During the summer of 2001, I spent three weeks traveling around England, Ireland, and Scotland. My original thought was that I would hike everywhere, so I bought a tent and a big backpack. But I realized I wouldn’t cover too much territory on foot.
Plan B was to rent a bike. I searched around, found place, but I had the same thought: even though I could travel further, I still wouldn’t see as much of the UK as I wanted. Plus, I think it would be a bit of a pain to try to bike with a load of stuff on my back.
Next, I checked out the EuroPass. Traveling by train would be fun, but it would limit where I could go. I would be able to see more than I would by foot or bike, but it would still be limited to where the train went. Plus, it was ridiculously expensive.
But then my mom emailed me. She had found a place that would rent me a car for $10 a day, unlimited mileage. That deal could not be beat.
Everything was set, but what I forgot to budget for was gas, and back in 2001, it was expensive. As a result, I spent ten of the 15 days sleeping in my car. The places I remember paying to stay are the YMCA in Bath, the HoHo Hostel, and a brewery that had been turned into college dorms and was rented out during the summer.
I slept on the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s hometown; the city square of a tiny town in Ireland; and up in the hills of the Ring of Kerry.
2001 was early in the days of technology. Digital cameras held 512 kb of info, so I was running to Boots often to upload pictures to their cloud, finding camera shops that would transfer them to discs, and eventually using disposable cameras. (So when you get to the photo section below, you’ll find that there are no pictures of London, Baker Street, or the Globe Theater.)
Here are the emails I sent out during the trip. Scroll all the way down for a link to pictures.
Travel Letter 1 – Bath, England – July 19, 2001
This is my second day in the city of Bath, England.
I landed in Heathrow, just outside London, and rented a car. Driving on the left hand side of the road is not too difficult… as often as possible I just follow the person in front of me and hope he’s going the same place I am. What is strange is having all this extra car space sitting on the left of me. It’s an odd sensation.
I drove from Heathrow to Bath which took about two hours. It’s about 100 mile drive and I ran into quite a lot of rain as I neared Bath.
Bath was drizzly and driving around town trying to find the YMCA (where I’m staying) was frustrating. The city is built on seven hills (like Rome) and the street names are posted on the buildings – either carved into the stone itself or on signs mounted to the side. Not that it mattered that I couldn’t see them since I didn’t know what street I was looking for nor which street would take me where I wanted to go. I finally found a parking lot and went searching on foot. I had a map and stopped a student at a bus stop for help. He didn’t know what street we were on, but he did know where the Y was. Unfortunately, it was “up this street then take a left, go through the signal, follow the roundabout to the left, …..” By the time I got to the Y, I didn’t know where the car was. I had, at the first turn, made note of the a large building called The Royal Hotel. So, at the Y, I asked how to get back to The Royal Hotel. They had never heard of it, and it was not in the phone book. Evidently, this building had very recently turned into The Royal Hotel. But I did find the car and found a lot right across from the Y and I ended the day only slightly frustrated. I walked around a bit and took some pictures. The overcast day set a nice tone for them.
Day 2 – My official tourist day (though I tried not to look like one).
I did some more walking and then took a bus tour. Then went walking again, and I think I covered all seven hills. (Bath is built on seven hills like Rome is.)
Bath is a very neat little town. The Romans discovered these underwater springs (117 degrees) and built their Roman baths there and eventually the city developed around it. Jane Austen lived here for awhile (or all her life, I’m not sure.) Dr. Livingston spent some time here. Charles Dickens met Mr. Pickwick here and then wrote The Pickwick papers.
I’ve basically just walked around looking at things. The Roman Bath tour costs about nine dollars, so I just bought a $3 book with pictures. I’ll turn on the hot water in the sink and look at the pictures and maybe it will be about the same.
Tomorrow I believe I’m heading to Stratford-on-Avon and Liverpool and Blackpool.
I tried to eat fish-n-chips last night, but the place I stopped at was closed, so I went next door and had a burger. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t a McDonald’s or Burger King, though both are in this town.)
That’s it for Day Two. I’ll write again on Day Four.
Travel Letter 2 – Edinburgh, Scotland – July 22, 2001
I just lost twenty minutes of typing by hitting the wrong key at the wrong time, so here’s the condensed version.
