28 November 2011

London Reloaded

Like I said before, had a lot of ground to cover and very little time.

Sorry RC about the ambush pictures.  Way back in the stone ages (high school), I had a burning desire to be a photographer.  One of my buddies worked for the high school paper/yearbook had some really high end equipment at the time (Pentax with an array of lenses) and I was trying to follow in his footsteps.  I got a nice Cannon AE1 with a power winder and several specialty lenses (fisheye, 50-210 telephoto, star burst) and was trying my hand at some darkroom work.  I still have my Cannon, but have migrated up to digital.  For a shutter hog like me, digital is a godsend.  I tend to take a lot of shots and then pick out the best ones.  If you look at my Flickr account, you will see several shots of the same subject as I try to reframe the subject with a different angle or perspective and then I will chose the best one to post/use.  In the old Kodachome days, I used to wind up with a lot of crap (why the hell did I take that?) shots.  The beauty of digital is that, I can take a bazillion shots (doesn’t cost a dime) and then pick just the right one of two good ones to post.  I still think there are people out there who are way better than I with their photographic skills (aka Terri).  So, whenever I go to a new place, I usually take a ton of pictures of various subjects from different angles.  Always interesting to go back and pick up on what I missed the first go around.  

That's what I was doing around Buckingham Palace last week.  I didn't realize at first that I had snagged a back shot of RC until I started reviewing the files.  Even with all of those pictures, I am still pissed off at myself that I did not get one single picture of RC and I together.  

The second day in London did not leave me much time to explore.  Overslept a bit and woke up a later than I had planned and did not pack out until around 0800.  Had to be back in St Pancras station by 1100 to check in for my train so that left me with about 3 hours to exploit.

Ran back by Parliament and Big Ben and the London Eye for some daytime shots, but the famous London fog had settled in on the Themes so all of my long shots have that ghostly appearance.  It was a shame to have the fog that morning as the weather was unseasonably nice (clear & cool) for that time of year.  I got some nice foggy shots of Westminster Abby, Big Ben, Waterloo Station.  I was going to take a spin on the Eye, but it did not open up early enough and would have taken too long for me to make my train.  Hopped the Tube to take me back across town to St Pancras/Kings Cross.  The Tube is pretty neat.  Down here in south Texas, we don’t have subways or trains (lite rail doesn’t count), so it is always an adventure to figure out the system.  Spent a good part of my youth in New Jersey, so we are familiar with the Erie Lackawanna rail system and the New York subways.  In Germany, we used the train system fairly regularly, so I enjoy traveling by rail.       

I always try to take pictures of different/unique things that we don’t always see down in south Texas.  I especially love the architectural styles   St Pancras station has some amazing buildings/details.  Interesting small factoid I did not realize:  Kings Cross was actually shown in the Harry Potter movies as the train station for the Hogwarts Express  (that did not dawn on me until I was flying back watching the last HP movie). 

Some of the more interesting sights I spotted during my brief visit: 

Ship in a bottle (life size)

Only 284 days left until the Olympics

Trafalgar Square

Building artwork
Protesters outside of Parliament

And don't forget the souvenirs

And while wandering around St Pancras station, I discovered found the perfect statue that reminded me of one of my favorite bloggers.  I had an hour to kill before my train and I wandered up the street a ways to explore and came across the British Library.  While taking various shots of buildings and sites, I spotted this giant statue in the courtyard of the library and my first thought in my head was: MELEAH!    I hung around the gates for 20 minutes waiting for it to open so I can get a few close up pictures.  So, Mel, this one’s for you.     

Gate to the British Library


Seriously, all that it lacks is the Mac

How to do London in 26 hours

It was a fantastic trip last weekend, but honestly, 26 hours is not enough time to see/smell/taste London or the surrounding areas.  There's way too many interesting sites and places to see/do and anything less than a week does not not do justice.  

