England revisited

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Two return trips to England since relocating to the U.S. from London in 1997 reminded me that you never stop collecting useful tidbits when traveling.

Last year, I revisited Winchester, the town that might have been the Camelot of legend and definitely was King Alfred the Great's capital and home of the Domesday Book.

I ate in the refectory (dining hall) on the cathedral grounds. Discreetly hidden behind a medieval wall, it is a modern facility serving low-cost meals buffet style.

I mention it partly because my lunch of sausages and mash was served on a trencher, which is a piece of thick bread that in medieval times served as the plate. It would have been more fun (but messier) if my trencher had not sat on a 20th century plate.

My hosts then led me to Winchester's St. Cross Hospital, Britain's oldest charitable institution, dating to the 12th century. It is noted as the only place in England that still provides the "wayfarer's dole," a source of sustenance intended for weary travelers.

You must ask for it ("May I have the wayfarer's dole?"). The payoff is a bit of bread and a small tumbler of ale.

Last month, back in England for World Travel Market, I was picked up by a London cabdriver who saw fit to describe common practice for dealing with cabbies there.

First, he said, you stand at the window and advise the driver of the intended destination, then you get into the vehicle. At journey's end, you stand outside the cab at the same window to settle up.

But this "is not the law," he said, just the way it is done. And I was thinking, "In a downpour? No way."

I do not doubt my driver was describing what your average Londoner would do, but, amazingly, during my 18 months in London, I never heard a word about this.

Another thought provoker had to do with air travel. My ticket covered air to Strasbourg, France, for the ASTA congress and from London back to New York. In both cases, I was ticketed on the nonoperating carriers in code-share pacts, and this was clear on my travel documents.

The outbound coupon was plated on Sabena with service on Delta. I went to the Delta counters first (they were closest) but was sent to Sabena, a long walk if suitcases are not on wheels.

However, for check-in at Heathrow, I was sent to Virgin Atlantic, operator of my "Continental" flight. Does it occur to you that maybe those code-share disclosure statements passengers get these days should also advise where to check in for such flights?

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