Alison and I went to England in August of 2006. We had a grand time, but I wish I had known what I know now before we left Texas! Money is different in England, very. A pound has 100 pence now so it is fairly easy for Americans to make change. We could get almost one pound for two dollars, and many post offices in England were glad to change our money from dollars to pounds. Banks and other places would also change money, but the rates were rarely as good as the post office.
I soon found that one pound will not buy as much in England as two dollars will in Texas! I guess their products are of much higher quality, and therefore cost more. The cigarettes, for example, seemed to be stronger than the same brand purchased in the states. At over $10 per pack you'd expect that, and I did smoke less while in England. The warning lablels on the packs were bigger and more emphatic, perhaps that raises the price too.
Most other things were priced similarly, effectively making the pound worth about the same as the dollar. A pint of ale in the local pub was around £2, a gallon of gasoline was £3-4, a cheap hotel room for two was always £50 or more. Some things were cheaper and some more expensive like the cigs, but in general I thought the pound was worth about a dollar, although I only got a half a pound for a dollar when I traded them. So take LOTS of money when you go to England!
We stayed with Alison's daughter in Reading (pronounced Redding), which the Kennet River runs through. The Kennet is part of the canal system in England, used by narrow boats and other small craft to travel and transport goods across England. The canal locks are operated by hand, and the people on the boats have to hop off and operate them, raising or lowering valves to changed the water level with a hand crank, and opening and closing the gates by pushing and pulling on very long levers attached to them.
Here's a typical section of the Kennet flowing through town, a family of swans rides the current downstream. Only the adults are white.
Click the play triangle twice.
I found the Hook and Tackle Pub a few blocks away which had wireless internet service provided by "The Cloud". The Hook and Tackle was a great place to work, with football games on the large TV's almost all the time (although the football in England is what we call soccer in Texas). Wireless internet was easy to find in England, "free" wireless internet was not! The Cloud is widespread, and relatively cheap at £12 or so per week. They are putting The Cloud in all the train stations so I recommend signing up for it if you are traveling around England and need wireless internet access. When in Portsmouth at the Ibis hotel, they had wireless internet only in the restaurant and lobby and that service cost £12.99 for only 24 hours! I spent much more than planned to update my website while in England.
On August 21 we took the train to Windsor to see Windsor Castle and took the tour. They have security there like an airport, and they found my penknife. The blade was about 3 inches long, which was ok with them, but it also locked in the open position, which was NOT ok. You see, locking blades are illegal in England, and by rights the guard should have kept it. "Ignorance of the law is no excuse" he said, but he just kept it while we toured the castle and then gave it back to me. It was in the bag we lost and had to call United Airlines Lost and Found about. We got the bag, but the knife was no longer inside. I never did like that knife anyway, it locked open but not shut, and occasionally came open in my pocket!
We later went to Portsmouth and visited the HMS Victory and the HMS Warrior, incredible ships. In 2008 Alison brought the 200 year old letters of her ancestor Francis Goldolphin Bond out of storage and we began posting them on the internet. Francis Godolphin Bond began serving in the Royal Navy in 1782 at the age of 7, rose through the ranks, served time with Captain Bligh, and went on to a long successful career in the Royal Navy.