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. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wrapping Up the Week – Day 4 and 5

Nothing much to report from yesterday, so there was no blog post.  Today was the last day in the office, as Friday is a holiday in Sweden… Midsommarafton or Midsummer Eve, is the day before the Midsummer Day (surprised?).  Apparently it’s supposed to fall on the actual solstice, but for practical reasons it now falls on the nearest Friday/Saturday. 

After wrapping up things at work, I took the opportunity to head downtown (if that’s what you call it) to do some shopping.  I didn’t succeed doing much more than walking aimlessly for several kilometres around town, but it was a nice evening.  I stopped at Nordstan, the largest mall in Scandinavia.  It spans about 6 city blocks, mostly enclosed under a roof. 

 

 

The line at the liquor store the day before Midsommar

The most interesting thing I found was walking past the liquor store in the mall.  The line to get in the door stretched back a good 150 feet, which was rather amazing.  In Sweden, the only thing that can be bought in stores is stuff with less than 3% or so alcohol content.  So pretty much just the weak beers and that’s it.  All your good beer, wine, and liquor has to be bought at the liquor store… which isn’t open on holidays.  So everyone is waiting to get in to buy their liquor up for the long weekend.  

The Hjulet... I'm guessing that means Wheel.

In other scenery, the Goteborgs Hjulet.  I can only assume that means “wheel” in Swedish, but I’m too lazy to look it up. 

They call it the "Lipstick".  Most people call it "ugly building". This is one of those odd landmarks that everyone knows about and just shrugs and go “oh well”.  They call it the Lipstick, for I guess obvious reasons. 

Sleep is upon me.  Tomorrow plans are still up in the air a bit.  It’s expected that downtown will be a ghosttown due to the holiday.  We may go seek out some Midsommar festivities in traditional Swedish style.  Should have some interesting pictures from tomorrow’s festivities.  Saturday I head off to the rest of my adventures, starting with Edinburgh.  Where at least they speak my language… though some might argue that’s not the same. :) 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Evening at the Park – Day 3

I thought I was adjusting to the time change fairly well.  Then I woke up wide awake at 4:30am this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep.  I guess there’s nothing wrong with that as long as I wasn’t tired later.  Today the waves of sleepiness didn’t hit me until 3 hours later than yesterday, this time closer to 5pm, so that was all good.

Work was another day filled with meetings, but after work today we had a team outing to Liseberg, the amusement park here in Gothenburg.  Think of it similar to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, but a little more carnival-y.  Still, it proved to be quite entertaining. 

 

Liseberg Amusement Park After our adventures there, we went to dinner where those of us who went (a large portion of the Gothenburg team, plus those of us India and Seattle folks in town) enjoyed a nice Swedish dinner.  I guess it was Swedish anyway, but whatever, it was in Sweden at least. 

Look, people! Beyond that, we walked back to the hotel and here I am writing this now.  Kinda tired tonight, and don’t have a lot of witty commentary about the day’s events, so I’ll leave you to view the Picasa photo album if you’re so inclined.

And with that, I’ll hope that I get a normal time night’s sleep.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Forgotten Highlights from Yesterday – Day 2

I adjusted fairly well to the 9 hour time difference, all things considered.  I was so tired last night, I managed to fall asleep around 7pm and though I distinctly recall waking up around 10pm and 2am, I slept relatively soundly through until about 7am for a solid 12 hours of joyous restful sleep.  The one saving grace is that this hotel room is ridiculously soundproof, so I was not woken up by random noises outside at odd hours of the night (see last year’s adventures in Copenhagen…). 

Today was pretty typical work day, got up and had breakfast in the hotel, walked over to the office, and was bombarded with meetings throughout most of the day.  After lunch I started getting these waves of sleepiness, which would come and go, but I survived.  After work we went out for some drinks with some coworkers, and then my boss and I were still hungry, so we went to the absolute best Italian restaurant I’ve found in years, just blocks from the hotel.  I found this place when on the last night I was in Gothenburg last year, and knew I had to go back.  It wasn’t a fluke, it was still delicious. 

Now I’m getting ready to go to sleep again, but was recalling all of the great things I forgot to mention from yesterday because I was so tired.  So, first the spectacular movie reviews from yesterday’s flight: 

The Adjustment Bureau – Ironically, I was just days earlier recalling how I had thought this movie looked interesting, but never got a chance to see it in the theatres.  Lo and behold, it wasn’t in the theatres long, and now I know why.  It was an interesting concept, fairly interesting action and effects, and a completely mundane and anti-climactic ending.  But I watched it because it was free. 

HP7.1 – The Deathly Hallows – Yes, I’ve already seen this movie, but I watched it again.  No, it was not any better the second time.  However, it wasn’t any worse either.  Lots of people die… makes for a pretty good childrens’ book, I guess. 

