Oberlin Blogs

Learning geography the hard way

September 26, 2008

Charles Grim

Friday, September 26, 11:00 pm (reposted May 26, 2009)
Islington, London, UK

Wow, it's been three days since I've written anything and a lot has happened. Let me start by catching you up on some details. Tuesday morning was taken up with interviews at Adriatic United World College. I picked up some cheese, olives, meat, and fruit at a little store in town, before catching a ride to the Monfalcone train station with Sid (from Smith College). One of the things I love most about continental Europe is the amazing cheeses and meats. That alone is almost enough to make a trip worthwhile.

After an uneventful flight to London Gatwick, Sid and I were picked up by a friendly driver from the Pestalozzi Village near Hastings. The Pestalozzi Foundation brings disadvantaged students from a variety of countries to study at Hastings College, a local International Baccalaureate high school. At present students in the Village come from Tibet, India, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and some other countries that I'm forgetting at the moment. This young people are working hard to make the most of the opportunities that have been given to them. If I weren't so tired I'm sure I could come up with some clever parallel between the not-so-friendly invasion of England that took place in 1066 at Hastings and the friendly invasion of 65 or so young people. Our evening presentation went well, and we were put up for the night at a wonderful little bed & breakfast in St. Leonard's-on-Sea.

An early train took us to London's Charing Cross Station where we changed for the Northern Line tube to Warren Street. After a visit to Southbank International School,. I headed off for the Brazilian Consulate. I've had a terrible time getting my visa in the US, a visa that I need for my next recruiting trip. My passport sat in the Brazilian Consulate in Chicago for a week before they decided that my picture didn't meet their specifications. Then they took 12 working days to process the application (they promised 10) and they still hadn't finished when I had to retrieve my passport for this trip. Anyway, I thought that possibly I could pick up a visa while I was in the UK. In theory it should have been possible, but the timing was just too tight and the documentation requirements too lengthy, so this will have to wait until I get back to the States.

Sid and I headed out to Heathrow Airport on the Heathrow Express train and took a shuttle to pick up our rental car. Then came our BIG excitement. As we were heading down the M-25 motorway toward Surrey and our Thursday morning school visits there, I was remarking about how annoying the 40 miles per hour speed limit was (due to rush hour). As I passed a large truck ("lorry" in British English), the driver came over into our lane, struck the back of the car, sent it spinning in front of the truck. The truck hit the passenger side of the car straight on and sent us careening across two more lanes of traffic and into a guard-rail. Luckily we weren't hit by another car or personally injured. The car wasn't so lucky. A pair of safety police were on the scene almost before we got out of the car. They kept us company until the Royal Auto Club tow truck arrived about an hour later. Although we were completely fine, neither of us was ready to get back in a rental car and continue our journey.

Without a convenient way to get to our Surrey school visits, we decided just to head out early to Wales for our visit to Atlantic College. The trains to Wales leave from Paddington Station and after much discussion, we decided to head in to Paddington where there are a ton of places to stay for the evening. It was after 10:00 pm when we arrived, but a hotel booking service was still open. Despite literally hundreds of pensiones and B&Bs in the neighborhood, there were NO rooms available at all. The best that the helpful woman could find were two singles at 323 GBP (about US$600) each and these were at least another cab ride or tube trip away. Then I got one of my BRILLIANT ideas!!!!

Why not take a sleeper train to Wales? Unfortunately the sleeper for Wales had either already left or didn't exist; it was hard to tell which. But there was a sleeper for Penzance down in Cornwall. My kids went to boarding school in Penzance many years ago and I knew the sleeper train well. I thought we'd get into Penzance refreshed around 8:15, have 3 or 4 hours to visit, and then a 3 or 4 hour trip from Penzance to Wales. Well, I guess I should have checked my geography a bit better as it was more like 7 hours from Penzance to Wales and we had to re-board a train almost as soon as we arrived in Penzance. The only good things about our detour was that we did get to see the West Country, Sid got to try a sleeper train for the first time, we saved about 150 GBP, and we got to have a nice warm Cornish pasty. In the end, though, we made it to Atlantic safe and sound, did our work, trained back in to London, and went out to dinner in London's Chinatown.

Chinatown is located just off Leicester Square in the heart of the theater district. We thought about taking in a show, but it was just too late to pull it off. Instead we had an absolutely wonderful roast duck dinner. This was the 2nd best roast duck I've ever had. I doubt I'll ever have as good as I had a few years ago in a little hutong in Beijing.

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