Left Bath (also of Wife of Bath / Canterbury Tales fame) and went to Stratford-Upon-Avon. A fellow in Bath said it was the birthplace of Shakespeare and wondered if I had heard of him. He also recommended I go to the place with some ruins; he couldn’t remember the name at first but then it came to him – Stonehenge.
The street with Shakespeare’s home looks like a street from Astroworld. It’s lined with shops selling rinky-dink souvenirs. I paid the nine dollars to tour the inside of his house. It was interesting to be in his house. It’s not really something that can be described, it looked like any old house of the time, but being Shakespeare’s adds something to it. One of the workers realized I was from Texas and acted surprised that people outside of England were interested in Shakespeare. Surely, they have plenty of US visitors.
The outskirts of town, where the people live, is nice and “cottagey.” That’s my word for it. I spent the night exploring “downtown” in the rain. Lots of kids just running loose and younger adults heading to the clubs.
I camped out in the Safeway parking lot.
Saturday morning I headed to Liverpool and took The Magical Mystery Tour. I saw their boyhood homes and schools, saw Penny Lane and the Strawberry Fields school that was behind the house John Lennon lived in with his aunt.
I went to The Beatle Story, a museum of sorts. Should have saved my money.
Gift shop had the same trinkets, but this time they said “The Beatles.”
Did I include that in this version? All of the gift shops at every site of interest carry trinkets stamped with whatever name is appropriate. Some manufacturing company, probably in China, makes it all and ships it wherever. I’m just buying postcards from now on. Left Liverpool and drove to the outskirts of Edinburgh and camped out at a Comfort Station. The main highways have restbreaks with gas, two or three food establishments, tourist centers, restrooms, convenience stores, etc all along them. Anyway, I spent the night there surrounded by the hills of Scotland.
I really need someone with me to hang out the sunroof and take pictures as I drive or run a non-stop video camera.
Parts remind me of Big Spring, TX or Eureka Springs, AR, or parts of the Ozarks. I suspect West Virginia and New Hampshire are similar.
But what seems to be different is that these hills just rise up quickly, but gently (if that’s possible) and are covered in grass (instead of trees) and have sheep grazing all over.
Sunday and Monday are for Edinburgh, then Monday and Tuesday are for Aberdeen, then Wednesday for Inverness.
Something along those lines.
In Liverpool, I was in conversation with an info person and told her I was from Houston, Texas. She introduced me to the tour guide and later to another person and said I was from “Houston, in Texas.”
I’ve traveled 600 miles by car.
They say “cheers” instead of thanks.
Yield signs say “Give Way”
Exit signs – Way Out
Food is not to go, it’s “take away”
After street construction is a sign apologizing for any delays.
Every town has a McDonald’s and Burger King.
And the road from Bath to Stratford smells great.
Oh, I was asking directions from a lady (though most residents don’t know where they are on a map or where anything is or how to get there) and she said to turn at the “Bruhdery.” I asked, “What’s a ‘bruhdery’?” and she said that was where they make beer. I’ve decided that Americans speak better English than everyone else. It’s not just that we pronounce the words correctly, we actually pronounce the words.
Okay, got to run.
The next letter may be 2 or 3 days from now and I don’t know what to expect when I hit the smaller towns on the coast of Ireland.
Travel Letter 3 – Aberdeen, Scotland – July 24, 2001
Okay – Yes, most people speak fine here, only a few don’t pronounce their words but we can find that anywhere. I’m sure there’s some Gaelic mixed in to some of the conversations I overhear. It all depends on what part of the country they are from.
I am in Aberdeen. Houston’s sister city in Scotland. They are the oil capitol of Scotland and Houston is the oil capitol of the U.S. I got in late Sunday night after driving from Edinburgh. It had already gotten dark and I drove around and around and around and finally decided to stop and ask two people I had passed several times for the nearest place to stay. I was tired and cranky and decided one more night in the car and no bathing was too much. They sent me to a nearby hotel that caters to the oilmen – they even had a clock with Houston time on it. The also charged oil man prices.
I took the bus into town Monday and visited the town centre and then took the tour bus around. Some of the locals, including a 6 or 7 year old girl, shouted profanities at us. I went to Dunthie park 🙂 and looked at this giant rose garden on a hill and a vast indoor flower / plant garden. It was donated to the city long ago and all the children come to it and play… there’s a knee deep concrete pond and the kids rent canoes and paddle around. There’s a big grassy area where the kids just run around. It was very nice.
When I drove through town the night before, I heard this incredible cawing.