I made the trek over to London via one of those high-speed Eurostar trains that take you from one major city to another.  I thought it would be neat and faster to take train verses a plane and I was right on one part, it was faster.  Cheaper too.  I had some kind of romanticized version of taking the train to London and watching the scenery go by and watch as we go through the Chunnel.  First of all, for most of the ride was on rails surrounded by walls and berms.  What scenery we did see went by too fast.  And the Chunnel?  If you want to experience your own ride through the Chunnel, turn off the lights in your house and sit in your chair for 20 minutes.  That's it.  One long dark tunnel. 

Arrived in St Pancras/Kings Cross Station around 0900 with time to figure out how to ride the tube system to get across London to Buckingham palace to hook up with Rock Chef.  As RC mentioned in his post, one of the tube lines (Victoria line) was completely shut down for the weekend and, of course, that was the one I needed to take.  Had to figure out the map to take a different train to Piccadilly Circus and hoof it down to the palace.  Since I arrived earlier than I anticipated, I meandered over to Trafalgar Square & Admiral’s Gate and explored some of the historical sites.  At one time in my youth, I considered becoming an architect so I have a certain fascination of the local architecture of the areas I visit, especially some with some history.  London has some very interesting sites to visit/tour and I took lots of pictures (thank goodness for digital camera). 

Lots of unique buildings and famous sites, took lots of pictures. 

Wound up hiking down to the Palace around the time of the changing of the guard.  There was a massive mob of tourists all around the front gate Given the mob that was there, I was concerned that there was no way RC and I could find each other.  I milled with the mob for a while and watched the start of the changing of the guard, but honestly was too far away to get any good pictures and I did not have a program to know what was going on.  I began to scan the crowd looking for RC and getting worried that we would not find each other.  Remembering he told me we could meet up on the right side of the palace next to Green Park, I parked myself there at the street crossing and scanned the crowd for a familiar face.  Finally spotted him in the crowd taking pictures and looking like he was looking for someone.  I wasn't 100% sure, but I went up to him anyway and asked some lame greeting like "You look like a guy who raises rabbits" or something like that.  It would have been really weird/awkward if is wasn't him. 

RC is a great guy.  We decided to bail on the crowd of tourists and head up to Piccadilly Circus where there are lots of shops and restaurants to grab some lunch and a beer.  We spent a good amount of time comparing notes on our past and what we do.  We covered the gauntlet from family to cars to books to Star Wars.  It was really good to meet the brains behind the keyboard and I was glad to have made the trip.  

We parted ways as he headed north into Soho in search of a few guitar shops and me trying to get in some obligatory tourist sites.  I checked into my hotel (just a short hop from Buckingham) to drop off my pack and headed out to catch the Tower of London.  I made it there in time to catch the audio tour but the warders had finished up for the day. Was able to wander through most of the tower and get some of the details, but had really hoped for a warder's tour/comments.  Wandered back across town to take some shots of Parliament and Big Ben before heading back to my hotel.  Was a bit "geographically challenged" trying to find a good pub for dinner only to find out that the one I picked a hundred yards down the street from my hotel.  Crashed for the night and got up early to set out to do some more exploring.  Was able to get some obligatory foggy shots of Parliament and Big Ben, but did not have time to ride the Eye before heading back to St Pancras to catch my train back to Brussels.      

Trafalgar Square


Buckingham Palace (note:  the flag is flying so the Queen is in da house)

Trying to catch a glimpse of the changing of the guard

Spotting a familiar face (or head) in the crowd.

The Famous Rock Chef in the flesh!

Tower of London

A Warder at the Tower

Tower Bridge

Big Ben and the London Eye at night

Westminster Abby

Big Ben and The Eye in the morning fog

Across from Waterloo Station

A Lego Christmas Tree in St Pancras Station

St Pancras/Kings Cross station
As I said, a lot to see & do in a short period of time.  This is only a few of the pictures I managed to take over the weekend.  Will post a few more tomorrow.  I even spotted a statue at the British Library that reminds me of a fellow blogger... 

