30 December 2013

Winding down 2013

I hope everyone is having a happy and safe holiday season.  

It's been a busy/different holiday season down here for us.  

I'd like to say it has been all fun & games, but at least it has been quiet.  I have all sorts of time off and I was hoping to get some chores done, but I don't seem to have accomplished half of what I had set out to do.  This year has been a bit off for us.  With SIL in the hospital, the Thanksgiving holiday was pretty low key.  We did not have the normal celebration at our house and spent some time at the hospital with SIL.  We did get to celebrate some of the week with Rebecca's folks and my brother, but it was different from what we have done for years.  With SIL getting out of hospital, we figured Christmas was going to be different as well.  Even though she is back home, she still needs some hands-on care and someone needs to stay with her during the day/night.  We have a caregiver staying for part of the day and my wife has taken the night shift.  I have even tried to take a shift or two to help out.  Momma was pretty overloaded so I attempted to pick up the slack for Xmas plans.  Organized/acquired most of the gifts, arranged for Christmas dinner, did the decorations/lights, even made an effort to clean the house (or at least stay two steps ahead of the dogs).  Managed to pull it off, but it is not to the same scale as we have had in the past.  We had a low-key celebration at our house with my parents and son (DIL was sick) and SIL (she is able to get out, but very tired).  No pictures this year, just a nice time with the family.  

I got the gift shopping done but it was almost up to the last minute.  As usual, I set out with one thing in mind and wind up with a totally different gift idea for people.  I envy people who are organized and disciplined enough to have their shopping done by Thanksgiving.  I keep telling myself I need to do better but somehow I repeat the same saga every year.   I also wind up getting too many gifts.  Think I find the perfect gift for nephew A or brother only to find something better three stores down.  I typically wind up with several ungifted gifts at the end that I wind up taking back or giving next year (still have three gifts left over from last year).  Anybody looking for a dancing Flamingo with a Santa hat?  

Maybe it is a factor of getting older or how the families are spreading out, but I am glad we had the time/opportunity to share the day, but it was definitely a bit more sedate that prior years.  At least the dogs have been getting plenty of attention.  All this time off has given me the opportunity to catch up on my reading and Netflix queue.  Going to be hard to go back to work after New Years.  

My Airstream group is having their annual New Years rally.  The difference is that there is a different team running the rally and they picked a new spot.  No longer the old RV ranch out west of here, but a new campground that is located about 3 miles away from where my trailer is currently parked.  Will probably take me longer to hook up the trailer that it will to drive over there.  I will be attending with just the dogs as momma will still be keeping an eye on her sister.  One good thing about this being close is that it is a short hop over to visit/sit with sister to give momma a much needed break.  I am looking forward to a fairly low key New Years celebration - the group is fairly sedate when it comes to partying.  Will be ringing in the new year with Champagne and black eyed peas. 

Happy New Year.

21 December 2013

Getting into the spirit

Off for the holidays.  As usual, I wind up the year with a boatload of accrued vacation days.  I could blame the system validation we were dong over the last 9 months or the plethora of road trip I took this year, but the basic problem is that I didn't manage my vacation time and didn't take off enough days.   The company used to have a policy of "use it or lose it".  Basically meant if you didn't take all of your earned days, Sorry Charlie.  Made for some unhappy people at year end and a bunch of people taking most of December off.  

A few years ago, they changed the policy and now allow you to cash out your vacation if you do not use it all.  For the old farts who have been around for a while (moi), this  alleviates some of that urgency to burn up the vacation by year end.  The old Purchasing manager before me had so much accrued vacation that he would start taking off every Friday staring right after Halloween.  

So I find myself in the same boat.  I am going to cash out a bunch of days but still need to burn some days or run the risk of losing them.  Tough life, eh?  I realize not everyone has this opportunity and I, for one, am immensely grateful to have that kind of dilemma.  One of the perks of this company.  

One of the other things the company does is throw a good party on occasion.  I mentioned the new CEO came on board a few years ago and set out to energize the company and promote the esprit de corps among the troops.  Lots of really good motivational things to inspire the minions.  

One thing is the annual Christmas party.  Every year they hold the party at a local venue.  One year it was a a big five star hotel near downtown, one year it was at the local country club, last year it was a local Hilton a few mile south.  This year they decide to "up" the ante a bit.  We held the shindig at Space Center Houston.  This is the information/tourist center adjacent to NASA and houses a lot of history from the space program.  Life sized versions of the lunar lander, the command modules for various launches, actual rockets planned for launch, a shuttle simulator and even a shuttle mock up.    

