Thursday, December 2, 2010

Slater Reports on Tour

A typical scene: map on iPad in a pub.
I just got back a few days ago from a little mini-tour of the UK, my first time back since I was an exchange student at Edinburgh ten years ago, and [gulp] my first time ever south of Scotland. Had some lovely meetings with philosophers in Nottingham, Bristol, Exeter, and London. Lots of real hand drawn ale (served at the proper cellar temperature) and fish and chips (with plenty of malt vinegar). Thanks to all my hosts for some very enjoyable and productive visits.

I was a bit disappointed to discover the price of beer had increased over the last decade to the point where the £2 coins no longer purchased a pint (I missed my "beer tokens"). . . . But I did appreciate a lot of the things that I fully admit the Scots and Britons have over us Americans as a society. Food-wise, you can't argue with fish and chips, really — except for the mushy peas (an abomination of nature). And they've clearly mastered the melding of meat and pastry, recognizing that little meat pies make great fast food. A new phenomenon this time around that I participated in in a few train stations: the Chicken Tikka Pasty. . . . [slow clap] For dessert, I loved sticky toffee pudding and hot custard. You just don't see that kind of love in the States.

I was also impressed with the sheer number of electric kettles for tea (even in cheap hotel rooms) and the use of radiators as towel racks — though these two items were sometimes the sole source of heat in the room. You have to hand it to them on tea in general. I brought back a good bit of it and so far it's been fantastic. And of course, there's the whisky. Beer, while good, didn't do as much for me as I can get in my hometown of Portland, Oregon. Roundabouts and the general retrofitting of older buildings have to be applauded on the city planning fronts.

Fortunately, there are some items that we Americans can still do better. Street signs for one: just the fact that we have them at all is a big bonus (maybe not Boston). Crosswalks were also rare. There were many occasions when I had to run to cross the street, which made getting to/from a train station with my suitcase exciting. Since this may have been a consequence of the prevalence of roundabouts, I'll call this a draw. Showers were also fairly mysterious to me. (1) They seemed to be either tiny or big with a tiny curtain or little window to prevent water from splashing into the bathroom. (2) Many had the water heater in the shower — not that I don't love the thought of showering with a 240 volt appliance. . . . Okay and how about this "Full English Breakfast" routine that I had way too many times? Sorry Brits, I can make a better breakfast half asleep — come over sometime and I'll demonstrate this. Halfheartedly broiled tomatoes, soggy mushrooms, sugary beans, under-spiced sausage and undercooked (and often non-smoked!) bacon? If there's a common thread here, it may be a lack of faith in the deliciousness of the Maillard reaction.

All and all, though, it's a wonderful but very different country. I'm looking forward to returning as soon as I can manage.

Photos from the trip here.
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