26 November 2011

European campaign - after action report

Thanksgiving was quiet.  Ate too much, watched some football, ventured out on Friday for a few bargains.  I am still trying to get over my jet lag and get back on Texas time from last week’s trip to Europe.  

The whole trip to Belgium/England was pretty neat.  When I wasn’t at the office, I spent time exploring the downtown area and taking lots of pictures of various sites/buildings.  I only wish I had more time and it was a wee bit warmer time.  Some of the local sites in Brussels:

Chocolaterie Manneken

Christmas on the plaza

Pick a restaurant

More Chocolate

The crowd around Manneken Pis

One of many, many excellent local brews

The plaza around the Grand Palace
In the spirit of giving thanks, I am thankful for the opportunity for this trip and a chance to visit some new and interesting places.   

25 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

A day, late, but I hope everyone takes time from the turkey & dressing induced hangovers and the Black Friday sales to celebrate with family and friends and give thanks for all of our blessings. I try to take time during these busy holidays to remember all of the blessings we have: life, family, friends, health, opportunity. I am especially thankful for the men & women serving abroad in the armed forces who could not be home with family during this time.

I intended to post a couple of additional updates from Belgium, but wound up working late each day and had to get up way early to catch a flight to Paris for the long trek back home. 12+ hours flying, 4 hours waiting in the airport, 4 different passport checks, 3 airport screenings, a gallon of coffee, and several rounds of airline meals, I finally made it home to Texas. Traveling on the 23rd wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated crowds had not yet started to stack up and there were no delays in my flight. I was up for 22 hours straight, tired and had hoped to come home, drop the bags, kiss the wife, hug/walk the dogs, and catch up on my sleep, but I walked right into a leaking water pipe in the attic. A small pinhole leak had sprung up over the last few days. It hadn’t been leaking long, but enough to stain the ceiling and drip through the sheetrock. Needless to say, I was not happy, to which my darling bride added (trying to lighten the mood) added: “Well, which dwarf are you?”.  Her funeral will be next week.  Given the holidays, I could not get a plumber out until the weekend, so, being an engineer, I ran out to the big box hardware chain and picked up a pipe clamp (no, the duct tape did not work).  I was able to clamp down on the pipe and stop the leak, for now.  We still need a plumber, but the crisis level has dropped to DEFCON 4 (for now).

I have started to pull together my notes/pictures from my week in Europe. I’ve got enough stuff left over from the weekend to fill up several blogs. Keep an eye on this place for some interesting tales and sites and more on my visit with RC. 
Tower Bridge


20 November 2011

Mind the gap

Some expressions stick with you if you hear them enough. 

Whoa. Sunday evening and I find myself sitting in a local hole in the wall (really is a hole in the wall) place in Brussels enjoying some different Belgium beers and trying to rest my dogs from the weekend. I'd like to spend my retirement working throught the myriads of beers over here, but I am only 54 and there is not enough time. Besides, there is that nasty addiction I have called "work".

It's been a whirlwind weekend. Probably due to jet lag or the anticipation of the trip, but I woke up way too early (0300) Saturday to catch the first shuttle to the airport to catch the train downtown to catch the Eurostar to London. Being an engineer and A/R to boot I like to work to a plan and hate when I am late. Besides the train to London left at 0759 and there ain't noway I am missing it. Made the train with plent of time and settled in for the 2 hour ride to London.

But, let's be honest, do you really want to hear about my exploits in London?  No?  

