David and Lili's World Tour


June 2015 - England and Scotland

Our original Plan A was to travel from India to Europe overland, but alas, we ended up flying from China. Plans are what make the Gods laugh. The problem was the logistics of obtaining visas while on the road. We wanted to go across Pakistan and Iran, but one of our passports is from the USA and therefore subject to special, time-consuming scrutiny by the Iranian embassy in Delhi (but we were far from Delhi). Next we considered the train voyage across Mongolia and Russia, but Russian consulates only provide visa services to Russians and local nationals. The Russian Consul from Sri Lanka confirmed by email that the only way for us to get a visa would have been to mail our NZ passports to New Zealand and have a proxy apply on our behalf. Sigh. So we flew to Europe (via the same international zone in Moscow where Edward Snowden spent 40 days in legal limbo). Unlike the USA (for example) Russia does not require an airport-transit visa.

Entering England with Kiwi passports was a breeze. Back home we had to swear allegiance to the queen to become citizens. God save the queen! To quote the Beatles: "Her majesty is a pretty nice girl, but she doesn't have a lot to say." We arrived in London just after the UK election however, so in this case Elizabeth actually did have a lot to say (reading someone else's words). The queen dressed up with her best clothes (including a diamond-studded crown) and read the newly-elected government's to-do list.

David Cameron won re-election as Prime Minister with big changes. His right-wing Tory party no longer requires coalition partners to govern so he has more power, but at the same time the left-ish Scottish National Party swept Scotland. So while Cameron is pushing for increased austerity pain for the poor (as politicians aligned with the Big Banks do), Scotland is threatening to leave the UK altogether (again) or negotiate quasi-independence, especially the freedom to say NO to further austerity. This drama runs in parallel to the UK threatening to leave Europe altogether. Meanwhile there's a shit-storm brewing in Greece that threatens the Big Banks just as some Big Bubbles look poised to burst (again). These are interesting times for the European Union! We see this as fascinating sport with high stakes, a game of thrones.

In London, we stayed in a flat with a kitchen, a great change from hotels. It's hard to get work done while World Touring and I needed an office, so the flat was perfect! Given two weeks of incredibly easy living (especially after bouncing around Asia for a year), I finally launched my book, Globalocity. Yea! As an Indie author in a super-competitive market, the launch itself was a non-event, but it's always great to wrap up a ten-year project! People frequently ask me if I work when I travel, and I used to answer, "Nah, I'm on holiday." Now I can say, "Yeah, sometimes."

London is great. Lili and I love the in-your-face multiculturalism with a live-and-let-live attitude, especially now that the city has public bicycles (at two pounds per day), our favorite way to explore. Within a short walk of anywhere one can find convenient public-transportation options, reasonable food, a park, a pub, and people from everywhere. This is the capital of the old empire (and still going strong)!

One thing we noticed about "the Big Smoke" only after we left to Scotland is that Londoners are not chatty. The Scots are chatty, especially in the non-touristy pubs where locals always made us feel welcome. After touring in a car for a few days, we found Scotland to be amazingly similar to New Zealand, but Scotland has castles. We like castles. It's funny how watching the Game of Thrones on TV helps us to envision these grand monuments come alive with political intrigue.

In Scotland we changed our tactics to stay on budget (the United Kingdom is quite expensive compared to Asia). Enter AirBnb, a web-site for arranging to stay with locals who have extra rooms. This is cheaper than staying in hotels, plus we get to know locals, and we get a kitchen (further helping that budget). We spent our first night in such a flat in Edinburgh, and so far so good. Another web-site that connects people this way is called couch-surfing, and it's even free, but we haven't tried it yet. We went with AirBnb first because we think it's only fair that connecting supply with demand should have a market price (among strangers).

In summary we loved Scotland, especially the way we immediately felt at home in a good way. We were stunned that a country so far from New Zealand can be so similar, right down to the way the Scots put too much sugar and not enough spice in their Asian food. My family's DNA is from this region (I even learned the words to Scottish songs as a child), so again, this place felt like home. Yes, we did walk into a pub with drunk people singing while wearing kilts, so perfect! We want to return to explore further already! Rumor has it that in the highlands there be dragons...

For more on funny Scottish culture with a funny accent, watch this.

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