"Chris and Kevin's Bad Teeth, Crap Food and Rainy Weather Tour '99"
In July and August 1999, my partner Kevin and I visited Newcastle-upon-Tyne & Durham, England and Edinburgh & Glasgow, Scotland and finally London. We technically went for the wedding of Kevin's friend Tove in Newcastle, but any chance to go to England! Kevin worked with Tove when he lived in London in the early 90's. I'd never met her, and was very curious!
Since we were in northwest England anyway, we decided to see Scotland too. So armed with a BritRail pass and 10 days, off we went in, as Kevin called it "Chris and Kevin's Bad Teeth, Crap Food and Rainy Weather Tour, 1999."
Here are all the gory details....
Wednesday, 28 July - En Route to London
Left Boston on Virgin flight 11 to London Gatwick (LGW) about 8:30 PM. It was my first time in 747. Boy they are cramped! Virgin has video games in the seat back TVs, but a badly designed annoying video screen controller! I like British Airways MUCH more, especially on a 777! Dinner of bland Salmon w/ Asian noodles. The movie was 200 Cigarettes, which was cute and OK. Too bad the headphones sucked! Mental note: Don't fly Mr. Branson's airline again! Oh, yeah, no Diet Coke, only Virgin cola. Ugh. Oh, yeah. NEVER take a night flight to London again!
Thursday, 29 July - Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Got into Gatwick way to early in the AM with no sleep. Too the train to London and got a brief glimpse of beloved London changing trains at King's Cross. Had a sleepy train ride to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In between naps, I was flabbergasted at the number of nuclear power plants (there was one every few miles! What does this small island need all this power for!) and also by the imaginative hay bails. I saw round ones, rectangular ones, even triangular!
Met Tove at the train station (she was not as Amazonian as Kevin described, though she was tall!) We walked to the nearby Quality Hotel (which is a very decent chain!) and collapsed and slept for several Hours. We later met Tove's fiancee, Roger at the Metro station (Newcastle has an adorable little underground!) We had a champagne toast at their flat. Roger's 10-year-old daughter Alex was absolutely charming! Alex declared "I've never been in the same room w/ Americans! Yours from the land of Jerry Springer!" We told her we were not all like that. Tove, Kevin and I had dinner at an Italian rest in Jessup (the "posh" area of Newcastle). There was much reminiscing in the land. (Tove was a big hit with me.)
Friday, 30 July - Newcastle/Durham
Kevin got an amazing deal on a BritRail pass -- anywhere in the UK for $66. Yes, $66. I kept saying "We can go anywhere in the UK with this?" So we took advantage and took BritRail to to Durham, famous for it's Cathedral. It had cute winding pedestrianised streets w/ historically correct outposts of Waterstones, M&S, etc. Travel author Bill Bryson was right when he noted that every city in the UK has all the same stores! At Durham Cathedral we climbed to the top of the tower. The view was bland but pretty. My fear of being at the top of hundreds of years old churches reasserted itself. We had lunch at Dix-Neuf ("19") restaurant. Besides the fact that it's name contains my favorite foreign number ("Neuf" - say it two times fast !) the food great. We looked past the forgetful waitresses who all looked like they were in a Catherine Denieuve look-alike competition. We got back to Newcastle and took the Metro to Tynemouth, which is coincidentally at the mouth of the Tyne River. On the train, a little girl kept calling us "the Siamese twins" due to our matching shaved heads, much to the horror of her mother. At Tynemouth, we saw Tynmouth Priory & walked around Tyneside. Which was cute in a North Sea-side kind of way. We went back to Newcastle and searched - and searched - for a restaurant. We finally found they'd hidden them ALL at quayside by the Tyne. We had dinner at an awesome Indian on Dean St. called Leela's. I had an Indian Beef dish. Only in England! In Newcastle, everyone goes out drinking at night (what else is there to do after a hard day on the dole!) We were amused to see that ALL of the men wear short-sleeve button down shirts w/ tails un-tucked. ALL of 'em! It's apparently the thing to wear! The women all get tarted up and everyone gets very loud and drunk. We went back to the hotel and watched "South Park" on Channel 4.
Saturday, 31 July - Newcastle
Spent the morning walking around Newcastle, which is not hardly as dingy and bleak as I thought, though there are an awfully large number of charity shops! In the early afternoon, we went to Tove and Roger's wedding at the Civic Center. Tove looked great! Both families are very sweet. We then went to lunch at the Metropolitan which is a very swank post-modernized restaurant. Fab. speeches, food, and folk. Roger's brother made a sensational speech and when we thought he couldn't be topped, Tove's sisters (all Swedish) got up and did a version of Abba's "Mama Mia" with something along the lines of "Sister Tove, we don't want to let you go, oh no..." That evening there was a reception at Newcastle Univ. function hall. The newlyweds got bonus points for playing Faithless ("God is a DJ") and because Roger loves Duran Duran, to which he and is brother played air guitar. This was after Alex did some fabulous choreography to the Bee Gee's "Tragedy" with her father and uncle as backup singers.