And there the an exhibit on Leonardo Da Vinci

And a shuttle simulator

And lunar lander

Of course, the party was pretty interesting awesome depending upon what mood you were in and how well you enjoyed the music.  Plenty of food, drink, a band and, of course some dancing.  There was a fair amount of slide dancing and booty shaking, but, alas, no twerking.

Of course, there was some other interesting displays of techy geekness.  Anyone recognize where this was used?  {Hint:  To Boldy Go Where No Man Has Gone Before}      

18 December 2013

Car 54, Where Are You?

To paraphrase Twain:  Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.  

Yea, I'm still here.  Wish I had a good excuse, but I really don't. I could regale you with stories of work or shopping or hospital parking or doctors visits or working on the trailer or prepping for the holidays or sniffing glue, but all of those are really boring.  Honestly, I have lost my muse and cannot seem to find her.  I have been playing catch up at the office (seems like I am always doing that) on all of the reports and projects I have picked up.  Sorry if I have overlooked my blog friends, but I have been ignoring the computer for a while.  I actually started 2-3 posts but they wound up sounding, well lame or whiny or downright narcissistic to me in the daylight so I pitched them.  Lately, I am spending a good chunk of my day on the computer and I have no real motivation to jump on the computer when I get home.  Especially when greeted with this face...

SIL Update - after 33 days in hospital, they finally released her on Monday to go home.  Extended recovery and some complications with infection kept her there for way longer than planned.  As tired as we were on making the trek up to the hospital every other day, she was ready to finally make a break.  Still going to be a long road to recovery, but at least she is doing it at home.  My wife is planning to spend the nights with her for the next month or so, which really puts a twist in on our holiday plans.  

Holiday prep - Still a long ways to go for my Xmas shopping.  Seems like I go later each year on finding the right gifts for everyone.  So far, I have avoided the mall completely this year, but may have to make a run this weekend to nail down a few things.  With our chaotic schedule it has been hard to get into the spirit but we are making progress.  I only have 1/2 the lights up but I hope to get everything out by this weekend.  At least the tree is up now.  Now if I can only find some figgy pudding.  Ho Ho Ho.  

20 November 2013

One step at a time

SIL update:  Doing better every day.  Weekend was bit rough, had some fluid build up, in a good bit of pain and she was not sleeping well.  The one good thing is all of the ancillary support she has gotten from friends and family.  Being a doctor, she has lots of doctor friends who work in the very same medical center where she is now camped out.  Several volunteered to visit/stay with her over the weekend which gave us a much welcomed break.  My wife has been up there every other night and that can make one a bit loopy.  With her friends helping out, it has definitely made a difference.  She was having problems breathing (fluid build up) and they put in a drain which immediately helped.  Things improved over the weekend and they removed the epidural (pain medication) and foley (drain) on Monday and she is now ambulatory (able to walk).  Pretty aggressive recovery schedule - she is up several times a day doing breathing exercise and taking walks around the nursing station.  She hasn't yet started back on solid foods, but that is something she is working on.  We are hoping that she will be able come home around Thanksgiving.  

Been an interesting/full week.  With my wife is spending a good amount of time between the hospital and home, I am trying to help out on the home front.  Grocery shopping, cleaning, dog walking, laundry, car maintenance are my chores right now (don't expect a lot with the laundry).  I took the dogs into the vet for a grooming (long overdue).  We needed to get them seriously groomed down to get a handle on the hair around here.  With these two, lately there has been tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling across the living room.  Helpful advice for potential dog owners:  if you don't like dog hair, perhaps Golden Retrievers are not the dog for you.        

Speaking of Goldens, I am keeping up with Golden events and spotted this tidbit from across the pond (amazing how much time you have when you have a iPad and unlimited WIFI at the hospital).  It seems that the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland had a gathering in Tomich, Invernessshire (birthplace of the breed) last month.  

As much as I tout our little annual picnic gathering, I have to admit that getting 222 Goldens to sit for a picture is a pretty amazing feat.  

