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Jill's Excellent Adventure

By Jill Kamp

 

October 29, 2005: I can't believe my mom (Nancy) tried to discourage me from buying the cute brown purse.  It will be perfect for Europe.  [The purse stayed home.]  I am not going to take a practical (ugh) Ameribag like she does. 

That makes me sound fashion mad, but seriously.  The upcoming semester abroad will be my third trip to Europe.  I over packed before and I'll probably do it again, but I will be gone for months.  I'll need all the links to home I can get.

I got accepted at the University of Central England {now Birmingham City University} Business School last week, and we've been going nuts ever since.

Actually, I was pretty frantic before I got the acceptance e-mail, primarily because I didn't have an acceptance e-mail.  And I've wanted to study in Europe since I knew it was there.

I'll be flying to Brussels in January to visit a friend for a few days before my classes start.  My dad (Cary) used some of his American Airlines points to book my ticket; he is using the rest so the family could visit me - or so they say.  Mom's trip planning looks suspiciously like April in Paris to me.

I do know the study abroad folks at OU cut things very close on the time frame for redemption of miles and hotel points.  It generally has to be done months in advance, so we were very lucky to get flights that will work for us.

I lost my passport several years ago and had to have it replaced in 24 hours.  That replacement was only good for one year.  Fortunately, I can get a new passport by mail.

Passport Woes - Lost passport saga (scroll down to the July 18th weblog entry)

My sister Caryn and I will be getting International Student Identity Cards (ISIC).  I think even a high school student will get her money's worth, and I know I will.

My friends and I are talking about the side trips we'll take.  I hope to round out my semester with a week in Turkey.  And I'd love to learn to ski in the Alps.  Will the wages from my job as an experienced day care teacher be adequate to cover my expenses?  Yeah, right.

November 7, 2005:  Today is the day I submit my housing request.  Fortunately, I had lunch with Angie on Saturday.  She's a UCE alum who told me which dorms to select and gave me tons of other advice.

I talked (free via computer) with my very best friend Samantha who is currently studying in Antwerp.  Sam said not to buy clothes before I leave because styles are different in Europe.  There's some kind of boot everyone is wearing, but I couldn't picture it from her description.

Sam was in Paris over the weekend.  She said the violence is even worse than the news reports indicate.

November 9, 2005:  My friend Amber will be going to Spain.  There are cheap flights from Birmingham to Spain.  I'm glad she likes company.

November 19, 2005:  The parents and I went to a terminally long OU presentation about study abroad.  They gave us a lot of information amidst time-wasting anecdotes.  But the pizza was good, and I met a guy who spent a semester at UCE last year.  It was reassuring for Mom and Dad when he began our conversation by saying, "When I was deported ..."  [visa problems]

I introduced Bomi, the only other OU student going to UCE, to my parents.  Mom started on her travel tips after Bomi said she planned to take travelers checks and money orders.  Do this instead:

  • Use a bank debit card with a four digit pin

  • Call your bank before you go so they know you're going to be using the card in other countries

  • Unless it's an emergency, use your card at ATMs in good hotels - there is less likelihood of a scam there, and you will be in safer surrounding to tuck your cash into your (ugh) moneybelt.

November 22, 2005:  Just to be on the safe side I checked the latest visa regulations for the UK (and other countries) on the US State Department website at http://travel.state.govI won't be there for over six months so I don't need a visa - one less thing to haul around.

December 5, 2005):  We spent the weekend trying to figure out how to pay the ₤100 deposit due today.  Mom and I forgot Europeans put the day first and then the month.  We assumed 5/12/05 was May and that the deposit deadline hadn't been updated on my paperwork since the spring.  Wrong.

Fortunately, Mom was able to call UCE (after discovering the phone number listed had an extra zero up front - sort of like we put a one in the beginning of 800 numbers sometimes - the actual number after the international calling prefix and the country code began with 010 because the call was initiated from the US).  The very kind Becky accepted a phone payment.  And I have a room.  Brilliant.

December 14, 2005:  Amber paid $60 to a birth certificate expeditor, and she still hasn't received her birth certificate.  She has an appointment on Monday at the Spanish consulate in Houston to get a visa.  But without that birth certificate, I don't see how she can get a passport in time.  And her plane leaves January 3.