Aberdeen is right on the coast and tons of seagulls fly overhead all the time. I saw the strip where the teenagers hang out and the outlying areas are filled with rabbits. They bounce all over the sides of the road. There used to be rabbits on that road that runs behind NASA, but I haven’t seen any there recently.
I’m in between two places I want to visit – Peterhead to the North-East and Balmoral Castle to the South-West. It’s about 30 mins to Peterhead, but then I have to turn around and drive back through Aberdeen to get to Balmoral Castle. I have postcard of it, so maybe that will be enough. Then it’s on to Inverness.
It’s noon on Tuesday which means I have not even been out here a full week yet. I might be able to slow down some and put some of the Scotland stops back in.
I have blisters between my toes and on the backs of my heals, but that’s life. It’s comfortable enough walking around barefoot.
The weather is still cool like I like it. It is like a mild Houston winter.
I received emails from my family and two of my buddies – Rick and Steve. It’s good to hear from folks.
Time to run,
“Cheers” is used for “thanks,” it seems, more than “goodbye,” so SEE YA’
Travel Letter 4 – Chester, England – Gateway to Wales – July 29, 2001
Major change of plans
I’m in Chester, England. A pretty nice place. I wish I had more time for here, but I’m basically passing through.
I was in Stratnaer to cross over to Dublin and did a whole lot of price calculating to see what was the best deal to get across the Irish Sea. I could cross where I was and then drive down the coast of Ireland and return down there. I could cross and return at the same spot (Straetner or two
What I chose was to drive back down the coast of England and cross and return at the same spot. I’ll go over Monday at 2:30 PM my time and return Saturday morning at 9:00.
It’s about 3 1/2 hour trip on an ocean liner sized ship. Cheapest price for my time £195 which equals $285.
I’m sure I can find Internet access over there, but it has been progressively more difficult as I neared the coast of England / Wales.
(second email from Chester – The first might have been just to family.)
I am composing this in Straetner on the western coast of Scotland across the Irish Sea (?) from Belfast. Behind me is a grassy knoll with a bunch of little sea gulls on it. I don’t think they’re really sea gulls, because they seem too small, but they are some kind of sea bird. In front of me is a railing separating me from the water and it is lined with these seagull creatures and what is interesting is that they are evenly spaced apart (and some like to stand on one leg). It’s 9:15 Saturday night, the sun is just starting to go down, and things are very quiet.
I didn’t say much about Edinburgh in my last letter, so let me type a few words. It’s like NYC in that there is a park running down the center of town. A nicely landscaped grassy area next to the river. It’s like Houston because it is very busy here in the “town centre” and it’s wall-to-wall people and buildings. The buildings differ from those in Houston. They are not as tall, but they are massive… monolithic, as if they were carved from giant pieces of granite. The main street is actually a bridge (like in many towns here) and 2 or 3 stories rise above street level and the rest is below street level, but not underground. They are actually AT ground level.
Very interesting. Oh, and right in the middle is a humongous rock with a giant castle on top of it. That’s different from Houston.
I climbed a 220 ft monument to Sir Walter Scott. It has 228 steps that get smaller and more narrow as they reach the top. I felt like Alice in Wonderland. The door at the top is smaller than a window, but I was able to squeeze through. Not a place for those who fear heights or close spaces. I even got nervous. I thought the walls were going to collapse. It was interesting to rationally analyze my irrational fears. But the higher I climbed, the more I thought it was going to just come tumbling down.
From Edinburgh I went to Aberdeen and then drove to Peterhead. On the way I got to see the cliffy coastline I’ve been waiting for. I then took the coastal route to Inverness and picked up a couple of hitchhikers from the Czech Republic. These three girls had already been hiking around for 3 weeks or so. They would travel by train or bus or hitch hike to their destination and then hike around and then travel to the next stop. They said they had been waiting 2 hours for someone to pick them up. There were three of them and they each had a back pack that was at least 4 feet tall and weighed at least 75 pounds. We had to pack in like sardines.
We drove up and down the hills of the coast, stopping periodically so I could take pictures, and then I dropped them off on the side of the road at the next major town.
I camped out that night in Inverness and then toured the city and stayed at the Ho Ho Hostel that night. It was in a neat building, and I’ll have pictures later. I went to the Inverness Tattoo, a display of their military groups, dance troupes, and bagpipe bands. Very nice.