And finally, in other news, that 9.5 hour flight from Seattle to Amsterdam was long.  And you really should eat something before getting on one of those long flights.  The meal we were served shortly into the flight was actually rather tolerable this time, however, it wasn’t exactly substantial.  By the time we reached hour 7 or so, I was freakin’ starving.  Like whoa.  Like I think I’m going to feel sick because I’m so hungry.  Fortunately, I had brought along some granola bars which I ate to make me a little less grumpy.  But around an hour before landing we were served “breakfast”.  This consisted of a hot round inedible breakfast sandwich, which was neither breakfast, nor a sandwich.  I refused to eat such nonsense.  However, for fruit we received a banana.  Now, this may come as a shock to some, but I am allergic to the taste of bananas.  But folks, I was so hungry, I ate a banana.  This was probably the first time in my entire life that I have actually eaten a banana, as it is always a food of last resort, and I’ve never had to resort to it.  And I know you all want to hear the happy ending, where I say “and it wasn’t half bad” and how I’ve become a reformed banana lover.  But too bad.  It was nasty.  I ate a banana… and I did not like it. 

And that was my story.  Thanks for listening.  See you tomorrow. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Next Adventure – Day 1

Well, folks, I’m back.  Once again I’m off to Sweden for a week of work.  This time instead of arranging for a week of vacation before my week in Gothenburg, I’ll be working a week and THEN taking a week of vacation.  Variety is the spice of life, eh?  And this time I have my first excursions into the UK to look forward to, with time in both Edinburgh and London.  But until that, we’ve first got this. 

As I write this I’m sitting on a plane.  The same plane I’ve been sitting on for the last 9 hours or so.  Fortunately I’m on the same 1:40pm direct flight from Seattle to Amsterdam that I took last time, so I didn’t have to get up too early.  I’ve never understood why so often when starting a vacation people (myself included) see the need to get up at o’dark early in the morning to get to the airport.  I guess I do it to maximize my vacation time, but one of these years I’ll decide to maximize my sleep and relaxation time instead.  Sadly, sleep and relaxation are rarely the stated goals of my vacations. 

But I digress… the airport was relatively uneventful.  Though it was absolute mayhem at the Delta check-in counter.  I fly Alaska so much that I’m used to their highly efficient “airport of the future” check-in process.  This, however, was nothing like that.  I fail to see the operational logic in having about two dozen self-check-in kiosks, followed by one bag drop counter staffed by approximately 4 agents.  Oh well.  I was pleased by the fact that even though I have no scale to speak of in my house, my suitcase checked in at a modest 45 lbs, to which I immediately exclaimed to the bag check lady “I WIN!” as she amusingly replied “Yes, yes you do.” 

Fortunately, the TSA proved far more efficient, as I had almost a zero wait at the security checkpoint and literally had a whole x-ray screening lane to myself.  Making my way to the gate and sitting around for a while wasn’t so bad. 

The flight has been mostly uneventful.  Now, if I have your attention, I’d like to point out the features of this Airbus A330-300 aircraft.  The plane is equipped with personal entertainment devices in each seat back, stocked with a limited stock of movies that appeared in theatres sometime between 1997 and 2010.  As usual, the entertainment system requires rebooting at least once while inflight, usually just during the climactic part of the film you are watching.  Once we reach cruising altitude, the passenger sitting in front of you will slam his seat back into your legs, thereby allowing comfortable sleep… for him.  While aboard there are 6 lavatories, one located 3 rows in front of you, but you are not allowed to use that one because it’s for the people who paid more to sit in the fancier seats; you must use the one located 18 rows behind you, but please beware of the beverage carts that will always be blocking the aisle.  Enjoy your flight. 

All things considered, with just under an hour left, it’s been a pretty comfortable and uneventful flight.  I managed probably a total of an hour nap, though considering I got on the flight just about 3 hours after I woke up this morning, that’s not so bad.  Usually when traveling on these horrendously long flights, I actually try to convince my body to sleep when it should be time to sleep where I’m going, but that just led to extreme frustration last time where I tried to force myself to sleep even though I wasn’t tired.  So screw that.  I’ll survive. 

Upon landing shortly, I’ll have a 7+ hour layover in Amsterdam where I plan to leave the airport and head into the city and check things out.  (Yes, this was intentional and by design.)  I’ve been to Amsterdam once before, back in the summer of 1997 I believe, so it’ll be interesting to make it back again. 

OK, so fast-forward to the afternoon.  I’m now sitting back in the airport at Amsterdam with about 2 hours until my flight to Gothenburg boards.  I had recalled from my previous trip that there was a nice relaxing place that had comfy chairs and was out of the way… I just couldn’t recall where it was.  So I started exploring and came upon the Airport Park.  I’d make it sound more glamorous, but picture if you will, walls bathed in pictures of people at parks.  A lush green FieldTurf lawn, and fake trees strategically placed throughout.  Oh yeah, did I mention we’re still inside?  Comfortable park benches, bean bags for lounging, and relaxing chairs.  Couple all that with the piped in sounds of birds chirping, and you have an incredibly fake but somehow relaxing atmosphere.  Yet I’m almost certain this is the same area I found back in September that was quaint but not nearly as hokey. 

I did take a nice trip into the city earlier, and wandered the streets and then had lunch.  The Euro sucks by the way… prices look the same as US prices, but the value is about 2/3s.  Not impressive.  But it was a fun excursion anyway. 

Well, I’m finally to Gothenburg and safely in the hotel.  I’m so tired.  I would add pictures to this, but I have zero energy to do so.  Rounding just up to 24 hours with only perhaps 2 hours of sleep.  I think I may just let tomorrow happen and see where things end up.  Unfortunately, I have a very busy day and can’t afford to be tired.