Remember how as kids we used to paint by numbers and produce works of art that'd make our mothers proud? Well, this summer I toured England using the same strategy. Instead of numbers, though, I used telly shows to guide me on my travels.
Approaching the Blue Lagoon, Iceland.
My first stop was Iceland. Apart from it being one of the locations in which Game of Thrones is filmed, going to England via Iceland shaved a few hundred dollars off the airfare. I love a bargain. But then I figured, if I was going to be at an airport in Iceland for six hours, then why not make it 16 hours and stay the night? And why not rent a car while I was at it and get to see a bit of the island? And if I was able to get around, why not spend some time at the Blue Lagoon? And while there I might as well test out the spa package? As Oscar Wilde once said, "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." I obviously have a great one.
The Pride of Sheffield: actor Sean
Bean as Eddard Stark in
Game of Thrones.
Not that I had a clue how much I was spending. When prices all seem to end in the word "thousand," it's as though you're living in a board game. Iceland, though, proved to be as mystical as the series which films there. Its lunar-like landscape is scattered with geothermal springs, waterfalls, and volcanoes. Its language is unfathomable. Sheffield-born Sean Bean, who appeared as Eddard Stark in Game of Thrones, must have felt "reight a t'ome," given that the Yorkshire dialect can also be pretty hard to understand.
B&Q Roundabout, Bletchley.
Sheffield was featured heavily on my list of places to visit, and I went there after spending my first night in England in Milton Keynes. Designated as a "new town" in 1967 to alleviate overcrowding in London, the layout of Milton Keynes uses a grid pattern rather than the radial pattern found in older communities. With its wide roads, bike lanes, shopping malls, TGI Friday's and building height restrictions - originally no building was to be "higher than a tree" - Milton Keynes' similarity to an American city can come as a bit of a surprise...until you arrive at the first of the town's 300 roundabouts. Then you know you are not in Kansas anymore.
Stars of The Bletchley Circle
outside Bletchley Park.
If you count the painted-over bumps in the road, there's actually over 1,000 traffic circles in Milton Keynes. It's as though the town planners were using the "Design by Spirograph" method. One of the roundabouts leads to the town of Bletchley, just four miles from Milton Keynes proper. I was thrilled to learn that Bletchley also has its very own Blue Lagoon. Much to my disappointment, though, it was nothing like the one I visited in Iceland. Instead it's a nature reserve, with nary a spa in sight.
The Colossus computer cracked
high level Nazi codes during
World War II.
Not so disappointing was Bletchley Park, the headquarters of Britain's World War II code-breaking organization and now a popular tourist attraction. It was there that Alan Turing "broke the code" - in more ways than one. Bletchley is also the setting for The Bletchley Circle, which is not a Top Gear spin-off about how to navigate the town's B&Q Roundabout, which has roads at 90, 180, 270 and 360 degrees. It's a mystery drama miniseries set in the early 1950s, about four women who, having worked as code breakers at Bletchley Park, set out to investigate a series of killings. Bletchley code breakers are infamous for their loyalty to the Official Secrets act. They kept silent about their war effort for decades, and oftentimes it was only after they died that their families learned about their work on behalf of the British government.
I could have done with a code breaker myself when trying to figure out how to leave Bletchley, but I eventually did and headed "up north," the land of "ee bah gum" and "ecky thump," for more telly-inspired travel.
To be continued...