Posted by: ramblinrobert | May 26, 2008

Snapshots and snap shots

First the snapshots: I started adding photos to the site with the Urban agriculture and foxes posting. In case you haven’t been checking the older postings, I’ve been adding photos to those, too. The titles of the postings have been edited to indicate ones that I’ve added photos to. More to come. Enjoy.

Now, some snap shots, aka short takes, aka quick observations about Scotland and my experience there:

  • Cars: Everything is smaller: cars, delivery vans, trucks. Only a handful of BMW or Lexus-sized SUVs the entire trip. My Subaru Forester would be large in Scotland. there were many brands no longer imported to the States or that I didn’t know were still being made. I saw Peugoet, Citroen, no GM, a fair number of Fords (all small, no Ford Excesses), Vauxhall, plenty of Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans, a few Mazdas, lots of Fiats a few Mercedes and BMWs. Most models are simply unavailable in the States, unfortunately. That may be changing, as Mercedes is now importing its Smart Car. I hope to see more of these practical vehicles in the future.
  • Tractors: Virtually all John Deere. I think I saw one Ford and one Renault.
  • Money, prices: Took a few days to get used to the particular coins of the UK system. Dollar costs were easy to figure given the current exchange rate: just double the pound price to get dollars. Paying with coins was deceptive. In the States, a quarter is the most common coin in my coin purse. In the UK, a £1 coin was most common and a £2 coin would regularly show up. The one-pound coin was worth $2, the two-pound $4. So, paying with coins felt deceptively inexpensive. It was easy to pull out a few coins and not think anything about it, but it might be a $6 dollar purchase. Meal prices seemed reasonable, until I remembered they were in pounds, not dollars. Paying “10” for soup and sandwich seemed reasonable for lunch–oops, that’s $20, not $10. Bless the Brits: Prices included taxes, unlike the States, so it was easy to compute totals. I’ve often wondered why this isn’t so in the States, as it makes this little piece of life much simpler. Given rounded prices for most things, it was actually rare to end up with a one-pence or two-pence coin. They simply weren’t needed. In fact, the only coins I returned with were two one-pence coins.
  • Plastic money: I used my ATM and credit cards a lot. The ATMs were easy to get cash from, starting at the airport. My credit card was accepted wherever I wanted to use it, but with a catch: the electronic machines would never take it. I always had to do a manual transaction, signing for the purchase. I didn’t ask anyone there (because it took me a while to come up with this hypothesis) but I suspect that most people have pin numbers for their credit cards and that the machines only accept those credit cards and the people simply enter their pin rather than signing. In the States the only thing I would need a pin for is a cash advance, which I don’t ever take (What? And pay those outrageous fees and interest rates?). Next trip to Europe I might take a card with a pin number.
  • 24-hour clock: This was commonly used for bus, train and plane schedules. I never got used to it, always having to stop and think “oh, that’s 15:30 – 12:00 or 3:30 pm”. In everyday life, however, most people still used the 12-hour clock.
  • Laundry in hotels: Very easy to do in my room at night. Some places had towel warmers in the bathrooms (what a waste of energy!!!!) which I put to good use as laundry dryers.
  • Usability: Showers were tiny; it was good to get home and have room to stretch my arms. On-demand water heaters worked OK sometimes, but usually not very well. Given my difficulties as a pedestrian (those darn drivers kept coming at me from the wrong direction!) I noticed the tourist-frequented cities of Ft. William and Edinburgh had “Look right” and “Look left” painted at crosswalks to remind tourists from the States and Europe which way to look. This was a very good idea, based on my experience, that vastly improved my “user experience.”
  • Shaving oil: Can’t find this in the States easily. But, I looked for and found it in Scotland. This is sometimes recommended for the traveler who is traveling light as an alternative to shaving cream, as it packs up very small and light (it comes in bottles the size of a tic tac box) and works very well (a couple drops gives a very smooth shave).
  • Wildlife: Saw blackbirds, starlings, seagulls, mute swans (VERY large white birds, beautiful in flight–see photo), Eiders, Chough (very pretty black with red bill & legs), Artic Terns and others I don’t know by name. Richard’s book “Collins Scottish Birds” was a good guide; I recommend it. Also saw a red fox (see Urban agriculture and foxes posting), red deer and lots of bumblebees.
  • Livestock: Sheep. Some cattle. White sheep. A few chickens & ducks. Black sheep. Lot’s of newly-born lambs. Black & white sheep. Did I mention sheep?
  • Daffodils: This has to be the national ornamental flower. It was everywhere, in cities, in the country, along roadsides. One columnist had a column asking the question, well, trying to answer the question: Why do we like daffodils? (In the picture with daffodils, you can see where the hostel was in Glasgow, up on the hill.)
  • Free entry to museums: Most museums, maybe all the publicly owned ones, were free. Botanical gardens, too. This was an amazing and wonderful thing, opening up art work, history and science to the general public. Too bad we have such a lack of support for public facilities in the States.
  • Buses & trains: Wow! The public transportation system was phenomenal. I took city buses, subways, inter-city trains and inter-city buses. They were fast, frequent and well-maintained. And very reasonably priced. For $20 bucks I got from Glasgow to Edinburgh by train. For $10 I got back by bus. Never did try the commuter trains to the suburbs. Next time.
  • Sundays: This was a reminder of growing up in the States. Most stores and government facilities shut down on Sundays. Walking around downtown Glasgow my first full day there, a Sunday, was wierd–no one was around and it was deathly quiet. On a weekday it was totally different, pedestrian friendly streets with no cars (Buchanan running north-south and Argyle? running east-west) just packed with people. But, Sunday?
  • Black: Must be the national color. In Edinburgh it seemed everyone had on something black: coat, scarf, blouse, pants, dress or skirt. In Glasgow, still common, but less so. I suspect black is considered a formal color in Scotland and Edinburgh seemed more formal than Glasgow.
  • Weather: We thought we had good weather. Not that much rain, cool to moderate temperatures. But, people in Edinburgh complained that the weather had been particularly bad during the time we were there. So, who knows? It was pretty much what I expected–like the Bay Area in February.
  • Safety: Just like in the States, there are emergency exits, fire doors and evacuation re-assembly points. But, everything is much better labeled. They seem to take safety just a notch more seriously. I’ve never seen a sign outside a restaurant or hotel in the States that said “assembly point” but saw them many times in Scotland. Unlike the States, safety vests were worn by all uniformed police and, like the States, by most roadway construction crews. The difference? The favorite neon color for safety vests in Scotland is flourescent green, not flourescent orange.
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