December 20, 2005:  Nancy's Note:  Jill called yesterday to say Amber had her birth certificate and could I give her the name of the passport expeditor firm.  But late last night, I realized Amber might have saved money by hopping on a plane and flying to Houston to get her own passport and then head to the Spanish consulate.  Uh oh.

December 27, 2005:  Nancy's Note:  Jill went back to Norman (Oklahoma) last night to finish out the week at work before giving up her apartment and moving home in preparation for The Great Packoff But about 11:30 last night, the phone rang.  Jill and Amber were off to Houston to secure Amber's visa from the Spanish consulate today! 

Jill is a conscientious and experienced day care teacher, so she must have cleared the expedition with her boss, but Houston is a long drive from here, and the Spanish consulate keeps your passport while they process your visa, mailing both passport and visa back to you, so what's a mom to think?

January 2, 2006:  Amber got her visa and passport from the Spanish consulate.  But Samantha's passport and money were stolen while she was visiting a friend in France for the Christmas break. 

Sam's bad news led to a family discussion about money belts and neck safes.

Know Before You Go

January 7, 2006:  I have bronchitis.  And I leave in a week.

Amber is having a great time in Spain.

January 10, 2006:  We just ordered my Chunnel ticket, Antwerp to London Waterloo on http://franceguide.raileurope.com, a link that's no longer working.  The price was $86 for a one way youth (under 26) fare + $30 to overnight the ticket to me.  That must mean this is a special fare for US residents.  Or not.  I did not opt for ticket insurance ($20) and will be traveling second class.

Bomi and I are arriving in Birmingham a day early.  The university said a watchman would let us. 

Of course, I still have to get from London to Birmingham.  And London Waterloo is not a station where I can pick up an advance tube/train ticket in a machine according to Virgin Trains (and all the other train companies we checked).  So I will have to buy a ticket when I get there.  Probably for more money, possibly double.  And then there's the taxi fare from the train station.

January 13, 2006:  Mom had two tips.  Well, she had thousands, but ...

  • Scan ALL your documents and e-mail them to yourself.  If you lose something, open the file and you will have a copy.  If not, you don't have to carry quite so many papers with you.  (I also e-mailed myself a few of my favorite photographs.)

  • When you travel, count the number of items you are responsible for.  I'm taking a coat, a largish tote bag for my laptop and essentials, a rolling carryon and a 29" suitcase, which makes four things.

January 14, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Jill is about to board her flight from OKC to Chicago.  Whew.  There have been mishaps.

  • Yesterday, the bank decided Jill's notarized power of attorney was not good enough, so we had to dash over there and do one just for them. 

  • When she began packing her medicine bag (sounds very Native American, but it's just stuff she might need like vitamins and band aids), Jill discovered the physician-provided samples of her prescription expired last August.  She and her sister drove to Norman, OK to pick up some new samples, only to barely miss being part of a nasty high speed rollover on the interstate.

  • This morning, the dogs woke us up around five because there was a giant possum in the yard.  Fortunately, it was gone when we got back from the airport.

  • As we unloaded Jill's luggage from the car, we realized she was a bag short.  When everyone has a hand in something, no one is responsible.  Cary, Jill's dad, drove off to get it muttering some colorful words.  Since we allowed plenty of time and since the plane was delayed, no problem.

Now we get to settle back and watch flight trackers until we hear Jill is safe and sound in Antwerp with Sam.

E-mail from Chicago:

Hi, I am in the Chicago airport.  We got in early, so I have a long wait.  The seat next to me was empty during the flight here, but this little girl cried the entire time, and it was horrible.  Gotta go.

Love you, Jill  

January 15, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  When we went to bed, the flight tracker, showed Jill's plane due south of Iceland.  About 4 a.m., the phone rang.  Jill and Sam were calling from Antwerp.  They had connected at the Brussels airport, gotten the luggage and were back in Sam's flat.  The adventure begins.

E-mail from Antwerp:

Hi Mom, I can't use my e-mail till England b/c Sam's computer does not let me view popups. 

That sucks about my knee brace.  [Jill uses her knee brace when she runs to help prevent shin splints - we found it behind a chair.]  I guess I will try and buy one here. 

