UK 2009: Kudos and complaints

Similar to what I did for our trip to France, here are some positive and negative experiences:

Snaps to:

  • Toyota, for making the Avensis, which we drove around Scotland. It was big without feeling like a bus and was exceptionally comfortable. When we arrived home, I got in our 2007 Pontiac Montana SV6 with leather seats (which I’ve always thought was quite comfortable), and the first thing I thought was “I want my Toyota back”. It was a pleasure to drive too – it had lots of power, handled very nicely, and had great brakes. A number of times I had to hit the brakes hard for an emergency “Oh crap I need to turn here” turn and despite being in rainy Scotland, I never skidded once. Only minor complaint: our particular vehicle didn’t have cruise control, but with the windy roads, there were only a handful of places where I could have used it anyway.
  • our friends Sara and Jonathan, for lending us their GPS unit with UK maps. It was an absolute godsend and I will never ever ever ever ever rent a car again without a GPS.
  • The Original Tour, a open-top double-decker bus tour of London. We did this in Paris as well – once you have your ticket, you can get on and off the bus as much as you want for 24 hours. There are six different areas covered by busses, and each bus has headphone jacks where you can plug in headphones (supplied) to hear a recorded commentary in multiple languages. Some tours have a live tour guide giving commentary as well, and it goes pretty much everywhere.
  • Irn Bru – the most popular Scottish soft drink. Similar to cream soda but with a unique taste all its own. Yum.
  • The B&B’s we stayed at, all of which were cute and welcoming: Dalshian House in Pitlochry, Dunlichity House near Inverness, and Kilmalyn Guest House near Fort William.
  • The Urquhart Caledonian hotel in Portree, which was a very nice place with very warm and friendly people.
  • The Royal Terrace Hotel in Edinburgh. Beautiful hotel, great location, huge comfortable room, reasonably priced.


No snaps to:

  • – we tried to book an apartment in London through them. I booked the apartment through their web site on May 1, and got an email on May 2 saying that we were confirmed. Then on May 5, three days later, I got an email saying that my credit card had been declined. I immediately replied, telling them that I was going to call the bank to see what was going on. I couldn’t remember whether I had use my card or Gail’s, so I called them both to make sure everything was OK, and neither one had any record of a declined transaction. I figured that I must have made a typo when entering my credit card number, so I went back to the site and did everything again, double-checking all the card numbers. The next day, I was notified that the apartment I wanted was no longer available. Even though they knew that I wanted the apartment, they did not reserve it for me and someone else grabbed it.
  • Heathrow airport – things went generally pretty smoothly at Heathrow; I only had a couple of minor issues, efficiency being the main one. Without going into all the details here, we went through security a couple more times than I thought was necessary. Also, the things that they do and don’t allow still baffles me. They tore Ryan’s backpack apart because they saw something weird on the scanner, and it turned out to be the bottle containing his eyeglass cleaning solution. They also told Gail that her contact lens solution was not allowed because the bottle was too big. They let the glasses cleaner through in a separate bag, but Gail had to throw her contact solution out. This, however, was on our flight home, which means that both of these bottles had already flown, in carry-on bags, from Toronto to London, London to Edinburgh, and then Edinburgh back to London. Previous security people thought they were safe enough on those flights, but not the one from London back to Toronto. In the US, the FAA specifically exempts contact lens solution from the 100 mL restriction and as I said they allowed it on the other flights, so I don’t understand.
  • North American car makers. Why is the “express down” feature only on the driver’s window, and why is there no “express up” feature? On the Toyota we had this time and the Opel we had in France last year, all the windows have both express down and express up. Even the car we had in England nine years ago had this feature, though it was a Mercedes.
  • Roadchef restaurant next door to the Premier Inn in Hamilton. I wrote about this in the Larkhall entry, but in a nutshell: the food was decent but overpriced, the service was less than impressive, and the whole place could have used a serious clean. The Premier Inn itself was fine – the room wasn’t gorgeous, but functional and very cheap, and the people were friendly. It was just the restaurant that was a hole.
  • Update: Driving home in the rain tonight reminded me of another one, this one also about North American car makers. Our car in the UK had three windshield wiper modes – I don’t remember what they were called, but I’ll call them Auto, Normal, and Fast. Normal and Fast are pretty self-explanatory, but Auto was awesome. It detected how wet your windshield was and adjusted the wiper frequency accordingly. The harder it rained, the more frequently they went. If the rain got lighter, the wipers went less often. If it stopped raining, the wipers stopped. If it started raining again an hour later, they started up again. I put the wipers on auto on our second day with the car and didn’t touch them again for days, whether it was raining or not. More useful and proven technology that is inexplicably missing from North American cars.

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