13 November 2013

On the road to recovery

Things are going well.  The doc finally wrapped up the procedure around 2100 last night.  That makes for one long damn day. SIL was rolled into the OR at 0645 to start hooking her up to all sorts of tubes and equipment.  The actual surgery started at 0800 and they rolled her out to ICU around 2100.  By my math, that is 13 hours.  Imagine being on the table for that long.  Damn.  It didn't take me that long to fly to London in September.  I am trying to picture how the OR team handled it.  Did they get a smoke break?  What about eating? And let's not even stop to consider potty breaks.  

Still, it came out well.  Wife got to see SIL after the procedure before they rolled her to the ICU.  She was doing well, just groggy.  She should be moved to her own room later today.  She'll be in the hospital for the next two weeks to recover and then home for several weeks to get her strength back.  Will be a while before she is able to do any twerking.

12 November 2013

On call

I've got to admit that I am somewhat distracted of late.  Oh sure, work is keeping me hopping, dogs are just as needy, things to be done, reports to be written.  But we are trying to juggle a whole different issue issue altogether.  My SIL (sister-in-law) went in for surgery early this morning.  Remember her?  Something about a new couch/chair recently?  The kidney doctor?  The one with a herd of cats?  

She has been diagnosed with cancer of the appendix.  Been feeling pretty lousy lately and finally got checked out and got the news a few weeks ago.  She has been preparing herself for this procedure for a while, but that's a hard diagnosis for anyone to swallow. This procedure will remove the tumor and the appendix and treat the area locally with chemo.  A VERY long procedure.  Projected to last from 10-12 hours.  Heck, my surgery 6 years ago was barely over an hour, I cannot even imagine going under for that long.  Some of my plane trips haven't been that long.  We are on watch at the hospital for the duration.  I am trying to serve as the anchor and instill some calm, this but my wife is really worried over her sister.  Waiting hours in a hospital waiting room really is not my cup of tea.  

10 November 2013

Smoke test

Sometimes, I throw out sayings that I assume that everyone else understands.  Trying to toss out some military or industry jargon to give you the impression that I've got really cool job.  I had a similar discussion with my controller who is from India and did not understand the term "smoke test".  I have to admit that I am not a true country boy, but I do seem to maintain vast array of useless or trivial knowledge on a few things.  Smoke test is an old plumber's term to test the pipes after they have been brazed.  Something about filling the system with smoke to spot any leaks along the line.  According to Wikipedia:  After a smoke test proves that "the pipes will not leak, the keys seal properly, the circuit will not burn, or the software will not crash outright,"the system is ready for more robust testing.    

Actually, this was not my term - it is part of the project leader's plan to make sure everything is copacetic before we turn the system back on on Tuesday.  So far, they are ahead of schedule and we are hoping to fire it back up late tomorrow afternoon.  Lots of IT people in over the weekend making magic in the server room and insuring things got changed.  I keep picturing lots of Mountain Dew, hot pockets and butterfingers (aka Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park).   

A fairly quiet weekend.  No real agenda, no real plans.  Took the dogs to the dog park yesterday to make up for being out of town the past few weekends.  They were happy with chance to hang out with the other dogs and roll in the mud.  Two guesses on which one got muddier.  Despite the mud and water, both were thoroughly exhausted the rest of the day.  I am debating doing a blog on the dog park scene.  The number of parks around here has exploded over the past few years.  At some parks, there are certain cliques/pecking orders and a certain social etiquette that rivals some soap operas.  Of course, my two dogs are oblivious to all this drama.


09 November 2013

Fashion challenged

Last weekend was another blur for me.  We are wrapping up our validation project at work after 11 months of testing and re-writing reports and testing and more testing.  A real painful, slow project that is finally going live this weekend.  We took the system down on Friday and will install the upgrade and bring it back up (hopefully) on Tuesday.  I am not in the IT department, so my role is just to watch the process and assist when they reach a roadblock.  In the interim, everyone is supposed to stay off the system (under penalty of death) before the new system comes on line.  I have a small task on Monday to do a “smoke test” when it is partially up just to see if things look ok.  For us, we are glad to have this project come to the end of this phase.  Lots of work after it gets installed, but that is way easier than all of the testing and report writing we have been arguing over for the past few months.  I, for one, will be elated to see this turkey fly.   