Ok. For those dying to know. I did hook up with the famous Rock Chef for a couple of hours while wandering about London. It was a great trip. Met up with in outside Buckingham Palace which is a whole story itself. Suffice it to say but that is not the place for a quiet, intimate gathering. A mob of tourists is not the best place to meet up with someone. In spite of that, I was able to track down RC in the crowd and we were able to meet right outside the palace.  Rock is great guy.  As funny & interesting just like I had pictured from our conversations on the net.  We hiked up through Green Park and up to Pickadilly Circus to find a good pub so I could satisfy my craving for some British food & beer. We shared some stories, talked about some of our similar interests like books, Star Wars, beer, cars, kids, you  know, guy stuff.  Spent a could  of hours sharing some really good beer and  swapping war stories and talking about certain other bloggers.  Iit was a long trip but I am glad for the chance to meet up with him.  Got a few pictures, but my one regret wasthat I forgot to take a picture of the two of us together.  We parted ways with him heading up into SOHO looking for guitar stuff and me doing the touristy stuff.  I have enough blog fodder for a couple of entries, but will have to save it for later since I am about worn down to a nub and have to go to an audit in the morning.  Look for some more postings over the next few days.

In the meantime, just to prove we actually met up, this one is for you, terri.   

Hmmm.  Braaains.
And here is RC and I enjoying our Brains...

Great trip.

18 November 2011

So much to see, so little time

Hold on to your sombreros, muchacos e muchachas, time to shift gears and hit the rails!

Finished up work at the office and they cut us loose for the weekend.  Too late in the day to hop a train downtown for a bite & beer, so I'll have to hit the hotel bar for overpriced beers and something that resembles food.  Will save my culinary explorations for this weekend. 

I sorta feel like I am back in the Army.  I have a narrow 24+ hour pass/window available this weekend, so I am up at the crack of early to hop on one of those high speed European trains that will wisk me from the heart of Brussels and drop me off in the middle of London.  It's supposed to be a two hour ride that will take us through the Chunnel.  Kinda jazzed up right now.  I have never been to London (a 3 hour layover in Heathrow doesn't count) and it's always been on my bucket list.  A chance to tour Merry Olde England and meet up with a longtime blog friend, Rock Chef.  Trying to fit in time to share a beer with RC, swap war stories, trash talk other bloggers, create a general nusance, and still get in some obligatory site seeing.  We plan to meet up outside the gate of Buckingham Palace.  24 hours does not leave me much time so I will have to fleet of feet and flexible (Improvise, Adapt, & Overcome), but it should be a great time.  Bought a new 8 gig SD card  for the camera, so I have lots  of room for pictures.  Will post up pictures of the carnage later. 

My main objective is to meet up with RC.  I hope to have enough time to get hit the other spots (Tower of London, Tower Bridge,  The Eye, Parliament, Soho, Trafalgar Square), but honestly, 24 hours does not give me enough time to get serious.  Still, I will take advantage of what time I have. 

The road goes on forever and the party never ends. 

Culture from abroad

I've travelled a bit and been a lot of places.  I still tend to find new & interesting things that we don't see in Texas...

A nice place to hang out at 0700 in the morning during a 3 hour layover in Heathrow. I'm revising my Christmas wish list.

And, of course, who doesn't love Belgian Waffles and Chocolate? 

17 November 2011

Getting my sea legs

Boy, the difference A few good beers can make. 

Caught the local train downtown to explore the area, take a few pictures before it got dark, and find a good place for a cold beer. Got to the town square with enough light for a few shots, found the obligatory tourist spot (Manneken-Pis), and stumbled into the Poechenellekelder for some really good Belgium beer. Not sure if it was the local flavor, the alchohol content, the great atmosphere or the fact I'd been up 24+ hours, but it was a great place to unwind.  Lots of character and things to see.  I wish I had more time than just a few short days to explore more. 

Of course, when in Belgium, what's the first thing that comes to mind?

Top That!

But, if waffles or  beer are not your  thing, you  could always go scope out the local tourist sites...

