Quite the packed trip

Well that was an adventure. I left for the UK on wednesday last week, arriving at Paula's mum and dad's house on thursday morning. I had a Ford Mundano for a rental car - a truly terrible piece of automotive machinery. The thing was underpowered, had terrible understeer and was an ergonomics nightmare. Why anyone would own one of those piles of shite is beyond me. On thursday I spent the day mostly asleep getting over the brunt of my jetlag and then on friday we went to visit some relatives. We put blind faith in the TomTom GPS and it took us right there, despite going a nice picturesque route that none of us knew about. On the way back we stopped at Paula's brother's house for a couple of hours to visit their family, and their new cat Elmo.
On friday morning, I had to get up at 5:00 for a 7:00 flight to Holland. Gatwick hasn't changed - it's still a nightmare shopping mall with aircraft that land there. And as usual, none of the moving walkways were working, but no change there. Since I moved to England in 1987, every time I've been through Heathrow or Gatwick, not one of the moving walkways has ever worked. But I digress. All this stuff about enhanced security and long lines at checkin is total bollocks. I checked in online the night before and it took all of 5 minutes to get through security once at the airport. Slept on the plane and was met at Schiphol by Marie, who took me back to their place for breakfast. Raymond was there, but asleep after a terrible nightshift. We went into the Hague and did some shopping then met up with Raymond later in the day at his parent's house (Wim & Mies). Richie and Linda turned up with their kids plus two others and we piled into their Volvo and headed for the beach. Scheveningen was brisk, to put it mildly. A good 30km/h wind and near-freezing temperatures, it was the Scheveningen I remember. On saturday evening we ate at the Boerderij fondue restaurant. The food was as excellent as ever but the service was slower than normal. We weren't in a rush though. On sunday, Richie, Linda, their kids and I cycled out to their new plot of land where they're planning to put a new house, then afterwards we drove into Zoetermeer to meet up with Menno and his family. By late afternoon I was back at Raymond and Marie's, and ay 19:00 it was back to the airport for the flight back to England. One thing I noticed at Schiphol were the security procedures. They still have the best system I've seen, with security checks only at the gates. It means you can roam around the airport without going through security until you actually come to get on the plane. No queues. Also I noticed out on the ramp area there were security people now. Yellow high-vis vests were airport workers and orange high-vis vests were security. Two of them watched all the goings-on at the gate and I saw them frisk-check all the airport staff who went near the aircraft. Interesting.
I loved the all-too-brief trip to Holland. It's changed a lot since I left, but I'd still live there without a second thought.
Monday - what happened on monday? Oh right, yes, I went to Reading to catch up with some old friends. I met up with Denise in the morning and spent a long time catching up before lunch at Pizza Hut. It's nice that they still have sit-in Pizza Huts in England. Here in America everything is takeout or delivery only now. In the afternoon I bumbled around Reading for a while - god that place has changed. It's awful now. In the evening I met up with Yorkie for a pub dinner and popped over to his new house in Thatcham to meet Becks again and see their new baby.
Tuesday. (thinks). Ah yes, tuesday I drove up to Milton Keynes to meet Dariush and Heidi and stay with them overnight. He's got a super cool new car - he's leased a Volvo C70 sports coupe - the one with the retractable hard top. It's totally cool and totally not the sort of car I'd ever imagined him driving. He and Heidi were fine, and as irreverent as usual. On wednesaday I drove back to Paula's mum and dad and was heartbroken to see the speed nazis have finally come up with a way of actually slowing traffic down. 9 miles of the M1 are guarded by SPECS average-speed-check cameras. It was soul-destroying to be stuck in traffic doing 40mph on a motorway through empty roadworks. Someone has to come up with a way around this shit. I know for a fact that SPECS can be fooled by simply changing lanes between cameras but it seems that info isn't common knowledge yet.
Going around the M25, the variable speed limits were as retarded as ever, with 50mph and 60mph limits on totally empty motorway sections for no reason. Bloody speed nazis. The government ought to listen to their own reports on accident rates but I suppose it's politically incorrect to point out that only 4% of accidents are caused by speed. Ho hum.
On thursday we went to see more relatives in Chichester for the day and I rounded off the trip with a great Indian at the Cottage Tandoori in Storrington. I still maintain that this is the best Indian restaurant in England.
On friday I flew home. The usual bollocks at the airport - the information line told me to turn up 3 and a half hours early. I turned up 2 hours ahead of my flight and it took 3 minutes to check in and 3 minutes to get through security. 3 and a half hours my arse. They just want people there in the hope they'll buy overpriced stuff from the Gatwick shopping mall. Bloody place is the least-functioning airport I've ever seen. 15 long hours later I was back in Salt Lake City and well pleased to find Paula waiting for me.

So in summary? Loved the trip to see my friends and relatives. England has completed it's circuitous journey around the drain and has finally gone down the toilet altogether though. Hoodie-clad chavs run the country now to the point where normal, law-abiding people are scared to go outside. Petrol is expensive ($95 to fill the tank - twice!). Food is expensive. Magazines and groceries are expensive. The whole bloody country is so expensive I just don't understand how we ever managed to put food in our mouths when we lived there. And Holland? Fantastic. Loved meeting up with everyone again. The country has changed a lot too with 'yoof' culture more prominent than it used to be. Raymond tells me it's better now than in the last couple of years since the police invoked a true 'weeding them out' policy to arrest yobs one at a time for the common good. Petrol is expensive there too but I didn't have a car so it didn't affect me directly. Food, magazines and groceries are not as expensive as the UK but it looks like luxury electronic items are getting pricey (big-screen TVs and such).
I promised everyone we'd go back together in the spring next year. It will be the first time probably in four years that Paula and I will have managed to go back to Europe together. Better start planning.....

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