Sunday, 1 August - Edinburgh
Took the 10:33 train from Newcastle Central Station. Even though it was delayed, we spent an utterly pleasant hour waiting, reading, and watching urchins. Took BritRail to to Edinburgh, which is just gorgeous! We stayed at the wonderfully Victorian hotel in a huge room with immense palladian windows. There was a sweet , possibly dead cat that never moved from its spot next to the reception desk. We spent the rest of the day exploring Edinburgh Castle -- which was good, because the next day would be very foggy. The castle was fascinating. They have a great free audio tour. We had dinner at a Nepalese restaurant - close to Indian, but different and a pint at one of the gay pubs in town before retiring.
Monday, 2 August - Edinburgh
In the morning we walked the foggy Royal mile, saw the Greyfriar's Bobby statue. (The story is the dog pictured in the statue guarded his master's grave for 14 years until the dog also dies. In the meantime the people of Edinburgh took care of him, even making him a citizen so he wouldn't end up in the pound.) We walked to Holyrood Castle (Queen Elizabeth's residence in Edinburgh) and up Calton hill in the fog to see the strange ruins they recreated - including a never-finished Parthanon. We had lunch at Pizza Hut and shopped until catching the 15:25 train to Glasgow.
Got into Glasgow Central train station about 17:00 and found that our hotel , the Quality Central Hotel is grand Victorian pile of bricks right on top of the main train station (i.e. a 10 metre walk from the train!) It also happened to also be near the gay "ghetto", and not surpassingly, very centrally located (Duh!) The hotel itself had huge,long halls, grand stairs. Very The Shining. Took swim in the pool (nice touch!) and called home to reject a job offer. Hmm something Ironic about that - calling home from your vacation in the UK to reject a job!
We walked around centre of Glasgow along and had a nice dinner at Topolino's, a decent Italian with a handsome contemporary interior. I continued, however, to be frustrated that no one serves good tea! Why is it in a nation of tea drinkers all the restaurants serve Tetley's! Ugh. My kingdom for a cup of Earl Grey! After dinner we made a pilgrimage to Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art, which I've wanted to see for a long time. On first look it was not so impressive, but especially after the tour the following day (see 3 Aug) it really grew on me. We then walked down -- I do mean down, Glasgow is hilly like San Francisco in places -- to river . It's no Thames, mostly industrial and slightly threatening. We made a retreat to our hotel for the night.
Tuesday, 3 August - Glasgow / Kevin's Birthday
We had breakfast at the hotel (I avoided the black pudding, which honestly I'm not sure what's in it, but in the land of Haggis, did I really wanna' find out?) We went shopping on Sauchiehall St . I bought a Ben Sherman at Mad House (There are a couple of these in London also, great source for some designer gear, a lá TJ Maxx but better). We took a tour of the Glasgow School of Art and that's when Mackintosh really started to impress me. CRM was CLEVER. He created such a wonderful interplay of light and dark, darkening the hallways and stairs to draw you into the public spaces. He built castle-like stair towers; a store room-cum-Mackintosh gallery suspended on steel supports, literally floating above his magnificent library. The library, generally held to be his finest single room had 3-story windows, a mix of influences from Arts & Crafts to church design, and was simply wonderful, tho' much smaller than I always thought. I am more of a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, but CRMs work impressed me.
We took the Glasgow underground to the West End. The subway there is nicknamed the "Clockwork orange" because...well it's circular line and the cars are bright orange. It's also tiny. Kevin calls it the "toontown trolley". In the the West End we had a pub lunch at the Rubayat pub, a cute art deco interior. Walked through the lovely University of Glasgow and down another hill through Kelvingrove park. We checked out the Glasgow Transport Museum -- no match for London's version, but a fun place for a British car buff! We had dinner a French bistro called Pierre Victoire in Miller St. and walked around Merchant City which has some incredible Victorian architecture and lots of cool gargoyles. Saw the Glasgow Cathedral , which needs cleaning desperately!
That night we went on a short pub crawl to Waterloo on Argyle St, which was a nice Victorian pub with lovely stained glass. Then we found the Polo Lounge on Wilson St. It's a fabulous club that looks like an old, grand hotel lobby with comfortable Victorian furniture, chandeliers, etc. That night they had a singer with acoustical guitar and a nice mixed crowd, who had a ball singing along and generally being social. We decided it would never fly in uptight Boston. I took a peek at Penelope's, billed as alternative dance, but they were playing kinda crappy disco. It was a low-ceilinged kinda boring room. The Glaswegans very friendly though, we talked to talked to several men including a love-sick Irishman who kept telling me what a beautiful face I had. Who can argue with the natives?