Mannekin Pis - just across the street from the Poechenellerkelder

16 November 2011

Across the pond

Finally broke free from work and made it to the airport yesterday with time to spare. Check in for the flight was fairly painless and early. Major thunderstorm rolled across Houston with all sorts of lightning and thunder but rolled on through by the time we boarded the flight. The flight was barely 1/3rd full. They let us pick our seats/rows and you got to have an entire row to yourself for the duration of the flight. Was kinda weird but nice not having to share an armrest with a 350 elbow hog. Still, with three open seats, I couldn’t sleep well, no matter what position I tried (disadvantage of being over 6ft tall). Did catch about 2 hours of sleep, but wound up watching movies/tv shows for most of the 9 hour flight. Got to catch up on some older episodes of Sons of Anarchy, watched Green Lantern, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and about half of the last Harry Potter movie. Now I can knock those off my NetFlix queue.

Wound up laying over in Heathrow for about three hours waiting for my connecting flight. Screwed up and wound up going out through customs so I had to go back in through the screening check again. I got a chance to catch up on my e-mails, send a note to my wife that I arrived in London, had a bit of breakfast and I am ogling the local whiskey shop. So many choices, so little time.

Finally hopped the short flight to Brussels and we hit the tarmac around noon.  The hotel shuttle wasn't running, so I grabbed a local bus that dropped me a about 200 yards from the hotel.  Good hike to the hotel  with bags,  but after 10+ hours on a plane, I needed the exercise.  As I figure it, I've been on the go for roughly 24 hours.  A bit fried,  but overall in good spirits.  Weather is nice - clear and cold.  Glad I brought my cold weather gear. 

Plans are firming up now that I am in country.  Definitely going over to London on Saturday, if I can figure out the bus system to get me to the downtown train station.  This is the first road trip I am doing sans auto.  I figured if everyone else can navigate well without the benefit of a car, I can make the attempt.  When in Rome...

More from the road as I get my bearings.

14 November 2011

Time to saddle up

Nice long three day weekend.  I could get used to a 4 day work week if it wasn't for the calls and reports I wind up doing on Friday mornings.  The only way to burn up my vacation is to take off every Friday between now and New Years.  Wow.  Life's tough.

Weekend was packed as usual.  Junior was down for a wedding so we got to spend some time with him and FDIL.  I took both dogs to the Barktoberfest - a local fair that displays a large number of rescue groups/organizations that are dedicated to finding homes for dogs that have been abandoned, abused, or otherwise forgotten.  A lot of fun and a lot of dogs. 

Need something to carry Fido in?
Don't step on my blue suede dog?

Andy - one of our rescue dogs that is being fostered and nursed back to health.  He has improved tremendously since he showed up on our doorstep.  In spite of his rough appearance, he is amazingly gentle and his tail never stops wagging. 
I am just about ready for my road trip to Belgium.  The plans are still in flux at this point, but I am working on locking down some details.  Last weekend I went out and got a few essentials for the trip.  Picked up two books to read on the plane.  I guess I am being old fashioned.  When Junior when to Europe, he took his iPad for entertainment on the flight.  I am more old school and prefer a book to read for the flight.  I picked up two books from Half Price Books (Monster Hunter & Ford County) for the trip in case I read too fast.

I am trying to pack the right clothes for the week.  Given a 50 lb limit on checked bags, I have choices to make.  Weather is supposed to be cold & wet, so I am trying to plan for all contingencies (Boy Scouts - Be Prepared).  I have a ton of things to finish up at work and I am burning the midnight oil getting last minute reports/projects wrapped up.  I must over thinking this trip as I've been waking up every morning at 2:30 going over the things I have left to do.  I am mostly packed and I have two meetings in the morning before I head out to the airport.  In typical fashion, I'll probably be all wound up over this until the plane lifts off.  After that, I figure there is not much else I can do so I can relax and enjoy the ride.  I have worked up some plans for the week while I am in country the biggest of which is a side trip to London for the weekend.  Hope to be able to cram in as much British scenery/flavor/culture as I can in a mere 24 hours.  I also hope to be able to meet up with RC during the weekend.  I'd like to get a sample of some good British cuisine and the first round of beer is on me.

11 November 2011


Veterans Day
Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

To me, it is more that just a day for mattress sales and no mail delivery.  To the men and women who have served or are serving past and present, I salute you.  Thank you for your sacrifice and service to keep the the banner of freedom flying.   