I did a few home chores last weekend.  Was playing catch up from last week’s road trip to SoCal, I had a few things to clean up, put away.  I got shanghaied recruited to help my SIL in looking at a new couch and chair for her living room.  Since we had the bigger vehicle and I can brave freeway war zone, I was asked to chaperon her and my wife to a big store north of town.  Now, this is where issue #1 comes into play.  For those who have not read between the lines on my little blog, I am NOT very fashion unconscious.  I blame it on my genes, my brothers, the time I spent in the Corps, those 4+ years in the Army, or just being a guy.  Whatever excuse, I will freely admit that I have the fashion skills of a monk.  That is why my wife has the role of interior decorator for our house.  If left up to me, our home theme would fall somewhere between camouflage and duct tape.  If I had my druthers, we would still have the old beer can coffee table I built in collage.  Needless to say, momma has been the one who put taste and class in our humble abode.  That is why I normally look upon furniture shopping about like getting picked for jury duty.  I would rather give a cat a bath.  Somehow, I got recruited to help out on the furniture trip so I just had to man up and make the run.  Besides, we were hoping to find a chair to replace the ratty old 1970s Herculon chair that my parents bequeathed to us many years ago.  It has been a staple in our bedroom for a long while and eventually wound up becoming a dog bed.  First Shadow staked his claim to it, then Grayson and finally Claire.  

After all those mutt butts, the old chair has seen better days.  Threadbare, tears in the fabric, sagging cushions, creaky springs.  One arm had become so threadbare, I resorted to duct tape to correct the problem (Motto:  If it moves and it is not supposed to, use duct tape.  If it doesn't move and it is supposed to, use WD-40).
Now SIL has very eclectic styles and will buy whatever suits her fancy for that day.  She relies upon my wife to pick out stuff that actually looks good.  My wife found a nice couch and chair set that were very conservative, blended well with the house and, after some debate over fabrics, SIL made the call.  My wife lamented that she liked the set up and we still needed a couch/chair for the living room after our last couch left for college a few years ago.  The front room is a formal living room and doesn't see much action except for holidays, so it was lacking proper furniture.  I prefer the uncluttered look.  Heck, if it were up to me, I would have put in a pool table and dart board, but that idea got voted down rather quickly.  Now, momma was pining for a new set and I told her that getting me out to do furniture shopping was about as easy to do as herding cats, so I told her that we should go ahead and get them.  So, long story short, we have a new couch and chair to adorn our formal living room.  Of course, I was off at work when the new toys were delivered, so momma sent me pictures.  The movers even came and hauled off the old dog chair (we used the old sectional sofa for the dogs).     

Imagine my surprise when an hour later, she sent me a picture of our new couch with an addition included.  Apparently, someone has given his approval of the new arrangement.  

I guess somebody approves of the change. 

01 November 2013


Like Terri, I think my two kids might be a wee bit spoiled.  And it ain't my fault!  My mom likes to comment on how spoiled my dogs are but I happen to catch her this past weekend "red handed".  Spoiled?  Those two mutts?  Ya think? 

I've been trying to post up from California, but the net connection was really sucky and kept dropping me.  It was a good trip out to Cali but not without some challenges.  4 days in Orange County (east of LA).  Two companies to audit, lots of LA freeway traffic to battle.  Audits went well.  Weather was fantastic - clear skies, temps in the mid 60-70s.  I finally got off my lazy ass and got back to running in the morning.  On these audit trips, I typically make it a habit to put in some miles to work off the meals we eat on the road.  Normally like to wake up early and hit the trails before we do our audits (ala 0530) to give me an head start on the day.  My buyer has been working hard on an exercise regime and trying to stay focused on her training (has dropped 30 lbs since she started it) and wanted to take a run with me one morning since she has a 5k Zombie run coming up next weekend (still trying to get me to run as well).  Our hotel was located next door to the Honda Center (basketball & hockey) and just across the freeway from the Anaheim Angels stadium (baseball).  Being a real sports nut, she wanted to run a lap or two around the stadium while we were in town and I was willing to lead the route.  So we hit the streets around dawn and ran over to the stadium for a lap or two.  A bit of a convoluted trail, but we managed to get to the stadium without any issues.  Nice old ball park.  Did a couple of laps and had a chance for a few pictures for her kids before we headed back.  When we got back to our hotel, we noticed that the ongoing street construction adjacent to the hotel had gotten a bit chaotic.  There was a 20 foot tall geyser going on in the street with water flowing everywhere.  After working our way around the flood, we made it back to the hotel but it dawned on us that this broken main might have a bit of an impact upon our hotel.  Yep.  It turns out that the entire hotel had no water pressure.  Normally not a problem except we had just done a decent 5k run and were pretty gamy and had a flight to catch back home.  

