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Back at last.

And for the first time in a month, a reliable and fast internet connection.

A good thing to have, but really I didn't miss it much at all during my holiday. I have an ability to 'turn off' certain aspects of the way I live and replace them with something else, and a vacation provides one such opportunity.

So I barely logged on anywhere, listened to no music or radio whatsoever (in contrast to my normal daily dose), but instead did a lot of walking, a lot more photography than normal (meaning a phenomenal amount that going to take weeks to sort through!), and a lot of exploring of places both familiar and new.

Of the new, Kinlochleven (pictured above – a photo taken after a hefty hike up the other mountain across from the one you see. Breathless, I was!) in Scotland was the highlight. We spent one week there, in a small cottage (see side photo), that served as a base for walks, drives and train rides both local and more far afield. Some of these I'll write about later, but what I want to write here is my impressions of the holiday as a whole.

The first thing that struck me in England (but slightly less so in Scotland) was how incredibly expensive eveything is there now. The weak US dollar was a major contributor to this dismal state, but even allowing for that, the cost of living is very high and getting worse rapidly. We could not live well in England on what we earn here, whereas we are comfortably well-off (if not rich) here is St. Louis. Resataurant meals were 2-3 times more expensive, petrol 3x more, grocery goods easily twice. Nothing was cheap.

Very fortunately for us, we stayed primarily with family members who treated us with wonderful generosity, but still it was a shock.

Clearly though, there were some British people who were doing very well for themselves judging by the number of very expensive cars and astronomically pricey houses in many of the areas I visited (chiefly those places close to London and Bristol). For the first time, I got a sense in England of the great gap between the extremely wealthy and the rest of us that I see in the United States but have not tradtionally associated with the UK.

However, just as in the U.S., things are on the downturn. House prices are falling, and jobs in those areas of bloated salaries and bonuses are being lost. Because the UK is pretty much at the start of the decline that we've seen in the US for quite a while now, there was a greater sense of foreboding in the UK, as evidenced in newspaper and TV reports. The atmosphere there was definitely tense and worried, to my my mind at least, whereas here in St. Louis there is much greater sense of bad times being here, perhaps for a while, but at least we sort of know where we are now.

On that note, I'll pause and return with further thoughts later on.