Thursday was a day of driving. I drove the entire length of Scotland in a day, with stops for the Loch Ness Monster and to do a little hiking of my own and picture taking. I think I will have some nice pictures for everyone to see.
I passed through Glasgow and looked around Carlisle, but stayed in Dumfries.
Fri, Sat, and Sun have been basically not much but driving around and around. I went from Carlisle to Dumfries then back to Carlisle. I think I camped out in Carlisle. I drove out to a castle that has belonged to the Maxwell family since it was built in the ancient days. (My grandmother is a Maxwell and my dad and bro are both ‘James Maxwell’.)
I then drove across Skipper Bridge in Langham but didn’t stop because they were having a wild party. All the farmers and the ranchers take off for a “fortnight” and have a trail ride, etc. Hoof and Mouth cancelled the trail ride, but not the beer. It’s a small town up in the hills, and has a small little town center (but still with nice old buildings). As I pulled in, a teenage boy was chasing another boy to dump a cup of beer on him. I then saw the gutters were filled with plastic beer cups and people (mostly teens) were walking the street drinking and drunk… and it was just 5:00. I didn’t stop.
Then I ended up back in Carlisle. That’s when I spent the night there. I stayed in an old brewery that had been converted to college housing. That’s either ironic or “apropos,” I don’t know which.
Further driving in ranch territory. I went out to part of Hadrian’s wall, but the whole thing is closed off because of Hoof and Mouth. In fact, there’s a perimeter where the streets have absorbent pads across them to clean our tires.
Okay, then I drove to Straetner* and was going to go to Belfast from there, but decided to head further down the coast. I’m in Chester, England. NICE Internet Cafe. My boat across the Irish Sea leave tomorrow (Monday) at 2:30 PM… it’s a 3 1/2 hour trip. (Didn’t the S.S. Minnow go on a three hour tour? Oh great.)
Don’t know when I’ll write again, but keep me in your prayers.
Till next time,
*Fifteen years later and thanks to Google maps (and re-reading this letter), I’ve found that the town was Stranraer, Scotland. A ferry runs from there to Belfast in Northern Ireland, but there had been a bombing in Belfast the day before, so I decided to drive on down the coast into England and then cross over from Fishguard. For years, I’ve been trying to find ‘Straetner’ down on the coast of England, but when I read that I was referring to a town across from Belfast, I was able to find the right place.
Travel Letter 5 – Killarney, Ireland – July 31, 2001
I finally made it to Ireland. This Internet Cafe is the most expensive for £2 I get 20 minutes instead of an hour.
(£2 in 2001 is equal to $6.50 in 2016.)
I’m not planning a lot of traveling in Ireland, just around the Ring of Kerry and then out to the Dingle Peninsula.
It’s mostly scenery I’m interested in here.
I’ve put 2230 miles on my little car by the way.
I sent out a link to some pictures I’ve put on the web, but there may be some trouble accessing them. Try it a couple of times and if it doesn’t work, sorry.
From loading to unloading the ferry took about 5 1/2 hours and then it took another 3 hours to drive to Killarney.
Wales is a beautiful country and I recommend Chester, England over just about any other city for interesting things to see. It has the most complete Roman wall in Britain. It surrounds the entire city.
Today is Tuesday. I may go to Dingle on Wednesday. Friday afternoon I begin the drive back to the coast to pick up my return trip on the ferry Saturday morning. I’ll go back along the coast of Wales and back to Bath, England on Sunday. I plan to see the Globe Theater in London on Monday and then I fly home at 6:30 AM Tuesday morning.
If I don’t send another letter from abroad, I’ll send one when I get home.
Family Letter – Nenagh, Ireland – August 2, 2001
Whoo-hoo! Free Internet access for an hour at the public library in Nenagh, Ireland.
After taking 3 Advil and leaving Dingle things improved.
Detail will be in Travel Letter 6, but I got to walk in the clouds.
I come back sometime on Tuesday. Everyone will want to see me and smell my feet. They are so smelly, I can’t take my shoes off in public. Actually, I think it’s the shoes themselves. I don’t know when I last slept in a bed, but I took a shower a few days ago at a campground.
Anyway, I need to spend some hours at Jim’s getting my photos arranged and can hook his computer to his TV. (He’s got a big one, right?) I have an adapter that I use at school for the same thing.