We just took a nap and ate and went to a movie today.  Kinda taking it easy. 

Tell everyone I said hello. 

Love you, Jill  

January 16, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  We just talked with Jill via Skype.  The connection was hard to set up, but that may have something to do with the fact that I had to plug the microphone into my USB port and do a quick software setup.  Also, I was already listening to NPR, and there may have been a conflict with two audio devices.  Anyway, we will work out the bugs.

Jill took a short tour of Antwerp, but there will be no pictures until she gets to Birmingham and sets up her computer there.

She said the shopping was very good - at least three H&M stores on one block!  But the trendy boots are ugly.

Jill and Sam will visit Bruges [Belgium] and Amsterdam [Netherlands] this week.

January 21, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  The phone rang last night around midnight.  Jill called to tell us she and three friends, Sam, Amber and a gentleman from France, had been mugged.

They are fine.  No one was hurt.

The kids were approached by a group of men in front of Sam's school in a nice neighborhood.  After a short conversation, one of the men pulled a knife, while two of his buddies told him to stop.

Someone went through Amber's pockets, finding nothing, and Jill's purse, removing her camera and 60 euros. 

We don't know any more details except police said Moroccan gangs were a problem in Antwerp, and this group had robbed at least three other people that night.

And although Jill was carrying too much money (won't happen again she says), we think it was a good thing the muggers found something worth stealing.  Frustrated men of violence are doubly dangerous. 

January 22, 2006:  Nancy's Note: Jill called from the train station in Brussels to get Bomi's exact address in Birmingham.  She was already exhausted from hauling her luggage (one 29 inch on wheels, one rolling carryon, and one carryon tote from the Delsey Helium line) luggage around.

Jill e-mail from May 3:  The Delsey luggage is amazing ... it handled a lot on the three wk tour, seriously a lot (stairs, kicked, dropped you name it) but if you're young, I recommend a hiking backback.

She reported that UK passport control had been less than polite.  And added the Belgian police officer who interviewed her after she was robbed had been upset with Sam, who lives in his building.  Apparently using the bathroom at night is not the neighborly thing to do.  (Sam got a formal citation for noise.)  Seems there must be more to this story, but don't hold your breath.

January 24, 2006:  Nancy's Note: Jill arrive safely at UCE on Sunday night.  Security let her into her room, but neither she nor Bomi had bedding.  They were too tired to care.

Yesterday, was the first day of orientation.  Jill sent her dad an e-mail saying she had no Internet access yet, so we wait for details.

January 26, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  E-mails are flying fast and furiously.  A summary:

  • Jill can't get Skype to work with her in room Internet connection.  She's trying to configure it.

  • She's met people from all over Europe - special mention of Sari from Finland and Susan from The Netherlands.

  • She hasn't been able to find a UK Europe plug in a local store - vary necessary for the hair straightener that came seemingly overnight from Amazon.co.uk.  Her replacement camera should (hopefully) come in time for tomorrow's trip to Stratford Upon Avon.

  • Plans are in the works for a weekend in Barcelona with Amber and Carnivale in Venice with Samantha - much depends on cheap airfare.

February 2, 2006: Nancy's Note:  Jill has settled into school and classes have begun.  We have still not been charged for her room, so I must call the bank again today as I think an attempt was made and rejected.

A group of students went to Stratford upon Avon.  The verdict from my seasoned traveler: "a bunch of cottages."  Rick Steves dismissed it as a must-see also, but he was more polite.

Jill made a Barcelona flight reservation from without considering train schedules or transit times.  It looks like she will have an overnight eight hour commute between London Stansted Airport and Birmingham on the way home! 

My voyage lasted like 11 hours.  I am in Spain at the hostel and am waiting for Amber and co to get here.  This is definitively a new experience.

I left my flat at 10 30 and then took a bus to City Centre where I walked to Birmingham New Street train station.  Then took a three and one half hour train with no heat to Stansted Airport, arriving at in Reus 17:45.  Ryanair is nice.  I will def fly them again.

From Reus Airport, I had to take a one and a half hour bus ride to Barcelona, so I am definitely a seasoned traveler.  I can pretty much travel the world and survive. 

