Saturday, May 25, 2019

Time in Edinburgh and time on planes, trains and pretty much everything else!

This time last year we spent a wonderful week in the Gothic capital of Leipzig, Germany. The occasion was the pan-European HPE user group meeting for everyone in the HPE NonStop community and the support it had received from Germany and beyond was good to see. It was also a chance for us to explore the city of Goethe (where he studied law at the local university), visit Porsche factory (Panamera and Macan) and yes, tour a railway station that had been turned into a mall! However, this year our experience with the annual pan-European event for HPE NonStop users took us to the city of Edinburgh, Scotland.

We spent a week in the U.K. at a time when every conversation seemed to center not on the NonStop computer but rather, BREXIT. Safe to say, the conversations that took place were energetic, with passionate advocates on both sides of the exit argument. Not sure how accurate our sample was, but Margo and I left Edinburgh with the distinct impression that Scotland, as a country, was against the exit. Fortunately, there was time enough left over to explore the local breweries, sample a whiskey or two and take in the views from the top of Edinburgh’s famous castle. On the way home to Colorado, our schedule gave us a couple of days in London and when considered as a whole, our week in the U.K. could best be summed up as a hot time in the old country – Edinburgh was warmer than Spain or even Los Angeles on the Tuesday of last week.

For a family that rarely elects to fly anywhere it’s been a tough start to the year, with planes dominating the transportation options. Having flown back from Australia in January, heading to Munich for a little BizCation in March, and now to Edinburgh it was as if the airlines were getting back at as for ignoring them for as long as we have done of late. On the other hand, having rarely flown in almost a decade, the experience was unsettling as so much has changed – since when do we really have to bring our own headphones to listen to movies (sure you can take those on offer, but really?) and yes, what’s with the need to down load an app prior to boarding?

I guess the good news here is that we are opting to arrive at the airport four hours ahead of schedule so we can breeze through the lines and enjoy a meal at a restaurant. Elway’s steakhouse on concourse B at Denver International is one place you need to find time to sit back, relax and have dinner as there will be nothing like it on the plane. Even in first class! There was a good steakhouse on one of the concourses at Newark we liked and of course I am sure we will be reminded of others as well, but in today’s world it’s good to get to the airport really early and take advantage of the slower pace afforded by the luxury of having extra time and simply, relax!

For the trip from London to Edinburgh we elected to sample train travel in the U.K. For whatever reason we also elected to try Virgin trains, choosing the option to travel in first class. It was only a matter of weeks earlier that we had elected to travel from Frankfurt to Munich on Germany’s ICE trains, but somehow my choice of stations and lines wasn’t the best of options for a restful trip to Edinburgh. Leaving from London’s Euston Station, we traveled a westerly route that took us through Coventry, the Lakes district and then across the Scottish Lowlands into Edinburgh. Smarter travelers would have chosen to leave London from Kings Cross station where the route traveled was more to the east of the country and took almost two hours less to cover the distance – pretty much the same route as Scotland’s famous train, the Flying Scotsman.

Travelling through very green countryside covered in sheep – yes, it was lambing season – it was a matter of one hill followed by another. For a first time experience of the western flanks of England, it had a certain appeal but after interruptions from some fifteen (or was it more?) stops, it got a tad tedious. Well, at least there were drinks and meal services, but unlike Germany’s ICE train at no point did the Virgin staff offer us any adult beverages. On the other hand, we were going between two famous cities where adult beverages could be found in abundance so perhaps it wasn’t all that bad. And did we hear later that there was a separate club car attached solely for the purpose of offering refreshments? I will have to look into that in more detail should we plan on further train travel in the old country!

The city skyline of Edinburgh is dominated by its castle. It is a long hike up to this prominent citadel, but once there the views are impressive. Look, over there – you can see the North Sea! Who would have guessed staying on the streets surrounding our hotel? Once again, this being spring time, the greenery was something altogether special as Margo and I cannot recall ever seeing the country looking as fresh and bright as it did at this time of year. In past years – and yes, we first went to Edinburgh in 1999, shortly after we were married – all we can remember seeing is the fine wet drizzle that seemed to have embraced us each time we walked out of the hotel lobby. 

This U.K. event for the HPE NonStop community included a number of festive interludes with perhaps the best attended being a traditional Scottish feast (with dancing and piping) at the castle’s Hub. This church-like structure turned out to be a public hall and as we drank the sparkling wine on offer, tried a local beer and mingled with all the guests it soon became apparent that the acoustics of the hall had a lot to answer for – put it down to age too, but it was too noisy for us so we wound our way through the assembled throng and headed to the door. Ultimately, we wound up at a French restaurant located right next to the castle where we caught up with good friends, Tim and JK, who likewise had opted for an early exit. But what can you say, when it’s sunny in Scotland, everything looks completely different and there is no question whatsoever about whether or not we liked the place as yes, we most definitely did. 

When it came to the return trip we were able to spend yet a couple more sunny days in London even if it was a little on the cooler side. Fortunately all those heavier clothes we had hauled up and down train station stairs were able to be put to good use. But again, it was much warmer than we had expected based on advance weather forecasts we had been following. London always brings back so many memories. I happened to have lived and worked in London back in the early 1970s and when I first arrived as a young Australian lad, my first hotel was in Earl’s Court – surprised to read? Put it down to Aussie tradition so it was not all that unsurprising that one of the best hotel deals we were able to get from our hotel partner, Hilton, was the Olympia Hilton. Just outside of Earl’s Court and almost right next door to the Olympia exhibition halls where I first took in London’s Auto Show all those years ago.