Improvise, Adapt, Overcome - my coworker resorted to using the cache of bottled water given to us my our last supplier as a means to combat the situation while I took to the hotel pool/hot tub to rinse off.  Not exactly per the plan, but it did work out.  I felt sorry for the staff having to deal with all of the irate guests and hassles of no running water.  I was emphasizing with the manager on how hard it was going to be to recover and clean up before the weekend crowd hit town.  

Now, if that wasn't enough drama, as we were checking out this morning, along comes the news about the shooting at LAX.  We were not going through LAX for any of our travels (avoid it like the plague), instead we were going through John Wayne Airport.  We were not sure on how this news would impact our plans, but expected the worse.  Given that LAX was completely closed down for hours, we expected pandemonium.  Turns out not quite as bad as we had feared, but still the flight was full with people who had to change plans to catch connecting flights.  Despite all of those challenges, we made it home on time and was able to greet momma and the kids when I got home.  Between all the slobbery kisses I got, it's hard to say which one missed me more.  

Working to catch up with everyone.  

30 October 2013

Never slow down

I wish I had some good excuse for not posting but, let's be frank, I've really been slacking off.

I've been swamped at work with reports and our system validation.  After 10 months of development and weeks upon weeks of testing, we are almost ready to make the switchover.  This has been one long, slow, painful project.  on top of that, i've been out of town for the past three weekends and I am sitting here in California leading another round of audits.  I wish I could say this was my last road trip but there is still too much time left in the year to be that optimistic.

Last three weekends have been busy for me.  Earlier, we took the trailer and dogs down for one of our Airstream rally's at a local state park. The park is a nice place just south of Houston located along the Brazos River.  Great park, lots of trials, lakes.  Great place to see some of the local indigenous wildlife (raccoons, armadillos, possums, eagles, ducks, geese, and lots & lots of alligators).  Yes, I said alligators.  This is a regular haven for thiose cute little swamp critters.  This time of year , they are pretty slow/dormant, but in the spring during their mating season and you need to keep an eye on your kids and pets.

Two weekends back, everyone was in town for my day's birthday (the big 90).  The entire family gathered again at out local Italian restaurant for the gala event.  Even Stephen and  Rebecca were able to make down from Austin for the weekend.  Great to be able to spend time with them, even if it was brief.  Was a great party.  Even my brother from Seattle flew i with his wife to join in.  My middle brother, the budding photographer, spent some time a few years back pouring through all of the old Kodak slides was amassed over the past few decades of family life.  He extracted a lot of pictures and had the printed out or scanned on line.  He brought out a number of those at my mom's 90th in February and did the same for my dad.  It was fun to have my dad hold up the picture and explain where he was and what was the occasion.  Got to see the picture of them on the prom date, one of him in his flight jacket when he had earned his wings, on beefcake shot on the beach, many of them together on the road. Great way to look back over a long life.  

My dad is still going strong - still hauling their trailer all over the state, always active.  I honestly feel that is the reason the both of my parents are still going strong - staying active, never slowing down.  They even took the trailer up to College Station for the weekend game with my brother who flew in from Seattle for his birthday.  They are planning to take the trailer up to Dallas in a week or so to have some work done on the side panels and back end (he violated the 3 foot rule while traveling this summer).  

I spent last weekend up at the game as well with the furry children.  They love to travel and meet new people.  Part of the routine is to walk over to campus to see all the preface hoopla.  Of course, those two were the center of attention wherever the went.  We even stopped by a booth for veterinary service run by a bunch of vet students where they give out tips for pet first aide - in case your dog or cat is injured or eats something bad.  With all of the attention Claire was getting, she became the unofficial spokesdog for their cause.  I even had one of the students ask can i leave Claire there for a while because of the crowd she was drawing in.  Claire live for these show deals and is a natural.  

Unfortunately, I cannot seem to post any pictures from my iPad while on the road, but I will be trying to play catch up on everyone's blogs over the next week.  

Happy trails!

