Sunday, November 13, 2011

Welcome home! We hope you enjoyed our stay…

Normally this would be the obligatory blog post where I extol how awesome my vacation to Disney World was, and all of the awesome things we did, complete with pictures that you love to see.  But that post will have to come another day.  Instead I’ll recap what’s happened since I returned home.  There’s nothing quite like the feeling of coming back home from a fantastic vacation… especially when you come home to find that someone else wanted to enjoy your house while you were away. 

I arrived home on the Saturday night before Halloween.  After picking up my car from my parents’ house and driving home, I arrived in the driveway hoping to climb into my nice warm bed and get some sleep.  As I pulled up, I was somewhat surprised to find that the garage door wouldn’t open.  Odd, but plenty of reasonable explanations why that might have been the case.  So I parked my car on the street and made for the front door.  However, as I looked up from the street into the living room window, I noticed the lights were on.  Just very dim, but on no less.  And the blinds were open.  I was pretty certain neither of these were the case when I left, and at this point I think I subconsciously knew something was very wrong.  At this point, I didn’t even bother reaching for my house keys, but just went straight for the door handle, and found it decidedly unlocked.  As I went in and turned on the lights, my worst expectations were recognized as it was obvious someone else had been there. 

I walked into my office on the first floor, and couldn’t see the carpet because papers were scattered all about every corner of the room.  I cautiously made my way up to the main floor, to find things surprisingly relatively orderly, but also remarkably bare at places.  I honestly wouldn’t have noticed much wrong except that a couple of the kitchen cupboards were open, and a few things open elsewhere.  At this point in partial shock, I just grabbed my phone and called 911.  The dispatcher said she’d send a police officer over to take a report.  Much to my surprise, a Shoreline officer showed up in less than 5 minutes.  He looked around and surveyed the situation.  This was also the first I went up to my bedroom to see what had happened up there.  Again, besides a few drawers that I never use sitting opened, I wouldn’t have noticed much wrong. 

After a bit more investigation, we found the point of entry: the downstairs window.  The perps had used a screwdriver to pry the trim off around the window frame, then jam the screwdriver through to pop the latch on the window.  In hindsight, this is one form of entry that could have been thwarted by ye olde stick in the window.  However, my more cynical opinion is that had I made it harder to slide the window open they would have just broken the glass, which would have been a lot worse for me to have to deal with.

I’m not generally one to live in fear, but I have to admit, I didn’t really get much sleep that night.  I was lucky that I didn’t realize until morning that one of my spare house keys was missing as well.  I was able to secure the window with a stick that made me feel reasonably safe, but it took me several days until I got the locks changed and believed that things were really secure again.  In the meantime, I took the rather insane approach of barricading the front door with a bench before I went to bed, just in case someone wanted to come in the middle of the night.  I also for the first time locked my bedroom door, because well, if it helps you sleep better more power to you.  Smile  By the end of the week, my paranoia was gone, and I now feel like it’s back to my own safe and sound house.  All things considered, getting over it that quickly is probably better than most. 

Two weeks following the break-in, I’m still finding things missing.  There’s nothing quite like looking at an empty shelf and thinking “I know there was something there, but what exactly was it?”  The obvious stuff was gone:  several laptops, a bunch of collectible coins, pretty much anything shiny.  It took me a while to realize that some of the more important things were gone, such as my flute and piccolo.  On the whole, not too much that was irreplaceable was taken.  The exceptions were some random souvenirs I had gotten from trips over the years, like from the Vancouver Olympics, and unfortunately all of my pins I had bought or received on the various trips and bowl games over my years in band.  I’ve heard that most thieves make use of what they find for hauling the booty away, namely any sort of bags they find to load up.  I think the most noticeable was the fact that nearly every duffel bag or storage bag in my house was taken, presumably to load up the goods.  But on the more bizarre side, there was a noticeable amount of random food and such taken from the fridge.  Ice cream, cheese, salami, and even peanut butter.  I mean, honestly?  Who takes such things?! 

But without a doubt the strangest thing I never noticed happened the other night when I was going to wash a pan in the sink.  As I’m standing at the sink I immediately reach out for the dish soap, and it isn’t there.  Yes, that’s right, they stole a half empty bottle of Dawn.  I do not at all understand that one.  It makes next to no sense to me whatsoever. 

So I’ve been dealing with the insurance company, sending along lists of what was taken, and then replacing as much of it as I can.  Part of the reason it’s taken so long to get this posted is that I just got a new laptop on Friday.  While in some ways it’s fun shopping to replace all of the things that were taken, I really would much rather just have my stuff back. 

No word as to if they’ll ever catch the people who did it.  My flute was probably the most traceable thing that was taken, as I even had the serial number to track it with, but unless they take it to a pawn shop to try to get rid of it, it’s unlikely they’ll ever get caught.  Maybe someday they’ll get caught for some other crime and they’ll find some of my stuff, but I’m not counting on much.  As it goes, you just have to move on and pick up the pieces.  It’s only things, and things can be replaced. 

