I recently attended a Symposium of Food at Oxford University in England. It was also the occasion for the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Oxford resident Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
I will save what I learned at the Symposium for one of my Kyra’s Kitchen food columns – but with memory still fresh I wanted to prepare McKinneyites for any travels you might be taking to the United Kingdom anytime soon.
Here are some tips you will NOT find in any travel article:
1. First, before leaving - set out your clothes and money you have budgeted to spend. Then take ¼ the clothes and three times the money. Don’t bother with too many clothes – nobody will see them under the raincoat you will be wearing every day. And your suitcase, though appearing light at the start, will feel increasingly leaden with each passing day as you lug it from train to bus to hotel and upstairs to your hotel room. Do not assume the hotel or bed and breakfast you will be staying at has a lift.
2. Arrive at the airport very early and prepare to WAIT. This will be good practice for all the waiting you will be doing during the trip.
3. If you are not lucky enough to get ‘Fast Track’ boarding, book a seat towards the back of the plane. They board from the back and you will have a better possibility of finding overhead bins that have not already been packed with the equivalent of small Volkswagens.
4. Take FOOD! What is served on the flights in no way resembles anything edible.
5. Upon arrival in London – join the queue [British for line] and be prepared to wait up to TWO hours to get through immigration. [This has become so serious that they are now posting police in the arrival hall to prevent any ‘riots’!] Note to travelers in coming weeks: They are STILL training agents for the influx of Olympic visitors!!
6. I hope you brought your ‘brolly’ [English for umbrella] because it will be in constant use. It rained every day of my stay in England. And please remember that summer in Britain is NOT the same as summer in McKinney. I was FREEZING every day I was there and ended up wearing my raincoat and the two sweaters I had brought, on top of one another. My South African Father, who spent 10 years in London, once remarked that he woke up late one morning and missed the summer. The British are intrepid – they sally forth in their ‘wellies’ [wellington boots] and brollies and rejoice in telling you this is the WORST summer since 1927! True to stiff upper lip form they even sell a T-shirt with the motto:
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.
7. When they say ‘crowds’ in England they mean ‘hordes.’ In Oxford all the colleges were holding summer classes for teenagers who marauded the town in packs [when ARE they supposed to attend classes?] and who will not give way on the sidewalk/pavement – so one is forced to step into the road to avoid being run over.
8. If you are over 60 – you will learn the acronym OAP. This stands for Old Age Pensioner – a most objectionable epithet to those of us who are used to the kinder/gentler ‘senior’ – but very useful if you are eligible for special prices on buses or trains or admission to museums or castles. Be aware however that some of the "special offers" you find on the Internet do not seem to be accepted universally. I handed the Heathrow ticket agent a ½-off printout for OAPs for the National Express Bus Company when booking a seat for Oxford only to be told they are only ‘agents’ and cannot honor it. So it was 27 pounds [$40] to Oxford – a 1 hour run!
9. WAIT…….QUEUE…….WAIT…….QUEUE. Even if there are only three people waiting at the bus stop, the British form a QUEUE and do NOT attempt to step in front. Sometimes if you look frail and old enough they will take pity on you – remember their ancient gallantry -- and let you get on first, but mostly it is every man and woman for himself.
10. You will visit museums [Wait, Queue and Pay]– and palaces [Wait, Queue and Pay] and beautiful gardens [Wait, Queue and Pay] and eat at McDonalds because that is all you will be able to afford.
11. Do try a British ‘Cream Tea’ which involves scones of varying degrees of dryness served with jam and cream - and little ’fairy’ cakes – which would be ideal for cementing the cracks in the grand but crumbling old mansions… preferably in a little ‘olde’ tea room – with oil cloth on the tables and tea pots in the window.
When your trip is over you will be back at Heathrow – boarding the plane for home [remember advice #2, #3 and #4]. And don’t forget you will land at DFW in the summer heat – and head for the Customs and immigration who are waiting to ask what EXACTLY you were doing in another FOREIGN country in the first place!
For the rest of the year you will remember your holiday with great fondness and will bore friends with all the photos you took on your phone. [‘Now where did we take that one, Dear?’]
About the Author
McKinney resident Kyra Effren is a contributing writer for TownSquareBuzz.com's "Food" section. Search Kyra’s Kitchen for delicious and often humorous food tips and recipes.