading Time: 6 minutes

We started the 2019 summer holiday trip planning by considering Thailand or a split between Scotland and Tenerife. Scotland won out and then, after chatting with some friends about Harry Potter related things to do, we added England.

After some consideration, we decided that we were going to center the holiday around Harry Potter related sights and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, filling in free days with various other activities. Opal also found the Fairy Pools on Skye and that became a must do item.

Most things turned out to be fairly easy to book, but we were unable to achieve tickets on the Hogwarts Express and Warner Bros Studio outside of London turned out to be more difficult than expected, even several months in advance. What I didn’t know then, and found out chatting with my friend Louise, was that we’d inadvertantly scheduled our holiday over the local school holidays. The other fun logistical issue was that I had booked the flights to Edinburgh before we worked out that London needed to be part of our trip, so our overall schedule ended up as San Francisco -> Edinburgh -> London -> Bath -> Edinburgh -> Isle of Skye -> Edinburgh -> San Francisco. The final oops, was that the original schedule I built failed to account for the day we lose flying out. I suppose I’m just too used to flying West…

Eventually, the big day arrives and we head out. I have Opal lead the way through the airports and customs, which she does with a lot of complaining. She flies a lot, so adding the international transfers and customs is new, but turns out to be minimally challenging and she gets us through San Francisco, Manchester and Edinburgh without issue. As with many of our trips, the first thing to do in Manchester was to get some of the local food we had most been looking forward to. Pro Tip: don’t get fish and chips at Manchester airport, I’ve had better in the USA, which, to put it politely, it’s not known for.

We arrive in Edinburgh and pick up the car. Of course, being Europe and desiring to keep the budget low, we have a manual transmission. The drive to our first night stay turned out to be somewhat more exciting than expected. Bunny hops, stalls and a fairly constant stream of explitives. It became a bit of a running joke but eventually we made it. The host of the place we’re staying in asks if we can smell burning rubber, it’s the transmission and I’m now really concerned that either something is wrong with the car or I’ve forgotten how to drive manual transmissions. Needing a break from the car, we decide against the further out eating district and walk to a local Indian restaurant. This turns out to be a great decision as they have excellent naan, including peshwari naan, a favorite of mine that’s difficult to get in the SF Bay Area, some of which we save for breakfast the next day.

The next morning, I wake up early and decide to start the morning exploring the local area with a run. There are lovely canals throughout Scotland and the place we’re staying is right next to one. So, I start my day with a lovely run in the cool morning air. The trail is mixed use cycling and pedistrian and there’s a fairly significant flow of people making their way to work. One of the nice touches on the trail is that they have edge lighting which makes the path much safer in the dark. Classically, the canal hosts rowing and there were also some lovely geese. Forbodingly, my phone decides that to die after the run, I will learn later that sweat from running has finally tipped the excessive liquid limits. We get back in the car and start with the bunny hopping out to the freeway. I am, at this point, concerned about the transmission and decide to pull off into a side road to see if I can figure it out in an area where I don’t have to worry about inconveniencing other vehicles. Happily, it turns out that I hadn’t been pushing far enough left and the reason the car was so upset is that I was attempting to start in 3rd. Having fixed this, we get back onto the freeway and have a much smoother ride to York.

We had decided that on our way south to London, we’d stop in York to see the National Rail Museum. We arrive and I go to pay for parking with the 20 GBP note that I had from a previous trip to Gibraltar. Turns out that those notes are no longer accepted by some places and they recommend I take it to the bank to get swapped out, although the supermarket we visit later happily takes it. The National Rail museum is a huge shed packed full of trains spanning from a model of Stephenson’s Rocket all the way to a Eurostar. There’s also a lovely collection of models explaining how various aspects of the locomotive world work, including cutaway boilers and engineering pits where you can walk under, and they have regular demonstrations of the turn table in the middle. For those interested in the more academic side of things, they also have an extensive research library and a restoration workshop.

After exhausting ourselves in the heat of the Rail Museum (turns out it was a record for hottest day in the UK and a big iron shed is great at holding in heat), we finish heading down to Reading, where we’ll be staying with a old friend, Louise. Opal is immediately overjoyed with staying at Louise’s as she has 8 cats (I, on the other hand, make heavy use of antihistamines).

The next morning we rise early and take the train into London. Peak hour renders this over 80 GBP, which was a bit of a shock. As there were no direct tickets available for the studio when we booked, I ended up getting tickets from a tour operator that drives in from downtown london (for the same price as the plain tickets would have been). If you happen to be staying in downtown London, this would be a much better deal than it was for us. After a short drive out to the studios, we pick up our tickets and join the line to enter.

Tickets are timed for entrance into the main exhibit, although the waiting hall is good for some entertainment on its own. We grab milkshakes while we’re waiting and note that, despite the place being designed to relieve people of their money, it would have been cheaper to have breakfast at the studio than in downtown London.

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