But I still want my stuff back…

Monday, October 03, 2011

Infomercial Theory

They say the golden rule for infomercials is:

1)  Convince the audience of a problem they never knew they had.
2)  Provide a solution to the problem that they never knew they had.
3)  Scare them into thinking the problem they never knew they had is worse than they ever thought it could be.
4)  Give them a one-of-a-kind too-good-to-be-true offer that they have to act on right away.
5)  Give them something extra to make the too-good-to-be-true offer EVEN MORE too-good-to-be-true.

I have to admit, I love watching infomercials.  I find them oddly captivating (and usually the acting is absolutely priceless... as in I don't think they paid anything for real actors).

Have you also noticed how there are "regulars" in the infomercial acting world?  I'm like "that's the same old lady who had fell in the tub and needed the suction cup handle to make her safer after washing her feet with these scrubber things that so you don't need to actually touch your own feet, yet also grows her tomatoes upside down, but talks to her grandkids while grandpa listens to the TV using the wireless headphones so as not to disturb her, all the while wearing her Snuggie so she can knit without her arms getting cold!"

But that's not why I write today... I write about the latest trend in the mainstream market that capitalizes on the problem I never knew I had.  The hands free soap pump for home use!

As the commercials point out, "who wants to touch a germy soap pump? EW!"  Now you too can keep your family safe and healthy from harmful germs with the hands free soap pump next to your sink!

Now, I don't doubt that there are germs on the soap pump (well, perhaps I do, but that's another issue)... but what do I do normally when I touch something nasty or germ-ridden?  Wash my hands!  But wait?  That's ALREADY what I'm doing!  What a deal!  So why should I care if the soap pump is germy?  I shouldn't!  That's the point!  It's the perfect problem you never knew you had, coupled with this country's obsession with cleanliness and scaring people into thinking that germs are out to get you!  "I don't want my kids touching that!  Ew!"

I guess there really IS a sucker born every minute...

Friday, August 19, 2011

News, Updates, and D23 Expo

It's been a while since I've made a purely Disney-related update (I know I know, you're going to say it's been a while since I've made ANY update)... but I like this stuff.

This weekend is every Disney fan's dream for new information about upcoming events and happenings.  The D23 Expo will be occurring this weekend in Anaheim, a convention where Disney often releases all of the news and excitement of things they're planning for the upcoming year and beyond.  In conjunction with this, today we have the release of the first set of Pixar themed postage stamps from the USPS.  The Send a Hello series features images from 5 classic Pixar films (Cars, Ratatouille, Toy Story, Up, and Wall-E).  
As much as nobody really sends mail anymore, it's always fun to find an excuse to send things.  The nice feature of these is that they are FOREVER stamps, and won't lose their value if you mail things as infrequently as I do.  I typically use them on postcards, even though they're more postage than you need, because who wouldn't want one of these stamps on a postcard? :)  

In other news, we've heard rumors of Disney's "NextGen" project for years now, but only find out pieces here and there about what it consists of.  One of the latest tech pieces to be discovered is the future plans to use fancy RFID wristbands for resort guests.  


An article over on dizfanatic.com goes over just some of the uses for this technology, including room keys, park tickets, fastpasses, photo pass, and all kinds of other interactive whosawhatsits.  Pretty neat idea, it'll be interesting to see how this works out once they implement it at some point.  

In my own news, I'm looking forward to yet another trip to Disney World this October.  Few people understand my obsession insatiable enjoyment with going to Disney theme parks.  It's not that I always go on vacation there exclusively -- as you know from my blog here I go lots of different places.  But I do like the ultimate carefree not-thinking-about-the-outside-world aspect to going to a Disney theme park.  This trip should also be interesting because I'm going during a different time of year than I have in the past.  I'll be there during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, an annual month-long event where Epcot becomes a giant food festival, with additional food stands set up all around the World Showcase, presenting foods from the various countries, as well as plenty of other special events and guests.  

Additionally, the Magic Kingdom will be decked out for the Halloween holiday.  I've been to Disneyland during Halloween season several times, and it's always fantastic.  I've always been a big fan of Halloween, so maybe I just enjoy those decorations a bit more than usual.  

That's the news that's fit to print for now.  

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Street where the riches of ages are stowed… – Day 14

Portobello Road, Portobello Road,
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrows in Portobello Road.

I started my last day in London with a walk down to Portobello Road.  For those who have never seen the lesser-known Disney movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury, this probably won’t mean much to you.  Though I’ve seen this movie way too many times to remember, and can’t get the Portobello Road song out of my head. 

Street where the riches of ages are sold

On Saturdays this street turns into a giant street market, selling everything from antiques to new chotchkies, to a more conventional farmers market with produce and other foodie goods.  And of course, the usual unique street performing entertainment. 