But I have a ton of postcards and junk that y’all might want to see first. So, people can come over when I get to town to see the junk I have and then get together at Jim’s later to see the photos, or we can wait until the photos are ready and see everything at once.
Doesn’t matter to me. Y’all work it out.
Now it’s time for the Travel Letter.
Oh, if y’all know that there is something y’all want as a souvenir, let me know ASAP, like right now
Travel Letter 6 – Nenagh, Ireland – August 2, 2001
The ferry from Wales to Ireland, from lining up to load and getting through customs, including being “disinfected” both getting on and off the ferry, took about six hours. We arrived in a little town called Rosslare and I began the drive to Cork. I drove passed Waterford of Waterford Crystal and got to Cork. By then it was dark and I can’t see well at night, so I drove around a frustrating while and left heading for Killarney. I stopped somewhere nearby and then Tuesday drove around the Rink of Kerry. It was quite scenic and the road was VERY narrow. Often it looked like one lane with a stripe painted down the middle. Sometimes it WAS just one lane and cars had to take turns driving through. At the 1/2 way point is a town called Waterville. It’s very picturesque. It’s quaint, small, and uncluttered. I drove on and the road went into the mountains. I have nothing but clichés to describe it. I stopped at a spot with hills all around me, overlooking a shallow valley with a lake / pond in the middle and decided to spend the night there. I’m a light sleeper as it is and woke up around 2 AM and looked out to see a sky FILLED with stars, packed in as tight as a bunch of tourists in a gift shop. They were everywhere. Back home there is just too much extra light to be able to see them all, but up
there, there was just the moon and the stars and me. It’s also incredibly quiet. Some locals were fishing and though they appeared quite tiny to me, there voices carried up like they were only a few yards away.
I headed on down Wednesday morning and stopped at a place called The Golden Mile. I walked the whole thing and it was pretty, but I don’t think it was a mile.
From there I drove out to Dingle and the Dingle Peninsula. The town was nice at 7AM, but then the tourists arrived and over ran the place. I walked around quite a bit but then headed off to Tralee. I didn’t know anything about it, but I hadn’t been down that road, so I thought I’d take a look.
I’m glad I did. The road climbed up into the mountains until we were in the clouds. I got out and walked further until there was nothing around me but white. I’ve got the pictures to prove it. (There’s a difference between clouds and fog and these were clouds!)
I drove on and stumbled across Castleisland. This was another nice and quiet town with nothing to attract the average tourist. I could walk around and people watch and just enjoy myself.
From there, it was on to Limerick. I drove to four different spots before I could find a map of the place, but by then I was frustrated so I left.
I drove toward Galway and stopped in a little bitty town. It was mostly a small square surrounded by pubs. I hung around the steps of the square reading a book hoping there be some traditional Irish music going on but none started. I drove a little bit outside of town to camp out for the night.
Thursday morning I drove to Galway. I had looked in my guide book and saw that the Cliffs of Moher were what I wanted to see and my book said they were “south of Galway.” I was lucky enough to find a newsstand open (I think they all open around 5 or 6) and got directions. The cliffs are south of Galway all right… on the other side of Galway Bay. I backtracked and went to the cliffs. It was pouring when I arrived, so I napped until 10:00 and then went exploring. Concern for hoof and mouth limited tourists’ wanderings, but
there was a paved path for us and what a site it was. All my digital discs are full and I haven’t found any more facilities to free them up, so I’ve been using throw-away cameras. We’ll see how they turned out. The cliffs were great and now I’m just exploring and working by way back to Rosslare.
Some answers to questions:
My rental has unlimited mileage which is good because I will pass 3000 before I return it.
I’ve scuffed up the left front rim – I scoot too far over sometimes. The left mirror got knocked around a bit. There’s some dents in the housing and it’s a wee bit loose. I think someone else hit it though.
There’s a little bitty dint on the front of the car now, too. I was parked facing a building one night and started the car in the morning in order to turn on the heater. The car was in gear and my feet were kind of wedged in on the gas pedal and the car lurched forward. I guess I was too close to get any real speed up, because the dint is really small.
I have found Internet cafes in all the big towns. Today I am in the public library of Nenagh and access is free. That’s real nice. I’ve paid as much as £1 / 10 mins.
My brother is going to set up a web page for my pictures and I’ll probably write a lot more detailed stuff for that. Those of you who are really interested can then see the pictures and find out a bit more of what I’ve see.
I hope everyone is having fun in the states.
