Minneapolis to Glasgow
Part of: Solo UK and France by Train
On Tuesday (and Wednesday), I made my longest journey of the trip. It was after 5:00am on my body clock by the time I arrived (and I can never sleep on the plane), so I was mighty tired, but I took it one step at a time and it all went quite well.
1. Minneapolis Airport
This was the best part of the journey. My flight was at 3:15pm and I left with about four hours to spare so I could get some work done at the airport. Grandma drove me, and she took back roads through pretty neighborhoods so it was nice and relaxed. When we arrived, there was tons of space at the curb for Delta, which is a rare sight indeed. We both noted: 11:20am may be an ideal airport arrival time! So we had the rare luxury of time for unloading and hugging.
Next I encountered another rare beast: a short security line. Whoa. I waited maybe 10 minutes tops. And further wonders ensued when I got to the front: friendly TSA agents that even had a SENSE OF HUMOR. Insane! There was a woman behind me with a cast on her arm, and multiple agents offered ideas for stories to tell about how it happened, instead of the boring truth (she fell). One of them was, "I was hiking in the Himalayas and came across a yak..." (to which I added: "And I punched it in the face.") She loved it.
When I was filling my bins with my jacket, shoes, laptop, etc., one of these funny agents came over to help, and moved my shoes to a separate bin "so you don't get your jacket dirty." And in the body-scanning machine (which everyone had to go through), I looked over to the guy in charge to make sure I was correctly assuming the position, and he said, "I know I'm good-looking, but you need to look straight ahead." Which made me laugh. Seriously, folks, I was having a good time in the security line. Am I on candid camera? Or is this just Minnesota Nice?
Near my gate, I sat at nice restaurant called Mimosa until boarding time. In every restaurant and bar in this wing, there was an iPad at every table. I think they are sponsored (at least in part) by Delta. It was super-cool.
Not only do you get to use the internet for free and check on your flight using a built-in app (it will even alert you when it's boarding time or if your gate changes), you also order from the restaurant using the iPad! It felt like the future. The waiters were only there to help you order if you need it, and bring you what you order. You flick through a menu with beautiful photos, then just "Add to Cart" as though you were shopping on line. When you're ready, you click "Checkout" and swipe your card right at the table! Neat.
The only downside to the airport is that there was no wi-fi available, even for a charge. This was disappointing because it meant I couldn't upload photos or do various other online work on my laptop like I'd planned. But I lived, and still had a good time editing photos and texting and talking with David on my phone. We were taking advantage of the last time to keep in touch so easily - my phone won't work overseas, and even if it did, it would be quite expensive.
Just before boarding, there was an announcement that customs would be making random checks on the jetway. A young guy laughed and said to me, "Uh oh, better take that 40 pounds of pot out of your bag!" Thankfully, although my bag was 100% pot-free, I was not chosen.
I had one last perk when I got priority boarding thanks to my Delta SkyMiles American Express card. Then the fun abruptly ended, when I rejoined the sardines in coach. Oh, First Class, I only knew you for a few hours, but I will never forget you...
2. Delta flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam
After I made my way to the back of the plane without banging anyone in the head with my tripod, and got my plentiful luggage properly stowed, and found a place for the ubiquitous pillow and blanket occupying my seat, and settled in, a baby promptly began screaming. Ah, air travel. But I did have an aisle seat, a young neighbor who did not have a cold, never spoke to me, and never needed the bathroom, and plenty of things to keep me busy. So I tried to count my blessings and it went pretty fast. I even got quite a bit more photo editing done.
The flight was on time and mostly smooth, except for a very bumpy ride when we began our descent into pre-dawn Amsterdam. I don't recall experiencing turbulence that bad before, and it went on for some time. It was like riding a bucking bronco! (I imagine.) This did not help my fear of flying, which I've been working very hard on fixing because it's highly inconvenient for a travel lover, but I did a pretty good job of being brave and focusing on my movie.
3. Amsterdam Airport
We landed on time, and although it took awhile to emerge from the back of the plane, I had plenty of time to make my transfer. My next flight was not connecting (I bought it separately using a different awards program) so I had to get another boarding pass. But this was as easy as could be. I didn't have to go through customs since I wasn't really entering the country, and I just followed the signs for Transfers to a group of kiosks. I had to insert my passport with the photo page open, enter some basic information, and click "Print Boarding Pass." Done! I probably could have made the transfer in 15 minutes, but it was nice to have more time.
So I checked my e-mail and charged my phone at an internet cafe (not free, and again no wi-fi - what is the deal with no wi-fi at airports?) and wandered around the airport a bit, but unfortunately didn't have quite enough time to check out the art museum. I never have, despite going through Amsterdam almost every time I go to Europe.
At my gate, I had to go through security again (security is always done at the gates in Amsterdam, in my experience anyway), but there was basically no line. I did get stopped for a suitcase search, as they thought I had a water bottle or something in there. I said I didn't think I did, but welcomed them to have a look. I'm glad I had packed neatly! It turned out that they had the wrong suitcase - it was the guy in front of me who had the object of interest. The young agent who did the search apologized, and I was on my way.
When it was boarding time, we went through the usual boarding-pass check, then got on a shuttle bus for quite a long ride to our plane. We got to board from the tarmac, which I love, because it makes me feel like the president or a 1960s celebrity.