I lost my head!After a nice walk down this road and buying nothing, because I found no junk that I never knew I needed, I hopped the tube across town towards St. Paul’s Cathedral, famously in another Disney movie, Mary Poppins, where the old lady fed the birds.  

Along the way, I stumbled upon the Museum of London.  This wasn’t on any of the maps I had, but I stopped in anyway (it’s another free museum, so what did I have to lose?).  It was actually a very interesting museum specifically talking about the history of the city of London, with plenty of interactive things to play with (because just like any kid, I get bored in museums pretty easily if there isn’t stuff for me to play with).  It was a worthwhile diversion.  They should put these on maps. 

Finally continuing down the street, I made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  One small problem I hadn’t accounted for, however, was that on Saturdays it closed to visitors at 1pm.  Apparently Jesus needs his naptime.  Waah waah.  I lose.  Complete failure of planning. 

St. Paul's But what can I do?  I continued on down to Fleet Street, and kept walking around town.  Next thing I knew I was in the West End’s Theatretown, and there were theatres everywhere.  Being Saturday, they all have their matinee shows, and I walked past a theatre showing a new musical that I had seen advertised quite a bit around town this past week, Betty Blue Eyes.

Betty Blue Eyes There were still last minute day of show tickets available, and the show started in just 15 minutes, so I plopped down 20 pounds and grabbed a seat in the 3rd row of this beautiful theatre having ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what this musical comedy was about.  It story was set in Britain during the food rationing times of post-WWII, specifically around the time of the royal wedding of then-Princess Elizabeth and Philip.  The plot is entirely centered around key points in British history, which while an entertaining story with good music, would probably have a rough time playing to US audiences on Broadway.  Though I’d have to say it was worth what I paid to see it, and I enjoyed the well done show. 

Following that, I walked my way back across Oxford Street and the shops that still didn’t have anything worth buying.  But walking around the city as much as I have, this is the first time I’ve been in a city where people drive on the “wrong” side of the street.  And it’s confused the hell out of me.  Ultimately, the only thing that has saved me countless times when crossing at crosswalks is the abundant use of instructions to those crossing.

I would not survive in London without these painted at nearly every crosswalk I’d say they put these in solely for tourists, but that would be wrong. I think the locals use them just as much.  The problem is that you never know if the road you’re crossing is a one-way this way, one-way that way, or two-way street, each of which requires you to look a certain direction.  LOOK RIGHT –> and <- LOOK LEFT are the most important words you ever see.  Once you do that, the system works.  Though even after a week in the UK, I can’t for the life of me remember which direction traffic is coming at an unmarked crosswalk.  But the tricky part that I instantly realized is that not only do they DRIVE on the left, trains and subways travel on the left of each other, so at the train platforms you’re expecting the train to come from the other direction.  AND, walking on the street, you tend to walk on the left too, though with so many tourists in town, that quickly becomes a disordered mess.  Walking down the middle or against a wall seems to be the most efficient way to get through things. 

Well, the bags are repacked, ready to head off to the airport in the morning for 14 hours of in-flight relaxation.  Unfortunately, no direct flight home this time, so I have to split the trip in half with a stop at JFK in New York.  It’ll be a long day.  But fortunately the holiday weekend yields a day of recovery on Monday. 

For you avid blog readers who have followed my journey, I hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I’ll try to keep up with some intermittent blogging before my next adventure, but we all know how that goes.  Thanks for the memories.  Please tip your waiter.  Good night. 

Friday, July 01, 2011

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square – Day 13

Day 13, nearly at the end of our journey, but today was a bit more upbeat as I traveled to some of the more royal landmarks in London.

The day began with a stop by the Royal Mews, where all the Queen’s horses are stabled, along with the royal carriages and motorcars.  Of particular interest was an up close look at the Glass Coach which has famously been seen in many royal weddings, notably carrying Princess Diana to the wedding with Charles. 

Glass Coach - famously known for taking Diana to the wedding Following a brief stop at the Queen’s Gallery, which displays selected paintings and other artifacts from the Royal collection, I made my way down the street to Buckingham Palace. 

Orderly marching I hadn’t planned to see the Changing of the Guard, but just happened to walk past at the right time, along with the throngs of people who had lined the plaza to watch.  Almost every reference I read said that the changing is completely overrated and not to waste your time, but since I was there, I joined the party.  It wasn’t so bad. 

OK, so what I really enjoyed was the royal beefeater band.  They were rather good to listen to, and it was nice watching them march out. 

Clarinets at the back, as usual Not a large group, and as usual the clarinets are in the back of the block, but that’s to be expected. :)  They were followed by men with guns, and then a second group of just drums and fifes (or piccolos as the case may be, historical accuracy be damned).  They were fun too, but need a lesson in keeping the piccs in tune.  Seriously. 

Watch the band marching
Watch the drums and piccolos marching 

Continuing on I went to the Churchill War Rooms, which were the underground bunker rooms used by Churchill and the British cabinet members during WWII.  These were surprisingly interesting, and well worth the stop.  This also included the Churchill Museum, which was basically a biographical museum all about the man himself. 