(PS – They predicted a ten-day heat wave with record breaking temperatures in the 90’s, but I must have missed them. The days have been sunny, but nothing intolerable.)
Thanks to all who have written,
Travel Letter 7 – Heathrow Airport – August 6, 2001
This will be my last Travel Letter from abroad. (And it will be very short – expensive internet and only a handful of change left.)
It’s 2 PM here on Monday and my flight leaves at 6 AM Tuesday ( I had to turn in my car – 3240 miles)
When I get home, I will write about the last days and my visit to London.
It was a good idea to leave driving in London for after I’d learned how to drive and to leave The Globe Theatre for the final point of interest. Ended my trip on a high point.
I’ll have a new letter sent out when I get home and hopefully will have a website for picture viewing. (They’ll also be available on CD!!)
Thanks to all who have written – Katie and Co, Steve, Phillip, Rick, Pam, Adam, Sarah, Nina, Mina, Tracy, Galen, Michele, Evelyn, Erin, Sky… I hope I didn’t miss anyone (Oh, my mom, dad, brothers, and sister). Big thanks to those who wrote several times 🙂
Thanks to all and I’ll see you soon,
Travel Letter 8 – from the Lone Star State – August 12, 2001
I’m back in Texas and have been at my brother’s house for several hours working with my pictures so I can show them to everyone.
First though, let me tell you about the final stages of my trip.
I was scheduled to leave Ireland on Saturday morning, but was able to get a ferry ride out the night before. I took the scenic route along the coast of Wales and it was scenic indeed. I had run out of digital space for pictures and had not been able to find another place to download them, so I was using disposable cameras but was still able to get a few good shots.
I planned to go into Bath again on Saturday, but it was Banker’s Holiday and the roads to Bath were backed up to a standstill, so I went on to London.
Having driven over 3000 miles in my little car, I didn’t have any trouble maneuvering through London. I could drive the car, look at the map, read the street names on the buildings, and dodge pedestrians and other cars all at the same time. Even when roads showed up that, on my map, were shown as through streets, but actually had sidewalks cutting across them, I just did a quick u-turn and worked my way over a block or so and then got back on course. I was quite pleased with myself.
I found a street a block over from the Globe to camp out on and saw King Lear Saturday night. I paid for a “groundling” ticket (though they don’t cost a penny anymore) and stood in the rain and drizzle for over three hours (very authentic experience.)
Sunday morning I decided to walk to the Sherlock Holmes museum and then to Abby Lane and Abby Lane studios. Abby Lane, of course, is famous for the Beatle album and it was funny to watch the people. As soon as traffic cleared, tourists would walk slowly through the crosswalk while their friends took pictures. I walked across even though I didn’t have anyone to take my picture. (I was out of disposable cameras and money.)
I decided to time my return trip and to count my steps. It took 2 1/2 hours to get back to my car and roughly 11,400 steps. My rough math puts it at 5 – 6 miles. *I just checked it on Google maps (5/7/2016) and it’s 5.6 miles one-way.
Sunday evening I saw MacBeth and then did a little foot tour through the back streets of London. I meant to look at the Tower Bridge, but I got lost. Not exactly lost, I just tried to take some short cuts that didn’t go where I thought they went. Anyway, I found a friendly bobby who turned me around and sent me in the right direction.
I left early Monday morning which was probably a relief to the people whose “flat” I had been parked outside since Saturday.
I’ve explained before about dropping off my car and going to the airport.
(I was just tired and turned in my car and went on to the airport. This was August of 2001. One month later, terrorists attacked the US and now, I would not have been able to do what I did.)
I spent about 18 hrs wandering around the airport, reading a book, and carrying my two Irish walking sticks taped together, looking like a rifle, and attracting stares from security. 🙂
When it was time to check in, it turned out that my flight had been cancelled, and they had to add me back to the list quickly since the new flight was leaving in just a few minutes.
The flight was fine, but at my layover in Chicago, customs decided to check my bag. (They checked it leaving London. Well, I think they just asked if I hadn’t any food products. There was that Hoof and Mouth thing going around, and I said I had a rock from Scotland covered in dirt. But as long as it wasn’t beef, they didn’t seem to mind.) I wasn’t worried except that one of them was falling apart at the seams and was wrapped in tape. The customs agent cut it open and dug through my stuff and then we had to dump it all in a big plastic bag.
Long story short – I’m home.