We get free Internet at the Gothic Point hostel and a free breakfast for 17 euros.

Well, love you

February 5, 2006:

Leaving pretty soon to try and get the bus for the Barcelona airport. I think I have a stomach virus or something.  I have been really sick for about two days.  I wish you were here.  Love you

February 13, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  We've been talking with Jill fairly regularly and sending e-mails about school fees, side trips in the works, fun with new friends and old, and cooking in the flat.  Classes are not a major topic though she seems to be covering some useful material and enjoys expounding on it.

Amber visited last weekend, and Jill had a date with a nice young man.  She thinks she is popular because she does not wear her clothes too tight and because of her nice straight teeth.  I believe there is more to her than that, but ...

Most in flat meals are pasta variations from the cook's country of origin (Austria, Germany, Holland, US).  Jill is using lots of tomatoes, and is proud of her red and white sauces.

February 16, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  While we're waiting for details from Antwerp, etc., Jill and crew are planning trips to Manchester (because it's cheap) and Bath in the UK as well as to Berlin.

February 23, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Today is Jill's 21st birthday, and with any luck she has long since met up with Samantha and company in St. Mark's Square in Venice.  Since this is also the beginning of Carnivale and St. Mark's is huge, I worry.  When we talked yesterday, Jill had failed to buy a Venice Blue card as I suggested.  She planned to take the bus and a vaporetto to St. Mark's, aka the Piazza Romana.

You may have noticed we are still waiting for details on Jill's expeditions and adventures.  I have nagged as both mother and editor, and await submissions.

As for the birthday, well, surprise, surprise, she wanted money.  We'll do our best on that front - who needs food? - but I did give her jewelry in Paris.

March 5, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Jill and I have been instant messaging and talking via Skype quite a lot, but there were no interesting things to report until I got the first (I hope) of the much nagged for e-mails detailing one of her adventures.  The nags will continue until she is up to date.  Jill is having trouble with her picture software so photos will have to wait.

Jill's E-Mail about Venice

It was really easy getting to BHX [Birmingham International Airport] from Birmingham's New Street train station.  Also cheap, like 5 pounds return [roundtrip].

I flew KLM to Amsterdam.  KLM gives you free meat or cheese sandwiches and any drink, including wine or beer.

Amsterdam's airport is not cool.  You have to go through long lines at passport control just to change terminals!  I flew out of a small terminal, so we went to the gate, they checked our passes, and then we had to take a bus to the plane.  Ghetto!

After another KLM flight with free food and drink, I arrived in Venice at night.  I very quickly got my luggage, and with the help of English speakers, found my bus to Piazza Roma [Piazza San Marco].

I waited only 20 minutes before my friends met me.  We dropped off my stuff at Elenora's (friend of Sam) cousins' apartment and went out.  We went to a few bars, then an illegal club.  You can't have clubs in Venice because vibrations from the music affect the sinking of the city.

At about  5 a.m., we went to Lido [neighborhood] for free - at night, no one checks if you have tickets on the vaporetto [water bus].

[There is a heavy fine if you are caught without a ticket]

Friday, we hung out at Elenora's all day.  She cooked pasta for us.  At 6, we went back to Venice to cousins' apartment to get ready.  We went on a bar tour of Venice where you eat a food and buy a drink at several bars.  I ate octopus legs - not good.  Sam ate a whole octopus - including the brain.  When we got back to the apartment, the cousin made pasta.

On Saturday, we got up early and toured Venice.  We saw the Doge's Palace, San Marco Basilica and square, saw where they used to hang people by a red post.  We went out at night to find Piazza San Marco filled with uninhibited people dressed in Carnivale clothes and masks.  I bought a mask, and did not go to sleep that night because my bus left at 5 a.m. for the airport and my flight left at 6:30. 

KLM likes to post different departure times from when you actually board and take off.  We always arrived early for all destinations.  I do not like Amsterdam airport.  Excess security - I had already checked in and completed security screening - almost caused me to miss my connection to the UK.

March 22, 2006:  Nancy's Note: We got back late last night from visiting Jill in both France and the UK.  It will take me a while to write up all our adventures, but rest assured my daughter received several big nags about keeping up this page.  Now, let's hold our collective breaths.