4. KLM flight from Amsterdam to Edinburgh
This was another good part. The planes used for these short flights are my favorite: big enough to feel solid and powerful but small enough to feel light and maneuverable. (The big ones may actually be safer for all I know, but flying anxiety has nothing to do with rationality!) Plus there are a whole lot fewer passengers, so boarding is much faster and everything feels more casual and relaxed.
All that good stuff applied this time, with the added bonus of a window seat and gorgeous clouds getting all pink in the rising sun. I took tons of pictures, which always makes me happy. And the two American businessmen behind me never ceased their chatter about supply lines and new markets, even during takeoff and landing, which further made it seem more like I was on a train than a plane. So overall, I really enjoyed the flight and was barely afraid at all. Here are a few of my in-flight pictures, in chronological order:
5. Airport bus to Edinburgh train station
I'm very familiar with this bus, having lived in Edinburgh for a year and made several trips to the airport in that time, but this time around I got off at a different stop. Since I was headed to Glasgow, it made more sense to use the Haymarket station on the western outskirts of the city instead of going all the way into the center to Waverley Station.
It was a little sad to come so close to Edinburgh and not see it, but David and I visited two years ago and photographed it pretty thoroughly then, so it doesn't make practical sense to visit this time. After all, I'm not here to hang out in places I like, I'm here to take useful pictures, and as many of them as possible! I was also comforted by the fact that if I really wanted to visit again, I could easily make a day trip back from Glasgow. (But I didn't.)
6. Train from Edinburgh to Glasgow
Once I navigated some serious road construction outside the station and bought my ticket, I only had to wait about 10 minutes for my train. Once on board, I settled into a side-facing single seat and tried not to fall asleep while continuing Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise on my Kindle.
7. Walk from Glasgow station to hotel
As part of my budget-minded travels this time around, I'm avoiding taxis where possible, and accordingly trying to book hotels within walking distance of the train station. But one the many great advantages of a taxi is that you don't have to know how to get to your hotel - you just have to know the name! So this part required a bit more preparation than usual.
I had studied the Google map of Glasgow back at the Minnesota airport, so I had a good idea of which direction to walk (George Square being very helpful for orientation) and the main streets involved. But not having a map on my phone (such a wonderful luxury, which I use all the time in the USA) and being quite sleep-deprived by now, this part required some concentration. However, I'm proud to report that I walked straight there with no wrong turns, zig-zagging through about 5-6 blocks to the citizenM.
The morning sunlight was so beautiful during my walk - shining warm orange on the old buildings - and I strongly considered stopping to pull my camera out of my backpack to take some pictures. But I was just too tired to bother. Now I wish I had, of course, because I never saw such beautiful light again. That is one of the biggest lessons I've learned in photography: never take good light for granted! It might be just as good tomorrow, but more likely it will be gone in minutes and never come back. Knowing this has caused me to sprint across a churchyard more than once!
8. Home sweet citizenM.
Then, finally, after about 17 hours of planes, trains and automobiles, I had made it to my hotel. To my great relief, a room was available for early check-in, and after a short survey about why I chose the hotel (since they recently opened), I had a place to lay my head.
The citizenM is one of my favorite hotel chains, but previously it was available only in Amsterdam. I always stay at the one next to the airport the night before I fly home (such as here). But when planning this trip, I was thrilled to discover they have expanded to Glasgow and London! In fact, it's one of the reasons I started my trip in Glasgow instead of my beloved Edinburgh - the citizenM is virtually half the price of a comparable hotel in Edinburgh, and I knew I could get a good sleep there after my long journey (their beds are huge and awesome). The location is also excellent: besides being near the train station, all my favorite shops are within a couple blocks, and all the major attractions are no more than 10-15 minutes away.
The Glasgow citizenM is quite similar to the Amsterdam one, but they've made a few small changes to the room, including combining the "bathroom pods" into one and incorporating the "mood lighting" a little differently, and the lobby areas are different but with the same general design theme. I love design hotels, and they seem appropriate for a trip focused on architecture and art!
The citizenM room (they are all the same) is small and pod-like - just one long rectangle - but it has all the space a single traveler needs and everything is done well. Great bed, great shower, great place to work, a microwave and some food items available downstairs in "canteenM".... I had a great stay there and was sorry to leave yesterday. But I've got more citizens in my future, in London and Amsterdam!
Back half of the room, with bathroom pod on left. The mood lighting was set to red when I arrived and I didn't bother changing it for awhile - looks a little weird in pictures. The room is actually a very clean, bright white.
Immediately after arrival, I walked back to my favorite fast-food place in the UK, which I'd spotted on my walk in. It's called Pret A Manger ("ready to eat") and it has delicious natural sandwiches, soups, fruit bowls, etc., made fresh daily. I so wish we had something like this back home. I was really hungry so I got an assortment, although I didn't eat everything right away: tuna and cucumber baguette (which I get most of the time), ham and egg sandwich, yogurt and granola parfait, granola bar.
And then I slept for a few hours, which was wonderful, and then I dragged myself out of bed again around 4pm and went out exploring. I ended up going on quite a long and enjoyable walk, which will be the subject of the next post. And then I stayed up until 5am and slept until 1:30pm the next day. Ah, jet lag.