09 October 2013

Furry picnic

Where has the week gone?  I have been totally overwhelmed at work and at home since I have been back and haven't been holding up my end of the bargain on postings.  I am finally caught up on my chores but still find myself behind in posting any serious updates. So I guess will have to give you something less meaningful.  

This past weekend was our annual foster group Golden Retriever picnic.  Weather started out iffy with some serious rainstorms, but it cleared out by game time and the weather was picture perfect.  100+ dogs, twice as many people, enough food to feed a battalion, an open park and pond to explore - prime ingredients for all sorts of mayhem and mischief.  Was a fantastic turnout for both two and four footed participants.  Lots of food, lots of playtime, lots of water sports.  Put that many Goldens in one area and you are just asking for trouble.  

What an attention ham?\
Since Claire is over 10 years old, she is considered a "senior" even though she doesn't act like one.  Every year they hold a "Senior Parade" to recognize those of a more senior status in the club.  Claire has been part of that parade for the past few years.  They always ask me for a bio on the dogs to talk to while she walks the parade.  My offering for her this year was:  

Claire started out as a foster but her smile won over the agg79 family and they just couldn't let her go so Grayson got a new playmate to bond with.  Claire is a true Velcro Golden and is a real people dog.  There is not a person she won't lick, nudge, paw, head butt, or roll over for to get their attention.  She really loves belly rubs and knows how to work the crowd.  That silver smile on her face that always seems to win everyone over, young & old.  She has a tongue that goes for miles and is always quick to lick your elbow, hands, face or any other part she can reach.  She loves fig newtons, but will take pretty much any treat that comes her way.   Always fashion conscious, Claire is modeling for us today in a stylish auburn colored coat, with silver trim.  While she is content to lie around the house, she loves her daily walks with Grayson and Jerry.

While we don't know her exact age (a lady never tells) she does fall into the "senior" category.  Claire is a gentle dog who has had a few litters.  But don't let that sugar face and old brown eyes fool you.  She can spot squirrels at 50 yards and is working on trying to catch one.  She loves to wrestle with Grayson and keep him in his place (even when she lets him win).  Their shenanigans around the house have earned them the nicknames of Chaos & Pandemonium.  While still not much of a water dog, Claire will hang out around the old watering hole at the local dog parks.  

I will say that this year's picnic was a total, off the hook success.  Not sure how much money we raised, but there was a ton of participants, we got loads of publicity through the local media, and, most importantly, the dogs had a great time.  My two mutts were so worn out afterwards that they slept for the rest of the day and did not want to eat or go for a walk that evening. Any time I can wear out Grayson is a good time.  

02 October 2013

Wrapping up London

Made the trek back to London on Thursday after my audit.  I would have liked to stay in Wales one more day, but already had reservations and needed to head back.  

Train ride was pretty uneventful except for a delay along the tracks that had us moving at a crawl.  By the time I made it back to Paddington, it was the middle of the rush hour crowd.  Had to fight my way across town on a packed train to find my hotel south of town.  This one wasn't anything fancy or neat like the last two - just your plain old Hampton Inn.  I cashed in some of my travel points and got my stay for a couple of quid.  

Spent my last day in London just hitting the general sights.  Trucked across town to find an old quilt shop for momma to find her something unique (not the typical cheesy souvenirs). Then hiked over to Greenwich to explore the Maritime Museum for an hour or so.  Took the wrong DLR train, lost my Oyster card, stumbled upon a neat local market, had a beer on the Prime Meridian, picked up some cheesy souvenirs for co-workers.  Just a general day in London with no serious objective.  Meant to hit a few more of the museums, but ran short of time.  Maybe next time. 

Finished up late in the day back at the hotel.  I needed to pack up for the trip out to Heathrow.  I planned to get an early start to make sure I made the connections and cleared security in time for my flight.  A very good trip.  Glad to have opportunity to come back over.  Now I need to get ready for my next road trip out west at the end of the month.  

Figureheads from old ships
Cutty Sark
Meantime pub
You never know who you'll see in Trafalgar Square
London Eye

29 September 2013

Arhosiad byr yng Nghymru

Finished up playing tourist in London and caught the tube over to Paddington Station.  I love the London tube system.  It was a bit of a challenge the last time I was there, but I had time to study up and really got the hang of it.  Just a matter of knowing where you need to go and what lines to take to get there.  Just hop the Victoria line to Oxford Circus and then catch the Bakerloo to Paddington.  Piece 'o cake.  We don't have a serious mass transit system down here so navigating the underground in London is a challenge for some. And I love a good challenge.