March 27, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  We came home from cold, cold Europe to snow in Oklahoma!  Jill wrote that her Skype was not working and her Internet access was not fast enough to reinstall the program from a download:

We have not had snow that late in March in a while.  It is kinda warm here, and we have not had to wear heavy coats, but is has been raining for three days.  Love you

March 30, 2006:   Nancy's Note:   I spoke with Jill this morning.  Her Skype is still out, and all her comments about places she's been are coming real soon.  Also, her latest boyfriend is a lout.  What did I expect?

She leaves Saturday morning for Switzerland where the local currency is the Swiss franc.  Bet Jill needs money.

April 3:  Nancy's Note:  The school break odyssey began in Spain, not Switzerland.  Here are Jill's e-mails:

We saw a bullfight on Sunday at Plaza de las Ventas in Madrid, the biggest bull ring in Spain.  We left after the first bull was killed.  None of us thought it would be so gruesome.  

Madrid has a huge park, Parque del Retiro.  The lake in the middle is Estanque Grande.  There was just a ton of people, and we stayed there for a long time. 

We also went to the Palacio Real.  Some of the rooms were hideous.  They were supposed to look opulent but no. We went to a huge club called Kapital.  Apparently, it is very posh.  Also tried to watch a Real Madrid game but it was televised in Español (of course) so hard to follow.

We took a bus from Alcala de Hernes (outside Madrid, where Amber studies) to Barcelona.  Buses are a good and cheap way to travel.  Highly recommended over flying, but trains are good too. (23 euros for the bus.)  The Spanish countryside is very  medieval looking and spartan.

[Later] We (Jill, Amber and Sam) just got to Barcelona.  Our bus ride was 8 hrs and not the best but it was ok. 

April 7, 2006:  Jill's latest e-mail:

Today, I will need to withdraw Swiss francs.  Hopefully not a lot.

Nancy's Note: Jill has kept costs down as much as possible by using dorm-like hostels or staying with friends of friends when she travels.

I really like Madrid over BarcelonaSagrada Familia [in Barcelona] is a church by Gaudi and not very pretty. They are still building it.  It looks like a McDonalds' cathedral.

Today we leave for Geneva ... uncharted territory.

Later:  Switzerland is sooooo gorgeous ... it's like paradise.

April 8, 2007:

We are leaving Switz early b/c it is soooooo expensive.  On to Liechtenstein. I sent Dad a text message from the Alps.  They are amazing. 

April 9, 2007:

We had an adventure in Liechtenstein, sort of.  We arrived really late because we missed a train, so the hostel said they would stay open till eleven.  At 10:45, we could not find the hostel, and they were not answering the phone.  We were walking along the main road, preparing to sleep outside, when a bus came.  The driver said he knew of a hostel and drove us to one in Feldkirch, Austria.  He did not even want us to pay because buses don't run that late, and he felt bad for us.  Then everyone at the hostel was so nice.  They gave us a room all to ourselves.

"The nicest people I've ever met have been in Liechtenstein and Austria."

April 11, 2006:

It has been snowing for two days in Munich ... no coat, so just a lot of layers, and it is still freezing.  [What happened to her coat?]

Today we are going to Dachau [Jill only took one photo.  She said it wasn't a place for posing with your friends.] and then a night train to Prague, which is really cheap.

April 12, 2006:

I did not bring a coat b/c the weather forecast said it was supposed to be warm everywhere.  Ha!  There is snow in Prague, too, but it's a very pretty city.

During the same time period Jill's father went to Salt Lake City without a coat.  He was also caught in a snow storm.  NK

April 28, 2006:

Polish amber is really cheap in Prague.  [This one of the ancient amber trade routes from the Baltic Sea to the south.]

April 30, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Jill called a week and a half ago and fleshed out some of her e-mails.  I took notes, but I'm having trouble reading them.   I can't figure out the part about Vienna at all, but Jill did say they had seen too many museums.  Here goes:

  • Beer hall sausage in Munich was wonderful.  Jill described patrons as "so drunk and so happy."

  • The girls took a Third Reich tour of Munich and highly recommend it.  Details to follow - perhaps.

