Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In The House

July 21 | 7:37 am | Cardiff, Wales (Courtesy of Hermano)

Airport '07

Wednesday, June 20: Most people seem to hate Logan airport. I never minded it that much when I lived in Boston. I assumed that what people really hated was fighting the traffic into and out of the city. Since Providence has neither the runway length nor the demand to support non-stop flights to Europe, we decided to fly out of Logan for our trip to London. After checking in for our flight, I now know why people can't stand Logan. We arrived just under two hours prior to our 7pm departure and proceeded to stand in line at check-in for about forty minutes. We then moved on to security, where maybe half of the available lanes were open. After waiting another 20 or 30 minutes in line, we hurried through the cramped terminal (made even smaller by construction, of course) to our gate, where boarding had already started.

Fortunately, things got better once we were aboard. While I did find myself stuck in the middle seat (on a 2-5-2 777 no less), it wasn't that bad. One advantage of having an interior seat on an overnight flight is that no one will need to climb over you to get out of their seat. This advantage is generally moot for me since I've never had much luck sleeping on airplanes. I managed to get a decent amount of shut-eye on this flight, however, so the middle was a good place to be. The flight from Boston to London is really not that long. It's only about 500 miles longer than the flight from Boston to San Francisco. One of the advantages of never flying in first or business class is that you really appreciate the perks you get when you fly overseas in coach. The pillows, blankets, movies, and yes, even airline food that are provided for the denizens of the coach-class cabin on an overseas seem like a decadent luxury when you're used to flying in coach class domestically. Our last long-haul flight was about 900 miles longer than the Boston-London flight, but since it was domestic (Chicago to Kahului), we didn't get anything to eat or drink save a couple of cursory drink and snack services.

The (relatively) short distance, the surprising amount of sleep that I enjoyed, and the fact that this was the first time I had flown internationally without having to make a connection made this trip a cinch. I was pleasantly surprised with Heathrow airport. I had heard nothing but bad things about the place, but we breezed through customs and immigration, claimed out luggage, and were on our way in no time.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Empire Record

Prior to my recent trip to London (more on that later), I decided to do something that I had been meaning to do for a while - read up on the history of the British Empire. I wrote this exercise off as trip preparation, but I knew from the beginning that studying the British Empire wasn't going to help me find my way around London. Still, it was as good an excuse as any and I checked a copy of The Rise and Fall of the British Empire out at my local library. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It covers approximately 400 years of history in just over 600 pages. It's a thick book, no doubt, but you would probably need a couple more volumes of the same size to really get into the fine details of the empire. This book is more of a survey of the empire from start to finish, which is exactly what I was looking for, since I knew very little about the history of the empire.

I was most surprised by how late the British were to amass their empire. The empire didn't reach its peak (from a teritorial standpoint, at least) until after World War I. The Spanish and Portugese (and perhaps the French and the Russians, I'm not sure) had a significant head start, but the British managed to catch up and surpass all of them. The author doesn't spend too much time trying to justify the negative aspects of the empire, but he also doesn't condemn the empire for failing to live up to modern standards. He highlights the things that the British got right, such as leaving behind the legacy of a free press in their colonies. The author does not mourn the end of the British Empire, but he is clearly of the mind that if you had to live under imperial rule and were given a choice in the matter, you'd certainly want to choose the British.