Unfortunately and very much like we saw when in Sydney earlier in the year, the city is in the middle of yet another building boom with chaos on streets and footpaths (alright, sidewalks), as construction equipment competed for the little space there was afforded them in London’s tight thoroughfares. Forget Harrods for a while – the food hall moved (when did that happen?) and is only a shadow of its former glory and the walk from Harrods to Park Lane is an abysmal exercise in keeping dust out of your eyes. Ouch!  But yet again, when did the car showrooms along Park Lane become one continuous like of BMW displays? With the exception of a small Brabus showroom and just a slightly bigger showroom devoted to Aston Martins the rest of Park Lane were all BMWs, including motorcycles, hybrid and electric cars and yes, many variations of the Mini as well. 

There is no escaping history in London just as today there is no escaping traffic. Wherever you turn these days there are lines of cars waiting to turn, pull into a parking space or simply just to cross a bridge. Of course there is London’s most famous bridge and we aren’t talking about London Bridge but that other bridge; Tower Bridge. We took the opportunity to cross it on our way to the waterfront restaurants lining the south bank of the Thames. As we walked across I just had to sneak a peek at HMS Belfast, that ageless reminder of a time when indeed England ruled the waves. Returning to those times when I lived in London I would walk past the Tower every day on my way to work and naturally enough, I would always caste a quick glance at Tower Bridge and wondered how long it would continue to support vehicular traffic. Oh well!

It was on the southern side of this bridge that back in 2016 and at the time when there was another HPE event under way, our good friends Jim and Dale impressed me with just how at ease they were hailing an Uber ride. To be more precise, how handy Jim was with the Uber app. It was based on his experiences that when we returned to Sydney, Australia, for our lengthy stay, we didn’t rent a car (a first for us I suspect) but relied upon Uber the whole time and we were very pleased with the results. Fast forward to this trip and we elected to rely on Uber once again both in Edinburgh and London and we were never disappointed either with the timeliness of arrival or the cleanliness of the vehicle. 

We have a tradition that whenever in London, we would find the time to have lunch at Rules restaurant. If you aren’t familiar with this restaurant it was opened in 1798 by Thomas Rule and it is reputed to be London’s oldest restaurant. It is famous too for serving wild game which comes from its own estate in the high Pennines – “England’s last wilderness.” We first came across Rules while honeymooning in London in 1999, just a couple of months before that first trip to Edinburgh took place. At the time, it was a popular luncheon destination for Prince Charles, but in all our times at the restaurant it has been mostly populated by bankers. After enjoying ourselves immensely last time, we were favored by one of these bankers, dressed absolutely perfectly and apparently a leader too of the Bank of England (he didn’t give us his name but he looked a lot like Richard, a character from the old BBC show, To the Manor Born), who expressed his pleasure at seeing us having such a fine time and mused to us that he would have much preferred to have dined with us.

Perhaps it was the wheel of Stilton cheese or the cut-glass carafe of Port. Again, a tradition dating back generations but unfortunately, no longer pursued. Indeed, the wheel of Stilton comes to you not on a plate but in a pot from which cheese is spooned onto you plate and as for the Port, it’s served by the glass. So much for the honor system of former times – in many ways those days are sorely missed! Needless to say, following a lengthy time at the restaurant including a time to enjoy pre-dinner aperitifs in their previously un-visited garden bar, there was little enthusiasm to face dinner any time soon so it was a slow, later afternoon drive across London in yet another Uber “hybrid.” Seemed like the Uber cars were all hybrids – Toyota Prius for the most part – and each time we crossed London they found new and very interesting routes to follow that even someone familiar with the city didn’t quite follow!

The previous references to planes and trains leads into the next update; our cars! Perhaps the reference to Uber just wasn’t enough to satisfy your appetites for something a little better than a Prius. Alright, so it was a sad time in the Holen Buckle family as we bid farewell to our lovely BMW i8. Talking of hybrids, this car was a superb example in every way of what can be wrapped around hybrid drive-trains and if you ever have an opportunity to drive one, you can only leave impressed with all that BMW accomplished in this car.

With multiple engines to deal with, traditional combustion as well as modern electric (and yes, it comes with a generator that can be tapped for extra power when needed) engines and with two gearboxes coordinated in some magical fashion, the mere fact that it all works is an engineering marvel. We clocked some 22,000 plus miles in the i8 driving it as far east as Toronto, Canada as well as Dallas, Texas and a couple of times to the west coast, it became our go to car whenever we needed to travel on business.

It was all part of the plan, naturally enough, and the topic of previous posts to this blog. With the i8 gone, our new sports car is the F Type Jag and with the Jeep being replaced with a Range Rover Evoque (Convertible), we still have all seasons covered no matter what the weather might throw our way. We still have the BMW M4 competition naturally enough and the Corvette Z06 is still with us but no, there are no plans to add a Prius or even a Tesla for that matter. But that is a whole different topic best left for another post! 

Walking back through the garage a short time ago and seeing that there was no i8 parked inside created more than just a tinge of sadness.  While Margo was pictured above after retrieving a couple of items before handing over the cars, it was somewhat coincidental that we sat down, waiting for the final paperwork returning the i8 coupe, alongside an i8 Roadster … so, who knows what the future may hold for us, but should an opportunity present itself, I can’t see either one of us resisting such a temptation! With one eye on the i8 Roadster, was that Margo checking her stock portfolio, perhaps? Or, was it the itinerary for our upcoming trip in June?