  • A railroad personage supplied incorrect information regarding the train from Munich to Prague.  The girls were expecting to change trains at one stop, but they should have changed at another.  As a result, their tickets expired, but the Czech conductors were sympathetic and got them on the right train without charging for more tickets.

  • The train to Prague was straight out of the 1950s - a Communist-era relic.

  • The hostel in Prague was only $13 per night - here's hoping she'll supply the name.

  • The girls went to a club in an old watch tower - the coat room was in the former dungeon.  This is the biggest club in Central Europe.  Prague is gorgeous and very exciting but a little dangerous.

  • The Czech Republic is a member of the European Union but doesn't expect to switch from crowns to euros for two to three years.

  • Sam has a file with the Antwerp police.  When the girls got back to Sam's apartment after two weeks of travel, all seemed to be well and they went straight to bed at 9:30 p.m.  Early the next morning, the police came because the apartment building door had been damaged, and they assumed Sam and company were responsible.

May 4, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Just got an instant message from Jill.  She is in Stockholm having an allergy attack.  The plan is to work on her econ paper and take a ferry to Helsinki and back, which is cheaper than sleeping in a hostel.

Jill's Stockholm:   Another really cool place.   Very clean.

We arrived on a Thursday night very late and had to take a bus to city centre because I flew Ryanair, so the airport was about an hour away.   [Cut rate airlines typically use out of the way airports.]  

We stayed a night there in a hostel, and then had the next day to explore.   Stockholm has lots of weird random things like a park with gravestones and an underground [subway] decorated with modern art.

That afternoon we took a boat run by the Viking Line to Helsinki, Finland.   Since the trip is only about four hours, they stop in the middle of the sea in the middle of the night, and you arrive in the morning.  When we arrived at the dock, we could not find a thing open to get food because it was Sunday!   Finally, we find a Mexican restaurant where I paid about €14 for a quasi burrito.  

May 14, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Jill phoned home for Mother's Day - it was celebrated in March in the UK.  She's planning her last trip before returning home in June.  In the meantime, school and lack of serious funds are keeping her in the Birmingham area.

A recent e-mail was domestic and said, "I made your chili today.  Big hit ... Suzan and Sari loved it."

June 11, 2006:  Nancy's Note: Jill is home now. She completed her UCE course requirements and was in Scotland (see below) when the software behind this website (^%@& FrontPage) self destructed. It will be several more weeks before we recover and are able to publish her trip notes and photos.

In meantime, we're following the World Cup under Jill's expert tutelage (thanks, Chris), and I've added a St Christopher's medal to her Charmed Life necklace.

July 25, 2006:  Nancy's Note:  Jill's grades came yesterday - she passed everything.  She could have worked harder, of course, but she did learn practical business skills as well as life lessons.  All in all, it was a semester well spent.  And Tuesday, she moves back to Norman, OK, to finish up her undergrad degree at OU.

January 2007 Trip Roundup:  Nancy's Note:  Back home to work and school and readjustment meant it took a while for Jill to complete this page.  Here is Jill's final chapter:

Scotland: Susan and I went to Scotland the first month of May.  I completely love the country.  The Highlands are gorgeous

Edinburgh is a nice quaint city that has pretty good shopping (though if you have been in the UK for long it’s the same chains as everywhere else).   The castle on the hill is a great focal point.  Be wary of the weather though.   It was rainy and cold.

After Edinburgh we headed to Inverness.   This was about a seven hour bus ride, so it is quite a journey.   Inverness is a lovely city.   We stayed a fabulous bed and breakfast, which we booked the night before.   We went to the area to visit Loch Ness, however we didn't see Nessie.   There are a lot of tours, but we just took a bus to the loch, and then took boat tour and castle tours.

