The Common Cold, A Visit To Reading, and WiFi

My arrival in London coincided with the onset of a massive head cold, so my activities have slowed a bit. Luckily, British pharmacies have all the usual OTC cold symptom relievers and so one of my first stops was my local Boots for the necessaries.

One consequence of this was that I cancelled my trip out to Oxford yesterday, in favor of more sleep and a slow start to the day over breakfast in the Executive Lounge. A major benefit of being a Hilton Honors Gold Member (thank you for the tip, Nancy and Ingrid) is access to this lounge, where they also serve lunch, tea, and dinner, gratis. I did get out to Reading, my ex-pat home in 2008, in time for lunch with Mike Mather, the first person we hired for my company's UK office (since moved on) and a good friend.

It was fun to see Mike and he was full of interesting stories about the recent London Olympics, for which he was one of the “Gamesmakers” volunteers. This gave him behind-the-scenes access and a supply of good anecdotes to share.

We had an enjoyable lunch at O'Neill's in Reading over a pint of Guinness. I spent a bit of time after lunch visiting some old haunts and checking out the Christmas stuff (already on display) at the John Lewis department store. I then settled in at The Ale House (formerly The Hobgoblin) pub and started sampling their range of guest ales. A “free house” unaligned with any specific brewery, they've hosted 6200+ different ales, so far; though I limited myself to six (half pints) yesterday.

There I was, on my bar stool, looking over the thousands of beer pump badges stuck to the walls and ceiling, when I spotted a Virginia Tech pennant pinned to the wall behind the cash register! Several of my good friends are Tech alums and, apparently, one of the original owners of the pub years ago had spent a year studying abroad at Tech. It's fun to stumble over things like that when you're out and about in the world. Here's another example: this is a picture of a bar I passed in Oxford last year. In case you don't know, “Wahoo” is the nickname for University of Virginia (my alma mater) students. This bar's web site says it provides the finest “Disco, Soul, and Motown” music. Sounds a bit 1980s to me, but, well, the Virginia influence runs far and wide, I guess.

I've been asked to comment on the availability of WiFi during my travels. In short, It has been variable.

In Munich, the hotel provided connectivity in my room and I was given a password to use when making the connection; re-connecting on different days was a snap. In Venice, it was the same, however, connectivity was only available in the lobby lounge. In Paris, it was available in my room but after connecting I was directed through some 3rd-party provider (web page login required, along with submission of personal info, like email) for service, resulting in tons of spam. Here in London, it's barely available in my room (I had to hunt to find the 3' x 3' area on one side of the room where there's any signal at all) with a 3rd-party login page but no personal info required and no spam.

I have had, in most but not all places, a decent cellular signal as well (but, of course, that is the uber expensive way to go, even with an international data plan in place). So, while the number of people carrying mobile devices has skyrocketed, WiFi availability is still inconistent and sometimes frustrating, regardless of what the hotel advertising says.

I mentioned earlier that I'd just finished reading Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel while on this trip, and within a day or two they announced that she'd won the prestigious 2012 Man Booker Prize for Contemporary Fiction for it! This was her second Man Booker win, also an unusual occurence, and the first double for a woman author. This book is the middle volume in a trilogy (Wolf Hall is volume #1), and if you're a fan of the television show The Tudors, you'll like these books. I am now looking forward to #3 appearing in the next year or so.

Tonight , I'm off to see War Horse at the New London Theatre (head cold and energy levels permitting) and then tomorrow a special treat: the Borough Market, beneath the south end of London Bridge. See you tomorrow!

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