Just next door is 10 Downing Street, home of the current prime minister.  It’s not quite as glamorous as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but it seems to have nearly as many men with guns standing out front.  I could see about this much: 

10 Downing Street I was not on the guest list, so I moved on.  I apparently was on the guest list at Westminster Abbey, where I couldn’t take any pictures inside, but got some nice ones from outside worth seeing.

Westminster AbbeyThis place was second only to the Tower of London in terms of how many people were touring it.  And since it’s so much smaller relatively, it was next to impossible to get around in there.  But I still saw plenty of old stuff, and dead people crypts.  Classy.

From there, time had escaped me a bit, but I wanted to make my way down to Greenwich, and took a river cruise from Westminster down the river.  Sadly, it took about an hour and a half to get there, and I didn’t make it off the dock until a bit after 4pm.  Hustling up to the places I wanted to get, I had basically the option of going to the National Maritime Museum, or the Royal Observatory up the hill, in the time I had left.  I decided to walk part the museum and head up to the observatory, which I arrived at about 20 past 4pm.  I head on in, and actually viewed some rather impressive displays on timekeeping and how it all developed.  And more importantly, I saw the arbitrary line of no particular significance, except that they had to draw 0° somewhere and these people decided it would be through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich: The Prime Meridian. 

Half of me in both hemispheres This classy self portrait of me standing halfway in the Eastern and Western Hemispheres was my souvenir of this part of the journey.  Now my ironic gripe of the night:  I was informed when I entered the observatory at around 4:21pm that it closes at 5pm.  Fine, I figured I could see plenty by then.  I make my way through seeing things, and just as I’m heading into the last building, at 4:45pm, the lady tells me that they’re closed, and they kick everyone out of the place.  At 4:45pm.  WHAT THE DEAL?  The sign clearly said “Closes 17.00, Last admission 16.30”.  You would THINK that the place that DEFINES THE TIME FOR THE ENTIRE WORLD could at least get the time right.  C’mon Greenwich. 

Once I got over that, I went into the town of Greenwich, where I found a nice pub and had a tasty hamburger, for a reasonable price, which included a pint for only 50 pence more, so who could argue with that.  On the TV the big match that had England captivated was the Wimbledon semi-final between Britain’s own Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal.  The world seemed to stop so everyone could watch this.  Even back in the city up on Oxford Street, an outdoor pub garden was packed with onlookers watching on the TV. 

Everyone watching Wimbledon And finally, on my walks through town I passed by another of the famous town squares, this one immortalized in song, Berkeley Square. 

The world needs more little squares like this Though I heard no nightingale singing over the hustle and bustle of a busy city, it still looked like a nice place to mention in a song.  I leave you with that song.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Off with her head! – Day 12

It turned out to be a rather dark and bleak day today, but not weather-wise, only topically.  The adventures started out with a trip to the Tower of London, formerly the Alcatraz of the British Empire, and now probably the most visited tourist attraction. 

Inside the walls This is actually an amazing place, and besides getting to see the Crown Jewels of yet another country, the whole place is VERY well done.  There are plenty of tours of the grounds led by the local Yeoman Warders, aka the Beefeaters.  I caught parts of several, and I actually in hindsight would have just stayed with the guided tour the whole time, it was that well done.  The Beefeater knew everything under the sun, and was highly entertaining.  Though gruesome at times, it was very educational and historical.  A few highlights: 

Heads of State A display of the Heads of State?  OK, that was not really a highlight, but was worth the cheap laugh. 

Creepy metal dragon This dragon was kinda odd too, but I thought it looked cool.  After a little over two hours in the Tower of London, I moved down the river to the Tower Bridge. 

Tower Bridge I did go up inside the tower, which is an attraction in its own right.  But it was pretty lame.  Probably the only lame thing I did today.  I guess nothing’s perfect. 

Once on the other side of the river, I went on recommendation to the Winston Churchill’s Britain at War Experience.  This place wasn’t much on the outside, and looked rather cheesy and half baked in the entrance.  But despite the fact that it was less than technically impressive, it was actually quite captivating.  Its focus was the Blitz on Britain during WWII from the British perspective.  Like any good WWII museum, it had lots of artifacts and stuff, but this one made you feel like you were actually there, not just through pictures.  Well worth it. 

Finally the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs was nearby.  I had no idea about this one, but it was free with my London Pass, and I walked by it.  It turned out to be part history lesson, part interactive live theatre, and part haunted house.  OK, well, the whole thing was haunted house, basically.  The first part led the group through several scenes with live actors in character leading the group on the dark history of the London Bridge.  From there, we “went down into the tombs”, where it basically turned into a gratuitous haunted house, where live actors try to scare the pants off of the guests.  I found the whole concept to be incredibly hokey, but so well done (even rivaling Disney’s standards of theming), that it was actually something I would say not to miss.  And yes, it was scary.  And dark, very very dark. 