Next we went to Durness.   This is the most northern town in Scotland with a population of about 400. (We were told we must go because it is so beautiful.)   Needless to say we were on another bus, this one very uncomfortable, for another seven hours.   It was soooo cold because blew in from the wind from the sea, and I think both Suzan and I about froze.   For us non-hikers, there was nothing at all to do.   If you ever find yourself in Scotland in this situation, be glad the Scots have fine whiskey.   (MOM I know you do not approve, but knowing fine spirits is a part of culture)

On to the Isle of Skye.   To get to Sky, we had to take the horrible bus back to Inverness - though we did pass the castle where they filmed the Highlander movies - and then another four hour train.   On Skye we stayed in Kyle of Lochalsh.   It was quite fun, but we had to take about an hour bus ride to get there, and let me say do not attempt to use a bus bathroom in the Highlands.   I fell against the door at an inopportune time and was caught literally with my pants around my ankles.  We did some horseback riding on Skye and then took another eight hour bus to Glasgow.

I personally like Glasgow.   The city centre is not at all industrial, but I did not see the other parts of the city, so I can’t judge the whole or weigh in on its less than glam reputation.

If you are going to Scotland through England, take a train to Edinburgh and then look at different prices for trains, buses and planes.   It was cheaper for us to fly back to Birmingham from Glasgow rather than take the bus or train.

 

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Electronics Abroad

By Nancy Kamp

The world is not unified in its delivery of electricity.  When you take appliances and cameras on your travels, you have to consider what you're taking and where you are going to be sure your stuff will work.

Also, hotels take a dim view of those guests who blow out hotel circuits by using appliances improperly.

Electricity - Electric current varies.  Appliances rated only for the US standard 110 volts will not work in countries whose current is 220 - 240 volts.  You must use a converter.

  • Most laptops are 110 - 220, so all you need is the correct plug (see below) to recharge. 

Converters come in different levels of capacity and can be very heavy.  It might be better to leave the 110 only appliance at home, buy a multi-voltage appliance or purchase a local appliance when you arrive at your destination.

  • Jill travels with too much luggage.  Since she can't live without her hair straightener, we decided to buy one from Amazon's UK division. 

Outlets appear in different shapes throughout the world.  Kits that cover most of the plug options are a useful purchase.  Of course, if you buy an appliance overseas, you must be sure you get plugs that will take it from one country to another, too.

  • We ordered a Lewis N. Clark  4-in-1 Adapter Plug from eBags.  It seemed to be a better choice than wrangling a set of individual plugs, but it went back because it was a piece of garbage. 

Camera batteries - Digital cameras eat up batteries.  Rechargeable batteries are the answer, but you must have both a battery charger and a converter if your charger is 110 volts only.  We got dual voltage chargers. 

Phones - US cell phones may or may not work outside the country.  Consider renting a cell phone on arrival or even buying one if you will be gone for some time.

Long Distance - Long distance rates have come down, but free is very nice price. 

  • http://www.teamspeak.org - our first choice

  • - hard to set up, but good for online gamers

  • Yahoo Messenger - a nice backup - not well reviewed for voice
  • Other systems carry  fees, something we would rather avoid, but Skype (rhymes with hype) is free when you talk computer to computer, so everyone in the family is going this route. 

Skype is not 100% reliable - Jill's had trouble contacting people and the sound is scratchy, but the price is right and you can resort to instant messaging if necessary.

You will need some kind of microphone and speakers, and broadband Internet access is preferred.

  • We bought three MVOX USB Speakerphones (MV 100) from Radio Shack.  Jill has a new computer running Vista, so she had to get a new microphone for her trip to China.

 

 

Let the US government know you'll be residing out of the the country - just in case you need assistance.  Our link failed, so go to the US State Department website to do this.

 

 

Belgium

These photos were downloaded from my camera that was stolen (see January 21 entry) in Antwerp.  The date stamp makes no sense.  Hope the thieves enjoy my whacked out camera. 

click on the photos to enlarge them

Antwerp: Grote Markt City Hall

 

 

 

Pulling oneself out of poverty in Franco's Spain was no easy feat.  One way was to become a world famous bullfighter like Manuel Benitez, aka El Cordobes.

I read Or I'll dress You in Mourning after hearing from an old friend that she had met El Cordobes while she was a university student in Spain.  It is an excellent biography.  Nancy  

If a book you're looking for is out of print, click on any link to Amazon Books Home Page to find out if it is available as a used book.

Book Review List

1971

Michael Caine has made some wonderful costume dramas.  Do not overlook The Last Valley set during the Thirty Years war in the Austrian Alps.  Nancy  

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