Wednesday, 4 August - London
Left Glasgow and took the 09:45 train to London Euston, arrived about 15:00. It's about a four and a half hour train ride to London down the western side of Scotland and across the heart of England with more haystacks, and lots and lots and lots of rolling farmland.
Our hotel, the Holborn Hotel was GORGEOUS! The nicest hotel I've ever stayed in by far. Marble bathroom, mahogany with inlaid birds eye maple all over. Kevin laughed as I took pictures if the room. Of course the first order of business in London is shopping! We did almost all of Oxford St. and returned to the hotel to rest. Kevin found the birthday roses I'd ordered from the concierge. We then had nice dinner at Balan's in Soho. We liked the Balan's in Earls Court last trip, and this one was as good, if a bit crowded. Great desserts too! Choose the Soho one for the boys - especially across the Street at Compton's and the EC one for comfort. We had a couple pints Compton's and a couple more at Barcode. We ended up walking home in downpour with Kevin singing "A Rainy Night in Soho". Definately more disturbing than the shirt nazis in Newcastle: skinheads w/ capri pants & sandals seems to be all the rage. Yike!
Thursday, 5 August - London
Had breakfast at the Holborn . It's cute restaurant Constellations has (surprise!) twinkly lights in ceiling. We then saw fabulous Rock port exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery (one of my Fave London museums!). Then we took the tube to Kew Gardens (FINALLY! - I've only been trying to get there since 1993!) Aside from the daft decision to route planes from Heathrow over it, it's a lovely place right on the Thames with a stunning Victorian tropical greenhouse. A lovely walk. We had lunch at the Dove pub in Hammersmith , right on the Thames. It was recommended by my British friend Andy and Kevin. Did some more shopping - got two shirts. Took Kevin for a belated Birthday dinner at La Cage Imaginaire in Hampstead, which was not nearly as good as I'd remembered. (Cory and I went there in 1995.) Kevin went bear hunting at the Kings Arms and I met my mate Dave Rutter at the Colherne in Earls Court, we then went on to Brompton's, which had better music than usual.
Friday, 6 August - London
We got up late and ate, then took the bus and a longish walk to Shoreditch to the Geffreye's Museum of English Interiors which was very interesting. It has rooms depicting English interiors from the 1400s to the Present. We then took buses to the Albert Memorial for a photo op. The #10 bus from Tottenham Court Rd. is a great mini-tour of some of the sights of London: it passes through Oxord St,.Hyde Pk. Buckingham Palace, by Harvey Nicks & Harrods, and on up to Notting Hill. We walked by Kensington Palace (Chris: "Diana lived there? What a dump!") and around Kensington . We took a picture at Holland Park in honor of Edina from AbFab's fictional address in Holland Park.
We had dinner at a very good Indian restaurant in Soho and then went to hang out with the bears at the King's Arms. Kevin was sick of all the skinheads I tended to gravitate too. We met tons of men (very friendly crowd!) including a fun, mostly drunk Belfaster named Robert, a rather bitter bear ("I don't want a boyfriend. I don't' like bars. I haven't been out to one in 8 years!") and several other people. In London you can drink outside, so we hung out on the sidewalk which is a nice break from the crowded pub! When the King's Arms closed we went down to Duke's in Vauxhall -- along with most of the bar it seems. then to dukes. Robert, Kevin and I piled in a mini-cab and sloshed out way to Vauxhall telling Jesus and Helen Keller jokes all the way. (They are funnier when drunk, I've tested this theory!) Duke's was a pleasant discovery with a very friendly crown too, and a very good singer (doing covers) who everyone loved.
Saturday, 7 August - London
Tired from carousing the night before, we reluctantly skipped Summer Rights (post-gay-pride celebration) and finished up our shopping. We had dinner at Cuppacetto in Liecester Sq (another repeat restaurant) They good pastas, but stay away from the bland pizza. We met an AOL buddy, Paul Adams at Compton's and after several pints, went to his flat in Islington to met his partner Maurice , who was charming and funny. We all went to Block, a mostly-skinhead bar in East London. Having had a few too many pints, Paul took a nap in the corner while Kevin & Maurice chatted in by the cloak room. Maurice and Paul were both fantastic, and we're hoping to spend alot more time with them! We left the Block about 3am, having to get up at 7am to make it to Gatwick for the flight home. Oh well, isn't being on holiday all about excess?
Sunday, 8 August - En Route to Boston
Took the ThamesLink to Gatwick. Gatwick airport sucks! I was hoping to pick up some CDs and Hob Nob's for my mate Andy (who misses 'em!), but unlike Heathrow, they have no Hob Nobs or decent record stores at Gatwick. We also had a cramped awful seat on the plane and a bumpy landing at BOS. Once more time: I'm never flying Virgin again. I did like the movie I watched, Human Traffic , which is sort of a Welsh Trainspotting with a great soundtrack.
Monday, 9 August
Begin planning next trip to London :)