Wicked The night concluded with taking in a West End show.  I had looked at what was playing around town, and didn’t really find anything in particular that I hadn’t seen but really wanted to, so decided to go to one of my favorite musicals, Wicked.  It’s amazing to see it in a permanent theatre, as I usually only see touring productions that have scaled back and transportable sets.  This was elaborate and altogether a great show.  Though it was a bit odd to hear the musical with British accents, I actually believe that these people enunciated much better than the past two touring productions I’ve seen in Seattle.  I could clearly hear many of the lyrics that I knew but are all too easily slurred and blurred on stage. 

Inside the Theatre It was also very cool to see one of these old theatres.  At least I assume it was old, it was pretty cool.  One thing that is odd in the British theatre world is the different names for everything.  What we in the US would call the Orchestra Level or Main Floor, they call the Stalls (though I have no idea why).  The balcony, or mezzanine, they call the Dress Circle.  I’m sure there’s ye olde English explanations for these, but I have yet to bother to figure it out.  So it is. 

Tomorrow I think I’ll head to Westminster Abbey, and probably other places around the central part of London.  Or I’ll start wandering.  I gave my feet a bit of a rest today and took the Tube around most places, so maybe tomorrow I’ll be recovered enough.  But first I must sleep. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mummies, Music, and Muttering – Day 11

For some reason I feel the need to turbo tourist through this and kill myself.  But now I’ve still got 3 full days after this, and I will be able to do a lot of different things that are a bit more relaxing, I think.  But today was turboing through London attacking many different areas. 

The day started with a trip back to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.  Room after room filled with art from all the ages.  Nothing particularly memorable there, but then again, I’m no art historian, so that’s OK.  A brief stop next door at the National Portrait Gallery, which was more endless rooms of paintings of dead kings and queens.  Similarly yawn. 

But then things got interesting as I made my way up to the British Museum.  First of all, pictures were allowed nearly everywhere.  This is good museum policy, folks.  People want to take pictures that they’re never going to look at again.  I mean, why not?  Every museum should allow pictures.  I do understand the no flash policy, as the camera flashes can sometimes damage things.  Fine.  I’m cool.  Just let me snap some shots of the more interesting things so I have something to put on my blog.  Capice?  good. 

So the British Museum has a lot of old stuff.  Most notably probably is their Egyptian collection of mummies and stuff.  And of course, big rocks with writing on them. 

Rosetta Stone OK, OK.  So the Rosetta Stone is actually pretty cool.  By far the most interesting piece in the entire museum, but then again it was probably one of the single most important archaeological discoveries of the last 300 years.  Or something.  I’m not so good with numbers, that’s why I use a calculator. 

After the British Museum, I hopped the tube up to King’s Cross and explored a bit of St. Pancras Station, right next door.  After being disappointed to find it was not insulin producing, I was thrilled to find the Olympic Rings greeting all of the EuroStar trains arriving from Paris. 

Welcoming! I’m pretty sure that’s there just to impress Jacques Rogge when he drops in to check on preparations for 2012.  But unlike most of the things London has done for the Olympics (the logo, the mascots, the logo, the mascots), this one is actually tasteful.  I approve. 

Next door to St. Pancras is the British Library.  They have a gallery showcasing some of the more famous pieces in their collection, including things like the Magna Carta and quite a few illuminated manuscripts and such.  But I was particularly interested by their rare music collection.  It included such things as the original manuscript for Handel’s Messiah.  And this other rather famous piece that I’m pretty sure most everyone knows.  But I’ll leave it for you to figure out… name that tune!

Name that Tune From the Library I went all the way across town to the Tate British museum, which had more unexciting art in it.  I walked through and moved on.  But a walk along the Thames was nice, and I found myself in Westminster right next to the Houses of Parliament.  Definitely one of the most ornate and interesting buildings in London. 

Houses of Parliament As I was walking by the visitor entrance, I was told that the House of Commons was in session, and since I obviously looked common enough, they invited me to the viewing gallery.  After going through airport-style security checks, I made my way into Westminster Hall, and upstairs to the gallery. 

Westminster Hall Though my camera was confiscated before entering the gallery, it was exactly like watching British C-SPAN.  They were simply giving floor speeches, which didn’t have a lot of interesting to say.  But there was some muttering, so I was satisfied I got my zero-point-zero-zero pounds worth.

Big Ben under blue skies Big Ben greeted me outside, in all his splendor.  Before I made my way back up to Oxford Street, the busiest shopping street in Europe (at least that’s what Wikipedia says, so it must be true).  I only walked a short stretch of the west end of it, before I made my way back to the hotel.  On the way back I stopped at a pub and had some fish and chips, this time FAR better than the ones I had in Edinburgh.  Either luck, or just I was near a locale that caters more to tourists tastes.  I don’t know.  Either way though, there was tartar sauce, so I was satisfied. :)  After dinner though, as I got up to leave, I realized that my legs and feet were protesting.  They had basically locked up while I was sitting there.  I hobbled my way back down the street to the hotel and have had a nice relaxing night in the hotel room.  My feet and legs are happier now.  More adventures tomorrow. 

Adventures in London – Day 10.2

A relaxing and uneventful train ride to London, parlayed into a wet and crazy evening walking around the city.  I arrived into King’s Cross, and then hopped down to the tube to Paddington Station, where my hotel is nearest to.  A quick check-in to my small, yet adequate and nicely furnished room, and I was ready to go.

My hotel room in London Of course, as with my luck, the thunder clapped, and it turned into a torrential downpour stranding me at the hotel for a while.  The skies looked to be clearing up, and I finally ventured into the city as the rain had stopped.  My luck continued, as just as I was safely about 3 or 4 blocks from the hotel, the thunder crashes and the rains begin again.  I took shelter in the covered archway entrance to a hotel, until I got so fed up with it I just left and got wet anyway.  Fortunately, at some point it let up a bit and I could get around town.  I took a walk across Kensington Park, and then found myself at the Natural History Museum.  Lots of interesting stuff there, but then the scary stuffed cat scared me and I left. 

MEOW! I went next door to the Science Museum, which was pretty cool.  After wandering through there for a good amount of time that I lost track of, I wandered up the street and ended up at the world famous not-to-be-missed gihugous department store Harrod’s.  Living up to its reputation, it had pretty much everything you could POSSIBLY think of under one roof.  So the next item up for bids… impress your friends with the desk to replace all desks.  Hand-crafted from exquisite hardwoods and with that olde-world charrm you don’t find these days, it’ll be a perfect addition to your warehouse-sized office of any size!  And it could be yours… if the price is right. 

Fancy desk for my office Did someone bid $1?  Oh, I’m sorry.  The actual retail price is… 76,799 pounds, or the unbeatable price of approximately $122,000.  Definitely something to add to your collection. 

After gawking at all the overpriced junk at Harrod’s, I continued down the street towards Piccadilly Circus, but was entertained by some store’s elaborate window displays, including what I can only describe as “The Gin God”. 

Gin man in a window display Hmmm, kinds makes me want a martini.  I made my way on through the rather anticlimactic Piccadilly Circus, and on to Leicester Square.  Weaving through all of the West End theatres, I dropped down to Trafalgar Square where I found the 2012 Olympics countdown clock.

Countdown to the 2012 Olympic Games Looking forward to that, in a little over a year’s time.  Speaking of the Olympics, the city is an absolute nightmare right now.  Practically everywhere you turn, there are streets closed and construction barriers up, as they rush to finish all these construction projects in time for next year’s Games.  Makes it a bit of a challenge for the summer tourists this year, but I guess that’s the price you pay. 

After successfully getting myself halfway across the city, I hopped the tube back to Paddington, and drug my sore and tired feet and legs back to the hotel.  Plenty of adventures to continue on Wednesday. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Leavin’ on the morning train to… – Day 10.1

A bright and early start to my day today, as I made my way the several blocks uphill to get to Waverly Station in Edinburgh to catch the 8am train to King’s Cross.  I continue to be a day late (and presumably a dollar short) with the weather, as it was a gloriously sunny morning in Edinburgh, the nicest day I’ve seen in my entire trip.  I now just crossed through York and am about 2 hours out of London, and the skies are cloudy and grey.  But I’m wearing shorts anyway, because I really don’t care 

I just finished sketching out my time in London.  Today I should arrive and get situated by around 2pm, and hopefully have a few good hours for exploring the city.  Wednesday will be free adventures day, with plans that may include the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate Britain, Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and/or the British Library.

Yes yes, I know, it would be IMPOSSIBLE to see all of these in a single day.  But when I’m traveling, especially by myself, it’s only loosely guided.  I generally have a good idea what major things I want to hit in a single day, but I’m not so concerned about hitting up every one of them, and if I’m bored with a place, I leave.  The holy grail of touring for me though is a cheap paper tourist map that is usually just good enough to help me find roughly where I am, and has all kinds of interesting museums and tourist attractions marked on it. 

Guiding principle #1:  It’s ok to get lost.  You find more interesting things – the things that AREN’T on a map – when you’re lost.  This works as long as you have enough sense of direction to know how to get un-lost when you want to get back.

So we’ll see what happens.  I really could use some nice weather though.  If I wanted this, I would have stayed home.  Then again, I hear it’s been beautiful back in Seattle recently, so maybe I just bring the rain. 

Another update later tonight after the rest of today’s adventures. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Great Scott! – Day 9

The rains came and the rains continue.  This paragraph was about 8 times longer, but then my computer locked up and I lost it all.  You didn’t miss much. 

I started my day by climbing the Scott Monument.  283 steps to the top, up narrow winding stone staircases.  From the top you can see a lot of Edinburgh, but you can see those pictures for yourself over in the album

Scott Monument Edinburgh is probably one of the only cities in the world where it would be perfectly normal to have a bagpiper playing on a street corner.  Even from the top of the Scott Monument, those highland pipes live up to their reputation.  I could hear them clear as a bell. 

Bagpiper on the street.  Bagpipes sound carries well From there, I made my way up to the Royal Mile.  It’s a stretch of street that spans from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Abbey.  The original plan was to check out one of the must-see castles of the world (at least that’s what the Travel Channel told me).  Though my introduction to Edinburgh Castle was a line queue of a bajillion people waiting to get tickets. 

Crazy numbers of people to get tickets, I'll come back later. I actually started waiting in line, then it started to rain.  As many umbrellas popped up like a game of whack-a-mole, I decided it wasn’t worth it and would come back later, and headed back to the Royal Mile for some other sightseeing.  The tourist traps are in full force, but I took a walk through the (free) tartan mill. 

Automatic weaving machines doing their workThe looms were whirring and spitting out tartans of every color and clan.  After hunting down the family tartan, I moved on to the next stop.  I went to the massively-commercialized Scotch Whisky Experience.  Part Disney-like ride in a whiskey barrel, part informative explanation of the Scottish whisky industry.  I was surprisingly impressed with the “experience”.  It also included a walk through the World’s Largest Scotch Collection of over 3000 bottles of scotch. 

Lots of scotch! After stopping for lunch, I continued back to the castle.  This time, not a soul in line, I walked right up and bought my ticket and headed inside.  But at the entrance to the castle they were assembling a large complicated grandstand for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo that takes place in August.  Apparently this is a “new” set of stands that can be assembled and disassembled in only 6 weeks, as opposed to the old one that took 3 months to put up and take down.  Seems like a lot of work, but must be a big deal. 

Assembling the grandstands for the August military tattoo. Inside the castle were too numerous things to mention, but of particular note were the Scottish Honours, a.k.a. the Crown Jewels.  Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed.  But they were shiny.  These were officially retired when Scotland united with England to form Great Britain in 1707, and locked away in Edinburgh Castle, until they were found again in the early 1800s and put on display.  This is one more set of crown jewels I can put into my collection of those I’ve seen. 

Following that I made my way back down the Royal Mile to St Giles Cathedral, head of the Church of Scotland and the mother church of Presbyterianism. 

St Giles Cathedral Later, I went on to Calton Hill.  It was by far the most interesting looking hill from downtown, so I went until I made it up there.  A nice walk, but not very exciting.  It’s much better looking from afar. 

Tonight I’ve just been relaxing a bit and catching up on pictures, postcards, and blogs.  I’m off to London in the morning, and should have a lot going on there.  Currently just short of 300 pictures overall, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to see once I reach London.  Ready for a relaxing day of train travel down to England tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Adventures in the Highlands – Day 7 and 8

Saturday was mostly a travel day, as I said a fond farewell to Sweden and headed over to Scotland.  My friend Heather met me at the airport, and after dropping my stuff at her flat, we went out around the town.  No trip to Edinburgh would be complete without a stop at a local pub, and one nearby was the Queen’s Arms.

  The Queen's Arms PubI have to say, if we had pubs like this back in the States, I might find myself here more often too!  We sat and had a pint at a nice little table in the corner.  And yes, all of those books are 100% real, no staging here.  What a crafty place. 

Inside the Queen's Arms So we wandered around the city, and I explored a bit of the sights of Edinburgh.  Lots of old stuff around, and a fair amount of newer stuff in old buildings too.  I was particularly thrilled with this picture of Calton Hill right in the middle of Edinburgh.  It looks almost… fake.  But I don’t think even Disney could replicate this one that well. 

Picturesque Edinburgh Moving on to Sunday, we were on a quest to find some whisky distilleries.  We took the train up towards Inverness and stopped at the small village of Pitlochry.  We chose it because it was home to two distilleries, both within relative walking distance of the train station. 

The little village of Pitlochry We stopped at the Blair Athol Distillery, home to some fine whiskies.  It had a nice little tour, which was vastly similar to many of the bourbon tours I took in Kentucky, but still worth the trip.  The scenery was nearly as good.  Though it was a rainy day throughout, with quite a few bouts of moderate downpour.  While this one was only the better part of a mile from the station, the other distillery, Edradour, was about 2.5 miles by road out of town, or you could take the “walk” through the woods for a slightly shorter journey.  It might be a little nicer if it weren’t pouring down rain.  But we went past this lovely sight called the Black Spout. 

The Black Spout

We finally made it to the Edradour Distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland.  They produce about 90,000 liters of whisky a year, which ain’t a whole lot.  The distillery grounds reminded me a bit of the Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery in Kentucky,  just in that it’s so far off the beaten path and quite scenic.  But I was rather disappointed that this one was so touristy.  Apparently, despite being the smallest distillery in Scotland, it is also the most visited.  During the summer months, they get over 700 visitors a day, which doesn’t surprised me considering the tour buses we saw outside.  Unimpressed. 

After quite a journey back to Edinburgh, we were starving so decided to get the local favorite, fish and chips.  Now, this was my first experience with authentically Scottish / British fish and chips. 

Fish and Chips, British Style

Where do I begin?  First, the fish is, like they took a giant fish filet and deep fried it.  Call me crazy, but I always thought that part of the point of fish and chips was to be easily eaten with your hands.  This is not.  The chips were quite nice.  But… I decided to be authentic and eat as the locals would, with plenty of “brown sauce”.  Frankly, I’ve met few sauces I didn’t like, and this is no exception.  Quite tasty stuff.  So the chips get a pass in my book.  But let’s get back to the fish.  Despite the large and less-than-easily-eaten piece of fish, it was untasty.  Now, I’ve never been a huge fish fan, but I always considered myself a fan of fish and chips.  But you know what?  I think I may not like fish and chips… I think I may just like tartar sauce.  It is entirely possible that my love for fish and chips consist only in so much as they are a tartar sauce conveyance device.  But of course, tartar sauce is distinctly American.  And you know what,  I think American fish and chips are better than the original.  There, I said it.  The end.  But you want to know real tastiness… then I present the antipasto plate I had last night at a local Italian restaurant. 

Antipasto plate at dinner... now that's some tasty meat! I dub thee… plate of cured meats.  And I ate ever last bit of this plate, and it was delicious.  My arteries may be clogged, but I probably walked 8-10 miles in the last 2 days, so I feel fully entitled. 

And finally I ask… up or down?  In my never ending quest to understand why different countries have different ideas of which way is up, I have found the lightswitch.  So far I see: 

USA – Up is On
Denmark – Down is On
Sweden – Up is On
UK – Down is On

For goodness sake people, if my life depended on this, I wouldn’t have any clue which way to go.  I mean, if Sweden and Denmark can’t even agree, what’s up with the world?  Maybe I’ll figure it out sometime.  At least we have lightswitches. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Swedish Midsummer – Day 6

Today turned out to be a rather eventful day.  It was a holiday in Sweden, Midsummer’s Eve, otherwise known as the day before Midsummer, though for convenience moved to the nearest weekend.  Virtually everything in the city shuts down, and people head home to spend time with their families and celebrate.  There are a lot of similarities to American Thanksgiving in that regard. 

We were invited to spend Midsummer with one of our coworkers, J├Ârgen.  He and his friend Steve were heading out to some friends small cottage out on the coast to celebrate the traditional Midsummer’s Eve.

Our Midsummer's Eve Home The cottage was this family’s summer home outside of the city.  It was in a little community built on the rocky shores.  Apparently this area is public land owned by the city of Gothenburg, but plots of this land are leased to individuals who were originally allowed to build small cottages, but then continued to add on patios and more enclosed areas, and many have basically turned into small houses.  Yes, that’s right, it’s the Crescent Bar of Gothenburg. 

Shortly after arriving, we headed down to the center of the community to visit the Midsummer Pole.  It was a rather windy day which blew most of the flowers off of it, but the greenery remained.  Apparently the pole is traditionally a sign of fertility.  I can see that.  But I’m not sure if that’s fact or just urban legend. 

Me in front of the Midsummer Pole Now the festivities began, with all of the kids (usually brought along by their parents) forming a circle to dance around the Pole.  Singing traditional Midsummer songs (that literally every Swede there seemed to know by heart because they all sang them around the Pole when they were kids), they danced and sang to the lovely sounds of the old man playing the accordion.  For some reason, this didn’t even feel like such a strange thing… it was kinda cool. 

Midsummer Pole Accordion Man
Dancing Around the Midsummer Pole [ Clip 1 | Clip 2 ]

Festive!

Following the festivity, we took a walk down to the water.  They call this Herring Bay, and it was ridiculously windy.  With lots of rocky shore, it was pretty neat. 

Scenic We eventually concluded the afternoon with traditional Midsummer dinner. 

Traditional Midsummer Dinner Some traditional, some non traditional, but included in dinner were boiled new potatoes with dill, salad, cheese, bread (though they like their Swedish hard bread, I prefer the soft kind, thankyouverymuch), and of course, the ever ceremonial pickled herring.  Now, I’ve once again avoided pickled herring for most of my life, but in my never ending quest to “try anything once” I had some, much to the Swedes amusement.  But believe it or not, (well, I didn’t believe it), it wasn’t half bad.  I mean, I’m not going to be seeking it out as the greatest thing I’ve ever eaten, but it wasn’t so terrible.  Following dinner was traditionally Swedish strawberries (they do love their strawberries) with whipped cream.  Everything else was delicious as expected. 

An exciting view into the Midsummer festival in Sweden.  That concludes the adventures in Sweden this time.  Tomorrow I head off to Edinburgh, the land of the Scots, for some new adventures.