After a layover in Dublin, we took Aer Lingus to London Heathrow. I have to say that Aer Lingus did not make me feel like a valued customer, and didn’t even bother to say that “we know you have a choice when booking flights, and we’d like to thank you for choosing Aer Lingus.” So I have to assume that they didn’t know that. Instead, they said “Happy Chirstmas!” which was nice too, because you don’t understand, I LOVE Christmas. It didn’t take me long to realize that, at least in the UK, they just say “Happy Christmas” and don’t bother about the other holidays like Americans have to. I thought back to the holiday card I sent out to my friends and family, which read “Happy Everything: enjoy an unspecified amount of time with the people of your choice for no particular reason unless you choose one.”
We blundered right past customs and into the UK and only realized about an hour after we’d entered the country that we had in fact entered legally, since we’d first stopped in Dublin and people are allowed to travel freely throughout the EU. Our group met up at Terminal 2 and took a shuttle to our hotel in Wantage, Oxfordshire.
For the first thirty minutes of our ride, we didn’t see many road signs or buildings, and agreed that the entire place vaguely resembled the US East coast. Were we still in Philly? After seeing a few old brick buildings, we concluded that we were, in fact, not in Philly. I saw a herd of sheep and pointed it out to Darren, who contested that they were not sheep because he saw a brown one. He continued to argue that it could not be a “black” sheep, because it was brown.
The Bear Hotel is apparently older than the United States. It was rather quaint, nestled in the middle of the small town of Wantage which, according to our taxi driver, had just been voted Britain’s #1 Town. I could see why. The entire country had decked the halls, but Wantage had especially. There was a Christmas tree in every shop window and there were lights in the town square! The downside to Wantage was that there was nothing much to do there except exclaim “CHRISTMAS!” every time we passed something Christmas related, which was naturally rather frequently. We wandered around in search of food and, since it was Sunday, ended up at Mr. Pizza and a sketchy fish and chips place. I got a sad burger from Mr. Pizza and, when asked what drink I wanted, tried to get water. I received the response “No Water,” which just doesn’t happen in the States.
We contemplated what breakfast would be like after that dinner. I asked if it was a continental breakfast, and Anna said that it couldn’t be because we weren’t on the continent. I realized then with dread that our breakfast was going to consist of English muffins, which are weird bread. (“Do they just call them muffins here?” said Anna.) I sadly imagined myself cutting a hole in my English muffin and pretending it was a bagel.
The next morning, we ate our complimentary hot breakfast in the hotel. There were no English muffins to be seen, but I was still suspicious. The waitress asked me “Coffee or Tea?” and I asked for water, to which she replied “You’ll have to go down to the bar for that.” This country has no water. What is with this country and water?! You can’t survive on coffee and tea! You need water! In fact, I only drink water! Harry informed me that there was a nearly unlimited supply of water from the bathroom sink in my room and I conceded.
The purpose of our trip was to visit the Williams Formula 1 engineers for a two day workshop to learn about what they do and how they do it. Williams served both morning refreshments and lunch, and kindly excluded English muffins from the menu. They also had water! Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
The solar car team got to hear about vehicle dynamics, program management, composites, battery pack design, and aerodynamics. We also toured through every one of Williams’ buildings and got to see their people at work. Our two day workshop ended with a tour of the museum, which held a car for every year that Williams had competed. It was really neat. And there was always water available.
Our last night in Wantage, we ate at a pub and I got the children’s menu pasta and marinara sauce. Then we headed back to our hotel for drinks. I had a Noel Ale and then got a mulled wine (I went a full 24 hours thinking it was “mold” wine) because someone told me it tasted very Christmassy. It was gross; I don’t like wine anyway.
We woke up in the morning to a market outside in town square. (Town square was more of a town blob.) I bought a block of cheese just because.
Now I’m on the train to London, where we’ll all hang out for the day until Max and I take a late flight out to Dublin. We all got separated because there weren’t ten seats all together, so I’m sitting with a few British folks who’re talking about business and industry. I don’t have anything to contribute, but it’s interesting to listen.
After the train at the station: