Wednesday, May 12, 2010


This is going to be a pretty boring entry, mostly about navigating the British roads and learning little things about life over here.  No birding at all today.


I was up by about 7 this morning, and I finally hit the road about 9.  I had about 4.5 hours of driving to do, plus any time that I stopped.  I had mapped out my best route using Google Maps.  There don’t seem to be very many major roads that go east-west across Britain – the major ones go north-south, or at least north of London, they do.  I was on a whole series of roads – the A148, the A149, the A47, the A1139, Eye Rd, the A1139 again, the A605, the A14 (finally a major road), the M6, the M6(toll), and finally the M6 again.  Until I hit the A14, about halfway along, each transition was an adventure, as the signs are not intuitive to me at all.  I only had to pull off once to consult my map, though, and I moved right along, though not always quickly.


I stopped at several service areas along the way.  I got a double cheeseburger at a McD’s about 11:30 to sustain me.  I found a small Watirose store at another service area, and I got a chicken pasta salad and a pack of Tikka chicken breast, which I ate a bit later at still another service area.  As I approached Birmingham, electronic signs were warning of delays in central Birmingham on the M6, which was the road I was on by then.  I consulted my map and saw that there was an M6 (toll) that bypassed central Birmingham and all the junctions where the Long Delays were listed for.  I asked at the Waitrose where I bought my lunch, and was told that that the toll was about 5 pounds (US$7.50 approx) and that it would be much better to use it.  So, I did.


The toll M6 was a real pleasure to drive for 20 miles.  It had about a third of the traffic that the M6 had on it, and I moved right along at 70 mph, which I think is the speed limit, not that it is ever posted.  You are just supposed to know the speed limit on a motorway.  When I got to the toll booth, it was all automated, and it took credit cards or coins.  I didn’t have enough in coins, but it took my credit card just fine, and it passed me through.


All in all, the drive was really pretty easy, despite having to navigate all the transitions from one road to another.  Sometimes I would be on a two lane road, and sometimes it would be a “dual carriageway”, which is their quaint term for a divided highway.  Sometimes the dual carriageway part had limited access like a proper freeway, and sometimes there were roundabouts every few miles, which would serve to slow you down and make you make a decision about which exit to take from the roundabout.  Not exactly easy driving, but not too bad.  The traffic was fairly heavy and we would go anywhere from 40 mph to 55 mph on the two lane parts.  The traffic was pretty heavy on the M6, too, but there were usually three lanes each way, so you could move along at 70 most of the time.  There were a lot of trucks on the highways, and there is a lot of lane changing going on all the time.


So, I finally got to my destination about 2 o’clock, which was very good time, I think.  I am staying in a Travelodge that is located in a service area/truck stop at the junction of two motorways.  By booking in advance online and prepaying, it is only costing me about US $50 for two nights here, which is really cheap for Britain.  I expected it to be like a Motel 6, and there are similarities, but it is actually a small step up from the typical Motel 6.  It will do just fine for me, although I am not going to be able to eat as healthily, without a kitchen.  They don’t even have ice, which doesn’t surprise me.  Motels in Australia don’t, either.  I guess ice machines at motels is an American thing.  They do have a little electric tea/coffee maker, though, with the fixings for tea or coffee, which is universal over here.


I had read online that Travelodge had a very strict policy of checking in at 3 PM or later, so I wandered around and explored the two stores and the two eating places here, and finally approached the Travelodge front desk about 2:30, to ask about checking in.  “Oh no, sir, they’ll charge you an extra 10 pounds (US $15) if we check you in before 3.  Come back at 3.”  What a way to run a business.  Very typical of business practice over here, though.  Rules are rules, you know.