Take a moment to stop and reflect on the sacrifices made by our vets who have served and those who continue to stand in harms way today.

08 November 2011

No Moshing Allowed

It’s never a dull moment around the hacienda down here.

I must have caught whatever RC had. Was sick for two days and actually stayed home. Woke up feeling like my head was going to explode, nauseous, dizzy, and that was the high point for my day.  Generally felt like one of the Walking Dead.  Crawled on line, e-mailed my boss and co-workers that I would be a no-show and went back to sleep. Pretty much wasted days - watched a few left over NetFlix movies (Captain America, The Mechanic) a couple of old WWII movies (Frank Sinatra as a PFC, Burt Lancaster as the Sergeant). Finally turned the corner on Thursday and went back to work . Of course, for every day I miss at the office, I get backed up 3.

I am still fighting with my computer. Thought I had it pretty much licked, but this weekend something else started dragging it down. I’ve restored it back to an earlier version, but I am still working at a handicap. I am debating getting one of those PC cleaning programs, but I think, at this point, I am better off reinstalling the OS (aka, starting over) which pretty much wipes out most of my settings/favorites. I don’t really want to go to that extreme, but it is either that or use my special hard drive fix it tool (9 mm version). The funny thing is that for the $$ it may cost me to recover the system I could probably pick up the same system that sported in Wally world this weekend (same brand, more memory, faster processor). I may go for a laptop version and keep the old system to recover files and use as backup. 

I’ve been laying low for the past few weeks. Halloween came and went like it always does. We don’t get many trick or treaters each year. A few of the local kids, some neighborhood kids with their parents in tow, a few “older” kids and of, course a couple of guys sporting facial hair. I have a soft spot for the little ones. They usually get a handful of the good stuff. The big kids get twizzlers and the off brand stuff. The dogs were pretty intrigued by the whole deal. I expected them to bolt every time I opened the front door, but they were very well behaved. Grayson was interested in greeting each of our ghoulish guests, and even dressed the part (yes, I did dress up one dog). One the other hand, Claire wasn’t sure what to make of all the commotion. I am not sure if it was all knocking/doorbell ringing or kids in costumes, but she hung back. Quite the difference from her normal role as Ambassador of Lickenstein.

Aloha, Dudes!

Junior was in town this weekend for a Guns & Roses concert. Brought home a wrist band with the Moshing disclaimer. He indicated that there sure were a lot of “old” people in the floor seats.  G&R kicked off at 11:00 pm and Axel played all 38 sets. Old rockers never die – they just go on the road.

I am finally getting psyched up for my road trip to Brussels next week. Started packing this weekend, but not sure what to bring. Trying to prepare for cold & wet but don’t want to haul too much wasted gear. I am starting to plan my down time to take an opportunity to see some of the local area, sample some of the local flavor, drink some of the local beer. I will be in country over the weekend so Saturday and Sunday are mine to use (or lose). I started mapping out a strategy and just figured out yesterday there are a number of very interesting options for the short amount of time:

  1. Explore Brussels and the local sites (drink beer, explore local area)
  2. Try to find a local volksmarch
  3. Go tour Bruges (1 hour northwest)
  4. Hop a train to Normandy (a couple of hours southwest)

  Or, for something completely out of the box,

  5. Hop a train for Paris (2 hours south) for the weekend or
  6. Hop a train for London (1.5 hours northwest) for the weekend

All of these options peek my interest. I’ve been to Paris, granted it was 25 years ago, but how many times does one get to climb the Eiffel Tower.  Always wanted to tour the battlefields of WWII and see the Normandy invasion beachhead.  Bruges is an iconic older town that has a unique flavor (check out the dvd In Bruges). Of course, I’ve always wanted to go to London. And who knows?  I might wind up running into some bike riding, guitar playing, pizza chef, rabbit owner.

So much to see, so little time...

Any ideas/suggestions?