Caught a train out towards Newport/Cardiff in Wales.  Was an interesting/boring ride.  You had to figure out which station to change trains but with some help from the station attendant, I got there fine.  The one thing I had to plan for was the station near the company I was going to visit is a simple stop - no real station or support.  Since I needed to catch a taxi to my hotel, I chose a station in Chepstow that had a small taxi stand to take me to my hotel. 

The countryside was very beautiful.  I forgot that Wales is a completely different region of the UK.  Lots of history, many castles, very unique culture.  The one thing I took for granted on this audit in comparison to the last two international audits, was that I would be speaking the same language.  Au contraire.  In Wales, there are two predominant two languages:  English and Welsh.  Was interesting to see signs in both English and Welsh.  And I thought that Flemish was hard to master.           

After a 2.5 hour nice train ride to Chepstow, I landed at my hotel.  A Marriott hotel located on a golf course.  This place was an old Welsh castle/manor with some spectacular architecture.  There was even an old church with graveyard next to it.        

Church & graveyard
Putting green
Entry driveway
Front entrance

It was too bad that most of my stay in the area was spent at the company on my audit.  I really would have loved to spend another day exploring the area.  Wrapped up my business and caught a train back into London on Thursday.      

- - -

BTW - if you haven't decoded the title it is Welsh for:  A short stay in Wales.  

27 September 2013

Playing tourist

Never fails.  Go off world for a week and I spend 3 weeks playing catch up.  

Slowly catching up on my chores/work/blog readings.  I will be trolling the net trying to catch up on everyone's updates.  In the meantime, I need to finish up my road trip from last week.  So many pictures, so little time...

After spending the afternoon with RC and his lovely wife, I was looking forward to spending some time exploring London properly.  When I was over there two years ago to meet up with RC, it was a weekend "drive by".  I basically had 24 hours in country to see as much as I could see.  This trip, I deliberately planned a few extra day to see the sites.  Woke up at early and had breakfast at the B&B.  Part of the B&B's attraction was free WiFi and a full breakfast service.  That boils down to pretty much anything you could think of.  The first morning, I went for all the marbles - a full English Breakfast.  For those not familiar, this is usually juice, toast, tea/coffee and eggs, bacon, mushrooms, bangers (sausage) and beans.  Normally, I do not eat much for breakfast, but, hey, I figured that, while in England, why not try the real thing?  Way more than I had expected.  I ate so much that I skipped lunch and had an early dinner.

I had planned to hit the town hard, but, took my time getting started (answering e-mails).  I debated buying one of those London passes that allows you access to a large number of tourist sites/spots (Tower of London, Tower Bridge, etc.), but you need to start that early in the day (0900) to get the most benefit.  Instead, I opted for the tour bus tour of London.  I know, cheesy, but I find that, when hitting a new town like London, getting a general tour of the town gives you a foundation to work from.  This was one of those open top Double Decker bus tours that will take you all over town extolling the sites and history of London.  One thing I liked was that it was a "hop on, hop off' deal which meant you can get on or off at any of a number of spots along the route.  Another bus would be along in 15 minutes or so.  While it was campy, it was a good tour, despite the rain.  And, it DID rain.        

Some of the sites I saw along the route:
Trafalgar square
Tower of London (Warder tour)
The Shard
St Paul's Cathedral
Optometrist along Fleet Street

London Eye
From the top of the bus

Blue trees around St Paul (never did get the story on those)


 The Monument (311 steps to the top)
Sherlock Holmes pub

And while I was out wandering all over town, I had to go check out the Death Ray tower to see if it lived up to the hype.  Easy to spot - just a few blocks over from the Tower of London.
Because of its concave shape, at certain times of the year, on sunny days, the sunlight will be focused on a spot on the street below the building.  Think magnifying glass and ants...

I found the spot on the street where the light was focused and can honestly say it was uber hot!  Was like standing directly under a very intense heat lamp.  Temp difference was at least 10-15C higher than ambient.  I could see why it has become a unofficial tourist attraction.   

I rounded out the day with a pint at the Sherlock Holmes pub.  Had to head back to my room and pack up for my trip to Wales.