So, I killed another half hour wandering around.  (The off and on rain had stopped by then.  I think there has been at least a little rain every single day I have been here, so far, and I heard on the radio that it was snowing in Scotland today.)  The parking situation in service areas is interesting, I think.  You can park for two hours for free, but after that, it costs 15 pounds (about US $22.50) to park, for up to 24 hours.  They enforce it by taking a picture of your license plate as you come in and as you leave.  I guess they must send you a bill if you don’t pay, but I don’t know how hard it is for them to collect.  As a guest of the Travelodge, I can park for free, and the way it is handled was interesting  At the front desk, there is a little terminal with a screen that shows a keyboard on it.  I typed in my license plate number (registration number, they call it), and the picture of my car and license plate came up on the little screen.  I confirmed that it was my car, and the clerk typed in a verification code, and now I am supposedly good to park here until noon on the day I check out.  Pretty interesting system, but I don’t really understand the point of it.  I guess they don’t want people sleeping overnight in their cars unless they pay.  All the service areas seem to have the same policy.  Just two hours for free.

They have wi-fi here at the Travelodge, but there is a charge for it.  It is about US$7.50 for an hour of access, but I think you can use a few minutes at a time, for a total of an hour.  It is about US $15 for a day (i.e., a 24 hour period), and about US $30 for a week.  I am going to be staying in Travelodges for 8 nights total, over the next three weeks, so I paid about US $45 for a month’s worth of access.  I am presuming that I can use it at all the Travelodges I stay at.  That isn’t cheap, but it is acceptable, considering the accommodation is so cheap.  Ironically, I could go to the McDonald’s across the parking lot and get free wi-fi, but having it in my room is worth the cost to me, and I don’t know that it will be available across the parking lot at all of my Travelodge locations.  Most service areas have free wi-fi, though, and most or all of my Travelodges are located in service areas.  Anyway, I am online, and I like it.


After establishing that I could get online (my first priority), I looked around and noticed that there is no electrical outlet on the side of the room where the bed is.  I need power for my CPAP machine.  So, I needed an extension cord, something I should have brought with me, as I had run into this in Australia one time.  I tried the trucker’s shop here in the rest area, and they said they normally have them, but they were out.  I asked at the front desk here at the Travelodge, but they didn’t have any.  The young lady there gave me directions (sort of) to a store where she said they had them, in a nearby town.


So, I set out to get an extension cord, which I learned is called a “mains extension lead”.  I made one major wrong turn, right at the beginning, and I tried to recover, but ended up retracing my steps about 3 miles.  I got back on the route that had been described to me (sort of).  I went on and on, and it seemed a lot farther than it should have been, but just as I was maybe approaching the right place, I spotted a Staples store, so I pulled in there.  They had various kinds of extension cords, but the choices weren’t really what I needed, and I ended up buying two of them, each one meter long - a total of about 6 feet.  That is enough, and it will work, if I plug one into the other one.  I figure that all the Travelodges will be the same, as they seem to be very uniform, even more so than Motel 6’s, so it was worth spending about US 11 bucks to be covered.  On the way back “home”, I made another wrong turn and found myself going north on the M6, when I wanted to go south.  I finally got back here, after a 45 minute adventure.  I was laughing at myself while on the extension cord adventure; it was pretty funny, I think.  Fortunately, I have some beer with me, and a couple of them have gone down very nicely, thank you. 


So, I am thinking I am going to have the rest of my chicken Tikka for dinner, along with a Quarter Pounds with Cheese and an order of fries.  That isn’t exactly Zone friendly, and it is too many calories, but that is what sounds good to me tonight.  I imagine I will hit Mickey D’s for breakfast too.


Tomorrow a local birder is going to take me out, looking to see if we can find any birds that I haven’t seen.  We talked on the phone last night, and I gave him a list of target birds, and he thought we might be able to find some of them.  We will see.  I have seen most of the easy ones, but he was optimistic, and I’m sure it will be fun, no matter what we actually find.  He is going to pick me up here at 8, and we will see what we can find.  Tomorrow night I am here again, then I head off to Wales on Friday.


I feel really sorry to have left my cottages behind.  I really like having a kitchen, and now I won’t have that again for about 10 days.  I will be staying in Travelodges for 6 of the next 7 nights, with no stops longer than two nights.  That will be very different from what I have been doing lately.  Still, moving along, seeing new places is interesting, too.  Wales and Scotland coming up


So, that was a pretty boring Ramblings, I know – you were warned.  I’m glad to have one of my two long days of driving behind me, and it really wasn’t bad at all.